Any joy I ever felt for chemistry disappeared in the lecture halls and laboratories of the Keir Building, Queens University, Belfast between the years of 1997-1998. It got lost in thermodynamic equations I didn’t understand, extremely boring university lecturers and disappointing chemical yields from fume cupboards.
And any joy I have for cleaning a burnt oven ring or burnt saucepan evaporates with each rub of the sponge and scrub of the pan. I do not enjoy cleaning oven rings.
So I felt a surprising amount of joy reading the following paragraph from John Stewart Collis because the black residue on the burnt oven ring or scraped from early morning toast is a small reminder and sign of the main building block of life, carbon.
It’s part of what makes you you and me me, of what makes life on planet earth life.
The trick will be to remember it next time I’m pissed off cleaning the oven..
‘It seems that carbon is the main staff of life. If we take anything to bits we find that it possesses carbon. The way to way take an organic thing to bits is to apply heat to it so that its more volatile particulars fly off. We all know what happens when we do this to bread or sugar or almost anything – we are left with the residue of carbon. So with plants, animals, or ourselves – we can all be reduced to carbon. It is odd that the stuff itself looks so inglorious, for this black substance which smudges the coal-heaver and the chimney sweep is the insignia of all that is most colourful on earth, responsible for the parade and panoply of the living world no less than for the glittering of the diamond’
John Stewart Collins, The Vision of Glory
‘It is assumed by most people nowadays that all work is useful, and by most well-to-do people that all work is desirable. Most people, well-to-do or not, believe that, even when a man is doing work which appears to be useless, he is earning his livelihood by it – he is “employed,” as the phrase goes; and most of those who are well-to-do cheer on the happy worker with congratulations and praises, if he is only “industrious” enough and deprives himself of all pleasure and holidays in the sacred cause of labour. In short, it has become an article of the creed of modern morality that all labour is good in itself – a convenient belief to those who live on the labour of others.’
taken from Useful Work versus Useless Toil
By William Morris
‘I have come to understand that a person that a person can do nothing good oneself, that for a person to be glad, to be well-off even to be able to eat and drink and enjoy oneself in the press and change of daily life – all this is purely a gift of God’
Ecclesiastes 3:12, 13
‘Only when Grace covers the toil, the rising up early, the sitting up late, eating the bread you worried about providing, only under and out of Grace does work find meaning, and can a person go on content’
Our lives are so busy and ambitious that we often look down on the menial tasks such a peeling potatoes. Often peeling spuds is beneath us, something from the soil that doesn’t really engage our brain and creativity, just a dirty ball of carbohydrate that needs work done to make it useful. I don’t have time for this, I’ve places to go and more important things to do than peeling some potatoes on. Will I stick on some pasta instead?
While peeling potato number 4 I was reflecting on how much work would be involved in peeling and preparing potatoes.
I had Wee Gran in mind, a lady of over 80 who would have much of her life preparing potatoes for the 11 children she raised and my grandfather.
Saying gran took 10mins for potato preparation and had potatoes 6 times a week that would be an hour in potato preparation per week.
That would be 52hrs of potato preparation a year. Gran has been peeling spuds for well over 50 years. Someone like my gran could easily have spent a working year of her life just peeling potatoes.
I guess that while I’m peeling these potatoes I’m wondering on whether our generation has undervalued the dignity and work in household chores or if our lives are just too speedy to even consider such things.