Watching the World go
Charlie works for the company who are redeveloping the harbourside. This day his task was to erect three 30- foot flagpoles. Not a straightforward job. The poles would be raised by crane and bolted to the ground. But it was up to Charlie to make sure all three were lined up and vertical. One leaning at an angle, or all three leaning at different angles, would not be a good look for the company.
“If they were the same thickness all the way up,” Charlie said, “it would be simple. I would use a spirit level and that would be that.” But these poles tapered from a wide base to a much narrower tip. A spirit level just wouldn’t work.
Charlie considered various scientific techniques and equipment, then decided on a much more “lowtech” method.
He stepped back, closed one eye, and lined a flagpole up with the corner of an old building across the street. Pointing this way and that he got his workmates to fix it roughly in place. Then he shifted position, lined up with the edge of another old building and did the fine tuning.
He repeated this with each of the poles, leaving them perfectly lined up and perfectly vertical.
But why use the old buildings, I asked, especially when he worked for the company putting up the new buildings.
“The old ones have stood for a hundred years,” Charlie informed me, “and they could easily stand another hundred. That’s because they were built perfectly perpendicular.” Then he laughed. “But I bet those old masons never imagined their careful work would be used to straighten flagpoles long after they were gone!”
“And that, Charlie,” I thought as I walked away, “is why we should always do our best, no matter what our job may be. Because we can never know, or imagine, when someone, somewhere will depend on us having been straight and true!”
The clanging of ropes and metal fitting against flagpoles reminded me of Ronnie and the fund- raiser he organised for the Disasters Emergency Committee.
Near the end of the event he wanted to attract everyone’s attention to tell them how much they had raised for the appeal. He picked up a handbell from a shelf. Then he almost put it down again. The handle was deeply scored, the clapper had a lump missing and there was a circular crack running around the decorated rim of the bell. But when he swung it the bell made a lovely sound.
He got everyone’s attention, and started a few folk reminiscing about the bell the janitor used to ring when they were at school. That, and the good amount raised for charity, rounded the meal off nicely.
“Just goes to show,” his wife Elaine said. “You don’t have to look good and have all your bits about you to serve a useful function.”
Ronnie agreed, but he told me later that he’s still not sure if she was talking about the bell or him!
The school bell rests on the teacher’s desk in a recreated classroom at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in Sussex.