Power Down

The joy of be­ing a re­assem­bler and why we need them more than ever

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents -

Ilike learn­ing, look­ing, puz­zling, in­vent­ing. I’ll hap­pily re-visit some­thing to iron out the bugs, once or twice, but then I want to move onto the next chal­lenge.

There were not many chal­lenges await­ing me when we re­turned to our Dunedin block af­ter cruis­ing the Pa­cific.

It had me wor­ried. I am 63 now and start­ing to feel time-poor, which tends to ex­ag­ger­ate the fear that you’re wast­ing it.

But then our Corolla blew a head-gas­ket and the fam­ily-heir­loom MG lost its clutch. Our youngest son’s wed­ding re­quired both to be go­ing.

I then dis­cov­ered a whole lot of other things which needed fix­ing. For a while, life con­sisted of eat­ing, sleep­ing, over­alls and tools.

An as­tute friend gave me a book called The Re­assem­bler, writ­ten by UK TV star and the me­chan­i­cally-fas­tid­i­ous James May. A penny dropped. The ac­tiv­ity of fix­ing things can be men­tally stim­u­lat­ing, cog­ni­tively ther­a­peu­tic, aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing and – if it suc­ceeds – in­tensely sat­is­fy­ing.

May points out that re and re-re and rere-re­assem­bling is en­tirely le­git­i­mate and can be done for the sheer fun of it. That’s good, be­cause my sons and I are now re­vis­it­ing the MG’S clutch for the third time.

It’s also good be­cause it took strip­ping down an old ratchet hoist (pic­tured top right) three times be­fore I even fig­ured out how it should work, let alone how to fix it. Half-a-dozen re­assem­blies later it now moves with a silky purr. As a re­sult, so do I.

I have benches, vices, tools and time. I’d rather re­assem­ble than be­come rich or renowned. I’d rather re­fur­bish some­thing sev­eral times over than buy

some­thing new.

Re­assem­bly is go­ing to be an in-de­mand skill in fu­ture. Per­haps THE in-de­mand skill. Fix­able ma­chines, from blenders to chain­saws to wash­ing ma­chines, will be in more de­mand than their un­fix­able, throw­away cousins. That’s some­thing to bear in mind when choos­ing your next one.

We came back from the Pa­cific to find our wash­ing ma­chine leak­ing from its rub­ber bel­lows. It’s a ma­chine we re­fur­bished sev­eral years ago and my in­stinct was to re­fur­bish it again. I even had a spare, sit­ting un­der the trees wait­ing to be stripped for parts. Our sons pre-empted the move and bought us a new one. I was spit­ting tacks. I was also im­pressed that we had off­spring who would do this for us.

But we can’t go on con­sum­ing as we are. Older ma­chin­ery is eas­ier to main­tain than pro­grammed elec­tronic stuff.

There is a good coun­ter­ar­gu­ment. Without peo­ple buy­ing new prod­ucts, nei­ther our old wash­ing ma­chine nor the new one would have been de­vel­oped.

James May ad­dresses this dis­crep­ancy by cir­cum­vent­ing it. He likes new prod­ucts and sees his re­assem­bly urge as some­where be­tween ther­a­peu­tic and fun.

I’m a bit more se­ri­ous about it. I don’t re­gard ei­ther of our wash­ing ma­chines, nor the sys­tem which spawned them, as sus­tain­able. A fix-it ap­proach ex­tends the life of some­thing which al­ready ex­ists. There’s no need to dump the old one or man­u­fac­ture a new one.

Cyn­i­cally, you could say that all I do is buy time. But when (and it is when, not if) the com­bi­na­tion of debt, growth and draw­down known as the global econ­omy fal­ters, I’ll have use­ful skills. The kind of skills cur­rently be­ing lost to an in­creas­ingly spe­cialised and throw-away so­ci­ety.

I’m reac­quaint­ing my­self with some for­got­ten tools and tech­niques and feel­ing good about it. There are judge­ment calls to be made. How many wash­ers do we pack un­der those tired 82-year-old clutch­springs? Do we re­place those too-of­tentight­ened old bolts?

Much of the process is sat­is­fy­ing and some of it is gen­uinely fun. There are enough things need­ing fix­ing and re­assem­bling on our block to keep me go­ing for some time.

Re­assem­bly isn’t as much fun as sail­ing, snor­kel­ing over a co­ral reef or my pre­vi­ous hang glid­ing hobby, but it sure beats vac­u­um­ing or do­ing the dishes.

This is a dis­as­sem­bled Yale & Towne ¾ ton hoist, British pa­tent No 469967, that once be­longed to Percy Lupp. Percy was mar­ried to Sy­bil Lupp, a fa­mous Mg-jaguar racer and me­chanic. My dad was pit me­chanic and nav­i­ga­tor for Sy­bil, and built and re­paired ma­chin­ery with Percy. The hoist is heir­loom, his­tory, nos­tal­gia and patina all rolled into one. I first used it in 1976.

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