Minutes ago as God measures time
Something manlike emerged from the primeval slime:
Ever since, Mother Nature has been on the run
From a hand with four fingers and opposable thumb.
That hand learned to grip, then it learned to shape
Flint into a weapon, then a tool to shape,
To build and to kill, and around then it learned
To strike sparks to bring fire and lighten man’s world.
The hands of the craftsman have moulded our world
From the first stone axe to the first steam drill
To the harvester, laser, and silicon chip,
But the hands of the craftsman are losing their grip.
The years roll on swift with the birth of the wheel:
Man learned to work bronze, then iron and steel:
The bow drill, the pole lathe, the compass, the lock;
The lens, the sextant, the lantern, the clock,
Castings and mouldings, extrusions and pressings,
The bandsaw, the dropforge, the milling machine.
The tools and the skills have changed through the centuries,
The crafts and the knowledge, but seldom the dreams.
The builder could turn his hand to most trades:
Masonry, joinery, plumbing and all.
The engineer trained on a score of machines:
Now it’s often just one – he’s in luck if it’s more.
Modular programming’s the name of the game:
It means that they put you on just one machine,
One or two operations on just the one part –
It’s efficient, but de-skilling’s what it means.
One day we’re skilled men, the next, operators,
The next, no-one knows if we’ll be there at all.
The art passes into the programmer’s hands:
Tomorrow, machines will service themselves…
The glazier, the bellfounder, printers and knappers,
Dyers and weavers, some are already lost:
Prefabrication will see out the tiler
As the thatcher before him learned to his cost.
The paviour, the saddler, the cooper, the wheelwright,
Fitters and grinders and turners and smiths,
We all take our turn in the pattern of process
And one by one, we’re taking our leave…
Written in the early 1980s for the review ‘Nice (if you can get it’, directed by Margaret Ford. At the time I was, myself, a wood machinist. By 1986 I was in the first stages of becoming an IT professional. I guess I proved my own point…
David Harley: vocals, acoustic guitars