online: 23 may 2004
modified: 2 june 2004

(designed to be read with the window set to two-thirds of the screen width)

23 may 2004 skill

18:00 On the heath. The shoe is still in the tree. The throwing ring has gone.

Grass to the horizon... trees and people silhouetted against the sky... Such a sight is rare, and to me inspiring, as if we are at the edge of a world.

Beneath a tree: scores of pieces of ice in the grass. A single beer can but no other signs of a party that may have taken place here today. The ice is the most recycleable waste I've ever seen.

In the forest... no people... silence... sunlight through the trees illuminates a single bramble seedling... and there are leaves sprouting out of the oldest part of the oak tree beside me... I feel a bit like that myself (these diary entries being leaves sprouting from my earlier life?)

The earth moved on as I wrote that - sunlight no longer illuminates the bramble - it has moved about 20 centimetres from the light, in about 20 minutes.

18:55 After a walk guided by chance*, through woodland, along paths I've seldom been, I'm sitting on the ground beneath an old oak near to the summit of the heath.

An athletic looking woman rides a bicycle uphill standing on the pedals as she pushes with each leg in turn. The combination of uphill path, gravity, bike and human body seems for the moment 'as one', a dynamic balance of natural and muscular forces made visible by pedal, chain,frame and wheels. I am reminded that similar, though much more complex, forces and movements occur in each of our bodies when we simply walk, unassisted by wheels - but the movements are less visible and more subtle.

As I wrote that I heard and caught sight of a helicopter with its ratchety sound and its somewhat miraculous rotor, the blades of which change pitch as they rotate so as to both support the weight and pull the helicopter forward, or sideways, or even backwards. How this is done (by machinery at its most complex) is difficult to understand, as are the actions of bone, muscle, sinew, nerve and brain... but as I wrote 'nerve and brain' I realised that these things are orders of magnitude more complex and integrative** than is anything mechanical.

A man walked by with his shoulders a little stooped and his hands in his pockets but nevertheless the movements of his spine, legs and feet seem to me far more relaxed and easy than are most people's. I imagine that he is as skilled in walking slowly as an athlete is in running fast.

This, perhaps my favourite topic, is the central part of my theory of post-mechanical culture. It comes to me, I suspect, from being myself notably unskillful and slow to learn. I am told that I could not read much until I was 8 or 9, I am hopeless at ball games, my handwriting is often illegible, I am poor at chess and bridge (this list could be extended) - but I do seem to have the knack of imagining and describing the skills of experts and the difficulties of learners. That has been my life. How did I learn it? By vivid experiences of failure, I guess. Yes, you could describe me as a professional failure - and I laugh as I think of it!

*At each turning point (a forked path, paths crossing, etc.) I chose whichever direction was indicated by the second hand of my watch.

**I'm reminded of Sir Charles Sherrington's seminal book, The integrative action of the nervous system, Yale University Press, New Haven 1947, revised edition (originally published in 1906).

...and also of his more philosophical book: Sir Charles Sherrington, Man and his Nature: the Gifford Lectures, Edinburgh 1937-8,Cambridge University Press, London and New York 1951. See digital diary for 4 november 2001.

what's new


digital diary archive

© 2002, 2003 john chris jones

You may transmit this text to anyone for any non-commercial purpose if you include the copyright line and this notice and if you respect the copyright of quotations.

If you wish to reproduce any of this text commercially please send a copyright permission request to jcj at