Before I start I would like to just reassure everyone that I am not having a crisis of confidence or any such silliness. This post is not a continuation on a theme, well maybe it is but it isn’t supposed to be it’s just the way the timing goes.
I happened to have 5 minutes to kill before an appointment yesterday when I was stood at a demolition site, an old sorting office I believe. The machines had removed a large part of the building and this opened a view into several offices on the top floor as well as a services room on the ground floor. Where many would see dust, noise and nuisance I saw history being dismantled.. I see this all of the time in old buildings, I don’t just see empty offices but I see generations of staff progressing through their career. I see the young man proud to have made that step from blue to white collar but still never truly feeling like he belongs ‘upstairs’. I can see the congratulations as people move on and families grow, all of the stuff that happens everywhere but will never again happen here.
In the services room I can see the education of young sparkies learning their trade, including the sweat, bruises and frustration. The big office on the left hand side with a view of the park will have been a senior one inhabited previously by both the beloved and the reviled, it comes with the territory. The building has echoes of retirees fondly recounting new plans but also those who quietly mourned their own loss of purpose. The building will have seen shifts spent wishing to be anywhere else but also shifts spent gratefully in the solace of work. The toil within this building will have funded generations of households as they struggled through lean times and enjoyed the more bountiful.
I can see the dozens of times that the “writing was on the wall” as new systems, machines or routines were introduced, each new introduction eventually becoming the favoured tradition only to be displaced by the next great idea. I know that the inevitability of closure will have led to a perverse confidence that it wouldn’t happen ensuring that there was no real preparation for the end. At the end I can see the shock and the distasteful picking over of the building and its contents. There will have been a palpable sense of loss as other parts of the business identify what they will salvage and transplant into other sites assisted by staff that are seeing out their notice.
All of this I see in a building and perhaps that is where my empathy lies although I am not sure why. It could be that as a young railwayman during privatisation, and long after, I watched the decimation of a great industrial heritage but I don’t think so. I like to think it is an Engineer’s trait, we are more tied to the buildings that we inhabit than other people because we share a physical bond. Those dirty workshop floors are not just stained with grease they are stained with the sweat and blood of us and our predecessors, we can honestly say that our DNA is in a building. The further you go back in the history of our trade the more blood, sweat, limbs and even lives were lost achieving what needed to be achieved.
It is in these buildings and their services that asbestos quietly crept into lungs before claiming years of life like some natural tax inspector. Too many substances, processes and activities to name have reduced the length or quality of the lives of those of us that just have to make and repair things, new ones keep appearing at a regular rate. So for me it is the inherent tie between Industrial Engineers and their environment, going back through the generations that breeds my empathy with old buildings.
This is not solely the plight of Engineers though, it is also the plight of many modern day publicans. There is no glamour or wealth in the licensed trade anymore, it has long since departed, but there is history in these buildings. Not text book history, not always tangible history but a history of life lived, of young becoming old, christenings and wakes and hey all of those parties had to happen somewhere. Just knowing that a building has been a social hub for generations makes it call out to me to protect it and hey if we don’t keep traditional pubs alive then one day your grandchildren will be asking what they used to be like.
Hey that could be my new pub slogan “From wetting your head to sprinkling your ashes and every event in between, we are here for you”