• Paul Rutherford


Updated: Jun 10

True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing - Socrates Our first house was a classic Victorian terrace: two-up, two-down, with an extension on the back for kitchen and bathroom. The two rooms downstairs had been knocked into one, keeping one fireplace open, the other blocked. My wife and I saw that a neighbour had opened up the second fireplace and fitted shelves for books and audio equipment. We decided to do the same. As a child I’d watched my father do brickwork on his home projects, so I knew what had to be done. First, I carefully removed the bricks that blocked the “builder’s hole”, and found that there were enough to lay three courses as a base for the lowest shelf. Then I went to the local builders’ merchant and bought a sack of sand-and-cement, a trowel and a spirit level. Back a the house, I found a 3ft square board on which to mix the sand-and-cement, just as I’d seen my father do it. I tipped some onto the board, added water and mixed it into the ‘paste’ that would bond the bricks together. Each brick was then handled like a work of art. For the first row, mortar spread on the concrete foundation (where the fire had sat), then onto the ends of a brick, sculpting four-sided pyramids of mortar. Then each brick laid, measured, leveled, then picked up and the mortar scraped off, then re-applied, re-laid, re-measured, re-leveled. The first course - 16 bricks (five front, five back and three either side) - took three hours to lay. And it was perfect. Stop for a cup of tea (seen my father do that too), and onto the second course. More pouring from the sand-and-cement sack, more water, more mixing, more spreading (this time on top of the first course), more careful handling of each of the next 16 bricks. I was getting better and faster: the second course took only two-and-a-half hours. Followed by another cup of tea. Onto the third and final course of bricks. Back into the garden to mix the mortar on the 3ft board. I lifted the sand-and-cement sack, tipped it… and a small plastic bag of grey cement tumbled out. I’d spent five-and-a-half hours laying 32 bricks with only sand.

A couple of weeks ago, I told my friend Nick J the brick story in the context of learning what we don’t know. He generously told me that I was not alone. Some years ago, Nick’s kitchen needed some renovation work, part plumbing, part woodwork. He decided that the pipes needed a specialist, but that he’d do the timber. As a child, he’d seen his father do this sort of work on his home projects, so he knew what needed to be done. Sound familiar? So while the plumber started work on taps and a boiler and heating, Nick set to work replacing the solid wood kitchen back-door. “And I kept repeating to myself what my father always said ‘measure twice, cut once’.” For a solid door, it’s not so much cutting as planing. Holding the door against the door frame, marking with a pencil, then shaving small amounts off the edges. Measure, fit, mark, plane. Measure, fit, mark, plane. “It was hours of work. And multiple cups of tea.” Eventually, the door fitted perfectly - a not-completely square plug matched to a not-completely square hole. Next, Nick had to chisel out the recesses for the hinges, on the edge of the door and into the doorframe. Measure, mark, chisel, sandpaper. Measure, mark, chisel, sandpaper. Then the same for the door handle, lock and bolt. Measure, mark, chisel, sandpaper. Measure, mark, chisel, sandpaper. Eventually, it was ready. The final step was to hang the door, so Nick asked the plumber to help him hold it in place. Nick recalls: “I thought it was perfect. A great day’s work. Measure, fit, mark, plane. Measure, mark, chisel, sandpaper. So I asked the plumber what he thought.” The plumber hesitated, cleared his throat, and said: “I’m no carpenter, but I’m pretty sure that the hinges, the handles and the lock shouldn’t be on the same edge of the door.” Which is perhaps an even bigger lesson than the bricklaying mistake: Even if you *do* know what you’re doing, it’s always good to step out of your tunnel vision and look at the bigger picture. The smallest thing in the rightful place can lead to the highest goals - Rudolf Steiner For Rutherposts direct to you inbox, subscribe *here*

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