I’ve been thinking back over the thing we made at Kirkaldy’s Testing Centre today. “Here’s a great big room full of dormant machines. Make a thing.”
Sammy and I have been at it for a long time, and we have learnt how to collaborate. She’s a brilliant individual – positive and forward moving. There’s a lot of stuff in my brain that I kinda know might be fun if it was out in the world. It takes the faith of a Sammy to allow me to extrude it. She’s brilliant and together we made a strange thing work.
We showed audiences that it was okay to play by dressing them up but taking the pressure off them immediately. It goes back a long long way this sort of work in my life. Back to Simon in the workings of Tower Bridge, just after I left Guildhall. Permission to Play. We didn’t have a clue but we learnt by doing, making little interactive gamey type bits at various events for humans. There was enough money to keep us coming back, just. We upskilled without really even understanding that we were doing so. We had to play with strangers. We learnt quickly and it was hard. Now it’s a skill I can never unlearn.
We all made something last week, and it seems that some of the thoughts I really wanted to be there made it through to the people who experienced it. The idea of giving your time selflessly for the safety of others. The feeling that we are so easily pulled away from being entirely honest by the prospect of profit. Short-term profit outbidding long term functionality in the modern world.
This man David Kirkaldy was obsessive about testing things, but it seems a very pure obsession. It wasn’t for profit or recognition. It feels to me like he built his testing empire purely because he liked to know all the answers. He wanted very much to truly understand what materials were capable of withstanding – so we could build our ambitious projects, but more thoughtfully, rigourously and carefully. A Henry Higgins of material testing.
When someone has that forensic collector brain, they can be served and they can serve the world when they find an early obsession and follow it through. Some just collect stamps or bottles or cards and vanish into sweaty obscurity. Others expand the boundaries of science through pursuing a detail deeper and longer than anyone before. David Kirkaldy was one of those. An obsessive with a helpful obsession, of knowing exactly how and why things break.
Bertha, his huge machine, echoed in an eighties children’s TV programme. Lovely Bertha. You are a lovely machine. And everyone who works with you will know just what I mean.
Bertha smashes and measures.
Bertha murders your girders and rends your rivets. Pulling or pushing. She needs hydraulics and a team of people. In modern terms she’s too much work to operate as even to reconfigure her takes manpower and time. The world is too fast for Bertha now. She has played some small part in her own downfall, by helping speed industry. So now she sits, painted racing green but very still and oily in her unusual wooden housing draped with chains.
I might not see her for some time now but she will rest in my imagination as I return to unusual dayjobbery, and the inevitable who knows what acting giggery. I’ve sent some cracking self tapes lately (and one I’m less happy with). Something is surely coming. Meanwhile back to the random.