Friday, 8 January 2016

Here’s a useful thing

I used that blog title, or something like it, several years ago for a post about my pineapple slicer, which is a marvellous piece of technological design that exactly conforms to the cliché ‘fit for purpose’.  Or ‘does what it says on the tin’, or box in this case.  A box which says ‘pineapple slicer’ and contains a device that slices pineapples is a good box.

This morning’s discovery didn’t come in a box, and didn’t have an obvious purpose, though I didn’t know that at the time of its discovery.  I have a drawer in the table beside me which I think of as my ‘useful stuff’ drawer.  It’s full of stuff, some of which I use.  To be more precise (or rather, less imprecise), there is an assortment of pens; two or three old notebooks (kept because they possibly contain information that might prove useful at some point – indeed, one of them did just yesterday, reminding me of the HTML needed to embed a link in a blog comment…); a refill for my Cross pen; a device for fixing studs to golf shoes; a calculator; several pairs of defunct spectacles; a bumper sticker for Fender amps; a magnifying glass (4” diameter); much else.

The other day, I needed a rubber (that’s an eraser, for any Transatlantic readers) to facilitate my new passion for Sudoku, instilled in me by the awesome Z.  She can do it all in her head, but as a novice I need to write the candidate numbers in the cells, so a rubber is essential.  Eventually, I found one, which I’ve been using to varying effect, but it was a bit of a delve.  So this morning I decided that drawer needed a good seeing-to.

It still does, because one if the very first things I uncovered was this:

I inherited this curious little object from a distant relative-by-marriage about twenty years ago when his wife died and the family home in Narberth was cleared out.  Ivor was a taciturn Welshman whom I hardly knew but liked, perhaps, better than those closer to him.  When I was first introduced to him, in 1988, by his niece (later my wife), who had obviously had previous relationships, he was politely non-committal, but I later learned that his considered opinion consisted of a sniff and the words ‘Not bad.  Better than the last one, anyway’, which I took as unconditional approval. 

I knew that he repaired watches, whether as a hobby or a profession I never learnt.  So I’d always assumed that this tiny magnifying glass was a tool of that trade, though I couldn’t work out how it would be used in practice.  I stuck the picture on Facebook this morning, and was advised by my several expert friends there that it is, in fact, to quote Mike, ‘an inch glass, for a material worker to count the number of threads per inch in woven material’.  It should contain an insert in the base for calibration purposes, which is obviously long lost. 

So I’ve learnt something not very useful, but nonetheless fascinating, today.  Not, as you might suppose, the original purpose of this piece of early 20th century fit-for-purpose technology; but that people were expected to use it as the tool of their living.  Not all day long, I don’t suppose; but still.  I can’t imagine that.  Or perhaps I can, but I’m not straying into that territory this evening.

And the drawer, of course, remains un-decluttered and full of useful stuff.


  1. Really fascinating post, Tim, thank you. And for 'awesome.' Heh.

  2. btw, when you think about it, 'fit for purpose' is more usually used in the negative, innit?

  3. Yes, so it seems. Probably because very little is.

  4. We have a useful draw. After I've sorted out the filing drawer I might have a look in there but I bet I won't find anything as interesting as your inch glass.