Howzat?

Posted on 19/06/08 | in places, society

It’s all been happening. On Sunday I played cricket for the first time in 20 years. It was advertised as ‘Rubbish Cricket’, so I took comfort from that, but was nevertheless the rubbishest player there (out of 11 in total, so only small teams). That said, I did have a moment of glory right at the very end when I took a wicket. The setting was glorious: the village cricket ground at Ewelme. On Monday I ached all over all bloody day, because clearly I are seriously unfit.

On Tuesday I went to some arts/business function at the BMW MINI plant at Cowley, avoiding the awards ceremony it was all about purely to go on a free tour of the plant afterwards – these are apparently much prized, and I just like being in places where I have no conceivable business.

It’s an extraordinary experience – well, after 90 minutes I was getting pretty bored, but before that it was more overwhelming. We visited two of the vast (and we’re talking about dozens of football pitches each here) ugly prefab buildings that grace that bit of Oxford’s ring road. The first was where loads of huge robots swing around in constant motion, grabbing parts and welding them together and so on. It’s the most dehumanised setting I’ve ever seen (there are very few actual meatware staff in there), like something out of an sf horror film really. The Matrix? You’re already in it, sunshine.

I only asked one question: “Are the robots made by robots?” They are. The whole place is an amazing monument to human technology – and utterly depressing. I couldn’t help but think our civilisation is totally fucked.

The second shed had lots more people, all of whom do 11-hour shifts on huge conveyors (they’re moving on them too), fitting all the twiddly bits to the cars. They make 50 Minis (sorry, MINIs) an hour, every single one to order and different from its shiny neighbour.

And fourthly (geddit?), on Wednesday we learnt something important – that’s a story for another day, but the good news is that all is well.

14 Comments on “Howzat?”

  1. vardebedian Says:

    and utterly depressing. I couldn’t help but think our civilisation is totally fucked

    I can’t see how this conclusion arises from what precedes it.

    on Wednesday we learnt something important – that’s a story for another day, but the good news is that all is well

    Dog not pressing charges? Good-oh.

  2. hatmandu Says:

    Hee. I haven’t exactly laid out a series of logical propositions for you above. Ah well, never mind, I guess I’m not a robot.

    What I meant really was (a) none of us (apart from a few specialists in robotics, I suppose) know how to make anything ourselves any more, so in the face of likely environmental disaster we’re doomed; (b) this level of technology – well, making shitloads of cars to guzzle limited fuel resources, etc etc – is fostering enviromental disaster. So it goes.

  3. vardebedian Says:

    If it’s any help, the entirely unscientific poll I’ve been running recently to see whether people would consider the collapse of our civilisation a god thing or a bad thing seems to be returning a verdict mostly in favour of the apocalypse. I increasingly share your view that the most sensible investment for the medium term would be to learn how to grow food and defend it from roving biker gangs.

  4. hatmandu Says:

    Yeah, we should never have read The Road I guess!

  5. dogrando Says:

    …utterly depressing. I couldn’t help but think our civilisation is totally fucked.

    I had a similar feeling after watching Manufactured Landscapes. It opens with a panning shot through a Chinese factory where with aisles and aisles of production lines which seems to go on forever. It left me wondering if I’d ever be able to look at an iron the same way.

  6. rickbot Says:

    I was reading about this sort of thing the other day. American factory workers complain because they think their jobs are going overseas… in actual fact, their jobs are going to robots. Indeed, manufacturing productivity is substantially increasing in both the US and China… while unemployment continues to rise in these sectors in both countries.

    Robots were supposed to give us more leisure time, but it’s a shame the factory workers have no money to spend on leisure pursuits.

  7. dogrando Says:

    Sorry, I wasn’t clear: these were actual human people, doing jobs like: pick a tiny plastic cup off that conveyor belt, prick a whole in the bottom with this special needle, put it in that hopper, and repeat; or, pick a newly pricked tiny plastic cup off that conveyor belt, a tiny plastic tube off this one, click the two together, and put it in that hopper; or… The thing that terrified me most was contemplating just how many different people have had a tiny part in the construction of the iron I bought for £19.99 in Argos without really thinking about it.

  8. rickbot Says:

    Oh – that quite cheers me. The thought that these people will earn enough money to send their children to school, that these school children will go on to become engineers who build robots, and that these robots will mean no one has to do such mindless jobs again is surely the ambition of all developing countries?

    Everything starts somewhere, and it’s better you buy a £19.99 iron in Argos and give them work to do, than don’t and leave them unemployed.

    That said – you can buy a £3.99 iron in Sainsbury’s…

  9. m1nstrel Says:

    Oddly, my first instinct on this wasn’t “Ah, the world is one step away from some horrific apocalypse” but rather “Wow. Cool. Hat got to look round a huge factory. I wish I was Hat”. I have a very bizarre (though probably entirely genetic) adoration of production lines.

    Cool about your Wednesday news.

  10. hatmandu Says:

    Hat got to look round a huge factory

    🙂 This was, of course, why I went!

  11. rickbot Says:

    It’s so going to turn out that the Wednesday news was that Hat doesn’t need to replace the carpet in his study after flooding.

  12. hatmandu Says:

    🙂 I’m pleased to confirm this is certainly true. So far.

  13. lisekit Says:

    Well, traditionally the number 4 joke concerns matrimony, and you’re already married, so you must be announcing your forthcoming divorce?

  14. hatmandu Says:

    Damn, you guessed!

    No, silly, it just means ‘important family-related news’, dunnit? (hatches, matches, dispatches – and, er, the sexing of one’s foetus)