Dombey & Son
Good Woodworking|September 2017
Dombey & Son

Dave Roberts finds that keeping up with the times isn’t always the same as making progress.

Dave Roberts

“The world has gone past me,” laments Soloman Gills in Dombey & Son, “I don’t blame it; but I no longer understand it. Tradesmen are not the same as they used to be, apprentices are not the same… I have fallen behind the time, and am too old to catch it again.” It’s easy to empathise with Sol’; times change. In the 1840s, Dombey & Son’s themes reflected, in part, a concern regarding the railways’ effect upon traditional life, and their unnatural speed only underscored their role in the wider social change wrought by an era of industrialisation (see ‘Impressionist painting’ sidebar). Today, the extension of that same industrialisation continues to cause environmental concerns, which have in turn become agents for change – as I’m often reminded when trying to strike a balance between the means by which things were done and the materials that were used when The Old Vic’ was built, and how they might be done now. Walking this line often involves a stroll, sometimes figurative, at other times literal, around the problems and possible solutions – a habit that Dickens, who regarded as vital the freedom to walk abroad and collect fresh impressions, described as ‘amateur vagrancy’. And as a fully paid-up amateur, I find that time spent in the company of the new or unfamiliar is often well spent, if only because it helps to reveal what I hadn’t realised I didn’t know, if you follow me. One such walk recently took me out around the glue pot via a decision over paint for exterior woodwork…

A brush with change

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September 2017