Carpentry : a fable

Ronnie Brown

Recently I attended a carpentry course. It was pretty tough.

All the students (or almost all) were eager to learn. The first three weeks we learned to drill holes. We found out about curious kinds of drills, and how to make holes at odd angles. We got pretty good and accurate at drilling holes.

The next six weeks were involved in cutting wood. We used all kinds of saws, found out how they interacted with different kinds of wood, and learned to cut accurately and smoothly. I got pretty good at cutting wood.

The next four weeks we learned to plane wood. We used all kinds of planes, on many different kinds of wood. I got pretty good at planing wood.

'Joints' was a difficult course. It took eight weeks, and we learned many kinds of joints. I was quite good at making joints.

We did courses on other things too: sanding, turning, polishing, gluing, and so on.

Finally, we had an examination. We had to use all these skills. I did reasonably well, and came fifth in the class.

After the course ended, I went to see the Director. I told him I quite liked the course in a way, though some of the students were turned off by it all. But really, I said, I took the course because I wanted to make a table. He said that the top two or three went on to do things like that. I began to get mad. I said: 'What did we learn all that stuff for?' He said: 'Our course prepares people to make tables.' His face got larger and larger. He began to fill the room. I got scared. Then I woke up.

This was worrying. I discussed it with my colleagues. A psychiatrist took me back to my childhood. But no-one could explain why a professor of mathematics should have a nightmare like that.


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