Saturday, 15 December 2012

Philosphical Approaches to Boat Renovation

Please forgive the title given to this post, many of us Anglo Saxons have a deep mistrust of anything resembling philosophy, Brits tend to leave such thoughts to our European cousins. As an ex-pat Brit living in France however, I have to give some thought to it in order to have a chance of being understood.

In a previous life I was privileged to have something to do with government support for cultural affairs, museums, art galleries, theatres and such. The French take their ‘culture’ much more seriously than the English and therefore I was not surprised to find that my attempts to renovate an old boat provoked some discussion, debate and serious philosophical questioning from within my circle of French friends.

Firstly, they wanted to know what I was doing, not in the practical sense of painting, or sanding but more philosophically – what is the driving philosophy which determines the methodology which will guide the project to the achievement of its ultimate goal?

Now to a simple Englishman, the question seemed more complicated than the answer and so before giving a response that might define me as a philistine for ever more, I decided to consult with past colleagues and acquaintances in the cultural business in order to better understand the question.

No doubt you are all now wondering what philosophical driving force governs the chosen methodology for ‘doing up this old boat’, and maybe some of you engaged in similar projects have begun to ask the same question of yourselves – or maybe not!

So, before you lose sleep or the will to live, here is how I understand the question and how I have chosen to answer it.

OK, well firstly, there are any number of reasons for wanting to ‘do up’ an old boat. You could try to argue that there is a heritage driver, something about preserving, valuing and celebrating the past as a valid activity in its own right. You could argue it is a ‘green’ act of recycling. You could argue it is a sort of political statement about self-sufficiency and freedom. So long as you don’t admit that you are driven by the absolute need to get afloat at minimum cost, (Arguments about funding or the lack of it aren’t acceptable in this context) you could try to argue that all three points have equal value – but you wouldn’t get very far because each reason has its own implications for the approach you take. There are three key words here – conservation, preservation and renovation.

Conservation, so my cultural friends tell me, is about using as few rare or precious resources as possible, in order to ensure that supplies of those resources are not wasted or lost. Laminated plywood therefore might be acceptable here as a replacement for solid mahogany, because it conserves precious stocks of hardwood timber. If you are committed to preservation however, you are driven to guard and maintain objects and materials in their original form, so a solid oak beam has to be replaced with a solid oak beam. Renovation is, as the word suggests, about the renewal or improvement of objects to sustain their usefulness without necessarily preserving or conserving anything. So, am I conserving, preserving or renewing?

It would be difficult to argue my efforts are about preservation in the sense that a museum would use the word because modifications have already been made to this vessel in the form of an outboard well and a new rudder configuration. This boat is already radically different to the Nomad as originally designed and launched.

Conservation then? Maybe. Certainly I’m making use of an old boat rather than buying a new one.

Renovation? Yes, I suppose, she will be renewed but not in her original form.

I think my line with the philosophers will be that a new term is needed, an expression which more adequately describes the philosophy – lets just say ‘I’m doing her up!’