For years three questions have haunted me but now I am down to two.  I still do not know why the chicken crossed the road; I have not resolved whether it was the chicken or the egg that came first (based on Aristotelian principles I am told it is the chicken) but I do agree with the carpenter – it was the same hammer.

I refer here to the reply of the carpenter who, when asked whether he had used the same hammer throughout his working life he said ‘yes’, adding thoughtfully that he had needed to change the head once and the handle twice.  

But here the story is about a bracelet. Two years ago my wife and I gave each other bespoke bead bracelets to celebrate out fortieth wedding anniversary. The beads were made of antique cut jade, lapis, turquoise, cornelian and ruby (as befits the fortieth), separated by spacers of silver (my wife’s) and gold (mine). In both bracelets the sequences of the stones and spacers were identical. Both were worn daily and both were treasured.

Earlier this year mine was mislaid, probably stolen. I was bereft and after months of research found a jeweller in Hatton Garden who could to make a copy. I took my wife’s bracelet along as a template, explained the importance of the task and what was needed, chose the stones from which the new beads would be cut, waited till my wife’s bracelet was photographed, had my wrist and fist size measured, and left. Several anxious weeks later, and after a further visit and some phone calls, I went back. I sat down at a corner table, unwrapped the bracelet from blue tissue paper, marvelled at its exactness, put it on, whooped, hugged Emma the lapidary (a first from a customer!), paid and left. I was back to being me.

On my way home both I and the bracelet glowed. I was so excited that I relayed the story to my neighbour in the bus. She listened politely, looked at me quizzically, nodded, smiled, then moved away. At home my wife and I compared bracelets. Mine did not have the maturity of stones cut hundreds of years ago, but it was mine. It was made of the exact same stones and arranged in the same pattern as its predecessor. It had the same beauty, filled the same space, had the same connotation, served the same purpose and to others appears identical. Just as the hammer for the carpenter, it is the same and I am delighted. In fact it never really left me.

7 thoughts on “The constant hammer

  1. I can relate to this story, which quite moved me, and I feel Heraclits moment coming on, as i think I remember him observing that you cannot put the same hand in the same river twice. When my husband was 16 years old he won an American Field Service scholarship to the USA, and as part of that lived with a family for a year and attended high school.The family kitted him out with American clothes, and he had a crew cut. He returned to England with this wardrobe, and was still wearing the shirts which he loved and treasured when I first met him. This continued, such that twenty years later he was still wearing them (but not ‘for best’ any more. They looked shabby and faded, but he didn’t care. The shirts were part of him. As our children, a girl and a boy, became teenagers, they would ‘borrow’ these shirts. Our daughter wore them to school as her school did not demand a uniform, and our son at the weekend. They were high status clothes, and my husband and I watched as they became more faded, and holes appeared on the elbows, but still they were worn and valued. When gap years developed they were taken on journeys to Sarawak, and to Vietnam…..never to be seen by my husband and me again. But the links with the family in the USA continue, and the shirts became, across the generations a metaphor for our relationship with them.

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  2. A lovely story Joe. I am told that no cell in our bodies is older than 7 years, so the same principle of remembered function can be applied to humans and hammers alike.

    I believe I can also provide an answer to the chicken and egg conundrum. An evolutionary interpretation would undoubtedly come out in favour of the egg (an essential part of the reproductive paraphenalia of most species) predating the chicken by a few million, possibly billion years. The chicken is a relative newcomer, having evolved from earlier bird species and, in turn, from the reptiles (and so on). Darwin himself was a fancy pigeon breeder and he would have observed that in all cases, the emergence of a new variety was preceded by the laying of an egg from which the bird in question was hatched.

    I too don’t know why the chicken crossed the road. Except perhaps to avoid the attention of creationists, who doubtless will argue that chickens and eggs were created together in one single act of creation. In which case, if this view prevails (which according to opinion polls, it does), I propose that your second imponderable question be replaced with “Who created the creator?”

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  3. Nice piece. Just on the chicken/egg debate, unless you’re a creationist, the egg came first. The “first chicken” would have been a slight genetic mutation from another, chicken-like, creature. This genetic mutation didn’t happen half way through it’s life – it happened at the moment its DNA was activated. It’s like asking whether the first human adult preceded the first human child – infant, or egg, must always come first.

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  4. Thank you for pointing out this “plagiarism” Prashant. How astute of you to notice!

    You are right, the article first appeared in the Greyhares blog and was republished, with permission, by the author himself in his “Joe Collier’s Tréguennec blog”.

    Although Joe has been given a certain amount of guidance, he has yet to master the use of hyperlinks and (strictly between ourselves) has become somewhat forgetful when it comes to attribution (original sources, etc). We have carried out a risk assessment and retraining has been offered but he has proved somewhat resistant thus far. We live in hope, however.

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