This is (sort of) a story about cottages; I had it in my mind that I should try and put it into some sort of context. I spent some time trying to write a short essay — a precis if you will — on cottages, the idea of cottages, cottage culture, its history and Canada.
It kind of sucked.
So what do I start with? It’s a horrible cliché but what the hell — start with a joke. (You’ll have to imagine air quotes around the word ‘joke’.)
(H’m. You’ll also have to imagine this being told by an IT admin to his friends — if he has any.)
Q: What are the three most dangerous things in the world?
A: A programmer with a screwdriver, a hardware guy with a program patch and a user with an idea.
(Possibly from Rick Cook.)
Technically I am — or was for many years — one of those things: a software guy that picked up a screwdriver from time to time. (This was sort of implied in ‘Enveloping.’) Sometimes it worked out. Sometimes there was mayhem (I cut off email service to twenty thousand people because I wore the wrong shorts, for example.) but usually it wasn’t that bad. (And heck — the professionals sometimes had bad days too. I remember watching a trained service technician (not named Mike) taking the motherboard out of a server. A loud ‘crack’ was proof that (a) it was out and (b) it would never be quite the same. I never actually did anything like that.)
But there is an element of truth (more than one, really) to the joke.
Let’s change the subject for a moment.
Cottages are fun. Canadians love cottages. I’m sure the same thing can be said for lots of other folks but they seem to resonate with Canadians — probably because cottages mean summer and after Yet Another Long Winter Canadians are quick to embrace summer.
Cottages mean lots of things: Summer. Swimming. Naps. FGF. Day trips to visit hippies and dragons and listen to songs about serial killers lurking in cornfields.
Yup, cottages are fun.
But they’re not all fun. There are downsides. I mean, everything that you have to do (well, mostly) for a house, you have to do for a cottage. Scrubbing. Cleaning. Painting. Mowing (my grandfather had a cottage with an impeccably groomed lawn big enough to play soccer on). Weeding. For every afternoon spent lazing in the sun or swimming there are N afternoons of chores.
But cottages have extra chores — things you don’t have to do with your house. The cottage road, for example — you don’t often have to worry too much about the road that leads to your house, but cottage roads (mentioned briefly in ‘Cowing‘) are often little more than dirt tracks, need Maintenance and it’s your job.
There’s also plumbing: you don’t often tinker much with your home plumbing but with cottages, the plumbing is often… seasonal. (And maybe antediluvian to boot.) It needs to be put away in the fall and brought out in the spring. If you have a cottage, it’s good to be handy.
Cottages ideally have waterfront so something else that needs to be put away in the fall and brought out in the spring is…
Docks are obviously useful if you want to tie a boat to something. They have other uses, though: they’re good for jumping off of. For holding your stuff (clothes, watch, cold beverage….) when you jump off them. For napping on. For the obligatory cannonball contest. For lots of things.
But that means that you (duh) need a dock. You can buy them, of course — there are tons of companies, large and small, that cater to the dock-buying set. Or, if you’re competent and handy (remember how I said that it’s good to be handy) you can build one (there are, again, lots of companies that will sell you the hardware to make the job easier.
Either way, though, there’s a spring ritual (chore/duty/task — except that ‘task’ is a term used by middle managers and I ain’t one) associated with Putting The Dock In (and one in the fall to take it out, of course). This can be a catalyst (excuse?) for other cottage activities — the creation and consumption of FGF; the Swim; the ceremonial opening of the… stimulants.
Stuff like that.
I’ve mentioned that I’m not handy, that I’m the software guy in the joke but I have friends that are. For example, Third Rose, who has been mentioned in passing before is both handy and a cottage owner. Because he’s handy, he built his own dock. Being clever as well as handy, he built it in such a way that it can be installed — if necessary — by one sufficiently motivated person but it goes faster and easier with two or three.
That’s where I/we come in. On a recent Saturday afternoon it was dock-putting-in-day which involved the dock, the root beer, the grill, the plumbing, the search for non-domestic ‘guests’ (SNAP!), the cat puzzle, the ice cream, the over-caffeinated beverages.
Since we had two real-honest-to-god professional engineers I made sure that I didn’t touch a screwdriver.