“You’re no nerd, Dad!” – from technology to ecology

“You’re no nerd, Dad!” – from technology to ecology

“My Life as an Engineer” by David H E Coles

My life as an engineer began at the age of six years. I was attracted to wires, washers, batteries and screws. My father had an enamel bowl full of early electrical mains plugs. I dismantled them all to both his delight and dismay.

As a sickly and asthmatic child I found expression through my hands. Concentration plus hand and eye co-ordination took my mind away from illness to another place. A place filled with creativity and electricity. But in time I got better.

Following an industrial apprenticeship I went on to give unique support to education. I became a technologist, designer, contraptionist, tutor and finally a volunteer. I qualified as a lecturer. During this time I met many educationalists. All had my respect.

College life suited me and I was happy to serve education. Every day was a thrill. I met people who were fine thinkers and speakers. I met people who were skilled artisans. I regarded them all as equals. However, I have worked elsewhere such as a fruit farm, public gardens and an outdoor adventure centre in Wales. We lived in tents and I drove the caving bus.

Over time I absorbed ideas and theories and gained more practical skills. I listened to ideas that I had not before encountered. Well, apprentices don’t!

I love engineering. I love the result of hand, eye and craft skills. Of course, machinery and robotics are now used in manufacturing. There are many changes.

I began to change. I began to question the direction of technology. I was gradually becoming an ecologist. You know the sort, a tree hugger, Swampy, brown bread and sandals.

I visited communes. One aimed to achieve technological self-sufficiency otherwise known as “off-grid”. Another was based upon ideals in human relationships and shared resources.

Technology became sub-divided into low, soft, intermediate, alternative and high. I became green. All right, turquoise. I’m not perfect.

As a result I am a skip and tip forager and more. Useful raw materials and products can be found by asking. One of my two sons said I was a “polymath”. I told him not to be so rude until I learnt the meaning!

We recognise engineering for what it can deliver to support modern life. However, there are other issues.

Engineers and designers produce products that sustain life. However, they produce products that don’t such as arms and armaments. Questions occur such as morals, profit and politics. My point is that engineers have a conscience. How it is applied is open to debate. However, the pursuit of engineering and science can and does build clear and critical thinking.

Moving swiftly on, my views have been aided by the early discovery and practice of caving, mountaineering, music and art. The former are activities that bring one closer to nature and the natural environment. Once I saw a “Brocken Spectre”. This is a solar projection of one’s amplified shadow on low lying valley cloud. It was beyond money.

I became aware that our world and its resources are finite. This contrasted with experience and activity conducted in the built environment. Not only that but severe illness in later life can be life changing. My other passions include folk music, amateur radio and, of course, my sons.

It is known that pursuits such as these broaden and deepen the human character. Not only that, but they also bring one closer to other people often in a team situation. This has aspects of community support, responsibility and “helping each other out”. William Blake said that “Things happen when men and mountains meet, that don’t by jostling in the street”.

Since leaving full-time employment in education I have “helped out” and pursued many projects. These include the national charity Remap. We join together as engineers on a regional basis for the benefit of the severely physically disabled.

Remap helps out when commercial support is absent and relies on donation. Clients are referred to us usually by health trust occupational therapists and physiotherapists. Tasks might be the application of a spot of adhesive or a fully designed bespoke appliance. We love a challenge!

In addition, I act as a visiting product design adviser for Brunel University. Just can’t stop! Finally, please don’t take things for granted. Just give thanks for engineers!