More than two months have passed since I launched the Labour Exchange. Despite my best efforts I’m nowhere near the target I set myself for this week. I’ve been emailing, calling and sending out letters throughout. I’ve tried everything to make them more palatable. I’ve linked them to classicism and sanitised them with soap. Although the sales I’ve made are better than nothing it’s time to accept this ain’t going to get me to the start line in 2018.
I’ve discovered that sweat just doesn’t sell. This isn’t ancient Rome. Not even when it’s packaged in beautiful hand blown glass and dovetailed presentation boxes. Not even if I carefully illustrate a vellum certificate to accompany the whole package. I really thought hard work in a pretty bottle would have some universal appeal – especially as it related so well across to the GGR. I hoped there was some magic in all this that people would get behind and champion.
They have – but very few who love this project can afford the price. Unfortunately I can’t reduce it much as they cost so much to produce. Now because so few have been purchased I can’t sell any of them – it wouldn’t be fair. The pioneers who dared to invest in this would be left with a worthless bottle of sweat, which defeats the point. So I’m now back to square one.
Even though I tried to gut it of any radical content these bottles are unavoidably political. I suspect that’s why businesses have been so wary of them. To take an hour of work that is purely grim toil and wrap it in work that requires skill and engagement makes a mockery of exploitation. It points to the ugly zero-hour contracts and the labour laws that allow them. It speaks about the importance of autonomy in jobs and our own (often low) expectations of our 9 to 5. (If you want some stats on this email me.) Above all they celebrated the importance of craftsmanship, craftsmanship as a symbol of our humanity. Only companies that were very confident in their values beyond crude profit and who are excellent employers would consider possessing one. I’ve also discovered that there aren’t that many of these.
One motivation for funding the GGR with the Labour Exchange was my discomfort with the image of yacht racing. It is pretty much exclusively male, white and well moneyed. It is far removed from normal life. Sweating away in a glass box to fund it seemed like a healthy antidote to this baggage. Whatever I do next I can’t ignore this. I know that it will gnaw away at me month after month at sea unless my race has a meaningful legacy beyond the personal challenge.
The reasons for making the Labour Exchange were the same reasons I wanted to do the GGR: both are about craftsmanship. Unless you can get some fulfilment from simply setting sails to the wind and taking care of a boat you could never complete the GGR. It is a demonstration of the necessity of craftsmanship. I’ve found myself dumbing this message down these last couple of months. The decision to archive this project frees me to put this front and centre again, which is welcome.
The Labour Exchange would have been brilliant fun. It will still make a great chapter in the book. I know that I will have to be a little more conventional if I want to get to the start line. I admit that I was pretty disappointed that so few in the media picked it up as a story. I was banking on this getting wider coverage. But I guess sports writers and sailing magazines like simple stories to tell – they don’t like complexity – and these little bottles had that in spates.
At least I won’t have to spend 1000 hours in a sweaty fish tank. I’m thankful for that. I’ve already got quite a few ideas for other ways to get me to the start line, not so whack this time…