Discontent


In the German doorknob factory there was a tradition of taking a break every morning at 10:15 for grapefruit. At 8:45, Ilsa would take 12 grapefruits out of a wooden crate that smelled of a foreign country and slice each fruit in half. Each morning she would notice the insertion point of the knife, the thick pale yellow skin, the juice oozing and the smell. The smell of grapefruit at 8:45 every morning made Ilsa’s head feel light and funny, like she’d been transported to a country where everything was sharp and bright. She cut the grapefruit into enough segments for 24 working people who saw no sun for months in their foggy island nation. Saving them from scurvy, she told herself as she pierced, cut, and sectioned. 24 people, 8 months without sun, 12 months of making doorknobs, a half day off every quarterly Wednesday. Ale. People who get a half day off every 3 months go first to see their mother and then to the pub for ale. Ale and strong cheese. Grapefuit might prevent scurvy, but mum, cheese and ale prevents despair. And so the doorknob manufacturers, who got to see their mum, drink their beer, eat their cheese, and were in addition protected from the scourge of vitamin c deprivation so common at that point of time; well, so, they thrived, relative to the other scrawny gorse eaters of their time and place. When a reasonably well grown doorknob maker and his family have bones that will carry them and minds that will think their thoughts, revolution might be said to be not necessarily predictable but more likely than in less fortuitous circumstances. And so it was.

In the summer of 1747, a year that must live in someone’s history, a pink-cheeked and robust young man and his various cousins, brothers, sisters and a few stringy grandmas set forth to tell their masters what for. What for and henceforth they spoke their minds, not elegantly but the point was made that workers must indeed have united. People were talking about their wages, in spite of restrictions. Men and women, boys and girls, even a few children and the infirm, could hear their voices risen up to the sky. More than grapefruit, this was juice shooting up into glands they’d forgotten they had. More than cheese, more than ale, more than mum. What was it, what shiny, forbidden fruit pulled them forward, out of their moors, away from their undergrowth and out into the open?

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