Thursday, 7 October 2010

The Entirely Useless Monument

Edward talked about his plans for the Entirely Useless Monument long before he actually began working on it. He had been playing around with the idea for a while.
‘The plan is,’ he would explain, ‘to build a structure from only natural materials in my back garden. It should have no function apart from an aesthetic one, and it should be large; much taller than me - as big as the house if possible. I would work on it for one year, and when the year is up, whatever the condition of the structure, then the Monument will be finished.’
At this stage (which Edward would later refer to as the Planning Stage) reactions were overwhelmingly positive. ‘Good for you,’ people would intone. They would even offer suggestions of what they thought the Monument should look like: It should have feathers, it should represent the different stages in your life, it should be hollow, you should be able to climb it.
Edward was a creative person, though this was not reflected in his career trajectory. Following a series of clashes with the teachers, Edward had quit college at the age of seventeen, and being too proud to live off his parents’ substantial income, he had immediately found a well-paid-but-dull position in a bank. In this job, he had worked quietly and conscientiously; slowly rising in the company to his current position as a middle-manager.
When work actually got started on the Monument, reactions were more mixed. The next-door neighbour was especially concerned. A keen member of the Residents’ Association, her objections became quite vocal from the beginning. She was most concerned about the noise, and about the effect that the structure would have on house-prices in the area. After all, the Monument would be in clear view from her window. Even Edward’s family counselled against his decision.
Karl, his best friend from college, was absolutely behind him. He even helped with some of the preliminary sketches and loaned Edward the tools. So, in October 2009, work began in earnest, and soon there developed a clear pattern to Edward’s week:
Wednesday: sketch the additions which were to be made this week. This would usually be done on bits of scrap paper during quiet periods in the bank.
Thursday: visit the local hardware shop on the way home from work to buy the necessary wood and materials needed.
Friday evening: sit in the garden with a beer, just contemplating the structure, and imagining the future possibilities (this was the highlight of Edward’s week).
Saturday: Lay out tools and building materials. Work for two hours in the morning, then stop for lunch. Sometimes, work would recommence in the afternoon, sometimes those two hours would be enough.
Sunday: Bask in the glory of his work. Sometimes this would involve inviting friends around to the house to look at the Monument; sometimes it would simply involve feeling pleased with himself for the most part of the day.
Monday: Nothing. Forget about the project.
Tuesday: An anxious feeling would enter his subconscious, always extant in the back of his mind. This creeping paranoia would not subside until Wednesday came around again, and Edward set back to work on the project.

He continued in this cycle for a whole year, and though the slump of Monday and Tuesday were a drag, the sheer exhilaration of the build on Saturday kept him focused. And because he had adhered to this weekly routine so stubbornly, the Monument had really taken shape.
On his final Saturday morning, Edward sanded some rough edges, then put down his electric sander, and stood back to take in the view. The Monument was now everything he had hoped for. It would be pointless to describe it here, but suffice to say that it now satisfied every particular of Edward’s original brief.
Even the next-door-neighbour had to concede that it was quite a spectacle. People from all over the town came to visit the neighbourhood just to sneak a peak at the majesty of it. The Entirely Useless Monument was a hit.
Karl would sometimes ask Edward what was next: ‘We could add a wing to the side of it, and a dome. A dome would be awesome.’
But for Edward, this was missing the point. ‘You don’t understand,’ he would reply. ‘It’s finished.’


  1. Ha, very amusing. James here, we met the other night at the MA welcome event. Kind of reminds me of Dahl (a big compliment in my book <-- pun, I think). Good luck with the course!

  2. Hey! Hi James. Thanks for the kind words. It was ace to meet you t'other night. Maybe see you next week at the Rachel Cusk event?