From each according to his means…

From each according to his means…

Division of labour

Our house guest Dave was probably not expecting to have to make his own bed, quite literally by helping to assemble it himself, but the process and the end result was a fine example of collectivism and the division of labour to the benefit of all.  A friend to whom I told the story, preferred the comedic angle and said that, as an example of the tenets of Marx, it owed more to Groucho than to Karl.

It all started when our friend Jeni, who was coming to stay with us for a few days, asked if she could bring her husband along too. We were delighted of course, but while we could have easily accommodated a single guest, two presented a problem. We had just donated the double bed from the main guest room, plus a sofa, to our son who was setting up home in Brighton.

Our local furniture store was promising home delivery within seven days so we hurried over to choose our replacements. In the event, the new furniture was delivered several hours later than promised, by which time Jeni and Dave had already arrived. The bed was delivered in ten separate parts, requiring home assembly. Luckily, Dave was happy to help.

The sofa was a piece of cake. Its legs needed screwing into its base – job done. Next, the mattress was taken out of its two metre long yellow plastic protective cover. This was rolled up and put outside on the decking. In the best tradition of the British workman we then stopped for the prescribed tea break. Over tea, we noticed that the yellow plastic bag outside the window bore an uncanny resemblance to a body bag. Trembling slightly in the breeze, it looked like it might be occupied too. After consultation on the appropriate course of action, the tea break was officially suspended while the bag was refolded and tucked away out of sight. With that eerie experience over, the tea break was resumed.

The mattress dealt with, we went upstairs to make the bed itself. Dave is a DIY handyman and dab hand with beds who, I soon discovered, has assembled dozens of them over the years. This specialism has exacted its toll however, and he now suffers various aches and pains particularly affecting his knees. I asked him which of the various jobs that needed doing he would prefer and which he would like to delegate to me. The division of labour was soon decided – he would play the part of the shop steward, reading the instructions and determining the order of assembly. If need be, he would also put together those bits that required the use of arms and hands only. I would be his knee-man, concentrating on those tasks that involved kneeling.

Things went well and the job was completed in record time with no need to stop, undo or repeat a single step and with no components left unused – how very different from my experience when assembling IKEA flat-packs! Glowing with collective pride we went downstairs for supper. The inevitable question was asked, “How did you manage to complete the job so quickly?”

“It was simple,” I said, “we based our working arrangement on the old socialist maxim: To each according to his knees.”

This remark was greeted with a predictable mixture of groans and laughter. But everybody was happy and, pleased with my wit, I have been repeating the joke ever since.

And, by the way, both the bed and the sofa are very comfortable. A good afternoon’s work all round.

3 comments on “From each according to his means…
  1. Andy Ince says:

    Wouldn’t it have been better to have taken the mattress upstairs first, then unwrap it? That way, you would have had an uninterrupted tea-break, and maybe even squeezed in another cup?

    Just a thought,


  2. Clearly a joint effort! x

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