Of Bean Bags and Shire Horses…

5 01 2013

There are things I don’t understand. Actually, as it turns out, the older I get the less important the stuff I know is. I mean, I pretty much understand the ionisation of plasma, for example, which, in tiny filaments, allows a beautiful flat screen TV to show dramatic colour (and similarly dramatic increases to one’s power bill) but I don’t know how to find the mute key on that tiny remote.. OK, yeah, perspective time. There are people starving in (insert appropriate third world country here or travelling vegans who might possibly be currently in Texas).

You may also be surprised to know that I do have a point to this rather tangental introduction. I sometimes wonder whether certain inventions or designs were genuinely serendipitous or were bound to happen across time and space, historically speaking at some point. I am sitting on a bean bag, therefore I am (comfortable).

A bag of beans. Simple, elegant and skirting that very fine line of being a misnomer. I hardly think I’d be happy with the concept of sitting on any kind of receptacle actually filled with any kind of beans.. Lima, Kidney (baked or raw), String, or otherwise. No. They are tiny balls of very unrecyclable polystyrene:

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Same stuff that yoghurt tubs are made out of but it’s the bubble of nothing that make it really something. Now, I find it unlikely that mankind (not being sexist here but if someone is going to be sitting comfortably on one’s bot-bot on the floor, odds on it will be a bloke, right??) has never thought of the concept of sitting on a ‘bag of stuff’ before the 1960’s.

I imagine that there were all manner of experiments akin to Edison with his highly publicised (and probably spurious) number of unsuccessful filament trials for the light bulb. So, some Mesopotamian decided  fill a cowhide with rocks? Maybe a soft buckskin with warm buck manure? Perhaps an overly large Kangaroo scrotum and stuff with wattle pollen (gross and allergenic.. hard to market, perhaps). I would suppose that other unsuccessful attempts may have included hessian sacks full of sand (marketed to Hebrew fasters and real estate agents in Amsterdam?), live whales filled with, well the usual contents, Russian tourists and overly large adaptations of rubber hot water bottles.

Nevertheless, the modern bean bag had to wait until chair designers met the needs of psychedelic furballs for whom any kind of orthodox furniture in their less-than-lucid state would be life-threatening if used according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Dr Alexander Shulgin was, I suspect, not the only tripper grateful for the development of the humble bean bag.

So, in the 1970s, the bean bag was de rigeur in the suburban ‘lounge room’. The ‘best seat’, sometimes fought over violently until its hardly-environmentally-friendly guts spewed across the equally evil nylon wall to wall carpet. Then, they vanished, almost to extinction until the early 2000’s. So, was it serendipitous? Was the genius forge of foam balls and corduroy bag the result of a particularly productive DMT trip from a Swedish chair designer or was it going to happen somehow, someday??

The “Shire Horse”, the largest breed of modern horse, was bred so over (arguably) a period of 800 years and became particularly famous in leicestershire where they occupied a core role in English civilisation …. for hauling huge carts full of beer from village to village (or in the case of 16th century university students, from local off-licence to local PARTAY!).

So, my guess is that the Shire Horse was always going to be ‘invented’. Some poor bugger of a domesticated animal was always destined be given the task of doing our hard work. Of course, the more hard work we palmed off and the more beer we were able to consume at the local, the more we enjoyed sitting down and taking it easy. The idea of going down and spending the evening at the place where they had lots of good beer was flamin’ nice but eventually we had to find more and more ways to spend less and less time at work and more time sitting down enjoying ourselves.

So we invented steam power, machines, factories, electrical appliances, broadcast television and paying people to play games with balls (other people’s balls, not their own.. there is yet to be a real market for that and may we pray it remains so). Now people could have something to watch whilst enjoying ale other than the local lads hurling in the corner of the local.

‘Drawing Rooms’ became ‘reception rooms’ when women realised the kinds of things men tend to draw whilst consuming ale. ‘Reception rooms’ became ‘living rooms’ when, with the help of unions that whittled our work week down from a positively unself-actualising 80 odd hours a week down to 35 or ( 5 hours and spectacularly long lunches if you landed a plum public service caper). Then the furniture of our affection earned the moniker of the room, we lived in the ‘lounge room’.

It was a case of natural (furniture) selection really. We began on stools over a metre tall, descended into long legged parlour chairs and, courtesy of the Eames brothers in Denmark, figured that it was pretty OK for sofas to be barely a foot off the ground (turning a suburban Bauhaus into a Bauhome).

So it was really only a matter of time before it was realised that we really wanted more channels, more beer and fewer unfortunate furniture-related accidents in the home. Indeed, if Newton had been consulted on the matter, his advice to lower the posterior (drunk or otherwise) in order to reduce gravitational potential would have been sound advice (and probably drunken to, as close as possible to a nearby floor!).

So, you see, the development of the bean bag may well be intrinsically linked to the selective breeding of Shire Horses in the motherland. I bet you didn’t wake up this morning pondering that? You might know where the mute button on the remote is though, and THAT is far more useful, right? 😉

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