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Past Punishments Present Day Pursuits

October 27, 2009


A lot of non-digital hobbies weren’t considered pastimes not too long ago.  Some of them, such as hitting the treadmill or sewing your own sock monkey were down right laborious work for the destitute and incarcerated.

Making something out of thread and fabric can be a rewarding task but the hours of gut wrenching labour hunched sewing a piece of cloth smacks of the solidary slavings of a shoe cobbler like the one spelled out in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities’ sixth chapter.

Even riding a wicked wave, the whole act of balancing on a small plank resembles a log driver barrelling  down white water, “where he learns to step lively.” 

Another popular past time is the treadmill.  Lined up in phalanxes along gym windows, they share a common ancestor with the stair master, the Victorian Treadmill.

Looking like a line of people clambering over a very wide water wheel, it was a “popular” form of punishment and prison labour in an era where tradespeople were wary of competition by unpaid prison workers.

The wheel could fit as many as forty people on a single machine.   Artful dodgers, pregnant women and the elderly were subjected to this device which slowed for no man, women or child sending slow pokes crashing down and spanking shins all along the way. 

Maybe it’s about time we did our bit to remind people of the wretched origins of their past times, such as standing in front of them eating ice cream straight from the tub (I suggest the Wan Chai pedestrian bridge to Immigration Tower facing California Fitness).


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