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    The Bodge: expedience, inventiveness or cheating?

    BodgePhoto by Tom Dennis

    I’ve been doing research in the DIY sector and I came across a concept which explains a lot about DIY, engineering, men, the English language and British society, the bodge.

    The word/concept comes up a lot in DIY discourse, at first in relation to something that has gone wrong, often comically and apocryphally. This is the botch, a close relation of the bodge.  

    Apparently, Britons spend £34 billion a year calling in professionals to fix their botched attempts at DIY. It emerges that tradesmen believe the public to be incompetent, whereas they are smart and savvy. You botch, I bodge.

    It turns out that the word ‘bodge’ has a long history, with various meanings, eg:

    -  from Middle English boccen, ‘to mend/patch’ (1663) 

    -  a Black Country word which meant ‘to poke with a stick’ 

    -  a unit of false measurement in the Middle Ages, used to cheat/swindle people

    A ‘bodger’ was:

    -       highly skilled Buckinghamshire pole lathe turners

    -       a travelling salesman or merchant (1577) 

    There are many more definitions in the Urban Dictionary such as ‘bodgered’ meaning ‘having eaten too much mashed potato’. Of course, definitions from this source may be etymologically suspect, ie made up for effect. Bodged, in other words.

    Anyway, the professional 'trade bodge', far from being a failure, is something almost to admire, while being careful who is listening. We had stories of having no X but grabbing some Y and it did the job in half the time, for less money; less prep, same finish. And (this bit is crucial) the client is none the wiser. Bodge, bish bosh, job done.

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    The bodge takes on a more positive spin in engineering. Tom Scott in The Art of the Bodge describes bodging as a form of prototyping. It might be “clumsy and inelegant but it will work and keep working as long as there is someone around to bodge it again if it breaks”. He calls the Apollo 13 fix of fitting a square peg into a round hole "the greatest bodge in human history".

    As a shortcut, a quick fix, a resourceful, ingenious work-around, the bodge perhaps fulfils the (masculine?) ideal of maximum success with minimum effort. Whatever you do, don’t be seen to be trying too hard or only ever going by the rules. Results and appearances are what matter, not the bor-ing process. 

    I suppose we’ve always loved the cheeky, rogue-ish chancer, who flouts the rules and tries to get away with things. I used to like reading the Roger the Dodger cartoon strip in the Beano, for example. Roger never ends up getting away with it and his long-suffering dad, who looks like a Health & Safety executive, gets the last laugh. However our sympathies lie with Roger, who never seems to learn and lives to dodge another day.

    Roger the Dodger

    The lovable rogue is a commonplace in film and TV. The likes of Ross Poldark, Rhett Butler, Captain Jack Sparrow, Indiana Jones, Hans Solo, all defy norms and conventions to ‘beat the system’, relying on their wits and invention (ie bodging it) to get the results and by doing so dashingly and charmingly, win over the audience.

    Some have said that the current British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, fits the description of the political Bodger. Classic symptoms include his reported disdain for detail, ability to avoid duties and responsibilities and his penchant for porky pies. His schoolteacher in 1982 wrote about his ‘disgracefully cavalier attitude’ and his apparent belief that he should be ‘free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else’.

    No alt text provided for this image

    The same politician won a landslide victory against a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party in the 2019 UK General Election. He promised to ‘get the job done’ (notably, Brexit) and to offer optimism and a bulldog spirit. Look at the paintjob! (Who cares what’s behind the skirting?) He breezily offered less politics, not more, unlike Jeremy Corbyn who detailed policies like nationalisation in a world-weary and rather irritable tone. As we all know, Johnson the Bodger saw off Corbyn the Codger.

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    Now Boris Johnson is facing a different sort of political opponent in Sir Keir Starmer. PMQs without a noisy and partisan audience is quite revealing. The former QC is the building trade equivalent, perhaps, of the building inspector who is less interested in the patter and appearances than in what is really going on. What skeletons may be in the papered-over closet? 

    Perhaps this is the thing, ultimately, about bodging. It might get you out of bind. But it is a tactical fix, not a systemic solution. And maybe when the stakes are high and enough people are alert, the truth, like a damp patch, will show through in the end. 


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