On Tuesday I went to some arts/business function at the BMW MINI plant at Cowley, avoiding the awards ceremony it was all about purely to go on a free tour of the plant afterwards – these are apparently much prized, and I just like being in places where I have no conceivable business.
It’s an extraordinary experience – well, after 90 minutes I was getting pretty bored, but before that it was more overwhelming. We visited two of the vast (and we’re talking about dozens of football pitches each here) ugly prefab buildings that grace that bit of Oxford’s ring road. The first was where loads of huge robots swing around in constant motion, grabbing parts and welding them together and so on. It’s the most dehumanised setting I’ve ever seen (there are very few actual meatware staff in there), like something out of an sf horror film really. The Matrix? You’re already in it, sunshine.
I only asked one question: “Are the robots made by robots?” They are. The whole place is an amazing monument to human technology – and utterly depressing. I couldn’t help but think our civilisation is totally fucked.
The second shed had lots more people, all of whom do 11-hour shifts on huge conveyors (they’re moving on them too), fitting all the twiddly bits to the cars. They make 50 Minis (sorry, MINIs) an hour, every single one to order and different from its shiny neighbour.
And fourthly (geddit?), on Wednesday we learnt something important – that’s a story for another day, but the good news is that all is well.