Ask people what man's greatest feat is, and they will give you many different answers.

Some will say the pyramids. Others will say putting a man on the moon with the computing power of an electric toothbrush. Some may say, "I haven't seen bigger than a size 14 - and anything larger are flippers regardless."

The real answer is none of these. The answer is flatpack furniture.


My apologies for dredging up the memories. Flashbacks of pieces which do not fit no matter which way you turn them, instructions which do not make sense no matter which way you turn them, spouses whose relaying of instructions do not make sense, so you turn on them.

As they say: if you want to strengthen your relationship with your significant other, build flatpack furniture with them. If you want to end your relationship with your significant other, build flatpack furniture with them.

But as I said, the reason I bring up flatpack furniture is because it really is man's greatest engineering marvel. Stop and contemplate for a moment the complexity of the systems used by companies who make and distribute these products, the months of engineering that goes into getting your new coffee table into as small of a box as possible.

On this scale of production and distribution, every little adds up. A part which is a centimetre longer than it needs to be means the box needs to be a centimetre longer.

This means an additional slither of cardboard, which over a global scale costs more than you'll earn this year. The additional slither of cardboard means that for every shipment of little coffee tables made of ticky-tacky, one less will fit into the truck, creating a few thousand or so extra shipments every year, which will in turn cost more than your house.

These figures aren't of my own making by the way - check them for yourself.

The assembly of an office chair base at home, rather than selling it with just the legs of the base preassembled, will drop seven figures off shipping costs each year according to the blue and yellow legion themselves.

Their entire forces are focussed towards dispensing of any unnecessary box space; engineers are being fed Swedish meatballs around the hour to draw forth their greatest levels of pettifogging.

So, with this knowledge in mind, please kindly remind yourself of the universal principle which every curious young child is at pains to discover for themselves - everything comes apart far easier than it goes back together.

Yet somehow, there you find yourself at midnight on a Sunday, sitting on the lounge floor surrounded by so many pieces of a table that it looks like you've been body slammed right through it, trying to outwit the team of professional engineers who spent months to get this thing apart so skilfully.

But still, the engineering marvel will come together, with time and of course patience, which will wax and wane with the aforementioned time. It will not be done correctly the first attempt- some disassembly required.

You will feel great pride in the end result, and at some points in the process, perhaps even something similar to the joy that comes from building blocks, or Lego, or any other toy engineered to satisfy the human desire to create.

My great grandfather was a cabinet maker. One hundred years ago, when the need arose for some to hold bits and bobs, he sloped into the woods with an axe to find a nice hefty tree.

He spent himself on bringing that tree down to ground level, where it could be diced up into appropriate shapes, planed and lathed, put together with meticulously detail and care, and sent to its task which it would spend infinity completing, unhindered by the fragilities of the living, until it was no longer needed or wanted.

He was the proud and attentive custodian of what he had created, and as was his daughter - my grandmother- and now my mother after her. The cabinet still stands, its design being the sole indicator of age. One day, it will be mine.

One hundred years on, lacking such a cabinet, I sit on the floor, thinking the box is missing a vital part. Of course, it is not. Nor are the instructions misprinted.

I remember as a young child, learning to type on a keyboard, and the handful of times I summoned an adult, filled with a certainty that was bubbling forth from me that the keyboard was missing a letter.

There had to be a mistake, because my little eyes had darted around the board in search of it many times, and it simply was not there. Of course, it was.

When the cabinet is finished, I feel the pride. I stand and look at my creation, taking it all in and filling myself with self-assurance of my capability as a manly man. The table is pretty. It is new, and it is unblemished.

But it has no story, no soul. I made it with my bare hands, but not in the same way my great grandfather did - not with heart as well.

I was just an unpaid, unskilled employee for a corporation on the other side of the globe. The cabinet was already made by a team of engineers in a fluorescent-tube lit room when I got it.

It lacks soul, and as much as it may try with dog-like innocence and determination to garner love and affection and a spot to occupy in my heart over however many years it may or may not last, it will not.

Firstly, because it will not (last, that is). But secondly, and most importantly, because even if it were to, my great-grandchild would not one day proudly write of how their great-grandfather used to sit on his lounge floor building flatpack.