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Open letter to Steve Tomlin

A brief prelude:

On September 15, 2013 we had posted the following on this website:

“As for other scythe-devoted internet sources, we take our hats off to Scytherspace.
Steve Tomlin (the blog’s producer) and his partner Christiane Lechner from Austria, have become sort of rising stars of that blossoming Scythe Renaissance movement, and traveled further up the scythe-sharing path than most; may the Grinning Reaper bless their steps!”

 

Then a few weeks ago, as I was in the process of assembling a “team” to contribute to the writing of a more comprehensive treatise on the subject of scythes than has been available to date, I was very close to contacting you to take part. At that point I had NO idea of your resentful feelings towards me, but for some unknown reason I left the UK to be represented by Simon Fairlie only…
 

As you may now guess, this letter was inspired by a lovely statement of yours, posted on Botan Anderson’s One Scythe Revolution Facebook page in the aftermath of my ‘Two Scythe Tales‘:

“trouble is Ricoandbeth that Peter has p*ssed off or put down pretty much everyone in the scythe world; it’s become a rite of passage “You havent made it until Vidos fallen out with you”. Its far from the network building that he claims for scytheconnection and i dont think we should keep excusing his rude and confrontational attitude. he doesnt own the scythe world.”


Well, well… While I did expect some version of defensiveness from Botan (though not quite what came) I couldn’t have imagined this sort of humbug from you…

Now, before continuing I want to make something clear: Had you instead responded with the same straightforward (or even far less diplomatic, but constructive) brusqueness as I chose, to any of my corrections of either “tale”, I’d consider it a fair game, and if we ever met again I’d buy you a pint or two. But this?
Perhaps you had several pints too many when you wrote that comment, but surely there was plenty of time to sober up since then… and expound on it in a more clear-headed manner. Well, nothing in way of ‘improvement’ followed in the 51 days since, and I’m now moved to take your notions further apart:

“…Peter has p*ssed off or put down pretty much everyone in the scythe world…”

Firstly, (having not used the term myself) I wonder, what sort of “scythe world” are you talking about? And, how did you manage to get to know “everyone” in it? And if you are indeed correct, I am puzzled how it is that the ratio of positive to negative feedback we’ve received is AT LEAST a hundred to one. As any attentive reader of our website has surely noticed, we have stayed away from posting any decidedly flattering letters, simply because I’ve found those common ‘customer testimonials’ cheap and ‘kitchy’, and did not wish to join that circle. However, your statement perhaps justifies altering my stand for a moment.
Here, for instance, are a few excerpts from a lengthy letter that came just yesterday from someone we corresponded with long ago (but never met) and haven’t heard from since about 2003:

“…I have read nearly everything you have written on the subject, with relish I might add… If I have questions about certain aspects of the scythe I remind myself to re-read for clarification, and more often then not the ‘answers’ are there to be understood.  I have just gotten through your essay responding to “the Tale” and “the open letter”. This has been the most informative writing on the subject of scythes to date. A strong, balanced, none-mean-spirited comment to human tendency to overreach in statement, to make claims and promise, in order to argue a point (to further a commercial agenda)… Simply put I thank you for your mindful writing.  
I send kindness to you and your family in your continued journey on this earth that cries out for change in human conduct and choices.”

 

And here is another excerpt from one of your compatriots:

“… You and your family have obviously been the main ‘seed crystals’ for a scything revolution all over the world. I would know nothing about scything had it not been for you. Your visit here years ago influenced so many and is still talked about. I first used a scythe on a friend’s allotment garden here in Oxford (Paul Kingsnorth, a writer… founder of the ‘Dark Mountain Project’)… who first heard about it from his mate George Mombiot (the journalist)… who first used one at Tinker’s Bubble, a communal farm in Somerset which was co-founded by Simon Fairlie… who learned about scything from you. The line is clear and unbroken, and I will further encourage the revolution on my farm by running courses and introducing a younger generation to the joy of scything. So you have been an inspiration – a seed crystal – to all of us Peter…”

Besides those sort of seemingly non-pissed off folks, I have maintained valid, trusting and mutually meaningful relationships with certain individuals that I met within the scythe circles still during my first ‘return’ journey to Austria in 1999 (I had lived there as a political refugee in 1968) and many more that I connected with in other countries during the subsequent years of my activity. Some of those friends are former owners/managers/employees of scythe factories, historians or energy-depletion radicals. Many of these decade-old scythe friends I phone periodically, some of them monthly, to ask questions and/or discuss recent developments. ALL these people know me as an outspoken and at times ‘confrontational character’. They also know that I can (believe it or not) be respectful, forgiving and utterly appreciative of good relationships — and ‘good’ in this case does NOT equate with ‘agreeing with each other’s point of view’.

Most of these ties between myself and “the scythe world” were made long before you, Steve Tomlin, ever mowed a cart-full worth of grass… And although countless of my relationships with scythe-interested people either outlived their usefulness to the ‘wider cause’, or would be impossible to maintain due to time constraints alone, other helpful connections continue to accumulate.
In any case, I surmise that the ‘scythe world’ must be a lot larger than Stevie imagines…

If I “pissed off or put down” anyone during my activist years, they fit into one or both of the following categories:
a) they sell and promote the tool BUT trade some honesty for money, or
b) have written naive/inaccurate “instruction” on the subject — which I have (sometimes) publicly corrected.

(How you and Botan — two obviously pissed off hornets — fit into a) and/or b) I leave for you to reflect on…)

It is also possible that I had ‘pissed off’ the owner of Schroeckenfux (and indirectly some of his customers who promote that company’s scythe blades as “world’s best”) when, in 2012, I revealed to the “scythe world” that there is yet another little known scythe-making enterprise, Falci, of Italy, that makes (what I think) are the best blades today — and I substantiated why. However, I’d have no reservations turning up at his office in good conscience today, and doubt that he would (or, in good conscience, ‘could’) shut the door in my face. You see, I had told him 15 years ago that while my goal was to popularize the use of scythe worldwide, I also wanted to help ALL scythe makers, large or small, wherever on this globe they may be — provided they were willing to cooperate. Though far from accomplishing that mission, I have stuck to the initial intent.

“… it’s become a rite of passage “You haven’t made it until Vidos fallen out with you”

Be my numbness forgiven, or not — but I really, really do not get what you, Steve Tomlin, mean to insinuate with this.

“… far from the network building …”

My initial vision of “Cooperative Scythe Network” never really made it past my mind; for that to have happened, many more folks would have had to been willing to forsake ‘sound business’ concerns for a cause, and/or be willing to venture beyond the comfort of their back yard, so to speak. However, all along I’ve ‘networked’ with the few exceptions to the business/comfort rules, as well as those who embrace them — and continue to do so.
As I shall outline below, you, Botan, those under your respective scythe ‘care’ and many others have already benefited by me sticking my nose into “the scythe world” matters. A portion of our present efforts are directed to the very same end — whether you or those perceived “everybody” are pissed off or not…

“… i dont think we should keep excusing his rude and confrontational attitude.”

When, or in which way have I asked “you” (meaning your “we” equivalent) to excuse my confrontational attitude? Alternately, how or in which way have “you” done so, unasked? In any case, I do not expect ‘excuses’. Being liked AND being useful may be a desirable combination, although I/the Vido family did NOT opt to go through what our contribution ‘cost’ us in order to be liked. (One would have to be a nutcase to make such an off-balance trade off!) Our aim was to be useful, within a broader context, and still is, period. Once you accomplish anywhere near the equivalent without being confrontational, please let me know how you did it; I’ll gladly, as they say, borrow a page from your book. For the time being, your conduct demonstrates that I’ll have to wait a long time…

Let’s face it (if you can) — both “Tales” authors made many technically and historically incorrect statements, besides presenting uneducated notions. Botan’s Tale was up there for more than two years for everyone to see. Why would, for instance, someone qualified (say, a scythe instructor) not have alerted the public to its flaws long before I did?

You may blog about the fun you and friends are having out there in the flower-strewn English countryside (activity that we had publicly applauded you for) but do you not care, Steve Tomlin, if scythe-related nonsense is disseminated throughout the now so large electronic avenue? Or that someone is knowingly ‘depriving’ the excited but still naive folks of yet another step up in potential? Can such tasks be accomplished without being confrontational about it all? Maybe so, but I see no evidence of serious attempts to that end, and, given that fact, I’d rather be “rude” than oblivious.
You evidently missed (or for some reason chose to ignore) what the introduction to the ‘Two Scythe Tales’ stated — that my aim was to correct some of the widespread misconceptions, period. Whether I was too “rude” in doing so could be debated; the term is an altogether fuzzy one. That I’m confrontational, often, I readily agree. However, my reviews had nothing to do directly with you, then. Now, as a result of your response contribution, they do. I do not know to what extent you are seriously under-informed, or just plain stupid. Nevertheless, your statement inspired me to share here some “scythe world”-related facts.
Actually, I perceive that both you and Botan deserve a reminder of sort; a portion of what I say below is also on behalf of his education. Both of you seem not to grasp that old maxim: “Do not bite the hand that feeds you.”

How I have ‘fed’ you? Well, that is a long story of which the following is but a very brief outline.

Had it not been for my ten plus years worth (25 trips to Europe) of consistent boat rocking, much of the benefits/support structure that you have both enjoyed and on which you have built your respective positions within the ‘scythe world’, might not exist. To list the actual items the selling of which contributes to both of you having your bellies full:

1. The two snaths models (the curved metal one with the green plastic extension-holding piece for the lower grip, and the Swiss-made wooden w/adjustable grip)
2. The “Profit Sense/2010” blade model
3. The blade’s tang setting that (more or less) fits the snath models mentioned above
4. The triple-peened edges now available to anyone around the globe that pre-orders them with some notice, on any blade model Schroeckenfux produces
5. The Rozsutec whetstone
6. The Picard hammer and anvil set as well as the “Fux” peening anvil
7. The better-holding rings than were available before — that are now supplied with the two improved snaths referred to above.
8. The copper stone holders, and later the cow horns…

These are the strictly technical innovations and/or introductions that my “rude and controversial” activity generated. Sometimes I took part in the actual designing (the case with both snaths and the “Profit” blade). In cases 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, and 8, I initiated and/or inspired the process of ‘birth’.

The now so-called ‘tai-chi’ weight-shift mowing movement and the use of the sanding block along with the loupe to aid peening were not aspects of European mowing traditions. Are they essential? Certainly not. Would you now want to get by without them? Well, you answer that one.
Am I now bragging? You and friends decide for yourselves…

What needs qualifying here is that “I”/Peter Vido accomplished NOTHING alone. Had it not been for willing (even if sometimes reluctant) cooperation of certain individuals within the Schroeckenfux enterprise (where I learned A WHOLE LOT) and countless others, the presently available scythes and information on how to use them would still be in the dismal state it was 20 years ago.

To further qualify some of the points above: 
The Picard company had long made those anvils and hammers, but by 2006 only in relatively small numbers as a good relations gesture to a few old customers. I gave those two tools new exposure beyond the German borders, and they now make them by the hundreds — for useful purposes of many folks worldwide, with Steve Tomlin among them… 
The “Fux” anvil’s face shape was modeled after an old anvil some unknown Austrian smith forged by hand long ago. It had become my favorite of all anvils I had played with — and Ernst Schoisswohl, my student/friend/co-worker in scythe matters was eventually convinced that its geometry has meaningful merits. Subsequently he came up with the “Fux” anvil design which more or less sports the same-shaped face, and the longer version of which is exactly the length of “my” old anvil.
The Rozsutec stone was being manufactured before I ever first appeared in Europe as the perpetual troublemaker, but again, it was I who introduced it to the non-Slovak scythe circles.
Rings with two diagonally placed (albeit coarse-threaded and square-holed) screws had existed long before my activism time, but more or less disappeared from the scene. The Czechs did (and continue to) make a ring with such screws, but it was a Slovak that conceived of the finer thread and the much better hexagonal hole. I introduced those concepts I had learned in Slovakia to Ernst, who grasped that welding (instead of riveting) the top part of the ring to the plate was, nowadays, more expedient and began to make them that way for the new line of the Schroeckenfux-offered “Garden Sense”. That (welding) idea I took back to Slovakia where the country’s rings are now welded, and the same small enterprise has made for us (and a few other ‘Western’ customers) rings featuring those principles, also in several custom-made sizes.
And, by the way, ALL of the contributions above took place without ANY personal monetary rewards. I remain an independent not-for-sale boat-rocking me.

In addition to all the technical innovations listed above — shared now by each mail order (and quite a few others not on mail order lists) sellers around the world — you, Steve Tomlin, have benefited by yet another touch of destiny related to my diverse sort of ‘work’.
You’ve enjoyed the privilege of Christiane as your friend. Neither you nor she needs to tell me how exactly she helped you become one of UK’s ‘scythe stars’; I sense that her contribution was significant. And, I’d be very surprised if she did not agree that without my unintentional influence in her life, you and she would never have met…

Of course, to all of this anyone could say, “Well, if you (Peter) hadn’t done whatever boat-rocking you did, somebody else likely would have.” True, although “may have” might be more fitting than “would have”. The fact is that nobody else did (not to similar extent), much to my dismay! I was once counting on others to join me in a much more serious way — not merely by using the tool versions already available at any given time, but willingness to ‘go the extra (unpaid) mile’ — and continue with improvements, if possible and/or called-for (both of which are, in my view, the case). Supporting local self-reliance is likewise a concept of importance to me, and one to be dovetailed with the above. On the whole, I’ve seen pathetic little activity in that regard.
Take Steve Tomlin as an example. He once (7 years ago, or so) claimed that he would learn to make ‘wildwood’ snaths for his UK comrades. Great idea, since that country is full of free material for such an undertaking; all it would take is time AND dedication to the cause. How many such snaths has he made, or how many snaths-making courses has he taught? I don’t know, but his Scytherspace hasn’t much on it… Instead — though he knows that (IF conviviality mattered) a more ergonomic snath is within reach — he seems content to sell, and teach courses on how to use, those “Profi” outfits (while cashing in on both). I also notice that he has cajoled his Heaven-sent Austrian scythe mate to pose, and at least during public events, to mow with one of them. Of course, it makes sound business sense. Those are the snaths he sells, they are convenient to obtain, and the UK folks can presently still afford them.
But, can he claim (and look me in the eye) that she has more fun with it than with some of the wildwood snaths she had earlier received from me? I doubt it…

In any case, from my spot in the circle I perceive that you, Steve Tomlin, Botan Anderson and the rest of the indignant responders to my Two Scythe Tales are focusing your attention on the the most immediate spot in front of your nose (where your egos and monetary concerns lie covered by a blanket of rhetoric). Should you one day dare to explore the uncertain terrains where, searching for a spring, you might stumble and fall, sometimes going thirsty for long periods of time, I believe you’d pull back your sharp but immature horns.

In the spirit of waining solidarity,
Peter Vido

April 6th, 2014

 


Update:

As ‘destiny’ would have it, shortly after this Open Letter was posted I happened to read a portion of of discussion on One Scythe Revolution’s Facebook page that shed some light on this whole ‘Anderson versus Vido’ soap opera that Steve Tomlin (inadvertently?) took part in.
I say “happened” in the sentence above because we have never followed anyone’s Facebook page, nor have we had the interest or extra time to see what transpires on OSR blog. And, without us EVER having commissioned “spies” to keep track of the gossip, it is usually someone else who occasionally sends us a ‘heads-up’ on what is taking place in scythe-related cyberspace. That person could be a friend or a complete stranger. Then we may get to see a comment we would never come across on our own.
And so it was in this case — where Steve Tomlin is apparently a listener of Botan’s semi-informed and skewed ‘profile’ about Peter Vido, a story which Steve obviously swallowed ‘hook, line and sinker’ as they say.
Until reading that comment sequence, I could not figure out how Steve would come to the conclusions which led to the comment that my Open Letter is a response to. And yes, I may have written that letter differently had I read that Facebook gossip beforehand.
This, however, is an explanation, not an apology; I don’t recall ever asking for the latter, from anyone, for any reason. I feel that especially in cases of strong public statements, an apology is usually but a small compensation; once the initial words are out they continue to create stories and consequences of their own…
In any case, whatever tricks the ‘gods’ can throw into our laps, I believe we are still responsible for all of our acts. To what extent ought the grown man Steve (albeit acting gullible and child-like) be given slack? I do not know. One thing he initiated was another small round of word-sparring that may, or may not, lead to some clarity.

-Peter