John Ramsbottom, Engineer, Hipster

John Ramsbottom, Engineer, Hipster

My New Year’s resolution, alongside eating clean food and living authentically, as dictated by any number of hand-drawn vignettes on Instagram, is to learn more stuff. For me this means answering all those questions that pop into my mind while I’m filing my nails or flicking my hair.

Today’s question is about piston rings.

Piston rings are rather important. In fact, without them internal combustion is more or less impossible. Although Mr Beau de Rochas and Mr Otto are credited with inventing the internal combustion engine, there are a couple of important precursors that are often overlooked. One of them, of course, is the fuel – combustable diesel doesn’t just woosh out of the ground on its own. But that’s a question for another day.

The other precursor is the piston ring.

The piston ring was invented for steam engines, by an English engineer with the winning name of Mr Ramsbottom, in 1852. Prior to Mr Ramsbottom’s invention engine cylinders were sealed with lubricated hemp wadding. Now as you can see from the picture above, Mr Ramsbottom was a hipster, and, as any contemporary hipster will tell you, many things, from lukewarm coffee to menstrual blood are much, much better when filtrated through several layers greasy hemp. High pressure steam on the other hand, is not.

We’ve become rather inured to the magic of combustion engines but in the 19th century these developments seized the public imagination. Whereas now combustion engines are the domain of dreary bogans or cardigan wearing boffins, in the 19th century internal combustion engines were the the stuff of the adventurous experimenters, ‘road tested’ through staggering feats of exploration and challenge. It’s a romantic adventurism we’ve lost touch with. Had Shackleton’s team set off today they’d be tricked out in matching black-and-one-primary-colour polo shirts emblazoned with tired epithets like; “A Good Seal is a Tight Seal!”.

So there you go: Piston Rings. Mr Ramsbottom. Hemp and Hipsters. Happy Monday, people.

So I like, really like Kale, really


If there’s one thing I love about the unceasing churn of hipsterism it’s the blossoming romance with rural living, the cultural colonisation of all things ‘rustic’. This newfound passion for rurality is not hard to understand. After all, ‘rural life’ is underpinned by what we in the provinces like to call ‘work’, a raw physicality that antagonises the increasingly intellectual urban world occupied by urban, artistic elites, who keep themselves busy marketing images of themselves to others, and ultimately, back to themselves. Rural living provides a wellspring of uncomplicated, binary images of straightforward production anchored through immutable, physical labour. (This is, of course, shameless romanticism. We’re an idle bunch of fucks too but since when did that stop anyone?)

The love affair with rustic living has reached fever pitch in Melbourne. Amongst the high-stakes froth of the inner city elite, it’s producing a wonderfully rarified, utilitarian idiom of a bucolic, authentic life, realised through trendy vegetables and a stream of elaborate food porn. Stylistically, the whole project is peculiarly filtered through Eastern-American, Shaker lens, reinventing an entire cohort of urbanites as a kind of dark-denim, good-time-Amish, while at the same time reflecting an absolute disconnection from the Australian rural life as experienced by third or fourth generation urbanites. I’ve yet to be reminded to rate the ‘Breech Strike and Scabby-Mouth’ App on ITunes.

Cynics might suggest this folksy revival is sheer folly, the work of depoliticised youngsters, frittering away their pampered lives, searching for meaning in the absence of hardship or struggle. And that may be so. But to critique hipsterism overlooks the project’s fundamental promise; That one day someone will bring home a sheep.

Oh yes, it’s only a matter of time before young Justin, freshly recovered from his woodchopping ‘incident’, discovers The Smith Journal’s article on hand shearing and convinces his flatmates in between cups of kombucha tea (Mongolian for ‘torrential vomiting’) that what they really, really need is a sheep.

This will be hipsterism’s high water mark. Because nothing keeps it real like sheep. Sheep are the ultimate hipsters. They cluster and shy in unpredictable ways, hovering vacantly over their raw-vegan menus. They bleat and renounce technology that can’t be operated with a cloven hoof. Sheep want to be like everyone else, except when it’s time to be counted and then they’re on their own.

Well I say bring it on, Justin, with your kale smoothie and activated sticking plasters. The world is your sheep dip.