Hands-on traditions get the thumbs-up

19.08.44: IN ONE of the unlikeliest victories of the 21st century, the Association of Traditional Craftsmen has won the right to occupy the prestigious Central Pavilion at the Great Exhibition being planned for the New Crystal Palace in 2051.

The decision to give pride of place to the handworkers, announced by Felicity Parfitt, the trade minister, was made in the face of opposition from leading bio-engineering and psychotech companies.

ATC president Joss Henderson, whose members include potters, carpenters, weavers and knitters, greeted the news with delight.

'There is a wonderful symmetry in this,' he said. 'The Great Exhibition of 1851 was a celebration of British industrial genius, a wake-up call to the rest of the world. It is apt that 200 years later we again find the future taking shape in English hands.

'Eighteen fifty-one was the year the word "Victorian" was coined, with all its connotations of empiricism and heavy engineering. Now 2051 will be pivotal, too. In a strange way it signals the triumph of those 19th-century visionaries - our emergence, through technological brilliance, from an age when we were subservient to the machine to an age in which we've transcended it.'

The craftsmen's rationale is that the concept of 'work' has changed. In the age of artificial intelligence, when vast industrial systems can function throughout their lifetime without human intervention, the priority is to fuel the human need for creativity.

'Working with your hands,' said Henderson, 'is the ultimate affirmation of the human spirit, as William Morris realised in the industrial age. We make objects that are not only beautiful to look at but also beautiful to handle and use, and which bind together the user and producer in a unique relationship. It is the best way of re-establishing a respectful attitude to the world we live in.'

The other main contenders for the Central Pavilion were vocal in their condemnation of the minister's decision. 'She has destroyed the chance of planting this country's flag on the summit of the 21st century,' said Finn Hoeg, of Atlantic PsychoTech. 'What is she saying? That the apex of our achievement is a bent iron doorknob, a chair made out of sticks and a smelly garment knotted together with fibres plucked from sheep