For the love of the thing- in praise of true amateurs


For the love of the thing- in praise of true amateurs

I’ve often heard people speak in a derogatory tone about amateurs, and I come across many who find it an insult to be termed an amateur.

My Oxford Handy Dictionary defined amateur as someone who does something only as a pastime, as an unpaid participant and often the word carries connotations of the unskilled and inept. “Bloody amateurs!” is a cry you may hear.

But this word has an etymology that belies its modern usage. It is derived from the Latin amator, meaning a lover.

Does that give you pause? It should. Until relatively modern times professional athletes were banned from competing in the Olympic games. The original(edited for clarity: by this I mean the original reborn games, not the first Greek ones) games had an outright ban on all pro athletes, those who earned their living from their sports, and therefore only gentlemen who competed for the love of the games were eligible to enter.

We’ve come to associate the term Professional with all kinds of other positive epithets, taking it as read that if someone earns their living at something it means they must be good at it and they often are. But what about those who give up their free time to pursue something that is unlikely to earn them anything? Surely someone who does it for the love of it is going to put heart and soul into it, and not merely that mythical “enough”? All those amateur stargazers, inventors, artists, musicians, writers, poets, scientists, and so one who are denigrated as “amateurs” by those who deem themselves professionals, where do they fit in to the grand scheme of things? Do we have a place in the world? (I include myself as an amateur, because while I do earn a small amount from my work, I do not earn my living that way. I am not ashamed of this, of being an amateur. I stand among great people who were also amatuers in their time too) 

Of course we do. Some of the greatest discoveries and some of the greatest art and music have been made by people who were not professionals, but more than that, why should the receipt of a wage be the marker of the worth of a person or their creations? Is it not feasible that money is NOT the true measure of the value of a person and their work?

The Egyptian Book of the Dead mentions the weighing of the human heart as a means of determining the quality of someone’s soul. Money is not mentioned anywhere and considering the heart was weighed against a feather, the lighter the better as far as the Egyptian after life is concerned.

To do something for the sheer love of it is surely a way to the lightest heart possible.




He looks enough like my father

To make me feel very guilty

For standing gawping open-mouthed

At the shrunken leather features,

The hands folded neatly as if in prayer,

And the feet poking pathetically

From the unravelling linen.

I like to look but I hate myself

For enjoying it so much.

Empty eye sockets packed with cloth

Gaze blindly and forlornly back,

The worn teeth slightly visible beneath

Withered and blackened lips in rictus smile.

He’s long beyond truly smiling

And even further beyond caring

What I, the onlooker, may see.

To end his existence as an artefact

Encased in a glassy tomb

Seems a form of hell far beyond

Anything he might have expected

Of his promised after-life.

But it is an immortality of sorts.


(this is about another Mummy, one I saw some years ago in Derby city museum. I must write one for Ginger too. )