What subject I wondered, could potentially be more entertaining than Twitter? Without thinking, I typed the words Rock Polishing into Youtube.
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In January I spent the full month off Twitter.
Yes I logged in, checked and replied to DMs. I even posted about my desire to become a vape sommelier. By ‘off Twitter’ I mean not wasting endless hours of my life scrolling the feed. Which of course begged the question. What should I do instead?
I’ve been ticking off more stuff on my todolist everyday and I’ve been seeking out content in an active, self-directed way.
What subject, I wondered, could potentially be more entertaining than Twitter. Without thinking, I typed the words Rock Polishing into Youtube. I have indeed been entertained.
Rock polishing fandom is as earnest as it comes. No klout chasing. Just people who talk enthusiastically about their rock collecting and polishing obsessions.
You see, polishing the rocks is its own subfandom within the hobby of collecting them. Some rock collectors like to keep their rocks au natural, washed maybe, but as they come. Others like to polish up their cool looking rocks, marvelling at their transformation. Some folks use a tumbler to polish their rocks. Others will arduously polish and buff one section by hand. A broad scope of aesthetic choices available to all who make up the rock collecting fandom.
There is of course, deep lore associated with any fandom. The rock collecting and polishing fandom is no exception. A good working knowledge of geology, chemistry, and minerals is essential.
Rock-Tubers will sometimes flow into long informative monologues on the geologic deep history of their local area. Pointing out rock formations in the landscape, telltale signs for the kinds of rocks that could be found. January has felt like a dream full of half remembered GCSE geography and chemistry. Igneous, Sedimentary, Metamorphic. Monotone explanations of minerals and how to recognise them.
A woman in boots stands in a dry river bed. A man wearing wrap around oakleys and a bucket hat stands in the baking sun. Desert haze rises around him as he explains the difference between nodules vs geodes.
Some will open geodes by cracking them open with high tension chains in a table vice. A few will smash them with a hammer right there under the baking sun, and others used diamond tipped band saws in their garages.
It’s perfect three act story telling. Find the rock, smash the rock, see what’s inside.
I realise I have fallen into a variation on Youtube’s most successful genre.
What’s inside the egg? I wonder if the ur entertainment for all humanity might just be ‘is there something cool inside the rock’
And of course, finding a cool rock begs the question? How much cooler will it look once it’s been polished? I’ve learnt all about the difference between Silicon carbide and Aluminium oxide as a polishing medium in rock tumblers. Strong opinions exist out there in the rock polishing fandom.
Further down the rabbit hole I discover the pros and cons of not just the medium, but the type of machine itself. Does one choose to rub one’s rocks with a Rotary or Vibratory Tumbler? They both have different qualities with a visible difference in final result. Impacting the enjoyment of one’s rock collection.
I find even nicher videos. Using household chemicals to get different effects. Vinegar or citric acid on rocks with carboniferous tidelayers? How to get the best results when polishing Amethysts? These are all questions I find myself asking now too.
But it isn’t just the enthusiastically communicated technical information tha captures my attention. My favourite videos are the dedicated rock collecting videos. With a head mounted go pros, you are treated to first person views. Attentive individuals walking on the beach, a lake shore, or the wash at the base of a canyon. As they walk they talk about their lives. How rock collecting makes them feel, and what it has meant to them throughout their lives. The enjoyment of finding a good rock. The memories they contain and represent. How becoming a Youtuber has changed their lives. Some have become more outgoing, confidence found from sharing their passion. Others reflect on growing up as a lonely rock collecting kid.
It is from here that the Youtube algorithm works its magic and I find myself on the shore of north Devon. Beachcombing Youtube.
A fandom not so much about the people walking the foreshore, but the character of the beach itself.
A woman in wellies walks the intertidal. 90mins of uncut stabilised first person GoPro footage of walking the foreshore. The sound of gulls, the undulating rhythm of the sea, pebbles and the slurp of boots in wet sand.
A piece of brown sea glass. The camera drops with the wearer. The chipped nail polish gives me the only insight into the creators personality. The glass picked up, inspected, examined. Turned over around and over again, then dropped.
The beachcomber rises and walks once again.
What’s that? the beachcomber and I both wonder. A broken clay pipe, a mermaid’s purse, a razor shell, whelks and cowries. Plastic, so many plastics. Forks, spoons, bottle tops, bags, a box of unravelled floss tangelling seaweed. Nice things are dropped back to the beach. Plastics are placed in a bag.
Wordless beachcombing videos are more like landscape performance art than entertainment. You could project one against a gallery wall and people would watch attention rapped.
I grew up by the sea. Long beach walks with visiting family, the light is fading but we can’t leave until everyone has found a cowrie. These long videos are reality TV at its most raw. A window into others solitary pleasures.
The script above is the original script written for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in the edit.
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