Thursday, 22 June 2017

A fine pair (pear - gedditt?!)


The temperature has gone down, Cro is ranting about juvenile delinquents, Rachel is wandering the lanes of Norfolk on heat and John is quietly tugging himself off in a darkened cinema, so all is well with the world again.

I had a successful day yesterday at the same time as almost enjoying myself. I had to work out some problems with a basic design for a carved stone detail and decided to do the work in the open air rather than sit around sweltering in our flat in town.

I suggested that H.I. come with me but she was almost deranged through heat exhaustion, so when she finally agreed it was like stuffing a cat into a box to take it to the vet.

Sitting under a tree next to the river in the old orchard of Iford Manor (IFORD MANOR, HATTATTS! Jesus, what else do I have to do to get your attention?!), listening to the water babbling over rocks in the shallows wasn't really much cooler then elsewhere, but it certainly had a calming effect.

My design problem was to do with a couple of massive stone roundels depicting Autumn and Winter in a set of Four Seasons motifs. The original (19th century) sculptor resolved the centres of Spring and Summer by simply sticking a flower in the middle of each, but I don't know if he ever resolved the problems of Autumn and Winter, because they do not exist. This is why I have been commissioned to make up the full set.

I mentioned the aesthetic problem to the young mason who will be carving them and he asked why I didn't just stick a flower in the middle of both of them like the original designer did. I pointed out that Autumn and Winter in the Northern Hemisphere are not known for a profusion of flowers in the countryside, and Christmas Poinsettias from South Africa would not be appropriate.

He suggested asking the advice of the head gardener, at which point the heat got to me and I asked in turn how the hell the head gardener would be able to help. Even if I did not already know about the shameful lack of flowers during the Winter months in Britain, did he not think that I had the entire interweb at my disposal to confirm my suspicions?

In the peace of the orchard yesterday, I resolved the problems of Winter and Autumn by putting pears in the middle of Autumn and a bunch of mistletoe in Winter.

Even though the designs are mirrored left to right, I have decided on three pears in the centre of Autumn, because two would instantly remind everyone of a large pair of testicles dangling rudely and offensively in front of their faces, and I wish to continue to work for my current clients.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Unsolicited testimonial


There are two sorts of weather in which I feel absolutely no remorse for just sitting around doing nothing - extremely hot and extremely cold.

I used to be able to work very hard in the direct sun and heat, but not any more. Yesterday I intended to go home and continue with some drawings I have to make as designs for some stone carvings being done by someone else, but I lay on the sofa and slept. Not today though. I have to make the drawings.

I have to admit to a niggling little bit of racism when it comes to modern China. I think all racism springs from fear, and up until fairly recently we had much to fear from the Chinese. Now North Korea is getting tooled-up, all we had to worry about was Chinese goods flooding the European market and undermining local economies with subsidised goods, like extremely inexpensive steel - extremely inexpensive everything.

The thing is, the poorer we got the more expensive our production became until we could not afford not to buy the Chinese stuff, at one third of the price. The stuff sent over began by being cheap and shoddy, but these days it can be very good quality indeed. Now the Chinese economy is showing signs of self-inflicted stress, so the threat to other countries has diminished considerably. The P.R.C. is also heavily investing in British schemes like the rail network and power production, which may come in very handy indeed if Brussels decides to punish us for the divorce petition.

As you know (yawn), I have stopped smoking tobacco and taken up vaping. The little 10ml bottles of liquid cost between £3 and £5 when bought in shops here, and are usually made in Italy. They even proudly say that they are made in Italy and approved in the UK, as if anyone would trust a seal of approval issued by the entirely unregulated and extremely lucrative new marketeers of vaping.

I went onto eBay and found a source of Chinese vape fluid containing nicotine in the tobacco flavour for £20 for 20 bottles - including free delivery. The name immediately put me off - Hangsen. It made me think of the stock market's Chinese index. It seems that Hangsen just means 'versatility, unconventional methods and enthusiasm', which is probably how you would describe most of the Chinese modern economy.

Then I Googled-up the vaping company and discovered that - far from jumping on a bandwagon - Hangsen have been pioneers in vaping for 11 years now and have developed techniques and recipes which everyone else uses without patents. China has a massive medical problem with smoking, so a company like Hangsen is also fulfilling a social service with their alternatives to tobacco.

Then I looked up reviews for their products, finding suspiciously glowing reports from American sources which I did not trust as being genuine.

So I found the most independent reports I could recognise, and read up some more. It turns out that the Chines vaping companies willingly follow strict rules of purity and quality set by the European laboratories - something which many European laboratories do not. For instance, Hangsen's nicotine is 99 percent pure and derived solely from vegetable matter, not synthesised.

I bought a box of twenty bottles and they arrived yesterday. They were posted from the UK and the cost of it was £4.80.

Do you know, it is very good! It is, in fact, much better than the stuff I had been buying at the shop for £5 a bottle which is made in Italy. I now feel guilty for my initial mistrust...


Tuesday, 20 June 2017

They had better hop it

I went to do that colouring I was blathering on about yesterday, but the clouds that had been predicted didn't turn up.

I set up the 200 yard length of hosepipe to the scaffold, then - blinded by my own sweat and about to pass out through heat-exhaustion, I thought - fuck this. It is not worth dying for. So I went home, drank about 2 pints of water, lay on the sofa and fell into a delicious sleep.

As I was reeling the hose through the grass, under bridges and over bridges, I noticed some movement on the ground which I initially put down to flies.

I looked a little closer and saw dozens of tiny frogs - froglets - making their instinctive way toward damper, greener grass, so the laying of the hose took about four times longer than it should have as I avoided stepping on them.

A little later, a groundsman called up to me and informed me that he was covering the whole area with a Round-up weed killer and I could not walk on that area again for fear of leaving footprints of dead grass on the lawns he was not going to treat.

"You know there are hundreds of baby frogs where you are standing, don't you?" I called down to him.

"Yes. I have done the survey and there are no newts so it is going ahead. Just bad timing."

Now If I were the groundsman given the order to spray the grass in that area, I would insist on waiting a couple of days for the new-born frogs to leave the area, but some people just have to obey orders.

I am hoping for a counter-active spell of good news soon, but I am not holding my breath.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Keeping a low profile

The current weather was predicted last week, so today I have a team of helpers putting up scaffold for me in the unrelenting 30+ degree heat so I can do the job on Tuesday, when there will be a bit of cloud cover. It is fine being old in the workplace, just so long as you garner a bit of respect. I think the same goes for young people too.

They will not let me work off ladders, but they will not let anyone work off ladders. If I fell from this location I would land on soft, newly laid turf, but rules are rules.

This job involves making newly laid stone look as though it has been there for 200 years. 'Do you use yoghurt and cow-dung?' everyone always asks. No, I use paint. Milk products turn everything a uniform black, and dung contains so much ammonia that it is harmful to the stone. Also, you would have to wait about 50 years for the dung to produce the desired effect anyway, and - What do we want? Results! When do we want them? Now! 

I believe that I was the original pioneer in the techniques involved in artificially ageing stone, and I know that I am probably the best in my rarified field even now. Anyone who is better seems to have gone into the much more lucrative world of scene-painting for films like Harry Potter.

These studio technicians also receive credits for their work. I have to walk away and pretend that I have never been there. If anyone noticed my work, I would be a failure.

I once made some repairs on a very battered bit of stone sculpture for an antique dealer. He left it with me for a long time, so when he came to pick it up he had forgotten the state it was in before delivery.

He said it looked fine and asked how much he owed me. When I told him, he was visibly shocked and outraged.

"But I can't see what you have done to it at all!"

"Exactly," I said. "If you could see what I had done it would be a lot less money."


Sunday, 18 June 2017

Faster than light

I have learned yet another astounding thing about light recently.

I knew some time ago that if you shine an equal amount of light from a certain distance toward two side-by-side apertures with identical photon-detectors behind, the photons tend to prefer one hole to the other, and will accumulate much more on that side. This implies that the light makes a 'decision' about which hole to go through, even though it is supposed to travel in perfectly straight, undeviating lines.

Then I heard about 'twinned' photons. Some photons are created as identical twins (don't ask me how or why) which can be separated. If you do something to/with one of them, its twin will respond in a completely identical way, even at some distance apart. The other side of the Universe, for instance.

This opens up the way for real-life teleportation.

There is a lot of work going into this phenomena (as predicted by Einstein, again) in China right now, but they are using twinned photons to create the world's first Quantum Computer.

When the computer is perfected, information will be able to be instantly sent to another computer - possibly on the other side of the Universe - without the need for even fibre-optic cables.

What will they think of next?

Saturday, 17 June 2017

No compromise


Sitting on the bank of the Basingstoke Canal one hot and languid Summer day like this one, I found my first bicycle.

I could just make out the handlebars through the green murk of the water, and I enlisted my older brother's help to yank it out on the towpath. It was in pretty good condition, so must have been in there for a short period of time.

There was a stone bridge very nearby, so I guessed that it may have been stolen and thrown over. We took it to the police station and the copper told me that if it was not claimed in a short period of time, it was mine. It was not claimed, so I collected it and began riding it around.

The most exciting thing about it was that it had enormous cow-horn handlebars. Only the bad boys had cow-horn handlebars - the juvenile equivalent of wannabe Hell's Angels.

I rode round to a school friend on it and his mother eventually said that she was worried when she saw the handlebars, but having spoken to me she understood that I was a nice, respectable sort of boy. Her parting advice to me was to fit an ordinary short set of bars to the bike, so as not to give people the wrong impression. She missed the point. I wanted to give people the wrong impression. Living in a huge house in a wealthy and leafy suburb of Surrey, it made a nice change.

I wanted a pair of very pointed 'Winkle-Picker', elasticated Chelsea Boots too, but my parents wouldn't buy me any. According to my mother, it was not that they thought they would - along with the handlebars - give people the wrong impression, but that they were worried that they might harm my growing feet. This was from parents who regularly irradiated their child's feet by allowing him to look at the skeletal image of them in a Clarke's shoe shop with unshielded x-rays from a wooden-cased machine.

In those days, a policeman on the street (a rare thing now) would take the piss out of a young yob by asking, "Do your feet come to the end of those shoes?"

The standard response from the yob was, "Does your head come to the end of that helmet?"

Eventually I obtained a pair of Winkle-Picker boots by swapping an old air-rifle for them. They were about 2 sizes too small for me - I had very large feet, even in those days. I spent one day hobbling around in them before taking my parent's advice and throwing them away.

In return for giving them up, they promised to buy me a replacement pair of the right size. I insisted that they had to be pointed. The description 'uncool' was not in use in those days, but that is what we would have called the clumpy, round-toed shoes we had to wear to school. "We'll see," was the ominous, no-promise response.

When they arrived, they were ever so slightly more pointed on the toe, but only just. They just didn't understand that there could not be any compromise, so they compromised. Because of this, I actually understand how one pair of trainers can be perfectly acceptable to  a modern youth, but another pair - in which I can see no particular difference - is not.

When I outgrew the cow-horns, I desired nothing less than a racing bike with drop-handlebars.

My parents said that drop-handlebars were very bad for the posture, especially for a growing boy. My birthday was coming up, and I worked on them to get me a racing-bike.

The great day arrived and I was escorted into the yard to unwrap the bike. As expected, another compromise had been made, and the handlebars were ever so slightly downward-pointed.

That was not the worse thing about it. In order to save money, my father had selected a bike with a frame made of iron and not aluminium, so the 'racing bike' weighed a ton and could only be picked up with two hands.

I felt extremely ungrateful and angry at the same time. My parents could not understand why I refused to ride the bike, saying that it cost them a lot of money and now it was rusting away. If it had been aluminium, it would not have rusted even if I did not use it.

They just did not understand.

Friday, 16 June 2017

The Moon first. The MOON first.


I just remembered that in a half-awake state of mind this morning (or was it last night?) I heard a British colloquial language expert talking about how the chat between kids of a certain age has been and is being affected by world events.

Her favourite - as is mine now - is, "Let's make the Moon great again!"