Friday, 21 November 2014

Hedging and ditching

I went to download a photo from my phone just now, and although I can see the picture clearly on the phone screen, the computer says that it is an empty file, so cannot import it. Oh well, I will just have to describe it.

Set back from the country lane, a swathe of verge has been neatly cleared of ragged bushes and small trees in order to create a hedge.

The hedge has been laid in the traditional manner by half cutting through a line of short but reasonably mature hazel, then bending each piece to the left to be interlocked with its neighbour. Because there are still some green leaves left on the wood, the new hedge is already quite dense, and it stretches about 50 feet in both directions, but only about 25 feet can be seen framed in the open window of the passenger door of the Volvo, because I was too lazy to get out of the car to take the photo.

Behind the hedge there is a green field of about 4 acres, and there are a couple of neat-looking houses at the top, fringed with mature trees behind.

Dead centre of the field there is a tree which - although quite tall and mature - still has a sort of fence around it to protect it from deer.  It is about 20 feet high and shaped like a sugar-loaf.

The tree's leaves have turned a vivd rust-red and are the complete complimentary colour to the green of the grass, making the tree startlingly vibrant.

It is as if the whole hedge and verge has been created just to frame the tree, so that it can be appreciated by any passer-by for the week or so that the leaves stay on it.

Normally, a tractor goes up and down this lane for a day, slashing the hedges with a giant and hellishly noisy set of rotating blades, leaving ragged white stumps and chipped wood all over the road, but an old man has moved into the area to show everyone how it could be done, given a little care, attention and time.

On the exposed and wind-swept plateau of Lansdown where that war memorial is, all the boundaries are stone walls - the very same walls which the Civil War troops sheltered behind in the battle. Walls rather than hedges up there, because the thin, hard, brash stone lies conveniently (or inconveniently) about 2 feet from the surface of the fields, and has been ploughed-out and thrown to one side by farmers.

Finally, people are beginning to return to the old ways if they can afford to, but agricultural wages have always been low and property prices have never been higher.

That old man is a real sculptor, and one who works with colour as well.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

You've got one chance

With my heart in my mouth, I have today sent off this piece of valuable, irreplaceable, antique, Breccia marble column to be cut into exactly two pieces by a sawyer who has already destroyed about £500 worth of other marble by cutting it into four pieces instead of the two that I asked for.

The trouble is that my regular sawyer  - the best in the West - is too busy to do this little task, so I have sent it with an instruction sheet - including drawings, photos and step-by-step explanations which I believe a small child could understand, but I am still haunted by the previous mistake.

To a great extent, the previous wrong cutting was my own fault, because I had drawn a 90 degree cross in the middle of it to mark the absolute centre, which is a technique used daily by all masons, but because I didn't rub it out, the sawyer cut right through the middle of both lines, destroying the marble. The trouble is that many sawyers are not masons.

I have also made life as easy as I could for the sawyer by setting the column in a cosy cradle of polyurethane insulation board which can be cut straight through without the blade even knowing it is there, so the marble does not have to be chocked-up on the bed of the saw to stop it rolling off during cutting. I have placed cable-ties either side of the cut so as to lessen the chance of the column being shifted out of true by the sawyer pushing the diamond blade through too fast.

Another consequence of pushing the blade through too fast would be the breaking off of some of the different, harder or softer bits which make up the conglomerate which is Breccia, but I have asked him that - if this should happen - he should save the little bits for me to glue back in later, but since they would probably fall into a deep slurry of liquid mud stone-dust, the chance of him spotting them flying off at high speed are almost zero.

What could possibly go wrong?

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

My flirtation with transvestism

Mise's lipstick post coincided nicely with a rare moment of mild transvestism on my part, when I went to the bathroom and put on some Mitsouko perfume last night.

"You know that is a ladies perfume, don't you?" H.I.'s voice betrayed a hint of concern.

Of course I did, but - in her defence - she does tend to prefer perfumes which could easily be worn by both sexes without fear of gender confusion in the blind - warm, woody, evening scents at the other end of the spectrum from the citrus-sweet, girly ones as worn by slappers on their nights out. Actually, there is one perfume worn by them which smells like rotten cheese.

Occasionally, on a warm Summer day, I will splash on a bit of Koln Wasser, and justify it by saying that if it was masculine enough for Napoleon to use on the battlefield, then it is manly enough for me to take to work.

I stopped H.I. from throwing away the bottle of Mitsouko a couple of years ago for being too old. I said that the only thing that age does to perfume is evaporate it, and if there is still half an inch left in a 20 year-old bottle, then it will be just as good as ever.

Mise was saying the same thing that H.I. says constantly, and that is about the infuriating way that as soon as you have found something which really suits your needs, requirements and aspirations, it goes off the market.

How many time have we rushed to buy something which has just been restocked before it runs out again because people bulk-purchase it for fear of it running out, only to be told it will never be stocked again because there is no demand for it?

The manufacturers of these products kid themselves that they create the demand for their stuff by setting seasonal trends for it but, in reality, all that happens is that they occasionally hit it right but find there is not enough volume in the sales to justify its continued manufacture. The bulk of their sales come from slappers who go to nightclubs smelling of rotting cheese.

Of course, if you are prepared to spend £2000 on a small bottle of classical perfume, then you will always be able to buy it, so long as you can afford the air-fare to Paris as well.

Talking of cheese, a couple of years ago, Waitrose stocked a medium-hard, white cheese which was packed full of finely chopped Perigord truffles. It was so ridiculously expensive that they couldn't sell any of it, so they reduced the price to the mouse-trap Cheddar level, and I bought the lot.

That was never re-stocked either, and I wonder if the producer went out of business.

(I am trying out the John Gray technique of titling, and I bet a lot of people at least read the first line of this...)

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Mitsouko and the RAF march

My parents contacted me via the radio tonight.

The scent of Mitsouko followed by the inexplicable playing of the RAF march put me in mind of the evenings when they prepared to go to the London balls in Great Queen Street, returning home when I was still fast asleep.

Crystallised fruit for breakfast - once a year.

I was in tears.


This - so the plaque tells me - is the first (and therefore oldest) war memorial in the world. It commemorates the death of Sir  Bevil Grenville at the Battle of Lansdown in 1643 (I think) so it doesn't seem that old to me, but let me know if you know any older.

It is only a few hundred yards from the oldest dedicated race-course in the world as well - the Bath horse racing course at Lansdown. Again, let me know if you know of an older one, and I will get straight onto Wikipedia about it.

A couple of miles away in Bath Abbey, the first King of all England was crowned in 975 AD. Prior to him, we had loads of little kings dotted about the country, all competing with each other in the importance stakes.

The first poem ever to be written in the English language comes from here too. It was composed by an Anglo Saxon tourist to the city, who was struck by the melancholic ruins of the Roman Baths. They were steaming ruins even in those days, and you would be hard-pressed to recognise the language as English.

The first carrots ever to be commercially grown in England were in the village of Beckington, a few more miles from Bath, and chronicled by my hero, John Aubrey.

Britain's first case of AIDS was contracted in a nightclub a matter of 200 yards from where I write this. I went there but once, and it was a nasty, seedy, underground place near the river, dotted with dark alcoves which could have been made for contracting AIDS in. It is now a restaurant.

That's 6 'firsts', but if I think of any more, I'll add them to the list. I am going to sign off now - Molly style - by asking this question:

How many 'firsts' can YOUR area claim?

Monday, 17 November 2014

A handy hint

This is something worth knowing, particularly if you have subscribed to Picassa to process and store your photos, which I think you have to if you want to maintain past photos on Google Blogger, as I have done.

Over the last couple of years, I have noticed that if I ignore the Google pop-up which requires me to update to the latest version of Picassa, the next time I process any photos on my internal editing facility, they take an age to enhance, and once the process is complete, the rest of the computer slows down to an absolute snail's pace, if not actually freezing to the extent that I have to manually switch it off when it doesn't respond to a 'force quit' demand. If you use a Mac, then you will know the absolute sense of impotent despair that the whirling beach-ball inspires after 5 minutes of watching it.

About a year ago, I decided to stop using Picassa altogether, and went through the usual routine of trying to unsubscribe from it, but stopped at the last hurdle.

The last hurdle is a warning that although you do not have to use Picassa for your photos, if you unsubscribe from it at any time, then all of the photos you have stored on it will be lost forever. Effectively, it is saying, "Go on then, but just you see what happens!"

It then dawns on you that all the pictures that you have ever used on the Blog will probably vanish (or at least that is the threat), because they have been unwittingly stored on Picassa, and by subscribing to it you have given over the rights to them TO Picassa. Let's face it, did you actually read the terms and conditions before you clicked the box saying that you did?

It then dawns on you - or it dawned on me - that the reason that your family snap-shots are taking so long to process and bugger up the rest on the computer for about 20 minutes afterwards, is because Picassa is helping themselves to them online, whether you are going to use them for Blogger or not.

There is one solution to this problem which - because I know it works, has confirmed my fears about Picassa helping themselves with or without your permission - saves you from having to shut down the machine to get it to work properly again, and that is to switch off your router/modem whenever you process any photos imported from your camera.

That way, the only pictures that Picassa can lay their hands on are ones used for any Google application, which in this case is this blog.

It has taken me a couple of years of multiple attempts at reconfiguring my system, re-formatting the camera card and needlessly destroying dozens of personal photos before I worked this out.

Moral: Stay offline when importing or processing all your images.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

John's questionnaire - Knockers, etc.

John has just shown us a filled-out questionnaire here, and I am feeling as lazy as he is today so I thought I would do it too. I didn't realise how much work it involved, though:

A) What does the last text you sent say? And to whom?

“Are you and Amy still coming tomorrow? I’ve got the ingredients for a venison stew...” (Sent to my Stone Conservator girlfriend and her daughter.)

B) What does the last text you received say? And from whom?

“Had a hectic Sat and now have to pay catching up with work in office most of today... am trying to get Christmas shopping done early am now hoping for this Friday. End of week drinks? Amy can get discount at Crockett and Jones Burlington Arcade. Stew sounds fun. Hope I can have it soon. Love to H.I. XXX” (Crockett and Jones discount sounds fun...)

C) What time do you wake up most mornings?

Recently about 4.30, but something’s gone wrong with the routine.

D) Are you afraid of walking alone at night?

No - I’m afraid of not being alone when I am walking at night.

E) What do you do to relax at the end of a stressful day?

Last nigh, watched a not very good dvd - ‘Albert Nobbs’, where the main characters are women dressed very unconvincingly as men, but manage to fool the whole of Dublin into taking them seriously. That’s going straight back to the charity shop.

F) Where did your last kiss take place and with whom?

Aside from saying ‘good night’ to H.I. it was at the pub last night, saying goodbye to my beautiful young ex-barmaid friend and her son, both of whom I love very much.

G) Do/did you get into trouble a lot at school?

Not a lot, but I was once caned for drawing a tiny picture of Mickey Mouse on a wall which was covered in graffiti. The trouble was that I was spotted by Sandra Kent just after someone else had written, ‘SANDRA KENT IS A PROSTITUTE, in huge letters - just before me.

H) Do you enjoy your job? If unemployed, are you content being so?

I don’t think ‘enjoy’ is the right word. How could it be, when it has come close to crippling me and still could?

I) Do you often pick up on double entendres and innuendos?

It is almost a form of Tourette’s with me.

J) Have you ever been offered drugs but declined?

Once, as far as I can remember.

K) Have you ever met someone who has completely altered your way of thinking?

No, but I’ve met a few who have tried. H.I. greatly influenced my thinking about art. Sorry, Art.

L) Have you ever been offered drugs and accepted?

Oh yes.

M) Tell us something weird that turns you on.

Hayley Mills.

N) When did someone last admit romantic or sexual feelings for you? Was the feeling mutual?

About a year ago, believe it or not. She was - and still is - a beautiful 45 year-old, blonde, ex-model with enormous knockers, so yes, I can admit to a mutual admiration without hesitation.

O) What is something you have given a lot of thought to lately?

My future. This is the only time I ever have.

P) When did you last swallow your beliefs to avoid an argument or confrontation?

The last time I spoke to Rachel.

Q) Do you usually initiate hugs?

No, I wait for them to approach me, for fear of being a dirty old man - or at least being discovered as such. I did initiate a hug with a girl in tears recently, though.

R) Are you a very affectionate person?

I would say so, though you might not guess it when you first meet me.

S) Can you roll your own cigarettes?

Yes. I still do.

T) What are you looking forward to?

My future, although this also has an element of trepidation attached to it.

U) Do you have any tattoos. Do you want any/more?

No and no.

V) Are you mentally strong?

In some areas, but not others.

W) Are you physically strong?

Not as strong as when I used to move massive lumps of stone on my own, but strong enough to still do my job with a little help from others - at the moment...

X) Do you think you’re a good person?

Deep down, but aren’t we all?

Y) Name one thing you wish you could change about your life right now.

I’ll get back to you about that.

Z) What do you usually eat for breakfast

Coffee and tobacco.