Saturday, 22 October 2016

Your father smelt of elderberries

Every day, the world turns more and more into a sinister episode from a Monty Python film. There is a lot to both laugh and cry at right now.

Something to laugh about: Even Bob Dylan himself thinks it is ridiculous to have received the Nobel Prize for Literature. He is refusing to answer the phone to the officials trying to organise the presentation, and they are very angry with him already. Serves them right!

Something to shed crocodile tears over: British Football hero, Garry Lineker, has been castigated by The Sun 'newspaper' for daring to suggest that the idea of checking the teeth of Syrian children immigrants to the U.K. to make sure they are not really adults in disguise was obscene. Being morally castigated by The Sun must be like being flogged with a wet lettuce. Someone pointed out that if a child of 14 has spent a year in a holding camp, risking his life every night to get to relatives already in the U.K., he quite often looks a lot older than his actual years.

Something else to laugh about: The French minister in charge of the Brexit negotiations has insisted that they should henceforth be carried out in the French language. Ooooooooooh! They should send Boris Johnson over. His French is excrable. I would happily sit up all night to watch the proceedings, just as Theresa May did the other day.

Something to cry about: The Polish fim director Andrzej Wajda has died. The reason for tears? As H.I. just pointed out, he was the last of the truly great film makers. 'Ashes and Diamonds', etc.

Ok, that's enough of the emotional roller-coaster.

I had thought about winding up Heron a little more this morning, but then I remembered an incident of a few years ago, right here in Bath.

Someone wrote in to our local 'newspaper' The Bath Chronical (AKA, 'The Chronic') with a letter to the editor, with what he thought was 'proof' that homosexuality was 'unatural'. Because the editor published it in full, I thought that the man who wrote it was having a laugh.

In it, he said that there had never, ever, been any homosexual behaviour observed in any part of the animal kingdom, proving that the innocent animals which God had seen fit to put on Earth for our pleasure or use (!) were entirely devoid of any gay tendencies at all.

I wrote a letter in reply, saying that if he had looked out of my kitchen window the day before yesterday, he would have seen two male dogs which disproved his theory. The editor loved it, and went on to publish quite a few more.

I became a little famous for a week or so, and I even got asked by a bank-teller who recognised my name if I was the person who wrote the letter about the dogs. When I confirmed this, she burst out laughing and said how much she and her colleagues were enjoying the exchange.

After a few more humiliating replies from me to the man who wrote back saying that I must have been mistaken about the sex of one of the dogs, it became obvious that the writer was a very old, very serious and possibly mentally unstable Christian living on his own, so I had a private word with the editor and we both agreed to end the joke.

You have to be a bit careful when having a laugh at someone else's expense.

Friday, 21 October 2016

The Surrealist map of the world

The ostracization begins. At her first E.U. summit as Prime Minister, Theresa May was kept waiting until 1.30am by the other 27 nations, and when she did speak, she was cut-off after six minutes. They are really in a strop with us, and who can blame them?

Prior to the meeting, a French minister spoke to a British journalist saying that Mrs May need not worry about going into the 'lion's den', she would be entering 'a nest of doves'. Yeah right!

Years before all this when President Obama entered the White House for the first time, the British were deeply offended and worried by the news that Barak had ordered the removal of the bust of Sir Winston Churchill from the Oval Office.

Not quite qualifying as an international incident, this little bit of furniture-rearranging on the other side of the Atlantic had Whitehall running around their oak-lined corridors, desperately trying to assess to what degree Britain's influence in the USA had been lost or severely diminished.

"Please tell us we still have a Special Relationship - PLEASE!"

Now that Europe has finally succeeded in cutting the U.S. dollar down to size, we jointly decide to leave the Union. Let us hope that the grasping politicians keep their promise of making Britain 'Great' again by enabling us to stand on our own two feet, because we are certainly not going to get any help from anyone else.

For the first time in about 500 years, we are allowing a fully armed, foreign warship to cruise through the Straits of Dover unchallenged, on its way to a real conflict.

Every other vessel which uses this waterway is compelled by E.U. law to burn refined deisel, but I bet the Russians are belching out black smoke from crude.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Withdrawing from society

There has just been a documentary on Michael Powell, and it made me remember this interesting nun. She was not cut out for the contemplative life, I think...

After she kicked the habit...

... things got a little out of hand...

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Fantasy architecture and cat-shit

I spent one whole Summer restoring this late 18th century shell and crystal grotto in Wiltshire (near Lacock Abbey) for the late Lord Weinstock. I never met him in person, because he would be in London when I was at his house, and everyone had to leave by the weekend when he came home.

He was an avid note-leaver. He would walk around the grounds at weekends, finding things to leave notes about. One memorable note: "I have noticed cat-shit on the path between the rose gardens. Please clear it up immediately."

This grotto cost around £15,000 when it was built - a colossal sum in those days. Only the rich could afford to display all their minerals, fossils and shells - collected from Grand Tours - in this way, before what we now think of as modern museums were conceived.

The ceiling with the stalagtites was somewhat fucked-up by an amateur restorer in the 1960s, but I think the stalagtites themselves are original. They are made from shards of gypsum crystal, built-up like chandeliers against wooden staves and lime-plaster. Gypsum is easily available and easy to split, so restoring those was no problem.

The real stalagtites and mites which are set into the walls are not so easy to acquire. The original bits were obtained by going down into the Cheddar Gorge caves with a black-powder gun, and shooting them off the roof. They take a dim view of this practice these days.

Many of the missing shells were brought back from the now protected sea-beds of the West Indies and similar places (along with sugar, spice, slaves and all things nice) and cannot be bought legally unless you know a registered dealer with a licence. I found a registered dealer with a licence, in Bristol - where all the sugar, spice and slaves arrived in the 18th century. Licences to deal in slaves are no longer issued, but I am told you can still get one under the counter if you know the wrong person.

Just as with rebuilding car-engines, when you rebuild a few square yards of this sort of wall, you are always left with quite a few bits and pieces for which you could find no home - you simply run out of space. So I have a couple of boxes of rare and irreplaceable (legally) minerals and crystals, sitting around in my workshop, waiting to find a home in a different grotto.

These grottoes are rare, and their restoration is becoming rarer due to the huge costs. Maybe I have technically stolen the bits and pieces?

Monday, 17 October 2016

Geology, architecture and fantasy

A grotto fountain at the Georgian house which is home to the American Museum.

That cascade of rock which hovers above the now empty bowl of the fountain is Tufa - the same stuff as I have just imported 2 tons of from Canada, via Ohio. The trouble is we are not allowed to dig our own up any longer, despite the fact that it replaces itself every few years.

Oh well, I suppose it makes sense. Everyone would want their own little Tufa grotto here in England if dealers were allowed to retail it. The stuff I got is to replace the missing parts of an 18th century structure - probably stolen by 20th century gardeners...

The main structure of the arch is made from stuff called 'Grot Stone', and this was dug up about 3 miles away on the other side of the valley, in a little wooded hamlet called Conkwell, where I once lived in a picturesque cottage next door to the last Governor of Hong Kong. Shawn lived about a mile or two from here when she first arrived in Bath.

This stone (it is a true stone, unlike Tufa) is characteristically riddled with worm-like holes of varying diameter, and the artificial architectural masonry representation of it is called 'Vermiculated' stonework - more references to worms. It is invariably used for the lower courses of grand buildings, such as the outside of the Roman Baths here.

Nobody is too sure about how these tunnel holes were formed - some say it was marine-life burrows, and others say it was the action of water-courses. It is also a rare commodity these days, second-hand stuff selling for around £1000 a ton, and it only takes a cubic yard to make a ton.

When you saw up Tufa - it is very soft and easiy sawn - it gives off a highly pungent and sulphurous odour which is quite unpleasant. This is due to all the organic matter which has left fresh gas trapped within it, released by the saw-cuts.

The same is true of some real stones which are 140 million years older than Tufa, and I like the theory that this gas is the trapped farts of dinosaurs when wallowing in the mud which formed the rock. Why not? There is such a thing as 'copralite' - look it up.

There is one particular type of Bath Stone which has smallish lumps of ferrous metal embedded in it which shine brightly when the saw cuts through the rusty exterior.

Scientists tell you that this metal is formed by the minerals grouping together over the millions of years, resulting in concentrations of metals and crystals, but I prefer the theory of one particular stonemason I knew once.

He assured me that these lumps of iron are the remains of alien space ships which crashed into the primordial mud of earth's watery surface during the era of the dinosaurs.

As I say, life is so much more interesting when you are prepared to believe in anything.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Get thee behind me

There is something strange going on with this computer.

A while ago, I found myself logged into Grandson's Facebook page without ever having asked to be let in. I told him about it and advised him to change passwords, but he just asked me to log him out as he must have forgotten to do. He wasn't logged in.

Just now I went to the 44AD petition to see how many signatures they needed to hit their target of 1000 (96 at the last count) and there was The Boy's details already filled out on the petition form - including home address and postcode - ready for me to submit. This should be impossible. It is definitely not legal, and these petition systems guard against multiple signings from the same machine. I am even informed - using my real name and real email address - of signatures from this fake name of Tom Stephenson. It's a bit creepy.

Well I did not sign it using his name, but I did tell him about it. He must have done something on this computer which sparked off a connection between his laptop or accounts and me. This is another good reason not to use any 'Cloud' type systems for storing information. It seems I can just dip in and help myself.

The Devil: I wonder if he keeps his photos on iCloud...

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Please help

I don't very often use this blog to promote causes, but I am asking you to sign this petition to save the 44AD Art Gallery here in Bath, which you will no doubt want to do if you have ever visited Bath or plan to any time soon. H.I. is having a show here at the end of November.

The very basic story is a very old one - Bath City Council's property division will always look wistfully at a peice of prime retail space in the centre, and begin to imagine how much more money they could make if they took it away from the not-for-profit community-based ventures and offered it to national chains for quadrillions of lovely pounds, because they are the only people who can afford Bath's rents and rates.

These community ventures will always be encouraged to move to the imporverished outskirts, and the excuse will be that the impoverished communities there will benefit from them being in their midst, but - as always - it is a matter of money.

Please sign it and forward it if you would like Bath to save just a little bit of its community spirit, nomatter where you live: