Saturday, 27 August 2016

Clever dead bastard

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The above is a picture of my little deadline, about half-way through completion. I am replacing one small piece of missing foliage on the left bracket, and since this has taken me hours and hours, I wonder how long the whole thing took the original, 19th century carver.

These are just two compononents of an ensemble which makes an item weighing around a ton, and every bit has detail carved into it, the like of which I have not seen outside ancient Rome.

The more I stare at this thing (and I have been staring at it for months), the more dumbstruck I become at the carver's irritating display of virtuosity. It is even more impressive when you understand that he (it was almost certainly a he) did not have the diamond-coated tools that I do at his disposal.

It is difficult to see any real detail in this photo, but take it from me - the leaves have veins.

If there is such a thing as 'too good', then this is it. It is just too well made for its own trousers, and I cannot help despising the maker for exposing me as the jack of all trades charlatan that I am.

I will give it a final titivation this Bank Holiday Monday and load it into the car ready for the installation on Tuesday. Then I can stop looking at the bloody thing and get on with the rest of my life - for what it's worth.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

The last boat

They saw it coming. They asked for it to come.

A steaming boat arrived and disgorged not essential supplies or post from the mainland, but well-heeled men and women in fur coats, top hats and shiny leather shoes unsuitable for the rocks and cobbles of the mean streets between the crofts.

A camera whirred and old men and women chatted amiably at the doors of their turf-roofed hovels, the children long since gone. Some of the women gave demonstrations of yarn-spinning, on wheels which would be left behind as worthless. The yarns spun by the men in the pubs of Oban and Glasgow would be worth more in the long run.

Then they all got on board and the gulls and kittywakes followed them for a while, unaware that their nests would never more be raided for meat and eggs by men improbably suspended from ropes, secured by wooden stakes stuck into the thin skin of mean earth.

A new life for an old life, but only for those who had all but lived theirs out on St Kilda.

No photo

For the first time this Summer, the hills on the visible outskirts of town are hidden with a mist which promises to turn into sunshine. Yes, we are moving into that time when the competition between bloggers  to be the first to quote some old playwright begins to niggle in the backs of our minds.

So, let's get it over with:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

... give up.

This week - or what is left of it - I am labouring within the constrictions of a rare thing in my world - a deadline. This is why I am sitting at home writing this bollocks, and not out in the sunshine chiselling away at a block of marble.

'When the going gets tough, the tough get going'  is a trite little saying which has never, ever, applied to me. At the slightest sign of adversity, I pack up and go home, making sure to stop off at the pub on the way.

Someone called me up once and said that they urgently needed a birthday gift for HRH Prince Charles, but they needed it in three days. Sensing a deadline which would have brought a small quantity of perspiration to my forehead, I declined the commission on the grounds that I was too busy. The caller (who knew me well) pulled me up on my feeble excuse, so I got someone else to make it, and set myself off in the direction I have been trying to follow ever since. It is called 'delegation'.

This is not to say that I did not once have very high energy levels, with a strength to bodyweight ratio which would have - combined with my long reach - made me a passable rock-climber. The trouble with rock-climbing is that you cannot just suddenly decide to go back down the mountain in time to catch last orders, so I never took it up.

This is not to say that I don't like a challenge. I once bought a one hundredweight  (112 lbs) bag of cement - in the days when builders were allowed to pick up something which weighed more than a few bags of sugar - and booked a taxi to take me and it from the yard which was up a steep hill on one side of Bath, to the building site up an even steeper hill on the other, 3 miles away.

The taxi driver refused to take the cement, so I put it on my shoulder and carried it back. I wanted to see if I could do it without putting it down, and after about an hour of being laughed at by various people who did not know how far I had come with it, I arrived at the top of the hill to be greeted by the owner of the house, who thought I was just about to have a heart-attack. Maybe I was.

So every time I have tested myself to the limit, there has been no appreciable financial gain involved. Maybe I am just scared of success.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Forza Germania

Text message from Thömas, my dear Bremerhaven dentist friend today, including this photo:

'I have employed a dental technician for my praxis. He is a nice guy. He really likes Star Wars.'

Me: 'So I see. Is he sane?'

'More or less.'

You only get one chance

H.I.'s Cartier watch just arrived, today is in-house training day for the young mason and the sun is shining. What could possibly go wrong?

The young mason needs no training in masonry - rather he could teach me quite a lot. What I am imparting is the application of fairy-dust, and I am not sure how impartable that is.

This year is the 300th aniversary of the birth of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, and he and his team celebrated it by almost demolishing an L.C.B. architectural feature on the historic estate. I won't go into details other than that it was a complete and unforeseeable accident involving a high-powered machine, and bore no resemblance to a Norman Wisdom film whatsoever. Thankfully I was not there when it happened, and neither was the owner.

People often ask me what I would do if I accidentally destroyed one of the rare and extremely valuable items that I handle almost on a daily basis, and I say that I cannot afford such an accident, so I would never be put in that situation. Of course, we have all come close at various times and - as with conditions which bring us close to death - are very often not even aware of it. Thankfully.

When I have handled priceless medieval carvings - such as the 13th century Madonna and Child which I had to physically remove from its original position once - I have not allowed myself to think in terms of disaster. It is a bit like not looking down when climbing great heights.

These rare disasters are caused by poor planning, and poor planning can be the result of failing to admit that other people's advice - if freely given - can be invaluable, even if it is only based on intuition and not experience.

I watched a documentary on the restoration of a massive and important, prehistoric, ceramic bowl once, and this was the most excrutiating thing I have seen which didn't involve the loss of life, because the disasterous outcome was obvious almost right from the beginning of the half hour film.

The bowl had been excavated in hundreds of pieces, and had been pains-takingly put back together again by a team of conservators at the museum over a very long period of time. The documentary-makers had taken clips of the project in various stages, and the project itself was managed by a middle-aged, female archeologist who was keen on making it hers and hers alone, without anyone else sticking their noses in. This was going to be her moment of fame, and it certainly was.

The intact bowl was about six feet across and very heavy, and the woman fussed about as they prepared to lift it off the work table and put it on a trolley for transportation to somewhere else in the building.

She barked orders at the lifters and generally created an atmosphere of panic, which is the very last thing she should have done.

They had a large gantry over the bowl which had the hoist and straps attached, and she gave the orders for the straps to be wrapped underneath and around the rim of it at the top. I waited for her to place rigid spacers between the straps to avoid them crushing the bowl under its own weight, but she had none.

I watched between my fingers as the bowl was inched into the air - with her fussing around and still barking orders - and just as all of its considerable weight was lifted a fraction from the table and the table was slid out from beneath, the bowl spectacularly imploded into more than the original components and clattered to the ground.

She screamed an expletive and asked for the cameras to be turned off.

I have not seen her since.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Whisky Galore

Last night - for a bit of escapism - we watched 'Whisky Galore' (again).

As when I watch any film set in the recent past on a remote Scottish island, I find that I remind myself of the probable reality of living within a tight, Puritanical society which monitors your every move and has no compunction in expressing extreme and public disapproval if you should transgress any of the many petty laws which were designed to hold them all together in adversity, like an invisible glue.

Then - when I return to my own day-to-day reality - I realise that compared to the remote islands of the 1940s, we have many more petty restrictions than they ever did, the only difference being that ours are laws created by legislators and actually written down in books.

Oh well, at least we are now allowed to work on the Sabbath. Someone has to keep the wheels of commerce going right through the weekend, otherwise much revenue would be lost.