Saturday, 24 June 2017

What do we want?

Every now and then I have to remind myself that things are really rather good for me. I don't feel deprived at all. After all, what would I do with a second helicopter?

We live in the sort of social climate wherein everyone is expected to own their own home, and their property is considered an asset rather than a roof over their heads as a minimum requirement - preferably sheltering a happy and reasonably contented family.

I reminded myself of my good fortune again this morning, when I heard the news that an entire tower-block in London was deemed unsafe to live in as a fire-risk by the local authorities and everyone was instructed to vacate immediately. By 'immediately' I mean that they had a knock on the door at 8.00pm last night, and were told to take their toothbrushes to the local leisure centre where there were rows of mattresses on a sports hall floor waiting for them.

Everyone is understandably twitchy after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and all the local authorities - nationwide - are waiting to see who will be sent to prison for corporate manslaughter.

I think every authority in the land would be moving out the residents of their tower blocks tonight if they had somewhere to put them. The London borough is providing hotels and apartments to the elderly, disabled and families with young children only. Everyone else has to sleep on a mattress in the sports centre or similar.

The survivors of Grefell Tower have just been told that the North Kensington Council have secured a load of brand-new apartments in the area which they will move into as soon as they are ready. Kensington is not an inexpensive area. The apartments are costing £64 million just to buy. Someone has made a killing.

Green Eyes is a paediatric  nurse in the area. The night after the fire she had to look after a small child whose mother was pregnant. His mother was saved from the blaze and was rushed to Green-Eye's hospital, but neither her or her unborn child survived. Green-Eyes is 23 years old.

The same culture which views non home-owners as failures is also under a lot of pressure to make cuts in the budget, and that leads to a mind-set which sees fatal decisions like saving £5000 on an £8 million pound job as good ideas.

I just looked out of the window to see a party of people marching down the street waving Union Flags and E.U. banners chanting, 'EU - WE LOVE YOU!' About 20 years ago I saw a party carrying Union Flags and UKIP banners marching in the opposite direction.

Friday, 23 June 2017


I just poked my head round the door to see if I had upset anyone last night before I went to bed. I don't remember much about the very end of last night, possibly because I had been celebrating the drop in temperature. A hangover in that heat would have been unthinkable.

We once went to Southern Turkey, where it was about 100 in the shade. A friend of mine had been in the same place the week before when it was even hotter. He took an egg from the hotel and went out into the street with it. He cracked it open and poured it onto the pavement. It fried.

I spent the whole two weeks drinking pints of hot water during the day, and in the evening I drank a maximum of one small bottle of weak beer, washed down with pints of - this time - cold water.

Our fellow Brits began drinking alcohol before breakfast and wandered around town shouting, swearing and generally causing acute embarrassment to us until about 3.00am the following morning. They turned a lobster red in the sun.

In our hotel, a few days before we arrived, a British husband and wife were celebrating their honeymoon. The marriage ended even sooner than they had expected, because he tried to drown his new bride in the swimming pool. The Turkish waiters had to drag her out of the water before he succeeded. She went back home to her mother and he was in prison awaiting his sentence by the time we got there.

The travel agent was a young friend of ours and she tried to warn us what sort of a place Bodrum was by saying, "A lot of young people go there", but the warning was too obscure for us. I think her commission was worth more to her than our holiday was to us.

All we wanted to see was Ephesus.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Share my night-scented socks

I took a photo in the dark when they smell their best, but it was blurred. I am blurred, so I am retiring up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire. Nighty night.

Oh, alright - if you insist - here is the photo with the added smellerama:

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."