Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Socks, sandals and steelies


This accidental photo is as good as any other, and shows the view I usually have of my size 12 feet, wearing some recently bought, steel toe-caps. I hate steelies, but they don't let you anywhere near a building site without them these days - all the more reason not to wear them.

One of my clients was pestered for a few years by an Historic Building Conservation Officer who had a bit of a thing against wealthy people, so objected to pretty much everything he wanted to do to his Grade 1 listed mansion.

This bloke was about 55 years old, trained as an archeologist, has longish hair and beard and always wears socks and sandals. By now you will have a very accurate idea of what sort of a person he is. I'm not sure if he is a Morris Dancer at weekends, but it wouldn't surprise me.

When I do any restoration work to historic objects, my prime objective is to leave the thing looking as though it has never been touched, but this officer seemed to want to leave his mark on everything by simply preventing anyone from imperceptibly improving anything.

I have learnt from years of experience when dealing with conservation officers like this, that if you want to polish an object which has been abused either by neglect or deliberately (like sand-blasting, for instance) you never, ever come right out and say it.

One instinctively develops a vocabulary to describe the atrocity which you propose to inflict on the item, and it never, EVER uses words like 'polish', 'sand', 'abrade' or any of the rest of the devil's lexicon which the officer is waiting for you to utter so he can put a halt to the work before it has even started.

So it was when this man came to my workshop to inspect a huge, white marble wine-cooler dating from about 1750, which had been left in the garden so long that the owner thought it was stone.

I was going to (not 'wanted to', note) take a couple of microns off the surface using specialist tools, more to clean it than anything else. I didn't say I was going to re-polish it using bog-standard abrasives. He looked at me suspiciously, then said he would come back the following week after I had done a sample patch on a discreet area for his approval/disapproval.

He returned as promised, and made a great show of examining the patch with a Sherlock-sized magnifying glass, made me wait for a couple of minutes, then said, "Good work."

At the main house, they were getting so sick of him turning up and throwing spanners in the works, that they wracked their brains to think of a way of getting rid of him without killing him. Then someone had a brainwave.

The next time he arrived at the house, the estate manager stopped him, looked at his socks and sandals and informed him that he would not be admitted onto the site without proper steel toe-capped boots, for H & S reasons.

They haven't seen him since.

34 comments:

  1. Hung by his own petard was he - good show!

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    1. I think he means 'hoist', but 'hanged' would have been OK. He's Irish, so almost forgiven.

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    2. Yes, sorry to be pedantic Heron, but Cro's right. It's 'hoist'. Blame Shakespeare, not me. (Hamlet).

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    3. Just so there is no confusion, I was not quoting Hamlet when saying, 'Blame Shakespeare, not me'.
      If I had said, 'Oh Horrible, most horrible', then I would have given the old bardstard the credit.

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    4. Let me be even clearer - when I said 'old bardstard'. I was talking about Shakespeare, not Heron.

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    1. I wish I could take the credit for it.

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  3. My old chum Jock was often consulted, by young eager Uni student hopefuls, about becoming a journalist. When asked for his best advice, he always replied "don't learn shorthand" (thus avoiding a life of courts, accident scenes, hospitals, etc).He would never have worn steel tipped boots either!

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    1. I didn't get where I am today by learning shorthand.

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  4. an Historic Building Conservation Officer

    Be still my heart. Who cares what you do with apostrophes!

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    1. This, I believe, is how us posh Brits say it, but I could be wrong. For instance, I always pronounce the 'h' in 'hotel'.

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  5. Dear Tom,
    when I speak of the Historic Building Conservation Officer of our house in Hildesheim (he decided, we paid), husband laughs: I still grow very, very, angry when I speak of the HBC, though our little - lets call it debate, and which most of it I won - but not the part for dealing with the sandstone window-whatever-you-call-it has happened about 20 years ago. I am not unforgiving - but he made my blood boil (doing in HIS very old house what he wanted, that prick).

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    1. But I like his speaking name: he was called Nothdurft - meaning "nature's call" - nomen est omen.

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    2. Does 'nature's call' mean the same there as it does here?

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  6. Any who wears socks with sandals should be stopped going out of his own front door, let alone on to a building site. I am sure he was a morris dancer and probably did tapestry work in his spare time.

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    1. And drinks ale from a pewter mug. I feel the same way about 3/4 length trousers.

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  7. As an architecture student, nobody ever referred to a 'room'; always a 'space' as if somehow this plebeian term would undermine the elitist club of which they were members. language is such a powerful thing. Good work with the Conservation officer.

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    1. In my lady's chamber meant something different in the days before 'rooms' as well. I find it hard not to despise all architects as well, it has to be said.

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  8. we stupidly bought a grade 2 listed house, a few houses ago. holy moly. we had to get ivy removed from the outside of the house. OMG the local councils conservation officer must have camped out side our house. We only wanted it removed so we could fix the guttering that was broken and over flowing. where the water hit the wall was saturated and damp right through to inside. we had to have a specialist for this, a specialist for that.... the list was endless. we wont ever buy a listed building again. the letters we got were pages and pages long. gave me nightmares. we sold that house to someone who could have been the man with the sandals.

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    1. It's worse when you apply for a grant.
      They are more officious than intelligent, those people. The worst thing about it is that I actually know the man who wrote the rules regarding stone conservation - to suit his own purposes - and these rules are now a sort of rolling bible for all the ex art history students who become failed conservators.

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    2. The reason I got instant planning permission for the conversion of our Tobacco Barn, is because I promised to leave the exterior exactly as it is. Once they've been to inspect, things may change.

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  9. Oi! Socks and sandals? There must have been some German blood in him. (Not that we are proud of the socks and sandals fetish.)

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    1. I've noticed that German lorry drivers wear wooden clogs as well. Nuff said.

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  10. I rang the council about the satellite dish and the conservation woman reminded me that not only did I need permission for that I also needed it for the cat flap. I declined to tell her that I had already put the flap in. I found a satellite dish man who loved working on listed buildings without permission. As for the solid oak Newell post indoors that looked like it came from the exterior of a cowshed circa 900AD, that made a lovely piece of firewood.

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    1. I just read what Sol said, and yes I did buy a listed property but I don't wear floral skirts down to the ground or whatever the equivalent is to the man with sandals. But I don't suppose I need to explain this point to anyone here.

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    2. That newell post firewood makes me think that conservation officers do have a role to play after all.

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  11. It would have been alright but it looked bloody awful with the dead peasant hanging off it.

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    1. Was it a wood pheasant? If so, it's you should be shot if you really did burn it. If not, maybe he listed the pheasant.

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  12. The man who bought our house did have beige socks and sandals. they werent birkenstocks, they had buckles on like the ones I had to wear as a child

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