Suzanne mentioned (in a care-free, heedless sort of way) that she wouldn't mind hearing some more about stone-carving, so you can blame her for this post.
You know me, I don't mess about by getting down to the heart of the matter if opportunities to fly off at random tangents present themselves, so this is an overview of the whole business which you could only get from someone in the business, and - even then - very few of us would be willing to expose ourselves in such an unguarded way. But you also know that I love exposing myself, so all right then, here are some insights which will forever change your attitude to those who work with stone, and how you deal with them in the future - assuming you are unfortunate enough to have to ever have deal with them at all.
If there is one word which encapsulates the entire world inhabited by stone workers, it is 'conflict'. It all started when some rich geezer called King Soloman decided he was going to have the biggest temple for miles around, and it was to be made from stone, so it would last at least as long that other rich geezer's, whose name I have forgotten, and whose temple now lies in picturesque ruins in a desert with no name, forgotten or otherwise. (Oh, I've just remembered his name - it was 'Osimandius').
There is conflict between the very material and the mason, and it is a battle which has to be won by the mason, otherwise he starves. There is conflict between the architect and the mason, and this enmity has become embedded in the tradition over centuries. There is conflict between individual masons, and there is conflict between individual groups of masons, even though the custom of charity toward, and cooperation with itinerant and outlandish, journeymen masons has been mandatory for at least 2000 years. But - above all - there is conflict within the very soul and psyche of each and every mason, without exception, and this is a battle he fights with the demons in himself. It is very important to remember this, when you are trying to reason with the morose bloke who has come round to your house to build a garden wall, or install a mullion window, or even just do a bit of re-pointing of the joints.
I have never yet met a mason (and I challenge you to find one for me) who is not suffering from marital problems, social problems, alcohol problems, drug problems or money problems, though I have met many who are suffering from all five at the same time - each one exacerbating the other.
I have spent many years trying to fathom out why this should always be the case, but I have never quite got to the bottom of it. A young mason will set out on his career as an apprentice, and - every night for about 2 years - will bore the shit out of his older and more experienced mates in the pub, by talking about stone. The more he drinks, the more he wants to talk about stone, and the more he talks about stone, the more he pisses off his older work mates until - being unable to take any more of it - they tell him to shut the fuck up, and he begins drinking in silence. Before he knows where he is, he has an alcohol dependency problem, if not the early onset of full-blown alcoholism.
After a while, mere alcohol is not enough, so he supplements his intake of relatively harmless weed with more powerful analgesics - cocaine, if he can afford it, or worse, if he dare. After a year or so of this, other parts of his life start to fall apart, for all the reasons mentioned above. If he finds himself unable to pull himself out of this nose-dive within about 5 years or so, then he pays the ultimate price of losing his job, so is reduced to boring people about how he used to talk about stone, before his wife left him, taking the children with her. There being no reason to go back to an empty house (if he still has one) he will spend all night in the pub.
One reason for all this excess is that stone is an extremely painful substance to work with. After a while, you do not notice the pain, but it is still there, nevertheless. It is heavy, so back problems are common, and flattened or spatulated fingers are often to be seen adorning the hands of the more clumsy mason. I am lucky to have got away with a few lumps on my right hand, caused by repetitive stress from a mallet, and a curious bone growth on the middle joint of my little finger on my left hand, caused by about 30 years of inadvertently punching stone with it when the chisel slips on the rough surface. Bear in mind that this is no ordinary punch - it has the weight of a 3 pound mallet behind it, swung with all the force of a strong right arm. Although I am tall, much of my height is in my legs, so my spinal column is relative short, which has saved me from crippling back pain caused by lifting countless blocks of stone which weigh more than I do. A cubic foot of Bath stone weighs 140 pounds - and that is when it is dry, which it hardly ever is in Britain. It is also one of the lighter of the stones. I used to (foolishly) carry up to 280 pounds up a ladder.
A long lost cousin called me up a couple of years ago, and asked me to give advice to his teenage daughter, who wanted to become a stone mason. I told her all the above over about half an hour or so, and she decided that masonry was not the job for her.
That's one less competitor I have to get paranoid about.