Friday, 22 July 2011

A charmed life

This is some of the Sherborne stone that I man-handled off the back of that truck the other day - sitting quietly in my yard, waiting for me to pluck up the courage to cut into it and transform it into the next reincarnation of it's 190 million year-old life.

Why did I have to man-handle it, and why is it sitting on the ground so I have to bend double to work on it? Because I had an argument with the owner of the 5 ton, all-terrain fork-lift that I used to borrow and which lives on this site, and now said owner watches me bust a gut on a regular basis, with great satisfaction. He's been watching me bust my gut for about 3 years now, but although we are now back on speaking terms, I have not yet swallowed my pride sufficiently to feel able to ask to use it again. My last words to him on the subject were, "You can stick your fork-lift up your arse!" So you can understand my reluctance in broaching the issue.

A friend of mine offered me a very large lifting-gantry which is currently sitting in his boat-yard near Bristol. It is just small enough to fit in my little yard, but - unfortunately - just big enough to need a fork-lift to erect it, so I am sort of back to square one.

I persuaded a couple of blokes who were laying a cable nearby, to transport a one-ton block of stone down to my yard a year or so ago, and they agreed to do it for a bit of money. I was somewhat horrified when they over-turned the little tracked-digger they used for the job, and noticed the warning on the side of the arm: 'NOT to be used for lifting'.

I've never been one for doing today what can be put off until tomorrow, so this state of affairs has been going on for years now, and I regularly and manually wrestle with blocks that 4 strong men could not lift higher than 2 inches. The longer it goes on, of course, the older and weaker I become, and the toll taken by all the previous years of ridiculous lifting becomes more and more apparent. I remember carrying 2 CWT blocks up ladders when younger, and once, when a taxi driver refused to carry me and a 1 CWT bag of cement in the boot of his car, I put it on my shoulder and walked - uphill - the three miles to where it was needed without putting it down. 1 CWT = 112 lbs, and 1 cubic foot of Bath stone = 1.25 CWT, when dry.

So these blocks of Sherborne stone sit idly on the ground, and every time I approach them with a 240 volt diamond-cutter, the heavens open up and as much rain falls in one hour as would keep Somalia happy for three days. That picture was taken in a brief moment between downpours.

I had an uncle who was the top-man in painting restoration for all publicly-owned works of art in the UK. When I left art school, he offered me a job on his elite team, and if I had accepted it, I would be retired on a large pension by now, having taken over the leadership of what was to become English Heritage's painting conservation department. But I said, "No thanks, Uncle - the work isn't hard enough for me. I need something more physically demanding - more character-forming. Know what I mean?"

He didn't know what I meant and now, 40 years later, I realise that I didn't know what I meant either. Not only that, but -as it turned out - my character was deformed by the punishing work-load of the intervening years until I had turned into the twisted and embittered Gollum you see cringing before you today. This goes a long way to explain my rather unusual sense of humour and how it offends people on a daily basis.

I wish I could say that I was suffering for my art, but the reality is that I am just suffering.

Happy retirement, Cro.


  1. Merçi mon pote. Bend zee kneeeze.

  2. Me kneeeze est already bent, mon cheri.

  3. Watch that back Tom - my physio would pale at reading this post - as for your art being character forming - you are the most formed character I know!

  4. Like a chocolate bunny, Weaver, or pre-formed, like chicken nuggets?

  5. You're entitled to have a 'deformed' character Tom, you're an artist!

    Carry on moving weights like that around Tom and the next thing you'll be carving will be your headstone haha.

  6. Piss-artist, more like, Chris. During my first job in a marble yard, and old boy (actually he was probably about as old as I am now) taught me a few basic techniques about moving heavy lumps of stone that requires very little effort.

    My favourite - and also the most impressive to an on-looker - is when you have a six-foot high block of stone which weighs about 2 tons, which you effortlessly turn with two hands until it faces the other direction. You lever up one bottom edge, slip a little pebble underneath in the centre, let it down on the pebble and it simply spins on it.