Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Arise, Sir Thomas

It's coming up to that time of year when we all sit down and look back at what we have achieved in the past year, and in my case, this amounts to very nearly fuck-all. Looking at it in a positive way, at least I can say that I have made it to 60 without being caught, which is half the battle won in my book. I don't know what I am going to tell the children about their inheritance when the time comes, but - judging from the look in their eyes - I think they must have already guessed. At least I know that when they are nice to me, it is not for fear of being cut out of the will.

I have not yet had the letter from a Whitehall mandarin, forewarning me of my inclusion in the New Year's Honours List, so I suspect that this year - as all the others - I have been overlooked. 'Sir Thomas Stephenson' has a sort of authentic ring to it, don't you think?

I have not had any hints about a lifetime's achievement award yet either, but I suppose there is still time for that. Being a rather shy, retiring sort of wallflower, my profile has been a little too low to allow my status as a National Living Treasure to be fully appreciated, but that may not be a bad thing. People are so fickle.

There was a year or two when Country Life magazine had a one-page feature on the practitioners of various traditional artisan skills like bread-making, smithing, gun-making, etc, and it was called 'National Living Treasure'. This would feature a large photo of the Treasure, at work on or standing near by the product of his trade or skill, together with a few words on his past achievements.

A fairly well-to-do friend of mine who is a 'Brilliant Cutter' happened to see this feature one day, and wrote to Country Life to suggest that they should feature him in this category, and they agreed. In case you don't know what a 'Brilliant Cutter' is, he is a fairly rare breed of glass worker who cuts the bevels on mirrors, polishes floral patterns or words in glass plates which sometimes are clad with gold leaf from the back, etc. - like Victorian pub windows - and cuts through the coloured flash in glass to produce those gaudy items of glassware which are so popular in Bohemia. One of my mate's biggest jobs was to make several acres of unspeakably tasteless glass and gold mirrors for Donald's apartment in Trump Tower, Manhattan.

So one day, I opened a copy of Country Life, and there he was, shown at the wheel of his polisher, cutting a design into a bit of glass and looking for all the world like the dying breed he really is. Beneath the romantically-lit picture were a few well-chosen words about past achievements and future projects, and he sat back to wait for the free publicity to bring him in some lucrative work.

All that happened was - for the next couple of years - every time I saw him or spoke to him on the phone, I would refer to him as 'my little treasure', and I encouraged everyone else to do the same.

I could have warned him of this outcome. About 18 years ago, I managed to sell a four-page article about the restoration of of a spectacular shell and crystal grotto at a country house that I conducted, to the American 'Architectural Digest' magazine. I used the money they paid me to pay off the photographer who I had employed, then I too sat back and waited for the rich and famous to invite me to build them a grotto in fabulous gardens. I received about 70 begging letters from American companies, suggesting that I should buy their novelty door-handles in bronze, etc. They all began, "Dear Designer..."

The trouble with successful restoration work is that it is - by definition - almost anonymous. The best work is the least likely to get you noticed, let alone any credit. As my old aunt used to say, "Thems as asks don't get. Thems as don't ask don't want".

Then there is the 'legacy' thing which Tony Blair is so obsessed with. We are only just beginning to reap the rewards of Blair's mentor, Margaret Thatcher and her ally, Ronald Regan, but Blair and Bush's legacy has started to produce fruit in the Middle East already. Strange fruit, but fruit nevertheless.

Sometimes I think that if I can go through life without causing too much damage, that will be good enough for me, but an OBE would be nice. Maybe next year.


  1. Stop yer moaning Sir Thomas. It's the rich wot gets the fame, and the poor wot gets the pain.

  2. Yeara ago (early 1990's)I was very well known in the cancer pain world. I taught literally thousands of nurses and doctors how to appropriately manage intractable pain with high dose narcotics. I spoke all over this country.

    Two days ago my 21 year old had a muscle strain. When I suggested the dose and freguency of the pain med he said (not jokingly) How do YOU know?!

    Fame is so often self imposed, fleeting

    Lady Donna, Health Care
    practioner turned farmer
    turned pretty soap maker

  3. It is not always the prize that we enjoy, but rather the journey to achievement that is the most satisfying.

    "Well," said Pooh, "what I like best," and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. ~A.A. Milne

    Happy New Year, Sir Thomas

  4. Why bother with that bollocks when you can buy yourself a peerage!

    Plus you don't have to get your knees knackered up on the royal red carpet or accidently get an ear chopped off by HRH wielding a heavy sword...

  5. I must say that wall flower is not the thing that springs to mind when I think of you Tom. I feel you are more of a dahlia man.

  6. Sorry - that's too left wing to be believable from you, Cro.

    I have another mate who is head of pain management at our local hospital, Donna. He didn't talk to me for 3 years when I asked him for drugs at a party.

    Sir Winnie the Shit - that'll do me, Starting.

    Worth fucking up your knees to be beheaded by HRH, Chris, or so I have always thought.

    You've got me all wrong, Weaver. I've always thought of you as grass for a start!