Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Friday, 27 April 2012
It's all going pear-shaped
This is what I really should be getting on with in the mornings, rather than the displacement activity of writing this guff every day - the half-finished frieze to the 17th century style fire surround for an old customer of mine. Yes, I said 17th century, not Arts and Crafts, and I'll fight anyone who suggests otherwise.
One little problem is how low to the ground it is, but I was lucky to get it indoors at all - it weighs about a quarter of a ton. Currently, I spend all day bent double and often upside-down, which does not improve the condition of my neck, and it will be like that right up until the end. At least I am not going to install it - that is going to be a logistical nightmare.
It is going to be fitted in the little room of my customer's predominantly 17th century house at a small village in Dorset, through a narrow door and down some steps, then plonked on top of the rest of the fireplace (out of shot) at about six feet up in the air and against the wall. Originally, fire-surrounds of this size were built along with the rest of the house from the foundations up, making life a lot simpler.
Many years ago, I made a much smaller carved fireplace for this house, and my glamorous assistant also - and independently - created a fine stucco ceiling for the same room, also in the 17th century style. He's not just a pretty face.
Then I lost contact with the client and, in the intervening years, began working more and more with the chap who became my glamorous assistant, until he - to all intents and purpose - moved in with me, so that I now have him on tap. He is almost 20 years younger than me and extremely highly skilled, mainly in the area of modelling, and modelling upside-down in the extremely difficult material of lime stucco at that. He has worked in all the top houses that have suffered from fire or neglect, re-modelling the intricately foliated panels which form large parts of their interiors, and is one of only a handful of people in this country who have the skill to do it. Of course, if you can model then you can carve - you cannot do one without the other - so this is how I primarily use him. I'm not letting him touch this stone panel, however. I don't see why he should get all the glory jobs.
I wondered how someone with his level of expertise could end up helping his friend by carting around great beams of green oak for his wooden building company, so I started to get him work more suited to his skills. It turned out that he had become tired of being exploited by various conservation companies by being paid a pittance whilst being charged out at top rates - same old story.
One day, shortly after he had effectively moved into my workshop, his phone rang and it was the customer for this job, trying to find out how to get in contact with me after a gap of about 18 years. The customer didn't know that he was standing right next to me when he called, so we were put in contact with each other pretty quickly, and I was soon down in Dorset discussing ideas for this massive fireplace.
Why pears? The area is renowned for it's ancient tradition of pear-orchards, and the fruit was mainly used for the production of 'Perry', the sparkling pear-based equivalent of Cider. The other, smaller fireplace I made has a frieze of grapes on a vine, so I think alcohol plays an important but moderate part in the social life of the house, as it probably has since it was first built.
A short while ago, my client called me up and asked how the job was going.
"It's all going pear-shaped", I replied.
I don't think he got the joke, because he just said, "Good'.