Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Friday, 21 February 2014
The Winter game of Curling is getting a bit more attention than normal here right now, because both the British mens' and womens' teams are doing unusually well at Sochi at the moment.
I haven't watched any of it, but I do quite like the granite stones they use and I am quite tempted every time I see an old, antique one in a junk or antique shop.
They were talking to the young women in the British team this morning, and someone tried to explain the closest thing to it in other sports, usually ending with '...on ice'.
'Bowls' was one version, but nobody quoted my favourite description of all, coined because of the way various players follow the stone down the rink with little brooms, sweeping stuff either out of or into its way, to speed it up or slow it down: 'Housework on ice'.
Working with stone as I do, I am mildly interested in the material which these things are made from. Canada makes a few, but most of them are quarried and made on the little island of Ailsa Craig, 10 miles off the Scottish mainland, and have been made by the same company since 1851.
You can buy this island if you really want it - it's up for sale at £1.5 million, but I don't think that includes the curling stone factory, which produces around 1200 a year. I am not even sure it includes the quarry either, because if Scottish law is anything like English law, mineral rights are separate from land ownership.
In Britain, you apply to The Crown for the mineral rights to mine stone, but if Scotland breaks away from the English borders and drifts slowly and further into the freezing North, I don't know who you would have to ask to dig holes into it.
I was offered seven miles of disused mine shaft tunnels just outside Bath about 30 years ago for £7000, but I didn't take up the offer, because all I would have owned is the hole - the walls, ceiling and floor would still have belonged to The Crown.
This series of tunnels meandered all around the Pickwick area of Corsham, about 50 feet below ground. The sculptor owner of them at the time told me that he was exploring down there one day, trying not to get lost, when he - literally - saw a light at the end of the tunnel.
Investigating, he turned a corner to find that one whole section of his tunnel had fluorescent strip-lights all the way along it, and was blocked off with a stout steel gate. This was the fire-escape to Churchill's WW2 bunker, should the other in London have to be vacated for any reason.
The bunker was - and still is - fully equipped with generators and air-filtering machinery, having been updated in the 1950s and 60s against a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union.
It was sold fairly recently to a private owner, along with several more miles of tunnelling. I think that the plan is to use it for storage of some sort, including investments in fine wines. These places are also ideal for large-scale mushroom farms, but the lorries above ground usually cause more traffic than the little roads can handle, so permission is often refused.
My sculptor friend had plans to build a house down there and move his entire family - including two young children - into it but, for some reason, they did not want to go along with his little plan.