Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Sunday, 27 April 2014
Belts and braces versus a bit of string
Sol just commented that the stress of knowing that a piece of sculpture was in very slightly vulnerable position, and that the situation would - if the worst came to the worst and it was destroyed - bankrupt me, would prevent her from sleeping.
I said that I was usually a 'belt and braces' bloke, and this used to irritate the shit out of Simon Verity, who I assisted for about three years in the making of what was to be eight, full-sized classical figures.
In the end, we managed to finish four, and he managed to finish one completely off.
I have already recounted the story about the greatest service I did for him, which was to save his life by catching a one and a half ton block of stone in mid-topple, before it landed on him where he was squatting on the ground and flattened him into a messy pulp. The fact that it fell at all was because of his impatience to get things done the year before, when I pushed the block out of the way and to one side.
To him, I was a highly pedestrian spoil-sport who seemed to make it his business to prevent him from flying ever closer to the sun by saving his or his family's lives on an almost weekly basis.
I arrived at his rented home one Monday to find that he had taken advantage of his wife and children's absence by cutting an enormous, circular hole in the brick wall of their kitchen, so as to surprise them all when they returned with the creation of a 'moon-gate' into the room next door.
I stood there staring at the ten-foot wide hole in the brickwork, the edges of which touched both the floor and the ceiling, and asked him what was keeping up the rest of the wall above it, upstairs and out of sight. It turned out to be a case of will-power over gravity.
When I told him that he MUST put in some support for the tonnage of dangling bricks, he had one of his famous tantrums and screamed that it was NOT going to fall down. I insisted, and he got the local blacksmith to knock up a semi-circular iron hoop which I fitted before his wife and children came home. He never forgave me for that, and I just reinforced his view of me as a clod-hopping bore.
Another time was when we were building the tomb of the Duke of Beaufort, in the grounds of Badminton church. Cutting a long story short, he usurped my authority as building-manager on the job and made me - against my will (but still my stupid fault) - use a three-legged tripod to shift a three-quarter ton block of Portland stone, in a way which the equipment was never designed to do. He wanted to save a bit of time, you see.
The result of this was that he and I were left holding the block swinging horribly between two, not three ten-foot poles, with only our fading strength to keep them upright before they fell and not only destroyed the elaborate tomb, but us as well. There was blood involved with that mishap, but HRH the Queen came the next week to inspect it, and was none the wiser about the near catastrophe.
Anyway, Venus. One of the seven foot-high blocks of Lapine stone was to be a Venus, and the only brief we had on the carving was that she was to have a nice arse. She was to be situated right outside the client's bedroom, and he wanted a pleasing posterior to look out upon. He liked a good arse.
Time went on, and Simon became entangled in Venus's hair.
I had been left alone for one day and had carved a massive scallop-shell from which she was rising - just like the Botticelli painting - and the reason I had manage to carve it in one day is because I had been left alone.
Simon began carving the hair as I worked on a different figure (the arse of Apollo, actually) and the more he worked, the more he became absorbed in the image of the painting, with the hair of Venus flowing wetly around her, right down to her knees.
He spent weeks drilling holes and cutting away stone until her hair became a fragile network of calcified lace which visually took up about a third of the figure as seen from the front.
At last, one friday, he pronounced Venus just about finished, and we pushed her up the steps (!) and out into the car-park, where he could contemplate her over the weekend before shipping her off up to Cheshire, where - it was planned - she would spend a few hundred years adorning the apex of a Villa Rotunda style country house, especially built for the client.
On Monday morning, I was driving down the lane approaching the workshop when I saw Simon's car coming in the opposite direction. We stopped alongside each other and wound down our windows.
"Tom," began Simon without any form of 'hello', "All I can do is apologise. Life must go on, I will see you in an hour or two." With that, he drove off.
When I pulled into the car-park, I was confronted with the sight of Venus lying on her back and surrounded by a myriad of stone fragments which used to be her hair.
On Saturday - when I was, thankfully, not there - he had decided to tilt her slightly backwards to get an impression of the fore-shortening which would inevitably occur when she was seen from the ground at the house, and he had propped her up with a couple of twigs which would have been more suitable for use in the bird's nests that he was so fond of.
He had been sipping a cup of tea and looking at her through the kitchen window, when he noticed her beginning to move, slowly at first...