Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Saturday, 26 April 2014
More than my job's worth
We set up the base to the very large, very delicate, very heavy and very expensive marble sculpture the day before yesterday, but - just so we didn't have to do it twice - let the clients sleep on it before deciding on the final position.
I flatter myself that I was called in for the moving because of my many years experience in such activities, but of course they really wanted someone other than themselves to blame if it was destroyed in the process.
"How are we going to get it across the courtyard, into the area and up onto the plinth without lifting-gear?"
It was a good question. The sculpture did not have a single solid area which you could wrap your hands around without something snapping off, although it would have been an easy enough weight for two or three strong men to lift into position if it had. Since it had been made, it had only been lifted from beneath, and even then with the protective buffer of a wooden palette under its base - a luxury denied to us due to the cramped conditions of the display area and low, vaulted head-room.
"Fetch," I commanded, "a four-wheeled, steerable trolley with inflatable tyres of about this (I indicated by holding my hand about two feet from the unforgiving ground) height - and make sure the tyres are properly inflated."
Shortly, the truck arrived and the trolley was off-loaded. We then built up the height of the trolley with three pieces of the packing-crate which the thing had arrived in, and I got them to nail the bits to the bed of the truck, just incase they slipped when we had our hands full. Unthinkable.
I then pushed the trolley alongside the figure on the base, sprinkled some dry sand over the flat areas and we slid the thing - almost effortlessly - onto the raised trolley. Now all we had to do was the same thing in reverse, although its weight meant that the trolley had sunk about half an inch, meaning that there would be a teeny bit of lifting involved at the other end.
"Ok, everyone wash your hands," was the next instruction. I hadn't spent all that time cleaning it to have to do the same thing all over again because of dirty hands, and nothing gets dirty quicker than white marble - especially when three builders are clinging on to it with grim determination over an uneven surface of about 400 yards.
Because its final resting-place was determined using the finely-honed, artistic eye for detail that only the owner has at his command, we parked it up close to the plinth, then went home to await the joint decision from the clients which was to be made sometime by next morning.
I had a pleasant evening, drinking a little wine, eating a little food, chatting to you through this blog, listening to the radio before going to bed and finally drifting off to sleep.
Anyone who makes plans or solves problems will know that - almost miraculously - many complex and seemingly insurmountable difficulties are overcome during sleep, and I have woken up in the middle of the night with the perfect solutions to them on many occasions. Those of us who shoulder onerous responsibilities never really stop working, even on holiday, but we do stop getting paid for it.
So at about 3 o'clock in the morning, I woke up with a start and began to break out in a sweat.
What - it dawned on me in the dark - if the trolley suffers a slow puncture in the night and one wheel completely deflates, tipping the whole thing over and smashing its precious cargo on the stone floor?
If I had been thinking properly, I would have blocked up the four wheels with wooden struts before leaving it, so that if it had sunk, the weight would have been borne by the struts and it would have stayed level. There was nothing for it but to try to get back to sleep and await an early morning phone call to tell me of the predicted disaster, but the call never came.
The next morning - rather than being shown into a small room containing nothing but one chair and a loaded revolver - I was expected to complete the task and plonk the thing onto the pedestal as planned.
The quickest and flattest route was through the garage, perilously close to the massive, black limo which was being made even shinier by the chauffeur, who was putting the finishing touches to some chrome details with a fresh duster as we approached.
He stood between us and his car as we passed, and I suggested that - in the event of the statue toppling over - he should make the supreme sacrifice by throwing himself between the quarter-ton lump of marble and his recently polished vehicle, so as to soften the impact.
He thought I was telling him to protect the bodywork, so I pointed out that the marble statue was worth approximately five times more than the car.
Despite having undergone training in evasive driving techniques where they try to drill you to overcome your natural reluctance to dent the car as much as necessary in order to get away from the bad guys, he still seemed to be more protective toward the limo than anything else.
It's all a question of getting a perspective on priorities, and that's one of the most difficult things to learn in any job.