I made contact with my old boss, Simon Verity, last night, ostensibly on the hunt for block Tufa.
A few emails crossed (either over the Atlantic or the North Sea, I'm not sure if he is in Scotland or Philadelphia right now) over enough time for me to drink a few glasses of wine and end up responding to his apology for being such a 'shit' to work for. I suppose I should have said, 'Of course you weren't Simon', but I didn't.
I went to work on some full-sized, classical figures for him just after he had completed a commission for Princess Diana - a fountain for Charles, and the only sculpture she ever commissioned in her short life.
We were shifting two wheelbarrows full of stone chips a day at the beginning. This was no mean feat when you understand that no machinery was involved - all mallets, hammers and chisels. Simon hated air-hammers, and I understand why. They are deafening, and tend to drive all artistic thoughts out of your head when you use them.
I always had the strong impression that I was holding him back in his flights of aesthetic fancy. I am very basic when it comes to safety, and Simon would become utterly exasperated when I suggested that it might be a good idea to try to prevent some disaster or other by spending just a little time making something safe. This is ironic when you consider how much I am currently moaning about the Health and Safety regulations of my current boss.
We decided to push one two-ton, seven foot high block of stone out of the way one day, and because we were shifting all this stuff by hand, our method was to bar it up and put wooden rollers underneath it to trundle it up against a wall. There it would stay for almost a year.
I suggested whacking some wooden wedges beneath it so that it would not fall, and Simon shouted, "Oh go on then!", resentful of the three minutes this would take.
Almost a year later, it was decreed that the block be moved to the centre of the room to be worked on again, and the method for this was to push it away from the wall with an old cart-jack, having removed the wedges. This operation had to be done on my hands and knees, with the help of Martin, the ever so quiet letter-cutter.
Simon was sitting cross-legged on the ground in front, as he chiselled away at the feet of another figure, and I was cranking away at the cart jack, inching it out of a corner so it could be pushed from behind, when I noticed the angle of the edge of the massive block slowly change. It was falling over - right in the path of Simon. Martin - normally utterly silent - quietly said, "Look out".
There wasn't enough time to form any words as I sprang to my feet, so I let out a sort of scream.
I stood at the front of the falling block and grabbed hold of it at the top. I think it must have been just on the point of no return when I did this, and I think I must have been supporting about a quarter of a ton of its two ton weight when Simon also leapt to his feet to help us push it back to an upright position. He would have been flattened if I hadn't stood up earlier, and he would never have made it to New York to complete the figures on the West Front of St John the Divine.
This was one of about three life-threatening incidents. The other major event was the building of the Duke of Beaufort's tomb. I told him that you couldn't use a three-legged tripod to shift a half ton block laterally, but he wouldn't listen. We did get it up and on without damage to the stone - and it only took about 30 seconds - but there was blood.
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