Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Tuesday, 23 August 2016
You only get one chance
H.I.'s Cartier watch just arrived, today is in-house training day for the young mason and the sun is shining. What could possibly go wrong?
The young mason needs no training in masonry - rather he could teach me quite a lot. What I am imparting is the application of fairy-dust, and I am not sure how impartable that is.
This year is the 300th aniversary of the birth of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, and he and his team celebrated it by almost demolishing an L.C.B. architectural feature on the historic estate. I won't go into details other than that it was a complete and unforeseeable accident involving a high-powered machine, and bore no resemblance to a Norman Wisdom film whatsoever. Thankfully I was not there when it happened, and neither was the owner.
People often ask me what I would do if I accidentally destroyed one of the rare and extremely valuable items that I handle almost on a daily basis, and I say that I cannot afford such an accident, so I would never be put in that situation. Of course, we have all come close at various times and - as with conditions which bring us close to death - are very often not even aware of it. Thankfully.
When I have handled priceless medieval carvings - such as the 13th century Madonna and Child which I had to physically remove from its original position once - I have not allowed myself to think in terms of disaster. It is a bit like not looking down when climbing great heights.
These rare disasters are caused by poor planning, and poor planning can be the result of failing to admit that other people's advice - if freely given - can be invaluable, even if it is only based on intuition and not experience.
I watched a documentary on the restoration of a massive and important, prehistoric, ceramic bowl once, and this was the most excrutiating thing I have seen which didn't involve the loss of life, because the disasterous outcome was obvious almost right from the beginning of the half hour film.
The bowl had been excavated in hundreds of pieces, and had been pains-takingly put back together again by a team of conservators at the museum over a very long period of time. The documentary-makers had taken clips of the project in various stages, and the project itself was managed by a middle-aged, female archeologist who was keen on making it hers and hers alone, without anyone else sticking their noses in. This was going to be her moment of fame, and it certainly was.
The intact bowl was about six feet across and very heavy, and the woman fussed about as they prepared to lift it off the work table and put it on a trolley for transportation to somewhere else in the building.
She barked orders at the lifters and generally created an atmosphere of panic, which is the very last thing she should have done.
They had a large gantry over the bowl which had the hoist and straps attached, and she gave the orders for the straps to be wrapped underneath and around the rim of it at the top. I waited for her to place rigid spacers between the straps to avoid them crushing the bowl under its own weight, but she had none.
I watched between my fingers as the bowl was inched into the air - with her fussing around and still barking orders - and just as all of its considerable weight was lifted a fraction from the table and the table was slid out from beneath, the bowl spectacularly imploded into more than the original components and clattered to the ground.
She screamed an expletive and asked for the cameras to be turned off.