Monday, 15 September 2014

Petula Clarke


I went into a charity shop today and saw a box set of the first series in DVD.  I thought I would buy them as I haven't seen one single episode.
The lady told me there was one disc missing - disc one.
I still haven't seen one single episode.
Help me, John.

Greener grass

Someone (a 24 year-old man) asked me the other day, what would be my dream job - the job I would most like to do - and I  found it very difficult to give a realistic answer.

If there is one thing I hear people say which genuinely makes me jealous, it is, "I cannot believe I am being paid to do this!"

I am very happy with my lifestyle, but I am more than aware that it involves a good deal of compromise to maintain, even at this low level. If I had ever really wanted to be rich, I would be by now, and I know from experience that the simple act of getting out of bed at 5.30 every Winter morning is not enough in itself to become wealthy. If it were, the rich would outnumber the poor by about a million to one, and we all know it is the other way round.

When I was about 40, I once casually said to a comfortably-off friend (what a repulsive phrase that is), "I need to earn more money." He said, "No you don't. You need to make more money."

In my job, I spend a lot of time in the vicinity of extremely wealthy people. I am not talking about a few million, I mean unimaginably wealthy. The beauty of this is that you simply do not have the credentials to even begin to be envious of them.

I am, though, in the enviable position of being paid by results and not by the hour, and for that I am extremely grateful. This is a sort of holistic approach based on accumulated experience which I have been nurturing ever since I gave up on 9 to 5 jobs, and since I know I will be doing the same sort of thing right through my 70s, I think it is an indication of very small kind of success that I have persuaded my clients to allow me to operate in this way, and not just through pity! I suppose this could be called old-fashioned patronage.

It is very rarely that I get a phone-call from someone asking me if something is finished or not, which would not be the case if I was a builder of hospitals, or the maker of anything which anyone actually needed. This is the advantage of working with things which could be described as luxuries, no matter how unpleasant some of the work-processes may be.

I know that there are many other areas where I would get on very well, but people generally only ever get asked to do the thing they are known for. I would sometimes like to do something which doesn't end up with me covered in dust, get freezing cold or boiling hot whilst aching all over, and I would like to delegate this sort of thing more often than I do, but if you are not prepared to be responsible for the well-being of entire families, then the only option is to do it yourself.

Right - It's Monday morning and I've just convinced myself that I am happy with my lot. I had better go off and do some work.

Sunday, 14 September 2014


I built that huge chimney almost 40 years ago. I haven't always been producing items of heart-breaking beauty for the rich and famous. I used to work quite hard once.

It used to be capped-off with a massive slab of sandstone pennant, and I told the customer it was a bad idea but he insisted. After an extremely heavy gale one night, I looked up to see that it was no longer there, but I didn't get any reports of it falling through roofs and ceilings, causing injury and death. I often wonder what actually happened, but was too scared to ask at the time.

Sometimes I like hearing from old clients, and sometimes not. For instance, I had a call yesterday from one who has just bought a massive, 16th century manor house for £2.5 million, and she wants some decorative fire surrounds to replace the ghastly concrete ones that are there at the moment.

I still have the same phone-number as I had when I bought myself my first mobile, and this loyalty has earned me many thousands of pounds over the years. The only people who really need to change their phone numbers on a regular basis are Royalty and drug-dealers. Everyone else shoots themselves in the foot by doing so.

This woman - as I remember - is unbelievably beautiful in a dark and classically sultry sort of way. I will forever associate her with a large scar on my leg, received when I was attacked by a chicken when visiting her previous house in the country, many years ago.

I arrived at the huge place, and was perturbed to see a very large and ferocious-looking dog, standing on the other side of the flimsy gate which I was supposed to be going through to get to the house.

I sat in the car trying to pluck up the courage to get out - I had driven a long way to be there, but I was seriously considering turning around and going home - when a postman arrived in a little red van. The beast went crazy, throwing itself at the gate and shouting death-threats in Dog. This should be interesting, I thought to myself.

The postie got out of his van, quickly went toward the gate and as he opened it, he reached inside his pocket and pulled out a bit of dog-delicacy which he threw down about four feet to one side of the path. He delivered the letters before the dog had a chance to finish the chew, and got back into his van, whistling to himself as he went.

Heartened by this, I went through the gate, all the while ostentatiously ignoring the dog, who was probably wondering where his biscuit was and staring at me with a look of forlorn hope. As I walked up the path, a large cockerel placed itself in my way, acting like a baddie in High Noon.

'A piddling chicken!' I almost said out loud, 'And what are YOU going to do about ME?!'

As it turned out, I had seriously under-estimated the intent and danger of this belligerent bird.

It lifted itself about two feet off the ground, then brought both spurs hard down on my leg in a very accurate and violent attack, using all the considerable muscle-power of its two, fat thighs. This cock would take a lot of boiling before it would be tender enough to eat.

It tore right through my trousers, and right into my leg, which instantly began to bleed profusely through the ragged hole in the material.

It moved toward me again for a second attack, but I swung the bag I was carrying toward its chest to ward it off. In the second blow, the contents of the bag spilled out onto the path - it ripped right through it, destroying it completely with one strike. I did not wait for the third attack, but kept beating the creature with another bag until I had driven it off the path. It kept coming back for more, like a suicidal killer.

When the woman answered my knock on the door, she looked at my torn trousers and all the blood, then took me into the kitchen for first-aid.

"I think that bird is destined for the pot," she muttered darkly.

With chickens like that, who needs guard-dogs?

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Where's Bradley?

After about two years of struggling with a fickle and failing DVD drive in this Mac, I have finally had a new one fitted and I cannot tell you the joy and relief I am feeling because of it.

My right arm is falling off though, because I carried the bloody thing to the repairers, and they are all fitted with half-inch thick, steel stands. I opted for 800 yards on foot rather than 2.5 miles by car in order to avoid another £120 fine by driving up to my own house.

I have often looked at these iMacs and wondered how the HELL anyone gets inside them - there are no visible screws or anything, either front or back. I took it into the shop (run by a man who maintains 700 Macs for a local - very wealthy! - girl's school) and he attached two rubber suckers to the front screen, opened it like a well-oiled door and lifted it away - in about 3 seconds.

I have lived to see another mystery revealed - the sort of mystery that Apple likes to perpetuate amongst its customers so that they are too scared to do anything other than take their machines to them. It's the sort of thing I try to inculcate in my clients as well, so I know where they are coming from. You can charge a lot more money if people haven't got a clue as to how something is done. All people who work with stone and marble have been doing this for at least 3000 years.

This weekend is an extremely busy one for Bath. Yesterday, the Tour of Britain (we can still call it that for the time being) rode right past our house, today there is a huge and noisy rugby match right near our house (going on right now), Bath University has its annual open-day, and there is a Jane bloody Austen festival going on, meaning that the town is packed with people who are either wearing blue, white and black sweatshirts, or home-made bonnets and breeches. All the males are carrying walking-canes and adopting intelligent, conversational attitudes and all the females are trying to look demure. I cringe with embarrassment.

Around 10.00 am yesterday, the preparations for the Tour of Britain began outside, and streets were closed off to all but official cars and motorcycles with a few ambulances for any spectacular pile-up which - sadly - didn't happen. They weren't going fast enough. Even I could have kept up with the lazy bastards.

I told H.I. that I was going to watch it from the window and she looked boredly disinterested. At around 10.20, a helicopter flew low overhead, about 50 motorbikes roared past followed by about 200 men in Lycra, followed by about 20 support vehicles, all with about four spare bikes on their roofs - with flashing lights and sirens blaring above the noise of the helicopter.

30 seconds later, everyone went home and 30 seconds after that, H.I. came into the room and asked if anything was going on. "Too late," I said, "You've missed it."

"Why didn't you tell me about it?" She actually looked let-down.

I was of the impression we all had about 6 months advance warning for this 30-second event.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Size matters

Last night, I bought a Soviet Russian made, spotting telescope which is hand-held with a magnification of 20X. Why, you might ask?

Ever since I sold the unusably large (for a town flat) 12 inch reflector, there has been a hole in my life which I cannot seem to fill despite the fact it was hardly ever used, and a hole in the living room which is greatly appreciated by H.I. who fills it as much as she can.

I was going to buy a pair of 100mm objective lens binoculars, and I wanted to have a three second lead-up to the hammer coming down, rather the the 8 second one that you get from using free Just Snipe, giving your opponent plenty of time to up their measly bids to eclipse yours.

I had set up the clock on the screen and watched the time pass until I had under a minute to go, then placed a large bid. The eBay clock stops working after you have done this, so you have to rely on your own one before leaving it until three seconds before close to hit the 'Confirm Bid' button.

I looked at the corner of the eBay screen, and and saw that the bidding had gone up, but the numbers were scrambled in the way that computer screens only know how, and then I panicked, so I hit a higher sum that was offered to me by those skunks in eBay. That stopped my live bidding completely, and by the time I had sorted it all out, the thing had been sold to someone else - for less money than I was prepared to spend on it.

H.I. was treated to me cooking her dinner in a very black mood, made blacker by the low sugar-levels - exacerbated by the high adrenalin output caused by the failed bidding process.

I had my eye on the little Russian scope beforehand, and I was actually thinking about buying it as well to make spying on the neighbours a little easier, but in the end I bought it to calm myself down from the evening's disappointment - a consolation prize if you like.

Before I went home last night, I was telling some 'friends' about my ambition to purchase these binoculars, and a couple of them wondered why.

One of them said that he was always walking past a camera and optics shop in Bath which specialises in smallish telescopes and binoculars, and there was usually an elderly man testing them outside on the street by training them up to a church tower, where a stuffed owl has been placed for the purpose.

"It's an old man thing. Old men are obsessed with telescopes and all that bollocks."

He is 12 years younger than me. I had to admit he was probably right, but all I will say in my defence is that there is a good reason why size matters in telescopes.

It's all to do with light-gathering capabilities, and nothing at all to do with what a young women friend of mine calls, "Something lacking in the trouser-department."

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Och Aye!

Last night's moon - they used to be called 'Harvest Moons' but now everyone calls them 'Super Moons'. Yet another indication of how remote and detached we have become from agriculture.

Us English people are now beginning to panic at the increasingly real prospect of Scotland breaking away from the U.K. and the Prime Minister has resorted to a tearful, undignified, public screaming-fit of "Jock! I love you! Don't leave, pleeeeeze!"

The Queen is tearing her hair out at the thought that the Scots might turn against her forever and take over the flat in Holyrood, chucking out all the Robert Kime chintz and replacing it with Charles Rennie Macintosh furnishings.

The trouble is that nobody on either side has even begun to think the whole thing through until now, the very last minute. This includes the cynical move of granting a vote in the referendum to 16 year-olds, who are renowned the world over for not thinking things through until they reach middle age.

The English have been accused of running a very negative campaign over the last year or so, but if you fall into a camp whose title is 'No', then it is very difficult to cast a positive spin on any argument you might put forward against the split.

I would have thought that the 'No' group constantly referring to the 'Yes' vote as one for independence rather than destruction was generously positive toward the 'Yes' camp, but - like I say - they haven't thought anything through until the eleventh hour.

With the vote only a matter of days away, the English are sitting around with gaping mouths and thoughtful expressions on their faces, then coming up with all sorts of implications for the split which would not only be very disruptive, but very expensive as well, and - for once - we would not be able to get the Scots to pay for them.

It was only a matter of 3 days ago when one of our ministers flatly said that if Scotland were to break away, then manned border-control posts would have to be set up, because only the E.U. is currently allowed to have unmanned ones, and Scotland will not automatically have E.U. status, but will have to wait a period of years before it qualifies for it. A vision began to flicker of red and white poles going up and down, holding up the traffic in the Lowlands, with Scots being asked for their 'papers' before being turned away by armed English officers.

Looking on the positive side, a Scottish break-away would have no real effect on the cultural life of us English - we would still be able to celebrate Burns Night and Hogmanay in the same way we celebrate St Patrick's Day by drinking Guinness and dressing in green. After all, thousands of us celebrate Diwali and Ede every year, despite our monarch being the Defender of the Christian Faith only.

It's a shame that Idi Amin is no longer with us. He may have been able to fulfil a life-long ambition by becoming the King of Scotland after all.

Never mind that we would lose all that revenue from oil, whisky, personal taxation and haggis, we would effectively lose control over our own nuclear defence force when they kick Trident and the submarines out of the Loch.

I'll tell you one thing that the 'Yes' campaign haven't thought of.

As soon as Scotland declares itself a separate state from the remaining Disunited Kingdom, we will be seeking advice on the best way of handling the loss of a large bit of strategic territory from the current world-expert in these matters - President Putin.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Bollocks to Caro

After a lot of money and a lot more effort, I decided yesterday that this block of sparkly, white, Thassos marble was not suitable for the job in hand, so I have rejected it and it now comes under the category of 'stock'.

Shortly before this photo was taken, I found myself trapped in an uncomfortable position having thought I could manage to get it out of the car on my own, and if I had lifted my foot from the board it was supposed to slide down, some damage would have occurred to either the car, the block, me, or all three.

Thank goodness for mobile phones, because I only had to wait for about 10 minutes before help was at hand in the form of my nearest neighbour, who happened to be reasonably close whilst walking his dog.

There has just been a radio program about the Royal Warrants that are issued to any 'purveyor' of goods to the Royal Household, and these warrants are given to trusted tradespeople by either the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh or Prince Charles.

Some years ago, I was working for a sculptor who had been granted a Royal Warrant for supplying the only sculpture to have ever been commissioned by Princess Diana, and this was a birthday present for Charles, in the form of a stone fountain for Highgrove. The fountain now languishes in a garden on the outskirts of Bristol, but that's another story - albeit a good one which casts a great deal of light on the Royal couple's deteriorating relationship at the time before Diana's death.

I have since made a birthday present for the Prince of Wales, but because it was commissioned by one of his mates, I got no Royal Warrant of my own for doing it. That's also another story.

Anyway, one very cold and frosty morning when I was working for the honoured sculptor, I was alone in his yard and attempting to shift a block of stone which weighed over a quarter of a ton, when it slipped and trapped all eight of my fingers against the frozen ground, leaving me bent double and unable to reach a mobile phone even if I had one, which I did not.

I remained in this position - in quite a lot of pain - for about five minutes, waiting for a passer-by who never came, so that I could instruct him or her on how to use a heavy quarry-bar to lift one edge of the block without dropping it back down sharply again before I had a chance to remove my fingers - this takes quite a bit more experience to do safely than the passer-by might have had.

I knew that the sculptor would not be back until late that night, so I had two choices - die of cold, or lift the block up using my fingers only. I chose the latter - unsurprisingly.

Some of you may not have heard this story before, so may be wondering why I put myself in this situation over and over again by not either employing someone, or not using lifting equipment for items that I handle every day which one human being cannot lift on his own. Well let me tell you, it has nothing to do with forgetfulness.

I used to have access to a five-ton forklift parked close by, but the owner of this machine is a fool who plays at being a sculptor, and now does not let me use his Tonka Toy without him being the driver.

He once promised to sell me a large, steel lifting-gantry which is just the right size for my yard, but then he cut it into small pieces and turned it into a 'sculpture' which nobody wants to buy.

He was probably inspired by Anthony Caro, who made a lot of ugly girder sculptures painted in garish colours, but the difference is that people did actually want to buy Caro's - well corporations did anyway.

I went to the same sculpture school as Anthony Caro, but the fool with the forklift went to no school at all.