I spent one whole Summer restoring this late 18th century shell and crystal grotto in Wiltshire (near Lacock Abbey) for the late Lord Weinstock. I never met him in person, because he would be in London when I was at his house, and everyone had to leave by the weekend when he came home.
He was an avid note-leaver. He would walk around the grounds at weekends, finding things to leave notes about. One memorable note: "I have noticed cat-shit on the path between the rose gardens. Please clear it up immediately."
This grotto cost around £15,000 when it was built - a colossal sum in those days. Only the rich could afford to display all their minerals, fossils and shells - collected from Grand Tours - in this way, before what we now think of as modern museums were conceived.
The ceiling with the stalagtites was somewhat fucked-up by an amateur restorer in the 1960s, but I think the stalagtites themselves are original. They are made from shards of gypsum crystal, built-up like chandeliers against wooden staves and lime-plaster. Gypsum is easily available and easy to split, so restoring those was no problem.
The real stalagtites and mites which are set into the walls are not so easy to acquire. The original bits were obtained by going down into the Cheddar Gorge caves with a black-powder gun, and shooting them off the roof. They take a dim view of this practice these days.
Many of the missing shells were brought back from the now protected sea-beds of the West Indies and similar places (along with sugar, spice, slaves and all things nice) and cannot be bought legally unless you know a registered dealer with a licence. I found a registered dealer with a licence, in Bristol - where all the sugar, spice and slaves arrived in the 18th century. Licences to deal in slaves are no longer issued, but I am told you can still get one under the counter if you know the wrong person.
Just as with rebuilding car-engines, when you rebuild a few square yards of this sort of wall, you are always left with quite a few bits and pieces for which you could find no home - you simply run out of space. So I have a couple of boxes of rare and irreplaceable (legally) minerals and crystals, sitting around in my workshop, waiting to find a home in a different grotto.
These grottoes are rare, and their restoration is becoming rarer due to the huge costs. Maybe I have technically stolen the bits and pieces?
A grotto fountain at the Georgian house which is home to the American Museum.
That cascade of rock which hovers above the now empty bowl of the fountain is Tufa - the same stuff as I have just imported 2 tons of from Canada, via Ohio. The trouble is we are not allowed to dig our own up any longer, despite the fact that it replaces itself every few years.
Oh well, I suppose it makes sense. Everyone would want their own little Tufa grotto here in England if dealers were allowed to retail it. The stuff I got is to replace the missing parts of an 18th century structure - probably stolen by 20th century gardeners...
The main structure of the arch is made from stuff called 'Grot Stone', and this was dug up about 3 miles away on the other side of the valley, in a little wooded hamlet called Conkwell, where I once lived in a picturesque cottage next door to the last Governor of Hong Kong. Shawn lived about a mile or two from here when she first arrived in Bath.
This stone (it is a true stone, unlike Tufa) is characteristically riddled with worm-like holes of varying diameter, and the artificial architectural masonry representation of it is called 'Vermiculated' stonework - more references to worms. It is invariably used for the lower courses of grand buildings, such as the outside of the Roman Baths here.
Nobody is too sure about how these tunnel holes were formed - some say it was marine-life burrows, and others say it was the action of water-courses. It is also a rare commodity these days, second-hand stuff selling for around £1000 a ton, and it only takes a cubic yard to make a ton.
When you saw up Tufa - it is very soft and easiy sawn - it gives off a highly pungent and sulphurous odour which is quite unpleasant. This is due to all the organic matter which has left fresh gas trapped within it, released by the saw-cuts.
The same is true of some real stones which are 140 million years older than Tufa, and I like the theory that this gas is the trapped farts of dinosaurs when wallowing in the mud which formed the rock. Why not? There is such a thing as 'copralite' - look it up.
There is one particular type of Bath Stone which has smallish lumps of ferrous metal embedded in it which shine brightly when the saw cuts through the rusty exterior.
Scientists tell you that this metal is formed by the minerals grouping together over the millions of years, resulting in concentrations of metals and crystals, but I prefer the theory of one particular stonemason I knew once.
He assured me that these lumps of iron are the remains of alien space ships which crashed into the primordial mud of earth's watery surface during the era of the dinosaurs.
As I say, life is so much more interesting when you are prepared to believe in anything.
There is something strange going on with this computer.
A while ago, I found myself logged into Grandson's Facebook page without ever having asked to be let in. I told him about it and advised him to change passwords, but he just asked me to log him out as he must have forgotten to do. He wasn't logged in.
Just now I went to the44AD petition to see how many signatures they needed to hit their target of 1000 (96 at the last count) and there was The Boy's details already filled out on the petition form - including home address and postcode - ready for me to submit. This should be impossible. It is definitely not legal, and these petition systems guard against multiple signings from the same machine. I am even informed - using my real name and real email address - of signatures from this fake name of Tom Stephenson. It's a bit creepy.
Well I did not sign it using his name, but I did tell him about it. He must have done something on this computer which sparked off a connection between his laptop or accounts and me. This is another good reason not to use any 'Cloud' type systems for storing information. It seems I can just dip in and help myself.
The Devil: I wonder if he keeps his photos on iCloud...
I don't very often use this blog to promote causes, but I am asking you to sign this petition to save the 44AD Art Gallery here in Bath, which you will no doubt want to do if you have ever visited Bath or plan to any time soon. H.I. is having a show here at the end of November.
The very basic story is a very old one - Bath City Council's property division will always look wistfully at a peice of prime retail space in the centre, and begin to imagine how much more money they could make if they took it away from the not-for-profit community-based ventures and offered it to national chains for quadrillions of lovely pounds, because they are the only people who can afford Bath's rents and rates.
These community ventures will always be encouraged to move to the imporverished outskirts, and the excuse will be that the impoverished communities there will benefit from them being in their midst, but - as always - it is a matter of money.
Please sign it and forward it if you would like Bath to save just a little bit of its community spirit, nomatter where you live:
I've just waved goodbye to the very large man in the very small car as he set off for Bexhill via the New Forest. He looks vulnerable in a mini made by the British, not the Germans.
Five minutes later, he sent a text saying he was coming straight back - forgot some vital dental equipment which he needs on Monday, back in Bremerhaven - so I waved goodbye for second time. I always miss him for a few days after he has stayed, but I did not expect to see him again so soon. We vowed to meet up in the pub in half an hour, but I don't think that will happen.
Every possible weapon is now being used against Trump, and a couple of women who say they were groped by him about 40 years ago have been pulled out of retirement. I wonder why they have left it so long into the campaign - maybe because they did not think he would get so far either.
Normally, America sneezes and we catch a cold, but in this case we began opening historical sexual offence cases against celebrities long before the U.S. We did so to sell newspapers (or make money from them) but - with the exception of Bill Cosby - the U.S. is doing it for a purpose. A very important purpose. They are trying to save the world from destruction, and you can't get much more important than that.
It is a shame that we cannot afford to stop Russia from killing children in Syria without causing the end of the world as well.