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Sunday, 7 April 2013

What to do in Winter ...

Well here at Large Mansions, most of winter has been spent lying under comforting duvets eating. It has to be said that the phrase "lying under comforting duvets eating" is usually concluded with "...and watching television.." but this winter has been so crap that at times we havent even mustered the energy to watch television and eat. It was when we realised that we had actually been utilising out heating for six months of the year - last year it was barely three -  and that we had accomplished almost nothing of interest that I decided to act.

The question of how you know that you have accomplished almost nothing of interest is itself an interesting one: how do you actually know? I mean most people are not really interested in what other people say and most conversations are just spent waiting for the other person to finish so you can tell the other person about yourself.  This means that  when you meet someone, perhaps in the street, even if you have just returned from  the moon in a spacevehicle that you have built yourself  and tell your neighbor about this extraordinary escapade, your neighbour is just waiting for you to finish describing the Sea of Tranquility so they can can you how well little Ben is doing at school and while all the other kids in his class' reading is Key Stage Two his is already at the next Key Stage and they have high hopes that his younger brother will be as good because he can already say 'treacle' without a 'w' pronunciation and dont you like his cute hat and your wife is a psychologist isnt she so she will know all about how impressive Ben's achievements are. Even if you patently explain that the Sea of Tranquility is some  380,000 kms away (which is further away  than Ontario is) and repeat for the 2556th time that RHB is not a child psychologist (also knows nothing about Psychic powers, counselling or prisoner rehabilitation, teaching and does not regard the period that the students do not attend University as a 'holiday' and is therefore not 'off' all summer) and that neither of you are interested in child development (an entirely seperate and worthy but massively misunderstood by the authors of children academic discipline) it is futile. Note that I didnt , in the foregoing - qualify how far away Ontario is from what. Those of us who have been there will understand that this is because to do so is unnecessary.

How then do you know what you have/have not accomplished?  Self and RHB know we had accomplished very little because I am in weekly Skype contact with people who PG Wodehouse  describes a 'the ageing p's', namely my parents. The initail enquiry on both sides durng these conversations is "What have you been up to?" and the discovery that the answer from us  is 'much less than a pair of octegenarians' is salutory. If we cannot achieve at least the same level of activity of someone (my father) who by his own admission fully expected to be dead twenty five years ago, then we have problems.

Back to the decision, which was to rock our world with some noteworthy achievement or other. We both had our projects. RHB would take the unprecedented step of doing something domestic - baking. And I would fix a Newell post. I imagine that some are currently reeling in shock and confusion. Shock , because RHB's tolerance for domestic - particularly traditionally  female - tasks is legendary in its negativity. Even when attempting a standard cook of a single meal, I will often have to repair the kitchen wall (after eating a usually acceptable  meal) of stab marks from the kitchen knife. Actually I exagerrate - I say "often" when I have only had to repair the wall twice in living memory - although "twice in living memory' is also the amount of times RHB has cooked. Nevertheless, baking - on the grounds of providing us with lower fat and zero-processed-sugar cakes, cookies and so forth- is the task that RHB set.

Confusion may have reigned over my stated project which was repairing a Newell post because you may not kn ow what a newell post is. The image below not only shows a newell post it also shows why I need to repair it:

Thus a newell post is the most sturdy part of a stair rail / bannister/spindle construction. It is the first post you will find when encountering a set of stairs. often ornately carved it is built into the structure of a staircase -it cannot be merely decorative. which is why I could not simply rip this out and replace it, because it is part  of a structure that passes through two sets of (finished) floors and eventuates (I have the  Boris Johnson -  that c*** b******* C*** b888**#@!  who is also probably the most dangerous politician in the UK right now - to thank for the word 'eventuate') sub floor attached to the foundations. It is, in one sense, just a post, but it is a very important post.

Despite this post's importance, it had been viciously hacked by the previous denizons - or the landlords who owned - what we now know as Large Mansions. This had been done during some 'repairs' and fall under the general category of "architectural crimes of the Eighties". This activity was perfect. It was indoors, quite difficult but not impossible, indoors, satisfying and most importantly indoors.

We called a house meeting to notify the other inhabitants of Large Mansions of  possible disruption and negotiate the terms of said disruption. The inspiration behind calling  a house meeting came, perhaps surprising, from encounters with some people we have met in the street who consult and negotiate with their children on important family issues. I know of someone who wanted a weekend away, over a Bank Holiday weekend ( no work Friday to Monday inclusive for non-UK readers) ,  for some recreational hill walking and who had to hold protracted negotiations with his eight year old child to obtain permission for such an absence. When terms were finalised they included that my friend should bring back presents for the child on his return, spend extra time with it doing crap child things when he got back, promise not to go too often (this was the parents' first solo time away in eight years and was possibly the first and only time he would be allowed to do this in eighteen years), a nd cut his part of the weekend short  and change his planned itinery so as to be back in time to watch Mr Dibbles (or something) on tv on Sunday afternoon thus missing a whole two days hiking. The parent seemed quite relieved that he'd been allowed to go hiking  at all so was quite happy with his side of the deal.  The child obviously (presumably because of the negotiations) coped well with the absence because,  returning anxiously on the final day (while the rest of us enjoyed a glorious day in the hills) to watch Mr Dibbles with his child , the parent discovered that the child had fucked off to a friends to play football and would'nt be back at all that evening as the kids were having a sleep over.

Actually the house meeting was a bit of a damp squib. The cats didnt care have any particular objections to our plans and we were very impressed with the grown up way they not only attended the meeting but kept awake for a small part of it. People talk a lot about child development but in  the field of feline development a cat that has holds its  attention on one thing,  at someone else's behest, for more than three seconds is a remarkably focused, driven individual. With approval from the whole household, I set about restoring the said newell post over the next few weekends. It involved carving tiny little bits of wood to approximate sizes, gluing these on to the old post using matches as dowels, sanding and filling, resanding, filing. It was an intricate, three dimensional puzzle and utilised the finer skills I had accumulated over twenty years in theatre and furniture making etc. This is the process in some of its stages:

 Initially when we bought this house I did think that most of my work would be such fine work and the lumpen work would be subcontracted out to those more used to it. That didnt happen, we have done everything. The next stage is paiting which is RHB's job.

 I have to admit the photos arent the best and because of the differnet colours of filler wood and so on it looks very patchy, but I can assure you the post looks brand new. The best way to see what has been done is by looking at the second photo in the sequence of five above. It shows how near the top part of the post the urved detail is completely missing. The photos subesquent show that detail replaced and restored. Once RHB has painted I will post agian.