DECRO ARCHITECTURAL FAIR KNEBWORTH 2014
Thought I’d pick a few photos to try and convey the excitement of this dynamic trade and public event.
Our Lady of Notre Dame de Lourdes
Property of a friend. And a reminder why Statues of Our Lady and female saints are more in demand than male ones.
Hadleigh URC Time Lapse
Thanks to Meryvn at the above church, here is the ultimate before, during and after sequence of photographs of a pew job we were involved in. Pews: now you see them, now you don’t.
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Bulgarian Hill Church
Up in the hills behind Bulgaria’s Rila Monastery we found what seemed to be this abandoned church. It was mostly filled with rubbish and mouse droppings and nobody appeared to have been there for a while. Possibly it and the buildings around it were some kind of overspill for visiting clergy and pilgrims to the big monastery below and now it just wasn’t needed. Anyway, of all the churches I’ve ever visited, this one probably ranks as being the one in the most beautiful setting. Whoever the monk in the photograph was, I hope he had a happy life.
We’ve been coming on holiday to the Villa Sophia for fourteen years. On the edge of a nothing village called Chrani in the Southern Peloponnese of Greece, this is where me and my family have come to swim, sunbathe and eat every July/August.
The accommodation is basic, the children sleep on a sofa and an old pull-out bed. There is no air-con and it is definitely not mosquito proof. But you can see the sea from our balcony and walk down to it in about a minute - with no cars to worry about. Choices are simple. There are basically three local beaches you can lay on, three local restaurants you can eat at and one local cafe you can drink at. We read a lot and store up heat for the forthcoming English Winter.
This year is probably the last we will go there. Johnny our eldest son is leaving home and it is the end of family holidays as we knew them. To underline this, our landlord of the Villa Sophia, Andreas, died shortly before we arrived. He had been fighting cancer for two years but always seemed like he was going to beat it. As we got out of our car, Coula, his widow hugged us all in turn and we cried together. Unhelpfully, Coula’s mother, who must be in her 90’s, is now completely senile. Whenever we would come across her, she would wave frantically at us, her face a few inches away from ours.
Knowing that something is over makes you see it in a different way and not always for the better. Our apartment suddenly seemed shabby and uncomfortable. If we hadn’t been going there for years we wouldn’t have wanted to stay there. The petty rivalries and jealousies of the village which we had got to know seemed like… too much trouble. The ubiquitous German tourists who of course had seized the best villas, best spots on the beaches (clumps of recliners, chairs and umbrellas all chained up in a very unGreek way) were now insufferable.
And yet. In the past nothing mattered that much because there was still the future to look forward to and because we created our own reality. Andreas our cheerful landlord was the custodian of this for us. Gifts of fruit, eggs,oil and wine every day. Cheerful ‘Yassous’ and ‘Yassas’ being called out. Mimed jokes which we would laugh at. The sound of his step through Honda growling up and down the hill a dozen times a day.
Andreas took care of our summer holidays for us. Over the years which have fluttered by without much to mark them, our summers at least were memorable and provided a chance for me to be with my family away from Britain and all the dullness and work there.
The thing about death is that it seems so strange that your old junk outlives you. Old overalls of Andreas were still lying around, a tap that has dripped ever since our first visit was still leaking. Half empty quarter bottles of Metaxa, half empty packs of cigarettes and that step through Honda, still there. I can see why some other cultures buried or burned the possessions of the dead with them. Seems less of an affront, somehow. However, Andreas’ garden hadn’t stayed the same. His orderly allotment of fruit trees, cabbages and other vegetables was overgrown and gone to seed.
So, if there’s a message, perhaps it’s that after you’ve gone all the things you should have got rid of or tidied will still be there. And that the things you cared about and worked at will turn into dust.
Spend time with your loved ones while you can is what I say.
The dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s tall - but not as tall as the spire of the original Cathedral that burned down in 1666.
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Oranges and Lemons
Partly cleared out St Clements, Eastcheap in the City of London, which is the first time we’ve worked in a church referenced in a famous nursery rhyme. Smallest of the Wren Churches you’d hardly know it was there until you walked in the door. I was anxious about the logistics imagining fleets of armed, moped riding, special City of London traffic wardens, tow trucks, Red Route super accumulator parking tickets, horn sounding, shouting and general unpleasantness. In fact it was one of the easiest jobs we’ve ever done, Clement Lane which the church is actually on is like a weird little alley where van drivers go to have naps in peace and quiet. Not one ticket did we get, not one warden came along. Apparently there aren’t any sneaky cameras either. We also felt better knowing that we had parked in such a way that no tow truck could get in front of us. No problems with food either as the City must have more high quality takeaways then maybe anywhere in the world. The only interruption being the occasional ‘Tim Nice But Dim’ City Trader types coming into the church to say things like “So, is this a church, OK, yah?”
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The Post Office and our Kind Customers
We’re used to the Post Office and other courier firms mashing up our parcels. In our time we’ve had a large brass cross bent literally in half. Parcels that have been returned covered in boot prints where they have been stamped to pieces. A wooden crate carefully prised open so that the contents could be broken.
So, when someone buys a plaster statue I try and do a good job on the wrapping. St Mary above had to go to San Francisco and according to Gabrielle, our dear customer, the packing had been pretty good. If only the package hadn’t been completely immersed in water for a large part of the three day transit. We had opted for Air Mail as opposed to Sea Mail and can only assume that the Royal Mail had organised some sort of bath full of water in which to transport our statue. Essentially, St Mary arrived with most of the cardboard having dissolved along with Mary’s right hand.
Insurance? Well according to the Parcelforce list of excluded items, plaster is not covered. In fact pretty much anything which isn’t reinforced steel is not covered by any Royal Mail insurance. Which means effectively they can nick it, lose it, smash it or bath it and there’s nothing you can do.
Anyway, we tried to settle some kind of refund with Gabrielle and there followed this slightly Kafkaesque dialogue where we offered her money and she kept turning us down. Her view seemed to be that Mary’s missing hand was an opportunity to do something beautiful with flowers. A kind of philosophy running counter to that of the Royal Mail. Instead of a list of excuses and exclusions a list of solutions and inclusions. Thanks Gabrielle; you definitely have a credit with us.
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Our Farm, 1940
John, our landlord, was showing us these pictures the other day. This was when our farm was part of the war effort growing tomatoes and potatoes. In the top picture, the people shown sharpening tomato stakes had just been shot at by a maurading Messerschmitt. Being on ‘Bomb Alley’ on route to the Brooklands Factory the pickers often had to put up with machine gun attacks. Another picture shows a ‘crop’ of unexploded incendiary bombs which the Land Girls would gather up every morning from the surrounding fields. Luckily, most of these wouldn’t explode. One of the things which one notices as with so many war pictures is just how cheerful most people look. Suicide rates were right down along with heart disease and depression. Is War what we need to be happy? Or is this just a weird British thing from the past?
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We’ve just sold this silk banner and as I was packing it up it struck me how beautiful it was. Some nameless nun made it in a convent in Bristol, probably in the 1950s and I wondered what was going through her head while she sewed and stitched. Faith, love and devotion I suppose. I hope she got all that she prayed for.
My first GIF.
In the office, Wilfred the Bedlington Terrier finds something very interesting about my shoe…
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This is St Anne with Mary. An old statue of ours, now in the garden of Simon, our most helpful of customers. It’s been here for a a few years now and has weathered in nicely. The palaver with trucks and cranes now a distant memory. Simon is our ultimate ‘phone a friend’: if we get stuck on the identity of some obscure saint or painting he will always be able to come up with a name.
And St Anne, if not that obscure as the mother of Mary, does make one think about all of Jesus’s relatives. Clopas his uncle who was some sort of missionary, Salome and Mary his sisters. All of the brothers who all ended up doing big early Christian work. What was it like for them? Where they like minor celebrities? ‘Hey! You’re the brother of that Jesus nut!’ (Pause for throwing of stones or applause) How many children/descendants did they have? If ancient Palestine had had todays media they probably would have had their own TV show. Millions of ‘notes’ on Tumblr. Millions of ‘likes’ on Facebook. Or maybe not.
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Comic moments in Christian Martyrdom
This is my namesake St Lawrence, pictured here on the side of a large Reredos / panel in our warehouse. He was the Saint who, whilst being grilled to death over hot coals, called out: ‘Turn me over, this side’s done!’
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