Sunday 30 August 2009

Och aye....

Tomorrow morning we strike out for the west of Scotland. The weather forecast? Gales, rain, rain, wind, rain. I'll get back to you.


She said it was fine. I passed with flying colours, and was exultant. Only that was last night. This morning she found a speck* or two of cement left unbrushed on the far edge of the lead; I am downcast and chastened.

But it can't be that bad, because - oh joy! - she is allowing me to do the front side of the panel too. I am so privileged....sigh....
(I notice several people gave up on the dream of making stained glass when they reached the post about cementing.)

She, meantime, is escaping to visit friends in Consett. I detect that slightly frantic note when someone realises that they are seriously running out of time on their holiday to do all that they had hoped. I'll stay home and pack for tomorrow, get cementing again, and keep reminding myself that they do have shops/pharmacies/garages en route, so I don't have to pack up most of the house to take with us for a short break in Scotland.

*Edit: I looked again, and it was more than a speck or two. More than a speck as well....

Saturday 29 August 2009

It's dirty work, but...

...someone's got to do it. This is how you prevent your lovingly-constructed panel from falling in rainbow shards at your feet should you slam the front door. Cement and chalk. Foundation and powder for glass.

First stir the black gloop till smooth and all the linseed oil is amalgamated.

Then with the dog's toothbrush (only kidding, dog!) force it under the lead. Make sure you don't leave any gaps; make sure you work at an angle to the lead, or you'll simply pull it all back out again. Realise why you were allowed to do this bit of the job.

Keep going. Be thankful you decided against starting this at nine o'clock last night, but wish you'd thought of bringing a cup of tea up to the attic with you.

It's hard to get a gloopy latex glove off in order to take a photo. The cats and the dog are queuing outside the attic door, making faint disgruntled noises; they can't bear being locked out. But you just know what would happen: this black cement would be jumped on, then trodden round the house and onto the beds.

Leave it to dry a little while you straighten your back, drink tea, walk the dog. The walk doesn't take long because you are ambushed at the end of the street by Millie, and don't want her following you anywhere with traffic. So we all trot up and down the back lane, followed by Lottie on the yard walls, her tail held aloft like a magnificent plume. Somehow both cats consider this a great treat, walking the dog with me.

Back to the cement. Sprinkle with chalk, which will absorb the excess oil. Panic a little at this stage, worry that you've done this wrong, and look up the instructions, both in a book and online. They contradict each other. Too late now, anyway.
It's been so long since I did this, and I've sort of lost my nerve. Tricia is in Carlisle and not due back till this evening.

Buck up, you wimp; what's the worst that could happen? She could only kill you.
Just be glad that she only let you do the back of the panel.

Using high-tech tools, a sawn-off scrubbing brush and a plastic fid, clean up your glass. Wait for Tricia to come home and tell you that YOU'VE RUINED IT!!!

Friday 28 August 2009

want to peek?

It's just soldered, that's all. There is much still to be done. And at last, I am allowed to Do Something: the cementing, which entails the liberal application of smelly goo with an old toothbrush, forcing it into every gap in the lead, then dusting it with a chalky powder to absorb the excess oil, scraping the glass clean, and allowing the cement to set. A bit like an old-fashioned skincare regime, really, apart from the old toothbrush bit. After that, there will be blackleading and a final clean up, before the panel is installed above the front door with no one allowed to enter the house before bowing to it in reverential homage.

I'm only permitted to do this (filthy) job because the artist-slave has gone away for the night, and wants to cement the other side of the panel herself tomorrow. I am not allowed to turn it over. I feel privileged, though; this is her baby, and I've been allowed to babysit it and wash its face, but nothing more. I will comply.

that's stretching it a little

Lead is soft and bendy, easily twisted and dented, and has to be stretched before it will hold glass securely. From time to time, the artist-slave in the attic would call me from my concentrated domestic duties to share in this task. So far, that's all I've been allowed to do. That panel has been more jealously guarded than a newborn tiger cub.

Lizzie wonders how we stretch our lead. If you're doing it alone, you can place one end in a gripping device designed for that specific purpose, and pull the other end yourself. It is of course essential that the device is securely fixed to an immoveable surface, or there will be more undignified falling over backwards than actual stretching.

But it's easier if two stout personages do it. Each must grasp an end of the length of lead with pliers, and pull.

No, no, not wussy pulling like that.

More like this. You don't need a bespectacled bloke to encourage you, though.

This is good. You need to put your back into it.

And you pull, and you pull. No falling over or letting go. When the lead is straight, and has firmed up - you'll know when it's ready because you are now purple-faced and ready to blow a blood vessel - you stop, and the boss says "thad'll do" in a laconic Aussie accent. And then you go for a little lie down.

Thursday 27 August 2009


The slave-artist in the attic has had a busy, driven day. This panel is going to be finished if it kills her, she says, while simultaneously cursing mightily and emphasising how much she's enjoying herself. She has a grubby sticking-plaster on one finger, and an aching back, and the increase in the sort of language that Nanny wouldn't like is caused by some very fiddly adjustments of the number 9.

Leading was fiddly too, with a bulge that took some work to eliminate, and the design had to be adjusted; hopefully no one will notice an extra strip of lead to one side of the number.

The hole in the 9 was worthy of some more unladylike expressions and a second glass-cutting attempt before the shape was right. My, but Aussies can swear!

Some snipping... some lead....

No one will ever notice this hole, but there wouldn't be a proper 9 without it.

Another long session, and gradually a day's work was beginning to pay off. A large bar of chocolate was eaten.

There was a pause for dinner: garlicky roast lamb, spinach, three kinds of beans from the allotment, and roast potatoes, ditto. But Tricia wouldn't stop to relax - back to her project!

The final slotting in of the plain glass. From nowhere comes an anxious thought: will there be enough of the blue glass for the rest of the border?

We'll worry about that later. These anxieties come when you're tired, and rational thought becomes elusive.

It'll be fine (there's another piece out of view).

At this stage, with no soldering, cementing or cleaning up, it looks rough and ready, but I know it will look splendid when finished.

Tricia has a weekend of family commitments coming up, and we leave for Scotland on Monday, hence the self-imposed pressure to get the transom completed. While she labours, I do meals, tea breaks, shopping, washing, admiring and recording on camera, and generally run about, arranging the final details of our trip to Scotland next week.

I talk to the Lovely Son who, bless his little cycling clips, agrees to come up and look after the house and menagerie in our absence, freeing up the street aunties, who I suspect were rather looking forward to the challenge of managing Millie in my absence. We are going to Mull, staying in a B & B where peace and tranquillity are assured. We don't care what the weather will be like, but the peace and tranquillity sound like heaven.

Wednesday 26 August 2009

in case you're wondering

The family (British, not Aussies, returning from Melbourne after a change of heart) who had expressed an interest in looking at my house may have fallen by the wayside. They took my number but didn't ring as agreed to arrange a visit, then, to my alarm, they popped by, "on spec" they said.

But I had a visitor, and was on the verge of going out with her at any moment to plant her birthday presents for her in her garden, she having a badly-sprained ankle that meant digging was out of the question. Could they come back tomorrow, I asked? They'd see. I then had to face a certain amount of questioning by said visitor, to whom I had mentioned none of this, and ended up feeling thoroughly wrong-footed all round.
Serves me right for being secretive and sometimes incapable of spontaneous action!

And they didn't come back tomorrow, or any other day. I suspect they picked up my obvious unreadiness - not to have my house viewed, necessarily, although I can't imagine how anyone feels fully ready for such an ordeal - but to move sooner than planned, perhaps because I kept saying "It's not ready yet. I have work to finish." as was apparent by the continuing presence of roofers' catwalks on my slates. And they had said from the start that they were desperately looking for a house. Desperate meets unready - not a happy combination.

I met father and children playing outside a couple of days later, and while we exchanged pleasantries, nothing was mentioned about houses.

I feel somewhat relieved. This is such a major life change I'm planning, and I want it to proceed at my pace if possible, not driven by anyone else's pressure of time. And I want my home to look its best, showing that it has been cared for, when I say goodbye to it. So, the original plan remains in place, to plod calmly through my list of jobs, using autumn and winter to get the remaining rooms painted, then to have the house valued, and on to the complex processes that follow. Some of you may uncross your fingers now, but thank you anyway.

Tuesday 25 August 2009

transom 2

Tricia is enjoying herself, she says. She got up a good head of steam today, despite having to work under an infuriating overhanging shelf every time she had to reach to the back of the workbench. The attic hasn't been laid out very sensibly for this project.

The clear glass was cut into sections and the first roundel was leaded up....

...and tried for size. It fitted perfectly first time.

Tallow was rubbed over the joint. This smells a bit nasty (think mutton fat) when hot solder is applied.

Then a 3-handed job, to hold it tightly closed and solder the lead joint. We only feel about 35, we say, but our hands look ancient. When did we get gnarly old-lady hands?

The first curve was cut so that the roundel could be fitted into the clear glass.

Tap tap, and out it drops.

Not a very smooth edge; time to use the grinder.

Another efficient and effective tool, but if you find yourself using it too often, you have to think carefully about improving your standard of cutting! Not a problem today though.

The lead knife in action.

Fitting the roundel into place.

And there it sits, waiting for its twin.

A perfect fit. Such a clever Tricia.

And by the end of the day, this is where she got to. A streaky green number 9 in embryo.

Monday 24 August 2009

what we do on our holidays

Work in Progress.

This is the beginning of the transom that will go over my front door, replacing the ordinary clear glass pane that has always been there, crying out through the years for a bit of stained glass. Tricia made the neighbouring transom many years ago, and we have always wanted to put one in my house.

Tricia insists that we will get it finished by the time she goes to London, and
although I have my doubts, I don't argue, because she is a very determined and disciplined person who knows what she's doing. And I am not. So not that I'm relegated to going up and down 4 flights of stairs many times, to fetch things we forgot, put the kettle on, get lunch ready, hang washing out, and generally pander to the skilled craftswoman who is doing all the work. It's a good arrangement.

Tricia is very experienced in stained glass work, and very pernickety about measuring accurately; she also swears horribly under her breath as she works. Ex-convent girl too....

It started off like this: after rough sketches and some discussion, a little design was taped to the kitchen table.
It will be very simple, and not too colourful. This is a plain house, not suited to a curly-wurly style of glass, and time is short.

And the sketch metamorphosed into this

Work began. I'm on the camera end of this piece of lead, gripping pliers and pulling with all my might while trying not to fall backwards down the attic stairs.The limp and twisted lead must be taut and straight, or the glass will fall out of it later on. The dog looks on from a safe distance behind Tricia.

Bit by bit, it gets put together.

The glass cutting starts. Always an exciting thing to do - score a line, grip firmly and snap it in two like a crisp biscuit. Magic!

Meticulously, Tricia matches everything.

The tools are so lovely in themselves. Horse shoe nails to hold all the bits firmly in place.

A lead knife, with a weighted handle for tapping in the nails. It sits perfectly in the hand, and I wonder if the design has changed much since medieval times.

A glass cutting tool, with oil in its handle, and a brass knob at the end to tap along cuts in the glass when they won't break. Simple and efficient.

And the colours! You might not wear them together or want your house painted in them, but in glass they take on a new beauty.
There will be two of these roundels, to break up the plainness of the clear glass.

Every piece will be numbered, to ensure an accurate match with the template.

Slowly, it begins to take shape. Victorian colours, red, blue, dark green to come. Some clear textured glass, so that light will still come into the lobby.

That's all for today; Tricia has gone to meet old friends and eat Vietnamese food. I walk the dog and text my son, who is cycling through Suffolk.

Tomorrow we do it all again.

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