Old is best

Reliance on technology can come unstuck without warning.

Last weekend we travelled to London to meet friends at a National Trust Stately Home, quick, while it was still standing. Around the house we encountered road closures. There was no way to tell how far they extended or in which direction. The satnav we were relying on couldn’t understand closures and was running on rapidly lowering batteries as Dragon is so anti-smoking that it spits anything out of the cigarette lighter. As it zoomed in to show just the road we were on each time the car was in motion it wasn’t possible to plan or follow an alternative route. We hadn’t got a printed map as we didn’t have a working printer.

Then, down the side of the passenger door, I found an ancient Ordnance Survey map…

The day was saved as the satnav died and after reaching the destination we found a way back that took only 10 minutes to do 1.5 hours of the inbound journey.

Last night when attempting a long list of errands that had been delayed until a day off, we encountered the closure of the M4. This meant that every other road was solid with traffic. Satnav again could not find an alternative route. Feeling hopeful we found a train station for a reference point then dug under boxes in the boot, finding another ancient Ordnance Survey map with which we navigated an orange-road route parallel to the shut motorway.

Words have been had. All journeys will now include clear directions and where possible an Ordnance Survey map. Sometimes the old ways really are the best.

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Tooth fairy

In Britain, when a child loses a deciduous ‘milk’ tooth, they put it under their pillow and the Tooth Fairy visits, taking the tooth and leaving behind some money. The going rate in our house was 20p, rising to 50p for molars, which I always thought was a bit off as nextdoor got £1 regardless.

What I was never told was that if you are struck by poor genetics, dentistry, luck or anything else that can lead to dental excitement, the Tooth Fairy will visit again during adulthood.

I’m aware that my Great Grandmother had all her teeth taken out as a 21st birthday present from her employer as she was a good and faithful servant, so there’s an extreme that I can measure against. I’m also aware that extractions, bridgework and dentures are an unwelcome distant possibility, so am greatful for the remedy that I am still able to have.

The Tooth Fairy has just visited and this time didn’t leave sixpence. I have a new shiny tooth which is bedding in nicely and a bill to remind me to eat even less sugar than I do. It reminds me of the part of ‘84 Charing Cross Road‘ where Helene can’t visit Britain as the ticket money has to go on a mouthful of new crowns. At today’s price of £390 each that would cost £10,920 not counting wisdom teeth if she went for porcelain on the NHS. Thankfully my dentist has told me to be optimistic about the rest and to see him again in six months.

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Counting blessings

This morning I woke up to toothache, an ant infestation and a new Conservative government.

I’m trying to work out which of these I find most distressing.

But I’m comforted to think that in each case it could be worse.

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Phoenix from the flames?

Growing up I was taken round possibly every Stately Home or castle that the National Trust or English Heritage has to offer. I am still familiar with many and after all this time there are features in nearly all that make them memorable.

So news that Clandon Park in Surrey has burned down this week was distressing. My great-grandparents worked and met there.

My first thought was whether we would have another Uppark…

To paraphrase:

Uppark was a National Trust Stately Home nearing completion of a restoration project. Packed full of original fixtures and fittings it comprised of a house, basements with kitchens and servant quarters, dairy, stables and the creepiest mosaic game-hanging room (not helped by the national refridgeration) I’ve ever seen set in ornamental grounds and wider pasture. Then one afternoon a blowtorch started a fire…

On Uppark’s side was the timing. On a Wednesday afternoon on 30th August the house was filled with families and spritely older people who took a keen interest in stately homes. After “Please don’t touch that” the cry went up, “Ladies and gentlemen, a fire has been discovered, could you please leave by the nearest exit, taking whatever you can carry…” Items were lined up on the summer-dried lawn. It didn’t matter if something disappeared – everything was already lost…

Cavities in the walling meant that although the majority of the house was not involved to start with the fire could not be extinguised. Instead it had to be allowed to burn, knowing that the whole house would be lost. There is aerial footage of the house becoming enveloped over three days…

Which meant there was time to go round taking colour photgraphs of every room and to remove the rest of the fixtures and fittings. Decisions were made about what could be saved, and quickly, with the fire service cutting paintings from their frames, while smashing mirrors to save the frames. The last stage was to walk round with chisels, slicing off the paint, the plaster, the wallpapers, bringing down the balistrades, tearing up the carpet, so that there was a sample to match the photographs in the hope that the house would live on in the records…

Afterwards there was a decision to be made and several elements were on Uppark’s side.

1. There was a houseful of artefacts sat in a warehouse in Swindon that couldn’t be stored indefinitely and were not being publically appreciated where they were.
2. Only the central house had been lost. Everything in the grounds was still standing.
3. There was a complete record of every aspect of the house.
4. Collapse had been central within the rooms, with walls semi-preserved and items crushed instead of burned.
5. Rebuilding may be cheaper than the write-off insurance settlement.

The decision was made to rebuild.

The next question was the era to rebuild to: even with photographs from the 19th century there isn’t proof of how the house looked and everything from a later era would be out of place. Everything fades in time but there was no absolute proof of the original colour for every item: even if the walls were bright, the original artefacts now weren’t.

The decision was made to restore to 2pm 30th August 1989, the last certain moment.

Six years later Uppark opened its doors again to the public, with a couple of minor additions. There is now a display showing the aerial footage and the restoration, including the reinvention of lost gilding and wood turning that was only realised as section of frames and balistrades had survived. But also quietly secreted away are new alarms, detectors and sprinklers, in addition to the restored cuts and rips where sections had been removed, the reminder should anyone need one.

Clandon’s website says that their evacuation plan had been followed, that firemen had cut out pictures and that artefacts had been saved. I hope that the balance goes in favour like Uppark and not the ghostly Witley Court.

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New skills

We’ve made successful mug cakes and there are two new wine brews bubbling in the bathroom. One has already exploded despite having virtually nothing in it, but you can’t have everything.

I have learned why it is that people are taught to knit when they are small children. The child can be sat on the lap of the adult doing the teaching, who can reach round both sides to hold and guide their hands while looking over their shoulder to see what they’re doing. It’s how I learned when small and squeaky but now I’m teaching someone else I’ve found that not being able to do that with adults cuts down on visibility. Still, progress is being made even if we’re only up to ‘knit’ stitch.

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Catching up with reading

“He smiled understandingly – much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in a life. It faced – or seemd to face- the whole eterenal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistable prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to be believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”

So says Nick Carraway when meeting The Great Gatsby for the first time.

In my current role I keep meeting such people. Does wonders for making you examine yourself and where you’d like to be that you can do it so well that you become one.

In other news, as I found in Waterstones today (not used Amazon for many months because of what happened at Christmas), Penguin are celebrating their 80th anniversary by doing a whole series of ‘£1 reads’ style books for 80p each. Don’t know if they’re selling abroad. Bad timing as I’m attempting a clear-out, but I’ll see how many I want to read I can sneak into the place.

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A moment’s calm

There ought to be a word, not yet in the meaning of liff, for the momentary void, the emptiness, after a deadline for which everything else has been put aside, when you can’t remember any of the things you were going to do… the feeling of both serenity that the great task is done but the nagging that there’s something you’ve forgotten… just before the lengthy list that should have been done ages ago comes crashing back into your head.

That’s what’s going on round here.

I have taken a shovel to the mounds of papers, scrubbed the lino floors and done many ‘maintenance’ and ‘progressive’ tasks that fall between the two. Luckily though the deadline fell on a sunny day so I was first of all able to sit and read in the park.

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