Saturday, July 31, 2010

beach west of Port Fairy Victoria

Week end with Julia. Best to let the pictures do the talking. But I should mention the wonderful meal at Portofino restaurant in PF.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

the sweep of history

OK, I probably think too much. The loss of someone can make us think about the marks we make, the things we leave and the temporary nature of everything. This is related to the reason I value so highly, the creative achievements of 'ordinary' people.

For some years now I have been fascinated by the nature of the 'sweep' of history; the abrasion of ordinary lives against someone's big idea, the grand scheme that will tidy things up and put power where it belongs. Well, 'sweep' is a very good word if you think of the image it creates in having things, people and ideas brushed aside. A giant broom.

It was in writing about the death of my uncles that this idea first formed in me, how big ideas enabled the machinery that brought the guns and ships and planes that killed people who until then had been no-one's enemy. This idea (amongst others) also compelled me to write the second book about the causal factors of the Pacific War, to try to understand how it is that ideas made enemies of peoples unknown to each other.

The photo above is of one of our sons in a church in a village in Turkey. The building was the centre of ritual and communal life for generations of people of Greek ethnicity. It was a beautiful, very domestic space, but we stood in it absolutely haunted by the knowledge of the things that ultimately took place there. It was one of many villages and towns inhabited by Greek and Turkish people that were forcibly evacuated to fit the neat and proper ideas of nationalism and statism. I'm not saying that these ideas are wrong, only that they come at an enormous cost, and those of us given to enforcing big ideas need to dwell carefully on the smudges left on the ground formerly populated by people who primarily wanted family, food on the table and protection from the baser human inclinations.

The Turks have kept the entire village as an empty memorial. A haunting hill of empty streets, shattered dreams and the dislocation of history. Hatred and mutual distrust will probably outlast the buildings, but not in everyone's mind. To think that would be to confuse the big idea with the reality for ordinary folk.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A beautiful boat in Guernsey

Received the very tragic news to-day of the death of a very fine fellow, the builder of this boat. We knew this was coming, with hints as far back as November, but in a life's perspective this is still sudden. I only knew him through a boat building forum, but shared many wonderful discussions with him as we all plodded our way through the challenges of making things, of trying to make a worthwhile life, really. How strange it is to feel some sort of kinship with someone on the other side of the world, and to feel understood and affirmed 'electronically', but genuinely. How can you weigh up the emotions of sadness and loss when there is no sort of precedent for a relationship that exists only on the World Wide Web?
Within hours of his catching his first fish from this boat we had pictures of him doing it and the very fish in all its shimmering salty freshness, and the excitement on his face after a couple of years of solid slog in his workshop transforming a pile of timber into a magical thing that floats and creates dreams of special moments. I was there on the other side of the world, up-side down to him, sharing the moment. A whole group of us were in his mind when he pushed her into the water for the first time, and he made sure there'd be pictures to post for us to oggle at and appreciate, and try in our own ways to be present in.
This man was forty when he was taken. I had a close shave myself at that age and I wrinkle and cringe at the unfairness of it all.
And yet, there it is. A very beautiful boat, and if I'm right his special fishing friend of over twenty years will have a significant relationship with that boat from now on, and I only hope he can keep using it.
Richard will be remembered by us all over the world for his warmth and humility and his exceptional craftsmanship, and the fact that he took the time to let us into his dreams and his projects, not to mention the help and support that he offered to those of us that mucked about in the same metaphorical pond.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

working maple

I don't do this very often lately. There are too many other things to focus on and for my little brain, this can't be done well without a certain level of obsession, and that obsession has to involve the aim of achieving some new level of skills or understanding. New challenges stimulate new neurons. Sometimes it is good to be thoughtful before doing more of the same.

But for all that, the creation of a lovely arch for a violin back is the most satisfying and focussed manual work I've ever done. Worthy, almost, to be done without bothering to finish the instrument, just as an exercise in the marriage of volumes and lines, and the resolution of art with engineering. And the flirtatious engagement between hand and eye.
And that doesn't even begin to touch upon the subtleties in the production of a sweet and satisfying sound.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

the navigator gets attention between squalls

What a truly marvelous thing a heat gun is. Such power to be able to shoot heat at a boat in an arctic blast, or warm the bottom of a tub of epoxy in your hand and burn the hairs off your fingers before they feel warm at all.
And to think that the electricity that powers the heat gun was stolen quietly from the sun (such as it is) and stored in our great big batteries.
But I'm awfully glad I don't have large areas to coat with epoxy because that would just be an exercise in frustration. If it comes to that I will be better to put thoughts of the boat away for the duration of the cold weather and start building the wooden spars instead. But there is still plenty to do before it comes to that, and plenty of totally unrelated things to do as well....

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Unreasonableness of Beautiful Things

Now after a very pleasant day working outdoors, a beautiful sunset can be a very unreasonable thing, reminding you as it does with all it's style and glory that the things you've been enjoying will have to be put away, while you get on with other things, other rhythms. It's not unusual for a beautiful thing to seem unreasonable, sometimes because it is and sometimes because you're just doomed to see it that way for altogether unfathomable reasons.

I say all this to explain the presence of this next, very strange photo of my favourite cow, Xarina. It is taken at the very moment that she had to explore the real possibility that my phone/camera was made from the sort of oats that would go very nicely with the stuff that was in her bucket five minutes previously.
Now to be fair, she's had a rough sort of day. After five sessions over the last week or so of getting 20mm of antibiotics unloaded into her rump by Julia with the big syringe at her blunt end while I try to interest her at the sharp end with a bucket of oats, to-day we resorted to having the vet get under her with sharp and scary tools to trim a cracked and painful foot. Her dignity was shot. She did her level best to use her 500 kilograms of remaining condition to lift the crush out of the very ground it is planted in, and her affections were somewhat moderated after the process to say the least. Sweet nothings whispered into her ear count for nothing. I am unloved.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

French violin restoration

This instrument was brought in very good structural condition, but the thin, hard dark varnish had deteriorated to the point that it looked opaque, soupy and very, very boring. Some old instruments take age more kindly than others and are able to carry the wear and tear of decades of use as a beautiful patina in which the methods and materials of the maker have interacted through time with the hands of the players, and the demands of the listeners. The results can be incredibly beautiful, and restoration of such an instrument should be done with a great deal of restraint. The hand of the restorer should not be visible.

This was not one of those. The owner had the instrument for more than forty years, but never loved it because it looked so hard and unyielding. It is French and is beautifully made out of first rate materials, but was unfortunate enough to be sold onto a factory which took shortcuts in their varnish and finishing techniques. The varnish was remarkably thin and very intensely coloured so that any wear produced abrupt changes in colour, and yet on the edges the varnish was too thick and was consequently darker where it is customary for it to be lighter.

I tried to talk my client out of employing me to meddle with the instrument. It is so difficult to know what will happen when meddling begins, and I do believe in the right of old things to remain ugly if they still work well because I am not the maker and it pays to be circumspect about being too free with your own ego...
But this one now has some depth and subtlety in its appearance, and the maple edges radiate their natural beauty, framing the lovely shapes better than they once did. When I have quietened down the gloss a little I'm hoping the owner will treasure it a little more than she did- but I won't know till she sees it.

(Postscript...some time later....the client was extremely happy with the transformation, saying it never looked so fine...)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

more Navigator planking

The bottom pic shows a piece of scrap offered up to the planed lower plank and stringers, to test for flatness and fit. This run of boards involves a lot more careful angling and planing as several curves interact on what has become a 'side' rather than a 'bottom' of the hull. I guess you'd call the bottom of this plank the turn of the bilge. In some places the stringer is tansformed into an almost triangular shape, while towards the stem it remains fairly square. You can see that the bulkhead will only touch the planking on one edge. The stringer has curved past it.
Before gluing this board the seat base for that side was finally cut to an accurate outline, using the final position of the plank as a guide for marking the protruding seat base ply. This can't really be done accurately until the stringers have their final shape.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

navigator progress

Despite some cold and difficult weather conditions, the Navigator hasn't been totally neglected and a few planks have found their way onto the frame. Putting the planks on the whole boat could probably be done in a couple of days of solid work, but I'll need several weeks of very intermittent work, partly due to other commitments, partly due to weather constraints.

Planing the stringers to the correct angle was a bit of a challenge in the physical sense, in that it involved coiling my gangly frame up into a very short contorted ball and sitting under the hull. I can still do that. But it takes a little while to unwind fully afterwards...

However, I did make the building frame quite high in preparation for that bit of the process, and things get easier as the planks go on, and up. I'm using John's designed plank lengths and joints. This means carefully placed reinforced butt joints instead of scarf joints. I can't see any benefit from using scarfs in this design on the planks, the savings in weight would be negligible on a non-class boat, and the strength gained is considerable. They are all discretely placed so as not to cause visual embarrassment.

To get a nice bottom edge (I hope) I have placed the oversized board up to the frame, held on with spring clamps and then scribed a pencil line along the top of the stringer. I've then drawn the top edge and the outside edges- but these will be cut a little over width and length to allow for adjustment and final fit. The bottom edge is then marked off to add the 20mm overlap, and a batten is used to spring a nice curve to the marked points. This bottom line is then cut, trial fitted, visually assessed, then removed and planed to a fair curve- looking at it from the ends to evaluate the success (or not) of the fairing. When a new plank is joined to this plank, I used a batten to establish the continuation of the curve across the joint before final fairing of the new board.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

green tree trunks

Even the bush ground litter comes alive with little photo-synthesizers that have waited through the warm months to open their pores to the moisture. Everything is soft, every surface gives a little when touched. Nothing feels hostile.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Western Plains cloud ring

The brooding soggy mists that paint tree trunks green and surfaces succulent with heavy cold sweat have slobbered over our bushland for the first time (with this intensity and duration) in seven or eight years.
The boat sits dry in the middle of a quarter-open shed, but the wood at the back is as wet as it would be outside as the mist floats into the shed and unburdens itself upon any cold surface and drips from that onto anything left below. Needless to say, epoxy does not like it.