Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hot stuff and other, erm, things.

Who remembers the Biggest Fungus in Trelystan? Nobody? Well me neither. I'd completely forgotten about it until today when at hen-letting-out-time I noticed Wilson (the most handsome bull terrier in Trelystan) tucking into something at the base of the beech tree with great enthusiasm. It turned out to be a chunk of the now dessicated remains of that fungus. I shooed him off and went in for my own breakfast. Stupid dog.

Toast and coffee for me.  So far so good. A quick look at the crossword and then I shall have to be off and away. Today is my Christmas present day. I am going glass blowing. I am quite excited.

Then in fairly rapid succession something very nasty comes out of both ends of the dog - both of which I flick with a shovel over the wall and into the lane. He begins to drool alarmingly. (Use your imaginations, detail would be superfluous.)

This does not look like good news as I have vague recollections about the evilness to this fungus and although Alan now tells me it is not the skull and cross-boned Trametes versicolour but the innocuous Meripilus giganteus, the dog looks sick and I still fret. The vet will see him asap and we decide that I should, nonetheless, go and have my day out. Wilson - your timing is impeccable.

Thus it is that I find myself a couple of hours later, in a car park in Stourbridge, having a telephone conversation about the quality, quantity and consistency of dog sick. The Glam Ass armed with that vital information does a great job with Wilson at the vet's - although I will not know this until I get home.

Glass blowing then?  I'd been inspired by Kirsty Allsopp making baubles in the run-up to Christmas (how easy-peasy it looked) and I really, really, really wished I could have a go too. I wished really, really loudly....What a wonderful present that would make etc etc.  ....

The Glam Ass took the heavy hint and found a glassblower with a studio in Stourbridge; a town which was once, in the days when this country still made things, a centre of the glass industry.  I went to Martin Andrews' studio at the Ruskin Glass Centre in Stourbridge for a day's tutorial. Martin is a glass blower who not only makes his own wonderful pieces but also teaches students at Ruskin College which is on the same site.

This is the 'hot end' of Martin's studio; on the right a roaring furnace containing a vat of molten glass, 2 'glory holes' in which to re-heat the glass which has been 'gathered' from the furnace and, on the extreme left, an annealing kiln.

There are pipes and puntys - the first used to blow glass and the latter a steel rod to gather glass and hold it for shaping and working:

To get the feel of molten glass and of handling unfamiliar tools
we started with the simplest techniques; a blob of glass on a punty stick to shape and form.

The door of the furnace was slid open and in its searing heat we learned to 'gather' glass on a punty stick - dip it in at an angle, push away and turn, turn, turn and bring out the captured blob like getting Golden syrup from the tin. Keep it moving, keep it moving - keep turning the rod so the blob of red hot glass on the end doesn't droop and remains central. While it is still plastic roll it in your hand - well, in a hand protected by a wad of soaked Yellow Pages that is. All too soon the heat has gone out of the glass - although it would be impossible to touch - and it must be reheated in order to work it again.  The process is repeated again and again until Martin is satisfied that our blobs are well shaped. Then we must use 'jacks' to cut into what has become a cylinder. We make a row of marble-like balls each and are very pleased with ourselves.

Using these newly acquired techniques and with a little help, my fellow pupil and I each make a paperweight. I can't do a picture yet as it needs to spend 12 hours in an annealing kiln where the glass can slowly cool down. It is the sweetest, prettiest blue and green paperweight I have ever made. I am puffed out with pride.
The afternoon session involves glass blowing. If the morning's working of solid glass seemed involved to us beginners - think rubbing tummy and patting head - then this process is doubly so. We gather, roll, shape, paper, blow, stop, puff, pant.....and then the blasted thing has cooled down so it's time to reheat and start all over again. I am unable to blow down my pipe with my thumb in my mouth - and I need my thumb in my mouth to put over the hole in the pipe when I've finished blowing so the air is trapped and goes down to form a bubble in the glass rather than escaping willy-nilly. I splutter and huff and the glass goes cool over and over again. Somehow we overcome this - Martin is such a good and patient teacher that I don't feel like a terrible dunce at all. I get a good bubble of air into my blob of glass and do manage to blow it out to a reasonable size. Several new techniques later, most of which would be easier if one had 4 arms, my bubble of glass has become a dear little bowl. It is the best little bowl I have ever made. I love it and can hardly wait for it to be annealed and posted home to me.
At 5 o clock Martin asks if we would like to make something else - he got distracted for a short while with a customer and feels perhaps he should make up the time. I'm all blown out - done enough for one day. It's time to head for home and see if Wilson is still with us.

He is, thank goodness. I'd like to think he's a little chastened but I think his subdued manner has more to do with belly ache than embarrassment over being a stupid greedy-guts.

It's been a pretty good day: the Glam Ass has made Caesar Salad for supper, the chicken fencing has been delivered and a mountain of books - 'Marton the story of a Shropshire village' - sits shrink-wrapped in the garage. Cows are out on the fields up here and the swallows are back too. I have some strange white medicine to squirt down Wilson tomorrow which will be fun.

And so to bed.


elizabethm said...

What an exciting day! Glass blowing sounds pretty cool, in a hot sort of way. Hope wilson is none the worse for his adventure.

Mrs Jones said...

That sounds like an absolutely brilliant day. Promise you'll post the pictures of the paperweight and bowl when you get them? I love working in glass.

Hope the stupido mutt is feeling better soon!

her at home said...

As a child I used to adore in the summer season walking the 4 miles cross country path to the local glass blowers ( then a converted barn now the very posh Isle of wight glass factorya t St Lawrence ) just to watch the blowers at work, as an adult they very kindly let me rummage in their bins of broken glass so that I coudl incorporate it into my ceramics I love glass yo are a lucky woman !!With a very silly dog!

rachel said...

That sounds like a day of two halves! Dogs are such morons when it comes to eating al fresco. Fungi, bees, pizza crust, chip wrappers, depends where you live, I suppose! Ditto other things - flick into the lane here anything related to a dog's bodily functions, and you risk a massive fine. I hope Wilson is better now - although I'm willing to bet he hasn't learned his lesson!

Your glass blowing day sounds thrilling; you are going to post pictures of your creations, aren't you?

Twiglet said...

That sounds like a brilliant day out - I will look forward to seeing the results!! Hope Wilson is better. When/where is your book launch?

Preseli Mags said...

Idiot dog, I hope he's okay. The glass blowing sounds utterly fantastic. I can't wait to see the pictures of your creations. I've tried similar loud wishing noises, but so far such hints have been ignored!

mountainear said...

Rachel - must reassure you re my dog-stuff-flinging practices! It's something I do very rarely and then only in the knowledge that the lane is rural in the extreme, rarely walked and our farmers use it to get from one farm to another in huge vehicles. I've lived in an urban environment and could have won gold medals for poop scooping.

And Wilson? He's much better thank you - though I'm sure a vet could find a little something to make him better still and add a little je ne sais quois to the bill.

Of course he's so well that I had to haul him off a dead rat earlier today. Tasty. Very, very tasty!

snailbeachshepherdess said...

Wow! You dont half get up to some strange things - just right to do a talk for the WI she says running very quickly in the opposite direction!

Chris Stovell said...

Well! You've been busy in all sorts of ways - glad to know that Wilson is well!

Friko said...

heavens above, you are an adventurous and enterprising young lady, aren't you. I wish i had half your energy.

Show us the bubble when it comes, won't you.

Hope your dog feels thoroughly ashamed of himself.

Pondside said...

I hope you'll soon post photos of your glass.
Good for you for trying something new. It may sound like hyperbole, but this was inspirational for me.

Tattie Weasle said...

Hope Wilson has taken his medicine like a good dog and is feeliogn better. Like everyone else I was fascinated aboutt eh glass blowing and cannot wait to see the products of all your hard work!

Nikki-ann said...

Sounds like a great day (apart from the worry with the dog!). I'm looking forward to seeing the photos of your glass work.

Angie said...

Poor Wilson he feels sorry for himself. ...was it the bad fungus in the end ?

Glass blowing must be fantastic