Friday, April 27, 2018


We were having breakfast at the Ritz. We usually do when our daily comes to clean the house once a week.
I should add that it was not at The Ritz, but our local greasy-spoon café, The Ritz.
We finished our breakfasts of brown, toasted bacon sandwich for Margreet and two poached eggs on fried bread for me. When our mugs of workman’s tea were empty we parted company on the pavement outside for Margreet to tend to her sister in Chiswick and for me to return home to continue the tedious work of dealing with my income tax. Actually, the task seemed less taxing this year as I had been selling rather well to private collectors i.e. no gallery or auction house commission to pay.
At home, I had barely started on my calculations when the cleaner rushed in to where I was working, shouting “emergency, emergency, emergency”. I followed her down to the floor below to see a cascade of water flowing from a join in the plasterboard ceiling above and out from overhead electric light fittings.
Connecting in my mind that house floods usually come from storm water penetrating the roof, I rushed to the garden to collect half a dozen black plastic buckets that are normally for garden and grape harvest use. En route, I discovered that water had passed through the floor and ceiling above the ground floor as well and flooded the kitchen.
With buckets in place I did what I should have done in the first place, namely, isolate upper house water from the main water supply. This I did. Even then, the water that was still held between the space above plasterboard ceilings and floors continued to fall.
The next move was to locate our plumber to mend the broken pipe. I had made a guess as to its position and the fact that it was not connected to the central heating, which was still under pressure. Also, being warm, it must be connected to a hot water supply. But we had no reply from our plumber.
In the house there was now no heat, hot or cold water above ground floor level, and with only bucket water to flush lavatories. We mopped up the kitchen floor.
Before 6 o’clock the following morning I contacted the insurance company’s emergency number (John Lewis), which, in retrospect, I should have done immediately after turning off the water. Almost right away they sent their in-house plumber to solve the problem.
To locate the break, this excellent Portuguese plumber asked me to turn on the water once more (to cause another mini flood) so that he could put his ear to the floor to locate the noise of water flowing from the break. It did not take long but it was an unpleasant experience to see water once more flowing from plasterboard ceiling joints. Having located almost the exact area, it was then a case of lifting the carpet, cutting out a section of floorboard and finding that a right-angled, brass, compression joint fitting had come apart from a hot water pipe.
With the pipe mended, we could return to partial normality, but in a very wet house. As I write we await assessors to estimate the damage as wet carpets start to give out a mouldy smell.
What immense good fortune it was that someone was “at home” when the flow began, as without an immediate response, with doors and windows sealed against winter draughts, the house might well have just filled up with water.
And although pictures almost completely cover our walls, not one was damaged. And the electric lights, despite being soaked, continue to function normally.
Before leaving homes on a visit or holiday, people might think of turning off the mains water supply. Yet all of the above flooding happened when Margreet and I had just been out for a quick breakfast. It was sheer luck that someone was able to deal with it.
A pipe breaking like that must be a rare happening. But it did.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

One's own books

To clarify the reason for writing this piece I have to start by repeating some already related items of my past. 
In the late 1970s I felt that I was becoming more of a sculptor of large wooden blocks than a painter, when a car accident and a broken wrist forced a change of direction for my creative processes.
  As I had, for years, been importing wine in cask, and bottling it for my own domestic use, and at the same time writing down what I had learned about vines and vinification, and had started two small vineyards of my own, it seemed natural that I might fill the void of journalism at that time concerning supermarket wines. They were then retailing at around £2 a bottle, and no one, to my knowledge, was informing the public about which ones were good to drink and good value to buy.
Starting first with a column in a free newspaper, then a weekly one in a proper, paid-for newspaper, then writing a small book on starting a vineyard in England, then other wine guide books and columns, membership of The Circle of Wine Writers… and on it went. I was enjoying the life of authorship. And it was going well.
The transition process from painting to sculpting and then on to writing had been minimal. They were, after all, much to do with ideas.
I wrote many books and articles over the next 25 years. They were mainly on wine, vines and docks, but other subjects as well.
For the last five books I established my own publishing company as “real” publishers found my target buyers in London’s dockland to be too localised to justify publication. But those five books, with 2,000 initial print runs, each made a profit within three months – somewhat of a record I imagine.
Having said what I wanted to say about wine and the London docks, it was time to return to painting once more.
Preamble over, what I want to say now is the surprising pleasure that I/we have found in getting rid of all the mainly dockland books that were not sold and, being out of print were piled up against a wall in our kitchen.
There have been days when authors gave away their books to the public to encourage reading. This made a wonderful outlet for many of the unsold paperbacks. Some recipients were suspicious, thinking that it was some sort of con or other. But mainly most books were received with pleasure both on our own and their behalf.
Our local Underground station now has a few shelves where books are placed to be read and returned. We have been supplying these shelves with my dockland paperbacks (three different ones at a time), and by the end of each delivery day, all have gone – none to be returned as far as we can see.
Then, whenever we visit such as hospital or dentist, the receptionist, doctor or assistant may be given a copy. Or perhaps a helpful girl on a supermarket check-out counter might be the recipient. They are well received.
Last evening, on returning from St Pancras Station, a far-eastern-looking young man got up in a crowded compartment to give me his seat. He was just finishing a very serious, religious-looking tome, and obviously relishing every gospel word. As a gesture of thanks, I managed to give him a copy of one of my own books. It had the very inappropriate title of “Cooking in Docklands” as he probably ate mostly curries, whereas my book dealt with the suet pudding kind of fare made by the wives of inter-war dockers. The three of us, he, Margreet and I, discussed religion as we progressed. He then gave us the book he had been reading (late 16th century, heaven above and the devil below stuff), which must have been a treasure to him as the more important parts had been marked with a yellow dye pen. We parted as friends at our joint destination.
It is little incidents like this that have given us quite unexpected pleasures – gained from a pile of unwanted books that are still in pristine condition, but rather in the way.