A few years ago I took the somewhat, for me, momentous decision to retire early.
Since leaving a high-flying position the railway industry I had been running a grain storage cooperative for a bunch of ingrate farmers and had grown fed up with the job. I had a brilliant working relationship with the Company Secretary, he was fantastic to work with, but the politics of Directorial self-interest, coupled with what I believed to be a general air of Board incompetence which was holding the business back, finally got to me; I’d had enough it was time to move on!
I was fortunate to be in the position of not having to work. My pension plans had worked nicely for me, true Mrs Dookes and I weren’t going to be the next millionaires on the block, but we were OK. Who wants to be the richest corpse in the graveyard anyway?
One of the things about me is that I stew over things, I call it mental processing, but Mrs D calls it worrying! Faced with what was a pretty fundamental life decision I was frankly a bit bewildered. What the hell was I going to do with myself?
Now Mrs Dookes is a wise little bird…
“Don’t worry, everything will be alright,” said Mrs D and she promptly packed me off on a motorcycle trip!
I set out to explore the Größglockner High Alpine Road, Monza Racetrack and other parts of the Alps on Baby Blue. To be honest I was looking for a bit of head-clearing.. Click here to see more of that trip.
Part of my planning was buying that brand new Harley Ultra Limited as a retirement present to myself, so I had put some thought into things!
It was whilst I was away, in Pavia just South of Milan if I remember correctly, that I got a call asking me if I was interested in helping out with English Heritage? EH is the organisation that manages the National Heritage Collection of England’s historic buildings and monuments which span more than 5000 years of history.
I had a blank page, so the answer was yes, with conditions. I wasn’t retiring to go back into full-time work. I wanted space to do other things that interested me, plus having more time for family and friends, not to mention riding motorbikes!
As a result I’ve two and a half years of fun playing around a number of amazing historic places and yes time for other interesting things…which leads me to the point of this post!
Just before Christmas I was talking to my good friend Alan, he runs his own stained glass business called Angel Stained Glass; you can get the link here.
Alan gets involved in all sorts of interesting projects and by the very nature of stained glass windows much of them are in historic buildings, such as churches.
Poor Alan was a bit under pressure. Christmas was fast approaching. Christian churches as you may know, get very busy at that time of the year with all the carol services and suchlike, the pressure was on to get two projects finished!
Being the sort of chap who both likes a challenge and to help out a mate, I volunteered to give Alan a hand, plus I knew that it would be an interesting thing to do.
Which is how, in the week before Christmas, I found myself basking in winter sunshine, sitting forty feet up in the air on scaffolding outside a church in Cornwall’s County City, Truro. I was happily helping to repair a series of Victorian windows. My job was to check each tiny piece of glass was snugly held by the lead beading; any that were slightly loose needed attention with “lead cement.”
The name “Lead cement” is a bit misleading, it’s actually a type of black oily putty that is worked between the lead and glass to secure it all together, keep everything watertight and add strength to the panel. Working with the black gloopy stuff is highly satisfying and quite relaxing; well it is to me anyway! As an added bonus, when you are working on site with the windows you are right up close and very personal with the architecture. It’s quite a privilege to be able to touch things that normally you have to crane you neck to even see!
I’ve come to the conclusion that Alan’s line of work consists of three facets:
• Artistic creativity, particularly in the case of new windows.
• Diligent patience and sympathy with the materials.
• Hard, yet careful, physical work when moving the delicate leaded panels.
There is another factor though, that’s absolute total satisfaction and pride in the job when it’s finished; because its going to last another 150 years!
A few days later we were in the small but delightful Cornish village of Quethiock, population 429, with it’s medieval 14th century church dedicated to St Hugh. No sunshine to enjoy this time, but to work in such old and historic surroundings more than compensated.
The windows that we were working on had originally been made in the 1870’s by the then vicar of the parish the Reverend William Willimott. Some of the pieces of glass were medieval fragments that had been reused, whilst the good Reverend stained most of the rest in a wood fired kiln that he built in the Vicarage garden!
“Willy” was by all accounts a pretty gifted chap, because not only did he make stained glass, but he also restored the church almost single-handed. He made wood-carvings, floor tiles and painted ceiling panels and murals whilst also attending to his Parish Duties. Oh yes, I nearly forgot, he was self-taught too!
It was therefore pretty humbling to know that the last person to have handled the glass that we were refitting was the illustrious Willimott himself; talk about reaching across the years!
Anyway, we got the work done in time for the church to be readied for the Christmas festival and I have to say that I was humbled to have been involved; thanks Alan.
It certainly made a change from motorbikes, steam engines and all the other things that I get up to and don’t mention in this blog. All of which I wouldn’t be able to indulge in if I was still on the treadmill of full-time employment!
Mrs Dookes was correct. – Everything is alright!
“All right now, baby it’s all right now.”
Catch you soon.