The Sum And Its Parts

enjoying the bigger history of small pieces

I’ve often seen these (unmistakably French) ‘Comtoise Morbier’ clock face surrounds or headpieces. They’re usually still attached to clocks, so these two really spoke to me, in the way that displaced and orphaned things so often do!

The problem was that I just couldn’t choose between them:

one features various birds – obviously a favourite subject of mine

the other one illustrates a family at a graveside. There’s something so very French about that. I mean, we Brits would never show a mourning scene on a household object

I took them both and asked the guy to combine the postage costs (he didn’t)

I was very excited about them arriving. Unfortunately when they came they looked very rough, and I felt like I’d been ‘had’. I didn’t want to show Baz, so I left them in their meagre packing

But yesterday the rain scuppered my paint-stripping plans and instead I spent a happy hour with gloves and various pliers, gently teasing the thin brass repousse, which is very malleable but also easily torn. I then scrubbed them with a toothbrush and they came up a treat, as you can see

These relatively low-cost clocks were made in villages in the region of Franche-Compte, near the Swiss border, from around the year 1600. Various families in each village would be involved in making the different elements of the clocks, before final assembly by a finisher. At that stage the clock faces with their headpieces and workings were portable enough to be carried in groups of four on backpacks, along with their pendulums stored separately below, to be taken for sale further afield

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photo courtesy of Comtoise Uhren Museum

The final purchaser could simply hang the clock with the pendulum exposed, or they could pay their local casket maker to make a long case for it

The earliest clocks had cast brass headpieces, but these were replaced by brass repousse – like mine – in the early 1800s. Production declined after the Treaty of Frankfurt in 1871 permitted the tax-free import of German clocks to France, and then apparently ceased after the First World War

It appeals to me that so many people had a hand in this industry, that the clocks were readily available, and that the wonderfully decorative designs were often based on simple everyday scenes from provincial life

And so these two inexpensive pieces, bought for reincarnation as mirror frames, have a long pedigree of practicality as well as beauty

Could there be anything more French?

Reflections and Repairs

It’s all done with mirrors

I love all sorts of mirrors. There is the enormous (sadly, recently smashed) Mafia Mirror with its smugglers cavity, which Gill kindly picked up for me from the ‘Russians’ last summer, but at the other end of the size scale I have a few damaged 99p jobbies, one of which is splayed on a towel on my living room floor awaiting further surgery this evening

Before and after bending with pliers, then applying elbow grease with rottenstone and good old WD40. It still has a patina but is no longer filthy

I tend to think of mirrors as things to look at, rather than to look into. And ironically for someone so mirror-happy I spend way less time in front of one than many people, and probably less time than I should, taking the ‘casual’ approach to clothing and make up to the extreme. This despite the fact that I have hung good mirrors either side of the front door, in an attempt to remind me to check myself before leaving. (At least C and Baz use them)

Recent examples include:

Leaving yoga class last week I looked down at the logo on my vest top, wondering if it was Adidas, Sweaty Betty, New Balance etc, and realised that it was just a blob of grey undercoat. When I pointed this out to C she just said she assumed I already knew

Recently, Baz has pointed out blobs of face cream as I get into the car to work in the morning

One morning, C turned to me in the hallway and asked me, without a trace of irony: ‘Aren’t you going to work today then?’

To be fair, the skanky chicken-flavoured flip-flops didn’t help the look

I genuinely admire people who take the trouble to look good but I fully believe that one day it will be discovered that there’s an actual gene which compels some women to match handbags and shoes to outfits and to iron their clothes. Sadly, it’s a gene I do not possess, but thanks to Baz’s side of the family, C has inherited it (in part. Not the ironing!)

Isn’t nature wonderful

I’m not hideous, but I rarely get compliments on my appearance, even when I have made a real effort. At one excruciating Boxing Day family get-together where I was wearing a nice top with good jeans, someone remarked cattily that ‘I see you’re wearing your best socks’ and everyone roared with laughter. I wasn’t wearing my best socks, of course, but Baz’s socks as always. I just hadn’t dressed to impress

So why all the mirrors for someone so unglamorous? I love the light they bring in to a room, and the way a bevel (I do LOVE a bevel) sends light and reflections shooting off. Of course I buy mirrors with a past, so damage is acceptable and foxing is actually desirable because it just adds to the mystery

And it means I don’t have to look too closely at my reflection

But I digress. Back to the patient: its dear little asymmetrical bevelled mirror has had a hard life and the silvering comes away from the back in large thick flakes, so I’ll clean it up and put acrylic mirror (90p) behind to cover the silver losses. It’s very effective

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And after all, it won’t often get called into active duty!

 

 

 

 

 

One-Trick Pony

If you only have a very small talent, use it as much as possible

I only really have one real answer to a problem: WD40

I’m not brand-specific, but when a screw doesn’t budge I squirt it, if a lock or hinge doesn’t work I drench it, if I need to polish something I cover cloth or wire wool with something WD40-ish. I guess there’s just a lot of rust in my life

But birds are true artists of make do and mend. The swans have nested on the bonfire pile that I never quite got around to burning or moving from the river bank in the autumn. Three eggs so far, they have created home from our negligence. They have tidied and trimmed the weeds around it and they have bizarrely trashed our neighbours’ (Spanish) bluebells, and left them strewn on the bank

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Yesterday’s main project for me was the shed door, rotten from the bottom up, having withstood two floods in the time we’ve been here (seventeen years last Thursday – I hold this anniversary as dear as any other). Baz was busy adding fox-proofing around the garden to give the chickens a bigger run, so I helped Baz lay wire under the grass

Normally when we use electric tools I’m the lowly facilitator, finding things, suggesting things, holding things firm while Baz performs the nobler and more responsible task of cutting. I got help from him for trimming the new wood for the bottom of the door, as much out of habit as anything. I salvaged most of the original door (even the old hinges – thanks to WD40) and now it’s primed and ready for a coat of ‘Garden’ to match the window we rebuilt in the autumn, (I just looked at that post and saw our beloved – and sadly now departed – Percy)

Baz and I have worked together professionally for over twenty years now, as well as living together. We have differences of opinion – sometimes very loud differences – but winning arguments has never really been on the agenda and that’s obviously part of what makes us a successful team: we’re not scared of each other’s point of view

The swans also work as a team. The male chose this nesting spot and persuaded his partner that this was the place, and since that time they have worked together to create their abode, both taking time on the eggs. Just after I snapped this the male came at me and I had to leg it, but I don’t know which of them has bluebell issues

And the renewed shed door? I’ve added 10 % new wood and maybe 5% WD40