Wednesday, 1 July 2009


I was going to blog on the film Soy Cuba, which is fantastic, review will appear, and also on the way that MH overdiagnosis and stigmatisation is a wonderful tool of The State, and many other things, but I changed my mind.

Tonight I'll be honest about my previous occupation. I've alluded to it, and shown a photograph or two, but never actually described it accurately. I think it is pretty relevant to mental health issues, all told.

Ok, (takes deep breath), I was a stone conservator running my own business specialising in the conservation of medieval carving, and I did most of my work in situ (anywhere down from 400 feet in the sky, using the rope techiniques developed out on the North Sea rigs). I managed seven years, I believe.

To get it in context, I'm sure some of you don't like going into high buildings. Well, I was working on the outside sometimes 40 stories up.

(A certain parish church in Bristol, and btw, my best friend)

Now, the height is a nasty, all things considered. It does unpleasant things to you. You find you spend all day in a tense waiting-for-disaster posture - every muscle fibre is awake and ready to react - it doesn't matter how safe you know you are - you are just waiting for that rope to break. And you distract yourself with tiny dentist's spatulas and glue and mortar for modelling, and put all the little flakes of corrupt and diseased stone back in their correct artistic position, exactly where the lad 800 years before you had left them. (Just try doing that in a strong wind. BTW Gaffer Tape is your Friend!)

It was ok for the first year - the main stress was lack of money. I started the business overdrawn. It was very stressful. Lack of money often is. I had also started an MA and a family at the same season. Yes. I can see now why I must have been a bastard and a half to work with that first 12 months once the initial enthusiam had passed. I have already apologised. But here's another sorry. Have another picture:

Digression: that picture makes me laugh. I'm no steeplejack. But in another moment of confidence, I decided "I can do that!" The first time we had to go up that spire, we laddered it ourselves. We'd never done that sort of thing before, apart from a practice run on a small Cotswold church. We got our training from a Fred Dibnah video. And then did it in windy weather in November, on one of the biggest spires in the country. .... EFFING IDIOTS. My workmate fainted at one point after we'd just got down, and I was off with all the devilish angels and angelic devils of hell on the top of those bendy wooden ladders drilling holes and waiting for the splintering sound below me. When we got to the top, and abseiled down all the facets, making drawings of every defect on every stone, our brains were blancmange. What was stunning for me was when I had to reinspect it four years down the line (I hired steeplejacks this time to put the ladders up) - I was expecting the drawings to be 80-90% accurate. They were 100% accurate. That is quite stunning accuracy for any building survey, let alone one of this stress and duress. Just consider, this pointy bit is about 170 foot tall, coming off a 120 foot tower. So 170 x 8 sides, drawing the courses of the stonework, the individual stones, the decay, the open joints, the occasional crack... and to get every single one in the right place. I would never bet on that. Not on anyone. I told you I was going to digress, and I took full advantage.

Cut to seven years into business. There is a reasonable amount of literature linking long-term stress to bad episodes. I mean, I had my psychotic moments and depressions from my teens to the end of my twenties, but I felt I'd shrugged them off back then. I don't think I had - I think I was just in my element - the minimum of being checked-up on - I could pick the times the dates - and keep going, and keep going, and keep going...

It is amusing in retrospect for me, to recall the confusion and glazing-over of other professionals while I gave presentations on site while manic. My brain had assimilated every defect on a whole cricket pitch of vertical stonework, and could pluck them out, describe them, give the best remedy. It was scary stuff really. And that was shown up a couple of months after when I tried to jump off the damned building.

In fact, over the various 50 odd churches and cathedrals I had the pleasure to work on, I must have memorised a whole test series of cricket pitches.


This is bloody boring.


And for reasons of discretion, this post will probably implode (or be severely edited) in 48 hours. Google is everyone's enemy. Enjoy, briefly.


werehorse said...

Not boring at all - fascinating in fact. There are so many things that it never occurs to you that people do. Those pictures are terrifying!


I thought this post was wonderful and, if I may be so bold, I would like to request more of the same. I absolutely adore reading/listening to people describe their craft, from the lowly to the lofty (and yours sure is lofty). This has inspired me to write on my work - and I have just filled an entire notepad under the work desk describing the process from selecting pigments to communing with a plant! If it wasn't for the fact that I now have to go orchestrate a knitting and weaving picnic in 30 degree heat, I would type up my post immediately. I am quite pleased by it (and it will no doubt bore all bar the most recherche of pedants). Expect to find something new on my blog around midnight or beyond. FFS I haven't slept since April so what difference will nother night make?.
Really did enjoy this post, thankyou.

Morte said...

Hmm sorry wanted to add to my post, but failed, as you can see.

Anyway I said "Excellent post, really interesting, thankyou for sharing."
But wanted to add that I chuckled when reading about your recollections of giving presentations whilst manic. I can relate to this entirely, although I recall with amusement and no small amount of embarrassment, but I do very much remember the glazed over confused looks aswell as looks of total astonishment whilst doing presentations and holding meetings etc. The odd thing is it was like an out of body experience, I could see and hear myself just talking, extremeley fast, endlessly, in absolute minute detail. I didnt know where the words came from, they just did continuously. It's quite amazing.
Nobody ever took me to one side and said "shut the fuck up" though, it was just stunned silence and that look you get when someone thinks (knows?) you're completely bonkers.

Take Care.

bipolarlife said...

Awesome photos. I feel nauseous just thinking about being that high up!

actionreplay said...

Wow, that's really interesting. I can well believe very stressful though.

Borderline Lil said...

Far from boring, I found this post (and esp the accompanying photos) illuminating. Loved it. Could definitely feel and understand the buildup of tension...