Salt of the earth

Monday September 6, 2004

It was an absolutely perfect retail operation, of the times, and fully in the spirit of the age.

Years back we bought a framed print of a snowy forest by a German artist. The picture appealed to both of us, and it has hung on the wall of several houses since, slowly becoming a part of our lives the way these things do. The frame was one of those clever aluminium constructions consisting of four lengths of moulding, some bolts, and a handful of springs that put the whole thing, frame, glass and backing, under tension, keeping it flat and square with the minimum of materials.

For some time now we’ve been thinking the mount could do with replacing. It spoke too much of the seventies, and was beginning to be more important visually than the print itself. So, yesterday, Graham tackled the job of dismantling the frame, pulling out the old mount, and putting a new one in its place.

With a pang and a ping and a scrunch not unlike the sensation you get when a tooth is pulled, the glass shattered the moment the tensioning springs were released.

“Oh,” said Graham. “I thought that might happen.”

“Always a risk. It’s been a long time in that frame.”

“What do we do now, then?”

“We find a glazier and get a new piece, of course.”

“That’s not going to be as easy as it sounds. Haven’t seen a glass shop anywhere since we moved.”

“Nah. You watch me. I have the phone, I have the Internet, and I have a trade directory. I’ll get on to it first thing in the morning.”

Which, this morning, is what I did. I searched the yellow pages, found a likely sounding glass merchant located in Skegness, and gave them a ring. The lively young woman who took my call was encouraging, took the dimensions, and promised to have the glass ready for us when we got there. I hit the Internet, fed the postcode into, and printed out a street map showing the location of the firm. We hopped into the car and drove straight there without a hitch or a wrong turn, into a part of Skegness we’d not visited before, parked right outside the door and went in to pick up our sheet of glass. We were even sufficiently organised to have brought two sheets of stout card and some masking tape to secure it while driving home.

A perfect, flawlessly planned and executed operation, from start to finish, using all the tools of the modern age. I said as much, as we placed the glass in the boot of the car.

“You gotta be kidding,” said Graham.

“How do you mean?”

“Well, look around you. Here we are, in a back alley off a back road in the scuzziest part of town. There’s nothing modern about it.”

I stood up, stretched my back, and surveyed the scene. He was right of course. The firm operates from a ramshackle shed, fronting onto an alleyway shared by several small businesses of the spanner and hammer kind. The alleyway was potholed, and lined with weeds. There was no sign that a paint brush had been employed on any of the beat-up old premises in the past twenty years. Some of the doorways, lock-up garages of a very old type, had clearly not been opened in about as long. And yet, all about us, there was the sound of happy, productive industry of the kind that blokes do in sheds all over.

“This isn’t scuzz-land. This is salt-of-the-earth-land.”

“Ok. I’ll give you that. But it ain’t modern.”

“Anyway. Talking of salt…”

“We weren’t talking about salt.”

“I was, too. You can’t have salt-of-the-earth-land without a pinch of salt.”

“Oh. Alright, then. What about it?”

“We’re only two streets away from the sea front and… fish-and-chips!”

“You never miss an opportunity, do you?”

“Trust me. I never shall.”



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