Monday, August 29, 2016

Cheater Specs

Born as I was with an extremely near-sighted left eye, it has always been my contention that I was predisposed to be a goldsmith or an engraver. I have been able to work at very close quarters with my right hand without my knuckles getting in the way. Check it out.
This also meant that I sucked at sports, due to the complete lack of depth-perception, which was good, since it meant that I had more time to spend in my tiny basement workshop, honing my skills.
I only wear one contact len, which is seldom a concern, but the onset of something resembling old age has brought about a new development. Upon occasion, I require reading glasses. Carrying these around in a bulky old case is not my favourite thing, and not using a case just results in crushing said specs.
A while back, my buddy Russ and I were having lunch at the Second Avenue Grill downtown and it became obvious to our server, the lovely Natalie, that we were having trouble deciphering the bill. She showed up at the table with two of the coolest pairs of reading glasses, and we got to keep them. Once again, the problem of keeping them handy and protected presented itself. These specs were so slim, however, that they fit into a cigar tube, and my friend James recently gave me a Fuentes stogie for my birthday, the container of which worked perfectly. Whipping this out in a restaurant or at the symphony raises some eyebrows at first, but soon my brilliance becomes apparent.
It will, however, make you a little bit uncomfortable if you're familiar with Papillion, the memoir of Henri Charrière.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Back in the mid-seventies, after having cut off the hippie hair and decided that I was, indeed, a goldsmith, I had reason to enter Ben Moss Jewellers in Winnipeg. This was before I had discovered the concept of profit when pricing the stuff I was making, and I was buying chains at retail and selling them, at a loss, to my customers. This is still, somewhat, the story of my life, so it is with some regret that I think back to the job offer I received from Sid Trepel.
Sid was, as I learned later, not just a salesman or store manager, but the CEO of the whole shebang. His father-in-law, Ben Moss, had started the business in Winnipeg in 1910 and Sid took over in the late 'fifties. He was in the process of expanding the business and, for some reason, had set his sights on me. Problem is, he wanted a sales person and I am most emphatically not one of those, but now I realize that I may have missed an opportunity to learn more about, you know, business.
Ben Moss, the business entity, and I parted company from there on as I pursued making jewellery for people, rather than the masses. I often wonder whether a little bit of discipline and knowledge of the inner workings of the retail industry would have changed the way I do business for the better, or to the detriment of the kind of work I do.
I've never thought of myself as competing with retail jewellers, although what they do definitely affects the way I need to work. The fashion changes over the years, from white to yellow gold and back again, the swing from practical to flashy, bulky to delicate, have meant that my people developed different needs, to which I have had to respond.
Ben Moss Jewellers tried to respond to their customers in their own way, but the great toll of competition finally beat them and they are closing their doors after a hundred and six years. I just wanted to say thanks for the chance, Sid.
I'm still standing.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Apropos of nothing, I hereby present a piece of long-lost trivia from a bygone era.
We were moving a bunch of boxes around, preparatory to having some painting done, when I came across a box of old records. It has been necessary over the years to do an occasional cull of my record collection and whenever they turn up, it behooves me to have a look at my past.
In a boxed-set of Donovan's “Gift from a Flower to a Garden”, a truly gag-worthy pile of hippie tripe, I found this old 45.
The memories came flooding back, as memories do, and I figured it was absolutely imperative that I immortalize the flipside for posterity, as a tribute to the ingenuity of our rural folk. (I couldn't do the the Wabash Cannonball as the trial software I downloaded for the purpose limited me to a single track. It is, however, excellent software and I have paid for it, but finding all my login information seemed way too cumbersome. It's called LPRecorder/LPRipper and works great.)
The record was a gift from a friend from way back who grew up, to the extent that any of us grew up, in Nicollet, Minnesota.
In Nicollet, by all accounts, they like to kill things. This is the story of the Eden Valley Fox Hunt which concerned the winter recreational event of a neighbouring county. Rather than donning the pinks and pursuing the hounds in a display of spiffing horsemanship and jolly good sportsmanship, these yahoos wait 'til winter so's they can release a panic-stricken fox on the stark white snowscape. They give it a headstart, then proceed to run it down with snowmobiles.
As I recall, the final verse of the tune goes something like:
"Did you ever wonder how it feels,
Bein' chased by twenty snowmobiles,
Dragged underneath the bogie wheels,
And bleedin' all over the snow? Oh! Bleedin' all over the snow!"

Whether it was the isolation or the inbreeding, the sense of fun in the town was exquisite. One of the local fellows had a trapline and dogteam, in keeping with their desperate grip on a disappearing pastoral culture.
Feeding a team of sled-dogs is never an easy prospect, and when finances get tight, as they will in a small town at any given moment, one needs to get creative. In a mixed farming neighbourhood, there are always, shall we say, disposal issues.  Most especially in winter when, should old Bessie, the prize milker, unceremoniously croak, it's damn sure tough to dig a hole in the frozen ground to give her the dignified burial she so richly deserves for all her service to the family.
No, best you should call up buddy down the road who will respectfully load the deceased into his half-ton and cart her away to a finer place. Whereupon Bessie, now frozen stiffer than a wedding prick (a phrase I picked up from Wayne) is chainsawed into manageable chunks and flung over the chainlink to the waiting huskies.
So, what if your daughter's beloved Shetland pony, purchased on the cheap due to rather high mileage, becomes sad, lame, and incontinent? The twenty-two calibre out behind the barn doesn't seem to be quite the solution, so you call up buddy down the road.
Lies having been told, the pony is loaded into the reeking half-ton. "You'll give Shelby a good home, won't you?" pleads the tot. Uncomfortable and not being entirely accustomed to live livestock, the boys assure the little girl that all will be well, slam the tailgate and get back to the homestead to give the problem a bit of thought.
Now, this being a beloved family pet, it seems only fitting to do the job with a sense of style. After some cogitation, consultation, and beer, one of the boys comes up with an idea, as well as a small, eight-point rack. These antlers, having been removed more or less intact from the skull of a none-too-large buck, turned out to be the perfect fit for old Shelby. A little baling wire to secure them in place and the hunt is on.
Now, I've seen the shaky Super-Eight film of this debacle, and it truly is a wonder. Sad, really. In a kind of hilariously surreal way. They placed the bewildered little nag in a woodland clearing and she looked around curiously, antlers askew, as the boys skulked into position.
They took up a tactical pincer with the wily beast at the focus of the crossfire. On some inaudible signal, Super-Eight being very primitive visual technology, they all opened fire.
Shelby took it well and dropped unceremoniously where she stood. Typical trophy still-shots were taken to immortalize the moment; grinning buffoons astride the majestic eight-point shetland buck.  I don't have any pictures or films, but if I can figure out how to get an MP3 of the foxhunt up here, it shall be done. Further bulletins as events warrant.

 Disclaimer: Management neither supports nor condones cruelty of any sort. The above is strictly a matter of historical record. So there.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Tremors and Upheaval

My buddy Mel of Regal Imports once complained that Swarovski was selling glass as though it was diamond, while our industry was selling diamonds as though they were glass.
The trend over the past several years has been an unfortunate race to the bottom for the manufacturers of jewellery and, while I can understand the need to make a profit in a monstrously competitive business, it seems to me that the magic and legacy has been lost. Jewellery used to be (and in many cases, still is) an important part of the great events in life. It was not something purchased lightly and was expected to last, if not for generations, at least for a lifetime. This would no longer seem to be the case in mass-market jewellery.

With the popularity of white gold came what we call “beige gold”, an alloy that was conducive to large-scale mass production, but entirely unpleasant in colour. This lead to widespread acceptance of rhodium plating to make the jewellery acceptable to the public. Customers take it as given that their white gold rings need to be “dipped” periodically to maintain the colour, and are actually being told by sales staff that white gold that does't require replating does not exist. This is misleading if not fraudulent. Now, I understand that this practice has led to a secondary income stream for retailers that they would be loathe to give up, but it erodes the trust that has been a mainstay of the jewellery industry historically.

The recent development of CAD design in the industry has cut costs and design time for manufacturers, but has also accelerated the use of micro-pavé. Not being in the repair industry, this phenomenon hasn’t affected me overmuch, aside from much mean-spirited hilarity, but I am terrified of the day when these rings start falling apart in great numbers and the remount business is confronted with a multitude of near-invisible diamonds that a customer expects to be reset securely into a new piece.

CAD has also led to innovative techniques, such as “Invisible Setting”, which further promotes the use of marginal stones in what amounts to disposable jewellery. When these invisibly-set stones fall out, which they inevitably do, they are all but impossible to replace properly and securely. My friends in the repair industry hate doing “No Guarantee” work, but are forced into it by the inherent insecurity of the modern setting techniques. We like to stand behind our work, but if the basic structure of the piece is compromised, there is little recourse.

Granted, I've drifted away from the initial subject of diamonds, but I get all enraged sometimes, and my mind wanders. I'll come back when I'm more focused.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Pool

Our little pool may not be suitable for extended laps, but for cooling off after a day of wandering around or shopping, it can't be beat. It's chilly, but not unpleasantly so.
My only problem with it is that the tiles have been laid in a fairly haphazard fashion so that, in some spots it's more like very, very coarse sandpaper, where the edges of the individual tiles are raised slightly from the plane.What this means is that, if you're not careful and inadvertently rake, say, your toes across the side or bottom, they end up looking like this.
Truth be told, I can't hold the pool entirely responsible for the condition of said toes. My standard entry method involves rolling in from the end and kicking up, refreshed if not slightly stunned. As mentioned, it's chilly.
This method causes no difficulties thanks to the unadorned
wall of the deep end, but the side of the pool features a somewhat meaningless semi-ledge a few feet down and it is against this that I scraped my poor toes. Of course, my beloved wife tried to warn me against rolling into the pool from the side for just this reason, but I didn't hear because I was in the process of rolling into the pool from the side. Story of my life.
Here's a picture of Josie sedately enjoying the pool.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Zoning laws? We don't need no steenking zoning laws.

We were somewhat trepidatious about coming down here right now for several reasons, not the least of which was that the owners had informed us that there was some construction going on across from our condo. To their credit, they discounted the price of our stay by fifty percent or so, but being as how our plan was to get out of Dodge and get some major relaxing done, this gave us pause. Ah, well. Mexico has never been what you could possibly consider a quiet getaway and, besides, we needed to get away and get away now.
A look at Google Earth confirmed that the view from our suite would have been spectacular but by the time we got here, in the place of the vacant hillside was a rather attractive four-storey, twelve suite condo, the top floor of which obscures, quite effectively, our view of the ocean. Now, granted, should you lean over the edge of the balcony and  strain your neck just right, you can get glimpse of a trapezoid of Baia Banderas, but it's not what you'd call a glorious vista. That being said,  it does beat the hell out of the view from the balconies opposite. This is what you see if you look over the wall on the other side of the pool. Four levels straight down, with barely a meter between the railing and a blank wall. Granted, this is the rear end of the individual suites, but geez.
The noise during the initial stages of construction must have been spectacular, and it is still irritating during the day. Today, since they stopped work at noon, is truly blissful. Tomorrow will be nothing short of heavenly.
I can only imagine what has happened to the value of this condo  unit since construction, since it is really the only one so affected. Apparently the one above, while its view is somewhat truncated still has some view of the bay, and the ones above that are relatively unaffected. Apparently, this sort of development happens all the time around here and the individual owners, should they be one of the many absentee owners, can be taken by surprise.
Anyway, here's what it looks like from our balcony now.

PV Up and down

The trip to Puerto Vallarta was, aside from the necessity of arising at four AM, uneventful. All the usual hurry-up and wait, a quick but terrifying cab-ride from the airport, and boom, we're here.
The first trip to procure supplies, however, gave us some idea of what the rest of the trip was going to look like. It was going to look like a lot of stairs, is what it was going to look like.
The first “flight” to the street turned out to be about eighty steps but, thanks to the rugged landscape and the vagaries of the Mexican construction industry, no two steps are exactly the same, so who's to say? The next flight, down to the beach, was another eighty or so, plus a long raggedy inclined sidewalk sort of thing. So let's round it off to a hundred and sixty.
Now, using my back-of-an-envelope cipherin' skills, and assuming about eight inches a step, this works out to just over a hundred feet, or eight to ten storeys.
Try that hot and tired. Or drunk.  In the dark.
Down to the beach

Up to the condo

Friday, March 25, 2016

Le Plonge

I don't know if y'all are afflicted, as I am, with sluggish bathtub drains, but due to the odd configuration of the plumbing in this house, it becomes necessary from time to time for me to carry out the time-honoured procedure known as "Plunging".
Plunging a tub, which would seem to be a fairly simple operation, is complicated by the question of airflow. Problem is, the necessary vent above the drain prevents quality tub plunging unless a near-perfect seal at the vent is achieved. What this usually involves is a helper holding a wet cloth over the vent which inevitably results in annoying sounds like the air bubbling through the imperfect seal, or “Maybe we should just call a plumber.”
When recently it became clear that it was time for another plunging, rather than, ummm... plunging right in, I gave the matter some thought. This is a rare admission for me, being rather the plunging sort. What if, I thought, one had more than one plumber's helper, or at least two helpers that would take a less complicated view of job at hand?
Fact is, I do have two, count 'em, two such devices in this very home. This, of course, occurred to me in the middle of the night, so that simply meant that I was condemned to perform the operation repeatedly in my head rather than sleeping.
At the very next opportunity, I brought the new team together and, much to my delight, it worked. It would have worked well enough with the help of my additional, more animate plumber's helper (that would be Mrs. Paulson), but as it was, I was able to brace one plunger over the vent, holding it with my knee, whilst performing the duties of the animate plunger.  It worked a treat and soon my right foot was ankle-deep in the black, murky water that indicates a successful plunge.
It is, therefore, my pleasure to share with all and sundry my great success. Oh and a photo, as if my overactive prose didn't present an adequate picture in your head. I just like words.