Thursday, May 03, 2007

Lead in my pencil

'So you cut it there, and there,' said J the plumbing technician this evening, 'and then you put it up on the chimney and beat it vigorously'.

There must have been something in my expression, because what actually happened was I did the cutting, then held it in place while he did the vigorous beating part. Leadwork is so primitive. It really is about hitting metal with sticks.

I was very grateful for the help, it's the hitting with sticks bit I find most difficult. Cutting I got the hang of once someone introduced me to the left-handed snips, and my welding, on a good day, looks as it should.

It's odd isn't it, I said, that we spend weeks grappling with bending sticks and flat dressers and oxy-acetylene torches and shave hooks, then just as they stop feeling entirely alien in your hands you finish your chimney set and never touch the stuff again.

Well, he said, it's a dying art.

It is. It's dirty and heavy and poisonous and heavy and difficult and did I say heavy, but it's a remarkable material to work with. If you know what you're doing, you can make it do anything you want, as the rooftops of Oxford attest. Time was it was part of what plumbers did (the trade is named after it, after all) but now it's a specialist thing roofers do, and it just remains in plumbing courses for legacy reasons.

It will go soon, I expect, and I don't think anyone will miss it. But I guess I'm glad I've had the chance to have a go on it. Most of the time it makes you feel puny and/or all thumbs, but when you tap something round a corner and it goes exactly where it should, or you finish a perfect welded seam and lift your mask off like her out of Flashdance, you begin to see the point...

joella

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2 Comments:

Blogger Beth said...

I'm so thick! I can't believe it but the 'plumber' 'lead' connection had never occurred to me before.

10:21 pm  
Blogger Jo said...

It's not *that* obvious, unless a) you know more Latin (or chemistry) than is healthy and b) you know that water used to be delivered to us in lead pipes (also not that healthy). I did know, but then I am a water geek.

11:13 pm  

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