Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Trouble At Mill, Part 3: Breaching The Ramparts

Front entrance and tower of Cliffe Castle

Five Giant Pots Take Trip Round England


On March 23rd Matt Fairley came with his truck and crane to collect the pots - all five of them - in their telephone-box sized crates, which stand upright in the back of a van or, as in this case, on an open wagon attached to the truck. They were strapped in and covered with tarpaulin and, to the best of my knowledge, made an uneventful journey to Keighley from London via Salisbury and survived several torrential storms en route. I learnt that, collectively, they weigh about a tonne. I have also learned from this experience that their packing system is pretty secure. The trolleys still move about a bit when inside the crates, so need to secure the wheels better and allow for upward shock which I think is still rattling them a bit and causing the odd one or two pieces to come adrift during transport but, considering the distance they travelled and their oddly circuitous route, they did brilliantly.

Two pots arrived unscathed this time, two only mildly scathed and one, Dancing, with one giant piece adrift. This poses a problem: its immense weight and height, combined with its inherent precariousness, make it extremely difficult to reposition correctly. Thankfully, god invented conservators - Dale Keeton in this case - who settled the piece to exactly the right place and pretty much saved the show.

Shattered still wrapped in grand Victorian drawing room

From Tardis To Toad Hall And A Journey Into Wonderland

I'm beginning to think that Wind In The Willows is in fact some great satire on life in the arts in the 21st Century. Time and again I find myself in Toad Hall type situations with a cast of characters which almost always includes The Badger, The Rat, Toad, and a collection of extras from Alice in Wonderland and, this time anyway, from Beatrix Potter - appropriately. A more Toad Hall kind of venue than Cliffe Castle would be difficult to imagine. A mighty, late Victorian pile outside Keighley, away from the hoi poloi, it was built in 1828 and later acquired by the Butterfield family and rebuilt in the 1880s to a much grander scale to display the wealth and status of textile magnate, Henry Isaac Butterfield. It was at this point that the lavish chinoiserie and twirly french furniture, grand romantic landscape painting and marble copies of Cuipid and Psyche moved in. Toad would have been in his element. Sadly however, Toad, on this occasion, was not present, unless I've mutated into Toad, but I think I was closer to Svetlana, who's really more of a weasel and who also belongs there too in a way - see post for August 2009 - and I was very much missing my co-stoat/weasel, Hossein, my much valued helper at these times. I certainly felt consigned to the tradesman's entrance - a 'necessary evil,' the inconvenient artist.

I arrived in Keighley Castle the same day the pots arrived. We started to unpack immediately and move them into the SENSATIONALLY, almost absurdly lavish, 'grand Victorian drawing room,' all recently restored to its former glory. The manager of the Castle, we'll call him The Badger, did not seem pleased to see me. He seemed even less pleased when the five pots were rowed up in the splendid room dressed in their bubble wrap and he began to fume, visibly, when a million polystyrene baubles escaped and multiplied all over the grand Victorian parquet floor. By the time the bubble wrap started to come off - and this is when the condition of the pots really becomes apparent and the pieces start to leap out all over the place - I really thought he would spontaneously combust.


Cliffe Castle, through the trees, late March 2010 with bank of crocuses


A moderately large piece from the upper reaches of Dancing was the first to part company with its pot and fall crashing to the floor where it broke into a million tiny shards and frightened poor Mrs. Tiggy Winkle, the exhibitions organiser, half to death. I'm really more frightened of people getting injured and, in Cliffe Castle's grand fancy rooms, I feared for the furniture too. By this time, I really thought I was dead meat – the Badger was baring his teeth and snarling audibly. He then demanded and audience with Dale, (Ratty), and Mrs Tiggy Winkle and thus deprived me of the help I desperately needed to the extent that he seemed to be sabotaging the show - which would have been an extraordinarily self defeating act but there's no accounting for public sector Badgers, they're a breed unto themselves. Word on the gold-plated, silk hung rococo(esque) corridor is that people are in line to lose their jobs in the Bradford museums and arts department. Taxidermy, I suggest would be a good solution. There is a very fine selection of stuffed beasts in the ballroom. One more would never be noticed, surely.

Perhaps Mrs Tiggy Winkle suggested it. She told me she’d ‘had words.’ With the Badger. Whatever passed between them I shall never know. I know only that a curious transformation occurred the next day. Inexplicably, the Badger was suddenly overcome with paroxysms of joy. The show, largely thanks to Dale-the-conservator – looked FABULOUS and the Badger knew it and showed it to visitors on open day with considerable pride.

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