Sunday, June 23, 2024



May 2008. A railway journey from Bournemouth to Reading. My parents were still alive although my mother didn't know who I was any more. At times she didn't even know who my dad was. The human brain is puzzling miracle.

We are bilaterians: a body plan that goes back at least half a billion years. Is that the root of the split brain? Just when and how did the subtle differentiation of function emerge? Birds peck for grain with focused attention on one side, while letting the other hemisphere scan the background across a broad spectrum. The pigeons take fright in mid peck and flutter off.

The process of tracing over this photograph on my phone with a stylus and a clever little app also involves the two modes of attention. Scanning through old photos I was drawn to this brick buttress. Memories of my own bricklaying days. Admiration for the tumbling-in which creates that sumptuous curve.



But while tracing out the joints, calling up my fine-grained hand-eye coordination, it's easy to get lost. "Am I on a header course now? Is this the broken bond?" From a distance these bricklaying subtleties just pop into my consciousness with no effort. But when zoomed in and trying to get the right kind of pen stroke, I very easily lose the bigger picture.

Flemish bond on the tumbled curve. It's the prettiest. English Bond on the body of the buttress for strength. Broken bond to accommodate an extra quarter brick of length for some reason. That translates to a half plus a three-quarter because we limit the use of pieces less than a header in width. In the header course we only see the three quarter. The half is just another header in the row.

I could write much more, but not today.


Another example of the broken bond I touched on in my last post. A recess or blind window. It's five and a quarter bricks wide. Don't ask me why.

The broken bond must go in the middle. We don't put small pieces in the middle. So the solution reads as a three-quarter plus a header, alternating with a three-quarter. This pattern is maintained very nicely all the way up the middle of the panel.

I'm sure there is brickwork of this quality being executed today, but I think it's the exception where once it was the rule.

. Modernity is a wonderful thing. It created the Samsung Note I use to record these musings in the early hours while trying to get back to sleep. It gave us the drawing software, the digital photos, cloud storage, WiFi, etc. Technology that grafts itself onto my brain memory, drawing skills, waning eyesight.

But there is a down side. Let's not pretend. I don't have the magic bullet, but surely we must find a way to bring back a world of carefully crafted objects that last a lifetime, or even a couple of centuries. It won't come about by climate alarmism, fussing about offensive words, accusing the Jews of genocide. We need to remain calm and respectful, take a long term view. Look for a balance between mass production and the human touch. Innovation and continuity.

This is my hope for my beautiful grandchildren, and for yours.



The old and the new(ish). These two photos are both from my 2008 visit to Bournemouth. I spent a week living with my mum and dad, sleeping in the guest room of the nursing home they had recently moved to. My mum was drifting away inside her own mind.

So I parachuted in from Dubai to live in an institutional setting for a week. We didn't get out a lot, but when we did I was snapping away, capturing those little details that spoke of English building traditions. Such a contrast to the Dubai I had lived in for 4 years and to Zimbabwe where I had spent the previous 23. There is a deeper sense of history in UK.

Lighting in the plane of the roof takes many forms. Individual glass pantiles were once a thing. The left hand image seems to be a cast-iron frame. I came across these first in a house in Scotland. Evidence of "bodging" an ancient trade of the semi - skilled variety. Plain clay tiles : a system where little more than a third of each tile is visible. Weathered and irregular, almost like animal scales.

On the right, modern interlocking tiles, cement based. Mass production favours efficiency over charm. But at least it's recognisable as a tiled roof. There's a measure of continuity with the past. The skylight is Velux, also mass-produced, but essentially a Danish family firm and accessible to the DIY market.

So it's wonderful to see these two side-by-side. That's what brings a sense of history and continuity. I love Dubai and also Zimbabwe, but English towns have 500 year old churches.

So lucky to have spent a couple of decades in all three places observing the "way we build" in different climates, cultures, epochs, moods...



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