There are many amusing scenes in the film of Bridget Jones’ Diary but for me the funniest will always be the one in which she attempts to cook a sophisticated meal for her best friends. One dish requires shoots of leek and celery to be bound with string and boiled until they are reduced to a soupy consistency.
Unfortunately the only string Bridget owns looks like the kind used by farmers to tie bales of hay, moreover it is blue. The inevitable result is that her potage becomes an inedible blue gloop.
It’s a light scene in comparison to some in this film and its sequel. What makes me laugh so much about it is just how it illustrates so well how matters can go so hilariously wrong when we make effort to reach out to something new when attempting something others find straightforward.
I experienced more than one ‘Bridget Moment’ myself this past week.
It all began nearly a decade ago in our beach house in Amos, on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. Mrs. Bray and I decided to see if it would be possible to live there all the year round and, since I’m always writing, my goodly wife on impulse bought me a largish desk.
In the course of various jobs I’ve used a number of desks of different style ranging from those grey metal monsters, dating from the post war era when drawers never seemed to fit, right through practical models from the 1970s with black metal frames – veneered block board tops and drawer fronts. Later came adapted Victorian dressing tables and genuine antique desks located in private clinics.
I cannot claim the ‘Amos’ desk as the most elegant I’ve owned, but it was the probably the best solution for me that stores in Marmaris have to offer. I used it without incident for a few months before we decided to renovate our little stone house. This involved us moving out for a few months whilst builders gutted the place.
The new desk fell victim to the movers. Its top received a deep scar. This was to become the first of many gashes and indentations, each signifying an attack upon it by cleaners and other artisans.
I do not complain. Two books were written on that desk, as well as countless articles, advertisement copy, and a course to train psychologists and psychiatrists in family therapy. I have read legal papers behind it and constructed witness statements for English court proceedings both as an expert witness and as a consultant to the legal profession.
Three computer monitors have stood upon it and whilst two have gone to the local landfill, as happens with most consumer durables, the desk despite scuff-marks, has endured.
One day Mrs Bray set her laptop computer on one corner and began to type and talk to people over Skype. This gradually grew into an on-line counselling practice, which ate into not only desk space, but also made it pretty near impossible to make phone calls myself lest the sanctity of her ‘session’ be disturbed.
In the end I bought her a somewhat smaller version of my desk, but that didn’t do much to help. Somehow she continued to take up more and more space in my study, which she started to refer to as ‘our’ office. I didn’t ‘twig’ at once that this was probably a preamble to getting a larger house, but as the months turned to years my discomfort increased. I was still able to produce both written work and photographs, but the situation continued to cause problems.
When in September last year we finally moved the desk suffered further indignities from the movers, so many in fact that last week re-polishing and re-varnishing its surfaces seemed long overdue.
I read somewhere that where Europeans like things to appear as ‘new’, bright and untarnished, in the East this isn’t the case. Indeed it’s said that the more chipped a traditional Japanese teacup the greater is its value. I am unsure this applies to modern western mugs from the supermarket, but certainly the tradition was to rub gold leaf into the glue used to repair pottery in olden times. This not only means that the glue sticks broken parts together, but also that the damage is permanently marked in a precious indelible way.
I like this idea. With it in mind, decided upon a policy with respect to the restoration of the desk.
Policies are, to my mind, rather like epistemologies. You can view the world through one or more belief systems and filters, yet even the most entrenched nihilist ‘cannot not’ have an epistemology – for theirs is one of nihilism. So it is with regard to policies as they relate to projects. A newspaper, or magazine, without an editorial policy is likely to drift aimlessly in an unseen sea, indeed any business that cannot identify values and purpose will most likely fail.
I resolved, as this project’s policy, not to attempt to fill any gouges, but to re-stain areas where the original deal was showing as a result of damage. This decision would lead to my first ‘Bridget Moment’.
Go to any DIY store in the UK and you can shortly walk away with a can of wood stain. This is not so in Turkey. Here people want to sell you coloured varnish. I bought a pot of brown varnish from a store in Marmaris, then thought better of it and set out, again, in search of wood-stain. After visiting a couple of stores I found one displaying a plaque of wooden tiles of different tones under a bold banner headed: ‘Wood Art’. Imagining this to be wood-stain was to be my mistake.
Once the surface of my desk was thoroughly prepared I applied dobs of ‘Wood Art’ to all the gashes and grooves. Wood-stain would, of course, penetrate the wood – darken only the scratched area and leave the surface ready for varnishing. The stuff certainly looked like wood-stain but, as hours passed, it became apparent that Wood Art had no intention of sinking into the grooves. When it dried the whole surface was like an adolescent’s nightmare of raised facial pustules. These would need to be rubbed down.
Wood Art was, I later discovered, simply another brand of varnish renamed by advertisement copywriters as something they thought would win extra sales, but which in fact only disguised the true nature of the product.
Much sanding followed. I put the ‘pustules’ down to experience and did my best to obliterate them with emery paper. The process whiled away some hours. Moreover, bands of compacted varnish would build up in the abrasive paper, so care had to be taken in order to ensure that these didn’t add to the number of scratches on the desk’s surface.
Finally, everything seemed ready for a full coat of varnish. This was to be my second ‘Bridget Moment’. Here, in Turkey, Turpentine Substitute is referred to as ‘Tiner’, and in my shed I have a small can of the stuff, which I’ve kept for many years unopened. I decided to apply some Tiner to a cloth and rub it over the surface of my desk to ensure it was thoroughly clean before applying varnish.
“Eeeeeaaah”, now all the surface of the desk was bubbling like jam, when it’s being cooked by Granny at her house. ‘Tiner’, this time, clearly meant ‘thinners’, which is one effective way to remove varnish, as well as plastic or oil based paints from any surface; so back to stage one!
Some hours later I was finally able to varnish the desk, and then each day I’ve rubbed it down using a sanding block, and applied a coat of ‘Wood Art’. It’s not been straightforward, and in times past I may have become frustrated.
Diligently I’ve thinned the varnish with appropriate solvent. The emery paper of finer texture has been used with each successive layer. The finest grade of abrasive paper was used with soap and water to prepare the surface for the final thin coat of varnish.
It has been a good and grounding experience – not at all like in the past when apprentices would polish wooden boards using their bare hands and brick dust; the blood from abrasions and blisters creating the patina that is so valued today.
As I wrote last week, however, something is being polished here. It turns out I may simply have been referring to the top of my old writing desk?