3. A day in the life of an artisan quarryman – 28/04/2015
It’s a cold Tuesday morning. I have managed to leave the house on time and so can enjoy the journey. I don’t have the radio on, and just let thoughts drift around as the familiar route continually uploads outside the car windows. The trees and buildings, roadsigns, bends and hills appear and recede like a continual stage set; slightly unreal and other worldly.
When I get to the quarry everyone is still in the crib hut. I know who is in there immediately because of the cars jammed into the parking spaces. I am greeted with glances and hellos as conversations are maintained. I sit next to Tim, and his grin says that all is well today in the world of granite.
As per usual when I arrive, no sooner do I feel like just sitting for a bit than everyone starts to shuffle and groan out of their seats and begin to discuss what work lies ahead. I put on my blue overalls and a jacket — the mornings are still cold despite it being late April. I wait for Tim to hand out his jobs to Charles, Ian and Steve before I ask for the tool-shed keys. I ask him what he wants me to do and he tells me he has a chisel draft lintel for to do, and then I can get on with the miner’s headstone. This headstone is a new job, and I haven’t done the drawings yet.
I quickly get set up in the end banker shed, and Steve comes up to help set the lintel onto my bankers. It is an awkward height so I have to set up a pallet to stand on so that its comfortable. The finish is fairly fine, with a chiseled edge all the way round. Sometimes finer punches are more tiring than rough; even though I don’t have to hit so hard, the fine punch finish is more fiddly and requires muscular restraint rather than full-on letting-go type blows.
This takes a few hours to complete and I have warmed up quite nicely, by which time its crib, 10 o’clock. Stephane has arrived too, so we walk down together and he gets on with making the tea. I am very hungry, and the now infamous sandwich toaster whose workload is said to be the greatest out of all of Tim’s tools, is fired up and does the rounds.
After crib I clear one of the tables ready to do my drawing of the miner.
As has happened on a few occasions now, other monumental masonry firms commission me to do their specials. This miner’s memorial has come through D. Tresise and Sons, a well established monumental masons firm from Redruth. They have asked me to redesign the original drawing of the miner provided by the family, and carve it in high relief.
I am pleased to be getting work of this nature, and I am acquiring a good name for my carving work amongst the local monumental masonry firms. I have another to do shortly for Wearnes near Helston.
I need a model to work from and so go up and see Charles. He is not feeling that well, and so appears happy to stop beating and let me position him in the pose required. I take some photos with my phone and head back down to do the drawing. It feels odd to be in the crib hut for most of the day, but this drawing needs to be done at the quarry, as I need to make sure it fits the dimensions of the slab that Tresise’s supplied. I first do the drawing at small scale to get it looking right, then scale up the proportions to fit the slab.
For once I don’t really notice the weather; I don’t need to as I am warm inside. In fact it has turned out quite pleasant, if for the occasional blast of wind as a reminder that winter has not quite gone.
I end up not finishing the drawing until 4:30 in the afternoon. Although there is half an hour to go before the end of work, there isn’t really a great deal for me to get started on, other than to pack up my tools in my B&Q black and orange toolbox, sweep up after the morning’s work in the banker shed and head home. I see Tim before I get in the car, and we talk again of how good it is that this sort of work is coming in for me and for the quarry.
Tim is very pleased that he is gathering around him a very capable gang of masons, who all seem to delight in the hard work of bashing granite. Charles was taken on as a full time apprentice in 2014, and he has taken to it extremely well. He is totally dedicated to learning the trade. Stephane, originally from France and with a background in graphics has, to quote him, “found his place”. He, like me, enjoys being in the quarry. Although he has done quite a bit of carving and lettering in limestone, he is very determined to learn granite masonry and work for Tim part time. There is also Ruben, who is a highly qualified mason-carver who was taught at the prestigious City and Guilds in London. Ruben is currently working only on Saturdays, so I don’t see him much, but he is also keen to tackle granite and work for Tim part time.
Having these people around is great for Tim, people who love stone work, enjoy working with granite and who are very keen to learn. I head off down the road with thoughts of a tangible resurgence in the interest for skilled and physically demanding work. The quarry has such an interesting future, and it’s all down to Tim and his giant enthusiasm for granite.