Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Rain, rain, go away

I'm officially fed up with the rain now. Today it started raining some time after 5pm (lucky I took my wellies and a rain coat down to the studio just in case, eh?) and in the intervening 4-ish hours we've had approximately 4 inches (just over 10 centimetres) of rain, in addition to the 33+ inches (over 80cms) of rain we've had this month according to our weather station. I think our position on the side of a hill near the sea definitely affects things: the clouds seem to dump their water on us, en route to Coffs Harbour, as our rainfall is noticeably higher than in town.

On the one hand, this is great! We have no mains connections of any kind so we rely completely on water draining off our roofs and into our water tanks and - extra advantage! - in this sort of weather we don't have to water the garden, no sir. On the other hand, it's a pain in the backside: our dirt track is both washing away and being eroded by a certain lunatic driver who lives next door, which makes getting in and out difficult; we're using LOTS of diesel for the generator, which is an unexpected expense; and everything is going mouldy...

The drainage works we had done at the end of last year have really helped and in fact we haven't had any mould until the relentless downpours of the last two weeks. This time last year I was going frantic, cleaning the furniture off every couple of days and despairing about the state of my shoes - if I've only started moaning about it now then things are definitely better than last year! But it's getting boring now. This morning I was woken by the unusual event of sunshine reaching into our bedroom, which meant leaping up and putting some washing on as we don't have an electric dryer. I managed two loads of washing, both of which dried in the 6 hours or so of sunshine that we had, but this evening I went into the back room and noticed all the cupboards have mildew on the doors, anything wooden has a thin layer of blue mould on it, and even the floor in the pantry is mouldy. Yuk. And there's not a lot of point trying to do anything about it right now: best to wait until later this week when apparently the rain will dry up a bit and we might have a bit more sunshine. Then I'll be able to open all the doors and windows and start washing everything down with vinegar, tea tree oil, oil of cloves and a splash of dishwashing liquid and hope that it all dries out.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Bargain books

Recently I went to the local Tender Centre and placed a successful bid for a box of tatty books. For those of you unfamiliar with Tender Centres, they're places where people send unwanted items for a silent auction: you turn up on the viewing days, arm yourself with a clipboard and a bidding form, fill in your contact details and make an offer against the lot numbers. On the Sunday evening you get an email that directs you to look on-line at your account and see if you were successful, unsuccessful or able to negotiate with the vendor.

A couple of weekends ago we went along and placed several bids, won a few, failed on three, and came away with the above-mentioned box of books, which was cleverly disguised amongst the bric-a-brac by being placed in between a box of decaying encyclopedias (encyclopedii?) and a LARGE box of evangelical tomes on Christian marriage (you know what I think about evangelical Christianity). We also bid successfully for a box of fossilised wood, a pair of hedge clippers and a sander. I could have been forgiven for failing to notice the books, I feel, but I'm glad I didn't.

In amongst the beautiful covers of "With Nelson in Command" by Robert Leighton ("A Story of the Battle of the Baltic"), a volume of Churchill's early life and two volumes of "An Historian's History of the World" (1889) was a battered book block with a black covers... which turned out to be a 1729 King James Bible. 1729! That's older than the history of white settlement in Australia. I'll have to show you the Nelson book in a future post: it's hilarious, but right now I'm most excited about the bible, not least because I'm dyslexic with numbers (if you see what I mean) and initially read the date of publication as 1792 before I realised I was out by 63 years!

To be honest with you, I'm not sure what to do with it. You can see the beautiful front cover, but the back cover is missing. The spine is fused to the book block and I know NOTHING about 18th century bindings so I'm not sure how it is constructed or how to dissect it - if I had the courage to dissect it, which I don't. I'm not even sure if the cover is thin leather on board or embossed paper on board, although I do know that the hand marbled end-papers (front only, sadly) are exquisite. The book block itself is in extraordinarily good condition, especially considering the humid conditions of sub-tropical New South Wales! As well as the Old and New Testaments there is also a Psalter at the end of the book and I must look and see what the front page of the Psalter says.

Had I not bid successfully for the box, I wonder what would have happened to the books? The Tender Centre system allows items to be shown for two consecutive sales, after which they are returned to the vendor if not sold. I find it hard to understand that the vendor didn't realise the value of the box: the other books are probably worth $100 or so each, to the right purchaser of course. In a new country it is thrilling to hold in one's hand a book that pre-dates 'modern' (i.e. 'white') Australia. How amazing to hold something that is almost 300 years old! I can't wait to show it to the kids in my daughter's class - and I can't wait to find out more about the bible itself, if that's possible. How did it end up in a sale room in Coffs Harbour? Almost 300 years ago it was printed in Oxford, England... it's obviously had a heck of a life since then.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Book First Aid, Part Three

What, you thought that was it on the first aid front? No! My Italian friend gave me two books, the second being this paperback which was nonetheless sewn in signatures - without tapes - and glued straight into a spine which had completely disintegrated.

After thinking hard I decided the best thing to do was to salvage as much of the cover images as I could and re-glue them onto proper hard covers, mending the individual pages and sewing them onto tapes and into a full cloth binding.

Something I forgot to photograph was the smoke damage on some of the pages. I asked my colleagues on the Book Arts Listserve how best to deal with the discolouration of the pages using a low-tech solution and they recommended a dry cleaning pad - which I just happen to have. Used gently the pad abraded the soot off the pages: it wasn't perfect but it did help and ultimately the pages were readable if not fully 'clean'. And I've conquered my fear of hard cover binding!

I've thoroughly enjoyed restoring both books: there's the technical satisfaction of doing a half-way decent job, but also the happy thought that I've prolonged the useful life of the books by another few decades (I hope) which makes it all worthwhile. No cash has exchanged hands: instead we'll be bartering for services in kind in due course! The owner is a tree surgeon, after all...

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Book First Aid, Part Two

Once the spine was reinforced and dried I was able to take the book out of the book press and check to see how strong the sewn-in tapes were - and they're fine! Phew. Then I was able to glue in the end papers: obviously I couldn't do what I would usually do, which is to paste a strip of mull along the folded edge of the end papers and wrap that around the first and last signatures before sewing onto the tapes. Instead, I had to rely on a thin strip of glue along the folded edge of the end papers which adhered them to the first and last pages. I could have simply glued the whole of the first and last pages to the corresponding end papers, I suppose, but the last page of the book was printed with the final columns of the index, which I didn't want to lose!

While the end papers dried in place I made a replacement spine out of thin card, kraft paper and black book cloth. I glued on the fragment of the original spine with the book's title and author.

The kraft paper strip acted as an additional support for the new spine, extending inside the covers. I couldn't extend the book cloth as far because it would have obscured the gold embossed lettering on the front cover. In the photo I haven't trimmed the kraft paper, but once the book block was in place I trimmed the upper and lower edges to match the edges of the end papers.

If I say so myself, I think the end product is not bad for 5 hours' work. The new head and tail bands and the two book marks smarten the book up, and their red and gold colouring is picked up by the beautiful hand-marbled end papers which I bought in Italy - just right for an Italian book!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Book First Aid, Part One

Just before the end of last term a friend asked if I could help him save a couple of his books from complete disintegration and although I have NO experience or training in book or paper restoration or conservation I did - rashly - agree to help. I can't de-acidify paper, invisibly mend torn pages or get rid of foxing, but I reckon I can use archival materials to re-bind something so that it will last a little bit longer. Neither of the books is 'precious', in the sense of being valuable, but Andrea loves them for their practicality and the fact that the wisdom they contain is now hard to find. Both are books of recipes: not food recipes but recipes for things like cement, creating different coloured patination on metals, making ink... that sort of thing. All in Italian, as Andrea is Italian, so I don't have a clue what else the books contain but I find them fascinating.

Task one was to separate the covers from the book block and the spine, using a scalpel. The front and back covers are a bit stained but otherwise quite robust, but I couldn't successfully detach the end papers (which were not that special) so I decided to carefully tear them back and put in new end papers, using some Italian hand-marbled paper from my stash.

I cut out the title of the book from the original spine, thinking to glue it onto the new spine so that if the book sits on a shelf Andrea can still see what it is called.

When I took the book block out of the covers I discovered that the sewing is still in perfect condition, but that there are only stubs of the tapes left - and when I say "stubs" I mean about a centimetre! Clearly not enough to make a firm connection with new covers so I decided to sew new tapes to the old tape stubs, hoping that the resulting double layer wouldn't be too bulky under the new end papers.

Before I could sew on new tapes, though, I had to clean the tapes and the spine of the old cow glue. At least, I presume it's cow glue, because I remember the smell... Reading up on the web I found that I could safely remove the excess glue and scraps of paper by damping down the spine and tapes with distilled water and a sponge. I put freezer paper and a dry cloth in between the tapes and the bookblock in order to prevent the pages getting wet. To my surprise, the glue softened very easily and I was able to scrape it carefully away with my scalpel, revealing the signatures and the stitching.

I sewed on new tapes using a fine linen thread and a small needle, sort of darning the old tape into the new tape in order to weave them together as much as possible.

Once the new tapes were in place I was able to reinforce the spine with mull, gently round it, and leave it to dry in my book press overnight.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

What to do when you have a glut of tomatoes? The correct answer is "make chutney"! So far this summer we've had around 20kg of cherry tomatoes from vines that appeared spontaneously in our vegetable garden from seed that must have been in the compost we used, or came via birds from elsewhere. Believe me, I'm not complaining! I do love making jams, chutneys and pickles so dearest husband and I have had the big jam kettle on the go rather a lot recently. Our store of carefully hoarded and recycled glass jars has diminished to such an extent that I had to go to the Op Shop to buy more, and only the urgency of pickling another 3kg of tomatoes before they went off made me enter the Life House Church's Op Shop in Coffs Harbour... Since I dislike that church and its religious fundamentalism intensely I am still feeling torn about giving them my $2.60 for glass jars. Will my money faciliate more of their brand of fundamentalism? Hopefully only a little bit: I really was quite desperate!

To assuage my guilt I'm going to share my recipe (well actually my mother's recipe, although she used 'big' tomatoes and had it all worked out in Imperial weights rather than metric):

3kg green tomatoes (whole if they're cherry tomatoes, sliced if they're big tomatoes)
25gm salt
2 large onions, finely diced
4 green apples, peeled, cored and diced
600gm dark brown sugar
600gm dried fruit (I use Australian sultanas which are like the English raisins I used in the UK)600ml malt vinegar
pickling spice - tie it into a piece of muslin/cheesecloth/clean Chux and tie it onto the handle of the pot!

Note: if you want to change the quantities it's fairly simple: the amount of vinegar is 1/5 of the weight of the tomatoes; the amount of dried fruit is also 1/5 of the weight of the tomatoes. The quantities of everything else don't have to be precise - sometimes it has more apple and onion, sometimes less.

The night before you want to cook the chutney, combine the onions and tomatoes in a non-reactive bowl and sprinkle them with salt. The next day, rinse them off and put them in a big non-reactive pan with all the other ingredients. Bring to the boil slowly and ensure all the sugar has dissolved, then increase the temperature and boil fairly quickly until the mixture has cooked down and turned a lovely chutney-brown colour. Bottle in sterilised glass jars while still hot (fill until almost at the top of each pot, and stir with a skewer to make sure there are no air bubbles trapped further down in the jar), top with a wax disc, and cover. Because chutneys and pickles contain vinegar it isn't a good idea to use a metal jam jar lid because it will corrode, so stick to cellaphane discs to cover the pots. Store in a cool dark place, refrigerate after opening and - if you can bear it! - wait a month or two before opening the first pot as this gives the flavours time to develop.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Joy of Books

Life is clearly not as boring in Toronto as I'd been led to believe ! ;) I can't believe how much work must have gone into this...

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Life Savers

Dearest husband sent me a link to this, and I just think it's funny! A great example of a serious message with a light touch... am I the only one who remembers Vinnie Jones playing football?

What's going on in the garden?


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