How mellifluously did the fiddle play? Bought in Horsham a century ago From W Sack, Watchmaker of Firebrace Street, Horsham, Importer of fine instruments. Was R Blake, the buyer, a musical prodigy? Or was the play to amuse oneself by the fireside, on chilly winter nights? The musicians choice, “Sanctus Seraphin” A violin with a name famous for All the attributes that soloists are Continually hankering after. I know it is cruel to mute all notes Of such beautiful wooden craftsmanship Yet musical shortcoming dooms it lie In a black wooden box on soft green baize Silent as the maple in a snow field.
This copy of a violin from the famous Italian maker of the sixteenth century has been silent since I bought it. (Our children have taken it out of its case and abused its sound, from time to time.) But mostly I admire the majesty of its unknown history, and the luthier’s skill.
What should happen here? Who should we turn to if this happens? How can we prevent this? Why, if this should happen, you must do this. Oh, how things have changed! William Henry Perkin thought nothing of the risks he took to change how fabric was dyed in the nineteenth century. (I will return to him later). Not so if you were Em. Em would have sleepless nights if it wasn’t for the rules of compliance she spends her days writing.
Back in the 1950s, I was in our new school science room. Every student had access to a Bunsen burner gas outlet. Every two students shared a sink to clean equipment. We had beam balances to calculate the chemicals we use. A closed section of the room was reserved for experiments with chemicals that gave off noxious fumes.
I liked science partly because of the nurturing skills of our teacher Norm Stewart ( earlier story). Other than his encouragement I had no confidence I could ever remember the periodic tables. I was so sure memorising them was beyond me I stopped studying science at form four. In my last year of science, our classes were mainly to do with recording our lessons according to the rules of school science. The classes emphasised the importance of accurately recording what we did so another scientist could reproduce, by the same method, the actions we took. The next rule of scientific investigation is to leave your work open to criticism. At that stage your method can be refuted if a reviewer should reach a different result following the methods specified. Leading to the ultimate step, the conclusion. The conclusion means the work has been rigorous and scientifically responsible. Which leads me to what I did without these steps of care.
After school, I did make my own experiments with chemicals I had bought from the chemist’s shop. In an earlier lesson, we had made copper crystals. Experimenting, at home, I made one about the size of a AU 50 cent coin and was pretty pleased with my effort. I moved on and made some gunpowder, just because I could. And this is where compliance officers, like Em, would become very anxious if they should every find out what went on unsupervised. At school the room was filled with dangerous stuff that was often untended and left in the hands of the uninitiated.
At school we played with Mercury and let it run through our fingers without any warning it was dangerous. Just as we watched how magnesium ignited easily at a high temperature, bright white light, without wearing protective eyewear or clothing. One experiment seemed to reoccur any time of the year at school. The senior boys would amuse themselves making hydrogen sulphide gas (rotten air gas). This gas was intentionally made outside the ante-room, the place with the exhaust system, and it stank. All too often experiments, outside classroom hours filled the corridors with a putrid stench.
Long before any science experience at school I had watched, and copied adults, melting down lead on the fire, and I also made lead fishing sinkers. No one gave any thought to the fact the fumes of melting lead are carcinogenic. In the metal workshop at school, even first formers would use hydrochloric acid to clean metal with no other protection other than a calico apron. These boys, who mostly came from farms, were familiar with the dangers of sulphuric acid in lead batteries. So, I suppose, the school reasoned any danger was not wholly unexpected in a work environment. Not that that decision would stand the test of reasonableness if acid ate into a boy’s clothes, or burned his skin.
About the age I was in the school science room, a century before, young William Perkin went to work as a chemist with August Wilhelm Von Hoffman at the Royal College of Chemistry, London. In his holidays he made an accidental discovery. In a temporary laboratory, with a coal derivative — aniline — he produced a dye with an intense purple colour. (They dyed fabric with natural materials prior to his discovery.) His new colour, Tyrian purple, was a new hue from which he built a fortune, and with further experimentation he produced dyes of other colours that changed the entire British dye industry, and it altered the colours used around the world, in all manner of things.
If risk managers existed in those days, and they were aware of the dangers these new dyes were to health, they could have saved many lives if they had banned their use. Fortunately, science does not fix things outright as, “we know all there is to know about —-.” . It allows for new people to challenge the status quo. In time, the carcinogenic nature of these dyes was discovered, and their use was banned in foodstuffs and for use in clothing. The interesting thing is, if they were banned outright medical science would have been denied a valuable tool in fighting cancer. Today those same dyes are used in nuclear medicine to trace the movement of chemical treatments that save lives. I am unsure this proves compliance officers need a crystal ball to predict all possibilities, but it does seem it is impossible to ever imagine all the risks one might encounter.
Unlike young William, I never studied Chemistry. To this day I would be hard put to name twenty elements, and I have no idea which subset of them each one belongs. My chemistry skill finishes at trying to make a good espresso each morning with ground beans and pressured hot water. And with that I am well pleased.
Wild animals roamed here in past millenniums. It is possible to find dinosaur footprints in the sandstone on the seashore not so many miles from here. These patterns have nothing to do with that, except in my imagination.
We are enjoying a few days by the sea. For over 65 years, we have been visiting this sleepy winter hamlet of about 1,000. Now, it is summer the residents hide away from the marauding 25,000 visitors holidaying here.
Some people come here to bask in the sun, (not that there is much of that just now). Many read. Some wait for that time of day they can get together and show off their best preened self.
For thousands of years indigenous people roamed the hills around here. The sea saw to it they never went hungry. There is little evidence of the natural riches now, but there are middens, (waste tips) of consumed seashells — if you know where to look.
The coastal road is an iconic day out for visitors. Many, are not used to driving on twisting country roads, and some (more than ever should) end up here. Thankfully, the government maintains this hospital for the sick and those accidentally injured. A decade ago I served on the hospital board for two terms — when this building was commissioned — replacing the former place.
Even in cooler weather, like it is today, a stroll on the beach is health giving.
eight hungry pond fish circle restlessly rushing the surface water to intimidate nourishment shaken onto whirlpool’s eddy formed in the steady mock stream playing from the aerator we hear burbling life into freshened aqua reflecting gloomy twilight and moody clouds float by overhead folded into dark blankets threatening heavy air daylight hour dawning New Year’s Day carefree fish know life goes forward
Friends, please allow me to call you friends? I wish you good health, peace, and that your love is met in the dawning year. May 2021 be so good we can all put 2020 out of reach.
Ever keen to invoke a love for language in my grandchildren, three of the four were with me in the car when I switched on the radio. We did this despite my very best practise to condemn such a distraction in a car driven by a learner.
Let me clarify what we were doing, so you have a better idea of how my distracting behaviour killed my hubris. Charlie was keen to take us for a drive so he could show how prepared he is for his licence test. (Last time I wrote about his driving, 120 Hours At The Wheel 22/03/2020, he had just started to drive) On the pretext I wanted to check on our distant bee hive I gave Charlie the keys as he had said he would love to drive somewhere. With the permission of the Law and their parents, Sam and G sat in the rear seat, and I sat in the front beside Charlie as I was the supervising licensed driver.
We drove in muted silence for about forty minutes. Charlie drove carefully, yet confidently. On this part of the trip we still had several kilometres to travel, and he was driving very well so I broke the rule I had set and turned up the car sound system. All along the road I thought it was off. Instead, we drove, sound muted on our journey. Looking about the display screen, I saw bluetooth was playing Under Milkwood. That was when my vanity got in the way of common sense.
I was so thrilled to see the name scrolling across the silent screen as this piece, written for the BBC, and read by Richard Burton, is one of my favourite examples of spoken word. It is neither a play, nor a poem, yet it is such a splendid piece of writing telling, as it does, of life in the day little imaginary Welch village of Llareggub
Dylan wrote of the characters one might meet in the township – with a name best read backwards — if you want to get a better grasp of his humour. It introduces us to characters such as Captain Cat, Willy Nilly, Mrs Pugh — (Oh, there are so many lovely people, read it, or listen to it yourself.)
If I may, I will return to what was happening in the car as Charlie drove us home. Unaware the reading had been running for some time, I tried to explain why I liked Thomas. I spoke to the kids of the musical nature of the work. (I didn’t tell them I first heard it soon after Alan Woods invested a sizeable portion of his wages and bought a radiogram, and the LP recording, when he had no home in which to store it, and long before he became my brother-in-law. It so happened for security he had it installed in the Vicarage parlour on proviso he could at least listen to it sometimes until he had a place of his own.)
At the point Georgia, Sam and Charlie first heard the words of this dark, comedic writing the village children were in the school playground singing, rhyming verse to a skipping game. Instead of the intent I expected of the moment, they lost all control when they heard the children’s voices singing. For a few minutes after this we heard only their laughter – as they laughed at my expense.
If they ever take time to read my silly stuff, I hope this story reminds them of Christmas Eve 2020. And they take the time to find Under Milkwood I do love, and they listen to it for their own enjoyment.
With significant risks, there are great possibilities. That, we are told, is a sign fortune follows the brave. One of the greatest risks is to enter business using your own money. If the business succeeds the opportunity to make it is before you. The chances are you will have to prove yourself before anyone else will invest anything in something you start from scratch. It gets going, even if you have a lot of money. Be prepared because it will take more than you plan to spend.
A third and fourth career of mine was to help business manage cash. I did this for fourteen years. In my case, I have seen how easy and how hard it is. Many years ago I knew one family where both mum and dad were running a successful business, yet I saw the woman in tears. She remembered when she was told there was no money, none to buy a meal for the family. The mother went through her purse and found a few cents. Francene reached in the crevices of the couch and found a few more. She told me that after robbing the kids piggy banks she just found enough to buy half a dozen eggs so they could eat one night. Even after that, she said, “Bob had faith this business would succeed.” With the T family it did, however, it took many years living, hand-to-mouth like this before it paid off for them.
Only last month I heard a similar story of a family that had invested everything in farming. They had faced years of plenty and invested it all: in more land, in more equipment, in more seed. The current season is the best they have had for 25 years, yet they were at the mercy of the weather for 10 days after they cut the crop before they could harvest it. Even then there was no guarantee until it was in the silo.
Such is the life of those who risk everything in the hope of — One Day. One day we will be ok. One day we will have a holiday. One day we will have enough to buy a new home. One day….
I have also seen people who didn’t have to go through these trials. I have spoken with people who have taken charge of the family business and decided the wisest way forward was to grow the business. The decision to borrow and expand is also fraught. Normally the generation that makes that decision is very aware of the risks and they work as hard as their parents did on the business.
They make personal sacrifices and measure their chances with the risks of expansion. Like many farmers, they succeed where others might have failed
It is a factor of business the risk is not over even when they make the sale This is especially so when the sale is one made of business terms? We can be owed companiesed, and owe thousands of dollars at the same time. All party’s reason the job be done before all payments are made.
Not that that is the end. If I return to my story from Mrs T. They sold their business to a multinational competitor after their years of struggle just to see the business close and the products be taken off the market. The millions they received did not make up for the work, recipes, name loss, and pain – it just helped them have a very comfortable retirement.
In the third generation of a business, things are more difficult. You take an enormous fortune and spread an enormous fortune, and all you get are arguments. If, as is done with two very public big names – the money is left to one person to manage things can go wrong.
James Packer has halved his wealth in a decade. The mental anguish is apparently awful. Noting what our eldest has said of his friends clever enough to have sold businesses for tens of millions. They talk of the pressure they have had not losing what was so hard won. It must be worse when billions are risked.
One fellow, and his brother, inherited Australia’s largest building company about 15 years ago. Most of it went to one grandson. Now, remembering when I was preteen, I travelled around the eastern suburbs in the early mornings with my uncle. Some first workers we saw every morning were stocky Italian chaps. Many of them arrived in this land with no English. The owner of the business knew these men before he came here. As his business grew he remembered these hard men. He knew there was no work for them in the aftermath of WW11, so he called on them. The country was short of tall men, and stocky men were even better for the job.
The jobs they worked at were dirty. The equipment they had was scarce, so they picked and hammered with manual tools forming roadside gutters and curbs. The old yellow grader was the only tool of note I remember with the name Grollo printed on the side.
Fifty years afterwards one grandson managed the expansion of the business across the world. He decided he could manage the building company and its expansion into a whole new field from New York. He lived part time there and wherever else it was possible to live as a jet setter and still monitor the business. All the stocky men had retired or died like his grandfather, so he hired the smartest people money could buy.
Last weekend the building company went into receivership. Daniel has named many reasons the company has run out of working capital, but the one person ultimately responsible for the loss.
It is awful to watch a company collapse. Many times, losing a business can be put down to happenstance. Things like the pandemic are not down to mismanagement. Sometimes companies fail because their customers run out of money. Many times good people get caught by sly operators. That hasn’t happened here, and it will not stop many hundreds of innocent people from being hurt.
I have worked with people on both sides of the ledger. I have seen the damage done to families when ill health is the cause of failure. I have seen the anguish when an owner has to find thousands a debtor cannot pay. Insolvency used to be a crime.
Occasionally it is no one’s fault. All too often it is. The lesson from all this entry is to learn from what I have seen close by — fortune follows the brave. Sometimes. Sometimes the brave one is just a foolish gambler. Sometimes the brave one is a thief that will steal and steal again with a Phoenix movement. Observationally i say if you want to play because you inherit the earth, play but don’t pretend your play is business. Better to invest your money and play with the dividends than play with your capital that is someone once worked hard to build it.
(Not sure my last statement is correct.) What have you got to say?
This article is reposted because it is more authoritative than my entry from 25th September 2020. Barracouta is a fishy narrative.
The inclusion of this story follows a return to a family farm at Apollo Bay (thanks Robin and David Knox). Chatting around the fire one evening talk turned to the barracouta and fishing there. It so happens when a fresh catch is sent from Apollo Bay a Colac fish and chip shop still sells it. On our journey home Jennie ate a tasty reminder of a common weekly meal. (She hadn’t seen the story above.)