Blog 9 (or 8 to anyone who has been counting and noticed I missed out number 6)
Collage of some of the ‘found’ objects
The sorting and clearing process has come to a bit of a halt. I could quote a number of reasons; one of which is that I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to enter the world of scrap metal and, until I do, there are too many buckets of half-sorted metal in the way of reaching the areas that are left. I have tried clambering on top of the buckets and leaning over the pile of old motors on a precariously perched ladder but have decided that the resulting bruises are not worth it and that there needs to be some firm floor space before I venture to clear any of the higher shelves in the workshop.
If I was being totally honest though, the real reason that I have had to stop (for the time being) is that I have transported so much of ‘Dad’s Treasure’ to my house that I can no longer get into my own garage. Getting in there now entails climbing over several sets of weighing scales, a large box of assorted bones, a big box of valves (used or unused, who can tell), a tray of fossils, piles of books, many boxes of old bottles, a box of old plastic cameras, a pillar drill, a box of volumetric flasks (?? no, I don’t know why either), a box of 1960’s-1970’s colour supplements from Sunday newspapers, an ever-increasing pile of “this-may-be-part-of-something-and-I-don’t-want-to-throw-it-away-in-case-I-find-the-other-part”, and that is just to reach the light switch. Actually, reaching the cupboards at the back, where most of our tools are stored, now requires an intermediate gymnastic ability (I used to have it, but not anymore) and major rearrangement of said boxes before being able to open the doors to get anything. Clasping the retrieved item securely, the challenge then is to manoeuvre yourself out of the space you have created, either by moving the boxes back or clambering over them, flicking the light switch off on your way and then negotiating the remainder of the obstacles in the dark.
I am not going to mention any names, but there have been complaints from a certain member of my household!
What this means is that before I bring any more of the treasure here to my house there is going to have to be some further distribution of items.
Those volumetric flasks
Now here’s the thing; a few years ago, I went over to help dad clear some space in his garage. As fast as I was throwing things into the wheelie bin he was delving in and pulling them out (quite a feat for a 4ft 11ins Octogenarian – have you seen the size of those wheelie bins?). When I saw that it was causing him pain to see me throw away his things, accumulated over the years, I decided to stop. Dad laughingly said that I could do what I liked with them once he had gone. At the time I had been happy to throw things away with gay abandon; now I can’t bring myself to dispose of those very same items. Who knew I would turn into my dad?
Last Monday was our village fete. The fete has a bric-a-brac stall which everyone in the village sees as a great opportunity for a clear-out. This year I too decided that I could shift some of the contents of my garage onto the unsuspecting public and I encouraged my offspring to do the same. As the fete ended my daughter showed me her purchase from the bric-a-brac stall (an old jewellery box that was, in her words, a bargain at 20p). Yes, you guessed it, the very same one I had placed on the stall earlier that day (my daughter having rejected it a couple of weeks earlier). Number 1 son in the meantime purchased something that he himself had thrown out! Chips off of the old block me thinks.
Who knew there were so many different shaped oil cans?
Anyway, back to the clearing progress (or not). I have got to the stage where, although there is still a fair bit to be done, I don’t think there are many surprises left. I have looked in all the nooks and crannies; there don’t appear to be any more bundles of £50 notes, no more sharp knives wrapped in rags and hidden underneath chests of drawers, no more ugly paintings (more on Ugly Fat Nude later), nor binoculars or guns. But, every now and then I find something that sparks a bit of interest and is worth a few minutes on the internet. When I say a few minutes, I am talking internet time here as I believe I enter a time warp when I sit in that chair in front of my computer screen. Judging by the amount of half-made cold cups of tea (tea-bag still floating on top), burnt toast and over-flowing pans I have had over the years (the jam one that overflowed took ages to clean up and resulted in feet sticking to the kitchen floor for several weeks after) I would guess that 5 minutes of computer time roughly equates to I hour in real time.
Back to the story…. Last week while on a foray into the workshop to find a piece of wire (of which there was of course plenty) I came across three old posters rolled-up at the back, of a high shelf. (Okay, I know I said I wasn’t going to climb any more ladders until the floor was cleared, but I needed that wire). As you might expect to find after being in a cold and dirty workshop for at least 30 years the posters are dusty, creased and yellowing with mouse-nibbled edges. The thing that caught my attention was the (not unfamiliar) big red ‘G’ on one poster advertising a well-known dark Irish ale. That might be worth a few bob I thought! A short (internet time) search later revealed that two of the posters (pictured below), both from the 50’s, are the work Abram Games [i]. An artist recognised as one of the best of 20th-century graphic designers. Apparently, his maxim was “Maximum Meaning, Minimum Means”. I haven’t been able to find out anything about the rather lovely third poster, pictured above, and signed by a Joseph Deibel.
I am sure I have mentioned before that as well the collections of interesting objects, dad kept vast amounts of paperwork, most of which will have no interest to anyone who didn’t know him. There are some however, that poignantly illustrate familiar points in history. The documents below are affidavits from relatives, already in the USA, pledging their support of various members of the Plisner family, should the German authorities allow them out and the USA authorities allow them in. Dad said that following Anschluss[ii] in 1938, everyone spent weeks queuing outside various embassies in Vienna hoping for a visa. They didn’t really care which country let them in as long as they could get out of Austria (or Germany as it was then). Having been told by the USA embassy official that the USA quota for Austria had already been filled (with a three-year waiting list) my ever-resourceful 18-year-old dad tried to bypass the usual route; ducking the queue and catching an official off-guard he asked if there was a shortage of geyser-fitters in his country. Sadly geyser-fitting was not a required profession in the USA and dad was sent to the back of the queue.
Affidavit of Support from a cousin I have not heard of before. It also gives details of my grandfather’s 8 year stay in the USA in 1906 when he started the process of becoming an American citizen.
This is the back of the affidavit and a feeble attempt by Google at a translation: “The court confirmed that the prepared dishes from the transcript of the party coincides with the existing stamped from sheet with Ursch ift”. Hopefully, somebody will be able to give me a more accurate translation, but I presume it is a verification that the document is valid.
Affidavit from Grandfather’s brother
This letter of support was written by grandfather’s brother who had moved to New York in 1938 and who had changed his name from Rubin to Ralph.
Every time I start this blog I wonder when I am going to run out of stories about my unusual but wonderful dad, but each time I sit down to write something just comes to me. I was thinking of Christmas the other day (as you do in the midst of summer – well in our family you do because my 17-year-old daughter has already started the countdown!).
Dad didn’t really do Christmas. I don’t think it had anything to do with the fact that he was born Jewish; he wasn’t a religious man, it was more to do with a hatred of the whole ‘gift buying for gift buying sake’ thing. The first Christmas my husband Paul spent at our house, he couldn’t believe his eyes when he looked out of the window on Christmas morning and saw my dad outside digging in the garden. Dad didn’t see Christmas Day as any different from any other time of the year – just one with a slightly better lunch than usual.
I don’t know whether it was because he was persuaded by my mum, or just didn’t want his children to miss out, but when we were young he made the effort and ‘played along’ with the Father Christmas thing.
SPOILER ALERT: ANY CHILDREN READING SHOULD SKIP THIS SECTION.
Every Christmas Eve the Plisner family had a ‘Reindeer at the Door’ ritual that went like this:
Knock, knock, knock; jingle, jingle, jingle.
Mum would answer the door.
Loud discussion between mum and Santa about how the reindeer were keeping.
Santa would ask mum to hold on to the reins while he delivered the presents and stockings (real stockings mind – not those phony knitted things we have now).
A couple of loud “Ho, Ho, Ho’s” would be heard as Santa trudged up the stairs (all our fireplaces had long since been boarded up and our chimneys for some reason had buckets on top).
A further “Ho, Ho, Ho” as the presents were deposited at the end of the bed.
(The rustling of wrapped presents as I wiggled my toes under the covers is one that I will never forget).
Yet another “Ho, Ho, Ho” as the stairs were descended.
And a there would be a final jingle of bells as Santa went on his way.
The ritual came to a sudden halt one year. I, being the older sibling, was already suspicious that the big man in red was not all he seemed to be; but Peter, being five years my junior, was still in blissful ignorance and excited about the visit of the generous bearded man.
All had gone to plan until the “Ho, Ho, Ho” as Santa walked in the bedroom when, instead of the third “ho” there was a very loud un-Santa-like four letter word as a drawing pin that had been left upturned on the bedroom floor attached itself to his bare foot (Santa was in his usual outfit of bathrobe and no slippers). There were no further “Ho, Ho, Ho’s” (that night or any night after) as the stairs were descended, nor jingle of bells as Santa went on his way; just more cursing and an emphatic “I’m never doing that again” as Santa left the house, never to return again.
More marking gauges
Actually, given that dad wasn’t bothered about Christmas I have some really fond childhood memories. Whether due to financial constraints or a wish to stay away from the commercial side of Christmas, I would often awake on Christmas morning to a present had been hand crafted either by my dad or mum, or both. One year there was a crib for my dolls for which dad had made the frame and mum had sewn the frills and cover. (Yes, despite my preference for boy’s toys, I did actually have a doll or two).
Talking of dolls I feel the need to mention that I was never allowed to have a Cindy, Tressy[iii] or Barbie and I felt slightly hard-done-by when my friends were making Tressy’s hair grow by with the knob on her back, or planning Barbie’s dates with Ken. I had always thought that there was some principle involved in this decision of my mum’s; that it was because she didn’t approve of the whole ‘dolls looking like adults’ thing. In later years she admitted to me that it was a purely financial decision as she knew that once I had the doll, I would want the clothes, the car the wardrobe etc. to go with it.
Before I go, I know you are all dying to hear how Ugly Fat Nude fared at the auction.
Well, I bring you good news and bad news. The good news is that I am still own an art collection of one item – the bad news you will have guessed is that nobody wanted her enough to reach her reserve price (set by Christie’s, not me). So, the poor woman and her uneven knees will spend another year up against a wall – who knows what her knees will be like in years’ time after all that standing!
The auction itself was an interesting experience; far noisier than I expected and quite amazing how many hundreds of thousands were being bid on some old bit of canvas and paint. You will be pleased to hear that we were all very well-behaved and managed to suppress the giggles most of the way through – though there was a sticky moment when the painting by Khakhar came up (say it out loud to yourself and you will understand) and son number 2 and I looked at each other and very nearly lost all control.
A spiral of valves
I leave you with these gems from a 1897 book I found on dad’s shelf entitled ‘Enquire Within Upon Everything’.[iv]
Advice to Young Ladies – ‘If you have pretty hands and arms, you may play on the harp if you play well: if they are disposed to be clumsy, work tapestry’
Hints for Wives – ‘A shirt-button being off a collar or wristband has frequently produced the first impatient word of married life’.
Rancid Butter – ‘This may be restored by melting it in a water bath, with some coarsely powdered animal charcoal, which has been thoroughly sifted from dust, and strained through flannel’.