FOR 20 years I vetted applicants for Britain’s most highly regarded trade associations; I was privileged to meet the most gifted craftsmen. It seemed to me to be a pity that these artisans and their achievements were not better recognised.
Being specialist means precisely that; their skills were known only to an elite in a position to take advantage of them. I recall a blustery autumn day when my car followed a remote Shropshire track to a number of farm outbuildings.
What a strange place for a motor mechanic to be working in, I thought to myself.
Selecting a workshop that appeared to be showing signs of activity I peered inside. Nothing could have prepared me for the sight of several luxury cars of a marque one simply does not see outside of London’s Knightsbridge.
I was there to meet the only mechanic entrusted by the super rich to maintain their cars. As I took details of his references, one of whom was Lord Rothschild, I murmured: “These are far too important to respond.” He smiled and assured me they would; they did.
A specialist firm was called in to create an impression of a high denomination banknote on the entrance floor of an upper-crust mansion. The craftsman would not allow anyone else into the room whilst he worked. The note painted on the marble floor would appear so realistic that visitors would instinctively stoop to pick it up.
Talking of things of value I scratched my head when I met a gold leaf maker. I had not been given an address and reaching the given locality, I was guided to the workshop.
Monotonously, a craftsman was using a hand mallet to strike what appeared to be a cloth-covered block the size of a VHS cassette. It could not be done by machine, the gold had to be hand-worked.
A namesake of mine, a master carpenter, Brian Walsh, made specialist doors working from a small work-shop. Not your ordinary house doors; Brian’s were hand-made and carved from rare, imported exotic timbers. His prices started off at tens of thousands of pounds.
“Do you have a hobby?” I asked. Yes, he was a keen member of the catfish angling community. Taking a piece of wood he would fashion an exact replica of a member’s caught catfish. Apparently, like we humans, catfish look different to each other.
Interviewing a young man applying for membership as a glass etching specialist, I checked his work. Like his brewing industry clients I couldn’t fault his art. “Do you have anything a little different?” I asked.
He then took me to a gallery to show me his party-piece. A door-sized crystal mirror upon which was etched the most exquisitely beautiful image of the RMS Titanic as it plunged through the Nantucket Sound fog. There were times indeed when quite ‘ordinary’ men made me feel quite humble.