Thursday 25 October 2018

Chemistry At Home & A Fruitless Experiment

Pass me the pipette, Mr P!
Henrika Šantel, Kemičarka, 1932, lady laboratory chemist

I'm rather fond of playing with a bit of Chemistry in the home. Nothing too technical, nor beyond me requiring more than my kitchen scales and some litmus paper; just the sort of stuff that housewives used to knock up without much fuss in the days before the White Lab Coat of Authority sternly told us through advertising that only factory-produced household sundries &c. are to be Trusted, and anyways are so much more Convenient, and thus those little skills nearly vanished overnight.

Vintage household chemistry book, Two Thousand formulas, recipes and trade secrets, Harry Bennett
Handy Household Reference

While researching some of these lost Olde Ways, I found an excellent second-hand book by Harry Bennett, F.A.I.C., entitled catchily, Two Thousand Formulas, Recipes & Trade Secrets: The Classic "Do-It-Yourself" Book of Practical Everyday Chemistry. It's a reprint from a 1930s publication and an example of the kind of book that most householders had as a handy reference for when they needed to refresh their memory on how to prepare envelope mucilage or cold cream or billiard chalk or Absinthe (choose from English, Fine, two styles of Swiss & à la Turine!).

Norman's Indian Mucilage advertisement, bulldog strength glue
Pipistrello's Frugal Tip:
Make your own mucilage, instead!

Truth be told, some of the ingredients for the myriad recipes are a tad hard to come by these days, if not downright illegal, and serve to remind the Modern Reader just how far Society has regressed in its trust of our Fellow Man. I'm sure some sideways glances would be cast at my local Chemist if I was found to be shopping for some Sodium Cyanide (NaCN) and Mercury (Hg) and what-not for my Iron Rustproofing Solution. But if the End-Of-Days comes and Electricity & Google were to be switched firmly Off then the Pipistrello's will be fine as I now have my handy recipes for making the Rubber Bands which will be necessary for holding our post-Apocalyptic world together and the Tutti Frutti Essence which will add a bit of colour and flavour to our fallout-grey lives.

Hiking boots fail, rubber bands and crocs, one-size fits all
Rubber bands, so essential for navigating the
Post-Apocalyptic Future

Anyhow, it has been a Bit of a Year here, what with one thing and another, and the Pipistrello colony has had to become rather more intimately acquainted with some new-fangled advances in the Field of Medicine than we none of us had expected a little while back. One of the many joys of belonging to a family means that while one member may get the Hands-On Experience, we all get to Learn Something. Today's Lesson, concerning the treatment for a Gentlemen's Complaint, comes not from my copy of Two Thousand Formulas &c., nor even from Modern Western Medicine but from something more thrilling and far, far older: viz. Traditional Chinese Medicine ... Or would have, if Australia's quarantine laws were not so stern and unadventurous.

Chinese acupuncture chart
Coy and mysterious

Last weekend, over at my Brother's place, the Gorgeous A, whose culinary talents are a rival to the transfixing Li Ziqi, was hoping to prepare a decoction for her father as an adjunct to the Western Medicine treatment for his, ahem, condition*. It may surprise you, or not, to discover that when she trundled down to the Chinese Herbalist to fill the "prescription", as dictated over the telephone by the Chinese Doctor in Guangzhou, he merely threw his hands into the air with frustration and declared that this infuriating country prohibits the importation of most of her required ingredients!

While we were all poised to discover how efficacious this Tonic would be, Gorgeous A's quest for seven Periplaneta americana** thus Came to Nought, and I have sadly no scientifically-tested results to report. Now if you know Sydney, you might puzzle over this Quarantine Mystery, as the humble American Cockroach and their German cousins positively flourish in this fine city (and are the pesky reason why my experiments with Home Curing have to be refrigerator-focussed) and wonder why the apothecary did not figure for himself, Oh, a gap in the market! Opportunity knocks!, for they abound in a free-range capacity here, and are thus ripe for canny exploitation.

* He is unlikely to be lurking about these pages so the shared confidence shouldn't cause further embarrassment.

** Yes, the American Cockroach is Farmed in China for the lotions & potions so-beloved by the Chinese. And while you may look askance at the prospect of being prescribed 7 in a tea, Your Correspondent caught and ate one, sashimi-style, as a toddler to no ill effect!

Saturday 13 October 2018

Greek Series: The Marble Masons of Despotiko

Scaffolding Galore
Twilit Scaffolding & Cranework Adorning the Parthenon
Recognise this Grand Design? Yes, it's the Parthenon in Athens. Just so you know, it still looks like a Building Site that's hit a few Snags along the way; maybe a couple of issues with the Council, who knows, but it's still ages off what Kevin McCloud might call Watertight, perhaps never!

To see what it might look like when the Occupants have Moved In you must travel to Nashville in America, and behold the full-scale polychromic replica replete with a 42-foot tall statue of Athena (whose face is reputed to be modelled on a youthful Elvis Presley, according to the amusing docent who was my guide) - but I digress ...

Marble Masons Handiwork
Acropolis Restoration Work: A Giant 3D Puzzle!
In spite of the Curious Neighbours (a.k.a. Tourists) climbing all over it on a daily basis and the Second Fix perhaps still some ways off, there are still some fellows Gainfully Employed on site: the Marble Masons. Notwithstanding the never-ending nature of this project, these skilled craftsmen are rather sought after for other sites besides Athens' Acropolis. So where do they end up moonlighting?

Yes, on Despotiko! You may be forgiven for thinking that Ol' Holiday in Greece of mine was a dim memory by now, but no! there's plenty more juice to be squeezed from that lemon! Here's another peek into the World of Archæology as seen by this Correspondent, before I forget any more of the Salient Details. Let me introduce you to some of these fabled Marble Masons in their natural habitat:

Despotiko Marble Restoration Work
Just add Heat & Noise!
Give these men some scaffolding, a small and noisy diesel generator to run some angle grinders, some hand tools and ropes and pulleys and they will turn your Restoration Dreams into Reality ... albeit rather slowly.

The Despotiko Sanctuary to Apollo Before & After
What came before (well, an artist's impression)
Here is a Handy How-To Guide for those at home: First find an Olde Parian Marble Puzzle Piece that you can identify from amongst the pile of many hundreds, then mark out some useful reference points on its surface with your little laser gadget:

Laser measurements on marble pillar piece to aid in restoration
Not just a lump of rock: Restoration awaits!
Make a perfect fit for this surface in a new piece of marble (freshly quarried not from Paros any more but neighbouring Naxos) with some Trusty Geometry, hand tools and plenty of Skill, like this:

Glittering white Naxian marble ready-shaped for mounting old marble remnants
Gleaming new marble pieces ready for marrying up with the old
Use some Magic to join them together, or failing that, some titanium pins and cement and then shape using said angle grinder as required:

New-meets-old marble column base ready for shaping
A new-meets-old column base ready for shaping

Marble mason at work shaping a column piece with an angle grinder
A Mason at one with his grinder

Shaped and smoothed column base marked up for installation
Nearly ready for moving into place
Using the Time-Honoured Methods handed down by the likes of the Egyptian Pyramid-Builders, wrap your selected piece in ropes, manœuver it off your workbench and then roll it over timber logs to your desired destination. Apply these same low-tech techniques to winching your piece into place.
Nota bene: Allow a couple of hours for this stage - Rome/Athens/Egypt &c., weren't built in a day!

Hand winching marble column base into position on Despotiko's dig site
High-vis. optional

Newly restored 2-tonne marble architrave ready to be installed on Despotiko
 Architrave ready to be winched atop two columns

Marble architrave in position atop columns on Despotiko
Architrave in situ and capped with more original bits
(Not my pic! Photo Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture & Sports

If necessary, drill some holes for some titanium pins for later:

New Naxian marble column bases on Despoiko
Ready for the next column piece
Apply a liberal amount of grinding to effect the finish you desire, and do coat all persons in the vicinity with a fine, glittery coat of Marble Dust in the process:

New-meets-old marble columns ready for finishing smooth at Despotiko's Apollo Sanctuary
In the rough, at this point

Take plenty of time to stand back and admire your handiwork:

The 2018 Season on Despotiko drawing to a close
The old & the new

The close of the 2018 Season on Despotiko showing new marble works
All tidy after the 2018 Season

Continue until you have run out of Puzzle Pieces/Patience/Funding. If you have any leftovers, you could always utilise them in the manner of the invading Franks in the 13th Century, viz. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Frankish castle on Paros built with Classical & Archaic-Era Marbles
Fun with leftovers on Paros, circa 1260 CE

Bats In The Belfry