I had a great time feeling my way over a couple of Navy divers: thigh fondling and calf caressing. No, not that!
I was in the Old Customs House (previously the Captain’s Office of HMS VERNON) surrounded by the restaurants and retail emporia now known as Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth.
Amidst all the urgency of fashion and retail therapy, there’s a monument to the Royal Navy mine clearance divers. Suspended above the sea, the sculpture faithfully depicts those two divers attaching an explosive charge to a massive sea mine. Their lithe and athletic figures are dwarfed by the huge, spiked sphere. A stunning reminder of heroism for those who can stand and stare but lost on those of us who can’t.
Now Navy divers, led by a former Superintendent, another driving the project and supported by Blind Veterans UK, aim to make the sculpture accessible for us visually impaired people. They have perfect scaled down replicas in bronze and my task was to feel my way around one.
When touch is the only sense to unlock an artist’s creation, the impact can be lasting. After nearly 20 years since visiting the Paris museum, I still remember placing my fingertips in the marks left by Rodin as he created a bust of his father. The original clay model captured those finger marks under the chin, where he pulled it forward, and are preserved for ever in the final bronze. Alongside, his bust of a tutor portrays their relationship: amidst carefully modelled curly hair, the sculptor (famous for “The Thinker” and “The Kiss”) mischievously added a pair of subtle horns to reflect a diabolical character!
Back with those two divers, I could feel strength and skill through their limbs, the technical precision of their equipment, the sharp coldness of water on their fins. Simple metal was transformed with vitality and purpose that remains with me weeks later.
The divers plan to 3D-print another scaled plastic version that we can explore by hand. Plastic can successfully mimic metal: smooth hard coldness alongside warmer texture, capturing the contrast of human intervention with the harshness of wartime munitions. An audio description would be good: sound effects and different voices to add yet another dramatic dimension.
The misery of the smoke alarm beeping when the battery is dying. First, find the alarm, find the right-size spare battery (and who keeps that size anyway)?, get out the stepladder negotiating around furniture, doors, steps etc), balance up there to do the swap and then put everything away with the old battery in the right recycling bin. Repeat with your eyes shut and know the joy of blindness when managing home safety. Luckily, the planking sous-chef helps but not everyone is so lucky. There must be a better solution. Perhaps one of the design students who turn up with their latest inventions could put their minds to something as useful and practical.
Meanwhile, I’ve been experimenting. The excellent apple cake is now achievable as individual mini-buns and, somehow, butternut squash and parsnips create a vegetable marshmallow. It was supposed to be soup but is more like a hot savoury mousse! Tastes wonderful and a completely different texture that sits on, rather than in, the spoon.
Join us for the wicked chocolate mud cake live demonstration on Monday 13 February at 1030:
Just what you need for Valentine’s Day.