The sister at whose house we have been staying is a glass blower making weird and wonderful creations for chemistry researchers. A strange and magical profession indeed and one that, had she not taken it up, I would have passed by without a second thought. However, as it is, it comes up in conversations every now and then in a “while I was at work…” kind of way.
Today that all changed. I went to look around the University where she works and into the workshop that houses this strange activity. No longer is it an imagined place in my mind existing only in such a way as to fit the scattered comments describing the set up. It’s now a memory. A memory of being dark and deserted (being evening and winter) that would honestly not have looked out of place in a first-person/RPG type game. Long, very similar looking plain corridors and poorly lit spaces with unreadable writing on the walls.
Eventually coming to a door much like any other I found myself in amongst all sorts of odd looking equipment. A lathe with a oxy-acetyline burner
[I have been informed this is not an oxy-acetyline burner but oxygen-hydrogen instead. I'm not sure if this is more crazy or not] instead of a cutting tool, a selection of odd looking hand tools and big light screens with magnifying glasses mounted at odd angles.
On the end of the bench, between the covering of odds and ends of glass fragments and melted test tube-like-pieces was a burner
[a methane-oxygen-air contraption apparently] staring out in a carefree sort of way as if all desks had the ability to shoot flames many feet away.
With the gas switched on and all the various dials and controls in the right place I was given a demonstration.
Things were twisted and poked and prodded and blown through until from nowhere a miniature glass vase appeared. Not quite the everyday work at the university but not so far out as to present a challenge.
Next, it turned out
[No it did not transpire - transpiring is what plants do 07/02/2013], was my turn. Sitting at what can only be described as a health hazard I was handed a piece of glass tube and detailed directions of where to put it. Hold it at each end and use both hands to twist it and keep twisting it at the same rate with both hands. This sounds simple and with a piece of normal glass tube it is. Any fool could do it. I was.
What makes it slightly (read very) more challenging is putting the middle in a fire.
Glass has always been something that I have been wary of. I’m not afraid of it. I don’t go out of my way to avoid it but its tendency to be sharp and uncomfortable command a certain respect that plastics, metals and generally more robust materials could only dream of.
In return for this, glass has always been glass. Brittle, clear and generally bad at being bounced. What it is not is glowing and soft. It just makes no sense. So there I was holding a gently rotating piece of glass tube while each hand tried to keep up with the other. It was all going so well until my hands were no longer holding the same tube. Instead they held a tube each connected by a glowing tube of molten stuff that seemed to think droopy was more appealing than straight. As each hand twisted at different rates the connection became more and more un-round until I was told to remove it from the flame and pull it. While still twisting. Stretching glass has to be the most unnatural thing I’ve ever done. And I’ve ridden a unicycle.
Next, I was instructed to pull bits off with tweezers and blow a bubble in it. I was given slightly more prompting than that but what I ended up with was a rapidly expanding and increasingly fragile glass ball, at many hundreds of degrees, three inches from my face. It’s a bit like blowing up modelling balloons (if modelling balloons were liquid and very hot). You blow and blow and blow until you almost pass out then it suddenly inflates.
By the time I realised what was happening the bubble was past its prime and as I rapidly withdrew from the cooling glass straw I was able to watch it collapse in front of me. Comparing it to the ones-she’d-made-earlier, I think my employment as glass-blower-in-chief may be a while away yet.
I think next time she’s in the UK, a trip out in a boat is in order.