Walking down Portobello Road last week, I saw an old man selling an enormous variety of hand-made teddybears. Amongst the hundreds of beasts on display there was one that stood out.
A toddler-sized grey bear in a traditional Scottish outfit, complete with tam o’ shanter hat, knee-high white socks and a sporran.
Much of the outfit could have been made from various household items, including tea towels or a particularly heinous bedspread. But the little sporran impressed me.
It was hung around his waist on reigns of tooled, black leather, with feathers and thistles painted on in gold. It looked so professional that I began to wonder if this item had been specially purchased.
I imagined a factory, somewhere in Uxbridge, that was dedicated solely to the production of these little sporrans. Perhaps they even made flyers that read – “Come to Graham’s Grotto for all your plush bears’ accessories!”
Probably not. Much more likely that this man had spent a couple of hours sourcing the right kind of straps – from the Highlands, perhaps – and had maybe even learned how to paint. I imagined him getting up at 7am every day, in order to capture that particular thistle variety, and get the detail just right. Doing the unnecessary, with love.
The picture above is of a drain cover I recently spotted on Petticoat Lane. Its humble purpose is to cover the entrance of a sewer, but despite its simplicity, there’s evidence of the metal worker’s skill – the intricate linear design, the precision of the broaching.
What’s also interesting is the star in the middle, which looks a lot like the Star of David. As Petticoat Lane used to be the old Jewish quarter, this probably isn’t a coincidence.
After a spot of Googling I discovered that once upon a time construction companies used these covers as a way to advertise their services, and London is apparently littered with these lovely little concrete advertisements, although most of the companies don’t exist anymore.
The simplest of objects. And no detail is really necessary for something so functional, but it’s all the better for it.
Apparently ‘Drainspotting’ is somewhat of a Thing. In Japan, municipalities are allowed to design their own manhole covers and different areas compete to come up with the best designs. As a result there are now almost 6000 hand-crafted covers throughout the country. Here’s a rather nice collection of the finest specimens. http://www.demilked.com/manhole-covers-japan/