December 2015 – part 1

Fine box making in the Shropshire hills


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newsletter no. 17, December 2015 – part 1

This newsletter has been somewhat delayed as I wanted to wait until I had my new version slideshow up and running, and also some definitive smartWare news. I now have both, but there’s much else to talk about, not least I need to announce my 2016 course dates. So I’ve decided to divide this newsletter into two parts. This is part 1, part 2 in a couple of days …

the time has come to join up the dots …

I have four websites, a newsletter, personal and business facebook pages – and it had to happen eventually … the time has come to finally join up the dots!

I now have:

•  a new facebook business page – please visit, and ‘like’ me [if you like me]
•  a new fine-boxes slideshow  – fully updated, a random journey through the world of fine boxes, with a few surprises along the way
•  a brand new fine flute cases newsletter. If you’re a flute player, interested in bespoke cases and would like to receive this ‘niche’ newsletter – please go to the website to subscribe. I will be sending out the first issue next week.

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fine flute cases newsletter

Facebook – better late than never …

Actually I’ve been on facebook for some time, with both personal and business pages, but flummoxed as I am by the complexities and subtleties of the interface [and not having been born clutching a smartPhone as now seems customary] I’ve been slow to fully engage. All those friends – and all that liking! Anyway, I’ve taken a deep breath, girded my loins and I’ve been painfully hauling myself into the modern era.

Incidentally, this is apparently what loin girding looks like:

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… I’d always wondered. But this is only the first half of the instructions – if you need your loins girding visit ‘The Art of Manliness‘ for the complete step-by-step instructions. Then you’ll be:
‘ … set for both battle and some hard labor. Go forth, be ye men, and gird up your loins!’ Sounds good to me …

Anyway, Facebook. Even though my personal page has been dormant almost since I started it, I seem to have accumulated a lot of ‘friends’, so I needed to ‘invite’ them to ‘like’ my new business page. Done, but my attempts to message some of those same friends [the ‘real’ ones] weren’t so successful! … Anyone who’s tried to send out a message to a substantial number of facebook friends will know that it’s not easy. With help from Laurence [more of him in part 2] I tried everything, and there really IS no easy way! I ended up having to message everyone the hard way, from Aaron the Aardvark to Zebidee Zedbed. Individually. Manually.

Actually Laurence was doing much of the heavy lifting for me while I wrote this! … And then I got blocked for sending out too many messages! But I’ve served my time now and can send messages again – but be warned!


new fine boxes slideshow:

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visit new slideshow

What I do is very visual and ever since I’ve had a website I’ve tried to show what I do in pictures. Early on I decided to offer two ways of viewing my work: a random one in the form of a slideshow, and a categorised one, the fine boxes gallery. Many of you will have seen the old versions of both on the fine boxes site – all very small images, optimised as they were for small screens and slower download speeds, and lacking a lot of my more recent material.

As screens have got bigger, download speeds faster, updating the slideshow and gallery has became a priority. So, with a view to producing new versions of the slideshow and gallery, together with getting up and running with Facebook, Pinterest and so on, I started work back in March sorting, scanning and generally organising a huge quantity of images of my work stretching back 30 years and more …

old images:

I’ve always tried to photograph new/different work, but I certainly haven’t photographed everything I’ve ever made. Work often needs to be delivered urgently as soon as it’s complete and the last thing on my mind in the final fraught stages has been photography – so some didn’t get photographed at all. On the other hand, many long forgotten works have come to light, together with a couple of pieces I don’t even remember making!

My cousin Eddie Ephraums photographed some of my very early work. I then took it on myself with varying success – these early attempts came to light during my searches:

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Great! Pre-digital, of course. I think I may have learnt a little about taking pics since then and I mostly get pretty good results nowadays. But then everything’s digital now and acceptable quality photography is within the grasp of all but the most incompetent …

getting it done:

But having made the selection, getting the new show working as it should has been far from straightforward. Things used to be so simple – computers were computers, phones were phones and tablets … just weren’t! Now everything’s all jumbled up! Earlier this year Google officially announced that more than 50% of all internet access was on mobile devices, so anyone with a website, or who uses the internet in whatever way to promote their business, has to bear in mind that their websites are just as likely to be viewed on a 600 x 320 mobile as a 2560 x 1440 desktop. And all sorts of different aspect ratios, touch screens …

As with everything else I have very specific requirements and don’t like settling for anything less. The large number of images, together with the requirement for a new random order for each visit and fast loading times, certainly complicated things. My website host built a version, but forgot to mention that, with so many images, when a visitor accesses it they would have to wait 5 minutes for it to load, with no images being visible in that time! Useless, of course – even a few seconds is long enough for the average visitor to give up and move on …

A few others had a go, and failed. It occurred to me that a high proportion of my course attendees work in IT in one way or another, so I mentioned it in the last newsletter, NL 16. I quote: “So, I would appreciate any ideas from all you web design and IT geniuses out there …”


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And sure enough, a newsletter subscriber contacted me – Peter Bowyer of
Maple Design. He’s done the necessary in a friendly and efficient way and I would recommend his services to anybody needing this kind of work done. So, although it’s been a long time coming [and it wasn’t cheap], it’s now done, exactly as I wanted it. Each time you visit a new random set of images is loaded and it will progress through with a 5 second gap between each image. Or you can navigate smoothly backwards and forwards through your own unique random selection using your keyboard, clicking the navigation icons or swiping backwards or forwards on touch screens. When the page is reloaded a new random order loads – but the ‘safety’
curtain only appears the first time you visit, only reappearing if you haven’t visited for two weeks or more.

There’s just short of 1,600 images: finished work, work in progress, the workshop, courses, a few animals, local scenes and other irrelevancies along the way. So the chances of your finding the same things again are very slim, unless you’ve sat through the lot, in which case you’ll get all the same images, just served up in a different order! At 5 secs a pic the full show takes 2hrs 12mins.

All images can be opened into new windows/tabs, downloaded, pinned by clicking the “Pin it” icon that appears when you hover over the images, and some are links to relevant pages on my other websites.

There’s no doubt that it is best viewed on a decent sized screen – but it’s ‘responsive’ and can be viewed on all modern devices, including smartPhones.

Please visit and let me know what you think …

visit new slideshow


a special course offer:

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Dec 10th-14th 5 day course

When we arrived back from our French holiday I found that the crucial October issue of Furniture & Cabinetmaking was inexplicably running a recycled advert for smartWare rather than my courses ad – so offering something I didn’t have instead of something I did! They admitted their mistake and I have some free ads out of it, but by the time their error was corrected I think most had their winter schedules sorted. 5 days is a serious commitment, so bookings have been well down …

I’m still running the Dec 10th-14th 5 day course and have some places available, but because this newsletter has been so delayed going out this is now very short notice. So, I’m offering a deal: the 5 day course for £395, normal cost £670. This is an ideal opportunity for you to come and make that special present for someone … special. You go away with a completed box – Christmas sorted!

Please note, this offer is only open until midday Friday Dec 4th.

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book Dec 10th-14th 5 day course

buy course gift tokens

2016 spring summer course dates:

The 2015 spring/summer courses were pretty much fully booked so I’m now taking bookings well in advance for the same period next year:


  April 16/17
May 7/8, 28/29
June 25/26
July 23/24

5 day courses:

  March 31st – April 4th
April 21st – 25th
May 12th – 16th
June 2nd – 6th
July 7th – 11th

Better to book in advance and pay the discounted rate [save 10%] – a good way to reserve your place and get a good deal! I don’t enable the online booking until 2 weeks after the newsletter goes out so I will only be taking bookings direct by email. I’m also offering course tokens, available for weekend and 5 day courses, or for set values to be put towards future courses, all non date-specific.

email me to book a 2016 date

click here to buy course gift tokens


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As I say, this newsletter, like so many before it, has been delayed by smartWare matters. The company I’ve been working with since August last year [2014] has failed me utterly. They did finally start to make some acceptable hinges in the summer, but then announced that they didn’t intend to build on that ‘success’ and wouldn’t be taking the project any further.

So all that time and effort has been wasted and I’m now starting again with a new and, it has to be said, very promising company. I know – you’ve heard that before, but this time I genuinely think I’ve come up trumps and what I’ve seen so far has been head and shoulders better than anything I’ve had made to date. I’m viewing progress today – more in part 2 in a couple of days …

what it needs is a bird …

If anyone can remember back to newsletter 14 [December 2014] there were 2 teasers – a mystery pic and a deliberate mistake.

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Nobody got the mystery pic.

The question was this: what is it?

And there was a clue: it’s a one word answer, and that word isn’t ‘clamp’. Or ‘rusty’.

The one word I was looking for was … chocolate! Simple as.

We were bought several of these from a Christmas market in Germany last year … and were amazed by the fantastically real rusty effect – partly dusted as they were with just the right coloured cocoa powder. I’m only sorry I didn’t have the presence of mind to take a pic of it with a chunk eaten out of it just to make the point! But it IS chocolate, honest!

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I found the images above here – the company producing these [there may well be lots of them] offers a wide range of ‘tools’ and other bits and pieces, all made from chocolate. Mainly the sort of thing you’d find knocking around in any slightly damp garage or workshop, all showing the same unbelievably realistic rust effect.

There was also the issue of the ‘deliberate’ mistake in the courses advert:

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Nobody spotted this, it was certainly a hard one, and perhaps a bit obscure. And to be absolutely honest it’s arguable whether the detail necessary to detect the error is actually visible on the necessarily lo-res version that was in the newsletter. Had I pointed out that the error was related to the image and nothing to do with the text this might have made things a bit easier …

Anyway, when I designed the F&C advert I decided to use the banner that I use as the header for my websites in one way or another, as the background for the ad. 1/4 page, long and thin, landscape, it seemed to fit. I found the original image, put the necessary elements together, and was pleased with the result. But I felt it needed something else. It was obvious, really – what it needed was a bird!

So, I did a quick image search to find a suitable image. Anything really – a. n. other bird, I wasn’t fussy – but preferably a silhouette of something … birdy. I found something that fitted the bill – and it was duly photoshopped in, moved around a bit until the result was just so, faded so it was the right hue, and I was pleased with the result.

But when I showed it to my wife Hilary [with the final hi-res version already sent off to F&C] naively expecting her approval, I didn’t get it! I should have guessed that she would not be easily impressed. It’s a swallow! – and the image of the hills is clearly a WINTER scene as the trees have no leaves. How fussy – but how undeniably true!! The image was taken in February, so definitely not swallow time! Any swallow with any sense would still be sunning itself somewhere in North Africa, any individual with a poor enough sense of direction to find itself up on the Long Mynd in February wouldn’t last very long …

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So the 2015 autumn course dates ad has been amended as shown in the lower image – to include a red kite instead of the ill-fated swallow with a poor sense of direction!

Unfortunately plenty noticed the loads of UN-deliberate mistakes that NL14 was littered with, I made a real mess of the course dates that I offered. And there was one definitely un-deliberate mistake in NL15
too. I won’t draw your attention to it as it was very embarrassing – suffice to say it was in a paragraph written when I was very tired, and the typo in question IS a real word, so the spellchecker didn’t pick it up. It just wasn’t the word I meant! A context checker was what was needed. A few did notice and it made them laugh, so glad to be able to cause some merriment …

I considered trying to palm it off as yet another ‘deliberate’ mistake – but it wouldn’t have washed with my sophisticated and perceptive readers!


French holiday clarification:

I should clear something up from the last newsletter – I’m guilty of misleading a fair few into believing that we did our recent French trip, or at least part of it, on bikes. We did it in our old Suzuki 4×4 ‘Samurai’ LWB – starting on the ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao.

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We did revisit a beautiful area in the pyrenees I’d cycled through in 1987 and tried to retrace a very rough, unmade route I’d cycled back then. It’s marked on the map as ‘not regularly maintained road’. Nothing about it not being a public road, so I’d naively expected to be able to do this route by car. But of course it’s barred to all but the local shepherds, otherwise everyone would be up there making merry with their 4x4s, making a real mess of this absolutely beautiful terrain!

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And in any case, on the day we tried the weather was very poor and we wouldn’t have seen anything of the wonderful views I saw first time around. So, we walked a very small part of it in the cloud and increasing rain and were soaked by the time we made it back to the car to eat the picnic we’d planned to eat viewing stunning Pyrenean panoramas! So, another visit must be planned to do it on bikes as per my original trip!

in newsletter 17 part 2:

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Death of a tree, excellent smartWare news, Frank Zappa, Tina Turner and disc sanders, more about flute cases, a strange table and more …

Thanks for reading.

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