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fixing things

How to clean a Mackintosh. Gallaher's cigarette card No 35 of the How to do it series. It is surprising how much a cut raw potato can do, from cleaning oil paintings to your muddy mac.  These ‘how to do it’ cards are wildly inventive, a combination of old remedies such as taking salt stains from brown (?) shoes with washing soda dissolved in milk – milk is very useful for a lot of problems evidently; it dissolves ink even – to mending broken china with molten alum, whatever that is.  I expect this set of cards is the collected wisdom of the butler, the maid of all work and the housekeeper — it is all about fixing things with much ingenuity and common materials.
I used to take all this to heart, this kind of mending and fixing, renewing and caring.  Always there were the stories of elderly blind ladies who could mend smashed teacups by feel.  It was very hard.  Everything I have is mended, badly.  Many things that seem so simple in the drawings and the 80-90 words of masterfully concise text are terribly difficult to actually do well.  Maybe if you’d done something a hundred times, and knew what it all felt like, it would work.  I’m not sure we know how to do anything much, with our hands, any more.  

How to clean a clock is a classic: put some cotton batten soaked in coal oil in the innards: the fumes will loosen any dust and it will fall off the mechanism.  Really?  How was this discovered?  Thomas Barrow looks after all the clocks at Downton – I suppose he knows about this.

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