My uncle Bing was an exceptionally talented artist who was periodically consumed by enthusiasms and interests, including practicing yoga and making telescope mirrors (but not at the same time).
When I was young, I was fortunate enough to have lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins. One set of my godparents weren’t related, but I called them “Uncle Bing and Auntie Joyce” anyway. Also, I thought of their daughter, Anna, as being my cousin.
Uncle Bing (his given name was Eric, I have no idea where the Bing came from) was a unique individual. Of course, we all are, but he was more so, if you see what I mean. When he left school at 14 years of age, the careers counselor at his school asked his parents what he was good at. “Well, he likes painting,” replied Bing’s father. “Great, he can be a painter and decorator,” pronounced the counselor. And so, it came to be, until WWII started, at which time Bing was pulled away from his painting and decorating pursuits to fly fighter aircraft. There’s an old saying that “A change is as good as a rest,” but I’m not sure this change really qualified in this regard.
The fact of the matter was that Bing was an exceptionally talented artist. He could draw amazing pictures with pencils and crayons, he could paint in watercolor and oil, he could sculpt in clay, wood, and stone, and… the list goes on.
Bing was also periodically consumed with new — typically short-lived — enthusiasms and interests. Our two families would go on summer vacation at the beach together each year. Since these vacations took place in England, they typically involved our cowering behind a brightly colored canvas windbreak while the adults brewed endless cups of tea in a desperate, but futile, attempt to keep us warm.
As an aside, the aged ones used Joyce and Bing’s Sirram Volcano Kettle to brew their tea. Since this device is impervious to the wind and rain, it is therefore ideal for holidaying in England. A few years ago, my auntie Joyce gave me this now 55-year-old antique beauty (see Happy Dance Around a Volcano), but we digress…
On one of our summer vacations, when I was about 10 years old, it turned out that Bing had developed an interest in yoga. As always, he went full bore, spending much of the week standing on his head on the beach, only coming down to join us for a cup of tea or a bite of lunch.
On another occasion, Bing developed a passion for astronomy. As I wrote in the aforementioned Happy Dance Around a Volcano column:
[Bing] decided that the only telescope worth its salt was a reflecting model, which uses mirrors, as opposed to a refracting instrument, which uses lenses that can cause chromatic aberration (the failure of the differently colored light rays to come to a common focus). Furthermore, Bing determined that the only mirrors that were good enough for his telescope were ones he ground himself, so he spent countless months sitting in the shed at the bottom of the garden grinding and polishing his mirrors.
The reason I’m waffling on about all this here is that I just received a message from my chum Javier Coronel, who is the owner of Expo Impex, S.L. in Spain. Knowing my interest in “stuff,” Javier pointed me at this video of a guy called Mats Wernersson making and grinding a DIY camera lens from A-to Z.
This is an amazing video in its own right. However, I must admit that when I saw the motorized grinding and polishing apparatus, it really made me think about what my uncle Bing had to go through to make one of his 8-inch mirrors. He started by fixing one thick (1-to-2 inches, I think) piece of glass to his workbench. Then he put a pinch of some grinding powder on top. Next came a second piece of glass, after which he would sit in his garden shed night-after-night moving the upper piece of glass in a circular motion, occasionally adding a new pinch of grinding medium.
After some number of weeks or months, he would move to a finer grinding material, and start all over again. The final polishing stages involved a series of agents, culminating in pollen. After many weeks using pollen, Bing would send his mirror off to be silvered, and then use it to observe the night sky.
About 20 years ago, I spent a glorious week with a friend from work. We drove out to a Dark Sky area in Texas, set up our telescopes, and spent the nights scrutinizing the heavens and the days snoozing in our sleeping bags.
Sad to relate, my uncle Bing passed away about 10 years ago. He was followed by my auntie Joyce just last year. I wish I’d asked Joyce about Bing’s telescopes. It would be amazing to look at the moon, the planets, the stars, the Milky Way, and other galaxies using a mirror that had been handcrafted by my uncle.
Maybe I should try to make my own, but I’m not sure if I have the energy or the willpower. How about you? Do you think you could be tempted to do something like this?