Peter died on January 20 2015, of lung cancer.
I did mean to write a coherent piece about Peter, but it seems that isn’t going to happen. So, in place of that, and in no particular order, and with the caveat that this is some good stuff and I am not going to pretend that there wasn’t some bad stuff, I just never experienced that myself.
Peter had two Siamese cats in the time I knew him, first Willy, then Rolly. Rolly died just before Peter, at a fair old age. He was pretty smelly but still a friendly old puss. Willy used to fetch sticks in the garden, and was more of a dog than a cat really. I didn’t see this, but I’m led to believe that Willy once became so stoned through breathing the living room ‘atmosphere’ that he fell off the back of the sofa and had a whitey on the floor.
There was one child from the village that used to visit, Peter would say “I’m just off for a coffee with CAT MILK!” she’d say “Urrggghhhhh that’s DISGUSTING”. This was a regular thing between them. After some time, Peter said
“I’ve made my coffee, will you get my CAT MILK out of the fridge please?”
“Yuk. Anyway there’s no such thing as cat milk!”
“Yes there is”
“No there isn’t”
“Yes there is”
“No there isn’t”
“Yes there is”
“No there isn’t, I asked!”
“Yes there is and it’s in the fridge – have a look if you don’t believe me”
Small child opens the fridge, sees the cat milk (this is milk FOR cats if you haven’t seen it, it has a picture of a cat on it and says “CAT MILK”)
“Uuuurrrrgghhhhh that’s NASTY!”- small child exits kitchen at speed.
Peter had a set by the back door and when I first knew him he would be up for a game on a sunny day. I remember him playing a friend of mine, Catherine, with the charm turned up to 11. You could have believed that: A) – he had a butler and B) – butter wouldn’t melt. He never lost a game when I was there. He was also dynamite with a frisbee.
The fireplace & house
In the house (modernised in the 1600’s if I recall correctly) there was a fireplace just about big enough to roast an ox. This was usually the site of a roaring coal fire. When Peter was at the end of his life I (and others) got the coal in for him (4 buckets at a time) but he still wouldn’t let me actually light the thing. Occasionally, before he was ill, he would show off by splitting kindling with a sizeable axe at lightening speed – I anticipating an impromptu amputation that never came. When I was learning to make pipes first time around (around 1995) I would often stay in the spare room – this was basically full of interesting objects – which was a somewhat surreal experience, though I can’t put my finger on exactly why. Perhaps it was that I’d be up by 10am, sitting quietly in an oddly quiet living room (any noise would incur wrath, playing whistle before 3pm was like poking a wasps nest with a stick) and hoping hoping hoping that we’d start some pipemaking before 3am. Fat chance.
I often drove by the foot of Peter’s road in later years, and sometimes moored the boat I lived on by the Micklethwaite swing bridge. The house was like a lit beacon – Peter was always in, and always had a big welcome. It is hard to describe how it feels to drive past now, which I do often, and look up and know that the fire is out for all time.
The old workshop
I believe that a previous workshop consisted of the lathe either in Peter’s bedroom or living room….
The workshop I was familiar with is now part of a new house. It was just over the road from 21 The Grange and had at one point been the village jail and quarantine. It was tiny, I think 8′ by 6′ and before he sold it, it had a Myford ML8 and ML7 and a workbench. There was years of wood dust on the floor – mainly ebony. Peter never wore a mask that I saw, and I think it is as likely to have been toxic wood dust as tobacco that triggered the lung cancer. He didn’t have the classic smokers form of it. Ronan Browne has subsequently told me he thinks it could have been Green Hermetite (used in reedmaking, and carcinogenic [I can’t find any evidence that it is]) that did it.
I once cleaned the workshop, and Augean task.
There was offensive graffiti scrawled on the wall, by notable pipers.
When I wasn’t present, and Peter was trying to find a tool to do something to someone’s pipes, he would curse me to high heaven and accuse me of “moving his tools around”. Nothing had a home, the workbench was 3 layers deep in pliers, cutters, tinsnips, whatever. It must have been annoying to share such a tiny space. I made one of those boards that tools hang from, with an outline of the tool for when it isn’t there. It made no difference. We were both as bad as each other. I’m better organised these days…
Peter had no real labour saving machinery. No gun drills, no polishing mop, no metal cutting shear. We would cut 1.2mm brass by hand with tinsnips. Brutal, I bled. Any deviation from a straight line would later have to be filed out. No disc or belt sander, no bandsaw with metal (or wood) blade. He worked like he was in 1850. He told me “I never tooled up properly, because that would have been to admit to myself that I was going to make another set of those bloody things!”
There was a sort of chromatograph (is that a word?) of ebony slurry splashes on the whitewash behind the ML8, each relating to a different length piece of wood being bored with a homemade, water lubricated longborer. The intensity of the line related to the frequency of that length being bored – a heavy line at 14.5″ relating to concert chanters.
The workshop had a smell. Sometimes I smell it and I’m back there, doing a job I don’t yet fully understand, hungry and awestruck.
Peter eventually cut up his bike licence and sent it back to the DVLA. “Please remove motorcycle entitlement before I kill myself” He once rode some old British bike back down from Scotland in cold weather, and was pulled over by the cops for having a silk scarf wrapped around his head, including over his eyes… He insisted on tying it over the policeman’s head to prove that he could “see out”. He was allowed to continue.
There was a very funny anecdote involving a crash and a Reliant Robin after which the Robin driver was left sitting on the road clutching a steering wheel, surrounded by bits of his car. Unfortunately I can’t recall how it went.
In the last few years Peter became an Aladdin (paraffin mantle lamps) expert. In fact this typifies the sort of person he was. Some people buy a few lamps. Peter bought about 14, and became an expert to the point where he was actually writing a report on the new design of mantle for the Aladdin company (based down the road in Keighley). I have two that I bought cheap from him, just basic brass jobs. He lit his living room with a pair of ornate glass lamps. I went down to the local paraffin supplier, a cash and carry garden center, after a few litres or the stuff. “I’m sorry but we’ve sold out. A gentleman came down yesterday and bought the lot.” It was Peter.
Peter made a few copies of an Eb flute he had. Paul McGrattan used one on his first recording, they were large holed and loud. I have made two myself. Peter was still voicing Maggots’ flute as they walked down to the bus stop… I recently met Paul and learned that Peter had done the classic of playing “your” flute down the telephone “sounds great eh why not come and collect it?” When Paul arrived there was no flute, Peter had been playing the Besson original down the phone. “Here’s the deal Paul (who was about 17) – you play the Besson, I make your flute. You stop playing, I stop making. Now PLAY (this about 2am)” The flute had to come back two weeks later for further work on the embouchure, but became one of the best flutes Paul has played, a feat for a maker who only made about 4 flutes.
The best story about late pipes
Peter was not always on schedule. This is my favorite story. A young chap puts down a deposit for a half set, which will be ready in a year or so. He rings up in 6 months or so –
“How are they getting on?”
“I’ve made to stock, and the bag is done”
A few months later
“How’s the pipes coming along?”
“Good. I’ve bored the drones and chanter”
A few months later
“How’s the pipes coming along?”
“Great – I’ve made the metalwork for the bass drone”
This continues for a while until the customer says
“Well, seeing as how you only have the chanter to turn down, I’ll come down in a week and you can do it while I’m there”
“Er, OK I suppose”
“The only thing is, I have two weeks off work. I’ll come to you for a week, and then I’ve promised me girlfriend to take her on holiday”
He arrives at Peter’s. The pipes are in the corner of the room, literally a pile of sticks! Not even rough turned.
“Don’t worry, I’ll mek em while you’re here – won’t take me long to do a half set. Piece of piss”
The customer, let’s call him Mark, lives on takeaway and has increasingly fraught conversations with the girlfriend from the call box at the bottom of the lane.
“Hi love. How’s your pipes coming on then?”
“Er, he still hasn’t actually started them”
“Oh. but we’re still going on holiday yeah?”
Eventually at 3am frenetic work commences. The pipes are coming together impressively fast, though the holiday (and probably the girlfriend, I didn’t ask) is toast. At some point during this process, there are some visitors. Two of these visitors are a couple. Think of them as Satanists, cos they were. Mark is 18 years old. During this social gathering, the male Satanist sits down by Mark. I imaging there was a fair bit of chat in the room so he’s not overheard. He says – and you’re not going to guess this –
“Would you like to go upstairs with my wife and f**k her? It’s OK, she wants to and I don’t mind. I’d stay down here”
“Er, you’re alright there thanks…”
The final part of this is wasp related. Peter is being annoyed in the house by a wasp. He suddenly shouts “I can’t be doing with that wasp pissing me off! I’m going to go over the road and turn that chanter, and if that wasp isn’t outside by the time I’m back……”
Mark evicts wasp. In an amazingly short time a chanter is thrust into his hands, it is a work of art. “There, what do you think of that?!” Mark peruses chanter very impressed. Suddenly Peter “Give it back here a sec” and snatches it. Mark – “what’s wrong?” Peter – “Oh nothing much. I’ve just put the bloody F key block on the wrong side!”
I later successfully keyed that chanter, though it was a bit odd using an F key that curled backwards.
Peter had a secret site at which he gathered boletus mushrooms, birch bolete and classic boletus edulis, or penny bun / cep. Not one to do anything by halves, he harvested kilos; boxes and boxes of dried boletus were distributed at the funeral. I also remember a time when a large portion of I think pig was hanging from hooks in the kitchen. Peter didn’t drink by the way, saying it was “too strong a drug”. He did however have a story of running up the Caledonian canal, working the locks, on a hot day. He drank a crate of some Scottish lager and “didn’t have a piss all day”. He landed in hospital with acute dehydration.
Peter was a keen watcher of this, and used to take me out into the next door garden to look for it on likely nights. He also once saw, on a Scottish beach, an unexplained visual phenomenon in the sky, it looked like “a three dimensional representation of a four dimensional shape” – there is a word for this that Peter knew, and I have forgotten. He was an avid reader of the science section of the Guardian, when there was one. One of his many friends wrote for it. This reminds me of the story about Bill, a customer of mine and Peter’s who sadly died not long ago. Bill was a lecturer at Cambridge in physics, and the recipient of an excited phone call from Peter, who claimed to be able to concentrate light using the reflective bore of a just reamed blackwood chanter. Bill said it was “unlikely” ie rubbish, but at 4am Peter was woken by Bill on the phone – “I couldn’t sleep thinking about what you said, so I went down the lab, did some reading and some experiments. It’s called a light cone!”
So, I am going to leave it here for today, but update this page as I get chance. There are so many many more stories, like the one where Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, sat at a piano, was nearly kicked out of a party by some anti clerical musician friend of Peter’s for “looking like a priest”. . .
Oh and I received this..