When my friend Jessie had a molar extracted last week, she was given strict orders to refrain from putting any pressure on her newly inflicted wound. This included sucking from a straw, spitting, and glass-blowing.
The latter was particularly problematic since this is part of her job and there happened to be a large order of Christmas balls to be filled posthaste. She would have to hire someone to do the blowing. Naturally, I was an obvious candidate (see previous post on odd jobs).
I was nervous about it at first. This is her art, her life. What if I did a bad job?
"It doesn't matter if you fuck it up," she said. "We'll just keep on doing it until you get it right."
This made me feel better until she added, "And anyway, a seven-year-old off the street could do it."
This was not reassuring. Just because a seven-year-old is capable, doesn't mean I will be. I have been known to botch the simplest of tasks. But I was willing to try, so the next day I went to the JT Inc. headquarters, located in the old Cadbury chocolate factory.
The studio was bright and clean, with flourishing plants and hundreds of glass rods everywhere.
Jessie adorned me with special purple glasses so my retinas would not be seared by the flame and a rubber tube with a mouthpiece on the end not unlike a woodwind instrument. Jessie sat at the torch and I, seated comfortably beside her, waited as she melted the end of a glass rod in the flame.
When the ball was big enough and hot enough, she brought it, glowing florescent orange, out of the flame and said, "Blow!" As instructed, I set my teeth on the plastic mouthpiece, sealed my lips around it and blew tiny spurts of air, harder or softer, depending on the instructions, which were delivered in this manner:
"Blow...blow...OK BLOW BLOW BLOW BLOW!!!! STOP!"
We soon devised a number system which corresponded to the required air pressure. It went like this:
"OK, I'm gonna need a four. Five. Four. Four. Two. One. STOP!"
It was imperative not to blow too much, or we would face the wrath of a giant dripping ball of molten glass. Daydreaming and discussion was kept to a minimum. But Jessie was right. With her guidance, my task was easy. She was the one doing all the hard work.
Once the ball was blown, it went back in the flame. She turned it this way and that to get it symmetrical, then proceeded to draw on the designs using thin sticks of coloured glass, which she simultaneously melted in the flame while rotating the ball. Then she plunged the whole business into the depth of the flame for a re-heat followed by a couple of blows ranging between a three and a four.
A final trip into the flame to even things out, melt on a little loop of glass where the string would later be tied, and heat the glass on the other side of the ball so that it could be pulled into a perfect, tapered tip. Into the kiln they went for some overnight annealing. Et voila!
I can now update my professional CV to include Christmas ball blowing.