THE FIRST IN A SHORT SERIES ABOUT HOW WE SHIP OUR GLASS
We all know that the term ‘shipping’ derives from the time when stuff was sent across the sea in boats, right? Well, according to one particular section of that authoritative, and I’m sure much-respected, online oracle, Wikipedia, it appears that it might also have less to do with boxes and bubble wrap and more to do with love and romance. I quote:
‘Shipping’, initially derived from the word ‘relationship’, is the desire by fans of film, literature or television for two or more people, either real people or fictional characters, to be in a relationship, romantic or otherwise.
Connemara Blue’s relationship (or should that be ’ship) with shipping began in 2011, when a lovely man from the United States pointed to a large (and quite expensive) fused glass wall panel hung on the back wall of the shop and said, “Ship that to Oklahoma, would you?” My reply was, naturally, “Of course, sir…” It was only when he had paid and actually left the shop that the panic set in.
I might as well point out now that at that time my experience of real shipping extended to sharing the ferry to Bofin with a parcel or two. I had certainly never, ever, before sent any fragile, fused glass anywhere - by post, courier or even carrier pigeon.
From that moment on, the learning curve was - to say the least - vertiginous. (We’ve since established a very happy and satisfactory ’ship with FedEx, the international couriers, but in those innocent early days this had yet to flourish.)
So, back to panic stations. Phone calls to Irish couriers induced a number of interesting responses. From the other end of the phone these ranged from inaudible but discernible shoulder shrugs, through lengthy whistles of in-taken breath, to tangible winces and howls of hysterical laughter. This initial part of the ritual of rejection completed, thus began the spoken dismissals: “You want us to do what?”, “Ship glass?”, “Oh, art glass, you say?!”, “And to where?”, and “Are you serious?” were among the more restrained and empathetic rejoinders. The reaction of most couriers to a perfectly serious enquiry about the availability of insurance for the trip was, let’s just say, less than enthusiastic.
The question of ‘by whom’ the glass would be conveyed hung in the air for some days while I assembled my thoughts about the question of ‘in what’. A short while ago I had somehow acquired an old wooden packing crate that had been used to transport some paintings from the US to Clifden for an exhibition. The crate, made of stout plywood, was constructed sufficiently well to ready it for use as foundations, perhaps for a small block of flats. I spent the next week cutting it down to what I thought was an acceptable size to ensure safe passage for the glass panel, allowing for lots of bubble wrap, etc.
My glass making abilities probably do outstrip my woodworking skills, but I think I made an acceptable stab at cutting the old crate down. I lined it with expanded polystyrene and, having swathed the delicate glass panel in lots of bubble wrap, I gingerly placed it inside the crate and screwed down the lid. Job done! Except, that is, for the little matter of how it would get to America.
In a much-belated flash of inspiration I thought of the post office. Tom the post-master looked mournfully back out at me from behind his protective glass, his head slightly inclined as if in sympathy at a family bereavement. “I have a leaflet here that tells you the acceptable sizes and yours is, well, just too big, you see…” For a split second it appeared that he was grateful for the glass that separated us. My face must have told him he needed it. The crate just looked at me and sniggered.
Leaflet in hand, I left for the shop, there to regroup. Sure enough, the crate that I had artfully reduced in size to fit my glass wall panel was a couple of inches (well, several, inches) too big for An Post, the Irish postal system. Overcoming the temptation to wipe that insolent little smirk off its face, I set about hacking the crate about once more to render its dimensions more acceptable in the eyes of An Post. Fortunately, there was still quite a bit of leeway to enable me to chop more bits off it.
Just as double and triple-checked measurements of its length, width and height were about to accompany me and the crate defiantly back to the post office, the next problem popped into my head. What did the crate weigh? I had no idea – and no scales capable of ascertaining this crucial bit of information. My crate and I could be ejected from the post office once more for being too heavy! As I paused, thinking about this, one hand on the crate, it glowered at me accusingly from the back of my jeep, as if asking, “What is it now?”
Suddenly, I remembered taking my dog to the local veterinary practice and being asked to put her on the scales there before seeing the vet. The receptionist, Nollaig, looked at me quizzically when I asked her to use the scales. She stood up and leaned over the counter, staring at the floor in front of me, as if she thought she might have missed me bringing the dog in. Seeing no dog, she looked up again at me. There was disbelief in her eyes, clearly thinking I wanted to weigh myself. I quickly said, “Oh, no, no, it’s for my crate…”, which, as the crate was still sulking in the jeep, did not seem to help her much.
Anyway, Nollaig kindly agreed to the crate and I using her doggy scales and, the slightly embarrassing weigh-in complete, the crate blithely followed me back to the shop so that we could do some postal cost calculations together. Knowing the crate’s vital statistics - and now that most private datum, its weight - enabled me to confirm that it would, as I thought, cost an arm and indeed a leg to post.
After a decent amount of time had elapsed, my crate and I showed up together at the post office again. The post master’s eyes rose to the heavens and an audible sigh ensued. I chose not to use the self-deprecatory gag that had been forming lately – the one about my never having had complaints about being ‘too big’ before, etc. I thought you probably had to be in the mood for that, and the post master clearly wasn’t.
Curt exchanges took place, many forms were filled and much cash moved from my side of the counter to the other (a familiar event in the post office). At last, my friend the crate and I had to say our farewells. My final backward glance at it as it disappeared behind the post office counter with Tom was almost wistful. We had formed a bond, that crate and I. An indissoluble closeness, borne of the knocks and bruises gained through the shared experiences of our brief – but quite intense - life together.
Now that’s what I call ’shipping.
Postscript: My friend the crate has found new life as a small occasional table in Oklahoma and, while we no longer correspond, I am certain of its happiness in the arms of its new owners. What's that you ask, the glass wall panel? I’m sure that probably got there safely too.