I have in the last few days got my hands on my very good friend Michael Hilliar's book.
All that Glitters : A life , a brutally honest account of his life, he writes " I watching as would a spy, an ornithologist closely observing the species... And that is the attitude he takes in writing this book. Hilliar is a Northern Prod born of an English war hero father and a staunchly loyalist mother, who happens to earn his living as a silversmith.
The book details his life in the silver trade in Kilkenny, Glencolmcille and Dublin. I just happen to know the majority of the people from the silver trade mentioned in the book. But to enjoy this book requires no knowledge of Ireland or the silver trade. No more than I needed to know anything about coffee or The Yemen to enjoy The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers.
I do like the references to borax powder and boric acid. They will not affect the ordinary reader in the slightest, but are like seasoning to me . And while on the subject of borax I find it impossible to buy any in Dublin now ,due in no small part, I think, to kids using it as an ingredient in slime. The girl in the chemists told me yesterday she thought you needed a licence to sell it....phew, Holy God ! Borax is used as a flux for soldering silver.
You would imagine that people working with precious metals gold, silver and jewels would have salubrious places to work in. I am afraid that was not the case and Hilliar describes the kips we worked in. Health and Safety were foreign countries in the days that he writes about. I worked in one workshop where we had a vat of cyanide about eight foot long, by two foot wide and four foot deep, which often enough overflowed onto the floor, we all had to pass by. At the bottom of the stairs was an open sack of cyanide cubes about an inch square each. The boss used to show us how to harden the face of a planishing hammer by placing a lump of cyanide on the face and heating it until it impregnated the metal. The book highlights the skulduggery and shenanigans that are par for the course in the jeweller and silversmithing trade. One of his old flames says.
"You look really weird, what are you doing ?"
" I wish I knew sometimes; these are silver rings I've made and am now finishing."
" So you're a jeweller."
I know what he means, this exchange brings to my mind that new bloody awful word " crafter"
Hilliar was born during the 2nd World War so this book covers the period from the nineteen forties up until the present. With his unique vision, you get a view of Ireland both north and south as he sees it . His insights into life, love, sex , violence, politics, and religion are not for the faint hearted or the easily shocked, but for the rest of us it's a great read.
I wondered would I still be his friend after I read what he said about me in this book, The answer is a resounding yes, yes like Molly Bloom utters at the end of Ulysses.
Before I got Hilliar's book I was reading a thriller, which I devour by the barrow load. Well when I picked it up again, after reading his book, it felt so inconsequential, like a dull cracker
compared to a four course cordon bleu meal.
The book can be purchased from Amazon - click here