When I was a child, one of the household chores that fell to me was cleaning the silver and brass.
Back then, we had horse brasses hung round the fireplace, candlesticks, a brass bugle, assorted epns cutlery, a silver rose-bowl, a self-pouring (pump action) teapot and a couple of bon bon dishes.
There were also a number of more exotic knick-knacks: Chinese silver jam spoons, a pair of Indian bronze vases and an elephant bell. But perhaps my favourite piece was a little round brass Berber table top that balanced on hinged wooden legs.
Seeing it propped up on the garden seat today, waiting to be polished, I wondered how on earth it had managed to survive my childhood unscathed – the brass is mounted on a wooden frame and it would have been simple enough to attach a leather strap without ruining it as a table.
Because of the engraving, it wouldn’t have worked as the smooth polished shield Perseus used to defeat Medusa, but it still seems to me to have huge potential for dazzling the enemy or for sending signals to warn of treachery or to summon reinforcements, and I am amazed it was never transformed into a magic shield.
While I ponder that puzzle, I think it’s time for a poem. The idea of using the sun to send messages has reminded me of this old piece:
There are spies in the woods.
In the early morning I have seen
fine tripwires strung from tree to tree,
caught sight of silent messages
heliographed between rain-spattered leaves,
heard them signal to each other:
bird calls echoing through the mist.