Tag Archives: japan

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, by Natasha Pulley, takes place in London, but a London of the late 1800s, a time when the Irish were rebelling against British rule. Nathaniel “Thaniel” Steepleton works at one of the government offices as a telegraph operator. His life changes, however, when a watch he mysteriously finds in his room at a boarding house saves his life from a bomb by an alarm going off at just the right time. This begins a long and twisting journey in which he befriends the maker of the watch, Keita Miro, a Japanese nobelman, inventor and one-time assistant to an ambassador. He also crosses paths with one Grace Carrow, an ambitious young woman wishing to embark on a career in science — she wishes to prove the existence of the aether — but is thwarted because, during that time, women could not pursue such careers.

The story revolves around the relationships between Thaniel, Keita, and Grace and is devoted to developing these characters. Keita, in particular, harbors a powerful secret that drives much of the plot. Along the way, Pulley evokes a London of over 100 years ago, having done her research on the people and places of 19th century Britain. Her use of language is very adept, using phrases such as “the part of himself he had amputated still twinged somtimes,” to describe how Thaniel feels about having to have given up piano to get a real job, and “the spare room was crooked, as though it had planned to be L-shaped but changed its mind at the last minute,” to describe Thaniel’s room. This kind of word play makes reading this novel a joy.

The central theme of the story revolves around fate. Why do things happen? What is the role of luck or happenstance on those events. Why and how do we end up where we go in life? Pulley has invented a clever fictional device to drive her exploration of these ideas, while also driving an exciting plot, one that becomes a thriller near the end.

Not only does Pulley explore questions of fate, but she also examines the role of science in society. Grace is a typical scientist, awkward, socially inept, and driven to understand. At one point, one of the characters tells her “Your science can save a man’s life, but imagination makes it worth living.” I might quibble with the implication that science excludes imagination (as implied by Richard Feynman, science requires great imagination, more so than many other fields as it is constrained by and must be consistent with reality). However, the point is that there are multiple facets of a full life and all are part of a life worth living.



A couple of comments on toys…

My wife’s dad has a nice woodworking shop, which he uses to make great bowls and boxes.  He let me play with the lathe a little bit.  I thought tops would be a relatively easy thing to make so I took a stab.  I had a basic idea in mind when I started, but as I turned the wood, something else developed.  The one on the left was my first attempt.  It was sort of what I had in mind as a more traditional top, but then I put different grooves and such as I went along.  I wasn’t really thinking well, though, and separated it from the lathe before sanding it.  It turns out it is a lot easier to sand something like this if you keep it on the lathe and let it spin as you sand it.  Same with finishing.  My father-in-law had a finish that you apply as the lathe is spinning.  It heats up a wax that is part of the finish that makes the finish deeper and more even.  With those things in mind, I made the second top, which is somewhat simpler in overall design, except for the depression at the top.  It is also wider, with more mass distributed further from the top axis, which I think is why it likely spins a lot longer than the first one.

I made these for my daughter, who I think is a little bit too young to really care.  Her cousin, though, who is 3 and a half, really enjoyed watching them, even if she couldn’t get them to spin.  It makes me want to get a lathe.  It seems there are lots of cool things you can do with just that one tool.
At left are are a couple of finger puppets I got from my godmother when I was a kid.  I don’t remember playing with them, but I remember them being around when I was older.  Some of them, especially the alligator, are a little worse for wear, but overall they’ve held up very well, considering they are maybe 35 years old or so and have not been treated in the most kind manner (after all, I was a kid!).  I just find them great.  The expressions are awesome (a buck-tooth lion?!?) and while the coloring is simple — all solid for each one — the shapes are very nicely designed.

I don’t know much about these.  All they say on the bottom are “Made in Japan,” something you don’t see on toys very often any more.  I don’t know if Japan used to be a bit like China is now, the maker of all things like this.  I’m really curious to know more about them.  Were they part of some bigger set?  Were they some sort of promotional item?  Anyone know?

They just seem so great in their simplicity, the kind of thing that we just don’t see much of any more.  Sure, they are plastic, but they don’t make any noises, they don’t take any batteries (my daughter was trying to squeeze them, either trying to get them to squirt like her bath toys or make noises like some of her stuff animals).  I just really like what they represent to me of a somewhat simpler time when toys left something to the imagination.  I hope that my daughter enjoys them when she is a little bit older (those are her feet in the background, next to my wife’s).