My chess set was a challenge.

By Rob Smallwood.

It commenced, as many things do, with an accident. A small glass chess set, kept in the kitchen, suffered an assault by a panic stricken cat which being nosey, a genetic feature we are all familiar with, took flight with the dog in pursuit .

The idea to make an original  chess set therefore came as a direct result of, forgive the pun, a CATastrophe.   My working life started at 15  as an apprentice jockey, weighingRob Smallwood with his chess set around 6 stones, in a rest and recuperation racing stables  where a horse with the racing name R 44, owned  and named after one of Mr Raymond`s (Teezy Weezy) fragrances, became my charge and I called him Jim.

My father had other ideas. Being a Chartered Engineer and one of the two finest engineers  I have ever known,  enrolled me as a draughtsman apprentice with the BSA making guns and motorcycles and I hated every minute of it. Eventfully I was reading the Birmingham Evening Mail and spotting an advert which intrigued me for youths-in-training with the Post Office Telecommunications (GPO). I joined them  and completed  their excellent training scheme before moving on to join GEC.

My working background therefore is mainly in electronics and telecommunications. As a Project Engineer with GEC being responsible for several power station systems including the Nuclear Oldbury On Seven, several hospitals, government MOD sites and the National Exhibition Centre Birmingham, I was invited by my stepfather to take over his precision grinding company which offered a service mainly to the aerospace  industry.

We were approached one day by a company called Cambridge Microfab who sent us samples and asked us if we could meet their specification. The specification was to centreless  grind  small sample spindles to one tenth of one-thousandth of an inch and a four micro-inch finish, which is as smooth as glass. We were  judged the top potential supplier and helped by  being Rolls Royce approved. I ran the business for 25 years before retiring to  Northern Cyprus with my wife Sheila  who had acted as my excellent secretary for ten years and even  better wife for 53 years.

 So it was from this background I decided to make my chess set aRob's chess piecesnd prompted by my 11 year old grandson, over on holiday from the UK,  who spotted a small chess set made from glass in our kitchen. He said give me a game grand-dad  so we started playing , and thinking he can`t be brilliant , after five moves I surrendered my Queen and played for stalemate which I managed to achieve.

Some months later we went to the UK and while we were away the catastrophe occurred. The idea to make a replacement chess set began to  take root and many options were considered including size, shape, configuration, materials and above all it had to be unique. Being a precision  engineer and working in the unfamiliar fired clay presented a challenge since the medium in itself is an in-exact science as is precision centreless grinding where 1000 of an inch out of tolerance is to an engineer, not acceptable. After 12 months with all the templates for the individual chess pieces made so they would match and most pieces completed, disaster.

An emergency stop on the way to see my pottery mentor revealed all smashed on the rear floor. So, back to square one, but not quite since I now had twelve months of experience  under my belt and the result 12 months later was worth waiting for.   

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