I have to confess something.  My life and my environment are really not that suited to this lapidary hobby of mine!  I live in a small apartment in London – no garden/shed, tiny kitchen.  It’s a nice place and I can’t grumble (well, not much) but there really isn’t much room to be messy!  And hey – as we ALL know, being messy is one of the great and glorious inevitabilities of this business.  Grinding, polishing, rough rocks hanging around in piles, half completed things on the shelf, spare grinding wheels . . . it’s just unaccountable that the designers of your basic little second floor London apartment never thought to take these things into account!  But the time came when I added a new menace to the dwellers in this city – a small rock saw.  Yes – I finally bought one, after so many years of vacillating.  It’s old news now, I know, but when it first arrived it was something very alien indeed.  It’s only a small machine – a tile-cutter-like thing sold by one of the UK’s leading suppliers of rock-hounding stuff.

But frankly, I am scared of this machine.  A brief test revealed the potential chaos – filling the reservoir, switching the machine on for a moment and immediately running like hell from the fountain that erupted from it.  I would estimate that this seemingly harmless little machine has an approximate three metre radius of potential ruination.  So even my far from ideal kitchen is no use now.  Turning that machine on in there would probably cost me both my soul and my deposit!  So there was only one thing to do.  I mounted the machine over the bath on a board and got to work.  Goggles: on – earplugs: in – nervous guilt about my friends upstairs: stamped on.  With a certain wry look around and a quick check to make sure that I hadn’t left the front door open, I stripped off my clothes and prepared to do battle – and I have to say, this was quite remarkable foresight on my part.

I had a small box of whole Lierbachtal thundereggs that have been hanging round, and I sorted out a handful and took them with me into the bathroom.

The design of this machine reminds me rather of one of those trick boxes – press the button and a precisely placed jet of water hits you dead between the eyes.  All I can say is that the designers of this thing must have thought long and hard about positions and angles, in order to make sure that, no matter how hard I try, it is impossible to actually use the machine without positioning myself in the path of a jet of water.  I turn it on and immediately I am engulfed in a rain storm, but there is no time to worry about that.  I am all fired up with urgency and I just grab a rock and . . . well, cut it.  I am stunned at how easily it slices through solid agate.  I am stunned to watch a spray of mud cover me, the wall and the bath with a brown milky way.  I am stunned at the deafening, unearthly howl the machine makes as the blade eats through rock . . .

And then, with a little rush, the rock comes into two halves.  I stare at it dumbly – somehow the fact that I can’t see or hear has dulled my brain and I just reach for another on autopilot.  Must . . . just . . . cut . . . rock . . . end . . . noise . . . think . . . later . . .

I sit there in that milky, muddy rain, trying to keep control of the semi-useless splash guard, trying to see what the hell I am doing as my goggles slowly turn opaque.  Tiny flakes of rock ping against my chest.  My hair is drenched from water somehow landing on me from above.  My fingers feel as though they belong to someone else, shocked by the effort, precision and vibration.  But a few very intense minutes later, my fumbling hand can find no more rocks to cut and I switch off again.  A numbed and shocked silence descends.  I am still too traumatised to do anything except brush away drops of water and blink.

What the hell just happened?

Fortunately the bath is right there for me to shower away the coating of homemade clay that covers me and I quickly put the machine somewhere safe and step in.  You have to visualise this (or maybe don’t, please don’t!!).  I am covered from top to toe in mud and staring blearily through almost opaque goggles.  I look as though I have been mud wrestling!  If I was a sexy girl instead of a fat Englishman, I could make a fortune from this image.

As I drip out of the bathroom, I think to myself that maybe I need to rethink my approach to all this.  Like study accountancy instead.

But even so – over the last few minutes something magical has happened.  I was so caught up in this wet tornado that I hardly realised it at the time, but there is a small pile of thunderegg halves on my desk.  And as I sit there, the realisation dawns . . . I have cut my first thunderegg.  I have actually done it at last.  I have taken an uninteresting dusty white lump and cut it open to reveal . . . magic!  That nobody else has ever seen.  Ever.

And they are nice!  You know what?  These are charming little stones!

And then I am bounding upstairs (I was dressed again at this point, I would like to explain) and banging on my friend’s door.  “You’ve got to come and see this!”

“Yeah yeah David,” she says.  “A pile of thundereggs.  Just like all the others filling this room from floor to ceiling.”

“No no – you don’t understand!  This is . . . special!”

And now I am sitting here . . . my hair feels frizzy and heavy, my skin from top to toe is strangely dry and smooth.  Kind of nice.  For some mysterious reason, my legs ache ridiculously.  Of course, I polished them – all of them.  Even the one that proved a rosy-coloured mudball – the specimen that had no agate in.  And now I have them here before me.  They say you never forget your first time – and these are my babies!  Maybe practicality will get the better of me one day – but for now I am staring at these almost dewy eyed.  I resolve here and now that I will keep these, together, as a little set – inseparable, come what may.