The little things

With all the huge projects we have had happening at Hardwick this summer it is easy for the little things to get glossed over, however the little things are so important as well. Our weekly clean on a Monday, daily cleans on Wednesdays to Sundays, checking for pests, monitoring environmental conditions, managing volunteers, talking to visitors and millions more tasks still have to happen even when we are preoccupied by opening exhibitions or installing art work!

We have achieved an amazing amount this season aside from all the bigger things I have been blogging about. So hear are some of the smaller tasks I have been doing recently.

We finished the Annual Deep Clean!

A big deal that unfortunately we were too busy to really celebrate. In contrast, we didn’t get our Deep Clean finished last year before we closed at the end of the season so this is an¬†amazing achievement for the team. Thanks to good planning and our wonderful team of staff and volunteers we got a huge amount of the Deep Clean finished over the closed season, and we have kept up the momentum until we had checked everything on our list off!

Cleaning the Over-mantle in Miss Webb's Room

Cleaning the Over-mantle in Miss Webb’s Room

We’re half way through our summer works program!

The ‘summer works’ are the conservation cleaning tasks that happen several times a year, not just once in the Deep Clean. Things like cleaning bed flats and chairs that get too much dust landing on them for us to leave them. We split all our summer works into the things that need to happen at the start of summer, and those which we won’t do until the summer ends and our visitors numbers drop. Thanks to the fact that we had already finished our Deep Clean it meant we could focus our effort on these task, and last week we finished the first half of our list.

Cleaning the velvet cushions in the Long Gallery

Cleaning the velvet cushions in the Long Gallery

Bits Boxes.

One of my personal projects has been to revitalise the Hardwick Bits Box. I did a similar project at Powis, however this was a much bigger undertaking! Where Powis’ Bits were already in organised boxes, the Hardwick’s Bits Boxes were two huge crates full of years of bits! So my job involved going through the bits, cataloging every one, writing labels for each and putting them in a bag, putting these bags into location specific boxes. Believe me when I say, there are only so many ways you can describe a broken piece of wood!

Before . . .

Before . . .

The new and improved bits box system allows the bits to be easily identified if ever there comes a time when we have a conservator in who could re-attach some for us. As a result of my work several bits have already been returned when we had our furniture conservator here for one of our big projects. Now I have overhauled the system hopefully it shouldn’t get in that state again, so I have helped out the future Conservation Assistants of Hardwick Hall (you’re welcome! ūüėõ )The final part of this task is for me to just finish typing up all the bits records, all 340-odd of them!

. . . and After!

. . . and After!

Felting the Still Room.

A small task that has needed doing for a while was to put pieces of felt underneath the objects that have been added to the still room. If you have even noticed when you go around Trust properties, often objects that sit on pieces of furniture have a layer of something between the two. This protects not only the surface an objects sits on, but also the base of the object.

A felt pad for a pot

A felt pad for a pot

The protective layer can be several things, felt or cork pieces, and type of foam called plasterzote or a thin type of clear plastic like laminate. I chose to use beige felt for the Still Room as it blends nicely with the paint colour of the surfaces. For most of the objects it was just a case of cutting circles that fit the base closely so the visual effect is not spoiled. The only tricky part was when it came to cutting the felt for the fish shaped mould!

The Fish

The Fish

More 50 things!

Last summer we decided to adapt the ’50 things to do before you’re 11 and 3/4′ so that we could bring some of the activities into the Hall. This year we decided to do the same, but not to make things easy for ourselves we wanted to chose different activities so any children visiting us again would get a new experience. I love this idea, and anything that gets us to look at how people interact with the Hall differently! We have barefoot walks on our lovely new matting in the High Great Chamber (something I love to do), caves to explore, dens to be built, birds to be spotted, and my personal favourite ‘catch a falling leaf’. Each leaf has an interesting Hardwick fact written on to be discovered, which I really enjoyed writing as I learnt something new as well! This particular ‘thing’ was a real team effort with the original idea coming from Sadie, me researching the facts, Jen practicallising the idea and writing the facts onto the leaves and Claire going over the words in black pen. The finished product almost looks like a work of art!

Our leafy installation

Our leafy installation

So there we go, just some of the other wonderful things that have been keeping me occupied. But don’t think that just because these are all now finished I shall be sitting on my bottom eating cake (that only happens at tea break, honest!) we have so many other projects in various staged of fruition at Hardwick, getting these done just frees up my time for me to get stuck into the next task! Nothing beats the satisfaction of getting thing done!

Conservation Week

We Chaps have been taking a break this week from both the Summer and Winter clean works programs to educate and entertain the public with what exactly it means to be a Conservation Assistant at Hardwick Hall. Last weekend I went back to Huddersfield for a catch up with college friends, we realised that the last time all of us had been together would have been about four years ago! A lot has changed in that time. Instead of talking about teachers, A-Level results and University we were talking jobs, salaries and weddings! Very odd. Once again I got asked the very familiar question of ¬†‘So what is it you actually do?’.

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I get this question all the time, from family and friends who know I work for the National Trust, but don’t really know more than that. And the usual response I get when I tell people I am a Conservation Assistant is ‘ a what?’. Explaining exactly what I do is not that easy either, my job is so varied. I either burble on about all the different things I do, or try to sum it up and end up really underselling it. When people do have an idea of what we do it is either a bit of an under-estimation ‘Oh, so you’re a cleaner then?’ or we get a brilliant promotion without the pay-rise ‘You restore the tapestries!’.

This is one of the reasons I love having this blog, if people are really interested I point them in this direction and they can see for themselves what I get up to, I find the pictures help. It is also one of the main aims of Conservation week, showing the public what our jobs entail and just how much work goes in to looking after these magnificent places! The feedback we get is fantastic.WP_000804 (2)

People are often really shocked by how much work we do, how careful we have to be and how much detail we go into. Often these responses are accompanied by people commenting on how rewarding it must be (it really is!) and even the occasional appreciative remark. I love seeing the shock on people’s faces when we talk about everything we do, it makes me realise how hard we work everyday and I feel really accomplished. It is also really lovely to hear people tell us to ‘keep us the good work’ or comment on the standard of the Hall.

Education people about what we do will also hopefully help them to realise what is achievable and why something are they way they are, like the comment about ‘dusty textiles’. It is really difficult for us to hear criticism like this when we spend each and every day working hard, and we care so much about the Hall and collection. Weeks like this will help inform people, so they can rest assured that whatever it looks like we definitely do not neglect the collection.

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I really love talking to the public about my job, and sharing all the interesting things I get to do, so I have really enjoyed this week. We have been running Conservation Tours this week and I back-stopped one on thursday. Hearing the volunteer leading it tell the visitors about my job was really quite cool. Their reactions reminded me yet again how lucky I am to work here, and talking about the things that are now second nature to me showed how much we are responsible for on a day-to-day basis.

The Conservation Team had a table set up in the Long Gallery all week, where we invited visitors to come and meet us, and have a chat. All week we have been telling people about what we do, daily, weekly and on an annual basis. We have also been offering advice to people with antiques of their own in need of TLC. The main topics of conversation have been the rush matting, pests and the tapestries. I collected a few sample pests for the visitors to have a look at, and think I may have weirded out one or two people with my passion for pests!

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All through-out the week we have been delivering talks about various elements of conservation. I have been giving a talk on the Gideon Tapestries in the Long Gallery. I can’t believe how much I enjoy writing and giving talks and tours now, when only a few years ago doing the same at uni was practically torture and I was always so nervous. Today you struggle to get me to shut up once I start going on about something conservation related! Which you may have noticed in these long rambly blog posts.

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Hopefully this week will have enlightened a few visitors to what conservation means, and how much work goes on behind the scenes at Trust properties. Conservation is such a prominent issue at Hardwick; there are always textiles away in workshops and the issue is getting more pressing with increasing visitor numbers. If we can inform our visitors more about the issues it will make our jobs much easier, and more understanding will hopefully lead to more opportunities for us too. I hope a few people will go away looking at heritage properties differently now, and will be more informed about why certain decisions are made. Even is not, we have had a lovely week out on the front lines, and are looking forward to doing it all again in September!

Dreadful Dust!

Firstly I must apologise for the gap between posts lately, I have not been my usual bouncy self at the moment as I have torn a muscle in my side (ouch!). How did I do this you may be wondering? Was it thought my physical and active job? No. How about my fairly dangerous hobby of Medieval re-enactment and sword play? Nope. Then how? Coughing! You heard it here folks, coughing is bad for your health! So I was unfortunately off work most of last week resting and repairing and therefore didn’t have much to report (other than five days with my feet up made me feel a little stir-crazy!).

This week however I am back at work and busy again (in a very careful manner) and today we have been tackling a huge problem of Hardwick’s. Unfortunately we do get a few comments about dust levels in the Hall from some visitors. We had one a couple of weeks ago that at first caught the House Team by surprise. Dust!? In our Hall? But we dust almost everyday, there is no way there is that much dust in our Hall. Then when we were told the visitor was talking about dust on our textiles we all went; ‘well yeah, we know about that!’. Not because we know and don’t care, of course we care! But because we are already doing all we can do.

Uh oh, some one touched!

Uh oh, some one touched!

Although we do dust the Hall practically every day, there are many objects that we do not touch on a day-to-day basis. We have objects that are cleaned weekly, bi-weekly, three months, six months, annually, every so often, when they need doing or as little as once in 400 years if you’re talking about our Gideon tapestries! What some people do not know is that over-cleaning an object can be just as damaging as under-cleaning it, and therefore we must draw a balance between the two.

The Dining Room table after two weeks

The Dining Room table after two weeks

However this balance is getting harder and harder to maintain. Hardwick Hall gets around 150,000 visitors a year, five years ago that number was less than 100,000. Although we love showing our house to more and more of the public this dust generate lots of added dust! The dust at Hardwick has been analysed and found to be around %50 made up from human skin (ick), so the more visitors the more of this is going to be coming into the Hall.

Me cleaning one of the velvet cushions

Me cleaning one of the velvet cushions

A close up of the fine suction tool

A close up of the fine suction tool

You would think the answer to more dust would be simple: more cleaning! We dust most of the flat surfaces in the hall daily when we are open and do a deeper clean on a weekly basis during our closed days. Then we have the deep annual clean where pretty much everything gets done, and a Summer Works Program as well. We cannot clean a lot of the objects in the collection more than we are already doing so, especially the textiles where every act of cleaning is also removing some of the fibers and therefore damaging the object. This is why we have to leave certain objects looking dusty, it’s not that we are neglecting them, we are looking after them by leaving them.

A lovely line of dust on the base of the stool

A lovely line of dust on the base of the stool

Today we were taking the dust off the 17th Century red velvet stools that live in the Long Gallery, they have been looking pretty dusty lately and are part of our Summer Clean Program. This is the rota of items we clean during the open season, the objects that are sturdy enough to be cleaned every three or six months. We clean this with a museum-vac on a low suction through an ironing net, and then use a fine tool on the edges to get as much dust of as we can, without pulling any of the fibers up. The process will take two of us the best part of two days, and requires a lot of patience. It is very relaxing work and gives you plenty of time to think (for instance today I was rehearsing this blog post). However I do not think it will be long until the poor stools, which sit on the visitor route, will be dusty again as we are gearing up for the busiest part of the year!

The stools in the High Great Chamber

The stools in the High Great Chamber

We are looking at different ways to prevent against dust without having to increase cleaning, such as with the stool in the High Great Chamber. These beautiful stools and there fabulous embroidery are very delicate, and also right on the visitor route, so they get dusty. However we cannot clean them more often than we already do, so we are trailing putting a voil over the stool. The idea is that now the dust will land on the voil rather than on the velvet of the stool, and the voil can be cleaned much more regularly, as it is modern fabric. However this solution does change the look of the stools, so it is something we have to weigh up against the look of the dust, and the damage of cleaning.

The voil on the left hand stool

The voil on the left hand stool

So when you go visiting heritage properties and you see a bit of dust, it is not usually a sign of neglect but a sign of a difficult juggling act the conservation team are trying to balance every day. At Hardwick we are working very hard to educate visitors about the work that goes in to looking after our Hall, with our ‘Conservation Station’ Activity Trail, the ‘Last One Out’ Tours we run daily, and ‘Conservation Week’ which we are running next week.

I am really looking forward to Conservation Week, as it will involve more talking to the public, which I love. The Conservation Assistants will be out and about in the Hall all day chatting about what our job entails and answering questions. We will also be delivering talks, that I have help write, on conservation issues and projects we are undertaking. It should be good fun and hopefully we will have lots of interest!

Day to Day Differences

After a series of very busy weeks we have had a couple of almost normal weeks at Hardwick. While Gideons week, and all the prep, was really interesting work and good fun it did disrupt our normal routines!

A normal weeks at Hardwick Hall means we are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and we use this time to do a deep weekly clean. Since there are four of us in the team two people take the top floor, and one each on the middle and ground floors. These are our responsibility for the rest of the week then. We vacuum the whole floor, except for any rugs, and then we give it a deep dust.

Hardwick Hall

A deep weekly dust consist of dusting pretty much all objects in the house, unless they are gilded or covered in textiles. Flat surfaces are dusted with a blue duster and carved areas, chair and table legs are dusted with a banister brush and so are textured surfaces like many of the large traveling chests we have.

At Powis Castle since we were open every day, but the Castle is smaller than Hardwick the routine was different in several ways. Monday was deep vacuum day, when every where is vacuumed, not just the visitor route like other days. Windows and fireplaces are also vacuumed, as these areas let in a lot of dirt from outside. Mondays is also when the door mats are taken outside and beaten.

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Tuesday is deep dust day, as Powis has a lot of different materials out in the house, and as the show rooms are smaller than at Hardwick there is usually more time to do a somewhat deeper clean. At Powis we used two different dusters (one especially for polished wood and one for everything else), a banister brush and a set of pony hairs. There was a different pony hair for each different type of material; copper/brass, ceramics, wood and gilding.

At Hardwick once the weekly clean is finished (usually by the end of Monday) we continue with our annual deep clean. This is the winter clean, but since at Hardwick it continues all year round it seems more fitting to call it the annual clean. I really enjoyed the winter clean at Powis, which we did during the winter even though we were not fully closed, once we had cleaned the rooms all the items got covered up and they got a rest. However at Hardwick since we are open the rooms do not get the same rest, but we do get to talk to the public while we are working, and share with them what we are doing.

Out front of HH

Different types of collections require different care but the basic techniques are the same, through and careful work to give all the objects a deep clean, and checking them for any deterioration or damage. Working through the winter clean is a nice way to get to know the collection, and expand my skills base and experience.

Mornings before opening at Hardwick involve vacuuming the Entrance Hall and both sets of stairs, if time allows. Then we dust the flat surfaces around the house, but we do not usually have time to do any more. Schools are often in at half ten, or tours at half eleven so we have to be quick! Even more so on weekends when it is just one person in!

The roof of HH

At Powis mornings involved vacuuming the visitor route on each floor, and doing a quick dust of the rooms, changing how much we did depending on how much time we had. It is important that whatever routines are in place they are flexible, every day is different so we try to do what we can, but it is no use us bending over backwards to attempt the impossible when we simple don’t have enough time to do everything!

Afternoons at both Powis and Hardwick are spent continuing with project work. At Hardwick when we are all in we spend the afternoons continuing the deep annual clean, in front of the public. If not, I have been working on a project to make character biographies for our Living the History volunteers. These will be displayed when the vols are in, so the public will have a bit of background info about who they might meet in the Hall.

The HGC HH

The main difference I have found between Hardwick and Powis are all the tours and talks that are always taking place at Hardwick. Every day is different depending on which volunteers have singed up to come and do which talks ect. And the House Team offer our ‘Last One Out’ Tour most days, which I really enjoy giving.

This week I also took my mum, my gran and a good friend round Hardwick. My mum has visited many times before, Bess is one of her role models and my mum is one of the main reasons I have the interests and passions I do. It was brilliant for me to be able to take my mum round the Hall, and show her it from an insiders point of view (with even a few behind the scenes bits throw in!). It was a lovely sunny day and I had a really nice day off, even though I spent it where I work! It did make me laugh that when my friend was looking at the Tobit Table Carpet in its display case, I was spotting the fingerprints. When I mentioned it however, she said ‘what fingerprints?’. It just goes to show the different thing you see when your looking at something from a different mindset!

Visitor looking at the wooden drawers in the Muniment or Evidence Room at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire.

I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of moving to a new property and learning so many new things, I am still working on learning the history but feel confident enough that I can take people on tours or answer peoples questions when I am walking around the Hall. So for the next few weeks it seems like everything is back to the usual, but I’m sure that we will find plenty to keep us on our toes!

Dressing up . . . for grown ups!

I have been a Medieval Re-enactor for half my life and it has been an amazing experience, teaching me so many things, some that I often find useful in my job. I have never needed encouragement to dress up, and I get to wear some gorgeous clothes, so it is nice to know I am not the only one! Re-enactment season has started again, with a St George’s Day themed show at Bolsover Castle last weekend and one at Rufford Abbey this weekend, but I was feeling impatient for the show this weekend.

My group; The Swords of Mercia

The Swords of Mercia Society

The Dragon Knight threatens Lady Alice

The Dragon Knight threatens Lady Alice

 

Luckily Thursday was costume day at Hardwick, when all our ‘Living the History’ volunteers don their fantastic Tudor garb and bring the Hall to life, talking to the public about Tudor life and dress. I was in my element, admiring all the clothes hand-made by our very talented volunteers. It was amazing walking down the Long Gallery and seeing everyone dressed up, it helped the imagination picture the Hall as it may have been in its heyday, when Bess was¬†entertaining.

Our Fab Living the History Vols

Our Fab Living the History Vols

It's not just the ladies

It’s not just the ladies

I know I am more than biased but I feel that events like the¬†costume¬†day, and the¬†presence¬†of costumed interpreters really enhance properties. I love asking them questions, like about their costumes and they are so passionate and¬†knowledgeable. I also love being on the other side, answering the public’s questions, and I love wandering around these fantastic sites in costume and imagining I have stepped back in time! It’s a really brilliant way of engaging people, especially children in history, bringing it to life, and having someone in costume to talk to makes it all seem that bit more real and¬†relate-able, it makes the distant past more¬†accessible. This is something I will always try to support (and take part in too!)

Spinning in the Long Gallery

Spinning in the Long Gallery

This week at Hardwick, when not oogling pretty costume, we have been carrying on the Deep Clean, we’re now in the Dining Room. I was mostly dusting the windows that are on the front of the Hall, I did get some odd looks from people outside! The weather was lovely and bright so I had a lovely time looking out while doing my cleaning. However this is going to have to go on hiatus for a little while over the next couple of weeks as we have a huge project coming up, we are re-hanging the returned Gideon Tapestries. Next week we are starting the preparation for the big event, which will be in a couple of weeks time. Firstly we shall be taking down the paintings that are hanging in the gaps where the returned tapestries will hang. There are twelve paintings to move in total, and we shall be building the scaffold in order to do so, it is a big job but I am looking forward to it. I shall tell you more about the project, along with how we got on taking the paintings down!

The Dining Room Curtains

The Dining Room Curtains

Can't complain about the view

Can’t complain about the view

The glass casting colours on the window sill

The glass casting colours on the window sill

I also seemed to spend a lot of time changing light bulbs this week. Changing light bulbs? What a boring thing to talk about, well not when your changing bulbs in a historic property, it is not as straight forward as we would like it to be. The other day it took us 45 minutes to change 2 bulbs! We had to change one in the Entrance Hall lantern, using the big ladder. The ladders live on the top floor, and the big ladder is so big we have to carry it across the top floor to the main stairs, which are wide enough to carry it down, and the across the ground floor to the bulb. The ladder is then positioned over the table in the Entrance Hall, and I can get up to change the bulb. The second bulb was on the main stairs, but needed the medium ladder, so we had to take the big one back up and across the top floor, and bring the other down! Phew! However I do love looking around when at the top of the ladders!

The ladder in the Entrance Hall

The ladder in the Entrance Hall

Much better

Much better

This week I took my first tour round Hardwick! I love talking to the public and really enjoyed taking the tours round Powis. I do miss having the depth of knowledge I did about Powis but I am working on learning as much as I can about Hardwick, and taking the tour Thursday made me realise¬†I have already learnt quite a bit! The tours are called ‘Last One Out’ tours, where we take members of the public round with us as we close up so they get a glimpse into a part of our daily¬†routine.

Bess' Coat of Arms in the Entrance Hall

Bess’ Coat of Arms in the Entrance Hall

It is so nice to be able to share this element of our day with the public, and they get to see Hardwick in a different light. We let them have a go at closing curtains and turning of lights, and we walk around the Hall by torch light. The tour was a lovely first tour as there were just a couple of people on it, a gentle start for me.¬†Luckily these ‘Last One Out’ tours focus on our work and how we look after the property, the challenges we face and the steps we take to care for the collection. This element I am well versed in, and Claire and Sadie were on the tour with me so they answered the questions about the history I didn’t know. We make a fab team! I am looking forward to taking more of these tours, and will continue to build my general knowledge about the history so I can take other tours too. The House team is also going on tour training soon too!

 

 

Light monitoring (or measuring the bear’s forehead)

A large part of our work here at the Castle is monitoring the environment to keep those factors which can damage the collection within certain, less harmful, parameters. There are several environmental factors which are monitored at least daily, if not constantly; Temperature, Relative Humidity and Light.

We record the lights levels in the castle twice daily. Ultra Violet levels in certain areas are also monitored constantly on our automated system and the records stored on the office computer with the temperature and relative humidity, which is recorded by the same system. Ultra Violet cancelling film has been installed on all the windows in the property and cuts out most of the UV, making a vast difference to the light levels in the castle. Other than the morning clean the light readings are the only regular part of routine done daily. Afternoons are used to complete conservation tasks, do admin, research, or work on our interpretation projects.

I really enjoy reading the light levels, especially in the afternoons. I am very interested in the environmental monitoring side of conservation. It is especially rewarding in the afternoons as the castle is open and it gives us an opportunity to interact with the public, which I very much enjoy!

There are set points in all the rooms in the castle that have natural light entering them. Often these points are not on the visitor route, they are located behind the ropes. One of the points is on the forehead of our taxidermy bear, Balu, which amused my mother, hence the title. This results in a lot of curious looks about what I am doing and hopefully curious questions too. I really enjoy explaining to the public what I am doing, especially as it helps make them aware how much work the House team do in order to care for the castle. When I say we do this twice daily people often can not believe it. Doing the readings and conservation work in front of the public helps show them how much work it is looking after the physical history of the country and hopefully inspire them to support us, or keep supporting us.

The effects of light damage on wallpaper

I was privileged enough to shadow the regional conservator when she came to Powis for the annual review of the light levels and this gave me a good understanding to how they are worked out, and why they are set as they are. We have an annual budget, worked out by taking into consideration how often we are open, how long our days are, what objects we have in the rooms, and their vulnerability to light and location with regards to the window. The light levels are set from readings taken with blue wool dosimeters. These dosimeters are left in vulnerable positions in Trust houses and degrade at a known rate. They are set out for 12 months and then sent to a lab for analysis. From this we can tell how much light is affecting that point in the room and work out a safe light level which will hopefully preserve the objects in that area well into the future.

Light is very damaging to objects, and when it fades them it is also damaging them structurally. It damages textiles most quickly but will damage most objects given time, fading dark wood but also lightening dark woods. Something I have learnt is that oil paintings are surprisingly more resilient to light damage than I would have thought. Some of the curtains at the castle are fraying on the edges most often in the light, and the curtains in the Oak Drawing Room have been sent away for conservation to repair the effects of the damage done by the light. These are the most obvious effects of light damage at the Castle.

The annual light allowance establish by the information from the dosimeters and other factors mentioned above is divided up by the number of days the property is open, giving us a daily budget. This daily budget is printed onto our record sheet, which has room to record AM and PM readings for each location. When we go on our rounds, once while opening up and once after we come back from lunch, we adjust the blinds to get the light reading below our set points.

The Megatron

We used to record¬†the light levels using a device called¬†a Meagtron¬†(unfortunately¬†it does not transform into a robot, it just measure¬†light levels). Now however we have a ne Elsec that can not only record Lux but also Ultra Violet, Relative Humidity and Temperature. This new bit of tech’ is very handy for spot reading of the other factors, rather than having to take two different implements round with us. When we were doing the two-week spot check of temperature and relative humidity to check our automated system was calibrated correctly I could have done with another pair of hands for the clipboard and the two different instruments!

The Elsec