Glass.

Something we largely take for granted; a material superseded by plastic in many uses, but nevertheless an important part of our lives.  Though naturally occurring glass was believed to have been traded in neolithic societies for its ability to produce a sharp cutting edge, glass making can be traced back to the cradle of civilisation.  Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq and some of the lands that border it) can be shown to have produced glass over 5,500 years ago.

In that time frame the introduction of glass making to Sunderland (which I described in an earlier blog) seems relatively recent although it was 1500 years ago). Nevertheless it became the most important industry on Wearside after ships and coal, particularly when the famous “Pyrex” brand of cookware was made here at the James A Jobling glassworks.

Many of our uses of glass are obvious, but some we never notice.

The skylight that illuminates an underground toilet is walked over by those oblivious to its existence. 

The bulb that lights the lighthouses, the mirrors that reflect it and the lenses that focus the light are replicated in the camera and flash unit that captures the image. 

In truth it’s very translucency adds to its anonymity – we just look right through it.

Every house, every car, even every CD in every car, relies on glass, and yet despite our continuing need for the material the industry in Sunderland is no more, like so much of this country’s manufacturing, a victim to lower labour rates in a global economy.

The National Glass Centre continues to make and display glass, though from an artistic perspective rather than commercial; it is part of the University of Sunderland now.

I met a friend for coffee in the restaurant there today; the quirkily named “Throwing Stones”, as its glass walls and roof make it a lighter and airier space on an otherwise grey and rainy day.  We were served by Zainab, whose Arabic name, according to some sources, means “a flower of the desert”.

The name brought to mind the Sudanese journalist Zeinab Badawi

GPDRR2011 - Day 1

who would certainly fit this description, but then the EastEnders character Zainab Masood (played by Nina Wadia) who might be considered more cactus like!

I’m pleased to say that this Zainab was more like the former!

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