Trade where traditional skills ensure a lasting memorial: A Glasgow family business making gravestones is surviving the challenges of technology and recession. James Cusick reports

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The Independent Online
COVERED almost head to toe in a fine white dust after hours of sanding terrazzo stone, Tony Jaconelli was inking on the finishing touches to a small cemetery flower-holder. 'In Loving Memory' was pressed on to the grey Italian stone. As he finished off a row of 20, he turned and laughed. 'People are dying for our work, you know that.'

Mr Jaconelli and his three brothers, Dom, Edward and Ernie, carry on the business their father, an Italian immigrant, founded in Glasgow in 1945 with a pounds 65 gratuity from the Army. As the use of computer graphics increases, even in the work of monumental sculpturing, the Jaconellis and their small workshop near a railway line in Glasgow's Shettleston area, appear frozen in time.

The traditional method of creating terrazzo, by mixing cement with black marble chips and a special colouring gel, still goes on. Moulds for gravestones, vases and pots are then filled, sanded and polished. The white dust from the noisy polishing process finds its way into every crevice and pore of the workshop. But any mention of time standing still meets with the usual response: 'You're right. This is a dying trade.' Laughter again.

Above the noise of a radio from a set of dust-covered speakers, Dom Jaconelli answered the telephone: 'OK, that's 'To Bruce - In Loving Memory'. For tomorrow. Fine.' He never writes anything down.

Covered by a hooded overall, his eyes staring out of a white face, he pointed to his temple. 'Everything's up here'. But he added: 'Anyway, if the phone goes, we just say, 'Yes, it's ready'.'

On an ancient stone-cutting machine, letters for 'In Deepest Sympathy' are waiting. Spelling is a constant source of difficulty. Although most of their work is in English, stones in Gaelic, Hebrew, Urdu, Polish, even Chinese, offer the same problems. Tony said: 'People often don't know how to spell their own name.' The brothers exchanged a list of the oddest names they have ever carved on to headstones. After heated debate 'Gerry Blossom' is nominated.

Proud of their heritage and their family's origins in the Italian village of San Biaggio in the Monte Cassino valley, the relative calm of the tea-break around a derelict stove allowed some serious chat. 'My wife says we're callous. We're not. It's only sad when it comes to you,' Tony said. Bad debts, said to be the nightmare of every small company during the current recession, do not affect the Jaconellis. 'The lower down the social scale you go, the more important payment is,' Dom said.

Having worked for their father since they were young men and taken over the business after his recent death, the Jaconelli brothers' own sons are set to continue in the same trade. Whether the small workshop, and their old methods, survive is another question.

(Photograph omitted)

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