“Old trees must fall before the heavy wind…..New landscapes appear…….You have to make time to take it in.”
As I sipped coffee nervously watching the window glass rattle in the wind, I gazed out into the darkness and pondered William’s words. They struck a cord and fit with thoughts that I have been mulling over for quite some time now – no-one, and nothing, is immune from time; it catches us all eventually.
So, not wanting to waste any more time than was necessary I finished my coffee, headed out into the dark, and bundled into the Landrover, with Otto and Knuckles. We were off on a mission, an adventure, the start of a long delayed trip. As we rumbled nosily along the lanes, and storm Doris raged all around us, I thought of another Doris I know – a more kindly, gentle Doris. She would be well into her nineties now, but still as vital as the storm that surrounded us on our journey. But, unlike storm Doris, this lady is calm, soothing, gentle, kind, and ready to laugh and smile. Doris does not know it, but she has been a huge influence on my life and every time I think of her it is with fondness and a deep gratitude.
As the rain splashed against the windscreen I pondered this, and my thoughts moved to other influences, two in particular that I am only now starting to fully appreciate, and the cause of this journey. My grandfathers were very different men, yet, paradoxically, very similar. Both men were called up to serve in the great conflagration of ’39-’45 – one a Royal Engineer and the other a Desert Rat under Montgomery.
I know nothing of their time at war. I have seen a faded photo of Rob, surrounded by the company he commanded and served with – young men, serious of face, but full of humour. Of Stanley all I have is a silver eagle that sits on my bookshelf, which, according to family legend, was ‘liberated’ from a Staff car. Who knows for sure? I have no idea what these men went through, how, or if it changed them – I did not know them before their experiences. I only knew the men that came home, and then only briefly.
Both men fully engaged in the serious activity of, ‘getting on’. Rob turned his talents to nurturing life, growing all that was needed to sustain body and soul – vegetables for sustenance and flowers for the eye and heart. He filled his home, and those of others, with life, the source of life, and the beauty of life – he created and sustained life. He surrounded himself with life and its joy – in the magnificent walled garden, the vegetable and flower beds, and the rows of wonderful greenhouses. Even now, when I step into my own greenhouse and smell the lush, damp, greenness of growing tomatoes I am transported to Bayham Abbey and my grandfather’s greenhouses. He was a very quiet man, who seemed satisfied with his lot in life, not wanting or needing more than he had – and, his home reflected this; it was warm and cosy, safe and secure, with an abundance of fare laid out on the table at meal times, or so it seemed.
Stanley was different, but, in his own way, he created and gave. He built homes for people to live in, grow up and grow old in; in which to start families and set off on journey’s to who knows where! He had a booming voice that carried out from under his deerstalker and commanded attention. He ventured out into the world, never happier than when he was out and about, the aroma of a cigar infusing his clothes and the space in which he moved. In the evenings he would enjoy a good meal and then sit in his favourite armchair in front of the fire and savour a glass or two of Teachers whiskey.
To me, as a child, the only thing they had in common, apart from being soldiers, was that they were consummate story tellers. They were always happy to sit and spin a yarn for young eager ears, and were quick to smile, gentle of speech and full of life. Their stories were awash with adventure, danger, good deeds, and magical but worldly settings, always ending happily with the young protagonists coming out on top. One of the storytellers always managed to include a veracious wolf, which had an insatiable appetite, for naughty little boys in particular.
I have been thinking of these two men more and more in recent years and pondering them, their lives, their place in the world and how they dealt with it. I used to think they had little in common, but now I know they were more similar than dissimilar – they were two sides of the same coin, and the product of their time, what they saw and what they did.
They were ordinary men, who did extraordinary deeds in extraordinary times. Though ordinary in stature, they were truly giants, lions amongst men – not just because of their service, but more so because of what they did with their lives and how they lived when they came home. They were the true embodiment of stoic strength, love, gentleness and kindness; they displayed a joie de vivre I rarely, if ever, see anymore. Story tellers with real stories to tell, and the truth of who they were laid bare for all to hear in the tales they told to a child.
They are of the same substance as my friend, Doris.
As I tumbled down the road with storm Doris deafening me, these were the thoughts that brought light into the dark of the night, and motivated me to action. I have wanted to do this for a long time, but have been putting it off, for many reasons. I thought I wanted to make a Storytellers Chair, and jump on that bandwagon; but, now I realised, that was not what I needed to do.
So, I walked across the bog, looking at Willows, feeling the wind and rain on my face, as it soaked through my clothes, and lost in thought as the sun began to brighten the sky. Yes! Willow. It had to be Willow for this chair.
I worked on this chair, all the while thinking of my grandfathers. I could write at length about why I did what I did in making this chair, and maybe justify everything – larger diameter legs than normal to give a sense of masculinity, strength and solidity; the middle upright displaying a healing scare representing life’s trials and tribulations; the taper of the front legs proving a feminine counterpoint to the overt masculinity of the back legs; the two pieces of yew for the seat representing the two different men, ostensibly their only similarity being in their substance; and on, and on, and on. But, I can’t do that, because the only conscious decision when making this chair was in the choice of the material – the Willow.
This is not a Storyteller’s chair, though inspired by two of life’s greatest story tellers; it is a chair for The Muse. I once wrote something along the lines of:
“Willow is imbued with, and radiates, the qualities of The Lady of the Moon. She casts her gentle gaze and comforting light into the darkness of the night, illuminating the depths of the soul; caressing away grief, sadness, sorrow and heartache, replacing them with happiness, laughter, joy and deep, abiding love. In the quiet deep of the night her powers of divination bring her understanding; and, granting long held sincere and secret wishes, she turns nightmares into dreams of peace, healing and contentment.
The Lady is strong, graceful, elegant, loving, kind, sincere, and gentle, all which qualities create a beauty unsurpassed. To cast your eyes upon her, through the medium of Willow, is to rest in deepest serenity – she is love. And her love burns bright, for all the world.”
I believe my grandfathers were graced by that smile; and, thankfully they were, are, not alone. There are, have been, and will be innumerable men and women who can rightfully take their place beside them – they are Legion. That magical, mythical being, the Lady of legend, who resides in the moon, smiles on them all, lights the dark, soothes, heals, radiates love and helps them on their journey. In turn, they help us – me.
For now, I must leave the chair to sit and dry a little before I start on the final finishing stages, the scraping, sanding and waxing. That may not be for a month or two, as I would like this chair to season gently – I will take my time, and enjoy the emerging beauty of the Willow, and ponder a bit more.