Over the years I’ve made a few pipe tampers – some quite simple, and others a little more ornate. Depending on what I want they can take anything from 1 -3 hours to carve. All of them are functional and perfectly suited for their intended purpose.
When people see them I am usually asked how they hold up to regular use, and more often how I justify the price I charge for them. I can’t really answer the second question (actually, I could, but suffice to say, if you ask, then maybe these are not for you), but I can answer the first one.
The tamper I use myself is one that I decided not to sell due to a minor flaw, and also the carving went a little awry. I carved it about 8 years ago out of White Thorn and have used it constantly ever since. I have a few tampers I’ve made for myself over the years, but I always pick up the same one – the others are as fresh as the day they were first carved, having only been used 2-3 times each.
I have come to realise the true significance of what a friend once said to me:
“A Tamper is much more than a tool for the Pipe Smoker – it is a life-long Friend.”
Every time I reach for it, I touch familiarity and comfort – I create new memories and relive old ones. I have tried to supplant it with another, but I cannot – we have been on too many adventures together, seen, heard and experienced too many things to be parted easily, now. This tamper fits my fingers, my hand perfectly – I know instinctively how to hold it to get what I want from my favourite tobacco, to coax that glowing ember into life and release that soothing, fragrant, full-bodied smoke. Together we travel the world and time – go on adventures, live them, then relive them, again and again.
Indeed, this tamper has been with me on all my journeys since I created it, and, as such, is a lightening-rod for my thoughts and experiences. Seem like overstating things a bit? Maybe, maybe not.
This tamper has been to many places. It has strolled around Le Puses in Paris before taking in the wonders of the city, standing before The Raft of the Medussa, and being awe struck, again, by the Rose Window in Notre Dame, or watching the crowds around the Sacre-Coeur – it has wandered tiny alleyways and back streets in search of everyday life, avoiding throngs of tourists, before coffee in a café.
It has prowled the streets of Amsterdam, suffered snow storms in Berlin, been beaten by blazing sun in Barcelona and lingered in New York’s China Town. It has visited Dubai, India, Australia, Egypt, Tunisia and New Zealand and, best of all, experienced many bumpy journeys in the Landrover. Every time I touch it I am transported back to the places we have been.
But, it is the people we have met together that stand out most. In Paris a wonderful Moroccan Restaurant owner who promised me the best vegetarian meal of my life, before producing great lumps of carrot, swede, turnip, leek, onion and potato in a broth. He was not wrong – it was excellent. There was the stall holder in Le Puses who sold me a beautiful antique pipe for a song.
In the Canaries there was Manfred, the grey haired, long bearded German gent who had sold all his possessions, owning only the shirt on his back and wandering the world. His smile was infectious, his speech soft and gentle and his faith in humanity wondrous. We chatted for a while before he had to board a boat for Japan, working his passage and not knowing what he was going to do when he got there, other than continue his journey. Open hearted and unafraid, stepping into the world with joy and hope – I think of him often, and wish I had his faith and strength.
In Poland, standing in the Children’s Hut in Birkenau, I reached out a hand and ran my fingers over the little wooden steps worn away by hundreds, thousands of little hands and feet clambering into their bunks at the end of another day. I wish I hadn’t. There were no people to remember here, but I was surrounded by gaunt ghosts, and hollow eyes looking out from in-mate photographs, unaware of what was to come. As I walked away, my hand reached into my pocket and I touched the comfort of the little piece of wood I carry with me – for once it did little, except, perhaps, absorb some of what I felt.
In New Zealand I met Mr George, the driver of the bus. A man of jolly demeanour, with a smile that would shame a blue whale, and a heart so full of joy, love and kindness that it left me wondering how it could fit into a mere mortal. As the day wore on I realised he carried a melancholy that arose from a deep love and an all-pervasive compassion – but, still, we laughed the day away, and when it came time to part, it was with sadness, but also great happiness for having met and spent time together. I believe the world is full of saints, miracle workers, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, enlightened and compassionate beings, who work tirelessly for the welfare of all life’s creatures, unnoticed and un-thanked – and, when I met Mr George, I came face-to-face with one of those beings. He moved me deeply, and I think of him often – there is not a day passes without feeling some small measure of gratitude to him. Whenever I pick up my tamper I smile – Thanks, Mr George.
I’m sure I will go on many more trips, and I will take my tamper with me, so that on my return and with each visit to the greenhouse with a pipe, I will remember the good times and the things I have seen, heard and felt.
Has the tamper held up well? Yes! Yes, it has – it has grown and developed, as all living wood does. It is alive and changing, like myself. It has a beautiful patina and smoothness that only comes from use, engaging in life, and helping others (in this case, me!). Will it last for a long time? Absolutely – I expect this tamper to see me out, there is no reason, other than carelessness and inattention, why it shouldn’t. By them it will probably be so worn from use as to be unrecognisable – but, the same can be said for all of us, eh?
On a final note, some bright spark once suggested to me, that to improve the tampers I carve, I should flame them so they have a well-worn, scorched look. All I could do in reply was my best Roger Moore impersonation, raising one eyebrow and attempting to smile – sort of.
Anyway, here is the tamper – you can judge for yourself how it’s holding up.