Polish

7 May

Image

It is not often that I am reacquainted with old pieces I have made, but yesterday, travelling back from an assignment in Box Hill, Surrey I decided to drop in on a dear friend, and there, in his lounge was the telephone table and upholstered chair I made for him, back in the days I actually had hair (about twenty five years ago).

I arrived at a tiny hamlet at about one o’clock and my friend and I set out for a stroll from his lovely red brick and local iron stone cottage up the hill via the Pilgrim’s Way (the very same trail of Canterbury Tales fame) to St. Martha’s Chapel. Conversation spooled out on a congenial ramble allowing us to catch up with each other’s news, walking under a canopy of coppiced hazel, mature oak, tall beech trees, late bluebells, damselflies and bird song.

At the very top of the hill beside the church, my friend introduced me to his parents’ grave and pointed me to the house he grew up in on the other side of the hill. In that simple act he revealed much about his own polish. Throughout his many travels he always returns home to his roots. Kindness, thoughtfulness and a wry wit – the mark of a true English gent – it wouldn’t be too far fetched to imagine him in one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Back in 2001 he dropped everything and drove up to Chesterfield to support my wife after I had been sectioned following a breakdown. It was my small pilgrimage to see him which yielded the simple pleasure of seeing the affection I had lavished on a piece made for a true friend glowing back in the polished timber.

Alec's table 2

 

Burr elm makes up the cabinet and long legs with a deeply figured olive wood top inlaid with an elm border. The table is matched by an elm stool upholstered in rich plums and blues. The original commission helped me to dig myself out of a big hole caused by the untimely end to my grant funded job as a postdoctoral researcher at Newcastle University. With typical generosity and superb timing my friend suddenly expressed a desire for an old fashioned tall telephone table, with a drawer and matching stool – without stipulating a budget.

I knew he was fond of olive wood, having lived in the Mediterranean and worked for years in sunny climes and luckily I was able to find a stupendous piece taken from the root bowl of a mature tree. It was also the first time I experimented with ‘dishing’ the sides of a cabinet, repeating the concave profiles in the seat design. It is a dangerous technique involving pushing sawn boards perpendicularly across the face of an unguarded bench saw – concentration and push sticks are vital to prevent loss of fingers. He was worth the risk!

I shall now be able to imagine that every time he returns home from his travels, he catches up with friends and family on the telephone whilst sitting at the piece I made for him. He has polished it so much that it positively glows with a burnished patina seen only on fine old antiques like us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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