Tag Archives: Chaucer


29 Aug

Walking from Lockner in the beautiful Surrey Hills following my friend Alexander Dawson Shepherd in a colour coordinated sort of way I was struck by the nature of friendship.

I needed to meet my daughter Polly in Holborn, London to see how she was faring in her new job, and to take her a birthday present.

Alec suggested that we walk from his beautiful cottage on the grounds of the old Albury Estate to Guildford and catch a train.

I packed my smart shoes (it does not do to appear dishevelled for the daughter) and her gift in a day pack, put my knackered old steel toe capped work shoes on and traipsed after Alec into the hills.

Past the old Gunpowder works, an organic vineyard and this lovely sculpture

… we climbed up the steep hill to St.Martha’s chapel where Alec’s family are buried.

His father rests here: Hanbury Knollys Dawson Shepherd (fabulous name), so too his grandfather Harry Bowyer – the local miller. Alec still lives within a stone’s throw of his parent’s and sisters house and from his family’s grave we paid our respects and¬†drank in the view.

Popping in to this wonderful ancient chapel to admire the restored oak beamed ceiling we saw carpentry at its most enduring and endearing.

We chatted about old friends, family, work and the Natural History around us as we walked. Oftentimes content to say nothing at all we listened to the grasshoppers below and the birds above inhaling the scent of silvan wildness.

The path we travelled along was The Pilgrim’s Way. Chaucer himself may have seen horse shoes like this perhaps?

The Pilgrim’s Way is an ancient track and is the route of medieval Christian pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas Becket of Canterbury.

Pilgrimage seems to me a metaphor for the nature of long term friendship. Friends may walk together for a time sharing air and artful conversation, then part hopefully to journey again one day along a mutually agreeable track.

Alec journeyed with my wife Clare and I when I was sectioned and in hospital diagnosed with manic depression. He was the only pilgrim who visited me in my hour of need.

I found out at that time who my true friends were and how shockingly few they were back then.

I don’t know how we find our friends, but I do know this – we must take time to renew the narrative between us. To rethread our own Canterbury Tale;¬†share tales, bawdy and preposterous, ordinary and mundane – for the story of friendship of itself a very human thing.

Alec, Polly and I had lunch in a lovely park near a statue of Bertrand Russell. I was able to pass on the tale of her Oma (her Dutch grandmother) – the photographic memory of her provenance, bound in a textile of her own making – a frog on a lilly pond.

Chaucer would have approved I think, after all, he was the father of the vernacular – the lingua Franca or language of friends, dear pilgrim. Franca – frankness – the basis of true friendship.

With special thanks to Anne Heppell (book binder).


7 May


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.