I usually start a blog with an apology for not updating it more often. This time I have decided to skip this apology – I have been busy and have had no time for websites or blogs. This is the reality of life. Sometimes we face challenges that demand all our attention – often hard to find in our modern world where there are so many things to distract us.
Towards the end of 2021 my sister received a diagnosis of rare and aggressive bladder cancer. While dealing with this news, my father unexpectedly died from a short and misdiagnosed illness.
This last eight months have been difficult. My family and I have worked extra hard to support each other, and slowly we are finding our way through.
My sister has endured the loss of her father, major and life-changing surgery, and then a brutal stint of chemotherapy, but has come through it all with a smile and a few weeks ago received the news that her latest CT scan showed no cancer at present. I hope with all my heart that this situation will remain the same.
My Mother has endured the loss of her husband of nearly 60 years – they were an inseparable team. This coupled with a fractured pelvis sustained after a slip while dog walking and complications caused by this has changed her life so rapidly it is very difficult to cope with. But she is managing, and soldiering on regardless.
And I have carried on with work and family life and have done my best to support, and in turn be supported by my wife and children. I know that without their love and kindness, dealing with the tribulations and intense loss of the last 9 months would have been so much harder. I am a very lucky man.
But in my workshop carrying on with the work that my Father so enjoyed throughout his life, I am often acutely aware that he isn’t here anymore. Whether to ask for his advice on something, to discuss some technical problem one of us was having, to share my latest bit of work with him or to see what he had been up to, I can honestly say a day doesn’t pass when I don’t think of him and realise how much I miss him.
What has this got to do with woodwork? My Father was a woodworker, but he always approached it like an engineer. His work was beautifully executed - always accurate to tolerances I rarely achieve. My work is often less exact, with my more artistic temperament often coming through. There is always a place for both styles – my Father liked a nice straight edged board, whereas I often find my inspiration from a plank with a waney edge. Maybe as a result of this our woodwork was often quite different, but we always enjoyed close examination of each other’s work and would take ideas and inspiration from each other.
It was my Father who inspired me to make my first Windsor chair, after I saw the beautiful one he had made. I couldn’t every imagine making such a complicated and technically difficult piece of furniture, but I eventually had a go. The end result was a chair that was useable, and I was pleased to end up with something that while not as beautifully finished as my Dad’s version, was functional and comfy.
My Fathers acute attention to detail would often make chair making a long and drawn-out business. As somebody who was retired, he could afford to take his time and get things just right. I am impatient and am always keen to finish things in order to get to the next project. This can make complicated and difficult furniture like Windsor chairs a real challenge. They aren’t easy to make quickly!
Having made several more Windsor chairs over the years I had an idea to make something really different a few years ago and got as far as finding and starting to shape a big board for the seat before the whole thing got too difficult to continue with and the board was consigned to the back of the woodstore.
A few months ago, I finally plucked up the courage to push on with my idea. I found the seat board under a thick layer of dust and set about steam bending some new parts for the back of the chair. With this chair there are no plans, measurements or drawings (something my Father could not have tolerated), but it’s just a cobbling together of previous Windsor chair designs I have made.
The result is in the pictures below for you to make up your own mind about. I think this style of double seat is often called a Tete a Tete chair, but this one I think is more of a conversation seat.
It’s certainly a conversation piece. All the time I was making it I was wondering what I was making it for. We have no room in our house for it, and I was doubtful anybody else would want to buy it. But now it is made and I have finally realised that I like it a lot. It’s incredibly comfortable, and when sitting in it with somebody else you realise that you are perfectly positioned for a good natter. I think my Father would have loved sitting in it, but would also have appreciated the complexity and challenge in the chairs construction. So I suppose my Father is who I have really made this for. He inspired me to try and make beautiful and complex things and for that I will always be grateful.