“You are your own health and safety” says BBC Master Craftsman Guy Mallinson. Music to my ears. “Place your body sideways otherwise you’ll chop your arm off or cut yourself in half” says bodger Mace Brightwater; that got the kids listening. Despite dealing with blades that make a steak knife appear blunt our family day trying our hand at green woodworking was one of the most relaxing experiences we’ve had in a long time. Warmer than finding fossils on the beach in Normandy (no fire to warm us up there) and far more rewarding than a day on a beach in the South of France.
We have a tangible memory of our day in the midst of Dorset in the shape of two rounders’ bats for the boys and two wooden spatulas, although they’re a bit square and I’d far rather use spoons but hey I do use them and remember. As for the bats, what can I say? Proud gushing mother says they are beautifully unique. Which they are, full stop. Whether they’re any good I have no idea -French people don’t play rounders- but the boys seem to think they’re great.
So how did we actually make these? Tricky to explain; I did not actually make one myself, my artistic side was too busy taking pictures and my motherly side was so proud to see my eldest son enjoying a pole and lathe far far more than a computer game let alone a book that I simply did not interfere. Nothing to do with the fact that when I tried to strip layers of wood I did not do as well as I thought I would. My romantic notion that ‘if I love arts and crafts then surely I’ll take to it like a duck to water’ was knocked on the head. As my eldest was a natural -Guy did say, so must be true- I thought I’d let him get on with it whilst I just got on with what I do best, look around.
Concentration on people’s faces, my 10 year old son and his father crafting together, kids chatting with their parent, tools borrowed from a neighbour, getting help, asking for advice, proud smiles, giggles when it went a bit pear shaped. I kept being distracted that day. Thing is, once I was no longer making a bat I had no particular reason to listen. So when the birds twittered, I heard them; when I got a bit chilly, I warmed my hands on the open fire and when my son was using a new tool, I studied his hands with my camera.
The setting in the middle of the woods is tranquillity personified. It is so quiet that Mace thinks a pole and lathe is loud when it gets going. He asks us to listen to the noise it makes to ascertain whether it is working OK or not, “if it isn’t, it makes a racket” he says. I was waiting for a loud background noise but you can tell that some of us live in a town whilst others are more used to woods and seaside. This townie found everything oh so quiet and peaceful. The children want to go back for more and their father was the last one to leave. “He’s in the zone” says Guy. My zone had kids trying to catch ducks eggs on a tiny island in the middle of a pond, the sound of a Scout father saying he would recommend the course to his Scout friends, the smell of woodland mixed with smoke and fire, the feel of a perfectly smooth rounders bat made out of sycamore.
It’s not perfect mind. Half way through the morning when I realised that I wasn’t going to get to do much woodworking I did feel a bit put off. I’d spent over £200 on the four of us for the day. On top of that our shaving horse was broken so we could not start straight away. I was getting a bit fidgety and began to think that frankly these things should be checked first. As Mace got a branch, fashioned a footrest and repaired the horse in minutes and as we borrowed each other’s cheap tools (weirdly the expensive ones were in sufficient numbers), I realised that actually the whole experience is not a race or a competition and the most important part of the experience is to slow down, concentrate, observe and simply enjoy each other’s company. And learn a little something on the way. At £55 per person for a day, it’s not a cheap day out but it sure beats a day on a sunny beach and that’s a lot more expensive to guarantee.