I’m driving to work but taking a five mile detour to get my haircut and a couple of necessary errands to pick up a mirror plate for the project and look at wood. I try to combine trips all the more these days, conscious of the need to save all kinds of things. I always enjoy the drive through the farmland but because I am conscious of wasting time, petrol and energy all the more these days. Other things take place over the next hour and a half and somehow my day gets brightened more than usual. Firstly is the early-morning drive that takes me through five miles of the English countryside. Such drives are always so pleasing and especially as we have had such cool and rainy weather: a marked contrast to last July with its 30º plus weather, today is 18º with intermittent rain and lots of nice cloud but still a backdrop of bright blue. I take my time, enjoy the cool start and then too I reflect on how I drive. Though I learned to drive when I was 16, passed my test at the first opportunity and then drove regularly in the first vehicle I ever owned which cost £30 for an old Bedford van that had no floor in the back due to rust. I really learned to drive more consciously when I worked as a police officer where they retrained me to drive more consciously rather than think I was already an experienced driver. I’ve learned in many things to understand that there are skilful drivers and then there are careful drivers in similar fashion to my woodworking or any craft. My Police driving course was called Roadcraft. If we could see everything we do as craft our world would be so much better.
I practice my driving as a skill every time I drive––choose my course, practice a running commentary out loud (as I was trained to do by my police instructor) to describe what is before me and what is behind, to the side and even above. No one standing at the bus stops and that usually means there is a bus ahead of me. It’s usually the right assumption. Rear-wheel drive and front-wheel drive cars drive differently into and out of corners and bends––one pulls the other pushes. I break ahead for the corners and never into them. Working on how I drive and relating it verbally on the drives I take makes me more conscious of all things roadcraft and beyond. I am looking forward to having my haircut and neatened. I usually have my hair cut before each new project and then at the end before the next one, obviously. This time I missed it. I made the whole wardrobeI have the best hairdresser who takes such care and her skills show in every scissor cut. Yep, scissors!
As I scan the fields and watercourses my eyes glimpse the different pockets of nature I am trained to look for from my understanding of characteristic traits, etc. The once common Water voles are much scarcer 50 years on from my young years when I could see a dozen or more on my country walks in Cheshire. Thise days are gone, but I still look for any telltale signs and can usually trace and track their territory on any of my walks. I see some ideal territory for them in different spots hoping one day to take that walk when I have time to watch for them or look for their presence through other things, the droppings, the gnaed grasses, the holes in the river banks and so on.
Small birds of prey, little owls and kestrels are far less present now too. I might see the kestrel once a day whereas in the 1950s I saw far more, perhaps half a dozen a day. At that time too I never saw the red-tailed kite as I do throughout every day today. They had declined massively and we thought then that they would soon become extinct. Uncontrolled and indiscriminate use of agricultural chemicals saw the rapid decline of birds of prey in the 1960s and since then we’ve seen decreasing prey populations and a lack of suitable nesting sites. Field voles become more evident now that the spring young are out of the nest and the telltale signs of a twitch in the grass pinpoints an exact and unquestionable locaction as to where they are to a watchful hawk-eyed hunter.
I watched as a male kestrel dropped from its steady hovering like a stone, talons poised at the ready to grab and in a split second, the twist of a tail and wing to bullseye precision, it lifted off and in a single clutching claw, straw and all, it carried off its prey on short, straining wing beats. He flies steadily to a nearby fence post and though the weight of a young field vole is only a few grams I can tell he feels the weight of prey. His head circles from the vole and side to side watching for any enemy that might be watching. I am at the traffic lights where the single-lane bridge disallows full passage for opposing vehicles crossing the Thames. The kestrel finally drops his head and severs the vole from any life left in its tormented body. He starts eating the vole and will deliver the main meat to the nest for the female and the young yet in the nest. The lights change and I move on to the next open field freshly harvested and where black crows now amass to garner any remnant they can be it grain or dead rats left from the harvester. Far over and beyond the crows, brightly coloured pheasants hug the fenceline trees to be less targetted by their plumage. With my windows down and my speed low (there’s no traffic) I listen for different birds calling as I drive along, everything from blackbirds to robins, seagulls and terns. The combination of my haircut, the driving on a supremely quiet stretch of road increases the contented feeling as I anticipate starting my work on the new project. I start more planning in my head as I pass the fields and return across the river at two points.
Coming into Abingdon I glance to the favourite spots where the hunched grey heron idles the time watching for food passing in the shallows. Today, as my mind considers book-matching oak for my mirror frame and how best to do it where it matters the heron skulks just beyond the bridge I’m crossing and his light grey feathering offers no camouflage. The mottling flecking in oak that oak often has reminds me of the heron’s plumage and two concepts hybridize from nature. It’s the suspended mirror I will pivot between the two supports to pivot the mirror as needed that crosses my mind at the same time. Grain can do that, replicate the plumage of birds or the fur of animals. My mind flits to the two bald eagles Joseph and I inlaid in the centre doors of the White House pieces we made in 2008/9. A stunning mix of woods book matched to make two exact opposites in the middle doors of each three-door credenza.
At 73 I woke at 5.30 with the same sense of excitement for my new day as a maker as I have ever since I was a child. The mix of life that life gives me to dwell on starts as soon as my eyes open first thing with no alarm to prompt me. Monday morning is identical to any other day of the week, I have no preference for one day over another, the all excite me. Creativity feeds into every corner of my day whichever way I turn and every minute brings clear, new thoughts and ideas of how to make, draw and write about whatever needs to happen. I love the spontaneity my work delivers, demands and expresses. Nothing bores me, not repeated things, not sharpening, not cleaning and clearing, not waiting patiently and not even the people who will never understand me. The isolated things I see as tedious are those pursuers from social media channel ‘partners‘ telling me, “I have checked out your channel and it’s amazing but you can make much more from this or that if you allow us to partner with you blah, blah, blah!” But I have even learned to ignore them. They can never understand anyone not doing everything for more and more money!
Whether I drive or ride my bike, the day includes a diversion here and there to stop and watch what otherwise passes to quickly away. We have had a cool July this year, lots of rain. After living in Texas for 23 years I have learned to appreciate rain and never ever take it for granted. Funnily, though, Texas only has an inch or so of rain less than the UK. But in the UK it’s fairly consistent without those extremes I experienced in Texas. This has been a pleasant start to the summer for me.
Great Crested Grebe dip and dive throughout a 20-minute break from driving if I am careful to position myself and stay still. They often travel 20 feet underwater and surface elsewhere. There is an exchange between the two, a shaking of heads into each other’s faces and then the retrieval of sludgy underwater growth as part of an assertion.