A Different Day?

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!

The magpie colours life in every realm I oass through here in the UK. It belongs the Corvidae family of birds, cousins to  ravens, crows, rooks and jays worldwide.

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.

The Red-tailed `kItes are plentiful and can be seen just about every few seconds here in Oxford. They give a most spectacular exhibition of versatility in flight when you catch them following a tractor harvesting the wheat. They remain two metres above the tractor and drop to retrieve voles or mice from behind the harvester.

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.

Jackdaws are amazingly competent survivors. Always in groups like the other corvids, their gregarious chatter and banter is in shared and interactive space.

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.

From my sketchbook.

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.

Ther inlaid eagle on the front of the ~Wite House cabinets we made for the Cabinet Room of the White House in 2008/9. The figured marbling in the black walnut made the image easy for us.

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 are common enough but still quite stunning to see and watch.

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.


  1. Interesting what you do while driving.
    Unfortunately, sometimes we drive without thinking of it when following a familiar path (and I don’t read or use my phone while driving).

    Young people think they are better driver because they have better reflexes. But a study once demonstrated that reflexes are of no use if one doesn’t identify the dangerous situations… which comes with the experience the new driver is lacking.

    Some see the road code solely as a constraint. The fact is the respect of the code makes the behaviour of other drivers predictable. Without surprises, not much reflex should really be needed.

    I always say: don’t do anything which might surprise other drivers.
    And, the road is not a racetrack.

    1. yes its not a race track. and the boy racers would struggle for a finish let alone a podium with their skills. i remember my stepfather telling me in 72 when i got my license that some drivers are safer at 100mph than others at 30mph. i agree he was right. sadly he was one of the latter lol.

  2. Paul, I really enjoyed the way you described your driving awareness. I estimate that probably fewer than 5% of drivers use such an approach.

    1. I think it is important to see driving as a craft that needs constant refining and build your awareness of others. A defensive driving course is not so much self defending but the defending of others who are skilful at handling their cars as in driving but not mindful or skilful in anticipating what can go wrong in the blink or half blink of any eye.

      1. Totally agree Paul, I also did Roadcraft with the Police Force and still practice “commentary drives” to hone or polish skills. My children laugh but also say “ you see so much when driving Dad!” to which I reply “so do you when driving (I hope) but I do it consciously”. One thing I have found in my 55 years of driving is that there are always new situations/problems to encounter and that, like life itself you should never stop learning! Woodworking being one, with your excellent teaching!

      2. I have done advanced car and motorcycle tests and done a lot of riding with current and ex motorcycle police riders. I describe advanced riding/driving as “a state of mind”.

  3. Thanks Paul. Would love to hear some day more about why you worked as a police officer (I’m guessing to supplement early woodworking earnings).

    I do enjoy the wildlife around us. Often, I will take my dog for a walk early in the morning. It is not usual to see turkeys, skunks, and racoons. Once, we saw a fox cross the road (likely going to its den). We have a nice array of birds in the area. This past spring, we had a hawk that had taken up residence in the tall tress near my home. Enjoyed the sounds it made when it was out and about. A month or two later, my neighbor had a spotting scope set up in his front yard. In it was the next in the nest with young hawks. It was delightful to see. At night, we have an owl that hoots where we live. There are vineyards not that far were we live, they have planted owl boxes to encourage owls to nest there and then act as a natural way to keep the rodent populations down.

    1. Ah! Texas and wild places beyond the cities and on into the Hill country where we swam and tubed the Guadalupe, the Frio and the Dry Frio through unpolluted canyons beyond the reach of crowds. Cougars, bobcats, Javelina and crowds of coyotes yip yipping through the evenings and then the whippoorwills and the poor-wills-widow calming us through the night watches and silhouetted against a bright moon glow. Not too much if any of that here, even in the remotes of our extremes. Even though I lived 80 miles west of San Antone, with almost nothing in between, the night skies were heavily polluted by street lights and shopping centre illuminated signs.

      1. My brother lived in Texas for a number of years (Austin) and I visited him over Christmas. We had a great time. Saw a lot of sites. I could feel the pull and wanting to live there. Maybe, someday. I also have a great fondness for the Pacific Northwest (I lived there for 4 years). One year, at my father in laws cabin in the Sierra Nevada foothills, on a rainy late fall day, I sat on the deck and called in a deer; not to hunt it, just to see if I could call one in. It was fun. The bear that used to visit his property we were more cautious about. Nature is wonderful.

    2. Hi Paul,

      loved your description of your drive to get your haircut. I too drive like you describe though never taken a defensive driving course in 52 yrs of driving. my daughter who’s 30 just got her full black licence her in Australia. they get there L plate from 26 and 9 mths, which then then need to go driving with dad or mum, or driving injector my preferred option. though the one my daughter had made her use her car, which in itself is dangerous as they only have access to a handbrake. more and more cars are doing away with them and just have a button.

      After completing so many hours of driving which is recorded in an official diary. they need to get a certain number with different driving conditions. Night driving, driving in the rain etc. Now it depends on who takes over after paid instructions how well if a all this is done. As anyone can write anything they want in the diary. Eventually the decision is made to attempt the driving test. Either via the paid 8nstructor or bot just privately. Before doing the actual driving test they have to do another computer test, testing out other aspects of driving. Then they attempt the actual Les go for a drive, many not making it past the end of the driveway on to the road further than a cars length. Sneakily there’s a stop or give way sign at the exit of the carpark on to the road. they don’t stop or don’t give way and Bing it’s an immediate fail. Thank you for your $160. each time. those lucky enough to be warned about this, nervesly do the correct thing. And continue on. They return and either Pass or Fail. Well when I did my test at the hardest testing centre near the airport in Sydney I passed the first time. But then I was an apprentice motor mechanic, so was used to driving all manner of vehicles, mostly Fords from Cortinas up to expensive yank tanks the bosses car.

      My daughter got her Red P plate first go too whichbwad exciting and opened up a whole new life to her, Independence totally. She had tha for a year then neededto do the Perception computer test before getting her green P plates that they use for 2 years then straight to black licence. She isn’t the most safest of drivers I mus say but each time she drives me, she is nervous because I pickup things that she is doing wrong. like driving to fast up to a Roundabout which there are many. Not thinking about slowing down when in the distance you see a Red Light with cars stopped waiting. so why drive at 80 kms when taking your foot off the accelerator saves a bit of diesel and by the time you get there traffic has generally starred flowing again or you don’t need to brake so hard. I make her nervous is what she says, my reply all people who have driven as long as I have are just as nervous as I don’t have control of the car. She is getting better with me in the car and does drive just as defensively as I do. She picked that up from me having driven her around most of the time since she was born. I used to talk to her about defensive driving from an early age to try and install in her good road sense. But you can’t teach the other idiots on the road the same. There are some very bad drivers here just l8ke there are around the world.

      I have received you book and the Kit to make my own grove cutter looking forward to that. Just have to get the chisels and plane cip breakers and blades out and learn to sharpen them. Then I can get on to starting my first project. I don’t have a very good mallet can’t afford those that cost several hundred pounds/dollars. So I’m think about one of those make the notise the easy way, leave a hole. Put some lead Shot in some cavities with epoxy then put the sides on. Make a handle with a couple of small holes and cut 2 l8nes down to the holes so I can ut a couple of nice wedges in to hopefully last the rest of my days, hand all my took on to my daughter if she wants them. I’m hoping she gets interested and starts mak8ng things with me and by herself. she’s left handed, more the artistic brain. But does suffer from Dyslexia and Complex PTSD. I’m hoping for it to become a distraction for her.

      Hope you are well, the coughing you have sometimes concerns me, but then wearing a mask and trying to talk would be impossible for instructional videos like yours are. plenty of aural information not listen to machines cutting wood mechanically.

      Thank you and your team for all that you do to help others learn and hopefully enjoy the craft of woodworking.

      G’Night from The Land Downunder

      Warmest Regards,


  4. A bit if good news in this world of clickbait 24/7 bad news is refreshing. Your eagle inlay reminded me that being from Connecticut, and growing up near the Connecticut River, we’ve seen a resurgence of the bald eagle and other birds since the banning of DDT and other synthetic insecticides. More needs to be done to protect the environment obviously, but the river is infinitely cleaner and healthier than it has been since the late 19th century when the Connecticut river was badly polluted with industrial waste etc. I never saw our symbol of freedom flying overhead as a child in the 70s/80s, but now it is commonplace to spot them, and their population is way up nesting along the CT river.

  5. Gas is the US is cheap, about half the cost of what you might pay. We have lots of major highways where people regularly go more than 30 miles an hour faster than posted limits (40 KPH to you) and weave in and out of traffic lanes finding the way to keep up their rate of speed. Traffic enforcement is almost non existent and as you might expect there are a lot of fatalities.
    Add to this is distracted drivers on cell phones, texting or even reading books or driving under the influence while they are supposed to be paying attention, it’s all quite horrifying.
    Even on country roads someone will get behind you and try to make you go faster by driving too close. This degradation in driving etiquette has been getting worse over the years. It’s almost like people think they are immortal and nothing will happen to them.

  6. I’m so glad you haven’t “partnered” with others to make more money. I’ve seen what it does to those that do. Many of the woodworkers I watch have done just that, and it changes them. I can see it in their personality and in their woodshop. They become smug (self-assured?), silly, and “je ne se quoi”. Newer, bigger and more expensive equipment. Ugh. They leave me for their new focus in life.

  7. I look at those pictures and think how nice it is to be so much cooler and greener on the drive than here in South Central Texas where we are having no rain, lots of dust and typical highs near 40º C.

    In many disciplines, there is craft as much as knowledge. Even I, as an aviator and practitioner of engineering, had to learn the “craft” of the job beyond the rules and maths. I now am learning from resources such as Paul and others on the Internet, the craft (and joy) of hand woodworking.

  8. Thank you Paul. I really enjoyed your delightful Mother Nature diversion with your thoughts and comments. It is even more enjoyable to me as a birder
    ( twitcher) here in the USA.

  9. I grew up in Gloucestershire with both parents being Institute of Advanced Motorist qualified. I had a boss later who was an instructor for the IAM. Now I live in California, and give thanks to the god of the road if I see another motorist actually use their turn signals! I swear, not a soul here has any concept of situational awareness. I could weep. I don’t, instead I drive as well as that heritage makes possible!
    That trick of talking through what you’re doing as you do it – I use that on a ton of activities. Of course, my wife thinks I’ve gone dotty, but still. While she has a point, I wouldn’t give it up for the world.
    Thanks for being such an advocate for the life lived well, Paul. It’s appreciated.

  10. Well I would never have picked that you were a Copper! But then you obviously didn’t love it that much or you would have stayed in 😀. As another person with Roadcraft based training, I can’t imagine how many less accidents and road deaths there would be if everyone was trained to use the system daily. ‘Craft’ …. Its all but disappeared in most walks of life sadly.

  11. Good day Paul,

    One always needs to take time away from the office to smell the roses, as they say. My outlet is time in my workshop; even if it is for an hour. Thanks.

    C’est si bon,

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