When a chair is not a chair, it’s a lesson in life

A new language has entered our vocabulary – BL, DL and AL.  Before Lockdown, During Lockdown, After Lockdown. This is a story from that bygone era, BL.  In late February (it seems an age ago) I went on a Windsor Chair making course. It lasted five days and, astonishingly, I came out with a beautiful chair which I now sit on in my study.  It is, of course, perfect in every way! But all the credit goes to James Mursell, our teacher.

James has run these chair-making workshops for over 15 years and he’s a master at taking a group together through a complex process.  He’s also a master at passing on some life lessons.

Belief: there is nothing in my background that said I could do this.  I’m neat and tidy but not overly practical. I own a hammer and screwdriver – that’s it.  But James made us believe we could do this. From the moment we started he had complete confidence in us.  There was never any doubt in him or, ultimately, in us. He made us believe we could make this chair, beautifully.  And we all did.

Step by step: the order we did things in made perfect sense.  Every new process was explained. As the end approached, the instructions got shorter, tighter.  On Friday we were set very precise steps, one by one. James knew we would be getting tired and that we could see the light at the end of the tunnel.  That’s when mistakes are made so he slowed us down. Brilliant.

Get your ending right: On Friday afternoon we fitted our chairs together in a final flourish, said our goodbyes, and set off home beaming.  Over the weekend I thought he had missed a trick by not allowing us time to give it a first polish. I was wrong. As it was, we left on a high.  When you polish something for the first time, all the nicks and bumps show up and it takes 4 hours for the oil to dry. It wouldn’t have been such a triumphant moment.

Perfection is not the goal:  Perfectly made chairs are manufactured.  Handmade chairs have a lovely imperfection running through them.  As soon as he suggested this, we relaxed. If all the spindles weren’t precisely the same, that was ok.  In fact, that was the goal.

Parent/child: My chair is my child!  I love it. I’ve witnessed its conception, birth, early years and adolescence all in five days.  I know all its characteristics and flaws, every curve and line, nick and quirk. Put it in a line up with all the other chairs on the course and I could pick it out in an instant.

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