Not so long ago I found a box of wooden toys hidden away in the attic. They began their lives as a block of ordinary wood, carved out by my father’s clever hands. As I touched the wooded shapes, the memories came flooding back.
‘This is perfect for making toys as it doesn’t break easily and doesn’t contain harsh chemicals,’ he once told me. ‘The great thing is they will still be around long after you have finished playing with them.’ And they have!
I can still smell the oak and pine my father took hours and even days to chisel and shape. He would sit at his bench and smooth the wood like I would smooth the cat. All the while, he chewed on his old pipe, probably one he made himself. Sometimes he would let me have a go and sometimes it would end in tears.
‘You’re too heavy handed,’ he used to tell me and he would spend hours talking about when it was once a tree. He would sit there and smooth the wood almost as if he was sorry it had been cut down, which wouldn’t surprise me!
At the age of ten I knew the names of all the trees in the woods around us and I was taught how to respect them. I remember the story of the Wishing Tree, where people hung ribbons and rags from the branches in the hope that good luck would follow. And the World tree, with its roots in the earth and its branches stretching up to the sky, uniting them together.
I would sit and listen, my hands tucked in my lap, as my father talked about trees. He talked about folklore and religion and how, in Burma, the Talien will pray to the tree before cutting it down and in Africa, a woodman will place a fresh sprig on the tree before raising his axe.
These stories were told in the perfect setting of my father’s workshop, tucked away on the edge of a forest. Watching him make me a whistle or a doll from wood was like watching him perform magic!