Saturday, June 27, 2009
He had a little wooden workshop at the bottom of the garden. I don’t think anybody ever saw inside, except his wife who wandered down to the shed several times a day with mugs of steaming tea.
As children we were always intrigued to know what went on inside. We used to clamber up his garden fence to try and see though the little dusty window pane. We would occasionally see him with a paintbrush in his hand or holding a piece of wood up to the light. Strange noises emanated from within. Grinding sounds, sawing and the hissing of sandpaper on timber. Often the air was filled with the scent of pine or the heady smell of lacquer.
Every Christmas each child in the village received a little painted wooden toy in the stocking which hung from their bedpost. We were always told that Santa had made it especially for us. It might be a little toy car, or a brightly painted wooden whistle. We never questioned it even when doubts began to creep into our minds about the existence of such a character. And such is the naivety of children that it never occurred to us that these lovely little presents where in fact coming from the mystery workshop at the bottom of the gentleman’s garden.
The years passed by and many of us had children of our own. The tradition of the toys was enjoyed by a whole new generation.
He lived to a good age and carried on working in his workshop until the day he died. On the day of his funeral many of us were invited by his wife to walk down to the little wooden workshop at the bottom of the garden. She threw open the doors and for the first time in our lives we saw inside. Hammers and chisels and screwdrivers hung from hooks on the walls. Rows of little pots of paint were lined up like soldiers along the shelves. A lathe sat on a bench as shiny as the day it was new and saws of every shape and size sat below.
And in the middle of the shed, sitting on a pair of trestles was a coffin. It was no ordinary coffin. It was intricately carved with smiling faces, images of racing cars and tractors and sheep. It was a riot of blue, red, green and yellow and sitting on top was a wreath of wooden flowers.
None of us were asked to, but each of us took with us one of the toys which he had made for us all those years ago. And later at the church, one by one we each placed our toy on the lid of the coffin.
It was probably our imagination playing tricks with us, but we all thought we heard a faint sound of grinding and sawing, and the hiss of sandpaper on timber. And I’m sure I smelt the scent of pine and the merest hint of lacquer.