I'll never be quite sure whether it was the man, or the chair, to which I was first most attracted. And if I begin with the man, it will only be because one must begin somewhere. Or do I protest too much ?
Ill admit he was very handsome. He was also tall. But not standing proud. Though he could have done so. The chair was beautiful. He had made it. There may have been other chairs made by other craftsmen at the fair, but I do not remember them. Only the chair that became mine. And the man.
Another man who looked like him, and with as much reason for being confident, might have been aggressive in demeanour. But this man seemed diffident, his tall frame slightly bent like the back of the chair he had made and was now using as an example of his work. He waited quietly for people to approach. Sometimes he spoke, softly answering the questions put to him. Often he smiled. If I had given it thought I might have judged him about forty years of age. Maybe a little less, or perhaps a little more. His hair, short and thick like his beard, was flecked with grey.
His brown eyes suggested a sadness for something he knew or had known. I guessed him to be deeply sensitive to more than the wood with which he worked. He and the chair were, for me, the highlight of that lovely day.
I had come to a craft fair to end all craft fairs held on the magnificent estate of Lord Montague of Beaulieu. The weather was warm and sunny. And although there were many hundreds of people visiting, the extensiveness of the magnificent grounds offered plenty of space for the various stalls, events, marquees, and the milling crowds.
Out in the open air were many demonstrated skills. Among them thatching; fly fishing; shooting; horse riding; and ferret racing. Inside several enormous marquees, and thus protected from whatever the weather might have offered, were many more crafts, either delicate, intricate, complex or intriguing, usually wonderful, and often beautiful. It was in one of these marquees I first saw the chair. And Bill Hadfield.
It was late afternoon and I had been wandering around the grounds most of the day. My feet were aching. I would have taken my shoes off but here and there the ground was rough. His stall was the first - or the last, depending which marquee one began with, or at which side one entered. And by now I was tired. You could say my resistance was low.
I studied the chair for several minutes, not looking at the man. I had never seen wood so beautifully formed, or that made me want to touch it so much. Tentatively I moved forward, and turning, lowered myself on to its wide seat. The man did not move. But I knew he had seen me.
Slowly I leaned back and felt the wood welcome my body. Closing my eyes, I placed my hands on the smooth rounded ends of each arm, and felt the warmth of their embrace. When I opened my eyes the man stood beside me. He said nothing. There was no need. We both knew that a love affair was beginning.
Next: Part Two : The Chair.