Saturday, February 6, 2016

The objects of life #2, Windsor chair


As I sit and type this post my arse is getting cold, and somewhat numb too. The chair it's attached to (save for a thin layer of cotton) is a Windsor stick back, made of oak, by someone a long time ago.  If I turned it over I could show you the marks where they've drilled and chiseled, so the legs butt neatly in the slab.

I found this chair almost thirty years ago, in a shop in Monmouth, shortly after coming to Wales. It was one of those impulse purchases - saw it; loved it; bought it, all in five minutes - and at £190 it seemed a lot of money at the time. I remember too that it caused a row because my wife was annoyed I'd not asked her first.  It's my money I'd said; and it's our house, she'd  replied - to be fair, she had a point.

It was always my chair after that, and when we parted it came with me too. There's few days since that I haven't settled in its frame to ponder or write. A while back, my company insisted on supplying me with an orthopedic monstrosity, complete with lumbar support and variable height adjusters  - it soon adorned my shed, before making its way to the tip.

Sick chairs are traditional, vernacular furniture - they were common throughout the UK, but particularly so in Wales. Experts can identify the region of origin, sometimes the maker, and ironically, for what started as humble country effects, they're now sought after antiques with provenance and prices to match. Some of the designs (Windsors particularly) have been adopted by manufacturers, and you'll find any number of reproductions on eBay.

But despite the mass producers, stick chairs are still made by craftsmen today. The twentieth century guru was John Brown, who published a definitive book on styles and method. His chairs are objects of beauty; among the few things I truly covet. There are contemporary makers too - so it's a craft that lives on, though more for sales than for personal use.

By today's prices my £190 wasn't a bad investment. More importantly, it's given me thirty years of pleasure and memory. The surface of my chair is pitted with history, a palimpsest of my time in Wales. That's the character of the possessions we care for - objectively, they are 'worth' this or that - but what's the value of the wear on the arms,  or the chips in the varnish where my sons played with their toys?

As I finish this post I can barely feel my backside.  I ought to get a cushion; probably will - but regardless, I wouldn't want to have plonked it anywhere else.