Several years ago now, when Mr Litlove was first getting serious about his furniture making, I remember he was sitting propped up against the pillows one night, leafing through a woodworking magazine. As I got into bed, I noticed the full page advert on the back cover which had the caption ‘You Can’t Rock This Joint!’
‘Good grief,’ I said. ‘I think I’ve just aged thirty years.’
All I needed was a cup of cocoa and my knitting to complete the picture. And so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that these first couple of months of Mr Litlove pursing his furniture making interests have left me with the oddest sensation of being retired. We have left the rat race and all its concerns far behind us without yet achieving the state of a cottage industry. Mr Litlove is now spending his days engaged in physical activity, and he’s been delighted to be able to reinstigate his favourite meal – teatime – into an already packed programme of refreshments. So he has been in and out of his workshop and I have been essentially a short order chef, keeping him fuelled. It’s pretty much full-time work.
The first couple of weeks Mr Litlove dedicated to primping up the garage. He insulated the walls, hung up over the doors the old floor to ceiling curtains that not only lived in our sitting room for years but were donated to us by my parents, and after that, he turned his attention to the lighting. With the result that when I stand at the kitchen window after dusk, looking down the garden, I think I’m about to have a close encounter of the third kind.
Then he bought a very large, shiny green box which is apparently an air filter and is now attached high up on the garage ceiling. He wears the remote control for it on a cord around his neck, and it looks for all the world like a panic button. I’m not quite sure what new roles we’re playing; Darby and Joan, on the one hand, Wallace and Gromit on the other.
But since then, furniture has been made. Mr Litlove finds himself into chairs at the moment, and Sheraton chairs in particular. Thomas Sheraton is an interesting character, the last of the great English designers and cabinet makers who flourished in the eighteenth century. He followed on the end of an illustrious line after Chippendale (hard to get the image out of one’s head of polished pecs and too much hairspray, but try), Heppelwhite and Robert Adam. Unlike his predecessors, however, fame and fortune did not smile upon him. He was born poor and only ever scraped a living from his furniture, even forced later in life to make the sort of popular French Empire style pieces (frilly, fussy) that he disliked. In our day, furniture makers have come to view Sheraton as the greatest of that pack of stylists, the most elegant of line and proportion, but during his lifetime his shyness and sensitivity, his introspection, made him a bad spokesperson and salesman for his craft. After his death in 1806, fashions changed, and the sort of furniture he loved has only relatively recently been appreciated again.
This is the first Sheraton chair Mr Litlove made, which is waiting for its upholstered seat. We thought about striking a deal with one of the local upholsterers but now Mr Litlove has decided instead to do an upholstery course in the new year. I am very pleased about this as I am working hard in what I hope is a surreptitious way towards the idea of the chaise longue, which is a piece of furniture I love. I could put up with a chaise longue around the house, if I had to.
Then, interested in a variation, Mr Litlove embarked on the other one, which as you can see is still a work in progress. He wanted to try a lighter wood, and to do something different from the carving. So he has given the chair darker wood booties (at the bottom of the front legs) and pin stripes on the back splats. The first chair he finished with glossy shellac, but I’m not sure what he intends to do with this one.
He’s been doing really well, considering that he’s worked in offices and factories for the rest of his career, always surrounded by lots of other people. I thought it would take him a while to adapt, but it’s been swift so far. Occasionally he wobbles, when something reminds him of the old capitalist regime and makes him feel he should be paying serious attention to money (we have plenty to live on; he needn’t worry). Back in summer, he came across an essay on the web that affected him. It was a piece about Jung’s ideas of personal development. Jung said that the first half of our lives we spend fighting for status on the world’s terms. We do what we can to succeed in the public sphere, and use whichever talents we possess that are culturally validated. In the second half of our lives, though, the focus shifts. Now it’s about our unexplored potential. It’s about developing ourselves on our own terms, following the dreams that have personal significance. And you never know how that’s going to turn out. We all want to be Chippendales, but we may end up as Sheratons. The Jung essay was startling as I think we both related very strongly to it, having worked hard on our careers, and now finding ourselves following paths that are much trickier in some ways, but more rewarding in others. I love seeing him make beautiful things, and all that matters to me is that he has plenty of time to explore and refine his skills.