Recently we went round what we call in the Uk, a car boot sale. Every kind of bric a brac is there: Even old 78 records and wind-up gramophones are there to send you off on a voyage through recent history. It was the second half of the twentieth century played out in old memorabilia. The place is packed with people looking at strange hand crafted chandeliers, old toasters and other objects which would never cross your mind if you didn’t see them in such a place.
We were moving slowly down the aisles, wondering at the variety of objects on show when I came across a stall manned by a smart fit looking elderly man and someone who could have been his granddaughter. Among the varied objects there was an old set of wood chisels: perfectly kept in a well-preserved leather pouch. There were about twelve of them and their gleaming wooden handles were arranged in order from the smallest to the largest leaving you with a sense of timeless patient craftsmanship. . They had obviously seen much use but had also been kept with care and diligence over many years. That they were on sale at all smacked of a lack of sentimentality which is unusual to find. My grandfather had worked with wood as a hobby and we still have some of his inlaid chests as a record of his endeavour and skill at the work. I so remember those chisels he used from my youth, and here they were again.
” Wood chisels”, I said to my partner . I looked up to meet the steady gaze of the man selling them.His blue shirt was freshly ironed and his hands were large and still tough looking. Wherever you had been, he had been also, and then some. “From when men worked ” he said. His face unsmiling and direct. There was a toughness about him, like one who has tunnelled his way through life in a thorough and unpublished manner to enjoy his later years. I nodded at him. “Yes they are”I replied “My grandfather had some just like them”. A faint glow of recognition passed through his steady blue eyes but nothing more was said. It was like meeting some old hero from a Western in this incongruous suburban setting. Wherever he had come from he seemed far from the modern world . You could feel nothing but respect for his dignity and self-sufficiency. He did not seek to engage me or indulge in conversation but just stood his ground like a patient time traveller.
Beside him everything seems frivolous and shallow. Such men make us reflect on our hurried anxious lives and long for the time when we all worked closer to the earth and it’s seasons. It felt like a privilege to meet him and I extended my hand to shake his. His grasp was as firm and uncluttered as you can imagine. Meeting him added a sense of dignity and perspective to my day and I thank him for it