My journey into woodwork began out of desperation to leave a job I hated. In 1981 I dropped out of my Zoology degree course, disappointed at its content and distracted by my subculture’s zeitgeist – aptly summed up by Ian Dury’s song “Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll”. I fell into a string of uninspiring and unfulfilling jobs that included: toilet cleaner, warehouse man, working on a chrysanthemum nursery, a laboratory technician in a cottage cheese factory and finally a work study officer for a shoe component manufacturer.
Escaping this last position, I declared “I’m going to make wooden toys!” despite having no previous woodworking experience. I purchased my first set of basic tools with the whip-round from my workmates and, nestled into the spare room of our flat, launched enthusiastically into seeing what I could make using off-cuts my father gave me from the building firm where he worked.
My first efforts were simple but passable attempts at cars, planes and sets of painted rings on dowel. A small work space became available on the opposite side of the street for £10 per week, so I jumped at the chance. Named “Atlantis” by its owner, a Dutch artist, the former church was occupied by several hippie creatives and their partners. Unfortunately, the bills exceeded the tenants’ willingness to contribute fully and the loss-making building was sold.
I was offered a space in a cabinetmaker friend’s workshop, where he became my unofficial mentor and taught me invaluable lessons about tools, techniques and materials. Indulging my artistic temperament, I became more ambitious and creative in my designs. Between 1985 and 1988 I won three gold medals and two Richard Blizzard cups for toy making and a silver medal for carving at London and Bristol woodworker shows. Despite this, I struggled to earn enough to live on, so when my partner became pregnant and had to leave her job, I had to reconsider my position.