05 July 2012

Joining the Team

4th in a series...

I worked at the Guildhouse for about 6 months, but it was far from a taxing job, teaching a few classes a week and with few other responsiblities I had more idle time on my hands than I would have preferred. I went for long walks over the hills, scattering sheep before me where ever I rambled. I read a lot. And once a week I would hitchhike to Cheltenham to visit the library for more books. It was a happy coincidence that Winchcombe was on the way and I always stopped for a visit.
    At that time the team included Xavier Toubes and Nina Davis as well as Eddie, Nori, Mike and Ray. They were very welcoming and it wasn't long before I was joining Xavier on long walks and accompanying Eddie to the pubs. Eddie Hopkins was a local Gloucestershire man with an infectious staccato laugh and an enormous gift for making pottery. Beautifully thrown pots just poured from his hands, all the while talking a blue streak and listening to the cricket match on the wireless.On my first visit he invited me out to his favorite pub(s) and he agreed to come pick me up at the Guildhouse. When he arrived he was met at the door by Mary, who could be a most imposing woman and she had made it quite clear to me that she did not approve of alcohol and pubs. She must have given Ed the hairy eyeball and put the fear of God in him, because ever after that I had to meet him down in the village to get my ride! I will have to write more about him one day as he was an amazing character.
    I knew from my first visit that this was the place for me. Here was a small group of talented artisans making simple, straightforward useful pots covered in rich glazes or blushed with the warm tones of the wood firing. After spending time at 3 different universities in the U.S. I had no idea where my future lie, and this place made complete sense to me. These folks got up every day, went into the workshop and made beautiful things...by the thousands! Maybe it was my own working class background, but the idea of pottery as a job was unknown to me at the time and I was sure that this would be my own path forward. Call it an epiphany if you'd like, but I just KNEW that I had to work there...
    Of course, that didn't mean that Ray knew and, in fact, in those days I was aware that almost daily the pottery was getting requests from people all over the world for a job, and I found this rather discouraging. The last thing that I wanted to do was to bother the old boy with yet another earnest young man's request,and yet, how could I let the chance go by to at least let him know that I, too, had an interest?!
    So one day I resolved to visit and ask him. As it happens, Ray wasn't in the workshop where I expected, but instead he was out in the yard spraying glaze on some of his larger chargers (that's a platter for those who might not know). It's important to state that Ray was a man of few words and a slow, thoughtful talker. I am usually unnerved by people like that; I assume that they are thinking deep thoughts and that my endless chatter must be an annoyance. And small talk can be painful in that circumstance for me. It was an excruciating visit, trying to keep a conversation going all the while trying to get the words out of my mouth that I had rehearsed so many times...
    It went something like this..." Ray, I know that you are forever having to disappoint people who ask for a job and I don't want to put you in that same position, but I need to at least raise my hand up and make you aware that if ever there was position available and I could be of use, I would dearly love to join the team" Whew...finally I'd said it and I remember feeling a little weak from the effort.
    He then took just as long of a time to answer, talking around the question at first, telling me that his plan was actually to reduce the size of the team a bit as he thought that they might have grown too big and while he appreciated my interest, he didn't think that it would be possible. I was crushed, although I did my best not to show it and soon slunk away to lick my wounds. But, at least I had got the courage up to ask, and that felt alright.
   A few months later I was preparing to return to the States, having no idea what was coming next. Going back to school made no sense to me and while I now knew what a good pot looked like and the value that they can add to everyday living, I was a poor thrower at best, so, what to do? I returned to Winchcombe for what I thought would be the last time. I had arranged to visit with a group of handicapped students I was teaching and by that time I was permitted to lead them around the pottery myself. I remember this next bit as clearly as if it was yesterday...I was standing at the top of the precarious stairs that lead to the showroom and Ray appeared at the bottom. Would I come and see him before I left, he asked? How nice, I thought, he wants to say good-bye. When I found him later we went through the same awkward dance as the day I had asked him...he dithered away, saying, " well, you know that Nina has left and Xavier is about to leave and this would mean that Nori would have to take a step backwards on the team and that didn't seem fair so what did I think about returning in the fall to join them!!!!! I would stay in the caravan (trailer) that Xavier had lived in and would receive the princely sum of £15 a week (at that time it was about $30.00 American). Unbelievable! Oh joy! Oh rapture! Flippin' heck! Of course, I couldn't really let all this out and, of course I said yes and anyone reading this knows where it all has led. I did return to the States to make some extra money and came back to the pottery a few months later.
That's all for today, kiddies, I'll be back with another installment tomorrow...

4 comments:

Anna M. Branner said...

Of course I have heard your story in bits and pieces...but I am enjoying reading this from beginning to end. Looking forward to the next installment! :) (Oh, and it's supposed to be 104 on Saturday.)

Tracey Broome said...

Enjoying your posts soooo much, thanks!!!!

Barbara R. said...

This is a great installment, and I can't wait for the next chapter!

Hollis Engley said...

Keep writing, Daniel. Good to hear the story again.