Every story has a beginning, this is ours.
Autumn 1980 and I was packing my kiln. My back was towards the door in my small studio which was in a huge ramshackle mill building just outside Clare. On hearing the door open I turned and saw standing there a woman, slim, elegant and possessing a gentle stillness which I found, and still do after thirty plus years, utterly irresistible.
She asked of me, in a voice that was just so lovely, if I did evening classes. Looking back all those years as I write this my heart still beats that little bit faster as I remember the time Isobel and I first met.
I fell head over heels in love at that very moment.
The Italians, who know more of love that we uptight English, call it ‘the thunderbolt’ and by jingo that’s what it felt like. But we were strangers, not even a smoke-wreathed train or other passing cinematographic plot line to hang on to. Just one pretty lady and a smitten potter.
I said of course I did evening classes, done them for ages, an outright lie, but all’s fair in love and war!
‘When is good for you?’
‘ Fine, wonderful, what time?’
‘About seven thirty.’
‘Great, no problems.’
She smiled, I melted. She turned and left. I collapsed into a chair, lit a pipe and thought just how on earth I was going to get an evening class set up by next Wednesday.
I went to the pub next door to the Mill; sank a pint, then another and looked round at the assorted ne’er-do-wells that inhabited the snug at that time of day. One man stood out. Of middling height, ramrod straight, even when in his cups, neat, gently tweeded and possessing that poise and charm that only comes from being an officer and definitely a gentleman. Jock ran a small print shop after he retired from the army, after serving as he was want to say ‘long service in bad stations’ in the Royal Artillery. Although some years older than me and being a ‘gunner’ whereas my brief military career had been in the RASC, we got on well and had become good friends. Jock was at that time a font of knowledge when it came to the fair sex and had tried marriage several times before giving it up.
He listened like an old father to my tale and then with hand on shoulder told me that he would, like a good comrade, step into the breach.
So Jock was the other ‘student’; a chaperone and friend who with knowing eye and with gentle collusion watched Isobel and I fall in love. When the lease on the workshop ended the following year we moved the pottery to a shed that formed part of a council yard in Clare, Suffolk. Here together we made the first ceramic wizards and witches that became the hallmark of Clarecraft Pottery – later Clarecraft Designs. It was the start of a journey which drew us ten years later to a meeting with Terry and twenty years later to the Discworld Emporium in Wincanton.
From our shed in Clare we made a precarious living selling at craft fairs all over the region. In the beginning we drove around in an old post-office van, then in an estate car brought cheaply from a mate until the day when we bought a new ‘Honda Acti’ van. A lovely girl called Karen painted it with our logo; she was our first ever employee thanks entirely to a scheme dreamed up by the government called ‘work experience’. I look back at these days with real warmth. Isobel and I were together living in an old rented farmhouse, surrounded by an acre of orchards and gardens on the outskirts of Clare. We kept chickens and grew vegetables and our children had space to live and play. We never had much money but really we were in a corner of paradise, even if we didn’t know it then. Hindsight and memory can guild the past but only on foundations of truth. This was a very special time indeed.