Never Too Late

Five years ago I met a man named Colin Leeson, he was a Briar Pipe craftsmanBetween April and late September for the last 5 years I have been travelling to most parts of the UK to sell garden furniture at Country/Garden shows. At best, the show circuit can only be described as a strange way to make a living. Heading off in April and seldom getting home except when there might be a short break in the circuit calendar or home on Monday only to leave on the Wednesday. Though I must say when the sun is shinning and you’re pulling up in the grounds of a truly spectacular venue like Blenheim Palace it really doesn’t seem so bad.

My job lends itself to a Romany type people who choose to spend much of the summer months travelling between shows selling their products in some of the most beautiful country settings and estates that the UK has to offer. And the Romany type people I have had the good fortune to meet are to numerous to mention, people that will stay with me forever.

In May 4 years ago I had arrived at The South of England Show in Ardingley, and it wasn’t long before the sweat started to drip as I once again endeavored to remove my rather heavy solid aluminum furniture from my truck in warm and sunny weather, dragging various pieces to their positions for the forthcoming 3 day show. After a little while a man more mature in years pulled up next to me in his van, obviously my neighbour. Another hour passed, the man had erected his rather small pop up gazebo and so I thought it was time to introduce myself.

I turned the corner and walked into the front of his stand named INVICTA BRIARS of England, to see a wonderful display of hand crafted briar pipes, pipe tobacco and relevant products laid waiting for the next days prospective purchasers to arrive. The conversation flowed and I remember looking outside to see the sun starting to dip and realising my own stand was only half built, over 2 hours had past and a couple of beers as Colin proudly chatted about the craft he loved, which I was more than willing to listen to.

I know for sure that I spent more of the next 3 days in his small tent than on my own stand listening to the answers he gave to the, as far as I was concerned, surprising amount of people and pipe enthusiasts that made their way to his pitch, always a good sign of how business is going. Just listening to him talk about the briar, where it came from, design, shapes, stems, bowl diameter, various tobaccos left me fascinated. I WAS HOOKED from then on.

Sunday evening arrived and before I stack my chairs in a neat pile Colin had cleared his stand, put pipes in boxes and had packed the lot into his van. As he drove past me he extended a hand from his window to shake mine, saying, “see you at Devon County in a couple of weeks” and was gone.

Devon couldn’t come round soon enough, I even drove down early so I could make time to find Colin’s stand, we sat and chatted in the evenings over a glass of red and my fascination of briar pipes grew. I remember walking over to see him on the Saturday evening, we talked and I asked him what show he was doing next. To my surprise, various reason and circumstances had lead him to the conclusion that at 69 enough was enough and that he needed to be at home, also and to my horror, slowly but surely Invicta Briars was going to be wound down. At the last count Colin told me that there were only 4/5 individual briar pipe craftsmen left in England now that his old friend Bill Ashton Taylor has passed away. I would like to conclude my little story by saying that over the last 3 years I am now described by my friends as possibly the oldest trainee/apprentice in England, but am very proud to say that by the end of November Invicta Briars will have a new owner to care for it. Learning new skills at 46 has been challenging at times, but I have had the best mentor in Colin Leeson a man who has a real knack at being able to look over my should at just the right time, long may that continue.

Leave a Reply