The Contented Craftsman

Is there anything so wondrous as a man truly happy in his own skin and content with his life and his occupation?

As Dr Beran Wolf wrote:

“If you observe a really happy person, you will find them building a boat, writing a symphony, educating their son, growing double dahlias in their garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert. They will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under a radiator.”

Today was one of those days. A special day full of special moments but none so captivating as meeting Chris Viner at his shop Soldiers of Rye.

Magical things do happen and as we walked through Rye and saw Chris sitting in his shop window painting toy soldiers, I  knew one of those moments had arrived.

My wife tends to get fed up when I accost people and talk to them but it was she who immediately said I must go in and talk to Chris. It just had to be done.

Chris has a Father Christmas twinkle in his eye; kindliness, boyish enthusiasm and quiet contentment are evident from the off.

I knew I had to chat. He is the toy maker in Chitty Bang Bang, he is the Sandman, he belongs in a fairy tale.

Did you know that lead soldiers were hollow?  If you make them out of solid lead, they are too heavy and collapse at the ankles. These days toy soldiers are made of a mixture of metals and so can be made solid.  Chris carves the master copy out of clay and then creates a mould so that, once he has replicated Winston Churchill, he can satisfy the insatiable demand for effigies of our great leader and orator for years to come.

Gordon of Khartoum is a popular purchase and the Japanese can’t get enough of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson.

What is there that is so satisfying and appealing about a man at his craft? How often have I wanted to be a binder of books in leather or to pursue the making of miniature furniture as I did as a child.

Is it the manual element? It is certainly satisfying to create out of our own hands. The art, the creativity? Yes that too.

Is there a hermeticism about it which appeals to me? I think that plays a large part in its attraction.

There is something almost earthy, fundamental about the craft. It links us to the material out of which this rocky outcrop is made and to the produce which grows on it. Lead, wood, leather. Rich, aromatic, satisfying. Textured, physical, comforting.

But Chris was also more than his craft. He had a wisdom and kindness which shone through.

One of his sons had started in finance in the soulless City of London and hated it. Many a father would have been horrified that his son wanted out of a lucrative career, but Chris’ advice was that his son should leave immediately and follow his passion. This son’s real love was archaeology and so he went back to university and then went on to work as an archaeologist in Cambridge. The other also son found himself and his career misaligned and so Chris and his wife had him move back home to follow his love of painting. That son now has exhibitions all over the world.

So you see, there are good things in the world and good people. Would that they continue to flourish and thrive.


  1. Ach, he should find something else to make figurines of. Churchill was an abhorent white supremacist, even by the standards of Conservatives of his own time!


    1. Ha ha ha. Apparently his military skills were abominable and his staffe had to put a stop to most of his plans. A good orator though. I have never had him as one of my heros. A friend is his great granddaughter and the whole family still make a great hullabaloo about it all. Lecture tours and god knows what else. Particularly in the US. I find it all faintly absurd.


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