An Infectious Visitor
Q: What’s a great pursuit for a Judge to take up in retirement? A: Whipmaking.
It was earlier this week that a couple from out of state stayed with us for a few days while on a road trip. We have known them for decades, but lives do change. One of them has now retired after four decades in the legal profession, most recently as a District Court Judge here in Australia. On the first full day of their visit, I emerged for breakfast and found him already up early, braiding leather outside in the morning sunshine. It turns out that he has taken up leatherwork and braiding as an absorbing hobby. And I soon saw that he was good at it.
He explained that it began with an intense leathercraft course that he decided to do while on vacation in Ireland, followed by subsequent reading and Youtube videos. Then practise, practise, practise. And yes, in answer to line 1 above, he has made some top-grade equestrian whips for serious competitors.
That first day at our house he made a strong leash for one of my daughter’s large dogs. I sat outside where he was working and absorbed as much knowledge as I could through conversation and watching. He explained that leashes for large dogs must be made properly so that there is no chance of it breaking. For example, he said that there is no place for a large dog to break its leash if it got excited at a dog show. Mayhem would ensue!
Below: A dog leash takes shape (click to enlarge)
So, he makes his leashes in proportion to the size and weight of the recipient dog. The two that he proceeded to prepare for my daughter and son-in-law’s dogs are undoubtedly strong. Julia, one of the dogs, thinks that she is a human and will likely appreciate the craftsmanship. Maxine, the other dog, behaves more like a dog and will probably have no idea.
He made those two leashes by braiding 3mm leather over a round-section central cord, then braiding a second 4.7mm lace over the first braid, followed by a final change to a flat section handgrip. And he further explained that kangaroo leather is his preferred material because it is lighter than cowhide, and also four times stronger. His dexterity was impressive, and his brain was mathematical as he went about the job.
The final stages of a leash. Trim off loose ends, Roll with a heavy board to even thickness if necessary, trim off the loose ends, and then the finished product. (Click to enlarge)
His knife….and his binoculars
When I saw him use his knife to cut some of the lacing, I noticed the discreet but classy looking leather strap attached to the handle. That set me thinking, so I asked him whether he had ever made shoulder straps or wrist straps for cameras. He replied that he hadn’t, but that I should go to his car and get his binoculars to see what he had done there, as it could possibly be adapted to camera straps.
Purposeful tools (Click to enlarge)
That was when I saw the essence of the Judge. The braiding on the binocular case and binoculars themselves was impressive — and the binoculars were terrific! Leica 8×56 Geovid. I did play with those binoculars over the next two days. The large aperture combined with Leica glass was fabulous at pulling in extremely crisp clear images. They put my 8×42 binoculars to shame, even though I had previously thought that my binoculars were pretty good. And the Geovid designation meant that there is an inbuilt distance finder. Just press a very subtle flush soft pad on the top of the binoculars while viewing and a red square appears, similar to a centre focus square on a camera. Then, a second later, an inconspicuous digital distance readout shows for a short time in the view. Truly impressive. Damn, there goes my pocket money as I now have to dip my toe into the world of Leica binoculars.
After lunch, on that first day, we went to the Macfilos archives so that he could see what braided leather camera straps were all about. He was quite interested and suggested that wrist straps were the way to start. That afternoon he made a braided wrist strap for my Leica X2. I was impressed at how he was able to flick, turn, plait and complete a geometric four-lace strap in about 30 minutes.
The next day he suggested that it was my turn to try to make one. I hesitated, feeling very insecure. But he insisted, and was a great teacher, observing me as I started and only offering essential commentary as needed. It was “sink or swim” for me. However, after about an hour or so I had finished the job. Much slower than his the day before, but my own hands had performed an apparent miracle. I felt chuffed!
A sincere thank you to a retired Judge. It wasn’t just a social visit and some good meals and conversation. It was a surprise learning experience for me. Good times to remember, and an infectious craft to pursue.
Postscript: Mike has now returned from the LHSA meeting in Wetzlar. Many of you would be aware that Leica have their home base there, but not many would know that Wetzlar rose to prominence in the 1600s when it became the site of the Imperial Supreme Court of the Holy Roman Empire. At that time it became the town’s primary employer with a staff of about 150, including 20 Judges (source: Wikipedia). So he thought it ironic that on the day of his return he received a submission regarding a retired Judge.