My family story in ten objects… number 5

This object is a coconut carved into a face… if you saw it you might think it was made by someone who lived where coconuts grow, someone who carved these sorts of things all the time to sell. No-one knows for sure where coconuts originated, but it’s generally thought it was the Indian/Indonesian areas and the ‘nuts’ floated away round the world and established themselves in different countries before they were exported by humans. No doubt artistic people in different countries carved the shells maybe as beautiful objects, maybe as things of religious significance, maybe for fun to pass the time –  certainly travellers, traders and sailors carved them  to pass the time on long voyages and bring to back as a souvenir… much the same as sailors made scrimshaw from whale bones.

However, this coconut head, which must be about sixty years old now, was carved on winter evenings by the fire in a small flat in Cambridgeshire – our flat, and carved by my dad. He was a scientist – an analyst specialising in proteins, fats and lipids; he was greatly respected and was involved in some of the most important research at the time, in both the Low Temperature Research Station in Cambridge, and the Meat Research Institute near Bristol. My dad was a great sportsman – rugby, cricket, rowing, golf, but his sporting activities were interrupted by seven years serving as a paratrooper during the war. Although he loved music, with a wide range of taste from opera to David Bowie, he wasn’t musical in any way.

So how did he come to carve this beautiful object? Why have I chosen this to represent something about my family? I’ve chosen it because it represents a great interest in creativity, making things, beautiful things, that my family all have.

As well as making this carving, dad also made glass animals and objects, including a chess set and Christmas decorations – he had to make particular and specific glass instruments for his work in the lab. His love of glass continued and he would often go to auctions (to look not buy); he was spotted by a dealer once who asked him what his line was, thinking that he was a dealer too. ‘Glass,’ my dad replied. ‘I thought so!’ said the dealer. He loved wood and made things including a table which I still have, and the panelling for a fireplace. Late in life he had a fancy for carving sheep’s horns for walking sticks… he collected them and processed them  and the sticks, but never got to carve them – I found a collection of horns after he died.

My mum was an incredible needlewoman and knitter; she made all our clothes, including my dad’s shirts and pyjamas. She had an amazing eye for colour and design, and could look at a piece of cloth and work out what she could make from it, just by eye. She would then make a pattern, but she knew exactly how far a piece of cloth would go. I remember seeing one of her school books when I was young, full of pictures – I’m not sure how good they were,obviously, but it demonstrates that she had an interest in art. She did various other needlework crafts, and at one time took up pewter work. She was so imaginative and creative, I am sure I got my love of language and imagination from her – a couple of times we began to write a story together and her writing was much better than mine (I was an adult at the time, not a child) She was always full of amazing ideas, so talented, so witty, so clever.

My sister, like me was interested in art, drawing and painting when she was at school. Unlike me she was also interested in fashion and design. Unfortunately she was in an accident when she was eighteen and now she lives in a care home; however she still paints and is very keen on ceramics.

This is one of my sister’s pieces

Returning to the coconut man; he represents that strong interest in the arts and creativity which has run through our family life. Interestingly, I married a musician and artist, but our children, although passionate about music, are much more on the mathematical and scientific side of things.



  1. David Lewis

    I would have loved to have met your Dad and have a good gab over a few pints. There are lots of things you wish you could have talked about after there gone.

    Liked by 1 person

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