Wednesday, 1 October 2008


When I last went mushrooming with one of my Czech friends, she was much taken by my home-made thumbstick.

To any of reader that does not know what a thumbstick is, let me explain. A thumbstick is a walking stick, which has a forked end where one places one's thumb. I first learnt to make thumbsticks when I was a member of the Cotswold Wardens. It was a useful by-product of the Wardens work on laying hedges. Hedge-laying requires the cutting back of trees and shrubs and this generated the raw material for the thumbsticks. The best tree for a thumbstick is hazel, which produces suitably long, strong and straight tree stems which then fork. You simply cut the stick to the length required - the owner should be able to stand comfortably with their thumb in the fork and arm bent ie the fork is about an inch higher than the shoulder.

I do not know if the thumbstick is particularly Cotswold or English but my Czech friend was much taken with it and said she couldn't get one here. I therefore decided to make one for her – there are plenty of hazel trees around the village, so off I went with pruning saw in hand. A length of wood was cut and I set about smoothing it down for her. An hour later and the stick was ready. I met her in a gallery where she works and handed over my handiwork. My stick was hardly a work of art, the stick was not entirely straight, but then as I said to her if she lost it (as I am forever doing when I am mushrooming) I can easily make another. At this point we were joined by a friend of hers. We explained the advantages of the stick to him – with your thumb in the fork your hand can not slip, the fork is useful for holding up electric fence wires and low hanging branches, the stick could beat off an attacker and most importantly for a Czech the fork allows you to turn over and sometimes pick mushrooms without bending down. Her friend listened and came up with another use – the fork could be used to tackle snakes.

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