Have you taken up a new hobby during lockdown that you’ve enjoyed so much that you plan to keep doing it? Haydn Callow, a 74-year-old army veteran from Somerset, has discovered a hidden talent for building ukuleles during the lockdown.
Having given up on learning to play the ukulele, Mr Callow decided instead to try his hand at building the instruments from scratch, and has successfully completed fourteen ukuleles to date.
“I’ve always dreamed of playing a musical instrument, but no matter how hard I try, I can never get the hang of it,” he said. “I guess I’m just not musical in that way.”
The grandfather of six purchased a DIY ukulele kit from eBay and soon discovered that his true talent lies not in playing ukuleles but in building them.
“It doesn’t take long to put one together, and it’s fantastic fun. At first they weren’t great, but my skill level is improving with each one. My ukulele teacher decided to buy one, so they can’t be too bad!”
In an effort to perfect his craft, Mr Callow contacted a professional luthier from Derbyshire and ordered a variety of exotic woods, such as American walnut, ovangkol, and pink ivory, which he used as the basis of his handcrafted ukuleles.
Mr Callow enlisted in the Royal Army Dental Corps at the age of 16 and served in the British Army for 22 years, touring in Northern Ireland, Bahrain, Germany, and Brunei.
In his early fifties, Mr Callow was diagnosed with the chronic eye disease retinitis pigmentosa (RP), which caused a steady deterioration in his sight until he was officially registered blind.
“The RP has meant that I’ve now got severe tunnel vision in both eyes. Obviously, it gives an added challenge to producing the instruments, but you get used to it,” Mr Callow said.
The Somerset resident is supported by Blind Veterans UK, a charity dedicated to helping vision-impaired ex-servicemen and women rebuild their lives after sight loss.
Since being established in 1915, the charity has helped to rehabilitate over 15,000 veterans.
“It’s great to know that the support is there from Blind Veterans UK when I need it,” said Mr Callow. “They’re in touch throughout the year, and although at the moment I’m keeping fine, I know they’re only a phone call away if my sight deteriorates further.”
Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus, Blind Veterans UK has adapted its service to support its community of 5,000 veterans, 90% of whom are over the age of 70, through regular telephone calls.
Nicky Shaw, director of operations at Blind Veterans UK, said, “Living in isolation, blind veterans need our help right now with daily tasks, such as shopping, and constant emotional support through this difficult time. So we’re temporarily changing our service and mobilising our staff to provide practical, essential support to help the most vulnerable.
“There is so much that we can and must do to support blind veterans to help them maintain physical and emotional well-being, and to feel safe, reassured, and cared for during this crisis.”
Click here to find out more about Blind Veterans UK and the fantastic work that they do.