Recipe

2 Jan
Yorkshire Pudding Christmas Day 2021

Anyone can buy frozen Yorkshire puddings from the supermarket, but nothing compares to a huge, fluffy, homemade special.

It was one of my father’s favourite treats as a boy.

To make a good Yorkshire pudding you need a few simple ingredients not excluding patience, courage and timing.

Ingredients:

  • 200g plain flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 300ml milk
  • Goose fat/beef dripping/or, less reliably vegetable oil

The trick is to make the batter a few hours before and let it stand. Then, get the oven to maximum heat (above 240 degrees C if possible), then place a roasting pan or skillet in the top of the oven, and when the fat is smoking, without opening the oven door too much – pour the batter into the pan. Close the door and wait a good 25 min for it to cook.

DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR BEFOREHAND, or like a soufflé, your pudding will collapse.

My father’s golden memories of childhood, were coloured by his experience of rationing during the Second World War as a teenager. Despite his family being poor, his mum, Annie would make it on a Sunday to feed her five children as well as she could on a few eggs, milk and flour: David (Dad) the youngest, brother Peter, sisters Olga, Brenda and Nancy were brought up by Annie and Arthur in a modest 2 bedroom terrace in Huddersfield.

My parents met in Lagos in the mid 1950’s, at the time my father was helping Nigeria to independence by teaching building methods and carpentry to the sons of Nigeria. My mother flew long hall with KLM as an air hostess.

Adriana Van de Poll ne Littlewood, Mam, on her wedding day

Throughout the honeymoon period of their marriage, Mam tried and tried to make Yorkshire Pudding for Dad, but she could never crack the secret. So, in the end, Dad took her home to his sister Brenda to learn the ropes. By this time, I had been born in Kano, sub-Saharan Nigeria.

Henk 1958, my father’s humour.
Dad and me in Huddersfield September 1959

In 1959 Aunty Brenda taught Mam to make the most magnificent, fluffy Yorkshire Puddings. My dad was finally impressed.

It was to become a treat for my brother and I when we moved to England to live, after my parents separated in 1964. As a single mum and a student teacher, mam’s budget was tight. This poor man’s food was always fit for princes in her opinion, especially served on its own with gravy.

At the end of her life, my mother revealed one last and the most important ingredient to me in her remaining years as she declined with vascular dementia: She started calling me David, my father’s name, as we talked together in the care home.

It was as if she was young again and talking to her new husband. In those quiet exchanges I finally realised how much she had adored him.

Throughout my teenage years she had tried to convince me of the very opposite.

Thus, Yorkshire Pudding has an almost mythical status in my mind. It represents a time when my mother loved my father, and a time when my mother forged a new life for my brother and I.

More importantly it underpins the truth of my existence.

Imagine, then, my delight when my sister in law made this beauty for Christmas Dinner. A fitting tribute to all of our amazing parents who have since passed away.

We may experience loss and disappointment in Life, but Love raises us up, and transforms our humble ingredients into something great, with patience, courage and timing.

HL 2.2.22

Boy to Man

23 Dec
David S Littlewood, Dad, just before I was born – Kano, Nigeria 1958

As a boy I always dressed as a Cowboy, but identified as an Indian (North American Native). Henk on the outside but Sioux on the inside if you get my drift.

This role confusion manifested itself in many ways, not least the absolute adherence to bow and arrow as weapon of choice rather than pistol.

My younger brother, Tim, was all cowboy from an early age – he always wore a pair of six shooters slung around his toddler hips when we lived in Africa.

Yipikayay!

My first ever proper pal, Alan and I invented a game in which we would coerce Toddler Tim to chase us round the garden whilst we held a pair of cheap plastic binoculars the wrong way round to our eyeballs. Steven King could not have invented a more terrifying scenario than being chased by a tiny blond homunculus in nappies with a cloth comforter in its mouth, firing paired cap guns. Bumping into each other and into tropical vegetation (full of snakes and other nasties), being unable to judge distance, laughing hysterically. Cool!

My parents separated when I was 6, and when we came back to the UK, my mum was a single parent. She had to work as a needlework teacher to support us.

As the eldest boy, I was given responsibilities. I took my brother too and from school, did a fair bit of the housework, helped with the budget and shopping, and most onerous of all, listened to all my mother’s tribulations, moans, frustrations, worries and political theories at the end of each and every day.

As I grew up, my role at home became gradually less cowboy and more Cinderella. Independent laddishness was discouraged in me, yet indulged in my younger brother.

In retrospect I was, not to put too fine a point on it, a pretty good wife. Many of my mother’s friends were a bit concerned by the time I went to Grammar School that I had become ‘a bit of a mummy’s boy’.

My mother was dismissive of their concerns, “Don’t be ridiculous, he’s just sensitive”.

Additionally, because my mother had made it difficult for my father to get access to his sons (once in a blue moon if we were lucky) and lived and worked in West Africa, we had no resident male role model. My mothers thesis of “I’m better than any man I know!”, could not be tested.

So what should a secret Sioux do?

At 13, I went in search of a father, in search of what it meant to be a man.

Playing rugby helped – I played every weekend and never missed a training session. The physicality was invigorating, as was the mindless swearing, mockery, laughter and opportunity to knock seven shades of shit out someone quite legitimately in the mud.

But, I discovered that my team mates were not much help as manly role models – they were as poorly formed as I and, besides the girls hockey team were much more scary.

My first strong male role models, or father figures, were a couple of middle aged blokes who ran a motor repair garage in Darley Bridge near our cottage. Colin, the owner, let me help in the workshop on a Sunday morning – sweeping up, making tea and doing odd jobs about the workshop. Over time, they introduced me to simple engine repairs and car maintenance. Best of all, they were just themselves – strong, taciturn, patient, humorous and very generous. They took the piss out of each other, and me all the time and that made me feel part of something masculine.

By now my dad had returned from West Africa to live in England. I was able to visit my father, who was running a news agent and post office shop with his wife, Mollie, to support his growing second family in Devizes.

I loved that time and being with them – not least because they lived in the flat above the paper shop and he had a splendid stock of ‘top shelf’ men’s mags for sale.

Yipikayay!

I helped Dad out in the very early mornings to sort out all the newspapers for delivery and in this way I got my first insight into how my father was as a working man and husband: Generous, humorous and popular with people from all walks of life.

It was great to see how he was as a father, too with his daughter Abi, and son Nathan, my half siblings – he was easy company. His youngest son, Simon was yet to arrive.

Just being with him for a while was an eye opener, I became aware of his deeper qualities as a man. More importantly, I could see myself in him.

Remembering these times I think of the song by Johnny Cash – ‘A boy Named Sue, about an absent dad who gives his son the name ‘Sue’ to toughen him up. ‘Toughen up lad’ was always the mantra boys heard as they grew up.

It has made me think about male identity and the roles men are expected to play in society. By inference then, there must be a dire need for boys to find good male role models in an increasingly confused and demanding society. I know a couple of teenagers who now identify as the opposite gender from their biological sex at birth.

Tallyho, I say, pick up those six shooters if it suits you! But, who, or what are you going to use as a masculine role model? You don’t become a man by calling yourself Sioux.

How do we raise good men, cis trans or otherwise, without defining the key qualities needed? The presence or absence of a penis should be no impediment in this endeavour.

I have always had a problem with aggression off the pitch, and I understand why many women find it repellant. My father kept his temper always firmly control. He never ever raised his voice or was aggressive to me.

Rugby and the martial arts have suited me as an outlet because one can be aggressive in a controlled arena, without hurting innocent bystanders. You can ‘get it out of your system’ – like venting steam.

We can all be aggressive in an uncontrolled way, so here is the dilemma: Aggression per se is one of the primary tools of oppression in a male dominated society:

“The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.” Bell Hooks.

I would argue that the training of young men demands the active involvement of older men in order that they develop emotional intelligence and healthy self esteem.

I would also argue that in order to dismantle the old patriarchy we will have to identify the best male role models for our sons or male-oriented girls to emulate, and endeavour to emulate them as fathers. Women must help with this, but they cannot substitute themselves into the equation I’m afraid.

Perhaps we also need to persuade some mothers to stop treating some of our boys like little princes.

In my view, a vaulting sense of entitlement is the toxic bedfellow of uncontrolled aggression in men AND women.

Less hubris, more humility please lads and lasses.

I was still searching for a good role model in my very early twenties when I chose J.Gordon Blower to do my PhD with. He was grown up with children, a family man, he was widely respected as a lecturer and an academic in the field of Zoology at Manchester University.

Although, he never achieved a doctorate himself (he was content with a Masters in Ecology) he told me:

“I’ve done my bit for Queen and Country, Henk, I have nothing left to prove. In fact I am responsible for the deaths of millions in the second world war I’m ashamed to say.”

As an entomologist, Gordon served as a Naval Officer in front line raids on Mosquitoes in the tropics. DDT was the weapon of mass destruction in this theatre of War.

He smoked No.6 filter tipped continuously, and, consequently was the colour of nicotine, he drove a gorgeous maroon Ford Zephyr, drank sherry in the afternoon and was an absolute genius scientist and thinker. He was a real man.

To me, Gordon represented worldly experience, strength of character, modesty, patience, wit and great generosity – like my real father.

When I told him in my final PhD year that my girlfriend was expecting a baby, he rummaged about in one of the Ecology Lab cupboards, located a bottle of Madeira, cracked it open and poured us both a stiff measure each in 100 ml Pyrex beakers.

His toast: “Congratulations Henk! You are going to become a father. Marvellous news”

…..put steel in my spine, and I finally discovered the man in myself.

My mother’s lone parenting had almost succeeded in emasculating me by denying me access to my dad. I don’t blame her, I still love her memory, partly because the best lessons I have learned have been the hardest ones. “Would you rather be brought up by a teddy bear or a tigress Henk?” A rhetorical question if ever there was one, you don’t argue with Shere Khan.

Fatherhood requires all the qualities I have described above, and many more but most of all, it requires a man to let go and allow his children to make their own mistakes and discoveries.

Here are three of The Greatest Fathers I have known as role models:

David Stuart Littlewood

Joseph of Nazareth

Nelson Mandela.

Two carpenters and the Father of a Rainbow Nation.

The man himself.
Joseph holding infant Jesus in Brian Fell’s Sheffield Steel Nativity, wearing his carpenter’s apron.

“To be the father of a nation is a great honour, but to be the father of a family is a greater joy.” Nelson Mandela

So if you think you’re a man, show me, I’ve learned from the best.

Generosity

18 Dec

In the late 80’s I was a young dad and whenever my daughter, Polly, asked me a question such as; “what are plants made of Dad?” I would expound – sometimes inventing an entire branch of knowledge like ‘Stuffology’ to illustrate to a youngster the different sorts of stuff which make up the living world – cellulose, starch, chlorophyll etc..

Henk and Polly looking for Stuff, Northumberland 1988

Looking back I recognise that I had a tendency to overshare. Some would say I had a generosity

of spirit, whilst others might have simply called me naive and oblivious to reality.

My father was more measured, he preferred experiential learning. Once, whilst travelling to Maud in the North East of Scotland to do some joinery for half sister Anna, Dad’s only daughter and a talented vet, we dropped off at a pub for lunch. As Dad was paying at the bar, emptying his pockets and scraping together all his loose change, the barman said:

“Are you a Yorkshireman?”

“Aye lad, what of it?” Dad replied.

“They’re a bit like Scotsmen, but with a Generosity Bypass.“ said the man.

He had that effect on people.

Henk and David Littlewood at Anna’s Seat, Fingle

W.H. Auden said “A professor is one who talks in someone else’s sleep.”

I was so intent on becoming a professor as a young man, that I lost track of my sense of humour.

As luck would have it, I changed tack in my early thirties and retrained to teach secondary science.

I was keen to go forth and share my enthusiasm for the Natural World, Science and Biology in particular to a new audience.

When I was appointed to my first teaching job at Prudhoe High School in the Tyne Valley. I had a rude awakening. First of all I could barely understand the Prudhoe dialect. I told one class “Can you please slow down and speak English so that I can understand you?”

“Eee, that’s ‘Shan’ that is!” said one of the year 10 girls. Shan is Geordie for ‘unjust’. A great word, quite right too.

One day, a student painted a giant penis in Tippex on my rolling blackboard and cut it out in relief so that the bell end flopped over when I was in full flow. The effect was dramatic, as soon as I whizzed the roller round, the class erupted in mirth.

“Shan that” I thought.

In the end, the Headmaster wanted the panel replaced because of the impending (first ever) Offsted inspection. I requested, politely that it remain, because it stopped me oversharing (being a Dick).

“On your own head be it.” He said, cryptically.

So there, it stayed. The inspector can’t have been too bothered, because he gave me a grade 1 and I was promoted to Head of Year 10.

Thank you dick-artist whoever you were.

Several recent, unpleasant experiences have caused me to remember these times with affection and review my attitude to people. Who think it is ok to prey upon my generous spirit.

I shan’t go into that stuff because, like my dad I feel it is better to be silent on these matters.

My friend, the artist, Robert Twigg captured my inner Yorkshireman in my old studio by riling me up. Clever. Here is a generosity bypass if ever I saw one. Proper job, lad.

photo credit Robert Twigg

I asked one of my former Prudhoe High School students if he could remember any of my weirder moments. Steven Maughan shared this:

“Well one time I got caught in the toilet with a lass by the dinner lady and she sent me to you for a bollicking. You gave us a telling off then told me to Go and get Educated. Great.”

I celebrate the spirit and generosity of the students I met at Prudhoe High School. They taught me canny well.

Merry Christmas to all of you.

In Memoriam Lee Doran, Fine Artist, and thanks Maughny.

Doors of Perception

6 Dec

Aldous Huxley: I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.

In November 1989 I attended what was to be my last International Scientific Conference. It was held in Berlin. I was 31 years of age and had begun to realise that I was getting too long in the tooth to achieve my dream – a tenured academic post as a Zoologist. I had passed my sell by date.

In addition I was sick to death of working in another person’s research laboratory, as a postdoctoral associate, on someone else’s research program. I had strayed so far from my interests as a zoologist (arthropod behaviour and structure) that it seemed to me that I had allowed myself to become a highly paid drone.

As I travelled by train from The Netherlands to Germany, I became aware that many heavily armed German military Police joined the train at the border. East/West tensions were running high at the time, I was aware that we were on the cusp of a seismic shift in World politics.

Huxley’s Doors of Perception were beginning to open.

Research scientists normally apply to the grant awarding body who supports their research for funds to cover their travel expenses. On this occasion I decided to be a free agent again, so I paid to go out of my own pocket. A wise decision, it transpired, as it allowed for greater freedom and clarity of thought.

On the second day of my stay, I wandered over to Check Point Charlie and crossed over in order to visit a brilliant developmental biologist called Wolfgang Dohle. I took him some new boxer shorts, chocolate and several pairs of socks. He gave me a lot of Russian Vodka.

Wolfgang had a cynical view of his home country, East Germany – “Great public transport and concerts, Henk. Shit food and no decent chocolate. Very very grey.” The next day, nursing a hangover, I watched Brian Hanrahan, in the flesh, reporting for the BBC on the unfolding and tumultuous events in Berlin, against the backdrop of the wall and the Brandenburg Gate.

At five metres away, I was part of History. https://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/the-berlin-wall/zdphd6f

The military police were nowhere to be seen. East was about to meet West with the force of a sledgehammer on a concrete wall. Thousands of East Germans had decided to swap their Vodka for decent underwear and good chocolate.

Flushed with the excitement of what I had witnessed, I attended the final day of the conference. I listened to a very clever woman, a young neuroscientist, describe how she had mapped the internal wiring of the visual cortex in the brain of the little owl.

Athena noctua, the little owl, named after the virgin Goddess of wisdom and war – often depicted sitting upon her shoulder.

Here she sits on the post of a cleft oak gate overlooking Meersbrook Park.

The scientist insisted on referring to the owls she had worked on as ‘preparations’ and the processing of the owl in order to study its neuroanatomy as ‘sacrifice’.

She ‘sacrificed’ quite a few little owls.

It occurred to me that no one had asked Athena if this sacrifice was worthy, and that her syntax was hideously close to the lexicon of The Holocaust. Echoing all around us under the Brandenberg Gate and in the park, Unter den Linden.

As the Berlin wall came crashing down, Huxley’s Doors of Perception opened in my mind.

“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception” A. Huxley.

I suddenly realised that neuroscience and physiology research were no longer for me.

Disassembling animals in order to understand how the whole creature worked seemed reprehensible, reductionist and utterly disgusting.

In all conscience I could no longer see the point of understanding a system if one had to destroy the very thing one was studying in the process. Although my work was carried out on the humble and destructive plague locust. I didn’t think this ‘preparation’ should pay the ultimate price for our insatiable curiosity.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

I experienced what might be called a moral paradigm shift. Zen masters would call it enlightenment.

“Let the owls be owls, Grasshopper!” Is now my Koan.

I resigned in the Spring of 1990 and retrained as a science teacher. A stepping stone to where I am now, where I make the doors for other’s perception and no longer contribute to a Brave New World.

Illustration

31 Oct
Emma Metcalfe Children’s Illustrator

In lustrate – to throw light upon. Emma Metcalfe passed away this month, young, bonny and blithe, struck down by the recurrence of an aggressive cancer.

When she told me not long ago that her illness would kill her, I offered to make her coffin. What else could this carpenter do?

My suggestion was so outrageous that it made her laugh out loud and say:

“Only you could say that, Henk, and mean it.”

I was indeed serious, I wanted, at least to enrobe my wonderful friend in a wooden raiment as fine as any of her glorious illustrations. Finest elm, myriad carvings of bicycles and swifts, her favourite bird and passion for sustainable transport.

I had a practice and made a 1/12th scale model in mdf (those who know me, will understand that I didn’t do this lightly)

I photographed my childhood rabbit pal, Bunny in it.

In the end I didn’t find it funny, and neither did he. Even with beads adorning the lid – glued on with super glue by my neice Percie, it still looks bloody grim. My wife, Clare, was appalled “Poor Bunny!”

I do hope bunny forgives me, I’m sure Emma did.

I’ll give the piece to my grandson for Halloween.

In Ghana, the country of my childhood, the dead are honoured in spectacular fashion. Ghanaian carpenters make coffins that celebrate the deceased’s life – in a most beautiful way.

What the deceased did, or what ‘did’ for them, no morbid sadness here.

Ghanaian Coffin

I think Emma would have liked a bit of bonkers, like this.

As it happens, her dear fella Matt will plant her on a hillside in Stannington, on the 17th November. She will have a grand view as she becomes the very substance of the Earth and the myriad creatures she drew, bringing to merry life in her work for children.

How will I remember her? Well, Emma and I were the first artists to move in to Exchange Place, Yorkshire Artspace, Sheffield in 2013 – then a neglected ex council property and now fully restored as a flagship centre for Art in Sheffield.

We used to meet up on the ground floor kitchen to make a cup of tea. She, slightly wild haired and bebothered, me, covered in sawdust and bored.

Emma radiated a certain kind of insouciant brilliant Englishness which was a delight. I could imagine her at Bletchley Park, decoding puzzles with the other ‘gels’ in 1944. She was that clever.

With a penchant for collecting weird plastic artefacts, toys, figurines and the like and housing them on a pretend mantle piece in her studio. I think she deserves the soubriquet ‘eccentric’.

No doubt people will remember her work for Cycling in Sheffield and Nottingham, her staunch defence of accessible transport networks in cities and her work to make homes for swifts.

I won’t remember that, I will remember a cup of tea, a look askance (find it in all her animals) and an infectious belly laugh.

Emma to me was like a daughter-on-loan, about the same age as my own daughter, and so very dear to my heart. I was able to indulge a certain fatherly care when she was around. She lived her short Life spectacularly well, may she rest in pieces, within all out hearts recycled, re-loved and daily missed.

X

H

Stories

19 Sep

“I seem to have gone through a fallow period with my writing” I shared with Susanna, a friend, the other day.

She promptly responded with a link to an article about the therapeutic power of story telling, adding:

“As to lying fallow, coping with a Pandemic, earning a living, loving and carrying on despite losing all your tools doesn’t sound very fallow to me”

My workshop was burgled recently, the tools of my trade and my livelihood taken from me.

19 Years ago I was diagnosed with BiPolar disorder. Having created an enormous amount of anxiety and stress for all my family and friends around me over one mad summer and a lifetime of unknowing.

I had lost the thread of my own narrative, my own tool box – the one between my ears – had been burgled by illness.

In the newspaper article Anne Cleaves describes her husband’s illness – also BiPolar Disorder – and the way in which she coped with the stress of helping him through the bad times and, eventually, to recover.

She discovered that reading and telling stories to him – and immersing herself in fiction – was profoundly therapeutic for both of them. She invented the detective Vera Stanhope.

Rutland Water, 1st September 2020

In the same way it was, and still is through listening to the stories of others, that I refill my old toolbox.

The photograph above was taken by a great friend at Rutland Water. On a beautiful sunny day we had agreed to meet for lunch and to tell each other stories whilst observing the antics of the birds.

My friend had just pointed out a marsh harrier coursing along the lakeside margin – this may account for my open mouthed incredulity.

This is the occasion I saw Joseph, my grandson, since the beginning of the pandemic and lockdown – 9 months. I met him and his mum, my daughter, on Wanstead Flats last weekend.

Every picture tells a story.

There was enough of a breeze for me to attach the bridle to the string of a little pocket box kite and step back. As you can see – he’s a professional at 3 and a half.

The perfect antidote to lockdown and the effects of a fallow period.

It strikes me that we are all, in a sense, works of fiction. Our best and worst traits live on in the thread of memories and narratives of our friends, loved ones and perhaps most tenaciously, our foes.

A story is like the string that tethers the kite.

We are stories that need to be told and retold, polished by love, flown if you will – in order for us to continue to be real. An idea beautifully rendered in children’s story “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams.

I urge you to kite your stories dear reader, we will listen. Hearing and sight work well over social distancing rules.

Let us cast off the constraints of infection and the theft of our treasures to viruses and burglars.

I shall give back control of my Joy to the wind.

Birds and kites know.

For Joseph & D 19/09/20

Bagatelle

23 Dec

As little a boy I used to play the board game known as Bagatelle in my great uncle Jan’s huge house in Haarlem. All the time the adults would argue about noblesse oblige, the Second World War and prisoner of war camps – in Dutch.

Bagatelle – the antidote to tedious nostalgia.

The thrill when the marble actually lands in a scoring hole, instead of tinkling down the pins to oblivion!

Reminds me of W.H. Auden’s aphorism:

‘Death is the sound of distant thunder at a picnic.’

bagatelle

Looks like a tombstone too.

Earlier this year, I was asked to design a memorial. The Widow had not been able to find a suitable artisan to honour her husband’s memory.

She described her husband to me as an adventurer, a cyclist and a gentleman and she wanted the memorial carved in wood.

He seemed to have the qualities of my father, David Littlewood.

IMG_2009

Cyclist, gentleman and Adventurer.

The regulations governing the installation of memorial headstones in graveyards are strict in South Yorkshire. 

Wood is not good, unless one plants a living tree.

I declined the commission, but in memory of my father’s generous spirit, I gave her the drawing to use as she saw fit.

Eventually she told me she had found a talented young mason who was able to carve it for her in stone and add his own texture to the motif.

EEE294B3-D038-4B17-AE83-A91E55A62A1F.jpg

What, I hear you ask, is the link between an ancient board game for one bored boy and Death?

Life of course, and I celebrate it!

The word Bagatelle derives from the Italian word ‘bagatella’ coined in the 1630s for a trifle, a thing of no importance – a knick-knack, a bauble, or a trinket.

David met his second wife, Mollie, in the Club Bagatelle a famous nightclub in Lagos, Nigeria.

David and Molly - Polly and Alan wedding

Mr and Mrs Littlewood produced three children together; Anna (veterinary surgeon), Nathan (geologist) and Simon (carpenter).

I met them in ’69 when I was still living in Matlock in the house my dad bought when he married my mother, David’s first wife.

Although I was young, it was kind of obvious to me that my Dad was besotted with Mollie and very happy.

This made me happy, and that is no trifling thing.

IMG_3991

Elise, by the artist Diana Storey, makes me happy. She is a Bagatelle. You can see her galloping around a small exhibition of wood and mosaic art called Birdsong in Winter (extended by Yorkshire Artspace until January 18th, 2020) as a paean to trifles thrown in the face of Darkness.

At night a terrifying Night Mare, carrying the innocent away from Darkness into The Light. By day a sweet carousel pony.

In the mid 1950’s young David took his City and Guilds 1st Class in carpentry and joinery and sailed from Liverpool to Nigeria to help her people regain Independence from British Rule. He brought practical building skills.

His adventure led to my birth in Kano, and more siblings than I can shake a stick at, a generous step mum and the happiest of memories.

That is pretty First Class in my book.

 “Proper job lad.”

For the women folk x

HL 24.12.2019

 

Boundary

6 Dec

Peter Maarten Hendrik Littlewood – that’s me, born 22.7.58 in Kano in the north of Northern Nigeria south of the Sahara Desert, which technically makes me Hausa. But, I grew up in the heart of Derbyshire, by the river Derwent.

It’s a long way from there to here.

Yesterday I bought a ham sandwich from Eugene on the train travelling up to London to visit my grandson, Joseph.

A mere 2 1/2 hour train ride.

Eugene, it turned out, was from Sierra Leone and was surprised when I told him I had lived as a boy on the hill above Freetown, watching the timber trucks hurtle down the hill.

Freetown was the main departure point for slaves traded in West Africa.

I learned to use a hammer here, and never to judge a book by its cover.

The old map of The Peak District shows natural and man-made boundaries – if you are adventurous, you can breach them.

However, have to know how and more importantly…..when. It’s the same with the boundaries within people, particularly children.

In 2019 Saint Nicholas brought grandson, Joseph some gifts and stuck them in his blue wellies.

His favourite was a book from Clare, his Nain, all about trucks. Press the button to match the truck noise. Perfect!

His mum and dad are are protective of Joseph’s boundaries.

They need to be.

I was 7 years old, when I was enrolled in a primary school in Matlock, Derbyshire. I was placed in  a mixed-age ‘remedial’ class.

They did not know what to do with me really.

On the first day of term, in 1964 I was paraded in front of the class and introduced  as ‘Hank’ Littlewood from Africa.

The teacher then urged my class mates to ask me questions.

First question:

Girl “Why aren’t you black?”

Me “Because my Mam washes me in Domestos”

2nd ‘Question’:

Boy: “Have you ever seen a snake?”

Me, ‘Yes we had Green Mambas in the garden in Takoradi, but my pet Mongoose, Pitypet always scared them off.’

Not the wisest of responses for someone new to an English provincial school.

Very clever, but thick, as my wife would say – a fairly good description of someone with BiPolar Type 1 Disorder.

I had lowered my draw bridges and was ‘asking for trouble’.

During that first introduction, several boundaries had been crossed …. & breached – by the teacher. Her actions had sleighted my castle walls.

It did lasting damage.

In Ghana school was totally different. I was unaware of the difference between black children and me, we just played football together and laughed a lot – they were my friends.

The Matlock kids taught me the difference between black and white that very same day, at break time.

I was surrounded by kids shouting

“You’re a white N&%%@R!”

I kid you not, so in Hegley’s own words, I ‘got it’ for being me – ‘Back in the Playground Blues‘.

By the end of the school term, my mother was getting a bit worried about my prospects for survival.

Her funny little boy had become introverted and withdrawn.

So Mam recruited the services of her younger half brother, Maarten, to help.

He had just finished his National Service in the Dutch Army as the Colonel’s Jeep Driver. Clever lad to wangle that job!

To me he was a Knight.

He took me for a long walk to the playground near our house and we had a man to man chat.

He said, “Look Henk, most people don’t understand you, and it is no good trying to be clever, or talk yourself out of trouble. Some people only understand one thing.”

‘What’s that Oom Maarten?’ I asked.

“This” and he showed me his fist. “You have to ‘whoof’ them with this”.

I discovered Mars.

Maarten, after the God of War is my middle name. Yang.

Next day, when one of my class mates yelled ‘Hank, Hank! You’re the White N£&&@r!”, I whoofed him.

I whoofed him good. Mam met me at the school gate, bloody, but unbowed. The name calling stopped.

Uncle Maarten had taught me how to establish some of my own boundaries.

My grandfather – Opa – taught me how to play chess using the beautiful mini game Fox and Hounds at about the same time on his old box wood set, a great game for teaching a child the importance of boundaries and rules. He would always point out blunders as I made them, so I learned fast.

We moved on to chess after that, and every day in the summer holidays I would play a game with him, after a piece of cake and a glass of squash, but only after I had helped my Oma Yo do some housework.

Here it is as it appeared in a 2019 art with some of artist Diana Spencer’ figurines substituting major pieces. Very Jungian.

I made this set for my Opa when I was 11, with the guidance of my favourite teacher, Master of Woodwork and Technical Drawing, Mr Paulson. The only teacher I ever paid any attention to really.

The game above is the Queen’s Gambit (white), a powerful attacking opening relying on a pawn sacrifice to gain control of the centre of the board.

Black must defend well. Black is my colour of choice.

My dad used to say – when dealing with the gentler sex, always play for a gentleman’s draw.

Chess is a thing of boundaries and rules, and yet infinite possibility. It is the game of War.

Maps, on the other hand, are topographic things, they have real meaning.

They are vital in war. Territory can be taken or defended.

However, both create spaces in which Time is altered, because you must employ your Imagination.

Bring your boys up to understand sacrifice and give your girls the tools….the keys are theirs to claim. But make them both understand that a word and a tool can easily become a weapon.

St Peter holds two keys: one to heaven and one to hell. In most depictions they are identical (gold or silver/white or black).

You chose.

Do you want to ‘”Phone a friend?”

Would you prefer to “Ask the audience ?”

I chose 50/50 ….. to walk the path, very carefully. The path between heaven and hell. ‘Meifumado’ in Japanese – or the way of the warrior.

Thunder

20 Nov

At the age of 11  I made a set square under the guidance of my favourite teacher Mr Paulson.

Mr Paulson taught woodwork and technical drawing. A man of few words, he never gave an ‘A’, even for good work.

“There is no such thing as perfection, Henk”.

After I had made a right angle between two pieces of planed, sanded and shaped hardwood, I was awarded a pair of metal clips and a drawing board.

I took my prize home and produced a projection drawing for my first carpentry joint. I got an A minus.

At this time of year Yorkshire Artspace, my current landlord, throws open its doors and encourages the public to see artists in their natural habitat.

It is popular with Sheffielders, but not with me – it makes ‘thunder in my head’ – as the Dutch would say. I become a donderstral (a thunder beam). In English – I get a bit cross.

Questions such as:

“Oh, what do you do?”

“Did you make that”

“Do you go to Stannington woodwork class?”

HL …..’why, do you think I need to?’

Invite my mother’s cold sarcasm, whilst my Dads response would have been silent – more like this:

‘Ear all, see all, say nowt;
Eat all, sup all, pay nowt;’

Well one Sheffield man came in to the studio on Sunday, picked up my ancient set square examined it and said:

“Tha’ hasn’t dressed the screws lad”

….meaning I had not lined up the slots on the screw heads.

I laughed! It is exactly what my father would have said. My visitor introduced himself as Dean Murdoch, Joiner (my father’s trade).

Thunder

In Norse mythology, the God of thunder, Thor, has a powerful weapon – a short handled hammer called Mjölnir. The set square looks a bit like a Thor’s amulet.

The name means ‘grinder’, like the action of a mill stone.

In old Saxon England Thor was known as Thunar, from which we derive the word ‘thunder’.

When Thor threw his hammer, it always returned to him – it could level mountains.

My dad’s mordant sense of humour, like Dean’s could grind on you or, if you understand it, really lift you up.

Temper is a funny thing, without it a blade will not retain its sharp edge.

Blades are improved by good temper: the process by which a hot, forged piece of steel or iron is plunged into a liquid, such as oil or water and suddenly cooled. If done right it makes the cutting edge very hard. Much of the art of traditional knife makers is tested at this moment of truth.

This blade by Simon Maillet is tempered in water, and really hard so it keeps its edge.

It is the same with people. We speak of ‘losing our temper’ or having a ‘keen mind’. If our sense of self is stressed or disturbed we can lose our temper.

My father spent his whole life tempering his anger. He quenched his fire with a keen Yorkshire wit. I learned how to control my temper through his example, he kind of ‘ground me down’ with drollery.

Humour is more powerful than any hammer.

Mr Murdoch ignored the fact that my name had been deliberately scratched out by someone.

His ability to hone in on the important details has been passed on to his daughter, the ceramicist Carla Murdoch, who gave me two bowls fired with some of my oak chips. Oak being sacred to Thor.

Many years ago, I lost track of the set square and only when my mother died did it resurface.

When I saw who had scratched my name out, I understood her reason.

Clare, my wife said “Well he was just a boy when he did it, why don’t you just hang it on the wall as your Hammer of Thor”

There’s lovely!

For Dean Murdoch, Joiner and other sharp blades.

HL 20. 11.19

Alate

10 Nov

1985 H n P.jpg

Our daughter Polly was born on August 25th in 1982. Both her mother and she had a tough time of it, and an emergency caesarian was performed to save them. It was touch and go.

I brought Fiona, her mum and Polly home to our council flat on the eighth floor of Lingbeck Crescent, Moss Side, Manchester when they were well enough.

The only furniture we had was a mattress, a dining table and two chairs. I hadn’t a clue really. We washed the used terry towelling nappies by hand. When my dad dropped by  to see his first granddaughter he was horrified and immediately went out and bought us a washing machine.

My mother bought me an electric typewriter so I could finally write up my PhD thesis.

At the time Moss Side was a lawless place and the scene of rioting, looting, muggings and robbery – mostly controlled by gangs. I had done everything I could to turn the flat into a fortress, strengthening the external door frames with steel plate (our neighbour was a known drug dealer and drew far to many vulnerable and hostile people to his door).

One day when Polly was about 1 and I was at work helping to build a database at Manchester Museum two men tried to batter our flat door down…..

Mother and baby were at home.

Fiona lay against the front door bracing her feet against the wall, whilst holding baby Polly. They could not get in, thanks to her courage and to my reinforcements, but my little family was scared and very shaken up.

I found out where one of these individuals lived, so I went to confronted him. Huge mistake.

He was as high as a kite and, in his underpants proceeded curse me to hell and back and to throw what seemed like the entire contents of a kitchen drawer of knives at me. I dodged the missiles and as they sailed over the balcony, I beat a hasty retreat.

I vowed to get us the hell out of Moss Side as soon as possible.

I immediately started applying for all the jobs I could find which were

  • As far away from Manchester as possible
  • Suited my particular skill set (zoological research/experimental physiology/electron microscopy).

Within a month I had secured a post in Queen Mary College,  London. It came with subsidised accommodation in a beautiful run down Georgian Mansion in a pretty Essex Village called Coxtie Green. Dytchleys was an outpost of the University of London (botanical research, playing fields, ponds, Kingfisher by the pond etc.).

My family went from the ridiculous to the sublime as I shed my dreams of independent research to become a lab rat.

At Queen Mary College, University of London I was given the task of investigating termite guts by my new postdoctoral supervisor.

Here’s one of my drawings of the guts of a termite.

Zootermes gut.jpg

The thin wriggly tubes on the left are Malpighian tubules, the big sack in the middle is the paunch or hind gut where fermentation takes place. This was my new domain – termite guts.

In the experimental set up I developed (below) I am literally taking the piss…..A single Malpighian tubule sits in a bath of paraffin oil under the microscope (left), kept at optimum temperature by a water jacket. The end of the tubule is in a saline solution I developed to mimic termite blood, the other end is pumping out tiny droplets of urine. The rate and quality of urine can be determined, the content chemically analysed so that what flows into the paunch (fermentation chamber) can be determined.

Termite lab bench.jpg

I had to make most of the tools needed to perform these operations from heated glass rod, old fashioned blue razor blades and modified iridectomy scissors:

Dissecting tools termite physiology.jpg

My postdoctoral supervisor argued that a termite gut is just a simple fermentation chamber and as such depends upon fluid and nutrient input to produce a useful bi-product – volatile fatty acids in the case of termites.

He had secured the grant in order to investigate new ways to disrupt digestion in pest species of termites and, thereby control them.

After a few months of researching the problem in the lab I discussed the idea with my grandmother on a visit to The Hague and my Oma said:

“Bit of a stupid idea, Henk. When we were kids we used to kill termites by simply crushing them between forefinger and thumb.” (She lived for some years in the tropics).

After 2 years of staring at termite guts I admitted defeat. In that time I had worked out how termites Malpighian tubules work, and how this might link to the symbiotic microbiota living in the paunch.

We were no closer to a magic bullet for crop pest species.

There are plenty of conventional ways of killing insects pests – insecticides – which work best on plant surfaces above ground or as aerosols. Because termites spend most of their life under ground, they are very difficult to attack (unless you are an anteater or an ape with a tool, or an Oma).

A chap I visited in Berne, Switzerland, who supplied me with termites had grown an entire colony of Macrotermes in a big bin in his lab.

Macrotermes mound.jpg

He could ‘call out’ different castes of the colony by placing glass tunnels deep into the mound and putting forage at the end, in this way figuring out what was going on in the hidden labyrinth below. Genius.

I presented my findings to the funding body and my boss, and resigned my post. I could not in all conscience carry on with such an esoteric and ultimately pointless piece of work on such beautiful creatures.

Termites are too beautiful to subject them to the experimental physiology for a whim. Here are some benign little Zootermopsis minding their own business and eating rotten wood.

Zootermes.jpg

I designed this set of shelves in olive ash inspired by the wings of the termite alates I once studied.

2E753C01-2C26-4F5E-8232-C1BA8345DD56

The design incorporates 6 aerofoils frozen at the moment of shedding, fluttering to the ground.

Here are some termite alates.

Termite Alate.jpg

I like to think that shedding one’s wings can lead to unexpected, subterranean CV.

Research Scientist to Teacher to Cemetery Conservation Officer to Parks and Countryside Ranger to self employed Carpenter

Or as my friend Peter Craggs once said: “You’re the only person I know with a career in reverse”

Cheeky!