Archive | February, 2014

The Crannog

22 Feb

The Neolithic people of northern Britain used to build artificial islands from coppiced timber in wetland habitats called Crannogs. Estuaries, bogs, lakes and river basins in Scotland and Ireland were exploited by people over thousands of years sourcing protein from fish and shellfish in the waters surrounding their dwellings. They were also able to protect their families and livestock by making it almost impossible for hostile invaders to attack them.

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Terry turned up to my carving class at the Graves Discovery Centre, Ecclesall Woods today with an old knackered house sign and asked if he could make a replacement. I happened to have a nice slice of ash burr in my box and I readily agreed. Normally I get novices to carve a few letters before progressing to relief carving of a natural form. Terry proved to be enthusiastic and focused and in the end rendered this Anglicised version of Crannog – the name of his house.

Terry’s openness and willingness to progress had him embellishing the finished piece with a Pyrograph, sanding and oiling his sign and walking away with a massive grin on his (and my) face.

Terry may live in The Crannoch, but in the words of John Donne –

No Man Is An Island

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

And so it is for us all – we are enabled by opening the way to the island of our selves.

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Profumo di Donna (Scent of a Woman)

13 Feb

Profumo di Donna (Scent of a Woman)

In the original 1974 film directed by Dino Risi, a blind army Italian captain, accompanied by his aide Ciccio, is on his way from Turin to Naples to meet with an old comrade who was disfigured in combat. Unknown to Ciccio, the Captain means to fulfill a suicide pact there. While they journey, the Captain asks Ciccio to help him spot beautiful women. Unsatisfied with the boy’s descriptions, he uses his nose instead, claiming that he can smell a beautiful woman. The film was remade in 1992 starring Al Pacino and the story is about growing up and a man’s true appreciation of the beauty of women – even, and especially in the face of despair.

On my travels I found an interesting piece of waney edged elm at a timber suppliers in North Yorkshire. Cut from the edge of a large stem, I was struck by the figuring. Not knowing what I was going to use it for I set it aside in my studio for a rainy day.

As it happens, my wife, Clare has been renovating a small retail unit in Sheffield with me, to open this weekend as ‘Tea with Percie’. A cosy, tea room, furnished with hand made furniture, lovely decor and serving fine leaf teas in a proper pot, with hot water on the side. Clare bakes a mean cake or three, and will also be serving sandwiches and light lunches to anyone who would like to sit down and relax. The shop is at 557 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, S7 1TA.

The is her logo (drawn by our niece, Percie Littlewood, who lives in San Francisco)

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Anyway, I digress, Clare needed more seats for her shop and so I decided to make her a Valentine’s gift of a bench. As I planed and thicknessed the elm board I was struck by the figuring and with a pencil, sketched the outline you see below straight onto the board using the waney edge as a guide. I cut it in one single continuous movement with a jig-saw.

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With the remainder of the elm and a slice of ash, I finished this trestle bench in the nick of time, Tea with Percie opens Monday 17th February!

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The reaction of some of my artist neighbours and the excellent Yorkshire Artspace staff at Exchange Street Studios, to Clare’s bench, has been one of hilarity and joy – which is exactly the feeling I had when the shape emerged beneath my hand.

As in the film, I have been as near to despair as The Captain and very nearly terminated my relationship with this world. Suicide is not an easy word for me – I much prefer ‘scent’ these days.  Were it not for the scent of a good woman I would not be here..

Women are the touchstones in my life – they have inspired great turmoil, despair, love, creativity and great happiness.

For me inpiration, is breathing. Inhale the scent of a woman – mine brings top notes of mischief, mid-tones of hard-nosed common sense and bottom notes of inextinguishable laughter. She is heaven’ scent.

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GTi

9 Feb

GTi

I’ve owned some interesting vehicles in my time, but this Mark 1 VW 1800cc GTi Cabriolet has got to be the car which has given me the most pleasure on four wheels.

I didn’t even pay hard cash for her…. In fact at the time I was working for the Friends of the General Cemetery helping them to restore a listed Gatehouse, and I was driving an unbelievably boring Rover 400. Every day I used to pass an old fashioned car dealer on cemetery road and, there in the window was this peach of a car listed at £2000. I had paid £4000 for the dad-mobile. I wandered in to the gaffer’s office and said “Want to do a swap?” “Let’s have a look at your motor then.” said the owner…..”hmm a turbo diesel….ok, list price £3600, what are you after?” “The GTi, straight swap”…”Deal!” said he, and we shook hands.

Well I drove the GTi for about 6 years and every second was pure unalloyed pleasure. She leaked in the rain, rusted to lace and needed constant tweaking at my local garage, costing me a small fortune.

But, man could she move. That little GTi could burn off anything over a short stretch, corner as if she was on rails and with the top down was a thing of genteel, rusting beauty.

Clare, my wife, had to be armed with a large bottle of water when it rained, because the windscreen wipers were somewhat defective, the sound insulation was patchy, so driving down the motorway felt like being strapped to a Mescherschmitt BF 109 and there was bugger all luggage space.

Overheard on a night out with my Ranger colleagues at the pub:

“Whose car is that (indicating the GTi)?”
Pete Slater the Ranger Manager “Well, it’s either a poor drug dealer’s or it’s Henk’s skip”

As the old song goes;

Flies in the buttermilk, Shoo fly shoo!
Skip to my Lou, my darling.
Lou, Lou skip to my Lou!
Skip to my Lou, my darling.

x H