21 Jan


There is nothing quite as empowering as having a beautiful woman slip her arm into yours whilst going for a stroll in the park.

My daughter Polly is named after her grandmother, Adriana Van de Poll. It was mam’s nickname when she served as an air hostess in the 1950’s with KLM.


Mam passed away on the 7th of January 2015, aged 83. She had led a most eventful, some might say remarkable life.


Like the Lockheed Super Constellation she flew in with her glamorous crew in the 1950’s, she was an elegant, long distance flier.

I can tell you the facts. Mam was born in Leiden, Holland, to Haartje (nee De Boer) and Cornelius Van de Poll on Valentine’s Day 1931. She grew up in the jungles of Sumatra on a rubber plantation with an older brother, Henk and a younger sister Heleen. Then in 1942, on her eleventh birthday, the Japanese invaded what was then, the Dutch East Indies. Mam became a prisoner of war. She spent four years supplemententing her family’s meagre diet by chopping wood and digging graves in the most appalling conditions. Her dad survived the Burma Railway line, her mam another camp, her brother Henk, torture. After returning to Holland at 15 she had a patchy formal secondary education and eventually graduated to Domestic Science College in her late teens.


Henk, her brother died aged 19 whilst her parents were abroad. Mam attended to his funeral.

One day in Amsterdam whilst she was at Domestic Science College she was inspired by the sight of a KLM Air Stuardess in uniform, she decided that was the job for her, and spent the next three years as an au pair learning new languages: English in Surrey with a Vicar and his wife, German in a ruined Berlin with a Count, French on a farm with a huge family and a smattering of Italian. She flew long haul flights to Jakarta, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria and, in Lagos, bumped into a Yorkshireman, David Littlewood on the dance floor.

They married in Jos, Nigeria (her given name was ‘Jos’ – a story for another time perhaps) and I was produced on July 22nd in Kano, northern Nigeria in 1958. My brother Tim was born in 1961 in Ghana. Mam and Dad were a popular couple, throwing fantastic parties (like ‘Spend a night in Gaol’, or ‘Launching a new Newspaper’).

Mam came home on leave with Tim and I to a house in Matlock in 1964. Dad stayed in Ghana. She had to bring me back to England for my health – I had contracted cerebral malaria twice, typhoid and rheumatic fever . I would not have survived any longer in the Gold Coast. Dad needed to work and had a very good job with UAC in West Africa. They separated and then divorced.

Mam managed to blag her way into Teacher Training College in Matlock in 1965 having had very little formal education thanks to the Camp. She trained for three years as an Art/Textiles teacher, becoming Head of Textiles at Mortimer Wilson School two years after qualifying supporting Tim and I through school and University.

The last thing Mam said to me as I held her hand was; “Henk, you have to decide what you are going to do, and what you are not going to do”.

It is a sweet irony that in the last years of her life, blind and succumbing to dementia mam sometimes confused me with my dad calling me David. It was in those last, close, intimate moments of her drifting in and out of the world that I realised how deeply she had loved him.

So what I have decided I am ‘going to do’ is this sort of caper:


What I have decided I am ‘not going to do’, is not bother you, dear reader, or anyone else with trivia. We don’t have enough time – just touch.

Down Under

15 Responses to “Touch”

  1. Susan Atkinson January 21, 2015 at 5:45 pm #

    Wish I had met your mum, such an amazing lady. She will live on in her family I am sure – go follow your dreams Henk as she did xxx

  2. Julia February 24, 2015 at 10:28 pm #

    I am so saddened to read of your mum’s passing. I was searching for her as I was one of her students and was in the 6th form when she retired. I was hoping to be able to let her know what she did for me… But alas I cannot believe that I am just a few weeks to late. She was inspiration to me and I became a headteacher. She still features in my assemblies as an inspirational figure and I share with pupils my recollections of her. I would love to chat with you about my memories maybe over the phone if you’d like too…I can verify my authenticity via email and sharing some info not placed on your blog. She was a great character and a very special lady. Thank you for posting this.

    • woodenhenk February 25, 2015 at 6:09 am #

      By all means ring me Julia, it has helped me to grieve her passing to hear from her friends and former students x H : you can reach me via my web site

  3. forthewildandthefree February 27, 2015 at 9:00 am #

    Truly sorry for your loss, Henk. She comes across as someone who lived a full life. Her legacy now lives within you! Many prayers coming your way.

  4. Anne July 19, 2015 at 7:44 pm #

    I was so sorry to read about your mum. I have clear memories of her from All Saints days, waiting at the top road with the other parents. I remember her as being gregarious and animated. In my mind’s eye she was tall, but that is probably because we were so small? She had such an amazing life. Thank you for sharing that. It is a pleasure and a privilege to read your blog, always so full of interest.

  5. Ellen July 29, 2016 at 9:55 pm #

    I am so sorry to Hear of Mrs Littlewoods passing.

    She was a formidable yet brilliant teacher at Mortimer Wilson and had such a cheeky twinkle in her eye, that you always knew you were in for a highly entertaining lesson.

    Some of her life stories were so unbelievable, you wondered if she was pulling your leg. But reading your blog, it would seem they were quite true.

    A truly talented woman, I wished I had known her beyond school. Of all the teachers I have had over the years, we all still speak fondly of her x


  1. Lift | woodenhenk's Blog - February 7, 2015

    […] time today to visit your blog, and read the sad news about your mother’s death. I am sorry to learn about her passing away, but I was instantly reminded of bits of conversations […]

  2. Tadpoles | woodenhenk's Blog - May 17, 2015

    […] of reality. As Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favours only the prepared mind”, or to quote my mother; “Let’s look for […]

  3. Blind | Woodenhenk - July 3, 2016

    […] next day our mother steamed in to school and tore several strips off the teacher and the Head. Yet, ever aware of our […]

  4. Treasure | Woodenhenk - October 14, 2016

    […] learned the concept of ‘finding treasure’ from my mother. who had an uncanny ability to enthuse me in the natural world and matters philosophical. As a […]

  5. Simple | Woodenhenk - July 16, 2017

    […] my mother used to say ,”language is the key”. An air hostess had to learn quite a few in her day, so I always believed […]

  6. Pandora | Woodenhenk - December 16, 2017

    […] Scattering her ashes helped a lot, but I have been unable to part with her urn. I made the box from spalted Sycamore – the figuring resembling a running river on the sides, Italian Sweet Chestnut for the lid and base. Only the best for Pandora. […]

Leave a Reply to woodenhenk Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: