Archive | January, 2018

Mimir

16 Jan

Frank L Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz, introduced some beautiful sayings into children’s literature. For example;

“No thief, however skilful, can rob one of Knowledge, and that is why Knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire”

But how do we get Knowledge? I used to think it could be taught, until I experienced Life and realised that some sacrifices are required.

Odin knew this well. He journeyed deep below the roots of the giant Ash Tree, Yggdrasil to a sacred stream guarded by a mysterious and deeply wise creature called Mimir.

Mimir was the keeper of ‘tradition’ – I suspect he was actually the guardian of Archetypes – Literally ‘ancient concepts’ …. or ‘inheritance’ if you will.

Odin made a huge sacrifice in order to drink from Mimir’s well and gain wisdom. He plucked out his own eye for a draught. To become a ‘seer’.

Recently, I have been designing a desk for a valued client who is a Scholar, a wise man and I felt it would useful to understand his sacrifices a little.

I discovered that he adores his cats (he would not mind me saying that he is their servant). The gentleman also loves to rub his feet on a special massage stool below his office desk whilst working. This gave me an idea. Why not build the foot massager into the trestle of the desk?

I chose an old burr from the side of an oak tree I thought it would make a tactile and aesthetic foot board for the scholar.

Here is the work in progress:

The bottom foot board reminded me of the wounded empty eye socket of Odin.

Hopefully, my esteemed client will be able to rub his feet on the ‘eye socket’ whist he is researching his field and plying his wisdom up above.

So, what do I know of sacrifice?

In 1983 I was writing up my PhD thesis on a typewriter at a tiny wooden table in a flat in Moss Side, whilst trying to look after my baby daughter Polly. Her mum was forced to go back to work to pay the bills. It did not work, I could not concentrate, so Polly’s Nan offered to look after her for half the week in Doncaster.

The loss of Polly for three days from our lives was very terrible. Yet Polly thrived in the company of her Nan. So it was the best thing for her.

So why did I make this sacrifice – did I gain knowledge?

I had studied the ’empty socket’ that is the coxal organ of centipedes for my PhD.

A beautiful structure. With a described function based entirely on appearance (external and internal). In other words totally wrong.

I did some experiments, and made a new testable hypothesis:

In so doing I sacrificed precious time with my baby daughter.

Was it worth it? Not at all. The PhD has never earned its keep. It was just a ticket to misery.

Now, I would not trade a picosecond if my allotted time with Polly, her son, Joseph , or his Nain Clare.

For they are Mimir, the keepers of the sacred wellspring of Life.

Epiphany

8 Jan

The day after my father died I didn’t know what to do with myself. So I walked to my workshop via the canal basin at Victoria Quays, Sheffield by way of a pair of bored ducks.

When I got in I set to making a some shelves for my nephew Luke. His dad had sent me a computer generated diagram of what he wanted.

That was my opening gambit.

Holly Chessmen 2016

I started by cross cutting some 18mm birch ply for the shelves using the table saw and the fence to set the width of the cut. Something I have done countless times.

But, this time I did not replace the guard on the saw blade. As I switched the induction motor on a large section of ply got trapped between the spinning blade and the fence – and shot out like a missile into my crotch.

As I was rolling about in the sawdust clutching the Crown Jewels and crying – I suddenly heard my dad’s voice:

“Look after your tools son and your tools will look after you.”

You could call this an epiphany.

Less of ‘the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles (Matthew 2:1–12)’ as my Mam would put it, more the sudden and great revelation according to Dad.

A Zen moment if you will.

When both parents are dead the child is on their own – spouse, partner, your friends – the people picked by you, may be there for you. If they are true they will even love you warts and all.

However, all of these fine folk are free agents and can, potentially, leave you all alone.

Parents are an entirely different box of frogs. Their influence can never leave you. They gave you life, and for this alone you will always owe them a debt. Without them you are not even a twinkle in an eye.

I loved mine equally. I respect their gifts.

Mam showed me how to fight, Dad taught me tactics and strategy. Mam taught me the difference between looking and seeing, Dad gave me poetry and laughter.

My parents never expected me to pay up on the debt I owed them, but, it occurred to me that I might repay them in some way.

Perhaps with a touch of faith?

Like letting a keen young carpenter work in your studio.

“There’s no F&@£ing straight line anywhere!” Esme McCall

Muninn – spalted ash

Quite.

Educare (to train) – The Mother. Educere (to enlighten) – The Father.

Chiaroscuro Home Parenting.

For Alan and Polly Howden, who know how to get right in to the playpen with their boy Joseph. Caravaggio would approve.

R

5 Jan

There are times when everything seems to turn to ashes. All one’s best efforts, all ones hopes, and, foolishly one’s expectations are dashed to smithereens. And yet….. and yet, there is always a calm core to every Force 10 Hurricane.

Late this afternoon in the gloaming of a Wintery Sheffield Woodland, I revisited my old stamping ground – the place where I was awarded a post as a Countryside Ranger in 2003.

I was looking for a particular pair of trees, introduced to me by an ex colleague of Sheffield City Council Ranger Service, way back in 2004.

My Ranger colleague, John and our gaffer, Mark had been in post nearly 30 years man and boy when I joined the South Ranger Team, fresh from 2 years entertaining naughty boys and girls as a Green Watch Project Ranger.

I was as keen as mustard.

Mark my gaffer, used to say “For Christ’s sake sit down lad and have a cup of tea, you’re doing my scone in!”. I would be in the Base at Greenhill Park at least half an hour before them, busying myself fettling tools for the days work, checking the diary and sorting through emails. Busy, busy, busy.

If I was worried about setting up for a school booking, John would say “Be reyt’ ” and roll another cigarette.

I confess I could not understand the South Team attitude. It always felt as if we were ‘arsing about’ to coin a Yorkshire phrase.

Now, with my father’s passing, I understand the importance of ‘R’-sing  around.

R obscured

 

The trees I was looking for are a tall straight larch and a beautiful sweet chestnut. They have grown together for years, embracing as lovers do. They have some to rest against each other.

If you walk a bit further along the path, this is revealed:

R revealed

‘R’ for ‘R-sing’ around.

‘R’ for Ranger.

My father would have said:

“Steady on Son” – he was Rangering.

For Simon Littlewood, my brother in aRms.

Si and Henk Carpenters

Memoriam

4 Jan

IMG_6709.JPGDavid Stuart Littlewood, 21.03.1930 – 25.12.2017 surrounded by his apprentices.

From the left, yours truly, Dad, Nathan, Simon and Tim. Abi, our sister, sadly passed away in 2008 so the picture above is incomplete.

A couple of weeks before Dad’s passing we were all able to get together in Devon to celebrate each other’s connection through David Stuart Littlewood. He made a big effort, coming down from his bed to sit amongst the grandchildren and share our good humour, providing the strong glue that binds us. He was a bit somber at the start.

The remarkable turnaround in my Dad’s mood was largely down to our youngest brother’s insatiable appetite for life. His enthusiasm for pickles, meat pies, a full English Breakfast, long striding walks over the Devon Moors and an encyclopaedic knowledge of beer, old architecture and woodwork was just the ticket. Simon always brings his ‘A’ game to a family gathering.

As you know I believe in Alchemy.

A week before Christmas I was feeling low, and, yet out of the Blue, a young artist/maker contacted me for help. She wrote a mature and erudite email introducing herself and expressing a need to develope her woodwork hand skills. We agreed to meet in my studio in Sheffield.

After some initial hedging around by me, I agreed to let her spend a little time in my workshop, so that I could gauge her quality.

I found the timing of her arrival both fortuitous and perplexing, so I asked my father (as I always do) for advice.

I quietly approached him and asked him if he needed ‘owt.

“Aye, lad, cup of tea”

I brought him a cup of tea – strong one sugar, and as he was sipping it I said:

“Dad, I’m thinking of taking someone on, do you have any advice?”

“Is it a lad?”

“No, its a lass”

“Oh, well, get her to make something and if she’s shite, bin her off”

These were the last words he spoke to me before he died.

I was his first apprentice. He never binned me off. Ever.

There is now a young carpenter honing her craft in my studio, bringing her art and skill to enhance our ‘A’ Game.

IMG_1615

The fish carving was the first piece of ‘wood art’ I made for my gaffer, Mr Poulson, at 11 years of age.

‘A’ is for Alchemy.

Paulo Coelho The Alchemist.