Archive | April, 2019

Path

28 Apr
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In 2010, the Artist, Andy Goldsworthy made this lovely meandering path called ‘Wood Line’ from the huge stems of invasive Eucalyptus trees in the Golden Gate National Park in San Francisco. The path is over a quarter of a mile long and my Dad and I wandered down it together in 2013.
It makes me think about the paths we take as we meander through our lives.
This famous poem by Robert Frost encapsulates the dilemma we all face when we are forced to chose between one direction or another at significant moments of our lives.
The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.[1]

 

At this time of year young people all over the land are studying hard for their school and University exams: GCSE, A’Level, Degrees are the prize they seek. The better the grade/degree the greater the choice of direction. Many of them studying for high academic qualifications will have a good idea of the career path they want to take. Engineering (not enough sadly), Science (again not enough), Medicine and Law (too many), Nursing, Teaching and so on – vocational careers. Very few will decide to follow the path of an Artist. In my school, this was considered ‘failure’ with a capital ‘F’. Art was my best subject, followed by Biology.

At 16 I hadn’t a clue what path to take until I met a Zoologist in 1974 at Lee Green Field Centre in Derbyshire. Teenagers from schools all over the county were given the opportunity to spend a week in the Field studying Ecology with an expert. I was completely entranced by transects, mark and recapture methods, butterfly nets and earthworm population numbers and the mind blowing diversity of planktonic life in a pond as seen under a microscope.

As Baloo the Bear declared to Mowgli in Disney’s The Jungle Book, when he heard the Primo Levi track ‘I’m the King of the Swingers’, I was gone man, solid gone…!

I spent the rest of my sixth form focussed on getting sufficient grades to get in to University to study Zoology. At a parent’s evening my Head Master asked me “What use is  Zoology Littlewood?” my mother, quick as a flash said “So he can develop a new strain of deadly mosquitos and called them Aedes littlewoodi” – with her on your side everyone else was Royally screwed. She was like Boudicca on acid.

Path chosen for about about 15 years. I made a good living studying centipede behaviour, termite piss (I kid you not) and then a long time trying to figure our how locusts brains work whilst supporting my little family in Newcastle upon Tyne. A graduate parent and visitor to my lab once asked me “Why do you do that?” ‘Because I can’, was my answer.

History repeatedly tells us that this is a bad reason.

Research Zoology satisfied a number of cravings – a vast variety of living forms to discover, an esoteric discipline, fresh air and knowledge for an insatiable appetite. It also encouraged my ability to draw, describe and write. Comparative morphology and anatomy were a delight for me. The shape of a claw, a bone, the feeding appendage of a Bryozoan – you name it, I was allowed to stare at it, examine it, draw it and marvel at it how it came to be.

Unfortunately it was not easy to find a permanent job. I quit in 1989 and trained to teach science so I could continue to support daughter and first wife.

New path. Bloody good holidays wherein I could watch my daughter grow up, entertainment dreaming up ways to make basic science concepts understandable for young people and a reasonable income. Downside? Yes – huge stress, mostly emotional.

The path came to a dead end in 2001 after a mental breakdown.

By Great Good Fortune I met someone who shone a light and led me slowly back to the Little Wood. It was a very long a scary journey, but she was by my side the whole way. She took me for long walks and made me read Harry Potter. I began to take myself and less seriously. I learned to listen and she taught me how to love myself. How to find the path back to myself.

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I have had the odd wobble on this path, but, by and large I have rediscovered who I am:

A very curious boy, who like to draw and make and write, preferably alone, who loves to be entertained by funny, lively people. A good example would be my niece, Hazel Littlewood, who lives near not far from Goldsworthy’s sculpture and is busy finding her own path.

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Hazel

Just think, I would not have been around to meet her, had I not been led from the dark path.

These days I have re-adopted my youthful dog-like strategy of checking out every path, before committing to the long route, this way I can locate chose the ‘road least taken’.

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Here is one I followed today – it made all the difference.

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The path of Earthly Delights, where fresh badger diggings, bluebells and (un) coppiced Hazel can be found by and in the Littlewood.

May you find your path, and, more importantly the means of finding it.

 

For Geoff Smith, Art Teacher, Ernest Bailey Grammar School, Matlock (1970’s). Who taught me that only I was the judge of the true quality of my work. A great teacher.

Faith

21 Apr

I’m sure everyone has been asked the question “Do you have Faith”.  Perhaps we ask it of ourselves at difficult times? Until recently, I have taken the question to mean ‘do I believe in a God?’

Children are so full of wonder, for them belief is easy. Belief allows us to trust in the existence of treasure just around the next corner. Faith takes our hand and leads us to it.

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Joseph, my grandson was so excited at the London Museum of Transport the other day he kept squatting down, pursing his lips and declaring;

“Oooh…BUS! Opa…….BUS!”

Big vintage red London Routemaster buses could be this small boy’s version of a Deity.

My own response to anyone asking the question “do you have Faith?” usually elicits this response:

“Do you believe in Santa, The Tooth Fairy or Ghosts?”

If they answer ‘no’ – then I respond by saying that I do not believe that there is an old geezer in the sky who knows all our sins, transgressions and wickedness and if we would just but BELIEVE in him – we could ask for forgiveness, and be absolved of all of the above.

If they answer “Yes” then I can politely say “Good for you!” and drink my tea in peace.

Perhaps because I have been a professional scientist, and I was trained to ask searching questions in order to establish fact and truth, I would say I am skeptical about organised religion. Probably more so than most because manic depression (BiPolar Type 1) can lead one to become highly suggestible in the hypomanic state.

Old Testament God, really does not excite me as a concept because the contents of The Good Book can be neither proven nor disproven – the wisdom contained therein requires an act of blind faith and total acceptance in the mind of a believer.

Belief in a received truth, rather than  explicit scientific, philosophical or mathematical proof is not truth.

However, I do respect an individual’s right to believe whatever they wish. Religion per se can be a very powerful positive force for many.

Faith itself, however, is a completely different kettle of fish.

Without the faith of my beloved I would not have recovered from a serious breakdown, without the faith of a child I would not have become a father, without the faith of family and true friends I wouldn’t have rediscovered my true self. Artist, woodworker.

In my humble opinion Faith is what the people who love you, give to you.

It is their faith in your humanity and the possibility that you will stop being a monumental fool and start behaving like a socialised individual that redeems us. Their faith gives one the inspiration needed to live fully.

Your parents ought to be the first people to give you Faith. My Dad, seen here with his granddaughter and great grandson (Joseph again) had tremendous faith in me.

I miss him terribly, but I can repay his memory by having faith in my loved ones.

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Faith is what we all need.

Given freely it is the quintessence of love’s light.

If you are in receipt, acknowledge it, be thankfull and believe you are worthy.

Please do not throw it away.

 

HL

 

 

 

 

Waterfall

11 Apr

 

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Dad and Mam 1960

Memory is fickle. It is bad enough that we cannot always be sure of our senses (spending time in a psychiatric hospital will profoundly shake one’s faith in reality) and the store of impressions, knowledge and experiences we call memory can be most troubling.

My wife and I cared for and supported my Mam in the last years of her life as her memory gradually unravelled due to vascular dementia. Her condition was compounded by macular degeneration and a bone headed refusal to adapt. When she finally agreed to be cared for professionally, Clare and I uncovered archeological layers of unread sticky labels and notes in her house amidst mountains of hoarded stuff, written to remind Mam of where the other note was to indicate the location of the marmite (12 pots), disinfectant (20 bottles filled with water??) you get the idea. She even hid money in black socks – throughout her wardrobe.

“Look Henk! A Dobby sock!” Clare, my lady of the wicked mirth, referring to the JK Rowling elf character in the Harry Potter books.

Living on her own. Mam must have been slowly becoming more and more lost in her own maze of the Minotaur, walking through a thickening fog without any string.

At the end what was left of her memory were the deepest associations and very revealing. During her last 18 months in care she constantly called me ‘David’ my dad, her ex husband’s name. During this time I realised just how much she adored him despite belittling, criticising and disrespecting his name in all the years prior and since their divorce in 1966. I did not correct her.

This is Grace and I am humbled by it’s Memory.

When my Dad was alive, he and I used to love going on road trips. We would invent a spurious reason, jump in the car with a hold-all each and head for the hills. He used to say “Got some loose change in your pocket? A pair of clean underpants and a vest? Right-ho, we’re good to go!”

Take Dad anywhere and there would always be a tale, a funny association with his own memories and experiences and a riotous adventure.

Take, for example, the time we went to Ireland in his old Ford Sierra, travelling to Waterford to trace his mother, Annie Wilde’s roots, all the way up to Dublin. We found no trace, but a great deal of mirth – in a bar in Dublin we were drinking beer and eating a big meat pie each when onto a crude stage wafted a vision in electric blue taffeta. An aged chanteuse plugged the hammond organ in, switch it on and proceeded to sing.

“It’s Margarita Pracatan!” my dad declared.

The eponymous singer was regular guest on Clive James’ chat show during the 90’s.

I nearly choked on my pie.

Landscape, architecture and movement have always flowed like a waterfall for father and son.

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A rush of pure association, comedy and utter delight.

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This piece is called ‘Waterfall’ and was commissioned by a couple who have that rare gift – they have kept their curiosity alive through mutual love and affection all the way to retirement.

They had discovered this timber – English Yew – in a small local woodyard near Hillsborough in Sheffield (Albion Timber), the mill owner, David Smythe had put them on to me as a someone who might be able to make them something useful from them.

It was the wildness of the waney, or live edges that excited them. They couldn’t know what lay under the rough sawn, blood red surface of the six boards.

Now, the problem with having an ‘unquiet mind’ (manic depression) is that there is never any shortage of ideas. Almost anything can set my brain haring off like a collie after a rabbit.

So I was grateful that my clients were quite specific in their requirements – a set of shelves with a small cabinet.

It was an artist friend, who said “It’s a waterfall” as I was completing it in my studio. Aye, lad.

During a family reunion, on Christmas Day in Devon with my dad and I were paired up for a word association quiz

Dad: “A Lake, ‘like you are not son’.”

“Placid”, I said.

We were unbeaten. My memory was sound.

The ravens had returned, to Odin.

 

 

For the giver of the Dobby Sock.

HL