11 Oct

Years ago after the break up of my first marriage I found myself sharing a room with a Rastafarian poet called Henry. We had both signed up for a course on the sonnet form at the Arvon Foundation.

Henry made a simple observation of my behaviour which stays with me to this day.

He said “Henk man, you got to slow down. You are in a deep groove and you are wearing it deeper. There are many other grooves out there. But you got to slow right down to see them, then you can slip into a new groove”.

This is how I found a new groove.

Not long after meeting Henry, I became so mentally ill that I had no choice but to slow down; pharmaceutically, socially and medically I was becalmed.

I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act after a psychotic episode and six weeks on a locked Psych’ ward I was, I believed, royally screwed as the haloperidol wore off and I began to survey the wreckage I had caused.

My first tentative foray into the world of work began six months later at BTCV now TCV the voluntary conservation organisation building dry stone walls, stiles and steps, laying hedges, planting trees and learning to brew tea in a storm kettle.

Being outside was groovy.

A bit later, and building on the confidence I had gained as a conservation volunteer I gained a paying job with the Friends of the General Cemetery of Sheffield. I was tasked with looking after their volunteers, managing the landscape and helping to service a Heritage Lottery grant to restore the Gatehouse. It was as far removed from teaching or academia as it was possible to be.

It was the beginnings of a new groove.

The General Cemetery in Sheffield is an architectural gem. The Friends were a godsend – and despite my mental health issues they had faith in me. I cannot thank two amazing people enough for my new start: the artist and then Secretary of FOGC Jane Horton and the then conservation manager Helen Carter.

The Nonconformist Chapel is heavily influenced by Greek Classicism with a dose of Victorian Egyptianate je ne sais quois added – hence the sloping door frame. My own Classical reference sits at the front – a throne in the Renaissance Savonarola-style also known as a Dante chair.

The throne was made for my most important muse – my wife, Clare.

I made it from timber gleaned from all over Sheffield:

Ash for the back

Elm for the arms

Alder for the seat

Cherry for the interlaced legs

Iroko from an old Attercliffe beam for the feet and

Sycamore for the bosses

All recycled, nothing wasted, gained as a countryside Ranger, my second proper job after the ‘Cemetery.

This was the first serious piece of furniture I made in 2004 after stepping out of my old groove.

This sonnet, written way back in 1998 – is partly for Henry, and partly for Clare, but, in reality it contains the seeds of a new groove for everyone.

Henry’s Gift

A friend of mine, he gave me his stairs,

His stepping stones, the river to his very God.

And just for breakfast bilberries I ran

To climb his steps, and find the morning sun.

A friend of mine, she gave her hands,

Her lightning wit, her beating heart –

The very blueprint to her living soul,

– the orthodoxy of ‘us’ in the finest cup of tea.

And so it is to me I gave a smile

at Henry’s waterfall. I ran a mile

to find a single berry and a seed,

a pool in which to bathe beside the trees –

where light and life are passing all the while,

illuminating dreams of Love for One and All.


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