Archive | December, 2019

Bagatelle

23 Dec

As little a boy I used to play the board game known as Bagatelle in my great uncle Jan’s huge house in Haarlem. All the time the adults would argue about noblesse oblige, the Second World War and prisoner of war camps – in Dutch.

Bagatelle – the antidote to tedious nostalgia.

The thrill when the marble actually lands in a scoring hole, instead of tinkling down the pins to oblivion!

Reminds me of W.H. Auden’s aphorism:

‘Death is the sound of distant thunder at a picnic.’

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Looks like a tombstone too.

Earlier this year, I was asked to design a memorial. The Widow had not been able to find a suitable artisan to honour her husband’s memory.

She described her husband to me as an adventurer, a cyclist and a gentleman and she wanted the memorial carved in wood.

He seemed to have the qualities of my father, David Littlewood.

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Cyclist, gentleman and Adventurer.

The regulations governing the installation of memorial headstones in graveyards are strict in South Yorkshire. 

Wood is not good, unless one plants a living tree.

I declined the commission, but in memory of my father’s generous spirit, I gave her the drawing to use as she saw fit.

Eventually she told me she had found a talented young mason who was able to carve it for her in stone and add his own texture to the motif.

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What, I hear you ask, is the link between an ancient board game for one bored boy and Death?

Life of course, and I celebrate it!

The word Bagatelle derives from the Italian word ‘bagatella’ coined in the 1630s for a trifle, a thing of no importance – a knick-knack, a bauble, or a trinket.

David met his second wife, Mollie, in the Club Bagatelle a famous nightclub in Lagos, Nigeria.

David and Molly - Polly and Alan wedding

Mr and Mrs Littlewood produced three children together; Anna (veterinary surgeon), Nathan (geologist) and Simon (carpenter).

I met them in ’69 when I was still living in Matlock in the house my dad bought when he married my mother, David’s first wife.

Although I was young, it was kind of obvious to me that my Dad was besotted with Mollie and very happy.

This made me happy, and that is no trifling thing.

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Elise, by the artist Diana Storey, makes me happy. She is a Bagatelle. You can see her galloping around a small exhibition of wood and mosaic art called Birdsong in Winter (extended by Yorkshire Artspace until January 18th, 2020) as a paean to trifles thrown in the face of Darkness.

At night a terrifying Night Mare, carrying the innocent away from Darkness into The Light. By day a sweet carousel pony.

In the mid 1950’s young David took his City and Guilds 1st Class in carpentry and joinery and sailed from Liverpool to Nigeria to help her people regain Independence from British Rule. He brought practical building skills.

His adventure led to my birth in Kano, and more siblings than I can shake a stick at, a generous step mum and the happiest of memories.

That is pretty First Class in my book.

 “Proper job lad.”

For the women folk x

HL 24.12.2019

 

Boundary

6 Dec

Peter Maarten Hendrik Littlewood – that’s me, born 22.7.58 in Kano in the north of Northern Nigeria south of the Sahara Desert, which technically makes me Hausa. But, I grew up in the heart of Derbyshire, by the river Derwent.

It’s a long way from there to here.

Yesterday I bought a ham sandwich from Eugene on the train travelling up to London to visit my grandson, Joseph.

A mere 2 1/2 hour train ride.

Eugene, it turned out, was from Sierra Leone and was surprised when I told him I had lived as a boy on the hill above Freetown, watching the timber trucks hurtle down the hill.

Freetown was the main departure point for slaves traded in West Africa.

I learned to use a hammer here, and never to judge a book by its cover.

The old map of The Peak District shows natural and man-made boundaries – if you are adventurous, you can breach them.

However, have to know how and more importantly…..when. It’s the same with the boundaries within people, particularly children.

In 2019 Saint Nicholas brought grandson, Joseph some gifts and stuck them in his blue wellies.

His favourite was a book from Clare, his Nain, all about trucks. Press the button to match the truck noise. Perfect!

His mum and dad are are protective of Joseph’s boundaries.

They need to be.

I was 7 years old, when I was enrolled in a primary school in Matlock, Derbyshire. I was placed in  a mixed-age ‘remedial’ class.

They did not know what to do with me really.

On the first day of term, in 1964 I was paraded in front of the class and introduced  as ‘Hank’ Littlewood from Africa.

The teacher then urged my class mates to ask me questions.

First question:

Girl “Why aren’t you black?”

Me “Because my Mam washes me in Domestos”

2nd ‘Question’:

Boy: “Have you ever seen a snake?”

Me, ‘Yes we had Green Mambas in the garden in Takoradi, but my pet Mongoose, Pitypet always scared them off.’

Not the wisest of responses for someone new to an English provincial school.

Very clever, but thick, as my wife would say – a fairly good description of someone with BiPolar Type 1 Disorder.

I had lowered my draw bridges and was ‘asking for trouble’.

During that first introduction, several boundaries had been crossed …. & breached – by the teacher. Her actions had sleighted my castle walls.

It did lasting damage.

In Ghana school was totally different. I was unaware of the difference between black children and me, we just played football together and laughed a lot – they were my friends.

The Matlock kids taught me the difference between black and white that very same day, at break time.

I was surrounded by kids shouting

“You’re a white N&%%@R!”

I kid you not, so in Hegley’s own words, I ‘got it’ for being me – ‘Back in the Playground Blues‘.

By the end of the school term, my mother was getting a bit worried about my prospects for survival.

Her funny little boy had become introverted and withdrawn.

So Mam recruited the services of her younger half brother, Maarten, to help.

He had just finished his National Service in the Dutch Army as the Colonel’s Jeep Driver. Clever lad to wangle that job!

To me he was a Knight.

He took me for a long walk to the playground near our house and we had a man to man chat.

He said, “Look Henk, most people don’t understand you, and it is no good trying to be clever, or talk yourself out of trouble. Some people only understand one thing.”

‘What’s that Oom Maarten?’ I asked.

“This” and he showed me his fist. “You have to ‘whoof’ them with this”.

I discovered Mars.

Maarten, after the God of War is my middle name. Yang.

Next day, when one of my class mates yelled ‘Hank, Hank! You’re the White N£&&@r!”, I whoofed him.

I whoofed him good. Mam met me at the school gate, bloody, but unbowed. The name calling stopped.

Uncle Maarten had taught me how to establish some of my own boundaries.

My grandfather – Opa – taught me how to play chess using the beautiful mini game Fox and Hounds at about the same time on his old box wood set, a great game for teaching a child the importance of boundaries and rules. He would always point out blunders as I made them, so I learned fast.

We moved on to chess after that, and every day in the summer holidays I would play a game with him, after a piece of cake and a glass of squash, but only after I had helped my Oma Yo do some housework.

Here it is as it appeared in a 2019 art with some of artist Diana Spencer’ figurines substituting major pieces. Very Jungian.

I made this set for my Opa when I was 11, with the guidance of my favourite teacher, Master of Woodwork and Technical Drawing, Mr Paulson. The only teacher I ever paid any attention to really.

The game above is the Queen’s Gambit (white), a powerful attacking opening relying on a pawn sacrifice to gain control of the centre of the board.

Black must defend well. Black is my colour of choice.

My dad used to say – when dealing with the gentler sex, always play for a gentleman’s draw.

Chess is a thing of boundaries and rules, and yet infinite possibility. It is the game of War.

Maps, on the other hand, are topographic things, they have real meaning.

They are vital in war. Territory can be taken or defended.

However, both create spaces in which Time is altered, because you must employ your Imagination.

Bring your boys up to understand sacrifice and give your girls the tools….the keys are theirs to claim. But make them both understand that a word and a tool can easily become a weapon.

St Peter holds two keys: one to heaven and one to hell. In most depictions they are identical (gold or silver/white or black).

You chose.

Do you want to ‘”Phone a friend?”

Would you prefer to “Ask the audience ?”

I chose 50/50 ….. to walk the path, very carefully. The path between heaven and hell. ‘Meifumado’ in Japanese – or the way of the warrior.