18 Dec

In the late 80’s I was a young dad and whenever my daughter, Polly, asked me a question such as; “what are plants made of Dad?” I would expound – sometimes inventing an entire branch of knowledge like ‘Stuffology’ to illustrate to a youngster the different sorts of stuff which make up the living world – cellulose, starch, chlorophyll etc..

Henk and Polly looking for Stuff, Northumberland 1988

Looking back I recognise that I had a tendency to overshare. Some would say I had a generosity

of spirit, whilst others might have simply called me naive and oblivious to reality.

My father was more measured, he preferred experiential learning. Once, whilst travelling to Maud in the North East of Scotland to do some joinery for half sister Anna, Dad’s only daughter and a talented vet, we dropped off at a pub for lunch. As Dad was paying at the bar, emptying his pockets and scraping together all his loose change, the barman said:

“Are you a Yorkshireman?”

“Aye lad, what of it?” Dad replied.

“They’re a bit like Scotsmen, but with a Generosity Bypass.“ said the man.

He had that effect on people.

Henk and David Littlewood at Anna’s Seat, Fingle

W.H. Auden said “A professor is one who talks in someone else’s sleep.”

I was so intent on becoming a professor as a young man, that I lost track of my sense of humour.

As luck would have it, I changed tack in my early thirties and retrained to teach secondary science.

I was keen to go forth and share my enthusiasm for the Natural World, Science and Biology in particular to a new audience.

When I was appointed to my first teaching job at Prudhoe High School in the Tyne Valley. I had a rude awakening. First of all I could barely understand the Prudhoe dialect. I told one class “Can you please slow down and speak English so that I can understand you?”

“Eee, that’s ‘Shan’ that is!” said one of the year 10 girls. Shan is Geordie for ‘unjust’. A great word, quite right too.

One day, a student painted a giant penis in Tippex on my rolling blackboard and cut it out in relief so that the bell end flopped over when I was in full flow. The effect was dramatic, as soon as I whizzed the roller round, the class erupted in mirth.

“Shan that” I thought.

In the end, the Headmaster wanted the panel replaced because of the impending (first ever) Offsted inspection. I requested, politely that it remain, because it stopped me oversharing (being a Dick).

“On your own head be it.” He said, cryptically.

So there, it stayed. The inspector can’t have been too bothered, because he gave me a grade 1 and I was promoted to Head of Year 10.

Thank you dick-artist whoever you were.

Several recent, unpleasant experiences have caused me to remember these times with affection and review my attitude to people. Who think it is ok to prey upon my generous spirit.

I shan’t go into that stuff because, like my dad I feel it is better to be silent on these matters.

My friend, the artist, Robert Twigg captured my inner Yorkshireman in my old studio by riling me up. Clever. Here is a generosity bypass if ever I saw one. Proper job, lad.

photo credit Robert Twigg

I asked one of my former Prudhoe High School students if he could remember any of my weirder moments. Steven Maughan shared this:

“Well one time I got caught in the toilet with a lass by the dinner lady and she sent me to you for a bollicking. You gave us a telling off then told me to Go and get Educated. Great.”

I celebrate the spirit and generosity of the students I met at Prudhoe High School. They taught me canny well.

Merry Christmas to all of you.

In Memoriam Lee Doran, Fine Artist, and thanks Maughny.

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