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Pandora

16 Dec

It is almost three years since my mother passed away and grieving process attenuates. Just as well because my father has decided to sail his long ship over the rainbow bridge to Folksvangr. The place for the best of folk.

Scattering her ashes helped a lot, but I have been unable to part with her urn. I made the box from spalted Sycamore – the figuring resembling a running river on the sides, Italian Sweet Chestnut for the lid and base. Only the best for Pandora.

Everyone knows that ‘to open Pandora’s box’ is to invite a whole parcel of trouble and strife.

With my daft brain, I like to imagine the characters of Hellenic Myth in dialogue.

Scene 1, Act 1

Pandora  is born to Athena – a wise warrior woman (Hartje de Boer) and to a Smith, Hephaestus (Jr CA Van de Poll). This turned out to be a very potent brew. Lots of screaming and Bolshevism from the kid until 8 years of age.

Act 2, Scene 3

Entrance exam for a poncy Gel’s School aced. Full scholarship.

Pandora means literally ‘all gifted’. All nine Muses had taken up lodgings in her frontal lobes:

Epic Poetry (Calliope – endless rhyming couplets, like The Inferno of Dante, only less cheerful)

Lyric Poetry (Euterpe -making up stupid ditties like The Goons Song)

Love Poetry (Erato – romantic drivel, soaps)

Hymns (Polyhymnia – for God’s sake, literally)

History (Clio – dull as ditch water, like the car)

Comedy (Thalia – a laugh a minute)

Drama (Melpomene, drama, drama)

Dance (Terpsichore – jive baby)

Astronomy (Urania – staring at the heavens – Oh look the Moon is in Aquarius)

Imagine these nine bitches pecking at your head every waking hour. Added to that she had Athena telling her over and over again how stupid she was compared to her.

Her father Hephaestus was mean and magnificent, the strong loud type.

And……she always wanted to know “WHY?” She was bored, bored, bored.

In the end Pandora smashed a pithos (vase) – or ‘box’ in modern parlance, belonging to Prometheus, the Titan and in so doing released the Furies.

Pandora would have heard  her parents rowing.

Hephaestus yelling: “Its no good bringing her up as bloody servant, she needs to find a Prince! She needs to learn how to get things done, how to be a like me!”

Athena “Oh, you bloody oaf, you overbearing fool look at you, you have no appreciation of the finer things, look at my precious child, so beautiful yet not so clever. She will make a good Air Stewardess.

Pandora would have certainly hated the plate throwing, the chair smashing, the VIOLENCE all around her. The Furies. And the fact that no-one was listening.

The vessel Pandora broke was her self, her core.

The bits left over after the Furies had been unleashed could not be easily mended. Yet there was Hope.

Love, kindness and compassion are what we call Grace.

Grace can be used to repair the pith, the core of a person.

Fortunately my father has given me his gold to mend my pith. The hands of a working class Hephaestus. A joiner.

Japanese practitioners of Kintsugi now how to redeem the pithos.

For my Siblings:

Father, “Something you’re not”

All his love, those words:

I answered ‘Placid’

HL

Nemesis

8 Dec

Way back in the 1990’s I taught at Prudhoe High School in the Tyne Valley. Part of my duties were the pastoral care of Year 10. A young man was sent to me by his form tutor who was very concerned for his safety.

He was in distress and had attempted to self harm.

I suggested we have a chat in the school Greenhouse – somewhere one could have a cup of tea or a smoke, get away from the infernal hustle and bustle of a busy High School.

He proceeded to tell me that he found school so unbearable it had driven him to the brink of suicide. I now know what he meant.

I gave him £5 and said “Why don’t you naff off home with this and don’t come back”

“Are you serious?”

Me, ‘Perfectly, I will speak to the Head and tell him it is a matter of Life and Death. I will of course have to inform your parents as this is a Child Protection Matter. But, from the point of view of your health and safety I’d say getting as far away from school as possible is a priority.’

His parents were mightily relieved when I rang, they had been expecting a crisis.

I managed to persuade a few of his teachers to tutor him to his GCES, outside normal school time, which he coped with. He got A’s and an A* in Art – his best subject as you can see from his portrait of me above.

I had given my entire collection of 2000 AD to him (I had read it from the very first issue). When he eventually left to go to college he portrayed me as the alter ego of Nemesis The Warlock. The alien, fire breathing defender of alien life on planet earth against the tyranny of the Establishment.

The irony of the graphic novel is that Nemesis is male in the magazine, battling with the his arch enemy Torquemada. In fact, according to Greek mythology Nemesis is female – the goddess of indignation against and punishment for hubris.

The irony of the portrait above is that in my role as a pastoral teacher, and young dad, I was very in touch with my feminine, protective side. I think the portrait is very perceptive. It illustrates a divine alchemical principle – that of duality.

We all have a bit of yin in us if we are biologically male, and those of us who are biologically female will have some yang. Some of us have more of the opposite polarity at times than the one we were assigned to by genetics. This does not matter as long as the polar opposites balance. This is the key to happy relations regardless of sexuality, age, creed, or skin tone.

I believe that in my first marriage, my Yin was stronger than my Yang. During my childhood I had been well trained by a very strong woman, my mother, to appease, protect and be biddable. I still have to fight this urge when confronted with a harpy.

In my second marriage I have found someone who is my absolute polar opposite, she is the Yin to my Yang. Thanks to the artist, I understand myself a little better and what i need – this is what good artists do.

yinyang duality

 

Alchemy

29 Nov

Alchemy is concerned with the transmutation of base matter into gold. The search for a Universal Elixir.

Just as barbers were the forerunners of surgeons, so Alchemists were the fathers of modern day Chemists.

You are now imaging a bearded bloke in a cloak covered with sygils, stained hands a hacking cough and a stoop yes?

There were mothers of alchemy as we shall see.

In order to refresh your inner eye I’d like you to consider Madame Socrates:

She is the creation of Mosaic Artist Diana Storey

When I saw her properly in Diana’s studio I was entranced. The sum of experiences and emotions, the responsibilities and burdens, the hurt and joy of her creator were emerging from her head and décolletage in a stunning fractal mosaic. Quantum emotions in glass, mirror and ceramic.

Now consider this bust of Socrates:

“I cannot teach anyone anything, I can only make them think.” Socrates

Jacques Louis David 1787 recorded Socrates’ demise.

The Pantheon (State) of Athens asked Socrates politely to take hemlock and commit suicide. His crime? Impiety (lack of reverence) against the senate, and failing to believe in state approved Gods.

Clearly his peers were fed up with being shown how to think.

Impiety the universal elixir and precursor to the gaining of knowledge.

True Alchemical ‘transmutation’ is, I believe, the preserve of The Divine Feminine:

I was particularly struck by a snarling dog emerging from the back of Madame Socrates head. Diana “Yeah, a previous bloke had a pit bull who would get aggressive if I tried to argue with him”.

Clearly he did not like impiety.

It is my thesis that the feminineprinciple can transmute base substances. E.g. blokes who do not know ‘shit from shinola‘ into men.

It tempers the masculine principle.

This surely applies to all (cis and non cis) relationships too and is not gender specific?

Mother made you by transmuting a piddling sperm and a giant egg into a baby in her womb.

If that isn’t alchemy I don’t know what is.

And for the record here are a couple of Mothers of Alchemy.

Hypatia of Greece

a famous mathematician, with a hairdo consilient with Madam Socrates (Health and Safety 350 AD style) and,

3rd century Mary the Prophetess’s who perfected a mercury distillation apparatus:

Mothers of Alchemy, we need to find more!

Shrewd

26 Nov

Whitney and Hazel

The women in my family are shrewd. Whitney, my sister-in-law and her daughter can be seen here enjoying my wife’s cheese cake. She made it after a pretty serious operation on her thyroid last week, when she ‘should have been’ resting.

Whitney to me “You realise that the thyroid is where her 5th Chakra lies, the connection between her passion and her higher function?” I was struck by this, as the throat is often the first thing to be constricted when I am depressed. I literally can’t sing.

The cheese cake was the energy exchange between my women – love out, love in.

William Shakespeare’s eloquence sometimes lacks this shrewdness.

His comedy, ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ is misclassified in my view, though I am drawn to it.

It is a mysogenistic tragedy.

In the play Petruchio courts the headstrong and independent Katherine, the eponymous shrew, as part of a ruse by fellow suitors to win the hand of her younger sister Bianca.

Bianca is desired by the men in the story because she is, in their eyes an ‘ideal woman’; beautiful, pliant and subservient. Katherina, is seen as headstrong, argumentative and ill tempered – like a shrew.

Petruchio spars with Katherine:

“Petruchio: Come, come, you wasp; i’ faith, you are too angry.
Katherine: If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew

Ultimately Petruchio succeeds in breaking Katherina’s spirit, by denying her food and water and wearing her down most cruelly. He realises, too late that he has broken the very person he truly loves.

I have seen the play a few times, most recently at the Botanic Gardens in Sheffield where Abigail Castleton of Heartbreak Productions was a brilliant Katherine.

The film ’10 things I hate about you’ starring Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger is an upbeat modern version.

When I saw it I thought ‘Nothing Ever Changes’. Now I think we may be experiencing a paradigm shift – a term usually applied to seismic changes in scientific thinking.

“Though she be but little, she is fierce”

Clare, my wife when she was Hazel’s age – alike in many respects: tiny, fierce and independent. Does not respond to imperatives like ‘should’.

As you probably know, shrews are tiny insectivorous mammals; incredibly busy creatures, absolutely fearless – so active in fact, that their super fast metabolism drives them to hunt all the hours they are awake. If they don’t eat, they die, so stressed are shrews. I admire their moxie a wonderful North American word meaning courage and aggressiveness.

In this clip, a tiny North American shrew exacts fatal retribution on a big old snake.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1TIj3qhZcl

Shrews will never be for taming.

Recently, with the Harvey Weinstein debacle, we have all witnessed the outing of predatory men in the media, and more widely with the #MeToo campaign by women with moxie, pushing back against their male abusers.

Not so much the ‘Taming of the Shrew’ as the ‘Taming By the Shrews’.

Women have betimes enjoyed high status. In pagan times some women were warriors, held power and were greatly revered, they inspired tales of the Valkyries of Norse Mythology. Yet, women still achieve success almost invariably against the backdrop of a patriarchal hegemony.

I believe we are on the cusp of a societal change in the Western World. Social media and the current technological revolution has levelled the playing field somewhat in favour of their shrewd skills.

Here’s a thought chaps….

PS with special thanks to my daughter Polly for her input x

Epiphany

15 Nov

Every moment is an epiphany for a 7 month old baby boy. Joseph has wears a hilarious frown when he is trying to absorb something new, like his grandfather’s goatee for example.

As an adult it is less common to enjoy such a ‘Road to Damascus’ moment – sensu stricto it means a complete and dramatic reversal, from an enemy to an advocate – as in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus in the New Testament.

I envy babies their credulity.

Many years ago I had my own epiphany in relation to my mental health. My dear wife, Clare, after months of trauma, had been forced to call a Doctor to have me sectioned. She tells me it was the hardest thing she has ever had to do.

In the late summer of 2001 I had been acting very oddly for months. I had not been sleeping, I was delusional – living through a protracted manic episode which ended, finally, in full blown psychosis.

To put it into context, when the Doctors and Social Workers arrived at our home I was wandering about the garden, butt naked trying to deduce the square root of pi from the proportions of the hat band of my Borsalino Fedora.

I was, not to put too fine a point on it, bonkers.

Two years prior to this Clare had gone through another awful period caring for me after I had made a suicide attempt, and, when I finally admitted it, she could not risk leaving me alone for a single second.

Imagine the pressure on her, the immense responsibility of worrying all the time that if she let me out of her sight for a second, I would be lost for ever. The knowledge that if I succeeded in extinguishing myself, she would feel completely responsible.

Mental illness is that cruel – the anguish suffered by the patient is multiplied exponentially in the carer of the loved one.

My own moment of great and profound revelation did not occur until I was in the psychiatric wing of Chesterfield Hospital in 2001.

I had decided to appeal my section under The Mental Health Act 1983 – thus, a social worker came to see me to discuss my case. In context, and to quote a conversation between Dr Ravi Lingam, my first psychiatrist and Clare at the time of my admission:

Dr. Lingam “What is Henk’s worst trait?”

Clare “He doesn’t listen.”

Dr Lingam “Why should he listen when he thinks he knows it all?”

Back in the Hospital the Social Worker said to me:

“Henk, if you are successful in your appeal you can walk out of here and continue to behave like a complete pain in the neck and suffer the consequences. If you are not successful then we can keep you here indefinitely. What you have to consider is, what right have you to continue subjecting Clare, who loves you, to your mental illness and to make her suffer?”

It was this last question that gave me my epiphany.

What right have I to make the one who loves me suffer?

I withdrew my appeal and was immediately taken off the section. I stayed in hospital voluntarily  for 5 weeks and received a clear diagnosis of Manic Depression – or BiPolar Disorder – from a straight talking Psychiatrist, Dr Zaman.

I became in that instant my own advocate and no longer my own (or my loved one’s) enemy.

 

 

 

 

Scheherazade

8 Nov

IMG_0328

I have always been a sucker for a good story. I like telling them and I love listening to them, so, as a little boy I looked forward to bed time because that was when our Mam would read to my brother Tim and I.

Reading Winnie the Pooh, my mother would use different voices to characterise each of the animals. Her pompous Owl, and miserable Eeyore always made me cry laughing. She read us Hans Christian Anderson and, best of all, Tales from the Arabian Nights.

Much later when I had a daughter (Polly) of my own I was able to read to her.

In time, and from an early age, her main preoccupation was to spend almost every waking hour with her nose shoved into a book – to the extent that her mum and I made her a bed that was tall enough for her to construct a reading den, complete with light and curtains underneath. Polly’s Nan also refurbished the airing cupboard in her house with cushions and a lamp, so that she could hide in a cubby hole and read.

Polly now has her own little bookworm to inspire.

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Scheherazade and the Tales of the Arabian Nights

The story goes that long ago a Persian King – Shahryar – had developed the custom of marrying a beautiful princess, spending the night with her, then having the princess beheaded in the morning in order to be sure she retained her faithfulness and virtue.

The grand Vizier’s daughter, Scheherazade, offered to spend a night with the King – against everyone’s advice. Scheherazade asked the King if she may bid farewell to her sister Dunyazade.

The first night, Sheherezade told an enchanting story, spinning it out until the dawn. She left the story unfinished. The birth of Soap, I suspect. The King, eager to hear the ending spared her life for a day and in the evening Sheherezade completed the tale and started a new one with the covert help of her sister Dunyazade. Again and again for 1001 nights, Scheherazade spun her tales until the King fell in love with her and forgot his idiotic paranoid obsessions about female virtue.

Centuries of years later I could be entranced by Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves.

Imagination needs stimulation, unfortunately my imagination occasionally needs a metaphorical cold shower, because it can be a bit hyperactive. Whilst I adore flights of fancy, it is hard reality which keeps me sane.

Fortunately I have my own Sheherezade.

IMG_5524

The other day I was offered the chance of a very interesting commission from a respected client. It was open ended – the design could either be useful, or a purely artistic/decorative object. I came up with a couple of ideas: a new headboard for the master bedroom or a carved salad bowl as a centrepiece for the dining table and ran them enthusiastically past my wife.

Clare “Headboard, or bowl. Headboard…….bowl….” and to underline her point “The client doesn’t like salad.”

It was like being hit by a bucket of ice cold water.

It had the effect of galvanising my thinking and I was able to then generate four entirely better, and, hopefully more creative ideas.

I bow to Cat Stevens and Scheherazade:

The virtues of a good woman are ability to spin a yarn, apply a bucket of ice water and to be hard headed. These qualities give good temper in my experience.

Opa

11 Apr

I never knew my father’s dad, grandfather Arthur Littlewood. He died fairly young having served his country in the First World War as a tank engineer and worked hard in the mills of Huddersfield all his adult life. Thus my role model for grandfatherhood has to be my mother’s father, Jhr Cornelius Abraham Van de Poll and my Opa pictured here in Noordwijk in 1984.

opa-van-de-poll

Here is my daughter Polly – aged 2 – being entertained in the arms of her overgrootvader way back in 1986.

Opa came from a very large family. Physically very strong, handsome and charismatic he loved fast cars, speedboats and football. He came from a large extended family pictured here in 1959 in the back garden of his eldest brother Jan in Arnhem. I was introduced to them them as a nipper in 1959. Mam, Dad and I are 4th, 3rd and 2nd from the right (I’m the one in nappies).

van-de-poll-family

Opa was a bit scary, but a lot of fun. He could eat vast quantities of pannekoeken  (pancakes) in one sitting, stick a large yoghurt spoon (the size of a ladle) in his mouth, and loved to go on all the rides at the fun fair with us. He taught me to play chess, although I was never able to beat him, and as a result, the first lathe project I ever attempted as a budding woodworker was a chess set I made for him when I was 11 years old.

He was a survivor of the Burma Railway Line, having been a taken prisoner by the Japanese Imperial Army in Sumatra in Indonesia during the 2nd WW, and my first real Hero. His most impressive trick was his ability to screw wood screws into bare timber with his thumb nail. It took me until recently to conclude that he must have concealed a screwdriver in his hand to pull this off, the old bugger. One of many of his clever jokes.

And so now I am an Opa.

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Here is my grandson: Joseph Leon Seaton Howden, photographed here by his dad Alan Howden. Joseph was born to my wonderful daughter Polly Howden on Tuesday 28th March 2017.

Joseph (1)

Joseph’s Dad, Alan Howden is, like me, a craftsman, and he knows how to capture the very essence of his subject by combining patience, infinite care and obsessive attention to detail. Like this telling and very natural portrait….

CH&J

Opa can now contemplate the multitude of wooden toys, treehouses, dens, sailing boats, go-karts, aeroplanes and kites he can build with Joseph and his parents, the pancakes we can eat together the fun we can all have as he grows to manhood. For, as we all know, Joseph was the carpenter of carpenters.

Thank you dear Polly and Alan, for making a Joseph and an Opa.

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P.S. Thanks Vanessa Boddye for Joseph’s hat