Archive | Musing RSS feed for this section

Mother’s Day

31 Mar

image_575382747743554

During the summer vacation of 1969 I turned 11. Before I went up to the grammar school, my Mam suggested I was perhaps a bit too old to be playing with my Steiff Rabbit – ‘Bunny’.   I pointed out that all the other kids in the street had ‘Action Men’, and I did not so what was the problem?

This is what the rabbit looked like when my Mum bought him in 1957 when she was expecting me.

Steiff Rabbit 3.jpg

A 1957 vintage Steiff Rabbit in mint condition.

Bunny 2019.jpg

This is my 61 year old playmate.

As you can see, I had an Action Bunny.

In 1969 my mum had Bunny photographed resplendent in crocheted chain mail, cardboard armour astride his noble steed, a donkey. His Bassinet was made from gold card, the shield likewise, a lance and sword of balsa wood. Don Lagomorpha Quixote. Nothing phased this dude.

Between the ages of 7 and 13,  I didn’t really have much contact with my father (he was working in West Africa so only came back on leave once in a blue moon). When I did see him he did his level best to inject a little of the divine masculine into his two boys. It must have been bloody hard for him as Mam made access to us very difficult.

When he could, Dad would invariably take my brother, Tim and I to the very latest James Bond Movie.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, is most memorable and formed my blueprint for the ideal woman – Diana Rigg – cool, brainy, brunette.

Goldfinger was another – he bought Tim an amazing Dinky Aston Martin complete with working ejector seat.

Bond “Do you expect me to talk?” Goldfinger “I expect you to die Mr Bond”.

Upon our return from the rare trip with Dad, Mam would reprogram us with this mantra – “I am you mother, your legal guardian AND YOUR FATHER, and don’t you forget it!”

A few years later my Dad remarried, to a lovely young woman called Mollie Moore.  As we are in ‘film star’ mode, just imagine actress Jill Ireland. Fair and sunny (but in this case from Shaftesbury) Mollie gave birth to a very bright baby girl called Abigail.

Dad and his new family came back to live in the UK permanently, which meant I could begin to spend more time with my father, as I grew into a man.

Mollie always made me feel welcome and part of her family, even as her brood grew to three children; Abigail, Nathan and Simon. I gained two more brothers along with a sister.

So what of mother’s day?
Well every mother’s day, my Mother made Tim and I breakfast.
Every other day of the year I made breakfast, did the housework and welcomed Mam home.
I listened to her daily adventures with school pupils and colleagues, worries and financial woes, giving support where I could. I also looked after my younger brother.
That seemed fair to me at the time.
It all seems absurd now.
Mother’s day was 364 days a year for me.
I’m really glad that shit is over.

 

 

 

Manly

24 Mar

IMG_1679.jpg

I like a spot of flower arranging from time to time, and my wife lets me express my ‘feminine side’ by practising floristry in her little Tea Shop, Tea with Percie. I’m not sure the average bloke would approve.

The florist did offer to wrap my bouquet discretely before I left the shop. I declined.

“I wouldn’t be seen dead carrying flowers!” I here Manly Man say.

Well you will eventually pal,  lilies and a nice spray of maidenhair on your casket.

I also like a well parsed poem, especially sonnets by the late Gerard Manley Hopkin – a scholar and Jesuit Priest – and a genius of prosody and rhythm.

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced — fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

“Pied Beauty”

Gerard Manley Hopkins 1877

 

In the Victorian Era, it was not considered effete in a man to wax lyrical about Nature’s Bounty if God was being praised – an opportunity for men to show their ‘passionate’ side without being classed as a sissy.

When I chose flowers for my wife today I was in a speckled, fickle mood. The underlying rhythm of BiPolar disorder – the interstices between depression and mania.

I sought a bloom – a dominant colour to build a happier mood around.

The florist greeted me and asked “May I help you?”

At first, I was drawn to some fiery orange blooms  – “These look like peonies”, I said.

“They are actually peony tulips so you’re on the right track” said she diplomatically.

But then I thought, as these flowers are not for me, but, rather for my beloved – I needed to recalibrate, because my mental health is absolutely not just about me, me, me.

I saw a tall stemmed rose of subtle Jacobean Violet (always a hint of black for her) and started from there, adding cerulean blue, blood red and some spiky sea holly. Our neighbour, Hassan who owns a small Computer Engineering Shop called ‘All Wired’ passed the shop as I was placing the arrangement in the window and seemed to approve. No Northern Manly reserve here.

Like me, Hassan was born under an Africa sky (Yemen), me slightly closer to the equator in Nigeria both places where the sun will fry an egg on an exposed rock or car bonnet.

IMG_1678.jpg

So why are many men so funny about overt displays of love, or about expressing emotion?

Grayson Perry in his book “The Descent of Man” examines ‘Default Man’ as he calls the ruling masculine archetype of modern Western Society, and cleverly lampoons many overt and subtle forms of dominant alpha male traits. Here are some of his many pithy quotes:

“Fulfilment of masculinity is often sold on the strength of peak experiences: winning battles, pulling women, pure adrenaline, moments of ecstasy. But life ain’t like that. We rarely, if ever, take our car (masculinity) on to a racetrack, so maybe we need a version that works doing the everyday things. We need a masculinity that’s easy to park, with a big boot, child seats and low fuel consumption. Men need to learn to equip themselves for peace.”

“All of us males need to look at ourselves with a clear eye and ask what sort of men would make the world a better place, for everyone.”

“Men might need to work less on their biceps and more on their intuition.”
Grayson Perry, 

It is an exceedingly well written book, written by a masculine man, an artist, who just happens to like dressing up in women’s clothes. It shines a very powerful spotlight on the problem of what it is to be ‘manly’ in a rapidly changing world where gender fluidity is a natural byproduct of a digital world in which ‘being’ is binary encoded.

In this spirit of masculine recalibration asked my wife what traits a man should learn and she offered:

Positive traits

Thoughtfulness

Ability to show emotion

Caring

Good sense of humour

Respect

 

Negative traits

Arrogance

Machismo

Rudeness

Aggression

Chauvinism

So for Heaven’s sake lads, open the door for her, help her with her heavy bags and do it with a smile and a little playfulness so that the bouquet on your coffin will overtop the stupid mountain you want to conquer in your head, and reflect your real worth to humankind much more than the shiny motor you bequeath to your grandson or the size of your wallet.

Feminism is not a threat to masculinity, nor will gentleness make you less manly.

Bread

18 Mar

“Are you making it pay son?” My Dad, a Yorkshireman, used to ask me.

I took it to mean – ‘How’s the carpentry business going?’

I would rattle off the projects and commissions I was working on and proudly show him pictures of pieces I had made.

In retrospect I think there might have been a deeper meaning to his question.

One of his favourite aphorisms was:

“Life is a shit sandwich son, the more bread you’ve got, the better it tastes”

Pithy.

A better known Yorkshire saying would be;

‘ear all, see all, say nowt; eyt all, sup all, pay nowt

Yorkshire folk are proud of their short arms and deep pockets.

This means that trading in South Yorkshire demands a certain determination if you are trying to make a living with your hands.

So how do I make it pay?

I know a fair few talented artists and craftspeople who struggle. Many of my friends rely on a part time job to supplement their meagre income in a fiercely competitive environment. Some supplement their practise by tutoring and teaching.

Joseph Beuys famously said “Everyone is an artist”. On the face of it, every person has the capacity to be creative. But Beuys was referring to our humanity, not any innate ability to sculpt or draw.

Picasso said:

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Therein lies the key to the dilemma.

Some people want your skill and what you make for bobbins (on the cheap). Some just want to waste your time. Most who approach you may love your work, but have no real idea of what it takes to produce an original, one off piece, using the best materials, your knowledge and skill.

The people who commission my work all have one thing in common – they are prepared to invest their trust. I have the utmost respect for this powerful motivator.

For me the real Art is in the dialogue. Me – listening and responding to the wishes and desires of my clients. The Clients – showing me what they really want.

First I will make a design drawing in ink (if I can draw it, I can make it).

Then if you are happy – I’ll cost it. Time + Materials.

I give you time to consider the costs, accommodate any changes you may wish to make (adjusting costs accordingly). I will accept a deposit to seal the contract. Then I make.

Both of us are expending that most valuable of commodities on the project – time – so it’s a contract.

Clients bring desire, taste, ideas, wishes and hard earned bread to the table. I bring skill, a track record a reputation for a solid build and an ability to listen, plus four decades of experience as a carpenter.

In the end, hopefully, we have a satisfied customer.

Old School.

Mollie, my step mother, gave me this advice years ago:

“If you did a tenth as much as you have done up until now, Henk, you will still be doing twice as much as everyone else”

Slow down, listen, focus:

hear all,

see all,

But say nothing.

Make it pay.

As with bread – you have to prove yourself.

Dad can have the last word: “Anybody can be a busy fool lad.”

HL

Sacrifice

17 Feb

IMG_1307

In Norse mythology, Odin, the father of the Aesir (the Gods), had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. He wounded, then hung himself upon the World Tree Yggdrasil in order to learn the secret meaning of Runes. He journeyed to the roots of the World tree to seek out Mimir at the pool of Urd in order to drink from his sacred well and gain the gift of insight.

The price of Odin’s wisdom was an eye. I have often wondered whether sacrifice is the key to wisdom.

A wise young friend of mine, told me he had made a sacrifice just recently, in order to, in his own words, “be able to socialise better”. A great conversationalist, he dislikes direct eye contact (classic autism).

Years ago I made the mistake of offering to play a game of chess with him, when I was working as a Ranger for the Parks and Countryside department of  Sheffield City Council and he was a volunteer. I do enjoy a game of chess, but within half a dozen moves I realised I was playing against a truly prodigious talent. My friend displayed an intellectual plasticity, and strategic flexibility, I had never before encountered. I resigned quickly, not wishing to experience a crushing defeat – it would have been physically painful to me.

Imagine my surprise then, when he told me recently that he had decided to quit playing chess!

In my case Bipolar disorder was the gift that just kept on misgiving.

I was diagnosed in 2001and when I came out of the psychiatric ward 18 years ago I discovered I had left a trail of destruction around me. Relationships damaged, trusts broken and fear left in its place.

Cognitive therapy helped me to understand that I could perhaps repair some of the bridges I had burned in those years, when I had lived without knowledge of or insight into my condition.

I took the first step by first learning how to listen. The second step was learning to let go.

I let go of ambition. Between 1979 and 1998 I had been a successful academic, but I felt I could not return to this because it was too solipsistic, too antisocial in a way.

I have been told I was a good teacher – a very social profession, but I could not return to teaching principally because the practise itself is emotionally stressful. I don’t have an off switch for needy pupils.

I took professional advice at the cross roads in 2002:

Advisor “What do you really like doing?”

Me:”I like being outside, fresh air, making things and I also like people”

Advisor “Have you ever considered environmental conservation?”

That led to 10 years as a countryside Ranger. Nice job!

I ignored the jibes – “You are the only person I know who has had a career in reverse Henk! Academia, Education, Parkie and now Chippie”

So, I gave up worrying about fitting in.

What did I gain after insight?

In the words of my wife who has loved me throughout the journey:

“What I found was that there was no more walking on eggshells, and not being frightened to say something. The laughter and fun returned.”

Losing  the ‘I’ is no sacrifice.

 

Magus

24 Dec

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh – the three treasures brought to Bethlehem by the wise men of old, The Magi, to the crib of the baby Jesus.

Magus actually means ‘magician’ or alchemist, a person who transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary.

I give you my own example of a Magus – seen here chatting up the talent and bringing joy and good tidings – my Dad schmoozing Clare, my bride on our wedding day. The dog!

IMG_1067

My father’s charm was pure gold – especially with women. He was always first on an invitation list, because he was such a fun person to have around. He loved Christmas and particularly liked to entertain his family with his wife Mollie, my step mum on the day. Here they are performing Irving Berlin’s ‘We’re a couple of swells’ as Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire.

Couple of Swells

Frankincense is an aromatic resin derived from the tree, Boswellia serrata found in North East Africa.

The costly scent of Kings and Queens: Nero’s widow burnt more Frankincense than the entire year’s production of Arabia at his funeral and The Queen of Sheba brought it as a gift to King Solomon.

IMG_2014

Memory is evoked by scent because it is a distillation – like truth. It is essence.

The truth of the matter is that my dad was very easy on the eye and mind – here he is in 1947 on a camping trip to Betws y Coed.

Sawdust evokes the memory of his smile for me – especially the scent of sawn walnut or ash from which this set of library steps is made.

‘Solstice’.

the longest night
is but a shy tilt
of Gaia’s Head – her Solstice Song

HL

IMG_1051

The solstice is that quiet celestial cusp – representing the moment when the tilt of the Earth’s axis is pointing furthest from the sun (winter and the longest night) or nearest (midsummer and the longest day). A moment of breathless anticipation and contemplation of when the good memory of summer returns.

Myrrh

A tree based gum derived from a spiny shrub – Commiphora myrrh and rather like Frankincense, but with an altogether different scent has long been used as a healing substance, having antibiotic properties.

Seen here with his grand daughter Polly and great grandson, Joseph, Dad was indeed the bringer of mirth – that greatest of alchemical healing emollients.

_DSC3897

Magi

Three Magi – Melchior (Persia), Gaspar (India) and Balthazar (Babylon)  travelled all the way from Parthia in the East to bring their treasures to a stable in Bethlehem at the epiphany, but our wise man brought all three within his person, all the way from Huddersfield.

Merry Christmas to the memory of David Stuart Littlewood who passed away 25th December 2017, leaving all his treasures with us.

Merry Christmas

H

 

rōnin (浪人

23 Jul

My father is with me now. I carry him in my heart, my head and my hands and despite the very real sense of personal loss at his passing I would like to distil his essence for you.

I have always looked forward to seeing my dad, sharing his taste in Military History and Westerns, good comedy, dance and song, the absurd, a good bacon butty and the hwyl of the Welsh. Most of all our love of Women.

As a boy I was drawn to the history of feudal Japan, to the code of the Samurai warrior class and used to wonder ‘What must it take to face down another warrior armed only with a sword and one’s wits?’

At school I had gained a bit of a reputation as a bloody minded git. I was quite sightly built and rather gobby (I over articulated my opinions) – so I got picked on by much bigger lads. I discovered early on that, like The Borg, (verbal) resistence was futile, but a swift old bunch of fives, or kick in goolies – did the trick. Fight nasty, get in quick and don’t stop, then run like hell.

As a young man I tried to channel this aggression, by taking up Karate. At least then I could legitimately clobber an opponent. Here I am looking very pleased with myself having delivered mae geri (a kind of kick) to score the winning strike against a black belt from another club to help win our team the competition. He had bust my left cheek bone, with Uraken just before, but I kept going anyway. Hey ho!

(HL Second from right, back row)

Mae Geri

Now that I am older, I care less about the fight and more about the discipline required to avoid one. Nevertheless the existence of Ronin, so called masterless samurai still intrigues me. These were skilled samurai who had become drifters, wanderers. Loyal to no-one except to their own code of conduct – abandoned by the administration so to speak.

Kurasawa’s film, Yojimbo is the story of just such a Ronin, a story based upon a real historical figure –  Matsuo Mishimoto – who remained unbeaten as a duellist.

My father’s favourite Western was ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales” with Clint Eastwood as a 19th century American Ronin. A high plains drifter, epitomising the sensibility of an outcast soldier.

 

Musashi

But consider:

Ueshiba quote

Until my father’s passing I had not truly understood these words. Musashi does not mean – go looking for death (savage recklessness). Neither does Uesheba mean ‘be passive and always look for peace’.

No, they both imply that only discipline of the mind and body will place one in the space between Heaven and Hell (Meifumado), the here and now, where one’s knowledge of self can be applied precisely. This is an aspiration of Bushido, the Samurai code.

My wife Clare says of Miyamoto “He must have been a right bundle of laughs”.

My father, who loved Clare as his own daughter, and was, like her a cynic, would have agreed.

So what was Dad’s code?

I believe it was a version of the Six P’s.

Perfect Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance

…like acrobat Blondin here, because he was a pure Showman.

blondel

“Blondin’s first crossing of the Niagara Falls, in 1859, was the most famous feat in a life packed with them and like all the others was painstakingly prepared”

Richard Cavendish | Published in History Today Volume 59 Issue 6 June 2009

Until now I have tended to busk it, the tightrope analogy being ‘slack lining’. Not bothering with a balance pole and fooling around too much. The excuse being that, as a manic depressive, “it’s not my fault I’m like this.” The reality, being that I fall off.

Slack Line

“Collect a swift Mae Geri in the goolies lad.”

We all need to take responsibility for ourselves.

So I think I will start using the big 6P pole more from now on.

The pole representing the love and balancing support of my friends and family, I really need them to negotiate the highwire of BiPolar disorder. More Blondel, less Blondie.

That way I will be able to carry more of them safely across to the other side – like a true Ronin. Like a Dad.

IMG_3189

Plum

16 Jul

img_3154

Seen through the eyes of a child kites are wishes on a string. This picture made me think about how insignificant I have seemed. I will be 60 soon and it is time to take stock.

“We are nothing but a fart in eternity” my mother used to say.

Just this weekend my neice, Wren (above) and nephew, Cole played host, supported by their parents Anna and Nathan Littlewood and Nanna, Mollie Littlewood. They had arranged a family get together in their new home near Bristol.

As a result, I enjoyed one of my best extra birthday parties ever.

Dancing (1)

We enjoyed a tasty barbecue made by The Dad (Nathan), lovely food and drink provided by The Mum (Anna), followed by pass the parcel and dancing statues, kite flying, colouring in and driving Cole and Wren around in Bertha (the Hilux) plus lots of easy chats, swapping news, sharing views.

Here Aunty Clare is baking cakes with Wren and Cole.

IMG_3152 (1).jpg

It got me thinking about my father, David Stuart Littlewood, the founding father of our little clan, his singular achievements and his legacy.

A couple of years ago I asked him what he wanted for his birthday and he said,

“To wake up son”. Sadly he will not be waking up any more.

Both my parents have passed away now and it reminds me of what my wife said when both her parents passed in the same year:

“I’m an orphan now!”. I laughed, insensitively, and said “Don’t be ridiculous!”

I’m not laughing now. Sorry, Clare.

img_3159

In 2000 after suffering years of crippling, cyclical depression I almost succeeded in throwing in the towel, predeceasing my parents.

Six months later, after regular visits to a psychiatrist and copious intake of Lophepramine (a powerful tricyclic antidepressant) I was alive, though I could barely function.

My father said “I’d like you to paint me a picture, for Christmas son”.

The picture above is the result. Nathan returned it to me yesterday. I called it ‘Bonsai replanted’ and copied a Haiku by Basho on the reverse:

Even a Black Bull

Will sing a song of Spring

Under this flowering Plum Tree

In my picture the moon is waning, and one can’t be sure whether the tree is alive or not. One of the hills looks like a tidal wave is rolling in. The only redeeming feature is that Orion is prominently represented in white chalk dots (I always think of Dad when I see Orion, The Hunter). Dad kept it alongside a portrait of The Golden Gate Bridge by Simon, our youngest brother. I understand it had a spell in Australia with Nathan and his family.

I never realised until I grew up how much I was loved.

 

We, under Orion

Sing and dance and Love

So many flowering Plums

 

For my Family

x HL 16.07.2018