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Mimir

16 Jan

Frank L Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz, introduced some beautiful sayings into children’s literature. For example;

“No thief, however skilful, can rob one of Knowledge, and that is why Knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire”

But how do we get Knowledge? I used to think it could be taught, until I experienced Life and realised that some sacrifices are required.

Odin knew this well. He journeyed deep below the roots of the giant Ash Tree, Yggdrasil to a sacred stream guarded by a mysterious and deeply wise creature called Mimir.

Mimir was the keeper of ‘tradition’ – I suspect he was actually the guardian of Archetypes – Literally ‘ancient concepts’ …. or ‘inheritance’ if you will.

Odin made a huge sacrifice in order to drink from Mimir’s well and gain wisdom. He plucked out his own eye for a draught. To become a ‘seer’.

Recently, I have been designing a desk for a valued client who is a Scholar, a wise man and I felt it would useful to understand his sacrifices a little.

I discovered that he adores his cats (he would not mind me saying that he is their servant). The gentleman also loves to rub his feet on a special massage stool below his office desk whilst working. This gave me an idea. Why not build the foot massager into the trestle of the desk?

I chose an old burr from the side of an oak tree I thought it would make a tactile and aesthetic foot board for the scholar.

Here is the work in progress:

The bottom foot board reminded me of the wounded empty eye socket of Odin.

Hopefully, my esteemed client will be able to rub his feet on the ‘eye socket’ whist he is researching his field and plying his wisdom up above.

So, what do I know of sacrifice?

In 1983 I was writing up my PhD thesis on a typewriter at a tiny wooden table in a flat in Moss Side, whilst trying to look after my baby daughter Polly. Her mum was forced to go back to work to pay the bills. It did not work, I could not concentrate, so Polly’s Nan offered to look after her for half the week in Doncaster.

The loss of Polly for three days from our lives was very terrible. Yet Polly thrived in the company of her Nan. So it was the best thing for her.

So why did I make this sacrifice – did I gain knowledge?

I had studied the ’empty socket’ that is the coxal organ of centipedes for my PhD.

A beautiful structure. With a described function based entirely on appearance (external and internal). In other words totally wrong.

I did some experiments, and made a new testable hypothesis:

In so doing I sacrificed precious time with my baby daughter.

Was it worth it? Not at all. The PhD has never earned its keep. It was just a ticket to misery.

Now, I would not trade a picosecond if my allotted time with Polly, her son, Joseph , or his Nain Clare.

For they are Mimir, the keepers of the sacred wellspring of Life.

Epiphany

8 Jan

The day after my father died I didn’t know what to do with myself. So I walked to my workshop via the canal basin at Victoria Quays, Sheffield by way of a pair of bored ducks.

When I got in I set to making a some shelves for my nephew Luke. His dad had sent me a computer generated diagram of what he wanted.

That was my opening gambit.

Holly Chessmen 2016

I started by cross cutting some 18mm birch ply for the shelves using the table saw and the fence to set the width of the cut. Something I have done countless times.

But, this time I did not replace the guard on the saw blade. As I switched the induction motor on a large section of ply got trapped between the spinning blade and the fence – and shot out like a missile into my crotch.

As I was rolling about in the sawdust clutching the Crown Jewels and crying – I suddenly heard my dad’s voice:

“Look after your tools son and your tools will look after you.”

You could call this an epiphany.

Less of ‘the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles (Matthew 2:1–12)’ as my Mam would put it, more the sudden and great revelation according to Dad.

A Zen moment if you will.

When both parents are dead the child is on their own – spouse, partner, your friends – the people picked by you, may be there for you. If they are true they will even love you warts and all.

However, all of these fine folk are free agents and can, potentially, leave you all alone.

Parents are an entirely different box of frogs. Their influence can never leave you. They gave you life, and for this alone you will always owe them a debt. Without them you are not even a twinkle in an eye.

I loved mine equally. I respect their gifts.

Mam showed me how to fight, Dad taught me tactics and strategy. Mam taught me the difference between looking and seeing, Dad gave me poetry and laughter.

My parents never expected me to pay up on the debt I owed them, but, it occurred to me that I might repay them in some way.

Perhaps with a touch of faith?

Like letting a keen young carpenter work in your studio.

“There’s no F&@£ing straight line anywhere!” Esme McCall

Muninn – spalted ash

Quite.

Educare (to train) – The Mother. Educere (to enlighten) – The Father.

Chiaroscuro Home Parenting.

For Alan and Polly Howden, who know how to get right in to the playpen with their boy Joseph. Caravaggio would approve.

R

5 Jan

There are times when everything seems to turn to ashes. All one’s best efforts, all ones hopes, and, foolishly one’s expectations are dashed to smithereens. And yet….. and yet, there is always a calm core to every Force 10 Hurricane.

Late this afternoon in the gloaming of a Wintery Sheffield Woodland, I revisited my old stamping ground – the place where I was awarded a post as a Countryside Ranger in 2003.

I was looking for a particular pair of trees, introduced to me by an ex colleague of Sheffield City Council Ranger Service, way back in 2004.

My Ranger colleague, John and our gaffer, Mark had been in post nearly 30 years man and boy when I joined the South Ranger Team, fresh from 2 years entertaining naughty boys and girls as a Green Watch Project Ranger.

I was as keen as mustard.

Mark my gaffer, used to say “For Christ’s sake sit down lad and have a cup of tea, you’re doing my scone in!”. I would be in the Base at Greenhill Park at least half an hour before them, busying myself fettling tools for the days work, checking the diary and sorting through emails. Busy, busy, busy.

If I was worried about setting up for a school booking, John would say “Be reyt’ ” and roll another cigarette.

I confess I could not understand the South Team attitude. It always felt as if we were ‘arsing about’ to coin a Yorkshire phrase.

Now, with my father’s passing, I understand the importance of ‘R’-sing  around.

R obscured

 

The trees I was looking for are a tall straight larch and a beautiful sweet chestnut. They have grown together for years, embracing as lovers do. They have some to rest against each other.

If you walk a bit further along the path, this is revealed:

R revealed

‘R’ for ‘R-sing’ around.

‘R’ for Ranger.

My father would have said:

“Steady on Son” – he was Rangering.

For Simon Littlewood, my brother in aRms.

Si and Henk Carpenters

Memoriam

4 Jan

IMG_6709.JPGDavid Stuart Littlewood, 21.03.1930 – 25.12.2017 surrounded by his apprentices.

From the left, yours truly, Dad, Nathan, Simon and Tim. Abi, our sister, sadly passed away in 2008 so the picture above is incomplete.

A couple of weeks before Dad’s passing we were all able to get together in Devon to celebrate each other’s connection through David Stuart Littlewood. He made a big effort, coming down from his bed to sit amongst the grandchildren and share our good humour, providing the strong glue that binds us. He was a bit somber at the start.

The remarkable turnaround in my Dad’s mood was largely down to our youngest brother’s insatiable appetite for life. His enthusiasm for pickles, meat pies, a full English Breakfast, long striding walks over the Devon Moors and an encyclopaedic knowledge of beer, old architecture and woodwork was just the ticket. Simon always brings his ‘A’ game to a family gathering.

As you know I believe in Alchemy.

A week before Christmas I was feeling low, and, yet out of the Blue, a young artist/maker contacted me for help. She wrote a mature and erudite email introducing herself and expressing a need to develope her woodwork hand skills. We agreed to meet in my studio in Sheffield.

After some initial hedging around by me, I agreed to let her spend a little time in my workshop, so that I could gauge her quality.

I found the timing of her arrival both fortuitous and perplexing, so I asked my father (as I always do) for advice.

I quietly approached him and asked him if he needed ‘owt.

“Aye, lad, cup of tea”

I brought him a cup of tea – strong one sugar, and as he was sipping it I said:

“Dad, I’m thinking of taking someone on, do you have any advice?”

“Is it a lad?”

“No, its a lass”

“Oh, well, get her to make something and if she’s shite, bin her off”

These were the last words he spoke to me before he died.

I was his first apprentice. He never binned me off. Ever.

There is now a young carpenter honing her craft in my studio, bringing her art and skill to enhance our ‘A’ Game.

IMG_1615

The fish carving was the first piece of ‘wood art’ I made for my gaffer, Mr Poulson, at 11 years of age.

‘A’ is for Alchemy.

Paulo Coelho The Alchemist.

Lego

27 Dec

David and Henk 1960

‘Lego’ is an abbreviation of the words leg godt, which is Danish for ‘play well’. The first brick was released in 1958, the year of my birth by the very clever Ole Kirk Kristiansen and it was developed in his wood workshop.

Ole was, like me, a carpenter and the toy was a development from traditional stackable wooden blocks taking advantage of the new plastics developed then. Lego makes sense to me because it is based upon bricks, like the building bricks of life, of chemistry, of physics, of poetry, of great literature – it has profound symmetry.

Henk with Lego bag

When I was a boy I never went anywhere without my bag of Lego. Most of it, my father bought for me, a carpenter himself. He knew about the importance of archetypes in architecture, and he knew about the importance of ‘playing well’ with building blocks. He was my geometer.

I was born in Nigeria and raised in various countries along West Africa’s Gold Coast. When, in 1964, we eventually returned for good or Ill, to live in England, I was 6 years old, and had barely survived several bouts of cerebral malaria. My Dad had bought a little semi-detached house in Matlock, Derbyshire at the top of Wolds Rise.

I had never seen snow.

At school I was ridiculed for having a weird name – ‘Henk’ – invariably pronounced ‘Hank’. Later, in senior school the ‘W’ substituted the ‘H’ of Hank.

I was a ‘white’ black boy (and I use the term euphemistically for the unacceptable ‘N’ word they used daily). It was the first time I had encountered xenophobia. It was endemic in early 1960’s Britain.

I never encountered such vile racism in Africa.

My mother, a Dutch born naturalised British Citizen, was treated with hostility in the town because the local people thought that ‘Them Dutchies’ were the same as ‘Them Nazis’. And, after all “We won the bloody war, you should be grateful!”.

She always had an answer fot them, but she never knew when to shut up.

Mam was descended from an old, entitled, aristocratic Dutch family. Van de Poll.

Jongkvrouw literally means ‘little princess’. In the Low Countries it denotes the lowest rank of nobility. Like the English ‘hedge knight’ – a glorified mercenary who fights for a Sovereign Lord for the spoils of war.

Plunder.

Being slightly posh but having no property is always a good way to develop an enormous sense of self entitlement. My mother radiated this and, I have to admit, it has its uses.

It is called gold plated bullshit.

My Father, on the other hand was the strong silent type. He went back to West Africa to earn his living and so the marriage did not survive.

My mother believed she could be both mother and father to me.

Bullshit.

Great! So then what happens? You go to school and you get beaten up for being a bit of a pretty mummy’s boy, you get clobbered for being ‘a puff’, basically you ‘get it’ for being different and so on and so very tedious.

My father was a grafter. A working class lad from Huddersfield who knew the cost and, most importantly, the value of Everything. I learned from a Master.

His motto:

“Life is a shit sandwich son, the more bread you have the better it tastes”.

Thus I could chose between a coat of arms or an undercoat of many colours.

He was the only man who was brave enough to help my dear wife Clare to reach in and drag me from my pit of self induced hell, by uttering these immortal words:

“Steady on Son”

His hand on my knee.

So I choose to live the life of a working man. To earn my daily bread and the rewards are fantastic.

The Chinese Characters on the screen say:

Tree

Woman

Art

and this is my escutcheon.

Thank you Father. I learn from thee.

img_1795

David Stuart Littlewood

Carpenter, Father, Comedian.

Born in the Vernal Equinox 1930, returned to our Lord, the Big Carpenter, on his Birthday 2017.

“Nice, nice, nice!”

Meaning

21 Dec

In the Norse Myth of the poetic Edda, Huginn and Muninn are the Ravens who accompany Odin, the All Father .

Huginn is supposed to represent thought and Muninn to represent memory. The birds fly around the World collecting intelligence for Odin, before breakfast.

It is not surprising that he is always worried about them not returning, without them he would have lost his marbles.

Archetypes represented in allegory are not easy to penetrate. But, I believe experience is necessary to polish learning – to combine the qualities of the two birds in balance to yield the wisdom of the Father.

I have been making a pair of dining chairs for a respected and valued client of late and I have been thinking about the Ravens. I’m a bit under the cosh as my father has taken to his bed and is waiting quietly for his own passing with dignity. My dear wife, Clare, has also been very unwell of late.

I would prefer to be at my Dad’s side right now, yet I know he would say to me:

“If a jobs worth doing lad, it is worth doing well”.

So I will just get on with the job in hand.

I have always admired his “sand” as Rooster Cogburn would have said.

For many years I put all my faith in Thought. I was a research fellow then a teacher until I was 40. A professional ‘ideas man’, a smarty pants. I was pretty impressed with myself to be honest. Now? Not so much, because I really know how little I truly know.

In the old stories Muninn was Odin’s favourite for she gave him Insight.

Muninn has been my teacher for the last twenty years and taught me the importance of ‘Meaning’. I love her very bones.

Clarenka

As my father would say; “Play for a Gentleman’s draw son, there are no winners in the Game of Life”

God Jul x

IMG_1760

Hugin and Munin….or is it Munin and Hugin? Spalted Ash Thrones for a Queen and her King x

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