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Rocking

28 Oct


I delivered this piece today to a lovely couple in Sheffield who, hopefully will enjoy rocking their baby boy to sleep or reading him a story before bed time.

When I was asked to make it I talked to my dad, and he remembered the rocking chair his mother brought over from Ireland to Huddersfield before he was born. The key features he liked were the drawer beneath the seat where he kept his comics (Eagle – my favourite as a boy too). He likes the fact that it had wings for that feeling of coziness.

I designed this rocking chair around a child’s solid Georgian wing backed chair and used Yew and Oak for the main body. The rockers and the top yoke are made of ash.

Childs-rocking-chair-d Georgian

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The seat,big enough for a parent and child, or two kids side by side, and is deeply carved by hand using a Travisher.

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Movement is at the core of woodwork. Whether it is carving, slicing, shaving, cutting, sanding or polishing – all movements are reciprocal and curvilinear. I think best in curves – approaching a problem from left of field, fielding a curve ball – this makes me happy.

Breathing is tidal, reciprocal, oscillatory – as is the flow of blood.

Straight lines between destinations may be quick – but I’d rather you rock me gently, and let me sway.

Pilgrim

29 Aug


Walking from Lockner in the beautiful Surrey Hills following my friend Alexander Dawson Shepherd in a colour coordinated sort of way I was struck by the nature of friendship.

I needed to meet my daughter Polly in Holborn, London to see how she was faring in her new job, and to take her a birthday present.

Alec suggested that we walk from his beautiful cottage on the grounds of the old Albury Estate to Guildford and catch a train.

I packed my smart shoes (it does not do to appear dishevelled for the daughter) and her gift in a day pack, put my knackered old steel toe capped work shoes on and traipsed after Alec into the hills.

Past the old Gunpowder works, an organic vineyard and this lovely sculpture


… we climbed up the steep hill to St.Martha’s chapel where Alec’s family are buried.


His father rests here: Hanbury Knollys Dawson Shepherd (fabulous name), so too his grandfather Harry Bowyer – the local miller. Alec still lives within a stone’s throw of his parent’s and sisters house and from his family’s grave we paid our respects and drank in the view.



Popping in to this wonderful ancient chapel to admire the restored oak beamed ceiling we saw carpentry at its most enduring and endearing.

We chatted about old friends, family, work and the Natural History around us as we walked. Oftentimes content to say nothing at all we listened to the grasshoppers below and the birds above inhaling the scent of silvan wildness.

The path we travelled along was The Pilgrim’s Way. Chaucer himself may have seen horse shoes like this perhaps?


The Pilgrim’s Way is an ancient track and is the route of medieval Christian pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas Becket of Canterbury.

Pilgrimage seems to me a metaphor for the nature of long term friendship. Friends may walk together for a time sharing air and artful conversation, then part hopefully to journey again one day along a mutually agreeable track.

Alec journeyed with my wife Clare and I when I was sectioned and in hospital diagnosed with manic depression. He was the only pilgrim who visited me in my hour of need.

I found out at that time who my true friends were and how shockingly few they were back then.

I don’t know how we find our friends, but I do know this – we must take time to renew the narrative between us. To rethread our own Canterbury Tale; share tales, bawdy and preposterous, ordinary and mundane – for the story of friendship of itself a very human thing.

Alec, Polly and I had lunch in a lovely park near a statue of Bertrand Russell. I was able to pass on the tale of her Oma (her Dutch grandmother) – the photographic memory of her provenance, bound in a textile of her own making – a frog on a lilly pond.


Chaucer would have approved I think, after all, he was the father of the vernacular – the lingua Franca or language of friends, dear pilgrim. Franca – frankness – the basis of true friendship.

With special thanks to Anne Heppell (book binder).

Back

7 Aug

One of my earliest memories is of swimming on my Dad’s back in the pool in Takoradi in Ghana.

I remember his freckles, sandy hair and the feel of his big muscles under my four year old hands.

My dad was an accomplished swimmer and a great diver, he could water ski and he played water polo too.

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One day my mam, little brother Tim and I were sitting on the beach in Takoradi, Ghana. Mam noticed a chap some way out to sea waving and calling for help. The man’s family was nearby so she went over and said “I think your husband is in trouble”

His wife said “I know, but I don’t want to upset the children”

Mam said something very rude in Dutch and strode down the beach to the water polo team where my Dad was having a beer and she raised the alarm.

A huge posse of super fit young swimmers, with characteristic ‘V’ shaped backs, leapt into the surf to help the stricken man.

They all ended up having to rescue each other because of a rip tide which had trapped the man in a huge trough between two big waves just beyond the reef.

But not my Dad. He swam all the way up the beach and back down the wave trough, grabbed the guy and swam all the way back up the trough and back round the other side, with the bloke holding on to his back. They were absolutely exhausted.

He saved this man’s life.

He saved mine when I was in hospital having been diagnosed with manic depression way back in 2001, with the immortal words:

“Steady on son”

He’s always had my back, thanks Dad.

Faith

28 Jun

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When I was four I was obsessed with the idea of Heaven and very interested in God. “How do you get to heaven?” I would ask my mother. “Is it by train, or by boat, or do you get to heaven by aeroplane?”. I took matters into my own hands one day with my mate, Alan when we drank bath water. In West Africa, where I grew up, this was forbidden, because it could be a sure fire way of contracting typhoid or any number of other deadly tropical diseases. I simply wanted to see how one got to Heaven.

My mother, as she recounted the incident, was at pains to put a stop to these early mystical experiments. When I asked her “Yes, but Mam WHERE is God?” she said to me: “Henkje (in Dutch ‘Little Henk) do you see your shadow on the ground?”

“Yes” I replied

“Pick it up” she said

Apparently, I bent down and tried to reach for my shadow…..”I can’t!”

“Well Henkje, God is like your shadow, He is there all the time, but you cannot pick him up or see him, He is just with you”

My mother in her infinite wisdom would happily engage me in these small philosophical discussions throughout my life sharing her rather impressive knowledge of the Bible (she was truly an Old Testament kind of girl), her understanding of other faiths and the origins of Christianity, Judaism and the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed (Peace and Blessings be upon his name).

In this Holy month of Ramadan my Muslim neighbours are fasting. In denying themselves food and drink during the hours of daylight according to their teachings they give space in their daily lives for spiritual contemplation. I perceive that it is in what we decide to eschew, that we become closer to our God as humans. There is a rich tradition of asceticism in many of the great faiths, where pilgrims, scholars and holy people deny the flesh in order to move closer to God.

I was asked recently by a young Muslim boy whether I believed in God. I answered him thus “Well, my young friend, no man is capable of knowing everything – therefore it is impossible to deny the existence of God based upon our limited knowledge. This position is called ‘Agnostic’, it is not a belief, rather it is a set of principles based upon logic. But, every human has to have faith in order to meet the challenges of the day. I respect your faith because it gives you Peace.” He seemed satisfied with my answer, I had shown him my shadow, without asking him to pick it up.

Speaking of large shadows, I am engaged at present in the making of a big sculpture for the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield. My collaborator Mir Jansen and I are planning to exhibit the commission in January 2016. I showed her the central piece of the sculpture ( a giant steam bent oaken bower) on Friday – it was the first time she had seen it for real. She had up until that time shown great faith in my design and my ability to deliver as a craftsman.

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Here then is a sneak preview of our exercise in faith. Both of us are investing all our creative resources into producing a piece of Art that can be seen, touched, entered, contemplated and enjoyed by all, for it is a celebration of John Ruskin’s mind. Made from a single oak tree from Ruskinland, Uncly’s Farm in the Wyre Valley, donated by the Ruskin Trust – the Guild of St. George, felled and worked by myself and painted by Mir Jansen.

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Mir is illuminating many oak panels from the tree in the manner of the Old Dutch Masters – who often painted directly onto wood – creating several narrative themes from the work, ideas and legacy of John Ruskin and the Victorian era he influenced. Her panels will be hung inside the sphere, supported by steam bent oaken beams – which currently hang in my studio like the ribs of some beached up wooden whale.

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Art and Craft are coming together supported by generous donations by the Arts Council and the Millennium Gallery and the Trustees of the Ruskin Foundation – if this is not an act of great faith, I don’t know what is.

It is also a meditation on a tree and a mind.

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Ruskin’s view of God was intimately bound up with his contemplation of Nature:

“there is no climate, no place, and scarcely an hour, in which nature does not exhibit colour which no mortal effort can imitate or approach.” His thought that no mortal can convey properly the effects of nature indicates that one must contemplate the higher workings of God in Nature.

In the words of the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins (Ruskin’s contemporary):

God’ Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics, 1985)

Gleipnir

3 Nov

Gleipnir – was a mythical ribbon described in old Norse Lore. It was made to bind an impossibly strong Wolf, the offspring of Loki and the giantess Angrboda. He was such a handful that it took all the cunning of Tyr, the loss of his hand and the magic of the Dwarves to subdue him.

The word ‘Gleipnir’ means ‘open’ in old Norse. It was forged by the Dwarves from six impossible components:

The sound of a cat’s footfall, the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, the sinews of a bear, the breath of a fish

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and the spit of a bird!

Fenrir was tricked by Tyr. Having broken all manner of chains and ropes previously used by the Gods to subdue him, he nevertheless agreed to be leashed by the apparently flimsy Gleipnir only if Tyr left his hand in the wolf’s huge jaws. This was a difficult decision for the warrior, for no King could ever rule ‘single handed’. It was the kind of moral dilemma favoured in the old Viking stories and in the end Tyr bargained his kingship for the good of his people. Fenrir was left to howl away and slather with Tyr’s sword wedged in his jaws, giving rise to the river named ‘Expectation’. But what was expected?

The Chelsea Park bench

For past month I have been making an art installation for a lovely park in Nether Edge, Sheffield, called Chelsea park. This quiet little green space is beloved of dog walkers, and on any given day you can meet the most bewildering variety of pedigree, and Heinz 57 dogs.

My piece is designed to complement an owl carved by the sculptor Jason Thomson – it is a respectful nod to this work and the wishes of the park regulars. I have interpreted Edward Lear’s ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ in seven wooden sight posts, set around the perimeter of Chelsea Park – carved in cleft sweet chestnut. Visitors old and young can sight each post through a spy hole (shaped like a needle eyelet) to find the next component of the poem. There is a little eyelet at knee height for small children to look through. There is a thread, or ribbon of a narrative to be discovered and threaded here, and then discussed on the seat.

The posts are made with love and humour for both big and little humans. I have even set two of them exactly eight paces apart in a flat bit of grass at the top of the park – for young people to enjoy a game of football.

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In fact there are actually two stories in my sculpture – a Nonsense Poem and a Norse Myth.

The seat is carved out of a 3 inch thick piece of oak with a stylised ‘sea’ lapping the front of a sandy beach – the sea that the Owl and the Pussycat sailed upon for a year and a day. Three human bottoms are carved in the seat – two adults and a child – and alongside a dog has left his imprint also…. or is it a dog?

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Whilst carving I imagined that the Fenrir had escaped the bonds of Gleipnir – represented by the cleft Oak branch making the back rest of the seat. Prophecy foretells that when the dire wolf escapes this heralds the time of Ragnarok, the end of the world when Odin the Wise will be consumed by the wolf, the walls of Asgard will come tumbling down and the rainbow bridge Bifrost will be shattered. Chaos will ensue – this is why the river coming from Fenrir’s jaws is called ‘Expectation’.

There is a bit of wolf in every dog, this is why we leash them is it not? Just as Tyr did with Fenrir. We all like to aspire to be the Owl, but do we have the wisdom or the ability to control the elemental forces represented by the Wolf?

In our lives we make brief, imprints on the shore which are washed away by tide and time. ‘Nonsense’, Art and Poetry that is what we need to confront our fear of chaos.

Solo

25 Aug

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There are a crucial moments in life when we have to move from safety into danger in order that we may learn and grow. It was a brave mother (Helen Roach) who not only let her son, Adam, learn how to use a carving knife safely, but also, most generously, she sent me these photographs of the moment I let him take the tool and carve on his own. The intense look of concentration on his face and the way he folds himself around the work when he is flying solo is worth all the trepidation of tutor and parent.

Many years ago I re-trained to teach science at secondary level. It was clear to me that I could no longer rely on temporary contracts as a postdoctoral research fellow in Zoology to pay the mortgage and support my small family. I studied for a year at Durham University to gain a professional teaching qualification and thoroughly enjoyed the transition from laboratory research to classroom. What I loved the most was the way in which my teaching was reflected back to me by my students. In my final dissertation I invented the principle of the “Law of Convergence of Purpose” after a particularly stressful teaching practise field trip with a bunch of 14 year olds.

Their teacher had agreed to my taking them out to a woodland to get some hands on ecology experience: food chains, food webs, habitats – that sort of thing. Unfortunately the school only had a mini-bus capable of transporting 15 students and the class size was 28. This meant that the teacher had to drive me to the site, drop me off with half the class, and whizz back to school for the rest of them. These were the days before risk assessments.

He duly dropped me off with my share of expectant teenagers and drove off. With all the sampling equipment still in the van.

As the dust cloud settled, and realising I had better extemporise, I said the fateful words “Let’s be off then!”

They were. To all points of the compass, at high speed, yelling and whooping with the joy of liberation.

I was left with one student, a girl who looked up at me with one eyebrow raised and said “Will you get the sack then?”

A few seconds later I heard a commotion in the depths of the wood and with a sinking heart approached a group staring down into a deep muddy ditch. At the bottom was a boy stuck up to his knees in mud. “I don’t want to know what happened here” I said fatuously, and hauled the young man out of his predicament. He was missing a trainer, so I took my lunch out of its snappy bag and gave him a cheese flavoured overshoe as I waded in and retrieved his mud caked shoe. I had to write a letter of apology to his mother and reimburse the family for the damaged trainer. Needless to say the field trip was not a success.

Lesson one: language is the key

A few days later whilst on dinner duty in the school yard I witnessed a violent scuffle between two big fifteen year old lads. As I stepped in to separate me I was hauled back by a big meaty hand clamped on my jacket shoulder:

“Leave them to it lad” said the Head of Design Technology with a fag clamped between his teeth

“But fighting is against school policy!” I said indignantly

“They are not fighting lad, they are cuddling. They get very little physical affection in these parts, its their way of expressing affection”

Lesson two: things are rarely as they seem.

A friend of mine said “Ah yes, Anfield Plain – it is twinned with Sodom isn’t it?” Referring to the close proximity of the (by now defunct) steel mills which used to light up the sky above Consett. Anfield Plain school was originally set up for the Bevan Boys, conscripted to work down the local pit – that too defunct since Margaret Thatcher’s intervention in the early 80’s.

Bevin Boys

It struck me that all my science training and the success I had enjoyed as a researcher would be of little use if I did not learn to use language more effectively and, more importantly learn to listen to my students and their worries.

A couple of years later I was teaching science in my first job at Prudhoe High School. I had been given yet another bottom science set – a typical tactic of hardened heads of science; “Let’s see what the bastard can handle, I’m teaching the top set, fuck you” – policy. My lab (a shit hole) was open on both sides and used as the access corridor for the top floor of the school – so every Tom Dick or Cheryl could wander through. The class were watching me draw a big chalk diagram on the black board explaining the menstrual cycle (timely as one of them had ‘fallen pregnant’ – presumably by tripping over a sperm). As I was labelling it the Head of Physics wandered in:

“That is not how you spell Oestrus, Mr. Littlewood”

“Well Mr.Hanson, there is no penalty in the science curriculum for using the American spelling of the word as Estrus, which is easier to remember, and that is Dr. Littlewood to you”

Cheers from the class, scuttling away of intruder. We were not interrupted as much after that as word got round of my poisonous tongue.

I chose a single science curriculum for my class and they all passed – some with B’s – much to their great delight.

The Law of Convergence of Purpose states: Purpose will only converge when ideas and understanding become convergent – in other words use the right lingo buster.

Ask yourself this what right have you to teach? What gives you the right to take a child from a position of safety to a position of danger? Answer – the parents.

Never mind the curriculum, the poxy exam board, the idiot vote-catching politicians or your own expensive education, listen to the students and their guardians- they will give you the key.

Jazz

5 Jul

One of the greatest guitar players of all time, Django Reinhardt suffered crippling injuries to his left hand when he was badly burned in a fire. His third and fourth fingers were paralysed. Undeterred he reworked his entire repertoire adapting chordal changes and barre fret work to suit his strong, index and middle fingers – inventing an entirely new jazz technique. He co-founded the Quintette du Hot Club with the violinist Stéphane Grappelli. His beautiful jazz recordings grace my studio from time to time.

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The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”. Way back in 1998 I had been happily married for 16 years to a woman I had met and fell in love with at Manchester University where we studied Zoology together. We raised a lovely daughter, Polly, and over many years shared everything. My wife retrained as a Physiotherapist during the time our daughter was born, whilst I made a living as a postdoctoral scientist. Both of us were musical, but my wife had a real gift for playing the violin, so when my beloved maternal grandmother, Hartje de Boer, passed away I commissioned a fiddle by a master luthier, with her bequest. He made made an exact copy of a famous Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri violin.

Guarnerius violin

 

It was a concrete way to honour both my grandmother’s voice and my first wife’s talent. It was so accurate that he wanted to distress it to look like an original – I said I wanted it to look as it was, spanking new. The back of the violin was carved from a single piece of Bosnian flame maple over 300 years old. The instrument was and still is a masterpiece. It should be, it cost the equivalent of a small saloon car at the time.

I can hear my grandmother saying “Je bent gek jongen!” – ‘you are crazy boy!’ at my profligate largesse with her money. I did not know it at the time, but this is a typical, impulsive symptom of manic depression.

Here is my Oma chatting with my Dad in Den Haag, way back in 1957 before I was born.

David and Hartje 1957

My wife took to practising the violin for up to three or four hours a night, and by this time I was teaching science in secondary school, so was too dog tired at the end of the day to be bothered. She developed a very sound blue-grass double stopping technique and added a huge folk repertoire. Living in Newcastle she was soon in demand with a number of folk groups.

Whilst I played guitar, I did not have the dedication or discipline required to accompany her playing, and besides, I couldn’t really be bothered with the ‘folk scene’. I prefer the guitar playing of Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake and John Martyn to be honest. Nevertheless, like the naive fool that I was I continued to encourage her to follow her ambition to become a semi-professional musician.

Around the time of my 40th birthday I discovered that she had been ‘fiddling around’, or in slightly politer parlance, having an affair with a band member. For quite a while as it happened. The double irony here is that my ex, an accomplished fiddle player and jazz saxophonist had left me for an accomplished guitarist. Joining the ‘Not so Hot Club’.

I’d got burned.

I continued to function, teaching Biology by day at the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle upon Tyne, and providing for my daughter, but the very foundations of my existence had been destroyed. I had put all my love, faith and energy into the marriage, only to discover it was broken. Coming from a ‘broken home’ as it was called in the 1960’s – my mum brought my brother and I up single handed – I took the failure of the marriage hard. Weirdly, I did not blame my wife for her wandering eye, I felt it was my fault – I had probably become rather boring as a husband. This was the start of truly suicidal depressions, and eventually, several attempts at suicide back in 2000. At this time I started seeing a psychiatrist – who prescribed antidepressants, having erroneously diagnosed ‘chronic depression’.

It was a good while before I was able to see things more clearly, to develop a new mind set. In fact I had to lose the one I had relied on for 40 years before I could develop a new style of playing. I had some help, of course, from a brilliant Psychiatrist called Dr Zaman, who diagnosed BiPolar Type I or Manic Depression (“A classic case Henk”… I like the classic cases) when I was sectioned, Lithium carbonate (Priadel) – which I continue to take to the possible detriment of my thyroid, kidneys and liver and the definite reduction in desire to play the guitar (hooray!), and thirdly, but most assuredly not lastly, to my loving wife, dangerous and irresponsible henchwoman, and very funny Tea Lady – Clare Littlewood.

My personal Holy Trinity – a good shrink, suitable meds (taken as a sacrament, whatever the physiological cost) and the heart of a good woman.

Studio Jazz

I may have lost some of the ‘digital’ capacity of my brain by going through the fire of mental illness and loss, but I have gained the facility to play my own personal jazz.

Footnote:

The Luthier had, rather spookily, placed an aphorism on his label inside the Guarnerius style violin he had made for my first wife which reads “As the fiddler tunes, so you shall know her tune”. Quod est demonstrandum.

 

 

Analogue

26 Jun

I still prefer to listen to a Long Playing record when I am working in my studio. I delivered this piece to a valued client who had commissioned it as a birthday present for her beloved. She made him close his eyes as I brought it in to their lounge. His reaction of eye-popping delight was the best pay back made my day. He said “Oh wow! Oh wow! You made this for me? Oh wow!” My lovely, generous client had also pyro-graphed some pithy quotes from his favourite songs onto the cabinet in my studio. She had a hand in making the piece.

Love is an analogue. It is not a digital experience.

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What I mean by this is that true love follows a fiery arc, like the legendary Bifrost rainbow, carrying souls on to their destiny (or Valahalla in my case, axe in hand). One cannot partition affection, it burns continuously with passion or not at all.

LPs are cool in the workshop because I can have a breather every 15 or 20 minutes for a faff, or a think, a reappraisal, a sweep up, or to imagine the location of a lost tool. The sound quality is way better than a CD, which are, admittedly more convenient and less susceptible to fine particles of sawdust! I am unashamedly retro too.

The piece is made in olive ash and Sapele, with through dovetails connecting the shelves and plinth to the sides. My client gave me a very precise brief and a good little sketch to work from. I let the timber express itself in the final design by retaining some of the waney edges.

Analogue:
Adjective/
relating to or using signals or information represented by a continuously variable physical quantity such as spatial position, voltage, etc.
“analogue signals”

Or
Noun/
a person or thing seen as comparable to another.
“an interior analogue of the exterior world”

“Like” in other words. I’m pretty sure, my clients partner likes his birthday present and the like extends to love.

Analogue folks … Like the tides it comes and goes. Like the best love, it flows continuously.

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Berserker

13 Mar

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When I am making I like to think that I am ‘at one’ with my materials and tools – that I am in a calm zen-like state of grace.

I was smartly disabused of this rosy notion whilst talking to a very talented artist colleague who makes the most divine wedding attire in her pristine studio. I was having a convivial cup of tea with a bunch of artists from Exchange Place Studios, when Debbie Carlisle described to me how she had looked in through the window of my workshop door out of curiosity.

What she saw was a man with a fearsome grimace on his face, gnashing his teeth, whilst forcing a screaming machine through a gigantic piece of wood. I had been routing a piece of oak in the process of constructing these enormous gates.

Oak Gates

She mimed my teeth gnashing stance with vivid skill.

The Berserkers were Odin’s wolf or bear skinned warriors who were capable of working themselves up into such a mighty warrior frenzy that they would gnaw the tops of their shields and howl like demons. Probably scarring bejesus out of their foe.

As a man I do experience the emotion of pure rage. Usually when I am in my van (much to my wife’s irritation) and when I am confronted with unkindness toward others.

I have come to accept that it is probably a product of too much ‘juice’ or testosterone. Having taught at a boys school years ago I learned early on that plenty of physical exercise in the form of rugby, PE, hiking, running around and yelling rendered boys quite teachable.

Much is said about the problems associated with uncontrolled male aggression and most of it is true. Brutality towards those unable to defend themselves is inhumane and unacceptable, so can it be controlled?

Without our fathers we men find it difficult to make sense of the Berserker in us. It is only from a paternal figure do we learn to play the long game, patience, kindness, gentleness and courtliness and grace.

In my studio I will continue to be Berserkr (literally – ‘wearing the bear skin’) for it in this transformed state that I can focus my all my energies in honour of the old gods, releasing the demons away from polite company.

Imperial

14 Dec

I buy my timber by the cubic foot. I design and build in old Imperial yards, feet, inches, eighths of an inch and sixteenths. Most of my clients think metrically so I offer a conversion on my drawings, but in my head and body imperial holds sway.

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Here my selected stack of chocolate heart ash is being measured up to calculate my invoice in amount per cubic foot.

I am not trying to be a Luddite because ‘this is the way things are’ in the world of timber.

It so happens that an inch is the length of the first digit of my right index finger; one and a half inches the second digit; nine inches the span between outstretched little finger and thumb and so on. I internalised these measurements 40 years ago when at 16 I had stopped growing.

Dimensions are best appreciated with reference to one’s own body. Nature can blow your mind without this frame of reference:

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Here I am standing at the base of a giant coastal redwood in John Muir park California – a mere speck, dwarfed by the scale of a 300 foot high colossus.

Inches and feet are human dimensions; metres, centimetres and certainly millimetres are measurements of science, of precision. Tell me I’m old fashioned, but if it fits in the hand and can be weighed in your palm doesn’t it feel right?