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

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 are mothers of alchemy too.

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.