Tag Archives: daughter


22 Oct


Conception can mean the precise instant a sperm fertilises an ovum to make an embryo, or, how something is perceived – as in a ‘concept‘.

My son-in-law and daughter Alan and Polly Howden told us that they were expecting a baby in Spring – this had the effect of making me feel very happy for them and for my wife and I. Unfortunately my head was instantly filled with woodwork projects ranging from spoons, to bowls, rattles and roundabouts, cots and cradles, basinets and boats, rocking horses and tree houses. My head was literally filled with wooden concepts!

Sometimes, as in the figured sycamore of the little sideboard below, Nature can be quite literal.


This little sideboard, made for a wonderful and witty client is called, for obvious reasons – ‘Fertility’. When it was finished, she said to me, “The nice thing about this cabinet is that no-one in the whole world will ever have one like it!”

This is how I try to respond to my customers desires. It is the true essence of ‘bespoke’. We spoke and it was, in my hands and thanks to a splendid tree…. to be. Like children and treasure, all my designs are unique.

Recently, I completed a corner cabinet for a new Exhibition at Yorkshire Artspace called ‘Curious Cabinets‘. I thought of it as ‘Mrs Caligiari‘s  Cabinet’.

The organiser, Sharon Moss, a fine artist, arranged an adventurous trip to the Alfred Denny Zoology museum at Sheffield University to inspire the participants.

I make my living as a carpenter and sculptor by ‘making to commission’, this process and the nature of the material I work with are integral to my artistic practise.  It was obvious to me that I needed a client to make for in order to be truly inspired. I was not interested in trying to find a cabinet and fill it with things in order to make a piece of art, or tell an interesting story. To me the cabinet is the concept.

My friend Chiara Bet, an illustrator and jeweller and I had a useful discussion and agreed to be my conceptual ‘client’ – I like working for people with a vivid imagination and I had already made a piece for her in the past. As both of us have an interest in anatomy, the Divine Comedy by the incomparable Dante Alighieri and the bizarre, I decided that I would design a cabinet fit for her work and entertain the curious notion that a cabinet might, in time, be transformed by its contents. I committed several hundred pounds worth of my best timber stock to the venture and a significant chunk of time – about 200 man hours in all. I also enlisted the help of a glass artist Debra Burrell who slumped (curved in a kiln) two pieces of glass for me so that I could make an elegant a bow fronted door.


Here it is in my studio, and here it is as it appears right now in the Exhibition at Exchange Place, filled with Chiara’s jewellery and some of her drawings hidden away in a secret drawer.


There are no shelves in the interior, but I have carved deep grooves and folds in the flesh-like lacewood to display the jewellery and give a sense of fertilised and developing embryos.


A spinal column is visible and at the rear a tail. The legs are ‘Queen Anne’ – so it looks like it might scuttle away when you are not looking. The floor is carved as the interior of a womb, and the whole represents the placental mammalian cabinet of life. Access to the secret drawer ….. well, you will have to come and see for yourself to find out how and why.

This wholly piece of furniture was designed by me from the fertilisation of ideas arising from a dialogue – a concept I firmly believe sits at the root of all intelligence.

The Judges at Art in the Gardens seemed to like it enough to give it a Gold Award at the Sheffield Botanic Gardens this summer.


Speaking of the Howden/Littlewood concept, I shall enjoy being a making sort of grandfather.


3 Feb

There are times when fancy joints, screws and nails, clamps and bolts will simply not do.


On Monday 2nd of February we cremated our mother, grandmother and friend and the glue that held the day together was our daughter, Polly Rachael Howden. Pictured here with her biological parents (Henk and Fiona) at the evening do at the Head of Steam. Polly held her cool with quiet dignity whilst all of us mourners bumped around like motes of dust in a smoke chamber. Poly vinyl acetate – PVA – or, Polly’s very adept.

On the day Polly and her husband helped us bear our mother’s coffin into the chapel, she held my hand and gave the last sweet eulogy. Pritt-y fine.

Polly and Alan and Fi's wreath

In the afternoon Polly helped her uncle Tim organise the Wake at The Rendezvous Cafe, Whitley Bay. Tea, savoury cheese sandwiches, Tunnocks Tea Cakes and hot chocolate was served to frozen mourners against the backdrop of a wild North Sea breaking on the beach. Two part adhesive: Araldite

Seen through her eyes my second wife Clare and I looked like this (knackered, but together) after the funeral. We met for dinner, Alan, Polly, Clare and I at a lovely Restaurant called The Botanist in Newcastle upon Tyne. Superglue.

Us@The Botanist Alan and Polly

The father of one of Polly’s school friends, Dave Whitton, posted this on his FB page:

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out Why.” Mark Twain

That was 25.08.1982 when ‘Bean’ was born

Polly (3)  eggs


24 Dec

For the first time I turned a job down because I thought it was too much for me. A client arranged for me to look at a “Christmas Tree which was planted some years ago in the garden which needs to come out”.

I was skeptical, but I packed my chainsaw and gear and drove to the client’s house. A very nice gentleman showed me through to his back garden.

He pointed to a 70 foot high Western Hemlock of some maturity – about 20 inches girth. “That must have used a canny few fairy lights” I said. He proceeded to ask me if I could fell it.

I thought yes, absolutely but I said “Not without trashing your green house, your neighbours garden or your sitting room. There is only one spot it will go – along your property boundary.”

Then I heard myself say “I will not do it because it is too risky, I will give you the name of a reputable tree surgeon – he is a friend and he will dismantle it from the crown down for you”

I walked away feeling old but alive.

I have several guardian angels who are my Valkyries. Polly, my daughter pictured above gives me the desire to act sensibly (she calls it good Daddliness).


Clare, my wife is the Valkyrie who strengthens my mettle, sharpens my wit and makes me brave.

I am a lucky man!

God Jul, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you my lovely readers.