Tag Archives: death


23 Dec

As little a boy I used to play the board game known as Bagatelle in my great uncle Jan’s huge house in Haarlem. All the time the adults would argue about noblesse oblige, the Second World War and prisoner of war camps – in Dutch.

Bagatelle – the antidote to tedious nostalgia.

The thrill when the marble actually lands in a scoring hole, instead of tinkling down the pins to oblivion!

Reminds me of W.H. Auden’s aphorism:

‘Death is the sound of distant thunder at a picnic.’


Looks like a tombstone too.

Earlier this year, I was asked to design a memorial. The Widow had not been able to find a suitable artisan to honour her husband’s memory.

She described her husband to me as an adventurer, a cyclist and a gentleman and she wanted the memorial carved in wood.

He seemed to have the qualities of my father, David Littlewood.


Cyclist, gentleman and Adventurer.

The regulations governing the installation of memorial headstones in graveyards are strict in South Yorkshire. 

Wood is not good, unless one plants a living tree.

I declined the commission, but in memory of my father’s generous spirit, I gave her the drawing to use as she saw fit.

Eventually she told me she had found a talented young mason who was able to carve it for her in stone and add his own texture to the motif.


What, I hear you ask, is the link between an ancient board game for one bored boy and Death?

Life of course, and I celebrate it!

The word Bagatelle derives from the Italian word ‘bagatella’ coined in the 1630s for a trifle, a thing of no importance – a knick-knack, a bauble, or a trinket.

David met his second wife, Mollie, in the Club Bagatelle a famous nightclub in Lagos, Nigeria.

David and Molly - Polly and Alan wedding

Mr and Mrs Littlewood produced three children together; Anna (veterinary surgeon), Nathan (geologist) and Simon (carpenter).

I met them in ’69 when I was still living in Matlock in the house my dad bought when he married my mother, David’s first wife.

Although I was young, it was kind of obvious to me that my Dad was besotted with Mollie and very happy.

This made me happy, and that is no trifling thing.


Elise, by the artist Diana Storey, makes me happy. She is a Bagatelle. You can see her galloping around a small exhibition of wood and mosaic art called Birdsong in Winter (extended by Yorkshire Artspace until January 18th, 2020) as a paean to trifles thrown in the face of Darkness.

At night a terrifying Night Mare, carrying the innocent away from Darkness into The Light. By day a sweet carousel pony.

In the mid 1950’s young David took his City and Guilds 1st Class in carpentry and joinery and sailed from Liverpool to Nigeria to help her people regain Independence from British Rule. He brought practical building skills.

His adventure led to my birth in Kano, and more siblings than I can shake a stick at, a generous step mum and the happiest of memories.

That is pretty First Class in my book.

 “Proper job lad.”

For the women folk x

HL 24.12.2019


Kissing Gate

3 Apr

In a dark little hollow leading down to the western edge of Gillefield Wood is a kissing gate erected by the Friends of Gillfield Wood with my help in Ranger guise a couple of years ago. The path from the Hathersage road meanders along a plantation of rowan, hazel and ash on the right hand side and a more mature stand of Scot’s pine and larch on the left – the aspect is sunny and is a favourite haunt of butterflies along the messy borders of wild flowers and grasses. But as you cross the boundary of the wood though the kissing gate you become acutely aware of a transition from modern to ancient, youthfulness to senescence, for you are entering an ancient woodland. Here the cycle of life has turned many times, yet left the land relatively unchanged – the spring wood has been coppiced and re-coppiced by generations to make staves and poles, hedging stakes, binders, axe handles, charcoal and white coal in the Q pits still evident within the wood. The evidence of great age is all around you in the swathes of bluebells and wood anemones, in the fabulous array of fungi and invertebrates in the leaf litter, and the cool shady stillness.

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

Last night I knelt beside my mum’s hospital bed with my wife Clare and daughter, Polly Littlewood – we were at a different kind of kissing gate, for the ancient edifice that is Jonkvrouw Adriana van de Poll (Jos to her friends) was losing her battle with pneumonia. There seemed to me to be a transition occurring between light and shade. Standing in the light we could only make reassuring noises and observe, as a my mother seemed to shift a little further into the shade.

Clare “Do you know who is here Jos?”

Mam “Yes….. it is Clare …. who is your man?”

“It’s Henk, your eldest son of course”

“Oh… fuck …. ha ha… how pathetic, I knew that really”

So I kiss the gate of her forehead and bid her goodbye, knowing I shall be back up the A1 within a day or two. I say “I love you Mam, you can just let go now and rest, think about playing in the garden with your brother Henk”

She murmurs “Yes….that would be fun”