Tag Archives: God

Boundary

6 Dec

Peter Maarten Hendrik Littlewood was born 22.7.58 in Kano in the north of Northern Nigeria south of the Sahara Desert. He grew up in the heart of Derbyshire, by the river Derwent.

It’s a long way from there to here.

Yesterday I bought a ham sandwich from Eugene on the train travelling up to London to visit my grandson, Joseph.

A mere 2 1/2 hour train ride.

Eugene is from Sierra Leone and was surprised when I told him I had lived as a boy on the hill above Freetown.

Freetown was main departure point for slaves traded in West Africa. I learned to use a hammer here. And never to judge a book by its cover.

The old map of The Peak District shows natural and man-made boundaries – if you are adventurous, you can breach them.

However, have to know how and more importantly…..when. It’s the same with the boundaries within people, particularly children.

Saint Nicholas brought grandson, Joseph some gifts last night – stuck them in his blue wellies.

His first favourite was a book Clare, his Nain, all about trucks. Press the button to match the truck noise. Perfect!

His mum and dad are just beginning to think about choosing a school. They are protective of Joseph’s boundaries. They need to be.

I was about 6 years old, when I was enrolled in a primary school in Matlock, Derbyshire. I was placed in  a mixed-age ‘remedial’ class.

They did not know what to do with me really.

On the first day of term, in 1964 I was paraded in front of the class and introduced  as ‘Hank’ Littlewood from Africa.

The teacher then urged my class mates to ask me questions.

First question:

Girl “Why aren’t you black?”

Me “Because my Mam washes me in Domestos”

2nd ‘Question’:

Boy: “Have you ever seen a snake?”

Me, ‘Yes we had Green Mambas in the garden in Takoradi, but my pet Mongoose, Pitypet always scared them off.’

Not the wisest of responses for someone new to a provincial school.

Very clever, but thick, as my wife would say – fairly good description of someone with BiPolar Type 1 Disorder.

I had lowered draw bridges and was ‘asking for trouble’.

During that first introduction, several boundaries had been crossed …. & breached – by the teacher. Her actions & invitation my new classmates – had sleighted my castle walls.

In Ghana school was totally different. I was unaware of the difference between black children and me, we just played football together and laughed a lot, because they were my friends.

The Derbyshire kids taught me the difference between black and white that very same day, at break time.

I was surrounded by kids shouting

“You’re a white N&%%@R!”

I kid you not.

And, in Hegley’s own words, I ‘got it’ for being me – ‘Back in the Playground Blues‘.

By the end of the school term, my mother was getting a bit worried about my prospects for survival.

Her funny little boy had become introverted.

So Mam recruited the services of her younger half brother, Maarten, to help.

He had just finished his National Service in the Dutch Army as the Colonel’s Jeep Driver. Clever lad.

To me he was like a God.

He took me for a long walk to the playground near our house and we had a man to man chat.

He said, “Look Henk, most people don’t understand you, and it is no good trying to be clever, or talk yourself out of trouble. Some people only understand one thing.”

‘What’s that?’ I asked.

“This” and he showed me his fist. “You have to ‘whoof’ them with this”.

I discovered Mars. Maarten, my middle name. Yang.

Next day, when one of my class mates yelled ‘Hank, Hank! Wank, Wank!”, I whoofed him. I whoofed him good. Mam met me at the school gate, bloody, but unbowed.

Uncle Maarten had taught me how to establish some of my own boundaries.

My grandfather – Opa – taught me how to play chess using the beautiful mini game Fox and Hounds at about the same time on his old box wood set, a great game for teaching a child the importance of boundaries and rules. He would always point out blunders as I made them, so I learned fast.

We moved on to chess after that, and every day in the summer holidays I would play a game with him, after a piece of cake and a glass of squash, but only after I had helped my Oma Yo do some housework.

It appears in an art show I am opening with Diana Spencer at Yorkshire Artspace in Sheffield. (Some of her work substitutes mine for artistic reasons).

I made Opa’s chess set when I was 11, in my first year at grammar school, with the help of my favourite teacher, Master of Woodwork and Technical Drawing, Mr Paulson. Yoda.

The game above is the Queen’s Gambit (white), a powerful attacking opening relying on a pawn sacrifice to gain control of the centre of the board. Black must defend well.

As my dad used to say – when dealing with the gentler sex, always play for a gentleman’s draw.

Chess is a thing of boundaries and rules, and yet infinite possibility. It is the game of War.

Maps, on the other hand, are of topographic things, they have real meaning. They are vital in war.

Both are spaces in which Time is altered, because must employ our Imagination.

The best warriors do not need to fight for they have already disarmed us.

Bring your boys up to understand sacrifice but give your girls the weapons, the keys are theirs to claim.

Peter with the two keys: one to heaven and one to hell. In most depictions they are identical (gold or silver/white or black). Your choice –

Do you want to ‘”Phone a friend?”

Would you prefer to “Ask the audience ?”

I chose 50/50 ….. to walk the path, very carefully.

Merry Christmas One and All

Faith

21 Apr

I’m sure everyone has been asked the question “Do you have Faith”.  Perhaps we ask it of ourselves at difficult times? Until recently, I have taken the question to mean ‘do I believe in a God?’

Children are so full of wonder, for them belief is easy. Belief allows us to trust in the existence of treasure just around the next corner. Faith takes our hand and leads us to it.

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Joseph, my grandson was so excited at the London Museum of Transport the other day he kept squatting down, pursing his lips and declaring;

“Oooh…BUS! Opa…….BUS!”

Big vintage red London Routemaster buses could be this small boy’s version of a Deity.

My own response to anyone asking the question “do you have Faith?” usually elicits this response:

“Do you believe in Santa, The Tooth Fairy or Ghosts?”

If they answer ‘no’ – then I respond by saying that I do not believe that there is an old geezer in the sky who knows all our sins, transgressions and wickedness and if we would just but BELIEVE in him – we could ask for forgiveness, and be absolved of all of the above.

If they answer “Yes” then I can politely say “Good for you!” and drink my tea in peace.

Perhaps because I have been a professional scientist, and I was trained to ask searching questions in order to establish fact and truth, I would say I am skeptical about organised religion. Probably more so than most because manic depression (BiPolar Type 1) can lead one to become highly suggestible in the hypomanic state.

Old Testament God, really does not excite me as a concept because the contents of The Good Book can be neither proven nor disproven – the wisdom contained therein requires an act of blind faith and total acceptance in the mind of a believer.

Belief in a received truth, rather than  explicit scientific, philosophical or mathematical proof is not truth.

However, I do respect an individual’s right to believe whatever they wish. Religion per se can be a very powerful positive force for many.

Faith itself, however, is a completely different kettle of fish.

Without the faith of my beloved I would not have recovered from a serious breakdown, without the faith of a child I would not have become a father, without the faith of family and true friends I wouldn’t have rediscovered my true self. Artist, woodworker.

In my humble opinion Faith is what the people who love you, give to you.

It is their faith in your humanity and the possibility that you will stop being a monumental fool and start behaving like a socialised individual that redeems us. Their faith gives one the inspiration needed to live fully.

Your parents ought to be the first people to give you Faith. My Dad, seen here with his granddaughter and great grandson (Joseph again) had tremendous faith in me.

I miss him terribly, but I can repay his memory by having faith in my loved ones.

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Faith is what we all need.

Given freely it is the quintessence of love’s light.

If you are in receipt, acknowledge it, be thankfull and believe you are worthy.

Please do not throw it away.

 

HL

 

 

 

 

Time

23 Jan

Years ago, as a student zoologist I was friendly with a young physicist – a fundamentalist Christian. I was pretty stuck on Darwin and Wallace’s evolutionary theory and a confirmed agnostic so we had lots of pithy arguments over a pint or three of Boddingtons best bitter in the Barnes Wallace Building – UMIST student union. Our watering hole in the late 70’s.

God, the Nature of the Universe, beer and girls – a great combination.

The evening would always end with us both a bit the worse for wear and with him a little upset.  I was, in his view, going straight to hell and he was going to heaven.

My friend believed in celibacy before marriage, I believed I urgently needed to get laid.

On one subject we did find common ground. We were both fascinated by the Nature of Time and whether it could be perceived.

I argued that because living creatures lack an organ for sensing time, we could, therefore not perceive it directly. Thus a vertebrate or cephalopod eye, in conjunction with the central nervous system converts the electromagnetic energy patterns of light, via chemical reactions and tiny electromagnetic impulses fueled by membrane biochemistry into what we understand to be visual cognition in the cortex. We sense light changes directly.

My friend argued that we could measure time and that it was a fundamental property of the physical Universe. No argument there then.

He agreed that it was changes in the physical world: heat loss, radioactive decay, senescence, rot – governed by the laws of Thermodynamics, that we measure time by. We cannot perceive Time directly, only the changes affected by it.

Of course we are able to deduce that time passes because living things are born, grow old and die, rock formations are generated through chemistry and igneous processes and then are eroded, or transformed under pressure or, again, chemistry. Everything is changing in the universe.

Although we lack a time sensitive organ, we possess a very powerful tool of perception – our imagination.


The thought experiment I used to play with when drinking with my pal was a model I called Flatland.

Consider: we organisms live in a four dimensional universe: 3 cardinal perpendicular axes X, Y and Z of movement and all under the influence of time (the fourth dimension). We can see and feel up, down, left, right, fore and back and around, but we do not ‘see’ or ‘feel’ time – we just know it is there because of constant change to the physical, chemical and biological domains.

In Flatland creatures move and grow in two dimensions – as if restricted to a sheet of paper. Flatpeople would only ever perceive the perimeter of another Flatperson as they bump into each other, and move around them. They would be able to deduce each other’s general shape by moving all around each other. They might even have primitive light sensitive organs that recognise Flatpeople edges.

Consider a three dimensional sphere moving perpendicularly through Flatland. A Flatperson would perceive a point expanding to a circular perimeter and contracting back to a dot before disappearing. They would not be able to perceive that a third dimension exists from this, they know about Time because Flatpeople die eventually. A smart Flatperson might observe that an unusual Flatnomenon had occurred – a body had spontaneously appeared, expanded, shrunk and then disappeared – what could have caused this?

You see the problem? We in our three dimensional physical world are very aware of changes, but we cannot grasp the Nature of Time itself. But although the Flatperson cannot deduce the existence of spheres – they might be able to imagine their theoretical existence and build a 2-D model.

So might we be able to model time as it actually is in 3 dimensions?

As I spend time with my Dad in his 86th year I am aware of great changes. And yet I am also deeply aware that, because I share many of his characteristics, Time itself connects us. I can see the changes I will endure in him.

This awareness is tempered by deep love and affection between us. This I can feel, this I know.

I would be prepared to consider the possibility that Time itself is the best evidence of a God. It is universal, unknowable and connects all living and non-living things.

In the end, Time, like Love heals all.

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)

Fólkvangr

24 Sep

Shrine 4

High above the Goyt Valley in the Peak District lies a shrine. A tiny stone round house built as a memorial to a Spanish School Teacher by the owners of the estate where she taught. It lies on the steep slopes of a hill behind Err Wood, the ancestral seat of the the Grimshawe family a walk away from the ruins of their home, Errwood Hall. My friend, Dave and I chose to walk together around the valley in golden autumn sunshine yesterday in deference to our mutual interest in sandwiches, conversation and rambling (both the talking and the walking kind).

Goyt Valley

Shrine Err Wood

Upon entering the shrine we were met by St. Joseph depicted in ceramic tiles holding the infant Jesus and this Spanish inscription:

Munca se le Invoca evano a San Jose prueba de gratitud’ which translates to – No one asks in vain of St Joseph, a token of gratitude.

Shrine 2

Underneath St. Joseph is pictured holding the infant Jesus, and below them on the tiny votive alter are many tokens of gratitude. Candles, coins, a toffee, postcards memorialising deceased grandparent and a beloved husband. All of them asked for our prayers for the deceased.

Joseph, being the patron saint of the working class, meant that neither Dave nor I had any difficulty leaving our tokens of gratitude to the man who, like those of us who work with our hands, had quite literally carried the King.

I am not a religious man in the conventional sense, but I am no atheist either. Agnosticism is the only defensible position for a skeptic, for in the absence of hard evidence, it is just as ludicrous to me to believe that there is no God as it is to believe in a particular version of God.

This tranquil little sanctuary suspended above the flooded Goyt valley fairly hums with sadness and loss and yet, as Dave and I read the the quiet requests for our prayers which had been faithfully left behind, we were uplifted.

In old Norse the ‘House of the Slain’ or Valhalla is ruled over by Odin, half of those slain in battle are chosen to reside here, the other half go to an eternal meadow called Fólkvangr (field of the host) ruled over by Frey- the Norse god of love . Fólkvangr is poorly understood, but since Frey traditionally has the first pick of fallen warriors – men and women who have died a noble death – I am tempted to suggest that it is this hall and meadow where the most effective dead champions are to be found. We are familiar with the concept of Valhalla – beer, more beer, singing, boasting, fighting, getting very drunk and so on, but not the alternative Norse Heaven. I know which I prefer, and I am glad that I discovered it.

Dolores’ sits in Fólkvangr.

Fólkvangr