Tag Archives: health

Dues

28 Jan

Henk working

If you want to do something interesting in Life, you’ve got to pay your dues.

This is called experiential learning. I have huge respect for autodidacts (my Father), bodgers, make-do-and-menders, the makers of happy mistakes – in other words those humans with a pioneering spirit.

Too much formal education leads to closed minds in my experience.

Way back in January 2002 I went to see a specialist careers advisor-come-psychometric consultant in London seeking help for a new career direction.

I was asked to send in my curriculum vitae. At the appointment the first thing the consultant said to me was: “Looking at your resume I would say that there is a cyclical pattern occurring over about a three year period throughout your career. You seem to start a new job, be very productive for a while and then, sooner or later you torpedo everything and move on. I’d say you were probably manic depressive.”

I was a bit shocked to be honest.

“Funny you should say that” I said, ” but I have just been diagnosed with Manic Depression.”

I had recently been discharged from a Psychiatric Hospital with a prescription for Lithium carbonate, regular cognitive therapy and ….no bloody job. I was facing some hard decisions about how I was going to make a living. The psychiatrist had advised me that teaching (my erstwhile job) was the worst possible thing I could do – because of the particular pressures experienced by all the people in a school. A person with MD (Bipolar Disorder) is under constant emotional stress (because of the lack of an internal ‘governor’) and therefore finds it difficult to maintain psychological stability.

I had to accept teaching was off the menu.

“But I can’t do anything else!” I wailed to Clare, my wife, to which she responded:

“Don’t be so stupid, Henk! You can do anything you want with your brain you wally.”

 

Impressed by my wife’s pithy rebuke and the  insightfulness of the consultant I asked what job I might be suited to other than academia or teaching.

The careers consultant said “What do you really like?”

I rambled on about challenges, problem solving, team working, communicating and so on and so forth…

She said “This is not a job interview, what do you really like to do?” A tough question because I did not like anything about myself.

So I thought about it long and hard and said:

“I like being outside and I like making things with my hands”

“Well why don’t you think about environmental conservation? You’ll never make much money, but you will get a lot of job satisfaction. With your background knowledge of Natural History, your experience as a teacher and your woodworking skills you should fit right in”

So I did some research and found out that the only way to get into conservation work is by volunteering.

The way you pay your dues in Conservation is by giving your own time for no pay to learn the trade – it sorts out the committed from the merely curious. Since the majority of conservation jobs involve working with and managing enthusiastic volunteers you have to have been one to earn any credibility in this trade.

This made perfect sense to me, and after a little bit of searching I discovered a voluntary position with the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (now TCV – The Conservation Volunteers) in Wirksworth, Derbyshire as a Biodiversity Officer.

I flogged my motorbike – a beautiful Honda VFR –

Honda VFR800 98  2

to learn about billhooks, biodiversity action plans, tool talks, brewing tea with a storm kettle, endless hacking away at rhododendron bushes, how to drive a mini bus, tow a trailer… and in return was able to contribute my carpentry skills to making and hanging gates, wooden bridges, styles, steps and all manner of access barriers – all in the glorious Derbyshire Peak District with a lovely team of young volunteers – project officers and TCV staff. Outdoors, working with my hands.

Fresh air and friendship. The best head juice I know.

Very slowly it began to dawn on me that I could be happy perhaps for the first time in decades.

The door that was opened in my mind by this Zen-like slap to my forehead has led ultimately to me returning to my boyhood passion, via a joyful 10 years as a countryside Ranger. Believe what everyone says, it is the best paid job in the world.

It is remarkable to me that, through great good fortune I now find myself hosting an enthusiastic young carpenter/artist who is paying her dues to the traditions and practises of a road less travelled.

img_1600

Esme McCall, December 2017

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”   Robert Frost

 

 

 

Harmony

4 Sep

Image

Ancient Chinese tradition sets great store by the mythical figures of Fu, Lu and Shou – the three wise men representing harmony (good fortune), wealth (prosperity) and good health (longevity). This soapstone figure belonging to my grandmother I believe represents the scroll bearing scholar Fu – he stands about 8 inches high and in her flat always sat beside a large bottle of Dutch Gin, a box of Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes, a bowl of dice and the telephone on a moth eaten Persian rug laid over an antique walnut card table.

Normally the wise men as figurines are meant to form a triptych to work properly within the precepts of Feng Shui, but I reckon this old totem was powerful enough to work on his own. My grandmother, Hartje de Boer lived a long, rich and happy life.

I have used him here to scale a new table I built for a young tattoo artist – Ellen Morris who has designed something for me in the spirit of ‘a fair exchange is no robbery’. Here is her design

Image

 

A table for a frog:

Image

 

The coffee table is about 4.5 feet long and has a Zebrano top fixed to an oak trestle. I found the top board in a saw mill in Yorkshire and I thought it would look good in Ellen’s shop – the wood looks as though it has been tattooed.

Image

 

 

Zebra wood comes from Nigeria – my birth place. It is a threatened species – this piece was certified by the Rainforest Alliance as part of a programme to promote harmonious sustainable timber harvesting. The oak is from Forestry Commission sustainable sources. Finished in Danish oil and bee’s wax, the table is my own design. Frogs too are in decline globally – they are particularly sensitive to environmental degradation.

Harmony in design and life cannot be achieved by the veneration of a soapstone figurine, but Fu reminds us of the the need to strive for it. In this age of austerity barter and exchange may carry greater potency than financial transaction. Tables lift us from the ground and raise our spirits, and who can resist a frog?