Tag Archives: love

Bagatelle

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.’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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

Plum

16 Jul

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Seen through the eyes of a child kites are wishes on a string. This picture made me think about how insignificant I have seemed. I will be 60 soon and it is time to take stock.

“We are nothing but a fart in eternity” my mother used to say.

Just this weekend my neice, Wren (above) and nephew, Cole played host, supported by their parents Anna and Nathan Littlewood and Nanna, Mollie Littlewood. They had arranged a family get together in their new home near Bristol.

As a result, I enjoyed one of my best extra birthday parties ever.

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We enjoyed a tasty barbecue made by The Dad (Nathan), lovely food and drink provided by The Mum (Anna), followed by pass the parcel and dancing statues, kite flying, colouring in and driving Cole and Wren around in Bertha (the Hilux) plus lots of easy chats, swapping news, sharing views.

Here Aunty Clare is baking cakes with Wren and Cole.

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It got me thinking about my father, David Stuart Littlewood, the founding father of our little clan, his singular achievements and his legacy.

A couple of years ago I asked him what he wanted for his birthday and he said,

“To wake up son”. Sadly he will not be waking up any more.

Both my parents have passed away now and it reminds me of what my wife said when both her parents passed in the same year:

“I’m an orphan now!”. I laughed, insensitively, and said “Don’t be ridiculous!”

I’m not laughing now. Sorry, Clare.

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In 2000 after suffering years of crippling, cyclical depression I almost succeeded in throwing in the towel, predeceasing my parents.

Six months later, after regular visits to a psychiatrist and copious intake of Lophepramine (a powerful tricyclic antidepressant) I was alive, though I could barely function.

My father said “I’d like you to paint me a picture, for Christmas son”.

The picture above is the result. Nathan returned it to me yesterday. I called it ‘Bonsai replanted’ and copied a Haiku by Basho on the reverse:

Even a Black Bull

Will sing a song of Spring

Under this flowering Plum Tree

In my picture the moon is waning, and one can’t be sure whether the tree is alive or not. One of the hills looks like a tidal wave is rolling in. The only redeeming feature is that Orion is prominently represented in white chalk dots (I always think of Dad when I see Orion, The Hunter). Dad kept it alongside a portrait of The Golden Gate Bridge by Simon, our youngest brother. I understand it had a spell in Australia with Nathan and his family.

I never realised until I grew up how much I was loved.

 

We, under Orion

Sing and dance and Love

So many flowering Plums

 

For my Family

x HL 16.07.2018

 

 

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.

Analogue

26 Jun

I still prefer to listen to a Long Playing record when I am working in my studio. I delivered this piece to a valued client who had commissioned it as a birthday present for her beloved. She made him close his eyes as I brought it in to their lounge. His reaction of eye-popping delight was the best pay back made my day. He said “Oh wow! Oh wow! You made this for me? Oh wow!” My lovely, generous client had also pyro-graphed some pithy quotes from his favourite songs onto the cabinet in my studio. She had a hand in making the piece.

Love is an analogue. It is not a digital experience.

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What I mean by this is that true love follows a fiery arc, like the legendary Bifrost rainbow, carrying souls on to their destiny (or Valahalla in my case, axe in hand). One cannot partition affection, it burns continuously with passion or not at all.

LPs are cool in the workshop because I can have a breather every 15 or 20 minutes for a faff, or a think, a reappraisal, a sweep up, or to imagine the location of a lost tool. The sound quality is way better than a CD, which are, admittedly more convenient and less susceptible to fine particles of sawdust! I am unashamedly retro too.

The piece is made in olive ash and Sapele, with through dovetails connecting the shelves and plinth to the sides. My client gave me a very precise brief and a good little sketch to work from. I let the timber express itself in the final design by retaining some of the waney edges.

Analogue:
Adjective/
relating to or using signals or information represented by a continuously variable physical quantity such as spatial position, voltage, etc.
“analogue signals”

Or
Noun/
a person or thing seen as comparable to another.
“an interior analogue of the exterior world”

“Like” in other words. I’m pretty sure, my clients partner likes his birthday present and the like extends to love.

Analogue folks … Like the tides it comes and goes. Like the best love, it flows continuously.

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Profumo di Donna (Scent of a Woman)

13 Feb

Profumo di Donna (Scent of a Woman)

In the original 1974 film directed by Dino Risi, a blind army Italian captain, accompanied by his aide Ciccio, is on his way from Turin to Naples to meet with an old comrade who was disfigured in combat. Unknown to Ciccio, the Captain means to fulfill a suicide pact there. While they journey, the Captain asks Ciccio to help him spot beautiful women. Unsatisfied with the boy’s descriptions, he uses his nose instead, claiming that he can smell a beautiful woman. The film was remade in 1992 starring Al Pacino and the story is about growing up and a man’s true appreciation of the beauty of women – even, and especially in the face of despair.

On my travels I found an interesting piece of waney edged elm at a timber suppliers in North Yorkshire. Cut from the edge of a large stem, I was struck by the figuring. Not knowing what I was going to use it for I set it aside in my studio for a rainy day.

As it happens, my wife, Clare has been renovating a small retail unit in Sheffield with me, to open this weekend as ‘Tea with Percie’. A cosy, tea room, furnished with hand made furniture, lovely decor and serving fine leaf teas in a proper pot, with hot water on the side. Clare bakes a mean cake or three, and will also be serving sandwiches and light lunches to anyone who would like to sit down and relax. The shop is at 557 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, S7 1TA.

The is her logo (drawn by our niece, Percie Littlewood, who lives in San Francisco)

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Anyway, I digress, Clare needed more seats for her shop and so I decided to make her a Valentine’s gift of a bench. As I planed and thicknessed the elm board I was struck by the figuring and with a pencil, sketched the outline you see below straight onto the board using the waney edge as a guide. I cut it in one single continuous movement with a jig-saw.

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With the remainder of the elm and a slice of ash, I finished this trestle bench in the nick of time, Tea with Percie opens Monday 17th February!

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The reaction of some of my artist neighbours and the excellent Yorkshire Artspace staff at Exchange Street Studios, to Clare’s bench, has been one of hilarity and joy – which is exactly the feeling I had when the shape emerged beneath my hand.

As in the film, I have been as near to despair as The Captain and very nearly terminated my relationship with this world. Suicide is not an easy word for me – I much prefer ‘scent’ these days.  Were it not for the scent of a good woman I would not be here..

Women are the touchstones in my life – they have inspired great turmoil, despair, love, creativity and great happiness.

For me inpiration, is breathing. Inhale the scent of a woman – mine brings top notes of mischief, mid-tones of hard-nosed common sense and bottom notes of inextinguishable laughter. She is heaven’ scent.

What makes a man?

28 Dec

I was talking with a young man recently and he suggested that “Present times are much better now than they have ever been”. I asked him whether high youth unemployment in this country, widespread civil war in the Middle East, and Global Warming constituted ‘better times’. He had no cogent answer. Thirty years ago I would have called him an idiot and scorned his naivety. Now I am a little gentler.

It got me thinking about what qualities make a man. Is it strength, or bravery? Is it wit and wisdom? Can we become men by emulating our fathers or our heroes?

Here I am in 1959 with my dad outside my grandmother’s flat in Den Haag, Holland. Whilst the pants are hilarious the picture is a nice illustration of my dad demonstrating manhood. Let’s face it you have to have some bottle hanging out with a kid dressed in a preposterous set of bloomers like these.

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I look happy enough though!

Many many years later, the same man put his hand on my knee in the locked ward of a Psychiatric Hospital and said “Steady on son”. It was one of the few things that got through the serious manic episode I endured back in September 2001. In the 50 plus years that have passed since he played with me as an infant to now he has fathered three other sons and a daughter.

Those sons have each produced children:

The youngest, has recently become a dad for the second time to a daughter:

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The next eldest has also become a dad to a daughter Down Under:

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The next, has two lovely children – here he is with his eldest, a daughter

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and here I am giving mine away…

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We all share more than genes with him….

Which brings me back to my question ‘what makes a man’? I think that those we love unconditionally make us men. Not strength or bravery, wit or wisdom. My dad loved me in the depths of a serious mental illness and helped to pull me out, he didn’t just play ball. My brothers are fine fathers all, they love their children unconditionally, may they reach out as he has done.

I am not arguing that a bloke has to become a father to attain manhood, lots of men have fatherly qualities. But not many young ones.

I remember when my daughter was born. I was 24 years old sitting in a cafe with her in a sling on a sunny autumn day at a busy cafe in Manchester. I was wearing a crisp white shirt and new jeans, as proud as a peacock. A couple of tables away a father of three children was observing us. All of a sudden, my infant daughter produced a gigantic poop which oozed out of the front of her terry nappy, all over my shirt. The bloke caught my eye and just nodded sagely.

That knowing ability to put up with crap, like the proposition that was put to me the other day, and not react to provocation is a the true mark of a man. May I endeavour to cleave to this precept.