Tag Archives: marriage

Nemesis

8 Dec

Way back in the 1990’s I taught at Prudhoe High School in the Tyne Valley. Part of my duties were the pastoral care of Year 10. A young man was sent to me by his form tutor who was very concerned for his safety.

He was in distress and had attempted to self harm.

I suggested we have a chat in the school Greenhouse – somewhere one could have a cup of tea or a smoke, get away from the infernal hustle and bustle of a busy High School.

He proceeded to tell me that he found school so unbearable it had driven him to the brink of suicide. I now know what he meant.

I gave him £5 and said “Why don’t you naff off home with this and don’t come back”

“Are you serious?”

Me, ‘Perfectly, I will speak to the Head and tell him it is a matter of Life and Death. I will of course have to inform your parents as this is a Child Protection Matter. But, from the point of view of your health and safety I’d say getting as far away from school as possible is a priority.’

His parents were mightily relieved when I rang, they had been expecting a crisis.

I managed to persuade a few of his teachers to tutor him to his GCES, outside normal school time, which he coped with. He got A’s and an A* in Art – his best subject as you can see from his portrait of me above.

I had given my entire collection of 2000 AD to him (I had read it from the very first issue). When he eventually left to go to college he portrayed me as the alter ego of Nemesis The Warlock. The alien, fire breathing defender of alien life on planet earth against the tyranny of the Establishment.

The irony of the graphic novel is that Nemesis is male in the magazine, battling with the his arch enemy Torquemada. In fact, according to Greek mythology Nemesis is female – the goddess of indignation against and punishment for hubris.

The irony of the portrait above is that in my role as a pastoral teacher, and young dad, I was very in touch with my feminine, protective side. I think the portrait is very perceptive. It illustrates a divine alchemical principle – that of duality.

We all have a bit of yin in us if we are biologically male, and those of us who are biologically female will have some yang. Some of us have more of the opposite polarity at times than the one we were assigned to by genetics. This does not matter as long as the polar opposites balance. This is the key to happy relations regardless of sexuality, age, creed, or skin tone.

I believe that in my first marriage, my Yin was stronger than my Yang. During my childhood I had been well trained by a very strong woman, my mother, to appease, protect and be biddable. I still have to fight this urge when confronted with a harpy.

In my second marriage I have found someone who is my absolute polar opposite, she is the Yin to my Yang. Thanks to the artist, I understand myself a little better and what i need – this is what good artists do.

yinyang duality

 

Jazz

5 Jul

One of the greatest guitar players of all time, Django Reinhardt suffered crippling injuries to his left hand when he was badly burned in a fire. His third and fourth fingers were paralysed. Undeterred he reworked his entire repertoire adapting chordal changes and barre fret work to suit his strong, index and middle fingers – inventing an entirely new jazz technique. He co-founded the Quintette du Hot Club with the violinist Stéphane Grappelli. His beautiful jazz recordings grace my studio from time to time.

wgreinhardt

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”. Way back in 1998 I had been happily married for 16 years to a woman I had met and fell in love with at Manchester University where we studied Zoology together. We raised a lovely daughter, Polly, and over many years shared everything. My wife retrained as a Physiotherapist during the time our daughter was born, whilst I made a living as a postdoctoral scientist. Both of us were musical, but my wife had a real gift for playing the violin, so when my beloved maternal grandmother, Hartje de Boer, passed away I commissioned a fiddle by a master luthier, with her bequest. He made made an exact copy of a famous Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri violin.

Guarnerius violin

 

It was a concrete way to honour both my grandmother’s voice and my first wife’s talent. It was so accurate that he wanted to distress it to look like an original – I said I wanted it to look as it was, spanking new. The back of the violin was carved from a single piece of Bosnian flame maple over 300 years old. The instrument was and still is a masterpiece. It should be, it cost the equivalent of a small saloon car at the time.

I can hear my grandmother saying “Je bent gek jongen!” – ‘you are crazy boy!’ at my profligate largesse with her money. I did not know it at the time, but this is a typical, impulsive symptom of manic depression.

Here is my Oma chatting with my Dad in Den Haag, way back in 1957 before I was born.

David and Hartje 1957

My wife took to practising the violin for up to three or four hours a night, and by this time I was teaching science in secondary school, so was too dog tired at the end of the day to be bothered. She developed a very sound blue-grass double stopping technique and added a huge folk repertoire. Living in Newcastle she was soon in demand with a number of folk groups.

Whilst I played guitar, I did not have the dedication or discipline required to accompany her playing, and besides, I couldn’t really be bothered with the ‘folk scene’. I prefer the guitar playing of Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake and John Martyn to be honest. Nevertheless, like the naive fool that I was I continued to encourage her to follow her ambition to become a semi-professional musician.

Around the time of my 40th birthday I discovered that she had been ‘fiddling around’, or in slightly politer parlance, having an affair with a band member. For quite a while as it happened. The double irony here is that my ex, an accomplished fiddle player and jazz saxophonist had left me for an accomplished guitarist. Joining the ‘Not so Hot Club’.

I’d got burned.

I continued to function, teaching Biology by day at the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle upon Tyne, and providing for my daughter, but the very foundations of my existence had been destroyed. I had put all my love, faith and energy into the marriage, only to discover it was broken. Coming from a ‘broken home’ as it was called in the 1960’s – my mum brought my brother and I up single handed – I took the failure of the marriage hard. Weirdly, I did not blame my wife for her wandering eye, I felt it was my fault – I had probably become rather boring as a husband. This was the start of truly suicidal depressions, and eventually, several attempts at suicide back in 2000. At this time I started seeing a psychiatrist – who prescribed antidepressants, having erroneously diagnosed ‘chronic depression’.

It was a good while before I was able to see things more clearly, to develop a new mind set. In fact I had to lose the one I had relied on for 40 years before I could develop a new style of playing. I had some help, of course, from a brilliant Psychiatrist called Dr Zaman, who diagnosed BiPolar Type II depression (“A classic case Henk”… I like the classic cases) when I was sectioned, Lithium carbonate (Priadel) – which I continue to take to the possible detriment of my thyroid, kidneys and liver and the definite reduction in desire to play the guitar (hooray!), and thirdly, but most assuredly not lastly, to my loving wife, dangerous and irresponsible henchwoman, and very funny Tea Lady – Clare Littlewood.

My personal Holy Trinity – a good shrink, suitable meds (taken as a sacrament, whatever the physiological cost) and the heart of a good woman.

Studio Jazz

I may have lost some of the ‘digital’ capacity of my brain by going through the fire of mental illness and loss, but I have gained the facility to play my own personal jazz.

Footnote:

The Luthier had, rather spookily, placed an aphorism on his label inside the Guarnerius style violin he had made for my first wife which reads “As the fiddler tunes, so you shall know her tune”. Quod est demonstrandum.

 

 

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Handfasting

31 Aug

Handfasting

I was privileged to be asked to provide some of the backdrop to the handfasting of a lovely couple Sadie and Steve today deep in the forest of Cannock Chase. All the timber used has important Celtic and Pagan resonances.

The entrance arch to the sacred grove was held by the bridesmaids. Made from Hazel – representing magic and healing – rods were twisted together, steam bent and held fast with bast (inner bark) – a tough hand made cordage taken from Elm. Elm is scared to the Earth Mother and in Celtic Lore is meant to add stability and grounding. The red berries are from Rowan, the tiny scars in the berry ends are five pointed and are said to represent a pentagram, and the misty lavender flowers are from the first flush of Heather – a traditional symbol of good fortune and an apt decoration for a faery portal.

entering the sacred grove

Here Steve and Sadie enter the grove surrounded by the circle of their family and friends…..who arrived in this enchanted chariot;

wedding party

Bob

The couple were greeted by Bob, the master of ceremonies and organiser of this Woodland Wedding who commissioned me to make the arch he stands under. Oak and Rhododendron made in the shape of two keels (or whale jaw bones) with Bob’s company sigil in ash continuing the pagan theme and creating a space to conduct the ceremony.

Traditionally a Handfasting is a betrothal between two lovers for a year and a day, after which the couple can decide to part or stay together. It has its origins in ancient Norse – handfesta  means to strike a bargain by joining hands. Modern Pagan or Wiccan practises follow this ancient tradition of joining the hands of the couple and binding them with a ritual cord or ribbon and ‘tying the knot’.

Handfasting

For me the best thing about the whole event was the way two people came to together with Bob Worm’s help to create their own magical space and declare their betrothal in the late summer sunshine, observed  by those who love them most dearly – nieces and nephews, children and grandchildren.

bridesmaids

It is never to late to find love.

Hafting

25 Aug

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Hafting is the process of attaching a handle to an edged, or swinging tool to make it more useful – the handle simply allows greater leverage on the blade and delivers force to the business end. I hafted this Sashimi knife as a gift for a lovely couple – Urmila Roy and John Craggs –  who married yesterday in a lovely Roman Catholic church. Today the marry again to honour Urmila’s Hindu traditions.

confetti

 

Just as a simple wooden handle makes a blade useful, so a marriage creates an entity greater than the sum of the two parts, the one providing a fulcrum for the ambitions and dreams of the other. Catholic and Hindu, musician and doctor – annealed.

The wooden furniture including the box and Bangladeshi ‘U” for Urmila sprung from my hands, but, the blade was created by a Japanese master blade smith from fine Damascus steel. The design is a ‘Santoku’ designed to slice raw fish or meat very cleanly, the indentations or ‘Tsuchime’ prevent the meat from clinging to the blade during slicing. It worked fine on their wedding cake.

I make no claim to manufacturing the whole artefact – I am no blade smith unlike my gifted friend Will Ferraby, as my contribution is only a little wood, but I do claim to add utility through union – to give purchase for the hand.

The name Urmila means ‘enchantress’ and John meaning ‘of God’s grace (after Saint John the Baptist) in marrying each other  they have created gracious enchantment – a noble hafting. A toast to their union!