Tag Archives: mother

Tadpoles

17 May

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I have just finished and delivered an unusual little cabinet to a client today. I made it from a truly spectacular piece of locally sourced sycamore.

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Polite people have said “Wow, tadpoles!” when they have seen the unique figuring in the top and second shelf. What created this beautiful pattern is a mystery, but I purchased the board (and several others from the same tree) some time ago hoping that one day I would find a special client with an adventurous and humorous imagination. The reaction of pure delight when I delivered the piece to her today, was brilliant.

This amazing timber makes me think about fertility and metamorphosis.

Remember the first time you found a great dollop of frogspawn in a pond in early Spring? Taking some magical jelly home in a jam jar and watching tadpoles hatch in a fish tank? Eventually the  many tiny froglets undergo a spectacular transformation from egg to tadpole to adult frog. Metamorphosing from a swimming, fish-like body plan suitable for chasing plankton and algae, into an amphibious, four legged, air breathing adult with a sticky projectile tongue suitable for catching dragon flies. Two careers in one life so to speak.

Not many tadpoles survive to adulthood. Most die of disease, starvation, predation, some even cannibalised by their pond mates. Fertility is Life’s answer to Nature’s harsh selection pressures.

“The Sea of Fertility” was Yukio Mishima’s final epic four part novel, finished in 1970. He is recognised as one of the foremost novelists of the 20th Century, and this beautiful novel charts the life of one Shigekuni Honda, who follows successive reincarnations following the untimely death of an old school friend. In four successive books Honda recognises the soul of his friend, and in each story he tries to save the central character. Each time Honda fails in his quest, and each time the soul has metamorphosed in a new and very different character. It is a lovely metaphor for the struggle for life we are all bound by.

Yukio Mishima was nominated for the Nobel Prize on numerous occasions, but never achieved the accolade. He had his critics: “The outstanding weakness of this, the final novelistic effort of Mishima Yukio—and indeed the major failing of the bulk of his work—is its striking inability to rise above the emotional and intellectual limitations of its author.” Marleigh Ryan, “The Mishima Tetralogy,” Journal of Japanese Studies 1.1 (Autumn 1974): 165–173.

To my mind this is like criticising a frog for not remaining true to it’s tadpole origins. Mishima would have quite literally have had to have changed into an entirely different person to have answered the critic’s barb. After submitting the final manuscript Mishima infamously committed ritual suicide or ‘seppuku’ – the final metamorphosis of a tortured soul who, in the end was prepared to put his life on the line.

Our own true nature springs from a fertile inner sea of emotions and dreams – those powerful engines of creativity, and when we find a tadpole in a sycamore tree we glimpse an eternal truth in the heartwood of reality. As Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favours only the prepared mind”, or to quote my mother; “Let’s look for treasure”.

Touch

21 Jan

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There is nothing quite as empowering as having a beautiful woman slip her arm into yours whilst going for a stroll in the park.

My daughter Polly is named after her grandmother, Adriana Van de Poll. It was mam’s nickname when she served as an air hostess in the 1950’s with KLM.

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Mam passed away on the 7th of January 2015, aged 83. She had led a most eventful, some might say remarkable life.

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Like the Lockheed Super Constellation she flew in with her glamorous crew in the 1950’s, she was an elegant, long distance flier.

I can tell you the facts. Mam was born in Leiden, Holland, to Haartje (nee De Boer) and Cornelius Van de Poll on Valentine’s Day 1931. She grew up in the jungles of Sumatra on a rubber plantation with an older brother, Henk and a younger sister Heleen. Then in 1942, on her eleventh birthday, the Japanese invaded what was then, the Dutch East Indies. Mam became a prisoner of war. She spent four years supplemententing her family’s meagre diet by chopping wood and digging graves in the most appalling conditions. Her dad survived the Burma Railway line, her mam another camp, her brother Henk, torture. After returning to Holland at 15 she had a patchy formal secondary education and eventually graduated to Domestic Science College in her late teens.

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Henk, her brother died aged 19 whilst her parents were abroad. Mam attended to his funeral.

One day in Amsterdam whilst she was at Domestic Science College she was inspired by the sight of a KLM Air Stuardess in uniform, she decided that was the job for her, and spent the next three years as an au pair learning new languages: English in Surrey with a Vicar and his wife, German in a ruined Berlin with a Count, French on a farm with a huge family and a smattering of Italian. She flew long haul flights to Jakarta, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria and, in Lagos, bumped into a Yorkshireman, David Littlewood on the dance floor.

They married in Jos, Nigeria (her given name was ‘Jos’ – a story for another time perhaps) and I was produced on July 22nd in Kano, northern Nigeria in 1958. My brother Tim was born in 1961 in Ghana. Mam and Dad were a popular couple, throwing fantastic parties (like ‘Spend a night in Gaol’, or ‘Launching a new Newspaper’).

Mam came home on leave with Tim and I to a house in Matlock in 1964. Dad stayed in Ghana. She had to bring me back to England for my health – I had contracted cerebral malaria twice, typhoid and rheumatic fever . I would not have survived any longer in the Gold Coast. Dad needed to work and had a very good job with UAC in West Africa. They separated and then divorced.

Mam managed to blag her way into Teacher Training College in Matlock in 1965 having had very little formal education thanks to the Camp. She trained for three years as an Art/Textiles teacher, becoming Head of Textiles at Mortimer Wilson School two years after qualifying supporting Tim and I through school and University.

The last thing Mam said to me as I held her hand was; “Henk, you have to decide what you are going to do, and what you are not going to do”.

It is a sweet irony that in the last years of her life, blind and succumbing to dementia mam sometimes confused me with my dad calling me David. It was in those last, close, intimate moments of her drifting in and out of the world that I realised how deeply she had loved him.

So what I have decided I am ‘going to do’ is this sort of caper:

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What I have decided I am ‘not going to do’, is not bother you, dear reader, or anyone else with trivia. We don’t have enough time – just touch.

Down Under