Tag Archives: Nigeria

Chip

13 May

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David Stuart Littlewood was born in Huddersfield on March 21st 1930. He went to the Technical college at 14 to learn joinery, brick laying and draughtsmanship. His dad Arthur Littlewood enquired at the Co-op if they needed apprentices, they did and set David on at the age of 16. His mum Annie Littlewood nee Wild (from Waterford, Ireland) said “You be a carpenter lad, if it’s good enough for the Son of God, it’s good enough for you”.

Dad learned how to make everything from a coffin to a sash window, serving his apprenticeship for 5 years, then becoming a journeyman at 21. At the age of 26 Dad saw an advertisement placed by ‘Crown Agents’ in the local newspaper for tradesmen needed to teach building skills to local people in Nigeria for the British Government. John Longley, his best mate, encouraged him to apply.

When Dad eventually arrived in Lagos, Nigeria via steamer from Liverpool, thence train overland thousands of miles north to Kano on his 26th birthday in 1956 he discovered a dirty patch of earth. Enquiring of the local Chief as to where he was going to teach he was told “Right here, you build the college here”. So he did. He also met a very bonny Adrianna van de Poll, a Dutch air hostess with KLM. It turned out they both liked to rip it up on the dance floor. And that is how I came to be born in Kano in 1958.

There is an old French Carpenter’s saying that time is never wasted sharpening chisels. Here he is today at 84 in my workshop grinding his old chisels back and re-sharpening them on my old oilstone. “Excellent oilstone this son! You keep it really flat and true!” I hadn’t the heart to tell him that he had given it to me over 30 years ago along with many of his own tools when I was learning. I am a chip off the old block, having followed in his footsteps and the movements of his hands on the same oilstone.

Here is another chip off the same block, my brother Simon in San Francisco, pictured with his lovely daughter Percie. Simon is a carpenter too. 20140513-172059.jpg

We named our Tea Shop after our niece

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…but we don’t serve chips here, only fine leaf tea in proper china pots on hand made tables, come and join us if you are passing 557 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield S1 7TA, England.

 

Harmony

4 Sep

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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

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A table for a frog:

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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.

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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?