Tag Archives: temper

Thunder

20 Nov

At the age of 11  I made a set square under the guidance of my favourite teacher Mr Paulson.

Mr Paulson taught woodwork and technical drawing. A man of few words, he never gave an ‘A’, even for good work.

“There is no such thing as perfection, Henk”.

After I had made a right angle between two pieces of planed, sanded and shaped hardwood, I was awarded a pair of metal clips and a drawing board.

I took my prize home and produced a projection drawing for my first carpentry joint. I got an A minus.

At this time of year Yorkshire Artspace, my current landlord, throws open its doors and encourages the public to see artists in their natural habitat.

It is popular with Sheffielders, but not with me – it makes ‘thunder in my head’ – as the Dutch would say. I become a donderstral (a thunder beam). In English – I get a bit cross.

Questions such as:

“Oh, what do you do?”

“Did you make that”

“Do you go to Stannington woodwork class?”

HL …..’why, do you think I need to?’

Invite my mother’s cold sarcasm, whilst my Dads response would have been silent – more like this:

‘Ear all, see all, say nowt;
Eat all, sup all, pay nowt;’

Well one Sheffield man came in to the studio on Sunday, picked up my ancient set square examined it and said:

“Tha’ hasn’t dressed the screws lad”

….meaning I had not lined up the slots on the screw heads.

I laughed! It is exactly what my father would have said. My visitor introduced himself as Dean Murdoch, Joiner (my father’s trade).

Thunder

In Norse mythology, the God of thunder, Thor, has a powerful weapon – a short handled hammer called Mjölnir. The set square looks a bit like a Thor’s amulet.

The name means ‘grinder’, like the action of a mill stone.

In old Saxon England Thor was known as Thunar, from which we derive the word ‘thunder’.

When Thor threw his hammer, it always returned to him – it could level mountains.

My dad’s mordant sense of humour, like Dean’s could grind on you or, if you understand it, really lift you up.

Temper is a funny thing, without it a blade will not retain its sharp edge.

Blades are improved by good temper: the process by which a hot, forged piece of steel or iron is plunged into a liquid, such as oil or water and suddenly cooled. If done right it makes the cutting edge very hard. Much of the art of traditional knife makers is tested at this moment of truth.

This blade by Simon Maillet is tempered in water, and really hard so it keeps its edge.

It is the same with people. We speak of ‘losing our temper’ or having a ‘keen mind’. If our sense of self is stressed or disturbed we can lose our temper.

My father spent his whole life tempering his anger. He quenched his fire with a keen Yorkshire wit. I learned how to control my temper through his example, he kind of ‘ground me down’ with drollery.

Humour is more powerful than any hammer.

Mr Murdoch ignored the fact that my name had been deliberately scratched out by someone.

His ability to hone in on the important details has been passed on to his daughter, the ceramicist Carla Murdoch, who gave me two bowls fired with some of my oak chips. Oak being sacred to Thor.

Many years ago, I lost track of the set square and only when my mother died did it resurface.

When I saw who had scratched my name out, I understood her reason.

Clare, my wife said “Well he was just a boy when he did it, why don’t you just hang it on the wall as your Hammer of Thor”

There’s lovely!

For Dean Murdoch, Joiner and other sharp blades.

HL 20. 11.19

Scheherazade

8 Nov

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I have always been a sucker for a good story. I like telling them and I love listening to them, so, as a little boy I looked forward to bed time because that was when our Mam would read to my brother Tim and I.

Reading Winnie the Pooh, my mother would use different voices to characterise each of the animals. Her pompous Owl, and miserable Eeyore always made me cry laughing. She read us Hans Christian Anderson and, best of all, Tales from the Arabian Nights.

Much later when I had a daughter (Polly) of my own I was able to read to her.

In time, and from an early age, her main preoccupation was to spend almost every waking hour with her nose shoved into a book – to the extent that her mum and I made her a bed that was tall enough for her to construct a reading den, complete with light and curtains underneath. Polly’s Nan also refurbished the airing cupboard in her house with cushions and a lamp, so that she could hide in a cubby hole and read.

Polly now has her own little bookworm to inspire.

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Scheherazade and the Tales of the Arabian Nights

The story goes that long ago a Persian King – Shahryar – had developed the custom of marrying a beautiful princess, spending the night with her, then having the princess beheaded in the morning in order to be sure she retained her faithfulness and virtue.

The grand Vizier’s daughter, Scheherazade, offered to spend a night with the King – against everyone’s advice. Scheherazade asked the King if she may bid farewell to her sister Dunyazade.

The first night, Sheherezade told an enchanting story, spinning it out until the dawn. She left the story unfinished. The birth of Soap, I suspect. The King, eager to hear the ending spared her life for a day and in the evening Sheherezade completed the tale and started a new one with the covert help of her sister Dunyazade. Again and again for 1001 nights, Scheherazade spun her tales until the King fell in love with her and forgot his idiotic paranoid obsessions about female virtue.

Centuries of years later I could be entranced by Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves.

Imagination needs stimulation, unfortunately my imagination occasionally needs a metaphorical cold shower, because it can be a bit hyperactive. Whilst I adore flights of fancy, it is hard reality which keeps me sane.

Fortunately I have my own Sheherezade.

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The other day I was offered the chance of a very interesting commission from a respected client. It was open ended – the design could either be useful, or a purely artistic/decorative object. I came up with a couple of ideas: a new headboard for the master bedroom or a carved salad bowl as a centrepiece for the dining table and ran them enthusiastically past my wife.

Clare “Headboard, or bowl. Headboard…….bowl….” and to underline her point “The client doesn’t like salad.”

It was like being hit by a bucket of ice cold water.

It had the effect of galvanising my thinking and I was able to then generate four entirely better, and, hopefully more creative ideas.

I bow to Cat Stevens and Scheherazade:

The virtues of a good woman are ability to spin a yarn, apply a bucket of ice water and to be hard headed. These qualities give good temper in my experience.