Tag Archives: women

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

 

Gaia

13 Jun

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photo credit: Alan Howden

Gaia was the name the ancient Greeks gave to the elemental Goddess of the Earth. She was the mother of Kronos – the God of Time. In 1979 the name was appropriated by the polymath James Lovelock to describe his novel idea that Earth herself behaved like a ‘living’ organism – capable of regulating her own climate through gross perturbation: Gaia, a new look at life on Earth.

In 1979 I was a final year student of Zoology – I thought James Lovelock’s book was sensational. The idea that the Earth’s biota (all living organisms on the planet), the chemistry of inorganic cycles and the physics of the atmosphere all powered by the sun, could form part of a gigantic coherent negative feedback system simply blew my mind.

Negative feedback, the basis of biology and life-chemistry expanded to encompass Earth.

We humans live within a constantly changing environment. Night and day,  cold and heat, moisture and dryness, from pole to pole through temperate climes to the tropics all these geographical locations exert significant physical changes on the organisms that live there. Vertebrate animals – particularly mammals, have developed efficient ways of regulating their internal environment to maintain the best working conditions for the proteins within their cells. Proteins – enzymes and structural molecules – require very narrow parameters of temperature, salt concentration, pH and so on to work at all, otherwise they become ‘denatured‘ (permanently damaged).

We call this cellular ‘fighting back against change’ Homeostasis:

“the maintenance of metabolic equilibrium within an animal by tendency to compensate for disrupting changes”

In March this year, with the help of Yorkshire Artspace I was given permission to set up my oak Ruskin Sculpture on the roof of Persistence Works in Sheffield. To organise an artistic event with contemporary dancer, Simone Thompson. There was no script and no direction, just a few creative humans having an open dialogue around a strange structure on a roof top. Simone brought her own music to dance to:

I’d seen Simone perform at a street fayre in Sheffield in 2015 with her students and was struck by the energy and vitality she drew from her young students and her own wild, eclectic performance when she treated us too her own extemporised dance.

I guess I wanted to create a living substrate – in equilibrium – that would allow us to create something that was dynamic, rooted in the environment and a celebrating of life.

To live in harmony with the Earth and with each other is the single greatest challenge of our age. If we don’t we will perish.

“Nature favours those organisms which leave the environment in better shape for their progeny to survive. James Lovelock”

Tide

15 Nov

Sitting on the beach at Linda Mar, Pacifica, California watching my neice dig a hole in the fine sand with my wife, her mum turning cartwheels, her baby sister sleeping by me – I witnessed a rare conjunction.

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I have seen such a marine symphony only once before when my daughter was young. She and her mum (my first wife) and I had cycled along the coast of Northumberland camping along the way. One August eve, after supper on an open fire at Goswick sands, my daughter and her mum ran through the surf. The water was laden with Noctiluca and their shins and knees splashed ice blue phosphorescent fire under a starlit sky, unveiled in deep purple as the sun dipped blood red below the horizon. I was spellbound with the sheer beauty of the scene.

At Linda Mar my four women; two nieces, sister-in-law and wife animated a vibrant landscape with their own potency. Soft and strong, clever and loving, witty and warm, Littlewoods all.

The resonance with my early fatherhood was powerful, but it was the peace in me which their activity and conversation created, which moved me the most.

I have always preferred analogue to digital, tidal to linear flow – like breathing in and out, thoughts come and go. So when you can actually still your mind sufficiently to slow your racing thoughts – at the apogee of inspiration or the final moment of expiration, only then can you finally allow your true purpose to surface.

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Care for the women for they bring you laughter, sustenance and the best reason to live.

Daughters

24 May

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This is my daughter, Polly. Once a year we try to get together and do something neither of us has done before and meet on unbroken ground. We discovered that this was a marvellous way to share a bit of time together without the tedious dynamics of parent and child, because in the situations we choose we are both kids again. Sure, I am the dad and may be called upon to give what P calls ‘dadly’ advice – a delicate technique involving listening carefully (not my strong suit) and delivering wisdom (saying the right thing), which is bloody tricky. Yes, P is the daughter, but at 30 years of age is an experienced and successful business woman in her own right, so she provides the good humour.

I have come to the conclusion that, for me the most attractive quality in daughters is their ability to make us love and laugh.

This one is an absolute genius at it:

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Here is my wife, Clare, taking the piss out of me collecting a hazel rod, which I had cut to make a walking sticks …. “I’m Gandalf!”

Her wit literally saved my life 13 years ago at a time when I was experiencing depression – in a park in Barcelona this acutely shy woman perfumed her ‘Special Ballet’ – just for me – to bring me out from a very dark place. It worked then, I am a sucker for physical comedy, and it works now.

She is of course a daughter too, the youngest of four children from a working class Welsh family, brought up in an atmosphere which promoted earning a decent wage above all else (from the age of 14 in Clare’s case) and limited ambition. Barren ground for a fierce intellect.

Clare’s favourite ‘daughter’ is her niece Percie:

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Percie lives in California, here she is explaining to me that “It’s not SUMS Uncle Henk, it’s MATH” ….and making me laugh, a fine quality. Her other Aunt, Anna is no longer with us. I commemorated Anna in the blog ‘In Memoriam’. Here she is chatting up a handsome friend, using her wit to his advantage.

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This daughter burned very brightly and she is still greatly loved.

I’m going to give my daughter away in August, when she gets married. A very odd concept, since she was never really mine to give, but I will try to do it with the same dignity as Fred seen here with his daughter, Whitney (Percie’s mum) to my youngest brother Simon.

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Whitney was a stunningly beautiful bride on the day, but Fred was the class act. He managed, during his speech, to argue that because his family was descended from the Pilgrim Fathers, and had left Plymouth all those years ago, that Simon (who grew up in Devon) was actually marrying the girl next door. In this way he cemented the bond between two families in a laid back, unruffled way and allowed his daughter to be her lovely self.

If I can emulate this in August I will have honoured my daughter. For she, and all the daughters I have known give us life.