March 27th 07 ~ The Nous (1)


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My father had ‘the nous’; he could make anything from nothing. This was just as well, as there was very little money around just after the Second World War and Dad was a bricklayer, who brought home around £10 per week. Naturally things were much cheaper then, but £10 pw was still a meagre sum – especially as he was the only breadwinner. Nevertheless the three of us managed on it and still got to the seaside a few times a year – and to Durham Miners Gala, an annual political ‘meet’ of all the local colliery lodges. Each lodge would parade, behind their banner and brass-band, into the city; across Elvet Bridge and onto the Racecourse. There they all collected whilst the leaders of the local and National Labour Parties, gave uplifting, fighting and bright new day speeches. The ten year old ‘me’ had little interest in speeches; although I remember seeing Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, amongst other more distant political figures, on the balcony of the Royal County Hotel in Old Elvet, waving at the marching colliers and their families.
As often happened in those days, my father had followed his father’s trade as a bricklayer, apart from a brief spell as a pit-boy in one of the local coal-mines. Dad could turn his hands to anything; carpentry, metalwork, gardening, upholstery, and toy-making - in short anything that required manual skill and dexterity and a sprinkling of nous, was part of his kingdom.

Jesus was a carpenter “tables chairs and oaken chests, would have suited Jesus best. He’d have caused no body harm… one alarm”, so sings Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, no doubt jealous and afraid of Jesus’ influence and refusal to know his ‘place’ in life.

Dad knew and respected his ‘place’; the second eldest of four sisters and two brothers: Ruth, (Harry-my Dad), younger brother Harold, Ada, Florrie, Esther and Lily; my father knew he was to be the ‘breadwinner’ of the family. At the end of each week, he would bring his pay packet home unopened to give to his ‘Ma’, whose place in turn was to balance the family accounts. In those days, each family unit was a factory-like business enterprise; the eldest daughter would be ‘mother’ to the new offspring of ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’ and the sons in turn would become the breadwinners. Naturally, given the mutual interdependence of each family member, marriage was taken most seriously. An unsuitable choice of outsider could possibly threaten the family structure and stability. My mother was considered a ‘flighty’ piece of work (she was) and that she would no doubt, lead my father astray (she didn’t – she freed him) Just after they married, my father brought his wage-packet home, unopened and presented it to her. My mother simply handed it back to him and asked for her housekeeping…


The love of Mary Magdalene for Jesus is well documented in the bible, but the Gnostic gospels give a more physical, earthly side to their love, which has caused much controversy and speculation recently, especially with the release and subsequent commercial success of the Da Vinci Code. Whatever the reality of their relationship however, the empathy between them is evident.

In the beautiful translation, by Jean-Yves Leloup, of the Gnostic Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Mary receives a vision of the resurrected Jesus:

Then I said to him: “Lord, when someone meets you in a Moment of vision, is it through the soul (psyche) that they see, or is it through the Spirit (Pneuma)?”

Jesus answers Mary: “It is neither through the soul nor the spirit, but the nous between the two which sees the vision…”



Due to the lack of money, Dad made most of my early toys; when I became a teenager, he made my first record cabinet, which still stands in my middle room, together with the ‘50’s Dancette record player he made it for. Not only that, he repaired dinner knives that today would be thrown out without a second thought; dinner knives I still use, half a century later. The kitchen cabinet he made for my mother stands in my kitchen and even now I find hard to believe it wasn’t bought in a store. Old furniture was re-upholstered, household repairs affected and he even had time to create an allotment out of a wasteland of builder’s rubble behind a local shop, so we could have fresh vegetables for mealtimes.

When I asked Dad how he knew how to make so many things from bits of discarded wood and metal, he would tap his forehead, slightly to one side, just above his right eye. “You’ve got to have the nous”, he’d say.


Photos by soulMerlin – Nous by Dad

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