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The last three words

blake-newtonIf the first three words are “the boys down”, what are the last three words?

Hmm,…

Doesn’t make sense, does it? Yet it’s a question I’m being asked a lot on WordPress these days – ever since I put up my poem “The boys down by the green”. The questions are direct, no preamble, no explanation and have nothing to do with my poem. At times they seem quite abrupt even to the point of rudeness, as if it were my duty to furnish an answer.

I’ve been at a loss really, not only because I do not know the answer, but because I do not even understand the question. My requests of my inquisitors for clarification have yielded at best nought, and at worst only greater confusion. Is it a riddle? Is it a joke? Is it all just a silly misunderstanding?

Anyhow, that phrase, “the last three words” has been tapping on my skull like a woodpecker, and my mischievous little pixie has decided to play with it. She came up with a number of responses, all but one of which I discounted because they were too vulgar to print. Only this one remains, which I thought was rather nice:

So,…

Tell me then,
What are the last three words,
At the ending of the day?
What words are the last three,
That mean more than I can say.

Each night when I go to sleep,
And when the ferryman I face,
Tell me what words, what last three words,
Prove my life was worth the race?

What simple words, what golden words,
Reveal this meaning true?
The last three words? The very last?
Of course,
Are I love you.

Easy really!

This isn’t the answer, to the mysterious “boys down” thing – and if anyone else can help with that I’d be very much obliged. It may just spare me the embarrassment of allowing my pixie free reign in the comments section. ;)

saltire and the jackSo, we’re now just a week away from that referendum in which the Scots will be asked: should Scotland be an Independent country? If the answer comes back “Yes”, the United Kingdom will be consigned to the history books, as will Britain, to say nothing of “Great Britain”. Surely, never has a nation been known by more names than ours? But after next week, I may no longer be British. I will be merely English. The question is, should I feel diminished by that?

The referendum on Independence for Scotland is a consequence of the establishment of its devolved Parliament in 1998, and has been a long stated aim of the Scottish National Party. There was always going to be this debate but, though it’s been a heated one these past twelve months, I suspect there’s also been a complacency among the Westminster elite, a belief that the majority of Scots would prefer to remain a part of the United Kingdom, because anything else is economically, politically and constitutionally unthinkable. I may have thought so too, but as the date for the referendum draws near, opinion polls are suggesting it’s a close run thing, that the nay-sayer’s appeals to “fiscal common sense” are failing to quench a heart-felt nationalist fervour.

Today the leaders of all three UK political parties, all opposed to independence, left their London enclaves to rally the Scots to the pro-union cause, but their efforts have revealed only the yawing gap between the elected, and the electorate. None of have found much sympathy for their sudden outpourings of heartfelt longing that the Union should not be broken. It is as if the political elite have only just decided to look at the map to see where Scotland is. This is not true of course, but it’s a story the Scots are keen to tell as being indicative of how out of touch Westminster is from the rest of the country, and Scotland in particular.

The break -up of the Union is a distinct possibility.

Speaking as an Englishman, I have always felt Scotland was, at heart, a different country. I’ve found its remoter parts to be utterly breathtaking in their beauty, their scale and their romantic desolation, and about as far away from London, and “London-ism” as is imaginable. The further North and West you travel the less likely you are to see the Union Jack, and the more you will find flying in moody isolation, the lone Saltair, the old flag of Saint Andrew. Mind, body and soul, Scotland is Scotland, as England is England but, as an Englishman, should I be concerned by the notion of Scotland becoming, literally, a “foreign” country?

I don’t imagine I will need a passport in order to go there, post independence; I assume there will be some arrangement, as with the Republic of Ireland, whereby the border between nations comprising the British Isles will remain informally transparent. But there will be currency differences, and an inevitable fragmentation of the armed forces. These are serious questions the “yes” campaign has poured scorn upon, while notably avoiding any detailed answers. They are not insignificant matters, impacting as they do upon the security, both militarily and economically, of both England and Scotland. Indeed the implications are immense, but they are not without precedent and are therefore, I’m sure, not insurmountable.

The break away of the Irish Republic from the Union, following the uprising of 1916, was a far more tumultuous affair, born of a violent insurgency whose repercussions are still felt in the continuing rumblings of Irish Nationalism in the North. But even through the height of the troubles, relations with the Irish Republic remained good. Indeed such has been the influx of Irish immigration to England over the years, about one in five English are in a position to claim Irish citizenship – including me. I have never felt the need to do so however; the foreignness of the Irish Republic may be a fact on paper, but I think many of us, both English and Irish disregard it, because there are other bonds, bonds of ancestry and tradition, that are stronger.

Post Independence, I imagine Scotland will be the same, though sadly I have no Scottish ancestors enabling me to claim triple nationality. There is some Welsh in me, but that’s too far back to present a convincing case to the authorities in Cardiff, should Wales also decide to leave us. But at the moment, through my Britishness, I need no such official rubber stamping. My Britishness raises me above the pettiness of national boundaries. It recognises the regional and cultural differences between the home countries, but transcends the limits of mere citizenship, and I think that’s a good thing.

If the world is moving in the right direction, the boundaries between nations should be dissolving, becoming more transparent. A while ago, I travelled to Paris, departed London’s Saint Pancras station and popped up a few hours later at Gare Du Nord. I did not however feel foreign, because as a European man, I carried a European Union Passport, as did the French, the Belgians and the Germans who also rode that train. We were European people going about our business in the cities of Europe.

And in the opposite direction, as well as being English, I am also, regionally, a Lancastrian – and if you want to push the roots of identity to their limit, my accent betrays my birth in the little mining village of Coppull. It is an accent that once had a perfect stranger coming up to me in deepest Wales and claiming kinship. And truly for the ten minutes we conversed, we were brothers, bound by the names of places that were intimately and fondly shared. But we were also British and we were also European. Identity is a flexible thing, expanding and collapsing to suit the moment. To firm up a boundary seems a retrograde step, for in defining the limits of nationality, it narrows also the scope of one’s identity.

When asked their opinion on the matter of Scottish Independence, I think most English will politely demur and say it is a matter for the Scots. Those of us of a romantic bent, aware of the occasionally bad history between us, might even sympathise with the roots of Nationalist fervour. The closer we live to the border – i.e. the further we live from London, the more likely are we to express such sentiments. We don’t teach Anglo-Scottish history in English schools. Consequently my own kids would be hard pressed to know what the battle of Culloden heralded in terms of Scottish identity. Conversely few Scots would struggle for an opinion on it.

As for the official debate aired on the National news, experience tells me the Scots should view it in the same way as all such noisy political debates, believing neither the milk and honey promises of the one side, nor the swivel eyed scare stories of the other. These are merely the ballistic missiles aimed in the short term at influencing opinion, prior to the vote, and mostly they will turn out to be duds after it. My own feeling is, if there is independence it will be a terrible muddle, and it may take a generation to get it ticking along smoothly, but the Irish Republic did not fall into the sea when it broke from the Union, and neither will Scotland.

I think I will feel diminished, post independence, and if I had a vote I’d be minded to vote “no”. But if the Scots say “yes”, I trust the Welsh will stick with us a while longer, and we are, after all, still a nation of some fifty odd million souls, which is no insignificant number. So I will not feel too diminished, nor for too long. The carve up of power and money will be for the politicians and the transnational institutions to squabble over into the small hours of many a coming post independence morn, while for the rest of us, I imagine, life will go on pretty much the same as usual.

 

warrior girlMy dream takes on the sound of the sea and the feeling of a warm night. At some point Rebecca and I have spooned up, and even through my closed eyes, I know her by her heat and by her scent. And keeping my eyes closed I carry with me the impression of dawn breaking, and of waking with her beside me still.

My spirits lift.

It’s enough, and I don’t care where we are now, nor what point in time we have emerged back into an ordinary waking reality, so long as we are together. But the sea is still washing on the shore, a reminder of last night’s dream, also harbinger of the fact I have not truly woken, that I am likely still dreaming. Then someone is touching my arm and I open my eyes to see Emma crouched in the sand, looking tenderly down.

“You’ve been avoiding me,” she says.

I turn to Rebecca but she’s no longer there. She’s waking, somewhere, and I find myself once more alone in the dreaming, with Emma. I’m afraid, because Emma is usually the herald of much strangeness, and I can bear it no more. I want simplicity. Pray God, I want the coherence of a single line in time. I must escape her.

I must!

I cannot force myself awake, and dare not ask it of the dream to take me back in time again, though ironically this seems the easier thing to do if the last occasion is anything to go by. Instead, I do the next best thing, the safer thing; I close my eyes and ask it of the dreaming for a change of scene. But even as I feel the giddiness of the transition, I am aware of Emma’s hand upon my arm; it is therefore no surprise when I open them to find she’s still there.

“You must be wide awake to loosen my grip,” she says. “And you are not for waking yet. You’re so tired of the world and all that’s in it; it’ll be a while longer, I’m afraid. If ever. But what is this, my love? Anyone would think you did not trust me any more.”

I do not like it, the suggestion I may never wake up. I wish she would go easy on me, but that is not her purpose.

We are back in the mythic levels, as we were before, the pair of us seated in Sunday best, upon a cold flat rock by night, facing the lake. I did not ask for this location, and why the dreaming thinks it is important I do not know, other than the fact it is but one step removed from Rebecca and her prayers for deliverance. Is that where she’s gone now? Is she not waking to a fresh dawn somewhere, but still sleeping, like me? And is she still dreaming of delivering the world, through her ministry?

I need the protection of my girls.

They are already disembarking from the skiff; bronze breastplates glinting beneath cloaks of Phoenician purple. They draw swords and fan out cautiously, prepared to do my bidding, but looking all the while hesitant, unsure, as if afraid I would command them injure a vital part of my self. Then Emma’s own entourage emerges from the shadows, all leather Basques and straps, and fishnets and whips, like a comical teen fantasy.

My girls draw swords, Emma’s unfurl their whips.

Emma laughs. “Gracious, what a curious stand-off. How shall we resolve it, I wonder?”

She yields, lets go of my arm. Her girls withdraw into the shadows. My own sheathe their swords and step back to the shore. I see the glitter of relief in their eyes.

“There,” she says. “That’s better. Now we can talk.”

“Please,… no more talk, Emma. Can’t you see how overwhelmed my senses are with all of this?”

“Then let me show you something,” she says. “It shall make all things clear at last. And afterwards, I’ll let you wake up. I promise.”

Thus the scene is set for the denouement of my story. We’re a hundred and fifty thousand words in, so it’s been a long time coming. What will Emma show me that’ll make everything clear and lead me into the final chapters? I can’t say, and for the simple reason that, although I am the author of this story, I don’t know, because she has not told me.

What she has told me is that a damaged life is not a ruined one, that it is upon the whetstone of adversity the human spirit is most keenly sharpened. Yet, naturally, if given the opportunity to invent our own realities, we would edit out all forms of adversity, all forms of pain. We would invent for ourselves a paradise of pleasure. But pleasure is a thing we do in resting. Adversity, suffering, is the thing we do for a living. We cannot help ourselves. Lives are broken on its harsh anvil, while others are made more meaningful, and rise more beautifully from the ashes of suffering, redeemed, enlightened,…

And eternity is a long time to be spent merely resting in pleasure.

Is any of this true?

What’s true is the world is a place of immense suffering, and at times it’s impossible to see the good in it. Our ignorance sows an ever more bitter harvest, one spotlighted with brutal efficiency by our global news media, which shall surely one day put a camera on the very tip of a bullet. A hundred years ago, we were less aware of the suffering in the greater world, unlike now, when there is no end to the live commentary by which we might probe its ills, from the very comfort of our living rooms. And our analysis reveals what? That the innocents run from the juggernaut path, that it careens blindly, scorching vast swathes of the earth, returning them to barbarism. Our capacity for the creation of suffering immense, yet seemingly the work of mere moments of madness. Conversely our ability to subvert the suffering of the world is pitifully weak, itself fraught with conflicting opinions. And it is the work of generations.

But if we could realise the dream, what kind of earth would it be? Easy, one might say. There would be no living in fear of our neighbour; there would be plenty to eat, and everyone would possess a secure roof under which to make love and nurture children. Returned to such an Eden, we might then vent our energies and our intellect in the creation of what? Great works of art to uplift the spirit? Contemplation of God’s will? In such a world no man need fear being anything other than his true self, and he would certainly not fear his neighbour might rob him of his goods, or his life.

From such a secure foundation, a man might then exercise his ingenuity, coupled with his spiritual instincts, and all so he could explore the million and one ways he might do good, and express his loving nature in the world.

But Eden has fallen.

In schizophrenia, the sufferer experiences a breaking through of unconscious energies from deep within the collective mind. They manifest as voices, as a dire urges, as a debilitating cacophony of destructive thought that burst with uncontrollable fervour upon the defences of the personality. They overwhelm us. Literally, they swallow us in madness. And these energies are amoral, grotesque, irrational, the very antithesis of order and calm. We see this too in the world, this breaking through of hitherto unimagined disorder. We see it night after night on our TV screens – a veritable daemonic orgy of death, destruction, and the ever more imaginative ways one human being can do harm to another.

One might have thought ten thousand years of civilisation would have yielded some defence, a key, a wise philosophy by which we might all live in harmony, and in doing so turn back the tide. But if such a philosophy exists, we have rendered it in so many layers of myth by now we can do no more than argue over its interpretation. Meanwhile the earth burns; and the pace of this awful breaking through of banshees from the dark depths accelerates.

As with schizophrenia, there is no cure for what ails man’s dominion over the earth. It might be controlled somewhat, moderated in its worst excesses by targeted therapies, but the overall prognosis is rarely positive. It is something we have to live with, something we must manage as best we can.

Is it this, the thing Emma would show me?

Would she take me on a tour of Bedlam to show me only the hopelessness of it, the absence of any cure to mankind’s most pernicious malaise? One might be tempted to say yes, except there are some humans who dare to look the daemons in the eye as they tear screaming though the gates of hell, and to ask them their names. If these are the denizens of the nether world, their residence in that abode seems only to have rendered them all the more destructive to a higher purpose. And the more we dream of Utopia, the more we seem only to feed their appetite for chaos and destruction.

But is Emma not herself a daemon?

She has all the qualifications, existing solely in imagination, her form rising from the archetypal foundations of the psychical sub-stratum of experience. Semi-autonomous, she draws me into her world, reveals to me forms that are infinitely malleable to my will. Meanwhile her brethren invade my own realm to torch the forms I cherish, to torment the living even as they flee from the shadows. And she reveals to me how readily I would escape the world, escape the madness, when my place is still firmly rooted in it.

“It is as Lao Tzu taught us,” she says, “that a man stands most strongly when he has one foot in the outer, and one foot in the inner world.”

If we shut ourselves off from the inner world, it’s excesses will lay waste to the physical, to the world of forms. Its energies exist, whether we believe in them or not, and their natural tendency is to flow into the world, through us, regardless of our will. If they do so, untempered by our communion, the result will be a world always falling to chaos, no matter how carefully or rationally we have built it. If we turn our backs on the physical, sink back into the inner world from whence we came, seek escape in our dreams, we will lose our selves, and our purpose, and all meaning, in its infinite possibilities.

I have betrayed my kind. I have betrayed my self.

“Time to wake up,” she says. “You’ll be late for work.”

And then, as she said to me at the very opening of my story:

“The most vital issue of the age is whether the future progress of humanity is to be governed by the modern economic and materialistic mind of the West or by a nobler pragmatism guided, uplifted and enlightened by spiritual culture and knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo 1872-1950

So, after all of that, am I any nearer my conclusion?

Don’t count on it.

Thanks for listening.

How long shall it be?

loveliness

 

How sudden-keen am I aware,
And never as before,
Of a radiance arising,
To shine from every pore.

Your breath alone, I’d long to feel
Its tingle on my skin,
While visions of your tenderness,
Turn butterflies within.

You are the very best I’m sure,
A man could aspire to.
No, there’s never been another,
Quite as beautiful as you.

They all shall fade to shadows now,
Insignificant and plain.
How perfect would my life then be,
If you only knew my name.

How joyful and how rich at last,
My days would then become.
If you would only turn and look at me,
I’d feel I had begun.

I’d sense a movement in the air,
That all was not the same,
That the world was not so empty,
As it was before you came.

Was it not the world that gifted me,
This simple heart to crave?
Why then must I feel its pity,
Carved in verse upon my grave?

I want the world to know me,
As I think I have been made,
As a man whose love for loveliness,
Cannot bide long in the shade.

So look at me and speak my name,
And know that I am yours,
Or shall you pass me by again,
And let slam shut the door?

And slamming shut, loud let it ring,
Then how long shall it be,
Before I can accept at last,
You were not meant for me?

MG

The magic of it!

mazzy interior

The weather turned cool and showery by week’s end, making for a wet and windy drive up Wharfedale. Mazzy did not enjoy it as much as her first trip here, back in July. That day the sun shone and the air shimmered with a high-summery heat, and the moors had about them a sluggish, humid quiet. With the top down one could smell the hedgerows and meet the gaze of passers by – share greetings with them as we motored leisurely on. Now though, great curtains of rain pressed in on either side of the valley, spilling over the fells. It had me fumbling for the wipers I’ve not used all year, and of course the top was up, so the world passed remote to all but my visual senses.

We were delayed near Kilnsey by a collision between a camper van and a road sweeper. The camper was a terrible mess, its side torn open and the remains of some poor souls’ holiday spilled all over the road. The queue inched by as best it could while policemen jabbed fingers in ad hoc traffic control. They must have to deal with many such incidents on this stretch, and I don’t envy them the task. The road along the valley of the Wharfe is as narrow and twisty as it’s always been, but the vehicles we’re driving are getting noticeably bigger. Mazzy’s a low slung, narrow slip of a thing, perfect for threading her way up and down country like this, but she and I are moving against the tide which insists what country like this needs is a pumped up four-by-four with the assertive beam of snowplough.

I stopped off for a brew at Buckden, then made pilgrimage to Hubberholme – pronounced “Ubberam”. Hubberholm is a tiny hamlet in upper Wharfedale, beloved of generations of walkers, also home to St Michaels and All Angels, one of the loveliest of our Norman churches. Though the increasing secularisation of society has led to the diminution of moderate religious congregations everywhere, England’s churches retain their potential as foci for binding communities, and in a more prosaic way provide a statutory and timeless continuity with their records of births, marriages and deaths. The church at Hubberhome dates to the 12th century, and has the look of a place that was not actually built at all but rather that it grew organically from the soft earth, here on the banks of the Wharfe. Its pews bear the distinctive adze marks and the unique rodent-motif of the celebrated Mouseman. It has about it the scent of old churches everywhere, and rests in the profound silence that pervades these remote valleys, a silence reinforced for me that morning, stepping out of an old roadster after seventy miles in the pouring rain.

hubberholme church

Saint Michaels and All Angels – Hubberholme

St Michaels and All Angels is the resting place of J.B.Priestly, native of Bradford, novelist and playwright, known to me through his work on the relationship of man with time. I think a lot about the nature of time, and more recently have tied myself in knots with it almost to the point of despair in wrestling with my current work in progress – a work that takes only halting steps forwards these days. For my trip I had packed my toothbrush, but left my laptop behind, thinking to let the story rest for a bit. In making pilgrimage to Hubberholme and JBP, I wasn’t expecting a synchronistic finger pointing to the way out of my literary cul-de-sac; it was more a case of stoking the boiler of imagination, and hoping something would emerge in the fullness of “time”. All the same, my pilgrimage bore fruit, I think, or at least I came away feeling more philosophical about the dilemma. I self-publish to a small audience, for nothing; I write novels like I used to do Origami, for the personal satisfaction of completing a puzzle, rather than labouring for coin. In my current game, as with Origami, there are no deadlines – only pleasure in the folding and unfolding of lines, hopefully winding up with something self-standing at the end of it, and all from a blank sheet of paper. I sometimes forget this, but the timeless peace at Hubberholme, proved a timely reminder that time has no existence other than in its relation to man, and that all deadlines are ultimately defeating of the self.

aysgarth upper falls

Aysgarth upper falls

I stayed the night in Wensleydale, in the pretty little market town of Leyburn, passed a pleasant evening in the Golden Lion and woke on Saturday to a brighter morning. Then I drove to Aysgarth, to the falls. At Aysgarth, the River Ure is rent by a series of dramatic steps over which the waters thunder, all peaty brown, like stewed tea. There is an upper, a middle and a lower falls, spread over a kilometre length of the river, and all accessible by well maintained walkways and viewing points. The National Trust have set up camp here, providing decent car-parking and a visitor centre. It costs £2.50 for a couple of hours, which I didn’t think was too bad, and the falls of course are worth it. Then it was on to Hawes, and from there the long, bleakly spectacular run of the B6255, to Ribblehead. We managed this bit of the run with the top down, Mazzy’s humour lifting enormously, making her roar with the pleasure of it, and lending to the sun-splashed, blue-skied scene, at last, a moving connection that brought a lump to my throat.

It was a weekend of thoughts then, about the nature of time, about writing, and even of Origami. It was also a weekend of waterfalls and old churches. And it was a weekend of roads, the best in England, roads that make driving still a pleasure, a pleasure I had largely forgotten on account of long decades spent behind the wheel of a car merely commuting. But as that accident near Kilnsey reminds us, these roads can also exact a terrible price for a moment’s distraction. They are beloved of many, but struggling now to accommodate the sheer variety of transport they nowadays carry. Along the way I encountered vast lumbering peletons of MAMILS; I came upon huge farm vehicles hauling skyscrapers of hay; then there were the wide-beamed Chelsea tractors, the caravans, the motorhomes; and there were entire squadrons of ton-up motorcycles, a half glimpsed minuscule dot in one’s rear view mirror, then roaring past your ear like a jet fighter barely a second later,…

Even in remoteness these roads can at times feel terribly crowded. Now and then though the way simply opens, and it’s just you, and the freedom of the Dales.

That’s the magic of it.

Footage: Mazzy’s  dashcam. (Mr Happy was along for the ride)

Drive carefully.

Graeme out.

southport sunsetI’ve been driving out to the coast a lot of an evening. I drop the top on the car and we make our way to Southport, park up on the Marine Drive, and watch the sun go down. Sunset was around eight fifteen last night, and the air carried with it a tale of drawing in. The sun was rendered fat and orange by a faint haze which had also,strangely, rendered other things in a sharper resolution. I could see the mountains of North Wales and Cumbria and far out at sea there was the faint twinkle of a myriad of windmills as they tipped their arms, juggling with the last of the light.

I’d wanted to test the car, to feel her vibes and see if there was any doubt she was up to another tour of the Dales this weekend. She ran sweetly, as she has done all summer, so I can find no reason for anxiety, other than my usual pre-travel qualms. It will probably be the last long trip I take in her this year. Soon the days will be too short, and the air too sharp for flitting about in a car with no roof. She’s not the same with the top up. With the top up she is  lumpy and bumpy and noisy. With the top down she is sweet and serene.

I know which of her humours I prefer.

I usually arrive at the Marine Drive around eight PM, mainly because the parking’s free after this time. The long stretch of the car-park is usually quiet – just a few vehicles dotted about, the shops closed, and an all pervading air of peace as the sun sinks. People gazed out from the warmth of their cars, some walked the sea front for a fresher air. Some skated on rollerblades, some MAMILS cycled, their effing and blinding and spitting being the only occasional departure from eventide gentleness. Then there was a comfortably sweatered man reciting lines from the script of a play he was learning, speaking quietly to himself. I couldn’t make out the words, but they sounded lyrical, like a poem, or a spell he was casting upon the coming night.

I sat on the sea wall, with binoculars, naming the fells and picking out landmarks along the Fylde coast where the low sun had by now set the entire sea front on fire. The car was behind me, just a short hop across the road. I don’t like her out of sight when the top’s down. She reflected the deepening contrasts, her blue paint taking on a tinge of midnight, and with a halo of orange from the setting sun. Her engineering details blurred out, and she began to look different than she does in daylight, half fantasy, like an other worldly thing.

In the setting of the sun there was also a feeling of holidays coming to an end, and the banal grind taking on a more troublesome stature. I don’t know why I feel this way. My holidays were over a month ago, and even then I only get a couple of weeks, yet still I carry a vestige of that old academic calendar inside of me, and feel a wobble when I see the back-to-school adverts on the telly, also when I see the sun kiss the sands here at eight fifteen.

We are rarely aware of the movement of the earth, nor the passage of time so keenly as when we watch the sun set. From the moment the disc first grazes the horizon to the last poignant speck of gold winking out, we see and feel the transience of life in the visible draining of the light. We feel its mystery too as we gaze, ever hopeful, at the pink afterglow, wondering if the sea will not throw up some belated revelation of reflected light from its depths.

It did not.

I drove back in the semi-dark, the air smelling of late season and the harvesting of vast meadows. A soft reddish glow came from the instruments, and the brighter of the planets dotted the ecliptic. I did not know their names – guessed at Venus and Saturn. Another planet turned out to be an aircraft on final approach to Blackpool.

It was a clear night, beautifully still as it sank to black. I slowed the car to hush the rush of wind, as I drove the long Marsh Road past Hundred End, and I reached out to feel the caress of air in my palm. There I felt the summer softness giving way to autumn’s tingle, and the darker, harder days ahead.

It was from around here I bought her. She seems to enjoy drawing me back to the sights and the scenery of her past lives, hinting at summers unknown to me.

I hope the weather holds for the weekend, and the Dales.

mazda southport sunset

natural cures for anosmiaAnosmia – no sense of smell! If you’ve landed here from a search engine, chances are you’re looking for cures, probably of the natural holistic variety. I’ve tried them all, the medical treatments too – all except the surgery for polyps, which even the ENT guy didn’t recommend – and I must admit to being too confused by now to help anyone, other than to say don’t lose heart.

Acupuncture worked very well for me, briefly, then wore off. Aural steroids also worked very well, again briefly, but for longer than the acupuncture. I persevered with Flucticasone Propitionate steroid nose spray, like the ENT guy told me to, but the anosmia set in once more and I’ve been entirely without my nose since New Year’s eve, when I noted it shutting off with progressive sips of a large celebratory Laphroaig.

But in the last few weeks it’s been returning,…

My other problem, related to anosmia, was a recurrent minor chest infection – I’d get wheezy, especially in the mornings after alcohol. So I’ve been spending some time addressing that side-issue, wondering if the anosmia would then address itself. To this end I’ve consulted an apothecary and been taking Vogel’s tinctures of Plantago and Echinachea for the past six months – also Sanatogen’s 50+ formula (because I’m 50+) with Ginko and Ginseng – like the Chinese TCM lady recommended. I’ve also cut down on red wine, refined sugar, and dairy produce. And I still use a few puffs of Flucticasone Propitionate morning and night as well, just to keep the ENT guy on side.

I’ve tried cutting alcohol out altogether, but that’s easier said than done. If I drink alcohol now, it’s white wine with an ABV of no more than 12%, and I try not to overindulge. I also take my coffee black and sweetened with honey, which was weird at first, but now I can drink it no other way. Certain anti-caffeine champions tell me I should cut out the coffee as well, and they’re probably right, but I simply can’t do it. A man must have at least some guilty pleasures, or life’s not worth living. I enjoy bush tea later in the evening as it’s caffeine free, and won’t keep me awake at night.

I briefly tried drops of tea tree oil up my nose, but they burned like hell. I also tried drops of witch hazel – a noted anti-inflammatory – and this didn’t burn as much but it still burned. Like it says on the bottle – recommended for external use only. Both of these things are handy to have around but not to put up your nose.

The ENT guy told me red wine causes rhinitis – a temporary swelling of the mucous membrane, so it might be responsible for temporarily dulling one’s sense of smell, but he was puzzled when I said it also caused copious amounts of yellow snot in the mornings as well(apologies if you’re eating). I think whiskey does the same, so I avoid that as well these days, except on rare special occasions – because the scent of a good single malt is for me the finest thing in the world.

I’ve also tried a Himalayan salt pipe, and as unlikely as that sounds, I think it helped to loosen the chest and ease my breath. Whether it be that or the combination of Plantago and Echinacea or something else altogether, I’ve not struggled with the wheezy chest or the yellow snot (apologies again) all summer – plenty of breath for hill walking anyway.

So,… it’s now late August, and I can smell things again.

Well, some things.

It’s a strange experience and, for now at least, somewhat incomplete, since my nose is curiously selective in what it responds to: coffee, certain cooking smells, car freshener smells, Lynx Africa antiperspirant, shoe polish – all are back in my life. However, petrol, mown grass, WD40, Fairy Liquid, bathroom smells, David Beckham body spray (sorry David), the dustbin, and indeed the entire cosmetics bit of Boots – all these things, and more, have yet to register, but I’m hopeful of further revelations as time goes on.

If you’re after a cure for anosmia, I wish I could help, or at least be more specific in how I’ve brought about this unexpected partial remission – if indeed I have and it’s not just a natural waxing and waning. My anosmia is caused by nasal polyps – a kind of harmless out-growth from the mucous membrane – harmless except for shutting off the sense of smell, and eventually blocking one’s nose, though no one seems to know what causes the nasal polyps.

My approach to the problem began in a fairly analytical manner, like diagnosing a niggly fault on the car, but has degenerated over the years into more of a scatter-gun defence. Something has had an effect, but I’ve no idea what – not that I’m complaining. It remains to be seen if this is just a welcome flash in the pan, or the beginnings of a permanent regaining of control over my olfactory senses. For now, I shall simply enjoy it, as I continue to be startled and delighted day by day with aromas long forgotten – even the bad ones.

So, for all you anosmics out there, don’t despair. Persevere. Draw on whatever information is to hand, both medical and holistic. I’d largely given up – well, any normal person would after all this time -but the sense of smell isn’t understood that well, indeed it lacks any sort of logical explanation, so we shouldn’t be afraid to try therapies for which there’s no logical explanation either – except, for putting tea tree or witch hazel up your nose.

Trust me, you’ll only do that once.

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