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Keeping the shine

So, today is Monday. It’s cold and rainy. I’m ironing. I’m bleeding the radiators. I’m replying to a flurry of overnight comments on the blog. I’m pondering the next chapter of “A Lone Tree Falls”. Retirement is bliss, even on rainy days. Then the phone rings.

It’s a very well-spoken young man who’s concerned I’m missing out on loft insulation deals. I don’t quite get the angle, but anyway, he says my house has come up on his database as having a certain type of insulation. It doesn’t conform to the current regulations – tut tut – but not to worry. It means I can claim for,… well,… something,…

“If we could confirm your details, sir? Name, address, postcode?…

Now, I know very well what type of insulation I have, because I’m the one who put it in. So what I want to know from him is how come he knows so much about it. I’m a little more assertive than I usually am, but there are issues of privacy at stake here:

“If I could stop you there and ask: exactly – and I do emphasise the word ‘exactly’ – how you came by that information?”

I surprise myself. I seem to be settling in for a crossing of wits here, when I could as easily hang up. That’s what I normally do, though with a polite “sorry, not interested”, thereby extending courtesy even to ne-er-do-wells whose aim is to raid my life savings. Did I get out of the wrong side of bed or something? Where is your patience, Michael? Where is your joy of living?

Anyway, the line goes dead before the young man can explain himself – a fault at his end, I presume. But never mind, all is in its place again. God is in his heaven, and the scammers are sweating the phones.

And I have more important things to be thinking about, such as November 3rd 2019. Why? Well, that’s the day I took this picture:

It was a Sunday, the first dry day, after weeks of heavy rain. The gentle undulations of the meadows had become lakes, and in the early light of that morning, they were as beautiful as they were unexpected. I don’t know why the picture strikes me now, as it has languished on the memory card for years. Perhaps it’s more the date, marking a time just before the time everything changed.

My diary fills in the details:

I had bought a new lens for the camera, and was trying it out with this shot. I had also bought “the Ministry of Utmost Happiness” by Arhundhati Roy, from my local thrift shop. I was lamenting how I’d probably never get around to reading it, that it would languish on my TBR pile, which turns out, thus far, to be true. My hall table was also full of leaflets extolling the virtues of the Labour-party. I was delivering them in batches, around my patch, for the local party office. It seems I too was caught up in the heady Corbynism of those distant times.

Then, the day after I took the picture, I sat down with my boss and took pleasure in giving him a year’s notice. Of a sudden, I tasted freedom. I was as excited by that as the thought of an imminent, and long needed, change of political direction. Yes, politics featured large in my thoughts in those days, which I find embarrasses me, now, because it doesn’t feature at all these days. In fact, quite the opposite, I find I view such matters with a very cold eye, or perhaps that too could be called political thinking? But let’s not go there.

Covid was not even a rumour in November. The first cases would appear in China in the coming weeks. But it would be March before Britain, after believing itself immune, would be on its knees. Suddenly, I could not travel even to the next village without fear of curtain twitchers dobbing me in. As for our health service, it proved to be so ill prepared, hobbyists were in their bedrooms, churning out face-masks for doctors and nurses on their 3D Printers.

But back to the photograph. I wasn’t overwhelmed by it at the time. Perhaps it was because events overtook us, and everything that came “before” seemed no longer relevant in the world. Then I tried a different crop, and it seemed to speak to me a little more.
I remember the season came on with a record-breaking wet. The year after was the same. The water table rose, filling the hollows, spoiling crops of winter wheat and oilseed. Migrant birds enjoyed their new-found wetlands. But then each spring, came a drought that baked the land, first to iron, and then to dust.

The photograph tells me the world was beautiful then, as of course it still is. But I detect also now a more deeply entrenched fatalism among its people. There is a growing acceptance of the ruin, and all the casual corruption, and that there’s nothing we can do about it. It just is. And, as if by metaphor, while once upon a time we could avoid those of low character by avoiding a particular part of town at night, now they come at us in our homes, down our telephone wires, wherever we are, and there’s no protection, other than our wits. But such a wit as that risks also tarnishing the spirit and rendering it blind to the beauty of the world. It will make us cynical, it will tempt us over the threshold into the hell of a collective nihilism. And then we are lost.

We need a powerful formula to keep the shine on things, and to keep believing it all means something. For myself, I trust it is sufficient never take our eye off the beauty of the world, never to let it be diminished in our souls, that therein lies the path to truly better days.

Now, please excuse me, the phone is ringing again. Perhaps it’s that young man with his explanation.

Green Withins Brook, Anglezarke

Today, I’m off over the Western Pennines, my usual haunts of Rivington and Anglezarke, a sort of willy-nilly ramble, just seeing where the mood takes me. It takes me up through Leverhulme’s terraced gardens, then along the rough old turnpike towards Will Narr. So far, so predictable, then.

I’ve got the camera, of course, but it’s a bright autumn morning, high in contrast, so it’s going to burn the highlights. To cope with that I need to shoot exposure brackets. And for that I’m going to need a tripod for stability, which I can never be bothered with. So I bump up the ISO up to 800, and keep my fingers crossed, snapping happily by hand as I go. The results aren’t great.

While we’re over this way, I check out a blocked footpath I reported to the council about six weeks ago. It’s still blocked. I wasn’t really expecting it to be cleared – councils are strapped; it was more that I wanted to be sure I’d not missed a way through, something that was perhaps just a little overgrown and easily remedied. But, no. The way is definitely blocked, by wire.

By chance, there’s this horsey lady, on the other side of the obstruction. Her lot – her and the other horsey folk, that is – are responsible for the obstruction. She’s surprised when my head pops up, looking for a way through, which is understandable, because not many people are likely to walk this way any more, on account of the impassable pathway. I’m trying to catch her eye to ask her if the path has been diverted, and where to, but she isn’t for engaging. She turns and walks away. I imagine she looks a little sheepish.

And speaking of sheep, later on, a sheep comes thundering towards me, on the moor. It’s being chased by a dog. The dog’s pretty much on it, a maniacal glint in its eye, when the pair of them whistle past me so close I can feel the draught off them. Like a fool I try to catch hold of the dog’s harness, but it’s going like a rocket and I don’t stand a chance. Had I managed to catch hold, it would have pulled my shoulder out, or had me over, and possibly torn a lump out of me as well – its blood being up that way. Sometimes, though, your instinct exceeds your abilities.

The owner appears, effing and jeffing like a proper boss, but, like the horsey lady, he doesn’t want to catch my eye. Indeed, it’s like I’m not there at all. But then he looks the sort who’d rip your ear off for sitting on his newspaper, so I’m content not to pass the time of day. The sheep has escaped by now, having led the dog, and now its master, into a bog. It’s standing on the dry side, watching, ready to bolt. It was a close shave, and I’m sure the sheep is shaken, but all the same, I can’t help thinking that was cunning.

It’s not the first time I’ve had a sheep come at me like that. The other time, it was being chased by a bullock, which frightened the life out of me as I could actually feel the ground shaking. So anyway, while the hills turn blue to the sound of the boss trying to catch his maladjusted mutt, by now up to his knees in bog, I head off, wondering if there’s something about sheep that we’ve overlooked.

A common feature of the British uplands, they’re credited in certain quarters as being one of the most destructive creatures known to man – at least when they’re farmed the way we farm them. Amongst other ecological catastrophes, according to the writer, George Monbiot, you’re likely to see more bird species in your back garden in five minutes than you will all day on a sheep farmed upland. This seems to be true from my own experience too. Also, much of the green baize, manicured nature of the Dales and the Lakes, which admittedly looks so attractive to us now, is, in ecological terms, better described as a monocultural disaster, wrought entirely by these woolly-backed ruminants, and the economics that drives our management of them.

But taken as a species, we underestimate the nous of the humble sheep. They’re clever enough to recognise faces, both human and sheep, and they’ve been known to defeat cattle grids by rolling over them on their backs. In certain tests of cognitive ability, they can outwit a chimp, and easily leave a dog standing. They have near 360 vision without turning their heads, and most remarkable of all, to me, is they can smell with their feet.

But how about this? You’re being chased by a predator. What’s the best way of throwing it off? Well, you could try veering close by an alternative source of prey, possibly one that’s slow-moving, and so an easier target, like, well a dozy human being. I’m speculating, of course, but it wouldn’t surprise me, given my experience in the wild, so to speak.

Anyway, further along, with the guy still shouting after his dog, I find the path has been settled by a herd of cows with calves. They’re pricking their ears at the commotion behind me, and checking me out with furtive glances to see if I’m anything to do with it. I make soothing noises, and they’re happy to let me pass without breaking their composure. But I wouldn’t like to risk negotiating these dun-coloured beauties with a dog as mad as that. On the lead, they’re likely to flatten the owner as well as the dog – both being tarred by the same brush as potential aggressors. Off the lead, the dog would either have to get the hell out of there, or be trampled to a pulp. A sheep has its nous, a cow has its collective, and its tonnage

In the end, the guy and the dog somehow survive the gauntlet of the cattle, but then it’s off the lead again. There’s a family picnicking at a pretty little spot, by the stream at Lead Mines Clough. Their placid pooch is mooching around beside them, but suddenly finds itself prey to the hound from hell, which comes barrelling at them like a torpedo. I can’t bear to listen to the yelping and screeching, so crank up the pace, put as much distance between me and the commotion as possible.

I’ve wondered about keeping a dog. I understand how a decent, placid little hound might be good company, but I guess I’m just not the type who could be troubled with licking one into shape. I’m more of a cat person, really, but I’m allergic, so don’t keep one of those either – or at least not any more. For me, the best company by far, on a day out, is a like-minded, fellow human being, or, failing that, just one’s own self, and a camera.

I manage only one picture I’m happy with. I took it at a pretty little spot by Green Withins Brook, near the source of the River Yarrow. It’s somewhat soft, because of that high ISO, but it’s inspired me to head back with a tripod sometime. Hopefully on that occasion I can avoid aggressive boss-men with their bonkers dogs, and the machinations of crafty sheep.

Really, they can smell with their feet.

Not even the ghosts

I don’t get into town much these days. It’s a habit left over from the various lock-downs we’ve had. If I’m heading out at all, it’s for a walk somewhere nice, and where the fact the arse is coming out of England’s trousers doesn’t show quite as much.

But I needed herbs, and I remembered the old herb-shop. It’s one of the few independent businesses hanging on from the once upon a time, though they no longer prepare as many of their own potions. Instead, it’s mostly corporate branded stuff, and quite expensive. I could have got them off the Internet much cheaper, but that’s one of the reasons the old town’s in the state it’s in. Other reasons would include the fact there’s no money here any more, and what jobs there are pay very poor wages.

The number of empty shops now is disheartening. The only businesses moving in are drinking dens and betting shops. Meanwhile, the cafés and coffee shops are closing down, as the town trade dwindles. I could get a beer from any number of places, around whose doorways stand huddles of tired-looking men with pint-pot stares, but I’d struggle for a cup of tea, and no wonder. This is not the sort of place you’d linger to watch the world go by any more. This is Middleton, from Saving Grace, it’s Middleton, from Winter on the Hill.

Decline was obvious years ago, but it looks like they were still the good years, and we’re going full Apocalyptic, now. Yet it was a nice town, and prosperous. We used to dress up to come here. I’ve seen images like this before, but they were all provincial towns in the Soviet Union, just before the wall came down. The west was puffed up and smug in shoulder pads then, not realising it was our turn next.

Having got my herbs, I take a mooch around, and wind up in B+M Bargains. It occupies the space that was once Woolworths. It’s odd, to feel nostalgic for Woolies. I’d take the kids there for lunch in the long ago, slip them a fiver, and set them loose in the toy aisle. Then we’d top it off with pick and mix – oh, heady days!

The Argos store has gone. So has WH Smiths. Still, at least B+M is bustling. If there’s any sort of vibe at all, it’s here, among the bargains. Except there’s this one old lady complaining bitterly to her friend how she’s had a wasted journey. The shop didn’t have what she wanted, and the whole thing has ruined her day. I know, the shops rarely have what you want now, other than the most common and basic items. For anything else, you have to go online and chance it.

There are kids rushing around, stocking shelves. I’m thinking they could give her chapter and verse on ruined days, indeed ruined lives, and a future promising even less than what little they’ve got right now. But they’re not complaining. Those who have the most to complain about, tend not to. The old lady carries on, finding more to grumble about, and seeking someone to blame for it. She trails her negative energy around the store like a smog.

B+M are selling solar motion-detecting lights for thirteen quid a-piece. Winter coming on, I’ve been thinking about getting some of those. They’re useful for lighting the way around the outside of the house. But for twenty-five quid I can get four of them from that online place – you know, the one that treats its workers appallingly.

The B+M versions are of a brand that’s been around since the year dot. The online four-pack will be of unknown origin, and most likely only two of them working, and then none after the first winter. What to do then? Do I pay for the one? Or do I chance-it, go online and support a business model that’ll be the ruin of us all when those are the only kinds of jobs left for human beings to do?

Then, strangely, I’m thinking of this girl I used to know. I fancied her rotten, and she knew it. She also knew I’d not the guts to do anything about it. I think she enjoyed my discomfort and the moon eyed adulation. The last time I saw her was 1982, on the Zebra crossing, here in town. She was coming one way, I was going the other. She was dressed to the nines, like everyone else, that Saturday afternoon, yet, like in one of those daft perfume ads, she was the one who stood out.

She gave me a look in passing that left me speechless, but which would later launch a million words in search of connection with the deeper meaning of what I felt for her, and the world in general. I used to go back to that crossing, the same time on a Saturday, thinking to recreate that moment, and maybe this time do something about it. But, like I said, I never saw her again. And it was all a long time ago, when everything seemed much newer, and fresher, and not so,… derelict.

The crossing’s still there, though the shops either side of it are empty. I use it on the way back to the car, remembering of a sudden how she looked that day. Funny how this should be coming back to me now. Then I look up, and guess what? No, she not there, because not even the ghosts come here any more.

Anyway, unlike that sad old girl in B+M, my trip wasn’t wasted. I got my herbal stuff. And I got my motion sensing light as well, because I only need the one, and the rocket guy can do without my business for once. It’s a small step for a man, as someone once said. But those were heady days. And certainly, here at least, among the more material aspects of contemporary provincial English reality, there’s nothing quite so aspirational as that any more.

Thanks for listening.

Pot Scar and Smearset ridge

I’m sitting on a big piece of limestone that was once part of a dry-stone wall, here on the Dales High Way. It’s been in the sun, and it’s nice and warm. The wall has eroded to no more than knee height but the line of it is distinct enough, and leads the eye unerringly up the green fell side, to a crown of limestone crags. Just here, it’s been brought down flat, and the path runs through it. We’re a mile out of Feizor, heading for Stainforth, but the view has pulled me up and sat me down. The scene, the air, the sun, and this faultless blue sky, all of it makes for a feel-good day, as most days are in the Yorkshire Dales.

As the days shorten, and good weather becomes less frequent, the light takes on a magical quality. The sun is rendering the line of crags from Smearset Scar, to Pot Scar in bristling detail. I’ll never do it justice with the camera, not the way I see it and feel it, right now, but I’ll give it a go anyway, maybe a little higher up the valley. But, for now, we’ll just rest awhile, and soak up the atmosphere. Who knows when we’ll pass this way again?

Our peace is disturbed by a large walking group coming over the ladder stile, a little way off. They number around thirty old guys with craggy faces and outdoor complexions. We exchange greetings as they pass. This is Yorkshire, so greetings are hearty and often delivered with a touch of dry humour. Then comes the tail end guy. He’s a tall, bearded and somewhat distinguished looking gentleman, a good few minutes behind the rest. He comes up to me and then he stops.

“An erratic, you know?”

I admit, that’s not what I thought he was going to say.

“Em,…”

“The rock I’m standing on,” he clarifies. “Gritstone, you see?”

“Really?”

“Glacial erratic. Erratified even further by whoever put it in this drystone wall.” His accent, like his compatriots, is Yorkshire – but posh Yorkshire.

“Well spotted. You’re a geologist, then?” He does have the look of a geologist – don’t ask me why I think that. He nods. Yes, he’s a geologist.

He looks at me, and something registers with him. “Ah,… you’re not part of our walking group, are you?”

“No, they went that way.”

“Oh,… well,…. em,…. nice talking you. Enjoy the rest of your afternoon.”

“I shall. You too.”

Actually, I have a bone to pick with him and his mates. They’d taken over the little tea-room in Feizor, leaving me nowhere to sit. That makes it the second time I’ve walked over from Stainforth with the idea of getting a brew, only to be denied it by ravenous crowds. It’s a popular tearoom, though Feizor itself strikes me as being one of those pretty little places that only comes into existence for a day, and only once a century, if the moon is right.

The weather has been appalling all week, and I was doubtful today’s forecast of fine weather would materialise, but it did. Then, the fuel shortages that rattled everyone last week seem also to have passed over, at least in the north-west. Anyway, we filled the tank, and here we are.

The little blue car is down in Stainforth. We had a good run over from Lancashire. Confidence in the old girl is restored, after the mystery of the loose wheel-nuts – though the mystery itself remains unsolved. In fact, she went like a rocket, though mainly on account of aggressive tailgating by monstrous, thundering hardcore wagons. They’re an intimidating presence on the route from Clitheroe to the limestone quarries, near here, and always put me in mind of that old film, Hell Drivers, but with much bigger wagons.

So, we managed to keep our tails from being trodden on by the Hell Drivers, and we parked on the National Trust car-park at Stainforth, (£4.80, card payments accepted) and we set off for Feizor. I was in Stainforth, back in August, and failed then to get a decent shot of the impressive falls on the Ribble, here, due to holiday crowds. It’s quieter today, and, what with heavy rains, I’m thinking they’ll be worth another visit. But as I cross the little bridge over the river, I see the falls have been colonised by a large group of photographers and film-makers. All we’re likely to get there is a shot of the backs of their heads. So, we plod on.

Penyghent, from Little Stainforth

At Little Stainforth, we go north, along the narrow road. The views across Ribblesdale to Penyghent from here are stunning today, crackling with detail in an extraordinarily clear light. The meadows are a lush, soft green, and the sun, struggling for altitude now, is picking out the crags and the wiggly lines of dry-stone walls. We sometimes forget man is part of nature, that when he’s not busy destroying it, his presence can add something special to the land in reducing some of its bleakness. The enclosures do have a lovely, pleasing quality to them – natural stone, all higgledy-piggledy, following the contours. I suppose, however, if we were to replace them now, it would be straight lines and barbed wire.

So then we pick up the path that takes us west, over the fell. Smearset Scar is an imposing lump, as you come up from Stainforth, but it’s all bluff, at least if you approach it from its northern face. From the south and west, it’s more precipitous. At a modest 1200 feet, it still manages to impress, being dramatic, and airy, with tremendous views all round.

As a lunch spot, we can do no better than this. Eleven forty-five, on a midweek morning, not a soul in sight, and we’re on top of the world. This time last year we were still working, and doubting we’d see the end of it. Now, none of that is our problem. I’d wondered if I’d still be waking in the mornings, thinking I should be heading out to work. I was warned I might have trouble switching off in retirement, but I think the major part of me had switched off long before. Or rather, I had already moved on, in my head, to what I’m doing now. I’ve not thought about the day job at all, except on mornings like this, to appreciate the freedom to simply be.

On Smearset Scar, looking towards Pot Scar

So, from Smearset Scar, the feet are naturally drawn westwards, along the ridge to Pot Scar. This is an area without any substantial paths, though it’s criss-crossed by what looks like the tracks of a farmer’s quad bike. There’s probably a simple way down though the crags, directly to Feizor, but I’ve yet to find it, so we rejoin the path coming over from Stainforth, disturbing a fox in the process, which bolts to a hidey hole on a limestone pavement. The path swings south, through a nick in the crags, and brings us down to the tea-shop in Fiezor.

Feizor

Unable to get our coffee, without what looks like a long wait, we make do with a swig from the water bottle, which is what I remember we did last time, and we start on the climb back towards Stainforth, along this lovely bit of the Dales High Way. Then we pause, on a rock, by another rock, which our new friend points out is a glacial erratic. The area is well known for them. Some, the Norber Erratics, are spectacular lumps of stone, up on the limestone pavements around Ingleborough. They were deposited here by retreating ice sheets, and probably came from the Lake District. The word derives from the old French erratique, and from the latin erraticus; it means, literally, “wandering, straying, roving.”

Anyway, we say goodbye to our geologist friend, give his walking group a good fifteen minutes start, then follow them back to Stainforth. The encampment of photographers and film-makers is still there at the falls, so we’ll give it another miss. I wonder if they’re photographing salmon leaping. October, November, after rains, I’ve read are best. Good luck to them, but I prefer to keep moving on my days out, keep wandering, roving. That makes two erratiques then, today, on the Dales High Way.

So, now it’s time to join the Hell Drivers, on the road back to Lancashire, and see what we’ve got in the camera. On past performance, it’ll be mostly blurred, I suspect. Others, I’ll be wondering what on earth I thought I was looking at. But, with luck, one or two will have some potential as a reminder of another good day, in the Dales.

I wish I’d taken a picture of that rock, though!

“An erratic, you know.”

The Bamboo House

I am taking shelter in a bamboo house which stands above a road, on tall stilts. Access to it is by ladder to a trapdoor. The road leads off into the distance, both ahead and behind me. To the left and right are impassable ranges of forested mountains. People are processing along the road towards me. There are many of them, like a column of wartime refugees. As they pass under the bamboo house, some try to climb the ladder, wanting to get in. At first, I resist, preferring safety in isolation. But then I relent, open the trapdoor, and lower my hand to help the people up.

It’s a fragment of a dream I’ve been pondering for a few days, and it’s not making any sense. I’m also out of the habit of remembering dreams, and this fragment is the best I could rescue from a much longer dream sequence. I like to write dreams down, and mull them over. Sometimes they chime with my preoccupations, but even when they don’t, I enjoy them for the surreal imagery they serve up. Once you fall out of the habit, though, it can take several days for the dreams to start sticking again. And we’re not exactly there yet.

On the one hand then, this could be a dream about dreaming, and my neglect of it. You know? It could be an allegory about my looking to haul the dreams up into consciousness again, like I haul the people up. But the people do not strike me as representing dreams. They are people in distress, escaping a crisis, from what appears to be my future. Since all dream elements are aspects of the dreamer, what aspects of my future self might they be? What aspects of my self are migrating from a future crisis, to the past, which is (currently) my present?

I fear I am missing a significant punch-line here.

In other, not unrelated, matters, I have been pursuing this apparently new-fangled thing called “the meaning crisis”. Various learned authors are pontificating on it, and I’ve been hitching a ride with them, looking for answers, doubling down on my reading. And I’ve been listening to lengthy lectures on You-Tube. It is the main talking point for the so-called Intellectual Dark Web.

The meaning crisis is something afflicting the western world in particular. But any nation that becomes “westernised” will inevitably fall victim to it. It sounds very serious, and has to do with the individual’s loss of meaning in the midst of material plenty, including such technological wonders as the Internet and Android telephones. But then it strikes me of a sudden, I’ve been writing about this for twenty years. What seems to have happened is I’ve forgotten all of that, and allowed myself to be bedazzled by charismatic intellectuals into thinking the meaning crisis is something new, when it isn’t. Its effects are simply more prevalent now.

The Jungian school of psychoanalysis bottomed it a century ago, Jung himself describing mankind as hanging by a thin thread, that is the psyche. The poets, particularly the Romantics, nailed it too. I came to the gist of it, intuitively, through my reading in the late nineteen nineties, as my own psyche began to mature and to pick up on these things. Through that maturation, I began to see materialism not as a panacea, but for the spiritual poison that it was. I explored it in my first novel, the Singing Loch. I was clumsy and naive, though, and fudged the conclusion. I’d not a clue how you went about solving a problem like that. The clever men who write books about it now don’t know either. I think we have a better idea of the causes, not least from our understanding of Jung. But knowing the calibre of bullet doesn’t help you, when it’s aimed at your head.

A good metaphor, is the right-left brain dichotomy. The left hemisphere of the brain deals with what’s in front of it. It’s logical and mechanical, and it jumps to conclusions. Our ego finds its most natural home there. Meanwhile, the right brain hemisphere is more holistic, deals with ambiguity, and is the source of our creativity. It’s more nuanced, and can bring intuition to bear in situations of complex ambiguity that will stump the left brain. But in a materialistic society, the left brain dominates. Indeed, it shapes society in its own image. Thus, our world becomes unimaginative, superficial, materialistic, and pointless.

This is the nub of the meaning crisis.

The left brain should not be in charge. The right brain is the better master, and without it, we’d be sunk. The left brain’s proper place is as the right brain’s gopher. But the gopher has staged a coup to the extent we don’t even know what the right brain is for any more.

The left brain also killed God. This was sometime in the Victorian period. Neitzsche called it out, and said we’d never be able to wash away the blood. We can interpret this as meaning that when we stop believing in God, we discover we need a material replacement. So, the left brain presents us with any number of man-made ideologies to choose from. The downside is, the history of the twentieth century teaches us all those ideologies end in terrible suffering. The twenty-first isn’t shaping up any better.

A little before his death, Jung had a vision of the end of humanity. His daughter wrote it down and left it in the care of his associate, Marie Louise Von Frantz. If we take it in the context of its times, we were in the midst of the cold war, only a few years away from the near nuclear catastrophe of the Cuban missile crisis. Perhaps he had projected himself into an alternate future, where that particular incident went badly. I don’t know. But the thrust of his thesis was always that man is the greatest danger to himself. And his greatest danger is his inability to deal with his own shadow.

One of the great psychological conundrums concerns the most evil acts in history – there are plenty to choose from, but it’s basically this: what is it that can drive basically good people, into doing very bad things. What is that transforms the ordinary baker and candlestick maker into the mass butcher of men? It has to do with the shadow, at both the personal and the collective level. And we only spare ourselves the shadow’s excesses by realising everything we label as evil, is actually a part of us. Refusing to accept that, and to integrate the shadowy parts of us into our awareness, it takes very little for us to begin acting out what we say we are not. A group is labelled as “other”, thereby dehumanised, trumpeted in the collective-shadow-tabloids as vermin, and we too are but a heartbeat away from killing.

Religion is important in tempering the shadow. Or rather, it’s not any more. Religion is easy. You learn the lines, and you pay your lip-service once a week. Anyone can be religious. It’s the spiritual journey that tames the shadow, and spiritual matters, once upon a time the purview of religion, are more difficult. We can’t ignore the spiritual in us, though the left brain has been trying to eradicate it.

It was the Jungians who demonstrated the need for human beings to grow, spiritually. How we deal with that en-masse is a complicated business, but religions used to handle it reasonably well, until the left brain of religion decided it was all about power and influence, and to hell with that airy fairy business of the spirit. But ignoring the religious function – the spiritual function – the need to grow, people lose direction, become sick in the head, start believing in stupid things, and then they start killing each other.

The spiritual path, however you define it, is about dealing with the personal and the collective shadow. The modern psycho-spiritual types call it “shadow work.” But who has the time and patience for that, when the most pressing issue for many westerners now, is how to pay the rent, or the gas bill?

Jung hoped enough would wake up to spare the total extermination of the species, but we seem a long way off. It’s not exactly talked about, let alone taught at a level aimed at capturing the popular imagination. And of course any mention of Jung, even sixty years after his death, is still enough to trigger the shadow-splenetic of all manner of left brained intellectual and cultural punditry.

But what has all this to do with my dream of the Bamboo House? Well, given that this is an outline of my current thinking, it’s a fair bet it has something to do with it, because such is the stuff that dreams are made of. I trust another dream will come along and clarify it, that is, if I can stick around long enough to remember the punch-line.

Thanks for listening.

In the red box

In the Red Box

There’s a supernatural quality about her. I mean, it’s like she’s not really there, or she’s conjured up by my unconscious, complete with every compelling virtue unique to my own psyche. As regards what I do about that, I can only sit and stare, like she stares, unblinking, back at me. What I feel is awe, but her? I doubt she feels anything. She’s just reading me. Judging.

Hers is not the kind of beauty a man can ever aspire to, and I know not to spoil the moment, not even by talking to her. There is a poignant perfection to it, you see? Like in the patterns of a snowflake. To catch it up in the palm of one’s hand would be to see it melt away forever. You must never do that, for you pass this way but once. They say each pilgrim on this road is granted a fragment of wise counsel, to offer those who follow. If that is you, my friend, this, then, is my advice: do not fall in love with the girl, but take that love you feel rising in you, and keep it safe. It’s a gift. Don’t waste it on where it cannot be requited.

“You understand,” she says. “Not all who come here are prepared for what they find.”

Yes, I can well imagine that.

“You seek the wisdom of angels, but what if it’s demons that lured you to this room?”

I’ve wondered the same over the years. And yes, sometimes the angels that led me here have indeed been demons, shadows of my own self, and of the most deceptive sort. Other times, I’m convinced the angels only acted that way, because they know it’s demons we mortals find easier to listen to. We have no way of knowing for sure, except to trust in our better instincts. Either that, or we should not fear the consequences of our mistakes.

She turns to the green door. “All who enter there are changed. You come seeking clarity, and you may well find it, but others are driven mad by what they see.”

Yes, I’ve heard this from other pilgrims. Some leave with the starry light of revelation in their eyes, others run screaming into the dark. But I’m here, now, and it’s been a long journey; it’s a risk I accept.

She gives the briefest of nods. Is it that she finds me worthy? Or is it more she has only done her duty by the warning?

“You can go through,” she says.

The door opens a crack, and there’s a soft, soothing light on the other side, drawing me in. And there, at last, I find him.

He’s older than I’m expecting, in his eighties, or even nineties perhaps, but there’s a glow about him that defies time. He wears the tweeds of a country doctor from long ago, and he sits easy in a high-backed chair. The lines on his face speak of the wisdom of centuries. Hands clasped loosely, he peers over his knuckles at me, strokes his lip with the tip of his thumb, and he smiles.

“Welcome,” he says. “You’ve been a long time travelling, no doubt.”

“Yes. It’s been a long time.”

“They tell me I’m a difficult man to find. Is that still true?”

“Oh yes, you’re still a very difficult man to find. Almost impossible, I’d say.”

He bids me sit, and tell him my troubles, to spare him nothing. There is a low table between us, and on the table is a small, octagonal box of reddish hue.

So it’s true what they say!

He’s watching my reactions, reading my face. “Ah, I see you’ve heard of the red box.”

“Yes.”

“Alluring, isn’t it. Such a pretty, thing. And very old. There were many like it, once, now discarded out of ignorance at their true value. And the craftsmen who made them are long gone, their skills quite mysterious to us, and lost forever. But never mind that for now. Tell me what brings you.”

So I tell him my story, but not in the most eloquent of ways. It’s certainly not in the way I had prepared it over the years, anticipating this moment. Indeed, it spills out now, choppy, and it splashes here, there and everywhere. The thoughts come at me in spasms, like the chattering of those demons that have plagued me since the earliest of days.

I tell him that maybe guys like me have no right to feel so anxious, so lost in the world. Others start out with no money, no work, no girl, and that’s where they stay. Maybe they’re living on skid row. Or they’re with parents they should have moved away from years ago, but couldn’t afford to. So they’re stuck, their lives going nowhere, and the clock ticking. A guy like that has a right to be depressed, to be angry. He has a right to hunger, and to wonder what the hell the world is for if he is denied any useful part in it. Him, that guy, he has a right to be sitting here, asking what I’m asking. So I’m asking for both of us, him and me.

As for me, I managed to make a go of it, before it all unravelled. I was even married for a while, had a little house on an estate of similar little houses, that I could barely afford. I went to work every day, sat in front of a computer screen, and did stuff with spreadsheets. And I got shouted at by sociopathic bosses, for no more reason than that’s just the way it is.

It doesn’t sound great when you add it all up, but it’s the modern way. I mean, what else is there for what amounts to the 99% of us? But even the rich don’t seem happy. They can’t be, if the only fun they get is to go about shaping the world in ever more fiendish ways that make life a meaningless hell for the rest of us. Still, what right have I to feel the way I do?

“And what is it that you feel?” he asks.

Angry, I tell him. No, not angry. It’s more I feel a desperate hunger, like I’m starving. Yet this thing I’m so desperate for, I’m not even sure it exists, actually. But, there has to be more than this, surely? There has to be something.

I’ve had these intimations, you see, even in the early days, when the black dogs first came stalking, that there was nothing really wrong with me. It was more that something was missing from the world. Or maybe that thing was still there, but we’d all lost sight of it, something vital, long ago. Those of us falling sick of it, were the only ones waking up to this widening gap between what we reasonably aspired to as human beings, and what the world of material men – such as men were these days – had to offer.

By the time I hit forty, we’d had the crash, and the world had turned a permanent shade of grey. My wife and house were gone, and I was living in a two bed rent trap. Doctors were no help. Indeed, they seemed as much a part of the problem as everything else. A prescription for happy-pills, and a referral for counselling, was the best they could do.

But the health services had long since been rationed beyond all practical utility, and I never did get that referral because I guess I wasn’t considered ill enough. But if I wasn’t ill, then what was this sense of emptiness that would sooner have me sleep than be alive? What was this sense of dreadful meaninglessness? Why could I not simply fit in with the world as it was, like I was expected to?

The old man listens to all of this, and I mean the quiet sort of listening that draws the words out of you. So you keep going, the words spilling, and spiralling, and him soaking them up.

Some say he’s dangerous. They say the authorities would shut him down if they ever caught up with him, and that’s why he’s so hard to find. Others say he’s mad, or an outrageous charlatan who preys on the gullible, and the needy, and the lost.

When you think you’ve caught up with him, he’s already moved on, to another town, another country, and always one rumour ahead of you. But I kept going, because I knew in my heart he’s the last hope we’ve got of making sense of things. Meanwhile, the world, as we have made it, would sooner be without him. It would sooner we didn’t know of his existence at all, this man who is said to be capable of restoring one’s vision, one’s sense of meaning, and wonder,….

Anyway, here I am, after years of chasing rumours, through the back-street bars and the coffee shops of Europe, these wafer thin whispers of the old man, and the girl. And every contact along the way is cautious, suspicious of your motives. You have to persuade them of your sincerity, and it’s no use pretending. It’s something he does to people, you see? He makes them guarded, protective of his secret, because what he imparts to them is so extraordinary, though none of them can put it into words when you ask them.

And then there’s his last line of defence: the girl.

They say, not even the most sincere always get past the girl. There’s some flaw, some weakness in the way we regard her. But if she lets us pass, the old man listens, and then he asks us to look inside the red box.

But pass or fail, sincerity is the only thing that keeps us safe. There is no point trying to be clever, either, because you’re dealign with a power beyond your imagining. I got this from some guy I finally caught up with in a bar in Paris. I’d sought him out from rumours I’d picked up first in Milan, then followed them through Zurich and Prague. Sometimes the newspapers smell a story, he told me. Scandal. Sex. You name it. They send journalists to hunt him down. Or the politicians send private eyes, who pretend to be seeking the meaning of their lives, same as us.

But it’s not the truth they’re after. Not meaning. Nothing like it. Regardless of anything true, they only want to make a fool of him, so people won’t trust him any more. They don’t care what treasure gets destroyed in the process. They don’t care if generations are to live their lives in black and white, never to know again the riches of a world in colour.

For sure, not many of that sort get past the girl, but if they do, and they look into the red box,… man, watch out! What they see in there isn’t what others see. It drives them mad.

“What do they see?”

“Who knows?” said the guy. “It’s different for everyone. To seek what we seek, it puts you on a knife edge between heaven and hell. Fall one side, and you wake up in paradise, fall the other, and you’re burned up by your darkest imaginings.”

“And you? What did you see?”

The guy shook his head. “Like you, I’d sought them for years, the old man and the girl. I got past the girl, and I told the old man my story. But in the end, I was too scared to look inside that box. I chose to live with it, the meaninglessness.”

To live with it?

I’ve wondered about that, too, just living with it, I mean, crawling back under the duvet, instead of facing another day, and just letting the years slide by, pouring another glass of whiskey, while I scroll the rubbish on my phone. Let my brain stultify. Let the decades roll. Isn’t that what’s required of us? It must be, for I see no alternative. But to find the sanity, and the clarity in all of that, to have the colour restored, well, you’d have to do something with it. You couldn’t just sit on it, could you?

And are you ready for that?

This last thought comes back to me as I lock eyes with the old man. I wonder if he reads my mind, if this is what he’s waiting for. He nods, gestures then to the red box.

“If I told you what you’re looking for, the answer is in that box, and will change everything for you, would you believe me? Tell me, yes or no.”

Careful now. Wanting to believe is not the same as actually believing. So,…

“No.”

“You’re thinking the answer has to be more complicated, than that?”

“No. I’m wondering if there can be any answer at all, complex, or simple. Others have said there is. And that’s why I’ve followed the path I have, but more in hope than expectation. The best I can say is there may be nothing in that box at all. But from what I’ve heard, I have to reckon with the possibility there might be exactly what you say there is.”

I’m feeling a little woozy now. The old man does not seem so substantial as before. I wonder if the girl has hypnotised me. I wonder if the old man is an illusion. So all there is, is the girl, and what she symbolises: our addiction to love, and to beauty. But that’s not the answer to anything, or rather it’s only half the answer. It’s how we interpret it, that’s the key.

“Open the box,” he says.

So I take up the box, and I open it, and at the bottom is a mirror, offering me the most perfect reflection of my own self, all the way down to the very bones of me. The old man is fading fast, now. The last I see of him is his smile. The door opens, and I step out into the world. The colours are startling. The girl has gone. Only her beauty remains, and a sense of the deepest love.

It’s everywhere I look, and in everything I touch.

I can’t explain it any more than that. You’d have to look into the red box for yourself, to know what I mean.

Photo by Erik Mclean on Pexels.com

The Automobile Association reports there is no actual shortage of petrol. They say it is panic buying that has created a local shortage, here in the UK. But we could also say it was yesterday, or the day before’s media headlines, urging people not to panic buy petrol, that caused the panic buying, which has caused the emptying and subsequent closure of petrol stations, up and down the country. That’s a very different story. Then, we could also say it is a shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers that has caused the disruptions in supply that we should not have panicked about, and the reason for that,… well,… there, opinions diverge, become political, and I leave others to pick apart that side of things.

I’ve lived through enough fuel crises over the past half century to understand people’s anxiety over shortages. I’ve been in a hard place more than once, commuting, the car running on vapours, and with a decidedly obtuse line-management offering no support whatsoever, when I told them it was less than certain I would be there in the morning. But now I’m in the position where I don’t need petrol for anything other than travelling for pleasure, and we can easily curtail that until this particular moment passes.

What’s more interesting are the media headlines themselves, not so much what they say, but why certain stories are chosen to be told, while others are cold-shouldered. It’s interesting also to ponder just how much of our reality we construct upon a landscape shaped by the well-connected writers of this mass media. So we should perhaps be more concerned with asking ourselves who they are, and with whom they are connected, rather than with what they say.

My local petrol station ran out of fuel last night. It’s inconvenient, but I’m fine with it. I’m not tied to the car any more. Covid has taught me I can stay local for months on end without actually losing my mind. But that’s not the only thing going on in the UK at the moment. I’ve had emails from my energy supplier warning of a serious hike in prices this winter. That’s galling, but I calculate I can cover it. Then the weekly food bill has spiked, and stuff I used to see on supermarket shelves, I don’t see any more – or rather its presence is no longer to be relied upon. That’s irksome, but not exactly worth a letter to the Times. My local builder reports a sudden 40% hike in the price of wood, and do I still want that job doing? I’ll have to think about that one. Meanwhile, there may also be actual food shortages ahead, in particular meat, but I don’t eat much meat anyway, now, and I don’t give a stuff about turkey for Christmas.

All in all these are just ongoing shots in a barrage that seems woven into the fabric of British life, now, and I don’t see the future being any different, and certainly no better. In general, the message is: the future is not so big as it used to be. One might think the causes of such a collapse in a nation’s mojo would be the subject of heated debate, but it appears to be a mystery to almost the entire UK media, including the BBC.

I wager we all know the reason, but there is an omertà on that word, so I shall not speak it. But again, the word doesn’t really matter any more. What’s done is done. It’s more important to note that its presence in the landscape of our reality is so firmly resisted by the media. It is deemed no longer part of the official socio-economic history of the British Isles. That we did this to ourselves runs against the grain of British exceptionalism, and is therefore unthinkable – so we’d better make a mystery of it, or better still blame the Johnny Foreigner any which-way we can, than face the truth of our own stupidity.

Stories are important. They are vital to life. Those who stormed the US Capitol building inhabited a reality shaped largely by the right-wing conspiracist regions of social media. The stories they believed in seemed absolutely barking to me, but the issue is that they did wholly and sincerely believe in them. For a time, I inhabited a polar opposite region, one that spoke of the imminent birth of a socialist Shangri-La, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbin. There were many who felt that was equally barking. Reality, then, is a fluid concept, and even, to a degree, personal. I wonder what my own reality would be like if I lived a life isolated from all record of human thought, contemporary and historical. Would I even be able to think at all?

The big British media is so appallingly manipulative, I wonder how anyone can expect to be reliably informed by it, other than by developing the insight to read above the headlines, and to ask: what is it I am being led to think and believe here? There are alternative sources of media, of course, both right and left leaning. On the left we have the likes of Novara Media, and Byline Times. I find them telling stories that suit my own biases better. But I also feel I can trust their analyses, if only because their influence is as yet quite small and poorly connected with the corridors of power. Small in the influence to be pedalled, determination of facts, critical reasoning: whatever our bias, these are valuable touchstones, ones we should cleave to, but rarely do, in such polarised times as these.

Ongoing crises, populist but otherwise incompetent leaders, a drift to the nastier fringes of the bonkers right, the spectre of authoritarianism, appalling cruelty to others deemed not British, or not British enough. These are not the headlines we read, not the story that is written for us. But they are all of them facets of the reality that is indeed coalescing around the cold hard slag of a spent materialism, and an economic model we really need to ditch, but which ossified and unimaginably wealthy interests are keen to perpetuate. Thus, a story is spun which tells us there is nothing to see here. Or rather, what we are led to believe is entirely at odds with the increasingly uncomfortable truths of life in Britain, at least for the ninety-nine percent of us who still live here.

I have sworn never to utter that word again in the annals of this blog. Still, I cannot help but predict the outlook to be stormy on account of it [that word]. I shall, however, continue to marvel at the circumlocutions of the media, as they studiously avoid the elephant in the room, even as it defecates daily, and copiously all over their nice, shiny shoes.

Take care what you read, and what you choose to shape your reality.

Big Red Mercedes-Benz.

A Zen Master is driving his little car back into his home village. The road is narrow, and traffic is calmed to 20 MPH. He needs to make a sharp left turn over a little bridge. Care is needed here, in case there’s another car coming over in the opposite direction, because there’s no room to pass. Sometimes there are pedestrians and cyclists. He slows, indicates in a timely fashion, peeps around the corner. All is clear, light touch on the gas, the little car moves sedately from the main village thoroughfare, and safely onto the bridge,…

PAAARRRRPPP!

A huge red, Mercedes-Benz has been following, and is apparently enraged at the Zen Master’s cautionary pace, slowing up the already sedate thoroughfare. The Zen Master catches his breath in surprise. He stalls the car on the bridge, looks around as the Mercedes-Benz accelerates aggressively into the village. The passenger, a young, male, backwards-hatted, sneers. 20 MPH is clearly for the little people.

Question: would a Zen Master have been so alarmed? They fit very, very loud horns to big Mercedes-Benz. For the sake of argument, let’s say even someone as calm as a Zen Master can be startled by a sudden, very loud noise, when no noise is expected. But what does the Zen Master do next? Well, he starts the car and proceeds on his way. The incident is forgotten, or rather, it is let go of at once.

What he does not do is instantly think of giving the finger, only to discover he is so confused and angry, he can’t remember where his fingers are. Nor does he feel insulted. He does not inflate himself with self-righteousness. He does not wish a tyre iron into his hands, and the time, to say nothing of the agility, to spring out and smash all the glass on the offending, big, shiny, opulent, rich, smug bastard’s car. It might have wiped the smile off the backwards-hatted young man’s face,… just prior to him reaching for a baseball bat, and matters escalating from there.

No, I didn’t take a tyre iron to the rude man’s car. For all I know he might have been the local drug baron. So, I weathered the insult as best I could, but not like a Zen Master would. Clearly, a Zen Master, I am not. I just write about stuff that happened. Maybe I hold onto things for longer than I should, but that means I can squeeze them dry for all they’re worth first.
Anyway:

There was a young man thought profound
For wearing his hat ‘wrong way round,
But then it seemed all he said,
Came out the back of his head,
So clearly his plan was unsound.
Bah bum!

Big Red Mercedes-Benz, and backwards hatted, obnoxious persons, feel the stinging lash of my pen! Ouch!

Drive safely. And be patient.

Pendle Hill, from Downham

At 1827 feet, Pendle is a hill of considerable stature. It’s also a shape-shifter. From the A59, as you zip by Whalley, it calls, to my mind, the shape of a crouching lion. From the east, say from Barley, I think it has more the profile of a whale. From Downham though, where we’re heading today, it looks more like one of those Pictish hog’s back stones, complete with mysterious pictograms.

The simplest, and most direct route to the top of Pendle is from Barley, up the big end, but I have a vague notion of trying something more meandering today. I say ‘vague’ because it’s a mystery how I come to be here at all, actually. The original plan was to meet a friend in Kendal, but he was pinged at the last minute by the test and trace app, so he’s in isolation now. I’d thought to head over to the Dales instead, which, when in doubt, is what I usually do. That was definitely the plan on setting out but, as is sometimes the case, the grand old lady Pendle seduced me in passing, so the little blue car and I found ourselves swinging off the A59 at Chatburn. Now we’re on the car park, at Downham, just coming to our senses, and with the feeling of having been bewitched.

Downham is an unusual place, at least now, in twenty-first-century, rural Lancashire. It’s an estate village, owned in its entirety by the hereditary Baronet, Lord Clitheroe, who also owns the hill. What strikes you about the place is not what is present, but what is missing – no telegraph poles, no road signs, indeed nothing that speaks of any modernity beyond the nineteenth century, and with only the passing cars to reassure you you’ve not fallen through a timeslip, into an alternate universe. The way to the car-park is also secret, and unsigned, except at the last minute, and then only discreetly. You either know your way, in Downham, or you don’t.

So anyway, here we are.

The light is stunning at this time of year. Photographers have a thing about the golden hour – this being the hour before sunset, when shadows run long, and the light becomes dreamy. Some would never think to get their cameras out at any other time of day. But in September, the golden hour lasts from dawn till dusk, so long as the sun is shining. And it’s shining today. The colours are rich, the contrasts deep, and there’ the sense of the year holding its breath, holding on to the very best of things, as the leaves hover on the edge of crispness. It’s been a long time coming, a long time building, and here it is: the year’s perfection, golden and gorgeous. The oppressive heat has gone out of it, the air is fresh for walking – a beautiful day to be on the hill, or indeed anywhere out of doors.

Worsaw End Farm

The map tells us the way is clear enough. We take the path that runs by Worsaw hill, one of Pendle’s many curious little limestone outliers. Then it’s down by Worsaw End farm, famous as the main location for the 1961 film “Whistle Down the Wind” which starred a young and ruggedly bearded Alan Bates, and an even younger Hayley Mills. From here we follow the narrow lane, which peters out into a track and then becomes a path up the moor, meandering at first, then arrow straight, as it joins the curiously named Burst Clough. The contours are close together here and the path intersects them at right angles, so the going is very, very steep.

I remember coming down this way, late one winter’s afternoon, with a weak sun putting in its first appearance as it dropped below the level of the clouds, yet with only minutes from setting. The light was eerie, and I’ve never forgotten it, nor have I forgotten how glad I was not to be going up by this route. Now here I am, over a decade later, going up. But it’s a glorious day, much earlier in the day, the sun is dipping in and out of the clouds, and the undulations of the land are preening cat-like, as the dynamic shadows stroke it.

I don’t know what it is about hills. I’ve not been doing too bad this year, tackling the more substantial climbs in my locale, but I never seem to hit a peak of fitness, when a climb like this wouldn’t be a struggle, one that involves several stops to admire the view and to catch the breath. Maybe if I climbed a few thousand feet every other day, I might make it to the supreme level of fitness that seems to come easy to others, who only walk a big one once a year. I think they call it mountain form, and I suspect no matter how many miles I put in, mine will always be middling. You have it or you don’t. And if you don’t, you just do the best you can.

The path eventually cuts the contours at a less punishing angle, and we reach the massive Scouting Cairn, a hard one to miss, even in atrocious weather. Here, the vast plateau that Pendle hides, become evident, and mercifully level. The path from here hugs the edge of the hill, takes us north-east, then east, with stunning, airy views of the Ribble Valley, the Bowland Hills and the Dales. Ingleborough, where we were a few weeks ago, is glimpsed now through a buttery haze.

The going is easy on the legs now, and impressive, ample reward for that slog up Burst Clough. Eventually we meet another distinctive path coming more directly from Downham. We’ll be using this on return, but for now, while we’re so near the big end, we’ll strike a bearing south for the main top – not that we need to strike a bearing here, not even in mist, I imagine. The paths here are broad as day, and easy to follow.

Pendle summit

I’ve seen only a few people on the hill, and likewise even manage to get the summit trig-point to myself for a bit. It’s good to welcome back that old rush you get from making the top. But it’s more than that. For a time, on a big hill, with all the land spread out below your feet, there is a sense of transcending the every-day. You think and feel differently on a big hill.

I don’t know where I would have ended up if I’d carried on to the Dales – Malham probably, Pikedaw, possibly, and a good day would have been had, because all days in the Dales are good days. But Pendle made her play, for reasons best known to herself, and I was not disappointed.

The way down seems a long one, as it always does, when one turns for home. We can see the village of Downham miles away, pinpointed by the prominent tower of St. Leonard’s Church and, on wearying legs, we wonder if we will ever reach it. But the way is pleasant, first the meandering path across the moor, then the greener, meadow ways, by Clay House. Then it’s Downham’s timeless and ever gorgeous welcome, and those last few strides to the car. I’m glad to have the little blue car back on the road, after a few weeks of uncertainty. Runs out to places like this really aren’t the same without her.

But the day goes to the grand old lady, Pendle herself. She’s beautiful, at times mysterious, occasionally treacherous, but forever beloved of Lancashire. If you’re not from Lancashire, and you wonder what we sound like here, I can do no better than refer you to Whistle Down the Wind. I can’t believe we were really as innocent as this in the ’60’s, and the kids so sweet, but I was there, and I have a feeling, actually, we were.

The clear light of day

Photo by Tim Grundtner on Pexels.com

Unplugging all connections,
Unfastening all the snares,
Might we not embrace this cleaner air,
And fall?
See how tight we cling
To things
Of no consequence,
Our fingers jammed in every crack,
Our arms, oh so tired now,
And aching,
Legs, fearful, shaking.
Let it go, let it all go,
And backwards fall, and trust.
No dash of rocks, no rush
Of earth to black.
There is only this endless void, and true,
In which we might begin,
To embrace the world anew,
Then open up our Eye,
And let the clearer light, of day,
Come flooding in.