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henry cordier

When browsing second hand bookshops, one occasionally comes across old hand-written diaries. Now, unless the author was famous, it’s hard to put a value on such a thing. As an historical curiosity they’re clearly worth something, though often contain only self conscious ramblings. So, when I discovered the diary of Thomas Marston at a flea market, I wasn’t expecting much. It’s a thick Quarto sized journal dating from 1870 to 1873 – a lot of spidery ink and faded pencil, pages stained and torn, the cover battered and half missing. Its condition alone suggested a hard life and an epic journey. I was intrigued by it. It cost me £10, and it turned out to be money well spent.

Marston was a captain in the Queen’s Highland Light Infantry, posted to the northern Indian province of Himachal Pradesh. The early part of the diary recounts the minutia of military life on the frontier of Empire, which is interesting enough, but where it gets more interesting is when he describes a hunting trip he made while on leave in the summer of 1873. Since, as far as I’m aware, this diary was never published in print form, the information Captain Marston came into possession of during that trip is now known only to me, and in a moment I’ll be passing it on to you.

Travelling with an Afghan cook and an Indian manservant, Marston spent several weeks working his way up into the Himalayas, along tracks that are now well known to backpackers ascending the peaks and glacial valleys towards Tibet. The hunting was poor, and Marston berates both the weather and the incompetence of his cook. By no means a genial chap, he comes across, at least in the earlier part of his narrative, as a both a racist bigot and an upper class prick.

Eventually, wearied beyond cheering he begs shelter in a remote monastery. Here, a mixture of boredom and curiosity at the “superstitions” of heathen natives leads Marston to observe and describe the meditation techniques of the monks. Though hampered by language difficulties, he is able to make a good accounting of it and, presumably having little else to do, because of the still atrocious weather, tries out the practice himself. At this point the narrative takes on an almost psychedelic tone, as if Marston were suddenly imbibing opium, as he describes the peculiar psychical effects he experiences. What’s also interesting here is the change in Marston’s attitude, as reflected in his narrative – becoming more introspective, and humane, as if we are witnessing the elevation of his consciousness to a more sagely plane.

Marston spent six weeks at the monastery – rather a grand term for what he elsewhere describes as: an unfortunate congregation of mud and stone buildings clinging precariously to an unstable mountainside. He was there from August 23rd, and departed in late September, which suggests either his leave entitlement from the British Army was incredibly generous, or we’re not getting at the whole of the truth here and Marston was in fact some kind of spy. Although this sounds like something from a Kipling novel, it’s not beyond possibility, nor is what happened next.

Marston and his party climbed from the monastery to a ridge overlooking the valley, from where they intended turning West and heading to Kashmir. As they do so, weeks of incessant rain releases a catastrophic mudslide which engulfs the valley below, swallowing the monastery and everyone in it. Marston’s party were lucky to escape with their lives.

From this point Marston seems at pains to detail the meditation method, as if aware now he might be the last man alive who knows anything about it. As a method, it’s very similar to Transcendental Meditation, which aims to still the mind and open the gates to “transcendence” by the repetition of a word or a mantra. In the latterly “trade-marked” Transcendental Meditation, the mantra is considered personal and is passed on to the adept after a period of paid study by the “teacher”, but in Marston’s method, the mantra is derived by taking measurements of the lines on the palm of the hand. The angles between the lines are then reduced by a simple formula into a series of notes or tones that are hummed or even just imagined under the breath. Since everyone’s hand is different, this will yield a different musical “key” to enlightenment for each person.

To the uninitiated, it sounds like an improbable mixture of palmistry and numerology. However, although sceptical at first, I have been practising the method now for several weeks and the results are astonishing. Within the first few sessions I experienced a powerful sense of oneness and transcendence, an experience that has been repeatable and, quite honestly, mind blowing. I could, and probably will write volumes on the potential of this technique, but for now my aim is to bring it to the attention of a wider audience.

Listen up then, all you have to do is this:

Send me a scanned print of your hand, and non-refundable payment (by Paypal only please) of £5000. Then I’ll send you by return your personal mantra as a set of musical notes. I cannot guarantee success of course, as for all I know you may be tone deaf or simply doing it wrong. In the near future I shall also be organising a workshop, by invitation only, to a select group of the most attractive celebrities with whom I plan to share the method for deriving this mantra, since ordinary people are unlikely to possess the qualities necessary for this subtle aspect of the work.

Now, even after swallowing hard at that hefty price tag, I know you really want this method to be true, in spite of your natural born cynicism and the overripe smell coming from the rather cheesy fiction by which I claim to have discovered it. If you’ve not rumbled me yet, then let me say now I have, of course, made the whole thing up, and by doing so hope to have cast a light on our acquisitive natures, and on the all pervading belief that a thing is worthless unless we’ve paid a lot of money for it, also that there has to be a secret special key that will instantly and easily transform what we imagine to be the untidy imperfection of our lives into the solid gold of something infinitely better.

But the good news is you can learn everything you need to know about meditation for nothing. There are thousands of methods to choose from and none worth their salt will carry the label “secret” or a hefty price tag. Simply Google “Meditation Methods”. Explore them, and adopt the ones that appeal to you. Or you can follow my own (again free and fully detailed) method here.

The bad news is there are no short cuts to what we seek, no magic formula. We sit, and we practice, and though we do feel better for it in all sorts of ways, it’s counter-productive to expect transcendence, enlightenment, or any other peculiar psychic happenings, no matter how much we’ve paid our teacher. So, please, to be absolutely certain, don’t send me your hand print, I was being ironic. As for the price tag, there have been bigger scams than that, and always someone desperate enough to pay. So again, just in case: Michael Graeme doesn’t want your money, because, like Captain Thomas Marston, Michael Graeme does not exist, and neither does his secret method to transcendence.

Remember people sometimes might just be telling stories.

So hey,

Lets be careful out there.

The other fellas.

southport sunsetOne of the most interesting things about the universe, apart from what’s in it, is that goes on for ever. We know from observation of the stars and galaxies they appear to be expanding, moving away from one another as if in some vast slow motion explosion. The question is what is it expanding into? And whatever that is, is it bounded, and if so by what? And so on, and so on.

If we could travel out far enough out, would we eventually come to a metaphorical barbed wire fence and a notice saying “no trespassing”? It’s an absurdity to think we will, if things are truly infinite. But on the other hand can it really go on for ever? Well it must, because if it doesn’t, whatever is bounded by some finite limit, has to be contained in something else. And this is before we get really weird and start talking of extra dimensions of space and time and the possibility that there may be an infinite number of universes, each of infinite size as well.

Infinity is a serious business.

But then we turn from studying the vastness of the universe, and we peer down our microscopes into the innerverse of the very small, the quantum universe, and we discover a similar situation, only the other way round, another infinite regression, this one into smallness. What makes an atom? What makes what makes an atom? And what makes that? What is the fundamental building block of matter? Can there even be such a thing, for if it were detected byt the building block blasters at CERN, and held up as the Ultimate building block”, we would inevitably want to know that was made of as well.

Another curiosity of the quantum world is the theoretical possibility that every event brings about the birth of universes in which all possible outcomes of that event are realised, that in any system of uncertainty there can be no outcomes left unexplored. So, my own life yields a separate self to cover all eventualities, all the possible choices I have ever made and will ever make. Preposterous? Well, as someone said once, I forget who, it’s heavy on universes, but since the universe is infinite, it will have plenty of room to for each of them. Because infinity is like that. It’s even bigger than itself.

Which brings me to ask the question: Which version of my selves am I this evening? Which version of me are you reading? And in all the possible versions of this blog, are you reading the one I think I’m writing? And what are you doing in my universe anyway? Or do our probable lives cross here. Do the tides of my universe wash by chance upon the shores of yours tonight? And in the morning we go our separate ways.

Thinking like this makes me giddy. We understand so little of true nature of reality, but the world turns anyway and the only uncertainty that means anything really is the price of tomorrow’s bread. Is that not also strange? Human beings are remarkable in being so rooted in the material world, yet being also capable of exploring, mentally at least, its outermost metaphysical reaches. And the fact that so much of the universe is unknowable in all its infinite multiples, inevitably gives rise to speculation, both scientific and spiritual, about how it really works. And what it all might mean?

Science is the long road to knowing, and it cannot give us all the answers, since the universe is infinite after all, and that kind of certainty would take an infinite amount of time to achieve, but Science also has a method that enables questions to be answered with a fair degree of certainty, and to build on previous knowledge, at least so long as there are humans around to go on asking the questions.

Spirituality, meanwhile, provides a short cut to a kind of knowing, and so helps us in the day to day dealing with the unsettling mystery of things. Depending on our cultural background we ascribe things we do not understand to the workings of the faery, or to gods, or to God. True, it may be a short cut to nowhere, for spiritual thinking – especially when it becomes formalised and rule based, as in Religious Spirituality – is a journey beset by paradox, and intellectual absurdity.

Zarathustra’s famously perplexed holy-man asks of the people: Where is God? But the science of determinism, leads us to the logical conclusion that God is dead, if only by virtue of the fact there is no longer any need for a deity in explaining the workings of the world. Science, it says, has all the answers, or if it doesn’t have them right now, the scientific method will reveal them eventually. But not all scientists are of such a deterministic bent, and the study of the paradoxical quantum world – of the things that make up matter – leads its proponents to agree that while, the first sip of the sciences will make you an atheist, God is still waiting for you at the bottom of that glass.

News of God’s demise it seems is somewhat exaggerated.

There is in fact something deeply mysterious underlying matter, and we cannot know it, just as we are told we cannot truly know God, because to observe it, alters the very thing we are looking at. But even for an unknowable God to exist, God must exist in something and therefore be bounded by a thing that is greater than God, and therin lies the paradox of God. And all of that comes long before we start wondering about the origin of our own selves.

Some religions will personify God to a degree, with the prophets and more profound adepts being promoted to the status of demi-gods on their passing. Other religions take a looser interpretation, ascribing to God the boundless state of the Universe itself. And God’s awareness becomes our own awareness, so the awareness I have of myself, at least when I reach a state where I can transcend the run of my own egoic thoughts, is the same awareness you have of yourself – again once you emerge from the fog of you own ego. We are essentially different versions of the same thing, we have a dual nature – one egoic, individual, born of the world and riddled with the usual imperfections, the other collective, and perfect, and born of God, at least psychically.

But the psyche is another story and taps right back into the unknowable root of the Universe and becomes at its deeper stratums independent of the physical realm, part bedded in the quantum levels of reality instead. Take it further and we can say all that exists is consciousness. In other words: nothing exists, at least physically. What we believe to be the physical nature of reality is just something we have imagined into being. That it all works and appears to be logically consistent is purely on account of the fact that we subliminally agree what the rules are going to be in the first place. Nature’s laws could be laws we are making up as we go along. This is the Idealism of Bishop Berkley, and a hard one to shoot down.

Maybe.

Nothing exists. Think of that! But even just to say it, to define “nothing” immediately suggests its existence, if only in juxtaposition to its antithesis: “something”. Therefore it’s a logical impossibility for “nothing” to exist at all, and the whole of creation is, after all, an inevitability, whether it be physical or purely psychical in nature, or a curious mixture of the two. That’s the miracle, the wonder, the rapture of creation.

It’s wonderful to cut loose for a while as I have been doing here this evening, but I wonder too what this is going to read like in the morning. And I wonder if I can truly be imagining myself into being and further, creating multiple versions of myself as I go along, pausing to consider my words, if what I read in the morning will actually be what I am about to post right now, and if what you read in your universe, is the same as I am writing in mine.

But if you find all this a little hard to take, remember it makes no difference to the price of bread and is mostly idle speculation. Also, be sure you complain to the right version of me as I can take no responsibility for the outpourings of other versions of myself. And in my uniquely human way I shall be sure to take all the credit where credit may not be entirely due, and blame the nonsense on the wormholes riddling the brain of that other fellas, who also call themselves,…

Michael Graeme.

The Wooden Horse

When I was five I ran away from school. I didn’t understand my incarceration there, and felt I was getting nothing in return, so I decided to leave. Escape wasn’t difficult. I chose the chaos of a playtime, observed the gate, observed the inattentiveness of the guards and simply walked out. Yes, I went entirely undetected by “authority”, which I learned early on, for all  of its bluster, is actually a bit numb. I was, however, observed by one of my fellow inmates, a bossy, busybody of a girl, who raised the alarm. So, with authority now awakening like a dozy hippo at her shrill call, I decided to run for it.

I did well, made it a good mile towards home. But “authority”, not being sufficiently fleet of foot itself, had dispatched another inmate to catch me, a swift limbed girl, older than me. I gave her a run for her money, but catch me she did, eventually. She would grow to become the most beautiful girl in the village, but for now she took my hand gently, and led me back into imprisonment. The snitch probably became a kingpin of Human Resources in a bland multinational.

If I was reprimanded on return it went over my head, for I remember none of it. I think my father was expected to have a word, which he did, but he was more amused than outraged, more impressed than dismayed. He seemed to be saying that while rebellion was not to be universally despised, I still had a lot to learn about the world, and what it meant to be alive within it.

But I had already learned some important lessons here. Number one, escape was not going to be easy. Number two: ones fellow inmates were blind to their incarceration and could not be relied upon to assist in evading ones own. And number three: a man does well to be circumspect in his dealings with women, especially bossy ones, but even more so those who chase after him, no matter how beautiful , because it’s unlikely to be to his advantage in the end.

Of course as I thought more about the problem, and my father’s words, I realised the bounds of incarceration extended beyond the school gates, so it was impossible to ascertain when safe ground had been attained. Indeed observing the world, I realised the whole of it had been constructed as a fiendishly clever prison, one in which the inmates thought they were free. Escape from such a place would require more than a swift pair of legs. It would require a perpetual awareness of the madness, but also, since one could not rely upon one’s fellow inmates for discretion, it would also require one to go deep under cover, to pretend absolute conformity, and while pretending, to remain vigilant, and to plot!

I was inspired by the true story of the wooden horse, the one where POW’s in Germany, made a wooden vaulting horse, carried it brazenly into the prison yard each day and, while a group of men vaulted over it, another, hidden within the horse, began digging a tunnel underneath it. It was a painstaking business, the dirt grubbed away, scoop by scoop, under the very noses of the guards. It sounds improbable, but it worked, and three men got away.

Me? I’m still digging, still pretending conformity,while dreaming of the freedom to simply be, to not have to get up at crack of dawn every morning , to say to myself: “Now, what shall I do today?” And if the answer is “nothing” then so be it, for there will be time a plenty to enjoy both the nothings and the fullness of days, days entirely of my own shaping, like the days before I was captured as a child from the wild of preschool years.

Of course, time itself is the biggest prison, and my tunnel is taking an awful lot of it in the digging. We begin to fear old age and frailty will deny us the pleasure of our lives when we are finally free to enjoy them, that there is a possibility, having spent the war years digging our tunnel out under the wire, the war will be over by the time we’ve cut that final slice of turf to daylight and liberation. Then we’ll be standing on the other side looking back, the guards themselves having long turned for home anyway, and we’ll be thinking: was that it?

I wonder if it would not be better to have simply joined in a bit more. I don’t mean this in the sense that I have not engaged with the world – at least physically – for indeed I have. I have sampled much of what it has to offer, but while doing so I have always held a part of me in reserve, never forgetting the imperative for escaping the madness at some point.

Or is this talk of escape not merely cowardice? Is the madness not my own? So, the years pass and the school-desk becomes the work-desk, and the puzzling thing is, I can walk away from my incarceration tomorrow. There is no need for a tunnel now, and no swift limbed beauty will come to drag me back to that desk. So why don’t I? I can argue I’m doing it for the money, that a man must eat, that the money is now the trap. Sure, there are monks who go into the world wrapped in only a binding of cloth and with a bowl to beg and that may be a definition of true liberation, but who among us is willing to live like that?

So is it not the falsehood, but the truth itself I am running from?

And is the truth not this:

Welcome to your life. Freedom will come to each of us soon enough. In the meantime, we should make the best of what we have, otherwise the most secure prison is the one we build around ourselves, not so much preventing us from getting out, but preventing others from getting in.

It’s something to think about, but for now, if you’ll excuse me, I still have a lot of digging to do.

Post Trip Musings

man strolling in a wooded landscape - detail - A A MillsAmazing, how quickly the cosy glow of one’s holidays fades, isn’t it? Mid morning, first morning back at the day job and there you are, things settling upon you once more, a million crabs nipping and nagging at you, something slithering over your skin – that all too familiar cold slime of responsibility. Then it’s out into the near stagnant commute, arriving home some indeterminate time later, brain-fried and grumpy, then bed by ten, waking at six thirty a.m. feeling totally unrefreshed, and getting up and doing it all again.

But we would be much worse off if we didn’t get that two week break, if like in the olden golden times of arch Conservatism, the labouring masses got no holidays at all, but for Christmas day, and we worked a six and a half day, sixty five hour week until we dropped dead, never having climbed a step from poverty – a regime we’re heading back to if our young are to have any hope of living off the wages that are paid in these enlightened, tightened times, these times of grim austerity.

I can’t believe I am still hearing that word.

Surely austerity was for the nineteen fifties, after the world was nearly ruined in a storm of war that lasted five years – not this, this financial crisis, this money game, this accounting fraud that has already lasted much longer than a world at war, laying waste to the less fortunate of nations as surely as if they had been invaded by tanks and guns.

The black tide of Nazism was defeated in less time than this. And the only strategy against the tyranny of the money game that the money captains can come up with is to convince us there is no alternative to an eternal free fall into a future of less and less, into an austerity of eternal midnight.

Alas, it is the banishment of all hope, all ye who enter here.

But for a weeks I flew. I climbed the little road from Malham in a lovely old car with the top down. I flew all the way to Leyburn, I left the bustling market square at Masham early one Saturday morning beneath a deep summer blue sky and with the birds singing, and I flew all the way to Scarborough. There, I walked the long front from north to south bays and back, explored the steep and narrow of the old town, and breathed a different air. And the gulls were not the killer gulls of the bonkers press. They were the snow white fisher-birds I have always known, and there were only ink-dirty fingers pointing blame where blame there was none, creating a story, where story there was none, while steadfastly ignoring the real story of our times.

In the creed of Nowness, the past is unimportant, but the recent memory of a positive experience can sustain us, at least for a little while, as we nudge ourselves back into the material reality of our dayjobs. It creates a bit of space. The darkness of the first week back after one’s holidays can then be punctured by a gentle reflection. But I fear in my case, after thirty seven years of nine to five, I am already growing out of work, my mind turning far too soon to other things. I would as soon eschew the looming golden watch, escape instead, travel the length and breadth of my United Kingdom in that little roadster with a light bag and a box of books, and a little tapping pad on which to muse and write of what I find along the way.

Sigh.

It’ll be a while before I can realistically do that, but there it is:

The dream of flight.

Of escape.

But what if what we are trying to escape from is a state of mind? one that constructs cages for itself, and the cage is on castors, so we cannot help but take it wherever we go? What if it cannot be escaped by running? To be sure the snares of the material world are myriad, and the thing with snares is the rabbit strangles itself by thinking it can get away, by resisting, by struggling. But by resisting, the noose only tightens all the more. It is the evil efficiency of the snare, that it uses one’s own energy to bring about our destruction.

Thus it is the creed of Nowness teaches us the art of escape through stillness, by creating space within ourselves so we slip through unharmed, like a slippery seed, clean through the arsehole of the world, to bloom elsewhere, upon another plane. And so, even amid the nine to five, we walk a kind of inner freedom, and we do not mind the world as it is any more. Even the bumbling blather of austerity talk and money tyranny melt into the background, into a meaningless Muzak.

Or so the theory goes.

It troubles me only in that all of this sounds a little defeatist. Surely if we are trapped we should fight with all our might, and at the very least do something? Seeking instead our escape within we might as well be wishing an early grave, for both things are liberating in a sense, but hardly what one might call living. I suppose it’s just this feeling I have done my time at the work face, my nose pressed against the dirt for too long, and would leave the struggle to others now, to those who still can – struggle on. For as the saying goes, those who can do, while those who cannot do teach, and those who are not for doing any more, and cannot teach, can only write.

I don’t know if I’ve returned, post trip, with a straighter head or not. It feels a bit wobbly to me. Do you think?

Graeme out.

Mazda3It is with regret I leave Scarborough and the North Sea coast, but not before a surprise awakening in the night! On the first occasion, it is the amorous couple across the landing, again. It’s going up for midnight and it’s taking a while for their indiscreet coitus to get going. I regret to say I attempt to quench their ardour by rolling groggily from bed and flushing my toilet, since I presume this will be as audible in their room as theirs is in mine. My intervention is purely on account of the lady’s predilection for talking dirty, which has never been my thing really – perhaps there is too much of the grey tweed Englishman in me. I am not a prude, but I find it vulgar and embarrassing. Also there are young children on the same landing and I would not like them to be disturbed by it. I underestimate the couple’s determination however and the voluble, aggressive, foul mouthed coupling continues.

It is the fire alarm that comes to our rescue eventually. Unfortunately this also necessitates evacuation into the cold and rain of the small hours to await the Fire Brigade. Fortunately the alarm is false.

You never know someone properly until you have seen them in their pyjamas and I venture to suggest guests found the event, chatting casually in the small hours and rather less formally clothed than at dinner, a good ice breaker. I regret to say I did not follow evacuation instructions to the letter, being guilty of pausing to pull on jeans and jacket over my PJs, but I was still out in under a minute. I note I had also unconsciously rescued wallet, carkeys and spectacles. Luggage and, interestingly, the journal (on the Voyo) were left to burn.

Anyway, the morning of my departure is wet, and it’s a long, steamy drive west, pausing for coffee in the beautiful market town of Helmsley. I suspect the weather is broken now, and we will not be cruising home at any point in style with the top down. The rain comes on more in earnest now and I browse Helmsley with the aid of an umbrella. In the bookshop I discover to my delight Niall Williams’ latest novel, History of the Rain.  I read the opening paragraph, my heart fills and I take it at once to the till. I shall lock myself away next week and savour it. Williams I’m sure is part born of the Faery folk, for none other could cast such a spell with mere words.

I make another stop at Ripon for more coffee and to purchase picnic tea from Sainsbury’s, also a brief visit to the deer park at Studley to relive memories of past summers there with my children – now too old to want to holiday with eccentric parents. I find it is too expensive to leave the car for even an hour by the lake, so I press on to my final lodgings, the Half Moon Inn.

In “By Fall of Night”, the Half Moon Inn does not exist, at least not in the physical world, but rather in the shared dreamspace of the main protagonists, Tim and Rebecca. In other parlance it is an Ibbetson space, a term so far as I can discern first coined by Robert Moss, teacher of dreaming, author and latter day shaman. It is so called after the Georges du Maurier novel Peter Ibbetson, an highly accomplished story which explores the idea of shared lucid dreaming. I am half expecting to have similarly imagined the physical existence of the Half Moon, but come upon it suddenly as I usually do, while pasting it along the road to Pateley Bridge. It is by now mid afternoon and still raining.

I seal myself up in a cosy annexe for the remainder of the afternoon and early evening, with picnic tea, books, and recalcitrant Voyo, then venture briefly to the bar for a modest nightcap where I make the acquaintance of the sweet natured Billy the dog. The bar is quiet, some locals passing through, some tourists, both native and foreign. All are friendly.

Moss is dismissive of Ibbetson spaces, not because he questions their existence, but more because of their limited potential for personal development. Like my creation of the Half Moon Inn, an Ibbetson space exists only in the shared imagination of two people. Others cannot discover it, they cannot trespass. The broader spaces and collective constructs of the Dreaming are different in being discoverable by anyone, and not relying upon the continuing existence of a particular individual for their persistence. This is said to be true ground of being, of the psyche. Intellectually there is much to explore here. I do not believe or disbelieve in the existence of such things. They are for now beyond proof,  but I enjoy the thought experiments they permit.

Of course I have explored these ideas in many of my past novels, but now, in The Queen of Carrickbar, or whatever I end up calling it, I seek once more the firmer ground of a purely material existence. Materiality is a very testing environment for a human being. A number of tragedies have befallen friends this year, and they have left me shaken, they have left me taking nothing in life for granted for I see how easily all might be lost. I see how easily a man might suddenly find himself in late middle years with everything he has built – family, friends, even wealth – swept away, and there he is once more, naked as a babe, facing the blank wall of an apparently pointless universe. How can anything that comes next not be seen as futile? How does one carry on?

If there is anything more to life, or behind life, then its traces can be discerned in the more peculiar faculties of the mind, that the mind, can sometimes see around corners, that we are in part at least capable of some kind of psychical existence beyond the limitations of space and time (Jung). But the search for anything definitive along such lines can never be anything more than a thought experiment, at best tantalisingly suggestive of something remarkable hidden beneath the fabric of existence, but impossible to state with any more certainty than in fictional works like Du Maurier’s Ibbetson, or my own stories.

But find it we must if tragedy is not to break us. The spiritual function must be allowed its freedom to transform the psyche, or we become more vulnerable to the trials of material existence. And the worst we can do is lose ourselves completely in materiality, believing it is all there is to life.

So,… as I bid goodnight to Billy the dog, the last leg of my journey unfolds in my imagination. Tomorrow we rejoin the valley of the Wharfe, travel south to Burnsall Bridge and Bolton Abbey. Then it’s the endless roaring ribbon of the A59, back across the border to Lancashire, and home.

This has been an immensely satisfying tour of Yorkshire. For its success, and its welcome I would like to thank:

The Buck Inn, Malham,
The Grove House Guest House, Leyburn,
The Park Manor, Scarborough,
The Half Moon Inn, (nr) Pateley Bridge

Also, the people of Yorkshire encountered enroute, friendly to a man, and woman, and reassuring of the nature of all human beings. And if not then let all human beings take note of the nature of Yorkshiremen.

And finally I would like to thank the designers and engineers of the Mazda Motor Company, of Hiroshima, Japan. I know I’ve droned on about the beauty of the MX5 elsewhere, but this trip quite simply would not have been the same without this old girl.

freddie gilroy 1Overnight rain dries to a clear, sunny morning. Breakfast at the Park is rendered comical by the positioning of my table next to the kitchen doors and the breakfast buffet. With each passing soul, diner or staff, the floor rocks beneath me on account of wobbly boards underneath. I resist sea-sickness and enjoy a fine full English breakfast.

There is always something one could complain of in life, but I am rested and magnanimous this morning, after a mostly sound night’s sleep. And I can smell the coffee. Only the lusty, squealing climax of the amorous couple across the landing disturbed me, and then only briefly. Afterwards they passed out and slept as soundly as I. I see them at breakfast, not a young couple by any means. Clearly youth is not everything when it comes to bedroom gymnastics.

I make a quick check on the Mazda – the carpark here is small and steep and I am fearful of accidents. I have snicked her into first gear in case the handbrake fails and she rolls. Mr. Happy sits against the gear stick, a note in his hands reminds me: “car in gear”. I’ve been driving four four days, and I’m letting both her and me rest today.

Instead, I walk to South Bay, along the marine dive. There, I loiter around the harbour for a bit, then sit with mug of sweet tea enjoying the bustle and the sunshine, before returning, taking pleasure in the sea air. The promenade here is not natural, North and South bays being originally isolated from one another by the steep headland, atop which sits the castle. Heroic engineering works, begun in 1907 finally established the marine drive and an impressive thing it is too.

Of the two bays I prefer the North. Here, on the promenade, raised up on his supersized bench, we pass an impressive and highly emotive sculpture of local old soldier, Freddie Gilroy, a sort of “freehand sketch” in welded steel is how it’s described by its creator, the county Durham sculptor Ray Lonsdale. Freddie represents the millions of ordinary people thrust into the extraordinary circumstances of the second world war, where they saw things the likes of which few of us can imagine. Freddie’s regiment finished the war at Bergen Belsen, where he tells us he could smell the death from three miles away. He was 24, “celebrated” his birthday amid the horror of the camp and wept. He tells us he wept every birthday afterwards. Now he sits staring meditatively out to sea. This is a work held in great affection by residents and visitors alike, and unlike many a piece of public sculpture it tells a powerful story.

The I am thinking back to breakfast and imagine Herr Gruber of the Maison Du Lac, asking me why I do not complain about my table. Is it my stereotypical Engishness? my aversion to making a fuss? I reply that the English can be as rude as anyone, and any way, I may not be so English as I seem. And sometimes I prefer to be positioned where others might not. Or is it more that I fear asserting my true nature?

On the return walk, I catch a scent of the sea. It surprises me. I have also smelled coffee in the last few days, raising hopes my anosmia is once again cycling into remission. I have smelled nothing since June. The sea is briny, of course, but also faintly and beautifully perfumed. The latter is possibly an aberration of my errant senses, but delightful all the same. The tide is in, the breakers pounding on the sea defences. A colony of killer gulls inhabits the pale sandstone cliffs of the headland. They screech agressively and hurl poop at passers by. (Only joking)

scarboroughA character enters my head and begins to converse, to open more possibilities for my story. He is an old man. Late Seventies, impeccably dressed in country tweeds and tie.

Let me see: thus far we have Finn, a man who has lost everthing and is facing the remaining decades of his life without purpose or meaning. We have the Goth woman at the Sea View Cafe, and now we have the old gentleman. He is lonely, bears it stoically. And we have a young man, challenged by the lack of opportunity in Carrickbar, a run down seaside resort. He is capable of much but lacks the intellect to be pulled to safety by education. And of course at some point we have the Queen of Carrickbar.

She is Russian for now – eastern European certainly, stranded in Carrickbar by divorce. She’s a looker, a mature woman, blonde, shapely, perfect except for having a mouth like a fishwife. She used to be wealthy, but is now living in faded glory and clinging to her dignity by whatever means she can. And she is dying, I think – at least this is what she whispers to me – though at present this seems too mawkish. Finn must help her, but without making a lover out of her, and he must help the young man, her son. And he must help the old man.

The goth woman, Hermione? is in love with Finn from the opening chapters. But he doesn’t know.

The sketch of it deepens, but I hold back for now. Things will change as the characters interact and shape things to suit themselves. The theme of the story I think is that life can have no meaning if we look only to life for what we can take or recieve from it. In taking from life we can all too easily lose our way. It is only by giving back, and selflessly, do we find ourselves again. Only by givng does the emptiness dissolve and the love of and in life return. This is how Finn must act, how his thoughts must lead him if he is to find the will to live on.

It’s a long walk to South Bay and back. I meet many hardy elderly people, meet them again on the return. One of them is an old lady, her dogs make it one way only. On the return she pushes them in a perambulator. I am not conscious of working the story in my head as I walk. It’s more that the characters know I am open and avail themselves of the opportunity and the space of my emptiness.

scarborough 2Coffee in the room and courtesy biscuits for lunch. Then I test my assertiveness at reception and ask for my table to be changed. Dinner is not cheap here, and I would not want to find the experience irritating. Tables are juggled at once, and I am reassured I will be more out of the way – though I worry about what “out of the way” means. I also feel guilty that someone else will be sitting at the wobbly table by the kitchen doors. My assertiveness brings me comfort but note it comes only at the expense of someone else.

There is a band concert in Peasholme Park. The bandstand is in the middle of the lake, its pagoda roof is colonised and thoroughly pooped upon by ugly killer gulls. The band is more of a brass quartet, but very competent and enthusiastic. They play the theme tune to Coronation Street and Dad’s Army, and in the interval it rains. The audience materialise umbrella’s and mackintoshes. An English summer brings out an English resolve to see the thing through.

I return to the hotel, consider a swim but the pool is accessed from the conservatory and there is a posh-frock gathering in there at the moment and they have a smoked glass view of the pool. I decide my strokes would make for poor entertainment, so instead I read out the rain in my room.

I have finished the Coelho I picked up in Leyburn. The Devil and Miss Prym. His thoughtful reads have long been an inspiration. By contrast I am struggling with Toibin’s “The Master”. The rain settles in and raises a hiss from the passing traffic.

Dinner is traditional and plain, the table a good one. The staff are all very young, attentive and smiling. I choose the Sirloin. I did not know it was tradition in Yorkshire to serve the Yorkshire pudding as a separate course between starter and mains. To my relief I note no one is sitting at the wobbly table at my expense.

It is the longest leg of the tour tomorrow, 70 miles, back to the Dales, to Pateley Bridge and the Half Moon Inn.

peasholme park 1A very poor night in Masham. Music throbbing up from the restaurant until 1:00 am, rendering sleep impossible. Instead I play Survivalcraft on the ‘droid, rather than struggle with a sweaty pillow. There is nothing like lack of sleep for making me irrationally ratty. When the music is finally cut, I manage to sleep about five hours. It starts up again at seven.

I do not stay for breakfast, (which is charged extra) but check out and load up the car. Did I enjoy my stay, asks the girl? Am I honest? No; she was but eighteen and I had not the heart to be honest to her sweet face. I am such a coward, and would sooner leave complaining to others.

Anyway, the Bordar Cafe restores Masham to my good books with tea and nicely poached eggs. It’s also market day, and the square presents now a more colourful scene than it did yesterday. I resist the urge to buy a Fedora hat – it’d momentarily tempting but they are not ideal for open top motoring, and make me look ridiculous. Anyway, I remind myself I am saving money for nice vintage wristwatch off Ebay to tinker with when I get back. Meanwhile, the offending hotel preens at my departure, all glitter in the morning sunlight, but I know it intimately, and know it possesses very little by way of charm or substance.

I will not be staying there again, and will be laughing for years to come at its privations. Do you remember that night when we?….

I drive off with the room key in my pocket – lack of sleep makes me forgetful.

It is sixty miles of good, fast road to Scarborough, and a sunny day so the top is down all the way. There is a terrible jam of slow moving traffic crawling up Sutton Bank. It’s bottom gear all the way up this notoriously severe incline. Heavy traffic which includes heavy vehicles makes things worse, at time dangerously so. The Mazda would normally have no trouble if the road were clear and we could get a run at it, but in a convoy for which the speed is only just above stalling, it adds spice. I catch her on the clutch a few times, finding even bottom gear at half a mile per hour is insufficient. This is a car that revels in the hill climb challenge and must take today’s insult on the chin. The cause of the jam is a tractor hauling an unbelievably big trailer of hay. They have such low gears they can crawl at half a mile per hour all day. Motor cars cannot.

I make a brief stop for lunch at Thornton Le Dale’s lovely Lavender Tearooms, where my ‘Droid cause confusion by actually ringing. (My ‘phone rarely rings). It is the hotel at Masham enquiring about the key. Searches confirm my being still in possession of it. Their rationing does not run to keeping a spare, though they are frantically searching for it. Am I far away? I am by now forty miles, I am tired and headachy on account of their small-hours entertainment so do not offer to drive back with it. I purchase a Jiffy bag from the post office and a stamp. I tell them they shall have it Monday.

Then it’s on to Scarborough and the Park. I use the ubiquitous ‘Droid to negotiate the last bit of the journey through the centre of Scarborough, but it gives up, overheating under a full sun with the top down, abandons me in heavy traffic, and with various petulant warnings, leaving me to my own devices. After a flutter of panic, and amid curses, the old senses revive sufficiently to bumble my way across town in roughly the right direction. A few ups and down through improbable residential side streets, and the Park is revealed in all its glory.

It is crisp white, seventies style on the outside, fresh and modern on the inside. It is spacious and chilled. I will be all right here, I think.

A quick breather on the bed and I take a walk down through Peasholme park, find Chinese dragon boats on the lake, then take a look at the promenade at North Bay. I’m tired after last nights lack of sleep and a longish drive across nearly the whole of Yorkshire, but the sea revives me. This is a far cry from the profound stillness of Malham, or indeed the gentle bustle of Leyburn or Masham. Scarborough is, well, Scarborough, a throbbing, thriving seaside town, pavements packed, fast food, ice cream,…

**Voyo Crashes**

…, squealing kids and screaming gulls.

I note the front pages of several newspapers today tell us we are to be afraid of gulls. They are becoming aggressive with people – shades of Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. It must be a slow news day. Gulls are gulls. And yes, sometimes aggressive. The Mazda has already survived several dive bombing attacks. But the risk with gulls as with buying newspapers is merely poop.

Anyway, against my better judgement I find myself in a fast food fish and chippy on the sea-front, ordering a huge cod and chips, mug of tea and a mountain of bread and butter. Traditional fayre in both Yorkshire and my native Lancashire. I am expecting nothing here but indigestion, but discover at once the chips are good, the fish well cooked and exquisitely battered. And the woman who serves me, a tattooed Goth, calls me “darling” and wins me over at a stroke because I know a daemon when I see one, or rather when I’m projecting one, and she takes her place at once in my story, mistress of the Sea View Cafe, muse to Finn.

It is the briefest of encounters and certainly not enough to know this woman in any real sense, but sufficient to give a nudge to my story. I have no name for her yet (Briony? Hermione?). And I have only her opening line, her greeting when Finn walks in to the coffee shop, her words as she spoke them to me this afternoon:

“So, what can I get you, darlin’?”

It is my first time in Scarborough. I find the town centre traffic a little intimidating, a little overwhelming, as with all big and unfamiliar towns, especially in a little open top roadster, but having found my bearings  now, I venture to cruise the marine drive, taking in both the North and South bays. The south is clearly the more commercialised with one arm bandit halls and casinos, but it also possesses a charm, courtesy of the Georgian architecture which still dominates. North bay, I suspect was once the quieter but there has been recent development here with beach side apartments.

Scarborough has been likened ungenerously to Blackpool. But I know Blackpool, and Blackpool this is not. There is still an austere grandeur to Scarborough that Blackpool long ago abandoned. And the landscape still dominates, cliffs soaring and occasionally tipping a hotel into the sea. Scarborough has real charm, and I am already in love with it.

Quick snooze on the bed before visiting the old town this evening, threading the Mazda along narrow streets. The ‘Droid has recovered sufficiently now to navigate me to St Mary’s parish church and the grave of Anne Bronte. The original headstone, arranged by Charlotte, is now badly eroded, and a more modern stone preserves the details. There are fresh roses on her grave. A family of Italian tourists have made the long climb up from the old town to pay their lingering respects also.

Last tasks: I book dinner at the hotel for tomorrow night, then post my room key back to Masham.

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