Archive for October, 2010

My reading material is a bit left of field, and it has been for the past decade or so. Currently I’m reading Myres’  Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death (1903), also Gurney’s Phantasms of the Living (1886), and a little more up to date Fontana’s Is there an Afterlife?(2005) I’m on the fence so far as this sort of thing is concerned, but I find the early history of the Society for Psychical Research, and the biographies and life-works of its leading lights fascinating. The research outlined in these works, and the conclusions they seem to draw regarding the true nature of the human personality is compelling, but there’s also something in us that would have us disregard such startling material – no matter how weighty the evidence – because,… well,… we live in a rational, physical world and for their talk of a discarnate dimension, it doesn’t help much when your mortgage is screwed, your pension is screwed, and you’re wondering how you’re going to stump up the fees to send your boys to university.

But I digress.

My family are very polite about my reading habits. My books lie around all over the place – I’m a bit careless in that respect – okay so the weird stuff is mixed in with Louis Lamour, Niall Williams and John LeCarre, but the strangeness of some of my reading has perhaps led to my being labelled as a bit “alternative”, or a bit “mystical”. Now,… when someone has an experience they don’t understand, something that doesn’t seem rational or logical, you can understand them wanting to share it with someone, preferably someone who won’t laugh at them. So,… if you see, let’s say, a ghost, who would you tell? Or would you not tell anyone? Would you keep it to yourself for fear of being labelled gullible, unreliable? Me? I’d blog it to my unknown reader, but other than that who is there? A minster of religion perhaps? Or a close relative who reads weird stuff? I mean it’s not always an explanation you’re after is it – just the simple act of sharing the experience with another human being helps in the acceptance of it.

Several weeks ago now a close female relative confided in me – quite out of the blue – that she had woken at dead of night to see a figure in her bedroom – a woman, unknown to her. It was quite real, she assured me,…  startling, terrifying – yet she was unable to move or even speak to her husband lying asleep beside her. What did I think? What was it? Was she going mad? Was it real? Was it a ghost? Would it happen again?

It reminded me of a story told by my newly married grandmother of waking to see the figure of a man staring at her – this would have been in the 1920’s. The story goes she recounted the experience to my grandfather the following morning, describing the spooky interloper to him, and my grandfather told her it sounded like his own father who had long since passed over. One smiles at these tales, repeats them perhaps on Samhain nights, when the family gathered round and feeling perhaps for one day of the year at least a little philosophical, but mostly we shrug and get on with our rational workaday lives,… until someone tells us a similar tale and wants some reassurance that they’re not going mad.

Then, as if this were not enough, my own good lady – no more sober, nor level headed a person on earth – told me that the other night, she thought yours truly was gawping at her from her side of the bed and what the bloody hell did I think I was doing? However, she found herself unable to remonstrate with me as she might normally have done, as she felt unable to speak or even to move. Then she heard the toilet flush and yours truly – the real version – came shuffling back to bed.  The apparition, or whatever it was disappeared. The experience shook her and it took her most of the following day to gather the words to recount it to me.

Ghosts or what?

The answer to these enigmas come from the books I’m reading. It was Gurney I think who first mentioned the hypnopompic hallucination. You’re coming out of sleep – perhaps disturbed from it by a careless spouse going to the loo at dead of night, or perhaps even just snoring too loudly, and you see a figure in the room. I’ve never experienced such a thing but those who do  are adamant that the figure, the apparition is real, and clearly defined – in spite of the fact that it’s dead of night and pitch dark. In one striking case listed by Gurney a man is asleep in his room, in India, in the 1800’s and wakens to see a native standing by his bed. The native drops at once into a squatting posture. The man, alarmed, leaps from bed and takes the potential sneak-thief by the throat, only for the sneak-thief to shape-shift into a dirty laundry bag, tied at the top. In his long study of so called Phantasms, Gurney calls these borderland cases, in that they occur in that strange hinterland between sleep and waking, and they’re rather more common than one might suspect. They are less the product of of some external, supernatural agency, more the product of the unconscious, dreaming mind. Having said that, they’re still considered a rare phenomenon, one that requires the connivance of a mind that is more than commonly adept at visualisation.

Naturally, if you were to experience such a thing yourself, you might jump to the conclusion that you’d had a brush with the afterlife, but the consensus is that such phantasms are simply the stuff of dreams projected into physical reality, though no less startling and fascinating for all of that. It’s odd though, that they should be so rare, and yet I’m given two fresh first hand examples from my own family, and within weeks of one another.


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I recently heard about this thing called Generation X. They are basically people born between 1961 and 1981 and, unlike the baby boomers who preceded them, and  knew at least a decade or so of optimism, Generation X has known only a long period of  decline, which after a brief blip of money grabbing madness in the mid 1980’s has been accelerating into economic oblivion  ever since. For Generation X, there is less of everything than there was yesterday, less opportunity, less work, less money, less confidence, less hope. I’m not a sociologist and I don’t know if this is true – I trust it’s not, but Wednesday’s news didn’t exactly offer any hope.

France is currently crippled by strikes, has run out of fuel, and is about to run out of electricity. Ordinary people have taken to the streets to protest at the austerity measures which seem targeted at them rather than the high flying cocktail-swilling idiots who brought the global economy to its knees. The last I heard they were about to send in “specialist” police teams to break the blockades. Vive La France!

Here in the UK we can’t be bothered. Even though we’ve just been hit with the most draconian cuts in public spending since the 1940’s, and the futures of even the most hard working and hard saving citizens are now well and truly screwed (well perhaps theirs in particular) we somehow feel in our bones that resistance is useless – not that we can’t admire the sheer Gallic ire of our brothers and sisters across the channel – we are apathetic, so the richest in our society continue to get richer. It’s a simple fact that the moral standing of any nation can be judged by the standard of living and the life expectancy of the poorest of its citizens, not its richest. In the grimmest of regimes the rich will always be comfortable, yet as Blake taught us: the dog starved at its masters gate, predicts the ruin of the state.

Anyway,… I had all this on the hourly BBC news bulletins,  on my way to Coventry last Wednesday. It was a grim commentary for a grim run down a grim stretch of motorway. I’d hired a car, and the day-job had let me out to visit a conference and exhibition at the impressive Ricoh Arena. It’s a journey of about a hundred miles down the M6 which, even at a sedate speed should have taken me no more than a couple of hours. It actually took me four, locked into a convoy of  heavy goods vehicles that spent more time in park mode than actually moving anywhere.

Richard Hunter, the hero in my novel “Durleston Wood” calls the M6 the conveyor of the living dead, a dreary motorway, the most congested in the UK, along which has shuttled generations of business travelers.

Anyway, sitting in park mode around Cannock, my ETA nudging ever further away from me, I had another first hand glimpse of Eckhart Tolle’s insight – namely his power of now. At one time a journey like that would have left me so screwed up at the end of it I’d’ve been fit for nothing, let alone traipsing around an industrial exhibition for a couple of hours and making some intelligent analysis of current trends, before driving home again. Anxiety, tension, frustration,… all of these things make you want to grip the steering wheel and scream. But that’s only because your mind’s running ahead and asking all those what if’s. What if I don’t make it in time? What if I can’t find my way at the end of this nightmare? What if? What if? What if?

But then I heard that wise old voice asking me: “what’s wrong with the present moment?” and I had to say, well, nothing master. I was sitting in the plush interior of a brand new (hired) Peugeot 308, new car scent, delivery mileage, and when I had the sense to turn the radio off,  I was able to listen to a podcast from Frisky Radio, sexy rhythm, lovely vocals. There was nothing I could do to change my situation, so I had to be accepting of it. Anything else was simply illogical. Pulling myself back into the now, the anxiety disappeared, and I actually arrived at Coventry after four hours in decent frame of mind.

That said, after 30 years of cruising the M6, I have to agree with Richard Hunter, it really is the Conveyor of the Living Dead – especially that bleak old stretch through the midlands.

Anyway, a little poem of mine from way back when:


What are you doing business man,
So far away from home,
With trouser legs all wrinkled,
As you sit there on your own?

Customers in Newcastle?
Board meeting in Slough?
Then four hours traffic hotel bound.
What are you doing now?

Fish and chips at Corley,
On the M6 motorway,
And a quick read of your paper,
At the ending of the day?

And is your paper comforting?
Somewhere to hide your eyes?
To keep your thoughts from straying,
From that corporate disguise?

Or are you really unconcerned,
And merely passing through,
Oblivious to the rest of us,
Who barely notice you?

Your wife, your kids, forgotten,
In some bland suburban place,
Her parting kisses fading fast,
Upon your weary face.

A ‘phone call from the hotel,
On the ten pence slot machine.
“Hi Hun. I’ll see you Friday.”
“Keep it hot – know what I mean?”

Or is it not like that at all?
No solace from the roar?
Just passion grabbed like fast-food,
With a wolf outside the door?

Meanwhile you sit there don’t you?
Indigestion on the run,
A headache from the red tail lights,
And the week barely begun.

Still four hours traffic hotel bound.
A nightmare in the rain.
With just an Aspirin in your pocket,
To soak away the pain.

October 1992

Good night all, and keep safe.




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So,… I’m currently reading Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now”.  Books are mysterious things. You seem to come upon them randomly but, like the hexagrams of the I Ching, I’ve found they can also be meaningful, and timely. Although not elusively a guide to Buddhist thought, there’s much in here that reconnects me with the paths I trod years ago through Buddhism and Taoism, but only half understood them – and essentially this idea of living in the present moment. On the one hand it ought to be a very simple thing, but just try it and the mind screams out to be released from it and wander about once more in the past or anticipation of the future.

It’s often puzzled me, the idea of a present moment, and at one time I came to the conclusion that there was no such thing, or rather that the present moment was a period of infinitely short duration so as to be practically unobtainable. Indeed our conscious awareness seems mainly caught up in the contemplation of things either in the future, or in the past, and this is interesting because neither the future nor the past can actually be said to exist in any tangible way at all. We spend our lives in contemplation of something we think of as reality, but which is in fact is not. We live in a kind of fantasy. The past is gone, and we distort our memories of it, we make the bad things that happened there worse and the good things rosier than in fact they were. And the future? Well, that’s where our happiness lies – at some point in the future when we have done this or that, for then we will finally be content – it’s also where our deadlines are, either actual or imagined, and it’s also where we die. But the future has a funny way of never quite materializing as we expected it to, and with it our happiness. Indeed I’m sure there are people who wait their whole lives for their lives to begin, so caught up are they in this idea of chasing an imaginary goal, a point in the future when everything is finally going to be in its place and they can relax and begin doing what they always wanted to do.

I’m generally a decade behind with these things. I have a dozen books on Zen, all of them with pretty pictures of Zen gardens and Bamboo, but fairly light on explanation. Tolle’s book was published in 1999 and has been on the reading list of every new-age flake since, but it was only a few days ago I saw it on a colleague’s desk, after he’d picked it up from a charity shop and, noting my interest, he passed it on to me. I’m about half way through, and wishing I’d read the book years ago. It’s not a program, or a trite self help guide, but a very simple thing that Tolle is offering us, something he hammers home time and again, as if in the hope that eventually we’ll be able to escape from our programming and achieve this one simple thing that is the key to everything.

What is it?

It’s that infinitesimally, impossibly small point between past and future we call the present, that thing I’ve struggled so long to grasp and to understand the significance of. You have to find it. And to find it, I suggest you read “The Power of Now”.

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