Archive for March, 2015


The Fall – Goredale Scar

I am sitting with my lady at the entrance to Goredale Scar. It’s seven years since I was last here and its impact on me today is as if I am seeing it again for the first time. I have not seen a single photograph or painting of this place that conveys a fraction of what it makes me feel. The scar is monstrous, an overhanging limestone chasm with a stunning double fall that fills the echoing space with a tremendous roar. And right now what I’m feeling is inadequate.

The Scar is a dramatic highlight on one of the finest walks the north of England has to offer, but it presents also a serious obstacle to progress, since the path gives way here to a daunting 30 foot scramble up the middle of the fall. It’s not a difficult climb, not as difficult as it looks from here, but it is intimidating, especially when there’s a lot of water coming over it. I have failed here more times than I have succeeded.

As we sit today on this sunny afternoon, now overhung with shade and a chill wind that seems permanently to issue from this daunting chasm, many people come to admire the scene, some seriously attired, but none make the climb. There is one likely lad in mirrored snow-shades and elite gear, complete with ridiculous hydration sack and nicely muscled calves. He climbs half way, but I note this is only to pose while his lady takes photographs from below. He’s thinking of his Facebook page, and is rather missing the point. He could do the climb easily, looks fit and confident enough, but it’s clearly not a priority. I find his demeanour annoying.

Climbing the fall one gains entrance to the upper chamber, an eerie, mystical place, one reserved for the Faery or those passing the initiatory challenge of the climb. There we find ourselves in closer proximity to the stunning higher fall that pours from a gash in the rock. Then we climb to the moor-top and make the long crossing to another of Malhamdale’s jewels – the tarn.


Rising from Goredale Bridge

Large sheets of water are unusual in the Dales, water disappearing where one would expect it not to and springing up where it is least expected. But Malham tarn endures, shimmering shallow at  thirteen hundred feet, a mirror reflecting the sky. It was like a sheet of quivering quicksliver the last time I saw it, one stark winter’s afternoon.

From the tarn, the walk turns south, along the Watlowes, a long dry valley that leads to the airy rim of Malham cove. From here, the tea rooms of the village beckon, and we complete the day with numbed hands wrapped around steaming mugs of Yorkshire tea: the successful round; the perfect day in the Dales, but first you have to climb the fall at Goredale Scar.

I did it first when I was 25. Confidence was not lacking in those days, and the reward of that adventure is still fresh in my memory – the heat, the dust, and the dry-bone whiteness of the limestone dales that summer. Life itself is such a hard climb in one’s late teens and early twenties, and all we have is our self belief to drag us from our beds. It can make us overconfident at times. It can also make us very successful, driving us on to extraordinary achievements. Somewhere along the way though, I ran out of steam and now, at 54 it’s the needs of others that gets me on my feet. Without them I’d just as soon remain in my armchair, or catch yet another hour in bed. And as I sit here gazing at that wall of rock, I have the feeling I am no longer capable of tackling it, that life has moved on and only makes me feel all the more my smallness these days, reminds me too of my vulnerability in the face of intimidation. I am losing my nerve for it.



Testing myself on the fall today is out of the question. My lady has never known the fever of the outdoors, and for her the walk into the scar is quite enough to have her legs aching tomorrow. So we will sit a while, sipping coffee from this flask, and admire the view, a view not even Turner managed to capture all that well. And then we shall cut to the tea shop.

The Mazda’s on the carpark, and my memory of the drive here is still raising a smile – top down, sun shining, the narrow, twisty dales roads never failing to bring that sweet little car to life, nor me when I feel her suddenly tingling through my palms.

It’s been a cracking day so far, but not a day for doing the round. We’ll peel off shortly and take the shorter way back to the village, by Malham Rakes. It’s more a day for contemplation, for memories, and for future plans.

Shall I permit this erosion of my confidence to continue? Can I even stop it? Can I regain the cock-sureness of the twenty five year old me? Would I even want it? Shall I ever smile back in the face of intimidation, and make my way, live as I should, unbowed, unafraid, instead of for ever fumbling for the exit door of an early retirement? But retirement to what? Escape from what? How can I fear that climb up Goredale Scar when I have done it so many times already? Must a man prove himself every day of his life? And what does it prove anyway?

Buck Inn Malham

Buck Inn, Malham

No doubt I shall return to Malham this year, with the aim of completing the round. But will I have the courage, when I stand at the foot of that wall, water rising from every fissure? And will I take it well, the feeling of failure, if I fail, knowing it could be another seven years before I come again? Am I better simply staying away?

I am still reasonably flexible and walking-fit. There is nothing about me that I did not have when I was twenty five, except now what is lacking is my self belief. The last time I came this way the waters were so high my friend and I couldn’t even get near the first hold on the fall. An audience watched us try and, no matter how sensible our retreat that day, we were embarrassed by it. I remember it clearly, can still hear the roar like a dam had burst and all the waters of Hell were coming down around our ears.

We completed the round using an awkward bypass route, but it was not the same, and we knew it. The fall had tested us, and we had failed. We feel it still. All of this might sound like an overblown nonsense, but if the land does not stir something in us, we should not trouble to leave our cities.

janets foss

Janet’s Foss

S0, Malhamdale again,  March, 2015. The snows are lately gone, and when the sun comes through one feels the first stirrings of life in the earth. How well I know this place, know it in all its seasons as a walker. But only alone I think have I felt it properly. Here, today, there is a distance. I hold the feeling at arm’s length, knowing my lady sees it not as I do, feels it not as deeply in her bones. The scar is an amphitheatre, soaring, overhanging with a breathtakingly textured rock, and as I eye the crags and cracks and hanging vegetation, I soar into the little slits of blue beyond.

She was more charmed I think by Janet’s Foss, a little earlier in the walk. And who wouldn’t be? Janet’s Foss has something of the Faery about it – is indeed named after the fairy that dwells in the little cave there. This fall is like an inverted fan, a perfect run of water spilling lace-like into a shallow, green tinted pool. A very beautiful spot, a place to linger, and another of the jewels of the Dale, one that manages at once to cheer the heart, to welcome and refresh the spirit. Goredale has the opposite effect on me, repelling the faint of heart, but for all of that it remains one of the most Romantically sublime places I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.

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TPON_Cover_LGFood for the soul or new-age mumbo jumbo?

Spiritual books are ten a penny, always have been, and in our cynical, secular times the pedlars of such material are often viewed with suspicion – and, sadly, frequently, not without good reason. And amid this plethora of colourful and often-times bizarre pathways to enlightenment, some of these works occasionally break the mould and top the best seller list for a while, promising a radically new way of thinking that will turn the reader’s sad life around, attract millions of dollars to their bank account and transform them overnight from abject losers into white toothed entrepreneurial winners.

The power of now is different. Published in 1997, it came out of the author’s personal mental breakdown, and a desire to understand the profound psychological metamorphosis that followed. It had a quiet start, selling modestly by word of mouth on the spiritual circuit, but by 2009 it had reached 3 million copies and been translated into 33 languages. Of the author, Eckhart Tolle, I had heard nothing until I was loaned a copy of the book by a Buddhist friend who was of the opinion that most self styled spiritual teachers were either insane or merely egotistical poseurs. This man, however, he said, was possibly the real thing.

Personally, I fell away from organised religion early on in life, but have had a number of spontaneous mystical experiences that have denied me the easier option of a godless secular materialism. In short, I know there is more to life, but I have paradoxically struggled to find anything in conventional models of spirituality that address the very personal nature of the spiritual experience itself. The Power of Now confounded my initial expectations by doing just that, and by answering many of the existential questions I had been asking for decades.

What impressed me about the language of the book was its simplicity. Many spiritual works convey a “method”, they invent terminology, ritual, prayer, they invent arbitrary self important lists, a set of steps, exercises and vast labyrinths of mystery for the adept to follow. And there is always the suspicion that the method is there only to show how intellectually superior the author is, and how stupid we poor adepts are for not being able to follow in their footsteps. But The Power of Now describes none of these things. Instead it has the audacity to suggest that the answer we’re looking for is something we possess anyway but have merely forgotten, that from birth we have become so overwhelmed by our own thoughts, we can no longer remember who we really are. The power of the Power of Now lies in its ability to reunite us with the very thing we have lost touch with: our real selves.

With the birth of consciousness comes self awareness, and the faculty for thought, but a problem arises when we become so identified with our thoughts we believe that is all we are, this self constructed narrative, this story of our lives: the memories, the aspirations, the self-critical expectations. And most of us alive today do indeed believe we are nothing more than this thought-constructed entity – that anything else is simply inconceivable.

For Tolle, the awakening came one dark night of the soul when, tortured by lifelong depression and anxiety, he decided he could not live with himself any longer. Sadly this happens a lot in modern society and it rarely ends well, but for Tolle it was the catalyst. It was the thought to end all thoughts, when he realised that to even consider the idea of not living with himself implied there were two parts to his consciousness – the thinking part, and the part that was aware of the thinking part. By allowing the thinking part to dissolve, Tolle was then released into a state of primary awareness. What’s this? Well, it’s like viewing yourself in the first and the third person at the same time, and the feeling that accompanies it is one of deep bliss.

Some critics of the book complain that Tolle merely reworks ideas from eastern religions and gives them a new age spin, peppered here and there with quotes from the Bible. In a sense this is true, but only in so far that Tolle gets at the vital essence at the core of all organised religions, east and west, the key message if you like, underneath what is by now millennia of obfuscating cultural over-painting, and presents it in a simple language, entirely void of spiritual affectation, and which is above all accessible.

That we are each of us mostly a self invented fantasy is at first a hard message to swallow, and again one needs perhaps first to be open to the message if one is not to be deeply offended by it. Everything that happens to us in reality takes place in the present moment, obviously, yet we spend an awful lot of time raking over the past and worrying about the future. These are the natural realms of the thinking entity we believe ourselves to be, yet neither past nor future actually exists in real terms outside of memory or anticipation at all. What exists is the present moment, a moment so infinitesimally small it cannot be measured and we might pass our entire lives in ignorance of it, but it can be entered and experienced when the thinking mind is quiet, and when we do enter it, the world looks and feels very different indeed.

Tolle covers a lot of ground here. As a work of comparative religion alone it’s very powerful in illustrating that the spiritual principles underlying all traditions are essentially the same, and that they point to a further level of evolutionary development that is inevitable, and must happen sooner rather than later because if it doesn’t the energies thus far unleashed by the collective egoic mindset, are already well on their way towards destroying us. Powerful and sobering stuff!

But of course, Tolle is not without his detractors. Setting aside his ideas for a moment, Tolle’s publishing success is, in part, of course due to celebrity endorsement. Many familiar famous names now claim to have been helped back from the brink by his book and, since critics like nothing more than to get their teeth into a foolish celebrity baring their souls and possibly also their arses, they are also quick to label anything held dear by said celebrity as being vapid by association. And then some critics point out Tolle’s history of depression and anxiety, as if a history of mental illness disqualifies him from having any valid opinions on anything. Of course it does not, if only because to be content in a world that is plainly mad is no measure of sanity, indeed it is perhaps only those who have suffered such profound disquiet as Tolle himself who have the most valid, clear sighted perspectives to offer on modern living anyway.

Unlike many titles of this genre, the Power of Now was not intended to propel its author onto the international stage – indeed I can easily imagine him wishing by now it had not. But that it has done so, that it has fallen foul of the curse of its own popularity, should not detract from the sincerity of the message and the ideas the book contains. This is real and substantial food for the soul.

The Power of Now – a guide to spiritual enlightenment. Sounds like new age mumbo jumbo, but it isn’t.

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My Mazda MX5 – and other vehicles!

mazzy interiorMotor vehicles get a bad press these days. They burn petrol which, as every eco-warrior knows is the Devil’s sperm, spawning a carbon catastrophe that’ll melt the ice-caps and flood half the world. But they can also be great fun.

When I was seventeen I rode a motorcycle to work. It was a question of necessity. I had no car and the cost of public transport exceeded my earnings at the time. It wasn’t a big bike, just a 150cc MZ from the old GDR, and it trailed a permanent burned haze of two stoke oil. When I wasn’t commuting on it, I’d take it out on the country roads and thrill to the feel of it as we canted through the bends. If you don’t understand the allure of bikes, it’s because you’ve never ridden one.

Of course bikes are dangerous, and if you ride one, you will come off it. I did, twice, and on neither of those occasions was the situation avoidable. And the bigger the bike, the greater the risk of killing yourself. They’re also unpleasant to ride in winter. In 1978 my commute was 10 miles and ’78 was a bad winter. I’d manage 5 miles before I had to pull over and warm my hands on the exhaust pipe. I’d arrive at work for 8:00, and it would be mid-morning before my legs stopped shaking. That winter also taught me that bikes are not great on snow and ice. Selling the bike and buying a car before the next winter came was a question of survival.

mazda slaidburn 2014But most cars are dull. I say most, not all. I had some fun with an MG Midget. This was 1980 or so. The car was 12 years old, and showing its age with some serious mechanical faults and rampant tin-worm. It felt good from behind the wheel, but really it was in its death throes – nearly killed me too. When I revved it hard, the throttle linkage would jam on the balance pipe between the carburettors. The first time this happened was at a junction with a busy road and the car nearly rammed me into a passing wagon.

I was just a kid, earning very little. The car was a lemon, and I couldn’t really afford to repair it properly – and that car needed a lot of work, plus it had tried to kill me, which for all its sprightly fun, rather set me a’gin it. It amazes me when I see Midgets of that same age now, nearly forty years later, and I boggle at the amount of effort it must have taken to keep them on the road all this time. But they are something. Alas for me, the Midget was the last of the fun cars and there followed thirty five years of dull commuter mules.

mazzy at rivingtonWhen I see them now, and their bigger siblings, the MGB’s, I cannot suppress a smile. A guy roared past me recently in one, top down, mid winter, flying jacket and a huge grin on his face. He was feeing the road, feeling the air, feeling the twist of the bends and the rattle of his suspension. But those MG’s are getting on a bit now – I mean the real ones. They’re not the sort of cars you can have a casual relationship with any more. They weren’t exactly supercars. They weren’t exactly reliable either, but they weren’t just about getting from A to B. They were about the journey. They were about the feel of the road. They were: Roadsters.

Why all this talk of MG’s in a piece about the Mazda MX5, a vehicle of distinctly oriental vintage? Well, I’m coming to that, and my argument runs that when the British open top roadster died in 1980, the market was left wide open, and what filled it was the MX5, or the Miata, as it’s known in the USA. Also the Z3 from BMW. The MG badge is still around of course, it adorned the late revival MGF from ’95 to 2011, but that car, though well loved suffered also from the same manufacturing and design faults as its forebears. How to bend the head on an MGF? Just start her up. Enthusiasts will argue endlessly over which is the better car, but what no one can dispute is that the MX5, from the Mk 1 in 1989 to the more recent Mk 4, has fulfilled the need for a small sporty roadster very well.

Mazda3Mine’s a Mk 2.5, built in 2002. This car is Japanese to its core – no UK offset manufacturing here, it’s pure import. I bought it a year ago to run as a second car because I was feeling dead from the neck down and needed cheering up. It’s my menopause mobile, but I prefer to call her Mazzy. Half Mazda, half Mazzy Star. What does the Mazda MX 5 feel like? It feels like a smile.

At 12 years old it’s as old as that Midget was, similar miles too, about 75K, but unlike the Midget, there’s no serious tin-worm, no oil or coolant leaks, and all the mechanics still feel like new. Also, unlike that old Midget I trust her to get me further than the next town.

But what is it? Is it a sport’s car? Well, if you drive the strictly unmodified stock version like I do, with a 1.6L engine, no, it’s not really a sport’s car. It feels about as powerful as my 1.8 litre  Vauxhall Astra, which is an admirably smooth commuter mule. But does my Astra make me smile as much as my MX5? Em no. Tune the MX 5 up with lots of sporty bits and pieces, and yes, you’ll get yourself a sport’s car. But in standard form, what you’ve got is a roadster.

So what is a roadster? Well, imagine last weekend – late winter, the temperature nudges up above 12 degrees C, and you get a rare day of sun from dawn ’till dusk. So you pull on a heavy jacket, turn up your collar, drop the top and you drive,… and you feel? Well, you feel good. A roadster is simply a car with no roof and two seats, and it’s about more than getting from A to B. With a roadster, the journey itself is the thing.

The car is light for its size, and with a rear wheel drive it’ll dance nicely on ice or in the wet if you push it. In the dry, it’s well behaved. Being a two seater, the driving position is set a little further back than on your standard car, and it’s also lower, the suspension stiffer, which means when you’re doing 30, it feels like 50, and it has a different feel through the bends because you’re sitting with the car’s weight balanced equally in front and behind you. It’s a punchy little car that you can drive without the top on. It’s like my motorbike. Like I said earlier, if you don’t ride bikes, you won’t understand the allure, and if you’ve never ridden in a roadster with top down, you won’t get the allure of that either. And no it isn’t draughty unless you drop all the glass as well – save that treat for a really hot day.

Mazzy at BuckdenWhen I bought Mazzy, the guy said I could probably run her for a couple of years, get her out of my system, and I’d still have a car worth a couple of grand. But I’m entering my second year now, and I know we’re a long way from purging my system of whatever it is this car makes me feel. Ahead of me, this summer, is a travel-lite tour of the Yorkshire dales, and another of the English Lakes. Would any of that mean the same in a dull, grey commuter mule. Em no.

Can the Mazda MX5 do the Nurbergring faster than a Porsche 911? With expert tuning, lots of add-on bits and an experienced driver at the wheel, it’s worth a shot – otherwise I wouldn’t count on it. But for your average guy, aching for a bit of fun and a car that makes you smile just thinking about it? Well,… let’s just say I’m very fond of the Mazda MX 5.

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slarts1_001I find my dreams are mostly wordless. They are filled instead with an imagery from which understanding and meaning flow naturally, and in a way that suggests it is the verbal language we adopt in waking life that slows cognition, renders it as something pedestrian and ambiguous. Last night I dreamed I had returned to college, a late middle-ager, older even than the oldest of my tutors. My course materials consisted of a set of antiquated 35mm slides, arranged in a specific order. At some point a young girl in my class, a fellow student, had upset the slides, tipped them out into the dust and was building them up into random piles, losing for ever their original intent, mangling what I had taken to be the coherent run of their narrative, thus denying me what I had thought was progress. I was frustrated by this, but the tutor shrugged it off. It didn’t matter a damn, he was saying. The images had no meaning in themselves, no meaning either in the way they had been originally presented, but there was always the potential for meaning in some new way of seeing. Later I drank whiskey with him in the late of night. We were joined by the janitors of the college who had left their brooms, and we sat together simply as men around a table, thus transcending the usual order of things, at ease with one another in the shared intoxication of a higher truth.

The imagery of dreams renders the message itself at least vivid. Whether we interpret it correctly is a question of experience, openness and self-honesty. There was much more to this dream that I have recounted here – or indeed that I can remember – but for now the bit about the images seems clear and is the impulse behind this latest flurry of words. The dream speaks not only of itself but of the way the mind, steeped in the material world, often-times loses that looseness of interpretation, a looseness that would render the meaning of much we see about us equally and transparently numinous.

Instead, we are presented daily with a procession of imagery, ever brighter, ever sharper in detail, yet we remain lost to its deeper meaning and fall victim instead to a form of blindness, a form of corruption in which we are all complicit, as both viewers and suppliers of that imagery. To whit: my blog gained a new follower at the weekend. The Gravatar, the image, was of a pretty young thing, but alas her blog was not a blog but an online emporium selling “lifestyle”. I was supposed to click, to fall in love with her, to want to share in the myth of her promises, and buy something. This was imagery corrupted into the service of commerce, and follows on, with a curious serendipitiousness, from my earlier meditation on the corruption of our thoughts, and how we are supposed to trust and interpret things, how we are supposed to know what’s true.

The dreaming steals imagery from waking life, in the case of my dream here, from my distant past, but presents them as a reflection of something contemporary, of a pattern of thought or emotion that is emerging or seeking recognition within us. Time spent in contemplation of the dream image will usually yield an insight that is true and which will free us, while imagery of the real world, taken literally as it is, seems only to ensnare and enslave, seems only to bind us up with its falseness, with its corruption, because such images do not come from the deep collective well of the unconscious, but from a far shallower place. Still, they can be useful, if we can only see through them.

Have you noticed how television soaps occupy the prime times of our weekday scheduling? From seven ’till nine they recycle their circular plots of thwarted hopes, putting on hold the lives of tens of millions who are for ever pining for a resolution to storylines that will in fact never end, to witness at last those happy endings but which are already dissolving into conflict before the kiss of that apparent resolution has dried upon the protagonists’ fevered lips. Winter is indeed a hard time to be living in a household inured of its soap opera – nowhere to escape the fucking things! Drugs, rape, murder, deceit, and all before tea-time; a world without foundation, and in eternal free fall, This is our daily bread.

And then comes the news bulletin, a continuation of the same, a showcasing of sensational imagery: Terrorism, sexual perversion, political corruption, war and economic decline. It’s largely factual, one would hope, but sadly literal in its shallowness, and my how they trumpet and crow, eroding bit by bit our confidence in the comfortable circumference of our lives. They press us inwards, back upon ourselves, then vent us into a closed vessel, imprison us in a world where we need no longer think, and where our every fear is perpetually realised!

How to survive this onslaught of imagery? How to identify the corruption? Well, we can always ask ourselves, as in the interpretation of a dream, what part of me is reflected in this thing shoved daily in my face? Why does it grate upon me so? Or indeed why does it seduce or tease? Thus, as in the dream, the image itself is seen to be meaningful only in the sense that it is reflective of something inside of us. Thus the image, no matter how corrupt, loses both its power and its intended misdirection, and leads us instead to a deeper connection with our selves and the deeper nature of all things.

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coffeecupFrom a corner of this corner coffee shop I command a view of two streets in this archetypal northern market town of mine, and mainly what I see are people lost in thought. And since we all have a habit of thinking in a way that is essentially corrupt, I’d say most of us are in trouble, most of the time. And the troubling thing for me is, I know what those I see are thinking because it’s all around them.

When I say “thought”, I’m talking more in abstract terms, as an outward expression of the human mind in the built environment. I’ve just come back from a walk on the moors, which has rendered me philosophical and still, and observational. Nature has been slowly reclaiming the moors since our forbears stripped the land of its trees in ancient days. The moors are not pristine, not yet a meditation entirely void of thought; you can still see traces here of what we think: the run of a fence, the straight line of an irrigation ditch sliced deep into the peat. There are traces too of the way we used to think: a ruined farm, tumbled now to something that resembles pre-history, thoughts of a way of life that was overtaken by yet other thoughts, thoughts of an economic expediency that rendered an entire way of living in those otherwise bleak wastes obsolete.

I pause at this point and read back over my words, try to decide if what I’ve written is what I believe to be true, or if I’m just plucking strings at random, searching for cute harmonies. I find no discord, find I do believe what I am saying, but then belief is never a guarantee of truth, indeed it’s every bit as vulnerable to corruption as the thoughts that give rise to it.

An image appears on the TV screen, the ever intrusive news bulletin, the ever intrusive informer of a particularly corrupt kind of thinking. It shows a masked man bringing down a sledgehammer, breaking up works of art that were crafted 3000 years ago. This act takes place in what was once ancient Assyria, and we are viewing it in my northern market town, several thousand miles away.

There are two versions of this story – one is that the masked man’s beliefs tell him these works are idols, that the highly literal interpretation of his belief system commands their destruction because they insult his deity. Another version of the story is that the potent imagery is designed to become a viral thought, carrier of a lethal pathogen, fatal to hope, carried far and wide on the winds of an ever hysterical media, greedy for such proofs of the world’s descent into chaos, and our powerlessness to act against it.

Idolatry. I hold with that thought for a moment, reminded of the journal of Margaret Wilson, an early Christian missionary to India who spoke of the love she had for her children being idolatrous, that it distracted her thoughts, tempted her away from the love of her God. In this she did not mean she loved her children any less, but that she was conscious of the difference and careful not to confuse the two. Such were the careful, self analytical thoughts of a religiously devout woman born two hundred years ago. There were idols aplenty in the community she served, and in which she eventually died, but she never sought their destruction. I watch these stone idols fall, smashed to dust in the early second millennium AD, and am saddened by their loss, by the apparent barbarism of our times. I realise too how the value of education lies not in the mere passing on of fact, nor even in teaching the young how to think, but also how to question and to test, independently, and without fear, for the trueness in one’s thoughts and the thoughts of others.

The high mountain is a meditation, crafted not from thought, but by nature. The water falls down the gullies in a way that is at times awe inspiring, yet no human thought, no master landscape designer decided it should fall that way. The lakes in the valleys too take their shape, not from the thought of man, yet they are infinitely pleasing to the eye and the spirit. They transcend us, yet they are also a part of us, triggering within a memory, as if for a forgotten love, a curious longing for that sweet, sublime perfection we have since the days of Eden, lost.

From the corner coffee shop my senses drown in thought. The built environment overwhelms me, with only a narrow slit of sepia sky to hint at greater things beyond. The road, the pavement, the scratty shops, all are the imperfect physical manifestation of our thoughts. The clothes we wear, even the shape of our spectacles are decided by the curious interplay of thoughts, thought somewhere, and by someone. But in achieving an inner stillness, I also see the pavements are broken, that in the side streets there gathers a tide of fast food cartons, that the roofs are missing tiles, that the grime washed render, once proud white, is cracked and coming away to reveal the scars of spalled brick underneath, that a man stands suddenly doubled over as if in pain, while another nearby, and apparently oblivious, holds a bucket for charity. The man is drunk, fails to vomit up his intake, then unsteadily joins the flow of passers by.

What are we thinking? Why indeed am I sitting here, a lone scribe with notebook while my neighbours text to others and play Candycrush to while away the empty time between movement from one place to the next? Are they thinking anything at all? And when they lift their eyes what do they see of the thoughts of the world? How do they interpret, filter, inflate, suppress? Do these thoughts we see inspire or depress the spirit?

What are you thinking, right now? How much of it is true, how much of it corrupt? And how would we know the difference anyway?

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sunita coverMy thanks to Tom Lichtenberg and his brilliantly witty blog, Pigeon Weather Productions for encouraging me to have another look at Wattpad. I’ve had some stories on there for a while that have failed to gain any traction at all, so I’ve always been reluctant to endorse it as a vehicle for independent writing, at least as wholeheartedly as I’ve endorsed Feedbooks and Smashwords in the past. But I decided to have another try with a new story, or rather an old story from my back burner. It’s a hot darn smouldering psychic thriller, with one hot darn smouldering heroine, the titular Sunita. Am I selling it to you? This story doesn’t sound like me at all, which is perhaps why I like it so much.

Tom was suggesting in his piece that actually the thing to do with Wattpad is not to post a complete novel on there, not all at once anyway, but to do it piecemeal, a chapter at a time, like a work in progress and to tease the readers out into wanting more. So that’s what I’ve done and we’ll see how we go from here. I plan on posting roughly a chapter per week, and maybe abandon it if we don’t get any bites by the time I run out of material.

Actually, a part of me is hoping this one doesn’t gain any traction because it currently hangs on a conundrum, about 20,000 words in. and I’ve no idea how to finish it which, as I recall, is why it went on the back burner in the first place. Maybe a few Wattpad bites will give the characters the impetus to get their heads together and come up with a way forward.

At the moment, I’m still of the opinion that Wattpad is for kids, or at best young adults and that mature writers, dealing with middle aged characters will struggle to find anyone of their own kind on there. To whit, I’ve chosen my celebrity cast list, a quirk known only to Wattpad, and find all the leads for my story are in their forties. There’s not a lot of kissing, which is just as well because in my experience young adults find the concept of middle aged kissing disgusting. But it’s a stunningly attractive cast. I mean, who can argue with Shobna Gulati, Martin Freeman, and Jude Law? I hasten to add that the fact Shobna also played a character called Sunita in a well known TV soap is purely coincidental. As far as I know, not being a fan of said soap, that particular Sunita wasn’t endowed with psychic powers, and couldn’t dematerialise at will.

In short, as usual, my story misses all the bases, ticks none of the boxes, and barks up all the wrong trees, but that’s no reason not to like it! While the kids are busy trying to behave like what they think adults should behave like, some of us adults are these days trying to find a way back to being the way we think we should have been as kids!

Kick back, think “fun” and don’t take anything seriously.

What are you waiting for?

 Go get it!

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shadowmanOn the last Friday of February in 2014, I drove in the early morning sunshine to Glasson Marina. It’s an interesting place and a very beautiful part of the Lancashire coastline. I wrote about that day here. Today was the last Friday of February 2015, and I went again. I don’t know why exactly, other than the urge to get out, to feel the wind on my face and the soft earth under my feet, and I couldn’t think of anywhere else – and I remembered that walk so well. I had time owed me, just like last year; the forecast was fair, just like last year, and the snowdrops and the daffodils were starting to push through, just like last year. In the absence of any other motivation, I think we are easily suggestible creatures.

Last year, I shared the carpark with a middle aged guy in an old ragtop. Today I was the middle aged guy in the old ragtop – not a classic MGB like his, but a near classic MX5. Maybe he was the inspiration for my later impulse to buy the car – I don’t know. I recall he also wore an Irvin flying jacket, like a Spitfire Pilot. I thought that was a bit over the top, unless the heaters on those MG’s are rubbish. The Mazda has a heater like a small furnace, so you can easily drive with the top down in mid-winter – not that I tried because it was about 5 degrees. My ragtop is showing signs of wear and the colder it is, the more brittle, so the top stays up until the temperature nudges above 15 degrees.

mazzy at glasson

She made the run easily, some thirty miles of motorway and narrow lane. It’s strange how when I first got her she felt like such a hard ride. Now any other ride feels too soft, and even if I’ve driven her a hundred miles, the first thing I want to do, still, is drive her some more.

But I was here to walk, not just to drive, and I followed much the same route as last year, about six and a half miles of salt marsh and coastal footway. Walking alone, and the conditions being so remarkably similar, both walks – this years and last – blurred into one avant guard production, and I had the impression of a replay layered over the real thing and my self not being able to tell the difference, if the thoughts I’d thought last year were the same as now, or was I walking last year, possessed of memories I did not have at the time, of the year still to come? And what if I come again, next year? So little had changed. I even encountered the same farm tractor spraying slurry in the same meadow, the same ruined tractor abandoned in the same ditch. Was I looping endlessly in time?

There were murmurations of dunlin out over the marsh, like last time, an eerie chorus of peewits calling for curtains on the winter in the meadows behind the long bank at Cockerham, like last time. My eyes scanned the same scenes, the same wayside curiosities, the odd blocks of stone, the tumbled farm buildings. Something must have been different!

All right, this time I called in the parish church, beautiful with the morning sunlight bursting cleanly through the stained glass. There, I bought another novel for my collection from the secondhand stalls at the back. It cost 50p and was serendipitoiusly titled “starting over”. There was such an overwhelming choice of titles in the church I guess reading is pretty big on the pastimes list for Glasson Parishioners. I read the opening paragraph and was hooked at once, carried the book in my pocket for six miles, determined to bin the ones I’m labouring through at the moment. No sense wasting one’s life on things that don’t connect. We must hold to the ones who love us, and let go the one’s who don’t, just as we cannot hold on to what we are not meant to keep, and cannot lose what is meant for us, even if we throw it away.

old trawler glasson basin

There was the same boat sunk in the dock, but different faces in the Lantern Oer Lune cafe. No all day breakfast this time either, but a more demure omelette with a side salad, even though I’d asked for chips. Still, I enjoyed it, and I’m not one to make a fuss. My sense of smell had even put in an unexpected return – not so much that I could smell anything, but that I could at least taste my lunch, and that coffee tasted very nice indeed after two hours of a stiff salted wind coming off the bay.

I drove home a different way to last year, picking up the A6 at Garstang, but not before crossing over the canal and having a flashback to 1972 or thereabouts, and a fishing trip with a friend and his father. How I hated fishing, but pretended I did not because it’s good to have friends. He was to die on a race-track, ten years later. He would have loved the MX5. I felt guilty I had not thought of him in a while. He was engaged to be married, and I wonder what kind of life he would have made for himself – if we’d still be friends or if by now we would have drifted apart as so many friends do.

I looked for us down on the canal bank, fishing. But we weren’t there. It must have been another day, another season.

Fancy a run to Glasson? Hop in.



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