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Archive for March, 2022

Dance

I’m walking in town tonight. There was rain in the day, the streets are still glossed, and puddled in places. I pass an alleyway, warmly lit, and there I spy a small group of people, waiting outside a doorway. I’m curious and venture down the alley to see what’s going on. Normally, I’m afraid of the darker places in town, wary of the night creatures who, I’m told, stalk them, but there’s an air of charm about this group, something in the ease of their posture, and the soft cadence of their conversation. Others arrive, and the numbers swell. They are a polished crowd, well groomed, and fragrant. Some men wear suits and bow-ties, others wear silk shirts. The ladies wear shimmery dresses, and stockings.

The door opens, and we are washed by a cosy fug which escapes the warm interior, and dissipates into the cool of the night. There is music – an infectious rhythm, part jazz, part tango. It takes hold of one’s hip and has them swaying as if by remote control. Inside, the people dance, while a man plays piano with a magician’s skill. The waiting crowd enter, greedy for the vibe. I remain where I am, longing to join them, but I am too casually dressed. I have not shaved, and my shirt is unironed. It would be good to dance again, but I’m a mess and these are no longer my people.

I’m dreaming, of course.

So many metaphors to explore here, so many thoughts and feelings to unpick! It harkens a little to the past, visiting a dance hall in town by night, long ago. Dance, music, rhythm. I remember, it was the greatest of joys. One transcended everything, at least for the duration of the music.

Normality? Yes, the dream harkens back to a time of what was once normal, to the well groomed, fragrant crowds at their ease, seeking transcendence. Then there is the dark, and the cackling night creatures, real enough and ever-present. But they and their attendant, multifarious sufferings, are held at a safe distance by the soft cadence of a greater number of the sweetly voiced.

There is nostalgia then, or perhaps more specifically, there is the realisation of the magnitude of change, from the way we were then to the way we are now. There is a sense, too, that we no longer have access to the rhythm of the dance that drives us, or at any rate we’re no longer smart enough to gain admittance to that particular world, to the world of smooth, waxed dance-floors and infectious music. In such a place one does not step, one glides. And one does not move, one flies.

It’s true, I’ve not been ironing my shirts. I’m thinking to save electricity. But a clean, ironed shirt was once also normal. This is something else the dream is showing us, a parade of sorts, but not out of vanity, more out of respect for the company one is keeping. There is also a dignity in it. Ah, dignity! Now, that rings a bell. Let’s explore that one.

As I ponder the dream, I recall a quote I heard the previous day about how we are no longer in the business of heating our homes, but “heating our selves”. We have no longer the energy, the spirit needed to afford our own dignity, as in the metaphorical dignity of a warm home. We have bowed too long to the pressures of the manifest world, the world whose will is to strip away all dignity. So we turn the heating off and sit in a sleeping bag, or something equally grotesque. It’s an allegory for the degree to which normality has shifted, the way things have grown narrow, the multitude of ways the music, both the metaphorical and the literal, have grown faint for us.

Oh, I know,… it may just be I am the downhill side of sixty now, and slightly deaf, that the twenty-something’s can still hear, can still ride any storm, still dance to the point of rapture, and thumb their noses at the world of their parents for disgrace it has become. Like many my own age, have I merely traded my Mojo for carpet slippers and a keyboard, and dreams of a past that never actually existed? And yet,…

There is this place I pass in town, a flight of steps, and an old weathered sign with an arrow pointing optimistically upwards, to a disused, dusty attic room. “Dance”, it says. And I wonder. Shall we ever? A clean, pressed shirt, a lady in stockings, skirt split to the thigh? And we shall dance again? Shall we dance like nobody’s watching?

Without the music, without the dance, the world simply is, and what it is, is pointless. To be born into such a world is surely a mistake, for all there is is the blind, grasping will. It manifests through everything, including us if we allow it, and its name is suffering. Without the moderating influence of our desire for transcendence, that’s all we shall ever know. But we were not born to merely live. We were born to dance.

Thanks for listening.

Beautifully acted, and dramatically cut, and the line: “Be this alive, tomorrow,”

But the prize for dance goes to this couple: Be this alive, always:

Header photo courtesy of Pixabay on Pexels.com

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(One of) The Twich Hill Oaks

March’s full moon ushers in a definite change. Suddenly it feels like spring, as the sky peels open to an optimistic blue, and the temperature breaks fifteen degrees. We’re sitting by the ruins of Peewit Hall, on the edge of the Anglezarke moors, looking out over the lush green of hill and dale as it runs from Jepsons, down the gentle undulations of Twitch Hills, into Lead Mines Clough. There are larks today, the first I’ve heard this year, and the rapture of them lifts the spirit. I’m sure they know this, and I appreciate their effort. We could all use some cheer. Also, somewhere down the valley, I hear the rising, scratchy call of a Lapwing.

We were late getting going today, noon already, but we’re making up for it. The car is down by Parson’s Bullough, and we’ve just come up by the oaks in the meadow above Twitch Hills. They’re always impressive these trees, fine focal points, marking the line of the path. They anchor the senses in the midst of an otherwise dizzying panorama. We have no route in mind as yet, just a vague idea of heading up to the Pikestones, then we’ll see what other ideas strike us. We’re coasting, feeling out the future by the seat of our pants, today, enjoying the sunshine and the earthy scent of spring.

The View from Peewit Hall

I’m reading a lot about the nature of time, and the fourth dimension, as they used to call it. In ordinary consciousness, we travel a single line in time. Our reality is defined by a point on that line, this being the present moment, like now, as we sit by the ruins of this old farm, looking out towards Jepsons. Memory tells us the line in time that brought us here but, ordinarily at least, we have no clue where it’s going.

This much is obvious, but what’s not so obvious is that in order to see ourselves in this beautiful landscape, there must be another awareness, another level of observation. And there’s a strong suspicion among time theorists this higher part of our selves views our reality, not as a point in time, but as a line that ventures some way into that future, and not necessarily a fixed future, either, more one of potential outcomes. And sometimes, just sometimes, it leaves clues for us in our dreams, if we pay attention to them.

And our future, from this point?

Okay, the Pikestones it is.

The Pikestones

The moor is still heavy underfoot, though it must be a week since we had any serious rain. And the Pikestones? Like most prehistoric monuments, they’re high in expectation, but ultimately low in drama. Some years ago, vandals of a neo-pagan bent, similarly under-whelmed, thought to chisel a spiral motif on the largest of the stones, I presume to spice them up a bit. Someone else chiselled it off in outrage. The damage is still evident, though in time, (talking centuries) it will weather in, I suppose. It depends on what you’re looking for, but as a place of quiet contemplation, and a viewpoint overlooking the plain of Lancashire, the Pikestones serves us perfectly well.

So, where does our line in time branch to, now? Well, I’m getting a feeling for Hurst Hill, so we navigate our way up Rushy Brow. This is always a bit vague, the hill itself being hidden over the rise, as yet, and no path. There’s a little visited ring burial here, which is a good way-point, if you can find it, then a heading north of west-ish brings you to the only tarn on this side of the moor, a small, rush fringed eye, smiling blue today, instead of its more familiar thunder-black. A vague sheep trod then contours cleverly towards Hurst Hill, avoiding the worst of the bog.

Hurst Hill

There’s a discreet surveyors mark on the summit, presumably from the very first 1845-47 survey. I found it by accident once, while descending with a low sun that just caught the crows-foot mark, chiselled into a flat rock. I make a point of seeking it out with the aid of GPS, whenever I’m passing this way. The Victorians fixed it by theodolite, and trig tables, and it’s bang on.

Since my last visit, someone else has found it, and covered it with a couple of rocks. It confused me, but it’ll prevent weathering, I suppose, and I left things as they were. So, someone else knows the secret! I wonder what relevance such a mark still has in this modern age. I wonder who the surveyors were who first, and ever so neatly, cut those marks, and what the world was like for them. What was the flavour of their own lines in time?

Normally we’d head east from here, deeper into the bosom of the moor, to the Round Loaf, or Great Hill. But then I’m thinking about the Anglezarke Reservoir, and a graceful trio of oak trees that I know, and some different photographic opportunities, so we branch out west, into another line in time, descending by the old lead mines to the Moor Road.

The mines are interesting. They have the appearance of a bombing run, a line of deep craters in the moor, with heaps of spoil thrown up around them. The surrounding grasses are a striking green, compared with the sour khaki of the moor. They’re crude bell pits, I suppose, eighteenth century, probably, as they were already noted as old, in the mid-nineteenth. Lead is found in vertical veins, so the miners chased it down from the surface as deep as they dared, before their walls caved in. Always a risky occupation, being a miner, but always, too, the siren lure of the mythical mother lode.

From the Moor Road, we choose a path we’ve never walked before, and lose it almost at once. We’re at Siddow Fold, now, a former farm, and gamekeeper’s cottage. Dated 1707, and listed grade 2, it’s seen significant gentrification in recent years, and very beautifully done. The council’s footpath marker guides us confidently enough from the road, and is our quickest route to the reservoir, but it abandons us to our devices in a meadow. I suspect we’re now tangled up in a diversion imposed upon us by the owners, the route deviating markedly from that on the map, and a bit of help would not be amiss, here. Oh well:

Anglezarke Reservoir

We follow our nose, or rather the line of a faint depression in the meadow that appears to be making a beeline for the reservoir. It’s a trespass perhaps, but not my fault. The sparkling ribbon of the reservoir is in full view here, and we meander down towards our trio of oaks, as splendid as I remember them. They’re a good place to sit for a brew, and admire the scene.

So, our line in time today, thus far, brings us here, or at least the line in time I’m aware of. If, as I sometimes like to speculate, at any given branching of the ways, more than one potentiality is realised, in another timeline, we’re also sitting atop the Round Loaf, listening to the larks and the curlews. In another, we gave up at the Pikestones, swung round by Lead Mines Clough, and returned to the car. Even as we sit here, by the sparkling Anglezarke Reservoir, among these magnificent oaks, we’re already driving home, with the top down, through Adlington, perhaps waiting for the lights by the Elephant and Castle.

And then there may be another level, one that grants a view of all the lines in time we ever chose. From this perspective, then, our lives resemble a tree, a proliferation of branches, of lines in time, of all the potentialities we were offered and realised, this being the true fullness of our being. Of course, from a very closed perspective, we’re only ever aware of this one point, moving along this one thread. But sometimes, you get a feeling about the rest.

So, anyway, here we are. We’ve still a couple of miles back to the car, and a variety of ways to choose. I guess at some point, we’ve walked them all before, even the ones we’ve yet to walk, at least in this line of time, if you know what I mean.

Any ideas?

It doesn’t matter much. They’re all good.

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The Dam at Drybones, Birkacre, Coppull

I’ve done something I’d normally advise against. I’ve bought second hand walking boots off Ebay. They’re army surplus, advertised as having seen hardly any use, and it’s true, they’re like new. My Scarpas have been leaking, off and on, and I felt I needed back-up. They look to be a good boot, decent leather, and no inner membrane. So they’re old-school, and, at £45, a bargain. What could possibly go wrong?

On the first try-out, I walked to the local shop, a quarter of a mile or so, and they were so uncomfortable, I thought I was going to have to come back in stocking feet. Anyway, a fresh insole, and here we are at the Birkacre visitor centre, at Coppull, ready to give them another go.

I grew up around here, and it always beggars belief how busy it’s become. It’s a midweek morning, a welcome bit of sunshine, and looks like the world is on holiday. Home to a bleaching and dyeing works in the long ago, all that remains now are the mill lodges, a popular spot for dog walkers, and bird-watchers – not always an easy mix. It’s handy for the carpark, but we need to get beyond the lodge, into Drybones wood, and the horseshoe of the Yarrow, before nature can get to work on us.

Sitting at home, assailed by rocketing energy bills, record petrol prices and news of wars, we can all too easily feel that life is becoming narrow, that the walls are closing in. A walk in the countryside can push the walls back out again.

There’s a dam on the river at Drybones. It was built to raise the water-level to feed the mill race and is very picturesque after heavy rains. Some nights, I would hear the thunder of it from my bedroom as I drifted off to sleep. I always slept with the window open, summer or winter, one ear to the outdoors, to the meadows, the woods and moors beyond. The rumble is still familiar, something deep in the bones, a sense of OM in its eternal reverberation, a reminder of my Coppull years, and home. So far, the boots are doing okay. They’re heavier than the Scarpas, but no hint of blisters, yet.

Around Birkacre Lodge

Beyond the dam, the path meanders past the ruins of Drybones cottage. This is a remote, off-grid place – something to do with the mines here in Victorian times, and which remained firmly in the Victorian period until about fifteen years ago, when it burned down. Since my last visit, the land has been cleared and stoutly fenced off, the path rerouted. The muddy track to the property has also been gravelled – about a half mile of it – presumably for a luxury land-rover.

It’s a lonely spot, and always something dark about it, I felt. I presume someone’s going to develop it into a des-res, but I wouldn’t want to live here. The original house features in my novel Durleston Wood as “the old Willet place”. I picked it for its symbolism at the heart of a mysterious personal darkness, a demon lurking there, to be negotiated, while holding prisoner a femme fatale, whose seduction had to be survived, before we gained redemption – all very Jungian. And while the world has moved on immeasurably since I wrote it, I’m still pondering the story. I remember how much I enjoyed writing it, how deep a connection I felt with the characters, one that seems lacking in my fiction these days.

The lone tree

Beyond Drybones, the path follows the river upstream, through a stretch of woodland that’s just coming into bud now, and we have the first of the anemones about to open. A little later in the season, there’ll be a lush pallet of bluebells, and the pungent, starry alium. We’re on an ancient way that links up with the old Duxbury estate, and which threads by the ancient beech, again featured in “Durleston Wood”, and, more recently, as the fallen tree in my present and forever halting work in progress, “A Lone Tree Falls”.

The latter story is turning out to be a struggle. The characters feel remote, dazed and numb, like they’ve all had the stuffing kicked out of them, since the days of Durlston Wood, and what I’m longing for is the deeper connection of those earlier times.

As I’ve written here before, they’re going to build houses on the meadows around Durleston, because people have to live somewhere, even if the solution is the destruction of the very reason why we live at all. To a town mouse, this might not seem like such an issue, not much of an argument – it’s progress after all, and the world moves on. But speaking as a country mouse, I know there were once spirits here, spirits of place. I’ve talked to them, and knew them as our kin. They are not literally true, of course. They are subliminal, imaginal, but all the same, without them, we are a rootless, soulless people.

The protagonist of my work in progress is a former intelligence analyst, now on the trail of the meaning of his life, but he keeps getting waylaid by the corruption of his former world. I’m not writing a spy story – I wouldn’t know where to start. What I’m trying to do is get at is how we’re so bound up in the complexity of appearances we fail to recognise the simplicity of our path. But as usual, I feel I’m groping towards something I don’t understand well enough to make much of a meaningful accounting of it. All I know is the beech tree was an old friend; I had known it since I was a child. It came down in storms, which seem as metaphorical as real, and since no one saw it fall, it fell without a sound, and the thought of that haunts me.

The Oak Tree, Birkacre

It’s mostly beech in this part of the wood, some sycamore. Coming out of Durleston, though, we see the old oak on the skyline, above the meadow. Another decade or so and it’ll be gone, obscured by the saw-tooth profile of little houses. The tree falls, the spirits flee, and the landscape is smothered, to be retained only briefly in human memory. But then we too fall, and it’s all gone, within a couple of generations, and all of it without a sound; it never was, it never fully existed, except in the eye of the mind, which suggests our imagination alone is the emotive essence of life, so we had better be careful what we do with it.

Not a long walk today. Just three miles round the horseshoe of the Yarrow. We leave Durleston, and imagination behind, return to Birkacre to the Big Lodge, to the carousel of dog walkers, and bird-watchers, and kiddies feeding ducks, and back to the car. The boots feel okay, I’d forgotten they were there, actually. You know what? I think they’ll do.

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On reflection, the Covid years haven’t bothered me much. I worked through the first year, which helped retain some semblance of normality. The second year, I retired into it, and the restrictions were irksome for a time, but the local area provided sufficient diversion as things eased, and I’ve enjoyed walking, exploring Bowland and the Dales with the camera. Covid’s still around, of course, but that story has moved on, and no one’s really talking about it any more.

There are some who haven’t been so lucky. Even if you’ve avoided catching it, certain types have been plunged by fear of Covid, and by media reporting of it into an anxiety-induced agoraphobia. While others are out shopping and pubbing, the anxious ones are still shirking company. Supermarkets, pubs, and restaurants, are still a long way away off for them. We, who are inching ourselves back into some semblance of normality, need to be mindful of that.

I’ve not been without a touch of neuroticism over Covid myself. I remember now I helped pull a woman from the river, after she’d fallen in. She was freezing cold, and really struggling to get out, and I had to get a good grip, so to speak, all of which was against the very strict rules on personal contact with strangers at the time. I worried about that for days afterwards, worried about the health of the others I’d involved in the rescue, all this while it later transpired our leaders were having “bring your own booze parties”. I feel terribly foolish that I even thought about it, now.

While we hear much less about Covid, other things have rushed to fill the void. To whit, the mainstream media seem to be ratcheting up for war against a nuclear armed state. So I’m thinking about nuclear war, and it’s a long time since I did that.

I remember my father was with the Royal Observer Corps (ROC). They had a bunker up near Brindle, part of a network that covered the UK. They were there to monitor nuclear bursts, and levels of radiation. Coupled with the weather forecasts, the aim was to give HMG some element of planning around the ensuing catastrophe. He took me to see it once. Its weird concrete protuberances frightened me. It was like a ready-made grave for the duty team who would be incarcerated in it. The ROC was disbanded long before the end of the Cold War. There is no defence, no contingency, no survival, and it’s dangerous to suggest otherwise.

The bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were relatively small, compared with the weapons we have now. It would take very few to reduce the UK to an uninhabitable wasteland. We seem to have forgotten this. The danger subsided for a time, but it’s growing again, and we need to resist the media of usual suspects and their crass headlines, with a different, and more nuanced narrative. In such febrile times, the last thing we need is the equivalent of a banal Twitter spat pushing things over the edge.

But since there is nothing I can do about it, I tell myself to chill out, to read novels, watch movies – preferably without guns, or bombs, or ‘f’ words in them – and to dream dreams, as if there was no suffering in the world. Of course, there is immense suffering, but, in the long ago, we were aware of only manageable doses of it. Now we drown in it. It pours from our devices with every bleeping notification – an endless symphony of sorrowful songs, and the human psyche is only capable of so much compassion before we lose our minds.

I saw a recent interview with the former general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbchev. He spoke of the urgency of nuclear disarmament, because he says the kind of people willing to use them are still around. It was a sobering analysis. We came ever so close, during the Cuban missile crisis. It was only doubt in the mind of one Soviet officer, and his persuasiveness, that prevented the commander of his submarine from launching a nuclear torpedo against a US warship. They thought they were under attack, that world war three had started, and they should let loose Armageddon. But it was a misunderstanding, a hair’s breadth thing, so the story goes. But in a parallel dimension, the decision went the other way, and the earth is a barren cinder.

The west has been living in a blip of relative peace and security, perhaps since the later 1980s, since Gorbachev’s glasnost, and the formal ending of the Cold War. Since then, there have been good times, boom times. We have tanned our skins on the beaches of credit-card opulence, driven our SUVs with attitude up the rear end of those we see as lesser beings. But there is something in us also that seeks the periodic red-mist of war. I remember the newspapers egging on the invasion of Iraq. It seemed an easy thing to do and, given the might of the forces unleashed, it was. What came next was the disaster so many humanitarians predicted.

Thus, I pine for a more sober approach to our present predicament, for a wiser take on the inflammatory headlines of the media with its calls for even more dogs of war to be let loose than are already in the running. As if by way of reply, my phone pings with news, of today’s horrors, and what are we going to do about it? Phones were so much better in the olden days, when all you could do with them was ring people up and say hello.

We should limit our intake, do you think? Impossible, you might say. But there’s only so much we can stand. At the very least we should not be so browbeaten we are ashamed to sing, dance, and make merry, or at least switch off and read some lighter material. It does not make us bad people. What’s more important is we remain level-headed, that we might then see through the fog, as far as we possibly can, that we make sure the wasteland of our world remains in another dimension of space and time, and is never visited upon this one.

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J B Priestly was a writer with a broad scope. He was also a social commentator, playwright, broadcaster and literary critic. Born in Barnsley, he began his working life as a clerk in a wool firm. Writing in the evenings, he found success with articles placed in London newspapers.

He was badly wounded in the first world war, and indeed experienced much at that time that was to haunt him for the rest of his life. Post-war, he gained an officer’s scholarship to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he studied literature, and from there he went on to become a well known, and rather well-to-do English man of letters.

Published in 1971, Over the Long High Wall is, as he describes it, a reflection on the nature of life, death and time. Time is where Priestly and I meet, both of us having an interest in the precognitive nature of dreams, a subject it’s easy to lose one’s way with, but to which I find him a sober and sensible guide.

He was a powerful dreamer, occasionally stumbling across things in his dream life that subsequently happened, and could not easily be explained away as coincidence. This is a difficult subject to deal with, since there is no explanation for it, and indeed much scepticism. Readers of a hard, rational bent will understandably reject it out of hand. But when it happens to you, you’re compelled to take an interest, which inevitably leads to questions concerning the nature of time and being, and here we need a steady hand if we are not to fall foul of crack-pottery. Better we acquaint ourselves with the thinking of a no-nonsense, pipe smoking Yorkshireman, like Priestly.

If we can dream ahead of time, it suggests the mind is not as firmly fastened down in space or time, as we suppose. It can wander some way ahead, which begs the question, do we have free will? If we have already dreamed a thing, is it inevitable we shall encounter it? Or, being forewarned, can the future be changed? And if it can, what happened to the version of things we saw? It also begs the question, if the mind is not so firmly coupled to brain function, can some part of it survive beyond bodily death. These are interesting questions, but anyone, particularly a famous person, bringing them into the open, is liable to be attacked by rational sceptics, and pilloried as a fool, or charlatan.

J B Priestly – 1940

Throughout the book, Priestly describes the world, as constructed by rational sceptics, and goes on at some length to explain why he doesn’t think very much of it. Written in 1971, he could easily be describing the world as it is now. He calls it narrow, and life-shrinking. These sceptics, these zealous debunkers of all speculative forays of the mind, are the architects of the long, high wall of the title. It is a construct, he says, which prevents us from gaining a view of a higher, more noble, more meaningful mode of being.

His interest in the time question placed him within the orbit of the time theorist, J W Dunne, whose book “An Experiment with Time” (1927) was very popular, and indeed, still is. Like Priestly, Dunne had also run into precognitive dreams. Dunne was not what one might call an artistic, literary or dreamy type. He was a former military man, a man of science and engineering. Building on the theories of the mathematician Howard Hinton, and physicists Eddington, and Einstein – very much in vogue at the time – Dunne suggested the dreaming self operated in a so-called “fourth dimension”, one at right angles to our familiar three dimensions of space and linear time.

The fourth dimension allows the dreaming mind a full view of our line in time, while our waking mind is restricted to awareness of a single slice of space-time, this being “now”. But here’s where Dunne is an infuriating character to get a handle on. His book is fascinating up to the point where he goes on to explain his theory of precognitive dreaming, which, though he claims is simple, has me wondering if I have not suffered some sort of brain injury, since my own college days. His later books, intended to further simplify things for a more “popular” audience, I find even more bewildering. Reassuringly for me, Priestly is of a similar view.

He warns us that Dunne provides little service to brevity, no matter how hard he tries, but their friendship helped nurture the plot of several of Priestly’s plays, in which he “played” with the idea of time. “Time and the Conways” and “An Inspector Calls” are perhaps the most famous, though my personal favourite is the strikingly Ouspenskian: “I have been here before” set in a remote inn in the Yorkshire Dales, and archived (along with the others) as MP3 here.

Setting aside the entanglements of theory, the idea of there being a looseness to time opens up the human psyche to a more speculative field of enquiry, one into which the spirit soars, while the rational sciences tend only to shut it down. There is no such thing as precognition they say, there is a single line in time, we live, we die, and there is no point to anything. They create a closed world, in which the seedlings of spirit find only stony ground. Of course, science is correct to build itself up from foundations of solid evidence. But by this same yardstick, spontaneous cases of precognition in dreams must always be dismissed as anecdotal, as mere stories.

Which brings Priestly to the phenomenon of the professional sceptic. This is a person who sets themselves up as investigator and debunker of phenomenal claims. They are not necessarily of the scientific profession, often conjurers and showmen, or psychologists. He calls them the “camp followers” of science, who see it as their role to ruin the reputation of anyone daring to stick their necks above the parapet. And, whilst often the most shrill, their explanations, explaining away things like precognition, can also be the most tortuous and ridiculous, yet, having the “rational” on their side, the tortuous and the ridiculous are, sadly, the only explanations we are allowed to arrive at. Anything else is dismissed as bunk.

Clearly then, Priestly stuck his neck out, but there was more of an appetite for this kind of thing in the early part of the twentieth century than there is now. As for the evidence, or the theoretical expositions, he writes he didn’t much care one way or the other. He deals in greater depth with Dunne, and his own insights into dream precognition, in his longer work “Man and Time” (1964). Over the Long High Wall is more a rallying cry to the artists, the writers and the dreamers to dream their dreams anyway, regardless, because their lives will be all the larger and the richer for it, and to never mind the debunkers and life-shrinkers. For Priestly, there never was a long, high wall. He used his powers of imagination and intuition to simply walk right through it, and he invites us all to do the same.

Acknowledgements: Photo of J B Pristly by courtesty of – By National Media Museum from UK – J B Priestley at work in his study, 1940.Uploaded by mrjohncummings, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26198117

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Each new day, since the invasion of Ukraine, I wake, reach for the phone, and dial up the news. The Russians have been shelling a nuclear power plant this week. It seems the height of lunacy. More recently, they have been shelling people evacuating in a ceasefire. Total bastards, then. Total bastards too, the images of entire apartment blocks felled by shelling, by rockets, or whatever. And cluster munitions – the devil’s own choice of arms. It’s not like in the movies. It’s even more depraved than anything Hollywood dare conceive. We know it is, because, if Jung is right – and I’ve always felt he was – it’s a thing lurking at the bottom of us all. That’s why we watch it. That’s why it compels us, and why it so deeply disturbs us.

Media, media, media. We might as well not bother. We know full well we must take everything with a pinch of salt. Images. Words. They mean nothing in relation to reality, and we might as well be writing our own story of events, for all it will resemble the truth of things. We know this of our slickly duplicitous media ecosphere by now, or we know nothing. Only those in the thick of it know the score, and thank God, that’s not us. But what’s the difference? A child in terror of a Russian bomb, or a child in Iraq or Afghanistan, in terror of a Western bomb? Both are children, both are innocent, both are bombs. The answer is complex, does not translate well into sound bites. The difference is time, distance, culture, the amnesia, and the vanity of the punditry, and so on and so on.

I have donated to the DEC . It pays for blankets, for medical supplies, for bottles of water or whatever, to help, in a small way, and helps me, too, with that feeling of uselessness. Please donate too, if you feel able. The total stands at eighty-five million, as I write, so we are short of neither compassion nor feelings of uselessness. But before we feel too virtuous about all that, we must ask how those Afghans felt, not long ago, but already forgotten. They were fleeing the fall of Kabul, having helped the western forces in great hope, and at the risk of their lives, only to find the plane fast departing contained a full complement of dogs, while they were left to the mercies of the Taliban? I know how I would have felt. Remember, nothing is simple, no matter how much we wish to boil it down to slogans.

So, this war in Europe, this latest spectacle. Pundits are talking about it as if it’s different to any of the other wars. I don’t know. Is it? All I want is to save a kid from crying. Others are baying for the West to do more, to enforce a “no-fly zone”. Bring it on they say, like it can be done magically, surgically, virtually, without NATO planes shooting down Russian ones, like the Cold War never existed, like there is such a thing as surviving a nuclear escalation.

Then I see images of captured Russian boys, presumably under duress, phoning their mothers. Are these tearful boys the devil, then? It reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five , in which, contrary to common belief, we discover wars are not fought by men at all. Men – old men – plan them, comment on them, command them, write memoirs about them, become long distance pundits of them, or they become preening news-anchors with fancy hair, who present them as glossy, po-faced infotainment. But it is our children, our boys, who must fight them. It is our children who die in them. It is mothers, fathers, who grieve, whose lives are ended by these wars as surely as if they had caught a bullet themselves.

Stop the War? Does it even need saying? But as Vonnegut also reminds us, we might as well demand we stop the glaciers. Both are natural phenomenon, immune to persuasion, though at halting the latter we are lately proving to be more adept. Of the former, I suspect the news cycle will move on, before we see anything like the conclusion we desire.

Covid. Trump. Brexit. And even now, the shameful and ever-perplexing scandal of Londongrad grinds on. What next? Ah, all right, a war in Europe – we’ve not had one of those for a while, and a fresh media frenzy, while we’re at it, to keep us all terrified, all frozen anew. Meanwhile, we know nothing, though we like to think we do, that we keep ourselves well-informed, through our devices, through our news bulletins. But our emotions, our sense of well-being, our despair, our tears,… all are nothing, or rather all are fair game in this infotainment business. We are hijacked. We are puppets at the command of forces beyond our understanding. We know this, but we keep clicking, keep scrolling anyway. We can’t help ourselves because we don’t know what anything means any more.

If this is the harvest of the rational, the material world, then give me mysticism, give me the mystery of my dreams, give me the black tide of the occult. Let me navigate my life by way of the runes and the tarot, and the yijing, because anything is better than this massively computer programmed, semi-virtual, arrogantly scientific mechanical world that’s driving us all to slaughter. We have nothing wholesome to learn from any of the clever men bestride this world’s stage, and who would command our every heartbeat, except,…

Watch out, and what’s next?

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Alice Golightly had the misfortune of surviving all her family. Husband, children, brothers, sisters, all of them had gone before her, so she sailed into her nineties alone as friends, too, old and new, fell by the wayside. Among the last of the plotter girls, she’d served as a WAAF, with Fighter Command, during the Battle of Britain. Then she’d worked forty years as a formidable secretary, in one of the great manufactories, now fallen to rust. She’d spent her retirement in the bingo halls, a cheerful soul. There were holidays in Blackpool, and Marbella,…

In wartime, she’d survived a direct hit on her bunker, helped pull others, less fortunate, from the rubble, never wondering for what purpose she was spared, what purpose, this long span of life. Only now did she fall casualty, still unquestioning of the rhyme and the reason of things. A copper broke the door in, found her sleeping the eternal sleep – by now a sleight, malnourished form, under hand crocheted blankets, in an unheated room. Less mobile, and confused of late, she’d been unable to work out how to make the pension go as far as was needed. The coroner concluded she’d been subsisting on a diet of raisins, and thereby succumbed to seasonal hypothermia.

After a blur of mergers and acquisitions, the newly formed, newly fangled energy company that had taken over Alice’s supply, had risen, as if by sleight of hand, and emptied her bank account in short measure. Then it disconnected her, when she could no longer pay. Alice had been sure it was a mistake. She’d always been able to pay her way before. Official letters had couched their threats in guarded and impenetrable legalese. Her own, spidery, handwritten replies spoke of confusion, openness and old age. There was also humiliation in her appeals for explanations in terms she could understand, none of ehich were forthcoming. She had never joined the online world, wary of clever people duping her out of money, and ruining her life. Always outgoing and spirited, the walls of her world finally closed in, and Alice Golightly was heard from no more. She might have made it to a hundred, if only we had let her.

Alice Golightly’s last act was to have the undertaker’s little ambulance block the road by her house, during her removal from this world. The traffic backed up and blocked the neighbouring street, which in turn, like a series of ripples spreading out, caused a minor hold up in the middle of town.

Now, the chief executive who closed the deal that indirectly caused the disconnection of Alice’s energy supply, was an unhappy man. Three times married, he was approaching as many divorces. His daughter, from his first marriage, was in therapy, and hated the ground he walked upon. His son, from his second marriage, was dropping tens of thousands in the casinos of Monte Carlo, and seemed bent on bankrupting him. The renovation of his Oxfordshire mansion wasn’t going to plan, and the taxman was on his back. He’d have to move more of his money offshore. Life really was a bitch right now.

As his limousine cruised through town that day, it hit the traffic indirectly caused by Alice Golightly’s last act, and a sat-nav diversion took him by a line of people queuing for food handouts.

“So many homeless,” he mused.

It never failed to amaze him how anyone could be so feckless, so lacking in the work ethic, or intelligence, or whatever, to say nothing of being so damned shameless, as to line up for charity like that. His driver nodded, not wanting to tell him these weren’t actually homeless people. They were more likely workers, working precarious jobs, yet who still couldn’t feed their families, or heat their homes. It was just the way of the world right now. But the chief was always right.

It did nothing to improve the chief’s mood, of course, seeing the ugly underbelly of the world this way. It always had him wondering by what misfortune he might yet end up there himself. It was a recurring nightmare of his. The limousine slowed to a halt in heavy traffic. He tried to avoid eye contact with the people queuing there, but his eye was indeed caught, briefly anyway, by a young girl in the line. She looked to be of his daughter’s age, and as pretty a girl as he’d ever seen. Scrub her up, swap her cheap clothes for couture, and she wouldn’t look out of place anywhere in his world, he thought.

Was it only money, then, that made the difference? What was the trick that had him destined for riches, and her,… well,… to stand in line like this? The girl’s expression was blank, betrayed no emotion. Except, suddenly, she smiled at something her neighbour said, then laughed out loud, holding her sides as if to contain a surplus of mirth that threatened to rock her entire being off the pavement. Her laughter moved him. It was so open, so light, so genuine. He could not remember the last time he’d felt that way. It saddened him too, that he would never see his daughter laugh like that, and when his son laughed – as he often did – well, that was only out of scorn.

The traffic eased as Alice Golightly’s final journey got under way. The chief’s limousine moved sedately on, and he settled back in the leather, caught up in a moment of deep introspection. Then it came to him, the solution to his unhappiness! What he needed, more than anything, right now,…

Was to buy himself a yacht!

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