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Archive for the ‘health’ Category

The falls on Stepback Brook

It’s a beautiful, mid-September morning. We reverse the little blue car from the garage, and let the top warm in the sun. It folds down easier when it’s warm, and I’m trying to spare it from further cracking. It’s a little frayed around the edges now, and not surprising at twenty years old, but still keeping the water out, so I’m in no hurry to replace it. We fold it back gently, flip the baffle plate, to keep the wind from sneaking up behind our backs, and make ready for the off. Every warm day from now is a bonus, and possibly the last we can get out with the top down, and enjoy the air.

I’ve wasted half the morning trying to load music onto my phone because I want to avoid the radio, but it’s a new phone and I can’t make head nor tail of it, so we’ll make do with the company of our thoughts as we drive instead. It’s a short run today, over the moors to the Royal, at Ryal Fold. It’s cool on the road, but pleasantly so with the heater on just a touch. Of the ongoing national mourning, there’s not much in evidence en-route, a few pubs with flags at half-mast. It’s a different story in the Capital, of course, with all-night queues for the lying in state, and extra trains for the influx of tourists.

The King meanwhile courts an occasional bad press for being grumpy. This is from both the political left and right, and both the royalist and the republican media. Memes are spreading across the Internet, some humorous, some spiteful. This seems to hint at the nature of the future relationship. Meanwhile, dissenters are being arrested. Even holding up a blank piece of paper will get you nabbed.

One broadcaster mistakes a crowd protesting the killing of a young black man by the Met, believing them instead to be well-wishers. It must be difficult trying to keep the commentary up for so long, when not everyone is following the same script.

Anyway, the car park at the Royal is busy, lots of people sitting out in the sunshine, enjoying an early lunch, but the Union Jacks are absent. There is an intoxicating scent of cooking and coffee, mingled with the moorland air. The plan is a circular walk to Darwen Tower, as I have it on reliable authority it is definitely open now after its years’ long refurbishment.

We follow the route up Stepback Brook to Lyon’s Den. There’s been rain recently, and the brook is musical, the little wayside fall running nicely, a generous and shapely mare’s tail. So we sneak down into the dell and try a shot or two, but we’re shooting into the sun, and the lens is flaring awkwardly. We’ll be lucky to salvage anything from it, but no one’s counting, and it’s always fun trying. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the day, and to be out in it, and looking at it the right way round.

Eighteen months retired now, and I’m still not sure if I can call it real, not sure if I’m making the best use of the time I’ve been waiting for so long to enjoy. I’m still aware of time ticking down, but now the deadline is not the Devil dragging me back to work on Mondays. It’s something more final, numbered perhaps in summers, and it needs to be overcome, for the sense of pressing time is the Devil itself.

Climbing the track to Lyon’s Den, we spy a note pinned to the fence. Someone is expressing thanks to the kind soul who found their photographs (we presume on a memory card, or something). We sometimes don’t appreciate how much stuff we have on these things, that their loss would be devastating to us. It is a random act of kindness, then, and a reciprocal gesture of appreciation. The finder gains nothing, materially, seeks no reward. It was a rationally meaningless act, then, yet also the act of any decent human being.

Lunch is served on the bench by the little copse above Lyon’s Den. The view from here is breathtaking. The cooler air of these September days cuts the haze, and jacks the clarity dial up to infinity. The Dales are so clear, it’s as if we could walk to them in five minute, the Cumbrian Mountains, too. Closer to hand is Bowland and Pendle, barely a stone’s throw.

An old timer comes ambling slowly by, trailing a pair of ancient Irish Wolf Hounds. They have the scent of my lunch, and are curious. He’s a pleasant soul, bids me good morning, gently tugs his giant creatures onwards, in the direction of the tower. There’s an air of ease, of gentleness to the day. The tower stands out, way across the moor, a Dan Dare rocket-ship, poised for take-off.

Darwen Tower – Yorkshire Dales beyond

So, a random act of kindness – finding a memory card in the mud, and placing it where the owner might find it, should they come looking. The simple goodness of that act has extended beyond returning those treasured photographs to a grateful owner. It has coloured the morning like a charm. It ripples out in time and space.

I have spent a long time on the trail of something “other”. Those more well travelled say it’s a journey that ends with the realisation there is no “other”. I think I know what that means, now. It grants a certain degree of shape to the cosmos that makes more sense, though it actually has no shape, beyond what we grant it, that subject and object are the same thing.

But the journey is like a long breathing in. And if you hold your breath long enough you get to the point of bliss, and it seems many travellers make do with that, sit on their cushions with their scented candles, and their singing bowls, lost in the emptiness. But you need to breathe out too, and that means bringing something back into the world, a world where there’s so much suffering it’s almost impossible to get anything done, and where nothing makes sense without these random acts of kindness.

But like the breathing in, we make a meal of it, and it turns out to be much simpler if we can only look at things the right way. I’m hoping it’s the same breathing out, breathing something back into the world, that it’s no more than a question of doing the good that you know, as it arises. But it’s a good that must come from an intelligence of the heart, which in turn comes from that journey to the realisation there is no other.

The finder of those photographs felt their loss, because it was they who lost them, they who also felt the joy of their return. I know I’m not making much sense, but it doesn’t matter. The message is in this mellow air, and in the ripples coming out from that little note, the lost, the found, and the random act of kindness.

Darwen Tower

We arrive at the tower to find it is indeed open, and looking in fine fettle after its long refurbishment. I venture inside a little way, take the spiral staircase to the lower balcony. The sun is very bright now and, entering the gloom, I find my old eyes are slow to adapt to the dark these days, so I’m fumbling for the steps with my toes. I’d get there eventually, but don’t feel confident in climbing to the top. The lower balcony will do, and in itself is a stupendous viewpoint.

There are two stories about the origins of the tower. One is that it was built to celebrate the jubilee of Queen Victoria. But there is another story, one about land ownership, and the public’s rights of access to it. Once upon a time, I would not have been able to walk, as I’ve walked today. It would have been an insane trespass, and I would have been seen off by gamekeepers in the employ of an absentee landlord. But it was courageous acts of trespass, defiance, and an ensuing legal battle that opened the ways over Darwen Moor to everyone, and that’s what the tower celebrates. The intelligence of the heart says it was a good thing, securing freedoms we continue to enjoy today. But that is not to say our freedoms cannot once again be lost.

Darwen Moor

Thanks for listening.

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The Stocks Reservoir

I play back the dashcam footage of the hill climb from Waddington, up the fell, past the ancient Walloper Well. For a time, all you can see is the road in front of you, but then it opens out, and the Forest of Bowland is arrayed like a revelation of paradise. There should be music. Vaugh Williams’ – Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis would be perfect.

But the disjoint between the all seeing mind’s eye, and that cold, wide-lensed, dashcam evidence, is too great. The hills look distant and underwhelming. I made a movie of it anyway and posted it with some bouncy music that isn’t exactly Vaughn Williams. You have to drive it, really. There’s no other way to appreciate it. If you imagine it, you’ll be closer to the reality. Imagine it in a little blue car, with the top down, and the sky and light, and the scent of the moor, and the sound of birds, and you’ll be closer still.

This is one of the most beautiful roads. It takes you from the roaring ribbon of the Liverpool to York A59, and leads you through some of Lancashire’s most remote and beautiful places. Today it takes us through the still relatively thriving little town of Clitheroe, over the fell, to the Gisburn Forest, and finally the Stock’s reservoir.

Unlike the car, I’m not firing on all cylinders. I’ve had mild stomach cramps for days, also a lack of energy that’s had me nodding off in the afternoons. I’m negative for Covid, which is a plus, but whatever kind of bug it is doesn’t help. Perhaps I shouldn’t have come out but, even when you’re retired, you find some days are taken up by routine, and then you’re watching the weather forecast for the best day. It was today, or put it off until next week, and next week I have other walks planned. So here we are.

The plan is for a simple circuit of the Stocks Reservoir. It’s a popular route. The forest is also a favourite destination for cyclists, there being a multiplicity of trails here, and I did wonder if we’d struggle to park, but we arrive late morning, and all is quiet. I’ve only been able to scrape together sufficient coin for one ticket machine, which is disappointing, as I’d also wanted to park in Slaidburn, later, on the way back, for coffee. We’re in luck, though, the ticket machine here is broken. Coffee is definitely on.

Stocks Reservoir July 2022

That said, it’s not the best of days for visiting. Reservoirs are attractive when they’re swelled up with winter rains, and fully reflective of the light, but by late summer most of that has gone, and you’re left with an ugly tide line, and threats of hose-pipe bans. Judging by how low the Stocks is today, we’re not far from rationing. This is my first time in the Gisburn forest and I have the sense of having missed out. I’ll be back in the autumn, when colours will be awesome.

So, we set the route on the GPS app, and while I’m fiddling with it, Google sends me a message wanting to back up more of my phone to “the cloud”. It assures me it’s doing me a favour, that it makes things easier when you change your phone, which is true, but I’m not stupid. I give it permission anyway. They snoop on our stuff, whether we like it or not.

We don’t actually need the aid of any fancy navigation tools here. The route is well-marked, along good paths, right from the car-park, so there’s little chance of going astray. Summer is in full flush and bursting with fruit. There are wild raspberries growing in profusion, which slows progress with a little foraging by my companion for the day: number two son. I’m mindful of my naggy stomach, and manage to exercise restraint, though he declares them mouthwatering.

My head is already swimming with the heat, and the humidity. Cloud cover is more or less total, and slow moving, but with dramatic texture, and colour variation. The fells around are rendered flat and green, just the occasional pool of soft light to brighten them. There is no air. Every shot I take with the camera is off somehow. Better just plod my way round while thinking of coffee in Slaidburn, and trying not to think how empty the reservoir is.

It’s tempting to read the emptiness in a metaphorical way, possibly encouraged by my spirits, which are flattened by this bug. A broad splash of sparkling water would certainly add an attractive focus for the day. But everything about it speaks of something tired and drained. The bits of shore we can get near to, are parched, dusty and post apocalyptic. We could pile the metaphors on and say the surrounding fells are timeless, beautiful, the light ethereal, while the reservoir, man-made, is wanting and reflective of the parlous state of Albion’s future. But that’s nihilism, and if I were feeling any better, I’d say we’re all doing our best under trying circumstances, though without competent leadership. It’s possible to still be positive, but requires taking a complex position, one somewhat removed.

In the I Ching or Book of Changes, there’s a hexagram which has the image of a lake, and clouds rising over it, and it says: “the clouds rise, but no rain falls”. It’s about anticipation, and waiting on the rains, waiting for deliverance. In the meantime, there’s nothing you can do. It’s all in the hands of the gods, and we do better to spend time improving ourselves, than beating our chests over what we think is lacking in the external world.

And for me, the biggest lack is energy. At over seven miles for the circuit, I find it a long walk, and I’m very glad to return to the car. Then it’s a short drive, back to Slaidburn for coffee. Slaidburn is one of my happy places. I’d bring the kids here when they were little, and we’d picnic on the green, feed the ducks. Number two son remembers it, but vaguely. To me, it’s clear as yesterday.

We park next to a newer model of the little blue car, and admire its lines. A lady sitting out by the green with coffee says the car is hers, and how she used to have one just like mine, and how much she loved it, but it rotted away, so she got a new one. I’ve had lots of conversations like that over the years, with fellow enthusiasts, though the thought of mine rotting away does not improve my lack of spirits, having just spent a fortune on doing her up, and thinking she was looking pretty good.

Though I’m still tired and off-song, I sense something of a blessing in the afternoon, as I sit out under a now glowering sky. A deep English summer, gloomy holiday weather,… a sense of peace, a sense of anticipation too, perhaps, as the other clientele of the little café chat quietly. One man has come off the M6 at Lancaster and is working his way slowly through Bowland, looking to rejoin the M6 at the Tickled Trout. There was heavy traffic, and hold-ups, he said, and though he’d probably have been quicker sticking to the motorway, he wouldn’t be the first to have taken a detour through Bowland and arrived home late, but all the better for it.

There’s a hint of fine drizzle now, a faint but blessed cooling. There’s a movement of air, a sense of ease, and the coffee tastes like heaven. The lady with the car is moving off, and we return her parting wave. Nice car that. New fangled, of course, and I prefer the spartan technology of my own. I’m glad I did the walk, added it to the map in my head, the one Google doesn’t get to see, but if there’s a moment that drew me into the day, and made it worth the setting out, it’s this right now, sitting by the river, with coffee.

It’s coming up on worker’s home-time, and the roads are busy from Clitheroe. I’m thinking I do well to drive such an old car that’s still reliable enough to get me about, that the arm and a leg I spent on her bodywork was worth it. Then, as if to check my pride, we go hard into a roundabout and there’s a howl from the front nearside wheel. I’ve no idea what that is. It’s a wheel bearing maybe, or something wobbly with the disks. She likes to keep me on my toes, and the garage guessing. Looks like I’ll be leaving her at home next week, while I explore that one.

I’ll leave you with Vaughn Williams. He sums up the day, and all without a single word.

Thanks for listening.

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Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

Another posterior vitriol detachment, this one in the right eye, leaves me with a horseshoe shaped floater in centre vision to match the one in the left eye which appeared after a retinal firework display, a few years ago. I can’t blame this latest one on weeks of close work under the kosh of earning a living, so I must simply put it down to age. I mention this only as a metaphorical illustration of how one’s view of life can change suddenly, after a shift in the mode of vision.

Meanwhile, the horseshoes dance across the white of the computer screen, disrupting the flow. They have me closing my eyes from time to time, taking refuge in darkness, and in thought. Reading books is also suddenly tiresome as they drift across the text, obscuring it and causing it to ripple. I can still walk around and drive without interference. It’s focusing close that renders their presence more brutishly real, and I like to focus. The fresh one will fade a little over time, and having one in each eye has me hoping I’m done exploring posterior vitriol detachments forever. Then again, old age never comes alone. I’m looking at the next twenty years, and hoping my travelling companion into senescence will not be blindness.

We are never just the one thing. This struck me while reading of Ouspensky’s encounter with the magician Gurdjieff, in a Moscow Café in 1915. Gurdjieff – as near as I can understand him – describes people as automatic machines, reacting to inputs, and that they are never the same person, even two days in a row. He has a point. Reading back over the Rivendale Review, I have lost count of the number of people I am, or have been. While being a distinctly human characteristic, apparently, this is not a good thing when it comes to blogging.

Blogging, I’ve read, is about setting yourself up as just the one thing, as an expert at that thing, then readers know what to expect from you, and where to come for ideas. I suppose I’m off to a bad start in that respect, then, never having considered myself knowledgeable about anything, at least not to the level of expertise. Indeed, I’ve always fought shy of it, the level of expertise being where the shouting starts, as other experts vie for eminence. No, I’m far too reticent a character to set myself up as an expert.

I have written about tinnitus, which was once a defining thing for me, and, though all of that is old material, now, it’s still a piece that’s read a lot. However, those readers hoping to find more up-to-date material on the topic, will discover I am no longer that person at all. Of late, I am a writer of mostly local adventures in the English countryside, with occasional thoughts about writing.

Writing what? Well,… fiction and ,… stuff.

I have been a writer on spiritual matters, and still am occasionally, but spiritual seekers don’t know what to make of me, as the Rivendale Review is too eclectic to tune in regularly and expect things of a similar theme on a regular basis. One week I might be blundering through Advaita Vedanta, or Zen, and the next I am scrambling down a hillside to photograph an orchid, or setting up a camera to capture an interesting sky, talking about aperture and shutter speed and focal length because I like technical things as well.

And photographers, encountering such talk, might bookmark me, only to find me writing about the demise of Hen Harriers in the Forest of Bowland next. And bird people intrigued by those avian interests will then discover me uttering dark curses over the price of fuel and butter, as if I can make a difference. I have opined on politics, but no longer have the steam to make a thing of it. Political pundit, then, I no longer am.

I have written about Chinese martial arts, about traditional Chinese medicine, and its western medical correlates, but anyone looking for my current thoughts on the subject will be confused to find I am no longer that man at all. I have explored that world, found much in it that was good, absorbed it, made peace with it, and moved on. So yes, I am pretty well aware of the shortcomings of the Rivendale Review as it glides ever so slowly into deeper levels of obscurity. However, I find I cannot let it go, or change it to more closely resemble what I’m told a blog should be. That would not be me. The Rivendale Review, should be, is, and always will be – obscure.

Gurdjieff was saying this mechanical trait in people is unconscious. We do not know who we are at any particular time, and his route to awakening was a process of stopping the flow, and remembering. That I am writing about Gurdjeff illustrates only another person in me, a man who is interested in the history of ideas, and certainly not one who is a reliable expert on Gurdjieff. Next week I will be writing about something else entirely, while hopefully remembering all these different people inhabiting my psyche are connected by a single thread, and that it is the binding thread that is the important thing.

The world is just so awesomely big. There are two ways we can deal with its daunting dimensions. We can focus down on one thing, and ignore the rest. Or we can follow the ideas of the world wherever they lead. I think the world of ideas was meant to be explored, the universe itself being one’s personal guide with its whispers and its serendipitous segues. That in itself is a kind of stopping and remembering, that while we are indeed many people, knowing that to be the case, doesn’t put us far from the wrong path. While we are none of us anybody in particular, and none of us are actually going anywhere, it does not mean we should ignore the call to journey wherever the mind takes us, and to enjoy the scenery along the way.

The Rivendale Review is just an old-fashioned blog about nothing in particular. And if it must offer anything, I suppose I would like to think that someone reading about the various eccentricities of this one obscure life, might grant permission for other obscure lives to embrace their own eccentricities, and their obscurity too. We have all of us been many people, even in the same lifetime, and none of them are who we really are. Who we are, is the thread that binds them.

Thanks for listening

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In dark and uncertain times, it’s a pleasure to find a book as unremittingly positive, and as (literally) energising as this one. Wim Hof is famous for his feats of extreme endurance, like running up Everest wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, climbing Kilimanjaro in record time, without the normal acclimatisation to avoid altitude sickness, and for sitting encased in ice for periods that would kill a lesser mortal. Not surprisingly, he is also known as the “Ice man”.

Wim Hof claims no special physiology. Medical tests confirm he is not a freak of nature, and he tells us anyone equipped with his methods can achieve the same thing. Moreover, his methods are simple, and they are not “secret”. Any search of the Internet will reveal them. They are based upon his own life experiences, and his researches of ancient eastern techniques. For example, there are stories of Tibetan monks who sit in the freezing cold, and dry out wet cloths upon their backs by the generation of internal heat. It’s a phenomenon that’s been documented, but has left researchers stumped. It’s that sort of thing, Wim has taken on board, honed it to its essentials, demystified it, and applied it to astonishing effect in his own life. While few of us would feel the need to emulate Wim Hofs feats of extreme endurance, the implications for general health and well-being are equally profound.

The method does not require years of seclusion in a Tibetan Monastery. Rather, it involves a daily regime of breathing exercises, followed by exposure to cold water – say a cold shower every morning. The book outlines the exercises, its applications, and some testimonies from satisfied practitioners, but in the main this is Wim Hof’s personal story, and writes like a force of nature, is inspirational, and comes across as infinitely compassionate. He speaks of his early childhood in Holland, and his drop-out culture youth, among communities of squatters. He speaks of adult tragedy, his love of family, and his mission, which is to pass on this same infectious passion for life.

But is he too good to be true? Inevitably, perhaps, many have thought so. Journalists have sought him out with the aim of exposing him, but have ended up becoming converts. His collaboration with various scientific institutions also adds rigour to his claims, and has further silenced cynical naysayers, though his feats still defy conventional wisdom on how the body works, and what it should be capable of.

The difficulty most of us have with any “method”, however, is making the time, or having the motivation, or just the sheer courage, and I for one have yet to take the cold water challenge. That said, my own studies and practice of Qigong lead me to have no trouble endorsing at least the breathing techniques, which seem like an effective précis of the many methods I have encountered over the years.

The aim of breath work, like this, is to dramatically increase the oxygen content of the blood. Breath is, literally, the stuff of life, it is oxygen, it is the Qi of the Chinese, the Prana of the Hindu, but the western lifestyle means we are often living under stress, which interferes with the breath, restricts it, which results in a permanent state of hypoxia, and a resulting chemical imbalance, which leads to inflammation, to immuno-deficiency, and to all manner of sickness. We gradually acidify. Attention to the breath redresses the balance, boosting oxygen intake, and gradually resetting the dial so to speak. Reading this book has reinforced the answers to the questions my own practice of Qigong posed over the years.

Whilst at pains to provide a rigorous backing for its claims, there is an undoubted hippy, new age vibe to the narrative, and Wim’s language is never far away from the mystical – at least in a secular, new age kind of way. Some readers may find this off-putting, but this is not written as a sterile medical textbook, it is the document of a man’s life, his achievements and his passions, told in his own words, which makes his story all the more readable, and I warmed to it at once.

Wim Hoff: I’ll tell you what I do. I follow my inner voice and listen to what it tells me. I trust my soul sense and let it guide me. I ignore, as best as I can my ego. I know it’s going to be cold in the morning and that those first few seconds in the cold water are going to be unpleasant because my ego tells me so. But my inner voice tells me to bloody get into that cold water,…

We’ve all heard that voice. For now mine’s not urging me under a cold shower in the mornings, though with electricity currently at nearly 30p per Kilowatt hour, I can see the benefits to my pocket, if not also my health. It once happened by accident, a guest house shower suddenly running ice-cold, and the shock of that was so great I gasped for breath, staggered out, and nearly fainted. Wim does suggest, therefore, you go easy on yourself to begin with.

Altogether, a very engaging and informative read. I gained such a lot of knowledge from it, answering questions I’ve had for a long time about breath-work, and it effects on physiology. And yes, I’m sure a cold shower would wake me up in more ways than one, but at the risk of sounding cosseted, I’m happy to take it one day at a time.

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I’m not sure if the author had any say in the cover design, or the title, of this book, both of which, to my mind, speak to a different audience to that perhaps intended. Talk of an afterlife is pretty much a taboo subject in polite secular, and even some religious circles. Those expressing belief in it are dismissed as naive, and in thrall to woolly minded thinking. Pastel shades, fluffy clouds, and soft focus apple blossom sums up the popular audience to whom such works as this might appeal. Those wishing for a more sober, scientifically minded approach might be put off, as indeed I was. Had it not been recommended by other trusted writers, I would have passed it by, and that would have been a pity because I think it makes a valuable contribution to the literature.

Many works on this subject deal with anecdotes of the near-death experience (NDE) itself, but, whilst interesting at one level, even compelling, such accounts lack intellectual impact, when taken in isolation. They require us to have faith in the bona fides of the teller, and actually do little to further our understanding of the phenomenon itself. And it is a phenomenon, one very much a part of the human experience, with reports going back to the beginning of recorded history, but more-so in recent years, as resuscitation techniques have improved to the point where we are reviving more and more people who, would once have died. And some of them are telling us strange stories.

Jens Amberts trained in philosophy, and is not an NDE experiencer himself. Philosophy strikes me as a subject in which nit-picking is honed to a fine art, and nit-pick, expertly, he does. In order to explore the subject, he sets up a thought experiment in which he likens the NDE to a sealed room into which people are chosen at random to enter, and explore its contents. They are not able to make recordings of what they find in the room, and must rely entirely on word of mouth in describing what they saw, to others, when they emerge.

Taken at its simplest then, the proposition is thus: how many people do we require, coming out of that room, and all reporting similar findings, for the people outside the room to believe those accounts to be the truth, given that some people are honest, while others are liars, fantasists, attention seekers, easily confused, and so on. Will it take a thousand? Tens of thousands? Millions? As the title suggests, Amberts concludes it is no longer philosophically, or even rationally, reasonable to doubt.

He points out four characteristics of the NDE supportive of the case for their authenticity:

One: in the entire history of the research we can pinpoint nothing, psychologically, sociologically or physiologically that will predict whether a person close to death is likely to have an NDE, or how deep that NDE will be. So, we don’t need to be sympathetic towards the idea, be religious, agnostic or atheist, in order to have one. It’s entirely random.

Two: Of those who have had an NDE, whether they were previously sceptical or not, the overwhelming majority are convinced their experience was indeed what it purported to be, i.e. a glimpse of some form of psychical continuation of life after death.

Three: Those reporting an NDE often describe the experience as “more real” than real life, in the same way that waking reality is more real than the dream state, that the NDE is an experience of being, of cognitive bandwidth, and sensory awareness, that is a quantum leap beyond anything previously known. Indeed, regaining ordinary consciousness after an NDE is likened to seeing the world in black and white, after having first seen it in colour.

And finally, four: We return to how common NDEs are, and the estimates are somewhere between 4 and 15% of the world’s population, or 320 million to 1.2 billion people, have reported an NDE. This means an awful lot of formerly rational, sceptical people are now convinced there is such a thing as an afterlife state, who would never have contemplated holding such a view before.

But for all of that I find myself still very much on the fence, at least as regards what it is we are seeing, exactly, in that room. But this is not to detract from the power of Amberts’ argument. It is more perhaps to illustrate, through my own doubts, the persistence of a perhaps defensive scepticism that will disregard even the strongest logic, and which also lies at the root of human experience.

What is not in any doubt is that something psychologically profound happens during an NDE, an experience that has, as yet, no rational physiological explanation, yet which has a deep and lasting effect on the psyche of the experiencer. What we don’t know, of course – should the experiencer not return to tell the tale – is does the NDE persist? Nor do we know if the 85 to 96% of those not reporting an NDE do so because they were denied entry through the Pearly Gates, and if so, the odds aren’t looking too good for the rest of us, no matter how well we conduct our lives, or swear allegiance to the various religious faiths who profess to be keepers of the gates.

The book was a fascinating, thought-provoking read, and Amberts’ argument will be of interest to believer and sceptic alike, also to students of philosophy who might have no interest in the subject one way or the other, but are looking for a case study in the diagnostic power of a thought experiment.

As the serious literature on this subject mounts, I find myself growing cautious of where the affirmative NDE arguments might lead, I mean socially and even politically. Indeed, it takes very little imagination to foresee societal structures emerging that will precipitate our departure for the next world on grounds purporting to be humane, whether we like it or not – and we don’t know anywhere near enough to be taking risks like that.

If it is true, it may be we’re not supposed to possess any certainty about it. Indeed, I suspect we may be psychologically predisposed to doubt, no matter how convincing the argument, be it religious or secular, and for our own good. Because, again, if it is true, we’re here because we have a contract to fulfil to our own being, and knowing for sure there’s a sure fire get-out clause, if things get tough, well,… that might defeat the whole point of us being here in the first place.

And if it isn’t true, well, it doesn’t matter anyway.

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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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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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Cartridge Hill, Darwen Moor

Another walk on the Darwen moors, this time taking in Lyons Den, Cartridge Hill and Hollinshead Hall

We’re standing by this small ruin on Darwen Moor. It’s a low, mossy, grass covered mound, and hard to tell if we’re looking at stone or brick underneath. We’re near the head of Stepback Brook. Lower down its steep, rocky course, is where we found the enchanting little waterfall, last time, but which is today reduced to a disappointing trickle. We’ve come up from Ryal Fold in deep shade, over a frost hardened earth, and in the teeth of a bitter wind that severely tested our resolve. Now, though, we’ve popped out into dazzling sunlight, with a bit of warmth in it, so the way is slightly more encouraging.

This is Lyons Den. I was expecting more, but perhaps less is more. I imagine it’s a fine spot in summer, with the moors dusty, under the heat of a noonday sun, and these trees providing shade for the traveller and a whisper of stories as the wind stirs their leaves, and the brook tinkles its way down the valley. Today though, even in the sun, it looks and feels rather bleak.

According to legend, it was a man called John Lyon who gave the place its name. This would be around the last decade of the eighteenth century. He lived here, not in any ordinary dwelling, but in a crude shelter made of turf. A shaggy, giant of a man, he was seen to emerge from his rustic lair on all fours, the Lyon emerging from his den, so to speak, and the name stuck with the locals, or so the legend goes. He gets a paragraph in Shaw’s 1889 book, “Darwen and its people”, which is the most definitive account I have of this enigmatic character. The place was sold on in the nineteenth century, and became the more conventional, small farm we see on the early OS maps.

Lyons Den, Darwen Moor

The maps also suggest it was less of a lonely place then. There were mines and quarries all around, and we can imagine the sound of men toiling at, and in, the earth, and the sound of carts creaking over the rutted moorland ways, with their loads. A profusion of Victorian shafts dot the moor, ominous depressions by the wayside, and caution is required. Some are fenced, others not. Shafts weren’t always securely filled from the bottom up, and that curious depression in the earth might easily conceal a rotting cap of planks, with a terrifying void lurking beneath.

The plan for the day is to take in the top of Cartridge Hill, then walk down to the woods at Roddlesworth, to the ruins of Hollinshead Hall, then circle back to the car at Ryal Fold. I’m not feeling on top form, so we’ll have to see how it goes. I have what looks like an infected tick bite on my foot, which itches like blazes. It’s been keeping me awake, so I’m tired and lacking energy. Either that or it’s the start of Lymes’. I’ve tested negative, so I know it’s not Covid.

I didn’t get to show it to the doctor, who remains elusive. I had to send the surgery a photograph instead, and the practice nurse rang me back to say it looked more like ringworm, that I need an antifungal ointment. I hope she’s right. Neither Lymes’ nor Covid are attractive alternatives, though of the two, I’d sooner take my chances with Covid.

Perhaps that’s why the moor feels strange today, empty somehow. Or it could be a bitterness over the recent party-gate revelations. I had thought I’d risen above all the polarising politics of recent years, but am occasionally brought back to the boil by its craven lunacy. Today, I’m remembering how the cops came down really hard on ordinary folk for infringement of the social distancing rules, how we were encouraged to dob our neighbours in, how lone walkers were spied upon by cop-drones, and shamed for being out of doors, “admiring the view”, like it was the new sin. It’s all proving a bit hard to swallow.

Anyway, Lyons Den is at the junction with the track coming up from Duckenshaw Clough, and which winds its way down to Hollinshead. We follow it westwards a short way, locate the path that cuts back to Cartridge Hill, then follow the line of a fence over open moor to the summit. Although an understated hill, as a viewpoint it’s outstanding, and well worth a visit. Southwards, there’s Belmont and Winter Hill. To the east, it’s the Holcombe moors. Westwards, it’s Great Hill and Anglezarke. We have a faint inversion in the valleys today, which we try to capture with the camera, but the cold soon nibbles at the fingers and has them aching for our pockets again.

I have an irrational thing about ticks. They’re a metaphor of something I can’t pin down. It’s nature, no longer welcoming, but turned predatory. If that thing on my foot is a tick bite, it can only have come from this neck of the woods, where ticks are unheard of, and it’s the middle of winter, for heaven’s sake, when ticks aren’t active. But then we have climate change, mild winters, and a burgeoning wild deer population,… I don’t know. Perhaps it’s an age thing, but there’s this sense of change, and all of it careening downhill to nothing good.

In roddlesworth woods

We retrace our steps back to the main track, then wander down to the woods at Roddlesworth. Here we seek out the extensive, and fascinating ruins of Hollinshead hall. Flattened in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I’ve always found it curious that the well house remains so stubbornly intact. It’s the setting for a very fine ghost story, whose origins are the eerie memoir of Richard Robinson, of Brinscall, also known as “a moorland lad”. Out of print now, I found a pdf copy of it, titled “The Wishing Well” on the website of the Chorley and District Archaeological society, and a very good read it is too, as well as being of significant historical interest.

The Well House, by the ruins of Hollinshead Hall.

Lunch today is lentil soup, which we enjoy in the sunshine, sheltered from the wind, in the lee of a wall, whose original function we can only speculate about. Kitchen? Lounge? Study? In the seventeenth century, the hall was home to the Radcliffe family, of Royalist leanings in the civil war. There’s speculation the well house was used as a secret baptistry, the Radcliffes being of the Catholic faith, at a time when priests were being murdered by the state, and the Vatican was having to smuggle them in through Ireland. But my favourite story of Hollinshead Hall – also told by Richard Robinson in his memoir – comes from the eighteenth century, when it passed to one Lawrence Brock-Hollinshead. Brock-Hollinshead installed a special circular room, here, as part of an experiment concerning time, and determining the exact length of a calendar year. This was prior to Britain’s adoption of the Gregorian calendar, in 1752.

Britain was still relying on the less accurate Julian calendar, in spite of the rest of Europe, by that time, having changed, the result being we were 11 days behind everyone else. The experiments involved timing the sun as it shone through a series of apertures, over a period of six years. Brock-Hollinshead’s studies proved Pope Gregory was right about the precise length of the year, and the new calendar was duly adopted. This meant catching up the 11 lost days, which gave rise to riots, people believing they had been robbed of life. And on that note, given also the febrility of the present day, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn there were moves to abolish it, and have our pre Gregorian exceptionalism restored!

Hollinshead Hall 1846 – Cartridge hill in the background

So, down through the mossy woods now, to the bridge over Rocky Brook. The sun is slanting nicely through the trees, but I’m not in the mood to linger. I’m definitely feeling off, and wanting a sit down, somewhere comfy and warm, with a large mug of hot chocolate. The little blue car is up at the Royal, and it’s a bit of a pull out of the woods from here. We’ll see how we go. Itchy feet for sure, though, today, which of course could also be read as a metaphor which bodes well, for the coming year.

Thanks for listening.

References:

Image of Hollinshead Hall in 1846, reworked from a public domain print, acknowledgement www.albion-prints.com

“Darwen and its People” J.G. Shaw 1889

The wishing Well – a moorland romance. A Moorland Lad – Richard Robinson 1954

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Tree and puddle

The lady in the pharmacy is upset. Her mother is ill, and struggling to get her medication. The lady wants to know if the pharmacy can arrange for her mother’s prescription to be delivered. Normally, yes, this can be arranged, but the prescription needs to be signed off by the doctor. But the lady explains, in a tone of rising desperation, that she is unable to get through to the doctor by telephone, that she has been ringing the surgery for hours to no avail. I had heard appointments were difficult to come by. Now it’s impossible even to get the surgery to answer the telephone. The pharmacist cannot help, but, unlike the doctor, she is at least available to speak to and, sadly, to field the invective she does not deserve. The lady leaves with her life still in crisis.

My own quest involves the search for Lateral Flow Tests. Last year you could order these things online, and they would be delivered, or you could walk into a pharmacy and pick up a week’s supply. Now, official online kits are as hard to come by as the proverbial manure of rocking horses, and before you can get one from a pharmacy, you needed a code from the official website. I have the code, but the pharmacist has no kits.

“We’ll get a small delivery tomorrow morning,” she tells me. “But they’ll gone in an hour.”

Looks like an early get-up then, tomorrow. I do not need them for myself. My habits are once more reclusive; I no longer work, have no elderly relatives to support, and I can keep myself to myself. But my son is working for an employer who has decided the pandemic is over, that Covid is reduced to a sniffle, and “prefers” everyone return to the office. This is notwithstanding the fact hospitals in my area have declared states of emergency.

There is nothing to be done. The world is upset and things are broken. The newspapers report our formerly free lateral flow kits are now selling online for hundreds of pounds. I don’t know if this is true, or if it’s just the newspapers being newspapers, stirring things up for the clicks.

The last word from our leadership was characteristically laissez-faire, and seemed not to take account of the rising sense of crisis, or at least as it is felt in the pharmacy queues of greater England, and more specifically, Northern England. Muddle through is the motto, and fair enough, we’re good at that. After all, things could be worse; the world is not at war, and asteroids are not falling from the sky. But the waters we must muddle through are muddier of late, and it’s harder to see the depths ahead.

Still, the sun is shining. My boots have dried out from their soaking on Withnell moor. There is a tree, and a puddle on the plain I have not visited for a while. And while the built world, the world we have thought into being, shudders and grows less sure of itself, the natural world, in pockets at least, remains to provide a clearer reflection of our true nature. That said, the potato fields are sprouting rubber gloves and face masks these days. In the coming millennia, archaeologists will scan down to the level of this detritus, and use their findings to answer the questions of how well we coped with these particular pandemic years.

These too are the years before we solved the vexed problems of perpetual war. They are the years before we stopped burning fossil fuels, and discovered how to stuff the carbon dioxide and the methane back into the earth, the years before we found our more harmonious balance with nature, cleared the oceans of plastic rubbish, greened the cities, and rewilded the wilderness, turned back the earth from grey to green, and ended poverty. It was a miracle. And how did we manage such a thing, they’ll wonder, those future archaeologists, sociologists, anthropologists and historians, for things were not at all apparent from the evidence of our times, such as they are, and from the records we left behind, including those long archived newspaper reports of black marketeering in lateral flow test kits.

I shall have to go and ask it of the tree – how we did it, I mean – because I forget now. But trees have long memories, and it might just remember how we managed to squeak through to better times.

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