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blessing clockIt’s got to be the ugliest clock I’ve ever seen. Worse than that it was broken – fully wound, yet not even the hint of a tick when shaken, and the hands were dangling loose. Cosmetically it was in poor shape too, tarnished, with rust leaking through the gilt, and I really didn’t care for that ormolu filigree decoration at all. Who in their right mind would waste money on such a thing? Okay, so I would, but for £1.50 from the charity shop it was hardly a ripoff, and I’d get some pleasure from tinkering with it, even if it was only to learn a little more about how these things were put together. Such knowledge is pointless of course, because nothing is put together like this any more. But then much of what we pick up in life, even the stuff we think is really, really important, turns out to be pointless in the end.

It’s a Blessing – the clock I mean, made in Waldkirsch/Breisgau, West Germany. Like most old consumer grade clockmakers they’re gone now – the latest I can date them to is an advert for 1974, but they were a prolific maker in their day. If you search online, Blessing clocks are as common as Smiths. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder of course, so I’m being subjective in describing it as ugly. Anyway, clocks of this period are usually pretty “robust”, so all was not lost. I was sure I could get it going.

What usually happens is they get dirty inside, the original oil turns to mush and the whole thing gums up. It slows down, becomes unreliable, you get cross with it. It stops. That’s the thing with these old wind-up clocks. You could have it serviced by a clockmaker, but it’ll always be cheaper to throw it away and buy a new one. So, quirky and unloved, consumer-grade tickers like this usually end up in the bin. How this one escaped is a mystery, but anyway,..

It’s an act of defiance I suppose, that I should want to get it going, though who the enemy is, who or what it is I am defying is harder to say – and I don’t just want to get it going, I want it ticking as sweet and accurate as when it was new. In a further act of defiance I can perhaps give it back to the charity shop and they can get a fiver for it.

I suppose what I’m doing is acting in a way I’m not expected to. I’ve been doing this fairly effortlessly one way or the other all my life – like the way I get the exact atomic time from my ‘phone each morning, and transfer it to any one of a variety of wind-up wristwatches, circa 1950, which manage to keep track of it within about ten seconds per day. But this is another story – unhelpful tangent – except to further illustrate my eccentricity and total lack of any coherent explanation of myself.

Anyway back to the Blessing: Mechanical devices from this period – I’m guessing late sixties/early seventies – were manufactured in ways that were reversible – in other words you could take them apart, strip them to their nuts and clean them up. They were put together by people sitting at a bench. Modern, consumer clocks are made and assembled by robots and are meant to be thrown away when they stop. Many aren’t even granted the dignity of a fresh battery.

Sure enough, the mechanism comes out of the case without much trouble – just unscrew a few things and the case comes apart into an array of interesting bits and pieces, all of them metal except for the acrylic “glass”.

The back-plate of the mechanism is stamped by the maker. This is West Germany, and marks it as coming from the pre-unification, cold war period, as important a period in post-war European History as will be the period post BREXIT. Already our ugly old clock is having us think of interesting things.

Let’s see: the balance spring is in good shape, likewise the rest of the escapement. So, our ugly old clock is in with a chance. Note of caution though: there are fingerprints all over the end-plate, so it’s obvious someone’s had a go at it before me. This is not uncommon – a squirt of 3-in-1 oil being the usual desperate remedy. I know because I’ve done it myself as a kid. It hadn’t worked – it never does – and fortunately further attention seems to have proved too intimidating for my predecessor – there being no tool marks on the nuts that hold the plates together.

So far my £1.50 investment is yielding great value for money.

The mechanism is heavy with fluff and hair, both human and cat, and goodness knows what else. A preliminary swill in white spirit gets the worst of this gunk off, then the mechanism is at least in presentable condition for the workbench, and further disassembly. One day I’ll get myself a cheap Ultrasonic tank.

Already we see the clock is wanting to run, the balance wheel is fluttering and a hesitant ticking is beginning to emerge from it. We’re a long way yet from getting things going properly, but the signs are promising.

Next comes the fun of a full strip down and a battle with the feeling that the further one goes, the less likely one is to remember how things go back together. Once stripped, we clean every little pin and pivot, put it back together, oil it, and away it should run.

A further note of caution – we’ve got big springs here, one for timekeeping, one for the striker and neither of them contained in a barrel. A spring released suddenly from full tension like this is a wild thing, and it will bite. It’ll run riot in the mechanism and break things. I listen to myself and realise I’m sounding like a pro. Don’t be fooled, I’m merely speaking from experience. We need to let them down, carefully,… We search for the “click”, there isn’t one – oh well, we must improvise. Pass me the screwdriver – no, the bigger one,…

Does the clock survive? Do I? Does any of it really matter? Well of course not, but that’s life. We ponder what we think matters, and we ponder it wherever we can find it. And we can find it anywhere, even in the innards of an ugly old clock.

Stay tuned.

Graeme out.

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mousemanIt’s going up for midnight now on a  wet Friday night and the house is quiet. In fact I have the house to myself, and I’m enjoying it. My wife has moved out. Again. And both my kids are away enjoying whatever passes for the night life these days. They won’t be back until late. I can wear my waistcoat and pocket-watch without incurring their mirthful banter. Hurray! So I’m a Victorian gent born a hundred years too late. Get over it.

I hasten to add my good lady has not gone permanently, at least I hope not, rather she is sleeping at her parents’ house not far away, and will be back tomorrow. The reason: she has a phobia of mice and refuses to sleep anywhere inhabited by even the thought of a mouse.

We’ve had a few this year, which is unusual. I’ve read it’s a climate-change thing, that mice are going hungry, or becoming more multitudinous, or at any rate more inclined to pop indoors than they once were. I was watching TV when I saw it, a fast moving blur in the corner of my eye. Being myopic I’m plagued by floaters anyway and wondered if it was one of those, hoped it was, but it wasn’t. The mouse put in another appearance shortly afterwards, slower this time, even pausing to have a look at me. Then it vanished behind a cabinet.

It was a work night and I didn’t want to be disturbed by mice, real or imagined, dancing the hokey-cokey around my bed. So I fetched all the traps out of the garage, where they have mouldered since the summer, and the last mouse incident. Eight traps, baited and set. I used the special mouse gunk they sell in B+Q. Overkill, perhaps, but by morning the mouse was dead.

On the one hand this was a positive result, but on the other, since I like mice, in the wild at least, it was not the ideal result. They are after all rather fascinating and evolutionary successful creatures, to say nothing of being quite cute. My actions therefore seemed somewhat utilitarian, hurried and precipitous, and I drove to work that morning in a rather thoughtful frame of mind, after dumping the mouse unceremoniously in the bin.

The mouse died because it had inconvenienced me, and I’m apt to ruminate upon the broader philosophical implications of such things. I was reminded of a scene from the otherwise dreadful movie: “The Next Karate Kid” where a delightfully young Hillary Swank is about to squish a cockroach at the dinner table in a monastery. The bug is swept to safety by one of the monks, and poor Hillary earns Mr Miyagi’s approbation, also a lecture on how the killing of anything sets up a chain of suffering, and that we should respect all life.

Apart from the performances of Hillary Swank and Pat Morita as Miyagi, this was rather a weak outing for the “Karate-Kid” genre. A  lot of the philosophising was by this time sounding as if it came from self help books, without sitting on much by way of intellectual or philosophical bedrock. But  it got me thinking about this business of killing.

Should Hillary have let the bug crawl all over her food? Okay, she could have picked it off the table before it got to her bowl, set it safely down outside, so I suppose Mr Miyagi had a point. There was no need to kill the bug. Within the monastery, there is no killing, he tells us. All life is respected, but that’s rather an insular and somewhat simplified view of reality.

“You mean you’ve never killed a cockroach, Mr Miyagi?”

“Miyagi don’t live in Monastery, Julie San, but still respect all living things.”

Woa, wait a minute! Has Miyagi ever killed a cockroach? Answer the damned question, man! Hmm, you ask me,  I think he fluffed his answer. I don’t think he treated Julie (Hillary) with the necessary intellectual respect there. He did not solve the central paradox at all. To kill or not to kill.

Cockroaches aren’t the sort of creatures you want skittering around your kitchen. Similarly, mice aren’t conducive to human health and well being.  At the bigger end of the scale man-eating tigers develop a taste for humans and thereby cause no end of suffering for their victims and their victims’ loved ones. So,… is there there no point at which killing becomes necessary, or in any way even spiritually acceptable? Or should we always be prepared to sacrifice our own lives, our own health, our own well being, rather than take the life of the simplest of creatures?

If we give the problem a little thought we can say well, maybe it’s acceptable to  take life only if it’s unavoidable. But to what lengths should we go to avoid taking it? It’ll be Daddy Long-Leg season soon, and my good lady has a phobia for those as well, but they’re fairly easy to catch and put outside – hint, go for the wings rather than the legs because Daddy Long Legs are perfectly happy to shed a leg and leave you holding it. But really, is this not mere sentimentality? Are we to show the same respectful awe to the Daddy-long-leg, or the mouse that we do to the man-eating tiger, or the great white shark? I admit I’m prone to such thinking, and I do regret killing that mouse, but is it reasonable of me to do so? In relative peace-time when there is room to manoeuvre, I suppose it is, but in a fight for survival, the mouse or any other enemy can be dispatched without a second thought, especially if we can persuade ourselves they deserve the label: Evil.

But all of that was a few days ago, the house is free of mice now and I’m confident the good lady Graeme will return to sleep, eventually. I would much rather the mouse had found it’s way out of my house. I do respect all life, really, and to the mouse, I apologise, but like Mr Miyagi, I fluff the answer to the paradox.

I shall leave the last word to Mister Miyagi: “It’s okay to lose to your opponent. It’s never okay to lose to fear.”

No, actually my favourite quote is: “Never trust a spiritual leader who cannot dance.”

 

 

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man writing

Eve of September at half past ten,
Dark at the window,
I see my face
Reflected in isolation again.
Withheld from grace and the subtle path,
Eluding with ease my inadequate craft.

 

 

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trio - giorgioni - 1510So, boy meets girl, boy meets another girl. The other girl meets the first girl and while he’s still thinking about what each of them means to him, the girls fall in love with each other, while both still being attracted to the boy. Thus, the boy doesn’t necessarily lose them both by his dithering, because the girls have a plan. He can enter into a polyamorous relationship with them, if he wants. So, will he or won’t he? Or, more to the point: should he or shouldn’t he?

It’s an unusual scenario, some might go so far as to say unlikely in real life, and I’d be one of them, except it does happen. What’s interesting about it is it reveals love as a more richly nuanced thing than is suggested by the traditional mythology of the one true love, and the eternal soul-mate thing. Somehow the jealousy and the exclusivity inherent in the one-on-one relationship is dissolved by love itself. Egos are transcended, rendering the presence of an intimate additional “other” not only psychologically acceptable, but essential in creating a uniquely robust and profoundly rewarding, life-enhancing relationship. Or so the theory goes.

My problem in trying to write about it is it’s never happened to me, nor would I particularly relish the prospect – not out of disapproval, but more that I would probably, in all honesty, find it impossibly confusing. That said, it’s a motif that’s popped up a couple of times in my stories so I’m obviously intrigued by it.

I don’t mean the sexual mechanics. There’s plenty to satisfy one’s curiosity in those terms elsewhere online. No, it’s not so much what happens in the bedroom that’s interesting as what exchanges take place over the tea table, say after a twelve hour working day when everyone’s tired and stressed and the washing up still needs doing and the bins need taking out. How would it mesh emotionally? Could it really produce something positive and stable into old age, or would it disintegrate into acrimony even faster than a conventional relationship? Or might it be an advantage, a third pair of hands, especially now in a society when two partners busting their guts on minimum wage are still struggling to make ends meet? Could it be that what we need now in order to beat a system that’s increasingly stacked against us, is a bigger matrimonial team?

I suppose like any relationship, it comes down to the individuals and the chemistry between them.

When I write, I let my characters develop without actively plotting. Loosely translated, this means I make it up as I go along, and this occasionally lands me in an emotional paradox or a plot maze from which there’s no plausible escape – and this may be one of them. A poly-amorous threeway is a hard sell in polite society, because there’s always going to be a suspicion one of the three is being taken for a mug, while another is having everyone’s cake and eating it.

I’ve only followed through once, in the Lavender and the Rose, but that was an odd story of blurred time-lines, ciphers, dreams and ambiguous identities, where the past informed the present, and vice versa and characters crossed from one historical period to the other, being both real and unreal at the same time. With all that going on, a bit of polyamory was the least challenging thing I was asking the reader to swallow.

But I’ve run into it again in the Sea View Cafe, the current work in progress, a single time-line, contemporary romance, in post BREXIT Britain – no room to hide in the fuzzy sanctuary of fantasy. Both women and the guy are looking to protect each other amid a creeping zeitgeist of bigotry, lawlessness, inhumanity and near societal collapse – yes I’m a bit of a Remoaner. The polyamory thing came up unexpectedly, an unlikely solution to the old “obstacles to love” chestnut, but there you go.

Which girl does he choose? Well, stuff that, say the girls, we choose each other but he can join in with us if he wants because actually we still quite fancy him. Yes, I’m expecting the reader to accept that as plausible, but we’re not really there yet. Having the women in charge removes the danger of accusations of misogynistic abuse, but what it doesn’t avoid is the danger of puerile male sexual fantasy. And I don’t think that’s what this is about. So what is it about?

Well, polyamory is not like swinging. In the swinging relationship, couples exchange partners for casual sex, and the relationships thus formed are not intended to be long lasting. Polyamory is different, it operates at a deeper emotional level. Operating as a closed, long-term relationship, all the needs of the individuals – emotional and sexual, are met within the group, which forms a safe, exclusive zone of love and trust and loyalty. But perhaps the defining characteristic, as with a conventional relationship, is that the loss of one partner, be it to death or infidelity, would be devastating to the whole – or at least that’s the way it’s turning out in the Sea View Cafe.

For now I’m hung on up on the plausibility of it and it’s slowing me down, but as one of the protagonists, Helena, keeps challenging me: what is plausible about the times we live in, Michael? Who could have dreamed up the headlines we are assailed with on a daily basis now, even so little as five years ago. And if we are to survive this tumultuous era is it not essential we become much more open and flexible in our thinking?

Until a decade ago it seemed we were making great strides in creating a more open and inclusive society. If our response now to the economic decline and political disruption of the west is no more sophisticated than a reversion to social conservatism, we have much darker days to come. But a loss of wealth and global significance need not result also in a decline in emotional intelligence and a narrowing of minds, though sadly those headlines suggest the contrary. Only an ever greater openness and a willingness to cooperate will overcome the evils oppressing us, but we’ll also have to ditch our mobile phones, through which small voices and small minds these days are amplified far beyond what is reasonable, manufacturing consent even among intelligent people for much worse things than bending the rules on what love is supposed to be, exactly, and how best to act on it.

As a dream symbol, polyamory can perhaps best be read as a need for us to transcend convention. While of course I do not advocate it, literally, as a solution to society’s ills, what I am coming around to thinking at last as I finish my meanderings through this ponderous blog: dammit, Helena, you’re right. If it moves things in a positive direction,…

Let’s just go for it!

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great wave croppedI lost an evening writing because my laptop, which runs on Windows 10, decided to update itself. I’ve tried various ways of stopping it from doing this, but it’s smarter than me and it will have its updates when it wants them, whether I like it or not, even at the cost of periodically throttling my machine and rendering it useless. Then I have to spend another evening undoing the update.

I don’t suppose it matters – not in the great scheme of things, anyway. I mean it’s not like I’m up against any publisher’s deadlines or anything. I feel it more as an intrusion by an alien intelligence, adding another non-productive task to the list of other non-productive tasks of which my life largely consists these days.

No, in the great scheme of things it doesn’t matter if I write, or what I write, or how I write, because there’s this aphorism that says something to the effect that in spite of how we feel, virtually all the time, things can never be more perfect than they are right now, that attaining this glorious state of being is simply matter of removing the scales from our eyes, of seeing and feeling the world differently. From that perspective, blogging’s just a big box I dump my spleen into now and then and my novels, what I once thought of as my reason for being – struggles for plausibility, for meaning, authentically channelling the muse, desperately seeking the right ending and all that – I mean,… really, who cares? It’s just some stuff I made up.

As you can tell, I’m feeling very Zen at the moment. Either that or depressed. The difference between Zen and depression? Depression is to be oppressed by emptiness. Zen is to embrace it. It’s to do with the same existential conundrum, I think, just opposite ends of the scale.

The writing life is one of negotiating distraction. You hold the intention to write at the back of your mind while being diverted by all these other activities – making a meal, washing it up, You-tube, Instagram, mowing the grass, cleaning your shoes, scraping the squished remains of that chocolate bar from your car seat,…

Such tasks are not unavoidable. You could simply ignore them, flagellate yourself, force yourself to sit down and write, but sometimes if you’re too disciplined, you find the words won’t come anyway because the muse is slighted, or out to lunch or something. So you fiddle about, you meander your way around your distractions, all the while building pressure to get something out, to sit down when you find a bit of space and peace, usually late in the day when you’ve already promised yourself an early night, and you’re too tired to do anything about it anyway. And then you find Windows 10 is in the process of updating itself.

Damn!

So what is it with this technology anyway? Does a writer really need it to such an extent? I mean, computers seem to be assuming a sense of self importance way beyond their utility. I suppose I could go back to longhand, like when I was a schoolboy, pre-computer days, or for £20 I could go back to Bygone Times and pick up that old Silver Reed clatter bucket and eat trees with it again – do they still sell Tippex? Neither of these options appeal though, being far too retrograde. No, sadly, a writer needs a computer now, especially a writer like me who relies upon it as a portal to the online market – “market” being perhaps not the best choice of the word, implying as it does a place to sell goods when I don’t actually sell anything. What do you call a market where you give your stuff away? Answers on an e-postcard please. But really, it doesn’t matter, because remember: nothing could ever be more perfect than it is right now.

Except,… everything is weird. Have you noticed? America’s gone mad, and we Brits, finally wetting our pants with xenophobia, have sawn off the branch we’ve been sitting on for forty years, gone crashing down into the unknown. And if this is the best we can come up with after all our theorising and thinking, and our damned Windows 10 with its constant updates, it’s time we wiped the slate clean and started afresh with our ABC’s, and a better heart and a clearer head.

I don’t know,… if I actually I knew anything about Zen, it would be a good time to retreat into monkish seclusion, compose impenetrable Haiku, scratch the lines on pebbles with a rusty nail and toss them into the sea. We’ve had ten thousand years of the wisdom of sages and the world’s getting dumber by the day. How does that happen?

Not to be discouraged, I bought a copy of Windows XP for a fiver off Ebay. It’s as obsolete as you can get these days while remaining useful. Indeed, it’s still probably controlling all the world’s nuclear power stations – except for those still relying on DOS – so I should manage okay with it. I have it on an old laptop, permanently isolated from the Internet, so the bad guys can’t hack it, and it can’t update itself. It responds like greased lightning. Okay, I know I still need Windows 10 to actually publish stuff, but at least I have a machine I can rely on for the basics of just writing now.

But did I ever tell you I don’t like writing about writing? Well, here I am doing it again aren’t I? But have you noticed, if you search WordPress for “writers”, or “writing”, that’s what tends to pop up, all of us writers writing about writing, when what I really want to read is their actual stuff, what they think about – you know, things, what the world looks like from their part of, well, the world, and through their eyes and their idiosyncrasies, and all that, which is what I thought writers were supposed to do. Or maybe that’s it these days and, like Windows 10 we’ve been updated beyond the point to which we make sense any more, become instead a massive circular reference in the spreadsheet of life, destined soon to disappear up our own posteriors.

Okay, we’ve tripped the thousand word warning now, when five hundred is considered a long piece these days – just enough to sound quirky and cool, while saying nothing at all.

Brevity, Michael! No one likes a smart-arse,… especially a long winded one.

Graeme out.

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A small market town up North, far less prosperous now than it once was. It was the place to go when things were needed that the corner shop in my outlying rural village could not provide. But nowadays the town does not provide that either. I mostly order my needs off the Internet, and the postman delivers.

In memory, probably rose tinted, it was a prouder place back then. Do I imagine that on Saturday afternoons people would dress up to go shopping? Men would wear clean shirts, jackets and aftershave, ladies their fashionable dresses, high heels, and lipstick. Film actresses have walked Market Street in their finery on the Saturday afternoons of my childhood, crossed the road by Woolworths on their way to Boots. Marylin Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall. I have seen them all on the catwalk that was the pelican crossing by the old Town Hall.

There were innumerable family businesses here, names over doors that had stood for generations – bookshops, shoe-shops, florists, shops for artists, photography shops, all gone now and the town has dissolved into a place of thrift, of bookmaking, of pawn-brokering, e-cigs and of bargain booze. And in their passing something has happened to us.

I don’t know when it happened, or how, or why, or even what I mean exactly. It’s more than money, more than the economy. It’s hard to put a finger on it. I could use a word like respectability, but risk accusations of elitism and a hankering after the nineteen fifties, when working men still doffed their caps to toffs.

As I walked Market Street this afternoon, I heard a group of women plainly from a hundred yards away, fag-raw voices much amplified by alcohol. I thought they were fighting, but they were simply talking, oblivious to the obstacle and the spectacle they created on the pavement. Of course such unselfconsciousness can be argued as a virtue, not caring to live one’s life through the eyes of other people, and hurrah for that, I suppose, but at the risk of sounding like an insufferable snob, there was something unpleasant about their laddishness, something embarrassing, even threatening. Oh, I’m sure had they read my mind, intuited my feelings they would have given me the finger, and well deserved.

Grace. I think it’s the loss of grace I mean – the grace of the actress, of the ballroom, of the dancer – it’s gone from all our lives now, though I’m aware of how ridiculous that sounds. Yet I still search the crowd for it – in vain mostly – seeing only rags instead of finery, and stout, hideously tattooed stumps in place of dancers’ legs. I have largely withdrawn such sensibilities into imagination, hesitate to express them.

And charity shops.

We have a lot of charity shops now, a dozen at last counting. They are the only places capable of thriving, the only reliable landmarks on the high street – all else is pitifully feeble, ephemeral. They smell, don’t they? I used to find it off-putting – something unclean, I thought, and for a long time resisted the plunge – just one more step in my own fall from gracefulness.

It helped I could find decent books in there, good novels, literature, a handful for a fiver and just as well in straightened times – for such an appetite would cost fifty quid from a bookshop and quite out of the question. But there are no bookshops any more.

I like the Heart Foundation. Their books are well ordered, easy to scan, always a generous selection. And that’s where I saw her.

She was tall, slim, a voluminous cascade of seemingly luminescent blonde hair falling down her back. She had an upright posture, head balanced with a dancer’s poise, chin up, directing her gaze as she swept the titles with a leisurely, bookish grace. She wore a pair of snug blue jeans and a green shirt over a cream camisole – not a young woman by any means, forties perhaps,… and so far so much of a cliche.

The movie cute-meet would no doubt have been our fingers reaching out for the same title, something by Sebastian Barry perhaps – always a hard find in a charity shop. Our fingers would brush, then we’d each draw back with an embarrassed laugh.

“After you,” I’d say.

She’d smile, blush, reveal endearing dimples and a row of Hollywood perfect teeth. “No, you first. I’ve read it anyway. You like Barry?”

And thus we would connect, two lost, bookish souls finding succour among the cast offs in this wasted northern town, which seemed at once less wasted for her presence in it.

Poise. Yes, it was her poise that caught my eye, her arm gently reaching up to the book-shelf, something of a reserved curve to it, ending in a languorously relaxed hand, only the index and middle fingers forming a stiffly extended double pointer as if to aid in this most delicate act of intimate divination, or to bless.

Stillness, grace, presence. She had presence. But what was she doing there, a woman like that? She was quite, out of place, out of time.

I was beside her at the bookshelf, but only for a moment. No cute-meet here. I felt my presence as a vulgar intrusion upon such grace and visceral femininity. I feared her effect on me could not go unnoticed, that I would disturb her, make her uneasy, that her grace would stiffen, become angular with suspicion, that by observing it, I would destroy it.

I felt stung then by something very old, a feverishness overcoming me, ancient but familiar. I have taught myself over the years of useless infatuation, successfully I believe, to see women as human beings. It’s what they want, they tell me, this elimination of objectification. But without the object, the symbolism also dies, and love is next to divinity. Yet here was one out of the blue coming at me as a goddess again.

I melted away unseen.

What was all that about?

Chapter one, I think, that’s what all that was about!

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standing stoneThe Ryoan-ji garden is an ancient rock garden in Japan, in the Zen tradition. It’s a so called dry garden, consisting of groups of large stones place upon a bed of smooth-worn and finely raked pebbles. I’ve studied Zen as an amateur student for years, but it’s an enigmatic subject, difficult to gain purchase and try as I might I still know virtually nothing about it. In a similar way I’m no doubt entirely ignorant of the deeper meaning of this garden. One of its intriguing and more talked about features however is that no matter what angle we view it from we can only ever count fourteen stones.

There are actually fifteen stones, but one of them is always hidden from view by the others, so we can never know for sure that there are fifteen, presumably without flying over the garden and viewing it from an elevated perspective. So, how many stones are there? Answer, obviously fifteen, but how many in our experience? How many from our every day perspective?

I’m not sure if this is an important Zen teaching, or if I’m creating a tangential one of my own, but it’s a useful concept none the less, that reality is always subjective and cannot help  but conceal both it’s true nature and, by inference, our own.

On a not unrelated subject, about twelve hours ago, I ate breakfast in the garden of a cottage overlooking the North Sea, a little to the north of Scarborough. I sipped coffee as I contemplated the changing shades of blue, and I tried to hold on to the scene, to imprint it in memory, both visually and emotionally, because I knew I would shortly be taking my leave of it and it would be a long time before I came this way again, indeed if ever.

Like that fifteenth stone the view is now hidden. I know it exists from some other perspective, but what I’m left with now, as I tap this out are the fourteen stones of a more mundane reality.

The ability to hold on to an awareness of the fifteenth stone is helped by having seen it in the first place. No amount of being told of its existence can substitute for the experience of seeing it. Merely being told it’s there requires faith and trust, when you cannot see it yourself.

Of course what I was looking at this morning was a reflection of my own self in a reality that was closer to the truth of who felt I am, of who we all are when not pummelled into a different shape by the repetitive and habitual lives that normally contain us. For a short time though, on holiday, we escape, we gain a different perspective, we view a different emotional landscape, we see and feel ourselves differently and wish upon wish we could be like that all the time. It is this transcendent essence that is contained for me in the symbolic meaning of the fifteenth stone.

But the truth is we have all seen it from time to time, and even though the evidence of our own eyes mostly denies its existence, we have only to shift our perspective slightly, do something, go somewhere a little out of the ordinary, to reveal its presence and realise it’s been there all along.

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