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Archive for the ‘My Notes’ Category

sunset

The hills do not remember,
Nor these scattered hoary stones,
Nor the foxgloves
Nodding in long sleepy lanes,
Nor the oaks whose leaves,
Turning now their silvered backs,
Anticipate the coming rains,

There is no memory, nor time,
In this hung moment,
As a white, full faced moon rises,
And a fierce heat-wave sun,
Forsakes at last the day,
Tempers its blade,
In a cooling quench
Of sparkling amber bay.

And here I sit, shouldering alone
The burden of this beauty,
Drinking down in greedy gallons now,
My last fill of tranquil air,
That I might remember, and take with me,
This pebble from an aching sunset shore,
Caressed to fleeting prettiness,
By a golden wash of sea.

Caerfynnon

July 2018

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IMG_20171015_165153_processedAs a rule of thumb it’s best to assume there’s more behind the day’s headlines than we know, or could ever imagine. Trump and BREXIT have dominated UK current affairs for years now, both of them beginning as little things we did not believe could happen, but which went on to happen in a big way, to the extent they have now mired the western world in crises too numerous to be unpicked here – even if I knew how.

I had thought it the result of a kind of cyclical madness, that once every couple of generations, the veneer of political stability naturally fell apart, that it was a kind of madness too that we could become normalised to what is now, frankly, a bewildering state of world affairs. But the picture emerging of the story behind this story, is not one of collective madness at all, more one of a concerted and clandestine campaign of disinformation and psychological warfare – specifically, the deployment of techniques developed to win over the hearts and minds of an enemy, or failing that to collapse their will, and therefore their resistance, to ideas and to forces they might otherwise see as harmful. In this case, the enemy is us, the civilian populations of the UK, Europe and the United States.

It was achieved through the medium of the truly Orwellian Visiphone, one many of us carry, all the time – our phones, our laptops, our swish tablet computers. They watch us, they look, listen, take note of the things we like, the things we don’t like, and make predictions based upon that data – what else we might like, or how we might be persuaded to like or not to like certain things. It logs our every step, everywhere we go, and how often. It makes note of our contacts. It can even make predictions of the likelihood of our committing future crimes, the likelihood we belong to an ethnic, religious or sexual minority group, the likelihood we are to the left or the right of the political divide.

Those deploying such weapons are not governments. ‘They’ are the plutocrats who own the world’s money, the unimaginably rich whose goal it is to further consolidate control of the world’s money flows. They have done this since the dawn of time by partly infiltrating and lobbying government, by funding and effectively blackmailing politicians into obedience, and more lately by owning and deploying with deadly effect that most recent Pandora’s box of nefarious possibility – Big Data.

Big Data is everything conceivably knowable about you and me, and we give it away in exchange for the convenient services we are offered in return – essentially messaging, information, entertainment and navigation via our Visiphones. Want to play that crazy cat game? You have to sign away all objections to your data being harvested first. Sounds dodgy? It is. But you know what? We do it anyway.

We have been at war for a long time without realising it. It’s basically a class war like no other ever waged in history, and we’re losing it. Worse, I see no heroes coming to our rescue, only leader after leader lying brazenly with their pants on fire as if to own the truth by denying its very existence. No one reading Carol Cadwalladr’s reports here, can be in any doubt now the result of the BREXIT vote was influenced by the self interest of an international plutocratic elite, virtue of the psychological weapons it deployed in the run-up to the vote, weapons purchased at great cost, yet secreted through various murky back-channels. To all rational thinkers the result of the BREXIT vote is null and void, democracy was undermined, yet we remain transfixed as the train rushes towards us, frozen in our disbelief.

The result for the UK is the destabilising chaos that has been BREXIT, and a government now torn between those within it who would work towards minimising the damage it will do, and those who would maximise that damage for their own purposes – damage here meaning severe detriment to the working and the middle classes of the UK, with the implication that whatever the outcome, that damage is now unavoidable and will be substantial. Already stripped of our former securities we face a further collapse of all certainties concerning healthcare, social provision and any kind of worthwhile work, both for ourselves and the generations who follow. This is a new world order. It’s Orwellian, it’s oppressive, and it came out of nowhere.

Plutocrats traditionally inhabit the far right of the political landscape, but so far as I can tell, not from any particular affinity with its ideology. Right leaning politicians and their cheerleaders are merely convenient bedfellows, and similarly contemptuous towards the common enemy, this being “The People”.

Persuading “the people” to vote or to support the policies of the right, policies that aid the plutocratic cause, and which are inherently harmful to “the people”  relies upon sowing the seeds of an irrational fear to distract from the actual facts – like vote for me and I’ll make you poorer, and I’ll make your children suffer. To pull that off is an act of astonishing sleight of hand, but it’s as effective now as it was in the nineteen twenties, and the fears stoked are the same – fear of the foreigner, or the other who is not like you, who will take your job and ruin the purity of your imagined native heritage.

The difference now is the plutocrat is not restricted in his disinformation to the partial media, which they mostly own. Now they have access to our primary means of information as well – to our Visiphones. Now they can make us hate anyone and anything they want, merely by a form of subliminal suggestion through the images and the adverts we are served. They can make us say and do stupid things, make us vote in strange ways, make us saw off the branch of the tree we’re sitting on. They are the Svengalis of the modern world.

Armed with a sufficient level of education, a knowledge of the dangers of this all-pervasive media, who controls it and how they control it helps one view information thus gleaned with circumspection. But not everyone is interested, or cares that much and it’s been proven anyway that, given sufficient motivation, even good people can be persuaded to do harm to others without just cause. Our will is weakened by a constant bombardment of unsettling and confusing issues to the point where we know something is badly wrong and we can’t believe anything we’re seeing, yet cannot conceive of any alternative, let alone how we go about achieving it.

I’m at the stage now where I want to close my eyes to that train heading full pelt in our direction. It might help if I focus my attention on a future world, one interpolated from the data plots already marked on the chart, and from the general direction we seem to be heading. It’s a world without any meaningful work, and a population enslaved, working two or three of those meaningless jobs for a minimum wage, eighty hours or more a week, just to pay the rent. None of us will own anything, not even the Visphones in our pockets, and the only satisfaction in life we’ll have is counting the likes we got for that stupid video we re-posted from somewhere else. Meanwhile the plutocrats in their super-yachts will be anchored offshore, grey silhouettes in the sunset, like the battleships of a conquering nation, a vision both futuristic and medieval. And there’s not a damned thing we can do about it. Except, next time, before you click, think about what information you’re giving away to the enemy, and what you might already have lost on account of it.

I’m off to West Wales now, to a little place half way up a mountain where there’s no ‘phone signal, and no Internet, where I can still believe the world is a beautiful place, and worth the shout and where my Visiphone won’t be urging me to hate any more.

 

 

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On a dust dry afternoon,
In a quake of stupefying heat,
I tip the pencil to the page
Of thoughts as yet unspun,
And pause.

So long a ghost now, flitting soft,
Unseen, unheard while held aloft
On gossamer threads,
Wind-trailed for fey arachnid flight,
Afraid to freeze myself,
Descend into uncompromising shape,
And speak.

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marniesnip

There is no time,
When from time to time,
We chance across each other’s path.
No chance either,
Not really,
In this,
The scheme of how things lie.
There is only an eternal sense,
Of blessing,
Of stillness,
And sacred elegance.

Today we stand apart,
As always,
Mute,
But across this void of timeless time,
And empty air,
In my heart,
And in my deepest soul,

We dance.

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singing loch coverAn occasional series looking back at my novels, and the themes I’ve explored in them.

Do your local beauty spots still do it for you?. Mine have been robbed of something, or rather something vital in them has died as the result of an unwholesome symbiosis, one in which the parasite kills the host rather like the ivy eventually strangles the tree. This is illustrated no more forcibly than by a bag of dog excrement hanging in a bush.

I don’t know why people do this, no more than I understand why they scatter beercans and fast food cartons. But this is at the level of detail and isn’t really important as details in themselves, but if we take it from a wider perspective all these things can be viewed more simply as manifestations of an urban sickness. The bag of excrement hanging from the tree, the empty drinks carton squashed and left to rot by the kissing gate, the beer-cans in the ditch, these are the focal points, the weapons of the urban terrorist, the blind hoards brain-washed into perpetrating their various atrocities, the release points for a particular kind of toxin that targets the spirits of place, causing them to shrink back, to flee, to seek out those remaining enclaves where such subtle entities as spirits can still survive in this our modern and increasingly insensitive world.

This talk of spirit is not religious, not pagan, not bonkers. The spirit of place is an imaginary concept, subjective, something both you and I might feel when we walk together through the forest at twilight, or mount the craggy fell-side in cloud dappled sunlight, yet we will visualise it, project it out into the world in different ways. It’s about imagination, and the personal story we lay upon the land. It’s a personal vision, yet one that unites us all, and nourishes us in something that is uniquely human.

Now, at the risk of offending most of the world’s population, which is by now gathered into cities and other blighted sprawling urban carbuncles, I see these as dead places and have shunned them all my life, except for quick forays when they cannot be avoided. But I always leave them feeling weakened, gasping for the quiet of trees and wild green where the story is not rendered unchanging and impersonal in cracked concrete, and crumbling for want of that essential imaginative overlay.

Cities kill something in us. Yes, they are supposed repositories of all our high art and culture, but they are also violent places, nurturing a culture of mistrust, of savvy street-smartness, teeming with the existential bacteria of scams and crime and all their futile countermeasures. The population density in such places may be many tens of thousands per square mile, yet no one knows one another. Paranoia is inevitable. They are grey places, void of any colour that is not artificial, and worse,… they spread.

When I was writing the Singing Loch in the eighties, I could still rely upon the occasional stretch of meadow, patch of woodland, or a twist of ancient pathway in and around my locale, here in the North West. But the builders were everywhere too, planting their flags like encamped armies. They were about the King of money’s business, colonisation of the otherwise “useless” green, turning it into labyrinths of brick and concrete and tar.

So I would flee north, to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. You could still find the spirits of place there, but there was also an appalling loneliness about them, as if the spirits were weeping, result of generations lost, cleared from their rented subsistence farms to make way for more profitable sheep. This is another aspect of the greyness, that it can leak out, manifest itself in far places to begin the process of corrosion, of corruption. I would return from the islands with sheep ticks attached to my elbows and back of knees, evidence the land was sick, and the spirits of place there quite possibly an illusion.

This is another aspect of the spirits of place; they border on the ancient lore of the Faery, need us as much as we need them, but they do not suffer fools gladly. This kind of thinking is very old, perhaps best expressed in the literature and the art of the Romantic period. It’s a much misunderstood philosophy, essentially a search for the sublime, literally something in us that dwells at a subliminal level, but which can be glimpsed by seeking its reflection in the natural world, the world as nature intended, or at the very least as the Daoists of old China would have it, most sympathetically crafted to the needs of mankind.

And when that vision is lost, when the Faery have fled, we are left with only the base animal in ourselves, and the very worst of mankind is manifested. Then the beer-cans in the hedge become the key that opens the door on less benign spirits, and all the shadow creatures that feed despair. Then the world becomes an empty place, a place of concrete and pollution, and money for the few, a world in which the butterflies are killed and pinned to be gawped at in glass cases, as if we could comprehend from such atrocity what it means to see these creatures alive in the wild on a warm summer’s day.

The environment can nurture that which is highest in human nature, or it can erode it, render it unconscious and entirely unfeeling and that we have largely lost sight of such a phenomenon bodes ill for all our futures. In my story the Singing Loch, the spirit of place is represented by the majestic titular loch, a place of renowned beauty, rich in sublime reflection, but a place that has been put out of bounds by corporate interests. In the story I tried to get at the importance of such places, and how their capture by monied interests threatens something vital in all of us. Yet such places are lost to us every day, carved up, quarried, mined, poisoned, the spirits evicted, the people left to rot in hovels, surrounded by piles of detritus, and the few remaining, sickly trees hung with bags of excrement.

The Singing Loch made not one jot of difference to any of this of course. Indeed things are a lot worse now than when I wrote it. But at least I managed to get it off my chest, and through the writing, come to understand a little better what it is I think and feel about such things. I’ve also become a little more philosophical, and sensitive I think to those rare places where the shy spirits still survive. It became long ago, very much part of the bedrock of my psyche, and in writing to understand what it is I think about it, I find I’m still very much in agreement with my former self.

 

 

 

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philosophers

Arithmetic can be interesting and absorbing, even to a non-mathematician, provided we aren’t scared off it by psychopathic maths teachers as kids – and maybe even then, depending on how resilient we are,….
There’s something fundamental about numbers that ties us into the physical world. You can imagine a little lad in ancient times being sent out to count the eggs in a hen’s roost and report back to his mother: how many?

So he counts the eggs he sees on his fingers, returns to his mother and holds up the same number of fingers, and she transfers that information to her own fingers and counts them off – one for me, one for my husband, one for each of my children. Yes, there are enough eggs. Fetch me this many – holds up her fingers.

This is okay for counting small quantities, but anything bigger than ten and we need a more advanced system, something that takes care of the tens, the hundreds, the thousands and so on. And that’s what we have, for general use at least, a system we call base ten. And although we can’t be certain, there’s a convincing argument our preference for working in the base ten number system comes simply from the fact we have ten fingers and thumbs. If we’d evolved with just four, our arithmetic would be entirely different – we’d be working in base eight, what we call Octal. In the Octal system the number nine doesn’t exist. There are units (up to the number 7), eights, sixty fours, and so on – a bit weird really. In fact there are any number of number systems.

In computing, we use the binary system a lot, where the biggest digit is 1. We also use hexadecimal when programming computers, sixteen digits there, but since we have no regular digits bigger than 9, we represent the others with letters. Hexadecimal arithmetic used to really blow my mind. Base ten is much safer ground.

Numbers can do useful, practical things like keeping track of vast sums of money or objects. Arithmetical operations help us divide them up, add other quantities, subtract them,… but those of a mystical bent also attribute spooky properties to numbers. The argument runs we didn’t just invent numbers out of thin air, did we? They already existed. We just discovered them. Where did they come from? God invented numbers, or they’re a fundamental property of the Universe, or something,… either way they hint at its more esoteric mysteries.

Like what?

Well, take any number and multiply it by nine; say 54×9=486.

Now add the digits of 486 together: 4+8+6 = 18

Add the digits of 18 together: 1+8 = 9

This is called taking the digital root of a number, and the curious thing is the digital root of any number multiplied by nine, always equals nine. I was flummoxed by this when I first noticed it, and began to think of those numerological methods where you reduce your name to a number and it tells you what kind of person you are. Adding digits of big numbers together always seemed mathematically meaningless to me, but what about that trick with the number nine, because that’s really spooky?

But that’s not all. If you play about, finding the digital roots of other numbers, even more curious things begin to emerge. Say you take the roots of a series of numbers, like the doubling sequence: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024,….

And if you take the digital roots of each number in that sequence you get a sequence of roots that goes: 1 2 4 8 7 5,… repeating to infinity. And this is curious in that never once do we come across the numbers 3, 6, or 9. Now that sequence may ring a bell, depending on how long and how deeply you surf the whackier fringes of the Internet. And if you’re curious enough you’ll end up on Google and you’ll fall down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories surrounding Nicola Tesla who’s quoted as saying some weird things about the number 369.

But then if you’re lucky, and you survive all of that, you wind up right back with basic arithmetic and number theory, and how the bases work in practice. Yes, they throw up some intriguing patterns like how with base 10, the number nine has a peculiar persistence about it. But if you switch to another system, say the Octal system (four fingers on each hand makes eight), you still get interesting patterns emerging, but the mystical numbers are all different, because they’re not actually mystical at all.

Unless,…

Well, some numbers stick in the mind, don’t they? My favourite is 1881. I see it all over the place but only because I’m receptive to it, physiologically and for some unknown reason. If I’d chosen 247, I’d be seeing that as well because numbers are everywhere, on busses, trains, tickets, time-tables. But we don’t choose these numbers, they come at us from the unconscious and render themselves like dream symbols, the mind triggering our awareness of them. They have personal meaning, but obscure and infuriating. Jung made a study of so called number dreams and came up with some curious results which, as is usual with him, straddle the borders of science and mysticism, but for the sake of brevity we’ll not go there today.

So what use are digital roots? Well, not much nowadays, beyond leading us on a merry dance through the theory of numerical systems. But another curious property once made them very useful indeed, this being in the days before calculators when large arithmetical operations were carried out by clerks in banks or say the accounting departments of big companies, using pencils and paper.

If you multiply two large numbers, for example 5986 by 213, you get 1275018. This is easy by calculator, but doing it by hand I’d probably make a mistake first time round and get fired for it. One way of checking is to reduce the big numbers to their digital roots and multiply them together. The digital root of the roots multiplied will be the same as the digital root of the big answer. If it isn’t you know you’ve made a mistake. The same goes for adding, subtracting or dividing.

So, digital roots do have their uses, but beware following the number 9 down that rabbit hole. You may have trouble finding your way back out.

By the way the digital root of 369 is 9. Isn’t that curious?

I’d forgotten arithmetic could be so much fun!

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white coppice cottages

The White Coppice Cottages

Sometimes we get stuck in a groove, doing the same old things, visiting the same old places, but even when we think we know a place well, there is still the opportunity for fresh discovery, always another path we can take.

So today we’re tackling the Black Coppice Quarries, just a short walk from the lovely hamlet of White Coppice, nestling in a fold at the edge of the  West Pennine Moors. I have not done this particular route before. It will eventually deliver us up to a trackless expanse of moor, one that’s vaguely familiar to me, but by a kind of back door, and I’m not sure where to go after that. It’s past mid afternoon, and these February days are short, shadows already lengthening. It’s not the best time for mucking about but I’m sure we’ll be okay.

great hill from the white coppice cairn

Anglezarke Moor

It’s a little used route and all too soon vanishes into a lonely amphitheatre of gritstone crag and scree that echoes strangely. We choose a likely looking ridge, clear of the precipice – just a faint path worn through the heather, enough to inspire confidence we are not merely following sheep. The afternoon is clear, the sunshine almost warm. The outlook from the ridge is spectacular with vistas across lush green farmland running down to the Lancashire plain, and the sea glittering beyond. The light is tending towards amber now, the sun about to send shadows leaping from the ditches and hedgerows.

unfinished millstone above the quarries at white coppice

Abandoned millstone – Anglezarke Moor

We pick up the line of a stout fence that bounds the precipice and, after a breathy climb, delivers us up to Anglezarke Moor. There’s a megalithic structure just here, a rock slab tilted up a little from the horizontal, resting on stones. It doesn’t look much but an archaeological survey in the eighties has it down as a chambered cairn – a bronze age burial.

I’m not sure. That the moor hereabouts is also dotted with abandoned millstones lends sufficient room for doubt. Some are in their earliest stages of manufacture, just a few taps of the chisel, others almost finished, evidence of months of labour in the wide open, all wasted when the market for such things collapsed.

So, is this an ancient burial, or a stone merely propped up, ready to be worked by quarrymen? The ancients favoured west facing escarpments for their funerary rites, which makes this the perfect spot, ritualised daily by the setting sun. Romanticism and geomancy favour the former then, but there’s still magic in the latter, all be it of a lesser vintage. Imagination swells to fill the blanks, adds layers of psyche to the deadness of mere geography, and we wonder,….

grain pole hill

Grain Pole Hill

But speaking of the sun, time is short, so we head towards Grain Pole Hill, some nine hundred feet above the sea, distinguished from the moor by its dark cap of heather above the paler whispering grasses. There’s no path here and the grass is deeply hummocked – a tough stretch, heavy on the legs and sweaty now, but not far until we gain the easier going of the ridge that takes us more swiftly south, to the summit.

There was once a cairn here, a stone man, visible for miles. I once spent an afternoon tidying him up, raising him to a shapely little cone. But he’s gone now, and so have the stones – not merely fallen aside, but spirited away, perhaps one by one by pilgrims heading east, to the shaggy dome of Hurst Hill and the newly massive cairn that’s been raised there. The stone men move around up here, you see? And the ways they mark shift slowly over time.

way cairn

Waycairn – Anglezarke

The day is too short to visit Hurst Hill. Maybe next time. Instead, we discover a newly raised cairn to the south and from here we make out a route taking us west, downhill, into the sun, picking its way along a line of trial shafts – bell-pits most likely – just dimples in the moor now, like a run of aerial bombing craters. They are surrounded by the spoil thrown up, and there’s lush green grass, in contrast to the normal dun colour of the moor. Already ancient at the time of the first ordnance surveys, they straddle a fault line where minerals are manifested in the earth by unimaginable pressures. They have found lead here, also Barium, Galena, Witherite and Copper,…

But nowadays this line of shafts serves only to lead us unerringly down to Moor Road, to the access point by Siddow Fold. It’s a promising little path, attractive in its turns and in its timeless use of cairns, set against the sky to guide. But these old stone men have a habit of moving about, so its as well to have a feel for the land yourself, taking their advice if they’re of a mind to give it, while not relying on them too much, because they may not be there next time.

watermans

Waterman’s Cottage – Anglezarke

The little road snakes us down to the tip of the Anglezarke reservoir, to the Waterman’s mock Tudor Cottage, once such a lure for the camera with its reflections in black water, and still a pretty subject but looking now like it’s in need of work. Here, a long, deep-puddled path takes us back to White Coppice. The light is golden, the shadows running, and the air stilling down in preparation for the coming of darkness. We have not walked more than three miles, but it’s a journey that’s opened up fresh avenues in the dense forest of imagination.

In certain esoteric philosophies it is said we are destined to repeat our lives over and over, word for word, step by step, unless we can wake up to the process sufficient to say, hold on, what about this path over here? So we should always keep an eye open for the paths we have overlooked. No matter how well we think we know a place, there’s always something else to be gleaned. Like those mysteriously moving stone men, we just shift our focus a bit, and our lives, like the land under our feet takes on an unsuspected freshness, newly rich in meaning and direction.

path to white coppice

To White Coppice – West Pennines

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