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Rivington Hall

We’re in Rivington today, just parking along the Hall Avenue for the start of a walk up the Pike. The red brick of the old hall is illumined by a spot of sunlight pouring from an otherwise cloudy sky, and is looking very grand, framed by the dark of the trees. We’ll be walking a route I’ve not done for ages, up a ravine known locally as Tiger’s Clough. So far as I know there were never any tigers in it, save perhaps the sabre-toothed variety, in prehistoric times. The name actually refers to an illicit drinking den called The Tiger, tucked away, once upon a time, in its shady environs, all trace of which has now vanished. The early maps have it more properly as Shaw’s Clough. There’s a decent waterfall there, and there’s been a bit of rain, so we’ve a chance it will be running, and worth a photograph.

First though, we head down the avenue towards the glitter of more sunbeams on the Rivington reservoir. This takes us past the Great House Barn, which has been a café for as long as I can remember. It was an unfussy rendezvous for walkers, and motorcyclists, but something has happened. It’s gone posh, with table service and waiting persons in long aprons.

Great House Barn, Rivington

Friday lunchtimes would see me knocking off work, and heading over to the barn for a bite, then a walk, but post retirement, post covid, post a lot of things, I have yet to reacquaint myself with the menu. For today, lunch is in the rucksack, and the end-of-walk brew is waiting in the flask, back in the little blue car. Not all passers-by are tight-wads like me, though, and the barn seems to be doing a brisk trade.

The “Go Ape” Ape, Rivington

By contrast, I note the adjacent Go Ape place is lacking custom this morning. Some years ago they took over the woodland, bordering the reservoir, set up aerial walkways, and zip-wires among the trees, so hard-hatted and harnessed folk could whoop and scream their way from branch to branch. It’s not a place I tend to walk any more. Indeed, I don’t come down this way much at all now. It’s just that this is where we pick up the path to Liverpool Castle, our first objective on the circuit.

The castle was commissioned by Viscount Leverhulme in 1912, intended as a kind of romantic folly, on the shores of the reservoir and was modelled on the more ancient and long vanished Liverpool Castle at – well – Liverpool. It’s now a holding pen for litter, and a canvas for graffiti. Graffiti puzzles me. I’ve heard it explained as an expression of rebellion, but I only feel despair when I see it. I wonder if there is a link between graffiti, and tattoos, and if so what is the tattooed person rebelling against? But I know I’m over-thinking things, now. The castle still takes a good picture, and the worst of the urban artistry can be cloned out.

A replica of Liverpool Castle, Rivington

Now we’re heading down the tree lined avenue towards the car-park, near the high school. A former colleague of mine was once parked here, many years ago now, enjoying a packed lunch, when a half suited gentleman emerged from the small public convenience, and walked across to his vehicle. I say half-suited because he was carrying his trousers, neatly folded, over his arm, and was bare from the middle down, his modesty spared only by his shirt tails. My colleague, a lady of mature years, was upset, and telephoned the police, to be advised the car-park was a well known public sex area, so the cops generally turned a blind eye, though it was certainly news to us. I’ve no idea if this is still the case – things move on, I guess – but neither she nor I ever parked there again. It puzzles me how one is supposed to know these things, if one is not already in the know. It requires a certain level of street smartness, that is not second nature to us, the more naive denizens of rural England.

Climbing up the path by Knowle House, now, we turn towards Horwich, and find the narrow curling ribbon of Tarmac that leads up to Higher Knoll farm. A little way up here, a kissing gate lets onto a path that leads us down into the gloom of a wooded ravine. This is Tiger’s Clough, where the headwaters of the River Douglas first combine and gather pace, after trickling down from their various tributaries on the moor.

Down and down we go, following the sound of water, until we come unexpectedly across a tented encampment. It does not have the look of one of those trendy insta-wild camp things, but something altogether bigger and more permanent. I’ve encountered the homeless, living in tents in this area before, and suspect some poor soul on their beam ends. We give it a respectful swerve. Sadly, Britain is now, by and large, a poor country with, like all poor countries, some rich people making little difference to its future prospects – indeed quite the opposite.

Main falls, Tiger’s Clough, Horwich

We make our way upstream, the way impeded here and there by storm-fallen trees whose boughs force us into yogic contortions, and eventually, we come to the falls. I’ve seen photographs of them when the Douglas is in spate, and very impressive they are too, but today, there’s just a trickle going over, and we struggle for a photograph in the gloom. There is also a mess of litter: beercans, Monster Energy cans, plastic bottles, surgical gloves, and a pregnancy tester (negative), this latter placed quite deliberately upon the makeshift altar of a protruding brookside rock. I hesitate to join the dots.

We’re getting on for lunchtime now, and the tummy is rumbling, but there’s an unwholesome atmosphere, courtesy of all this detritus. Certainly, it is not the place to break out the soup-pot. So, we climb from the ravine, disappointed, and continue our way upwards and onwards, towards the bumpy track known as George’s Lane, and the main routes to the Pike.

Prospect Farm, Rivington

The way becomes cleaner as we climb. Fortunately, the kind who would besmirch the environment, paint it with expressions of rebellion/despair, are also lazy. Just before the path meets George’s Lane, we come across the levelled ruins of Prospect Farm, marked by the still upright remains of one massive buttress. The name is apt, it being a fine viewpoint, and we settle in the sun for lunch while galleons of clouds sail inland, spinnakers billowing. I’ve had many pairs of cheap binoculars over the years, but eventually splashed out on some decent ones, not too heavy in the pocket, and a marvel to settle down with in a viewpoint like this.

Lunch done, we pick up one of the more popular tracks for the ascent via the gentle flank of Brown Hill. The top of the Pike is busy: families, teens, joggers, dogs running amok, owners snapping them back to heel. Jester! Jack! Fritz! Get down! It’s early afternoon, midweek. I don’t know what people do for work any more. It’s like the whole world, young and old, has retired with me.

Rivington Pike

Speaking of work, I can see where I used to work, from the Pike, see too, the line of the M61 I used to commute along – a bleak, potholed roaring ribbon of a road it was, with no lane markings for the most part – all rubbed off – a nightmare in the dark and the wet. There’s still a shiver, when I think of those days. We turn our back to it, seeking instead the Isle of Man, which is sometimes clear from here. Not today, though. Views of the Isle of Man are rare enough to be disputed, but I swear I’ve seen it often enough.

We make our descent through the blessedly tidy terraced gardens, where volunteers are busy weeding. The Italian lake has been drained and cleaned, all of this I presume in readiness for the festival of light, in October. This is a ticket only event, and well attended, one of the highlights of the season. I note it’s sold out now. Maybe next year.

So, finally, we return to the little blue car, ready for a brew and a rest before the drive home. Alas, we note brightly coloured bags of dog doings dotting our near environs, and someone has draped a banana skin over a fencepost by the door. The little blue car is not amused. Consequently, the tea does not taste as nice as it should. We gulp it down, and do not linger. I’d thought it might be an interesting circuit, but somehow those Tigers got the better of me. Five and a quarter miles round, and the GPS assures me nearly seventeen hundred feet of ascent, which is a respectable effort. But there are certain times, and frames of mind, when Rivington looks very tired. And today was definitely one of them.

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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 Shireburn Cottages, Hurst Green

There’s a beautiful light in Hurst Green, this morning. We have strong sunshine, but there’s a mellowness to it, that lends late season contrasts. The oft-photographed alms-houses, the Shireburn Cottages, are basking in it, warming their grand facade. Meanwhile, all around us, the skies are patrolled by ominously towering cumulonimbus. We’ll be lucky if we avoid a soaking.

We’re looking to climb Longridge fell today – a ridge that runs east-west, roughly parallel to the River Ribble, for about six miles. The reward of the climb up the quiet lanes and meadows, from Hurst Green, is the sudden view of the Forest of Bowland, from the summit.

We’ll be meandering up to the trig column on Spire Hill, roughly the mid-point of the fell, as well as its highest elevation. Then we’ll head through the plantations to the easternmost tip, at Kemple End. From here, we’ll fumble our way back across the meadows, and finally through the grand environs of Stonyhurst College, to Hurst Green. It’s ground I’ve not covered before, so I’m expecting a bit of an adventure, adding a few more rights of way to the map in my head.

My thanks to Bowland Climber whose posts are a valuable source of intel on likely routes and ground conditions in this area. Longridge is heavily forested and, as with all such territory, the routes get overtaken as the forest develops, and permissive ways open up in their stead, ways which may not be familiar to a non-local walker. Then you get logging, and storm damage with trees coming down, blocking the paths, or balanced precariously, waiting for you to sneeze before crashing down on top of you. And then of course we can expect the usual difficulties on the lowland stretches, with way markers disappearing, and little used paths across meadows vanishing under crops.

I’d felt a sense of hush, leaving home, news of the Queen’s death still settling in. The hush was self-imposed, of course, and partly courtesy of the long planned and wall-to-wall reverence of the BBC. This vanished as soon as I hit the M6 of course, where the nation’s life still goes on at full throttle, as needs must, with heavies and delivery vans, drivers having to pee in bottles to meet schedules set by machines.

There are, of course, many who feel a genuine sadness, as if they had lost their own grandmother. But there are also plenty, particularly in the under forties bracket, who have no longer the luxury of time, or are too worried about feeding their children to don the sackcloth and ashes.

I am not immune to the sense of history, nor to the symbolism of a fallen monarch, especially now, adding as it does, its weight to a heaviness I already feel for the state of an Albion so besmirched and tattered. I fear it is optimistic to hope this will be one of those historic moments to galvanise the nation, for so much of the nation has other things on its mind right now, and which are hard to ignore. One wonders what next. Were I to suffer a sudden, blinding pulse of light, prior to witnessing a mushroom cloud rising in the direction of Manchester, courtesy of Vlad P, I would not be surprised. Still, one must not tempt fate.

For now, though, the only mushroom clouds are these cumulonimbus. They spread out at great altitude, into anvil heads, and they darken, broody and funereal. Climbing the quiet, rain puddled lanes towards the fell, we lose the sun, and the day turns grey, and sticky. There is the crackle of thunder, but, so far, the gathering storms seem to circle us, their dramatics kept at a safe distance.

I was grouching in my last post about the cost of NHS dental treatment. “Over sixty quid for a checkup and a clean,” I spluttered. However, as a friend later pointed out, I’m fortunate still to receive NHS treatment, and should be more grateful for it. Dentists are shedding our sort like unwanted fleas. That same check-up and clean will cost me over two hundred quid, under the private system many have now fallen victim to. More serious work – fillings, extraction, bridge-work – and it can easily run into thousands. This is beyond the means of so many in poverty-pay jobs, paying sky-high rents and energy bills. It’s little wonder, then, DIY dentistry is on the rise. I’m not sure how, or when, this happened. It just sort of crept up on us while we weren’t looking.

Spire Hill, Longridge Fell

We pause at the trig point, rather sweaty now, to rest and clean our specs – all the better to take in the panoramic sweep of the Bowland hills. They are most movingly beautiful under this rapidly changing light. There is mixed sunshine and cloud to the north, though the skies are turning an ominous green to our backs, now. There are para-gliders, launching from the precipitous north face, and seem to be defying the weather, as they defy gravity, circling and swooping like slow motions birds. I hear Vaughn Williams in my head, then another rumble of thunder.

Eastwards now, following the line of the ridge, and plunging quickly into the forest’s gloom. It’s mostly coniferous plantation, but with the occasional stretches of beautifully twisted Scot’s Pine. Then, amid the gloom of the conifers, there lurks the occasional, defiant deciduous giant, one of which I discover hung with curious trinkets. Coniferous forestry is an affront to nature, and she shows her displeasure in that eerie monocultural, mossy silence.

On Longridge Fell

The way is far from straight forward here, as we encounter damage from last winter’s storms, stacks of fallen trees laying across the path. There has been some ad-hoc clearance, plus a splintering of unofficial diversionary ways, leading off into the gloom, but no concerted effort to clear passage. So, it’s with a bit of hit-and-miss, aided by the occasionally more helpful long stretch of forestry track, we make it down to the eastern tip, near Kemple End. The Bowland fells still look balmy, while an evil looking storm sweeps the Ribble Valley, trailing rain. Was that a flash of lightning? We pause and count to ten for the rumble of distant thunder.

Logging near Kemple End, Longridge Fell

Here, we descend into the pastures along the rights of way where a helpful sign, posted by a local resident, tells us we’re probably going to go wrong here. There are some well-intentioned instructions, which we follow to the letter, but the path is little walked, and we go wrong anyway, meandering about in shin-high wet grass for a while, until we spot a possible exit.

We ford a stream where it looks like there was once a crossing, and we come up to a rusty old gate that hasn’t been opened since Tolkien last passed this way, pondering his Hobbits. I’m walking with the latest OS map, which tells us we’re bang on the right of way, at least in theory, so we plod on, following the GPS across a meadow, freshly planted, and ankle deep in soft earth. There are no markers here except the prints I leave behind, hopefully for others to follow. It pains me to do this but, as usual, a little more clarity by the landowner would not go amiss, and I’d be glad to oblige. One never knows in these situations if we aren’t simply digging ourselves deeper into the confusion of lost ways, or if a helpful marker will pop up of a sudden, and see us safely through.

More awkward stream crossings follow, more rights of way missing their markings, and no evidence of footfall on the ground. We seem to have found one of those routes long abandoned, yet it is the quickest way from Kemple End to Stonyhurst. With patient attention to the GPS, though, we locate the wobbly stiles, now slowly rotting in deep hedgerows, and the rickety stream crossings. Plucked by thorns, and stung by nettle, we come down to our way-point on the road, where a single finger post points us back to perdition. From here, a short walk brings us into the grand environs of the Stonyhurst College, where we can pass without fail or interference.

The doors of St Mary’s Hall are open, the sombre sounds of a Requiem Mass for the Queen spilling out, and following us some way along this last stretch to Hurst Green. We must ring a bell here, as there is occasional shooting across the path. There’ll be none today, I would think, but I feel obliged to ring it anyway. The jarring clang so soon after passing the spiritual music from the chapel feels irreverent.

Millie’s Pantry, our usual watering hole, is just closing, so we find ourselves in the Shireburn Arms, instead, with a large, sweet coffee and the feel of nine miles, and twelve hundred feet of ascent in our legs. I wonder if JRR himself ever sat here, nursing a pint and smoking a pipe. The bar is empt, except for a couple of ladies dressed like wedding guests. I hope my dishevelled appearance does not offend. The fates were with us, and the rains held off, but where we go from here, amid these gathering storms, is far from certain.

But there’s always another hill, another day in the outdoors to call us onwards. And the hills ask nothing but that we respect them, while they reward our efforts ten-fold.

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Photo by Jem Sanchez on Pexels.com

Why creativity matters now, more than ever

My energy company tells me today there’s good news and bad news. First the good: based on current estimates, I can lower my direct debit a fraction, so I’m only paying twice what I paid for energy, compared with this time last year. The fact I’m also using half the energy, due to drastic economies, takes a bit of the shine off this small concession, and points to the damage caused by the first phase of our so-called energy crisis.

The bad news comes when we factor in what we know about that mysterious body ofgem, and their arcane ruminations regarding the price cap, and its upward trajectory, kicking off in October. The energy company illustrates this neatly with a graph, which has my balance going off a cliff, unless I double what I’m paying again. This applies to me, and everyone else in the country, but even more so to those who have shirked on economising. However, given the scale of this next price hike, I venture that any economising – short of requesting actual disconnection – is futile.

I can pay, though the bill for the year will be the equivalent of the purchase of a used car. Many will be unable to pay, indeed are saying they won’t, or that they will have to enter loan arrangements they’ll be a long time paying off, while still afraid to switch the lights on. It seems insufficient then to call it an energy crisis. It’s more of a social emergency, and our political system seems, at best, unable to avert it. At worst, it seems callously unconcerned by it.

Opposition politicians have been vocal this week in calling for the price cap rise to be scrapped, that massive profits should be investigated, and monies redistributed to hard-pressed consumers. But they can be as vocal as they like, when not in power. Even if we have a mild winter, it will be the coldest for generations, as the thermostats are dialled back, and the cold creeps in. The most sought after lifestyle bloggers and vloggers, will be those offering advice on how to keep warm on zero kilowatt-hours. If only we could bottle up the excess sunshine of this current heat wave, and warm our homes with it when we need it, later on!

In a broader sense it points to a collapse of the privatised energy market, as we enter territory that was predicted by those economists of a more statist bent, decades ago, this being one of runaway high prices for a utility no one can do without, while profits soar. And a service that is too expensive to use already, while becoming all the more expensive, is effectively broken. But where is the repairman when you need him?

These are strange days, impossible to make sense of. We seem to have lived through one crisis after another, for years now – and all of it is very unsettling. I walk through my home village after sunset, and the houses are mostly in darkness, people perhaps thinking to economise by not switching on their lights. Yet I hear the sound of TVs. Such economising makes no sense, given that even a bright bulb of the contemporary LED variety requires six watts of energy, while a big screen TV requires a hundred. Better to switch off the TV, turn on the light, and read a book.

This tells me the rules of the material world have become so opaque to people, we are no longer capable of saving our own skins. Who among us knows the wattage of their fridge freezer, their toaster, their kettle, their ceramic hob? Who among us knows how much their electricity actually costs – answer, in my case, 28p per kilowatt-hour. Such things will have to become second nature.

But much as it surprises me to have reached six hundred words already, the state of the energy “market” is not what I wanted to write about, and I present it only as an illustration of the paucity of warmth and meaning, and the diminishing returns we get from indulging our purely material natures. We surrender our well-being to the market machinery, to politics, and to the chattering of the billionaire presses, at our peril, but only if we believe in the totality of the materialist paradigm, and only if we believe we are robots made of meat.

We are more than that. There is an immaterial side to us, one we explore through the imagination, though this immaterial side is one we seem increasingly reluctant to indulge, indeed one we are even discouraged from exploring. Imagination, we are told, is for children, and something to be outgrown as quickly as possible, then we can take our place as reliable citizens in this rational, material world, in this “real” world.

Of course, imagining cheaper energy bills isn’t going to bring those bills down. But that would be applying the imagination to the level of the gutter, when what we’re going to need over the coming autumn and winter, is a means of rising above it. Anyone who writes or paints, or is into crafts, lives to explore the world of the imagination. They bring the inner world into being. They grant it expression, and are rewarded for it in intangible ways.

Politicians will not solve the coming crisis, and, materially we’ll all be a lot poorer this time next year. That seems to be inevitable. But you needn’t let it take your spirits down too. To this end we are better reading a poem by Blake, and pondering his meaning, than by scouring the Guardian for rays of hope amid the million useless facts of the material world.

Anyone who writes stories, goes out into nature and writes it up for others to follow, anyone who crochets and blogs their patterns, anyone who writes poetry, makes pottery, takes photographs, paints pictures, I beg you to keep doing so. Indeed, you must redouble your efforts. You are each a warrior wrestling the zeitgeist back from the materialist monkeys who have delivered us electricity at 28p per kilowatt-hour.

This is not as futile a fight as it might seem. It all depends on how you define victory. Those materialist monkeys might be raking it in, but they have already paid with their souls, and that’s not really a victory at all. Let’s make sure they don’t take the rest of us down that path with them.

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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We think we know ourselves through our thoughts, our emotions, and our memories. We think about things, we feel things, as we explore our being in the world, and memory shows us there is a continuity, a story of ourselves we can rewind and play back in our heads. For most of us, this is enough. But what if there’s more? Would you want to go there? Do we have any choice?

The first inkling we get is when we recognise there is an awareness behind these things. Without this awareness we could not be “aware” of our thoughts, feelings and memories, because these things are not conscious in themselves. We must refer them to something else in order to see them. We could not experience the world, nor ponder its nature, without awareness. So, we have thoughts, emotions, and memories, but this does not mean we are them. We experience them, so it is the “experiencer” we must look to for an idea of who we really are. This might sound like nit-picking, but it puts on the path of a world view as laid out by the philosophies of Advaita Vedanta, also western idealism, and non-dualism. Literally, there is only one thing, and that is consciousness.

Thoughts and emotions come and go, memories rise and sink back. We extend our sense of self into our things, into possessions – cars, houses, clothing, all the bits and bobs of life. Then we mistake our selves for what we imagine those things say about us, that they differentiate us from others. But again, possessions come and go. If we were to lose everything, we would not stop existing. We might not like it, but “not liking” is an emotion, which, again, is not who we are.

Through meditation, we can separate our awareness out from the noise of our thoughts and become aware of observing them. Like chairs and tables, we identify them as things, and give them names: Thinking. Emotion. Memory. They exist solely in consciousness. And if we explore this idea a little further, we can say the whole of experience, that all things, exist solely in consciousness, including the apparent materiality, the very chairs and tables, of the universe.

This is not to say the universe exists solely in my consciousness, or your consciousness. We speak here of a transcendent consciousness, one that we all share, and are discreet localisations of. Nor are we saying the chairs and tables are conscious, only that they exist, like all other things, within the transcendent consciousness. It is not to deny the reality or the solidity of things, only that we misunderstand their underlying nature. Thus, the universe can be described as an idea, coming into awareness of itself, and exploring itself through us. This also means the awareness that observes the world through your eyes, and grants you your sense of being, is the same as mine.

This realisation can either be a wonderful thing, or it can be an unpleasant shock. Indeed, it can be such an awful revelation, we try to shut it out. We retreat back into the known territory of the material world. We nestle back into the familiar comfort of our thoughts, emotions, sensations and memories, what we call the Ego. But while the Ego can be a familiar companion, it is never comfortable for long, for “discomfort” and “dissatisfaction” are its very nature.

As a way of being, identifying through the Ego works to a point, and has carried us this far in our evolution. But the problem with it is it traps us at a finite level of being, one beyond which we can evolve no further. We are twenty-first century people, still possessed of a mind adapted for hunting woolly mammoths, and avoiding sabre-toothed tigers. It is a limiting of vision, through which the universe can explore no further this awareness of itself.

For the spiritually, and the philosophically minded, there is a belief we will all eventually awaken to this point of view, that the world is stuck unless we do. To identify more fully with one’s awareness is to be “present”. It is to be able to observe one’s thoughts and emotions, moment by moment, and to maintain a buffer around them. When we feel anger, we observe it, recognise it for what it is, and the anger subsides, allowing us to act or to speak without its influence. People who are fully present tend to radiate stillness, and never react angrily, even to the most severe provocation. Conceptually, then, we might say taking this view of reality to heart, and living it, has its attractions – both personally and for the world in general.

But what has this to do with the creative process? Well, whilst we can identify an inward call to awaken, to become more present in the world, it’s also important to balance that awakening with the realisation of an outward flow, of a universe exploring the idea of itself, and that we must also flow with it.

When we write, when I write, it’s impossible to say where the words come from. I do not think each word into place, except to follow linguistic and grammatical convention. The ideas, the characters, the stories, the thoughts, arise through me, and in some sense are mine, but only in so far as I am a channel for a deeper expression, one that is not me, or at least not my Ego.

The finest poetry is never written by an Ego. The poet settles, quiets the Ego, tunes in to that deeper frequency, like chasing static on the short wave, which, as anyone of a certain generation might recall, is mostly whistles, pops, and the ocean roar of signals we do not understand. But then, with patience, suddenly, there comes a voice, clear as a bell.

All of this sounds a bit highbrow, a bit esoteric, but it need not be like that. There is also a playfulness about it, a sense of joy in the experiment, and the creation. When writing, I find ideas popping up all over the place, wanting to be included, to have their say. They want to see what sticks, what pathways will open, see what evolves, what works, and of course what fails. This is the universe of ideas evolving through us. In this sense then, the Ego becomes, at best, the parent of these creations, these up-wellings from a universal consciousness. In writing, then, we should be nurturing, encouraging, but never too controlling of the spontaneity. And when it works, we know, because we are rewarded with a sense of joy in the participation.

And when it doesn’t work,… well we’ve all been there.

Thanks for listening

Ref.

Kastrup – Why Materialism is Baloney

Spira – The Transparency of things

Tolle – A New Earth

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Dean Black Brook, White Coppice, Lancashire

The cold seems to have been hanging on this first week in June, the house struggling to warm, most days never breaking eighteen degrees. The boiler lies dormant. Jumpers and jackets suffice for comfort and, of an evening, only essential lamps are lit. Appliances are scrutinised for kilowatts, and used as necessary but with circumspection. I don’t know if such economies are futile, but we make them anyway. And as I gaze out along the street, none of my neighbours are lit up either, so I guess I’m not the only one feeling a way through these strange times.

Meanwhile, malodorous smoke drifts, chugging out from the chimneys of those with wood-burners. These were purchased no doubt, for fancy, when they were of a fashion, but are now pressed into the more serious production of free heat – this, I suspect, from the burning of old pallets, and window frames. All of which is to the chagrin of those with hung out washing, and to me, whose sinuses swell at the merest whiff. Reluctantly, I take an anti-histamine.

For such a tiny pill, the anti-histamine packs a mighty punch, and I never could handle them. It does nothing for the sinuses, but puts me in a muddle all the next day long, and takes my legs. We’ll say that’s what it is anyway, as we feel the path bite. We’re in White Coppice, a little late in the day, so it was a struggle to park. I think some schools are still on Half Term – so hard to judge them these days. The plan is to wander up the ravine of Dean Black Brook, breaking out towards its head to Great Hill, but I find I’m overdressed for the day, which warms suddenly, and my legs are – well – leaden.

It’s becoming quite a sporting route, this, the path eroding, and dangerous in places as it slides away to a long and exposed drop. Or it may just be my age, and it’s always been this way. As an approach to Great Hill, it’s a more intimate route than the more popular path by Drinkwaters with its wide moorland vistas.

There are little cascades along the way, some accessible, some not, as the path sweeps up and down. At the first of these, I rest a bit, pull off the jacket before I boil, and settle down to take a photograph. It’s a cheat, I suppose, but even a modest runnel of water like this can be made to appear dramatic, from the right angle, and with a bit of cropping. Thus, I fuss over dozens of shots, thinking at least one is likely to come out all right. I’m packing up and turn to recover the path, only to be startled by a pair of Amazons coming at me like they mean business. That’s it with running water, you don’t hear the approach of others.

They have stepped out of an Instagram shoot, these girls. They are – what do you call them? – influencers, or perhaps more likely influenced. Tall, both of them, blonde and shapely, in their twenties, hair tied up in identical ways, like twin sisters. They wear identical gear: very short shorts, tight tee-shirts, little back-packs bouncing in the smalls of their backs, and running shoes. They are moving fast, and have looks of grim determination about them.

The lead girl is bold, and sure of foot, heedless of the sometimes sporting nature of the path. The girl who follows is more hesitant. She is the one I would have most in common with, I think. I never had much time for bold leader-types, nor they for me. I feel almost bowled aside by them, but they do not seem to notice me.

I venture a polite hello. The lead girl ignores it, or does not hear it. The girl who follows makes a belated, surprised response, as if indeed they had not noticed me. With a fragrant waft of body-spray, they are gone, up the side of the ravine, climbing like mountain goats. I see only legs, and sky. I reassure myself I would have outpaced them once, but not today. Today, I flake out at every opportunity, and fiddle with the camera.

We fiddle with it some more, at every insignificant sparkle of the brook along the way. Our progress is slow and halting, the day of a sudden somehow jaded. We take pictures of the more unfamiliar flora to identify later (heath bedstraw), and note the fresh green ferns now sprouting, marking their assertive dominance. In a few weeks they will be tall and wavy, and the valley will be pungent with them, and the air caught in their fronds will be thick with the drone of flies.

I see the crown of Great Hill ahead, and the sycamores by the ruin of Great Hill Farm. The Amazons are already two jogging dots of white against the heat wobbled green of the moor. They were indeed beautiful girls, but they struck me as cold, and that’s always something of a paradox, as I always imagine beauty to be warm. Bodies to die for, of course, and which would lure even the most nervous would-be lover from his mother’s apron, but they possessed not a smile between them. I don’t know why that struck me. Perhaps it was just the day and the muddlement, caused by the anti-histamine. It would need a poem to explore it.

We leave Black Dean Brook by the kissing gate that brings us up to the ruin of Drinkwaters, and there we sit in the shade of trees, enjoying a cooling breeze. Even the sheep are reluctant to relinquish their shade, now, and keep us company. A few lines of a poem by Betjeman comes unbidden:

Fair tigress of the tennis courts,
So short in sleeve and strong in shorts,
Little, alas, to you I mean,
For I am bald and old and green,..

And while I thank the unconscious pixie for its wry humour – which does indeed raise a smile – I know that’s not it, and it knows I know, but challenges me to mull it over and come back with a more serious answer to the question the day poses. So then it’s down to White Coppice in weary defeat, Great Hill seeming an Everest of effort, and quite beyond us, nothing in the legs, and this haunting sense of Beauty having turned its back.

At home, we sit out with coffee, and watch the sunset. The day is cooling again, and needs a sweater for comfort. Then the village stokes its wood-burners for the evening, and we withdraw to the cleaner air indoors, to dream, not of Amazons, but of sparkling rills along the Dean Black Brook.

And we attempt our reply, not as erudite or as witty as Betjeman:

Awakening to loss, we mourn the day’s swift run,
Seeking shallow waters, so to play,
Mistaking splash and haste for meaning,
And with foolish swings,
Scythe then our harvest home,
Thin as air, wholesome as the dust,
Of windblown clay.
Only in the lingering pause of beauty,
Do the depths reveal,
And then, smiling, lead the way.

The forecast says the days will turn warmer. I welcome that.

Thanks for listening.

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On Spitler’s Edge

You catch up with me this afternoon, on Spitler’s Edge, in the Western Pennines. It sounds precipitous, like a mountain arête, but it’s not. That said, it’s still quite an airy aspect, in a dun coloured, tussocky, bog-cottony, sky-scraping, moorland sort of way. Indeed, the views are spectacular, from the hills of eastern Lancashire, to the west coast. Southwards, we have the porcupine ridge of Winter Hill, and its cluster of transmitters, while to the north we have Great Hill. The crossing from Great Hill to Winter Hill is always a treat, not to be underestimated in bad weather, but much easier now the route has been paved to spare erosion of the precious peat and bog habitat. The highpoint here is around 1286 feet.

I’ve not come over from Great Hill, though. I’ve come up by an unfamiliar path that snakes between Standing Stones Hill and Green Withins’ Brook. Early maps tell us there was always a track here, though aiming a little lower, for the coll, and the pass to High Shores, then down to Naylors. Naylors is a ruin now, and the current map shows the track petering out in the tussocks of Standing Stones. But there’s still a clear and well trod footway that carries on, though aiming more for the featureless summit of Redmond’s Edge.

It’s a hot day, down in the valley, with a dazzling, head-bursting sun. The sky is streaked with great fans of whispy, stratospheric clouds like white dendrites against the blue, and I’ve been photographing them with various foregrounds on the way up. There’s a cool wind on top, now, and a dusty taste to the air. The moors are ripe for burning, but so far so good, and the idiots have spared us their perennial pyromania. We’re a little later setting out, having waited in for the Tescos delivery man, so it’s getting on for tea time. The light is turning mellow, and a poem is gnawing at me, wanting me to remember it from way back.

I was crossing Spitler’s Edge,
With the sun touching the sea,
When a stranger on a dark horse,
From the distance came to me.

So I took myself aside a-ways,
To let the traveller pass,
And leaning on my staff, I paused,
Amid a sea of grass.

2002, I think. No strangers on dark horses today, though – just the occasional mountain-bike going hell for leather and with an air that suggests a supreme confidence I’ll be stepping aside for it. Although we’re in a post CROW access area, this isn’t a bridle way, so, strictly speaking, bikes have no place on the edge – walkers only. It could be worse, though. It could be motorcycles. You can’t police stuff like this, though. It relies on conscientiousness, hillcraft, and good manners.

So where was I? Standing amid a sea of grass? Okay,…

From there I watched the sky ablaze,
Above a darkening land,
Until I felt a chill and spied,
The stranger close at hand.

He stood upon the hillside,
While his horse about him grazed,
And with his eyes cast westwards,
On that same sunset he gazed,…

Yes, an old poem of mine, insisting on rhyme, at the risk of meter. It came out of an odd feeling, when crossing this way, late one evening, forty years ago. It was the antiquarian John Rawlinson, in his book “About Rivington” who wrote of the origins of the name “Spitler’s Edge,” it coming from the Knights Hospitaller’s of the Holy Order of St John, who had holdings in the district – this being in medieval times – and who, legend has it, would pass this way en route. So the guy I meet in the poem is a medieval warrior-monk. So what?

He wore a cloak of coarsest wool,
Around his shoulder’s broad,
And, across his back was slung,
I swear, the mightiest of swords.

But I did not fear the stranger,
When at length his gaze met mine,
For I knew we shared that hillside,
Across a gulf of time,…

And, speaking of time, the evening I’m thinking of was some time in the early eighties. I’d had a bad day at work, plus the realisation the girl I had the romantic hots for had the romantic hots for someone else – a colleague of mine, and a decent guy I was friendly with. So I’d driven up to Rivington, and set out to mull it over. And in mulling it over, I’d walked, and walked, and walked. Thinking about it now, I would have been better just walking home that night, which would certainly have made for a shorter walk, but I turned around and came back to Rivington over the edge, as the sun set.

It was a beautiful night, a perfect stillness across the moor, a faint mist rising after the heat of the day, and I was kept company by a long eared owl whose silent, broad winged flight was the most beautiful and eerie thing. All right, I didn’t actually meet a Knights Hospitaller, but if you believe in gaps in the fabric of space-time, that would have been an evening to encounter one. The walk did me good, cleared my head. There was no way I was going to fight over the girl, and I reckoned I had it in me to find a way of finally letting her go. As for the stranger,…

I nodded my slow greeting,
And he duly did the same,
Then he climbed upon his patient steed,
And ambled off again.

But turning back, he caught my eye,
Then slightly cocked his head,
And smiled to me a kindly smile:
“Fare thee well, pilgrim…” he said,..

Not as long a walk today, but then I’m forty years older, and I feel the miles differently. Just six miles round from the Yarrow Reservoir, to which we return with the sun sparkling upon it, and the oak trees of Parson’s Bullough, with their fresh leaves luminous against the blue. I still think about that girl from time to time. She’s still married to that guy and, in retrospect, she was always going to be happier with him, than she ever would have been with me. Sometimes it’s the ghosts, and the shadows who let us in on secrets like that, but you need a vivid imagination – a mind’s eye sort of thing – and the faith in it, even if it sometimes works backwards way, and is never any use to you at the time. Still, we get by.

Fare thee well, pilgrim, and thanks for listening.

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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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You were standing by the building society in town, where you’ve worked for forty-five years. You wore cashiers’ blue polyester. It was lunchtime, Saturday, closing time, I guess. I’d seen you in there from time to time, those quaint decades of savings books, and mortgages. You served me once or twice, fed my book into the machine, caught up the interest, but did not recognise me. I was afraid of embarrassing us both by reminding you, I mean, with a queue behind. And anyway, it seemed pointless.

“We were at school together, shared literature and Mr H.”

It always sounded a bit weak, when I ran it through in my head, and I didn’t want you to get the wrong idea.

But, though it seems the fates decided long ago you shall never know me, you always meant something. I felt you were a good soul, and more besides. You were a datum, I suppose, one of the beacons in time and space, by which I found my way, from the ways I had already been. I don’t mean this in the romantic sense. I would have liked you to have liked me, that’s all, but I was always too shy, when we were kids, to make friends.

Unlike many of our year, who are now unrecognisable to me, your face hasn’t changed at all. So, every time I see you, I am transported back to when we were both sixteen. You were a bright girl, and you understood all those novels and poems and plays we had to read in Mr H’s literature class, while I struggled. I enjoyed Hardy, and Frost, and Heaney, even though I didn’t understand them the way I was expected to. In time, though, their seedlings would take root and carry me through to other things, things which have been a blessing of becoming. While as for Dickens, I have never forgiven him for being the darkness that blighted the summer of my fifteenth year. Now we’re both pushing sixty-two, you and I, and, forgive me, but I note you’ve filled out a little. Me? I’ve grown bald and deaf, and bottle-bottom myopic. You’d be even more hard-pressed to remember me, now.

I was with my son. We had found a new Italian place in town, and enjoyed lunch, wondered if this could be the start of a renaissance for the town, which has been very much down at heel since the crash, and seemingly getting worse. But there’d still been that ragged old toothless guy, on the car park, begging, so I guess not. Indeed, I felt guilty at blowing so much on a lunch, on a whim, while the beggars are counting coppers. But anyway, we were oblivious of the state of things, for a time, my son and I, bolstered by a lunch that seemed to tip things back towards the way they used to be. We were chatting about the world, about events,… and the sun was shining, and the pink spring blossom was on the trees,…

And then there you were, that magical touchstone. At once, I felt the years, as I always do, when I see you, felt the gulf of them. It was not the gap between us, because we never knew each other, nor aspired to. It was more simply the span of time, an ocean of events tossed and swept under the bridge since our schooldays. I remember bits of them like it was yesterday, and it’s still hard to believe I retired last year. You are evidently still working.

From a safe distance, I paused and looked back, as the Saturday crowds swept by, and I wondered. You were moving away. I saw you leaning into your hip, then, and propelling yourself into the arthritic gait of advancing years, and I felt something give. How could it be you had grown old of a sudden, without my knowing, while I still feel so young? But that’s what souls do, I suppose. They deny the mantle of age, whatever the body says to the contrary. I trust you feel the same, inside, as I do.

Meanwhile, our world has grown old, hasn’t it, while the world, for my son, is still new. Indeed, about the only thing not to have changed for me is that I still hate Dickens. I’d give the guy another chance, except sometimes it’s worth more simply accepting things the way they are, because that’s just the way they have to be.

Anyway,… go well.

Thanks for listening.

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