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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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In May 2007, I was at Rydal Mount, the house Wordsworth occupied from 1813, until his death in 1850. While I was there, I took this photograph:

Rydal Mount, May 2007

But cameras don’t take images the way we see them. They make a recording that might be faithful in detail, but not in the mood. That has more to do with imagination and emotion at the moment we press the shutter. For the technically minded, I used a 12 megapixel Canon A640, set on aperture priority, with the lens stopped down to F8. At ISO 100, the shutter managed 1/125 second. On the plus side, the picture is evenly exposed, and sharp, no clipped highlights – a thing to which the A640, in common with many digital cameras of the period, was prone. On the downside, it looks flat, and dull, and certainly not as I remember it.

What I want to do is go back in time, to 2007, take this old photograph and see if we can liven it up a bit, using the tools and techniques we have now, that I didn’t have then. I want to make it look more like I saw it, and felt it on the day. To achieve this, I’ll be using two pieces of free, but powerfully sophisticated software: Luminance HDR, and GIMP,

Of course, the common objection among photographers is that if we have to manipulate an image to make it shine, then we should have taken a better image in the first place. That’s fair enough, and I shall always bow to greater skill. But I’m an amateur, not a pro, and if I can salvage a picture from the mess I’ve made of it, it’s all good.

The world’s earliest known, surviving, photograph was taken around 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, using a technique called heliography:

World’s earliest surviving photograph – Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/View_from_the_Window_at_Le_Gras.

Image manipulation began almost at the same time, either as an aid to overcome shortcomings in rudimentary equipment, or to enhance details for artistic effect. Film negatives or glass plates would have areas scrubbed with wire wool to blur them out, and make other details prominent, and prints would be hand-tinted. Indeed, without significant image enhancement, even this grainy image of Niépce’s is barely recognisable as anything at all. But back to Wordsworth.

He was nearly evicted from Rydal Mount, on the whim of the rentier, Lady Anne le Flemin, who wanted it for a relative. But by now he’d developed a deep love for the place, had invested much effort and emotion in landscaping the garden, and he was understandably desperate not to lose it. But he was up against the local Aristocrat, so had to fight canny. He purchased an adjoining meadow, and let it be known he intended building on it, thus spoiling the view from Rydal Mount. He even went as far as having designs for a house drawn up. The ruse worked. The Wordsworths kept their home, and their garden.

Nearly a century after Wordsworth’s passing, the house was bought by Mary Henderson, his great-great-granddaughter. It remains in the possession of the Wordsworth family today, and is open to visitors. I’ve been a few times since 2007, but something about that morning sticks in the memory, and I was never able to capture the garden again, without people in it. My digital archive goes back 20 years, and it was while browsing I discovered the photograph. What struck me was the gap between my memory of the day, and the image. Digital images do not fade over time, of course. But something clearly happens to memory, and it’s more complex than simply fading away. Perhaps it becomes more idealised over time, or those impressions that are important to us begin to crystallise more.

Anyway, first we take our original image and load it into Luminance HDR. HDR stands for high dynamic range, which we’re not going to bother with today. All we’re going to use are the tone mapping algorithms, and apply them to this single image. Tone mapping is a way of taking what’s there – the light, the tones, the contrasts, and amplifying them, simulating the wide dynamic range of the human eye and allowing them to be displayed on a screen or in a print. Not all images are suited to the method, but one that’s well exposed with a good balance of tones and brightness to begin with will usually respond well. Then it’s just a question of fiddling about to get the effect you want. It can be overdone, and I’m as guilty as all amateurs of overcooking images. But I think this is a big improvement:

It’s lifted the various greens, brightened up the rhododendrons, and the azaleas, even uncovered some detail and texture in the rendering of the house. I’d say we were nearly there with this one, but there’s more we can do.

The garden at Rydal Mount is very much in the Romantic in style. Wordsworth, along with Southey and Coleridge, were the founders and champions of the English Romantic movement. Wordsworth was the author of its manifesto, which stands as a preface to the Lyrical Ballads. One of the tenets of Romanticism is that we should not seek to command nature. We should cooperate with it, and learn from it. Hence, the garden is very informal, flowing with the lie of the land, using natural elements for decoration, rather in the fashion of the Taoist inspired gardens of China. Does the photograph capture that? Perhaps we’re asking too much. Perhaps we’re going to end up overcooking it, now, but let’s have a look anyway.

We can add a touch of the romantic to any photograph by adding a layer of blur, or soft focus. But having just restored all that detail, it would be a shame to lose it in blurriness. What we want is something impressionist, but not too much. So we turn to a technique mastered by the photographer Michael Orton in the 1980’s. Orton experimented with superimposing photographs of the same scene, one sharp, the other deliberately defocused. As a professional fine art photographer, he was aiming at something very abstract, but the method was thereafter widely adopted by others for the impact it can add to an image. In the days of film transparencies it took a lot of technical skill and a professional darkroom to make this work, but since the digital age, anyone can do it. If you have filters on your phone camera, the chances are there’s an Orton effect among them.

We’ll be using GIMP for this bit. GIMP stands for GNU image manipulation program. GNU means it’s free and holds to a certain standard and a set of egalitarian values. GIMP is an amazingly versatile tool for a photographer. Your alternative is something like Photoshop, which, last time I checked, you couldn’t even own. You have to rent it. No thanks.

GIMP allows us to take our image, overlay a blurred copy of it, then blend the two together. There are various ways of blending, and the best one depends on the image, so we have to experiement. I most commonly use the “Soft Light” merge, or sometimes just “Overlay” with a degree of transparency. Here I find the “Multiply” option works best, with about 50% transparency. It deepens the greens, and the shadows, and lends a more dreamy feel to the image, while preserving the highlights:

We’ve perhaps lost a bit of the crackle in the detail, though, and part of the joy of that garden lies in its textures, so we bring back a bit of sharpness and texture by blending in another layer to which we’ve added a high pass filter. This basically preserves all the sharp corners, like in a line drawing. Thus, we get the impressionist blur, while the detail is still there to draw us in. The difference is subtle, on a screen, but certainly looks better as a print.

If you’ve ever done the Wordsworth thing at Grasmere, you’d be forgiven for thinking he spent his entire life at Dove Cottage. He didn’t. He was there for fourteen years, and, having, escaped its poky confines, and its gloomy light, I can well imagine his delight at discovering Rydal Mount. The EXIF data embedded in my original photograph tells me I took the picture at 10:30 am, which suggests I left the hotel after breakfast and went straight there. I’m sure it gets busier later on, but for a good hour we had the house and grounds to ourselves. There was a timeless atmosphere. I could imagine turning a corner to find the man himself in dreamy contemplation. He smiles, he nods in gentle welcome, before wandering off, counting meter, in his head.

FAREWELL, thou little Nook of mountain-ground,
Thou rocky corner in the lowest stair
Of that magnificent temple which doth bound
One side of our whole vale with grandeur rare;
Sweet garden-orchard, eminently fair,
The loveliest spot that man hath ever found,
Farewell!–we leave thee to Heaven’s peaceful care,
Thee, and the Cottage which thou dost surround.

I’m glad his ruse worked, that he didn’t actually have to say farewell to Rydal Mount, though from the depth of feeling in his poem, he clearly felt it was going to be a close run thing.

Thanks for listening. And enjoy your photography.

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Photo by Magic K on Pexels.com

My first, when I was young, I sowed from seed,
raked the bare earth, picked out the stones,
the weeds, levelled the undulations.
It was seasons in the making,
but never took the mower well.

And she disliked the way it grew,
the shape of things, and the borders,
as they took on angles, and a sharpness.
She moved her mother in,
and moved me on.
And that first lawn?
It went to hell.

The second lawn was older, long-established.
But I found it weary with weed, and ire.
It was bare in places, too,
scars of abuse, and neglect.
So many seasons, that one,
in the nurturing,
but then such lush maturity,
and a pleasure in the mow.

It was rich, and sweet,
a summer wine, sipped slow.
And her love, it was rose scented,
grown children, from another man,
the only thorns.
When she passed, my love died with her,
As did the lawn.
And the children, vexatious,
they moved me on as well.

Now the seasons they grow numbered,
As I cross the void once more,
Seeking love in loneliness,
And one last lawn to mow.

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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 Frank Cone on Pexels.com

Some legends of the exodus tell us it took place only a few hundred years ago, others that it was a thousand. I think it was nearer a few hundred, but we can’t say with any certainty because of the darkness that followed, a time when not even the sun would rise to be counted. And the archives tell us that long before then, the earth had begun a period of change, one that rendered the complexity of machine-life difficult. So, our ancestors built the last of their great machines, and rode them to the stars.

But the learned teach us a star is like the sun, and very far away, too far for machines to reach, at least within the lifetime of a man. It was to somewhere closer, then, we believe, most probably one of the wandering stars, they went, and which are not stars, but more like the earth, only barren, and where, without machines, a man could not survive at all. Such stories would remain stories, always out of reach of what is true, except sometimes the departed return, and because the stories have a power to them, we persist in calling them star-men.

They don’t come very often, though their frequency is observed to be increasing. The manner of their coming is always foreshadowed by the dark of the moon, so we are watchful at such times, watching for their machines as they streak across the sky. The machines are often left broken and burned, leading us to believe the star-men do not come of their own choice, that they are sent as exiles from their world, that indeed their survival on arrival here is far from certain.

Thanks to the archives, we understand much of the times before the exodus, but of course we know nothing of what happened to the star-men afterwards, whether they thrived in their new world, or found things hard. It seems foolish to us that you would sooner risk a barren place, than adapt to the changes of the earth, or seek to ameliorate those changes by such skill with machines as our ancestors clearly possessed. But the records also tell us there were terrible periods of instability, that in the decades leading up to the exodus many creatures and food-crops perished. And of the billions of mankind who once walked the earth, it is estimated only ten thousand souls survived the upheavals. Those who joined the exodus then had good reason to believe they were preserving man’s very existence. It was a rational decision, though one enacted at the expense of everyone left behind, who we presume were expected to perish.

All we know of them now is that they resemble us, as men I mean, though of those we have seen, in whole or part, they have grown taller, but much weaker than we are, and they are slower on the ground. Their world has changed them in other ways too, for they are also of such a violent nature, even to their own kind, we counsel they must be avoided at all costs, and not engaged with the limited arms, such as we possess.

Their armaments are powerful, warlike, unnecessarily destructive, and terrible in the wounds they inflict. The elders say it is our good fortune the star-men do not survive long, that it is sufficient for us to evade them, while we let the microbia of the earth – to which we are immune – do their work. It is fortunate, too, their weapons fade in potency to nothing over time, rendering them useless. Those we have recovered are dismantled by our craftsmen, and their materials either re-purposed, or destroyed.

There are no records of any interaction between us, other than of the violent kind. Indeed, it is believed civilised dialogue is impossible, and that all attempts are ill-advised. Certainly the archives bear this out in the accounts of those of our kind who have been lost to the star-men’s aggression. It is better, then, to observe, and evade util such a time as the microbia have felled them for us. But it does not stop one from wondering about their reasoning, for they are a cunning species, though they appear to lack the moral consciousness they must surely once have possessed when they walked among us as brothers. One wonders too about the reasoning of those who send them, and of course about the nature of their machine-world, which must by now be beyond all imagining.

The learned tell of how, before the exodus, our ancestors first used machines to explore these distant worlds. One wonders, then, why the star-men do not do the same thing, if they wish to know the earth once more, and how it fares. This rather supports the conclusion curiosity is not their intent, that these are men who have been banished, and perhaps are not typical of their kind. But if so, why inflict upon them a certain death, after the trouble of delivering them here at the expense of valuable materials, when a more efficient death could surely be arranged in their own world?

And so it is, news reaches us by breathless runner, of another machine observed coming down with great violence, in the mountains, to the north. There is word of burning, and of the forest peoples who live there, scattering in fear. It frustrates us we cannot ask the star-men what they want, and what they mean by these absurd incursions.

Riding out, we meet people on the trails. They speak of fire raining down, and setting the forest alight. The wise man, who rides with us, assures us it is the impact of the machine that has caused the fires, that we need not fear any new and fiendish weaponry. But he has the inner sight, this man, and tells us also that though he senses no living star-men will be found, there is still something of an ill omen about the fear in the eyes of those running towards us. We proceed cautiously, therefore, while remaining faithful in the knowledge our horses can scent a star-man from afar, and with greater ease than they can a bear, that they can differentiate even between the scent of living or dead.

So it’s strange when the horses are undisturbed, even when we ride them up to the crater’s edge. There are only small pieces of the machine remaining, and a scent of burning, though by now the fires have died out to a low fog of smouldering. Even under such cataclysmic circumstances, there are normally remains to be found, but after searching in a wide circle for many days, we conclude nothing living rode this machine to earth. We turn then to seeing what materials we might salvage.

It is the wise man then who begins to find particular pieces of machine, and uses his insight to bring them together in such a way as to reveal a truth that leaves us cold. He finds a torso, a limb, a hand, then a skull, but none of it is flesh or bone. All of it machine, fashioned in the human form. We count several such forms who have ridden in place of star-men, and this perplexes us deeply, but the wise man most of all. The departed, he tells us, have diverged so far from us in kind, that in their machine world, they have themselves now become,… machines.

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Rannerdale Knots from The Attermire Scars

Around Langcliffe (and other) scars

My old copy of Eric Langmuir’s venerable “Mountaincraft and Leadership” book contains many a useful tip for the walker, and was a good companion, as a lad, getting me going in the hills. It tells you things like what to carry in your rucksack, what to do if you’re caught out in a thunderstorm, how to ford a river, and how to use a map and compass. But nowhere does it tell you what to do when there’s a bull sitting on the right of way.

We’re in the Yorkshire Dales today, among the many scars and crags above Langcliffe, in Ribblesdale. We’ve had a cloudy start, but the forecast tells us it’ll clear by 2:00 PM. It’s a dynamic sky, lots of textures, but so far the light is flat. Much has been made in recent weeks of the parched brown countryside of the South East, but here everything is green, and there are puddles. It’s warm, but not oppressively so, and there’s an earthy smell after last night’s rains.

We’ve left the car on the road up from Langcliffe, around the 1200′ contour. This little altitude booster brings the walk in at just under eight miles and gets us off to a good start, with some fine views over Ribblesdale.

For the first leg, we head south along the line of the Attermire scars. The plan is for a circuit of the moorland between Settle and Malham, making use of the Dales High Way, and the Pennine Bridleway. We’ll follow it nearly as far as Pikedaw, overlooking Malham, then head North-ish towards Malham Tarn, and finally west, back to the car. It’s not a day of peak-bagging, then, more one for the views of some fine Dales country, and to explore a circuit that’s been nagging at me for a while. First, though, the bull.

He’s a handsome beast, but he looks a bit – well – knackered, surrounded by recumbent cows. It’s that old question, then: can cattle be trusted not to flatten you? The answer to which is: not entirely.

The common sense advice is that, if in doubt, find another way round, but there are no other ways, and anyway this is pretty much open country. If they were in a mood to be frisky, they could be chasing us for miles, and I wouldn’t make a hundred yards. There’s a fence and a gate, a little way beyond, but for that we have to run the gauntlet. What to do? If you ask this question on the hiking forums, you’ll set the Internet on fire with unhelpful opinion. But just like life in general, you can only read the situation in front of you, and it feels okay, so we carry on.

I rarely have trouble with cattle, but it’s still a comfort to put that gate between us. Cattle roam the hills freely here, though, so this won’t be our last encounter. They do seem to enjoy congregating around stiles and gates. My usual approach is to speak to them gently as we pass. It doesn’t matter what you say, of course. It’s a different if you have a dog with you. Then cattle are best avoided, because they hate dogs, and you might find yourself collateral as they try to trample it.

The Attermire Scars and the Rannerdale Knots

The Dales High Way and the Pennine Bridleway coincide at Attermire, and take us up towards the remote Stockdale Farm. The light is beginning to break through a little now, making soft speculative sweeps of the hillsides. The outlook west, behind us as we climb, to the scars, and Rannerdale are especially striking. There are several parties climbing on the crags, by the deep gash of the Horseshoe Cave.

I read there’s a new revised edition of Langmuir’s book, published by The Mountain Training Boards of England and Scotland. I wonder if I should get it, and wonder in particular what it has to say about navigating by Smartphone, and GPS? Probably nothing good. My old copy from 1985 has a foreword by Lord Hunt. These were a hardy breed of men, unlikely to be troubled by cattle. Hunt trained commandos in mountain-craft, during the second war, but is best known as leader of the first successful expedition up Everest in 1953. Postwar there was a rush of people heading into the hills, many of them ill prepared and coming to grief for want of basic knowledge, so there was an effort to set standards, and Langmuir did a sterling job. The Insta generation has brought about a similar rush of ill prepared folk.

Stockdale farm and Ryeloaf Hill

Anyway, I think it’s okay to navigate by smartphone. Mine is waterproof, has OS 1:25000 mapping, a three-day battery, and I carry a spare powerbank. It tells me exactly where I am, all the time. A paper map can just as easily let you down, as anyone who’s tried to read one in a gale force wind will tell you. A compass too can be dangerously misleading in hills that are rich in iron ore.

There are, of course, no simple solutions to every eventuality. You think you’re sorted, well kitted out, got the proper togs, the tech, and you know your Langmuir back to front,… then there’s a bull sitting on the footpath saying: you didn’t see this one coming, did you? Life is never without risk. Venturing into the hills, one accept this, prepares as best one can and takes responsibility for oneself. But let’s not big this up any more than we need to. We’re just out for the afternoon, not exploring the Andes.

The view up the valley is dominated by Rye Loaf hill. This is a remote peak, not walked very often, with as yet no clearly defined route up it. You’d have to make your own way across open country. Through binoculars, I can make out a rough wind-shelter and a survey column on top, all of which is very tempting, but I’ve still got blisters from my last outing, so we’ll stick to the planned route, and no deviations.

It feels like we’ve come a long way, meandering eastwards, up to the high point – this being around seventeen hundred feet. There’s a huge cairn to set our bearings by, here. I’d say it was unmissable, but on another occasion I’ve walked past it in mist and not known it was there. It’s a mystery actually, not marked on the maps, and consists of what resembles builders’ rubble. It makes for good foreground interest in the view over the Grizedales, to the distant splash of Malham Tarn.

The Grizedales to Malham Tarn

The path takes us east of north now, over the Grizedales as far as the junction with the path coming up from Malham. We seem to have left the heat behind at this altitude. The air is fresher and the scent of it is intoxicating. The bridleway bears west at a signpost which carries the daunting news Langcliffe is still four and a half miles away. It’s a long section, this, easy to follow, probably better undertaken on horseback. But, lacking a handy steed, we must make do on tiring feet, the path snaking away over the moor, forever teasing us with how far we’ve still to go. It’s not long before I’m thinking this section has little to recommend it, but then the outline of Penyghent hoves into view.

I think it was Alfred Wainwright who said the mountain Suilven, in Sutherland, had to be seen to be believed, and I agree with him, but that may have something to do with its remoteness. When I saw it, it was after a three-day drive into a sparsely populated area of the UK, soon perhaps to be another country. There is a definite otherness about that region, the wildness, the light, the emptiness. Suilven is an awe-inspiring hill, even getting a mention in a Ewan MacColl song. But it’s recently struck me Penyghent is only around a hundred feet shorter, and equally striking. It rears up dramatically, has a prow like a dreadnought battleship, and is often to be seen sailing over Ribblesdale, on a boiling mist. Penyghent too has to be seen to be believed. It’s just seen a little more often than Suilven.

Anyway, bang on schedule, 2:00 PM, the sky peels open, the sun comes through, and Penyghent starts showing off. We take some time to enjoy the light, but the feet have had enough now, and the path brings us full circle, just in time, delivering us back to the car. Tea and cake in Settle then? That would usually be the next move, but I’m a bit of a tight wad these days, and I’ve brought my own. We open the top to the sky, and enjoy the air. It was a good idea to park up here. The tea tastes all the better for the view.

Days in the sun and the tempered wind and the air like wine
And you drink and you drink till you’re drunk on the joy of living

Ewan MacColl

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The Anglezarke reservoir

It seems a while since I made it out, the past few weeks having been spent sheltering from an oppressive heat. And even though today is much cooler, I didn’t fancy a hill, so we’ve settled on this circuit of the Anglezarke Reservoir, just to get us back into the swing.

It’s a cloudy-bright sort of day, still dry, with barely a drop of rain in ages. The paths are pot-hard, and wearisome. We’ve left the little blue car on the causeway, at the southern end, and are now approaching the halfway point, along the Heapey fold Lane. It’s an uninspiring stretch, all barbed wire, straight lines and miles of that electrified white tape the horsey people use, whether to deter horse or man is open to debate. As for the reservoir, it’s very low, as most of them are now, and, thus far, we’ve had only a few glimpses of it as the path veers shy.

There’s something wrong with my GPS tracker. Every time the phone goes to sleep, it forgets where we are, only to pick us up when I wake the phone again. Which is why our track is as the crow flies, and about a mile long, instead of all wiggly and about two. It’ll be something to do with how Android manages background apps, but this isn’t the time to be sorting that out. I know how far round this walk is anyway: Four and a quarter miles. Flat. Why I think I need the phone tracking us in the first place is a mystery, but we persuade ourselves it’s interesting to know these things, then all we end up doing is fiddling with the phone instead of absorbing properly what the walk has to offer.

We’re late season now, second half of August, and we have several trees along the way showing heat-stress, crisping up for an early autumn. And there are blackberries in the hedgerows, looking plump.

Just here, there’s a fine ash tree, and a good place to settle for lunch, before we plunge into the woods below Grey Heights, and Healey Nab. Heinz mushroom soup today, £1.40 a tin! I fancy the energy bills at their Kit Green factory must be getting on for the GDP of a small nation. I was also saddened to read the Coppull chippy, “Oh my Cod“, is to cease trading, due to the price of energy. I imagine many chippy’s are in the same boat; cafes, coffee shops, too, all victims of the killer watts.

Speaking of which, I’ve been trying to run an energy calculation in my head, one that’s vital to my own well-being. So: if it takes four minutes to boil water using a three kilowatt kettle, and electricity costs 28p per Kilowatt hour, how much for a cup of tea?

It’s taken me a couple miles to come up with the answer: 6p. Now, how many times do I brew up in a day? A lot, for if in doubt have a brew, and I am often in doubt, so let’s say six times. And six sixes are thirty-six, so thirty six pence a day! Times three hundred and sixty-five is,… em,.. calculator on the phone,… 13140. That’s pennies, so divide by a hundred, and we arrive at around £131 a year, brewing up. So, where I’m going with this is,… if we halved the number of brews?

No, wait a minute. Economies like that – like sitting in the dark – won’t even touch the sides. Anyway, when a man has to think twice before brewing up, he no longer lives in a civilised country, and I’d sooner preserve the illusion a while longer.

I’ve been sitting quite still by this tree, and maybe that’s why the ladies’ rambling group comes by and doesn’t notice me, or at least no one thinks to say hello. They’re a fragrant, and colourfully Lycra clad party, and very noisy as they enter the wood, sending up a flock of outraged pigeons. Which all goes to show, when you’re out with your mates, you’re not thinking about how much it costs to brew up, and maybe I should join a rambling group myself. Except, I never notice anything when I’m with a group, and I’m self-conscious lingering over photographs.

Anglezarke Reservoir, August 2022

Built between 1850 and 1857, the Anglezarke reservoir is perhaps the most attractive of its neighbours. But the best walking is along the east bank, where we’re closer to the water and get that lovely dancing light. Today we’re short of water, this northern end in particular, being shallow, emptied early, and is now green with an entire season’s worth of wild grasses and flowers. There’s just this narrow channel snaking down towards the southern end, which retains the appearance of a reservoir. Here, though, the land is reverting to its pre-1850 aspect. I venture down below the winter water-line, back in time, so to speak, to take a picture of the Waterman’s Cottage.

Waterman’s Cottage, Anglezarke reservoir, August 2022

Built in the mock Tudor style. It used to be one of those places I’d dream of living. It’s looking badly neglected now, though – sorry if you live there. But then everywhere’s the same, nothing heading in the right direction any more. It always made for a good photograph, reflected in dark waters, but is now suspended over a sea of green.

Waterman’s Cottage, Anglezarke Reservoir

Just past the cottage, we pick up the path below Siddow fold, and follow the pretty eastern shore towards the Bullough Reservoir. The views open out here, and we can see the deeper, southern end of the reservoir, where it still makes a good show of catching the light. This is the best section of the walk, even when we pick up the Tarmac water-board road, with the sparkle of water coming through mature plantation. Then we meet Moor road, where it snakes down from Lester Mill. The spillway of the Yarrow is dry, of course, and looks like it has been all summer, judging by the vegetation sprouting out of it. Then we’re back at the causeway, where we pick out the smile of the little blue car, waiting. A long four miles, somehow, and ready for a brew.

So we peel back the top, open the flask and enjoy a cup of sweet tea, relaxing in a cooling breeze coming off the water. Sixpence, remember? Or rather no,… forget that. Forget how much it costs to brew tea, for therein lies madness. A quick burst of data on the phone, allows the notifications to catch up. There’s one from Amazon letting me know they’ve dropped off my folding solar panel. That’s to keep my powerbanks and charged for, when the power-cuts begin. It’s another economy that’s not going to touch the sides, but it makes you feel like you’re at least doing something, stealing sunshine. So long as we can walk and write, all will be well. Less so, I fear for others. There is a real sense of teetering on the brink of something awful, but so long as you’re in the mood to read, I’ll be posting my way through it. And I might even finish that novel, before the year runs into Yule!

Thanks for listening.

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Living responsibly in an unfinished world

The idea of a purpose to the universe, and our individual place in it, has mostly lost out to a rational world view that relegates the whole of creation to an accident of nature. The only mystery left is how consciousness can arise from within a system of physical matter. This is called the hard problem, but lately there has arisen a breed of fundamentalist scientistic thinker claiming to have solved the problem by claiming consciousness does not exist. We only think it does, and by doing so, we are trying to make more of the cosmos than there really is. How depressing! The only miracle is how we do not all go mad, when faced with such pointlessness.

But there is a view that such scientific fundamentalism is actually dangerous, and in this book, Gary Lachman argues we urgently need to move ourselves back to the centre of the cosmos, and realise our role as its caretaker, before it’s too late.

As in all his other works, Lachman writes as a champion of consciousness. He assures us that not only is consciousness real, it is primary, and he reminds us of the reasons for such belief with the aid of a tour through a long history of ideas and thinkers.

While the scientific consensus has moved towards an ever more hardened and eliminative position, as if drawing the shutters on the light of consciousness, other thinkers have been trying to keep them open, and to let the light back in. The book opens with the Jewish, Kabbalistic concept of Tikkun. This views creation as imperfect, that man’s place, man’s purpose, is one of seeing to its ongoing repair.

The world is always going to hell in a handcart, have you noticed? But it could always be worse. We might feel we cannot affect significant change in the world, as individuals, but if we all did the little bit of good that we know, and feel, personally, then the world would be changed. This might sound twee, but as we work our way into the book, we begin to see the profundity of the concept. The question arises, though, what is good? Can man decide, rationally, and make laws to define it? Or is the idea of good something that comes from within, and an inherent property of a fundamentally conscious universe? Or is it neither? Is it not so much an action or a prohibition anyway, as a way of seeing, and being?

Another powerful idea is that of evil, and the perennial question: why does it exist? Here Lachman turns the argument around and asks instead: is evil, or rather an amoral “might is right”, “survival of the fittest” world, not the default position? And if so, why is there good in the world? His answer is that in all of evolutionary history, there was no “good”, until man came along.

There are so many references here, so many springboards for further thought and study, it’s difficult to know where to start, but one of the more striking quotes comes from the Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz who says: “we live in the worst of all possible worlds in which there is yet hope.” The suggestion here is that the universe is an experiment in existence, an experiment that would be pointless unless carried out under difficult conditions. Similarly, it would be equally pointless if all hope were extinguished, for then we would be justified in taking the nihilistic position, simply giving up and lowering our necks to the block, bowing to the axe of an irresistible evil. But the world is not like that. It is always on the brink,… and we work, argue and even at times fight to keep it in balance and moving forward.

This is an idea also reflected in the work of Gurdjieff who once remarked that the earth is in a very bad place in the universe, almost the worst… that everything we do is difficult and costs a great deal of effort, but it may be the only place where we can get things done.

At this point we encounter the work of Ian McGilchrist, whose book The Master and his Emissary, describes the differences between the left and the right brain hemispheres, and the types of attention they each bring to the world. The right hemisphere is geared towards observing reality with a kind of patient, broad brush attention, while the left is geared more towards control and manipulation of details. As an example of this we’re given the grain of sand in which the poet Blake, in an extreme right brain mode of attention, sees a whole world of wonders, but which, in left brain mode, others might see more as being insignificant, or worse, an annoying piece of grit in your shoe.

The kind of attention we must bring to bear in order to realise the good within ourselves, is of the right brain variety. The act of Tikkun, or repair, then, is not so much a specific act, or an intervention, but a way of looking at something while we are doing it, and it doesn’t matter what it is we’re doing. It is the kind of attention we employ that’s the important thing, because the kind of attention we direct at the world, determines the kind of world we encounter.

In the Master and his Emissary, McGilchrist argues that the right brain is the proper, natural master. It is like a King who must rule a nation. The King has a broad grasp of many things, but favours and retains no specifics. When he needs to pay closer attention to something, he deploys an emissary, the left brain, to deal with the details, to summarise, and report back for the King to act wisely. But as time has passed, human consciousness has evolved in ways that have allowed the left brain, the emissary, to dominate. We have become immersed in details, we drown in them, and can no longer see the broader picture. Thus, the kingdom suffers as the scientistic emissaries shut the King out, and work against him, decrying him as incompetent, and fuzzy minded. The prediction of this kind of thinking, should it come to dominate, is pretty much the kind of world we have now, one that denies the very existence of consciousness, and treats people as objects, as dumb machines, to be exploited, dominated, controlled.

Returning then to the idea of “doing the good that we know”, this sense can only arise in us with a right brain dominance, also when our basic needs are met – food, shelter, warmth, intimate relationships,… once all these things are in the bag, so to speak, the way becomes open for a person to self-actualise, to become, in the words of Abraham Maslow, more “fully human.” Then the sense of what is good arises spontaneously from a kind of intelligence of the heart.

Of course a great deal of harm has been done by people imposing their ideas of good on others, but the more fully human “self-actualisers” tend to be less concerned with other people, and seek instead to apply their instinctive sense of the good in their own struggle to develop. And such development leads to the conclusion that while we are in the cosmos, in a physical sense, we are not entirely of it. Metaphysically, we are “outside” of it, looking in.

When we study the works of early civilisations, in particular their art, there is a sense that they did not differentiate themselves from their environment, or from nature, that self consciousness was as yet nascent. Their art is curiously two-dimensional, and child-like. Only later do we see a change taking place, and art separating man from his world by the use of perspective. The world and nature becomes “object” and through our sense of separateness, we start to wonder about our place in it.

Objectifying the world has had its downsides, and may yet bring us to self-destruction, but the genie is out of the bottle, so to speak, and there can be no return to earlier, pre-conscious modes of thinking. Evolution does not run backwards, so the task facing us is both critical for our own survival, but also for the cosmos, since, in a sense, we are the eyes and ears of the cosmos waking up to itself. If we stuff it up, the cosmos, as we know it, and therefore as it knows itself, will cease to exist.

The way ahead appears to be to achieve a greater understanding of the powers that we have. This means re-orientating ourselves back to the centre of our personal universe, to become more fully human, then to recognise and to do the good that we know. We bring the kind of attention to bear that we would like to see reflected in the world.

A thought-provoking and uplifting work, broad in scope but engagingly written. Fully referenced and with a lifetime’s worth of side reading.

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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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