Posts Tagged ‘death’

J B Priestly was a writer with a broad scope. He was also a social commentator, playwright, broadcaster and literary critic. Born in Barnsley, he began his working life as a clerk in a wool firm. Writing in the evenings, he found success with articles placed in London newspapers.

He was badly wounded in the first world war, and indeed experienced much at that time that was to haunt him for the rest of his life. Post-war, he gained an officer’s scholarship to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he studied literature, and from there he went on to become a well known, and rather well-to-do English man of letters.

Published in 1971, Over the Long High Wall is, as he describes it, a reflection on the nature of life, death and time. Time is where Priestly and I meet, both of us having an interest in the precognitive nature of dreams, a subject it’s easy to lose one’s way with, but to which I find him a sober and sensible guide.

He was a powerful dreamer, occasionally stumbling across things in his dream life that subsequently happened, and could not easily be explained away as coincidence. This is a difficult subject to deal with, since there is no explanation for it, and indeed much scepticism. Readers of a hard, rational bent will understandably reject it out of hand. But when it happens to you, you’re compelled to take an interest, which inevitably leads to questions concerning the nature of time and being, and here we need a steady hand if we are not to fall foul of crack-pottery. Better we acquaint ourselves with the thinking of a no-nonsense, pipe smoking Yorkshireman, like Priestly.

If we can dream ahead of time, it suggests the mind is not as firmly fastened down in space or time, as we suppose. It can wander some way ahead, which begs the question, do we have free will? If we have already dreamed a thing, is it inevitable we shall encounter it? Or, being forewarned, can the future be changed? And if it can, what happened to the version of things we saw? It also begs the question, if the mind is not so firmly coupled to brain function, can some part of it survive beyond bodily death. These are interesting questions, but anyone, particularly a famous person, bringing them into the open, is liable to be attacked by rational sceptics, and pilloried as a fool, or charlatan.

J B Priestly – 1940

Throughout the book, Priestly describes the world, as constructed by rational sceptics, and goes on at some length to explain why he doesn’t think very much of it. Written in 1971, he could easily be describing the world as it is now. He calls it narrow, and life-shrinking. These sceptics, these zealous debunkers of all speculative forays of the mind, are the architects of the long, high wall of the title. It is a construct, he says, which prevents us from gaining a view of a higher, more noble, more meaningful mode of being.

His interest in the time question placed him within the orbit of the time theorist, J W Dunne, whose book “An Experiment with Time” (1927) was very popular, and indeed, still is. Like Priestly, Dunne had also run into precognitive dreams. Dunne was not what one might call an artistic, literary or dreamy type. He was a former military man, a man of science and engineering. Building on the theories of the mathematician Howard Hinton, and physicists Eddington, and Einstein – very much in vogue at the time – Dunne suggested the dreaming self operated in a so-called “fourth dimension”, one at right angles to our familiar three dimensions of space and linear time.

The fourth dimension allows the dreaming mind a full view of our line in time, while our waking mind is restricted to awareness of a single slice of space-time, this being “now”. But here’s where Dunne is an infuriating character to get a handle on. His book is fascinating up to the point where he goes on to explain his theory of precognitive dreaming, which, though he claims is simple, has me wondering if I have not suffered some sort of brain injury, since my own college days. His later books, intended to further simplify things for a more “popular” audience, I find even more bewildering. Reassuringly for me, Priestly is of a similar view.

He warns us that Dunne provides little service to brevity, no matter how hard he tries, but their friendship helped nurture the plot of several of Priestly’s plays, in which he “played” with the idea of time. “Time and the Conways” and “An Inspector Calls” are perhaps the most famous, though my personal favourite is the strikingly Ouspenskian: “I have been here before” set in a remote inn in the Yorkshire Dales, and archived (along with the others) as MP3 here.

Setting aside the entanglements of theory, the idea of there being a looseness to time opens up the human psyche to a more speculative field of enquiry, one into which the spirit soars, while the rational sciences tend only to shut it down. There is no such thing as precognition they say, there is a single line in time, we live, we die, and there is no point to anything. They create a closed world, in which the seedlings of spirit find only stony ground. Of course, science is correct to build itself up from foundations of solid evidence. But by this same yardstick, spontaneous cases of precognition in dreams must always be dismissed as anecdotal, as mere stories.

Which brings Priestly to the phenomenon of the professional sceptic. This is a person who sets themselves up as investigator and debunker of phenomenal claims. They are not necessarily of the scientific profession, often conjurers and showmen, or psychologists. He calls them the “camp followers” of science, who see it as their role to ruin the reputation of anyone daring to stick their necks above the parapet. And, whilst often the most shrill, their explanations, explaining away things like precognition, can also be the most tortuous and ridiculous, yet, having the “rational” on their side, the tortuous and the ridiculous are, sadly, the only explanations we are allowed to arrive at. Anything else is dismissed as bunk.

Clearly then, Priestly stuck his neck out, but there was more of an appetite for this kind of thing in the early part of the twentieth century than there is now. As for the evidence, or the theoretical expositions, he writes he didn’t much care one way or the other. He deals in greater depth with Dunne, and his own insights into dream precognition, in his longer work “Man and Time” (1964). Over the Long High Wall is more a rallying cry to the artists, the writers and the dreamers to dream their dreams anyway, regardless, because their lives will be all the larger and the richer for it, and to never mind the debunkers and life-shrinkers. For Priestly, there never was a long, high wall. He used his powers of imagination and intuition to simply walk right through it, and he invites us all to do the same.

Acknowledgements: Photo of J B Pristly by courtesty of – By National Media Museum from UK – J B Priestley at work in his study, 1940.Uploaded by mrjohncummings, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26198117

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Alice Golightly had the misfortune of surviving all her family. Husband, children, brothers, sisters, all of them had gone before her, so she sailed into her nineties alone as friends, too, old and new, fell by the wayside. Among the last of the plotter girls, she’d served as a WAAF, with Fighter Command, during the Battle of Britain. Then she’d worked forty years as a formidable secretary, in one of the great manufactories, now fallen to rust. She’d spent her retirement in the bingo halls, a cheerful soul. There were holidays in Blackpool, and Marbella,…

In wartime, she’d survived a direct hit on her bunker, helped pull others, less fortunate, from the rubble, never wondering for what purpose she was spared, what purpose, this long span of life. Only now did she fall casualty, still unquestioning of the rhyme and the reason of things. A copper broke the door in, found her sleeping the eternal sleep – by now a sleight, malnourished form, under hand crocheted blankets, in an unheated room. Less mobile, and confused of late, she’d been unable to work out how to make the pension go as far as was needed. The coroner concluded she’d been subsisting on a diet of raisins, and thereby succumbed to seasonal hypothermia.

After a blur of mergers and acquisitions, the newly formed, newly fangled energy company that had taken over Alice’s supply, had risen, as if by sleight of hand, and emptied her bank account in short measure. Then it disconnected her, when she could no longer pay. Alice had been sure it was a mistake. She’d always been able to pay her way before. Official letters had couched their threats in guarded and impenetrable legalese. Her own, spidery, handwritten replies spoke of confusion, openness and old age. There was also humiliation in her appeals for explanations in terms she could understand, none of which were forthcoming. She had never joined the online world, wary of clever people duping her out of money, and ruining her life. Always outgoing and spirited, the walls of her world finally closed in, and Alice Golightly was heard from no more. She might have made it to a hundred, if only we had let her.

Alice Golightly’s last act was to have the undertaker’s little ambulance block the road by her house, during her removal from this world. The traffic backed up and blocked the neighbouring street, which in turn, like a series of ripples spreading out, caused a minor hold up in the middle of town.

Now, the chief executive who closed the deal that indirectly caused the disconnection of Alice’s energy supply, was an unhappy man. Three times married, he was approaching as many divorces. His daughter, from his first marriage, was in therapy, and hated the ground he walked upon. His son, from his second marriage, was dropping tens of thousands in the casinos of Monte Carlo, and seemed bent on bankrupting him. The renovation of his Oxfordshire mansion wasn’t going to plan, and the taxman was on his back. He’d have to move more of his money offshore. Life really was a bitch right now.

As his limousine cruised through town that day, it hit the traffic indirectly caused by Alice Golightly’s last act, and a sat-nav diversion took him by a line of people queuing for food handouts.

“So many homeless,” he mused.

It never failed to amaze him how anyone could be so feckless, so lacking in the work ethic, or intelligence, or whatever, to say nothing of being so damned shameless, as to line up for charity like that. His driver nodded, not wanting to tell him these weren’t actually homeless people. They were more likely workers, working precarious jobs, yet who still couldn’t feed their families, or heat their homes. It was just the way of the world right now. But the chief was always right.

It did nothing to improve the chief’s mood, of course, seeing the ugly underbelly of the world this way. It always had him wondering by what misfortune he might yet end up there himself. It was a recurring nightmare of his. The limousine slowed to a halt in heavy traffic. He tried to avoid eye contact with the people queuing there, but his eye was indeed caught, briefly anyway, by a young girl in the line. She looked to be of his daughter’s age, and as pretty a girl as he’d ever seen. Scrub her up, swap her cheap clothes for couture, and she wouldn’t look out of place anywhere in his world, he thought.

Was it only money, then, that made the difference? What was the trick that had him destined for riches, and her,… well,… to stand in line like this? The girl’s expression was blank, betrayed no emotion. Except, suddenly, she smiled at something her neighbour said, then laughed out loud, holding her sides as if to contain a surplus of mirth that threatened to rock her entire being off the pavement. Her laughter moved him. It was so open, so light, so genuine. He could not remember the last time he’d felt that way. It saddened him too, that he would never see his daughter laugh like that, and when his son laughed – as he often did – well, that was only out of scorn.

The traffic eased as Alice Golightly’s final journey got under way. The chief’s limousine moved sedately on, and he settled back in the leather, caught up in a moment of deep introspection. Then it came to him, the solution to his unhappiness! What he needed, more than anything, right now,…

Was to buy himself a yacht!

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sky clouds building industry

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In the whole of Europe, the UK is looking like it’s suffered the worst death rate from coronavirus so far. In the world we are second only to the US. This doesn’t sit well with those who would paint a picture of Albion’s God-given superiority. There are story-tellers who have had a go recently, with mixed results. But if all else fails – and death is a hard thing to sell – you can always try playing it down.

The morning these figures broke, the majority of the UK press chose to ignore the main story. Instead, they went with news of the assistant chief medical officer. He’d been caught flouting his own social distancing guidelines and had resigned. It was a silly thing to do, and a poor example, but it was hardly the most important headline of the day. Thus, the A-list story-tellers are revealed again as accomplices in the great game. They are PR gurus, not journalists.

But if we can see through all that, what the past weeks and months have shown us is that we were under-prepared. We were under-funded, and we ignored the hard lessons learned by the rest of the world. More, the conclusions of a pandemic planning exercise carried out in 2016, and which predicted the pickle we’re in now – were disregarded.

This should come as no surprise. The British approach to impending calamity is always to ignore the drums, and muddle through. We do this with a mixture of blissful ignorance, bombast, and real-politik. And, when the shit hits the fan, like it always does, we display a certain cold blood in dealing with it. We count the bodies. We shrug, we move on.

Now, the death rate has levelled off. The health service is still on its knees, though not flat on its back as we had feared, and a new story is emerging. Those who pay for the politics want us to focus elsewhere. So they engage their A-List story-tellers to flesh out their post-coronavirus narrative. And it goes something like this:

It’s time to wind back the money, to open the shops. The public are addicted to their free time and their State handouts. They are becoming fat and feckless. We have decades of austerity ahead now to pay for it. They should get back to work, and what are we all worried about anyway? It’s just a bit of flu. You’ll only die from it if you were weak or old to begin with. We must get back to normal, to the way things were before.

The other story, one struggling to take shape, is that things cannot settle back the way they were. We should take this opportunity to build something new from the ruins of the past. We have a chance to tackle the nightmare of climate break-down and inequality, build something new from the ruins. We need to change the economy in ways that won’t leave us so exposed to calamity next time. But, whilst laudable and emotive, it’s a narrative that fails to find any traction among the A-list story-tellers. You’ll only find it on the more obscure and leftist media back-channels, run on a shoestring.

Death is a tricky business, definitely a hard thing to sell, especially when it’s obvious the risks of dying are not shared equally.  I’m not sure how that story will play out. A severe global recession, and mass unemployment look like certainties. It’ll also be a good time to sneak a hard BREXIT over line, because in the midst of this chaos, who would notice? Or care?

Beyond that, I cannot say. I’m approaching my seventh decade, yet I am still naive in the ways of the world. I have learned sufficient only to stand aghast that even in the midst of such an unprecedented crisis, we are battered by a storm of wanton spin. But I do know this: the truth never surfaces in the world of current affairs, that what is often touted as truth is too often the product of an equation weighted by its omissions. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. It is the story that counts: how plausible, how resonant to the emotions, a story spun in exchange for power and votes.

I know which story of the future I prefer. And I shall continue to sing my lament in the face of those A-Listers we all listen to, yet who never seem to tell it the way it is. Or the way it needs to be.

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marniesnipUnless we’re keen on recalling our dreams, they leak away on waking. But even if we teach ourselves to hold onto them for long enough to make a note of them, I find most still fade from memory eventually, so when we come to read back on them months or years afterwards, we have no recollection of ever having had these extraordinary dream-experiences.

Thus it was I did not recall dreaming, in April 2011, of a long business trip and winding up in a bland corporate hotel, climbing the stairs to my room – unremarkable, except on one of the landings I encountered a girl I used to know at school.

Our relationship is a long story, romantic, but more one of missed opportunity than happy endings. She was sweet natured, and bright and I was in awe of her but we never dated, and for some years after leaving school, it was something I regretted never acting upon. I last saw her in the summer of ’77, and at the time of my dream, some thirty four years later, I had not thought of her in a long while. We’d both married, had kids and lived lives entirely oblivious of one another.

We did not interact much in the dream, other than to acknowledge each other as if we were familiar colleagues, used to seeing each other every day – a smile, a nod, and that was it. But the encounter did trigger a powerful welling up of emotion, sufficient for me to write about it on waking, and to wonder where on earth it had come from after all that time.

Unknown to me, she had died, suddenly, two years before. I didn’t learn of this until much later, in 2014, when, by chance, I came upon her obituary in the online archives of a local newspaper. The news of her death affected me deeply, that one so lovely from my past was no longer with us, but why she should have popped up in my dream is a mystery. More startling though was this morning, reading through my dream journal and realising that I’d dreamed of her.

Dream figures are either strangers or familiar. But the familiar ones tend to be people we interact with on a daily basis – friends, colleagues, family. The strangers are more archetypal. People we have known in the distant past and not seen or heard of for decades, such characters hold a special significance, and are most striking in their linking us back to the earliest of our days.

I have always believed dreams use these various avatars as characters in a mythic play, which can then be interpreted for personal meaning. While I still hold this to be the case, a deeper reading of psychoanalytic theory suggests the phenomenon is more nuanced, that dreams are windows on a wider psychic life that goes on even when we are unaware of it, rather than simply nightly shows put on for our personal development. But how broad the realm of the dream is, I don’t know, whether it’s a purely personal thing, or if it takes place in a collective psychical field, and can encompass the dreams of others, or indeed if the essence of departed personalities can seek us out.

What’s puzzling is there are people I have known all my life and lost, relationships that ended mid-sentence, so to speak and with whom I would have welcomed an exchange of post-mortem understanding, and fare-well. But these close ones have never sought me out, which makes me wonder why this girl felt the need to reacquaint herself in passing with an old face like mine from her schooldays. If it’s true and she did, she learned the breadth and the depth of me in that brief encounter, because we cannot hide our selves in dreams.

Do we dream of the dead? Well yes we do, but are they truly the discarnate essence of the dead, or just thought forms of the way we remember them, even though we have not thought of them for a long time. It’s impossible to say for sure of course, but one cannot help wondering.

And either way, it’s a mystery.

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He lost the Faery tongue aged five,
Lost it to chalk boards
And vague threats of God.
It was the Gulag then for him,
His life now frozen for want of sun
And green. And where, when
He was not afraid,
Boredom was the name
Of his routine.

Bare-toothed and baying,
Grey wolves circled and chastised
All vestige of the Faery from his eyes,
Their faces hard, but for those times,
And times again, of false grace,
When he observed they bowed
At every mention of His name.
This God, beneficent of the angry
And the cruel, but no friend to the reticent
Or the cowed.

So, he sought solace
In the prettiness of girls a-while,
And pined.
And thinking what he felt divine,
Put all his hopes in Love,
And thereby came to see,
Amongst all flesh, at least,
The fact of his invisibility,
This Faery child,
Alone among the chained
And shuddering freaks,
Trapped in the darkness
Of an all too swiftly run mortality.

Thus one by one they fell.
The reticent, the cowed,
The lovers, and the wolves, and all.
All into the abyss were swept.
While he, invisible to the last,
Unknown and untouched still,
Watched each one fall in turn,
And wept.

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PS_20150130152500Heavy rain this morning, driven in great curtains by a roaring wind that had even the stoutest of trees swaying. The Motorway was shiny-slick with an ominous standing wet, visibility down to as far as the end of old Grumpy’s bonnet, so we crawled along at a cautious fifty, buffeted by unpredictable gusts while the fast lane streaked by pretty much as usual, sending up smoke.

It was turning to snow as we approached the borders of Greater Manchester, translucent splats landing like suicidal moths upon the screen, to be brushed away at once by Grumpy’s fussy, squealy wipers. The wash I’m using is all smeary, though it advertises itself as Super-clear, and Streak free! But like much in life our words these days boil down to little more than shallow promises. We have to look deeper for the truth of things.

Visibility clears but slowly, and by then the wipers are crossing again, dragging out more smeary mess. They mark time, mark the blurry rhythm of my life: forty miles a day, two hours drive-time, and a day job shift between. 38 years, this year. Winters are the hardest. There is nothing else to do but buckle down and weather them.

The car was a warm cocoon against the elements, against a season that is characteristically bitter, laughing at our scurrying haste, at our fragility. There was an accident here, some weeks ago, four cars caught up in what I guess began as a nose-to tail-ender. It finished with one car crushed beyond recognition, the others bent and spun off at dizzy angles. I was two hours late that night, a night lit up with the combined electric blue halo of a fleet of excited cop cruisers. The whole filthy, roaring ribbon of road was hushed, three lanes bottled down to one, the rush-hour tailback ten miles long. Meanwhile, the coppers brushed furiously at crystal shards, as I waited my turn at the clearing-gate. Others stood guard over the fluorescent coned perimeter, brusquely waving on the rubber-neckers.

I was two hours late home last night too. I don’t know what the problem was; it’s often like this now – just the way things are. I waited out the gridlock on a shopping mall carpark rather than inching bit by bit along the road. Depressing places, shopping malls on a cold winter’s night, but they do at least have food of a fashion, and toilets for the marooned. While I was there, I wandered into a swanky bed-shop, thinking to kill time by browsing pillows. I’ve had a stiff neck lately, and I’m thinking my old saggy pillow might be the problem. The lady sat in this cavernous emporium, presiding over rows of inviting divans – she was middle aged and smartly uniformed in the livery of her employer’s brand. Her smile dimmed only a little when I told her a pillow was all I wanted.

So she showed me her pillows, and I liked the way her hands patted them down and fluffed them up. She invited me to try them out on one of her beds, to lay my head upon them and feel their quality. There was something sweet in this, my fatigue lending the encounter something of a surreal quality – just she and I in this vast palace of beds. I said I would be embarrassed, which was strange, and she laughed, said I mustn’t feel that way. But I also felt unwashed and unshaved, too dirty from my day for any of her nice clean beds, and this of course was a thing not for explaining. She was, I think, in the briefest moment of our exchange, proxy for a curious kind of muse, and my sense of unworthiness was itself a telling thing.

I was persuaded there is much to be said for a quality pillow. It is, after all, where we lay our heads at the end of the day, their comfort a balmy isle, oner would hope, from which we set sail each night, on course for the more distant land of dreams. She did not tell me this, of course, but I was thinking it. And as I handed over my card I noticed her nails were shapely and painted different colours, and I fell momentarily in love, as an adept with his priestess. But I’m an old hand at spotting the faerie and I know such creatures are not for loving, living as they do inside our heads, and only pretending to be at large in the world. I crawled home at going up for eight; indigestion from my McBurger-tea, and a coffee hardly worth the name, but I slept well on my fresh duck-downy pillow, dreamed of windmills blown flat, and crumbling towers spilling grain into the wind like vast murmurations of tiny birds.


Where are we now? Coming up to my junction.

A motorbike roars past me, doing seventy. I’ve ridden a bike in the long ago, and I know the rain stings at forty, that it mists your visor so you can barely see. A twitch, a sneeze, the slightest unexpected thing, and down you go. I know; I’ve gone – hit the deck and rolled – the bike one way and me the other; walked away, then ached for years.

If he would only back off a little, tuck in behind me and old Grumpy for a while, he’d surely be safe. At least I hope so. Pray God, don’t let me die on the commute! Let it be on a warm summer’s day with a vaulted sky, on a hushed mountain top, or laying down among the bee-buzzed heather, with the larks rising; not here on this filthy stretch of miserable road, grovelling for a crust. I’m reminded though the Reaper rarely works to a time-table that permits us such dignified exits, that he has a penchant for hammering in the full stops. Before the sentence is properly ended. It’s wise to be cautious, not to tempt fate in the teeth of a howling gale, but he’ll get you however he likes in the end, so maybe we should just say to hell with it? And crash on recklessly.

Not a good choice of word when driving on the Motorway: Crash.

Mornings are a fraction lighter now, dawn advancing to the drive-times, so I arrive at least in daylight. The nights are still a hopeless case though, darkness overtaking before I’ve even joined the tail end of the red lighted queue that’ll ever so sluggishly lead me home. It’s at home my flighty little rag-top dozes under a dust-sheet in the mouse-scented garage. She only emerges these days, sleepy eyed, when the rare dry spells, and that pale winter sun, coincide with a weekend. Then she gambols in the brief openings such short days afford, while Grumpy sleeps, his week’s commuting done. She’s waiting for the spring, dreaming of a summer like the last one. And so am I. A part of me rests with her now, warmed by the memory of other times, while the remainder of me sits in this rain-washed traffic yet again, buffeted by the wind, a dull chatter coming from the radio, a voice bleating on about all the snows yet to come.

mazda in garageI think of the feel of that quality pillow, and I think of the woman who picked it out, sitting alone among her beds, late into the night, each night, and I wonder if she remembers me. I fancy the pillow has a comfort now charged with meaning by those hands that so nicely plumped and patted as if to bless, and will surely guide me safe to much warmer, and more fertile climes than these.

Sweet dreams.



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Desert at dusk by Lady Caroline Gray Hill 1843-1924

Spring,1855. Andrew Wilson, a young, unemployed journalist, has ventured across the western frontier of British India and begun a meandering exploration of neighbouring Baluchistan. He’s down on his luck, looking for distraction in adventure. There, in the desert, he comes across ruins dating back to the time of Alexander – vast mausoleums, marking the passing of innumerable lives. He’s moved to sit and reflect on this, scribbles some lines in his notebook, speaks wistfully of the vastness of the ages and the obscurity of the individual life, a life of infinite worth to itself but passed entirely unknown and apparently worthless to anyone else now living. Those lines appeared in a magazine in 1857 where, in turn, they gave me pause when I discovered them in dusty archives a hundred and fifty years later.

Think about this for a moment – the act of that young man, sitting down in the dust and the desert hush, being moved to reflect. Who did he imagine he was writing for? He was not well known – certainly no darling of the literati. Indeed, his own failures and obscurity at the time, must have weighed heavily upon him.

Wilson had been studying divinity, thinking to become a  minister like his father, but he’d had a head-on collision with the German Romantic movement, an experience that had rendered him suddenly too much of a mystic for the staid pulpit of the Kirk, and landed him instead in the precarious position of a jobbing hack.

And then there’s me. Where do I fit in the strange equation of time and chance? There’s not much we have in common, Wilson and I, other than the fact we’re both an unlikely pair of mystics. All I can do is reflect upon his thoughts. If I’d been with him that day I would have replied it was the uniqueness of individual experience that makes each life infinitely valuable, not only to itself but to the greater consciousness out of which we’re all briefly incarnated. Yes, those Alexandrian era lives are gone, as Wilson is now, and as I shall be one day, but for a time we each look upon this world and reflect back, if only through our hearts, what we’ve felt about the whole experience of time and form.

We exist far apart in history, Wilson and I, but nowadays disparate souls need not wait upon the ages, nor the printing press to court these serendipitous encounters. We can blog our reflections, and if in doing so one other person  reflects upon what we write we have already entered upon that vast and subtle network of  human thought, pulsating, vibrating, self-reflecting, and ultimately, I’m sure, swelling towards a transcendental awakening in the collective being.

Take heart then, dear  blogger, and believe your persistence, even in the face of your individual obscurity will play its own part in helping sweep aside the sterile structures we see decaying daily all around us, that it will play its part too in building  upon the better reflections of all who have lived, nurturing what is best in human nature, and learning to let go of what is not.

We owe it to those lost Alexandrian era lives, passed entirely unknown in the wilds of Baluchistan. We owe it to every life alive now, reflective of its own experience, and of course we owe it to ourselves.

What say you, Wilson?

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I’m sorry to say I’ve been pulled over by the police for speeding. One minute I was cruising along – in a bit of a daze, it has to be said – and the next thing I was sitting in a five series Beamer cop-car while the nice officer printed out my yard long yellow ticket of shame. After 34 years of motoring, my license is now besmirched with three skull and cross-bones (endorsements). There was also a sixty pound fine. The fine is neither here nor there, but those endorsements are going to haunt me for the next five years.

Altogether then, a bit of a bad day?

Well, yes, indeed a bad month so far really, but not on account of that traffic violation. After all, there are worse losses at sea, as my mother used to say. Strange, that use of the past tense – I’m still getting used it.

The stretch of road I was travelling is one I drive every day and it’s always had a forty limit. In recent weeks though, a two hundred yard stretch of it has been lowered to thirty. It sounds lame, but I really hadn’t noticed the new signs. It’s called “change blindness”, honest. So even when the cop-car settled on my tail, I felt safe, making sure the speedometer was reading a little under forty. The cars in front of me got away with it. I got the flashing blue lights and the humiliation of a very public pull over.


It’s no excuse of course, that my head was in a different place. I should have seen those thirty MPH signs, which are as plain as day now, and if I was really so distracted by my mother’s death, then I shouldn’t have been driving in the first place, should I? But at least I know it’s a thirty limit now. And I promise to be more careful, officer, in the future.

My sons thought it was ironic. They say I’m the slowest driver in the world and something of an embarrassment. Maybe my credibility has gone up a little now? Number two son was the most comforting, telling me I’d done well to reach my fifties without acquiring some kind of motoring violation. I suppose he’s right. My good lady also told me it was better to be philosophical about it than beating myself over the head. No use resisting it Michael. Remember that one? There are bigger things to deal with here – so get over it!

Resist it? No, I didn’t resist it. At least I tried not to. I tried to let it wash on through because I was conscious of being in a fragile state and I could do without the extra damage. So what did I feel, sitting there in that cop-car, while the man went through his “booking the motorist” script? Well, I felt very little, because only a small part of me was actually there.

Some of me was still sitting with the Reverend Deacon, attached to the local Catholic church, just an hour earlier, who, after a long and emotionally moving chat about my mother, had raised his hand, and the Good Book, and offered me his blessing. I’m not a Catholic, not much of anything with a label these days, and my mother, raised a Catholic, was severely lapsed to the tune of fifty years or so – though the Reverend Deacon politely and charmingly disputed there was such a thing as a lapsed Catholic.

Anyway, I didn’t really feel qualified to be receiving that blessing, but I was grateful for it all the same, thinking I could probably use the help. But to be pulled over by the cops an hour later? Well,… surely the Lord moves in mysterious ways?

Another part of me was standing in the chapel of rest at the funeral home, the day before. I’d not really been able to associate the deceased person before me with my mother, but she had at least looked peaceful, and though I’d known the effect was entirely cosmetic, it had helped to soften the memory of the last time I’d seen her, the day when in some distress, she’d passed away.

And of course, another part of me, perhaps the most significant part, was still there that day, at her bedside, bearing witness to her passing, while praying to a god I’d no idea I could be so familiar with. For good measure I’d also prayed, Chinese style, to the ancestors, calling them back from across as many generations as I could remember, to lend a hand, because in a situation like that you need all the spiritual support you can get, whether you believe in that sort of thing or not.

I have the feeling they didn’t let us down. I have the feeling that  in our darkest hour I crossed a threshold into the most extraordinary metaphysical realm and felt myself carried aloft, embraced by the loving arms of an ancestry I’d never dared trust, until that moment, to be real .

So,… there was the cop, a big chap, blank faced, broken nosed, in a nicely pressed shirt, but curiously grubby trousers, and he was telling me I’d have to take my licence in to the cop-shop within the next seven days. And there I was, making a mental calculation, wondering if I could fit that in with everything else that was going on – like the small matter of my mother’s funeral, and appointments with solicitors, and a million other pressing post mortem details. And I wondered briefly about saying to him: look, cut me some slack will you?

He might have made some sympathetic noises, I suppose, but I’m not sure how much power of discretion these guys have once the details of your misdemeanour have been punched into the big-brother machine, and anyway it seemed – I don’t know – undignified, I suppose. So I said nothing and took the ticket. And my mother would not have wanted me to be a cry-baby about it anyway.

I do not like the way policemen say “sir”. It’s better than being called something impolite, I suppose, but there’s always something false about it. This policeman’s sir came at me cold, impersonal and slightly weary. It reminded me of the cold, impersonal and slightly weary hospital doctor who, two weeks before, had discharged my mother at dead of night, in obvious pain, and unable to stand unaided – sent her home to die because there was nothing more he could do for her, and he needed that bed for someone he had more of a chance of helping than an eighty three year old geriatric with advanced terminal cancer, who might have lingered in his ward for weeks.

How many more of you are out there, tonight in that situation, you poor souls? My thoughts are with you.

So, I’d driven her home in shocked horror at the withdrawal of my nation’s compassion, a compassion apparently metered by the scalpel of economic expediency, and an ongoing political disaster piloted by opportunist powerbrokers, oblivious to the small lives who make up the conscious and moral majority of the people they claim to serve.

It was a short sharp lesson in contemporary reality, that although our professional public servants still do their very best, they’ve also got this unspeakable army of amoral bean-counters on their backs. So it’s unwise to rely on them to be there at your hour of greatest need – at least not in any truly meaningful sense. For that you’re going to need the presence of those who love you, also if you can arrange it, the loving presence of your god and, with still more luck, a blessed over-pressed and underpaid community nurse with a vial of Diamorphine, ready to send you off into your dreams.

Your ego caves in, absolutely, at times like these. It realises resistance is futile, that for all it’s huffing and puffing, it’s pathetic self importance is no more than a teardrop in the ocean. And when the ego finally shuts the fuck up, you discover what’s left is, perhaps incredibly,  a stillness, and a loving peace like no other.

So even though I was sitting in a cop car, accused of an indictable offence, as the officer ominously put it, and being handed a speeding ticket, feeling it punctuating insensitively, as it did, one of the most emotionally sensitive periods of my life, I found it hard to take him seriously. Instead I felt an incongruous, yet also a very real loving presence. It held together the various bits of me that were still strung out and floundering in the wake of dark events those past weeks, the likes of which I can never speak of in full, and it was telling me to be calm, to be mindful, but above all to stop struggling. Because a rabbit caught in a snare basically strangles itself to death because its instinct is to struggle, and it lacks the insight to pursue any other course. If we can stop struggling, however, we stand a chance of untangling ourselves from the myriad snares of the world. We survive, and we discover a better way to be.

I’m not sure if smiling at a policeman is a good idea, for they are unpredictable creatures, but I found myself smiling at him anyway. I heard myself telling him it was no problem, that I should have been paying more attention. I think I even made some lame joke about it being a fair-cop. He did not smile back. He thanked me for my time in a tone of voice that implied no gratitude at all, and he dismissed me curtly with yet one more policeman’s  cutting “sir”. Then he swung that fat five-series-Beamer round and headed back to his hunter’s lair with his radar gun, ready to blow a hole in someone else’s day.

I like to think I dismissed his sickly presence from my life as quickly as he dismissed me. He was just a man doing his job, and it would have been churlish to wish him any bad Karma on account of it, but I trust he had slim pickings from the day he pulled me over.

We said our final goodbyes to my mother on April 12th. The Reverend Deacon did a splendid job, memorable and intensely moving, and I took comfort in commending her into the care of a faith she had once sworn an allegiance to. If I made a mistake in any of that, I hope you can forgive me Mum, but what we did was done with love, respect, and an appreciation for the life you lived, for us. Your children.

On the way home from the crematorium I sat in a black Rolls Royce, cruising along rural lanes I’d known since childhood, and the funeral director became chatty, talking about many things – the lovely spring sunshine, the bluebells, and the first dandelions making their appearance in the wayside green. Death and renewal – a curious juxtaposition, but a comforting one. He also talked about the speed limit, and how I’d do well to pay attention to a certain stretch of road that’s recently become notorious as one of the worst speed traps in Lancashire.

“Ah, yes,” I said. “I think I know the one you mean.”

Thanks for listening.

God bless you, Mum.

Graeme out.

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Thinking along the lines of nature?

In an interview for the BBC, broadcast in 1959, Carl Jung, the Swiss depth psychologist was asked this, by his interviewer John Freeman: “I remember that you’ve said death is just as psychologically important as birth and like it is an integral part of life, but surely it can’t be like birth if it’s an end, can it?”

Jung’s reply was astonishing to me, and confirmed in my mind  at least the validity of my own emerging world view, or at least granted me the necessary permission to go on developing my personal philosophy along the lines it seemed to be wanting to go.

Jung  replied: Yes, if it is an end, and there we are not quite certain,… about this end, because, you know there are these peculiar faculties of the psyche; that it isn’t entirely confined to space and time; you can have dreams, or visions of the future; you can see around corners, and such things. Only ignorants deny these facts, you know? It is quite evident that they do exist and have existed always. Now, these facts show that the psyche in part at least is not dependent upon these,.. confinements. And then what?

When the psyche is not under that obligation to live in time and space alone, and obviously, it doesn’t, then in to that extent the psyche is not submitted to those laws, and that means a practical continuation of life, of a sort of psychical existence, beyond time and space.

Jung is telling us that there’s more to the mind than the narrow view materialist science suggests. He tells us that the mind is more than the brain, that the psyche is more than an illusion brought on by an accumulation of memory and environmental programming. The evidence for this, not only from modern times, but from all the ages past, is compelling – that the mind is capable of  existing in, if not exactly a place, then some form of psychical medium external to time and space, which is at any rate outside of our heads and independent of our biological being.

John Freeman, presses Jung on this point, seeking perhaps to winkle out the actual beliefs of Jung himself: “Do you,  yourself  believe that death is probably the end, or do you believe,..”

Jung cut in: “Well,… I can’t say – you see, the word ‘belief’ is a difficult thing for me. I don’t ‘believe’; I must have a reason for a certain hypothesis. Either I know a thing,… and when I know it, I don’t need to believe it. If,… I,… I don’t allow myself, for instance, to believe a thing just for sake of believing it. I can’t believe it! But when there are sufficient reasons for a certain hypothesis, I shall accept these reasons, naturally. And shall say: ‘We have to reckon with the possibility of so and so. You know?’

Jung has no use for the term “belief”,then,  because it implies the holding of certain things to be true, when one does not have good reason for it. Jung views were more than beliefs,  they were backed up by his own observations which gave him sufficient reason for forming what he saw as a perfectly reasonable hypothesis regarding at least some form of the psychical continuation of life, after death.

Freeman continues:

“Well,… now you told us that we should regard death as being a goal, and to stray away from it is to evade life, and life’s purpose. What advice would you give to people in their later life to enable them to do this when most of them must, in fact, believe that death is the end of everything?”

Jung:  “Well,… you see, I have treated many old people, and its quite interesting to watch what their conscious is doing with the fact that it is apparently threatened with the complete end. It disregards it.  Life behaves as if it were going on,… and so I think it is better for old people to live on,… to look forward to the next day, as if he had to spend centuries,… and then he lives happily. But when he is afraid,…. and he doesn’t looks forward, he looks back, he petrifies,  he gets stiff, and he dies before his time.  But when he’s living on, looking forward to the great adventure that is ahead, then he lives. And that is about what your conscious is intending to do. Of course it is quite obvious that we’re all going to die and this is the sad finale of everything, but never-the-less, there is something in us that doesn’t believe it, apparently, but this is merely a fact, a psychological fact. Doesn’t mean to me that it proves something. It is simply so. For instance, I may not know why we need salt, but we prefer to eat salt too because we feel better. And so when you think in a certain way, you may feel considerably better. And I think if you think along the lines of nature, then you think properly.”

What Jung means by this last bit isn’t quite as clear, and it strikes me as settling back a bit, and straddling the fence compared with his earlier, more visionary statements. Psychologically at least, he’s telling us we are better to disregard the fact of death as an end, that his observations suggest we are programmed this way, and the worst thing we should do is go against our instincts, against our nature and assume that death is an end, and fear one’s annihilation, because then you bring on the infirmities of old age, become prisoner to them, and die before your time. Those who disregard it, live normally, and fully. But then Jung tells us this does not prove anything in itself, only that by thinking along these lines, you feel better.

It is more natural to think of ourselves as immortal. Maybe it’s an evolutionary quirk that people who delude themselves this way are able to live longer, and that’s all there is to it. Or,…

This interview reminds me why Jung is such a significant influence over my thoughts and my work.

You can see this interview over on Youtube here:

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