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The abbot gathered the order in the meditation hall, brothers Angus and Benjamin among them, and bade them sit. Then he spoke of hard times ahead. This was nothing new, thought Angus. There had been nothing but hard times for decades, that indeed the hard times were the main reason he had turned to the monastery, for peace of mind, in the first place. But even now, after many years, he was finding peace of mind still hard to come by.

Then the abbot spoke of the recently deposed king. He reminded the monks of how the king’s misconduct, over many years, had been the cause of his eventual removal by exasperated ministers, and how the king, following his disgrace, had been cast into exile. In his place, there had been appointed a princess, a choice many had thought ill-advised, on account of her having kept company with forces believed to be allied with the barons.

Now, the barons had long ago accomplished the impoverishment and defenestration of the serfs, Angus among them, and had begun to turn their attention towards the merchants. But the barons had acted in ignorance of the full power of the merchants, who had caused a revolt, which had threatened to bankrupt the entire kingdom. In renewed desperation, and with great effort, the ministers had persuaded the princess to surrender the crown, so the merchants might be placated.

Although cloistered, Angus was only too well aware of the turbulence beyond the monastery walls. Indeed, he was ever hungry for rumours, which he picked up from the lay-brothers, who had greater contact with the outside world. What puzzled Angus now, though, was what any of this had to do with them, since the monasteries had no power, and no influence over events.

The abbot went on: so great had the chaos been in the halls of the palace, the ministers had looked about in vain for someone else among the royal line who might now take up the crown. But then some ministers had begun to look back fondly upon the days of misrule by the king, for even though his behaviour had been disgraceful, and dragged the name of the kingdom into disrepute, reducing it even to a laughing-stock among its neighbours, he had been careful never to upset the merchants. And sensing now the ambivalence of the ministers, the king, had begun petitioning for the restoration of his crown, which he saw as his by right.

Thus, the kingdom was suddenly agog with rumour that the old rogue might actually return. Now, this was news to Angus, and he sat forward, listening ever more intently. Could it be true? What would the abbot have to say about it? Opinion in the land was polarised between those aghast, and those who were delighted, for it was said the king possessed a powerful charm, gifted to him by the Goddess of Misrule, and to which only the most settled, and clear of mind were immune.

Of course, some ministers looked less forgivingly upon those days of misrule, and were inclined to dismiss the king’s ambitions as beyond the pale. But already the criers, and jesters, who had themselves called for the removal of the king only months before, and had sung in praise of the princess’s accession, were even now preparing the way for the king’s return with sweet songs, sung in the town squares, throughout the kingdom. And even among the defenestrated serfs, there were murmurs of assent.

Being themselves of the most settled and clear of mind, the monks listened to all of this news, impassively, for theirs was not the world of the town squares, or the serfs, or the merchants, or the barons, or the ministers. As for the criers, and the jesters, their duplicitous songs were transparent to anyone who was not tone-deaf. As for what the monks’ response should be to all of this, the abbot smiled mysteriously, and suggested they would do well to meditate upon it.

But this failed to quell the anxiety in Angus’ breast, and he turned briefly to Benjamin, a more experienced monk, for reassurance, only to see him tip back his head and let out a silent laugh, before nodding in approval at the abbot’s wisdom. With that, the monks were dismissed, and it was later, in the courtyard, Benjamin said to Angus: “Well, brother, you’ve got to hand it to the Abbot. He’s one crafty old devil, and a genius of a teacher.”

“But I didn’t get it,” said Angus. “What would the abbot have us do about the return of the king? Take to Twitter, or something?”

Benjamin shook his head, picked up a stone, and handed it to Angus, then instructed him to go down to the pond by the farm, at sunset, to toss the stone into the water, that by doing so he would have his answer.

So Angus did as Benjamin suggested. He went down to the pond at sunset. It was a beautiful evening, the pond was a perfect mirror for the sky, and a balm for the soul. Angus tossed the stone in and watched as the ripples broke the surface. Then the ripples were reflected, intersecting each other, until the entire pond was made up of separate shards of light all pointing in different directions, and the clarity of the reflection of the sky was lost.

He slept better that night than he had for a long time, and promised himself in future he would distance himself from the lay-bothers, whose endless gossiping kept him awake at night, wrestling with matters he had no power to influence, yet which prevented him from attaining the clarity of his own mind, and thereby the authentic nature of his being.

(Photo by Sanjay Indiresh on Pexels.com)

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bug

It strikes me that, what with one thing after the other, we have been immersed for years now in such a fragile atmosphere it’s hard to know if we’re coming or going. First we had the shocks of Trump and BREXIT – BREXIT dragging on since 2016 – and, though it might not occupy the news cycle very much now, we know the worst of it is yet to come. And then of a sudden we have the Covid-19 virus, and the news-media bent daily on stoking our worst fears.

So, a brainless virus in a market-place in China mutates to such startling perfection it is half way round the world before we can even blink. And we, with all our superior faculties cannot even keep our poor from dying of cold and hunger – well, we can, we just don’t. Why not? Because we are liars and worse, we are suckers for one damned liar after the other. Perhaps that’s why Covid-19 leaves us trembling at its brutal honesty. It is the one genuine article in a world now otherwise enamoured of fakery.

Ahead of the virus making any significant landfall in the west, we find surgical masks are already selling out, and the prices going up. Hospitals are running out of them as the public takes ad-hoc precautions they might have seen on TV, yet which experts tell us are ineffective outside of a clinical setting. My local chemist has even run out of gel-based hand-wash, and is unable to restock. Share indices are plummeting. Airlines are cancelling not just flights, but entire routes.

We are driven by rumour, victim to the daily dose of media hysteria, which is less about genuine public information and more about playing to outrage and fear. We are victim also to our social media where any fool can appoint themselves a pundit, spreading falsehood, both inadvertently and cynically. Cybercriminals have spied an opportunity too and are spamming us with Coronavirus-baited mails, promising the secret of immunity. It is not just the virus then we must contend with, but also the infinite capacity of our species for self harm. We can’t help it. And worse, we’re so vulnerable now, so easily spooked, after so long braced against a calamity that never quite comes.

It is at such times as these good leadership can calm nerves and save lives. But our leaders these days seem of a breed ambitious only for power, and it strikes me how feeble they actually are as true leaders of people. It may be they have relied so much on the deployment misinformation to drive their campaigns to power, their tried and trusted strategies are useless in the face of the non-malleable fact of a highly contageous virus sweeping the world.

If it’s at all possible to stem the spread of Covid-19 before it becomes endemic, it will be our much scorned public servants who will do it, not our political leaders. Indeed it will be the public health services our leaders are so set on scaling back. It will be, dare I say it, the voiceless experts, so often derided and smeared as fools by the powerful. For now we wait on developments, but in a world already befuddled by the ultimate post-modern phenomenon of fake-news we are left wondering whose, if any, are the truly reliable voices, astonished that the only incontrovertible fact remaining to us in these horribly duplicitous times is that of the virus itself.

Worried? Don’t go to YouTube or Twitter for your info. Get the facts. Try here instead.

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wormy gremlinsGrey, warmish, threatening rain all day but without following through. Managed to keep the top down. The driving from Leyburn is excellent on good roads, fast and curving. As usual the Mazda seems to take about 30 minutes to warm properly, then she purrs and revs sweetly, and with a sharper responsiveness. I enjoy a relaxed run to Richmond. It’s my first visit, and I rely on the ‘Droid to navigate me. This turns out not to be necessary. I park by the Cricket ground and make my way to the Market Square – seemingly ubiquitous to all rural Yorkshire towns. The whole of England was once like this. We have lost so much.

It’s £2.00 to park, £2.00 for coffee in a pretty little tearoom that used to be the bus company office and waiting room. The coffee itself is worth the trip. To the pretty lady at the till, I say the thank you I was not able to at the time, on account of the press of other customers. The day is gloomy-overcast, so I enjoy the castle walk, a pleasing overview of Richmond to be enjoyed for free. There is something about the town that reminds me of Knaresborough, another Yorkshire town I adore. I pass an hour here, then recover the Mazda, drop the top in determined fashion, and retrace my route back to Leyburn, then further south to Middleham. Parking is free at Middleham’s little market square, coffee also free courtesy of thermos and guest house kettle. There are some spots of rain on the run south from here to Masham but I keep the top down and teeth gritted as the car feels so much better when she’s driven al fresco. We avoid a soaking and arrive at Masham for 2:00 pm.

Sadly Masham is grey as the sky, and the hotel room is not ready. There are twelve rooms to be serviced by an overworked and overheated teenage lad, slaving on minimum wage. It seems my anosmia remission allows only the sweetness of sweaty bodies today.  And coffee. Still, I applaud the lad’s fevered and good natured industry.

The room is ready for about 3:00 pm. Room is not great. Grey, dour. It is also strangely corporate and lacking welcome. Courtesy coffee and tea are clearly rationed. Austerity “heavy”. I am by now a little tired, and feeling off-song. The room looks out over dour cobbled backs and buckled rooftops. I can still smell teen sweat.The windows are prevented from opening by more than a crack to admit air, lest I should instead wish to end my life by leaping from them. This smacks of corporate risk assessment. Not cheery. Almost laughable.

By 4:00 pm I am already looking forward to checking out. It is 60 miles to Scarborough tomorrow. For the promised free Wifi one must enquire at the desk. I cannot be bothered.

A 20 minute snooze improves things a little, but I am woken by man in the corridor asserting his displeasure to staff at lack coat hangers, soap, bath mat, and functioning bulbs in his room. I’m clearly more fortunate in that my bulbs work. I realise with a start I also lack bath mat and soapy things, but then remember I have brought my own. I decide to make do with a spit-wash. Hmm. Serious penny pinching here. As for coat hangers I shall manage without unpacking my case.

The Guardian runs with a picture of Kayne West (rapper) and Bob Dylan (legend) on the front page. Scientists have analysed their lyrics and a computer algorithm pronounces the somewhat obvious fact that rap makes greater use of vocabulary. In other parlance it is more wordy. But this equates to nothing; it is a statement of the obvious, and the article puzzles me. I cannot decide if newspapers deliberately make scientists out to be stupid by paraphrasing them, or if such things really are considered worthy of PhD study. Personally I prefer Dylan, but then I am of that generation, and not fond of rap.

The newspapers are also in a lather at the possible election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, some suggesting it is an appalling idea, others more sanguine. The thing that excites them is Corbyn is very left of centre and we have not heard a proper Socialist voice in a long time, or at least not one grossly caricatured in the largely right wing press as raving mad, which of course Corbyn will be if he begins to look like a serious contender. Yet anyone familiar with the Dao knows current times make his appearance more or less a certainty, and some might even say long overdue. Personally I would welcome it, though I am not the Shang-ri-la socialist I once was. Militant socialism is as stupid as swivel eyed conservatism, Corbyn seems more moderate. Left wingers also divide the Labour party, though it was founded on altruistic and inclusive Socialist principles, and a Corbyn ascendency would raise the possibility of a bifurcation into left and right flavoured Labour parties. I wonder what they will be called? It will certainly enliven political debate in the coming years. This is a fascinating turn of events and I am buoyed by it.

Anyway, dinner in the restaurant: Brewer’s Chicken, not bad, though a little “industrial”. The restaurant presents a better face than the hotel’s rooms, though I note the poor couple at the next table are unable to pick anything from the menu that the kitchen has remaining. The waiter keeps returning to them with apologies. They are good natured, though exasperated, and settle finally for what the kitchen has, rather than what they actually want.

I’m letting the story settle for today. I shall pick it up again in Scarborough. I feel a change of working title coming on – Mending Time, perhaps? There will be something about watch repair. The main protagonist, Finn, repairs worthless old watches as a hobby – reflecting my own recent interest in this field.

It’s late now. It’s difficult to focus on anything. The room is hot and there’s an irritating music beat vibrating up from the restaurant below. I hope it doesn’t go on all night!

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