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Posts Tagged ‘mystery’

In the Red Box

There’s a supernatural quality about her. I mean, it’s like she’s not really there, or she’s conjured up by my unconscious, complete with every compelling virtue unique to my own psyche. As regards what I do about that, I can only sit and stare, like she stares, unblinking, back at me. What I feel is awe, but her? I doubt she feels anything. She’s just reading me. Judging.

Hers is not the kind of beauty a man can ever aspire to, and I know not to spoil the moment, not even by talking to her. There is a poignant perfection to it, you see? Like in the patterns of a snowflake. To catch it up in the palm of one’s hand would be to see it melt away forever. You must never do that, for you pass this way but once. They say each pilgrim on this road is granted a fragment of wise counsel, to offer those who follow. If that is you, my friend, this, then, is my advice: do not fall in love with the girl, but take that love you feel rising in you, and keep it safe. It’s a gift. Don’t waste it on where it cannot be requited.

“You understand,” she says. “Not all who come here are prepared for what they find.”

Yes, I can well imagine that.

“You seek the wisdom of angels, but what if it’s demons that lured you to this room?”

I’ve wondered the same over the years. And yes, sometimes the angels that led me here have indeed been demons, shadows of my own self, and of the most deceptive sort. Other times, I’m convinced the angels only acted that way, because they know it’s demons we mortals find easier to listen to. We have no way of knowing for sure, except to trust in our better instincts. Either that, or we should not fear the consequences of our mistakes.

She turns to the green door. “All who enter there are changed. You come seeking clarity, and you may well find it, but others are driven mad by what they see.”

Yes, I’ve heard this from other pilgrims. Some leave with the starry light of revelation in their eyes, others run screaming into the dark. But I’m here, now, and it’s been a long journey; it’s a risk I accept.

She gives the briefest of nods. Is it that she finds me worthy? Or is it more she has only done her duty by the warning?

“You can go through,” she says.

The door opens a crack, and there’s a soft, soothing light on the other side, drawing me in. And there, at last, I find him.

He’s older than I’m expecting, in his eighties, or even nineties perhaps, but there’s a glow about him that defies time. He wears the tweeds of a country doctor from long ago, and he sits easy in a high-backed chair. The lines on his face speak of the wisdom of centuries. Hands clasped loosely, he peers over his knuckles at me, strokes his lip with the tip of his thumb, and he smiles.

“Welcome,” he says. “You’ve been a long time travelling, no doubt.”

“Yes. It’s been a long time.”

“They tell me I’m a difficult man to find. Is that still true?”

“Oh yes, you’re still a very difficult man to find. Almost impossible, I’d say.”

He bids me sit, and tell him my troubles, to spare him nothing. There is a low table between us, and on the table is a small, octagonal box of reddish hue.

So it’s true what they say!

He’s watching my reactions, reading my face. “Ah, I see you’ve heard of the red box.”

“Yes.”

“Alluring, isn’t it. Such a pretty, thing. And very old. There were many like it, once, now discarded out of ignorance at their true value. And the craftsmen who made them are long gone, their skills quite mysterious to us, and lost forever. But never mind that for now. Tell me what brings you.”

So I tell him my story, but not in the most eloquent of ways. It’s certainly not in the way I had prepared it over the years, anticipating this moment. Indeed, it spills out now, choppy, and it splashes here, there and everywhere. The thoughts come at me in spasms, like the chattering of those demons that have plagued me since the earliest of days.

I tell him that maybe guys like me have no right to feel so anxious, so lost in the world. Others start out with no money, no work, no girl, and that’s where they stay. Maybe they’re living on skid row. Or they’re with parents they should have moved away from years ago, but couldn’t afford to. So they’re stuck, their lives going nowhere, and the clock ticking. A guy like that has a right to be depressed, to be angry. He has a right to hunger, and to wonder what the hell the world is for if he is denied any useful part in it. Him, that guy, he has a right to be sitting here, asking what I’m asking. So I’m asking for both of us, him and me.

As for me, I managed to make a go of it, before it all unravelled. I was even married for a while, had a little house on an estate of similar little houses, that I could barely afford. I went to work every day, sat in front of a computer screen, and did stuff with spreadsheets. And I got shouted at by sociopathic bosses, for no more reason than that’s just the way it is.

It doesn’t sound great when you add it all up, but it’s the modern way. I mean, what else is there for what amounts to the 99% of us? But even the rich don’t seem happy. They can’t be, if the only fun they get is to go about shaping the world in ever more fiendish ways that make life a meaningless hell for the rest of us. Still, what right have I to feel the way I do?

“And what is it that you feel?” he asks.

Angry, I tell him. No, not angry. It’s more I feel a desperate hunger, like I’m starving. Yet this thing I’m so desperate for, I’m not even sure it exists, actually. But, there has to be more than this, surely? There has to be something.

I’ve had these intimations, you see, even in the early days, when the black dogs first came stalking, that there was nothing really wrong with me. It was more that something was missing from the world. Or maybe that thing was still there, but we’d all lost sight of it, something vital, long ago. Those of us falling sick of it, were the only ones waking up to this widening gap between what we reasonably aspired to as human beings, and what the world of material men – such as men were these days – had to offer.

By the time I hit forty, we’d had the crash, and the world had turned a permanent shade of grey. My wife and house were gone, and I was living in a two bed rent trap. Doctors were no help. Indeed, they seemed as much a part of the problem as everything else. A prescription for happy-pills, and a referral for counselling, was the best they could do.

But the health services had long since been rationed beyond all practical utility, and I never did get that referral because I guess I wasn’t considered ill enough. But if I wasn’t ill, then what was this sense of emptiness that would sooner have me sleep than be alive? What was this sense of dreadful meaninglessness? Why could I not simply fit in with the world as it was, like I was expected to?

The old man listens to all of this, and I mean the quiet sort of listening that draws the words out of you. So you keep going, the words spilling, and spiralling, and him soaking them up.

Some say he’s dangerous. They say the authorities would shut him down if they ever caught up with him, and that’s why he’s so hard to find. Others say he’s mad, or an outrageous charlatan who preys on the gullible, and the needy, and the lost.

When you think you’ve caught up with him, he’s already moved on, to another town, another country, and always one rumour ahead of you. But I kept going, because I knew in my heart he’s the last hope we’ve got of making sense of things. Meanwhile, the world, as we have made it, would sooner be without him. It would sooner we didn’t know of his existence at all, this man who is said to be capable of restoring one’s vision, one’s sense of meaning, and wonder,….

Anyway, here I am, after years of chasing rumours, through the back-street bars and the coffee shops of Europe, these wafer thin whispers of the old man, and the girl. And every contact along the way is cautious, suspicious of your motives. You have to persuade them of your sincerity, and it’s no use pretending. It’s something he does to people, you see? He makes them guarded, protective of his secret, because what he imparts to them is so extraordinary, though none of them can put it into words when you ask them.

And then there’s his last line of defence: the girl.

They say, not even the most sincere always get past the girl. There’s some flaw, some weakness in the way we regard her. But if she lets us pass, the old man listens, and then he asks us to look inside the red box.

But pass or fail, sincerity is the only thing that keeps us safe. There is no point trying to be clever, either, because you’re dealign with a power beyond your imagining. I got this from some guy I finally caught up with in a bar in Paris. I’d sought him out from rumours I’d picked up first in Milan, then followed them through Zurich and Prague. Sometimes the newspapers smell a story, he told me. Scandal. Sex. You name it. They send journalists to hunt him down. Or the politicians send private eyes, who pretend to be seeking the meaning of their lives, same as us.

But it’s not the truth they’re after. Not meaning. Nothing like it. Regardless of anything true, they only want to make a fool of him, so people won’t trust him any more. They don’t care what treasure gets destroyed in the process. They don’t care if generations are to live their lives in black and white, never to know again the riches of a world in colour.

For sure, not many of that sort get past the girl, but if they do, and they look into the red box,… man, watch out! What they see in there isn’t what others see. It drives them mad.

“What do they see?”

“Who knows?” said the guy. “It’s different for everyone. To seek what we seek, it puts you on a knife edge between heaven and hell. Fall one side, and you wake up in paradise, fall the other, and you’re burned up by your darkest imaginings.”

“And you? What did you see?”

The guy shook his head. “Like you, I’d sought them for years, the old man and the girl. I got past the girl, and I told the old man my story. But in the end, I was too scared to look inside that box. I chose to live with it, the meaninglessness.”

To live with it?

I’ve wondered about that, too, just living with it, I mean, crawling back under the duvet, instead of facing another day, and just letting the years slide by, pouring another glass of whiskey, while I scroll the rubbish on my phone. Let my brain stultify. Let the decades roll. Isn’t that what’s required of us? It must be, for I see no alternative. But to find the sanity, and the clarity in all of that, to have the colour restored, well, you’d have to do something with it. You couldn’t just sit on it, could you?

And are you ready for that?

This last thought comes back to me as I lock eyes with the old man. I wonder if he reads my mind, if this is what he’s waiting for. He nods, gestures then to the red box.

“If I told you what you’re looking for, the answer is in that box, and will change everything for you, would you believe me? Tell me, yes or no.”

Careful now. Wanting to believe is not the same as actually believing. So,…

“No.”

“You’re thinking the answer has to be more complicated, than that?”

“No. I’m wondering if there can be any answer at all, complex, or simple. Others have said there is. And that’s why I’ve followed the path I have, but more in hope than expectation. The best I can say is there may be nothing in that box at all. But from what I’ve heard, I have to reckon with the possibility there might be exactly what you say there is.”

I’m feeling a little woozy now. The old man does not seem so substantial as before. I wonder if the girl has hypnotised me. I wonder if the old man is an illusion. So all there is, is the girl, and what she symbolises: our addiction to love, and to beauty. But that’s not the answer to anything, or rather it’s only half the answer. It’s how we interpret it, that’s the key.

“Open the box,” he says.

So I take up the box, and I open it, and at the bottom is a mirror, offering me the most perfect reflection of my own self, all the way down to the very bones of me. The old man is fading fast, now. The last I see of him is his smile. The door opens, and I step out into the world. The colours are startling. The girl has gone. Only her beauty remains, and a sense of the deepest love.

It’s everywhere I look, and in everything I touch.

I can’t explain it any more than that. You’d have to look into the red box for yourself, to know what I mean.

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Jepsons stone

I understand why they took my father. To most people he was one of the nameless who went out nights, worked his shift, and came back tired. Someone was watching him though, someone who knew what he was really about, and that’s why they took him. He was also a writer, you see? He was an explorer of ideas, a lover of maps and books, but only those closest to him knew about any of that.

They took him long before he’d had time to perfect his craft, long before he became really dangerous to them. He was still coming to terms with his powers, getting into his stride, finding the words. But I suppose, given the course he was on, they felt they had no choice.

At weekends, I’d wake to the sound of his old Underwood typewriter as he hammered out pages of manuscript. The Underwood was what he used to capture words that seemed right to him. But after a while he’d end up destroying them, having decided they were no good. Meanwhile, the rest of his work, the more speculative ideas, he’d write up in his notebooks which he’d consult from time to time, searching back for fresh avenues to explore, for things he’d missed.

He had a neat hand, a draughtsman’s hand, so his notes and diagrams possessed a beauty that went beyond whatever they were actually saying. After they took him, a man came asking for his notebooks. He said he was a friend but, I’d met him before and I knew he wasn’t, not really, and I told him we hadn’t kept them. He came again forty years later, a wizened old man, still on the trail, still something deceitful about him. I told him the same thing. Even after all this time, you see, it pays to be careful.

In the afternoons my father and I would be off scrambling up some nameless gully on the moors. It was in such places, where the rocks broke the surface, the earth hinted at its secrets, and he would scratch at them, peer at their traces under a magnifying glass. He was good at finding pyrites for me – fool’s gold – not that he was fooled by it. He was never a seeker after gold, not the ordinary kind anyway, but he enjoyed splitting the rocks for me to see. And then he’d tell me we should always be careful not to chase after everything that sparkled, because it might not be what we thought it was.

Yes, it was a different kind of gold he was hunting, a secret thing, the philosopher’s gold, I suppose you’d call it, a mysterious thing hidden since the dawn of man. It wasn’t that others wanted to take it from you, more they had to stop you getting hold of it in the first place, because that kind of gold was the key to everything, you see? That’s why it was so dangerous.

Often, my father and I would be out over the hills where the old maps said the standing stones used to be. Balmy days and bleak days, we would seek their traces in the dun-coloured grasses. I could see those hills from my bedroom window, miles away. Indeed, I could see the whole moor spread out like a map, and then there we were, he and I, in the map itself, looking for the stones, solving mysteries.

My father said he believed the stones had marked the passage of the seasons, in ancient times. That they weren’t there any more is the reason we’d lost our way, he said, and that was why no one ever looked at the moon any more, or could name the stars. This was important, he thought, and it was thrilling to me he was on the trail of a thing that could restore such marvels to the world. It was this, I’m sure that roused the same forces that had taken the stones and hidden them away, this same power that had taken my father.

The night they came for him, I hid his notebooks. I would decode them one day, I thought, but I’ve had them fifty years now, and they remain as puzzling as ever. Which of his ideas are worth the smoothing out into clearer prose? Which are the fool’s-gold sparkles of frivolous intrigue? I don’t know. Mould mottles their pages, and they’ve become brittle. It adds a fragility to their beauty. But still, I guard them, though lately I’ve been thinking the secret isn’t in them at all, not like I once thought anyway, not a clear arrow to point the way. I think the secret lies elsewhere, off the edge of the page, and you have to ride the beauty of them, as if on a butterfly’s wings, to get there.

Besides his notebooks, I have his watch but I don’t wear it. We inhabit different times now. He was spirited away to a place where I fear he must walk the moors alone, and without his maps. The watch still ticks, though the date is faulty, settles between days, as if pointing to another reality, one in which my father has been trapped all these years. But I have the feeling that in continuing in the spirit of his work, I am asking the same questions he asked, and if I can reveal the answers, those who took him have no reason to go on holding him, do they? They will have to let him go.

I have written a million words by now in search of answers, and in that time I have grown old, much older than he was when they took him. But I will bring him back. One day I will pay their ransom. Then I might wake again to the sound of that old Underwood, as my father banishes the emptiness of night, and restores to me once more his world of marvels.

Thanks for listening.

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Lavender and the Rose Cover

Another in the occasional series, looking at the themes expressed in my various works of fiction. 

Moving on, getting on, forgetting the past, embracing change, living in the present moment – and all that. It’s good stuff, stuff I tried to get at in the Road from Langholm Avenue. And to be sure, all these things are attainable, the material world navigated safely as needs be without falling over in despair at the pointlessness of existence. At least for a time.

But as we get older, something else happens, some call it an existential crisis, others simply the menopause. But as I see it, youth, inexperience, and just plain ignorance has us accepting without question the allure of an essentially material life, rendering us blind to the fallacy that it is entirely sufficient for our needs – the pursuit of money, lifestyle, the bigger house, the bigger car, the exotic travel destinations. It isn’t.

If we’re lucky we wake up and realise material things don’t satisfy us for very long, that we can live an extravagant lifestyle, a life all the adverts would have us aspire to, and still be as miserable as sin, still craving the next big thing. But you can’t go on for ever like that. Clearly something is missing. We need a bigger story if our lives are to mean anything.

Some find that bigger story ready made in the various world religions – usually a story about a supreme being and an afterlife to help make sense of the suffering we endure in this one. We can then explain our lives as a trial imposed upon us, the reward for which will be riches in the next life. Or we can explain it as a preparation for a higher level of existence, again in some non-material hereafter. And all that’s fine for the faithful, because religions do provide comfort in times of need, but what if you’re not faithful? What if all of that sounds ridiculous to you? What if the logical inconsistencies of such a set-up cause you to take out that barge pole and prod all religions and their scary religiosity safely out of sight. Life simply is what it is, and then you die. Right?

Well, maybe.

But what if you sit down one day in an existential funk, and something happens? Let’s say the doors to perception are flung wide open – just for a moment – and you’re given an utterly convincing glimpse of a universe that’s somehow greatly expanded compared with the narrow way you normally perceive it? How so? Hard to describe except lets say, for example, time drops out of the equation and you’re given the impression of an infinite continuum in which there is no difference between you and whatever you perceive, that your mind is independent of both the physical body and the physical world, that indeed your mind is a subset of a greater mind that is both you and not you at the same time.

How would you deal with that?

Well, you’d probably think you were ill, or just coming out of a semi swoon or a waking dream where we all know the most outrageous nonsense can be made to feel true. So we come back to our senses and carry on as normal. Except we find our perspective on life is subtly altered. We are drawn to ideas that might explain our experience. We explore it first through psychology, because it was a kind of mind-thing we experienced. So down the rabbit hole we go,…

And there sitting at the mad hatter’s table we discover Carl Jung, sipping tea and reading a book called the Yijing, which he lends to us, saying that if we are not pleased by it, we don’t need to use it, and we’d worry about that except he also tells us famous quantum physicists have used it too, though they don’t like to admit it. Then this Oriental connection takes us to ancient China and another book called the Tao Te Ching, then to religions that aren’t like other religions, to Daoism and Buddhism which are kind of hard to get your head around. But while everything you learn explains some small part of what you experienced, nothing explains the whole of it.

So you put some rules to it yourself, create a quasi-logical structure for this strange new universe you alone have apparently discovered. Before you know it, you’ve invented your own religion and it all falls apart again, victim to the inconsistencies you’ve imposed upon it yourself. It seems the moment you put words to things you limit their potential to within the bounds of your own perception, and what you perceive actually isn’t that much when compared with what’s really out there, or to be more precise in there, because it’s an inner experience that leads us to this taste of the infinite where there’s no such thing as or in or out anyway.

The Lavender and the Rose comes out of this shift in perception, but without structure it would make no sense to anyone else – just two hundred thousand words of mindless drivel that would bore anyone to tears, so we accept the vagueness and the mystery, and we weave a story around it instead, a love story, several love stories, blur the boundaries, throw in some visions, some Jungian psychology, basically a lot of muse-stuff and conquering of the ego, that sort of thing. Add in a bit of Victorian costume drama, play about with characters having more than one identity, play the story out at different points in history, play it out in alternative universes where even the present moments can pan out differently, and then try to make it all hang together as an interesting story – about what can happen when you start living magically, and with others who are similarly inclined. Then explore ways the mystery can be coaxed to your aid, and discover how, if you get it wrong it will shun you for a decade. Learn how to navigate its endless ambiguities, how to see the world as no one else sees it, and still get by without getting yourself sectioned.

Such is the irresistible allure of something other.

And as with all my stuff, if you are not pleased by it, at least it hasn’t cost you anything!

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philosophers

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

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

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

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

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

Like what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unless,…

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

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

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

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

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

I’d forgotten arithmetic could be so much fun!

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rbThe Graeme household is in disarray, our kitchen in the process of being refurbished, which means we’ve had no kitchen for two weeks now. I’m becoming irritable and unsettled, living off cold things and anything microwavable, every meal being a triumph of ingenuity over chaos as we camp out in the conservatory. Filling the kettle involves a trip outside to the garden tap. And so it was this morning, amid a fine shower of rain, I padded across the cold, wet patio in bare feet and pyjamas in order to kickstart my day. It was then, turning back, kettle in hand, I saw a deep blue late-September sky, slate-blue clouds scudding by, and a vivid rainbow.

The scene had a soft, watery sparkle about it and a sharp contrast to the colours, like an overblown photograph, more real than real. Stunning! It reminded me that for days now we’ve laboured under these stagnant grey skies and a deep overcast, one that’s longed to pour rain but has been held up somehow, frozen. The moon entered the dark last night, symbolic precursor for change. But it’s wise to do nothing, to make no use of the energies that emerge, not until that first sliver of moon returns, when hopefully one can see which way the land is lying – whether it be uphill or down. For now though we must shield our flame – well, perhaps not you, but certainly me. This is magical thinking of course, somewhat nouveau-pagan; I’m okay with that, it helps impose some sort of pattern on the chaos, and restore meaning when nonsense has become my daily bread.

It’s much cooler now, and has rained steadily all day, as it rained last night, perhaps setting the tone for this particular moon, which we must now ride to the cusp of winter. And still the memory of that rainbow! I was alone in seeing it, at least from my particular perspective, and it lasted such a short time too. But then transience can reinforce a memory, render it paradoxically more permanent in the mind, when it is so fleeting in reality. It was beautiful, yes, but as with much in creation that arrests the Romantic eye, there was something poignant in it too.

Traffic was heavy and sluggish this morning: roadworks in several places along the commute, stretching the journey out from forty minutes to an hour. Same on the return this evening. Wearying. Brain and bone sappingly tedious, my journeys to and from work seem these days. Grumpy crawled along without complaining, dull beast of burden he’s become, and proxy for my darker emotions. I promised him a wash at the weekend to cheer him up but he didn’t believe me, and I don’t blame him; the only time I lavish attention on him is when the MOT is due.

Meanwhile an army of tradesmen suck their teeth and pour scorn upon the idiosyncrasies of chez Graeme. Duff wiring, duff plumbing, duff plastering, and the whole lot set to come crashing down around our ears, if you believe them, yet I presume it was a previous generation of teeth sucking tradesmen who put it all together in the first place – well, except for that plastering. I own up to that one, but take all their insults personally whilst paying through the nose for the pleasure. I smile through gritted teeth at their complaints, while wishing they would simply finish up and fuck off (apologies). At this rate we might have a kitchen sink by weekend, and running water, but there are as yet, alas, no promises. I cut the days short with early nights – I’ve been gone by eight thirty every night this week bar this one, head on the pillow, ears rendered deaf by industrial defenders to the peregrinations of my largely nocturnal offspring.

I’ve been getting ten hours a night, instead of the usual, and marginally insufficient, seven. And the dreams go deeper the longer one is permitted to sleep. They are more colourful and strange. Last night, I sought healing for my ills and paid comfort from a lady of easy virtue. (Blushes). She was beautiful, like the rainbow this morning, and watery soft to touch, but wept silently when she came to me.

The memory has proved an unsettling undercurrent to my day.

Thanks for listening.

Graeme out.

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lines of lightAnd so the world turns,
But that it is still mad,
Bodes ill,
Speaks not of progress,
But the eternal turmoil,
Of the heart.

No slow assimilation
Of wisdom,
But the same mistakes.
Each generation born again,
To darkness and desire.

Hardness at every turn,
And hardening still,
We petrify,
Shatter at the lightest touch,
Brittleness turning back to dust,
Stained black with blood,
Spilled always in the name
Of greatest good.

Love sullied,
Reduced to fear and shame,
Mistook for lust.
Stones plucked from a barren shore,
Revealing each
Only the hollow underneath,
And which the foamy tide,
Turns back to level plane,
Denying knowledge of the shapes we seek,
Even by what they are not.

Only the formless longing
Of the heart,
Grants grace.
Spun upon the wind,
Its face unknown, unnamed,
We hear it in the song of birds,
And mirrored sweet in loneliness,
A shadow slipping by at dusk.

And so the world turns

_______

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original BeavisThe River Yarrow is one of Lancashire’s tributary rivers. It rises at the high moorland pass of Hoorden Stoops in the Western Pennines and meanders down to the Douglas near its confluence with the Ribble, and from there to the Irish Sea. About half way along its course, just south of the little market town of Chorley, the Yarrow flows through a densely wooded vale that makes up part of the former Duxbury estate.

Both British and American historians have long been fascinated with this place, its “big house”, Duxbury Hall, being home to the Standish family, and possibly the birthplace of Myles Standish, one of America’s most celebrated founding fathers. Myles’ English ancestry has been much debated, but the problem is that while it seems very likely he was indeed born somewhere in this area, the documentary evidence that would clinch it has been mysteriously lost. Some say this was the result of nineteenth century skullduggery, when various usurpers were presenting themselves as rightful heirs to the estate. Others say the records, basically seventeenth century Parish Registers, have simply perished as a result of nothing more sinister than natural decay.

I’m telling you this in order to put Duxbury on the map for you, but the pedigree of Myles Standish is not the only mystery here, and certainly not the one I want to talk about. The one I want to talk about concerns a dog.

I grew up in and around these woods, and a grand place for boyhood adventure they are too. But if you brave the mud of Duxbury park today, you’ll find little to suggest this was once the private domain of one of England’s oldest aristocratic families. Time has certainly taken its toll; the big house, Duxbury Hall, was pulled down as an uninhabitable wreck in 1956; the landscaped grounds to the east are now a golf course, and of the wooded park’s former manicured glory, there remains only an anomalous stand of soaring pines amid the native birch, a few alien rhododendron bushes scattered among the wild balsam, and a curious old plinth, marking the grave of a dog called Beavis. The memorial reads:

“All ye who wander through these peaceful glades,
Listening to the Yarrow’s rippling waves,
Pause and bestow a tributary tear.
The bones of faithful Beavis slumber here.”

1842

This remembrance erected by Susan Mrs Standish, 1870

The story of faithful Beavis goes like this: one night, the big house caught fire and Beavis raised an unholy din, rousing the incumbents from their slumber, thus saving them from an inferno. The house was partly destroyed and had to be substantially rebuilt. In gratitude, Beavis was rewarded with this fine riverside memorial.

A touching little story indeed. But there’s something wrong with it.

Unfortunately, the original statue of the hound did not survive. Beavis lost his head, then the rest of him disappeared. By the time I came along in the ’60’s only the inscribed plaque remained, though a more recent statue of the dog has now replaced the one that was carried off by vandals. You’ll often see flowers by the memorial, a tradition that suggests throughout the trials and tribulations of history, and even the eventual demise of the Standish family itself, the memory of Beavis has been kept very much alive. It surprises me then that no one else has commented on the anomaly.

It’s the dates you see?

The memorial appears to be telling us poor Beavis barked his last in 1842. If that’s so, then Beavis couldn’t have been around on the night of the fire, which records tell us broke out the night of March 2nd 1859. He’d been dead for sixteen years. The legend is wrong, yet it persists. We must be missing something. But what?

Is it the date of the fire? Could it have been earlier? 1839, perhaps? But several sources confirm the night of the fire was March 2nd 1859. One of these sources is the journalist George Birtil (now deceased), a much respected local historian. It was George, writing in his column for the Chorley Guardian, who also reminds of the tale of Beavis’ barking, rousing the house on that dread night, but George does not query the fact that Beavis, according to the memorial at least, was already a long time dead!

Was there another fire, earlier? And why wait so long to commemorate the hound’s bravery? 27 years seems curiously neglectful if indeed, as myth suggests, the Standishes were so grateful for their skins. Did the stone-mason make a mistake and chisel 1842, when what he meant was 1862? Surely Mrs Standish would not have permitted such an error to go uncorrected!

Questions. Questions. Questions.

And the answer? Well, I really don’t know. It has me stumped.

All I know is when I’m here, this long dead dog haunts me. His is a myth still weaving its mischievous way through time. And in the shapeshifting way of all myths, it’s a curious twist that Beavis achieves more by way of immortality than any of the illustrious Standishes who once hung their hats here. Walking through Duxbury at twilight, listening to the Yarrow’s rippling waves, it’s hard not to imagine the barking of a lithe hound as it flits playfully through the shadows, always just out of view.

I know what the mystery of faithful Beavis suggests to me. It’s a little corny perhaps, but a serviceable yarn in the making, though one I hesitate to pen for fear of tainting the purer myth of this magical place with a more recent invention of my own. But is this not how myths survive, by endless embellishment down the centuries?

How would you explain the dates? Where would you take the story from here?

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