Circles around Sedgwick (1)

It’s a Viking word, Sedgwick. It dates from the time when the Lake District was part of the Danelaw, the half of England under the rule of the Norsemen, and means ‘place by the river’. The river in question is the Kent, which flows from Kentmere lake through Kendal on its way to the estuary at nearby Arnside, then out as a major channel into the expanse of Morecambe Bay.

Sedgwick, our home village, lies on the edge of the Lake District. For now, due to the Covid19 crisis, we are, like millions of others, confined to our homes – apart from essential trips out for food, medicines, or to help vulnerable people. Our incarceration is compounded by our choosing to bring my mother – who is ninety and has (moderate) vascular dementia – to live with us for the duration of the ‘lockdown’ period, rather than leaving her alone in the family home town of Bolton, Lancashire.

Three people, two dogs (we have a five-year old Collie and my mother has her aged Pomeranian with her) and an exotic looking cat… It’s a challenging mix.

So… how to (a) stay sane, and, (b) make best use of this enforced grounding?

The lower part of our garden a hollowed-out basin as its used to be a section of the long-defunct Preston-Kendal canal.

Doing the garden is one possibility. We have a large and challenging garden due to half of it being a residual hollow resembling the bed of a canal… which is just what it is. The celebrated Lancaster canal, which connects Preston and Tewitfield, used to extend all the way to Kendal, ferrying coal from the south and gunpowder (amongst other things) back to Preston, and via the docks there, out to sea and the world… Our house is directly on the line of that route and the (long gone) wharf here played an important part in the history of the village.

(Above: the old canal holds many surprises. It will form the starting point for many of the walks to follow, as will the occasional ‘bridge to nowhere’)

More on that, later… Sedgwick is only famous for two things, so it’s nice to be connected with one of them… (and, obliquely, both!)

(Above: The entire village of Sedgwick, set in its classic glacial ‘Basket of Eggs’ topography (technically – Drumlins)

The canal north of Tewitfield was drained of water in the 1950s and our garden is one of many plots that were sold off to the owners of adjacent land. We moved here in 2010 and inherited a sunken wilderness which has taken many years to bring into harmony with the rest of the plot. The far side of the garden rises to the level of the old canal path, which, although our land, is still a public right of way and footpath. When we’re gardening – which is often in the warmer months – we often get walkers stopping to chat. We spent most of our savings transforming the decaying 1960s property and are happy to suspend the garden work and take a few minutes to chat to those passing.

Cumbria is next to Scotland so the weather is similarly chilly and wet. But the verdant green countryside is the result. Currently, the unseasonal north wind is trying to exterminate us with arctic conditions, and mum can only take so much of the cold, though she hates being ‘cooped up in the house’, so gardening is only a partial solution. We used to take her out for drives, but non-essential motoring is now out of the question, so… it’s walking. Despite her age, she still walks a few miles every day at home. It makes sense to carry that on, keeping her healthy and exercising the dogs at the same time.

(Above: Mum at ninety, with Sammy the Pomeranian dog – inseparable companions)

If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know I take a lot of photographs. Many of them find their way here, when they are appropriate to the writing. In this time of reduced mobility, I thought it might be fun to describe and illustrate some of the local walks we take.

I’ve called this series ‘Circles around Sedgwick‘ because that’s just what they will be: circular walks from our home that last, typically, 3-4 hours. We take along a flask of tea and a biscuit or two. The cafes are all closed, of course, and those with outdoor tables seem to have stored them away. I can understand the logic (reduced social meetings) but the result is that we usually end up – at the farthest point of the walk – huddled against some stone wall, hiding from the wind and sipping tea.

(Above: The black arrow shows the location of the tiny village of Sedgwick. The dark shaded area to the left of Kendal is the Lake District National Park)

Where is Sedgwick? It’s a small village a twenty minute drive due south of Kendal. Kendal is the major gateway town to the Lake District, though the fast A590/591 dual carriageway re-routed the majority of the traffic past the town and on to Windermere or along the coast to Ulverston and Barrow in Furness. If you were visiting the northern lakes of Ullswater or the popular twin-laked town of Keswick, you’d stay on the northern M6 motorway and exit at the Penrith junction.

We are therefore in what is known as the ‘South Lakes’, and that is what you’ll see on the sign at Junction 36 as you leave the M6. At the moment, you’ll find the A590 looks, unusually, like this:

The mighty A590, which conveys millions of visitors each year to the Lake District – now virtually empty.

Sedgwick is a small village. It has a farm shop, no pubs (the nearest is a thirty-minute walk away), and no cafes. It does have an excellent cricket club, which will serve you a pint on a Friday night, if you’re a member. The nearest church is a twenty-minute walk over the hill to the even smaller hamlet of Crosscrake.

The old canal – what’s left of it – will form the starting point to many of these local walks. We’ll encounter some of its history, and the reason for the presence of the largest house for miles around…

(Above: small village, mysterious mansion…)

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

All of them…

“Grandad,” said Jessica. “Can we have the Hoovid story, again?”

Her hazel eyes, wise beyond their five years, twinkled at him. He put down the book of the forest, with its fold-out leaves and simulated bark, and smiled at her.

“Okay,” he said. “Of course we can…ready?” He bounced her up and down on his knee: their chosen method for settling in for a story. She squealed. Her curls shook as she shouted,“ Story…story…stor–“

“Once,” Grandad said, capturing the silence. “there was a good bacteria named Hoovid.”

“Are all bacteria good, Grandad?” The earnest young voice asked.

“Well, no… lots of them are bad, but only to us humans. The bad ones can be very good for other forms of life… but Hoovid was good… and very special.”

“Why was he special?”

“Because he had been born very small, and he could see the nasty ghost organisms that were too tiny for even the good bacteria to worry about.”

“Were they ghosts because they were tiny bacteria?” Jessica asked. Then added, “And you could hardly see them?”

“No,” said Grandad. “They were ghosts because they weren’t actually a creature at all, but a chemical that was clever, and could invade the bodies of other creatures and take them over, turning them into bad ghosts, too!”

“Did Hoovid save the world?” asked Jessica, remembering.

“He saved a lot of the world, yes.”

“How did he do it, Grandad?”

“One very special day,” he said, “Hoovid was hungry and he came upon a group of ghost chemicals that were called viruses.

“Are there any good viruses, Grandad?”

“All things have their place and purpose, Jessica, or they wouldn’t be here on the Earth.” He paused, remembering. His eyes turned misty – something he didn’t want Jessica to see – so he pretended to cough.

“Did Hoovid do something else?”Jessica asked. Filling the silence.

Grandad cleared his throat and continued. “He ate the bad viruses…”

“All of them?” asked Jessica, bouncing, again, and swinging her arms.

“All of them,” said Grandad, emphatically.

“All of them in the world?” Jessica said, her tone rising in wonder.

“No… just the ones he’d found… but then, something remarkable happened!”

Jessica’s joy could barely fit on his knee…

Grandad continued. “The good bacteria can do a wonderful thing.”

Jessica had stopped all movement; she knew how important the next bit was.

“When they have learned something, the tiny coils of who they are can adapt to hold that learning… and automatically share it with all their relatives.”

“So all the other bacteria could eat the nasty viruses, too?” she shouted in wonder and excitement.

“Yes… and they did.”

“All of them?”

“All of them!”

A few minutes later he was tucking her into bed.

“Grandad, was Grandma a microbogist?”

“A microbiologist, darling, yes she was. She was the one that discovered and encouraged Hoovid, but not in time to save herself…”

Can I be a micro…biol…gist, Grandad.”

“That would have been your Grandma’s deepest wish, Jessica,” he said, turning out the light. “Sweet dreams.”

As he walked across the landing, he heard the little voice whisper into the gentle darkness. “Night, grandma…”

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

#ShortWrytz : Anglia ‘67

(Above: The new Ford Anglia of 1967)

I came across this image the other day: a Ford Anglia, 1967. We had one, just this colour, and it was new. The first new car our family ever had.

We’d had it about two weeks when Dad packed us all in and we motored off in the sunshine to Colwyn Bay; there to spend a few days in a B&B, and enjoying the car along various roads on the North Wales coast.

He kept the clear plastic covers on the seats for about two months – till Mum made him remove them one hot day… people did, back then. Anything new was so special!

Heaven… and happy memories. Dad’s been gone these past ten years, but his love of cars lives on… Dunno who saved the poster, but thank you!

©Copyright Stephen Tanham.

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

#FurryFives : wash your human

Now then, girls, these are challenging times, so it’s important to keep your human clean! Let’s illustrate with the arm. First, give it a good sniff to check what kind of train-wreck you’re going to be dealing with…

Then take a deep breath and rasp the tongue along the length of that rascal!

Don’t be afraid to give it a little bite to get the cat juices flowing!

Take frequent breaks and hold the limb still while you focus on the remaining work..

Remember, the job’s not finished till the thumb’s done! Get the tongue out and w-a-s-h that digit!

Job done! Now for a little ‘me-time’ and a wait for the ‘well done’ stroke. Your human lives to fight another day…

©Copyright Stephen Tanham 2020

On Cobbled Streets

(Above: Streets that are still cobbled – Bolton)

The opening photo was taken in the autumn. It shows the Bolton street where my mother still lives. Born in 1930, she survived the economic depression of the inter-war years, and the bombings, doodlebugs and devastation of WW2.

I was born, at home, in a street of steeply sloping terraced houses not far from where that photo was taken. It was part of an entire hillside of Victorian terraces that filled the wedge between two of the arterial roads running out of Bolton to the west. The local name for the hill was ‘Spion Kop’ – a curious reference to a tragic battle during the Boer war (January 1900) in South Africa, where thousands of soldiers were seen ‘terraced’ up the hillside, defending the strategic point as they were slaughtered.

‘Spion Kop’ as I remember it… it’s all gone, now

The battle was important for social reasons, too. The Boer war had seen conscription into the army for the first time – and the battle of Spion Kop showed how poor their health was. This had great political impact back in Britain and led, via an Act of Parliament driven through by Lloyd George in 1911, to the establishment of the National Insurance Act. This replaced the ‘Poor Law’ provisions with a robust mechanism aimed at the national improvement of health, employment and sickness.

Mum and my beloved Grandma in the 1960s

My childhood – and those of my local friends, was filled with games played out in the many ‘bomb sites’ that were a feature of all industrial towns. We didn’t think of it as post-war devastation; it was simply where we were… Children have a gift of being in the moment, and, as long as their friends are from similar backgrounds, they are not self-conscious about the conditions of their lives.

(Above: Bolton town centre in the bustling 1960s)

Bolton was a happy place. Although industrially black and often grim, it was fighting its way back from poverty and the war’s deprivation. In tune with this, my mother was intent on filling her sons’ lives with ambition and confidence. The town was surrounded by beautiful Lancashire countryside and there was always excitement to be found on a weekend walk with a picnic ‘up there in the hills’.

(Above: Bolton’s Market Hall. A classic ‘folk-market’ where everything was inexpensive. Beloved by everyone in the town, the council knocked it down to be replaced by yet another bland set of ‘me-too’ shops, which, today are slowly going bust. Nearby Bury is booming because of its old-fashioned market)

My mother’s street is quiet, now. She’s never wanted to move, though she visits us often up here in Cumbria – an hour’s drive north up the M61 and M6 motorways. It’s an easy journey, but she’s always happy to be going home – her aged Pomeranian dog on her lap.

(Above: She’s got a great sense of humour and loved this shot, taken on our last holiday in Northumberland)

These are testing times, and Bolton is affected by the effects of the Covid-19 virus as much as any other town. In Britain (and much of the rest of western Europe) we are likely, soon, to be ‘locked down’ into our houses; allowed out only to buy food, medicines or to walk a dog… one person per dog, of course.

Supermarkets are having to introduce rationing and set times when only the elderly can shop – a result of the ‘locust effect’ of fearful panic buying that has already stripped the shelves bare.

The last time anything like this happened on the same scale was World War II. My mother, who has recently turned ninety, remembers it well. She grew up hungry, and cold, but, as she says, ‘everyone else was, too…’

Already, mother’s neighbours have approached her to ask if she needs groceries or any else of importance. Normally, we do her shopping weekly for her, but if we are ‘locked down’ in Cumbria, we won’t be able to make the journey. My brother is closer (Preston) but even he may not be able to get to her.

Despite not being related, mother’s neighbours are already constructing a safety net around her. She’s a kind woman, and popular. But, for the past decade, she has struggled with increasing vascular dementia and cannot solve anything problematic. She won’t consider going into a home, of course. Nor will she move away from her beloved Bolton… though we have offered to give her a home here, at least through the pandemic.

The cobbled street she lives in remains a beacon of kindness and caring. There is no funding for this, just the sense of sharing and community from everyone else who lives there. It’s an island of how Bolton used to be; and it makes me very proud of what’s left of my hometown and how it is behaving in the face of this horrific pandemic.

That sense of looking out for ‘everyone else’ is going to be vitally important to our survival as societies. Already, city centres are empty, restaurants and pubs closing and businesses failing. The UK Government has announced a package of what amounts to guaranteed loans to help businesses survive, but loans simply add to the long-term debt of an enterprise. They may help with short-term liquidity – cash – but they store up problems for a future which is likely to be thin on profit for a long time to come.

There is no sign of a Danish-style government intervention whereby the government will fund the wages of all current employees as long as each company operates at 70% of its current employment costs – a wage cut for all, but one that protects the jobs of millions during this dire and prolonged period.

(Above: Mum as she is today… Always smiling)

The Covid-19 virus will be calling on Mum’s part of Bolton. We pray that she won’t catch it. If she does, it’s likely that she will leave us. But, for now, she’s warm and in the bosom of her fellow Bolton folk… in a cobbled street that feels like home.

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

#ShortWrytz : Dreams of Trees

The river is just below. Close and beautiful, as always, but he’s photographed it a hundred times and the winter’s challenge is to find a new place; a place hidden in the old, hidden in the usual.

And then, as he turns to seek elsewhere, it’s there. Devoid of leaves, its tall structure is all there is, but its presence is magnificent and dark with enduring purpose against the cold March sky.

#FurryFives : tea in bed

(From an interview with R-CatZ Magazine)

Mag: So, Miss Misti, how are you enjoying your life in the Lake District?

Miss Misti: Oh, cool. I mean, so much better than that bush in Bolton!

Mag: I can see! And you get early morning tea in bed, too!

Miss Misti: Comes with the celebrity… And I got two staff as well! That’s his hand I’m snoozing on. She’s busy tapping that screenie thing, as usual.

Mag: And do you have feline company too?

Miss Misti: Naw.. don’t want competition!. Mind you, I got the two moggies next door cowering… but I got my own Collie dog as a pet!

Mag: Well, Miss Misti, we’ll leave you to luxuriate…

Miss Misti: Thanks. I’ll be due a second cup of tea, soon. Suppose I’d better release his hand!

©Stephen Tanham

Going Viral

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

There’s nothing funny about Covid-19, the Wu-Han-originated Coronavirus that has just been declared a global pandemic. But the explosive spread of the infection throws a lot of light on the state of human nature. A friend of mine said, recently, that, according to some 1960s comic books he had found in his loft, we should all be getting our personal flying cars by now; instead we are still persuading people to wash their hands after visiting the toilet…

Like any ‘aggressive’ aspect of nature, a virus can teach us a lot about life. The virus may sound like the work of the Devil, but it may also represent a key stage of the evolutionary path of life on Earth prior to the dominance of cellular organisms.

What is a virus and how is it different to a bacteria? One is an organism – the bacteria – and the other is not. On that basis, the bacteria is the more sophisticated, yet the most deadly of the two is the virus because if it succeeds in attaching itself to a living host, it will always cause a disease. A bacteria is not necessarily harmful and is formed from cells – the same structure of life that we all share… and the virus does not.

A cell has different functions. Firstly, it must persist for as long as it can, and be able to reproduce itself. a cell reproduces by dividing itself to form new cells. Each new cell contains a full copy of all its genetic material – its chromosomes, which are coils of DNA; the same DNA shared by all organic life on the planet.

The cell must be able to exchange material with its surroundings. Food is taken in, and waste is extruded – to form food for other, different kinds of cell, as in all nature.

Cells can also choose to die… Each ‘normal’ cell has a ‘death pathway’, called Apoptosis, which it initiates if it senses that its genetic material has been damaged, and it can no longer safely reproduce. The latest research into cancer cells indicate that the rogue cell is able to prevent the death pathway from being triggered – a little like a dictator locking himself into a nuclear weapons control room so that he can destroy the world. The rogue cell is then able to reproduce and create the ungoverned growth that is cancer. That so much of life remains orderly is a tribute to the usual integrity of the humble cell.

The normal cell is therefore a very stable and benign organism – even bacteria, most of which forms an essential catalyst in the vast cycles of life. The foundations of our evolutionary story are closely related to the simple cells of early ‘bacteria’; indeed, the planet that became the Earth we know was transformed around 2.3 billion years ago by single-celled cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) to create the oxygen-bearing atmosphere that now sustains life on the planet.

To achieve this, the cyanobacteria consumed methane – a far more deadly greenhouse gas – to produce the safer carbon dioxide which has become today’s ‘problem’. We worry about the levels of CO2, but, just prior to the industrial revolution (source Dr. Gary Vasey) the level of CO2 had dropped to a point where life would not have been able to continue. Industrialisation ‘fixed’ the problem.

Food for thought…

But, what about viruses?

Their structure is unlike the single-celled bacteria that transformed the Earth’s atmosphere. They comprise a protein shell that surrounds a nucleus of genetic material in the form of DNA or the simpler RNA – but none of it is alive. It is essentially a chemical missile designed to inject itself into the heart of another living cell. Once there, it uses the life of the host to make copies of itself, eventually bursting open and triggering whatever disease it carries. Viruses are found throughout our environment and all organisms can be affected by them. They are usually specific to a certain type of animal. Occasionally, such as happened with Covid-19, they cross the species boundary and become a deadly agent of disease for mankind.

But it may be that viruses hold a deeper link to our organic past, and that their presence in our world is not random, at all. They may even hold the key to some of our future.

All life on Earth is linked. All life on Earth began with the same cellular building blocks. We are all children of a single first-cell life form that crossed the boundary from molecular (chemical) to living, thereby laying down the rules and the elementary functions of life. This primary forebear has even been given a name: LUCA – Last Common Universal Ancestor.

Evolutionary biologists, who defined the founding principles on which organic life is built, established persistence as the primary determinant. The ability to endure – within a given form – is the building block of everything that follows. Above that is the ability to replicate that form. The cell does this, but the principle of replication, based on the genetic component at the cell’s heart, is the property of its DNA. In other words, the DNA, itself, is the material, the molecule, that made the transition from pre-organic to organic form; and therefore life.

The theories are constantly being challenged and updated, but biologists believe that the precursor to DNA was a similar but less sophisticated structure of spiral ‘genetic acid’ called RNA, and RNA is the predominant material at the centre of the virus, wrapped in its protein shell. In the envisaged RNA world, the primary need was to find a structure that could reliably reproduce itself.

It had always been believed that viruses had to come into existence after bacteria because they needed to be parasitic to the existing cellular world. That, is after all, how they exist today. Some scientists began to speculate that viruses might have existed before cellular life.

A major argument against this was the comparative size of the virus vs single cell. We are about 100,000 times bigger than our cells, a million times bigger than bacteria and 10 million times bigger than the average virus (source). Bigger meant more highly evolved, to a point, so the virus was assumed to have come much later.

Then, in 2013, evolutionary biologists Chantal Abergel and Jean-Michel Claverie of Aix-Marseille University found a sample of Siberian dirt that had been frozen for more than 30,000 years. It contained a new virus they named Pithovirus. (Source)

Pithovirus is the largest virus ever discovered and is even larger than some bacteria. Even stranger, Pithovirus has over 500 genes, some of which replicate the core function of cells. Most startlingly, and seeming to break all the rules, Pithovirus is able to reproduce itself, like a cell, without invading a host’s organism. Since then, more and more examples of ‘giant viruses’ have been found. There is increasing evidence that they may have preceded cellular life: that they are older than LUCA and have continued to evolve in their own right. As the two French researchers said: ‘It may be the reason we haven’t found them is that they are everywhere…’

Yet, they are not cellular. They appear to have followed a parallel evolutionary tree – in effect, a new form of life…

Covid-19 is not a giant virus. It’s a new-to-humans attacker of lungs, similar to any other flu-like germ. It’s very virulent and deadly and it may be about to change the world’s economic and politics. But the order of life to which it belongs may challenge the science of life as we know it. Who knows what miracles of medicine may result from that future study?

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Unfolding Lilac

And then one day there will unfold

Before delighted gaze

A purple ring where thickest mud

Had tempered walks on winter days

⦿

Where sliding boots had struggled

To cross the sodden land

Our eyes now look with wonder

To gaze on colour’s gentle hand

⦿

Time and tide’s persistence

Their essence of ascent

From sodden bulb to flower’s joy

A hidden rite of innocence

⦿

Directed upwards, called to seek

The calling power’s face

As cheek by mote they flex and float

To form the softest carapace

⦿

Awake and break dark winter’s chains

Cast off the inner gloom

And breathe the air with lilac stare

Then give the light its living room

⦿

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.