The Entered Dragon (2) : dancing with shadows

This time the dream is different. I know the dragon is there, but can’t see it. But I can see the heavy spear on the ground in front of me…

I bend to pick it up. Something moves behind me, something heated and red, but no matter how fast I turn or twist, I can’t get a glimpse of it.

Until I touch the tip of the spear… then, I feel the presence behind me still itself.

In triumph, I will my body to turn… but it won’t. My hand is held rigid to the very tip of the spear and my body flexes out in immobility behind it.

“Mmmm?” says the dragon, behind me, revealing itself by sound, alone. But now there is a feeling of consideration, of weighing up the options, though they are few. The immediate threat is gone, but so is the ability to change anything.

My fingers explore the tip of the spear, the only movement left…


He was about a foot taller than me. Rugged and athletic, but dim. He hated that I wasn’t…

It would have taken three of us to subdue him, but that wasn’t an option; not at age twelve. He was captain of the school football team and he and his mates made our lives miserable. In the large playground of the secondary school he loved to slam into you from the side while you weren’t looking, causing muscle damage and a big bruise and resulting in having to limp to the bus stop to get home that evening.

And he loved to spit in your face… I remember that, vividly. Somehow that was worse than the pain.

He was a thug, and, I suspect – unless he got into the armed forces – remained that way. After I got transferred to a grammar school in the next town I never saw him again. On my final day in the old school, the form teacher organised a football match for all the tough guys and let the rest of us go early. I suspect they had been tipped off about plans to beat me up on that last journey home.

Unsurprisingly, I was conscious of what civilisation was from an early age. It was a place where the majority stopped the thugs, where there was respect for the individual being different, as long as they contributed to the society. It was a place of caring and consideration. In short, it was a place where something invisible called ‘values’ mattered. They didn’t earn you money, though money could buy you a place to live where the risk of living near to a large thug was minimised.

When I got a bit older, my uncle, who had emigrated to California, spoke about the American’s right to bear arms. He said it helped the good guys defend themselves and the neighbourhood. I asked what happened when the bad guys had guns, too.? Was the answer that the rich folks had better guns?

If we’re lucky enough, rich or poor, to be brought up in a loving home, then we have a series of expectations placed on us at an early age. “Nice children don’t to that, Stephen!”. The love of our elders binds us to adhering to this code. Eventually the code of expectation locks itself into our lives and becomes how we live… mostly.

The problem is all those wild things we came into the world inclined to do are still there… down in the supposed vault where we keep this ‘other side of us’ locked away. A metaphor of light and dark is used both in spirituality and in early psychology – the time before WW1 when Carl Jung introduced his ideas on the ‘self’ to the world. Dark forces were certainly at work, then…

Carl Jung’s ‘Analytical Psychology’, to give it its full name, was the first modern science of motivation and behaviour to recognise the significance and breadth of this dark force in our lives – and in our societies. The name he gave it was the Shadow Self... usually known as just the Shadow.

Our reasonable assumption might be that, given we had locked the bad bits of us into our internal vault, never to be seen again, we might expect they would function as prisoners. And this they do – ragged, desperate and deadly. But, instead of being hidden ‘down there’ they have found a way to be ever present in our lives, hidden in plain sight, so to speak.

To their immense joy, there is no prison at all, just the light and dark. The light is the light of understanding created by consciousness. The dark is the withdrawal of that consciousness in a deliberate act; like the horrible childhood practice of ‘sending someone to Coventry’ – cutting them off from conversation and acting as though they weren’t there. It’s not just children of course. Its a standard management technique when a senior bully wants to get rid of or undermine a subordinate…

‘Subordinate’ – there’s a name from the dark side if every there was one…

But back to our prisoners who aren’t really in prison, just ignored. By repeatedly learning to take away consciousness and interaction from them, they become ‘dark’. We learn to make them disappear.. except they are still there. Moreover, they are the key to a vast reservoir of our energy, and our ‘aliveness’ and so our world becomes paler and thinner, until, usually in middle age, we begin to question the validity of how we have lived our well-behaved lives.

But what of the dark ones?

If these dark creature were weak, it wouldn’t be a problem. But they’re all a foot taller than we are and like spitting in our faces… And they’re not at all passive.

The prisoners know that if they were to appear as we knew them when they were sentenced, they would be locked and bolted down even harder. So, they use a technique where they project themselves onto our world instead of onto our faces. They are so powerful that they can take over another person in our lives and wear them like a mask…

This is not as far-fetched as it sounds. We create our world in the first place. Those flavours of courage and fear, like and dislike, anger and pleasure, all go to colour a world perceived as ours. The fact that something untended in our depths has the capacity to change key parts of that ‘willed’ world is entirely logical.

This is all very scary… And so it should be, though we are working towards a deeply positive ending to this.

The above process of conscious and subconscious works within each individual, but more powerfully within our carefully controlled and regulated societies. To counter this requires the fine tip of a heavy spear… And a different way of viewing the self-created dark ones.

In the next post, we will examine the nature of these matured dark creatures and the essential relationship they have with our emotional, mental and spiritual health…

Other parts in this series:

Part One, this is Part Two

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

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

Crow on a Summer Breeze

I am crow, on summer’s breeze

Glimpsed in love with beating wings

Within the bright sun’s leaving.

My feathers’ strong and hollow shafts

Are filled with air you breathe

And softly lit in our reflected passion.

Remember this when dark and sodden bird

Looks out, short day’d from tree of Ash

Asking nothing of your walk of logs to fire.

Raise then your shuttered gaze

And for a moment hold my own

Before you pass into your tree-flamed cave

No-one sees behind the crow’s black looks

For writers do not live in winter trees

Freed here, in heights of soft blue union.

Write it narrow now, before we both forget

As autumn winds engage our throats.

And winter’s ice, our memories.

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit school of mystical living.

Email us at

Stripey sail, logical fail

We were walking Tess, our collie, along the estuary shore at Arnside. We had seen the stripey sails of the boats from the local sailing club and wanted a closer look. There was something odd about a passing seagull. I smiled, sure of my evidence for once…

“Tide’s going out,” I said.

My wife, Bernie, responded immediately. “Nope…”

She was born in Heysham, across the bay from the estuary here. Living by the sea throughout her childhood and into her teens gave her an uncanny ability to ‘just know’ the state of the tide.

But I had a secret weapon – logic! The seagull that had caught my attention had floated by on the water backwards; headed towards the open sea, but facing inland.

Case closed, I reasoned.

But fellow blokes will know that to be so certain of anything in the presence of one’s wife is an insecure business… I glanced at the seagull, stealthily, not wishing to give away my source of certitude. It was still facing inland but being carried out to sea. No doubt about it – I was right!

“Look at the edges of the water,” she said. “There, the water is flowing the other way, the outflowing river in the middle channel is fooling you..”

Just then the klaxon went off… There are dangerous tides in these parts. The klaxon warns anyone using the estuary that Morecambe Bay’s vast and swift tides had turned and were racing inland – in this case, sweeping up the edges of the estuary at Arnside. During high tides, there is even a ‘bore’ – a small, single wave that continues up the local rivers for some distance.

Crushed, I turned to look at Bernie, who was looking at me and smiling. Beyond her, the mystery seagull had acquired a chip. We’d just had chips…

©Stephen Tanham 2020

The Entered Dragon (1)

Like waking within a dream – or, at least, the point where the lucidity begins…

I turn my head in the small theatre, expecting others to be smiling, if not laughing. But no-one is, because no one else is here…

Just me and it…where ‘it’ is not the theatre.

The curtains part and what I knew to be behind them takes centre stage. Leathery pads, soft on the well-trod wood, make a sliding sound as it turns to face me. The eyes are glittering, but not as much as its breath, gathered to strike in elongated curls of superheated air.

The redness is appalling. So filled with force, so intimate…such a deadly embrace.

At its feet is a long, metal object – a spear, shaped in a very modern way, with a thick shaft at the back, full of mass and purpose, tapering to a tip so fine you can actually see the point at which its material ends and the menacing presence of ‘nothing’ begins.

The crimson creature shuffles forward, its walk a deliberate caricature of panto.

The glittering breath hisses, “Your move, surface child…”

To the hoots of its laughter, I force myself to a waking dominated by an even, thin film of sweat on all of my skin.


Increasingly, I read that we ‘live in an age of evil’. The state of the world’s politics is close to turmoil. Dictators dominate nuclear states and elections are warped from near and far by digital manipulation. The elusive ‘man in the street who can’t be fooled all the time’ is, sadly, absent. The drums and revenues of war are more important than the deaths of the millions of children crushed in its wake.

Perhaps they have a point; those who proclaim evil is with us as never before – evil armed with the power to finally destroy the world?

It’s a striking feature of the technological age that we don’t talk about nor believe in evil as a real thing – a real force, in itself. And yet, for most of the world’s history, that’s exactly how it was viewed. Today, we may adopt the maxim that evil is simply ‘the absence of good’. Hitherto, I might have agreed with this, but the ‘New Age’ dismissive approach to evil has, in my opinion, been shattered by the acceleration of dark deeds as we race towards the victories of ignorance on a grand scale.

But deep considerations of such things have a home, and the word for that home is ‘psychology’. As a lifelong mystic, I may feel that psychology fights shy of embracing spirituality. It seems frightened of losing its respected ‘ology’ and remains detached and clinical, treating our deepest contacts with a creative source as just another interior experience. And if you use the language and precepts of psychology, itself, you would find this hard to rebuff.

It is only when we dare to take up and trust the poetry of being that the walls begin to shake…

There is, though, a branch of psychology that dares to deal with evil; that declares that our turning away from an active ‘dark force’ within us costs us dearly – as individuals and societies. The science of such encounters was created by Carl Gustav Jung – Jungian Psychology. Most people have heard of it. Many know of the wrok of

Jung was a contemporary of Freud, the most famous of the 20th century founders of modern psychology. Freud gave us the Ego and Superego as the first structures of the ‘psyche’ – the internalised sense of self, the ‘me‘. Beneath them, he placed the dangerous powerhouse of ‘inner self’ and named it the ‘Id’ – literally the ‘IT’. From Jung’s perspective, Freud was obsessed with showing that the sexual force was the driver for the Id. Carl Jung accepted the existence of the Id, but set out to show that its power and expression was far more sophisticated than just sex. Even then, Jung had glimpsed the place where historic evil entered the life of mankind, if the whole of the psyche – ‘the whole of me’ was not understood and given life… The imposed societal pressures of the Superego were at odds and often at war with the needs of the complete human.

Our everyday experience as a ‘me’ is dominated by an ‘in-here’ and an ‘out-there’. During the day, we are bombarded by sense impressions, and, in secondary fashion, by the responses to those. Such responses can be physical (such as pain or pleasure), or psychological; affecting the wellbeing of our sense of self. Thus a ‘bad’ experience, like being degraded by our boss, can make us feel internally diminished or smaller, regardless of whether or not it has actually ‘hurt’ the senses.

Until the last century, no-one thought it possible to create a map of why this happened, It just did. Strong people figured out their own rules, and thrived. More sensitive people didn’t fare so well.

But the pre-psychology age inherited millennia of reflection about good and evil. Those who embodied good were considered to ‘shine’ – attracting and encouraging others to an inner yardstick of wellbeing shared. Those from whom evil flowed would pursue their selfish aims, regardless of the cost to others, who were crushed beneath the wheels of the advancing personal ambition.

As ‘society’ became more mechanised, expanding and changing the individual’s emotional and physical landscape, the principles and methods of industrial organisation were encouraged to overtake any notion of societal good – unless it happened to be a happy by-product. There were always exceptions; the local civic authorities of the nineteenth century did much to improve the lot of the ‘common man’. Such works were often the result of ‘societies of good’ like the Quakers and the Cooperative Society in Britain. There were many more.

There is a common thread here. Today, we would say that those who pursued their own ambitions, mindless of the costs to others, had huge ‘egos’. At the time there was no such thing as an ‘ego’. Our sense of the ‘selfish-selfless‘ balance at work was simply an expression of the evil or the good. Poor people of any age of mankind have been habitually pummelled so that they were incapable of questioning why the ruthless rich had so much more than they did…

Nothing changes until that difference in wealth becomes a living force of widespread dissent, itself, and people actually begin to ‘taste’ it. At that point the consciousness of unfairness spreads to include those who also used to be comfortable but whose own hard-working prosperity has now faded. As a man on a plane – an American – said to me not long ago, “Don’t let them tell you that the USA is prosperous. The guys in the middle who used to have a good living are desperate…”

The answers to such deep issues are often revolutionary… If we could actually see that the psychological forces at work are reflected in the whole of society, we might be able to recognise why egoic monsters can take our beloved countries swiftly into decline and why the country’s core can be polluted in a way that takes decades to redress… If they are fortunate.

In Part Two, we will look at how the work of Carl Jung and many in the mystical traditions pointed to this process of devolution, and how it throws light on the ‘awe-full’ power of the hidden parts of the ‘me’, singly and collectively.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

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

Brave acts, Books and Buns…

Mum had begun to look restless. She’d spotted something…

We’d skipped breakfast, and were hungry, but had been assured that our destination was more than capable of feeding us. Overhead, an old steam engine thundered – way too fast – towards a bend in the track. I would have studied its doomed motion had my mother, who, at ninety, has dementia, not just wandered off in the wrong direction towards a tall shelf full of used paperback books…

She loves books even more that I do. At the last count she had thirteen of them open on her double bed…

(Above: as befits a former station, there are regular trains…)

I was struggling to see her among the many people in the narrow spaces between the tall shelves. My stripey anti-Covid mask wasn’t helping, either, as most of those in Alnwick’s former railway station weren’t wearing one, and kept looking at me as though my frantic movements were a prelude to armed robbery…

It sounds like a dream sequence in one of those arty movies where you have no idea what’s going on–and still have no idea at the end… But it wasn’t. It was a Friday morning in Alnwick – one of Northumberland’s most historic places. We had just entered a place that’s nearly as famous as the castle: the celebrated Barter Books.

(Above: Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy)

Alnwick’s most famous son lived just across the road from the site of the future Alnwick Station.

Henry (Hotspur) Percy was born 20 May 1364 at Alnwick Castle. He was the eldest son of Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland, and Margaret Neville. His grandmother Mary Plantagenet was the Granddaughter of the ruthless King Edward the III.

Harry was taught to fight as soon as he could hold a sword. Brilliant in battle, he was knighted at the age of 13 by the King, Richard II, and, in 1385 accompanied the King on an expedition to Scotland where he distinguished himself in battle and ingenuity when he set fire to a besieged castle, causing a breach in its walls – through which he leapt, sword in hand, to claim the victory. The Scots, in recognition of his continued bravery, bestowed on him the name of ‘Hotspur’.

Shakespeare immortalised him in Henry IV, Part II. “… and by his light did all the chivalry of England move to do brave acts.”

All of which has nothing to do with our story and my lost mother, apart from the fact that Alnwick seems to produce acts of innovative bravery…

Through a gap in the bookshelves, I finally saw a flash of her blue jacket, and managed to retrieve her, guiding her to the nearest tearoom and sitting the two of us down. Our food order was taken promptly, and we began to relax.

(Above: The story of Barter Books, published in the Rural Business section of Country Living magazine, pinned to the notice board in Barter Books)

Barter Books is housed in what was Alnwick’s grand Victorian station. Twenty years ago, the derelict building was transformed from ruin to success story.

(Above: once the main platform…)

Its main inhabitant now stocks more than 350.000 books, ranging from historic collectors items to modern paperbacks. All are good-quality and second hand. Barter Books buys books, too, as long as they are clean, likely to be popular or rare.

You enter into the former parcel room, greeted – in winter – by a blazing fire and a worn but comfortable studded leather armchair. In summer, the old stone keeps things cool.

The owners, Mary and Stuart Manley set out to create an oasis of books for ‘booky’ people: the sort that will stay, wander, eat a cream tea or a bowl of winter soup and, at the end, buy a book and leave feeling that their world now makes a little more sense…

The station hasn’t offered real trains since the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, but, thanks to Stuart’s love of model railways, the shelves in the forward part of the building – beneath the spectacular glass and iron entrance roof, are topped with their own ‘garden gauge’ railway, along which locos and their troublesome trucks thunder.

It’s a great love story. Stuart’s wife Mary had little interest in the engineering of precision parts for model railways – which had been Stuart’s source of income in one of the small units on this converted site in the 1990s. Mary had been an art history teacher in Tennessee, but life took her to New York, where she worked in a second-hand bookstore… and met Stuart.

They were both broke, but Mary had the idea of combining their unusual skills…

In 1991, she set up a small stall in a corner of Stuart’s engineering shop in the former Alnwick station. Now, 30 years later, their success story fills 9,000 square feet of the restored site.

(Above: a considerable success story…)

The original entrance to the station is focussed on books for children. The old first-class ladies’ and gentlemen’ waiting rooms – which are now called the ‘Blue’ and ‘Red’ rooms -provide seating for the Station Buffet. Good food – and shelter from Northumberland’s changeable climate – is a central theme; as is a cheery welcome and excellent service.

Many of the original fittings were taken when the station became disused; some of them stolen. The couple salvaged a replacement fireplace for the Red Room from a nearby station at Iderton.

The main hall, which was once the outbound platform, is packed with shelves full of books on subjects ranging from woodwork to philosophy.

(Above: Books, books and more books..)

Barter Books will sell you that ‘I had this as a child and never thought I’d see it again!’ book for cash; but they also operate a true barter system. You may bring back your used books, as long as they are in good condition, and receive a partial credit towards another purchase.

Stuart and Mary also attend upwards of twenty antiquarian book auctions each year, so their stock includes not only rare books, but a wide selection of 1st editions.

Will they continue to be successful? Stuart painfully remembers the time his own children got bored with his model railways and turned, instead, to their video games. He points to their 350,000 customers, and an astonishing 3,000 books sold per week.

“But nothing is certain…”

I hope something is certain. My mother and I want to return again and again to Barter Books, regardless of how many times I have to go looking for her….


Barter Books one-page flyer:

Note: I have no commercial connection with Barter Books, other than liking them, very much!

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

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

An Unseen Presence…

From Stuart

The Silent Eye

File:Jacob and the Angel, by Gustave Moreau, detail, 1874-1878 ...


There are other sections in the Book of Genesis

which may be pertinent to our survey of St Michael…


… ‘Left alone at night, Jacob was attacked by an unseen presence

which wrestled with him until day-break, whereupon his adversary cried,

“Desist, for the dawn is here!”

“Are you then a bandit, that you fear the dawn?” asked Jacob.

“At this time, we angels must sing dawn’s praises!”

“I will not desist until you bless me,” said Jacob.

“What is your name?” asked the angel and when Jacob answered, he continued,

“From this time on you shall be called Israel, for you have struggled

against me without succumbing and fire should guard fire.”‘


Candidates for Jacob’s adversary include Michael, Gabriel and Samael,

although Gabriel’s water associations might count against him.


Traditionally, Michael is associated with fire, but it is not

altogether clear why, unless he was…

View original post 194 more words

Tango in the key of sorry

As the years pass, I continue to wonder at the marvel of human communication, and the sadness of how little we use its potential…

The world appears to be full of conflict and strife. But much of it is happening at the psychological level. The Trump era in America and the Brexit ‘civil war’ in the UK were both fuelled by similar (if not the same) media barons, but they continue to feed on two common elements of human nature – hatred and anxiety; in most cases related to things that were not present.

The power of fear plus the well-placed myth of taking back control are a potent brew… and a complete lie.

This lowest state, in which our desire for real interaction with those of other opinions drops to zero, is easily kindled in people who have limited awareness of the complexity and interaction of modern societies. The populist dictator always sows ‘his’ seeds among the weak-thinking, the people who believe in black and white solutions. But that state of mind is driven only by despair at their own situation.

A wise and enduring society ensures that, though there may be layers of prosperity, no-one is in that lowest position of helplessness.

For good or ill, our societies have evolved into enormous machines of interrelated complexity. All attempts to disengage with internationalism are doomed to the same sad death – costing the inhabitants of the country decades of repair in wealth and reputation. In many cases our societies may never enjoy the prestige they had, before.

But to blame the car which has just driven into a line of innocent people, where the bodies lie, broken across the pavements, is equally wrong. Complex machines require sophisticated pilots. There is no equivocation about a pilot’s science: the plane lands, successfully, or it crashes. There are no ‘alternative facts’ about whether it landed; just like there are no alternative facts about how a virus rips through an innocent and unguided population.

Populism dies in the face of such disasters… and for those who still persist with alternative facts there is, simply, no hope. They are to be shunned by the ‘healthy cells’ of the society to which they represent such a threat. The society – the ‘body’ – remembers health, and yearns to return to it. Only the routes back are seen differently.

In this deadly tango, which now embraces us all, are the seeds of despair and hope. The despair will take us all down – like the car without a driver, or a driver who chooses the fundamentalism of alternative facts over the power of the real and chooses to die in an orgy of ego.

Hope requires that, as individuals, we all take responsibility for listening to others’ point of view – no matter how antithetical they seem to our own minds. All counselling is based, first, upon listening.

There may be a ‘special place in Hell’ for those who engineered the chaos in which we find ourselves. But the greater power lies in the word ‘sorry’ – said from the heart opened with empathy.

It is the beginning of that special state that repairs a world.

©Stephen Tanham, 2020.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a ‘school of the soul’ that offers a three-year, mentored path to personal, spiritual growth, independent of religion.

Contact us at for more details.

Locked-down and Armed: one man’s struggle with entropy (8) – End

We start early the following day… There is that sense of being able to finish the whole project if we focus – and if we are prepared to be a bit brutal. There’s a certain recklessness about this attitude, but it’s born of an image of something to come that has great potency…

The first thing is to pick off the easy tasks, especially those that will make a big difference…

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned there were two USOs – Unidentified Structural Objects. The first we used as the basis for the ‘Detail Workbench’, photo below.

(Above: the first USO – the mysterious and free-standing brick wall – was successfully incorporated into the small ‘Detail Workbench’)

The second is a much bigger affair, stretching from the cobbled floor of Salty Pete to the base of the loft, ten feet or so above – square 19 in our Lucky Bag diagram, above.

(Above: the second USO is a much bigger object)

The previous evening, I had spotted that the rectangular holes in the bricks exactly matched the cross-section of two lengths of old timber lying at the back of the wood store. The restored mitre saw makes short work of the lengths. A hand saw and the drills cut and fix the shelves in place. In less than thirty minutes we have an extremely solid wall unit that takes the main woodworking power tools: circular saw, electric plane, jigsaw and power sander… not forgetting the fearsome chainsaw lurking at the bottom!

(Above: a fortunate fit of timber produces a set of strong shelves for the other power tools – square 19)

Our success propels us forward. Moving across into the ‘red zone’:squares 13, 5 and 16, there is a partial solution waiting to be made whole…

(Above: my father’s bench vice. A very special memory – and wonderfully useful…)

In square 13 sits a rudimentary bench, knocked together one morning by the local contractor who restored the Saltpetre’s roof. It was the place he used to do detailed work. He’d spotted my father’s old bench vise, said it was a gem, and asked if he could incorporate it for the job. As far as I knew, it was broken, but I was happy for him to try to get it going, again.

The problem was that the ‘clutch’ that frees the main moving arm was broken, meaning the vise couldn’t be tightened. After an hour of trying, he had it working. I didn’t ask how. At the time I was just happy to have it back in good order.

After he had finished the roof, I asked the tradesman to leave the makeshift vise-bench in place. Now, checking if was still securely bolted into the wood, I foolishly flick the ‘clutch lever’. The vise ‘clunks’, ominiously, and refuses to tighten. The big lever just spins, uselessly!.

So much for our momentum… But the victory with the restored mitre saw has given me (probably unjustified) confidence. I dig out a socket set and ratchet loose the three large bolts securing the vise to the bench. It’s very heavy and, using two hands, I turn it over – gingerly. I can see the problem, straight away, a missing ‘stop’. But it would take a metal-worker to fix it… But then I realise that our roofer had been this way before me… and got it working. Using a large screwdriver to hold up what the clutch lever should be supporting, I manage to get the main screw to re-engage the vise’s sliding arm.

As long as I don’t touch the clutch lever, I’m confident it will continue to work.

No-one’s ever bettered these old bench vices, and I’m delighted to have Dad’s back working… “Just don’t touch that blasted lever.” I mutter to myself a dozen times as I tighten the now-working vise the slow way. The double victory – vise and mitre saw – brings a strong sense of Dad’s presence into this once-forlorn building… He came into here shortly before he died, in 2011. He patted me on the shoulder and muttered, “Lot of work…”.

Now, he’s willing us to that finish line… I can feel it.

With vise enabled, I turn and stare at the two remaining big problems. There are three objects in the otherwise-cleared centre of Salty Pete. One is an old and very ugly wooden table that has lived most of the past decade pushed up against the back wall. The other two are bright green: the Viking mower and the Viking scarifier. They are only used twice a year, but they are essential to the health of the lawn. The ‘scarifier day’ is a big and exhausting event with such a large area of lawn…

I really want them out of the way, but they are too heavy to store in the loft. I did consider buying and fitting a hobby hoist, but it’s overkill – a good boy’s toy, but over the top… and would cost money.

Instead, I want to think laterally and put them ‘up’; but not as ‘up’ as I plan for the bicycles… That will make sense, shortly.

Next to the roofer’s bench and vise are several bits of what was my ‘organic’ office desk – made for me by a friend who retired from IT and became a cabinet maker – a real woodworker! I cherished the desk, which comprised a long curve for my Macintosh computer, a bespoke set of drawers of variable height, and a small circular table – at which I would hold serious one-on-one meetings…

I loved the bespoke desk and re-used many of its parts in the new house, but the curved unit didn’t really fit and was too small for a main table in the study. So, here it is, in this far and dusty corner corner of Salty Pete, abandoned and out of place. I look at it and decide that some brutality would at least bring it back to usefulness. Measuring carefully and wincing, I slice it with the circular saw and jam the result into its new home. There will be no going back… It’s not at all pretty, but it will do the job and gives me somewhere ‘up’ to store the green machines.

Much sweating and cursing later, the two green machines are finally off the floor and housed somewhere better… The corner unit has enough space for vise, green machines, mitre saw and the second portable workbox.

(Above: finally a home for the two green monsters that are vital, but took up too much floor space…)

Bernie appears from her gardening and asks if want a sandwich at the patio table or in here. She smiles when I opt for the latter – she knows me well and recognises my obsessive gene at work.

She brings a lot of kitchen roll, a bowl of hot, soapy water, the sandwich and a flask of coffee. She’s smiling, but says little… Hopefully, we’ll be celebrating with a G&T at the end of the day…

Fifteen minutes later, I’m back at work; the coffee is put to one side for real-time sips of inspiration.

The reason I’m so confident we can finish, today, is that half of the right hand side of Salty Pete is already done… At the start of the project, I moved a set of old wooden shelves from one of the dark corners to be centre-stage down the right-hand wall: Squares 16, 12, 17. There is a collection of objects waiting to go on them… which is the work of a matter of minutes.

(Above: the old wine rack, plus the cut-up carcasses of old plastic milk bottles, makes an effective (and free) storage system for frequently accessed small tools)

One of the ‘fittings’ of the new shelves is an old wine rack, gifted to us by a friend when we spotted they were throwing it away. I’d already worked out that it could form a useful ‘pigeon-hole’ system for smaller tools: screwdrivers, pliers, that sort of thing. I just needed to work out how the tools were going to be ‘shuttled’ into place… and not fall through the gaps.

The answer came as I was washing out a plastic milk bottle. Examining it for size and shape, I ran out to Salty Pete. The fit was perfect. As you can see, we are building up our collection. It’s cheap and nasty, but free – and it works…

It’s a good feeling to have so much new and organised storage. But my excitement is not for this, it’s for what I can finally do with the middle of Salty Pete – something that I’ve been waiting to do for the past decade…

I’ve always wanted a woodworking bench. At school, I was good at woodwork, but was moved on by the teachers to concentrate on sciences. Now, finally, I had a chance to return to some of those basic skills and have fun developing them without time or career pressures.

I had two things with which to finish the whole project: the ugly but sturdy table that was now the only thing in the middle of Salty Pete’s floor, and the left-over planking from the new garden fence. The process was going to be crude and incomplete, but it would give me a dedicated, large bench to get things started. I could refine it, later. For now I wanted to reclaim the middle of this long-abused and ancient space.

(Above: the spare planking left over from the the new fence was about to become something very special..)

First I have to cut the sturdy planks to fit the width of the table’s top. The planks are long and unwieldy. They are also very heavy. I’m caught in a kind of Catch-22. I need to workbench to accurately cut the lengths, but the planks are too big to use the indoor table. Instead, I have to cut them outside, resting them on a trio of folding steps. The circular saw cuts well, but the planks are sliding around and the accuracy is poor. It’s better than nothing. There will be time for refinement, later, and, as a flexible concept, the planks are hard to beat.

I bring the trimmed planks into Salty Pete and assemble them for fit. Months ago, we bought an inexpensive table saw from the local Aldi. I’ve never used it because it needs to rest securely within some kind of ‘cradle’. I don’t want to take any risks with that naked spinning blade…

I drill and screw the first plank onto the edge of the old table top, then sit the table saw behind it, fitting another plank behind that. The gap created is larger than two planks, but not by much. I can leave two planks loose to fill the gap for now. For most jobs, it won’t matter. I continue until I’ve covered the table with the sturdy planking. I’ve been saving the sawn-off top of an old bookshelf (the rest sits under my desk in the study) for the final part, which, as the photo above shows, forms a kind of sliding ‘jig’ on which I can keep the tools in current use.

(Above: upside-down bikes. It keeps them off the floor and they can be easily moved out of the way)

The project is nearly complete. The final action is to fix four sets of hooks to the rafters of the loft. These take the bikes, hung, upside down from their wheels. They can be detached in seconds and rolled out of the shed. You can’t win them all… At least they aren’t taking up floor space.

It’s finished. That’s the story of how the Saltpetre – Salty Pete to the project team – became a proper man cave. I can’t say I enjoyed every minute, but I enjoyed most of it. I’ve never seen Roddy the rat since that first sighting. Maybe he’s still around sniggering at me.

(Above: Most of the interior of Salty Pete in its finished form)

I’ve had some lovely comments and enjoyed your company along the way. Thanks for being part of the journey… And the final cost? Why, nothing but time and energy! Not a single penny was spent doing it; and that brings a smile.

Now, where’s that G&T?

The End…

Other parts of the Locked Down and Armed series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, this is Part Eight, the final instalment.

©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