The tree and the bay

We walk from the car park in the centre of Grange-over-Sands to get to the ‘high corner’ that looks down to the park – the collie’s favourite grass area – and, beyond, the fabulous lone tree that shapes and defines the vastness of Morecambe bay, seen from the north, whereas most shots are from the south…

And the bay was shining. Literally shining, in a way that’s unusual in October. So I just flicked the iPhone out of my pocket and snapped a dozen shots off before the freak light died, knowing that I was way too far above the park for the photo to be crisp.

And I was right… however, some shots are amendable to post processing with a kind of ‘soft treatment’. Half an hour of experimenting and there it was. The glow protected – even enhanced – by the clever digital effects.

Nothing to do with me. I just pressed the right buttons in the right sequence. Sometimes, you get the breaks…

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

Blood, gold and silver

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

Web over Cumbria

It was late Friday afternoon – two days ago. I set off with Tess for our usual evening walk; now getting earlier each day to capture that last bit of, hopefully, sunlight.

Over the stone wall, something shimmered in the golden light. Something silver.

It took me back several hours. I hadn’t paid it much attention at the time. Two tradesmen loading their tools into the back of a transit van on Morecambe’s seafront. One had said: “Look, there’s snow on the mountains!”

I had smiled… the iPhone had earlier revealed it to be 19 degrees. Not likely there would be any snow on the Howgill Hills at which the man was pointing. But I looked, anyway.

He was certainly right to draw attention to it. The brightness reflecting off the far-away hills looked like exposed limestone; only I’d never seen such a reflection on the usually verdant Howgills, before. Strange…

I filed it away under ‘unsolved’ and we continued with our journey to collect Bernie’s sister. That had been several hours ago.

Our dog-walk takes us along the old canal path and out into a broad field that the 19th century boatmen described as offering the best view of the whole length of the Preston-Kendal waterway.

(Above: the shimmering fields)

The silver shimmering glimpsed over the fence was revealed to be an entire covering of what looked like a spider’s ‘sheet-web’.

(Above: Shimmering as far as the eye can see)
(Above: the surreal webs covering most of the meadow)

I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve researched it on the internet and the only match is a spider the size of a thumbnail called Darwin’s Bark Spider. It can shoot it’s web strands for up to 30 metres.

(Above: my web-encrusted walking boots)

Back home, I put the photos on FaceBook, and asked for advice on the origin of the webs. Most if my friends had never seen anything like them, either. Then someone suggested consulting a specialist ‘spider-Ident’ site, which I was able to join, immediately. Within tow hours, I had the answer…

The webs were ‘sheet-webs’ and created by thousands of tiny money-spiders. The season has been mild and so this is happening later than normal.

The spiders are so tiny, they are very difficult to see, which adds to the exotic mystery!

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

Midnight Mask

I’m not a fan of horror films. Many are simply exploitative, and the genre in general has normalised extreme violence.

But once in a while I come across something that, to me, is exceptional, and only in the genre of ‘horror’ out of misunderstanding; or even better, because the ‘film’ has two layers of meaning… and if you stick with it, you get to the second, deeper one.

Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, although sci-fi and not horror, was a case in point. It was really about the ultimate evolution of the human race – in the face of its imminent extinction, though that was much easier to ‘get’ if you’d read Arthur C. Clarke’s book – which came after the film, which was jointly produced by Kubrick and Clark. Many people who watched the film had no idea what was really going on…

We’ve recently finished watching the Netflix series of ‘Midnight Mass’, and, though this is classified as a horror/mystery film, it’s really something a lot deeper.

A charismatic young priest arrives on an island some miles off the coast of Maine on the eastern seaboard of the USA. The small Crockett Island is much diminished from its former days of being a fishing haven. Spillage from an oil tanker several years prior has reduced the standard of life to general poverty.

The Catholic Church on the island used to be the centre of its life, but is now sparsely populated. Drugs have found their way into the lives of the younger people; ‘pushed’ into their meagre existence by a couple of low-life types who masquerade as fishing boat mechanics.

As if that wasn’t enough, all the cats on the island are disappearing.

The film’s opening takes place in a quite different location: New York. We later find that the man siting in handcuffs on the pavement between his wrecked sports car and the police vehicle is the emigrated son of one of the fishermen on Crockett Island. Across the glass and metal strewn street, we see the dead body of the girl he’s just killed in the crash – caused by his being drunk. The image of the newly-dead girl, her face encrusted with fragments of shimmering glass, reflecting like jewels, is to haunt him for the rest of the film.

Later, we discover that he’s a successful investment banker on Wall Street… was a successful banker, because he’s sent to jail for several years for causing the death of the girl whose image now follows him.

We fast-forward to the day of his release from prison, when he arrives on Crockett Island on the mainland ferry, to return to life with his ‘only friends’ – his parents. His arrival coincides with that of the sudden appearance of a charismatic young priest, whose mission is to revitalise Crockett Island’s small church, and restore the once-vibrant spiritual life of the remote community.

The banker is now reduced to living with his family and being a poor fisherman, again. While the priest enjoys enjoys a rise to local fame – and a full church – with the aid of a series of miracles, although his health seems strangely suspect. As the congregation grows, we see the rise of the usual suspects – the zealot (a woman Deacon) who considers the rest are not holy enough; the town mayor, getting in on the act and asserting his temporal importance; the local violent drunk, whose only soft spot is for his beloved dog.

But the priest keeps ahead of this, and, each week, challenges the congregation to increase their efforts to ‘imitate Christ’. Soon, the church is full. Even the disgraced banker attends; at the behest of his father, though he will not take the communion wine.

Gradually, the entire life of the island gets drawn into this new pattern of life and worship; until, one morning after a storm, the beach is found to contain a long line of all the dead cats that had gone missing…

I’ll not spoil the story, whose plot is clever and surprising. But, throughout the film (series) you can feel what’s happening, even if you don’t understand it. The direction is subtle and sinister – while remaining deeply understated.

Sufficient to say its conclusion is shocking in the extreme, but not for the sake of it. It becomes the meeting and clash of two worlds: the vision of the priest for his flock versus the reality of what’s happening behind the scenes.

The dreadful confrontation between what’s been killing the cats and the full congregation is difficult to watch, but has a purpose way beyond violence. In that conflagration is shown all the best and worst of human nature and the crisis results in a condition where most of the island’s people are faced with possible death.

At the centre of this is the relationship between the disgraced banker and his former girlfriend, from when he lived on Crockett Island, There is a beautiful late-night scene where the two of them talk about their respective views on death and the afterlife – a motif repeated at the very end of the film, as the sun rises on the beach, where the remaining islanders are lined up to greet it…

The purpose of this blog is not, generally, to promote films, but the underlying wisdom of ‘Midnight Mass’ is beautifully and bravely crafted, and results in an ending filled with hope and wisdom, rather than the usual ‘vengeance’ aftermath of such scripts.

The film is also about ignorance, and those who follow what they want to hear, rather than seeking the reality – the truth.

You can’t describe it as a ‘feel good’ film, because it’s too shocking. But you can describe it as a brilliantly crafted story – filled with redemption, in the deepest sense.

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

If I could comprehend the sky

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

An air of mystery

I love finding subjects where there is an inbuilt air of mystery.

The above shot of Heysham Village was taken from the high footpath that links the beach with the village. It’s also possible to take the lower path, directly along the shore, but it can be a much colder place in autumn and winter.

The two figures caught my attention. Although it was only the end of September, the couple were wrapped in seemingly identical warm clothing.

It was very cold, as I found just taking the shot from above, but there was something else about the composition that suggested mystery. It was only when I had my first set of comments on Facebook, that I saw it: the warmly-dressed couple had a certain ‘military’ look about them, and appeared to be marching towards a village that looked darker than usual, as though rushing to an urgent summons.

In reality, it was nothing of the sort; simply two people hurrying to get out of a bitter wind…

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

Sweet Soup and Pot Dogs

Above: the scene of the salt massacre…)

I usually do serious posts on this Thursday slot. They are generally aimed at the Silent Eye audience, so involve mystical perspectives on some of life’s challenges.

But sometimes one’s own life drops a ‘corridor’ over you, from which there is no escape, and you have to take a withdrawn and usually humorous view of events… or go completely insane.

She passed me the fragile blue bag, stuffed, now, with second-hand paperbacks, each only a pound. Morecambe market is like that: full of old fashioned value, full of lovely people who care. It’s also one of the sites for the town’s growing network of food banks.

Her eyes had spotted a quite decent pot dog in a glass display case on the next stall. Dementia is like that; constant flitting from one objective to another, small attention span. But at least my mother has some concentration left. That will fade, of course. But we make the best of the present.

“We have to meet Bernie (my wife) and Joanne (her sister) at the Midland, in half an hour,” I said. This bag won’t take any more, it’s already starting to come apart.”

I looked through the display case at the pot dog – a cairn terrier of quite good quality, and was about to speak…

“If I don’t get it now, “ she said. “It will likely have gone next time we are here. It will make the perfect Christmas present for Doreen.”

Doreen is mum’s best friend, still living in Bolton, our old home-town – but largely immobilised after encephalitis. Their relationship is now entirely phone-based: one of the miracles of hope over expectation is the success of that little mobile whose recharging cradle she can still work…

I had to think fast. The pot dog would still be there when we came back. But I didn’t want to upset her spontaneous generosity to the woman she has shared all of her life with – they used to live across the cobbled street from each other in the early 1930s (the place I was born) and have spent most of the intervening years protesting against the obscenity of fox-hunting, even being rounded up and nearly crushed by police horses.

“Well, let’s get you a tougher bag, then we can have that cup of tea at Meg’s Corner Cafe and return to buy the dog before we meet the girls.”

It was, I admit, duplicitous… The tea was much needed, though the alleyway in which the cafe sits was freezing. Lunch at the wonderful Midland’s Rotunda cafe was imminent, she wanted something to eat to go with her two cups of tea from the ancient chrome pot.

Fifteen minutes later, tea and (her) Eccles cake duly consumed, we crossed the road to the Midland. She had been in a new lock-down at the home after an outbreak of Covid on one of the upper floors. Three weeks of the outside world being closed. I wanted to provide a big treat to celebrate her restored freedom. She normally walks a mile or two along the promenade each day. For a ninety-one year old, she’s in remarkable condition…

We left the market cafe. The pot dog forgotten.

The Art Deco Midland Hotel

Joanne had nabbed us a circular booth. We sat, smiling at the thought of delicious food to come. The Rotunda cafe shares the same chefs as the more expensive restaurant that is justly famous as the heart of this Art Deco masterpiece.

Mum wasn’t hungry… the Eccles cake had filled her up. We ordered her soup, and Bernie and I chose a chicken club sandwich and some thin chips. We had gone without breakfast to better enjoy the treat.

Mum’s soup arrived – looking and smelling delicious. Butternut squash and honey, plus a few spices to gently enhance. Some chef-made wholemeal bread, still warm from the oven, finished the presentation. I could smell how good it was…

“It’s sweet!” She wailed, dropping her spoon back into the offending liquid. “Soup’s not supposed to be sweet!” I could hear the rumbling of doom, and feel my club sandwich going cold, the chips withering.

I leaned over to extract some soup with my teaspoon. It was heavenly.

“Some of the best soups are sweet,” I ventured. “Spain is famous for its variety of soups, including sweet ones… and this has honey in it – your favourite thing on earth!”

It was never going to work. A passing waiter spotted our agony and offered to help. Before we could say anything, she shouted to him: “Can I have some salt, love. This soup’s not right…”

It results in a kind of paralysis – watching these events unfold; yet wanting to be constructive and see it ‘from above’. I watched her pour two sachets of salt into the sweet soup and stir it. I knew it would be inedible.

Her face when she tried it confirmed my diagnosis.

“Mum, you have my club sandwich and I’ll have your soup… I like…sweet soup…”

I tried it. It was beyond dreadful, but would have made a beautiful meal in its former state.

I watched her smile and tuck into the chicken of my club sandwich. Bernie cut me a piece of chicken from hers and I made an impromptu open sandwich with the still-warm bread.

“You’re not eating your soup,” mother said. Then added “I like it here…”

Somewhere across the road, a pot dog was smiling…

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

How connected do we need to be?

It’s a thought that began after I’d spent a full day writing in various forms: email correspondence, working on journals from our students in the Silent Eye, and preparing blogs for the week.

Each of these involved an intense degree of ‘connection’ – via the internet, of course; that universal highway of data and opinion. It got me wondering at what point ordinary connectedness begins to veer towards overload. I found myself thinking: how would I advise anyone else what the right level of connectedness is?

My question is not about the actual connection technology. The evolution of what was the simple voice-based phone line to become the universal connector to the world within the internet is staggering and wonderful. What it has enabled has changed the way we live our lives, and the way we work.

As with any such fast-moving development, the earlier achievements have sunk beneath the layers of today’s user tools, as each type of connection threw up a winner, ensuring it was embedded beneath the consumer’s world. We might say each was a classic example of a different type of evolution at work.

The web-browser is a good example: our window on the digital world, one whose coming ensured that everything we wanted to see could be presented in the same way so that it was capable of being unbundled by the browser into not just text (which used to be be only option), but into graphics and sounds, as well. An everyday thing, now, yet when it was launched, it replaced thirty years of previous technology at a stroke…

Back in the bad old days, every industry seemed to have its own means of connecting; and not to an overall source, but just to the other members of that type of business. This peer-to-peer type of connection even became the basis for the first versions of e-commerce.

I’ve found, talking to others, that there is a growing sense that we are drowning in information. There’s also the feeling that we’ve lost the ‘honesty’ of the original internet; that it’s a free-for-all and the one that shouts loudest wins the argument. It’s much easier to understand opinion than facts. The truth is more complex than the slick lie, designed and packaged to fit into our prejudices by the populist press whose real interest is manipulation of politics.

It is reckoned that a well-read quality newspaper conveys many times the information we currently get from our pre-selected interest in the online equivalent. The downside of being able to select what we want to know is that we don’t expand what we might need to know.

Is there any reasonableness in asking how connected we should be?

If we work via computers, we have little choice in their use for the purposes of our employment. Many young people come home from work to eat a meal, then sit down to play online games, connected to thousands of their companions across the globe. To me, that’s way too much screen time, but their loyalty to this pastime can be fanatical. I think it’s vital that we surround ourselves ourselves with the ‘real’. I believe one of the main reasons we are seeing such an assault on the truth is that too many people live in an online fantasy world, surrounded only by those of like opinion.

On the other hand, we might even do the opposite; becoming so concerned with a particular humanitarian issue, that we lose sight of anything else.

We can learn much from nature and evolution. Our brains have developed to feed us the truth via some very clever consolidation. If we had to ‘listen’ to the vast amount of raw information coming at us from our senses, we would literally go insane. At the same time, evolution has gifted us some amazing ‘algorithms’ with which to evaluate the truth. If we have an arrow flying towards us, it’s no use arguing with some fanatic who says arrows don’t exist…

If the arrow is flying towards him and we’ve tried to issue a warning… well, evolution takes care of that, too…

It serves us well, I think, to value the truth so highly that we select a set of well-respected sources and be prepared to pay a small fee for their continued presence in the world. I do this with my online newspaper – The Guardian. Using such a source – and there are many – I can make a start in understanding the complexity of what I need to know. Were I to begin at the beginning, I’d never get there, alongside everything else I need to do in a day.

My online newspaper – my source of the truth – only works because there is another consolidation mechanism at work within its ranks: the journalist. Persecuted in many so-called societies across the world, these people, in ‘print’ and online news, bring a vast store of experience to their dedicated work, each contributing a deeply considered view that becomes a small part of an overall mechanism of transmitted truth – something seen as a continually refined goal, not a fixed object.

The truth is complex, but, so long as we have such people, we have one of human-nature’s mechanisms on our side. Let us treasure them wherever they are found; and make their assistance our starting point for our own knowledge of complex things.

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

Teasing the imagination: lights

Pictures telling very short stories…

Unseen, Craven surveyed the street from the single window of his temporary dwelling. They wouldn’t find him here…

Or, rather, there was only one person who would; and she would be warmly expected. Only she would be able to align the pattern of lights to form a visual ladder to him.

The others would have tried to kill him. And, from their perspective, rightly…

(Image by the author)

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

The Second before the Shutter of Life

We were spending a few days in Alnmouth, a tiny Northumberland village with one of the best beaches in the country. I rarely get to swim in the sea these days, but such things are of vital importance to our Collie dog, Tess, who loves to chase a ball down a beach and into the waves.

(One very happy Collie)

It was early morning. I was enjoying our walk. Tess was already wet through and dripping with morning-sun happiness. There were only four of us on the entire beach: a middle-aged couple were walking towards us, along the line of the sea.

I looked at them, then looked again. The woman was carrying two large-lensed cameras, and slightly stooped with the weight. Such heroism demands recognition, so I laughed across at them as they drew level.

“Those are mighty-looking lenses!’

At first, they looked troubled, as though I were some English football hooligan, about to rob them. Then the man said something in broken English and I realised they were Dutch… and I had spoken rather quickly and in a quick-fire humorous way, typical of the English in that situation. The cameras straps were wrapped across and beneath the lady’s breasts, and I realised with horror that my gesticulations might have been horribly misinterpreted.

I back-tracked quickly and explained my admiration for the camera gear, and they began to smile, sharing the humour instead of being anxious about it. I took my rather smaller (iPhone) camera from my jacket pocket and laughed about the comparative size of the photo equipment.

They warmed to the stranger, and for the next five minutes we talked and laughed, as I helped them to say what they wanted to. I speak a little German and French which helps with translation, even if I can’t find all the right vocabulary. People from the Netherlands are often able to converse in three or four languages, but these two had little English. Between us, we persevered and had a pleasant and informative exchange. They went on their way smiling at the early morning encounter with the dog and the man who turned out not to be a football yob…

But the initial look on the face of the lady carrying the massive cameras across her shoulders and chest stayed with me for the rest of the day, and caused me to formulate this post.

Had there been no way of breaching the language gap, they would have left with a very negative view of the encounter. And yet they would have been wrong… Like all of us, their lightning-fast perception and conclusions would have determined how those few minutes of conversation were entered into.

In my head, I could play back the encounter and run it in different ways. Reality, in real-time, doesn’t do that. We might say, traditionally, that the ‘now’ comes at us from the future with a content we can’t fully predict, but which is subject to probabilities. If my last footstep was on a beach in Northumberland, my next footfall is unlikely to be in Utrecht. The world around me is stable – to a degree. But nothing is entirely determined.

This is particularly true of our interactions with others…

We can’t go around greeting each new person as though we were a child, bright with life and openness. In an ideal world we might, but maturity and discretion teach us that human manners have a purpose – not least of which is to prevent us getting thumped.

Over the years of our life, we have built a kind of ‘perception wall’ around us. This wall of sensibilities – an extension of our mind, recognises ‘types’ of events – and people – coming at us from the immediate future. Our enemies or likely potential enemies are well identified, and invoke a whole set of protective behaviours. The violent drunk staggering out of the pub and lurching towards us, swearing, is an example of the invoking of avoidance.

Others are not so well defined. We all use different classifications to mark the approach of that near-future. This creates a gradient of relaxation-warmth at one end, and potential violence at the other. One of the most important human conditions is to be able to exchange positive humour with a stranger; based on a shared set of current circumstances; a shared misfortune of a mild nature (like just missing that bus) is an example.

These occasions leave positive feedback and good memories of those well-spent moments, when vocal and non-vocal cues act as a binding framework for a good-natured encounter. They are like good food. We need them, if only to re-assert our level of humanity and our belief in the goodness of others… something that we be starved of.

Could we take it further and suggest that we actually create our future? My footfall is never going to land in Utrecht, but my pre-judgement of the person approaching me along that pavement has enormous control over the approaching ‘now’.

If you can, try this for a few days. Study the facial expressions of people coming at you, with the willed intention of making a new friend – if only for a moment. Don’t pick someone you like the look of; select a person you wouldn’t normally speak to, but, obviously not one who gives you the chills.

As the very last moment before your ‘meeting’, hold the thought that you have something warm in common. Look onto their eyes, smiling and see what fills that brave space you’ve just created to hold ‘the link’.

You might be surprised what happens, and how you can look back on something that could not have come into existence unless you had altered your expectations…thereby changing the probabilities within the approaching ‘now’. In reality, of course, there is no approaching now, there is only now, filled with constant changes. We do not move into the future. What is around us ‘morphs’ into its new form and we call it time. We measure time by the those changes. Clocks are a form of special agreement as to what the changes represent…

The world is really our world, ‘projected on’ by our expectations, fears and joys.

The Dutch lady with the big lenses didn’t allow for this. The ill-spoken potential ‘English yob’ with the ‘big dog’ had, smilingly and sinisterly, said something abusive in a way she didn’t understand. They were set on leaving the scene, as fast as possible.

I had to use intelligence, charm and sincerity to dig back to the words of that moment and show that only warmth and shared humour were intended. Our wonderful minds allow for that – and our astonishing language that can hold and describe concepts as vast as present and future.

That next second in all our lives is coming around that corner, now, and its nature is significantly undetermined… until we act with familiarity or with self-defence. And mind precedes action. In that sense, creating our own future is a very real thing.

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

Into the Autumn

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

#WantonWhimsy: The end of time…

The man was speaking: “Let’s meet back here at the end of time… That’s what you said…”

It had seemed a fantasy; a delight; a thing that would never happen. Impossibly long ago, but meant – clear and sincere.

Yet, here they were, with separate lives behind them, trudging on old legs across the wet sand.

“I’m amazed you remembered the date… you seldom remember my birthday!” She said it with warmth and humour.

He frowned, acutely aware of his own mental limitations. He looked into her hazel eyes, still shining like stars after all these years.

“I have a good heart,” he said, softly.

“That you do,” she whispered. Leaning into his body and stealing a close hug at this special place: the end of the world, at the end of time…

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

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