Nine minutes to One – part one, The Bridge of Falling

Nine to One watch ShipWrek


Nine minutes to One – part one, The Bridge of Falling

Later, they told him that he had not come from the mountains.

But that was much later…

In the beginning there was a storm on a mountain top. He is falling, tumbling, blown by the gale as he falls, like a thing that no longer has a home there. There is lightning and fire and pain… The wind laughs as his garments are flayed from him… For a second two other lights blaze over his left and right shoulders, but they leave, ahead of him, and disappear into the dark distance. He knows it will be a long time before he recognises them, again.

Then there is no more sharp rock, and the falling is through air and then through the coolness of water, which is bliss, but strips from him the last of the memories of those heights.

And somewhere, there is laughter; for it has begun…

He is rolling now, turning again, but much more slowly, this time. He is struggling to see as he emerges into air again. The brightness of the origin is gone; there are only shadows here… and steps. Black step followed by white step, and then black step, again; and he has no control as he tumbles down the hard steps and shrinks and rolls, bruised and, apart from the tatters, naked, into the middle of the clock face.

She of the shadows forms from the stuff of this world and looks down at him, curled on the floor. He experiences but does not know. Knowing will come later, he knows… He thinks on the irony of that sentiment, how can he know what he does not know? Then he looks up at her tall presence and smiles. It seems like a good thing to do… It seems like the only thing to do.

In her soft arms and against her warm skin his mouth completes the forgetting. The liquid of this life fills him, becoming the blood that flows through the world within – the world that is not him but is where the ‘him’ locates itself… and the shadow becomes brighter, alone in his world, where his every small need is met.

But not the larger ones…

He knows he is where he is supposed to be, as though some agreement, some pact was made before the time of the mountain. He does not know who he is; and, in this world of shadows it is essential that he knows who he is. Without knowing who, how can he act, and know that it is himself acting? There is acting, which is power; and there is who, which is identity. This who will be a poor shadow of the forgotten, but it will be a start…

And as he falls to sleep, full of the white liquid of this life, he knows that the who will also give life to the blood that flows inside him, endowing it with far more than came in with the white liquid…

And then there is only rest and the dreams.

And the warmth of loving flesh.











Frozen Steps

Sue Snow Steps

In response to Sue Vincent’s photo prompt – The Stairway



(In the style of Sufi poetry)


Frozen Steps


Examine frozen

Find your rhythm

In the tapping of ice crystals

With  your most foolish foot

Slide forward the sole

And feel the danger

In the deadly realm where

Blood and pain meet

And then

Disregard them all

In noble purpose

And, stripping fear back

To where no fall rules

Descend to love


©Stephen Tanham, 2016


Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

Five-petalled beauty Growing through tears to laughter Holding the mirror

The long stems of the periwinkle, vinca major, were used to make garlands and their Latin name comes from vincio, ‘to bind’. Periwinkles have been used medicinally for centuries, principally for its astringent qualities and to help stop bleeding. It is also used by herbalists to help diabetes.  In folk medicine, an ointment of lard and the bruised leaves was used to reduce inflammation. Its older herbal history, though, is somewhat more colourful.

One old name for the plant is ‘cut finger’, referring no doubt to its ability to stop bleeding.

In Germany it was known as the Flower of Immortality, while in Italy it was flower of death and used to garland the biers of children.

In Macer’s 16thC herbal it is referred to it by one of its common names as Joy of the Ground. Another name is violette des sorciers… the sorcerer’s violet and…

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Ben’s Bit, part 15 – Bolero

Ben's shirt montage6AA

Ben’s Bit, part 15 – Bolero

At first, I think it’s a memory of a dream – of that night when knowledge of the unknown Miss Goodnight, soon to be Golding, came into my life. The heels on the concrete corridor this time are tapping a slower rhythm. It passes my cell door, rendering me fully awake, then diminishes as she walks further along the corridor. There is a missed beat as something happens, and I can hear a scratching noise as though one of the shoes is being reinstated; then nothing but the silence of agonised thinking as a direction changes in the dim light out there in one of the darkest of Bakewell Gaol’s old corridors…

And then the heels are coming back… This time they stop and linger at my door. I am, by now, fully awake, and I rise from my bed and slip on my dull, grey, prisoner’s overall and stand facing the door.

When the door opens without the sound of the old key turning, I have to check that I am actually awake and not in a dream. I suspect it has not been locked since Roger Sylvester brought me the tea, in a kindly gesture that left me wrecked for hours afterwards, but something has blocked me from trying it… as though it would be a betrayal of Roger’s obvious trust in me…

But, now, it is not Roger who stands before me. Miss Golding, in all her slightly inebriated beauty, clicks into the cell, carrying a bottle of red wine, two plastic glasses and a carrier bag from Marks and Spencer.

“Tell me to sod off, if you like,” she says, simply, opening her eyes wide to punctuate the question. Just at that moment, she looks a lot more vulnerable than I feel, which, in itself, is considerable…

“Why would I do that?” I ask her, stepping aside and indicating that, heels notwithstanding, the wine would be safer on my small table. “It’s not like I get a surfeit of visitors.”

She’s more sad than drunk, though a degree of alcohol has played its part in her being here.

“Told him to take a hike,” she says, sitting down on the bed. “Told him to take his twisted mind and lacklustre body and stuff it…”

Whatever it is, it has begun. The wings of this and not-this are beating over my head, A world is being separated, polarised.

“Some wine?” I ask, delighted to be re-acquainted with my second favourite indulgence. Fortunately, the bottle is a screw-top and, seconds later, the gentle and familiar sound of pouring wine brings delight into the dank air of the cell. As she pours, the smell of her perfume fills the air and I realise how much you can miss something…

“Don’t worry,” she says, chinking the plastic glasses which produce a dull tap, but it suffices. “He’s gone – flounced off in a rage… typical!”

I sip some of my wine. “I assume we’re speaking of Dr Grey?”

“Yes,” she replies in a little girl voice, then takes a deep breath and pulls herself back to adulthood. “The renowned Dr Grey…” she draws out the word ‘renowned’“. “Who screws his lively assistant any time he can get the the keys to the interview room…”

It’s an admission that doesn’t surprise me. What surprises me is that she’s here in my cell, and we’re drinking red wine…

“And they’ve all set it up so carefully,” she glugs some more red. “and they didn’t think there’d be any cracks…”

I almost daren’t ask. “And it all centres on me?” I ask, incredulous.

“You just happened to be here at the right… sorry wrong time,” she says putting her free hand out and stroking my thigh. “I realise that this is not a game for you, no matter that those bastards think…”

Those bastards?” I ask quietly, refilling her glass, and wondering about the all-important plural.

“Don’t ask,” she says, having some more red. “More than my life’s worth – I’d never work again… not in this field anyway.”

Knowing a lot more than I did, I leave revelation to take its own course. Another half bottle of pleasant small talk and she gets to her feet, less steadily this time, and beckons me to follow.

We stand facing each other. It’s a seminal moment…

“Take the overall off,” she says. She’s a woman who knows what she wants. It’s refreshing… especially as I appear to be it.

Smiling like it’s Christmas, I pull down the zip on the hated garment and step out of it, revealing my rather average body and a pair of standard issue white boxers. She looks at the pale, winter skin and smiles, then takes a new shirt out of the Marks and Spencer bag.

Presuming nothing, and somewhat confused, I reach for my wine and sip it while I watch her fingers expertly dispense with the packaging. She shakes out the shirt, “Sorry about the creases.” Then she pulls my arms up and slides the pleasant blue shirt onto my torso. Soon she is doing up the front buttons, leaving the cuffs to flap.

Finished, she stands back and drinks some of her wine, while she surveys my new outer layer.

“Nice,” she says  simply. “Sorry about the creases…” With that, she puts down her plastic glass and slides her body into mine. Her precise nails slide up my back, making her intentions very clear as our midsections dance.

“Just wanted to see you in something beautiful before I undressed you…” Miss Goodnight says, with tears in her eyes.

But they are tears which do not diminish her ardour…

<See index below for other parts of this story>

———————————————————–< to be continued-

Ben’s Bit is a continuing first-person narrative of the character created by Stuart France and Sue Vincent, which may bear some relation to the author of this story, Steve Tanham, their fellow director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness.  In the latest of their books, Scions of Albion, Ben is arrested for his overly enthusiastic part in a mad escapade, and the other two are nowhere to be seen . . .  For more, enjoy their Doomsday series of books, and the new series (Lands of Exile) beginning soon. Click here for details.

Index to Ben’s Bits:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten, Part Eleven, Part Twelve, Part Thirteen, Part Fourteen,

Sue Vincent describes her and Stuart’s perspective on Ben’s imprisonment: Part One, Part Two

The Doomsday Series of books by Stuart France and Sue Vincent

The Silent Eye School of Consciousness – a modern mystery school.

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Nine Deadly Sins with Coffee, part 54 – The Tower of the Red Figures


Monument red men flatAA

Nine Deadly Sins with Coffee, part 54 – The Tower of the Red Figures


There was a coffee, a rucksack and a small, red, paper person waiting for me when I arrived at Rose’s Cafe that last Monday morning.

But no uncle John…

The coffee was hot, so I knew he had been there. Besides, I could ‘feel’ his presence, even though he was nowhere to be seen.

My sense of unease grew when I unzipped the black bag – the one he had often brought with him to our coffee meetings. Inside was an envelope with ‘Alexandra’ written on the front. I sipped some of the hot coffee before sliding my well-manicured thumbnail under the upper edge and slicing it open.

Inside were a standard-class rail ticket to London, a note and a picture of a place I knew well… Its golden dome a familiar landmark of the area in which our legal chambers were situated.

I picked up the red paper person, which was a crude figure, like a child’s cutout. For a second, I thought it had fallen apart in my hands. But the three paper people, linked hand in hand, opened, concertina-style; the lowest touching the table with its bouncing arm.

For the next few minutes, I sipped my coffee, thinking loudly. Was he sending me on a treasure hunt? I was, as usual, bound for London, anyway. Had he gone on ahead? Was our final coffee talk to be carried out in a different landscape to the native north?

An hour later, I was speeding south on the Virgin Intercity, set to stop only at Preston, Warrington and then on to London’s Euston station. I had used his ticket, even though I already had one for the first-class compartment adjacent. I had only done that because I thought it might be a test and he might have boarded the train, unseen, at the same time.  My seat had, at least, been reserved… He had been very thorough in his planning. I noted that, my legal mind working overtime to extract the deepest meaning from this strange experience.

I opened John’s black rucksack, again, and examined the note. ‘The cattle were red,‘ It said. ‘You can make the connections with ease.’ I looked at the three red paper people, spread out before me next to my bacon bun, bought from the trolley as it passed, a poor substitute for the full breakfast being served in First. Beneath the reference to the Labour were the words, ‘Like Heracles, seek the blazing Sun.’

In his final Labour, corresponding to the astrological sign of Pisces, Heracles faces a task from which he may not profit. There is no payment due for his rescue of the Red Cattle, ‘imprisoned’ on an island under the control of the three-bodied Geryon, his double-headed dog, and a mysterious shepherd who has looked after the red cattle for time immemorial. I knew that much, but what to make of the clues John had left me?

I was no wiser when the train arrived at Euston some two hours later – My legal team knew not to expect me before midday on a Monday; I put in the extra hours during the week, no-one doubted that. I had a short time to make some sense of it all. Within minutes, I was speeding in a red underground train beneath the streets of the City and towards Monument – the tube station with the same name as the tower on the mysterious picture. Minutes later, I emerged into the unexpectedly bright sunshine and looked up at my destination. The tower, arrowing into the clear sky, had been built in the seventeenth century to commemorate the Great Fire of London, and was designed by Christopher Wren. It is capped by a blazing gold sculpture symbolising the Great Fire, itself.

There are three hundred and eleven steps to get to the golden viewing platform which forms the base of the massive sculpture. I am a fit person, but each circuit of that spiral was increasingly painful – in heels. On the third, I stopped, mouth open. A larger scale red paper man was fastened to the wall of the ascending stairwell. There was no other sign. I stopped and stared at it, happy to have any excuse to rest my feet and get my breath back. He had been here–and obviously just ahead of me…

Best spiral stairs+Red1 manAA

After three further circuits of the spiral, I encountered another paper man on the stairway wall; but this one was black. Again, there was no other reference to my increasingly lonely quest.

The final figure came, as expected, on the ninth circuit, but this time the paper man was white. Red, black, white. The sequence triggered a distant memory of a conversation John and I had about the time we were beginning to talk about the esoteric. Now, I remembered that he had said that, from an ancient British perspective,  the generic colours of the Goddess were red, black and white… Was I ascending, with much effort, through these colours? Would John be waiting for me at the top?

My heart was hammering in my chest, but I pushed on, clicking in a much slower rhythm on the old stone spiral. With my head hanging on my gasping chest, I staggered onto the viewing platform and looked, anxiously, around.  I had to suppress a small sob when I found I was alone. The golden light, reflected from the massive, burning sculpture above me, was intense…but, slumped against the safety rail and gazing down the sixty metre drop to see the masses of people below, I knew nothing…

The revelations started when I began to descend. Passing the white paper man, I suddenly realised that the two-headed dog was a reference to the above and the below, and that Herakles had moved – had graduated – in the certainty of his own light to a being whose home was the above, the causal layer of all Being. He had therefore ‘slain’ the lower, seeing it for the resultant, if useful, shadow it was.

When I reached the black paper man, I became aware that the Shepherd in the story – the one guarding the red cattle – had been spared by the hero because he represented the one who looked after the the cattle; in human terms, the mind of man, woven, in a seemingly inextricable pattern, into the fibres of his being. Of course he had been spared – he was the way forward, once unity of being was established.

Crossing the final threshold of the red paper man, I realised with a smile that I was about to re-enter the world of the red cattle, that the three bodies represented our old friends the instinctive man, the emotional man and the intellectual man – all at odds with each other until the single arrow of redemptive purpose bore through them, as Heracles’ fiery arrow had finally done, not killing them, but fusing them all into a single entity, capable of being guided from above…

And now I had travelled up and then down that arrow, uniting the totality of my experience with John.

The golden sunlight streamed through the portal of the entrance. But, to my right something else red caught my eye. A scarlet rose had been taped to the old, rusty metal of exit’s door frame. With tears forming in my eyes, I took it…knowing it was for me.

And then I was in the street, and people were staring at me. Everywhere I turned people were curious about the woman with the flower in her hands, walking into a new world seen for the first time.

I wanted to give the rose to them, but I had only one rose and there were so many of them. How could I do that?

The sun shone at my back, I could feel its warmth on my head. I did not know what to do, but the previous sense of panic and confusion belonged to another world. In this one, the need to do something would be accompanied by the knowledge of what to do. That, I knew with a certainty.


Somewhere nearby, John might be watching… But it no longer mattered.

Everything that mattered was here… Everything that mattered was now…

End of Nine Deadly Sins with Coffee

If you have enjoyed these episodes; if you have enjoyed being challenged to explore yourself in this journey of myth, magic and esoteric psychology, why not take a look at what the Silent Eye offers to Companions on our three year, self-exploration programme.  Click here to link to our website page where you can download a free colour brochure.

The Silent Eye School of Consciousness is a not-for-profit organisation, based in the UK.  It has students (we prefer ‘Companions’) on four continents and offers a friendly journey towards the soul taken with the guided help of those who have taken that journey. There is no membership fee and no ongoing commitment, other than to buy the next, monthly lesson. Each lesson is priced (March 2016) at the minimum possible charge to allow us to attempt to break even – £10.00 per month.

Pictures of The Monument, London, from:

It’s an amazing creation. If you are in London, and you like its history, why not visit?


Nine Deadly Sins with Coffee is usually published on Thursdays.

Spinning Blue


Blue Mill Sue

I’d told them before, the chromatic lens effects were just that: blue light…stuff and nonsense…

And they had smiled, kindly, and another pint of Guinness had arrived in the old pub in the forest.

And then the dream came and the bar vanished. And I was in this bright wood, alone with the blue light…and two old stone mills, that whispered, “Follow…”

Now the old wheel is freed, once more; and I go round and round and the voices giggle and the green things grow and grow and grow…”Hello…hello?”

Response to Sue Vincent’s photo prompt:

The panicked and the blessed

The Silent Eye

There I was, happily putting a few things together to take north at the weekend… odds and sods that need adding to the things we will be packing to take to the April workshop, when I realised that this could be it… the last time I run north before the workshop… A quick calculation says that yes, it will be just a matter of six weeks away… and I’m not ready!

Deep breath, calm down, panic over…

Okay, so what if I’m not ready… I have six weeks and that is more than enough time for what remains to be done. As long as everything goes according to plan.

Which it won’t. It never does.

And it never matters.

You name it, we’ve had all sorts of crises in the run-up to these workshops, including Steve’s heroic  last-minute re-write of the entire script when illness cut our ranks…

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Ben’s Bit, part 14 – A Pruning of Normality

Ben's Bit Nail Clipper

“Tell us about normal, Ben?” asks Dr Grey, looking like a man rejuvenated, as he glances sideways for approval from the silent Governor. “In your own words, of course…”

I try to stay calm. The three people in the room are transmitting a mixture of emotions at me. I’m very sensitive to that. It’s probably what led me to study spirituality. You can’t always trust feelings to represent the whole truth, but they always transmit a certain level of power.

Dr Grey, for example, is radiating resentment at me. He shouldn’t be, given that his superior in this situation is giving him some very strong backup. The Governor is leaning back in his black leather executive chair, its gleaming metal sub-structure bent at an impossible angle to accommodate the stretch created by the heels of his calf-leather shoes being on the far corner of the interview table. The Governor is not radiating resentment; he’s projecting the feeling of impending revenge at me. Quite why this is coming at me, in such thick waves, is a mystery. I’ve known him less than a week, yet I seem, already, to be an enormous irritant.

Is he, perhaps, as trapped as I am? It’s an interesting thought… If I could just find out what frightens him I might stand a chance. Such drivers as revenge are always a sign of something much deeper at the level of fear. My blazing knife flashes white in my mind, having mentally carved ‘I will not crumble‘ on my left arm, in a carefully staged psycho-drama the previous night, though now I confess to being a little ashamed of it…the mental ritual, not the resolve.

“Ben?” I return my gaze to Dr Grey, angling my head, obligingly. “We’d like an answer, please…” he says, reasonably.

“Of course–sorry!” I sneak a glance at the Governor who has decided to pick his elegant nails in disgust at my inability to focus. “Normality…in my own words, yes?”

“Yes, Ben,” Dr Grey says. “You’re an intelligent man. Tell us your view of normality.”

“In my own words?” In the flicking of nail on nail I can hear the Governor snapping one of my fingers in his mind; but he says nothing. The chair, however, has stopped wagging from side to side. Its occupant is rattled. What is it?

Time to change the tempo, I think to myself – one of my few weapons. “Normality is a subjective thing!” I say with gusto, leaning forwards to speak so they can see my enthusiasm as I place my hands on the pock-marked black plastic surface of the table and spread out my fingers in a deliberate copy of the Governor’s handiwork. The clicking of nail on nail ceases and I don’t need to look at the man to know he is staring at me with a particular intensity. ‘..shorten all this by shooting you in the back of the head…‘ is the fragment of a sentence I actually hear in my mind.

This is new… I don’t recall ever doing that before–actually reading someone’s mind in a literal sense; but then, perhaps no-one, not even Yellow Eyes, has ever hated me this much… and perhaps I’ve never been this frightened before, even if I’m not showing it.

Without looking at the man holding my life between his well-manicured fingers, I continue my exploration of ‘normality’.

“We can subscribe to another’s code of normality, but I believe the question is directed at a deeper level, so I will not insult you all with a veneer of an answer.”

Dr Grey is actually leaning forward with his hands on the table, too.  He looks delighted that his pet madman is actually using the language of a psychologist. I wonder if he knows what danger he’s in? Not from me, of course, but from the ex-mercenary in the corner who has now clocked the fact that I have led a series of gestures to which his stooge has subscribed.

Time to press the advantage, then… “Normality is something we adopt, the product of a pain-reward system that society imposes with differing degrees of severity…” I blast the last word, mentally, into the room, knowing it will bounce of the psychic walls and cause havoc. “You can’t blame society, of course,” I say quickly and apparently apologetically. “We can’t have a civilisation full of individuals or we’d have no Saxon crosses left…”

Dr Grey’s head drops and hangs between bitterly disappointed shoulders. He pushes back from the table and takes a breath to speak, but the Governor cuts him off. “Do you think we use severity in here, Ben?” he asks, in a voice that is precise and terrifyingly soft.

I turn to look, conscious that a wall of rage awaits me, but what I see is unsettling beyond any attempt at composure. From his suit pocket, he’s taken a pair of surgical nail clippers and is holding them up in his right hand, pretending to use the inset nail file to smooth his manually-torn nail edges.

It’s not a question. Its not even something that Dr Grey is capable of responding to, though he begins to mouth a weak response into the carefully crafted and deadly silence generated by his controller.

It is a question that an elegant lady in very smart heels can answer; and she does so with the most perfect gesture I could think of. Miss Goodnight – miss Golding the golden one, my grateful mind sighs, as the tension leaks from my knotted fingers, has got up and, stealing centre stage, reaches into her handbag to take out a ladies’ disposable nail file. She clicks across the few feet between her former seat at my left and the extended circular base of the Governor’s arse and slides it to him over the polished surface of the table.

“Here,” she says. “Try this…you’ll find it’s much more appropriate…”

<See index below for other parts of this story>

———————————————————–< to be continued-

Ben’s Bit is a continuing first-person narrative of the character created by Stuart France and Sue Vincent, which may bear some relation to the author of this story, Steve Tanham, their fellow director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness.  In the latest of their books, Scions of Albion, Ben is arrested for his overly enthusiastic part in a mad escapade, and the other two are nowhere to be seen . . .  For more, enjoy their Doomsday series of books, and the new series (Lands of Exile) of which the first book, But n’ Ben, is now available.

Index to Ben’s Bits:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten, Part Eleven, Part Twelve, Part Thirteen,

Sue Vincent describes her and Stuart’s perspective on Ben’s imprisonment: Part One, Part Two

The Doomsday Series of books and the new book, But n’ Ben by Stuart France and Sue Vincent

The Silent Eye School of Consciousness – a modern mystery school.

All contents ©Copyright Stephen Tanham, 2016

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Nine Deadly Sins with Coffee, part 53 – Two Rivers


Two RiversAAA

Nine Deadly Sins with Coffee, part 53 – Two Rivers


It was still dark, though the light from the East was streaming into the cold, blue, air. The two take-away cups of coffee looked disappointing. Not because I could already seen their contents, but because they weren’t from Rose’s cafe.

“Last week we were flying over North Lancashire and now the edge of an old market?” I said. My halo was slipping… The previous week’s extraordinary events had left me on such a high that I wanted my local magician to conjure up something wonderful and life-changing, again.

“Down to earth with a slump?” He smiled at me, looking very tricky. “Do we only find the life-changing up there?” he waved his coffee cup, perilously, at the sky.

Behind us, Sid, the local fishmonger, was hosing down the outside of his stall. People travelled from miles around to buy his fresh fish, bought off the dock and brought up here before dawn each morning from one of the local fishing ports. In Winter the stall was sold out by the time the sun came up. I looked at the assorted organic debris, being flushed into one of the market’s wide grids, and fought hard not to pull a face. I loved fish…but the sight of the dead bits did nothing for me.

“Of course not,” I said, chided. “I shouldn’t be sulking.”

“Quite natural, of course,” John replied. “One of the dangers with such a ‘high’ as last time is that it releases a lot of energy that feels like it belongs in that upper realm and not down here…” he tapped a booted toe near a discarded fish head that had escaped from a one of the stall’s plastic bins. “…with all the yucky stuff!”

I watched the water hose cleanse the concrete, directed in well-aimed jets that marked out a single whirling motion. “I can see the connection, though,” I responded more positively. “The eleventh Labour of Heracles–the Cleansing of the Augean Stables.”

“I don’t imagine they smelled very good either…”

“Not after thirty years of accumulated dung…no wonder everyone else had failed and people were dying like flies…”

“Heracles was disappointed, too – with his landing from the heights of Capricorn’s mountain, freshly lighted – but he rolled up his club and got on with it!”

“I looked down at my pin-striped legal suit, the expensively heeled shoes, and shuddered. “You want me to clean this fish stall in my business clothes!?”

“Not for now…”

My mind screamed, in your dreams fella! But I kept quiet. Not for now implied a breather before we got there. I flipped the fragile top off the cheap cup, burning my hand with the inevitable spill onto my skin. I suffered in silence, not drinking while I cursed.

Sid had an old assistant who was rather infirm. Long years of working in cold conditions, and collecting fish while the world slept, had taken its toll on them both. But Tony was bent and frail, yet, once again, as every day for the past thirty, he came out from behind the tattered, stripey flap and picked up the second hosepipe, ready and willing to conclude the day’s business.

“Never a change to that routine,” John said, over the steaming coffee, which he, too, had yet to drink. “They are quietly famous – as is the quality of their produce. Day in, day out: drive for fish, sell fish, clean stall, sleep while the world lives…”

Even John looked sad, his eyes filled with compassion at the plight of the elderly man having to work out his life in this never-ending hard and cold labour.

Sid, much younger and fitter, and still unaware of our study, took his own look at Tony and reached for an old flask. “Here, ‘Tony” he said, pouring the older man a plastic cup of hot tea. “Have this, before you freeze in that water!”

“What is it?” asked Tony. “Not bloody tea, again. Don’t you ever make coffee?” His voice was rough, like gravel. I supposed it went with the life, but there was something of great hardship and pain in the man’s demeanour.

“Lost his whole family in a fire many years ago,” whispered John, quietly. “Was unhinged for a while, but Sid brought him back and kept him alive… They’ve shared this brutal existence ever since; day in, day out…”

“I’m confused about why we’re here? How could spirituality change the life of someone like this?”

“Tony?” asked John. I nodded.

“Very easily…” He waited, looking at me as the growing light of the dawn brought our features into clear relief, there in the shadows. “Be with him,” he said. “Feel his pain… Bear witness as you would for a brother or sister. Remember Aquarius is the great leveller…and we can’t begin to know the nature of the energies that will be flowing into the conscious life on Earth in the years to come.”

He stood back, looking at me, waiting for the moment… “You could change his life right now,” he said, softly.

Something hit me then. Wave after wave of compassion poured out of me as I took in the two market workers, rubbing their hands in the cold light. I could feel John nodding as I walked the short distance to where Tony stood, holding out my coffee to him. “It’s okay,” I said into his startled face. “Just a little something for you… and, may I?” I took the hose from him and began to work the spiral patterns of cleaning, just as he had done. For a while I was somewhere else, just watching the water do the work for me, noticing that only my fine shoes were getting dirty from the splashing. The sense of a new state was overpoweringly wonderful. The simple act of helping had liberated me from the expected and into the real.

When I looked up, John was holding the other hose, which he had just taken from a smiling Sid. The younger man also had a new coffee in his hand. For ten minutes, we cleaned the back of the market stall with our waters. As we were leaving, Sid gave me a peck on the cheek, looking as though this happened every day… But I knew it didn’t.

We were about to cross the road and back to the seafront, when a gasping man limped up behind us. I turned to see Tony standing behind me, wordlessly holding out a fish wrapped in a single piece of newspaper. I didn’t care how much it would mess up my suit; I took it from him with tears in my eyes and kissed his cheek, running my fingers through his dirty hair.

John said nothing as we collected my luggage from the boot of his car at the station. As I was turning to board my London train, he spoke, “We’re nearly there…funny thing about giving to those who have nothing – you always end up getting more back…”

With that, he planted his uncle’s kiss in the customary fashion, but the hug spoke more loudly that any words could. “Welcome to the world of the lunatic…”

Nearly there… the words ran round my head most of the way to the City. Were we? and where had we been headed all this time?


Nine Deadly Sins with Coffee is usually published on Thursdays.

The Last Temple of the Celts

Feral Words

druids The Druids Bringing in the Mistletoe, by Edward Atkinson Hornel & George Henry

The west of Europe used to be full of Celtic temples. In every settlement, every holy grove, every mountain top and ring of stones that held any import for the peoples of old there would have been some structure marked out as holy, a place to connect the people to the spirits who lived alongside of them. There were statues of gold and idols of stone, rings of trees wreathed with cloth, wells encircled by the swirling patterns of the art called La Tene. A vivid, distinct and technically accomplished culture did as all such cultures have done; piled up in its holiest of holies the greatest achievements of its civilisation, to honour the gods that it worshipped.

The afterglow of their achievements still hangs on the horizon. The illuminated gospels of Ireland, the giant carved stones of the Picts…

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