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 stevetanham.wordpress.com.

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….

References:

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 stevetanham.wordpress.com.

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 Rivingtide@gmail.com 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 stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Mysterious Picts… and beyond

With many of the restrictions on Scottish travel and locations being lightened, it has become possible for the Silent Eye to resume its celebrated ‘landscape’ weekends.

Come and join us in September for a beautiful journey along the Easter Ross coastline to trace the artistic and long-lasting people we call the Picts. A race of artist-warriors who kept the Romans at bay, yet revelled in peace and connection to the cosmos.

Three days in September: 11-17th. Full details here.

There is an option to join a smaller group travelling on to Orkney. See the above link for details.

©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 stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Locked-down and Armed: one man’s struggle with entropy (7) – Hanging Gardens

It’s an important day… definitely make or break. You arrive early and we have a toasted sandwich washed down with tea. The sun is climbing over the trees, but it’s cool in Salty Pete, and we sense that this will be a very positive period of reconstruction.

We need something upbeat to get us started, so here’s a bit of Abba to set the tone…

We have a big challenge today: to end the constant movement of shed-stuff out from Salty Pete at the start of the day and returning it from the lawn at the end of the day. Despite the recycling corner now containing seventeen large black bags of rubbish, we are still spending at least thirty minutes at the start and end of each day getting enough space to work in.

Our ‘Lucky Bag’ map of the interior is beginning to look very different, though… We are making real progress, and it’s lifting our spirits. The completion of the left wall (squares 1-6) has provided a drill station, the new illuminated workbench for detailed things and given us storage for a host of mid-sized objects like folding chairs and a portable workbench on which I can now cut logs for next winter’s wood for the log-burner. The garden tools storage is mainly complete. I’d say we were about 60% of the way through the whole project.

The big problem we have is the amount of shed-stuff we need to store – even after sorting it. We’ve discussed this and come up with a plan. Salty Pete is a tall structure and it’s high time we used some of the ‘up’.

Its obvious, really… But I don’t know about you, I usually feel decidedly unsafe at the top of a ladder…

The other issue is the bicycles. There are six of them. Two are folding Bromptons, and easy to store. The other four are full-size and take up a lot of room. Finding a solution for them is not going to be trivial. Once again, I looked up for inspiration…

There is a substantial loft space in Salty Pete. We had it built along with the new roof. It’s badly in need of a sort-out, but was constructed to take a lot of weight and, for now, we can make more space up there to solve our problem down here.

The issue is accessing it, safely. At present it needs the skills of a mountaineer to shimmy up the thin steel ladder that came with the property. The ladder – we inherited it – is ugly, thin and bright pink… I’ve never understood why. Bernie hates it with a passion, but it’s strong and doesn’t get in the way… and I have a certain respect for it.

Only part of our problem is up in the air; the other half is how you fix a ladder to a cobbled floor. It could slide away at any moment, or it might jam itself in a gap so that nothing can move it… But we don’t want to gamble on the latter…. And falling onto that stone wouldn’t be trivial.

If we are to stay true to our resolve to spend zero money on the project, we need something that has a miraculous fit to the pink steel ladder. Something that will allow itself to be anchored in a safe part of the ‘up there’.

When we bought The Wharf, I went looking for an unusual chair to complete the fittings in the study. There is a furniture shop in Lytham, (on the Lancashire coast) that specialises in ’used but unusual’ pieces. We often looked in the window. Just before we moved into the new home, we had a run out to walk Tess on the seashore and have a pub lunch. Passing the shop window, I spotted an oversized, overstuffed, American style armchair. It was a wine red and I liked it. I walked around it for a while, then made an emotional decision and bought it.

It looked terrible when we got it home… and wasn’t comfortable, either. Fast forward several years and I managed to get it down and into a skip. As I was manhandling it, one of the steel feet came loose. The feet, themselves, were sturdy (see pic) and I decided to unscrew all four and keep them for possible use. At the time, I had a nagging feeling that I’d just end up throwing them away at the next major sort-out.

But no… The elusive god of ‘told you that would come in handy’ was on my side, for once…

(Above: One of the polished steel feet of the scrapped ‘American’ chair. They live to fight another day – but will the plan work?)

Now, I had an idea that would vindicate their retention…

The problem with using the loft space was safe access. It wasn’t the difficulty of getting shed-stuff up the ladder. The minimalist pink ladder had smooth sides, and it was quite easy to push an object ahead of you, as long as it wasn’t too heavy. If the plan worked, a single session of moving things up there would eliminate the recurring problem… at least for now.

My idea lacked engineering finesse. It was a ‘shoe-in’, but I knew it would work. I would need to locate the fittings carefully, and I would need both drills, working together… I would also need your help in holding the pink ladder very steady while I worked…because it wouldn’t be safe until the end.

The giant timber cross-member, to which I had attached the strip light, is about save the day, again. We move all the shed-stuff in the central squares of 7, 8, 2 and 15 out onto the lawn for what would hopefully be the last return trip. We stand the pink ladder in a variety of locations so that its top rests on the wooden beam. Eventually, two positions stand out as the least likely to obstruct the flow of likely movement: squares 2 and 15.

Fastening my leather tool-belt in place, and sliding the twin drills into their holsters, I climb slowly, skywards… Woof!

You pass me the first of the steel feet from the scrapped chair. They are pre-drilled – to fit the chair, and the holes can be re-used for our project – something critical, given they’re the kind of high tensile steel we’d find difficult to drill through. From my belt I take a pencil and mark the line of the pink ladder’s highest rung. Clinging with one hand, I switch between the two drills to pilot the holes, then secure the re-purposed chair foot so that the ladder top will rest in its ‘U’ shape, keeping me safe up there…

It’s hot work, hanging from a ladder and drilling like that… But, minutes later, I descend and we re-fit the pink ladder into its new (working) home. It rests well. I twist it, savagely – I’d rather find out now that it’s not fit for purpose than when I’m hanging on for dear life, pushing a heavy box upwards. It doesn’t budge. I’m looking smug, again…

(Locked solid by the upcycled steel foot, the infamous pink steel ladder has a secure future…)

Three mugs of steaming tea arrive… with some biscuits. Bernie’s been gardening, and is just as tired as we are. But she’s pleased. She’s impressed with the ‘up there’ approach and agrees to pardon the pink ladder… Result!

After tea, the whole operation with the ladder brackets is repeated on the left side. That goes smoothly and I realise how much this has just solved. For the next half hour, we bring in all the shed-stuff that was on the lawn. This time, anything not needed for our project can go up and stay up there... We will need a second stage of the project to clear out the loft, but that can wait for next year.

Looking upwards at the ladder supports, I smile. Generally, we think in terms of supporting a ladder at the base. But, in terms of it slipping, the top is much more secure – if you have the opportunity. The spirit of spending zero money has driven us to create a solution that is now going to save us an hour each working day.

There’s a lot you can do with an hour…

I remove the pardoned pink ladder to check that it can be put away along the left wall when not needed. It fits. It can.

Our day has gone well. It’s late and you need to head home. I continue for a while to complete an easy stage of the previous day’s work.

In square 19, there is a happy accident waiting to be finished…

(Above: An old set of shelves get a new lease of life)

The ‘long power tools’ – strimmers, hedge trimmers and various others, are of a length that rests nicely along the vertical face of what was one of Peter’s radio shacks. It feels like a long time ago that we took that sledgehammer to them…

For several years, I’ve been collecting ‘hooks’. The label on the large, plastic box says so. In my system, ‘hooks’ are anything from which other things can be hung, once they are fitted to something solid. Hooks come in many forms. The strongest are capable of holding the weight of a bicycle or greater.

I’ve already attached several such bicycle hooks to the top shelf from the old radio shack in square 19. With the exception of the most powerful tool – the Stihl strimmer – they hang beautifully, still allowing the storage shelves behind to be used for related items, such as two-stroke oil in its measuring bottles.

The Stihl strimmer is heavy; but luckily its ‘handlebar’ will rest on the remains of a lower batten – as long as the heavy bit – the engine – is secured above – by its shaft. It’s a curvy item, and tapered, and won’t fit flush to the shelf… but the curve only wants to take it out an inch or so. Thinking laterally, I saw out an enclosure and use a chisel to remove the waste block. I use another, smaller piece of waste, plus a screw, to create a hinged closure for the lateral ingress. The Stihl strimmer slides into place as though made for it. It’s a good feeling.

A quick slap of North Californian Shabby Chic emulsion on the new bits and it’s a tidy job…

(Above: the two Stihl long-handled power tools now hang vertically, – one by its handle; the other by its shaft, releasing more precious floor-space for unfettered movement)

Walking back towards Salty Pete’s door, I realise I am still wearing the holster and the two drills, plus bits. In the far corner, by the door, is a part-assembled shoe rack storage system. The cubes in this plastic and metal unit link together to form large pigeon-holes in which anything that fits and is not too heavy can be stored.

(Above: the ‘shoe-rack’ storage system in action)

We’ve used so many in the house, I could assemble them in my sleep. It’s the work of a few minutes to complete the array – a unit I know will fit into the now-white carcass of the largest of Peter’s radio shacks and rest on the base shelf. What I need to do is to figure out how to lock what is a rather fragile unit into place. Reluctantly, I conclude that long screws and a degree of butchering are the only way.

(Above: the large shelving system created by fitting a modular shoe-rack into the carcass of a former shelf in Peter’s radio shack)

The drills are ready, I’m fired up from the success of the day. Soon, the shoe-racks are in place, and held as best they can be. I’m down five long screws, but the unit is secure and complete… as is the whole wall.. I place the drills into their new working ‘pods’ made from the halved green petrol cans.

(Above: the final addition to the ‘detail work bench’: a pair of ‘pods’ to hold the drills close during active use. The bits rest through the spouts of the old and halved plastic petrol cans. Note the other halves of the petrol cans have been deployed as brush-holders)

It’s a good feeling. The wall is complete. We can step back and look at the full length.

(Above: the full length of the left wall. The garden tools are to the left of where the photo was taken)

The left wall now comprises: garden tools, large and small; liquid storage; vertical storage cubes; detail workbench, floor storage for folding chairs and ladder; drill station and vertical storage for long gardening power tools.

(Above: the far left corner (squares 10, 6 and 19) is now neat and functional. Most importantly, you can walk to it!)

Looking along the walls length and smiling, I note that there is still a lot of ‘up’ we’ve not exploited. Hmm…

To be continued…

Other parts of the Locked Down and Armed series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, This is Part Seven

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

©Stephen Tanham 2020

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

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

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

Top Drawer

Will I layer my data, uniform,

Till that obedient plateau

Where the arranged and ruling desktop

stamps me ‘passed’, no threat

Or

Shine and gripe, outrageously

Refuse to corner, close or fit

Until a newborn’s bloody fingers

Stain the pallettes

Of billionaires’ mahogany

©Stephen Tanham, 2020

The Summer Within

When I was a young boy, a favourite uncle, who was quite old, said to me, “You always feel young, inside, you know…”

It’s a sentiment I’ve heard many times. I knew it to be true – from the look in the eyes of those who said it, despite the lines of time on their faces. But now, to experience it in my sixties, is sobering and refreshing at the same time.

In the Silent Eye, we put forward a method – really a journey – which takes each person on an individual path towards what we might call ‘a place of summer’ within themselves. The journey concentrates, initially, on what life and our choices have made of us. We look, with honesty… and sometimes grit, at what we have become. The desire for this may take place later in our lives, when the energy of youthful excess has had its hour upon our stage, but it doesn’t need to: it is appropriate at any time of life.

As children and then young people, we do not consider that the inner and outer ‘selves’ have different lives. If we are healthy, the energies flowing in the inner and outer seem to have the same exuberance. It is only as the decades pass, and aches, pains and stiffness sometimes penetrate our daily consciousness, that we begin to notice there is a two-state existence to our lives; that the inner, though often clouded by it, is not experiencing the limitations of the body in the way that the outer is…

There comes a point – somewhere in the middle of our lives, where health and flexibility can no longer be taken for granted; when deliberate, rather than spontaneous exercise needs to be done with discipline if we are to retain some degree of that youthful flexibility that makes ‘life worth living’.

This is when many become conscious of the inner life in a renewed way. In moments of deep sleep or other relaxation, they may touch on a glowing sense of presence within. This usually happens when the physical self is at rest, and the mental self is psychologically peaceful. The degree of outer and inner ‘quietness’ is important, for this feeling has a refined ‘glow’ of existence that is hard to define in words.

In these moments, we are experiencing our own soul; and the enormity and significance of this cannot be overstated. The sense of depth and calmness may be touched upon by poets, but is seldom described in ordinary writing – because it is so little known What we experience, here, lies beneath – and has always done so. Yet, it is not inferior, as ‘beneath’ usually denotes. This is beneath ‘as foundation’. Its power and lovingness exist in a deeply peaceful place, where it has been all our lives. This inner state is known in childhood, when the world seems ‘brighter’, but our rightful fascination with the outer is paramount to the consciousness that wants to ‘taste the world’, and the innate knowledge of the inner fades…

Touching this state, again, triggers certain responses. We don’t want to lose it, yet ordinary attempts to hold onto it will fail. To hold the contact with that presence that is so deeply ‘us’ – requires that we learn why we lost touch with it in the first place…

It is constantly changing, and, unless we understand the subtle currents that drive its changes, it will appear to float off on an inner, summer breeze.

Part of what the Silent Eye teaches is to understand, in a self-demonstrable way, what the soul is. In the simplest terms, it is our truth: absolute and unchallengeable once experienced. It came into this world, into our lives, before we – the personality of self – existed. Our personality has grown, in all its strengths and weaknesses, around the soul, like a suit of heavy armour around warm and beautiful flesh. This necessary journey was chosen by the soul for its development. When we die, the harvest of the life adds to the soul, and the armour returns ‘to the earth’.

The soul is made of something special. It is not subject to the ordinary laws that govern our lives. It is not subject to them because its existence pre-dates them. It is ‘bigger’ and more fundamental than those restrictions.

We don’t ordinarily ‘see’ the soul because it is closer to us than anything else. All our experiences are actually experienced in its substance, but our reactions to those experiences are of our ordinary, waking self. The inner peace, spoken of through mystical history, is the non-reactive response of the soul to life’s experiences, as it delights in oneness in the fullness of inner and outer life, combined.

The soul tries to speak to us every day, every minute and second of our waking and dreaming lives. But the noise of the world and our habitual turning away mean that it cannot be heard. Life is a ‘noisy’ place, and most of the noise is our reactive self.

The journey into that place of peaceful love and purpose belongs to us all. There doesn’t have to be a map – some people take it by storm. But a map helps on the journey. Few of us can find that beautiful home on our own simply because we’ve got used to not being there. Those who teach it are paying forward the love of they who taught them.

Like the flowers on the front of the bicycle in the opening image, we carry the soul within us always. It is us rather than we are it. This perspective is crucial…

We’ve just forgotten that the summer is always there… right in front of us.

©Stephen Tanham 2020

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

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

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