Why writing fiction really matters

Just a few more days to go before Nick attempts what would be been considered impossible a short while ago . . . support him, here, please.

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

“Insert!” He extended his foot…
“You sound like a Borg.” … and wriggled his toes into the sock. “That would make me a cyborg.” He paused. I could see the wheels turning. “That’s it…my recovery… the screwdriver must have damaged the wiring… and the nano-bots have been busy with repairs…”

He stopped as I sighed… to be fair, it wasn’t a bad analogy. Most of Nick’s problems are caused by faulty wiring. He is fitter than most, carries not an ounce of fat and is all muscle. Even so, there are a few of the moving parts that don’t function as well as they should, in spite of the incredible recovery he has made so far.

His eyes are one of them. And that had hit hard. Nick had always been an avid reader, sharing my ‘library’ and devouring fantasy and science fiction. Being unable to hold and read a…

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When a smile breaks your heart

Three lives, caught up in a journey where they only had each other . . . and some friends like you . . .

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

Nick, Bournemouth, Nick, Bournemouth, before the attack

I frequently write about my son… as I see him every day, it is natural that he is very much part of my everyday life, even without the story of his incredible journey to tell. But I have two sons, and my younger son’s story is a quieter tale.

Alex is three years younger than his brother and they were inseparable. When Nick, always the daredevil, climbed trees and got into scrapes, Alex was with him. Nick loved books and taught his little brother to read, blond heads together, poring over the pages of Dr Seuss and the Narnia stories. Where Nick was always sharp, brilliant and bright, Alex was a warm, golden glow. Apparently alike in many respects, they approached life from opposite angles; they were very different. Even so, together they managed to get into… and out of… huge amounts of mischief as…

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Model aeroplanes, stone walls and the dog’s disc

Collies and disappearing orange things

When I was a youngster, I dreamed of having a ‘radio-control’ model aeroplane.  At every chance, I would pore over well-thumbed magazine articles about how you could build your own ‘single-channel’ radio control transmitter, which, in conjunction with impossibly complex on-board gadgetry, including a well-wound rubber band to power the mechanism that changed the rudder setting, would allow you the merest smidgen of control of that wild, petrol-driven insect in the sky; impossibly at the mercy of the wind.

I did build one eventually. It crashed on its maiden flight – into a stone wall. By the time I could afford another one, the passion had worn off and other interests beckoned.

I was reminded of this simple but painful memory earlier this week by the flight of what I have come to think of as the orange aero-thingy.  This device is the answer to fully exercising a collie dog – ours in particular. In my new career as dog-walker, I get lots of fresh air, and time to think. Collies need a lot of exercise, so we’re frequently to be found out there on the hills, in the early-ish morning, or just before sunset in the evening. Collies like to chase things; and to fetch, so we’ve experimented with things that fly, in one form or another.

IMG_7428

The best one we’ve found cost 99 pence from a local shop and is a bit like an orange frisbee, but much more solid; and with cut-away sections, which are aerodynamic and give the device a considerable range, once you’ve mastered the technique. Our young collie, Tess’ favourite technique is when I run ahead of her, with her chasing, and release the orange aero-thingy with a fluid uncoiling of the spine and the full, whip-like action of my right arm.  I nearly dislocated my entire back until I got the hang of it; but the results have been worth it; and I can now manage sixty or so metres on a good day and with the right wind.

To a collie, this is sheer delight, and it has worked wonders for her paw-eye coordination as she scans the skies, tracking its flight and narrowing in for the intercept and fetch, which she completes with a characteristic leap and lunge with that long nose; or snook, as we have come to call it  . . .

The morning in question, Tess and I were having an extended walk up to Sizergh Castle, which is the only local spot you can (with a dog in tow) get a decent cup of coffee before lunch time. I had been experimenting with a more advanced technique of releasing the orange aero-thingy involving the insertion of two fingers into its inner gaps. This produces great power but had shown a tendency to be a bit wayward on take-off, so I needed the practice. Approaching Sizergh Castle through its open driveway, we moved off the tarmac and onto the extensive acres of grassland that line the approach. We tried several practice shots before I felt it was time to roll out the new technique, again. Then we gave it real go.

The orange aero-thingy actually hummed as it left my right hand, seemingly still accelerating into the cloudy sky at a great rate of knots. Tess, howling with delight, took off after it, and it was only when I noticed her trajectory veering off to the left that I realised we were in trouble. The orange aero-thingy came down from a great height at a suspicious angle and, gripped by a merciless breeze, much as my radio-controlled plane had done, all those years ago, plunged down towards one of Sizergh’s tall stone walls, which mark the boundary of the estate.

My reaction was very different to that of my childhood forbear. I danced in lip-straining anticipation, praying that it might just hit the top of the wall, thereby bouncing off and back into our field – the very opposite of my silent plea as a child who understood the interacting chemistry of laquered balsa wood and stone . . .

Perversely, and in true Sod’s Law fashion, our orange aero-thingy cleared the tall stone wall by about a foot. Plunging into the dark foliage beyond. Desperate not to lose this newly precious object, whose like we might never see, again, I ran towards the wall, keeping my eyes firmly on the point of disappearance and passing a startled Collie, en-route. And that’s when it became personal . . . because, suddenly I was a boy of twelve, again and looking at my devastated aircraft smashed against a similar stone wall.

Wall orange disc and stick

Despite my advancing years, I have retained a certain degree of athleticism. No six foot stone wall was going to stop me recovering the prized orange aero-thingy. With the help of a couple of foot holds, I was up it; only to find that the upper reaches were very unstable and I was faced with a wobbling disaster.  I managed to stabilise my position by crouching low, and peered over, into the dark green beyond . . .

Brambles that wait

Brambles – higher than the wall, dense and menacing as only the most virulent Cumbrian monsters can be. There was no chance of even locating the orange aero-thingy, let alone recovering it. For a second I wavered, then, with a mixture of expletives and a level of energy that surprised even Tess, I jumped back off the wall and made my way towards a fallen tree nearby. It was the work of a couple of minutes to break off a long branch. Then, still snarling, I scaled the wall, again, found a tentative perch and used the long branch to part the green spiked triffids.

There she was, stuck on the top of a small bush a few feet from the far side of the wall.  Two pokes later, I had it hanging from the end of my recovery device. Now, all I had to do was survive the encounter and we could write it up in our memoirs . . .

Stick disc and beyond

We did, of course, survive – though I wouldn’t have wanted to jump off that wall a third time. Victorious, we continued on to our well-earned coffee and doggie treats at the castle tea-rooms.  As we left the scene of the encounter, there were three of us:  an eight-month old collie, reunited with her favourite toy; a sixty-one year old, delighted he could still spit on high stone walls; and a twelve year old, clutching the smashed parts of his birthday present – but smiling, triumphantly . . .

Model aeroplanes? You can keep ’em. Get yourself a dog and a orange aero-thingy, and reclaim your youth!

The Warrior’s Glade

Warriors End Flower cropped

In the original stories of the Arthurian cycle, the summer and autumn journeys of Sir Gawain, during his year of waiting for death at the hands of the Green Knight, are little documented and left to our imagination. In this poem, the Knight rests in a glade and becomes enraptured by a flower that reminds him of the pentagram, his symbol. The depth of the flower’s kiss will move him, now, but be lost to his active consciousness until much later . . .

This poem is part of a cycle of Gawain related work, to be released as an illustrated book in the Spring of 2016.

The inner meanings of the stories of Sir Gawain, the Green Knight and Lady Ragnell are the main thread for Leaf and Flame, the Silent Eye’s 2016 Spring Workshop, to which all are welcome.

Warriors End Flower cropped

Come warrior of ancient ways

And stay your quest in gentle care

Within these loving petals sleep

And free from straps the weight you bear

Which now, though tested, forged and true

Serves no more the life that dares

——-

The path of mind and duty bore you

Far from home and far from root

Though cleverness of mind ensued

The secret heart of mind stayed mute

Still silent to your pleas and sighs

As heavy thoughts bore darker fruit

——-

So from your head drop helmet’s weight

And bless the earth to see it healed

Make new mind clear and lacking fear

Embrace the unknown land revealed

This sacrifice will change what is

and turn your soul to what must yield

——-

The past will have no say in this

Your day of life whose love is gold

So break the links of that which thinks

In patterns overgrown and old

And cast aside the ghosts of then

Revealing present stories to be told

——-

There is no shame in passion’s game

To live and love is body’s nature

But we must drink from green world’s sap

To know what is beyond, and capture

The hidden taste of higher wine, whose essence

Will our hearts, not loins, enrapture

——-

Within your breast a secret art

Awaits its time to grow and flower

So rise beyond the deep despond

That’s ransomed this, your darkest hour

And, easing breast plate, find that heart

That, naked, knows eternal power

——-

Now bring your eyes from purest white

To see discarded plate and metal spun

Put down your sword, and loose the reins

Cast these away, their time is done

Then let bold Nature quench her thirst

On beauty that you have become

——-

©Copyright words and image Stephen Tanham, July 2015

Watching the Storm roll in

Wonderful storm front picture from smacked pentax.

Walking with a Smacked Pentax

Having an ice cream on Spittle beach in Northumberland with Shirl, we noticed a storm blowing up out to sea and watched it come in to land – I just love how it gets very still before a good storm and the sky turns very dark.

Most people were running for their cars, but I stayed where I was and a few minutes later the rain came down, the drops were a big as golf balls.

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Ben’s Bit, part two – The Little Red Book

Steve Green Man Dying FB2

I’ve done it again – drifted off, fully conscious; somewhere else. I do not know how long I’ve been staring at the Bakewell Gazette (see part one), absorbing their celebratory levity at my incarceration. ‘Local Businessman’? Well, stretching a point, but I know what they mean – certainly born among Northern hills very much like the beauty around Bakewell. ‘Businessman’? Definitely, until the recent, long-awaited stepping away from the IT world, after a working life at the helm of a software company; so that I could do the mystical stuff I’d always wanted to devote myself to. 

A crime of ‘Absolute precision’? Well, thank you; but emphasised here to show how the fates were on their side in the apprehension of the ‘prime perpetrator’ of this foul deed. And the precision was not mine, of course . . . though that needs to remain unsaid.

Most of what she does carries the stamp of precision with it – Wen that is; with the added calmness of Don’s gentle but deep oversight and his ability to pour oil on troubled waters, a gift that has kept the corporate wheels on many times. In a momentary lapse of generosity, I mentally repeat the word ‘corporate’.

Wheels . . . my lovely BMW, a retirement present to myself after twenty-odd years at the helm, lies pining somewhere under a dust cover in a justice system storage facility, no doubt.

I can see why they hate me, I really do understand. I am truly friendless in this dark place . . . but, a ‘M’lud’ I am most certainly not. I want to take them back to 1950s Bolton; to the sloping terrace of working-class houses, lined up the hill in uniform rows; one at each side of the river of cobbles – the place where, in a downstairs and makeshift bedroom, I came into the world . . . You take it from there, I want to shout, see what you make of it . . .

But this is getting maudlin, and I have to beware the edge of that deadly chasm. The recurring presence of Yellow Eyes is good for that – constantly reminding me never to show a weakness when he’s around; since he spends his time minutely studying my reactions, looking for the gaps into the soft underbelly . . . which he knows is there.

And I do, too – so the contest will be interesting, even if the dice are dreadfully loaded in his favour. There comes the single shutter movement again in the inset rectangle of the door’s spy panel, and, briefly, his glaring eyes are visible through the slits. Then his face disappears, leaving me to my introspection.

Time . . . that’s the killer. He can always come back and try again tomorrow. They have arranged the evidence to show conspiracy, even though the other perpetrators are yet to be caught; and I’m sure my period of remand will culminate in an utterly disproportionate custodial sentence from a local judge based on an overwhelming body of circumstantial evidence . . . so Yellow Eyes has all the time in the world to watch and hate.

And hate he does – deeply lidded, yellow hate . . . hate that you can taste and smell.

I don’t want to look at the red book on my little table yet. It promises to be the highlight of the day, and I want to savour it. So, once more, I pace my cell. One step, two, half of three – stopping in the panic spot and forcing myself to breathe.  Then, four, five . . . Looking down at the faded redness on the table top, just visible beneath the Gazette. It’s an old book; the spine is worn, as though it ended its working life as a well-thumbed library volume.

The silence is dreadful as I pick it up, pulling it from beneath the local rag. The fact that it has come from my mother gives it a warmth that is hard to express.

The Ballad of Reading Gaol was Oscar Wilde’s last book. Until now, I have never owned a copy, but I know it is said to be his greatest work. Beneath those red covers the man’s dancing and gay wit is replaced by a sober poetic ballad; a narrative of the hard and merciless truth of life behind those savage bars, including the execution by hanging of a fellow prisoner. This much I know. There will be more in the introduction, but for now, my eyes linger on the inside cover, where, in her lovely curly handwriting, my mother, one of the other occupants of that far-away and far-awhen Bolton terrace, has written out three lines:

“There would be no point coming into Being if nothing happened.”

Inside this new love, die. Your way begins on the other side. Become the sky, Take an axe to the prison wall. Escape. Walk out like someone suddenly born into colour. Do it now.”

The third line is a row of three kisses. This is from my mother; the other two are not . . .

I can feel my heart hammering as I realise that my dear friends and co-conspirators in the perceived ‘attack’ on the mysterious and ancient stone have found a way to communicate with me, albeit cryptically and probably for just this time. I know, now, that their flight to safety took them via Bolton, if only for this purpose. The first line bears the hallmark of Don’s humour; the second I recognise as a quote from the Sufi mystic Rumi and would be from Wen.

My eyes fill at the third line of kisses. I turn the page, anxious not to give anything away to they who may watch. Before me is the first verse of the Ballad of Reading Gaol:

“He did not wear his scarlet coat,

For blood and wine are red,

And blood and wine were on his hands

When they found him with the dead,

The poor dead woman whom he loved,

And murdered in her bed.”

I did not know that coughs could sound happy; but the one from the still open inspection grill does so. It’s a kind of chortled grunt; followed immediately by the turning of the key in the lock. The door swings wide and his grinning face enters ahead of the huge body, carrying the requested notebook and pencil, which he places, without the usual ceremony of me having to move back, on my small table.

Smiling at the wet streaks on my cheeks, he nods to me. “It can be hard at first, but you’ll get used to it,” He beams with a sympathy that is false and calculated.

“After all, you’ll likely be here for some time . . .”

———————————————————–< 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 blog, 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.

Bloggers… do you know what you are?

From Sue Vincent, from the heart . . .

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

Dear bloggers,

I woke up this morning to find comments, reblogs, innumerable Tweets , retweets and shares of all kinds from my post about Nick’s participation in the triathlon and his Indiegogo campaign for the acquired brain injury charity he is supporting. It has continued all day.

I cannot tell you how valuable that support can be. It isn’t just about raising funds, but about raising awareness. It is also, for me at least, about Nick himself and showing him that after the last few years, just by making it to the start line of the race, he is already a winner.

In the twenty four hours since Nick launched his campaign, £500 has already been donated… and here’s the thing that had me in tears with my coffee… YOU have done this. YOU, the blogging community.

I look at the list of donations and the vast majority of them…

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Nine Deadly Sins with Coffee (22) – Flight and Fight

Fugitive's Shield+ennea FinalAA

We ran through the steepening streets of the town. I pulled at Alexandra’s wrist and, every few strides, looked around, anxiously, in search of our pursuers.

“What are we running from?” she laughed, behind me, now well used to my craziness. I had noticed that she had recently taken to wearing more casual clothing for our teaching encounters, and suspected that her larger bag, now safely in the car, contained a change of clothes or two – including a choice of outdoor footwear . . .

“I can’t tell you, exactly, the image is fading, but I know it frightened me – and it’s big!”

“Big?,” she gasped, her voice was getting hoarse with the effort. “Big, as in an animal?”

I pulled her on, ducking and diving into the warren of alleyways that make up the Fellside district of Kendal. Fellside is a steep part of town, true to its name, that rises from the town centre and climbs south-westward up the nearby ridge. The old and narrow stone streets were perfectly suited to my purposes, and we could have been on a film set.

“It could be an animal!” I shouted, turning another tight corner and shouting in response to her previous question. “In fact, I can imagine many describing it that way; but I think it’s bigger than that!” My breath was rasping in my throat, too. The gradients of Fellside were a killer.

Alexandra ground to a halt and shook free of my hauling hand, slumping forward with hands on knees. “Idiot!,” she laughed. “You’re killing me!”

“But, it might catch us!” I managed, weakly, between gasps, fighting hard to suppress a grin.

“It can eat me if it likes,” she said, recovering her breath. “I’m not running another step . . . and I’ll need a second bloody shower, now, you nuisance–” she gasped some more. ” . . . and that will have to wait until London!”

“Aww . . .” I said. “Would a coffee help make it up to you?”

She pulled herself vertical and managed a smile. “It might . . . if it’s a good one.”

Five minutes later, and with the cool summer breeze bringing us back to normality, I walked her – downhill, at last – to the outdoor cafe in the middle tier of the three layer mound that forms the bedrock of the Brewery Arts Centre, itself set into the lower slopes of the Fellside district. I sat us on the second of the terraces in the sunshine, facing down the slope. We ordered a bottle of water each, and two large lattés. By the time they had arrived, she was speaking to me, again.

“Is this near the station?” she asked. “I have to be going, soon.”

“No, but it’s very near the Head.”

“The Head?”

“The Sleeping Head – what we’ve been running from . . .”

“I don’t know the–”

“Yes, you do, but it’s better seen in a way that makes an impact.”

For the next few minutes I said nothing else. We drank our coffees in pleasant silence, as the inner tension mounted. Eventually, I took her hand again, pulling her to her feet. “Will you close your eyes for me?”

We had come a long way in the months we had been working together. It was marked by the trust and the ease with which she accepted the request. She nodded, and I guided her, blind, up the stone staircase that had been behind us all along. When she was safely on the upper level, I turned her to face our destination and asked her to open her eyes.

She made a slight gasp.

“This is what we all run from, when we are being the Six,” I said, as her hazel eyes opened wider and she took in the carved head before us.

“Sleeping?” she whispered.

“Sleeping to our spiritual nature, which is actually the characteristic of the Nine, the core of the enneagram. Our life is not our reality, and so we live in a dream. This is what the Six embodies – someone whose fleeing life is the result of being turned away from its reality; from its inner trust, which it had and lost at station Nine . . . and so now lives in the land of fear; believing it is supported by nothing . . .”

——————————-

Nine Deadly Sins with Coffee is usually published on Thursdays.

All images and text ©International copyright, The Silent Eye School of Consciousness, 2015.

Steve Tanham is a founding director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness; a place of companionship, sharing and the search for the real in life, using the loving techniques and insights of esoteric psychology. He retired from a life as an IT entrepreneur to establish the School in 2012, and, having persuaded Sue Vincent to . . .

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Halton Gill

Another lovely collection of Yorkshire Dales images from smackedpentax.

Walking with a Smacked Pentax

On Saturday I had a drive out – originally to look at some prehistoric graves, but like an idiot I had left the map at home. It was probably because I was excited to be out…I am not normally this careless! I know roughly where they were, but I didn’t want to walk too far as the knees are still recovering from an operation and the physio said to ‘take it easy’.

Anyway, I found myself driving down a lonely road past the mountain of Pen-y-ghent towards Littondale, and then home. The road then drops down to the tiny hamlet of ‘Halton Gill’ a gorgeous setting for a Dales village. Unspoilt and beautiful, nestled below the wild fell of Horse Head – it is a lovely location. And the fells are teeming with caves – I have spent much of my youth under these fells.

I parked up and enjoyed the views for half an…

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