“December man looks through the snow to let eleven brothers know . . . that they’re all a little older.”
December is, finally, gone. There is a weariness about January. The comfort and festivities with which we brace ourselves against the oncoming winter have lost their potency – and, thankfully, their habitual power to affect our errant waistlines, for which we now have to atone . . . The tree and glitter are put away, and the howling and cold winds remind us that the spring is yet far away.
“The January man he goes around in woollen coat and boots of leather,” continues Christy Moore, singing on the music machine in the corner of the living room. It was recorded live at the eponymous Vicar Street in Dublin, and is one of our favourite albums, though it has not been played for a year or two.
Humming the tune, I look out on a garden turned to thin greens and muddy browns, and wonder, as I always do in the pale light of the year’s first month, about the sheer effort we have to make to transform this rather empty time of year into the purposeful soil that will bring a rich harvest of time well spent as the sun’s daytime arc overcomes the darkness and tips the fourfold scales of the seasons into the spring.
Aside from the usual family commitments, this time of year comprises the final three months before the Silent Eye’s Spring Workshop. This is our main annual event, held in April, which takes place in the lovely Derbyshire village of Great Hucklow. More than anything else, these weekend events define what the three of us – Sue, Stuart and myself – have both been and what we have become.
Been, because the elements of discussions, shared explorations and ritual drama are a very precise synthesis of where we came from, and what we learned from our past work, spanning many decades. We always honour those traditions in which we learned our craft. Although different, they gave us that breadth of experience which now constitutes the core of the Silent Eye School.
Become, because any attempt to establish a modern mystery school inevitably draws you into an alchemy – both personal and shared – in which you cannot be in the mix of the act of creation unless you are prepared to be changed by it – a sentiment pioneered by Carl Jung.
This year’s workshop, the River of the Sun, is based on a fictional but very spiritual tale, whose context is the real history of the period three generations after the death of the enigmatic ‘heretical’ pharaoh Akhenaten. The creation of such a workshop requires that we let go of last year’s model and reach deep for something new, something which will carry the spirit of the times. The importance of the ‘now’ and its creative flow, was one of the lessons brought home to us during our year-long series of talks given in Glastonbury in the twelve months just finished.
The actual effort to write the workshop – usually running to 150 pages of workbook scripts, plus five talks which reinforce the backbone of the School’s teaching – fills most of what will be the next three months. Five key elements of how the soul evolves will be illustrated by the ritual dramas. These reflect real life, in that certain characters are set up as adversaries. For this year’s plot, the enigmatic figure of Menascare, chief mage and spymaster to the incoming young pharaoh, Rameses II, represents the physical power which intercepts the initiatic life of the Isis temple on the Nile island of Philae. The chief priestess and priest of Isis are suspected of harbouring an inner thread of a different teaching, hidden and protected within the traditional worship of the goddess.
Staring out at the cold and sodden garden, I wonder at the process that will take us from here to there. In practice, we can only begin it. We bring the seed of an idea and plant it into the dark soil of January, trusting that the magic of the winter will nurture it within that subconscious land of Persephone. There, we find the most wonderful of processes at work. The seed of the first set of ideas produces a harvest of a second generation; this is examined and re-planted back in the soil of February.
“February man still shakes the snow from off his clothes and blows his hands,” continues Christy Moore.
The hands are indeed the key, as furious fingers home in on ideas that thaw from the raw stuff of potential, becoming fixed on the pages of the growing scripts.
“The man of March he sees the spring and wonders what the year will bring; and hopes for better weather.”
The process is repeated, producing a crop that is the nearly finished offering, towards the end of March, subject to the fine tuning that ensures that everyone attending has a (scripted) role that they will play for the whole weekend. Thus, their own, growing subjective experience becomes part of the unique alchemical mix.
The man of March has another role. He must make a judgement regarding the point at which the crop will be harvested, the ideas set down on the page, allowing time only for the final tuning and fitting to the confirmed attendees.
“through April rain the man goes down to watch the birds come in to share the summer.”
To share the summer, indeed – or at least the spring. The final group of people arrive in the tiny village of Great Hucklow, where the venue – the Nightingale Centre – is a two minute walk from the Queen Anne, a pub with a warm open fire and warmer welcome. If new, they are made very welcome; and introduced to those sharing the event. Any nerves give way to relaxation and enjoyment as the Silent Eye’s traditional welcoming spirit pervades the gathering.
The Friday night formal beginning to the weekend sees the introduction of each of the characters, as the fast boat of Rameses, carrying Menascare and a phalanx of elite soldiers, glides through the dark night to force an arrogant interruption to the Isis temple space in which the initiation of a young and very special priest is taking place . . .
By Saturday morning, everyone is living their roles, and the magic unfolds. Gone are the walls of the Nightingale Centre, replaced by the living presence of ancient Egypt, as the birds of the spirit emerge from the inner and judge the framework fitting for their purposes . . .
. . . becoming present.
With a sigh that last three months, I am back in the present where all this exists in potential, only. I look out at the sodden soil of the garden . . . But something has changed – there is a heartbeat, albeit a slow one, in the depths of that dark earth.
In the deep of winter and in the hearts and minds of the January ‘men’, something new has begun to germinate . . .
For anyone interested in last year’s workshop, the book “The Land of the Exiles” will give a good idea of what to expect from the Silent Eye’s April event. We look forward to making you very welcome.
You can barely see them, but if you look closely at the image below, you can discern a curved line of ‘orbs’ over the canal bridge in the darkness. These strange things don’t often appear in my camera’s visual harvest, but I’m always interested when they do – the last one of note was in a temple in Egypt.
I’m not at all fanciful about such things. I’m sure there’s a perfectly good scientific explanation for them; but mine always appear during some heightened experience . . .
We were staying at Whittle our old home town in Lancashire. A close friend was helping us put together an impromptu dinner, the sort of unscheduled meal we three have come to love: chuck in a few bits and pieces bought hastily, some cheese of, course, and whatever is left in the fridge to go with it. A few spicy sausages, bread, and that favourite ingredient – two bottles of red wine. We were not going to see our friend and former neighbour over the Christmas period, so this was it; our small, festive celebration of a long and very close friendship.
But that was later. The orbs in the darkness were related to something else – a walk in the “black”. I like to ‘walk in the black’. I’m sure it’s dangerous to go walking, alone on a canal footpath so dark that you can barely see your feet. But so far, my body has not been found floating the following morning.
There’s a treat in it, of course, but that comes later in our tale.
I had been in all day, minding Misti, our stray and now fully adopted cat, who had never stayed at Whittle before, and who was very nervous that she was about to be abandoned, again . . .
I was writing, too, of course. So, if you’ve wondered why my frequency of personal postings has dropped off, its because of the sad fact that I’ve been enjoying myself too much and the students (Companions) in the Silent Eye School have nearly caught me up with the lessons! So head-down time and try and get another lead on them to see us through all the work for the April workshop . . .
But I digress . . .
These ‘walks in the black’ are a good way of clearing the head, after a day’s intense writing; and the canal path at Whittle is one of the blackest places you can imagine – but then, that makes the few lights you see so very special.
I like taking photographs in the dark – throw away the rule book and point and hope. Usually, the exposure required means you have to have a tripod to catch anything of value, but sometimes that old canal post comes in handy . . .
Now, I seldom set off without a contingency plan in mind. I knew I had an hour before we got together for our dinner, and I knew, from many happy memories, that the dark canal path leads, up one of the longest flights of locks in Britain, to a very special pub. The Top Lock is one of those real-ale pubs that refuses to lie down on the tarmac of progress. It’s not exactly spit and sawdust, but it is basic -which doesn’t stop it serving wonderful beer and great nosh. I’m not a big beer drinker, but on a dark night, with the remaining quarter mile to go, those lights beckon in a rather festive way . . .
And so I sat, and thought of you, and then discovered the ‘orbs’ on the played back images, while I nursed down that pint – Cumbrian ale was the guest beer, ironically . . . and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps just to make sure I made it ‘home’.
The walk back crosses over the motorway, and it marks a vivid return to the light, the modern light, where events rush at us at light-speed, and there’s little time for reflection.
And, yes, that pint was worth all the darkness; and the creative solitude in the cold air was worth even more.
If I don’t get chance to say it, again . . . Happy Christmas, everyone.
And Misti sends a Christmas meow.
I’ve written about Ulverston before. This small town on the north-west reaches of Morecambe Bay, close to Barrow-in-Furness, has a special charm. It is not touristy in the normal sense of the word. It’s not even pretty, in a conventional way – but it is full of interest and charm. It helps that it sits to the immediate south of some of the most spectacular scenery in the Lakeland area, and many holidaymakers, fancying a change of scene, venture south into its fascinating streets. The town was also the birthplace of Stan Laurel, of Laurel and Hardy fame.
The history of Ulverston is a working one. It used to be part of Lancashire, but boundary meddling relocated it to the newly-created Cumbria, where it now lives. Its feel is very Lancashire; and the residents pride themselves on the independence of their history – much like the boundary towns between Lancashire and Yorkshire, many of which have had their county boundaries jostled over the past fifty years, causing heartache from folks from both counties.
Ulverston also boasts a proud industrial and brewing history, much of which, sadly, is now gone. It was the centre of the Hartley’s brewing company, and the historic (and listed) brewery buildings are still there, but abandoned, awaiting the right re-development.
Once a year, at the start of the Christmas season, Ulverston celebrates in style, becoming a Victorian market town, once again. A good number of the residents dress up in authentic garb and the whole of the town centre is turned over to the Dickens Fair to mark the start of the season. The length of Market Street – the cobbled main thoroughfare, is closed to traffic, as are many of the adjoining side streets. Stalls are erected in abundance – everything from locally made food, through wood turning to pottery.
As you can see from the photo above, by lunchtime the place is so busy that it is very difficult to move around. For this reason, when we visit, we aim to be there before ten in the morning and plan on leaving – against the tide of incoming visitors on park and ride buses – before one in the afternoon.
|A handsome number of tearooms provide the perfect breakfast for the early starter|
There must be well over a hundred stalls for the event, and the mind gets numbed with the sheer variety of things to see. Here are a few of the them:
One of our favourite tearooms – Gillams, shares the festival street with a local basket maker. The top quality baskets are hand-made and quite costly, but they last a lifetime. We have one, already, and bought another this time for a close friend’s Christmas present.
Many of the shops are period-styled, anyway, so little additional decor is needed
– but a vintage Santa or two helps.
What we have dubbed, the ‘Ingenious Eggs’ lady. These wonderful pottery ‘split eggs’ divide horizontally, into salt and pepper pots, in a pattern that simulates a boiled egg cut by a spoon.
At the top of Market Street is a double marquee which functions as a concert hall. The youngsters in this brass band are from local schools.
More pottery – with a well-dressed family of stall holders.
A wood-turner demonstrates his ancient craft – devoid of power tools.
Elegance of the period – beautifully recreated.
Helpful signage. It’s very easy to get lost, if you’re a first-time visitor.
Locally made fruit juices and cordials . . .
Cakes and bread in abundance . . .
Local cheeses from Cartmel.
And, of course, beer from one of the local micro-breweries.
The attractions are not restricted to the stalls. There are musical performances through the day, and special events are put on for children. What lingers in the memory is the sheer effort that the townsfolk go to to create the atmosphere.
Some very well-dressed Ulverstonians . . .
The old faithful steam truck, originally the property of Hartley’s the local brewery, which was absorbed into Robinson’s Brewery in Stockport, who closed it down.
A bag of sweets for the journey home?
One last look at the iconic clock tower – now part of a bank.
The groom and best man wait
Last Saturday, my eldest son, Matthew, married his long-time lady-love, Medi (Mayada). Both are now medical doctors, having studied together at Newcastle/Durham Medical School. They have subsequently done their junior doctor F1 and F2 periods in London, where they have now set up home.
The wedding took place at the Savile Club in London, which turned out to be a great location. The Georgian building, on four floors, plus extensive basement, brims with history. Its wood panelled rooms and grand dining suites – reminiscent of Louis XIV at his most opulent, are a delight, and speak of an era long departed. But it provides classy fun to indulge a bit of fantasy.
The building is a traditional gentleman’s club during the week, but is available for weddings at the weekends, although there is that strange transitional period on a Friday night when resident wedding guests have to creep around like mice, (or servants?) avoiding disturbing the ‘gentlemen’ and using only the facilities of entrance, bedrooms and exits for dinner elsewhere. That said, the rest of the experience, including the renovated bedroom accommodation, was fabulous, and I had two of the best breakfasts I’ve ever eaten . . .
To begin the day, we all met up in a nearby pub, while the bride went through the final stages of preparation.
Soon, we were ushered by the groomsmen into the opulence of the room to be used for the ceremony. Pic below is my niece, Alana, my brother, Dave, and Sandra his partner.
During this part of the day, we were asked not to take photos, so we’ll have to wait for the official set to reveal how lovely the arriving bride looked. Following the wedding ceremony, we all climbed the hollywood-style staircase, down which the bride had descended, and began the festivities.
The main reception room is wonderful. You might imagine that such extravagant decor would feel ‘heavy’ but it didn’t. It provided a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere in which the dinner and speeches unfolded. I was due to speak, as part of the groom’s team, after the desert, so I had to moderate the wine intake for a while . . .
The event was black tie – to go with the surroundings. Here’s a pic of Bernie and me in our finery – I haven’t dressed like this for a long time . . .
The wedding breakfast was a lovely three course meal; during which the speeches began. One of my favourite moments was when Medi’s dad, Isam (simply known as Sam) made his gentle and tender speech to ‘give away’ his daughter to Matthew. All the speeches went well and were very ably MC’d by my other son, Daniel, whose own wedding I wrote up in the blogs in August.
Many of the speeches were simple tributes from the heart, and brought tears around the room. Others were more structured and humorous. One of my favourites was when James, one of Matthew’s close friends, read out a letter he had written to the future. The future in question was addressed to a child of Medi and Matthew, and the letter described his or her parents as they were on the day of their wedding. It was a lovely idea and beautifully delivered; and no, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house at the end of it. During my own speech, I compared the wedding to an Arthurian tale and asked the “Knights of Edinburgh’ – those classy gentlemen I met at the ‘stag do’ in that lovely city, to stand as a group and to give a ‘court’ toast to the arriving Queen.
One of my close relatives described Sam and myself as looking like two mafia dons in our finery – so here’s a photo of Don Stefano and Don Isam.
And a few more of the friends and family:
And then it was time for the Bride and Groom to lead the dancing. The string quartet who had been playing since our arrival took a bow, and were replaced by a jazz quartet, which set the feet tapping and soon the small but elegant dance floor was full of well-dressed movement.
And then . . .
It was at this point that my brother’s partner, Sandra, discovered that the basement of the Savile Club bore an uncanny resemblance to the downstairs domain of Mrs Patmore in Downton Abbey. Sandra, or as she has become known in our house, ‘Dangerous Sandra’ duly marched a group of us from the bar to this tiled and ancient wonderland, where she posed us for a variety of photos culminating in what I have dubbed the ‘Band on the Run’ shot. Apologies to our younger readers who won’t have a clue what that is . . .
Medi came down to discipline her wayward servants at one stage, so we got this lovely pic of her . . .
Matthew waltzed his grandma around the floor . . .
Soon, the midnight hour approached, and we spent a few minutes in mellow family reflections . . . (thank you for taking this one, Bernie)
And then it was time for cloaks and carriages, as they used to say . . .
A big thank you to all concerned. Bernie took most of the shots, so the final pic goes to her and that wonderful dress . . .
It was lovely to meet the new extended family and we look forward to many more occasions. The bride and groom are now honeymooning in the Maldives, but don’t envy them too much, as they return shortly to the harsh reality of life in the NHS.
A very beautiful day . . .
What was it that broke under such circumstances?
I had asked the question of myself the week before. When you ‘stopped the world’ what was it that broke? Perhaps breaking was too strong a word – it could also be described as a passage from one state of attention to another . . . I sipped the hot coffee, noisily – it was the only way to drink it, fresh from the flask.
“Penny for them?” asked George Dixter, sitting on the park bench next to me. We had bumped into each other the day before, and he had offered croissants and coffee in the park; the place where I had first met him. The weather had turned damp and cold, so he didn’t look out of place in his old Burberry mac, which seemed to accompany him everywhere and in all seasons. On this occasion, and, no doubt in deference to the late autumn, he was also wearing an olive green fedora.
In the late fifties or even sixties, he would have cut quite a contemporary dash. But now, he looked like a character out of a period spy movie. I smiled at the thought, but was wary – little that these people did appeared to be accidental.
“Well, two things . . .” I sipped some more of his generously provided coffee and gratefully accepted the fresh croissant which had been procured from the bakery across the road from the park.
“Firstly,” my grin widened as his snakey eyes locked onto mine. Conspiratorially, I lowered my voice. “why the George Smiley outfit?”
He leaned closer, playing the perfect spy, and whispered, “. . . And secondly?”
I couldn’t help it, I chuckled. “Well, secondly, what is it that breaks when we ‘stop the world’.
“Aha . . .” he said, sitting back and mirroring my noisy sipping of the ultra-hot coffee, as though he had just learned some secret from me.
“Well now,” he began, putting down his steaming coffee and flexing his fingers outwards from linked palms. “the first one is easier to answer – play!”
“Play?” I asked, unsure if it were noun or command.
“Yes, play,” he replied. “as in we don’t play enough!“
“We, as in people,” he replied good-naturedly. “We forget how to play and play is really important!”
I thought about this for a while, while he sipped his coffee. I was about to ask another question when he answered it. “My outfit, as you say, is quirky . . . It makes me feel good because, in it, I’m playing; and I love the reaction of those around me, and it would help stop their worlds if they used it properly – which brings us, nicely, to your second question . . .”
I considered the import of what he had said. They were all playing . . . and yet.
“What breaks,” he continued, leaning closer, again and emphasising the serious side of this play. “is something that hides behind the habitual, which we call the slayer of the now.”
They had mentioned the word slayer, before. I knew it meant something in Buddhism, but I was not sure if they used it in the same way.
“So, stopping the world is an example of an action that defeats the slayer?”
“Yes, as, to a certain extent, does the whole idea of play.” He sipped the last of his coffee and looked at his watch. “Play and stopping the world makes us present to the moment, the now. The real lives only in the now, the rest is a system of mental devices which support the slayer . . .”
He looked at his watch. “I must go.” He said, holding out his hand for my coffee cup which was part of a set belonging to the large flask. It was still half full, but I handed it back to him, expecting that he would empty it onto the nearby grass. He didn’t – instead he reached into his canvas shoulder bag and pulled out a styrofoam cup. Emptying the remainder into this, he passed it back to me.
“You’ll be delighted to learn that Maria Angelo has offered to take the next bit with you!”
Events were happening too fast. I blurted out, “When?”
“It’s on the bottom of the cup,” he replied, striding off around the path.
Carefully, I raised the foam cup and examined its underside. There was nothing. I moved to protest at the departing back of the raincoat, but he beat me to it.
“Oh yes it is . . . ” he shouted over his shoulder.
I stared at the cup more carefully. On its rim, three marks had been added with a blue Biro. They formed a perfect triangle within the circle. I chuckled, again, thinking of my last meeting up there with Don Pedro. So, it was to be on Humphrey Head, again, but when?
Five minutes later, when my musings on the meeting were finished, I downed the last of the coffee, only to find emerging from the dregs at the bottom of the cup the words ‘Thursday next, 3.00 p.m.’
Coffee with Don Pedro is published on Thursdays. The previous episodes, some of which are labelled ‘The Beast in the Cafe’ are in the blogs. You can follow the enigmatic trail by clicking on this link.
Contact details and an outline description are on the other pages of this blog and via the website below.