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

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

Locked-down and Armed: one man’s struggle with entropy (6) – White Space and USOs

So, now we’ve got to move swiftly!

I see you’re willing and able, You have your faded work- jeans on and you can borrow my older safety helmet. It’s a bit squeaky, but perfectly functional. We have two hours to paint Salty Pete between squares 1 and 19. See the ‘Lucky Bag’ diagram, below .

During the last hour before you arrived, I’ve been stirring this huge pot of white emulsion paint – essentially, bringing it back to life from ten years ago. I’m as surprised as you are that it worked… and it’s free, of course. If we use it up – which is unlikely – there’s another, identical tub sitting in the darkness close to where the rat was last seen…

(Above: Apart from the pallet wood of the garden tools rack, we’re about to paint the whole perimeter of the Saltpetre – as long as it’s wood and connected directly to the stone.

‘Roddy’ – Salty Pete’s newly-named resident rat – has not been seen since our fateful meeting in the dark and dingy recess under the old vice. I have to say, we must have been feeding him well because his coat and eyes gleamed with health. I’m not entirely happy with his (or her?) presence. How do you ‘sex’ a rat? Very carefully, I imagine, especially a wild one, living in your future man-cave.

I decant the first measure of thick, white paint into two old mugs and hand you a medium sized brush. We set to… The brief is to paint everything above waist level that is wood and connected to the old stone – with the exception of the now-completed garden tools racks, made from the old pallets. The contrast of aged wood and white will look good.

I’m after a cheap effect; what Bernie and I once named ‘North California Shabby Chic’. In the 1990s we spent many weekends motoring along the Pacific Coast Highway (also known as PCH and Highway 1) and further north, following the roads as far as the stunning Oregon coast. The computer-based world we worked in was centred on technology from one of the Silicon Valley companies, and we took every opportunity to tag a few days’ adventure onto each of our quarterly business trips.

North of San Francisco, it’s quite sparsely populated. You can drive for hours before finding that much-desired cafe, tucked away down a backroad. When you do, there’s a good chance that the decor will be ‘North California Shabby Chic’. This consists of rapidly-applied rough strokes of thick, white emulsion, resulting in a rich coat of white, underpinned by occasional glimpses of the wood beneath. It doesn’t come into its own until you put colourful things on it, of course…

It’s easy, error-proof and fast. It doesn’t matter what else you paint in the process because it can all go in the mix. We’re talking casual painting – a style to go with the organic nature of our restoration of Salty Pete… It’s also fun, and we’ll end up spattered with white. But your old jeans and my old jeans have seen it all before.

Music… we’ll need music. So here is one of my favourite Jackson Browne tracks to keep us rhythmic and motivated.

Perfect music for driving… and speed painting

Off we go…

Two hours later, singing and, occasionally, giggling, we have finished. Our arms ache with the constant brush strokes, and we’re a bit of a mess… But it’s been fun. Salty Pete – at least the wall between squares 1 and 19 – has been completely transformed.

(Above: The long section of what was Peter’s Pride Radio Shack is now a bright white section of useful pedboard, with a set of thoughtful shelf supports for the perfectly-fitting step ladders)

One of the long sections of pegboard still has shelf supports fixed in place. They’re drilled into a batten that’s is fixed into the stone at the back, so they’re very solid. Not waiting for the paint to dry, I reach for the step ladders and try them for size. They hang, perfectly, leaving ample space, below, for other fittings to be attached. Doing this gives me an idea about the many bicycles…. but more on this, later.

“Suddenly, it’s bright!’ says Bernie, arriving with three mugs of steaming tea – we’ll have to be careful not to confuse the various mugs, going forward…

She examines what we’ve done… “North California Shabby Chic!” She says it with a chuckle. It’s all the approbation we could wish… The day has begun well, and it’s about to get better.

(Above: North Californian Shabby Chic at its finest…)

There’s one shelf I’m in a hurry to see dry. It’s right in the middle of the main section and I want it to be the home of a bluetooth-based portable speaker to which I can ‘beam’ music while we’re working in here. Having quality sound is a key step. I place an old tile beneath the speaker to protect it from the drying paint, and connect it up to the phone. The well-constructed cabinet space – a survivor from one of Peter’s radio shacks – makes its sound rich and resonant.

Above it are two more shelves. I put the large, outdoor extension leads into these, and the whole arrangement seems to snap into life. Directly above this are the twin feeds from the dual power sockets on the main beam, so we’ve aligned form with function.

Let’s bring it to life… Here’s an appropriate song from John Miles:

(Above: The vitally important ‘power and music shelves’ – that bluetooth speaker sounds great in there)

USOs… it’s not a typo. Unidentified Structural Objects… There are two of them; the smaller one, here, Square 11 – beneath the music and power shelf, and a bigger floor to ceiling one on the back wall, Square 19.

(Above: The first of the USOs. Unidentified Structural Objects. What on earth did it do?)

The smaller one, beneath the music shelf, is about the depth and height of a kitchen unit, which is why we placed a broken and surplus kitchen unit next to it, years ago. We had a vague plan to make it useful in the future and it currently houses chisels and an old jigsaw. The USO is made of pale brick and serves no visible purpose. Perhaps it supported something vital in Peter’s day?

Whatever it was, it’s about to become something new, for I can’t make progress along this most important of walls without resolving its use. It is too big and intrusive to ignore, and I’d just fall over if it stayed unchanged. So I have to make it part of something functional.

Thinking furiously, I assemble some bits… which turn out to be an inspired collection…

(Above: the odd-placed and singular USO finds itself the cornerstone of a pincer movement…)

There’s a Black and Decker ‘workmate workbox’, a plastic tray, a pen and pencil drawer insert, two pieces of MDF – one raw, the other covered, a scrap halogen light fitting from my old office desk, and, finally, a small ‘modeller’s’ vice.

I push the old (and door-less) kitchen unit up snug to the USO. A short stride to the newly commissioned Drill Cabinet sees me equipped with two ready-charged drills – pilot drill and power screwdriver locked and loaded. Five minutes later, I’ve drilled the two pieces of MDF into place. In the process, the kitchen unit has been secured into the whole. I’m looking smug…

By some miracle of good fortune the white plastic tray fits snugly behind the MDF, tidying the gap to the wall. I place the pencil tray into its white brother and rotate the ‘workmate workbox’ into one of two orientations it will have, long-term.

(Above: the USO has become the basis for a neat workspace)

Things are looking good. But this workplace will be used for detailed things, and I need the footless halogen light resolving…

(Above: Finally, bright light to work by!)

The small vice comes into play: it fixes (at a right-angle to the usual orientation) to the music shelf, above. The arm of the broken halogen lamp is fastened, horizontally, so that the head can be rotated to the workbench, below, or just about anywhere else for contributory illumination.

Our working day is ending. I have one final thing to do. We have a plethora of old, plastic, petrol cans, and I suspect they’ll make useful storage – sawn in half. The first one is in the above photo, mounted on the pegboard. We’ll look at what it does, in the next post.

The left wall is looking purposeful. But behind me the central part of the floor is still chaotic. I will need a bold move for the next step, if I am not to continue to spend the start and end of each day carrying things out to the lawn and back again.

I stare up into the dusty heavens and wonder… dare we?

To be continued…

Other parts of the Locked Down and Armed series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five this is Part Six

©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

Top Drawer

Will I layer my data, uniform,

Till that obedient plateau

Where the arranged and ruling desktop

stamps me ‘passed’, no threat


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

Locked-down and Armed: one man’s struggle with entropy (5) – The White Rabbit

I didn’t explain about the three drills…

I’ve written about the new one – a slinky DeWALT with a noise that makes you shiver with DIYlight. The other two are older versions by the same maker.

Buying the new one was prompted by the failure of both my re-chargeable batteries, when I tried to use the drill after a year of idleness… So, technically, I had a spare drill – but I had purchased only one battery with the new device… Two drills, one battery…hmm.

Prior to the destruction of Salty Pete’s old interior (the ‘radio shacks’), I stored my personal protective gear – safety helmet, armoured gloves, eye-protectors, long waders for the pond, etc – in a large plastic box that was loosely jammed on to the main cross-member that supports the upper part of the building. The middle of the former Saltpetre was so cluttered that I needed somewhere with easy access to my most precious life-protecting gear. Being high above, I only had to arrange the pink ladder (more on this later) to access my essential gear.

Before I swung the sledgehammer at the entire left side of the interior, I shimmied up the ladder to retrieve the box before the start of armageddon. The box contained a surprise: all my expected stuff and, underneath, another drill case. It was old and dirty, but inside was a drill and two batteries… presumable dead ones.

(Picture: One drill plus two batteries… Literally, a gift from ‘above’)

In a state of disbelief, I did a quiet calculation on my fingers and realised I now had – at least potentially – three drills and three batteries – assuming the older ones worked.

It was too good to be true. Hardly daring to hope, I stretched a power line up to the only socket in the place and used a multi-plug to connect the two chargers. There was a satisfying clunk as the batteries dropped into the charger’s housing… and then both red lights began to blink, indicating they were charging. Disbelief… and a silent thank you to the fates.

Within a meagre half an hour, they were fully charged, tested and ready for action. Two of the drills were mine; the other was a mystery. Five years ago, we had some structural work done to create an interior loft within the Saltpetre; but no-one had contacted us about a lost drill case and contents.

I made a phone call to check. Nope… said the roofer and builder of lofts. The drill kit was not his…. A mystery; but in these circumstances, a delightful one. If anyone else who’d worked here came to mind, I’d come clean.

If not, I had three drills…each with a battery.

A drill saves hours of work, but what slows you down is having to change the ‘bit’ from, say, a thin pilot drill – used to make sure the final screw doesn’t split the wood, to a bit that functions as a powerful screwdriver – driving a long, high-tensile screw home in a few seconds, where it would have taken long minutes by hand. The small, dedicated ones are useful in a house, but, for serious stuff, get an adaptor for your drill…heaven!

(Above: Square 1, now almost finished. The storage rack made from old pallets would have taken hours to ‘fix’ onto the battens without the twin drills, one in each hand… okay, slight exaggeration…)

The only reason the ‘long-handled garden tools rack’ had been finished in the short time available was the double-act of two drills, functioning as described, above.

The main problem when working on Salty Pete’s interior was the low level of light- there are no windows. When we bought The Wharf, ten years ago, there was no electric to the ‘shed’. While having the contours of the future garden carved out of the muddy building site, we had an armoured cable routed under what would become the main lawn. For the first few years, we survived off this, and the single plug near the door, barely visiting Salty Pete during the dark months. Eventually, we had a overhead set of sockets and a strip light put in, but the light was in the wrong place – on the side of the lintel and not its lower face, where it would light up the intended (future) workbench, below.

(Above: The interior of Salty Pete as a Lucky Bag word square – see previous posts – Squares 14 and 6 were today’s targets for development)

I was going to need a lot of light for some of the work I had planned, so I disconnected the fuse, then the light-fitting, before stretching the existing cable to allow for it to be mounted directly over the central part of the building. The spring days were bright, but that little extra from the overhead helped a lot.

(Above: the newly positioned strip light in the centre of the space)

Having relocated the main light, I took stock of what the rest of the day might contain. There was another ‘easy win’ for Square 14: an object that would add both hand-tools and liquid storage beneath the long-handled tools rack. For years it had served as a shelving unit in the larder of our former house. It was made wholly of plastic and I hated it… But it was free.

(Above: the sawn-off shelving unit was a perfect fit beneath the tool rack)

The plastic shelf was too tall. The top of this unit had to be level with the base of the tools above it. A hand saw made short work of the adjustment in height. Minutes later, minus its top shelf, it was functioning as a container for the petrol, two-stroke, white spirit, turps and various other liquids that normally take up flow-through space on a garage floor.

(Square 14 now re-used as our ‘liquids store’ and complete, or were they?)

The new structure was beginning to emerge within the dusty cube of the Saltpetre. Its functions and forms were nascent in what was included and excluded so far. This wall was to be dedicated to garden tools and liquids at one end; and ‘tall power tools’ at the other, with drills taking a central place in the middle. The ‘tall power tools’ had no common home at present and were a damned nuisance. Incorporating them into the wall would free up much of the floor and provide a wonderful feeling of walkable space.

I was starting to realise that this was not just a physical journey, but a psychological one, as well. Much of my personal past was being confronted, here… Contradictions have a habit of being exposed in such a process.

Enter contradiction…

(Big, red, ugly and plastic – the useless ‘tools cabinet’)

It’s about four feet tall, garish red with grey trim, and had large castor wheels. It’s all plastic, and often bends in all the wrong places. It’s useless and Bernie couldn’t wait to get rid of it!

(Above: Four large castor wheels… and that floor. I ask you…)

It’s a tool chest – but was never strong enough to do its job. I used it for years in my office–but not for anything heavy. Since then, it had mouldered at the back of Salty Pete, buried under a mountain of other, unlikely-to-be-reused stuff.

But my ‘gift from above’ drills were sitting, quite nicely, on it. Moreover, it could be rotated into the corner of Square 6, where it would take up the minimum room and not block access to the ‘long power tools’ that had to live on the adjacent and recessed Square 19. Reluctantly, I could see the potential for it to be dedicated solely to the drill-related part of my hardware. And I had just redeemed and re-used Bernie’s nasty plastic shelves. According to the verdict accompanying the last mug of tea, she was ‘well pleased!’

There was a trade, here… And I knew just how to sweeten the deal. On her last mercy mission with the tea, Bernie had remarked that it was a pity that we couldn’t re-use the severed top of the plastic shelves. Two drills at the ready, and armed with my large plastic jar of may-come-in-handy bits, I fixed the old top, vertically to the side of the renewed liquids rack and, using long screws, locked it tightly in six places against the verticals of the shelving. The hard ‘webbed’ surface was perfect for the use of plastic ties. A short time later, we had a place where shorter garden tools could be slipped into strong plastic loops and tightened… all made from scrap pieces of plastic and large-packet Amazon wrapping.

(Above: Not pretty, and would need some cleaning, but the ‘Liquids Shelving’ had acquired a side wall for smaller garden tools… Bernie was delighted!)

Returning to the other side of the left wall, there was a problem with the tool cabinet’s feet – four large castor wheels, allowing it to be pushed around on a hard level floor. But on cobbles from 1820! Even Hercules would shudder… Removing the wheels was a matter of sliding the casings out of the ‘loose from new’ plastic housings. I put the heavy castors to one side. They were the best made part of the cabinet and would possibly come in handy within the house. Wheel-less, it stood more firmly on the ever-present, ever uneven cobbles.

“If it were snowing, we could tow it away on a sleigh,” I heard myself mutter. And then thought about what I’d said. Flat runners would at least average out the effects of the cobbles. I scrambled to retrieve two lengths of scrap wood and one of Peter’s old jam jars in which he had stored a selection of basic washers. The cabinet’s plastic was flimsy, but I suspected that the right fat-screw and washer combination would fix it to anything below. I could drill through the cabinet anywhere I liked, there was no strength in any of it…

(Above: Mounted on wooden runners and drilled into the back wall, the all-plastic tool cabinet began to behave itself for the first time since it entered Salty Pete, many years ago)

I examined the interior of the cabinet to check where the structure was weakest. Pulling my head back to the daylight, I noticed that two of the older timber battens ran down the wall at the back.

Thirty minutes later, the ugly red box was not only secure, it was drilled and screwed so tightly into what was around it that it had become an integral part of Salty Pete’s structure. I grunted in triumph. I wasn’t just remodelling the interior, I was building a Favela!

(Above: Requiring only a good wash – which was pointless at this stage – I now had a level-ish ‘Drill Station’ cabinet screwed so firmly into the walls, it had become part of the structure. My very own ‘Favela’ was taking shape!

Keen to keep the momentum going, I located everything I could find related to my drills: bits galore (thank you, Dad), plastic plugs of all sizes, the lot. I stuffed them all into their new home, with the twin drills on top and… and stood back; looking from garden tools, across the expanse of the left wall to the new, bright red, ‘drill station’.

It felt really good, until I focussed on the actual wall between these twin triumphs. Before me was a patchwork of ancient red pegboard, slotted-in timbers for support, and a wealth of old MDF pieces to fill the gaps. Each was a different colour. The effect wasn’t vital, it was ‘dead’ and old… Whatever happened next with that important central section, I didn’t want it backed by such a sad base…

We needed a break from the past, and colour was the most powerful technique I knew. But the spirit of the project was to do it by re-use and upcycling–spending no additional money in the process.

(Above: At the back of one of the nastiest recesses of the Saltpetre were two large drums of white emulsion paint, surplus to requirements in 2012. Would they still be usable?)

I knew that, in the back of one of the nastiest corners of the building, (Square 5 on our map) buried beneath a pile of other things – including our ‘bagged’ Brompton folding cycles, were two ten litre plastic drums of white emulsion paint. They had been left over from decorating the house when it was finally complete, back in 2012. I doubted they would still be usable… But they were the best chance I had of changing the ‘feel’ of Salty Pete… without spending a penny!

But, first, I had to dig my way to them…

Twenty minutes later, sweating profusely with the effort of shifting enough stuff to get in there, I located them in the near darkness. They were as far back as they could be, and against the old stone of the back wall. As I inched towards them, I looked sideways, for motivation, at the shining red side of my new ‘Drill Station’…. and saw the remarkable blue eyes of a large rat looking back at me…

To be continued…

Other parts of the Locked Down and Armed series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, this is Part Five

©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

Never West

I’ve always loved maps…

I can remember, when a child, being bought a fold-out schematic of a town with streets, main roads, a river, a hill and a railway line. It was just a layout – a map – but I had lots of my own cars, a model train and some small figures of the right scale to populate the town with activity.

“Where are you?” my mother asked, shortly after I became joyfully lost in the richly-featured landscape on the carpet. I looked up, puzzled by the question. I picked up a plastic farmer and offered it to her.

“Are you there or here?” she asked. My mother was always good at making you think…

I can’t remember what my reply was – probably just to keep holding out the plastic farmer.

I grew up with a love of walking and cycling… and maps. I would spend my own pocket money to get a walkers’ map of my favourite places so I could pore over them, imagining, with increasing accuracy, what the landscape would look like. It never occurred to me to ask why north was at the top of the map. I knew from my spinning globe of the planet that the north-pole was at the top of the world, so, of course, all maps would be oriented with north as the top.

But it’s not always been so…

Understanding where we are in the world is fundamental to our survival.. and our sanity. It has psychological implications, too – most of them subconsciously acted on. Our brains are specially ‘wired’ to provide us with a continuously changing ‘map’ of where we are – usually relative to safety or ‘the known’.

Have you ever awoken from a disturbing dream and not known where you were for a second or two? It’s can be frightening; and gives us an insight into why our children cry when faced with the same or similar experiences. A dream has taken them out of the ‘familiar’ and they fear what is new, especially, as in the dream state, when rational thinking is unavailable.

The need for that ‘place of safety’ is hard-wired into our brain’s cognitive mechanisms. In so-called primitive mankind, the place of safety was a physical thing: a cave, or a dwelling in a sturdy tree, perhaps. It’s taken us thousands of years to become happy with the idea that we are somewhere safe (for example, staying in a hotel), rather than the actual location of the home.

Perhaps, seeing this, we become more sympathetic to those who lose their homes through economic or political upheaval. There are likely to be many more homeless people as the present Corvid-19 crisis works its way through our societies.

We are almost unique in trying to share the directions to home with others. The only other species with this is the honey bee. Insect species, like ants, leave chemical trails, but they don’t try to communicate through a language of place. Just us and the bees…

Humans have a long history of creating maps. The oldest examples discovered on cave walls are 14,000 years old. During that time, maps have been drawn, etched or scratched on stone, paper and, now, screened on computer devices – particularly portable ones, like phones and tablets.

(Above: This famous 1973 shot of the Earth, done by an astronaut who was upside down, was actually taken with south at the top. NASA decided to flip it to a normal north-up orientation before its release. Image NASA)

If we were to examine the Earth from space, we would immediately see how difficult it is to identity north. Unless you are long way from the Earth, there are no visual clues, apart from the point of a theoretically huge pencil around which the Earth rotates – the physical (geographic) ‘North Pole’. But this is not the same as the ‘north’ reading on that little pocket device the boy holding the plastic farmer would have got. The two would have been close, but not identical, as the vast and surging currents in the Earth’s iron core creates fluctuations in the magnetic field that swings the little needle on a magnetic compass.

The compass has been an essential part of the story of maps. It’s interesting that its inventors, the Han Dynasty in China (2nd century BCE to 1st century CE), used compasses that pointed to what we now view as south. South was the direction taken by the naturally occurring lodestone used in these early instruments. In ancient China, the ‘top’ of the map was therefore south.

Christian maps from the time of the Crusades were known as Mappa Mundi. East was at the top, towards the Garden of Eden and with Jerusalem in the centre – the geographic focus of their ‘holy wars’.

(Above: the Hereford Mappa Mundi, with Jerusalem and the east, at the top of the map, Source Wikipedia, Public Domain)

In ancient Egypt, the ‘top’ of the world was east – the position of the sunrise. The Islamic empire placed south at the top, like China. Most of the Islamic population lived north of Mecca, so it was natural to ‘look up’ to the south.

The west was left out of this history. The place to which humanity ‘looked up’ – the top of the map – was never west. So-called Pagan culture was and is closely aligned with all four cardinal directions, and the west is traditionally the point where the day ends, and mindful humans reflect and later sleep to renew. It also marks the end of the force of life (Solar), for that day, and by inference, eventually, the end of life.

It seems no-one wanted to ‘look up’ to the place where the Sun set.

Governments and their military forces have always been interested in maps. Battles are not always won with good maps, but they are certainly lost with bad ones. Google now dominates the world of computer maps, though there are alternatives. Google acquired a private company named Keyhole, who had US military backing to refine and develop the technology that became Google Maps. It’s a powerful product, and most of us have used it in one form or another. Google’s model with all its ‘Apps’ is to give them away and make revenue by selling your location and preferences to its advertisers. The financial cost is low, but it takes us into potentially murky waters. The average person knows little about what really happens with such data, nor who has access to it. Google recently fought a protracted revolt by its own employees, who considered its mapping developments were in danger of breaching the company’s famous ‘Do No Harm’ ethic…

Apple is the other big Tech player in this field. Apple’s business model is to charge more for premium devices but then guarantee to protect the user’s data. Apple did not back down on this – even when heavily pressured by the US government who wanted a ‘back-door’ into its primary security features for ‘anti-terrorism’ purposes. Many of my friends switched to Apple at that point and now view it as the only ‘safe haven’ for their information.

I use products from both sides of this divide. I like Google’s email and and spreadsheet products. But I use them only on Apple technology, then, at least, I have the tested integrity of its privacy promises. Google’s entire model is web-based, so their applications are not hosted in the device; only the browser is.

But the world is changing fast, as illustrated by Google and Apple now working together in the Covid-19 arena to provide a user-secure, distributed framework for ‘contact tracing’. Interestingly, the French government, one of the first to take this up, immediately demanded that the private user data be made available to their authorities. Both companies refused and the demand was eventually withdrawn. Even non-authoritarian societies struggle with these complex issues of privacy vs policing.

Science, like maps, doesn’t give us hard and fast answers. It provides a better-than-last-time fit of what might be happening, knowing that this iteration, too, isn’t perfect. For politicians to quote that they are being ‘led by the science’, as though that were a binary truth or falsehood, is a lie to an unknowing public.

Maps have become far more potent and powerful things. A map is a world. A map allows us to see a whole. A map invites us in… In many ways, it takes three ‘faces’ to make it work. The first is the nature of what is being mapped; the second is the style of representation, for example, figurative or actual.

We need to become the third face in the success of the map. We should enter into all these things, mindfully, knowing that commerce exploits without morals, that insular politics always leads to Fascism, and that the silent and caring voice of the majority cannot stay silent while our civilisation morally burns.

My mother, who now has dementia, wouldn’t understand the answer, but if she asked the boy-become-man studying the larger map of today’s political world the same question about where he was on that map, I might respond that he had to quickly outgrow the plastic farmer – the replica human – and become the fully empowered and fully responsible human by putting the small figure to one side, standing up and looking down at the whole map. If we don’t, then our star may set in the unsung west and humanity become a footnote in Great Nature’s experiments with Life.

That western horizon of our map is just around the corner… If we love the light, then we had better start running towards the ‘east’, and now.

(Opening picture: author-created overlay of two images from Pixabay. Originators: Skease and Philim1310)

©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