The rotating blade of meaning (1)

 

helicopter-meaning blog - 1

You have probably never heard of him. He was an engineer by training. He was the primary inventor and developer of the Bell helicopter, which made the promise of point to point flight a reality – though it had been discussed for centuries beforehand. This inventor, engineer and scientist was from an age when a few scientists could still challenge the overall approach of modern science – with its focus on the smaller and smaller, and lack of vision of the ‘whole’. They are almost gone as a species, so, in this series of posts, I’d like to pay tribute to Arthur M. Young and explain in non-technical language how important his work was… and is.

He was also, and unusually for a scientist, a master astrologer…

Despite being skilled in engineering and mathematics, Arthur Young returned to university as an adult to study Quantum Physics, recognising that here was something that completely altered the way we should visualise the world. He was fascinated by the consciousness potential of the relationship between the ‘observer’ and the ‘observed’, something that science had tried to ignore for centuries. This dismissal was brought up, sharply, by Quantum Theory, which proved that only the presence of the observer allowed the presence of the object to be ‘measured’. In other words, proved it was there… but not alone.

Helicopters make people nervous. They are  heavy objects, oddly shaped and dangerous looking. When flying, they would plunge to the ground if the massive rotor, above, stopped working or broke. We can think of a plane as being safer because it has fixed wings that give it the theoretical capability of gliding back to Earth. Most of them don’t. For both planes and helicopters, the focus is on making sure that they are reliable and controllable in a failsafe way, and, for helicopters, that controllability is a very complex thing…

Given Arthur Young’s involvement in the development of the small, commercial helicopter, it’s not surprising that he was focussed on this central aspect of control. We will see, later, how this led to startling revelations that bridged physics and philosophy.

Consider the opening photograph. It shows an Art Deco style wall lamp, caught in a beautiful moment of rainbow colour coming into the living room from a clear winter’s day, outside. It has its own beauty, and that is what draws us to it. It has a complex shape that can be considered at differing levels of detail. Some of these details (properties) are objective – they can be measured by science and classified into such properties as material and shape.

Some of the properties are subjective – they only mean something to us – the observer. If I wanted to break down the ‘stages’ of knowing the wall-light lit by the rainbow, I might deliberately ignore the feeling of beauty and its minutely shifting colour, and examine only the overall form of the object. Its fundamental shape is an inverted triangle. I know enough about the delicate glass from which the ‘saucer-shaped’ leaves are made to be concerned that they are easily broken. With that small set of information, I feel I know the material content of the object; I could describe it to someone else and they would get a good picture in their minds.

The world of science is concerned only with this latter description: the inverted triangle – the form of the object, and the chemical material from which it is made. Arthur Young called this the formal description. Science is focussed on this level of knowing because is the only one that is objective: that is, not dependent on how we see something (bad mood, poor eyesight, colour-blindness, etc.) Using this formal description, science can categorise the object, and make it part of a common set of things – a very important process.

But the human, awakened to the form and beauty (or not) of the world around them, has a much richer experience. I understand the objective nature of the inverted triangle and the delicate chemical composition of the fragile leaves, but I’m staring in wonder at the texture of the glass and how it is reflecting the rainbow. I lean closer and find that the glass has a faint but definite smell to it. It’s clinical but not unpleasant.

These are subjective impressions. Science could never reproduce them because they belong to me, to you, to anyone with sense organs. We all experience these things differently, but we can try, with language, with photography,  writing, art or poetry to convey that this is not simply an inverted triangle made of fine glass; it is a rich experience and unique in the entire history of the universe… You could experience something similar, but the fine details would belong only to each of us, differently–and they would change the event. We seldom consider this power we have – be a unique observer of the universal beauty all around us. We, whose bodies are made from the atoms created by ancient exploding stars, must come close to our zenith when we find such beauty and stop our everyday consciousness to ‘be’ with such it.

Science is not deficient in its lack of concern for this; it’s simply that the full experience of the observer cannot be reduced to numbers… The collective mind that created numbers can never be subservient to them.

So far we have encountered the formal description of the object: the inverted triangle and the chemical properties of fine glass. We have also used our sense organs to experience the way the rainbow light shimmers on the petals of the lamp, and we have even smelled the glass. These sense impressions come from the object. They may be slightly different to each of us, but the properties from which they issue belong, also, to the object. Our object therefore possesses a formal description and specific sense impressions. The formal description could be shared, using shared language or mathematics, with anyone. The sense impressions could not, but could be likened to something else in our experience.

Step back and the experience of being an observer has two main aspects. There is a ‘me’ and an ‘it’. The experience of the wall lamp is deemed to be ‘out-there’, but the knowing resides ‘in-here’. I am helped, by the formal description, to recognise or locate the object, even if I’ve never been in that room.

Young said that, to realise the process and the power of knowing it is vital to (initially) separate our aspects of experience in this way. When we consider the received information and the sense data from the object, two more things happen in our perceptive mind. The first is that we place a value judgement on the experience – perhaps I am in awe of the beauty of the rainbow on the lamp. Without rationally considering it, I feel moved by an emotion, a kind of joy that this rare impression of living perfection is present.

The second ‘in-here’ aspect is the purpose of the object. In this case it’s not to show off rainbows, but to give light when evening comes. In other circumstances, my knowing of the lamp would have been part of the inventory of the capabilities of the room. Arthur Young named this the function. These two ‘in-here’ aspects belong to the observer, not to the object. We project them onto the experience based on our learning. Young called this kind of aspect projective, and the aspects belonging to the object, alone, he called objective. Where something in an aspect was specific, he used the term particular; where it had a shared nature, he named it general.

If we unravel the above example, there emerges a process of incremental perception which, conceptually, looks a lot like the opening of the famous Russian dolls:

  • Aspect one, which is an inverted triangle shape, made of a chemical structure of fragile glass.
  • Aspect two is the contents of the above plus the sense impressions belonging only to the objective nature of the inverted triangular shape (its colours, shades and smells)
  • Aspect three is the subjective experience of all the above plus the feeling of beauty and awe I have when my attention and perception is captured by the occasion.
  • Aspect four would be all the above plus the function of the wall-lamp, which, in this case, has been subverted by the unexpected rainbow… exactly what happens when we open ourselves to the possible in real life!

These four aspects therefore comprise: formal description, sense data, value and function. The first two are objective (‘out-there’), the second two (‘in-here’) are projective (subjective).

We can put these into a table for easier reference:

screenshot 2019-01-16 at 10.53.44

The creation of this was not a casual work. Arthur Young tested it against all the situations he knew of, in both a scientific and philosophical sense. He determined that it was a universal description, an ‘anatomy’ of how we perceive and how we ‘know’. These four stages – aspects – of knowing were at the heart of being human, they were not only the containers of what we learned, they were how we learned.

Four was an interesting number and features predominantly in the ancient mysteries. ‘Fourness’ is a key part of how mankind has conceived of the universal divisions of experience. Fourness is one of the keys to Astrology, in the form of the ‘Elements’ of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. For Arthur M. Young, an astrologer as well as a scientist, the notion of fourness at the centre of human experience was about to take him on a mind-expanding journey…

To be continued…

©️Stephen Tanham


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

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

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

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

 

 

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Becoming Nothing

‘Become Nothing’

He didn’t use those exact words but that was the meaning of what he wrote. The words were suddenly there in the moment in my consciousness… and I knew they were right.

I had been reading a piece by Krishamurti – that fearless enemy of dogma, and proponent of the individual’s right to find their own spiritual path.

It does involve a certain amount of bravery – to contend with that feeling of ‘going against’ those of wisdom, those from whom we can learn, perhaps those of a tradition in which we were raised or trained. But that wasn’t Krishnamurti’s point; he didn’t deny anyone their well-found wisdom, rather, he urged each one of us to find our own… not second-hand knowledge. And to do that, the only way is to go out there and play with the universe; but play with a spirit of intent. And this is where it gets a little complex… until you see the whole of what he was saying…whereupon it gets very simple.

When you play with the universe, you do so in a way that stares in wonder at what you see. There’s a grown thing, covered in rust and tar and road rage; and it’s stuck onto our eyes, forming a film. This gritty, dirty, bitten lens imbues everything we try to see with its sticky waste. Staring in wonder at what you see is the cleaner that wipes the dirty grown thing from our eyes. For most, it happens in little stages, but there are some who ‘take the kingdom of heaven by storm’. They have a moment – a surging, brilliant moment that melts and washes what is keeping them from looking at the world, a universe that is alive and waiting to respond, personally, to their presence, their conversation, their love…

And when you find that relationship with what used to be ‘out there’ you will find that the primary desire of that sticky, dirty, bitten thing was always to change what was out there, because it wasn’t good enough – and having achieved that, to change it, again… and again….

The mind which knows only thought knows no rest.

‘Becoming nothing’ – what does it really mean? It is a mantra of power. It is a moment of revelation that alters our relationship to the whole of our lives. To reveal it via words would reduce the power of each of us being able to step through that mirror of self. It would rob the reader of the self-same experience. But this much can be said: that the word ‘nothing’ should not be the main focus until the rest is understood. What follows, then, is a journey of realisation that shifts who we are, and takes away its central power in our lives, leaving…

And you will have to fill in that space.

©️Stephen Tanham


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

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

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

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

The Mind Tree

It’s little more than a hillock

A green slope, with mist

Until the sky rips open

And something unseen

Reaches down

To ink a drawing of

The possible

Then mind, seizing itself

Creates the living tree

©️Stephen Tanham


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

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

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

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

The Modern Mysteries

The ‘mysteries’ have been with mankind as long as we have existed. They are a collection of paths that take us inwards; restoring a sense of self deeper than that which reacts, and showing us that mankind is much more than a biological animal – though animals, and their focus on the ‘now’ have much to teach us, too.

The reason these paths work is that we are more than we appear to be. The reactive nature of the self-in-the-world, the personality, fixes it into a certain relationship with its world. This is vital for survival but not so for our potential evolution. Mankind is not a finished project. Nature can only take us so far, beyond that point we have take responsibility for our own self-development, and the power for this comes from within. To begin this, we have to loosen the grip of the world on our reactive self. When this is done, a new space emerges within our mind and heart.; a quiet, creative place that feels wholly our own. Unlike the everyday world, our energy is not robbed in this place, in fact the former reactions, seen in their true perspective, actually feed the strength of this private chamber… there is a bubbling of laughter, a lightness of being.

Developments in psychology over the past hundred years have given teachers of the spiritual a powerful vocabulary to describe the nature of the reactive self, the self-in-the-world. We see that our essential self is not what has grown up, like layers of paint, around our experience of the world. For the first time, we see that what is truly ‘us’ is not only difficult to define, but also not the layers of painted self-consciousness that have developed, year on year, since we came into the world.

At this point we begin to sense the weight of the baggage we carry. As the time spent on self-study lengthens, we see that we can let go a lot of what we thought was us, and delight in the rush of powerful energy when the unnecessary is let go. As the reactive gravity is released, we begin to sense an entirely new relationship with the world in which we live – the outer world… or is it?

With the letting go of what we thought we were, we enter a new field of confidence. This confidence is reinforced when events in our lives seems to conspire to teach us each next step that we need to learn. We look up at the sky – inner and outer and ask, “Did that really just happen?” And it did, and it goes on happening as the door of perception opens onto true relationship and we come re-evaluate our whole lives.

There comes a point where we know enough to show others parts of it. We feel a honourable debt and a desire to do this. We experiment; finding what techniques work for us and which don’t. The personality is not done away with, rather it is realigned in the service of this inner relationship – spirit will do nicely as a word, but there are many more words that can serve us well. We may even change our vocabulary as we speak to different audiences. We need have no fear, for each challenge brings its own way of speaking and showing – if we remain true to the inner vibration, which, day by day, is becoming us.

These, then, are the mysteries. They are not, nor have ever been, bound up in a fixed set of teachings, They belong to all of us, they are our birthright. They are the new world we have always had. Only the self-in-the-world was ever in the way of this, and now it serves something higher and more noble as we reach for the sky.

©️Stephen Tanham


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

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

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

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.


Whispers of Babylon

It is unlike anything you’ve seen before. If you were raised, like I was, on sci-fi, you’ll recognise the soaring structures that look like other-worldly trees; whose job is to be a framework for a vast array of green life embedded in the vertical lattices.

Those paintings were by Christopher Fosse, whose futuristic artwork graced the covers of many of the sci-fi novels of the 1970s and 80s. Yet, here, they are made real and carry a message far more important than most found in that genre: they speak of botanical science made hope…

We’re at Gardens by the Bay, on Singapore’s southern tip. It’s a vast set of interlinked gardens and walkways with the combination of these ‘trees’ and two vast domes dominating the skyline. If you’ve been lucky enough to visit Singapore, you will know how ‘green’ the city is – in every way. The founder of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, is said to have transformed this tiny island city state from a third to a first-world country in a single generation. He did it with a brutal determination to take Singapore into a new future, and not have it left behind from the growth of his country’s near-neighbours to the north-east: Malaysia and China.

Even Changi airport is a garden…

One of the core components of Lee’s vision was that it would become a garden city, festooned with green wherever you looked. That vision was rigorously applied, though many would say that there are as many shops as trees… Everywhere you look there is greenery; but the vision comes to life in the most vivid way in the concentrated force of cultured nature that is Gardens by the Bay.

Gardens by the Bay is a nature park that takes up over one hundred hectares of reclaimed land in the central region of Singapore, next to the Marina Reservoir. The park consists of three waterfront gardens: Bay South, Bay East and and Bay Central.

Singapore has a team of professionals who are responsible for the ‘greening’ of the city. This team became the core of a vast project to create this futuristic landscape which, on completion, would offer educational as well as botanical aspects. Singapore was already served with its traditional Botanical garden of world-renown, including the famous orchid house (see later blog). It was important to create a different ‘feel’ to the new gardens; one that would attract younger people to whom the story could interweave with the ideas of global responsibility in culturing and protecting ecosystems.

The team responsible were drawn from the disciplines of: landscape gardening, designers, horticulturists, arborists, engineers and plant specialists. Their goal was to create an environment for which all the people of Singapore – and their international visitors – would feel a sense of ownership. In this way the larger ideal of a ‘Garden Earth’ could be combined with the local objectives.

Botany and horticulture can seem boring to children, though their experience of green spaces is always one of delight. Gardens by the Bay sets out to change the level of involvement by presenting the plant kingdom in a new way, entertaining all visitors with sections devoted to habitats from all over the world, not just the tropical gardens of native Singapore – which is close to the equator. These habitats range from species in cool, temperate climates to tropical rain forests.

Having entered through the vertical space of the giant inverted cone structures – the Supertree Grove – the first of the giant domes, Flower Dome, lies before you, displaying the varied habitats, including deserts. The visitor ranges through gardens set at different heights, the design exploiting the vertical as well as the horizontal space.

The personal journey is supplemented by the use of local cultural images – particularly animals that feature in stories across this part of Asia. Giants crocodiles and dragons lurk and fly through the walkways…

I found one particular feature of the Flower Dome very moving. It is called ‘La Famille Voyageurs’ (the travelling family) and was donated by Changi Airport. It consists of a family of international tourists who are visiting Gardens by the Bay as the last part of their holiday, prior to flying out. They are each carrying their wheeled suitcases, but parts of their bodies are missing… you can see through the spaces made. The symbolism is that Gardens by the Bay moves you so much that you end up leaving a bit of you behind… Such a lovely theme for an art piece.

You could spend a day in the Flower Dome, alone. But a dramatic experience awaits the visitor to its sister space: the Cloud Forest.

The Cloud Forest dome has a peculiar shape. It’s only when you get inside that you realise why…

Look at the tiny figures on the left platform to get the scale of it! The whole dome is taken up by a rain-forest mountain. The concept is breathtaking…

To visit the Cloud Forest, you take a lift to the peak (The Lost World) and follow the walkways down, curving around the mountain’s flanks as you descend. It’s an idea pioneered by Frank Lloyd Wright with the Guggenheim in New York, but the latter abandoned the vertical downward approach as it could not cope with visitor volume. Here, it works beautifully.

The rainforest is said to be the ‘lungs of the planet’. Within Cloud Forest, you see every aspects of them and their habitats, weaving in and out of the living forest at every level. It’s so very moving that, by the time you get to the lower levels, people are simply silent in contemplation of what they are experiencing…

A short blog is not sufficient space to describe the Gardens by the Bay. I have barely scratched the surface in this piece, but I hope to have conveyed something of its vision and splendour.

Soon we were walking back through the gardens towards the excellent, air-conditioned MRT Metro system to return to our hotel. As we left the park, I thought back to the sculpture donated by Changi Airport: La Famille de Voyageurs, by Bruno Catalano.

I love Singapore. I need little excuse to want to visit it, again. But the Gardens by the Bay are special and should be on every visitor’s itinerary. Part of me would, indeed, be left behind in this place, and I hope to be able to return, soon, to share again in the vision of this most inspired creation.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham.

Photos by the author.

The love of Winter trees

Returning home after a long trip, I am always taken by the sheer ‘energy’ in a British landscape. It may be adversarial with cold and rain, but it shakes the soul into a different kind of wakefulness.

The leaf-stripped trees are the most potent symbol of this for me. There, framed in total contrast, are living symbols of growth, of organic process, of four dimensions seen as one emotional rendering.

They will endure the Winter. Reduced to their raw being, they await the greening.

Everyone seems to love trees, and I love it that we do…

©Stephen Tanham

Remarkable Rocks

Even from a distance, it separates itself from the landscape that gave it birth. After two hundred million years, its many faces continue to laugh at the sky – in the defiant way that large rocks often do… or perhaps it is long-lost love…

Its act of separation is not one of colour, for the hues are not dissimilar to those around it on that hard-faced dome above the Southern Ocean. Its perpetual difference is one of shape…

On a place where mature male kangaroos spring without warning from hidden gaps in the gumtrees that line the side of newly tarmaced roads – and will wreck a car doing any more that forty miles per hour – the Remarkable Rocks of the Flinders Nature Reserve occupy a liminal zone between the ancient and the modern faces of this place – Kangaroo Island – Australia’s third largest island, after Tasmania and Melville.

It is the way of Australia, that casual, no-nonsense approach to naming things, that renders this collective edifice of two hundred million years as merely ‘remarkable’. Yet that is their name – Remarkable Rocks, and has been for hundreds of years. No-one knows where the name came from, but my guess is that it originated in Aboriginal lore as something that was subsequently translated back into English.

Kangaroo Island separated from mainland Australia around 10,000 years ago, due to rising sea level after the last glacial period. You might imagine there were no human witnesses, but it may surprise you (as it did me) that the Aboriginal peoples date back an astonishing 60,000 years, so they would have actually experienced the gradual separation of what had become a shrinking peninsula from the mainland.

They left the island then, but not before naming it Karta (“Island of the Dead”). Their existence here was told in their stories, but has been proved recently by the presence of stone tools and shell middens. If you’ve followed the Silent Eye’s posts you may be familiar with the idea that such sites can be seen (and experienced) as not just honouring the ancestors, but as living links with them – places where communion with the collective ‘spirit’ of they who came before is possible. Carl Jung’s ‘collective unconscious’ is a good basis for considering a rigorous basis to such investigative beliefs.

They would have honoured its strangeness and gathered here to watch the sparks of their wise fires. For all we know, their spirits may gather now, flowing in from the surrounding greenery, to hold wise counsel when the bewildered tourists have gone home in their coaches and four-wheel drive cars. You cannot leave here without an intense feeling that you ‘missed something’. The inner laughter generated by Remarkable Rocks may well be designed to call you back, to be part of the commune-ity

The rocks share a process of origination with Uluru, which we were fortunate enough to visit on our last trip to Australian, two years ago. They were once a giant dome of molten lava, thrust upwards into beds of sedimentary rocks ten kilometres below the surface. The intense pressure and heat turned the sedimentary layers into hardened and crystallised metamorphic rocks. Two million years of erosion did the rest – leaving us with the other-worldly shapes found today.

You cannot stand here without being spoken to. Like Uluru, the giant rock in the centre of Australia, to which the Remarkable Rocks are related, these stones invite you to run, to dance around them, regardless of the dangerousness of the steeply shelving platform of basalt that tapers down to the sea – faster in its seduction than the wits of the unwary traveller. No fences or barriers prevent this; you are guided only by a small, written warning to be careful… Which leaves the raw danger untouched by laws of health and safety and invites you to dance around and through the strange shapes, with their curving hollows, sharing the danger as the price of Being here.

It was only as I was leaving that I had a flash of what was so compelling about the shapes of the Remarkable Rocks: they are like one of Salvador Dali’s surrealistic paintings. Once seen, you expect to turn another face of the rock and find a watch face, drooping around a ninety degree corner, moulded to the same magnetic override that shaped the rock on which it lies – its trivial purpose defeated by the incomprehensible age of that which supports it.

And, of course, you want these rocks, this place, to yourself… You want to watch its strangeness and come to terms with its shapes in solitude. I suspect that is seldom possible. Instead, an assorted cross-section of nationalities carry out their individual approximations to presence within the uncompromising shapes. It is playful and there is a feeling that there is no insult to the rocks in that play…. They have, quite literally, seen it all.

The Remarkable Rocks do something to the light. Again, like Uluru, they seem to drink it, allowing it to reflect different faces – different stories – from the vastness of their age and experience. It is impossible not to wonder how they ‘see’ the presence of the civilised men and women around them.

And then, we, too, have to go – urgently – to get to the tiny airport at the far end of the island that will take four adults and two young girls back to their home in Adelaide. I race one final time around the dangerous granite base, intent on taking with me the most precious of the emotions in the form of images. I want to be here…. This brief encounter was not enough. I will bridge the distance with heart and mind in meditation.

©Stephen Tanham

The Art of Dark Departure

It could equally well be titled ‘The dark art of departure’, I suppose, but, in this case, its not the act but the leaving which is dark…

At the time of writing, we are about to leave Sydney, aboard a cruise ship: the Royal Caribbean ‘Solstice’.

We’ve never been on a cruise ship before.  It is only happening because two years ago, we booked a short cruise to the Norwegian Fjords which was cancelled at the last minute by the cruise company. We were due to depart the weekend after our main workshop of the Silent Eye’s year – the Spring event in Derbyshire. The timing was perfect; such events are very demanding, and the idea of a restful break in the glorious surroundings of Norway seemed perfect. In grim fashion, the man paid to break the bad news to us said that, basically, not enough people had died… Cruising, he explained, generally appeals to an older audience, and the organising companies have to take a statistical prediction as to how many cancellations they will get, due to severe ill health or death. Knowing this did little to help our mood, but Bernie soon found us a flight and hotel in the Mexican Yucatan, which enabled us, in consolation, to see the Mayan pyramids of Chichen Itza – a life-changing event I recorded at the time under the blog heading ‘Unexpected Shaman’.

We were compensated for the cost of the holiday and all consequent expenses: hotel in Southhampton, car parks and sundries… and… offered an additional free cruise of the same value anywhere in the world. We did query that there might be nothing to stop Celebrity Cruises from doing this to us again, but the man assured us we now had a direct link to him and that he would ensure that our next cruise definitely took place

So here we are….

Here is Sydney, a very lovely and friendly city. And only our second ever trip to Australia, where our son and daughter in law, both doctors, are bringing up their two young girls. We don’t get to see the grandchildren very often, and it’s hard to be a real part of their lives, but such a trip gives us the chance to be with them, play and laugh and fill the short but intense few days with the real, instead of the largely-artificial world of the ‘Skype’ or ‘Facetime’ call.

It occurred to us that we had the chance to combine the two; that we could fly to Sydney (instead of Adelaide, where they live) and then do our cruise, ending it with a flight to join them on a more local holiday. So the plans were made, and we are about to embark on a twelve-day sailing to New Zealand, ending in a flight from Auckland (where Bernie has a close school friend) to Adelaide to meet up with the family.

These few days in Sydney, following a flight from Manchester with a stopover in wonderful Singapore, have not been sufficient to scratch the surface of this city; but there is a compensating factor. The greatest attraction of Sydney is its harbour – or, properly its harbours, as the waterways are a vast complex linking the many nearby towns that supply it with many its daytime working population. The ferry terminal was allowed to be constructed right in the heart of the city; and show off these massive ships to perfection…

Now, we are on ours and, after a lengthy check-in, we are finally sitting, unpacked, on our balcony, looking down from a great height onto the very heart of Sydney. It’s a photographer’s dream, and my little iPhone has served me well in such situations before. Additionally, and, I like to think as some sort of karmic compensation, the sun is beginning to set, flooding the harbour with golden light.

We can feel the throbbing hum of the engines beginning their departure preparation. Then there is the most ‘perfect’ noise I have ever heard, as the Captain of the vessel gives the five minute warning signal. It intense, rather than just loud; it is a specially tuned sound that sounds like it comes from ‘the Gods’. I’m convinced that a few minutes of it, done as therapy, would drive any sense of depression from a soul… not that we are in the least depressed; but it carries that kind of ‘trumpet of hope’ feeling. Images of the Tarot card ‘The Last Judgement’ spring to mind… Whatever you were doing before it, you won’t be doing now.

In response, and to show their defiance of this leviathan of the high seas, a dozen of the smaller (but very fast) local ferries scurry off their piers to get their hard-working passengers away before the idlers on the ‘Solstice’ begin their holiday. A boating fury to rival Henley on Thames ensures the then, with the earth-shaking second warning blast, the giant begins to slide, backwards, away from the key. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the early Star Trek films, but, for their time they had masterly sequences of the Enterprise leaving the orbital terminal very, very slowly, before building up to ‘warp speed’ somewhere safely away from the Earth. 

The slow initial departure of the ship Solstice is just like that, and about a million souls on Sydney’s Circular Quay are watching and smiling in the golden evening light.

We can hear very little. With perfect timing, our steward has entered the cabin and presented us with an ice-bucket holding our complimentary bottle of champagne and two flutes. I can’t resist taking it out to the balcony and popping the cork – discretely – allowing us to toast the lovely city to which we are now saying goodbye. We may be back, but you never know. It’s a long way from home and we hate leaving our beloved cat and dog for so long.

With the minimum of fuss, the huge ship slides into the main channel, still backwards. Then it begins to turn, bringing the Bay Bridge into full view. The light is now photographically perfect and I take as many shots as the rotating angle will allow. Then the vibration of the engines becomes even more purposeful and the Solstice begins to accelerate towards the open sea-still a full two miles distant.

We navigate the twists and turns of the widening estuaries, then comes a wonderful moment as the pilot boat comes right into the back of the cruise ship, nearly disappearing from sight.

When the Pilot boat reappears, the pilot has been transferred back to his home vessel and the smaller craft pulls away with a wave and set of lighted signals. As he falls behind the ship gathers speed toward the open sea… and adventure.

It’s time to have our first dinner on board. With one last wave we say goodbye to Sydney. Next stop Melbourne, then on to New Zealand for what we hope will be the trip of a lifetime.

©Stephen Tanham

Steve Tanham is a director of tbe Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not for profit organisation that provides distance learning courses for the deepening of self understanding.

The People’s Wharf

There’s a warship next door… It may be something I ate… but, no, I look again and it’s still there…

There were only two bottles of beer in our lovely complementary fridge last, night, on our arrival in Sydney, and I managed, in my sleep deprived state, to spill a third of the contents of one of them on the carpet…. I did my best to mop it, using a dampened hand-towel from the bathroom.

So, it can’t be the beer, and we’ve had the first proper sleep in what feels like a week of travel; so the warship is real and needs integrating into my ‘now’.

Philosophically, I don’t take every such visual symbol at its face value, but a bloody great warship is quite a challenge….

So, I should explain, assuming you have persevered this far…

The warship is on a quay in a place whose name has far too many ‘O’s. Deep breath… Woolloomooloo… Told you… Back in Cumbria we have a place called Melmerby, which catches people in the middle with a recurring stammer-trap of the Ms, sounding much like the starter on my dad’s old Ford Anglia – ‘Mmmmm, mmmm, el mmmmmm errr by’.

But Woolloomooloo!

We once went, for Bernie’s birthday, to a place near Cork, in Southern Ireland, to a well-known cooking school, run at the home of a famous lady chef, Doreena Allen. Its name was Ballymaloo. Between the one and three quarters beers last night I worked out that the only way to say Woolloomooloo is to run Ballymaloo in your head and sneak in the ‘Wool’ quickly before the mouth starts to work…

Woolloomooloo has a great story of people perseverance. In fact, it’s very similar to how Covent Garden was saved from the developers in London.

Woolloomooloo is a district of Sydney, on the waterfront about a mile to the south. Getting our bearings, we found that the peninsula is also the home of a large naval base, and hence the warship in the window. Any closer with the photograph and I might have been in jail, we later discovered.

Having spent two full days, mainly without sleep, in Singapore, we are finally in Australia for one of our bi-annual visits to the chosen home of my eldest son and his family – including our young grandchildren. They live in Adelaide, which is a three hour flight away, but we are having the ‘holiday of a lifetime’ in the antipodes while still young enough to enjoy, it. Our itinerary will take us from an exploration of Sydney – over the next two days – to boarding our first-ever cruise ship, which will take us via Melbourne to a journey up the coasts of New Zealand’s South and North islands. The ten-day cruise ends in Auckland, from where we will fly to Adelaide to spend the final week with the family. They are both doctors, so getting time off it difficult. We are all going to stay in an AirBnB on Kangaroo island, not far from their home.

The story of Woolloomooloo, its historic significance and its rescue is worth telling.

As the photo shows, the old dock (the home of the present hotel Ovolo) was given over to a giant dock warehouse, originally constructed in timber. It was a bustling workplace for most of the 20th century. The dockers were called ‘wharfies’. Their role in a pre-containered world, was to load and unlock cargoes by hand and winch. The working conditions were harsh, dirty and dangerous – but that didn’t stop the work being sought after. Hungry people need work. The work was allocated daily and work today did not mean a job tomorrow – much like how present day billionaires advocate the ‘new’ zero-hours contracts.

Daily work was handed out at the wharf gates by the ‘bull system’, which favoured the biggest men and those least likely to complain about the harsh and often dangerous working conditions. Broken bones, torn muscles and diseased lungs were common among the workers on the wharves. The Waterside Worker’s Federation fought to improve working conditions – and was met with the usual violent opposition from the employers. During the 1930s ‘Great Depression’ the horrific lack of jobs weakened the union’s stand…

The Second World War strengthened the WWF union’s position, and with the bull system ending, working conditions slowly improved. This period was the key to the preservation fight that followed, because the Woolloomooloo Wharf had become synonymous with the fight for better social conditions and a national consciousness of the important of this for Australian society.

During the 1970s, shipping changed, forever, and the methods used at Woolloomooloo Wharf were left behind, as they were across the world. The growth of much larger container ports and cruise liner terminals gradually replaced the Wharf’s functions. The work and workers moved with them. For nearly a decade, this enormous building lay derelict and decaying.

Then, in 1987, the State Government decided to demolish the Woolloomooloo Wharf, with plans to replace it with a new marine. And, to their surprise, all hell broke loose…

After more that seventy years at the heart of Sydney’s cargo and passenger handling, Woolloomooloo had become a deeply embedded ‘folk symbol’ for the community’s struggle for economic and social justice. Now that emotion was mobilised…

The National Trust and the Royal Australian Institute for Architects both sided with the protesters. The local MP was outspoken in her opposition to the redevelopment. Powerful property developers compared it to a giant toilet and favoured ‘blowing it to bits’. The minister assisting the Premier condemned it as an ‘eyesore’. For the next few years the battle raged, with a ‘Green Ban’ being raised by public outrage to prevent covert demolition. Eventually, the government, backed off, but refused to restore the wharf, rather than demolish it.

For another year, the place lay in limbo. The government, sore at having its plans thwarted, were content to let it rot. The minister even said, “… it will just sit there and nothing will happen.”

Eventually, in 1992, in the face of continued outcry, the government relented, and work began of one of modern Sydneys most iconic landmarks.

Today, Woolloomooloo is thriving. The centre of the old dock building has been converted to a hotel, which is were I began this story. It’s quirky and wonderful… and they leave you free beer in the fridge when you get in, dog tired from Singapore.

Far from being an ‘eyesore’, it’s much sought-after as a base for millionaires’ boats. There are tens of restaurants and, on Gold Cup day, which it is, today, its packed with Sydney’s finest in their best clothes.

Woolloomooloo, add it to your ‘must see’ list! You won’t be disappointed.

©Stephen Tanham

Ungrasped

I take a lot of photographs, and like to share the ones that move me the most.

Looking back on these, there is a theme: they are, more often than not, a moment of natural beauty, defined by light on landscape, which could only be captured by camera or poem… so, here, for my less formal ‘Tuesday slot’, is picture and poem.

Twin Guardians

Twin guardians, we will play

And to those in the vale

We will escort your passing blaze

With turning leaf salute your days

And bowing, be your setting sail.

© Stephen Tanham

Steve Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness; a correspondence-based method for living a fully conscious life, with personal mentoring.