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

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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.

Antipodean Fragments – Foodoomooloo…

Sydney

We are having breakfast at Charlie’s Foodamalloo, across the street from our hotel; the Ovolo. It’s a wonderful greasy spoon and reputed to be one of the best places for breakfast in Sydney – if you don’t mind the simple interior and the washed but stickily-aged wood and tiled tables.

The Ovolo is located on the redeveloped old giant wharf at Woolloomooloo. The beloved old cargo and passenger quayside is now home to twelve restaurants and Russell Crow’s luxury boat… and, it is rumoured, his penthouse, high above the dock.

There’s a man. He is noisily on his mobile and standing, partly blocking my view through the opened shuttered window. He looks very at home here but is not Australian. He sounds… perhaps Austrian?

Another man comes in, an Australian with a broad and deep accent. He walks past the two young naval officers putting their caps on, post breakfast. There is a large naval base along the quay. Yesterday, I’d taken several shots of a gleaming new warship before I got to the sign that said don’t.

The two men greet each other by swinging their hands together in a well-practised gesture. It produces a crack so intense that the two naval officers turn in alarm.

One of the men gets up to reassure the uniformed men, smiling. Their conversation turns to tobacco… interesting.

Bernie is having tea with her breakfast. The lovely Turkish lady who brought me my BLT tips over Bernie’s little steel milk jug. It goes all over my backpack on the floor. The young Turkish lady is mortified. She mops it up carefully with a cloth, then brings a mop and bucket to sort out the floor. I had no idea the little jugs held so much milk… She offers me a cloth Aldi bag in compensation. I reassure her that it’s okay…

There’s something weird in the Sydney air…

We’re staying at the Ovolo but breakfasting at Charlie’s. It’s much more interesting.

I hope it won’t rain all day… we can get this in Cumbria.

(Editor’s note: it did)

©Stephen Tanham

Quicksilver Tide


Vast and swirling force, below
How silently you flow round truth
When hearts and minds let drift
The shallow link of living life
Between the tides of love and loathing
⦿
No fanfare; charge of war
But grey and ancient mud, which
Turning molten silver, deadly,
Quicker than truth half-shaped
Can lie its way to heaven
⦿
The visitor, swept beyond his depth
Finds death in once fond shallows
When tide as fast as horses rages
⦿
The tide is all and everything
A higher form whose children, born
Are life and death made polar
Death seen in full is life made whole
The song of Vishnu’s Shiva

⦿
It is, perhaps as it should be

But they are rising on our shores
The muddy undertow takes and grinds
The simple guest of visiting mind
⦿

©Stephen Tanham

 

A Chip Off the Old Block (part 2 of 2)

cube of space+wake you smaller

In Part One, we looked at the implications of one of the hot topics in modern physics: that of Block Theory, and its two offspring theories – Expanding Block Theory and Evolving Block Theory. These dull names hide a very exciting and radical view of the universe – our world – and the dynamic part that awakened humans can play in it.

We don’t need to change what we do to work within the ‘Block’ of Block Theory. We can’t do anything else. Our ability to ‘do’, including the logic of decision, is built into the dynamic of being Human – which means the organic part of us operates wholly within the framework of the Block universe. When we turn our head, go to the car, decide to drive to the petrol station, and then pick up a chocolate bar as we pay, we are exercising the under-considered power of choice. We are creating the next moment of the present. The result of that choice is the equivalent of what quantum physics calls ‘measurement’. Measurement, in this sense, means interacting with the now.

Evolving Block Theory is related to Quantum Physics. Within Quantum Physics, a very different universe exists from the ‘solid’ one we think we live in. Our real quantum world is a sea of possibilities so vast that the mind struggles to conceive of it. This ‘sea’ resolves itself into a ‘something’ only when we interact with it; the equivalent of the scientific action of measurement. The classic thought-experiment of Schrodinger’s Cat was initially put forward to mock this, but the (both) alive and dead cat is there in full potential until the box is opened – this is actually the truth in a quantum universe. Within our minds, we have normalised this process into the Newtonian classical and solid world, but, really, we live in a shifting sea of potential – and our minds have a unique relationship with it; they may even be able to co-create the unfolding now in an advanced way, once we have mastered the ‘magic’ of the mechanics…

How does Block Theory, and in particular Evolving Block Theory, fit into this quantum world? The two are the other halves of each other. Block Theory says that, while there is length, breadth and height, there is no time as we think of it, conventionally. There is only the human mind choosing from the possible courses of action – intelligence, in other words. Everything that could be done exists, before us, in the quantum universe, powered by something wonderful. But it is not the future; just potential. To become the present: the only place where reality exists, we have to make that choice and combine consciousness with it. Once that actualisation begins, we not only create the present, we are the present.

Evolving Block Theory contributes something very special to this: it puts forward the potential of light, itself, to be the living sea of possibility from which the present is knitted. Only light has the vastness of ‘atomic’ potential to fit the requirements of this world which constantly resolves itself into what we have chosen… But, once that choice is made we do not ‘move’ into that future, the combined now of us and light unfolds before us…

Choice has, therefore, many components. The world in which ‘we’ find ourselves from birth is not in any way fixed. At the atomic level it is the potential of pure light. We live in a three-dimensional world but the property of time belongs to us – possibly to all Life, though the powers of mentation and therefore choice are more sophisticated in the human – and often cruel. We can surmise that, as yet, we are mere infants in the exercise of this ‘supermind’ potential.

While science has made enormous progress, it has done so without a conscience. It may say that is not its role, but there is a growing sense of responsibility among scientists. The ancients did not have the benefit of our powers of instrument-enabled observation and measurement – in a general sense, though the Greeks, peoples of India, and medieval Arabs laid the foundations of what became Western science. But the ancient philosophers did understand consciousness – and the disciplining of the mind; and this has always been the other half of the equation. In this, they pursued the deeper meanings of consciousness, rather than taking it for granted in the way that science initially did.

Thankfully, Quantum Theory changed that, though an understanding of it still evades most people – and why wrestle with it, if the older Newtonian world will do just fine?. Evolving Block Theory offers a radical new view of the ‘out there’; one potentially controlled by the fully balanced human capable of bringing wise choices into the all-powerful present, whose potential, like the chess pawn becoming a Queen, would then be, literally, limitless.

The emotions empower our choices, as does habitual pleasure and pain. But in a mentally-strong human, the mind, alone makes that choice. The depth of intent is therefore of prime importance in navigating the art of the possible which unfolds before us. This is astonishingly close to the ancient art of magic, which aside from the fluff and egoic dross, is concerned with the focussing of intent.

Acting for the good is very different from acting out of self-interest, only. The greatest ‘magicians’ of the coming age may be those who combine deep intent with the universe-expanding power of ‘good’ and thereby step beyond the level of humanity as we know it, reaching back to teach and show those of us who yearn for those heights of the soul.

A Meditation

So let’s imagine that we are a new type of magician, one intent upon working with this world of Evolving Block Theory. How could we act in accordance with what we see as its potential?

We need to comprehend that, organically, we are already its child. Our creative power within the ‘Block’ will already have been at work in our lives – in both positive and negative ways. But, consciousness of this brings greater power to work with it in the light of knowledge rather than accident.

Realising that we stand in the threshold of a new world, our first action might be one of cleansing; by which we mean freeing the apparently frozen world around us from negative patterns we have unconsciously imposed on it – as creator…

To help us, we can consider that what we thought of as being ‘set in stone’ might not be; that thoughts, feelings and outdated opinions can be, literally, dissolved.

Let us see ourselves as a castle made of heavy and solid stone. Imagine each part of you: thoughts, emotions and your sheer physicality. Let each of them be a part of a castle of self – see it clearly.

Now imagine that this, your castle, has actually been carefully constructed by skilled builders from blocks of ice, not stone. See that fixed structure melting slowly until it resolves itself into a lake of water. It has lost none of what it had except for the restrictive patterning that held it fixed. Really, it was always water…

When the waters of the ice castle have melted, and the lake is full, let us imagine that we are gazing down onto the pure, glowing surface of the lake. Behind us, high in the sky, is the golden disk of the Sun. The gold is so bright that, initially, we see ourselves only as a silhouette. But then our eyes become more powerful and we look deeper…

What do you see?

Stay as long as you wish above the golden lake. When you are ready, close the meditation with this affirmation:

“I am a co-creator of this world and I will create in full consciousness.”

©️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.


 

A chip off the old block? (part 1 of 2)

cube of space+wake you smaller

We have a phrase in English; that someone is a ‘chip off the old block’. Its meaning is that someone of merit is continuing the ‘family’ tradition. I suppose it could also refer in a wider context to someone in a group or organisation doing the same thing.

A group of scientists are promoting a ‘new’ theory: that of the ‘Block Universe’ or “Evolving Block Universe’. It’s not entirely new. The idea of a static universe where the only change is the evolution of the conscious inhabitants has been around for a while; and touches on some of the deepest ideas in philosophy and metaphysics.

Just think about that for a moment to grasp the sheer strangeness of the concept. Look around you and watch the shifting view, the tiny changes, the way you move your coffee mug, shift your position on the chair, drive the car through an autumnal landscape…. But you don’t do any of that, according to Block Theory. Instead what you are experiencing is your journey of consciousness along a hyper-road which maps and separates what is possible (with reference to where you started) to where you might choose to be next.

Only you change… and even then, only your consciousness; the hyper-globe in front of you reveals itself in an experience of movement – including your own body and organs. But… and it’s a big one… nothing out-there is really changing – we are just choosing what to see next amongst the possibilities. And, startlingly, this may be the ultimate purpose of the brain.

Within this world, the present has reality; the past has a lesser reality but is at least consistent; but the future does not exist. Reality belongs to where consciousness is. Conventional Block Theory conceives of a supremely thin wedge of passing time that is now… but philosophers dismissed this long ago as meaningless. There is not, nor can there ever be, a wedge of the ‘present’ small enough to contain the conscious now. In simple terms the observation may be in the present, and recorded in the brain; but the observer, by definition, isn’t… The observation becomes immediate history.

Those interested in metaphysics of any sort will recognise much of what is taught and experienced in their Work in this ‘new’ theory. We do not have a centre of consciousness, we are a centre of consciousness. In fact, within us there are two conscious centres: the first is a self that is grown in reaction to the world we experience – even though we are choosing it – The second is a deeper, super-conscious ‘presence’ which is not really a centre at all, it just retains an outer identity for the lifetime in which it is linked to the organic being and its personality.

Why is it called ‘Block Theory’? Here it gets interesting. There are two theories based on this idea of a three dimensional cube of length, breadth and height; where time is the expansion, but only via interaction with consciousness. The second, or derived theory is named ‘Evolving Block Theory’.

The use of  ‘Expanding’ suggests that this newly envisioned cosmos is actually growing… Mystics may recognise the idea that the universe or ‘God’ expands through the consciousness of its creation growing from within. It’s a staggering thought, that God is ‘not finished’, but evolves, too! Such a view has, of course, caused much controversy over the years.

Previous centuries have contained cosmological views that are very primitive in the light of modern science; but science is only now learning to value the presence of consciousness in the whole world-picture. Interestingly, some of the most ancient philosophies and religions were the very opposite and placed the development of consciousness, itself, at the centre of knowledge of the ‘world’.

The idea that the universe has past and present realities but no future except that which is unfolding in the now dovetails nicely with some of the better science fiction stories. One in particular that fits is the Hugo Award winning Hyperion series by Dan Simmons. In the story, Hyperion is a simple, colonised world to which a future civilisation sends an horrific artificial monster; a cyborg so dreadful that the whole of the Earth-derived space ‘Federation’ is drawn into a cataclysmic battle around its destiny. The cyborg – the Shrike – has been sent backwards in time to show the children of Earth the consequences of mindlessness, violence and lack of compassion. Although written in 1989, it is chillingly prescient about today’s society. The Shrike’s victims are impaled on a ‘tree of metallic thorns’ where their suffering is endless. I would imaging many abandoned souls on this Earth would describe their plight as similar…

From a mystical point of view – and in keeping with Block Theory – we may speculate that all that people of sufficient positioning and power within society would need to do would be to choose a different path, together. But then we may consider that we have no power nor right to change someone else’s path. We only have responsibility for our own. Mystics have taught for millennia that when we change our own thoughts, we change our own worlds.

This brings to mind the nature of real choice. most of the choices we make are as a result of our conditioning: they are automated responses based on pleasure and pain. This conditioning, and its resulting force – habit, is a necessary feature of our organic existence and as such is important for our survival. However, when faced with the idea of a voluntary higher evolution, we may choose to approach the nature of choice from a different perspective; especially in the light of theories such as the Block Universe. We will explore this further in the concluding part two.

From the point view of our choice of accelerated evolution, if Evolving Block Theory has any truth in it, then our personal possibilities have just expanded greatly. In fact, we only need make the right choices in order to radically change our lives.

On a chessboard a pawn may, with a few moves, gain the back row – the 8th rank, and transform itself into any of: Bishop, Rook, Knight or Queen of the same colour Only the King remains beyond this alchemy, though a Queen may mate with a King… We may reflect on this and wonder at how these deep and significant patterns are threaded through our history in ways that keep them in front of our unawakened gaze, like seeds awaiting their time in the sun… The important parallel is that to completely change our lives would take far fewer moves than we imagine.

If the block theories have merit, then we may be able to transform ourselves into personal ‘kings and queens’. As ‘royals’ in our own lives, we would have our own kingdom and would have no desire to control others and thereby restrict the freedom of those we should be helping along their own path.

To borrow from Isaac Newton: we may find our selves (our consciousness) crossing the paths belonging to Giants. Through the right choices: the Buddhist ‘right action’, for example, we may find ourselves ‘on the shoulders of giants’ in the sense of inheriting their wisdom – and choosing, with all our being, to follow it… Our journey through the Block of the intelligent universe as the fourth dimension may just have become a lot more lively!

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.


 

The Stone and the Pilgrim (6) final part

“It is what it is…”

I remember the evening Morgana said that to me, many years ago. We were in Glastonbury, doing the first of our year of bi-monthly talks.

The truth of it is profound. The sentiment behind the simple wisdom is how we resist what is…instead of embracing the new ‘world’ that has just revolved into view. The problem is like and dislike, of course, but that reaction is within us and nothing to do with the objective world that constantly reveals itself to the eye that watches from a different place…

It was the end of our weekend; Sunday morning – the last visit, and I wanted it to go well for all the Companions of the trip. Then the phone beeped. The text from Stuart said that half our party, travelling in the same car, were stuck on one of the roads leading to Lindisfarne, unable to overtake a large pack of cyclists who seemed unwilling to let traffic past.

“It is what it is…” I thought. Now what possibilities have just opened up?

We had a coffee, at a cafe that the others couldn’t miss on their way into the village, but, when it was going cold, gave up on Plan B and did some real-time adjustment. The issue with Lindisfarne is the tides… You only have so many hours to complete what you want to do before the sea returns and covers the causeway. There was a lot we wanted to do and only half a party. So, we did what anyone would do on a weekend named ‘Castles of the Mind’ – we went in search of our final one – castle, that is… We left a message with the others to meet up at the castle and set off…

From one perspective, I was dreading the first view of it. The last time I was here, and the time before, it was covered in scaffolding – the result of a complete refurbishment programme to weatherproof the exterior and restore the interior. As a result, once again, I had only been able to look at the workings, criss-crossed in its steel lattice.

But now, in the first of many wonderful surprises that the day was to contain, the castle that came into view as we emerged from the main street was wonderfully renewed…

And I started to smile, then laugh, as we made our way up the winding pathway to the high entrance… ‘Renewed’ – there it was: the key to the day, the gift to the symbolic Pilgrim, renewal at the end of a personal quest. What greater gift could there be?

The restoration work was a £3M project carried out by contractors on behalf of the National Trust. The castle has always been the main focus for visitors, though there are other very good reasons to visit this farthest part of the island. These include the headland itself – with an older and smaller mound nearer to the often wild sea; the lime kilns and the famous but often overlooked garden…

Visitors often assume that the whole history of the island is based on its religious past; but Lindisfarne’s intermediate history went far beyond its ancient holy status – though that religious link to a possibly more ‘vibrant’ and nature-facing Celtic Christianity is what attracts the thousand of pilgrims of all flavours who make their way to its shores. Monks don’t usually build castles – they build churches or monasteries. There was a monastery on Lindisfarne, too, and its ruins survive, today.

The history of Lindisfarne is written into the fabric of the castle, but we were not here to study history; but our own natures… It was therefore important to begin with what was there, now, before peeling back the layers of how it came to be so. In that, too, there was something symbolic to accompany our final footsteps.

The castle, with its restoration work complete, is a rather luxurious place – most unlike the typical castle. Thoughts of the previous day’s closing visit to the spartan Preston Pele Tower were fresh in our minds. There’s a good reason for this feeling of well-being: it was a luxury holiday home for a rich American publisher, Edward Hudson, from 1901 until the mid-1920s, and the restoration project has reinstated this look and feel. To accomplish this dramatic re-design of the building, Hudson used the services of a young architect and designer Edwin Lutyens, whose patron was the famous landscape gardener, Gertrude Jekyll. The latter contributed the planting scheme for the crags and added a small walled garden just North of the castle. Lutyens went on to become one of the most famous architects in British history.

The scheme for the work was to follow Lutyens’ plan to simplify the castle’s older structure by converting its interior into a great ’L’ shape. Rooms, doorways, fires and furniture were added, and a stream of well-heeled Edwardian visitors followed.

Sadly, the furniture is yet to be replaced and we were faced with a curious art installation, filling just about every room with wooden cubed frames, open on one side and – most of them – draped with coloured cloths. A poster explained that, as the furniture was still to be reinstated, the art ‘installation’ was deemed timely.

After much neglect, the castle was given to the National Trust by its third owner in 1944.

None of this is religious… To find the intersection between politics, power and religion, we need to go back to the time of Henry VIII, father of the future Queen Elizabeth I. Henry ‘dissolved’ the monastery of Lindisfarne in 1537. But such locations made useful coastal forts, particularly one so close to the troublesome Scots, and the last bastion of England – Berwick on Tweed. The result was that the island – and particularly the castle – became part of the Tudor military machine.

In 1543, France allied itself with Scotland. In response, King Henry mounted a military response designed to crush all such resistance to his rule. The military expedition was led by Edward Seymour, brother of Jane Seymour, one of Henry’s many wives. Seymour landed on Lindisfarne with ten ships and over 2,000 troops. This army set off from their temporary island base to punish the Scots… The campaign was brutal and achieved its goals. It was the last time that Lindisfarne was to play an important role in English military history, though Elizabeth I did order improvements and fortifications to the building. Coastal guns were deployed up to the 1880s, after which the castle was left to its decay until Edward Hudson found it and decided it would enhance his ‘English’ status…

But what about St Aidan, the man most associated with Lindisfarne – and the famous Lindisfarne illuminated Gospels. They belong to a much earlier time, a time when Celtic Christianity was spreading from Ireland via the Scottish Hebrides.

The man who would be St Aidan was born, on an unknown date, in Ireland. He is known as the apostle of Northumbria – the old name for the Kingdom of what is now Northumberland. Aidan was a monk on the island of Iona, in the Inner Hebrides, Scotland. King Oswald of Northumbria requested that a bishop be appointed to lead the conversion of his kingdom to Christianity (Celtic Christianity at that point) and Aidan was selected.

Aidan chose the island of Lindisfarne because of its proximity to the sea; the only way to travel, speedily, in an age where roads were tracks of rutted mud. Aidan was consecrated as Bishop of Lindisfarne in AD 635.

Aidan established his church and monastery within sight of our first location of the weekend – the royal castle of Bamburgh. Under Aidan’s direction, and that of his successors, particularly St Cuthbert, Lindisfarne flourished as a leading religious centre.

St Aidan died on 31st August 651, after a remarkable lifetime. It is ironic that Celtic (Ionan) Christianity travelled south and met Roman Christianity coming north. The latter was to win out at the Synod of Whitby, in AD 665, fourteen years after Aidan’s death.

Being next to the ocean had its downside, too, and in AD 793, the Vikings sacked the island, and the religious settlement was moved to Durham.

The story of St Aidan is well illustrated in the church of St Margaret, near the centre of Lindisfarne village.

We gathered here after a brief lunch, conscious that the tides were soon to encroach…

There is never enough time to see what Lindisfarne has to offer. Each time I go, I find new aspects to explore. We had to bring the Castles of the Mind weekend to a close. We were already running late and those attending had long journeys home.

Stuart knew of a small island, accessible at low to mid tide, which lay beyond the church. The simple wooden cross at its highest point marked the place of one of the original hermits. We picked our way across the wet beach and clambered up the rocks to see both cross and the view across to Bamburgh, our starting point.

It was perfect…

We conducted our last readings then held a silent meditation to mark the end of the weekend. Then we hugged and said our goodbyes.

Our journey as pilgrims was complete…


Interested in the next Silent Eye weekend?

Full Circle?  – Finding the way home…
Penrith, Cumbria
Friday 7th – Sunday 9th December, 2018


End of Castle of the Mind

©️Stephen Tanham

Other parts of this series:

Part One, Part Two,  Part Three, Part Four, Part Five.


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.

Inspector Sunday

Inspector Sunday left the house wearing the leather backpack… containing the mysterious cat… Or did it? From somewhere in his fuzzy memory he knew this was a scientific joke…

He came to a valley with trees and a sky. The sky tried to explain the geometry of it all to him, but it was too much.

They walked on; Sunday, the backpack and, possibly, the cat…

©Stephen Tanham

The Stone and the Pilgrim (5)

We stumbled upon the Preston Pele Tower, fifteen miles south-west of Bamburgh, back in February, 2018. My wife and I had seen a reference to it on a noticeboard in a cafe some distance to the north. It’s quite hard to find; tucked away down a tiny country lane not far from the A1 – the main road through Northumberland to Edinburgh. We’d never heard of a Pele Tower, either… We got out of the car and stared at it, never having seen anything quite like it. Was it a castle – or the remains of one? The location suggested not. It looked purpose-built, yet somehow incomplete….

Right up to the time the Castles of the Mind group approached the building, I didn’t know what part of the ‘self’ we could use it to describe. I entered the (to me) familiar building and trusted that the answer would reveal itself. Either way, and even at the end of a long day of adventure, the Companions of the trip were not disappointed, and seemed to be having the same ‘look at that!’ experience that we had enjoyed in early February.

The famous architectural historian, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, described Preston Pele Tower as ‘amongst the most spectacular pieces of medieval masonry in England’. Its stone walls are seven feet thick and carry the same mason’s marks as those of the evocative Warkworth Castle twenty miles south. Sadly, we did not have enough time in our short weekend to visit the latter… another trip methinks!

It was never a castle, but it is incomplete; what you see in the top photo is only a half of what was built, originally. So, imagine that the two vertical towers are reflected back on themselves and you have it as it was created in 1392 (pic above): a four section Pele Tower.

How to pronounce Pele Tower? Probably because of the famous Brazilian footballer, it’s natural to call it a ‘Pel ay’ tower – and some of the locals we spoke to did just that. But Sue, who’s a fluent French speaker, says it’s probably derived from a French word and should be ‘Peel’ – that the final ‘e’ is there to turn the ‘eh’ in the middle to an ‘ee’.

It matters little; but there were a lot of them – nearly eighty, in fact. So they were rather important in this part of the world… The hand drawing from the Tower’s museum shows the location of the fortified dwellings in Northumberland, most of which were towers. The original of this chart was drawn up by Henry V, just prior to his departure for France and the victorious battle of Agincourt.

Many of the fortified towers were constructed during the frequent wars between England and Scotland, which ended with the Act of Union in 1603 – after James I came to the English throne.  In the sixteenth century, while the rest of England enjoyed relative peace, Northumberland – the eastern border county with Scotland – remained on a state of alert due to a scourge called the Border Reivers, and the towers saw a second lifetime as an essential way for the landed gentry to protect their people, servants and livestock.

Reivers were lawless gangs, both sides of the border, who would steal, murder and rape their way across whole swathes of an undefended Northumberland and its disputed border with Southern Scotland.

One of the Preston Tower’s celebrated features is a combined great bell and clock. The bell is approximately four feet in diameter and weighs 500 kg. The mechanism for the bell, which strikes on the hour, is linked to the twin clocks on both sides of the Tower faces. The power is provided by a set of two giant stone weights whose ropes run most of the height of the building.

The clock mechanism on the second floor drives the twin clock faces on the north and south faces of the tower, and is based on the same mechanical design that powers Big Ben in London. The clock was added in the nineteenth century, which shows that the Preston Tower continued to be a place of historical interest for a long time.

AAPele Clock Mech

As part of its function as a museum, Preston Pele Tower contains rooms which are furnished as they would have been at the time of its construction in the 14th century. The recreated interior spaces are sparse, and, to us, feel very basic. Being safe during a time of great insecurity was their central function.

AAPeleBedroom

The basic cooking facilities are shown in the second of the two rooms.

AAPelePot Room on Fire

The staircase is a simple wooden structure that runs all the way to the roof on the east side of the internal wall.

AApeleStaircase alone

Once on the roof, the view of the countryside around is commanding.

AAPele rooftop 1 to sea

Standing on the roof, in the last few minutes of our visit, the key I was looking for came to mind: Hope

The Pele Tower was not a basis for aggression; its purpose was to defend the home and hearth, the family and those who worked for them, including the animals.

An image came to mind: that of the householder standing watch under the stars, scanning the horizon for reivers. The dawn is beginning in the east, but the sky is still filled with the strange darkness of the pre-dawn. He nods his head towards the coming light, then opens the door to descend to the chambers in which his family are sleeping, safe within the thick stone walls.

He pauses by the thin window, a defensive structure so narrow that a man could not pass through it. The shutters have not been drawn on this single light and he stops to consider the pale light, one final time. In that moment, I catch his thoughts in a line of poetry, a gift from the now that places such as these are so good at bestowing…

Through these thin lights, now so forlorn

Will one day stream a different dawn

It will take another hundred years – a time during which the rest of Tudor England will undergo transformation to modernity. But in this liminal zone of Northumberland, the change will be slower, as borders and reivers are set to rights.

But that day will come… and that fervent hope in my ghostly host’s eyes will empower it… And there is something very spiritual about that…

We left the Pele Tower quietly. Others had felt its unique personality. We were all tired, and the dinner booked at a nearby pub was very welcome.

Our mental and emotional preparation was complete. We had been witness to the internal architecture of the self as seen in these vast and very different structures of stone.

The sun would rise on a day dedicated to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne… and its ancient mysteries; the Companion Pilgrims were coming home…

The Preston Pele Tower is a privately-owned museum. It charges a very reasonable £2.00 admission and has car parking and toilets on site.

To be continued.

©️Stephen Tanham

Other parts of this series:

Part One, Part Two,  Part Three, Part Four,


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.