The Ship

This morning, I will drive to the family home town of Bolton, in Lancashire to collect my mother who is coming to spend Easter with us here in Cumbria.

The journey is straightforward: fifteen minutes will take me from the outskirts of Kendal to the M6 motorway, southbound. After that, at least conceptually, it’s a straight line to the intersection with the M61, which will take me south-east to within a few miles of my destination.

Yesterday, I was musing about a conversation I had with a friend where we related our lives to the voyage of a ship. For mankind, there has always been something romantic – potentially grand – about the notion of a sea voyage. My car journey this morning will be very tame compared with what the ‘ancient mariners’ faced. My car may be wobbled by high winds, but is unlikely to be blown off course. The road completely maps to the journey; I will not find myself having to navigate across strange hills and fields as I struggle to hold a course.

My ship – the vessel of the car – is designed to protect me in the event of a crash; in a way that few such vessels of the past did. And yet, at any time, the several tons of hurtling steel, glass and explosive liquid could do untold damage to others on the road. I may be safer, but the exposure to my own errors or lack of concentration is significant.

Can we compare the journey of our lives to the voyage of a ship? Is life in modern society making us more of a car than a free-sailing ship? Does that mean that where we go is completely pre-ordained by the equivalent of ‘roads’?

It’s a good question… And, often it helps to think in these stark terms…

The first question we might ask is: do we have a ship at all? Are we not simply a point of consciousness moving from a past, through a present, to a future? That is certainly how physics would describe it.

Do we really have any free will in that journey? Or does having to fit in with our world, our society, make us as conditioned as my car will be on its fixed road? Subject only to the weather, the fuel in the car, the attention I must place on the road and the behaviour of others on its length…

From a mystical perspective, we may say that we need to learn to have a ship in the first place. We have body, but that may not wholly equate to a ship. The captain of a sailing ship truly had the skills to take that vessel anywhere on the seas. He may have been under orders to adopt a certain route, but his freedom of choice was absolute.

Beneath the captain and the wood of his vessel was the ocean, a constantly changing surface beneath which he did not wish to go… Staying afloat meant playing by some hidden but very special rules learned over many centuries, if not millennia. Can we compare this to our lives?

The road of ordinary life is there to protect us. It serves us well. But we may choose a seemingly riskier path, one that leaves the road in a seemingly tiny vessel called the Self; one that has no fear of the sea and its ever-changing faces…

©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 stevetanham.wordpress.com.

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Pen of the oyster-catcher

Portmahomack, a fishing village on the north shore of one of the fingers of land that jut out into the North Sea, thirty or so miles north of Inverness.

There is something perfect about it.

Somewhere close, our collie dog, Tess, is barking, playing with the waves. I follow the waterline, ensuring that only the thick soles of my boots get wet. It is March and that green-grey sea is icy, here on the Sutherland coast. We’re an hour’s drive from John o’ Groats, the most northerly point on the British mainland. Had it been May, I might have paddled…

I am here to write, not play on the beach; though the early mornings and evenings will be devoted to making sure that the collie has lots of exercise and that I don’t become dull by sitting too long at that old wooden desk in the hotel room; the one that smells deliciously of ancient wood and generations of preserving polish. It even has a hole where the inkwell used to be.

The Oyster Catcher will do nicely for the evening meal. A latté, by itself, for breakfast – the mild hunger helps me think – and, at this time of year there’s nothing better for lunch than a steaming bowl of fish chowder with a chunk of locally-baked bread. I’ll see if I can persuade the hotel to do it; perhaps swap them a glowing review on Trip Advisor… It’s worth a try.

But food is for later. For now, I just want to drink in where I am, a writing castaway in this quiet and relatively unvisited place – at least I judge it so, as we are, as far as I can see, practically alone in Portmahomack.

We each have our own writing triggers. For me it’s a combination of sky, landscape, beaches.. and some inspirational music. Sometimes, I find a place that combines them all… This is one such. I’m looking forward to meeting a few of its residents, but not too many. Maybe a couple of beers, or a glass or two of wine after the evening meal, then an early night with one of my current books – I’m studying how William Boyd writes such apparently simple novels, yet hooks you into the plot early in the first chapter. Try ‘Any Human Heart‘ if you want to sample his best.

It helps to fall to asleep reflecting on how great writers do it… and wake refreshed and determined to have a go…

I’ll set the alarm so that I wake about six. I will open the curtains and look out at that vista, listen to the sea and drink in the the sheer wonder of being here. The start of the day will see me making a rubbish cup of tea from the contents of the wooden tray in the wardrobe, before taking Tess onto the beach across the road. Then I’ll sit down to begin the writing, knowing, at the end of the first couple of hours’ creativity, that a delicious coffee awaits at the tiny cafe along the quay. Later on, someone might be making chowder with home-made bread in the Oyster Catcher.

Sky, landscape and beaches… You can see from the photos how lovely this part of Scotland is, but none of them convey the sheer size of the Scottish sky. We’re less than an hour north of Inverness on the east coast of Scotland, yet we could be in a different world and in a different time. Most of our previous trips have been to the western highlands, which are glorious; but this part of the highlands has been a revelation. We are told that there are far fewer midges here in the north-east of the country. Depending on the time of year, this can be a life-saver.

Across the waters lie the mountains of South Sutherland – which don’t appear to have a generic name – but that may just be my lack of knowledge. We are well north of the famous skiing region of the Cairngorms and the landscape is very different. Golden beaches seem to be everywhere; most of them empty. Good to walk on and Collie heaven…

It’s not so much a question of writing a book as finishing one. Several years ago, we ran a Silent Eye weekend workshop called ‘River of the Sun‘, a modern mystery play, told in five acts, and set against the backdrop of the 19th Dynasty in ancient Egypt. The man who would become Pharaoh Ramases II is sailing back up the Nile to be at the bedside of his dying father – the, arguably, greater Seti I.

Ramases knows his father has little time left, yet he seems in no hurry to return to the royal palace. Instead, he mounts a night-raid on one his father’s favourite temples on an island in the Nile, run by a high-priestess the son suspects of heresy… The audacity and spiritual violence has far-reaching consequences…

The workshop was a success. Several people commented that the plot would make a good novel. As a test I serialised the first part of the book as a series of blogs (see list at the end of this post), but time has passed and I have yet – and inexcusably – to complete it. Hence being here…

We have reached the quayside. It’s quite windy and the farther out along its length we go the more we get blown. We do not linger… but return to the shelter of the village streets. Other days will dawn and the wind will have abated.

From along the beach, my wife, Bernie, calls… Tess barks for our reunion. My wandering reverie is broken. With a sigh I turn the corner of the quay and begin my walk back to where she and the Collie are waiting by the car for us all to depart. In a second, my fantasy of a creative break in this newly-discovered haven vanishes. It is not that it is impossible, just that it will have to be another time, as we are staying in a cottage forty minutes south of Portmahomack, not here.

I take one last look at this idyllic fishing village and get into the car. Tess licks my face and Bernie smiles at my wistful expression.

“A writers’ paradise?” she asks.

How well she knows me… But I will be back, though some other writing room may witness the creative conclusion of The River of the Sun.

For now, there are other places to visit on this lovely winter tour of north-east Scotland. Who knows what other writer’s dens I may encounter in this magical land.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school 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.

Index to opening chapters of River of the Sun:

Chapter One – Gifts From the River

Chapter Two – An Agony of Sunset

Chapter Three – The Dark Waters

Chapter Four – Touching the Sky

Chapter Five – The Fire Within

The light between the railway carriages

The light between the railway carriages…

It was one of the best analogies I ever had given to me; yet it took me years to grasp its fullness. Like any true seed of ‘spiritual’ insight, it was strong enough to lie on the rock till a little pocket of earth developed beneath – a receptive place into which it could extend its roots.

We all grow up thinking, without question, that ‘thought’ is continuous, and the basis for our ‘in-here’ existence. It may take a lifetime to see that the thought-machine that fronts our world is our own creation and coloured with our thinking and emotional history. This colouration paints ‘the’ world, making it our world, familiar in its likes and dislikes, fears and moments of courage – many of them unobserved, except by that mysterious watcher within us.

The world we inhabit is therefore the sum total of our reactions to everything that has happened to us. Many of these reactions protect us – like knowing not to put our hands onto something burningly hot; others fill us with prejudice against threats that are not present in our moment.

The ocean in which this history exists is the internal ‘field’ of our thoughts.

‘Look, there’s a cherry-blossom tree!’ We cry, imposing the history-carrying words over the raw and beautiful experience of the reality. Names are useful, but they also pre-program our seeing. Knowing this, we can work backwards if we choose, and repeatedly use the word so that it temporarily loses its meaning. We may then find ourselves on the edge of a kind of fear. Have we damaged our brain’s memory of what a cherry-blossom tree is?

Of course not… but staying within that uncertainty may teach us something.

Just seeing how the mind takes that defensive stance is instructive. If, instead of allowing that fear, we carry on with the exercise and spend a ‘mute’ few minutes next to the ever-changing perfection of the tree, we may experience the gap – the light – between the railway carriages of the train of consciousness thundering by on its eternal and dominating journey.

In those precious moments, we may see that there is a landscape beyond the noisy and flashing train, one that comes slowly into focus and reveals itself as a very different place, yet one to which we are, most certainly, closely related – since we and it are now still… gazing upon each other in a new way.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school 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.

The rotating blade of meaning (2)

steve laptop green bag

In Part One, we looked at how Arthur M. Young, a brilliant engineer and inventor, was fascinated by the ‘act of knowing’, and determined that there were four stages to this central part of our consciousness. This can be illustrated by the following search for what might be termed a ‘geometry of meaning’ in the act of seeing something:

  1. There is a rectangular-shaped object across the room on the wooden floor. That means it belongs to the family (set) of things that share rectangular shapes, even if they turn out to be three-dimensional. This is an objective observation – it can be scientifically proven. Young termed it ‘objective general’ – many things are rectangular…
  2.  The surface of it is not a plain texture. It appears to be a heavy canvas material. Again this can be proved, but this facet of the object is specific. Only one of these actually exists – in this form. Other examples will be slightly different. My powers of knowing allow for this. They scan, rapidly, from the general to the specific. So far, I have a rectangular object made of heavy canvas. It’s an objective, specific thing; or, in Young’s accurate terminology, an objective, particular thing.
  3. Now, our perception of knowing takes a leap across the observer-observed divide. In reality, our act of partial knowing (so far) has really been observer-based, but the qualities of the observed object are sufficiently studied to allow us to attribute these objective qualities to it. But now we move into a different state of perception: one in which the observer projects qualities of their own onto the object. The object is a faded shade of green. The experience of ‘green’ is entirely subjective, that is, it is projected onto the object by me. Whatever objective qualities it has, they do not include my experience of faded green. This aspect of my object is therefore subjective and particular. Young called this type of subjective ‘projective’.
  4. Finally, humans like their objects to have a purpose. I can combine the knowledge I now have of this object and know it to be my laptop shoulder bag. In doing this, I have completed the fourfold cycle of knowing this object, whether seeing it for the first time or when I have been trying to locate it.

The table from the last post is included for clarity. These concepts need to be understood before we can move onto the revelations of what Arthur M. Young discovered next.

screenshot 2019-01-23 at 17.42.46

The above fourfold process is completely inclusive for any act of human knowing. As was said last time, science is only concerned with the first aspect: the objective general, the other three aspects it leaves to the philosophers… But the whole is what happens.

Arthur M. Young was fond of diagrams. In his work, he tried to explain using diagrams, and even actual examples of objects, such as pendulums, whenever he could. He wondered whether the above fourfold ‘map of knowing’ could be more usefully represented as a diagram… and the idea of a simple cross sprang to mind.

basic cross map for arthur young

The value of such a diagram would be to show more information than was available from the table. For example, it might show what relationship each of the four aspects had to each other – opposite on the cross-diagram could mean that they were opposite in nature…

We have assigned the attributes of general vs specific and projective (subjective) vs objective. Each aspect of our analysis has a unique combination of two of these – and they are all different permutations. We can see, for example, that the formal description of the object (objective, general) is the opposite of the function of the object (projective, particular). In like fashion, the Sense Data are the opposite of the Projected Values. Putting these into the cross diagram begins to show us the hidden relationships in our perception and knowing.

basic cross map for arthur young2

Because the diagram is logically true, we can deduce certain results from it. The first is that the above opposites are true; the second is that those values that are not opposite have a different relationship with each other. Since we are searching, ultimately, for a geometry of meaning, the angles are important to what follows: 180 degrees conveys opposition, whereas 90 degrees means that the aspects do not affect each other.

The deeper implications of this will be discussed in the next post.

Other posts in this series:

Part One, 

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 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.

 

 

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.

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

Spaceships and Chewing Gum

I am in a hotel room in Singapore. It’s 05.02 and I’ve been awake for three hours. Beside me, my wife, Bernie, has also give up trying to sleep and is sitting up drinking the tea I have just made. Having failed to sleep for most of the night, she has joined me in a plan to take an early breakfast as soon as the hotel’s facilities come back to life.

Jet lag is brutal…

For the past two hours, I have been reading a sci-fi book called Endymion, by one of my favourite authors, Dan Simmons. The book – which is the third in the Hyperion series – begins with a man, who has survived his execution, finding a spaceship. It’s obviously made my night-fevered brain think about the greater meaning of the word ‘Spaceship’. My generation used to talk a lot about ‘Spaceship Earth’. But that was back in the days when ecology was the main focus of working together, and we hadn”t declared war on one of the most fundamentally important gases in nature’s construction of life on Earth.

I’ve been propped up in bed with the room’s lights off. I even turned down the brightness on the screen so as not to wake my love, who was manfully… womanfully, I suppose – but futilely – trying to wrestle a few more hours sleep from the swiftly passing Singapore night.

We are passing through through, too – on our way to Australia. We have broken our journey for a few days to revisit one of my favourite places on the planet. Singapore is a spaceship, a very beautiful island city-state perched at the end of the Malaysian landmass. The people are drawn from a mixture of sources: Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian. They are some of the most pleasant and friendly people I have ever met. They are intelligent, caring and thoughtful. Their racial admixture, combined with a common enemy – space and natural resources – may well be what has made them that way. Metaphorically, they have changed their small country into a spaceship; and it works…

Singapore is one of the safest countries on Earth to visit. It’s a clean city and full of shops – and gardens. Shopping is the national hobby, as far as I can see. I can only take so much shopping, but, fortunately, Bernie is an horticulturalist and always wants to visit most, if not all, of the world’s famous gardens on our travels. A short time from now, having startled the staff in the hotel, and figured out the local metro system, she intends that we are first through the gate of the spectacular Gardens by the Bay a few miles south of where we are staying. It’s one of two such planned visits; the other being the famous Botanical Garden. You can tell a lot about a city from its gardens.

I shall create a blog for both these visits, as I know many readers are interested.

There is no litter in Singapore. The former ‘authoritarian’ regime which founded modern Singapore, led by the famous Lee Kuan Yew, transformed this tiny state from a third to a first-world state in a single generation. Along the way his government instilled into its people the need to work together to create a lasting approach to scarce resources. A big part of that was accepting certain disciplines; among them no smoking in public, big and enforced fines for littering, and a total ban on public use of chewing gum. There were, and are, many more.

Contrast Singapore’s pavements with any city in Britain and you’ll see why such a simple idea as the chewing gum ban is a good idea… The other side of Lee’s coin was enormous investment in infrastructure, especially transportation.

We are en route to Aldelaide, where my eldest son, his wife, and, presently, our only grandchildren live. Their parents are both doctors, having been trained in England then coming to believe, in the heat of the past few years of Government vs NHS politics, that they could provide a better world for their kids by emigrating to Australia. From a parental point of view it was a sad moment, but I understand their logic. They seem to be making a great success of it and I wish them well. We are only able to see the grandchildren once every couple of years… But ‘it is what it is’ and we have to make the best of it… and I’ll not suppress a sarcastic snort at the next person who tells me that ‘Skype’ is a good alternative to the transcendent delight of holding your children’s children…

We have a beautiful Collie and a beloved – and somewhat exotic – rescue cat. We love them for what they are and not as grandchildren substitutes – which they both predated. They are both in spaceships, too. The dog is with my cousin and her husband – thank you, so much! – so we only have to fret a few times a day. The cat is with a former kennel-maid who has set up her own business to provide home-based residency during her customers’ travels.

There will be hell to pay when we get home… And, it’s very difficult to forget that look in their eyes when they figure out you’re abandoning them, again.

We came here in a spaceship – a beautiful Airbus with good air quality and a high ceiling. Economy seating is never totally comfortable, but the Singapore Airlines cabin crew looked after us better than any other group of ‘service workers’ that I can ever remember. Maybe they are so good at it because they have been raised in a culture and an economy that understands that a problem is everybody’s problem; and that riches based on success are great, but do not exempt you from active caring.

Thank you, Singapore. Thank you for being as I remembered you from my business trip, fifteen years ago. I love your spaceship-state. I think I’m going to adore your gardens. If I was asked to nominate a future-facing country, I’d nominate you… And I know lots of other people who would, too.

I’ll stop the sleep-deprived rambling, now. Hopefully, my wakefulness will last till the afternoon, when we can steal a couple of hours’ sleep back from the jet lag. We’ll sleep peacefully, protected by this fine island city-state and free from chewing gum on our soles.

©Stephen Tanham

Inspector Sunday

The cat’s sudden appearance had startled Sunday. It took him a few moments to adjust; then he realised that the creature had been looking out of the window and not at him.

Sunday followed the feline gaze and found that a huge angel had broken loose from a high cloud and was expanding as it fell to Earth…

“Mow ” said the cat, suddenly closer to Sunday’s ear.

“Hush,” whispered Sunday, as he attempted to stroke the cat. But it had gone…

©Stephen Tanham.

The Old Man and the Tower

Old Man Tower smaller

There was and is a tower, a tall, dark tower.

One day, a fugitive – ragged but not lost – came to this tower.

The tower stood beside a wild sea, which constantly washed its face with spray. Day after day the sea would send clouds of cold spray high into the air, where some of the droplets splashed onto the thick, crystal windows of the tower.

The sea thundered on the rocks and covered the arriving ragged man with salt-water, but his only reaction was to smile.

Through the crystal glass at the top of the dark tower, an old man watched the world beneath him. Every day he would look out at the streaks of sea water on the outside of the thick glass. Sometimes he shuddered at the ferocity of the sea; at its determination to get through the crystal glass. At these times he wondered at the stupidity of the natural world, that it would waste such energy trying to get through his toughened windows to the place where he was safe. Science had given him the glass. He thought about the cleverness of humans, about everything they knew, all the knowledge they had amassed and how they had been able to store it so effectively.

His tower was a repository of such knowledge. Its white, winding stairway, which spiralled up to the top of the tower, was lined with expertly-crafted, curving shelves. These shelves contained every book that the old man had wanted in his long life. Many were unread; some were partly-read. A few – nine of them – lay on the large, oak table that was the main feature of the single room where the old man lived, high above the dark, rocky coast, and the relentless sea that spat against the crystal windows.

The old man became aware that something had changed in the out-there. His life had been marked by acute awareness and he trusted such instincts. He stood up from his task of rearranging the nine books, and looked down through the smeared, crystal windows at the sea-spray and the raging sea. Against the sea was framed the dark figure of the fugitive, staggering backwards towards the boiling foam.

“Nooooo! You’lll die in that deep!” cried the old man, his voice seeming to shake the entire top of the tower. The figure below seemed to be laughing up at him. Was he drunk or ill thought the old man? He gripped the lead window frames as though the panes of crystal glass were about to be blown from their secure places – and the horrors of the world let in…

Before he could object to his unfathomable decision, the old man found himself racing down his spiral staircase to the solid, oak door that was the only entrance to the dark tower. He swung it open and ran outside, skidding on the salt-slippery limestone into which the foundations of the tower were deeply bored.

The fugitive was on his hands and knees, being dragged towards the edge of the land by the howling wind and a draught of air so salty that the old man could taste it. As the old man rounded the tower’s base, the fugitive, kneeling in the spray, looked up at him with a light in his eyes, a light that did not belong to the storm. The fugitive held out his hands as a vicious gust of the salty wind threatened to spin him around and toss him into the dark sea.

Before he could understand how he had come to be there, taking such risks, the old man found himself clutching the dirty fingers of the fugitive–then the wrists, as the slippery flesh of the thin digits began to slide from his unpracticed grasp.

Minutes later, the two of them stood in the shadow of the tower. The old man was shaking with an emotion that made his throat feel tight. The fugitive was also shaking, but with the cold and the effects of his sodden clothing. The old man still had hold of the fugitive’s wrists. Laughing, the fugitive prised his hands loose, and thanked the old man for saving his life… but there was a gleam in his eyes when he said it. The fugitive asked if he might come in and dry himself. Mute, the old man pointed the way to the oak door, which, and inexplicably, he had left open.

They began to climb, but the dripping figure of the fugitive kept stopping.

“I’ve heard of that book,” he said, after each few steps, brushing the dust from the spines so he could more clearly see the name and author. “And you have read them all… how clever you must be!”

“I haven’t read them all,” the fugitive found himself responding as they climbed. Why did he feel the need to justify himself to this pathetic figure, he wondered?

“But most of them?” asked the fugitive.

The old man shook his head, exasperated at the truth being dragged from him. He clutched for something, but was aghast at what came out of his mouth. “I know where they all are!” he said, trying to bite back the words the second they were uttered.

After that, the fugitive said little, and their ascent was punctuated only by the dripping and slopping of the other man’s old coat on the white stairway.

They reached the warm chamber at the top of the tower and the fugitive’s eyes fell on the blazing wood fire. The old man motioned him to stand beside it. The fugitive continued to say nothing, but looked down on the heaving seas, below. As he did so, the sea lashed the crystal windows with such force that the old man shrank back to the far reaches of the circular chamber.

“It’s me she wants,” the fugitive said softly, staring into the black, ever-shifting mass of the ocean.

“Why does she want you?” asked the old man.

“Because of what I don’t know,” said the fugitive.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham