surfsensei

Reflections and observations on life in general.

Category: life and memory

#SharingMySanctuary

#SharingMySanctuary
This is my bed.

Photo of a simple wooden bed.
I have been lucky enough to be able to sleep in it peacefully,
confident that I will be safe and warm enough,
free from fear of sudden assault,
by strangers with no reason to hurt me or,
worse,
somebody I thought I could trust.
Free, too, from fear of a night visit from
police or army, come to take me or my family away,
for “questioning”, or worse.
So far, at least;
let’s not get too complacent and believe that
“it couldn’t happen here”.
The trouble is, it does,
especially if you have lost your opportunities
to earn enough to keep paying the rent, or mortgage, or
if your mind just wouldn’t stay on track enough to get by
and handle all the stuff like bills and job and relationships, or
if you had to put whatever you could grab,
in the dark,
and the shock of approaching fire and explosions,
and the children hysterical and wetting themselves,
to run to the last taxi,
which only waited for you because the driver
is married to your cousin,
and leave everything,
EVERY
thing,
and get to the border, the children still unwashed and exhausted,
no papers, no ID,
you dropped it as you picked up the youngest,
and finally,
after a story you still cannot tell without shaking uncontrollably,
by a series of very small miracles,
arriving in the country where they say
“it couldn’t happen here”,
as they go to safe beds, while
you look for a bed, for room at the inn,
and find that the first thing somebody says to you,
it must be a customary welcome here,
is:
“why don’t you FUCK OFF back where you came from”.

This is my bed,

Photo of a simple wooden bed.
I am #SharingMySanctuary
in a very small way.
I want to see the people whose decisions can make it happen
understand this,
not just know about it,
understand this,
understand how great a sanctuary is
a safe place to sleep,
and make it happen for those who need sanctuary too,
which, really, is EVERY one of us.

I hope that you can be free from fear tonight, and have a safe, sound, refreshing sleep.

(Among others, these people are doing something about this.)

 

Advertisements

The Sainsbury’s Rainproof Hat

After a sunny morning, rain clouds have boiled up over Stirling and are releasing their excess water in grey, warm, curtains, accompanied by thundery grumbling like an old man relieving himself after a long, uncomfortable journey.

I have extended my shopping visit to the store to enjoy a relaxing coffee in the café, with outstanding views over the parked cars and trolleys and the misty forms of the Ochil hills. Good timing, as it turns out.

During the downpour, a man with a limp and a stick approaches the store entrance, a Sainsbury’s carrier bag turned unselfconsciously into an effective hat. I miss the photo opportunity but hold the image in my mind as I sketch quickly.

My recent café neighbours, a family with three lively children, wait under the eaves while one of the adults returns from the distant car with jackets. Mum gives hers immediately to the small boy, now a baggy animated raincoat with feet. Dad puts his on, pauses, looks at Mum, removes his jacket and, with less dexterity, drapes it over the smaller girl. The tallest girl is already wrapped up in an uncle’s coat. Ready for the elements, they venture forth, out of sight.

My coffee is soaking into my body and the rain is soaking into the ground. A woman with hair as bright red as a traffic light runs for her car from now nonexistent rain.

Time for home, to unload the bags of potting compost and pots I have bought so that I can grow things again after a gap of several years, lacking outdoor space.

And then, I think, a glass of the sparkling wine that the new landlord kindly left as a welcome gift.

May you also be blessed with ingenuity and kindness.

Now, where’s my rainproof hat?

Rolling, stepping..

Sitting in a Tesco cafe after a hearty, cheap, veggie breakfast.

Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street ” plays over the somewhat intrusive store musack system, a favourite and evocative song for me.

It’s my last day of tenancy in the flat I’ve occupied since moving up to Scotland to make a new start in a new job, in August last year. It’s been a good home and fresh beginning that I feel sustainably refreshed by.

To quote from a poem by Maya Angelou:

The horizon leans forward,

Offering you space

To place

New steps of change.

Step by step, I’m experiencing this.

At the same time, while feeling content with my current situation and happy with the new place I’ve moved to, today I feel like the rolling stone in the song, about to complete another step towards that horizon.

The causes of raspberries

20180513_180821.jpg

I’m due to move at the end of the week, so I’ve been dismantling shelving and re-packing the few things I unpacked on arrival up here in Scotland last year. This time it’s a shorter move, about 6 or 7 miles closer to work, which will take about 40min off my cycle commute (I’m not a fast cyclist), and to a more self contained cottage, a welcome change from living in flats for the last few years.

20180520_170839
I took some relaxing time out at the end of the afternoon, to walk through the birdsong-resonant Callendar Woods and down to the lochan by the house. It has been one of those overcast, warm, still days that mute the light and makes for a soporific , timeless feeling in the air. Leaves have sprung from nearly all the trees, blossoms are out, insects buzz around and a lot of birds have already begun to lay their eggs. I found empty blackbird eggshells and one duck egg that a crow or similar had evidently robbed and partly eaten, by the paths.

egg
Most people had gone home but there were still some families out as well as a couple of small groups of youths, sitting and muttering quietly to each other. A few younger children were out and running around, one adult, one of their parents, close by. The children were shouting at each other, only when I drew a bit closer did I hear more clearly them telling each other, in a playful tone of voice, to fuck off, repeatedly… the parent seemed unconcerned …. but then yesterday by the shopping mall in town I heard several parents swearing profusely at and in front of their young children…. the seeds of another abusive and angry generation are sown. Causes and effects, I see some of the fruits of this in school.

20180520_161825.jpg
Other causes and conditions are coming together to create new phenomena too, the flower buds are forming on the raspberry plants that grow profusely in the woods. I could buy raspberries now in the supermarkets if I wanted but, for several reasons, I resist this to wait for the local, wild, harvest. The wild ones taste better too, perhaps they arise from healthier causes and conditions, less stressed and pressurised, able to take their own time to become ready.

raspberry plants with buds

Once, here…

I’ve recently been on a cycling tour in North-West Scotland, a beautiful, remote, inspiring area that is also, geologically, a former part of the North American continental plate.  I’m still writing the account of that journey up, the daily demands of work and life back at home delaying the process a bit.  In the meantime, this…

I stayed a night and part of a day near the village of Achiltibuie.  On the shore, beside abandoned and crumbling boats, I saw a row of rusted  anchors and chain cable.  I thought of the older community, based on fishing and crofting, that is changing, now.  Some words came to mind:

achiltibuie anchors

Once, here,

were fishermen,

who weighed and dropped us,

singing, cursing,

laughing, praying,

whose boats

we held fast,

in sand

or rocky ground.

But fish and people moved,

new voices, accents,

sound here now

and we alone remain

to hold

fast

their memory,

once,

here,

were fishermen.

0457 – dawn chorus

Early alarm,

Cycling today.

One minute,

Only birdsong,

Only birdsong,

Lifting night,

Revealing light.

Right.

Up,

Wash,

Eat,

Go.

Squirrel manners

As if I haven’t had a rough enough night, fighting a cold, my breakfast is interrupted by incoherent angry swearing from outside the kitchen window. Two floors up, this is unusual.

Curious, I investigate. The perpetrator is hanging upside-down on the wall outside, looking at something, perhaps a cat, in the bushes below. My visiting squirrel is making angry noises at whatever it is when he or she sees me and climbs easily onto the windowsill.

In between grumbling at the whatever-it-is, she looks at me, scratches her stomach, nibbles at the window frame. Then, crouching ready to spring, she leaps to the nearest twigs and is away, leaving a small poop behind.

I guess I’ll take that as a compliment then… ?

Back to bed, to let my immune system continue its battles.

Pale gold

There is pale gold here, this afternoon, as I sit with fresh tea and biscuits in my flat; early returned from work with a head full of mind-muddling cold.

To the north, the roofscapes of Falkirk and, beyond, the Ochil Hills are modelled in soft yellow-white sunlight and blue-grey shadows. They appear briefly to advance before retreating, slowly, as the intensity of the light is muted by other clouds.

2018-02-19 21.22.39.jpg

From the east windows are the edges of woodland, tree trunks glowing soft gold and browns amongst green-black masses of leaves. Birds are singing, sounding glad of the respite in the recent freeze.

2018-02-19 21.23.54.jpg

Sunlight is beginning to shine directly into the flat again after its winter holiday, showing me I must clean the windows again. On Saturday morning it illuminated my breakfast, today it brings an unaccustomed warmth to the clutter of the other bedroom.

Despite the itching, irritating, swollen and congested sensations in my head, I feel a sense of wellbeing ease the heaviness of my eyelids. A sense that spring is just beginning, just beginning, to stir in its sleep, enough to make the buds swell on the branches outside the kitchen window where, a month ago during ice and snow, I left some nuts for a fearless visiting squirrel who leapt across to the thin windowsill from a thin branch and watched me making toast.

Aspirin, sugar and caffeine are doing their work, Time for an early nap, then some food, then more sleep to allow my body’s defence forces deal with the unwelcome intruders.

To you reading this, I wish you health and happiness.

Time for me

to rest and,

perhaps,

dream

of gold.

Salvation… ?

It’s a “drych” Sunday morning, misty and wet, not a day for hillwalking, fewer distractions for me today then. I’ve slept well in a bed I appreciate every time I lie down in it, not just for its inherent comfort but also because I made the frame myself, another story, and because I am reminded frequently in the city centres that there are many people who don’t have the luxury of even a safe place to sleep, let alone a bed; luxury is a fragile and ephemeral thing, I try to remember that.

From my flat I can look down to the Salvation Army church hall opposite, where Sunday morning worshippers are making their way in for the service, it’s a fair range of people, mostly older but not all, a few families too, this one is busy and well-attended as far as I can see. It’s also active as a social assistance centre, providing cheap, possibly free, meals to people who need them, company too, other useful and constructive events. It reminded me of a few things I’ve heard in conversations, sometimes agreed with, at least in part.

2015 may Mull (35)
I’ve heard people dismissing the variety of Christian churches, indeed all religions, as promoters of blind and superstitious faith, root causes of discord, persecution, prejudice and war, social & political tools of manipulation to keep people tolerating unjust and oppressive worldly conditions for now in the hope of future reward in an afterlife and meanwhile accepting the authority of a few, legitimising abuse of power and more. There are some truths in this, all religions, indeed all human organisations, have the traps that can tempt people to follow these harmful courses of action, as we see from the news on a regular basis in the continuing revelations of long term abuse of children in the care of nuns, behaviour of a number of film producers, business leaders in a London club, the list is endless and active. These problems have been evident since the early days of Christianity and very likely the other religions too, before and since. The common thread I see running through it all is the question of human problems, the real extent of some of which is only now becoming apparent and acknowledged. The pressing need now, I believe, is to examine the underlying causes of these problems, not to be diverted into the easy option of demonising either individual perpetrators or institutions, and to act on those causes.

cycle trip - hereford to wolves (36)
What I see too, though, as I look down at the last of the congregation going in to the warm and convivial hall, is the very positive aspect of this place and activity for many people, indeed I’ve had a closer experience of this in the past, in relation to a Christian family I knew and used to visit, and recently, in a Buddhist setting, though I’m thinking here about the Christian context as they receive a lot of unfair criticism and ridicule.
I saw people having a very positive, uplifting and hope-filled shared social experience, even if it gave only respite, we all need a break from our problems and I’ve seen people gather strength and stamina from this, whatever their level of commitment to or belief in the doctrines. I’ve seen something of the wider social support and networks that can be available and accessible through meeting regularly in a setting in which the focus is, mostly and explicitly, positive. I’ve seen the way people, especially young people, can feel that they are capable of achieving and that they do have real potential, due to the encouragement and wider support and contacts that they have, leading to confident, clear-thinking and healthily active young adults able to make and maintain good relationships and pursue constructive livelihoods based on sound and compassionate values. I’ve seen genuine community developing around these things, all-too-rare islands of constructive social support and interdependence in a sea of fragmented and relatively isolated individuals, clinging to assorted and often toxic flotsam to stay afloat.

cycle trip - hereford to wolves (35)
I’ve also heard, first hand, from people who have found the sense of a greater presence and possibility in the world helping them to endure deprivation, abuse, despair, imprisonment and torture; at school we had an inspiring talk from an East German preacher who had been imprisoned and interrogated for a long time by Stazi and Soviet police, as well as other persecution due to being an active Christian. My point is that there are very useful and desirable aspects to these activities and beliefs, as well as potential traps for those who do not examine critically the dogmas, rituals, creeds and actual behaviour of the followers.

cycle trip - hereford to wolves (34)
I am not a Christian, I find the theology doesn’t fit with how I experience the world inside and outside my head, though the core values as exemplified by the teachings of Jesus are very good ones. My forced exposure to Church of England Christianity at school served to reinforce my negative perceptions of it, the sense that I still get if i sit in (rarely) on a service, a feeling that somebody is trying to stuff cotton wool into my head to stop me asking questions and seeing behind the scenery.
I have found myself drawn steadily towards the teachings of the Buddha in large part because I am explicitly encouraged to examine and question it and find the evidence of whether it works for myself, not just to accept it all on “faith”, a word I associate too much with “accept that this is true and don’t ever ask why”, or in other words, wilful delusion. Mostly I find it to be consistent with what I observe and I experience real benefits from the practices and teachings I have encountered so far; those that don’t fit or seem to work I leave aside for now, I’m responsible for my own “salvation”, or not, fair enough.

DSCF3113
There are things which it is useful to approach with a willingness to have confidence in, a lifejacket, climbing rope, the brakes on my bike or car, the competence of the pilot to land the plane safely or the doctor to remove my appendix without killing or maiming me, the possibility that this set of teachings and meditation practices will be helpful. All of these things I can, if I wish, examine and test and review.

cycle trip - hereford to wolves (33)
So when I see the people emerging, now, from the service and gathering (there are usually tea and cakes after, I think), I see something that is mostly positive and life-enhancing, useful in a fragmented society too. The proof, for me, is in the “pudding” in the sense of the observable results of this activity and there is good stuff there that, if it works for you, I’m glad and would encourage. I would also encourage, urgently, examining carefully the list of ingredients to discriminate between those that are genuinely nourishing for the individual and society, those that are innocuous flavourings and colours and those that are bad for your long-term health or even toxic to us all. You don’t need to give up eating cake but the recipe might need adjusting.

2018-01-28 12.55.42.jpg
About a kilometer away I can see the steeple or tower of the “Faw Kirk” that gave this town its name, from back in the Middle Ages, beyond that, today’s mist obscures a splendid view to the Ochil Hills. It’s time for a walk through the nearby Callendar Woods and perhaps a welcome coffee, even some cake, in Callendar House, by the remains of the Roman frontier at the Antonine Wall. I shall examine the ingredients of the cake!

Under Snow – 2.

Sunday, forecast for cloud and snow most of the day, a good day for indoor things & administration. I achieved some of those things as well as baking bread and toasting an assortment of seeds and nuts, a few of which I gave, before toasting, to a visiting squirrel on my window-ledge. His, or her, I’ll use the former pronoun to mean whatever, climbing is impressive, he leaps from a thin branch to the grit-embedded wall, 10m up, landing squarely and confidently then moving fast over the rough vertical face; if I start climbing again, he’s my teacher. However, this is not about squirrels, though there were many of them about today. This is about a walk in the woods.

20180121_145939
The fresh snow lay on almost every branch, even the finest, to an even depth. It struck me how amazing this is, that despite the snow flakes falling with plenty of space in between them (at least 10cm to my guesstimate), in a short time several had landed on top of and next to each other so as to cover everything. It made me realise the power of the random event, given enough of them, every possible combination can happen, no mystery intent nor agency necessary.

20180121_150752
Callendar Wood is part of the estate of Callendar House, now open freely to the public. It is a mixed, mostly coniferous, woodland but has many yew trees in varying forms, some relatively tall and straight, others convoluted and twisted and sprouting shoots from horizontal and dipping branches that create miniature forests on the tree. They are dark trees, heavy beyond their physical mass with what feels to me like accumulated shadows that they hold under their canopies. Previously I have found them gloomy and unattractive trees but here, somehow, in this context, they appear to carry a sombre beauty that reveals itself when I wander under the dark umbrella to explore the twisted forms that even the straightest trees have.

20180121_153209
Today the yew trees were lightened by the accumulation of snow which they would occasionally shake off the end of an over-laden branch, sometimes aided by the passage of a pair of squabbling squirrels. The shadows beneath seemed today to hold a slight warmth and sense of snug shelter. In the right light, the bark revealed warmer colours, browns and reddish patches that would glow in sunlight, if it were allowed in. As yesterday, I noticed this but did not feel inclined to stop and draw, the luxury of the camera felt enough to capture a reminder of the visual and mental impressions I was noting.

20180121_160244
Passing Callendar House and the expanse of lawns that lead to the long ridges of the Antonine Wall embankments, the place was busy with families, noisy with delighted children tobogganing down the last frontier of the Roman Empire.

20180121_155738.jpg
It’s been a good weekend, experiencing energy, exquisite moments of visual beauty, space, movement, stillness and a slightly different view of things, under snow.