surfsensei

Reflections and observations on life in general.

Category: memories

#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.)

 

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Under Snow – 1.

We’ve had a lot of snow in the last week, here in Scotland, it’s made the usual headlines and stimulated the usual discussions that you hear from the British Isles whenever any part of our wonderfully wide spectrum of weather presumes to exceed the acceptably mediocre level of novelty and mild inconvenience. Despite the depressingly widespread ownership and misuse of bloated “SUVs”, usually boasting at least 4-wheel drive and sold as fulfilling the “go anywhere” dream, few seem able or willing to drive these through even a couple of centimeters of snow and ice and so schools are closed, people are stranded and epic tales are told in conditions that would be laughable in countries that have to cope with rebuilding roads and power lines after most winters. I have, however, felt it better to drive than cycle to work over the last week, given the many patches of black ice, invisible until too late on a dark winter morning and evening, which is frustrating but better than limping in to work with bruises or worse and a damaged bike; there’s enough hazard from motorists to cope with.
Given this present situation, getting out for a walk has been more necessary and refreshing than usual and this weekend has been very satisfactory, with a modest but beautiful walk on some hills to the north of Lochearnhead, yesterday (Saturday) and a more reflective stroll this afternoon through freshly snow-laden trees in the nearby Callendar Wood.
Yesterday’s walk was the result of turning a setback into an opportunity to explore, my original and planned destination being blocked to me for a lack of any more space to park cars in a considerate manner in a sensible proximity to the path up the mountain (Ben Ledi). Exploring northwards, I found space in a layby close to the official car park, inaccessable to 2-wheel drive cars and full of Mountain Rescue team vehicles – they were on a training exercise. My route led up through the dense, dark walls of the forestry plantation, tight-packed trees laden with several inches of snow. The snow was about knee deep and the Mountain Rescue Team had helpfully trudged a narrow groove-like track through it so I could make easy progress to beyond the tree-line.

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Apart from the team, I was the only person there for most of the day. I startled a grouse from its hiding place under the snow, it erupted from behind me and flew a short distance to where it could observe me from behind a lump, leaving wing-marks in the snow around the hole whence it had sprung. In other places, grouse and mountain hare had left their spoor in isolated trails over the wind-sculpted and crystal-covered surface through which I now ploughed my less graceful way.

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The air was very cold but the wind light and it felt mild. I felt energised and exhilarated by the bright light and crisp air and snow. At a suitably sunny and wind free spot I stopped to enjoy a brisk and very quick snow-bath, wonderfully refreshing despite the rapid numbing of my feet as soon as my bare feet sank into the soft surface; I felt as alive as after a dip in the sea, warming quickly as soon as dressed and running the next few metres through sheer energy.

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The views from the two small summits (Meall Buidhe and Beinn Leabhainn) were superb, a full panorama including Ben More in Glen Dochart, Meall an Tarmachan and Ben Lawers above Loch Tay and, in the south, Ben Vorlich and Stuc a Chroin, which dominate the mountain view from the school where I work. I thought of friends I would like to have shared this with and sent them good thoughts and wishes anyway, sharing through the ether of the mind feels more useful to me at these times than yet more Facebook posts, though that’s ok for later.

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Meall an Tarmachan & Ben Lawers, with Loch Tay, from Beinn Leabhainn

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Ben Vorlich (L) and Stuc a Chroin from Meall Buidhe

After taking photos – the air was too cold to use watercolours (the water freezes and you have to paint with slush… not successful) and it was getting late in the short day – I set off down, the new moon crescent high in the sky as the sun retired to bed. The mountains were turning from shining white to a soft and dreamlike grey-blue, slightly luminous in contrast to the dimming mauve sky behind them. When I see these things, I think of how I might paint them, though I don’t yet feel the urge to do so strongly enough to turn that into a result, it’s as if it’s a train of thoughts that are arising and falling away, perhaps to hide in the recesses of my mind and ferment over time until, if ever, the “right” moment comes to pass.

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Glen Dochart, Ben More & Stob Binnein, summits for a future visit.

As I descended, the snow went from crunchy crystalline to softly silent; out of the wind, now, I was warm. At the road, a welcome bonus, my car was still there and in working order. It had been a quality day, in part thanks to those two people who parked their cars so badly that they occupied enough space for two more. I could have been conventionally irritable, angry, feeling cheated and taking it personally. Instead I chose different objectives and got what I was really after anyway, more in fact. Definitely a quality day, I’m grateful.

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Parent Stars

starfield sort of

My father was an interesting, clever, inventive and intelligent man. He combined physical activity and ruggedness with an inquiring mind that was reminescent of the heroic statues of the Greek philosophers of the ancient world, indeed I think he would have rather liked that image. In his later years he simplified his material life, possessions, financial affairs and so on, even his diet, to an almost austere degree in order to free himself from what he had for a long time regarded as irritating distractions from researching, reflecting, thinking and writing. He wrote a number of essays and papers, mostly unpublished as far as I am aware, and one book, printed in a limited run at his own expense, on a wide range of subjects that he saw as part of a greater whole of which the book was intended to be the synthesis. The theme that emerged for him during that twenty to thirty year period was the evolution of the brain and enquiry into the mechanism of consciousness, material for another post perhaps.

When I used to visit him in his simple bedsit in a harbour town in the north east of England – he loved the sea all his life – most of his conversations were on this topic that, really, filled his mind. Other people he knew found him interesting and inspiring company, rich in experience from a life that included active service in World War 2, bomb and mine disposal in the aftermath (for which he was awarded an MBE), a varied career after the Royal Navy that took him to many places.

I thought about all this as I lay awake this morning, it’s a short mid-term holiday just now, of how our experience of the people who are our parents is very different from that of the friends and acquaintances that they have, the sorts of people with whom one has brief conversations after a funeral, illuminating or shocking or unexpected, as if of a different person to the one we knew.

It is a matter of proximity, like stars. Far off, they light up our night skies to varying degrees, the further away, the less of their light and nature we see; only that which reaches us over the distances of space through the filters of dust clouds and the gravitational lenses of other stars in between. In orbit within their solar systems we experience the colour and intensity of their light, their helpful and harmful radiation, the solar flares and storms, the impact and influence of other bodies drawn into their gravitational field, their creative and destructive energies.

So with our parents, like two stars in, for a while at least, close binary orbit around which we emerge from celestial dust into being and find more or less stable paths. Being so close, we cannot see them as more distant observers do, we see both more and, perhaps in some ways, less. We may come to imagine that all stars and systems are like ours, unable to see the light of the rest of the cosmos clearly for the glare of our own nearest stars, at least unless we move away into a more distant and perhaps quieter path around our parent stars and look outwards with clearer and more open minds, like the great telescopes with which we are beginning to find new and surprising world systems.

So I remember my father from a more distant orbit now, his memory an afterglow. My mother’s star shines with a different light, less dazzling, more stable, warmer, nourishing with a gentler radiance that she perhaps does not realise.

Among the many things I learnt from my father was a fascination with the stars, a love of the night skies. I’m glad of that, it’s a beautiful and amazing view.

Like the trees. .

Like the trees

I held on to autumn leaves

When they were ready to fall away.

No surprise, then, when they did.

Only in my mind was it still summer.

Fallen gold is turning brown,

Returning to the source.

Sadness to nourish future happiness.

In time, the days are growing longer

And there will be green again

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Of moles and stars

You lie beside me, breathing softly in your sleep.
I trace the patterns there,
Small brown moles on your back,
Sprinkled by vagaries of genes
And little errors in your cells.
I think of constellations,
A map of another sky,
Seen from another world,
Another star.

Scientists say that all elements,
After hydrogen,
Were made in ageing stars,
Each atom hammered into form
On the anvils of supernovas
And scattered on the solar winds,
Condensing in icy minerals
In nebulae that became,
In the immensity of time,
Our Earth, Ourselves.

I wonder if these constellations are a memory,
A distant history maybe,
Of your origin, a map of
The star that made you.

image

Cold War Hercules Mushrooms

I’ve had a lovely bike ride today, out west to the RAF Museum at Cosford, briefly visiting the impressively-housed Cold War Museum and then on to Ironbridge on the River Severn and the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.  It’s an odd thought, looking back on it, that the Cold War and all its ramifications and consequences was only possible because of the technological pioneering that took place in this small gorge, where water, coal, limestone, some iron ore and wood were conveniently available in the one area.  That made it economical to start using coke, rather than charcoal, to produce iron of a higher quality with which more could be done, such as building a bridge over the river – the Iron Bridge.  It’s an impressive structure.

On the way out along the quieter back lanes, I found some unexpected treasures:

W3singer the Lone Singer in Codsall

W3firstautumnsign first signs of Autumn, just after a pot-hole that nearly had me off my bike.W3mushrooms1   

a tree trunk outside the front gate of a hidden house, surrounded by this dense mushroom ‘forest’,

 W3poppies  poppies in a field just outside the airfield

.W3hercules under the wing of a Hercules… W3coldwarmuseum to the beauty of cold steel… (ok, probably aluminium then!) This impressive building houses various aircraft, displays, tanks and missiles from the Cold War era.

I remember watching, and hearing, the Vulcan bombers flying over our house in Cornwall in the 60s, the futile nonsense of the ‘Protect and Survive’ leaflets distributed in the late 70s/early 80s by the Government, many more memories from that period up until the momentous fall of the Berlin Wall, which I watched on TV.  So many changes, so much technology and creative effort in pursuit of a conflict that, in reality, was entirely constructed in our minds; it really is possible to fool all of the people nearly all of the time, or at least for a considerable time.  The definitions and causes have shifted, but the same stupidity persists.

Apparently this was ‘World Peace Day’, as well as a day on which many people marched to draw attention from governments and other institutions to the urgency of real action on climate change.  Both of these are issues which we have the capacity to solve, within a year if we really decided to, but we would need to motivate ourselves in the same way and with the same degree of commitment to the cause as we have done so successfully in our wars… I see no sign of any attempt by those currently in power either politically or financially to take the leadership actions required to do this, to solve these real problems that face us all.

Some might find the contents of the Cold War Museum depressing, chilling or even superficially exhilarating if you don’t consider the full implications.  Today I felt some of the first two and recalled the latter from earlier times in my life (watching a Sea Dart launch from an aircraft carrier was quite something, better to be behind it than in front).  I do admire the technology for the skill in solving challenging problems but most of it is really a misguided, if so far necessary, effort.  What I do find hopeful though is that it shows what we could achieve with a change in our aim, by lifting the veil of the siren illusions and prejudices and distractions that seduce us collectively onto the rocks.

Maybe we have to just go ahead and start to do it ourselves, even if that is just to get out on a bike for the afternoon.