Never look back! It’s an adage that makes a lot of sense. It also characterises a certain stage of mystical development – a point at which the aspirant comes to realise that the only place of reality in our lives is within the moment; and that our history is simply a container that has conditioned how we react to experience. A skill-maker, certainly, but also a straitjacket…
The kindly man with a right arm full of tattoos takes our six pounds for the car park fee, and suggests that, in view of the thick mist, and our early arrival (there are only three other cars in the Land’s End parking area) we might like to explore the southern loop of paths and the artisan workshops before returning to the main buildings, which by then will be open…
There is something wonderfully Cornish about all this – the great care with which the tattooed ticket man helps us; the gentle way in which he offsets the possible late arrival of some of the staff in the thick sea-mist that is the hangover of a night of torrential rain at the end of the first day of our holiday.
I had been to Land’s End before – and stayed near Sennen Cove; the location of our present rental cottage, high on the hill, a little further along Whitesands Bay. Land’s End was just around the corner, then as now, which was why we are early…
Back then- and I shuddered to accept it had been forty years ago – the holiday home had been a small touring caravan, borrowed from my father and towed behind my first car capable of towing anything; a beloved Renault 16.
On a morning with nothing better to do, my girlfriend and I had driven the couple of miles from Sennen to the car park overlooking the famous ‘New York 3147’ signpost, which, apart from the ‘First and Last Inn’ pub was pretty much all that was on the Land’s End headland, back then.
It’s still there, as I was to discover, later. But now set into a complex- a small theme park – which undoubtedly fits the bill of a ‘good wet day out with the kids’. I remember those, too; they were essential if you wanted to stay sane on holiday with small children.
Now, approaching the old mill next to the ‘petting farm’ with Bernie, my mother and our party’s two dogs, I smile at the thought that I was both parent and child in this company. Technically child to a mother with vascular dementia, yet also parent in that I am her short-term memory and her maker-of-sense.
Cornwall has always been her favourite place and this holiday is likely to be her last chance to revisit it.
The mist surrounding the farm, with its working water-wheel, is like the fog that creeps through her brain, paralysing the speed of anything new, anything logical. She is still there, but all the most complex – and challenging parts of her personality are exaggerated.
I look at her face, glowing with enjoyment at the experience of something new, and smile at the thin layer of moisture she, and the rest of us, bear, within this seemingly perpetual mist. It’s giving us all a ghostly glow.
To our right as we pass the artisan hamlet, the light gets brighter, and I can sense that the sea isn’t far. A moment’s concentration reveals that the roaring sound coming from the same place is not the strong wind that buffets us…
Memories are starting to tumble out from that distant past. It was a cold day and we stayed only a few minutes, looking at the famous sign before fleeing back into the car. As we were leaving, I distinctly remember looking south, and seeing a cluster of huge rocks out to sea. This outcrop looked out of place at that distant spot; as though the official Land’s End position should have been shoreward of it, thereby lining up the symmetry.
With that memory came another: that of a intense but lovely dream when my mother was overnight in the operating theatre at Bolton Hospital, twelve years ago, having most of her lower intestines removed, due to advanced colitis that would have certainly killed her, otherwise.
The consultant treating her, whom we had got to know well, gave her a fifty:fifty chance of survival.
I had slept, eventually, after the barrage of family phone calls asking about her status.
Somewhere around three in the morning, I drifted off, awakening at seven struggling to remember the most intense dream. In it she and I had travelled to some future place, and were sitting on the rocks of a promontory, far out from the land. The sense was that of a future time and place… but a place of hope and refuge; like a time-magnet that pulled at possibilities.
She had survived, with some miracles of artificial plumbing. Twelve years on, we are in Cornwall for what may well be her last such holiday.
Now, I stumble through the mist, wondering at the import of this collision of recall. At that moment, the land drops away to reveal that we are on the very edge of a landscape where huge rocks mark an impossible path to a turbulent sea below.
She is holding onto my arm, tightly. I ask if she wants to go back, but she shakes her head, enjoying the gale and the challenge. Arm in arm, we find a path to the very edge, which becomes a narrow corridor of stone, at the end of which is a massive dark figure.
Nervous minutes later, we stand in a place we should not be and raise our heads to stare across a misty distance we cannot measure.
There is a now-familiar sense of the sky dropping. Her arm clutches mine tightly as a gust of wind threatens to unseat us from the stone ledge. But I am not lost in caution; I’m lost in the knowing that the huge, dark mass across that foaming distance is a friend, and its also the landmark I saw all those years ago.
It is also the place in the dream, and, twelve years later, we are still here…
I grab the phone to try to capture something of the moment – a moment whose intensity I might not remember, otherwise. As I press the shutter, a large bird flies across the distance between us.
Birds and mist, I think, smiling…. Don’t forget that combination… and then the sky drops again and I realise the friend across the water has communicated something shamanic in the way of names…
On the way back to the car, Bernie observes that I am more than usually silent.
Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via low-cost supervised correspondence courses.
His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com