Hands of the Future

Sun in Gemini

It was cold, very cold on that Friday… just five days ago.

Across the road, people were trickling out of the railway station and along the busy main road through Penrith. Three hours from now it would fill with commuters both leaving and arriving in the Cumbrian town on the main west-coast line to Glasgow.

But not yet…

“Full Circle: Finding the Way Home’ was the name of the Silent Eye’s weekend workshop. The town of Penrith its base for the three days; and the bitter Cumbrian wind was seeing it start in true local style. The land of lakes and mountains was mounting a traditional Winter welcome…

Nine of us had Penrith Castle to ourselves and I was standing by the English Heritage notice-board quite stunned by what I was looking at. The word ‘Cycles” had just taken on a quite different meaning, and I was staring at an…

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Castlerigg from a distance #acceptance

Not Tomatoes

IMG-5062 Castlerigg at dawn. Photo Credit: Lara Wilson

I went as far as the hills in dreamtime while they gathered to greet the dawn below. Disappointment comes in many forms and sometimes it reaches out to hold the hand of acceptance. I’m not going to lie. This has not been an easy one to come by. The land at Castlerigg calls to me in a language the predates words. It speaks to the very heart of my being and fills me with the irrepressible longing for home. Yet, it is not my time to return here, and I know when it is, this body I wear must accompany my spirit. Sometimes the cells need to remember wholly and completely. And, Casterligg has called my whole being to be present someday. But not yet.

IMG-5071 Photo Credit: Lara Wilson. I love how the blurred image reveals the faces in the stones.

I didn’t…

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The Big-Bold-Blue of Beyond…

*

… When Brother-Warrior entered the chamber of the princess, because of his Cloak-of-Darkness, she thought she was enjoying converse and congress with a spirit.

So too, did all her hand-maids but before departing he took off his cloak and left them with the fleeting vision of a ‘Fairy Warrior’.

*

After Brother-Wizard and Brother-Warrior had left for the wooded isle, Brother-Smith wasted no time in fomenting the populace who were missing the usual round of the wondrous cow.

He walked to each home-stead in turn crying “no milk today, the King of Castle-Hill has stolen your cow.”

In this way they were left in no doubt as to who was to blame for their loss of sustenance and the King of Castle-Hill spent the next nine months touring his lands putting down local revolt after local revolt without the use of his baleful eye.

The king had no opportunity to visit his daughter, as promised, and indeed, as few knew of the islands existence and the magic halter and the wondrous cow were still kept there, it would have been foolish for him to do so.

*

“It is time to collect the magic halter,” said Brother-Wizard to Brother- Warrior after a time.

Together, the two of them, again, set out for the wooded isle in the coracle and once they reached the tower and the nine home-steads they collected not only the magic halter, which the king’s daughter freely gave to them but also the ‘fruits’ of Brother-Warrior’s last visit.

The nine children of the hand-maids were given together in a blanket fastened by a thorn which Brother-Wizard carried on his back whilst the grandson of the king was kept in a separate cloth which Brother-Warrior kept slung upon his breast.

As they made their way back to the mainland the thorn holding the blanket broke and the nine children of the hand-maids fell into the sea and were turned into seals, by Brother-Wizard, so they would not drown.

Brother-Warrior brought the grandson of the king safely ashore…

*

A Wooded-Isle…

*

Brother-Wizard and Brother-Warrior immediately set out for the sea-shore.

There, moored at the mouth of a natural cave in the cliffs, bobbed a coracle.

They both clambered aboard…

*

…The King of Castle-Hill took the magic halter to the cell of the tower on his wooded isle and presented it as a gift to appease his imprisoned daughter.

“Of what use to me is a magic halter,” sobbed the princess, “if all my days are to be spent cooped up here seeing none but my hand-maids.”

“With the halter comes a wondrous cow, my child, its inexhaustible supply of milk will sustain you,” soothed the king, “and I shall bring your food everyday and relate the comings and goings of the kingdom. Far better a sequestered life than one without a father.”

As the King of Castle-Hill left the tower to attend to his duties, the magic halter cascaded against the back of the cell door…

*

Brother-Warrior and Brother-Wizard landed at the wooded isle in their coracle.

“The magic halter is with the king’s daughter,” said Brother-Wizard.”

“And where is the king’s daughter?” said Brother-Warrior.

“The king’s daughter, is in a tower in the centre of the wood which is surrounded by nine home-steads,” said Brother-Wizard, “you must enter the tower and sleep with her.”

“And what’s in the nine home-steads?”said Brother-Warrior.

“You’ll see,” said Brother-Wizard. He gave his brother a Cloak-of-Darkness and put a spell on his hands so that whatever door he came to would open for him.

“Wish me luck, brother,” said the warrior, turning to leave.

“One more thing,” said the wizard, “be sure to leave the magic halter with the princess, we will return for it another day.”

“I thought…” began Brother-Warrior but a withering look from the wizard stayed that thought and sent him swiftly on his way into the wood.

*

A Red-Haired Boy…

*

… The king immediately ordered a tower be built on a densely wooded isle off the coast of his lands and had his daughter put in the tower away from all danger.

Nine home-steads about the foot of the tower and nine hand-maids, one for each home-stead, to ensure that none but the king himself could enter the tower and see the princess.

Once completely satisfied that such a defence could not be breached, without his knowledge, the king set about planning the procurement of the magic halter.

After much deliberation he transformed himself into a red-haired boy and set off for the abode by the sea that housed the three brothers.

The  disguised king arrived in the nick of time.

Brother-Smith was busy in the forge making weapons while Brother-Wizard stood alongside casting spells on those weapons.

Brother-Warrior was outside the forge holding the magic halter.

The wondrous cow grazed sedately in a field alongside the forge.

A dispute between Brother-Smith and Brother-Wizard had just arisen, over the tempering of the blades, and Brother-Warrior was summoned to settle the matter.

“Just look after this for awhile will you,” said Brother-Warrior to a red-haired boy who was passing by, “I won’t be a moment,” he handed the magic halter to the boy and entered the forge.

When Brother-Warrior re-emerged from the forge the red-haired boy, the magic halter, and the wondrous cow were gone.

He set up a shout and the smith and the wizard came running out.

“It can only be the King of Castle-Hill,” said Brother-Wizard looking into the far distance, “long has he coveted our wondrous cow.”

“You will have to get the magic halter back,” said Brother-Smith.

“I’ll need your help,” said Brother-Warrior disturbing the wizard’s reverie.

“Yes, yes, of course,” said Brother-Wizard, his eyes narrowing darkly…

*

The King of Castle Hill…

*

…There once was a king who lived in a castle on a hill.

He was lord and master of all he surveyed.

One daughter he had sired but his wife had died in giving the child life.

His daughter was very beautiful and the king looked forward to the day when she would come into her own.

By a cunning device of his mother the King of Castle-Hill had been made invulnerable and was possessed of a baleful eye which was capable of blighting all that it gazed upon.

The eye was normally kept covered by five leather patches.

The King of Castle-Hill was also a great wizard in his own right, well versed in the magical arts, and nothing happened in his kingdom without his knowledge of it.

There was little that the King of Castle-Hill wanted save for a wondrous cow which was looked after by three brothers who lived by the sea.

One of the brothers was a blacksmith, clever and skilful.

One of the brothers was a wizard, cunning and resourceful.

One of the brothers was a warrior, strong and fair.

The wondrous cow was possessed of an inexhaustible supply of milk and it daily traversed the kingdom supplying the people with nourishment.

The wondrous cow was governed by a magic halter.

Wherever the halter went, there too went the wondrous cow.

The King of Castle-Hill determined to acquire the wondrous cow and realised that if he could somehow get the magic halter then the object of his desire would follow.

About the same time as the king determined upon a plan to acquire the wondrous cow it came to his attention that certain prophesies were doing the rounds of his kingdom.

The prophecies spoke of the king’s demise.

The king summoned his soothsayer.

“It is true, my lord, words have been uttered describing your death,” said the king’s soothsayer.

“But I am invulnerable,” said the King of Castle-Hill, “I will live forever.”

“Not so,” said the soothsayer, “your grandson shall slay you by casting a spear through your baleful eye and on out of the back of your skull.”

The king fell silent in thought.

It might possibly be true, the king’s baleful eye, though a potent weapon and an effective deterrent against those who might oppose him, was also his only vulnerable spot.

“Will he indeed!” seethed the King of Castle-Hill fingering the first of the leather pouches that covered his baleful eye, “we will see about that.”…

*

Whispers of Babylon

It is unlike anything you’ve seen before. If you were raised, like I was, on sci-fi, you’ll recognise the soaring structures that look like other-worldly trees; whose job is to be a framework for a vast array of green life embedded in the vertical lattices.

Those paintings were by Christopher Fosse, whose futuristic artwork graced the covers of many of the sci-fi novels of the 1970s and 80s. Yet, here, they are made real and carry a message far more important than most found in that genre: they speak of botanical science made hope…

We’re at Gardens by the Bay, on Singapore’s southern tip. It’s a vast set of interlinked gardens and walkways with the combination of these ‘trees’ and two vast domes dominating the skyline. If you’ve been lucky enough to visit Singapore, you will know how ‘green’ the city is – in every way. The founder of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, is said to have transformed this tiny island city state from a third to a first-world country in a single generation. He did it with a brutal determination to take Singapore into a new future, and not have it left behind from the growth of his country’s near-neighbours to the north-east: Malaysia and China.

Even Changi airport is a garden…

One of the core components of Lee’s vision was that it would become a garden city, festooned with green wherever you looked. That vision was rigorously applied, though many would say that there are as many shops as trees… Everywhere you look there is greenery; but the vision comes to life in the most vivid way in the concentrated force of cultured nature that is Gardens by the Bay.

Gardens by the Bay is a nature park that takes up over one hundred hectares of reclaimed land in the central region of Singapore, next to the Marina Reservoir. The park consists of three waterfront gardens: Bay South, Bay East and and Bay Central.

Singapore has a team of professionals who are responsible for the ‘greening’ of the city. This team became the core of a vast project to create this futuristic landscape which, on completion, would offer educational as well as botanical aspects. Singapore was already served with its traditional Botanical garden of world-renown, including the famous orchid house (see later blog). It was important to create a different ‘feel’ to the new gardens; one that would attract younger people to whom the story could interweave with the ideas of global responsibility in culturing and protecting ecosystems.

The team responsible were drawn from the disciplines of: landscape gardening, designers, horticulturists, arborists, engineers and plant specialists. Their goal was to create an environment for which all the people of Singapore – and their international visitors – would feel a sense of ownership. In this way the larger ideal of a ‘Garden Earth’ could be combined with the local objectives.

Botany and horticulture can seem boring to children, though their experience of green spaces is always one of delight. Gardens by the Bay sets out to change the level of involvement by presenting the plant kingdom in a new way, entertaining all visitors with sections devoted to habitats from all over the world, not just the tropical gardens of native Singapore – which is close to the equator. These habitats range from species in cool, temperate climates to tropical rain forests.

Having entered through the vertical space of the giant inverted cone structures – the Supertree Grove – the first of the giant domes, Flower Dome, lies before you, displaying the varied habitats, including deserts. The visitor ranges through gardens set at different heights, the design exploiting the vertical as well as the horizontal space.

The personal journey is supplemented by the use of local cultural images – particularly animals that feature in stories across this part of Asia. Giants crocodiles and dragons lurk and fly through the walkways…

I found one particular feature of the Flower Dome very moving. It is called ‘La Famille Voyageurs’ (the travelling family) and was donated by Changi Airport. It consists of a family of international tourists who are visiting Gardens by the Bay as the last part of their holiday, prior to flying out. They are each carrying their wheeled suitcases, but parts of their bodies are missing… you can see through the spaces made. The symbolism is that Gardens by the Bay moves you so much that you end up leaving a bit of you behind… Such a lovely theme for an art piece.

You could spend a day in the Flower Dome, alone. But a dramatic experience awaits the visitor to its sister space: the Cloud Forest.

The Cloud Forest dome has a peculiar shape. It’s only when you get inside that you realise why…

Look at the tiny figures on the left platform to get the scale of it! The whole dome is taken up by a rain-forest mountain. The concept is breathtaking…

To visit the Cloud Forest, you take a lift to the peak (The Lost World) and follow the walkways down, curving around the mountain’s flanks as you descend. It’s an idea pioneered by Frank Lloyd Wright with the Guggenheim in New York, but the latter abandoned the vertical downward approach as it could not cope with visitor volume. Here, it works beautifully.

The rainforest is said to be the ‘lungs of the planet’. Within Cloud Forest, you see every aspects of them and their habitats, weaving in and out of the living forest at every level. It’s so very moving that, by the time you get to the lower levels, people are simply silent in contemplation of what they are experiencing…

A short blog is not sufficient space to describe the Gardens by the Bay. I have barely scratched the surface in this piece, but I hope to have conveyed something of its vision and splendour.

Soon we were walking back through the gardens towards the excellent, air-conditioned MRT Metro system to return to our hotel. As we left the park, I thought back to the sculpture donated by Changi Airport: La Famille de Voyageurs, by Bruno Catalano.

I love Singapore. I need little excuse to want to visit it, again. But the Gardens by the Bay are special and should be on every visitor’s itinerary. Part of me would, indeed, be left behind in this place, and I hope to be able to return, soon, to share again in the vision of this most inspired creation.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham.

Photos by the author.

Questions of ‘relativity’…

File:Albert Einstein as a child.jpg
Einstein as a child

“… so I thought I’d ask ‘Google’.”

“Which is why you phoned me?”

“Precisely. You know everything and you’re quicker than the internet.”

Oh gawd…”

“What do you know about relativity?”

“ Erm… E=mc2?”

“Yeah, that.”

“What exactly do you want to know…?”

***

The conversation is typical of those my son and I have been having half a dozen times a day lately. The phone will ring and we will talk for an hour or so at a time. The subjects he has called to discuss, or that have come up over his morning cuppa, have been as diverse as astrophysics, optics, Chaos theory and quantum mechanics. And that’s without psychology, cats, comparative spirituality and the correct way to make tea.

Quite why he thinks that someone who left school at sixteen should be omniscient, I do not know, though it tickles me that my son should apparently, and mistakenly, think it is so. I recall a time, not so very long ago, when, in common with most youngsters, he believed I knew nothing about anything (apart from baking and helping with school homework).  Parents don’t, do they? Not in the eyes of teenagers. Parents are behind the times, out of touch and so old they are almost obsolete.

Very young children, on the other hand, think their grown-ups know everything. They trust what they are told, having no reason to question their ‘source of all wisdom’… until they reach an age when they do begin to question. Changes in the developing brain set teenagers to exploring. They need to find their own identity, their own ideas and ideals.  They compare what they know to what they perceive… which may not always be an accurate vision of the world… and build their ideals accordingly.

Finding that their parents are human and fallible is a shock to the system. Parents are inevitably seen as passé in their outlook, speech, dress and musical tastes, belonging as they do, to a previous (and thus embarrassing) generation. They obviously know nothing of the world their children know… and as the child begins to forge its own path, he strides out alone. It is only with the onset of their own hard-earned maturity that he begins to wonder if his elders might not have known a thing or two after all and the dynamics of their relationship changes once again.

Like it or not, we’ve all been children, teenagers and gone through the whole growing up process. Not only did we, in our own way, experience those various stages of change, we also became adults, and our relationship with early parental authority changed too. We still carry it with us, though, as the superego…the internal ‘authority figure’ that is a composite creation to which we are all subject. It is an inner voice that holds the moral compass and which tells us all the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’…beside which we are still as children and against which we still rebel.

The odd thing was that answering my son’s queries on subjects about which I know nothing, I realised that I was wrong… I knew stuff. The huge gaps in knowledge were, as the conversation progressed, filled in by experience, common sense, and a fragmentary understanding gleaned from years of curiosity.

I was reminded that there is another part of the self that knows little but understands much… another inner voice, that answers when it is asked. It answers from a place where factual knowledge holds no sway, beyond understanding… a place of wisdom. Like children, we often prefer to make our own mistakes, rather than asking for help… or we don’t listen…  and like children, when we do ask, and learn to listen, that quiet voice can guide us home.