Caged butterlies

Berthe Morisot 1875

Berthe Morisot 1875

I love antique fans… there is something about them that has always fascinated me. I remember vividly standing in tears at Harewood House at an exhibition many years ago. I don’t quite know what it is… their delicacy and craftsmanship, the artistry in miniature, their ephemeral fragility… or perhaps it is the stories that they could tell. They were given as gifts, symbols of love and affection, hid shy smiles and coquettish glances, indeed there was a whole, discrete language that could be spoken in silence by the hand that held the fan.

I used to collect them. It was one of those things I had always promised myself when I could afford to do so. The delicate lace and gauze, painted satin and  feathers of the Belle Époque were my favourite, though the little brisé fan that belonged to my great-grandmother was the most precious. They went long ago, when times were tough, but  it was a privilege to be their custodian for a while.

Amongst my dreams one night I dreamed of a fan. I was being shown how it was to be restored. The whole ‘lesson’ was about perception, and it went on for what seemed like half the night.  In this particular passage though there was a broken fan. The gauze had split and frayed through mishandling, the sticks were  damaged and broken, the guards detached. Yet it had been a lovely thing of mother of pearl and spangled silk, painted with tiny creatures and nasturtiums… School colours and not unlike a fan I once loved.

James Tossot 1885

James Tissot 1885

The restorer showed me how to fix the guards… how to stiffen the leaf, backing it with  fine fabric to strengthen the damaged bits… how to mend the sticks and replace the rivet that held them together. I remembered how to tie the wrist ribbons. And when we had finished it looked beautiful, almost as good as new…

Except, it didn’t feel right, somehow, it was too heavy, unbalanced and the extra fabric meant it could no longer fold… certainly it could no longer be opened and closed with one graceful flick to make a conversational point. Although the body of the fan was repaired, it had lost something. It was no longer fit for the hands of coy damsels or elegant matrons. It had been patched and mended so skilfully to preserve its outward appearance that it was no longer fit for purpose. It had lost its soul.

Next I was shown how to back the fan, sewing each stick in place, supported and unfurled in all its beauty so it could be framed in glass to protect it for the future. No longer would it be handled or used, it would lay against no other cheek to say I love you  in that secret language… indeed… we had to wear white gloves so as not to contaminate it with our nasty, sweaty hands… the same that gave the beautiful patina to sticks of ivory and wood.

Alexandre Roslin 1768

Alexandre Roslin 1768

The sticks, sewn into place, could no longer flex and move, there was only stiffness where there should have been fluid movement. The butterfly was caged, pinned in a frame, a lifeless beauty, preserved for posterity in all its glory… but inanimate, soulless…. Its very nature changed by its preservation. Yet collectors of beauty would pay highly for the framed fan, seeing only the artistry, not the cage.

The waking mind sees further than the dream… or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the waking mind is able to unpick what the dreaming mind already knows and bring it into consciousness. I do not believe that there are regimented meanings to the content of dreams, although some of the images we encounter are so deeply rooted in human consciousness that their symbolism is readily apparent. Dreams are personal and it is up to us to be the key that unlocks the doorways into our subconscious that they offer.

I have mulled over this one, on and off, for a long time and there are so many layers of possible meaning that unveil themselves that, as with most dreams, there is no single, clear-cut answer. It is possible that all those layers of meaning are right… each on their own level. The mind is a fabulously creative thing.

Fans have always seemed like precious, if ephemeral things to me. Perhaps, given that I was already caring for an injured son, it was a lesson in the care and diligence it would need to ‘mend’ him… and a reminder that no matter how carefully we worked, the end result would be different, though perhaps even more valuable, than where we began.

Image result for language of fans

Maybe the dream was telling me that we have to let go of the past? That attempting to preserve what is beyond repair will only render something stiff and soulless, outwardly attractive, perhaps, but no longer useful. Most of us cling to outworn behaviours, habits become futile and even relationships that have long since failed.

The battle for social acceptability through conformity might be epitomised by the broken fan too. How many of us choose by default or are forced into the roles and boxes that society deems acceptable, when we yearn for a different life, only to find our spirits starved of colour and movement, sliding gradually into an old age of stiff regret?

Caged butterflies.

Or was it, like the rest of the dreams that night, simply another lesson in perception? That beyond the outer form, whether beautiful or tatterdemalion, all things have a purpose. To try to force someone into serving a purpose for which they were not destined, is to rob them of their chance to fly… and perhaps this applies especially to oneself. To deny the inner purpose of our being is to deny our Selves and leads to a lifeless life.

Sometimes, to escape the cage and find our true wings, we have to follow our dreams.

forever in blue jeans

I remember finishing the count… And being astonished that there were fourteen of them.

Suits… two and three piece suits. For younger readers, the three-piece ones were so called because they had matching waistcoats…whose bottom button was never fastened.

Fourteen is quite a number. They were all expensive, mainly double-breasted, and made of the lovely variety of silky textiles that so proliferated in the business world of the late 80s and early 90s. I was not alone. In the office of the Californian computer company for whom we were the most northern base in England, there were another six people for whom quality of dress was essential to success.

We were selling expensive, fault-tolerant computer systems to many of the most senior board members in the north of England.

Life was good…but I’m not here to brag about those illustrious days. They served their purpose and the world moved on… though many of those mainframes are still in place at the hub of major banking systems.

The reason the former platoon of suits is relevant to a post about blue denim is that I bought what must be my seventh pair of jeans the other day, and the number reminded me that I had double that number of suits. I was amused that my new and trimmed-down wardrobe depends almost entirely on these blue denim garments: simple, warm and un-sophisticated. And they last forever.

We buy my jeans – and just about every other domestic item – from a general purpose warehouse fifty miles away called CostCo – a far cry from the neon lights of Manchester’s Piccadilly district where many of the suits originated.

CostCo specialise in high-quality merchandise that they buy in bulk, receive in the store then scatter over frankly unimpressive pallets in the middle of acres of space containing everything from the best consumer electronics to salted nuts. Although the quality of everything is top-notch, the experience is functional, to say the least, and requires some getting used to.

But the merchandise is top quality, and offered at reasonable prices, providing you have the energy to leaf through piles to find your size.

Jeans-wise, they delight folks like me because they do winter versions as well as the more usual summer ‘fashions’. The last three pairs of blue jeans have been made from a thicker denim with a winter lining… They are sheer heaven to put on, and you know that your dog walking in the wet and freezing Lakeland countryside will at least be accompanied by toasty legs.

They aren’t waterproof, but I never found a pair of waterproofs that were remotely comfortable.

These days, I only have two suits. The first is black and only deployed for the not infrequent funerals that pervade this time of one’s life. The other is a Rohan travel suit that does everything else that involves a matched jacket and trousers.

The rest of my outfits are constructed from my jeans upwards; which just shows how well blue denim has stood the test of time… It’s more than can be said for my fourteen suits; now long departed.

I held onto a few of my smart blazers. To my – now simpler – eyes, they look great with a newly-washed pair of jeans and my small assortment of tan loafers.

And I’ve never felt more comfortable.

Neil Diamond sang about being ‘forever in blue jeans’. Here’s a snippet. I smile every time I hear it…even though it’s ancient. Something about his voice said he understood – even if it was going to take you a few years to get there.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

stepping back from the noise

Are we losing the spirit and purpose of quietness?

Quietness and privacy are intimately linked. We need that space inside us that can’t be intruded upon. It’s a place to go when we must make the most important decisions of our lives.

Are we are losing the art of privacy? Perhaps even losing the idea of a right to privacy? The result is that we are further enmeshed in the ‘machine of society’ that appears to be the world ‘out-there’; something that, from a spiritual point of view, is deadly, for it robs us of the only true source of knowledge about our real selves.

Much of this is fuelled by the digital age. Most people have far more digital connections than actual friends. Spending time with our digital friends is easy – we just sit down with our device and that cup of coffee, and message, share emails or even video-talk face to face… There is another sense of ‘needing to’ here. There is an expectation that, since we are part of this or that group, we need to spend time within it, to help keep it functioning.

It’s not the real thing, but it’s a significant part of the real thing. My son’s family live in Australia, just about as far away as you can get. We have visited, but not recently, due to Covid. The years are passing, and the joy of being face to face with our two young grandchildren is deeply missed. But at least we have the ability to make video calls, which maintains some semblance of connection. In this sense, the connectedness is a good thing. We are choosing to use the only link we have to connect. Privacy is not an issue.

But our relationship to social media is a much more complex thing. If we have achieved a stable adulthood we have the discrimination to know when to ‘pull back’ and live in the real world. But our children are growing up in a world where the expectations in digital space are just as powerful as we used to have in the school playground. There is, in the child’s mind, very little differentiation between a conversation in reality – with all its subtleties of non-verbal communication – and one carried out in cyberspace.

Recent allegations about social media have revealed an institution that is alleged to take a middle-ground opinion and steer it towards an extreme view; and this deliberately designed into the algorithms that govern what we see. To an adult this is dangerous – few of us have the time to really research a political situation, so we look for a ‘trusted’ source of condensed research. To a child, it’s deadly; forming early views that can become fanaticism: like the shooting of others in a college gardens… Once, again, the healthy mature mind is not in danger; but a mind nudged towards an extreme is.

With governments, the position of social media is even more scary. Good government is by consensus and encouragement, not the imposition by authority. The police, as tools of the state, walk a fine line between the democratic and the overbearing. With social media, we have the authoritarian’s perfect tool: a mechanism to sway opinion to a degree that will ensure a manipulation of democracy – with lies, of course; but lies wrapped up in memes that appear to make clarity of complex situations.

Life is complex. The patterns of the truth, like those of lies, must be arrived at with long consideration, for they will form the basis of how we make decisions that affect the rest of our lives.

We are not just sponges that absorb other people’s hatred. We are complex beings who take in information in a variety of subtle ways. The truth is part of that distilled information if we let it be so. If we are consumed by the prejudice inherent in whoever is paying the social media big bills, then we are not using what nature has provided us with – the ability to think, feel and decide for ourselves.

It may be that the digital age was always going to be a pathway to doom. But equally, it can be democratic and ‘info-cratic’. It need not reflect the lower part of our individual humanity – the base reactions and unthinking, inherited opinions. Most of us are not like that, anyway – except when we’re lazy and don’t take the time to value truth. Some don’t want the truth; they are happy with the sideswipes and sleaze of the ever-present gutter-press and the new gutter-bytes.

All the world’s a stage, Shakespeare wrote; now perhaps a loud concert. With the volume at max the chances of having a deep relationship with our own thoughts and true feelings is minimal. But we can ‘package’ that external noise into a single ‘thing’. And by seeing it like that and seeing that it is not ‘us’, we can push it away to a safe distance… and spend some time with the loving and deeply considering being we really are.

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

Midnight Mask

I’m not a fan of horror films. Many are simply exploitative, and the genre in general has normalised extreme violence.

But once in a while I come across something that, to me, is exceptional, and only in the genre of ‘horror’ out of misunderstanding; or even better, because the ‘film’ has two layers of meaning… and if you stick with it, you get to the second, deeper one.

Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, although sci-fi and not horror, was a case in point. It was really about the ultimate evolution of the human race – in the face of its imminent extinction, though that was much easier to ‘get’ if you’d read Arthur C. Clarke’s book – which came after the film, which was jointly produced by Kubrick and Clark. Many people who watched the film had no idea what was really going on…

We’ve recently finished watching the Netflix series of ‘Midnight Mass’, and, though this is classified as a horror/mystery film, it’s really something a lot deeper.

A charismatic young priest arrives on an island some miles off the coast of Maine on the eastern seaboard of the USA. The small Crockett Island is much diminished from its former days of being a fishing haven. Spillage from an oil tanker several years prior has reduced the standard of life to general poverty.

The Catholic Church on the island used to be the centre of its life, but is now sparsely populated. Drugs have found their way into the lives of the younger people; ‘pushed’ into their meagre existence by a couple of low-life types who masquerade as fishing boat mechanics.

As if that wasn’t enough, all the cats on the island are disappearing.

The film’s opening takes place in a quite different location: New York. We later find that the man siting in handcuffs on the pavement between his wrecked sports car and the police vehicle is the emigrated son of one of the fishermen on Crockett Island. Across the glass and metal strewn street, we see the dead body of the girl he’s just killed in the crash – caused by his being drunk. The image of the newly-dead girl, her face encrusted with fragments of shimmering glass, reflecting like jewels, is to haunt him for the rest of the film.

Later, we discover that he’s a successful investment banker on Wall Street… was a successful banker, because he’s sent to jail for several years for causing the death of the girl whose image now follows him.

We fast-forward to the day of his release from prison, when he arrives on Crockett Island on the mainland ferry, to return to life with his ‘only friends’ – his parents. His arrival coincides with that of the sudden appearance of a charismatic young priest, whose mission is to revitalise Crockett Island’s small church, and restore the once-vibrant spiritual life of the remote community.

The banker is now reduced to living with his family and being a poor fisherman, again. While the priest enjoys enjoys a rise to local fame – and a full church – with the aid of a series of miracles, although his health seems strangely suspect. As the congregation grows, we see the rise of the usual suspects – the zealot (a woman Deacon) who considers the rest are not holy enough; the town mayor, getting in on the act and asserting his temporal importance; the local violent drunk, whose only soft spot is for his beloved dog.

But the priest keeps ahead of this, and, each week, challenges the congregation to increase their efforts to ‘imitate Christ’. Soon, the church is full. Even the disgraced banker attends; at the behest of his father, though he will not take the communion wine.

Gradually, the entire life of the island gets drawn into this new pattern of life and worship; until, one morning after a storm, the beach is found to contain a long line of all the dead cats that had gone missing…

I’ll not spoil the story, whose plot is clever and surprising. But, throughout the film (series) you can feel what’s happening, even if you don’t understand it. The direction is subtle and sinister – while remaining deeply understated.

Sufficient to say its conclusion is shocking in the extreme, but not for the sake of it. It becomes the meeting and clash of two worlds: the vision of the priest for his flock versus the reality of what’s happening behind the scenes.

The dreadful confrontation between what’s been killing the cats and the full congregation is difficult to watch, but has a purpose way beyond violence. In that conflagration is shown all the best and worst of human nature and the crisis results in a condition where most of the island’s people are faced with possible death.

At the centre of this is the relationship between the disgraced banker and his former girlfriend, from when he lived on Crockett Island, There is a beautiful late-night scene where the two of them talk about their respective views on death and the afterlife – a motif repeated at the very end of the film, as the sun rises on the beach, where the remaining islanders are lined up to greet it…

The purpose of this blog is not, generally, to promote films, but the underlying wisdom of ‘Midnight Mass’ is beautifully and bravely crafted, and results in an ending filled with hope and wisdom, rather than the usual ‘vengeance’ aftermath of such scripts.

The film is also about ignorance, and those who follow what they want to hear, rather than seeking the reality – the truth.

You can’t describe it as a ‘feel good’ film, because it’s too shocking. But you can describe it as a brilliantly crafted story – filled with redemption, in the deepest sense.

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

sweet soup and pot dogs

(Above: the scene of the salt massacre…)

I usually do serious posts on this Thursday slot. They are generally aimed at the Silent Eye audience, so involve mystical perspectives on some of life’s challenges.

But sometimes one’s own life drops a ‘corridor’ over you, from which there is no escape, and you have to take a withdrawn and usually humorous view of events… or go completely insane.

She passed me the fragile blue bag, stuffed, now, with second-hand paperbacks, each only a pound. Morecambe market is like that: full of old fashioned value, full of lovely people who care. It’s also one of the sites for the town’s growing network of food banks.

Her eyes had spotted a quite decent pot dog in a glass display case on the next stall. Dementia is like that; constant flitting from one objective to another, small attention span. But at least my mother has some concentration left. That will fade, of course. But we make the best of the present.

“We have to meet Bernie (my wife) and Joanne (her sister) at the Midland, in half an hour,” I said. This bag won’t take any more, it’s already starting to come apart.”

I looked through the display case at the pot dog – a cairn terrier of quite good quality, and was about to speak…

“If I don’t get it now, “ she said. “It will likely have gone next time we are here. It will make the perfect Christmas present for Doreen.”

Doreen is mum’s best friend, still living in Bolton, our old home-town – but largely immobilised after encephalitis. Their relationship is now entirely phone-based: one of the miracles of hope over expectation is the success of that little mobile whose recharging cradle she can still work…

I had to think fast. The pot dog would still be there when we came back. But I didn’t want to upset her spontaneous generosity to the woman she has shared all of her life with – they used to live across the cobbled street from each other in the early 1930s (the place I was born) and have spent most of the intervening years protesting against the obscenity of fox-hunting, even being rounded up and nearly crushed by police horses.

“Well, let’s get you a tougher bag, then we can have that cup of tea at Meg’s Corner Cafe and return to buy the dog before we meet the girls.”

(Above: despite it being only September, it was freezing outside the market cafe)

It was, I admit, duplicitous… The tea was much needed, though the alleyway in which the cafe sits was freezing. Lunch at the wonderful Midland’s Rotunda cafe was imminent, she wanted something to eat to go with her two cups of tea from the ancient chrome pot.

Fifteen minutes later, tea and (her) Eccles cake duly consumed, we crossed the road to the Midland. She had been in a new lock-down at the home after an outbreak of Covid on one of the upper floors. Three weeks of the outside world being closed. I wanted to provide a big treat to celebrate her restored freedom. She normally walks a mile or two along the promenade each day. For a ninety-one year old, she’s in remarkable condition…

We left the market cafe. The pot dog forgotten.

The Art Deco Midland Hotel

Joanne had nabbed us a circular booth. We sat, smiling at the thought of delicious food to come. The Rotunda cafe shares the same chefs as the more expensive restaurant that is justly famous as the heart of this Art Deco masterpiece.

Mum wasn’t hungry… the Eccles cake had filled her up. We ordered her soup, and Bernie and I chose a chicken club sandwich and some thin chips. We had gone without breakfast to better enjoy the treat.

Mum’s soup arrived – looking and smelling delicious. Butternut squash and honey, plus a few spices to gently enhance. Some chef-made wholemeal bread, still warm from the oven, finished the presentation. I could smell how good it was…

“It’s sweet!” She wailed, dropping her spoon back into the offending liquid. “Soup’s not supposed to be sweet!” I could hear the rumbling of doom, and feel my club sandwich going cold, the chips withering.

I leaned over to extract some soup with my teaspoon. It was heavenly.

“Some of the best soups are sweet,” I ventured. “Spain is famous for its variety of soups, including sweet ones… and this has honey in it – your favourite thing on earth!”

It was never going to work. A passing waiter spotted our agony and offered to help. Before we could say anything, she shouted to him: “Can I have some salt, love. This soup’s not right…”

It results in a kind of paralysis – watching these events unfold; yet wanting to be constructive and see it ‘from above’. I watched her pour two sachets of salt into the sweet soup and stir it. I knew it would be inedible.

Her face when she tried it confirmed my diagnosis. I had to do something.

“Mum, you have my club sandwich and I’ll have your soup… I like…sweet soup…”

I tried it. It was beyond dreadful, but would have made a beautiful meal in its former state.

I watched her smile and tuck into the chicken of my club sandwich. Bernie cut me a piece of chicken from hers and I made an impromptu open sandwich with the still-warm bread.

“You’re not eating your soup,” mother said. Then added “I like it here…”

Somewhere across the road, a pot dog was smiling…

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

The second before the shutter of life

We were spending a few days in Alnmouth, a tiny Northumberland village with one of the best beaches in the country. I rarely get to swim in the sea these days, but such things are of vital importance to our Collie dog, Tess, who loves to chase a ball down a beach and into the waves.

(One very happy Collie)

It was early morning. I was enjoying our walk. Tess was already wet through and dripping with morning-sun happiness. There were only four of us on the entire beach: a middle-aged couple were walking towards us, along the line of the sea.

I looked at them, then looked again. The woman was carrying two large-lensed cameras, and slightly stooped with the weight. Such heroism demands recognition, so I laughed across at them as they drew level.

“Those are mighty-looking lenses!”

At first, they looked troubled, as though I were some English football hooligan, about to rob them. Then the man said something in broken English and I realised they were Dutch… and I had spoken rather quickly and in a quick-fire humorous way, typical of the English in that situation. The cameras straps were wrapped across and beneath the lady’s breasts, and I realised with horror that my gesticulations might have been horribly misinterpreted.

I back-tracked quickly and explained my admiration for the camera gear, and they began to smile, sharing the humour instead of being anxious about it. I took my rather smaller (iPhone) camera from my jacket pocket and laughed about the comparative size of the photo equipment.

They warmed to the stranger, and for the next five minutes we talked and laughed, as I helped them to say what they wanted to. I speak a little German and French which helps with translation, even if I can’t find all the right vocabulary. People from the Netherlands are often able to converse in three or four languages, but these two had little English. Between us, we persevered and had a pleasant and informative exchange. They went on their way smiling at the early morning encounter with the dog and the man who turned out not to be a football yob…

But the initial look on the face of the lady carrying the massive cameras across her shoulders and chest stayed with me for the rest of the day, and caused me to formulate this post.

Had there been no way of breaching the language gap, they would have left with a very negative view of the encounter. And yet they would have been wrong… Like all of us, their lightning-fast perception and conclusions would have determined how those few minutes of conversation were entered into.

In my head, I could play back the encounter and run it in different ways. Reality, in real-time, doesn’t do that. We might say, traditionally, that the ‘now’ comes at us from the future with a content we can’t fully predict, but which is subject to probabilities. If my last footstep was on a beach in Northumberland, my next footfall is unlikely to be in Utrecht. The world around me is stable – to a degree. But nothing is entirely determined.

This is particularly true of our interactions with others…

We can’t go around greeting each new person as though we were a child, bright with life and openness. In an ideal world we might, but maturity and discretion teach us that human manners have a purpose – not least of which is to prevent us getting thumped.

Over the years of our life, we have built a kind of ‘perception wall’ around us. This wall of sensibilities – an extension of our mind, recognises ‘types’ of events – and people – coming at us from the immediate future. Our enemies or likely potential enemies are well identified, and invoke a whole set of protective behaviours. The violent drunk staggering out of the pub and lurching towards us, swearing, is an example of the invoking of avoidance.

Others are not so well defined. We all use different classifications to mark the approach of that near-future. This creates a gradient of relaxation-warmth at one end, and potential violence at the other. One of the most important human conditions is to be able to exchange positive humour with a stranger; based on a shared set of current circumstances; a shared misfortune of a mild nature (like just missing that bus) is an example.

These occasions leave positive feedback and good memories of those well-spent moments, when vocal and non-vocal cues act as a binding framework for a good-natured encounter. They are like good food. We need them, if only to re-assert our level of humanity and our belief in the goodness of others… something that we be starved of.

Could we take it further and suggest that we actually create our future? My footfall is never going to land in Utrecht, but my pre-judgement of the person approaching me along that pavement has enormous control over the approaching ‘now’.

If you can, try this for a few days. Study the facial expressions of people coming at you, with the willed intention of making a new friend – if only for a moment. Don’t pick someone you like the look of; select a person you wouldn’t normally speak to, but, obviously not one who gives you the chills.

As the very last moment before your ‘meeting’, hold the thought that you have something warm in common. Look onto their eyes, smiling and see what fills that brave space you’ve just created to hold ‘the link’.

You might be surprised what happens, and how you can look back on something that could not have come into existence unless you had altered your expectations…thereby changing the probabilities within the approaching ‘now’. In reality, of course, there is no approaching now, there is only now, filled with constant changes. We do not move into the future. What is around us ‘morphs’ into its new form and we call it time. We measure time by the those changes. Clocks are a form of special agreement as to what the changes represent…

The world is really our world, ‘projected on’ by our expectations, fears and joys.

The Dutch lady with the big lenses didn’t allow for this. The ill-spoken potential ‘English yob’ with the ‘big dog’ had, smilingly and sinisterly, said something abusive in a way she didn’t understand. They were set on leaving the scene, as fast as possible.

I had to use intelligence, charm and sincerity to dig back to the words of that moment and show that only warmth and shared humour were intended. Our wonderful minds allow for that – and our astonishing language that can hold and describe concepts as vast as present and future.

That next second in all our lives is coming around that corner, now, and its nature is significantly undetermined… until we act with familiarity or with self-defence. And mind precedes action. In that sense, creating our own future is a very real thing.

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

Childhood’s end?

Some experiences are tiny and subtle; you don’t expect to remember them. But, days after, I was still thinking about that line of writing on the wall, in the last of the summer sunshine…

I’m a north-west lad; deeply Lancashire in my roots, though well-travelled from a business perspective. But one of my favourite parts of the UK is the North-East coast, from Whitby all the way up to Scotland, most of it in Northumberland.

This land of history and mystery used to be its own kingdom. To my mind, there is still a sense of the otherness in its hills and perfect beaches – and the people are friendly and usually welcoming.

(Above: the iconic houses and dunes of Alnmouth’s headland)
(Above and below: Alnmouth,, and Tess’ favourite beach in the whole world…)

We were spending a few days in Almmouth, that harmonic delight of estuary village meeting sea; en-route to a reunion in Edinburgh.

(Above: one of Alnmouth’s famous bridges and the River Aln)

The oldest of the Alnmouth bridges crosses the River Aln to give the village its main access to the mainline East Coast railway station (Edinburgh in 60 mins), and the beautiful ancient town of Alnwick, ancestral home of the Percy family, who kept out the marauding Scots… Say it quietly, a good number of my cousins are Scottish.

As we often do on these trips, we were catching up with a diverse group of people, dotted along our route, including Cathy, a long-standing friend of my wife, Bernie, from the time they both worked in Bournemouth.

A few years ago, Cathy, now approaching retirement from the NHS, relocated to Whitley Bay, north of Newcastle. She had always wanted to live by the sea, and settled in Weymouth for a while, but found it too far from other places she needed to be.

Then she found her eldest son was planning to move in Teignmouth, just north of Newcastle, where he had been at university. Like his mum, he was attracted to that stretched of what was the Northumberland coast.

Cathy had a limited budget, but was delighted to discover that nearby Whitley Bay was not only affordable, but undergoing a resurgence and considerable ‘gentrification’. Formerly the haunt of the worst kind of drug dealers, facsimiles of whom seemed to feature in the ever-popular Vera detective series, it now teems with individual boutiques, quality cafes and restaurants, and coffee shops.

Locals say Whitley Bay is now safe and prosperous, yet hasn’t lost it’s common touch…

After refreshments in her sea-facing garden, Cathy took us on a guided tour of the promenade and resurgent town – the last stop on the northern leg of the Newcastle Metro line.

(Above: Beach, sea, lighthouse. I had glimpsed a photographic opportunity!)

For a while we alternated descending and climbing back up the various sections of the expansive promenade. The sea is a long way below this section of coast road, and I wondered whether my iPhone camera would do anything useful at that distance?

(Above: Spanish City – the former jewel of the resort)

After about 30 mins of walking, it was obvious that we were approaching the centre of town. Two things were of immediate interest to my photographer’s eye: a giant white building looking like a Moorish palace; and a wonderful view down to the beach, framed by curving stone walls.

(Above: one of the white towers of Spanish City, resplendent in the sunshine, with its ‘Angel of the morning’)

Spanish City – the large white ‘palace’ – used to be the main tourist attraction of Whitley Bay. It was built 108 years ago as a ‘resort within a resort’, and offered cafes, restaurants, entertainment and a set of rides for the young and the young in heart. For the sixteen years prior to 2018, it stood derelict, until being restored and refurbished.

In July, 2021, the listed ‘Dome’ was reborn and re-opened by the local council after a £10million restoration, which included contributions of £3.47m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and a £2.5m Coastal Communities grant. It’s never looked back.

Cathy announced it was time for an ice-cream. There was a chorus of approval, especially when she crossed the coast road at speed and installed herself at the back of a short queue outside the famous Di Meo ice cream parlour. When we caught up with her, she explained that the queue was normally fifteen people deep, and she’d rushed to take advantage of this astonishingly smaller one – give it was one of the finest days of the year.

While she was queueing, I strolled quickly back to try the possible photo I’d seen. Two women were talking across a gap on the edge of a set of steep downward steps. Beyond was a panoramic view across the beaches and sea towards the distant St Mary’s lighthouse. Even in the bright sunlight of a pristine September day, it didn’t look as emotionally warm as it felt; so I took the shot with a view to editing it in a new (free) App I’d been recommended called Snapseed, made by Google.

(Above: Bernie outside Di Meo’s)

That done (which was the work of a minute only) I crossed back over the road, just in time to collect my ice cream. We meandered slowly back, with Cathy telling the story of how the original Spanish City was etched into the memories of generations of both locals and visitors. She said there had been a famous quote, but couldn’t remember it.

Later, I remembered that I had taken a few random shots of the promenade’s slope near the ‘Dome’. One of them had Cathy’s quote. It reads:

“Whitley Bay… The Dome! the white Dome. It was the Taj Mahal to us…”

Some would laugh at it, but I thought it was a beautiful sentiment. Bolton didn’t have much in the way of glamour. But I remember the sheer sense of sophistication going into Bolton’s Navada roller skating rink as a child. I was entering a new world; and what the people of the old Whitley Bay felt about their dome must have been the same.

Bolton’s Navada roller rink after the fire that closed it…

Now the people of Whitley Bay had their dome back, renewed and whole. It was a lesson in what we all experience – the familiarity of what we’ve grown used to versus the fading through time of what was once great. The ‘Spanish City’ had been wonderfully conceived, over a century ago, and its original vision had miraculously survived the inevitable physical decline.

The right energy and determination brought it back, justifying the sincere words on the curving wall.

My story ends there… apart from the editing I did that evening on the iPhone, using Snapseed to transform that view.

Above is the result: a picture more in tune with what I felt about the two women, the ornate steps, the sunny beach far below, filled with happy people in what was probably the last really hot day of 2021.

And in the distance the white St Mary’s lighthouse, surely one of the most beautiful symbols we have.

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

‘The Book of Assassinations’

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We were determined not to get wet, so we went to Chesterfield, on the general principle that there would be both indoor parking and a cathedral big enough to keep us both dry and occupied for some time. We got those points right… but we failed miserably in the staying dry department as the heavens open and the chill, northern rain pelted down. As my companion made a judicious dive for the porch, I found a convenient tree under which to shelter the camera and get some shots of the famous crooked spire.

sheffield chesterfield hare 004The church dates to the 13th Century and the tower was added in around 1362. The tower is twisted by 45 degrees and leans 9’ 6” from true centre. Several local legends tell how it became so contorted, many have to do with the Devil and the purported virginity of brides. Wikipedia says : “One well established legend goes that a virgin once married in the church, and the church was so surprised that the spire turned around to look at the bride, and continues that if another virgin marries in the church, the spire will return to true again; with only 3 weddings in 2010 in the church it seems that this legend understandably discourages marriages at the church. Another legend is that a Bolsover blacksmith mis-shoed the Devil, who leaped over the spire in pain, knocking it out of shape.” There are others, and it is well worth looking some of them up.

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I didn’t linger too long under my tree. It was raining quite heavily and my feet were already squelching in the little slippers I habitually wear for some strange and unfathomable reason. You would think I would have learned by now… Even the pigeons had given up and had taken shelter where they could, so I too followed their example.

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For all the church has been embellished over the centuries, being the foremost building in the area, it still retains its atmosphere of calm peace, and every nook and cranny inside hides symbols and artistic treasures, bits of history and the evidence of the faith of hundreds of years.

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The Lady Chapel, as so often for me, had the most attraction, and a curious Revelations window in the north chapel too had us thinking. There is an eclectic mixture of styles here, from a dreadful neon cross to lovely sculpture with an African feel, from medieval marble tombs to a modern St Francis window full of gentleness.

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The place was full of visitors, though, and that always ends up with me documenting as much as I can with the camera while my companion wanders in search of his own inspiration… we then adjourn, usually to a local pub, and compare notes; knowing we have enough to go on in order to make a decision about coming back on a quieter day. It is these subsequent visits where you begin to really get to know a place, both by its details and by its feel.

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Today was no exception, but, unfortunately for us there was a bookshop and we became a tad sidetracked as we delved through the shelves, exiting with what rapidly became known as the Book of Assassinations as we trawled its pages under an awning while the rain still fell.

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It is odd, of course, we think we are going to places for our own purposes, but so often, if you are open and ready to go where you are led, you end up finding far more than you had envisioned. We had gone to see a cathedral, but came away with a couple of years of speculative thought confirmed by the well-thumbed pages of a dog-eared book. Not a bad way to spend a rainy Saturday in Chesterfield.

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WHAT’S UP DOC? Lines of communication III…

*

… Bugs… The small rabbit came closer to his companion, lolloping on long hind legs.

“Let’s go a bit further, Hazel,’ he said. “You know, there’s something strange about the warren this evening, although I can’t tell exactly what it is. Shall we go down to the brook?”

*

Cara… “All right, Fiver,” answered Hazel, “and you can find me a cowslip when we’re there. If you can’t find one, no-one can.”

*

Bugs… Hazel led the way down the slope, his shadow stretching behind him on the grass.

They reached the brook and began nibbling and searching beside the wheel-ruts of the track.

It was not long before Fiver found what they were looking for.

Cowslips are a delicacy among rabbits, and as a rule there are very few left by late May in the neighbourhood of even a small warren.

This one had not bloomed, and its flat spread of leaves was almost hidden under the long grass.

They were just starting on it when two large rabbits came running across from the other side of the near-by cattle-wade.

Fiver had already turned away.

*

Cara… Hazel caught up with him by the culvert, “I tell you what, let’s go across the brook. There’ll be fewer rabbits and we can have a bit of peace, so long as you think it’s safe?”

*

Bugs… “No, it’s safe enough,” answered Fiver. “If I start feeling there’s any danger I’ll tell you. It’s not danger I feel tonight, it’s, oh, I don’t know, something oppressive, like thunder. I’m not sure what, but it worries me. All the same, I’ll come across the brook with you.”

*

Cara… The two rabbits ran over the culvert.

The grass was wet and thick near the stream and they made their way up the opposite slope, looking for drier ground.

Part of the slope was in shadow, for the sun was sinking ahead of them, and Hazel, who wanted a warm, sunny spot, went on until they were quite near the lane.

As they approached the gate he stopped, staring…

“Fiver, what’s that? Look!”

*

Bugs… A little way in front of them, the ground had been freshly disturbed.

Two piles of earth lay on the grass.

Heavy posts reeking of creosote and paint, towered up as high as the holly trees in the hedge, and the board they carried threw a long shadow across the top of the field.

Near one of the posts, a hammer and a few nails had been left behind.

The two rabbits went up to the board at a hopping run and crouched in a patch of nettles on the far side, wrinkling their noses at the smell of a dead cigarette-end somewhere in the grass.

*

Cara… Suddenly Fiver shivered and cowered down. “Oh, Hazel! This it where it comes from! I know now – something very bad! Some terrible thing – coming closer and closer.”

He began to whimper…

*

Bugs… “What sort of thing – what do you mean?  I thought you said there was no danger? “

Cara… “I don’t know what it is,” answered Fiver wretchedly. “There isn’t any danger here, at this moment. But it’s coming – it’s coming. Oh, Hazel, look! The field! It’s covered in blood!”

*

Bugs… “Don’t be silly, it’s only the light of the sunset. Fiver, come on, don’t talk like this, you’re frightening me!”

*

Cara…The sun set behind the opposite slope.

The wind turned colder, with a scatter of rain, and in less than an hour it was dark.

All colour had faded from the sky and although the big board by the gate creaked slightly in the night wind, there was no passer-by to read the sharp, hard letters that cut straight as black knives across its white surface.

They said…

to be continued…