On Cobbled Streets

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(Above:Streets that are still cobbled – Bolton)

The opening photo was taken last autumn, when the last of the summer brightness was fading. It shows the Bolton street where my mother still lives. Born in 1930, she survived the economic depression of the inter-war years, and the bombings, doodlebugs and devastation of WW2.

I was born at home, in a street of steeply sloping terraced houses not far from where that photo was taken. It was part of an entire hillside of Victorian terraces that filled the wedge between two of the arterial roads running out of Bolton to the west. The local name for the hill was ‘Spion Kop’ – a curious reference to a tragic battle during the Boer war (January 1900) in South Africa, where thousands of soldiers were seen ‘terraced’ up the hillside, defending the strategic point as they were slaughtered.

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(Above: Spion Kop’ as I remember it… it’s all gone, now)

The battle was important for social reasons, too. The Boer war had seen conscription into the army for the first time – and the battle of Spion Kop showed how poor their health was. This had great political impact back in Britain and led, via an Act of Parliament driven through by Lloyd George in 1911, to the establishment of the National Insurance Act. This replaced the ‘Poor Law’ provisions with a robust mechanism aimed at the national improvement of health, employment and sickness.

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(Above: Mum and my beloved Grandma in the 1960s)

My childhood – and those of my local friends, was filled with games played out in the many ‘bomb sites’ that were a feature of all industrial towns. We didn’t think of it as post-war devastation; it was simply where we were… Children have a gift of being in the moment, and, as long as their friends are from similar backgrounds, they are not self-conscious about the conditions of their lives.

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(Above: Bolton town centre in the bustling 1960s)

Bolton was a happy place. Although industrially black and often grim, it was fighting its way back from poverty and the war’s deprivation. In tune with this, my mother was intent on filling her sons’ lives with ambition and confidence. The town was surrounded by beautiful Lancashire countryside and there was always excitement to be found on a weekend walk with a picnic ‘up there in the hills’.

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(Above: Bolton’s Market Hall. A classic ‘folk-market’ where everything was inexpensive. Beloved by everyone in the town, the council knocked it down to be replaced by yet another bland set of ‘me-too’ shops, which, today are slowly going bust. Nearby Bury is booming because of its old-fashioned market)

My mother’s street is quiet, now. She’s never wanted to move, though she visits us often up here in Cumbria – an hour’s drive north up the M61 and M6 motorways. It’s an easy journey, but she’s always happy to be going home – her aged Pomeranian dog on her lap.

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(Above: She’s got a great sense of humour and loved this shot, taken on our last holiday in Northumberland)

These are testing times, and Bolton is affected by the threat of the Covid-19 virus as much as any other town. In Britain (and much of the rest of western Europe) we are likely, soon, to be ‘locked down’ into our houses; allowed out only to buy food, medicines or to walk a dog… one person per dog, of course.

Supermarkets are having to introduce rationing and set times when only the elderly can shop – a result of the ‘locust effect’ of fearful panic buying that has already stripped the shelves bare.

The last time anything like this happened on the same scale was World War II. My mother, who has recently turned ninety, remembers it well. She grew up hungry, and cold, but, as she says, ‘everyone else was, too…’

Already, mother’s neighbours have approached her to ask if she needs groceries or any else of importance. Normally, we do her shopping weekly for her, but if we are ‘locked down’ in Cumbria, we won’t be able to make the journey. My brother is closer (Preston) but even he may not be able to get to her.

Despite not being related, mother’s neighbours are already constructing a safety net around her. She’s a kind woman, and popular. But, for the past decade, she has struggled with increasing vascular dementia and cannot solve anything problematic. She won’t consider going into a home, of course. Nor will she move away from her beloved Bolton… though we have offered to give her a home here, at least through the pandemic.

The cobbled street she lives in remains a beacon of kindness and caring. There is no funding for this, just the sense of sharing and community from everyone else who lives there. It’s an island of how Bolton used to be; and it makes me very proud of what’s left of my hometown and how it is behaving in the face of this horrific pandemic.

That sense of looking out for ‘everyone else’ is going to be vitally important to our survival as societies. Already, city centres are empty, restaurants and pubs closing and businesses failing. The UK Government has announced a package of what amounts to guaranteed loans to help businesses survive, but loans simply add to the long-term debt of an enterprise. They may help with short-term liquidity – cash – but they store up problems for a future which is likely to be thin on profit for a long time to come.

There is no sign of a Danish-style government intervention whereby the government will fund the wages of all current employees as long as each company operates at 70% of its current employment costs – a wage cut for all, but one that protects the jobs of millions during this dire and prolonged period.

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(Above: Mum as she is today… Always smiling. When asked, at her 90th birthday lunch, what was the secret of her longevity, she replied, “Being happy…”)

The Covid-19 virus will be calling on Mum’s part of Bolton. We pray that she won’t catch it. If she does, it’s likely that she will leave us. But, for now, she’s warm and in the bosom of her fellow Bolton folk… in a cobbled street that feels like home.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Whitby Weekend: A Coastline of Ghosts

It felt odd driving down the steep hill to Runswick Bay. I had walked down… and back up… that hill so many times before, equipped with a bucket and spade or a fossil hammer, skipping along beside my grandparents. Little legs remember hills and although mine may not have grown much since those childhood forays, they have carried me far away from those times.

I love the Yorkshire coastline and walked most of it as a child, with parents, grandparents and great grandparents and it felt strange to watch the shade of that curly-haired girl walk with the dead on the screen of memory, carried by love and laughter to places that promised excitement and adventure.

In the half-light of dusk, as the setting sun reflected pink and gold into the receding waves, I was never alone. Not only was I surrounded by friends I love and with whom I was sharing the weekend, I was also accompanied by ghosts, animated memories and a child’s wonder.

Call it nostalgia, if you will, a longing for a simpler time when the weight of adulthood did not bear down so heavily on small shoulders. When life was an adventure yet to be lived, innocence as yet untouched by the shadows of human betrayal and trust was still the natural state of an open heart.

But, like a hologram flickering with uncertainty, the images are no longer my reality. There are gaps in memory, the scenes no more than vignettes. I remember the words that were spoken, but many of the voices have been lost to time. I can still hear my grandmother’s rich chuckle, I can no longer hear my grandfather’s voice at all… it remains only as an echo, a feeling, a taste in the heart.

Although I have played on these shores with uncles, aunts, cousins and brothers… even with my own sons when they were small… it was the memories of those walks with grandad that were haunting me. We would walk along the shoreline, seeking fragments of jet, interesting pebbles and gemstones to take home and polish in the tumbler. We would rummage in rock pools, looking for the strange creatures the sea had left behind. Or beneath the eroding walls of the cliffs, where every storm revealed new surfaces and fossils could be found with ease. We seldom went home without a fossilised shellfish or an ammonite.

As we walked, we talked. I learned about the birds and the wildflowers, the relationship between moon and tides, geological time, history and prehistory. I would think, then ask this apparent oracle those unanswerable questions that occur to us when the world is still new. He would answer the questions of a child as if she were an adult, able to understand the strange concepts that he explained. He never assumed I would not understand, but, I suppose, chose his words to meet my need. More than anyone, it was he who revealed the intersecting maze of paths that could open before my feet and showed me how to feel my way forward until I found the one that was right for me.

So it felt right, more than right, to stand on that beach with my companions in the fading light, watching the cormorants, gulls and turnstones play with the remnants of the day. Now, it is I who am the grandmother and growing old, with stories to share and answers to find for those unanswerable questions that all children ask… and trust you to know. My ghosts gathered round, a circle of love around the circle of light that we wove in the sand, as I held in my hand, and as my heart, an empty vessel filled only with possibility.

For a moment I was a child once more. Then realised that I will always be a child beside the beautiful Being upon which I stand. That we are all children, taught by great Nature as much as we can encompass, in ways we may begin to understand. That I am less than a child… a grain of sand upon an infinite shore…but without which, that shore would be incomplete. I am no more than a spark of possibility against the vast backdrop of time and scintillating space that surrounds us. That we are all sparks of possibility… and every one of them matters, for without a spark, no flame can ignite to bring light and warmth to the world. And that my ghosts were never lost spectres of the dead, but gifts of love and life, given by those whose stories I will always carry, in my genes, in my memory and in my heart.

Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 2 – Pestilence ~ Helen Jones

Helen Jones continues her account of the recent weekend in Derbyshire…

I recently attended a workshop, with The Silent Eye, about Facing Our Fears, an extraordinary weekend spent among the hills and grey stone villages of the Peak District. It’s taken me a little while, as it usually does, to process everything that happened. Once again there was history and mystery, good company and tasty food, old friends greeted and new friends made. And, as always, revelations.This is part two of my account, part one can be found here

‘Go and have a look around. We’ve got a bit of time yet before the others get here.’

I can’t move.

We were standing in a courtyard, once the stable yard of the nearby manor house. The buildings had been converted into shops and restaurants, jewellery, homewares, tea and scones all set out for visitors. It was a gorgeous place, sun shining on golden-grey stone, pretty tables, green trees.

I can’t move.

Waves were battering her from all sides, sorrow overwhelming. But they were toxic, polluted, like water disturbed in a stagnant pond. It was difficult to breathe.

I should have known when my body started to tingle as we crossed the boundary into the village. But this was… intense. I took a couple of photos but, even though Sue suggested once more that I have a look around, I still couldn’t move, feeling assailed on all sides. The air seemed filled with floating flecks of gold. It was a very, very strange place.

Continue reading at Journey to Ambeth

Mothering Sunday

Someone, somewhere must have a vicious sense of humour. It is Mother’s Day in England today… a day when many Mums may get to lay in bed a little longer… except that today is also the day when we lose that hour as the clock’s have gone forward. I also happened to forget about that and worked late into the night, robbing myself of even more sleep. The dog wouldn’t have been bringing me breakfast in bed anyway…

That only happened to me once on Mother’s Day and, given the extent of the ‘damage’ in the kitchen when my small sons decided I should have breakfast in bed, I am quite glad about that. Today I get to go out to lunch instead, invited to my younger son’s home, where I get to play with my granddaughter while her parents cook and do the dishes.  Little things like that make all the difference.

It struck me, when I was thinking about my granddaughter, that I am a grandma. I know that sounds odd, but there is a vast difference between knowledge and realisation. I am not just a grandma, though, I have, since my granddaughter’s birth, moved ‘up’ a generation. If I am blessed with the longevity of my own great-grandmothers, I could even move up another couple of generations before becoming an ancestor.

I was lucky enough to know my own great-grandmothers. One, indeed, was with us until long ofter my own children were born and from her I heard the tales of her own mother and grandmother, taking my imagination back through shared memory to the mid 1800s. It is not the same as reading about it. When the person from whom you gather memories remembers the people and the incidents, they come alive…especially when these women were your family. In a little while, when they are old enough,I may be able to share that same gift with my grandchildren, giving them access to memories stretching back seven generations before their own, with me somewhere near the middle.

The realisation brought with it a sense of continuity. My personal memory covers the three generations before me. If I am very lucky, I may see three, or perhaps even four generations after me, though I would have to rival great-grandma’s years to do so. But the story doesn’t stop there. I am just one small link in a very long chain. The future will count me as an ancestor one day, just as I can look back at the faceless women whose names are on my own family tree…and even further back to a time before records began.

It puts you in perspective. You are suddenly a very small link in an incredibly vast chain… yet an essential one if the chain is to continue into the future. Even the smallest of things can make a difference.

Science has traced the first ancestors of humankind, but our evolution did not begin with humanity. The very earliest lifeforms appeared over four thousand million years ago, poised between inorganic and organic matter… and even they had to evolve from something. We speak of Mother Earth… and with some truth as the Earth must be the ancestor of us all.

She still does what mothers do… providing us with all those things we need in order to survive.

On Mother’s Day, maybe it would not be a bad idea to look at the Earth with as much love and appreciation as we give to human mothers.