Who says you can’t?

“Wanted: Experienced male window-dresser.

20+, full clean driving licence. Must be prepared to travel.”

Back in the days when one could advertise for precisely the staff member you wanted without the risk of appearing politically incorrect, that was the advert that caught my eye. To be fair, at just 16, with examination results still months away and no possibility of staying in education, I was looking at anything and everything, applying for jobs as varied as dental nurse and milkmaid. In spite of the expectations a Grammar School education might have raised, the family couldn’t afford for me to stay on at school. I needed a job. Any job. Even then, I was aware that probabilities were a numbers game; the more I applied for, the more chance I had of getting at least as far as an interview.

By this time, I had only a couple of months left at school… and so did everyone else leaving that year. I needed to get in early. Even so, “I can’t apply for that…what a pity.” “Why not?” Asked my mother. “You won’t get it, but you can always apply.” I wrote the letter, in spite of the fact I was an inexperienced female, far too young, who had never travelled and who would be ineligible for a driving licence for another two years. It couldn’t hurt. The letter was posted, along with the daily sheaf of others and promptly forgotten about. Until they called me in for interview.

I can even remember the brown, birds-eye tweed suit that I wore… nicely tailored but smelling of wet dog whenever it rained. I took a seat in the reception area with half a dozen professional and arty young men and felt ridiculous. They exchanged experiences, talking about their training and previous positions. I’d worked in a butcher’s after school since I was twelve. I shouldn’t have come.

I was the last to be shown to the office of the owner of the business. I’d done my research as best I could in those pre-internet days. He and his brother had started on the market stalls a couple of decades before and now owned several chains of menswear stores across the north and drove a Rolls Royce apiece. I felt very small and out of place as he faced me across the big desk and folded his hands. He looked at me in silence for a while. Me, the little brown mouse who wouldn’t say boo to the proverbial goose… I shrank inside, wishing fervently that I hadn’t been this stupid.

He read the advert out loud, pausing to look at me with raised brows with every requirement I failed to meet. Which was all of them. He smoothed the sheet of paper and pinned me with his eyes. “What have you got to say for yourself? Why should I hire you?”

I will never know where it came from or why… neither confidence nor arrogance were any part of the timid creature in tweed. To call me a mouse was unfair… mice have a certain amount of audacity.

I held out my hand… “Give me a pen and paper and I’ll show you.”

I spent the rest of the interview answering a barrage of questions and piling up sketch after sketch of fashion designs. He looked at the last one as I placed it on the pile. “I can’t offer you the job, I’m afraid.” It was no surprise really. Only getting an interview at all had been a surprise. I stood to leave. “But I’ll create one for you…”

I sat back down, open mouthed, as he outlined his plans. Then left the building on winged feet. I would work with the teams, train fully and travel alone to deal with the window crises in each shop as they arose. And for the next few years he worked my socks off… I ended up training the new window dressers as they came in… had a lot of fun and became a darned good window dresser.

So why the sudden memories? Well, I picked up a book of poetry from the shelf and read Keats for a while. John Keats is one of the best loved English poets and was a leading figure in the second generation of the Romantic movement. Almost everyone will recognise his work, even if they do not know its source.


So where’s the connection between one of the great poets and a schoolgirl luckier than she could imagine? Well, Keats was doing something he ‘shouldn’t’ too.

Born to the family of an ostler turned innkeeper and trained to become a surgeon, Keats’ passion lay in poetry. He should have been a doctor. He was, by all accounts, good at it. And anyway, he was way too young at that point to have anything to say that was worth reading. Great writers need to live before they can write… experiencing the world and its emotions, growing from childhood to adulthood and beyond. While all writers seem to start scribbling when young, there is a general acceptance that it is only in later life that the great œuvres will flow from their pen. It is a common dictum that one should not seriously write when ‘too young’… writers should have lived something to say.

Keats, acquiring his apothecary’s licence, quit medicine to write. Lacking a paying career, he struggled financially all his life, unaware, it seems, of the legacies left to him that would have eased his situation. In 1816 Leigh Hunt agreed to publish one of his poems in a magazine. Other works followed, securing Keats’ place in literary history. He died in 1821. Aged just 25. Far too young to be a ‘real’ poet… or so young writers are now told. About the same age as Wilfred Owen, in fact. Arthur Rimbaud stopped writing at 21.

So who says you ‘can’t’?

We live in a world of ‘ought to’, where expectations are piled upon us, if not by those closest to us, then by our society itself which sets the tram lines we conform to with little thought most of the time. The expectations of others, though, are not what holds us back. We choose to meet those expectations… or to try our best…or not, as the case may be.

We expect a certain normality of ourselves, often without realising that ‘normality’ is unique to each one of us. In effect, we accept the confines of barriers that no-one has actually imposed upon us, simply because we are aware of what we think we ‘ought’ to do and be. What truly holds us back are the constricting and limiting expectations that we draw around ourselves. We decide what we cannot do… yet it is only when we overstep those lines we have drawn in the sand that we find out what we can do.

For me, landing that job taught me more than just how to dress a window. It taught me to have confidence in my own instincts, to stand up for the things I thought were right, to defend a principle and most importantly, to believe I could do more than I believed and be things I ‘shouldn’t’ be. I have often wondered if the academic route I ‘should’ have taken would have taught me half as much.

Next time you feel you can’t do something, don’t ask yourself, ‘why not’… just ask yourself, ‘who says?’ The answer is probably very close to hand…

Ship of Fools – a Sonnet for the Playwright

“What’s that?” The gentleman standing beside me eyed the scroll in my hand.  We had just completed the final ritual of Jewel in the Claw, the five-act workshop written by Steve and set in Elizabethan England. Steve had played Shakespeare… as well as nobly fulfilling the role of Cecil when one of our Companions had been unavoidably unable to join us.

As is customary, we were gathering on the staircase. Being amongst the first to leave the Temple, I was in prime position at the head of the stairs and could command attention when all were assembled. Steve would be amongst the last to leave and, therefore, there would be no escape…

Drawing myself grandly to my full height, which still left me a foot or so shorter than my companion, I brandished the sealed and beribboned scroll…

“I have written a sonnet for the Bard…”

Ship of Fools


The tale is over, and to playwright’s pen

Must we, in fairness, offer recompense,

To he who wrote this tale of maids and men

(And into five acts neatly did condense).

That, travelling through time and inner space

Where wonders wait, and wondering we play

With human nature writ upon our face

Upon a temple floor of night and day.

Within this Ship of Fools we caught the tide

And, floundering, revealed the sailor’s star

That shines within each heart and does not hide

Unless perception dims it from afar.

So, though the play is done, we will not grieve,

In joyous knowledge now we take our leave…


For Steve

Flight of the Seer V…


Any creative endeavour involves hazard.

We are fortunate enough to work with an eclectic and talented bunch of souls which inevitably lessens that hazard.

With our previous Workshop, Leaf and Flame, we had made a rod for our own back by extending the compass of R4 out into the night and into the realms of spectacle… and fire… and dance… and legend, courtesy of the street entertainers known as Mister Fox.

So, what this time for our R4 extension?


“It’ll need to be big, brash and in your face to counteract the, ‘Beyond the Veil’ section of R4.”

“We’ll hand it over to Dean and Ali.”

“Our Lore Keepers?”



Dean Powell and Alienora Browning have been April Workshop stalwarts since the Silent Eye’s inception and have on numerous occasions stepped in to cover more than their primary roles when illness or mishap has dictated.


“So how do we play it?”

“Just give them the story we want performed…”

“…and let them get on with it.”


We were not disappointed.


“It was better than watching telly!”

“It was brilliant!”

“They are legend!”


Trust is the other side of hazard.

Trust is also an antidote to fear.

So… Trust!


Ali and Dean as, The Lore-Keepers.


A new year begins…

X ilkley weekend 0432

Like the joy of the sea coming home to shore,
May the relief of laughter rinse through your soul.

As the wind loves to call things to dance,
May your gravity by lightened by grace.

Like the dignity of moonlight restoring the earth,
May your thoughts incline with reverence and respect.

As water takes whatever shape it is in,
So free may you be about who you become.

As silence smiles on the other side of what’s said,
May your sense of irony bring perspective.

As time remains free of all that it frames,
May your mind stay clear of all it names.

May your prayer of listening deepen enough
to hear in the depths the laughter of god.

John O’Donohue,
‘To Bless the Space Between Us’


The team at the Silent Eye wish you a

happy and peaceful New Year.


Finding Gawain – Act Four

Hieronymous Bosche Garden of Earthly Delights

(image: detail from ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ by Hieronymus Bosch.

Wikipedia Creative Commons)

Finding Gawain – Act Four


Within the forest there is a sense of reckoning. Plucked from Castille Diablo, the man who may once have been Gawain finds himself, again, with wild blood in his veins and standing in the middle of the Clearing of the Ways, facing the West from which he knows Hunter Gawain approaches.

As the twigs break, clumsily, underfoot, at the approach of the other, he smiles. There will be no escape this time… The riddle cannot be solved by mortal mind, the forest will have its sacrifice, the true hunt will come to its conclusion, but it will be swift and merciful, not ritualised and brutal, as those of predatory mankind are…

The Guardian of the Hart has no need to follow the secret pathways in this encounter. He strides from the middle of the clearing to face the intruder Gawain and draws his sword. “Now you die,” he says.

There is a strangely confident look in the eyes of his victim… The other begins to fire answers, appearing to waste time, yet his eyes speak of another game. The Guardian of the Hart tires of this and raises his deadly sword to strike…

“Wait!” says Hunter Gawain. “One final answer… Sovereignty…”

No… this cannot be. Gawain re-sheathes his sword and looks around at his forest… What now? Hunter Gawain has won his life, but a life is now forfeit under the ancient magic of this place. Gawain knows that there has been an intervention; that the only person who could have saved Hunter Gawain has sealed the Guardian’s own doom, instead.

“May she who told you find what she most desires,’ he bows and whispers to the smiling other, as the grasses on the edge of the clearing part and a Veiled Woman glides into the clearing to take the Guardian of the Hart’s hand and lead him away. Her grip is iron. There will be no escaping it…

The Veiled One leads him through the forest, to a place where nine dark trees form a tightly-knit circle, their abundant foliage completely obscuring the light overhead. In the middle of the space is a carved wooden chair, draped with the skins of the Stag, the Boar and the Fox. The Veiled One thrusts him, none too gently, into the chair and tells him that the next faces he will see are those of the Lord and Lady of the Hunt…unless he choses to run, instead…

The symbolism of him joining the hunted is not lost on his hammering heart. Does a slow and painful death at the hands of the many-knived hunters await? Is this, finally, his Unmaking?

The Veiled One passes gentle fingers across the outer leaves of the of trees and it begins…

It begins with Hell… The music that the trees make is one of horrifying discord, and jerks the Guardian of the Hart upright in his seat. He wants to flee its painful noise, but knows he must stay seated and see out what has been started. The greenery all around him is filling him with a strange emotion – that of inevitable acceptance; of relinquishing any idea of being a Knight who fights… He wonders if he has been drugged… and thinks back to the healing potions given by the ladies of Castille Diablo. Why is he not defending himself?

At the point where he feels he will lose his sanity if the music continues, it changes. The chanting of monks is a welcome respite, and he drift away into his own thoughts, considering his life and the strange paths that have brought him here.

Knight of the Goddess they named him from his earliest of days. Some joked about his fondness for the company of women, others saw that much of that destiny was not of his making. Either way, the description was apt, and he had spent much of his life either protecting, defending or making love to, women.

Where are they now? he thinks. Where are those whom he defended with his skill and his blade in his hour of need? But then the acceptance sweeps over him again and with it a deep sense of trust, something his life has seen a dearth of… But to trust in this way is to not act and the inner war rages on…

She appears first, the Lady of the Hunt, resplendent in Red, masked and horned, leading the equally exotic but white-robed Lord by the hand. They approach him, frozen in focus in his carved chair atop the animal skins, and stand behind him, placing over his eyes a tight band of cloth so dense that there is no chance of light penetrating the imposed darkness.

“Trust,” says the Lady of the Hunt, placing her hand on his left shoulder. “Trust,” says the Lord of the Hunt, placing his hand on his right shoulder.

And then another form of hell erupts. Into the now darkened chamber cavort what sound like hundreds of wild spirits, spirits that scream and cackle and make noises that would be at home in a nightmare. They move around the room and around him, swooping in and out of the space around his body. The Guardian has to clench his arms to the chair to avoid moving away from their approach to his head as they glide by, speaking into his ears and giving him their signs and meanings – but too many to remember, though some he has met before.

There is a lull and he thinks it is over, but then they come again… And through all of this the Lord and Lady rest their hands gently on his shoulders in the human sigil of ‘trust’.

And then…

And then the sense of time spinning away from him quietens, and there is born in him a whiteness…

This whiteness comes directly from the juxtaposition of the cacophony and the gentle hands on his skin. It adds to the acceptance and gives him an inner presence that matches the outer gentleness on his shoulders. In the total darkness he can almost make out another pair of hands, white ones this time, the hands of an infinitely patient and loving woman, but they are too far away from him to reach for.

“Trust,” says the Lord of the Hunt. “Trust,” says the Lady of the Hunt, and both pull him to his feet, guiding his blind steps to the edge of the chamber and down a steep flight of rocks, alongside a dancing stream whose cold waters splash his bare feet. Each step is guided by the firm but gentle voice of the Lady, with the Lord watching his every step.

At length he reaches level ground and the Lady of the Hunt takes his upper arm and walks him, in tightly controlled steps, around a strange series of movements. She rests him at the end and tells him that he has just walked the secret pattern of the forest…in Trust.

And then…

And then, he is propelled towards another place where the cold breeze blows and the blindfold is taken from his eyes. Ahead there are fires and, he knows, something else…

The headsman’s block is waiting, waiting amidst a crescent of all the people he knows in both Camelot and the Castille Diablo. The block is waiting for his acceptance and his neck, as the debt must be paid… The people are kindly, but look upon him as though he were a ghost.

The Lord and Lady’s strong hands propel him to his fate, making him kneel in the dirt and offer his head in the final act of his life.

It will be good not to be Gawain any more, he thinks to himself, as the trust and the acceptance take him and the last shred of resistance dies…

But then the voice of the Lady of the Hunt becomes the voice of the Lady of the Lake; and the Lord’s becomes that of Merlin. The lady holds his neck steady and he can hear the soft hiss as she takes her dagger from its sheath. The cold steel presses to his neck and cuts the flesh with caring precision.

In a time beyond time, he can feel the welling of a single drop of the running blood on the tip of his chin… And then it leaves the flushed flesh of his face and drops towards the waiting Earth below, carrying the last of this Gawain with it.

Deep within the Hart, the white hands reach for him…

Previous: Act One, Act Two, Act Three (i), Act Three (ii), Act Three (iii)

The journey of Gawain is a personal interpretation of one of the parts in Leaf and Flame, the Silent Eye’s annual workshop held in April 2016 and created by Stuart France and Sue Vincent.

The Silent Eye uses a combination of magical ritual and psycho-drama to illustrate its teachings on the journey to the Soul.

For more details click here.

Details of next year’s workshop (April 2017), The Feathered Seer, can now be found on our website events page. Everyone is welcome, all you need to bring is your self…

Finding Gawain – Act Three, part two

Gawain gate of desperationAA

Finding Gawain – Act Three, part two

By the time Gawain realises he had come back on himself, in a great circle of many day’s ride, he has lost all sense of time. The mighty oak – the largest he has ever seen, mocks him with the purple ribbon, tied around it, days ago, to mark his way. The ribbon was a gift from Guinevere, in the days when he had been her favourite.

The snow and ice have removed even the power of his blue fingers to count. Huddled in caves, or kneeling by frozen streams, breaking the mirror-like ice with the pommel of his sword in order to drink, he lives more like an animal than a Knight.

At night, his loyal horse, Gringolet, lies against him, as they offer each other what meagre warmth their starved bodies can muster. His voice is hoarse, and when they pass through hamlets, the villagers, who should see him warmed and fed, scatter as he shouts his pathetic cry to their fleeing backs, “Do you know of a Green Chapel by here?” They do not speak. Their reply is a shaking of frightened heads, as they flee from this spectre of what was, once, the land’s most famous Knight.

The third time he finds the ribboned oak, he kneels by its huge trunk, puts his arms around it, and cries. There is no logic left in this world, no reasoning. There are no laws by which he can work the miracles of strategy by which he was once known as warrior.

When the sobbing is finished, he takes his sword and kneels before it, praying to Christ and to Arthur, telling him across the leagues that he tried, and has failed…

Moments later, when his face has slid down the ancient bark and into the frozen mud, he hears the sound of hounds baying across the icy meadows, nearby…


First published last June, this Gawain poem fits well this segment of the retelling

Dark Night of the Stone

Freezing fingers clutch the silver cup

The thin but faithful horse stands grace

Equine feelings urge Gawain, “Go on”

The mountain stream adds ice; its own

Completing miseries’ embrace

How did we come to this, Gawain?

His frozen thoughts; the pain, protest

How did we seek a place unknown

To pay the debt we shouldn’t own

From Christmas last, a bitter jest

He fingers coins, full purse of spite

“Perhaps I’ll buy a room!”

But round him snow and frozen streams

Speak far of warming tavern’s dreams

And icy wind that offers only doom


A mind, half starved, breaks off a branch

“May I divine a place to Yule!”

The joke is lost on blackening fells

Which long for village evening bells

Far from that place where death’s the only rule

His strength no more can fight the cold

He draws his sword and drives its mark

Into the earth, then at this cross begins to pray

In deepest heart beloved Arthur finds a way

And fire which needs no place defies the dark

©Copyright Stephen Tanham, 2015

The journey of Gawain is a personal interpretation of one of the parts in Leaf and Flame, the Silent Eye’s annual workshop held in April 2016 and created by Stuart France and Sue Vincent.

The Silent Eye uses a combination of magical ritual and psycho-drama to illustrate its teachings on the journey to the Soul.

For more details click here.

Details of next year’s workshop (April 2017), The Feathered Seer, can now be found on our website events page. Everyone is welcome, all you need to bring is your self…


 wolf 002

Run wild, run free and know the touch of wind upon your back

Yet freedom’s totem knows it has a home within the pack.

Part of a greater life, yet still at ease alone, he stands

And casts a solid shadow on the dark and lonely lands.

He knows the old and learns the new to walk a pathway free,

And listens to the inner voice that whispers how to Be.



A silent power vigilant beneath the forest bough,

No thought of past or future holds thine eye… only the Now.

Part of an endless cycle of the life and death of earth

Within the kernel of each death the springtime seeds of birth.

When grace and strength and purity have crowned thee for the good,

Stand proud and tall in majesty, as master of the wood.