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The Original "Getting Real"

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Monday, 29 June 2009

All The Birds of....

Ah! At last, after some years of endless rain, we have summer and on a hot June day, Edward Thomas's beautiful "Adelstrop" came to mind. It seemed this morning and this evening that 'all the birds of" Yorkshire sang and every flower that ever grew in England flourished today! The swans and ducks were so happily floating through the golden light over the lake at Temple Newsam! How beautiful is the sunshine and the summer!

Yes, I remember Adlestrop –
The name because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontendly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop – only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Glastonbury and "Bread & Fishes"

As people have done for centuries for different reasons, crowds are gathered at Glastonbury this weekend. I hope they have a brilliant time and that, for once, the rain stays away....though there seems to be something cathartic about wallowing in mud!

The Leeds Festival used to take place at Temple Newsam but some people complained about the bother it caused and it was moved. Personally, though I never attended the festival (and live close enough to be disrupted in a minor way by the crowds and the noise) I loved seeing the young people making there way there. I didn't mind queuing up for a long time behind mud-soaked people in shorts and Wellington boots (strange attire) in the supermarket as they filled their trolleys with cans. It had a summer feel about it and - in spite of what was reported in the Press - all the people I saw coming or going to the Festival, were so friendly and free. It had the feel of Medieval pilgrimages, of 60s flower people, of youth and life about it. Yes, the park was often a mess the next day. Yes, some people had caused trouble, but out of the thousands who were there, it can only have been a minority. It was just lovely seeing people gathering to enjoy themselves.

The other day, walking through the beauty of summer sunshine to the 'Little Temple' at Temple Newsam, I met a family: one of the most beautiful little children I have ever seen was with her parents. We spoke for only a few moments and they said it was their anniversary and asked me to take a photo. I did, we exchanged pleasantries and I walked on....but walked on feeling happier for that brief encounter. It so reminded me, on such a lovely day, of that wonderful song: "Bread and Fishes", which recalls a meeting with the Mystical Family on their way to Glastonbury. I don't know those people's names. They don't know mine. "Our names they mean nothing, they change throughout time...." but I am so glad I met them the other day. In other versions of this song, the words are different, "my name it is Joseph, this is Mary my wife, and this is our young son who brightens our life..." It doesn't really matter, I think, how we interpret it. It's about pilgrims and travellers and what it means to be alive.

Here is a really beautiful version of "Bread & Fishes" (which goes here by a different name: "Wind the Willows") by Blackmore's Night

Sunday, 21 June 2009

A Little Learning Is a Dangerous Thing...Suddenly Everyone Can Be a Guru!

As a teenager I briefly attended a yoga class. I had read that yoga was a beautiful and ancient art but my experience was that it was anything but beautiful and the only ancient thing about that particular class was the elderly woman who ran it who, in the middle of demonstrating a movement (I forget the name of it but it consisted on kneeling down on all fours and raising one leg like a dog relieving himself at a lamp post!) regaled everyone with long stories of her son's divorce, her neighbour's hysterectomy and how she had healed herself through yoga of all kinds of illnesses that I had never heard of. I gave up on yoga within a couple of weeks.

Some years later I signed up for a Tai Chi class. I should have seen the warning signals when the introduction involved paying the full amount for something like 10 lessons before anything was taught or shown. It took a long time for everyone to sign in and pay all this money, but eventually the couple who were running the class said, "Now we will show you what you will be able to achieve after 10 weeks..." We watched in eager anticipation of something amazing but the woman simply moved her arms and legs in one simple movement that we could all already do. I stayed for the two hour class, listened to a whole load of hogwash, and, having wasted the money, never returned.

Now, of course, I know better: Tai Chi and Yoga are amazing spiritual disciplines and arts coming from ancient traditions of wisdom and truth but they are much misunderstood and abused.

Since I only recently managed to gain access to YouTube, thanks to a new computer, it has opened up a whole new world but also an old world in a new form. There are a zillion 'guided meditation' videos. It seems like everyone is suddenly an expert of the 'law of attraction' on 'meditation' on angels and spiritual truths. Yes, indeed, the truth of each person is to be respected but the number of people 'guiding' others in their own brand of meditation is staggering. Some are highly amusing: the high pitched voice with a jarring accent that says in the tone of a concentration camp commandant, "Now listen only to my voice and relax. Relax. Relax..."; or the numerous soporific voices that drone on and on about breathing deeply...relax, relax, relax...Or there are a few that become quite impassioned about meeting your imaginary lover, or entering mystical caves, or meeting your spirit guide on a beach, or feeling the ocean, seeing angels....Suddenly onto the bandwagon jumps everyone with a little learning and whole load of nothing to say. And in the middle of all of this there are some really true voices: most of them seem to come from India and are people who are clearly have something to say, so they say very little and what they do say is not the anaesthesia or escapism of so much mush. Crikey! After listening to some of the nonsense spouted today, it was utterly refreshing to have a phone call from a dear friend who brought that stuff down to earth with a most earthy statement that, "The cat threw up in the toaster!" I wonder if the cat had been suffering from a surfeit of that saccharine nonsense that some people call meditation.

It seems in every walk of life, 'a little learning is a dangerous thing...' Dangerous only because it is simply an escape. Chakras, energy flow, meditation, recognizing our reality and true spirituality are vital but, no matter how much I have read about them, I am so aware that I know so little about them. People who thoroughly understand these things, shine out on YouTube and in their writings - they are people who have studied deeply, meditated deeply, have been through all kinds of depths of understanding and they have huge lessons to teach us. Yes, the information is accessible now to us all and that is brilliant, but please, any Tom, Dick or Harry who has read one book or spent a few minutes in silence or saying a Mantra, don't suddenly think you have a duty to guide the rest of us. It rather reminds me of some of the TV adverts for shampoo or moisturizer or certain foods where they say something like, "The only product to contain Z-P300!" or "Rich in Glycopsychoglutinousmaximus" and they think people are so stupid that we all suddenly realize that all that has been lacking in our lives is some fictitious chemical!

Tuesday, 16 June 2009


Tonight, while a friend and I were sitting outdoors and talking till long after the sun went down, a male blackbird hopped across the lawn. He was such a fine fellow! So strong and noble looking with his beautiful yellow beak, and, thinking that the song of blackbirds is one of the most beautiful sounds in all of Nature, some lines from Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale" came to mind:

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird !
No hungry generations tread thee down ;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown :
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn ;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

The birdsong this evening was exquisite! Beautiful, isn't it, how governments come and go, hours of hot air, lies and truths are poured from the mouths of politicians and statesmen and preachers while the birds go on singing the same song, the flowers go on exuding the same scents, the same moon waxes and wanes, the same sun rises and sets throughout the ages, and these things of timeless beauty illustrate the foolishness of listening to any voices that speak of control or of our dependence on some other human power to show us what life means. Comparing the song of the blackbird to the nonsensical lies spouted in government buildings across the world is quite amusing. Where does the real Truth lie and who is really wise? I'd rather be 'away with the fairies' - or birds - any day, than be enchained by the voice that dominates and speaks of doom. Perhaps 'cloud cuckoo land' is more sensible and eternal than all the meaningless routine of living according to the race-mind notion that speaks of regimentation, of being ruled and crushed by financial constraints...The birds aren't controlled by markets and we are, to paraphrase Jesus and all the great spiritual teachers, worth as much as 'hundreds of sparrows.'

Friday, 12 June 2009


This, from my youth, was my own experience of what C. Day Lewis far more brilliantly expressed. It's simply called "Photograph":

Camera clicking children into history.
He sits beside me, laughing on the lawn.
Bathing in his shadow,
Till I thought my heart would burst,
Beating in my breast -
"Smile please!"
So close!
Click, click,
Then gone.

Fingering the photograph this morning,
I kissed the little boy with static smile,
Still unaware the child
Who sits beside him,
Spent half her lifetime crying for his love.
I'm smiling now.
Time heals.
Tick, tock,
You're gone.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

C. Day Lewis

Cecil Day Lewis - what a brilliant poet! - captures so perfectly the sense of the moment and the transience of 'special' moments. His poetry has such a transparent feel about it: that sense of trying to capture something that cannot be captured - like the moment he realized the child was no longer dependent upon him in: "Walk Away" or that sense of tryng to recapture and hold something from childhood that cannot be captured. His poems rather remind me of a quotation (from whom, I know not!): "The bird of Paradise alights only on the hand thatdoes not grasp." So many of Lewis' poems seem to be about ephemeral, almost mystical, characters making their exits 'stage left' as though we come upon him at a moment in a play, and have missed the previous scenes and only see his response to them. At the same time, he writes so perfectly of feelings that are so familiar to all of us. I trust it doesn't infringe copyright to include two of my favourite poems here: Firstly: "The Album" (and the photo of the empty bench at Temple Newsam seems somehow to fit this!)

I see you, a child
In a garden sheltered for buds and playtime,
Listening as if beguiled
By a fancy beyond your years and the flowering maytime.
The print is faded: soon there will be
No trace of that pose enthralling,
Nor visible echo of my voice distantly calling
‘Wait! Wait for me!’

Then I turn the page
To a girl who stands like a questioning iris
By the waterside, at an age
That asks every mirror to tell what the heart’s desire is.
The answer she finds in that oracle stream
Only time could affirm or disprove,
Yet I wish I was there to venture a warning, ‘Love
Is not what you dream.’

Next, you appear
As if garlands of wild felicity crowned you –
Courted, caressed, you wear
Like immortelles the lovers and friends around you.
‘They will not last you, rain or shine,
They are but straws and shadows,’
I cry: ‘Give not to those charming desperadoes
What was made to be mine.’

One picture is missing –
The last. It would show me a tree stripped bare
By intemperate gales, her amazing
Noonday of blossom spoilt which promised so fair.
Yet scanning those scenes at your heyday taken,
I tremble, as one who must view
In the crystal a doom he could never deflect- yes, I too
Am fruitlessly shaken.

I close the book;
But the past slides out its leaves to haunt me
And it seems, wherever I look,
Phantoms of irreclaimable happiness taunt me.
Then I see her, petalled in new-blown hours,
Beside me – ‘All you love most there
Has blossomed again,’ she murmurs, ‘all that you missed there
Has grown to be yours.’

And "Walking Away"

It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –
A sunny day with leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away
Behind a scatter of boys. I can see
You walking away from me towards the school
With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free
Into a wilderness, the gait of one
Who finds no path where the path should be.

That hesitant figure, eddying away
Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,
Has something I never quite grasp to convey
About nature’s give-and-take – the small, the scorching
Ordeals which fire one’s irresolute clay.
I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show –
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Flaming June

This is the finest time of year in England! For all our damp climate and rainy times and unpredictable weather, when the sky is changing through various shades of blue between nine and ten-thirty at night, there is a stirring about the whole of Nature coming alive again. The herbs and plants flousish, the trees are suddenly laden with foliage and the whole world seems new again! The moment the sun comes out in England, everyone dashes outdoors. Office workers eat their lunch on the bits of grass or benches in the city; hospital patients are wheeled outside; we rush towards it and cling to it, like every summer might not come again for many years...and oh! How the 'mad dogs and English men' adore 'the midday sun!' James Russell Lowell's lovely poem captures it perfectly, alongside pre-Raphaelite Leighton's painting of 'Flaming June'/

And what so rare a day is June!
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;
Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;
The flush of life may well be seen
Thrilling back over hills and valleys;
The cowslip startles in meadows green,
The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there's never a leaf nor a blade too mean
To be some happy creature's palace;
The little bird sits at his door in the sun,
Atilt like a blossom among the leaves,
And lets his illumined being o'errun
With the deluge of summer it receives;
His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings,
And the heart in her dumb breast flutters and sings;
He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest,-
In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best?