201. Letting thoughts pass.

One of the recommendations handed out on my transcendental meditation course is to let intruding thoughts come and go during the 20 minutes, watching their passing with complete neutrality. Friends tell me that mindfulness involves a similar stance, and I can recall being advised along these lines by Buddhist teachers.

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It was particularly helpful that the TM teacher underlined how normal these thoughts are, whatever their nature, and how they should not be fought. ‘Will I know when 20 minutes have elapsed?’ ‘Should I e-mail my cousin, to see how she is?’ ‘Will I be able to maintain concentration if my family make a noise?’ ‘Should I scratch my ear, or ignore it?’ ‘Can West Ham beat Watford on Saturday?’ ‘Will I get that job at the local hospital?’

Further advice was to treat sexual images, which definitely have intruded, in the same way. And to deal with feelings and emotions – anger, love, discomfort, worry – in exactly this manner. They come, and they will go. As will the constant questions over how to best breathe, whether I have the correct mantra sound, and how long to leave between each repetition.

It was like a permission to be totally oneself in parallel with the meditation. Very liberating for someone who struggles with most rules.

A surprising revelation occurred during this morning’s session, my 18th day in. The intruding thoughts had almost disappeared. Mantra, mantra, mantra, and more mantra, taking me at accelerated pace to somewhere very spacious within.

As the day has unwound, something else became clear, also for the first time. My physical, exoteric, waking, external life has become less prey to intrusive thoughts and emotions. The here and now is tangibly more abundant. The colour of the leaves, the feel of the breeze, smell of the toast and the crinkles in the toilet paper.

Inevitably, I still get triggered into old ways. Maureen had BBC Essex Radio on this morning. The female newsreader at 10.00 talked of Jeffrey Epstein’s “suicide” in the US, without using qualifying words such as apparent, purported, ostensible or alleged.  For a while, I had a little rant about the sheer ineptitude of mainstream media, but with less venom than in the past.

Nonetheless the story stinks. And, honestly, you do not have to be a so-called ‘conspiracy theorist’ to perceive with some certainty that it would be extremely difficult to commit suicide in an ultra-secure holding prison, where over 750 inmates are held but only one such case had occurred over the past 21 years. Just someone with a brain, and a smattering of logic.

Of course, as the plebs at the bottom rung of the information ladder, there is always so much we do not or cannot know. However it is common knowledge that Epstein was a key witness in a global, under-age sex-trafficking operation, who appears to have bragged of his destructive information about a large number of very powerful people. His acquaintances, among many others, included Prince Andrew, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.

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Nonetheless the official narrative handed down is that 11 days after being placed on suicide watch, as Epstein was after already allegedly trying to take his own life in July, he was taken off suicide watch ‘at his lawyer’s request’.

And then, against prison rules, that his cellmate was removed on August 9, one day before Epstein’s death.

At the time of his demise, the mandated 30-minute checks by prison guards had reportedly ceased. Prison protocol had ‘magically’ broken down. And, in a prison room deliberately constructed without a steel frame, bars or protruding light fixtures, Epstein ‘hung himself’. Using a bedsheet deliberately designed with a paper-thin quality, and thus of insufficient strength to hang a full adult.

It’s a cracking yarn. Tarted up and polished, it could grace the front page of the Beano. Not unlike the Skripals surviving the ‘deadliest nerve gas known to man’ in Salisbury.

Half-decent journalists would rip apart these and other mind-numbing stories (eg. the anti-semitism in the Labour Party, or Trump’s collusion with Russia) as utter drivel. Instead, the lesser writers that get to work at the dailies typically toe the official line. I can only guess that they are given editorial direction from above.

I liked a recent tweet from Cornell University professor Dave Callum. Who said: “I am a ‘conspiracy theorist’. I believe men and women of wealth and power conspire. If you don’t think so, then you are what is called ‘an idiot’. If you do believe stuff but fear the label, you are what is called ‘a coward’.”

I’m at the stage where the powers-that-be, and institutions of government, have lied for so long, and so often, that it’s difficult not just to trust them but even to pay them any serious attention. The same goes for the news agencies and outlets that disseminate their narratives.

Frankly, it is better to be in the sunshine, or anywhere in nature, or to read a compelling novel, or chat with a loved one, than to ruminate too deeply on any of this stuff. That seems clearer than ever.

 

200. Down the TM tunnel.

Two weeks ago I began practising transcendental meditation (TM). I’m so glad I did.

Meditation is a familiar pursuit, after a memorable immersion in Hanmi Buddhist disciplines back in 2011-12 (Blog 126). I let that practice lapse for a number of reasons, primarily lack of time and money, alongside the instinct that I had almost emptied the well of good things obtained quickly, and should quit while ahead.

Film director David Lynch, of Twin Peaks and other fames, swung it for me on the TM front. IMHO, there are few public figures more trustworthy than DL, whose love for TM has seen him set up the David Lynch Foundation, established to bring greater peace to the planet.

Hearing him talk earlier this year about the multiple benefits of TM (led by happiness, health and creativity) made it imperative to try it out (Blog 158). You can see it shine out of him.

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It’s not cheap to learn the techniques, although I received a discount, for my relative poverty. 15 days in, I reckon it might be worth every penny of the £390.

The teaching venue was located just outside Chelmsford. Four lads, all around 20 years younger than me, were my co-inductees. A couple of them were clearly very certain about how they move in the world, very sovereign in their nature. So it was fascinating to witness how they had to assimilate and accommodate what is essentially a giving up of oneself to an unknown process.

It is giving little away to say that you are instructed to sit quietly, eyes closed, for 20 minutes, twice a day, not having eaten for two hours. You repeat, internally, soundlessly, an individually-tailored mantra (phrase). Those are the nuts and bolts.

I have some mega-happy memories of meditating. In 2011-12, I was fortunate enough to have experienced amazingly blissful sensations up and down the median from my stomach to my forehead, something akin to raw surges of ecstasy through what eastern religions term as the chakras. I had no expectation that TM might provide similar feelings, but it has. A stellar physical bonus.

And then there is the unexplainable process. A feeling of falling deep within oneself, deeper and down, entering a zone where the physical is felt as being far away. We were told that this is a dip into the field of pure consciousness, where healing and creativity bubble up. Whatever it is, I tend to come out of it with a start, like that sensation where you are just about to fall asleep, and feel as if you have fallen out of the tree, somewhere on the African plains. Yet the refreshment derived is immense, as if you have bathed in a pool of energy. I can feel a form of electricity in my hands, which tingle with warmth.

Outside the daily practice, a tangible benefit comes when awakening each morning. There have been times in the recent past when I have thought “ah shit, more of this poxy struggle to stay alive”. Now it is usually a languorous stretch, after a deep sleep, and an optimistic anticipation of the day bringing joys.

Confidence has risen. Quietly, beneath the radar. And I am more inclined to chuckle at things. Maureen will second that. Or to be playful, as in my Instagram photo yesterday, entitled ‘lemon squash’.

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To be more precise, anxieties, some of them deep-seated, have begun – gradually but inexorably – to dilute and diminish. Headed by the worry of how we will make ends meet financially. The summer light and heat, which I adore, have offered an antidote in recent months, but the stresses are merely buried, temporarily, and would have shot up again in the autumn darkening that lays ahead.

Yet, in the space of just over a fortnight those stresses have diminished, palpably, to the extent that I can perhaps see why Mr Lynch says, quite simply, that “you get happier, each day, doing TM”.

Can’t beat being happy. Really hope it continues.

And it’s definitely time to recommence regular blogs, as the days shorten, and life outside comes with rising limits attached.

 

 

 

 

 

199. OUT OF ESSEX – PROLOGUE

 

“Perhaps God and the Devil danced hand in hand around every single electron.”

Patricia Highsmith

 

 

After the Beginning, a dream team emerged, led by God.

She span thoughts and seeded souls from The Place. In time, dead humans boomeranged back, ready for processing.

Deep in reverie, God recruited Satan, to dish out karma. His welcomes varied, in alignment with natural law. Typically something hot in the rectum, for arriving monarchs and popes. Vlad the Impaler’s incoming soul underwent a hefty pricking.

But if Jesus popped down for a chat, Satan whipped out a bottle of vintage single malt, guaranteed to obliterate distinctions between above and below.

If quizzed on her operation, God would cite Dante’s Inferno, which placed the most illustrious ‘Ring of Hell’ close to the splendour of her Queendom.

It was Earth that tested God’s patience. Her entire Word boiled down to ‘loving thy neighbour as thyself’. But her big experiment, free will, had weaved never-ending circles of war, greed, lust and reincarnation.

By 1966, her heart was all but broken, and it showed. Time magazine was asking ‘Is God Dead?’ John Lennon proclaimed the Beatles as ‘more popular than Jesus’.

Fast forward, again, to September 2008, when the collapse of Lehman Brothers spawned the world’s biggest financial crisis. God called Satan upstairs. Jesus joined them, recalling tables he once kicked over.

Humanity’s catastrophic trajectory lay lucidly clear. God had long gnashed her teeth at the financial house of cards which had wormed into all layers of society. But who to blame, above and beyond herself? Knights Templars? The House of Medici? Dutch merchant financiers? All had developed international banking systems, funding not just trade but conflict, through loans that charged exorbitant interest rates to support wars. By the time that Charles II placed control of England’s money supply in private hands, in 1666, unnatural spirits were abroad, sucking greedily, as human desire for money outstripped curiosity about its creation.

Losing sleep, God had watched leading banking families extend their bloodlines into Europe’s royal families. In 1815, said some historians, the House of Rothschild – originally from Eastern Europe – used near real-time information on the Napoleonic wars to manipulate share markets, resulting in control of the Bank of England.

Satan was just as uneasy. He watched the control points of global wealth become increasingly hidden. Buried in an opaque ownership web which included an expanding media, able to manipulate truth with growing ease. “Bloody hell Jesus,” said Satan. “Have you noticed how big banking names are increasingly absent in media reports, because they own more and more of the media?”

Incoming financiers provided Satan’s optimal calling. He would work himself to exhaustion in the Place’s deepest dungeons. Optimistic that glimpses of love and compassion could somehow be cajoled from those who had practised fractional reserve banking and slapped on compound interest. But this breed tested every edge of his ability to guide fresh karmic courses. Returning to his wife and boys, disconsolate, he would refer to these souls as “the least among us”.

Rumours that banking clans were in league with the Devil took no account of his furies: the unleashing of fists, tail, teeth and even pliers on each arriving parasite. In the afterglow, Satan would contact Jesus immediately. In a quiet room, he received glorious bursts of purple light from his friend’s healing hands.

That radiance was needed by the shedload in 1913. Howling with sadness, Satan watched free will do its worst. The US Federal Reserve was set up by the clans via a December 23 vote taken when most Congressmen had gone home. The Fed, as it became known, still controls the supply of US money, profiting from each new dollar entering circulation. Soothed by a crate of Glenmorangie, the Firm – as God thought of her team – looked on. The Place boasted wide-screen technology that could hone in anywhere on Earth

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph it’s privately-owned – the inmates are running the asylum,” shouted God. Jesus gently poured another round. His instincts said the Fed would crucify the planet.

Several overly-inquisitive souls noted how three well-known opponents of the incipient Federal Reserve perished in 1912. Benjamin Guggenheim, Isador Strauss and John Jacob Astor had all foreseen a dismal future if American money creation sat in private hands. Each accepted invitations to sail on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. Satan’s eye was caught when James Pierpoint Morgan cancelled his ticket, to prolong a visit to Europe. Morgan owned the White Star Line group which built the Titanic, and possessed a private suite and promenade deck on the ship. Several scurrilous individuals said the payout JP Morgan collected from the sinking was used as Fed seed money.

Given the trends, nobody at The Place was surprised by the horrors of World War One, or Wall Street’s massive 1929 crash. Jesus and a host of angels caught a percentage of bankers plunging from windows, but God’s gloomy outlook was unravelling. Nobody on Earth could prove allegations that conspiring individuals profited from the crash, through a long-planned contraction of the money supply.

The Second World War provided chilling notice that a particular surname required urgent monitoring. Union Banking Corporation (UBC) dismayed The Firm by becoming a secret channel to protect Nazi capital leaving Germany for the United States via the Netherlands. On the executive board was Prescott Bush, father of future American President George Herbert Walker Bush and grandfather of President George W Bush.

The Firm watched in abject misery as private US finance supported and aided Adolph Hitler whilst American soldiers were being killed by German troops. It remains widely documented that in October 1942, US authorities confiscated Nazi funds from the New York-based UBC. God knew her human experiment was in deepest shit. UBC was condemned as a financial and commercial collaborator with the enemy.

It was not just financiers in bed with the Nazis. The role of the Vatican as a conduit for German money and scientists, both of which fled in droves to Latin America before the Allied forces arrived, could raise God’s wrath to Old Testament levels. “You deceitful bastard!” she shouted, throwing a whisky glass at the screens, as the details of Operation Paperclip became clearer. The Catholic Church was protecting individuals responsible for the Holocaust. “Pius XII you are a bloody disgrace to my name,” she screamed.

She had been almost as angry with the Church in the 4th century, when the Council of Nicea and Synod of Rome contrived to delete a barrow-load of information from the Bible. If God could have changed one thing, she might have restored the Book of Enoch, which had disappeared completely from the Biblical canon by 750 AD. Enoch told of Watcher Angels, ordered to Earth by God to act as mankind’s lookouts. Instead, said Enoch, they impregnated females, created humans, and were expelled from Heaven.

“Reckon anyone will think harder about Enoch now?” asked God, after film director Steven Spielberg released his successful films ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, in 1977, followed by ‘ET’, in 1982.

“Nah” said the Devil, “they’re all too busy dancing to Madonna and calculating their property values”.

Global trends nagged increasingly. Latin American state assets began to disappear into private hands, following Milton Friedman’s theory that prices should be freed, and socialists imprisoned. As Argentine and Chilean military threw people out of helicopters, Margaret Thatcher, the UK Prime Minister, dove deeper into her dreams, throwing British miners out of jobs, and turfing the mentally ill onto uncaring streets. God felt sick most days, whereas Maggie felt there was nothing she could not sort out.

Shenanigans of every shade kept The Firm on its toes as the Millennium came and went. On 11 September 2001, the hairs in Satan’s nose twitched uncontrollably. The attacks on the US triggered rumours of financial collusion and controlled demolitions. But the Devil’s most acute observation was how hysterical media coverage completely overshadowed a televised confession from US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the previous day. Rumsfeld said the Pentagon was unable to account for a trifling US$2.3 trillion of missing money. By pure coincidence, the relevant financial records were destroyed in the 9/11 attacks. The lost funds were written off.

“Wow,” said Satan. “Quite a frigging coincidence.” Jesus was unfazed. “Being human is to suffer loss”, he noted.

Worse was to come. When Allied troops were sent to Iraq in 2003. Satan watched in fascinated horror as the US military forces subjected Fallujah to attacks in March and November 2004 which involved white phosphorus and depleted uranium. Subsequent birth defects in the city included babies born without parts of their skulls; missing genitalia, limbs and eyes; severe brain damage; unusual rates of paralysing spina bifida; and encephalocele, marked by swollen sac-like protusions from the head.

The Devil vowed to eradicate the chief warmongers when they reached his end of the line. There would be no rehabilitation and no reincarnation, not even as an apple pip, as Jesus proposed. Proof of humanity’s growing mental illness came in 2009, when Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State, publicly stated that half a million Iraqi child deaths, once sanctions were included, were “worth it”. Satan cried himself to sleep that night.

Two years earlier, when the 2007 US subprime mortgage crisis erupted, God seriously began to wonder what she had put in the DNA. Traders with a bank named Goldman Sachs profited handsomely by ‘shorting’ mortgage-backed securities they knew to be almost worthless, in a process which saw countless Americans lose their homes. Goldman Sachs was significantly linked into Federal Reserve money and control. As billions were pumped from the poorest to the richest, God looked on incredulously. Her dreams bulged with towering, mile-high waves that drowned all human greed. She would wake with the familiar, nagging question: was it time to rewind and restart?

In autumn 2008, the Lehman crisis engulfed almost the entire empire of OECD banks, forcing various governments to instigate bailouts worth trillions of dollars. All footed by taxpayers.

Capitalism had failed. Demonstrably. Yet bankers who had lost their heftiest financial market bets continued to snort up fresh swills of money. God also noticed more people on Earth saying she did not exist. A final straw came when Western governments started tightening up welfare payments.

The stress of working for the Firm during this era took a grievous toll on the partners. Perhaps it was the whisky that flowed copiously at the “Maggie meeting”, as they later called it, that inspired the decision to draft a conviction politician into their team. Aged 83, Thatcher was in the throes of dementia: struggling to finish sentences, unable to remember her address and often forgetting that her husband Denis was dead. Yet, when God eventually looked at the meeting’s minutes, well into the next day, Maggie’s name was written clearly. Next to one other word: ‘Essex’.

When Satan eventually hoofed it back to his quarters, unsteadily, the three boys were asleep, tails hanging from their beds. “I love you all,” he whispered. Morgana, his wife, flashed a familiar glint. Kisses evolved to a brief, gentle spell of penetration, before the spines surrounding the base of his penis became too raised and painful for her.

Neither Satan’s drunkenness nor his genitalia interfered with a second phase they had developed, after decades of advice and tuition from another colleague, the Buddha. They caressed, gently licking each other’s tail, sensing energy flow from the lower torso to a point behind their eyes, before cascading down in spirals. Repeating the procedure, their bodies vibrated at ever-higher frequencies until Satan’s head exploded in a kaleidoscope of pleasure, where even Morgana’s yelps were inaudible. He drifted away, dreaming of Maggie enacting a series of karate positions.

Five years passed. Then she arrived.

198. Summer catches its breath

The combine harvesters were out last night, beams illuminating the fields. With July’s heat blast behind, it is the happiest thing to sit outside. In the comfortable warmth and shallow breeze, I have been reading ‘In the Company of Angels’, by Thomas E Kennedy. Poignant, beautiful writing about the nature of ageing, death, sex, survival, compassion and love as summer peaks in Copenhagen.

One of my most glaring omissions, until around seven years ago, has been an insufficient attention to the seasons. Living in suburban streets can do that. Now I am transfixed by the shape and fruit of our courgette, dexterously positioned near the patio to elude the slugs and snails.

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There is a ripening in the air. Handfuls of accessible blackberries, tomatoes showing red, and cucumbers to come.

first tomatoes

Squashes completing their fattening.

squash

But runner bean flowers almost depleted.

Last bean flowers

The moths are so at home that they land on me. The pigeons have never come so close to the house, wings beating musically on their rounds. Wasps stagger drunkenly around the ripest fruits.

Our more recent holiday history is such that thoughts of the Peak District are never far away. The riverside in Bakewell, the joy of climbing Win Hill, the circularity of The Manifold walk, and the views across Cressbrook Dale, after coaxing reluctant family members to the adjacent heights.

cressbrook dale

Joy-filled memories of visits to Hathersage, Chatsworth, Holmfirth, Chesterfield, Ashbourne and Buxton. Recollections of the Peak in August make me sing inside. We undertook three testing walks on our first visit in 2002. I was almost out of my body in sheer delight.

No holiday this year, but two and a half weeks of no work whatsoever looming ahead, as summer’s second half peacefully unwinds. An acceleration of the search for work, and some rewriting, to slot alongside the dedication to quiet contemplation. And a dive into transcendental meditation, just begun.

 

 

197. Tilly, Georgia and David

On Friday afternoon, we were sitting outside in the cooler air with Evan and Tilly, two children that Maureen looks after three days each week.

“You’ve written a book Kevin, haven’t you,” said Tilly, in her quiet, knowledgeable, 10-year-old manner.

“Yes, it’s called ‘Out of Essex’, and your family has a copy.”

“Mm.”

The ensuing silence pretty much guaranteed I would add more.

“I had 50 copies printed for friends and family……But you can’t buy it.”

“Mm.”

“I suppose I could have published it as an e-book, for kindle……But I didn’t get enough feedback that encouraged me. So I’m not sure if it would be worth all the trouble.”

“Mm.”

Maureen said later that the book had been left on a settee in Tilly’s house. My wife has witch senses working for her. “Are we being told something,” she asked me.

Yesterday I spent a few hours reading it again. It needs work, but grabbed me time and time again. I say that with humility.

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This morning it turned out we have both been thinking the same thing. That I begin rewriting it, during the remaining summer downtime. And blog some chapters. See how it feels.

With the summer heat in abeyance, my writing fingers are twitching. Maureen showed me a quote from artist Georgia O’Keefe this morning. “I have already settled it for myself, so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free.”

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That resonated.

Some other things are falling into place. The last four Sunday mornings we have attended a Hanmi Buddhist meditation near my dad’s house in Brentwood. For both of us, each session has improved on its predecessor. It was a full house this morning, 25 bums on seats. There is a magic in the 40 minutes that words cannot capture.

And I have kept my (David Lynch-inspired) promise to try out transcendental meditation. A weekend course starts this coming Friday. Looking forward to that.

195. Physicality, 3 (feat. P. Stalsis)

The demise of NewsBase in early May has suddenly thrown up spare time. So I get myself outdoors whenever possible.

One overcast Thursday, a few weeks back, rain was predicted, following buckets of the stuff several days earlier. I didn’t fancy a drenching out on the bike, but had been climbing the walls at home. I felt called by my favourite walk, along the Essex Way footpath.

Heading northeast from Great Waltham to Great Leighs, about 4 miles away. Under an ominous sky.

start plus one

The trek started with a surprise.

cows path

For over four years, I have talked quietly, gently and lovingly to the local cow herd, trying to cajole them to the fence for meaningful intercourse. I have whispered promises of lush grass and their partner of choice, under the watchful eye of the bull.

bull nuts

They never showed much interest until now.

 

 

The route over the next couple of miles enchants and soothes me.

 

 

Then comes the small, picturesque hamlet of Chatham Green. Its structures and sights give as much pleasure now as they first did four years ago.

Chatham Green

 Walking is a no-brainer. Great exercise. And these rural routes are easy on the eye, even more so in June. The workout is also a way to liberate new thought, and perhaps find inspiration. I’ve been dwelling on work matters, inevitably.

The NewsBase collapse has cut away one of my two main sources of revenue. Replacing the lost work requires somehow finding a part-time job that pays £1300/month yet still allows me to get on with remaining tasks.

One initiative has been to try and create jobs tailored to my strengths. I’ve written to a number of export credit agencies in Europe, offering my services as an English writer. Not heard anything yet. Have also applied for a couple of advertised writing jobs, to no avail.

Always see the upside. For the last 26 years, my working weeks have stolen most of my precious time. So I am enjoying the easier life, but paying deep attention to conversations, messages and every other potential smoke signal that tickles my radar.

The Essex Way (no relation to TOWIE) strays off road again. Over the next section I work up a sweat, as it gets warmer. I’m carrying a waterproof coat, purely because heavy rain looks likely.

Jubilee Wood

 

 

 

Then I arrive at my favourite stopping point on the walk: Little Leighs Church.

church 1

I leg it out here four or five times a year, often when moods are darker. And sit quietly on the bench, letting the sun and wind blast away all thought. Nowhere locally offers such solace. No religious inclinations are involved, just the need to unpack myself from cramped mental boxes. I love the untamed way in which the graveyard and adjacent fields merge, no fence.

 

Not far past the church, a bridge crosses a small stream. By gorgeous cottages and gardens.

 

Logic and instinct both say this place is perceived by others as magical. I have seen offerings left down by the water on previous walks. Flowers and food. And, sure enough, here is a red heart placed upon a log. Who could M be? Or W?

M heart

Great Leighs is nearing. My stomach rumbling. A hundred yards from the path, sculpted figures stand oddly above reeds, weeds and water.

figures in field

They remind me that my dream last night ended with the actual smell on my real pillow of the swamp that I had visited while asleep. And that much in our world cannot be accounted for empirically. Consciousness, near-death experiences and the behaviour of sub-atomic particles, to name just three puzzles.

The Castle pub looms. I need to ‘chuck up my trotters’, as Danny Dyer says in Eastenders.

another view of pub

This pub is claimed to be England’s oldest. Formerly called the St Annes Castle.

england's oldest inn

It was taken into new management, revamped and overhauled several years back. The manager and staff are friendly enough. The car park slowly fills as I sit outside. Lots of older people arriving for lunch. There is also good business to be had from the crowd at Chelmsford racecourse, just down the road. The premises are clean. Everything works efficiently.

None of which changes my take. If you have something unique, then display and use it. But the opportunity to leverage the building’s history, as England’s oldest boozer, is all but buried, confined to little more than a small sign outside.

pub heritage

Swallowed by the ‘Pie and Pint Inns’ franchise. Choking and smothering the past. Interrupting these thoughts, the barman brings my scran. It’s decent enough.

 

 

It has started to rain. On goes the coat. I feel good, body robustly used over the past couple of hours. Starting back to Little Leighs, I reflect on something that I have been smiling quietly about for the past week.

On May 28, I wrote the universe a letter.

I did. Really. Honest guv. In my own handwriting, in blue ink. “Dear universe”, it began.

Then a few paragraphs, to say a heartfelt thanks for the pleasures and treasures of my first 62 years, and would it be possible to help out a bit more? Just for a while? I put it in an envelope, bought a stamp, (to show the universe I was serious), and surreptitiously slid it into my local postbox. Addressed to ‘The Universe’. Yes indeed.

The next day, round at my brother Neil’s watching football, he handed me a cheque. “Should help you out for a bit,” he said. I was overwhelmed with gratitude, joy and the beginnings of wonder.

The real twist came a week later. Neil rang to say that Dad had just days ago been contacted by an insurance company. Mum (lost to us in 2006, bless her) had quietly taken out an insurance policy on her own life back in 1953. 13 years after her death, the underwriters decided to check out whether she was still alive, and discovered that she had long gone. Would he care to claim the money? Neil told how he had persuaded Dad to send the proceeds my way. Which he has. Neil knows nothing of my vague occult proclivities, or of letters to universes.

If you want to argue that all this would have happened in any case, knock yourself out. Fill your boots. How can magic exist, you ask? How might it work? By what laws?

I have no idea. But more than once I have encountered the notion of asking the universe for help when in dire need. And to show a little gratitude.

One theme stands out from a bit of reading about magic: that you should strive to capture the attention of whoever runs the show (the Gods? the creator? a universal consciousness?), given the hefty volume of human prayers and requests flying their way.

Maybe it was the unbridled laughter of the postmen in Chelmsford sorting office, as they collapsed weeping, in heaps. Might that have nudged the hidden gears in our favour?

It’s not just money – which will help to tide us over a little longer – that has manifested. Our son Rory returned from university on June 1, with changed habits and routines. He has entered a Cheltenham half-marathon in September. He runs around the local lanes in preparation, as well as playing 6-a-side soccer for the first time. He is organising himself, unlike ever before. His sleeping patterns, once Dracula-like, now resemble those of his parents. Result.

I’m halfway back to Chatham Green, thinking about this stuff. The rain is heavier. I’m sweating inside my coat. Not for the first time, the growing scientific theory that we exist in a massively sophisticated computer simulation, controlled from without, slithers across my grey matter. If so, the idea of fate makes more sense than free will. And a letter to the universe? Might that be a simple ‘cheat’ to leap ahead in the game?

I have trotted six miles or so by the time Chatham Green hoves into view. A coffee would work wonders, but the pub is closed. Many rural pubs are trimming their opening hours, as expenses rise and the drinking clientele of old has to drive home soberly.

Windmill times

The picture below – of a footpath that I nickname ‘Moses’ – was the last that I took on the walk, as my mobile ran out of juice.

Moses

With a couple of miles still to go, physicality kicks right in. Essence of physicality. Still mainly dry in the hardening rain, albeit sopping with sweat, I realise that my bowels are beginning to niggle for evacuation. Minor requests, for now. But no toilets available until home.

It’s like being a kid again. Caught short and having to hang on. As a boy I would seek release in fields or woods. No hesitation in repeating that, 50 years later, but the downpour would add unwelcome complexity. I decide to lean into this problem, by talking to my lower intestinal movements. “OK Peri, just hold your horses a bit longer,” I suggest. “Mr Stalsis, could you possibly delay gratification?” I ask, politely.

I chant Buddhist mantras from 2012. The Medicine Buddha and Great Compassion Mantra. Buddhism was designed to tackle all kinds of suffering. Then the Lotus Sutra, first used in 1993, shortly before my old mate Jon Marks offered me an apprenticeship in journalism. Killing time. Distracting me.

I reach Howe Street, one mile to go. Each step seems to add infinitesimal momentum to the inner urges. It is helpful, and drier, to sit awhile at a bus stop.

Off again, five minutes later. I remember that Rory has asked me how many Arsenal players I would bring into West Ham’s first team, given the option. That keenly occupies the mind, as Peri throbs and thrums within me. Back at the outskirts of Great Waltham, tight-anused, I have assessed the Hammers as potentially so good that only three swaps are necessary. Monreal in at left-back; Torreira to replace Mark Noble; and Aubameyang somewhere up front.

Mr Stalsis will not be, cannot be, denied for much longer. A downhill stretch now, with each footfall triggering minor new pressures. A couple of hundred yards to go, and I dip into my last resort, to fend off these inexorable knocks at my back door.

I will try and augment my happiest list: memorable sexual moments. Could there be a relatively recent addition or two, despite our relationship of over 37 years? This captures the imagination magnificently, nurturing and beguiling me through almost all of the final stretch. There is a possible qualifier, I reckon.

And then I stop. Outside the house. Deliberately. Calling his bluff. “Who’s the Daddy then Peri?” I whisper, teasingly. He suffers that for a second or two.

Then unleashes a twisting gut tsunami that sends me sprinting for the front door, whipping out the key, and then diving inside, nearly there. I start to undress rapidly as I stumble through the kitchen and fall into the downstairs loo.

No need to describe the ensuing moment. Except to say that it was pure, magical, and rooted utterly in the now. Physicality incarnate.

 

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