Friday, 30 December 2011

Chapter 3 Rafael Leaves the Monastery

This is a continuation of a longer story. For those not familiar with the story so far, please read the posts:

 "The Start" at,
Chapter 1, "Thelonius The Monk",
Chapter  1 continued "The Monk",
and Chapter 2 "Tom's Journey"

Chapter 3 – Rafael Leaves the Monastery

Day followed day, and slowly, Rafael’s health improved. He began to grow familiar with the strange, slow routines of monastery life. And slowly, he began to grow familiar with Thelonius too. As the boy’s strength returned, he started to follow the monk around as he undertook his daily tasks. They spoke little, but gradually, an ease developed between them, between the man who had lived in this isolated spot for so many years, and the boy who remembered nothing outside the beautiful palace.

Rafael began to grow comfortable – but he knew he could not stay here. The dreams were back, reminding him that he must travel west, must find the other boy. It sounded too crazy to speak of this, though, so for many days, he simply lived and grew strong again inside the slow rhythms and silences of the monastery.
Finally, a day came when he felt he must speak to Thelonius, tell him of these strange dreams and the strange pull to the west. They were in the garden, Thelonius digging a fresh bed, Rafael sitting in the shade of a small tree. Rafael was unsure how to start.

“I want to talk to you about something”, he said eventually. “Something important.” Thelonius looked up at him, and then bent again to his digging. “It is part of the rule that we do not speak between mealtimes. But sometimes, I think, the rule was made to be broken. In any event, I think I shall be listening more than speaking. So go ahead”.

Taking a deep breath, Rafael began. “All I know is the palace. I don’t remember a life before the palace, although the cook told me I was brought there as a young child, maybe three or four years old? I’m a slave. I WAS a slave. That sounds terrible, but actually, you know, it wasn’t so bad. The palace is a beautiful place. You cannot begin to imagine how beautiful the courtyard is in the early morning sun, with the birds in their cages beginning to sing. The palace is the only home I know.” Rafael stopped speaking, as, to his surprise; he found a lump forming in his throat. Thelonius glanced up at him, and then again bent his head to his digging. “It must feel strange to not be there anymore” he commented. “Yes.” Rafael replied. “Strange. I don’t really believe it in a way. Nobody leaves the palace. Nobody. Well, no slaves, anyway. People come, new slaves arrive, but nobody leaves.” He paused again. “Anyway, I started to have dreams. The same dreams, over and over. In them, in these dreams, there is a boy; he lives somewhere very different, in a dark city, a grey city. The buildings in this place are all black and grey, not pink like my palace. I don’t know who he is, or where this place is, but in my dreams, I know that I must find him, that there is something we must do together.”

Rafael stopped, feeling foolish. Now that he had spoken the words out loud, they seemed to make no sense. He had been staring at the ground in front of his feet; now he looked towards the monk. Thelonius was still, slowly and methodically, turning the soil. He said nothing. He said nothing for several minutes. Then he said. “Perhaps later, we can go to the library. There are many old books there. Maybe we can try to find a picture of the place you dream of”.

Rafael took a deep breath. “That’s not all. I also dream of a hot place, with small bushes and trees, and goats grazing, and stones standing on a hill. The stones were put there long ago. I know that’s where I have to go.”

Neither said anything for a long time. When the bell rang for the midday meal, they silently went inside, and silently ate the simple meal of soup and bread.

After lunch, Thelonius approached the librarian, Brother Jacob, and quietly asked permission to bring the boy to the library. The library was the monastery’s greatest treasure. Gathered here, a treasury of books, some illustrated, others not. With some suspicion, Brother Jacob grudgingly gave the key to the room to Thelonius, and the monk and the boy made their way deep into the heart of the monastery, where the library lay, protected from any potential dangers.

Rafael had never seen books before. He could not read. But Thelonius patiently opened one illustrated book after another, hoping there may be something in them that the boy recognised. As he turned pages of books showing the geography of the world, and its people, Rafael’s head span. He had not realised how big this world was. His imagination had been unable to go past first the palace and the Western wastelands, and now this monastery and collection of silent men. Tears formed in his eyes, and he raised his head, eyes glistening, to Thelonius. “The world is too big. I can’t do this. I don’t know what I’m doing, or why. Please – can you forget I spoke? Can I just stay here with you? I can work in the garden, I can work in the fields, I can tend the animals. Please. Forget I said anything.”

Thelonius sighed deeply. He had grown more than fond of this boy, and would love nothing better than for Rafael to stay here, to join them in the order, join the slow rhythm of monastery life. He also knew he had grown attached to the boy, and attachment was against the Rule. “No more for today”, he said. “But I believe in your dreams, and believe you have a task to do. We’ll speak again, when you feel stronger.”

Looking stricken and rejected, Rafael nodded quickly, swallowed his tears, and followed Thelonius out of the room. Carefully, Thelonius locked the door; the two then found Brother Jacob and returned the key to his safekeeping.
They had just returned to their work in the garden, Rafael sitting under the tree, Thelonius stooping and digging. In the distance, a low rumbling began. Thelonius glanced at the sky. Thunder? No, no sign of a storm. He stood and walked to the gate and passing through the gate, up to the top of the low rise, from where he would have a better view in all directions. The rumble came from the North. Far on the horizon, at the base of the foothills, a cloud of dust was rising. Panic rose in Thelonius throat with the dust. Panic and fear. Horsemen from the north were never good news. They swept through, leaving destruction in their waking, taking what they wanted, slaying anyone in their path. As if in slow motion, he began to run, shouting to the boy, “run, run, run”. Together, they ran back into the garden, stopping to bolt the gate behind them. It wouldn’t hold long, but might buy them a minute or two.
“Brothers, horsemen from the north” Thelonius screamed at the top of his voice. “Run, hide, run”. The monks scattered to their various hiding places. Raids like this were few and far between, once every ten years perhaps. But they were so terrible, so devastating, every monk had his place to hide; some would survive, some would be found and slaughtered. Thelonius reached the door to the cellar, and pushed Rafael down the steps, locking him in and pocketing the key. Then he ran to his own hiding place, a concealed shelf at the back of the pantry. He listened, trying to control his ragged, panicked breathing, as the Northmen stormed through the kitchens, gathering all they could, and destroying all they could not take. He listened as they swung their axes into the cellar door, and ran down the steps in their heavy boots. He listened to the boy’s terrified cries as they found him, and pulled him up the steps. He listened, heart thudding, to their cruel laughter, as they pushed and touched the boy, deciding what to do with him. Finally, he listened in horror as they dragged the weeping boy out of the kitchens. Hanging his head in shame, he wished he were a brave man, that he had the courage to leap out of his hiding place and defend the boy, try, however uselessly, to save him. They hadn’t killed him. That was something. They had taken him, though. They had taken him. Rafael was gone.

Not Ready, Yet

Not ready, yet, to leave this deep mid-winter. Days getting lighter, but spirit still deep in slumber. In that dark place of hibernation. Soul marinading in the dark. Absorbing the flavours and spices only darkness can provide. This dark mid-winter. This Yin time. Let's hibernate a little longer.


Strange How the Path Changes

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Crazy Starfish Conquistador

If I were a disciple, I could sit at the Master's feet,
And listen. When he spoke, I could be a GOOD
Disciple, and spread his word across the globe.
But I'm no disciple. I'm not. Instead, I'm un - disciplined.
I've tried for decades now to discipline myself, and
All to nought. All to nought, nought, nought. All that
Driving, and pushing, and striving - and still I find
The maverick flees. The good twin longs for
The Master to appear, to take us under his wing
And make us what we should be. The bad twin
Fights against the rules; forgets the practice; drinks;
And so I fight myself, driving, escaping, pushing
And running. Mastering myself, then fighting
The master. Undisciplined to the end.
Crazy starfish consquistador.

View from the Summit

On Christmas Eve, I took a walk up Mount Carrig. Its not a big hill, but although its visible from my kitchen window, its many years since I last went to the top. Most of it is easy walking, but towards the summit,.its extremely steep, and you have to scramble up the rocks.
I thought I was great until a rock tipped under my foot, and I slid sideways amid big rocks and boulders. As I fell, I felt certain I would break my ankle or my leg, and suddenly I realised that I might have no phone signal up here, and that I had not told anyone where I was going.
Visions of a cold, dark Christmas Eve stuck up here in the rocks passed through my mind in the nano seconds as I fell.
I managed to land with only a bruised shin. Picking myself up, I resumed the scrambling far more carefully.A voice in my head berating me "how old do you think you are? what do you think you're doing?"
I almost turned back. But something in me wanted to reach the summit.
Some minutes later, I got there. The wind was very strong up here, and I stood., alone, on the summit, arms outsretched, catching the wind. Up at the top, there is a fairly flat area of exposed Wicklow granite rock. I felt connected to the rock, to the wind, to the scenery, to the world. I felt connected to Christmas and the message of new life. I felt present.
                                                 It was worth the climb.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011


Two photos taken on the same walk on the same day.

You Are Here

You are here
You are love
You are alive
You are fantastic
You are unique
You are cosmic
You are connected
You are real
You are loved
You are cherished
You are needed
You are wanted
You are special
You are important

Start Living
         Start Loving
                Start relaxing into what you are
                         Start playing
                                Start being light
                                       Start being the light in the world

No yesterday                               No tomorrow
                           This moment

                                      Then that moment

                           Then this moment again

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Remember The Dragon?

This post follows on from The Siberian Dragon posted 7 December 2011

Remember the dragon? Remember
That cold, cold egg? This is a night
Of magic. A holy night, a time where
Miracles take place.

On the shortest day of the year,
The dragon abandons hope.
He rolls the egg out of the cave,
And gently down to the ice.

It's time to let go. He reaches
The hole in the ice, and pauses.
Looking towards the West, the
Sun is setting. The sun that hangs low.

Hanging low in the sky, it keeps
Vigil, over a sleeping earth. The dragon
Has lived long enough to know that
The days will lengthen again.

Has lived long enough to understand
Light and dark, shadow and light.
Still, he hesitates. It seems too final,
Somehow, to tip the egg into the hole.

As the sun disappears, he lifts one
Scaly paw, and rests it on the shell.
Startled, he thinks he feels the egg
Move. He bends his head down low,

And catches in that moment a vision
Of impossibility. The egg feels warm.
It seems to be cracking. A tiny beak
Appears through the shell. He watches.

Night turns to day. With the dawning
Of a new day, new life appears.
That egg, so cold, so dead, has
Yielded life. It's inexplicable.

The dragon cradles his newborn son,
Close between his legs, shielding him
From the bitter winds blowing in off the ice.
He has a child. He's not alone.

He stares at the rising sun. He stares
At his sleeping son. His great heart
Continues to beat; but now another rhythm
Has arrived. Heart to heart, the dragons sit.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Adrenalin Cradling

No hunger, no thirst, the temperature perfect, the cells split and split
Again and again. Floating here in this place, a growing soul. A new person.
No past, not able to imagine future, just floating. Able to wriggle, and kick,
And suck a thumb. Turning and turning, no hunger, no cold, and in the background
The swoosh  swoosh swoosh of  a  beating heart. All safe.

I’m remembering, or more likely imagining, how it might have been,
When suddenly, out of the blue, adrenalin courses through my
Growing  body. My arms and legs shoot out in fright. From a distance,
Muffled but distinct, the sound of loud shouting voices filters into the womb.
As mama’s anger rises, cortisol and testosterone flood my tiny veins.

The crisis passes, but now I’m not just floating and being, in the safety
Of the womb. I’m on high alert. Every sound outside may be this thing again,
Which makes my tiny heart pump fast, and my arms and legs shoot out
In fright. The next time (I’ve been waiting for it)  - still – it catches me
By surprise. And the next time. And the next. Soon I’m just waiting.

I grow, and as I grow, I learn that this is what life is. Peace, then panic.
Panic, then peace. Always alert and waiting for that rush of adrenalin.
Always vigilant and listening for the sounds of the next crisis approaching.
The walls slowly close in, a sense of tightness, no space now to startle
When the rush arrives. A tight holding of fear.

I learn to lie quietly and hold the panic in a quiet still place. If I open 
My baby eyelids, I see shadows and light. Staring hard as chaos mounts, 
I find a white calm place. Leaving my baby self curled up and waiting for birth,
I go to that place. A place of white calm. A place of dead calm. 
It serves me well. 

I’ve learnt to survive and I’m not yet born. I’m outside my body, 
Peering around at a strange and gorgeous landscape.
I’m learning how to not be where I am.
A gift for life.
A shadow.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Thursday, 22 December 2011


And Rapunzel? Still waiting in the tower,
Dreaming of a prince, who's arrival
Will herald the start of her life.
"One day my prince will come";

Yet every day things go on as before.
 The witch arrives, she lets down
 Her hair, she hauls up the basket
Of food. She can't imagine how

 The story might continue, without
A prince. Imagine now. The witch is dead.
No one to bring you food, and
No one to keep you prisoner.

Ring out the bells, the witch is dead!
The prince will never come. Climb
Down the tower, find a way.
Take one step, then another.

You have no idea what may be
Out there, out in the big wide world.
But surely, surely, its better than
Starving to death, alone in the tower?

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Solstice - Season of Darkness

The days are short.
The world is dark.
The word is death.
Gather now.

Gather within.
Within yourself.
Curl inwards. Embrace
The death of the year.

Embrace the mystery
Of dark infinity.
Winter cradle.
Dark womb.

The shortest day.
Closing. Retreat.
Power of darkness.
Power of night.

Mysterious cradle.
Every ancestor
Lived through this darkness,
Year on year.

Reach back. See him now.
Your great great grandfather
Waiting by firelight
For the turning of the year.

Go further still.
Five centuries. Six.
A thousand years
Or more.

All these people,
One year.
Then another.

To bring us here.
Darkest day -
Cradle me.
The turning point is here.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Ancestors Circling

My great, great, great grandfather
Stands in the portrait in my hall,
Wearing a long frock coat, and a
Handlebar moustache. A Polish nobleman.

I think of him, and the thirty one other
Great, great, great grandparents. Those
Other thirty one invisible to me. But they
lived long enough, at least, to bear a child.

Which bore a child, which bore a child,
Which bore a child in turn; those two,
My parents, bearing me. Five generations
All that bearing, leading to me.

Sixty two people in the last two hundred years,
Before that hundreds, then thousands,
Back to the start of mankind. Each one
Surviving, passing on life.

And here I am. Mid-winter blues.
Wondering which of them sat by a fire,
And longed for longer days. Imagine;
All those ancestors, circling in the air.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Country Pursuits

 When I headed out for my reflective walk today, I found myself among a large group of people out hunting. In  principle, I have no difficulty with the idea of people hunting and killing animals for food. But in practice, I know that few, if any, of these people out here with their guns and their dogs need this food to eat.

I wonder, even, how much of it does get eaten? It appears to be rather more of a sport for the ego, particularly the way the birds are deposited onto the bonnets of the 4x4 jeeps in some kind of machismo display.

I walk, and try not to let the hunters spoil my pleasure in this sunny and gorgeous, but cold, winters day.

As I walk through the trees, a live pheasant spots me and scuttles away. I prefer my pheasants this way.

I spot this frozen puddle, reflecting the near solstice, low in the sky, winter sun.

 The sky catches my eye. As I walk up the rise, for some inexplicable reason, I'm overwhelmed with the realisation that this beautiful world will be here long after I have gone. What will remain of me? My genes, passing down through my children. My essence, held by the people who knew me.

My grandmother comes strongly into my mind. She's dead at least 40 years, but in this moment she is alive and with me. I carry what she taught me, and I carry her essence with me.

I also become aware, not for the first time, that doing things and being busy is a wonderful foil against the empty feeling that arises in silence and space.

I realise, more strongly than ever, that I have spent a lifetime running from that emptiness. And yet, I also know, as I stand here staring at the sky, that it is precisely in the emptiness that a deeper mystery lies. A mystery that encompasses the infinity inside us, as well as the infinity radiating out.

This Christmas Season, I'm going to work at finding the space and silence, and sitting with the empty feelings that arise.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Walking Meditation Wicklow

Entering the woods. Sunlight filters through the trees, this late December surprise of sunshine. I'm walking, and I'm conscious that  I'm at risk of making this walking meditation another burden in my life. ~How interesting the number of things in my life I can use to make myself a whipping boy.

So I decide to stop focusing on the meditation and just relax and walk. I pick up some pine cones. I remember that we are short on Christmas decorations for the house, so I collect more pine cones - we'll have fun tonight spraying them silver and gold.

Its so quiet in these woods. Nobody else around just now. There was a lovely woman in the car park just getting back into her car with her golden retreiver. We had a brief chat about what a gorgeous surprise of an afternoon it had turned into, and about dogs, and how strange it feels to me to be walking without a dog.

Sandy died a few weeks ago. I'm not ready, yet for another dog. But I know that some time soon I will be.

And look. Here I am already at the summit. The sun will be setting soon, and this part of the woods is already in shadow. But the sun is still shining in the distance, on the green fields leading down to the sea. This is a lovely spot in summer, but with the wind and the temperature hovering around freezing, I don't linger. I admire the view and then turn back into the shelter of the woods. I pick a different path for my return.

The granite paving at this high spot is just beautiful in this light. I notice it as I turn to walk back towards the woods.

As I walk back into the trees, I start to notice fallen evergreen branches, and decide to collect a few of these too, for house decorating. Then I notice how much holly there is growing in these woods. I know that holly is endangered, and I know not to collect holly carrying berries, but I take a few green branches. They look so beautiful later that evening, when they have been sprayed, and creatively located around the house by Ruth age 12 and Andrew age 6.

The sun is getting lower in the sky now. Another half hour and darkness will fall. One or two people have passed me, we've nodded and said hello. They all have dogs. I felt naked as I started to walk without a dog, without a purpose to my walk, but I've settled into it now. Oh look! A grey squirrel, climbing the tree over there. Not so rare as the red, but not that many squirrels in this area, so nice to see it. Makes me remember going to look for squirrels in the park in Birmingham with my Babcia when I was very little. Seeing squirrels always brings me back to little K. I once even said to a client on a golf course "Oh look - a squirrel!" with such excitement, I think he thought I was a little insane!

And look. I'm back in the car park, with my pocket full of pine cones, and my handful of evergreen branches and holly. As I reach my car, another woman with a dog speaks to me. "Did you see the decorated Christmas trees?" She is so excited, childlike excitement as she tells me that up in the woods, along a different path to the one I took, there is are two growing Christmas trees which have been decorated. I missed them. I'll come back another day with the children. I don't know who decorated the trees, but I do know how much joy they have given this woman in front of me.

I put the holly and branches and cones into a plastic bag in the car. I sit in the car and think - "Oh look - it was a walking meditation after all!"

Wednesday, 14 December 2011


Let the world be what it is.
Let my life be what it is.
Let myself be what I am.
Letting. Allowing.

Let my world change
Allow my life to change.
Allow myself to change.
Be. Change. Let.

Let change be.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Gold Star

Did you like getting a gold star at school?

I look at this gold star that materialised as I played with the gold paint.

I think I'll take it!

Gold Star.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Silver and Red Advent

Silent Countryside

This silent countryside is really not so silent after all. The wind blows "hwuh, hwuh, hwuh" in my ears, and further away, is humming  through the trees. Somewhere in the hedgerow, a twig cracks as some small creature moves away. Birds in the trees scatter their machine gun "kcha kcha kcha kcha", and in reply, "trrrk, trrrk, trrrk". Low baaing of sheep in the big field, and somewhere far away the high pitched whine of a chainsaw, cutting christmas trees. In the distance, grey clouds turn pink, as the sun, such a late visitor today, drops low and disappears.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Decorating The Tree

It's time to decorate the tree. It's
Time, to decorate the tree, in this house,
Where no one cares about decorating the tree
Except you. Bring the box down
From the attic. Start, the way
You've been taught. First the lights.
Check them carefully, replace the
Bulbs that need to be replaced,
Before you start winding the strings
Of light around and around the tree.
Next, the decorations. Gently take
The delicate, fragile baubles out of
The ancient boxes. Hang them,
One by one. Check the spacing carefully.
Make sure it's perfect. No two
The same colour together. Lengthen
Or shorten the string. Finally,
Saint Nicholas; the angel to his right;
The devil to his left. And then
The sweets. All done. Beautiful.
You're twelve years old. Alone.
You've done a Good Job. Why then,
These tears that well up in your eyes?
Why the lump, lodged in your chest,
That just won't go away?

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Heart of Clay

In the night, my maker came,
He took my raw and aching heart,
And in its space, he placed a lump,
A lump of cold and oozing clay.

Still wet, grey, hard, scooped up from out
The cold, cold earth. It sits here in
The vacant space which my heart filled.
And all I feel is this cold lump.

It's heavy, stiff, it weighs me down.
Grey water oozing, dripping down.
And where's my heart? That mystery.
It's somewhere I can't find today.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Siberian Dragon

Lives in frozen wastelands, far from human eyes;
His home in caves of ice, ancient, ancient caves.
To eat, he breathes on the ice with his fiery breath,
And dives through to the icy sea, catching fish
The likes of which we have never seen. He aches
For company, but his last mate died over a
Thousand years ago. He's learnt to be alone,
Learnt how to make the wind and ice and sea
His friends. His huge heart beats and beats,
Slowly counting out the moments of his life,
Century after century. Sometimes, he wheels up
High in the air, keeping pace with migrating birds.
They hurry in fear away from his huge shadow, and
On to the safety of their winter lands. At the
Back of his cave, a solitary egg. He's been
Sitting on the egg for hundreds of years. In his
Heart, he knows its cold. Still, he cannot bring
Himself to roll it out of the cave, and down, to the
Hole in the ice. He sits, pointlessly. He sits,
He sits and hopes.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Chapter 2 - Tom's Journey

As Tom ran along the wet, cobbled road, black road glistening under his feet, he could feel his fear rising. He’s lost the letter the drayman had given him to deliver. The wind had tugged it out of his fingers, and into the canal. If he returned without having delivered it, he knew that a beating would be the least of it. He had started to run in panic, as he watched the paper float out of his reach, and the black ink spread across the surface of the wet paper. Now, it was as if he couldn’t stop running.

It was starting to get dark, and he was in an unfamiliar part of the town. There seemed to be no one around, just dark shadows in the railway arches to his left and empty warehouses on his right. His lungs burned, and he slowed to a walk. Better get out of this area, before it was completely dark. At the end of the street, he could see street lights, and as he approached, he realized he had ended up at the docks. So, now he knew which part of the city he was in. If he turned left, along the quays, he should be able to make his way back to a more familiar part of town. But to return to what? Once more, that sickening sense of dread filled him. He stopped, and looked to the right, along the quay, at the line of silent boats. ~What if he could get onto one of the boats and hide? Maybe if would take him somewhere where life could be different. He turned and started to walk back in the opposite direction, towards the mouth of the ocean.

The sides of the ships rose high above him at his side, but there didn’t appear to be any way of getting onto any of them. Finally, he spotted ahead of him, in the deepening darkness, a boat with a wooden walkway down to the quayside. There didn’t appear to be anyone about. The ship was dark and silent. Peering about, Tom realized that the ship’s crew were probably in the public house who’s lighted windows he could see on the corner of another cobbled street full of warehouses. Quickly, before he could change his mind, he ran up the walkway, and onto the deck of the boat. It seemed to be a cargo boat, although what it was carrying, he couldn’t guess. All the doors to the inside of the boat were fastened and padlocked. He cautiously made his way around the deck, but could see no suitable place to hide himself. Finally, he hoisted himself up onto the roof of the small wheelhouse, near the front of the boat, and lay on his back. It would be quite dark when the crewmen returned. They wouldn’t see him up here, and maybe when the doors had been opened, he could find a place to hide himself.

He lay there for a long time in the dark. Despite his fear, and feeling colder and colder as darkness fell, he eventually fell into a half sleep, and woke only at the sound of loud and drunken men making their way up the gangway. He heard them pull the wooden gangway up after themselves, and open the padlock to the door, and fall into the ship’s interior. Some banging around, and then, eventually, silence again. Now, his fear rose to reclaim him. He couldn’t get back onto the quayside now. He couldn’t stay here – the first man out on deck in the morning would see him instantly. He must open the door to that unknown interior, and find somewhere to hide. Above him, the night sky hung, heavy and black. The moon had not yet risen. Silently, he dropped to the deck and made his way to the door. AS soon as the door was a little ajar, loud snoring reminded him how close these big, drunken men were. It was pitch black inside. Pulling the door closed behind him, he felt his way along the wall to his right. He didn’t know what he was looking for exactly. Just a place to hide. His hand found a handle in the wall, and he cautiously lowered it, and opened the door. No sound came from within. Again feeling his way in the dark, he entered the room, and realized that this was some kind of store room. There were shelves to his right, and on the one level with his waist there seemed to be heavy, folded lengths of some kind of oily fabric. Easing himself onto the shelf, he pushed himself in as far as he could, and pulled the heavy, rank smelling material over himself. Within minutes, he was asleep.
When he woke, he knew before he even opened his eyes that the boat was no longer tied up at the quay. It was rolling gently, and he could hear gulls screeching overhead. He could also hear the shouts of men on deck, banging, a low rumble of engines. A smell of food reached his nostrils, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten since yesterday’s breakfast. Very cautiously, he pulled the cloth away from his face, and peered around him. It was still very dark in the store room, but a little light came in around the door, and a little more through a grille, high in the wall. He was lying under some kind of folded tarpaulin. The shelves on the far side held shadowy boxes, and piles of what looked like coiled rope.

Tom realised, too late, that he had not thought this through. He had no food or water. He couldn’t stay hidden here. But if he showed himself, these men would probably throw him overboard. He had heard stories from the drayman, and in the public houses around the city, about these seamen. Hard drinking men, no wives, no families, travelling from port to port with their cargo. A growing sense of despair crept over Tom, as he realised just how foolish he had been.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Chapter 1 continued - The monk

Rafael woke. He came to consciousness slowly, resisting opening his eyes. He could hear  –  faint buzzing in the distance, the sound of small insects. He remembered being hot and thirsty, hot and thirsty, nothing beyond this. He had walked, and walked, and walked some more, and when night fell, he had curled up on the hard ground and slept. When day broke he walked again, always heading away from the rising sun. He had run out of water twice, and had twice found small springs, from which he was able to fill his water bottle. Eventually, on the fourth or fifth day of his walking, he had found no more water, and remembered only becoming hotter and thirstier, hotter and thirstier. He vaguly remembered a shadowy figure in the distance, trees, goats under the trees – nothing else.

He could feel now, as he woke, that he was in a cool place. Tentatively, he opened his eyes. He found himself in a small room; he was lying in a bed with clean sheets. Soft, clean sheets, he could feel the cotton was old and well washed. Beside the bed, in the room there was only a low stool, holding a blue jug, and the stub of a candle. To his right was a small window, its wooden casement open, and beyond the window, he could see things growing; flowers, pinks and oranges, encircling the opening of the window to a blue sky. He could see now, that the buzzing he had heard before was the buzzing of insects making their way around the flowers, beyond the window. Sweet smells came into the room through the window, sweet flowery smells, familiar yet strange. Rafael looked down at his hands, lying on top of the white sheet. Gently, he wiggled his fingers. All working. He lifted the sheet away from his body and swung his legs to the side of the narrow bed. Tentatively, he pushed himself up to standing, and took a step towards the open window. His legs collapsed underneath him at the same moment as the door to the room opened. As the world disappeared from his awareness again, he just had time to recognize the face of the shadowy figure he last remembered out under the midday sun.

When he next opened his eyes, the face was still here in the room. The man was sitting on the stool beside his bed. The jug and the candle had been moved, he could see, to the wooden window cill behind the man. The man appeared absorbed in some task in his lap, but some moments later, he lifted his head and looked over to the bed. “Ah” Thelonius said. “You’re awake”.

The man brought him a bowl of thin soup, and a piece of grey bread. Rafael’s instincts told him to be cautious, to say nothing, explain nothing. But this man’s face looked kind. He said little. He brought the food, and then sat again on the stool, and once more bent to the task in his lap.
Rafael attempted the soup, and then brought the bread to his mouth, but it defeated him, with its hardness. He laid it back on the shallow dish, and experimentally cleared his throat. The man looked up from his task, looked over at him again, and smiled. “Well. That’s good. You’ve eaten a little.”

Again, Rafael cleared his throat. He didn’t know how to be, here, sitting in this bed, with this kind faced man sitting near him and looking at him.

“My name is Brother Thelonius. This is a monastery. The monastery of San Sebastien. You’ve slept for four days.”

Rafael cleared his throat again, but no words formed. The man seemed comfortable with the silence, and once more, bent his head to the task in his lap.

Rafael felt helpless. He felt weak. He felt stupid. He felt lost. He could not believe he was lying here in this bed, with this strange man sitting just feet away, saying nothing, acting almost as if he were not there. His eyes closed again.

When he woke again, the man, the monk, was still sitting there on the stool, but this time, his eyes were closed. The window was closed too, and it was night, although the world outside the window was bathed in moonlight. The candle was alight on a small saucer on the window cill, and flickering gently. Rafael closed his eyes again.

Finally, Rafael opened his eyes to daylight again. In his dreams, he had been walking, walking, walking in the midday heat. He opened his eyes, and moved his lips. “I’m hungry”.
The monk was still sitting there. He turned his head. “Good. Let’s get you some breakfast.”

He left the room, and returned some minutes later with a bowl of some hot grain. Rafael ate what he could, and then passed the still half full bowl back to the man – the monk. “Rafael” he said, tentatively. “Rafael - its my name”. The monk looked up again, and smiled. “I am very glad to know your name, Rafael.” They sat in silence again. Rafael slept again. Every time he opened his eyes, the monk was there. Not asking questions. Just there, and bringing him food.

Finally, the day came, when Rafael felt it necessary to say something more. “I’m travelling west” he said, and his words came out in a hurried jumble, after all the silence that had preceded them. “I have to find someone. There’s something I must do”. Thelonius smiled again. “Maybe we can help you” he said simply. And he bent his head again to the task in his lap. Rafael did not know what else to say, so he said nothing. Gradually, day by day, he regained his health, and his strength. And as each day went by, he came to trust the monk more. Without asking questions, without demanding anything of him, without punishing him for his weakness, the monk was simply there, simply beside him, bringing him food, bringing him water, bringing him back to life.

My Tragedy

This is a fictionalised retelling of something that really happened to a family member

When I was sixteen, something terrible happened. It was so terrible, that until I tell you , you will not be able to guess what it is. I lived in an orphanage in Arusha, Tanzania - an orphanage in exile. Polish children, who had survived Siberia, and Persia, and Karachi, and ended up here, at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, in this orphanage.

I was nearly grown up by then. My little sister who had also survived, Marysia, spent her days running around in the bush, half wild. But I was much more sober and sensible. I was also in love. Piotr and I had met in Arusha; we met when  I was fifteen and he was sixteen. We had both lost our parents, he had lost all his brothers and sisters, of mine, I had Marysia. We fell in love.

He worked with the scouts; I worked in the office. That terrible day, I answered the phone. He had fallen in the river at scout camp. He had been eaten by a crocodile.

You see- you laugh. That is what makes this story so terrible. Everybody laughs.

He was my love. We found each other amidst all that loss. And he was gone. My tragedy is that all my life, I have been unable to talk about it, because people's natural response is to laugh.

I survived. I married a man I did not love. I had two children. I have grandchildren now. But all I see every night, when I close my eyes, is those jaws opening, those teeth gleaming closer and closer.

I don't remember any more what Piotr looked like. But I remember that crocodile, even though I never saw him. Until the day I die, he will consume me, night after night.White teeth. Hot breath. I'm eaten alive, every night of my life.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Open Our Eyes

We open our eyes. The world says "come to me, come to me".
We're up, and rushing at the day, with all its urgent demands.
Somewhere inside us, we bury our night time wanderings. Not
Relevant to the urgency of morning's demands. Pause now. Oh!
The places I travelled to last night. The people I met. A child
Asks, "how do we know THIS isn't the dream". Good question.
As we run into our daytime dream of a world, lets open our eyes.
Which parts are really real. Breathe in. Breathe out. Love.


Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The story continues: Chapter 1 The Monk

Thelonius the monk paused in the act of bending down to pick up the fallen lemons. He had just come to the small lemon grove, checking on his way on the goats grazing the sparse hillside. It was midday, the sun high in the sky and unrelenting, but here in the grove there was a little shade. But something made him pause. Something nibbling at the edge of his consciousness. He shook his head and shook away the sense that there was something about to happen. What could happen, here in this remote spot, this remote monastery. Perhaps Brother Michael would surprise them all with dinner tonight, he chuckled to himself, and continued gathering the fallen lemons into the small basket he had brought for the purpose. It was a short walk back to the main monastery building, but between here and there was the stone dairy. A small stream rose from a spring within the dairy, and the water would be cool. He would stop in there, and take a long drink of cold water to quench his thirst.

As he passed back over the hillside towards the dairy, two or three of the goats came up, and nuzzled him, affectionately. He was fond of the goats. They had some character, and individuality, not like the silly sheep. Ah well. They needed both. What little meat they had was provided to them by these affectionate goats and silly sheep.

He ducked his head low to enter the shady, whitewashed dairy building. Placing the basket of lemons on the stone shelf beside the spring, he picked up the wooden cup, and scooped cold water from the square, shallow pool built around the spring to capture the rising water. Thelonius liked this place. It was generally quiet, except just after milking. It was cool. It offered some small solitude. Strange that in such an isolated place, and with so few of them living together here in this community, he would still crave solitude.

Sighing to himself, Thelonius turned and ducked again under the low door frame to leave the dairy. As he walked away, something again pulled at his consciousness, and he turned and scanned the horizon. It was as if he could hear something in the distance, but yet there was no sound. Chiding himself for his folly, he walked on.

Just as he reached the walls of the monastery, and the small gate into the enclosed vegetable garden, he realised that he had left the basket of lemons, sitting on the shelf in the dairy. This forgetfulness was getting worse, and he gently chastised himself as he retraced his steps back to the dairy. His eyes moved almost automatically to the horizon, once more..... - and -  this time - there, in the shimmering haze of undergrowth, at the edge of the Eastern Wastelands - there was - something. A shadowy, indistinct shape. Was it an animal? Should he sound the alarm, and start gathering the scattered sheep and goats into safety? No, it loooked too vertical, almost like a person. Not a person, it was too small. Almost like a child. A child? Impossible. A child, approaching the monastery from the eastern wastelands? No.

Slowly, Thelonius began to walk towards the still distant figure, his mind racing. There were no settlements nearby, nowhere a child could have wandered away from. Not a small child, no this was a boy, he could see now. A boy not yet approaching manhood, but not a small child. He knew little of children, but this boy might be ten, or maybe twelve years of age? Still the slim shape of a child. The boy stepped forward towards him, almost as if in a daze, staring straight ahead. They were still some fifty paces apart, when the boy's striding pace faltered. As if the breath had left his body, he suddenly crumpled onto the thorny ground.

Thelonius began to run towards the shape on the ground. Reaching him, he saw that the boy carried only a pumpkin shell water bottle, and as the cork was handing on its leather thong beside the bottle, it appeared the bottle was empty. Lifting the boy, he could hear his shallow breathing, and feel the heat radiating from the small, thin body. Half walking, half running, Thelonius made his way down to the monastery gate, with the all but lifeless boy in his arms. Pushing open the gate, he saw Brother Thomas bent over in the vegetable garden. "Brother Thomas" he shouted. Thomas stood, turned, then dropped the trowel in his hand, and ran to Thelonius. His mouth opened and questions began to spill out. "Not now." Thelonius whispered. " Let's get him inside".

Together, the two elderly men carried the limp form of the boy into the shady interior. From its depths , the bell for the midday meal sounded; normal monastery life. But something extraordinary had happened. A strange boy had walked into their lives, from that wasteland to the East where nobody went.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Change the Be

Change is the constant. Tomorrow is un-anticipatable.
Yesterday is a dream. This moment. Being. Changing.
This moment IS the change. Change and be. Being.
Changing. This moment - your need is these words.
Words can only aproximate meaning. Cease reading.
Change. Be. This is now. Only this. Look to your
Needs now. Be change. Change the Be. Be the change.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Cape Gannet

Explosion of Flowering


My Grandmother

I'm sitting here this morning, looking at my grandmother's papers from her first years in England after the war. She arrived in England on 11 December 1947 with the Polish Forces from Egypt. (exactly one week after my mother arrived in Southampton from Mombassa). Her profession is described as Junior Nursing Sister.

She was born in 1906 in Lwow, Poland, (now Lviv, Ukraine). I have her school reports, the first one (see below) from 1914, during the Austrian Anschluss, in Austrian German, the later ones in Polish, after Poland became an independent republic for the first time in centuries in 1921, her reports stretching from 1922 to her graduation in 1926.


She qualified as a teacher in Poland, married an army officer, had my father. She was working as a teacher in Poland when the second world war broke out. Her husband, my grandfather, died in January 1940 after interrogation by the Soviet army, and shortly afterwards, she and my father were deported to Siberia, in cattle trucks. From Siberia to Kazakhstan, to Pahlevi, to Isfahan, to Teheran, to Palestine, to Egypt. Finally, after the war, to England.

On arrival in England (with the Polish Army), she was with the Polish Resettlement Corps for a few months, and then moved to work at No4 Polish General Hospital, Iscoyd Park, near Witchurch (in Shropshire). This hospital cared for Polish refugees with TB and with mental health issues.

She remarried in 1948, an ill fated and short lived marriage, and moved to Bury St Edmunds. She is reported as intending to return to Poland in Dec 1948. As the news filtered back from Poland of what was happening to returning poles in now Soviet occupied Poland (terrible things, imprisonment and execution), the plan changed and she and my father decided to stay in England. By 1949, she was living in Oxford and working as a canteen assistant, and in October 1949, she moved to Birmingham, and to a job with W.W.Greener, a firearms manufacturer, as a factory worker. Although my grandmother died when I was eight or nine years old, I still remember her stories of working in the factory. She was trying to teach herself English, and her job was testing rifles, which meant working in a small booth, and firing rifles. She would have her books open in her lap and read and work at the same time. I often wonder how many faulty rifles went out into the marketplace as a result.

In 1951, she moved to Wheaton Aston in Shropshire. She is reported as "now employed at committee for the Education of Poles in Great Britain". In 1952, she moved to Fairford, and then in 1954 to Shepalbury Mansion, a boarding school for Polish orphans. The document ends here.

I was born in 1963, my brothers before me in 1955 and 1959. My grandmother lived with us in Birmingham when I was very small, then moved to her own flat, a mile away. She worked as a primary school teacher in Montgomery Street primary school, in a multi ethnic, working class area of Birmingham until her death, just days before her retirement at 60.

My grandmother was always a natural teacher, and taught me how to learn and be curious about the world in the gentlest fashion. When I think of her life, from Lwow - under Austrian occupation at the time of her birth - through Siberia, Persia (Iran) , Egypt and Palestine, then all those different places in England - such a peripatetic life, and yet, she was the steadiest person I knew. When people say that he or she is a "rock", I think of my grandmother, who was indeed a rock.

So today, I want to pay tribute to this fine woman, who survived so much, and gave me many of the building blocks for my life.

                                          Zofia Chobrzynska. My grandmother.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Interviewing Tommorow

This unsafe world, where we
Work and work, and do all the
Right Things; and still - we
Sit now and watch it crumble.
Crumbling, crumbling, crumbling.
Hard saved securities fade to
Nothing. The key, I hear, is
To lose attachment. Stop needing
control. But those worry worms
Don't stop their wriggling.
"Do this! Do that! Try this!
Try that!" And that loud committee
In your head shouts "It's all YOUR
Fault!" So now. Instead of plodding on
Grimly, head bowed, I'm going to
Tell that committee where it can go.
It's raining. I'm tired. And cold.
The world feels hard, hard, hard.
I need a new commitee. One that's on
My side. Spread the word.
I'm interviewing tommorow.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Leaving the Palace

The Start

The first pink light of day was just starting to touch the edges of the palace. The courtyard was still in darkness, as Rafael stood silently at it's edge. In the centre of the courtyard, the long, expanse of shallow water glistened, flat and dark. Such a beautiful place. Such a beautiful prison cell, this palace. Rafael knew today was the day to leave. nevertheless, sadness at leaving encircled his fear. It must be now, before it grew any lighter.

The boy felt his way lightly around the edge of the courtyard, keeping to the shadows, moving silently as his heart beat so loudly, he was sure it would be heard. Rafael made his way to the Easternmost edge of the palace, and looked over the wall to the drop below. Even with his makeshift rope, he would still have to drop the last part - the height of three or four men - to the rocky hillside below. If he hurt himself, if he twisted an ankle, that would be the end of it all. He secured the torn and twisted together sheet rope to an iron hoop set in the wall, and quickly, stealthily, slid down the rope. There would be no way of bringing it after him, and once it was fully light, the rope would be seen, and they would know he had gone.

Time to let go, and take his chances. He felt resigned now. The overwhelming fear had passed. Now, he would either get away - or they would find him, injured, and he would die. He looked down, and tried to focus on a clear spot. Boulders, rocks, everywhere he looked. No point in waiting any longer. He let go - and astonishingly, landed grazing only his ankle and his wrist. Nothing broken. Nothing sprained. He stood up. Long shadows now, as the first rays of sunlight made their way over the horizon in front of him He was facing the sun, facing East. He needed to go West. Keeping close to in the shadow of the walls, he made his way as quickly as he could to the opposite side of the palace.

Now, now it was time to go down the hillside, and cross the dry, rocky, boulder strewn plain ahead of him, stretching to the far, still dark horizon. Now is when he would be seen, if he was to be seen. He could hear already, the single note of the bugle shouting out the alarm, the baying of the hounds set loose and the desperate knowledge that he would be torn apart when they reached him. There was still time to turn back, maybe get back up the rope before anyone noticed. Life wasn't so very bad in the palace. He had plenty to eat. His work was not too hard. Nobody was too cruel. But the dream he had had so many times now kept calling him, telling him he was to go West, that he needed to find someone. Another boy, like himself, but living a very different life, in a very different place. There was something they had to do together. What it was was unclear, and now, standing shivering by the towering, shadowy walls, it seemed stupid and pointless. He didn't know where he was going, and he didn't know why.

Taking his courage in his hands, he stepped away from the wall and began walking steadily towards the dark horizon. Not running. Running would be too obvious, would be visible to even the sleepiest sentry on duty high above. His hope was that a steady walk would be less easily seen in this half light. Step by step, he made his way down the hillside. Step by step, he moved west, leaving the palace behind him.

Up in the highest tower, the woman looked out, watching him. So, he had done it. She had thought he might, but hadn't been at all sure he would. He was young - only twelve years old. Perhaps too young to face what lay ahead of him. She watched for a long time, until finally, his small, slight frame disappeared over the horizon.

Somewhere else, another boy opened his eyes. He had had such a lovely dream.  A dream of a hot, sunny place, and a palace with pink walls. He pulled the thin blanket over his thin shoulders, and tried to hold the vision of warmth and comfort in his head for as long as possible. A shout brought him back to his surroundings. It was the drayman, shouting for him to get up and see to the horses. He shook himself awake and stood up from the lumpy mattress in the corner of the kitchen. He made his way through the grey early morning light in the yard, to the stable. His first task was to see to the horses. Huge draught horses, they were. He had been so scared of them, when the drayman had first taken him on as his boy. Now, he liked them. He trusted them, and they trusted him. In his whole day, they would most likely be the only living things to look at him with kindness.

First, he filled the pail with oats. This time of year, they needed the heat of the oats to keep them well. Next, he brushed their coats, picked out their hooves, and brushed their tails. The horses had to look good. It was very important, the drayman told him constantly. He brushed until their dark coats gleamed in the lamplight. Then he filled the metal pail with freezing cold water from the barrel outside and brought it in for them. Later, when they were being harnessed, he would clean out the stable. He liked being in the stable, liked feeling the heat of these massive bodies and smelling their comforting horsey smell.

It would be a long day, as every day was. He would be out all day with the drayman and his men; big, strong men who could roll full barrels of beer without effort. He would run in to the public houses, dodge the drinking men with their coarse shouts and coarse hands, and find the landlord, race into the cellar to unlatch the huge wooden hatches from underneath, so that the men could deliver the wooden barrels, run on to wherever the drayman told him with whatever message he had to carry; at midday, when the men went into whichever public house they happened to be at for their pints and their pies, he would again feed and water the horses, hoping the men would remember to bring food out for him too. Sometimes, when they forgot, he shared the oats which he fed to the horses with them. He knew better than to go into the public house with the men. He was a target, in too many ways, for drunken badly behaved men. If it was raining, he would sit under the cart; if dry, he perched among the barrels.

He was an observant boy, and watched the world around him. In the mornings, he watched the well dressed men, in suits and hats, and carrying black leather bags, board the tramcars and leave for a very different kind of working day. He wondered what that sort of life was like. He wondered whether those men had wives and children, and what kind of a life they might lead.

"Tom!" The drayman's rough voice cut through his daydreaming. Time to pay attention again, avoid anything that might lead to a beating. He was too sore for another beating. Time to get back to work.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Holding a peaceful space.

I would like a small place to rest a little while. White sheets, clean and crisp, and a soft, light duvet to nestle under. A wooden window opening onto sunlight, and the sound of bees buzzing around their business with the flowers. A blue vase sitting on a wooden stool. The sound of someone in the other room, humming. The smell of baking mingling with honeysuckle from the garden. The combination of softness and crispness in the bed. I'm holding this vision as I bump along in the coach, in the dark, drizzling outside, and miles to go yet before home.

Dancing to Grace - Red

Thursday, 17 November 2011


Sitting on a bench, in this "big city" park,
Anonymous, in the way you can only be
In such a big city. Mid-November feels like
September. Sunshine, warm emough to take off
My coat. Women in lycra running through the
Leaves. Constant backdrop of traffic noise,
And the occasional squeal of brakes. Old trees.
Old. This park here more than four hundred years.
Was a park before the city enclosed it. These
Trees standing sentinel to the changes, day after
Year after decade. Between me and the traffic,
If I listen carefully, the sound of trees. A
Steady rustle, as the breeze dances
Big brown leaves and small branches.
Standing sentinel to an unfolding world, and
Silently holding this space. We pass by without
Notice mostly. I notice now. Breathe it in.
Trees; Park; Centuries.

Peace in Silver and Blue