Face to face with life’s extreme fragility

No safety net

🔳Face to face with life’s extreme fragility🔲

  In a foreign country in March, in the Year of my Life, 2013, I and my wife sat down to supper with a long lost friend for the first time in 47 years.

He and his wife had prepared for us a lavish welcome meal. Many years before, my father had arranged I stay with the family of my friend during my school holidays.

  His father, a decorative wrought iron blacksmith and Rabelasian larger-than-life character, and my father, a conference interpreter, met by chance after the war. 

  They quickly recognised their mutual admiration for their own idiosyncratic forms of ‘joie de vivre’. On that foundation, they were to become lifelong friends.

  After we had toasted each other in a few glasses of fine local wine, my very dear friend began to tell me the Machiavellian story of his childless stepmother, the blacksmith’s second wife.

  I had known her only as a quiet capable motherly figure all those years ago. She braved out her husband’s alcohol-fuelled storms, she ignored his infidelities, mainly with wives of wealthy clients of his decorative wrought ironwork.

  She kept shop and did the accounts. For me those summers were times of acceptance into the family, of joy and pleasure as a young teenager taking my first independent steps in the freedom of another country under the blazing August Sun.

  As we enjoyed the meal, I listened with astonishment to hear how she had spent about 70 of the 99 years of her life scheming with great success to disinherit her stepson, almost ruining him and coming close to breaking his spirit, and, after I had come into her house as a guest and virtual second son, scheming to defraud my own father.

  The welcome meal, a Cordon Blue affair, progressed with much joy. The setting was in a delightful spacious, three-story pinewood cabin, open fire crackling away, isolated high on the side of a valley with giant panoramic southerly views across a lake to a range of snow capped mountains – the Eiger to the east and Mont Blanc to the west.

  My very dear friend advised me to prepare myself, saying all is not as pretty as it seems. Am I ready for a shock? With all this heart warming reconnection with a friend who had been like the elder brother I had never had, and with such fine wine and such food, I said yes. After all, what could disturb this now?

  My old friend began to speak. Some four years after my life path diverged from my friend’s, and I had started out on my career teaching English as a Foreign Language in far away London, his step-mother was the first to hear of my failed suicide attempt at age 21.

  She saw her opportunity to turn the news to her advantage. To help cover up and protect her thieving ways from scrutiny, she made the choice to lie to her family that I had killed myself.

  Silence now around the table.

  For me in that moment of the reveal of this true lie, I suffered a triple shock of pure visceral horror.

  A cry escaped from my throat. It was the same animal outcry of bereavement when, 38 years before, I was shown by the black clad undertaker into the chapel of rest where my mother lay, with her blue eyes closed.

  I could not breathe. My wife, very alarmed, jumped up from the table to help me sit up and to comfort me.

  I said I was ready to hear more.

  In that flash, with the pain that had extracted the yell from inside me, I felt for the very first time the intensity of the suffering my parents had endured when they were told while on a holiday abroad about my suicide attempt – an uncomplicated and somewhat half-baked cry for help it had been – at age 21.

  I had at long last begun my journey of compassion and shame for what I had done to them.

  In that flash, I felt the grief and helpless pain my dear old friend must have endured for nearly five decades. My father had told me the news of his father’s fatal stroke in the late 70s.

  After that, my own research to trace him for over 20 years had always drawn a blank. 

  I had no way of knowing that he had decided to go ‘off grid’ to shelter from the sick pursuit of his stepmother. 

  Then, a few days before my wife and I were to fly on holiday, by some miracle of the Internet, we had finally managed to connect. On an emotional long distance phone call, we agreed to rearrang our flights in order to have this extraordinary reunion celebration.

  His stepmother had effected repeated poisonous attacks designed to ruin his professional career. Several times she had written to his employers falsely alleging his dishonest or immoral, even depraved conduct.

  This may have been easy for her, acquainted as she was with casual depraved ways.

  At this period, she took on the role of carer for his only daughter by his first marriage. And she devoted herself to fill the little child’s mind with toxic fear of her father. With money and psychological pressure, she gained the co-conspiratorial support of his first wife.

  Thus the love and trust of his wife and mother of his only child was corroded away. His daughter, long since grown up, severed all ties with him.

  He engaged the equivalent of our Queen’s Counsel to fight to restore his reputation and his legal title to his father’s house, which had been constructed largely using my late Father’s funds, both with and without his knowledge and permission.

  On hearing this, the woman sold the house at high speed well below market value. All its contents, including documents and photos from his life, we’re lost to him. Among these were photo albums and 8mm cine film containing records of my several consecutive blissfully happy summer holidays with the family.

He had gone ex-directory and off grid long ago for self-protection. That is why I had only chanced to trace him from his 1949 school photo. There he was, named and easy to recognise by his cheeky grin under his mop of dark curly hair, even though he was eleven years younger than when I first knew him.

  I emailed my contacts to the school’s webmaster saying I had been seeking my lost friend. Then I powered down the PC and we took a bus into town. I got his call on my mobile at a coffee bar in Bournemouth. I was crying and laughing with happiness. I think I even blurted out my story to the barrista!

  In nearly half a century, he had once visited England. It was in 1979. It never occurred to him to try and look me up. Indeed, why would he? I was long since dead.

  After that first phone call to me, it had been difficult for him, now age 80, to come to terms with the reality of my existence. So he had jumped at the chance to invite my wife and I to fly out and spend a few days as his guest.

  And, in that flash, I physically experienced the coldness and cruelty and above all the black darkness of the evil that his late stepmother had secretly carried and concealed for decades in her heart of hearts.

  I have since learned there are some people who have suffered such violent emotional trauma, that their natural impulse to love is rechanneled into a perverted form of acquisition based on self-interest and hatred.

  We all can find the right words to say, can’t we? Those socially accepted normal few words of respect and comfort we say, when we are told about a bereavement.

  But I bear witness to you reading this here, that I found no gentle words. And I found no safety net to stop me from falling suddenly from a great height when, without any preparation, I was given the news of my own death.

  Again and again, it is at the point of contact with the extreme fragility of life that life itself reveals there is only one path of acceptance. I see it in the eyes of the hunted animal looking with a final glance at the hunter before dying. Life clothes us with humility. A humility such as a bride and groom may feel as they arrive at the altar.

~ Love is present EveryNow

Open to Love



Flow with love
is always more than sufficient

Transform with love.
Love is generous, abundant.

Love gives what is needed
and continues to give and give

Until the day love
taps me on the shoulder
and I turn around

and I see
I am love!

~ Love’s presence EveryNow

[Image: Garden tomatoes transformed by… algorithms]


Follow this simple facial excercise to reach the entrance halls of deep sleep in a state of lightness, with a natural irrepressible smile to replace all the cares of the day, and erase all thoughts of the day come.

In the dark bedroom, lay down in bed. Take three or four long slow deep inhales and exhales, making them audible to yourself.

Then snuggle your shape into your favourite initial night time position.

If you wish, repeat your breathing refreshment cycle.

Next, eyes closed, raise your EYEBROWS !

Raise them ever so high.

Notice how your mouth enjoys its simultaneous movement into a smile.

You may encourage your smile, while keeping your eyebrows raised.

Take pleasure in this unexpected moment of merriment. It comes out of nowhere. It will melt into night.

Generously supply yourself with a few more conscious breaths, and let your face relax.

Relax all of yourself.
A peaceful sleep.

And a smile
only you will remember
in the first light of the new day

The underbelly of London

The underbelly of London on my Dad’s Vespa in the 1960s

In the early 1960s, my Dad would “explore” the underbelly of London on his Vespa scooter. He used to do his shameless gatecrashings at the dead of night, because he had an advanced sense of adventure and needed very little sleep.

Those were the times before the tsunami of North Sea oil wealth kicked off the infrastructure upgrade, and eventually led to the gentrification of the war scarred and still quite Dickensian group of villages which characterised large areas of London.

Of an age to share his adventurous spirit, I rode pillion to explore with him the alleyways of the Borough, famous historic Thameside pubs, and places like Clink Street, and Cardinal Cap Alley on Bankside.

Late one evening, on our way to the Docklands, my Dad stops to introduce me to a tall, slim, quiet older man with whom apparently he had long ago struck up a friendship. He was the warden of a group of Elizabethan (Elizabeth the First) almshouses. These were situated just to the east of London Bridge.

This dignified companionable, lanky man, who had never travelled, read and collected travelogues. He had bookshelves full. My Father would send him postcards from one of the sixty or so countries he visited on his travels in his work as a professional international conference interpreter.

I do not know for how many years he had been dropping by to greet and take tea late at night with his friend the guardian of Almshouses. But I do know there were several such ‘odd’, and in my Father’s eyes, highly esteemed friends, dotted about his wider world in several continents.

My memories of these streets and dark, oily, cobbled corners are numerous and precious. These living relics from centuries past, I remember them all in black and white! We always explored at night and much of the street lighting was puny by today’s standards.

The unselfconscious atmosphere of an animated island of activity, lifted from the fogs of deep past, was specially true of parts of the East End, and Whitechapel.

The poorly-lit residential streets round Commercial Road were interspersed with blitzed blocks, which had been cleared and left to go to weeds for twenty or thirty years.

My Father would ride the streets of London between about 2 and 5 in the morning, because he said they were at their quietest then. Not so today!

I carry one image seared into my visual memory. As we passed by one of these bombed sites at about 3 in the morning, I saw a couple huddled close to a small fire made from rubbish. They and we stared at each other as we passed slowly by. We seemed most alien to one another in that dingy place at that godforsaken hour.

My most vivid memories are of the Docklands, east of Tower Bridge on the South Bank. They were still extremely busy streets and filled with men at work, exactly in the manner of the faintly amusing old temporary street sign, which used to read: “Danger Men At Work”!

Cheery coarse language, shouted commands, and whistling. You no longer hear such whistle talk, maybe because the art of the two-fingered shrill whistle has died out of use.

A few years later, I would drive in the dead of night in my first secondhand banger on my own or with a friend to revisit one or two of the most memorable places.

Near Shad Thames was an opening which led to steps down to the Thames. It must have been typical of such access points for ferrymen and river traders all along the commercial stretches of the river.

These steps were marked on large scale street maps and had a name like StJohn’s Steps. The magic of this lonely location, which my Father loved and shared with so much pleasure with me, was the extraordinary clear view at water level to the west of Tower Bridge, not far distant.

Tower Bridge fascinated my Dad. He had spotted an iron gate which said “Staff Only No Admittance” on Tower Bridge Approach (north).

To my Dad, and thanks to his boyish enthusiasm and dedicated example, today in my eyes too, any public sign in forbidding capital letters which reads, “Private. Strictly No Entry, Authorised Persons Only” was placed there to be read as “Hey! You! This is your personal invitation. Come right on in!”

One night we parked his Vespa on the pavement, and together, in near darkness (as usual), we opened the gate and descended the external iron steps. At the bottom, he pushed open a door. He greeted the men there and was greeted by them in turn!

They were scummed with coke dust and gleaming with smiles on their glistening faces. These were the Coke Stokers who kept the furnaces of Tower Bridge burning and fired up, for it was necessary there be always a good head of steam to raise and lower Tower Bridge at all hours.

In his usual infuriating way, I was introduced to them as his “Kiddie”. I was no longer in any vaguest sense of the word a Kiddie. But this time I was too thunderstruck at the scenes I was witnessing to feel bothered.

Huge piles of coke lay seemingly randomly all over the place. I think there was a “pin-up” on one wall. As can be seen in today’s spruced up, open-to-the-paying-public “Tower Bridge Exhibition”, there were gigantic spanners, resting heavy on brackets attached to the stone wall. It would take at least two of these burley stockers to manhandle one spanner.

It saddens me that the modern custodians of such museums of old industrial sites fail to exhibit at least a few square yards of the muck and grime which were the common, ordinary and accepted working environments in the days before Health & Safety necessarily came along to sanitise the world of work.

The men kindly introduced me to their two black cats. They had names, but I unfortunately cannot remember them. They may have been the original “Black Cats In A Coal Cellar”!

In London in the early 1960s, the air was routinely thick with car exhaust, frequently dark blue or sooty black in colour. There were no politically correct clean zones, no face masks, no ear defenders.

Dustcarts would spew clouds of chokingly rank fumes and dust as the men upended their heavy galvanised iron dustbins. In the day,

Pneumatic drills smashed up the tarmac with merry clang at extreme decibels.

Nightwatchmen would ‘live’ in small red and white striped canvas tents by major roadworks, brewing tea in winter on braziers full of glowing coke, or flaming pieces of bituminised wooden road blocks.

As a young schoolboy, I would walk extra slowly past the road workers and their tarmac spreaders. I loved to inhale the sweet sickly smell of the fumes rising from the hissy cylinder gas-fired cauldrons of molten tar macadam.

The surfaces of London’s architecture benefitted from centuries of ingrained black grime from the coal fires of the Industrial Revolution by way of wartime bombed site fires and the general devastation of large-scale neglect.

In this context, I was only surprised at the unclean and inhospitable working conditions of the two Tower Bridge cats. All my worries were allayed when the men told me they fed exclusively on rats.

A few weeks later, with my first car, a very old but serviceable black Austin A40 – a gift from a motor-minded class mate just after leaving secondary school – I repeated the experience.

On this occasion, I took my girlfriend Jane past the forbidding sign and down into the dimly lit private world of the Tower Bridge coke stokers.
We were both aroused, as I often take great pleasure in clearly recalling, by the slow, steamy, well-oiled motions of the supersized Tower Bridge engine room pistons!

🔻Hyper media mania🔺

I found a way through and past all of this dark stuff many years ago. It is not a system of belief based on blinkered wilful selfishness.

For millenia, smallish communities lived together in agricultural subsistence. What happened among them stayed between them. The only form of new transmission was by the voice. Shouts, words, gossip, storytelling. All during these thousands of generations, we might guess at, but we were only very seldom if ever directly aware of fatal wounds, diseases, poisonings, plagues, floods, fires, famine, intrigue, rape, pillage, war, gratuitous violence.

We had plenty of work to be getting on with merely in order to feed and house and clothe ourselves.

We found ways of assimilating terrible life events, and – for most of us – we had a lifestyle of mutual support, and this helped us to remain healthy in body and mind.

Comes the advent of industry, technology, printing, mass literacy, radio, and god help us live broadcasts by television and streaming handheld smartphones.

The exact same Tsunamis and Earthquake types of destructive and dread events continue to affect human communities.

The major difference today is the gigantic burden of excessive awareness of human tragedy in every part of the world it occurs as it happens.

The media brings every one of us into virtual face-to-face with the plight of those caught up in tragic circumstances.

The circumstances offered up to us are mostly explicit and graphic, and almost invariably embellished, embroidered and hyped for commercial advantage by the complete range of high tech media, assisted closely by scientific applications of various disciplines of psychology.

What’s more, the Media are in competition to outperform against each other because of their need for financial gain.

Return for a minute to an ancient agricultural or craft village, where the worst noise pollution is birdsong, farm animals, strong winds. And where the rather strict rules of communal life tend to be set up for self-policing. Here hard work is among the top requirements expected of the average inhabitant.

This activity leaves not a lot of time for rioting, revolt, manslaughter or mayhem.

It will have been obvious to everyone that the miseries that do befall them are common to every person in every village throughout time.

What they did to keep going involved close reference to accepted tried and trusted ways of getting through the seasons, with room for empathy, compassion and altruism.

What we need in this period of the Anthropocene is exactly and precisely the same focus of time, effort and attention to the same preoccupations for ourselves and the people we live together with.

If we, or “I”, take on board an excess of attention to the woes and wherefores of people geographically very far distant from us, we are eventually bound to suffer seriously destructive imbalances to our naturally frail spiritual framework.

As my Mother would frequently point out, too much of anything is not good.

So I take no longer any notice any more. I don’t say, I do not care. I say I am bound to care more about those whose lives affect mine, about the paths of the lives of those who cross mine.

“May all beings everywhere be happy and free.
May my thoughts, words, and actions contribute in some way to happiness and freedom for all.
May I keep faith with this heart’s truth
~ Love is present EveryNow”

As long as I abide by my integrity, I share, I love, I help, I stay connected and at peace!

What point am I making, you ask as you stir impatient on your virtual bar stool.

I say we are being called upon by newly formed mass media influencers to  needlessly take notice of the entire panoply of all the ills and evils in the whole worldwide human community.

This suits those whose profits flow from the uninterrupted viral forcefeed of bad news. But that’s where any measurable advantage terminates for us as individuals who go about our daily lives.

I cannot hope to take notice or accept responsibility for every single horrid happening reported constantly. If I take a step away, I see that the best interests of my well-being are served by my being well informed about my own circles of family and friends.

Other distractions, should I choose to let myself fall prey to their melodramatic Media blandishments, provide me with only a noxious and dangerous mix of highly-charged negative emotional stimuli. I can and I should do little or nothing that allows them to erode my sense of my Original Self.

My Original Self is that inner child, that new born angelic heart, whose sacred centre is an integral part of the peace and love from which it came, and to which, collectively, we are all returning home.

Nothing has to be changed for me as a good community member. It’s the same as it would have been for me in that little village in the countryside so many Moons ago!

If I am leading a good life as a productive and caring member of my peer groups, I must consciously take leave of the flow of dystopian Media hype which concerns other people, whose responsibilities and influence concern their own local communities.

The stasis of bliss

🐣The unexpected quiet trumpet call that awakens me to the stasis of bliss🕊️

As a boy, I was for a while an avid reader of sci-fi comics. They contained individual short stories. I willingly gave myself up to be lost in them.

I always remember how one particular ‘Alien’ described itself. This being, stranded on our planet Earth, said of itself I am “An Entity without Identity”.

The predicament of this creature from Outer Space has always beckoned to me. Whatever quality, whatever identity was attributed or assigned to it, that was what it instantly became!

A child passed by in the park, found what he said was a ball. On that instant, to his alien chagrin, this voyager from the great beyond became a rubber ball and the child began to play with it.

The child met an older man in the same park, who explained that the interior of a star contains matter at such extreme high density that a ball like the boy was holding could weigh as much as a battleship.

All at once, it was so! Crowds of people flocked to the park to see it and to try to move it.

Luckily for this unhappy stranded cosmic traveller, after several misadventures arising out of mismatched identities, someone with compassion and advanced gifts of logic got it back on its galactic journey again by assigning to it a cleverly constructed sequence of identities.

My fascination with this story was an example of my early attraction to the expression of myself as fluid impermanence, fully filled with and indeed intuitively comprised of the potential of possibilty. It is a concept with which I was later to find stimulating parallels in Zen.

So when someone sees me for example as “full of surprises”, in a trice, this is in truth my core persona…

If I am to some “open, creative and full of life”, all at once this is the truth of me. I do not change. I am what I see is mirrored by those who take me into their momentary gaze.

For the time of being, in an identity made solely of vulnerability, everything is possible. It is all true EveryNow. Nothing is excluded. Until the next trumpet call!

~ Love is present EveryNow

First kiss

First kiss

I cannot tell how many hundreds of miles of trackways I have trailed since I seriously began country hiking on my own in about 1978.

Certain photos, such as this spot near Chettle, in north Dorset, remind me of when I was hungry and tired, and my dizzy exhilaration resembles nothing so much as a lover’s trance.

I force myself to pause and compose a shot, to give reverence to this moment. I feel this green place flows with green blood and my urge is to honour the eternal green moment echoing among fertile valleys of timeless green silence.

My body becomes as a planted pin on this map, as deeply rooted, as noiselessly noisy, as long established, as identifiably hairy and branchy as all of the surrounding flora within eyes reach.

Then I move on and I walk out into new places.

There is a complete, all-in-the-round island universe in that image.

In all these mysterious images, I am compelled by the rumble of love that was conceived in my breast to stand breathless and then I press the button. I allow the camera to let in the light. Some elements of the fifth dimension – the green magic – remain in the freeze-frame scenes.

The beauty of it is, that these magics are still here, are as clear to me now, and as familiar, as my first lover’s kiss

This sickness, “The Customer Is King”!

“The Customer Is King”! This is an invitation to blind ignorance. This is a thinly disguised invitation to a culpable ignorance which leads straight to intolerance.

There can be no defence which says, for example, it is unnecessary to teach our young how to shop, on the grounds that we all turn a blind eye to what shopkeepers feel when we treat them as an object, as a yielding target for insults, or for unfair, degrading, and even malicious abuse.

I had a rude awakening to the scale of damage caused to society by ignorance and lack of self-critical awareness.

The fact of my waiting on one side of a shop counter to serve people coming to the other side of the counter unburies and releases vile impulses of bullying and physical aggression on the part of a large minority of “ordinary folk”.

When I worked in shops and department stores in Central London, I also found that almost any retail worker can recount gut-wrenching episodes of this behaviour.

If you wish to contribute your accounts of your own suffering in retail and customer service, I think it would be a useful way to open up the debate on this hidden sickness.

People turn a blind eye to such behaviour, or they assume it must be a sad but unavoidable fact of retail life.

What happens to fill the humanity void when we start out in the mornings and continue through our days ignorant of our ignorance, hardly giving a thought to our responsibility to act with awareness, kindness, tolerance and active compassion to the sensitivities of others, playing down or not caring about our duties care?

What happens is that the health of civil society becomes undermined and endangered.
The void of untutored ignorance and of willful ignorance is often filled by fear. Fear that breeds a wrong attachment to contempt, and by extension to hatred, in all aspects of human affairs.

In all homes, all families, and every workplace, in all districts, countries and continents, from the earliest age, “schooling” is slated to provide the next generation with the knowledge and equipment to become an acceptable unit of social conformity.

I asked once at secondary school what the difference was in university.

The answer I was given went along these lines. “You learn to do your own research, so you can think for yourself and teach yourself. A university education, regardless of the chosen course of study, should help to create a mind that is disciplined, able to make self-informed choices supported by logic and rational argument. Such skills are highly prized in the world of work.”

We could continue blindly to content ourselves to inculcate acceptance by our young of the old ways of handed down social norms.

If we go on accepting the status quo, then by the time the few are fortunate to become qualified auto-didacts, it becomes far too late for the many.

Too late to become aware of their state of ignorance concerning the depths and breadth of the needs of others we live and interact with in civil society.

And far too late for most of them to recognize and reverse their contribution to the damage to the health of the society we all belong to.

I believe with passion that important improvements in everyday human relations are waiting to be made by devoting time during the years of compulsory education to the subject of awareness training of our individual duty of care towards people in the places and on the occasions we necessarily interact.

I am speaking of everyday skills which are so taken for granted that they are assumed not to be valid subjects of study, and still less subjects for teaching.

I’m speaking of social interactions such as these –

student & teacher;

buyer & shopkeeper;

pedestrian & road user;

passenger & driver;

patient & doctor, nurse, first aid worker, or emergency services worker;

taxpayer & government official;

voter & representative.

Also, at one remove, I’m thinking of –

consumer & factory worker, consumer & farmer,

consumer & financial and legal services provider.

In short, all givers and receivers of the work and service of others.

Uncountable damage has been done to trust and mutual respect in society since the systematic and ruthless application of that dictum, “The Customer is King.”

“The Customer is King”, “The Customer is Always Right” is as outmoded, and as blatantly unjust as it is destructive. I want us to let it loosen its grip on us all, because with education we can come back to reclaim ourselves with self-respect.

We can again, every one of us, reclaim our individual rights as Kings and Queens in our own domains, and not divided unnaturally into customers and servants.

I owe a living to no one other than me. No other person owes me a living. I do not say, “Get a life”. I do my best to live my own, so I know when I meet and truly interact, my own best will be one more light by which to see each other more clearly.

I make no case for unattainable expensive changes to create a vague and fluffy utopia . I say, teach how to see and feel things from the other person’s view initially by simple role-play.

Don’t teach by saying, “How would you like it if someone did [something nasty] ?… “
Offer practical role-play exercises, and say, “Now swap places. Swap roles. See what resources you need to draw on to give. See how different it is to take.”

Discover a whole world in giving and taking. And then tell us how you can change the way you are, at home, in the street, at school, at work, everywhere.

… … …

SEE http://www.trueactivist.com/mindfulness-and-meditation-will-now-be-part-of-the-curriculum-in-370-schools-in-england-t1/?utm_campaign=meetedgar&utm_medium=social&utm_source=meetedgar.com

SEE “The Hidden Persuaders” by Vance Packard 1957, the original inoculation against consumer manipulation.