RN – Excercises for life

Warships are sleek sea creatures, have a shark-like grace. Grey painted, the length of them cuts to a sharp point – the meeting of straight lines and hard angles. They fade into mist. Horizon appear as a gentle smudge – the passing of cloud perhaps, or the play of light and shadow. The bow thrusts water aside like a saw cuts through soft wood. Foam, white and fizzing, splinters out and up from its maritime path. The anchor holes, barnacle black and eye-like, stream water when the waves rise high enough to spill the decks.

The main mast, once of wood and sailcloth, rope and knotted binds, hoops and tar print hand marks of sailors passing, is now a concrete bottomed super structure of steal. Satellites and radars spin, held to the deck by metal cables finger thin, tout enough to cut a man in half should they snap. Anti-aircraft guns and billows of black smoke from dorsal placed chimneys frame the sky. Steel crenelated glass windows reflect the thirty tubes of the missile deck below, the rotating and broad robotic cannon, and beyond those, the massive ocean, laughing at the bath tub boat.

It might seem funny, but sometimes it’s easy to forget the guns when you live on a warship.
What with the three tin a day ration of drinking, the cleaning, the bullshit speaking and storytelling. The late night Tuesday hot dog stand in the canteen. The post office and chocolate shop. The helicopter drop. The delivery of four week-old ‘Sun’ newspapers to the mess decks and ‘The Times’ to the officers Wardroom. Bluey’s from loved ones, or ‘dear Johns’ from a month long gone ex-girlfriend. The Chinese laundry at the rear and in the bilges, where A4 parcels of sheets, trousers and socks are passed with smuggled porn mags and dodgy DVD’s. Friday night film night. Sun-downers on the upper deck, a BBQ and bears. Life in the Royal Navy, often felt far more like Police Academy than Full Metal Jacket.

So they reminded us daily, you know, about death and all the ways we might die, just in case we forgot. And they did it with exercises.

We’d have a Fire exercise, normally first thing in the morning. One eye on your half eaten bowl of cheerio’s and the other on a smoke flare going off in the corridor. Running whilst chewing, to don the affectionately named and fire proof, ‘Teddy’ Suit – alas, the kind that left you fighting the fire looking like a hot and under cooked Chewbacca, and not a smudge-cheeked James Dean in a cola add. Alarms and shouts competed in the air with the ships speaker system, as the command, in fine post war BBC accents, ordered the ship about its business, this is what we’re paid for.

It’s an orchestra of chaos, practiced and prepared, and one conducted to mastery against the all-to-thinkable – Floating in a metal box, check. Full load of high explosive munitions, check. Chemicals, fuel and some skin, check! Excellent, now we just need to piss someone off, and wait for them to try and light the match under us, and then we’ll practice blowing them up and running away – A life on the Ocean waves, bobbing along in that place where 999 rings a dead tone. The bit they left out of the brochure.

Sometimes we’d sit in those suits for hours, loosing pounds in sweat and boredom, waiting while the fast jests tore the sound barrier to ribbons outside and above decks, feeling the ship turn and alter course in an attempt to bring its guns to bare on the threat. Periodically, you’d hear the ships Warfare officer over the speaker, ‘Missile inbound, Port side, Brace Brace Brace!’ We’d echo the shout down the corridor, like world war one whistles in the trenches, a mournful, hollow sound. And images of the Falklands conflict – downloading from the RN’s collective memory to my mind; of burning Navy ships at anchor in Port Stanley Sound, explosions echoing from the low hills, painted themselves under my eyelids.

And I’d grab onto anything solid, in our version of the passenger planes crash position, and wonder if the imaginary missile would tear an imaginary hole through my section of the bulkhead. Would it carve an imaginary trail of destruction where my fire team were just standing, would it leave an imaginary aftermath of smoke, electrocuting wires dancing, smoking steal brazen hot, bits and bobs of fellow Jack’s lying about like the isle of man’s flag. Would it tare an imaginary hole in the family photo where I once stood. Or would I, having imaginary survived, then act with the highest honour and accord in the face of imaginary hell, would I ‘Do England’s duty.’ Or would I bury my head in a tub of imaginary booze which was mostly what everyone ever talked about and did given a moments chance.

There were flood exercises too, which involved hoofing a 1950’s pump up and down and back up nine flights of stairs. Carrying wooden pegs to the imaginary breach, where the sailors great enemy and dearest mistress love, – tear tasting, Sea, might explode through holes in the metal, turn our ship into a algid wreck. A relic of technological might. A future PADI Scuba dive site.

Along with FloodEx, FireEx, HippieEx, (in case we went to war with Greenpeace.) There was EngineEx, where the ships crew would pull out the emergency oars and begin to row towards the north, (jokes) and WarEx of course an endless exercise that’s been running some few thousand years now. There’s the Anti-Piracy patrol Exercise, (lock up your parrots, no peg legs allowed) Dashing into inflatable speeding dingy and clambering up ladders, pointing guns into brown and startled Merchantmen’s faces, and forcing them to play a game of hide and seek in their cargo hold – life at sea can get terrible dull.

A great favourite, and one sure to spurn you into writing home more often was the Chemical weapons attack exercise. With the sound of fighter jets tearing your ear drums to rumbles simulating scud missile attack, we’d have under two minutes to slip, pull, push, squeeze, pant ourselves into a frog suit – like Bridget Jones trying to get into her undersized pants, using our tears of desperation, and yesterdays beans as lube; before an imaginary Nerve agent could begin to melt the precious skin from our bones, boil us from the inside out. And then if that happened, your mate would have to stab you in the chest with a five inch needle in an apparent last ditch attempt to save your life – grateful teeth smile through the gap your cheeks used to cover as applause fills the gallery of honour. ‘Hanks hor having hy hife hatey.’

For me, the most dramatic and the most terrifying in its probable possibility, and at times required participation, was FredEX. Or better known as the Man-Over-Board Drill. Those in the know, know that Fred is the little talked about, 17 stone dummy that lives on every ship in the fleet. Long serving, long suffering he has never received a medal.

He’s a bit clumsy is Fred, and has the worst case of mermaid addiction known to ‘Davey Jones’ locker.’
As such he frequently falls over the side in an apparent need to reach for the fair haired maidens that use the under surface of the sea as a mirror. For reasons never disclosed, the mermaids tend to only do their doo in the late afternoon – preparing for a night out in Octopus’s garden perhaps.

There is something dreadful about hearing the words, ‘Man over board.’ The very syllables strung together conjure a monster of an image – bottom dredged and from some terrible, deep, dank place (and I don’t mean a Portsmouth nightlife venue) with sharp teeth and a lonely, watery filled horizon, and only the sense of abandonment to see with.

Of all the exercises we practiced – like kids re-tying laces, never really believing we were getting it quite right, this was the one that got to me the most, because as well as Fred, for that particular monster, we used live bait. And sometimes, not often, but more than once, that bait, was me.

Ships lifeguard duty rotated, so once the hue and cry went up, the ship, in all its 40,000 ton glory, would perform the maritime version of a 360 hand break turn. Each of us would run to our appointed places, look outs to the bridge, others to engine room, op’s room, coms op in place, and of course the boat bay. No red leotard to greet me after a jog along the upper deck, sun dazzling off my permed chest hair. No sound of ‘Some people stand in the darkness’ playing for me. Only a dry bag and a rope around the waist. Fins for the feet. Hold your nose, arms across the chest and go save Fred!

It’s a long way down to the water. On this occasion, once I step off the metal deck, the next place I’d be, was floating in the warm waters of the Persian Gulf. The sky was a pale yellow, desert sand storms lingering in the air, until I leaned my head back enough to find the blue, but the water is no such colour, its black, dark with depth. There are miles to sink through before the sand floor. Light has never touched there, there where fish with no eyes and things with no knowledge of a humans gangling limbs swim – an eon of sinking through curiosity. Gulp. Splash.

Like all Sailors, I adore the sea and fear it too. For a sailors love to the sea is as another’s love for a heart. It is a home, it is a wildness in which we roam and adventure. It keeps us humble, shows us astounding beauty, reminds us daily the gift of breath. It teaches the value of a solid deck. And like all sailors, we were taught to fear it with superstitious dread also. Long hours at the Sea survival school in Plymouth, with salty ol’dogs, regaling us with tails of it’s cruel apparel, put the fear in you sharp.

There they give you a thin red all in one mac to protect against Arctic waters – and you’re left wondering why polar bears never evolved nylon coats?

Sailors will struggle in the sea, like a poet with a love letter – hate it, flee from it, fear and fight it, but they will always return to it.
And that paradox, of love and fear will tell you all you need to know about the men who go to sea, and every relationship they’ll ever have.

So once I’d dropped the twelve meters into the water, the procedure for rescuing Fred was as follows. Lie on your back, arms across your chest, watch for the man holding the battens directing you to Fred and try not to think about the man beside him with the rifle.

Now, there are many rumors in the Navy, it’s a life blood of sorts, Sailors love tales like boys love their… For this exercise, let me introduce you to two. They go well together, like a hook needs a worm. The first goes like this, and it’s as old as ships on water. Sharks follow ships. The theory has it, when the shadow of a vessel, crossing the many empty miles of Ocean, pass by, small fish follow in the shade of it, like sucker fish to a whale hitching a ride. When the ship dumps its degradable waste (sewage) the fish have a feast. Small fish eating, means bigger fish hungry. Bigger fish, equals sharks licking lips following ships.

Splash splash gulp splash.

The second rumor, involves the man on Shark watch. He’s standing beside the guy with the red and green battens. He has a rifle. The rifle is there in case a shark comes and attacks me or Fred.
He could be anyone of us, selected on the rota like I am now, paddling through the waves to rescue a lump of plastic and old sack cloth and cursing the day I ran away and joined this floating circus. Give me tanks, give a wizened cruel Afghan smile wielding a gelding knife, but please don’t make me swim, in here, in this aquarium of my imagination. According to lower deck talk, the man has a gun, not for the shark, but for the swimmer, to put you out of your misery before you’re dragged under for good.

Paddling backwards I see myself through three movie shots.

1. Eagle eye. High above the finger sized ship, a trail of white foam shows the wake of a man swimming. Zooming in on wake. A large, dark shadow following the trail of splashing feet.
2. What lies beneath. The view we’ve all seen. The undershot from Jaws of the unsuspecting swimmer at the surface, splash, stroke, splash stoke.
3. The tragic re-tale. This is shot in the mess deck. Somber and tear stained faces. “He never stood a chance. It came from nowhere. Right under him. I never even got a shot off.” Sobs echo in the silence. “I keep seeing his hand, reaching up, reaching up…”

So, lying on my back, 2 miles of dark water holding me in that place between elements, where the line of the sky sits, waiting for a prehistoric sized dinosaur shark to erupt into my disappointingly bony bottom, and I am wondering, what’s it all about?

Why are we here? Are we doing any good? Sailing around a coast line a thousand miles away from home, with our lovely cold, shark free waters. The endless exercises, the constant preparation for the worst that could happen, and cleaning bogs that always had shit stuck on the sides. We were there enforcing the UN sanctions on Saddam Hussain’s Iraq, supposedly stopping him from acquiring WMD’s. Many years later I’d read a UNICEF report that found this particular program contributed to the starvation of 500,000 Iraq children.

A warship does look like a bit like a shark. That is to say predatory, powerful, threatening even.
Of course nowadays we only like to scare the ‘Bad guys’. So when sailing into port, we’d all put on our nice flared white suits and silly hats, wave at the girls and get the brass band out so as not to worry the wrong people.

That was part of my job too, dressing the ship. Hanging pretty flags, disguising the shark in a rainbow. The animal-aquatic equivalent of Dame Edna with glorious hair, sparkly dress and smudged lipstick, leering out of a wide white smile.

Funny thing, recently I saw a re-run of Tony Blair making his case for the Iraq war in 2003. He was talking about the justifiability and need for a War to prevent a War, that could happen at some point… and so this War must be stopped before it happens ever again, with a War. He mentioned those WMD’s that we were always searching container ships and fisherman’s cabins for…

Anyway, when he was talking, I watched his eyes that had that intense stare. Saw his mouth move up and down, his tongue slip in and out, noticed the moisture on his lip, forehead. The way his hands rested on his lap, and while he was making these noises, these grunts, snarls, whimpering sounds…I had a vision of Fred. He was floating face down in the water, and I wondered if he ever got a medal after all.

“Constant exposure to danger will breed contempt for it.” A Roman wrote that over two thousand years ago, Tacitus I think. Just some other guy who got off on making his boys run in the mud, no doubt.

But he was right, to a degree. Sometimes, like when I am watching Tony Abbot, or David Cameron lying about ISIS and everything else on the media wagon they call the News, I care so much that it hurts so bad. And I don’t want to care anymore.

I think that should be a War Crime too. Making people hate to care.

‘Constant exposure to… breed contempt… for…’

Do you know, they never had a door mat with it written on.

But when you climbed the jetty, to either end of the gangway I guess, it could have had, it could have said ‘Welcome Home.’ Because it was in a way.

It had a family too, of a kind. But then it takes a different kind of courage to be loved to death.

Star Gazing – Hide and Seek

The fire crackling, glowering hazy red and the two candles melting in wine bottles are no longer enough. Outside – my shadow guiding the way – I go to seek another kind of light, one no less elemental or primal, yet utterly older and equally bright.

I am standing outside under the stars tonight, and I don’t think it is possible to get bored doing so. There are all the stars up there ever seen by Humankind at anytime. The longer I look, so many great and glorious clusters appear, side by side, so I can see Mount Rushmore sized benevolent Star-faces smiling down at the Earth.

And under their gaze, that feeling fills me of being seen and of seeing. Of being tucked in of a night, when you’re poorly or scared as a child. A parental kiss on your forehead, covers wrapped tight under your feet and pulled to your chin. A drink by your bedside, the door left ajar – meaning safety next door if you need it. You know you’re loved, you can close you eyes and be in the darkness inside your own eye lids, you can surrender to sleep, begin to dream some more.

I love how thoughts turn to matters of the heart so sincerely and clearly under the winking of those little lights. Friends, relatives or colleagues absent or lost to us through the years are felt with no need to forgive. All the self-righteousness, the proponency of being right all the time, the self promotion, the self-flagellation, the constant strive to be ahead and on top, slips away. Misunderstandings melt in the grey space between your hands and the black canvass of the sky, whilst a delicate sense of love streams out of those lights. You could scream your hate into that canopy, let it sail into the void, yet in all that vastness there is no room for anything, but what you feel for those you think of most fondly.

Under its splendour we are at once in each moment ever spent with others or ourselves, when looking up at the night sky. Ancestors standing on high rock ledges, backs to the flickers of a cave mouth fire, watch with the same child like wonder as we do now, arrows exchanged for rockets, and still firing at the moon we miss the point. We already have the treasure, we already have the pot of gold at the rainbow end. We have this beautiful planet-platform to view it all from. So precious, so utterly loving to us, our Mother that birthed us – life in a lifeless void – allows us to grow.

Under the Stars, we are instantly brought together. There are no sexes, no races, no judgmental cases to separate us from one another. We pilgrims, we’ve held hands on this journey before and will again, in the last life, this one or the next. Soul friends, Soul family, Soul teasers and Soul-teachers, we’re voyaging in this gargantuan, gloried ride together, seeking each other out, over and again, in all the crazy reincarnations and costumes of ourselves, hiding and seeking ourselves in each others eyes and life’s, moment to moment, life after life, adding a little wind to each others sails, sending us further down the stream of Stars, heading through the void of life and strife and whatever we need it to be to teach us, to lead us towards the light from which we come.

Under these Starts tonight, I know nothing of want or need. I don’t want anything from you. I don’t need anything from you. I am sorry if I have ever hurt you. I Love you, and that is all I wanted you to read.

Because you might be sat at work wishing it was the weekend. You might be feeling alone. You might be fucked off and fed up and wondering if it’s all worth it. There are wars, there are some horrible things going on. There is a promotion of fear that is hard to get away from. So if that is the case, go outside tonight, look up, and know that in that multitude of light, there is a star that is reflecting in the eyes of someone that cares.

So, I’ll be wishing you a clear night sky tonight. Go out and hold hands together, whatever side of the world you are on. Go seek each other out.



Love for you


bright light,




Magic Farm – Is there a free lunch in the Universe

Morning wakes me with the sound of a dogs feet tapping on the wooden floor, and sunlight spreading across sheets, dust moats floating down and into my eyes.

In the kitchen I am greeted by line of red hooded, beady eyed faces, peering in through the glass in shock and surprise I haven’t fed them yet. These ever hungry, insatiable Chickens, remind me so much of the Penguin in Wallace and Grommets, The Wrong Trousers. I begin to understand that life on a farm revolves around eating and feeding.

So, I feed the chickens and ducks first, twelve sets of feet flap and clack on the ground as they race each other in break beak urgency. The chickens are the most comically serious creatures I have ever seen. Like tiny Jurassic Park, Velociraptor dinosaurs, with scaled feet they pace the farm hunting worms, sharp beaks leading and pulling their bodies on the demands of their stomachs.
Each time I open a door and step outside they charge after me in a flutter of wings and clucks.
When I feed the rabbit and guinea pigs, they swam around the hutch, peck at my bum and legs as I throw in the salad – I have the distinct feeling that if I fell over and lay still for a mere moment, they’d eat me in a frenzy of pecking! Every door becomes a barricade, every day is a siege.

I feed Sasha (dog) and Bell (cat) and myself (human) last. And with that pecking order established – by way of the most urgent and cute eyes, I begin the day.

And so the second of my requests to the Universe is for-filled. Space, somewhere to write, by a tree where I can go insane to the tap-tap-tapping of the keyboard… My request could not have been created more perfectly. I have been taken in by a wonderful family of three boys, aged 6, 9 and 11 and their fantastic Mother, who is also is a Writer, Bell the Cat, Shasha the Labrador, (you’ve already met) Alice the sheep, Tricks and Patsy the ducks, a rabbit, two Guinea pigs and of course, the ten hungry hens. After a week to settle in, of treasure hunts, Pirate games and sliding down hills on make shift, handmade skateboards, I have the place to myself.

Whilst they are away on holiday, I am renovating a cabin on the farm for me to live and write in. Knocking down walls with a spade and painting walls white. And in that whiteness, rolled on with each brush of my hand, I am rolled further inside memory-land and my own imagination scape. The walls become a canvass, blank, inviting with possible patterns to create there.

Some days I cut the grass, riding on a green sit-on mower, wonky lines and daisy free patches marking my passage. And one day, I see Alice coming to see me, white woolly body clambering down the hills, that are so green as to seem like a Telly-tubby dream set.

(Have you ever felt like you’re own version of the Truman Show?)

I have a flash back to being a little boy, playing on my green carpeted bedroom floor with a farmyard set, white sheep and green tractor in hands. A feeling not unlike de ja vu spins me around, upside down and inside out… for a moment, it is as though I am in the imagination of my five year old self.

It’s such a pleasure to experience life so intimately with animals, be close to nature. Each time of day has its own rhythm. In the morning, the cows call from the middle distance, roaming the fields before the heat of the day bakes the grass they chew, driving them to shady spots by the creeks or under willow branches. The birdsong is boisterous and low to the ground as birds catch the mornings insects, darting between the shrubs and long grass. There is an optimistic feeling to the land. Simply breathing feels like your first and last breath at once, feels original, and utterly precious. In the evening, the bird song is equally loud, but comes from higher up, as the birds get ready to roost the night away, they climb up to see the Sun for as long as possible.

Each morning and night, Me and Sasha go for a run and climb around the perimeter of the farmland. Through the gate and long grass, down the slope and past the bee’s boxes. Sasha runs and jumps into the pond, sending ripples and muck racing the ducks the length of water. I stoop under branches, hop over fences, race along a worn track that leads into the hills arms, past the T-tree circle, and up onto a ridge-line decorated with old pines.

I sit there then, catching my breath and taking it all in. Beyond is an expanse of green folding hills, falling away into a valley of dark evergreen forest which climbs away again, merges into white caped, jagged mountains. In another direction, Hobbit-habited like hills, give way to the sky and jade sea. Between, distant herds of brown and caramel colored cows graze. Clouds, smooth bellied, epic and monstrous in size and stillness hang like floating Antarctic mountains. All is so completely still that only the chorus of a thousand tiny birds remind me this is not a painting I am standing in.

With snow topped mountains behind and eyes fastened on the distant ocean, I sense a presence of a life around me, un-recorded, un-prescribed, uncatalogued or caged, yet completely present, knowing and forgiving and at once completely welcoming. And I know I am meant to be here right now. I feel it when I see the dew drops, shimmering silver on wild grass seed, or drip-dropping in their own time from T-tree broom like branches. I feel an expanding, love like feeling with every eye blink, as I think of all the miles I crossed to get here. Window views over white cloud journeys above the earth, long traveling times on Indian railway lines, heart-deep eyes looking out from dark corners, standing in queues for illegal booze on Monsoon evenings. Lightning struck palm trees falling behind our ride that time, missing us but only just. The glitter and gentle wash of surf on a hundred beaches. The laughter caused, the sorrow shared, shoulders leaned on when the world got scary and of all the helpfulness gifted to me, a stranger on the road, So many cherished friends found. The world is full of kindness and I am so very grateful.

Sasha pants at my shoulder, resting slobbery chops on my neck, tail wagging butterflies and dandelion orbs into flight. I take my notepad to record the moment, and the Sun, for a fraction of time, slips behind a cloud and the world turns pink – as though Nature is blushing at my appreciation and attention.

And as my Soul gives expression to the sensation, I sense the borrowed smile of another moving in my face. And sometimes, I sing or talk out loud, just to hear a voice, give sound to what I feel you say inside.

I get up and we run further along the path, sheep rush away and down the slope. Two new pairs of little white bums run with their Mother and Father, who bleat us away from the newborn lambs. Past the hollow that dips and rises, made soft with pine leaves, where wool clings to sticks in the shade, and the dirt marks the shape where the sheep sleep at night. Is this where the mother breathed through her pain, birthed new life into this magical place?

Further on, Alice comes to say hello, brushing her head against my hip as I rub the spot above her eyes and ears, Sasha licks her nose and bum with gusto – later he will like my face with the same woolly tongue. Hand reared she misses the company of people, bleats whenever I leave, in farewell or pleading I haven’t yet decided, depends mostly on how I am feeling.

Heading back down the hill, I have a view of a sinister sight. The chickens are on the move. Lining the road like a “Saving Private Ryan” Patrol, spaced out in checkerboard formation, they appear to be searching the farm, for food, or for me?

My favorite part of the day is late afternoon. When the duality of life plays out in nature, light and dark merge, day holds hands with the shadows. The Sun, while lower is still high, bright and shy enough to need a hand to look through at, and its warmth is mellow, comfortable with none of its burning. Half the trees leafs slide into shade, a ripple of color, camouflage like, glisten green with ponds of silver cupped depths. The extremities become hazy, golden-lined halos of vibrating, beat-breathing, sparkling edges. Busy picking at grubs and daisies, the Hens bottom’s pointing high, become translucent, aureate cloaks of feathered red glory. Each leaf becomes a treasure map, each spider web a silver string on the gardens harp, every individual birdsong blends into a symphony of orchestral grandeur and organic passion.

A breeze awakens, comes sliding slow from the hill, rustles the long grass and purple meadow flowers, stills the shifting bees. Lifts tree branch filtered sunbeams. The air is infused with watery, honey-like light, hazy and scented with the free growing buttercup flowers, no longer termed weeds. Lemons pull down on their branches, heavy, going slow, green to yellow over the herb garden, where a chicken heats an egg newly laid.

By the pond is blossom, pollen and Pampass Grass drifting seed, that hangs and twirls in the space between earth and sky, it becomes a hundred fairies that fly and dance goodbye to the day, welcome the night, like sprites and spirits to the eye. And I stand in it, that breeze with the fairies flying in, hands open, arms wide, a childish grin of delight on my face, I smile your smile, feel you here, if only for a moment.

As evening sets in, with the Sun shut out by the ring of hills that enfold the farm, the sky recedes into ponds of deepening blue, while the clouds, dark with rain, rove swift overhead, like continents on the map.

The rhythm of night begins, I collect the day’s apples and eggs, take them inside. I close the windows, pull the curtains closed, stock the wood pile and light a fire. Lastly, I close the door on the day, shut the world out slowly.

Inside, sitting down to write I find pleasure in the small details of my life at this time. Enjoy tea given long enough to brew. The purr and fuss of Bell in the crook of my arm, the crackle and hiss of the newly lit fire, the sound of Sasha rolling belly upwards using the carpet as a brush. If the mood takes me, ill stick on some music, dance around with my shadow and the jealous reflection in the windows, perform to a crowd of my imagining, and play it loud enough to drown out my practicing piano playing and braying.

Later, when the world is reduced to the flicker of shadows on the walls, twisting in the elemental flow of the log fire and the glow of the laptop screen, I see my reflection in the patio doors looking back at me, see the hollows and bones of my face where my eyes should be.

I let Sasha out to water the plants, climb up and sit on the decking outside, look into a night sky, clear and bright with starlight, and I think about you, I do, knowing it will probably be daytime where you are, and hoping they’ll be sunshine for you there. I go inside, slip into bed, turn out the lights, look out at the moon through the skylight.

And I think about what a friend told me recently, that Farming is the noblest of professions, they feed the world, are the custodians of the land. Having this experience, I see how disenfranchised most of us are from the earth, from what we eat, have responsibility for. Being here, with dirty fingernails and the chicken shit-smells, I see how we are connected to the earth far stronger. See that we are part of the puzzle not a single piece. We have domesticated animals to an extent that they depend on us, our rhythms and patterns, yet we depend on them too, have a responsibility to protect and respect them also. I am very grateful for this experience.

And then Bell will come and settle in next to me, tunneling into the covers, purring softly, chin resting on my ribs. Yet I wake up in the night, hear purring as the cat settles in beside me on the other side again.

In the morning I am greeted awake by two disgruntled green eyes, Bell turns away from me. I realize there is another cat lying there beside me – Sophia, the neighbors cat, as it turns out.
I protest my innocence to Bell, but she has none of it, stretches her long feline legs, licks her own neck, looks sultrily back at me over a grey fur shoulder, hops off the bed and disappears.

I get up, hearing Sasha’s paws on the wooden floors. In the kitchen a troop of red-hooded heads and beady eyes peer in at me through the glass door.

It’s feeding time again.

It’s only fear. Dangling on a line – One dream at a time

A warning, be careful what you ask for, you might just get it in the most unexpected of ways.

Clinging to a sheer rock face, barnacle lined and wind scared, thirty meters above a cold, turquoise and volatile Pacific Ocean, I mutter a new found mantra the way the scat-man raps.

“It is only fear.”

I breath the words out as though they’re my last, over and over again as the wind teasers them out and away of the tiny gap between my mouth and the eon-old layers of weather-sharpened granite, which has become my geography of close inspection, a planet of distraction, from the new reality and the universal drop below it.

The noise that the wind replaces my mantra with is a whistling, haunting sound like that of Wile’e coyote, falling from a Grand canyon cliff. The chucking from far above could be Elma Thud (pardon the pun) but I know in-fact that it’s my new good friend and guide, Dr. Marnix.

Silhouetted like a pupil in the blue of an eye-sky, twenty-five meters high above me. Who, when not fixing and patching casualties in A and E, is to be found leading unsuspecting guests on masochistic feeling trips, on thin lines and gravity defying climbs. There is something interestingly reassuring, and a little misleading about a Doctor that encourages you to hold onto a rope the width of a penny-piece and leap off a cliff face. We are, after all, not accustomed to disagreeing with Doctors.

And as I hang there, half way down and thirty meters up, waves thundering white spray high as me, clutching dear, sweet, terrible and vampireous life with the fading power of bleeding fingers, angry toes, and shaking thighs, which grip the vertical rock-rise chimney as tight as Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, I remind myself to be careful for what I ask for in life.

Three weeks before, faced with an imminent return to the world of suits, plastic wrapped sandwiches, and clock-watching, week-wishing-away, is it Friday yet working-weeks, I lit the Bat Signal into the realm of Facebook, stood on the balcony in Melbourne, looked beyond the florescent glow of Sky-sc-Raper crowns, where the Stars and Moon hung, and asked my Spirit guides, the Universe and my old, long gone Cocker-Spaniel, Jack, for three things.

The first two were Courage and Space. It seemed I was hanging in one of them and in quick need of finding the other. It’s scary to write, gazing into an abyss inside, drawing up the bucket of your own sludge and spewing it onto a page. And it’s frighting following your dreams. And like on the cliff wall, I want to lie down and call it a day, at times. And there are all these doubts… Not only was I turning my back on all preconditioned programing of safety-net need. I didn’t want to let imposed responsibility be a disability and I chose to let my heart be the guide, not the fear of not having what we are supposed to greed. That can wait with its good points too. I was also choosing to dedicate a period to writing and nothing else, for if at the least of least, I could say I had honored my ambition, a long required dream and created the possibility and place to see it birthed and grow, nurtured, to give it a go. What if I fail?

And then a friend pulls on a rope, gently reminding me there is a top and I can get there, a bit of hope. I don’t know why it feels so scary to try, and more so, to succeed at your dreams, but it does, so courage is what I asked the sky and also the means.

And of course I did find it, courage, scrapped my way, one toe hold at a time. Because you can only be brave, when you are afraid. So life it seemed was answering my call, with its own cosmic, jokingly, loving way. Giving me in direct and plain terms, a choice, climb or fall. And in each crumbling rock hold, as I felt out the next place to stand or grab with a hand, I began to climb, and enjoy it, love it too.

Dragging myself up the last scratch of grass and stone, wind moaning, pulling and pushing, I felt it infuse my body and soul. Like Popeye fortified with a spinach high, courage and the experiential knowledge, that anything is possible. I can do this.

After Courage came Space, and not the kind you dangle in. Delighted I am to inform you, the bat signal worked. From all across the globe, friendships answered the call. A cabin offered here, a boat house there – the world is full of kindness.

Armed with my bravery, I rolled along in the loll of the car as it bumped its way along the chalk-stone road. Either-side, green hills climbed higher, enveloping us in arms of wildflowers, wooded ridge-lines and luminous green grass and pines. Past fields of cows in pastures, brown bodied with white face masks.

Then along a drive way, through a gate, and into the Magic Farm.

The Twisting Tree

Crucified on the hard wooden floor of my mind I lay awake and aware of my body as though for the first time.

The distant ceiling spirals deeply away into a bottomless rooftop tower. 1,981 raindrops drum the ground around and at each point of the circular pagoda. Overhanging tubes of bamboo, like the teeth of a cantankerous old giant, funnel cascading waterfalls into great puddles, releasing spray and splashing noises. The rain slows and eventually ceases.

The heat grows.

Healthy body, healthy mind, healthy living, healthy life.

Love your body, love your mind, love yourself and the world will respond in kind.

The voice floats to me from the cross-legged silhouette, framed by a huge stone portal that is filled with the blue-grey, dark-dawn. Over the voice’s shoulder the last star promises to return, slips away silently.

I roll onto my side. A single sleep tear drops onto the meditation mat. Within it, I see, in time the sunlight filtering through the haze of burning jasmine scented incense and tall green leaves. A red and white cockerel heralds the morning with its calling as a breeze gentles in.

Stone gargoyles watch over the courtyard from either side. Ganesha and his mouse, happy and content with a conker, preside by the bronze covered doors draped in a necklace of marigolds.Nearby a pair of rabbits lay entwined like yin and yang in their hay. Small trays of flowers lay before every entrance, welcoming the spirits of the land into the new day. In a cage a large fat black bird, with a long hooked beak calls out greetings in three languages to no one walking past.

At last I stir, as a galaxy of dust motes whirl in the slowest motion possible, a dance perhaps to a rhythm… The floor vibrating begins booming and banging. The music vibrates through my legs and feet; my back and bum, long gone to sleep are numb from the meditation, now hum with a new energy. I flex my knees, stand and begin to move, to enquire what this vessel on earth can do. Turn about and around, one hundred pairs of people are beating the sound of the drum with their heart beating feet. Legs hop and skip, bodies twist and twirl. Skin dark, skin light, skin golden and rolling, tattoos unfurling like banners and kites, teeth shine white, beaded braids curling, sweet smelling sweat soaked hair spins in the air as I move in, through and past, turn and duck, step sideways and back. Throw hands in the air, punch fist to the floor, spring up and jump into space between five other faces full of rambunctious joy. Ecstatic feeling thrills through me and I close my eyes again. Let my head sag back, arms out to my side, wide…

…Toes sink into the hard wooden floor of the Pagoda hall. Down into soft powered grit. Something washes over feet, sinking ankle deep to meet with cool water fizzing clean. Open eyes see little at all. The drumming of tribal music becomes the rushing pounding greeting as the Ocean charges in, then it breaks, white caps unzip across the shore. A huge full Moon rises up revealing the sea, painting silver stairs glittering like pearls raining.

To the left a lighthouse flick flashers its beam across the reach of the dark sand beach and the purple galaxy shining night sky. As regular as a heartbeat and like the tick tock song of Big Ben that erupts to the right, gothic arches spiralling high, sand spewing nigh in its wake. A white clock face, straight black fingers point to the crime and lie that there is a time other than Now. Water rushes around your ankles and shins, a scratch and scrape, something touches skin. You look down, see a gleaming, shining, moon catching glass bottle with a rim of blood. With the tide a new wave rides something else to see. A plastic bag snags on your toe, a beer can, a crisp packet a magazine about T.V. Sudden sickness burns you inside, fall down and hide your face in the water that is hotter than shame and colder than guilt, pulls you in, draws you lower, weights you down, heavier than a crown.

Begin to heave, start to wretch and all the fag nubs, chewing gums and bits of crap you ever dropped to the floor fall out your maw and onto your hands. In desperation climb up, run and jump, duck dive into a watery world of dark, moonlight negative. Legs become joined, a single fin, you kick, you swim, seeing becomes a thing of thin sound whilst sound becomes your vision.

You seek and call out to the vast watery silence, seeking those that once roamed, mighty and majestic, nomadic and unbound. Nothing…ness. In the empty darkness of the ocean you cease. A single moonlight beam becomes the crease between the black curtain screen and stage. Around you a universe glitters and shines like a snow globe, a hundred million planets and lives swirling in slow slowest motion waiting for you to… Rising up.

Breaking the surface a millimetre at a time, each and every drop that rolls off your skin falls like a dime in moonlight, chimes as it hits the mirrored night like water. Spinning, now you’re a crystal chandelier of tears. One for each sea creature we failed to feel as ourselves.

Up and up, spinning so slowly… on the surface you see your reflection surrounded by stars, beneath the reflection you see another face, whose is it? As I see you, seeing me, what do you see when I look in me?

Earthrise finds you sitting on a cliff beneath a withered and twisted tree. Soft, brilliant morning light shimmers on the surface of pools and lakes between patches of trees and the seashore. The waves, so fast below are nothing but slow at this distance. Kookaburra bird’s call out from treetops, whilst the moon grins a Cheshire cat smile goodbye, says cheerio ta ta for a now and disappears into the baby blue sky.

How do you feel when you reach the land of your perceived destination? Observe the familiar culture in a strange place. Short cut lawns, sun scorched lines meeting titivated borders containing arid plants and vines. Excitement, anticipation, tiredness and a softly nagging sense that all this is unnecessary. Yet in penning these thoughts reminded perhaps that it is the act of moving that is destination enough.

As the safe and parental arms of western culture begin to enfold, in arms of airports and highways, high-liners, skyscrapers and Elton John on the radio a question takes hold… What is the use of a therapy that retails its own illness?

Look to the horizon, ever the wanderers’ greatest misleading friend and guide, seek out the distant quickly receding tide of wild. The vanishing spaces, the trees and forests, the swamps and the deserts where the wild things still roam, clinging on in the face of civilizations concrete advance, as we become Gnomes in someone else’s garden.

Yet, nature nurtures and waits for the day when we put ourselves to reckless sleep, like Snow White biting apple deep, waits patiently for its prodigal children to return to the wild within and without, a place called home.

Above us is a tree, black barked, old and hoary, with knobs and knots and forget-me-not’s growing scruffy about its glory. It is twisted to our eye, frozen in death, but outside of the fast passage of our time it has barely breathed one breath.

It is patient and it is still young in its stretching, reaching, grasping of life. It has learned to weather the strife by bending and shaping itself to the blowing of the wind.

And the invisible powerful force has learned to mold and rend, to become apart of it not divorced. So all can see that it is real, it does feel, it exists though it can’t be seen except where it will stay… Not all is as we see it to be… A twisted tree is twisting… still.

Creative Writer seeks salvation from Corporate promise.

Dear Friends and Family,

Today I have a confession and a humble request.

Yesterday, I attended an interview.

Exiting the lift on the 50th button up, I walked into a foyer larger than any house I’ve ever lived in.

White marble pillars and floors, glass doors, suit and ties, easy lies and smiles, clipped short-smart-crew-cut-hairstyles.                  The view from the window was breath taking, in the distance from where I stood,  to the thud, of the little peoples footsteps far below, there was no space for connection. The interview room had seats for 33, yet the two of our voices echoed in it, around it, intimately, just.

As I stood there in a suit, arms and neck braced, breathing constricted, legs and hips straight faced, no emotion detected, non-elected.

I felt the pinch and squeeze of feet not known to shoes 6 months past, I don’t want to loose the memory of sand and grass, still strong enough that the wrongness of restricted arms and motion makes me want to cry and gag and laugh, just a little bit.

Realisation hits.


I got the job. It pays very well and a Visa for Australia thrown in too.

But here’s the thing.

I want to be a Writer, not a corporate waiter. Delivering cash on a silver tray for someone that doesn’t need anymore of it anyway, not at all.

I confess that I am scared and I am frightened. At 33 I should have it all sorted. A healthy bank balance, a place of my own, a flashy car, the latest mobile phone,

a favorite bar where I can wine and dine, show the girls a merry white line and a good time too. A cape to highlight my characteristics unknown, perhaps a volunteer at the shelter for animals and visitor of homes for the alone,                                            not a crime on my record or a record without a scratch. Not a patch of bold beneath my too-long for corporate and scruffy thatch.

I don’t want to compromise.                                                                                                                                                                                         I don’t want to sell my soul – it doesn’t want to live like a mole under the weight of concrete walls and targets,

nor traffic jams and the gaze of clock watching crime keepers who hold the pay packet in prone and rusted fingers.

So, here is my request to you, dear and dearest friends of mine.

Before I give up the fight, one last time,

I want to write my book and go “Once more into the breach.”

Hence, I need a place to stay – To find my way to write the story that I need to tell.

I wonder if you can help, or know someone that will?

I am currently in Australia and I am thinking about New Zealand, though any place might do within relative reach.

It needn’t need to be luxury. Yet somewhere with power, that is comfortable. Where myself can be alone with me in the middle of nowhere. A bonus it would have a shower, be near a tree. Where I can hear silence, and silence hear me.

Where I can barricade myself in with baked beans and write out my dreams that haunt me in the daylight hours.

Where with no-one to stop me, I can go insane quietly to the sound of a keyboard tap-tap-tapping.

If you know of someone who has a cabin in the woods, out in the mountains or in the fields, a property with or without animals that need looking after and would be happy not to yield it’s wildness and have a Writer in residence, then please let me know, ASAP.

Funds are running low, so gratitude from me and the desire to help an aspiring Writer achieve his life long ambition needs to be the main driver.

You never know, you might just save me from corporate success.

If you think you can help, please get in touch as soon as you can, peternlee@hotmail.co.uk 

With gratitude and love.

Peter Lee

Drowning in Paradise

White sand, soft as ashes…

Littered by broken fragments of bone like coral, pushed ashore by clear crystal waters which rush in and slosh softly away again. Your feet greet the wet as it rolls in and out, warm washing, hushing and shushing thoughts away. Beyond the rolling rhythm maker, where the water meets the land, all the world is blue. Shallow electric becomes deep Aquamarine, melts into the sapphire of the sky.

You’ve seen this view before, by day and night, those dreams, only you know but we all share, take you there.

Dreams change, nightmares start then fade away again…into the blue.

I watched a man drown today, saw the pressure of water turn his insides outside, heard his girlfriends disbelieving scream trace the passage of his soul.

How much is a life worth, to make us mark it?

Looking back, piecing together the moments that made up his last, I can see the question asked and ended, for me at least, with the news of the plane crash, the invasion of Gaza, and most of all, with a little white cat…

Will you come with me?

There is something remarkably romantic about arriving somewhere via the Sea. One moment you are speeding, wave riding on a jet boat, skimming and smashing through waves, racing past reef breaks and then a slim strip of white smiles across the ocean, topped by a level of green trees. This grows into Gili T, one of three small tropical islands just off the coast of Lombok, Indonesia.

After months in India, the sound of Bob Marley and western dance music thumping out of restaurants and bars is a welcome home of sorts. Bare foot, sun-baked I wander the mud packed road which runs alongside the beach front, dive schools, tourist tat, food places with the same menus, the smell BBQ’s and huge fish caught and displayed for dinner on tables line the road.

My tatty clothes and scruffy hair at sharp odds to the trim tourist crowd, who shop in boutiques on weekend breaks – Backpacking has changed in South East Asia.
A Horse and carts trundle past, their jingle bells a pleasant reminder that here there are no motor horns and that somethings are slow to change.

Later in a packed bar, I do the drunken shuffle to reggae beats. Spinning and dancing and drinking. Surrounded by bikini clad Aussie girls and vest wearing macho blokes. Through the press something catches my eye, in a corner beyond the bar a T.V screen muted in the racket of our enjoyment.

The broken remnants of an aircraft downed over Ukraine, images of masked men with guns and bullet proof jackets in Palestine, the images seem to flick to the beat of the music as a city suburb explodes in a cloud of dust and fire, the screen shakes a little, images of children crying, bodies, bloody and burned being carried into broken down hospitals… a girl flashes her boobs at her friend as they dance past…tanks roll past schools, holes appear in supermarket walls. I look back across the dance floor, see the flash of red disco lights cross faces screaming along to songs twenty years dead.

The following day I am lying on the beach, feeling that sadness, helplessness, outrage of unchanging ways in the world, watching the waves, feeling powerless as the water-drops evaporate from skin, leaving salt stains and me dried out.

A meow, a nudge against my leg. A white cat come to comfort. She fuss’s me for sometime, insistent and demanding as only cats can be and get away with. She comes to my face, rubs her head against the corners of my right eye, walks around my head, rubs her head against my left eye. Was she preempting my tears? Cheered by this little spirit, I watch as she works her way up the beach, towel to towel, fussing sunbathers for moments, then moving on to the next.

Sometime later I stand, brush off the beach and pack things into my bag. I walk along the beach, following the white cat… Will you walk with me?

A hundred yards pass, I see her, little white body brushing up against a girl’s leg…

From the water a cry. A man shouts for help. Someone is trapped below. After a moment of hesitation and disbelief I drop my bag, run to the water and dive in over the coming wave. This is not me. This is a movie?

Twenty yards out, where the water has gone from white to electric to sapphire deep we tread water, four of us take turns to duck down to where the man is stuck, held on the bottom by the jealous ocean, she won’t give him up, he’s too deep. We go down in pairs, head diving, nose grabbing, legs kicking…

…The watery world is silent and clear. Reef and coral, the bones of the new growing on the bones of the old, decorate the floor with patterns of geometric colours, sea fans, pink and purple stand erect by sponges, orange, large and flexing, eels and urchins, fish large and small, blue and yellow striped, green and white, angel, lemon and parrot fish circle and swim by a man, arms slack, face up towards the light, towards me, towards us…a single bubble drifts up towards my face slips past… he’s too deep. Lungs burning we burst the surface hands empty, hearts heavy.

Frantic screams for help, commotion on the beach. A man carries an air tank into the water. Ten minutes have passed. With the tank we reach him, pull his lifeless body to the surface, hold him up and swim for the shore… holding his face to one side, yellow insides poring out… a stumbling run onto the beach, the press of hundreds crowd around to see, a women appears and begins CPR. We form a circle, desperately asking for space, the crowd pushes closer, phones and iPad held high…

to better
moment in…?

Please give him space…

Tempers flare, desperation makes warbles out of voices. The police arrive, push us away, wrap the body in a blanket, the zipped back shuts out the day.

A scream. Of recognition and disbelief. The mans girlfriend falls and collapses. The crowd denied it’s show moves away. The girl faints face down the sand sticks to her face, sand as soft as ash, as white as sun-bleached bone. Someone steps over her.

The four of us who swam out stand for a moment in confusion and failure. One walks past me, I reach for his arm, he shoves my hand away. I watch as everyone goes back to their towels. Two people pick up their bat and ball begin to play. The music is still pumping out of the bars and restaurants. I see a group laughing, see their teeth flash white – a memory of being told that bearing your teeth is a way of showing your weapons, a reaction to danger and threat. I stumble past a bar, three guys are ordering shots and down them with jeers and cheers from their mates. I have a conversation with some shocked faces. Someone is ordering pizza. Someone is ordering cocktails.

I go back to the beach, kneel in the sand. Look at the water that was so pleasurable before, has now become something sickening. I close my eyes as tears come.

See the hand waving in the water as fish from a tank swam past. I see the last breathe bubble float past my face, wonder if as it broke the surface, lost it’s aquatic shield, merged into the air from which it came, did it make a sound?

Did it carry a cry for help? To the faces looking down from above, reaching for him with arms too short, with our hair swirling around our heads, with the reflection of the sun behind us, turning our heads into angel halo’s – did he take comfort knowing someone was there, to care, hard enough to try to reach him?

Was there a whisper in that last bubble? a loved ones name spoken, that it might breach the surface, seek out the desired ear, and reach into that heart to simply say, I thought of you, when my last thought was all I had, I gave it your name.

I Lean my head back hearing the cry of the girl, so loud and primal, so like a seagull from home. I hear it rising, feel it echoing around the corridors of my heart and my own disbelief, grief. Feel it flow out and take wing, see it fly across the beach, above the heads of those who are keeping calm and carrying on. See it fly higher and higher until the land is simply green circles ringed by white, like bacteria on the skin of some glorious, monstrous blue fruit.
Up and on that gull-cry flies, across oceans and hot places to lands of deserts, across mountains of conflict and chaos, lands of fear and hate, occupation and reckless, endless hopelessness and equally shared, inherited homelessness.
It whispers around barren streets, moving children’s toys left abandoned in its passage, blowing through holes in walls decorated with blood of innocence.

It circles and soars, whispering it’s message.

That I was here, that I was someone. I had hopes and dreams and wants and desires and needs. I loved someone once and that was all that mattered.

And now they are gone. Just one human being. Just one life.

On the beach a man had died, I was sure of it. Didn’t I see it happen? Didn’t I hear his girlfriend scream, see her faint face first. Nothing had changed, the music still played and life carried on regardless.

Can one life be so cheap that we look away without acknowledgment? Without trying to reach… out?

Can many?

Something nudges my knee.

The little white cat is purring, rubbing itself against me in that insistent way, only cats can do and get away with.

I close my eyes, shutting out the blue, drowning in Paradise.

In the river of stars

Let the canvas of your mind be green, the lush and verdant green grown in rain soaked soil. Black and rich and scented by fresh alpine air. Etch out of this picture the following details.

Veined patterns on long leaves. Towering brown trunks with muscular branches, moss covered with braids of lichen that fall from tree-fingers, they fragment cascading light-beams which break though the canopy, showering the forest in light and shadow, revealing spider’s webs, displaying dewdrops, prisons of light.

From the huge stone slab of the protruding cliff-face we stand on, pockets of island like cloud cling to the mountainside below, revealing huge rice paddy terraces that step down to the valley floor. The green becomes an ocean to the horizon, brown of branches like whitecaps, revealed only in the passing of the wind or the jump and reach of a Rhesus monkey.

Behind us, the sky-climbing foothills of the Indian mountains and beyond, the magnificent, snow covered, cloud conquering Himalaya.This is Dharamsala, residence of the Tibetan government in exile and home of the Dalai Lama – you are most welcome.

It is funny where life leads you if you let it – I’m floating like a Poo-Bear hanging onto a balloon.

Two months before, near sandy shores in the south, two guests befriended me, Writers both and successful at it, suggested I travel here to meet their Guru. They were newly wed, you could see the freshness of their love. You could feel the rightness of it, and the warm magnetism between them. It was in the gentle way they walked together, sat together, eat and talked with others – together. Never further than a hands reach, a delicate, swan-lake-skate, two people moving in their very own orbit of sun like love.

Two planes, three trains of 35 hours and more, four buses over 24 hours, one that broke down in the night and in the nowhere of middle. Bumpy rides, white-knuckle frights around precarious cliff top racing roads, sick bags and seat-belts tight

… It was worth it for this view alone. The feeling of warm sunshine on closed eyelids. The sound of complete silence after the tumultuous racket of weeks of chaotic cities.

The swelling feeling, that rises up in the chest and spills from your eyes as you see the mountains on the horizon growing towards and inside you. The feeling that you are home for the first time in your entire life.

Now we sit by the chalk grey Ganges in Rishikesh. Its waters are as smooth as milk, it skims and curls over smooth stones and around huge twin boulders, bending around the mountains shoulder which is green covered and vibrant. Trees climb out of pebbly banks, competing for space on the slopes and heights with chalk pink and blue painted Ashrams, temples, houses and holy sites – many moneymaking places.

Steep steps concertina to the waters edge, where pilgrims and tourists bath in the cream like water. The Sun sets beyond the mountains. The grey day giving way to a deep blue sky, the violet becomes black. As light fades, window-lights twinkle in the now hidden hills like constellations.

A procession of thousands sing a lullaby sound on the shore line, and when the first star shows itself above, they each light candles, send them drifting in the now black Ganges on sauces of flowers – suddenly the river becomes a galaxy of floating, jasmine scented, swift flowing stars.

Once I have lit my own; two for those gone before, two for friends near and far, one for Love, one for regret, and one for the person I haven’t met yet, I splash, climb and sit on a wet rock in the river. Stars above and stars below, the world has become a mirror, I know not which way is up or which way is down.

I feel that all my love is in that river, a light for everyone I meet moving gently past my feet, curving out of sight, I am alone in the dark, surrounded by light.

Above, the true masters of shine and night sky look down at the flattery with silent grace and I wonder who else is looking at the stars tonight.

A fisherman hauling his nets, hopeful.

A teacher with no answers but questions.

A solider in the desert readying weapons for the sunrise he regrets will rise.

Parents showing the stars to their newborn baby maybe.

A doctor who has failed a patient. A man on a yacht ending a call that just made him richer.

A traveller, just checked into a hotel, bed sheets stark and empty goes to the balcony for company and finds…

…Who looks at the stars tonight? Someone I know, someone I love?

A Sadhu towards me sings. What does he see when he looks at me? A fellow likeness? Long scruffy hair, curled and mattered, face sun darkened, clothes worn, another worn out wandering soul? The river rushes past and I wonder, is this the path to take? To become a Sadhu in name as much as nature and wander ever further into the hills, up amongst the higher peaks where the deeper-seekers sit, in caves shallow and deep contemplating life’s secrets, seeking liberation from constant re-incarnation?

I hear its call, the cold stone floor, the empty nights, the dying embers softening the cave walls in shadowy orange, to sleep with only the wind to whisper me goodnight. What would life be like if I go? Spend a week, a year, ten years or twenty. What would I learn… enlightenment? Would the price be worth the years missed in the world by your side? Friends married in my absence, children born and grown, my nephew and niece no longer recognising me for the vast and tangled beard? Loved ones grown old, even passed away whilst I was… not there when it mattered.

And what of love in life for me, a wife, another lover? Will I ever be a Father? Or do I go further on my own, barefoot up this river seeking answers in the solitude of my longing.

I can feel them, at times my children not yet born. With hand out, palm down I can almost feel them as I pat their heads, bend and pick them up and show them the vistas and wonders that astound all around.

To teach them they’re free. To show them that no matter the cost the world tries to charge, no VIP access denied, nothing is as priceless as what they already own – natures gallery, its vastness only limited by the capacity of our own hearts to hold it, and courage to seek it, is yours, belongs to you, belongs to me.

I could climb up the road, throwing my backpacked belongings into the gorge at the last bridge. Continue on higher through the forest and its crunching leaves and sun dappled spaces. Past the rock covered heights where green things no longer grow, following trickling streams until legs burn and become thigh deep in snow. And higher still where the sky ceases to be blue, turns black and the air so thin, lungs fail to rise, instead shallow fall and then we float up into the darkness of space, you and I, ascending lightly as a feather.

Fear grips in the darkness, until realisation hits – that this is the greatest show in the universe – The only one that never gets tired of you looking and you never tire of it looking back. It is an uncountable display of planets and stars and Mars and all the others laid out before you – life on a spectacular scale.

Floating, would you look back at the Earth and see it for the Eden it truly is – life in a lifeless void and utterly precious.

Seeing the white of distant snow, the brown and green and blue picture patchwork of our world, feeling the presence of all those dreams and hope, the anguish and fears, the screams… does it fill you with rage that they’re building us a cage of convenience from which to feed us false information and food that poisons us as well as the land and sea. Creating new monsters of cancer and obesity?

Microwave meals on ready wheels so long as you’re full of tubes and plastic, paying your taxes. Making us ashamed of our skin and our looks, those profit seeking crooks with their scalpels and surgeons coats, young girls of eight… E i g h t! …Starving themselves sick to be a stick, to fit in clothes no one knows who makes – yet still it isn’t enough to stop us buying the stuff at the checkout lines that makes us vomit.

– yesterday I saw a child crawl through rubbish piles looking for food, fending off dogs –

the magazines making mockery of our lives and our strife’s with its dramas and celebrities of ignorance. Leaders and board members that swop peace for pennies, bombs and warplanes deliver dollars to the bank at the expense of a kind world for those that deal in Hate.

You can hear it, if you listen, the children crying, the cities burning, the forests falling a football pitch an hour, animals fleeing, pollution overflowing… Politicians ignoring scientific evidence, using morals set in stone a thousand years ago to justify the deepening of their pockets and power placements…

As long as we are ok… Building towers of coins with our sweat and toil at the expense of our backs breaking and our relationships creaking, our homes and hearts mortgaged for a rainy day. Our health and education a commodity to be exploited. But that’s not what we’re told because even our freedom of speech is on a leash of profit – so give us scandal and gossip because its so much more interesting. And so our Cynicism and worry for change makes us see we’ve never had it so good….WE HAVE NEVER HAD IT SO GOOD… …but who the hell are we, anyway?

Can we please just stop treating each other like shit? Can we stop overfeeding one group of people and starving another, please. Can we stop placing our happiness into another’s hands, and then punishing them when they inevitably fail to balance the act? Can we stop, not letting love in…can we start loving ourselves again?


That green and blue world – our home – beautiful.

Doesn’t it hurt just looking at it, doesn’t it hurt all that love.


I came here seeking answers the caves and solitude may provide. Yet an answer I have; I found it by a river of starlight. I feel it deep down in the core of me, the part that sees the beauty in the sunrise. Which smiles with delight every time it sees a rainbow rise.

That finds peace in the music of the stream bubbling over rocks in far away Devon. It tells me you are important. You are so very special and significant in this world.

And if all you can do in this life is to live the true expression of yourself, to do those things that bring you joy, and then by extension, bring joy to others then that is enough, start from there.

Because no act of creating, poetry or painting, no act of inspiration, fun, joy and laughter fail to delight and ignite hearts, or go un-noted.

So spread your wonderful self far and wide, share your magic, go… be, it’s free.

Because it’s a good world, it is a good, good world. And if you and me can light just one candle in the worlds heart to send along this river of life, who knows who will be watching in the dark.

I am not ready to give up on my heart, on my dreams and the world and its screams for a cave in the hills, just yet. So, if I can hold on to this crazy ride, hold on tight with courage like Poo Bear to a string on a balloon, no matter the challenge, age, wage, no matter the self-doubt and fear and distractions or delight, and all the things that everyone else wants us to be and to do, our work, drinks and screw, lets just me and you hold on… follow our hearts.

Can we just hold on you and me to our little dream balloons and trust our Souls to do the guiding.

I am going to hold on to this gift, this beautiful, gorgeous, delicious and funky funny world, with all its faults. Light a candle in the cave of my heart and hold on.

Side by side, Orbiting the sun of our life Together, in this fast flowing river of stars,

Will you hold on with me?

Varanasi Part 1- Row your boat, gently down the stream…

Picture me walking towards you across an Indian market by a wide river. It’s early morning and the stalls are empty. My hair is blond, curly and shoulder length. I am wearing a blue t-shirt and knee length shorts. As I come near my smile is replaced by a frown of concentration. I stand with legs wide apart, knees bent, blue eyes straight at you. Suddenly, as my hands mime the beating of a drum, you hear the deep and resonant sound of a drums and symbols playing in time with my hand motions. A huge tambourine clashes as my hands form into a prayer above my head, my arms go out to either-side and wriggle to the rhythm of a sitar that begins to play and the winning of a snake charmers trumpet.

Another pair of arms appear wriggling behind mine and another pair and another pair and another pair.

A base drum sounds once, twice, three times-four, my head drops revealing another person behind me and another and another and another, six Indian men move to either-side of me, each dressed as waiters. We begin to dance in time to the Hindi music that is now in full swing.

The market fills up with people. Women with glittering sarees of purple, green and red carry baskets of brightly cloured fruit singing in high voices. A line of white-robed men with yellow turbans hop and skip their way onto the picture pushing trolleys, singing in deep counter tones. Children run past smiling at you, teeth white, eyes bright, throwing flower petals. Myself and the dances have all dropped low and are kicking our legs out in time to the beat, hands pushed palm out and chanting “ha-ha-ha-ha,” Suddenly, a herd of cows, white, black, yellow and brown come charging from behind you scattering us out of the way.

Once the dust settles, there are seven beautiful girls in sarees of gold and blue who move into the cleared centre space. The music is softer now and the leader of the girls, an especially beautiful young lady, dressed in white and gold sings a song and dances, her maidens twirl their fingers and point their toes mimicking her moves. I roll towards her on to my knees and sing a note in Hindi, clearly entranced. My fellow dancers each roll and sing to one of the girls… Taking note of my t-shirt and shorts she shrugs and skips away, the girls follow her leaving us all crushed.

Then the music picks up again and my dancers produce a large sheet of fabric of spiraled purple patterns that I disappear behind. A holy man hops skips and jumps before you, his brown skin stark against his white beard. He sings a magical word and waves his staff towards the cloth from behind which you can see my clothes been flung into the air.

With a final wave of his stick and a wiggle of his eyebrows, and a rather violent thrusting of his hips, the holy man disappears and I appear from behind the cloth dressed as a prince in white and gold with diamonds glittering in my turban. My fellow dances are each now dressed as rich servants in red and white who follow me and grab you we, conga after the girls…

We dance along the dark and narrow alleyways of the town, between ramshackle buildings, dodging and leaping over dogs and motorbikes, high fiving stall sellers and ducking under baker’s trays laden with chapattis. The girls, led by the beauty in white, conga past us in the opposite direction singing in high whiny voices, ours mid tone, match theirs note for note. A window opens above us; a policeman with a brown face and a huge mustache leans out, grumpily singing about the noise. Above him five more windows open consecutively, each with a policeman older than the last, their mustaches getting bigger and grander and voices higher and higher in note and indignation. Until finally a wizened old head pops out, eyes barely open and sings. Glass breaks somewhere and the music stops. A ball flies through the air and hits the window that smacks the policemen in the face; all the lower windows fall shut knocking each and every policeman back through the windows. The ball falls past washing lines and clothes out to dry to land in my hand. I nod to the band that is huddled inside a shop front waiting.

The music begins again and the seven girls and we chaps following cross a bridge of boats on the river, hop skipping across from boat to boat to the sound of trumpets, sitars, symbols and drums, men in loincloths burst from the water, splashing us each as we pass and mermaids dance and bubbles mutter.

Back in the market place, the whole town is dancing, they lift me and the girl up in a great pyramid of arms and legs, an elephant marches past spraying glitter and rose petals from it’s trunk. The girl impressed with my dancing and new clothes flutters her eyelids and everyone cheers.

In the foreground and quite near to you, a huge tiger is sitting on a stone plinth having it’s paws pampered and nails sharpened by a lovely local girl with doe like eyes. He looks at you and rolls his eyes at my indulgence and extravagance. In the background, un-seen by the cheering crowd a monkey throws a coconut at my head and I fall backwards out of site. The Tiger yawns, then eyes go wide and jaw drops in astonishment as a troop of marvelous mice dance past his feet playing violins.

The Tiger looks at you and shrugs his shoulders…

…I knew I was outside before I woke properly, but wasn’t sure how or why? What I hear before sleep and dreams fully depart are noises normally filtered away by glass and curtain.

Subtle sounds and sensations heard and felt with closed eyes at dawn; The flutter of bird’s wings, the searching tongue and nose of an animal sifting through rubbish, the tightening of my skin and the pulling of my pores as the heat grows. Footsteps, sluggish and scuffing, the yawning of a dog, the splash of a boats oar in water. In the distance a radio turns on, a child cries and a woman silences it with soft words. Nearby someone is washing something, the plunging watery sound is rich and desirable – the roof of my mouth hugs my tongue tight.

The gum that has formed across my eyes slowly tears open. Out of the blur I can see the shape of a man sitting still and cross-legged before me. He wears a robe of orange wrapped about his waist and has a wizened, whitish beard that hangs to his belly is in stark contrast to the wrinkled nut brown of his skin, it’s long tangles fall down together with the locks of his hair to his waist – a Sadhu, a wandering holy man common to the riverside.

We are sitting in the shade of an archway at the bottom of a stairwell made of reddish stone; its coated in the same soft greasy layer of ash that covers all of Varanasi.

He smiles at me, or at least ceases to frown for the fraction of a moment, the deep creasers of his face fold deeper into the recesses about his eyes, he gestures to the right.

Slowly, I turn my head. Before us is the Ganges, grey-blue, still and quite. The red ball of the morning sun, two thumbs widths from the horizon hangs patiently waiting for me to notice it. On the far bank a flock of birds swoop and land on the surface silently. A man stands on his boat in the middle of the river; an oar paused in paddling as he regards the same view. A cloud of incense and hashish blows into my face from the Sadhu’s pipe making me sick.

I try to stand, nausea overwhelms me and for several moments I throw up by my side. My fingers cling to the warm yellow stone floor, as it becomes a wall, ceiling and floor again. My body shakes and what little saliva I have is leaking from my mouth in long strands, a tear falls and splashes in the mess of me.

A dog approaches, or the bare skin and bones of one, it smiles at me both apologetically and with understanding and begins to lick my insides up. I feel, or think I feel someone standing over and behind me; the Sadhu must have come to help. I wave my hand and mumble thanks, but when I swing up right, he hasn’t moved at all. His legs are still folded underneath him in full lotus; his eyes regard me like still water.

I find myself thanking him anyway and apologizing for throwing up so close to his space. From the array of incense sticks and deity statues and pictures it looks as though this is his permanent spot, prime for seeing the Ganges and for being seen by tourists and pilgrims passing along its shore.

After a moment he says something in Hindu, the words roll out his mouth in a babble of noise I don’t understand. Sweat brakes out across my brow and body as I lean back, I look at him through half lidded eyes and try and remember why I am here.

Varanasi Part 2 – … life is but a dream

I wander around the city of Varanasi as the sun begins to set. I am at once appalled and enchanted. It is said to be one of the oldest settlements known to civilisation and I have rarely seen a more magical place. The old part itself is a labyrinth of narrow alleyways created by leaning skeletal buildings that grow out of the bones of those that are rotting in layers beneath.

Here children play cricket in gutters thick with flies and dying animals. Faeces of dog, cow, cat and man mix and patch the floor together.

Dogs, thin and mangy claim any spare space not already taken by cows or passing people. Some lay in dangerous way of the footfall and traffic, as though daring or wishing to be squashed and taken out of the chaos of this life and into the possibility of the next.

The tempo is high and fast. Traders of gold and spices, religious jewellery makers, tourist touts and food sellers all call out from the shadows. Hot plates smoulder and smoke, angry red in dark corners; fried patties and sweet breads fry in oils bubbling on hot coals and gas lit stoves. Men queue in food lines past open urinals bronzed with the stain of ages. In these corridors you breathe through the mouth shallowly.

In the main passages, motorbikes blast their horns impatiently as people pass and go carrying all types of supplies.

Hindu tourists mingle with pilgrims buying flowers or incense for offerings at the cities many temples. Armed police linger at every corner with antique guns and little interest. Chanting and bells ringing call who-knows-who from and to unseen places.

I look around me as the gloom gives way to night. On the stone shelves and doorways; skin and bone people curl up and claim spaces warmed by dogs by day, they use their knees for blankets.

A shadowy form detaches itself from a doorway, trails me asking if I want Heroin, his eyes are hungry with desperation for someone to share the ride he is on. I turn to the shadow, reminded of a former client of mine at the homeless shelter in Earls Court.

He’d had Heroin-numb-tortured eyes with ghosts for veins that tried to hide from him and his unstoppable needle, fading away, day by day. He had nothing left but that hunger. It took everything from him and gave shame and guilt back, trapped on a merry-go-round of self-hate with breaks that could not be oiled. Such is the agony of an addict, our criminalised sick, instead of pain numbed, it’s stored up and delayed for later when in sober thought.

The man asks me again.

“Herion? You want my friend?”

“No.” I say, my British’ness escapes my lips before I can stop it, thanks him though for asking.

He returns to his dark doorway and I seek out the light.

A noise causes me to turn and I step aside.  A troop of men carrying a wooden frame with body on top charge past. The body is wrapped in a shroud that’s come lose about the face, a dead eye catches mine, I do not wink.

I come across a press of people forming what could be called a queue to enter a temple beneath a metal detecting doorframe. The atmosphere is excitable, frantic and threatening to spill over into something more… pressing. It reminds me of the restrained lines of eager and anxious partygoers waiting in lines in London’s alleys or football fans on the way to the ground – Religion Hindu style, it pulses in the veins of those who worship, it is alive and feverish,  a far cry from the empty pews and cold stone churches of home.

As dark and grimy as this city feels it has an authentic ordering to its rhythm, as something that has evolved by process of evolution. Those that walk these corridors have earned their right by fight and survival to be here now in this place, walking the warn flagstones, washing in the river over lives and years, they know how to live this life, a community thriving on the passing-through-pilgrims.

It is in the new city that the contrast strikes hardest. Where the light of politics shines, with its infrastructure and education and a developing style of life.

Once out of the labyrinth I am assailed by the babble of a hundred thousand voices of cars and bikes and people. Taking a cycle rickshaw to the station, I see a man, hair shaggy, curly and wild, he wares nothing but an oversized pair of jeans that he clutches at the zip to hold them up. He walks without seeing or caring across the chaos of traffic. Amazingly nothing hits him. Once across, barefoot and shirtless, he fights off two dogs to scavenge through a rubbish pile – The apex animal going to feast. From nearby getting in line a dog, a horned curve necked cow, a half clothed child that watches with nothing in her eyes, the pecking order established – Modern India making way with no plan for the old.

Back into the wandering winding ways I follow a narrow stairway that leads down to the chalk like water where pilgrims and locals wash, waste and burn bodies in the holy waters. Huge crowds thousands strong gather after sunset. They swarm the Ghats, first washing, then singing and clapping as priests with painted brows, in ritualised movements burn clouds of incense that drift across the water to the accompaniment of chimes, bells, drums and clapping.

I walk away and follow the river to the Burning Ghats passing huge buildings of red, yellow and white stone that crowd the spaces with archways and pepper pot windows.

I reach one as the last of the sunlight disappears. Seven fires spaced out burn bodies. Gangs of family men stand nearby; the presence of women is forbidden since grief stricken wives are known to throw themselves or be thrown on the fires.

To be burnt on the Ganges is to free yourself from the cycle of re-incarnation. The four forbidden from burning are Holy men, deemed already pure, those bitten by a cobra the mark of Shiva and pregnant women and children.

Another body is carried to the water to be cleansed before burning. Fresh wood is stacked to build a pyre.

In the darkness an array of fire-lit faces observe the proceedings. Cows, dogs, goats, all stand interspersed with people bearing witness. It’s like bonfire night crossed with the Nativity – only at the other end of life.

Clouds of burning human and wood billow in the air, sparks fly up into the night, whilst men with hammers break up the ashes and bones left in old and cooled pits.

There is no smell such as I thought, not above the ash of wood and cow dung and human piss. Wherever you turn you’re likely to see a man pissing somewhere in India.

My roommate earlier protested the rule that a tourist isn’t allowed to take a photo at the burning Ghats, yet an Indian can piss near a pyre burning someone’s remains. I ask him how he would feel, if a tourist turned up at his relatives funeral taking photos of him grieving? He asks how I’d feel if he pissed at that funeral? On the river, a boatload of tourists observes from the water, cameras flash like a concert crowd. I feel like taking a piss at them.

After the burning I seek the silence of the river, needing to think, needing to be alone. But a constant barrage of young Indian men approach me, repeating the constant mantra a tourist must first hear, then like an old track on the radio, come to know off by heart.

“Boat? You want boat? Hashish, ecstasy, marijuana, cocaine, DMT, heroin, anything you want, you want something my friend?”

Frustrated and disappointed, must I wear an orange robe to gain some solitude? Supply follows demand so who to be angry at, them or tourists? But this is not Ibiza-India for good times; it’s a place where life meets death, is that the reason sought for escape?

Varanasi is an uncompromisingly honest place and beautiful for it. Illusions we wrap around ourselves in like a shroud are stripped away here. Up close and personal, no amount of makeup, sun-tan or skin lightening cream or designer clothing can disguise you, no air-con, luxury hotel nor status will let you escape the truth of what we are in this world – A temporary, living-breathing thing of flesh and bone and shit and sweat that will pass away one day.

Death cannot be locked in a box, transported in metal and glass on wheels to be buried like a treasure, hoarded for a rainy resurrection day.

Death and Life are the same game, it’s in the room, in the air, in the present moment and those that have gone before and care are free to be in the trees that grow and the breeze that blows away our grief, because once grief passes, Love remains.

Sitting by the river at night I wonder why Indians call the Ganges Mother.

I decide to phone mine.

She asks if I am having a nice time.

I don’t know how to answer, what kind of a time am I having?

In the absence of information, she goes straight to the heart of things.

Are you eating properly?

Was there ever a more pure, sincere and divine expression of Motherly Love?

I wander all night long, until lost and too tired to find my hotel I sit down under a sandstone archway where the Sadhu’s sleep near the flowing river, carrying all its life and all its death.

Sleep comes slowly to a place like Varanasi, it settles down in stages, like a dog walking in circles before finally collapsing. There comes a point where you can hear it snoozing, the soft sigh of wind disturbing dust, the patter of a cats feet, the gentle flutter of a white owl flying between boats. Above the archway stars peek at you from behind ash clouds, checking you’re awake, the red eye-like glowing of the Sadhu’s Charas pipes in the dark watch you too as you drift off, whispering up your nostrils with promises of…

… The sun is rising higher, I can feel the shade retreating across my face.

The Sadhu speaks again to me, a babble of Hindi.

“He says, that it is now you are dreaming.” Nearby a boy sits on his haunches watching me, watching the Sadhu.

I look at the old man. He regards me with those deep, still eyes and speaks again.

The boy translates.

“Now you not awake, the dream begins again. Now you dream is the life, but in life we must be waking up.”

He nods, offers me his charras, I thank him, hands closed together, yet decline.

I look at his turban, thinking about glitter firing elephants.

“It gives me funny dreams.” I say.

Watched by the Sadhu, the boy and the dog, I walk to the waters edge and stretch.

A breeze blows off the water, it ruffles my hair.

I will be leaving this place today, a decision to make by the Mother Ganga.

To the right She grows and flows for many miles more, becoming wider, heavy and pregnant with India’s matter which she pours into the Bay of Bengal.

To the left She washers and waters arid-lands green for miles as She comes down from the Himalayas and somewhere, up there, she must narrow to a stream, a trickle under a single stone from snowmelt.

Shall we seek the end? Where it appears to disappear yet in-fact merely merges with something infinitely greater than itself, opening up into a new ocean of possibilities, breeding a new kind of life.

Or to seek its source and origin and perhaps then in discovering what came before, better understand what comes after?

Which way?

A group of seven girls walk past me along the riverbank in Sarees of all colours. One, a beauty catches my eye. She casts a look over my dust covered t-shirt and shorts and dishevelled hair and continues on her way.

I look at the Sadhu and at the boy and at the dog that all look back at me.

Does it matter which way we go, isn’t life only a dream?