Gale Force Warnings

I have always been wary of religion or spirituality. I decided I wasn’t really suited to it when early one morning, age ten, before school I knelt and prayed in church for Leeds United to win the European Cup – they lost. I remember listening to the radio underneath my blankets, the disallowed Peter Lorimer goal, those final few awful moments when with each tick of the clock I became more and more convinced God was not on my side.

However in my late forties whilst watching a documentary about people attending a silent retreat I felt a powerful urge to try it out. I didn’t however want to do it in a religious tradition. I tried to sit in quiet in my flat.  I enjoyed it but felt constantly dragged back by the urge to be distracted by noise be it through turning the radio, computer or tv on.

I couldn’t explain to myself why this need or silence kept returning. I was at the time anxiety ridden and unhappy. I knew I had to do something about it. I did something which was for me,  at the time very unusual, I tried something new. I googled meditation and to my horror found a course just about to start, close to where I lived.

It was a cold and windy night in Broadstairs. I walked from the train station to the venue for the free talk, to Bleak House on the seafront. My extremely well developed cynical side pounced on the name and jabbed my brain with it in and attempt to throw light on the absurdity of what I was proposing to do . I walked in the dark, not a soul around, a startled black cat ran past me into a graveyard, leaves whorled around by gusts of wind.  I began to laugh to myself and this prevented me  from turning around and back up the deserted High Street  to the train station.

I decided to delay entering the building until nearer the starting time. I leant over the railings, listening to the crashing and hissing retreat of the waves, all the while thinking to myself “What the bloody hell am I doing?”

After five minutes I plucked up the remains of my fast disappearing courage and decided to go in. But where was the entrance? I hesitantly shuffled around the building and found no door open. I came full circle, the waves continued to crash and hiss. I noticed a forlorn looking chap, sitting on his own in the cafe in Bleak House. He looked unhappy,ill at ease – he looked well – strange. Seeing me, he looked startled and cautiously opened the door just enough to say

“Have you come for the seance?”

With this he ushered me in and signalled me to be quiet

“No! No!” I hissed but he scuttled off  “This way, this way, quick, they’ve started”

Before I could protest he had opened a door and once again placed his index finger to his lips. A group of people sat silent, eyes closed in a semicircle, the light low, a fire flickering in a black victorian grate.  I was about to turn tail and flee when a man in a high backed chair opened his eyes and smiled, signalling me with his outstretched hand to enter. He pointed to a chair situated in a row immediately opposite him.

With every nerve ending screaming “RUN” I found myself  not wanting to create a scene and disturb – what? A seance?! I approached the chair, sat and closed my eyes – what else to do?

Ten minutes passed, I had managed to quell my howling, turbulent mind to a force 8. Nobody was talking – people talk in a seance right? Force 7 and then upon convincing myself this to be a meditation session force 6, as the waves in my mind crashed less and hissed quiter.

Then my phone rang. The shrill tone ripped without mercy through the silence

I fumbled and repeatedly missed the off button, finally it stopped. Force 10. I looked around the room, all eyes still closed, an amused smile flickered on one woman’s lips. I slumped against my chair, the heat from the crackling fire causing sweat to drip down my back. I took off my coat, causing yet more noise and once more closed my eyes.

A further five minutes and then

“Ommmmm, and now we return, back to the room. When you are ready open your eyes slowly.”

Two minutes later, the man facing me smiled

“You must be Pierre?”

“Er, I am. I am really sorry to have disturbed everybody. I really do apologise”

I stammered, my face flushing mirroring the deep red embers of the fire

“Oh, no need – we do not sleep during meditation. Noise is not a problem”

Relieved I sat back, my wet shirt sticking to the leather chair.

The man, reassuringly called Colin, went on to explain about meditation. Our minds are stormy and turbulent on the surface, troubled by constant thinking about the past and the future. The deeper we can go in meditation the more calm and silent our minds become. This, our natural state, can only be reached if we still and calm the surface. there was no religion, no woo woo. it was practical, common sense.

Force 2




First Steps

I have been walking down to the sea wall for a number of months.  On gray, leaden cloud days when my heart sinks I force myself out. It takes about 80 minutes from door to sea, it takes 2 minutes for the clouds to lift from my mind. To get there involves walking through Abbey Street through the town, through Standard Quay with its predictable shabby chic antique shops, wine bar and vinyl shop and on through to Iron Wharf. This a boatyard of many years standing dating back to the days when Faversham was an port of some regional significance.

Iron Wharf – for such a place to exist in these cleansed days is extraordinary. It gives shelter to hundreds of boats from a mercifully few sleekish yachts, to rotting hulks and large Thames barges under reconstruction.

Once there was a branch railways that came off the main Faversham to London track down to the wharf, there are still many old freight trucks, all with their own history to tell

A fascinating old lady lives in one of these old carriages. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly myself included.  I made the mistake of saying hello and sharing my observation that it must be a lovely place to live

“It would be if it wasn’t for people who come by and ask damn fool questions”

I love people like this, irrascible outsiders who need no affirmation. They give you a spring in your step, allow you to see it is possible to re-draw the map. Her home is delightful, a small railway freight truck, she has a wood buring stove inside.

I admit to being a little obsessed by her house, outside is always changing, always interesting.

Leaving Iron Wharf you cross over a rickety bridge and as soon as you are over you can feel the wind and space. Wending your way alongside the meandering creek, the sound is of lonesome curlews, startled cries of redshank and oystercatchers.  When the tide is out and the banks are bare it can be a mournful feel but there is real beauty in the contrast between this and the nearby town.

There are many memorable sights such as this pirate galleon that listed sideways. The galleon was moored on Iron Wharf but wanted to avoid mooring fees and drifted downstream. Modern legend, created only weeks ago but as potent as hundred year old myth, has it that the owner hired a digger which ended up in the ooze. Driven mad by his predicament he went to the local pub and started to drink heavily. Enraged by an eighty year old man who objected to the mess his muddy boots had left on the floor he proceeded to beat him savegely and hospitalised him. The galleon owner reportedly fled to France and has not been seen since.  Such are the wonders of these wide open spaces. Not least of which is that, unlike in the town, people stop and say hello and sometimes speak, often of interesting and stimulating things. Once over the bridge onto the marsh people change, their relationship one to the other. It does not happen all the time but much of the time. Why is this? This particular walk is not unique, it happens often once you leave the outskirts of a town- only a few paces outside the pavements it is as if we remember we are of the same family. It is not just greenery, it doesn’t happen in town or city parks. How wonderful this is.

The same landscape changes every day with the light and seasons, my mood changes also but I always return home feeling better than when I left.

Grounding Myself

February 2015            

But – there is always a but – despite having a dream job it has its stresses and demands and during the past few years this has got to me. Trouble sleeping, panic attacks, feeling tired all the time. All of this takes its toll. The depression that dogged me in my teens is creeping back. I am feeling fearful and constantly apprehensive, unable to relax.

So, I have decided to do something, to get out more. Going to work early and arriving back late insulates from the outdoors. I tried running a few years back but something about it didn’t feel right, my body didn’t seem

I have, over the past few years helped Dad on his allotment and   found it really enjoyable.

The reasons?  To get out in the fresh air, do something together , to learn from him, to have something in common to share.

I  remember saying to a friend one time in my mid-thirties I wanted to grow things and he laughed and looked at me in disbelief “Plenty of time for that when you are retired”

But something in me when I am digging, sowing, planting and watering, feels right, as natural as breathing. So, last year I put my name down for an allotment and am waiting to hear…shouldn’t be long now, I know I am near the top of the waiting list. In the meantime helping Dad is great, I’m learning a lot and this will be put to good use.