The Ten Bodies…

Kundalini yoga is very different to other more traditional forms of yoga, it concentrates on actions not postures, with breath and energy flow more important than ones elasticity.

I think it is for this reason that it aligns more to the metaphysical rather than the material form, and as a result it is more of a workout for the mind than the body.

One of the ways we can understand our existence better through the practice of kundalini yoga is by what is known as the ten bodies.

We are made up of one physical body, three mental bodies and six energy bodies. The ten body system makes us aware that we are so much more than only our physical shell, so much more than the sum of our parts.

“If you understand that you are Ten Bodies, and you are aware of those Ten Bodies, and you keep them in balance, the whole universe will be in balance with you.”

Last nights kriya on the ten bodies was one of the best sessions of kundalini yoga I’ve had so far. Buoyed off the back of the best year end performance review I’ve ever had from my new and wonderfully supportive line manager, I welcomed “L” with open arms (no social distancing/conditioning here) and took to my usual position at the back of the class and went through this kriya with a “permasmile” (albeit with a little pain from my recently diagnosed laboral muscle tear on my right hip. I nearly fell off my chair when I thought I’d heard the consultant tell me I had torn my labia, my operation isn’t scheduled until next year!).

So what are the ten bodies:

1. Soul Body

Our first body is the soul body, which is quite literal our soul or essence. It represents our connection to the infinite and the divine. It is our deepest core, our truest self, giving us the ability to live truthfully and from our heart. In an imbalanced state, we act from our head instead from our heart, prioritizing our intellect over our intuition. Within kundalini, the soul body responds to postures, breathing exercises and mantras that resonate with our heart chakra. To balance the first body, we have to open our hearts to the divine.

2. Negative Mind

This is our second body. Whereas many people do not want to accept that they have this body, it is within all of us and also part of human nature. It has its place, as it is constantly working to assess our environment and situations for danger or negative potential. In this way, the negative mind keeps us safe and alive. Moreover, if there wouldn’t be a negative mind, how could we then possibly know what a positive mind is? Everything in the universe works in dualities. It is however important to balance our negative mind by becoming aware of it and with the practice of discipline and purification.

3. Positive Mind

Just as we have a negative mind, we also obviously possess a positive mind. The positive mind gives us our strength, willpower, playfulness and a positive outlook on circumstances. It helps us identify opportunity and resources with its characteristics of enthusiasm, hopefulness and trust. In relation to our physical body, everything we do in order to strengthen our core and the area around our navel (our solar plexus chakra) resonates with this body and is beneficial for it. Strengthening the positive mind through kundalini will enhance self-esteem and self-worth.

4. Neutral Mind

Not only do we have a positive and negative mind, we also have a neutral mind, which makes up our fourth body. The neutral mind absorbs and evaluates the thoughts of the negative and positive mind. Contrary to the second and third bodies, the fourth body makes decisions out of non-emotional intuition and looks behind the assessments of the positive and negative mind. It therefore delivers guidance and stimulates decision-making based on clarity, calmness, balance and wisdom. Meditation is a wonderful tool to strengthening your neutral mind.

5. Physical Body

This is our tangible body, the one we can perceive with our eyes and other human senses. It is the temple in which houses all the other bodies in some form. Through the physical body, we have the ability to balance ourselves and our lives. An imbalance in the physical body can manifest in the form of anger, jealousy, greed, fatigue and a lack of gratitude, but also in an obsession with physical appearance and a clinging to the material world. To balance our physical body we must develop a practice that keep our bodies strong, flexible and resilient, like yoga or a form of martial arts.

6. Arcline

The arcline can be visualized as our halo, expanding from one ear to the other, encompassing the hairline and the brow. It is our avenue of intuition and regulates the nervous system. It is also associated with our pituitary gland, our third eye. Women have a second arcline across the chest, reaching from one breast to the other. 

The arcline serves as a balance and gateway between the physical and the cosmic realm and between word and deed. If out of balance, our values might not be in line with our actions and we will have difficulty focusing. In order to balance the sixth body, awaken the pituitary gland (our sixth chakra) through meditation, pranayama and drishti (gazing) to our third eye. 

7. Aura

The aura is our electromagnetic energy field surrounding our physical body. It cannot be perceived by the naked human eye, but it can still be felt. Even though that might sound very spiritual, it is scientifically measurable that this energetic resonance exists between three to nine feet away from our bodies! The aura contains and protects our life force – our prana – and interacts with it. If mastered, it projects positivity and repels negativity from our body, working as a shield. An imbalanced aura will be felt in paranoia and a lack of self-trust. Negativity can enter your body and psyche much easier. To balance the aura body, meditation, pranayama, martial arts as well as wearing natural fibers and following a wholesome, organic diet are beneficial.

8. Pranic Body

The pranic body is our eighth body in the kundalini tradition. ‚Prana‘ means life-force in Sanskrit. Through our breath, we are continuously working with our pranic body for life force to enter our body. If mastered, we will experience fearlessness, purity, energy as well as the balance of polarities. Hence, the male and female energies present within us are fully integrated within ourselves. In am imbalanced state, we might experience anxiety, fatigue and defensiveness. To balance our pranic body – yes you guessed it right – every pranayama will have a positive impact.

9. Subtle Body

This body is characterized by our ability to sense and perceive the infinite and universal reality with the material and physical realm. The subtle body is deeply woven within our soul body. When our physical bodies die, the subtle body carries our soul. The qualities of the subtle body are calmness, insight, intuition and mastery. A weak subtle body manifest in naivety, restlessness, frustration and the feeling of being misunderstood. In order to master the ninth body, keep up any meditation or kundalini kriya for 1,000 consecutive days

10. Radiant Body

This body gives – of course – radiance, as well as courage, creativity and nobility. Magnetic and charismatic people are a great example of a balanced radiant body. A weak radiant body will express itself in shyness, problems to overcome fear and the avoidance of conflict. The best thing we can do for our radiant bodies is to have commitment, no matter what obstacle or challenge we might face.

The evening ended with relaxation and I could feel the positive energy from my fellow classmates all around, warmly embracing me and sending me into a different realm of consciousness, albeit (too) briefly.

Throughout the session I noticed the amount of times “L” mentioned the word infinity, as if a nod to this blog and to my inner thoughts and scribed outputs here.

It’s times like these that one tries to seek out calmer waters in the maelstrom we all currently find ourselves in, Captain “L” helps her passengers expertly to avoid them reaching for the sick bag, steering her ship away from the rough oceans and onto the sea of tranquility…

Foraging Trials…

There may come a time, perhaps not in my lifetime, and hopefully not in my children’s lifetime either, that society collapses completely.

Hollywood has played all of this out expertly in many films. The Omega Man and Planet of the Apes, lead by Charlton Heston, were some of the first movies I recall seeing which depicted dystopia and one mans struggle to exist in a completely different environment to what he was used to.

In The Omega Man, Heston resorted to a Hunter-Gatherer, albeit in disused shopping malls, foraging by day and hiding by night to stay away from the bad guys.

He had to take what resources he could to survive, and survive he did by knowing exactly where to look and what to look for.

A few weekends back, I booked my sister (for her birthday), the wife and I on a foraging course just outside of Ruthin, North Wales, in an effort do do something less ordinary, get away from the chaos of the news channels and back to nature, and to learn some new skills.

Armed with some preliminary toolkits (books, satchels, snappy bags and knives), our tribe for the day arrived at the mouth of a small wood in the small hamlet of Bontuchel, where our guides from Original Outdoors greeted us with warm smiles and hope. Good start.

We did the usual round of creeping death introductions and when it got to me, I boldly shared the fact that I was likely the bad guy of the group as I worked in the oil and gas industry. The smiley faces turned to frowns and even boos. Was I surprised by this, not really, I was prepared for that knowing that people who choose to go on foraging courses are more likely to be closer to nature and the industry I work in presently has a diabolic influence the fragile ecosystem we live in which is frowned upon by many.

I did go on to say however that the company I worked for was leading the way (according to Gartner’s latest magic quadrant) in terms of its journey towards carbon neutrality and that with oil prices staying lower for longer and Covid reducing the demand for product, they are taking very bold decisions to leave the black stuff in the ground, reshaping their business completely to pursue plans to migrate from an oil and gas major to a true energy company, investing heavily in renewables.

I also shared that I am working very closely with the company’s Sustainability Consultants to take a detailed look at how as individuals we can make a difference both in the work place and at home, creating as we do a gestalt/hive mindset that we can be greater than the sum of our parts if we all know what to do, how to do it and by when.

Clearly this lightened the mood and some words shared can start to paint a more positive light on an industry damned in all parts of society. Clearly we all have energy demands (everyone arrived by petrol/diesel cars for example), but we must all work together to realise our joint goal to save the planet before it’s too late.

“R” and “A” (our hosts for the day) took us through the woods over the next four hours, pointing out plants, wild herbs, fruits, berries and mushrooms that we could look out for in future bimbles.

Over the course of the day, we uncovered twenty different species, all of which are described briefly in note and picture form below:

=========================

1. Beech (Fagus Sylvatica)

Nut/Leaf. Good for mushrooms. Leaves good for gin. Small triangular nuts from the husks if the squirrels haven’t eaten them all. Only found one between the three of us, still hungry…

2. Chanterelle (Cantharellus Cibarius)

Mushroom. Grows on slopes and among beech trees is common. Very edible, didn’t take a sample as we only found a few minute ones. One for the foraging list though.

3. Earthball (Scleroderma Citrinum)

Mushroom. Black inside. Not edible.

4. Porcini (Boletus Edulis)

Mushroom. Huge and when dried out, expensive to buy. Found under beech or pine. Maggots can burrow, can cut off yellow layer. Slice then dry then fry. Took one for home. Very happy!

5. Bramble  (Rubus Fruticosus)

Fruit. The ubiquitous blackberries. Can also eat stem and leaves too. Top bit of stem (end – youngest) like asparagus. Are several, very sweet, not tart at all. Nicest wild blackberries I’ve ever eaten.

6. Herb Robert (Geranium Robertianum)

Leaf. Also known as Stinky Bob. Good for herbs. All edible. Geranium family

7. Opposite Leaved Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium)

Leaf. Good for salads (like cucumber).

8. Hedge woundwort  (Stachys Sylvatica)

Leaf. Squidge leaves and insert into wounds. Smells like rotting flesh. Squeeze together taste better.

9. Pendulous Sedge (Carex Pendula)

Seed. Starchy carb. Seeds used. Green used. Brown chaff. Paste on stone dry cook for crackers. A lot of work for little reward when out in the field.

10. Hen of the woods (Grifola Frondosa)

Mushroom. Found on dead oak stump. Similar texture to chicken. Darker colour than Chicken of the Woods (which we didn’t find – gutted as this was top of my list for the day. Fry with butter and garlic. Eat in small quantities.

As we say off a while, we had a discussion about foraging rules, one of which being the carrying of knives, only three inch blades were allowed, else it’s classified as a weapon. The one I used to take a cutting of Hen of the Woods was a bushcrafting knife with fixed blade, illegal in the current scenario. At least I know for next time.

11. Wood Sorrel (Oxalis Acetosella)

Leaf. The odd flower in a salad. Toxic if too much consumed. Stuffed in fish and used in sorbet. Found in woodlands where there is sunlight (edges and clearings)

12. The Blusher (Amanita Rubescens)

Mushroom. Not worth it because of the toxicity.

One key nuggets though was that the best time to pick mushrooms is dry day after rain. Noted!

13. Jelly/Wood ear (Auricularia Auricula-Judae)

Mushroom. Also known as Jews ear, named after Judas Iscariot and only grows on dead elder tree (“R” was keen to point out that this term is no longer used). It’s a dry jerky-type of mushroom, nice and crispy.

14. Hawthorn (Crataegus Monogyna)

Fruit/Leaf. Leaves edible in May (May pudding). The berries are collected in autumn and the squeezed into a pulp. Put in muslin and pour hot water through it. Skin and stone stay in the middle – fleshy pulp comes through, after which it can be dried out and turned into fruit leather (nature’s wine gums which lasts forever if stored in parchment. Berries are everywhere, defiantly going to try this (Ray Mears Wild Foods has an episode on making this)

15. Elder (Sambucus Nigra)

Fruit/Flower. Contains cyanide, use only flowers and fruit. Flowers (only a few days sometimes) make Elderflower cordials etc. Berries poisonous if raw. Cook or ferment. Wine gin and vodka, and cordials.

16. Blackthorn (Prunus Spinosa)

Fruit. Produces sloes. Gin and vodka or hedgerow jam. Sour raw, I ate one, ain’t that the truth! Wait until they are ripe, pick them, freeze them (bletting) which gets them juicing

17. Dandelion (Taraxacum sp)

Leaf . Raw and peppery. Like rocket on salad. No too much as it’s a diuretic.

18. Crab Apple (Malus Sylvestnis)

Fruit. Bitter when eaten from the tree. Best use as cooking apple for pies and sauces

19. Birch Polypore (Fomitopsis Betulina)

Mushroom. Non-edible – used for stropping knives or as a wound dressing

20. Burdock (Arctium sp.)

Root. Used as starchy fibre. Cannot uproot on public land, can take on provide land with landowners permission

=========================

All in a very educational day with lots of take aways, and a reminder just how beautiful Wales is. Looking back, over my shoulder (using Crowded House parlance) saw the ridge of Offas Dyke in all of its glory as the sun was beginning to set, Foel Fenli, Moel Famau and Moel Arthur seem from below instead of on high. Majestic.

I guess the moral to the foraging story is to make up a shopping list as you would do for the supermarket, and target the items you know will be there (taking into account the location, weather conditions and season) and foraging just what you need and use them or dry them when you get back home so they don’t end up as bin food. It’s essential to know your locations and what grows there, (e.g. oak and beech woods after rainfall increases the chances of acquiring a chicken of the woods).

Easily the most fascinating discussion I had on the day was a side conversation I had with “R” which centred around Magic Mushrooms (Psilocybin Cubensis), which we didn’t find on the day (they may have been there but he could hardly point them out!)

Back in my youth, I took the liberty caps once with some friends at home (with my parents and sister away on holiday). Although I took a relatively small dose (30-40 mushrooms in a Pot Noodle) the doors of perception did open, ever so slightly.

I recall initial giggles, the chess board motif of the linoleum flooring of the back kitchen began to twist and contort into weird swirling shapes. We took to our prostate positions in the living room and turned out all of the lights and put on an Ian Andersen (he of Jethro Tull fame) and tripped out. I recall laying with my back to the floor looking up at the ceiling, both of which soon became wall, with the window as the floor, the dimensions of the space around me changed. The only light source was the LED display of the video player, the heightened senses bringing the digits into full 8k high definition and bloated compared to their usual size. The digits then floated all around me, changing in shape and size. All in it was a very interesting experience, one I’ve never repeated but once the door is opened, reality is never really the same again.

“R” went on to say that there was a hypothesis that mushrooms were not of this earth, not part of the original evolutionary chain, and that some believed that they came in on a comet. A mushroom has its own kingdom (bringing with it a hidden blanket called the mycelium layer) and is neither animal, vegetable nor mineral. Fascinated, I agreed to take an action to research more into the world of the fungus, no doubt posting the findings here.

If that was enough to bake my noodle (not Pot Noodle), what he said next surely did.

“R” asked me if I’d ever heard of the Stoned Ape Theory by Terence McKenna. I said that I had not and he told me to go back home and look it up, but in essence what happened millions of years ago was that as the climate changed in Africa, primates came down from the trees as rainforests turned into grasslands and foraged for different food types.

As ancient bovines grazed and defecated, their patties gave homes to bugs and fungus, which as a source of protein our hairy ancestors ate.

McKenna’s theory goes that under such conditions, psilocybin mushrooms thrive and as a result of eating them, the doors of perception opened for apes and they looked at the world through different eyes and begin to think in a different way, so much so that new neurological pathways were created, new thoughts and ways of thinking allowed for the progression of tools and language and as such the brain began to evolve and grow bigger, until eventually we harnessed fire which gave rise to different diets and the further expansion of consciousness to make us what we are today.

So here we have a possible explanation for the missing link, thanks to the good old shroom!

What was to be a nice day out turned into a mind-bending, thought-provoking journey, not only through the eyes of the Palaeolithic people of Northern Europe, but an unexpected journey back to the dawn of man.

When I got back I dried out our days collection, and put the mushrooms in storage for a meal to come and retired for the evening, knackered.

What a day, what an epic day…

The Path…

One of my favourite films of all time is Into The Wild, an existential journey of a man who turns away from a promising career in law and instead chooses a life less ordinary by today’s norms.

The inspiring yet ultimately tragic tale of Christopher McCandless (portrayed expertly by the then young Emile Hirsh) strikes a chord for those trapped in a similar situation, faced with a life changing choice.

The film resonates on several levels, of how important nature and relationships are and how unimportant material possessions and conformity really are.

Most of us choose our own paths, although sadly some have paths chosen for them, victims of society or oppressors. Seldom it seems do we make life-changing alterations to our paths, instead opting for safety and reduced risk.

JFK said it best when he exclaimed (in relation to going to the moon):

“We do things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too”.

Last weekend, I met up with my old buddy “M” for a walk in the Clwydian Hills in North Wales, the first time we had been in each other’s extended company since our “Not the New Years Eve Party” on the 3rd of January this year.

We set off early (separate cars) and reached our destination as the early morning field mists began to dissipate as the sun rose higher in the sky.

Opting for the forest route, we bimbled and talked for almost three hours about Life, the Universe and Everything, taking in the flora, fauna and vistas as we wove in and out of copses and along the long and winding path.

Our paths have not been too dissimilar to date, both work in IT, married with children, houses, cars, pensions etc.

We both have a passion for consciousness theory and spent most of our morning discussing time; does it really exist, does the arrow of time only ever go one direction, is our life path predetermined or do we have free will to influence it, are there infinite paths which all play out in hidden dimensions and it is our choices that steer us to the one we perceive as reality?

We talked about our shared goals too, to retire as soon as we were able and lead that life less ordinary, and I shared my own vision of what that may look like; a small holding off-grid, away from everything that has polluted humanity to the extent that we see today every time we turn on the news.

One thing was for sure, time flies and before we knew it we were back at the cars and heading home.

As I drove home, a song came on my playlist from a prog rock band from the UK called Haken. “M” and I had seen them live a few years back (back when live music was still played – I miss it so much), after which we chatted to the lead singer a while, blood nice chap.

Decanting my hiking gear from the car and sitting down with my mid-morning brew, I chanced to read over the lyrics of the song, and how wonderful and poignant they are:

“This life is a dream
A gift we receive
To live and to love
We forge The Path

Our nightmare in birth
Our struggle for worth
In vain we carry on
Our mission to become

Adapt to this world
It’s a chance we must take
We’ll sing our song
We’ll play our hand”

We are all on different paths, our own journeys through time and space, yet sometimes our paths converge with those of others. We should cherish the moments where we can walk along side others, for those moments, those fleeting moments (like my morning trek with “M”) interlink kindred spirits and it is the metaphysical relationships with fellow man that makes us what we are, human…

Prehistoric Britain…

Tribes. Tribal convictions was where the conversation turned slightly sour. Declaring to an ex-squady (who has always voted Tory, who has always pledged allegiance to the Queen and who would always have voted for Brexit), that you didn’t identify yourself as being British was never going to go down too well.

We conversed what “tribes” we felt we belonged to, radiating from the self outwards. For me, the most important tribe is my immediate family, my wife, sons and daughter (even my faithful old pooch). Nothing is more important than that tribe and nothing will ever come close.

As one goes further afield, the extended family (siblings, parents) as well as close friends come next, more geography dispersed and with that a weaker bond. Outside of that, it is our streets, avenues, villages, towns, cities, counties, countries, continents, planet, solar system, galaxy and the universe that make up the outer laters of our tribal onion and with that a lessening connection as we move away from the core and what is most important.

True bonds have strong metaphysical connections, spiritual if you will. The bond with my immediate family is strong.

The bond with my extended family is not strong (as this site has described over the years) although the recent reconnection with my sister is starting to repair what was broken for many years.

The bond with my close friends remains a constant, with quality not quantity reigning supreme.

The bond with my neighbours is divided, some super strong, some super strained (and Covid has widened that gap even further).

The bond with my community solid, I’ve always admired the Scouse way, never one to shy away from a debate, never one to take things lying down, always one to take it on the chin and fight back (the political establishments don’t stand for us and we stand strong and proud to our core values and principles, a real spirit of togetherness).

The bond with my nation is broken, feeling totally disconnected from Westminster, from the population at large (due to recent election and referendum results).

The bond with my continent is still there just, the love of mainland Europe and friends I’ve met and kept in touch with over the years is still in tact (and will be after we officially disconnect at the end of the year).

As for my planet, never has the population of the Earth been so divided as it is now, each nation state doing their own thing, preserving invisible borders and protecting “their” resources within non-material lines, not caring about the whole, only their part, infecting every corner of the world with the promotion of self, destroying our “little blue dot” in the process.

The challenge my bimbling comrade gave me was an honest one. Politics aside, why did I have no connection with Britain. As we hiked over the hills of Northumbria, I pondered this question as we gazed upon the historical sites and came to the conclusion that I had no real idea about the history of Britain, beyond what TV had taught me over the years (Monty Python mostly).

What did the early landscape of Britain look like and how did it become an island? How did the inhabitants of Britain evolve over time and how did they organise themselves into tribes and communities, and perhaps the most intriguing question of all, what made them British?

Maybe after finding out all of those facts would I be able to make a more informed judgement on whether I identified with being British or not.

So without going too far down the rabbit hole and borrowing some facts primarily from Wikipedia ( I say borrowing, its more like stealing really – what all Scousers do apparently, its in our DNA according to some!), I uncovered the following timeline, with a particular focus on the area where I live now, Wirral.

Palaeolithic (Stone) Age

Clearly there is no real way to validate the true timeline of a period that dates back almost one million years, but the collective understanding on how things evolved in the Britain are based on population migration from the continental mass of Europe (you heard it right Brexiteers, we are all immigrants!), as well as the geo-morphological aspect due to several ice ages and tectonic movements.

Our first hominin ancestors lived in Britain around 900,000 BCE, and is presumed to be Homo Antecessor, a few stages and several million years after the monkey-to-man thing happened (curse you black monolith!). These folks were amongst the first Hunter-Gatherers and we assume this via various Stone Age tools and animal bones which were found in Happisburgh (in Norfolk) and carbon dated to that period.

The map of Britain as you would expect looks very different one million years ago compared today, with Britain being a large peninsula, surrounded by water on three sides, much like a Wirral on steroids.

Between 700,000 and 500,000 BCE, Homo Antecessor was replaced by Homo Heidelbergensis, whose brains were significantly larger than that of its predecessor, and with that extra capacity, expanded its intelligence and thought processes. Historic finds around this time have uncovered early flint tools (Pakefield, Suffolk) and with flint comes fire, the catalyst for real advancement of the species.

At the end of that era, the first mention of glaciation creeps into the history books, and Britain is almost completely under ice, thus driving our early human ancestors back south and east to the warmer climates of Europe.

Around 450,00 BCE, as luck would have it (for the Brexiteers), the land-bridge that connected Britain to France (Weald-Artois Anticline) was cut for the first time (small at first), creating the English Channel (though I suspect La Manche was more of a La Rivière at the time).

400,000 BCE saw the first Neanderthals set foot in Blighty, and Swanscombe Man was recovered from a bog in Kent, along with several hand axes, mammoth teeth and jaw bones. Early indications were that these ancestors spent most of the time in the south west of England, not venturing too far north due to densely populated woodlands making hunting more difficult, and less habitable conditions (temperatures mostly and the proximity to escape when the inevitable ice flows came back.)

And that is exactly what happened for the next few hundred thousand years, ice flows in, Neanderthal flows out, that was until 125,000 BCE when the rising sea levels completely cut of Britain from Europe (much to the rejoicing of Tommy Robinson’s Neanderthal forefathers).

It was around 45,000 BCE when the first evidence of Homo Sapiens was found, as my last post stated in Kents Cavern in Devon and it was this period that the Neanderthals were completely driven out of Britain by the new kids on the block, never to return and eventually die out altogether only five millennium later..

Several more periods of glaciation took place, again driving “humans” (as they are now known) back to Europe until 11,700 BCE when the Holocene warming begins, melting huge volumes of ice, rising the sea levels and starting to hint at Britain that it may not be a peninsula for much longer.

Up to this point, humans lived freely across the land in tribes, no invisible borders existing, free to roam from country to country in search of sustenance and security within nomadic tribes. All that was about to change however with the dawning of the post-fire evolutionary catalyst, the agricultural revolution.

Mesolithic Age

With things warming up nicely in Britain around 9,500 BCE, our ancestors began to migrate north and with that form structures to live, a good example of early settlements were found near the Vale of Pickering in Yorkshire (Star Carr) and although nothing much exists there today, finds included the remnants of deer (headdresses presumably used as either hunting aides or ritual adornments), boar, bear and wolf, as well as some rarer finds like amber, hematite and unsmelted iron pyrite object d’art used as prehistoric Pandora (jewellery).

Post holes and evidence of early hearths dot the landscape here and reveal what could be one of the first real settlements on mainland Britain, and it is shortly after this period where the Wirral gets its first proper mention in the history books.

Excavations in Greasby (more recently signposted as Gravesberie, a nod to its ancient past), revealed the exact same footprint as found in Star Carr 800 years earlier, uncovering flint tools, signs of stake holes and a hearth used by a hunter-gatherer community., and other evidence from around the same period has been found in New Brighton, where I live with my own tribe today.

As most of us know, East Anglia and vast parts of the Netherlands are still below sea level today, but many may not know (until recently myself included), that until around 6,200 BCE, the two were connected by marshlands known as Doggerland.

Around this time, a great ice sheet in western Norway side off into the North Sea causing a mega tsunami which flooded the entire area, and with the associated sea level rise cut Britain off from the continental land mass completely, never to return. Little did I know that we have only been an island for just over 8,000 years.

At this point, the agricultural revolution had been spreading like wildfire from its origins in the Middle East (Jericho and Aleppo being the first known structured civilisations to pop into existence), and around 6,000 BCE, the Isle of Wight off the south coast of Britain gave birth to wheat cultivation.

Neolithic Age

So it was around 4,000 BCE that saw a marked shift from hunter-gatherer tribes to organised collectives in Britain, with humans now able to create and store food for the first time, and with it the advent of rules, regulations, hierarchies, ownership, greed and conflict (not an exhaustive list by any means).

To date, the most impressive nod to the Neolithic movement can be found on Orkney, an island off the north coast of Scotland. Skara Brae is a prehistotic village made out of stone around 3,000 BCE. Cut deep into the landscape and with the exception of the roofs which would have been thatched, stands strong today, with fully formed semi-subterranean houses giving real insights into how we used to live during that time and not too dissimilar to how we construct our homes today, with central living spaces, cooking areas and sleeping quarters all close to heat sources when the weather turns gnarly.

Britain wouldn’t be Britain without a good henge, and it was around this time when thoughts turn to the sky for the first time. Obviously the most famous of the henges (Stonehenge) began its construction around this time, but it wasn’t the the only one (I’m sure Strawhenge and Woodhenge were early iterations of this, only for a big bad wolf to go blow them down), with hundreds of these ancient sites still dotted around the landscape today.

It was clear that henges were constructed for a few reasons. Firstly, as a place to bury the dead. Excavations at most sites reveal this, with buried remains found at various points across the sites, our Neolithic graveyards. Secondly, as a monument or a place of worship. To me it is no coincidence that all henges are circular, a nod to the sun. Typically henges and barrows (burial mounds) are aligned to both the summer and winter solstices when the sun is at its highest and lowest points in the sky, signalling death and rebirth, with new life and new hope around the 25th December when the sun (or should I say son) which aligns to the northern stars (forming a crucifix would you believe) starts its ascent.

Clearly this was the first signs of thinking beyond tribes and that there was something more to the physical life as they knew it. The ancient druids of Britain clearly recognised the importance of the cosmic bodies and the wider Universe and as such erected such monuments, creating rituals and sacrifices by way of appeasing “the maker”.

Society was starting to mature at this point in Britain and settlements far and wide were springing up, again around the abundance of natural resources and sources of food, and at this point the tea-cup bearers of Europe (the Beaker People) crossed the English Channel and settled in, bringing with them new technologies and of course “heavy metal”.

Bronze / Iron Ages

It was around 1,800 BCE that bronze and iron working took off in Britain, with ores being excavated and smelted from various quarries across the land, rendering stone and flint tools obsolete, and with that added durability came an increase in crop production and an uplift in the standard of living, for some at least.

In terms of a class system, it was around this time that the haves and have nots were created in Britain. Those who claimed the ownership of the land became the masters of others and as the land was carved up, so the invisible lines were drawn up on ancient parchments so that villages became towns, towns became cities, cites became counties and counties became countries, carving out Britain into the three component parts we know today (England, Scotland and Wales), owned by the few and worked by the many (not much has changed since then).

As borders were created, so were barricades and strongholds, and with that the increase in Iron Age hillforts to protect the land owners and what was “rightfully theirs”.

Whilst we don’t have many prehistoric reminders on the Wirral, a short journey over the border to Wales gives us a taste of what life was like back then. Nestled on top of many of the Moels (hillocks) in North Wales are the shapes and ruins of Iron Age hillforts, a particularly frequent stomping ground for my family, neighbour and I, with Moel Arthur being a particularly impressive site.

Coming to the end of prehistoric Britain and before the Romans came to rape and pillage our fertile lands, Wirral was inhabited by a Celtic tribe known as the Cornovii and artefacts discovered in Meols (on the north coast) suggests that it was an important port from around 500 BCE, with traders coming from France and the Mediterranean to exchange minerals and rich ores mined from North Wales and Cheshire for foreign goods, setting up the first sea-faring trade routes in the area.

What did the Romans ever do for us.

What happens next will be the subject of more research and a future post, taking us up to the modern day, with Romans, Vikings, Angles, Normans, Saxons and likely more marauders not yet known, all scrapping for a piece of Britain’s green and pleasant lands, a real- life game of Risk or Age of Empires.

So with all of that knowledge committed to both my brain and cyberspace and reflecting on the original challenge, has a foray into the past given me a better insight into the history of Britain, of course it has. Has it made me any more British than at the start of my journey, no not really.

What we now know is that until 6,000 years ago, we were physically a part of Europe and now we are both physically and metaphysically not which is a real shame.

That said, I do feel a spiritual connection to certain places in Britain, none more so than the aforementioned Stonehenge but even more so on top of Glastonbury Tor, for me the most magical place on Earth, acting as it were as a nexus point to several ley lines that convene at the hills top. The druids knew it and that esoteric knowledge has been passed down to non-materialists and panpsychists ever since.

The energy of that place is unlike anything I’ve experienced, and tapping into into makes one realise that there is so much more to life than being British, being “Universalish” is something that we all should aspire to be, maybe then we can truly evolve, choosing lover over fear, as one…

The Road Less Traveled (Part 2)…

A quick check on the pedometer and kilometremeter from the night before revealed thirty one thousand steps stepped, twenty six thousand metres walked and one hundred and nine flights of stairs climbed.

All things considered, besides a few hotspots on our feet and dehydrated calves, we were both in fine shape for another bimble, knowing the stats would likely pale into insignificance when compared to the day before (and they did).

Our plan was to hit the third English Heritage site hard and take a walk around the small village of Chollerford, following the River Tyne downstream, both officially walled out from the day befores efforts.

We filled up our water packs once again and headed off to Heddon-On-The-Wall for a spot of breakfast in The Three Tuns public house, a full English breakfast (veggie option for me) setting out our stall for the days calorie burn.

Sadly, once again the establishment along with all others we could find in the area were all closed, again due to the Covid opening hour restrictions, so feeling a little despondent we headed back to Chollerford, parked the car at Chester’s Fort and walked back to the village for an early morning brew at The Riverside tea room before we took in all that the site had to offer.

With strong black coffee quoffed and caffeine surging through the bloodstream, we took the short walk back to the fort, stopping off briefly to pet a bouncing golden retriever, so full of life and energy, easily enough to raise our spirits of the breakfast that never was.

As if by some divine influence, we soon passed a copse of blackberries bushes and took a hand full, munching the sweet fruits in time to the sound of our own footsteps.

Once inside the fort, it was apparent from the outset that this site (for me at least) was the better one of the three. The exposed brickwork foundations still very much in tact which gave more clarity as to what each building’s function was.

By far the most impressive of constructs were the drainage systems, central heating systems and especially the almost intact bath house.

Some think that central heating systems are a relatively new concept, but in the days before gas fired boilers and radiators, the Romans would heat up stones and place them in cavities under the floors to heat the rooms. Genius.

To think they had highly effective baths, saunas and steam rooms over two thousand years ago is almost unfathomable, almost as unfathomable as to where ancient civilisations obtained such knowledge in the first place.

So much has happened on Earth in such a small time period (since the last ice age which ended 12,000 years ago in Britain according to wiki), it’s not wholly unreasonable to conclude that some of the more “out there” theories of panpsychism or the esoteric akashic records (eternally existing streams of consciousness and information) may hold they key to our historical advancement as a species.

Sadly, the bridge that spanned the River Tyne at Chester’s Fort is no more, but the ruins of the towers that sat strongly either side still remains to this day. As we peered across the river, we saw a fisherman, arcing his fly line beautifully into the crisp morning air, nestling sweetly on the surface of the fast flowing water, catching what was most likely a trout. Nothing quite like fresh fish for Sunday lunch, from riverbank to plate in less than two hours.

I came across a small shard of loose stone which was cut squarely so to form the shape of a wonky pyramid. I’d like to think it was cut by the hand of a Roman soldier two millennia ago so popped it in my pocket as a free keepsake (something I’ve regularly done over the years from mountains I’ve hiked or climbed).

After our tour of the site was complete, we headed back into Chollerford to take our river ramble on the opposite side to the fort, and stopped a while to talk to some friendly locals out walking their dog, who told us to keep an eye out for Biggus Dickus.

No it wasn’t the grave of Graham Chapman (as mentioned in Part 1), but a rather large Roman phallus carved into the stone for all eternity.

As we sat and rested, the deviant in me unpacked the drone and took it for a flight across the wall and inside the ruined bridge tower, followed by a swift flight over the river and around the fort, albeit from a significant height. Technically there were no signs on display that one could not fly a drone over the site, but I took the executive decision anyway to do it regardless, feeling the thrill of a would-be archaeologist as the aerial shot revealed the full extent of site in all of its glory.

The strong wind alert started to alarm so the flight was ended more quickly than I would have liked, but nonetheless the final output was worth the risk.

Feeling happy that we had done the area justice, we headed back to base camp for our Sunday roast at the Twice Brewed public house (vegetable nut roast for me), which was washed down with two planks of their finest draft ales.

With three third of a pint glasses on each plank, we tasted all six ales on offer, ranking them from best to worst as one does, the last glass staying full to the brim after we both agreed that it tasted like the waste water from a vase.

All that remained was the two hundred mile drive back home, which was thankfully both swift and uneventful.

We are already thinking of the full seventy three mile walk for next year, when hopefully tea rooms and public houses resume normal service and pre-booking can be resigned to the annals of history. The good folks of Northumbria are fabulously warm and welcoming people, very friendly with a dry wit and humour not too dissimilar from that of my birth city of Liverpool.

A great trip full of fond memories already, and with it a gentle reminder to all that beyond the wall of chaos, there is a calm out there, you just need to disconnect and look for it.

The Road Less Traveled (Part 1)…

“Apart from better sanitation, medicine, education, irrigation, public health, roads, a freshwater system, baths and public order, what have the Romans ever done for us?”…

An all too brief sojourn to the North of England last weekend revealed a great many things to me. Firstly, how unfit I am. Secondly, what a truly regimented and technically advanced bunch of folks the Romans were and finally how little I know about Britain before the BC/AD switch over (when one had to get a new bloody watch – thanks Jesus!).

As mentioned in previous posts, I feel like my eventual journey to a life off-grid (when I retire at fifty five which is one thousand, four hundred and eighty two working days from now) has started in earnest. I have (with the exception of the ego-less and anonymous WordPress) disconnected myself completely from the chaos all around. I have removed all apps from my phone (except this one and Spotify), ceased all current affairs programmes and daily news briefings (relinquishing my BBC TV licence in the process and using the one hundred and sixty six pounds a year more wisely), moving to a plant-based diet (with the odd fish thrown in for the essential oils) and getting back to nature (as frequently as I can) and becoming fitter, healthier and stronger (by exercising the mind, body and soul daily – via various and varied means).

My neighbour “B”, has waxed lyrical constantly over the last twelve months about the best holiday he ever had which was exactly one year ago. He and two others “walked the wall” from the aptly named Wallsend in Newcastle in the East to Carlisle in the West, a grand total of seventy three miles.

Being ex-British army, “B” is used to long trails over various terrains, and armed with a “basher” on his back, he and his comrades took the historical path following Hadrian’s Wall, a remarkable feat of engineering built by the Romans two thousand years earlier. Bedding down in woods each evening, taking in all of the breath taking scenery Northumbria had to offer and stopping off at tea rooms and ale houses on the way, it was clear his mission (which he chose to accept) left a marked imprint on him, something I wanted a slice of myself.

So last weekend, I booked a youth hostel (partly due to the potential inclement UK weather in August and the limited time we had) and headed North for a few days of bimbling, the Twice Brewed public house our nexus and convening point after a hard days trekking. 

It was clear that as soon as we got there, things were different. After dropping our bags off we took a “recky” to map out our routes for the next couple of days and after we had done that, an evening meal and a few local ales would send us off to sleep after a long week in work for the both of us. Sadly, one is never too far away from the chaos and new order of things these days. The pub was fully “pre-booked” for the whole weekend, putting a bit of a downer on two optimistic ramblers.

We once again took to the road and found ourselves a pub in the small village of Haltwhistle, which had the remarkable yet somewhat unbelievable claim of being in the dead centre of Britain. Nevertheless, a quick reveal on Apple Maps confirmed the fact, here we had a village which was just south of the old border between England and Scotland which was indeed at the land masses epicentre, much to our bemusement. 

The Covid plastic sheets that draped from the ceilings and bar area put this previously quaint old English pub in a different light, so after quick meal washed down with a pint of Black and Tan (Guinness) for me at least, we headed back to the hostel to crash for the night. 

Eager to get out there, we set off just after the crack of dawn and headed up the road to see our first glimpse Hadrian’s Wall, taking the first of our thirty thousand steps for the day, a little over fifteen miles. 

Although a life off-grid will eventually mean that I will need different types of energy solutions (renewable and recyclable) to provide the power to my gizmos, my fully pre-charged tech would allow me to capture some photographic (camera phone) and video evidence (drone) of our trip, something we could look back on with fondness in the years to come. 

As we reached the first trail post, we were reminded straight away that even trekkers have to abide by strict rules and regulations, a sign of “No Drones” clearly emblazoned on the gate post. We have a lot of freedom in the UK (especially when compared to other countries) but I grow so weary about what we can and cannot do, feeling somewhat physically and emotionally constricted and trapped at times, which actually has the opposite effect on me, as conformity brings out the rebel and pseudo-anarchistic side of my nature, as it did the previous Saturday in Liverpool when the wife and I went to a freedom demonstration in Liverpool. 

Our first stop on the wall was at Sycamore Gap, a natural dip on the ridge line made even more impressive by the presence of solitary and majestic Sycamore tree, arguably the most famous tree in England made even more famous in the film Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, where (if memory serves) Kevin Costner meets Morgan Freedman for the first time, clearly nowhere near Sherwood Forest in Nottingham a hundreds of miles south. 

After a few minutes contemplating a fly over with the drone (which didn’t take place due to the relatively high winds and the lightness of the device), we took some obligatory snaps and headed on in the direction of Newcastle and our destination for the morning, Housesteads, an old Roman village. 

The scenery as we passed over this historical site was breathtaking, the impressive wall still standing (albeit at a diminished height these days) sat behind quarried cliff faces, man-made lakes and deep dykes cut into the landscape where the terrain flattened out. 

As our path progressed, we stopped off at a small wood where “B” and his band of merry men (not Messrs Costner and Freedman) slept upon beds of soft lichens and mosses one year earlier, seeing a trap set by a would-be poacher to put in his pot at the close of day, empty for the time being. 

We made it to Housesteads, the first of three English Heritage sites we would visit over the weekend, and in my opinion the least impressive (although it was still a site to behold). To paraphrase Eddie Izzard, it was “a series of small walls” with pictorial and explanatory texts describing what housed the various functions and inhabitants in case the early morning imagination wasn’t firing on all cylinders yet. The beauty about our early morning trek was that there was no one on the path. We were alone, like solitary soldiers of yester-year, clocking off after a night shift at one of the many mile markers look out posts. 

After resting a while at the cafe with an English scone (clotted cream, strawberry preserve and a hot brew as bedfellows), we talked about how impressive a site like this must have been two millennia ago and how was it that a wall can still be standing after all this time, yet we needed to exchange our “broken” iPhones every two years. 

We retraced or our early morning steps back along the ridge line, save this time dodging fellow ramblers, trail runners and a large variety of their canine comrades whose numbers had grown exponentially over the last few hours. 

Our next stop was Vindolanda (pronounced Vindaloo-via by me as I couldn’t remember its name well after 13 miles trekking already on the clock). Again reminded that drones were not allowed, we took in some well earned lunch at the cafe, donned the now obligatory face mask to see the various treasures and findings the site owners had uncovered over recent years. 

The site itself was much more impressive than the last, with some of the staff recreating how pottery was made with a live kiln exhibition, which was followed up by a walk around the village, traipsing through gate houses, barracks, senior officer buildings and stables. A recreation of Hadrian’s Wall gave one a vision of how impressive this erection must have been back in the day, and with the dykes cut into one side how almost impenetrable and impregnable it must have been for the marauding Celts on the other side of it. 

As the sun started it’s journey back to the horizon (albeit in the west), we headed back to base camp to take some early evening refreshments. A look over our shoulder revealed an old tree, devoid of life but on the horizon the vivid and lively sycamore, a gap within a gap, photo of the day safely etched to the memory of the phone.

As the ale house next door was still fully booked (no cancellations but we managed to secure a Sunday roast slot the next day) we resigned ourselves to a few beers from the hostel bar (which of course had to be imbibed outside to to lockdown measures) and a house pizza rather than going back in the car to the “atmosphere-less” and “plasticated” public house a night earlier.

The ale at the hostel was supplied from the micro-brewery attached the to the Twice Brewed public house next door, we simply couldn’t resist the pull of one of the drinks on offer, wryly smiling as we ordered Ale, Caesar! in elevated voices (with a hint of a Graham Chapman lisp in Monty Python’s Life of Brian who played the amusingly named Biggus Dickus).

Imagine our amusement when the next round of drinks included two bottles of Holy Grail, which were allegedly tempered over burning witches and reminding us that our mothers were hamsters and our fathers smelt of elderberries..

As it turned out, our fifteen mile bimble and long working week had caught up on us anyway, so we took to the hostel bed a crashed out before twilight, replenishing our energy stocks for what was to come tomorrow.

As I lay there, my eyelids closing to the huge gravitational forces that they were now under, I was reminded (somehow or by something) of the poem by Robert Frost titled “The Road Less Traveled” and how poignant it was, on so many levels,

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference”

That poem summed it up nicely. Adjacent to Hadrian’s Wall is the Military Road, which is busy when compared to the trail on the ridge (especially in the morning). Sure our trip to Homesteads would have been quicker if we took the Military Road, but as Frost penned, the road less traveled made all the difference…

Serpents Rising…

There is no doubt that energy is shifting daily like the sands on a windy beach.

Getting back to nature last week and living life temporarily outside the chaos has brought new light on dark times. Ignoring the pandemic, turning off the news and revisiting the positivity of the past has of late rekindled introspection and what gives me inner peace.

Experiencing the sensory and physical aspects of reality – the flora, the fauna, the cloud formations, the rush of the sea at high tides, the setting sun, the rising moon, as well experiencing the mystical and metaphysical aspects of reality too on just what it feels like to part of something so incredible, I find myself at times in awe of such beauty and the associated feelings experienced are rekindling forgotten spiritual connections I have with some people that I have lost touch with over the years, giving me such a huge internal boost in these troublesome times.

It is seven years ago to the very month that I took my reiki training, opening the neural pathways to something quite alien, quite astounding, tapping into hidden energies that had been hitherto out of reach for the materialist I once was (and have been again over the last couple of years).

Once again it was my wife that reminded me of just who I was back in 2013 and how of late bits of my old self had returned. My “being” back then was born out of abject negativity and selfishness, with me operating as it were as a mid-week bachelor and weekend dad (replicating the abhorrent behaviour of my own alcoholic father).

Such was the shame at this realisation that I was becoming him if not already, that drastic action was required else my strong-willed wife and children would be gone, something my mother sadly never had the strength to do.

So an awakening took place, and with it a connection to a hidden and healing energy, a cosmic current taped into for the first time, opening my eyes to the fact that there was more to this reality than the five senses could serve up.

Buddhists and New Age folks say that things go around in seven year cycles, and here we are exactly seven years later and I find myself knocking on the door of my old reiki master “L” who has “upgraded” to kundalini yoga, and has her own practice based out of a majestic place in the heart of the Wirral countryside.

Although I had not seen her for many years, it was clear that time doesn’t exist (does it anyway?) when it comes to a rekindling of spirits. A quick non-non-distancing hug and catch-up revealed that we would pick up exactly where we left off and both agreed that paths we have taken across the years seem to be forever intertwined.

The same for my wife too. She has been struggling too over the last six months as a furloughed complimentary therapist with too much time on her hands, consuming the chaos, facts, lies and conspiracies for most of her waking hours, minutes and seconds each day. She too needed to refocus by joining me on this journey.

I decided after our trip to Devon to remove meat from my diet. The previous seven days had seen us consume half a farm, chickens, pigs and cows were all present on our daily calorie count and a return to the homestead made me feeling bloated and like a badly cooked steak, over-done.

I was a vegetarian for around eighteen months when I took my reiki training and with the new outlook, new friends, new energy and new lifestyle, it was only natural a diet forms part of the new me.

We have all consumed too much during the lockdown, grazing from cookie jars and overdosing on Netflix for too long over the last six months and our portly figures provide the evidence of that, so a dietary change was a must. I’ve also been out every morning running, cycling, kayaking and land-boarding before everyone else opens the curtains, and boy what a difference a week makes.

Tuesday saw our first kundalini yoga session with “L”. I like to understand what I’m getting myself into so spent sometime on Tuesday morning researching what kundalini yoga was all about. I had heard and read some negative and sensational reviews of the kundalini experiencing, ranging from mental instability to whole body orgasms and a lot of other stuff in between. Classifying it as fake news (but having an awareness of it in case I experience such – yes to the orgasms!) we joined the class and took part in what was such a different experience to the Hatha / posture-based yoga I have always undertaken.

Relatively easy positions were counter-posed by vigorous breathing techniques (breath of fire) leaving us both exhausted yet conversed completely invigorated and energised by the end. Everyone in the group was lovely, warm and welcoming, leaving us with the opinion that in some way, we had found our way home.

We spoke fondly of our experience on the drive home through the shadowy country lanes and with energy still racing when we got back home, I went for a run with the old and faithful pooch, giving new life to old legs.

Land-boarding on the promenade and looping the local marina in the morning sun as the open-water swimmers raised the mouths for breaths the next morning reminded me what if felt to be alive, a positive feelings I’d not felt in a long, long time.

If the early part of the week blew us away with positive energy, then what we experienced on Thursday made that look like a mere ripple on the sea compared to the the tsunami which was about to take place. When we have good weather and as we live close to the sea, when the conditions and tides are right, then “L” conducts her kundalini yoga class on the beach, which is accompanied by evening swims and paddling (sea kayaks and stand up paddle boarding).

As we approached, the beach car park (usually only partly occupied) we were surprised by how was rammed it was with vehicles. As we decanted our kayak and paddling gear, we looked up to see over 100 yoga mats laid out facing the sun, a welcoming inward tide and our spiritual instructor for the day in the lotus position waiting to begin. Incredible.

The session was the same as the “kriya” as Tuesday so we both knew what as to come, this time it was easier as we had had the practice, the session was more magical than the previous one, given the setting, the sheer volume of people and the communal and positive energy by all, resonating a common frequency of happiness.

Feeling again totally energised, we spent the next hour kayaking on the open and warm waters of the Mersey Estuary, totally at one with the universe and the like-minded souls we were spending time with.

Without sounding like a stuck record in reference (reverence) to Westworld, the words “Some choose to see the ugliness in the world, the disarray, I choose to see the beauty” never rang so true. If you are in the position to commune with nature and seek out opportunities for serenity, there is no better time than now. I’m mindful that we are not all in that position presently, with my friends and colleagues in India under almost full lockdown so I have to tone down my own personal journey at the moment, so not to fan their flames of despair, but they are in my thoughts and non-religious prayers.

I’m not one for taking good photos, but every now and again I hit jackpot. As my wife was paddling in, I stood waist-deep in the sea as the sun was setting and pressed click, the result of which reminded me of the ethereal Pink Floyd album The Endless River (Sea in this case), which sure seemed to be that way with nothing visible on the horizon, almost suggesting that infinity beckons…

Eye of the Storm…

As with every storm, there is a period of tranquility as long as you are in the right location at the right time.

With chaos and turbulence all around, there is a period of respite if you happen to spend time in the eye of the storm which gives one a time to recharge, to gather thoughts before the inevitable onslaught of a second wave.

This week I sought out the eye of the storm, and after many years of promising to spend some time on the south coast of England, airport blockades gave me the needful kick up the backside to experience what others have always said about Devon.

Keeping costs down to a bare minimum, we set up camp in Dawlish (scene of its own storm seven years ago when Mother Nature ripped apart its coastal railway to pieces) and plotted our week of relaxation, exploration and adventure.

Like the mystic who peers into the bottom of the teacup for insights, I held my plastic beaker up to the sunlight to see it also reveal a similar eye of the storm. Ordinarily that would predict an ensuing hangover but we managed to find non-alcoholic rum which tasted remarkably like the real thing when poured over “the real thing”.

Like a great many of us, lock-down has provided its own opportunities to learn new things. New hobbies, new skills, old habits which die hard. I’ve gone through extended periods of sobriety over the last six months but also recall a few regrettable occasions where empty bottles have been kicked aside by unshoed toes through bleary morning eyes.

So our trip was a sober one (save one day where we consumed a few afternoon beers) and a much welcomed change to our usual holiday boozing and excessive weight gain.

The campsite itself was the best I’ve ever been to in the UK, with outdoor and indoor swimming pools, restaurant, pub, shop, kids adventure playgrounds and five fishing lakes, and the weather made it the perfect place to kick back and whittle some.

Dawlish, Teignmouth, Torbay and Brixham provided our south coast adventures, with adventure golf, ancient caverns, forest walks and obligatory fish ‘n’ chips on the beach keeping us busy and Woolacombe Beach on the north coast allowing us to swim in the sea, embarrass ourselves with some primordial body boarding, as well as giving us all the obligatory lobstered-look the next day, as only the Brits can truly achieve with aplomb.

All of this was proliferated with several short early morning bursts of fishing on the lakes, catching bream, tench and carp (the largest of which was around six pounds – the biggest fish I’ve ever caught).

Our last day saw us take a boat trip down the Jurassic Coast, taking in the views of the coastal towns, sandstone outcroppings and the beautiful and pea green sea (apt after eating at the Owl and the Pussy Cat in Teignmouth for the wife’s birthday the night before), accompanied by clotted cream scones, jam, tea and Julie Peasgood – soap star from Brookside which set in my home time of Liverpool, who sat next to us who now lives in the area as a writer.

The overwhelming beauty about this week was just how “normal” it was. Camping is by its very nature self-isolating and socially distancing, with each family given there allotted “metreage” away from everybody else, as it was at the outdoor swimming pool, play parks and fishing lakes. The only notable difference was the directional arrows on the floor of the shop and the masks worn by the bar and restaurant staff, but done in a subliminal way.

The footfall was notably lesser too. This week being the height of the summer season (kids first week off school in the summer holidays in the UK), our last three days were spent in isolation our field of twenty camping spaces. Whether the site will be there next year with the same facilities and capacity time will tell, here’s hoping it will as the staff there were uber-friendly and it would be a real shame for it to go under. We are already booking to go back there such was its appeal and such is the uncertainly about international travel.

As I was up all week as dawn broke to go fishing, my circadian rhythm was still set to daft ‘o’ clock so I was up early today, taking the dog for a walk on my local beach up north, both man and dog happy to rekindle their morning sojourn before the day started for the rest of the troops.

The low tide brings with it the opportunity to get to the other side of our local lighthouse, and for a brief moment, a break in the dark and foreboding clouds gave the light of the sun the ability to shine through its fresnel, providing a clearer outlook, not unlike my trip to Devon this week.

Who knows what the new normal will be hereafter, but if you can take time and spend it in the eye of the storm, you will feel a lot better for it as I do today…

Divide and Conquer…

Polarise (verb) – to divide into sharply opposing factions.

Humanity, it seems, is becoming more polarised with each passing day, with little or no hope for respite. Taking a world view and with a few exceptions (where polarity is not tolerated, like North Korea), each “democratic” country on Planet Earth seems to separate into different factions on an all too regular basis.

Take my homeland, the United Kingdom. For the first 4 decades of my life, polarity centered around several themes, politics (Labour or Conservative), football (Everton or Liverpool), music (Rock or Pop), animals (Cats or Dogs), sexual orientation (Hetero or Homo) and wealth (Haves and Have-Nots), and ones choice or preference didn’t really have a major impact on society as a whole (with the exception of wealth where choice doesn’t always play its part).

The United Kingdom and the population that resides here, was until recently a relatively united kingdom comprising of four component states, each with its own nuances and idiosyncrasies and by and large we got on quite well all things considered.

We joined a bigger family when we entered the European Union (then the European Economic Community) in 1973 and again, by and large over the last four decades, we got on well, with the added bonus of freedom of movement across the member states, which I have had the privilege of using many, many times.

Something has changed of late, and not in a good way. Our political system and the society I now reside in is completely broken. We have been used to seeing Red fight with Blue to gain supreme power since it took over the reigns from the Liberal Party in the 1920’s, placing our X’s next to our party of choice ever since.

The childhood I can remember was governed by the Conservative Party when Margaret Thatcher was at the helm, growing up in Liverpool in the early 1980’s when the shipping and manufacturing industries were decimated by Tory policy, making it difficult to put food on the table in the vast majority of households.

We cracked on as any community would do under the same circumstances, and we did it as a pseudo-syndicalist collective, coming together as one to support each other during what were difficult and challenging times, putting two fingers up to Thatcher and her “managed decline” edict, with the help and support of Tory MP Michael Heseltine, an unlikely hero still in these parts.

The wealth and the glory of bygone years (due to the profiteering of shipping merchants during the truly abhorrent Slave Trade of the 1700’s) and the excitement of the Merseysound had all but gone, but the city got itself up off the floor, dusted itself down, and had a renaissance in 2008 when it was awarded the European Capital of Culture, and with it, truly significant investments from our EU comrades. Run down areas and tired city centre establishments were all defibrillated back into life and until very recently, the city had enjoyed an upturn in fortune.

The real turning point (for me at least) was Brexit (as I have mentioned in my State Of The Universe Part 1). In Liverpool, we had just short of 60% voting for remain, a real mandate to keep things the way they are, but alas no, the wider collective decided against it, pushing the entire nation into the abyss, to go it alone.

We then had three and a half years of stagnation and another election, putting the Conservatives back in action for another term.

Now we have Covid, and with it, something even more divisive, even more worrysome. Never in my life have I seen and witnessed such polarised views.

Once again, we are faced with choice and what we believe in; truth (Fact or Fiction), masks (Wear or Don’t Wear), science (Real or Not Real) and political integrity (Honesty or Conspiracy). I dare say more choices are to follow, namely cure (Vaccinations or No Vaccinations), legislation (Support or Reject) and possibly totalitarianism (Acceptance or Anarchy).

Whilst previous views were by and large for or against the establishment or a personal preference which had no material impact on society as a whole, what has happened over the last few years (spiking with Covid) has turned (wo)man against (wo)man and with it the birth of divided factions, and with that some quite appealing behavior.

The venom with which targeted abuse is delivered is something to be utterly ashamed of too and it really brings into question the fundamentals of ones personal relationships.

Social media makes it far too easy for some to become keyboard warriors, sitting comfortably in their socially distanced locales, cowardly brandishing all manner of vitriol and verbal abuse on platforms that were meant to connect people together in a positive way, not to pour petrol on incendiary situations like we find ourselves in today. This week has already seen non-virtual altercations occurring in shops and supermarkets as the factions clash face to face, now that masks are compulsory.

It was a very easy decision for me to disconnect from all social media applications (with the exception of WordPress which is for me an anonymous and cathartic vehicle) and from what I have heard and seen most recently, the decision in January this year was the right one.

I now have to make a different type of choice, a preference as to whether the opinions and subsequent behavior of others is something I chose to acknowledge and accept or choose to walk away from.

State of the Universe address (Part 2)…

“Even a casual glance at the media whether in print or streaming form reveals a distinct shift in energy and sadly not a positive one. Recent events from all over our little blue dot have shown that humanity appears to be on a disturbing downward spiral, towards a destiny I don’t think any of us can predict. Even the glass half full brigade is starting to see the drink drift towards the bottom of the tumbler.

The have been several events of late which have upset the balance in the Universe which even videos of kittens playing and falling off stuff are failing to have the desired uplifting effect”…

Those exact words were scribed here on the twenty sixth of July, twenty sixteen during the aftermath of the Brexit vote here in the U.K, my abject disbelief in the majority (not overwhelming by any means, but majority nonetheless) of citizens voting to go it alone, to disconnect from a union which gave more freedom of movement, more freedom of choice, more freedom opportunity for cultural exchange, just more.

The pursuing three and a half years in stasis were frankly embarrassing, like two school children endlessly bickering in the playground over which colour was best, blue or red, only to be resolved by asking the question all over again.

I was, as were many of my close friends and family, truly disappointed by the outcome of the general last year but it was apparent to us that a different type of politics had emerged. The time of robust, transparent and progressive manifestos had gone, replaced by rhetoric and hyperbole, and the more succinct the better. A manifesto of three words won the election. “Get. Brexit. Done”. That was all it took. No five-hundred page visions of the future required, no clear or quantifiable plans to take the U.K to the next level. Simply, these three words resonated with original voters and with new found sympathisers in socialist strongholds (depleted of energy in a stagnating country) who were targeted by social media campaigns and the less-than independent and biased views of the BBC.

As much as I admired Jeremy Corbyn in the past, it was clear that all hope was gone leading up to the election result, when so many people uttered the words “I cannot bring myself to vote for that man”, choosing instead to hand Boris Johnson a fresh set of keys to Ten Downing Street.

After the dust settled and a period of reflection, it was clear to me that the election was lost by a total destruction of the “Red Wall” due to the beleaguered populace wanting an immediate end to the vacuous stalemate in Westminster on Brexit which only the Conservatives were truly offering. It was a vote for capitalism and the self rather than for socialism and the many.

One thing that did concern me during the whole period (and even more so today) was the role media and social media organisations play in such events, and how much of our personal data is used against us to influence what we think, how we think and how we subsequently act.

1984

The rules of the game have changed. Take a step back in time and look at the amount of information or personal data that was available to organisations in the past (government, civil service and private organisations). To say it was sparse compared to today is an understatement.

I grew up in the early nineteen seventies:

  • We got the bus to school and work every day, no personal data at all
  • We had newspapers delivered each day which contained information on current affairs, no personal data held other than our local corner shop knowing which publications we preferred
  • We had our post delivered each day with letters and postcards from loved ones, no personal data captured other than offline credit card and bank statements
  • We went to the shops to buy food, clothes and toys, no personal data held other than store receipts
  • We had three television channels with one daily one-hour news bulletin on two of them, no personal data held other than we had a television licence
  • We listened to music on the radio, vinyl, cassette tapes and watched films on video tape (eighties) and at the cinema, no personal data held other than store or picturehouse receipts
  • We had a landline telephone, which allowed us to communicate with others, no personal data captured other than the more left-wing voters with affiliations to certain political groups having their lines tapped (and I know a couple)
  • We borrowed books from the library to enhanced our knowledge on certain topics that interested us, no personal data captured other than which books we had to pay fines on as invariably they were overdue
  • We went on holiday in the U.K due to limited funds to travel abroad, no personal data captured
  • We had a voting card (well my parents did) and placed our X next to our preferred candidate, no personal data captured other than the binary choice (red or blue) we made on the day which made the peg count in election of the day

Life was much more private then, simpler, with only rudimentary individual/consumer profiling available to those who sort it, which in itself was minimal, marketing types really. Not so now. The migration from analogue to digital has heralded an unprecedented technological evolution the likes of which we could only dream of back in the seventies.

Clearly our lives are enriched by the positive aspects of technology advancement:

  • The multitudinous, multifaceted and multifunctional devices we have at our disposal
  • The wealth and depth of information that is available to us via online search engines and thousands of media channels
  • The convenience of online shopping and having any goods delivered the very next day
  • The immersive audio/visual experiences we take part in through online games, streaming films and music from all genres tailored to our particular tastes
  • The majestic and global reach of contacting others via phone/video/email many thousands of miles away making the world a smaller place
  • The ability to pay for goods, services and travel through credit and not cash, via a watch on a wrist, an app on a phone or a contactless payment/travel card
  • The ease of voting online, never having to traipse in the English summer rain to the polling station

IsaacNewton

But as the late and great Isaac Newton famously once said, “To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction” later paraphrased by Albert Einstein (“For every action there is reaction”).

Big data is big business and, in my opinion, a big risk that could lead to a Big Brother.

In the current capitalist/consumerist paradigm we find ourselves in, social and economic profiling by identifying the what we think, the way in which we think it and how we subsequently act and react is something a lot of people are very keen on understanding. Big business and big governments appear to be launching a crusade to uncover everything there is to know about us and how access to that data that can or will influence our actions and reactions.

The vast majority of us buy into that paradigm, myself included (although I am taking active measures to “anonymousise” my digital footprint). Take a step back if you will and see how proactively we are feeding the machine.

Every single digital transaction we make (from Google search, to Amazon purchase, to Facebook like, to Twitter retweet, to Instagram photo check-in and beyond) leaves behind a digital footprint, breadcrumbs of data which can be used to build up a profile of us.

Marry that up with every text or social media message we send, every phone call we make, every Alexa command we utter and we very quickly come to the conclusion that Edward Snowden was right, our social interactions, our online presence is being monitored constantly. We have all experienced an advert popping up on Facebook for something obscure we have just been talking about the day before.

The learned and the well-educated will know that already, but the less well-educated or socially unaware will remain in ignorant bliss. They will be blind to the more subliminal methods organisations are using to profile them, turning them and us into perfect consumers.

Events over the past few months relating to Covid-19 have, in my opinion, taken profiling beyond consumer and economic and are now venturing into a dark realm of social, physical and even DNA profiling. Only yesterday did we hear about the U.K government allowing a private AI company (Faculty) to access sensitive patient data against the rules of GDPR to execute algorithms and produce predictions on how things may materialise and how measures can be taken to combat the pandemic. We also heard that the government are launching a tracking app which will use the GPS signal on the smart phone to monitor the movements of the population.

Whilst I don’t believe that there is a covert operation currently underway towards the creation of an Orwellian-esque New World Order (I can’t see Johnson, Putin, Trump, Xi, Jong Un, Merkel and Macron collectively agreeing about anything just now), we do seem to be setting the foundations of Big Brother via big business and this pandemic, and that is something to keep a very close eye on over the coming days, weeks, months, years.

In closing, take a good long look at the Rehoboam in Westworld Season Three. How do you think something like that would start off, what foundational building blocks would need to put in place?