Absent Friends.

Ghosts will come if you stand by an autumn bonfire. They will slip along the edges of your perceptions – those you know that you have and the others – and stand, just beyond touching distance behind your shoulder. It is not alarming; they are friendly now as they have always been. While the flames do their burning thing: throwing sparks at the sky trapped stars and smoke to the winds. Crayon the lawn, the hedges, the walls of the wash house in blazes of shifting colour and darknesses. Warm the side of you that is turned towards it, while the turned away half gets colder.

And it is not that the ghosts are summoned by the fire. It has absolutely no power over them. Maybe they do not even notice the flames and shadows that turn and twist: who knows? If it helps you can believe they are called by your memories (though this is not the case). And they are not just in your imagination: you are really not that good!

But, to keep them there,  you have to concentrate on the flames, the heart of the burning. Glance them only from the corners of your eyes, at the edges of your understanding, where your senses run to haze and recognise nothing other than blurred images. If you turn to look closely, fully at them, they just will not be there. As if they had never made that first approach. For they do not crave your undivided attention.

… and you cannot communicate with them. It is not important for you to do so and they cannot talk, they cannot hear and will not answer your questions. Why should they? Why would they?

But their presence, if you allow it , can be mutually reassuring. Be its own reward. You clearly need that company; why else would they come? And they too take something from the encounter. They understand that they are not neglected; that they remain unforgotten and still play a part, however small in the rituals you carry on.

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Coward’s Bridge ?

There’s this bridge he drives across. Certain times; certain autumn mornings. But every day, routine-driven. An ancient-wise kind of winding river passes beneath it – from left to right – as once it passed below a castle that was one of the most important buildings in the young nation.

But the world turns, the Fates sit, spinning and grinning, hatching conspiracies great and small. And, as it turns the season’s come and go; mortal succession reminders and on certain autumn mornings (just a few, mind you when conjunctions of spheres fall just so) …

On these mornings that stretch of the river to his left is powdered with a low silken mist that hovers above the surface of the silvered grey slow rolling water like the patient mithril-woven breath of paradise angels. Perfectly white mute swans glide effortlessly on the current; holding station between reeded banks and there is calm. They may still be sleeping, in that happy place where the passage of time has no place.

But the sky high to his to his right is bleeding from the roots of Hell: a sad burned orange. The thick sulphur-blood that courses in the unhappy, stricken veins of Lucifer, the thick slabs and tides filling the frames of his glasses. It overtops the ancient church tower for it was old when gods were being birthed. It is fierce-cool but relentlessly, savagely beautiful, tumbling behind and around dark, purple edged menacing clouds.

The fairy-charmed mist will not last long. Neither will those daunting, magnificent skies. The extremes will be diluted. Inevitably. Lost to damned humdrum mediocrity. Like all of the rest. The rest of everything. That is now; that ever was. A real shame, he decides, straightening up and heading onwards with decisions to be made.

Because one of these days, goddammit, he’s going to take the car keys, house keys, office keys, the key to a briefcase he binned twelve years ago and hurl them, uncaring, finished with the millstone responsibilities, over the bridge parapet. Straight down into the stately, majestic flow: startle the swans, kneel down, bow his head to the bruised skies and hungrily suck in that heat, those fumes and fury … or throw the blasted keys at the sky and, not tracking their trajectory, dive into the charmed waters and paddle towards the peace that appears to lie in that direction.

Just. See. If. He. Won’t!

But, dammit, his legs, cowardly traitors, are already carrying him away from the edge before his resolve can truly harden; before his brain can actually believe it; another day of mundane-coloured boredom needs must be endured.

Maybe tomorrow eh?

The Swift-Tuttle Debris Show.

“Cold hearted orb that rules the night,

Removes the colours from our sight,

Red is grey and yellow white,”

(Moody Blues lyric)

Sitting alone in the back garden. In the dark that comes with midnight gone by and moon still below the stilled horizon.

“They’ll tell you black is really white;

The moon is just the sun at night.”

(Black Sabbath lyric: Heaven and Hell)

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And the garden, without the distraction of colour looks different: neither better nor worse – simply different. The leaves of familiar trees are not green, the bright orange of crocosmia flowers, brick red of pelargoniums is not there: rather they are all in the range between black and white – and, somehow less three dimensional because of that..

There is no movement this night other than a little wind that catches at the tops of the silver birch nearby. Hedgehogs, frequent visitors to this space are absent tonight and I guess my presence keeps the neighbourhood fox away. Little sound: no birds, no yapping dogs, no children playing or lawn mowers pulling people up and down stripes of grass. Some rumble from roads in the middle distance: roads that have been here since Roman times.

Just cool star lit darkness. Which is not to be confused with lack of warmth. This is August, so this is the relative cool after a warm, dry summer day and reminds me of the need to close greenhouse window and doors at the end of each day from now on. Nor to be confused with the absence of light. There is plenty of light; the fire pit fire (the only source of colours here: dark-devil orange embers, blue flames mingling with brighter, lighter orange ones (chemicals in the timber from a salvaged, broken up palette (put on the fire complete with nails). The fire then and low level light pollution rising from streetlights and the junction of roads with the toll motorway not so far away. Light from the skies. Stars so clearly visible from the place on the lawn where I lay back in the seat so far that the nape of my neck rests on the table top. For this, I am told is the best way to observe what I am here, hopefully, to witness.

And this comfortable, friendly darkness makes it easy to think about space. Space as space, becoming harder to imagine on a world that often feels so crowded. The great out-there deserts of space. Lonely space, inspiring space with its unimaginable distances between tiny points of light that I am looking at right now, knowing that there are many more that I simply cannot see. Tiny? Only in appearance for most of these stars are far, far larger than my Earth, even than our local star which we call Sun. I think briefly that, given the speed of light and the distances between the sources of these lights, the suns the light came from, is coming from may no longer actually be there.

There is some safety in the distances I suppose and it irks our curiosity.

Looking up I can see the navigation lights of aircraft cruising the heavens at around eight miles high. And I look for the International Space Station – but, honestly I don’t know what to look for – apart from movement that is. How fast will it be moving, where will it appear?

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I recognise some of the constellations up there: the Great Bear, Cassiopeia, and imagine I know some of the others (but actually don’t). Legendary origins, characters all.

And there are so many of them, these incomplete diagrams in the night sky, but they are so far away. From me. From each other. The stuff of science. The stuff of science fiction.

I am here on this marvellously cloudy night to try and see the meteor showers. The Perseids: as the outer, protective dodgem edge of our atmosphere – about 300 miles above me – brushes the debris left behind by the comet we know as Swift-Tuttle. And for the next few nights (as every year) it may be possible to spot the tracks these “shooting stars” etch on the skies – then are gone, forever. This all happens a hundred and thirty thousand miles beyond the surface on which I now stand, bending backwards on the garden seat.

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“Comet Swift-Tuttle has a very eccentric – oblong – orbit that takes this comet outside the orbit of Pluto when farthest from the sun, and inside the Earth’s orbit when closest to the sun. It orbits the sun in a period of about 133 years. Every time this comet passes through the inner solar system, the sun warms and softens up the ices in the comet, causing it to release fresh comet material into its orbital stream. Comet Swift-Tuttle last reached perihelion – closest point to the sun – in December 1992 and will do so next in July 2126.” From www.earthsky.org

It is so peaceful, so easy to let the mind relax (maybe that’s becaaause the preceding day was a happy one: tasks accomplished, results achieved). Whatever; it feels unusual to be here at this hour – a privilege. Even more so when I begin to see the short-lived trails of the meteors. If ever you’ve scraped a match against the sandpaper in the dark you may have seen an instant trail of light that follows the head of the match on the box. This is the appearance of some of these lights. So fast come and gone I believe I may be imagining them. But several follow in swift succession – and it brings a big smile to my face. I can’t help it. Some draw long fading lines across the sky, a couple curve and one squirms frantically as I watch. It is a kind of magic: these silent night fireworks. No sound reaches my ears (why would it space is a vacuum) and I can think I may be the only human to be watching them.

I’m thinking I should consider doing this again: but – reality creeps in as I open the back door – I need to see how I feel when I get up in the morning.

Been Away … Been Around: Part the First

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Family holiday: North Devon Coast; via expected bottle necks on M6 and M5 to the National Trust property at Kingshayes. Fascinating history, the owner/builder had a successful lace making business (in Loughborough) destroyed by Luddites who moved his factory to Tiverton, Devon … and was followed by most of his employees undred employees who – mostly walked – the two hundred miles to occupy the new accommodation he had built for them. Fascinating history, beautiful grounds.

Then tripping along the southern flank of Exmoor through the rolling hills of the county; roads usually perched on one side of a valley that runs between grass-for-silage meadows and either barley or maize. Grasslands: the original solar panels: converting sunlight into energy.

A couple of days in warm-rain soaked estuary town of Bideford. What a difference a tide makes: low slack water and misleadingly lazy looking mud banks that leave whacking great spaces beneath both the old bridge and the ultra-modern “high level” road bridge appears useless and untidy. High tide brings reflections of skies, boats that float jauntily and tourists. I know of course that appearances can be deceptive. These muddy shores are powerhouses for wildfowl and anglers and in history were an industrial thoroughfare, bringing trade and prosperity.

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Been Away … Been Around: the Second Chapter.

Some friends are visiting the area. All the way from Sicily. All the way from Turkey. All the way from Cyprus. Staying at a hotel in Walsall. Close friends. Part of an international project with some work to do …

But we set out on a mission: to find the churchyard where former Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham is buried. Led Zeppelin – never my favourite band from a time where loyalties were tribal: so the Beatles or the Rolling Stones? Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin? Mod or rocker? And me? Loved the strutting arrogance of the Stones and I’d heard Made in Japan at a biker’s party – my loyalties were forged.

But Led Zeppelin were legendary*, among other things, for being loud. And especially Bonham: no nonsense, intimidating, aggressive, big and demanding. Born and raised in the West Midlands. Eventually we find the church (St Michael and All Angels at Rushock ); surrounded by sweeping agricultural farmland: barley, pastures … and quiet. A few martins slipping through the blue skies. Otherwise, if you stop talking the only sound you can hear is your own breathing. This provokes some interesting thoughts about life, death he nature of eternity and – once photos have been taken and tokens left … where to go next.

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Again and Again: Why Not?

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… and back again, to the magical mixture of clean, high air, friends (old and new), chemical free beer, home brewed schnapps and to-die-for cakes.

To Linz via a  Germanic-efficient and very dramatic “go-around” (aborted landing) at Frankfurt’s massive hub. Arriving late at the “Blue Danube” airport. Which must have disrupted the lives of people who were collecting me … though you would not know it from their greetings.

Life moves on different wheels here. The pace is human and addictive, relaxing and energising. People are friendly first, ask questions later: no pressure, smiles are big, generosity bigger.

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Excerpt … The Martian.

Here is one excerpt (and it is hard to pick just one, only one!) from a book I picked, pretty much at random from the W.H. Smith bookshop airside at Birmingham Airport. I was at the start of a journey to Austria, going to be busy but you never know … maybe time for a little reading.

Written by Andy Weir, the book is called The Martian (strap line “he’s the most famous man on Earth. Problem is he’s not on Earth”).

martianHere goes :

“It’s a strange feeling. Everywhere I go, I’m the first. Step outside the rover? First guy ever to be there! Climb a hill? First guy ever to climb that hill …

I’m the first guy to drive long-distance on Mars. the first guy to spend more than thirty one sols on mars. the first guy to grow crops on Mars. First, first, first.

I wasn’t expecting to be first at anything …

Now I miss those guys (the crew) … I’m the first person to be alone on an entire planet.

Okay, enough moping. I am having a conversation with someone: whoever reads this log. It’s a bit one-sided but it’ll have to do. I might die but damn it, someone will know what I had to say ….”

I was enjoying the book; I can say now that having finished it. A superb piece of work (though not certain of the science bits I just took them as correct) and the flow of the story is splendid, so is the style.

But, come on, that last paragraph-bit, that “conversation with somebody”.  That’s me, that’s each of us – perhaps – with our blogs eh?

image: http://www.sfx.co.uk