Thursday, 3 December 2015

Chapter 6 - "the Way to Nowhere" - previous chapters in the archive to the right. To access, click on November!

Chapter 6

The only real conflict in nature is within ourselves.

J. Krishnamurti

Moving with the Changes

Back in Cornwall, we occupied ourselves with experimenting with ceramics as we had invested in pottery equipment, two electric wheels, a kick-wheel and two kilns and began producing stone-ware pottery, mixing our own glazes, using iron, copper and titanium oxides to create tenmoku and celadon ware to our own designs. I was friendly with other potters in the locality and met Bernard Leach, the famous potter living in St Ives. One of the potters we knew, Mike Dodd, constructed a large 20 foot Korean type kiln in Godolphin woods which surrounded the manor house and were carpeted with bluebells in the spring. This kiln took a week to pack and two days to fire but the results were invariably spectacular and often unexpected. It was always an exciting and rather apprehensive time when the kiln was opened and the results of our labours came into view.

I grew very fond of the Cornish pasties produced by a bakery in Praze-an-Beeble, a few miles away, in a bakery called Bourdaux's. They were very large and succulent and the best I had tasted. Pasties had originated years ago for the tin miners  who needed a meal while working deep down in the mines, and these pasties were made in such a way that the main course would be followed by desert, meat, carrots, onions and potatoes being followed by strawberry jam, apple or other sweet ingredients. After eating the pasty the superstitious miners would leave a few crumbs of pastry for the “knockers”, the little people who were reputed to live down in the mine. The ruined Cornish engine houses still stand sentinel today and are an iconic feature of the landscape and a reminder of a past age.

Along with my work as an amateur potter I was engaged in labouring in the fields. I had inherited an old grey Ferguson tractor fuelled by TVO (tractor vaporising oil). I bought a plough and a wooden trailer to accompany the mower which was also parked on the farm. I set to work hauling trailer-loads of horse manure from a neighbouring farm and ploughing the land in order to plant potatoes and other vegetables. 1973 was designated a Tree Planting year (“plant a tree in '73”) and I applied for my allocation of trees of various species and duly planted them around the farm. I found a source of pampas grass and planted clumps along the boundary next to the road.

Work was also commenced on converting the barn, knocking down the cow stalls and erecting a new upper floor and a staircase. I then knocked a hole through the wall to link the upper floor of the barn to the house which soon received a new slate roof. I purchased a second-hand oil-fired Aga cooker which became the heart of the house and provided an assurance that the place would be warm and cosy during the wet and blustery Cornish winter.

Nowhere is perfect, however, and the big disadvantage was that the stream was not maintained by the S.W. Water Authority, and it became choked with weed on its way down to the Hayle estuary, causing it to flood regularly during the autumn and winter. It flooded the yard and penetrated the ground floor of the property, causing disruption to our generally uneventful household routine.

The End of an Era

After ten years or so my marriage to “the Nottingham girl from down south” was in trouble and I went to Glastonbury and stayed with a friend named Rollo Maughfling and his wife Solange in their cosy dwelling located a few miles from the Tor and named Dove Cottage. He was the secretary for the Society for the Preservation of the Glastonbury Zodiac. In 1927 a woman named Katharine Emma Maltwood, an artist, had been in a plane and looking down she made out the landscape laid out with the creatures of the zodiac. The only difference was that Aquarius was represented as a whale. In the centre of the zodiac was a dove. I was told that there were similar zodiacs at Lampeter in Wales and at Kingston-upon-Thames but the latter had been so built up that it was almost indistinguishable from the rest of the landscape. Later Rollo Maughfling was to become the Archdruid and he regularly took part in the summer solstice celebrations at Stonehenge.

Glastonbury was known as the Isle of Avalon and the Tor reared up impressively from the surrounding lowland plain which in former years was prone to flooding from the Bristol Channel. At one time it consisted of a number of low-lying islands. Other notable sites in Glastonbury include chalice well in the grounds of the house belonging to Geoffrey Ashe, the indefatigable researcher of the legends of King Arthur, and the ancient ruined abbey. I climbed the steep hill up the Tor and recalled the words of William Blake: “And did those feet in Ancient Time, walk upon England's mountain green”, except that this land was not known as England then. The legend is that Jesus came to Avalon with his uncle Joseph of Arimathea, and it is known that trade flourished in those times with Phoenician traders engaging with the Cornish tin trade. To this day the Glastonbury thorn stands on the hill where Joseph planted his staff in the earth of Roman Britain.

Glastonbury Tor,
Trembling with the power of Om,
Consciousness itself.


Glastonbury is the home of the annual Rock festival and I visited Worthy Farm and met Michael Eavis, the owner and organiser, but these were early days. On the farm was a maze which was featured in the BBC Blue Peter series. The maze or labyrinth is a symbolic representation of the spiritual journey to the still centre within, and examples which come to mind are the Hampton Court maze and the labyrinth at the heart of the Greek legend of Heracles and the Minotaur. This ancient and esoteric symbol is associated with the spiral, and at Glastonbury I met Christopher, who was engaged in investigating this intriguing natural form. It is found so often throughout nature, in plant stamens, in the shells of snails and sea creatures, and in DNA itself as a double helix spiral formation. The spiritual journey is beset with obstacles and dead ends, as the maze implies, which Christian discovered in Bunyan's “Pilgrim's Progress” and it is very much a matter of perseverance and dedication to press on regardless in the face of adversity.

My three months at Glastonbury, staying with Rollo and Solange, were a time of reflection and re-evaluation. My marriage was over and I was feeling vulnerable yet I resigned myself to the situation in which I found myself. I obtained a job teaching in a local school and cycled to work every day in the chilly mornings, when the mist lay low over the fens. The rawness of the end of a relationship was mitigated by an encounter with a French woman, Claudie, on the night of Hallowe'en, under a full moon, and for a brief time the clouds lifted from my soul. I often cycled over to the farmhouse where she was staying and the relationship lasted until the New Year, but then it came to an end as there were good reasons why the affair could not last. The most significant event and one which was to influence the course of my life was my introduction to Kim Taylor whom I met at the Dove Centre. At the time he and his wife Eya were living in a beautiful house of character in Dulverton on the edge of Exmoor. They invited me to stay with them for a weekend and we entered into deep philosophical discussions on our walks in the neighbouring woods.

My return to Cornwall was traumatic, not least because I had bought a cheap, ancient motor scooter, a Vespa, and attempted the journey on a rainy day in the face of a headwind with the engine labouring and spluttering and eventually giving up the ghost. I was forced to abandon it and was eventually picked up by a friend and neighbour who had moved to Cornwall from Bristol, rented a flat in Clowance House, Praze, and who later took up glass-blowing in his cottage near Godolphin Cross.

Upon my return I found my wife and children living with another man in my Cornish farmhouse. It was a difficult period living in close proximity yet I continued with my work on the farm. Eventually they left in a Volkswagen camper in a very dubious intention to purchase ivory bangles and other adornments in Dar-Es-Salaam and sell them for a profit in Holland. This enterprise did not meet with the success they had hoped for and they returned to rent a house in St Agnes on the north coast. I continued to live in my Queen Anne period farmhouse, met my sons regularly, took up supply teaching in local schools and learned to accept the changes in my life.

Despite my turbulent state of mind following the family break-up I benefitted greatly from my voluntary exile in the Vale of Avalon. I met new people, made new friends and learned more about the esoteric history of the area. In particular, my meeting with Kim Taylor at the Dove Centre was a pivotal moment which gave me the impetus to find a way to an awakening to truth. It often happens that when other people influence our lives they can make a radical difference to us. However, “there is no way to truth....truth is the way”.  Seeking is a part of the illusion and finding truth within oneself is freedom from that illusion, the tearing aside of the veil which obscures.

After leaving Dove Cottage and before leaving Somerset I stayed in a cottage with a friend named Penelope and wrote the following poem:

Winter's Evening   (Eastern Promise)        1976

A game of Scrabble, by candle-light.
Penny sitting deep in thought,
searching the mind's vocabulary
for the word that fits;
aromatic smells emanating
from the curried kitchen
of the cosy cottage nestling
in the heart of Avalon;
a scent of incense, a curl of smoke –
writhing and turning
on its way to heaven;
on the mantle-shelf
the ticking of a clock which
Penny set for 7:00;
flickering of the fire,
rattling of the door,
the barking of a dog left alone
in the windy dark.

But night draws on,
bringing to a peaceful end
the hint of eastern promise,
and a Scrabble game ..............

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