Saturday, 31 October 2015

One of the Quarter Days

The Zodiac Constellations, and some others. The vertical line marks the solstices, and the horizontal line marks the equinoxes

There are some people who seem to have made a pact with habit. They go about their business and can be relied on to appear in an accustomed place at an accustomed time, with regularity. And they appear too, to inhabit this routine with cheerfulness. Of course we only see from the outside. But this at least, is the appearance. And we come to rely on this regularity, it helps to give structure to our everyday world. (Think of bus and train timetables!) Just as we rely on the regularity with which the Sun comes up, and the seasons change.

I go to the milkman's van, which appears in the street on the same days of the week and at more or less the same time, give or take a few minutes. I buy milk, eggs, fruit and fruit juice from him. His manner is utterly reliable too. He is invariably friendly in a calm and unassuming way, quietly cheerful, and seeming content with his work and his life. Our conversation is usually limited to comments on the weather.
Goodness it's warm today, I say.
For the time of year, I'm astonished by the warm wind, blowing the gold-tipped leaves off the trees.

Yes, it's mild, he agrees.

He tots up the bill, using the kind of mental arithmetic that I'm accustomed to, as I learned it at school. As he is round about my age, he probably learned it then too. Why use calculators when you can do it yourself?
My purchases come to £6.66 pence.
Oh! he says – we'd better make that £6.65. And we laugh at this.
And it's Hallowe'en too! he remarks.
Here's some change, I say, take the 66 p, no-one will ever know, we'll keep it secret – only God or the Devil that is, will know, apart from us.
Funny though isn't it, he says. And then tells me a story. His granny is buried in a local graveyard, not far away. He passes it regularly, on his milk round, but never, he says, goes to visit her grave. Then one day, the thought came to him, to go and visit her grave. And this is the odd thing, he says, for the very next day he got a phone call to say that his mother had died.
I asked if this was recent.
Oh no, several years ago. But that's something we all have to go through. Still, that was odd wasn't it?
I agree. One of those strange coincidences.
But I do believe, I say, that we can communicate with others like that.

And I could have told him stories about people appearing to others, in dreams or visions just as they died (so they were told later) and about my own grandmother's near death experience, but this is not a conversation in a café, this is a small but colourful story – so it seems, with all these autumn colours around, yellow scarlet and gold –  a gesture from a larger world, slipping its warm hand into our time-wrapped one, a gesture that shows how porous the boundaries of time can be, especially at this point of the year, one of the 8 marking points of the ancient calendars, in the days when we were more connected to the cycles of the seasons and the turning world, which gives us life, and its relationship to the Sun, which gives us life. It is one of the Quarter Days, (sometimes known as the Celtic Quarter Days) all of which fall on the mid-points between equinoxes and solstices. These days are the first of November (Samhain)  of February (Imbolc/Saint Brigit) of May (Beltane) and of August (Lammas).

All Hallows E'en, the evening before Samhain or All Saints Day, has been turned into a ghoulish festival in this part of the world, with emphasis on the dark and frightening. (There's a fascinating article here by Robert Moss, on the origins of Hallowe'en).  According to Rudolf Steiner we are closer to the spiritual worlds not just on this one day, but throughout the winter, from this Quarter Day to the next (Saint Brigit's Day). And he says – and others would agree with him, including my grandmother who saw angels and her beloved husband (who was deceased) waiting to meet her in the light in the distance – that those we were close to while they were alive in the body, but are now in the spiritual worlds, may well reach out to us and be felt by us, whether in near death experiences or dreams or small promptings (like the unaccustomed visit to a grave), sudden unaccountable feelings of joy, or perfumes that seem to come out of nowhere on a dark city street, as if we've walked past a blossoming garden.

As I leave, the milkman puts his finger to his lips. Remember, he says – don't tell anyone!

Friday, 2 October 2015

Berwick Walk and the Sinners Cafe

Berwick on Tweed.


The sun is out but in the town there's a freshness, a hint of sharp sea air. I'm going to find a coffee before I start walking. Going past an arched entranceway I see a sign for Sinners Café, which claims to have the best coffee in town. I haven't seen it before. I go through the alley into the small courtyard where people are sitting at the outside tables and chairs, enjoying the sunshine. Then I go into the café itself and order my cappuccino to go. The people are very friendly. I mention the sign that claims they have the best coffee in town. Yes she says, it is, it's strong and fresh. I don't say I'm going to rate it in my mythical book of Travellers' Guide to Good Coffee Around the World. Because if I mention this I might feel obliged to do it.

There are several factors to be considered, in this Good Coffee Experience Guide. One is the friendliness of the people. Other factors are – whether or not the sun shines.. where one is. If one is truly happy to be there, if one is in some foreign place that it has taken time and effort to reach and one feels expansive – well then, that will all benefit one's coffee experience.

The coffee is good if a little too milky for my taste. Another thing I should have mentioned in the above factors is that – one has one's own individual preferences, and if you don't spell them out, you could be disappointed. If you do, or if I do anyway, I fear being judged as someone whose pernickityness verges on the pathological. I should have said that as well as not wanting too much water I don't, either, like too much milk. Still, it is good, and I'm glad I found this café and I would definitely recommend it.

I walk up the hill following the map to small roads or a trail that heads inland. The sun stays out. A view over the town, the sea just visible. A couple of cyclists pass.


The path sidles up to the main road. I think it's going to end but no, there's a small alleyway, marked with a wooden signpost, and bounded by a trim high beech hedge, separating me from the road. Then the hedge ends and the path comes out onto a pavement beside the road. A few metres further on, a marked crossing. I cross this busy road walk along the other side for a few more metres then turn off onto a cycle path. One way leads to a minor road, which I take. There's still a pedestrian path but it's overgrown and there's some litter casually tossed I imagine from passing cars. About a mile or so further on there's a dotted line on the map. And it turns out to be marked as a public right of way. So I follow it. It's a track that goes past a house and outbuilding. Someone sits in front of a big barn, tapping something with a hammer.


Through another gate and now it's the edge of a field, nothing to suggest it's an actual path. The last part however goes steeply down a few metres and it's overgrown – full of nettles thorny brambles, tall thistles. I'm only wearing sandals. I hesitate. But it isn't far now, to the next small road. So I cling to the fence and a few centimes of grassy tussocked earth, almost slipping down into the seething cauldron of nettles and thistles below.

Then the 'path' turns right away from the fence. I have no choice but to descend into the stinging, thorny way. It seems that no-one has been this way since the Prince fought his way through the mass of brambles grown up around the dwelling of the sleeping Beauty. This allegory of the soul's awakening sustains me. I'm nearly there. I'm not going to give in, so close to my goal. And for the last few metres, someone clearly made an attempt earlier in the summer to clear the path.


 The nettles and grass are shorter, though much longer ones lean over from both sides. I turn the corner and there's the lichen-encrusted wooden signpost and the road, a quiet minor one. A few cyclists pass.


From the map I see another path further on, that will take me back to the cycle path near the crossing over the main road. It's all downhill from there, with a view over fields, some crops still uncut, some already harvested – and a few distant hills.


 Back over the road and along the beech hedge alley. Instead of going back the way I came, I take a path with a freshly made wooden signpost erected by the Berwick Ramblers Association and the path leads down to the river estuary, the riverside walk and the bridges of Berwick.