Tag Archives: friendship

Pilgrim

29 Aug


Walking from Lockner in the beautiful Surrey Hills following my friend Alexander Dawson Shepherd in a colour coordinated sort of way I was struck by the nature of friendship.

I needed to meet my daughter Polly in Holborn, London to see how she was faring in her new job, and to take her a birthday present.

Alec suggested that we walk from his beautiful cottage on the grounds of the old Albury Estate to Guildford and catch a train.

I packed my smart shoes (it does not do to appear dishevelled for the daughter) and her gift in a day pack, put my knackered old steel toe capped work shoes on and traipsed after Alec into the hills.

Past the old Gunpowder works, an organic vineyard and this lovely sculpture


… we climbed up the steep hill to St.Martha’s chapel where Alec’s family are buried.


His father rests here: Hanbury Knollys Dawson Shepherd (fabulous name), so too his grandfather Harry Bowyer – the local miller. Alec still lives within a stone’s throw of his parent’s and sisters house and from his family’s grave we paid our respects and drank in the view.



Popping in to this wonderful ancient chapel to admire the restored oak beamed ceiling we saw carpentry at its most enduring and endearing.

We chatted about old friends, family, work and the Natural History around us as we walked. Oftentimes content to say nothing at all we listened to the grasshoppers below and the birds above inhaling the scent of silvan wildness.

The path we travelled along was The Pilgrim’s Way. Chaucer himself may have seen horse shoes like this perhaps?


The Pilgrim’s Way is an ancient track and is the route of medieval Christian pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas Becket of Canterbury.

Pilgrimage seems to me a metaphor for the nature of long term friendship. Friends may walk together for a time sharing air and artful conversation, then part hopefully to journey again one day along a mutually agreeable track.

Alec journeyed with my wife Clare and I when I was sectioned and in hospital diagnosed with manic depression. He was the only pilgrim who visited me in my hour of need.

I found out at that time who my true friends were and how shockingly few they were back then.

I don’t know how we find our friends, but I do know this – we must take time to renew the narrative between us. To rethread our own Canterbury Tale; share tales, bawdy and preposterous, ordinary and mundane – for the story of friendship of itself a very human thing.

Alec, Polly and I had lunch in a lovely park near a statue of Bertrand Russell. I was able to pass on the tale of her Oma (her Dutch grandmother) – the photographic memory of her provenance, bound in a textile of her own making – a frog on a lilly pond.


Chaucer would have approved I think, after all, he was the father of the vernacular – the lingua Franca or language of friends, dear pilgrim. Franca – frankness – the basis of true friendship.

With special thanks to Anne Heppell (book binder).

Listening

15 Apr

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My friend said to me “I saw this, and I thought of you”. This little treasure resonates. I am a survivor having reinvented myself following my own personal holocaust with this man’s help. I shall not name him, out of respect, for he too is a survivor.

My friend listened to my diseased ramblings for the best part of 10 years on a regular basis as part of my journey back from mental illness. He really listened; to all the bollocks, whining, mithering, self absorption, narcissicm, bullshit and tedious solepsistic repetition of my life history, and over time sifted out the treasure and passed it back to me. Like panning for gold.

His particular gift of listening – without passing comment or judgement – is rare. His prodigious memory helped him to turn what I had said over in his mind, and when the time was right, feed it back to me like showing me a crystal mirror. Each time this happened I found some clarity, moving away from madness. I stepped away from creating that ‘self-made tomb’ from my own holocaust.

Survivors of The Holocaust speak of having to talk about their experience. Please rest assured I make absolutely no comparison between my own puny experience to their profound witness, merely the subject of ‘listening’. Holocaust survivors talk not as catharsis, but out of respect to the millions of kinfolk that did not survive, to honour their memory. It is a deeply moving aural tradition, we need to listen to them in order to hear the scratching and snickering of our own demons and by understanding them, learn to quell them.

Listening honours not only the speaker, for it builds trust and then respect: Listening offers the opportunity to learn to listen in return. It is an honourable gift.

BiPolar disorder is fabled for its manifestation in the ‘hyper’ phase of behavioural symptoms such as arrogance, vaulting hubris and generally – ‘not listening’. As one shrink said to my wife “Why would Henk listen? When he knows better than everyone else.”

Nowadays I find it more fun to just listen.

My wife runs a quirky little tea shop called ‘Tea with Percie‘, which gives me much needed practice.

In it you will find peace, gentleness, food and coffee and the finest of leaf teas. It takes time to make a proper pot of tea and a decent fresh sandwich. It is worth waiting for the home made quiche or soup, or the special of the day. Anyone in a rush wanting chips may need to find a different sort of establishment. In this tea shop you will find that people make time to listen and appreciate time just passing by.

 

Tuatha Dé Danann

1 Mar

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Literally ‘The people of the Goddess Danu’, or in this case from left to right:

Rob, Angus, Jessica, Derek and Sarah – the core of the Friends of Lynwood Gardens, a small green treasure in the heart of Sheffield which has brought together these doughty folk. It is said that the Tuatha (ancestral Irish folk) had four great treasures or talismans that showed their skills in arts, crafts and magic. The first treasure was the Stone of Fal, which would scream whenever a true king placed his foot on it. The next talisman was the Magic Sword of Nuada – the one armed king of the Tuatha – a fearsome weapon that always inflicted a mortal blow when drawn. The third treasure was the spear of the Sun God Lugh, this spear never missed its target when thrown. The final treasure was the Cauldron of Dagda – a cornucopia from which an inexhaustible supply of food came forth.

Well, the friends of Lynwood have in their way recreated four sacred treasures in this hallowed ground in Broomhall. Firstly, they have uncovered and enhanced a strange old neglected Victorian garden with a work ethic enshrined in the practise of sustainable community endeavour rooted in sound ecological practise. Secondly they have safely navigated the multitude of conflicting local and municipal demands and issues without losing sight of the intrinsic nature of their work – enjoyment in being part of the Green Wood. Thirdly, they have generously shared the fruits of their labours with young and old alike and demonstrated a canny educationalists skill of ‘show, don’t tell’ to persuade locals, councillors, funders, movers and shakers (just like the Tuatha who showed great ‘domestic’ skill and leadership). Finally, and most unlike many other friends’ groups I have had the pleasure of working with, they have created a fellowship founded upon youthful energy and a celebration of diversity – a great treasure.

Their figure head and Chairman, Derek, who lives beside Lynwood gardens is, in a very real sense, Lynwood’s guardian spirit – he has quietly woven himself into the very fabric of the landscape:

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He has trained and nurtured these mature willows into spectacular living green spun candy floss-like sculptures, worthy of any royal park. Just one of the treasures of Lynwood.

It could be Tir na n’Og – the land of the young, I’ve been there, have you?