stepping stones of truth

A journey along the path of life - the stones can be rough, smooth or even wobbly!

Saturday, September 30, 2006


I always remember this time of year when I was at school. There was a large chestnut tree in the patch of grass that the elite sixth form girls were allowed to use. As the leaves turned crisp and orange, it was the time for conkers!

If you want to know the rules in detail you can find them at the wikipedia entry linked to above. Basically you bore a hole right through the conker, and a piece of string is threaded through and a knot put it the bottom end. You take it in turns - one holds the string by the top and dangles their conker motionless, and the other person has to hit that conker with theirs. Its a skill learned early in one's playground life in England.

Even at grammar school, we young things risked life and limb entering the forbidden territory (avoiding the eyes of prefects) to get the prize specimens straight from the tree. Yes we flung hockey sticks and anything we could find to dislodge them. There is nothing so beautiful as a shiny conker fresh from its hard spiny green overcoat. The grain is as beautiful as mahogany and the smell is slightly astringent.

I was walking in my lunch hour down to the local park and picked up a magnificent one lying on the path before me. I just couldnt resist it, my first one of the year, and enjoyed smoothing my fingers over its surface. But the wonderful lustre doesnt last long, and a few days later it is like another being sitting in my desk drawer - quite dull and lifeless.

I felt moved to get my paints out for the first time in ages, but there is no way I could catch the essence of a horse chestnut. We have a horse chestnut tree in our field, planted from a seedling grown by the LLF who is good with such things. But it was persistently pruned by our hungry horse, leaning over the protective fence and it has never thrived since.
Today I read sad news of the forthcoming 42nd annual World Championships held at a small village in Northamptonshire. Undersized conkers! What a tragedy!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Ringing in the ears?

I am a bell ringer. It's a particularly English thing - to hang heavy bells on wheels, so that they can be rung precisely, and not just clang about like all other countries' bells (unless they have had the English up 'em some time in the colonial past)

There were no ringers in our village, so I had been living in Dorset for a few years until I saw an advert for a short course. And as soon as my hand touched the fluffy bit of the rope (the sally) I was hooked!

I have seen more Dorset villages (and Dorset pubs) by visiting other towers than I would have done otherwise. Bell ringers are a sociable lot on the whole, and usually nice people. You can always visit other towers around the country and be sure of a warm welcome. There is a slightly worrying tendency in male ringers to enjoy trains, especially the steam variety. Hmmm.

There still are no ringers in our village (except for me) so I ring in the nearby village, Charminster, where I learned. Last practice night (each Thursday) I was a bit bored at one point, so I took some photos with my phone of the church and the practice.

We ring on the ground floor and the tower is nearly the oldest part of the church. The ropes are very long and you have to pull very straight (though there are guides for the ropes to go through)

You dont have to be strong but the heaviest bell does weigh 14cwt (hundredweight) - thats as heavy as a small car! This is a list of the bells, all ten of them (which is an unusually large amount for a parish church, more usually only six) Most of them were originally cast around the 1600s, but have been recast since.

The building of it in the fifteenth century was paid for by a local wealthy man, Thomas Trenchard - hence the intertwined "T" symbol to be found everywhere. I like it, it reminds me of a labyrinth. Very elegant anyway.

I reckon those early stone masons were a bit on the pagan side. One of them slipped in the little carving of .. I dont know what it is. But it is in relief, so not just gouged out quickly but done with care. Its hidden and high up and faces the back of the church, so you only see it if you are in the ringing area. I enjoy feeling the link with the craftsmen all those years ago.

There is some early graffiti dated 1717 I think. Little terror, I wonder who he was - that naughty Henry Harbin.
The interwined Ts, the graffiti and the list of bells are all on the stone work on one side of the arch to our ringing area - we stand around the font to ring, as the bells are up in the top of the tower immediately above us.

This is a peal board, to commemorate a long length of ringing - a peal. That means not going wrong or stopping for about three hours. Too much for me, though I have rung the odd quarter peal - that's only ringing for about three quarters of an hour. Quite enough!

Ringing is a bit like knitting or macramé. You have a pattern or method where the bells change place at every stroke. The changes can be called slowly, which is much easier and what we normally do on Sundays. It sounds nicer as there is less chance of going wrong. Some of the methods are very old. One of the changes that is called is known as Queen's, because it is supposed to have been a favourite of Queen Elizabeth the First. Just about possible we think, given the state of bells at that time.

It is also a good investment in the future. One of our ringers is nearly eighty but you wouldnt know to look at her. It seems to keep your mind supple and your body active. With that and t'ai chi I am aiming to keep going into my crone hood!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Tried out a slide show

Thanks to the other Val, Ive had a go at putting a slide show into Blogger. Its of Saiho-ji (the Moss Temple) in Kyoto - over on The Dewy Path.

I can see it would work for certain images, but to be used sparingly I think.

Friday, September 22, 2006

An eggsact science?

Did you know that during an equinox you can balance an egg on its end? Try it now or you will lose the moment for another six months!

No its not just an urban legend. I thought it was till I read about it on Sig Lonegren's website Mid Atlantic Geomancy. "Take a raw egg out of the fridge the night before so it warms up to room temperature. On the Equinox, you will find that you can balance the egg on a flat surface, on its fat end. It doesn't work right away (I think it takes time for the yolk to settle), but keep at it, and suddenly, it will feel like it locks, and you can remove your fingers, and it stays there - balanced on its fat end. Honest."

And it does.

The exact moment of the equinox is 4am Saturday 23rd September apparently, but it works for a day or so either side.

I wonder why? Is there an ancient Celtic or Egyptian myth or legend to explain it?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The apples of my eye

On our Silver Wedding day my Life Long Friend (yes, her of abseil fame) and her husband, gave us a gift of garden vouchers. We each chose an apple tree - husband chose a tradional Cox's Orange Pippin and I chose a Worcester Pearmain.

We fenced off a section of the acre field behind the house, to protect the young trees from the maurading horse and sheep. The horse in particular was adept at pruning trees - his long neck could snake out and pluck the choicest of leaves and buds. I think we thought that the area around the trees could be a vegetable patch, but it was too far up the hill for comfort. The soil was considerably more flinty and chalky in just that short distance up from the blacker alluvial soil down in the sheltered garden in front of the school. It didnt work out. So the trees were left with only raspberries for company - and the occasional rabbit wandering through.

Its hard not to be competitive, but over the years my tree has done better. And this year the Cox's only had two - whereas mine was abundance personified. I scrambled over the wire sheep fence and negotiated the rapberry canes and nettles. It felt very rural and fulfilling to gently cup a ripe apple and twist gently off.

Youngest daughter stood by helpfully. She pulled out her camera. I held an apple out to her "Come, my pretty" I said in my wicked witch voice "here's a nice juicy apple for little Snow White!" Why is it that apples are always linked to temptation?!

I picked two heavy baskets full. If I only choose perfect unblemished apples, and wrap them gently in paper and store them in the fridge they will last longer. These early varieties, apparently, don't store as well as the later one.

They are described as "A dessert apple which is rich, sweet with a pleasant well rounded full flavour. The skin is a scarlet red flush and broken stripes over green-yellow background, with russet dots. The flesh is white coloured, crisp, fairly coarse and juicy. It is ready to eat in mid September, though in many shops it is picked too early, which results in the apple being considered inferior to its true flavour. 'Worcester Pearmain' was introduced in 1874 by Messrs Smith of Worcester. Parentage: Thought to be a seedling from a Devonshire Quarrenden"

Now you know!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Late colour in the garden

My garden is quite "zen" in that it has a lot of evergreen things in it, and (unlike the tradtional English garden) not very many flowers. So the onset of autumn comes slowly, but the signs are unmistakably here!

The virginia creeper is turning wonderful shades of red, what's left of it. It was covering the whole of one side of the house and hiding the lovely squared flint walls, so it got the chop in the spring. Also the leaves were such a nuisance when they fell on my metre square bit of gravel. Not a very good reason, but there's plenty left to grow again in other parts of the garden!

Sedums - I only have a couple of plants they but will give a hint of colour for a long while.

One of my acers thinks it spring, and has thrown out some new leaves much to my surprise!

Pruning the weigela early on means that, like the books say, I have a late flowering to enjoy.

A tiny gladioli and a few cerinthe that suddently sprang up midsummer but managed to put on enough growth in a few weeks to flower. I love the blue almost succulent leaves and the elegant tiny mauve flowers that dangle like bells. A welcome return for an annual I thought I had lost. Oh and a young euphorbia that seems to have grown like weeds, I never had any at all in the garden till two years ago and know they are everywhere.

I had to go and look at the name tag for this one. Schizostylis kaffir lily it says. I bought it last year at some village summer fete, and hadnt got a clue what it was. How nice that its late flowering, and so enjoyable.

And finally my lovely crab apples (I have kept the husband from them in his quest for things to make jam or jelly - he has been given so many apples and plums and damsons from neighbours that I hope he has forgotten these outside the patio window) And the cheeful nasturtiums finally made an appearance. Mind you I planted them late!

Lets hope we have a long autumn - the gardeners who know say that September was the time that the garden used to shut down, but recent weather trends mean that we have another month at least of flowering and fruiting ahead of us. Good!

Not as we know it Jim

Just a quick note to say that I have uploaded a post over at ArkSanctum called Still Travelling.

It's strange that I am still trying to find my writing style over there. I dont want to get into just quoting others, neither want to just pen poems. I am new (this lifetime?!) to Zen but not Buddhism in general, so am still feeling my way.

This is a small section of the image that goes with it. To see the whole picture, just click the ArkSanctum link, then"read more".

Monday, September 11, 2006

Late summer

I couldn't justify sitting indoors with Youngest Daughter doing our latest jigsaw with the lovely outdoors calling, so we went for a slow Sunday afternoon amble across the river and up the hill. The air was warm, and we enjoyed the coolness by the river, looking at the ducks dabbling in the clear water. It was an effort to move ourselves, but walked on by the cottages in the valley and up the footpath to the woods. I had taken the camera and so here is a photo diary of our walk. I missed the moment only by seconds when YD disturbed some pheasants, who exploded into the air with noisy alarm! If you look carefully on the interpretation board of the village walks you can see our house, The Old School.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

High jinks

Hopefully not "high jinx" as we were abseilling down the 70ft Hardy Monument for The Anthony Nolan Trust.

A friend's year old granddaughter has a genetic condition, but a bone marrow transplant has transformed her future life. I found I was too old to donate bone marrow so thought at least I could help by doing a sponsored challenge - accompanied by the LLF, youngest daughter and my biker-chic friend (the same age as me!)

It was a dank and misty morning, and as we drove up the hills to the monument. It was blowing a gale - literally. We peered upward through the swirling fog to watch the brave souls who had already had their safety briefing and five minute training.

A group of stalwart friends from the meditation group had come along with cameras to support us and were shivering in the wind. But as we were harnessed up and donned helmets, miraculously the cloud lifted and the sun shone.

I am a bellringer and so I am used to climbing up seemingly never-ending spiral stone steps in towers. But my legs were shaking at the top! All the group, one by one, were attached to the safety line and talked into lowering themselves over the edge, over the overhang and down.
I was left till last, alone. I looked at the wonderful view of Dorset,spread out around. The fields were glowing golden with stubble left after the wheat harvest. The hills were soft and green. Towards the sea there was still a load of rolling fog. " Gosh, what a view. To get such a great vista this tower must be really hiiiiiiiiggggghhhhh....." Dont even think about it! Up until that point I had been cool as a cucumber. And there was my youngest daughter, smiling as she went down!

So I sat there, and mindfulness training kicked in. Just be in the present moment. Here and Now. Humming quietly the sweet little song "breathing in, breathing out, I am blooming like a flower, I am fresh as the dew....."

Off I went. Other people had been swinging about in the gale, but I was confident my weight would be in my favour! There was a nasty moment when I had committed to leaning out horizontally and realised my rope was in the wrong place. So the guy at the top said "you had better grab hold of the top ledge again, and sort your legs out" Aaaaagghhh, that meant for a split second my hands were not attached to anything and I was aware of the amount of air beneath me. But it was OK. Only once did the wind threaten to swing me round the the next face of the octagonal tower, so I slowed and tiptoed back parallel to the face again - twice.

At the bottom I was greeted with cheers from the rest of the group, and the LLF said she felt the need of a strong brandy. I must say that my adrenalin levels had shot up somehow too. Strangely enough, the fog then closed in again!

The LLF and youngest daughter and I repaired to our local pub, and felt we had all done very well. We had raised over £700 and the LLF had done most of that - sterling work! And the sun had come out again, so we went for a lovely long walk - on terra firma!

What a way to spend your 39th wedding anniversary! And yes, the first photo really is me.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Branching out

Ive accepted the kind invitation of friends over at ArkSanctum to join them and place a few posts in their new collaborative venture. They created a section for me - Zen Way. Should be fun, and here's my first entry. Why not pop over?