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By Phil Smith, 10th November 2020

  

 “We are on this planet together – are we really going to watch screens?”

 

Introduction

We are living through a crisis of separation enforced by the technology of communications. Everything we do to connect through machines drives us apart from each other and everything else. Finding ways to be there, in and with a pattern in the terrain, is a means to reconnect to forces of attraction.

The Pattern‘The Pattern’ (Crab & Bee, Triarchy Press, 2020) describes a hyper-charged journey during which shifty methods for being there were devised. There is not much room in the book for explanation. This essay is an attempt to give some reasons for a practice that is mostly about not doing, more about attending, about being there and being with: stepping back and acknowledging places as primary agents; approaching places with the minimum amount of mission, function or question; going to listen to what places have to say. 

Considering the apparent vacuity of these methods, they do seem to generate an awful lot of information and responsive activity from extraordinary partners; maybe even a few constituents of an art of living in the magical mode. One result is that a pattern steps forward; a diagram in the landscape combining fortuitous entanglements of various elements with the efforts of humans to embellish – with wells, road signs, temples, place names, information boards, towers, stories and chalk horses – places that connect intensely with everything else. A second outcome is a tentative journeying towards being there: eating buds from the brambles, picking gems of plastic trash from the gutter, splashing water from solution holes and holy wells on your face, standing still and letting the animals come forward from the shadows. Putting your body in there and adding some art – tying threads, sprinkling ash, scrying puddles – until, mostly gently but sometimes violently, things from there begin to make their art in your life. By going there, you get caught up in the existence and excess of these places’ unhuman others; in the process you may lose some of your separation from them. 

White Horse UffingtonDuring the UK lockdown, roads that were usually noisy with traffic were empty for weeks. Pedestrians could walk in the middle of the road rather than on the pavements. As the quiet fell deeper, the terraced houses along these streets began to present themselves as personalities rather than as an anonymous backdrop; they began to act up, asked to be noticed, coughed up residents onto their front lawns. These moments can be enjoyed for themselves, but as they string together, human entanglements with such powerful things with personalities get more intense, while the thickening web of connections offers more support. Then comes a chance to become a part of an ensemble, to dispense with the need for great vision or purposeful mission, and feel a way with unhuman others, making things up together as we all go along. If that sounds like something you would like to explore... read on.

Read more: Being There with The Pattern

Eckhart Tolle at the Festival Hall, London September 7th, 2015

Eckhardt tolle SMInside a packed Festival Hall, we are waiting for Eckhart Tolle to talk about consciousness. Meanwhile, I wonder what is happening when people gather not to escape into some great live music event or theatre, but to learn how to create a better life. It is clear that some of us are here as spiritual seekers, some of us were dragged along by a friend, some will get his message, and some will leave before the talk ends. 

Eckhart Tolle’s books The Power of Now and A New Earth are publishing phenomenons, selling millions of copies worldwide. His inclusive message that, “We are all part of consciousness," obviously has an appeal. His own philosophical crisis was brought on by 17th century French philosopher Rene Descartes, who said, “I think, therefore I am,” which was a signal for Tolle to broaden his search to embrace Eastern ideas, after which he expanded Descartes concept with the addendum, “I think, therefore I am consciousness.”

Read more: The Power of Now

June 2015

by Steven M Druker, Clear River Press, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.

Altered-Genes FRONT-COVERIn this revealing book American lawyer Steven Druker uncovers the skullduggery committed since the mid-1970’s by high ranking scientists and organisations on both sides of the Atlantic. It was the US Government’s apathy, with its weak legislation of genetic engineering, that prompted Druker, a public safety lawyer and founder of the Alliance of Biointegrity, to initiate a lawsuit against the US Department of Agriculture in 1998. By forcing the handover of copies of its internal files he made public the blatant collusion with the GM companies in violating its own food safety regulations.

Dr and Dame Jane Goodall, the world's leading primatologist, writes in her glowing forward that this is the most important book in 50 years for longterm planetary sustainability. She lent her unreserved support at its' launch in London in April, timely since, under pressure from the US, the UK and Europe are considering waiving long standing restrictions on GMOs.

Druker dismantles the assumptions that GM is safe and will fulfil the promise of solving the world’s food problems through the manipulation of genes, a process that is imprecise and impossible to recall from the environement. He delves into the abuse of science by those intent on reducing the whole of the organism to parts that can be controlled by an elite few. And he explains that engineering a new gene is only possible by first splicing it with a strain of E coli bacteria and a piece of lab constructed, recombinant DNA - two strands of DNA joined together - one being made of a cloning vector such as a tumour or virus.

It was our most august scientific institution, the Royal Society, which targeted Arpad Pusztai when he worked at the Rowett Institute, whose design won out over 30 others as a protocol to test genetically engineered potatoes. Their attempts to crush his findings of significant physiological problems in rats have set off alarm bells that have not stopped ringing. Druker states that since ‘no two GM insertion events are the same’, Pusztai’s potato experiment cannot be repeated because his results were destroyed by the British Government, indicating how much they threatened their agenda to promote GM technology.

Read more: Altered Genes and Twisted Truths

27th November 2013

the last photographAlthough The Last Photograph is not connected in any way with Simon Astaire’s previous three novels, the theme of alcohol, which was central to the third, Mr Coles, undergoes a further examination here.

This time the alcoholic is Tom Hammond, who in two tragic twists of fate takes up the bottle to deal with the pain of losing his wife and son. But his lonely and isolated world begins to shift when a bag containing the last photograph taken with his son the night before his death is stolen.

This novel walks us through a snapshot of time in our own increasingly out of control world. It deals, in part, with the tragedy in the late 1980’s when the PAN AM 103 flight to New York was blown up over Lockerbie in Scotland with no survivors. There is an air of finality, a disquieting quality of the terrible inevitability of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Intriguingly, Astaire does not try to analyse why horrific events like Lockerbie have happened. Instead, he tries to explore the emotional impact on one victim’s family whose faith is stretched to the absolute limits. This story is about finding hope where there is none. And, about the acceptance of powerlessness over alcohol, and the inevitable unmanageability of its baffling and cunning control.

Read more: The Last Photograph

The Novels of Simon Astaire: Private Privilege, And You Are…?, Mr Coles

Review by Sam Burcher

simon astaire photo, by Sam Burcher

Simon Astaire’s loosely woven trilogy of novels is an attempt to free himself from his past and become a respected writer. No longer content to manage the lives of other people, he has come a long way from being the best friend of Sting, the squire of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and Ulrika Jonsson, and the personal manager of Princess Michael of Kent.

By his own admission, Astaire began writing because his therapist suggested it after they hit upon the fact that he had been so emotionally unavailable in his relationships. This is something that he relates directly to the experience of being sent away from home at a very young age to Harrow School.

The first two books, Private Privilege, And You Are…?, are his rites of passage, whilst Mr Coles is an extension of that exploration and written with extraordinary darkness.

Private Privilege

In Private Privilege, Astaire’s alma mater is thinly veiled as Montgomery House, and it is through this medium that I found myself vicariously returning to a world of Sunday exeats, black tails and boaters, and bumpy rides on the Metropolitan line to Harrow-on-the-Hill, on London’s outermost margins, for Speech Day.

Reading this book has helped me to understand what happened to my brother Julien during his time at Harrow, which was concurrent with the story told here.  Astaire’s peripatetic take has undoubtedly demystified some of my private perceptions of public school education.

Read more: Three Novels by Simon Astaire

The Novels of Simon Astaire: Private Privilege, And You Are…?, Mr Coles
(Each book published by Quartet Books)

Reviewed by Sam Burcher

Simon Astaire’s loosely woven trilogy of novels is an attempt to free himself from his past and become a respected writer. No longer content to manage the lives of other people, he has come a long way from being the best friend of Sting, the squire of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and Ulrika Jonsson, and the personal manager of Princess Michael of Kent.

By his own admission, Astaire began writing because his therapist suggested it after they hit upon the fact that he had been so emotionally unavailable in his relationships. This is something that he relates directly to the experience of being sent away from home at a very young age to Harrow School.

The first two books, Private Privilege, And You Are…?, are his rites of passage, whilst Mr Coles is an extension of that exploration and written with extraordinary darkness.

In Private Privilege, Astaire’s alma mater is thinly veiled as Montgomery House, and it is through this medium that I found myself vicariously returning to a world of Sunday exeats, black tails and boaters, and bumpy rides on the Metropolitan line to Harrow-on-the-Hill, on London’s outermost margins, for Speech Day. Reading this book has helped me to understand what happened to my brother Julien during his time at Harrow, which was concurrent with the story told here. Astaire’s peripatetic take has undoubtedly demystified some of my private perceptions of public school education. 

The book's central character Samuel Alexander, note the initials match the author’s, is sent away from home at 13 to begin a life at Montgomery House. From day one he is greeted with an oppressive regime of fagging, toshing, and bullying by older boys as the norm. Calculated acts of rebellion such as graffiti, theft, truancy, and drug taking intensify to arson and even suicide, all of which are hushed up by the school.

In empowering Sam in whichever ways he can against this dysfunctional backdrop, Astaire is giving a respectful nod to Lindsay Anderson’s powerful film, If, which is about a schoolboy-led revolution in a public school. From this forms surreal images of the shape shifting and shamanic psyche of a schoolboy torn from his roots and situated in a conditional culture where loneliness and abandonment reign and, fortunately, Matron is the only succor.

The task of raising public consciousness about the sticky subject of adolescent boys from an insider’s view of an ‘establishment’ institution is a tricky one. But the author manages it by using a literary camera obscura that allows him to entertain, whilst asking questions that go beyond mere survival.

Astaire’s second novel, And You Are…?, follows seamlessly and swiftly on the heels of Private Privilege. Sam, the central character, has graduated with dishonour from his emotionally deprived public school, and is ready and willing to face the challenges of young adulthood.

A former agent to stars, Astaire draws deeply on his own experience of Hollywood to entertain us.  He cleverly plays with time to measure just the right amount of reverie for the grand days of a Hollywood past to balance the book’s present.  Indeed, this mix of fact and fiction acts as a powerful stimulus to the reader’s imagination.

Read more: The Novels of Simon Astaire

A glowing first review for Garland Flowers of Spirit, published this month in the Brent & Kilburn Times

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