Thursday, 31 December 2015

Iceland: Bits and Pieces

          I wish now to hurry on with this Icelandic saga. So far the journey has been one of largish, discrete chunks of experience from the "Blue Lagoon" to the "Northern Lights," "Horse Riding" and "Water Birds." Although the last big event was the Golden Circle tour (still to be posted by Lucy), the rest of our stay seemed to be more like a series of small, but interesting observations. For example:-
1.       Many of the buildings were covered in corrugated iron, and painted. This often gave the impression of buildings made from Royal Icing, a not unpleasant sight.

2.       The lake which I mentioned in my post, "Iceland: Arrival," was about 150 metres deep, 90% of its water being fed from underground sources, and so clear that scuba divers often suffer from vertigo when swimming in the lake.

3.       On two evenings, we dined at the same very pleasant restaurant, good food and wine, finished off with a glass of Schnapps.

4.       On the way to our eating place, we stopped to watch the children enjoying themselves - and some of them were very good indeed.

5.       Under the floor of a local town, hit by an earthquake in the not too distant past, can be seen (not too clearly) the divide between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The divide can be seen more clearly out in the countryside.

The Eurasian Edge
The North American Edge (on the far side of the lake)
6.       At no time did the sun rise very high above the horizon, our daylight time being approximately from 11am-ish to about 4.30pm-ish. During those hours, the sun slipped along just above the horizon. And there was still a week to go to the winter solstice.

7.       We kept well clear of the Rock Trolls but saw no elves, although one knew where their cities were because the road was obliged to go round, not through, them.

8.       In the far distance we saw the volcano that famously erupted in 2010, and

9.       The geyser, close up, that erupts every four minutes or so.

10.     Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.......except that we knew that all good things must come to an end.......but not yet!

Monday, 28 December 2015

Hot Springs and Northern Lights

          On the following day, our first full day in Iceland, off we went to visit the Blue Lagoon. We set off in a state of relative darkness, the sun not fully up, at about 10.30 am GMT. Shops do not normally open much before 10 am to 11 am in the winter.) On arrival at the 'spa,' a project under considerable development, Lucy offed and changed to do her 'spa thing' whilst I did a tour of the surrounding area, before relaxing with my Kindle in the cafeteria. I should perhaps explain that, although I did rather fancy sampling the 'waters,' I was still struggling with the tag end of bronchitis, and didn't fancy risking yet another cough.
          As with much of the country we saw, the rock was black and of a very porous nature, reminiscent of large lumps of cinder. Bearing in mind its origin below the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, I suppose its appearance was not surprising. Here and there were great upthrusts of basalt and granite which formed the mountains of Iceland. It seems odd to think of Iceland having mountains as Iceland itself is just the top of a mountain sitting on the mid-Atlantic Ridge. The other thing of note, besides the cold, was the relative absence of noise and the sense of calm and serenity which depicted the mood of the bathers and the waters. It was as if an inner search had ended only to discover that that for which one had searched had been present all the time. Here was my first intimation of my inner world being projected onto the outer, material world. And the awareness of this link was to develop as time passed.

Like Large Lumps of Cinder

Black and Porous

With Upthrusts of Basalt and Granite

          Inevitably the time arrived when, having lunched on sushi, we had to leave and return to our apartment in preparation for the evening's trip out to the middle of nowhere to see the northern lights. On the way I noticed that the coach's outside thermometer was reading -6 deg.C.  When we finally arrived at our destination, there was a cold wind blowing which produced a sizeable wind chill. It was definitely not a mild evening, but one which needed to be guarded against. To begin with, the temperature seemed very manageable. It was only after having removed my gloves for about a minute, to take (as best as I was able with a hand-held camera) three pictures of the lights, that I found my fingers painfully cold. A further two pictures, and that was enough! The quality of the photographs is not of the best, but all things considered......





And a Fiery Finale

Whilst we were there, our driver took some photographs of his passengers, as shown. He used a technique that required his setting up his camera on a tripod - the camera set to a suitable exposure time - then at some point 'swiping' us with the light from a torch.

"Stuffed Owls That Had Died From Hypothermia!"
          We moved on a little further to another stopping point. For a while there appeared nothing that was particularly different from our previous sightings. Then our driver/guide said, "Look straight up!" Now what I saw was not a staggeringly beautiful sight, but one which nevertheless had a deep effect on me. It was as if quite faint streaky lights were arrowing in to a point immediately above (remembering that the North Star, Polaris is higher in the sky than in countries further south than Iceland, the northern coast of Iceland touching the Arctic Circle). The display gave the impression that I was standing at the bottom of a tube that reached up to infinity. I was also very aware that in this in-between place, fearsome energies were apparent as charged particles from the solar wind were drawn down into our space. There are times when it feels healthily good to be made to feel small. The only thing that prevents the eradication of life on this beautiful planet, and protects our atmosphere, is the electromagnetic shield which surrounds us, and that field is generated by the planet's core. If there had been nothing else that evening that filled me with a sense of awe, that would have been enough.
          So there I stood, atop a mountain which itself sat on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, looking up into the infinity of space and surrounded by immense energies streaming out from the sun. And all the while, the cold sat and waited....... Who could not feel moved by all that?

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Iceland: Arrival

          After a three-hour flight from England we approached Keflavik airport which is situated some 40-50 km west(ish) of Reykjavik, about an hour's journey by airport coach. It was late afternoon as we approached Keflavik but it appeared to be a rather surreal early evening. At first, very little could be seen of habitation, except a bright orange rectangle in the midst of what appeared to be a white, irregular ice cap floating in the ocean. (The picture below I have borrowed from Lucy's photograph collection. I didn't take any pictures at this stage having chosen not to take the window seat.) I later discovered that the bright orange rectangle, not shown on the photograph, was a very large greenhouse.

Approaching Iceland

Food is relatively expensive, a fair amount of it needing to be imported. Their animal feed, however, must be grown locally because of the risk of imported disease, and that presumably reduces their ability to grow other foodstuffs. One other feature stood out as we came into land, and that was a large, darkening lake, but more of that in a later post.
          Only some three or so days prior to our arrival, "Storm Desmond" had swept across Iceland. The local people were still clearing the roads the day before we arrived. Thus it was that Iceland presented a snowy, cold and bleak aspect to a traveller. As we were transported to the capital where we were to stay for our three-day break, it appeared as though the buildings were huddling close to the ground, gripping on for dear life, and not daring to raise themselves against the chilly wind. Gradually, as we approached the gently undulating suburbs of Reykjavik, the buildings seemed to begin to find courage and raise themselves up. And whereas closer to the airport, lights seemed to be struggling to climb any available piece of sloping land, closer to the city the lights seemed to cascade down the slopes as if joyful defiance of the of the rural winter.
          Our apartment was situated behind a church, and although close to a frozen, snow-covered lake, was very comfortable and warm.

Church Betwixt Apartment and Lake

Our Ground Floor Apartment

One of the many joys of Iceland is its wealth of thermal energy which supplies the central heating and other hot (and I mean hot!) water needs. Now I was unable to check directly, but I swear our shower room sat atop its own private, mini-volcano. It was beautifully warm underfoot. However, rest and relaxation was not our highest priority at that moment. First we needed to find a supermarket, and then a restaurant.
          We found the first after wandering around feeling vacantly lost, being rescued by a couple of locals. We had previously been advised to "go to the square," a location that was similar in size to our living room at home. Well, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but you get my point I hope. Having stocked up with the necessary provisions, we then set off to find a place to eat an evening meal. Eventually, we happened upon a tall, barn-like building which served the best fish 'n chips in the world. Well that's what the restaurant said, and they should know! Shouldn't they? Anyway, we entered this rather uncompromising place which seemed to hail from an earlier era, when life might have been a little harder. The range of food on the menu certainly surprised me. What surprised me even more was the excellent, fresh quality of the cod and chips, washed down with a couple of glasses of excellent white wine.
          Finally, we arrived back at our apartment, duly fed and watered,

Shopped, Fed and Watered

and prepared for our first night of comfortable sleep. The wintry countryside seemed a very long way away by then, and we drifted off thinking about what the morrow might bring at the "Blue Lagoon." But that was to be another day.
          And all the while there was a not quite, almost indefinable sense of the liminal.........

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Iceland: An Introduction

           This is the saga of Thomas-Thomas'-son and Lucy-Henry's-daughter and their journey to the Land of Ice in the frozen, far north. Actually, this is only an introduction to set the scene for a recent, short holiday in Iceland. I must say straight away that Lucy is also posting on "Box Elder" her account of that holiday. I wish to do two things here. One is to be the WD40, so to speak, that lubricates and fills in certain details of her account, the other is to try to describe my feelings about Iceland, feelings that opened up for me a quite illuminating experience.
           To begin with, we decided to take this short, three-full-day break to celebrate her birthday. Readers here will perhaps remember that we tend to stretch our birthday celebrations over three days, whilst I, at the same time, usually try to ignore the fact that it is my birthday at the September break. Now it will not, I'm sure, take any stretch of the imagination to see that our visit took place in winter conditions, at around the middle of December.
           It has been very mild here in France, as it has in other areas more accustomed to chilly conditions at this time of year. One consequence of the mild weather is that the blood-sucking bugs are still doing their level best to make life uncomfortable. To escape to a cold country free of pests, whilst may not be the most desired location for sun-loving Arizonans, came as a welcome relief. To feel cold was an unexpected joy. "Heavens, I really am alive!" I thought. A circumstance that added much to our contentment was that five friends, two human and three canine, offered to house-sit in our absence.
           Well I guess that will have to do as an introduction. Now comes the trawling through, and ordering of, the many photographs that we took. One must also beware of wasting time, mooning about a possible return to the Land of Ice.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Never Say Never

         From time to time I run into that region that indicates I need a rest. At least, that is how I have interpreted it ...... until now. In the past, this feeling has resulted in a change of studies, a change or routine, or simply a rest from what I had been doing, such as blogging for example. When I look back on those earlier periods of inner drought, I do not feel displeased or unhappy that I took what I believed to be appropriate responses. Often there was much that I gained. However, in hindsight, there had to come a time when a totally different kind of response was required, perhaps a response which I should have made back then, if I could have been consciously aware of what what happening to my inner life.
         Of late I have been feeling curiously happy, even in the light of horrendous world events, as well as distressing news from friends. What is the reason for this happiness? I suppose the reason is anybody's guess, and some would suggest I do not examine things too closely. Just enjoy. I do think there is some justification for examination, if that examination does not mean testing to destruction. The fact is that of late I have had a strong sense of being pulled into a new awareness. When that awareness is examined, I find that my way forward has become very clear to me.
         When I look back over my previous posts, I find that there have been hints and nudges along the way about which I have not taken due account. I have recently felt a need to re-examine my feelings about what I write, what I write about, and how I feel about the responses my writing engenders. This I have done, at least as far as I think is needed to clarify my future path. Of course, that path is not really being decided by me. My conscious role is to follow where that path leads.
         Well, I am trying to follow where I think I am being led, and it would appear that my new direction is such that I can no longer post what is happening. It is all too personal, explorative and experimental, and no researcher publishes his/her experiences until fully explored. It also transpires that I need to take up once again those practices that have been so 'fit for purpose' in the past, and for which I am discovering a new enthusiasm. These include keeping a detailed set of diaries, daily meditations, contemplative imagery, and so on. This new work is, as far into the future as I can see, strictly between me and that which I am pleased to name as God.
         The number of posts that I write will be much reduced because I am not good at spending time writing about mundane interests. And in any case, others do the job so much better than I can. I cannot, nor would I choose to, say never again to blogging. On the other hand, I say that my present activities must take priority over every other activity. And I am looking forward to experiencing what may seem to be like a monastic order of the mind.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Here's Some I Made Earlier

          Now how does one show one's wife that one loves her?
" her diamonds or pearls, champagne, sables, and such....."? I think not!
" her at six on the dot....."? Maybe a little later in the morning, if it's wintry outside!
".....a line a day when I'm far away....."? A quick e-mail or mobile phone call wouldn't hurt!
".....blow her a kiss from across the room....."? Getting closer!
".....touch her hair as I pass her chair....."? Her neck's even nicer!
          Cook her some Indian vegetable dishes? Yes! Yes! Yes!

          Now it has to be said that the word "vegetables" doesn't exactly get my pulse racing, not like "hot buttered toast", "soft-boiled egg", "syrupy porridge", "yoghurt and bran flakes", alright, so I go too far! This is not to say that I do not like any vegetables. It's just that when asked if I want some, "No" is my default setting. If the nature of the proposed vegetable is spelled out, I do say, "Yes please!".....sometimes. Actually, the first meal I ever cooked for Lucy was Chicken Kiev with butter (Lima) beans and spinach. A bit nice that was.
          But times change, and we move on. We still eat Chicken Kiev, cooked (from scratch) by Lucy, and scrummy it always is. As people who read Gwynt will know, of late I have become very interested in cooking Indian food. So here are some Indian, vegetable dishes that I have cooked recently. They are very popular, but I am beginning to feel that I have been silly to myself. More and more are wanted. "When will satiety be achieved?" I ask myself. Will it be a case of, never.....or hardly ever?

Mushroom and Pea Curry

Cauliflower Curry

Curried Tomatoes and Onions

Curried Spinach

Fried Aubergine (Eggplant)

Curried Spinach with Fried Aubergine

As can be seen, the first three dishes were served with plain boiled, or fried rice. The final dish was served as a combination of the two previous dishes, and no rice. Also, although these dishes were served as complete suppers in their own right, they could have been used as side dishes for some other main dish. I should add that even writing this post is making me salivate...again!

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Morality or Survival?

          I wish to write, but the words either will not come, or are very difficult to find. I cannot ignore this wish because it would cause me too much discomfort, and at the same time seem to dishonour those innocents who were murdered on Friday 13th. in Paris. There will be few perhaps who will ever read this script, if indeed I am able to put my jumbled thoughts in print. Furthermore, I neither know, nor knew, anyone involved in the killings, and am therefore unable to offer them any support. I must own, therefore, that my need to write at this time is one that focuses on a very personal need, one that seeks to resolve a question of morality versus survival, a question that troubles me deeply.
          In a recent conversation with Lindsay the question of morality was discussed, and it is that conversation which now seems to demand some further attention. What is the issue here, in the light of the Paris killings? Is it, as well as the inevitable question of where we go from here, a moral issue, or is it one of survival? I think it is too easy to take a moralistic stance, and thus imply one has taken the high ground. In effect, to do that is to divorce oneself from the happenings, to "go up into one's head" or intellectualise the situation. That can even lead to spiritual pride as well as risking damning all those others "out there" who are not of one's nationality, race, creed, religion, political persuasion, or what-have-you.
          And neither do I find the high-flown language coming from the French and American presidents particularly helpful either. The terrorists were not attacking French values, because those values are shared by many countries, races, religionists and others. How dare anyone try to be partisan about high standards shared by so many. As the Conservative Party were so fond of saying until recently about the economic mess the UK found itself in, "We're in this together!"
          So let me be clear. I do not see the current issue as a moral issue. To take a moral stance one must first be alive to do so. There are eight terrorists and (currently) 129 innocent people dead who, presumably, can no longer hold a moral view. It is not for me, and I would suggest no-one else, to take a moral stance on their behalf, no matter how good and self-righteous that may make us feel. Thus, for me, the issue is one of survival; personal as well as group survival. Now either one can take the view, in light of these killings, that it is right to "turn the other cheek", and thus beg for more of the same, a particularly sick philosophy I feel, or we can admit that we wish to survive, own our instincts, and get on with the practical business of physical survival.
          Once that step is taken, we can begin to start the process of thinking, yes thinking! Our distraught emotions have then served their purpose of awakening us to a very real threat. In any conflict, the attackers always hold the advantage; the defenders - usually far more numerous - the disadvantage. A response to this, and any other, terrorist incident requires an honest, thought-out response, not a knee-jerk, prejudiced reaction disguised by some sense of self-righteousness. President Hollande referred to the Paris killings as an act of war. Was it? Was it really? If so it is a somewhat one-sided war, because the air attacks on ISIL do not seem to be having much, if any, effect.
          Democracies are slow to respond to aggression. It seems to have ever been thus. But there comes a point when a defensive posture is not enough. We need to open our eyes, and keep them open. We need to see that help may come from unexpected sources, if we do not alienate others who are just as innocent (even if they carry the "wrong" tags) as those who were murdered in Paris.
          There may be no easy answers. We may need to take actions which make us feel uncomfortable, even distressed. And we need, always, to question where we are going, and the means we employ to get there. The ends do not justify the means, because the means all too often can change the ends.
          Well, I have said my piece. Pouring out my emotions here would not have helped me, and might well have been unacceptable to my readers. If nothing else, I have tried to be honest in my thinking, and allow some clarification of thought to emerge. Whatever happens from now on is bound to affect our inner selves just as much as our outer world. God give us wisdom!

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Saving the Baby from the Bath Water

          "I have thrown out the baby with the bath water," I thought to myself. "That must not be." It was a long time ago that that realisation struck me, and did so with such force that I was obliged to rescue the baby, clean and dry it, then powder it with an occasional tickle. Laughter has always been a necessary part of genuine, spiritual recovery.
          All too often, when we attempt to bring about change in our lives, we undergo a process of conversion without enlightenment. As a species we seem to be very committed to converting people, whether the conversion is religious, political, sporting, social or even gender, to mention but a few. If conversion is not possible, then we attack and ostracise. For me, the notion of conversion is largely a nonsense unless genuine enlightenment precedes it.  That newly found understanding and wisdom will usually initiate a fundamental change in direction of its own accord.
          Consumed by the emotion of conversion, and I am thinking here particularly of psycho-spiritual conversion - all too often confused with religious conversion - one is apt to think that all of a sudden one has been moved from one non-spiritual plane to a plane where we feel a born-again spirituality. (I admit to my inability to define the words "spiritual" and "spirituality" in ways which might find general acceptance.) In my view, such a transposition from one plane to another is very far from the truth. Any change that might occur seems to relate to a change towards a hopeful belief, to an admitting to a desire to change direction, because life has become unacceptably painful. The life changes that are required do not occur unless some understanding of the factors that have brought one to the stage where change is seen to be desirable, is gained through the process of enlightenment. Put simply, genuine change does not happen without understanding and wisdom.
          What usually happens - in my own childhood experience, and observations of adults later in life - is that enthusiasm for the belatedly-realised impossibility of leading a life not grounded in denial-free understanding eventually wanes. The result is to fall back into a state of apparent failure, and the drawing of the conclusion that it was all rubbish anyway, and that if only conditions change all will be fine. The story of the "fox and the grapes" is apposite.  
          What I discovered was that so many traits that I had deemed to be wrong, were neither right nor wrong. They simply were! The baby simply is, and only requires a thorough cleansing. Even today, in our enlightened times, there are always people who will tell us what is right, and what is wrong; edicts based on their often blinded perceptions, but firmly rooted in egoistic selves drawing their sustenance from societal dogma rather than from truth.
          As I have said elsewhere, I do not believe the ego is bad: it simply is. But then fire simply is, and I do not intent to thrust my flesh into the fire in the foreseeable future. I will, however, continue to endeavour to use things that are fit for the purposes I have in mind. And I must never intentionally, through denial or any other means, cut the taproot that links my lower, egoistic self to that source of enlightenment which feeds my inner life.
          In choosing to talk about this subject I am intensely aware that it is like testing the quality of the Atlantic Ocean with a spoonful of its water taken at random. Every sentence threatened to draw me off into yet another vast subject with its own particular characteristics and interest. There are no clear-cut boundaries to the mind, or to consciousness, and I have had to pick my way carefully through my material to avoid becoming washed away on an errant wave of enthusiastic wonder.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

To Love Without Seeking Reward.....

          In one of Father Richard Rohr's recent meditations the point was made that:

"Even the best of human love is filled with self-seeking."  (Richard Rohr's Meditations - Dorothy Day: Crying Out for Justice - Wednesday, 28.10.2015)

          As part of a series of ongoing communications between Vincent and myself, he offered the following quote from one of David Hume's, "Selected Essays" on the question of love. In the essay Hume considers the commonly held belief that selfishness is our basic condition.

"All is self-love. Your children are loved only because they are yours: your friend for a like reason; and your country engages you only so far as it has a connection with yourself. Were the idea of self removed, nothing would affect you: you would be altogether unactive and insensible: or, if you ever give yourself any movement, it would only be from vanity, and a desire of fame and reputation to this same self."

But Hume then turns this master-myth around by making the counterintuitive and wonderfully ennobling point that vanity is proof of virtue rather than vice — a natural expression of how highly we value the qualities that make a person lovable, admirable, and a worthy member of society. He writes:

"There are two things which have led astray those philosophers that have insisted so much on the selfishness of man. In the first place, they found that every act of virtue or friendship was attended with a secret pleasure; whence they concluded, that friendship and virtue could not be disinterested. But the fallacy of this is obvious. The virtuous sentiment or passion produces the pleasure, and does not arise from it. I feel a pleasure in doing good to my friend, because I love him; but do not love him for the sake of that pleasure."

          The second thing to which Hume refers falls outside the scope of this post, and is not, therefore, quoted here. I am very inclined to the view, as is Vincent I believe, that David Hume is correct. But how can I be certain about the correctness of that conclusion? How do I choose between these apparently opposing views? In the end I can only decide the issue based on my own life's experiences.
          It must be well known by regular readers of Gwynt that many years ago I felt obliged, in the cause of restoring by spiritual sanity, to seek help after three years of living with a very sick alcoholic. I entered a treatment centre. There have been times since then that I have asked myself the question, "Why did I do that? Why did I subject myself to that very painful process of psycho-spiritual recovery?" I must add, and that right hastily, that I have never doubted the rightness of that decision. Nevertheless, the questions remain, even though I have offered many a possible answer to those questions.
          During my six-and-a-half weeks in that centre I did as was suggested by my counsellors, even though on occasion I looked askance as some of their suggestions, and even rebelled against one suggestion. All the time I was there I took it on trust that these people knew what they were talking about, and had acquired spiritual wisdom that I, without realising it, was subconsciously seeking. Like so much of my life, I have always felt that I was being led to an inevitable conclusion. Now that may sound odd to many, but that is the only description I can offer for the sense that all doors were being closed to me, leaving just the one I eventually entered. Of course, there was always an element of choice, but the alternative to the choice I actually made was, and has always remained, unacceptable.
          Over the time that has passed since that decision to walk the path of recovery, I have learned through experience that there is a part of me that is not egoistic, is not of the lower self as it has been named. There is another and higher aspect to our being, whatever we may choose to call it in our stumbling attempts to describe its presence. It is that, which one writer has described as that which calls to us from the future. It is a blueprint for wholeness; and C.G.Jung has named the archetype for wholeness by the single word, God.
          Whilst I do not doubt that actions dominated by my lower, egoistic self may always have an element of selfishness attached, there will always remain a part of me, a non-egoistic self, that knows of actions that are carried out from a sense of non-selfish love. St. Ignatius Loyola prayed:

"Teach us, good Lord,
to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not to seek for rest;
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will."

This was written by a soldier, and filled with meaning that a dedicated soldier would understand. Yet when this was pointed out to me, I was filled with a sense of deep loss that demanded I probe deeper. As I let this prayer, and its undisputed (by me) origins and its sometimes twisted outcomes sink into my soul, I began to be filled with a joy of discovery. For this prayer describes completely the ethos of my pilgrimage through life. As Vincent has pointed out, there is mystical experience. One could speculate as to its origins or meaning. Or one could simply enjoy it.
          That is my experience of love and life. By that I stand.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Pickled-Chicken Soup

          One of the joys of our recent trip to the Netherlands was my introduction to pickled-chicken soup. Now why that experience at the Rijksmuseum restaurant so impressed itself upon me, I know not. After all it was only one among countless soups made from a wide variety of ingredients. But it did impress me, so there it is. Since returning from that trip I have indulged myself - a most satisfactory enterprise - in trying to reproduce that soup. I have come up with something which, although not identical with the Dutch offering, has a certain character which was not unpleasing. Here then is a report on my culinary activity.

1.        The Pickled Chicken:-

The Marinade:

0.5 tsp of Pepper,
1 tsp of Turmeric,
1 rounded tsp of Sea Salt,
0.5 tsp of Chilli powder. (I used the relatively mild Piment d'Espelette)

Marinade 300 - 350g of white chicken meat, cut into approximately 2 - 4cm. cubes, in the refrigerator overnight. (My preferred method is to place all the ingredients in a plastic, freezer bag, working the marinade all round the chicken.)
          On the following day, add about a half-a-cup of water to a heavy-based saucepan, bring to the boil, add the chicken and its marinade and bring to the boil again. Cook for about 20 mins or until the chicken is dry. Add:

Enough vegetable oil to cover,
4 Tbsp of Garlic paste*,
4 Tbsp of Ginger paste*,

until they are cooked. Add about a third of a cup of white wine vinegar if available (I was obliged to use cider vinegar) and withdraw from the heat. Shred the chicken. Transfer everything to a sterilised jar, and seal. I do not know how long this can be stored in a fridge. (I didn't give it chance to find out!)

*  I blitz a quantity of chopped garlic, or fresh ginger, in a small food processor with enough vegetable oil drizzled in to produce a nice paste. As there is no water used in this method, the resulting paste can be stored in the freezer, in shoulder-less jars for at least two months. It could be longer, but my supplies usually need to be replenished before that.

2.        The Soup.

Heat about 2 Tbsp of the pickling oil. Add a finely chopped onion (200 - 250g), and cook until translucent. Drain off the oil. Add about 200g of drained, pickled chicken and 400ml of homemade (salt-free) chicken stock. When thoroughly heated through, add salt to taste if required. The soup can be served at this stage. Alternatively, withdraw the soup from the heat, slowly whisk in about 2 Tbsp of yoghurt (or cream?), bring back to the heat, but do not boil. Serve.

          Well that is the report of my culinary experiment. If you do take your courage in both hands and try this, I hope you enjoy. We did! A very spiritual experience!

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

The Altogether Unexpected

          Time slips by and I do not post. Somehow there seems to be nothing left to say, but much to be experienced. I do not know......I do not understand......but I do not mind. It is not that I do not care but, through acceptance, that - and I must insist on this - I do not mind. It seemed to come about in the following way.
          For some years I have done a great deal of work on my inner self, work that has been very worthwhile. Out of that came a desire to know and understand all that had happened. I do not regret having spent the time in that way because that was where I was; that was what I needed to do. There came a moment, however, quite recently when I said to myself that my long period of daily, concentrated meditation must stop. The hours spent in study also had to end. These are not decisions that cannot be reversed. In fact it is highly likely that I will return to the situation that existed before those decisions were made.
          I wanted to discover what would happen if I stopped intensive meditation. Of course some form of meditation continues all the time. I choose not, although it often feels as if I am unable, to stop thinking about matters of a psycho-spiritual nature at least for part of my day. I had begun to wonder whether or not my spiritual activities, such as they are, were nothing more than a prop. I was a little anxious, I suppose, that I would finish up discarding a much-loved way of life because it had become irrelevant, the manifestation of an illusion. That it would give me more time for other pressing activities was never a convincing reason for the change. Yet what I discovered was altogether unexpected.
          Somehow, a fresh understanding dawned. I began to see that some of the beautiful but perplexing meditative imagery I had experienced made the kind of good sense that my consciousness could absorb. Far from returning to some pre-ego state by the abnegation of my ego, I have moved towards the experience of what has been called the "trans-ego." This experience comes and goes somewhat, but in perhaps a still faltering way I am beginning to "see" in a way for which I have no words. More and more I face this particular difficulty.
          For the first time in my life I am beginning to understand what real serenity is about. At times it seems like a terribly loving ache, or pain. More and more I find that to love carries something that seems to be too heavy to bear, too painful to choose to experience. Yet it can be no other way. This is the joyous......agony perhaps, that comes from my choices in the past, choices that I know are wholly right.
          So life continues on its way. Whatever situation I find myself in is right for this moment. I will not elaborate on that statement at this time. There will be time enough.

Monday, 12 October 2015

A Late Holiday - Pt.5 - The End

          On the morning following our arrival in Bruges, we had breakfast in the establishment in which we were staying. It was a hearty meal, rather more than that to which I was accustomed, consisting of cheeses, cold meats, bread rolls and croissants, not to mention tea, coffee, juice and yoghurt. We even had soft-boiled eggs on three occasions. In short, we were right-royally fed, always aware of the warning hanging on the inside of the door to our rooms.

I ate sparingly as is my wont, and the landlady suggested we took what was left of our breakfast with us for lunch. Well if we didn't eat it, I thought, the ducks and swans certainly would.
          Off we then went into town to find what we would find, always bearing in mind cabbage soup (as if I needed reminding) and that our route, therefore, needed to be chosen with care. Our first port of call was an apothecary from whom we purchased some mysterious liquid designed to damp down my cough. It was a delightful, olde worlde place with.......well you can see for yourselves.

Moving on, we entered one of the two big squares in the city where we happened to find a museum which sported some superb public facilities in the crypt. Now I am unaccustomed to using public loos. Having tentatively placed a 50 cent piece in the slot and approached the three-pronged barrier with some suspicion, I was dismayed to find that the barrier had turned, leaving me on the outside; most unsatisfactory. I tried again, but determinedly braced my legs to prevent the mishap occurring again. Success!
          In France, it is not unusual to find the 'gents' and the 'ladies' in the same area. Not so on this occasion in Belgium. Now this fact had not imprinted itself on three delightful ladies, including Lucy, who having paid their dues entered this bastion of male privilege. I felt that I needed to point this out to the ladies. I have to say that no-one was in the least bit fazed, in fact one lady all a-giggle and a-titter said,

     "Ooooh, what an experience!"

Now I swear, dear readers, I didn't do a thing except wash my hands. Anyway, I ushered the ladies out, pointing the way to their own facilities. I must add at this point that the facilities supplied by the local restaurants were equally good, at least the three or four that I was obliged to visit were.
          There is no doubt that as far as food and drink were concerned, we had been spoiled in Amsterdam. But never mind, holidays consist of more than just eating and drinking I stoically told myself. There were, however, one or two highlights that I must mention. The first was an accidental discovery of a delightful bar-cum-eating place that was reputedly the oldest such watering hole in Belgium, maybe the oldest in Europe the smiling young waitress told us. Once again, it was delightfully old-fashioned in that might have leaped directly from a Rembrandt canvas - well almost! Here are one or two slightly blurred shots of the place, blurred because they were taken in a hurry so as not to offend the other eaters and drinkers.

The other place of note was an old bar, where we stopped off to have a whisky, my having declined to finish the one in the restaurant we had just vacated. (Should have had a health and safety warning attached to the bottle!)

          Now lest it should be thought that we spent all our time feasting, we did visit other places of interest, such as local folk museums. They really were quite fascinating.

It will no doubt, be observed that the whole city was in a remarkable state of good repair. A great deal of pride for their city was plainly on view.

          When, at last, our time in Bruges was drawing to a close we had one last meal of Angus beef with trimmings as a celebration. Beyond that I will say no more, but rather choose to take you along with Lucy and me on a night-time trip of the canals.

So our holiday came to an end. The following morning would see us wending our way, by bus, to the railway station and thence home. It was a fun time regardless of the down times, but then a holiday isn't the same if everything goes to plan. We have very fond memories of Amsterdam and Bruges, and can recall with some laughter the times when things were a little oops-ish.