Landscape with Landlords (1st January 2014)

Landscape with Landlords

My nephew gave me a copy of "The Landscape Trilogy" for Christmas, the three part autobiography of Tom Rolt. An excellent present. I've particularly enjoyed reading the final part, "Landscape with Figures" as I've not had a chance to read that before.

Rolt was an extremely good writer and had a big influence on me, along with many other boaters and people who are generally dissatisfied with modern materialistic culture. Nevertheless, I've always been a bit uneasy about where he was coming from. Like everyone else, Rolt had no choice about the circumstances of his birth, in his case into an Edwardian family sufficiently wealthy to not need to soil their hands with work. To his credit, young LTC trained as an engineer and took relatively menial jobs in the years between the wars. He clearly admired people who lived simply, and, in particular, those who pursued the perfection of a craft that relied on the rack o th ee more than intricate computational skills.

Rolt had a key role in starting both the waterway movement and the railway preservation movement in postwar Britain, motivating people to volunteer to keep these things, threatened by the ever onward drive towards the mundane, in being for all to enjoy. It is partly thanks to Rolt that we have a canal network and that I can go and enjoy a ride on a steam train whenever i feel the urge.

Like Rolt, I despair of the constant drive to generate money at the expense of all else, constantly making the world a duller, greyer, more predictable place. I love to see land, buildings, machines etc lovingly hand made and cared for. Without resuming this direction of having a spiritual bond with our surroundings, our community and our technology, learning to live more simply, I don't quite see how we can hope to survive on this little planet. However, a crucial part of this for me is that it has to be fair. While there are still masters and servants then the servants will always envy the masters.

Rolt somehow partially inverted this, being of the master's class but often envying the servants, deploring the sad decline in subsistence agriculture for example. Tolstoy was similar, and Ghandhi, but both these men sought to live the simple life of a peasant rather than just idealise it from a lofty eminence.

My disappointment with the later Rolt really surfaced when I read about his very valuable tenure at the Tal y Llyn Railway in 1951/52. He claimed that it was a financial disaster for him as he was only paid £30 a month. That's about £7 a week. In 1950 the average wage for a factory worker was about £5.70, and often this had to support a family. My first wage as late as 1971 was only £10 a week. £7 a week was simply not enough for an upper middle class lifestyle.

I am interested in building a better, more human, more democratic world where communities make their own decisions, use their own resources and people work for each other. This is not possible if some people think they're so much better than others that their children have to be privately educated. I hate to say it, but Rolt was a snob who thought himself better than the riff raff on the council estate.

War and Freedom (6th December 2013)

War and Freedom

I have lots of confusion around the business of armed conflict. Part of me is a pacifist hippy, hating all war, but another part of me challenges this as naive. I have a fascination with military hardware, especially aircraft, but I am saddened by the fact that so much human ingenuity goes into machines of destruction.

Is it just me or do other people see military aircraft differently depending on their origin. To me a Mescherschmidt has a nasty malevolent look, whereas a Spitfire, though a very similar aircraft, looks beautiful. I remember seeing B52s flying into Britain ready to begin operations against Iraq. To me they were like invaders from Mordor.

I've always been a great admirer of Ghandhi, but I once read his opinions of how Hitler should be resisted, non violently. Non violent resistance depends for its success on the humanity of your opponents. If you are dealing with psychopaths, who are incapable of compassion, it will not work. Sadly, there was no alternative to the second world war. Had my parents generation not fought then the whole world would probably be living under oppressive regimes. The freedoms that we have are easily eroded though, the main threat now coming not from governments but from corporations.

I've recently been reading some books about military leaders. Their psychology fascinates me. The first was Field Marshal Montgomery's autobiography. Though he was known for blowing his own trumpet, I think there is little doubt that his appointment in 1942 was crucial to turning the war around. I hadn't realised that his predecessor's only plan was to retreat when Rommel attacked at El Alemein. The question in my mind is what would have happened in the modern world. It seems to be widely accepted now that Monty was a paedophile. Some say that this only went as far as getting boys to strip naked to be inspected. My partner, who has dealt professionally with paedophiles, tells me that if he was doing this there is little doubt that he was going further. This, apparently was generally known about at the time and seen as an eccentricity. Today he would have been arrested, probably long before he rose to the rank of General. Would it be right to turn a blind eye to his predelictions in order to get the best man in the crucial position?

I'm now reading about Garibaldi. I never knew much about him, just that he founded Italy and had a biscuit named after him. He must have got a buzz out of battle. Beginning as a pirate off the South American coast he fought for liberation movements in Brazil and Uruguay before returning to his native Italy, then a hotch potch of monarchies, dukedoms, Papal states and parts of the Austrian empire. With a ragtag volunteer army, fiercely loyal to him, he frequently defeated bigger, better armed and more conventional forces until, eventually Italy became a constitutional monarchy with reasonable freedoms for its people. Garibaldi was obviously a brilliant and charismatic leader, but he also seems to have been a decent man who cared about others. He would not put up with maltreatment of prisoners and only fought for liberation causes, eschewing honours and money and with little time for politicians. Though he didn't go himself, some Garibaldinis fought on the Union side in the American civil war, but Garibaldi would not give his support until he was sure that a Northern victory would definitely mean emancipation for the slaves.

It worries me that the freedoms achieved at such great cost in the past by people like the Garibaldinis, trades unionists, mass trespassers etc can so easily be lost in an era when most information is controlled by a handful of wealthy people and the population seems to be taken in by bread, circuses and shopping.

Concerning Subud (18th November 2013)

Concerning Subud

This blog is mainly about my work on the wooden boats but, consistently, by far the most common keywords used to find it are "Subud Cult". This is strange as I've only made a couple of references to Subud and the Latihan. However, as I've been saying on the Subud Facebook page that we need to stop hiding our lights under bushels, I thought I'd better try to explain it a bit.

Let me begin by pointing out that I do not do cults or gurus and have never joined any religion (Subud is very clear about being an adjunct to faith, not a religion in it's own right).

The problem is, where to begin. Subud is weird. It is very weird, but it's also very real. My lifelong search has been for reality among all the illusions of the World and in Subud I think I've found it.

Now for the weird bit. Subud began in the mid 1920s when a young railway booking clerk was out for a walk and saw a light in the sky. This came down to engulf him and he had an intense spiritual experience that went on for months.

Have I lost you yet?

The man realised that he could and should pass a little bit of what he had experienced to others, so he did. A little group of people were "opened" to it in his homeland of Indonesia (then a Dutch colony). Those who had been 'opened' were able to experience at will, normally in 30 minute sessions, a spiritual exercise called the Latihan, which is Indonesian for 'Exercise', An organisation was formed to administer it which was called Subud, short for Susila Buddhi Dharma,

Susila Budhi Dharma is a book written by Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo, the founder of the World Subud Association, in the city of Jogjakarta, Indonesia, in 1952. Its name corresponds to the three main qualities that are to be developed through the training in the Subud path. The name "Subud" is a contraction of these three Javanese words of Sanskrit derivation.

In the 1950s the practise of the Latihan was spread Worldwide, reaching Britain in 1957. Here it was taken up enthusiastically by many people who had been involved in Gurdjieff work. and particularly J G Bennett

I joined in 2006 as a result of a strange combination of events. I feel like I was led to it. Joining Subud is not easy. They make you wait 3 months to make sure that you are serious. Subud is not eager to recruit spiritual tourists but only those who are genuinely interested in growing their spirits.

After my 3 month wait I was opened. This is when the ability to experience the Latihan is passed on. After answering a simple series of questions satisfactorily one of the more senior members said the words "I open you" * and the Latihan began. I stood there with my eyes closed wondering what on earth I'd got myself into. People around me were calling out "Allah" or stomping round like a native American war dance. This is nonsense I thought, then my hands became as heavy as lead and I had to lower myself to the floor. When my hands touched the floor the weight went away, but as soon as I lifted away they became heavy again. When the Latihan was over we all went to the kitchen for a cup of tea. Emuna, my partner (then known as Marilyn) told me that i had gone as red as a beetroot. Something had happened that was extraordinary, but I didn't know what.

Since then I've done the Latihan regularly. In the Latihan you stand still and wait. Amazingly, things happen without you willing them. My Latihan developed from simple twitches through walking backwards and spinning to loud, sometimes operatic, singing. What's the point? I don't know, but I am now in many ways a better person. It's very hard to explain, but I wouldn't go back to my pre Latihan existence for all the tea in China. In 7 years I've only met a couple of people in Subud who I haven't liked and I've never been asked for money. I've only once felt slightly pressured to study the writings and talks of the founder, who is known as Bapak ( Indonesian for Grandfather) as his real name is quite a challenge to Westerners. There certainly are people who treat Bapak as a demigod and would like it to be a cult with strict rules, but, at least in Britain, it's a very free and democratic set up. Although Bapak was, like most Indonesians, a Muslim, I've never known any pressure to join that faith. Having joined describing myself as 'vaguely Pagan' I now call myself a Panentheist

Panentheism (meaning "all-in-God", from the Ancient Greek πᾶν pân, "all", ἐν en, "in" and Θεός Theós, "God") is the belief that the divine interpenetrates every part of the universe and extends, timelessly (and, presumably, spacelessly) beyond it. Unlike pantheism, which holds that the divine and the universe are identical,[1] panentheism maintains a distinction between the divine and non-divine and the significance of both.[2]

In pantheism, the universe and everything included in it is equal to the Divine, but in panentheism, the universe and the divine are not ontologically equivalent. God is viewed as the soul of the universe, the universal spirit present everywhere, in everything and everyone, at all times. Some versions suggest that the universe is nothing more than the manifestation of God. In some forms of panentheism, the cosmos exists within God, who in turn "transcends", "pervades" or is "in" the cosmos. While pantheism asserts that 'All is God', panentheism goes further to claim that God is greater than the universe. In addition, some forms indicate that the universe is contained within God,[1] like in the concept of Tzimtzum. Much Hindu thought is highly characterized by panentheism and pantheism.[3][4]Hasidic Judaism merges the elite ideal of nullification to paradoxical transcendent Divine Panentheism, through intellectual articulation of inner dimensions of Kabbalah, with the populist emphasis on the panentheistic Divine immanence in everything.[5][further explanation needed]

There are members who come from most mainstream faiths, and many with no particular religious allegiance.

* Since writing this I've been told that is not the form of words used, though that is how I remember it. Possibly I remembered it wrong. Memory is an inexact tool at the best of times, though most people prefer not to believe the psychological research that proves this.

Recycling Trip 3rd July 2016

A really enjoyable trip for those who showed up. We were a bit low on numbers and struggled to get round the collecting area in a reasonable time, but all who came enjoyed it and we got a big pile of stuff for the charity shop. As well as new people there were long awaited re-appearances by old friends Martin Nestor and Adrian Glasgow.

This n That (9th November 2013)

This n that.

In my last post I hoped that "Southam" wouldn't get stuck in a lock. Of course, she did. We set off with a boatload of sponsors and everything went fine until we got to the first lock, where "Southam" jammed. We could probably have got her through with lots of flushing and pulling, but, with lots of elderly people in the fore end, this seemed unwise. Instead we unjammed her and unloaded our guests, then worked "Lilith", the butty, through and bowhauled her to Mossley and back, leaving a couple of volunteers to mind "Southam". On our way we met a former volunteer who I hadn't seen for years. He offered to pull the boat, and helped us to bowhaul all the way back to Stalybridge after we'd winded at Mossley.

One of the sponsors said it was the best sponsors trip ever. It's funny how people seem to enjoy things going wrong.

Stuart has now left for warmer climes in India. The Hughes family are going to travel all round India before going to Nepal to build an orphanage..

Martin is making a great job of building "Hazel"s back cabin. Her hull is being caulked and today Mike Carter, the surveyor, came to have a look. He seemed pleased with what he saw. I was busy for most of the morning dealing with visitors, some of them potential volunteers. We're going to need a lot more organisational help getting the project up and running once the boatbuilding side of things is finished.

Cult Member? (5th December 2012)

Cult Member?

I've noticed that the most popular search to find this blog is Subud Cult. That's strange as I think I've only mentioned my membership of Subud once or twice. It's also a bit unfair to Subud as it's about as uncultish as you can get. There's no glorious leader, I've never been asked for money, there's no orgies (shame but there it is) and there's no set of beliefs that you have to pledge your allegiance to. Emuna, my partner, reckons that the Church of England is more cult like than Subud. What it is is a vehicle for the sharing of a wonderful spiritual exercise called a latihan (Indonesian for exercise) that was first experienced by the group's founder Mohammed Subuh Sumohadiwodidjojo ( I hope I spelled that right)in about 1925). There are now small groups all over the world, but there is an understanding that Subud doesn't evangelise. Those who are ready for it will find it. I've certainly found the latihan has made me into a stronger and better, more human, person in the 6 years that I've been doing it.

Steve the Viking (21st November 2012)

Steve the Viking

Tomorrow I am going to attend what is becoming an increasingly familiar phenomenon, the funeral of someone younger than myself. In this case it's Steve the Viking, so named because one of his many interests is in Viking re-enactments.
Steve suffered a stroke about 7 years ago and was almost completely paralysed. His determination and sheer zest for life enabled him to fight back and gain almost full abilities again, determined to enjoy everything to the full, experiencing huge frustration every time his remaining disabilities got in the way.

He joined us about 4 years ago and became a regular on recycling trips. He would always turn up late, sometimes missing the outward trip altogether and meeting us at the other end. As soon as he got there he would prioritise the making of coffee, so strong that you wouldn't sleep for a week if you had more than two cups.

Last year Steve joined us for the trip with "Southam" and "Lilith" to Lincoln and back to collect oak logs for "Hazel". A couple of weeks beforehand I got a message from his brother asking for him not to be allowed to go for safety. This put me in a quandary. I already had concerns because of the scary combination of determination to be involved in everything and a residual unsteadiness as a result of the stroke. Were he to meet with an accident the coroner's remarks about me for letting him go in the face of family objections would be scathing. I told him he could come on condition that he didn't get involved in lock working, a rule that he reluctantly adhered to.

I reserved a comfortable bunk aboard "Southam" for Steve, unaware of one of his less endearing qualities, cataclysmic snoring! For much of the trip he had the boat to himself at night as no-one else could get any sleep. One person set up a bivvy for himself under tarpaulin on top of a freshly sawn log rather than endure the din. The fumes must have been overpowering. Nevertheless, we all enjoyed having Steve on board, he was always cheerful and good company, keeping us all alert through long days boating with endless cups of coffee.

I wrote the above last night. Today I've been to his funeral in Oldham. The crematorium was full of Vikings and many stories were told of Steve's good hearted and sometimes infuriating un-worldliness. As one Viking put it, "Steve will be welcomed to the fireside by the old gods and warriors, as long as they don't mind being interrupted in mid battle to look at the goldfish". I learned more about him. I already knew Steve was a keen walker, striding ahead with his stick, and his comprehensive knowledge of wildlife. I didn't know he was a painter and sculptor.

After the ceremony we all moved on to the Ashton Arms on Clegg St, Oldham, to participate in one of Steve's great interests, drinking the very finest of real ales. Many thanks to his family who arranged a very appropriate send off and organised donations to the Vikings and to the Wooden Canal Boat Society. Farewell to a goodhearted and wonderfully eccentric man.

Steaming "Hazel"s Eyebrows (16th November 2012)

Steaming "Hazel"s eyebrows!

Sounds painful, but that's been the main task today. I'm not sure what they're really called. They are the pieces of wood that go under the metal guard irons at the bow and stern of the boat. What pleasure boaters would call rubbing strakes.

There were four eyebrows to steam all together, so we did them in two batches of two, bow and stern. They all bent nicely, though there's always a bit of stress when it comes to steaming wood. The steaming equipment only just completed the job. When the second batch were nearly ready the pipe from the boiler to the steambox started to disintegrate. It's done 28 planks altogether, but for some reason todays steaming was the last straw for it. It was a bit much to expect a plastic pipe to take all that heat, but it did it, only failing at the very end.

More Volunteers Needed

I originally posted this in 2012, but it's still valid. Don't just sit there gongoogling, come and help. Even if you live a long way away there's stuff you can do.

More volunteers needed.

I've just been writing something for the WCBS committee about how we can develop online sales. At the moment, like most charity shops, we send a lot of stuff to the tip. You simply can't run a viable shop by keeping everything, and yet almost everything has a potential buyer somewhere. I've been experimenting with selling items thrown out by the shop on ebay, with a lot of success. The trouble is, I don't have the time to really pursue it. There is huge potential there to boost the WCBS income, get more boats restored and put into service for the community and reduce waste. The barrier to doing it, as usual, is finding a willing volunteer with the right combination of time, inclination and ability.


At the moment we're doing OK for volunteers on "Hazel",( Though, if you'd like to help, we can always do with more) but there are big areas of sales, publicity, engineering, and boat maintenance where we're really struggling. It's the self organising volunteers we really need. The ones who can just be given a few guidelines and left to get on with the job.
Any offers?

Let me know.