The collected thoughts of modern and ancient hermits, eccentrics, solitaires, wanderers, mystics, and others who inhabit the monastery within.

Visit my other blog, View From Pardes, the introspective humdrum life of an eccentric hexagenarian.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Visit My New WordPress Blog

To read my new blog about the life of a fiction writer, scientist, bicyclist, and contemplative, please visit

I’ve just switched to WordPress so I’m still in the process moving over some of the most popular posts from my three other scattered blogs into one main blog.

Thanks for visiting!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Andy & Mel, Danger in Penrith Cumbria

I am very pleased to be able to share another chapter in the lives of Andy and Mel, The Tadem Hermits who roam Scotland and England in their BLACKBUS.

I notice some remarkable similarities to the adventure John Steinbeck and his friend, Ed Ricketts, took on their scientific marine specimen collecting trip to the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) in 1940.

Steinbeck and Ricketts hired a Monterey Bay fishing boat, The Western Flyer, to take them on this journey. On the night before they left the dock, Steinbeck noted the wistful expression in the eyes of their farewell visitors who longed to leave everything behind and take a journey away from their daily grind and responsibilities.

It is a universal longing. All of us, at one time or another, have wanted the freedom to wander without a fixed itinerary, without a fixed destination, where the journey itself, and not the goals imposed by society, provides the healing waters for our restless spirit.

We dream of what such an adventure would entail. It would include vistas that Andy and Mel have viewed.

photo by Andy

photo by Andy

photo by Andy

It would include companions we would dream of taking with us.

"Custard" photo by Andy

photo by Andy

"Dylan," photo by Andy

We would close our eyes and picture the homey atmosphere we would forge within our rambling home.

photo by Andy

We would know for certain that without our lives being so frantic, we too would notice the small things around us that celebrate the beauty of our earth.

photo by Andy

photo by Andy

photo by Andy

photo by Andy

"One of my wee nest box's magic!"

... or the large magnificent things to notice that takes your breath away...

photo by Andy

Like Andy, we would have time to savor a moment of humor with his "traveling owl" he poses in numerous bucolic spots, and turtles scaling the mountain of a mushroom.

photo by Andy

photo by Andy

Like Andy, we would rescue a stunned bird from the side of the road, offer it a quiet space to rest and recover, and then feel an exhilaration in our heart that when revived, it took to wing and flew away.

photo by Andy

"Found this wee man. He is recovering in the caravan; just shock, I think."

And just like Andy, we would cup another tiny bird in the palm of our hand, another victim of the road who did not survive. And it would be enough to bring tears to our eyes as we buried it beside the road under a tree.

photo by Andy

"Found this wee one by the bus; but sadly he didn't make it, so I buried him under a tree."

The open road is not always easy or kind. Andy and Mel are well aware of that. Cancer, continuing automotive mechanical problems, and the distrust and sometimes threatening nature of people they meet must be taken in stride.

Despite the difficulties, there are triumphs. Mel defeated cancer, and continues to be the Angel of Andy's heart.

photo by Andy

It is also fortunate for the rambling couple that Andy can fix anything, even a temperamental bus engine that has survived well beyond its expected years.

photo by Andy

I doubt I would be as philosophical about Andy noting that complete strangers open the door of their BLACKBUS without knocking and will barge into their private family moments.

Doorbell photo by Andy

"This ls my home. I know it is only a bus, but DO NOT just walk in ..... RING THE BELL! Sorry for being a grumpy hermit, my friends."

However, Andy was less philosophical about an event that took place one night in Penrith Cumbria where danger was their companion throughout the night. Earlier in the day, he did woodworking for items to sell as they traveled the country.

photo property of Andy

photo property of Andy


Andy and Mel, Danger in Penrith Cumbria

by Andy, The Daft Hermit

It had been a really good day. I sold a bird table (known as a birdfeeder to some people), two nest boxes, and a windmill I had made the day before. One of the best things about making woodcraft items is the people you got to meet through it.

Mel had just shouted, "Dinner" and I had just packed all the tools away for the night and I was looking out into the evening. It was so lovely. The night was warm and the mountains in the distance were an incredible colour. The lake district really is a stunning place.

I shut the boot (trunk, for you Americans) and walked up the side of the bus. My mouth was watering. thinking about my dinner. We had been shopping earlier in the day and I knew we had some nice treats.

Just as I was about to open the door of the BLACKBUS, this large Range Rover came tearing down the road and stopped only a few feet from me. The driver's door swung open and a huge bloke dressed in country tweeds complete with hat stormed out of the Range Rover and headed straight towards me.

He stopped only inches from me and instantly launched into a full-on abusive attack, basically that we were to "f**k off, take our bus and all the crap laying around (my woodcaft), and between his friend the Chief Constable and a few other people, we better be gone in the morning, or ELSE!"

All I could think, at that moment was, "Shit, my diner will be getting cold."

He continued to rant and rave. The veins in his neck looked like they were about to burst. I tried to talk to him, but he ignored me and just ranted and ranted.

Eventually I had enough and told him to, "Sod off and get whoever he wanted."

He turned on his heels and headed back to his car. After slamming the door, he opened the window and carried on his verbal abuse. By this time, Mel was standing next to me and asking what was going on. Upon hearing him shouting, she returned her own shouting in her broad YORKSHIRE voice to "Kindly leave!" or words to that effect.

I watched as he slammed the car into gear. It lurched forward three times. Ater he still hadn't managed to turn the car around, I couldn't help myself and asked if he needed some help to turn the car. That really set him of and with the air turning blue with more of his ranting, he drove away. We could still hear him shouting a mile down the road.

During dinner, we talked about what we should do and after a wee while we decided to see what happened the next day. We couldn't leave yet since I had a couple calling over the following afternoon to pick up some nest boxes and a large chair I had made for them.

After a restless night, in which every noise we heard, we imagined a load of cars turning up to SORT US OUT, nothing happened, and the morning was glorious.

The sun was so warm even though it was only 7:00 AM. After a while, we relaxed a bit and the day turned into a nice day.

I met a lovely woman who called down to see us and we talked about everything. She really liked the coach and asked politely if she could look inside. She stayed for nearly an hour and didn't leave without putting in an order for two bird tables and a small box. She said that a bloke called "Tony" would call over for them on Friday. She paid me for the woodcraft immediately, even though I said I would rather she wait till I had made them. Not long after she left, the couple turned up and paid me for their their stuff.

All in all, it was a superb day and we forgot all about the crazy Range Rover man.

Friday came and Tony arrived. I found out he was a game keeper and during a coffee, he told me who that wee women was who had put the order for the woodcraft. It was none other than Lady Lowther. She had taken it upon herself to come and visit us after her estate manager had stormed back shouting about our presence on her land. She had told him to leave us alone.

Six months later, we headed out onto the open road and noticed that Lady Lowther had put the two bird tables I made by the main entrance to her estate.

Ever since that time, Mel and I often have a wee chuckle imagining that sod having to drive through the main gates every day past our two bird tables!


Sometimes Andy presents himself as being daft.

photo property of Andy

But I take a more spiritual view of Andy, the Andy who notices things, the small beautiful things that the rest of us miss in our travels, and that he too, like our creator, notices with a poignant heart, "when the sparrow falls." The blue highways and gravel roads of Scotland and England will always be traveled by Andy and Mel, in person, or forever in spirit.

photo collage by Andy


All rights to text and photos are retained by Andy & Mel. Continue with excerpts of their travels here on Cloister Voices and visit their website, "The BlackBus."

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

My Sacred Clown

"Everyone writes for their own reasons. To share, to dare, to enlighten or just be noticed, but ultimately writing is about connecting. Because the more we connect to others - the more we learn about ourselves. Writing is a journey, an adventure started with a single step. I'm taking this journey with crow's feet, in more ways than one. Come along and I'll show you why."
~ Michelle 2009

My Sacred Clown

~ Michelle 2009

My very first encounter with an eccentric has to be my dad’s father. He was someone I only knew literally between the ages of birth and four, but who came to me a thousand times through my life in the hearts and words of the people whose lives he had changed. He was there, one way or another, my entire childhood. He influenced everything from my sense of humour to my opinions on religion, but how do you describe a man who was so charismatic and yet so elusive?

My grandfather was born as the middle child of a large family in the British African colony of Southern Rhodesia. When he died, at a far too early age, so many people came to his funeral that they had to put chairs outside the windows and doors.

Named Gabriel after an angel, yet never angelic, he was a walking oxymoron – an extrovert who loved being alone. He was a born performer, the charmer and the clown who stood out at every gathering and yet he almost never spoke about himself. He loved to be with people and yet he would sometimes just pick up his gun and gear and vanish into the bush for a week or a day. He knew the land intimately, as only a lover can, and the people of the land loved him in return. He knew every edible and poisonous plant and he knew every stone… quite literally. Geology was one of his passions and he had barrels of agates, amethyst, malachite and tigers eye that he’d collected on his wanderings. He worked as a dowser finding not only water, but minerals and even gold. After he died the barrels came to us and as a child I’d sit in the sand and play with chunks of malachite and agate, pyrites and mica.

If I had to sum him up in one word I’d have to steal it from another culture and another continent. My grandfather was a Heyoka, the Lakota word for a Sacred Clown. I first came upon that idea several years back and the moment I read about it I knew I’d found my grandfather’s true spiritual calling...

"Heyoka are thought of as being backwards-forwards, upside-down, or contrary in nature. This spirit is often manifest by doing things backwards or unconventionally.

Their satire presents important questions by fooling around. They ask difficult questions, and say things others are too afraid to say. By reading between the lines, the audience is able to think about things not usually thought about, or to look at things in a different way.

Principally, the Heyoka functions both as a mirror and a teacher, using extreme behaviors to mirror others, thereby forcing them to examine their own doubts, fears, hatreds, and weaknesses.

In addition, sacred clowns serve an important role in shaping tribal codes. Heyokas don’t seem to care about taboos, rules, regulations, social norms, or boundaries. Paradoxically, however, it is by violating these norms and taboos that they help to define the accepted boundaries, rules, and societal guidelines for ethical and moral behavior. This is because they are the only ones who can ask "Why?" about sensitive topics... Their role is to penetrate deception, turn over rocks, and create a deeper awareness."

(Quoted from Wikipedia)

Just like the Heyoka, my grandfather poked silly sticks at every “sacred cow” and did everything backwards-forwards. As the entertainer he did vaudeville type shows for the miners and nearly got lynched one time when the miners realised that the “girl” doing a striptease behind a curtain was actually my grandfather wearing false wooden breasts he’d made himself for his act. He played over a dozen different musical instruments, sometimes creating his own “orchestra” recordings by using two reel-to-reel tape recorders to tape himself playing over himself playing. Perfectly able to create beautiful music from a whole range of perfectly normal musical instruments the one he is most remembered for is playing the saw as beautifully as a violin.

How he dressed with complete disregard to fashion in whatever he liked, which included going to town in his favourite pith helmet on Saturday mornings. He never went to any church, yet helped out at all of them.. he also laughed at all of them. He laughed at everything he thought ridiculous or pretentious, nothing was too sacred to be found silly, and yet he rarely angered or hurt anyone’s feelings with his laughter. His comic version of the Catholic Latin Mass has been known to leave good Catholics giggling hysterically. I think it’s because he laughed from love and a pure joy in the silliness of humankind. He was a terrible mangler of song lyrics, making up his own wickedly funny or just plane giggle-silly versions of everything from everyday tunes and classical works to opera and hymns. I grew up singing his versions, always naughty, sometimes rude, but never to the point of offensive or insulting.

I have no conscious memories of him, but he’s there in the sparkle in people’s eyes when they speak of him. Through him, and through his son, I grew up with an abiding sense of silliness and a complete disrespect for anything/anyone pompous. To this day, over forty years after his death, I still sing his song lyrics (as well as make up my own for new songs), I tend to dress with an equal disregard for fashion, and I have an obsession with stones that I think he would have approved of… and he managed to have the last laugh on us all. Six years ago my husband came out to Africa to marry me. One morning, a few weeks before we left Africa to return to Scotland, he came through singing. This might not seem very remarkable, except hubby isn’t a sing-out-loud type. He prefers and audience of one, not a kitchen full of people making breakfast. My dad turned to him in absolute amazement and asked, “Why are you singing that song?” Hubby shrugged and admitted he had no idea. He didn’t even know the name of the song he’d been singing, but my dad did. It was one of my grandfather’s favourites - an old song called “Home on the Range.” My dad shook his head in wonder, “Do you know what today is?” he asked us. I didn’t know, only my mom remembered. It was the date of my grandfather’s death.

Only a Sacred Clown could have pulled off a joke like that from the other side. ;-)


All rights to text and photos are retained by Michelle at Crow's Feet. Continue with excerpts of her adventures here on Cloister Voices and visit her websites: Crow's Feet, First Light, and Homeland.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ches McCartney, The Goat Man

The Goat Man
Pardes 2009

Ches McCartney, The Goat Man, lay fallow in my memory as my own personal property. Prone to extravagant thoughts and debatable visions in childhood, I was never quite sure if the Goat Man was real.

He seemed real enough with his small junk-laden wagon pulled by goats when he took up temporary residence in an empty lot across from my home in central Florida in 1959. The odor of his clothing was real enough, stringent and potent. The smile that crinkled his eyes under his railroad cap was real enough.

I was thirteen, my father had just died, my mother and I were living on the outskirts of poverty, so is it any wonder that I was profoundly moved by the freedom of this wandering Goat Man who spent a lifetime moving on. Forever moving away quickly enough that pain could not settle around him.

I hung out behind a crepe myrtle bus for several days before gathering the nerve to speak to him and learn his secret of how to escape the world. I clutched the last box of Brownie Scout cookies under my arm, a gift, a token of exchange for the Goat Man to tell me his secrets.

He refused to accept the gift and insisted upon a barter. The cookies in exchange for a postcard of him traveling down the road. There were other terms too. I had to agree to eat the cookies with him.

Was it goat milk that he served with the cookies? I don't remember. It tasted of garlic and was on the verge of curdling. The cookies were stale but sweet.

We sat silent and watched the sun go down behind the centuries old live oak tree that was as gnarled as his hands and as lightning-struck as my heart.

In the morning, he was gone.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Diskgrinder, All Together Now

photo collage by Diskgrinder

Diskgrinder is an enigma. Not the kind of enigma that you burn to solve; but the kind of enigma that you want to savor like a good bouillabaisse where each note of flavor presents itself in its own good time.

His Internet presence is known as Diskgrinder. I never
thought to ask him his real name; possibly for fear of his response which would be so clever with his razor wit that I would be reminded that part of my fascination with him is his likeness to a grownup version of that kid we all knew in high school who could level you with one of his witticisms; but ahhhhhh if he liked you, it made you feel special and as witty and charming as he was.

You know the kid I'm talking about. The one who could even intimidate the teachers, the Principal of the school, the traffic cop who stopped him for a moving violation. He made the girls blush and the boy envious of his intellect, his feigned apathy, his extreme and unique coolness, and the creative spark that fired his interest in getting to the bottom of what he considered outrageous socially accepted norms. He was a mirror to our own insecurities so we kept him at a distance; far enough away to feel comfortable without the need to actualize ourselves; but close enough to garner the treasures he revealed.

I first found him on Twitter where we traded clever and terrible puns. Unlike many punsters, he is not a bully and often reveals his softer side; although, make no mistake, it sometimes takes spelunking to find it hidden in a cavern where fish are blind and echoes remain from the ancient ones.

We traded visits to each other's websites. I considered him somewhat bizarre, prone to swearing a lot, an artist, a musician, a perceptive observer of the human condition, a loving father, and most of all, an adult who never forgot how to play, and play with total abandonment of any worry of lo
oking foolish to others. I'm not sure, but I think he considered me a 63 year old woman who possibly smells like Ben Gay, but one who also knows how to play.

I issued a "call for papers" to write a
bout a hermit, mystic, or eccentric person and Diskgrinder responded with a wholly-unique Diskgrinder view of the eccentric known as Reg. It is an exercise in absurdity, irony, and reveals perhaps more about Diskgrinder than it does about Reg.

Impartial journalism can be a wonderful thing; but give me personal observations any day of the week. Sidney Jourard, the Humanist Psychologist, remarked that "disclosure begets disclosure." The limited expressions of Diskgrinder on the web consists of a few hundred often mysterious blog entries, a few YouTube videos, several scores of Flickr photos which is certainly not enough to fill out an accurate biography, not that the world is waiting with bated breath for a Disgrinder biography, nor is that my intention.

What I do note however, is that through Diskgrinder's description of Reg, the Hermit, and Diskgrinder's enigmatic presence on the web, the eccentric nature of the author himself is revealed and it makes the world a much less lonely place where we too as readers can be brave enough to reveal our own eccentric selves.

Reg said, "Most people think of the mind as being an intangible halo around their head, from which they call facts from the hot sponge in their skull. Like the brain is a bunch of liquid and dirty meat that keeps track, but the mind is this pristine glow that sees the track. But a recent theory is that the mind is Extended into legs and arms and maybe notes you write on the fridge, thinking's done within a yard. Your mind is in your fingers when you touch, in your local motion when you walk, there when you sniff. Which is why scent evokes memory." As Reg once said, "If your mind is in your head, why do you see everything outside, and not contemplate scenes inside?"
~~ Diskgrinder Tweets 2009

Art by Diskgrinder

Meeting a hermit
by Diskgrinder 2009

Back in the early eighties, when I was variously unemployed (an unemployed labourer, railway trackman, kitchen porter, painter) I met a man called Reg. He was an artist. He lived in Somerby, Rutland and refused electricity or gas, preferring instead to light his house with Gales honey jars filled with paraffin with a wick poked through the lid.

He was a mystic and a hippie,
which in eighties East Midlands bitter bleakosity was unwelcomed by most (remember that the Vale of Catmose is in the lee of Lincolnshire, flat panned reclaimed fens where the wind is directly funnelled from the Urals).

He was a fellow of the Royal Academy, and once drank an oak tree*** off a high shelf with Craig Martin.

His paintings were abstract, and fairly fucked philosophically by his insistence on parallels with eastern mysticism and overdo
sing on cough medicine. Had he referenced Lacan, structuralism and maybe the decentered self he could have been successful. As he claimed his inspiration came from Kundalini, Gurdjieff and kif, he was deeply unfashionable.

But still he had a kind of scrawny integrity
. He was a mountaineer, a painter and spliffster; a Barnsley ugly man with a feeling for colour, but no taste for the wank of art criticism.

I think he had a daughter, who lived in an inaccessible valley in Wales; inaccessible to him at least, as they were estranged.

***an oak tree: the text
reproduced by Ian Grant, Cambridge 8/7/2002 Michael Craig-Martin. An oak tree, 1973. In a room at Tate Modern there is a three-quarter full glass of water on a high shelf. It is a work by Michael Craig-Martin called An oak tree. Beside it there is the following text:

Q. To begin with, could you describe this work?
A. Yes, of course. What I've done is change a glas
s of water into a full-grown oak tree without altering the accidents of the glass of water.

Q. The accidents?

A. Yes. The colour, feel, weight, size ...

Q. Do you mean that the glass of
water is a symbol of an oak tree?
A. No. It's not a symbol. I've cha
nged the physical substance of the glass of water into that of an oak tree.

Q. It looks like a glass of water.

A. Of course it does. I didn't change its appearance. But it's not a glass of water, it's an oak tree.

Q. Can you prove what you've claimed to have done?
A. Well, yes and no. I claim to have maintained the physical form of the glass of water and, as you can see, I have. However, as one normally looks for evidence of physical change in term
s of altered form, no such proof exists.

Q. Haven't you simply called this glass of water an oak tree?

A. Absolutely not. It is not a
glass of water anymore. I have changed its actual substance. It would no longer be accurate to call it a glass of water. One could call it anything one wished but that would not alter the fact that it is an oak tree.

Q. Isn't this just a case of the emperor's new clothes?

A. No. With the emperor's n
ew clothes people claimed to see something that wasn't there because they felt they should. I would be very surprised if anyone told me they saw an oak tree.

Q. Was it difficult to effect the change?
A. No effort at all.
But it took me years of work before I realised I could do it.

Q. When precisely did the glass of water become an oak tree?

A. When I put the water in the glass.

Q. Does this happen every time you fill a glass with water?
A. No, of course not. Only wh
en I intend to change it into an oak tree.

Q. Then intention causes the change?
A. I would say it precipitates the change.

Q. You don't know how yo
u do it?
A. It contradicts what I feel I know about cause and effect.

Q. It seems to me that you are claiming to have worked a miracle. Isn't that the case?
A. I'm flattered that you think so.

Q. But aren't you the only person who can do something like this?

A. How could I know?

Q. Could you teach others to do it?
A. No, it's not something one can teach.

Q. Do you consider that changing the glass of water into an oak tree constitutes an art work?
A. Yes.

Q. What precisely is the art work? Th
e glass of water?
A. There is no glass of
water anymore.

Q. The process of change?

A. There is no process involved in the change.

Q. The oak tree?

A. Yes. The oak tree.

Q. But the oak tree only exists in the mind.
A. No. The actual oak tree is physically present but in the form of the glass of water. As the glass of water was a particular glass of water, the oak tree is also a particular oak tree. To conceive the category 'oak tree' or to picture a particular oak tree is not to understand and experience what appears to be a glass of water as an oak tree. Just as it is imperceivable it also inconceivable.

Q. Did the particular oak tree exist somewhere else before it took the form of a glass of water?
A. No. This particular oak tree did not exist previously. I should also point out that it does not and will not ever have any other form than that of a glass of water.

Q. How long will it continue to b
e an oak tree?
A. Until I change it.

As I understand it, this text is not in itself the work of art, so I am at liberty to reproduce it here. Ian Grant, Cambridge 8/7/2002

And that is the end of words about Reg. Let us now return to Diskgrinder.

The corporate world was taken by storm with David Allen's, "Getting Things Done," GTD strategies to ... well, get things done. Diskgrinder levels both his barrels on the GTD hype with this blog entry. Only those of us, like myself, who have spent hours and days playing with the GTD paper thingy can appreciate the humor.

Trouble fuck to-do list GTD taskpaper
As you all know. Each of you have your own spiky thorns in your metaphoric pants. Clearly, you need to divest yourselves of the spiky-thorn-pant thing. How should we do that? I hear you ask. In fact demand.

Here's my to-do list of GTD spiky-thorn-pant issue resolution:

* Download the latest GTD application to your iPhone

* Fiddle with that for about an ho
ur: set some contexts; pinch some overviews; swipe some goals; above all, do that lip-sucking typy touchscreen thing inputting all your to-dos in before you realise it syncs with OmniFracas

* Download OmniFracas

* Marvel at its intuitive interfac

* Don't open it for a month; shit, now it's expired

* Zero inbox your inbox

* Read every email in the trash

* Print out the tiny list paper foldy thing to-do list

* Realize you're not a twat

* Screw it up and throw it in the fire (if you wrote anything on it you will get a MOMENTARY sense of closure)

* Send yourself increasingly sweary post-dated emails

* Stack bills behind the biggest ornament you have on your mantelpiece


* Keep on keeping on

* Occasionally apologise for not havi
ng done whatever the fuck it was

Oh, and change your pants

Diskgrinder's rapier wit is not only directed outward at the frailties of mankind. He is not above making fun of himself. Music is another important aspect of his life that he shares with his boys. However, as father, as mentor, as comedian to his boys he also demonstrates the absurdity and humor that comes with the hobby of music. Sigh #4 is the fourth in a series of videos about a musician who takes himself far too seriously.

Diskgrinder's boys, his little chaps who call him "Dad-face," are central to his life. I envy the noisy, racuous, musical fun they have on the weekends they spend with him.

There is music, there are light sabers, there is giggling humor and 24 karat gold memories being laid down for the future...

There is all of that before it is time to say goodbye for another week.

Diskgrinder said that he hopes that his kids say one day, "I grew up in a house full of music."

Indeed, his boys will say that. And they will also say that they grew up in a house full of m
agic and full of love.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Jean-Jacques, The Travelosopher

"Small pieces of places and people embed themselves in our experiences as we continue through life. Returning as memories and thoughts, we are influenced and affected by them in various ways. The wider we roam, the more colourful is the evolution of the work of art which is us. We become the sum total of our experiences. Our hand in the process is the choices we make about the routes we take."

A Man on a Bicycle
Loosely based on an event in 2005. Names have been changed.

It’s a wind-blown Saturday afternoon in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A new restaurant called Ratz, with an international theme has opened on Bradbury Place. The display menu boasts a wide variety of exotic dishes from around the globe. The exterior has an attractive sand blown, glass fascia, with a world map etched large onto it. Above the door, a sign reads in bold italics: “Intercontinental Brasserie“.

I’m peering through the gap between Africa and Asia to have a look at the décor, when a voice next to me suddenly says: “Anything good on the menu?”

I turn to my left and stare into the crystal blue, inquisitive eyes of an unknown stranger. They belong to a man; who is middle aged and slightly dishevelled with longish, unkempt blonde hair and an unshaven, tanned and slightly wrinkled face. He’s wearing a two piece, dark blue rain suit and he’s pushing an over-used, blue bicycle. Over the handlebars hang an array of white, crinkled plastic bags, the contents unidentifiable.

“Oh, it looks pretty good” I decide to answer cautiously. “Not too sure about their prices though…”

“So where are you from”, he asks, with that familiar thick Belfast accent, the emphasis being on a slightly drawn out “you”.

“Southern Africa, originally.”

“From far away then” the man replies slowly and pensively. “Do you read much?”

It’s an out-of-blue question and I respond somewhat evasively, not too sure what to make of it. “Some. When I have the time”.

The man persists: “What is it that you like to read?”

After a flash mental scan I recall one or two books which I had recently more or less worked my way through. I decide to mention a philosophical novel and a popular psychology title - the type of reading you could find at any local charity store or high street book seller.

He listens attentively and I notice what seems to be a kind of perceiving, analysing quality to his gaze. Then, with a smile he says: “My name is Clarence, and what is yours“,

“They call me Jack around here.”

“Well, you sound quite well-read, Jack.”

“Clarence’s bicycle is blocking the way slightly and a well dressed, elderly couple steps around us, while carefully glancing him up and down. “Reading is just a hobby of mine, I guess,” I say.

“Oh, there are worse hobbies to have” says Clarence matter-of-factly. Have you ever heard of a book called “Time Journeys, a Search for Cosmic Destiny and Meaning?” It’s a good start to get you interested in physics and the possibilities of time travel. It’s by a man called Paul Halpern. Or, alternatively you could try “The Arrow of Time” by Peter Coveney and Roger Highfield. The tag line reads: “A voyage through science, in search of Time’s Greatest Mystery!”

Clarence becomes animated as he continues. “Think about this: Why is it that time moves forward, but not backwards? A slight pause. Did you know that Einstein once remarked: “The distinction between past, present and future is an illusion?” If so, Jack, should we consider time-reversibility a possibility?” Raised eye brows. “So, subjectively we interpret time as uni-directional, right? But, if the concept of chaos shows us that the future is open, it also points to the past being open, which means it would not result in an arrow of time.” Short pause. “So in theory we should be able to go back in time. Or maybe, we should ponder the possibility of a safety-mechanism having been built into the universe, to deny us from doing exactly that!”. Expectant look.

Slightly stumped, I say: “Erm, well, I couldn’t say, Clarence, but those are certainly very interesting points to ponder. I’ve always enjoyed a good read and a good think, but don’t really get much time for it these days.”

“Ah, a modern conundrum Jack, but life experience and reading are the keys to wisdom, and unlike experience, reading is free.” Clarence reaches into one of his plastic bags and brings out a pack of booklets with yellowish and blue covers, banded together. He removes one, returns the rest, turns the booklet over and starts scribbling something on the back with a blue ball point pen. “Now, if that’s down your alley, you might also want to seek out a book called “The Frontiers of Complexity” by Roger Highfield. It deals with how complexity relates to evolution, ecology and cosmology and even touches on artificial intelligence. Very insightful.

While speaking, Clarence jots down the titles and authors as he continues: “Another title worth mentioning is “Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey through parallel universes, time warps and the 10th dimension.” It’s all in the name. You can find it right here in the city library - in fact all of these books are there - this one is in the science category on the second floor, in the back aisle, it should be on the 3rd or 4th shelf, on the left - I think. It’s written by Michio Kaku, a Japanese writer”.

More people walk around us and Clarence moves his bike out of the way to prop it up against the wall, while using the seat to press on, as he continues. “But those are all very scientific, Jack. Equally interesting and depending on whether you have the time…” broad smile. “Aye, more on the human side of things, I could recommend “The Quark and the Jaguar.” It’s about human adaptive systems, like language, culture, creativity, consciousness… aspects of human learning systems which are constantly in a state of flux. There’s even a section on our world ecological dilemmas with questions about sustaining a future for the human race and the biosphere. For instance: Can man naturally re-adapt to a more harmonious balance with our planet? Considering how modernized and industrialized we have become? Quite topical wouldn’t you say.”

I’m about to respond to Clarence’s question, but our voices are drowned out by loud engine noises as a bus draws up. The now more blustery wind tugs at the hair and clothes of the disembarking passengers and causes leaves to roll and skid audibly along the pavement. A disposable paper cup lid, with a straw through it, lifts off, spirals upwards, gains altitude, and floats past us, then changes course to head up and away across the road. A couple of shops down from where we stand, in our direct line of sight, is a popular greasy spoon with heavenly smells of fried fish and chips. This and the gnawing hollowness in my stomach confirm my decision to cross the five meter divide to fast food gratification after our conversation. The Intercontinental Brassiere would have to wait for another day.

Some of the bus’ passengers enter The Plaice, the double-decker pulls off and Clarence’s voice becomes audible again: “…you ever heard of electro-acupuncture, bio-resonance and scenar, Jack?”

I shrug a definite no.

“Okay, now this is real ground breaking stuff. You can read about it in “Virtual Medicine.” Its an overview of how ancient practices such as Chinese acupuncture and others are now being harnessed and integrated with electronic technologies. So, these new devices are in effect cutting edge, virtual, and holistic healing systems - the perfect marriage of the traditional and the modern! Amazing, really. Here’s some background -Scenar was originally developed for the Russian space program and what it does is it teaches the body to heal itself by using what they call biofeedback. What’s astounding is that it can actually read the body’s energy and then help to predict or determine and also cure diseases. Now, until recently this might have been considered quite alternative or new age, but it’s all becoming mainstream. The researcher and author is a doctor by the name of Keith Scott-Mumby”

Clarence has filled an entire page by now and he turns the booklet over. “Here Jack, let me pose another question: Might there possibly be a link between quantum theory and consciousness? I mean, would you say that consciousness could possibly be scientifically explained or interpreted?”

I must be looking very perplexed, because Clarence says: “Oh aye - if you’re ready for a real paradigm shift, then read a book called “The Quantum Self.” The writer makes a case for quantum processes being directly responsible for our subjective awareness.” A long pause. “That one certainly got me thinking too. Well worth a read. Also, keep an eye out for her other book, “SQ: Connecting With Our Spiritual Intelligence.” She proposes that we all have a natural higher consciousness which may be laying dormant and unexplored within ourselves, and that the first steps towards activating it is to become much more self-aware of our place in the universe and our necessary interaction with nature.

“Could you please make a note of the author, Clarence?” I ask.

“Certainly, it’s by Danah Zohar.”

“I was thinking of getting dinner soon, Clarence. Would join me? We could continue our conversation over a meal and a mug of tea.”

Big smile. “Oh no, Jack. Thank you. I’m well fed and had something just before I left. I’m not going to keep you too long. I have a few more people to meet today, but let me jot a few more titles down.”

Moments pass as Clarence continues to make notes in the empty spaces on the third page of the booklet. “Before I forget, Jack. Since we’re on the subject of food, sea-food for that matter, I’ve got to mention “The Omega 3 Connection” by Andrew Stoll. I’m sure you’ve heard how fish oil is considered to be excellent brain food, but there’s much more to it. Omega 3 is the ticket to mental health, for anybody and everybody. It should be part of our regular staple diet and the research in this book proves it. Keeping in mind, that amongst other near magical traits, it has the ability to restrict Alzheimer’s from developing and has proven very effective in treating depression”.

“How long will you be in Ireland for, Jack?”

“Oh, it’s indefinite for the moment, Clarence. I haven’t decided yet.”

“Okay, there’s a book here in the library you simply shouldn’t miss out on. It’s called “Ingenious Ireland.” Mary Mulvihill took six years to put it together. It’s a fascinating county-by-county tour of the island of Ireland. It covers everything from history to inventions, mysteries and myths, fossils and discoveries and science! You’ll need to spend time with it though as it has about 500 pages.

Short pause. “Well, there you go Jack! So now you know exactly what to read on your travels. When we meet again, maybe you can suggest some reading material for me… and when you’re in a far-off destination next time, send me a post card, will ye? I’ll put my address down here for you.”

Realizing that our impromptu meeting is soon coming to an end, I say: “I definitely will Clarence and thanks a million for this, I mean it. It’s been absolutely fascinating.”

“No, no need to thank me Jack; this is just what I do - for the community, you know. I was diagnosed with a condition a long time ago, which might have affected my ability to lead a normal life. But, I was advised to read as much as I could, all the time, to help me focus my mind. It worked, Jack! It was my salvation and we don’t need to suffer from an ailment to read, do we? Besides, what we choose to focus on is what we become aware of…”

“Well, that’s me Jack! I’m off.” Clarence hands the booklet over and climbs on his bike. “All the best! Browse through the rest of that booklet when you get a chance. Everything you need to know about British Bonds is in there. The best returns for your money - and you stand a good chance of winning a prize every month too - I’ve won a few times!” he says looking back, as he cycles off on his way up University Avenue.

I turn the booklet over and see: “N&SI Premium Bonds, 50th anniversary. Pick up your Anniversary Prize Draw leaflets to find out more.”

As I turn to enter The Plaice I look at my watch and realize that an hour has passed. Inside I find a table close to the window and while watching passers-by, questions of random chaos and chance meetings dance on my mind.
All rights to text and photos are retained by Jean-Jacques, The Travelosopher, Cape Town, South Africa. Continue with excerpts of his adventures here on Cloister Voices and visit his websites, Gypsy Cafe: The Travelosopher's Home, and Travelosophy.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Call for Papers

Scientific journals bulge with announcements for a "call for papers" so that scientists around the world can raise their heads from test tubes and standard deviation calculations and share their latest work with their colleagues around the world.

As a chemist, I've always been most interested in reading about the first stages of research where the final answer is not known yet and where hope and exhilaration of "the thrill of the hunt" activates the mind and imagination.

Cloister Voices would also like to announce a "call for papers" of another kind, an investigation into our memories of catalytic encounters with unusual people. When and where did you meet someone unique who provided you with synchronistic synergism enough to excite the electrons of your life into a higher orbital, perhaps even to the point where your life began to glow.

Please share these stories with Cloister Voices by submitting them to cloistervoices at gmail dot com.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Jeff, the Urban Hermit

I try to commit most of my time toward activities which help me seek and know God ever more deeply and intimately. Having a sit spot is just one way to facilitate these vital activities. And I encourage you, if you don't already, to have a sit-spot too.
Jordan River Sit Spot - Winter View

Well, here is the ole' sit spot, down by the Jordan River. It has quite a different look as compared to last October or even just last month, with the bare, grey limbs and grass pressed down by the snow.

With the much colder temperatures, the river looks thick and slow, much like molasses on a ... well you know. And it's a bit lower in level too.

It was especially fun to watch a small flock of Canadian Geese doing their early morning patrol, single file, along the opposite shoreline. First they went up stream (to the right in the picture) and then returned down stream. I was pleasantly surprised to find a small muskrat hiding in the wake of the Geese patrol. I didn't see it until the patrol took the turn in the river (on left side of the picture above). The little muskrat continued swimming straight on to the middle of the river, with its scrawny little serpentine tail following behind. It then made a slight upward leap and dove down into the water.

A little bit later, the mallard duck started to paddle down stream with his mate close behind. His loud, course quacks echoing off the muddy, snow covered banks. The breeze then started to pick up, getting cold and cutting, and snow started to fall. So I took the hint and headed for my warm home and a hot cup of tea.
A Sit Spot (also known as a Secret Spot) is simply a place to go in the woods, or even your back porch, and sit. It doesn’t have to be all that special to start with. You make it special, and secret, by sitting in it – time after time.
Many folks expect a hermit to be a reclusive eccentric. Others have an expectation that a hermit is some type of lone guru sitting atop a mountain peak, a holder of deep spiritual insight and understanding of the meaning of life. The reality of what a hermit is - is probably just as varied as the individuals who have found themselves leading such a life.

Some hermits have "retired from society" for religious and other reasons, such as myself. Some hermits are even declared as such by Canon Law (603) - I am not. Also, please do not assume that a hermit avoids all other human contact. This is not true. Since I currently live in an urban setting, I am an "urban" hermit. Simple.

All rights to text and photos are retained by Jeff, The Urban Hermit. Continue with excerpts of his adventures here on Cloister Voices and visit his websites, "Urban Sit Spot" and "a bond-servant's journal."

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Andy & Mel, Tandem Highland Hermits

"We chose to leave bricks & mortar behind
and decided to buy a secondhand bus (£900) and convert it ourselves."

Andy had already been on the road for many years and lived in various vehicles from buses to trucks to caravans, benders, and boats; but, by far his favorite is the old bus with all her grumpy ways that he now shares with Mel. In "Hitting the Road," Andy writes about the moment when the open road called to him and he answered, "Yes, I'd love to."


I woke up with Craig, my Collie, licking my face. (who needs an alarm clock?) After a couple of minutes playing with him, I crawled out of the sleeping bag and looking out the front flap, I could see it was going to be another really warm day. It felt so good not to have to rush off to work.

I got a cup of coffee on the go and sorted some food out for Craig. Sitting there fag in one hand, coffee in the other was complete bliss. Through the trees I could see the service station was really busy so shouldn't have any trouble blagging a lift. Around mid-day I decided to get everything packed away and head up the road to who knows where. I cleared all the surrounding area where I had camped, threw the rucksack up and over, and headed over to the service station.

I left my rucksack with Craig, tied up by the door so I could keep an eye on them both and headed inside to get a good breakfast. (Well a breakfast anyway so bloody expensive and not too tasty).

I was sitting by the window tucking in, when I saw a group of the dirtiest looking sods walk up to the door and pat Craig. I thought one of them was going to look inside the rucksack. I was just about to get up, when they all headed inside the door leaving Craig to settle back down by the bag.

I turned to see someone standing beside me, asking me if that was my dog. He offered me a fag and I sat down again and had a really good chat. I learned that they were all on there way to a festival at Reading and Mark asked me if I wanted to come with them. I hesitated a wee while then said, "Yes, I would love to."

We all headed across the tarmac to a coach.(Mark's bus and home). Walking up the stairs I can only say I was blown away. It seemed like hundreds of people were laying around drinking and smoking. (Hash as I was to find out later; I was totally straight at that time.)

Mark climbed into the driver's seat, and starting telling me more about the trouble he was having with loss of power with the bus. After an hour, I had tightened up an injector pipe and some other stuff and the bus was running really well.

We pulled out of the service station and headed out onto the motorway. Sitting by Mark at the front of the bus, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was okay to travel with this lot. Looking back now, I am so happy to have met everyone at that service station. My life would never be the same, EVER AGAIN.

All rights to text and photos are retained by Andy & Mel. Continue with excerpts of their travels here on Cloister Voices and visit their website, "The BlackBus."