Bellerophon symbol, variation 7
Saturday 1st November 2014

AJEOL visitation

Sunday 2nd November 2014

The annual Blackpool trip

Wednesday 5th November 2014

Fireworks, sparklers and a shutter speed too fast
I can't recall who (it doesn't matter) but one of the boys pointed out how few pictures there were from last years' fireworks. Was this a veiled criticism or just an innocent observation? So, anyway . . . trying to make up for last year, I took a few more photos. With the sparklers (can I start a sentence with 'with'?!), we were trying to make words . . . maybe 'love', maybe 'pop' . . . it looks like my shutter speed was slightly too fast though and possibly we were actually trying to spell out 'lveo'. Ah well. Maybe next year.

Saturday 15th November 2014

Stars, Orion and da moooooooooooon

I can't believe it - they're moving the goal posts again
IMG_20141115_110146.jpgSee, this is what annoys me about Twitter . . . and maybe I'm being hopelessly egotistical here, but here we go: the vast amount of time that I'm Tweeting, it's just rubbish, of no real relevance. And yet occasionally, there's something important. So . . . here's an example (see picture to the right and blog title). And I tweet this and I get one favourite (thanks, Pete!), which is nice but I'm thinking, "Surely this deserves more, doesn't it?!" And deep down I know this: if I'm ever there at the downfall of a government / society / civilisation . . . taking pictures, tweeting, etc. . . . the same will happen. I have had retweets but for the most strangest things. What are the rules?!

Nicky Nook

Sunday 16th November 2014

Sunset at Arnside

Friday 21st November 2014

Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery, Day 1
My confirmation email receipt thingy said that I was expected at 6pm. I set off (with my tiny little Toyota hire car) from home at about . . . oh, I don't know . . . half past two? Something like that. However, when I got to Lockerbie I suddenly realised (I had actually realised before but only acted on this realisation once at Lockerbie) that I had, like, no cash on me. I was due to stay at a Tibetan / Buddhist in the middle of nowhere, so they were unlikely to take Visa Debit payments (how wrong I was!). So yeah . . . I stopped at some kind of community hall thing on the outskirts of Lockerbie and said to my sat-nav, "MOFFAT", as it looked kind of nearby. Sat-nav was a bit like, "Who?!" so I just set off anyway, as there weren't many roads to choose and Moffat was sign-posted. I got to Moffat, parked the car right outside the Balmoral Hotel, withdraw some cash and went for a coffee at a café that was just about to close (oh, and a slice of this peppermint / chocolate slice thing . . . mmmmm, gorgeous).
I don't know what time I got to the monastery. Phone records would suggest 17:42, at which point the sun had long since gone down. I knew the car park was located outside of the main monastery area, but didn't realise that the walk from the car park to the monastery would be almost entirely devoid of any kind of lighting. There were two or three people ahead of me making the same journey, so I kind of followed them, using my mobile phone torch app (incredibly useful in these circumstances). I'll probably say this again and again but if thinking of going to this place (especially in autumn / winter): take a torch!
Anyway . . . as the outlying buildings appeared, I lost the people I was following, who might not have been heading to the reception anyway. In hindsight, the site was actually quite small and easily navigated during daylight, but hey . . . After a little wandering around, I found the reception and joined the queue of people signing in. There were about 7 or 8 people in front of me. 5 / 10 minutes later, I was given my key: room 5, Tashi Deleg house. The monk who served me informed me that supper was served from 6pm to 7pm and that the meditation course was due to begin at 7pm in the main temple. The monk dude gave me a little map (on the other side of which was an agenda / timetable of all the things happening over the weekend), scribbling on line and arrows relating where we were to where I need to be. I think it would have been about 18:20 by then, so I realised I better get a move on.
'Supper' was served in this main dining area, which was the same area used for breakfast, lunch, dinner. One thing that the monk forgot to mention but which I either knew about already or else figured out: take your shoes off before entering temples and/or eating areas. So yeah . . . supper was a case of: grab a plate / bowl, grab some cutlery and then help yourself to whatever pots of soup have been salvaged from the lunch-time meal. Which possibly sounds a bit negative, but isn't necessarily. There were two kinds of soup, but hardly any of either were left by the time I got there. I think it was lentil and vegetable in one pot and . . . god knows . . . something else vegetarian in the other. There was no meat. There was also no water. No coffee. I repeat: no coffee. There was no coffee. There was hot water and tea bags but no coffee. There was no coffee. These are not necessarily negative things, but just things to bear in mind. The tap water was potable, and there was coffee on-site (at a cost; from the café) but not nearly as plentiful as the bags of tea. Anyway, the soup was good; very filling and wholesome. Plus there were plenty of spicy sauces and condiments to flavour where necessary, not that it really was.
I went back to my room, possibly got changed, freshened up, did some unpacking . . . blah, blah, blah. A word or two about the accommodation. My experiences were based on a single room in Tashi Deleg house. Upon the bed were laid out, neatly folded: pillow cases, a mattress cover and a duvet cover. Guest were expected to make their own bed and return used linen to the laundry room prior to checking-out. Also provided was a small hand towel. I wish I had known that, about the hand-towel, and then I could have brought my own bath towel but hey . . . no problem. So yeah . . . the room was basic. The radiator thermostat was off, which didn't help. Guest are expected to turn on the thermostat if they require (which at this time of the year is pretty much a given!) and turn off when they leave, so as to keep their heating costs down.
So yeah . . . where was I? Possibly the accommodation. Well, see, the thing about the accommodation and the food at Samye Ling is that it seemed correct for the environment. This is a Buddhist retreat where you're there . . . well, for all manner of reasons, I guess . . . I was there to learn about meditation. I wasn't expecting lavish food and accommodation and it would have seemed wrong had that been the case. Imagine a friend or close relative has been involved in a car accident and you go visit them in hospital (perhaps they've broken a leg and suffered cuts and bruises); you wouldn't say to them, "So, anyway, do you have that £5 you owe me? It's just that, you know . . . I'm a bit short at the moment. It'll make all the difference." It would seem inappropriate. To turn up at a Buddhist retreat and whinge about the food / accommodation would likewise be inappropriate (of course, up to a point!). The food was fine and the accommodation was fine, and that's all there that needs to be said.
I got to the main temple thing at about 18:55, took my shoes off, and found a seat near the back. I reckon there were about 60 people there. There we met our 'tutor' (?!), a Glaswegian nun based at Samye Ling, who had been there for about 30 years. I didn't quite catch her name . . . Anu? Ani? Not sure. Google to the rescue . . . Ani Lhamo, previously Edith Hope -
Ani spent a long time explaining the set-up of Samye Ling, the rules, where things are and the timetable for the weekend. By her own admission, she over-ran a bit, as she had been hoping to do some meditation with us, but time didn't really allow that. Not that it really mattered . . . she was one of those people who had that effortless confidence and manner to talk for hours on end whilst engaging their audience. Perhaps she also had experience on her side. Maybe she had delivered this talk many times. Whatever . . . Anyway, at the end, she suggested that we say hello to at least one person we don't know. And so I came to know another Glaswegian, Margaret, who was sat in the row in front of me. I don't think I really spoke to Margaret much after that. She was probably thinking, "What is that moustache thing?" Movember . . . So yeah . . . I made my excuses and went back to my room, reading for a while and then getting an early night. Well, that was not before popping back to my car to collect my sleeping bag. Thereby adding to the list of important things to bring: sleeping bag, coffee, meat, torch.

Saturday 22nd November 2014

Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery, Day 2
IMG_20141122_074750.jpgThat picture on the right was taken at about 07:47. Ani had informed us that breakfast is served at 7am and the general rule with meals: get there early, otherwise all the good stuff would be gone. So I probably got there just before 7am. Took my boots off, joined the queue. Breakfast was this: wheat biscuit like things, various other grain-based breakfast cereals . . . sunflower seeds, mixed dried fruit, chopped dates, milk . . . loads of fresh fruit. My kind of breakfast, basically . . . but just missing one vital ingredient: coffee. Where the hell was the coffee?! There was other stuff I wasn't really interested in: a vat of porridge and some strange biscuit things that I didn't understand. See, I had managed to get through Friday evening thinking that the lack of coffee (but prevalence of tea) could be some kind of . . . anomaly, mistake, omission or something. An exception, basically. Whilst the tea drinkers were gathering their tea bags and paying homage to the dispenser of boiling water I spotted it: a cafetiere with about a mug's worth of coffee in it, sat on the table, ignored and lonely. I think the people who got in my way at that point have largely recovered and have gone on to lead relatively normal lives (apparently) . . . christ, lacking so much in iron and protein they could scarcely put up much of a fight anyway, but I digress . . . I reached the cafetiere, grabbed a mug from the shelf below and was just about to pour when a voice inside said, "Check the temperature." The cafetiere was stone cold. Stone cold. How long had it been there? I hurled the cafetiere in rage at . . . no, of course I didn't. I put it down slowly and deliberately, my heart pounding. I stepped over the prone, tea-drinking hippies and vegetarians, put my boots on, tucked the laces into my socks and got the hell out of there. Times like this you realise: physiological addictions . . . if I have any, it's caffeine and sugar and that's it.
P1020453.JPGP1020454.JPGP1020455.JPGP1020457.JPGP1020458.JPG So anyway, back to the course . . . Today was the main day for the "Introduction to Meditation Course" It all kicked off at 10am. So after breakfast, I had the opportunity for a shower and a wander around the site, to get my bearings and stuff. Back in the temple . . . I think I sat in the same place, or near enough. Ani acknowledged that there were a lot of us, more than they were expecting, so they had had to move the partition in order to turn the two rooms into one. The temple essentially has three main rooms, but two of these could be split into a single room, as was the case here. We were shown into the third room on Sunday. P1020459.JPG So yeah . . . we started with several 'breathing exercises' which were basically warm-ups for the meditation proper. There was an exercise involving breathing in for the count of five, pausing for five and then breathing out for a count of five. Ani explained that five was an arbitrary number. Maybe four, maybe six. Also . . . a lot of explanation was required as to our posture. All very important. I'm trying to think what the other breathing exercises were . . . something to do with negativity and a gate in deep space representing a place to transform bad things into the 'golden light of . . . erm . . . good things.' I dunno. Perhaps I wasn't paying too much attention, but I neglected to understand the point / benefit of these breathing exercises. More fool me.
P1020460.JPGP1020462.JPG When we got onto the topic of meditation proper, Ani summarised it thus: "Not dwelling on the past, not inviting in the future . . . but not thinking about the present either." But how to achieve this? I think during the afternoon Ani went over various meditations to facilitate this, primarily by maintaining concentration on a single object, be it an inane pebble, the sensation of breath going in and out or whatever. The point was: you think about nothing but the object that you've fixated upon and if you get distracted . . . you gently escort the mind back to your fixation object. And that was it, really.
IMG_20141122_135156.jpgP1020463.JPGDuring the two and a half hours over lunch I was like, "Yeah, let's wander over to Eskdalemuir, it being barely 1.25 miles away." I spotted all these signs for some kind of 'prehistoric trail', which was kind of collaborated by stuff on my phone-based OS map, but nothing could be found of interest. On the way, I passed some kind of 'community café' thing in Eskdalemuir and made a mental note. I popped in on the way back, hoping I could grab a quick coffee and cake before heading back for the afternoon session. What I stepped into, though, was a bit more . . . well, like a restaurant, really. All the tables were decked out in wine glasses and napkins. When the 14 year old boy asked if I would like a table, I was a bit taken a-back . . . "Erm. Could I just have a coffee, if that's okay?" He sat me down and asked if I would like a menu. Yeah, why the hell not?! 10 minutes later, my coffee turned up, during which time I had assessed: I had walked in effect 15 minutes (if that) to get here, there was a dinner menu (featuring meat!) and this place was licensed. Cogs were beginning to turn in my head. "What time are you open till tonight?" I asked. "Our first reservations are for 8pm but we'll be open until about 10pm . . . 11pm. Whatever, really. But I better just check. Just bear with me." Anyway . . . time was getting on. When the waiter returned with the facts, I paid my bill and headed back.
P1020464.JPGYeah . . . so anyway. Something struck me: the ordinary person staying at a Buddhist / Tibetan retreat to learn about meditation might be very interested in a meat-serving, licensed restaurant located about 15 minutes walk from their place of abode, but more on that later . . .
The afternoon session involved some more meditation exercises . . . I forget exactly what, which is a bit annoying. I noticed this dude in front of me was taking notes which, in hindsight, was probably a damn fine idea. Something to add to the list: pen and paper for note taking. Anyway, yeah . . . due to the fantastically good weather, Ani suggested some 'walking meditation'. We went outside and Ani explained how this works: you basically clasp your hands together across your stomach and walk as slower as you are able, balancing on one foot for as long as possible or as feels appropriate. The key thing is, as before, we're just thinking about the walking, the moving and nothing else. I guess anything becomes a form of meditation when the mind is resting, not dwelling on the past, not inviting in the future and not thinking about the present. That was the recurring theme. At the end of it all, Ani announced, "So, go out there. You've earned whatever indulgences you have planned tonight," or something to that effect. She mentioned indulgence and and the sense of these indulgences having been earned on account of all our meditation done today. Well, I don't know . . . that's how I understood it anyway.
I didn't bother with supper. At about 18:40 (or thereabouts), I wandered back to the Eskdalemuir community café thing for some dinner. I used my phone in such a manner that I was barely illuminating the ground two or three metres in front, thereby minimising battery usage. I managed to get down to 2% battery usage for a 15 minute walk in near pitch black conditions. I thought that was pretty good going. So I got there and it was a bit weird. The café was open in the sense that one could walk into the building and wander around but the main restaurant area . . . well, all the chairs were on the tables and the shutter was down in the 'window' separating seating area from kitchen. The chef and his assistant were busy cleaning up in the kitchen. I kinda thought, "Well, this is weird . . . " I tried wandering around, opening and shutting doors, trying to get attention . . . all to no avail. I stood for a little bit by the glass door leading into the kitchen, hoping to get someone's attention but . . . again, nothing. However, there was a part of me thinking, "I don't wanna look too desperate here." So yeah . . . bit weird. I took a note of their phone number and vaguely headed back towards the retreat. Five minutes into my journey I rang them. Ironically, the phone was answered after one or two rings. I arranged for a table at about 19:45 and . . . well, long story short . . . eventually enjoyed a fantastic meal of some kind of game terrine thing for starter, roe deer steak for main, all washed down by cider and wine and a Cointreau coffee thing. Sadly, I was only joined there by a party of four, who I think may have also been at the retreat, doing the same course (couldn't say for sure). It was a quiet night, and it was a Saturday night. Close to the point where I was leaving, the waitress told me that two blokes were in the bar area who were also staying at the retreat. I thought, "Yeah, why the hell not?" and thought I would say hello. When I got there . . . gone. They were gone. Ah well . . . and so I wandered back.

Sunday 23rd November 2014

Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery, Day 3
P1020466.JPGP1020468.JPGP1020470.JPGP1020471.JPGSo yeah . . . I had to check out today. Check out was by 11am. And, yeah . . . we had to take our dirty linen to the laundry, which was in the same building block as Tashi Deleg, so not really far to go. During the morning session (from 10am to 12:30), P1020472.JPGAli took us to the main temple and explained a lot about Buddhism and all the ephemera arranged around the temple, the statues, the decorations, the gongs . . . everything. All very interesting. I'm not even sure if we did much meditation . . . if we did, it was only briefly.
P1020473.JPGP1020474.JPGP1020475.JPGThere was an afternoon session (from 2pm through to 16:30 or thereabouts), but I felt like I had received enough meditation tuitions . . . all was right with the world, so now was the right time to head back. I took a slightly different journey back, going via Langholm. Really, this wasn't actually going out of my way . . . sat-nav should have given this route as an option, as there wasn't really much in it . . . going via Moffat or Langholm, so yeah . . . Those last two pictures there were taken in Langholm, as I had been gathering a few pebbles as per Ani's recommendations: the most blandest, non-descript, dull pebbles you can find. I had some chilli-con-carne at the Crown Hotel, which was fantastic. I've eaten here a few times now. Love it.

Sunday 30th November 2014

spontaneous chiral symmetry