Saturday, 12 August 2017

The Willful Walks of Russell C.J Duffy - Book 2 - The Whispering of Grass (Chapter 5) - REVISED

*Selling England by the Pound* - *Crows with Creases* - *A Mind Like a Leaking Bath* -   *Buddha and Ego *

Stambridge to Sutton, or rather Sutton with Shopland to give it its full title, is 4 point 6 miles give or take. The roads that lead from one village to another are winding. At one stage you leave the bliss of the countryside behind you as take to the noise of the major roads that form part of the journey.

The tarmac black roads slice through the lush green fields creating a thin, winding ribbon that is probably of interest to passing birds and anything airborne. The level land lends itself to a marshy resilience being so close to waterways, rivers and such but also its close proximity to the Thames estuary means water features large here.

I haven't walked much of late. My old partner-in-crime, Smudge, has left this earth and is now walking where dead dogs tread. Maybe there is a canine heaven and he'd make one heck of a canine angel. He and I walked a lot. Smudge had got to the stage where, still a puppy at heart, he and I would walk for miles. In truth, he never accompanied me on these walks as he was still too young. A puppy dog, like a child I guess, would damage their legs and joints if allowed to walk over long distances. The only difference between a human child and a canine pup is that the pup wouldn't want the shoulder carry.

My reasons for not maintaining these walks isn't just because dear Smudge has popped his clogs. I just haven't been in the right frame of mind to but my mind now, largely due to meditation, is on the mend which makes my mind sound like an old tin bath with far too many holes in it. An appropriate metaphor perhaps.

Anyway, enough of that. Life, the living of it, should always be held in balance with death. The latter is inescapable and the former too short not to enjoy so I intend to do just that. 

Now, where was I? Oh, yes, Sutton with Shopland. There are only 135 people living in this tiny village. By that I mean Sutton, Shopland is, or rather was an even smaller hamlet that used to nestle neighbourly next to Sutton. In 1933 the two neighbours merged and then in 1957, following bombing damage to Shopland's church inflicted during World War 2, St. Mary Magdalene was demolished. This spirit of St.  Mary Magdalene now resides within the walls of Sutton's, All Saint's Church. Once though, Sutton was a flourishing village which had a regular market and even boasted an annual fayre. Now it is mostly farmland with two industrial parks at each end of a road that stretches from the Rochford to Southend. The church is of Norman build. 

To get to Sutton from Stambridge I have had to walk through Rochford. There may be short cuts, there almost certainly are, but I do not know of them. Rochford is much the same as it was the last time I wrote about it, a little run down, a little in need of a lick of paint. The very old buildings still lean against each other like midnight drunks leaving the pub. They seem to be supporting each other.

It is Tuesday so the market fills the square. It is an unremarkable market selling cheap and cheerful goods from DVD's to shoes to articles of clothing none of which appeals to me.

My route has taken me from Ashingdon church to Canewdon church to Pagleshams then onto Stambridge. Today I pass by Rochford church, another St. Andrews, as the path I am taking leads me first to Sutton.

The old Police Station has been closed, put up for sale and subsequently sold. Neoliberalism gone mad. We now have insufficient police officers patrolling our streets but don't despair, property developers will benefit as the building will be turned into prime residential homes. It looks a sorry sight now with its windows boarded up.

Way back, possibly the late fifties, there was a cattle market in Rochford. The bovine beasts were herded across the railway lines into the centre of town where the market still exists. Nowadays the market remains but no longer with livestock nor saddlers or candle makers.

Next, I pass The Horse and Groom pub then the fire station.  The pub still attracts punters sitting, as it does opposite the pond where the geese once attacked Squid, Tweezil and me. I rushed to defend my girls only to face an unprecedented and vicious attack by these lovely looking animals. It is surprising how aggressive they were.

Now there was Norah Trott a lady murdered back in 1978. Norah owned a boutique in North Street, Rochford. The name of the shop was Felicity Jane. The shop was no great shakes. The clothes it sold were typical of the customers it sought to attract - conservative. Norah's death though was a shock to the local community especially as the town, populated by working folk, is small with hardly a blemish to its name, certainly not murder. Norah's body was found in Ship Lane where it was self-evident Norah had been battered to death. The only clue regarding the murder was that a young, thin man was seen running from the scene. Fingerprints were taken and house to house enquiries was made but all to no avail. Whoever the killer was he had got off scot free. At least he thought he had until 2005, some thirty-seven years later, when Wayne Doherty, having been arrested on a drink-drive offence then after having his DNA taken was identified as the killer. He was 50 years old.

I have said before how attractive I find old churches. Once you walk inside there is a quiet, a stillness that somehow is akin to meditation, a sort of beatitude that fills the mind lifting the spirit. I can imagine sitting in here, in this ancient old building seeking mindfulness. 

Staring at the glass window, a replacement I feel for some long broken historical pane even if the stonework is original, the more a sense of calm fills me. The window is the frame through which the sky can be seen, the fields and beyond. Perhaps I could sit here in quiet contemplation with that window to gaze through.

The architecture is beautiful with a beauty defined by the age it was built in. The pointed window frame with the floral apertures below. The three sections led crisscrossed to let in a suffused light into the hall beyond. You can imagine some child, some urchin of the past, turning their head mid hymn to gaze out the enchanting glass to the surrounding land beyond.

The ghost of St. Mary Magdalene following the demolition of the church in 1957, a bunch of volunteers have worked tirelessly to restore the churchyard if not the church building. "Until September 2013, Shopland Churchyard was in an impenetrable state of disrepair. An enthusiastic group of local volunteers have worked tirelessly to restore the site as a Garden of Reflection and a Centre of Learning to ensure that local history is preserved. Our intention is to maintain the site for the many generations to come."

This enterprise seems sound. There is most definitely something vital in preserving local history and the faith it represents becomes almost immaterial in that preservation. It doesn't matter the faith or religion. What matters is we should retain a connection to our roots. 

Mary Magdalene, or Mary Magdala as more likely, has long been overlooked by the Christian orthodoxy. There is no mention of her gospels within the King James Bible and, as far as I know, no representation of it anywhere within the Catholic faith. However, Mary Magdalene was a disciple, that is one of the hundred or so individuals who followed the man we now call Jesus. Her gospel is brief but still significant. It is also worth noting that rather than cast Mary as a repentant prostitute she is one of those disciples early Christian's would have held in high esteem.

The tiny fragments found of Mary's Gospel's were found in Egypt in 1896 near Achmim. The first version is in Coptic. Note, not in Greek nor Hebrew but in Egyptian Arabic.  The various translations of the Bible suffered massively from being altered, amended and censured. When scholars speak of things Theological it is worth asking them if they have read the original scriptures for to do so would mean understanding Hebrew, Egyptian Arabic and or Greek. It is also worth noting that Jesus loved Mary more than any other disciple. Not with a physical love but spiritual and even considered her worthy to receive special teaching.

I leave the church with its Norman architecture and history as I explore the graveyard but also the area surrounding this property. The first point of interest is the gravestone seen below. 

Death. The final frontier or the return to the eternal? It isn't death that concerns me but loss of loved ones. I cannot bear to think losing any of my children especially should they die before me. I think that outcome would drive me to despair far more than my own demise.

Here I am surrounded by the reminder of death. The gravestones tumbled and crumbling hold sway over the intellect. All they are are whispers of a life lived, of a shell releasing the energy they once contained. 

From outside the resemblance to St. Andrews in Ashingdon is notable. The two churches have their differences but the historical similarities are striking even though St. Andrews is the older therefore not of Norman design. I guess it is much like modern day cars, they all look much the same be they American European or of the Far East.

Image courtesy of

These walks, part local interest, part spiritual sojourn, are wonderfully healing. My sense of spirituality owes nothing to the supernatural but everything to the poetry that exists between mother earth, humankind and the universe beyond. It is the understanding of our place within that vastness, that grounding of self, the removal of the ego. Easier said than done. As I proceed I am learning a deal more about where I live and have for the past forty years.

The ego. The self. What is that exactly, the self? Is it not just a series of memories? Countless projections received from innumerable sources? Familial, societal, the media, the length of time we have existed. Our collective memories stored. Projections passed down then gratefully received. The memory, a thing thousands of years old, has accumulated so much stuff, so much of it unwanted, unneeded yet still, we cling to our belief in the self. And the voice in the mind, the one we all have had constantly chirruping away, that compulsive chattering. To silence the mind is to discover joy. To be free of those incessant thoughts, we all have them, racing through our minds unbidden leads to enlightenment. 

"A man asked Lord Buddha - "I want happiness." Lord Buddha said first remove "I" that is ego. then remove "Want," that is desire. See now you are left with only "Happiness."

Now my walk takes me to the furthest out reach of what I think of as my manor. That term is one as used by Cockneys when talking about the area they live in. I do not own Rochford District surprisingly enough but you know what I mean. Next, Barling Magna and Great Wakering.

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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