The Heart(h) Of The Home

This is my final day at Talliston House and Gardens thanks to the Essex Book Festival. (I mean, it is thanks to the Essex Book Festival that I am here at all, not thanks to them that it is the last day). I have spent quite a lot of time in the kitchen which, to me, is often the heart of the home. At Talliston, the kitchen is New Orleans in 1954 and this is where Joe, in the book, is catapulted through the portal in the Labyrinth after he has been to the Welsh Watchtower. This all makes LOADS more sense if you actually come here. I’m not entirely sure that I have done the house justice, and the level of work and devotion that is poured into the place. Hemmingway said that the only way to write about a place is to leave it, so maybe I’ll get a whole different view of it once I am back home again.

Some things are hard to capture with words. Many of the things that are most important to humans have only the vaguest of words to communicate them with. If you think about the really huge things – love, courage, meaning, purpose, solidarity, soul, spirit, community – the words don’t really do them justice. Instead, we have them put to us in terms of statistics and monetary value, ways that make us feel that we don’t all have a stake in the most important things in life. I love the Winnie the Pooh quote, that travels its way around social media, where Piglet asks Pooh how to spell love and Pooh replies that you don’t spell it, you feel it. This house has a lot of love in it and the glory is that it is shared by, and with, each person that steps foot in here, it’s not hoarded like a dragon sitting on some massive love hoard and belting people down if they step over the threshold. The truth is that when you leave a place, you carry it with you. People also leave a presence in a place when they are no longer there.

As with all things that are pretty gorgeous, it’s not just done and that’s it. The work is continuous. There are a whole team of people devoted to this house because it represents so much more than bricks and mortar and an extraordinary tale to tell. So many people have poured their hard work and loyalty into this house and you can feel it. As Ursula Le Guin says so beautifully, ‘Love doesn’t just sit there like a stone, it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.’ Each person leaves their mark, as it were, and I hope I leave a positive trail behind. I have actually hidden some little clay friends around the house as new playmates for the Roman Gods, Greek Gods, Pan, Papa Legba, Owls, Ships, Bees, Eagles, Bears and the plethora of delights that fill every space and who knows if they will be found any time soon. Around the house is also to be found alchemical script which, when translated, means ‘Absolute Excess In Total Moderation.’ I’ll leave you with that one…

The alchemical script around the house does chime with our need to find a new language to live our lives by as we emerge from this peculiar last year. It feels as though we all need a system upgrade, a new language where everyone puts their hand under the stone. A new language that involves way more listening to each other, to the world around us and within us and a deep listening to all of the spaces in between for that is where the magic lies. We have fallen into a binary narrative – left/right, black/white, capitalism/communism – when, in truth, there are many different ways and there is definitely a gentler, less divisive way that sails through the middle of the very binary narrative that we are being fed. Talliston might seem like a nuts thing to do but it is so much more than that. It is showing another way of living that celebrates the genius in everyone. It celebrates people working together and rejoicing in difference and to consider the wisdom that we each have to offer. There are many levels of learning to be had here and, like any good story, you can take it at the level that you wish at any particular time. Personally, Talliston, and John and Marcus, make me want to be the best version of myself and to be of service in my finest form. As John would say, ‘What’s the alternative?’

From tomorrow, April 12th, the world starts to open its doors once more. I have no idea how that is going to work, a relief for some, a dread and fear for others and a mixture of the two for most I believe. There are several good things that will definitely be happening and that is that the book shops will be open, we might be able to hang around in small groups and tell stories and Talliston House and Gardens will be flinging open its doors once more. At Talliston you can come for a guided tour which I can absolutely guarantee will be like no other guided tour you will, and have, ever been on. I have saved the best for last and that is Marcus, who is the host with the most. You can have tea prepared by Marcus or a meal cooked and served along with a huge dose of laughter and kindness. You can come and stay here for a night, two nights, however long you like I’m guessing. You can hold book groups here, parties, fancy dress. You think of it and I am pretty sure that Talliston will accommodate. You will probably go back home and be inspired to create a spacestation in the bathroom. After a year of rest, Talliston is itching to welcome people back over the threshold and through the many portals. It comes with a warning, however, this place is addictive and once you have been, I imagine that it is hard not to return. I will be bidding a fond farewell to my lovely cedar cabin but I have a feeling that it won’t be too long before I am back again.

I just leave you with a final bit of wisdom from Arthur K. Watson – ‘Show me a man with both feet on the ground, and I’ll show you a man who can’t put his pants on.’

Oh and the Japanese 7 Lucky Gods who sit in the conservatory which is Japan in 2283…

EBISU – Represents prosperity, abundance of food, patron of fishermen, represented in a fisherman’s costume;

DAIKOKUTEN -God of prosperity, abundance of crop. He is shown standing on two bales of rice, holding a wooden hammer;

BISHAMONTEN – Patron of military men, he is represented carrying a weapon and a magic pagoda;

BENAZITEN = Goddess of fine arts, patron of painter, writers, dancers, geisha, all entertainers;

FUKUROKUJU -God of learning, wisdom and luck. Also patron of chess players;

JUROJIN – God of the elderly and longevity, recognised by his distinctive long skull and white beard;

HOTEI – God of family harmony and happiness, guardian protector of children.

So now you know…

The Essex Labyrinth

A Labyrinth is not a Maze and a Maze is not a Labyrinth. That took me years to work out. A Maze is a puzzle to be solved, it is designed to confuse you and get you lost.A Labyrinth has a single continuous path that leads to the centre and the same path leading back out again. A Maze has multiple paths that branch off and will not necessarily lead to the centre. A Labyrinth looks like a Maze, but it is not, A Labyrinth has no dead ends, there is only one path and, while it does have twists and turns, you cannot get lost. As long as you keep going, you will get to the centre eventually and back out again.

At Talliston, the Labyrinth is a key feature. The photo above is of a 20,000 year old standing stone in the front garden of Talliston and the Labyrinth is etched upon the stone. It’s message here is about magic and the pursuit of dreams and adventures. In the book of Talliston, the story is of 13 year old Joe who travels through portals in the Labyrinth, journeying to times and places where magic is disappearing from the world. There is also a strong environmental message here in that magical places really are disappearing from our world and quite fast it would seem. The story is of an ordinary boy on an extraordinary journey and Talliston is an ordinary house turned into something quite extraordinary. John has taken what life was presenting him with and turned it on his head. John has walked the path of the labyrinth within this house and invites others to walk their own path here too.

Labyrinths are thousands of years old. They are not religious but they are used by many religions as a tool to connect with God or whoever you might wish to connect with, they can be used as a form of pilgrimage if you like. The labyrinth is designed to release your state of stress and also to receive the wisdom along the path, the idea being that you return with new knowledge. Along the journey of the labyrinth, we arrive at seemingly random moments that serve to form our story and as we travel further inwards towards the centre of the Labyrinth, our worlds become infinitely more humble. Along the route we can connect with ourselves in a transformational way, explore a sense of wonder and connect with whatever you perceive might be the divine. Pretty cool and you can see why people have been doing this for millennia.

There is a strong thing within the Labyrinth about finding your own path, getting some clarity and sorting out intentions, finding peace. You know, all of the biggies. As an archetype, a Labyrinth is something that transcends, it is where two worlds can flow together. There is the visible and the invisible world. The finite and the infinite and, as there is a clear path, there is no guesswork involved. It is like life but much safer. It is a shape that is found abundantly in nature and it is a design that is often used to symbolise change, movement and growth. I have always wondered about the similarity between the labyrinth and the fingerprint. I guess, as a crossover, as with our fingerprints being unique, so are our hopes, dreams and fears that we bring to our individual journey within the Labyrinth of our lives. The rings of a tree look like our fingerprints, which look like a Labyrinth, which looks like our brains. Well, the photos I have seen of brains look like Labyrinths anyway. I have never seen an actual brain. I don’t know whether that has some deep and meaningful meaning but, visually, it is a thing at least. I guess, as with a Labyrinth, we only have one brain, it is our own unique brain and you can always be certain of being on the right path as it is the only path to be on. There is a whole thing about there being a bony labyrinth within our temporal bone and that contains loads of dna but I only have the fascination of that subject, rather than actual knowledge, to back that up. You can see how quickly you can disappear down the rabbit hole in this house…

Staying at Talliston becomes its very own Labyrinth, a surreal, extraordinary but safe space to question and wait to see the sort of answers that come up. It has made me wonder about how the quality of our lives can be directly connected to the quality of the questions and curiosity that we might be asking of the world that surrounds us. It can be so easy to focus on that which we see, which really is a very fraction of that which is actually there. It can be easy to get caught up in the daily humdrum (which is actually quite extraordinary) and also focusing on that which we do not have rather than what we do have. The journey around the Labyrinth is also about letting go, about not having attachment to unnecessary ‘stuff’. We have all been, at some point in our lives, in that place of ‘when I get a house/car/llama/computer/decent haircut I will be able to do X, Y and Z…’ but having an attachment to something that may, or may not, be on its way to us, only serves to perpetuate that feeling of not having it. Does that make sense?

There is also a large element of release being that of being able to let go of what might be expected of us. We are all categorised in one way or another. There is a huge stratification of worth going on in human behaviour on so many levels that I don’t even know where to begin with that one. It is not just one blog’s worth of writing but several lifetimes of musing to get your head around the stratification of worth – monetary, class, gender, race, age etc etc – and we all end up internalising that on some level or other, it is practically unavoidable. The story of Talliston and of Joe, the 13 year old boy, bravely finding his way through his own Labyrinth of stories, talks of the courage in being yourself and how the portals open when you find your own shoes to walk in. Joe learns of shedding the narrative that has been painted on him from the outside, the ‘rules’ that he has been taught to live by and of letting go of expectations of being anyone other than himself.

Being true to yourself can feel like a lonely old journey but trying to please others is lonelier still. And empty. There is huge benefit to walking our own Labyrinth and becoming tolerant of ourselves and, as such, freeing ourselves up to become tolerant of others. Accepting that we are all different is the price that we pay to be unique. Over the past year, being stuck with our own thoughts, has been a bit of a Labyrinth journey and, personally, I have regularly encountered the beast of the Minotaur kept below ground in the Labyrinth. I am hoping that Talliston is the path back out again, holding the chalice of hope aloft in the fresh, spring air. Joe, (in the book), meets some extraordinary people along his Labyrinth journey and I shall be forever grateful for the amazing people who pop up along my Labyrinth journey too. Some right proper special folk in there and more than a little sprinkling of magic.

In the words of Laozi (very wise, very ancient) – “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”

A Visitor!

I had a visitor! Not just any visitor though, it was the inimitable Ros Green, the director of the Essex Book Festival who has sent me to Talliston in the first place. It is safe to say that the Essex Book Festival does not stick to the standard script and it goes where other book festivals fear to tread. Ros has found ways around restrictions, due to world circumstances, that just make the book festival more exciting than ever and it is running from the 1st June to the 29th August this year. The programme is in the final stages of being finalised and has some true delights in store, both online and in real life.

Over the last few years, I have found myself involved in some wonderful projects, thanks to Ros’ ingenuity and ability, not just to see the bigger picture but to see a picture that nobody else had even imagined in the first place! I have had the privilege of storytelling in a secret nuclear bunker while having my head stuck in a toilet seat/art installation, being part of an amazing 40ft high people photos All In The Same Boat in Harlow, feeding peanut butter to badgers at a Radical Writing Retreat in Othona, laughing until my socks fall off at Ros’ ideas and meeting many inspirational, kind and big thinking people. Ros steps outside of the box, this is an understatement, and her intentions are all based on the wider good. Ros takes the festival to places that do not usually get a look in, like Jaywick Sands , who only ever get talked about in terms of poverty and deprivation, and gives space to people to shine their brilliance while taking none of the credit herself. Ros will continually lend people her strength rather than remind them of their weaknesses and, while this should not be rare, it actually is. While this may seem like a one woman accolade to Ros, it kind of is but there is something much bigger at play. It is the quiet brilliance that underpins all of the good things in the world, the generosity to wish others to thrive and to dine out on the magic that they have created. The wisdom and knowledge that we can do none of this wild life on our own, we need the help of others, the camaraderie, the differences and there is no benefit to be had in taking the credit if this outshines anyone else. The reason why I am (ever so slightly) banging on about this is because there are many crossovers between Ros and John, who has created Talliston. They both create with a generosity and a joy that others may dine out on this and take it forward in their lives, not just this week but for many many moons ahead. Both Ros and John are the very definition of planting a tree under whose shade you shall never sit.

Anyway, as any sane and intelligent person might, Ros beelined towards the investigators office, in New York 1929, as soon as she spotted the typewriter in there. This room was the first room that John completed at Talliston, creating the perfect office for himself to be able to write and work. That makes it sound that writing isn’t work which, of course, it is but there is other work also to be carried out in an office. John went about, in his very precise and joyful way (as I am rapidly learning) creating a room that he could spend many an hour writing and organising. As a complete aside, there is an actual thing called the Zeigarnik effect which is all to do with pressing tasks and how we remember things that we need to do, better than the things that we have already done. I think this is where lists come into their own. We all know about being distracted by the things that we haven’t done yet and, by making a plan, it can feel as though we have some measure of control over the situation. Well, John is the master of organisation. In the office in New York in 1929, every single box, file and drawer has in it exactly what it is labelled to have. There is no such thing as shoving a stapler in the wrong drawer and ‘I’ll sort that out later’, no, John is King Of Correct Drawers. John has the names and contact details of every single person who has volunteered with the house over the years, even down to how many sugars they have in their tea. This is streamlining and efficiency at its most glorious and I’m not sure that there are many things that make you feel more valued than someone knowing exactly how you like to take your tea. It is very easy to see how people keep coming back here.

There is the most drool worthy roll top desk in the office, whiskey at the ready, a super cool phone (that works) and any amount of bits and bobs that pertain to the occupant of the office who is John but is also a New York investigator, Anthony R. Kane, an author, publisher and investigator specialising in the exotic and esoteric. The artefacts around the room tell of Anthony R. Kane’s travels and interests and if you want to know how the investigator fits into the bigger picture then you will have to read the book. He’s a good one anyway, as a very mini spoiler alert. It is not just any old office in any old building in New York. John does not do general. The office sits within a mansion on Fifth Avenue on the Upper East Side overlooking Central Park. Built 1882-87, the design of the three-and-a-half-storey French Renaissance-style mansion is a blending of late French Gothic style and Beaux-Arts refinement. The house and second-floor office are currently rented by an esoteric investigator (Anthony R. Kane) with his many objects illustrating global explorations of its latest occupant. (I copied all of that). The mansion is called Trevalyan Vean. The house was built and owned by Jedediah Elston Trevillian until his death in late 1925. In a bizarre final twist to the wealthy eccentric’s life, his estate, company and fortune were willed not to his squabbling family, but instead to a boy caught trespassing in the grounds on the day of his death. Included in the many properties was Trevelyan Vean, this New York City mansion overlooking Central Park. (I copied all of that as well).

See what I mean about detail? This house has not been thrown together as some sort of fantasy gimmick, this is live immersive theatre happening through every single portal. Each room also has its own moon, season and element – fire, earth, water and air. Running through each room, and throughout the whole gardens, are also the 5 motifs – Ship, Butterfly, Bumblebee, Labyrinth and Oak which I had said on Day 1 that I would talk about one of those each day. There is no point in making a plan here. Time and plans get laughed at by multiple gods within this place so I give up and will just write whatever I am instructed to do at the time. I will talk about Labyrinths before I leave here, though. I’ll have a word with Papa Legba and see if he’s alright with that. Papa Legba is in the kitchen (New Orleans 1954) and is the spiritual god of the crossroads in Haitian voodoo, which is not scary at all as voodoo has been given bad press over the years, it’s fine honestly. Papa Legba likes to be offered keys, rum and/or lost and found things and then he will open up the communication lines with spirits passed across. He’s a bit judgy about how a life has been led and it’s probably not much fun getting past him at the finishing post if you have been a bit of a twat all of your life.

This place is inspiring. Ros is inspiring. John is inspiring. They make magic normal again. In the words of Rumi – Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.

The Most Mirthful Mouse In All The Lands

I was told that there was a mouse hole at Talliston but it took some seeking out, crawling round on the floor and peering under furniture but voila! Much like everything else in this house, this is no ordinary mouse house. He has a carved oak bed, a chest of drawers, wall carvings and a library of mouse related literature. There is nothing that has not been throughly thought through in this house, carefully considered and well and truly loved. There is love oozing out all over the place (not in a dodgy way you understand). Apparently there is a rabbit hole somewhere as well but, so far, I’ve not been able to find it. I’m not going to divulge where the mouse house is, in case you come here and will need to do your own seeking. It’s on floor level is all I’m saying but, by the time you come here, it could have moved out and a zebra moved in. Anything is possible.

Another portal to another land, the portals are plenty and accessed in so many ways using all of the senses. There is music in each room, blue grass in my cabin, classical music in the Welsh watchtower, beautiful Spanish music in Alhambra. I wonder what our own personal playlists might be to our own different portals as music transports us to other lands and other places. There are actually a number of areas across the world known to be energetic hotspots – from ancient megaliths to Ley Lines, these are actual physical portals to other dimensions and scientists have found hard evidence of portals created by the interaction between the Earth and Sun’s magnetospheres. Apparently these portals are extremely volatile and unpredictable, opening and closing in the matter of an instant. It makes perfect sense to me but the best portals are the ones created by our imagination, the ones that connect us to others, no matter where and when we are. Stories are portals to other lands and Once Upon A Time are the words that open the door and invite us to go on an adventure.

Being here has really made me think about how we might use all of our senses in our homes to transport us or, at the very least, make it an enjoyable experience being at home. Do we focus a great deal on the visual and forget the smell and touch and sounds? And what great joy there is in making our homes the most beautiful that they can be as a place to be in, especially over the past year when so many of us have been confined to the homes that we have created. It’s alright for some, you may proclaim and I’m sure that many people have scoffed in the face of John’s dreams as he has created Talliston. The fact is that it has taken 25 years to bring together as John was doing it all from his own wages and learning all the practical stuff along the way, with help from friends and family, and never have the words ‘oh that will do’ passed his lips I imagine. John lives by the words of William Morris, designer, that you should never have anything in your house unless it is beautiful or functional, preferably both. As I have been left with an altered sense of taste and smell, following my tussle with Covid Kevin, being here has inspired me to make the best of what I do have rather than bemoan that which is no longer. It has inspired me to make the very best of everything that I already have, which is a great deal, rather than focusing on not being able to do what I could previously do prior to this tumultuous relationship with Kevin. That’s a pretty cool bonus isn’t it.

At Talliston, you are actively encouraged to nose around and have a play. All of the things in this house are here to be interacted with, they are not just pretty ornaments, sitting bored out of their lampshade minds. Most of these objects would never have met one another if it hadn’t been for John bringing them all together. There are the five senses that are loaded up at every corner but the other sense that has not been forgotten is the sense of humour. It’s fun! It’s meant to be fun. Each room is not an exact replica of what might have been but it is what John has brought back from each time and place. There is enthusiasm everywhere and I am reminded of stomping around the story hut at the School Of Storytelling in Sussex, chanting ‘Nothing great is ever accomplished without enthusiasm.’ Picture much swirling and stamping at each syllable and frenzy making. It can be so easy to get stuck watching other people live their lives and not believing that we have gifts to offer the world, that we do not have what resources we need to start out lives. We need to follow the sparkly breadcrumbs that are scattered everywhere if we were only mindful enough to look. The sparkly breadcrumbs of what makes us smile. I am a massive fan of laughter and the wisdom that is gained through laughter. It is connecting, laughter shrinks the world to a manageable size and there is great learning to be had through laughter rather than simply being the frivolity that it is sometimes seen to be. I leave you with a favourite short ditty…

A little nonsense now and then,

Is cherished by the wisest men.

And truth in merry garb may teach,

Where solemn wisdom may not reach.

Right, i’m off to go and chat with the mouse, there might even be a little tipple left out nearby so I can go and have a proper look…

A Shed Fit For a Trapper

So this is where I slept last night. It’s a shed, not even a particularly massive shed and it’s amazing. The other photo is the view from the bed and the sunrise comes flooding through that little window. Ideal sunrise watching from under the comfort of a duvet. The shed is a log cabin, made of cedar wood and is home to an Englishman turned trapper and guide who lives at Wisakedjak Lodge (the shed) by Kingsmere Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada in April 1948. The lovely trapper man is also called He Who Walks By Night and he is guarding the 13th magic place (the tipi under the shed) and has a mighty task assigned to him. He is also known as Whiskey Jack so might have to don that mantle later on.

The shed is filled with wondrous curios which means that it actually IS a trapper’s hut in Canada in 1948 rather than just pretending to be a trapper’s hut in Canada. If you open the back doors, all exquisitely crafted, it leads onto a small path where you put the bins out and immediately looks onto other houses. I kept stepping in and out of the doors this morning, as it really is stepping through some portal in time and space. This is eco travel at its finest. On a personal note, I had to wonder why I always place myself at the furthest hidden point, away from potential ‘civilisation’ and tucked away in a little nest. To be tucked away is both my greatest wish and my greatest fear combined and sums up the past year beautifully really.

So, I had thought that I would go through the five motifs, one a day, and start with the Bumblebee but actually I just want to talk about ants. I’ve been thinking about ants for many years ever since I spent several days observing them in great detail. I was stuck in a tent on Corfu, at the time, having been bitten by some sort of scorpion and unable to walk. I was waiting for some bikers, who I’d met earlier, to notice that I was missing so that they would come by and take me to hospital as this was pre phones, there was a great deal of luck involved. Anyway, that is a whole other story for a whole other time. While I was festering away in that little brown tent, I watched ants. It was possible to tell the time by them, the weather and they were great company in the absence of all other company and they were going to be, quite possibly, the only witnesses to my demise if the bikers didn’t turn up. Chris (my son) told me that he watched a 3 day battle between two different types of ant in Thailand. Talliston reminds me of ants (without the battle). John, the birth parent of Talliston, reminds of ants.

John is particular about Talliston in a very beautiful way. If you watch ants, it doesn’t take long to witness how particular they are. Ants are never lazy! Although they do, allegedly, take about 250 power naps a day, each nap lasting just over a minute, so I don’t know if that means that they stagger their naps or whether they sleep at night but I’m guessing that, seeing as they only live for a couple of months, that they want to crack on with life. If you think of an ant, you think of hard work, perseverance, discipline and strength. They all work together and can lift crazy amounts of their own body weight and are even known to predict the future, although I’m not going down that road. Ants NEVER have traffic jams which, given the amount of ants there are in any one colony, is quite the feat. If there is an obstacle, they quickly communicate the solution. Fire ants, who are supposedly the strongest and most dominant ants, accept any ants into their colony and consider them family. Hint, hint, nudge, nudge… They have fancy houses, ventilation systems and have been around for about 100 million years. They are 25% of the entire animal biomass on earth. Mind blown and, best of all, they form living bridges. Ants have hospitals and a social security system in the form of two stomachs. They have their own stomach and a social stomach where they store food in case they come across anyone else who is hungry. Ants are brave. Ants make the most of every opportunity and everything that they do is for the benefit of the colony, they share everything that they have. Ants even had a cameo appearance in the Old Testament – ‘Go to the Ant, thou sluggard’ and Solomon had dealings with an ant and ants are forbidden to be killed in Islam. Phew, I’ve been wanting to talk about ants for a really long time… Just one more thing about ants, all ant nests have an entrance patrolled by guards. Some species take this a step further and have soldiers with disc-shaped heads that fit perfectly into their nest entrances. These soldiers serve as living doors, and they control who enters and who stays out. Even ants have to contend with their own Priti Patels.

Ants really listen to one another and the theme of listening runs strongly through every thread that has woven together the beautiful and intricate fabric of the story of Talliston and into every object in the house. Ants teach us that knowledge should be shared, to ignore the little diversions and that the next generation is everybody’s responsibility and also, to adapt to our surroundings. Talliston is exactly this. It is the very embodiment of hard work and perseverance. Talliston is patience in a story and a story well told. Talliston holds an egalitarian heart and shows how, through telling the story of our dreams, we can provide a kinder world for everyone. No man is an island, as the saying goes, and we better ourselves through our acts of service. On a surface level, you could see Talliston as one man’s dream of building an extraordinary world within an ordinary house, but the level of devotion from volunteers tells a very different story. If you listen very carefully to the walls, and maybe that little voice deep inside, it is telling us how we can add value to the world for everyone.

Now I’m off to drink whiskey.

Talliston – Where Thyme Stands Still At The Door

So, I have the very great privilege of staying for a whole week at Talliston House and Gardens courtesy of The Essex Book Festival. I have been lucky enough to have been involved in some spectacularly bonkers events with The Essex Book Festival and I have a feeling that this week will be another to add to the Essex Book Festival list of off the wall triumphs. I would say that it is a great opportunity to have some time on my own and a bit of peace and quiet but after an entire year of being pretty much on my own with complete peace and quiet, that novelty is starting to wear thin. This is something else entirely, however, and I am going to try and bring you a flavour of the experience in some ramblings and I hope you enjoy them as much as i will enjoy writing them.

Tallis – hidden or secret, Ton – a place in or near a wood. Talliston is literally hiding in plain sight and is a not so hidden gem sitting happily and madly in the Essex countryside of Great Dunmow. Talliston is a house where thyme stands guard at the front gate and where time has no power. Some years ago, twenty five years in fact, a man called John had a vision. Well, he started with a set of circumstances, in the way that many do, but it is what he did with those set of circumstances that makes him extraordinary. He took an ordinary house, a 3 bed ex council house semi on an estate in Essex, and turned it into a land of ten different countries and countless portals besides. Talliston is a sacred imagination space, a world of many worlds and a theatre, if you will. A space and time of suspended disbelief, a fantastical reality where house and human have the chance to play and breath together. Gathering together his favourite places and times, John has transformed each room into a different world with the most complete and utter care and attention i have ever seen. There is no detail left untended, no object left without a job, each and every item is so loved and thought through that my mind has been well and truly burst open.

To set the scene, you walk up to Talliston and the front garden is The Old Rectory, England, in 1852 complete with a 20,000 year old standing stone upon which is carved a labyrinth. The hall and stairs take you to Italy, Palazzo di Ombre, in 1992 while the living and dining room is a Welsh Watchtower in 1887. The kitchen, where i sit now, is 1954 New Orleans and just round the corner is the bathroom, a Norwegian Lighhouse set in 1986. The back garden is Ireland, 1933 and (where i am sleeping) is the shed, a Canadian trapper’s hut in 1948. Go through to the conservatory and you have a Waystation in Japan in 2282. Upstairs leads you to a bedroom in a Scottish Manor in 1911, another bedroom in 1977 Granada, Spain and a 1929 New York investigator’s office. The loft is a Cambodian tree house of course. I’m not even joking. Oh, and there is also a tipi stored under the shed which is the ultimate magic portal and is set up in a field in the summer. Every room is a moment in time and is entirely led by John’s love of those places and his love of beauty. Every object in the house knows exactly what it has to do. Each object stands proudly, knowing that it has been carefully considered and chosen for its own unique job.

All of the places are woven together beautifully in a story, The Stranger’s Guide To Talliston, of Joe, a 13 year old boy, who becomes trapped within the Labyrinth trying to find his parents and facing the challenges along the way that any decent hero must face. An ordinary boy on an extraordinary journey, there are many words that hit home. The Labyrinth is protecting the last magical places on earth which is something that rings true to the way that we are using up our beautiful earth’s powers. All of the ancient mythologies are there and set within a new story.

There are 5 motifs running as themes throughout the house. There are many many things that connect all of the disparate parts throughout the house but there are 5 motifs that represent the stories and are the bedrock for John’s thinking and way of leading life in general. There is the Oak and Acorn that is Inspirational, giving ideas for building a better now. The Bumblebee that is Challenging, to encourage continuous improvement. The Butterfly, Transforming, about creative focus on producing, not consuming. The Labyrinth, Magical, about the pursuit of dreams and adventures and the Ship, The Journey, that with inner belief, we can all achieve extraordinary things. I may focus on one of those each day that I am here. I might end up slipping through a portal and finishing up who knows not where. I can already feel myself wanting to go on about ants and the Japanese 7 lucky gods. Most of all I want to talk about magic because that is really what this is about, for me anyway. I’m guessing that each person who walks through these doors finds their own story and why wouldn’t they.

I have always believed in magic, I never stopped. Magic is ridiculed, magic is feared and people try and stamp out magic although it makes no sense, why they would want to do that? As we grow, we are told to only believe in what we can see, to tone down our imagination while, all the time, the entire universe around us is hidden in plain sight. We can’t actually see space but it is there. Our imagination is infinite, it picks out what we know and fills in the rest of the picture which is amazing isn’t it? When we play, we can go wherever we want, think whatever we want. Imagination transcends that which we are told is real and that is what we are told to dampen. The term, magical thinking, has even become pathologised as a psychological disorder, although the act of prayer could be thought of as magical thinking. What exactly is magic? Is it knowing what is possible or is it knowing what is impossible? Is it thinking about what a thing is or what it is not? We often define ourselves by that which we are not – I am not thin/clever/beautiful/rich etc etc and we become fond of creating safe binary narratives that limit our thought. Is magic the space between everything being possible (which would be very boring indeed) and everything being impossible (which would be soul destroying)? It is in the space and the contrasts of the possible and the impossible that magic lies. All of the ‘Aha’ moments lie in the spaces. Imagine that moment when you are watching a magic trick, that glorious suspension of the possible and the impossible, that feeling of intense curiosity and your heart and mind asking one question on top of the other, that holding of breath and focus on awe and wonder. That is magic. Imagine if our whole lives were directly connected to that quality of the spaces in-between. Well, that is what John has done with Talliston. The whole house manages to hold the spaces in-between, the gaps where the magic lies. Not only that, you can come and have a taste of that magic as Talliston is open to Joe public as well as Joe down the rabbit hole and round the Labyrinth. John will take you around Talliston and tell you the tale of its creation and of all of the minute details and your mind, too, will be blown wide open. John also hosts tea parties and dinner parties here and you can stay overnight in any of the magical rooms. I’d strongly advise it and, now that we are all being released back into the wild, Talliston will be open once more from the 12th April. Do it… Although don’t blame me if you end up through some portal and being very very very late back home.