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…