We slept soundly in our king size bed getting up only to make cups of tea and getting back in to read and plan out our day ahead. We are to go to where all the Swarmis are staying which is the other side of the village of Shiplaken where the old Swarmi we are told is making a walk in single person steam bath at a health spa where they are all staying. We eventually get ourselves together and set off for the (we are told 20 minutes) walk to the Swarmi’s luxury spa dwellings with a vague map and the coordinates on Sara’s iPhone sat nav.
Our walk takes us through the heart of Shiplaken village where we stop off at the butcher come deli for some supplies . It is very busy we stand at the back in que I pull a ticket from a machine on the wall entrance after a young man who came in after us pulled one and we wait our turn. We had just been in a bakers where we scored bread and a sausage roll for me that had the most amount of bread rapped around a sausage I have ever seen,,. Sara wanted cheese so we are now in the butchers that is packed with locals on a Saturday morning all ordering there weekends delicatessens. I go outside for a fag and leave Sara to it. She eventually appears a good 15 minutes later with all manner of goodies, apricots, two or three different cheese and god know what else to share with the Swarmis who have invited us to lunch. I am commandeered to carry the cheeses as there is no room left in Sara’s bag.. We resume our walk and veer off to the right leaving the village behind and enter into farmland and true flanders territory. We talk about WW2 as walk down a very old perfectly straight cobbled road and the ferocious battles that took place here, the battle of the Bulge where 800 German tanks were destroyed just after the D-day landings which were just down the road (Omaha beach, Normandy) and cannot imagine the atrocities that happened here and even though we try to we cannot. I have my mouth-organs with me and start to play one. We come across a flock of four sheep and i play to them and they all come over for a listen inquisitively. Sara is happily snapping pictures and takes a little video but I cut her short as i think we still have some way to go. We come across a dog behind a fence that takes umbrage to my playing but I carry on and it barks incessantly all the way to its boundary and go can go no further and eventually we lose it. Noisy bastard! I spot some ostrich a bit further on and get my gob-iron out again and play to these beautiful creatures who again are very inquisitive and make some involuntary gaping mouth gestures like they are yawning. Again Sara is snapping away and making another little video at my request this time suggesting it be the sequel to the sheep and anything else we come across will be part of a Dr Doolittle mouth-organ excapade video.
We walk on and on through farmland taking a right, taking a left, taking a right and then another left till eventually we enter a very orderly, very planned out, new-ish village where all the houses are detached and quite big some ugly some beautiful but there is nobody around. No life whatsoever, no children, no cars, no adults, no animals nothing except one gardener mowing a lawn for the absent owned of rather luxurious looking house. We deduce they all belong to people with wealth, their second summer homes and they have all gone back to the city to work through the winter. There was maybe one or two houses that had cars in the drives but that aside the place was devoid of any human life. It was quite eerie!
We eventually make to it the house which took an hour not the twenty minutes we were lead to believe and are greeted cordially and made to feel welcome. We are all making small talk when Helen divulges the news from Paris that during the night there has been a terror attack and there have been at least 40 deaths which eventually turns out to be more like 140. None of us have seen a TV for a few days so move on to the next subject of small conversation. We go and see the sauna old Swarmi has made in the garage that is almost complete but will never be used in this luxury spa as it has too many sharp edges and has a floor that would just fall in as soon as someone sat down in it. It looks ok but just isn’t! I wish I’d taken pictures.
It’s lunch time and Swarmi Helen has cooked Dhal and some other veggie Indian tasting delights. We all sit to eat, it’s delicious. Swarmi goes back to his mission of finishing off the sauna (by now decided it is a prototype) and everyone else goes to sleep. Sara and I have a rest but then set off on our walk back to the place we are staying. We miss seeing the animals again as we get lost on a wrong turn but as luck would have it because the town as I say is deserted a car pulls up near us with some building equipment at one of the houses that gives us directions for a short cut that puts us back on the cobbled road we started on. We get back and have a kip in our luxury king size bed.
Saturday night and second night of meditations with the Swarmis. I take my head torch this night as the light was too dim almost to take any notes the night before. I take up a chair to the rear of the room again but just inside the kitchen thus avoiding any distraction from Mr jerking on the sofa. The host (my jerking friend) spots my torch and says “ahh perfect, can i borrow this to light up the stairs so people can see their way”. He says it in a way it’s not a question but a requisition. The entrance to their apartment block is up some unlit stairs. I say it’s fine but need it back as i am writing throughout, he says “I will provide a lamp for you” which never materialises and eventually I have to ask for my torch back just before we start to meditate. He is really piping my wick now and appears to be somewhat arrogant but is quite young so I try not to judge and allow for some youthful naivety. His female partner, slim young with soft dark shoulder length hair is wearing a white, sleeveless, loose fitting v-neck shirt that reveals her small pert breasts every time she leans forward. I imagine the Swarmi must cop an eyeful while she waits on him. I feel happy and embarrassed at the same time for the Swarmi! She is faffing around all over the place making people welcome whilst checking everything is aesthetically pleasing in the spacious flat.
Idle chit chat in Belgian, Flemish or French as the Swarmi is 15 minutes late. Money goes into the Swarmi donations hat, it is not cheap change either. It’s expected to be busier tonight and people position themselves where they feel most comfortable but there seems to be a definite pecking order for who should sit near the front. Sara sits near the front I hear her laugh heartily. The flat is all mod-cons and our male host switches things off and dims lights from a remote control device he has produced from his back pocket. I spot he has two phones that I imagine one is for illicit affairs. I imagine this as he is flirting terribly with the females in the kitchen tonight and at one point I catch his partner giving him the eagle eye as she too has noticed his over zealous behaviour. I try to switch my overly judgmental imagination off with a remote twitch of my buttocks in my seat.
Swarmi arrives late and plonks himself down on a sofa with a big sigh,, Swarmi either side of him and everyone laughs. We are to meditate tonight for peace in the world in light of the Paris massacre the night before. I give myself a mental reminder to text my kids as Paris really isn’t that far away from here and they might be worried.. I needn’t have, they hadn’t really heard that much yet as they don’t watch the news. All the lights are out tonight bar a couple of candles, good that i brought my torch. There is a lot less smoke tonight and the offerings begin. A man takes too long and is ushered away. People offer, fruits, but tonight there seems to be an over kill of flowers, some of which Swarmi gives away at the end during the photo sessions. I think to myself what is he going to do with your flowers he needs your money donations to get to the next country, after all religion and theologies such as buddhism are businesses today.. Blessings over, the shake, rattle and twitchings begin as we descend or ascend into our meditation for world peace. Swarmi Helen goes straight into the evil sounding shakti channeling again almost on cue. The old man never makes a sound or moves which leaves me bemused as to why others feel the need to. Helen makes a high pitched sound like the sound of a singing bowl a sustained one pitch note. A man in the middle to my left is raising his hand and making shapes like you would with shadow puppetry eventually raising both. In general it’s much quieter tonight but then suddenly Helen takes the singing bowl noises to a new heights and a spectacular level. Swarmi gets up and is guided off to the toilet in rooms behind me. It brings a human element into the proceedings for me which i like. Then, someone gives it “the bells of St Clements” descending notes, a major scale descending notes, goes into freaky whispers, a major scale ascending notes. Swarmi is still on the shitter but eventually reappears behind me and i guide him through the throng with my head torch which I feel gives me some worthiness of being there other than being a fly on the wall. It all seems a lot more relaxed and serene tonight despite the atrocities up the road i believe our meditation for peace is a resounding success. The only exception was our male host who was quite agitated tonight. He was up and down not settled at all not a shadow of his former twitch and jerk self the night before. Swarmi begins singing mantra which signal the end of meditation is near. I hum along. Somebody’s phone is buzzing and sounds loud vibrating through the floor. I have wind but manage to hold it in all night then accidentally let one rip whilst singing “Shiva shanka” mantra. Loud but nobody turns round, it could have been anyone!
A lengthy sermon and lecture ensues from the young Swarmi in a very soft voice I can barely hear that basically implies we are not worthy and we must continually give up our souls to the Shakti. Analogy after analogy, yawn, consciousness Amen to that brothers and sisters. I can see this is going to go on for some time so I get up and take the exit just behind me that leads into the big conference centre (The Elewijt centre – Map of Shiplaken area) we are in that is deserted for the winter. Our host and hostess must be the caretakers. I wander around and go up a flight of stairs and enter into the rooms above us. I spot a coffee machine that is looking all plumbed in and switched on like an oasis in desert of chai and green tea with all the accoutrements to have coffee and tea next to it. I grab a cup and choose coffee on the brand new looking machine. Lights flash in Belgian but nothing happens except some gurgling noises and sounds like a kettle has been switched on. I check all the plumbing again, everything looks fine I push buttons again for coffee but get the same disappointing sounds. I wander off and end up directly above the meditation area and look out of the window where I can see everyone below in a reflection from an adjacent window, I can see how proceedings are going. I check the window and it opens. I’m worried an intruder alarm will go off but it doesn’t so i roll a cigarette and smoke out of the window like a naughty school child, pure bliss, all the time checking on proceedings and listening out for any alarm ready to retreat back downstairs. I finish my cigarette and walking past the coffee machine I give it one last try . I can’t believe my luck as it duly pours me out a hot coffee and I make a hot cup of tea for Sara. I go back to the throng where the lights are on and we are in the middle of photo opps. I’m asked by Sara to take one for her as we are doing a group pose . It comes our dark on her face so I grab my torch and shine it just on her which get’s everyone’s attention and a big laugh so while everyone is looking at me for the group pic I call out “Swarmi cheese” and get a bigger laugh. The night winds down so Sara and I say our farewells to walk the short distance back to our Flanders house for a sleep in preparation for our trip to Brussels the next day for which i am really looking forwards to.