Searching for Sugar Man

Last evening I watched a DVD, Searching for Sugar Man. I maybe the only person on earth who hasn’t seen this documentary film. It comes recommended, it touches the heart – the story and Rodriguez himself. It is the story of a singer/singer songwriter from the early 1970’s in Detroit who had incredible talent but didn’t make it in America. However unbeknownst to him his music had become a huge hit in South Africa and quite by accident. An American young woman had brought with her his LP and soon it was being bootlegged. And one thing led to another… His songs were the background music to the young white liberals fighting apartheid in the 1970’s and 1980’s. His music and lyrics from the streets of working class Detroit gave them hope and encouragement to speak out, through their own music.

Nobody knew who he was or anything about him and a myth grew up that he had killed himself dramatically while on stage in America. Two fans made it their life’s work to track him down and find out the truth behind his death. Discovering the truth wasn’t easy however eventually they found him alive and well and working in construction. An incredible man, humble and not bitter about his early life as a singer. The film tracks the unfolding story of how they eventually found Rodriguez. There was that certain something that he conveyed in his way of going about life that left a deep impression on all who knew and worked with him. It came through loud and clear in the brief interview towards the end of the film. What happened after he was found caps it all… But that is another story. Closer to the hear and now….

There is a certain something about the smell of the air in the tinder dryness which is Victoria, Vancouver Island at the moment. As with music, smells are powerful in stimulating memories, the Beatles songs were the background sound to my teen years and to my spiritual seeking. Right along with them. The air here takes me right back to my years at Shasta Abbey. After the long wet/cold winters in the mountains with snow on the ground for months the warm weather was a joyful time. I seem to remember spring came around the time of Wesak in early May and that was a celebration time too. But I think the weather warmed earlier than that. Anyway it is wonderful to walk along the paths in the area I’m staying in and breath in the pine and the dryness.
Parched earth1

A thought for all those caught up in the drama of the wild fires raging, some out of control, in British Columbia. We can only be grateful for the firefighters who saved the temple buildings and land Dragon Flower Mountain (Lions Gate Buddhist Priory) in the interior of BC. The fire came close, VERY close. In a few weeks I’ll be there to witness the charred land.

Sit Like a Frog

When I think of Shunryu Suzuki I think of frogs! In his talk To Polish a Tile he talks about how the frog sits; becoming one with its surroundings.

When you become you, Zen becomes Zen. When you are you, you see things as they are, and you become one with your surroundings.

To Polish a Tile Suzuki Roshi, Transcript of this talk given in 1967 and also found published in Zen Mind Beginners Mind, page 80.

In 2010 I had the honour of visiting the Founders Shine at San Francisco Zen Center where Suzuki Roshi is remembered. My companion and I made bows and offered incense and we couldn’t help but notice all the frogs on the various side altars! Frogs featured in a number of his talks during  his short time teaching at SZC. Twelve years and what a huge influence.

I’m on Vancouver Island at the moment where there are numerous walking trails between housing estates. Yesterday I walked past a large pond with ducks cruising up and down. A sign announced this to be a sensitive area and to keep to the paths, so I did. There was a strange noise coming from the Bull rushes. Perhaps a frog!

Like so many others in the 1960’s, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind was my introduction to Zen. I remember the page with just a fly on it, page 69. That more than anything left a lasting impression. But I don’t know why.

Still Moments


Along with all the preparation to travel, so many details to attend to, I took the opportunity to spend a moment or two doing nothing. That was yesterday. Today its Heathrow and I’m taking another opportunity to do not very much. Well writing this of course – and also gorping out of the window at the hustle and bustle.


Worlds apart one might think. But in a certain way of thinking – there is no gap. Come sit and travel with me. Oddly there is more time/space to write here when ‘on the road’.


Sit and be at ease, where ever your sitting place is.

Lacking In Ambition

My father went to the kind of school where they developed character, encouraged creativity and generally turned out half way decent people. Passing exams and going onto higher education was not a high priority. As a consequence I had a pleasingly unambitious father who could turn his hand to most things but would not be said to have had a ‘career’ in the usual sense. I could say the same about myself.

Here is some of his creative work which I recently sent to my American relative to be passed down the generations as a link with their roots in England.

Lino Cut by Tony White
Lino Cut by Tony White
By Tony White aged aprox. 9 years.
By Tony White aged aprox. 9 years.

In the 1960’s it was probably easier, more sociably acceptable, to drop out of higher education and then follow a career path than it is now. The best youngsters seem to be able to do currently is cram in as much adventure into their gap year before going on to university.

And I’m in the thick of preparing to travel on Saturday. Adventure? I’m not so sure about that however there will be tales to tell. But before signing off I will link to a Guardian article about a man who inspired me at my final school speech day. Freddy Spencer Chapman, an SAS officer who some say is the most unsung hero of the war in East Asia. I was impressionable, he said those of us who hadn’t received prizes or who did not have exam passes could get on in the world and be a success. I took heart at the time. Sometimes a word or two can change the direction and outlook of a whole life. My fathers unambitious presence was a passive influence and Spencer Chapman’s words that day inspired confidence. He was an army man and man of his time. My dad was a private in the army, a conscript. All of his life he remained a man outside of his time. He would have been 94 come August 20th.

Walking By Water

The Lancaster Canal has been my walking companion this week. Still. Glass like. Cooling and soothing during this rash of hot summer days. The North West has been roasting. This evening. Rain.

Tow path travelers bring colour and texture to the grey ribbon. Some interact most don’t. Cyclists ring their bells in warning and we walkers make way for runners. There is courtesy here which brings a sense of community.

There is something so utterly compelling about canals. I’ve been drawn to them since early days ‘up North’ in the 60’s. Thank goodness people of vision started to save them from extinction back then.

One more walk tomorrow early and then a return to Throssel.