A very pregnant Rachel and I decided to take a day trip to Galloway, the middle of nowhere to the Samileng centre, a Buddhist retreat. We’d never been before, but both fancied it. So off we drove on a grey spitting day. Down A roads to B roads, to single lane roads, through thick forestry, we hadn’t passed a car for ages, perhaps 20 miles or 20 minutes. When ahead we spied a white little micra hatchback…it was charging along towards us along the narrow mini ridge roman style road, either side sloping steeply for three metres into the evergreen forest. I slowed down waiting for the white car to also slow down, and co navigate a safe passing, but with out time to reconsider, the white car whooshed past as I swerved, slamming on my brakes as we end up still.
Facing forward but attached god knows how to the side of the ridge. Considering my car might roll any minute, and Rachel panicking for the safety of her unborn baby, we both climb out my door window. Thank god for mobiles. We get outside in the spitting rain, the white car vanished. What do you know! no signal on our phones. Uh oh! And we don’t even know where exactly we are? The thick endless pine forest all around and the long straight tarmac disappearing to opposite horizons. As we stand and begin to negotiate what to do, along comes a four by four with a man willing to help. But with no tow rope there’s not a lot we can do. As we stand and begin to negotiate again what to do, another four by four rolls up, with a toe rope! In no time these expert knights in four by four’s rescue my shining silver corsa. After thanking them with great relief, we ask them if they know where the Samileng centre is. And they tell us it’s not five minutes down the road.
As the pouring rain sets in with no sign of abating we arrive. It’s a lush green place, flowers and vegetable patches amongst higgaldy piggaldy buildings old and new. Our glimpse is of a subdued monastery come retreat. We huddletogether under a broken umbrella and dodge the Doctor Foster puddles as we reach the detached Victorian lodge head quarters, to find out general information. It seems a bit odd, entering a tired looking British nineteenth century house in rural Scotland to be greeted by a shaved headed orange and red toga attired man behind a sort of Faulty Towers reception desk.
We are directed to the temple for its afternoon service. On the outside the small red brickwork reminds me of my old school gymnasium, even a pile of shoes to safe guard the interior floor by the entrance way. Inside however is anything but. Yellow gold Buddha statues gleam and red material hangs about the place, wooden carvings ornately decorate every surface, rows like pews are set up but one kneels on cushions and sits on rugs. Rachel and I each take a small wooden seat at the back, for us voyeurs. A group of monks emerge and seat themselves in two rows facing each other behind these wooden sort of bench tables. They play instruments not from these shores and chant in deep throat harmony. We watch as some people enter and take up their prayer positions on the carpet.
After the service we have some lunch in the empty café; we talk to the shop keeper selling brightly coloured woven bags made by imprisoned Buddhist nuns in China, occupied Tibet. She tells us about Buddhism, her way of life, and recommends some books to read, and then she tells us about the artist in residence, that there is one? He’s a monk. At least he had been, on escaping Tibet, but him and his escapees were being pursued, and in order for their survival he took another’s life; Thus denouncing himself as a monk.
The sun beamed causing the lush green sodden gardens to sparkle, we head towards a dark musky studio hut, on entering our expectations of what art we might find here are mistaken. Accumulated on shelves and tables an array of objects, stuff that no one would keep that this man had found, not an old brush or plank of wood that might come in handy, or some back issue magazines, but another mans rubbish as well as potential fire wood. On hearing our arrival, the man himself walked in looking like a monk,smiling welcoming dressed in orange gowns and shaved head. I think he must be in his 50’s or 60’s. His thick accent makes him hard to understand, but we are all patient. I think he sounds sort of French, but I’ve never talked to a Tibetan before. He greets us warmly and proceeds to guide us through his collection. Dead wood with exaggerated red paint over the imagined faces and creatures’, found to inhabit their surfaces. A white crumpled up tissue he found on a walk in a wood; a whole garlic clove with a biro’d on smiley face. He gives Rachel a fake broken pearl necklace he found.
I don’t remember anything after this. About four years later I tried to track him down; I wanted to invite him to show at the Embassy gallery, when I worked there. I had no luck, I was put in touch with the ‘at present’ artist, a woman, who as well as everyone else at the centre could not recall this artist.
This story originally featured in Art Fist issue 1
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