Thursday, 29 September 2011

Accept the Mystery

Many people I have talked to seemed to have found it odd that I should find religions so interesting when I don't appear to have a religious bone in my body.

I can't remember even a split second out of 65 years when I believed that some Supreme Being ruled us, watched us, created us, or whatever.  I haven't lapsed, the idea never even dawned on me, and it certainly never convinced me whenever other people suggested it as an explanation for our existence.

On the other hand, I find the world wonderful, magical, intriguing, baffling and delightful at times, although occasionally I have felt glimpses of horror.  Mostly at what humans appear capable of. They have never taken the form of 'glimpses of the abyss' however. I don't seem to mind nothingness. If I had to choose a label for myself it would probably resemble pantheist rather than atheist.

Mystical experiences of nature in my childhood, spending time outside with nature on acid, mushrooms and other fabulous life enhancers, deep philosophical thought about what we mean by consciousness, all have contributed to my sensation of a great living mystery, a whole system, not an empty and meaningless universe.

And yet it has never appeared to need an external creator. VALIS, Tao, call it what you will, it remains the unimaginable, the Unknown, a mystery.  If I had to use the word 'God' to indicate anything I would use it to point to that vastness, that infinitesimal, paradoxical zone...about which nothing can usefully be said.

Hardly an image of a Godhead that we might come to know as a being of any kind. Whether as a friend, or as a tyrant.

I guess that the perception of this scale of things first came to me through my father, who had belonged to the Theosophical movement, which, for all its faults, sought the root of all religions and religious feelings...looking for the fundamentals, and the things they all had in common.  It exemplified a view more in harmony with Hindu and Buddhist world-views, rather than the curious, local model of the Judaeo-Christian- Muslim spectrum.

The Gnostics attracted me when I came across them.  I don't study religions looking for some ultimate truth, though.   Just as Richard Wiseman can write about Paranormality, and study it even though he has never uncovered any totally convincing evidence to support such a view of the world.  What he finds interesting is why humans appear to need these kind of beliefs, or how they appear and become self-sustaining.  I have the same feeling about 'religions'.   At least the Gnostics (for all their strange imagery and approachs) indicated that the ground of being was ultimately unknowable, and indescribable.  I tend to align with a third-generation atheist like Kurt Vonnegut, who also found people's passion for exotic belief systems intriguing.  I guess that makes me a member of the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent (from The Sirens of Titan).

I don't intend to expand on the various influences on my own practice, although I still recommend the delightful Alan Watts to anyone who wishes to explore these things with a friendly guide.

And if anyone wants the best meditation 'trick' I know, then I recommend D.E.Harding's "On Having No Head - a contribution to Zen in the West" - which is a brief and amusing book, and offers a deceptively simple exercise which may lead you to great insights.  Nothing to remember, no difficult yoga, no memorising of elaborate symbol systems, nothing like that at all, at all.

And if you prefer something a little more linear, his little book on religions of the world is currently on sale for a mere £3...

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The first puppets on television - by my dad

Pantopuck the Puppet Man
 My dad was probably the first person ever to perform puppets on television.  He performed under the name of Pantopuck.

History (or Wikipedia) will usually tell you the BBC television service started in 1936, but my dad appeared back in 1932, in a transmission using the old Baird mechanical scanning disk technology.

Looking at the radio listings in The Times (see below, listed as A.R. Philpott), you may notice that the sound went out through one channel (261.3m), and the picture on a different wavelength (398.9m)!

I have no idea how many people in the UK had receivers at that time.

In an article in The Stage Nov 28 1957, Charles Trentham writes:

Pantopuck tells me that in August 1932 he wrote to the BBC Productions Department suggesting a try-out, enclosing photos. His puppets were auditioned in September and Producer Robb then asked if he could perform on October 19 1932, for 10 or 15 minutes.

They rehearsed in the morning and went on the screen at 11 p.m., other items being a lady palmist, a lightning sketch artist and a Babylonian dancer, from the old basement studio at Broadcasting House. The puppets had all been repainted black and white, with costumes to match, and Pantopuck made a special stage to suit the camera range: the usual lively movements of the puppets had to be slowed down somewhat. There was a large team of ‘sound effects’ men.

A note in "Radio Times" announced that “the Pantopuck troupe” would be the first to face the camera – and attributed the bright idea to the director. Mr Philpott was asked to return, doing a Christmas play on December 27, 1932. Although the puppets came out very well on the screen, which flickered like the early Bioscope films, Pantopuck missed his ‘live’ audiences out front. Apart from once appearing in “Picture Page” at the “Ally Pally” he says that he has had no further interest in his puppets being screened, although he thinks the TV possibilities are much greater than the results so far seen. A “roving eye” camera treatment – showing the puppetman arriving at a hall, setting-up, with shots of the audience during the show, and of the puppets and backstage – would be interesting, he suggests. But to him, however, the direct contact with audiences is the real joy of performing. “Pantopuck and his Puppets” were in television 25 years ago. Can anyone claim an earlier appearance?   Charles Trentham


BBC begins two-year Baird-EMI competition, broadcasting from Alexandra Palace. It is hailed as the "world's first, public, regular, high-definition TV station".


February -- BBC declares EMI the victor in competition.
From then on the ‘modern’ electronic television service, with 343 scanning lines, etc – was adopted.

Early Television Museum – Mechanical Broadcasting
An early televisor (tiny image, the size of a postage stamp!)
Television History - The First 75 Years

Panto on Wikipedia
Some more details on Toby's old website

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

More Bosch

Having deluded myself that Bosch was part of the Free Spirit movement (I am so gullible and suggestible that everything I read convinces me at the time - through 'suspension of disbelief') -  I have moved on to Laurinda Dixon's book, which has copious other pictures from the same period (to demonstrate that he was not a lone genius working in a wilderness) but she casually dismisses the idea of Bosch as a member of a heresy.  Her thing is that his imagery comes from Alchemy.

I love watching academics and conspiracy theorists haggling for their pet theory.

And I had never thought of Bosch as a contemporary of Leonardo da Vinci, so I live and learn.

On this detailed Bosch website by Adam McLean, there is a quick review - overview - of many books on Bosch, and Ms. Dixon's alchemical theory gets dismissed, along with books trying to tie Bosch into esoteric ideas from (say) the Anthroposophy people...

He covers all the 'interpretations' from Jung to astrology and 'secret Cathar' - and dismisses them.  He doesn't seem to have written up the 'druggie' one (ergot poisoning, St Anthony's Fire, or deliberate use of hallucinogens like Datura, or Belladonna or whatever).

I think I might invest in his DVD 'course', which apparently has high quality images, and avoids interpretations to concentrate on the painting itself.  120 minutes of video.   And his Alchemy Website looks interesting, too.  Lots to explore...on rainy days...
You may also find something useful at this other Bosch resource, although I haven't tested all the links.

Oh, and one obvious parallel that I haven't mentioned.  The fact that The Surrealists embraced his work, and Dali (in particular) seems to have employed some of the same kind of techniques and imagery. Here's Anthony Christian on The First Surrealist.  He seems sure that Bosch was just having fun at everyone else's expense! But then again, he reckons his psychic friend has chatted to Bosch about it!

And here's Philip Coppens on Bosch

Either way, he is sometimes said to have been the spark that ignited the surrealist movement of the 20th century, which would produce modern greats such as Salvador Dali. Dali knew the works of Bosch (who was furthermore highly popular in Spain) and felt compelled to deny the influence: “I myself am the anti-Hieronymus Bosch.”

And finally, the entry for Bosch from the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (H2G2):

Think of mixing Fellini with David Lynch, sprinkling in a little James Joyce, and having it all put on canvas by Salvador Dali.       Carl Linfert, Hieronymus Bosch, 1989

and the H2G2 link for The Garden of Earthly Delights

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Freelance intellectual - or a load of Bosch

As soon as I decided to drop out of school - skip doing A-Levels and university, etc - I knew I had committed myself to an alternative path.

I have never regretted it.  Not having to write a thesis or a paper, or sweat over an MA, and all that.

Of course, if I could have been paid to potter about the libraries of the world, that would have been ideal, but the strings attached seemed too much for me.

So although people associate me with performing, clowning, juggling, circus, etc - I have to admit I did all that because (a) it kept me fit and outgoing, to counterbalance all the reading at a desk (b) to earn money in as short a time as possible, leaving loads of free time to read and research.

And I just follow my nose to what interests me.  I can dedicate time as I choose. I once spent about three years studying astrology, not just the popular stuff but quite esoteric interpretations, and also computer programs related to it, etc (they were pretty primitive in the 1980s).

I love serendipity and cross-referencing, and the internet has increased the possibilities enormously.

So recently I:
  • Planned to set up a blog about scams, cons, hoaxes, forgeries, tricksters, etc, and decided to us one of my favourite Bosch images, of the street magician, complete with pickpocket working the crowd.
  • I spotted one odd face in the crowd, who seems almost like just a head...and it reminded me of something
  • Digging back in my mind, I uncovered the memory of a book about Bosch's Millennium (often called The Garden of Earthly Delights), and this particular author, analysing the picture, highlighted the face in the bottom right corner of the centrepiece, which he suggested was the Grand Master of a heretical sect called The Adamites, who did not believe in Original Sin (amongst other things), a group he thought Bosch belonged to.  I thought these faces uncannily similar.  Other researchers have suggested that the image below is a self-portrait of Bosch as a younger man.
  • Believe what you like, but I may pursue some of this. Just for the hell (or heaven) of it.
  • I have also been reading Joseph Campbell's book about James Joyce - "Mythic Worlds, Modern Words" in which he relates Joyce's major works to Dante's Divine Comedy.
  • I have never read the Commedia, and it looks like a lot of poetry to get through, so have started with a comic book version, just to get the shape of it all.
  • Which brings me back to Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, etc, as perceived by 13th and 15th Century artists.  Just an average day in a random researcher's life. It's hard to know where I might end up.
  • She lit a burner on the stove
    And offered me a pipe
    “I thought you’d never say hello,” she said
    “You look like the silent type”
    Then she opened up a book of poems
    And handed it to me
    Written by an Italian poet
    From the thirteenth century
    And every one of them words rang true
    And glowed like burnin’ coal
    Pourin’ off of every page
    Like it was written in my soul from me to you
    Tangled up in blue

Monday, 12 September 2011

Diddling with the ephemeral

One of the main reasons for not getting on with writing books is still the number of words that I throw into the ephemeral, the passing show of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.

At least blogs and emails hang around as some kind of diary or notebook, that can be referred to later, or discovered (all in good time) by others.

The thousands of words that just fade into the void of social networking, however, might just as well be spoken out loud...a famously transient way of communicating...the rest is silence...

Maybe I should think podcasting (the spoken word that stays).

Monday, 5 September 2011

Women writing

I seem to have found myself reading women authors in the last few days.

I don't know if I should make that distinction any more (just as 'actress' has mostly become replaced by 'actor' for all - although I still fail to see how using the masculine version for both can really prove liberating. When I asked a woman she said that 'actress' seemed like a qualification, somehow implying 'a lesser version of', but I don't fully understand. But hey, I'm only a bloke).  Maybe male actors should be called actresses instead?

Ahem.  Anyway, I found a copy of The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy, and what a delightful read!  A fictionalised account of her years in Paris in the 50s, as an adventurous, modern and bohemian woman.

I also discovered that The Stacks at the library had a copy of Slouching Towards Bethelem by Joan Didion, a series of essays about the USA in the early and late 60s.  A fairly harsh eye on various sub-cultures, but a touch of nostalgia, too (for her family background).  Her portrait of the Haight, however, offers little joy.  Not that I intend to romance the late 60s, as methedrine and other harder drugs screwed up the London scene, too.  And when I ran off to explore the US in 1970 I spent a long time in San Francisco and deliberately never went to explore Haight-Ashbury, as the whole scene sounded over the hill.  Sad.

Finally, I am browsing and skimming through Marina Warner's book about story-telling: From the beast to the blonde : on fairy tales and their tellers, which has some fascinating content, and may earn a more close reading.

Saturday, 3 September 2011


OK, OK, so I can't think of something original to call this compilation blog!  I test all new titles in Google, and things like "IMHO" went long ago, and so did some of the complicated inventions I think of (but they ain't snappy and memorable).

I settled on Time Piece, because I already wrote an obscure on-line article for The Maybe Quarterly (complete with cut-up random sound track from a fellow student) with that title, but a quick search turns up some early, short movie of Jim Henson's* (1965) - which would simply be embarrassing, except for the fact that I worked with Jim on The Dark Crystal (as part of his personal crew) so that makes it a synchronous kind of a hit.


I just used it because the title echoed my own initials (how trivial and egoistic can you get?)

*  Dislocation in time, time signatures, time as a philosophical concept, and slavery to time are some of the themes touched upon in this nine-minute, experimental film, which was written, directed, and produced by Jim Henson-and starred Jim Henson! Screened for the first time at the Museum of Modern Art in May of 1965, Time Piece enjoyed an eighteen-month run at one Manhattan movie theater and was nominated for an Academy Award for outstanding short subject.  
from IMDb]

A minute and a half on YouTube    (remember, this comes from 1965!)

You might need MySpace to watch this, or you can find it on iTunes (for money!)

Option: Opt In or Opt Out?

I have played with blogs as diaries and notebooks (i.e. mostly for my own use) that it has never occurred to me that I should try to gather fans or make money from them.  Most internet monetizing seem like variations of spamming forums with unwanted and semi-literate posts - not even trolling, heckling or finding some other motivated glee.

It seems too sad a life to get involved in, like 'addressing envelopes' in the old days (pyramid-selling, multi-level marketing, chain letters, and all that).

Of course, I have never shown any ability to take money seriously, because of my fundamental perception of it as a rigged game, and one whose rules I don't understand, even if I couldn't detect any cheating. The banker wins, so far as I could see, whether playing Pontoon or Monopoly, as a child.

So, I opted out, as far as that was possible.   It turned out impossible (for me) to avoid the money game completely - I'd have settled for Buddhist monk, maybe, but couldn't face Christian monk.

We all make choices.  My choice meant that I basically lived in cash and kind - but avoided credit and debt (two sides of the same coin, of course). Further consequences of living in cash?  No house/mortgage.  Not running a car.  Few holidays.  Clothes from charity shops.

That doesn't make me a complete freak (I meet other people who don't drive, for instance).  After all, some people opt out of wearing watches, and I can't even imagine surviving in a world where I had to depend on other people to know the time!

Car drivers can't imagine depending on public transport, or simply living a more limited and local life.

I don't opt out of everything.  In some areas I feel like an early up-taker, or even ground-breaker.

Which leads me back to blogs, and a website I hardly tweaked in the last decade, and all that.

Should I leave this detritus floating around neglected, or decisively remove it (leaving only a trace, maybe, in the WayBack machine, and a scatter of broken links?   It all remains some kind of archive.  Perhaps it may prove useful to someone, just as we may one day start mining city rubbish heaps for aluminium (say).

Anyway, for the time being - and failing any attempt to centralize all this stuff into some integrated nodal point - I have started this blog to try to at least consider the scale of the problem.

That I have still decided to use Blogger (who apparently only have 3% of the market these days) instead of something cool and new) either demonstrates my tendency to fall off the pace, or some kind of brand loyalty, or...hey, I don't know.

How could I possibly make money out of chatting to myself, when I should (apparently) be trying to create 'product', or saleable 'content'?    My niche seems so small, that it only has room for me!