Thursday, 6 October 2011

Ferdinand Cheval and the 'Palais Ideal'


Born in 1836 in the Drome department of France, Ferdinand Cheval seemed fated to have a banal and unremarkable life.
Initially apprenticed to a baker, Cheval went on to become a postman, serving the area of Hauterives in Drome and lived out a mundane existence until 1879 when he would, at the age of 43, have an experience that would affect the rest of his life...
While working on his postal route he tripped over a stone.
Fascinated by the shape of the stone Cheval wrapped it in his handkerchief, put it in his pocket and took it home.
Looking at the stone later Cheval was reminded of a dream he had once had of building a castle made of stone.
Inspired, Cheval returned to the same spot the next day and noticed many other strangely shaped stones scattered about.
He began to collect them each day, bringing them home and started to build a pond in his garden made from the stones he found.
Cheval also decorated the pond with various figures and ornamental designs, all built from the stones that he brought home from his route.
His confidence bolstered by the success of his initial creation, Cheval decided to move onto a project on a slightly larger scale.
He would build his castle...
Cheval continued to collect stones on his route, eventually adding an extra 8 kilometres to his daily trek to allow more chance to gather stones and armed himself with a basket as the sheer mass of stones had long ago moved beyond what his pockets could hold.
His wife also forbade him from using his pockets for storage as she grew tired of having to constantly repair his trousers from the wear and tear of the stone's transportation...
Cheval finally ended up using a wheelbarrow for collecting the stones and bringing them home and extended his search into the night, armed only with an oil lamp for light.
With only rudimentary education let alone any knowledge of architecture or engineering Cheval began to build his castle slowly and with care.
He used lime, mortar and cement to bind the stones and began initially by building the outer walls of the structure in 1879.
Cheval retired from the Post Office in 1896 and began to work on the castle full-time.
He drew upon many different sources of inspiration as the project developed with elements of a Hindu temple blending with a Swiss chalet, an Algerian maison or a Muslim mosque all tied together around the idea of a medieval castle.
There was also a grotto dedicated to the Virgin Mary and a few Egyptian mummies dotted around for good measure...
Cheval declared the project to be inspired by the spirits of 'Julius Caesar, Archimedes and Vercingetorix.'
Eventually, in 1912, 33 years after beginning, Cheval declared his work to be finished.
It stood 35 feet high, 40 feet wide and was 85 feet long.
Cheval himself estimated that he spent 9,000 days or 65,000 hours working on the project and probably could have finished it sooner but for his reluctance to 'steal God's day' and work on Sundays...
Initially Cheval hoped that he and his wife, now in their 70's, would be entombed in the castle when they died but the local authorities forbade anyone to be buried outside of the regional cemetery.
Not discouraged by this in the least Cheval immediately began work on a mausoleum for himself and his wife in the grounds of the cemetery using the same methods and materials.
He finished that another 8 years later...
His neighbours and many other people in the local area dismissed Cheval as a lunatic or a crank but soon the castle began to attract visitors including Andre Breton, Niki de Saint Phalle, Lee Miller, Pablo Neruda and Pablo Picasso and the work was referenced by luminaries such as Peggy Guggenheim and Max Ernst.
Andre Lecroix, an archivist in the French Government, wanted to list the building as an official monument and asked Cheval to write the story of its construction and decide what its official name should be. Cheval dutifully delivered the story but insisted that Lecroix should name the building.
Lecroix duly christened it 'Le Palais Ideal de Facteur Cheval' or 'The Ideal Palace of the Postman Cheval.'
Ferdinand Cheval died in 1924 and was interred into the mausoleum he built in the cemetery.
The Palais Ideal lived on, although by 1968 it had began to fall into disrepair.
In 1969 Andre Malreux, the French Minister for Culture, officially declared it a historic monument ensuring its ongoing protection and it now also enjoys status as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
However, probably the most fitting tribute came for Cheval in 1986 when the image of the 'facteur' and his work was immortalised by the French Government.
Their medium of choice?
A postage stamp...

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Dave Sim: Cerebus, Spirituality and Sexism.


Looking at the first few issues from 1977 it's hard to believe what 'Cerebus the Aardvark' became...
Initially conceived as a parody of the popular 'Conan the Barbarian' comics that had recently been published, with a heavy influence from Steve Gerber's 'Howard the Duck' strip, the early stories are an energetic, if scrappy, affair.
However it didn't take long for Dave Sim, the creator of the series, to see the potential scope of this new world he had created and expand upon it.
With the second story arc, 'High Society', Sim took his cast of characters and moved them to the city state of Palnu where Cerebus, a hard-drinking, combative Aardvark finds himself dragged into the corridors of power. Sim realised he could address any theme he wished to in this book and went on to explore religion, finance, sexuality, war and creativity across the later volumes of the series.
'Cerebus the Aardvark' was a huge success and sales on the book were phenomenally high, particularly given the fact that Sim self-published as well as creating the book single-handed.
By 1984 Sim found himself struggling to keep up the book's monthly schedule and recruited Gerhard, a fellow Canadian artist, to produce the backgrounds of the script, allowing Sim to focus on the highly-detailed character work that had become synonymous with the strip.
Another reason for Sim's need for help was a vow he had made in 1979.
'Cerebus' was going to be 300 issues long...
To be fair on Sim he had made this declaration after being hospitalised following ten days of prolonged LSD usage and could have backed down later without any major outcry.
Sim's steely determination to see this through and stand by his rights and obligations as a creator would crop up again throughout his career...
When the first collection of Cerebus stories were collected into a single volume Sim first made them available directly from himself via mail order. This upset many of the comic stores who had supported 'Cerebus' as a title but Sim was unapologetic.
It was estimated that he made up to $150,000 by this decision so it's unlikely he lost a lot of sleep...
However, it was later in the life of the series that things really began to get interesting.
While researching the various religions of the world to create the beliefs of the 'Pigt' and 'Cirinist' sects that are in the story Sim began to develop his own system of spirituality that borrowed from Christianity, Judaism and Islam. His practices included fasting, celibacy, prayer and the giving of alms and considered the holy books of all these religions to be equally valid as the word of God.
As it went on 'Cerebus' shaped Sim as much as Sim shaped 'Cerebus'.
He wanted to discuss religion in the book so he did the research and made Cerebus the Pope.
He wanted to discuss politics so Cerebus became Prime Minister.
He wanted to discuss the life of a writer so he introduced Oscar Wilde as a character.
He wanted to write gags for Groucho Marx so he 'cast' him as Lord Julius, the ruler of Palnu.
And then he wanted to discuss feminism and gender roles...
So, he created a character called 'Viktor Davis' who outlined what Sim had come to believe were the position of men and women when it came to creativity.
'Davis' explained that men were 'lights' who tended to produce while women were 'voids' who tended to absorb.
Many were alarmed by this language but felt it was appropriate for an author to give his characters opinions that may upset people but may not represent the views of the author himself.
However, Sim went on to support the theories that 'Davis' had put forward in an editorial under his own name where he elaborated on the ideas and explained that his work didn't get sufficient coverage or respect because of a 'Marxist/feminist/homosexualist axis'.
This caused a major storm in the comics world and a lengthy debate followed.
Another creator, Jeff Smith, got caught up in the furore and had a heated exchange with Sim that ended up with Sim accusing Smith of being dominated by his wife and challenging him to a boxing match.
Smith declined...
The sales on 'Cerebus' dropped later in the series as Sim pursued his various agendas but he remained determined to stick to his 300 issue target.
He left orders that if he died Gerhard was to complete as many issues as he wanted with just backgrounds and then, if necessary, the remaining issues up to 300 to be published as blank pages...
In March 2004 Sim published 'Cerebus the Aardvark' #300.
It was the culmination of 27 years and 6,000 pages of work.
Sim has described it as 'the longest sustained narrative in human history', has made arrangements for it to enter the public domain upon his death and while he is alive there is an open invitation for other creators to use his characters in their own work.
Few people take him up on the offer...

Friday, 23 September 2011

James Barry: 'A gentleman every inch...'


Dr James Barry died on the 25 of July 1865 with a considerable reputation that he had built across his life and career.
An innovator in the field of medicine, his tireless efforts to improve the diet and hygiene of the patients he dealt with, sometimes among the poorest residents of some of the most distant corners of the world, caused him no end of conflict with his peers and superiors.
Barry developed a name as an excellent doctor and surgeon but one who refused to accept the limitations of the resources and accepted wisdom of his profession.
The year of his birth is uncertain, and the earliest years of his life shrouded in mystery, but James Barry began his medical studies at the University of Edinburgh in 1809.
Once qualified he was commissioned as a Hospital Assistant in the British Army beginning his career in Chelsea and later Plymouth before being posted overseas where he spent the majority of his life.
He served initially in India and then in Cape Town, South Africa where he made a name for himself by performing one of the first caesarean sections where both mother and baby survived the procedure. The grateful parents named their son James Barry Munnick and the tradition of the name was passed through the generations, counting among their number General James Barry Munnick Hertzog, Prime Minister of South Africa from 1924 to 1939.
The tradition has continued to this day and the current holder of the name is, fittingly, a doctor.
Barry's renown as a surgeon was only matched by his reputation as a firm advocate for improved hygiene and conditions in the hospitals he worked in.
His career took him from Mauritius to Canada with periods in Trinidad and Tobago, St Helena, Malta, Corfu, the Crimea and Jamaica.
All of these postings saw Barry argue with his superiors over the state of the hospitals and the standard of the staff working in them.
This eventually came to a head in St Helena where Barry, frustrated at the lack of response to his concerns by the Commissariat on the island, wrote a letter to the Secretary of War outlining his issues. He was immediately placed under house arrest and accused of 'behaviour unbecoming to an officer and a gentleman.'
Barry described it as:

'...probably the first instance of an officer being brought to trial for the performance of his duty...'

The charges were eventually dropped but the reputation as an agitator would follow Barry through his life.
It would be easy to imagine then that Barry would find a kindred spirit in Florence Nightingale, his contemporary and fellow advocate for improved conditions in medical institutions.
That would, however, ignore Barry's near-superhuman determination to clash with any prominent figure around him...
Rather than comparing notes and finding common ground Barry took the one encounter he had with Nightingale to berate her over a difference of medical opinion.
Nightingale remembered the incident vividly:

'I never had such a blackguard rating in my life- I who have had more than any woman- than from Barry sitting on his horse while I was crossing the hospital square with only my cap on in the sun. He kept me standing in the midst of a crowd of soldiers servants and camp followers, every one of whom behaved like a gentleman during the scolding I received, while he behaved like a brute.'

She later described Barry as:

'The most hardened creature I ever met throughout the army...'

Barry retired in 1864, against his wishes, and died in 1865.
Upon his death, with his body being prepared for burial, an incredible discovery was made.
Dr. James Barry was a woman.
Moreover, further examination determined that at some point she had given birth.
This revelation stunned most of the people who had known Barry but many spoke up now with their long-standing suspicions. Rumours of an affair with the Governor of Cape Town resurfaced and people saw a new set of motives in Barry's nomadic career with her needing to be constantly moving before rumours followed or she was too closely observed.
This makes Dr. James Barry the first Briton who was assigned female at birth to become a medical doctor.
But there is no formal recognition of this achievement.
Upon this revelation a series of newspaper editorials, rather than supporting the idea that a woman could become a doctor, and in this case an exceptional surgeon, played up the idea that the standards of medical training and examination had slipped to such a low standard that even a woman could slip through.
Although now believed to have been born Margaret Ann Bulkley at the time of her death the identity of this remarkable woman was unknown.
Her gravestone is made out in the name of 'James Barry' and, despite the petty gripes of many at the time of her death, contains a full listing of her qualifications and military rank...

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Ali Dia (and other cousins of George Weah)


There's no real hiding place in sport.
You can handle the press conference like Ali in his prime but if you step out to perform with nothing to back it up you'll be lucky if it's just your ego that gets bruised.
That didn't deter Ali Dia though...
Graeme Souness has never had a great reputation as a manager for picking out and developing obscure but talented players.
His time at Glasgow Rangers is best defined by him bringing talent up to Scotland that allowed him to be successful in a relatively weak league but was never going to be a world class team,
at Liverpool he managed to dismantle a decent side and replace nearly all of the members of the team with inferior replacements while his success at Galatasary returned him to the comfort zone of helming a historically strong team in a generally poor league.
His judgement generally could be called into question after selling the story of his recovery from a heart attack to The Sun, a newspaper reviled in Liverpool after it's scandalous reporting of the Hillsborough disaster and his decision to plant a flag in the centre circle of the home pitch of their arch rivals Fenerbahce after a Turkish Cup win in 1996.
However all of this is overshadowed by the Ali Dia affair.
After receiving a phone call from Liberian international and former World Footballer of the Year recommending his cousin, who was at the time plying his trade at Blyth Spartans in the Northern Premier League, Souness agreed to give Ali Dia a one month contract.
He was impressed by Weah's enthusiasm and tales of Dia's 13 international appearances and time playing at Paris Saint-Germain.
Dia duly arrived and began training where he looked, frankly, quite ordinary.
He was due to make his Southampton debut against Arsenal in a reserve game but this was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch.
In the meantime Southampton were dogged by a series of injuries to members of the first team squad which saw a number of reserve players drafted in for a Premier League match against Leeds United.
Souness hoped not to have to call on his unproven bench but after 32 minutes Matthew Le Tissier pulled up injured and Ali Dia was sent into the fray.
It's possible that on another day, in another game Dia could have come on, kept his head down and cruised through the game unnoticed.
Instead he was replacing one of the most naturally gifted midfielders to ever grace the English game.
The contrast couldn't have been more obvious...

Le Tissier said afterwards:

'He ran around the pitch like Bambi on ice. It was very embarrassing to watch...'

After 53 minutes Souness had seen enough. Ken Monkou was sent on to replace Dia and the young Liberian never played for Southampton again.
Further enquiries revealed that he was not George Weah's cousin and that the phone call had come from his agent rather than the Liberian legend.
The stories of Dia's shining career were just that.
Stories.
His career in France had been based at teams such as Beauvais and La Rochelle rather than PSG and he had never come close to international football.
Souness resigned at the end of the season and, incredibly, went on to find further employment.
Dia later signed for Gateshead, played 8 times for the club and scored on his debut.
He never played for Liberia.
The next season Arsenal signed Christopher Wreh from Monaco.
He was a Liberian international and a cousin of George Weah.
While never good enough to displace Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright at Arsenal Wreh played for the Gunners 28 times, scoring 3 goals.
You'd imagine that Arsene Wenger made a couple of phone calls before drawing up the contract...

Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Obscene Dog: Hubbard and Scientology


On the surface Scientology seems to be a fairly straightforward method of self-improvement.
Even using their own terminology it's not hard to see the appeal of a system that encourages the individual to 'Audit' themselves to find their weaknesses and shortcomings and undertake a series of exercises or 'Study Tech' to travel across the 'Bridge to Total Freedom' and emerge on the other side as a 'Clear', happier and more complete person or an 'Operating Thetan'.
For many the ridiculous language employed by the Church of Scientology is enough to leave them open to mockery and their teachings to be rejected but there are enough people looking for answers about themselves and the world around them to see Scientology grow into the international belief system that operates today and count large numbers of people, including massive celebrity names, among its followers.
Founded by the author L. Ron Hubbard in 1952 the very origins of Scientology are clouded in controversy.
Hubbard had previously published a book called 'Dianetics' in 1950.
In 'Dianetics' he had proposed a pretty straightforward system of popular psychology where the mind stored negative memories in a 'reactive' area as 'engrams' which affected the 'analytical' area in an indirect manner. By simply substituting 'reactive' for 'subconscious', 'engrams' for 'trauma' and 'analytical' for 'conscious' you were left with a fairly obvious and simplified version of basic Freudian analysis that required the user to simply engage with and accept subconscious trauma as something that could affect their everyday life.
Most people saw through 'Dianetics' as a poor version of Freudian analysis with unqualified therapists leading people through a series of inadequate attempts to deal with traumatic memories.
Hubbard didn't see the failure of 'Dianetics' as an indictment on the system itself but rather that he had not gone far enough in moving his methods of treatment from those of conventional psychology.
He decided that he would leave the business of the mind alone to therapists.
His business would now be that of the soul...
This decision also tied in with another theory that Hubbard had developed during this period.
Friends at the time reported Hubbard often claiming that there was no money to be made in the Science Fiction novels and short stories he was producing and that the real money was in starting a religion.
Rumour has it that a wager in a bar with Robert Heinlein, another prominent Science Fiction writer, about who could found the more popular religion was also a prompt for Hubbard.
The actual existence of this wager is disputed but Heinlein went on to produce the novel 'Stranger in a Strange Land' (1961) which inspired the creation of 'The Church of All Worlds' by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart in 1968.
If there was a wager then Hubbard won...
While The Church of All Worlds enjoys worldwide membership it is still tied very firmly to neopagan subculture and its insistence on polyamory and instruction in the Martian language will probably see it remain a very small, but fervent, community.
By reframing Scientology as a religion rather than the self-help system that Dianetics was Hubbard immediately expanded the appeal of the movement.
The tax breaks that religions enjoy as institutions probably didn't hurt either...
Now established as a religion Hubbard used a very similar methodology to Dianetics for the mechanics of Scientology.
New followers are described as 'Preclear'. They are 'Audited' to determine the 'Incidents' that their 'Thetan' has endured and undertake 'Tech' to clear themselves of the memories of these traumas crossing the 'Bridge to Total Freedom' and emerging on the other side as an 'Operating Thetan.'
The incidents that Hubbard described are bizarre. They are believed to have taken place at a time before our souls have taken any physical form and were endured by our spiritual selves but the trauma remains and affects our conscious mind.
Among them are the 'Body Builder' incident, where the Thetan was placed in a "special field and forced to fight his own 'attention units'and build a physical body from them", the 'Ice Cube' incident where Thetans were trapped in ice and thrown in the ocean and the 'Jack-in-the-Box' incident where the Thetan was tricked into gathering a series of identical images which then explode.
People who have suffered from this incident will apparently be obsessed by the pictures on cereal boxes...
These are the incidents studied at a very basic level in Scientology.
Those further along the 'Bridge' will be confronted by traumas featuring Bears, Gorillas and an Obscene Dog...
Before long the methods of Scientology came under scrutiny.
The policy of 'disconnection', where followers were encouraged to refuse to acknowledge non-Scientologists and leave friends and family behind lead to accusations that it was little more than a cult. Investigation from the media and law enforcement agencies followed which in turn lead to Hubbard developing some hardline policies with how the Church of Scientology should deal with its enemies.
He advocated policies such as 'Attack The Attacker', 'Fair Game' and 'Dead Agenting' which all involved refusing to assist with any enquiries from outsiders about the activities of the Church of Scientology and discrediting anyone who spoke ill of the organisation.
Surprisingly, given the origins of his methodology, Hubbard was particularly opposed to the practice of Psychiatry and encouraged his followers to attack and discredit it whenever they could.
Despite the murky origins and unconventional beliefs at its heart, the Church of Scientology has gone from strength to strength over the years.
The recruitment of celebrity followers such as John Travolta, Kirstie Alley and Tom Cruise has given Scientology a media profile that other organisations can only envy.
The revelations promised to followers who cross the 'Bridge to Total Freedom' and become 'Operating Thetans' was a secret for a long time.
Sustained investigation and the rise of the Internet has meant that in recent years this has become public knowledge and even featured on an episode of 'South Park'.
According to Hubbard the 'Thetans' that form our souls are from another planet and were dumped into volcanoes on Earth millions of years ago by a despotic intergalactic overlord.
The 'incidents' that traumatised these Thetans, including the volcanic immolation, have lead to us believing ourselves to be 'merely' human and unaware of our cosmic origins and destiny.
Through Scientology Hubbard promised to allow us to 'clear' ourselves of the traumas and lies that prevent us from embracing our intergalactic future and return to the stars as true Thetans.
It seems a shame that when it came down to the core of his religion Hubbard couldn't resist going back to the hackneyed Science Fiction stories he claimed to be moving beyond.
It's not even a good one...

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance


'Long Lance', the autobiography of Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance, was published in 1928.
It was the story of a man who had been born the son of a Chief in the Native American Cherokee Nation in Montana in 1890.
Long Lance told of his time on the reservation as a child and his decision to join a travelling 'Wild West' show that passed by his home, seeing in it a chance to travel the world and explore in a way that a traditional tribal life never would.
Having spent some time on the road with the show Long Lance applied for a place at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania.
This was the most prestigious school for Native Americans in the country but Long Lance excelled and qualified at the top of his class.
By 1915 he had also qualified from St. John's Military Academy in New York and appealed directly to the office of President Woodrow Wilson to be allowed to join West Point, the most prominent of the Military Academies and the institution from which the United States Army drew its Officer Class.
The President's Office duly endorsed him as a candidate but before he could enter Long Lance enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force to allow himself to join the conflict in Europe without waiting for the United States to join the fray.
He returned home having been wounded eight times and promoted to the rank of Captain.
With his return Long Lance found himself drawn more to the cause of the rights of Native Americans and spent the next decade living among the Plains Indians and working as a journalist for the Calgary Herald highlighting the difficulties that Native Americans were facing with the new restrictions of reservation life.
By 1922 Long Lance was formally adopted as a Blackfoot Indian by the Kainai Nation and given the name 'Buffalo Child'.
National prominence came with his new status as a leading voice in the rights of Native Americans. A lucrative career as a speaker supplemented his income as a journalist as did an endorsement deal with a sportswear company and a prominent part in a feature film about Indian life.
However, the feature film, 'The Silent Enemy: An Epic of the American Indian', had employed a Native American advisor, Chauncey Yellow Robe, who was suspicious of Long Lance's credentials. He alerted William Chanler, a legal advisor on the film, who organised a more detailed investigation into the background of Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance.
What was uncovered was incredible.
It turned out that rather than being born on the plains of Montana, Long Lance was born Sylvester Clark Long in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and was not the son of an Indian Chief but was instead the son of a school janitor called Joseph S. Long.
On top of all this, not only was Joseph Long not an Indian Chief he wasn't even a Native American. He was Black.
Long had been honest in his autobiography when he described joining a Wild West show that passed by where he lived but having joined the show the owner mistook him for a Native American and employed him as such. Long did nothing to correct this assumption and instead immersed himself in the culture of the other Indians in the show and became a fluent Cherokee speaker. Realising that life as a Native American offered him far greater opportunities than life as an African American Long embraced his new identity and began to build his new life as Long Lance.
He had also embellished his military career and may have opted to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force rather than entering West Point fearing that the Academy may have uncovered the truth of his background when he applied to join.
Having made these revelations the creators of 'The Silent Enemy' realised that discrediting their star before the film was released would be ridiculous and so they tried to keep the true origin of Long Lance a secret but, almost inevitably, the truth began to leak out.
Abandoned by many of his former acquaintances Long Lance began to drink heavily and saw many of his formally lucrative contracts for endorsements and appearances dry up.
Irvin S. Cobb, a writer in New York who had counted Long Lance among his friends summed up the attitude of many who discovered the truth about his origins:

'To think we had him here in the house! We're so ashamed. We entertained a nigger...'

Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance was found dead in Los Angeles, California in March 1932.
He had died from a self-inflicted gunshot.

In his will he left all his remaining assets to St. Paul's Indian Residential School in Alberta, Canada.
In death, as in life, Long Lance remained dedicated to improving the lot of the Native American people...
Further investigation into his background found that his parents were both of ethnically mixed heritage with his Mother having some ancestry in the Croatan Nation and his Father partly descended from the Cherokee people.
Although his ethnicity was more African American than Native American Sylvester Long knew that the racial divisions of the United States of the time meant that he stood a better chance to make something of himself as an Indian than a Black man and the response of many of his 'friends' on the revelation of his 'true' racial identity says more for the flaws and hypocrisy of American society of the time than anything about the character of Long Lance himself...

Sunday, 21 August 2011

John Romulus Brinkley: The Goat Gland Doctor


Born in Jackson County, North Carolina in 1885 J.R. Brinkley would become famous for his innovative approaches in promoting his medical practice and infamous for some of the practices themselves...
Wishing to become a doctor Brinkley began his career hawking quack remedies in a travelling medicine show with his wife under the guise of Quaker doctors.
Brinkley soon tired of life on the road and enrolled himself into Bennett Medical College, an unaccredited institution in Chicago that specialised in 'eclectic medicine', a branch of herbalism based around traditional Native American methods.
Unable to keep up with his tuition bills Brinkley left the college without graduating and moved around various towns in Florida and North Carolina operating as a 'Doctor' without any formal medical training.
Eventually Brinkley bought a diploma from the Kansas City Eclectic Medical University and opened up a clinic in Greenville, South Carolina.
He specialised in the dispensation of 'Salvarsan' an 'electric medicine from Germany' that it was claimed could reinvigorate the human body.
In reality it was coloured water that Brinkley would inject into his patients at $25 per shot.
By 1918 Brinkley was operating a 16 room clinic in Milford, Kansas and developed a reputation as a capable doctor and gifted physician after his care and treatment of a huge number of patients during that years influenza pandemic. He also became known as a fair and generous employer and the presence of his clinic proved to be very positive influence on the prosperity and wellbeing of the town.
However it wasn't too long before Brinkley began to push at the margins again.
Visited by a patient who was suffering from erectile dysfunction and complained that he used to be 'frisky as a goat' Brinkley replied with a smile that the problem was that he didn't have the glands of a goat to keep his vigour up.
The patients response would define Brinkley's life and career from this point on:

'Well why don't you put some in then Doc?'

The transplantation of animal gland into humans wasn't unprecedented and Brinkley had actually studied the are somewhat in his time at Bennett College and was intrigued by the idea.
The procedure took place and the patient, having survived Brinkley's untrained surgical skills, went on to impregnate his wife within weeks.
The child was a boy.
They named him Billy...
Word of the success of the operation spread and soon Brinkley was inundated with requests for goat gland transplants. The medical validity of the procedure was unproven and the questionable skill of the surgeon, coupled with his habit of operating while drunk and less than sterile surroundings made the whole affair quite perilous. However most of the patients survived and the glands would be harmlessly absorbed into the body as foreign matter.
People were willing to take the risks for the promised rewards of the curing of impotence, insanity, hardened arteries, prostate problems, high blood pressure, skin disease, old age, and turning grey hair dark again.
Even women would apply for the procedure for the therapeutic relief offered.
Ever the showman Brinkley made a point of only using the glands from the highly prized Angora goat rather than the more common Toggenberg breed and would allow the patient to choose which goat their glands came from...
Hungry to build on his success Brinkley looked to expand the scope of his operations by promoting himself on the exciting new medium of radio.
He founded a station KFKB ('Kansas First, Kansas Best) and began to broadcast a mixture of military bands, French lessons, astrological forecasts and storytelling alongside huge promotional features on his medical procedures.
Armed with a 1,000 watt transmitter Brinkley managed to bring in a huge number of new patients and became incredibly wealthy.
He invested in Milford and built a new sewage system and sidewalks, installed electricity, built a bandstand and apartments for his patients and employees.
He also founded a baseball team, The Brinkley Goats and built a new post office to handle all of his mail, which was approaching up to 20,000 letters per day.
As a reward for his investment in the state Brinkley was made an Admiral in the Kansas Navy.
Kansas is landlocked and the state contains the exact geographical centre point of the United States of America...
Investigated constantly by the American Medical Association Brinkley moved the operations of his radio station to Mexico which was a little looser in its regulations.
He began to promote his medical practice with impunity and armed with a new 50,000 watt transmitter was heard across America and further around the world.
This new transmitter would power up lightbulbs, kill birds and drown out other signals.
People claimed that they could pick up the signal in tooth fillings or from bedsprings.
Another reason for the relocation to Mexico was Brinkley's support for Nazism in the 1930's.
As well as broadcasts in support of Hitler the Brinkley Mansion also boasted a swimming pool with swastikas tiled on the bottom...
Having made a success of his medical career and life as a broadcaster it was perhaps natural that Brinkley would attempt to move into politics.
He stood for the position of Governor of Kansas twice, using the might of his radio empire on both occasions. Standing as an Independent and having applied after the ballots were printed Brinkley began a huge campaign based around his name being written onto the ballot and voted for.
While never gaining enough votes to be elected in Kansas there were reports of confused voters, at the prey of Brinkley's powerful transmitter and garbled campaign, writing his name on ballot papers across the country...
Fittingly, Brinkley's own arrogance caused his downfall.
Morris Fishbein, an employee of the American Medical Association made it his life's work to bring down Brinkley's empire. His series of articles in various medical journals angered Brinkley so much that eventually he sued Fishbein for libel.
This was a huge mistake.
Under cross-examination Brinkley's lack of qualifications and medical expertise was exposed.
He was stripped of his various licences to practice medicine and left himself open to malpractice suits from nearly everyone he had operated upon.
On May 26th 1942 Brinkley died penniless in San Antonio, Texas.
His legacy lives on though.
Every time someone pays for an injection of bovine collagen into their body they are unknowingly paying tribute to a man who knew the lengths people would go to for their health and wellbeing....


Sunday, 14 August 2011

Bhutan and Gross National Happiness


Bhutan is a Himalayan kingdom that has spent the majority of it's history isolated from the rest of the world.
Landlocked, located in a remote mountainous area and lacking any strategic relevance or natural resources that would make them appealing to an aggressive neighbour Bhutan managed to remain cut off from the outside world from it's unification in the 17th Century up until the late 20th Century.
However this policy of isolation would come at a price.
By the time Jigme Singye Wangchuck became King in 1972, Bhutan was suffering some of the highest rates of poverty, illiteracy, and infant mortality in the world.
The King decided that for the good of his people he would open up to the world around them and allow developments in education, medicine and economics that were taken for granted in other countries to be implemented in Bhutan.
He was however wary of the unique culture of Bhutan, which had endured for centuries protected from the influences of other nations, being eroded or even lost altogether.
His solution was to allow the development of Bhutan to take place very slowly and be regulated by an idea would put the good of the country as a whole ahead of that of any particular individuals or institutions.
He called this 'Gross National Happiness'.
With it's roots in Buddhism, the major religion in Bhutan, the idea behind GNH was to allow for development but to put the spiritual and psychological needs of the people at the centre of the process.
The main effect of this has been the decision to prevent large scale industrial development at the cost of the environment of Bhutan.
Instead it was decided that 60% of the country should remain permanently forested, 40% of the land should be protected as National Parks and a further 9% should be maintained as 'biodiversity corridors' to preserve these other areas.
Bhutan was one of the last countries in the world to introduce television, waiting until 1999.
For the first time Bhutanese people could see what the world outside looked like.
Cable services delivered sports, news and entertainment shows from around the world.
With television came advertising. Consumer spending spiralled as the people of Bhutan became aware of branded goods and products such as aftershave.
Spending on these goods rocketed but at the same time so did another phenomenon new to Bhutan.
Crime.
As the levels of spending rose so did the levels of violent crime.
Consumer goods meant more things to steal and the television shows that were being beamed in seemed to be little more than lessons in consumption and how to commit crimes.
It was decided that advertising levels would be scaled back dramatically and that there would be a greater control on the shows that were broadcast, with those shows that focused on crime and consumption removed from the airwaves.
With this action the levels of crime dropped accordingly...
The actions of the King made him incredibly popular in Bhutan.
His decision to open up to the world while maintaining Bhutanese culture has allowed his country to flourish without a loss of their national identity and the resolution of the problems related to television show the impact that a government more concerned with the happiness of it's people than their material wealth.
In 2005 King Jigme Singye Wangchuck announced that he would be abdicating in favour of his son in 2008 and that Bhutan's first Parliamentary elections would follow.
The King had decided that if Bhutan was to be respected internationally in the 21st Century it would have to embrace democracy and learn to govern itself.
The people were stunned.
Two political parties were established, the Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party and the People's Democratic Party.
Polls were taken in the run up to the election and found that people asked who they intended to vote for invariably came up with the same answer:

'Who does the King want me to vote for?'

This struggle to embrace the idea of democracy turned the election from an attempt by both parties to outline their policies to both parties attempting to prove themselves more in line with the thinking of the King.
For the record the Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party won by a landslide...
Bhutan will never be a prosperous country.
It's mountainous location, poor transport infrastructure and lack of natural resources means that it is largely ignored by India and China, it's rapidly industrialising behemoth neighbours.
Bhutan will never be rated AAA by Standard and Poor, it will never win the World Cup, it will never have an army large enough to wander around the world implementing it's policies at an international level.
It's just got a government based around the happiness of it's people and a determination to ensure that their landscape is protected from rapacious developers.
More fool them, right?


Sunday, 7 August 2011

Walking Down the Road with Ted Chippington



The rise of alternative comedy in the 1980's left many traditional comedians baffled by its popularity. Having seen the likes of Alexei Sayle and Ben Elton many of the old guard would shrug their shoulders and declare these new acts an alternative TO comedy.
Then Ted Chippington arrived...
Arriving onstage in full Teddy Boy regalia and supping a pint, Chippington's act consisted mainly of jokes that began 'I was walking down the road...' and cover versions of songs backed by a cassette recording of a keyboard rendition of the tune that Ted would then 'sing' over in a flat monotone.
Audiences were bemused by this figure who eschewed any attempts to actually make them laugh, preferring instead to drawl out gag after gag in his laconic Midlands accent, entirely indifferent to the response of the crowd.
Ted managed to find regular gigs opening for musical acts such as The Fall, who he was also a huge fan of.
Ted was very popular with The Fall as well. Their frontman Mark E. Smith in particular enjoying the idea of riling the crowd in preparation for the group's own set.
The aggression that the audience would begin to fire at him was really what Ted was after. Groans or embarrassed silence was what he worked for and if he could manage to raise heckles and catcalls all the better.
Hecklers would be met with the same indifferent poise that the rest of the act consisted of. Chants of 'Who are you?' would simply see Ted pause and reply 'I'm Ted Chippington' without a trace of emotion on his face.
This deadpan expression was central to Ted's onstage persona.
Comedian Stewart Lee, who has credited Ted Chippington with inspiring him to become a performer, explained the unique position Ted took onstage:

'I was utterly transfixed and my heart was racing as I realised that stand-up could be anything you wanted it to be.
You didn't even have to look as if you were enjoying it.'


One of Ted's gigs supporting The Fall in Birmingham in 1984 was recorded and released by a local record label as 'Non Stop Party Hits of the 50's 60's and 70's' and managed to get played by John Peel on Radio 1.
Another album, 'Man in a Suitcase' followed in 1986 and received airtime on Radio 1 again, this time from Steve Wright.
One track from this album, a cover of The Beatles 'She Loves You' was released as a single and lead to an appearance on Pebble Mill at One.
Ted had dreamed of appearing on the BBC daytime magazine show since he started performing. Mainly as it was recorded in walking distance from his house so it would be easy to get home from.
Despite this gig fulfilling a personal ambition and giving him nationwide exposure Ted did nothing to make his rendition even slightly more accessible.
He appeared in his full Teddy Boy regalia and performed the song in his usual monotone. As he left the stage he was met by a presenter who informed him that he had 'scored the highest rating ever on the naffometer' and went on to say:

'That was pretty appalling, if you don't mind me saying so...'

Ted simply replied:

'Well, I find that quite shocking actually... That you have to say that...'

still in the same flat tone.

Ted went on to perform at the Glastonbury and Reading festivals and released a couple more singles. The first of these 'Rockin' With Rita (Head to Toe)' was his first original composition and, backed by a couple of local bands in The Nightingales and We've Got a Fuzzbox And We're Gonna Use It, managed to trouble the lower ends of the charts at No. 56.
Ted's final single release was his version of 'The Wanderer' which turned the original on its head:

'I'm not the wanderer, I'm not the wanderer, I'm not too keen on roaming around and around and around...'

However, even without becoming anything like a household name or enjoying mainstream success, all the attention Ted received began to take it's toll.
Word had got out on the comedy circuit about his act. People began coming to his gigs and requesting their favourite 'jokes'.
Then the unthinkable happened.
People began to laugh.
Audiences appeared and openly enjoyed what Ted was doing.
His brand of 'anti-comedy' seemed refreshing and different.
Ted was popular.
Ted's response was the only reasonable one he could take given the circumstances.
He had set out to annoy people but they seemed determined to enjoy themselves despite his best efforts.
So Ted Chippington quit.
He moved to America and became a trucker for a while and then moved on to Mexico where he worked as a chef.
Eventually he moved back to the UK and, confident that enough time had passed to allow his small following to dissipate, began to perform again.
Styling himself now as Reverend Ted Chippington he appears onstage in a dog collar and does...exactly the same jokes he did twenty years before.
Rev. Ted promises to continue to perform as long as he enjoys it.
And his audiences don't...

Sunday, 17 July 2011

'Here we'll stay wonderfully': d'Annunzio and Fiume


The Treaty of Versailles was drafted to decide the fate of the defeated nations and contested territories left in the wake of the end of the First World War.
From its first publication it was contentious with even representatives from the victorious powers concerned over how effective it would be in settling the affairs that had caused the war.
Field Marshal Archibald Wavell, who had commanded the British forces in the Middle East during the First World War said:

"After the 'war to end all wars' they seem determined to create a peace that will end all peace..."

One of the most controversial results of the Treaty was the fate of Fiume, a seaport on the Adriatic coast, which was due to be awarded to Yugoslavia as a part of the post-war negotiations.
This caused a great deal of resentment among many Italians.
Fiume was seen as largely Venetian in terms of culture and history and boasted an Italian population that made up 88% of its entire citizenry.
Various Nationalist voices, such as Marinetti and Mussolini, spoke out against this decision but one vowed to act.
Gabriele d'Annunzio promised to take Fiume for Italy.
A poet, politician and adventurer, d'Annunzio had long been a controversial and well-known figure in Italy.
52 years old when the War started d'Annunzio insisted upon enlisting and became renowned for his daredevil antics and fearless actions.
He became such a thorn in the side of the Austrian army that a bounty was placed on his head. He responded by entering the harbour of Bakar in a motorboat and leaving behind rubber capsules containing mocking lyrical messages in indelible ink.
d'Annuzio later explained away this escapade as an attempt to raise Italian spirits.
He also undertook the famous 'Flight Over Vienna' where he lead 9 planes on a 700 mile round trip to drop propaganda leaflets of his own creation onto the Austrian capital.
It was during this flight that he adopted the war cry of 'Eja! Eja! Eja! Alala!' which was said to be the cry that Achilles used to spur on his horses.
This cry was also heard often on d'Annuzio's march on Fiume.
Starting out on September 12th 1919 with a band of 287 veterans and the slogan 'Fiume or Death!', by the time he arrived at Fiume it was at the head of an army 1,000 strong.
Determined to avoid unnecessary conflict d'Annunzio demanded to see General Pittaluga, the Commander of the Italian forces in Fiume, and explained his intention to claim the city for Italy and refuse to surrender it to Yugoslavia.
The Commander explained that he had direct orders to fire upon d'Annunzio's army if they attempted to enter the city to which d'Annunzio responded by pointing at his chest, covered with medals he had won during his service in the War, and declared:

"Fire first on this!"

General Pittaluga's eyes filled with tears and he replied:

"Great poet! I do not wish to be the cause of spilling Italian blood. I am honoured to meet you for the first time. May your dream be fulfilled!".

The two men embraced and entered Fiume together.
d'Annuzio immediately sent word to Rome to inform the Prime Minister of his success and his desire to offer the city of Fiume back to Italy.
However there was one, small problem with d'Annunzio's offer.
Italy didn't want Fiume.
They had negotiated other gains from the Versailles Treaty and happily relinquished all claims to the city. All that d'Annuzio's actions could do was jeopardise Italy's other holdings.
The Prime Minister refused to accept d'Annunzio's offer and declared the warrior poet 'a fool'.
Furious, d'Annuzio refused now to surrender Fiume to Yugoslavia OR Italy.
Christening the city the 'Italian Regency of Camaro' he began to develop the idea of forming his own autonomous state where he would lead as 'il Duce'.
He drafted a Constitution that declared that music was the central principle of the State and attempted to form a 'League of Oppressed Nations' as a counterpoint to the newly-formed League of Nations.
The parliament, or Council of the Best, was encouraged to avoid needless chatter, with sessions held with 'notably concise brevity'.
Italy responded to this by blockading the city and attempting to starve out the insurgents but for 15 months d'Annunzio managed to maintain his grip on power.
He formed a force called the 'Uscochi', named after a band of local pirates that had traditionally preyed on Venetian and Ottoman vessels coming into Fiume.
d'Annunzio's Uscochi captured ships and stole coal, arms, meat, coffee, ammunition and even army horses in daring raids all over Italy.
With these successes Fiume began to appear a viable outpost for some of Europe's outsider elements.
Artists, bohemians, adventurers, anarchists, fugitives and occultists began to show up at Fiume in droves every day.
Every day began with d'Annunzio reading manifestos or poetry from his balcony and would end with a concert and firework display.
Eventually the Italian government lost patience and tightened the blockade.
d'Annuzio responded the only way he knew how.
On November the 12th 1920 he declared war on Italy.
The Italian army mobilised and began operations on the 24th of December 1920.
d'Annunzio called it 'The Christmas of Blood' as 20,000 Italian troops began to move against his own 2,000 over the next five days.
Eventually an Italian warship began to bombard the city and d'Annuzio surrendered.
He said:

'I cannot impose on this heroic city its ruin and certain destruction.'

He was allowed to retire to his home on Lake Garda and later proved to be a huge influence on Benito Mussolini who adopted d'Annunzio's title of 'il Duce', his use of the Roman salute and his habit of speaking to his public from a balcony.
He didn't bother with the fireworks. Although they were to come...

Sunday, 10 July 2011

The Fundamental Fysiks Group


Founded by Ernest Orlando Lawrence in 1931, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory came to prominence due to its involvement in the Manhattan Project, the quest for the United States to develop nuclear weaponry during the Second World War.
Originally Lawrence saw the Lab as a home for his Cyclotron, a Nobel Prize winning particle accelerator, and a base for physics research but the success of the Manhattan Project, and the key role of the Berkeley Lab in that success, saw Lawrence attempt to continue weapons research and maintain his links with the military-industrial complex after the war.
However, the newly-formed Atomic Energy Commission decided that the purpose of the Berkeley Lab would be mostly confined to non-classified research with specialised military research removed to a new facility in Los Alamos.
The Berkeley Lab remained an important centre for physics research.
11 researchers associated with the Lab have received Nobel Prizes and many significant inventions and discoveries have emerged from Berkeley.
One particularly interesting period began with the founding of the 'Fundamental Physics Group' by Elizabeth Rauscher in the 1970's.
Alongside other researchers such as Jack Sarfatti, Henry Stapp, Fred Alan Wolf, Nick Herbert,and John Clauser, the group were inspired by the developments in quantum mechanics at the start of the Twentieth Century.
Classical physics had been based around the mechanistic ideas of Newton that were largely based around the idea of solid, physical materials making up the world and measurable forces acting upon them.
Gravity, friction, acceleration and inertia all went to explain how physical objects moved and were acted upon.
Newtonian physics proposed a very tidy explanation of the composition and actions of the physical world, a world that could be measured and predicted through observation and calculation.
The development of Quantum Mechanics at the start of the Twentieth Century shook the certainty of Newtonian physics to its core.
Scientists such as Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Max Planck, Albert Einstein and Erwin Schrödinger made observations that called into question the very foundations of classical physics.
Rather than being solid, certain objects it appeared that particles were indeterminate and would even behave differently depending on whether they are being observed or not.
Light, traditionally seen as having a wave form, was discovered to fluctuate between a wave and particle form.
One of the key pieces of research was developed by John Bell in 1964 where he proposed that particles were not held in a fixed spot, but rather existed in several places simultaneously and would only stay in one place when observed. Rather than being separate objects he theorised that particles were 'entangled' and operating in constant relation to one another.
Rauscher's group at Berkeley began to investigate this theorem and began to attract interest from various groups with their own agenda in developing these ideas.
One of the implications for Quantum theory was the idea that it could explain paraphysical and parapsychological phenomena.
Organisations researching into psychic ability poured money into the Berkeley Lab to allow the Fundamental Physics Group to see if abilities such as ESP and telekinesis could become scientifically explicable.
In 1974 Jack Sarfatti of the Group began examining the claims of Uri Geller and conducted a series of experiments to see if the developing ideas on the nature of physical reality could explain Geller's claims to be able to manipulate the form of physical objects.
Initially Sarfatti released a statement to the press that he believed Geller had psycho-energetic abilities but later retracted the statement and declared that Geller's abilities could be reproduced by most capable conjurers.
Nick Herbert, another member of the Group also began research with the Xerox Corporation into a device called the 'Metaphase Typewriter'.
Based on quantum mechanics it was a machine that it was hoped would be able to communicate with disembodied spirits.
Herbert attempted to contact Harry Houdini on what would have been his 100th birthday but was unsuccessful and stopped work on the project soon after.
The C.I.A. also helped to fund the work of the Group, with a particular emphasis on the feasibility of Remote Viewing.
At the height of the Cold War it appeared that psychic ability could be a major element in the Arm Race and the possibility of agents that could project their minds to 'see' anywhere in the world from the security of a military facility intrigued the military.
Eventually many within the Group began to call themselves the 'Fundamental Fysiks Group' as they felt that what they were researching was so far away from conventional physics that it was misleading to use the word itself.
However, while undertaking these, often bizarre, contracts the Group also did a remarkable amount of work on more orthodox scientific research.
Members of the group were among the most successful researchers into Bell's theorem and quantum entanglement and every demonstration that quantum entanglement was compatible with Einstein's Theory of Relativity was either undertaken by a member of the Group or based on the research of the Group.
The Fundamental Physics Group of the Berkeley Lab never managed to weaponise or develop scientific proofs of paranormal ability.
Instead they took the money from government agencies, private organisations and corporations and developed ideas on quantum mechanics that were incredibly significant.
And that's just got to be more important than inventing a telephone for ghosts...

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Francois Sudre: Father of Solresol


The search for a universal language began in earnest in the 18th Century.
With Latin in decline and the rise of truly global empires it became the goal of many linguists to develop a new language that could be embraced by every nation in the world, allowing for communication and cooperation on an unprecedented scale.
Initially many looked for an 'Adamic' or 'Edenic' language based on the idea that humanity had shared a universal language until the attempt to build the Tower of Babel and that it would be possible to rediscover the innate language shared by the first people who lived in the Garden of Eden.
Children were raised in silence in the hope that they would begin to speak with a language that emerged from within rather than being taught a language they were immersed in from birth. These experiments, unsurprisingly, failed.
Others worked on the idea of a 'Universal Language', creating a single linguistic system that could be embraced by people of any nation.
The most famous of these is Esperanto but others such as Ido, Interlingua and Volapuk (created by Johann Schleyer after God appeared to him in a dream and commanded him to create a universal language) also attempted to bridge the linguistic divide between nations.
For Francois Sudre all of these languages were found wanting.
They were either too similar to existing languages to be accepted without resentment or too limited in their ability to truly communicate for him to acknowledge that they were truly universal.
He had determined what was truly a universal language and was used globally in a constant enough fashion to become a new language that everyone could embrace.
By 1827 Sudre had developed a language based around the patterns of music.
He had created Solresol.
Solresol has seven syllables based on the Western musical scale: do re mi fa so la si.
Words are constructed from these sounds which are grouped together according to common use and related words share initial syllables; for example, 'doremi' means 'day', 'dorefa' is 'week', 'doreso' 'month', and 'doredo' the concept of 'time' itself.
Opposites are indicated simply by reversing a word, so 'fala' is 'good', and 'lafa' is 'bad'.
Sudre felt that a language based on a system with no ties to a particular nation or political system would be easier for all nations to accept without having to concern themselves over cultural differences or dominance.
There was also no need to concern yourself with issues of pronunciation.
His other sticking point with other created languages stemmed from the fact that he saw them as fatally limited in how they would communicate. Linguists would develop speech and script and believed that to be sufficient.
Sudre disagreed. He assigned the musical notes he used as the base of his language with corresponding colours, symbols and hand gestures.
Solresol could be communicated through speech, script, music and colour.
This meant it was more useful to the deaf and blind than other constructed languages which Sudre felt would give it an edge in being accepted as a truly international language.
Initially all seemed positive. Sudre won prizes for Solresol at exhibitions in Paris and London and the French army showed a great deal of interest in a language that could be carried across the battlefield simply with different coloured flags.
Sudre himself died in 1862 but in 1866 his book on the subject 'Langue Musicale Universelle' was published to some acclaim.
The author Victor Hugo was an advocate but Sudre's dream would be dealt a fatal blow by the French Government in 1880 when they banned the teaching of sign language of any kind to deaf and mute children.
They believed that the teaching of sign language was a barrier to teaching these children to learn to talk and, incredibly, the ban remained in place until 1991.
For Sudre it was too late. With its application for the linguistically disenfranchised removed Solresol fell behind Esperanto as the universal language of choice.
The emergence of the internet has seen a small revival in the use of Solresol but a simple Google search will reveal any article written on Sudre's creation is, like the one that you are reading now, in English...

Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Lyman Family: Building a Messiah's Complex


Born in Eureka, California in 1938 Mel Lyman is probably best known for following Bob Dylan at the legendary Newport Folk Festival in 1965.
Dylan had made his name as an acoustic folk singer and had played at previous Festivals in Newport and been very popular.
However at this point Dylan had recorded some songs featuring electric instruments and was determined to introduce amplified electric performance to the usually exclusively acoustic Festival.
Dylan played three songs backed with an electric band to the disgust of the partisan crowd. Boos began to be heard around the audience and even two acoustic songs to round out the set were not enough to calm the horde of furious spectators.
Rumour has it that Pete Seeger was wandering around backstage with an axe to try and cut the cables to the amps...
Mel Lyman came onstage faced with a furious crowd that appeared on the verge of a riot.
Armed only with a harmonica he played a 30 minute improvisation around the traditional hymn 'Rock of Ages' that calmed the audience and brought a spirit of unity back to the previously agitated mob.
Talking about the experience afterwards Lyman said that what he did was:

'...like what Christ had to do before mounting the cross, he said not my will but thine be done and then there was no cross, no death...'

This was not Lyman's first flirtation with Messianic comparisons...
Lyman had moved to Boston in the early Sixties and had been experimenting with various hallucinogens. Soon after he began to believe that he was destined to become a massively important spiritual leader and began to make preparations to lead humanity into a new world under his guidance.
He founded a 'Family' and established a commune in the Fort Hill area of Boston.
Ostensibly operating along the same lines as many other urban communes at the time Lyman's group was actually far from the 'hippie' stereotype.
The social dynamics within the group were far more conventional than most communes that were founded around the same time.
Although Lyman and a few other members of the Family fathered children by different women most people within the group lived monogamously, people tended to dress relatively conservatively and the men within the Family generally wore their hair shorter than most men of the time.
Another key element that differentiated them from hippie communities was an almost nihilistic attitude to culture and society that promised violent change at the hands of Lyman and his followers.
Lyman wrote a song promising:

'I am going to burn down the world / I am going to tear down everything that cannot stand alone / I am going to shove hope up your ass / I am going to turn ideals to shit / I am going to reduce everything that stands to rubble / and then I am going to burn the rubble / and then I am going to scatter the ashes / and then maybe someone will be able to see something as it really is / Watch Out!'

Lyman also established a 'Karma Squad' within the Family to ensure loyalty and ordered the building of a 'Vault' in the Fort Hill development. This was an isolation chamber that dissident Family members would be placed in to think about their mistakes...
These actions and this attitude would seem to place Lyman closer to Charles Manson, who also boasted a 'Family' of followers, but in truth the Lyman Family were never the threat that they talked of being.
Instead of using violence as a tool of revolution they attempted to harness the media to tell their story.
Articles appeared in newspapers and magazines and interviews were recorded on television and radio.
It seemed a major coup when two members of the Lyman Family, Mark Frechette and Daria Halpin, were cast in a new film called 'Zabriskie Point' to be directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. Frechette hoped to use his access to Antonioni to recruit the director into the Family but Antonioni showed no interest whatsoever.
Frechette refused to give up though and took to leaving Family related literature in the director's trailer...
But nothing seemed to give the Family the momentum they need to become the social and political force that Lyman desired. Family members donated substantial amounts of money allowing for the publication of magazines and newsletters that spread the word of Lyman's imminent emergence as a spiritual leader but no one seemed to want to listen. One of the major contributers to the Family was Frechette himself.
He donated all of his $60,000 earnings from 'Zabriskie Point' to the Family and was determined to keep the income stream of the Family liquid.
When the acting jobs dried up Frechette led a team of Family members on an attempted robbery of the Brgham Circle bank in 1973. During the robbery one Family member was shot and killed by police and Frechette was arrested and eventually sentenced to five years in Norfolk State Prison where he died in a bizarre weightlifting accident in 1975.
But this brief flirtation with violent action was about as active as the Family got in terms of pushing their message out to the people.
Lyman himself was a very reclusive Messiah, preferring to send others out to spread his words while he oversaw the development of the Fort Hill commune.
As the years went on there was less and less heard from the Family while the Fort Hill development grew beyond recognition. Money that had previously been earmarked for media projects to promote the teachings of Lyman began to be used to buy land and property in places such as Boston and Kansas.
Mel Lyman died in 1978 but the Family didn't disband.
Instead its members used the skills acquired in developing the Fort Hill commune and the property portfolio that had been invested in and took their collective wealth and experience to found the Fort Hill Construction Company.
A group that had long advocated the spiritual rebirth of America instead turned its energies toward the redevelopment of the country one construction project at a time and this most conservative of communes took the logical step of evolving into a prosperous business.
It's just ironic that a group that was brought together by one man's nihilistic vision of the destruction of society found their true purpose to be that of building...

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Harold Davidson: The Rector of Stiffkey


On the 21st of October 1932 Harold Francis Davidson was defrocked in a ceremony in Norwich Cathedral and removed from his position as rector of the parishes of Stiffkey St. John with Stiffkey St. Mary and Morston, two rural areas on the north coast of Norfolk.
He had been charged on four counts of immoral behaviour including a specific charge of improper conduct 'in embracing a girl in a Chinese restaurant in Bloomsbury'.
Generally he was under investigation following an accusation from one of his parishioners that he had neglected his duties in Stiffkey and Morston to travel to London working to save 'fallen' women or women he felt were in danger of being tempted into a sinful life.
Reverend Davidson did spend his Fridays and Saturdays in London's theatre district, particularly in the areas around Piccadilly Circus and Soho, and would talk to runaways, prostitutes and waitresses, trying to convince them to find work in shops, factories and theatres before returning to Norfolk on Saturday evening to prepare himself for his services on Sunday.
Unfortunately the rector had made an enemy in Major Philip Hammond, a local landowner in Morston, who had held a grudge against Reverend Davidson after being overlooked as churchwarden.
In November 1930 Davidson missed the Remembrance Day service having been taken ill while in London and unable to travel.
Major Hammond made a complaint to the Bishop of Norwich and an investigation into the rector's activities was undertaken. A detective agency was hired and they followed Reverend Davidson for a year. They uncovered little.
The rector did travel to London and spend time with women trying to help them improve their lot but when questioned the women made it clear that the rector's behaviour remained appropriate at all times. One woman did make a statement, while drunk, against Davidson but recanted it when sober.
After a year of investigation with nothing to show for it the Church began to panic.
They had cast enough doubt over Davidson to make his position untenable but had not uncovered sufficient evidence for their charges to stick.
They asked him to resign and the rector agreed to do so if his parishioners wanted him to go but, Hammond and his cronies apart, Reverend Davidson still had a lot of local support.
Eventually a trial was convened and the rector faced his accusers.
Dozens of witnesses were called but none were prepared to support the charges and implicate Reverend Davidson in the acts he had been accused of.
The church's case was in disarray when the prosecution team suddenly produced a photograph.
It showed Davidson helping a naked girl into a shawl. The girl was 15 years old.
However, neither Davidson or the girl had any recollection of posing for the photograph and close examination shows a white line down the centre of the picture that would seem to indicate that it was faked.
Not that it mattered. The Church had the guilty verdict it needed and was rid of its turbulent vicar.
But Harold Davidson was far from finished as a public figure. He had a very definite idea about what his life would involve now he was out of the Church.
He would go back to the stage.
Having been a keen performer during his student days it seemed an easy decision to Harold. He had applied for a licence to perform public recitations while on trial and had began to write an outline of the affair from his perspective to be performed around the country. This denunciation of the Church began to be performed in some very bizarre locations.
He appeared in Blackpool in 1932 fasting in a barrel, took part in a stage show that depicted him in Hell being attacked by imps and somehow ended up on Hampstead Heath stood next to a dead whale.
Almost inevitably he was killed after being mauled by a lion.
As part of a show in Skegness Davidson was billed as a 'Modern Daniel in the Lion's Den' and was caged with a lion called Freddie and a lioness called Toto.
Both animals were partly sedated and the performances went off without a hitch until one day, mid-diatribe, Harold stepped onto Toto's tail. Her roar alerted Freddie who although old, toothless and sedated managed to swipe a paw at Davidson's neck.
The injuries were not very serious but unfortunately while in hospital Harold was wrongly prescribed insulin which sent him into a coma.
He died two days later.
His funeral was attended by 3,000 people and his widow wore white as she saw it as an occasion to celebrate the life of Harold Davidson rather than to mourn his passing.
The ceremony took place in Stiffkey, Norfolk at the request of his former parishioners...

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Stanley Green: Protein Wisdom


The Protein Man was a familiar sight on Oxford Street for many years, armed with his billboard which read:

'Less Lust, By Less Protein: Meat Fish Bird; Egg Cheese; Peas Beans; Nuts. And Sitting. Protein Wisdom.'

Beginning his mission in 1968 Stanley Green would parade up and down the street explaining his theory on the link between protein intake, inactivity and lust to passers-by and selling booklets that explained his ideas.
Green's theory was that a diet that was dominated by protein would fuel the human sex drive to unbearable levels and that large periods of inactivity would only mean that the body would store up this energy without any outlet.
Most people would take this to mean that sexual abstinence would be the problem and allow the lustful desires to grow but when it came to 'inactivity' Stanley had zero tolerance.
He was opposed to the very idea of sitting.
He believed that 'those who do not have to work with their limbs and are inclined to sit about are storing up their protein for passion.'
To be fair he practised what he preached. He would march up and down Oxford Street for hours at a time and cycled a 24 mile round journey each day from his house in Northolt to undertake his duties.
He used public transport when he qualified for free travel as a pensioner but he had been making the journey for twelve years at that point.
Green had developed his ideas while on active service in the Navy during the Second World War. He was shocked by how openly his fellow servicemen discussed sex.
He felt it was due to the dominance of protein in their diet and began to adjust his own nutritional intake accordingly.
Stanley stopped eating meat, peas, beans, nuts and dairy products and began to eat only porridge, home made bread, steamed vegetables and pulses and a pound of apples a day.
His booklet was entitled 'Eight Passion Proteins' and was first produced in 1973 at a price of ten pence. it went through 52 different editions and by 1993 he had sold 87,000 copies.
Green produced the booklets at home on his own printing press. His approach to typeography and layout was eccentric at best, meaning that the booklets would often change typeface or typesize halfway through a sentence or even a word.
Stanley also wrote a novel called 'Behind the Veil: More Than Just a Tale' which has been described as a 'colourful account of the dangers of protein and the possibility of redemption.'
It was never published.
Similarly the manuscript for 'Eight Passion Proteins' was rejected by Oxford University Press in 1971 but through a campaign of letter writing Stanley ensured that copies were delivered to the Prince of Wales, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the editor of the Times, the Director-General of the BBC and Pope Paul VI.
Five different British Prime Ministers also received complimentary copies.
Green was determined to get his theory out as widely as possible and was driven by the idea that the world would be improved as a consequence of embracing his ideas.
As well as suppressing lust he felt that his diet would make for 'better, kinder and happier people.' and he seemed genuinely concerned about the welfare of those around him. As he told the Sunday Times:

'Passion can be a great torment...'

He would finish each day with a prayer before bed which he described as:

'Quite a good prayer, unselfish too.'

Stanley Green died on December 4th 1993.
His billboard and booklets went to the Museum of London where they remain on display warning us of the dangers of cheese, beans and sitting...

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Monsignor Horan: The Builder of Knock


Monsignor James Horan was a man who got things done.
As a curate in Tooreen, County Mayo in the 1940's and 50's he worked beyond his ecclesiastical duties and involved himself in a number of projects that encouraged the local community to pool resources to enable the electrification and installation of drainage of this rural area.
He also suggested opening up a dance hall to strengthen social ties locally and raise funds for various projects in the parish.
Soon afterwards a rumour began to spread that the devil himself had turned up at one of the Tooreen dances. Apparently a local girl had been dancing with a dashing, handsome stranger but happened to look down and notice he was twirling her around the dancefloor on cloven feet.
Initially it was believed that this story was created by a local rival dancehall promoter, Albert Reynolds, who would go on to become the taoiseach or Irish Prime Minister, but as the crowds in Tooreen began to swell with those hoping to catch a glance of Lucifer a whisper went about that the canny curate himself might have put the story out there...
This sort of grasp on the importance of publicity and the power of myth-making would hold Monsignor Horan in good stead for his next set of projects.
Appointed the parish priest of Knock, County Mayo in 1967 Monsignor Horan saw an opportunity to put this quiet town in the West of Ireland on the map when he learnt of an appearance of the Virgin Mary that had occurred in 1879.
Realising the approaching centenary of the event he decided to build a 15,000 capacity basilica on the site of the apparition and promote the centenary as a massive event, attracting pilgrims from around the world and even a Papal visit by Pope John Paul II.
The basilica was completed in 1976 and the centenary saw 450,000 visitors descend upon this tiny village.
Knock had been transformed into a shrine whose fame and popularity rivalled Lourdes itself. Monsignor Horan was not a man to rest on his laurels though and was determined that the flow of visitors to Knock should continue unabated.
He envisioned a link between Knock and Lourdes, allowing pilgrims to travel between the two most famous Marian shrines in the world.
He decided that Knock needed an international airport.
This was an extraordinary decision. Ireland as a nation had suffered economically for years through lack of investment and the devastating effects of mass emigration and the rural West of Ireland had endured more than most.
The idea of a parish priest heading up one of the largest building projects in the country's history appeared absurd but Monsignor Horan was nothing if not determined.
He secured informal permission from the taoiseach, Charles Haughey, who probably felt it was a pipe dream that he could nod at and forget, but the Monsignor took this ahead of any official planning permission and hired contractors to begin work immediately.
Around IR£600,000 was spent on preparing the land for building and a team of labourers hired in the run up to the general election in 1981.
Monsignor Horan felt that if sufficient money was spent and the project was well under way it would have to be approved regardless of who was in power after the votes were counted.
Others were less sure of the wisdom of the plan.
Critics felt that building an international airport in such a 'foggy, boggy' spot was lunacy and there was every possibility that Monsignor Horan could be left looking like a fool and damning Ireland's image internationally in the process.
After the election it appeared as if the critics were right.
Haughey was kicked out and all government funding for the project was lost.
Monsignor Horan found himself IR£4million short on his funding and it appeared that there would be no airport in Knock.
However, this is where the Monsignor's extraordinary drive and belief came into play.
He undertook a massive worldwide tour, visiting countries such as the United States and Australia with wealthy Irish immigrants and tirelessly pleaded his case.
Appearances on television in Ireland and around the world made him very much the face of the project and his charm and optimism saw the money come rolling in.
A bizarre conspiracy theory at the time suggested that NATO had donated a large amount of money so that America would have another airstrip to use in bombing runs on Libya. Christy Moore, an Irish singer, wrote a song about the airport which included the line:

'All sorts of planes could land there, of that there's little doubt,
It'll be handy now for George Bush to knock Gadaffi out...'

The inaugural flight from the airport took place in 1986 and Monsignor Horan, by then 75 years old, was the first passenger onboard.
Within two months of the official opening of Knock airport Monsignor Horan was dead.
The project completed, he was on pilgrimage to Lourdes when he died suddenly.
His was the first coffin to be flown into Knock for burial...

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Marwencol


Mark Hogancamp was brutally attacked by five men outside a bar in Kingston, New York in April, 2000.
He was in a coma for nine days and spent a total of forty days in hospital following the attack which left him with brain damage, including memory loss, and severe physical injuries.
Having been discharged from hospital Mark received counselling to help him overcome the trauma of the incident and begin to piece together his memories of his life and physical therapy to try and repair the effect of the attack on his motor skills which had become significantly impaired.
Before the attack Mark had been a carpenter and the loss of his ability to manipulate tools and materials, coupled with the terror he felt at the idea of interacting with the world, meant that his personal life and career were left in tatters following the incident.
As part of his therapy he was encouraged to keep a journal to chart his emotional journey and help him to reassemble his recollections of his life before the attack.
Mark made good progress in his physical therapy and counselling but still struggled with many elements of everyday life. His relationships with people around him were affected by the psychological damage he had suffered and he was still unable to work due to his ongoing physical recovery.
Then the money ran out...
Without health insurance or an income to pay his medical bills Mark was unable to continue with his therapy sessions. He feared his recovery would come to a standstill without professional support but recorded his solution in his therapy journal.
He wrote:

'I need to create my own therapies...'

He began to work with model kits to improve his motor skills and found himself drawn to material from the Second World War. He found a doll that he liked, a model of a Captain in the U.S. Army and decided to name him Captain Mark Hogancamp.
Mark had met two women after leaving the hospital who had been particularly kind to him, his neighbour Colleen and Wendy, a colleague at a bar Mark had found work at.
Mark found dolls to represent the two women and had them join Captain Hogancamp in the town he had began to build in his back garden.
Drawing on his work as a carpenter before the attack Mark began to construct buildings for the dolls to live in.
Collen had always loved the idea of a florists in town called 'Pocket Full o' Posies' which had closed down. Mark built a replica in the town in his garden for Colleen the doll to live in and built a restaurant called 'Wendy Lee's Kitchen' for the Wendy doll to live in. For his own doll he built 'The Ruined Stocking' a bar and catfight club and with that the town began to grow.
Mark added more characters with dolls based on friends, family and co-workers and gave them all places to live and work. He decided the town would be based in Belgium during the Second World War and that Captain Mark Hogancamp had crashed his plane there while flying back from a mission to China.
With the population and infrastructure in place the town just lacked one thing.
A name.
Using the inspiration of it's first three residents Mark decided to combine the names 'Mark', 'Wendy' and 'Colleen' and named the town 'Marwencol'.
While undoubtedly useful as physical therapy, the construction of the town and manipulation of the dolls and accessories forming a system of physiotherapy that improved his motor skills significantly, the work hadn't yet began to address the mental trauma of the attack apart from allowing him to create a safe haven for his characters and a world he could control entirely.
This all changed with the arrival of the SS...
Mark decided that an SS platoon would find the town and attempt to destroy it.
They targeted Captain Hogancamp as the leader of the town, captured him and kept him as a prisoner in the town's church.
Captain Hogancamp was tortured by his captors and left with a scar down the right side of his face, the same side that Mark had received his most severe damage during his actual attack outside the bar.
It appeared as if Captain Hogancamp was doomed. The men of the town had either fled or been killed when the SS attacked and he was tied up and helpless.
Then the women of the town arrived...
Lead by 'Anna', a doll representing Mark's ex-wife, they descended on the church armed to the teeth, slaughtered the SS and saved Captain Hogancamp.
For Mark this proved that Anna loved Captain Hogancamp and he had them marry shortly after. They were wed in the town square with the bodies of the SS hanging behind them as a grotesque backdrop.
Anna insisted apparently...
The marriage infuriated 'Deja Thoris', a time-travelling Belgian witch who had fallen in love with Captain Hogancamp 2,700 years previously and had travelled through time to be with him.
Despite this, when another SS platoon arrived in Marwecol on a revenge mission and killed Captain Hogancamp and Anna, Deja was able to put her feelings to one side and used her magic to restore the Captain and Anna to life.
As Mark put it:

'With Anna to protect him and Deja able to resurrect him the SS had to accept that they could never hurt Captain Hogancamp...'

Mark began to photograph the story of the town, eventually exhibiting them in New York City, winning some competitions and publishing a book.
Although Marwencol has transformed Mark Hogancamp into a respected artist it would seem that it's most valuable role was as a haven for Captain Hogancamp, a character that can endure physical and mental traumas that would devastate most people and someone who has found a love that allows him to even cheat death...

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Genesis and Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge: A Pandrogenous Pairing


Neil Megson was born in Manchester in 1950 but became famous as Genesis P-Orridge, a performer with controversial groups such as Psychic TV, Throbbing Gristle and COUM, the artists collective behind the notorious 'Prostitution' show presented at the ICA in 1976.
'Prostitution' shocked even London's arts community with its line up of strippers, prostitutes and transvestite guards. Work presenting used tampons, rusty knives and syringes was enough to see questions asked in Parliament as to whether government money should subsidise such exhibitions and the organisers described by a Conservative MP as 'wreckers of civilisation'.
The controversy lead to extensive newspaper coverage which was soon cut up into collages and formed new pieces in the show.
This in turn caused more coverage and before too long the show featured collages of cut up articles about collages of cut up articles...
Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV were musical projects where P-Orridge would explore his fascination with subjects such as pornography, murder and the Occult with Throbbing Gristle forming in 1975 and Psychic TV forming in 1981 and P-Orridge only announcing his formal retirement from musical performance in 2009.
In 1993 P-Orridge met the woman who would become his second wife.
Lady Jaye had been born Jacqeline Breyer but took the married name Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge when the pair were wed while he became Genesis Breyer P-Orridge.
This entwining of the couple's names was just the start of the blurring of their identities...
From early on in their relationship they dressed very similarly and soon came to the decision that they would dress identically. They made it a rule that if either of them bought any new clothes they would have to buy two of the same item to make sure that they could both wear the outfit.
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge suffered severe injuries escaping from a fire at producer Rick Rubin's house in 1995 and was awarded $1.5 million in damages against Rubin and his record company as a result.
The Breyer P-Orridges decided to use this money to fund their next project, the natural culmination of the gradual meshing of their identities that had began through their renaming and identical dressing.
They would undertake reconstructive surgeries to attempt to become identical.
However, rather than using one as the template with the other attempting to match them they decided that they would form a pair with the aim being to form a single 'pandrogenous' being. Neither was to undergo a 'sex change'.
They would meet in the middle...
Lady Jaye had twelve separate surgical procedures on her face while Genesis had fourteen. They both had breast implants on Valentines Day 2003 giving them identical bust sizes and Genesis had two beauty spots tattooed onto his face to replicate the pair that Lady Jaye enjoyed naturally.
A key part of the arrangement was that neither should have anything removed. It was designed as a creative process rather than destructive.
Lady Jaye explained:

'If I could have a penis attached I would do it tomorrow, but for him to lose any part of the body that could give pleasure, that's not the idea...'

Lady Jaye died in 2007 from an undiagnosed heart condition.
The project ended there but its legacy lives on in the physical form of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, a man who loved his wife so much he wanted to become her and a man loved so much that his wife wanted to become him.
But it was never going to be as easy as one of them becoming the other.
Instead they both became each other...