Powysland

Some of you will remember the article we ran in Issue 8 about the work of John Cowper Powys. It was written by Tim Blanchard who has now gone on to write a whole book about JCP, which is now, naturally, in the hands of Unbound. Congratulations, Tim.

John Cowper Powys is something of an Escapological character, so here are some applicable passages from Tim’s manuscript:

We make such a fuss, he said, about the importance of political events, our careers, our finances and all the material things to our happiness, but pay little or no attention to how we think about and feel the world around us. We fill our waking hours with a cacophony of duties and varieties of prescribed leisure and entertainment, and miss out on the many gifts of perception and response.

and:

What mattered most to Powys is what’s been crushed by the relentless wheels of rationality and its systems of education and entertainment: the unimaginably long, slow and patient absorption of being, that relationship between the human mind and the inanimate which was formed among billions of pre-modern minds over thousands of years, and comes to us only as an unnoticed inheritance. Along with it have come many practical abilities – and the capacity for reason itself; but also the larger sense of meaning, of solace, and emotions like kindness, forgiveness, pity, maybe even happiness itself. These “primordial wells of deep delight” have been clogged up, warns Powys. We are destroying in the space of centuries what has taken millennia to build through webs of intricate impressions of places and things. We’re destroying a priceless inheritance, carelessly.

We look forward to the publication of Powysland in 2018.

The Dud Avocado

Our bedtime reading at the moment is The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy. We chose it because we liked the title, the cover and the phrases that jumped out at us in the bookshop.

The book is about a young woman’s decadent period in Paris. The first chapter contains a flashback in which our heroine invites a wealthy uncle to bankroll her two years of freedom.

He agrees but on the proviso that she graduate from college first. It’s a nice passage:

One sees this sort of conversation not infrequently in books of the mid-twentieth century, so I presume they actually happened sometimes.

I wonder why this kind of permissiveness — even with strings attached — is so uncommon today. I mean, what would it cost parents and aunts and uncles to give a much-loved child some freedom?

Expense, I fear, is not the reason: it’s a now-established skepticism towards “doing nothing”. Two years off? But you’ll not be earning! You’ll not be pushing forward! You’ll fall behind! Worse, you might find out about something new and — gasp! — go off-course!

Having said that, how often do we ask? I know never did. Too proud. Too incapable of gratitude. Besides, I’d have been laughed out of the room.

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An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 50.

Sorry for not blogging in a little while, lovely readers. I’ve been very lazy and — aside from writing the latest New Escapologist essay — have taken almost a month off. I highly recommended it.

We spent a couple of weeks holidaying in Montreal. It was good to be back in my second home and my wife’s first home. What can a young body do in such beautiful surroundings other than lounge on terasses and balconies and on the lush, green mountain? Very little is what.

We were there ostensibly for my brother- and sister-in-law’s wedding, which they had outdoors in the sunshine followed by a great party indoors with lots of good-quality booze. In fact, it was too much good-quality booze in my case, and I had to mysteriously absent myself from the family brunch the next day.

Later in our stay, we popped into the McCord Museum for an exhibition of original magic show posters. I expertly and repeatedly told my companions that this was the very site on which Houdini — the Master Escapologist, about whom I should know everything by now — took the punch to the guttywuts that would kill him a day later. Not only was I certain of it, I was also sure this fact would be the lynchpin of the whole exhibition. In the event, it was mentioned only at the very end of the show that Houdini was in fact walloped at the no-longer-extant Princess Theatre on St. Catherine Street. How could I have been so wrong? I hope my pub quiz team don’t hear of this or I’ll be ritually (and rightly) paddled for this failing in my special subject.

I was, at least, happy to see a pair of handcuffs used by the Master (labelled “Houdini’s handcuffs” as if he had a favourite pair – in fact he usually took regulation cuffs from local police officers) patented exactly a century before my birth. Cool.


It was very good to be back in this dreamy little island city and I wondered why on earth we ever came back to grey old Scotland. But then I remembered the harsh Montreal winters and how I missed all my friends and how it’s useful to make money every now and then. Bugger.

No sooner were we home in Glasgow did we have to hop on a train to London so I could record one of those online courses for the Idler Academy. It was a nice day of recording in the lovely surroundings of a beagle-filled house on the Thames. As you can see, I worked really hard that day. I’ll let you all know when the course is available (because I’m contractually obliged to).


Also in London, we peeked in at the famous Cereal Killer hipster caff on Brick Lane (where, as we sat in the window, a man selling ice cream from a bicycle-and-cart tutted disdainfully at the absurd cereal restaurant before gaily shouting “ice cream!” from his bicycle seemingly oblivious to the irony) and visited the brilliant Queer British Art show at the Tate (where one of the lovelier paintings, it must be said, is on loan from Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Gallery and we can happily see it whenever we like) and took a pointless but long-anticipated legend-tripping pilgrimage to the actual site of the Enfield poltergeist haunting. Oh! And I was stupidly excited to see the Pesticles statue at Hammersmith.

Home now and fairly knackered. Another month off might beckon.

★ If you’d like to re-live the glory days of New Escapologist, please pledge to my Patreon campaign to immediately access 4 new essays (and 4 dusted-off classics) as well as getting a brand new essay at the end of this month. Thanks!

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