Syntagma Digital
Editor, John Evans

DIARY: Nick’s mea culpa, South West Pickled, Cyril Hoskin, Poppycock Watch: UKIP, Downton Abbey Dames, Profundity of the Week: Alan Watts

Lobsang Rampa Nick Clegg's miserable apology to the nation for breaking his word on student tuition fees was perked up enormously when a prankster set it to music. It's now riding high in the charts and probably being closely studied for tips by the Obama and Romney teams in the US. Truly, serendipity makes jokers of us all. But why stop there. Nick should hire the same musician to set his Wednesday Leader's speech to music. The world would surely tune in en masse, girls mobbing him in the street. Politics would finally have achieved the status of soap opera.
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Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary, has abolished the hated EU regional structure imposed upon us by the Labour government. For us in the Westcountry, it means that the South-West region disappears completely and English counties, such as Devon and Cornwall become individual entities again. We who live at the pointy end of the Westcountry peninsula were baffled that the administrative centre of gravity rested in far-flung Bristol and not in Exeter and Truro. That has now changed. Physically, it's not an immediately apparent change, but old boundaries are important down here. Witness the furore over a Devonwall constituency which bestrode the Tamar river and shattered the unity of Cornwall, a Royal Duchy. As Eric Pickles puts it, the regions are "arbitrary lines on a map that have no resonance, in contrast to England's long-standing cities, boroughs and counties which have a real sense of local identity and popular support, dating back centuries." Let us hope that the move also means the end of the ludicrous attempt by Brussels, assisted by expenses-cheat Hazel Blears, to merge the South of England with northern France in a new EU region. After Pastygate, peace and commonsense return. Three cheers for Eric Pickles, a Yorkshireman who understands the world outside the Metropolis and, most importantly, acts upon it.
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Tibet has long fascinated the western imagination for its purported magic and mystery. Tales of mystical wonders have leaked out of the country for centuries, often via British India, and were eagerly snapped up by a credulous British and European audience. There were the lamas who could run a hundred miles in no time at all by taking gigantic Bob Beamon style leaps. Tulkus who could appear magically wherever they chose, and immense longevity among the priestly caste. The book and film Shangrila were typical of the genre. All this was fuelled by theosophical writers and explorers searching for "the secret doctrine". Such was the interest that books about Tibet became instant bestsellers. Perhaps the strangest individual was Lobsang Rampa, later outed as Cyril Hoskin, a plumber from Plympton in Devon, whose book The Third Eye created quite a stir. It was published by Secker & Warburg, no less. Apart from a gullible book-buying audience, it also attracted the attention of a number of experts on Tibet who questioned its authenticity. Cyril Hoskin claimed to have been a lama in Tibet before switching to the body of an Englishman. Since the Chinese invasion of the country, and the exile of the Dalai Lama, the mysticism has been replaced by mining operations and development. A sad end to a small, proud country. In a strange reversal of fortune, a Tibetan author, Sogyal Rinpoche (a high spiritual leader), in his influential book, The Tibetan Book of Living & Dying writes that his favourite account of the afterlife was written by an 8th-century English monk, the Venerable Bede. How times have changed.
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Poppycock Watch While we are on the subject of Shangrila, I was interested in Evan Davis's take on the UKIP party Conference on the Today programme. "It's full of mystics and oddballs," claimed the always scrupulously neutral presenter. Sounds just like the party for me, then.
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Downton Abbey, the hit television series, is upon us again. It's one of those TV events that you swear you'll never watch until you walk into a room where someone else is. Then you're irretrievably hooked. In the last episode, I was fascinated by "the battle of the dowagers", the incomparably theatrical Maggie Smith and the American pantomime dame, Shirley Maclaine. The latter burst into the genteel environment with a voice like a Brooklyn auctioneer and a face so plastered with slap it was rendered almost immobile. Now, as someone who once wrote broadcast scripts for a living, I spotted writer Julian Fellowes's dilemma right away. In real life the Maclaine character would not wish to embarrass her daughter, the wife of m'Lord of Downton, so would have hired a posh Englishwoman in New York to coach her in proper behaviour. But there's no drama in that. So in she comes screeching like a Harlem alley cat and attempting to take control of everything. Downton Abbey may be addictive, but it sure ain't real life.
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Profundity of the Week "We are going, in a symbolic sense, back into the forest like the hunter of old who has nobody around him to tell him how he ought to feel and how he ought to use his senses. Like the hunter, we must therefore find out for ourselves. "It's in this exploration that a person becomes, in the truest sense of the word, a "self", an original, authoritative source of life, as distinct from the person in its original sense, a mask, a role that he is playing in society." Alan Watts, author of The Way of Zen John Evans ... who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers. Spiritual Mystics in the Modern World is coming soon.
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