Detectorists

This past week I binged through 20 episodes of Detectorists. My friend Leon recommended the series which is on the Acorn subscription channel, but I watched it on the free Hoopla service that works through local libraries. The first six episodes are also on YouTube.

It is a beautifully written and gentle show with characters that have real depth and humanity. There is a bit of farce in it too, but it really takes a close look at a group of English hobbits who take their metal detecting very, very seriously They are not metal detectors (that’s a device),; they are detectorists. It is also a study of male bonding and relationships in general.

The Cast

This is not an action series. There are enough of those. Too many for my taste. The series first launched in 2014. I never would have seen it without a recommendation but it became a massive hit, winning three BAFTAs and a Rose d’Or Award.

Mackenzie Crook is the creator/writer/director and also one of the detectorists, This comedy series follows a group of detectorists but focuses on two of them who are sure they will strike gold in the fictional northern Essex town of Danebury. Andy and Lance are friends who share a passion for metal detecting. They act at times like a griping old married couple but they have a real bond and a common dream.

With their fellow detectorist club members, they encounter greed, betrayal and redemption, and negotiate other relationships with an ex-wife, girlfriend, daughter and outside detectorists.

I didn’t think I knew any of the actors but I always check IMDB for credits and it turns out I know a group of them, Mackenzie Crook (Andy) is known for being on the British original comedy, The Office. He was also in The Merchant of Venice, The Brothers Grimm, Finding Neverland and might be best known to Americans as Ragetti in the three Pirates of the Caribbean films.

I know Toby Jones (Lance) from the Hunger Games, Captain America: First Avenger, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and I just saw him in The Pale Blue Eye.

Give the series a look. This is the first episode with Andy and Lance meeting a new member to their small club, a student named Sophie. Andy and Lance both take a liking to her, but they are still more interested in finding the Saxon gold they believe is on farmland owned by eccentric Larry Bishop, a man once suspected of killing his wife. The pair visit Larry, now a befuddled old man, but he does tell them of an archaeological dig halted by the outbreak of World War Two and allows them to search his land.

Phobias

Photo by Mart Production

Do you have any phobias?

Phobias aren’t just fears. They are irrational (unrealistic) and persistent fears of a specific situation, object, or activity. 

Most people have some fear of things like snakes or insects or heights. But if your fear of snakes, for example, is so intense that you couldn’t look at pictures of them or enter a room where they were in cages and couldn’t even touch a stuffed one, then you have a phobia.

A simple phobia does not usually interfere with daily functioning, but if a person starts to avoid situations in a less rational way (such as avoiding the beach because of fear of a shark attack or avoiding going outside because of fear of bees) the fear may be diagnosed as a phobia.

Look at all the phobias just in the “C” section of a list:

• Cacophobia- Fear of ugliness.
• Caligynephobia- Fear of beautiful women.
• Carcinophobia- Fear of cancer.
• Cardiophobia- Fear of the heart.
• Carnophobia- Fear of meat.
• Catoptrophobia- Fear of mirrors.
• Chaetophobia- Fear of hair.
• Chemophobia- Fear of chemicals or working with chemicals
• Chionophobia- Fear of snow.
• Chorophobia- Fear of dancing.
• Chrometophobia- Fear of money.
• Chromophobia- Fear of colors.
• Chronophobia- Fear of time.
• Cibophobia – Fear of food.
• Claustrophobia- Fear of confined spaces.
• Cleptophobia- Fear of stealing.
• Cnidophobia- Fear of strings.
• Coimetrophobia- Fear of cemeteries.
• Coitophobia- Fear of coitus.
• Coprastasophobia- Fear of constipation.
• Coprophobia- Fear of feces.
• Coulrophobia- Fear of clowns.
• Crystallophobia- Fear of crystals or glass.
• Cypridophobia – Fear of prostitutes or venereal disease.

Photo by Mart Production

I definitely don’t have claustrophobia. In fact, I have always loved being in small spaces. As a child, I liked crawling behind the couch, playing in closets, and making little forts from blankets, boxes, and sticks out in the woods. I had a very small bedroom, and I loved it. Of course, there is a name for this too. I am a claustrophile – a person who has the “condition” (that makes it sound bad) of claustrophilia, a love of closed-in spaces. I went spelunking (cave exploring) and crawled on my belly through tight passages in total darkness. I felt good.

For a full phobias list, go to anxietysecrets.com

Return to Some Hundred Acre Wood

“Happy may be all very well, Eeyore,
but it doesn’t butter any parsnips.”
~ Rabbit

Some Christopher Robin has been playing in my wood.

Everyone should have their own hundred-acre wood like Christopher Robin and his imaginary friends. It would be wonderful to own the woods, but that’s a bit much for all of us to own. At least, you should have a hundred-acre wood that you can easily visit and walk and really get to know.

I have such a wood. It’s a 15-minute walk from my front door.  It is actually 157.19 acres. There’s a reservoir on one side that can pass for a lake, a road alongside the edge of a cliff, and a small mountainside park.

It was an acreage gifted to the New Jersey county of Essex (which does sound English) with the stipulation being that it be preserved in its natural state. All that’s changed is a small parking area and some trails that were actually part of a minimal design by the Olmsted Brothers.

I like to walk to the Quarry Point scenic lookout. Spring and fall are good times to watch migratory hawks there. On today’s winter walk, it was quite empty of people. No bears or other creatures except in the imagination.

Ashdown Forest, Milne and Shepherd (illustrator) memorial, Gill’s Lap

I was browsing at a bookstore during the week and I came across Return to the Hundred Acre Wood in the Pooh section.  I didn’t recognize that title as part of the Pooh books. That’s because it was written by David Benedictus as the first official post-Milne Pooh book written with the full backing of A. A. Milne’s estate.

Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore (and one new character, Lottie the Otter) return to Christopher Robin’s wood.

It has nice illustrations by Mark Burgess who also worked on new versions of another famous bear named Paddington.

It has been more than 80 years since Christopher Robin said goodbye to Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood and now he returns from boarding school.

It is similar to the originals but not the same thing. It has ten stories, like the originals, but I don’t think I like this older Christopher. Would A.A. Milne have wanted them to ever grow any older?

A.A. Milne was born in 1882. He graduated from Cambridge, became Assistant Editor at Punch, a classic British humor magazine, got married, enlisted when World War I began, started writing and had his first play produced in London in 1917 and was considered a witty and fashionable London playwright.

In 1920, his son, Christopher Robin Milne was born and when Christopher was three, while they were on holiday Milne began work on a collection of verses for children which was published as When We Were Very Young in 1924. The characters were based on his son’s stuffed animals (except for Owl and Rabbit) and the bear was called Edward.

Complicated A.A. Milne

A. A. Milne plaque, Greville Estate, Mortimer Place, Kilburn, NW6, London – via Wikimedia

I saw that this past week (January 18) was the birthday of A.A. Milne, most famously the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh. The Pooh books have been favorites of mine since childhood and have had a revival in my life since the appearance of grandchildren.

Milne was a complicated person famous for simply-written stories. His own life was more complex. Like many famous men I have admired, he was, unfortunately, a poor father.

He was born in London in 1882. H.G. Wells was once his schoolteacher. Alan Alexander Milne went to Trinity College on a mathematics scholarship, but he preferred the less practical path of writing. At that stage, he was writing light verses and plays.

He considered himself a lifelong pacifist. But he enlisted in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and worked in the Royal Corps of Signals in WWI.

He was also solidly an atheist. He said that “The Old Testament is responsible for more atheism, agnosticism, disbelief — call it what you will — than any book ever written. It has emptied more churches than all the counter-attractions of cinema, motor bicycles, and golf courses.”

He wrote for the British humor magazine Punch. He played cricket on a team with Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) and J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan).

Pooh wasn’t his first publication. He had written several plays – Mr. Pim Passes By and Toad of Toad Hall.

While on holiday with his son, Christopher Robin, he started to write some verses about Christopher’s stuffed animals. The main character was a teddy bear his son called “Edward the Bear.”

The verses grew into stories set in the Hundred Acre Wood, which was his version of the Ashdawn Forest where they went on holidays. Winnie-the-Pooh was first featured in a Christmas story, “The Wrong Side of Bees,” published in the London Evening News in December of 1925. Fans of Pooh will recognize which chapter in the book that story became.

In six years, Winnie-the-Pooh was a million-dollar business.

Milne wasn’t happy that the “bear of very little brain” overshadowed any other writing he did, particularly if he tried to be more serious. Doyle and Barrie could identify with that writer’s trap.

Christopher Robin was also not a fan of Pooh as he grew older. He blamed the characters for making his father famous and distant from him. It took most of his life to reconcile his relationship with the character and fame. He never really reconciled with his parents. (More on that here.)

Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) and The House at Pooh Corner (1928) are now considered classics of children’s literature though still read by adults. (Though Amazon lists 13 Pooh books.)

Elsewhere I have written that Pooh’s world is philosophically a good personification of wu wei and pu.  I’m sure Milne had no idea about this or intended it. Wu wei is a Taoist concept of “effortless doing” your work and life.

The homophone of pu is also Taoist and the Chinese word that means “unworked wood” or “simple.” Philosophically, this is a metaphor for the natural state of humanity. This “beginner’s mind” is open to, but unburdened by, experience.

That’s Pooh bear.

Visiting My Mind Palace

tower of babel
Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Great Tower of Babel, 1563

My memory isn’t as strong as it once had been. For example, when I started this post, I had to search the site to make sure I had not already written about this topic. I have written a lot about memory and it is something I am fascinated by more and more as I grow older. No surprise there. I think all of us become more interested as we grow older and as we watch those around us who are even older. Memory starts to fail.

The Mind (AKA Memory) Palace has been used since ancient Rome as a way to enhance memory. It is a mnemonic device adopted in ancient Roman and Greek rhetorical treatises, such as Cicero’s De Oratore. People use this technique to recall faces, digits, and lists of words. It is based on the fact that most of us are very good at remembering places we know.

“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” ― Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A Memory Palace is a metaphor for any place you know really well and that you’re able to easily visualize.

If it sounds less than serious, you can call this method of loci (Latin for “places”) is a method of memory enhancement that uses visualizations with the use of spatial memory, familiar information about one’s environment, to quickly and efficiently recall information. The method of loci is also known as the memory journey, memory palace, or mind palace technique.

There is even a poetic connection, such as with William Wordsworth’s The Recluse.

“The idea of the mind as a palace or church, whose individual rooms can be explored with training, is familiar from the memory treatises of antiquity and the Middle Ages. The “memory palace” as a mnemonic device was widely used before the advent of printing to organize and remember vast amounts of information. By memorizing the spatial layout of a building and assigning images or ideas to its various rooms, one could “walk” through the imaginary building and retrieve the ideas relegated to the separate parts.”

“Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.” ― Leonardo da Vinci

What do you need to do to try the mind palace approach?

Choose a place to use that you know very well and are able to mentally walk around that place remembering everything in detail. Most people use their home, but it could be where you work or even your childhood home. You need to mentally walk around this place and see the specific order of things.

You will need to be able to focus on particular features you remember very well. If I imagine my home, I can start at the front door, entering the porch there is a storage bench on the left. Entering the house itself, there is a mirror on the left, then a window seat, then a large bookcase, and so on.

Visual learners are undoubtedly better at this technique as you need to really imprint the location and specifics. From what I have read, some people find it effective to walk through the place mentally and say the specifics aloud. You could also draw the location. Always use the same perspective for looking at the features.

When you know this place and every feature, you have your mind palace. Now what?

First, build the visual associations between the features and the information you want to memorize. You could use it to memorize a list in a particular order. More challenging would be to use the palace to remember the parts of a presentation.

I tried this for a presentation I was going to do without notes or PowerPoint slides. I created “memory pegs.”  On each peg I would hang an item I associated with it.  The association should be strong, perhaps even a bit ridiculous, but memorable.

This step is similar to other mnemonic systems which often rely on memorized spatial relationships. Similar techniques are known as the “Journey Method” (for lists of related items) or the “Roman Room” (for storing unrelated information).

Maybe you should start with a shopping list, rather than a presentation.

Walk your Mind Palace from the beginning to the end of the route. It is said that you can strengthen your memories by walking backward. I have not found that to be true, but then again I have trouble saying the alphabet backward too, and I know that really well in the normal order.

Using this technique can improve your memory in general, and it can improve your visualization skills.

“If you wish to forget anything on the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.” ― Edgar Allan Poe

I think Ed could have used a lesson about the Memory Palace.

The Occult Bookstore

This image is of Ray’s Occult Books, the rundown fictional NYC bookstore opened by Ghostbuster Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd). In the time between Ghostbusters I and II,.

Ray had problems dealing with life then. The city of New York had a restraining order on them for the property damage incurred while they saved the city from Gozer in the first Ghostbusters film. Those were hard years following the collapse of the Ghostbusters. He opened a store that specialized in bizarre, strange, and hard-to-find books. Ray tells someone that his books cover alchemy, astrology, apparitions, Bundu Magic Men, demon intercession, U.F.O. Abductions, psychic surgery, stigmata, modern miracles, pixie sightings, golden geese, geists, and ghosts. Peter Venkman was a frequent customer. We know that in 1989, Peter ordered a book a copy of Magical Paths to Fortune and Power.

Discovering this little piece of movie trivia, I immediately remembered an occult bookstore I had gone to with my friends Karen and Bob. Ray’s store exteriors were filmed at 33 St. Mark’s Place, but the store was supposed to be in the cooler part of Greenwich Village. The store I went to was also in the Village back in the 1970s but I don’t remember the location. We always called it “the occult bookstore” and I’m not sure what was its official name – if it had one.

It was as odd as Ray’s and equally odd were the staffers and customers. You could get into some interesting conversations there with people.

I bought a copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead there and some incense on one visit. The book is for the living to prepare yourself or others who are dying for liberation and the passage between worlds in the bardo.

I’ve thought about that store and that book, especially when Bob passed from this world and I wondered if he was somewhere in that intermediary place between life and death and the next step.

I know Ghostbusters is played for laughs but I have been haunted my whole life by the idea of ghosts (only once by a ghost) and wondering if there is an afterlife.


Ray’s store shows up in Ghostbusters II, and the third film, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and in the comic book series and board and video games.