Having finished Sword of Wisdom, I spend the first part of my sixth day at the British Library dipping into Jeff Nuttall’s Pig, a book written in the afterglow of Ulysses and Naked Lunch. This being a research junket, though, there’s only so much a’ that one can take, so I shift gears and thumb through another of Nuttall’s books, a hippie manifesto of sorts called Bomb Culture. At the end of the book’s preface, Nuttall writes, “What can be said in words about how the vat was brought to the boil I hope to have put down in the following pages” (Bomb Culture, p. 10). Nuttall antedates Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style by a decade, feels more directly immersed in and connected with the hip counterculture than the latter, and says all that the latter says, only with knife-sharp clarity and glamour galore.
A dreary day — cold, rainy — most of it spent indoors reading the final hundred pages of Ithell Colquhoun’s book on MacGregor Mathers at the British Library. I’m all for observation of synchronicities and correspondences, but Mathers’s attempts to align various ancient magical systems — alchemy, astrology, Hermetic Qabalah, John Dee’s angelic alphabet, Egyptian and Celtic lore — leaves me exhausted and overwhelmed. Perhaps it’s time to shift course.
On the train again headed back to London after a lovely time in Cornwall. We toured the hills and fields, dined on regional fare — baps, fish and chips, pasties, clotted cream, cones of Cornish whippy — communed with ducks, geese, crows, and seagulls, not to mention dogs, dogs, all manner of canine, Boscastle is a doglovers’ paradise — plus wildflowers, we mustn’t forget wildflowers, hedgerows dotted with dainty purple foxgloves and daisies, with time set aside Saturday night, after all this Arcadian hiking and lazing about, for a candlelit evening tour of the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. Among the displays of charms and potions and wishing mirrors, the items that most intrigued me were the colorful Golden Dawn artifacts and the ornate robe worn in rituals performed by Argentum Astratum.
“A bit of peace” as I sit on a slate bench beside a stream, flies and potato bugs visiting on occasion but nevertheless respecting my space, allowing me to stare off into the shadows of the woods across the way. Earlier in the day I peeked into Merlin’s cave and glimpsed ancient Arthurian ruins along the coast of Tintagel. It pleases me immensely to think as Ithell Colquhoun did, viewing Cornwall in mythic terms, imagining time-traveling Druids and phantom islands shrouded in mist and communities settled by survivors of doomed kingdoms and sunken lands of yore.
Trees, fields, pastoral countryside gleanings as fellow rail passengers sip their mimosas and cackle and carp above cans of Diet Coke. The current flat is an improvement over the former — many-windowed, all mod cons, like the observation deck of a starship — but because of its location on a busy road, the raucous sounds of the urban core fill the space day and night. Let us go, then, on a vacation from our vacation. Due to my assigned seat here on the train to Cornwall, I find myself sharing in what Philip K. Dick called “the great secret,” or the knowledge that we are moving backward in time. A driver meets us at the station and takes us along winding narrow hedgerow-lined roads to the wild and windy coast.
“We’re transforming Old Street,” reads the sign affixed to the construction site, next to which stand a team of bobbies cuffing a bewildered homeless woman, her possessions in plastic bags at her side. I observe and take note from the upper level of a double-decker bus headed to the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History. My thoughts return to the woman throughout the afternoon, part of her lingering in my awareness as I view paintings and illustrations by Mervyn Peake and Austin Osman Spare. Apart from Éliphas Lévi and a small Fabian contingent that included H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, the figures I’ve been reading about at the British Library seem to have left these stones unturned.
Acting as group navigator, I lead us to the Bridge Theatre for a knockout performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We pause for a group photo along the waterfront beside the London Bridge, then proceed on our way, thrilled to be present amid the commotion of the city.