Sunday, 29 October 2017

lord poulett, nightmare journey, autumn sunlight, errol morris, conspiracy theories, documents...
























On Friday, we stayed the night at the Lord Poulett pub in Hinton-St-George in Somerset. We were meeting old friends who we hadn't seen for two years. It was wonderful to catch up with them. Though the journey there was a nightmare, taking four and a half hours - involving traffic on the M5 grinding to a standstill after an accident, a protracted detour through Bristol - where did the signs for the A38 go? - and a cross country route with queues in almost all the villages (though the Mendips at sunset were beautiful!).

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The autumn sunlight spilling into the spare bedroom office this afternoon is rich and gorgeous.

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I was intrigued by a feature on the Broadcasting House programme* on Radio 4 this morning about the release of documents relating to the assassination of JFK. Paddy O'Connell asked Errol Morris**, the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker, whether he knew why people cling to conspiracy theories. Morris replied:

'They cling to conspiracy theories because conspiracy theories simplify the world. If the world was just utterly chaotic without rhyme or reason that in itself would be a very, very frightening thought. Conspiracies give us solace. They tell us that there were those malefactors rubbing their hands Iago-like in the wings, plotting, conniving, figuring out a way to create the malefaction in the world.'

This resonated because I've been reading some of my parents' papers recently. Over a thirty-eight year period, my Mum and, eventually, my Dad were cursed by conspiracy theories that were supposed to account for why a painting that they owned was really worth some thirty-six times the artist's market value. The conspirators were said to include the great and the good in the worlds of the art market, the racing establishment and the government.

In order to buy time so that they could prove the conspiracies, my parents spent all their money, plundered trust funds to get more cash and ran up debts of nearly a million pounds before being declared bankrupt, their assets, including the painting, realising a fraction of what was owed.

Mum was secretive about what she and Dad were up to, although it became obvious that something was very seriously wrong. Only for a short while in the early 1990s did she confide in me. This stopped because I was very doubtful about the accuracy of what she was saying. She wanted affirmation not questions.

I was struck by how reductive her theories were. All the people in them behaved in the same simplistic way, with exactly the same limited range of motives. There was no allowance for individuality. Everyone - business associate, friend or family member - was portrayed in comic-book terms. Mum could imagine the malefactors rubbing their hands in the wings. I think that believing that she could see through their plots gave her a sense of control over things she had no control over and brought her considerable solace.

Looking at my parents' documents, I am struck by their mundane clarity. In black and white one reads why sums way in excess of the painting's market value couldn't be realised. Experts, friends, family told them this again and again.

For a long time, once I suspected that my parents were in trouble, I gave them the benefit of the doubt about certain things: did they perhaps not understand what the market was doing? Did they not know how the trusts worked? But obviously they did know about these things. They simply chose to ignore them. Anyone reading the documents would realise within minutes that they were deluding themselves and needed help. But my parents knew a different story. One that they created in order to prove that the facts were wrong. The conspiracy theories were magic bullets that shot down any suggestion that they had lost everything.

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The greatest puzzle is how my Dad got sucked into the theories that Mum dreamt up. He always seemed so straightforward and sensible. Yesterday, I looked at his summary accounts for the period 1970 till just before his death in 2012. Loose leaf pages in a blue plastic ring binder. The entries are precise, measured. In 2007 he wrote the figure for that year's interest payments, £77,935.75. He would have known that he had borrowed money in order to pay this. That he was being pursued by his creditors. That he would soon be declared bankrupt. Yet he must also have had an unshakable conviction that he was, as he told me, a multi-millionaire. That he would trump his creditors and his doubters in the end.

 * http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09bxjzy

** https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Errol_Morris

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