Under the influence

On Thadée Pilley’s indirect influence on my life.

My Father was a conference interpreter. Over thirty and more years he travelled four continents extensively for his work. He once counted 56 countries visited.

He recognised his privileged life, and it was a great joy to him to be able to give full reign to his boyish passion for exploration.

In the late 1940s, when on interpretation assignments in Europe, he would travel on the plane with his favourite form of instant transport – the collapsible Corgi scooter [photo].

In the more far away countries, once the day’s session was done, he didn’t hang around at the hotel as most people on business do. He’d hire a motor scooter, and dive deep, often at random, into town and countryside to discover places and things, and to meet people.

The Collapsible Corgi Scooter

He would regularly land himself into adventures. Most were quirky, weird and wonderful, some led him into real physical danger, injury even. His extractions formed part of the climax of his travellers tales.

He would enjoy retelling his incredible exploits over a meal at family get-togethers. He was an excellent raconteur and he loved holding ‘centre stage’.

Sadly, I remember only the outlines of a very few of my late Father’s famous stories.

In the heyday of the Cold War spy era, the best spy camera, as featured in classic fiction, was the German made Minox. My Dad carried a Minox in each pocket, one for black and white, one for colour, capacity 50 high quality 8mm photos on every film.

He was an amateur with a gift for subject, composition and timing. He accumulated a large collection of real, not tourist, travel images.

I am proud to be the custodian of his photos and colour transparencies. I hope to digitise these.

His professional working hours demanded intense concentration. It was a kind of “letting off steam” for him to use his free time abroad to visit as many culturally interesting places and events as he could cram into his work days in all these far-flung countries.

If a museum he might chance to find were unfortunately closed, he would find the key holder and by his charm and diplomacy be granted sole access out of hours.

I have witnessed for myself his cheeky refusal to take no for an answer. His ever active curiosity would draw him towards official notices such as, Private Keep Out, Closed, No Admittance, Authorised Persons Only. He regarded these as his personal and exclusive welcome signs.

My Dad, my Mother and I aged 6 or 7, were walking in Amsterdam on a Sunday. In those days, Sunday meant “closed”.

I remember standing in front of the imposing black double doors of the Rijksmuseum in the early morning, while my Father pressed the bell. One of the doors opened. A conversation took place in Dutch. The door closed behind us. We had the entire museum to ourselves.

My memory of this is strong, because we hadn’t had breakfast, I had no interest in my cavernous surroundings, I was simply a tired little boy. So I attached myself to one of my Father’s ankles (I can still see his trouser turnups!) and he dragged me gallantly along the highly polished parquet of the museum gallery floors!

One of my own such stories, inspired by my Father’s example, is of just such a fortuitous and memorable personal guided tour of a prehistoric grotto in the Dordogne. A long car journey brought me at 4 o’clock to the small ticket office of a Crystal Grotto with prehistoric drawings.

The man was closing up for the day. I told him why I had come so far to see his cave. Age 8, while my late father was chatting to him, I had sat on the knee of one of the four brothers, the original discoverers of the now world famous Grotte de Lascaux. Please, after a lifetime of waiting, would the Guardien kindly let me see this cave? He agreed, and he enjoined me not tell a soul!

In the early 1960’s, my father began to bring me gifts back from his travels. There were exotic musical instruments and vinyl LPs too. This is how I discovered and became fascinated by the strange sounds of classical music from the Middle East, West Africa, India, China, Indonesia, Japan and indigenous Australia.

One of the most appealing to me was Balinese Gamelan music. To my ears it is full of the natural sounds and rhythms that fill the air in a fauna and flora-rich rain forest. Birds, insects, rain, and stones clunking under waterfalls.

Gamelan orchestra

These sounds are woven into expressions of mystical animism embroidered with reverence by highly disciplined musicianship, refined by successive influences down dozens of centuries from a mix of old traditions from all around this south-east Asian land.

As a young teenager, these cultural novelties had a trickle effect on me, like the magic of light from stained glass windows shining in on me.

My curiosity led me to read up on Buddhism, and the Japanese practice of Zen.

From the time when I was a toddler, I have continued weaving patterns from the strong thread of the love of all living things growing ‘out there’ in the Big Green.

The Zen view opened a channel for my Green awareness.

My Father’s cheerful convictions that there is never any valid reason to take no for an answer, that in reality anything and everything is possible to you with the right way of thinking, using the right formulation of words, sank into me from early on.

I am sure now the grounding effect of these and other assimilated influences not only sculpted my life path, but on occasions actually helped to save my life.

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