When I was but a minor pain in Mummy Writing Baron’s derriere, I couldn’t walk down the street to the newsagent’s to find out the Beano hadn’t arrived without meeting a nutter.
When you meet a nutter on the streets of London, you acknowledge the nutter as just that. Round my way we had plenty. Old Pat Bradley, for example. She’d holler abuse at all sundry, walk the streets naked, and lob bricks at toddlers from her second floor window. When she took her pills she’d say, “Hello dear, great to see you dear, how are you my love?”
Ah, there’s Pat, you’d say. What a fucking nutter.
In Taiwan, nutters – while often being tacitly recognised as such – blend into landscape and go about their nutty business without arousing the least bit of consternation in the local populace. In a country where far too many people are willing to believe the most preposterous hocus-pocus, some nutters even make a respectable (or at least respected) living out of their nutjobbery.
Take Mr Pan, for example. Several times walking down Datong St (大同街) in Beitou, I’d noticed some white signboards with weird alien patterns on them that appeared to be some kind of script. They were positioned in the street outside an open door and I had peered in to find a small room cluttered with more of the same and a basic shrine.
On the way home from Carrefour the other day, I passed the open doorway again and this time caught sight of someone milling about inside. I decided to try to find out what it was all about.
Mr Pan certainly wasn’t short of a word or two (and that’s saying something coming from me) and held forth on his career for 10 minutes.
“When I was nine years old, I saw my first god,” he told me matter of factly. “He came into my father’s store and asked to buy something. He was very tall and strange looking. ‘Mama!’ I called. ‘Look at this man.’ My mother could see him and so could my little sister. But my father couldn’t. Thinking a ghost had appeared before us, my father picked up a broom and started swinging it to get rid of the man. Later, when I described the event to a spirit medium, they realised I was a child medium (乩童).”
Since that day, Mr Pan says he has made his living as a medium. The patterns are indeed a script of sorts but as for how it all works, I haven’t a clue. Mr Pan talked me through it all, attempting to show me how it incorporates Chinese and Japanese characters and strokes, English letters and even phonetic representations of Taiwanese. I’m afraid I emerged from his demonstration none the wiser.
Mr Pan claims his writing is a kind of spirit writing, and that – while it is his own design – it is a vehicle through which the gods can communicate with him. When I described Mr Pan to my missus she was initially sceptical but once she had a butcher’s at these photos of his boards she nodded knowingly, “Oh sure. That’s his own language for talking to the gods.”
The mobile number is not there for nothing and there are people who take Mr Pan seriously enough to pay for his services.
Me? I reckon Mr Pan is a good, old-fashioned nutter. That or a brilliant charlatan.