There is a song about a lonely goatherd with which I am sure many of you are familiar. This goatherd is usually represented by a puppet (above). We are fortunate to have a picture – indeed, film! – of the lonely goatherd puppet, for there are other noteworthy goatherd puppets of which no images exist. I refer to the Blots, a family of goatherds unparalleled in their rapacity, shadow puppets of whom were devised by the shadow puppeteer Jasper Weems.
Weems told the story of the Blots through the medium of shadow puppetry. Let us retell it here, using words.
The Blots had been goatherds in the Swiss Alps for generations. Their lives were, and always had been, narrow, pinched, and poor. Then, one day in 1964, the current patriarch of the family, Hans Blot, came upon a newspaper report of a meeting of British Labour Party politicians. One of their number, George Brown, had apparently made reference to the gnomes of Zurich. His interest piqued, Hans Blot read further, and learned that these gnomes, residing in Switzerland’s largest city, were exceedingly wealthy.
Hans Blot, who was a goatherd unparalleled in his rapacity, saw an opportunity to turn around his family’s fortunes. Instead of scraping a living herding goats, the Blots could borrow money from the gnomes and … well, he did not immediately form a plan, but he felt sure that he could turn a modest loan from the gnomes into an enormous pile of cash somehow or other, given his unparalleled rapacity.
Blot did not set off for Zurich right away. First, he drilled the family in the tenets of anthroposophy as expounded by Rudolf Steiner. This was necessary, Blot thought, because he assumed the gnomes of Zurich were the invisible gnomes who live among men but cannot be perceived by the common riffraff, such as goatherds, only becoming visible to those on a higher plane of human existence, such as Rudolf Steiner.
The Blots, driven by their unparalleled rapacity, studied hard, and before long, believing they might now be able to perceive the invisible gnomes, set off for Zurich. Upon arrival, they trooped into the first bank they saw, and were delighted when they realised they could see the gnomes with absolute clarity. Hans Blot proceeded to ask for a loan of money. Though the gnomes of Zurich – who were of course not Steinerian gnomes at all, and were visible to everybody – did not lend out money willy-nilly, they recognised the gleam of greed in Hans Blot’s eyes. Such unparalleled rapacity, they felt, was worthy of their regard. The Blots left Zurich with pockets full of cash.
As winter drew in, they spent long evenings huddled in their noisome goatherders’ hovel trying to think up ways to use the loan to, in the words of an accountant, generate a regular revenue stream. Then, on a blizzard-wracked night, one of the younger Blots, Hansi, as rapacious as her grandfather, had a brainwave.
You know, just up the mountain, she babbled in excitement, there is the chalet of the Prix Poubelle-winning writer N K Freaky. He has his own private funicular railway. We could buy it from him, and then gouge oodles of cash by charging exorbitant funicular railway fares!
All the Blots agreed this was a brilliant idea. And over the next five years, they bought more and more funicular railways, not only in the Swiss Alps but in the Austrian and Italian Alps too, and charged their passengers ever-increasing fares for journeys up and down those sublime snow-topped peaks.
But such was their unparalleled rapacity the Blots were reluctant ever to part with a pfennig. When it came time to repay their loan to the gnomes of Zurich, the Blots simply ignored the demands that plopped through the letterbox of their Alpine hovel. Eventually, the gnomes lost patience. After a secretive conference in a secret chamber in their secretive bank, the gnomes of Zurich fastened upon a terrible resolution. They hired a gang of invisible Steinerian gnomes, who one night burst, unperceived, into the Blots’ hovel, and slaughtered them in their beds, each and every one, from Hans to Hansi.
The foregoing cannot, of course, do justice to the vivid shadow puppetry of Jasper Weems’ shadow puppet version of the story of the Blot family, but I hope it has afforded you a modicum of entertainment.