During the last splutters of the Harold Wilson years, I had occasion to read a slim book entitled Zen Buddhism, which consisted simply of a series of what I think are called kōans, anecdotes or parables designed to assist one in striving towards enlightenment. I do not recall any particular kōan in detail, but they all seemed very similar, and tucked away in my memory there is a sort of generic kōan, which goes something like this:
One day Bin-Bag was fishing in a stream, and he caught a pike. He decided to take it to his Master as a gift.
“Here, Master, I have brought you a pike,” he said.
Bin-Bag’s Master took the pike, and then he picked up a stick and bashed his pupil about the head with it.
“Ouch!” wailed Bin-Bag. “Why are you hitting me when I have brought you a pike?”
The Master pushed Bin-Bag down a slope and resumed his meditation. Bin-Bag rubbed his head and understood he was one step further towards Enlightenment.
I was young and impressionable, but even then I could see that this was complete twaddle. Compared to Zen, Roman Catholicism seemed sensible and coherent. I decided to have no truck with Eastern mysticism in future.
Years later, however, I was glad I had read the book. I was commissioned to write a potted biography of the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman, and struggled to find an angle from which to approach the subject. Then I realised that the witless kōans provided an ideal model. I was able to scribble dozens of short yarns about the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman, based on my faltering recollection of Zen kōans. The only changes I had to make were to substitute the Zen Master’s bashing and shoving with the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman’s technique of making haphazard gesticulations at a robin, or at a flock of sparrows, or, in extremis, when faced with a particularly recalcitrant acolyte, wandering woozily off to a nearby kiosk to buy herself a toffee apple.
And that brings us smartly to the end of our alphabet.