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Gurdur – The Galloping Guru

Tim Skellett — known to us all as ‘Gurdur’—   is a latter-day Leonardo da Vinci.

I call him a da Vinci because his interests include politics, travel, science journalism, reading, atheism, religion, humanism, gardening, etc:  and his favourite authors are Karen Armstrong, John Franklin Bardin, John le Carré, G. K. Chesterton, Lindsey Davis, Robert S. Desowitz, Alan Furst, Martin Gardner, Martha Gellhorn, William Gibson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Robert van Gulik, John Twelve Hawks, Donald Kingsbury, Harold L. Klawans, Michael Pearce, Terry Pratchett, Jon Ronson, Eric Frank Russell, Martin Cruz Smith, William Tenn, J. R. R. Tolkien, Joseph Wambaugh and Connie Willis.

He has the most lively and enquiring mind of anyone I have ever come across. We invited him to stay for a few days (ie successfully hi-jacked him) en route to Greenbelt 2011. If I had hoped that the narcoleptic effects of the deep Hampshire countryside would slow Tim down sufficiently for me to keep up with him, I was mistaken. An encounter with Tim is less of a cosy fireside chat than an exhilarating ride on a Hippogriff, alternately soaring to the heights before diving down to skim over the water. He challenges your preconceptions, nudges you out of your ruts and re-boots your cerebellum. No wonder it is a breathless experience, but he does it all with the most exquisite courtesy and consideration for other peoples’ points of view.

He also has a wicked sense of humour. Under the heading ‘Throwing the Lion to the Christians’, he explains on his blog at The Heathen Hub, a discussion board he runs ‘because everyone is a heathen to someone else’, why he is going to Greenbelt:

As an atheist, why am I going to Greenbelt? To meet people and to talk with them – meaning originally I planned to go there to meet specific people, but of course it became being very happy to talk with anyone who actually wants to talk with me. On that, I’ve had a couple of bad experiences, of Christians who merely wanted to use me as a depersonalized listening-post to offload their venom on. But I’ve had (these days) many more positive experiences with Christians than bad ones, and quite often even British Christians have never really personally talked with an open atheist before, so I see it as part of my role simply to be there as a human, and to be approachable as a person. I’ll talk with anyone about anything they like, as long as they are genuine with me in return.

Tim was born in Australia, but moved at an early age with his parents to Tanzania. Although the rest of his family picked up Swahili fairly easily, Tim learned only the minimum, though his interest in language must have been kindled as he later studied linguistics. Oh, and is now fluent in German. He returned to Australia and, using it as a base, traveled to Japan, where he studied the poetry of Bashō and Buson. After another stint in Australia to earn enough to finance his next encounter, he set off for an ashram in India. He then moved to Germany for further studies, always with this insatiable curiosity about the human condition, and the ability to see links and connections. He quotes approvingly Umberto Eco’s character, William Baskerville, who was able to predict the name of the Abbot’s horse from the time he had spent learning about how the monks thought. As a friend remarked, Tim couldn’t pass a stone without turning it over to see what lay underneath. Hence his interest in medicine, for he is a natural diagnostician.

It is difficult to find a one-word label for Tim, and I don’t suggest you try. He is a polymath of course, but that is just a one-word cop-out to say the same thing. In answer to my question about what motivates him, he offered ‘the empowerment of others through increasing their free will’. He explained his view of a continuum between automatism at one end and total free will at the other. People may be restricted in their choices by physical or mental illness: sometimes this is out of their control but others use imaginary ‘wooden legs‘ (as described by Eric Berne in ‘Games People Play’) as an excuse for regarding themselves as restricted by external forces when in fact the restrictions are all self-imposed. At this point, I begin to see what I have called ‘nudging you out of your ruts’ as a practical demonstration of ’empowerment of others through increasing their free will’. Mmm – all I can say is that it is less painful than it sounds and feels more like a gulp of cool spring water after a long, dusty walk.

With apologies to Tim, I am reminded of: ‘Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.‘ (Hebrews 13.2)

I will leave you now to browse the rest of this website or another. Me? I’m going to hold on to my hat and go for another ride on the hippogriff before he moves on to Cheltenham Racecourse!

4 comments on this post:


[…] Anglicana – “Gurdur – the galloping guru” “He has the most lively and enquiring mind of anyone I have ever come across. We invited him […]

24 August 2011 11:03
UKViewer said...

Interesting perspective on Tim, whose role in life seems to me to be ‘seeking’, not in the sense of looking for a deity, but just seeking humanity in its fullest sense.

You have to admire his intellect and his ability to communicate, which are first class. And his commentary on the human condition on his blog, is always spot on.

Not sure if he is going to #cmac11, but if so, look forward to meeting him there.

25 August 2011 09:43
Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you Ernie – glad to see you well enough to resume commenting.
Yes, I think I would agree with you that he is a seeker – but he is astonishingly well-informed on so many subjects I didn’t manage (despite strenuous efforts!) to find any subject I knew more about than he does.
I would say he has a voracious appetite for information, and is adept at turning this information into knowledge and wisdom.

25 August 2011 20:26
Charley Farns-Barns said...

Sounds someone to avoid; too clever by half! Charley F-B.

04 July 2012 21:31

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