David Worboys -Eccentrics, Obsessives And Fanatics

eccentric woman in penguin suit

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Eccentrics add colour to our lives and, if harmless, offer us entertainment and amusement. There seem to be fewer of them around nowadays, possibly as a result of our obsession with political correctness and consequent decline in humour.

I was delighted, last month, therefore, to witness a man in a pool swimming lengths wearing a deerstalker. It reminded me of a scene many years ago of another tourist floating on his back in a calm sea smoking a pipe. He looked at peace with the world until a sudden wave changed all that.

And it’s refreshing to see the humorous way many spectators dress up to enjoy sports events. These are amusing but transient glimpses of eccentric behaviour. But there are of course characters who are simply eccentric through and through. The Belgian Alfred David was one of these.

His obsession with penguins gave him recognition far beyond the Brussels suburb where he was known as Monsieur Pingouin. Whenever he left his house he was dressed as a penguin. His home was a “penguin museum” with 3´500 exhibits featuring penguins. There were photos and paintings of penguins everywhere. He had penguin dolls and figures made of china, wood, cotton, glass, plastic, metal, cardboard …. There were cups and plates bearing pictures of penguins and loo paper embossed with their images; lamps and a kettle in the shape and colour of penguins. There were stone penguins mounted on the pillars at his house entrance and a large one in the garden.

Several times a week he would go to the zoo to watch the penguins at feeding time, where he would be fed whole raw fish in the way that penguins are. Alfred actually believed he was a penguin. He has requested to be buried in the Antarctic, dressed in his penguin suit with a gravestone in the shape of a penguin – preferably, when he is dead! Then he believes he will be reincarnated as a penguin. Most men accept that they are not penguins but some do identify as women.

Unlike Alfred David, not all obsessives are eccentric. Many people are obsessed with their practice of veganism, yoga, spiritism and religion – all noble concepts. But their obsession often makes them intolerant towards those who don´t embrace these interests. This obsession can lead into fanaticism and as a result, they alienate others from their beliefs. Others are obsessed with dress, punctuality, tidiness, drinking, stalking, gang membership and racism.

Then there are the fanatics. The fan who hates Manchester United so much that he attends all their matches praying for them to lose is more a fanatic than an eccentric. His fanaticism is simply negative. And those whose lives revolve around a pop group, a sports figure, a social cause or a political figure (either positive or negative)? They are a far cry from our precious eccentrics.

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Written by

David Worboys

Offering a unique insight into everything from politics to food to sport, David is one of the Euro Weekly News´ most popular columnists.