Thursday, 26 November 2020

23rd November Forever!

 Oh Dear Chums you were missed this year. Almost without planning we had this to look forward to as the dark months drew on and Christmas seemed so far away. The Doctor Who 23rd November Celebration Day at the Forbidden Planet International Store, Belfast.We found common ground celebrating the birth of another much loved being who loves us more than we love ourselves. Just look at the laughs we had!

              Twenty Twenty feels beyond fiction, one is tempted to say you could not make it up but the truth is you could, you just would not be inclined to. We are all in it together, folks, but for  good or ill that also means we get to come out of it together.

              These photos remind me of better days, days that will come again.

              Because I believe in the power of regeneration regeneration.



              Chins up, folks. Best feet forward

Saturday, 7 November 2020

Phantasmagoria MR James Secial Edition.

The phantasmagoria Special Edition for this season is an MR James themed one. A lovingly and respectfully compiled directory thick edition that will do honour to any book shelf it is set upon.  I am rather pleased to say I have a piece in this collection, an appreciation of sorts to one of the genre formative writers, one who enriched my reading life for almost as long as I could read for myself.
           The Phantasmagoria Folk have excelled themselves with this rightfully crafted special edition, with bar and hair raising illustrations and articles and essays aplenty, one whose covers I am flattered to be between. And what about that stunning wraparound cover...
            Here is a suggestion to the curious; I warn you it will fly off the shelf.

Doctor Whos Out Of Time.

Brace yourselves, the adventure level is about to rise from four to ten and back again. The Fourth Doctor and the Tenth Doctor are about to cross each others paths. And off course trouble is not far behind. Its a funny thing,you know, we spend so much time in The doctor's company, seeing the universe through his eyes, whatever head they are staring out off, yet when he throws out a bon mot such as " I remember standing in Leonardo's workshop and telling him he would never get it off the ground!" or "I posed for Michealangelo, once" and we ask ourselves "When did he do that/" And as much as we love those time traveling Easter eggs we cannot help ask ourselves when he was out of our sight long enough for that quip to be true. So it is always a treat to arrive at a place or during an event and we discover the Doctor already there, not so much doing the thing he always does, of saving the day, but just "doing" or "being", things like getting his hands dirty or painting or building something. That is how we first come across the fourth Doctor, splattered in paint, striding around in his painter's smock. We can almost see his paint dotted curly hair, a Jackson Pollock hedge. He is visiting The Cathedral for a bit of respite and some unchallenging fun and has already made at least one good friend. It is not too long before we learn that The Tardis has once more brought The Doctor not so much to where he wants to be but where he needs to be ( or where, rather, others who need his help need him to be.) Along comes trouble and not before too long arrives his older self, also seeking a respite from his troubles. Two Doctors add up to twice the trouble, I suppose, so who else should show up at this celestial location but the big bad themselves; The Daleks. 
               Matt Fitton delivers a fantastic script and the two leads rise to the occasion, ably supported by a worthy supporting cast, with Nicholas Briggs on especially menacing form. His Dalek controller has a heft to it with a weighty powerful delivery. A timely reminder of how bad The Daleks can be, universely wicked. The Doctor, being the smartest man in any room he enters, does not take long to work out that this skinny younger man in a pin stripe suit is an older version of himself.and in the short time before the Galifreyan penny drops there is some very enjoyable verbal volleyball between the two incarnations. Tennent teases and gurns while Baker plays the wise fool disguised as Harpo Marx. TheCathedral is a suitably Whoish location for these reality bending shenanigans and The Daleks a worthy underminer of wondrous things.If the Universe was ever forced to ask itself "Why can we never have good things?" it should direct the question at the Kaled scientist Davros, He not only has the answer he supplied the reason. 
               There are a few almost meta moments as the Tenth Doctor comments on The Fourth, with much affection and an aching sadness. You, as the listener, can easily imagine the affectionate gleam in his eyes "Just look at him go...", noticing that when that shock haired bescarfed younger version of himself enters a room he owns it. And in ones minds eye we share that vision, as a youthful and vigorous Tom Baker strides into the very heart of the action and the danger. Imagine, if you will for a moment with respect, if Elizabeth Sladen was still with us, as each Doctor could take one of her hands and they run and run and run...

The Eccentric life And Mysterious Genius Of Edward Gorey.

....oh my Giddy aunt, I was not expecting to read two Edward Gorey biographies back to back, delightful as the experience was. A double bill I never saw coming until I was ready for it, I suppose. Two lovely biographies written with great insight and affection for an extraordinary artist who not only walked the walk but wore the to speak. I generally avoid reading books with the same subject matter one after another  so as not to dilute the affect of what I may learn, or undermine by familiarity. Some people may be well read, I am thinly read. 

         Like so many people, I bet, I was under the impression that Edward Gorey was an artist from another century, not the one we left behind two decades ago but the one which ended one hundred and twenty years ago. The visuals he produced with pen and ink and brush were so off another era and felt so "lived" I thought for sure this was a man who came from the same era as Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear. This turned out to misjudged as while the characters and scenes may well be draped in a faux Edwardian Victorianna he was in all other respects quite thoroughly modern. So much so that when I finished one volume I was drifting into another before I knew it, basking in the Gorey details. 

         One of the most surprising things I discovered about Edward Gorey's art was the books are actual sized reproductions of the original work. I had assumed , something perhaps one should never do with regard to the creative process, that the incredibly intricate line-work was produced on a larger scale, then reduced to fit the format that is now so recognisably Gorey. Edward Gorey's little art books stand out in whatever book store they are displayed, owing little to the formats art books are generally reproduced as. He has made that format so much his own and gradually won over many a book seller who initially found displaying his work and output awkward. That in itself becomes a lovely word to convey the otherness of Edward Gorey's body of work, beautifully awkward. Well, it works for me. 

           And it worked for so many, many more, generation after generation. Edward Gorey once described his subject matter as "literary nonsense", a field in itself with an artfully crafted series of visions of melancholia and world weary ennui. His faux Edwardian chique winning a legion of appreciators. His art world and publishing credentials aside he also made a significant impact on the theater world with contributions to the 1977 stage revival of Dracula with his costume designs bagging him a Tony award and a nomination for Best Set Design, which many since felt he should have won. he is even more remembered and even reverred for his short animated into for the PBS series MYSTERY, with the introduction by host Vincent Price who welcomed all watching to the Gorey Mansion. Generations found that animated introduction being craftily imbedded in the walls of the minds of their personal theater, carrying it with them in their collected imaginations. Appreciating as adults that which they knew as children to be unique and cool. 

            Edward Gorey cut a striking looking figure, every inch the self created Bohemian. Pioneering a bearded aesthetic years ahead of its time, swathed in a body length fur coat with every finger adorned with rings. A hand made eccentric, molded by his own artistic inclinations into a form of his own devising. There was a noticable "sexlessness" in his artwork, something that may well have bled in from his personal life. In his own words; " I am neither one thing nor the other particularly. I am fortunate in that I am apparently reasonably undersexed or something. i have never said that I am gay but I have never said that I was not. What I am trying to say is that I am a person before I am anything else. I suppose I am gay but I do not identify with it much."

            These were two lovely books, written by two fellows keen to share the details they learned about this quite mysterious man who pulled a curtain about his self created world, opening it at times to let us peek at the wonders he was capable off. The two books sit so comfortably next to each other, each filled with pictures and photographs that reveal a life lived artistically.



Saturday, 31 October 2020

With The Tiger Lillies at The Mountain of Madness

 I can think of no better company for Halloween Night than The Tiger Lillies and in this instance we join them on a musical voyage to The Mountains of Madness across Lovecraftion soundscapes created by themselves and their willing sinner and fellow voyager  Alex Hackes. The whole enterprise comes in the form of a live theater performance of thirteen songs, with the Tiger Lillies on wondrous strange form. Martin Jacques voices oars between worlds taking us on an unsettling journey into the mind of Lovecraft as in between songs Alex Hackes does readings of selected scenes from his work (Whilst also seemingly channeling the spirit of early Brian Eno Roxy Music performances in front of a bank of audio instruments resembling sixties NASA ground control panels.)

             At around an hour it is not the longest of journeys but as it exists in the form of a lovingly rendered DVD production with some stunning sleeve art and on stage projected imagery by Danielle de Picciotto,  the option is there to start again or move back and forward as one chooses. It arrived at my house as an unexpected and very exciting gift from my old chum Paul who may have been prompted by the unseen but almost certainly present Spirits Of Samhain. His odd deed of the week a thing of beauty. 

             A great and terrible beauty.

Roald Dahl's Book Of Ghost Stories.( Haunted Bookshelf 2020.)

The last couple of years I have been uploading some suggested reading titles for the Season Of Samhain but this year I have added just the one and its a good one. It is an altogether unexpected treat, which is most likely not an entirely unexpected thing to say given this is the writer most famous for regaling us for decades with his tales of the unexpected.  Was I yielding to temptation and exercising a lazy pun with regard to Roald Dahl's vast body of work...probably. But then what is a ghost story if not a tale of the unexpected? Or perhaps that notion just rests too comfortably on the time worn tropes of " ghostly" storytelling. Anyway, this master of the tale with the sting in its tale, the twisted ending has made some excellent choices to make up this collection. Apparently he read seven hundred and forty nine stories and whittled them down to this spooky fourteen. 

             He details in the forward his search for the very best in ghostly yarns. It sounded like an exhaustive experience for him and unexpectedly ( ugh,sorry, its so easy..) tedious chore.. Throwing the net wide I would have thought he managed to trawl in some brilliant choices among that search, yet it sounds like he had quite the opposite experience. He seemed to find the search something of a dreary experience, not liking or appreciating the quality of the work he exposed himself to. He seemed to unearth work he considered nonsense, silly stuff unworthy of those who produced the work. 
             For all that though, he did produce a fantastic volume of those he considered worthy of reprinting and having just finished the book I applaud his choices. As i said, there were some obvious and even well known choices. Among them a Robert Aickman story which I found marvelous. I had heard a radio play adaption of Ringing The Changes and found the production right up there with the very best of the BBC Mr James adaptions. This was my opportunity to read the original text which I had not until now. And I now consider that adaption to be even more impressive as it takes the very best of Robert Aickman's writing and makes something aurally traumatic out of it. 
              I have also heard a stirring reading of The Upper Berth by f Marion Crawford on the Bite Sized Audio station on Youtube (a great companion during the long lonely lockdown.). Again it was nice to read it as opposed to having it read to me.. I found it wonderfully atmospheric, not at all like the painfully self conscious material of the era we are living through, and all the better for its age.
              There were a couple of quite emotional moments in this series of stories. Not such a surprise when one considers a genre rooted in the echoes of lives past. i would not wish to single out a favorite but I did find Playmates by A M Burrage exceptional. Such beautiful writing. The haunted lives of a misanthropic pretend family in a remote marsh bound house, where lonely and broken people weave the threads of kinship from their mutual disconnection and loneliness. Heart aching rather than breaking, i felt sad and yet warm by the end. It is a quality I have found in other books, most memorably The House Of The Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, with sad Hepzibah and her wronged brother Clifford and also in that best remembered literary misanthrope Silas marner by George Elliot (Mary Ann Evans.) those memorable characters you want to find happiness in their lonely lives. While you read and watch, like watching a time lapse film of a flower beginning to bloom as it is kissed by the warmth of the sun.
               Its a lovely collection with some fantastic choices.
               Oh Mister Dahl, with these stories you are spoiling us....

Wednesday, 28 October 2020


             Dacre Stoker's great, great uncle was Bram Stoker. I suppose it could be said that my great, great uncle was Genghis Khan (a faux claim to a lineage a large part of the known world can apparently make in ways which are in no way apparent to me. I exaggerate off course. Or do I? What secrets would a DNA test reveal? Where am I rambling with this...) It may well account for why Dacre stoker writes so authoratively and confidently about the subject matter his great,great uncle made immortal, in print anyway. by that reckoning at least, Bram stoker was a great uncle of more than one sort or another.
              "it is believed that the strongest of them can assume any form, be it bat, wolf,
              a swirling mist, even human. they can appear young, old, or any age between.
              some can manipulate the elements, producing fog, storms, crashing thunder. 
              Their motives remain unknown, but one thing is clear, they leave a trail of death
               in their wake, thinking no more of a human life than we would a fly..."
Although Mr Renfeild from the original novel might feel differently about that given his taste for flies and spiders.
              Dracul is an old school gothic novel , with a story assembled from a series of journals, letters and notebooks. In much the same way bram stoker's original was. This lends the current novel an equal level of authenticity. Well, as much as can be credited to a novel about the undead.
              Style wise i think the book leans more towards Sheridan Le Fanu than Bram Stoker, although that said it may be that I am just more familiar with Le Fanu than Stoker, having absorbed more of his output. Dracula was considered, and probably still is, considered quite a swarthy tale in its day. It boils with undercurrents of the then prevailing class attitudes and it bubbles with all manner of repressed sexuality. Dracul, feels to me, more like Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu than it does the work of Dacre's great, great uncle. I was even reminded of more recent fare, a story called Dorabella, written by Robert Muller, for the television series produced by the BBC in 1977 called Supernatural. Ellen Crone, the spooky nanny at the center of events in Dracul reminded me very much of Dorabella, perhaps the attended the same vampiric girl's finishing schools where they all slept in wormy beds of dark soil. 
             Dacre Stoker writes the Stoker siblings as quite odd ball. He understands that though brothers and sisters might share the same dinner table, they may well be bonded in few other ways. In life we can pick and choose our enemies, our friends and our lovers, but we cannot pick who we are related to.the young Bram Stoker was a sickly child, in this narrative mostly confined to bed in a house shared with his parents and his siblings. The famine in Ireland has by this time cost the lives of thousands and starvation and misery abound.The Stoker family are better off than many of their countrymen and see it as their Christian duty to help feed as many others as they can. Into their lives comes the nanny Ellen Crone, a live in nursemaid for the sickly Bram, one who's power and influence over her charges and the lives of The Stokers grows in mysterious ways. When Ellen uses her undefined healing gifts  to seemingly pull young Bram from the very brink of death, she cements her position within the Dublin household. Until one dramatic night when strange things occur and she vanishes from their lives for years, reappearing as they reach young adulthood, and once more she inveigles her way into their lives. During it all we see the many threads which bind this prequel to the work it will become. All the "secret" origins all everyone from Mina harker to Van Helsing are touched upon here and its not too meta to watch them evolve into what shall become tropes for the whole genre.
             Its heady stuff, a mix of biography and dark Gothic romance.
             A perfectly distilled concoction for this time of year, an October vintage.