Thursday, 22 August 2019
Sorry, folks. This started off as one thing but ended as another.
Life is a bit like that.
All the time.
Richard Shakespeare is a young player eager to demonstrate to the world his abilities and charms as a leading male who finds himself continually confounded in this ambition by his creatively brilliant but emotionally mercurial brother in a succession of female roles. He wishes to play a man while his brother will only cast him as a woman. This is not an unusual a situation as it may sound to the modern ear as women were forbidden to perform on the stage during the Elizabethan era. So many a young man donned female apparel as their youth allowed them an easy androgyny. As Richard grew older he felt less comfortable in the roles, longing for tyhe part of the handsome lead. a longing thwarted by the will and wit of his brother Will.
Bernard Cornwell the Elizabethan era to life, one can almost smell how unsanitary the great city of London is. It must have reeked like a huge open air sewage treatment works as all the human and animal waste was going nowhere. In the absence of an understanding of sanitation ghosts, spirits and devils were credited to a large degree for the resulting miasma. Thirsty people are poisoned by the very water they use to assuage their thirst, every home harbors potential risks to health and yet for all this it is a progressive age, particularly for the arts. painting, poetry, printing and performing boomed.With a rich vein of belief in the supernatural and the superstitious running through all. This was truly the era of The Faerie Queen.
This was also a time that when a person looked to the skies over head they saw a sea of stars, with no world wide ground based grid of man made illumination to dull such vision. Small wonder beliefs ran to the wondrous with a canopy of twinkling stars so visible above.
William Shakespeare has been commissioned to perform a new play for a private audience. A Midsummer Nights Dream will be seen for the first time and Richard has been assured a part, a man's role, a part he has made no secret of his longing for, and his brother has been listening. In that way that only a genius does as Richard will learn as the players come together to rehearse.
Bravo to Bernard Cornwell for this very entertaining read. He understands the complexities of brotherhood and the pain that runs deep when siblings seek to offend.
Dare I say it?
Why the hell not...
Encore, author, Encore!
Anyway, it reminded me that when I was a boy my dream job would have been to work in Harry Hall's Bookshop(After the position of Scientific Adviser to UNIT , off course.). I thought Mister Hall had the best shop in the world. Well, the small amount of the world I was familiar with. I always seemed to find something, no matter how little money I actually had. Which was always; not very much. Pan anthologies of horror, Target doctor Who novels, most of the Puffin books of my childhood, every kind of comic you can think off, British and American and thousands of horror and science fiction titles at affordable prices. Condition was never really important to me. Sure, I liked to get things in good nick but my entire world has always been a bit frayed around the edges, so I did not mind so much as long as I got to read whatever it was. I had no notions of collectability beyond reading, experiencing the book or comic in the moment and I always got my moneys worth.
Even its location seemed cool to me, on the corner of the bottom of Gresham Street , like the prow of a stone ship facing forward. The interesting exterior was but a prelude to what could be found on the inside. always with a few temptations on view in the window display. you never knew what you were likely to find on display, what someone had sold, what Mister Hall had bought in.
And there was Mister Hall himself, what a character, larger than life to me.Tall and solid, it was his shop and you knew it. I looked up to and respected this man so much. Here was a man who understood the book trade and built a comfortable domain on that hard work and knowledge, an undiscovered country of second hand books. he treated all his customers the same way, with courtesy , good manners and respect. And he was not afraid to stand up to bullies. I saw him do it once and..well, he handled it like a gentleman,old school but leaving no doubt who's shop it was.
I did ask him for a job. Quite a few times actually. A part time job? A summer job? A work experience position? A cleaner? Anything? I hoped as I grew older and less foolish (Ha!Like that ever happens...) he might see that I would make a good bookseller.
I never relented and neither did he.
One day he did explain to me why he would never give me a job, he told me the reason and I understood it completely. I understood why it was never going to happen and there was nothing I could do to change that. There was such a simple truth there I decided to let it go and resigned myself to finding something else in this world to do. Something else to aspire to.
It did not diminish my appreciation and love for his store one iota. In fact it seemed to make it all the more precious, knowing I could never be part of it. I had to accept that it would never be me bringing order to the old comics or the horror section. it would never be me sorting out the crime fiction from the crime faction, arranging section in some way that would make perusing them all the more enjoyable and more likely to generate sales.
You know, its never really left me. Even after fifty and more years on this planet I still have vivid dreams that I am back in that store, stepping in through its door from the rain, so familiar with the layout of the shelves, the surprising quality and quantity of the content, like arriving home. Silly stuff really, no adventures or whatever, just me putting out stock, tidying up. So real, like a memory, perhaps a bit like time travelling.
Maybe the only form of time travel that is real.
Saturday, 6 July 2019
When I first heard that Jack would be meeting Jo ( "Jack And Jo" now that has the ring of a joyous spin-off.) my first thought was "Sparks will fly, Barrowman and Manning will mix like dynamite and fireworks, I could already hear the saucy laughter in the Green Room extras on the disc. and by Jove, this proved to be the case. They were fantastic together. I remember how buzzed I was to see Sarah Jane and The Good Captain interact on screen and this is more of the same delicious serendipity of personality.
The story is just as timely as the original was way back in the day. The Green Death addressed so many of the genuine concerns the ordinary man, woman and child in the street had for their environment. The terrible waste produced by industrialization had to go somewhere so why not down into the mines were the working classes toiled, poisoning them and turning natures little cleaners into fearsome horrors. Yet it was more than just a cracking script that made that story so memorable. the UNIT Family was starting to break up and this story ended with a major schism. Jo Grant, the beloved companion of the Doctor was about to take her first steps into the world without her wonderful mentor. They were assembled together in The Nut Hatch in Wales, a military who leaned towards defence of the people not only from the horrors of what lay beyond this world but also from the monsters we produced ourselves. Be they mad scientists, their Frankenstein experiments gone awry, crazy computers and now the horrors spawned by man made pollution. As I said, its as timely now as it was then, given the situation has actually worsened. We stand at the edge of an abyss of global extinctions and the ledge is crumbling beneath us...
All our own work, too.
Big finish bring all the elements that made The Green Death a classic of Whovian proportions together once again. Katy manning and Stuart Bevan are reuninted, if not both as the characters they played oh so long ago, the spirit of familiarity is at play to great effect.
Its touching and thought provoking and laugh out loud funny on occasions.
Although a little disgusting at times.
It was perhaps not the wisest choice on my part to be eating a hamburger luch as I listened to this. For reasons that will become apparent when you get a chance to listen to it yourself.
Nature, especially when it rebels, is not for the faint hearted...
Or the squeamish.
The Green Life is a joy. It brings closure to a classic era of doctor Who and perhaps signposts a whole new era.
And as if to intensify my good fortune, in terms of a successful book hunt anyway, I then also found this very touching super hero book by Mr Chabon.
Sometimes the book gods smile down upon us.
The Final solution (Grim title with horrific associations.) concerns a retired great detective, who spends his days raising bees in Sussex, drawn back into the world of mysteries and out of a somnabilistic waking slumber. Hes not named but that is a bit like writing a book that refers to the central character having been the first man to walk on the moon and you not getting who the central character is. (and that is off course making the massive presumption , on my part, that you believe event actually occurred. Which it did.). He is old and perhaps his mind, and his reflexes and the joints of his knees are not as whip smart as they were in their heydays. But surely every day is a heyday when you are a fictional character. Anyway, one day the strange figure of a little boy refugee and his parrot walk into his life and mystery ensues....
It is a beautifully crafted novel, as you would expect from the man who wrote The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay. Well, you have no right TO EXPECT but you would not have to be a great detective in order to hope this is the case. It is lyrical, melancholy and ultimately inspiring.
Grab yourself a comfy chair, find a secluded but pleasant spot and read....
Check out the chap next to the dustcart, or whatever that wheeled vehcile is. It looks as though he is having a chat on a portable device.
A Time Traveler lost in a London fog?
Anyway, I got my answer, but in looking around for the sources of the story I came across so many other great tales that had their roots in the same festering barrel of nightmares. Here are a couple of the covers of the publications such nightmares were birthed in. feast your eyes...
And be sure to check you have locked the front door before bedtime.
Spring Heeled Jack might be about.
I have not read either of Andrew Michael Hurley's other two books; The Loney or Devil's Day. I am aware of them though and after reading Starve Acre i will make a point of tracking them down on a future book haunt. If you enjoy folk horror, as I do, you would do yourself a great service by picking this book up for your collection. I my mind's eye I saw the dark skies over Pendle Hill and heard the creaks and moans of an ancient hanging oak with the gentle tinkle of boot lace hung offerings dancing from its skeletal limbs.
There was a familiar dark shadow thrown by the events in the book. I thought back to ghostly Christmas offerings by the BBC back in the day. With classic MR James adaptions such as The Ash Tree or A Warning To The Curious. It also reminded me of a series by Nigel Kneale called Beasts. And in particular a disturbing slice of Olde Englishe Folke Lore called Baby, a story about a young city couple who move to the country and who discover something dark and other worldly buried in the wall of the cottage they have moved into and the nightmare that follows. I say reminded in the sense of mood and theme and atmosphere. That series is available on DVD and is so well worth tracking down with a really gripping series of stories about mankind's skewed relationship with the animal kingdom and our collective hubris and lack of understanding.
Actually, this book and that DVD would sit quite comfortably on the same shelf.
And although the conceit that this was made for an audience of one is a misleading one I did understand what they meant, as in "this is one I think you will really enjoy." and on that level they were entirely right. It was a fantastic piece of work and one I will never forget. I felt myself gripped by this poignant work which was by turns funny and sad and always engaging. It is so wonderfully performed and beautiful to look at. Set in a remote village with a population stepped straight out of an Agatha Christie or E.F. Benson novel, it is glowered over by very Northern Irish clouds (I believe it was filmed somewhere in Northern Ireland, Strangford Loch or somewhere like that.) and there are scenes on wind swept beaches with lonely grasses waving like melancholy blooms. They are the sort of beaches where if one was to find a whistle, best to just throw it in the sea. The kind of wind they would whistle up would not be a welcome one. just check out MR James to understand what I mean by this.....Oh Whistle And I'll Come To You.
The story at the heart of this movie concerns a woman, a widow, who attempts to make a fresh start for herself in life by following her dream of opening a small bookstore in an old neglected house which sits on the main street of the village. This simple and quite inspirational act attracts the ire and jealous spite of the local queen bee, a soulless aristocrat who vomits faux culture over anyone unfortunate enough to come near her. This Ice queen summons her wingless monkeys and they set about undermining and wrecking this courageous woman's dream and so doing rip the heart and soul away, by increments, cruelly and maliciously.She has her friends, she has her supporters, she has people who genuinely love her but it is a bullies game and they hold all the cards.
As I said, this is a beautifully crafted piece of work with all involved giving a hundred and ten per cent. I know it was based on a novel by Penelope Livesey but it all felt so real and entirely plausible I thought "This has to be true.". For those book lovers out there watch a story about a dream confounded and for those story lovers out there here is something special.
My nephew Ryan did this lovely drawing of tom Baker for me., He has asked me who my greatest hero was and I said The Fourth Doctor as played by the Liverpudlian actor Tom Baker. That is a no-brainer, off course. Which is also how a lot of people have described me, actually. A bit of Whovian serendipity or human tragedy? Which, oddly, is another way people have described me.
That, and also looking like a tree that has been struck by lightning.
Tuesday, 18 June 2019
As usual when I read anything by this charming man I learnt something halfway through this book. I learned to dispell the foolish notion that you can know people you have never met. With a public figure who has lived in the public sphere for so long, that is, existed in the shared cultural zeitgeist, we imagine we know them when in simple point of fact we do not. Stephen Fry has inhabited that ephemeral location for as long as I remember. In fact, for some reason, he has been most prominent in areas where people of great talent come and go like meteors scraping across the atmosphere which surrounds us. With this volume he surprises and lets us in on the less flattering qualities most would seek to conceal or explain away. it is an eye opener to have a peek into his diaries for a period.To get a glimpse of those far off days as he lived them. Pre-internet days and when Douglas Adams was alive and at the height of his powers. Its quite rude in places but it feels like a celebration rather than a shock fest and they are after all only...words. Its a bit shocking as well to be honest. He has actually probably spent more money on Cocaine than I will ever earn. That is a bit shocking to some one whose idea of a treat is the more expensive Dromore butter on ones toasted pan. Hmmm, creamy and salty.(Yeah, I know.Life on the edge.)
As a very funny entertainer, comedian, actor and story teller he has been with us for so long. Yet has somehow skirted the over bearing quality such prominence endows. One never gets tired off him. Perhaps it has something to do with how unflinchingly self critical he can be. Aware off and willing to share his self doubts without coming across as slyly narcissistic. (I am going to make a meal of this if I am not careful.) In short he has always come across as endearingly humane.
Another lovely memoir from a lovely man.
A stranger I never knew I knew so well.
I have watched this film at different stages off my life and over the course of it I have identified with different characters during those stages. For instance, when I was a boy I really identified with the butler/batman character Job as played by the wonderful Bernard Cribbins. He is clownish but loyal and brave. What boy would not want to exhibit those fine qualities. When I hit my teenage years and hormones began to ping pong around my system like an organic pinball machine i was drawn to handsome lead Leo as played by the handsome lead John Richardson. Not really identifying as such but admiring how damn fine he looked in Kallikrates robes. And off course as this grey haired stage of my life I find myself drawn to Holly as played by the magical Peter Cushing, the pipe smoking Indiana Jones senior prototype. Peter creates an iconic turn as the major/prof and as usual never fails to deliver less than one hundred per cent. there you go, three stages of life played out in one film.
Great set pieces, a boys own yarn with a sexy undercurrent. It also contains memorable turns by Christopher Lee as the ambitious and cruel high priest Billalli and Andre Morell (My favourite Bernard Quatermass.) as the father of poor doomed Ustane, Rosenda Monteros. Ursula andress delivers a career high as the mad undying queen Ayesha. Its a classic adventure tale, with mysterious desert tribes, lost civilizations and a band of brothers on a wild ride.
Such stories, such friendships should last forever.
As captain Jack Sparrow once said" The world is not getting smaller, theres just less in it."
Or was it Basil Brush who said it?
There are twelve stories within from writers I am not so familiar with as well as a couple I am most familiar with. A couple of names who often pop up in horror or ghost story anthologies; Algernon Blackwood and Robert Bloch. never a bad thing to see these two gentlemen's names in a collection. It has become interesting to me to avoid knowing who writes what in these collections. In order to prevent myself bringing any baggage to proceedings. Tricky off course, as one often finds the titles and the contributer's names sitting next to each other but I have never felt it difficult to avert ones eyes. Its a catholic thing...
Sound nice contributions here and it was a collection I found myself passing through quite quickly, enjoying the different textures of the pieces within. Until I got to a story called The Tibetan Box by Elizabeth Walter, a story I enjoyed so much I started reading it again as soon as I finished. The three main characters are three old ladies and their nemesis is an ancient and very cruel Tibetan demon. Its a very arcane tale with some lovely observational characterization, with the three leads very believably realised in a situation where they face terrible danger., its actually quite shocking and even moving by the end.
And then the same thing happened again with the last tale in this dozen of weird tales. Another story which I plunged back into almost as soon as I finished; First Dig by Miriam de ford, a Shakespearian science fiction (a couple of words that do not normally go together.) treat.
Its a nice collection which delivers what it promises.
Eeerie, Weird and Wickedly good.
What a perfect choice to tackle this subtle and very memorable tale. Mister Hordern brings the text to life as Montague Rhodes James surely intended. Softly, patiently, never the voice raised, all the more terrifying for this delivery. He played Professor Parkin in Jonathan Miller's adaption of Oh Whistle and I'll Come To You, the victim of a vengeful entity which follows him to a seaside boarding house.
I once heard the work of MR James described as akin to "a pleasing terror."and while this indeed goes some way in explaining the enduring appeal it does not tell the whole story. his work involves so much more and is all the more satisfying for it. You will find this performance on Youtube..
Terror is just a click away.
David Pinner was a stage actor and quite a successful one at that. He had the lead in a production of The Mouse Trap, the Agatha Christie play, in the West End of London and over as seven week period he wrote this book. There is a story that while transporting the only copy to his agent he accidently left it on the roof of his car and if it had not been for a kindly, and observant, other road user the only copy of the original manuscript could have been lost forever. I do not know if that is true but what a good story, the sort of story an imaginative agent might have come up with..
The parallels with the wicker Man are all surface. And also bubbling underneath, so to speak. The way the characters talk is all over the place. Their inner monologues and not so secret motivations erupt sickly yellow from between their ears and between their lips. People wear their appetites on their sleeves in this village and the children are a right bunch of little horrors.
A little girls body is found at the foot of an ancient tree which has Wiccan adornments, batwings and monkey heads(Sound like a song by The Gorillaz.). The Urban policeman on the trail believes there are supernatural elements to the death and throws himself into village life, mingling with the natives, getting down and dirty and disturbed.
This little town would give Summer Isle a run for its money. The residents are earthy,filled with secrets and driven by animal passions that lead them to dark places and the summer solstice is upon them with all its potency. This is a chilling glimpse into the underbelly of a beautiful little rustic idyll. Its as though a pretty picnic blanket was thrown over a tasty feast which was allowed to rot until the blanket twitched and shuddered at the fever of corruption beneath...
Also found this image of a cover illustration from the french edition which really conveys the spirit of this book. The dialogue can be quite arch, the characters all speak as though they are channeling the movie Performance.
Paul Darrow had ensured his genre credentials with an appearance as a brave but doomed UNIT officer way back in the first season of Jon Pertwee's tenure in the Tardis, standing off against the subterranean menace of The Silurians. He was a great character actor with a patrician features and a resonant voice, just take a look at his IMDB page for an idea of the vast variety of characters he has played over the years. I remember his turn in an episode of The Rivals Of Sherlock Holmes A Message From The Deep Sea opposite John Neville. A fog drenched treat for mystery fans.
It would have been something to see him in character as Avon aboard The Tardis for a dream cross over. It was unthinkable then but by today not improbable. the fans would have bought into it instantly. Paul Darrow's charisma would have assured it.
"A star has gone out today" was how one of his close friends put it.
Perhaps one has, but while it shone it shone bright.
Orbiter is a Vertigo graphic novel, written by Warren Ellis with Colleen Doran. Its the story of a space shuttle The Venture which returns to earth ten years after it disapeared. Of the original seven crew only one remains alive and he is uncommunicative. Also there is soil from the surface of Mars in the shuttles landing gear. There is a mystery and warren Ellis provides the answers. startling and exciting answers that may signal a new dawn for mankind and turn the notion of space travel on its head. Its part Quatermass part 2001 A Space Odyssey. A fantastic imaginative and inspiring leap.
Do not wait. find a copy. Read it. Do not consign it to gap between Walt Disney's wonderful World Of Knowledge and the Ocean World of Jacques Cousteau... Like what I did...
I know..it makes absolutely no sense but is'nt that the wonder of it all.
"Best Start believing In Ghost Stories Missy, Cause You're In One."
Saturday, 18 May 2019
I actually did feel touched(And that is quite enough of that..) by him and that was while watching his extraordinary documentary The Secret Life Of The Manic Depressive. Emotionally moved by his allowing the camera to capture the uncomfortable nature of the condition. There is nothing of the romantic struggle about what the poor man is forced to go through. It showed the painful daily grind of a condition which will not let go and has no seeming empathic shortcut. Like almost all emotional turbulence once one finds oneself in it, one must simply endure.
What a full life though. He is so candid and lovingly honest about his least appealing characteristics. He charms and he illuminates as he goes along the yellow brick road of life, not looking for a brain but so willing to share the one he has been gifted with. There is a lot in this boo but one gets the feeling there is also quite a bit left unsaid. It is the nature of showbiz memoirs, respecting other people's privacy, and also forgiving the mercurial nature of a life in the performing arts. The ups and downs and the ins and the outs, in every permutation the human mind is capable off. If you can think of it, you can be sure someone has been it. Theres nothing so fantastical as real life.
Check out Mister Fry's appearance on University Challenge. It must have felt like arriving at the inner circle of the King of Scholars and his retinue. His face shines with the awkward optimism of youthful forbearance, the stoicism that comes with just almost knowing the answers.
Never dampened my enthusiasm for a second.
The survivor of a ship wreck his post trauma life and times haunted by an awareness of an otherworldly presence, one that possibly saved him and sustained him through the hopeless days when his life hung by a thread. A being that may have compelled him to perform an unthinkable act in order to do so. Consider what you might not do in order to prolong your time as you wait hoping for rescue, when you float surrounded by the bodies of the dead.
A shape shifting being adrift in time and space trying to survive in a world it was not created to exist upon. Manifested but hiding in plain sight, an awkward mimick that masks something other than human, a condition all too human off course.
Jane Rawson draws such sorrow from this situation, the pain of existence post trauma. Insightful and continually surprising as she draws a disparate group of characters together and into situations that at times stretch credulity to a Maupinean degree, rendering it entirely plausible in this confusing and bewildering world we share. It is an interesting conceit to establish that an elder being from beyond the stars has any more control over their destiny than any of the rest of us.
The game of life plays out in this outre text, each character receiving unfair degrees of success and failure as they attempt to survivetheir own lives and times. The ups and downs mirror images to each others experiences.
Until the reader comes to see that the truth of being a human being is to acknowledge that it is our lot in life to marvel at what a lot of life there is.
And that is from someone who did not weep as Tony Stark heroically passed.
In this issue there are stories involving pirates and sea monsters, a forest beast and ancient burial mounds, Giant alien beetles in the sewers and off course a beach being menaced by a monstrous snail.
They do not get too hung up on explanations for the appearance of the giant snail; ".. a bestial cry that has not pierced the air for 100 million years. A giant prehistoric shelled creature! it was hibernating in some fantastic way, and the rock slide freed it!"
100 million years. That is one long snooze.
Its a story called She Sells Seashells.
Try saying that fast.
Check out Mr Karloff in his scuba gear. He wears it with such gravitas.