Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Blake's Last Laugh.

                       (From my sketchbook) This was when Tommy Cooper told William Blake
                               a funny story about the rise of a Black Sun in the Heavens.

A Young Pup Yet.

Happy 500th Birthday Doctor Who Magazine. What a landmark and what a magazine. It has always seemed to be around but off course it was not. How well I remember racing to the newsagents in Alliance Avenue to get my copy(After begging for the twelve pence to pay for it. I never had any money.In fact I had thought it was going to cost ten pence not twelve pence. A whole two pee of a difference.That was four fruit salads or a whopper..) I had assumed people would be buying it the way they bought newspapers and that the street would be awash with young and old wandering around with their noses buried in it or commenting on its contents, like the much later Monitors on Logopolis working away on their abstract block transfer computations. Wow, that was an expression that was not thrown around many school yards back then. It was all "exterminate, exterminate" or "Doctor you must die!" Not much chatter about entropy or CVEs
           It is so strange but I remember looking at the feature and pictures in this issue of William Hartnells tenure as the High Church himself and thinking of them as centuries past. The sixties might as well have been the eighteen sixties to my young brain. Quite right I suppose. Like ones body ones brain is elastic when young. There have been many years spent since developing a sense of  linear real time and the consequences of its passing.Sadly, regenerating is not an option.
           The magazine has been with us even when the television show was not. There have been many hands guiding the tiller and keeping it sailing across the endless seas of all things Who.I feel as though I have grown up reading it.
             Or at least grown into something reading it.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Tonight Matthew I Am An ...Avenger!

                                                              (from my sketchbook.)
Had a lovely dream. I was charging about a field waving an umbrella and a bunch of blood red roses dodging around some old suits of armour and jumping in and out of a pink door that led always to adventures new. We were shooting a new intro for The Avengers. Well, we were reshooting the one with Linda Thorson as Tara King. This is me getting ready to do my bit for Steed.
              Ah, I can still hear that amazing intro music.

Naming Jack The Ripper.

In 2007 a one hundred and twenty year old shawl of a very unusual suggested provenance was put up for auction and bought by an English business man named Russell Edwards. The shawl was said to have been the property of Catherine Eddowes, the Whitechapel murderers "canonical"  fourth victim (The designation by which the supposed five actual victims of Jack the Ripper are known by Ripperologists.) If true then this shawl was one of the only remaining actual items of evidence from the worlds most famous cold case. For the Ripper left nothing in his wake other than bodies.
              This book is different from some of the other books I have recently read on the subject in that the writer writes in detail how his growing interest in the history of the crimes( after having seen the Hughes Bros. adaption of the graphic novel by Alan Moore From Hell with Johny Depp as Inspector Abberline.) saturated his life and became something of an obsession. He literally walked the walks and found out as much as he can. Then he bought the shawl.
                The shawl was subjected to a series of forensic tests which has convinced its new owner of its provenance which some found questionable. From blood stains and related DNA he is also convinced he now knows the identity of the Ripper. It is a notion not so removed from Patricia Cornwell's attempt to address the identity of the fiend using modern police and forensic techniques. Although it has an altogether different outcome and conclusion. As with so many"conclusions" about the inconclusive events of that Autumn in 1888 it works for the length of the narrative.
                 My own problem with the idea lies with the shawl itself. It is quite a striking piece of clothing. Well to my antiquated eyes it is. As such I find it difficult to believe a woman of Catherine Eddowes then unfortunate standing would have owned that particular item. Look at the quality of the shawl, if it could even be called that or described as a shoulder drape for a poor woman without a pot to piss in. I am sure I read somewhere that Catherine had pawned the very shoes on her feet the day before she was murdered. All these poor women were literally that.As poor as it was possible to be. All the victims of this monster owned little more than what they stood up in. it is heart breaking to read what else they carried about their person and what amounted to their entire earthly possessions. A bit of broken mirror, a few buttons, maybe a thimble of sugar. These women were destitute, hopelessly bereft of even a minimum of worldly goods.
                That she would hold onto a piece of material embroidered with Michaelmas daisies while letting go of the shoes on her feet stretches credulity for me.
                To be fair to this theory though if there was one place and time where credulity was being stretched on a regular basis it was Whitechapel 1888. Where daily life was a nightmarish grind, One to weary the hardiest of souls.
                Also the test results from the mitochondrial DNA show a veritable cascade of common maternal ancestry which throws the net wide in search of possible descendants. Narrowing it down to a single suspect is a bit like finding a wanted poster pinned to the chief suspect.
                What do I know.I am no forensic expert. There is always a certain amount of trust involved in having such results explained to one. As with everything connected to this case it borders on almost anecdotal which I suppose is the opposite of forensic.
                 Has the Ripper been found?
                 He was never lost.
                 Forever hiding in plain sight.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Uncle Montagues Tales of Terror.

Read this wee gem last night. Came across it whilst browsing through some second hand books for something to grab my nephew's interest and ended up coming away with half a dozen different bits and pieces for myself. I am ashamed of this but book collectors are like this I think. Whoever dies with the most wins or some equally dubious hubris. Lapsed Catholics make shite browsers. We buy so much rubbish as substitutes for holy relics which no longer inspire as they should.
             It was the lovely cover which caught my attention. And that title. I come from a big family where there was always some older person telling tales of some sort and they nearly always leaned to the macabre. My da was someone's uncle and I know he told me stories as a child that kept me awake at night. Afraid to pull a blanket over my face in case one night I pulled it back to find myself staring up at the lid of a coffin and the silence of the grave.
               Well at least my da's stories have not affected me in a negative sense.
               This was a lucky find. I just so thoroughly enjoyed the story, and stories within the narrative, and found the art seamlessly drew me on. You too will find yourself in that most solitary house in that haunted forest sitting in front of a fire that illuminates without heating as the story chills. I intend to pass this on to my nephew. I think it is the sort of book which when read at the right age could become a favourite that also would encourage the reader to look for other work by this pair. That means off course I want to track down another copy for myself.
                 It feels a bit MR James, it feels a bit Edgar Allen Poe but it also feels it has a strong identity of its own. not a pastiche or Poe-light. There is a touch of Cain and Abel in here. The two story telling brothers from the old D.C. comics House Of Secrets and House Of Mystery. Strong and creepy and very well realised. If you enjoy the work of people like Charles Adams or Arthur Rackham you may well want to have this book in your collection on the strength of the art work alone. You would be doing yourself a disservice though by not reading the tales told by Uncle Montague.
                I read it late last night on what was probably the hottest day of the year so far in Belfast. There were moments though I am sure I heard a winter wind and bare tree branches scratching at the window panes. At least I think it was Tree branches..

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Captain America This Is Your Life.

                                                   "O Captain,!my Captain!
                                                     Our fearful trip is done.
                                             The ship has weather'd every rack,
                                                  The prize we sought is won,
                                              The port is near, the bells I hear,
                                                     The people all exulting."
                                                     O Captain, My Captain.
                                                           Walt Whitman.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

The Countenance Divine.

Just read this amazing book by first time author and Northern Irish Keady man Michael Hughes. It is a startling and very entertaining tale of a story arc stretching back four hundred years and reaching a disturbing climax on the cusp of the millennium. Three compelling characters, not for all the right reasons, find their mutual destinies fall into congruity as biblical prophecy edges to revelation. The poet John Milton, the poet, writer, painter and visionary William Blake and the man without a face himself/herself? Jack the Ripper find the threads of their lives woven together. in a thread which winds towards the year 2.000. 1666, 1777 , 1888 and 1999, four auspicious years separated by more than just time.
             Michael Hughes has concocted a heady brew for those whose taste leans towards the arcane. It is an enigmatic tale of visionaries and blasphemous themes, part Satanic Verses part Hawksmoor.
             It gripped me well into the night. almost a one sitting read if one does not count the dreaming time before work and weary eyes. Almost started reading it again as I finished it. Found all the characters involved so engaging I wanted to meet them again almost immediately.
             Sad and haunting and a strong debut.

Captain Courageous.

Just loved this photograph. Thought it had a peculiarly Northern Irish feel to it. Its all in the casuality of the two very different characters. Look how Cap looks like he has just sat on the stoop of The Whitehouse under a glorious blue sky, all broad shouldered heroic steadfastness, dispensing All American wisdom. And she looks like she is saying"Do you think that Nick Fury would look half as cool if he had two eye-patches instead of one??" Whilst Cap is replying"Well,you know mam, I had not considered that."

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Portrait Of A Killer.

The bold claims just got a whole lot..er,bolder.Not only that it is "case closed" as in "'nuff said" as in "At the end of the day" as in "do they mean us?They surely do." probably.and boy does this lady( and I say lady in the most respectful sense.)Patricia Cornwell woman is a fine writer with a make a jolly strong case for slamming that old ledger closed. I found her case very compelling. The one she presents against the painter Walter Sickert. Not only is her dissection of his darkly disturbing personality a riveting one it also feels completely authentic. One does hesitate to say even forensic for such is her forte.
           I have to say though I feel that the quality of the writing is such that it does not leave much wiggle room to think other than she does. I felt at the end of this book as though I had been peering into a microscope at some hungry cancerous lifeform, One bereft of an empathic appeal for mercy while a Doctor explained to me the details of its vampiric growth. There is a tone I find in some writers work. A dark certainty and belief in ones clarity of vision that allows one to see monsters and describe their gruesome aspect in very real terms that warns the viewer or listener to disregard their insight at ones own peril. Thomas Harris has it. Patricia Cornwell has it also. A morbidity of the soul for want of a better description.
            One of the aspects of the Rippers crimes during that Autumn of Terror that frustrates is his seeming elusiveness and even invisibility. In a area saturated with policemen looking for anything suspicious and a local population on their guard he was able to flit among his victims and slay and slice and vanish. I used to scoff (oh yes even the most cringing of the proletariat is allowed the occasionally "scoff".) at the very idea of some top hatted opera cape wearing Gladstone bag carrying spat tapping dandy slashing his way unseen through the Whitechapel streets.  A posh gent would have stood out either on his way to or way back from a ripping. I just cannot see a gentleman slipping unseen about the area without someone screeching "Oi,Jack the Ripper,You Been Nicked". Then I saw this photo of Walter Sickert; Whenever someone would present their notion of a new ripper suspect and also present their own reasons for such a suggestion I find I can often follow their line of reasoning up to a point..then ..it tends to fall apart for me...
               It was the sheer savagery of the man's actions and their very clear escalation, I could rarely detect in the suggested suspects history a trigger or an event in which such a revolting anti-life gestation could have taken place. In other words what could possibly warp a personality to the point where hacking and slashing and stabbing at the body of a human being could be an expression of that trauma set loose. Well, just such an incident took place in young Walter Sickerts life. A violation perpetrated upon his person that could well have lead to an untethering of his humanity . Not an excuse for his possibly  monstrous actions but certainly a causal factor in their inception. A trauma which untreated or un-addressed could well have grown to terrible proportions.
               I will not go into that incident here.  I would be wary of sensationalising his treatment and am wary of any suggestion of justification. Only that there is a possible inkling that the ingredients were in pace for the making of a monster. Or at least the making of a monstrous pathology.
                In her work Patricia Cornwell switches on a light illuminating some very dark places. She can take the reader on a long and disturbing journey into these places and such journeys are not for the faint-hearted. Nietzshean warnings aside there are other hazards involved with abyss gazing. Her brutally direct and honest assertions with regard to the most disturbing pathology would lead one to make sure one lock one's doors at night.
                 Not a bad idea in any era.
                 Case Closed? I am not so sure. Walter Sickert is not the man who will be blamed for nothing but the Ripper crimes? Patricia Cornwell puts forth a compelling and disturbing vision that also works as a window into the dark soul of a man who put more than talent into his creations.
I thought now that is a face that fits. he could have passed for someone who might have been abroad at that time of the night and in that area.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

The True Face Of Jack The Ripper.

What a bold assertion to make and yet that is what the author Melvin Harris has done. You have to applaud his certainty. Off course in the history of literature regarding the Whitechapel murders in London 1888 there is a lot of certainty about regarding each persons theory on who that monster was if not a lot of evidence to back those theories up. Mostly I get the impression that each subject for certainty just "feels" right. Melvin Harris choice feels right. His suspect is everything we could imagine The Ripper to be. He ticks all the boxes for disordered Victoriana we could wish to find in a Jack Suspect. The very definition of the decadent aristocrat.
             Given this it is astonishing that so much of the book is told from the view point of a that dreadful man's business partner. A woman who got to hear and see a side to this man which lead her to believe she was working next to a man who could possibly be the terror of whitechapel. Although I suspect there were many women in this period not only working in the vicinity of that district in London but through out the United Kingdom who suspected many terrible things about the men they were working with. Such were the state of expected social conventions between men and women in the Victorian Era that it was quite possible for a woman to feel threatened a relative cultural norm. I am probably sounding a bit weedy here projecting judgement from a more enlightened era(and even that could be argued.But not by me.Not right now.In this review.) but the case she builds and the descriptions of this shadowy personality paint a peculiar portrait.
            It is a very well written book with enough details to set it apart from so much other literature on the subject. There is a wealth of information contained within that made it a very interesting read and a thought exercise on the anatomy of an organic city; the heaving bitch that was Victorian London.I am left with the impression that the actual title for this book should  have been A Face For Jack The Ripper. It is a face that fits for beneath it seems to lurk a terrifying blankness.
              The real face of a fiend.