Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Turner by Peter Ackroyd.

I have read once or twice that the self portrait on the cover of this biography is flattering in an altogether not truthful way. If this is true then surely we should exhibit some generosity of character and allow turner to have self-identified as looking like this. Should we even be looking for truth in art and if so what do we use as a yard stick, as a barometer of truth in what we see? Educated sensibilities? Did Turner himself even possess such? I suspect he painted in the same way that some people are born with the voice of angels.
           Turner was a cockney, the son of a barber,a smart man of the hard streets, part poet, all painter. on a daily basis he would have seen the hardships endured by his fellow citizens of Olde Londone Towne. I wonder if Turner was able to see the sky from those windy crowded alleyways? To see through to the sky high above while the dirty business of man continued all about him. I was thinking about the painting he did in later life; The Slave Ship.it shows a stormy sea and sky when stolen men and women go to a watery grave. Condemned there by the merciless hand of human commerce, something not found in brutal nature even. This is the floating Satanic Mill William Blake warned off, where abduction and murder were justified in pursuit of an insurance claim. The dirty business of man conducted beneath a roiling tumbling heavens, the mute non judgemental canopy of clouds. It is a remarkable painting by the standards of any century. Yet by all accounts it was not well received, with those who previously praised heaping scorn. Described by one critic as looking " ..like the contents of a spitoon.."
             How startling this painting must have looked upon being revealed to a waiting public. What could they have goggled at in the National Gallery that would have prepared them for this assault on their feathery sensibilities? Was the proximity of an Edward Landseer comforting to them? Was it like being at a crowded family gathering and gravitating to the side of the uncle who does not insist on speaking his mind no matter how uncomfortable he makes you feel?
             What would I know, its all new to me and I try not to project modernism into situations where no such spelling existed. I am relying on the instincts and phenomenal insights of writers such as Peter Ackroyd to act as tour guide through the haunted galleries of history. There are precedents, he has created a body of work which suggests no finer company on such a journey. This is a short book, a slight guide of sorts but it has pushed open a door for me through which I see a daisy chain dangled above a blazing home hearth, a fragile thing off beauty suspended above coppery cinders.
              ...Combined with an irresistible urge to look up.

                                                    ( The Slave Ship by Turner )

The Wicked doctor Syn.

After finishing, and thoroughly enjoying, The Body On The Door Step, the Romney Marsh mystery story by AJ McKenzie I was remembering a story from the Wonderful World Of Disney (In Color!) about the scarecrow smuggler and his wicked struggle against the forces of The Kings revenue men.
It was all swarthy stuff, with the smugglers being the rascally good guys. it had a particularly rousing theme song:                                       Scarecrow! Scarecrow!
                              On The Southern Coast Of England Theres A Legend People Tell
                              Of Days Long Ago When The Great Scarecrow Would Ride From
                                                          The Gates Of Hell!
                                                     And Laugh With A Fiendish Yell,
                         With His Clothes Torn And Tattered Through The Black Night He'd Ride
                                         From The Marsh To The Coast Like A Demon Ghost
                                                       He'd Rob The Rich Then Hide
                                                And He'd Laugh Til He Split His Side!
                                  (Doctor Syn The Scarecrow Of Romney Marsh/Walt Disney.)
                    What a great theme. It makes one wish to swash one's buckle. So to speak.

The Mile End Murder.

"The case Conan Doyle could not solve.." so proclaims the blurb on the cover of this book by Sinclair Mc Kay which details the possible wrongful conviction of a death sentence imposed upon the accused murderer of a wicked old land lady in 1860. Conan Doyle's opinions on the case given special consideration due off course to his creation of Sherlock Holmes(Should that be "invention" of Sherlock Holmes?) more than thirty years later. Otherwise his connection to this story is slight at best. He did write about it, speculated on the very likely wrongful conviction, but it was not as though he started a campaign for a post execution exoneration. The blurb served its purpose though in that it caught my attention from a shelf of books displayed face out during one of my book hunts( should that be book Haunts?) off course I think that was because my brain translated it as "The case Sherlock Holmes could not solve.."
             In 1860 a widow land lady and land owner , Mary Emsley, was slain by a blow to the head, which caved her skull in, such was the ferocity. The details of the murder and the events which followed seemed to capture the collective imaginings of a gripped national capital as as al of London speculated the identity of the killer. Mary Emsley as a rent collector was not well liked, her ruthless streak manifest as she would not hesitate to throw a family into the street if they fell behind in a weeks rent. To many she got no more than her well deserved kharmic comeuppance for her continued heartlessness regarding her tenants.Thus, there were any number of suspects, but the one eventually convicted and punished for the crime was one who went out of their way to put themselves in the frame, while trying to do the very same to some one else. An action which put him firmly at the eye of the storm, or rather the target for a series of circumstantial evidence which collectively slipped a noose about his neck.
             Sinclair Mc kay details the events with a forensic eye to detail, chronicling not only the events of the case but recording the harsh grind of daily life in Victoria's London of the early Eighteen hundreds. He builds a picture about the life and times of a group of disparate folk, drawn together by a web of misfortune, frustrated ambition and hard times. It is a very compelling glimpse into an era of tough men and women, the times that shaped them, and the rough justice that honed them. Sinclair Mc Kay goes beyond recorded events and takes us down a path not taken, forwarding a possible and sadly highly plausible solution to this crime once thought solved.
              Yet it is a sobering thought that almost as soon as a a man was dispatched from this world in payment for a crime he may not have committed, whole new unexplored areas of suspicion were considered.

Ghost Train.

Read MR James A Warning To The Curious then decided to go for a late walk round a the grounds of the burnt and boarded up shell of Blayney Castle where I found the abandoned stables in the castle grounds.It is haunted by the ghost of a hoofless donkey, you never hear its approach did you feel the snort of phantom donkey nostrils of the back of your neck and hear the grinding of supernatural carrots. Even during the day it has a curiously washed out from reality feel about it. I am told it is haunted by a faceless nun.
             I call her The None..

The Body On The Doorstep.

A Romney Marsh Mystery which quite literally is what it says on the tin, so to speak. Its a historical, a murder mystery set in 1790, Kent, The Romney Marsh. Late one blustery windy night, hard drinking and world weary, Reverend Hardcastle is shook from a deep sleep (..drunken port induced fugue..) by the arrival at his front door and door step of a young man who is promptly murdered. As he lays dying he whispers a cryptic message into Hardcastle's ear, who is almost done away with himself seconds later. Hardcastle is deeply shaken up by this event, shaken up in every sense of the expression. It stirs him from the self induce fog of drunkeness and he sets out to discover the mystery of the body on the doorstep. In doing so he sets in motion a series of events that opens a doorway into the shadowy world of smugglers, corrupt officials and the excise men who pursue them.
             Saint Mary In The Marsh is a great location for this story. Think Henry Fielding, think Doctor Syn and his band of night riders, think misty marshlands by moonlight, with the eerie sound of the wind stirring the skeletal branches of trees framing a smuggler's moon. the little hamlet is filled with interesting and well rounded characters. With the Reverend Hardcastle being the strongest. He is well liked but equally written off as an old duffer with an over fondness for brandy and port, legal or nay. In that small coastal town the inhabitants making their living from the sea, it is the primary source of sustenance and all they own they derive from it. It is also the source of their greatest dread; invasion by the French.
             Its a tough old life in Saint Mary's In The Marsh. There is hard work for little pay with side helpings of bribery, murder, secrets which threaten violence at every turn, and the unseen but always present gang of ruthless smugglers The Twelve Apostles. To those looking in from outside or afar the village of Saint Mary In The Marsh is little more than a wretched hive of scum and villany.
             I, for one, cannot wait to go back there.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Beach Combing With TinTin And Haddock.

                                                                   "Boys in bikinis
                                                                     Girls in surfboards,
                                                                     Everybody's rockin'
                                                                     Everybody's fruggin,
                                                                     Twistin' round the fire,
                                                                      Havin' fun,
                                                                      Bakin' potatoes,
                                                                      Bakin' in the sun."
                                                                                      Rock Lobster
                                 ..In the bleak mid winter I thought we could use a reminder of what
                                                                      sunny days look like.
                                                       Thank you mister Herge and The B-52s.

The Great God Pan.

                                                       See the Great God pan...And die...
Off course nowhere on the cover of this collection did I see these words but I fear they are now indelibly inscribed on my mind, the bumpier parts of it anyway. Its a weird tale to be sure, this gateway to a Machenesque world of elder gods magics and dangerous folklore. Through him we read things we are not meant to read which in turn makes us see things we are surely not meant to see. Stories delivered in a wordy poetic prose style that those with shorter attention spans may find trying but which lends itself beautifully to a more traditional aural form of storytelling, as in fireside tales of terror. Although Arthur Machen was Welsh he shares much in common with Irish storytellers, whose powers of storytelling were developed in a golden age of magic words, before the power of the storyteller was forever diminished by the arrival of the printed word, one of the great steps forward in the enlightenment and the age of reason. For sure the good endowed far outweighs that which was lost but things were lost for sure, such as the special powers which came with an aural tradition.
             The best place to encounter these stories is most definately the hearthside, with hungry flame and crackling wood shifting as it sparkily releases its locked in energies. I read it on a train, on Christmas Eve, traveling on the Enterprise Train between Belfast and Dublin. some one further down the nearly empty carriage was listening to folk music on some portable device and was forlornly singing along to it. I glimpsed a grey haired dark eyed face observing me impassively from across the aisle. It was my own reflection mirrored against the dark countryside which sped by barely glimpsed. Was I watching myself to observe my own reactions to what I was reading and having seen none lost interest?
              Just how reliable are our own reflections anymore?
              The other stories in this dover Thrift collection were The White People, The Inmost Light and The Shining Pyramid. Great stories birthed in the mystical bracken of more ancient times that feel more real to me than any of the desert religions and faiths which ursurped their position in the lives of the misty past we are rooted in. from a time before magic went to sleep bedded down in mossy imaginings in the true grey havens of our shared subconscious.

Everyone Is Crazy About A Sharp Dressed Galifreyan.

                            What the smartly dressed second Doctor fan is wearing this year.
                                                  Elegant and yet suitably scary. Rather
                                                                    defines an era.

Sherlock Holmes And The Servants Of Hell.

This is certainly one of the most extreme (in every sense of that words usage) additions to the extended Holmesian canon (Although I doubt that many of the Holmes Cannonites will tolerate the Cennobites for a second, much less consider them canon.) Conan Doyle's greatest creation meeting Clive Barkers most well known, both iconic notions from very different worlds. World wide you will find people who have never read a line by Conan Doyle yet know Sherlock Holmes and Watson as though they grew up in the posher end of the neighborhood. Equally you can find people who have never read anything by Clive Barker but who recognise Pinhead High Priest Of Hell, even if they cannot quite get the name correct; Nail Face, Tack Tack or even Nail Head.
             It is true that readers and collectors of Sherlock Holmes and all things consulting detective-like love the notion of puzzles and their solutions. Just such a compulsion also exists at the very heart of the Cennobite mythos. Although in their case their solutions bring nothing but disaster upon the solver. Given this perhaps such an unusual cross over is not as unlikely as it sounds...
             Nope.. actually it is. I am perhaps overcompensating because I enjoyed the book so much. Especially the first two thirds of the book before it escalates, or should I say degenerates to a War In Hell ( I use the word degenerate in a repulsively playful manner, by virtue of where it ends up things have to get oh so much worse before they get..even more worse.) The scale of the book becomes quite epic in scope, so much more epic than say the scale of the Holmes short stories. It has to be pointed out though the gory quality of some of the events does not always sit comfortably with the Holmes and Watson we know. Imagine Holmes and Watson waking up aboard the Nostromo and finding themselves being pursued by a Xenomorph through maintenance ducts or using flame throwers, it just feels so off at times. Yet perversely, in every sense of the word, it is this very aspect which so appeals to Clive Barker readers. in a strange way the novel mirrors the progress of the Hellraiser movies and their reinvention of Cennobite lore as they went along. There was also the notion of the very real sexual repression of the Victorian era and the growth of the Decadence movement towards the end of that period. Human sexuality is wont to blossom in myriad forms when under the pressure of a heartless thumb or boot. Fetishism and decadence bloom by the light of strange moons, so to speak. There were societies and special clubs that catered to all manner of tastes, then and now. one merely required the material wealth and an invitation to partake. In the instance of The Cennobites it was the puzzle box which served as the invitation to the court of the hell priests,The Order Of The Gash, although as Pin Head himself once gothically intoned it is all about the player not the game.
             To have Holmes and Watson as prime movers in a War In Hell may seem to some a bit like having Ms Marple leading armies of men and elves in Middle Earth but to a large degree Paul Kane pulls it off. Mostly down to his umbrella knowledge of both franchises. From events in Holmes movies such as Young Sherlock right through to the Indiana Holmes advs (The Robert Downey Jnr Holmes movies.) to the various lurid chapters in the Hellraiser saga. In the end the whole novel involves a descent into hell which no one escapes without scars.
                War is hell with war in Hell being the very worst.

Flip Of The Coin.

                             Do you ever have one of those days when you feel your life
                                                 could depend on the toss of a coin.

Romannaest Romanna.

                                                     Romanna painting by Roger Shore.
                                                          Leela painting by PJ holden.

There is A Corner Of My House.

                         There is a corner of my house which is the seventies forever more..