Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Homer under The Mistletoe.

 Better watch out, better beware, under panted homer is lurking out there. Just wanted to wish you all a Happy Christmas. Its been something of a difficult year and although I do not know who any of you are, I do think about you and wish you are well. Heres to a better 2021!

               We are all citizens of the future now.

                Must tell you, I was wearing the Homer tie and a man commented "Imagine that coming at you" (referring to my tie, not me. I hope.) and another woman replied "Ach, but Homer and Madge love each other.", rubbishing his negativity. She said this with such a sense of joy and absolute belief in the love shared by two fictional animated characters I was genuinely moved to smile and whole heartedly agree with her.

               So whether its under the mistletoe,or even King Kong's toe, its all about love.

               Homers no dozer! 

              Merry Christmas, chums.XOX..


Thursday, 17 December 2020

The Dolocher.

 And right at the end of this twisting turning year of our Lord Twenty Twenty I find one of the very best reads, for me anyway. I think the book has been around for about four years but I only just discovered it on a recent book haul. I was drawn to it by the very striking cover art and the dramatic blurb "Victorian London had Jack The Ripper, Georgian Dublin had the Dolocher." which is just about as swarthy and gaudy as a cover blurb should be and I am just shallow enough to fall for it, well, are'nt you? I think you might be or else you would find something better to do than read my old boobie-babble.

              It hits the ground running, opening in a filthy condemned cell, as a captured monster in human form sits contemplating his own impending end. If you are truly squeamish you may not even make it past this chapter. and that barely scratches the surface regarding the depths of some inhumane depravity. Hold firm, have courage and keep going because this book is worth it. 

              What a find this Caroline Barry, as she writes with such realistic brevity yet confidence. It is ballsy, er, so to speak, almost guttural at times but exudes a very humane and times poetical reverence for the frailty of the human condition in extremis. Filled with acts of cruelty from some absolute brutes and yet also brave decent and loving actions, I grew to love the central characters and found I did not want to leave their company (James Plunkett's strumpet City affected me this way when I read it years ago. Another book where the city of Dublin is an unspeaking central character.) You witness as a misanthropic group of very different individuals all come together to form a family of sorts as they try to survive savage circumstances.

              An old friend, Don Melia, rest his soul(Although he did not believe in an afterlife I cannot believe a spirit such as his will totally disapear from the world.) once explained to me back in the day, the heady eighties,the concept of pretend families. How those rejected by their families, mostly because of their sexuality, could come together to form new families based on the understanding and love and support any human being would appreciate. Standing together at the coal face of life, forming a pretend family that would eventually become real.In the case of The Dolocher it is mostly the unforgiving and merciless poverty which seeks to grind the human spirit into the dirty cobbles of old Dublin town.  They all struggle to find dignity  in a world where such a notion is a fairy castle aspiration, a notion cold and hungry children merely sneer at.

              Its strumpet city meets ripper Street, its From Hell with a dash of Penny Dreadful.

              Its a bloody marvel.


Redemption Road; Grieving On The Camino

I recently met an interesting fellow; Brendan Mc Manus, while helping him disperse an equally interesting  collection of books to the Oxfam Bookstore in Belfast city Center. Brendan's friend Pat, a fellow Jesuit priest had passed away leaving a nice collection of academic and spiritual books which they wished to pass on in the hope of them not only finding new homes but doing a little good along the way. While he was dropping the books off we got to talking and I discovered he had written a book and I became intrigued not only by Brendan himself and his thought processes but the subject matter also. 

               Brendan's younger brother had taken his own life and the book detailed Brendan's attempt to come to terms with this appalling tragedy, while walking a pilgrims way around Camino de Santiago, an 800-kilometre walk in Northern Spain A physical endurance test that marries faith and determination and which demands much of those taking part. Grief can overwhelm, it is often cruel and merciless, we know the destination we hope to reach we we embark on the rocky path to recovery but in so many ways the loss is irreconcilable. Grief can be like a bullet fired from a gun we know was not designed for the job. We hope the projectile will weave, twist and turn along the way and find that which we aimed for. A magic bullet fired from the human heart. 

              Brendan records his journey, an old school step by step pilgrimage that tests him in oh so many ways.It is not a journey where he must descend into the layers of hell, he does not leap Gustav Dore inspired pits of the burning dead with lakes of fire stoked by demons.  It is not just about the right footwear or the correct sponsorship, although both are essential, it is also about opening oneself to self inflicted hardship and frugality. You have to be willing to push forward when you just feel like laying down and yet somehow remain within your own limitations. It is a spiritual boot-camp, I suppose. No one arrives at a bootcamp a soldier, you only become one if you stick it out. Same with being a pilgrim, you have to stick it out, or else you are just a walker. You have to be able to open yourself to change and all the risks that implies. Sometimes regeneration is only possible from the wreckage of our lives. And as I said, The Camino does demand much from those who take part. There are Camino "rules", expectations that raise a walker to the status of a pilgrim, in the same way monkish rules make the difference between being a brother or a sister and a misanthrope. We are what we are but we can be so much more. And Brendan's pilgrim's path is certainly an exploration of these themes as he pushes the fourth wall of self realization. As he seeks the ear of a higher being, his strength like a candle flame remaining alight in a harsh and cutting wind that bites like a hungry dog. Whether you climb on the shoulders of giants or walk in the steps of saints, the peace of mind the grieving seek can be elusive. And you cannot fool yourself. It must be the real thing.

               Brendan is looking for the real thing. And one of the heaviest things he carries is a Barcelona FC tee-shirt he carries with him, one that belonged to the beloved brother he lost. He does this with a clear reason in mind, one solid fixed point in the shifting fog of grief. And the Camino teaches him how to carry these weights when we must and all importantly when not to, when to let go. That there is regeneration and renewal to be found in this world. The road to that state of being will be different for everyone and there are no guarantees, hostage as we are to our emotions. Its a wild hunt, human nature raw in tooth and claw and affordable footwear. And the resounding refrain of the human heart; Why do we value love so highly when it hurts so much?

               St Ignatius of Loyola offers a series of guidelines, ten pointers to help you negotiate the Pilgrim's Path, that may or may not, lead you to the answers you seek. The answers whose only validity may be judged by those who ask the questions.

               My mate Scratch once offered a guideline of his own.Just the one; God answers every prayer, he just mostly says no.

                I think I prefer what St Ignatious had to offer more.


Horror Of Fang Rock vinyl.

Just found out. A truly classic story in a truly classic format; crackly vinyl, with narration by the amazing Louise Jameson. its a perfect storm of a production set during a nightmarish store in a terrifying location. It is not out until next Febuary but at least Twenty Twenty one is looking up...


Alien Isolation.

A novelization of a game, now there s a modern creative conceit. One that the author manages to pull off with a degree of aplomb. Ellen Ripley's daughter Amanda has grown up missing her mother, haunted by a broken promise to see her again, in a future world where human beings are little more than units under the thumb of mega corporations. As she grows to adulthood she will learn that answers and truths can bring horrors of an unexpected kind that life does not prepare us for. Weyland-yutani have not forgotten the Ripley family, watching Amanda as she grows, drawing her into their a deadly web of chilling intent, with nothing benign in their plans for a family line which all but wrecked their plans and ambitions for the xenomorphic life form that in turn wiped out the lost crew of the Nostromo. 

             The whole nighmare is reborn when a salvage ship The Anesidora, led by a Captain Henry Marlow, lands on LV426, lured there by the mystterious beacon, pulsing away, warning the unwary off, actually serving to draw them in instead. The sequence in the game when the salvage ship touches down on the barren wind swept surface of the remote moon is one of my favorites in the whole alien mythos. They are a rough and ready small salvage team trying to eke an existance in salvage, against all the odds, and they just are in the wrong place, at the wrong time. i just thought they really did the work for this game, the unwelcoming enviroment of LV426, the Verne like space suits, the alluring spider web of the derelict, its all here. In a game!

              Keith Ra Decandido recreates the fall of the Anesidora  and takes us beyond that with the attention to detail the game deserves. Things go from back to worse for all who come into contact with this life form. in his hubris mankind believed itself at the top of the foot chain, even way out in the silent seas of the stars. When we should have been keeping our heads down, content with a modicum of comfort and safety we were instead poking around in places we should never have gone. 

              Alien Isolation is a warning to the curious.

              That there is a degree of safety in Isolation.


Strafford Boys.

 Talk about yer 'orrible ,istories, why do'nt ye. Or do'nt, cause this was not horrible in the least, quite the opposite in fact. turns out Orange is imndeed the New black, or at the very least, as good as.for anyone who knows a hawk from a handsaw, so to speak; verily. the Plays the thing.
            Well, this little orange and balck coloured little book turned out to be a real treat. All the better for being an unexpected one. I came across it on a recent book trawl (one still can do so, even in this era of the pandemic.) when i found it among a small stack of horrible Histories. All of which had been donated to Oxfam, in one of their bookstores. I suppose the cover art allowed it to sit quite comfortably with them, which I suppose is no bad thing, as any of the horrible Histories I have seen on television have been quite smart and funny. Although, a bit one note for me, all grounded in a knowing irony, which gets a bit tedious. Everything is irony, nothing is valued beyond a tired "our ancestors were so daft,wink,wink," It makes forgiveness for past transgressions difficult to access, the weak and obvious punch lines more important than our ancestors attempts to improve their lot in life or the lives of their fellow beings. Yes, history was and is a brutal process, but enlightenment and evolution are things of beauty. 
               Actually, did not mean to get all soap boxey, the Horrible Histories crowd deserve better than that. some of their work has made me laugh out loud. and I have no wish to pit the quality of this lovely book against their lovely books. In it, a sixteen year old William Shakespeare, is working away in his father's glove making workshop but also finds himself putting together his first play, a Whitsun midsummer celebration for the people of his hometown; Stratford Upon Avon. With much hilarity, and a few bumps,bruises and black eyes, he sets about assembling a team of players from his fellow apprentices, local school boys and a motley of local labourers. All about to learn; The plays the thing. 
                Jan Mark brings these long gone and unheard voices back to life for the length of this perfectly formed little read.  It is such a funny book, with wonderfully relayed interactions between the naive performers as they attempt to put together a piece that will entertain and charm. Young Shakespeare in putting pen to paper must string together a story that not only must engage the tough local crowd but also make sense to those performing it. The various first time fledgling actors have their own varied expectations of what the play should be about and how it should be performed. Nearly all wish for meaty manly parts while nearly all also have no wish to play women. There are many a slip as young Will tries to pull together the various threads holding the story together so that the magic of theater may begin to exert itself. As I said, it is a funny book all right, so warmly realised. I actually found a smile on my lips as I read through it. Found myself wishing for all to be well while also enjoying the many mishaps sent to bedevil all involved.
               I for one was clapping by the end.
               Author, Author.

Blood Sucking Spide.

 I have this wee pocket book coming out some time in early 2021. If it is not presumed to be pure unfiltered hubris to talk about possible futures. Its a new comic about vampire Joyriders, among other things. Keep an eye open...For joyriders, vampire or otherwise.

The Ghosts Of Sleath.

 Had not read a James Herbert book in a while so I went looking in a pile for a copy of this which I knew was somewhere in the house. I knew it involved the character Ashe from the book of the same name, the last book by James Herbert I actually read. I had thought it was the book which introduced the character. Turns out I was  wrong. He first appeared in an earlier book; Haunted. But I had started this one so I decided to continue.

              Glad I did too, it was a fast and entertaining read. Hit the ground running with ghostly and ghastly goings on in the remote English village of Sleath. Tucked away and not easy to reach even with a map, its a local town full of local people doing local things, the full Roysten Vasey by Jingo. Yet scratch the surface and this picture postcard little sleepy village proves itself to be haunted on an increasingly dangerous curve. Bad things have happened, bad things are happening and things are about to get a lot worse. Unkempt but likeable physic sleuth Ashe arrives and provokes the restless spitits to bring forward their spooky agenda.

             The narrative switches between Emmerdale like day to day small village happenings to  a Lucio Fulci level of otherworldly horror. Its not for the faint hearted and some of the events are genuinely stomach turning....ugh, James Herbert thought of some really horrible things. People die awfully. Actually, some of them live awfully...

              The edition of  the book I have, which I picked up in a hospice store, is a compact nicely covered book club edition with a nice inner illustration of the village of Sleath. The sort of map one could expect to find in a tourist information office. Although this is not the sort of book which lends itself to the notion of sleepy eventless days dozing on a deckchair next to the duck pond on the village green. Not the suff of dreams, more the stuff of nightmares.

Grace Jones.


Ladies and Gentlemen. Allow me to introduce. Ms Grace Jones...well, a painting of her at least. I do sometimes scribble and draw and even paint inside books I have read or particularly enjoyed. Here is a bit I did inside the autobiography of Grace Jones. I think I may shown this before but tidying up(ho,ho, that is a good one, "tidying up"ho,ho...) Grace Jones is practically a force of nature.and if you need proof of that just take a look on line at one of her performances of Slave To The Rythmn. 
            What that amazing woman can do with a hula hoop is Olympian...
            In the God like sense of the word.

Kicking Through The Fallen Autumn Leaves.

                                                                 (From my notebook.)

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 coat..so 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.


Another Crisis On The Way.

 Back to Babylon indeed and  a story I wrote with Pat Mills a while back. Such days, Pat was an inspiring mentor to a fledgling me, got the opportunity to brush elbows with one of the greats and to discover a man who was every bit as interesting to me as anything he wrote. One of a kind.

In Complete Darkness.

                                                        " Hello, Darkness, My Old Friend..."

Stranded at The Moonbase.

                                                           " Looking out the roof window

                                                            I've seen many strange things

                                                            From shooting stars n' stripes

                                                            Thought I caught the glimpse 

                                                                   of golden wings."

if you get a chance today, check out this old track from Kate Bush, written and performed way back in 1976 for a demo and I do not believe it was ever officially released. What a precocious and hugely talented child Kate Bush was. To think that anyone at any age would have been capable of composing such a striking piece of music, its just wonderful. The lyrics, the marriage of piano and voice, a harmony of riches. There is a truly stunning fan made video to accompany it on Youtube, which is just so good my mind boggles at the levels of inventiveness involved. it looks like something produced with the resources of Weta...Stunning.


The Kairos Ring.

 Oh, this looks interesting. Beyond The Doctor...in this instance what did Romanna do next. Last seen, she was in the company of the lion like Tharil, on the other side of the mirror, in a pocket universe, anything to avoid returning to dusty old Gallifrey. This story is penned by Stephen Gallagher who actually wrote Warrior's Gate, the story in which she bowed out as the Doctor's traveling companion, so I have expectations of it being as interesting as that classic era tale. 

            It will not be available until Febuary 2021, that is going to seem a lot further away as time moves at a strange rate in these baffling times. Which coincidently is what I was thinking of changing this place's name to; The Baffling Times....

The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd.

Had an urge for some Agatha Christie and almost randomnly, I say almost because it was as close to random as surprising oneself can get, I found myself drawn to what was her first monster hit. When she went from being a successful crime writer to a super successful crime writer. This happened way back in 1926 when the book was published for the first time and it has never been out of print since. 

           If you have not read it I will attempt to not spoil anything for you. And if you have read it you will understand why the book was so talked about, so well regarded. A milestone in a career that propelled Agatha Christie to a level of publishing success that was almost biblical, in terms of sales that is. 

            It is a Poirot novel,the Belgium detective in retirement attempting to grow the perfect marrow. Ah well, Holmes had his bees and Jane Marple had her...er,gossip. Do marrows qualify as root vegetables? Is there a hierachy in vegetables? Anyway, he comes out of retirement as Roger Ackroyd was a friend and what follows is a bewildering feast of clues and red herrings whose ending is pure Poirot, an autopsy of events, a series of revelations that fill one with a sense of "Why did'nt I see that?" as Poirot ,on wiley form, narrates the killers actions as though he were present for the killing. 

            I enjoyed the television adaptions starring David Suchet very much but their adaption of The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd strays from the original text in what amounts to an unusual lapse of judgement. It remains a lovely piece of work but if they had remained true to the spirit of the original novel I believe it would have proved as memorable as the original. As it is it is almost a perfect slice of television crime drama and it is only that deviation which nudges it from perfection. yet if one can have gradations of perfection it comes close...


Thursday, 8 October 2020


                                                                ( From my Sketchbook.)

Faceache is just one of the greatest comic creations. His creator Ken Reid just one of the greatest writers and artists ever. Here Faceache paints one of his most hideous faces. Not for the faint hearted. Any attempt to physically replicate the horror can only result in terrible injury.

The Mirror And The Light.

I knew how it all had to end and in the end I knew it was the journey that would make all the difference. And what a journey. Such an impressive body of work, the saga of Thomas Cromwell as articulated by Hilary Mantel. I watched one of her talks, on Youtube, entitled I Met A Man Who Was Not There. And felt enriched with insights, all hers, as I approached this final novel in the series. I could say trilogy when describing the series but in truth it all feels like one big book to me, the book of a life which cannot speak for itself, not without it becoming a "Oh, that Cromwell" type conversation. His story is not one a person can be indifferent to, the weight and heft of history being what it is. C'mon in and let Hilary Mantel invite you to a meeting you will not quickly forget.
           It is a tale that by now has been translated into many different languages. None more slippery than English. A language made for cat dancing, all that is Orwellian working best in Anglo Saxon and its derivations. It can make poetry and song immortal as well as give an insult impressive shelf life. Yet can it throw a net wide enough to encircle and capture a life so full of Cromwell shaped gaps..Damn, she gives it a good try. Making imaginative use of the biographical married to the historical she weaves the threads of a tapestry as detailed as a Holbein but loose enough for an impressionistic take on matters we think we know all about. Its a literary hubris of course, look at the complete arse we make of recent events much less historical ones hundreds of years past. A dog's dinner pretending to be a Prince's feast.
I found myself not wanting chapters to end, pouring over words as though I were conversing with someone over a dinner table or in the corner of a smokey pub. The shadows thrown about the walls of the pub a shadow play of mirrors and light. Not a use for the title of the book Hilary Mantel intended but one that goes someway to articulating for me the shadows thrown by history and times past. 
           As I said, what a journey. To see the world through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, or at least to piggy back that vision. By no means an easy journey but not as serpentine as taught history would lead one to believe. For me it was more Erasmus than Machiavelli, good grounded sense and pragmatism in the face of international intrigue and skullduggery ( Probably explains why I would not have only lasted minutes at the court of Henry.) I suppose all historical narration is bogged down in perspective, the varied perspectives of the long dead and their equally varied agendas. When I think about the tangled roots of recent political scandals, how difficult it is in the present to get to a truth, even with the weight of photographs, video recordings, taped confessions, now factor in four hundred years of history. Especially when even the notion of a recorded history could only be carried out by a select few, with the ability to read and write, and they were by no means partisan, shaping events to suit themselves. how does one know what to take as gospel, and what aloaded expression that is, and what would be considered political spin? you can perhaps read and learn as much as you can and view it all through the prism of what you consider to be the unvarnished truth. You can try....
              Hilary mantel is delicately aware of the complexities of the characters and times she has chosen to write about. And as such I believe she may possess the courageous hand s and eyes of the surgeon you might trust best to carry out an operation. She does not write people as good or bad, just as people capable of good and bad.Tudor England was a tough place to try getting by in, patriotism and fear walked hand in hand, with those closest to The King at most risk, with the occasional stumble from favor ending on the scaffold. Which off course was the fate of Thomas Cromwell, and when he stumbled he fell fast and hard.and even know ing this I found the moment quite shocking, perhaps having spent so much time in his company I hoped for a skewed circumstance, not to be off course. I actually found the humiliating assault upon his person quite harrowing, it was a crafted cruelty, a calculated attack where the stakes were as high as could be and those involved knew it had to be all or nothing. The Cromwell they assailed was not a man they knew would forgive and it took a cabal to bring it off. Considering this volume began with the visceral dispatch of Anne Boleyn, with her traumatised hand-maidens skidding in the gore as they attempt to afford the fallen queens body some dignity. Lacking a coffin they lifted it into a drawer intended for arrows, the placement of the head proving awkward. Yet the jackal like attack on Cromwell's person was terribly affecting.
                 Anyone reading this will have grown up in an era where it is suggested that with the right determination we can become anyone we wish to become, to climb to any height we may aspire to. As though reality is as fluid as intent. Yet Thomas Cromwell did climb , through a world where social mobility  was practically unthinkable. The caste systems immutable and any attempt to break free of its constraints was reckoned to be ungodly hubris, and punished accordingly. His mentor, Cardinal Woolsey, was also the off spring of a working man,both dared to bump elbows with their betters, neither of their tales ended well. 
              But then neither did Henry's, although his was a much more protracted and torturous decline, from Virtuous Prince to sickness ridden royal petrie dish, virtually rotting within a fleshy cage formed by years of indulgence. 
              All these big historical figures had their time, they lived their lives in the moment. Their positions, by virtue of circumstance and birth, affording them princely perspectives to the feast, shaping the worlds they lived in as opposed to being shaped by them. 
             It was their world, everyone else just lived in it. 
            Hilary Mantell has gifted literature a magnificent body of work. Hans Holbein gave us an eye to the past, that which may have been lost to us takes on a relative modernity when viewed, as does Hilary Mantell's entirely humane reimagining of of a wondrous strange time.


The Plot Thickens.

                                                         (From my Sketchbook.)

Grimley Fiendish.

                                                                (From my Sketchbook.)

                               So much loved a character The Damned even wrote a song about him.


In 1995 Robert McCrum suffered a severe stroke and decided to write a book about the experience, a well received and highly regarded insight into the trauma of such an experience and how best one can come to terms with it on the most personal of levels.  this humane memory play was entitled My Year Off with suitably self-deprecating aplomb. Dealing with trauma with the wit and humour of a natural writer, able to aim target the microcosm of personal setback with wit and even forward thinking. For during his recovery he discovered the only words that made sense to him were snatches of his beloved Shakespeare. The First Folio became the prism through which he viewed the world and tried to make sense of the seemingly increasingly senseless times we are all living through, these times of disruption. 

             He attempts to unravel why this should be so, why the words of William Shakespeare still resonate with us four hundred years after he wrote them for our entertainment of the London mob.  And entertain them and us he has for centuries, through good times and bad, over and over again in a way no other writer possibly could, given the cultural conditions which allowed him to saturate the shared zeitgeist. Serving as a mirror to the then and the now, a reminder to all that no matter where we go, there we are. For so much of Shakespeare's work is about confronting ourselves, looking into the hearts of darkness and finding light in the most unlikely places.

Robert McCrum writes with a comfortable authority on the subject. He shapes what for him must feel like quite personal and heart felt insights into the bard into a broader discussion, throwing his net wide. i suspect he would have made a good teacher should he have embraced the notion of passing on what he had learned. There is nothing dry or tonally academically dull about his style of writing and it comes invested with great affection for the subject matter. 


Wednesday, 7 October 2020

The Doctor and Davros sat Under A Tree.

Picture the scene. Following a harrowing interrogation The Doctor sits in Davros science bunker on the war ravaged planet of Skaro,  talking to his great nemesis, not as enemies but "as men of science." Its one of the great moments in a truly classic story. 

The Doctor; Davros, if you had created a virus in your laboratory, something contagious and infectious that killed on contact. A virus that would destroy all other forms of life...would you allow its use?

Davros; An interesting conjecture.

The Doctor; Would you do it?

Davros; Yes. yes, to hold in my hand a capsule that contained such power. To know that life and death on such a scale was my choice. To know that the tiny pressure on my thumb, enough to break the glass, would end everything. Yes i would do it. That power would set me up above the Gods! And Through The Daleks I Will Have That Power!

The Doctor; Well in that case, Davros Old Sprout, no more jelly babies for you.

Well, all right, the last line was mine. Inspired by some new pics sent to me by the chameleon like Joanne Alexander, in her fourth Doctor costume. Just fantastique!You know what, Tom Baker himself would love these. They would remind him of the best days of his life..

              As they do for me.