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 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,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.


Thursday, 1 October 2020

Hudson In Baltimore.

 I was saddened to hear that Hudson Flanagan, that Prince among Boxer dogs, has passed away. After a long and eventful life Hudson will be much missed by all who had the good fortune to know him. Hudson was a well read dog and he was very kind to comment positively about the two issues of Noe the Savage Boy which I wrote for Atomic Diner in Dublin. " Grunff, fworth" was , I believe, how he put it. High praise indeed. This is a picture of Hudson in Baltimore, Cork where Noe's story began, when him and his family, along with all their fellow residents, were abducted and sold into slavery by Barbary Pirates. Hudson was more than a fireside reader and liked to extend his reading into his life, so he decided to make the long journey from Coalisland to Cork to get a sense of the terrain. He is pictured with his pal Connor, the comic book artist, who he convinced to make the trip to the bottom end of Ireland in search of adventure. Like all artists, he does not get out enough, was, I believe, Hudson's thinking.

             Hudson may have believed in living in the moment but he was very much a dog for all times.

             RIP friend. Finest Kind.