Thursday 31 March 2011

Lara says 'No'.

Where’d that bloody T Rex come from?

I came late to the party, not having so much as a pocket calculator in 1996 and certainly not a Playstation. Previous to that some years before it had been the Amiga in Borehamwood with Maurice and I defeating Beholders and even though I’d had a wee spin between then I really wasn’t prepared for how things had changed. And oh how we laugh at the game now, or you might – but I still think there’s something wonderful, something shared about the original Tomb Raider. Those of us who went to the Tomb, it changed us. And you, you weren’t there man. You don’t know.

They rebooted it all a year or three back with Anniversary. It was quite lovely where so much was familiar, yet changed and just like revisiting a town after twenty years away. Like Camberley (which they put they roof on), or Crewe (which was probably just as horrible all along). But I’ve slipped. I scarce touch a console now. My latest a PS2. I’ve got other things to do and the games just don’t appeal*. But there’s always been Tomb Raider and I’ve done ‘em all, but with the next I won’t have the console so I won’t be there to hold her hand. So she’ll die a lot, and you’ll reload twice - and give up.

You just don’t understand Lara like I do.

Step forward, tap back. Run and jump – it’s an expression of your faith, children.

*Apart from Red Dead Redemption. Obviously. 

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Mr Smiles

We need more smiley faces. We need them and not as emoticons where like LOL they have become punctuation, but painted on walls and once more proud upon chest and tummy. The smiley face works, or certainly at least it makes me happy. Designed in the form shown in 1964 by Harvey Ball, reputedly in ten minutes flat and for an insurance company it spread like warm butter such that by 1971 there were fifty million smiley faces out there as badges. I was just learning where my penguin biscuit was at pre-school back then (or just ‘school’ as it was) so its impact in the States was as lost on me as Vietnam and Nixon. I also missed out on quite a lot of Led Zeppelin for this and the next few years, but I was pretty sure where my penguin biscuit could be found.

I liked it when a teen though I cannot remember where first, and then as I eased into my twenties the smiley was reborn and wonderfully so in the flaring rave culture. It made me happy to see it. There on baggy t-shirts worn by baggy people without eyes in the sunlight and all bemused as Jarvis Cocker put it, ‘somewhere in a field in Hampshire’.

But I’ve nothing now with a smiley face on it. So if you have an old smiley, don’t keep it terrified in a dark drawer or lost in a wardrobe with (or most likely without) Turkish Delight, take it out and set your smiley free. Like with chickens.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Random Ink

Betty Blue (the girl from fifteen years ago)

I’ve read the book and I’ve seen the film, but only the once. It was the favourite of a friend of mine, more than a friend of course – and someone I think about often. She loved this film and unbeknown to me because it might as well have been about her.We were together for three years and for reasons I can’t really work out other than being young, stupid and selfish I split up with her. And when I saw her ever thereafter there was nothing in the eyes. You might know what I mean. Love is what you see reflected back and it wasn’t there, of course and why should it? Yet when mugged at Glastonbury she came to find me. And there was the odd stilted phone call when there were a lot of silences, but not awkward ones. Don’t get me wrong, she moved on and had other relationships but there was still that thing between us, like fingertips but only in the dark. And we both had our problems only hers were worse than mine because fifteen years ago and nigh on today – she wrapped that big warm blanket about her shoulders and left us. And I still think all told that this is the shittiest thing I’ve done. And there’s been much worse done, by others – probably by you, but I still carry the guilt. I could have been there.

And still been here now, with my family and my girls. Because fifteen years ago Q also lost her then boyfriend in a traffic accident, and we’ve been together for fourteen. You can see how things would have been, and still here we would be. And I don’t think I could have changed what happened, nor would I because I understand it, absolutely.

It’s terribly sad but I do not regret the time we did not have, I celebrate the moments that we did. So I love this story and I’ve only seen it once, and never again.

Back to the nonsense tomorrow.

Monday 28 March 2011

A bomb shelter near you!

As recently as 1995 the Royal Observer Corps supported a small army of civilian volunteers that uniformed in the RAF manner gave up their weekends and evenings to sit underground in their little ROC posts all over the country, and wait in case Atomic and then Nuclear weapons rained down. There then they would record direction, intensity and as much information as they could, pass it over and presumably hope that all that pesky fallout was gone before the tinned beans ran out. These posts can still be found and a fantastic list and much better photographs can be seen on the 28Days website listed below. This their Cold War role, teams of two or three in little shelters underground rather sums up what anyone born after 1970 probably never endured. Because in the 80s I remember distinctly being aware that Nuclear War was not something in science fiction, but a distinct and very real possibility.

It is possibly hard for the blessedly younger amongst you to imagine how different things were. There are war and threats, but all so very distant and if there is the fear of terrorism then sorry, we had that too only in our case the IRA did actually plant and trigger bombs. We had an army in Germany where it had been ever since the Second World War and there was to us a very real chance of another war, this with the USSR and one that would see us glowing in the dark due to being America’s ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier’.

And because of this then almost certainly within a few miles of wherever you are right now, the ROC gave up their weekends to sit in a damp shelter and... wait.

So click below and see what state your local shelter is in. Where people with flasks would have carefully noted how bright was the flash over your house. Bless ‘em.

Random Ink

Sunday 27 March 2011

The 'Atre


Today we saw and ever so early the brightly shining (now seven years grown) eyes of our eldest. Young Catnip a child given much to the teasing of imps - as well it must be said, vegetables - is but of course a treasure. As with many treasures she is precious, rare and particularly muddy. And this muddy sprout because she likes the taste, we took to a show.

Tolly Maw is not we learned best placed for shows. There is and universal to need a scout hut. There is no scout movement but movements instead made by many ladies all and exactly ten years older than you. And today and by fortune instead of jumble sale, beetle drive or cat skinning there was and with cheer a show. Travelling players indeed, or as close as one might expect which was more exactly three ladies fresh from dramatic study. The story was of a mole, upon which there fell a poo. There was singing, waving of hands and much well trained movement. Of the hands.  Student pantomime of the very best, which means in the manner of entertainment quite the very worst. Yet if Catnip was moderately pleased then Yet Younger Bosswell feathered her basket with delight. For as already described the show was about poo. Bosswell being but barely four thinks there nothing funnier than poo.

So then and as Scratchwood will surely say and doubtless impressed to be so wry, a show about poo? And was it?

In Tolly Maw they have a tradition of strangers, and we all have fresh sausage.

Saturday 26 March 2011

Fifty Book'ths

Scratchwood ever infected by Faffbook has been inspecting woodcuts of his past and stickily precise conquests. He sits and here we are when all good souls are slumped as saggy Saturday allows, set to toil but unlikely in our sighs and filling time then inch by unturned inch. It is and again books that are the cause for his mood. Faffbook has a list and he, he has not many of them to his name. An oaf without letters claims nearly half and a bawd of better humour not far less.
He has it in mind to produce but lazily so, our own list - or his list (but mine). In no especial order nor claims to better nor worst, no more than one per writer and that which first occurs, not perhaps the best or most likely that considered such.
A different list then without in places those usual and bullish suspects. Again and note in no particular order, nor one made as better than another.
Fifty here, yet another fifty when the mood once more takes.
Dreams of Sex and Stage Diving – Martin Millar
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
London – Edward Rutherford
Nine Princes in Amber – Roger Zelazny
Psychoville – Christopher Fowler
Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham
Logan’s World – William F. Nolan
1984 – George Orwell
The Winter King – Bernard Cornwell
The Final Programme – Michael Moorcock
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
White Teeth – Zadie Smith
The Stand – Stephen King
Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
Back in the USSR – Eugene Byrne, Kim Newman
Thin He Was and Filthy Haired – Robert Llewellyn
Night Watch – Terry Pratchett
Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
The Pyramid – William Golding
Goodbye to All That – Robert Graves
The Magus – John Fowles
Swords of Lankhmar – Fritz Leiber
Porno – Irvine Welsh
Barcelona Plates – Alexei Sayle
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen - Alan Garner
Lifeboat – Harry Harrison
The Machine Gunners – Robert Westall
Jack the Bodiless – Julian May
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams
Danny Champion of the World – Roald Dahl
Gormenghast – Mervyn Peake
A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch – Philip K. Dick
The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
Day of the Jackal – Frederick Forsythe
Cider with Rosie – Laurie Lee
The Code of the Woosters – P. G. Wodehouse
The Fallible Fiend – L. Sprague de Camp
The Fandom of the Operator – Robert Rankin
The Liquidator – John Gardner
Faust – Robert Nye
The Fabulous Riverboat – Philip Jose Farmer
Rosemary’s Baby – Ira Levin
High Fidelity – Nick Hornby
The Fog – James Herbert

Friday 25 March 2011

Standing At The Edge, Barnelta Wing

‘Deposed by her brother the now villainous Carabosh of Ind, she The Grace our own and petal-precious Barnelta Wing! Where moves she then in this our second best suite, her Volunteers Slick crated and bound and set to sleep in the hold (that will hold) their ivory splendour. Her laughter you laugh, is laughing at you? Fie, not our Barnelta Wing! Our petal-precious victor of Summarand and defender of Bhul.
‘Courted rejector of unlikely Lords. Swift prickle-promise and learned all from books – so many indeed and carried within her triple locked chest. Therein lie the riches of lands lost to ruin, all set and quite nicely beyond your poor hand.
‘Oh Barnelta Wing, Barnelta Wing...’    

Thursday 24 March 2011

The Blind House/Sir Alistair Uttinfrer

This the Shrewton Blind House can still be seen in the village not far from Stonehenge and one of the few upon the plain. Serving for decades as a lock-up for prisoners it was primarily used by the sheriff’s constable taking prisoners to the Devizes assizes, to overnight them whilst the constable would nip across to the Wheel for the evening. First built in 1700 it is all that remains of a chain of little gaols just like it stretching from Bristol to London. Erected to be a day’s good journey apart they were raised for one prisoner, the (then) Sir Alistair Uttinfrer, long forgotten villain and adventurer – accused of sedition and treason and caught at last when fighting for Sweden in the Great North War.
Uttinfrer was a man both feared and feted, a mathematician and natural philosopher, soldier of fortune (and for some reason, milliner). Once a popular rogue with a reputation, the Byron, the Crowley even the Keith Richards of his day his fall came with the publication of a volume declared heretical and whose name, let alone a single copy, has failed to survive.
There is little doubt that Uttinfrer was a spy for the crown, albeit a very bad one if even today he is so described! As already said then, an adventurer and one who had been caught and escaped three times in apparently impossible circumstances. Inevitably this was ascribed to magic, and to the extent that brought to Bristol the Blind Houses were built simply to hold him. Shackled, locked and screw-eyed (a system whereby discs similar to bottle caps were clamped into the forced-shut eyes) he was actually feted still on his journey until and here in this surviving Blind House, he escaped. At least it is known that he never reached London, and the last record found of his being anywhere is here.
Of course there is a great and ripely told tale that within the Blind House he made a deal with the devil, but it’s hard to imagine if such was indeed the case how such a thing would not have come to pass far earlier for the now forgotten Sir Aleistair Uttinfrer.        

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Bacchus, steak and kid-er-ney pud

So it’s not there anymore, and for how long that’s been the case I could not say. But once there was a bar called Bacchus, in Bournemouth and they played much varied music. Friends I still have would clutch pints long drunk under hair long shortened whilst the pick-n-mix schedule meant whilst it might have been blues, perhaps a covers band, it might – and usually was – jazz then at least it was never pop. This was the 80s. Some things are important. This was so long ago indeed that in this very bar/venue I once spent the night blagging my way to be served, only to have to go back next day because I’d dropped my school bus pass there and yes, they had it. It was returned without a word.
Bacchus was a place mostly in my memory, sticky. Sticky walls, sticky pints and upstairs where at times we went for lunch sticky seats. And the stickiest of them all was our host, a man of such horrible mien that still and more than a quarter century later we still when together shudder. We still whenever faced with particularly poor service or dire food catch one another’s eye and with a sigh refresh our good will with the simple phrase, ‘steak and kid-er-ney pud.’
For our host was horrid. He was foul. He had a plaster on one tooth and tiny, doll like hands. He had a lushly thick comb-over whilst not being in the least bald. His clothing was... stained. He took our order with interest at our daring and recommended the steak and kid-er-ney pud. And then he would ask if we wished cutlery. Which when answered with a yes he would take from the pocket of his conservatively sticky nylon trousers. And then, the horror of it, breathe faintly upon each piece and polish it with a rag. Once I’m sure when he thought I was not looking he licked (just a touch) a fork. There was food and from somewhere indistinct, screams.
Then one day there was no Bacchus.
And we never did have the steak and kid-er-ny pud.    

Tuesday 22 March 2011

The Dragway

Most people nowadays know about the dragway, that now long crumbling and certainly dangerous system of ways between one place and another. The locations remain constant for the most part and where apparently new, surely old roads recovered. If there are any drags not found in cities then I’ve never heard of them. Like most people I know of only a few, and this one the second of my acquaintance is almost lost since the gentrification of the area.
This right at the topmost and right-hand corner of Longridge House, Elephant & Castle I’ve heard of two more on the same estate, but as happens then here too on the Rockingham their location is jealously guarded (and one already lost I’m told due to lack of use). That I once knew was bricked up when last I was there and I’ve not got a burning enough need for risk to take to it with a crowbar. It joins with the Poultry Cross in Salisbury and Warwick Square in Carlisle, and it’s easier for me to go to the first than travel to London and thence there – and for the second, well, Carlisle? It took me eight years to get the hell out of Cumbria so a risky return is not top of my particular pops. Still, the dragway has been around for an awfully long time and if known by other names in other times then it was introduced to me thus.
I doubt there’s any real risk of a complete loss of the dragway. It’s been handed down for so long as a means of travel for the scallywag and reprobate it’s impossible to think of a world where the possible defeats the improbable. You need imagination to use the dragway, and more so certainly to find it. And imagination is a sore resource. As it is eroded by convenience then where it can be found in the young it will only be the stronger for it. I don’t doubt it’s already got some zippier name, I’m just not part of the scene anymore and that’s fine – like I say, I just don’t need the risk any more...

Monday 21 March 2011

Clapham Sarf

I’d often walk past this place and as at the time I was fascinated by what lay underfoot I was later rewarded when I discovered that yes, this is indeed the entrance to a bunker. To be more exact one of the Deep Level Shelters built along the Northern Line (others include Belsize Park, Stockwell, Goodge Street and all the merry Clapham sisters indeed) many of which are obvious in that when one knows what to look for. The stations themselves and to my mind most obviously Belsize Park look like pillboxes, with rounded ends and vent chimneys. There’s nothing especially sinister in this and more recently they’ve been opened and explored in many cases, used for filming and it’s not like they’re military citadels (many of which having been built originally for the Blitz were found wanting in the atomic age that followed) – five were indeed opened and used during the war by the public. Eisenhower used Goodge Street (it’s marked still as the Eisenhower Centre, go and look), and Clapham South as pictured here and the focus of this post was where the arrivals on the Windrush were placed, the shelter becoming here a hostel.
There is a lot of this sort of thing in London. Vents might be the Underground but there’re funny little blockhouses and tucked away places in layers under the feet of you lot still there. Indeed and if this strikes anything at all then get yourself to SubBrit now.
There’s not much there about the cannibal tube passengers, the tunnelling cults or the Deep Ones of Belgravia, but the slips are like that and this is all a lot more astonishing than rubbery old Cthulhu anyway.

Random I... pencil

Sunday 20 March 2011

Mars Needs Moms?

I’ve not seen it. I’m a bit scared to. It seems to have that creepy animation style typified by Polar Express. The sort that most amply demonstrates what programmer’s sexbots will be like when they at last get their feverish dreams to fruition, surely the point of robotic studies the world over? Well alright, prosthetics, but with the eventual end of trying to pass off S1nD as a real girl. We’ll be polite and all, but there’ll be looks. So that’s why I fear it. Or at least why I’ll have to go to the flicks to see it else otherwise run the risk of it being an ill-advised DVD choice when visiting. When visiting programmers. Programmers to whom Toy Story was a bit close to the knuckle.
It’s been panned, but what do people know? It’s cost a bazillion-zillion to make and took £14.20 in its opening week. But, meh - and the same again.
But more important than that, is that it’s based on a book by Berkeley Breathed. Berkeley Breathed of Bloom County, Outland, and probably something else by now with a dead cat in it. Berkeley Breathed that from the picture on his back covers is in fact D-Day Day from Animal House. And Bloom County was a bit of a hit round these parts, infiltrating across from person to person way-back-when. Sure we had even less idea of American political or pop-culture then than we do now (this was before Buffy). Sure it had a talking penguin. A dead cat. A lawyer, a hacker and stranger things. But it was Bloom County and I even loved the floppy-disc singles released with the Billy And The Boingers collection.
So I want to see Mars Needs Moms because somehow, in some manner, it will be Bloom County. It’s not written (the film) by Breathed. But how much can that matter?

Saturday 19 March 2011

Wee Spiney Beastie

In Iceland they have trolls. In London they have rat boys. Wherever else in Britain can be found hills, fells and mountains there are dragons. Yet not back in Cumbria, where there they have in Windermere the... Tizzy Wizzy. A fearsome beast with the body, head and limbs of a hedgehog it has prowled the lake ever since at least the 1950s when it was made up by two drunks on a boat and heartily supported by hoteliers. And the picture above is Bassenthwaite Lake, not Windermere. Bassenthwaite is the lake you might have seen if ever you’ve been driving up there and then related how you’d seen Windermere. You know where there are Swallows, and Amazons. Which might be Coniston. Or hell, Buttermere. A lake anyway. Some water. You know, the Lakes – all up north and not in Devon as some might rather wish...
Here in Tolly Maw now and we don’t have lakes. Or we sort of do, in that there’s a brackish pond in the woods occupied by a single man, bald and happy where he teases the water with liquorice. I have not the first idea why and rather fear that I may soon find out.  

Standing At The Edge, Dr Weathercock and Mr Moths

One saucer, silver. Hare bacon, very rare. Tease the meat. Lift it from the bone like the sheet from your sleeping lover. Lay it. Tempt it with butter – bad and rancid. Very rancid, lickity-tip. Leave by the door. Upon a table no higher than your knee. Leave.
Quite the worst case of scambling. A scambling indeed and a ripely toothsome scamble that aye, see – here? Mr Moths fetch for me the scambling acids. Mr Moths? My Oaf. A gentle soul. Albeit and terribly so when feeling his or my self threatened one resting and rising in the flesh and hard bone of a thirty stone and ill-murderous fiend. Look now, his hands? I had them imported at great expense from Turkia where each removed a day before death from a famed throttler it took a double pot of cunning to see them so preserved. The Throttler indeed, For the Pash his self. Or her self. I confess, your differences bore me and I, snickerly, your Doctor too! Now this scambling? These acids? Indeed and aye this will hurt.
Window-box town crier, Climbing on the ivy. Windy roof-top weathercock. War-blooded on a cold tile. Snickerly so and don’t cry, don’t cry.  

Thursday 17 March 2011

Standing At The Edge, Stanley Wiggs-Cracknell

‘He has no drinking problem, his wife passed peacefully away and though much loved still her memory only gives him something to live up to. There is no hint, not one - of dark deeds and rules he would most certainly allow are an inspiration, not an enemy. Cast him out and with certainty then, he disgraces our whole profession.’
‘If no man might discern the meaning of the great engine that drives The Swoop then perhaps by its peculiarities something of its process may be discerned. Each note, a clue. Each shuddering hiss, evidence. Each space filled and each unlikely land crossed, a confession. We need neither magician nor engineer – this gentlemen, is work for a Diviner!’
‘Your barge, your Swoop - if a living thing, is not living in the manner of those alive. You live within corridors of angles of your own and fearfully made order. I suspect all regularity. I distrust repetition. The Swoop will fly because I pursue it, because I do not understand it and by no attempt to the contrary it knows here as I am deep in its mechanical bowels that I come close to it. It flees, that much I divine.'

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Salisbury Magic Lantern

Not a folly in a city with few of those anyway this is the local cinema in Salisbury. It’s just lovely and still smells a little like a cinema should all beaten with yellow egg and toffee varnish. Formerly the house of John Halle back in the late 1400s, four times the mayor and imprisoned for offending the king, champion of the people against their then overlord and Bishop. It might then have passed through many uses but as a cinema it is just splendid. On certain dates (a closely guarded secret) late night showings attract crowds in the dress of previous days and reels of films long seen since on rainy Saturday afternoons. There then bored usherettes arrayed with little drinks and runny choc ices occupy the space between the double and the bill but take only pre-decimal coinage. Here then on those special times a soft and slight slip to times of white dog poo, spangles and flashers. But the cinema even without its stale cigarette magic is wonderful all the same.  

Random Ink

Why Mr Zelazny, you spoil us

Crewe train station, I am fifteen. I’ve lost my train ticket on the bus and am about to hitch home. Instead the two lads with me whine and whimper and want to wait to see if the nice Northern folk can find my ticket. Later they do, but I’m reading Nine Princes In Amber.
Sandbanks, I am sixteen. I should be at school but I’m not and all that shit is a hundred miles away where here and for a week the house is crowded with long-haired rascals like me. Blue Oyster Cult plays pushy-shovey on the turntable with Pink Floyd, and we are talking about Nine Princes In Amber.
Bromley, our flat the rookery and we are playing games and mostly in this instance because of Nine Princes In Amber.
So it’s first person and starts with an amnesiac. If that is a trite plot device then I choose as it was fresh to me here to hold that with Zelazny it was not. Nine Princes In Amber is a rare book. Really it’s the first fifth of one book and there’re more thereafter even these, but they’re not the same and really even if you’re cuddling up with them you’re thinking about the first story. Solid new wave fantasy, sci-fi, what have you NP is rightly a bit of a cult and nigh on everyone has read it of my own and the former generation of book goblins. Like a lot of good books that I loft into the same era of published-a-decade-thereabouts-before-I-really-read it’s short and that’s no bad thing for its punchy and it’s a mystery and the onion layers go back at about the same time for Corwin as it does for us.
And nowadays there are those that deny they really liked Nine Princes. They’ve moved on to younger loves, more fashionably dressed. And as ever with these book related mutterings I’m not even going to let you peek about the corner to spoil and sniffle at the plot. It’s good, read all five as one, and delight wherein whilst those with such power seem never satisfied without their lust for a throne – then at least they seem to have a jolly good time of it trying.    

Tuesday 15 March 2011


This then our last day in Cumberland!
We’re packed and bundled up and with all our belongings already entrusted on the road as far as the technology permits. It’s been a jolly eight years but by this time tomorrow then all crossings being well self and family will be on the outskirts of Tolly Maw. Its work of course with my fair and far better half being taken on as Outreach to the Nightsoil found in the wilder fens and two of the local bus stops – spotted because there are no busses, I am enlightened. I got trapped here more than twenty years ago for three days because the fog would not move and thus because it is selfish nor then could anyone else. Tolly Maw was used in Dr Who And The Daemons and is said to be the inspiration for The Wicker Man. They do serve a good pint though albeit with the two pubs are war with one another. It’s the only place I’ve lived where a firearms licence is compulsory. More I suppose tomorrow, though we won’t have settled in for a few days I’m sure.
The picture?
This was taken this Saturday afternoon just gone in Cockermouth high street – these three being tutted by the men and cursed by the women for their ‘whorish and revealing garb’. It’s a wild place. I’m sure at some point we’ll miss it.       

French stilt-fighters of Mars

Here in westerly Cumbria it’s the Mary Stilt Day where young and old and many with a military theme parade in the morning on their ‘stick urn stick’ and after a number of similar traditions (all involving heavy, rapid drinking) a round series of afternoon stilt-fighting. The stilts derive from those once used by shepherds to hide from raiding Scots (or to see them coming, local myth would have it both ways but then local myth would also have it that ‘Scots cannot look up’ – a line borrowed and used in Sean Of The Dead).
The coast hereabouts has a tradition of failed invasion – John Paul Jones led the then US navy on an attack upon Maryport and the colliery barges there gathered only to fail to burn them out because firstly they forgot to bring any means to fire them, and secondly most of the raiders – no joke – did not get beyond the first pub). Pertinently the French made an attempt only a little earlier.
To say that England and France were at war should surprise no one as indeed and until relatively recently that seemed to be the default. Though currently the two nations are joined by trade (France gets our middle-classes, and in return Jeremy Clarkson gets more irritated – so win-win all round) the early days of the 19C had yet to see Trafalgar and so there was a French navy, and this navy invaded Cumberland. Or at least a single sloop did whose occupants being foreign were assumed to be from Northumberland and thereby were roundly ignored. The French marched inland until on seeing the distant approach of the stilt and stick supplied shepherds promptly surrendered, and later on realising their mistake took the idea back home.
So, the Mary Stilt Day celebrates that through excessive drinking and a lot of idle, local xenophobia.
Also, Martians.   

Monday 14 March 2011

Woolly Tops

‘It don’t happen in nature.’
Would say the ignorant or the absurd. Quite aside from 'does not', then Great Cope only knows the mindset and really I’m not doing anything about it here. Things are only positive in Slide23 but it’s Spring and the lambs are, quite literally, staggering about wondering why they were born when it’s still not warm. The answer to this last is that it’s Cumbria and whilst we had a summer once between June 12th and 21st this was in 2008. It’ll roll around again. Any day now.
But lambs.
Lambs. There are lambs and where there are lambs there are ewes but not for a few fields here for backing on to Slide Towers there are but rams, and three of them. Rams that for most of the year have only one another for company. Rams that as the weeks go by develop testicles like grapefruit in already-tearing supermarket bags. And let me tell you friend, it does happen in nature.
Nothing quite like the sight of a three-way ram bangalong to tell you you’re in the country. Certainly Cumbria. They’re all in the same field so it’s not like they have to be coy or carry little wooly hankies in one pocket or the next. They’re rams and if ewes aren’t to be found then fuck it, ewe’ll do. Aho, ho!
I’ve mentioned this in conversation and been told that the rams aren’t procreating, they’re fighting for dominance. If so they’re fighting with their cocks. And it’s a field, not Barney Denial’s hate-filled terror-fantasy of prison. You might want to watch them when released on the flock too and count just how many bunches of flowers they bother with – and flowers bloody grow there. These are rams, they do not arrive with artfully selected chocolates and an Enigma CD.
It don’t happen in nature?
Just jump over this fence son...

Sunday 13 March 2011

Random Ink

We Love Jim!

Oh, but who wasn’t delighted when Slippery Jim DiGriz was in town?
The character is older than I like a good uncle should be, and in one’s youthful years was something other than his likewise star-hopping peers. Beginning in the eponymous first novel and in jumps and starts through the similarly excellent Revenge, Saves the World and then For President Jim also had the good grace to not just be a friend to our parent's generation of bearded sci-fi buffoons, but to us too. He did it because though the novels were already dusty when we came upon them – they weren’t finished, and indeed there were more. For as we were young then so too became Jim, as his early years came out. Came out new, not before seen – and just as we were buying books for ourselves. And back then Jim was our favourite uncle. All of ours. We’d all read his adventures and now read his latest and it was something we shared. Because everyone liked The Stainless Steel Rat, right? Like Led Zeppelin, and rum & coke.
But and perhaps rightly he’s moved on to others now. Just as I’m well aware that Jethro Tull have produced albums after Broadsword & The Beast so too have there been Stainless Steel Rat books after Get’s Drafted. I tried one, it wasn’t the same – but perhaps that’s the point. He was there for me when I needed him, that witty, clever thief that never kills anyone and overthrows the corrupt and the mean without any hint of po-faced sermonising. And he still is, and I think I want to reread them again – so I will.
So why not join me?   

Saturday 12 March 2011

This Bookshelf

One quarter of a million openly published and twelve dozen impossible books can be found sat together leering at the thirty thousand vinyl LPs that occupy the occasionally to be found Bookcase in Carlisle. This is not a book shop, this is porn for anyone that loves books – or if not loves, then is willing to say they do in order to sleep with them. This place is astonishing as you actually have to explore it. Small doors are found through which another room holding something unlikely can be discovered. Indeed and explore is completely correct as the 1997 Herbert Mint expedition can still be heard distantly and deeper still within hunting elusive texts, foolishly attempting to map the four legitimate floors and two more born quite the other side of the blankets.
This is Carlisle, and away from what is best not. In one direction and close to hand stands the castle. In the other and the Boardroom- a very fine pub indeed that when waiting for a coach entertained me with Lynyrd Skynyrd and half a chicken.
This is a bookshop where tall men without noses plan expeditions by magic lantern light. Where the unlikely, entertain the unpleasant, to their unbirthdays. Where there is no coffee because this is a bookshop, where muffin is probably still a mule and one packed heavily for the Andes.

Friday 11 March 2011

It might yet render a soup

Scratchwood has been noticing me again, and noticing me with the lowered brow and hungry nostrils of a man not happy with the bending (he is overhearing) of my ear. It’s Q, for the wife has been tugging at my beard with gestures doubtless happier if accompanied by the scissors. For the beard has grown and even whilst as trimmed as ever anything might be about me, still it has about it such an attraction for dwarfs seeking a burglar that small children are chasing me in the street seeking to steal fireworks. It’s worthy of mention that the beard was Q’s idea for I am a man for whom shaving is a chore – and not one with a punch line that ends with ‘a pint since you’re asking’. Now the beard is near enough needing a name she is worried. I am and also - yet not for a reason of the same scent, for my worry is more of what the sprouts will say? They now clearly expecting to go to Hogwarts will be disenchanted (aha, aho!) to find that more likely it is double-maths and do-they-still-do-netball come the double figure of year and yoyo.
So then shave or no, and whether in any case it is my choice at all...   

Thursday 10 March 2011

Soapy Delight

Opened in 1910 the Turkish Baths in Carlisle might be the only surviving and still in use example of what earlier was quite the thing in Victorian Britain. The baths are original, the Byzantine style intact and here at least a gentleman or pretender can be lashed foamy by a hairy mute whilst one sips Arak from a copper cup. The baths now can be hired for parties where presumably one can party like a well shaved Harkonnen. The baths are in James Street, are perfectly real and can be found close to where a Bulgar is shaking his fist at the otherwise ordinary building.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Codename: Bond

It's not my idea, but it's one it was interesting last year to follow through on and for a bit of fun that I've copied in here (also I get to show some Robert McGinnis artwork, and he's the poster artist of my childhood).

If we assume that 'James Bond' is like 'M' and 'Q' a code name only? We start with Sean Connery, possibly the first, possibly actually James Bond. The name becomes powerful, fearful. He rarely after all hides it.

Bond however goes out of contact whilst in Japan, at the end of You Only Live Twice he is still on Blofeld's trail and refuses to come in.

But SIS need 007, and they certainly need 'James Bond', and of course by now their famous agent cannot be tarnished. They get a lead on Blofeld and even in the film it starts with M and Moneypenny discussing where 007 is. So they have to come up with a plan, and they come up with a stand-in James Bond. They don't choose a proper sociopath but one already involved with one of villains, Draco's daughter (actually, Emma Peel). All in all it does not work for the best. Tracey dies and their stand in Bond goes to pieces. It is clear that 007 really does need to be a thug, they do need the real James Bond after all.

Which is why all is forgiven and in Diamonds Are Forever when contact is made M will put the name Blofeld to any villain to keep Bond in line, and Bond will make much the same assumption. By the beginning of the film they are in uneasy alliance - even though Bond is borderline insane (murderous bastard quite aside).

At the end of the mission Bond vanishes with Tiffany Case - and a fortune in diamonds. Maybe it was M that tried to have Bond removed through the independent Wint and Kidd? Either way, Bond is firmly gone and Bourne like not to be bothered again - and M is a lot wilier than the CIA.

All would rest until three British agents are killed - and links are made to Kananga. SIS fight fire with fire - they need their own 'Loa', their own legendary agent of death, James Bond. The Roger Moore character is made the new Bond and the new 007. And despite all is brutally efficient, and for many years and missions thereafter. To the extent however that in the end he is actually awarded the Order of Lenin (View to a Kill) and aging now leaves the service honourably to marry Stacey Sutton, the oil heiress. No hard feelings here. 'Bond' served his country and there is a new wind of detente. During this period M passes away and his brief replacement (importantly) rubber stamps the Bond programme - making it official.


A defector is set to do that and SIS set a counter sniper in place - one who shows resolve but a streak of judgement when he does not actually kill the woman assassin. The newly promoted M (Judy Dench) sees something in that man and when that man (Dalton) is trained up to be a 00 then on his final training mission others are killed and he survives on Gibraltar M makes the judgement that this will be no normal 00, but 007 James Bond. Never comfortable with the idea of SIS having an assassin she had been quietly keeping 'James Bond' vacant, but her hand is forced. For the first mission this works admirably, old elements of Smersh are suitably distracted by the their 'old adversary'.

The new Bond though is not perhaps all he should be. On his next mission he resigns - indeed his Licence to kill is revoked by M (who had been looking for just such an excuse). The film is not so much about James Bond as what happens when one in that position walks away.

About this time two 00s are in Arkangelsk, Brosnan and Bean. They blow stuff up. They are 00s but neither is Bond.

Six years later and Brosnan is made up to 'James Bond'. M has hardened. if she must have a Bond, it will be one of her choosing. For the first few missions it seems they finally have a Bond back. One that gets the job done, is ruthless, efficient and everyone is pleased. But he is flawed, he is not the sociopath that the original was and he is forced to retire to lengthy treatment when he starts to think that John Cleese is Q and that his car can turn invisible - the poor soul goes barking. M's demands for a more balanced figure, a trained assassinis shown to be flawed after all.

And then and now a new Bond. Hell, Casino Royale actually shows the early process. M is visibly nervous at the latest result of the 'Bond' programme established by her own predecessor but 007 is now like a tiger on which she rides. It's dangerous, but more so perhaps to get off.  

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Random Ink

The Butcher Bird

What a cute birdy. A bit round so probably the funny one, or the faithful sidekick all sat calmly on his little stick. But this my friends - this is the butcher bird!
No joke, this is the Shrike. They love their kids and are wonderfully faithful. They have a very low carbon footprint and by preference like Woody Allen movies. They don’t approve of horror movies and as they can flock can undertake quite fearsome letter writing campaigns. It was Shrikes that saw Firefly taken off the air. Which for some of you gives you a hint as to their true nature because whilst many birds eat small grubs, little voles and even mice only the Shrike has a larder. Shrikes like to hang about on thorn bushes so that they can impale their still living prey in order to eat them live, in bits. Or if they’re full add them to their bloody-thorn-bush cache in case they get hungry later. Or just to add to their collection. Or just because.
Shrikes are rarely dangerous to larger animals such as dogs or even people. Cats know better frankly as cats can smell anything in a gang at twenty yards. Only of late are people suspected to have been attacked, but the only evidence linking Shrikes to the otherwise simply missing victims are the increasing number of MacBooks found speared on tree branches in recent months.

Monday 7 March 2011

Random Ink

I'm With Rutger

There I was the other day and on an evening walk I’d gone down the valley to roam somewhere different. And crossing our valley is our river, and alongside it the A66. There I stood for a moment and almost, almost – stuck out my thumb.
I’ve not hitched for years. But that’s alright because let’s face it neither has anyone else. Yet I used to and frankly all the time. Looking back I’m rather proud that I was traipsing all over the country from age fourteen. It’d give people the willies now but I did, there was no other way. I was fourteen, I had no money – how else was I meant to get down to Bournemouth, to Peckforton – or to just, like, wherever man? Nearly thirty years ago and one of those horrible realisations of time going by and for ten, fifteen years after when still and at times I’d thumb it. Hell, when first I moved out of my parents I commuted from Bournemouth to Chistlehurst every weekend, and by thumb.
I was not the only one. In prime places such as decent services (Fleet or Scratchwood for example) there’d be lines. Once outside Birmingham and no joke there were a good thirty or forty of us. Mostly I’d stick to A roads because you could get off and on anywhere. And there were awful times such as being stuck somewhere-near-to-Manchester’ish for six hours, and then it rained. And there were the famous hitches when and again yes, I put my thumb out yards from my door and got a lift all the way. I got a worrying lift from a very strange van driver. I got an odd lift from a couple in a camper van, and she was wearing red knickers. Still then it was not unusual, even for a lad of fourteen to cross the country. Well maybe that last, but I was odd like that and then.
Whilst the glasses are ruby still and I remember the sunny days. With no hurry to get anywhere I explored the country. It was not unusual for me going in one direction to get a lift that went after a while in another and stay with it. Often because I’d know someone there, so go there instead. Because that was fate – man – and I was on the cosmic winds. I was a few miles outside Chester when the world’s supply of bikers roared by and I jumped up and down in delight as they all and every one of them waved or made little salutes. I got a lift outside Twyford Down from one of the coppers that four hours before had been there too – if you know what I mean. I had cliché hitches where I ended up on Glastonbury Tor and just plain stayed the night with others there. I had terrible, terrible hitches and one where my ride tried to steal my bag. And always the ride would go by other hitchers, and you’d nod and they’d smile back when they recognised their own – I did at any rate.
It was and truly if you wanted it to be the freedom of the road. You met some brilliant people because and for the most part, idiots were not likely to pick you up. Truckers would pick up for company whilst the speed kicked out. Old hitchers gone straight would pick you up, because they always swore they would. Idiots would slow down to pretend they were going to give you a ride, then roar off. Tool would make the thumbs back or call out abuse at 50mph and as a hitcher I’d think of Rutgeur and yes, he had a point.
But no one hitches now.
So maybe I should.    

Sunday 6 March 2011

Random Ink

Lurch - just 'Lurch', man

It’s perhaps not that surprising that like so many that have shared his experiences Lurch lives now close to Worcester, Malvern and Hereford. I love this picture of him for though it was taken way before I knew him it has that quality of innocence to it that only in more recent years has come back, albeit with all the grey. I can’t claim to have known many soldiers, my youth was rather more spent protesting and sharing beer with colourful girls in leather jackets. But Lurch was never from what I’ve been able to piece together a very typical soldier – bearing in mind that this photo was taken of him whilst in service and that’s probably about as much as you need to guess where he served. The photo itself by the way was apparently taken on exercise near to Paderborn where under risk of discovery Lurch stood up and challenged the ‘enemy’ only to have them surrender. I’ve been told that having taken thirty prisoners he had to spend nearly a week guarding them, as he is here, rolling up.
I cannot say for sure what happened between this time and the mid 90s when he popped up again and quite the total hippy. He rarely speaks about his time in service, that above I learned from others. Indeed the only times he ever talks about it at all - is to deny it. I’ve been told on several occasions that ‘I never killed no one’, and ‘I weren’t there, man’ but that’s about the extent of it.
I wish he’d stop playing The Doors all the time, mind.   

My River, Miss Effra

This is my river. Mine, or perhaps I am it’s scruff. London and I might be more correctly the Efrra and I. You won’t have seen it as the Effra is one of London’s hidden rivers and hardly a mightily flowing one when its source in Norwood was still a wood. Now thereabouts one of London’s great cemeteries (Mrs Beeton cooks there), I lived up the hill from the source and there last before leaving London the Effra tracks back my own migration in reverse. Norwood then, Brockwell Park where I spent so many days one summer, Effra Road just off where I lived also and thence to Kennington and Lambeth where many of my ancestors were born, lived and died to exit into the Thames. There the bank below and presumably having crossed by concealed culvert the ever odd headquarters of the SIS since they moved from Century House in Westminster Bridge Road (where we’ve been before). Though hidden since its days as sewer and with the advent I suspect of the railways that made possible the first suburban line. That line made up of Penge, Sydenham (where the Ambrook begins and joins, yes, the Effra) and ultimately to Bromley where Jherek Charnelian and then Maurice Thomas sought Mrs Underwood. All three places again where I’ve lived.
Ultimately I followed the Effra backwards and out of London. From Norwood work took me to Guildford and further yet still. I returned later but Croydon being foul was also never London. I don’t think the Effra holds a grudge. Or if it did then it is too polite to mention it. A couple of years back when coming into the city to meet up with friends I left public transport at West Norwood and walked to Waterloo following back in though not thinking of it at the time my London River. It felt right, which is perhaps why coming into London from the north and Euston never does. The change now is too immediate. The Effra is more gentle where it takes me by the hand and leads me more gradually into Mother London like an old lover, one with whom I share no regrets for the past nor the distance that now divides us.       

Saturday 5 March 2011

Modern Myth & Legend: Simon Lindsay

You might have heard of Richard Francis Burton and this being so - no, not the one that married Elizabeth Taylor. Richard Burton, noted explorer, Arabist and soldier was the invention of H. C. Neile writing under the pen name of Berce Wintergreen. Pseudonyms were nothing new to Neile who was rather better known later as ‘Sapper’, the author of the Bulldog Drummond stories. In an early example of viral fiction ‘Wintergreen’ set his stories of Burton in the form of despatches, newspaper stories and even the seeding of witnesses to his exploits. All rather jolly had the old hack not just at first based Burton’s exploits on those of the then Captain Lindsay but when so challenged successfully sued Lindsay for Defamation Of Pocket.
Captain Lindsay is not then heard of for nearly a century until a full-bearded young man of 8 is recorded as being ‘all a muddle/scrumping of cider’ in the Junior Assizes of Yeovil. What takes this Somerset myth beyond the usual enormous chalky cocks and witches (who having spent so long denying the hag image now embody it) is that this myth has travelled. There is evidence of his having become (although not enrolled as such) a student in the black country, something played up by the lately renamed ‘Hey Dee Ho’ pub close to Coventry. Indeed and then further south through such ancient rural settings as Bracknell Simon Lindsay has swallowed up the Green Man myths to replace them with the Good Chap stories you’ll have seen time and again (most recently in the Jonathan Creek episode ‘Seems Like A Nice Girl’).
There’s no grand revelation here, no truth to unearth. I’ve encountered Simon on any number of occasions and whilst I’ve ever tried to bring up all this to him, somehow the conversation is ever diverted away by his sudden and always generous trips to the bar.  

Faraday The Invisible

This is probably a blank picture to you because this is the Faraday Monument slap in the obvious middle of the Elephant & Castle, or at least was when last I was there. If you can see it then well done, big isn’t it? Shiny too. Also and again, invisible. Back in the halcyon and hungry days when I lived thereabouts I asked pretty much everyone what the big, metal box was. No one could answer because no one knew to what I referred. I had to point it out once and there was frowning and shrugging and the immediate turning to other subjects. You got around that part of London by prowling a maze of piss-flecked tunnels so most people I suppose never saw it.
It is the Faraday Monument, named and raised to celebrate the area’s famous son. Given that apart from Faraday there is a claim only otherwise to Charlie Chaplin (disputed) and Jim Davidson’s character in a Jim Eldridge (sorry Mr. E) sitcom for local celebrity it was clearly felt that when it opened in 1961 that here was a statement of the Elephants greatness.
Now of course the Elephant is being cleared, modernised and made spanky and new for nice people, to live nicely. They might be moving the huge metal box, so if you leave it too late then don’t blame me if Faraday’s invisible box is rather more effective than you would otherwise have feared. And you want to see it, and if you can call this up on your iWant you might even be able to. Faraday's (mostly stolen) studies into invisibilty are only witnessed now in this way. Back in 1857 science was still able to produce more extensive results from electro-magnetism. The field was an exciting one where still a great deal was discovered and invented in sheds without worrying as to the how of it. As the century turned later scientists were able to prove that the old 'beam or ray' could not possibly work, and they had some maths to prove it. Thereafter of course and it no longer did. So if ever passing go and see the Faraday Monument before one of the last pieces of the old beam-or-ray science is put away for good.
And whilst you're there have a piss in a subway, everyone else has.