Is this the origin of 'to Google'? Just when I was getting a little jaded with the formulaic nature of the 1920s Strand Magazines (those of the Victorian and Edwardian era are much more varied in terms of author, genre and non-fiction content), I'm struck between the eyes by this bizarre and colourful spread in the Christmas 1926 edition. The Google itself is there, top left. According to the article the gorgeous wildfowl are, anturally enough, Google Birds.
The surprising thing is that they weren't created by some established artist but by one of Britain's most successful engineers, V C Vickers, who designed and built ships, planes, motorbikes and armaments. The drawing and painting of these colourful critters was his gentle past-time, it would seem. Hunting round the internet I find that a book was published, The Google Book, but many years previously, in 1913. The excuse the Strand editor found for reviving them was that one of Vickers' paintings had been accepted by the Royal Academy, to his own surprise as much as anyone else's. Maybe a second edition of The Google Book was also in preparation. You can view the book online at: http://blogoscoped.com/googlebook/
The December 1926 edition had another unexpected treat, a weird and humorous (presumably, I haven't read it yet) yarn by 'A A' of Punch with at least one rather groovy illustration. So look out for that on Weird Wednesday.
There follows an extract from A Mirrour for Saints and Sinners, a book of 'wonders' compiled by Samuel Clark in the 17th century. This section is all about extraordinary sorcerers. Further extracts, provided by Cate Ludlow, who recently acquired a copy, can be found in the latest edition of Paranormal Magazine (http://www.paranormalmagazine.co.uk/)
There was in Denmark one Otto, a great magician, and a great Pirat, who used to passe the seas without the help of a ship, or any other vessel, and by his Divelish arts to raise stormes, and drown his enemies; but at last being over matched by one that was more expert in that Art than himself, he was by him drowned in the seas.
There was a conjurer in Saltzburg, who attempted to gather together all the Serpents thereabouts into a Ditch, and to feed them there; but as he was practising of it, the Divel drew him into the ditch amongst them where he perished miserably.
The Governor of Mafcon, a great Magician, as he was at dinner with some company, was snatched away by the Divel, hoisted up into the air, and carried three times around the town to the great astonishment of the inhabitants, to whom he cried for help, but all in vaine.
Anno Christi 1437, in the reign of Charles the Seventh, King of France, Sir Giles of Britane, high-constable of France, was a wicked Magician, having murthered above one hundred and fifty Infants, and women great with child, with whose blood he wrote books filled with horrid conjurations, which being proved against him, he was adjudged to be hanged, and burnt to death, which was accordingly executed.
The Lord of Orne in Lorraine, when Noblemen, or Gentlemen came to visit him, used (as they thought) to serve them very honourably with all sorts of dainty dishes, and viands, but when they departed, they found their stomachs empty, having eaten nothing. One time a lord’s servant, having forgotten something behind him, went back, and suddenly entering the Hall, found a Munkie beating the Lord of the house that had seated them: others reported that he hath beene seene through the chink of a door lying on his belly along upon a Table, and a Munkie scourging him very strongly, to whom he would say, Let me alone, wilt thou always thus torment me? At last he fell into so great misery and beggary that he was fain to get into a Hospital at Paris, where he ended his wretched life.
Set in New England but actually made in old England by an independent company, this 1960 movie provided an early non-Hammer horror vehicle for Christopher Lee and also a role for Valentine Dyall whose 'Man in Black' macabre storytelling series for BBC Radio had made him a star over here. In Britain the film went by the title City of the Dead. I've not seen a UK poster but this one from the USA is just great - way ahead of its time with the modern zombie-like portrayal of the undead (in the movie they're just vampires indistinguishable from living people) and for its joky strapline. The composition and the graphics are superb and I love the detail of the skeletal hand dangling the room key. You almost don't notice it's not in colour. The film is quite good in an unpretentious sort of way (bar some rotten dialogue) but not nearly as good as this striking poster would imply.
I found this, growing in a scrap of wood near an old limestone quarry at Llanferres, on the Flintshire-Denbighshire border. It's a Lesser Butterfly Orchid (I think). It's not particularly rare but I don't recall seeing one before. Mainly we get Early Purple and Pyramidal Orchids and I know a site not far away where Bee Orchids grow. There are probably other species about which I've not noticed. Today I also saw a Dingy Skipper butterfly, which has a a big preservation thing going on over the border in Cheshire but I find on t'internet that although its numbers have declined, it isn't particularly rare either (a bit like the 'endangered' Great Crested Newt which seems to crop up on every bulding site in North-East Wales). Still, I've never noticed one before in order to be sure of it, so I'm quite pleased. And I'm pleased with my white orchid, too.
I've got lots of bits of writing which I started and never continued. The following is all I managed of an attempt at a stream-of-consciousness type piece based on a person who doesn't see the world quite like the rest of us. Don't know where it would have gone, so perhaps that's why I didn't carry on with it. Pieces like this could equally serve for Found Fridays, since I rarely remember them till I happen to rummage around in folders and come across them again.
Michael is bored because I want to keep on walking. But Michael will always do what I want to do on days like this. We keep walking
The street is busy still. People flow like water round us. I am like a pebble and they rush past me. They are rapid. I am stone.
We are approaching a zebra crossing. There is always a zebra crossing. Whenever you buy something there is a zebra crossing on it. I think it must be the same with towns. Somewhere there is a big pen that comes down from the sky, a big pen with a light on it. The pen comes down onto a zebra crossing and then goes from left to right – beep! The zebras are there in case Great Britain is ever at war with a foreign country. If the foreigners win they will be able to know what they’ve got. They can go beep on every crossing and tick off the towns they’ve won.
Of course it might be aliens. The light on the pen would look like a UFO, wouldn’t it? Perhaps the aliens already own us. Beep!
We pass the zebra crossing. Beyond it there is a church, all pointy. Maybe that is where they keep the big light pen: in the pointy bit. I do not like churches. Churches are for quiet. You go in a church, you must be quiet. Unless it is singing on a Sunday. The quiet makes me want to shout. And dance. And be. Loud.
I get angry in churches so churches are banned. They are holy, holy places: supernatural; spirits and ghosts. They are cold. Some churches have monsters on them that stare down at you. Ugly and angry; cold and stone. They are always on the outside of the churches – they aren’t allowed in either. Which is fair enough...
Why were there so many weird painters from Belgium (cf James Ensor and Felicien Rops)? Is it because Belgium is so boring it sent them mad? Here are a few items by Antione Wiertz (1806-1865), whose stuff was considered so shocking that it was hidden away in a private gallery in Brussels from which sensitive maids and striplings were excluded. I believe the same gallery now constitutes the Musee Antione Wiertz.
The top two are details of Wiertz's astonishing triptych 'Last Thoughts and Visions of a Decapitated Head'; the one below a separate (if you'll pardon the pun) 'Guillotined Head'; and finally his famous image of 'Premature Burial'. Gothic painter par excellence was weird Wiertz.
Yike! Imagine finding this crawling on your bin. Or in your bath! I thought it was time we had a real monster on Monstrous Monday. This is a Coconut Crab, which is found on many islands in the Pacific. It's also known as the Robber Crab because it allegedly has a habit of creeping into houses and stealing shiny things. Professor Wiki tells me that its Latin name is Birgus latro and that it is the biggest arthropod on Earth and probably about as big as any creature with a exoskeleton can get living on dry land. Those enormous pincers are used to crack coconuts, hence its name, but injuries to humans are very unusual (although in theory it can snap your arm off, or worse still mistake your sleeping head for a coconut).
"There has been some discussion of the terms terror and horror. And attempts to make distinctions. Boris Karloff ... might occasionally be persuaded to offer an opinion on such matters. It is worth recording that in his view horror is a response to a physical reality, such as murder and torture, whereas terror (a more intense form of fear) is awakened in the presence of the supernatural, the unknown, the invisible threat. I find this distinction persuasive."
J A Cuddon, in his introduction to the Penguin Book of Horror Stories.
Personally, I'm not so persuaded - very many, if not the majority, of horror stories feature some element of the supernatural, as do many horror films. Having said that, I can see Karloff's point. I don't enjoy slice-and-dice movies but I do like what you might term supernatural thrillers; maybe the former are therefore the true horror films.
I picked this book up for a few quid on a second-hand book stall last weekend. I've got a fair view of the Hitchcock-edited horror paperbacks but have never seen this large format hardback aimed at younger readers before. It's a 1962 first edition published by Random House (and therefore a US print - perhaps it was only published in the States). The illustrations are the real treat, especially those on the covers and endpapers. I love the Hitch-cum-Nosferatu shadow.
I love this. It's like a kooky Doris Day movie gone wrong. I wonder at what point she discovered her new hubbie wasn't exactly human? On the honeymoon? Or during the reception when he started eating the other guests instead of the hors doeuvres? It dates from 1958.
Before Austin Powers there was Simon Creem - Ostentatious Agent. Another creation of Jonathan Edwards, who kindly let me have a go at writing a script for him. I think our hope was for it to appear in Deadline magazine, but it suddenly stopped publishing. I'd forgotten all about it myself until I found it again when unearthing the (perhaps more successful) Dandies strip. The Mr Benn reference is obvious, of course, but the other shop's name was taken from a song by Vivian Stanshall, in which he refers to buying joss-sticks and a tie-dye poncho from 'Modern Poove of Carnaby Street'.
I've just discovered a few refs to an American (?) humorist called Harry Graham, who published a book of the above title in 1899. I must see if I can track down a copy. Here are a few examples why:
"Billy, in one of his nice new sashes,
Fell in the fire and was burnt to ashes;
Now, although the room grows chilly,
I haven't the heart to poke poor Billy."
"Little Willie shot his sister,
She was dead before we missed her.
Willie's always up to tricks.
Ain't he cute? He's only six."
"Willie saw some dynamite,
Couldn't understand it quite;
Curiosity never pays:
It rained Willie seven days."
1899! Makes Hilaire Belloc read like a Ladybird book. According to a note I've just found on the net, it was Graham's Little Willie rhymes that inspired the phrase 'to give one the willies'. Of course, that has more than one usage now... ahem. Incidentally, if I wanted to buy the first edition (illustrated above) I found on sale online, it would cost me £375.
Aren't these great? Ouija Board designs by - I don't know! It's a bit embarrassing. I nabbed these images off a website gallery promoting an exhibition of Ouija Board designs a couple of years ago, following a link from the Fortean Times website. No doubt a Google image search could trace them, but today I just ain't got the time. The one with the big open gob is my favourite and is currently serving as my desktop background.
The above sexually-charged pictures of female vampiric monsters are by Boleslas Biegas, a Polish-born Surrealist, and were painted about the time of the First World War. The one above is Kiss of the Vampire, the one above that Vampire Appearing In The Form of an Explosion. Apparently, he specialised in these sorts of images. Something tells me he was dumped once too often by girlfriends during his life. Fun though, eh?
"I have heard rumours to the effect that there are people who actually enjoy writing. Can this be true? I loathe it. All that work and at the end of it some slim volume. What is the point, I ask myself?"
Lytton Strachey (quoted in the film Carrington starring Jonathan Pryce).
During the spooky converations at The Sportsman's Arms I also met a lady who used to run the Pwll Gwyn pub along the A541 Mold-Denbigh Road.
When I interviewed the then current landlady here for my 1992 book Haunted Clwyd, I was told the building stood on foundations of a medieval hostelry servicing pilgrims to St Winefride's Well at Holywell. This information was used as an explanation for the apparition of a monk allegedly seen sitting in the dining room, often in daylight.
The woman I spoke to in the Sportsman's Arms, who was landlady up until the late 1980s, denied any medieval hostory for the building, saying that as far as she was aware it had always been a coaching inn belonging to nearby Maesmynan Hall (I gathered the owner of the Hall kept his own horses stabled there, too). She also knew nothing about a ghostly monk but certainly experienced a spooky presence about the place, especially on the first floor. The publicans I spoke to prior to 1992 had also spoken about an eerie presence upstairs.
But what this lady added to the mix was a phenomenon that may be unique and greatly engaged my interest. Although they saw no appairition duign their time as licencees, she and her husband (and staff) did get used to ciming into the dining room on occasions and finding little piles of salt had been mysteriously appeared on various surfaces overnight. Very neat and tidy, pyramidal piles they were, and the source of the salt was also a mystery.
Salt, of course, is a substance seen as sacred in many cultures, representing purity in the Christian religion (and capable of banishing evil spirits). The dining room, of course, is the room where the monk was seen in later years - was 'he' responsible for placing the salt?
I know you shouldn't laugh at your own jokes but... I did have a chortle rediscovering this.
The second, unpublished-due-to-lack-of-funds, instalment of The Squabbling Dandies of Cribbage Street, written by some infamous Grub Street hack or other and exquisitely drawn by Jonathan Bedwards Esq, Pencil Squeezer to His Majestie King George the Mad. Rendered into finest India ink about the Year of our Whored 1995. (I think you'll agree that Jonathan's final frame for the third page is particularly fine).
Four whole pages for your hopeful enjoyment (obviously, click on each page to view it at a readable size).
Back of the September 1926 edition of The Strand with the front cover of the October edition opposite. Particularly striking cover on the October issue - that's Steve Dixie threatening Sherlock from The Three Gables.
But I find the Rinso ad fascinating too with its strict demarcation of the gender roles - He goes out to work, She stays at home and does the laundry. Note too how much older he looks than her - but that's a commercially important male fantasy, one that was upheld in films, I've noticed, way into the 60s and occasionally beyond. It was seen as perfectly normal that a young woman in her early 20s should find attractive men in their 40s or 50s.
In the advert the chap is announcing: 'What I want is a fresh, happy-looking wife on a Monday evening. And that's what Rinso gives me' - by saving her labour and making sure she's still keen to make him his dinner. He continues: 'I don't understand how any man can bear to see his wife struggling with old methods, and aging in the process...' She must remain 'fresh', you see. And hey, she's not even capable of choosing her own washing powder - even that, according to this ad, should be left up to the men folk.
H P Lovecraft's imagination and total commitment to his own mythology have made him arguably the most influential horror writer of the 20th century (along with M R James). Alas, his prose can be patchy: overly baroque, dense and pretentious. But here's an example of him at his best, an evocation of the New England backwaters that inspired so much of his work. It's from one of his more subtle stand-alone short stories, The Picture in the House, written in 1920.
Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places. For them are the catacombs of Ptolemais, and the carven mausolea of the nightmare countries. They climb to the moonlit towers of ruined Rhine castles, and falter down black cobwebbed steps beneath the scattered stones of forgotten cities in Asia. The haunted wood and the desolate mountains are their shrines, and they linger around the sinister monoliths on uninhabited islands.
But the true epicure in the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteems most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous.
Most horrible of all sights are the little, unpainted wooden houses remote from travelled ways, usually squatted upon some damp, grassy slope or leaning against some gigantic outcropping of rock. Two hundred years or more they have leaned or squatted there, while the vines have crawled and the trees have swelled or spread. They are almost hidden now in lawless luxurience of green and guardian shrouds of shadow; but the small-paned windows still stare shockingly, as if blinking through a lethal stupor which wards off madness by dulling the memory of unutterable things.
In such houses have lived generations of strange people, whose like the world has never seen. Seized with a gloomy and fanatical belief which exiled them from their kind, their ancestors sought the wilderness for freedom. There the scions of a conquering race indeed flourished free from the restrictions of their fellows, but cowered in an appalling slavery to the dismal phantasms of their own minds. Divorced from the enlightenment of civilisation, the strength of these Puritans turned into singular channels; and in their isolation, morbid self-repression, and struggle for life with relentless Nature, there came to them dark, furtive traits from the prehistoric depths of their cold Northern heritage.
By necessity practical and by philosophy stern, these folks were not beautiful in their sins. Erring as all mortals must, they were forced by their rigid code to seek concealment above all else; so that they came to use less and less taste in what they concealed. Only the silent, sleepy, staring houses in the backwoods can tell all that has lain hidden since the early days, and they are not communicative, being loath to shake off the drowsiness which helps them forget. Sometimes one feels that it would be merciful to tear down these houses for they must often dream.
'Skeletons Fighting over a Hanged Man", painted in 1891 by James Ensor, a Flemish contemporary of Felicien Rops (see a previous Weird Wednesday) much of whose work seems to be obsessed with skulls, death and grotesque masked faces. Macabre, darkly comic and more than abit nuts. I love it, naturally.
"Writing a book is like driving by night on a twisty, unknown road, and you can only see as far ahead as the headlights reach. And with me that ain't far. I usually begin by putting the main characters in a crisis of some sort and then see what happens."
When I visited Tate Britain for the first time earlier this year I became somewhat Turnered out by all the Turners on view, especially since half of them were unfinished pieces. It was great to see Sunrise with Sea Monsters, though. Alas, I discovered on reading the gallery notes that a) it too is an unfinished work and that b) it's just supposed to show a couple of flounders in the foreground - not monsters at all. The title is a rather tongue-in-cheek one it earned many years after it was painted in 1845.
Above the Turner is another rare portrayal of a sea monster in art - Moonlit Night by Wassily Kandinsky, painted in 1907. Of course, to be precise, it could be a lake monster; it certainly has a distinctly Nessie look about it. It would be interesting to know what Kandinsky's inspiration was for this aquatic beast. He was Russian, from Odessa - was he aware of a Russian lake monster? Lake monsters as a whole only got 'big' in the 1930s.
Cryptozoology in art. Now there's a subject. Or a range of stamps.
Well the talk at the Sportsman's Arms last week was a bit of a washout but I did learn a couple of new, interesting stories.
Londoner Peter Young told us about a flat he was helping to do up some years ago in Chelsea. A couple of burly builders got completely spooked in there, so Peter agreed to join them. Apparently, there was a remarkable amount of activity, most of it centring round the drinks cabinet, which kept opening of its own accord. I can't remember all the details but I recall whisky apparently being drunk by an unseen entity - is that spirit cannibalism?
There was a lot of mysterious noises, glimpsed shadowy figures and - a rather Gothic image this - a swinging chandelier. Needless to say, they finished up as quick as they could and got out of there.
The story Peter learnt later was that a man had killed his lover there in a drunken rage, and he also heard of similar activity in the next-door flat, which at one time had been part of the same suite of rooms.
The second story I heard was about a local pub, one I've written about before. I'll save that for next week.
It's the early seventies and the clever catch-line comes to the fore. Arguably the best of the Amicus portmanteau horrors, Asylum (1972), features stories by the great Robert Bloch. I notice that this American poster shows the certifcation to be PG - bet it was an X in Britain.
As promised, some Uncle Bob (actually the only Uncle Bob I've got) - Jungle Adventure, by Cunningham and Fraser. I described the artwork as 'fuzzy felt' but it actually looks like quliting. Extraordinary. Just the front page - you'll have to wait till Darryl's book comes out next year to read the rest!
Iona and Peter Opie were pioneers in collecting children's playground rhymes and games - just in time, because by the 1970s most had disappeared. Many of the rhymes they recorded for posterity in their 1959 book The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren show an attractively ecentric and surreal British sense of humour, and also reflect well-known songs, sayings and adverts from the period. Here is a few of the most amusing.
"A bug and a flea
Went out to sea
Upon a reel of cotton
The flea was drowned
But the bug was found
Biting a lady's bottom."
"The boy stood on the burning deck Melting with the heat. His big blue eyes were full of tears And his shoes were full of feet."
"Good King Wenceslas looked out In his pink pyjamas. What do you think he hollered out? Lovely ripe bananas!"
"Salome was a dancer, She danced the hootchie-cootch. She shook her shimmy shoulder And she showed a bit to much. 'Stop,' said King Herod, 'You can't do that 'ere!' 'Baloney!' said Salome And she kicked the chandelier."
"Hark, the jelly babies sing, Beecham's Pills are just the thing, They are gentle, meek and mild, Two for a man and one for a child. If you want to get to heaven You must take a dose of seven; If you want to go to hell, Take the blinking box as well."
"Editorial experience taught me that the test of a manuscript lies in its first twenty lines. If the writer could say nothing in those first twenty lines to arrest my attention, it was not worth while continuing."
Time for some more Sidney Sime and not one, not two, but three. The top one is an illustration to one of Lord Dunsany's books, The Gods of Pegana. It looks like a psychedelic poster from the late 60s, but it was actually drawn in 1905. The one below is also for a Dunsany, this time The King of Elfland's Daughter. It's not the best reproduction (nor the best scan) but it shows the layering effect, with detailed foregrounds and fuzzy cosmic backgrounds that are a trademark of Virgil Finlay's work (see last week). If Finlay wasn't a big fan of Sime's I'll eat my Strands.
Those two come from the only book I can find on Sime (Sidney Sime: Master of the Mysterious by Simon Henege and Henry ford, published in 1980), which is unfortunately printed on soft, grainy paper. The final intensely eerie image is one I found in a 1901 copy of Pall Mall Magazine. Sime contributed a lot to Pall Mall and I keep hoping to find more. It illustrates an obscure yarn about a cursed family. This is heaven for me, the reason I keep spending moolah on these Victorian/Edwardian magazines - an obscure macabre tale illustrated by a superb artist. Fab.
Don't forget to click on the pic if you want to see it in its fuller glory.
It's all happening with Darryl Cunningham. His long awaited Psychiatric Tales graphic novel about his experiences in psychiatric nursing has just been published and now he's informed the world that there will soon be an Uncle Bob book. Uncle Bob is among the first stuff I was aware of by Darryl - right up my street, daft derring-do Edwardian adventures. I'm sure I've got photocopies of some old Uncle Bob adventures somewhere. if I can find them, I'll put one up on Found Friday. Go to http://darryl-cunningham.blogspot.com/
Jonathan Edwards' latest creation: Monsieur Creepy, of New Orleans. Isn't he great? Oddly enough, this picture also ties in with Paranormal Magazine because Brad Steiger's just supplied me with an article on New Orleans voodoo for the next issue.
"The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters" - Francisco Goya's famous engraving. Richard Freeman, of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, has written an article for Paranormal Magazine issue 49 on mistaken monsters and has asked for it to be used to help illustrate the piece. So it seemed a fair post for Monstrous Monday, too.
Two full-page illustrations for Conan Doyle's The Land of Mist. In the top picture, a man sees the spirit of his mother at a seance; below it the psychic investigators encounter a 'dark soul' in a haunted house, a malevolent shadow that swoops down on them from the upper storey. They are from the September and October 1925 editions of The Strand respectively.
I am the editor of a website devoted to ghosts and folklore in Britain, Uncanny UK. I am the former editor of 'Paranormal Magazine' and I have written five books, including 'Haunted Wales', which is to be republished by the History Press in 2011.