Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Devil's Dictionary

SELFISH: Devoid of consideration for the selfishness of others.

Ambrose Bierce

Paranormal Magazine issue 50

High time I plugged issue 50 with its improved cover design. It's not my 50th issue, of course - I think I've done 21 now. Bloody hell, already.

Weird Wednesday

A plate from Salvador Dali's erotic work, Treatise of erotic systems and the thousand masturbatory ways from the Romans to Dali.

Hmm... nope, it's not turning me on. And let's face it, most things do. Bloody surrealists.

(Oh, all right, I'm being silly - there's an accompanying plate incorporating all these inoffensive illustrations into a grotesque and filthy assemblage, but I can't publish it here!)

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Devil's Dictionary

COMMERCE: A kind of transaction in which A plunders from B the goods of C, and for compensation B picks the pocket of D of money belonging to E.

Ambrose Bierce

Monday, 28 June 2010

Devil's Dictionary

RIOT: A popular enterntainment given to the military by innocent bystanders.

Ambrose Bierce

Monstrous Monday x 2

Since I'm busy scanning Wild Men, I thought you might like to se this hideous creation by Gustave Dore of a 'Wild Man' that features in a German fairytale as a stealer of naughty children. Dore's conception has little to do with the Wild Man of the Woods, his is a far more sinister supernatural figure.

Monstrous Monday

Dr Karl Shuker has written me an article about Woodwoses for the forthcoming issue of Paranormal Magazine, to tie in with an article sent in by Lincolnshire folklore researcher Sean McNeaney on a local 'wild man' legend. The Woodwose is like a medieval European Bigfoot, a powerfully built, savage hirsuit man who roams the dense forests. Sometimes, as in this picture whcih I have just scanned for the article, they are seen as a race of hairy forest dwellers. They look positively civilised in this French miniature of the 15th century.

I find Woodwoses fascinating: after dragons they must be one of the most prevalent fabulous creatures in medieval heraldry. They may be purely allegorical - but of what exactly, I'm not sure, perhaps the wild land tamed by the civilising lords of the manor. There seems to be a tie-in with the Green Man, particularly those who used to take part in carnivals. swathed in greenery and slapping people with bladders. In some parts of Europe, such as Scandinavia, a few Wild Man festivals still take place.

The question remains: are they in fact a folk memory of a race of people driven into the dense forests by the spread of farming folk in the Neolithic and beyond? We know Neanderthals lived in isolated groups - could the Woodwoses be recollections of shy Neanderthal people still alive in the Iron Age, perhaps even into the early medieval period?

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Devil's Dictionary

CLAIRVOYANT: A person who has the power of seeing that which is invisible to her patron - namely, that he is a blockhead.

Ambrose Bierce

Spooky Sunday

I'm looking at having Haunted Wales republished in two volumes by The History Press now that Landmark have gone bust. With Haunted Wales I set out to find all the old - that is pre-War - stories recorded in written primary sources from Wales. I was surprised to find a yarn from Flintshire that I had missed when researching Haunted Clwyd etc years before. Mind you, it was in the form of a piece of inexorable doggerel verse tucked away inside some old periodical, so perhaps it wasn't so odd that I missed it. It's not much of a story but it has its amusing moments and does shed some ligth on old ghost-lore. Here is the story as recorded in Haunted Wales:
Once upon a time, possibly in the 1740s but details are vague, a ghost was seen in the laundry at Hawarden Castle. A ‘misty form’ resembling that of a deceased steward called John drifted past several maid-servants, driving them into hysterics. John had been an unpopular bully during life, an absolute tyrant to those he considered his inferior, so this may explain their extreme reactions.

Lady Marshall, who learnt of the incident from a 90-year-old servant whose mother had been one of the maids, wrote it up in the form of a whimsical ballad. The ballad is very long but the story very slight, and it took some time to dissect it from Lady Marshall’s intentionally rococo language and shamelessly bad rhymes. We learn the staff were very distressed –

‘And they, for want of public ghost inspector,
Resolved to lay the case before the Rector.’
(You get the idea!)

The rector told them they were all ‘tom-fools’, so instead the servants sought out the services of a sympathetic priest, who agreed to perform the rites of exorcism. The ghost was duly conjured up among the sheets and smalls in the laundry, and John-as-was told the priest that ‘after so much wrong’ performed by him on his fellows, his spirit was unable to find a resting place. He did not explain why, of all places, he chose to haunt the laundry, and on being told ‘he must be laid’, he begged that it be in somewhere more salubrious.

Initially he suggested his spirit be conjured into a crow (which seems somewhat less salubrious to me) but the priest rejected this idea because he thought it might lead to ‘mischief’. So, John then suggested he be turned into a harmless leaf, but the priest also disapproved of this plan. He argued that an unfortunate cow might chance to eat the leaf – and the cow become possessed! Finally, John agreed to be secured inside a block of granite. This was done, the stone buried, and John’s spirit no longer troubled the living.
(The picture shows Hawarden Castle in about 1880, when it was the residence of W E Gladstone).

Devil's Dictionary

ACQUAINTANCE: A person whom we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to.

Ambrose Bierce

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Saturday Matinee

What a great title - just imagine the moan-and-dance sequences. But of course it's shit and apparently none of the 'action' takes place on Broadway anyway, just on old tropical island sets from I Walked With A Zombie. It's 1945 and this is all Lugosi is being offered by now. He doesn't even get to act alongside Abbott & Costello (bad enough) but with a poor imitation of them - although how much poorer can that be, I daren't imagine. According to the reviewer on IMDB: 'Toward the end, a monkey is able to steal the show, indicating the level of talent in the cast.'
A few years later Lugosi would be making Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire which, even allowing for Ed Wood, was probably his nadir. Rarely essaying a really good performance (but certainly capable of it), Lugosi rather asked for his slide into the Z-list. As his arch-rival Boris Karloff said: 'The poor man didn't bother to learn the language. And when your livelihood depends upon your knowing the language, what could he expect?' Mind you, Karloff rarely gave a bad performance, even in the rubbish he was being given in the late 40s and 50s.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Devil's Dictionary

WOMAN: An animal usually living in the vicinity of Man, and having a rudimentary susceptibility to domestication.

Ambrose Bierce

Farewell, Mr Holmes

April 1927, The Strand magazine opens with an atmospheric frontispiece to Shoscombe Old Place - and look, Sherlock's wearing a deer-stalker. You didn't see that very often. I reckon the illustrations by Frank Wiles for the last few stories were far more responsible for the image we have of Sherlock Holmes, taken up by Basil Rathbone etc, than the original, more celebrated, ones by Sidney Paget. Who would have guessed, though, that this would be the last Holmes story ever to be written? Conan Doyle died three years later and never revisited his most lucrative creation.

Oddly enough, though, the previous month The Strand held a competition (see above) inviting readers to choose what they considered the dozen best Sherlock Holmes stories - the person whose selection most closely matched that of Doyle himself won £100. Although the selection could only be made from the four volumes of short stories already in print, with the series then running exempt, there was clearly no idea in anyone's heads that Holmes's adventures had come to an end.

Doyle's selection was not an easy one to guess. There are some odd choices, such as The Empty House, and many of the classics you might expect are absent. I think Doyle was keen to offer a selection throughout Holmes's history, since he was aware of the general (and not entirely fair) criticism that his stories post-Reichenbag Falls weren't as good as those which had preceded his hero's putative demise. Indeed, in the explanation he offers for his choice of stories, Doyle states that he wished he'd been able to include The Lion's Mane, since he considered it one of his very best. Personally, I think The Lion's Mane the poorest of the stories, so there you go. I was pleased to see The Devil's Foot in his list, though, because that is one of my favourites.

The winner of the competition succeeded in getting 10 of the 12 stories right (I bet Empty House and Reigate Squires weren't in his choice). Doyle's selection was, in the order he gave them: Speckled Band, Red-Headed League, Dancing Men, Final Problem, Scandal in Bohemia, Empty House, Five Orange Pips, Second Stain, Devil's Foot, Priory School, Musgrave Ritual, Reigate Squires.

Found Friday

Clearing out loads of crap from my house I rediscovered this novelty. One year, in the little run-down cottage I used to live in, I got a mouse infestation. The buggers would eat - or try to eat - anything, including the plastic top of a shampoo bottle, and you could hear them gnawing away all night at the sealant under the shower, a particular delicacy as far as they were concerned. One item did defeat them, though.

One morning I found that a traveling washbag I kept in the bathroom had been raided. Removed from it was this Durex that I had optimistically stashed there before a previous holiday. As you can see, the packet has been neatly gnawed into. The condom itself had been extracted like an After Eight mint and placed alongside it. You can imagine the mouse going 'ptui!' before moving onto the far tastier shampoo bottle instead.
I'll always keep it cos it makes me chuckle.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Devil's Dictionary

HANDKERCHIEF: A small square of silk or linen, used in various ignoble offices about the face and especially serviceable at funerals to conceal the lack of tears.

Ambrose Bierce

Wordy Thursday - 'The Picknows Papers'

Extract from yet another of my many half-started, half-arsed and abandoned projects:

Their first sight of the vast and gleaming interior of the supermarket filled them with a sense of blended wonder and dismay. I led them gently away from the baskets, where their open-mouthed immobility was causing an obstruction, and picked up the Professor’s cane from where he had dropped it.

‘It’s a marvel,’ he whispered. ‘Like the Garden of Eden neatly displayed with the skill of an anatomist.’

‘I never imagined such a place could exist,’ Mr Picknows said, a nervous tremor creeping into his voice as his gaze took in the crowds of shoppers, the wheeling trolleys and the rank upon rank of shelving fading into the neon-lit horizon of the frozen goods department.

‘You know, it’s just the sort of place your servants buy your food from every week,’ I told him.

‘Really?’ he murmured. ‘Really? I had no idea. I really must increase their wages.’

‘Can we explore?’ asked the Professor.

‘Of course,’ I said.

‘Do they sell guns?’ demanded Roderick.

‘Of course not.’

‘What about women? Are there any doxies attached to this establishment?’ – Pimple was already beginning to apply his powder.

‘No, Pimple. No women of that nature. This is Asda, not Covent Garden. All they sell here is food and ... er...’

‘And what?’ demanded Roderick.

‘And drink.’

‘Hurrah!’ bellowed the old rake.

‘Hurrah!’ whimpered Pimple.

‘But please, please, don’t make exhibitions of yourselves, more than you can help. And if you want to buy anything, please ask me first.’

‘We must remember we are strangers here,’ said Mr Picknows. ‘Strangers in a strange land.’

‘Well put, Picknows,’ said the Professor. ‘Just the advice I gave to the crew of the Valiant when we explored that island in the Komodo archipelago. Of course, they refused to heed me...’

‘And what happened to them then?’ asked Pimple.

‘They had their genitals eaten and were made eunuchs in the court of a cannibal king.’

‘Serves them right for going abroad,’ spat Roderick. ‘I went to Scotland once: that was quite enough for me, I thankee.’

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Devil's Dictionary

PHILANTHROPIST: A rich old gentleman who has trained himself to grin while his conscience his picking his pocket.
Ambrose Bierce

Weird Wednesday

Finally getting round to tidying my house up a bit, a few postcards I bought in Naples have come to light, buried under six months worth of discarded envelopes, neglected bills, Book Collectors, dead skin etc. Which is great because now I can show you 'Uomo' and 'Donna', two anatomical exhibits in the crypt of the Cappalla Sansevero, a gloriously baroque chapel built to attend to the supposed spiritual needs of a wealthy Neapolitan family back in the 16th century.

These two Frankenstein monsters were created in 1760 by an alchemist/natural philosopher (and possible occultist) named Guiseppe Salerno. According to the blurb in the chapel, they comprise the dissected bodies of a man and a woman, their bodily organs somehow preserved by a 'plasticisation' process, an unknown resinous fluid being injected into their veins, arteries and tissues. It was also stated that Salerno was excommunicated for his experiments.

According to the all-knowing Professor Wiki, though, who I consulted because I couldn't recall the anatomist's name, it was recently discovered that although the skeletons are genuine enough, the organs, veins etc are clever fakes, composed of beeswax, silk and other materials. For some reason the label writers at the Museo Capalla Sansevero couldn't be bothered to mention this. Ah well. This may have removed the spooky mystery of these gruesome creations but I reckon the skill and care that went into constructing them is still pretty impressive. I can assure you that even if I'd known they were made of wax and silk, they would still have creeped me out down in that crypt.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Devil's Dictionary

MEEKNESS: Uncommon patience in planning a revenge that is worth while.

Ambrose Bierce

Monday, 21 June 2010

Devil's Dictionary

MISFORTUNE: The kind of fortune that never misses.
Ambrose Bierce

Monstrous Monday x 2

And if pachimon cartes de visite aren't sufficient for you, check out these spiffing new post cards from Felt Mistress. Get your set from

Monstrous Monday x 1

My thanks to my friend Ciaran Lyons, who's from Dublin originally but now a long-time resident of Singapore, for drawing my attention to these wacky Japanese postcards of various monsters menacing world-famous locations. Apparently they are 'vintage bromide post cards showing various pachimon (imitation creatures based loosely on famous TV and movie monsters) ... published by Yokopro in the 1970s.' See more examples at

Unspooky Sunday

Oh no! It's finally happened: I failed to update this blog (yesterday). Well, I wasn't in a spooky mood. It was sunny for God's sake - sunny! I got mellow in my back garden with a bottle of wine, some nibbles and a 19th century 'sensation' novel (I'm such a queen) and when I began to sober up, complete with dull headache, decided to go down to Alan's to watch the Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes he'd just got on Blu-Ray.

Contrary to expectation, I enjoyed it. It's not Sherlock Holmes obviously but as a comic book romp through a Victorian fantasy land it was entertaining, and consistent in style and purpose. In some ways I think I'd rather have an inspired-by confection like this rather than a slavish attempt at 'doing it properly' - frankly, after the Jeremy Brett series what would be the point? Job done.

Perhaps it would have been better if they hadn't actually called him Sherlock Holmes -since he clearly wasn't Sherlock Holmes. Hemlock Bungalows or something. And his trusty assistant Dr Whatabloodycheek. To be fair, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce weren't exactly identikit Conan Doyle: those films were precisely the same kind of updating, playing to what they thought audiences would want as the Downey Jr-Law version. Hmm, I appear to be apologising for liking it. But I have to admit I did.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Saturday Matinee

Two simple but effective sci fi-horror posters from the 1950s. I think the Donovan's Brain (1953) one is really threatening. Attack of the Killer Shrews (1959) is another example of 'nice poster, shame about the film'. To be fair, the movie takes itself seriously but can't escape its low, low budget or the fact that the gaint shrews are terriers in rugs over their backs with tails attached. But that poster would make me want to go and see it and is years ahead of its time in its bold, bloody premise and arch, pithy catchline.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Devil's Dictionary

AFFIANCED: Fitted with an ankle-ring for the ball-and-chain.

Ambrose Bierce

Found Friday

I had another rummage in the big dusty box under the bed and resurrected this short-lived journal. Classy-looking, no? What has that fishnetted lady been up to with that thungummy?

Anyway, it was the first (of very few) places I got a story published: back in 1990. It was called Clean and a first-person narrative piece about a rather prissy individual with a morbid horror of insects. It's very short - about 1,000 words, I think. It was dead good, obviously, to get a story published in a high street mag, and to find my work taking up space near interviews with such luminaries as Iain Banks, Neil Gaiman and - amazingly missing from the front-page sells - Alan Moore.

But there was one downside. The story was printed complete on one page, but a few pages on there was another short story, sporting an excellent illustration of beetles - clearly intended to accompany my yarn and not the one it went with! What a bitch! Clean would have looekd so much better ranged above that illo. I don't know - editors, eh?

I did submit another short story to Skeleton Crew, but the editor declined it with the, in retrospect, rather satisfying words: 'A bit too sick for us, I think.' Them were the days. I think the mag folded soon after.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Devil's Dictionary

PEACE: In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.

Ambrose Bierce

Wordy Thursday

Me and Robin had a good moan today over a couple of pints in a sunny beer garden. This reminded me of the long email I sent him in reply to another long moan I got from him one evning back in 2003. Clearly, I was just in the mood to write something preposterous and offensive. And obsessed - again - with bowel movements. Aye me. Somethign tells me I will lose more friends than I will gain through this blog.
Hello Mr Misery,

I can't think of anything amusing to say to cheer you up, except a little poem:

'I have a fuzzy tummy,
It makes my bottom runny.'

The Queen told me that. Dear Her Majesty. It's a very little known fact, because the Royals hush it up, but Her Majesty was born with a terrible affliction. She had her bum where her face was supposed to be, and her face where her bum was supposed to be. It was very awkward, and of course she was teased unmercifully at school. All the children called her Bumface; which was most unkind, yet unimaginatively accurate. Still, it hurt poor Lizzie every time she heard it, and a little tear would escape unnoticed into her knickers.

There were many difficulties inherent in having a bum for a face and a face for a bum. Lizzie could hardly see where she was going and kept bumping into people - the first thing they'd know about it was when a pair of cold buttocks were suddenly stuffed into their face. She'd get nylon burns on her nose and was the only girl at school who left green skidmarks in her underwear. At the other end, everyone knew if she'd farted, because you'd see her pucker up beforehand, and the smell would hit you right at nose level. She would often have a poo forgetting to go to the toilet - she always looked like a fat man smoking a cigar when she did that. (However, this did mean she won the Alfred Hitchcock Lookalike contest at Butlins Bognor Regis one year).

The shame was that the Operation she needed to cure her disfigurement was hellishly expensive and her poor parents, a jobbing bog-scrubber and battered fishwife, simply could not afford it. They did buy an 'Operation' game at a car boot sale once, and were convinced that if only they could get the little wishbone out of the red-nosed man's body without it going 'beep' once then their unfortunate daughter would be miraculously cured. But they were always so pissed on rancid potato juice - which they brewed in their own guts and regurgitated for consumption after mealtimes - that their wobbling hands always failed to achieve their goal. At last, after an especially drunken and bleeping evening, poor Lizzie broke down sobbing, and blew big brown bogies into her lacy handkerchief, while her knickers got all wet.

But the very next day, the miracle happened. Lizzie won Being Queen on a Lottery scratch card and the crucial operation was paid for by a stupid nation. A Greek millionaire called Philip had already fallen in love with the deformed girl after seeing her on a TV Windsor documentary about her plight - he had been immediately attracted by the idea of being able to bugger a woman standing up. He was too late to indulge in this convenience, however, but honoured his pledge by marrying her anyway, and buggering her in the mandatory fashion - bent over the back of a polo pony while a pack of wild corgies licked his bobbling bollocks.

So, all ended happily. Except for those of us who thoroughly enjoyed laughing at Bumface and were sorry to see her cured (but relieved that her real face turned out to be almost as ugly). Personally, I feel sure the seething proletariat would have been delighted to lick a stamp with the Queen's bum on it, so I feel they should have left well alone.

But at least she was still able to appreciate a good bum joke, God bless her.

And that's my little story, which I didn't know I'd write. Thank goodness for the fat man smoking a cigar joke, which I first heard when I was nine years old or thereabouts and still makes me smile.

See you tomorrow or the next day.

Hugs and pisses,


Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Devil's Dictionary

MAD: Affected with a high degree of intellectual independence; at odds with the majority; in short, unusual. It is noteworthy that persons are pronounced mad by officials destitute of evidence that they themselves are sane.

Ambrose Bierce

Weird Wednesday

Austin Osman Spare: it's a name I've known for years but it was only fairly recently that I was able to get anything by him or learn more about him. I guess the above pictures by him say it all. An occultist who created his own form of magic, he was also an early experimenter with psychedelic drugs but soon found he could trip out and experience alternate states of consciousness without them. His stuff isn't easy to get. I have a couple of reprinted paperbacks, The Book of Pleasure and The Book of Satyrs, which ably demonstrate his brilliant draftsmanship and, in the case of the Book of Pleasure, his weird, slumped, boneless faces and forms, a glimpse of which you can see at the bottom of the middle illo above. I grabbed these pictures off the internet, though, because they're in colour - and the top one of the owl-winged, malignant goat-face is so powerful. The images came off a biography of Spare which you can find at the following blog, if you'd like to learn more about him:

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Devil's Dictionary

GOLD: A yellow metal greatly prized for its convenience in the various kinds of robbery known as trade. The word was formerly spelled 'God' - the l was inserted to distinguish it from the name of another and inferior deity.

Ambrose Bierce

Monday, 14 June 2010

The Devil's Dictionary

BORE - A person who talks when you wish him to listen.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

I first encountered the Amercian satirist Ambrose Bierce through his superb stories of the macabre. Many of these, and his cynical outlook on life generally, were inspired by his experiences during the Civil War. After the war he became a journalist and between 1881 and 1886 contributed his barbed and pithy definitions under the header The Devil's Dictionary in a satirical magazine called The Wasp. Bierce went to report on the Mexican revolution in 1913, disappeared into a jungle and was never heard of again. Every day I shall dip into The Devil's Dictionary and hopefully pull out a plum definition. I did think of doing so alphabetically but decided that was a bit anal - anyway, the above is one of my favourites (ie one of the few I could remember without having to look it up).

Monstrous Monday

Three of the gloriously lurid Mars Attacks trading cards released in the US in 1962. Great fun. You can see the full set at:

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Daily Quota

"You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait. You need not even wait. Just learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet."

Franz Kafka
This powerful piece of advice concludes Daily Quota. From tomorrow, I shall upload an entry every day from Ambrose Bierce's cynical and satricial Devil's Dictionary.

Spooky Sunday

Finally got round to visiting Gwydir Castle, near Llanrwst today, albeit in pouring rain. I'm particularly pleased with the interior shots here, partly because they were taken on a quarter-of-a-second exposure (without flash of course) and I think they've come out surprisingly well. But also because it turns out photography (even without flash) was supposedly forbidden inside the house, despite the lack of signs stating this and the failure of the guy who sold us the tickets mentioning it. Neverthless, they're certainly not shy about telling off their paying visitors if, like me, you are heinous enough to do so in blissful ignorance. Pity, because up until that point it was a very enjoyable, atmospheric visit, depsite the rain. Being talked down to by a posh twat does spoil the mood somewhat.

Anyway, on to the ghosts. Gwydir is the ancestral home of the important North Wales family the Wynnes and has a long-established haunted room. The apparition of a young woman has been seen in and around the 'Ghost Room' and she is linked to a horrible, unearthly smell of decay which has also sometimes been detected. Legend has it the ghost is of a servant seduced by one of the past Wynnes who was murdered by him and her body secreted in a chimney breast backing on to the room. A sizeable cavity has been found in this chimney and is now labelled a 'priest hole'.

According to the house's website,, other ghosts have been reported here, including that of the first Sir John Wynne (said to be so wicked that his spirit is trapped at the bottom of the Swallow Falls in Betws until it is washed and purified), a 'procession' on the Great Terrace and the apparition of a dog, possibly the one whose skeleton was found some years ago in the cellar. The eerie sound of children crying has been heard, too.

Another story regarding Gwydir Castle is eluding me: something about some history project by schoolchildren leading to a strange 'coincidence' but I am unable to find a reference to it. Perhaps it was something I was simply told many years ago back in the days when I'd stopped writing about ghosts and folklore. Perhaps I simply forgot to take a note of it. Bother. If I find a reference or remember it, I'll let you know.

When I asked Janet Bord to compile her top ten favourite haunted houses (that are open to the public) for an article for Paranormal Magazine last year, she voted Gwydir number one, for its atmosphere. When me, James and Rosie first arrived and were alone in the the house - pre-telling off - we could certainly understand why.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Saturday Matinee

Classic stuff with archetypal Martians. Really cheap film but tip-top poster. If I remember correctly these are the aliens which use syringes in their fingers to inject making-out teens with alcohol so that they go crazeeee. 1957.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Daily Quota

"The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no-one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed."

The Dhammapada

Three adverts from 1927 editions of The Strand Magazine

The Bovril ad is wonderfully absurd and clearly fits into the aspirational market: can you imagine the types who went to country house fancy dress balls, supping on Bovril in little branded mugs? Oxo are a bit more sensible, showing a girl who could be anything from a flapper who's got up late after a hard night's partying to a student nurse. The Birds Custard one is cute, but shows the clumsy 'sells' which seem typical of the time. The main catchline is oddly inappropriate. OK Birds Custard is great, we get that, but how is the saying relevant to small boys in Indian playsuits? Hedging their bets, they then shove in the standby line for mums, implying that custard is somehow good for growing kids. I've noticed that Super-Kreem toffees and Roundtree fruit gums, both of whom advertise regularly, try the same dodge. They wouldn't get away with such nonsense today.

Found Friday

When I was wittering on about my white orchid (which turned out to be an 'albino' Early Purple rather than a Lesser Butterfly Orchid), I also mentioned spotting what I thought was a Dingy Skipper butterfly. Well, I was right about that, at least, because I spotted another one this week at a different location, and the obliging wee beastie staid very still while I crawled about on my belly, macro lens poised, to photograph it. It seems very odd that I've never seen one before but have now seen two in two weeks. My guess is that I have seen it but assumed it was some kind of daylight moth (the differences between moths and butterflies aren't hugely convincing).

I'd got the impression Dingy Skippers were quite rare but that seems to be overstating the case. Googling it I learn that there is concern about it because numbers have been falling dramatically: down 26% between 1995 and 2004. It is now listed as 'vulnerable'. Another reason I may not have noticed one before -despite being fond of butterflies - is that the clear markings seen on this example are only apparent when newly hatched. The scales start to fall off and it goes very dingy indeed by all accounts, hence its name. I'm glad I've started to play with my Macro lens at last and pleased this flutterbee was good enough to stay still for so long.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Daily Quota

"Nobody knows anything about neuroses except that everybody has them."

J K Huysmans, La Bas

Elephant's graveyard

Dramatic illustration of a classic theme of adventure stories. The story is called The Secret Place and is by a writer I've not heard of, Paul Annixter. The illo is by an illustrator I'm unfamiliar with, too: S Tresilian. Good fun, anyway. It's from the March 1927 edition of The Strand.

Wordy Thursday - Rants on 'modern' art

It's surprising how many articles, as opposed to stories, I end up reading in these 1920s Strands. There are few fewer non-fiction articles in the 20s copies when compared with the pre-war editions but since most of them are about writers and writing, I find more of them interesting. In the April 1927 issue I found an article which amused me - modern art being put on trial. A traditionalist slags off modern art he doesn't appreciate by the likes of Paul Klee, and then a well-known at the time art critic defends them.

Sensibly, the latter didn't bother to defend each picture in detail, he just pointed out how work 'now' appreciated and valuable had been hated in the past for the same reasons - it was new and different. He quoted two examples: the first of these was written in the press in response to a collection of Van Gogh, when his work was frst seen in England in 1911:

'(The works) showed intellectual, emotional and techincal degeneracy, wilful anarchy and notoriety-hunting, which, if it were not transparent, might be compared with ciminality... For a moment there even came a fierce feeling of terror lest the youth of England, young promising fellows, might be contaminated here...

'It would be nauseating to myself and your readers to dwell on details. It would be almost as unpleasant to read as to see. There is no fear for permanent mischief, I hope. The thing is too bad for that. There is no regeneration for deluded egoists. They are morally lost in the Inferno where Dante places the unfaithful to God...

'I hope the press will team with resentment aganist the insults offered to the noble arts of Design, Sculpture, and Painting, an insult also, to the taste of the English people. This invasion of depressing rubbish is, thank Heaven, new to our island of sensible and, in their own fashion, poetic people.'

But if you thought that drivel was extraordinary, there now follows what Charles Dickens had to say about Millais' Christ in the Carpenter's Shop when it was first shown at the Royal Academy:

'You behold the interior of a carpenter's shop. In the foreground... is a hideous, wry-necked, blubbering, red-headed boy, in a bed-gown, who appears to have received a poke in the hand from the stick of another boy with whom he has been playing in an adjacent gutter, and to be holding it up for the conetemplation of a kneeling woman so horrible in her ugliness ... she would stand out from the rest of the Company as a Monster in the vilest cabaret in France or the lowest gin-shop in England...

'Whenever it is possible to express ugliness of feature, limb, or attitude, you have it expressed. Such men as the carpenters might be undressed in any hospital where dirty drunkards in a high state of varicose veins are received.

'This, in the 19th century ... is what the Pre-Raphaelite Art can do to render reverence and homage to the faith in which we live and die! We should be certain of the Plague, among other advantages, if this Brotherhood were properly encouraged.'

Dickens also suggested that Millais had sunk to 'the lowest depths of what is mean, odious, repulsive, and revolting' in his painting. It reads like a review of one of the first few punk albums not an attempt to recapture the style of medieval art.

What I found especially illuminating about Dickens's rant is how at odds it is with his heritage of being 'the champion of the poor' - clearly what offended him most was that the Holy Family were being portrayed as poor; humble, human, artisan people. But then the gilding on Dickens' reputation as a humanitarian has tarnished somewhat over the years. I rather feel he shows his true colours in this 'critique'.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Daily Quota

"Too many people have decided to do without generosity in order to practice charity."
Albert Camus, The Fall

Weird Wednesday

Blimey! Never mind Van Gogh painting vague faces in windows, I reckon the Doctor better whizz off to Picasso's studio. I think he MAY have painted something a bit creepy into one of his paintings, too.
The Devil in The Workshop by Pablo Picasso, 1956.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Daily Quota

"What sort of death-in-life is one leading, wherein the artefacts are so much superior to the people?"

Donald Friend

Sherlock in (and on) The Strand again

The January 1927 Strand sports another striking Holmes cover I've not seen before. I'm glad I stopped myself leafing through all the 1920s volumes when I got them because oterwise I wouldn't have nice surprises like this. The illustration below it is a classic Sherlock-and-Watson image with a great pull-out quote. I think this final illustrator of Holmes, Frank Wiles, is rather unfairly ovvershadowed by the original, Sidney Paget.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Daily Quota

"Even a marriage to oneself does not last forever. My body and I divorced years ago but we're still forced to live together."

Quentin Crisp
I shall probably make this the last week of daily quotes, for a while anyway. I'm beginning to repeat writers and run out of bon mots I've noted in my general reading; I have sneaked in one or two oft-repeated 'quotable quotes' over the weeks but it would be really lame if I just ended up taking items out of a Big Book of Quotes, so I've decided to knock it on the head. I have come up with something to replace them with, though...

Monstrous Monday

Lady Gaarrgghhh Garrgghhh - another funky creation from the nimble fingers of Felt Mistress. See more at

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Daily Quota

"Bed, he used to say, was the cheapest place he knew. The moment you got up, expense began."

Jerome K Jerome, quoting an impoverished playwright

Spooky Sunday

Here's a sneak peak of an article that will be going in issue 50 of Paranormal magazine. Richard Freeman, of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, is interested in ghosts as well as strange creatures and has written a piece on bizarre ghosts he's come across through reading up on the subject. I'm goint to get a couple of other writers to do the same because it's a fun idea. I've also asked Jonathan Edwards to illustrate them, because I knew he'd come up with some stylish, fun imagery. This is his illustration for the following brief story from Richard's article:

"During a poltergeist outbreak in Kilakee, Ireland, in the 1960s, furniture exploded, pools of glue manifested themselves and the house in question was invaded by a swarm of phantom hats. The hats seemed to come from all ages and styles, including Victorian top hats and bonnets as well as modern hats. The swarm of hats vanished as quickly as it had come and no explanation for them was ever found."

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Daily Quota

"My heart is just a retread in that tyre sale called life."

Hilariously bad line in a C&W song I've just heard in the background to a film.

Saturday Matinee

The Flaming Teen-age, also known as Hooked!, from 1956. There's a whole subculture of these shock-horror-expose movies, most of which seem to be entirely salacious, with fake disapproval providing the excuse for a bit of soft porn. Not so, this strange offering, according to a reviewer on IMDB (somebody who's actually seen it!). He writes:
"The Flaming Teen-Age is a standard slice of conservative moralizing, a scare film about the evils of the world backed by the church."
Quite right, too - look at the wild craziness going on in the bottom right for example. Depravity! I can see her ankles, for chrissakes! The reviewer, who also adds the interesting detail that it was directed by the guy who later made The Blob (and apparently wasn't enjoying the job very much), outlines the plot as follows:
"It details a young man who forsakes his family for the big city, quits his job at a candy store, moves to the city to find his dreams, becomes an alcoholic, quits, produces a Broadway revue, becomes an alcoholic again, joins a booking agency, nearly dies from alcohol poisoning, gets arrested for dope peddling, gets out on bail, and becomes a junkie himself. All this is because he drank a bit of alcohol at a party he once attended with his girlfriend. Whew!"

Friday, 4 June 2010

Daily Quota

"This author is beyond psychiatric help. Do not publish!"

A publisher's reader responding to the manuscript of J G Ballard's Crash in 1973

Found Friday

More clutter from around my house. I've got a number of these Matt Groening Life in Hell postcards but I've forgotten where I got them from. No doubt I intended to post them at some point (perhaps I need to get some friedns first?). Or did I think I might create a jolly montage of them and stick them on a wall? Needless to say, they've just been shoved around the place, and haven't even been offered the dignity of being put away in a box. They always make me smile, though, on the occasions they resurface from other clutter, as they did a few days ago.