Saturday, 22 December 2012

A Christmas Tale

A Christmas tale for you:


AND so it was, that Christmas Eve, that he was visited by three spirits.
            The first showed him his past. Showed him how happy he had been before disappointment and circumstance had soured him.  Showed him how many of those who had clustered about his childhood and young adulthood had made his life the easy and content one it had been.  Showed him how misfortune had been arbitrary and his bitterness unfounded.  Showed him that his success was the result of all those who had helped him along his way and how he was linked with all those he had shared his youthful years with, how he had not stood aloof and alone above them all.  Showed him how much he owed their kindness.
            The second spirit showed him the present.  Showered him with images of small and great kindnesses from high to low.  Showed his loathed wastrel relatives and cheating employees as human figures, not the simplistic caricatures that he had moulded of them in his mind.  This spirit foretold of the death of a child and showed him the orphans his people had created, the mewling miserable Want and the vicious spitting Ignorance.
            The third spoke not a single word, but took him forwards and showed him a lonely death, unmourned by any who knew him with squabbles over his inheritance and finally a neglected grave in a municipal cemetery, it’s green gravel slimy and noisome, the name on the stone almost, but not quite, illegible.

AND then he woke up.
            And it was Christmas Morning!  He had not missed it.  The spirits had done their work in one night.  And he rejoiced and promised to mend his ways.  And he turned on his computer and searched for a site that could deliver a prize goose that very day.
            There wasn’t one.
            And the good will chilled within him.  And he reminded himself that these were hard times.  He spoke to himself to the need to be realistic, to face up to the mess the last lot had left and of the unfortunate fact that hard times required hard policy.  And he realised that throwing money at a problem solves nothing and it was time that people stood on their own feet.  The memory of those who had helped him to his success faded to be replaced by his comforting assurance that his wealth was solely down to his own hard work.
            And still the good will chilled within him as he considered the fecklessness of those who had children they could not afford.  He rehearsed half remembered rows with his relatives, and recast them with himself as the misunderstood but nobly realistic hero.  He wondered when other peoples’ want and ignorance had become his problem.
            And the good will finally bled away as he considered the inevitability of his end and he told himself that while he might not be remembered with affection, he would be remembered with respect.
            And so chilled had his good will become that it spread to his heart and froze it so that it never could beat again.  Not once.

CHRISTMAS, as a rule, is not observed in Hell.  For sure some of the demons might put on paper hats, but their intention is more satirical than festive.  Presents are not swapped and good wishes, for rather obvious reasons, are not offered.  That would make a mockery of the whole thing.
            So it was, on his obsidian throne, Lucifer Morningstar sat and pondered.  Once the most beloved of the angels, before his rebellion and fall, he often became melancholy at this time of year.  But then he would shake out his leathern wings, give an arrogant flick to his left horn, making it ting, and continue ruling in Hell.
            This Christmas, however, seemed different.  He was finding it difficult to shake off his heavy inertia and get on with the torturing and punishing of the damnéd souls.  It all seemed so pointless.
            And then came a small still voice that only he could hear.  And after that came a golden glow that shone before his throne which faded to reveal the soul of a rich human who had let his arrogance and greed chill his heart to an absolute stop this very Christmas morn.
            And Lucifer Morningstar looked up to see the Celestial City that he alone in Hell could still perceive and whispered:
            ‘Thank you, it’s just what I wanted.’

‘A Christmas Present’ copyright © 2012 Alastair Chadwin

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Friday, 21 December 2012

William Blake and Me

As those who have the misfortune to have spoken or otherwise been in contact with me in the last twenty-four hours may be aware, I have published a book.  It’s called The Fernal Files and you can get it here

While this is all very gratifying, it is essentially a self-published book and as anyone knows who paddles in the puddles of the literary life will know, self-published authors are the lowest form of life there is.  Several commentators on The Guardian website book section hold us in the deepest contempt.  And they have their reasons.  As I have said before, there is an also lot of rubbish fiction on the internet, I know, I’ve read some of and, God forgive me, written some as well.  Some self-publishers try to avoid this censure by calling themselves 'independent publishers' and fooling nobody.  Independent publisher is a mealy mouthed phrase like graphic novel in the comics world, used by people trying to hold onto the respect of their peers.  It rarely works. 

The unhappy aura of vanity publishing hangs over the self-publishing world as well*.  My worst ever reading experience (and I’ve read DH Lawrence) occurred when I was asked to look over a couple of vanity published books.  One was just dull, while the other, a sprawling fantasy, had trundled along its weary way for about fifty pages before the author suddenly announced that the preceding section actually belonged in a later novel, yet to be written, and then started again.  I did not join him.  Another reason is that, filled with unwarranted confidence in their skills, many self-publishers eschew such things as proof-reading and independent editing, which can make for a memorable, if not enjoyable, reading experience.  I have endeavoured to avoid such traps and got others to proof-read and edit my meretricious effort before inflicting it onto the public.

*The difference is subtle.  Basically, self-publishing is when the author does it him/herself, vanity publishing is when you pay a company to print it for you.

Amazon claim that you can be published in five minutes.  Far be it for me to doubt their tax avoiding word, but I cannot say that I found this to be the case.  It took about three to four hours.  Admittedly this included a trip to the bank to obtain a couple of highly obscure account numbers amazon required in order to pay me any royalties from the USA, as if, and the previewing does take a while to do, especially as you can’t jump around in the text so you have to go through the whole thing page by page.  Luckily my little effort is a novella.

So why do I open myself up to the sneers of the Guardianistas and the glum realisation that no-one really wants to read the bloody thing?  Sheer bloody arrogance plays a part.  The fact that the book is a novella told in the epistolatory form which I suspect would be a hard sell to any grown-up publisher is another factor.  But mainly it was because I have plans to grow this into a publishing operation and, like the scientist in a ‘50s horror film, I though it best to experiment first on myself.  Next year we shall be publishing a novel not written by me and so, in one leap, move up a tiny step of respectability from self-publisher to small publisher, maybe even to sunny uplands of small press.  And once you get there you can point to such luminaries as JL Carr and William Blake.

Anyway, must be away as there’s an angel in the garden wants a word.

Friday, 23 November 2012

The Curious Incident of the End of Civilisation as We Know It

I was at a political meeting earlier this week.  The first one I’ve been to in years.  It was about the announcement by Newcastle Council that they are planning to close at least ten branch libraries over the next year.  David Almond and others spoke well about how these cuts are unnecessary, indeed how the vast majority of the austerity cuts are unnecessary but are ideologically driven, and the importance of easy access to libraries.  Furthermore, the council have announced that all arts funding is going to be cut entirely within the next few years.

It’s interesting what sets you off in the end.  As anyone unfortunate enough to be a facebook friend of mine will have been aware of the number of articles etc about ATOS I’ve been posting/sharing if they haven’t already hidden me.  But it is this one that has really bitten.  This time it’s personal.

I have a simple question.  The Government tells us: lose the libraries or lose care for children/elderly.  Is this really what we have come to?  Is this really the stark and only choice?  We could afford the Olympics, we can afford police commissioners, we can afford to keep our soldiers dying in an unnecessary and already lost war, we can afford to give tax breaks to the rich.  But we can’t afford libraries, or can only do so at the expense of the vulnerable.  Libraries as reckless luxuries? 

Of course this is nonsense.  The cuts are political, not economic.  This is an attempt to return us to a pre-War country, which, thanks to Evelyn Waugh and others, many Tories view as a lost paradise.  Coupled with this is the truly disgusting belief that our only purpose in this life is to make money for someone else.  Nothing else matters.  An entire country as a workhouse with overseers born to the purple stalking the land sneering at those who made the morally incorrect choice to be born poor.  It’s like a version of Mad Max written by Oscar Wilde, but not nearly as witty.

And just to add to the poisoned punch, we have a government made up of billionaires breathtakingly out of touch with anything outside their gilded circles.  This has been building for a while, from Thatcher’s adoration of the finance sector to the corruption of the Major years and finally the betrayal by Tony Blair and his crony capitalism.  Now we have people who appear to have no concept of what it is to live under a certain income level.  People who believe that poverty is a lifestyle choice and, because of their own diseased morality, believe that everyone must be on the fiddle, like them.  I really could weep.

So, do I exaggerate when I say that these cuts are the most destructive thing to happen to our culture since the Puritan destruction of mediaeval art in the 17th century?  I truly hope so.  But I fear not.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Movember Woes

Well, I’m half way through the hirsute hullaballoo that is Movember.  If you’ve missed this annual event, it’s a fund/consciousness raiser for male health issues in which men volunteer to grow a moustache during the month of November, thus the name.  You can find details and so forth here.  You can also find me.  No photographs as my phone camera has broken (honest).  Not that I’m disappointed.  I’m more disappointed in my pathetic moustache.  I was hoping for a Zapata (one of those ‘60s droopy affairs) but fifteen days in and I’ve got something that barely registers.  Furthermore I’ve had to stop putting my hair into a ponytail because if I do it makes me look like one of those characters in 1950s British films that James Robertson Justice would shout at, and when I put my glasses on, then it’s a cuckolded husband played by a harassed Richard Attenborough. Which is worse.  

And I like my ponytail.  It keeps my hair out of the way and it irritates dedicated followers of fashion who, for some reason, seem to think they have a right to comment.  Movember irritates other people too.  I read one chap railing against it as being stupid and ineffective and, while he may be right, at least it’s fairly harmless and only effects the moustachioed and his immediate family, which is more than can be said for those prannets who announce that they’re going to cross some ocean on a space hopper and always seem to end up having to be rescued by the Australian Navy.

The other thing Movember does, it forces the men involved to face up to their facial hair growing abilities.  Women, and any bloke who’s never tried to grow a beard or moustache, will be happily unaware of the fraughtness that it creates in the rest of us.  In the ‘90s I shared lodgings with a bloke who had to shave twice a day and used to develop a five o’clock shadow á la Fred Flintstone or Homer Simpson and as a student I shared accommodation for two years with a bloke who, within about three days, could grow a beard that would have won warm applause from any member of Jethro Tull circa 1974.

I, on the other hand, had to suffer the sorrow that comes on a chap when his moustache does not connect with his beard.  A small, yet pungently shaming gap remained either side of the mouth to sneer at my pretentions to Hemingwayesqe machismo.

And then, a couple of years ago, I was on a fortnight long narrowboat holiday.  I don’t shave when I’m on a boat, officially to save water, unofficially because I’m on holiday, and about two thirds of the way through the trip it finally happened.  They joined up.  Houston, I had moustache/beard interface.  I felt as though a great burden had at last been passed from me.

But, Hirsutius, the god of facial hair, is a cruel and capricious god.  As I admired my fine piece of horticulture, I saw two patches, equidistantly astride my chin, of white hair.  My first.  Truly is it said that the gods are not mocked.  Things were not improved by my two and a bit year old niece who, whenever she was sitting on my knee, would gaze wide-eyed at my white patches, occasionally lifting a tremulous hand to touch one of them, before snatching it back with a look of unease and discomfort.  So you can see that I had some, albeit forlorn, but still some hopes for this moustache.  Alas it is not to be.

Still, only fifteen more days to go.

Friday, 9 November 2012

The Red and the White

I see that the white poppies for Remembrance Sunday are making a comeback.  Well, actually I don’t see that at all as I’ve not seen anyone wearing one.  In fact, now I think on it, I’ve never seen anyone wearing one and it’s not as if I move in particularly militaristic circles.

No, what I mean is that I’ve seen an advert for them and someone posting in The Guardian website mentioned them.  Apparently they were first put on sale in 1933.  I’d always thought of them as an ‘80s thing, along with ‘Nuklear Power nein danke’ window stickers.  A quick glance at Wikipedia tells me that Margaret Thatcher disapproved of them which doubtless explains their sudden flurry of popularity.

The idea behind the white poppy is to show remembrance for war dead while making it clear that the wearer is against war and therein lies the problem.  I’m not sure that the red poppy does denote that the wearer is happy and comfortable about the prospect of people dying in war.  Rather the opposite I’d always thought.  Some white poppy supporters point to the fact that the red one is worn predominantly by Unionists in Northern Ireland in which case I would suggest that said Unionists be castigated for turning it into an overtly political symbol, just as the English fascist movements tried to co-opt the St George flag.  I loathe football, but I am pleased that assorted World Cups have won that back for us.

With the best will in the world, I find the white poppy uncomfortable.  It smells too strongly of the kind of sanctimoniousness that assumes a moral superiority to all around.  I always think of the lines in the Tom Lehrer song, The Folk Song Army:

                        We are the folk song army
                        Every one of us cares.
                        We all hate poverty, war and injustice
                        Unlike the rest of you squares.

And here in its entirety:

While the red poppy might (and I say might) have honoured only the Allied dead of the ’14-’18 war, it certainly does not now.  Furthermore as the appalling bullying that went on a couple of years back that demanded that everyone should wear one seems to have died down, I am wearing a red poppy this year.  And if anyone wishes to wear a white one, let them do so, but be aware that it may carry as many negative connotations as the red ones you abjure.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

It's Hallowe'en!

Another Hallowe’en and another tale for you:


 It begins with a competition.

This Halloween, create a new fear.  Major rewards.

Looks fun.

An old photograph, small part of background carefully distorted, just enough to cause discomfort, a sense of wrongness, a feel of the uncanny, the creepy.  Play with photoshop.  It’s a laugh.

An impression of hair with a glow or nimbus behind it.  Features and limbs unseen though there are hints against the dark of things that seem sharp-edged and bone-white.

Photograph not quite enough.  Needs more.  Needs a caption.

‘He said glory would be our reward.  All we had to do was give.  We gave all.  We received out reward.’

That should do it.

It’s spreading.

Some wannabe film students muck around with their mates and a digital camera camera.  Ten shaky, blurry seconds of something.  Something that gives an impression of hair and bone.

‘God, what’s that?  What is it?’
‘Get out.  Just get out.  I’m right behind you!’

Sudden blackout with electronic screech.
All very Blair Witch/Paranormal Activity.

‘Tonight we want your calls about your spooky experiences!’

‘It was like the thing in the photograph, you know, the famous one of the playground.  Well I was haunted by that thing all my childhood.  It’s real.’

Result!  Losers out there think it’s true.  Tossers.

The Website That Let’s You Tell Your True Life Paranormal stories

They’ve given it a name.  They’ve given it a gender!


Is it too late to copyright?

A flicker in the mirror.  That which makes you suddenly check that there’s nothing behind you.  The light patch in the dark of  the trees that is suddenly wrong.

you’ve got gloryboy on your trail

Houston we have a meme!

Pastor Caleb Gems performs exorcisms to rid you of evil
‘I know that gloryboy exists’
‘There he was, watching me from the woods, a darkness darker than that around.  A strange glow.  Hair and bone’
‘In my bedroom, in the corner, just there for a moment I saw him from the corner of my eye.  I see him still.’
‘Please God, save me from gloryboy.’
“gloryboy: He Exists” by Pastor Caleb Gems, $10 special price when you click here.

Coming through.  Coming through.

At you can get your gloryboy mugs, tee shirts, mouse mats and badges.  gloryboy is here with your reward!

A focal point.  New bogeyman.  Something is hungry.  Something is ready to feed.

There’s glory for You!
Follow the new hilarious gloryboy web-strip!  You’ll get your reward!

Coming through. 
Coming through.

Where did that come from?  Be seeing old glory himself if not careful:)

Photograph from 1912 shows that gloryboy has been with us a long time.

Oh give me strength!

Does this medieval woodcut show gloryboy?

No it doesn’t.  It can’t.  I created him, it, two years ago for a competition.
Never did get my reward.

Latest gloryboy footage and testimony.  Is he after our children?

They’ve added so much to him.  Not just a name and a gender.  They’ve given him a look, motives, an MO.
It was meant to be something odd, a bit creepy, unsettling.  Not some comic book villain with complete backstory.
It’s not mine anymore.
He’s not mine anymore.

gloryboy has escaped.

And I think he’s coming home.

Tonight’s discussion.
The unexplained disappearance of the self-proclaimed creator of gloryboy continues to cause controversy.
Did he get his reward?

With apologies to Victor Surge

‘Ostension’ copyright © 2012 Alastair Chadwin

 Or you can read it, along with some comments about the its writing, over at Spring Heeled Jack.

Meanwhile, in the run up to Samhain this year I’ve been reading up on my ghostly literature.  Best of the batch so far, Dark Matter by Michelle Paver which I read, liked, admired, but was not overly scared or unnerved by it until this morning when I was in the bath.  No I don’t know why either.  Baths don’t feature in the book at all, as far as I can recall and as I only read it a week back, if they did they weren’t major plot drivers.  Odd.

I’ve come across this delayed reaction to ghost stories before, noticeably with MR James.  A detail from the story will suddenly pop back into my mind at an unexpected moment.  It can be inconvenient.

Another read was The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.  This was made into the famous 1963 film, The Haunting and the script there follows the novel very closely.  Interestingly though, the most famously scary sequence in the film is less so in the novel, while the novel’s most alarming scene comes across as somewhat melodramatic in the film. 

Disappointments have included a surprisingly clumsy and unsubtle effort by Henry James called The Romance of Certain Old Clothes.  I hope he gets his act together before I get to Turn of the Screw.

Finally, here’s a song from a film which, despite its title, has curiously little to do with Tim Burton:

And if you are out tonight, as always, be watchful for there may be things abroad which should not be.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

When The Swashbuckler Comes In

Reading a Doctor Nikola* novel the other month, I was startled when the action suddenly shifted to my own fair Newcastle upon Tyne, town of my birth and current abode.  I shouldn’t be surprised as the city turns up in a surprising number of novels. 
*Late 19th century master villain who appeared in a series of novels notable for the fact that, contrary to the author’s intention one assumes, the good doctor is only really likable character

 First, and far and away most unexpectedly, is the curious fact that the three musketeers come here at one point.  Honest.  It’s in the sequel to the original novel, Twenty Years After, set – well, you get the idea.  It turns out that twenty years after the events of the first book brings us to the English Civil War and the musketeers attempt to rescue Charles I while he is held in durance vile in, yup, Newcastle upon Tyne.  Spoilers for novel and, indeed, English history: they fail.

It so happens that I read this book in France.  I was in Paris and being the pretentious drear that I am, I had decided to take a French book with me to read while I was there and having already read The Three Musketeers chose Twenty Years After.  So there I was in a hotel room in the Latin Quarter reading about Newcastle.  That was odd.

Other unexpected appearances of my fair city occur in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in which – if memory serves, I don't have a copy to hand – a rakish army officer is sent to Fenham Barracks, which lies to the west of the city, in disgrace which seems right and proper.  Susanna Clarke in the highly recommended Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell posits Newcastle as the centre of magic in her version of England

while the comic book character John Constantine, created by Alan Moore, had an experience up here that led to him spending some time in a secure mental health facility.

Interestingly, the one novel in which Newcastle does not, apparently, appear is Jack’s Return Home by Ted Lewis upon which Get Carter was based, and while the film is definitely set in Newcastle (and Gateshead, Whitley Bay and Northumberland) the book, or so I’m told, never specifies which city it’s set in.  The film, by the way, was originally going to be filmed in Hull, according to what I’ve read, but when that proved to be impracticable, the filming moved here.

So, forget Cookson country.  Let's market the North East as Musketeer country which would, let’s face it, be more fun than concentrating on those novels in which, in accordance to local by-laws, the main character’s father or grandfather is obliged to be killed/crippled/drowned in a coal fall down the pit or out at sea with the fishing fleet.  

It would be worth it, surely.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Being Volume 12 of the Brightononicom

A couple of weeks back, wearing my Spring Heeled Jack hat, I attended the British Fantasy Society’s annual wingding, or FantasyCon as they will call it.

As they define fantasy to include weird fiction I saw it as a chance to put in a bit of networking and get an idea of what’s what in the genre these days.

So what did I discover?  Of this I shall sing:

Obvious point, but does need to made for those of us whose idea of ‘fantasy’ is that it’s solely made up of those interminable multi-volume sagas involving magical artifacts and epic quests and heroes who introduce themselves as so and so’s son assuming an interest in their genealogy which most of us simply do not share, is that it’s a cheerfully open genre happy to embrace just about anything it likes.  There was none of that ‘Oh I never read [insert whatever/whoever here]’ that so bedevils a lot of book talk.

I don’t know if this is usual as I’ve never been to one of these things before, but it is an odd experience to find yourself reading a book in a bar and looking up to see the author sitting three foot away from you.*  Or even more a challenge to etiquette, to realise one is sitting opposite an author whose name you recognise and whose work you are aware of  but have never actually read.  What, if anything, can you say?  Nothing in my case.

*’Ash’ and James Herbert if you were wondering

Fantasy authors are engagingly shy about that unhappy business known as networking.  I thought I’d missed a trick by only having the logo, a mildly sinister quote and the web address on the cards I scattered about cheerfully, but apparently not.


Mark Gattiss disliked the new iDalek design and argued against it.  He was therefore particularly irritated that it was introduced in a story written by him.  

He also uses the neologism Poliakoffian to describe very, very slow moving drama.

The members of the panel discussing the member’s vote on ‘Best Ghost Story’ all admire MR James but really wish the membership would stop voting “Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come to You, My Lad” in every single bloody year.

Any many other things besides, but you'll have to wait for the next volume to find out what manner of things they may be.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Eight legs bad

I was trying to find some conkers the other day.  I managed two which I fear is scarcely sufficient for my purpose.

And that would be?  Keeping out spiders.  A correspondent to The Guardian had stated firmly that conkers keep spiders away and as we are entering the spider season and given that spiders and me have a complicated relationship (faults on both sides I’m sure, but I’d just as rather not have them in the flat) this seemed like a plan, albeit one unlikely to work.  But a low level arachnophobe like myself has to try what he can.

In the meantime I have spreading the word.  A till driver at Tesco who was fretting that there had been a spider in her car while she was driving to work and would still be there when her shift ended, was very taken with the idea and vowed there and then to fill her car with the nuts as soon as.  I just hope they don’t all roll under the brake pedal, though that would make for an entertaining inquest.

Meanwhile the female half of the couple in the ground floor flat (the male half was once bitten by a moth as long time readers of this blog may recall) was also fascinated by the idea and has asked me to report on whether it works which strikes me as tricky as I will have to show the absence of spiders.  A bit like the old joke about the chap who carries an anti-tiger charm in Scotland and when asked why states that he hasn’t been bitten by one yet.

But my researches may come to naught as I am finding it hard to find any, as stated above.  I have put out a plea on facebook, the modern equivalent of chaining yourself to the railings outside the Houses of Parliament and will keep looking.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

'Now is the Summer of Our Discontent...'

So it’s possible that they may have found Richard III’s skeleton? Gosh.

I had the chance to visit the place where the Battle of Bosworth Field apparently didn’t actually happen (as recounted here) and as stated, just by the canal is a rather sweet little memorial at the spot where, tradition has it, Richard died. If memory serves, the small monument had an inscription to ‘the last English king’ which was odd as the Plantagenets were French. As the peerless 1066 & All That points out, the last English king of England was Edward the Confessor as after that we have Harold (Danish), the Normans and then Plantagenets (French) then the Tudors (Welsh) and the Stuarts (Scottish) and finally the Hanovers/Windsors (German). And people say that the English are insular.
It is thought that the skeleton might be Richard because it has signs of curvature of the spine. I had thought that version of him was Tudor propaganda (x-rays have shown that the famous portrait of him was later altered) and wonder what this will do for those people who believe him to be a highly maligned figure.

I’m sure you’ve heard about this, Richard was a good king who didn’t murder the Princes in the Tower (though I side with George MacDonald Fraser who, like Cicero, asked cui bono) and was an all-round good egg unlike the untrustworthy wife-executing and altogether a bit too Celtic Tudors. It’s one of those things that people get surprisingly wound up about to the surprise to outsiders. Other instances I’ve recently come across on the net include the behaviour of George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars films, the behaviour of the Doctor in the most recent episode of Dr Who and the incidental music in the last couple of seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation which apparently spoilt one poor chap’s childhood.

The observant amongst you, ie all of you, will notice that all these examples above come from the world of science fiction film and television. I do paddle in the shallows of that particular fandom and one of the attractions is the high emotions that it produces in a few unhappy souls. ‘But what about the pain Jackson caused me!’ wailed one commentator on a forum about the Lord of the Rings films in response to the moderator complaining that his increasingly vicious comments were causing pain to others. You get it with Sherlock Holmes fans as well where liking the recent Robert Downey characterisation is a sin beyond forgiveness or redemption. I know connoisseurs of horror cinema who still hold Barry Norman in open contempt for his many slights on their preferred genre.

In the meantime, here’s the excellent Horrible Histories programme doing old King Dick with full admiration and open worship to whoever came up with rhyming ‘can you imagine it’ with ‘Plantagenet’.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Not to Mention the Dog

I keep having this strange feeling that there’s a dog in the room.  Oh, good.  There is.

I’m looking after him while his owners (assorted members of the clan) are away for a long weekend.  I think of him as a dog in law.  I’ve done this before and he knows me well so it’s no great ordeal, rather the opposite even if he is a touch excitable and tactile in his affection.  At least he’s sleeping through nights now.  The first time he came to live at my expense, I awoke at about four in the morning as I sometimes do and sleepily went for my glass of water before falling back asleep until a reasonable hour.  On this occasion though I was brought to a fuller awakeness by a furry snout and wet nose thrust towards my face, attached to a dog that was not only wagging its tail but its whole body in that way that long-leggéd canines can.  ‘Oh great,’ he seemed to saying, ‘this is way earlier for my walk than my usual owners manage!’  I was obliged to disillusion him but he bore the sorrow well.

Better than he did than when he arrived on that first visit.  After his pack had left, he took to his basket and whenever I looked around I could see just his two eyes poking out from his bed and gazing at me with complete and total reproach.  As it happened, another brother ‘phoned just then so I shared my discomfort with him.  He failed to help by pointing out that not only was the dog obviously thinking ‘I’ll never see them again’, he was also thinking ‘And it’s all your fault.’  Very helpful.  My lodger cheered up soon enough though, round about lunchtime if memory serves.

It’s all been less fraught this time.  A twenty-something neighbour referred to him as a doggy, being apparently unaware that there is an age restriction on that word, otherwise all well so far.  And best of all, we haven’t found a corpse. 

As any reader of the crime reports in the papers will be aware, murder victims are frequently found by dog walkers and this always alarms me mildly whenever I am dog sitting.  He’s here for another day, so fingers crossed, I really don’t have the time right now for the paperwork.

On an entirely different topic, it was brought to my attention last night that for the last four years I have been completely misunderstanding the purpose of those label things that you put on your blog.  I thought they had something to do with search engines, apparently not.  It seems they’re an aid to navigating to my other blog entries.  To quote Jessica Hynes’ character in Twenty Twelve: ‘Who knew?’.

Given I was in the habit of ensuring that I never repeated a label, this will have meant that anyone clicking on one will probably have been directed back to the blog they’d just read.

Sorry about that.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Ratepayers Against Bloggers Inciting Democracy (or R.A.B.I.D)

As of midnight tonight squatting will be a criminal offence.

And hurrah to that I say.  At last an end to all those times I’ve been out to get some milk and come back to find an anarchist collective has moved into the flat.

Because that’s the odd thing about this.  It’s an issue that a lot of people are very scared of, but which rarely if ever seems to actually happen.  I mean, how many times has a family returned from holiday to find strangers living in their homes?  I venture to suggest hardly ever.  As it happens the only incident I ever came across was in my legal days when we had a landlord client who took the opportunity of his tenants being on holiday to move another family into the property.  The first family came back from wherever to find their possessions piled up in the hallway.  And you have to admit, that's not quite the same thing.

It is a sure sign of a bad law that it sounds like it’s been drafted in response to a slightly drunk middle aged middle class man in a pub.  You know the ones.  They prop up the bar complaining about things that don’t actually happen. ‘So there was this Muslim bus driver who refused to let a old woman on board because she was wearing a cross’ or ‘some council has banned Christmas because it’ll offend the Hindus’ or ‘And of course all you need to do is walk into the dole office with a slight limp and you’re on disability benefits for life’ and so on and so on.

The last law I can remember being formulated in response to golfclubman (as I like to call him) was the poll tax which was introduced to Parliament in response to a lot of dreary moaning about the rates and so the incompetently unfair poll tax was brought in and, in the fullness of time, destroyed Margaret Thatcher as a political force.

For those of you too young to remember the rates, they were a local tax which was set according to the value of the property.  They had a weird fascination for a certain type of small-minded person who used their status as a payer to somehow suggest that their opinions carried more weight than others.  A local group where I live, the Jesmond Residents Association (whose sole raison d’être as far as I can make out is to ensure that we never again have a chippy in the area) was originally the Jesmond Ratepayers Association.  And the main opposition to the Greenham Common Peace Camp was a group calling itself Ratepayers Against the Greenham Encampment (or R.A.G.E., see what they did there?) thus announcing that their status as payers of a local land tax gave their views greater weight than those of equally effected residents who did not (eg dependents, students, children, the unemployed etc) and while there were issues around Greenham Common* it seems strange that greater weight to the debate should have been given to those who paid the rates.  It’s as if they were still smarting from the removal of the householder qualification from those eligible to vote.

*the most bigoted people it has been my misfortune to meet have been a couple of BNP skinheads I once advised in the police cells and a Greenham Common veteran

Personally, rather than criminalise the squatters, I would increase council powers to claim properties abandoned or forgotten by their owners and put to use as social housing.  But then that would be a step towards the alleviation of poverty and, as the last two governments have made abundantly clear, being poor is a lifestyle choice that should not be encouraged.

And I suppose that putting squatters in prison is one way of solving homelessness.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Identies 'r' Us

I have recently been setting about a facebook profile not my own.  Not an attempt to further damage their share price, I’m not sure the stock market could handle another mauling, but as part of the on-line marketing of the weird fiction website that I may have mentioned I am involved with, Spring Heeled Jack.  Now according to a friend and new media advisor, to market a website these days it is necessary to ‘whore yourself across the net’.  His words, not mine.  Personally I prefer to think of it as providing a discreet service to discerning gentlefolk but as this is all getting a tad EL James, I think I’ll kill that metaphor stone dead right now.

One of the peculiar effects of this flurry of facebook activity is that I am now getting existentially weird emails.  I am just computer savvy enough to ensure that most of my email accounts send their messages to the same inbox.  The practical upshot of which is that when I sent from my own profile a friend request to the Spring Heeled Jack profile, a message popped up in my inbox saying ‘Sandy Chadwin wants to be friends with you’ which was surprisingly disconcerting and highly reminiscent of a certain type of self-help book.  Be Your Own Best Friend or Befriending Others by Befriending Yourself type of thing.  You know the sort.  To make it worse, the temptation to turn down my own friendship was surprisingly strong.  ‘That Sandy Chadwin, he’s the sort who’d think nothing of whoring himself across the net.  A J Chadwin and Spring Heeled Jack want nothing to do with such a low fellow,’ I found myself thinking.  After wallowing in this phenomenological mud for a time I calmed down.  I began to think of it as the opposite of identity theft, a kind of identity gift if you like.

Then a message popped up informing me that Spring Heeled Jack is now friends with Sandy Chadwin and I felt as if I’d been left off an invite list.

I wonder what they’re saying about me?

Saturday, 30 June 2012

It's Space Nazis on the Moon!

Chatting to a friend the other day, she informed me that she’d just been to see Prometheus and could not, in all honesty, recommend it.  On the other hand, she stated, she could recommend Iron Sky.  Now it so happens, I had seen it on the one day it was shown at the Tyneside Cinema a few weeks back.

If you are unaware of the Iron Sky film, let me elucidate.  A Finnish film, it concerns the consequences of an American moon mission discovering a Nazi base on the dark side set up in 1944, said base filled with fanatical Nazis awaiting their opportunity to return to Earth and re-establish the Third Reich.  In other words, space Nazis on the moon.  Or to put it another way, It's Space Nazis on the Moon!

This film is not only critic proof, it is criticism proof.  Any negative observation is completely countered by the fact that It’s Space Nazis on the Moon!  A kindly soul would describe the acting as wobbly, the script will not be troubling the Oscars committee, the humour is forced and not as clever as it thinks it is.  But…It’s Space Nazis on the Moon!

To be fair, the special effects are rather good and the design is spectacular with Wehrmacht overcoats and helmets/gas masks turned into space suits and 1940’s era technology applied to the space age.

 All that goes to just add to the fact that It’s Space Nazis on the Moon!  There’s even space Zeppelins.

It was only shown for one day in a few cinemas across the UK as a publicity stunt to showcase the subsequent DVD release.  Unfortunately, anticipation had grown so high (It’s Space Nazis on the Moon!) that this backfired rather spectacularly with the distributors being booed when their name appeared in the credits.  In at least a couple of cinemas, the run was extended to a week.

Here in Newcastle we only had two showings to satisfy our Space Nazis on the Moon! needs.  I went to the afternoon showing and was lucky to get a ticket. 

It was an odd experience watching it.  It is, probably, one of the worst films I have seen in a cinema and yet I hugely enjoyed it owing to the It’s Space Nazis on the Moon! factor.  There were a group of people behind who dutifully laughed at every leaden joke with a ‘ho ho ho’ that you never hear in real life, only light operetta, and I felt sorry for them.  No need to try to persuade yourself that this is comedy up there with Jacques Tati.  No need at all.  Just relax and revel in the fact that It’s Space Nazis on the Moon!

So I find myself in the odd position that I feel obliged to highly recommend a film which is, exerting every charitable iota I possess, not terribly good, but I must.  I’ll probably get the DVD in the fullness of time.  I have little option.  I’m sure you all understand.  After all…


Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Reader's Fear of the Self-Published

There has been a little flurry of articles recently about self-publishing on-line.  These have varied from the generally approving to the sternly disapproving which is much as one would expect.  An interesting reaction, however, could be found among the below the line comments.  After just about every article there is a comment stating, in a tone ringing with the authenticity of experience, that the majority of self-published fiction is very bad.

Now I have to declare an interest here.  As you might be aware, and if you’re not it’s no fault of mine, I am involved with the weird fiction website Spring Heeled Jack and it is currently publishing a serial wot I wrote.

Anyway, back to the comments.  The curious thing about these comments revealing that the majority of self-published fiction is crap is that they are stated in a firm tone as if the commenter is revealing a hitherto unknown fact.  ‘Have you read self-published fiction?’ they cry like Jeremiah, ‘it is awful.’  You can almost hear their self-satisfied grunt as they sit back from the keyboard with the knowledge of a warning duly given.  Their job here is done.  The majority of self-published fiction is crap.

I know. 

I know a lot of it is awful because I’ve read some of it.  God help me, I’ve written some.

Now I’m doubtless missing something, but surely that fact that a lot of something is crap does negate the value of that small amount is good.  I am reminded of Sturgeon’s Law.  If you don’t know it, Theodore Sturgeon was a science fiction writer in the 1950s who, in response to the statement that 90% of science fiction is crud, stated that 90% of everything is crud.

Another curious thing about these aforementioned commenters is that they often continue their condemnation of self-publishing with a smug aside to the effect that they themselves never read anything until it has been cleared by agents, editors, publishers and critics.  This seems to me a strange thing to boast about.  They’re basically boasting of the fact that they won’t do something until someone else tells them they can and confirms that what they plan to do is good.  In most fields of human endeavour such craven behaviour is not widely encouraged, in this specific area, it is a sign of superior judgement.

I have a horrible suspicion that these people are amoungst those who view reading as a way of showing their superiority over the rest of us rather than the life-enhancing joy it can be if you want it to.

But then what do I know?  My name’s A J Chadwin and I self-publish.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Concerning Moomins

A friend gave me this slightly plaintive looking moomin as a present recently:

The Moomins were, of course, created by Tove Jansson and if you haven’t read the eight volumes that make up what is somewhat grandiosely known as The Moomin Saga, then you have a treat in store.

They are children’s books sure enough, but such joyous ones. Or at least the early ones are.There’s a facebook application where you can identify which Moomin character you most resemble. I took it and was informed that I was Moomintroll:

I was slightly disappointed as for all that Moomintroll is, pretty much, the hero of the series and is in all but one of the books, I had been holding out for Snufkin, who is so much cooler.

The first five books are cheerful enough, though Moominvalley Midwinter has a melancholy streak to it.

But the surprising one is Moominpappa at Sea.

I suspect that these days children’s books about the male menopause pretty much fill up the kids’ shelves in Waterstones, but back in the early ‘70s they were not so common. I remember my mother reading this one to me as a bedtime story and stopping off now and again to ask me if I wanted her to continue. I did, but in a wide-eyed, slightly scared way. It’s an uncomfortable read yet, though excellent.

The joy of the stories is the number of sympathetic and beautifully drawn characters. There’s the Hemulen who always wore a dress that he had inherited from his aunt:

the sinister yet ultimately tragic Groke:

the mysterious and enigmatic Hattifatteners:

and if you find the Snork Maiden a bit too pliant a female character:

she is all but off-set by the true star of the series, Little My!

Tove Jansson also wrote excellent books for adults, but that is for another time. For the moment, let’s finish with the last words of The Exploits of Moominpappa:

"…a new day…can always bring you anything if you have no objection to it."

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Me Blogger, You Reader

I recently read Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, mainly as a result of hearing an radio documentary about the character who is apparently a century old this year. It turned out to one of those books that is startlingly unlike what you are expecting. Previous examples I have come across are You Only Live Twice, the James Bond novel, which is breathtakingly unlike the film, and The Day of the Triffids which we read at school. I still remember my fellow pupils saying with increasing desperation, ‘But when are we going to get to the bit in the lighthouse?’*

*This makes sense if you’re of the age to have seen the 1962 film version which starred Howard Keel for some reason.

Well, Tarzan of the Apes is a bit like that. There’s none of that ‘Me Tarzan, you Jane’ stuff. Tarzan is highly fluent in first Apeish and then, somewhat unexpectedly, in French. English is his third language, as far as I can make out, and he speaks that with remarkable ease.

Weirdly enough, Tarzan in the first instance can speak Apeish but read English, having found books for his education in his parents’ hut. In one of the more disconcerting sequences of the novel, he takes a few years to teach himself to read, with the skeletons of his parents lying by him. He does not know that they are his parents, but it still makes for an odd, yet touching, image. Oh, and if you think it is unlikely that a teenager could teach himself to read from first principles with only the aid of a primer, at least it is more probable than Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein where the creature learns to read by peering through the hole in the wall of a peasant’s cottage, this view luckily allowing him to look over a child’s shoulder as she looks at her school books. Honest.

I have a soft spot for Edgar Rice Burroughs and first read him as a child, specifically At the Earth’s Core which was a highly entertaining film at a time when decent children's films were few and far between. England, in those distant days, laboured under the dread hand of an organisation called the Children's Film Foundation which made, God help us, highly worthy films which occasionally starred Keith Chegwin. I say no more.

Anyway, onto this bleak cinematic landscape, At the Earth’s Core burst with a glorious pre-Star Wars exuberance. With truly appalling special effects (only its predecessor, The Land That Time Forgot had worse, again ask any UK subject in their ‘40s about the pterodactyl in that film, I dare you) and a cast that included Peter Cushing, Caroline Munro and the thrice blesséd Doug McClure, it was a joy, an action filled adventure about two Edwardian adventurers who gain egress to an underground world by virtue of brilliantly designed mechanical ‘mole’.

Or so I remember. In a move I may well come to regret, I have ordered At the Earth’s Core from lovefilm and I suspect that it may not quite live up to my memories. But just as Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner was compelled to shoot the albatross, I am similarly bound to do this.

Mind you, I might appreciate Ms Munro a bit more on this viewing.

Wish me luck.