Sunday, 20 January 2019

The Children of Green Knowe

The Children of Green Knowe
Lucy Boston wrote six Green Knowe novels between 1954 and 1976.  They tell the stories of the titular manor house of the people both living and dead who reside there.

Young Tolly (Alec Christie) stranded alone for Christmas at his boarding school, with his father and stepmother in Burma, he receives an unexpected summons to spend the holidays with the great grandmother he didn't know about.  Once ensconced at the house he begins to discover that history is alive in the big old building and that there are others roaming it's hallways and gardens.

The Children of Green Knowe
Made in 1986 it's a lovely and gentle sort of show. It is, perhaps, a bit of an anachronistic throwback (and one of several made at the time - The Box of Delights, Moondial) but I think all the better for it as it has obviously been made with love and respect for the source material.  It's a story of childhood, of Christmas, of family, of heritage and of stories in front of the fire and it is quite lovely.

You can read more about the genesis of the series in this excellent article at the We Are Cult site.

Buy the series here - The Children of Green Knowe: Complete Series [DVD] - or watch it below



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Friday, 18 January 2019

Short Story - 'The Ghosts of Craig-Aulnaic' (Scottish folktale)

Two celebrated ghosts existed, once on a time, in the wilds of Craig-Aulnaic, a romantic place in the district of Strathdown, Banffshire.  The one was a male and the other a female.  The male was called Fhuna Mhoir Ben Baynac, after one of the mountains of Glenavon, where at one time he resided; and the female was called Clashnichd Aulnaic, from her having had her abode in Craig-Aulnaic.  But although the great ghost of Ben Baynac was bound by the common ties of nature and of honour to protect and cherish his weaker companion, Clashnichd Aulnaic, yet he often treated her in the most cruel and unfeeling manner.  In the dead of night, when the surrounding hamlets were buried in deep repose, and when nothing else disturbed the solemn stillness of the midnight scene, oft would the shrill shrieks of poor Clashnichd burst upon the slumberer’s ears, and awake him to anything but pleasant reflections.

But of all those who were incommoded by the noisy and unseemly quarrels of these two ghosts, James Owre or Gray, the tenant of the farm of Balbig of Delnabo, was the greatest sufferer.  From the proximity of his abode to their haunts, it was the misfortune of himself and family to be the nightly audience of Clashnichd’s cries and lamentations, which they considered anything but agreeable entertainment.

One day as James Gray was on his rounds looking after his sheep, he happened to fall in with Clashnichd, the ghost of Aulnaic, with whom he entered into a long conversation.  In the course of it he took occasion to remonstrate with her on the very disagreeable disturbance she caused himself and family by her wild and unearthly cries—cries which, he said, few mortals could relish in the dreary hours of midnight.  Poor Clashnichd, by way of apology for her conduct, gave James Gray a sad account of her usage, detailing at full length the series of cruelties committed upon her by Ben Baynac.  From this account, it appeared that her living with the latter was by no means a matter of choice with Clashnichd; on the contrary, it seemed that she had, for a long time, lived apart with much comfort, residing in a snug dwelling, as already mentioned, in the wilds of Craig-Aulnaic; but Ben Baynac having unfortunately taken into his head to pay her a visit, took a fancy, not to herself, but her dwelling, of which, in his own name and authority, he took immediate possession, and soon after he expelled poor Clashnichd, with many stripes, from her natural inheritance.  Not satisfied with invading and depriving her of her just rights, he was in the habit of following her into her private haunts, not with the view of offering her any endearments, but for the purpose of inflicting on her person every torment which his brain could invent.

Such a moving relation could not fail to affect the generous heart of James Gray, who determined from that moment to risk life and limb in order to vindicate the rights and avenge the wrongs of poor Clashnichd, the ghost of Craig-Aulnaic.  He, therefore, took good care to interrogate his new protégée touching the nature of her oppressor’s constitution, whether he was of that killable species of ghost that could be shot with a silver sixpence, or if there was any other weapon that could possibly accomplish his annihilation.  Clashnichd informed him that she had occasion to know that Ben Baynac was wholly invulnerable to all the weapons of man, with the exception of a large mole on his left breast, which was no doubt penetrable by silver or steel; but that, from the specimens she had of his personal prowess and strength, it were vain for mere man to attempt to combat him.  Confiding, however, in his expertness as an archer—for he was allowed to be the best marksman of the age—James Gray told Clashnichd he did not fear him with all his might,—that he was a man; and desired her, moreover, next time the ghost chose to repeat his incivilities to her, to apply to him, James Gray, for redress.

It was not long ere he had an opportunity of fulfilling his promises.  Ben Baynac having one night, in the want of better amusement, entertained himself by inflicting an inhuman castigation on Clashnichd, she lost no time in waiting on James Gray, with a full and particular account of it.  She found him smoking his cutty, for it was night when she came to him; but, notwithstanding the inconvenience of the hour, James needed no great persuasion to induce him to proceed directly along with Clashnichd to hold a communing with their friend, Ben Baynac, the great ghost.  Clashnichd was stout and sturdy, and understood the knack of travelling much better than our women do.  She expressed a wish that, for the sake of expedition, James Gray would suffer her to bear him along, a motion to which the latter agreed; and a few minutes brought them close to the scene of Ben Baynac’s residence.  As they approached his haunt, he came forth to meet them, with looks and gestures which did not at all indicate a cordial welcome.  It was a fine moonlight night, and they could easily observe his actions.  Poor Clashnichd was now sorely afraid of the great ghost.  Apprehending instant destruction from his fury, she exclaimed to James Gray that they would be both dead people, and that immediately, unless James Gray hit with an arrow the mole which covered Ben p. 36Baynac’s heart.  This was not so difficult a task as James had hitherto apprehended it.  The mole was as large as a common bonnet, and yet nowise disproportioned to the natural size of the ghost’s body, for he certainly was a great and a mighty ghost.  Ben Baynac cried out to James Gray that he would soon make eagle’s meat of him; and certain it is, such was his intention, had not the shepherd so effectually stopped him from the execution of it. Raising his bow to his eye when within a few yards of Ben Baynac, he took deliberate aim; the arrow flew—it hit—a yell from Ben Baynac announced the result.  A hideous howl re-echoed from the surrounding mountains, responsive to the groans of a thousand ghosts; and Ben Baynac, like the smoke of a shot, vanished into air.

Clashnichd, the ghost of Aulnaic, now found herself emancipated from the most abject state of slavery, and restored to freedom and liberty, through the invincible courage of James Gray.  Overpowered with gratitude, she fell at his feet, and vowed to devote the whole of her time and talents towards his service and prosperity.

Meanwhile, being anxious to have her remaining goods and furniture removed to her former dwelling, whence she had been so iniquitously expelled by Ben Baynac, the great ghost, she requested of her new master the use of his horses to remove them.  James observing on the adjacent hill a flock of deer, and wishing to have a trial of his new servant’s sagacity or expertness, told her those were his horses—she was welcome to the use of them; desiring that when she had done with them, she would inclose them in his stable.  Clashnichd then proceeded to make use of the horses, and James Gray returned home to enjoy his night’s rest.

Scarce had he reached his arm-chair, and reclined his cheek on his hand, to ruminate over the bold adventure of the night, when Clashnichd entered, with her “breath in her throat,” and venting the bitterest complaints at the unruliness of his horses, which had broken one-half of her furniture, and caused her more trouble in the stabling of them than their services were worth.

“Oh! they are stabled, then?” inquired James Gray.  Clashnichd replied in the affirmative.  “Very well,” rejoined James, “they shall be tame enough to-morrow.”

From this specimen of Clashnichd, the ghost of Craig-Aulnaic’s expertness, it will be seen what a valuable acquisition her service proved to James Gray and his young family.  They were, however, speedily deprived of her assistance by a most unfortunate accident.  From the sequel of the story, from which the foregoing is an extract, it appears that poor Clashnichd was deeply addicted to propensities which at that time rendered her kin so obnoxious to their human neighbours.  She was constantly in the habit of visiting her friends much oftener than she was invited, and, in the course of such visits, was never very scrupulous in making free with any eatables which fell within the circle of her observation.

One day, while engaged on a foraging expedition of this description, she happened to enter the Mill of Delnabo, which was inhabited in those days by the miller’s family.  She found his wife engaged in roasting a large gridiron of fine savoury fish, the agreeable smell proceeding from which perhaps occasioned her visit.  With the usual inquiries after the health of the miller and his family, Clashnichd proceeded with the greatest familiarity and good-humour to make herself comfortable at their expense.  But the miller’s wife, enraged at the loss of her fish, and not relishing such unwelcome familiarity, punished the unfortunate Clashnichd rather too severely for her freedom.  It happened that there was at the time a large caldron of boiling water suspended over the fire, and this caldron the enraged wife overturned in Clashnichd’s bosom!

Scalded beyond recovery, she fled up the wilds of Craig-Aulnaic, uttering the most melancholy lamentations, nor has she been ever heard of since.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

The Dance of Death

Algernon Blackwood
Pan Books

These six strange tales are all pervaded by the chilling mystery of the unknown and the inexplicable. In ‘The Dance of Death’ we have a fleeting glimpse into another world, tantalisingly only half explained. Each disturbing tale is stamped with the unmistakable hallmark of Blackwood’s style.

A year or so ago I read a couple of mammoth collections of Blackwood stories which got me to thinking  that I'd read the majority of his output - I'm a fool.   The very next book of his I picked up I discovered that half of the book was new to me.

Of the 6 stories that make up this nifty little Pan paperback the 3 that I knew were three that I like very much. 'A Psychical Invasion' is one of the John Silence tales and introduces the good Doctor with an investigation of a 'haunted' house that is transforming the personality and work of a young writer.  'The Touch of Pan' and 'The Valley of the Beasts' are both aspects of Blackwood's bucolic soul as the power of nature and the soullessness of modern life are placed in direct opposition.  The first using Western mythology and the second Native American.

So, for me at least, it's the other 3 stories that are of the most immediate interest.  'The Dance of Death' is an unusual tale for Blackwood set as it is at a dance where a young man is determined to enjoy himself despite a worrying diagnosis.  The appearance of a mysterious, beautiful, ethereal stranger reminds us though that with Blackwood other worlds are always interconnecting with ours.

'The Old Man of Visions' is a lovely little tale of a man finding and losing a connection - at one remove - with the infinite. It's deliciously subtle, perhaps more parable than story, and a real treat.  The third tale, 'The South Wind' is a very brief little ditty regarding the journey of a gust of wind and the promise it brings and is another delight.

Truthfully I bought this book to sell but finding three new tales prompted a read and I'm very glad as both old and new proved to be prime Blackwood.

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Sunday, 30 December 2018

The Box of Delights

Kay Harker (Devin Stanfield) is a very nice, polite young man - with no qualms about flying, shrinking, talking with anthropomorphised ice skating mice, transforming into a stag or gleefully hacking wolves to pieces with a whacking great sword - who finds himself inexplicably embroiled in a magical war whilst home from school for the Christmas holidays.  After meeting kindly Punch and Judy man Cole Hawlings (Patrick Troughton) he becomes the custodian of the titular box which he must protect from the 'wolves' and in particular the fantastically sinister clergyman Abner Brown (Robert Stephens).

Outside of John Masefield's original 1935 tale the show benefits from an particularly strong adult cast with both Troughton and Stephens in fine form oozing avuncular charm and psychotic menace respectively but the young cast of untrained actors are solid enough with Joanna Dukes as the pistol packing, criminally minded Maria being especially watchable.

Costing the then record breaking £1 million to make with it's fantastic cast and spectacular locations, it's mix of live action and animation and with incidental music by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop's  Roger Limb (buy it here) it remains a stunning evocation of the spirit and fables of legendary pagan Albion  wrapped in the cosy warmth of a traditional Edwardian Christmas.

Buy it here - The Box of Delights [DVD] [1984] - or watch it below.


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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much appreciate a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Space 1999: Dragon's Domain

Space 1999 was a British (ITC) / Italian (RAI) co-production made by the former Century 21 (Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Joe 90) partnership of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. It told the unlikely story of the moon - along with it's moonbase inhabitants - breaking it's orbit and plunging through black holes and space warps finds itself adrift far out in the universe.

At it's time Space 1999 was the most expensive television series on British television and featured a double act of US stars in the form of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain at it's head in a blatant appeal to US networks.  It ran for two series between 1975 and 1977 and while still having a devoted following has to some extent been relegated - some would say deservedly - to the status of a bit of an also ran.  I have to admit I'm in that latter category but apart from 'Captain Scarlet' I'm not much of a fan of any of the Anderson's productions.  With the exception of that killer Barry Gray theme tune and the very cool Eagle spaceships (I always loved the way the pilot's seats slid into place) I thought it was a pretty bad show then and a recent rewatch failed to convince me otherwise.

If you want to check it out for yourself though the entire series is here, albeit in a slightly eccentric running order...



There is an exception though.  One episode in particular has stuck with me all these years, 'Dragon's Domain'.  I didn't really get scared much by TV shows as a kid.  I always kinda liked scary / gory things even as a nipper but there were a few things that put the frighteners on me.  One was the end of Assignment 4 of Sapphire and Steel, another was the opening credits to 'Armchair Thrillers' and the third was this episode of Space 1999 and a recent posting of a screengrab of the alien from it over on the Wyrd Britain Facebook page showed I wasn't the only one.

This episode is the story of Eagle pilot Tony Cellini's (Gianni Garko) encounter with a very hostile alien.  We get an extended flashback sequence to a doomed mission he had undertaken 3 years prior to the moon going walkabout that resulted in the gruesome deaths of all the others on the mission (including Grange Hill's Mr. Bronson, Michael Sheard).  Back in the present the moonies find themselves once again confronted by the mysterious spaceship graveyard that had been the previous mission's downfall.

Whilst cursed by the clunky acting and the typically ropey effects of the era, 'Dragon's Domain' with it's Lovecraftian tentacled horror from deep space with it's huge, glowing, hypnotic eye and it's gaping maw that strips a human down to a skeleton in seconds is still pretty effective even if it doesn't seem to be able to get through doors.

Buy the series here - Space: 1999 - The Complete First Series [DVD] [1975] - or watch it above (or below)



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Friday, 14 December 2018

3 Wyrd Things: Frances Castle

For '3 Wyrd Things' I asked various creative types whose work I admire to tell us about three oddly, wonderfully, weirdly British things that have been an influence on them and their work - a book or author, a film or TV show and a song, album or musician.

Frances Castle Clay Pipe Music
This month, Frances Castle.

Frances is a London based illustrator and designer who also runs the amazing Clay Pipe Music record label.  Her delightful and idiosyncratic work has adorned books and magazines for clients as diverse as The Guardian,  Imperial War Museum, British Heart Foundation, Cambridge University Press and the BBC but it was her eye-poppingly lovely sleeve art for the releases on her label that first grabbed our attention here at Wyrd Britain.  With releases from artist such as Jon Brooks (he of The Advisory Circle), D Rothon, Vic Mars and Sharron Kraus.

You can find out more about Frances' work at the label website (linked above) and at her own site and a very interesting '15 Questions' with her here.

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Listening

I’m choosing two artists who use synths, but really differently. The first is Steve Hauschildt who is an American artist, he used to be in the band Emeralds. I think he has made 4 or 5 solo records they are all really good. His latest is called 'Dissolvi' and came out this year, but the one that I have listened to most is ‘Where all is Fled’ which came out in 2015. He just makes beautiful electronic music that (on this album at least) uses a lot of arpeggiation. It is very hypnotic and draws you in, I guess there is quite a lot of melody involved as well. There are a lot of people making this sort of music now, but Steve Hauschildt does it really well.



The second is Isao Tomita – Snowflakes are Dancing.

I suppose Isao Tomita was really big in his time. You can pick his records up cheaply, and they are easy to find, so he must have sold a lot. My partner was played his music at school by his music teacher.

To me its quite magical, and inventive, he is trying to make synths sound like an orchestra, and fails and makes something other worldly.




Watching

Carel Weight
https://www.instagram.com/carel_weight

I’m taking a slightly different tack on this, and choosing an artist rather than a film or TV show.

I’ve been aware of Carel Weight for a long time, I have a book of his paintings that I’ve had since my late teens, but I recently started following him on Instagram. I’m not sure who is posting the pictures – certainly not Carel as he died in 1997! but I’ve really enjoyed looking at them, he painted a lot so most of them are new to me.

Carel lived and worked in Putney, West London and this is an area I knew quite well as a child so a lot of the settings to his paintings are very familiar to me. What I like so much about them are the strange and eerie things going on in every day Victorian streets. There is usually some sort of narrative, but it is not always exactly clear what is going on.


Reading
J.L Carr - A Month in the Country (Buy it here)

I initially picked up this book in a bookshop earlier this year because it had an image by my Grandfather on the front. He designed posters for the railways in the 1940s and 50s, and the posters often show up repurposed up on book covers and cards etc. It turned out to be a good omen, because when I turned it over and read the blurb on the back I knew it was a something that I wanted to read. Its a short book – just a little over 100 pages long, that covers a few weeks of one man’s summer, directly after World War One. Tom Birkin has been employed to conserve a hidden medieval wall painting in the country village of Oxgodby. It’s a slow moving book where not a lot happens – he spends his days working alone uncovering what appears to be a rare and important wall painting, while immersing himself in village life and falling (partly) in love with the vicars wife. Without too much being implied you realise that the landscape and the work he is involved in are slowly helping him recover from the trauma of the war.

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Thursday, 13 December 2018

Jizzle

Take a dip into a world where reality trembles and sanity is all in the mind — a world created by the brilliant author of The Day of the Triffids and The Kraken Wakes. 
There’s a monkey with a unique artistic talent. A man living his life over again. A tube in the rush hour that was so crowded it seemed like hell; in fact it was hell...
Jizzle will grip you from cover to cover with its unique blend of horror and fantasy — a combination which can never fail.

I had a copy of Jizzle here a while back but didn't like the cover art so I couldn't bring myself to read it (yes, I really am that picky).  This newly acquired copy with it's apocalyptic artwork was a different animal and I couldn't resist it.

This anthology is a collection of short stories written pre-1954 and includes stories previously printed in 'Argosy', 'Women's Journal' and 'Everybody's'.  They are, on the whole, pretty whimsical and there's a lightness here that is missing in many of his more famous works.  A sense of fun that, whilst not being something that I felt was lacking in those novels, was a nice thing to find here.

Love and relationships are at the core of many of these tales, often of course with a twist, such as the title story of a malicious monkey or the dream man of 'Perforce to Dream', the flea circus setting of 'Esmerelda' or the drunken fortune hunting of 'How Do I Do?'

Amongst the tales of the heart we do have some weirdness in the form of a rich old man getting to live his life again in 'Technical Slip' and the train ride to Hell in 'Confidence Trick, a ghost story ('Reservation Deferred'), science fiction ('Una') and even a post-apocalypse tale ('The Wheel'). Scattered throughout there are a variety of less satisfying stories that were, at best, a diverting piece of frippery but offered little more than that.

I am though at the final reckoning quite pleased to have found an aesthetically pleasing edition of what transpired to be a fairy enjoyable read that displayed a more playful side of an author I like very much indeed.

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Sunday, 2 December 2018

The Man and the Snake

Based on a short story by American writer Ambrose Bierce, 'The Man and the Snake' is the story of Harker Brayton (John Fraser) who spends an evening with the family of a young boy he's tutoring and is introduced to his host Dr. Druring's (Andre Morell) passion for snakes. A discussion on mesmerism and a series of close encounters with the creatures leads to tragic consequences.

I've read a good few of Bierce's stories but I must claim ignorance of the source material here.  The adaptation though is a fun little piece.  Truthfully there's not much to it and the ending is more than a little daft but the dialogue is good, the cast are excellent - Morrell in particular - and it's tightly directed by Sture Rydman.



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Thursday, 22 November 2018

D. Rothon - Nightscapes

Clay Pipe Music

David Rothon is a multi-instrumentalist from London who has worked in collaboration with artists such as Ian Masters (vocalist / bassist of 4AD shoegazers Pale Saints) and singer / performance artist Claudia Barton but, I must admit a completely new name for me.  This is good though as I'm going into this promo of his brand new album on Claypipe with no preconceptions other than my knowledge that they're a label that has built up a fearsome reputation for quality releases over the last few years from folk such as Jon Brooks (he of the Advisory Circle) and Vic Mars.

Wrapped in the idiosyncratic and characteristically stylish and beautiful artwork of label boss and illustrator Frances Castle, 'Nightscapes' is a collection of tunes that walk the hinterland between hauntologically tinged electronica, 70s radiophonics and library cues.

At times early on there is a slight seeming disconnect with the title as the music feels to be not so much 'Nightscapes' as maybe 'Dawnscapes'' as the album opens with a real sense of optimism; a swell into the grandeur of the dawn.  As we move through the album this becomes less the case as it sometimes presents itself with a bittersweet melancholy, othertimes as a queasy calliope melody and still again dripping with noir-ish cool.

'Nightscapes' is a procession of vignettes / snapshots that form almost a travelogue.  Glimpses of other people's lives through gaps in the crowd or flashes of a story seen via the headlights of a passing cab which makes it a very compelling listen that I have been returning to often over recent days.

'Nightscapes' released on 14th December and is available direct from the label.




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Sunday, 18 November 2018

Mrs Acland's Ghosts

When tailor, Mr Mockler (John Bluthal), receives several unexpected letters from a Mrs Acland (Sara Kestelman), who has plucked his name at random from a telephone directory, he finds himself drawn into a story far beyond anything his quiet existence has prepared him for.  In the letters she tells him about her circumstances, her childhood and of her siblings whose ghosts haunt her and who soon begin to haunt him too.

This 1975 episode of the BBC Playhouse series, directed by Mike Newell from a script by William Trevor, is a subtle and delicately controlled exploration of madness, imagination and quite possibly the supernatural. It's beautifully composed, filled with credible and satisfying performances from the entire ensemble in a story that implies much but never truly reveals it's secrets and is all the better for it.



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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much appreciate a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain