Friday, 24 September 2021

Wild Marjoram Tea

Wyrd Britain reviews Wild Marjoram Tea by Sylvia Littlegood-Briggs from Broodcomb Press.
Sylvia Littlegood-Briggs
Broodcomb Press

May your pockets be deep in dust,
for each mote is a star, little one,
and your right pocket holds one world
and your left holds another.
Wild Marjoram Tea is one of the standalone texts that grow out of the peninsula’s world of weird fiction and strange tales.
As with The Night of Turns, the new book explores folklore and folk horror, yet it is also a deeply moving exploration of growing up, change and the nature of being.
Beautiful, strange and terrifying, Wild Marjoram Tea draws on a wide range of British folklore sources – from the myriad treasures of English and Scottish song to the disquieting cruelty of legend – to create a distinctive world of unsettlement.

For this latest release from this always fascinating publisher, Jamie Walsh adopts another pseudonym, this one directly related to the story he's telling here which has a more folkloric and mythic vibe than has been apparent in much of his other writing.  With distinct echoes of Sylvia Townsend Warner's 'Kingdon of Elfin' and the rural horrors of the likes of Algernon Blackwood here Walsh explores the deep dark woods and the denizens of the strange lands beyond and below.

Polly and Tom are two kids forced together by circumstance who find common ground in exploring the land and woods of their locale.  On one such excursion they come across a house deep in the trees with an enigmatic folly like graveyard in it's garden.  Befriending the residents the two are slowly drawn into a world extra to the one they inhabit.

Whilst very much a book of the moment, particularly with the current popularity of so-called 'folk horror' but more specifically this is a book with it's roots planted in the classics of strange fiction.  It builds on the heritage of the likes of Arthur Machen's 'Shining Pyramid' (read it here), George McDonald's 'Phantastes', Lord Dunsany's 'The King of Elfland's Daughter' and Hope Mirlees' 'Lud-In-The-Mist' alongside more contemporary work like Susanna Clarke's 'Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell' and Robert Holdstock's 'Mythago Wood' cycle and as seems to be the case with all the Broodcomb Press books that I've read so far this proved to be an engrossing and compelling read.

Available from the publisher at the link above.

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Wednesday, 22 September 2021

White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector

Wyrd Britain reviews Nicholas Royle's 'White Spines' published by Salt.
Nicholas Royle
Salt

White Lines is about Nicholas Royle’s passion for Picador’s fiction publishing from the 1970s to the end of the 1990s. It explores the bookshops and charity shops, the books themselves and the way a unique collection grew and became a literary obsession.’

Royle has a few books to his name but for me I know him through two things; his chapboook small press Nightjar Press and as the person who tweeted a photo of an enviable collection of white spined Picador books that was scattered across my Twitter feed a little while back.

We'll talk about Nightjar another time as today we are joining Royle in his celebration of his beloved Picadors, Pans, Penguins (both King and otherwise), Fontanas, and so many more in a travelogue that takes us around the second hand bookshops and charity shops of - mostly - England.

Wyrd Britain reviews Nicholas Royle's 'White Spines' published by Salt.
White Spines is a rolling expression of Royle's passions as he enthuses over cover artists, personal dedications, inclusions (things left inside the books), booksellers and even authors and it makes for an utterly joyous read.  His enthusiam for his loves is entirely contagious especially for one who shares some of those passions although to an admittedly (and perhaps thankfully) lesser degree.  

After a year spent indoors locked out of book shops White Spines proved to be a well needed panacea and indeed the only thing I didn't like about it was the prospect of finishing it but given the loaded cultural history of the first three words of that subtitle I for one cannot wait to see Robin Askwith in Royle's trademark heavy rimmed specs for the inevitable movie adaptation.

Buy it here - UK / US.

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Sunday, 19 September 2021

The Demon Lover

Wyrd Britain reviews Elizabeth Bowen's 'The Demon Lover' from the TV series 'Shades of Darkness' 1986.
Originally screened in 1986 as one of the two story second series of 'Shades of Darkness' along with Agatha Christie's 'The Last Seance' this adaptation of Elizabeth Bowen's 1945 story 'The Demon Lover' is a solid if uninspired interpretation of her classic tale.

Dorothy Tutin stars as Kathleen Drover who on returning to her London house in the midst of the devastation of the Blitz discovers a fresh letter from her long dead lover (Gerrard McArthur)  - a pilot killed in WWI - announcing that he'll meet her as arranged.  Being understandably rattled by this she proceeds to seek the counsel of her friends, a gratingly annoying procession of out of touch caricatures from a P.G. Wodehouse romp, who are, for the most part, too wrapped in their own lives to pay her anyhing oher than the most cursory attention.

Wyrd Britain reviews Elizabeth Bowen's 'The Demon Lover' from the TV series 'Shades of Darkness' 1986.
I struggled over whether to feature this here as I did find watching it something of a chore.  There are some strong performances from Tutin and Angela Thorne as her one helpful friend while back in the countryside we have a much underused Robert Hardy and early appearances for Arabella Weir and Hugh Grant as a young couple potentialy falling into the same trap that's ensnared Kathleen but it's achingly slow and littered with pointless jump cuts and intrusive music but it does build to a solid and shocking conclusion.



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Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Upmorchard

Wyrd Britain reviews Upmorchard by R. Ostermeier from Broodcomb Press.
R. Ostermeier
Broodcomb Press

Upmorchard revisits the peninsula’s past for the tale of Watts Barlik – Barley – who is drawn to an abandoned fishing hamlet and the stone artefact housed there—
“With prompting, Mrs Lofts told him all about the discovery. Out there in the darkness was what she called a spit island, Gloy Ness. The island’s geography and composition was impermanent. The shingle was endlessly reformed by storms, the tide, littoral drift. Ten years previously a feral storm uncovered a vast area of human-made artefacts. Gloy Ness was roughly five miles long, and it shifted quickly in tough-weather years so whatever the artefacts were, they took them out in case of damage (or loss) had the island reformed over it.
By this time Barley was like a dog with its teeth stuck in a toffee. He leaned towards what he could see of the woman, hoping the dark would rattle more out of her. It did—.”

Last year, on the advice of a friend I took a dive into 'A Trick of the Shadow' the debut collection from 'R. Ostermeier' and a very fine read it turned out to be.  Shades of Arthur Machen and Robert Aickman wandered through the stories and imbued them with a delicious rural strangeness and now with this limited edition hardback novella Broodcomb have provided us with another fabulous excursion into the unknown.

In this new novella we are back on the Peninsula (the location of all of Broodcomb's fictions) in the company of a young academic, Barley, taking a long walking holiday through the countryside.  His travels take him to a steam train which in turn takes him to the location of an enigmatic archeological find.  Weedling his way onto the site he is met by the remains of a giant stone figure and it's custodians, a driven and mentally fragile researcher and his very concerned friend.

The researcher (Arthur) is trying to translate the writing on the stones but has become academically isolated due to his unorthodox methods.  Barley is soon drawn into Arthur's world view and the two of them embark on a bold plan to understand the stones.

There's a Lovecraftian feel here with echoes of the watery Innsmouth stories and also of the Irish myth of the Fomorians - an ancient sea dwelling race that preyed on the early settlers.  Ostermeier teases out the history of the stones and leaves us with a fractured snapshot of a troubled time and of a violent history that perhaps has yet to end.

Available from the publisher at the link above.

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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 welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

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Thursday, 9 September 2021

Sphinxes & Obelisks

Mark Valentine
Tartarus Press

Why did Queen Victoria demand to see the disembodied head of a talking sphinx? Why will you never find the fabulous art deco book In That Look the Unicorn Stood? What was the slight flaw in the idea of racing cheetahs at the White City? What was the date confidently given for apocalypse at a Somerset railway station book-stall? Who had visions of Atlantis in an old house in Nightingale Lane?
These and many other enigmas are discussed in this new book of essays from Mark Valentine. As in his previous well-received collections, you will also be offered suggestions for recondite reading in overlooked books that ought to be better known: an interplanetary fantasy by a Welsh squire; a timeslip into a mysterious England by a priest once called the original of Dorian Gray; an avant-garde novel about a tea-party and the Holy Grail.

This is the third collection of Mark's explorations of forgotten and underappreciated authors alongside some of his other diversions such as music, pub signs and tarot.  Like the previous books - 'A Country Still All Mystery' & 'A Wild Tumultory Library' - it's a fascinating delight of a read that will send you scurrying to the nearest dusty bookshop.

In these pages Mark discusses a bewildering assortment of intriguing books by authors of the early 20th century and late 19th such as Gerald Warre Cornish, H.M. Vaughan, Riccardo Stephens and E. Temple Thurston amongst many others - the last two being some of the very few folks here that I had already been aware of and that's only because Mark had kindly gifted me copies of their books last year.

As I've said before and will certainly say again Mr. Valentine is one of the finest writers we have at the moment as whether he's writing fiction or non he can transport and beguile like few others and his works are always gems to be savoured.

A few copies remain from the publisher at the link above.

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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 welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

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Sunday, 22 August 2021

I'll Be Watching You

Wyrd Britain reviews "I'll Be Watchng You" from the BBC TV Series Ghosts (1995).
Ghosts was a mid 90s BBC1 series of modern day ghostly tales - two of which, 'Three Miles Up' and 'The Chemistry Lesson', we've featured here before - that has mostly disappeared from people's memories which I think is a real shame as it had some interesting moments and this episode, the first in the series, is one of them.

Written by 'Ghostwatch' writer Stephen Volk it's the story of incarcerated gangster Jack Rudkin (Derrick O'Connor) who after a near death experience develops the ability to astral project which he uses to spy on and terrorise his wife  Suzi (Anita Dobson) and brother Les (David Hayman) who he discovers are having an affair. 

O'Connor who had a Wyrd Britain pedigree second to none with appearences in 'Blood on Satan's Claw', 'The Final Programme', 'Hawk the Slayer', 'Jabberwocky', 'Time Bandits' and 'Brazil' is phenomenal here and utterly terrifying.  Dobson is on familiar 'Eastenders' ground as the rattled wife of the proverbial dodgy geezer and falls apart with aplomb as Jack's revenge escalates and Hayman is nicely understated as the backstabbing brother.

Wyrd Britain reviews "I'll Be Watchng You" from the BBC TV Series Ghosts (1995).
With a running time of less than an hour Volk has crafted an entirely satisfying plot from which spin off a number of well realised narrative threads with only the very closing scene feeling a tad contrived and obvious.  Director John Strickland keeps everything well grounded but successfully imparts a queazily oneiric quality to Jack's astral excusions and in all what we have is an entertainingly bleak and occasionally brutal melding of prison drama, gangster movie and ghost story.


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Sunday, 15 August 2021

Voice From The Gallows

Wyrd Britain reviews the World's Beyond episode 'Voice From The Gallows'.
I throughly enjoyed the last episode of mid 80's TV series World's Beyond that I featured here - 'Guardian of the Past' - so I thought I'd try another but this time the results are a lot less enthalling.

'World's Beyond' took it's stories from the archives of The Society of Psychical Research so the general conceit is that these are dramatisations of 'true' hauntings.  Here a couple (Darren McGavin & Connie Booth (Polly from 'Fawlty Towers') are awoken by a man's voice and discover that someone has tried to hang their daughter.  After trying again the spirit possessing  her changes tack and decides to ask for the family's help.

Unfortunately neither (long time Eastenders) director Sue Butterworth nor writer Brian Clemens (Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter) really manage to get to grips with the story and inject any sort of dynamism and it just kind of stumbles along in a jumble of cliches.  It's not terrible but it's a missed opportunty.


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Sunday, 8 August 2021

The Black Tower


'The Black Tower' is a short film by avant garde filmmaker John Smith that tells the story of the narrator's descent into madness triggered by recurring visions of the titular tower.

Smith - Professor Emeritus of Fine Art at University of East London - is perhaps most well known for his very funny 1976 film 'The Girl Chewing Gum' where he appears to direct the various comings and goings along a London street.  Here he retains the playful humour of that film but wraps it in a pastiche of a Ballardian or Aickmanesque supernatural / strange story which unfolds through a series of fixed shots, primarily, of the tower from different angles and locations which gives the illusion that the tower is in some way stalking our narrator on his journeys.  These images are enhanced with some well chosen, whimsical and sightly mischievous sound and editing that, more explictly than the narrration, allows us an insight into the narrator's increasingly fractured psyche as the tower closes in on him.


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Sunday, 25 July 2021

The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll

Wyrd Britain reviews Hammer's 'The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll'.
Between 1957 and 1964 Hammer director Terence Fisher worked his way through pretty much all the great monsters of horror - 'The Curse of Frankenstein' (1957), 'Dracula' (1958), 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' (1959), 'The Mummy' (1959), 'The Curse of the Werewolf' (1961) 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1962), 'The Gorgon' (1964) - and in 1960 he brought Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' to the screen from a screenplay by Wolf Mankowitz ('The Day the Earth Caught Fire' & 'Casino Royale') with considerably less success than he did those earlier movies.

In 'The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll'  we find Paul Massie, a Canadian actor with a short history of appearances in British movies of this time, labouring under some ridiculous fake facial hair, as the driven and slightly deranged Dr Henry Jekyll attempting to "free the creature within" at which he succeeds with, for those around him at least, terrifying results unleashing his suave and utterly sociopathic alter ego Edward Hyde.

Wyrd Britain reviews Hammer's 'The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll'.

Wyrd Britain reviews Hammer's 'The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll'.
Massie, as Jekyll, is a bit of a ham but comes alive with wide eyed malice as Hyde whilst those around him, including Dawn Addams ('The Vampire Lovers') as Kitty Jekyll, Christopher Lee as the scrounging, caddish Paul Allen and David Kossoff ('The Mouse That Roared') s Dr Littauer, flounder against an uninspired script that despite some typically garish nightclub scenes and a tour of the lowlights of London never really manages to elicit much of a spark from neither cast nor director.




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Tuesday, 20 July 2021

1,000,000!!!

Hi folks

Just want to take a moment to mark the occasion of hitting a million pageviews on the Wyrd Britain blog.

Thank you everyone for all your support for the blog.  It makes me really happy that so many of you share my love of the things I share here.

Thank you to everyone who has read the blog, thank you to everyone who has submitted something for review and thank you to everyone who has donated to keeping the blog going.  Wyrd Britain is a labour of love for me and your contributions in every form are hugely appreciated.

Here's to the next million.

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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 welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

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Monday, 19 July 2021

Earl Lavender

Wyrd Britain reviews John Davidson's 'Earl Lavender' published by Valancourt Books.
John Davidson
Valancourt Books

Following in the tradition of "Don Quixote," "Earl Lavender" is the story of two impecunious gentlemen who run away from their conventional lives, style themselves 'Earl Lavender' and 'Lord Brumm', and set out to preach the new creed of Evolution. Their hilarious romp across London leads them to all sorts of strange adventures, such as a wild hansom cab chase, a sojourn among a subterranean society of flagellants, and the discovery of the evolutionary 'Missing Link'.

'Earl Lavender' or 'A Full and True Account of the Wonderful Mission of Earl Lavender, which Lasted One Night and One Day; with a History of the Pursuit of Earl Lavender and Lord Brumm by Mrs. Scamler and Maud Emblem' to give it it's full title is the story of the man now named as 'Earl Lavender'. Declaring himself the fittest of all men he, along with his new acquaintance, 'Lord Brumm', sets out on a brand new lifestyle claiming evolution as their guiding force and allowing it to provide for them in all things as they rampage through the streets, restaurants and secret societies of London pursued by two ladies and an angry waiter.

Originally published in 1895 'Earl Lavender' situates itself at the heart of the decadent movement lampooning the times which Davidson, a Scotish poet who'd relocated to London, found himself living through.

In truth I found much of the book a bit of a chore.  It's often very funny but the combination of the overly descriptive Victorian prose and the Earl's florid soliloquies kept pushing me from the pages but perseverance proved that behind these niggles was a book well worth experiencing.

Buy it here - UK / US.

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Sunday, 18 July 2021

Guardian of the Past

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Guardian of the Past' from 'World's Beyond'.
'Worlds Beyond' was an ITV series broadcast in the mid 80s that apparently sourced it's material from the archives of the Society for Psychical Research.  We've featured a couple of episodes before on Wyrd Britain - 'The Haunted Garden' & 'Home' - which were, in turn, a light and fluffy ghostly love story and a messy and confused haunted house tale.  

This time out it's script by ITC spy-fi alumni Tony Williamson (The Avengers, Adam Adamant Lives!, Jason King, and others) keeps things a lot more vigorous.  The cast includes Paul Freeman (Raiders of the Lost Ark's Nazi archeologist 'RenĂ© Belloq') and Mary Tamm (Doctor Who's first 'Romana') as an entitled middle class couple who stupidly steal a bone from a mummy's tomb as a souvenier of their Egyptian holiday and Terrence Alexander (Bergerac's 'Charlie Hungerford') as a sort of occult detective who just happens to be a member of that intrepid society of psychical researchers.  

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Guardian of the Past' from 'World's Beyond'.
Williamson keeps things moving at a fairly breakneck pace and litters the 30 minute runtime with a car crash, two spinal injuries, a blinding, an attempted stabbing, hypnotic trances galore and a not entirely ineffective ghostly figure, well it's more effective than Tamm's American accent at least.  

Personally, I like this one a lot,  it's good, cheap fun. It wears it's lack of budget well and goes all out with what it has and does it well with a cast who all appear fully committed. Storywise there's nothing here that devotees of ghostly fictions won't have seen before but as an adaptation of a 'real' haunting one has to suspect it's been given just enough of an authorial tweak by Williamson to give it a satisfying narrative arc.




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Monday, 12 July 2021

Settling the World

Wyrd Britain reviews M. John Harrison's 'Settling the World' from Comma Press.
M. John Harrison
Comma Press

Throughout his career, M. John Harrison’s writing has defied categorisation, building worlds both unreal and all-too real, overlapping and interlocking with each other. His stories are replete with fissures and portals into parallel dimensions, unidentified countries and lost lands. But more important than the places they point to are the obsessions that drive the people who so believe in them, characters who spend their lives hunting for, and haunted by, clues and maps that speak to the possibility of somewhere else.
This selection of stories, drawn from over 50 years of writing, bears witness to that desire for difference: whether following backstreet occultists, amateur philosophers, down-and-outs or refugees, we see our relationship with ‘the other’ in microscopic detail, and share in Harrison’s rejection of the idea that the world, or our understanding of it, could ever be settled.


M. John Harrison is a novelist working, most notably, at the edges of science fiction with a foot in the worlds of weird or strange fiction. He first came to public attention through his work for New Worlds magazine as one of the 'New Wave' writers alongside the likes of Michael Moorcock, J.G. Ballard, Thomas M. Disch, Brian Aldiss and others.  The stories in this collection begin in that period (1970) and continue through to 2020.

Overt sci-fi themes are few and instead we have stories of the lost and the outsider, people trapped by circumstance and made free in the same way presenting the bizarre and the mundane as two sides of the same coin.  In a previous review of one of his books - the only other one of his I've read - I commented on the the Robert Aickman like nature of the story and here again I can feel the venerable writer's presence - most notably in 'Running Down'.

Not everything here worked for me.  I discovered I was generally less enamoured of the earlier and perhaps more obviously science fiction stories ('The Machine in Shaft 10', 'The Causeway') and more of the strangely human later stories ('Doe Lea', 'Cicisbeo') but truthfully this is a collection littered with gems.  A vibrant and colourful selection of stories that speak to and from the heart.

Buy it here - UK / US.

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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 welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

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Thursday, 8 July 2021

Changes to email subscription

Hi folks 

Just a quick heads up that due to Google closing down their email subscription service, Feedburner, I've had to swap over to a different provider, follow.it 

If you've already subscribed then other than it being from a different provider you should continue to receive the notifications as before.  Apparently also for those who are au fait with these sort of things you can tweak the way you receive the notifications.  Personally I haven't a clue about any such shenanigans but I've been informed this is the case.

Obviously, subscribing by email is the easiest way of getting to read Wyrd Britain and we heartily recommend it or you can directly follow the blog via the link in the sidebar or join our Facebook page.

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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 welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

Affiliate links are provided for your convenience and to help mitigate running costs.

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

The Hand of Kornelius Voyt

Wyrd Britain reviews Oliver Onions' 'The Hand of Kornelius Voyt' published by Valancourt Books.
Oliver Onions
Valancourt Books 

When Peter Byles’s father dies shortly before the boy’s thirteenth birthday, the young orphan is sent to live at the Victorian Gothic mansion of his father’s friend, Dr. Kornelius Voyt. Peter arrives at the dreary house, surprised to find that he sees nothing of the enigmatic Voyt, instead passing his time in lessons with a young German tutor. But it soon becomes clear to Peter that these lessons are only preparations for something much more sinister that Voyt intends to teach him. Voyt, unable either to hear or speak, has learned to compensate for his disability by developing extraordinary powers of the mind, powers which allow him to communicate telepathically, control the wills of others, and even inflict pain on those who anger him. Voyt has a terrifying vision of the world’s future, and he is determined to use Peter as a pawn in his inscrutable plans. 
 
When he's orphaned at age 12 Peter Byles is sent to live with his father's enigmatic friend Kornelius Voyt, a deaf mute with the uncanny ability to communicate telepathically and to remotely influence the actions of others.  Under his roof Peter is tutored in sign language and German but beyond this he is instructed only to observe and report on those he meets as all the while Voyt slowly indoctrinates his young ward into his misanthropic world view.

Mostly existing off page Voyt is a menacing but ultimately pathetic character whilst Peter is a brat denied the chance to grow beyond adolescent petulance and wilful cruelty.  They are a perfect pairing that'll damn them both.
 
Written with Onions' characteristic intensity the book follows Peter as he both embraces and rebels against his forced destiny and Onions is masterful in teasing out these steps in the young man's development.  Unfortunately when the end comes it all fizzles out a little and the story ends in a very human and undramatic manner.

For those, like me, who know Onions entirely for his superlative short stories this proved to be a fascinating read but one that didn't quite have the power of his shorter tales.

Buy it here - UK / US.
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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 welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain
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