Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Lunchtime at the Bauhaus (with Peter Murphy and Daniel Ash)

Pete Murphy lounges moodily and angular at a dinner table, waiting for his next Maxell Audio-tape advert.

Daniel Ash enters from the kitchen with Sigue Sigue Sputnik / Ziggy Stardust hair, wearing an apron.

DA: Well, Pete, what do you fancy for lunch today?

[Long pause.]

PM: What is there?

DA: Soup.

PM: Soup. We always have soup. I'm sick of having soup. Robert Smith doesn't have soup every day.

DA: Well, he probably gives his wife more housekeeping than I get. Besides, you're more than welcome to go out to the supermarket yourself.




[PM snorts.]

PM: Me, in a supermarket? That's hitting below the belt. Cover my face and bloated breast first.

DA (crossing arms): Well then, don't complain. Now, do you want soup or not?

PM (sighing): What soup is there?

DA: It's always the same, Pete. Cream of tomato or oxtail.

[Long pause.]

PM: Cream of.....?

DA (testily): Cream of tomato or oxtail. Come on Pete, it isn't rocket science. It's always the same two options. They are the only two soups we both like. Pick one.

PM (sulkily): Kevin liked pea and ham.

DA: Kevin isn't here. And he never cooked for you. I do. So please, pick a fucking soup. 

PM: Tomato, then.

DA: Tomato what?

[PM rolls eyes.]

PM: Tomato....please.

DA: There, it wasn't that difficult, was it?

[PM silently mimics DA. Ash regards him indulgently and smiles.]

DA: And do you want anything with your soup?

[A mischievious smile twitches across Murphy's face. He favours Ash with one sideways glance.]

PM: Yes.....Bela Lugosi's bread.

DA [beaming]: There, it's not so bad, see? At least we're still together. Robert Smith, he won't even send Lol Tolhurst a Christmas card, let alone make him soup, despite those fantastic drums on 'Pornography'. And as for Morrissey, well, they do say he eats his soup alone...

PM: What about David Bowie, Danny? What soup does David Bowie have?

[DA sits down and rests his chin on his hands, gazing dreamily up into the air.]

DA: Bowie has special astronaut soup. He eats it in a special gravity-free capsule that the Swiss government made for him. The recipe is a strict secret, known only to close friends like David Byrne and Brian Eno.

PM: Does Rick Wakeman know the secret? He'll tell you anything for a pint. We could buy him a pint. 

DA: No, Rick Wakeman doesn't know. Bowie thanked him for his piano on "Life On Mars" but said there was no way he was going to share his secret with a man who wears a prog-rock cape when he's doing the housework.

PM: Paul Weller says the special ingredients in the astronaut soup prevent ageing. Do you think that's why Bowie only looks 35?

DA [uncomfortably]: Erm, no, not entirely. Gosh, is that the time? I really should crack on and--

PM: Danny, why do you always change the subject when we talk about David Bowie's unnaturally youthful appearance? You did it yesterday when you were taking my blood samples. 

DA: Ha ha ha, did I? I really hadn't noticed. Anyway, moving swiftly on--

PM [frowning]: And there's something else I've been meaning to ask you about, Danny. I bumped into Andrew Eldritch down the Social the other day, and we got to talking about this and that, and it turns that he doesn't actually have to provide blood samples to his record company every day. Nor does Hugh Cornwell, apparently. I thought you said every lead singer had to have his blood tested daily, as per record company contract?

DA [blushing]: Andrew must have been mistaken. As for Cornwell, he's doesn't have the energy to give blood *and* pursue his unhealthy obsession with groupies. That man may only be 42 but he looks 70.  
 
PM: Danny, why do my blood samples get sent to Switzerland? I thought the NHS was based in England but last week I found a box of prepaid envelopes under the stairs, all marked "D.Jones / Zurich / Ref. Project Rejuvenate". 

DA [reddening]: Oh really, did you? Ha ha ha. Well, the truth is Pete, I send the blood to a Dr Jones - that's what the "D" stands for by the way, and definitely not David - who lives in Zurich and he then analyses it before sending the results back here to your local GP. 

PM: Gosh, what a palaver! 

DA: Yes, isn't it? But it's proof we love you, Pete. We feed you up and send your blood to Switzerland because we want to keep you happy and to make sure you keep producing great nutritious blood for many more years to come.

PM [Frowning]: Eh?

 DA: Sorry, did I say blood? Doh - I meant music! (Blushes.) Anyway, the time is getting on and you need to keep your strength up. Now, tomato soup, wasn't it?

PM [nodding]: Yes please....with Bela Lugosi's bread.

DA [beaming]: Good boy, Pete. And I'll rustle up some Angel Delight for afters. How does that sound?

PM: Well, certainly better than a kick in the eye.....

[Both laugh.]

PM: Or a rose garden funeral of sores. 

[Chortles.]

PM: Or even a spin in Dalis Car!

DA [miffed]: I wouldn't know, would I Pete? That was just you and Karn.


Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The "Fleurs de Mal" Of Sleepy Derbyshire



Cartledge Hall, Derbyshire

"The book is sinister, enveloped in gloom -- yes, and Decadent (like much fine literature): but it is strong, it has authenticity; the effect sought is the effect won. There is nothing quite like The Stone Dragon in modern English fiction: but in it you may distinctly trace the influence of Poe, and perhaps also Villiers de l'Isle Adam and Charles Baudelaire. Indeed, if there is a man who could catch and cage the spirit of Fleurs du Mal in our Saxon tongue, it is the author of The Stone Dragon."
[From a contemporary review of "The Stone Dragon", 1894.]

Last summer, meandering en route to Chesterfield on a bright sky-blue day, I remembered that Robert Murray Gilchrist - the nearly-forgotten author of the superlative decadent horror collection "The Stone Dragon & Other Tragical Romances" - had lived in the area.

Now, there are few things in life more interesting to me than visiting the homes and locations of places that may have inspired artists I admire, whether they be writers, musicians or filmmakers. Several years ago I blagged my way into the former family home of ghost-story writer M.R. James in Great Livermere, and have been boring people with the story ever since. Ditto for the time I visited the late Gerry Anderson at his home outside Henley-on-Thames, when he showed me around his eye-popping workshop, which was filled with models and puppets from all the great 'Supermarionation' shows (Thunderbirds, Joe 90, Supercar, UFO, Stingray etc).

However, in the case of Gilchrist, I suppose I had always subconsciously assumed that his former ancestral home would have fallen into a ragged state of melancholy disrepair, chiming gloomily with the entrancing tone of his emotionally-charged tales of love, death and betrayal, amidst a wild psychological landscape in which a vivid, raging maelstrom of cruel supernatural vengeance would whirl. I had expected to find heavy, black sepulchral clouds blighting the house in a perpetual veil of screaming purple twilight; broken gutters vomiting black rainwater violently onto the shattered roof tiles below; the spindly casements mildewed and rotted, their grey sills spiky with jagged glass. I envisioned huge murderous ravens strutting about in dark rooms, malign and conniving, their beaks glistening with sheep's blood, their eyes swivelling about for weak prey. I had imagined weathered castellations about the roofline, with ruinous masonry depicting subversive and occult heraldic designs, and for the walls to be pockmarked with macabre, people-eating gargoyles, their foul bulging eyes and lustful, pox-ridden tongues warding off faint-hearted sojourners. At the very least, I thought the grounds would be blasted and desolate, an ill-defined contagion of nettle, diseased timber and straggling vegetation, with weed-choked fountains and broken stone walls, rotting bones and split graves. I had expected the garden to be indeterminate from the wild Peak District moorland which should seethe and swirl about it like wild foam on a dirty green sea.

Instead....instead I found neatly clipped lawns, brightly-painted window-frames, perfect tubular guttering, and, worst of all, happy sunshine, gilding both Cartledge Hall and the surrounding bucolic countryside with what can only be described as peaceful contentment. It was like stepping into a P.G. Wodehouse novel. Indeed, had 'Plum' [note to heathens: 'Plum' was Wodehouse's affectionate nickname] had been standing where I had been standing, he would have probably also documented cooing doves various, bunny rabbits frolicking on verdant lawns, and, of course, the industrious hum of bumblebees, as those contented insects went about happily 'doing their bit' for Lord Emsworth's breakfast; to wit, producing glorious, golden honey, which Lord E. would then eagerly spread - some might say 'ladle' - upon crispy white toast every morning, after consuming a first course of eggs & b.

But I disgress. The point is, I suppose, that Cartledge Hall was insufficiently gloomy to live up to my unreasonable and selfish expectations.

It was with a heavy heart that I retrieved my camera from the car. The shots would depict Cartledge as though it were a show-home in some glossy property magazine. Then, as I set about taking photographs, a woman suddenly appeared from one of the outbuildings, and she paused, studying me from afar, holding some rolled linen in her hands. I felt obliged to explain my prurience.

"Did Robert Murray Gilchrist once live here?" I cried out. Holding up my camera, I said: "I'm interested in his book 'The Stone Dragon'. Do you mind if I take photographs of the outside of the house?"

The lady regarded me with an inscrutable expression, but appeared to have no serious objection, though really, it was impossible to say for sure. I was reminded of several similar incidents in Robert Aickman stories, where narrators try to communicate with shadowy and indistinct figures, as though shouting ineffectually through space, or feeling powerlessly mute in a dream. I felt like Delbert Catlow calling out across the river to Petrovan in "No Time Is Passing" [which, incidentally, was itself a scene lifted from a Phyllis Paul novel]. Anyway, she gestured with a half wave, half nod, and scuttled into the main house, like a mechanical figure in a cuckoo clock on invisible wheels, presumably to monitor my presence from a place of safety. I deprecated, and set about taking a few pictures in what I thought would project as being jaunty, open and honest manner. It is an attitude I often strike when visiting art galleries, National Trust houses and the like. I imagine that it puts middle-class people at their ease.

Robert Aickman [centre]

Anyway, although it is extremely tempting to photo-shop the images - by way of portraying the house in which Gilchrist's 'tragic' tales were written in a darker, more suitably gothicky light - I present the shots here completely unadulterated. I do so despite harbouring the absurd fear that in doing so, I shall highlight to aficionados of weird decadent literature just how very beautiful and highly desirable this ripe, purple peach of a house really is, lest I one day ever be be fortunate enough to bid for it.

[Whereupon I would set about destroying its balmy bucolic charm, to restore it to the doom-laden, decadent yellow mausoleum that it should be.]

Cartledge Hall [entrance]