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. 


PM: Or even a spin in Dalis Car!

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

Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Christmas Day TV Schedule That Never Was

Cor, yippee, it’s the Christmas Radio Times.  

But what's this…. Mike Yarwood and Pam Ayres on the cover? Gah! That can’t be right. Odder still, the date is blurred, and there are only two channels. Sacre merde! Only two channels? That is POSITIVELY prehistoric.

Curiouser and curiouser. It must have been produced at some indeterminate time in the not-too-distant past, or else comes from an alternate universe which nearly mirrors our own.

Let's take a look at what's on....

7.30am. Mr Men. Mr Triangle struggles with a new scarf.
7.45. Fingerbobs. Gulliver pecks Flash to death. Or does he?  

8.0. 'Noel' Christmas Swap Shop Special. Noel unwraps presents with guests Soft Cell and Edwina Currie.
9.30. Jim’ll Fix ‘Em. Jimmy Saville has a special surprise for children at the Great Ormond Street Hospital. 
10.0. Message from the Archbishop of Hull. ‘Did Jesus celebrate Christmas?’
10.03. Roustabout (1964). Carny motorcycling songs. Stars Elvis Presley, Red Buttons and David Hasselhoff.
11.45. Where Are You!?!  Last minute cooking tips for a boozy Christmas lunch with the nation's favourite cook, Delia Smith.

12.0. News. Read by Pam Ayres.
12.04.pm. Weather, also with Pam Ayres.  
12.05. The Good Life. Sitcom. Margot and Tom get squiffy in Lady Mountshaft's cucumber patch.
12.35. The High Chapparal. Drama. Buck questions Manolito's heritage.
1.30 Billy Smart's Circus. Featuring Grippo the Clown, lion-taming and Lucretia, the Napoli Fly.
3.0. The Queen's Speech. Her Majesty addresses the nation. Subtitled in Scotland.
3.15. Dr No. James Bond kills rivals to sleep with women. Starring James Bond and Ursula Undress.
4.50. That's Life. Esther Rantzen and his witty comrades liven up a working class shopping centre. With cunning linguist Richard Stilgoe. Features include a pompous man in a chair, a light-hearted song about phone companies, and a sausage dog.
5.30. Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em. Frank skates into a sewer. Guest stars Bill Bixby and Val Doonican.

6.0. News, read by Angela Rippon.
6.10. Animal Crackers. Amusing animal impressions by Johnny Morris. With Marti Webb.
7.0. Dr Who. ‘Pig-Male-Lion’. The Doctor battles with a creature made of fish. With Tom Baker, guest star Tom O'Connor as ‘the Monster’.
7.30. Dallas. Bobby gets into a tight hole with Lucy Barnes.  
8.10. The Generation Game. Camp host Larry Grayson tries to ‘elf’ himself to Isla’s mince pies. Featuring Bob Carolgees and Spit the Dog.  
9.0. The Two Ronnies. The popular duo is joined by guests Lulu, Johnny Thunders and Ted Heath.

10.30. The Black & White Minstrel Show. The renowned ‘Dem Dry Bones Orchestra’ perform Yuletide carols. Guest appearance by Ron Atkinson.
11.15. News, read by Brian Blessed.
11.25. The Sky At Night Christmas Special. Patrick Moore trains his telescope at Reticulum.
11.55. Late night film. Carry On Cleo. Saucy goings-on in Ancient Egypt. Starring Syd Jacques and Hattie Breslaw. 
1.13. Closedown. Followed by the testcard. Go to bed.

6.50. Little Blue. The little elephant learns what his trunk is for, and quickly gets into trouble.

7.0. Get Up & Go. With Beryl Reid and Mooncat. Special guest star, Noddy Holder.
7.15. Putting Others First. With Elton John, Rod Hull and Emu.
7.30. Sesame Street Christmas. Featuring guests Goldie Hawn, Lou Reed and Toyah.  
8.0. Tiswas Christmas Splat! Water sport frolics with Chris Tarrant, Sally James, the Phantom Pie Flinger and Spit the Dog.

9.30. The Adventures Of Black Beauty. Dr.  Gordon accidentally puts the horse down, much to the consternation of the children.
10.30. The Wild, Wild West. The Night Blizzard. Dr. Loveless goes cocaine crazy. Guest appearance by Roger De Courcey and Nookie Bear.
11.30. The Bolshoi In Birmingham. Brummies get a festive cultural makeover. Presented by Jeff Lyne and Roy Wood.
12.0. News, read by Alistair Burnet.
12.15. Man About The House. Mildred becomes frustrated by George’s obsession in finding out whether his young neighbours really do share the same bath.

12.45. Public Information Film: Happy Nuclear Christmas. What to do in the event war is declared over the holiday period.
1.0. The Christmas Film. Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines. Funny foreign stereotypes. Starring Terry Thomas and a fat German.
3.0. The Queen’s Speech. Subtitled. Not in Scotland.
3.15. Christmas Panto. Aladdin. Danny La Rue rubs Aladdin’s lamp the wrong way. Starring David Essex, Sally Thomsett and the Krankies.        
4.15. Magpie. Festive facts with Jenny and Mick. Special guest performance of ‘Spittin’ In The Wind’ by Bob Dylan and Spit the Dog.

4.45. Bullseye Charity Special. Jim Bowen hosts the popular darts show. Special guests Peters and Lee try to raise money for the RNIB.   
5.15. The Man From Atlantis. Patrick Duffy must decide between Carlotta, the hypnotic mermaid, or Stacey, a pretty teacher who can’t swim.
6.15. Celebrity Squares. Bob Monkhouse quizzes Freddie Starr, Lorraine Chase and Noel Fielding. With Bob Carolgees.
6.45. The Kryton Factor Xmas Special. Gordon Burns, as his losing contestants discover to their peril.
7.15. Mind Your Language. When Francois Pascal loses her knickers, Miss Courtney loses her marbles.
7.45. 3-2-1. Game show featuring Ted Rogers, the nifty-fingered host.  Ted is joined by Hollywood legend, Sammy Davis Jnr.
8.15. Celebrity Name That Tune. Cliff Richards and Frank Zappa try to name that tune in one, assisted by Tom O’Connor. With special guest appearance by Bob Carolgees.
9.0. Christmas With Morecambe and Wise. Eric and Ernie kick up a festive snowstorm with guests Victor Mature, Des O’Connor, Geoff Hurst and Spit The Dog.
10.0. Film. Zulu. Starring Michael Caine and Stanley Baker. Foreign gentlemen rebel against the upper class in Rhodesia.
11.45. Chas and Dave’s Xmas Bash. Drunk cockneys. With guests Roger De Courcey, Danny Baker, Ted Hughes, Cleo Laine and Captain Beefheart.  

12.30. Film. Die Hard 17. Bruce Willis uncovers a plot by sinister care home owner Klaus Von Irons to embezzle the prescriptions of fellow residents.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Horrors Of Insomnia

Yet again I find myself stricken with the horrors of insomnia.

It is an affliction not dissimilar to self-harming vampirism. You are awake when you should be sleeping, often through the dark, otherwise useless part of the daily cycle, when others are snugly stacked up in their temporary fluffy coffins, ripe for the drinking. The next day, should you be capable of rising, you will float about the house looking pallid, drawn and bloodless. Dreams and nightmares migrate unfulfilled from your subconscious mind - where they have failed to gain realisation - intruding into your waking day, so that the boundaries between fact and fiction blur. You may hallucinate in a daydream, dream figures stepping out into the real outside world, or suddenly droop into a short heavy sleep whilst undertaking a mundane chore.

Christopher Lee knows what I'm on about

Losing sleep is like giving blood. Once lost, the mind takes several days to recover, and should the circadian rhythm be worse affected, then you can quickly drown in the swirling waters of sleep deprivation. I once went three months not sleeping because of the death of my former liver, and it was more nightmarish than any perceived drug-induced hallucination. But that's a tale for another day. Or night.

In the meantime, I shall try to sleep by listening to a suitably gloomy lullaby like The Smiths' Asleep. Good night, all.....hopefully.

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]