Sorting Through Dad’s Hoard #8: M.R. James


Dad would usually read us M.R. James’s ghost stories in the evenings, after dinner and homework and sundry other bits were done; he’d occasionally play recorded versions of several of the stories, read by Michael Horden. I always preferred Dad’s narration, the way he’d growl for the villains and gruffer types, or use a slightly higher pitch for the various professorial characters with nasty things in store for them.

Quite I’d end up cuddling on his lap during the scary bits, ear pressed against his heart as his voice rumbled through me, waiting eagerly for my favourite parts to arrive. The fear these stories create was always there, but it was the cosy kind that gets your blood pumping without bringing on the terror sweat, with the fire on and the lights dim but still there. I was secure in the knowledge that I was safe with Dad, and I was safe going up the stairs to bed afterwards.

Do I really need to explain about Montague Rhodes James? Medievalist, scholar, lecturer and writer, there was no way Dad wouldn’t have adored him. H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith paid tribute to him, Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell were inspired by him, heaps of British writers deliberately wrote in his style, forming the ‘James Gang’. (Now I have a vision of a bunch of writers and academics travelling around in a van getting traumatised by ghosts and ghoolies, and solving mysteries.) Without him, British ghost stories and stories about the supernatural in general would be very different.

Continue reading “Sorting Through Dad’s Hoard #8: M.R. James”

Sorting through Dad’s hoard, part 6: The Day of the Triffids



Dad may not have been interested in vampires and monsters, but he loved more subtle types of horror. He recommended plots and stories that could feasibly happen, and were all the more creepy for it.

“There’s a book,” he told us once, “which starts with everyone on the planet staying up late to watch a meteor. Green. The brightest meteor shower anyone’s ever seen – and when all the people who saw it wake up the next morning, they’re blind.”

All of them?”

“All except the few people who didn’t see the lights; there’s one man who didn’t see them because he’s in hospital with his eyes bandaged up. His nurse is describing the meteors to him the night before, and he’s hearing about it on the radio until he has to turn it off. But when he wakes up at the start of the book, everyone in the hospital is blind. Almost everyone else in the whole world is blind. And to make matters worse-”


“-before the meteor happened, people had been growing and farming huge plants called triffids. They have three legs that help them to walk, and a poisonous sting that can kill you. At one point, the main character’s talking to a friend who claims that the triffids can can talk to each other; he believes they can actually think. And now that nearly everyone is blind, the triffids start to break loose.”

Scary stuff.

(I sometimes wondered about suggesting just how much The Day of the Triffids is a forerunner of the zombie apocalypse genre. I like to think Dad would be dubious, but also find it funny as hell, especially if I’d sat him down to watch the opening scenes of 28 Days Later before allowing him to escape to the study.)

Continue reading “Sorting through Dad’s hoard, part 6: The Day of the Triffids”

Further thoughts on ‘The Rover’ at the RSC.

1: This is less a formal review than an informal expansion of my thoughts upon seeing this production. Expect possible silliness.

2: This is also relatively long, since there is a lot I’ve needed to say ever since seeing the play.

How many words beginning with R can I use to describe The Rover, written by Aphra Behn, directed in this case by Loveday Ingram and produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, currently playing at the Swan Theatre?


Raunchy. Riotous. Riveting. Roistering. Rabble-rousing. Roguish. Rapacious. Resounding. Raucous. Rakish. Romp. Riot. Ravenous. Reckless.

(All of which could also describe the title character, Willmore. Who first appeared during this showing in particular not by fighting off an enemy and swinging down onto the stage via rope. Not at first, anyway. Priorities! Before the fighting and the swinging he needed to slyly help himself to an audience member’s snacks, with a winning grin. Happy serendipity, that she should have left them on the balcony beside her, at the ideal time for Joseph Millson to pilfer them!)

While I’d heard of Aphra Behn before I am most ashamed that until roughly a month ago, I knew virtually nothing about The Rover or its author. The first female English playwright, and one of the first well known English women writers in general, Behn turned to professional scribing for a living in order to settle various debts; despite her work as a spy for Charles II during the Second Anglo Dutch War, he apparently refused to pay her when she returned to England. (I wonder what she must have thought when Charles then proceeded to enjoy this particular play so much, he ordered a private showing of it.)

While celebrated in her day, she unfortunately lost favour with readers and viewers during the eighteenth and nineteenth century – only to make a triumphant comeback in the twentieth. And most fitting that, as one of the first plays to be performed at the Swan Theatre when it opened in 1986, The Rover should come back home to roost for the theatre’s thirtieth anniversary.


The plot, before it gets complicated, is as follows:

Continue reading “Further thoughts on ‘The Rover’ at the RSC.”

Day 16, August 3rd – In the valley of the goats

Today was our last day of riding – I am really glad of it. My legs have been chafed by being in the saddle, and there’s a spot or two on my leg that’s been rubbed raw and which I have to take care to keep clean and sterilised, using precious plasters. Some of the horses are coming with us, including dear old Aloysius, but we will be carrying most of our necessities, food, parts of tents, with us.

For about 15km per day.


We had an interesting time while riding today; we were all a bit tired and fed up and longing to get to camp so we could ‘relax’, so Kaz suggested we play a riddle game to pass the time. We soon ran out of all the riddles we all remembered from The Hobbit. I asked one that I learned all the way back in Year Two, when I was seven: I fly like a bird and buzz like a bee; got a tail like a fish, got a hop like a flea.

Kaz asked one that puzzled us for the longest time and kept us occupied for at least a few minutes. I finally guessed the answer; would you? Poor men have it, rich men want for it, and you die if you eat it.

We’re staying in a fairly pleasant valley, with a group of gers a little way away from us and an old, tiny wooden Buddhist monastery on a nearby hill. we have to walk quite a way to get the water – always a sore point with us – but at least the ground isn’t too lumpy.20160908_195022

We are sorting out the food we’re going to take with us in the foot trek, since the buses won’t be accompanying us during this time. Leslie, Ellie and Emma have done very good jobs of organising the supplies, considering some of the messes we’ve created in the vehicles. However, we didn’t do so well when it came to fetching water. It took FOUR of us girls to bring back ONE full jerry can of water (taking it in turns) that one of the boys could have lifted easily. Which they did.

We are ashamed.

We had tomato sauce and pasta for dinner – the evening meals switch between this and chilli con carne from a can with sticky rice, with tuna thrown in for those who want it. Haven’t got tired of it yet.

In the hours after dinner, with the sun setting and we were washing our clothes and ourselves (the legs of several female trekkers needed a close shave) the locals turned their livestock loose, and several of the goats came to say hello. One goat ate a dropped biscuit wrapper – sending us into a panic attack about whether we’d poisoned it, would we have to pay for it if it died, before remembering it’s a goat, nothing can poison a goat.

In the meantime, the goat then launched an assault on Manda’s tent and tried to eat the guy ropes. We chased it away by screaming and hitting it with socks.

I haven’t spoken much about Manda. She is our translator and interpreter, about eighteen, or so she tells us. English is her third language, after Mongolian and German, so there’s no trouble in her translations. We all love her, despite her inability to put her tent up without help.

I’m sore in legs and feet from the riding, and though I enjoyed it, at the moment I feel that if I never sat on a horse again, it would be far too soon.

I only hope the remaining horses or the goats don’t eat the tents during the night.

BBC Banished, Episode 3 recap

While I do honestly love this series, this episode drives me to vulgarity on occasion. It’s how I show I care! Plus I occasionally put swear words in the mouths of the characters.

You know they were thinking them anyway.

We start as we ended the last episode, with a body. Okay, now I believe that Marston’s body/dummy is under the water; the hair’s actually moving.

Well, at last we know why there are so many graves on the beach; it’s where Johnson holds his services, since there’s as yet no church. A whole bunch of people have gathered for a funeral. Anne and Mrs. Johnson exchange glances, no doubt thinking about their previous exchange. James smirks at one particular bit of scripture being read out by Letters Molloy, “I was in prison and you did not visit me,” (very appropriate) before catching sight of a boat full of marines heading out into the bay. He frets that they might be getting close to where Marston’s body is. Tommy can’t tell if it’s that exact spot; it was pretty dark last night, after all.

Johnson starts a big speech. “Shall I tell you what I love about this place?”


(The spiders? The snakes? The heat? The fact that you don’t have an actual church yet and your graveyard is on the beach? The fact that you’re all on quarter rations? The fact that the marines are apparently entitled to the bodies of the female convicts? The fact that the guy in charge of the marines wants to hang innocent people to get everyone else to toe the line? The fact that there is the constant threat of attack by natives, even though we never see any Aboriginal people in this show? The fact that you yourself nearly had to execute a guy the day before yesterday? The list goes on and on.)

Continue reading “BBC Banished, Episode 3 recap”

BBC Banished, Episode 1

Warning: while I do love this series, a lot, I may not take it entirely seriously in these reviews. Abandon hope of complete solemnity.

Speaking of which; before we do anything else, I’m going to get this out of the way, right now, because it’s something of a pet peeve of mine when it comes to visual depictions of historical fashion:






anne and kitty




mrs johnson
(Actually, no, I take it back here; this could be a very messy version of a legitimate hairstyle called the hedgehog that was in fashion during the 1780s and 90s.)


Okay. Okay. I think I’ve gotten it all out of my




I’m fine. I’m good. The women’s hairstyles pissed me off at the start. I learned to deal with it. We’ve got a lot to get through.

Continue reading “BBC Banished, Episode 1”

Day 11, July 29th – Reaching Tariat, and the Great White Lake!

Today set off to a good start, with a heavenly breakfast at Fairfields, an English speaking restaurant run by an Australian couple, right next door to the hostel we were staying at. The variety of the menu meant that pizza and chips could be ordered without anyone blinking any eyes, though also available were sausage sandwiches made of frankfurters and lovely thick, crusty bread. WE were making up for potentially paltry breakfasts later on and it was well worth it!

Mr. Postle, before our disbelieving eyes, consumed eggs, tomatoes, sausages, bacon, toast and pancakes, as well as tea and coffee! Such food all together is so uncommon now as to be almost alien, and we’re just over a week in!

After driving through the hot sunshine we stopped at a roadside shrine to feast upon cucumber sandwiches. Many members of the group were slightly nervous at the sight of three circling birds, obviously giving us the beady eye, which on an obscure form of eagle is quite a sight to see. Mr. Postle said they were portentous, but we told him that was only vultures.

Before leaving, we all walked around the shrine three times, and several of us left offerings. Typically you’re meant to left vodka or food, but a limited budget meant that symbolic stones were top of the list. I like to think the spirits appreciated the purple flowers that I found.

Stops came three more times; to take pictures of a famous gorge, a tree with supposedly 100 branches, and the largest of Mongolia’s volcanoes (at the moment dormant). All three sites were adorned with prayer shawls, which at first sight look more like batter blue plastic bags – being ravaged by the elements didn’t help – but have great spiritual importance.

Finally, we reached Tariat, a small town on the edge of the Great White Lake, and drove to the spot where we would meet the wranglers for the trek – only they hadn’t arrived yet.

We are camped on the shores of the Great Lake, on a plain surrounded by rocky hills, and inhabited by strange moths that click their wings together as they fly. At least we have plenty of woods for the fires, and a ready made fire pit for we to start news ones. The horses that are grazing nearby are very noisy, though.

We have worries about them coming to eat out tent guy-ropes.

Day 10, July 28th – still on the road. To Tsetserleg.

Disasters in the fire department, because of a blustery wind that seemed to come from every direction at once, meant that we had a meagre meal of porridge oats, and the washing up had to be done in cold water.

Despite the intense old and general dewiness of the morning, the litter sweep of the camp provided us with a laugh. Will, the present trek leader, told us that he wanted us yo pick up all rubbish “even if it’s a pair of filthy stinker bowers,” – and then proceeded to pick up his first item, which turned out to be a pair of filthy stinking boxers. Not ours, thankfully. Personally I think they looked more like y-fronts.

Once personal cleaning was carried out, the trekkers once again piled into the buses/vans, and we were off on another wacky adventure.

The sights out of the window – sadly passing by too quickly to be photographed – are sometimes mind-boggling. Yesterday we saw camels being driven, huge herds of horses and countless goats and sheep, and today we saw yaks!

All this scenery made up for the bumpy ride – to my reckoning, I’ve cracked my head against the metal frame of the window I sit beside at least seven times. The rodeo style of the ride is quite fun, especially when the drivers take it into their minds to race each other across the bumpy country side.

Consequently we rumbled into Tsetserleg at around 2.00 in the afternoon, and thanks to Chris (accommodation officer for the time being) found a suitable hostel. Only six dollars per bed! Although, since there were only four beds per room, to save even more money the boys and girls only took a room each, with someone inevitably sleeping on the floor.

Yours truly volunteered to take that spot, out of the goodness of my black little heart.

Braving the sudden violent thunderstorm, four members of our number found a wonderful little restaurant for us to eat at that evening, with both Monogolian and Chinese food. There was only a small hiccup when Chris, carrying much of our money for safe keeping, somehow managed to drop it in a puddle, leading to us spreading out the notes across one of the beds to dry out.

A good evening out at the restaurant eating meat patties and egg fried rice, with supplies bought earlier in the day from Tsterleg’s supermarket, the evening was not dampened by Amit’s discovery of titillating chains in the basement beneath us.

Tomorrow, the horses await us at the Great Lake.

Day 9, July 27th – On the Road!

Up at 6.00 today to finish packing for an 8.30 start – that soon became a 9.00 start. The two buses- one filled with supplies and rucksacks, and one with all the teenagers who didn’t fit into the first bus – spent the next nine or so hours driving out of Ulaan Bataar, across the country side, in and out of various potholes and occasionally off road altogether, until we arrived at Kharkorum, our first rest stop.

Toilet breaks were strongly anticipated, even if it meant that the buses had to halt in the middle of nowhere for those desperate enough to crouch in or behind a ditch.

There were additional stops – first was to admire the view of a certain valley, and second tp examine a roadside shrine, covered with blue prayer shawls.

Another longer one stop was more recreational, as we visited a Buddhist monastery; one of the few still used for religious purposes in Mongolia. Sadly photos could not be taken without charge, but blue prayer shawls and other souvenirs and supplies could be bought with ease.

When we finally reached our destination for the night, there was some discussion as to whether we should stay in a hostel, or camp. In the interests of saving money, we settled for the latter, despite the temptations of steak for dinner.

The fiasco of what followed – the reckless driving about attempting to find a suitable campsite, the attempts to purchase wood for the fire, the clearing of the campsite, the digging of the latrine (near impossible and eventually ending up amidst the rubble on the far side of a bridge) the various attempts to start a fire, finally cooking and eating a meal of pasta and sauce at 10.00, and washing up afterwards, led us to agree that tomorrow, we will seek a hostel to stay in.

Watching Will attempt to coax the fire into life by blowing on it earned him the nicknames ‘Bellows’ and ‘Fireman Sam’.

Day 8, July 26th – back to Ulaan Bataar!

We left the camp today at a pretty disastrous start of 7.05 – the bus supposedly arriving at 7.30. Thank goodness for the cleaning lady who barged into the hall and woke us up!

The children were up early to see us off. Hardly a dry eye on the bus or off it as we hugged our goodbyes. Many of us mourned the loss of our favourite children ad waved until the camp and its members were out of sight. The project was at an end, with much success and a little heart break.

Once we returned to Ulaan Bataar, and our previous resort, there was no time to relax. We set out in groups to find transport for the journey to Tsterleg, which would also accompany us to carry the luggage on the pony and foot trek. We managed to commission two former Sviet trucks and their drivers, and thus were able to attend the California restaurant to drink Coke, beer or water, and steal fellow team member’s chips(!). Other groups did not fair so well in purchasing food, meaning time was wasted in the afternoon while they sought lunch.

Finally we all went to the Black Market in order to purchase riding boots, as well as cooking utensils for the journey. In case of pickpockets, we all kept an eye upon each other while making our purchases. Strangely enough, all the girls bought more traditional boots with flat soles and plenty of embroidery, while the boys chose more Western style footwear with actual heels. Time will tell which type are more useful.

Once back at the gers, we quickly dumped our purchases and donned our new boots in preparation for a night out at the local Irish pub, complete with garlic steak, chips and rice.

We enjoyed what time we had before we had to go back to the gers and embark upon a frantic packing sessions, trying to decide who would carry what, how our supplies would be transported and which van would take them. 12.30 before we all got to bed, though it was on full stomachs.

Bought postcards, but was unable to get to post office to send them. Don’t know when there will next be an opportunity.