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

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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”

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Sorting through Dad’s hoard #7: The Midwich Cuckoos

 

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Dad spoiled the ending of this book long before I ever got around to reading it. And I’m going to spoil it for you too, HA!!!

One day when we were intruding into his study, he got onto the subject of the film version (the 1960 version, The Village of the Damned – because apparently ‘cuckoos’ was far too subtle?) and what he personally thought to be one of the most tense scenes in cinema.

The stage: a school room. The plot: a climatic showdown. The players: a group of unnatural, all-blonde alien children who share a collective group mind and can read/control the minds of normal humans, and a desperate man who has decided he has no choice but to destroy them, for the sake of humanity’s future. The crux of the matter: he has smuggled a bomb into the classroom, hidden in a suitcase – but there’s still a few minutes before it goes off, and in that short space of time the children could read his mind and stop him. Continue reading “Sorting through Dad’s hoard #7: The Midwich Cuckoos”

Day 17, August 4th -First day of foot trek!

100_0184Well, nine’s not too bad a start, is it? Of course not!

We are quite disorganised. First it took us a while to get our stuff packed up into our rucksacks, and then the wranglers had to help mop up a sauce bottle that had cracked inside one of the bags. When we finally got underway, we had barely walked for fifteen minutes before we had to pause half way up a fairly minor hill to shed much of our outer wear. In the early Mongolian morning, before the sun has truly risen, we need to wear fleeces, waterproofs and hats in order not to freeze, but when the sun hits you – bam! You’re cooking.
Continue reading “Day 17, August 4th -First day of foot trek!”

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

 

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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-”

“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?

Hmmm.

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.

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

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

Sorting through Dad’s hoard, part 5: Saki

I couldn’t have been older than eight when Dad sat me down to read me a story. The story was called Sredni Vashtar.

The main (really only proper) character was a young, frail Edwardian boy named Conradin, living with a domineering female cousin, who seemed determined to joylessly coddle, thwart and repress him into the grave. His only consolation was a shed down at the bottom of the barren garden, which to him was a ‘playroom and a cathedral’, populated by his own imagination.

(Having read The Secret Garden, I thought I knew where this was going. Conradin even rather resembled Colin Craven.)

The shed also housed Conradin’s pet hen; and, in a hutch in the corner, a large polecat-ferret that he’d bought off a friendly butcher’s boy and hid fervently from his cousin, dubbed in his hostile mind ‘The Woman’.

(Having read Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, I definitely thought I knew where this was going.)

Conradin, in his loneliness and mixed fear and awe of the polecat-ferret, named it – what else but Sredni Vashtar? And proceeded to worship the animal, giving it offerings of flowers and berries, and occasionally nutmeg, believing it to be responsible for the various ailments of The Woman.

(I still thought I knew where this was going.)

The Woman noticed Conradin’s trips down to the shed, ruled them contrary to her desires, and had the hen sold. Conradin’s hate grew ever fiercer, and he prayed to Sredni-Vashtar to ‘do one thing for me’. “The thing was not specified.

(I…was curious about where this was going.) Continue reading “Sorting through Dad’s hoard, part 5: Saki”

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.

I’M DOOMED.

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.