Monday, 22 January 2018

"John Silence, Physician Extraordinary" - Algernon Blackwood

The single most striking thing about this book, published in 1912, is how contemporary it is. Although the prose style is distinctly that of another era, still it has all the presence of a set of short stories written in the 21st century. Stories it has to be said of the highest quality. Sure there have been other great writers of the macabre, Steven King, for example, Arthur Machen, M.R. James, Edgar Allan Poe, but here is a stylist whose abilities within this genre are exemplified by his precise, descriptive technique. If literary fiction is the cremé de la cremé then this book is the top of the cherry as far as weird tales go. 

Algernon Blackwood, knighted in 1949, was a prolific writer. He wrote something in the region of thirty-six books, among them novels along with a host of short stories. There was also a number of plays. His ability to write at such a prodigious rate beggars belief. Of course, there have been others but none, I think, of the same genre. 

His prose is flawless. He managed to write in a very structured yet vivid manner. This talent gave his stories, both long and short, a depth and range, a natural flow of speech and grammatical structure which allowed a valuable degree of flexibility so that sentences slowly shift tension rather like a tourniquet tightening its wire. So subtle is this style that the culmination, when it arrives, is as much a release as it is a literary explosion.

What I like about the five short stories found within the pages of this anthology, is the Zen-like nature of the central character. John Silence has no gadgets to assist him, no partner to always be at his side when cats are out of the bag. All five tales are ones that terrorise the imagination bringing the reader to finely crafted climax.

Of the five stories, all about sixty pages, give or take a few, are well written and beautifully told. In order as within the book, the chapters run "A Psychical Invasion," "Ancient Sorceries," "The Nemesis of Fire," "Secret Worship," and "The Camp of the Dog."Of the five I think my favourite has to be "Secret Worship." Wrought with words that tease and tantalise, each paragraph slips its hand upon your imagination edging it ever closer to the unexpected end. Wonderful reading matter. A must for anyone seeking the very best of ghost fiction.


Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

David Bowie

a little late but still better late than blah blah blah

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The Village Tales of Fekenham Swarberry - Book Five Point One - "Sex, Sin, Murder" - Chapter 3 - "The Consternation's of Percival Pilchard"

The day was wrong. It shouldn’t be so sunny. A funeral should have rain with groups of people huddled underneath umbrellas. The spiky sunlight gave an ambience of frivolity, of hares gambolling, of children playing and not the sombre act of paying last respects to someone recently deceased. Especially when the departed left this mortal coil after having taken and overdose.
Percival Pilchard looked about him. He was feeling guilty. It had been he, after all, who had dismissed Jane. It had been the correct action but he had never thought, even for a moment, that she would take it all so badly. He knew he shouldn’t blame himself but nonetheless he couldn’t help but feel culpable.
He looked at the family. It was they who, naturally enough, made up the larger part of those gathered.  They all were revealing various stages of bereavement. There were meant to be five in total.  Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. Other wise-beards suggested seven. Percival Pilchard thought this a nonsense. There were more, far more. Exhibited here were what he called the bogus bereaved; those who display overtly emotional response the better to draw attention to themselves. Then there was histrionically bereaved, a close syndrome to the former but with the added excess of almost Wagnerian proportions, tears, chest beating, hair pulling and other visual hysterics. Then there was those uncertain of their bereavement. These were those who truly liked the departed but didn’t really know how to display their grief especially in public so therefore nervously edged about the proceedings looking slightly embarrassed. Then there was the verbal bereaved who just had to talk about the dead with a never ending set of anecdotes usually of an overtly generous, even sentimental flavour. Then there were holy Joes who represented someone, anyone in fact, who had just passed away as being so saintly they had achieved near divine status.
The immediate family, five in total, mother, father and three siblings, huddled together, their grief held in check but still obvious. At least they are not going through the perceived motions like so many others thought Pilchard.
He recalled that last meeting he had with Jane. The look of horror, of abject disbelief upon hearing or her dismissal. She had thought herself safe from such an eventuality. Funny thing was, so did he for in reality he couldn’t have conceived of any other member of staff quiet as loyal to the company. No one gave the dedication to their jobs as Jane had. No one worked so steadfastly and true endeavouring at all times to ensure company growth.
He wished he could back track time. If he could then perhaps he would have at least allowed her the opportunity to explain why she had done what she had. Mind you, she seemed to accept her punishment completely. Not one word of protest was forthcoming just mute acceptance.
In a funny way he wished she had shouted and screamed at him. If only she hadn’t just got up and left. She didn’t even clear her desk for pities sakes. Why didn’t she at least take her things with her?
Of course he knew the answer. Why would she? Her life was at Hobby and Pilchards. Every minute of every day, without complaint, she did what she did for the pleasure of doing it. She loved her job.
How the hell did she get mixed up with Craggy Ponce? It was patently obvious to all that met him what an utter fraud he was. Why couldn’t she see that? Why had she been so taken in by him?
It struck him strange that someone you thought you knew so well could do something so very much out of the ordinary.
Percival Pilchard had led a good life. He had been born into a very ordinary family. Yes, his father had been a doctor, a G.P. and his mother a green grocer’s daughter so his concept of what was everyday was not necessarily shared by others, certainly not the other inhabitants of Banstead.
Surrey is, as you will know, the second wealthiest county after Berkshire in Albion. It is where the well to do, or those born in South London, move to so as to be away from the capital but near enough to commute.
His father’s business had been moderately successful. His health charges not exorbitant yet still of a robust enough nature to ensure he, Doctor Clement Pilchard and family enjoyed a secure life.
Percival had been only fourteen when his mother died. It had come as a terrible shock to the teenage boy who doted on his mother. When his father explained that the cancer that had taken her had been eating her for a year and that his parents had decided, so as not to upset their son, not to tell him, he was devastated. The first thing he was told upon returning home following a weekend away at his friend’s was that she had died four days ago..
It took him years to forgive his father whom he blamed, not for his mother’s death but the deceit, the fact no one told him of her illness.
He and his father lived a solitary existence thereafter. Percival attended school, making few friends but achieving high grades. By the end of his year at senior school, already head boy, he had enough qualifications to guarantee a college place. He knew what he wanted beyond that. University of course, Cambridge appealed, but it was after that, his career, his chosen path, that was the beyond he aimed for. He had always had a love of books. He inherited his passion from his mother. She too had been a book worm. After her death he took her collection, his father made no objection, and bought a bookcase with which he placed her books on. He wanted to be above all else a publisher.
As a child he hadn’t thought much about his parent’s relationship. It had seemed perfectly natural to him, like any other in fact but of course he had no comparison to draw from. It wasn’t until he started to grow up, to experience life outside family walls that he realised what an odd couple his parent’s made. He couldn’t recall ever seeing them kiss. They never held hands and even upon an anniversary, apart from giving each other a small, simple card, they didn’t celebrate. He had no idea how long they had been married for no one spoke of dates.
His father’s behaviour, much like his own, was one of detachment. He wondered if his parent’s marriage had been one of convenience for he was convinced his father, like himself, was homosexual.
His father knew of his son’s sexuality but neither of them spoke of it. If he disapproved then he gave no sign. He never showed any hint of bigotry. In that Percival admired his father for in this respect he was so much better than his contemporaries who disdained anything not of the norm.
Physically Percival was nothing like the stereotypical homosexual. He was rather an imposing figure, tall, broad lacking any of the camp gestures used by so many other gay men. Apart from his right eye that was rather bulbous, far more so than the left, his face was simply ordinary. Neither handsome nor ugly just plain.
It was whilst at Cambridge that Percival met Hummel Hobby. It was love at first sight. Hobby, no one used forenames, was debonair, handsome and compulsive company. The three things Percival wasn’t and wished he was. Everyone seemed to like Hobby, from staff to pupils he was the most popular of students.
His seduction ploy was clumsy. A bottle of whisky, Stravinsky and a dimly lit room. He kissed Hummel on the check, far too nervous to approach the mouth, and was politely told not to do that.
“I’m not like you old chap,” said Hummel, “sorry if I made you think I was.”
He had done no such thing. In his heart Percival had known but by the same token had hoped for what else was there but that singular instinct to cling to?
They had remained friends. Neither of them ever speaking of that one instant when Percival took the briefest of moments for himself.
Stravinsky? What was he thinking of?
It was Percival, some few years after they had left university who had proposed the idea of being publishers to Hummel. Even though the relationship had taken an altogether different route to one he had hoped for there remained an intimacy, a closeness between the two friends.
Percival had outlined his ideas suggesting that he had the knowledge and knowhow but lacked Hummel’s ability to promote the venture.
Hummel had seen the potential and, not in the least perturbed by being cast as salesman of the team, agreed in principle.
“What shall we call the business?” Asked Percival.
“Pilchard and Hobby doesn’t have the right tone. Sorry old chap but I would suggest Hobby and Pilchard,” said Hummel.
The name settled, and with only the company to register, so began one of the modern publishing worlds most respected partnerships.
Fifty years later, with both men in their mid-seventies, Hobby a father of five (an extravagant number thought Pilchard) and who had celebrated his Ruby wedding earlier in the year, the friendship and partnership was as healthy as ever. The only blot of any consequence on their collective horizon was this awful business.  The suicide of Jane Doft.
Percival spotted Hummel by the church entrance. His wife and children, now all grown, were with him. He appeared to be conversing with someone, someone who looked remarkably like that irksome Augustus Nettle. ‘How dare that man show his face here?’
Unable to prevent his first impulse from controlling his actions he strode toward the odious little man intending to let him have both barrels of his verbal blast. As he advanced so Hummel Hobby stepped in front of him with both his hands held palm up in a placating manner. Percival was stunned as his best friend clasped his shoulders.
“Stop Percy and listen, listen to me. I too feel aggrieved by the manner of Jane’s death. I also know how this man,” he nodded toward Gussie, “was culpable in the malpractice he and his friend played on us. But listen, he is here now to, not so much apologise for I think under the circumstance that is not nearly enough, but to make amends, to explain his part, to make reparations. It takes a very brave man to walk among people he knows will vilify him but he has so please, give him a chance.”
Gussie looked on perplexed. As nice as that speech was it was nothing like the truth. His reason for being here was to forewarn Hummel Hobby that Craggy, his erstwhile friend, had uncovered secrets about the said Mister H, ones he would neither want his partner nor wife to learn of. However, Hobby’s pitch seemed to have worked. Pilchard seemed to have cooled his furrowed brow somewhat.
Hummel was well aware of this fact. He hoped no one, that is his wife or Percival, would spot him sweating. The thought of either of them finding out his secrets was a terrifying prospect.
Hiding behind his clean cut, handsome but honest man persona had suited and served Hummel for years. He truly liked Percy, a foreshortened name he had always used for his friend, and had no issues at all with his sexuality. He didn’t think it was his or anyone else’s business how a person lead their lives so long as it caused no harm or pain in others. Homosexuality had no appeal to him though. Simple as that. Sex, with the right female did. He loved his wife beyond measure but his own, a little odd perhaps, peccadillos didn’t coincide with Florence’s. Oh, she was passionate enough, nimble and lithe in the bedroom, well she had been but at seventy had slowed a tad, she didn’t share his taste, didn’t like some of the acts, visceral maybe, that Hummel did.
For a number of years, the whole of their married life in fact, Hummel had had a succession of lovers of all persuasions and colours. All shared the one activity he enjoyed – S and M. Yes, sadomasochism was the button when pushed lit up Hummel’s libido board as bright as Yuletide tree.
His current mistress Chaitra, and who had been for nigh on seven years, was a graceful, elegant Asian woman now aged fifty who would tie Hummel in knots, beat his broadening bum black and blue, attach pegs where no clothes peg usually go, cattle prod his testicles, anus and other parts until the sales partner in the world’s largest publishers whimpered with perverse pleasure. It was an activity he’d rather not share with anyone least of all wife, family or friends.
The trick had been, one he had played like a pro, was to fool all those that knew him into thinking his secret life was in fact part of his real one. This meant having an athletic and inventive mind. His dark trysts, performed at a bungalow he owned in Tadworth and which he called ‘The Bunker, were passed off as appointments. Being senior in the business meant no one asked questions. Why would they? He was after not only the boss but the one man who delivered all those juicy accounts. He hadn’t been particularly comfortable lying to Percy but at the end of the day he just couldn’t miss out on his fix of sordid delights.
Having rubber pads connected to the mains with leads attached to his scrotum was Hummel’s idea of joy, heaven on tortured earth. Drugs didn’t enhance his fading erection but a shot of electricity straight to the old didgeridoo as it were gave his shrinking penis a hard-on like a pylon. It positively stood to attention fizzing with anticipation.
He blamed it all on his maths teacher, a young woman (then) who, determined to instil a sense of propriety into her pupils, favoured the cane. It was an instrument she wielded with divine dexterity flicking the thin column right across the young Hobby’s buttocks. Rather than repair his downward spiral to a life of indecency it seemed to aid and abet it. So much so that the young Miss Hornstroke, for that was her name, had to admit defeat electing to pass the boy onto a higher authority – Headmistress Pandapaw, a robust and large woman who resembled all that was bad in female Russian weightlifters. Her punishments were notoriously severe. This, as far as young Hobby was concerned was good news indeed. Yes, Hummel Hobby never enjoyed the same level of bliss at other schools as he did during his junior years. He had the scars to prove it.
By the time he met Percy his inclinations had grown in maturity. No longer happy to be punished for minor transgressions and not wanting to commit major acts of criminality in order to illicit appropriate physical penalties Hummel was forced to purchase the services of someone who had few scruples about wielding a birch.
Helga Hammerand was a Germanic Troll of a woman. She moved like a block of concrete and had a jaw to match. In all appearance she most resembled a slab of granite. When Helga thwacked your backside it was a backside that knew it had been thwacked. Hummel loved that woman. Not so much her but more the ability she had to inflict extreme amounts of pain without leaving marks or bruise’s.
Each blow delivered, each crack of the cat o’ nine tails was anticipated in the way one awaits a bus or train – you know it is coming but never when it might arrive.
At this stage in his ‘out of office’ pursuits Hummel was still a novice and besides such activities as he enjoyed were like fine wine or cheese, you only really grew to enjoy them with the passage of time.
Those formative years, the time spent practising such deceptions, proved invaluable later in life when his duplicity grew ever more subtle.
His and Percy’s business was well developed when Hummel first met Florence. Florence Peake, as she was then, had appeared one day outside the door of Hobby and Pilchard. She had written a book. She wanted it published. She said it was good. It was but it wasn’t that that attracted Hummel to Florence. He had long known that his adventures in sin were limited to a weakness of the flesh. What he now sought was love in its purest manifestation. Florence was the physical embodiment of that ideal or so he believed.
He asked her to dine with him booking a swanky restaurant in Mayfair. It was over that meal that he knew his first impression was correct – she was the one for him. He was in his thirties now, she five years younger, filled with an exuberance it was hard to deflect, not that he wanted to, a vitality that both thrilled and excited him.
It was on their third date, unprepared, without ring or gift to give, that he spontaneously got down on one knee and proposed.
“You have no ring.” She had stating the obvious and so he had swiped one of the napkin rings, blessed it with a kiss, then taking her hand in his pushed the large rings over two of her fingers. It promptly fell of making them both laugh.
It was the singularly most romantic thing he had done.
They spent the night together in a suite at the Savoy. She felt like Royalty. The sex had been sublime, even for Hummel but he knew that, as good as it was, as in love with Florence as he was, his dark lusts remained.
This fact bothered him greatly. He was unable to do anything about it though. He didn’t know if it was because of nature, nurture or just his own warped nature. It was at this point, still relatively young, that he started to dislike himself.
Their marriage followed a year later. It was a magnificent do. Confetti and champagne. Both of them laughed and danced in delicious celebration of what they both knew to be the start of their lives, a commitment of two people each to the other.
Children followed, two girls, two boys then their princess. Cherise was a beautiful child, perfect in every way apart from one – she had special needs. Not that they cared, Hummel didn’t and knew Florence shared that sentiment but still the fact that one of his children, one as though selected due to his perversity, would never achieve the things her siblings would. It was not that he cared for any sort of reflected glory but rather that he hurt for her for she knew she was different.
He cursed his leanings. He blamed himself. He wanted to do all he could to make her life special, spoiling her in ways he hadn’t the others. If they were bothered by this they never said. They all, mother, father and siblings, took care of their princess. He knew that when that awful day dawned and Cherise was left without parents that her brothers and sisters would look out for her.
He continued his secret liaisons with far more guile and cunning than before. This was in part due to his terror of Cherise finding out her daddy was a pervert.  It was also because his livelihood, his partnership with Percy, depended on his being seen as squeaky clean. Neither he nor his family or his business could afford a whiff of controversy.
Now, with Percy staring down at the shrinking Nettle, those criterion, that innate fear of being caught gave his words the edge he hoped would give pause for thought. Seeing his friend in a state of agitation as he mulled over how or what to do with respect to Gussie Nettle, Hummel felt a twinge of guilt.
Words seldom failed the P of Hobby and Pilchard but they did now. He stared at Augustus, his finger raised as if about to say something biting but instead he said nothing. He just looked and, if looks could kill they probably would but menacing looks along with words were ineffective.
Gussie stared at the finger poised before him. He saw it waver slightly in the way a leaf hanging from the branch does in autumn, trembling gently in the winds of fall. Then the finger removed itself from the space in front of him descending to hang at Percival’s side.
“I cannot find words to express how I feel.”
The sadness in his voice added a burdensome weight to the already heavy load of shame Gussie carried.
“I didn’t sack her,” said Gussie defensively.
Percival’s head shot up as though his face had been slapped. He looked at first as if the words that Hummel had spoken, those words of calm, had evaporated to be replaced by an anger, a rage borne of hate. He knew though that that emotional response was nothing but guilt transference. There was truth in what Augustus Nettle said. He, Percival, too was culpable. It was an uncomfortable fact he would have to deal with.
He looked again at Gussie, saw a short man, no more than five six, chubby, balding, double chinned. He saw the defensive, deflective way his chin thrust out, saw the way his eyelids fluttered, the remorseful glaze cast on his eyes. He was a man fully aware of just what he had been part of but couldn’t, any more than any of us can, forgive himself. That is why he was here. He was seeking redemption, he was looking for forgiveness.
It was the same thing Gussie had been seeking since childhood. The second child of two, his older sister Nessie, a near genius according to their father, a royal pain in the arse as far as Gussie was concerned, the boy Nettle had been chasing his parents favour, forever in the wrong, from birth.
He had as a child always felt he should apologise. He never knew why though. It was just the way they made him feel. Call him paranoid if you like but for everything that went wrong, be it a light bulb that didn’t work – ‘Augustus did you touch the spare bulbs?’ or the TV went fuzzy – ‘Augustus have you been fiddling?’ They never asked Nessie. It was like she was fault free.
And the way they spoke to family and friends forever praising even her minor achievements. ‘Nessie is head girl you know?’ ‘Nessie has been selected to play for the schools hockey team.’ ‘The head asked Nessie to read Blake’s ‘Jerusalem next assembly.’   Yes his sister did excel at something’s, sport mainly, but academically she was no better than he so why the favouritism?
The fact was, expostulated Gussie one day to a gaggle his mates, that his parents simply didn’t like boys. Girls it seemed were everything the male sex wasn’t. Namely hardworking, intelligent and capable. The insinuation being that boys and that he, as such, were all thick as two planks.
Gussie resented that. Not that they thought him a typical male (none of his mates were queers) but that they grouped every member of the male gender into one stereotype. According to his parent’s way of thinking, all men were the same.
So what about his own father then? He’s male isn’t he?  If you are to consign all members of the sperm carrying brigade under one banner then his own dad had to be included. On second thoughts that was probably exactly what his mum thought but being too timid, too polite and far too afraid of her husband to argue, she usually went along with whatever it was that her dearest suggested.
Nessie was hardly what you call a looker. She was flat chested, so flat that she was almost concave. Her nose a broad button centred on frying pan face. Eyes, saucer like and indigo, a neck that should have been spotted it was so long, Thin, scrawny arms with matching pale legs whose knees could knock like wood blocks.
Gussie as a boy would spend endless hours studying his reflection in his wardrobe mirror. He would turn his head left and right, then angling it so his chin or forehead jutted out. He had the same high, dome shaped forehead, the same jutting chin. Even his nose, less flat perhaps, was as like his sisters as to make him prey to the God his Sunday school teachers taught him to adulate, asking for it to be made more pointed, somehow nobler.
The fact was that Gussie and Nessie were very much alike although he would never be as tall. This genetic truth troubled the young lad, not his height, although that was a concern, but the obvious familial likeness. He wanted so much to not seem in any way, shape or form related to his sibling. It was shameful admitting to others he had a sister that looked like that and that they shared a resemblance.
Many had been the hour when Nessie and Gussie had squabbled. He defending himself from her contemptible, surreptitious attacks on him. She always managed to time her snide assaults whilst their parents weren’t looking. If he then returned, as an act of defence of course, a well-aimed punch at her arm, thigh or, if he could find them, breasts, his mother would clip his ear telling him off. His father would then join in, se mettre à plusieurs, informing Gussie that he was not a gentleman and that real men do not go around punching ladies, especially not on their breasts (Nessie always squealed this as evidence of Gussie’s corruption) and that he, the youngest scion of the Nettles was little more than a rash on the arse of society.
In school, academically speaking, he held his own (He thought he did better but was glad to call it a score-draw.) He came top of his class in Maths and was always in the top tier of all lessons. After third year when Craggy entered his and his friends lives school grades rocketed but never were as stellar as his sisters.
Where Nessie scored over him was with her giraffe like legs. When it came to running Gussie was a like an ejaculation, he came in short spurts, Nessie, however, was someone who stayed the course. Not so much stayed but swallowed the field with her long legged strides leaving all and sundry in her wake, eating her dust as it were.
And of course as school, followed by college, followed by county, followed by region, bestowed upon the favoured offspring’s head the favour of running for them so her legend, in local then regional print spread. And as it spread so the adoration as heaped in ever growing shovelful’s upon the first born by their parents increased. She was the morning star, she was the sunset and sunrise, the firmament made resplendent by a golden orb. In short she was everything. 
It came as no relief when years later she took her Midas touch to the world of dentistry. For even then, having failed to become a legal wizard, a barrister who passed her days parading the bar with pecuniary panache weaving litigation into a stream of consciousness thus beguiling the beak and bench with her vivacious verbosity. For even in light of this singular failure she still came out smelling of roses.
“Dentists make a packet son.” He had been informed with no little amount of scorn having himself just opened for business as a recruitment consultant. “Head hunting is all well and good but it is rather tradesman’s entrance isn’t it?”
All many years ago now of course, eighteen, but still the favouritism remained. Gussie’s company had been, up until recent developments courtesy Craggy Ponce, highly profitable. He had been drawing a higher salary than his sister, dring a bigger, better brand of car, took vacations where and when he wanted, dined out whenever the mood took him. He was a man of means. None of which seemed to matter much to either mater or pater.
Craggy had always had charisma. It was that charm mixed with large amounts of confidence that wooed and won over both males and females. Never unsure of his sexuality Craggy went after women the way a contagion went after a host. He knew precisely who and what he wanted and, far more importantly, how to get it. It was this is, even during their school days that impressed Gussie and the gang.
Of course there was a downside to Craggy’s personality. It was this flawed characteristic, this uncaring, self-centred attitude that had brought them to the funeral of Jane Splinter. And now Craggy had uncovered something sensitive about Hummel Hobby and Gussie wanted only to warn the man.
He looked again at that poised finger that hung before his nose prepared like the sword of Damocles to bring damnation down upon his head (or, presumably in this case seeing where the finger was pointed at, right up his nose).
The words of Hummel Hobby resonated. Time seemed to stop as the triumvirate stood with baited breath as those very same words sunk in.
It was Percival who shattered the silence with a cough. It was not a cough caused by a crumb – Percival had not eaten – nor was it saliva swallowed in error down the windpipe. It was a cough invented to cover his embarrassment. Not that he needed to be shamefaced, at least on the surface he shouldn’t have been
Smiling acknowledgement of having heard his friend’s words he nodded to Hummel as positive recognition he fully understood and appreciated his words. Taking Gussie by the elbow.
Together they strolled away from the Hobby family, avoiding also the Splinter’s whose father was openly weeping and was being consoled by his daughter.
The pair, Gussie and Percival stood in the shade of a cherry tree beneath which a broken headstone bearing the date of 1665 leant.
“Taking on board what my business partner said; giving you the latitude leant from forgiveness I have to tell you that I know the real reason you are here.”
“You do?”
“I do. I appreciate how you feel. That you too have been a victim of a predatory individual without scruple, one who has no qualms whatsoever, having committed perhaps the greatest sin, to turn the screw even more, to descend even further into the quagmire of immorality. Let me put your mind at rest.  I too know what Mister Ponce has uncovered. I have known about it for years. There are two things you must do, certainly if you value your health. The first is to leave Mister Ponce to me and secondly forget all you have learned, forget it and never mention it again. If you do this I guarantee you will continue working with Hobby and Pilchard. Now then, do we have a deal?”
Gussie, slack jawed, nodded soundlessly then, accepting Pilchard’s extended hand and shook it
“Now then,” said Percival, “let us return to the funeral and pay our respects.”

What happened earlier it is now pertinent to reveal. For years Percival Pilchard had known of his friends foibles. He had burnt a candle for Hummel since the day they had met. He had, and still did, loved that man, his business partner. It was a love like that of a parent, it had no boundaries - it was total, absolute and without conditions.
When Craggy Ponce had telephoned Hummel he had done it via the company phone system, a system that, for many years now, recorded incoming calls. This had first been instigated for training purposes. It was now accepted by all employees as being part of company policy. Since Jane’s dismissal Percival had made it his business to listen to a random selection of calls incoming. It had been by luck that he had listened in to the conversation although diatribe might be more accurate.
The virulent Mister Ponce had revealed he knew of Hummel’s perversion, had said he knew of his lover, her name and where they went for the regular trysts. He then underlined this by giving Hummel Florence’s comwand number saying he would contact her, and his children, to inform them of his deceits. To prevent this from happening Hummel would have to drop all litigation against Craggy Ponce.
It was a despicable act from a detestable man.
Percival knew what he must do. He knew whose help he needed – Alabaster Pressnot.
They met two days before the funeral at a conference centre in a room Percival had booked under a false name - Smith. It was not an original false identity but Percival didn’t creativity he simply needed action.
 Alabaster Pressnot slid into the room the way custard slides off a spoon. He was a wobbly fleshed man, whose skin ran soft and putty like. His face was a fleshy blob. His eyes disappeared when he smiled then seemingly popped out from under folds of flesh. His chins were multiple. His hands sausage like and seemingly without knuckles. His skin was so white it was pallid. It lacked any form of blemish or indeed colour. The man’s nostrils when flared didn’t not turn pink. His lips when puckered never declared a flash of red. His cheeks when he blushed gave no sign of shame. Percival understood why his parents had named him Alabaster for it gave definition to his physiognomy.
Unlikely as his appearance was it admirably disguised his profession. For a man who looks like comfort food, killing people for a living was not the obvious career choice. Alabaster Pressnot was a hit man.
He emulsified his way across to where Percival was sitting. Taking the publishers hand in his glutinous fist he squeezed it.  It felt damp and unpleasant to Percival who refrained from wiping his palm down either his trouser leg or the arm of the chair.
When Pressnot smiled it was like a mould fracturing. Blobby bits that hadn’t been visible before suddenly appeared as though pressed from some hidden source. His eyes momentarily fled his face finding sanctuary within the folds of his skin. His teeth, thin and wedge shaped filled the cavity as left vacant by the ascending rivulets of flesh and their counter opposite descending ones.
Customary greetings over Percival pointed to the chair in front of him. Pressnot, smiling amiably, cascaded into the vacuum of the armchairs embrace. The two men faced each other. It was Pressnot who spoke first.
“I am of course delighted to meet you Mister Smith but common courtesy to one side let me present the case in question as I view it. You have an unpleasant problem. It is one that declares itself an imminent danger. You therefore need expedient action taken to resolve this problem at source. For this I need your ultimate sanction. Firstly though there is the matter of my fee. I am afraid I insist on taking half prior to final solution and half….” He stopped midsentence as Percival leant across with a signed cheque slipped between fore and middle finger .
“Ahhh,” continued the Mister Pressnot, “most kind sir, most kind. I take it as given that this silent payment instigates ultimate sanction?”
Percival Pilchard sighed deeply pressing the tips of his fingers together against his lips. He looked up at the colloid assassin with a grave expression etched upon his features and then, releasing the softest of breaths, no more than a thought of lung exhalation, he nodded his head three times. Still looking grimmer than the reaper he again placed his hand within that of Alabaster Pressnot and firmly shook it.
The man, the assassin, the killer whatever you will, whatever name you prefer to use, rose from the armchair without a squelch of sound. Facing his client who now sat huddled with elbows on knees he licked his colourless lips.
“Once resolution has been committed I shall contact you via the method used on first communication. I shall then expect to meet for the final time here again to collect the balance. Good day Mister Smith. Thank you for your custom.”
With that he left the room his business to persue.

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Sapphire and Steel

I used to watch this show in the 70's. I was an adult by then, whatever that means, but still young, maybe immature as some might say - things never change - and found this series compulsive viewing. I had, still do, loved Doctor Who. The Doctor is a time traveller as are the central characters, Sapphire and Steel, from this show. This had a different flavour to it though. There wasn't anything like the Daleks nor the Cybermen, in fact, nothing so obviously Sci-Fi like that. Whereas the BBC show was family entertainment, Sapphire and Steel, produced by ITV, seemed darker, more adult somehow. It was as if M.R. James of Algernon Blackwood had scripted the programme.

In the first episode, we see a young teenage boy sitting at a kitchen table doing what appears to be his homework. There is the sound of a clock ticking. It soon becomes that there is more than one clock but three. A downfall of rain strikes the window pane so the boy rises from his chair to pull the curtains. From upstairs come voices, those of his mother, father and baby sister. The mother can be heard reading to her daughter who begs for more stories from the book. The mother says she has read quite enough telling her child it is time for bed but the father laughingly suggests one more story won't hurt.

The boy downstairs pushes his chair away and then walks into the hall where there are more clocks all ticking relentlessly away. He looks up the stairs to where his family have gathered in his sister's bedroom. Then he turns back into the kitchen, sits down at the table and continues with his homework. Suddenly, all the clocks in the house stop ticking with the minute hand caught at ten minutes past seven. Then he hears an odd noise, an electric rumbling, which arouses his attention. He calls out to his parents but get's no response. He leaves his place at the table calling out to his parents but getting no response. Walking purposefully he climbs the stairs to his sister's room. Entering it he sees his sibling sitting on the bed looking a little shaken. There is no sign of either of his parents. Upon asking his sister, Helen, where their mother and father are, Rob, the elder brother, is told they have gone. Simply gone. Not down the stairs and out the house but gone.

The next scene we see sister and brother together in the kitchen with Helen drinking a glass of milk poured by brother Rob. The boy seems to be holding his nerve, doing the things that someone twice his age would find difficult. By concentrating on the now, on the practicalities, he manages to assure Helen that everything is fine. The scene that switches leaving Helen alone drinking her milk. The camera pans away backing down the hallway where we can hear footsteps crunching over gravel. Rob opens the front door, treble locks with two bolt locks plus the Yale then returns to Helen's side where he informs her that he has phoned the local policeman who had assured him he'd be right over. With some intelligent use of dialogue, we learn that the house the tale is set in lies across a body of water. It might be on an island. For the policeman to reach it he has to use a rowboat. 

A knock is heard coming from the front door. The boy goes to answer but asks first who is it? A male voice answers saying you called for us. Rob opens the door thinking it is the police. In walks Steel followed by Sapphire. Rob asks if they are the police. Sapphire laughs suggesting the local officer armed with his notebook isn't able nor capable of helping but they are. Sapphire and Steel. Cue the opening sequence.

"All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned." 

We never know where they come from only who they are. Sapphire and Steel. Are they human? They appear to be. Are they from the future? Possibly. Highly likely in fact. Or are they agents from another dimension? Again, highly likely. This enigmatic approach adds suspense along with a hint of mystery. Whatever they are, whoever they are they leave a feeling of superiority, of being better, more wise and knowledgeable than us, than humans. Again, I think of Doctor Who. His incredible intelligence, his experience of life in all its myriad forms, his grasp of time and space, of its complexities, its infinite possibilities. Sapphire and Steel struck me as aliens. The pair made a curious mix of Spock with his cold calculating, logical mind and a rather acerbic Doctor Who, William Hartnell's version, crossed with a sensual yet warm-hearted quality.

Sapphire, as played by Joanna Lumley, is the one who has the human touch whilst Steel, portrayed by David Macullum, is the lovely Sapphire's acid-tongued counterpart. Each has their own powers. Sapphire is able to manipulate time, she can rewind time although only as far back as twenty-four hours. She can determine an objects historical properties by merely touching it. She calls this her ability to spot analyze

Steel, on the other hand, is powerfully strong, seemingly almost invulnerable. He is also gifted with telekinetic abilities using them on occasion to paralyse individuals with just a look. The final power in his arsenal is the way in which he can freeze himself to absolute zero which enables him to destroy remnants or images of people trapped in time.

Between the two of them, they are able to communicate telepathically. A gift that comes in handy at times. Sapphire is cool, a little removed at times yet compassionate. Abrasive Steel is at times hard, harsh, clipped, curt and a little callous. He is capable of sacrificing the one for the many even if the one in question is never himself nor his partner but a relatively innocent participant in some macabre set of events.

The first show took a trembling step into these uncharted televisual waters. The effects seem dated now yet, as they are cleverly understated, passable. The acting of all the cast is of a high standard. The script is taut and conveys a sense of dread. Yet for me once this storyline concludes and the two, hero and heroine, are assigned their second mission, so the series really takes off. 

The limited special effects oddly produced an eerie sense of spectral reality. Even if the budgets at first were low, the overall sense of trepidation was high. In other words, the show benefited from the abysmal budget set adding fear to the fiction seldom seen before the 9 O'clock watershed. For a family show, the tension caused by the unseen horrors took the chill factor to a nail-biting 25 minutes of supreme, on-the-edge-of-your-seat entertainment. It was compulsive viewing watched by a healthy 11 million people.

The show was categorised as science fiction/fantasy. I dislike that label. It could so easily have been described as weird tales or ghost stories yet they too, those epithets, are, I believe, misleading. I liked least of all the sci-fi element preferring the spooky concoctions better.

That second assignment sees Sapphire and Steel arrive at a haunted railway station. A lone soldier from the First World War, rifle slung over his shoulder, forever whistling a tune of the time he lived in, walks up and down the platform seeking ... revenge? retribution? release?  The motivation that drives this apparition isn't made clear at first. During the tantalising episodes, a truth is revealed allowing the viewer to glean the purpose of the ghost, and the others that join it. The plot is delicious. Full of tension and fear coupled with a sense of sadness for those who died yet remain. A poignancy that delivers a subtle layer of emotion. I liked this the best. The way in which all the elements of a classic ghost story merge with the constant horror that consistently returns to plague various moments of peoples lives. You see the monster here, the one thing that links all the shows is time itself. Time turned bad. Time gone feral. 

The third assignment was set in the present. people from the future have travelled back to observe and study the people of the past. Us. Things go horribly wrong so, naturally enough, Sapphire and Steel are assigned. This particular set of stories, named after the time it was viewed, was entitled "The Creatures Revenge." There was a political edge to this series. The machine from the future that brings back to the past those instructed to analyse the primitive folk of the 80's, is made up of both machine and animal parts. This is why things start to go wrong, 1,500 years into the future there are no animals. What remains of any form of an animal is processed, produced, propagated by scientists who use parts, segments of the animals which they fuse with their sophisticated machinery. The animals are after revenge.

There were others, of course, there were, others like Sapphire and Steel. Lead for one, Silver for another. I didn't really warm to Lead. The actor who played the part was fine but the character he played, that deep bass laugh of his, always laughing in fact, I found irritating. Lead was strong, powerful more so than Steel. Now Silver was another matter. I liked him. He was as honed as the substance he was named after. Lead was played by Val Pringle, Silver by David Collings. There was mention made of Jet and Copper yet they never appear in any adventures.

The frisson between the two, Sapphire and Steel, is one of the major reasons I loved the programme. There is a sexual tension that rarely shows itself yet nonetheless exists. Largely it is disguised by the often antagonistic dialogue with Steel snapping out his orders which Sapphire tends to reply to, in the main, with stoicism. Sometimes though her calm exterior is ruffled revealing a woman capable of standing up to any mere male.

Assignment 4 brings us the faceless man. A renegade energy from the corridor of time whose sole purpose is to flit from photograph to photograph stealing images of people from the past. A dangerous foe who has our protagonists on the hop. Again we face what appears to be ghost-like wraiths. There is that same sense of fear wrapped up in tension.

Assignment 5 sees us back in the present. From an office sat within a large country house, occupied by a younger woman and a much older man. The man, the owner of Mullrine International, is none other than Lord Mullrine himself. His companion is his secretary. As Mullrine leaves his office exiting via a side door, he leaves explicit instructions that she, nor anyone else, must exit via that side but rather should go through the door facing her desk.

Assignment 5 is an Agatha Christie whodunit twisted out of shape. Time has corrupted. A crime thriller, a series of murders unlike any the grand dame of crime fiction invented. The end is a bit lame, a little too lovey-dovey yet still an excellent, imaginative story.

Assignment 6 is a corker. A garage in 1981 with a roadside café. A car parked in the forecourt near the petrol pumps. Two people from the car, a man and woman, sitting in the café, both from 1948. A pale shadowy form of a man, a ghost perhaps, fades in and out of the scene. Clocks fold back and forth, second hands shuffle forward then back - time is frozen. The shadowy form materialises. Upon seeing Steel, Silver and Sapphire he becomes visibly shaken. When asked why he says that the three agents look like ghosts, their images superimposed onto the landscape. When asked what year it is he tells them it is 1925. Time ratchets forward 20 minutes. Rain begins to fall. The window pane is suddenly awash. Footsteps are heard coming from outside. Steel goes out to investigate instructing Sapphire to close and lock the door behind him. This she does. She goes to other rooms, other doors and locks them too. Returning to where Steel exited the building she sees a shadow cast in black facing her. From the shadow a man, a travelling entertainer, his face made up of angry reds. Upon his head a stovepipe hat. Later he tells them he's from 1957.

The whole effect delivered is remarkably sophisticated and very disconcerting. There is an ever growing tension formed by the fragmentary dislocation of chronological time as witnessed by the characters that time has placed together. A creeping fear forever niggling at the subconscious. When answers to the riddle become apparent so the net closes in. The ending is one step beyond anything our furtive imaginations could have conceived. The villains win. Our heroes are trapped in limbo for eternity. 

For me, this wonderful, yet woefully funded, badly neglected show, sets its sails alongside 'The Prisoner.' Very different indeed to that earlier programme yet equally as good. The actual reason the show finished is unknown. Speculation has been rife. TV broadcasters, ATV who featured the series were faced with huge changes. It may have been the fact that they were about to change forever that made them 'ice' the show. Another may have been because both Joanna Lumley and David Macullum had had enough of the playing the parts of the central characters. I don't really care. It was a favourite programme of mine at the time and remains a fond memory even now. Thank goodness for YouTube.

Now there is talk of the show being revamped, of having new actors play the parts of Sapphire and of Steel.I hope so. I would dearly love to see what that show might look like. However, with any speculation comes an honest truth. I loved this show with all its faults and seriously doubt anyone could reinvent or reinvigorate it. Sapphire and Steel was a masterclass in fantasy. Besides, if it does come back and Sapphire and Steel have been captive all these years, why not have the original cast once again play the part?

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Aliens From Outer Space

Aliens. A God delusion? Is there isn’t there? Aliens. The believers believe. It is a faith. And for faith there is always atheism. For there to be an up there must be a down. For there to be a belief there must be non-belief. The two are one, two sides of a coin. 

Aliens. The belief of such a thing is precisely the same as belief in a deity. Perhaps, as some have suggested, they are one and the same thing. God is an alien. The aliens are Gods. Deities from outer space, beings from another world. Yet beings, whether anyone likes it or not, created from the same blocks of life as humankind, as all existence. So then are they really aliens at all?

The disciples who see UFO’s or aliens on planet Earth are fundamentalists. Their religion, for that, is what it is, is all-consuming. Their faith is blind yet not without theory, not without data. That data though still needs verification. You can pay a call to YouTube and witness endless accounts, reports of sightings along with sound arguments detailing events that might be a consequence of alien activity. All of which lacks that vital verification. As with theists, the believers believe no matter the lack of proof.

Images presented portray grey skinned peoples with large eyes, dark eyes, black eyes, where pupils merge with the iris. Long faces with pointed chins. Thin, elongated necks. Bipedal beings with torso’s much like any other primate. There are other images of more aliens that show them with much shorter bodies and no signs of external genitalia. Their features consistently remain the same. These aliens look remarkably like evolved, ape-like creatures suggesting that wherever it is they originated from had to be remarkably Earth-like. For one thing, these aliens would have to be air-breathers to spend time on this planet.

From fear comes paranoia fuelled by the unknown.  What are they doing here? Have they come for a reason and if they have what is that reason? If they have arrived here then yes, they have a reason but is the reason clear to the faithful or is fear of not knowing adding fearful beliefs. It is belief again. The tragic linear logic of humankind whose perceptions only present an oblique view churned over in minds unmindful, unaware, unawake to the reality of existence.

As each year passes so more sightings are reported. UFO’s now need a UFO parking lot. Aliens will soon need welfare. That, of course, is a joke. Jokes don’t sit well with the faithful. They think you are ridiculing their beliefs. I am agnostic towards there being a deity and equally sceptical of aliens here on Earth. That doesn’t mean I don’t think there is life beyond our blue planet. I categorically do.

All life, no matter where in this vast universe of ours, and it is ours as much as it is other lifeforms, is as one. All creation contains the same building blocks. Just as humankind is related to trees so humankind is related to aliens. Aliens. What aliens? Fellow beings from the same source.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.