Sunday, 18 March 2018

Guilt in a guiltless Universe

In 1964 I was diagnosed as having Epilepsy. Mum found me laying in front of the TV convulsing. Eventually, it was proved to be related to my Diabetes for I don't have seizures unless my blood sugars are extremely low and haven't had one in thirty-four years. I discount a possible seizure some twenty years ago as it showed none of the after effects. No bitten tongue. No feelings of overwhelming sadness followed by depression. No extremes of fatigue. I believe I passed out from having low sugar but for once didn't go into convulsions.

My dad was a silent type when it came to his own ill health. He never made much mention of it when unwell and certainly never complained if he had a cold. He never had 'man flu.' As a child, when his hand was shut in a car door, he said nothing. It wasn't until a relative spotted blood seeping from his gloved hand that anyone knew he was injured. Nor was dad a coward. When the industrial strikes of Wapping happened, as a senior manager at News International and one whose first loyalties were to his family, he defied the unions and went to work. Bricks were thrown at the bus he travelled to work in and hate mail sent to his home. Oddly, when he died two years later something like 100 men, unionists all, turned up to his funeral. He did the right thing. However, when it came to my having fits, he would turn on his heel and exit the room leaving my mum to deal with the situation whilst he telephoned for an ambulance.

Dad couldn't bear to see me whilst having spasms. Mum told me it made him weep like a child. I have often wondered why? Not in a judgemental way as I completely understand the hurt he must have felt, the utter sense of being powerless to help his beloved son. He didn't like to discuss my fits even if he had no problem with my diabetes per see. Something deep within him ran from the problem. Something about epilepsy being of the brain. It transpired later that one of his Uncles had epilepsy, although unrelated to my condition, so perhaps dad felt guilty. It was from his side of the family the 'weakness,' the flaw originated from? 

As I have said, dad was not a man who sought attention, quite the reverse. The way I dressed in my youth caused him no end of embarrassment as did his Cockney mum's lifting of her skirts as she danced on a table top to some East London bawdy song. Yet for him to be so seemingly ashamed of my condition is at odds with the man's character. I know he loved me, of that there is no doubt. I wonder then, in some curious way, was his dislike of my epilepsy due to him thinking himself to blame? 

Of course, he wasn't. No parent is to blame if a child they have helped to create comes into this world less than perfect. The first question we should ask is who is to say what is perfect? Is there such a thing as human perfection? There have been misguided souls who sought perfection, Adolf Hitler for one, but at the end of the day, it is merely human judgement, humankind's seeking to apportion blame when there is no blame to apportion that brings such pain into so many lives. Humankind judges yet nature, God if you like, makes no mistakes. Existence needs balance and to balance existence means, by human standards, a levelling of all living things. I am diabetic for a reason. I feel no resentment for that disease for at the end of the day I have a life to live and live it I am.

The same goes for all those who we human's call special needs people. There is no such thing as a special needs person. We all have needs. We are here to live and to love and in the living, the loving means taking extra care of those who need it. 

I don't think my dad felt sorry for himself. It simply wasn't his nature yet there are some who do feel sorry for themselves. Maybe dad did but he shouldn't have for there are powers at work far greater than any father or mother. A parent can blame themselves for having brought a child into this world who the world judges as less than average. There is no average there just is life. Live it. Live it now. Live it for yourself and those you love no matter how long you live or how short - just live now. And love as though love were all there is of life for in truth love is everything in this life.

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Tartarus Press

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I made a habit of reading to all my children. Some of the four seemed to enjoy it, some of the four didn't. We can't all be fans of literature, can we?  Oddly, now mature adults, all but one reads for pleasure. Having read to Thumbscrew, my eldest, stories which included 'The Elephant and the Bad Baby,' both 'Winnie The Pooh' and 'The House at Pooh Corner,'  the wonderful 'Watership Down' and a book dear to all my children to this day, 'Fox Under My Jacket' I then determined, as Thumbscrew was then ten, to read her Steven Kings 'IT.' A fantastic story filled with such a warped yet finely delineated imagination. The effect of my reading this horror tale to my little girl resonates with her still for it was a story that sent her rigid with fear and which she stills recalls now. Not my finest hour as a parent you might say and you'd be right. I learnt from this episode and never repeated the same mistake with the others although Tweezil loves James Herberts 'The Rats.' 

My first venture into horror or the supernatural was Bram Stokers 'Dracula,' at least I think it was. It was a story that impressed me very much for it differed so much from all the Christopher Lee portrayals of the blood lusting Count that I'd seen courtesy of Hammer films. The original Hollywood version with Bella Lugosi came after my seeing Hammer one rainy Sunday afternoon when, in those days, Sunday's was spent in front of the TV watching old movies starring John Wayne, Spencer Tracey, Katherine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart. I thought the film naff. It wasn't scary enough for me.  Lee was better. Lee was best. Yet Lee and Hammer got it wrong as I found out when reading the novel.

Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein' followed along with Robert Louis Stevens 'Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde.' They are classics of the genre. Edgar Allen Poe came much later. H.P. Lovecraft, I still know little about as I haven't really read much of his work all though intend to. I guess in the case of supernatural/ghost stories I am a dilettante. One who dips a toe into the water but never swims. I like ghost stories. I probably like them better than modern day horror. I have read King, Herbert, Peter Blatty and so on and so forth enjoying them all but prefer ghost fiction.

For those who enjoy the genre, given my dislike of having labels for everything, then look no further than Tartarus Press. Similar in some ways to the Folio Society in that the books they publish are hardbacks lavishly produced in the traditional way with silk ribbon marker, heads and tailbands, thread-sewn often with foil embossed covers. They look, feel and smell as books should look, feel and smell. Each book comes replete with a dust cover the colour of which is normally yellow. They look fantastic. 

I recently purchased my first book from Tartarus, "Mirror Dead" by Magda McQueen. It now sits proudly on my bookshelf resplendent in its cover of blue with the small, yet lovely, illustration that adorns the front. I also have the second novel by Andrew Michael Hurley, the exceptional, disturbing, disquieting "Devils Day" which was first published by Tartarus before changing publishers to John Murray.

Tartarus Press is the brainchild of Ray B. Russell and Rosalie Parker who incorporated (that is the modern word for started even though Tartarus is no way 'corporate.') in 1990. Their aim was to publish the weird, the macabre classic fiction of the highest standard to a production quality that matched the works produced. In that, they have excelled. With much- respected, established authors, many of whom have perhaps passed on to the realm of the immateria, authors like Robert Aikman, Arthur Machen, Nugent Barker, Walter de la Mare, L.P.Hartley, Oliver Onions and Sarban but also a range of contemporary writers such as Andrew Michael Hurley whose novels "The Loney" and 2017's ""Devils Day" show a subtly the reshapes the traditional ghost story along with Magda McQueen, Angela Slatter, Annie-Sylvie Salzman, Nike Sulway, Mark Valentine, Reggie Oliver and Rebecca Lloyd.

Unlike The Folio Society's publications whose books all come illustrated, Tartarus don't bother with that. However, they are much like the older company in that what they publish is of the highest calibre. They, Tartarus that is, publish books that are very collectable not just because the look of the books is divine but the stories they contain are prime examples of the very best of supernatural fiction.

For anyone like me who enjoys a spine-tingling read, I would heartily recommend searching Tartarus website - 

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

"Thin Air" by Michelle Paver

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Stephen is the cerebral one, Kit, the older of the two brothers, the braver, bolder and, to make the story all the more interesting, the leader of the expedition to Kangchenjunga, the Himalayan mountain more feared than Everest. There is a biblical rivalry between the two that borders on madness.  This rift is one of the cornerstones this splendid book has which the author, Michelle Paver, uses with such skill to build her ghost story from. The others are the class and race divide. As stupid today as it was at the time this story is set in - 1935. To have gone to public school is one over on those who attended grammar school. To be born white obviously is natures way of providing a superior race but to be born English is a thing that sets all men born elsewhere as infinitely inferior.  Had they known of DNA way back then they may have been shocked to learn God, since he created  Humankind in his image, was black.

This isn't the first attempt and conquering the unconquerable. During the Edwardian epoch a host of men, led by an Englishman of course, tried but failed. One of their numbers fell. He fell far and he fell badly but he didn't die. They left him though. Left him to his fate, broken and cold to freeze to death in the bitter winds, the snow and the ice of Kangchenjunga.

The horror here is not just the creeping dread one feels from time to time when the inexplicable occurs but rather the way men, when faced with horrific obstacles, overcome them. They face fear head on for the fear they face is largely of their own making. It is not just a fear of the mountain but fear of failure, fear of having another be better than you. Fear of what society would say should they fail. 

The manner in which the brothers. Kit and Stephen dig at each other with gentle jibes at first before those jibes turn to Cain and Abel-like malevolence. The dangers the party face are beyond most peoples abilities to conquer. The dangers they face are almost surreal for what sane person would undertake such threats to their lives.

Michelle Paver actually visited Kangchenjunga when researching the book. She confessed to being very scared one night when enveloped in the darkest of nights, where nothing can be easily be seen. She heard footsteps approach her tent. They turned out to be a fellow walker. But that fear she felt upon hearing those feet yet not seeing anyone seeps into this tale. "Thin Air" is not only well researched but is invested with a dreadful, edgy trepidation, a fear that grows greater the more pages you turn. 

Yes, "Thin Air" is scary, very scary but it is not a conventional ghost story, not some run-of-the-mill supernatural tale. It is far better than that. 

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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Remembering Illyria (The spark of brilliance)

Image courtesy of Illyria/Transience

She was magic. A conjurer of words. An elusive sprite who made such subtle sentences speak volumes. She joined us on a team blog entitled 'Erotica.' This is from her... 

inspired by cocaine jesus and love letters

and so it begins, a story about (the tall black) armchair sex...

anais nin, march 2, 1932.
the woman will sit eternally in the tall black armchair. i will be the one woman you will never have...excessive living weighs down the imagination: we will not live, we will only write and talk to swell the sails.

as our clothes flutter to the floor, they exhale symphonic breaths. like the loose pages of our letters that blow away when we are not looking. page after page after page after page. your words are the fingers that leave bruises on my body. neck to shoulders to breasts to waist to stomach to hips to thighs to ankles. you brand me. your fingers are the bastard gentlemen who call out to the whores of my underthings. and when those sweet painted ladies answer, you love them and gut them and rip them like jack. oh, how the ripped french lace cries out like a sixteen-year-old orgasm! all i want is to fall on my knees and devour you.

patience, you say.

and you lead me to the great black one's lap where you spread yourself out, vast, incomprehensible, eloquent like a universe, compared to the nothingness that is me. your pale skin, stretched across lovely bones, moves me. you are a white star sitting on a black sky, forlorn, rock-steady, unmoving at the center of my living room. dropping your anchor right into my floor. the tiles are cool like shimmering water. and in my mouth, you taste of the sea, of salt, of secrets. what do you think when my hair becomes wanton? when it blows like those sails of ships that seek faraway lands?

henry miller. march 4, 1932.
three minutes after you have gone. no, i can't restrain it. i tell you what you already know—i love you. it is this i destroyed over and over again.

what is time? there is no time. there is only the wonder of laving and sucking and nipping. these touches we taste and those tastes we swallow. and as i stand above you, you part me—everything in me, of me. in your hands, i am born a division, a schism, a fissure. kiss me. oh, what sounds your mouth conjures from me! is this keening cry my own? never has a stradivarius wept like this. and oh god, don't you make the sweet pain stop.

minute after minute, all the aches and blushes and moist apathies make themselves known. my being is too malleable and my knees too weak. it is you that holds me up with your strong hands, pulsing with blue veins i trace over and over in my dreams. drunk on my juices, you tremble. has nectar ever flowed so copiously that you must be greedy, that you must dip your hands and lips in it again and again?

you destroy me. you make me whole. you destroy me.

henry miller, march 21, 1932.
anais, i don't know how to tell you what i feel. i live in perpetual expectancy. you come and the time slips away in a dream. it is only when you go that i realize completely your presence. and then it is too late. you numb me...i don't know what to expect of you, but it is something in the way of a miracle. i am going to demand everything of you—even the impossible, because you encourage it. you are really strong. i even like your deceit, your treachery. it seems aristocratic to me.

you want so much of me. have i ever possessed that wealth you describe? you follow me down as my back touches the floor. cold beneath and warm above. i taste you and me on you and me. raging red blood rides swiftly through our bodies—the redcoats are coming! nipples and navels and petals and stem tighten, congested with free-flowing feeling. you hold yourself like a compass and guide yourself where you want to go.

let me in, you cry. let me drift on your wayward ocean.

our hearts betray us the way our bodies do not.

anais nin, march 26, 1932.
this is strange, henry. before, as soon as i came home from all sorts of places i would sit down and write in my journal. now i want to write you, talk with you...i am so aroused by living—god, henry, in you alone i have found the same swelling of enthusiasm, the same quick rising of the blood, the fullness, the fullness...before, i almost used to think there was something wrong. everybody else seemed to have the brakes on...i never feel the brakes. i overflow. and when i feel your excitement about life flaring, next to mine, then it makes me dizzy.

i draw you in. i am filled so deep with you that i overflow. like fruity, neglected wine from the edge of a crystal glass.

my arms and legs wrap around you, span you, embrace you like the seasons. entanglement. entrapment. there is that shift and drag of flesh against flesh as you move violently, with a single mind—an animal that has awakened, a beast that has captured its prey. and i, helpless, a puppet, move to the strings of your wanting. a circle, a cycle, a compelling erotic play. and suddenly, suddenly, i arch. i croon. i look into your eyes as you claim me for those last precious seconds. why do i feel you like i have never felt life? why does my desire take the shape of a dark, exotic gypsy?

we can't let it end! yet it ends. release is the dizziness of an epilogue.

henry miller, august 6, 1932.
don't expect me to be sane anymore. don't let's be sensible. it was a marriage at louveciennes—you can't dispute it. i came away with pieces of you sticking to me...i can't see how i can go on living away from became a woman with me. i was almost terrified by it. anais, i only thought i loved you before; it was nothing like this certainty that's in me now. was all this so wonderful only because it was brief and stolen? were we acting for each other, to each other? was i less i, or more i, and you less or more you? is it madness to believe that this could go on? when and where would the drab moments begin?

maybe limbo is forever. but not this night. you pick me up and lay me in the great black one's arms, my limbs sated and spread and blooming with the roses of sensual youth and torrid knowledge. with your eyes, you make a memory of me. a memory you will keep with you when i am gone, when i become part of your fiction, when faeries tell tales of humans that loved and lost.

maybe you can be henry miller and i, anais nin. or you can be you and i, me. do you believe that beginnings end when endings begin? or that love is a letter waiting to be written?

how confounding that a chair is just a chair without us in it.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

"Preacher" Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

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Consider this: A Texan pastor who isn't adverse to cussing like a Dutch sailor, a man of the cloth who one night tells his parishioners, as they shoot pool, drink whisky and deal cards for another round of Poker, what a sorry lot of arsewipes they all are. Unremarkably, his congregation are less than pleased with his uncalled for assessment of their moral conduct. In fact, they are downright displeased. A couple of their number take it upon themselves to show their clergyman the error of his ways by beating the crap out of him. The Preacher, one Reverend Jesse Custer, is left battered, bruised, bloodied but unbroken. He is made of sterner stuff.

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Consider this: An Angel and a Demon took a fancy to each other and then, much against the rules of Heaven,  Earth and Hell, shagged themselves silly whilst hovering high between the mortal world below. The result of their illicit and celestial union was a being called Genesis. With God gone walkabouts, afraid to make the acquaintance of a being said to be as powerful as Himself, the shit most certainly hits the proverbial fan.

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Consider this: A woman named Tulip O'Hare, the former lover of Jesse Custer; a 98-year-old Irish Vampire called Cassidy both of whom form a relationship with the foul-mouthed whisky drinking priest. Unsurprisingly, with such individuals, their relationship gets a little fraught at times but then again what friendship doesn't? The bonds that tie them are often tested as one suspects they might yet, with some neat characterisation and a whole bag of humour by Ennis and Dillion, these differences create necessary tension.

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Consider this: The day following Jesse Custer's beating, a Sunday as it happens, at the church of Annville the townsfolk gather for their weekly pilgrimage to hide their sins behind a shroud of sanctimony little suspecting the being known as Genesis is about to fly through the church doors. Like a meteor, it heads toward the pastor whereupon it enters his body. This act causes multiple reactions one of which sees an energy so powerful released that the two hundred townsfolk are obliterated by the blast. The other effect is that Genesis now has a human body, independent of it, totally autonomous, walking around with the ability to use the 'word of God' whenever it needs to.

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Consider this: The Saint of Killers; the homicidal Sherrif Hugo Root; his son, a suicide survivor known as Arseface; good angels and bad; the son of Jesus and God himself. These are some of the characters the perverse creativity of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillion invest into this dark, gruesome and quirky yet very funny comic. Oh, yes, in case I forget, John Wayne plays a cameo part. 

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"Preacher" is a road trip, a dark comedy, a horror story, a cowboy, a ripping apart of the Bible and of God. It has a violence so bloody, so vivid, so graphic that it turns on itself. Each violent act, more bloody than the last and always well over-the-top, not so much parodies itself as it does propels the narrative into a black satire.

Garth Ennis, the writer of the series, has a macabre talent for bringing together extremes of fiction, fusing them into a cohesive whole incredibly well.  This creation, this "Preacher" is very different to those accepted classics of the genre, "Watchmen," "Sandman," "The Dark Knight," "Maus" and "A Contract With God" yet no less good. Like a Tarantino or one of Akira Kurosawa's movies. The art by Steve Dillion who sadly died October 2016 due to complications from a ruptured appendix, defeats superlatives. It is staggeringly good.

I would encourage any lover of comics and any non-lover of this best of genres but who enjoys creative fiction to read this splendid series that ran from 1995 until 2000. You won't be disappointed.

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.