Wednesday, 18 July 2018

"The Village Tales of Fekenham Swarberry" - "In The Frog and Radiator" - "Vicar Linkthorpe Paint’s The Town"



The Frog and Radiator was filled with folk, fumes and the fug of cigarette smoke. The fire was lit and glowed red. The firelight cast Womak Zither, a man from Winchester, a man with a head like the laughing Buddha, whose bald head sat upon a neck of multiple chins and whose earlobes hung like heavy curtains on that neck of many chins, a man whose bottom lip protruded beyond the upper wet and rubbery, a man whose mouth filled when he spoke with fleck of foam, a man who sat now with author, Russell CJ Duffy in a warm glow. Zither works for The Winchester Gazette as a journalist. He writes a column called Fond Recall where he witters on about past and present glories of celebrities, some of whom the public at large don’t even know others so ancient that the only time they get an airing is in Zithers column.  The two were sitting at a table situated by one of the Frog and Radiators windows. There was a frost upon the pane for Winter had settled in promising snow. The penniless writer whose works seldom saw paper let alone print was recounting a recent incident of which he fondly remembered.
‘I had the good fortune yesterday, although luck had little to do with it as I was taking my morning constitutional, to be passing the vicarage when Elvis Linkthorpe called out to me. ‘How about a spot of tiffin?’  He asked in that exuberant manner he has. I, having done all I could with regard to writing, with my latest project progressing nicely, readily agreed. The vicar’s mistress, how incongruous those two appellations seem when said together, was out ‘seeing to business’ as he put it ushering me in with a wave of his hand. Quite how a former whore can open a bordello in Fekenham let alone shack up with the village priest is beyond yet but, as the Good Book says, ‘Judge Ye not less Ye to be judged’ or at least something along those lines.
The vicarage nestles neatly beside St. Whipplemores. It has seen a host of curates and vicars but none, I suspect, quite like Elvis Linkthorpe who arrived in Fekenham in the early seventies bereft of cash but laden with hash, hashish that is. An uncommon commodity for a cleric to carry you might say, and who am I to argue, but then again there is nothing commonplace or conventional about the current village vicar. As I settled myself into a cosy chair Linkthorpe asked me if I would like anything to drink. 
‘A small aperitif perhaps?’ He suggested winsomely.
I said that would be most welcome requesting a glass of pale sherry.
‘Not sure I have any, but I think I might have something similar that Susanne brought with her from France.’
He set a glass filled with a greenish liquid in front of me that gave off a slight smell of aniseed. It wasn’t an unpleasant taste, so I sipped nonchalantly at this agreeable liquor with vigour. He then pressed into my hand a plate that had neatly sliced upon it some fruitcake.
‘From Ethel,’ he whispered conspiratorially.
‘Sort of like Somerset Maugham. ‘I quipped as the effects of the alcoholic beverage left my head feeling light. He furrowed his brow obviously nonplussed.
‘Cakes and ale or in this case cakes and, whatever this drink is,’ I elaborated.
‘Absinthe,’ he intoned slurping noisily from his glass, ‘thought I’d give the ginger wine a rest and see how this Gaelic tipple compared. Rather nice I think.’
I concurred while eating cake and swilling aniseed tasting alcohol feeling the heady mix spin my brain like laundry in a washing machine.
‘I have to say this cake is very flavoursome, special recipe?’
He smiled knowingly nodding his head.
‘Indeed. Ethel uses a homegrown ingredient she adds to the mix. Gives it a bit of zing doesn’t it?’
I had to agree that a certain punch did strike the palette as I chomped then swallowed the tasty patisserie. Whatever active ingredients had commingled with fruit and flour together they produced, when blessed with the aniseed potion, an exhilarating sensation that not so much flooded my senses but rather hijacked them with a firm imperative. I had never felt so alive before. I could see that the vicar too appeared lifted, energised somehow.
What say we pop out and paint the town red as it were,’ suggested the vicar with sudden vitality.
‘Fekenham?’
‘Maybe Muckleford?’
‘What about Winchester?’
‘Winchester it is!’
Flying from our seats like spring propelled acrobats the pair of us hoofed it out of the vicarage filled with a sense of sang-froid that teetered on the edge of madness. If it wasn't sang whatsit then it jolly well was ce la vie, something exotic and French anyway. Linkthorpe had the presence of mind to grab hold of the greenish booze we had been consuming and together we skedaddled off to the Wessex capital.
We arrived late afternoon as day decanters into dusk. Having concluded their days work residents were returning to their homes as we stalked the ancient city. Night beckoned as did the mischievous spirit of Puck who entered our heads whispering wicked words of encouragement.
Now then, I am not sure how acquainted with old Venta Belgarum the dear readers of this tale are but once upon a time Winchester used to be the capital of England. Course that was ages ago but still the ageing bricks, the crumbling masonry is of a vintage that allows ample authority to antiquity. There is the cathedral, of course, the longest in Europe, not to mention the castle and palace. These, though, distinguished as they remain, were not the target we had in mind for make no mistake we had a firm objective.
I think it was the vicar who said, having spotted the idle paint pots lying beside the recently decorated newsagent, what a wheeze it would be if we were to literally paint, if not the town, some monument red or, in the case of the castaway emulsion, scarlet.
Winchester has many a statue gracing its munificent walkways the most magnificent being the mighty, majestic one of King Alfred the Great. But it wasn’t Alf we wanted to deface. He may have the let the cakes burn but that was all ash under the grill as far as we were concerned. No, we didn’t want to paint notable Kings of the past, we wanted to irradiate, and illustrate for all to see the grand pomposity of councillor Tinkerbelle whose enormous egocentric effigy took pride of place in the quadrangle outside Winchester University.
As far as memory allows, and I admit to finding facts surrounding what happened a bit fuzzy, we succeeded in our aspirations according to the following morning’s newspaper which printed in Arial Black this journalistic piece of reportage – ‘Never has a member of Winchester City Council been so vividly illuminated. Seldom do we see an acting officer’s profile raised as high as his own self-esteem. Describing the painting of the statue as a wanton act of vandalism Titus Tinkerbelle found himself at odds with public opinion which seems to have found the stunt a heart-warming rebuff of current council policies. Whoever mounted the twelve-foot statue painting it a fluorescent scarlet has made the monument into a totem of ridicule. Highlighting Tinkerbelle’s nose in garish green put the finishing touches to the job. Quite why a vicar’s dog collar had been placed around the throat of the statue is unknown.’
I do not recall how I arrived home nor how I came to spend the night in my bathtub wrapped in a towel, but I do remember during the Sunday service the vicar quoting these passages from the Bible in his sermon:’
‘It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.’  Acts ix 5
‘Every man's work shall be made manifest’ I Corinthians iii 13


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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

At The Movies - Squid and Me- "The Incredible's 2"


Squid and me saw the movie last Saturday, that is the 14th. I think it hit general release the day before. All I know is that we had been waiting excitedly for the follow-up to 2004's first. It has been a long wait, too long in my opinion. Fourteen years is ridiculous. The same can be said for the sequel to 'Tintin.' Allowing years to past takes the edge of the whole process. Anyway, moan over, we both were eagerly waiting to see "The Incredibles 2".

It was good, good fun but oh, so like the first. As I said I enjoyed it, Squid more than me I think, but apart from catching up with what happened after The Underminer came out from under the earth, very little in the way of character or even story development took place.

I enjoyed seeing Elastigirl in the spotlight. I have always liked superheroes whose power is like that of Plasticman or, of course, Reed Richards, Mister Fantastic, so seeing Elastigirl taking the central stage was an excellent move.

What I had liked about  "Incredibles 1" was the way James Bond themes were merged with The Fantastic Four. So we had a family of superheroes locked into a Doctor No scenario. Part thriller, part spy, and a lot of superpowered people all over the show. "Incredibles 2" was less Bond, a lot less but far more the standard superhero fare.

Although I liked the villain I knew from the off, within a character or two, who the baddie was and even though the wrong  'un Screenslaver is an excellent supervillain I already knew, as I say within a sibling or two, who that baddie was. This didn't in anyway spoil the film but just made the story a little transparent.

Yes, I loved that first film. Still, do. Of all the current slew of superhero movies, all of which I am tiring of, "Incredibles1" is, in my view, the best, uno numero, number one. The sequel is good, very good, but it is very much like the first. Let's hope "The Incredibles 3," due in 2020, does better.
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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Monday, 9 July 2018

"The Village Tales of Fekenham Swarberry" - "In The Frog and Radiator" - "Hattie Halfbrick"



On an unaccustomedly quiet evening, a Wednesday as it happens, Arthur Bentwhistle, along with Will and Madge Hamfist, Cyril Updike, Ted Sandpip, Ethel Blowvalve and Rosie Sliteworth were discussing recent events regarding Hattie Halfbrick. The group were seated at the bar with Arthur was either polishing glasses or pouring drinks. The subject of Hattie had been first mentioned by Cyril who, as the village policeman, had found himself involved in visiting the elderly woman’s cottage having been summoned by Maurice.
“I remember as a lad, helping me dad when he wasn’t working the pub, going round t’ old Hattie’s home. She seemed ancient even back then, and I’m talkin’ forty year ago. I recall once me dad saying he once saw Hattie and her husband walkin’ down by the canal. Dad reckoned he was about twenty, maybe twenty-five and the Halfbrick’s, so he told me, were middle-aged then. Seem’s like she’s always been in Fekenham Swarberry as long as folks can remember.”
The pub's door flew open as though a strong wind had blown it. Young Billy Twist, one of the lads who attended Fekenham High School, stood nervously in the frame.
“What is it, lad?” Asked Arthur.
“Maurice Tinkercuss asked me t’ fetch Cyril. “Maurice is out on his milk round. He’s at Hattie Halbrick’s and says something’s wrong. Maurice said all the doors are locked, and he can’t get an answer no matter how hard he knocks.”
Cyril faced the boy.
“Right-O Billy. My car’s out front. Jump to it and we’ll both head over t’ Hattie’s house. ”
Cyril turned to his friends at the bar.
“Speak o’ the devil ‘n he’s sure t’ appear.”
Madge Hamfist looked shocked. “She’s alright ain’t she?”
“I’ll let you all know soon as I do.”
Hattie Halfbrick lived on her own in the crumbling cottage that she had shared with her long-dead husband Hoagie. As far as Hattie could remember, Hoagie had gone. She didn’t know where he had gone but the sense of his not being there was a hole that bore into the centre of her being, a desperate feeling of inexplicable loss. There had been a time when she had thought he would return; she imagined his head peeking around the doorjamb and shouting out, as he always did, that he was home. That had never happened and as the years, not that she counted time anymore lest it was a tick and a tock of the damnable clock, had evaporated, she had given up on that idea and now just thought of him, whenever and if ever she did, with a long-lost need.
Hattie was old, very old but again, she had forgotten how old and couldnt truly recall when her birthday was although May seemed right somehow. Something to do with clouting and flowers coming into blossom and cherries, yes, cherries, she liked a cherry did old Hattie, cherries and May. Hattie also liked to visit the canal where she would stare at the canal boats as they passed and sometimes, for no apparent reason, she would hurl abuse at them as they passed, shouting foul obscenities which she would never have used back when Hoagie was alive but, without her knowing why, Hoagie and the flat, dark waters of the canal were inextricably linked. Bonded by some mysterious quirk of nature that was a fog of her memory, a depth of hidden consciousness that welled up whenever she approached the languid waters.
She sometimes visited the railway line as that didn’t invoke in her the feelings of rage and murder that overcame her when she stood by the canal; the trains speeding by as flashes of silver bullets upon a green backdrop had a mesmeric effect on her, much like in her childhood, when she sat in front of her parlour fire watching the flames rise and dance. Often, when the thought occurred, Hattie would go up into the sooty attic of her home and there, among the cobwebby collection of memories, she would sit, knees to her chest, huddled like a child, leafing through old photos that carried a myth of faces, faces that meant nothing to her now although the act of touching them was deeply reassuring as was the act of leafing through the musty books that lay, scattered, upon the floor. Scents and touch carried a greater wealth of history than the images she saw.
Few people came to see Hattie now. Once a day Maurice Tinkercuss, who doubled up as the local postman and milkman, would leave a pint of milk and the mail, bills mostly, all of which Hattie used as fuel for her kitchen stove. She rarely sat anywhere in the house apart from the kitchen. The parlour door had been closed for years shutting away the ghosts of her marital evenings with Hoagie. The bathroom she used once a week with a clock-work like ritual when she would take her bath: it was the only room she truly cleaned. Her bedroom creaked with a mass of long-read magazines and newspapers that mounted the walls in solemn, grey stacks.
Loneliness wasnt a concept that Hattie thought of consciously, but it haunted her nights nonetheless and only the promise of a new day brought a hint of solace. When the morning broke she would wander into the village and into the butchers where, as he did every day, Neil Beefshank’s would sell her a pie that he had prepared and baked the night before. She would take the pie without a word of thanks, only to eat in front of him in total silence. At first, Neil had found the way she looked at him a little alarming, her grey unblinking eyes that stared at him like a fox watching a boy with a stick. Crumbs would drift from her jaws and fall onto her chest where some would float to the floor. The rest collected on her coat like a snowdrift. Once she had finished she would leave without a sound whereupon Neil always called out to her, “Bye Hattie, see you same time tomorrow.”
Hattie didn’t like passing the school, certainly not when it was play time and the children were gathered in the schoolyard. The name-calling was more childish mischievousness than calculated malice and the children didnt think of the harm or hurt their words might cause. Besides, Hattie was so old now and so distant that their name calling appeared to have little effect. It wasnt the names though that hurt Hattie but the faces of the children. Their faces were like the dark depths of the canal’s water, a flat reference point that held a forgotten truth, a truth that refused recollection. The children’s faces often floated before but one face, not of the crowd that taunted her, appeared before her with arms extended. She knew the face of the child but couldn’t put a name to the face.
No one in the village could remember a time before Hattie, not even Brigadier Largepiece: she had always been there, as much a part of Fekenham as Metlok Tor or the ancient woodlands of Fekit. At a guess, and many had tried, the best estimate of Hatties age was around ninety but, if she was that old, and she seemed so very nimble, then by God was she doing well for her age.
To be trapped indoors was anathema to Hattie as she couldnt stand confinement, and if those that thought she was already mad could only have known how wrong they were, how desperately sad she became when tshut up at home, on the verge of irrational hysteria, then they would have felt nothing but pity for her. Her only glimpse of joy was to wander free around Fekenham, around the areas that she had known since a child, the places that had always been there for her throughout the years which now gave her the constant reassurance that she so needed.
November moved pale and grim into December; a wraith that swept autumn away with frosty fingers ushering in yet another change in the life of Hattie Halfbrick. The Yuletide, the old Winter Solstice meant nothing anymore although she liked the Santa Claus that stood in the post office window and the tree in the high street festooned with gaudy tinsel and lights. Beyond Yule another year was waiting but what was one more year to Hattie when each day was perishing long in itself.
Hattie liked May. Liked it best when the Maypole was erected, and folks would dance their dances celebrating Spring. Somewhere deep inside her was a memory of her dancing with Hoagie and a boy, a little boy who she thought she knew but couldn’t put a name to.
Normally Maurice always checked on Mad Hattie before going off on his holidays or, if he didn’t he would make sure that either Cyril Updike knew to pay a visit, or he would alert the person who was taking on his jobs. This year though, Maurice forgot. Maybe it was all due to the excitement brought on by thoughts of the tournament but more likely it was the dark cloud of Vox Developments that hung overall activity within the village, pushing aside normal considerations with its overbearing weight. Maurice’s last day had been Thursday 13th and he had then taken off Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, returning to work on Monday 17th April. Now it was Wednesday. He had briefly seen Hattie sitting on the overgrown lawn of her garden on Thursday talking as if to a friend but of course, no one was there apart from Hattie. He had called out to her, letting her know that he had left a pint of milk on her doorstep. She had looked up and smiled, which was very unusual as she seldom recognised anyone anymore. That was the last day Maurice had seen Hattie before the break.
Now, this Wednesday, Maurice was doing his rounds and, as spring days go, it was if a bit fresh, certainly mild enough. It was Maurice’s habit to leave his visit to Hattie’s to last as it not only suited him that way, but it also meant he could do his usual routine of checking to see that Hattie was alright. The first thing he saw today made Maurice’s stomach lurch: three milk bottles still on her doorstep. However mad Hattie seemed, and no one quite knew how mad she really was, she always took in her milk on the day it was delivered, and as there was no delivery of milk on Sunday that accounted for the other three days. That meant the milk had been sitting there now for possibly four days.
 Straight away Maurice began knocking on Hattie’s door whilst calling out her name. He got no response but that wasn’t as unusual as it might have been had this been anyone apart from Hattie. She often chose to ignore people. He then ran around to the back of the cottage, trying to peer into the windows to see if he could locate Hattie inside but there wasn’t a sign of her. Of course, she may have gone out walking and fallen injured but that seemed unlikely and it still didn’t answer the question of why the milk bottles were still standing where they were left.  Maurice didn’t know quite what he should do. He could break a window and force an entry but what if she was in the bath? She would go loopy. What he really ought to do was fetch Cyril Updike, but it was a long way back to the police station. It was then that Maurice heard a bell tinkling, along with the unmistakable sound of someone whistling. Maurice rushed back to the front of the cottage where he saw Billy Twist cycling past on his way to school. Without a moment’s hesitation, Maurice shouted out to Billy to stop. The brakes on Billy’s bike squealed as he applied them which sent the bike quivering to a skidding halt as dust flew up behind the young man.
“Billy, get over to Cyril Updike’s place as quick as you can, I think old Hattie might be in trouble. Go as fast as you can son ‘cos she may be hurt.”
Billy didn’t bother to ask questions but with a nod and a quick, “On me way!” he was gone, pedalling as if Satan was chewing at his bum. Maurice went back to the cottage once more to knock and call out for Hattie just in case she was either on the toilet or in the bath. Still, there was no response. He knew instinctively that something was wrong. He started to think about Hattie, about how old she possibly was, how long she had seemed to haunt the village in all its hidden corners. It was hard to tell how old she might be as she had been around ever since he was a child, long before that according to the likes of Ethel Blowvalve and Brigadier Largepiece who recalled knowing of her back when they were children. Beyond any doubt was the fact that she was indeed the oldest person living in Fekenham. As soon as he had mulled over those thoughts, Maurice wished he hadn’t. It felt almost as if he were calling down some form of bad luck by stating the obvious about her being so old and alive.
It didn’t take Cyril Updike long to arrive. He was driving the brand-new village police car with its freshly painted POLICE insignia boldly adorning the bonnet. As Cyril climbed out of the car with young Billy Twist next to him, he gave a little wave to Maurice and called out to him.
 “Morning Maurice, did you have a good holiday?”
“Indeed, I did, but let’s talk about that later if you don’t mind. I am a bit concerned about Mad Hattie. She hasn’t taken her milk in for over four days and that is mighty queer even by her weird ways.”
Cyril placed his policeman’s peaked cap upon his head and looked grave.
“’Tis a mite odd for the old lady not to be taking her milk in I agree but let’s not get in a lather over it, Maurice. She may be on the toilet or perhaps in the bath or maybe still asleep. Have you thought on that?”
“I have, and I have knocked and called out a couple ’o times over but I gets no response at all!”
“Ok, Ok, let me try again and if I gets no response I will have to break in and have a ferret around. I hopes you is wrong though, I likes old Mad Hattie. I still recall the time when as a boy I saw her down by the old canal shouting and carrying on at those deep waters as though some demon or other was swimming in there. Cussing ‘n a cursing she was worse than a sailor in that screechy voice of hers. Me ‘n Neil Beefshanks used to think she was a witch and would scarper as fast as you like whenever we saw her.”
He knocked sharply on the cottage door, calling out Hattie’s name. He did this time and again but the only response he got was silence; silence and the sound of birds chirruping in the trees and on the telegraph wires.  PC Updike leant his head back looking up at the roof of the thatched cottage as if for inspiration. He then rubbed his hand over the stubble on his chin while looking very thoughtful (he hadn’t had time to shave that morning as he had left Cybil’s bedroom in a bit of a rush as the pair of them had overslept) then, pushing his peaked cap back from the front of his head he said in a grave voice.
“It don’t look too good do it, Maurice? I thinks I’ve no choice but to break in. Billy, stand back son as I don’t want no glass scratching or cutting Fekenham’s top goal scorer, do I?”
He was trying to act with a good heart as he was aware that Billy, at only just fourteen, would most likely have never seen a dead person before and the thought of all these goings on, exciting at first, would come as a bit of a shock if poor old Hattie were dead. Looking now at Billy, Cyril could see what Cybil had said about him.
Being of mixed race, with a gorgeous coffee coloured skin and two of the bluest eyes you could wish to see, he was indeed a handsome lad and quite possibly one of the best football players of his generation.
“Right then, stand back!”
PC Updike took his truncheon and smacked it hard against the lowest pane of glass nearest to the door handle and lock. The glass broke with a sharp crack followed by the tinkling sound of shattered fragments as they fell. Carefully pushing his hand through the broken glass, Cyril found that the key was still in the lock as he had hoped. Turning the key while pushing down on the handle, the door swung in revealing a gloomy, dusty interior which gave no hint of having seen a duster in goodness knows how long. There were no signs of Hattie though, so he called out her name again. Still, there was no reply. As their eyes adjusted to the room’s dingy light they could see bundles of books and papers that were stacked in columns along the room’s walls. Unlike the rest of the room, they didn’t appear to be so dusty and looked as if they had been recently put there as some had areas on the covers that had fresh finger marks on them.
Updike noted this, thinking it likely that Hattie had put them there for reasons best known only to her. He briefly looked at one stack of papers that appeared to very old. Laying wrinkled and yellowing, but still legible at the very top, was a series of birth certificates that had been banded together but they were unlike any sort that he had ever seen before as they only contained the most rudimentary detail and were not as precise as the ones he was used to. Cyril, not daring to touch them, leant in close the better to see what was written on them. The first one had the name Harold Thornville Ignacio Halfbrick inked in a beautiful hand-written script. It said, “born in eighteen seventy-one in Muckleford Hospital.” Cyril guessed that this had to be Hattie’s father in law as the date was far too early to have been her long-departed husband. Beneath this was another birth certificate, although this one was far more modern but still a little unfamiliar to Cyril. This one had the name Robert Harvey Halfbrick on it and was dated nineteen hundred and three. It also had both parents’ names on it, with the father being Harold Halfbrick and the mother being Hattie Halfbrick, nee Cornbloom. Cyril was perplexed by this as this the dates and names seemed to suggest that the first certificate was indeed Hattie’s long-dead husband.
“But that couldn’t be,” thought Cyril, not even Hattie was that old and besides he had never heard of any talk of Hattie having a son or any children at all come to that. Then he came upon another birth certificate that seemed to be the last one. It stated quite clearly in fading letters that Hattie Cornbloom had been born in 1873 in Muckleford Hospital and was the daughter of Hyacinth Cornbloom. This had to be some family member of Hattie’s, an Aunt maybe or perhaps her grandmother. It was perplexing, but Cyril had no time to spend figuring out the mysteries of Hattie’s family as Maurice was tugging on his sleeve.
“Cyril, I think young Billy has got a case of the collywobbles, might be best if you somehow, without upsetting his pride, got him out of here.”
Cyril nodded and called out to Billy.
“Billy, I need you to do me a favour if you would? Go to me car where you will find a two-way radio. I want you to call Sergeant Wheelspin and get him to send an ambulance over here as quick as he can. Now, the radio is easy to use simply press the button with your thumb and you will get straight through to base. Now when you’ve done that I wants you to stay with the car until the ambulance arrives OK? Got that? It is very important you stay with the car ‘cos I ain’t got anyone else I can trust. Off you go now!”
Billy, grateful not to be made to stomp through a grim and dark cottage with the prospect of meeting Mad Hattie naked or worse, spun around and ran to the car like greased lightning.
“Cheers!” said Maurice.
“Eh? What for?”
“Telling Billy that there wasn’t anyone else you could trust!”
Maurice was smiling as he knew precisely why Cyril had said what he had. He gave the constable a swift slap on the arm.
“You’d better lead on then.”
Cyril braced himself, called out Hattie’s name again and then moved to the stairs, climbing them two at a time with Maurice following on behind. At the top of the stairs stood an ageing door with antique black furniture; Cyril pushed the catch down with his thumb throwing the door open wide. He instantly jumped, accidentally knocking his elbow into Maurice’s chin. Hattie was lying on the bed, fully dressed, with her hands clasping a sheet of paper. Her eyes were open and appeared to be staring straight at Cyril.
Now Cyril, a large man, tall and broad and as a member of the constabulary not accustomed to being nervy or scared still couldn’t prevent all those memories captured during his childhood from re-surfacing with dramatic effect. He felt terrified that Hattie may really be a witch with a curse ready to send his way. He again called out her name. Hattie just stared at him. He edged a bit closer. Nothing but silence returned his call. Cyril, courage back in place, walked up to Hattie who remained, unseeing, looking directly ahead. It was hard to tell how long she had been like this, but she was definitely dead.
“Poor old dear has popped her clogs. Maurice, you were right to have been concerned.”
Behind him, he heard Maurice sobbing like a child. He was trying not to but the tears fell anyway. His body shook with the emotion.
“Should not have taken that bloody holiday, should have popped in like always.”
Cyril, having just closed the eyes of a dead person now found himself in yet another unfamiliar role.
“Hey, Maurice don’t say that, it’s not your fault, it had to happen sometime, didn’t it? Blimey, it happens to us all sooner or later and she had one hell of an innings didn’t she, come on fella, don’t take on so, it really wasn’t your responsibility to keep an eye out for her.”
Together, with Cyril’s arm wrapped around Maurice’s shoulder, they approached the corpse of Hattie Halfbrick. Cyril took the sheet of paper out of her hand. It was an aged, fading wedding certificate on which it said that Harold Halfbrick had married Hattie Cornbloom in 1900 at St. Whipplemores in the village of Fekenham Swarberry.
“Blimey!”
“What is it?”
“Well, according to this, along with the documents I saw downstairs, Hattie was born in eighteen seventy-three. Not only that but she had a son too: if this is correct, and I’ve not missed something obvious like, then that makes her…”
“One hundred and thirty-two.”
Outside the ambulance was pulling up, being greeted by young Billy Twist who was glad to be involved in such exciting matters and doubly pleased not to be at school. Inside the two men looked at each other with mild amazement.
“Did you say one hundred and thirty-two?” queried Cyril.
“Yep, that is what I said alright, one hundred and thirty-two”

“Blimey!” concluded the village constable.
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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Carmine Infantino



Carmen in 2010
OK. So just who the hell was Carmine Infantino? Sounds like some Chicago mobster, or maybe an ice cream manufacturer but no he was neither of those things and was, in fact, one of the greats of American and world comic literature. Most famous for his immaculate work on DC comics The Flash that lifted DC back up onto the top of the heap in the late 50's and also kicked started the silver age of comic book history. But first lets briefly deal with Carmine the man.

Born on May 24th 1925 in New York City obviously of Italian descent although having said that both of Carmine's parents hail from Brooklyn. As a family they were relatively poor, Carmine's father was a musician but rather than attempt to further his career in music, chose to take a steady job as a plumber. Life wasn't easy in the early years but Carmine had a passion for drawing and for comic books and would spend his teenage years actively looking for comic books and more importantly comic strip artists. It was around this time, aged fifteen that Carmine met and befriended Charles Flanders who, at the time, was the artist on the Lone Ranger comic strip. In the course of their friendship, Flanders would let the young budding artist sit in and watch him draw. It was an invaluable experience for the young man and he learnt a massive amount from those sessions.

With Flanders as his mentor and teacher, Infantino entered the comics industry in 1942 aged just 23 and got a job working for the company that would eventually evolve into Marvel Comics. In those days they were known as Timely and Infantino began working as an illustrator on the 'Jack Frost' title. He not only worked for Timely but a host of other companies until he finally graduated from art school. During this period he had the opportunity to work on some Quality Comics titles where he met the legendary Will Eisner, for whom he worked and also Reed Crandall but also Lou Fine. Eisner, Crandall and Fine along with Hal Foster, Milton Caniff and Alex Raymond were the greatest influences on Infantino's later work.

Whilst in art school Carmine meet a man who would not only become a lifelong friend but also his inker and who would work with him and become closely associated with Infantino's best work from the forties right through until the late sixties. That man was Frank Giacoia, a much-respected artist and inker in the industry.

In the fifties, the superhero genre had faded and all but died out in favour of horror and westerns and then in 1956 DC editor Julius Schwartz asked Infantino to help him revive the Flash but with some new and drastic changes. Carmine redesigned the golden age heroes costume giving him a sleek and modern look and Schwartz reinvented the character completely giving him a totally new and different secret identity to the original forties character. The Flash, along with Jack Kirby's 'Challengers of the Unknown' signalled the resurgence of the superhero and long before the age of Marvel brought back into vogue a long time thought dead genre.

I remember reading the Flash and being impressed not only by the character but also the stories that seemed so sophisticated compared to many other, mundane comic books but above all else it was the artwork that really impressed me.

It wasn't only the Flash that he worked on but also Batman, who he breathed new life into, Adam Strange, which was probably the best of the bunch, along with the excellent and often amusing Elongated Man which in itself was a rip-off, or maybe a tribute to, Plastic Man.

In 1967 Carmine became DC's editor in chief and he was profoundly important in recruiting new talent and pushing for fresh and exciting new ideas. It was he who introduced us to the talented Neal Adams. Then in 1971, Carmine was appointed publisher of DC comics, a role he was to keep for only a short while before being appointed President of the company in 1974. In 1976 he had major falling out with the corporate heads of DC and left the company after a long, thirty year, association.

Not only did he work for the two major comic publishers but also for the hugely influential Warren Comics drawing for them in Eerie, Crepy and Vampirella. His impact on the world of American comics and comics, in general, has been immeasurable and still to this day his name is held in very high regard.

Carmine was born in New York City and died there too, in Manhattan aged 87 on April 4th 2013. His fine legacy lives on.


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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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A Utility Fish Shed Blog

A Utility Fish Shed Blog