sjhstrangetales

sjhstrangetales

We are now in the Dog Days of the year, in other words the months of July and August. I’ve been fascinated by the expression “dog days” ever since I saw a passing reference to it in Edith Holden’s The Country Diary Of An Edwardian Lady, when she noted “July 3rd – Dog Days begin”. Apparently it’s taken from the time when Sirius, the Dog Star rose just before or at the same time as sunrise. In days of yore it was regarded as an evil time, a time when people acted out-of-character, or were sunk in lethargy. Dogs were also lazy, and were said to go mad, because of the heat. In Medieval times it was even thought to be unhealthy to have sex during this languid period, and men were advised to “abstain all this time from women”. 

The US stock market is reputedly slow during this…

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  • Comments Off on “EVERYTHING HAPPENED IN 1977”

Previously on this blog, I have covered some years notable for their strange phenomena.  For instance, 1947 is often regarded as the year when modern High Strangeness, as we know it, began.  It was the year of Roswell, the Kenneth Arnold sighting, the beginning of the Cold War, the CIA being founded, and Aleister Crowley popping his clogs.  Then there was 1963, when the Swinging Sixties truly began, and in Britain there was an explosion of Satanic activity, along with the Profumo Scandal, and the Moors Murderers beginning their vile crimes.

Very recently I was looking on YouTube for documentaries about the July 1977 New York Blackout.  I was reading the Comments section underneath one, and someone had posted “everything happened in 1977.  It’s getting really strange.  If it didn’t actually happen, its genesis was then”.  I found this interesting because 1977 too is often regarded as a bit of a landmark year in the realms of the Unexplained.  For many people it was simply a time of disco music, the rise of Punk, and the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.  Ask anyone over 50 about the mid-1970s and we will probably get all annoyingly misty-eyed about the great music, the great TV, and what a lark it all was.  But some truly dark stuff was happening around this time.  For instance, in the USA the Son Of Sam killings were happening in New York, and here in Britain, Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, was continuing his reign of terror.

In the style of my 1947 and 1963 pieces, I thought I’d do something similar for 1977, but largely – although not exclusively – concentrating on the Summer months.

4 February – the strange events in a small Welsh town, which were to become known as the Broad Haven Triangle, began on this date, when pupils at Broadhaven Primary School, saw a yellow cigar-shaped spacecraft land in the field next to their playground.  Over the course of the next few months many mysteries would abound about this atmospheric corner of Pembrokeshire.  Journalist Clive Harold would compile a book on the case, The Uninvited, which documented strange phenomena, in particular targeting the Coombs family at Ripperston Farm.

17-25 May – veteran Ufologist Jenny Randles claimed, in her book The Unexplained: Great Mysteries of the 20th Century, that this week saw an unprecedented level of High Strangeness in Britain.  She said there was a sharp spike in UFO sightings, and poltergeist activity.  There were also phantom big cat sightings, and crop circles seen in fields, although the crop circle phenomenon wouldn’t really take off until the early 1990s.

21 May – Anthony ‘Doc’ Shiels, a notorious self-publicist, claimed that he and his wife, and another couple, had sighted 3 black humps gliding through the mirror-like waters of Loch Ness at Borlum Bay at 8 o’clock that morning.  A few hours later, at 4:00 PM, he claimed he saw a sleek black head break the surface near Urquhart Castle.  His claims were largely met with howls of derision, and photographic evidence was nicknamed the Loch Ness Muppet.

25 May – Star Wars had its world premiere.  It was to become the highest-grossing film of all time.

6 – 9 June – celebrations for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee took place all around the UK.  Punk legends the Sex Pistols released their anti-monarchy rant God Save The Queen to coincide with it.  I’ve seen 1977 described as the year Punk exploded, it was everywhere.  Lead singer of the Pistols, Johnny Rotten, would eventually wind up advertising butter on TV.

8 June – giant ball lightning seen at Fishguard, Dyfed, in Wales.

9 June – a couple were approached on a road near Winchester, UK, during the afternoon by aliens, who informed them that they were concerned about War and wanted to help mankind!  The female witness to this extraordinary event, Joyce Bowler, said she wanted nothing to do with any of it, and it made her feel like a marked person.

20 June – Anglia Television in the UK broadcast a docudrama called Alternative 3, which allegedly exposed a top secret government plan to move members of the elite from Earth to Mars, as our planet is in its death throes.  It was originally intended to be broadcast as an April Fools Joke, but had had to be put back because of a technicians strike.  The programme caused a huge amount of alarm, with people jamming the station’s switchboards demanding to know what was going on.  Alternative 3 has since then achieved a prophetic status, as some of the issues they touch upon in the programme, such as Climate Change, have since been proven to be true.   It’s still an absorbing bit of television, and well worth a watch.

26 June – Jayne MacDonald, aged only 16, becomes the latest victim of the Yorkshire Ripper in Leeds.

26 June – Sal Lupo and Judy Plaido became the latest victims of the Son of Sam shooter, who had taken to targeting courting couples in parked cars in parts of New York.  The couple had just left a disco in Queens at 3 AM, when they were fired at through their car window.  Both victims survived the attack.

1 July – Several military personnel at Aviano NATO base at Pordenone, Italy, claimed to see a bright light hovering overhead at an altitude of 100 meters, at 3 AM.  Whilst this occurred there was a power blackout.  The object was said to have hovered for over an hour.

10 July – a temperature of 48degsC is recorded in Greece, setting a temperature record for mainland Europe.

10 July – Maureen Long, aged 42, was injured in an attack in Bradford, thought to have been carried out by the Yorkshire Ripper.

13 July – the New York Blackout occurred, when a major power failure hit large areas of the city, which was without power for 25 hours.  Widespread criminal activity occurred, including arson and looting.  Many observers often cite this as an example of the thin line between civilised behaviour and people reverting to a primitive state.  And yet similar blackouts in 1965 and 2003 did not see the same level of criminal activity.  It was a combination of factors, of Austerity, of New York enduring a long period of bankruptcy and decay, plus the hot weather, plus having a serial-killer on the loose, which all led to a perfect storm situation.  The power outage was the tipping-point where society went over the edge.  UPDATE: another power outage occurred on 13 July 2019, exactly 42 years to the day after this one, when a transformer exploded.  Fortunately this time there was no violence.  In fact, people reported feel-good stories of New Yorkers helping to direct traffic, and Broadway performers going outside to rehearse on the street.

28 July – An 8 foot white-robed figure was seen beside Clowbridge Reservoir, in Lancashire.

31 July – Stacy Moskowitz and Robert Violante, both aged 20, were kissing in a parked car at Bath Beach, New York, when shots were fired through the car window.  Violante lost an eye in the attack, and Stacy Moskowitz died.

10 August – David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam serial-killer was finally captured in Yonkers, New York.  The case has many alleged Satanic elements to it, and still causes controversy to this day.

15 August – The Big Ear, a radio telescope, part of the SETI project at Ohio State University, received a radio signal from deep in space.  It became famously known as the Wow! signal.

16 August – the King of Rock N Roll, Elvis Presley, died at his Graceland mansion.  Not only did his death provoke huge levels of public mourning, but also a myriad of conspiracy theories.

20 August – the Voyager 2 spacecraft was launched.

31 August – the Enfield Poltergeist outbreak began in the UK.  It was to continue for the next 2 years, and still causes much interest and debate now.  It is thought to have been the inspiration behind the BBC’s notorious Halloween hoax Ghostwatch in 1992.

September – popular singing duo The Carpenters released their hit single, Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft, about alien contact.

16 November – Close Encounters Of The Third Kind premiered in New York City.  Its impact has been huge, and UFO fever went through the global roof.

26 November – one of the most famous broadcast interruptions in history occurred at teatime, when a strange voice interrupted a Southern TV (in the UK) news report to warn viewers of Mankind’s ultimate doom if it carried on down the path it was on.  Largely seen as a clever hoax, but it remains unsolved to this day, and no one has ever come forward (to date) to claim responsibility for it.  I can’t help wondering though, that if the Aliens were genuinely concerned for us, why did they broadcast on a small local TV station?!

As well as all these the Warminster UFO activity was still continuing, and actually inspired a bizarre plot on a daytime BBC radio soap called Waggoners Walk (which I have fond memories of), which had the local residents heading up to Hampstead Heath for a UFO skywatch!  I think its fair to say that UFO fever was gripping everybody in the late 1970s.

 

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  • Comments Off on BOOK REVIEW: THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL by PETER JAMES

I sometimes think the classic Haunted House story is one of the most difficult literary genres to pull off, particularly these days when we’ve seen and read so much in that line already.  It’s getting harder and harder for an author to achieve something completely different, to reinvent the wheel as it were.  And unfortunately Peter James doesn’t really manage it.

The House on Cold Hill begins in the good old traditional Haunted House way, a family moves into a big, decaying old mansion, which they can ill afford, and straight away odd things begin to happen.  I don’t mind old plots like these at all, they are popular for a reason, and I’m very happy to see a new one come along.  On GoodReads I gave the book a 4* rating, simply because it did keep me reading right to the end, and these days I’m grateful for small mercies.  There were some minor eerie moments, but to be honest, nothing that was going to have me looking around me nervously late at night.  Neither did it descend into daft, cartoon-ish violence, which I see all too often these days, particularly with some of Amy Cross’s ghost stories.

The principal characters, of Oliver, his wife Caro, and their daughter Jade, didn’t annoy me, but to be honest, they were probably too bland for that.  Caro in particular was one of the blandest, most cardboard cut-out characters I’ve ever seen in a novel.  She had absolutely no memorable features whatsoever.  She seemed to exist solely to get in and out of her car, and to whine “darling” at the other two.  Jade I couldn’t get a handle on at all.  I couldn’t place her age.  Sometimes she seemed like a little tot of about 5 or 6, and then at others a nearly adult 16 or 17.  Apparently she’s meant to be 12.  The overwhelming impression I had was that her silly parents over-indulged her way too much, but that might be a standard middle-class thing for all I know.   Also Jade seems remarkably unconcerned by everything that’s going on.  Whereas her parents are jumping at their own shadows, she is tucked up at her end of the house, blissfully unconcerned by spectral visitations in her room, or even wandering about the house herself in the dead of night, trying to scare them.  There didn’t seem to be any genuine warmth, emotion or passion between the characters.  If anything they just existed side-by-side.   No one really got angry at all the rubbish that was happening to them, or seemed to overly care very much.  They just got a bit frazzled sometimes that’s all, as if it was nothing more than a slow Internet connection.

Many GoodReads reviewers have complained about the heavy-handed middle-class product placement going on.  Well yes.  Now don’t get me wrong,  I don’t mind reading what  characters in a story have for lunch, or listen to on the radio, it all helps to set the scene, but some of this was a bit Sunday Colour Supplement, or perhaps these days I should say Instagram.  For instance, the family couldn’t just make a cup of coffee, it had to be a particular type of coffee in their new super-dooper coffee machine.  This happened EVERY BLOODY TIME the smug bastards had a cup of coffee!!  And when making a cup of tea, it had to be branded as “builder’s tea”, as if they’re saying “ooh look at us slumming it sometimes, we can serve strong tea in a mug occasionally doncha know”.

Perhaps where the book most failed for me was that it constantly reminded me of other stories I’ve read over the years, so instead of being spooked I was thinking “ah the bed being moved around whilst they slept, now that happened in Nigel Kneale’s short story Minuke“.  Likewise when Oliver finds human remains in the house, it was straight out of The Legend of Hell House, and just previous to that, with the sinister hidden room, was M R James’s Number 13.  At other times I was reminded of Burnt OfferingsThe Haunting Of Hill House, James Herbert’s The Ghosts of Sleath, and Kingsley Amis’s The Green Man (but without the humour).  It was as if the author had diligently done his homework by ploughing his way through a set reading list of Haunted House books, and then decided to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, into his own work.

Another big problem was the ghost herself.  I had high hopes of her when she first began to appear.  She seemed genuinely creepy.  And I find there is something  unsettling about the idea of somebody being walled up alive.   So this should have worked.  But it didn’t.  We didn’t get anywhere near enough time on her story.  Plus she was incredibly resourceful.  I can just about buy that she managed to hack into Oliver’s phone and computer, but why does an 18th-century upper-class lady then decide to start taunting him, using abusive modern language which sounds more like it’s coming from your average (very average) 21st-century Twitter troll?!  That was where our spectral lady descended into pantomime farce level.  I almost expected her to start sending him messages loaded with emoji’s.

BUT, as I said previously, I did manage to read all of it (although I was skim-reading towards the end, as I wanted to get on with something else).  There is a sequel planned for the Autumn apparently, and I expect I shall give it a go.  Reading this though does remind me what an incredibly difficult genre this is.  In some ways Victorian authors had it easier, in that it was probably simpler to scare the beejaysus out of the reader by having some poor wretch wondering around a dark old house with a guttering candle.  Nowadays it is getting much harder to frighten the reader, as they’ve seen it all before.  At least the house didn’t burn down at the end, because that one has been done a few too many times already.

ADDENDUM: soon after reading this I stumbled upon some new horror by an up-and-coming author called Christopher Motz.  Tenants is about an eerie apartment block called Blackridge, which is quite reminiscent of the one in Rosemary’s Baby.  This is even darker and more disturbing than that classic tale though.  The characters in this were lively, unlike the lifeless, middle-class stodge in The House On Cold Hill.  There were also Aickman-ish touches to Tenants, with the apartment block sucking the life out of the surrounding area.  There is a scene where Linda, the central character, visits a local down-beat restaurant which felt positively trippy and surreal.  The story moved at a fair lick, and the ending justified your time.

I’ll close this review with some Haunted House stories I can recommend, some of which I’ve already mentioned.  Some aren’t strictly ghost stories, but they all have a high Creep factor.  If I think of anymore, I’ll add them on:

Hell House by Richard Matheson

The Haunting Of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Ghosts of Sleath and Ash by James Herbert

Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco

The House On The Borderland by William Hope Hodgson

The Green Man by Kingsley Amis

The Possessors by John Christopher

Tenants by Christopher Motz

The Haunting of Toby Jugg by Dennis Wheatley

Minuke (short story) by Nigel Kneale

The Hospice, The School Friend, The Inner Room (& many others, short stories) by Robert Aickman

The Amityville Horror by Jan Anson (yes I know, this one is a controversial entry on the list, but it genuinely unnerved me when I first read it, although admittedly that was a long time ago)

Many of the short stories of M R James

The House That Jack Built by Graham Masterton

 

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  • Comments Off on LOCAL NEWSPAPER CUTTINGS ON THE BERWYN MOUNTAINS UFO INCIDENT

Very recently I was handed a pile of old newspaper cuttings from the Welsh edition of the Liverpool Daily Post concerning the Berwyn Mountains UFO incident.  This case is sometimes referred to as the Welsh Roswell.  On 23 January 1974 an earth tremor hit the area, and strange lights were seen.  Since then mysterious rumours about the incident have abounded.  The most dramatic of which was that alien bodies were recovered from the mountain, stuffed into the back of an army truck, and driven down to the highly secretive Ministry of Defence scientific research centre Porton Down, near Salisbury in Wiltshire, southern England.

Anyway I thought I would transcribe one of the cuttings, published in late January 1974, for anyone out there who is interested in the subject.  Here goes:

Scientists were still arguing last night over whether it was an earth tremor or a meteorite that shook most of North Wales 24 hours earlier.  Teams of experts had joined police and an RAF mountain rescue group searching for evidence of any kind in the rugged Berwyn Mountains in Merionethshire.  It was there, near the village of Llandrillo, that ‘an explosion’ was reported on Wednesday night.  In the village itself furniture was moved by the tremor, and pictures fell off walls.  Shock waves were felt as far away as Birkenhead. 

Reports of lights in the sky also came from a wide area, although many sightings happened after the tremor itself.  Police and coastguards now believe that many people, especially in the Isle of Man, actually saw an RAF photo-flash night bombing exercise.  Astronomer Dr Ron Maddison of Keele University, who spent all day scouring the area, said that he was convinced that a meteorite was responsible.  “I’ve never heard of that part of Wales being prone to any kind of earth tremors, and I don’t think there’s any other way of explaining the lights that people have seen”, he said. 

“Today’s search was pretty fruitless, but that’s a pretty bleak part of the world in mid-January”, he went on “We’ll be back tomorrow”.  But at the Global Seismology Unit in Edinburgh, opinions were more in favour of the earth tremor theory.  “The tremor was recorded as magnitude 4”, said a spokesman “A meteorite big enough to have caused that kind of temor would have lit up the sky like daytime, and as far as we know, the lights seen weren’t that bright”. 

The exact location of the centre of the tremor, as judged by instruments, is proving hard to pin down.  Cross-readings vary between 15 and 20 miles from its position first suggested near Llandrillo, on the slopes of 2,500 foot Cader Bronwen.  “I tend to think the centre was nearer the coast, towards Colwyn Bay.  But it will be the beginning of next week before we can say definitely, after we have run the findings through a computer”, said the Edinburgh spokesman.  One theory definitely exploded is that a buried wartime German bomb was somehow set off”. 

Now, also in the pile I was given, was a report, again from the Liverpool Daily Post, headed Mystery Object Baffles Experts.  This was published on 4 February 1974, just a few days after the above incident.  This one reads as follows:

‘The nine-foot long plane-shaped object washed ashore at the base of the Abraham’s Bosom cliffs near South Stack, Anglesey, remains unidentified even after several experts have examined it.  After taking photographs and drawings of the object, members of an RAF team announced that whatever it was it could not fly.  Earlier a bomb disposal squad had said it was not dangerous.  The casing made out of black aluminium has no writing on it except some numbers, but it does contain several plug holes and discs which is evidence that it is full of instruments.  A coastguard spokesman revealed yesterday that it had been found far too heavy to haul up the 150-foot high cliff.  “It has obviously been in the sea a fair time but our main concern was that it was not dangerous.  We believe that it could be some sort of equipment usually towed by a ship.  Several people have been to have a look at it but no one has come up with an answer.  The RAF say that it cannot fly but the wings and tail on it gives it power to climb and dive in water”‘.

The second story is completely new to me, but it reminds me irresistibly of like something out of an old Quatermass film!  You can read more about the Berwyn Mountains incident on the Mysterious Universe website.

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There is an opening scene to one of the old Pink Panther movies in which somebody commits the perfect robbery, when they steal the valuable jewel from a museum.  I was reminded of it when I read about the theft of a Cezanne painting – reputedly worth about £3,000,000 ($4.8 million dollars) –  from Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum on Millennium night, New Year’s Eve 1999.

If you’re going to commit the perfect robbery I guess picking a time when everybody is going to be distracted elsewhere is a good start, and on 31 December 1999 the entire world was preoccupied by the once-in-a-thousand-years Millennial celebrations.

The thief gained access to the Museum by climbing the scaffolding  on a nearby building, and hopping across the rooftops.  At the stroke of midnight fireworks erupted everywhere, and they took advantage of the racket to cut a hole in the roof of the Ashmolean Museum, although one report said they smashed a skylight.  Carrying a holdall containing the tools he needed he then clambered through the hole using a rope ladder.  The most cunning part of the plan was to come next.  The thief let off a smoke bomb to obscure the security cameras.

The smoke bomb set off the fire alarms, and whilst a member of staff was waiting for the fire crew to arrive, the thief grabbed the Cezanne, and shimmied back up the rope, before hot-footing back across the rooftops and eventually disappearing back into the celebrating crowds.  He left behind him his holdall containing his gloves, scalpel and tape.

The painting, entitled View of Auvers-sur-Oise, was very clearly stolen to order.  It was housed amongst a lot of other very priceless paintings by the likes of van Gogh, Picasso and Monet, but it was the Cezanne the thief was after.  No trace of the painting has ever been found since, and it’s probably safe to say it has been sitting in a locked vault somewhere, the pride and joy of some unscrupulous collector.  This in spite of the fact that the story did get a lot of publicity at the time (I remember reading about it on dear old Teletext the next day), and an alert was immediately put out at all sea and airports.

At the time a spokesman for Thames Valley Police said they had no idea when the painting would be recovered, “it could be tomorrow or it could be in 20 years”.  Well, nearly 20 years on, and both painting and culprit are still highly elusive.

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I used to read a lot of erotic fiction back in the day (and by that I mean the 1990s).  It wasn’t unknown for me to haunt the erotic book section of Waterstone’s, usually as fascinated by the other people in there as much as the books on offer.  Girls with feathered jewellery, and yes, old men in raincoats too.   I worked my way through the Victorian and Edwardian classics, including My Secret Life, and another one about corporal punishment – the name of which escapes me now, but it was written by our old friend Anonymous – which did at least give me the idea of us going to Croyde in north Devon for our holidays. I plodded through the complete works of the Marquis de Sade, but found Francine du Plessix Gray’s biography of him to be much more interesting.  I eventually wound up in Lacoste in Provence, where de Sade’s ruined chateau is, so I owe some of my travels to vintage erotica!  I tried my best with Anais Nin, and I respect her achievements, but found her curiously cold, as if she was a bit too airy and abstract for me.  I’m an Earth sign, perhaps I need more meat on the bones, I don’t want silly women going all random and twittery on me, and having affairs with their own dads.

I enjoyed Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy, and loved the way she created a whole sensual new world drawn from old fairy-tales.  When I tried to read the more recent Beauty’s Kingdom though, it completely exasperated me.  I found some of the characters to be total drips, constantly whining and bleating about something or other.  So I thought, perhaps it’s old age coming on.  I can’t be bothered with reading about this stuff anymore.  A few years ago I did get  a bit caught up in all the 50 Shades palava, but that mostly seemed to be because just everybody I knew was reading it, including my 84-year-old neighbour.   But that bored me very quickly.  Ana was a pretentious (“my inner goddess purred”) wimp, and Christian Grey was a ridiculously high-maintenance dullard who, to add insult to injury, had an irritating mother who seemed to keep cropping up all the time when you least expect it.   This might sound controversial, but I believe no captivating male love interest of romantic/erotic fiction should have a mother who keeps appearing on the scene.   God forbid, the mother-in-law character can be a right pain in the ‘arris in real life, I don’t want her appearing in steamy escapism as well.

Get on with reviewing the book you’re supposed to be reviewing, I hear you cry, this isn’t a trip down Memory Lane (well it is partly).  Anyway, to cut a long story short, I suppose I’m saying I thought I was too old and jaded to enjoy erotic fiction these days … so it was a very pleasant surprise to find this book.   I think it helped enormously that because Our Heroine is an air stewardess, the book is set in several different locations, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, USA and Ireland, and she has various adventures in each one.   There is surprisingly little of the Mile High Club about it, but I think, unless you’re on a private flight, I don’t see how that can work these days, considering how we’re usually all jammed in like sardines on most trips.  The Mile High Club smacks of the 1960s and 70s, with spacious flights occupied by rich businessmen and film stars, like something out of a vintage Jackie Collins novel.  It’s hard to equate erotica with flying budget Tenko class somehow.

No, most of Our Heroine’s adventures are on the ground.  She goes surfing in Costa Rica, auditions for a dodgy film part in Los Angeles, and winds up in a strange Irish castle, where, to quote Bernard Bresslaw’s character in Carry On Up The Khyber, the guests are urged to Deny Yourselves Nothing.  This actually had A Story.  Yes! Let joy be unconfined. One of the things I liked about it was that there really wasn’t much in the way of any true unpleasantness about it.  Apart from a dodgy incident on a midnight beach, when she and surfer lover encounter a bent policeman, Our Heroine is in control of all the situations.  She is doing what she wants, however bizarre it might seem at times.  She’s simply enjoying herself, and experimenting to see what she likes.  She’s not out to Save the sad sack men in her life (ruddy 50 Shades again), she has fun with them and then moves on.  The characters aren’t overtly cynical, and the whole thing isn’t riddled with complications, which was a refreshing change.   There is a second story running intertwined with this one, in which a man becomes obsessed with her and tries to track her down, but to be honest, I really couldn’t be bothered with him, so I can’t say much about those sections.

I am looking forward to Part 2 when Our Heroine continues her world travels.

Copyright

© Sarah Hapgood and sjhstrangetales.wordpress.com, 2011-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sarah Hapgood and sjhstrangetales.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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