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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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  • Comments Off on THE MILLENNIUM NIGHT ART HEIST

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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  • Comments Off on BOOK REVIEW: THE STEWARDESS’S DIARY PARTS 1-5 by S M PRATT

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.

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  • Comments Off on THE MOST BIZARRE CONSPIRACY THEORIES ABOUT THE BRITISH ROYAL FAMILY

We live in the age of the Conspiracy Theory. Sometimes it can seem as if every person in the public eye attracts their share of weird and lurid tales. Inevitably, the British Royal Family have netted some absolute corkers about them. I have tried to steer away from some of the more famous ones here. Stories such as The Queen is really a giant, shape-shifting lizard, or that James Hewitt is really Prince Harry’s father, are now so well-known that they have entered the mainstream. The untimely death of Diana, Princess of Wales has turned her story into the JFK or Elvis of our time, with dark theories that she was bumped off, or that she may even still be alive. Again, these stories are well in the public domain. A quick browse on Amazon and you will find shelf-loads of books on the subject, and more seem to appear all the time. Likewise I am not going to rehash old chestnuts such as the Duke of Clarence was Jack The Ripper.

The handful of stories I’ve included below are some of the most fantastical of the Royal Family conspiracies I’ve read over the years. More keep appearing all the time, so I might well add to it. Conspiracy theorists can be a dangerous lot to get entangled with, so I put this out there purely as Entertainment, and for anyone who loves a good story, no matter how far-fetched it may be.

THEY ARE CANNIBALS

This one seems to be based entirely on one man’s anecdote that he was doing some work in the kitchens at Buckingham Palace, and in a refrigerator he found a tray of what he thought was uncooked human flesh. This is probably the most elusive of the conspiracy theories, and yet it was given some credence in recent years when a history article related how the Nobs (the royals and aristocracy) were revealed to have occasionally eaten human flesh hundreds of years ago. Old habits die hard it seems.

PRINCESS DIANA IS REALLY DAVID FURNISH

This one has to be the most bizarre of the lot! I’m pretty broad-minded when it comes to most things, but I actually cannot understand why anyone would believe this in all seriousness, and yet they do. The theory behind this is not just that Princess Diana is still alive, but that she is really a man, and is Sir Elton John’s partner, David Furnish. Inevitably, when somebody very famous dies in their prime, there will be many who refuse to believe that they are gone, and Diana is no exception. There are a vigorous bunch of conspiracists who believe that Diana is really Ondine Rothschild. Well they were both tall and blond I suppose, but they bear no resemblance to each other in the face (conspiracists get round that one by yelling about plastic surgery). Do a Google search for Ondine Rothschild, and Diana will also come up. Ondine is also a very private person, who doesn’t seem to go out of her way to court publicity, so this helps fuel the conspiracy.

But all that wasn’t far-fetched enough for them, they had to make poor Diana a man as well! I don’t know how this particular story got started, but they seem to base it on a lavish dinner held at the White House in 1985, when President Ronald Reagan played host to Prince Charles and Princess Diana. In his toast to them, the President made a famous slip-of-the-tongue when he called Diana “Princess David”. I remember everyone just treated it as a joke at the time, and slip-of-the-tongues are all too easy to do, but it seems they can be very dodgy things, as years later conspiracists will latch onto it.

MEGHAN MARKLE IS NOT PREGNANT

I don’t think I’ve seen any member of the Royal Family occur so much wrath and criticism since the days of Fergie, Duchess of York’s, downfall nearly 30 years ago. It is truly astonishing how much bile Meghan has attracted during her relatively short stint in the public eye. I have no strong feelings about her one way or the other, I am entirely neutral, but it would seem these days that Meghan can’t do anything right, and things seem to have moved up several notches since her pregnancy was announced at the back end of 2018.

Conspiracy theorists seem obsessed with royal pregnancies. There are some who fervently believe that Kate, Duchess of Cambridge never had any of her 3 children, that Prince William secretly impregnated a surrogate mother. Why would he do this when he has a perfectly healthy young woman already by his side ? you may reasonably ask. Well they believe that Kate isn’t really a woman. Yes, that one again. Another thing that baffles me about the more extreme conspiracy theorists I see Online is how pathologically obsessed they are with transgender women. A few seem to believe that no woman in the public eye was actually born a woman. They’ve said that about every high-profile woman from Marilyn Monroe to Michelle Obama.

Twitter – that bastion of fragrant fresh air, kindness, and generosity of spirit – is currently awash with numerous accounts dedicated to rubbishing Meghan. Inevitably, her “moonbump” also has its own account. They endlessly speculate about her wearing high heels, crossing her legs, crouching down, caressing her own belly. The latest thing to get them all excited is a small bump photographed under the side of her dress which is said to indicate, beyond all shadow of a doubt, that she is wearing a prosthetic. I’m not quite sure what all this is meant to achieve. Why would Meghan be desperate to fake a pregnancy? She and Harry aren’t in the running for the throne, and even if it was true, she would soon be found out! Someone I know once said that the reason the Moon Landings must be real, is that someone over the years would have blown the whistle if they’d been faked. Too many people would have to have been in on the big secret. The same goes with Meghan and her “bump”. I can’t wait to see what they all have to say in April, when the baby’s due. Actually I can.

The only good thing about all this nonsense is that they’ve finally laid off having a go at Kate. For years she was the butt of all the abuse, “Waity Kate”, “the grin on a stick”, that sort of thing. Now that Meghan has become the new royal whipping-girl, Kate has been magically catapulted to sainthood overnight. She can do no wrong. As the Duchess of York said recently, they are trying to do to Kate and Meghan what they did to her and Diana, trying desperately to whip up rivalry. Fergie was always criticised for being too fat. Diana for being too thin. Fergie was a neglectful mother. Diana was a suffocating one. Fergie was a frump. Diana was a clothes horse. And if the acclaimed series The Crown is to be believed, they did the same nonsense to The Queen and Princess Margaret in the 1950s! There is nothing new under the sun. I notice they never do this to royal men, certainly not to the same extent anyway.

There is another conspiracy theory going the rounds that Meghan is a robot, because she never blinks, but I think that’s quite Meghan for the time being.

THE QUEEN MOTHER WAS A SATANIC WITCH

This originated from David Icke’s book The Biggest Secret, published over 20 years ago. In it he describes Satanic rites at Balmoral, the Royal Family’s Scottish residence, in which The Queen Mother presides over child-killings in the castle’s cellars. The stories about the QM are fuelled by comments such as Adolf Hitler’s that she was “the most dangerous woman in Europe”. I think having Hitler saying such things about you should be worn as a badge of honour! The Queen Mother has incurred her share of salacious stories over the years, many of them emanating from ardent supporters of Wallis Simpson, with whom she had a decades-long feud worthy of Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. This one though is straight out of a Dennis Wheatley novel.

THE QUEEN IS A CHILD ABDUCTOR

This is the darkest one. In October 1964 the Queen and Prince Philip were making an official visit to Canada. It is alleged that one day the royal couple made an unofficial, off-the-record visit to a residential school for aboriginal children, Kamloops in Vancouver. An ex-pupil, William Combes, related how he and other children were invited to go on a picnic with the couple. He said he thought it was odd when the children were ordered to bend down and kiss her white laced boot. He goes on “after a while I saw the Queen leave the picnic with ten children [seven boys and three girls] from the school, and those kids never returned”. William Combes died in 2011 at the age of 58. Before he died he related a catalogue of child abuse, torture and murder said to have occurred at the school, which all sounds depressingly familiar.

The Queen did indeed visit Canada in October 1964 (a quick check of Wikipedia proves that), but in a debate about this subject on Reddit someone pointed out that she was the other side of the country at the time this abduction was supposed to have taken place, and in 1964 getting around was nowhere near as easy and straightforward as it is now. As the Reddit poster points out it is also hard to see how someone as high-profile as the Queen – the most famous woman in the world – could make a surreptitious visit to the school. Royal tour schedules are notoriously tightly planned, and that she and the Duke could disappear for several hours without anyone knowing does stretch plausibility. The Reddit poster goes on though to make the intriguing suggestion that “it could have been someone who looked like the Queen”. Mmm. The white laced boot bit also bothers me. The Queen tends to walk about in black court shoes (when she’s not wearing her wellies). White laced boots sounds rather too flamboyant for Her Maj.

AND FINALLY …

There will doubtless be many more royal conspiracy theories to come in the future.  Prince Philip’s recent car crash is a case in point.  I heard someone claim that the reason one witness to it was so terrified was because they might have seen the Duke shape-shifting behind the wheel.  What concerns me more was what heck speed was he going at to leave the car in that state?!  Let alone his unspeakably arrogant attitude afterwards.

The anti-Meghan bandwagon is gathering momentum by the day and shows no sign of abating.  I am starting to wonder if she is in danger of becoming a public scapegoat for everybody’s grievances, a sort of 21st century Marie Antoinette in her Mme Deficit role.  I was once told by a snotty little po-faced oik on Goodreads to leave my politics on my blog.  Well this is my blog, so here goes.  If you want to blame anyone for the current mess we’re in then blame this truly appalling shit-shower of a government we are living under (and no, I’m not a Corbynista, before anyone starts, party politics of all persuasions tends to repel me these days).  I can see why Meghan isn’t everybody’s cup of tea – all that constant belly-cradling is even starting to annoy me – but she is NOT personally responsible for Austerity or Brexit.  If you want to blame one person, then blame Theresa May, who is a total buffoon and has all the brains of a rocking-horse, not Meghan Markle.

ADDENDUM 10/3/2019 – The Meghan Roadshow continues on and on.  In recent days it has been revealed in the British press that the Russians are putting out vehemently pro-Meghan tweets on social-media, and trolling anyone who is negative about her.  The big question for me in all this is WHY???  Meghan is only a minor member of the Royal Family.  Short of some terrible calamity happening she is never likely to be Queen – Harry is very much in the Princess Margaret role, being pushed further and further down the Windsor pecking-order until he eventually becomes completely irrelevant – so why would anybody bother that much about her?

Earlier in this piece I mentioned the extraordinary amount of venom Meghan seems to attract.  But I would also add that she also seems to attract an hysterical level of adoration.  It can seem as if no one is capable of having a neutral opinion about her [I am tempted to do the famous Alan Partridge shrug at this point].   I think part of the problem is that she can come across as pushy.  Someone reminded me that Princess Michael of Kent used to be called Princess Pushy, so this is nothing new where the Royals are concerned.  We’ve been round this block before.   Some people adore her I’m Meghan I’m Here To Help attitude.  Personally, I do NOT appreciate having a pampered, royal duchess trying to save us all.  I find it all a wee bit patronising to be honest.  And there are times I do wish she’d put a sock in it, and go and quietly look at some knitting patterns at Frogmore Cottage (“cottage” my arse, as Jim Royle would say).

Anyhoo, this is in danger of turning into a Meghan blog piece.  The fuss isn’t going to die down any time soon.  Pass the popcorn I suppose.

ADDENDUM 12/5/2019 – well when Baby Sussex was finally born I did think the whole Fake Baby nonsense would die down, and for a few hours that did seem to be the case.   Hell nooo, the conspiracy theorists weren’t to be defeated that easily.  They are now claiming vehemently that Archie is a silicon doll.  I don’t actually know where to begin with this one, but I’ll try.

Well first there’s the lovely picture of Doria, the Queen and Prince Philip cooing over the baby, and they all look absolutely delighted and chuffed to bits.  Nothing about this picture screams “fake!” to me, and for Prince Philip to look happy it must be genuine, that’s all I can say.  Secondly, just suppose Baby Archie is a silicon doll, what are they going to do as he grows?  Keep replacing him with bigger silicon dolls?  Will a little robot be wheeled out for the press pack when he starts his first day at school?  Will there be several Archie doppelgangers all stepping in when he goes to university, joins the army, has his first relationship, gets married?

I have been following bizarre royal rumours for several years now, and I have never known one quite as bonkers and surreal as this one before.  They just will not let it go.  I’m starting to have a fear that the poor little sprog will spend his whole life having mouth-breathers closely following him around, trying to ascertain if he’s real or not.  We really are through the looking-glass these days.

 

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  • Comments Off on BOOK REVIEW: THE POSSESSORS by JOHN CHRISTOPHER

John Christopher, who worked under many pseudonyms, is largely known these days for his sci-fi series The Tripods.  If you’re as old as you me, you may remember that being serialised on British TV back in the 1980s.  He also wrote a number of stand-alone chillers, including this one, The Possessors, which has a pleasingly low-budget, black-and-white B-movie feel about it.

It begins rather like an Agatha Christie whodunnit.  Douglas is a London solicitor, going away on a skiing holiday to get over an unsatisfactory love affair.  He arrives at an Alpine hotel, isolated in the Swiss mountains, run by a British guy, George, and his American wife, Mandy.  He meets all the other guests, all of the British middle-class kind, who certainly wouldn’t be out of place in a Dame Agatha novel.

One day, one of the children staying at the hotel, Andy, is playing in the snow when he comes across a strange blue object, the size of a tennis ball.  From then on things become very strange indeed.  We move from a Whodunnit to an eerie kind of zombie thriller, with aliens taking over human bodies.

This is very much a slow-burner of a novel, and if you prefer your horror to get cracking with the blood and gore immediately you may well be disappointed.  But I liked it.  I get so sick of some modern zombie thrillers where characters constantly run around in a testosterone-fuelled fit, yammering on about how bloody marvellous guns are, doncha know.  This has a creepy, 1930s-style Old Dark House feel to it, with characters being taken over one after the other.  Sort of like Alien transposed to a Swiss hotel, but much less violent.

The novel was written in the early 1960s, but there is a refreshing lack of archaic sexism.  The men insist they are the only ones capable of doing guard duty (yeah of course), but that’s just about it.  We don’t have any of the usual mid-20th century nonsense where Silly Woman Has Screaming Fit And Has To Be Slapped, or the boring hunk shakes her by the shoulders and calls her “you little fool” (something which always makes my toes curl).  All the characters, male and female, have their faults and foibles.  Nobody is too perfect and capable to be believable.  Most of the characters seem to be haunted by something in their past.

Some authors (particularly in sci-fi) are Ideas authors, and the characters are very much secondary.  But I get the impression, from an old interview I read about him, that JC found the interaction between the characters in his stories to be his main interest.  This makes a refreshing change.  With the character of the young widow, Jane, he was particularly good, showing how her recent bereavement and trauma had left her feeling emotionally detached from everything.  I found that very therapeutic.

There were some very eerie moments in this, and the hotel began to have a  claustrophobic, dark prison-like feel to it, as the inmates put themselves into a siege situation against the aliens.  There is one scene where Selby is doing a night-vigil by himself in the bar which spooked me out, although admittedly I was reading it very late at night!  Even a daytime scene though, where the aliens call to Mandy through the kitchen window, was spooky.

I liked the linear structure of this story.  I am absolutely fed up to the chuffing back teeth with modern stories arsing about all over the place, with multiple time-lines and big, clunky flashbacks getting in the way of the action.  My only criticism is that it all ended too abruptly.  I would have liked a bit more.  BUT so many novels these days end up exasperating me when I’ve barely got beyond the first chapter, so I suppose this isn’t much of a criticism.

I’ve got a few more John Christopher novels on my reading list, so I may well make this piece a review section of his books, including a very rare copy of Dom And Va I managed to get my hands on, which has apparently been banned for nearly 40 years.  I wasn’t at all surprised to read that JC lived for several years in the town of Rye in Sussex (a place I know well).  Rye seems to attract an awful lot of writers and artists.

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  • Comments Off on CONNIE CONVERSE – HOW SAD, HOW LOVELY

For every talented person who hits the heights of fame, there must be numerous ones whose stars never get to shine.   Connie Converse was a pioneering singer and songwriter in the 1950s, who never achieved much in the way of recognition in her day, and for several decades was famous only for her mysterious disappearance in 1974.  But in recent years her music seems to be finally getting the recognition she deserves.

Connie was born Elizabeth Eaton Converse on 3 August 1924 in Lacona, New Hampshire.  She came from a large, strict religious family, and her father was a Baptist minister.  Connie was a formidably bright child, and won 8 academic awards at Concord High School.   After 2 years at Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts, she moved to New York City, where she worked at the Academy Photo Offset printing house.

In photographs of her taken at this time she bears a resemblance to Sylvia Plath, or a young Bette Davis playing a bespectacled bluestocking character, but Connie seemed to have a yearning for the bohemian lifestyle.  She wound up in Harlem, and the notorious Hell’s Kitchen area, where she took the name “Connie”, and began writing songs.  She performed them for friends, accompanying herself on her guitar, or recording them on a tape-recording machine in her basement.   She also horrified her parents by smoking and drinking copiously, and her father was said to have never listened to any of her music.

Her music was starting to get her noticed, and artist Gene Deitch even arranged for her to have a brief appearance  on CBS’s The Morning Show in 1954.  It was to be Connie’s only public appearance.   There are many theories as to why Connie’s musical career never took off.  Some say it was simply because she was ahead of her time.  The singer-songwriter was a new phenomenon, and in the early 1950s female singers were expected to sing chirpy, upbeat songs (Alma Cogan) or bluesy torch-songs (Peggy Lee, Julie London).  Connie’s very other-worldly folksy tunes are more reminiscent of the late 1960s/early 70s.

Some argue that Connie simply didn’t help herself with her own attitude.  She could come across as arrogant and stand-offish, not at ease with the necessary networking required.  She was an intensely private person, and would give curt, snappy answers to any questions about her personal  life.  This has led some to speculate that she was gay, although her nephew, Tim Converse, has said that there was no evidence Connie ever had any kind of a romantic relationship with anyone.

The 1950s was also the era of high glamour.  Female singing stars appeared coiffed, bejewelled, sparkled, corseted and gowned to the hilt, whereas Connie preferred shapeless dresses, and with her hair stuffed into a bun.  These days she actually looks quite in the mode, like a present-day earnest Millennial!  And in one picture I saw, where she’s sitting playing the guitar, with her horn-rimmed glasses on, and her shoes tossed to one side, in her stockinged feet, she looks quite cool.

By 1961 Connie had become frustrated with the lack of progress in her career, and she moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she worked in a secretarial job.   By the early 1970s she was acutely depressed.  She remarked that “I generally conceal my own problems, and listen attentively to those of others”, which should resonate with anyone who has ever suffered from depression.  Friends clubbed together to fund a trip to England for her, and her mother asked her to accompany her to Alaska.   Possibly the last straw came though when her doctor informed her that she would have to have a hysterectomy, a statement which floored her.

In August 1974 Connie penned letters to family members and close friends saying she wanted to start a new life.  In one she said “let me go, let me be if I can.  Let me not be if I can’t”.  She added that she couldn’t find her place in human society.   Connie then packed her belongings into her Volkswagen Beetle and drove away.   She was never seen again.  No trace of her has ever been found to this day.

Her family did hire a private detective to try and find her, but he advised them that if Connie had chosen to vanish, then her decision must be respected.   This must always be a difficult one for the family of any adult missing person.  Sometimes it is a fact that the missing person concerned doesn’t want to be found.  There is a tale of one man who was tracked down who got very angry, and demanded to know why they had found him.   It was very clear that Connie had run out of patience with her old life, and it may simply be that she wanted to reinvent herself and start over again.   Her brother Philip believed though that she may have deliberately driven her car into a body of water, although someone did tell him that they had seen an “Elizabeth Converse” listed in a phone book in Kansas or Oklahoma, but the lead was never followed up.

In the Noughties Connie’s music inspired fresh interest.  Her old friend Gene Deitch played some of her recordings on a New York radio show, and in 2009 there was an album released of 17 of her songs, entitled How Sad, How Lovely.   I listened to some of Connie’s songs on YouTube, where she seems to have acquired a new generation of admirers.   Inevitably, there were a couple of dissenters, who argued that it was only her disappearance that had led to her revival, but most people were impressed and respectful.

My verdict?  I have to say that folksy music is not a personal favourite of mine.  This is mainly because I am of the generation that had it stuffed down our throats ad nauseum in school assemblies in the 1970s by right-on hippy teachers (I NEVER want to hear Ralph McTell’s Streets Of London, or Peter, Paul and Mary’s Puff The Magic Dragon ever again!*).  It has led me with a marked aversion to anything that reminds me of pot-smoking, bearded sandal-wearers.  BUT, I did like the songs of Connie’s that I heard.  There was some criticism in the Comments sections that her voice wasn’t perfect.  Well frankly not many singers do have perfect voices.  Even highly-revered performers can sometimes struggle when hitting the high notes.  It’s all part of their charm.   But I did find How Sad, How Lovely to be very haunting and beautiful.  There is one song of Connie’s, called A Witch And A Wizard, which reminded me oddly of the eerie beginning to Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven.   The lyrics begin ‘A witch there was, and a wizard as well / moved into a rose-covered cottage in Hell /a rose-covered cottage in Hell’.  Pretty dark stuff.  I’m not surprised they couldn’t cope with her in 1950s America.

*At children’s parties, when I was little, we would always inevitably have to get up and dance to The Beatle’s Yellow Submarine (probably on pain of death if we didn’t).  I still don’t know to this day how much the teachers knew it was a drug-fuelled fantasia of a song.  No wonder my generation grew up weird.

 

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