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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.

 

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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.

 

Nellie Bly deserves to be much better known these days.  She was a fearless, crusading journalist in an era when most women were probably limited to writing about the latest fashions, or how to cope with one’s domestic servants.    She was spunky, good-humoured, level-headed, and up for anything.   I admire her not only for her crusading journalism, but also for the fact that she went on a solo, record-breaking trip around the world armed only with a small leather handbag!

She was born Elizabeth Jane Cochrane, at Cochrane’s Mills, Pennsylvania, in May 1864.   The town had been founded by her father, Judge Cochrane, a self-made man.   Her father died when Elizabeth was only a child, which led to a sharp downturn in the family fortunes.  Elizabeth was pulled out of her private boarding-school due to lack of funds, and the family moved to Pittsburgh.  Elizabeth got her break in journalism when she wrote a strongly-worded letter to a pompous male journalist who had written a piece arguing that women were only fit for having children and keeping house.  The editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch was so impressed by her fire that he gave her a job.

It was customary at the time for female journalists to write under a pseudonym, and Elizabeth adopted the name Nellie Bly after a popular song of the time.   Somehow it suits her better than Elizabeth Jane Cochrane.   Over the next few years Nellie got a reputation for being up for anything, there wasn’t an assignment she wouldn’t try.  First in Pittsburgh, and then moving to New York, where there was a story, she was there.  She travelled to Mexico to report on life south of the border.  She went down in a deep-sea diving-bell, and she went up in a hot-air balloon.

One of her most commendable assignments was in exposing the barbaric treatment being meted out to female patients at The Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island.  Nellie got the job by faking insanity.  She said she managed this by staying up all night, giving herself a vacant, dreamy expression, and coming out with paranoid statements about the other women in her lodging-house.   Somehow Nellie managed to convince a policeman, a doctor and a judge that she was ready for the asylum.   She spent 10 days inside, before her newspaper managed to spring her out.   Nellie exposed the terrible conditions, with patients being served rotten meat, and dirty drinking water.  The treatment included having buckets of ice cold water poured over their heads, and being made to sit for most of the day on hard benches in unheated, rat-infested rooms.  On one occasion she witnessed the guards dragging a distressed elderly woman out of a room by her hair.   Nellie’s shocking expose of this place led to a public investigation and a substantial increase in funding.   Nellie wrote about her experiences in a book Ten Days In A Mad-House, which is now available on Kindle.

Nellie’s most famous assignment though was when she emulated Phineas Fogg and took up the challenge (decades before Michael Palin did it with a BBC film crew) of going around the world in 80 days.   Nellie’s adventure became a huge source of publicity for her newspaper, and at the same time another female journalist, Elizabeth Bisland, also attempted the stunt, but going round in the opposite direction.  The two ladies captured the public’s imagination.  One (Nellie) was a no-nonsense Yankee girl, the other (Elizabeth) was a more genteel Southern lass, who had once written that a woman was finished when her looks were gone.

Nellie travelled from England down to Brindisi, through the Suez Canal, onto Ceylon (Sri Lanka), then China and Japan, and finally back to the United States.  She adopted her own unique travel outfit, wearing a Sherlock Holmes-style deerstalker hat, a Scotch Ulster coat over a 2-piece dark blue suit, and carrying a small leather bag.   This travel bag – which in illustrations looks about the size of an old-fashioned doctor’s medical bag – must have been like Doctor Who’s Tardis, in that it astonishes me how much she was able to cram into it.  Contents as follows:

  • 2 travelling caps
  • 3 veils
  • a silk blouse*
  • a pair of slippers
  • a bar of soap
  • an ink stand [that must have been precarious, to say the least]
  • pens and pencils
  • a supply of writing paper
  • needle and thread
  • pins
  • a dressing-gown
  • a tennis blazer
  • hankies
  • a small flask and drinking cup
  • several changes of underwear [& think of how voluminous Victorian ladies undergarments usually were]
  • a pot of cold cream

She carried all her money in cash in a drawstring bag around her neck.

Both ladies completed their challenge within time, but Nellie beat Elizabeth by 4 days, largely because Elizabeth had had to return to New York across the Atlantic on a slow-moving vessel.  Nellie completed the journey – to much fanfare – in 72 days 6 hours and 11 minutes.  Elizabeth completed hers in 76 and-a-half days.  Both beat Phineas Fogg’s fictional record of 80 days.   I can only say that it’s about time the adventures of both of them were filmed.

In 1895 Nellie married Robert L Seaman, President of the America Steel Barrel Company, and 40 years older than her.  When he passed away in 1910, Nellie took charge of the business, but embezzlement by employees and bankruptcy swallowed up her fortune.  She went back to what she knew best, journalism, and when War broke out in 1914, Nellie went to Europe to report from the front line as a war correspondent, sending home harrowing accounts of the wounded and the dead on the battlefields.

Nellie died at the age of only 57, from pneumonia, in 1922.  She was a remarkable woman, and for more on her astonishingly versatile travel bag visit the brainpickings website, and their article “How To Pack Like Pioneering Journalist Nellie Bly, Who Circumnavigated The Globe In 1889 With Only A Small Duffle Bag”.

*I once read a memoir by a woman who had cycled alone around the world, and she wrote that she packed a silk dress for special occasions, on the grounds that silk is very light, folds up easily and barely takes up any room.

For the record, I once tried an experiment, to see if I could emulate Nellie’s packing arrangements, substituting my computer bag for her leather bag.  I think I would have been going round the world with stuff spewing out all over the place.

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  • Comments Off on THE HAUNTED WORLD OF PETER SELLERS

The character of the Tragic Clown has been a perennial one in the world of show business, probably since the days when humans first began performing for each other.  The Tragic Clown who brings so much laughter to the world, and is so much loved by their public, and yet at heart is tormented by untold demons, acute loneliness and deep unhappiness.   Few come more tragic and haunted than British actor Peter Sellers, a very talented man who earned devotion from his legions of fans, and yet in private was a deeply disturbed individual who managed to alienate most of those around him.   Sellers also had a lifelong interest in the paranormal, and many close to him felt that his fascination became an unhealthy obsession which took over his life.

Sellers was born in Portsmouth, England, in 1925.  His parents were vaudeville performers, so you can say showbiz was in his blood.   He made his own very first public appearance was at the tender age of 2 weeks old, when Dick Henderson carried him onto the stage of the Southsea Theatre, where the audience serenaded him with For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow.  Baby Sellers wasn’t impressed, and cried in response.

His parents were often touring round, so Sellers had a vagabond childhood, but he was very close to his mother, Peg.  Many have said that their bond was too close, almost Oedipal.   Sellers’s Goon Show colleague, Spike Milligan, described it as unhealthy.  Peg was the archetypal, cosseting Jewish mother.  She lavished love and attention on young Peter, very likely exacerbated by the fact that she had lost her previous son, who had been born stillborn.  And this is the first strangeness in young Sellers’s life.  His deceased older brother had been called Peter, and, although Sellers was named Richard Henry, he was known ever afterwards in the family as Peter.   Young Sellers must have felt haunted by this ghostly older brother from the word Go.

It is safe to say that Sellers grew up into the classic Mummy’s Boy.  His every whim indulged by his adoring Mum.   When he signed up for military service in World War 2, Peg even went to live at a guesthouse near Peter’s training camp, so that she could keep an eye on him!   Many young men would have been acutely embarrassed by this excess of maternal devotion, but it never seems to have fazed Peter.   In fact, he seems to have accepted it as his divine lot in life to have Peg dancing attendance on him.  Spike Milligan recalled going to stay with them, and hearing Peter, lying regally in bed, constantly shouting for Peg to bring him things.  Peg of course was only too happy to oblige Her Boy.

After the end of World War 2 Peter got his first break in show business when he joined the cast of the radio comedy, the Goon Show, a hugely anarchic and surreal programme which ran for years, and still has a devoted following to this day.   One of his fellow Goons was the lovable Michael Bentine, an interesting, deep-thinking man who too had a lifelong interest in the paranormal.  Bentine had served in the RAF during the War, and he said he had developed premonitions.  He was able to tell which men would come back alive from their flying missions, and which ones were doomed, just by looking at them.

Peter became noted for his skill at mimicry, and a gift for creating comic characters.   Later in life he would compare himself to a medium channelling spirits, in that he simply opened himself up to a character and let it inhabit his body.   This is far from unknown in the creative arts (writers can have it too).  Other actors who worked with Peter said it wasn’t unusual for him to stay in character during rest breaks.   Sellers himself put this down to the fact that he claimed he had no personality of his own.  He was a hollow man, with no character.   I suppose, to put it more kindly, he was a blank canvas, waiting for another character to impose itself.   Again, this isn’t unusual.  Other comedy actors, such as Ronnie Barker and Arthur Lowe, could feel deeply uncomfortable about appearing as themselves, and would lapse into their characters instead.

Like many actors Sellers became deeply superstitious.  This is quite a common trait in the acting profession, particularly in the theatre world.  But Sellers seemed to be a bit of a magpie, picking up a superstition when he heard someone else had it, and adopting it as one of his own.  His son Michael would later claim this gave Sellers a licence to misbehave, such as the time he stormed off a film set because someone had been wearing the colour purple!   On a darker note, Michael said that Sellers had once killed a flock of doves on the roof of his country house, because he believed they would bring bad luck to the property.

As the 1950s wound into the 1960s, Sellers was reaching the peak of his fame.  He had appeared in a number of hit films, including The Ladykillers, The Naked Truth (where he played multiple characters), and I’m Alright, Jack, where he gave a brilliant performance as the militant trade union leader, Fred Kite.   Sellers was ripe for the bohemian hedonism and the Occult world of the Swinging Sixties.   He became obsessed with astrology, and would plan his day around what they had to say.  He became particularly attached to a flamboyant psychic and astrologer called Maurice Woodruff, the Derek Acorah of his day.  Woodruff was a charismatic cove, who claimed to be the 7th Son Of A 7th Son.   He predicted that Sellers would meet someone with the initials B E who would become very important to him.  Sellers thought he meant the film director Blake Edwards, but it was in fact Swedish beauty Britt Ekland.

Sellers spotted Britt when she arrived in London in February 1964, and they were married only 10 days later.   Britt was the hot stuff of her day, but this fuelled Peter’s jealousy and paranoia.   Anxious to impress his new bride in the bedchamber, he recklessly dosed himself up on stimulants.  The results were terrifying.   Sellers suffered multiple heart-attacks.   Whilst the doctors were fighting to save his life in hospital, Sellers claimed to have had a Near Death Experience.  He saw the ubiquitous tunnel, with the bright light at the end.  He said he than saw a large, strong arm which urged him to cling onto it, and told him his time wasn’t now.  Sellers was interviewed about the NDE on television several years later, and seems totally serious and sincere.  The movie star Elizabeth Taylor also claimed to have had a very similar NDE when she was in hospital once, after she had actually died for 5 minutes on the operating table.

Having such a traumatic experience as this would cause most people to re-evaluate their lives.  As the old saying goes “a heart attack is Nature’s way of telling you to slow down”.   Not Peter though.  He seemed to have got it into his head that cheating death this way had made him invincible.   That he was now some kind of Superman.  He predicted that he would in fact die in his sleep at the age of 75, and as such he would have nothing to fear until he turned 74.   Sadly this would not turn out to be true.

Peter’s career was about to take a negative turn.   He was virtually promised the earth to appear in the all-star film Casino Royale (needless to say, not the 2006 Daniel Craig version), which was to be a lavish send-up of the Bond films.  Casino Royale has gone down as one of the great mis-fires of cinema.  Its big budget and all-star cast couldn’t save it from being a confusing, unfunny, self-indulgent dogs breakfast of a movie.   It’s one of those films where all the cast look as though they’re having fun, regaling each other with in-jokes, and you, the audience, are left out of it, sitting on the sidelines in bewilderment.

One of Peter’s co-stars was the legendary Orson Welles.  Welles was a gifted conjuror, but Sellers took this as a sign that he was a magician, a master of the dark arts, and became scared stiff of him.  He decided he didn’t want to appear in any scenes with him, which made things very difficult for everybody else.   One of the Sellers’s famous friends was the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret.  It is alleged Sellers had an affair with her, and she famously popped up in one of his home movies, appearing out from behind a screen and waving regally at the camera.   Mags made a visit to the set one day, which must have delighted Sellers, giving him a chance to show off in front of the rest of the cast with his royal friend.  HRH though completely ignored him, and instead marched over to Orson Welles, gushing all over him.  Sellers must have felt this humiliation keenly.

When the film was released it was a flop, and the producer, Charles K Feldman,  died soon after from stomach cancer.  There is a rumour that Feldman believed Sellers had cursed him, not helped by the fact that Sellers himself believed that anyone who crossed him would come to an unfortunate end.   If he truly believed this, then I think the curse was ultimately on Sellers himself, as 1967 would turn out to be turning point in his fortunes all round.

Peg passed away in 1967, and Peter went into Queen Victoria levels of grief.  He built shrines to her wherever he went, and took to holding conversations with her as if she was standing right in front of him.  This might not have been so surprising, if the conversations hadn’t often been in public places, like restaurants and film sets.  Someone compared Sellers at this stage to Norman “a boy’s best friend is his mother” Bates in Psycho.    On one occasion Sellers even destroyed one of the sets on Casino Royale because Peg had appeared to him in a dream, and told him she didn’t like it.

Sellers turned his paranormal fixation away from astrologers and more onto mediums.  He conducted oujia board sessions, where he claimed to have contacted great men of the past, like Napoleon.  Spike Milligan was very unimpressed with these sessions, and said it was notable that Sellers conversed with dead pharaohs, but never with the ordinary Joe who had cleaned the loos in the pyramids!   A few years previously Sellers claimed to have contacted the spirit of Dan Leno, a music hall comedian, who had passed away in 1910.  Leno advised him to do the hugely popular Pink Panther films, so we have to grateful to him for that at least.

The late 1960s was of course the era of Flower Power, and Everything’s Like Real Deep, Man, and Sellers immersed himself in the counter-culture.   In 1969 he moved to Ireland as a tax exile, and indulged himself with marijuana.   He turned in on himself, even one day locking himself away, and cutting off his hair.  At around this time he married his umpteenth wife, Miranda Quarry, an aristocratic fashion model (she is now the Countess of Stockton), and real Hippy Child of the Flower Power era.  She is said to have had her own dogs as her bridesmaids.   Things must have looked ominous when she woke up on their honeymoon on a yacht, and found her bridegroom had legged it, hitching a lift with a passing water taxi, claiming he had made a mistake.

By now Sellers was a liability to film studios.  His health scares had made him uninsurable, but even without that his eccentric, unpredictable behaviour on set had made directors run shy of him.  When all is said and done, their job is to bring a film in on time, and preferably on budget.  They don’t need actors choosing when they’ll turn up, or developing a paranoid fear of their co-stars, or smashing up a set on the whim of their dead mothers!   Throughout the 1970s I still remember him cropping up on TV from time to time, where he would delight us with hilarious interviews, which were a joy to watch.   But Sellers was past his best.

Whilst making Revenge Of The Pink Panther in 1978 he suffered another heart-attack.  He consulted psychic surgeons, and claimed they had cured him through using chicken guts surgery (whatever that is).   His penultimate film Being There, was one he had yearned to play for years.  It was a real labour of love for him, and he desperately hoped he would win a long-awaited Academy Award for it.   Although Being There was highly regarded, the Award went to Dustin Hoffman for Kramer Vs Kramer, and Sellers’s disappointment was intense, doing nothing for his lifelong sense of deep-rooted inferiority.  In his diaries, Richard Burton mentioned meeting Sellers in the late 1960s.  Sellers had demanded to know how many Academy Award nominations Burton had had in his career.  When Burton replied that he had had 5, Sellers immediately ramped up on his own to try and impress him.  It was a silly fib, as it’s the sort of thing that is so easily found out, but that was him.

In the summer of 1980 Spike Milligan urged Sellers to fly back to England for a Goon Show reunion.  Milligan had a feeling in his bones that Sellers wouldn’t be around for much longer, and it would turn out to be all too true.  After lunching with friends in his suite at the Dorchester, Sellers had another heart-attack, and he passed away in the early hours of 24 July 1980.   Sadly he didn’t made anywhere near the age of 75 that he had previously predicted, he was in fact only 54.   But he had sure crammed a heck of a lot of living into those years.  His personal life had been tumultuous to say the least, and as a husband and a father he must have been an absolute nightmare.   For instance, he had once got a fixation that his children’s nanny was a witch, and had thrown a knife into her bedroom door.  The nanny had escaped by climbing out of the window.

He was the narcissistic  little Mummy’s Boy who had never grown up.  When his children were small he had spent a fortune on toys for them, including a giant train-set in the garden, but refused to let them play with it, as he wanted to use it himself.   He was a true clown in that he was perennially the mischievous toddler, playing pranks on life, but also objecting to anyone else getting attention.   As an entertainer his reputation should stay intact, as he brought so much laughter to so many people.  I can only hope he’s found peace now.   And the same goes for his son Michael, who also passed away of a heart-attack on the 24th of July … in 2006.  He was 52, just two years younger than his father had been.

As his Pink Panther co-star Burt Kwouk once said, people aren’t interested in most actors when they’re still alive, but we’re still interested in Sellers long after his death.

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  • Comments Off on BOOK REVIEW: THE HOPKINS MANUSCRIPT by R C SHERRIFF

This sci-fi tale, originally published on the eve of WW2, deserves to be much better known.  In fact, in my opinion it should be up there with the Greats.   It concerns an unassuming middle-aged ex-schoolmaster called Edgar Hopkins, who lives quietly in the Hampshire countryside, keeping poultry.  On a visit to his astronomical society in London he is informed of some very grave news.  The Moon has veered off course, and is heading on a collision path with Earth.

Yes, it has dated in some parts, particularly with the characterisation, but as it’s nearly 80 years old, that’s only to be expected.  His younger characters can be a bit bland and jolly hockey-sticks, but Edgar’s concerns for them would have been very relevant at the time it was written in 1939.  The portrayal of Edgar’s elderly aunt and uncle, who live entirely for pleasure, and don’t seem to grasp the seriousness of the situation they’re in, was well-drawn.  Edgar himself is lovable, even if he can veer towards fussy pomposity sometimes.  It makes such a refreshing change to read an apocalyptic novel with such a down-to-earth character at the centre of it.  Frankly, these days if I read another modern day one featuring some boring American Rambo-esque know-it-all super-hero, armed to the teeth with guns, and wittering on about Saving His People, I shall scream.

I did find myself losing interest a bit in the second half of the novel, when it looked as though Civilisation was getting rebuilt, and everything was going to be hunky-dory again … but then I remembered the dark beginning, and knew all was not what it seemed.  Clearly something was going to go drastically wrong.   And it does.  I won’t give away any more spoilers, suffice it to say that it will stay with me for a long time.   There are moments of pure poetry in this story, particularly the scene in Trafalgar Square, when people look upwards and first notice something very odd about the Moon.  Likewise with the Eve Of Apocalypse moonlit village cricket match.   There is a moralistic vein to the story, but it’s certainly one we can all relate to these days, in that human greed and in-fighting amongst nations can wreck any chances of civilisation getting off its backside and focusing instead on what really needs to be done.

A sad, surreal and deeply profound story, with a very unsettling prophetic feel to it.

A curious phenomenon of modern times is the current craze for buying allegedly haunted objects Online. It’s only something I’ve become aware of in recent months, but it seems to have become quite a thing in the paranormal world, and I can’t help feeling it’s not very healthy.

Some people buy Haunted Mystery Boxes. I’ve watched a couple of unboxing videos on YouTube like this, and find it hard not to come to the conclusion that it is a total scam. All someone has to do is collect together a load of old tat – the sort of thing that your local bric-a-bac sale might reject for being rubbish – and then concoct a few dark stories around them, such as “an old lady vowed to curse anyone else who drank out of this, her favourite teacup”. Even if it’s not a scam, and there is some truth to it, then why on earth would you want such an object, riddled with negative vibes, in your home?

One object that often makes an appearance in these kind of videos is the Haunted Doll. I know some people really, really do not like dolls at all. In fact, they don’t even like being in the same room as one. Personally, they’ve never bothered me at all. I’ve always put the spooky effect they can have down to the glassy, staring eyes. It’s curious that it’s usually porcelain dolls that have this effect. I’ve never come across people freaking out at Barbie or Sindy dolls for instance, and there might well be cursed Barbie dolls out there, but I’ve never heard of one.

I have a vintage porcelain doll myself. She’s called Nina, and she’s been standing on the bookcase in my office for years. I can honestly say I have never felt any freaky vibes from her at all, although I have sometimes wondered why she’s dressed as a Victorian sex-worker (Nina will probably now take umbrage, and cause poltergeist activity to break out). Most of the time I forget she’s there, but I know some people would react to her presence quite badly.

Having seen a Haunted Doll video, I decided to have a look at the ones on eBay myself, and it was then that I finally understood why some people really don’t like dolls. Page after page of sinister, close-up shots of dolls faces can leave you feeling a bit “ooh crikey”, and that was even before I read the descriptions that came with them. It was like looking at glassy-eyed police mug-shots. The dolls were a mixed-bag. Some were reputed to come with positive vibes, but they seemed to be outnumbered by the cursed, demonic ones. It was impossible to tell from the faces alone which were the bad ones and which were the good ones. One that looked like a sweet Victorian doll with wavy blonde hair was reputed to be possessed of “demonic” energy. A Spanish flamenco doll with scary eyes (the eyes were blank, and had no orbs), was said to have “playful” energy. So, like books and their covers, you clearly shouldn’t judge a doll by its looks.

One seller, who specialised in haunted dolls, had a huge collection. Here is a small selection of some of the descriptions:

  • One doll, called Kelsey, used to live at a Scottish castle. She was kept in the dungeons there with the express purpose of frightening visitors. It seems she did this too well, as they wanted to get rid of her. Whilst she was in-situ, paranormal phenomena broke out. A ghostly woman was caught on CCTV at night. A security guard had nightmares about spiders and was also subjected to sleep paralysis (have had this myself, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone). An area manager was pushed down two flights of stairs. Although this was caught on CCTV, no one was seen standing behind him. Whilst waiting to be sold, Kelsey is kept inside a salt circle, which is probably just as well.
  • Another doll, with black plaits, was fine with women, but seemed to hate men. The husband of the doll owner reported seeing a ghostly old hag in a doorway, and dreamt about banshees.
  • A black doll, dressed in what seems to be some kind of African tribal costume with a grass skirt, is reputed to have a “nasty” vibe to her. She was presented to the seller with her arms and legs bound. When the seller asked why this was so, the person presenting it to her said “untie them and you will see”. I remember hearing a few years ago that vintage black dolls are hugely sought after by collectors, as they are quite rare, so perhaps a brave collector would like to snap this one up.
  • Poltergeist activity seems to be par for the course with many of the dolls. Owners have reported having plates broken, a washing-machine flooded, doors slamming, lights flickering at 3 AM, and one owner’s son was drawing strange, shadowy figures on his sketch-pad.
  • Another seller had an extremely menacing-looking doll listed called “Veronica”. With her ghostly, pale white skin, huge dark eyes and slightly predatory expression, Veronica looks the stuff of nightmares. The seller added the comment “you will not be disappointed”. Why, is Veronica going to approach you in the night with her arms outstretched and a demoniacal leer on her face? Or crawl out of the TV like the girl in Ring?

Frankly, after looking at this lot I doubt I will ever tolerate having another doll in the house! But what about the positive energy ones, you may well ask? They are usually advertised as “needing a loving home”, and the description of one of them credited the doll with bringing you good fortune. “She likes to sit in the sunlight, so put her on the windowsill ….” STOP!! Now look, I find living human beings quite demanding enough these days, without having to pander to the wishes of a porcelain doll!

Haunted dolls have also become tabloid fodder, with stories of such objects wrecking havoc in homes across the country. One woman though said she loved collecting them, and was now dedicating her life to helping the souls of spirits trapped inside the dolls. I feel the same about them as I do the Haunted Mystery Boxes I mentioned earlier. If it’s all fake, then it’s a scam, pure and simple. If you buy one of these boxes you will just be left with a load of worthless, dust-collecting trash cluttering up your house, of no sentimental, aesthetic or monetary value. If there is truth in it, then God knows what vibes and energies you will be recklessly attracting. I think this is one craze I will be glad to see the back of.

UPDATE 22/1/2019 – I have recently acquired two Reborn Dolls.  Now Reborn Dolls really do freak some people out!  Well mine are cute … just saying.


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