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One thing that used to irritate me a bit, when I was still knocking about Twitter, was how some of the TV nostalgia buffs would try and make out how British comedy of recent years has been nothing but rubbish, of how there has been no genuinely funny comedy since the days of Fawlty Towers. This is completely untrue. If anything, I would argue that the past 20 years has seen some of the best comedy we’ve ever produced in these isles. This should be reassuring news for those who fear that political correctness has stifled humour. I don’t think it can ever really stifle humour, you probably just might have to look more outside the primetime mainstream for it, that’s all.

What follows is a straightforward list of my favourite sitcoms and comedy performers of the past 40-50 years. I haven’t added any commentary as otherwise it would be just me going “oh I love this!” over and over again. The list is heavily weighted towards British and Irish comedy, and perhaps not much in the way of American stuff. This isn’t because I have anything against it, but simply because much of it – such as Friends or Frazier for instance – I just never really got into. It didn’t happen. Although, for the record, I do think the US remake of The Office was every bit as good as the Brit version, and it has to be said that the Americans are outdoing us when it comes to political satire at the moment.

I have a penchant for anarchic or surreal comedy, or anything that pokes fun at the absurdities of life. I am really not interested in sentimental schmaltz [Miranda’s love life for instance], or worthy, naggy sitcoms which are Making A Social Point, like something Carla Lane had written on a bad day. I almost lost the plot with one fairly recent Channel 4 sitcom (the name of which escapes me, thank God) which included the words “if you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this programme” and a Samaritans number right at the end of the closing credits!! Please don’t email me about the importance of Raising Issues in a TV programme. I ask only one thing of comedy, and that is that It Makes Me Laugh. If I can laugh I don’t need a Samaritans number.

Compiling a list like is very much a personal choice, and as such can be a bit of a potential minefield. All I can say is this, if you violently object to any of my choices, or exclusions, then MAKE UP YOUR OWN LIST!! Anyway, here goes:

  • Absolutely Fabulous
  • Alan Partridge
  • Benny Hill
  • Big School
  • Big Train
  • Bill Hicks
  • Blackadder
  • Black Books
  • Bottom
  • The Carry Ons
  • Catherine Tate
  • Chris Rock
  • Count Arthur Strong
  • Dad’s Army
  • Dave Allen At Large
  • Dave Lamb (narrator of Come Dine With Me)
  • Derek
  • Detectorists
  • The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin
  • Father Ted
  • Fawlty Towers
  • Frankie Howerd
  • The Good Life
  • The Grumbleweeds (radio show)
  • Human Remains
  • Kathy Burke
  • Katy Brand
  • Lee Evans
  • Man About The House
  • Monty Python
  • MysteryScienceTheater3000
  • The New Statesman
  • Nighty Night
  • The Office
  • Open All Hours
  • Peep Show
  • Phoenix Nights
  • Plebs*
  • Sean Lock
  • Smack The Pony
  • Spike Milligan
  • Steptoe & Son
  • Sykes
  • That Mitchell & Webb Look
  • Toast Of London
  • To The Manor Born
  • The Trip … with Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden
  • The Two Ronnies
  • Vids … with Nigel Buckland and Stef Gardiner**
  • The Windsors
  • Yes Minister

*Plebs is rapidly going down as one of my favourite comedies of all time. I love everything about it, and its largely young cast fill me with hope for the future, that it won’t be the humourless, dried-up earnest nonsense some of us have feared at times.

**Vids was a late-night video review show, made on a shoestring budget, which ran on Channel 4 in the late 1990s. It built up a small but devoted following, due to its totally anarchic nature, and the lovable antics of its two presenters. It was totally messed around by Channel 4, who never gave it a set time, so it often got relegated to the depths of the night. Finding some episodes on YouTube in recent months has felt like meeting up with old friends. I have no idea what Channel 4 show late at night anymore – I’ve got Netflix – but as the late Paula Yates would no doubt have put it, it’s probably some right load of old poo instead.

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  • Comments Off on VIDEO REVIEW: ERIK ON SEVERAL CONSPIRACY THEORIES

Lorks! conspiracy theories seem to be everywhere at the moment, we can’t move for them.  And they seem to be growing daily.   I’ve long had an interest in them as a strange, fascinating phenomenon of our times.  Anyway, quite by chance I came across this short video – it runs at approx 30 minutes in length – on YouTube, and it sounded interesting.  For those that don’t know, Erik Medhus was a young American guy who took his own life in 2009, at the tender age of 20.  Since then his mother, Elisa, a qualified physician, claims to have been in constant contact with him, and Erik has given a huge amount of information about the Other Side.

Elisa’s YouTube channel, named Channeling Erik, contains some fascinating interviews.   It is entirely up to you what you make of it all.  I mention it with no judgement, other than that I find it very interesting.  When it comes to the After-Life – and conspiracies themselves for that matter – I am wholly open-minded.  I’ve lost enough loved ones myself to want to believe it’s all real, but at the same time I am always uncomfortably aware of the fact that it could all just be wishful thinking.    Sometimes it’s a right pain having a foot in both camps.

On 6 January 2016 a video was posted in which Elisa, via a medium, quizzed Erik about the truth behind some of the world’s most famous conspiracy theories.  The answers were well-balanced, and thought-provoking.  Of course you could just go and watch the video for yourself, and I recommend you do so, as some of the answers were a lot more complex than I’ve presented here, but I thought I’d just present a brief summary of the results.

The Conspiracies:

9/11   Erik asserts there was no secret government involvement, but that the government did have information which could have prevented it from happening.

Moon Landings    The Moon Landings actually happened, but some of the live footage was adjusted at a later date, as it was not of good enough quality.

Is There Life On Mars?   Yes there is, molecular life.  There may well have been more advanced life there a long time ago.

Is CERN a portal / a stargate?   No.

Is HAARP responsible for mind-control?   HAARP has had some involvement in odd things that have been happening world-wide, including (curiously) Gulf War Syndrome.  No overt mind-control agenda though.

Chemtrails   Yes they are a thing, but again it’s not about mind-control of the populace, it’s more a form of weather-control.  It’s mainly to protect the atmosphere against global warming.

FEMA death-camps   There has long been some grisly speculation about FEMA stockpiling coffins and building concentration camps.  Erik asserts that some of this has been a “risk management” process by the United States government, as a contingency plan in case WW3 were to break out.  He makes the intriguing comment that WW3 “has been trying to be born” (you can say that again!), but that it won’t actually happen.  The powers-that-be believe that if it were to happen, it would not be about guns and the military, but far more likely to be a chemical/biological war.

JFK   The United States government hired some dubious elements to carry out the hit.  Erik refuses to elaborate any further on this, but in another video on the same channel – the Marilyn Monroe one – there are mentions of a combined CIA/Mafia operation.

Was AIDS invented by the US government to curb gays and the black population?   There is no conspiracy about AIDS.

Is the Shroud of Turin genuine?   It is not the real shroud of Jesus.  The real one is “underground”, possibly in a catacomb, possibly in Italy.

Is Fluoride being put into public water to cause a dumbing-down of the populace?  No, it was put in to make money, pure and simple, and to put dentistry on the map.

Global Warming    Is real, it is not a hoax.  60-70% of it is man-made.  Erik asserts that the generation who are currently toddlers will be the ones who “lick it”, kick it into touch.  I do hope so.

Did Shakespeare write all his own plays?   Some of them, and others were a joint collaboration with an aristocrat who couldn’t be open about it at the time.  Shakespeare was in control of “the longer ones”, but the sonnets in particular were a collaboration (I once saw a plausible argument about Christopher Marlowe being the real author of the sonnets).  About 45% of the output was written solely by good old Will of Stratford*.

Is the United States government doing anything they don’t want people to know about?  Yes, mainly involving the movement of money, billions of dollars-worth of gold hidden in other countries.  This has been going on now for several decades, starting about 7 presidents back (presumably counting as of the beginning of 2016 when this video was made).

There’s enough there to start several heated arguments already!!   I was quite pleasantly surprised at how balanced it was, with no hysterical assertions about the Queen being a shapeshifting lizard, or Hitler living at the South Pole, or the Earth being flat (and no doubt resting on a giant turtle).   The FEMA one I found particularly interesting, as it ties in with some of the Emergency / Worst Case Scenario stuff I’ve encountered here in Britain.   There are panels of experts who have to meet to draw up plans as to what the government needs to do if such-and-such happens, and I can’t believe it’s any different in other countries.    My other-half has acted as a government adviser concerning what would happen if a giant CME hit the Earth and knocked out the National Grid, for instance.

With the 9/11 one I can’t help remembering seeing the footage of George W Bush reacting to the news.  Since then I’ve read arch-conspiracists have cited this as proof that He Knew.  I always saw it more as a sort of sad resignation, along the lines of “so it’s happened then”.

Anyway, if you violently disagree with any of Erik’s findings, don’t come and have a go at me.  I know how frighteningly emphatic some conspiracists/truthers can be, and I have no wish to get into a vicious argument about it.   All I will do is reiterate that I found it very interesting, and I wouldn’t mind seeing more videos along this line (and no, I am not a shill either).

*I can’t help feeling that some of the anti-Will Shakespeare stuff is down to class snobbery, pure and simple.   Some lofty academics cling hard to the idea that it was really Francis Bacon who was the real Shakespeare.  The best argument I’ve read against that one (and sadly I can’t remember who wrote it) was that Bacon was a right miserable old sod, with a stick up his backside, and for that reason he couldn’t have possibly written Shakespeare’s comedies!

This is a subject that has interested me for a long while, but it seems peculiarly apt during these hideously dark times we’re living through at the moment.  By “daytime darkness” though I mean it in a literal sense, a profound darkness which falls during daylight hours.  Sometimes of course these can have an obvious explanation, such as the weather.  During the awful floods of the Summer of 2007 for instance, it got so dark in our neighbourhood that the streetlights came on at 10 o’clock in the morning (this was in July!), and I had never seen the sky such a strange colour before.

In 1816 occurred the notorious Year Without A Summer, when a volcanic eruption in the Dutch East Indies the year before threw so much sulphur into the atmosphere that world temperatures plummeted, resulting in widespread global famine.  It also inspired one of the greatest creative brainstorming sessions in history, when a house-party on the banks of the Lake Geneva were forced to stay indoors and entertain each other with fantastical stories.  Out of it Mary Shelley produced Frankenstein, Polidori began the whole vampire craze with The Vampyre, and Lord Byron was inspired to write his poem Darkness.  This was the era of The Age Of Reason, and yet here it clashed with portents of doom which were  being proclaimed all over Europe, inducing hysteria and suicide amongst many people.   A scientist in Italy proclaimed that the Sun would go out on 18 July, which didn’t help matters at all, leaving many to fear that the Day of Judgement was nigh.  North America was afflicted with severe frosts and snowfall in the month of June, seriously harming crops.  During the month of May, the temperatures didn’t get above freezing in the New York area.  One woman summed it up succinctly in her diary: “weather backward”.

A few decades earlier occurred New England’s Dark Day, when on 19 May 1780 a strange darkness occurred over the skies of New England and parts of Canada.  The darkness was observed soon after sunrise, and occurred into the following night.  There has been much discussion since as to what had caused it, the most likely suspect being a combination of forest fires, fog and dark cloud.   It was dark enough for candles to be required during daytime, and for frogs to start croaking as if it was night-time.

A less explainable event was supposed to have happened in Wimbledon, London, in April 1904, when an inexplicable daytime darkness hit the neighbourhood.  The only source I have ever been able to find for this story occurred in Charles Fort’s The Book Of The Damned.  He writes that on 17 April 1904 “it came from a smokeless region: no rain, no thunder; lasted 10 minutes; too dark to go even out in the open”.  I have seen some people trying to tie this event in with the Tunguska event, but Tunguska occurred 4 years later, on 30 June 1908.  What is rare is for a darkness to happen in such a small, localised area.

Ruby Side Thompson was a housewife in Essex during World War 2.  During this time she kept a diary which documented the hardships of life on the Home Front.  Sadly, these diaries seem to have been pulled from publication, which is a shame because they are an invaluable record of domestic life in extremely trying conditions.  Now I hope I don’t infringe any copyright issues here, but I’d like to include an excerpt from the diary.  On 10 June 1940, in the immediate aftermath of Dunkirk, when the Nazi’s were advancing relentlessly across Europe, closing in on Paris in particular, and things were looking very bleak indeed, Ruby and her husband went to church (her husband was a practising Catholic):

It was a dull morning yesterday, when we left the house at 7 AM, but when we came out of church at 8 AM an awful blackness filled the sky.  It looked as though a frightful storm was imminent.  Nothing happened: no rain, no wind, no thunder or lightning, only a spreading blackness, and an awful oppressiveness of the atmosphere.  This state continued all day.  It was dark like a black winter’s day, and we had to switch the lights on to work by.  It was an uncanny day”

This made such an impression on Ruby that she was still referring to it several months later.  I can’t help being reminded of a strange day we had in Avebury many years ago in the 1990s, when a heavy, forbidding atmosphere blanketed the village, and which ended sharply when we left the village boundaries.  I have covered this in my Avebury blog piece, but Ruby’s description of “an awful oppressiveness of the atmosphere” sums it up pretty well.

In January 2018 the Guardian reported that mainland Europe was suffering from an acute lack of sunlight, prompting one French newspaper to issue the forbidding headline “IL EST MORT LE SOLEIL?”  A spokesman for Moscow State University’s meteorological unit branded it “the darkest month in the history of our weather observations”.  I can only hope it wasn’t a forewarning of what might be to come.

 

It occurred to me that many of the books I’ve enjoyed the most over the years have all been set in the Spring/early Summer.  I don’t know why this is, I would’ve thought Autumn would be more my time, but that’s how it goes.  So as it’s now Spring-time (allegedly) I thought I’d mention a few of the books I’ve liked which always remind me of this season.

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

The “excellent women” of the title refers to those reliable spinsters (to use an old-fashioned word) who were often the backbones of their small communities, volunteering for thankless menial work, but for whatever reason – usually a shortage of men – they never seemed to be fortunate in the love department.  Mildred Lathbury is one such woman, living by herself in a small London apartment in the 1950s, and helping out at her local church.   I loved Mildred, and her small, unassuming lifestyle.  She is a great character, often quietly fuming inside at the worthy image she has (so now I’m the kind of woman who always hangs up her tea-towel am I!).  Over the course of a few months we follow Mildred as she gets caught up in the relationships all around her, particularly with her neighbours.

The Face Of Trespass by Ruth Rendell

My favourite RR novel, it concerns a washed-up writer, living in a tumbledown cottage in the Essex countryside, and trying to survive on the few meagre royalties his book still earns.  He is obsessed by the memory of a temperamental lover.  This is not one of RR’s Inspector Wexford novels, which suits me just fine, as I’m not a fan of the police procedural genre, and I was fascinated by the lonely life of the central character.  I feel RR was at her very best when writing about lonely people living on the edge of mainstream society.  The book opens at the beginning of May, which  was the time of year when I first read it.

Hangover Square, & Mr Stimpson & Mr Gorse by Patrick Hamilton

Patrick Hamilton is probably most famous these days for writing the play Gaslight, on which two famous thrillers of the 1940s were based (one starring Ingrid Bergman), and giving rise to to the expression “gaslighting”, to show psychological abuse in a relationship.   But he was also responsible for Hangover Square, which for me is one of the finest British thrillers I’ve ever read, and The Gorse Trilogy, about a psychopathic conman, Ralph Gorse (brilliantly filmed as The Charmer in the 1980s, starring Nigel Havers).   Both books begin in the month of January and span the following few months.  In Hangover Square, the central character, a troubled young man called George Harvey Bone, is returning to London after the Christmas holidays, and resuming his wasted existence, moving from grim bedsits in Earl’s Court to seedy London pubs.   He is obsessed with a woman called Netta, who is downright sociopathic and not worth anybody’s time.  The book details their wretched relationship over the next few months, culminating in tragedy at the end of Summer, just as War is about to break out.  In Mr Stimpson & Mr Gorse, the middle book in the Gorse Trilogy, Gorse has found his way to Reading (of all places), where he proceeds to prey upon the insufferably silly Mrs Plumleigh-Bruce, in order to divest her of all her savings.   It is said that Hamilton based Gorse on the notorious sexual sadist and murderer Neville Heath, who preyed upon vulnerable women in the chaos of immediate post-war Britain, and who was hanged in 1946.  Ralph Gorse remains a horribly convincing portrait of an amoral psychopath devoid of all feeling.

The Haunting Of Toby Jugg, & The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley

I’ve blogged about Toby Jugg on another page, but for me this is Wheatley on top form, and listening to a recent audio book of it confirmed just how scary it is in parts.  The novel is told in journal format, and covers a few weeks in the life of one Toby Jugg, a young airman crippled during active service in WW2.  Toby has been sent to a remote castle in Wales to convalesce, and fears that his carers are trying to deliberately drive him insane so that they can get their hands on his inheritance (his 21st birthday is only a few weeks away).   The book covers most of May and June, culminating in grim Satanic rites on Midsummer’s Eve.   Wheatley can be a trifle long-winded, and with a tendency to rant at times, which may be off-putting for some readers used to a brisker, more taut style of story-telling, but some of the scenes are amongst the scariest I’ve ever come across in a horror novel, and those damn spiders … ugh!  I’ve heard there is a filmed version of this around (The Haunted Airman), but I don’t think I could watch it for that reason.   Wheatley’s most famous novel, The Devil Rides Out, is also set in the Spring, culminating as it does on May Eve, Walpurgis Night, the 30th April, and said to be one of the Satanic highlights of the year.   Once you’ve read this, or seen the famous Hammer film version, the end of April will never be the same again.

I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith

This much-loved book is also told in journal format.  It is the story of a 17-year-old girl, Cassandra Mortmain, who lives with her eccentric family in a crumbling Suffolk castle in the 1930s.  She falls in love for the first time, but unfortunately it’s with her sister’s fiance, and the bittersweet pain of first love has never been better evoked.  Cassandra begins her diary on a cold, wet, miserable March day (“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”), and the bulk of the book covers the months March, April, May and June.  The whole way Dodie writes about the English countryside shouts of a homesick exile, living as she was in California at the time she wrote it.   When the weather warms up Cassandra takes her diary to write outside, and we get beautiful words like “the moat is full of sky”.  Stand-out scenes are the May Day walk to the village pub, the nocturnal swim in the moat, and Cassandra’s special way of celebrating Midsummer’s Eve.   I often think of it as Dodie’s love letter to home.

Murder Most Royal by Jean Plaidy

This book spans several years, covering as it does the lives of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, but I first read it in the run-up to Easter, and I always seem to start thinking of Anne at this time of the year, probably because she was executed on May 19th.  There are numerous books about the Tudor wives out on the market, but I’ve always had a soft spot for this one, simply because JP doesn’t try to reinvent the characters to suit some modern perspective, which can often be a failing with modern historical fiction.  It is also Plaidy in her prime, before she had a tendency to slip into sausage machine mode, of churning out several books a year.

Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier

Containing quite possibly one of the most memorable openings in English Literature (“last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”), Rebecca concerns a nameless young woman who falls in love with a mysterious older man, Max de Winter, whilst working as a paid companion in the south of France.  He takes her back to his ancestral home in Cornwall, which is still saturated with the memory of his first wife, the beautiful, vibrant Rebecca, who drowned there only a year before.   The main part of the novel is set in late spring/early summer, as Max and his young bride return to Cornwall around May/June time.  I can never forget the huge bank of rhododendrons the narrator sees when she first arrives at Manderley.

Summer At Fairacre by Miss Read

Miss Read – her real name was Mrs Dora Saint – wrote many popular novels set around the fictional small English villages of Fairacre and Thrush Green.  My favourites were the Fairacre school books, narrated by a feisty, good-humoured headmistress.  She began these with Village School in the mid-1950s, and turned them out on a regular basis until Miss Read finally took a well-deserved retirement in the 1990s.   Miss Read remains one of my favourite fictional characters of all time, and I love the gentle, understated humour in these books.   Summer At Fairacre was published in the early 1980s, and begins on March 21st, the first day of Spring, when it snows!  The book covers the next 6 months, coming to a close on Michaelmas Day, at the end of September.  I love it, and Miss Read is often at her funniest in her observations on the absurdities of life.  She’s not as starchy as she can sometimes appear in the early 1950s books.   Yes, these books are cosy and idealistic, but they don’t paint an impossibly idyllic view.  The village has its fair share of strife (particularly if it’s anything to do with Arthur Coggs), and it reminds me of growing up in a small village in the mid-20th century.

Writing about some of these has left me with the slim hope it might inspire the weather to warm up a bit.  I won’t hold my breath on that one.  Anyway, whatever you’re reading this Spring, I hope it gives you as much pleasure as these books have given me.

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  • Comments Off on “THIS IS ALL AN ELABORATE HOAX”

Recently I was browsing through some of my favourite YouTube channels, and I came across a short film by Beyond Creepy (who I recommend subscribing to if you’re a fan of anything paranormal by the way, he does some very interesting stuff). The 10-minute video, entitled ‘Another Place’, was about people who had what I can only describe as NDEs, Near Death Experiences. One story in particular caught my attention because it was about Roger Ebert, the American film critic.

Ebert had been a writer and film critic for well over 40 years. I’ve read several of his books, and always found him interesting and often very funny. Sadly he passed away on 4 April 2013, at the age of 70, after a long battle with cancer. Ebert said he didn’t fear death, as he believed “there is nothing on the other side of death to fear”.

In the week before he died, his wife Chaz would visit him in hospital, and Ebert would tell her of visiting another place. Chaz, naturally, thought he was hallucinating, due to medication. But, the day before he died, he wrote her a note. It simply said “this is all an elaborate hoax”. Chaz asked him what was a hoax. Ebert said the world, the place, it is all an illusion. He described The Other Place as vast, of a vastness that is impossible to imagine. It is a place where the past, present and the future are all happening at once.

I was reading the Comments underneath this video, and one woman remarked that it reminded her of her grandfather who passed away when she was little. Shortly before dying he had said to her mother “it’s all a cod”. She said she had to ask her mother what this meant, and apparently it was an Irish expression for a hoax, or something that is not what we are led to believe it is.

The idea of Life as an illusion, or even a giant computer game, is one that has gained a lot of currency in recent years. The likes of David Icke for instance believe it is all a huge hologram. Over the past year I’ve also read several books by psychic mediums who claim to have communicated with the other side. The personalities they have chatted with all seem to confirm what Ebert said about the vastness of this place, and where Time (as we know it) has no meaning. I’ve read a number of things over the years where the departed have said that the traditional views of Heaven and Hell over the centuries are wrong, and it is not what we think it is.

Another interesting Comment on the video was one guy who posited the idea that Earth itself is Purgatory, and we are here to learn a specific task. This ties in with some of the books I’ve read where it is asserted that we are often here to work out something of a Karmic nature. All I know is that in recent years there seems to have been a general mass awakening, a development of the subconscious I suppose. Things that were dismissed or scornfully pushed aside years ago as Nutty Stuff, are now being seriously discussed. It is as if we’re all seeing the world through new eyes.

It is certainly an exciting time to be alive.

I once overheard someone saying she hated short stories “where everything’s left up in the air”.  That’s precisely the kind I do like.  I’m not really a fan of the Everything Neatly Tied Up At The End scenario, partly because life is rarely like that, and partly because I like the puzzle element.  The constant guessing game of “so what did happen there?”  I like the challenge of it.  My favourite type of short stories are the ones where the author seems to slip into another dimension, giving us a window on a parallel world.  Anyway, I thought I’d compile a list of the short stories that made a profound effect on me when I first read them.  These are the ones that immediately sprang to mind when I thought of doing this list, and I’m largely doing this from memory, off the top of my head.  I may well add to it at some point.  You’ve been warned.

The Hospice by Robert Aickman

Anyone who knows me well will know I’m a massive Robert Aickman fan, and I find it nigh-on impossible to pick out one story above all the rest.  I went with The Hospice because it was the very first story of his that I read, and it’s left me with a long fascination for his work.  It’s one of his most popular, and has been published in many anthologies.  Aickman is highly surreal.  Sometimes he is too much so, and his stories can feel as if they’re disappearing off onto some wild tangent that skates dangerously close to just being plain silly.  There are times – such as with The School Friend – when I wish he’d helped the reader out a bit more, as that story both beguiles and exasperates me every time I read it.  In The Hospice a man seeks shelter for the night at a small suburban hotel.  The most striking thing about this odd establishment is the copious amounts of food which are constantly served to the guests.  Things take a very dark turn when he finds some of the guests are literally chained to the dining-tables.  Everyone has their own theories as to what is going on with this story.  I’ve read some who believe the hospice is a kind of halfway house, between this world and the next.  Sometimes I’ve wondered if the guests are like human cattle being deliberately fatted up at an abattoir. Apparently this story was filmed about 30 years ago, but I’ve not been able to find a copy anywhere.  ADDENDUM 29/12/2017: a kind soul has posted a copy of this highly elusive film onto YouTube, and it does full justice to Aickman’s original story.  Try and catch it as soon as you can, before some interfering busybody goes and removes it.

The Night Wire by H R Arnold

I know very little about the author of this, and it’s the only work of his I have found.  It is marvellously eerie.  Written in 1926 (according to Wikisource), The Night Wire concerns two wireless operators whose job it is to receive news reports from around the world (the days before Breaking News apps).  One of them begins to receive reports of a mysterious fog descending on a town called Xebico … unfortunately there is no trace of a place called Xebico.  There are free transcripts of this story Online, including on Wikisource, and I have heard a good audio reading of it on YouTube.

Mrs Amworth by E F Benson

E F Benson is most well known for his much-loved Mapp And Lucia books.  But he was also a prolific author of what he called “spook stories”, and his ghostly tales have been anthologised so many times that it can feel as if no short story anthology would be complete without one.  I found it very difficult to pull out one.  I have a soft spot for The Room In The Tower because at times it has a very dreamlike quality to it (the black playing-cards for instance), and The Man Who Went Too Far is an interesting study in someone who lives life to such a rarefied extent that he loses touch with his own humanity.  You can read all sorts of Freudian subtexts into Mrs Amworth.  Benson’s sexuality has been an endless source of speculation (he always comes across as a shy, gentle soul, so I don’t know what he would have made of that), and there is no doubt that women have often featured as the villains in his stories*.  The epitome of that is Mrs Amworth, in which an older woman comes to live in a small English village, and preys upon the young male locals.  It’s a vampire story with a difference, and has a fairly chilling punchline from what I remember.   A short 30-minute TV adaptation of the story was made in 1975, with Glynis Johns superb in the title role.  *Benson was once asked who he preferred writing about, men or women.  “Women”, he replied “They’re more complicated”.

The Summer People by Shirley Jackson

When it comes to short stories, Ms Jackson is most well known for The Lottery, a story about the vindictiveness of small-town mentality, which provoked a furore when it was first published.  The Summer People is less well-known, but it is splendidly dark.  A vacationing couple decide they want to extend their holiday let beyond the end of the Summer, unfortunately this does not work out well.  In some ways this has similarities to W Somerset Maugham’s The Lotus Eater (see below), but it is much more haunting.  As Stephen King once put it: “to Shirley Jackson, who never had to raise her voice”.

The Mezzotint by M R James

I almost felt obliged to include one by M R James, and the one that immediately sprang to mind was The Mezzotint.  It concerns a haunted picture, which seems to change regularly, showing a sinister creature crawling along a lawn to an old house.  It turns out that the picture is replaying a crime from many decades before.  I liked the imagery James creates with this story.

Minuke by Nigel Kneale

I’m never entirely convinced that the haunted house scenario is really suited to the short story.  I can’t help feeling it’s a form that needs time for the reader to move around in, a Slow Build-Up Of Tension as it were.  But sometimes it can work.  This is a rip-roaring read from the author of The Stone Tape, not exactly a gentle ghost story.  An estate agent sells a bog-standard suburban semi to a couple, and then all sorts of mayhem ensue.  This could so easily have been ridiculous, and yet it works.

The Medusa by Thomas Ligotti

Thomas Ligotti is one of the most enigmatic writers around today.   He has been compared to Lovecraft, and he shares the same detached, coolly unemotional style.  I was drawn to this story because I’ve had a fascination for the legend of the Gorgon for as long as I can remember.  In The Medusa the central character is also obsessed with the snake-haired creature, and is convinced that she really exists.  He finally gets to encounter her in the basement of a house.  I found the ending to this quite haunting in a very subtle, low-key way.  This little man (presumably) went willingly to his doom, knowing full well that the object of his fascination would destroy him.  ADDENDUM: for another Gorgon-related short story, I can also recommend The Gorgon’s Head by Gertrude Bacon.  This is an old tale, rarely anthologised these days, in which a ship’s captain relates a very odd experience he had in his younger days.  I’ve seen it branded as far-fetched, but who cares?  I found it eerie and atmospheric.

Seaton’s Aunt by Walter de la Mare

A schoolboy goes to stay at the house of an unpopular classmate, whose little eccentricities make him disliked by the other boys.  Seaton lives with his Aunt, a terrifying woman, who mocks him cruelly.  The Aunt comes across as the type of person I call a psychic vampire.  Someone who sucks the energy out of everyone around her.  I once saw this strange, elegant story compared to Hitchcock’s Psycho.  For sheer originality it takes some beating, and it does show the psychological cruelty that adults can mete out to sensitive children.

The Lotus Eater by W Somerset Maugham

This story concerns a man who has saved enough from his moderately-paid job to afford a holiday on the Isle of Capri.  He likes it so much that he decides to stay there permanently, and to sacrifice his quiet, hard-working existence back home in London, for a life of idleness and ease.  Unfortunately it all backfires on him, and I suppose the moral of the story is that you can have too much of a good thing.  Some might dislike it for that reason, as the author seems to be implying he would have been better off going home and doing his job.  BUT, whilst work certainly isn’t everything, I can’t help thinking of the fact that so many people seem to die within one year of retiring completely.  Just a thought …

The Apple Tree by Daphne du Maurier

I had to include one by Ms du Maurier, and I suppose the obvious one to go for would be The Birds, which is certainly exceptional.  But I like the subtle dark wit of The Apple Tree.  The central character is a woman, Poor Midge, who rules her husband through a sort of understated tyranny.  She exudes martyred patience, and is the sort who constantly gives a sad sigh of “oh well”.  When she finally dies (“oh well”), the husband finds his troubles are only just beginning.  I’ve known far too many women like Poor Midge (“oh well”), and I can only assume Ms du Maurier had too.

The Inn by Guy Preston

I read this one in  a very old anthology many years ago, and although I could remember the story vividly, I couldn’t recall the name of the author!  Anyway, it has been recently rediscovered and anthologised in a new volume, The Greatest Ghost and Horror Stories Ever Written Vol. 7, which is currently free in Kindle format on Amazon.  This is gloriously OTT pulp fiction from the Golden Era.  In it a lonely traveller on the Cumbrian moors seeks shelter at an inn, only to find the owners are a touch on the odd side.  When I first read this I just loved the way the author went for it, and gave the reader a full-on experience. Sometimes I get a little tired of long drawn-out subtlety.

The Little Room by William Sansom

A story which seems to be virtually unknown these days.  I first read it in an old Pan Horror paperback collection during my schooldays.  The story concerns a nun, who has been naughty and broken her vows (it’s never exactly specified how, but sex seems to be involved), and her punishment is to be walled up alive.  Rumours are that this was used as a punishment against nuns in Medieval times, although I’m never sure if it ever actually happened.  This story though seems to be set in the modern era.  The nun has the use of an electric fire for instance, and a device on the wall cruelly informs her how much oxygen she has left.   This story terrified me when I first read it, and I think it still holds up well now.

The Grey Men by Dame Rebecca West

This one was a bit of problem, but I had to include it.  I read it in an old anthology back in the 1990s, and I’ve never been able to track it down since.  I haven’t been able to find it included in any list of Dame Rebecca’s works, and I’m starting to wonder if she did write it at all!  It’s a very short story, barely two pages, but I remember being very creeped out by it.  It concerns the inhabitants of an old people’s home, who claim they are haunted at night by visitations from The Grey Men.  It proved to me, once and for all, that you don’t need a long story to make an impact.

 

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I thought I’d do this one as a bit of fun for Christmas week, as I’m quite fond of this quirky little tale.  There seems to be only one source for this particular haunted house story, and that’s legendary Irish ghost-hunter Elliott O’Donnell, who had some quite extraordinary brushes with the paranormal (including a claim that he was nearly throttled by a ghost in Dublin).  Well either that or he was simply a good story-teller, it’s up to you which slant you take.   O’Donnell’s prolific career as a writer and a ghost-hunter spanned from early Edwardian times to the 1950s.

Back in the 1840s, in a village near Basingstoke, stood a house called The Swallows.  It was a substantial rural property, standing in its own two acres of land.  The house had been standing empty for quite some while, when a Mr Bishop of Tring finally bought it in 1841.  Things were kick off at The Swallows almost immediately.

After being in residence for barely a fortnight, Mr Bishop found two of his servants giving notice that they wanted to leave.  Their reasons for doing so was that they claimed the house was haunted … by either a big cat or a big baboon.  They said they had constantly seen this peculiar creature creeping down the staircases and passageways.   Even more alarmingly than that, they also said they had heard the sound of somebody being strangled.

Naturally news of all this spread like wildfire through the village, and crowds of people descended on the house to see if they could witness anything.   Vigils were kept, and one night, at about midnight, several of the vigilantes were keeping watch in the courtyard when they witnessed something quite astonishing.  What appeared to be the forms of a huge cat and a baboon rose up from the closed grating of the cellar underneath the old dairy, rushed passed them, and disappeared into a dark angle of the walls.   These extraordinary creatures were also seen afterwards by other witnesses.

Early in December 1841, Mr Bishop heard terrified screams, accompanied by hoarse jabberings, coming from the top of the house.  He rushed to the top of the building, only to be greeted by silence.  By that time, understandably, Mr Bishop had had enough of the house, and put it up for sale.  He was lucky enough to find a buyer fairly quickly, a retired colonel.  However that gentleman was also scared out of it, and he too left the property in 1842.

The house seems to have been pulled down soon after that, and the land was used for cottages.  Unfortunately the haunting continued, and the cottages soon became uninhabitable.  The cottages too were eventually demolished, and the land was converted into allotments.

No one seems to have any idea what could have been behind this haunting.  There is some rumour that the property had previously been the lair of a notorious highwayman (when aren’t they notorious?), and he had died after falling through a floor into a vat of oil.  I’m not quite sure where the baboon and the big cat fit in, although there has been some vague speculation that they might have been his pets.

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