Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


It turns out that this one is not as obsolete as I had thought.  It is actually scheduled to be shown at the Bow Tie Theater at the Annapolis Mall in Maryland on December 10th at 10:30 a.m.  If you are anywhere near Annapolis that morning, leave.  Just leave.  Leave as fast as your feet can carry you.  You have been warned!

      There is absolutely nothing that redeems this film, not even cute little pre-pubescent Pia Zadora as Girmar, one of the Martian childern.  I saw this movie several years ago and have had bad dreams about it ever since.  I haven't the words to describe this film, so let's go with a brief description from Wikipedia (that trusted source of all human knowledge):

     "The story involves the people of Mars, including Momar ('Mom Martian') and Kimar ('King Martian').  They're worried that their children Girmar ('Girl Martian') and Bomar ('Boy Martian') are watching too much Earth television, most notably station KID-TV's interview with Santa Claus in his workshop at the North Pole.  Consulting the 800-year old Martian sage Chochem (a Yiddish word meaning 'genius'), they are advised that the children of Mars are growing distracted due to the society's overly rigid structure; from infancy, all their education is fed into their brains through machines and they are not allowed individuality or freedom of thought.

     "Chochem notes that he has seen this coming 'for centuries,' and says the only way to help the children is to allow them their freedom and be allowed to have fun.  To do this, they need a Santa Claus figure, like on Earth.  Leaving the Chochem's cave, the leaders decide to abduct Santa Claus from Earth and bring him to Mars.  As the Martians could not distinquish between all the fake Santas, they kidnapped two children to find the real one.  Once this accomplished, one Martian, Voldar, who strongly disagrees with the idea, repeatedly tries to kill Santa Claus, along with the two Earth children.  He believes that Santa is corrupting the children of Mars and turning them away from the race's original glory."

     Aaah!  I can't take any more!  There's a whole lot of bad movie (and summarizing) going on there!  And they don't even mention Vomview ("Vomiting Viewer").

     ***Steady, Jerry.  Breath deeply and relax.  You can do this.  You CAN finish this post.  Keep calm and carry on.  It will be all right.***

     OK.  Santa Claus Conquers the Martians was directed by Nicholas Webster, who had mainly done documentaries and commercials previously to making this film.  He went to direct a few television episodes for various series.   The script was written by Glenville Mareth from a story by Paul L. Jacobson.  IMDB lists no other film contribution by Mareth, making me wonder if the name was a "Cordwainer Bird."*  IMDB also gives this movie as Jacobson's only writing and only producing credit.  Hmmm.  Crackerjack team there.

      Actor John Call, who had some previous film and television credits, left the Broadway production of Oliver to play Santa Claus  -- his pentultimate Hollywood role; seven years later he had a small role in The Anderson Tapes.  Leila Martin (Momar) had one television credit six years earlier and one television movie credit rwelve years after SCCTM.  Leonard Hicks (Kimar) capped his career with SCCTM; his earlier credits consists of one episode of Route 66 and an uncredited appearance in a 1961 film.  Belarus-born Carl Don (Chochem) had a total of 19 television and movie credits -- all supporting roles -- from 1950 to 1998.  Vincent Beck (Voldar) began his film career with SCCTM and spent the next nineteen years playing various villains and monsters.  Chris Month (Bomar) played one episode in a 1964 television series I had never heard of;  three years earlier he had been on a segment of The Ed Sullivan Show (doing what I have no idea).  SCCTM was Month's only other credit; presumably the Martians finally did get him, or he was eaten by dingos, or something.

     And then there was Pia (Girmar), the New Jersey kid who got her start with SCCTM and then grew pneumatically to star in Butterfly eighteen years later as she began her career as a well-known actress and Penthouse model.  Somewhere along the line, she put on enough clothes so people could realize her other talent:  singing.  She became a popular vocalist who dabbled occasionally in acting.  So, perhaps, good things can happen to good Martian chikldren who believe in Santa Claus.

     Not unsurprisingly, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians finds itself consistently on lists of the 100 worst movies, which is why it was featured on Mystery Science Theatre 3000.  For those who are strong of stomach, week of will, and both brave and foolhardy, I've embedded the movie here:

Cordwainer Bird was the pseudonym Harlan Ellison used whenever a studio completely fouled up one of his scripts, making it almost unrecognizable.  This was Ellison's way of giving the "bird" to the studio.  Likewise, movie directors who wish to distance themselves from films that have been ruined by tinkering executives will often use the name "Alan Smithies" on the credits.

     For more obsolete films today, go to Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom.


Monday, November 28, 2011



Quiet week.  Lots of turkey, not many books.

  • "Jonathan Aycliffe" (Denis MacEoin, who is also thriller writer "Daniel Easterman"), Whispers in the Dark.  Horror.
  • Ronald Anthony Cross, The Fourth Guardian.  Book One of the fantasy series The Eternal Guardians.
  • "Harry Adam Knight" (John Brosnan), Death Spore.  Horror novel first published as The Fungus, as by Harry Adam Knight and Leroy Kettle.  I can't find Kettle's name anywhere on this edition.
  • Louis L'Amour, The Mountain Valley War.  Western.
  • Bill McCay, Stargate:  Rebellion.  Movie tie-in, a sequel to the movie and published a couple of years before the television series.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Receding floods in Thailand reveal that crocodiles are lurking in downtown Bangkok.  Check Bill Crider's Pop Culture Magazine for details, because I know Bill will jump on this story like a cat on a mouse.


A Night with the Thames Police

The following unsigned article appeared in The Strand Magazine, Volume 1, Number 2, February 1891.

There was a time when the owners of craft on the Thames pratically left their back doors open and invited the river-thieves to enter, help themselves, and leave unmolested and content.  The barges lay in the river holding everything most coveted, form precious cargoes of silk to comfortable bales of tobacco, protected only from wind, weather, and wicked fingers by a layer of tarpaulin -- everything ready and inviting to those who devoted their particular talents and irrepressible instincts to the water.  Goods to a value of a million sterling were being appropriated every year.  The City merchants were at their wits' end.  Some of the more courageous and determined of them ventured out themselves at night; but the thieves -- never at a loss in conceiving an ingenious and ready means of escape -- slipped, so to speak, out of their would-be captors' hands by going semi-clothed about their work, greasing their flesh and garments until they were as difficult to catch as eels.

     So the merchants held solemn conclave, the result of which was the formation, in 1792, of 'The Preventative Service," a title which clung to the members thereof until 1839, when they were embnodied with the Metropolitan Police with the special privilege of posing as City constables.  Now they are a body of two hundred and two strong, possessing twenty-eight police galleys and a trio of steam launches.  From a million pounds of property stolen yearly a hundred years ago, they have, by persistent traversing of a watery beat, reduced it to one hundred pounds.  Smuggling is in reality played out, though foggy nights are still fascinating to those so inclined; but now they have to be content with a coil or two of old rope, an ingot of lead, or a few fish.  Still the river-policeman's eye and the light of his lantern are always searching for suspicious characters and guilty-looking craft.  In High-street, Wapping, famous for its river romances, and within five hundred yards of the Old Stairs, the principal station of the Thames police is to be found.  The traditional blue lamp projects over a somewhat gloomy passage leading down to the river-side landing stage.  To us, on the night appointed for our expedition, it is a welcome beacon as to the whereabouts of law and order, for only a few minutes previously half a dozen worthy gentlemen standing at the top of some neighboring steps, wearing slouched hats anything but a comforting expression on their faces gruffly demanded, "Do you want a boat?"  Fortunately we did not.  These estimable individuals had only just left the dock of the police station, where they had been charged on suspicion, but eventually discharged.

     It was a quarter to six o'clock.  At six we are to start for our journey up the river as far as Waterloo and back again to Greenwich; but there is time to take a hasty survey of the interior of the station, where accommodation is provided for sixteen single men, with a library, reading-room, and billiard-room at their disposal.

     "Fine night, sir; rather cold, though," says a hardy-looking fellow dressed in a reefer and a brightly glazed old-time man-o'-war's hat.  He is one of the two oldest men on the force, and could tell how he lost his wife and all his family, save one lad, when the Princess Alice went down in 1878.  He searched for ten days and ten nights, but they were lost to him.  Another of these river guardians has a never-to-be-forgotten reminiscence of that terrible disaster, when the men of the Thames police were on duty for four or five nights at a stretch.  He was just too late to catch the ill-fated vessel!  He was left behind on the pier at Sheerness, and with regret watched it leave, full of merrymakers.  What must have been his thoughts when he heard the news?

     You may pick out any of these thick-set fellows standing about.  They have one and all roved the seas over.  Many are old colonials, others middle-aged veterans from the navy and merchant service -- every one of them as hard as a rock, capable of rowing for six or eight hours at a stretch without resting on the oar.

     "Don't be long inside, sir," shouts a strapping fellow, buttoning up his coat to his neck.

     "Aye, aye, skipper," we shout, becoming for the moment quite nautical.

     Inside the station-house you turn sharply to the right, and there is the charge-room.  Portraits of Sir Charles Warren and other police authorities are picturesquely arranged on the walls.  In front of the desk, with its innumerable wooden rails, where sits the inspector in charge, is the prisoners' dock, from the ground of which rises the military measurement in inches against which the culprit testifies as to his height.  The hands of the clock above are slowly going their rounds.  In a corner, near the strong steel rails of the dock, lie a couple of bargemen's peak caps.  They are labelled with half a sheet of notepaper.  Their history?  They have been picked up in the river, but the poor fellows who owned them are -- missing!  It will be part of our duties to assist in the search for them tonight.

     Just in a crevice by the window are the telegraph instruments.  A clicking noise is heard, and the inspector hurriedly takes down on a slate a strange but suggestive message. 

     "Information received of a prize-fight for L2 a side, supposed to take place between Highgate and Hampstead."

     What has Highgate or Hampstead to do with the neighborhood of Wapping, or how does a prize-fight affect the members of the Thames police, who are anything but pugilistically inclined?  In our innocence we learn that it is customary to telegraph such information to all the principal stations throughout London.  The steady routine of the force is to be admired.

     There are countless oars, capes, and caps hanging in a room through which we pass on our way to the cells -- cozy, clean, and convenient apartments, and decidedly cheap to the temporary tenant.  There are two of them, one being specially retained for women.  They are painted yellow, provided with a wash-basin, towel, a supply of soap, and a drinking cup.  Heat is supplied through hot-water pipes; a pillow and rug are provided for the women; and like "desirable villa residences," the apartments are fitted with electric bells.

     Here the occupier is lodged for the time being, allowed food at each meal to the value of four pence, and eventually tried at the Thames Police-court.  Look at the doors.  They bear countless dents from the boot-tips of young men endeavouring to perform the clever acrobatic trick of kicking out the iron grating over the door through which the gas-jet gives them light.  Those of a musical nature ring the electric bell for half an hour at a time, imaging that they are disturbing the peace of the officer in a distant room.  But our smart constable, after satisfying himelf that all is well, disconnects the current, and sits smiling at his ease.  Some of the inmates, too, amuse themselves by manufacturing streamers out of the blankets.  They never do it a second time.

     Now we are on our way to the riverside.  We descend the wooden steps, soaked through with the water which only a few hours previously had been washing the stairs.  Our boat is waiting, manned by three sturdy fellows under the charge of an inspector.  It is a glorious night; the moon seems to have come out just to throw a light upon our artist's note-book, and to provide a picture of the station standing out in strong relief.  The carpenter -- for they repair their own boats here -- looks out from his shop door, and shouts a cheery "Goodnight."  Our galley receives a gentle push into the water, and we start on a long beat of seven and a half miles. 

     Save for the warning of a passing tug, the river is as a place of the dead.  How still and solemn!  But a sudden "Yo-ho" from the inspector breaks the quietude.

     It is the method of greeting as one police galley passes another.

     "Yo-ho!" replies the man in charge of the other boat.

     "All right.  Good night."

     These river police know every man who has any business on the water at night.  If the occupant of a boat was questioned, and his "Yo-ho" did not sound familiar, he would be "towed" to the station.

     A simple "Yo-ho" once brought about a smart capture.  The rower was mystified at the magic word, got mixed in his replies, and accordingly was accommodated with a private room at the station for the night.  It transpired that this river purloiner had stolen the boat, and, being of a communicative disposition, was in the habit of getting friendly terms with the watchmen of the steamers, and so contrived to gain an entrance to the cabins, from which money and watches disappeared.  This piece of ingenuity was rewarded with ten years' penal servitude.

     Our little craft has a lively time amongst the fire-boats -- for fires are just as likely to occur on the river as on the land, and accordingly small launches are dotted about here and there, forfilling the same duties as the more formidable-looking engines on terra firma.  A red light signifies their whereabouts, and they usually lie alongside the piers, so as to be able to telephone quickly should a fire occur.  If the police saw flames, they would act exactly as their comrades do on land, and hurry to the nearest float to give the alarm.

     It blows cold as we spin past Traitor's Gate at the Tower, but our men become weather-beaten on the Thames, and their hands never lose the grip of the oar.  They need a hardy frame, a robust constitution, for no matter what the weather, blinding snow or driving rain, these water-guardians come out -- the foggiest night detains them not; they have to get through the fog and their allotted six hours.  At the time of the Fenian scare at the House of Correction, thirty-six hours at a stretch was considered nothing out of the way.

     Now the lights of Billingsgate shine out, and we experience a good deal of dodging outside the Custom House.  The wind is getting up, and the diminutive sprat-boats are taking advantage of the breeze to return home.  Some are being towed along.  And as the oars of our little craft touch the water, every man's eyes are fixed in order to catch sight of anything like the appearance of a missing person.  A record of the missing, as well as the found, is kept at the station we have just left a mile or two down the river.  Ten poor creatures remain yet to be discovered.  What stories, thrilling and heartrending, we have to listen to!  Yet even such pitiful occurrences as these, much that is grimly humourous often surrounds them.  Many are the sad recognitions on the part of those "found drowned."  Experience has taught the police to stand quietly behind those who must needs go through such a terrible ordeal, and who often swoon at the first sight.  Where is a more touching story than of the little girl who tramped all the way from Camden Town to Wapping, for the purpose of identifying her father, who had been picked up near the Old Stairs?  She was a brave little lass, and looked up into the policeman's face as he took her by the hand and walked her towards the mortuary.  As they reached the door and opened it, the bravery of the child went to the man's heart.  He was used to this sort of thing, but when he thought of the orphan, the tears came to his eyes; he turned away for a moment, lest his charge should see them and lose what strength her tiny frame possessed.  He hesitated to let her go in.

     "You're not frightened, are you, policeman?" she asked innocently.

     He could not move, and she went in alone.  When the constable followed, he found the child with her arms round her dead father's neck, covering his face with with tears and kisses.

     We shoot beneath London Bridge, and the commotion brought about by a passing tug causes our men to rest their oars as we are lifted like a cork by the disturbed waves.  As the great dome of St. Paul's appears in sight, standing out solemnly in against the black night, we pull our wraps around us, as a little preliminary to a story volunteered by the captain of the crew.  The river police could tell of many a remarkable clue to identification -- a piece of lace, a button of a man's trousers.  But the inspector has a curious story of a watch to relate -- true every word of it.

     "Easy!" he cries to his men -- "look to it, now get along," and to the steady swing of the oars he commences.

     "It all turned on the inscription engraved on a watch," he says.  "When I came to search the clothing of the poor fellow picked up, the timekeeper was found in his pocket.  It was a gold one, and on the case was engraved an inscription, setting forth that it had been given to a sergeant of the marines.  Here was the clue sought after -- the drowned man had evidently been in the army.  The following morning I was onmy way to Spring Gardens, when in passing down the Strand I saw a marine, whom I was half inclined to question.  I did not, however, do so, but hurried in my sorrowful mission.

     "On my arrival, I asked if they knew anything of Sergeant _____.  Yes, they did.  I must have passed him in the Strand, for he had gone to Coutt's Bank!  I was perfectly bewildered.  Hear was the very man found drowned, still alive!

     "I could only wait until his return.  Then the mystery was soon explained.  It seemed that the sergeant had sold his gold watch in order to get a more substantial silver one, on condition that the purchaser should take the inscription off.  This he failed to do, and he in turn parted with the timekeeper to another buyer, who had finally committed suicide with the watch still in his pocket."

     Our police galley is now alongside the station, just below Waterloo Bridge.  It is not far to seek why it has been found necessary to establish a depot here.  We look up at the great bridge which spans the river at this point, named alas! with only too much truth, "The Bridge of Sighs."  The dark water looks inviting to those burdened with trial and trouble, a place to receive those longing for rest and yearning for one word of sympathy.  More suicides occur at this spot than any along the whole length of the river, though Whitehall Stairs and Adelphi Stairs are both notorious places, where such poor creatures end their existence.  Some twenty-one suicides have been attempted at this point during the past year, and twenty-five bodies have been found.

     As we step on the timber station the sensation is extremely curious to those used to the firm footing of the pavement.  But Inspector Gibbons -- a genial member of the river force -- assures us that one soon becomes accustomed to the incessant rocking.  Waterloo Police Station -- familiar to all river pedestrians during the summer months, owing to the picturesque appearance it presents with its pots of geraniums and climbing fuchsias -- is a highly interesting corner.

     Just peep into the Inspector's room, and make friends with "Dick," the cat, upon whose shoulders rest the weight of four years and a round dozen pounds.  Dick is a capital swimmer, and has been nin the water scores of times.  Moreover, he is a veritable feline policeman, and woe betide any trespassers of his own race and breed.  When a cat ventures within the sacred precincts of the station, Dick makes friends with the intruder for the moment, and, in order to enjoy the breeze, quietly edges him to the extreme edge of the platform, and suddenly pushes him overboard.  "Another cat last night," is a common expression amongst the men here.

     The Waterloo Police Station on occasion becomes a temporary hospital and a home together.

     Only half an hour previous to our arrival there had been an attempted suicide, and in a little room, at the far end of the pier, there was every sign that efforts had only recently had been successfully made to restore animation to a young fellow who had thrown himself off Blackfriars Bridge.  He had been picked up by a passing skiff, and his head held above water until a steamboat passed by and took him on board.

     Here is a bed in the corner, with comfortable-looking pillow and thick, warm blankets, where the unfortunate one is put to bed for a period, previous to being sent to the Infirmatory, and afterwards charged.  Close at hand is a little medicine chest, containing numerous medicine phials, a flask of stimulants, and a smelling bottle.  A dozen or so of tins, of all shapes and sizes, are handy.  These are filled with hot water and placed in contact with the body of the person rescued from the river.

     It is often an hour before anything approaching animation makes itself visible, and even four hours have elapsed before any sign has been apparent.  The rescued one is placed upon a wooden board, below which is a bath, and rubbed by ready hands according to Dr. Sylvester's method, whose instructions are prominently displayed upon the wall, and are understood by all the police.

     It will be noticed in the picture [not copied here -- JH] that two men are apparently preparing to undress the hapless creature who has attempted her own life.  The first thought that will occur to the reader on looking at the illustration is, that a member of her own sex ought to do this work.  It must be remembered, however, that weeks may elapse without any such event, and there no place at Waterloo Bridge where a woman could be kept constantly in waiting.  Still, it is clearly not right that men should do this duty, and we think they might be enabled to go to some house in the neighbourhood, in which arrangements had been made for the services of a woman in cases of emergency.  We do not forget that great promptness at such times in order to resuscitate the body.  But, when we remember that every branch in the police system on the Thames is so perfect, it seems a pity that some means cannot be devised.

      Many remarkable things might be told about people who have been in this room.  One poor fellow was once an inmate who was humorous to the last.  When he was brought in, a pair of dumb-bells were found in his pocket, and a piece of paper on which was scrawled in charcoal the following: --

     "Dear Bob -- I am going to drown myself.  You can find me somewhere near Somerset House.  I can't part with my old friends, Bob, so I'm taking them with me.  Good-bye."

     The man was evidently an athelete, and the "old friends" referred to were the weighty dumb-bells.

     Many have been picked up with their pockets full of granite stones or a piece of lead.  One was found with the hands tied together with a silk handkerchief -- a love-token which the forsaken one had used so pitifully.  A woman, too, was discovered with a summons in her pocket, which was put down as the cause of her untimely death.

     Remarkable are the escapes of would-be suicides.  In one instance a woman threw herself off one of the bridges, and instead of falling in the water, jumped into a passing barge.  She had a child in her arms.  The little one died at Guy's Hospital, but the mother recovered.  Some time ago a woman jumped off Westminster Bridge, and floated safely down to the Temple Stairs, where she was picked up.  She had gone off the bridge feet first, the wind had caught her clothes, and by this means her head was kept up, and she was saved.

     Perhaps, however, the strangest case and one of the most romantic, was that of Alice Blanche Oswald.  Previous to comitting suicide she wrote letters to herself, purporting to come from wealthy people in America, and setting forth the most heartrending history.  Her death aroused a vast amount of public sympathy.  A monument to her memory was suggested, and subscriptions were already coming in, when inquiries proved that her supposed friends in America did not exist, and that the story contained in the missives was a far from truthful one.  She was nothing more than an adventuress.

     As we glance in at the solitary cell, built on exactly the same principle as those at Wapping, in which eleven enterprising individuals have been accomodated at one time, we learn of the thousand and one odds and ends that are washed up -- revolvers and rifles, housebreaking instruments which thoughtful burglars have got rid of; the plant of a process for manufacturing counterfeit bank-notes, with some of the flimsy pieces of paper still intact.  A plated cup was once picked up at Waterloo, which turned out to be the proceeds of a burglary at Eton College; it is probable the cup floated all the way from Thames at Windsor to Waterloo.

    Forty-eight men are always on duty at this station, including four single men, whose quarters are both novel and decidedly cozy.  This quartet of bachelors sleep in bunks, two above the others.  The watch of one of the occupants is ticking away in one berth, while a clock is vieing with it next door.  These men have each a separate locker for their clothes, boot-brushes, tea-pot, coffee-pot, food, &c.  The men do all their own cleaning and cooking; if you will, you may look into a kitchen in the corner, in which every pot and pan is as bright as a new pin.

     But our time is up; the chiming of "Big Ben" causes the genial inspector gently to remind us that we must be off, and once more we are seated in the boat, and, cutting across the river, move slowly on our way to Greenwich, where the old Royalist is transformed into a station, a familiar institution some sixteen or seventeen years ago at Waterloo.

     The whole scene is wonderfully impressive -- not a sound is to be heard but the distant rumbling of the vehicles over the London Bridge.  Our men pause for a moment and rest their oars.  The great wharves are deserted, the steamers and barges are immovable as they lie alongside -- there is no life anywhere or sign of it.  Again we get along, halting for a moment to look up at the old man-'o-war, the famous Discovery, which ventured out to the arctic regions under Captain Nares.  The old three-mast schooner -- for the vessel is nothing more now, being used as a river carrier of the stores from the Victualling Yard at Deptford to the various dockyards -- had on board when she went to colder regions a future member of the Thames police:  hence he was called "Arctic Jack" by his companions, a near relation to "Father Neptune," a cognomen bestowed upon another member of the force, owing to the wealth of white beard which he possessed.

     Past Deptford Castle Market, the red lamps on the jetties light up the water; a good pull and we are at Greenwich Steps, near to which is "The Ship," ever associated with the name of "whitebait."  Our beat is ended, and a hearty "Good-night" is re-echoed by the men as we stand watching them on the river steps whilst they pull the first few strokes on their way home to Wapping.


One of my favorite counting songs.


Saturday, November 26, 2011


Science fiction writer, editor, and futurist Frederik Pohl has a simple birthday wish for his 92nd birthday.  Just go to his blog and see how you can make him happy and help (maybe) make the country a better place:

     And if you have never read a Fred Pohl book, get one now!


Friday, November 25, 2011


Former New York Times columnist Tom Wicker died today from an apparent heart attack.  He was 85.  Wicker was a respected political reporter and columnist who wrote some 20 books, including the Edgar-winning A Time To Die about the 1971 Attica prison riot.  I met Wicker briefly during the 1970s and was greatly impressed with his presence, passion, and erudition.


What's Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies (1985)

This month, Forgotten Books is considering Canadian authors, which gives us participants a lot of great books from which to choose.  I suppose I could have picked any novel by Robertson Davies, but I zeroed in on one of my favorites:  What's Bred in the Bone, the second book in the author's "Cornish Trilogy."

     The Cornish Trilogy concerns the life and influence of Francis Cornish -- artist, art collector, and patron of the arts.  What's Bred in the Bone is bookended by The Rebel Angels and The Lyre of Orpheus.  The trilogy begins with Cornish's death and ends with his heirs producing a lost work by the great German fantasist E. T. A. Hoffman.  The middle book is the one that actually records Francis Cornish's life from its beginning in a small Ontario town.

     Magical reality is often considered the province of Latin American writers, but Davies puts his own distinctive stamp on the genre.  Davies (1913-1995) was one of the premier essayists and critics of the Twentieth Century.  His early career as an actor, playwright, director, and newspaperman prepared him for his future careers as an educator and as one of the best-known and most admired Canadian authors.  (It was said that he had been a potential candidate for the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature.)  His fiction often blended myth and psychology to portray individual struggles to maintain a Canadian identity.

     The story is narrated by the Recording Angel as he reviews Franicis Cornish's life.  On hand is a daimon who occasionally interrupts the narration to explain how and when he influenced Cornish's life to make him better himself.  (A daimon here is not to be confused with a demon; a daimon is more like a guardian angel -- a positive preternatural influence.)  The point being that greatness is often acknowleged only after the fact.  Davies has an easy but erudite style, leavened with humor and humanity.  The book can be enjoyed for the story alone, as well as for the subtext.

     I've read most of Robertson Davies' novels (they are readily available in paperback, often in omnibus editions) as well as several collections of his essays and have found them all worthwhile.  Some of his other writings are also worth looking up, such as The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks, an omnibus of humorous essays Davies wrote while he was editor of the Peterborough Examiner.  These essays cover day-to-day events, often concerning themselves with the author's struggles with a recalcitrant furnace during Canadian winters.  Also worthwhile is his collection of eighteen ghost stories, High Spirits, each of which was written for an annual Christmas party (a la M. R. James) while Davies was Master of Massey College in Toronto.
     Here's an interesting 1973 interview with Robertson Davies and his magnificent beard:


     Todd Mason is taking over Patti Abbott's duties this week while she takes a well-deserved break.  For further Forgotten Books, go to Sweet Freedom for the links.


Thursday, November 24, 2011


Some of these are probably not forgotten but they all seem appropriate today.

Thanksgiving Song by Mary Chapin Carpenter:

Some interesting flute music here;

This one's from an episode of Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman.  But, hey, it's Johnny Cash:

Thanksgiving dinner and its aftermath gave Arlo the opportunity to protest the Viet Nam War:

Mention Thanksgiving songs and most people will think of this one;

After a large meal, you probably should exercise:

We all have something to be thankful for today.  This is just one of them:

I hope you all have a great day, and be sure to check out more Forgotten Music at Scott D. Parker.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


According to a new poll done by Fairleigh Dickinson University, persons watching Fox News knew less than those who watched no television news.  The study concentrated on the recent uprisings in the Middle East and Egypt.  It turns out that Fox viewers were "18-points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government."  Overall, 53% of the responders knew that the Muburak government had been overthrown.  The poll also points out that Fox viewers were "6-points less likely to know that Syrians have not yet overthrown their government."  Forty-eight percent of the overall responders knew that.

     "There is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions than those who don't watch any news at all," said Dan Cassino, a poly-sci professor at the university,  The poll taken had controls that factored in political partisanship and education.

     The poll was taken among New Jersey residents.  Perhaps Fox News can make something of that.  Last year, a UMaryland poll showed that "Fox viewers were more likely to believe false information about politics."

     As Rush would say, must be those uppity folks on the East Coast.


This one is for Ray Bradbury fans.  I found it in a 1965 pamphlet, Pioneer Comforts and Kitchen Recipes:  Oldtimey Highland Secrets from The Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains, by Ferne Shelton.  Sorry, it won't be ready for Thanksgiving tomorrow.  Maybe next year.

DANDELION WINE  (Considered a tonic for stomach and energy)

Gather 1 gallon Dandelion blooms (no stems).  Boil blooms with rind and juice of 4 oranges and 4 lemons in 2 gallons water for 1/2 hour.  Let set 24 hours.  Then strain, and add 8 cups of sugar and 1 package yeast.  Leave in covered crock 2 weeks.  Strain again and bottle.

There's also a recipe for Pokeberry Wine, but I don't know what the heck a pokeberry is.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Today's selection for Todd Mason's Overlooked Films is an episode from Studio 57, an anthology series that started on the old Dumont Network.  When Dumont tanked in 1955, the series continued in syndication.  IMDB lists 124 episodes shot, of which this was number 117; IMDB also lists this episode as the last one shown -- numbers 118 through 124 were listed under an "Unknown Season" airing in 1955.  This episode is from March 31, 1958.  (IMDB and Wikipedia also say the the show's syndication ran through 1955-6.  Go figure.)  Whatever.

     The Getaway Car was directed by Earl Bellemy, a veteran director credited with over 1600 episodes for more than 100 series.  This episode was originally filmed as a pilot for a proposed television series, Motorcycle Cop.  It starred Mike Connors (MANNIX, TIGHTROPE, TODAY'S FBI) as Patrolman Jeff Saunders.  Also heading the cast were John McIntire (WAGON TRAIN, THE VIRGINIAN, NAKED CITY) and veteran character actor Wallace Ford (THE DEPUTY).

     The teleplay was by Frederick Brady (here listed as "Frederic Brady"), who wrote scripts for 21 television series, including many of the anthology series of the Fifties, as well as 77SUNSET STRIP and TIGHTROPE.

     The Getaway Car was based on a short story by...

     wait for it...

     John D. MacDonald!  That's right, John D. MacDonald.  Not only that, the story the eppisode was based on was "The Homesick Buick," one of JDM's most reprinted stories.  It first appeared in the September, 1950 issue of EQMM (where it won a third prize in Queen's annual mystery story competition) and has been featured in a number of anthologies, including Tony Hillerman's The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century (2000).

     For your viewing pleasure, here is a rare television adaptation of a John D. MacDonald short story:


     For more Overlooked films and such, go to Sweet Freedom.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Slightly over two dozen books this week.
  • Stephen Baxter, Manifold Time.  SF.
  • Richard Lee Byers, Dark Fortune.  Horror.
  • James M. Cain, Mignon.  Historical novel.
  • Agatha Christie, Six Mary Westmacott Novels.  Omnibus of the romance novels Christie first published under the "Mary Westmacott" name:  Giants' Bread, Absent in the Spring, Unfinished Portrait, The Rose and the Yew TreeA Daughter's a Daughter, and The Burden.  Most of my copies of Westmacott had gone walkabout some time ago; this gave me a chance to get all six in an inexpensive volume.
  • Richie Tankersley Cusick, The House Next Door.  YA horror.
  • David Drake, Fortress.  Military SF.
  • Daphne du Maurier, Don't Look Now.  2008 compilation of nine du Maurier stories, selected by Patrick McGrath.
  • Roger Elwood, Dwellers.  Christian novel of the war of good vs. evil, with the Nephilim and Satan as the baddies.  I don't expect too much from Elwood and a quick glance shows I'm probably right:  the hero's name is Kindred and his rescuer/mentor is named Klatu.
  • S. K. Epperson, Borderland.  Horror.
  • Mertin H. Greenberg, editor, The Further Adventures of Superman.  Look!  It's a bird!  It's a plane!  No, it's an anthology of ten stories featuring the Man of Steel!
  • M. R. Henderson, By Reason Of...  Suspense.
  • L. Ron Hubbard, If I Were You.  Two fantasy stories, a  story "preview, and the usual touting of L. Ron as a genius.
  • Stephen King, Blockade Billy.  Sure, I read this in the Cemetery Dance edition, but this is the Scriber edition with the added story "Morality."
  • Louis L'Amour, May There Be a Road.  Collection of ten adventure stories.
  • Denise Little, editor, Familiars.  Fantasy anthology, 15 stories.
  • Jack McDevitt, Ancient Shores.  SF.
  • Craig McDonald, Head Games.  Thriller with the head of Pancho Villa.
  • Martin Millar, The Good Fairies of New York.  Fantasy.  Scottish thistle fairies want to start a punk rock band in New York.
  • Thomas F. Monteleone, The Reckoning.  Horror novel from the Mothers and Fathers Italian Association.
  • George P. Pelecanos, Nick's Trip.  A Nick Stefanos mystery.
  • Christopher Pike, Thirst, No. 1.  Omnibus edition of three YA horror novels:  The Last Vampire, Black Blood, and Red Dice.
  • Robert Rankin, Armageddon The Musical and Nostadamus Ate My Hamster.  Humorous SF.
  • Alistair Reynolds, Chasm City.  SF.
  • Greg Rucka, Critical Space.  Suspense.  An Atticus Kodiak novel..
  • David Weber & Linda Evans, Hell's Gate.  Doorstopper military SF novel -- over 1200 pages!
  • Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman, editors.  I picked up this quintet of "Dragonlance" anthologies for twenty cents apiece, so I thought I'd give them a try:  The Dragons of Krynn, Heroes and Fools:  Tales of the Fifth Age, The Players of Gilean:  Tales from the World of Krynn (this one is based on a novella by Weis and Aron Eisenberg [Nog from Deep Space Nine]), Rebels and Tyrants:  Tales of the Fifth Age, and Relics and Omens:  Tales of the Fifth Age.  Sixty-three stories all together.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Neither of these songs are hymns, but both display courage, faith, and hope.

     First, a powerful song born from the horror of Srebenica that endsith a faint ray of hope.

     And from last month, 91-year-old Pete Seeger and others at Occupy Wall Street with a song of determination that has helped change history.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Mary Elizabeth Counselman, author of the classic weird tale "The Three Marked Pennies" (written when she was a teen) and others, was born on this day a hundred years ago in Birmingham, Alabama.  Although her output was small -- three dozen or so weird tales, plus some mystery and adventure stories for the pulps, as well as work for the slicks -- her work was well respected for its Southern Gothic sensabilities and its imagination.  She worked as a newspaper reporter and was a creative writing teacher.  She spent most of her life in Gadsden, Alabama, living on a houseboat.  She passed away six days before her 84th birthday in 1995.  (One source puts her death on May 3, 1994.)

     Counselman's best known book was Half in Shadow, a collection of 14 weird stories published in Britain as a paper back in 1964; 14 years later, August Derleth published a revised version for his Arkham House press, eliminating six of the original stories and replacing them with six others.  Her other books include African Yesterdays:  A Collection of Native Folktales (1975; expanded, 1977), Move Over -- It's Only Me (poetry, 1975), Everthing You Always Wanted to Know About the Supernatural -- But Are Afraid to Believe (1976), SPQR:  The Poetry and Life of Catullus (1977), The Eye and the Hand (poetry, 1977), New Lamps for Old (1978), and The Face of Fear and Other Poems (1984).

     A definitive collection of her work would be very welcome.


One of most enjoyable concerts I have been to in recent years was the World Folk Music Association's 2008 tribute to Tom Paxton, honoring the singer-songwiter's seventieth birthday.  A large number of performers sang Paxton's songs well into the evening and it was amazing to realize that every song was familiar to the sold-out house at the Schlesinger Auditorium.

     Recently I came across a clip on Youtube of one of the performances from that evening featuring Noel Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow.  It makes you wonder if Noel Stookey's main ambition in life is to break up his friend on stage.

     Look closely and you'll see Tom Paxton in the box seat laughing along.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Flesh and Blood:  Erotic Tales of Crime and Passion edited by Max Allan Collins and Jeff Gelb (2001)

     This is the first in a series of three anthologies designed to follow Gelb's long-running Hot Blood series of anthologies dealing with erotic horror, this time with the theme of erotic noir.  The editors have selected 17 original stories and one reprint from some of the best writers in the field, and what a line-up:  Lawrence Block, Max Allan Collins, Loren D. Estleman, Michael Garrett, Jeff Gelb, Joe Gores, Ed Gorman, Vicki Hendricks, Edward D. Hoch, Stuart M. Kaminsky, Terrill Lankford, Wendi Lee, Dick Loche, Annette Meyers, Gary Phillips, Robert J. Randisi, Thomas M. Roche.and Donald E. Westlake (with the one reprint).

     Make no mistake, some of these stories are pretty graphic, so this anthology is not for everyone, but I didn't find a clunker in the book.  Standouts include Hoch's tale of murder at a sex club ("The Club of Masks") where the protagonist solves a murder but misses the obvious, and Ed Gorman's "Sailing to Atlantis", a Robert Payne story about a serial arsonist and the lifelong inner pain that pushed him over the edge.  Vicki Hendricks' contribution ("Gators") places the "Biter Bit" theme squarely into an abusive marriage, and Annette Meyers' "You Don't Know Me" takes a teen-age affair to a murderous conclusion.  In "Flowers for Bill O'Reilly" by editor Collins, the death of an acquaintance leads a PI to a nightmarish mansion and illegal experiments.

     The 18 stories here run the gamut from hard realism to bitter fantasy.  There a few happy endings and there is a lot of violence, sex, and despair.  As I said, this one is not for everyone but I found it to be a great read and I'm sorry the series ended after just three outings.


    For more Forgotten Books, go to Pattinase and check out the gazillion links Patti Abbott has laid out for you.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


As a follow-up to yesterday's post, here are a couple of Tom Wisner's songs:

And a song he was was working on shortly before his death.

     A tradition in Southern Maryland is the annual Wade In at Broome's Island on the Patuxent River.  Former State Senator Bernie Fowler began this rite a number of years ago.  Tom Wisner was an active supporter and participant in this project.  The purpose is to wade in the Patuxent River until you cannot see your feet; the further you can go in ensuing years is a measure of how well we are doing in cleaning up the river.  Awareness, you see, is the first step.

     Here's a two-part video recording the 1995 Wade In:

     In 2012 the Patuxent River Wade In will celebrate its 25th year.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011


 Karl Slover, one of the last remaining munchkins from the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, has died at age 93.  There are only three of the "munchkins" remaining.


Newly published is Gather 'Round the Chesapeake:  Tom Wisner's Vision (Sara Leeland Books, 2011). Wisner was a biologist, teacher, environmentalist, activist, artist, folk singer, and the Bard of Chesapeake Bay.  He passed away last year at age 79, but his legacy of caring for the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries will live on.  This brief book (a mere126 pages), edited and published by his friend and co-worker Sara E. Leeland, encapsulates Wisner's vision through his poems and occasional writings.  Here are just a few excepts:

     -- I want to focus on the Earth as teacher and the deepening of relationships with the planet.  I am formed of the particles of the earth and I am its most intimate form:  Its eyes, its ears, its spirit.  This is the beginning of my theology.  (2006)

     -- The theme of birth and re-birth has significance in ecological visions.  The life film around our planet has the remarkable capacity to use the energies of the moon's passage, the presence of oxygen and other stored compounds and minerals, the decay of other life, the actual turning of the planet, the light of the Sun and the mystery of water to make life.  (2005)

     -- My life and the doing of my art
         are the same.
         I am searching, sifting through the answers,
         looking for the questions.  [from Choosing Life]

     -- The river has given me my words,
         sung again and again,
         so the words have worked their magic on me.  (1985)

     This small book speaks to me.  It's probably the most important book I've read this year.  Highly recommended for anyone who lives by an ocean, bay, river, lake, or stream, and for anyone who believes that tomorrow can be better for our children and grandchildren.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I'm a sucker for mystery shows dealing with old-time radio and this one's a honey.  The film was helmed by Otis Garrett, a movie editor who moved up to directing eleven films from 1938 to 1941.  The cast is a line-up of B-movie familiars:  Donald Woods, William Lundigan, Edward Van Sloan, Peter Lind Hayes, and a 27-year-old Lee J. Cobb, among others.

     Danger on the Air concerns the death of Caesar Kluck (Berton Churchill, Stage Coach, I Am a Fugitive from the Chain Gang, etc.), the lothario sponsor of a radio show.  Sound engineer Benjamin Butts (Woods) discovers that it was murder and is fired by his boss, Harry Jones (Jed Prouty, A Star Is Born, The Gracie Allen Murder Case, etc.).  Complications naturally ensue before he can solve the case and possibly save his job.

     As with any 30s old-time radio mystery, this one is full of wisecracks -- made even better by some of the character names.  In addition to Benjamin Butts and Caesar Kluck, we have Steenie MacCorkle (the love interest), Finney Fish, Gangster Joe, and Mr. Fatsnapple.  Gotta love a movie like this.

     The movie was scripted by Betty Laidlaw and Robert Lively from Death Catches Up with Mr. Kluck (1935), a mystery novel by "Xantippe".  Turns out that Xantippe was Edith Meiser, a radio writer and producer.  According to Steve Lewis' Mystery File website, Ms. Meisner was said to have written over 300 episodes for the Sherlock Holmes radio show.  The Doubleday Crime Crime, which published the book, had a deal with Universal Pictures to film four Crime Club selections a year; Danger on the Air was the fourth book (out of eleven) to filmed as a Crime Club movie.


      For  more Overlooked Films and/or A/V, check out Sweet Freedom where Todd Mason has all the links.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Another good week.
  • Piers Anthony, Two to the Fifth.  Fantasy, number 32 in the Xanth series.
  • Linwood Barclay, Fear the Worst.  Thriller.
  • James Blish, Doctor Mirablilis.  Historical novel about Roger Bacon.  This one ties in thematically with several of his science fiction novels.
  • Gary Bradner, Hellborn.  Horror.
  • Simon Brett, So Much Blood.  A Charles Paris mystery.
  • Christopher Buckley, No Way to Treat a First Lady.  Thriller, kind of.
  • John Coleman Burroughs, Treasure of the Black Falcon.  ERB's son tries his hand at a science fiction novel.
  • Lou Cameron, Before It's Too Late.  Hardboiled mystery.
  • John Connolly, The Black Angel.  A Charlie Parker mystery.  This is a signed first edition with a soundtrack CD included.
  • A. E. Coppard, The Collected Tales of A. E. Coppard.  Thirty-eight stories, some fantasy.
  • Chris Curry and Lisa Dean, Winter Scream.  Horror.
  • Gordon R. Dickson, Young Bleys.  SF, part of Dickson's Childe Cylcle.
  • Roger Elwood, editor, Future Quest.  SF anthology with eight stories.
  • Linda Fairstein, Likely to Die.  An Alexandra Cooper mystery.
  • Kinky Friedman, Spanking Watson and Steppin' on a Rainbow.  Mysteries, kind of.  Why, oh why didn't Texas elected this guy governor instead of that guy?
  • Simon R. Green,  The Spy Who Haunted Me.  A Secret Histories/Eddie Drood fantasy.
  • John Harvey, editor, Men from Boys.  Mystery anthology with 17 stories.
  • Rick Hautala, Night Stone.  Horror.
  • James P. Hogan, The Legend That Was Earth.  Science fiction.
  • Ruby Jean Jenson, Annabelle.  Horror.
  • William W. Johnstone, The Last Mountain Man.  Western.
  • David Kyle, The Dragon Lensman.  Science fiction.  The first in a brief series continuing the adventures of the Lensmen created by E. E. "Doc" Smith.
  • Lynda La Plante, Clean Cut.  An Anna Travis mystery by the creator of Jane Tenneson and Prime Suspect.
  • Harold Lamb, Hannibal.  A fictional retelling of the life of the Carthaginian general.
  • Hugh Lamb, editor.  Gaslit Horror:  Stories by Robert W. Chambers, Lafcadio Hearn, Bernard Capes and Others.  Unwieldy title; this anthology has 13 mostly unfamilar horror stories dating from 1882 to 1908.  The stories were selected from two earlier anthologies:  Gaslit Nightmares:  An Anthology of Victorian Tales of Terror and Gaslit Nightmares 2:  An Anthology of Victorian Tales of Terror.
  • Donna Leon, Death at La Fenice.  A Guido Brunetti mystery.  By coincidence, I watched the German television movie based on this book the day before I bought it.
  • Brian Lumley, The Whisperer and Other Voices.  Horror collection, with nine stories, one a short novel.
  • Richard A. Lupoff, Sandworld.  Science fiction.
  • Sharyn McCrumb, Ghost Riders.  A multilayered Appalachian novel, moving from the 1860s to modern times.  McCrumb's Spencer Arrowood and Nora Bonesteel appear.  McCrumb writes novels now, not mysteries.  If that's how she wants to catagorize this book, it's fine with me.
  • Henning Mankill, One Step Behind.  A Kurt Wallander mystery.
  • "Barbara Michaels", The Grey Beginning.  Suspense.
  • "Wallace Moore" [Gerard F. Conway], Balzan of the Cat People:  The Blood Stones.  The first of three books in a SF series about "the Tarzan of outer space."
  • Larry Niven and Steven Barnes, Saturn's Race.  Science fiction.
  • George Pelecanos, King Suckerman.  Crime novel.
  • George Pelecanos, editor, The Best American Mystery Stories 2008.  Twenty good 'uns.  Otto Penzler, series editor.
  • Douglas Preston, The Codex.  Thriller, with Mayans.
  • Ian Rankin, Hide and Seek. An Inspector Rebus mystery.
  • John Ringo and Tom Kratman, Watch on the Rhine (Die Wacht am Rhein).  SF.
  • "Kenneth Robeson" [Lester Dent], The Lost Oasis.  Doc Savage pulp novel originally published in Doc Savage magazine, September, 1933.  This was the seventh adventure published and was number six in the Bantam reprints.
  • James Rollins, Deep Fathom.  Apocalyptic thriller.
  • Stanley Schmidt and Martin H. Greenberg, editors, Unknown Worlds:  Tales from Beyond.  Two dozen classic stories from Unknown, John W. Campell's short-lived (1939-1943) fantasy magazine.  (The magazine changed its title to Unknown Worlds in 1941.  Despite what the acknowledgement page would have you believe, these stories are from both versions of the magazine.)  To my knowledge, this is the fifth anthology derived from the magazine.
  • Norman Spinrad, No Direction Home.  Collection of eleven SF stories.
  • Allen Steele, Galaxy Blues.  SF novel in the Coyote Universe.No direction Home
  • Harry Whittington, Burden's Mission.  Adventure/war/spy novel.
  • Eric Wright, A Single Death.  A Charlie Salter mystery.  Previously published as Totem Crime.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Folk, blues and gospel legend Reverend Gary Davis was born in 1896 seems custom made for the blues.  Blind since an infant, he was the only one of eight children to reach adulthood.  His father (he was told) had been shot and killed by the High Sheriff of Birmingham and his mother abused him.  Religion helped him cope with his blindness.  He became an ordained Baptist minister in 1933 in North Carolina.  His music has influenced many artists over the years, including Blind Boy Fuller, Brownie McGhee, Sonnie Terry, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Taj Mahal, Dave van Ronk, Ry Cooder, and Peter, Paul & Mary.  His musical ability has been compared to such greats as Andres Segovia and Lester Flatt.

I could listen to him all day.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Kirk Alloway Witches by Robert Burns

(from Tales to Enthrall, Arnold Dawson, editor; London:Richards, n.d.)

Burns's well-known poem "Tam O'Shanter" was writtten at the request of Captain Grose for his book on the "Antiquities of Scotland."  When persuading Burns to contribute this poem he also asked for some notes on the legends and antiquities associated with Alloway Kirk, in response to which request Burns wrote to him narrating the recollections here printed, on which the poet had founded his famous poem.

Among the many witch stories I have heard relating to Alloway Kirk, I distinctly remember only two or three.

     Upon a stormy night, amid whistling squalls of wind and bitter blasts of hail -- in short, on such a night as the devil would choose to take the air in -- a farmer, or farmer's servant, was plodding and plashing homeward with his plough-irons on his shoulder, having been getting some repairs on them at a neighbouring smithy.

     His way lay by the Kirk of Alloway; and, being rather on the anxious look-out in approaching a place so well known to be a favorite haunt of the devil, and the devil's friends and emissaries, he was struck aghast by discovering through the horrors of the storm and stormy night a light, which, on his nearer approach, plainly showed itself to proceed from the haunted edifice.

     Whether he had been fortified from above on his devout supplication, as is customary with people when they suspect the immediate presence of Satan, or whether, according to another local custom, he had got courageously drunk at the smithy, I will not pretend to determine; but so it was, that he ventured to go up to, nay, into the very kirk.  As luck would have it, his temerity came off unpunished.

     The members of the infernal junto were all out on some midnight business or other, and he saw nothing but a kind of kettle or cauldron, depending from the roof, simmering some heads of unchristianed children, limbs of executed malafactors, etc., for the business of the night.  It was in for a penny, in for a pound, with the honest ploughman; so, without ceremony he unhooked the cauldron from off the fire, and, pouring out the horrible ingredients,  inverted it on his head, and carried it fairly home, where it remained long in the family, a living evidence of the truth of the story.

     Another story, which I can prove to be equally authenic, was as follows: --

     On a market-day in the town of Ayr, a farmer from Carrick, and consequently whose way lay by the very gate of Alloway Kirkyard, in order to cross the River Doon at the old bridge, which is about two or three hundred yards further than said gate, had been detained by his business, till by the time he reached Alloway it was the wizard hour, between night and morning.

     Though he was terrified with a blaze streaming from the kirk, yet, as it is a well-known fact that to turn back on these occasions is running by far the greatest risk of mischief, he prudently advanced on his road.  When he reached the gate of the kirkyard, he was surprised and entertained, through the ribs and arches of an old Gothic window, which still faces the highway, to see a dance of witches merrily footing it round their old sooty blackguard master, who was keeping them alive with the power of his bagpipe.

     The farmer, stopping his horse to observe them a little, could plainly descry the faces of many old women of his acquaintance and neighbourhood.  How the gentleman was dressed, tradition does not say, but that the ladies were all in their smocks; and one of them happening, unluckily, to have a smock which was considerably too short to answer all the purpose of that piece of dress, our farmer was so tickled, that he involuntarily burst out, with a loud laugh, "Weel luppen, Maggie wi' the short sark!" and recollecting himself, instantly spurred his horse to the top of his speed.

     I need not mention the universally-known fact, that no diabolical power can pursue you beyond the middle of a running stream.  Lucky it was for the poor farmer that the River Doon was so near, for, notwithstanding the speed of his horse, which was a good one, against he reached the middle of the arch of the bridge, and consequently the middle of the stream, the pursuing, vengeful hags were so close at his heels, that one of them actually sprang to seize him; but it was too late; nothing was on her side of the stream but the horse's tail, which immdiately gave way, at her infernal grip, as if blasted by a stroke of lightning, but the farmer was beyond her reach.

     However, the unsightly, tail-less condition of the vigrous steed was, to the last hour of the noble creature's life, an awful warning to the Carrick farmers not to stay too late in Ayr markets.

     The last relation I shall give, though equally true, is not so well identified as the former two with regard to the scene; but as the best authorities give it for Alloway, I shall relate it.

     On a summer's evening, about the time Nature puts on her sables to mourn the expiry of the cheerful day, a shepherd boy, belonging to a farmer in the immediate neighbourhood of Alloway Kirk, had just folded his charge, and was returning home.  As he passed the kirk, in the adjoining field, he fell in with a crew of men and women, who were busy pulling stems of the plant ragwort.  He observed that as each person pulled a ragwort, he or she got astride of it, and called out, "Up, horsie" on which the ragwort flew off, like Pegasus, through the air with its rider.

     The foolish boy likewise pulled his ragwort, and cried with the rest, "Up, horsie!" and strange to tell, away he flew with the company.  The first stage at which the calvacade stopped was a wine merchant's cellar in Bordeaux, where, without saying "by your leave," they quaffed away at the best the cellar could afford, until the morning -- foe to  the imps and works of darkness -- threatened to throw light on the matter, and frightened them from their carousals.

     The poor shepherd lad, being equally a stranger to the scene, and the liquor, heedlessly got himself drunk; and when the rest took horse he fell asleep, and was found so the next day by some people belonging to the merchant.  Somebody that understood Scotch, asking him what he was, he said such-a-one's herd in Alloway; and by some means or other getting home again, he lived long to tell the world the wondrous tale.

Here's Burn's poem, "Tam O'Shanter":

Friday, November 11, 2011


Sorry about this, but I found this on Youtube and remembered hearing Modern Man perform this song in concert.


As anyone who has read this blog for a while, you know this is my go-to song for remembrance.

Keep the veterans in your heart and pray for the day will come when their sacrifices will no longer be needed.


The Beardless Warriors by Richard Matheson (1960)

Since today is Veteran's Day, this seems like the perfect time to choose The Beardless Warriors for today's forgotten books.  Many people consider this book to one of the best war novels of the Twentieth Century.  I read this book while in high school and it has stayed with me ever since.

     The "beardless warriors" of the title are the teenage infantrymen who comprise an understaffed rifle squad in the last days of World War II.  These boys are replacement soldiers, unprepared and inexperienced.  The latest recruit is "Hack" Hackenmeyer, a troubled eighteen-year-old from an abusive home life.  The squad is headed by an older sergeant twice the age of his men; Sgt. Cooley has a son their own age serving in the Pacific and he has become a father figure to his squad, and especially to Hackenmeyer.

     When the squad's assistant leader is killed, Cooley chooses Hackenmeyer to fill the position.  Hackenmeyer is eager to please his sergeant and soon discovers that he is good at killing Germans, perhaps too good.  He seems to enjoy killing, and even shoots down German soldiers who are about to surrender.  When he gets disciplined by Cooley, he feels he has fallen out of the older man's favor. 

     This is the story of a young's sudden growth to maturity.  A close call with death makes him begin to value life.  An unexpected field promotion forces him to assume the mantle of responsibility.  Over the two weeks recorded in the novel, Hackenmeyer's character is forced to change and mature.

     In the background, of course, is the war.  Matheson makes the reader feel the wet and the cold, the fear and the monotony, the terror of a shell attack and the senseless deaths of soldiers on both sides -- all of this for the squad to take a seemingly minor and unimportant position.

     Despite some stereotypical characters, the author has fashioned an authentic story of what it is like to be a grunt caught in the hell of war, and does it vividly and without resorting to preaching or polemics.  Matheson wrote this book fifteen years after his experiences as a teenaged infantryman in World War II France and Germany.  He dedicated the book to his young sons, in the hope that they would never have to go through what he had recorded in the novel.

     In 1965 The Beardless Warriors cheaply made into a poor film (The Young Warriors) that little resembled the book.  It's a shame.  The book deserved better.

     After more than fifty years, The Beardless Warrior remains a powerful read.

     For more of Friday's Forgotten Books, go to Pattinase.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


It's things like this that make me wish I majored in anthropology.

Luckily, folk musicologists have been able to save some of the indigenous music of Borneo.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Here's a 1927 newsreel video of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle speaking about the origins of Sherlock Holmes and about his belief in spiritualism and psychic matters.  A great historical document.

Note that when he speaks about Holmes, Doyle refers to "his rather stupid friend, Watson."  Does this mean that Doyle supports the Nigel Brucean Watson (as do many readers)  over a more thoughtful Watson (as do many readers)?  Hmmm.

His views of the supernatural were heartfelt and sincere -- and perhaps magnified by the death of his son.  Doyle was a brilliant man and one who was passionate about justice; even such a man could be flummoxed by his bugaboos.  Remember that, at the same time he prosletyzing spiritualism, he was also firmly convinced that two little girls had actually photographed fairies.

At least he was on the right side in the Oscar Slater and George Edalji matters.

For those sympathetic the Doyle's views on spiritualism, I refer you to two books by one Ivan Cook:  The Return of Arthur Conan Doyle (1956) and Arthur Conan Doyle's Book of the Beyond (1975) -- both books purportedly channeled/communicated/narrated by long-dead Doyle to psychic Cook.

Todd Mason at Sweet Freedom have all the links to more of today's Overlooked Videos.

Monday, November 7, 2011




Hummm.  A lot of horror this week and a lot of Honor.
  • "Thomas Altman" [Robert W. Campbell], The True Bride.  Suspense/horror.
  • Desmond Bagley, The Tightrope Men and The Enemy.  Omnibus volume of two thrillers.
  • Martin Caiden, The Final Countdown.  Movie tie-in edition.  The USS Nimitz as a time traveller.
  • Italo Calvino, The Baron in the Trees.  Literary fantasy.
  • Glen Cook, Bleak Seasons.  Fantasy, Book One of Glittering Stone and the sixth chronicle of the Black Company.
  • Peter Dickinson, Tulku.  YA novel.  Winner of the Whitbread Literary Award and the Carnagie Medal
  • J. T. Ellison, The Immortals.  A Taylor Jackson mystery.
  • Donald Goines, Never Die Alone.  Black urban crime novel.
  • Christopher Golden, Hellboy:  The Lost Army.  Comic book tie-in.
  • Heather Graham, Dead on the Dance Floor, Deadly Gift, and Hurricane Bay.  Thrillers, with Deadly Gift being the third in her Flynn Brothers trilogy.
  • Paula Guran, editor, The Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2010.  Anthology with 39 stories.
  • Adam Hall, The Kobra Manifesto.  A Quiller spy-guy thriller.
  • Donald Hamilton, Assassins Have Starry Eyes.  Crime thiller, formerly titled Assignment--Murder.
  • Barry T. Hawkins, Puppet Master.  Horror.
  • Tim Heald, editor, A Classic Christmas Crime.  Thirteen stories in this follow-up to Heald's A Classic English Crime.
  • Martin James, Night Glow.  Horror.
  • Williuam Katz, Visions of Terror.  Horror.
  • Marc Laidlaw, The 37th Mandala.  Winner of the International Horror Guild Award.
  • T. J. MacGregor, Total Silence.  Thriller.
  • Andre Norton & Mary H. Schaub, The Magestone.  The second book of the Secrets of the Witch World trilogy.  Fantasy.
  • Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King, Faithful:  Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season.  Baizeball has been bery, bery good to them.
  • Roberta E. Pearson and William Uricchio, editors, The Many Lives of The Batman:  Critical Approaches to a Superhero and His Media.  Nonfiction collection of ten critical articles.
  • James Reno, Creed's Law.  Western, #5 in the Anthem Family series.
  • Leslie Rule, Whispers fron the Grave.  Horror.
  • Nick Sharman, Judgment Day.  Horror.
  • Art Spiegleman and Francoise Mouly, editors, RAW:  Open Wounds from the Cutting Edge of Commix, Volume Two, Number 1.
  • John Stevens, editor, Ten Canadian Short Plays.  Includes Overlay, a 1948 play by Robertson Davies.  Woot!
  • Paul Tremblay, The Little Sleep.  Noir.
  • David Weber, Ashes of Victory, Echoes of Honor, Field of Dishonor, Flag in Exile, Honor Among Enemies, The Honor of the Queen, In Enemy HandsOn Basilisk Station, and The Short Victorious War.  The first nine books in the military SF series featuring Honor Harrington.
  • K. D. Wentworth, editor, L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Volume XXV.  SF anthology with twelve stories chosen from the 2009 contest, plus several articles.
  • Donald E. Westlake, Memory.  A lost novel from the master.
  • Mona Williams, The Messenger.  Horror.
  • Pat Winter, Driver.  Horror.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


I came across this recently on Youtube.  Some of the shows I remember but I was amazed at how many I did not know and how many of the "stars" I did not recognize.  How about you?  If you remember all fifteen, you were a true TV junkie.



Andy Rooney, the gruff commentor from Sixty Minutes, has passed away a month after he had retired from regular duties on that show.  He was 92.

     His commentaries were sometimes brilliant, sometimes banal, and oftimes curmudgeonly.  He had been doing his "A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney" segment for some thirty years.  He had become such a mainstay on television that I feel a small piece of me has died.

Friday, November 4, 2011


Hunting the Desert Whale by Erle Stanley Gardner (1960)

This is the third of Erle Stanley Gardner's travel book, published six years after Neighborhood Frontiers, which I wrote about a while back.  Once again, Gardner is off to Baja California, this time at the instigation of his friend Murl Emery.  Emery wants to explore Scammon's Lagoon, an isolated and vitually untravelled part of the penninsula.  Because of it's secluded area -- with a mountain range on its south side, a desert and salt flats to the north, a treacherous sand bar causing huge eddies by the seaward entrance,  strong tides that bring, bury, and disinter Pacific flotsam, and there being poor [or nonexistent] roads -- Scammon's Lagoon was the perfect lure for Gardner.  Add to this the whales.  Scammon's Lagoon is a breeding ground for grey whales who make an annual six thousand mile journey from the Bering Sea.  Did I mention that the lagoon also hosts a large numger of fierce sharks?

     Scammon's Lagoon got its name from the whaler who "discovered" it, or -- according to some legends -- was given its location by a Chinese sailor in Honolulu.  (The Mexican name for the lagoon is Laguna Ojo de Liebre, which translates as "Hare's Eye Lagoon"; but why use the name that natives use?)  And the lagoon was not really unknown territory.  It took quite a while but other whalers eventually discovered Scammon's secret hunting ground.  In the late Fifties, heart specialist Dr. Paul Dudley White and airplane manufacturer Donald Douglas were there in an attempt to record the heartbeat of one of the whales.  This was over fifty years ago, remember?  People did not know that much about whales [Gardner has one chapter titled "Do Whales Talk?"] and (evidently) common sense had not been invented.  Let's go out in a small boat and disturb some of the largest critters that ever lived while they are either breeding or giving birth?  What could go wrong with that scenario?

     Hunting the Desert Whale is an interesting account the sights, people, and sea life of Baja California.   Gardner has a great respect for the Mexican people and conveys it well.  The book reads well as a time capsule of an era that had rapidly passed.  Gardner goes a little bit overboard in countering stereotypes; I've lost count of the times he wrote that Mexicans are not lazy.  For Gardner (it seems) the Mexican people are universally kind, welcoming, and generous; compare that view with today's headlines of drug cartels and immigration laws.  The land was more rugged, the people more individualistic.  Fifty years ago seems far away.

     Erle Stanley Gardner had many things going for him and there are many things to admire about him.  As a travel writer, alas, he had a lot to be desired.  This book has the unfortunate distinction of being both interesting and somewhat dull.  Another book for Gardner completists.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Headlines today:  The Poorest of the Poor Reach New Highs.

     One in fifteen Americans are now in the poverty level.  We are out of the recession, but many Americans are out of a job and/or out of a home.  The Fed expects job grow to be very slow during 2012.  Our infrastructures are still failing us.  Partisan politics and a lack of facing up to our problems have given the House and Senate failing marks.  The "job creators" have increased their wealth greatly over the past ten years, but have not created new jobs.  The middle class is on the verge of extinction.  The Occupy Wall Street movement has grown far faster than the Tea Party had, and encompasses more diverse groups.

     And the Republicans complain that "class warfare" is being held against the rich...

     I'm going off to laugh now.  Or cry.


"On arising we found that a smoked turkey we had taken along was beginning to show signs of mildew, so we resmoked it in a homemade smoking tent, had breakfast, checked the cars and went on."

--Erle Stanley Gardner, Hunting the Desert Whale (1960)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


In the late Fifties, many American teenagers had two must-sees on television:  Dick Clark's American Bandstand and Ozzie and Harriet, the latter solely because of Ricky Nelson.  Face it, Dad Ozzie was kind of a dithering dud, whose most forceful scenes was when he said, "Well, gee, Thorny."  And Mom Harriet was too good to be true -- and boring.  Older brother David?  He was the kid who made drying paint interesting.  The Nelsons were a whitebread family from a whitebread age.  But with his shy smile, clean-cut looks, and relaxed singing style, Ricky became a teenage heartthrob.  We had known Ricky for many years, from the days when he was a geeky-looking pre-teen.  By 1957, however, viewers saw a new Ricky -- one who could sing, play the drums, and (sort of) dance.  By the time he became Rick Nelson, he had a much better handle on rock and roll and his whitebread days would soon be behind him.

     From April 7, 1957, the episode titled "Ricky the Drummer":