|What a scruff! Where's that man's jacket, for heaven's sake, |
and why has that beardy man got his hand on his hip?
Thursday, 20 August 2015
Rejoice, Rejoice - I’m a Labour Reject!
In 21st century UK politics, what’s the very worst political animal you can admit to being? A Conservative? A Liberal? Scottish Nationalist? Let’s go down the list into murkier regions … a UKIP member? BNP? Monster Raving Loony? A closet Nazi? No. It’s none of the above. The worst political identity you could give yourself in the UK today is that of a Socialist.
There once was a famous British political party called Labour. It advocated Socialist ideas, such as fairness, equality, a Welfare State with universal benefits, public ownership of all the main utilities such as power, transport, the Post Office and telecommunications. It even managed, against the odds, to create a wonderful entity called the National Health Service. But something happened along the way. The word ‘Labour’ wasn’t enough. It’s an old word. It has overtones of hard work, toil, and even …ugh!- dirty hands. So they cleaned it up by adding the prefix ‘New’. It no longer remained as an organisation with its original tactile egalitarian ideals. It ditched its Clause 4 commitment to the very people whose hard-earned union contributions had built it.It became a ‘brand’, a logo, a floppy red rose waved by young, London-based metropolitans in smart suits, slick robots all fitted with a cranial chip from the central computer to keep them ‘on message’.
They were younger, smarter and better dressed than Margaret Thatcher’s horrendous waxworks of deranged draconian despots. They made her dull, greyly anodyne successor John Major look like a discarded helping of cold fish and chips to their enticing quasi-political nouvelle cuisine of fresh oysters, guacamole, polenta and a nice crisp Sauvignon. They convinced us, hiding behind the tattered remains of Labour’s older banners, that even after all the ravages our society had endured under the Iron Lady that the pound shop Valhalla of ‘Socialism-Lite’ was just a vote away, and we fell for it.
Fast forward two and a half decades and we are governed by a corporate cabal of right wing extremist tyrants who make Margaret Thatcher look like Rosa Luxembourg with Norman Tebbit as Che Guevara.
It seems utterly incredible, especially after the 2010-15 Parliament, that a dumbed-down British electorate could have put these beasts in the driving seat, but there they are. Thus Labour implodes, and tail-spinning like an out of control Boeing 747 they grasp at the joystick of a leadership election in the hope that its result will land them safely back on the long, vague runway of remote power.
Kendall, Burnham, Cooper: all the smart operators, veterans of Question Time, the glamourous, all the micro-chipped freshly-showered and coiffured message machines were assembled, batteries fully charged up from Blair’s national grid, with proper rose-waving ‘moral’ back-up from Kinnock, Campbell, Mandelson and Blunkett. But what’s this?!! Who let a Socialist into the mix?
It had seemed a novel, quirky idea; a cynical nod to distant times gone by, a romantic gesture to stir memories of what the party once was, what it used to stand for. No-one would vote for him, surely? After all, the electorate preferred global capitalism, they preferred austerity and benefits cuts, and who were Labour to disagree with all that? So they allowed a ‘leftie’ to stand on their coconut shy, and became dismayed when all the hard balls were aimed it Kendall, Cooper and Burnham.
This has required some serious back-tracking. What a big, dumb mistake - asking people to ‘support’ the party for a measly £3. And so they changed the rules. A War Criminal, as a kind of political surgeon, was allowed to step into the theatre to give misguided potential Corbyn voters the involuntary heart transplant he so vehemently recommends.
Leadership 2015 (email@example.com)
Sent: 20 August 2015 04:16:44
Thank you for your recent application to become a Supporter of the Labour Party. As part of the process to sign up as a Supporter all applicants are asked to confirm the following statement; I support the aims and values of the Labour Party, and I am not a supporter of any organisation opposed to it.
We have reason to believe that you do not support the aims and values of the Labour Party or you are a supporter of an organisation opposed to the Labour Party and therefore we are rejecting your application.
Although you may have received or may still receive a ballot paper, it will not work and if you do vote it will not be counted.
Should you wish to dispute rejection by the Labour Party you would have to submit and pursue an application to join Labour as a full member.
The Labour Party
Sent by email from the Labour Party and promoted by
Iain McNicol on behalf of The Labour Party,
both at One Brewers Green, London SW1H 0RH.
Website: labour.org.uk. To join or renew call 0845 092 2299.
A Labour Party spokesman said they would not comment on individual cases, claiming “The Labour Party has a robust system to prevent fraudulent or malicious applications. All applications to join the Labour Party as a member, affiliate or supporter are verified, and those who are identified by our verification team as being candidates, members or supporters of another political party will be denied a vote.”
The party said there are several reasons why prospective party members could be rejected. They include not being on the electoral register, or having stood for another political party at the last general election, local elections or European elections. They also include people who nominated candidates for other parties at previous elections, and those who are known campaigners for, or members of, other parties.
I belong in none of these categories. Having been a Labour voter and union member since 1961 (even though I became, for a while, a member of the Communist Party in the mid-60s, which I left because it was too middle class), I have voted Labour in every local and national election over the past 54 years. I was briefly a Labour Party member in the 1980s. I left after Kinnock refused to attend a Miner's picket line, and would have in any case when they ditched Claue 4. In the last local Council and Mayoral elections in Mansfield this May, I worked hard for Labour's unsuccessful Mayoral candidate, Martin Lee, wrote speeches and designed leaflets, and actively campaigned for Labour on the street. Admittedly, I'm an unrepentant, left-wing Socialist, an endangered species, but I always saw Labour, even under Blair, as a valid buffer against the increasing draconian nastiness of the 'New' Tories. I'm 72 and still working. Will I ever vote Labour again? I doubt it. Will this election end up as a fiasco? I suspect so. The current Labour Party is nothing more than a very dark, sinister and corporate right-wing shambles. Hardie, Bevan and Atlee must be turning in their graves. Now, can I have my £3 back? Oh, sorry - I forgot - that doesn’t happen under capitalism, does it … so here's your new logo:
Wednesday, 19 August 2015
The Dark Ocean
‘Metaphysics is a dark ocean without shores or lighthouse,
strewn with many a philosophic wreck.’
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
Is there a lonelier, more isolated job other than that of a lighthouse keeper? For those seeking solace, with time to meditate, surrounded by the high seas, without the inherent dangers involved in being a mariner, then perhaps the lighthouse with its daily routines is as close as you’ll get to a monastic life. Yet the strange and the inexplicable are always keen to poke their icy fingers into the lives of isolated men.
|Great Isaac Lighthouse, Bimini|
The Biminis are a group of small islands about 50 miles (80 km) east of Miami, Florida. There’s a lighthouse there which is a familiar landmark for cruise ship passengers en route to Nassau from Florida. It’s un-manned now, although equipped with an automatic light. However, the Great Isaac lighthouse is the scene of a famous lighthouse mystery. On 4 August 1969, (some sources claim December 22) when the relief crew was sent out to change shifts, the light station was discovered to be abandoned. This was very odd, because everything in the building was undisturbed. The two lighthouse keepers had simply vanished, and have never been found. Due to its location, the Great Isaac mystery has become yet another curio in the catalogue of Bermuda Triangle mysteries.
Around the world’s remote and dangerous coastlines there are many abandoned lighthouses, often complete with stories of hauntings. One such location is the Point of Ayr lighthouse, which has stood, in various incarnations, since 1776 on Talacre Beach in Wales. This isolated yet cheery red and white sentinel rising from the sands has no doubt saved many a sailor’s life as it guided their ships across Liverpool Bay from the Welsh town of Lllandudno.
It was abandoned in 1840. Although since then it has at times
seemed derelict and neglected, it was refurbished in 1994, but remains
un-occupied, standing as a lonely watchman in front of the bay’s offshore wind
farm. But as with many such buildings, the Point of Ayr light is known to be
haunted. Occasional visits to the location by spiritualist mediums have
resulted in claims that the spirit of a lonely man, known to locals as Raymond,
who died of a broken heart, haunts the light. There have been sightings of a
ghostly lighthouse keeper walking around the top of the tower. Some tourists
report feeling unwell and disturbed when they’ve been there. Now the
broken-hearted phantom has been commemorated by a innovative local artist
|Abandoned? Point of Ayr|
Angela Smith, whose 7-foot tall sculpture (left) made of hundreds of pieces of highly polished, medical-grade stainless steel, named ‘The Keeper’ stands on the walkway at the top of the tower, the wind whistling through his open metallic ribs like some otherworldly wind chime.
Sometimes notions of ‘curses’ attached to lighthouses have been solved with the appliance of science. A so-called ‘cursed’ lighthouse for a while was the Ship John Shoal light, off Delaware, USA. The US Congress decided that a light was needed there in 1850, but the sheer logistics of erecting the building became a huge challenge, and it took 27 years to build the iron tower, which was not finished until 1877. Its name derives from a wrecking at the location of the light in 1797, when the ship John, en route from Germany to Philadelphia, ran aground on Christmas Eve. This misfortune put paid to the Yuletide expectations of her German crew who were looking forward to festivities in their planned destination. Thankfully, the cargo and crew were all saved and the men enjoyed the unexpected seasonal hospitality of sympathetic families along the Cohansey River. As well as other peculiar legends around the light, it was commonly believed that the place was cursed in the 1880s. This took the form of a persistent illness that left several keepers sick or paralyzed after extended stays. The curse went on for years, until it was discovered that the structure’s red leaded paint was seeping into the rainwater tanks. All the old paint was stripped away and replaced with a coating of tar. Problem solved; the curse was lifted. However, 3,000 miles away across the stormy Atlantic, the new lease of life the Ship John Lighthouse crew enjoyed may well have been welcomed by a trio of their ship-guiding peers. Sadly, even a coating of tar on their abode would not have saved the Scottish lighthouse men Donal Macarthur, James Ducat and Thomas Marshall.
The Mystery of Eilean Mor
Eilean Mor is one of the principal islands in the Flannan Isles, also known as the Seven Hunters, a lonely cluster about 20 miles (32km) west of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Although it means ‘Big Island’ in Gaelic, at 39 acres this isn’t a massive place, but for sailors a forbidding one. It rises 288 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, with perilous sheer cliffs up to 150 foot high. It was here in 1895 that work began on a 75 foot high lighthouse, and from 1899 it commenced beaming a guiding light to sailors up to 25 miles out at sea. In 1971 the last crew of keepers left and the light was automated, and it still shines on today.
|Where did they go? A wild and lonely place ....|
More fiction and speculation has been churned out over this genuinely strange story of vanished lighthouse men than any other island-bound maritime mystery. I was cajoled by some of its less steadfast aspects when writing about it several years ago, relying on versions told by such romancers as Vincent Gaddis in his none the less fascinating Invisible Horizons (1965). Some of what has been passed off as fact for the past century appears to be anything but. This is regrettable, because the story needs no such embellishment – its truth stands alone in its genuine weirdness. As well as Gaddis and others, we can blame the colourful imagination of Wilfrid Wilson Gibson (1878-1962), a prolific poet and close friend of Rupert Brooke. His 1912 ballad, Flannan Isle lies at the root of much of the unnecessary detritus this puzzle has gathered down the decades.
Yet, as we crowded through the door,
We only saw a table spread
For dinner, meat, and cheese and bread;
But, all untouched; and no-one there,
As though, when they sat down to eat,
Ere they could even taste,
Alarm had come, and they in haste
Had risen and left the bread and meat,
For at the table head a chair
Lay tumbled on the floor.
There are shades of Conan Doyle’s fictitious rendering of the Mary Celeste here, and things are not helped by a later stanza which goes:
And how the rock had been the death
Of many a likely lad:
How six had come to a sudden end,
And three had gone stark mad:
And one whom we'd all known as friend
Had leapt from the lantern one still night,
And fallen dead by the lighthouse wall:
|Vincent Gaddis: Inspirational romantic:|
He never let the facts get in the way
of a good story ...
Eerie hints of creeping madness, shifting personalities, the wages of loneliness and isolation. Meat and drink to a poet. The three keepers, James Ducat, Donald McArthur and Thomas Marshall, were at the end of a 14-day shift in December 1900 but had been prevented from leaving the island due to bad weather. A passing ship, the steamer Archtor, had found it odd on the night of December 15 that the lighthouse, which was normally visible for 25 miles, was unlit. When the relief tender, the Hesperus, set off to the island, the weather, with mountainous seas, had beenso bad that they had to stand off for some time, but when they did finally get a man ashore, the truth became evident, as this telegram of 26th December 1900 reveals, sent by Captain Harvie, the master of the Hesperus, the Lighthouse Tender:
‘A dreadful accident has happened at Flannans. The three Keepers, Ducat, Marshall and the occasional have disappeared from the island. On our arrival there this afternoon no sign of life was to be seen on the Island. Fired a rocket but, as no response was made, managed to land Moore, who went up to the Station but found no Keepers there. The clocks were stopped and other signs indicated that the accident must have happened about a week ago. Poor fellows they must been blown over the cliffs or drowned trying to secure a crane or something like that. Night coming on, we could not wait to make something as to their fate. I have left Moore, MacDonald, Buoymaster and two Seamen on the island to keep the light burning until you make other arrangements. Will not return to Oban until I hear from you. I have repeated this wire to Muirhead in case you are not at home. I will remain at the telegraph office tonight until it closes, if you wish to wire me.
All the real, genuine documentation of this case, including the above, is available at the Northern Lighthouse Board’s website www.nlb.org.uk/ However, you’ll not find any of the other revelations which have clung to the yarn as told by Gaddis and others. One of the strangest is Gaddis’s inclusion of entries from the log kept by the lighthouse men, the source of which he attributes to an article by Ernest Fallon in the August 1929 edition of True Strange Stories magazine. It was by repeating these entries when writing this story some years ago that I incurred the displeasure of the Northern Lighthouse Board. Regrettably, the following words are still being peddled by many ‘unexplained’ websites today:
December 12th: Gale north by northwest. Sea lashed to fury. Never seen such a storm. Waves very high. Tearing at lighthouse. Everything shipshape. James Ducat irritable. (Later): Storm still raging, wind steady. Stormbound. Cannot go out. Ship passing sounding foghorn. Could see lights of cabins. Ducat quiet. McArthur crying.
December 13th: ‘Storm continued through night. Wind shifted west by north. Ducat quiet. McArthur praying. (Later:) Noon, grey daylight. Me, Ducat and McArthur prayed.’
December 15th: ‘Storm ended, sea calm, God is over all.’
There are distinct echoes of Gibson’s poem here; ‘And three had gone stark mad’ Gaddis and others claim that these entries were all written in Marshall’s handwriting. The archives of the Northern Lighthouse Board do not corroborate this at all, the handwriting was Ducat’s, and the log seems to have only been kept up to the 13th. There were some final brief notes by Ducat in chalk on the slate written about weather conditions at 9am on the 15th. Whatever befell the men possibly occurred between then and the night of the 15th. Nautical logs are not personal diaries. Any man writing about praying or God, passing facile comments about his shipmate’s moods or even using phrases such as ‘sea lashed to a fury’ would have faced more than a few questions from his practical, no-nonsense superiors ashore. Vincent Gaddis was a decent and highly entertaining writer, but his penchant for invention included such contrived conversations as ‘Looking forward to shore leave?’ asked the skipper, smiling. ‘Aye’, Moore answered, ‘It’ll be good to be back on land for a space where you can see people, talk, and have a drink or two. ’Tis pretty lonely there some times.’ Gaddis wasn’t there; how could he describe a ‘smiling’ Captain or report conversations? These little verbal excursions in his work might add colour, but they’re bogus, and none of these words appear in any of the documents held by the Northern Lighthouse Board.
|Dee Time! Back in the 60s and much later ...|
Yet my original resort to the creepy log book entries had another result. In 2006 I was contacted by none other than Cyril Nicholas Henty-Dodd, (1935 –2009), better known as Simon Dee, one-time high profile British television interviewer and disc jockey who hosted a twice-weekly BBC TV chat show, Dee Time in the late 1960s. (Some suggest that that Dee was the model for the Mike Myers character Austin Powers). Dee was keen to produce a documentary about the Eilean Mor mystery, but when I stripped it back to its factual basics, mysterious though they are, he expressed his ‘bitter disappointment’ and I heard nothing more.
The mystery of the log entries remains. Where did Ernest Fallon get these from? We must conclude that they are an invention. If not, and somewhere they exist, then they are genuinely strange. But Fallon wasn’t alone in his embroidery. Children’s author Carey Miller in his 1977 Mysteries of The Unknown includes the story that when the man, Moore, is sent onto the island from the Hesperus, when he ‘opened the door of the lighthouse three huge birds of an unknown species flew out to sea from the top of the light’. There is no evidence to support this. As ever, for the newspapers of the time this sinister event presented a field day for inventive journalism. It began with a report in The Scotsman dated December 28 1900, stating that one of the cranes on the island had been swept away by the severe weather. The official report contradicts this. Then the Oban Times weighed in with three misnomers on January 5 1901. They reported that there was a half-eaten meal on the table in the lighthouse, (other reports even tell us that it was mutton and potatoes) that a chair had been pushed back as if its occupant had arisen in haste, and that there was an oilskin found trapped in the wreckage of the island’s west crane. The first two claims are entirely spurious and the third appears nowhere else, and in any case, even if the sea had swept away one of the keepers, the loss of his oilskin seems unlikely.
So the question will remain forever; what really happened? All manner of suggestions have been presented down the years. The paranormal lobby have been busy creating legends of the ‘strange atmosphere’ and peculiar history of the island. Even piracy has been suggested – although they would have been a pretty dumb bunch of Jack Sparrows to attack Eilean Mor. The inevitable sea monster has been cajoled from the deep, time slips, other dimensions, and the evergreen favourite, alien abduction. What a bunch of Venusian tourists would want with three horny-handed Scottish lighthouse keepers is beyond imagination. If their disappearance was not supernatural, then the culprit must surely be the sea. Even though the lighthouse stood over 300 feet above sea level (91m) the sea at Eilean Mor was so violent at times that spray lashed the top of the light. The jetty was reported as battered and the rails were twisted. Perhaps two men had gone out in a storm and a third had seen a huge wave coming and gone out to warn them, with tragic results. We’ll never know. Freak waves are not restricted to Pacific tsunamis. When I sailed through a hurricane in the Pacific, I had no idea how high the waves were, but they towered above the ship like mountains. Two vessels in the South Atlantic in 2001, the MS Bremen and Caledonian Star, both encountered 98ft (30m) freak waves. Bridge windows on both ships were smashed, and all power and instrumentation lost. In 2004, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory ocean-floor pressure sensors detected a freak wave caused by Hurricane Ivan in the Gulf of Mexico. From peak to trough it was around 91ft high (27.7m), and around 660ft (200m) long. The open sea can be a terrifying place.
The mystery of Eilean Mor continues to inspire creative writers and musicians. Part of Gibson’s poem is quoted in Horror of Fang Rock, an episode in the Dr. Who series (complete with the misspelling ‘Flannen’). The Genesis song The Mystery of Flannan Isle Lighthouse is featured on the band’s compilation Archive 1967-75. The missing men inspired Hector Zazou's song Lighthouse, subsequently performed by Siouxsie on the album Songs From the Cold Seas, and the opera The Lighthouse by Peter Maxwell Davies is also based on the incident.
In 2000, exactly 100 years after they disappeared, silence fell for one minute on nearby Breasclete, west of Lewis, in honour of the three men, in an event covered by the BBC in Scotland. A reporter with BBC Radio nan Gaidheal in Stornoway, Alasdair Macaulay, who had researched the incident, said: ‘I have heard about a woman at Crowlista in Uig who had been hanging out her washing on that day. She was said to have seen a massive wall of water coming in from the west. She apparently ran back to the house as this large wave hit the shore. Her washing and washing line were said to have been swept away.’
Such is the all-consuming power of the sea; merciless, inhuman, and
|The Mammoth Book of Unexplained Phenomena|
by Roy Bainton, Constable & Robinson, London,
Running Press Inc. USA. 600 pages
of absolute weirdness.
Thursday, 6 August 2015
WE’RE ALL COSMONAUTS, REALLY …
As one gets painfully older, it becomes more difficult to ‘live’ in the present when the past is such a rich place to dwell. Also, as biology continues to fulfil its dark promise of decay, we realise that the future we hoped for in our youth will only happen after we’ve expired.
When I was a boy, back in junior school, I was totally obsessed with two subjects. One was the life of Tsunke Witco, a.k.a. the great Lakota Sioux chief Crazy Horse, the other was space travel.
|The cast of BBC Radio's 1950s epic serial Journey Into Space - star actor|
Andrew Faulds (bottom left) a.k.a. 'Jet Morgan' even became a Labour MP!
Even now I can look back to the spark which sent me into orbit. It was hearing Gustav Holst’s Mars, from his Planets Suite. I remember my inspiring, imaginative Mother telling me as I heard that terrifying military beat climbing to an apocalyptic crescendo that this music was all about the Martians invading the earth. War of The Worlds was one H. G. Wells story she was well familiar with. Throwing a nightly dose of Radio Luxembourg’s serial Dan Dare, Pilot of The Future into the mix, and Dare’s weekly starring role in the Eagle comic, plus Monday night thrills from the BBC’s Journey Into Space and I was already designing rockets and space suits.
I would have been about ten when I discovered there was something called the British Interplanetary Society, and I wrote them a letter. I can’t remember what I wrote, but in those pre - I.T. days, when the good manners of communication still allowed real time for thoughtful human interaction, I received a reply, welcoming my interest. I don’t have the letter now (I wish I did) but it was signed by someone called Arthur C. Clarke.
Space stayed with me, and my Mother nurtured my interest by taking me to see any film which touched on the subject. Prominent among these celluloid signposts were George Pal’s Destination Moon and the utterly weird (and scary) The Man From Planet X. I made rockets from the cardboard tubes from toilet rolls and egg shells. At school I drew space suits and wrote stories about alien invasions. Space was ace.
|The film which scared my short pants off and led me to the cul de sac of UFO research.|
In my teens I discovered Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, H. P. Lovecraft, Richard Matheson, Theodor Sturgeon and many others, the imaginative, often lurid covers of their Sci-Fi paperbacks a weekly bookshop thrill. I also discovered the UFO phenomenon, and that colourful, harmless old fraud, George Adamski. His hilarious book Flying Saucers Have Landed accompanied me everywhere, a kind of down-market companion to Moby-Dick. All this mystery and spiritual speculation convinced me that there must be other species out there in the cosmos, and that one day I might see them.
|The wonderful, inspirational light |
of my literary life, Ray Bradbury
After the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, I thought we were on the way to the stars. I was 26 years old, and imagined that by now, almost five decades later, we’d have bases on the moon and colonies on Mars, and that I might get to see the earth from the comfort of an orbiting satellite hotel.
And that was the future. My wishful past was driven by an imaginary future which never happened, in the same way that the great proletarian revolution never happened, or my guitar playing never reached beyond Jimi Hendrix’s boot heels.
Now, since the publication of my 2013 work The Mammoth Book of Unexplained Phenomena, I’ve become cynical about all those interplanetary hopes and dreams. I look at photographs taken by rovers on Mars and wonder. There may have been someone up there once, but not any longer. Are UFOs from another planet? I doubt it. If so, and they’ve so much superior advice to give us, why don’t they land and get on with putting us straight? We’re still murdering one another, demonising the poor, whilst the rich stuff their pockets and laugh in our faces. Come on, Man From Planet X, or Klaatu from The Day The Earth Stood Still - show us what space means for humanity. Sort us out! We’ve sent dozens of probes spinning through eternity and not received one phone call from ET. If UFOs are anything, then they’re the only true image the future has to offer; they are time travelling tourists, unable to land and interfere with the time/space continuum; three centuries hence some futuristic Thomas Cook will offer trips back to see what a mess we all made of our world.
|Timperley's Interstellar voyager, the mighty Frank Sidebottom - Space is Ace!|
Yet, to quote another terrestrial hero, Frank Sidebottom, Space is Ace and will, for me, always remain so. So now I’m careering out of life’s orbit, past the stratospheric time limit of three score and ten, I have a deep suspicion that once our personal solar batteries conk out, then something else might kick in. Maybe, in death, a gate to the cosmos opens and we’re allowed to enter, as in Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey.
Therefore I think we’re all cosmonauts at heart. So celebrate your past, enjoy the present, and smile cynically at your imagined future, because it’ll only happen when our own internal computer shuts down. Roger that, CapCom.
Thursday, 30 July 2015
Charles Hoy Fort (1874-1932) was an American writer and researcher
into anomalous phenomena. Today, the terms Fortean and Forteana
are used to characterize various such phenomena.
Fort's books sold well and are still in print today.
I first began reading Fort's works 50 years ago,
and one Victorian story collected by Fort,
which came from a curious report in the London Times,
has always haunted me.
The following yarn is my fictional take on that peculiar event.
into anomalous phenomena. Today, the terms Fortean and Forteana
are used to characterize various such phenomena.
Fort's books sold well and are still in print today.
I first began reading Fort's works 50 years ago,
and one Victorian story collected by Fort,
which came from a curious report in the London Times,
has always haunted me.
The following yarn is my fictional take on that peculiar event.
Out of the Marvellous
The chess-board is the world,
the pieces are the phenomena of the universe,
the rules of the game are what we call the laws of Nature.
The player on the other side is hidden from us.
English Biologist (1825-1925)
Dark and ragged like the damaged wings of a savaged bird stood the forlorn branches of the trees, frozen in misery against the oppressive low grey fog of the stooping sky.
In the Year of Our Lord 1853 this was not the day of absolute bliss they had in mind. Long had the bride and groom dreamt of their act of union, envisioning it beneath the chirp of spring’s arriving birds, perhaps wheatears or chiffchaffs, hovering over them in an azure firmament. Yet there were no avian guests. That the Gods had decided different could only be an ominous disappointment. It seemed as if the sun itself, like a spent candle, had spluttered out and died. Even the grass of the graveyard appeared to have forgotten its duty to be green, opting this day for a strange shade of murky khaki. Only the medieval stonework of the tiny church was true unto itself, its ancient green and mustard freckled moss crawling across the rugged slabs, obliterating the marks of long-dead masons.
The air around the church was heavy, a perverse, crushing weight of humidity, not of a tropical nature, but a dense, cold clamour which stroked humanity with pitiless dead fingers. It seemed to make even breathing difficult, as if some foul, silent consumptive wall of wet air had insinuated itself into every present pair of lungs.
There were few guests in the church. Perhaps thirty at most. The happy couple stood at the altar as the vicar went through the motions. The ring was produced. There was a kiss, a couple of sighs from the congregation. These were not rich people. Not notable. They were poor workers. A stonemason and a kitchen maid. They had wished for a bright day in the little old church on the hill, but had staggered into something else entirely. The pre-nuptial bliss of heady expectation appeared to have been swept away, and the joy of their blessed union only seemed to materialise in brief flashes. The organ played, accompanying a shuffle of feet and sporadic coughs, the couple turned to make their way along the aisle, and then it happened.
Clang! Scrape. It was loud, disturbing.
Everyone froze. The old oak double doors flew open, to reveal the elderly verger, his creased black cassock hanging limp around him, his visage pale, wide-eyed, open-mouthed and momentarily speechless. The congregation gathered in a tight group behind the bride and groom wondering first what that sound had been, and then directed their communal gaze in the direction of where the verger pointed with a shaky, bony and.
It was huge. A ship’s anchor, caught up in the curvature of the Gothic arch of the church’s main portal. A proper ship’s anchor, wet, even displaying here and there tiny remnants of shiny, deep green seaweed. Although it must have weighed more than a ton, it was not on the stony floor, but up there, its huge bent iron fluke grating and jammed aloft against the door’s keystone. The vicar pushed his way forward through the gathering to face the dazed verger.
“What on earth is this, Robinson?” The Reverend’s accusatory tone suggested that this bizarre maritime intrusion might be his verger’s doing. The anchor moved slightly, its pointed fluke crunching, clanking and grating against the old stonework as if it was being pulled from above.
“I do not know, Reverend. I am at a loss … but step outside please …” The puzzled vicar followed the stunned verger out onto the path which cut through the churchyard. Behind them, the murmuring wedding party shuffled more like mourners out into the grey, wet, clinging air. The verger pointed up beyond the church door. The anchor was attached to a heavy, three inch thick hawser which stretched skywards, disappearing into the low, sinister overcast which even obscured the church’s steeple. Every few seconds the hawser snapped taut, pulling at the trapped anchor.
The groom stepped to the front of the crowd.
“I have heard that certain men in France can fly a steam-powered dirigible or a balloon, sir. Perhaps such a voyage is in progress here and their anchor has become trapped.”
The bride’s portly, red-faced father came to his new son-in-law’s side.
“No lad, no. I’ve seen balloon men in flight. In all my years in the navy, I have come to recognise a ship’s anchor when I see one. Look at the size and weight of the device! Look at the heavy rope attached - such a weight would be enough ballast to stop any balloon leaving the ground! If any ballooning men tried to even coil that rope in their basket, why, there’d be no room for humanity. This is a ship’s anchor, lad, aye, and a big ship at that.”
The chattering party, all staring upwards, now assembled itself in a wide semi-circle around the scene as the vicar walked up and down, his face a mask of frustration.
“Well whatever this is, ladies and gentlemen, we are 80 miles from the sea here, but if that anchor is not released from the archway then the fabric of our church could be damaged.” His eyes following the line of the rope in the sky, he cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted.
“Ahoy there! Ahoy above! Slacken your rope and your anchor will be freed! Call back if you can hear us!”
Everyone fell silent. From above the low, heavy cloud there came a strange rumbling, a sound as if cannon balls were rolling on a wooden deck. Then a creaking, like timbers challenged by a tidal swell. The rope snapped tight again, and with a crash a piece of masonry fell from above the church door, shattering into chunks on the ancient flagstones.
The vicar shouted again, as did other men in the party, followed by more wooden rumbling from above. The rope was taut now, the anchor’s fluke still trapped beneath the arch. Slowly, the crowd fell silent until suddenly the bride, her bouquet in one hand, pointed upward with the other, gasping;
“Look! Look! Oh, sweet Lord!”
Where the rope vanished into the heavy overcast, a pair of legs appeared entwined around it. They were clad in cream canvas trousers, the feet in black leather boots. To the massed gasp of the observers, the rest of the figure shinning down the hawser came into view. He wore a waist-length navy blue moleskin jacket, a white canvas waistcoat and a black fur cap. He descended slowly, his young, pale face a mask of anxiety framed by straggly, wet ringlets of blonde hair. His livid-lipped mouth appeared to open and close like that of a fish in a pond. When he reached a height just above the church door, he paused and stared fearfully down at the circle of startled faces.
“What is the meaning of this, sailor?” said the vicar, adopting a haughty, pompous tone. But the young man’s mouth, fish-like, simply opened and closed again. He turned his face away from them and descended a little further until his boots touched the arch above the church door.
The groom, father-in-law and vicar stepped forward, staring up at the terrified youth.
“You must free this anchor immediately!” barked the vicar, “and take your balloon elsewhere! This is a house of God and this is outrageous!”
The sailor slid down further and began frantically kicking at the anchor’s shank in an attempt to free it.
“Tell your captain to slacken off!” cried the father-in-law. The youth simply stared back, his mouth opening and closing silently, wearing an expression one might expect from someone who had seen a gathering of ghosts.
The groom turned to the verger.
“Do you have any ropes here in the church?”
The verger clutched his temples.
“Yes. In the belfry, we have some there.”
“Then let’s fetch them” said the groom, “that lad needs our help!” Whilst the hapless sky sailor continued to kick and pull at the trapped anchor to no effect, the verger, the father-in-law and the groom re-appeared with a large coil of rope. The father-in-law, proving his nautical past, hastily tied a running bowline, stepped beneath the anchor and threw the loop up over the anchor’s free fluke. He paid out the line, the men in the party instinctively stepped forward and grabbed it, and all began to pull together. The anchor clanged and scraped, more small chunks of masonry fell to the ground, whilst the strange, silent sailor hung on for dear life still kicking at the anchor’s shank which had now begun to move. Sensing imminent danger, the gathered women moved several paces back and stood watching in silent awe among the churchyard’s mossy gravestones.
Suddenly, the hawser from the sky slackened off, the anchor broke free and dropped from the archway, and suspended on the end of its swinging rope just a foot above the church path, moved pendulum-like an a wide arc, narrowly missing the assembled charitable tug-of-war team with the terrified sailor clinging on, his eyes tightly closed as if expecting some disastrous impact. The anchor swung back and forth a couple of times, then became still, hovering above the path, its taut hawser a vertical sisal column, its source still obscured by the dense low cloud.
The frightened young sailor, still hanging on, now opened his eyes as the wedding party, now just a few feet below him, gathered around, regarding him in some awe.
“Who are you?” asked the vicar.
The mariner freed one hand and pointed up along the hawser. Again his mouth opened and closed, but no sound came out. Then, without warning, he lost his grip, and with an unpleasant thud, tumbled onto the church’s gravel pathway, landing spread-eagled on his back. The father-in-law charged forward, supported the stricken youth with an arm around his shoulders. His eyes, set in that pale, sad face, were deep blue and filled with tears. The father-in-law stroked the lad’s head.
“There lad, there. Where in God’s name have ye come from? Here - you’re wet through. Talk to me son - can ye talk? What’s up yonder - is she a balloon?”
The sailor’s chest heaved up and down. He shook his head. He seemed to have difficulty in breathing. When his faint voice finally broke through, it came with a gargle, as if his lungs were filled with water.
“I am drowning, sir. Truly this place and all here are marvellous. But my ship awaits, my captain is a hard man, and I cannot live here, though verily, sir, I wish I could. Take me out of the marvellous … help me lest I drown; I can breathe no more …”
The father-in-law laid the lad gently down.
“Get yonder rope free!” he shouted, pointing to the hovering anchor.
“Now, lads, step up. We must tie this poor soul to the anchor, or he will die.”
Three men held the limp sailor aloft as the father-in-law tied him securely to the anchor. As the vicar stood back and observed the suspended youth, a strange, deep wave of compassion engulfed him. The vision of the sailor secured to the anchor shocked him as it was reminiscent of the crucified Christ. The vicar fell to his knees and silently prayed as the father-in-law stood by the anchor, and in a loud voice projecting upwards yelled
“Haul away above up there - haul away before your brave salt dies his death!”
Above from the greyness came a wooden rumbling and what sounded like the thump of footsteps on timbers. The anchor suddenly lurched upwards, two feet, four feet, stop, start, stop, start, until, just before its shank pierced the dense sky, the limp sailor opened his eyes, smiled down at everyone and waved. Then the whole bizarre apparition was gone.
Later on that day, the foul wet air cleared and the sun came out. In the village inn, as the wedding party tried to enjoy their feast, they muttered in subdued tones about signs and omens. It would be, said the groom, ‘a wedding day to remember’. But when the somewhat shaken village blacksmith burst into the bar and demanded a large rum, telling the smirking landlord he had witnessed a ship, a frigate in full sail, pass by in the sky above his forge, then apart from the wedding party, the other regulars laughed out long and loud. But the vicar, the verger, the father in law, the bride and groom knew that whatever life held in store, at least the world they inhabited was, according to a spectral, drowning sailor, nothing less than marvellous.
v v v v
Sunday, 26 July 2015
Yes, this is a rant. But it's a rant about something real, something meaningful. The metrocentric suits of the current Labour Party should be as outraged at what they've allowed to happen, just as this man is. Where's the passionate argument in the slick, on-message blathering of Kendall, Cooper and Burnham? If it takes a manic performancelike this to stir up anger, then let him rave. He's nailed it, big-style.
Tuesday, 21 July 2015
DAVID CAMERON’S DREAM
Well, comrades, here he is, in all his glory at the poignant and emotional Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival on July 19th - Jeremy Corbyn, the man the Tories fervently hope will win the Labour leadership election. It’s a rousing speech, packed with truth and common sense. But what was once a mighty steam locomotive, the Labour Party, is now nothing more than a battered little clockwork train set, something the Bullingdon Boys’ nanny has scattered over the Axminster for George, David and Boris to play with.
Corybyn’s heartfelt rhetoric is meat and drink to an old leftie like me, but there are bitter social and political bullets to bite. Prominent among these is the fact that the current generation of adult voters are basically ‘Thatcher’s Children’. They have had the notions of equality, compassion, public service and fair play blow-torched from their souls by decades of aggressive right wing corporate propaganda. The poor have participated in their own demonisation; just watch Benefits Street, Benefits by the Sea and all the other poverty-porn, and there they are, being manipulated by media Svengalis with all the skills of Josef Goebbels. They have been taught in a rough fashion that the word ‘socialism’ is some kind of semantic Ebola. They have opted for the quasi-racist vacuity of UKIP and the blatant lies of a cabinet of millionaires who have convinced them that the only viable society is one run by global corporate finance. Profit before people; the only way. Selling socialism to this electorate, or the 56% of young people who decided not to vote, is as valid as selling snow to Eskimos. They don’t want a fair society. They proved that beyond doubt on May 7.
If Corbyn wins the leadership election, such a result would send orgasmic tremors throughout the British media. Murdoch, Dacre, the Barclay Brothers and the entire Tory Party will crack open the Bollinger by the crate. All the fascistic-tinged rhetoric will be wheeled out; ‘Evil, Out-Dated Reds’ will be splashed across front pages, Britain’s ‘recovery’ will be ‘endangered’ and every past aspect of Corbyn’s life will be dragged up. If the Tory establishment could saddle Miliband with the sobriquet ‘Red Ed’, then they’ll have a field day with this leader - he’ll be everything from Stalin through to Trotsky and Pol Pot.
So, is there anything positive for an old socialist to enjoy should Jeremy win? Well, yes, actually, there is. It will highlight the rank and file’s utter disgust for the treachery of fervent Tory-supporters like Harriet Harman and Liz Kendall. But the nicest thing will be this. As the Labour Party is now little more than a shambling zombie shadow, bereft of any of its original values, it will indeed be stone dead by the end of this year. But it would be nice to think that, with Corbyn as leader, as the decaying corpse is lowered into the grave (or tossed into Trotsky’s ‘dustbin of history’) that it will be buried with its old socialist heart still beating.
|Picking up the Banner 1957-1960. Painted by Gely Mikhailovich Korzhev-Chuvelev, 1925-.|
At Russian State Museum. Oil on Canvas, 156 x 290cm.
As for those of us old flat-earthers left behind, we can live out our lives like banished cave-dwellers on the fog-bound slopes of a mountain of dreams. We’re the fag-ends of a vanishing species who believed in a society where everyone cared about everyone else, a world where the words ‘welfare’ ‘care’ and ‘compassion’ had not been replaced by two gilt-edged catch-all nouns; AUSTERITY and GREED.
Vote Corbyn and let’s go out with a bang.