bored

I’m SO bored
faded and frayed as an old pull cord
banging by a window in the abandoned ward
of a hospital marked for demolition
pigeons and rats at every station

I’m SO bored
my dusty brain beaten, rolled-up and stored
in a hessian mail sack under the floor
of a factory specialising in cheap, chintzy wrappers
the kind you find round Christmas crackers

I’m SO bored
floating like a tart green apple core
nibbled by a sailor then flung overboard
to drift along in the East Australian Current
thinking I was heading home when I wasn’t

I’m SO bored
a crap cat sofa terminally clawed
tossed in a skip when the house was explored
and all the junk cleared out in a day
for a dirty great truck to take away

The City of the Dead

The City of the Dead, 1960. Dir. John Llewellyn Moxey. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.

I didn’t know whether to go Sci-Fi or Horror today. In the end I opted for Horror, as it seemed to vibe more with the political situation in the UK at the moment, especially after Boris passed the vote of no confidence, by infernal magic or some such. If ever a place needed reconsecrating after devilish possession it’s the Houses of Parliament. But enough! No more politics! Let’s relax instead and see what fiendish treats lie in store as we press play on… ‘The City of the Dead’.

0:12 The opening soundtrack sounds like it’s played by the Orchestra of the Dead. Skeletons on timpani, devils on strings. A chorus of raggy arse crows singing cod Latin. The notes on the score probably read ‘Have a go at harmony but don’t worry if you don’t make it’. Lots of kettle drums, crazy piccolos over the top – classic ‘Death March Vibe’.

0:21 The background graphic to the opening credits is some geezer in a cloak. Cloaks ARE basically scary, though, especially if you have to go through a revolving door. It’s the same with dressing gowns (plus there’s the gape risk).

0:51 Great sideways shot of Death (for behold, it is HE), holding his bony hand out to the left, a voice off saying ‘Don’t worry, we can totally get that taken in for you…’ (kidding – ALTHOUGH YOU SHOULD NEVER KID ABOUT DEATH)

0:52 Favourite name: Continuity is handled by Splinters Deason.

1:05 Another sideways shot of Death (for it is HE) pointing at something with a bony finger. Maybe HE is at a deli. Maybe HE would like a half pound of honey glazed ham. On the bone.

1:11 Apparently ‘Jazz’ is by Ken Jones. Jazz? In the City of the Dead? (The City of the Wish You Were…)

1:28 Opening shot: a lit brazier (checks spelling). Lotsa mist and a raggy arse tree to go with the crows. A murmuration of villagers gathering for something ‘orrible, I guess.

1:50 Close up of the leader: a stern looking Puritan (was there ever any other type?). ‘Bring out Elizabeth Selwyn’ he says, sternly (so I was right about that). I’m guessing it’s not to reward her for services to the community.

2:05 There’s a lot of angry ‘Bring out the witch!’ etc from the crowd, but when it dies away one voice misses the cue and says ‘Bring her out…’ really quite tenderly, which is nice.

2:10 They bring her out. Close up on Elizabeth. Her hair’s all witchy but her make-up is perfect. The crowd is amazed (how does she get such perfect sculpting in basically a mud hut?), but then an old woman says ‘Witch! and they all get antsy and riled up again.

2:35 ‘Burn the Witch!’ says another woman. Original. There’s a crack of thunder. You see the pile of wood they’ve got ready. Oof. I think Elizabeth says ‘Shit no!’ but actually she’s saying ‘Jethro!’ the name of another constipated looking Puritan. The first Puritan confronts him. ‘Hast thou consorted with the witch?’ – which is awkward. ‘No’ he says, unconvincingly. But it’s good enough. ‘Burn the witch!’ says the Puritan. There’s a theme emerging.

3:30 It’s a struggle getting Elizabeth up on the faggots, but eventually she’s chained and ready. The crowd shouts unconvincingly. Close-up on Jethro who says ‘Help her, Lucifer..’

3:53 The first Puritan (I wish I knew his name – not that I think we could be friends – just because it would save a bit of time) – he recites the legal bit (which just goes to show you can’t trust the law). ‘We the people of Whitewood, Massachusetts … ‘ (and the only reason I typed THAT was to see if I could spell Massachusetts correctly… and I DID….first time!…. burn him, the witch!’’)

4:32 The flames leap around Elizabeth. Another close-up on Jethro. ‘Help her, Oh Lucifer!’ The actor playing Jethro must be classically trained, because he relishes every word, working his bottom jaw enthusiastically from side to side in a juicy way, curling his lip up at the corner for added effect. A bit like a camel eating a date. He must’ve gone to RADA.

4:49 More thunder, and a big cloud rolls overhead. The villagers go quiet – probably thinking maybe they should’ve thrown a barbecue for the witch not throw her ON one. Elizabeth makes a speech, basically saying it’s a fair cop.

5:17 Jethro has his head tipped back in ecstasy, which means I can see some nice fillings in his molars. I bet he’s wearing a wrist watch, as well.

5:24 ‘Make this city an example of thy vengeance!’ says Elizabeth. So I’m guessing Whitewood ends up being Washington or something.

6:03 The villagers are all chorusing ‘Burn the Witch!’ but Elizabeth is just laughing. Not what you want at a public burning. That and rain.

6:09 She carries on laughing – a real smoker’s laugh.

6:10 Cut to: a close-up on Christopher Lee, who is Alan Driscoll, history professor. He’s wearing a suit so immaculate it looks like it’s made of sheet metal. ‘Burn Witch! Burn Witch!’ he says. But then the camera pulls back – he’s giving a tutorial to some students in his office. He looks great in that suit, I must say. And I don’t even particularly LIKE suits. Even his nose looks pressed.

6:44 In fact, he gets quite carried away describing the flames and the agonies etc, which no doubt explains why his tutorials are well attended. Nan Barlow, a gorgeous woman in the front row, strokes her chin thoughtfully (which is better than stroking someone else’s chin thoughtfully, I suppose). Why are public executions such a turn on? On the wall behind Prof Driscoll are the kind of ceremonial masks that if you woke up bound to a stake and saw them dancing round you, you wouldn’t think it was a good thing.

6:51 ‘Dig that crazy beat!’ says a hepcat sitting next Nan (what – you mean like the bread?). Alan glares at him. ‘That will be all for today,’ he says, sulkily. ‘I’ll bring some illustrations…’ says Alan. ‘I’ll bring some matches,’ says the hepcat, getting a big laugh. Alan’s glare increases ten percent (to one hundred and ten per cent).

7:09 ‘Maitland!’ snaps Alan. I wonder if he’ll zap him with magic, but he just expresses his disappointment in Bill’s behaviour. (Maybe a demon’ll get him later. I hope so. I like the name Maitland but I hate his cardigan).

7:38 Alan asks Nan to stay behind. He’s impressed with her papers or something. Nan says she wants to go to New England, stay in an old house and get some first hand experience of the whole Burn the Witch vibe. It sounds hot. Alan likes the sound of that – although he wonders what her brother Dick will think, being a Professor of Science and everything, and not especially into witches, or New England.

8:53 Cut to Dick, coming in to pick Nan up for lunch. Turns out Bill’s getting serious about Nan (a serious bread habit).

9:38 Alan gives Nan directions to Whitewood and a recommendation to a Mrs Newliss (which I think you’ll find is an anagram of Burn the Witch!) Her place is called Ravens Inn. Five Stars on Witch Advisor.

9:45 Dick comes into the office with the best line in the film so far: ‘What’s Whitewood?’ Say it four times, quickly. Congratulations. You’re a duck.

10:18 Nan has an argument with Dick (no easy way to type that). But that’s it – she’s going to Whitewood and that’s that.

10:57 Dick has an argument with Alan about whether magic is real or not. Alan seems to grow about three feet. ‘Dick – you’re just being difficult’ says Nan. ‘Did you ever meet a witch?’ says Dick. Alan looks shifty. Then he gets a book out and we get a whole lot of backstory about Elizabeth Selwyn coming back to life after the burning and a whole lot of murders taking place in New England. Case closed. Dick’s not convinced. ‘Send me a picture postcard of a witch!’ says Dick. ‘If possible – autographed!’ Alan gives him a smouldering look.

12:55 Cut to: Nan and Bill in a hepcat bar with jazz playing and everything, daddy-o. Bill doesn’t want her to go to New England but after two minutes with Bill I’d say New England wasn’t far enough.

13:42 Close up on Dick’s eye through a magnifying glass (no easy way to type that). Dick is talking to Bill about the whole Nan Going to New England thing. Dick seems to have relaxed a bit about it; Bill’s still slurring his words at the end like a wise guy working angles at the docks (typical science student). Nan comes in swinging a suitcase so easily it’s obviously empty (or she’s super strong). ‘All packed!’ she says. What with – air? Her hairstyle is amazing, though – like an early form of cycle helmet. She and Bill have a moment. She kisses his nose, then they go into a full-on clinch. It’s like watching someone smash two throw cushions together to beat out the dust.

14:47 Close up of Nan driving – jazz on the radio – jazz flute even. Diabolical. She pulls up at a gas station. It’s either very misty or she’s blown a gasket. She asks the old station attendant for directions to Whitewood. ‘Not many god fearing folk visit Whitewood these days,’ he says, encouragingly. But gives her directions anyway, then stares mournfully after her as she goes. All that and she didn’t even buy a paper…

16:08 Further up the road there’s a creepy man standing under the signpost to Whitewood. So of course Nan pulls over to chat. He is smartly dressed, with a deep voice and squashy kinda face. Maybe an accountant? But one that died a hundred years ago. So of course she agrees to give him a lift there.

16:52 ‘What is your mission in Whitewood?’ says the ghoul – sorry – hitchhiker. His name is Jethro. I thought I recognised that camel. Turns out he’s staying at the Ravens Inn, too, which is nice (in a diabolical kinda way).

17:28 Ravens Inn. Handy for the cemetery. Free parking. Bring your own crucifix.

18:04 Nan likes the look of the place. She seems oblivious. Jethro doesn’t say much, but what he does say seems to come from someplace miles underground. That’s RADA for you. Nan turns round to grab her suitcase; when she turns back, Jethro has gone. She doesn’t seem that fussed. Maybe it’s the hairdo gives her such confidence.

19:43 Interior, Ravens Inn. The kinda place you’d book for a hen party – if you were a zombie hen. Spooky clock. Spooky fireplace. Spooky candlesticks. Nice. There’s a plaque on the wall above reception: On this site was burned for witchcraft Elizabeth Selwyn. Or maybe that’s the WiFi code.

20:02 A woman touches Nan’s shoulder. The woman can’t talk, looks distressed. Nan is so sweet to her, just talks normally. ‘That will be all, Lottie!’ says a stern woman from the staircase. This is Mrs Newliss. The last time we saw Mrs Newliss she was being chained to a post surrounded by villagers shouting Burn the Witch! So she’s done well for herself. Mrs Newliss says the hotel’s full, but Nan mentions Alan, so Mrs N. says fine and shows her to the room. ‘The previous occupants have always been most agreeable,’ says Mrs N, turning down the sheets. Honestly? It looks like a cave with a four poster bed in the middle. Nan seems happy with it, though. Nan would be happy with a swamp. Anywhere that Bill wasn’t, basically.

21:55 Nan unpacks – a chiffon scarf and a photo of Bill. She puts the photo under her pillow – but then trips over a rug and finds a trapdoor. She puts the rug straight back. It’s just a trapdoor. In a room at the Ravens Inn. In a misty town no one goes to anymore. Shrug.

22:26 Meanwhile, Jethro and Mrs N are shoulder to shoulder staring nostalgically into the fire. ‘The festivities?’ says Jethro, chewing the words like so much straw. ‘I am prepared’ says Mrs N.

23:22 Nan goes for a stroll around town. In the dark. And the fog. But she walks as easy & breezy as if she’s in Central Park. Gotta love Nan. (You have to think they blew half the budget on a fog machine. Or is this really what it’s like in New England?)

24:10 Nan goes into the ruined church – or tries to. The Reverend Russell blocks her way with a crucifix, and says he’ll defend the church whilst he still has breath in his body. So I’m guessing the souvenir shop’s probably closed. ‘And whooooo are yooooo?’ hoots the Reverend. ‘I am Nan Barlow,’ says Nan. (what – you mean like the bread?). The Reverend says an awful lot for a reclusive vicar – including how the Devil has ruled Whitewood for 300 years yadda yadda. Through it all I’m just wondering where he gets his groceries? Maybe they deliver. Just extortionate prices. And never any garlic.

25:36 Finally the Reverend backs away into the darkness saying ‘Leave! Leave Whitewood before it is too late…!’ I’m worried that he’s walking backwards and might fall over with an embarrassing crash – but no. He’s done this so many times he’s pretty good at it.

26:11 Various villagers stand around in the mist staring at her. Any other person would be checking out of the Ravens Inn right away, but I think Nan is wondering if they’ll let her extend her stay to three weeks instead of two. Gotta love Nan!

26:26 She goes into an antique bookstore. There’s a young woman in a white shirt at the counter. This is Patricia. She gives Nan a summary of who she is and what she’s doing there (although she might actually be accidentally reading her character notes). Turns out Patricia is the granddaughter of the crazy Reverend. Nan says she was very scared, but she doesn’t look at all scared, so I’m wondering about the casting director at this point.

27:58 Nan asks if Pat has anything on witches. Pat says they’ve got a whole section (I bet) and goes off to get some books. Nan looks at a painting – Elizabeth Selwyn getting toasted like a marshmallow. Basically the set designer’s storyboard from the opening scenes. Pat hands Nan a big book – My First Book of Witches or something – then asks her about the lovely locket she’s wearing around her wrist. ‘It’s quite old’ says Nan, vaguely. ‘You’re very lucky,’ says Pat, who’s probably read a book about lockets.

29:04 Nan is in her room reading the witch book and taking notes. Suddenly she hears odd singing coming from somewhere. Under the floor? A folk club? She remembers the trapdoor under the rug. Don’t do it, Nan!

30:18 Nan goes to fetch Mrs N to ask about the subterranean folk club and the trapdoor. But by the time Mrs N comes in the music has stopped. She says there’s nothing under the trapdoor but earth. Nan looks vaguely confused, but only vaguely. She’s probably wondering if she could stay a couple of months…?

31:08 Cut to: couples doing a smoochy dance in the foyer of the Ravens Inn (they weren’t there a second ago, so…). The music is jazz, of course. The Devil’s choice. Lottie the mute maid hurries through. She’s bringing fresh towels for Nan – but then tries to write a warning. Mrs N. stops her, though. Nan reads from a parchment she found in the witch book, basically explaining what’s going to happen to her in the second half of the film when the clock strikes thirteen. Mrs N. stares down at her approvingly.

34:31 The music picks up tempo. Nan glances outside, decides to join the dancing. She takes off her dressing gown – revealing a corset, stockings and suspenders. Typical grad student research wear. She puts on a blouse and skirt – but when she finally makes it out to the lobby the music has stopped and everyone’s gone. There’s a big calendar thing on the wall above reception: Feb 1 – Candlemas Eve, the ceremony she’d read about in the parchment. C’mon, Nan – wake up!

35:59 When Nan goes back to her room she opens her sock drawer and finds a dead starling with a pin through it. That’s odd. Normally it’s a sprig of lavender. She goes to find Mrs Newliss to complain, but Mrs N has disappeared, too. The grandfather clock strikes the quarter hour. The folk club under the floorboards starts up again. None of this was in the Ravens Inn promo.

36:59 The window blind unexpectedly scrolls up. Nan notices that the pull on it is actually a trapdoor key. She’s thinking about that when she sees a bunch of monks walking through the mist, singing what sounds like ‘Nannnn’ – but might be cod Latin. She opens the trapdoor, goes down some creepy steps. Gets grabbed by the monks, which is never a nice experience. Dragged into the main chamber where Mrs N, Jethro and their chums are standing round a big flat table looking expectantly in her direction. The clock starts to chime – counting down to thirteen. Mrs N produces a big knife. Even now Nan must be thinking she’d actually quite like to move here, maybe start another bookshop. ‘Thirteen!’ The knife comes down…

39:42 … into a birthday cake! A party back at the university. Which at first glance looks worse than the party in the catacombs. Dick is busy tucking into the cake when Sue (shrug) asks him if he has any idea what happened to Nan. Bill comes to the door. He’s worried about Nan. He hasn’t had a letter in two weeks. ‘She’s probably working on her paper’ says Dick. He seems pretty calm – but maybe he’s going into a food coma after all that cake.

41:50 Dick tries to put a call through to the Ravens Inn. ‘There’s no such place!’ he says to Bill. Then he calls the police.

42:20 Pat the bookseller has gone to the Ravens Inn to get her book back. Mrs Newliss says Nan left in a hurry. On the way out, Lottie manages to slip Nan’s locket into Pat’s hand.

42:58 Outside the Inn, Pat runs into a sheriff out looking for Nan (what – you mean like the bread?) Pat tells the sheriff that she hasn’t seen Nan in two weeks (what – you mean like the bread…). She shows the sheriff the book on witches. He laughs. ‘College kids!’ Then he says ‘Come on, Charlie!’ and at first I think it must be a dog, but no – Charlie is another Sheriff. They both go into the Inn. In the Inn. Into it. Erm…

43:56 Pat looks at the locket. Looks at the book. Reads a note in the book. Puts two and two together… and does nothing.

44:36 The police ring Dick and Bill. They say Nan checked out two weeks ago. Those two could totally work for the MET. ‘I don’t get it,’ says Dick. He gives Bill some old books to read, and says he’s going to pay a visit to a colleague.

44:55 Prof Driscoll is manhandling a dove in a cage. He’s wearing a ceremonial cloak, so it doesn’t look great for the dove. ‘Oh Lord – accept this sacrifice’ he says, then shivs the dove. The sound of a doorbell. Maybe it was a clockwork dove? No – it WAS a doorbell. Prof Driscoll washes his hands in water that gushes from the mouth of a hideous gargoyle, which is nice. Then lets Dick in. (I don’t care, I’m not changing that).

46:50 Dick and the Prof have a drink and talk about the whole Nan Gone thing. Turns out Prof Driscoll was born in Whitewood. He says he’s sure she’s fine, but Dick says he’s going to retrace every step she took. (I don’t really want to see that gas station again, though. Or the church. Or the Inn. I feel like bailing at this point, but Dick is made of sterner stuff).

47:50 Meanwhile, Bill is flicking through a book on witches and sees a drawing of someone getting stabbed in the head. So HE starts to worry about Nan.

48:18 The doorbell rings again. (I’m afraid it really is looking bad for that dove). It’s Pat – she wants to see Prof Driscoll. Dick leaves; Prof Driscoll shows Pat into the drawing room. ‘Drink…?’
They swap stories about Whitewood. Pat says she has something she wants to return to Nan’s family. The professor gives her Dick’s address. Pat goes there, hands over the locket to Dick and Bill. Bill is frowning so much his forehead almost covers his eyes. Life’s normally pretty difficult for Bill, but this…? Meanwhile, Dick absently plays with a letter knife. Pat also gives them a note she found in the witch book – notepaper from Prof Driscoll. They all start to join the dots. Candlemas Eve – Bill read about it in one of Nan’s books. He shows them the picture of the woman getting stabbed in the head.

52:19 Close up of Pat driving back to Whitewood. Misty again. Jethro emerges from the gloom and forces her to stop. Jethro says he recognises her as the Reverend’s granddaughter. She says she hasn’t seen him before; Jethro says it’s a special privilege. (Definitely has that RADA strut, this guy). When they pull up in Whitewood, she looks to her side and he’s gone. She hurries into the bookshop – maybe to get How To book on ghosts.

53:40 Cut to: Jethro and Mrs N staring into the fire again. These two are flame buddies, old time. They talk about how pretty Pat is. ‘Tomorrow? The witches’ sabbath…’

54:36 Bill and Dick get into separate cars and drive off, watched by Prof Driscoll at the window. The music sounds like something from a detective movie – vibraphone, double bass. It’s like the editor got bored and spliced in some other scenes. I like it though.

54:47 Close up on Dick driving, jaunty jazz music. The car rocks about like he’s driving over melons or waterbeds or something. The stage crew must’ve been getting bored, too. It’s misty, of course. He pulls up at the gas station (damn!) The attendant says he saw Nan (what – you mean like the bread?) but never again. He told the police. Dick drives on. The attendant watches him go – probably annoyed that so many people stop to ask him directions and no-one buys any gas.

55:43 Jesus Christ! Now BILL pulls up at the gas station! Asks the attendant directions. Bill thanks him and drives on. I’m sure the attendant says something under his breath. Goes back inside his cabin. Takes his overalls off – to reveal a corset, stockings and suspenders….

56:18 Driving on through the mist, Bill swerves to avoid a witch being burned at the stake. Crashes into a tree. The car catches fire but he manages to climb out. Falls unconscious in a shrub (which isn’t a sentence I thought I’d be typing today)

56:52 Meanwhile, Dick pulls up in Whitewood. Goes into the Raven Inn. Lottie is tidying up; Mrs Newliss is writing in a ledger. Dick insists on being put in the same room as his sister. He quizzes Mrs N about the disappearance, but apart from flinching when he says ‘witchcraft’ she doesn’t give much away.

59:20 Dick goes to see the Reverend. This time the Rev comes out onto the porch (maybe he thought Dick was Deliveroo). But then after looking annoyed, the Rev goes back in. Dick walks across the misty square. The townspeople stop to stare at him. He’s a man of science but this shit is creeping him out. He goes to see Pat at the bookshop.

1:01:01 Dick sits down with the My Little Book of Witches Nan borrowed.

1:01:40 Meanwhile, Lottie is in Dick’s room trying to write a note. Mrs Newliss & Jethro sense that something’s going on. They creep into the room. Jethro strangles Lottie. Poor Lottie. She didn’t get any lines, couldn’t even write any. I hope the on set catering was good, because otherwise…

1:02:23 Dick slams the witch book shut. He’s so angry he chews his fingers (which is better than chewing someone else’s fingers…). The blind Reverend makes an entrance. Marches over to a chair and starts a very long monologue about the ‘evil that besets this village…. a pact with the devil… worship him and do his works…yadda yadda yadda’. Dick stares at him, dazed. It’s like an acting masterclass. The best HE could manage was eat cake naturalistically (but maybe he really was hungry when they shot that scene). Dick hurries back to the Ravens Inn – but not before you get a frisson of something between Pat and him, which just goes to show – there’s never a circumstance so evil and misty and devilish you mightn’t meet that special someone.

1:05:34 Pat goes to fetch a spoon from the drawer but finds a dead bird with an arrow through it instead. ‘Look on the front door!’ says the Reverend. A sprig of woodbine! ‘Shut the door! Shut the door!’ says the Reverend. But then changes his mind. ‘We must leave here immediately…’
Pat runs out to start the car. It WON’T start! The Reverend stands on the porch. ‘Phone Barlow!’ he says. Pat grabs the phone to ring the Ravens Inn (I thought it wasn’t listed…?). Mrs Newliss answers. Hand to phone to Dick. Just as he starts talking to Pat she screams: ‘Please help me!’
He runs out. Mrs Newliss laughs her gorgeous smoky laugh.

1:07:08 Dick runs back round to the bookshop. There’s no-one there – until he opens a cupboard and the Reverend falls out. ‘The witches! The witches! The witches – have – Patricia!’ he gasps. Dick puts him in a chair. ‘Destroy them!’ says the Reverend. Dick asks him how. ‘The shadow of the cross! I adjure thee … yadda yadda .. ‘ then he dies. Dick doesn’t waste any time on CPR. It’s no kind of life for the Reverend in Whitewood, staying in for deliveries, no congregation etc. Dick runs back outside. Gets grabbed by Bill, who immediately collapses again. Dick carries him to his car – Dick’s car, not Bill’s – Bill’s car crashed into a tree and burst into flames. There’s a big thunderstorm coming. Dick has found a revolver somewhere. (Mind you, it’s America. They probably sell assault rifles in the bookstore).

1:08:10 He sees a line of monks going across the graveyard. In the mist, of course, but at least they can hold on to each other’s tassels. They disappear into a mausoleum and Dick can’t follow. He sees a gravestone with Prof Driscoll’s name on it – ‘burned as a witch’. Does some frantic, Parkour running back to the Ravens Inn to make a phone call. But the phone’s dead! He hears singing from down below. Finds the trapdoor. Goes down. Explores with his torch a bit. A door mysteriously slides up. He goes through. Finds a necklace that belonged to Nan. Gets freaked out by a rubber spider (same). Feels for a light switch – finds dead Lottie instead! Gasp! Bursts through into the singing chamber – shouts ‘Pat!’ when he sees her struggling on the slab. Prof Driscoll emerges from the shadows. Dick shoots him – no good. Throws the revolver at them (which is actually a little better, for some reason), grabs Pat and together they run up some other steps, out into the graveyard, where a load of other monks are waiting with pointy fingernails to grab them. ‘Dick!’ shouts Pat.

1:13:17 Mrs Newliss gets ready with the blade, ready to dice Pat on the thirteenth toll of the graveyard clock (every graveyard has a clock – didn’t you know?). Dick wrestles with the monks, but monks are stronger than Dick (I know how that sounds, but what can I do?)

1:13:33 Meanwhile, Bill has come round, staggered out of the car and is heading for the graveyard. What HE can do at this late hour is anyone’s guess, but he’s a science student, so…

1:14:10 ‘Maitland! Get the shadow of a cross!’ shouts Dick. Bill tries to pull one up, but Mrs N chucks the dagger into his back. Pat screams. The bell starts tolling (every graveyard has a bell, didn’t you know?). Bill slides down the cross and dies. I suppose now Mrs N must go and retrieve the knife, so that might soak up some time, especially as she threw it pretty hard. She might have a spare, though, being three hundred years old and used to this sort of thing.

1:14:39 But no. Bill is still alive. His arm comes up. (Car crash? Knife in the spine? Nothing’ll keep Bill down). Whilst Bill struggles to haul up the cross, Prof Driscoll hands Mrs N a penknife. Not as dramatic, but it’ll do. ‘Wait for the hour of thirteen..!’ says the Prof.

1:15:13 Bill holds up the cross – which seems to act as a kind of flamethrower. He staggers forwards, burning up the monks one by one. (I’m slightly worried about the health & safety aspects of this shoot, lots of burning monks flailing around everywhere. I’m guessing the mist was probably fire extinguishers at this point, though).

1:16:27 Bill dies. ‘I’ve got a score to settle with Mrs Newliss’ says Dick, dumping Bill and running off.

1:16:40 Pat and Bill run into the Ravens Inn. There’s a cloaked figure behind reception. Bill goes over to have a closer look….

1:16:56 Pat screams – a big one – fists either side of her face. Even Bill gasps. Because Mrs Newliss is dead – burned up, just like she was three hundred years ago.

Fade to cod Latin chanting, closing credits scrolling up beneath the big pointy finger of Death.

And that’s it!

The End.

So what’ve I learned?

  1. New England’s beautiful but avoid Candlemas Eve.
  2. If you’re gonna ask directions at a remote gas station, at least buy a Diet Coke or some Gummy Bears. I mean – jeez…
  3. RADA is expensive. Get the same effect by filling your mouth with plums and closing your eyes halfway.
  4. If you really think someone’s a witch with devilish powers, don’t provoke ‘em. Better to give them a job in hospitality.
  5. Christopher Lee was amazing in this but Peter Cushing would have been better. They could’ve talked through their options in the LYE-BREH-REH.

giving up the ghost

I was queuing with the vicar in the pharmacy
I had pills to collect and so had he
we stood there waiting patiently
father, son and holy remedy

he said faith is a waste, god an addiction
I said what d’you mean he said pay attention
I’m retired now so the hell with convention
get ready to receive my benediction

fifty years I stood in the pulpit
dressed from head to toe in the full kit
read my lines from the latest booklet
questioned my faith but overlooked it

ever since I lost the collar
I’m short of puff and my heart irregular
two new hips, a dodgy patella
lately I find I’m much more secular

then he turned and smiled quite sadly at me
said he’d enjoyed this little chat with me
Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?
as the pharmacist called next customer please

the butts

Mr Butt
somewhat
drawn up
like a head of celery forced in a suit
dirt brown glasses to boot
and a big-footed laugh like the hoot
of some ancient charabanc
that’d prang
through the kitchen door
a couple of times a day or more
laughing and generally carrying on
like he was the audience and The Claytons were the sitcom

his wife Vera
quieter and clearer
hair in a coiffed pile
crow wing glasses sticking out a mile
her smile
a little tight
as if she might
accidentally say something she oughtn’t
and her visit could wait because it wasn’t important
and she’d knock quietly and call coo-ee
and hesitantly
make her entry
to see
if mum wanted her hair doing
Ken laughing and mooing
What’ve you gone and done with Len?
you haven’t gone and tied him up again?
Heaven Help Us! Christ! Stroll on!
I can’t keep up with all you Claytons!
etcetera, etcetera and so on

Many years later
Mum got new neighbours
the Butts moved on to a nearby close
a bungalow
easier I suppose
I went round to see ‘em
Vera in the kitchen
Ken, much smaller and thinner
scribbling in a notebook as Vera made dinner

at least he’s keeping busy I said
Vera smiled and shook her head
said thank you dear, took the book
and gave it to me so I could look
pages after page of scribbled lines
the kind when kids pretend sometimes

What can you say except life is in flux
my parents are gone, no iffs, no Butts
and here I sit, Clayton Number Five
busily filling the screen with lines

reunited

mum visited last night
with dad
both dead
both standing staring from the bottom of the bed
(which was weird
because they wouldn’t have done that
even when I was a kid
SO WHY NOW?
does being dead give you
special visiting rights somehow?)

what?
I said
quickly sitting up
taking a trembly swig
from my water cup

they stood side by side
eyes wide
linked at the elbow
which as these things go
was pretty freaky
resonating unspeakably
with an old wedding photo
they used to have on show
on the mantelpiece
dad in a two piece
mum in skirt and lippy
lurching outta church about 1950

mum cleared her throat
(which is odd for a ghost)
in that unmistakable way she’d got
after years of drinking coffee too hot

‘I just wanted to drop by and say hello’
she said
‘being dead
means you can’t just ring for a chat
and I’m feeling a little bit cross about that
I miss our gossip about dogs
and the odd
patients you’d met
and whether you have or haven’t finished that book yet…’

Dad looked restless
like a punter unexpectedly on the guest list
and not sure what to say
whether to stand or just fly away
I got the feeling she was stealing his thunder
(a cliche you hear a lot and no wonder)

‘Anyway – can’t stay long
Just wanted to drop by and see how you were getting on
We’ll be back again soon to see you, Jim…’

(Which is why I ended up googling ‘exorcism’)

The Apocalyptic Waltz

MC:
Citizens of the World!
Industrialists! Capitalists! Boys and Girls!
Philosophers! Ecologists!
Fossil fuel apologists!
Government Committees!
Villages and Cities!
Sample if you dare the End of the World phantasies
of Dr Doom Scroll’s Cabaret of Catastrophes!
And remember!
you can always call our dedicated number
Oh Nein! Oh Nein! Six Six Six!
Or go online for TikTok clips
Talk to our team of Emeritus Professors
Tenured in Trauma, Nightmares & Terror!
They’ll fill ya with horror
The Day After Tommor
It’s really NO trouble at all….
but first!
I beg you – PLEASE!
enough with your eco-teasing!
your idiotic, zoonotic sneezing!
your endless questions and answers!
take your medication and take your partners
for the Mega Trending, Soon-to-be-Ending, Fully Syndicated, Sinfully Syncopated, the One, the Only: The Apocalyptic Waltz…!

CHORUS:
so it’s a hey ho and here we go
fire in the sky and nothing below
it’s places please
for humanity’s
Apocalyptic Waltz

VERSE:
selfies on a nuclear beach
factor fifty and gun within reach
the view’s fantastic
an ocean of plastic
gannets & turtles tied up in elastic
you close your eyes
but it’s no surprise
Apocalyptic Waltz

[…. endless versions of the same until you run out of clean water, food, the ballroom’s inundated / burned out, whatever…]

ghosts are contractually obliged to be mysterious

ghosts are contractually obliged to be mysterious
I’m serious
they can’t just sit down
politely ask you to gather round
a family table at Burger King
or something
and after making a lame joke about onion rings
(it’s not easy being a ghost, it’s true
you tend to slip right through your food)
then segueing neatly
into the thing they discreetly
want to communicate to you
which is the tragic murder of you-know-who
and what they’d like you to do
about that
roughing out a crude but informative map
on the back of a napkin
that kind of thing

no – uh-uh – I’m sorry
they haven’t just lost their corporal body
but every last shred of common sense
they gotta draw things out and make it tense
like steam writing on mirrors
or giving you the shivers
by blowing out a candle
or swiping a picture from a mantel
or playing the piano
when you and I KNOW
there’s no one in the music room
in atmospheres of gloomy doom
jump scares
everywhere
until you just can’t bear it
and you dig out a crucifix and wear it
and you go see a priest
who’s sympathetic at least
even though they only see you at Christmas
but this must
be forgiven
if you’re not to be driven
completely insane
by the ghost that’s dropping hints again
that a great injustice has been wrought
and a certain murderer must be caught
(my money’s on the priest;
he seems quite sweet
but think of the havoc
you can cause in a cassock)

rather than calmly & sensibly
with a sharpie, quite legibly
writing down everything that happened that night
with all the details you need to indict

ghosts are the most annoying thing
into just about everything
and if you’ve got a problem – my advice?
sell the house and don’t think twice

the terror below the kitchen lino

Sometimes Grandma would stay over
sleeping on a Zed bed behind the sofa
(obviously the bed was called a Zed
because when you folded it foot to head
it had the look of that jagged letter
but I liked Grandma’s explanation better
which was when she lay down and the lights went out
you’d see a line of Zeds coming out of her mouth)

Grandma had her struggles
her routines and rituals
but my favourite one involved an apple

Every morning she’d take a knife and saucer
place them on the table with an apple in front of her
and challenge me to peel it in one unbroken strip
but warned me if I slipped
and the apple skin broke
a terrible evil I’d provoke
just as happened to Uncle Arthur she said
when a great disaster fell on his head
how she saw the lino ripped asunder
revealing just a few fathoms under
a horrible nest of goblins and sprites
looking up in cruel delight
barking and squealing
at the boy in the kitchen who’d failed the peeling
and flew like bats up from the abyss…
and she’d demonstrate this
by cackling, and flexing her claws
at yours
truly
who actually wasn’t unduly
worried by the hideous display
because she did the same thing every day
and I’d peel the apple in one long strip
and she’d say thank you Jimmy now quarter it

the cat in the flak jacket

(with apologies to Dr Seuss)


the alarms did not ring
it was too late to run
so we hid in the classroom
from the sound of the gun

I hid there with Sally
we hid there, we too
and I said how I wish
the shooting was through

but all we could do was to
hide
hide
hide
and we did not like it
with a shooter outside

and then something went POP!
how that pop made us stop!
we looked
then we saw him
step in with a Glock!
we looked
and we saw him
the cat in the flak jacket
and he said to us
‘Why do you all hide there like that?
I know it is scary
and the odds are quite stacked
but we can have lots of good fun, that’s a fact
I know some good games we could play’
said the cat
‘thanks to the folk of the NRA’

and Sally and I
did not know what to say
as our blood ran out in the classroom that day

Reworked funeral poem

Death is nothing at all
it does not count
it’s just nature’s way
of putting the empties out

Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I (dead)
and you are you,
(playing the kazoo
or whatever the hell it is you do
to pass the time when I’m all through)

Call me by the old familiar name
(but if it’s all the same
as embarrassing names go
I’d rather you kept it on the down low)

Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed of late.
(but not at the graveside because it doesn’t look great)
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
(And if creditors come calling, pay for me.)
Let my name be the household curse it ever was
(Me more than anyone sorry for your loss)

Life means all that it ever meant.
A life well lived now a life well spent
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
(except for that business with the phoney annuity)

Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
(I’m still around but I look a fright)
and if I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
think of me more root vegetable than mineral

All is well (for you)
Nothing is hurt (except you-know-who)
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
(just try not to scream when I knock on the door)