Saturday, 23 September 2017

MICROGORIA 46 - Sky


In this episode, Mr Jim Moon revisits one of the strangest ever TV shows for children, HTV's Sky, a bizarre SF tale that puzzled, perplexed and petrified a generation back in the 1970s! 

DIRECT DOWNLOAD -  MICROGORIA 46 - Sky

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Friday, 22 September 2017

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - A Traditional Winter Warmer


As some of you are aware, around this time every year I start making a little drink to enjoy over Christmas - ginger whisky. Now every year I do get asked how to make this marvellous drink, and so this week I thought I'd share the recipe for this traditional winter warmer with you all. It is very simple to make, and the trickiest bit is having a little patience! So then, I shall don my chef's hat and let's get going!  

 First of all let's gather everything we will need together - 

Ingredients

  • 1 litre of whisky (any cheap whisky will do)
  • 2 jars of stem ginger in syrup (about 600g to 700g in total)
  • Fresh ginger (approx 1 to 2 inches of root)
  • A cinnamon stick or powdered cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons of brown sugar

Equipment

  • A 1.5 litre Kilner jar or similar sealable air tight container
  • A sharp knife (careful now!)
  • A sieve
  • Empty bottles
  • Sheet of muslin and/or coffee filter paper
  • Patience


1) Firstly - and this is very important, scald your jar with boiling hot water and make sure it is thoroughly clean. And if you are using an old jar, do remember to check the seal is still in good working order, for we need the container to be airtight. 

2) Next, using a little sieve, strain off the syrup from the stem ginger into your jar. Handy hint - once you have taken the ginger out ready for step 3), screw the lids back on the jar and leave them upside down for a while. This will allow the syrup coating the insides of the jars to collect in the lids. You can often get another couple of tablespoons-worth of syrup by doing this! 


3) Chop up the stem ginger into small pieces of roughly 1 cm square, and add to the jar. Now you can skip this bit, but I have found over the years, chopping the ginger into small pieces makes for more flavour in the finished drink. Do take care when doing this, as the syrup coating the ginger does make it slippery! 


4) Peel your fresh ginger, and again slice into small chunks of about 1 cm square. Then add them to the jar too. 

5) Sprinkle in two teaspoons of brown sugar

6) Then pour in your whisky. And I will stress again here, that the most bargain basement whisky will work fine for this recipe. For heaven's sakes, don't use a proper malt for this! 


7) Break up a small cinnamon stick into the jar. Or alternatively add a dash of powdered cinnamon - be warned, however it does make the later straining of the drink trickier! 

8) Seal the jar, and give the mixture a good shake to mix everything together. 


9) Finally - and this is the tricky bit - leave it for at least six weeks! Occasionally give it a shake, but otherwise leave it alone! Generally I make my ginger whisky around the Autumn Equinox and only open it around the Winter Solstice, just in time for Christmas! 

10) When you do open it, place a piece of muslin or a paper coffee filter (or both) into a sieve and drain the ginger whisky into bottles. If after straining and filtering it remains slightly cloudy, this is perfectly normal. 

11) Finally drink and enjoy! Ginger whisky may be drunk neat. Or it's very nice on the rocks too. Alternatively it may be added to coffee or hot chocolate to add an extra warming glow to your drink! 


Thursday, 21 September 2017

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - The Black Lady of Bradley Woods


Last week we were looking at the local legend of Peg Powler, and this week we're delving into regional lore once more to encounter another fearsome female apparition. As I remarked in my little series Species of Spectres, one of the common features we can categorise folkloric ghosts by is their colour. And indeed the British Isles abound with assorted phantoms that are named after the hues they appear in. Among these sorts of ghost, White Ladies are quite common, however in Lincolnshire we have a rare example of an opposite type of haunting - the Black Lady of Bradley Woods. 

Roughly three or so miles from Grimsby, lies the little village of Bradley. It is a quaint little place, and although the village is undoubtedly ancient - for example, its church, St. George's, dates back to Norman times, it has always been a small place, and even today its population still numbers just around only 200 souls. Just south of the village, lies the Dixon Nature Reserve and Bradley Woods. However Bradley Woods has long been home to something other than the usual wildlife. For local tradition holds that the woods are haunted by a mysterious figure known as the Black Lady of Bradley Woods.

According to eye witnesses down the years, this spectre appears the form of a young woman, all dressed in a long black cloak, with a tear-stained face. Mostly she is seen walking in the woods, however there are several tales of folks just seeing a pair of eyes watching them, or simply having a sense of being followed. While there are no stories of her ever attacking or harming anyone, the Black Lady has been used by parents as a scary cautionary figure for generations, with the classic line being "If you don't behave, the Black Lady will come and get you!"

So who is the mysterious Black Lady? Well, while local lore has never provided a name for her, there is a most commonly reproduced tale of the origin of the Black Lady. As you might expect, there are several variant versions. For example, one version holds that these events occurred in the the Barons' War - two civil wars that occurred in the reign of King John in 1215, and a second uprising against Henry III in 1264 - while another states the tale happened during the time of the Crusades. But regardless of teh dating, the story itself stays more or less the same, with the most common version actually placing the events in the War of the Roses (1455 to 1487).

According to the tale, deep in Bradley Woods was a cottage, where lived a woodcutter, his wife and young baby child. However these times of strife saw the woodcutter enter the military, with most versions claiming he was forcibly pressed into service. So then, the woodcutter had to leave his home, and left his wife and child with no idea when he would be back. And every day, his forlorn wife would pick up their child and wander to the edge of the woods and look out for her much missed husband returning home.

However one day while making her daily walk through the woods, according some versions of the tale, on New Year's Day,  the young wife encountered a band of mounted men. These fellows were soldiers, usually alleged to be from an enemy force that have entered the county. But wherever they came from, villains they certainly were. They demanded money and drink from the woman, and then beat her, raped her, and rode off taking her child with them. Naturally our lady was devastated and never truly recovered from this terrible ordeal. She dressed in black for the rest of her life, and continually wandered the woods looking for her child. Even after he husband returned, she continued her heart-breaking search until the day she died. Of course, not even death could stop her search and she wanders the woods to this very day, still looking for her lost child...

However that isn't the only tale told of the Black Lady of Bradley Woods, and next week we shall delving further into the legends and lore surrounding this particular haunting!


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

THE 'ORRIBLE 'OUSE OF TERRIBLE OLD TAT #25 - Adventure 2000


Welcome once again guys and ghouls to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Well then, dear fiends last week we were poking about the spider-infested garages of the 'Orrible Old 'Ouse and uncovering the history of a curious vehicle - the Landmaster! Now this 12 wheeled armoured behemoth was the star of 1977's ill-fated movie adaptation of Roger Zelazny's seminal SF tale Damnation Alley. And as we recounted last time, although 20th Century Fools, I mean Fox, had this production aimed at bustin' the proverbial blocks, the movie instead ran straight into a wall, and Star Wars (rightly) cleaned up at the box office. 

Now this meant that the only real merchandise - as far as I can tell - was a re-release of the original novel with the movie poster on the cover. And despite being a very cool future vehicle, there was never any Landmaster toys made. Which was a  real shame, as it looked like a cross between Captain Scarlet's Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle (S.I.G!) and the SHADO 2 Mobile from UFO. I'm sure that a Dinky Landmaster would have sold by the ton, and much like the toy versions of Gerry Anderson vehicles, would have continued to sell for years after the movie had vanished from our screens. Anyhow, remembrances of Dinky toys past is a subject for another day...

Top - Shado 2 Mobile, Bottom - Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle (but you knew that already right?) 

However there was actually a Landmaster toy of sorts, and therein lies a strange tale! Now the origins of this now much prized plaything are somewhat obscure, possibly for a variety of legal reasons. For in 1977, Matchbox, the famed maker of metal cars, released a new line of toys entitled Adventure 2000. Branded as SF vehicles, this range consisted of three vehicles that came with little plastic figures shaped like soldiers or lawmen from the future. The catalogue blurbs gives us a tantalizing sketch of a backstory for these exciting vehicles - 
The year is 2000 – The planets prepare for battle. Re-enact the excitement of inter-planetary conflict with the action-packed vehicles from Adventure 2000
Now the trio consisted of the Flight Hunter (K-2002 for collectors) which was a snazzy little space-age sports car that had the added bonus of pop-out wings. Yes, a flying car! Pretty nifty right!  


OK so far, so cool. But the next vehicle was highly intriguing - the Crusader (K-2003). While fast cars might be very swish, and the additional power of flight a suitably SF extra, for the eternal wars waged my small children, you can't beat a good tank! And so, enter the Crusader, which just happened to be an eight wheeled armoured truck... Sounds a bit familiar, no? Well, note that snub nosed front? And the rear-roof mounted rotating gun turret? Yes, now you come to mention it, it does have a certain Landmaster-y quality to it. Funny that... 


However where things get very interesting indeed is with the flagship vehicle in the range, the mighty K-2001 Raider Command. Now this toy was the mutie's meatballs, and I have to say, one of the most exciting die-cast toy vehicles you could own back in the day. This beast of a fighting machine actually split up into two vehicles, with a fast front section for speedy pursuits, while the armoured  rear section was equipped with tank tracks and a  rocket launcher. Plus with the press of a button, the Raider Command didn't just separate, but the front module actually fired off, sending it zipping over carpets and floors at high speed. The rocket launcher actually worked too - not real rockets obviously, it was just the usual spring powered launcher. But it was very pretty deadly, or at least hazardous to younger siblings and pets.  


However, once again, the nose of the front module is somewhat familiar, while the armoured rear's red rocket array and triangular wheel arrangement should be ringing so bells too. Now as I said, this range of toys was launched in 1977 the same year as the movie of Damnation Alley was released, and as we remarked last week, the pre-publicity for the movie did put the Landmaster front and centre. But interestingly, the copyright date for the Adventure 2000 range is listed as 1976 which rather suggests that visual echoes of Damnation Alley in the designs might be just a coincidence. 

Furthermore while no one really predicted before the fact that Star Wars was going to be a mega-block buster and start a whole boom for science fiction and fantasy flicks, there was a general feeling in the air that SF was going to be the Next Big Thing. For example, consider Britain's top SF comic 2000 AD which was also launched in 1977. Now, as we all have 1977 imprinted into our brains as the year that Star Wars was born, we assume that the Mighty Tharg's thrill-powered comic was created to cash in on the Star Wars boom. But the fact is George Lucas's opus didn't hit British cinemas until the end of the December (the 15th to be precise fact fans), and that was just the London opening, with most folks in the UK actually seeing it in early 1978. Now 2000 AD was launched on the 26th February 1977, a good eleven months before anyone in the UK knew what a wookie was, and even three months before the movie's US premiere on the 25th of May!  

So then clearly as early as 1976, there was a general sense that SF was going to be the proverbial next big thing. Obviously both Matchbox and IPC Comics were angling to get in on the ground floor, and somehow both settled on using the then reeking of the future date 2000 in the titles of their products.

But all that said, in 1978 something happened that would link the novel Damnation Alley, the Landmaster from the movie, Adventure 2000, and 2000 AD too, in one exciting package! And Provided the Slay Riders don't get you,next week meet me back here in the radlands of pop culture to discover what happened next! (But here's a drokking large clue...) 

Sunday, 17 September 2017

HYPNOGORIA 70 - A Tribute to Len Wein


In this episode, we mark the passing of another great talent, comics legend Len Wein, a man who penned classics runs on Spiderman, the Incredible Hulk, X-Men, the Phantom Stranger, the Justice League and Batman, and also created Swamp Thing and Wolverine! 
DIRECT DOWNLOAD - HYPNOGORIA 70 - A Tribute to Len Wein

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Thursday, 14 September 2017

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Peg Powler


Last week I was writing about a little piece of childhood lore concerning puddles - namely that where I was growing up in the North East of England, puddles rippling with rainbow hues from spilt oil or petrol were referred to as "witches' washing" (see here for the full tale). Now it appear that this little piece of puddle lore appears to have been somewhat confined to the North East, however while digging around assorted old tomes on local legends and the like, I discover a possible origin. 

Now I grew up in the Darlington area, a former mill town built on the River Skerne, a tributary of the mighty River Tees. And as you might expect, these waterways have a rich folklore of their own -  for example, previously in these columns I have written of the Headless Hob that haunted the Tees near Hurworth, and of the Sockburn Worm whose slaying is commemorated with a ritual on Croft Bridge. However on the subject of hags and witches, the stretch of the Tees around Darlington is also home to another horror - Peg Powler. According to legend she lived in the valley that is now the Cow Green reservoir, and haunted the Tees around Mickleton and Middleton-in-Teesdale as the High Green Ghost. However further down the river's run around Darlington , she is better known as Peg Powler. Boasting trailing green hair, long arms, and sharp claws, Peg was very similar to another folkloric hag Jenny Greenteeth. Indeed in their celebrated tome Faeries (1978), Alan Lee and Brian Froud portrayed these two aquatic monsters together on the same double page spread.

Peg Powler as depicted in Froud and Lee's Faeries

She is mentioned in several early texts on folklore and legends. And hence in 1886 we have Mr William Brockie in his tome Legends & Superstitions of the County of Durham describing her thus - 
The river Tees has its sprite, called Peg Powler, whose delight it is to lure too venturesome bathers into her subaqueous haunts, and then drag them to the bottom and drown them. Children are still warned from playing on the banks of the river, especially on Sundays, by threats that Peg Powler will catch hold of them and carry them off. Peg has long green tresses, hanging down over her shoulders, but what her costume is we are not told.
And aside from preying upon children and others unfortunate enough to stray too near the water's edge, Peg Powler had another distinct feature associated with her, as Mr Brockie continues to relate - 
The foam or froth, which is often seen floating in huge masses, on the surface of deep eddying pools in the higher portion of the river, is called "Peg Powler's suds"; the finer less sponge-like froth is called "Peg Powler's cream."
Now this association with foam or froth upon the waters with the water hag Peg, immediately made me think of the witches' washing puddles. And I wondered if there might be a connection between my childhood lore and this older legend. As it happens, Mr Brockie mentions a possible link - 
"A goblin or sprite of the same evil character is said to haunt the river Skerne."  
So who was this other watery monster? Some further digging unearthed a footnote the Denham Tracts (1892), a compendium of legends and lore gathered  by  Michael Aislabie Denham, in the mid 1800s. Early on in this tome, there is a list of folkloric beings, and this includes "Peg Powlers". And what is more, there is a most illuminating footnote 
This oulde ladye is the evil goddess of the Tees. I also meet with a Nanny Powler, at Darlington, who from the identity of their sirnames, is, I judge, a sister, or it may be a daughter of Peg’s. Nanny Powler, aforesaid, haunts the Skerne, a tributary of the Tees.
Given the close connection of the two rivers in the town, it is perhaps not surprising that another hag called Powler had colonised the waterway that ran through Darlington itself.

Now up until the 1980s, the River Skerne was sadly very polluted, a legacy of the days when Darlington was an industrial mill town. Indeed when I was growing up, locals used to joke that the Skerne was now so polluted that even traditional waterway wildlife such as abandoned shopping trolleys could no longer live in it. Thankfully now the river has recovered, but back in the 1970s foam, scum, and bright rainbows of chemical hues were not an uncommon sight on the Skerne.

.Peg Powler by Russell Dickerson

And I can't help wondering if this pollution was also identified as Peg Powler's suds and cream. Given that folklorists see the likes of Peg and Nanny as warning tales to caution children to keep away from hazardous rivers and ponds, the talk of her cream and suds may well have an origin in a story to stop kids from playing in waters that were dirty or poisonous as well as dangerous. Therefore in the local area, it is not a huge leap to suppose that this lore may have led to the oily spectrums in puddles being dubbed witches' washing too. 

Of course, this is pure speculation on my part. And on balance, we should note that the strange rainbows of oil on water quite naturally suggest a magical or eldritch origin in the minds of imaginative children. Indeed when asking if anyone else had heard of witches' washing, several folks responded that they had been told it was created by fairies, while many more were delighted to learn of this bit of North-eastern lore as it chimed with their own childhood feelings that these weird rainbows in puddles were somehow magical and strange.

However on the other hand, while a great many places in the United Kingdom have some sort of monster, ghost or witch to ward off the unwary from dangerous waters, it is unusual that stories of Peg Powler incorporate floating foam and froth as part of the legend. Other well known aquatic predators such as Jenny Greenteeth, grindylows or kelpies don't share this feature. And given that foam and suds in the tales told of Powler and her brood centre around the old mill town of Darlington, possibly there is a connection to the idea of witches doing their washing in puddles. Certainly it would explain why this piece of rainy day folklore seems so confined to a small area of the North East.


Wednesday, 13 September 2017

THE 'ORRIBLE 'OUSE OF TERRIBLE OLD TAT #24 - Eight Wheeled Anti-Radiation Tomb!


Ride the post-atomic radioactive trash
The sky's on fire from the nuclear flash
Driving through the burning hoop of doom
In an eight wheeled anti-radiation tomb

from Damnation Alley by Hawkwind

Hello again dear fiends! Welcome once again to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Now as listeners to my podcasts and other scribbling will be aware, I am very interested in the origins and roots of things, in particular seeing how different concepts or tropes evolve over time in the steaming jungles of pop culture. And this week dear friends we have a very interesting family tree to trace, with some branches bearing prized fruits and others... Well, others not so much. Anyhow, in accordance with the wise words of Maria Von Trapp, let us start at the very beginning...

In 1967, the star feature of the October issue of the famed Galaxy Magazine was a novella by SF legend Roger Zelazny. Now back then old Rog was still a young gun in the world of fantastic fiction, only a few years into his remarkable career, and his now classic novel Lords of Light had only just been published earlier that year. Now that novel would scooped him several awards, however the novella published in October would also bag him a Hugo too. This short work was Damnation Alley, a thrilling post apocalyptic tale set in a world ravaged by nuclear wars. Indeed  the story went down so well, Zelazny later expanded into a novel that was published in 1969.

The plot line of both versions is the same - in the post-nuke America, there is no more United States, just some separate enclaves holed up against extreme weather and deadly radiation. However the Boston area has fallen victim to a deadly plague and while a cure has been found, unfortunately the vaccine is in California. Constant hurricanes and freak weather make air travel impossible, and hence the job of taking the vital vaccine over land through the wasteland of America, now dubbed Damnation Alley, is given to former biker and convicted killer Hell Tanner (and yes, that is his real name) on the condition that if he makes it, he will receive a full pardon.

Zelazny's novel became one of the great influences on post-apocalypse fiction. Countless books, comics and films drew inspiration from his vision of a nuked out world filled with radioactive hazards and marauding mutants. And it is still a huge influence to this very day - for example, the video game series Fallout owes a great deal to Zelanzy's book, with the Lonesome Road add-on being very much a homage to it. In fact, much like Day of the Triffids, it has been pillaged so much over the intervening decades that new readers approaching the book now sometimes find it somewhat cliched, as it has been so thoroughly mined by other works. Indeed between Zelazny and Wyndham, they pretty much wrote the entire playbook for post-apocalyptic worlds.


However one element that has become something of an influence in itself is Tanner's mode of transport. For to traverse a country full of extreme storms, mutated animals, and feral savages, Tanner is given a special vehicle, whose description I will now quote -
There were no windows in the vehicle, only screens which reflected views in every direction, including straight up and the ground beneath the car. Tanner sat within an illuminated box which shielded him against radiation. The “car” that he drove had eight heavily treaded tires and was thirty-two feet in length. It mounted eight fifty-caliber automatic guns and four grenade-throwers. It carried thirty armor-piercing rockets which could be discharged straight ahead or at any elevation up to forty degrees from the plane. Each of the four sides, as well as the roof of the vehicle, housed a flamethrower. Razor-sharp “wings” of tempered steel – eighteen inches wide at their bases and tapering to points, an inch and a quarter thick where they ridged – could be moved through a complete hundred-eighty-degree arc along the sides of the car and parallel to the ground, at a height of two feet and eight inches. When standing at a right angle to the body of the vehicle – eight feet to the rear of the front bumper – they extended out to a distance of six feet on either side of the car. They could be couched like lances for a charge. They could be held but slightly out from the sides for purposes of slashing whatever was sideswiped. The car was bullet-proof, air conditioned, and had its own food locker and sanitation facilities. A long barreled .357 Magnum was held by a clip on the door near the driver’s left hand. A 30.06, a .45-caliber automatic, and six hand grenades occupied the rack immediately above the front seat.
Nice ride or what? And of course, Tanner's "car" would go on become the usual cover star of any cover art for the novel, as you can see above. Plus it would go on to inspire whole generations of post-apocalypse vehicles too. But more about that next week...

Anyhow, perhaps inevitably, around a decade later it was decided to make a movie of this seminal SF tale. Featuring a bleak vision of the future coupled with lots of action and a tough anti-hero, Damnation Alley seemed to fit right in with the cinematic SF of the time, the era that gave us flicks like Soylent Green (1973) and The Omega Man (1971), plus the franchise that dominated the early '70s Planet of the Apes (1968) and its sequels and spin-offs. Indeed initially allocating the film a massive $17 million budget and putting Jack Smight, the man who helmed the seminal disaster movie Airport '75 in charge, showed that 20th Century Fox was looking to make a quality production to follow in the footsteps of the movies mentioned above.


But things didn't quite work out that way. The production was troubled, with the budget being cut, the shooting script - that was fairly faithful to the novel - being pared down and then changed, and poor Jack Smight pretty much being chucked out of the director's chair and the movie ending up being radically recut. Hence the plot line of travelling from coast to coast to deliver a serum vanishes, and instead they are just heading out to find other survivors. The novel's anti hero Hell Tanner pretty much vanishes too. Instead we have a Jake Tanner, played by Jan-Michael Vincent in his pre-Airwolf days, who is a far more respectable former USAF lieutenant, and is reduced to something of a sidekick for George Peppard's Major Denton. But most damaging of all, Zelazny's visions of a tortuous journey through a radiation wasteland end up being some dodgily coloured in skies, a few badly matted scorpions, and a lot of driving about in the same bit of desert.

Let's make no bones about this, the movie Damnation Alley (1977) is pretty bad, and if you want to hear a full autopsy on the movie, tune into this episode of the Black Dog Podcast. OK, I know some of have fond memories of this flick having seen as little kids, and I'll not begrudge you your nostalgia - I'm immensely fond of loads of tatty old movies. I like Zoltan Hound of Dracula for Pete's sakes! But all the same, it is still a shame the movie isn't better, for Zelazny's book is just crying out for a faithful big screen adaptation.

However in fairness, the film does get one thing right - the realisation of Tanner "car". Indeed, the movie actually brings something new to the table here - for Zelazny somewhat missed a trick in not giving Tanner's ride a cool name, whereas the movie makes the genius move of actually dubbing the super duper armoured vehicle, the Landmaster! And you got to agree that is the perfect name. And while one wonders where all the money went when looking at dull bits of desert shot through coloured filters, when the Landmasters are rolling out you can see the dollars up there on screen. Now the design does diverge from Zelazny's description: the Landmasters do have windows and sadly lack most of the weaponry, but in fairness, all the cover art versions take similar liberties too. But the important thing is the Landmaster as a vehicle looks very very cool indeed.


And indeed, I think it's fair to say that just as the Damnation Alley movie has a cult following, the actually Landmaster itself has a cult all of its own. Despite fumbling nearly all other aspects of the production, 20th Century Fox did get the Landmaster right. And they recognised that this iconic vehicle was the real star of the movie, with it appearing a lot in the promos and press for the movie's launch. For example, the magazine Popular Science even did a piece on it in the March 1977 issue - which you can read here. Mind you, as the Landmaster was custom-built by top custom-car creator Dean Jeffries for the film at a cost of $350,000 - or according to my calculations, $1,522,544.14 in today's money - you can understand why it was at the forefront of the publicity!

Now oddly enough 20th Century Fox had another little SF film on the go at the same time as Damnation Alley was being made, but they had little faith in it. In fact they were banking so much on Damnation Alley being a huge blockbuster, they let that other little movie's director keep all the merchandising rights. Fast forward to a year later however and that other little movie - called Star Wars, you might have heard of it was still packing them in and the shops were awash with merch. Damnation Alley on the other hand... Well, put it this way, there was never a toy version of the Landmaster to buy...

...Or was there?!? I'll meet you back next week to discovery the strange truth!