Friday, 19 May 2017

HYPNOGORIA 56 - Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm Part I

In the first episode of a special two-part investigation, Mr Jim Moon ventures into the darkest part of the woods to investigate a most mysterious unsolved case. In 1943, some boys made a most macabre discovery in Hagley Woods, near Birmingham - the skeleton of a woman buried within a hollow tree... Who was she? Was this murder? Was witchcraft involved? And who was responsible for the cryptic graffiti that began to appear - "Who put Bella down the wych elm?" 

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Wednesday, 17 May 2017

THE 'ORRIBLE 'OUSE OF TERRIBLE OLD TAT #15 - It Came From Beyond the Chiller Cabinet

Hello dear fiends, and welcome once again to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Yes, I know it's a bit of state but I bet you're glad to be indoors! For outside, the skies are an angry slate grey, a chill wind cuts through you to the bone, and the windows are rattling from lashings of icy raindrops! And you know what that means, don't you? Yes, that's right, the British summer has begun! 

However things weren't always this way... I appreciate it is a massive cliche of Kong-size proportions, but I do remember a time when summers in this green and pleasant land were long, hot and filled with sunshine, rather than the several months of weather roulette we now get. Possibly we do need to consider burning our leaders in wicker men again to get Evil Yellow Face to put in a few solid weeks of work rather than the skiving off with outbreaks of token appearances we now get... But, I digress... 

However it is true that British summer used to be better, and to prove it, in a highly scientific and not at all trivial and flippant manner, I present the following facts. Back in the days when summers were long and hot, school holidays lasted forever, and all this used to be fields, there was a thriving industry producing cold snacks to give the Great British Public a tasty treat and a way to cool off. Now you may know them as ice pops, freezers pops, ice poles, freezies, ice blocks, popsicles, or Mr Freeze's bollocks, but over here they are called ICE LOLLIES. 

Now the arcane art of freezing some flavoured juice or ice cream onto a stick had been around (allegedly) since the 1920s, however it wasn't until the 1960s when lots of local stores and corner shops could afford to have a freezer cabinet to chill their wares, that the ice lolly really took off. And in the UK, in the '70s there was a huge explosion of frosty snacks, with an ever-escalating war for dominance in the ice lolly market being waged across the land. 

It's 1968 and we've ran out of flavours... Sod it, bang 'em all into one! 

Now obviously there are only actually a small number of flavours that are suitable for the ice lolly market. Basically, you are limited to sweetie favourites like chocolate or mint, and the more popular fruits, (orange, banana, lime, strawberry etc.). You can - and indeed over the years assorted lolly wizards did - try to cover more exotic fare such as mango, melon or starfruit but generally the public thought they just tasted like insipid versions of the big players in the fruit flavour world. However strangely no one ever attempted to break into new, uncharted lolly territory with savoury flavours such as beef gravy, pie and chips, or hedgehog... and probably for very good reason, come to think of it. 

So then, with only a small number of flavours to work with, how did you get ahead in the Great Lolly Wars of the '70s and '80s? Well, the simple answer is licensing! And here's how you did it... Take note of something very popular with the kids, say the Incredible Hulk, who at the end of the '70s was enjoying the heyday of the Bill Bixby TV show and had his own newly launched UK comic. Then take one of those fruity flavours you are already selling that's a purply red colour, coat the top half of the lolly with green candy sprinkles, and voila you now have "an Incredible Hulk.... trapped ice!". Or rather, you have a lolly that's half green and half purple, which if you squint and use near psychotic amounts of imagination resembles the Mightiest Mortal on Earth. And admittedly it's a Hulk with a stick up his arse, but you'd best not think about that too much as it'll put you off your lolly! 

So like Bill Bixby it's uncanny! 

Of course, such licenced lolly fare often had a short shelf life (or should that be freezer life?), and as soon as the film/TV show/character's popularity waned their lollies would vanish from the big colourful boards on the shop freezers that advertising the icy treats available within, and were often replaced by a suspiciously similar lolly in a new wrapper tied to some other property the following summer. Yes, it was a cheap and cynical way to flog lollies, and in some of the more egregious instances allowed unscrupulous icy-treat makers to sell the same damn flavour of lolly twice, one under a kid-attracting licensed wrapper, and another as a plain just-the flavour-title version. But cynical it may have been, but it work a treat! And it's a testament to the size of the ice lolly market back then when we had proper summers that there were so many tie-in lollies available. 

Eventually in the mid '80s, the Great Lolly Wars came to an end when the manufacturers realised there was more money to be made flogging expensive ice cream based confections to grown-ups, as after all, they had all the cash. Why bother attempting to harvest the loose change of pocket money when you can empty the entire wallet if you can convince adults that scoffing giant buckets of ice cream loaded with enough toffee, chocolate and cookie pieces to kill an army of diabetics is actually a very grown-up and sophisticated thing to do? But before those dark artery-clogging days dawned, there was a golden age of great wrapper art, inventive adverts, and some very fun gimmicks! And we'll be having a look at some of the more weird and wonderful products of the Great Ice Lolly Wars over the next few weeks... 

Sunday, 14 May 2017

MICROGORIA 44 - The Hand of Mandragora

We are continuing our investigations into the history of the grisly Hand of Glory, and in this episode uncover links to another mysterious item beloved of witches and sorcerers, the Mandrake root and learn more of the lore of the grimoires. 

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Sunday, 7 May 2017


As part of our mini-series on the legend of the Hand of Glory, in this episode we pay a visit to the fireside of the Great Library of Dreams to hear a classic horror tale inspired by these gruesome occult items, The Flayed Hand by Guy de Maupassant! 


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Wednesday, 3 May 2017


Welcome dear fiends once again to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! This week we are in the larder, and at the back of a dusty cupboard, I've found an ancient cobweb-festooned cardboard box. And in this dodgy looking container, that dates back to that eldritch dark age known as the 1980s, we have some rare relics of one of the strangest snacks ever to be unleashed upon the British public.  

Now one of the best-loved British animals is the humble hedgehog, who has long enjoyed a place in our popular culture, from medieval tales of the spiky rogues stealing apples to the stories of Beatrix Potter. And aside from numerous kids shows and books featuring the noble hedgepiggy, there's one little factoid that everyone knows about hedgehogs - that allegedly gypsies would eat them. This appears to have first become public knowledge in the late 1800s when scholars began to document the culture and traditions of the proper old school gypsies, the Roma. An early reference to this usual item in their menus comes in a tome published 1874 written by George Borrow with the exotic title of Romano Lavo-Lil, and a subtitle long enough to cause back problems for any attempting to say it  - Or Word-Book of The Romany or, English Gypsy Language, With Specimens of Gypsy Poetry, and An Account of Certain Gypsyries or Places Inhabited By Them, and of Various Things Relating to Gypsy Life In England. Anyhow, Borrows has this to say - 
After breakfast the men sit down to chin the cost, to mend chairs or make baskets; the women go forth to hok and dukker, and the children to beg, or to go with the donkeys to lanes and commons to watch them, whilst they try to fill their poor bellies with grass and thistles. These children sometimes bring home hotchiwitches, or hedgehogs, the flesh of which is very sweet and tender, and which their mothers are adepts at cooking.
Now later accounts would add the fascinating detail that the ideal way to cook a hedgehog was to wrap the whole hog in clay and bake it on a bed of hot ashes. And when the little fellow was deemed cooked through, the shell of now hardened clay would be broken open and all those troublesome spines would be left embedded in the clay. At least that what the stories we all heard as kids used to claim - although I have heard it said that this "recipe" is in fact what we scholars call "a load of bollocks" and that anyone who wanted to eat a hedgehog would just skin it like any other animal... they are, after all, just little prickles, not curare tipped adamantine spikes. 

Anywho, to get back on point as it were, back in the early '80s the British public were made aware that this well-loved little animal was in trouble. Hedgehog numbers were declining, and most definitely not may I add because gypsies were scoffing them all. No, the destruction of their traditional hedgerow habitats, coupled with large numbers being killed on Britain's increasingly busy roads was the real cause of their decline. Campaigns were launched to build little tunnels under busy roadways, people were encouraged to set up hedgehog boxes to provide places for the little chaps to hibernate in, and we were all told that actually the old folk tradition of leaving out bread and milk for hedgehogs was actually bad for them. 

Now naturally the public responded to this in the expected and traditional British way - by making lots of tasteless jokes about flat hedgehogs. Indeed if the custard pie was the symbol of traditional humour, a splatted hedgehog seemed to be the spirit animal of the newly born "alternative comedy". Well, with their famous spines, they reflected the punk sensibility of this new brand of comedy, and the trail-blazing Not the Nine O'Clock News got great mileage out of roadkill hedgehogs in their famous "I Like Trucking" number. They even named their second LP after them - 1981's Hedgehog Sandwich (BBC Records ‎– REB 421). 

However in the very same year, you suddenly could make a hedgehog sandwich of your own. Well, of sorts anyway. A pub owner in Wales, named Philip Lewis rather enjoyed all assorted hedgehog jokes that were doing the rounds at the time, and thought it would be highly amusing if you could get hedgehog flavour crisps (that means potato chips for readers outside the UK). Obviously such a snack item did not exist, and with admirable commitment to comedy, Lewis quickly set up his own company to make and market hedgehog crisps, with Hedgehog Food Ltd. opening its doors in 1981. 

Now by his own admission Lewis didn't really expect his product to have much more than novelty appeal, and was delighted to find his new flavour of crisps went down a storm, Of course, we all flocked to the local shops to try them at first - after all, we all wanted to know what hedgehog tasted like. However after the public's initial curiosity was sated, the new crisps still sold well, as people actually quite liked the new exotic flavour; indeed folks still moan to this very day that you can't get them anymore. And what did they taste like? Well surprisingly hedgehog breaks the universal food rule that any exotic meat tastes like chicken, and were kind of beefy if I remember rightly. 

However not everyone was happy, Wildlife enthusiasts complained that the crisps were encouraging people to hunt hedgehogs, although in fairness the packets did say - 
Savour all the flavour of traditional country fare cooked the old fashioned way without harming a single spike of a real hedgehog
But all the same however, the following year, Lewis and Hedgehog Food Ltd found themselves in court. Yes, in 1982, a case was brought against them by the Office of Fair Trading on the somewhat bizarre grounds that Lewis and co. were breaking the law as their crisps didn't actually contain any hedgehog at all. In fact, that unique hedgerow flavour was actually just your usual pork fat. However in the end, everything got settled without too much trouble. The crisps were (slightly) renamed from "hedgehog flavoured" to "hedgehog flavour", and apparently Lewis had interviewed actual gypsies who had eaten baked hedgehogs and got a flavouring firm to simulated the taste they reported. 

Eventually the fad for hedgehog crisps did die away, much to the sorrow of those who loved the flavour. But on the positive side, British hedgehog numbers did begin to recover, and Lewis donated some sizeable sums from his millions of profit to St. Tiggywinkles, a wildlife hospital in the Midlands that is still doing excellent work to this very day, and you can find them here -

Sunday, 30 April 2017

MICROGORIA 43 - The Legend of the Hand of Glory

In this episode Mr Jim Moon explores the sinister legend of the Hand of Glory, a rather gruesome talisman connected with crime, witchcraft and black magic! 

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Friday, 28 April 2017


Angurs and understood relations have
(By magotpies, and choughs, and rooks) brought forth
The secret’st man of blood.
from Macbeth Act iii. sc4

The Magpie (Pica pica), with its striking black and white plumage, is one of the most distinctive British birds. And given that this bird's bold patterns of black and white feathers make it stand out wherever one alights, it is perhaps not surprising that sighting such a noticeable bird should be widely considered an omen of something or other. I say something or other, because the magpie enjoys something of a mixed reputation; it doesn't have the friendly, cosy reputation enjoyed by the blackbird, nor quite the sinister aura of its near relatives crows and ravens. Instead the magpie is somewhere in between, a cheery bird, a bit of a  cheeky chappie, but also something of a rogue - after all they are famed for their love of stealing bright, shiny objects. 

Now many birds have various folk meanings attached to them, indeed there are whole branches of divination relating to interpreting sightings of birds.  A common British superstition is that sighting a magpie is considered to be ill luck, and it is commonly held in many regions that saluting the bird will ward off the misfortune. However we should note that this applies only to spotting a lone magpie, for according to old folk rhymes the number of magpies you see signifies different things. 

It is often said that the first recorded instances of one of these magpie counting rhymes is found in an old book on folklore, indeed one of the early pioneering works in the field, Observations on Popular Antiquities by John Brand, published in 1777. However this is not true, for the original edition makes no mention of magpies. Actually the first recorded magpie rhyme appears in a later edition published in 1842, that was significantly enlarged and annotated by Sir Henry Ellis. Ellis added a wealth of new material and in his extensive notes quotes a different 18th century source on the subject of magpie lore -
In the Supplement to Johnson and Steeven's Shakespeare, 8 vols, Lond, 1780, vol. ii. p, 706, it is said that the Magpie is called, in the West, to this hour, a Magatipie, and the import of the augury is determined by the number of birds that are seen together:
One for sorrow,
Two for mirth,
Three for a funeral
And four for birth. 
A mere four years later, another 19th century folklorist Michael Aislabie Denham would gives us an enlarged variant version of this rhyme -
According to the number of magpies you see at one and the same time when going a journey, etc., you may calculate your luck as follows:- 
One for sorrow,
Two for luck (varia. mirth);
Three for a wedding,
Four for death (varia. birth);
Five for silver.
Six for gold;
Seven for a secret.
Not to be told;
Eight for heaven,
Nine for ____ ,
And ten for the Devil's own sell ! 
from Proverbs and Popular Saying of the Seasons (1846) by MA Denham

Some years later, a very similar Scottish version was noted by E. Cobham Brewer in his famous reference work, an almost compressed Cliffs' Notes version from north of the border -
One’s sorrow, two’s mirth,
Three’s a wedding, four’s a birth,
Five’s a christening, six a dearth,
Seven’s heaven, eight is hell,
And nine’s the, devil his ane sel’
from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1898)

Of course it is from these old rhymes that we get the traditional British version that became well known in the 19th and 20th centuries, and that I'm sure most of you are familiar with - 
One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told.
However where things get somewhat muddled is when we come to the matter of additional verses. What pray tell does seeing eight or nine magpies foretell? If you ask some one who grew up in the '70s, they may well give you these additional lines - 

Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss,
Ten for a bird,
You must not miss

Now as it happens, these extra verses are not from the annals of folklore, but from a popular childrens TV show. Launched in 1968, and running until 1980, ITV's Magpie was a long running magazine show for kids, whose mascot was a cartoon magpie called Murgatroyd. The show's theme tune was written and performed by the Murgatroyd Band, who were actually moonlighting members do the Spencer Davis Group, who adapted some regional variations to create the lyrics. 

The lyrics seems to mainly derived from a Lancashire variant version which features elements of the Scottish version recorded by Brewer and adds a few more numbers into the mix -

Eight for a wish
Nine for a kiss
Ten a surprise you should be careful not to miss
Eleven for health
Twelve for wealth
Thirteen beware it’s the devil himself.

Now it is sometimes claimed that the popularity of the Magpie TV show meant that traditional regional variants were wiped out by the nationally broadcast theme tune lyrics. However whenever the subject of the magpie counting rhyme is mentioned, plenty of folks are keen to share variations, in particular relating to numbers from eight and above. For example, a common one is - 
Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss,
Ten for a time of joyous bliss
Also still quite well-known is this version that covers you for seeing up to a dozen magpies - 
Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss,
Ten for a letter,
Eleven for worse
And twelve for better
In Warwickshire, they have something similar, and count magpies over seven like this - 

Eight bring wishing
Nine bring kissing
Ten, the love my own heart's missing!

While in the grand county of Yorkshire, apparently this version is still alive well (presumably in playgrounds judging from the last line) - 
Eight you live
Nine you die
Ten you eat a bogey pie!
Another somewhat rude version - and therefore no doubt popular with kids - goes like this -

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for rich,
Six for poor,
Seven for a bitch,
Eight for a whore,
Nine for a funeral,
Ten for a dance,
Eleven for England,
Twelve for France

Somewhat more family friendly versions of this variant are well-known too. One just goes up to seven, with the bitch becoming a witch, while folk singer Maddie Prior, singer with Steeleye Span, gave us this version in a song entitled Magpie on her solo LP Seven for Old England (2008) -

One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a wedding
Four for a boy
Five for a fiddler
Six for a dance
Seven for Old England
and Eight for France

And so, while few these days put any store in the alleged prophetic pronouncements concerning the number of magpies you may see, certainly the associated counting rhymes continue to live on. They have survived being turned into a TV theme and rock records, and no doubt will carry on spawning new variants for a good few years yet...

Sunday, 23 April 2017

GREAT LIBRARY OF DREAMS #33 - Out of the Earth

Once again Mr Jim Moon invites you to the cosy fireside of the Great Library of Dreams to hear a classic tale of terror. This time we have an eerie little story from Flavia Richardson AKA Christine Campbell Thomson, a lady who knew a thing or two about what made a terrifying tale! 


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Sunday, 16 April 2017

MICROGORIA 41 - The Beaver Book of Horror

In this little episode, Mr Jim is once more delving into the world of horror books for kids, and the writings of Mr Daniel Farson. Following on from our discussion of the Hamyln Book of Horror, we now turn to a much-loved paperback tome, an indispensable guide to the realms of terror,  The Beaver Book of Horror! Stop laughing at the back! 

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Wednesday, 12 April 2017


Welcome once again dear fiends to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! This week, we've been digging in the games cupboard once more and I've dragged out another item from yesteryear to tease and tantalise your memory. Or rather, perhaps in this case, to re-open old wounds and childhood traumas. Yes, I know, I'm all heart! 

Well then chums, you know what they say... Some games are born great. Some games achieve greatness. And some games have greatness thrust upon them. And today's offering is absolutely none of those! It resides far away from any of those categories, for it is a game that will never in any circumstances come anywhere near great in any way, shape or form. It  truly puts the 'bored' in board games, and also was the cause of many a pernicious case of long-lasting bitter disappointment. In fact, for a certain generation of kids, it is a strong contender for one of the most disappointing toys ever foisted upon an unsuspecting public. 

And what is this benighted game? Well it is Tank Command from Ideal. Now when this hit the toy stores back in 1975, this looked massively exciting. And what's more there was a whole generation of little boys eager to lap up anything with a World War Two flavour. Growing up in the early 70s, WWII was literally everywhere - on the telly there was Colditz, Dad's Army, Secret Army, and probably some other shows with 'army' in the title too that I can't remember right now. Toy shops were stuffed with Action Man in a variety of WWII uniforms and vehicles, the must have board game was Escape from Colditz, and all that before we get to the battalions of Airfix models and legions of toy soldiers. And British comics for boys were full of vintage warfare too - in 1974 DC Thompson had launched the highly exciting Warlord comic, while in early 1975 IPC had responded with the ground-breaking and gritty Battle Picture Weekly. Indeed there was so much World War II everywhere you might have thought that the war was still going on, or at least had only just recently ended.

So then in this war-torn climate, a game promising explosive battles between armoured divisions was obviously a sure-fire winner! And no doubt that is exactly what veteran British toy fim Ideal thought, and they whipped up a suitably exciting advert for the telly to promote this latest slice of WWII action! And what an advert it was! Check it out! 

It is a very clever advert and one that has haunted the minds of the target audience for many years, although admittedly not perhaps for the best of reasons. But a brilliant example of the advertiser's dark arts it certainly is. To start with, note that it features two Dads playing the game, instantly giving it a sparkly coat of "this ain't just kids' stuff, sonny" - always an attractive sheen that plays well with the kids. No annoying stage school brats here! Secondly, it is a powerful indicator of how much WWII imagery was floating about in children's culture back in the mid '70s that the advertisers knew full well that the target audience would instantly recognise facsimiles of Field Commander Montgomery and Rommel. It seems strange now, but I can attest that this pair of famous foes did have almost pin-up status among the schoolboys of Britain at that time.  

But thirdly, and most cunningly of all however, note too that this ad pitches the game as an exercise in strategy. Oh no, this isn't just glorifying war, dear parent, it's educational, it's like chess! However the ad manages to have its cake and eat it, for it also makes very clear that for all its talk of cunning and strategic play, it is actually about FIRE! BANG! FUCK ME! DID YOU SEE THOSE FUCKING TANKS GO FUCKING EVERYWHERE? I BET THEY SMASHED EVERY FUCKING WINDOW IN THE BASTARD HOUSE FLYING OFF THAT FUCKING BOARD! 

..Ooops... Sorry... Got a bit carried away there!

 But it's true! Could this game either a) look anymore exciting and b) say anymore clearly:  BUY THIS NOW YOU LITTLE BASTARD ?  

Yes, the advertisers knew their market well. What's more they understood that Tank Command was a BIG PRESENT. That is to say, this wasn't something you bought with your pocket money, or saved up for. No, this was a job for a birthday, or a top item on a list to Santa. Hence the ad is designed to generate maximum pester power from the kids, while at the same time appearing worthy enough to appeal to parents.  

However there was one ghastly snag to all of this, one that would only become apparently after the wrapping paper had been torn off. That was that the game itself is actually mind-crushingly dull. Basically for all the talk of strategy, shells and tank combat, what it all boils down to is this. The players simultaneously fires a shell at each other. And this is done by... wait for it... picking a number between one and ten, represented by some odd looking pegs nestled behind screens at the ends of the board. The choices are revealed - the screens tilt open you see - and whoever picked higher wins. The two numbers are added together, and the winner gets to move his tanks forward by that amount. And yes, all the tanks move all together, all the time. So there's no exciting manoeuvers here - it's just all forward or all back. In a straight line. Forever! Then shells are fired again, I mean, numbers are picked again, with the twist being that you can't pick a number you've had before. And this continues until one side's tanks have been pushed back onto a minefield i.e. the edge of the board. Or rather in most case, until all the numbers are gone. In which case, you play another round. Oh, still my beating heart! 

And what about the explosive action? Well once on the minefield, you can pull a string with a knob on the end... And no, I'm not referring to how you felt for being suckering into getting this game. No, you pull said string and this raises some little pegs in the mines which then knock the little tanks out of position... A bit... Sometimes... If you were lucky... 

Yes, there was certain a noticeable dearth of model tanks flying into the air in an explosive fashion. And what's more, a distinct lack of any excitement in the gameplay, which essentially was just picking random numbers. All too often, the result of the "shelling" was the tanks driving forward and back over the middle of the board, with neither side reach the mines. Yes, Tank Command was something of a wash-out. Which is a shame really, as the game parts themselves were very nicely designed - the board looked fantastic, and the model tanks were nice.  

*Actual excitement not included! 

Now arguably, all this pointless lurching about in No Man's Land was actually a highly accurate simulation of what was really happened much of the time in World Wars I and II, but historical accuracy doth not necessarily make for an exciting game for ages 8 and above. And in this case it most definitely didn't; a fact compounded by the feeble nudging of toy tanks that came in place of the flying models seen in the advert. Indeed, for many of us, Tank Command was a first and bitter lesson about truth in advertising...

Sunday, 9 April 2017

HYPNOGORIA 55 - Zombi Zombi Part 11 - White Zombie

In this episode, Mr Jim Moon takes an in-depth look at the world's first ever zombie movie, with a full commentary track for White Zombie from 1932, starring the legendary Bela Lugosi. And as this movie is in the public domain, you can watch along legally and for free here - 

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Wednesday, 5 April 2017


Welcome dear friend once more to the deary den of dubious delights that is the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Now then, in the last few explorations of the eerie ephemera and arcane items found within these crumbling walls, the subjects of mail order ads has reared its suspect head a couple of times, and hence this week we are going to take a look at one of the most famous pieces of old tat ever sold through magazine small ads - yes, the highly mendacious miracles that are the Sea Monkeys!

Now I would imagine that most of you first came across this bizarre from of aquatic pet through the pages of a comic, and indeed if you lived outside the US, specifically in the pages of an American comic book. And that isn't some amazing demonstration of my psychic powers folks, just some old fashioned Holmesian deduction! For while some younger readers may well have picked up some Sea Monkeys in a toy or pet store in more recent years, for a long time mail order ads were the only place you could get Sea Monkeys - something that perhaps contributed to their sales as we'll shortly discover. What's more they advertised in more or less every comic book going, with their creator regularly taking out more than 3 million pages of ads in a year back in the 1960s and 1970s!

Now I am sure I'm not alone in being totally mystified and intensely curious about what these alleged wonder pets actually were. Surely there wasn't a race of diminutive merfolk with strange crowned heads and pot bellies you could keep in a fish tank? Wouldn't I have heard about these so-called Sea Monkeys before? Surely David Attenborough and Johnny Morris would have told me about them on the telly if they were as amazing as the ads made out. But as I was in the UK, I knew sending off for them was probably a no go, and so it would be literally years after first seeing that ad - in the pages of a House of Mystery if I recall correctly - before I discovered the truth.

The saga of the Sea Monkeys begins back in the late 1950s, when a chap named Harold von Braunhut spotted a species of brine shrimp named Artemia Salina being sold in a pet store. Now these little creatures inhabit salt water lakes and the interesting thing that von Braunhut discovered about them was the fact that these little fellows had an interesting defence against their habitats drying up. This was a process known as cryptobiosis - essentially the micro shrimps would form a protective casing around themselves and go into a suspended state until water returned.  

This remarkable survival trick fascinated von Braunhut, and he realised that possibly with some tinkering, the brine shrimp's method of cryptobiosis could make it the first just-add-water pet. Hence with the help of microcrustacean expert Dr Anthony D'Agostino, a formula was devised to add the necessary saline and other environmental elements to make ordinary tap water a habitat from brine shrimp. Soon they had cracked it, and von Braunhut's new pet was ready to go. He named his new creation "Instant Life" and it cost just half a dollar. But back then your 49 cents you just got a couple of packets of formula and eggs - you had to supply your own tank, although as the ads pointed out, you could hatch these creatures in an ordinary jar!

And so in the early '60s, he began to look at getting his product into toy stores. However a similar product from the famous toy company Wham-O - the folks who brought you the hula hoop, the frisbee and silly string to name but a few - had just been created, the Instant Fish. This projected toy was thought to be the next Big Thing and had caused massive excitement within the industry. Certainly it sounded amazing! A tank that came with a block of mud that contained egg of the African killifish, just add water and hence presto an aquarian full of rainbow coloured exotic fish. However the Instant Fish had bombed badly when it was realised they could produce enough eggs on a regular basis to support a toy line. And therefore when von Braunhut was shopping around his own just-add-water pet kit, none of the big players were the slightest bit interesting fearing another Instant Fish fiasco. 

So then, von Braunhut looked to sell directly to the customer and began to advertise in comics. The beauty of advertising in comic-books was that firstly it was very cheap, and secondly you could reach your target market of children directly. And as you could send coins, no cheques, credit cards or postal orders were needed, so no parents who might veto replying to odd small ads in comic books needed to be involved!  Soon now he was taking out bigger and better ads, and now with a new brand name - Sea Monkeys. Incidentally the name "Sea Monkeys" came from the fact that the tails of the brine shrimp reminded von Braunhut of monkey's tails, while the sea part was simply down to the fact they lived in salt water... Although technically brine shrimp live in salt lakes rather than oceans. However that was the least perplexing thing about the newly minted Sea Monkeys. For the bigger and better ads, Von Braunhut enlisted the talents of a true comic book legend, Joe Orlando, who duly came up with the now iconic art featuring a family of very bizarre looking beings (as seen at the top of this page).

However despite many kids being disappointed they now didn't owe a colony of miniature merfolk, and that often the brine shrimp tended not to live very long, the Sea Monkeys business prospered. But in fairness, Von Braunhut did offer a 2 year guarantee for replacement eggs if yours died, and over the years he developed a new hardier breed of shrimp that lived longer. And clearly plenty of kids got over that initially disappointing discovery that they'd bought a tank of little shrimps, for lucrative sidelines soon sprang up, food packets, new batches of formula, and a host of accessories (usually tanks in novelty shapes). Eventually, the Sea Monkey brand was so successful that the kits began to appear in toy stores at last! Now over fifty years later, they are still selling well to this very day. Of course those old somewhat fanciful, if not downright mendacious ads are now long gone, but Joe Orlando's mer-family are still going strong, now serving as brand mascots.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

HYPNOGORIA 54 - A Tribute to Bernie Wrightson

In this special episode, Mr Jim Moon pays tribute to one of the all time great artists in horror, Mr Bernie Wrightson - creator of Swamp Thing, illustrator of Frankenstein, star of  horror comics from Warren and DC, and collaborator with Stephen King.

DIRECT DOWNLOAD -  A Tribute to Bernie Wrightson

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HYPNOGORIA is hosted by GeekPlanetOnline and is part of the ROGUE TWO Podcasting network.

Friday, 31 March 2017

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - The Secret Life of Statues

The Red Lion of  Sturminster Newton

In recent weeks we've been investigating the odd behaviour of assorted stone monuments. And aside from various standing stones and megaliths being prone to start mucking about when no one is watching - revolving, walking and even going swimming - we have also found that these seemingly supernatural powers of animation and movement extend to more recent man-made stoneworks such as statues as well. And while there is a massive historical and cultural gulf between a modern piece of public art and an ancient dolmen erected in the earliest years of human civilisation, it would seem that they often share the same folkloric tradition of moving themselves about by magic. 

Firstly we have great many statues that like to go for a wander on the quiet. A statue at Lacock Abbey is said to animate and go for a stroll at the stroke of midnight, while in the heart of London, at St Queen Anne Gate, the stone version of the aforementioned monarch takes an annual constitutional around the neighbourhood on the 1st of August every year. At Burroughs Green in Cambridgeshire, once a year on the night of the 30th of April, a pair of statues on the school door are said to get off their perches and dance on the village green. While on a more eerie note, St Lawrence's Churchyard, in Darlaston, it is said the figure of a child on a monument to a deceased mother and infant has been seen wandering off on its own through the graves. And there are many more examples too, many of which that display the two distinct patterns that we have already encountered with moving megaliths - either animating on the stroke of midnight or upon a specific date.

Much like their relatives, the standing stones, a surprising number of statues and stonework figures seem to enjoy popping off for a drink too. A sculpture known locally as Stone Moses at Weekly in Northamptonshire, is said to animate on the stroke of midnight and make its way down to the River Ise for a drink. Outside the Red Lion pub in the village of Sturminster Newton, in Dorset, is a stone effigy of the titular beast, which according to the locals climbs down from its plinth at the stroke of midnight to take a drink from the old water pump by the town bridge. Once again this is a surprisingly widespread tradition, will all manner of statues of people and animals leaving their native plinths, pedestals and perches to nip off for a drop or two. Even some weathervanes are said to indulge in this behaviour too, However my favourite tale of this type concerns the brilliant named folly, Jack the Treacle Eater Tower at Barwick, Yeovil. Thought to have been built around the 1820s, this eccentric structure is a huge arch of rough stone that supports a spire-like tower, topped with a statue of Hermes. Supposedly it commemorates a faithful messenger boy named Jack who would run errands between Barwick and London with only a pot of treacle for sustenance. According to legend, at midnight the statue climbs down to either take a drink from the nearby lake, or according to some go hunting for any left-over treacle!

Jack The Treacle Eater

We tend to think of folklore as stories that are old or antique, but age seems to be no barrier in this tradition of stories. For example, Leeds Town Hall is guarded by stone lions sculpted by William Keyworth, and despite being erected in 1867, there are still local legends that these stone beasts leave their plinths and prowl around at night. Even more recently, the city of Nottingham gained a new Council House in 1929. Erected at Old Market Square, the impressive building is guarded by art deco stone lions created by local sculptor Joseph Else. However despite being an 20th century addition to the civic landscape, these stone beasts already have their own folklore - it is said that they will roar when a virgin passes by them!  And despite this seeming to be somewhat bizarre behaviour, even in the world of living statuary, they are not the only stonework to do this - it is also said that the red lion statue outside the Cameron's Lion brewery in Hartlepool does the same. 

So then what are we to make of all this? Well, as is often the case with mysterious phenomena, it is probably a mistake to look for one catch-all explanation. However we can identify some common threads running throughout the folklore of statues and standing stones. Firstly the last two mentioned examples give us a clue to the origin of some of these strange tales of stones with a life of their own. Those stone lions which roar at passing virgins I rather suspect are an oblique form of local joke - the punchline of which either the listener must deduce for themselves, or was too smutty for polite folklorists to record. The gag is that thanks to the morals (or lack of) in the local populace, no one has ever heard the stone beasts roar! And while the roaring lion stories may be a little nudge-nudge wink-wink, it is not unreasonable to assume that many other tales of living statues are similar tall tales told to amuse. The British sense of humour famously has a surreal streak, and spinning implausible tales of the athletic prowess of objects such as large lumps of stone that are clearly very immobile fits very well with our love of the absurd.

For example, a common feature is that these stones move if they hear the chimes of twelve, and here the joke is that stones of course can never hear anything! Some legends appear to be more explicit on this front, for example the Cheesewring performs its revolutions if it hears a cock crow (as detailed here) but as it is located in the middle of a moor, there are no farms anywhere nearby, and hence there are no cocks to hear crowing. Likewise the standing stone in Pyrford (see here) is said to revolve when the church clock chimes twelve, except the church has neither clock nor chimes!

However as  I said, we should not make the mistake of looking for a one-fits-all origin for these tales.
Certainly in this series we have discussed several stones who have appeared to have had attached generic tales of movement and other unusual habits to them, and judging by the surprising amount of very recent folklore surrounding statues it would appear that these stone stories are still spreading even in the modern age. But I suspect some types of story are older than others. In the course of this little series of little articles we have encounters several stones that are said to be immovable in some way or another, whether being impossible to shift in the first place, or possessing the ability to return from wherever they are moved to. Now these kinds of stories I suspect come from an older, darker tradition - for like many other folk-tales, these stories are meant as prescriptions or warnings, a colourful (and hence memorable) way to spreading the message that certain sites or objects are out of bounds and not to be messed about with. The legend of the rampaging Wimblestone is an excellent example of this - not only will the stone attack anyone who attempts to move it, but the old tales acknowledge and re-empt an important assumption: that as the Wimblestone is a remnant of an ancient site there must be treasure there. In addressing what might be a common motive for wanting to disturb the stone, the legends make it clear that the effort is not worth the risk, and it would be very foolish to try. After all, not messing about with very old things or places is a common warning found in many branches of folklore.

the stone lions of Nottingham

Considering that over the centuries many ancient sites were lost, as fields were ploughed up and the stones broken and moved, this particular strand of stone lore may well have evolved out of early concerns about  preserving our past. And while our forebears may not have had any idea of exactly how ancient some sites were, being old and mysterious was enough to give them local and historic importance, and so warning stories grew up around them. On a related note, I wonder if the various tales about moving statues is an echo or a remnant of this tradition; perhaps a milder and in some cases light-hearted way of discouraging boisterous youths from climbing on them and deterring would-be vandals.

Of course, there is always the human tendency to anthropomorphise anything around us. And given that our statutes often resemble ourselves or familiar animals, it is not surprising that people down the ages have entertained each other with stories that these objects that remind us of living things have secret lives of their own. And while it is more of a stretch to imagine the same imaginative process at work with some of the standing stones we have talked about in this series, in other case, in particular with rings of stones that are said to dance, it does seem possible that once again folks have imagined these old monuments come to life at certain magical times.

Something that is nigh on impossible to discover, but would shed a good deal of light on the matter, would be know how seriously folks in past ages took these stories. Were they ever seriously believed? Or were they always just a surreal bit of whimsy and told with a tongue in the cheek? However whatever the origins of these tales, the fact that such stories are still springing up around modern statues shows that such tales still clearly hold a deep appeal for us. And given that these strange tales of stone-lore have not only survived but have continued to thrive into modern times, I suspect it is a story tradition that will continue for many years yet to come... 

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat #11 - Even More Death & Horror

Hello dear guys and ghouls! Welcome back to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Come in, sit down, and make yourself comfy! For I've got the battered old gramophone out again and some prime platters to spin for you! 

Now then, on our last visit to the 'Orrible Old 'Ouse, we learned about the infamous Volume 13 of the BBC Sound Effects record series - Sounds of Death & Horror. An infamous disc that brought us a host of memorable tracks with titles such as "Head Chopped Off" and "Heavy Breathing (Female)". And despite the somewhat predictably outcry from self-appointed moral guardians, the LP was a huge success. and the BBC were soon looking to give the kids what they wanted - another volume of gruesome and gory sounds! 

So then, a year after the first album's release, 1978 saw the Sound Effects series of LPs reach Volume 21, and this addition to the series was to be another black disc of violent vinyl! For this LP was Sound Effects No. 21 More Death & Horror! Once again helmed by the Radiophonic Workshop's Mike Harding, and this time aided and abetted by Peter Harwood, this putrescent platter served 21 tracks of madness, mutilation and mayhem! And once again it came in a brilliantly lurid sleeve designed Mr Andrew Prewitt

Now unlike its predecessor, this reprehensible record wasn't arranged into handy sections. Rather this lurid long player just jetted one long torrent of terror at the listener! There were 26 tracks in all, and here's the full run-down of those golden greats!
  1. Death Of The Fly
  2. Vampire Feeding
  3. Death By Harikiri
  4. Sweeney Todd The Barber
  5. Wind Through Crack In Door
  6. Wind In The Trees
  7. Synthesised Wind (Electronic)
  8. Sea Monster
  9. Sharpening The Knife
  10. Falling Scream
  11. Premature Burial
  12. Wild Dogs
  13. The Iron Maiden
  14. Death In The Swamp
  15. The Sewer Rats
  16. The Poisoned Drink
  17. The Rack
  18. Midnight Strangler
  19. Assorted Gun Shots
  20. At The Dentist
  21. Time Bomb
  22. Death By Electrocution
  23. Gouging Eyeballs
  24. Russian Roulette
  25. Death By Garrotting
  26. Suicide by Gas 

Now if I had a criticism, I would say that personally I'd have been inclined to tweak the running order so that "Synthesised Wind (Electronic)" would have been followed by "Suicide by Gas", purely for comedy reasons. However the inclusion of the track "At the Dentist" does rather suggest the makers did indeed had a dark sense of humour., albeit one not as childish as mine. Anywho, if you wish to hear the killer cuts above, here they are courtesy of some thieving git on Tube of You... 

However that's not the end of this grisly saga! For there was a third LP in the series! Well, three is the charm as they say. Released a few years later in 1982, Even More Death & Horror BBC Sound Effects Vol. 27 hit the record stores to serve up one final deadly disc of doom and destruction. 

Now of all the LPs in Sound Effects horror trilogy, this platter is now the rarest. And it was also the shortest, clocking in at a mere 27 minutes. However what a mad half hour it was! And while it may have been the briefest outing in the world of lurid listening, certainly it featured perhaps the most imaginative and darkly hilarious tracklisting yet!

1 Intentional Death
Staking A Vampire - Three Mallet Blows
Two Throat Cuts Or Two Throats Cut
The Gas Chamber - The Cyanide Tablets Drop Into The Acid Releasing The Deadly Fumes
Wrists Cut - The Blood Drips Into The Bucket
Assorted Stabbing
Drilling Into The Head - Enough Said
Body Put Into The Acid Bath
Self Immolation
Silencer (Pistol) - Vocal/Synth/Mechanical
Electric Fire Thrown Into The Bath
Boiling Oil - Poured Off The Castle Wall

2 Torture
Tongue Pulled Out
Fingernails Pulled Out - Assorted
Fingers Chopped Off (5)
Trial By Ordeal - A "Medievil" Practice Where The Accused Would Pick A Ring Out Of A Deep Pot Of Boiling Water - If The Resulting Burns Healed Up Quickly The He/She Was Innocent - Some Chance!
Whipping - A Touch Of The Lash Keeps You On Your Toes (Or Knees)
Torture Lab - A.D. 2500

3 Accidental (?) Death
Lift Falling (With Passengers)
Female Falling From A Height (Ladies First)
Male Falling From A Height

4 Reaction (To The Sounds You've Just Heard)
Viz: Involuntary Regurgitation

5 Nasty Animals And Birds
Werewolf - The Transformation From Human To Beast
Giant Killer Bees - No Honey From These
Sleeping Dragon - Don't Waken It Up
Dragon - On The Move Through The Bushes - With Occasional Flaming Bad Breath
Dragon Kill - The Death Of The Monster
Pterodactyl Flying - With Squawks
Vultures Feeding - If You Lie Around Long Enough, They'll Clean You Out
Piranha Fish Feeding - Don't Go For A Swim
In The Snake Pit - They Hiss With Forked Tongues
"The Birds" Attack A Feed - On What You May Ask
Triffids - (i) Sting (ii) "Talking"

And so then, while this may be the shortest outing in the series, and its sleeve art seems somewhat lacking compared to the phantasmagoria of the previous two volumes, even the harshest critic would be forced to admit that they really out-did themselves with the track listing for this one! Every opportunity for a ghoulish gag is taken! It's all killer and no filler! A very fitting end to the series I feel.

However there is a postscript to this tale. For some five or six years later, nearly a decade after the first LP's release, in a few issues of the blood-drenched Fangoria magazine, the following advertisement appeared under the heading "Sound o' Splatter"... They just don't write ad copy like this anymore...