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

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - One for Sorrow


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

THE 'ORRIBLE 'OUSE OF TERRIBLE OLD TAT #13 - Tanked Command


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 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6GmZqLuG0s 

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Wednesday, 5 April 2017

THE 'ORRIBLE 'OUSE OF TERRIBLE OLD TAT #12 - Sea Monkeys!


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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