Saturday, 20 June 2015

Whitby abbey

I've been sitting on these photos a bit but it's only now that I've found time to process them. As mentioned in a previous post, I visited the seaside town of Whitby earlier this year and spent a couple of lovely afternoons walking around the Abbey and neighbouring church.

The fishing port of Whitby has a long and interesting history, and consequently quite a few claims-to-fame. One of its most exciting (and lucrative) is the Dracula connection.  Bram Stoker was a visitor to the town, and set parts of his famous novel there. The abbey fell into ruin after the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century. The hulking stone carcass that rises far above the town is no doubt one of the reasons why Stoker chose it as a setting. The craggy skeleton perches on a cliff and consequently the ruin is one of the first things you see as you come over the moorland from the south west from inland.

Most of the southern walls have tumbled down so visitors are able to walk right through the length of the trancept and nave and look out over the substantial grounds. There are some wonderful scultpural details still visible, and the nearby almshouses also retain some excellent corbles shaped like heads. It was bright and sunny when we visited, but I can imagine it being utterly terrifying on a dark, wet and windy winter's night.

Although the abbey provides a wonderful backdrop in Dracula, it's actually the graveyard of the neighbouring church of St Mary's which hosts one of the key scenes in the novel - where Mina discovers 'something dark' looming over the prostate from of her friend Lucy. I took quite a few shots of the graveyard with my analogue Nikon camera and have yet to process the film, so I'll post them in due course.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

The sad state of Nottingham's cemeteries

A few weeks ago I went back to Nottigham's Rock Cemetery, which I've previously blogged about. It was a great oppotunity to do some research on vampires in preparation for my trip to Whitby, which I'll blog about soon.

Despite it being a sunny day with the cherry blossoms blooming, it was sad to see that there has been a lot of vandalism and pillaging. Several of the niches containing ashes had their doors ripped off and the contents strewn about. Another monument had clealry had some kind of (no doubt sculpted) mandala torn away. The resulting carcass was left with a kind of internal spine of brick exposed - a gaping maw howling in rage at the perpetrators.

Sad times.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Lost Soul

I am thankful to my pal Steve who gave me a heads-up that the documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau was playing in Nottingham. I went to see it a few nights ago and I can assure you it's a corker.

The producers did an excellent job of giving what felt like quite a fair appraisal of the ill-fated exploits of the cast and crew on their remote set in Northern Australia. While it is clear that Stanley's vision would have made a far more interesting film than actually emerged, the trials and tribulations are thoroughly investigated and the documentary excites on a level beyond the simple teasing of a hypothetical masterpiece. On this note, many of the interviewees (including Stanley himself) are hilarious and special mention should go to Marco Hofschneider who seems like a really nice person caught in the centre of an increasingly bizarre madhouse (culminating in being, quite literally, punched "in the nuts" by the dwarf who went on to steal his screentime). Notably absent are Val Kilmer and David Thewlis, the first of whom comes off very badly, while the latter is barely mentioned.

Stanley is refreshingly dry and up-front about his interest in, and use of, witchcraft. He explains that he asked "Skip", a friend of his, to perform some magical fixes to get him the gig. I am not sure how serious to take him when Stanley goes on to exlain that his misfortunes were due to Skip falling ill and all his work unravling. This results in lightening hitting the filmmakers' mother's house and hyenas being seen by her neighbours (and there were hyenas on the wallpaper where Stanley was staying... so it all makes sense, y'know?). I did notice that on the bookshelf behind Stanley was the book Werewolves and Shape Shifters: Encounters with the Beasts Within by John Skipp and I wondered if this was the "Skip" referred to.

Regardless of the merits of how he was treated, the experiece was clearly very hard for Stanley. He retreated afterwards to a remote ruin in Monts├ęgur, France where he has only more recently returned to the commercial world of film. He freely admits that he feels far more at home amongst the stones of the Cathar strongholds and the memories of the dead than he did amongst the machinery of Hollywood. He likens himself to a Moreau figure, and I hope the world will remember him for his pioneering and unique vision and not the filmic bloodbath in which it culminated.

Some of the amazing concept art produced by Graham Humphreys for the movie. These hint at the far deeper and more coherent themes which Stanley wanted to explore.

Marco Hofschneider - stuck it out despite being patronised by Brando, bullied by Kilmer and puched in the groin by two-foot-tall Spanish dwarf

Sunday, 17 May 2015

In the Mind’s Eye

The excellent John Coulthart posted this video earlier in the week. It's a sceptical looks at ghost phenomena broadcast in 1977.

The documentary concerns the 'Phantom Vicar of Ratcliffe Wharf'. It transpires this spectre is not all he was reputed to be, and the (occasionally hokey) journey the viewer is taken on delves into an analysis of how folklore is constructed and perpetuated.

The examination is rather cursory, but the show is endearing for being wonderful window into 70s London. Central to the human story is writer Frank Smyth - a bearded writer whose very serious brow looms earnestly over his pint glass. He would fit right into an East End hipster coffee-house in 2015. However, it's the shots of London's then-undeveloped docklands which excite me. The glittering glass and steel monuments to commerce which now occupy the region are nowhere to be seen, and it's easy to imagine how the dank, weed-strewn streets captured nearly forty years ago would be fertile territory for stories of murder and greed to breed.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The Nine Ladies

Not to be confused with the West Country's Nine Maidens, the Nine Ladies is a smaller formation not far from Dol Tor and the Andle Stone. Much like Dol Tor, the stones are diminutive, with barely a foot or two protruding from the soil out of the flat-ish plain of Stanton Moor. They form a fiarly organised ring, but a tenth stone, discovered in the 1970s, now adds to their number. A King Stone lies outside the circle.

The winds which had buffeted the landscape had subsided by the time we arrived at the Ladies, the last stop on our Megalighic trip. The woods that surround the stones stand at a respsectful distance and give them shelter. The sun had come out by this time, and the clearing was warm and peaceful. The King Stone watches over his ladies as they, in turn, watch whoever stands in their midst. I can't help thinking that, as so many menhirs were erected on high ground, watching was an important part of their duties.

But who watches the watchmen?

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Dol Tor

Dol Tor was our second stop in my recent megalithic road trip. It is quite the opposite of the Andle Stone - a small, intimate circle buried amongst the trees at the edge of a wood. Indeed, standing on the Andle, one can almost see the Tor a few hundred metres away.

Built around 2000-1500BC Dol Tor comprises of a circle of small megaliths and a cairn. The stones are barely a couple of feet high, and feel like a nervous little heard of animals grazing below the pine trees. The cairn is now no more than a pile of mossy rocks - a damp, soft shadow, no doubt, of somehting that was once far more solid that gave up and caved-in as the years rolled by. The land beside the circle has been quarried but since left to overgrow. The resulting ravine is a verdant slash in the landscape, over which the heard of megaliths now watch.

While the plaque beside the circle describing its origins is well meant, I found it rather confusing. Since the first serious excavation and recording of the site in the 1930s, the stones have been moved about and re-arranged. However, the sign reproduces the 1930s plan. We stood there, somewhat baffled, for some minutes trying to equate the arrangement of the real world with that of the diagram. On reflection, this situation perhaps encapsulates modern man's dilemma when finding any megalith or circle.

Someone had scrawled "I did it" below the note describing the inconsistency.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Bronze Age adventures; the Andle Stone

Last weekend I spend a great afternon trucking about Derbyshire looking at megaliths and stone circles.

I set out armed with a few choice tools. The Modern Antiquarian by Julian Cope is a must-have gazeteer of all things megalithic. Its design is rather of-its-time and screams of the late 1990s, but it is still a thing of wonder. Plus you'll never loose it thanks to the hazard-orange and blue foil treatment on the cover. A canvas bag and leather jacket are staples of any self-respecting retronaut, and the former held my Nikon FM. I was really keen to get the thing out again as I've not used it for a couple of years and missed the satisfying pop-and-ku-thunk of the shutter. I also love the 70s braid strap I found for it, which kind of makes me feel like Dennis Hopper on assignment. The FM functions mechanically and does not require power - only the light meter uses the tiny batteries inserted under the chassis. Which is ace since they failed in the cold so I had to guess the exposure. Let's see how that pans out when I finish the reel of ISO400 black and white... All the photos you'll see are taken with my Samsung S3 (which I'm very impressed with).

Our first stop was the Andle Stone on Stanton Moore. This is a boulder sitting on a mound which has since had a dry stone wall added to one side. It has hand holds carved into one side and is ripe for climbing. Various bits of graffiti are engraved on its surface including dedications to servicemen from the nineteenth century. These give this vast, natural rock a weird air of po-faced-state-approval. There are bushes around much of the stone and from certain angles it pokes above the foliage like a nervous animal in a thicket. It's a sturdy thing and would undoubtedly have been a choice landmark for our ancestors.

Next up is Doll Tor.