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! 

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - MICROGORIA 41 - The Beaver Book of Horror

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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 - 

DIRECT DOWNLOAD -  Zombi Zombi Part 11 - White Zombie

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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.

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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...