May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose…

Picture of author in desert not singing the bird songI used to sing this song to my daughter when she was little. Although my version was a little more comically oriented than even the original of this comedy song. I made ripping noises for the “hose” bit, an elephant trumpeting noise for the “caress you with it’s toes” part, and a sneeze always accompanied the “up your nose” lyric. As a little one, she found this hysterically funny and as a frustrated actor, I could be counted upon to perform this little tune at the drop of a hat.

You may well ask just why I’ve brought this up at a time when I’m recounting my most recent experiences in the desert of the great American West? It is simple really, this has to do with the polite version of what runs through my head as cars speed past an old geezer who would kill for a lift, with anyone (hell even Jack the Ripper) just to get off his aching feet.

Once I arrived here, sans car, did rush around to get a second hand bike. Typically, there were no bikes on sale anywhere and only by chance did one appear. A Chinese made yellow thing with dodgy gears and a seat designed to make gang rape from a gang of Hell’s Angels seem like a walk in the park by comparison. (I still haven’t gotten used to the seat and my search for a gel cover or the equivalent has been hindered by location and funds, meanwhile…OUCH)

In one week, I fell twice in the desert. Once because of not paying attention to where I was going and the other time because I was unused to the terrain. (Not to say I’m paranoid, but after the second, very painful incident, to a casual observer I must appear to be looking very intently for change on the desert floor. Of course in the middle of the desert these observers would most like be animals who think I’m some odd looking creature hunting for food?)

To be fair to myself, I was banged up pretty badly. Left knee swollen and bruises all the way down my left leg, left wrist bruised and hand swollen with very limited movement and a nasty knock to the cheekbone and forehead. My old body repaired itself “on the move” while still walking or riding around 12 to 14 miles each day.

Author self portrait
Self portrait of wounds sustained by punching the desert floor with my face.

The fact that it was wearing on me registered with low grade cold symptoms, shivering then sweating. Aching all over, not just on the wounded parts, and feeling “to the bone” tired; so much so that I’ve taken three days off from walking anywhere apart from in the RV.

But, I digress, this written “rant” has to do with walking and riding along the road. For the most part, since my arrival, people have been friendly. There is some idiot, not what I refer to him in my mind, I assure you, who I stumble across intermittently when biking.

Coming up behind me, he lays on his horn and then seems to be making some sort of rude gesture as he passes. I can’t really see, the hand signal is really wasted on an old fellow who’s seen, heard and particapted in most rude behaviour, words and gestures in the world – hello, Prison Officer, nor am I bothered.

The other behaviour includes his aping my open-mouth gasping for air as I go up hills. This is done as he passes the other way. Such infantile behaviour must wildly amuse this chap as he never ceases to do it. As for me, I’m just glad that I can entertain someone with so little effort.

My first couple of weeks here, I got lots of offers for lifts, both to and from town. Some I took, others I politely declined, either because I was nearly home or the amount of dogs in the vehicle made it too messy to consider. The point here is that when I first got here, my trips took a long time and were not quite so taxing on the system. As the days passed and the journey became everyday, this changed.

Since part of my reason for being here is to start writing for another site, Viral Global News while beginning to tear myself away from WordPress.com to WordPress.org. The fact that the RV doesn’t have Internet, apart from this odd sort of 2G/3G hotspot rubbish I’m tapping into now, means that walking or riding to town for WiFi is a necessity. And before someone starts in on “why don’t you get Internet at the RV,” remember funds are a serious issue as my last site of employment still owes me money and the Queen’s ill-health pension is TINY.

*On a sidenote, if you’ve not done so already, head over to the above mentioned website. There you’ll find a few of my entertainment pieces and a group of nice folks who are not intent upon living off their writing team.*

As time has moved on, the 12 – 14 mile round trip to town and back has gotten harder. The very fact that I’ve had to slink around the RV for three days and sleep a lot, means that as well as hard, it’s been exhausting. It has also been a lesson in human nature, mine and the drivers who pass me by.

Stock picture of ambulance

Blisters, aching joints, bruises and walking slower and slower because of the aforementioned ailments, makes the traveler unreasonable in his (in other words my) expectations of the vehicles passing by. I should point out that after a very scary experience in Arkansas in 1980 and then later a very unnerving one in England, I never stop for hitchhikers unless I know them, personally. At least two folks who stopped to pick me up when I first got here were neighbors who know my parents.

Rather unsurprisingly, after an incident (which I will not go into here) in the neighborhood, these rides have stopped. Such is life and no harsh feelings for the change of sentiment. This left, like Blanche from “Streetcar Named Desire,” a reliance upon the kindness of strangers and, to be fair, a few stopped.

An old chap (as in much older than I), a miner, or prospector, and an older female locksmith. That has been it. I decided that the backpack I’ve been using to cart my suddenly very heavy MacBook Pro to and from town may have the drivers thinking I am a desert rat. The attitude toward these nomadic denizens in the area is not a generous one.

I changed my attire and traded my backpack for the Next “manbag” and put on a pair of cowboy boots instead of my swat boots. The result was blisters on both my heels and no ride. The next day the swats were back, as was the backpack, and I rode the blisters to town and back. Then came my enforced three day break.

I will use this medium to apologise now to all the cars and their drivers who passed me by, except for the bozo who takes the piss when I ride my bike. My thoughts about you, your family and your ancestors were unfair and colored by pain and frustration. To give myself credit, I always smiled, waved, and/or waved back at the cars as they passed, while thinking the blackest and darkest of thoughts, and acting like this lack of human kindness did not bother me.

“May the Bird of Paradise Fly up Your Nose” may not be what I was thinking but I am pretty sure I was thinking some variation of this sentiment. On the other side of the coin, and then I will shut up about this topic, I also did not run into any nuts or homicidal maniacs either, although I did keep my pepper spray handy when given a ride or an offer of one from a stranger. I’ll end on this positive note, as one dear friend, and my daughter, noted; if I survive this grueling daily trek, I’ll be in the best shape of my life.

4 February 2015

The Strain Occultation: Total Eclipse of New York (Recap and Review) *May Contain Spoilers*

The Strain Occultation: Total Eclipse of New York (Recap and Review)
*May Contain Spoilers*

After last week’s episode, where Abraham remembered his original “introduction” to the master at the Nazi death camps, this week in The Strain Occultation: New York undergoes a total eclipse of the sun while the Master’s plan of spreading the parasite gains momentum. Before the sun disappears behind the moon, the FBI go to Eph’s house and it’s apparent that his old CDC boss is in league with Thomas Eichorst and wants Goodweather out of the way.

Ash by James Herbert: The Final Journey

Unknown

I will admit that I had no idea that another David Ash book existed until I read the obituary-type articles after James Herbert died this month. Despite my obvious shock at the news that one of my favourite horror writers (he has always had a place of honour in my very small stable of great horror master’s) had been dispatched to the great unknown realms of death, I was intrigued  enough to buy an eBook copy for reading.

As a grand finale or final gesture, it was the best David Ash story yet. Although, if you look at the reviews on Goodreads, it appears that I am in the minority of readers who actually enjoyed the book. I am left wondering if those critical of the tale even read the same tome that I just finished. It is, to be frank, puzzling.

In this last ever David Ash investigation, David has been obligated by his employer Kate McCarrick to find the cause of the violent hauntings at Comraich Castle; a sanctuary for the criminal rich who can afford it. Run by the shadowy and overly influential Inner Circle, the castle’s dangerous spirits have already injured one paying guest and the spokesman for the Comraich, Sir Simon Maseby wants the haunting stopped at all costs.

While travelling in the Castle‘s private jet, David meets Dr Delphine Wyatt, the exotically beautiful psychologist who works at the retreat and who will turn out to be his only ally in his upcoming battle with the ancient evil that is trying to destroy Comraich Castle. An evil whose power has grown beyond all expectations and is aided by a living evil who also wants to destroy the Castle and all those in it.

James Herbert’s last book has everything but the kitchen sink in it. He has returned to his roots as a writer and once again has grabbed his readers by the lapel and screamed in their face.

I loved it.

His story of the intrigue and the corruption that permeates the government and the royal family is mesmerizing. The depiction of the “inner circle'” group who orchestrates the cover-ups that prevent the royal’s and the government from horrific publicity is, quite frankly, scary on its own. Add to this the evil that has grown so powerful that it can harm living beings and influence their actions makes this mix of terror damn near too scary for comfort.

There are a bunch of Scottish wildcats who “haunt” the hunting grounds around the castle that will give you nightmares and they are just a small portion of the evil things that lurk in the shadowy recesses of the castles halls and dungeons.

I could not turn the electronic pages fast enough as I became immersed in David Ash’s last ever case. When I finally reached the end of the book, I let out a sigh of relief and sadness as I realised that I’d never again get to vicariously live through any further David Ash adventures.

I am going to miss James Herbert’s prodigious output of work, he averaged a book a year, and not once was I unimpressed with his story and the originality of his plots and the comfortable feelings that his characters evoked. Unless of course they were scarily evil then the feelings that they generated were not of a comfortable ilk.

In my humble opinion, which is the only opinion that I can have, it is the best David Ash yet. It is always a very bittersweet experience reading the  last ever adventure of one of your favourite characters. I had the same feeling when I read the last ever Travis McGee book. Of course that was slightly different as I read the book before I’d learned of the author’s (John D MacDonald) passing. But the feeling was the same when I thought of the book.

So Rest In Peace David Ash, may you never be forgotten as one of the most believable creations of the fertile mind that was James Herbert.

A real 5 star ending to a 5 star character.

Author James Herbert promoting his last book on the bbc September 2012.
Author James Herbert promoting his last book on the bbc September 2012. RIP James.

RIP James Herbert (8 April 1943 – 20 March 2013): Ash to Ashes

Unknown-1

My good friend John Mountain over at Written in Blood was kind enough to “inadvertently” inform me of author James Herbert‘s death. I’d been “out of sync” with real life matters and in so doing had missed the news of Herbert’s untimely death on Wednesday the 20th of March this year.

He will be greatly missed.

James Herbert was initially an art director for an advertising agency (courtesy of Wikipedia) before becoming a full-time writer. A writer who designed his own book covers and did all his own publicity. He was also a writer who used to “scare the pants” off me and his other faithful readers.

With his novel The Rats and the subsequent sequels to it, Lair and Domain, he gave me an almost pathological fear of English rats. His vermin villains were bigger and smarter than your average British rat and in 2008 when I visited my daughter in her first apartment at Uni and saw a rat as big as a small dog, it wasn’t ringing the council that first sprang to my mind, it was James Herbert and his über scary rats.

Stephen King once said of Herbert that he was the type author who “grabbed his reader’s lapels and screamed into their faces [sic]” and his early books did just that. Who can forget the images that his scenes of horror evoked?

The legless dog stumping towards the letterbox in The Dark; the harsh headmaster who has his genitals cut off in The Fog; and as mentioned above, the rats in The Rats.

But his horror story skills evolved over the years, just as his novels evolved. He could tell a damned fine fantasy horror story and stories that, although steeped in the horror verse, were more sophisticated and complex than his earlier works. He had made the transition from the “pulps” to the slick world of mainstream horror fiction.  I have read every book published by James Herbert and loved them all.

But my favourite books of Herbert’s dealt with David Ash. The guilt-ridden paranormal investigator who fought an internal battle against his own psychic abilities. The man who was haunted by first his own sister and later by an entire family of ghosts in Haunted; then an entire village in The Ghosts of Sleath  and finally with the ghosts (?) in an exclusive madhouse in Ash; his last book published just before his untimely death.

Years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing James Herbert on late-night telly. He has come on some program not to plug his latest book, but because he a was a rock fan who was actually touting his favourite bands next tour. He wore a heavy metal t-shirt and his hair was long and he seemed like one helluva nice guy.

I remember thinking, ‘That’s James Herbert??’ The guy who has managed to scare the hell out of me in almost all his books? I was shocked at just how nice the chap seemed. Herbert, who was awarded an OBE  in 2010, was an author who never really quite believed his success and never really felt comfortable with the praise and adulation that his books brought about.

I am, rather sadly, reading the last book of Herbert’s (Ash) and while reading it I can’t help but ponder a world without James Herbert. His books sold over 42 million copies worldwide (Wikipedia) and he has been a personal favourite of mine ever since I first picked up one of his books (The Fog – 1975) in 1982 from a USAF base bookstore.

Apart from my heartfelt sympathy for his family (his wife and three daughters) and close friends I’d like to express my own fond farewell. “So long mate, I say mate because in my mind I feel that anyone who can so consistently entertain and scare the bejeezus out of me is a friend.  You certainly brought more than your fair share of talent to the party. You will be missed by me and millions of other people around the world. Rest in peace mate.”

RIP James Herbert (8 April 1943 – 20 March 2013).
RIP James Herbert (8 April 1943 – 20 March 2013).

And in the News Today, Everything’s Gone a Little Weird

English: Logo of Headlines Today
English: Logo of Headlines Today (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I get up this morning and as usual I start skimming the web. I am looking for news that I find interesting, funny, exciting, irritating or just strange. This morning I found a wealth of  headlines that  made my eyebrows shoot up towards my almost non-existent hairline.

Entire firework display explodes – this was a video that fit the bill of funny and irritating. Of course I would find it funny, I didn’t fight crowds of people to see it live. Nor did I have to pay for parking and then have to fight to get back to my car when the fifteen second display finished. But for the folks who attended, I think maybe irritated would be the order of the day, or in this case night. I wonder if San Diego will try to make it up to the citizens, legal and illegal, who attended the show.

Imogen Thomas shows cleavage – I don’t know who Imogen is, but, I am pleased for her I guess. This one falls straight into the irritating category. If I hadn’t seen the other “headlines” I would have thought it was a slow news day.

Man dies as road swallows car – this one is brilliant. The mental picture you get while reading this one is funny. I got an image of a road sprouting a mouth, opening wide and working it’s muscles literally swallowing the car. The reality, while nowhere near as graphic or fantasy filled, is just as strange. Two people driving in China and the road literally opens up into a five metre hole “that about thirty some odd feet for you non-metric folks out there). Funny with a touch of sad, since one of the unfortunate motorist died.

Pencil Pierces Brain of Two-Year-Old Girl – Pretty self explanatory this one. A toddler on her way to bed falls and almost gives herself a DIY Lobotomy. Luckily for her it did not result in a more fatal injury. Strange and a little interesting. It kind of feels like a ‘human interest’ story in shorthand.

Base jumper survives 120m fall – Another ‘it does what it says on the label’ type story. Guy’s jump goes wrong and he free falls 393 feet and survives. Luckily he landed in snow, so he only fractured about every bone in his body. But…he lived. Another strange and interesting one.

Okay, so admittedly, these ‘headlines’ were all about the video news. These items were all produced by ITN (aka ITV 3) and they were picked presumably because of their diverse nature. Well they certainly caught my eye.

They funny thing is, all these stories made me think of the video equivalent of The National Enquirer. The “newspaper” that used the tagline, “Because inquiring minds want to know,” has been a supermarket favourite for years. *About fifty in fact.*

A lot of people, mainly celebrities, despise the Enquirer. I’ve always found it quirky and downright weird. With is old ‘yellow journalistic’ style of writing I’ve always been drawn to it if for no other reason than to give it a quick scan while waiting in the check-out queue.

The Enquirer used to boast great eye-catching headlines like: Toddler eaten by rats while horrified mother watches, Elvis is alive and living in the back of my car, and Freakish sea monster eats entire ship. I mean just the headlines alone, made for great imaginative skim reading.

While those video ‘headlines’ I saw this morning  don;t quite match the tasteless ingenuity of The National Enquirer they are, at least, the spiritual blood-brother of the paper. It is nice to see that with all the horrible, scary and depressing  news that we are usually bombarded  with someone has made time for the weird and the wonderful.