Tuesday, November 13, 2007


I often watch the series Grumpy Old Men on the BBC. Amusing as I find it, I try not to sound like them. However, as I am frequently having technology forced on me, I do find a little grumping in order.
For a start, I was quite happy with five television channels. Then came digital. Did I want it? Not really, there wasn't enough on to tempt me. Then the option was taken away. 'Analogue is to be removed, so go digital or lose your television programmes.' So last year I bought a digi-box, and now I know how Springsteen must have felt when he wrote 57 Channels and nothing on!
Well fine, no doubt the government will rake in a fortune in tax, from the sales, as millions of people purchase digi-boxes. Mind you, as all future TV's will be made digital as a matter of course, those millions of boxes are going to form an impressive pile of environment-unfriendly rubbish in a few years time.
Okay, not my problem; but I do feel as if I have been blackmailed into making an upgrade. And it's not the first time. For years, I was happy with the cheaper Internet Dial-up system. Then a year ago my server started bombarding me with suggestions and offers to upgrade, all of which I ignored. Then all of a sudden, I couldn't get on-line; I'd dial up, ten minutes later the screen would freeze; or I'd be shut out with a 'Page Cannot Be Displayed' message; or the whole process would die the death after about 20 minutes. So I went broadband ... and my problems were miraculously solved. Of course, I'm still using the same computer I bought back in 2000 (when we finally discovered that the Millennium Bug was a load of bull) so I'm no better off.
Now, I certainly wouldn't accuse my server of sabotaging the internet access I was paying them a monthly fee for; but when I change computers, it is certain that I shall be dispensing with their services; I can't do much about the digital revolution, but I can certainly choose who I surf with.
Haven't quite finiahed grumping yet, as I have had to visit the dentist; and like most people, I am finding it rather costly without the services of the NHS.
I saw a picture of a chap in the papers a few weeks ago who, rather rashly, had pulled his own teeth out with a pair of pliers, rather than pay a dentists bill. Now, in need of a cap and a filling, I know how he feels ... It's bloody expensive ! Still, I'm rather attached to my gnashers, so it's money I'll have to spend; but like the extra pounds I'm forking out for the broadband, it's money I begrudge.
Anyway, back to digital TV. There is a new channel with my name on. 'Dave' came about because, it seems, just about everyone has a mate called Dave, and this is intended as a 'blokes' channel. Every time I flip it on, there is a repeat of 'Top Gear' or 'A Question Of Sport'. If I cared to tune in later (which I don't!) There are repeats of 'Never Mind The Buzzcocks', or some crappy banter show with Stephen Fry. Wow! If they must have a channel with my name on, you'd think they could show some decent bleeding programmes. (As you can guess, I'm not impressed:-( )
Anyway, Christmas is coming, a time of year that usually sends my grumping into overdrive. Still, it's a great time for ghost stories, and one of mine 'The Shadow on the Bridge', will be going on-line next month. Keep watching this space for details. (In other words, I'll be posting a link.)
Be seeing you.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


FantasyCon 2007, and a second trip to Nottingham; a city that would probably like to forget that rather unfortunate nickname. Well, the men who put the 'Shot' into Nottingham are now behind bars, so maybe it's time to drag out that old chestnut, The Legend of Robin Hood. Not, of course, gory enough for the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror buffs descending on the Britannia hotel for a weekend's grue-fest.
Day one was also my birthday, so a good drink was in order. Acquaintances old and new turned up, and while it was a little quieter than the previous year, there was still much to enjoy.
First evening, and we went out looking for The Taj Mahal, an all-you-can-eat for a tenner joint we had found last year; but in the maze of streets we had no chance, and settled on a Turkish establishment, which generously handed out free fruit and Turkish Delight once we had paid for our meal. That night I was in the company of Ally Byrd, Stuart Young and John Travis. It had been a great way to spend the evening.
The next day I paid a visit to Nottingham Castle, where a Gala day was in full flow; men on stilts, an opera singer, various events to entertain the children. Best of all, the admission fee for the day had been waived, so I could enjoy a free visit.
In the film show room, they were screening a half-hour documentary about the cave systen under the castle (built on top of a hill). Another convention-goer, Bill Webb, had also drifted into that show and we decided to take the tour. Which we did, after a brief return to the hotel for some dinner.
The tour was an hour long, and as it entailed walking through about a mile of caves, it was not an adventure to be taken by the seriously underfit. Our tour guide was a young lady called Cath, who related the tales of torture, murder and execution with such relish, it was clear that she would have enjoyed a visit to the FantasyCon herself. We emerged at the bottom of the cliff, right next to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. Tempting, but we returned to the hotel.
That night, it was once again 'off-for-a-curry', and Nottingham native Alison L.R. Davies had booked an Indian restaurant called Chutneys. She'd asked for 16 places; luckily, they were able to accommodate the 20-plus who eventually turned up.
That night came the obligatory raffle, and this year there was a little twist. I had donated several books and an old video. They made a note of my name, something they had never done before, and I soon found out why. As the tickets were drawn, there was not only a description of the prize, but a mention of the donor, and as the M.O.C Michael Marshall Smith name-checked me several times (This has been donated by David Price' ... David Price has generously donated this book after reading it' ... Still getting through prizes donated by David Price!' ...), I was glad that (with the exception of that video --- a 1980 horror film called Alligator) I hadn't handed over the kind of shite I'd dumped on them in the past. Well, they said they were looking for quality control, and they might well have ensured it for future raffles.
Next day was the annual FantasyCon awards, and this time I actually attended the whole thing. A big winner was Joe Hill, whose debut novel Heart-Shaped Box, I had recently enjoyed. Mind you, there had been rumours about him at previous conventions ... something about his father. I'd checked his website, but there'd been no mention of his father. Finally, we we were let in on Joe Hill's little secret. And you know ... I'd never have guessed.
Most of the guests drifted away after that, so after the usual round of handshakes and farewell's, I made my way to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. And a pleasant evening it was; swapping ghost stories with a writer called Marion Arnott, and then playing a bizarre game called 'Baiting the Bull'. Basically, there is a bull's horn on a plaque nailed to the wall; a brass ring on a length of string hanging from the roof; and you hurl that ring at the horn in a bizarre variation of the hoopla game. On the wall are past pictures of game champions (called 'The Lords of the Ring' ... I'm not kidding!) Three of us played, I was the only one who failed miserably to ring the horn. All the same, it had been fun.
The following morning I had a final slap-up breakfast before taking a walk to the railway station. It was all over for another year. I'll be back; but that trek through the caves of Nottingham Castle showed me that I really did need to get in shape. Salads from now on, I think.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

MY KIND OF TOWN (Memories of Chicago - 2002)

(In the past, I have written about my conventions. However, when I attended my first American one, Blogs did not exist. At the time, I was hanging out on a website called 'Terror Tales', and the writer Paul Kane asked me to supply an account. The site is long gone, but I made a record of that article. The flowing appeared in April of that year.)

I arrived in Chicago at around 18:00 hrs, US time, and when the free hotel shuttle failed to turn up, I took a white-knuckle taxi ride to the hotel (courtesy of a driver who spoke very little English, but certainly had endless colourful descriptives for the other road users!). Arriving at the reception, I booked in and then went to my room.
First thought; wow ... is this all mine?
With all due respect for British hotels, their rooms tend to be matchbox affairs in which the bed accounts for most of the floor space. This room had two double beds, a writing desk, a large television, and a comfortable armchair (with footrest) if you fancied settling down in front of it. Hey, welcome to America!

Thirsty after a nine hour flight, I made my way to the bar ... and promptly bumped into RazorBlade press editor, Darren Floyd. I ordered a can of Fosters (and got a can the size of a small bucket!) then ambled over to a group of familiar faces; Darren's wife June, Stuart Young, Mark Samuels, Chris Teague and Gary Greenwood. My convention had started in earnest. However, my first night didn't exactly go according to plan. A night in a Blues Club had been arranged, but no-one at reception seemed to know anything about it. So I registered at the convention desk, dumped the obligatory goody bag in my room, and returned to the foyer ... only to discover that the bus had turned up, and everyone had buggered off without me.
(Er, cheers lads ... thanks a bloody bunch!)

Anyway, I met up with Mick Sims, who introduced me to a writer called Paul Melniczek, and the three of us spent the evening chatting about the independent press in the hotel bar. It was here that Paul encouraged me to try a rather tasty American brew called Samuel Adams beer, which was the closest thing to British Ale there was, and became my favoured tipple for the rest of the convention. At eleven 0'clock I trotted off to my hotel room, thinking that a good night's sleep would get me over the jet-lag. However, I woke up at 04:30 in the morning, so that was something else that hadn't gone according to plan.

So, day 2, and yours tuly is up bright and early. Mark McLaughlin and an enthusiastic troupe were performing his story, 'When We Was Flab', and at this point, I met up with Matt Cardin for the first time. Later that day he joined me, Chris, Darren and June, Mark Samuels and Stuart Young on a trip into Downtown Chicago. With map in hand, June acted as our guide, and we went via the subway. In the big city Itself, I saw a difference. At the lights crossing the road, you stop when a palm-up hand is dispalyed, cross when it's a little white man. But ... the lights tend to change when you are halfway across and the drivers in Chicago take no prisoners. In an incident that can only happen in America, a driver became so incensed with the behaviour of a cyclist that he got out of his van, and the two of them had a stand-up argument in the middle of the road ... at a busy intersection with cars streaming past them on both sides, horns blaring. Still, pressing on, we let them get on with it. (The cyclist passed us a few minutes later, throwing a very rude gesture over his shoulder!)

First up, food. So we entered a pokey little basement bar, where a bartender refused to serve us without identification. Never mind, a deli served up some very filling club sandwiches (a tuna mix called a Sorry Charlie went down a treat) and a carton of Root Beer. Then it was on to The John Hancock Tower, where yet another plan was kicked into touch. We had planned to go to the top of the building for a spectacular view of Chicago, but, in spite of the fact that we had terrific weather for the rest of the convention, a low cloud enshrouded the top of the building, and they wouldn't allow us to go up. So we had coffee, bought souvinirs in a gift shop, and pressed on into The Windy City.
Inevitably, we ended up in a bookstore before the exotic clothes shops lured June and Dazza away, and we had to make our way back to the subway, sans our guide. By chance, we all met up again outside O'Hare airport, while we were waiting for the shuttle to take us back to The Radisson Hotel. That night, I attended my first party.
Now at British conventions, in the evening, we retire to the bar for a quiet chat. In America they take over hotel rooms, fill a bathtub up with ice, and drink until the early hours of the morning. They also like to dress up. One women walked around with a decaying corpse (plastic) strapped to her back, other's dressed in outrageous goth outfits. At some point, Mick Sims introduced me to Phil J. Locasio, a Chicago-based writer starting to make a name for himself in the independent press. He found my reference to 'the tube station' instead of 'the subway' hysterical. Maybe the term has a sexual connotation in America. Mind you, I think he had rather generously availed himself of the hotel's hospitality at that point.
Oh yes, there were shenanigans with blow-up dolls and the like, but enough said on that score.
I had quite an eventful time of it myself. First, I got talking to a goth woman who had really gone the whole hog; skimpy dress, fangs in her mouth, weird catlike contact lenses.
"Let's pose for a photograph," I suggested.
"Sure, down on your knees, big boy."
Then I was cornered by a Welsh woman who had lived in Canada most of her life. She, too, had availed herself of the hospitality, and bent my ear, big time, about 'the olde home town' (which she couldn't even remember!) for the next half hour. I also have vague mamories of Tim Lebbon waving a severed hand around (wax) but by that time, I was in a delightful alcoholic haze myself. At around two in the morning I retired to bed with a huge grin on my face. God Bless America:-)
In spite of the much-improved weather, we didn't venture back into the city the next day. There were books to be bought, prize-givings to attend, panels that you just had to go to.
In the morning, I went with Matt Cardin to a talk by an American actress called Patricia Tallman, who had starred in the series 'Babylon 5'. It took a while to find the room, and when we got there, the talk had already started. Still, just slip in quietly.
Of course, it was the one room with a step, I didn't see it, and I lumbered into the room like a baby elephant.
"Hey. fellah, mind the step back there. Come on in, there's a couple of seats right here in the front."
I really needed that!
Still, we made our way to the seats. It was easy to understand Matt's enthusiasm; for she was a very attractive lady, even if she did manage to talk at twice the speed of sound, and I enjoyed her anecdotes about the series, and the films she had worked on (like Jurassic Park). However, it was the afternoon lecture that I was keen to attend. John Wayne Gacy was Chicago's most notorious murderer, killing over 300 men and burying them under his house. The speaker was one of the prosecuting lawyers, and he gave a very detailed - and fascinating - account of Gacy's life, murder's, arrest and trial. Over a hundred people attended, and a Q & A session took the lecture almost an hour over schedule. It had still been well worth attending.
That night we wandered from party to party, bursting forth into song, drinking, posing for bizarre photographs, attending a way-out goth disco (which resembled a scene from The Vampire Chronicals) and generally having a good time. But the next morning was Sunday, and most of the guests - including Mark Samuels and Stuart Young - were leaving. It was all over bar the shouting, so I went with Chris Teague, Dazza and June to a Chicago diner (not one of us finished the titanic portion placed in front of us) then returned to the hotel bar for an hour before seeking out the last of the parties. The next day I went home on the same plane as Chris Teague. I'd had a great time, it had been agreed that WHC 2004 would be held in London, and I now have some very pleasant memories (not all of which have been included in this report!!!)
So yes, I definitely want to do it all again someday. Kansas City, Missouri, April 2003. Keep the beer on ice, guys, the Terror Scribes are oming back.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Got hold of a free DVD (well, free bar the price of a newspaper) a few weeks ago; Roger Moore in Gold, a film about goldmining in South Africa. I also have a collection of James Bond DVD's, among them Diamonds Are Forever. This took me back to the autumn of 1976; when, as a birthday treat, I went to see these films on a double bill at the long-gone Capital Cinema, in Cardiff. Don't ask me why anyone thought to put them together; both about precious gems, one starring Sean Connery as James Bond, the other starring his successor? On a whim, I watched them back to back (Gold then Diamonds Are Forever, the same order they were shown in all those years ago) on a particularly wet afternoon. And let's face it, that's the only way you'll get to see a double bill these days.

At the time, I had the choice of seeing a film in the balcony, or the stalls. Today, of course, we have the Multiplex, and films are rolled out on a conveyor belt (cinema, DVD, subscription channel) as the film-makers go for a fast buck in the celluloid version of fast food. No longer do you see banners proclaiming 'Retained for a sixteenth fantastic week!' as a film is shown every hour (every half hour, if there's a real demand for it) until it has exhausted it's box office potential. This also means no more queueing around the block (which I also sort of miss; did I really queue up for an hour and a half to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind , back in 1978, and Grease, a few months later?)

And so it's a farewell to the double bill, but I saw some good one's. James Bond couplets were a regular event. Horror films, of course; I first saw The Exorcist on a rerun with Exorcist 2 - The Heretic, when they showed the sequel first; David Cronenberg's Shivers & Rabid was a spectacularly stomach churning pairing, while Magnum Force and The Enforcer introduced me to Dirty Harry (I can't think why they showed the two sequels instead of the original, either).
In the months leading up to the realease of The Return of the Jedi, Star Wars & The Empire Strikes Back were screened under the banner heading 'Together and as they should be seen - on the big screen'. Sequels, of course, were a regular event; Rocky & Rocky 2, Every Which Way But Loose & Any Which Which Way You Can. You could certainly get your monies worth in those days, as film makers tried to grab that little bit extra at the box office.

There is a fascinating 60's trailer on the 'extra's' selection of one of my Bond DVDs.
'Can one film contain this much adventure? Can one film contain this much excitement? Can one film contain this many girls? ... NO! Catch 'Thunderball' & 'You Only Live Twice' at a cinema near you!.
Sadly, those days have gone forever. CGI is king, an good stories have (all but ) been sacrificed for a compendium of ever more improbable action sequences; spectacular, but when the cast are reduced to special effects themselves, it's difficult to get involved. 28 Days Later was a gripping tale of survival, 28 Weeks Later was a shooting match where the plight of the survivors took second place to the carnage. Bruce Willis became a star in Die Hard, then walked through the sequels; John McClane is now the sum of his one-liners (or 'zingers' as they are known in the trade). Films just aint what they used to be.

Or are they? What's with all these frigging remakes? The Omen was a pointless cash-in on the 06-06-06 release date.
Forgetting the debacle that was Sly Stallone in Get Carter, The Long Good Friday is to suffer the indignity of a Chicago-set rehash (somebody kick the moron who greenlighted this blasphemy ... IMMEDIATELY!)
What was the point of The Hitcher with Sean Bean, or The Hills Have Eyes? Now, it seems, we're going to get The Fly (a remake of a remake!) . Ocean's 13 was a sequel to a sequel to a remake. Was The Hills have Eyes 2 a remake of a sequel to the original, or a sequel to the remake of the original? Who cares, these films usually go straight to DVD, or they are costly flops like the recent Poseidon. Peter Jackson's 'King Kong' is a nice companion to the 1933 original, but that is a unique exception to the rule (Casino Royale doesn't really count as a remake, even if it is the 3rd version of the story).

In short (not that I often do things that way) get some new idea's ... And stop remaking Michael Caine films!!!

Now where was I? Oh yes, no more double bills. On second thoughts, maybe I didn't know when I was well off!

Monday, April 09, 2007


Right, having imaginitively name-checked the National Anthem, it is time to make an account of my recent visit to that rather splendid country for the 2007 World Horror Convention; the location was Toronto, and an Air Canada plane (with a decidedly ropey selection of in-flight movies) served as my mode of transport.
As luck would have it, I met up with fellow convention-goers, Mick Sims and Len Maynard, at Heathrow Airport; so, having checked through customs, we split the price of a taxi to the Marriott Hotel. And a very sumptuous place it was; I've never had a hotel room with such a huge bed.
Slowly but surely, familiar faces began to arrive; Chris Teague, Stuart Young, John Tarvis, Allyson Bird, Gary McMahon, Paul Kane and Marie O'Regan (recently married and making a honeymoon of the convention). That night, several of us made our way across the city and enjoyed a brew in a pub called 'The Elephant & Castle'. It was a very English place, only the baseball games on the television screens spoiling the illusion. I began to think that Toronto was a damn fine place to hold a convention.

Up early in the morning, and almost having to drag myself out of that wonderfully comfortable bed, I partook of a cooked breakfast before making my way to The Eaton Mall Shopping Center for a look around. Frustratingly, no-one seemed keen to open any of the shops, so I returned to the hotel empty-handed. (The shops, I later found out, opened at ten-thirty, so I bought my souvenirs later that afternoon.) Kept up with world events, courtesy of the free newspapers left outside the guest bedrooms in the mornings; nothing cheerful going on, but at least we were having a good time; so much so that - outside of the dealer room (where I tried, to no avail, not to buy any books) - we didn't get to see all that much of the convention. Still, when you travel 3000 miles to a location, you don't want to spend all your time in a hotel; and Toronto certainly had its share of attractions.
Occasionally, we chilled out in the hotel lounge bar, and it was here that we had a chat about (or, more accurately, Steve Saville delivered a lecture on the subject of) Doctor Who. Later that night, I went out with John Travis, Stuart Young and Chris Teague in search of food; however, this search ended up in the Eaton Mall, where we were served a rather mediocre chinese meal. We returned to the hotel, and ended up in the Hotel's Sport's Bar; which served an excellent pint of Guinness and became our preferred watering hole for the rest of the convention. (The women's wrestling matches, shown nightly on the television screens, had nothing to do with this preferance, I hasten to add:-)
Mind you, it was the beer at the convention parties that drove us there :-(
Guy goes to Toronto, see's a sign saying Drink Canada Dry, and says ... 'I'll certainly try!' Well we did; literally ... the provided beer was a particularly gassy brew, so we ended up drinking cans of that world famous ginger beer, which someone had provided with a great sense of occasion.
Saturday Morning, and it was time to go on our travels. Stuart Young and Ally Bird decided to stick around the convention, but I set off with Chris Teague and John Travis on a visit to that spectacular attraction, The Niagara Falls, a lady called Gill Ainsworth and her bubbly teenage daughter, Kim, joining us. Making our way to the bus station, we purchased return tickets ... and I finally got to travel on a Greyhound Bus.
Settling into a comfortable seat (blue, with a pattern of leaping greyhounds woven into the design) I enjoyed a relaxing journey that had me wondering (as I tried to stay awake and admire the Canadian scenery) why British coaches aren't nearly so comfortable. Admittedly, in The Americas they have a lot further to travel, but all the same ...
I fell into conversation with Gill, a discussion that was cut short when a sleepy young lady poked her head out of a blanket and said, "Hello - Yelling over there?"
Well no, actually, we weren't; and I certainly wasn't aware that I was taking a ride in the little madam's private bedroom; still, minutes away from our destination, I refrained from any sarcastic remarks and allowed her to resume her beauty sleep.
The Falls are a stunning natural feature, but you really need to go there dressed as an Eskimo; for this raging maelstrom is surrounded by its own private winter. Ice crystals surround the area like snow, and the crashing waters throw up a spectacular column (known as The Lady of the Mist) that rains down on the surrounding area for hundreds of yards all around. The waters of the Niagara leading up to The Falls boil like a storm-tossed sea, even when the weather is perfectly calm.
We ventured into the cave system that took us around the back of The Falls, snapped a few photographs and got thoroughly cold and wet ... but this magnificent spectacle had really made the journey to Canada worthwhile.
Back to the hotel for the climax to the convention, The Stoker Awards; a ticketed event, alas, so I was somewhat precluded; however, as the women were turning up in stunning dresses and the men had donned their best bib and tucker, I was a little underdressed in my jeans and Toronto - Canada tee-shirt. later in the bar I bought a book off Gill Ainsworth and commiserated with her failure to pick up an award for her anthology Aegri Somnia ( http://www.apexdigest.com ) .
Later that night, I attended a reading by Conrad Williams before catching the end of the Gross-out competition, in which several writers tried to see who could be the most outrageous. (The winner told the story of a man who was convinced that the ghost of his late wife was living up the butt of a dead dog ... and as that's probably too much information already, I'll leave the rest to your imagination - suffice to say, it wasn't for the faint-hearted!)
Next day was Sunday, and it was time to start saying our goodbyes. There was a closing ceremony, where we got to applaud the organizers, and then a final party in a hotel room. On a ledge, a laptop computer piped music into the room. Trust Chris Teague to place his beer bottle on that ledge! There was a clatter, a hiss of spilled beer, and a look of sheer panic on the face of Mister Teague. The lady who owned the laptop raced across the room (with impressive speed, I might add) with a handful of tissues and a catastrophe was narrowly averted. Instructing the room in general (and a somewhat sheepish Chris Teague in particular) to put their blasted bottles on the table where they belonged, she returned to her duties as hostess. That was when we decided it was time for a sharp exit to the sports bar for a last look at those female wrestlers ... er, for a final few pints of that excellent draught Guinness (ahem) before retiring for the night.
The next day, after a final visit to The Eaton Mall to buy a few gifts, I made my way (again splitting a taxi with Mick Sims and Len Maynard) to the airport; it was all over for another year.
In all, this event had had the most British feel of them all; British style pubs, a park with a statue of Winston Churchill, a panel with Peter Crowther and the estimable Ramsay Campbell thundering about the place. Now I'm back in Blighty, with some really great memories of the first World Horror Convention to take place outside of America. In 2008 it's to be held in Salt Lake City, Utah, which doesn't sound nearly so inviting ... then again, who knows? I suppose The Mormon State is as good a place as any .
And speaking of Chris Teague, here's his take on events http://www.pendragonpress.co.uk/bookpages/whc07.htm