Saturday, 31 October 2015

A Halloween Ghost story of sorts

The Returned
By Daniel Hansen

His hand jerks and waves over the tiny corpse, discharging the fat bluebottles with a reluctant buzz. A young robin, red breast towards the sky, feathers dishevelled. The fact that its tail is completely missing greatly deepens his already deep unease. The small bird is scooped from the undergrowth with one hand while the other hand smoothes the out of place feathers. It weighs practically nothing resting in his rough palm. A shallow grave is dug with a boot heel.

How can he be here? A quarter of a century has passed and it is still sooner than he thought he would be back. His wife had pulled the car over for their picnic but it had to be destiny or fate that brought him here. He had said he was just going to go urinate. What difference did another lie make now anyway? She wouldn’t come look for him when he was gone longer than was needed to void a bladder; instead she would be sat, sulky faced, in the car. The scorching sunlight, filtering through the leaves in hot white patches, does nothing to lessen his disquiet.

The path to the lagoon is over grown, the brambles no longer kept at bay by the regular passage of legs. Why did no one visit the lagoon any more? It could not have lost any of its tranquil and turquoise appeal. Of course he knows why. Its pine lined shores have haunted him for twenty five years and he has been nowhere near it. A single gagging sob forces its way out of him and he sits down hard, dirt staining his white shorts.

A fallen branch is employed to ease his passage down the bramble-choked path. The swatting branch helps but still curved barbs catch at his clothes and flesh, as if the very thorns are protesting his decision to go down there. Is he really doing this? His mind firmly repeats instructions to turn around, but his defiant legs keep taking shaky steps forward. Ahead the path curves and he is all too aware of the dreadful vista awaiting him. With mouth dry he presses on.

His eyes snap shut against the panoramic opening in the forest; the contrast is still startling. A luminous aquamarine mouth gaping from a beard of ominous towering black pine. The tongue in his mouth extends, it is abruptly thick with acrid flavours and he drags a salty forearm across its lolling pink form. Stinging eyes are forced open and set to search for the most terrible detail in this view. It lies ahead, the raised rocky mouth of the shallow stream that weakly delivers its waters into the lagoon over a wide fat lip of stone. The sensation of its smoothed and worn rock bed beneath bare feet returns to his memory with such startling strength that he steps back and stares dumbly down at his sandals. “The waters never got quite deep enough to cover the tops of my feet.” he says aloud.

It is this wet stone platform that has been the stage for a looping parade of ghastly nocturnal imagery, perpetually disrupted the sleep of his adult life. The crimson wetting the rock further, diluting into a fading pink mist as it reached the water. The sun bleached floral patterned dress, clinging to small tanned legs. He is awake now and these pictures are yet more vivid than his dreams. The limp sun hat, draped over his skull like a wilted daisy, is employed to mop up the sweat trickling down his ample forehead. His eyes slide away from the mouth of the stream to the expanse of the lagoon. His damp brow furrowing, he squints at something stirring beneath the surface. A scarlet ribbon, rising up, up from the depth of the lagoon and spreading out in a claret cloud as it reaches the surface. Dumbfounded he stares at the red spot, startling against the perfect turquoise waters, then he notices another band of scarlet snaking its way upwards. An involuntary whimper is emitted as he spies two more red clouds pooling on the lagoon surface. The red spreads out before his eyes and bleeds together, turning the whole lagoon a brilliant deep crimson.

For the second time his legs go out from under him, only this time he is sent sprawling forward, snatching pointlessly at the air until face meets dirt. There he lies, a helpless toddler; his brown and cream stripped polo shirt ridden up to his armpits, puffy, hairless white back exposed to the sun, and nostrils and mouth crammed with soil. The peaty scent takes him back to that geranium filled room, their number so great that the air was pungent. Amongst the geraniums, all dressed in black, was every living member of the family.

He has no clear memory of that room as a whole, his mind so dulled by emotion that he only took in details. Great Auntie Lena picking the salad out of her sandwiches with shaking hands. His elderly Uncle Rupert, his suit jacket looking like the night sky, flecked as it was with crumbled meringue. His cousin Stephanie, her dark hair in a tight bun, sat straight backed at the piano mastering Satie. The dried grass cuttings clinging to the knees of his little brother Thomas’ trousers where he had been playing outside. His deflated parents sat hand in hand, sunk into a red Chesterfield, faces pale but a quiet rage burning in their eyes. From that room was born the question that had always plagued him, a question of fault. Family members softly spoke lines of possible comfort; phrases like, “You can’t watch them all the time,” and that “It was just a case of tragic bad luck.” His parents were not among these softly spoken family members.

Years later, sprawled on the ground, dirt in his face, the question is still as persistent as ever. Was it his fault? Not by direct action perhaps, but by omission? He had always carried the guilt so it did not seem that amiss to also carry the blame. A muddy spit ball is hacked out onto the ground and the previously buckled legs find their strength again. There is no surprise when, risen from the forest floor, he sees that the lagoon is turquoise again; not even a fleck of red. He can sense the change from down in the soil; something has arrived, he can feel eyes on him. His skin crawls into icy bumps, his gut feels like a piece of fetid meat, gnawed and torn by writhing maggots. His hammering heart crashes blood so violently down the body’s vessels that it makes his vision bounce, and his breath come out in ragged little stutters.

A hollow, steady knocking suddenly pounds out from the stream mouth and echoes out infinitely across the lagoon. Silence, then the knocking comes again; five strong, purposeful raps. He knows exactly what it is, a spirit knocking to be let through into our world and he will let her in. The tears flow faster than the stream ahead, burning hot lines down the fear-chilled flesh of his face. He moves forward, towards the knocking. The unworldly rapping is ringing out from a point in the stream mouth hidden by a ceanothus in full pale blue bloom. Unconsciously the ceanothus bush is reached, his body moving with one motivation now; to be forgiven or to be punished. The knocking is so loud now it is the only thing left in the world, drowning out his own shakily whispered, “Come.”

Breath held in his lungs, he steps round the bush to confront the entity that has brought him back; to gaze upon the ghost he has allowed to return. In front of him, stood in the middle of the stream, grand and silhouetted, stands a huge stag. The beast’s antlers form the illusion of holding the pale sun in place in the sky. It raises one leg and then cracks out another five haunting knocks across the surface of the rock with a dense chipped hoof. There is no comprehension in his mind why she has chosen the form of a male deer, he just understands it is her. He sinks to his knees in front of the stag and he begs forgiveness through saliva and tears. His hand sinks into the tick-bitten hide of the animal, then his face joins the hands and the pleas are muffled. The deer’s ears flick violently, discharging a fly from its resting place; its black eyes, though gently weeping, show no sign of forgiveness. 

Friday, 14 February 2014

Monday, 2 September 2013

Odds and Sods (as my Father would say)

I’ve neglected this blog I know. I’ve been busy doing bits and pieces but nothing really like a finished project or piece.
I have however done the odd drawing here and there for other people. In a particularly weak attempt to make it look like I’m a really interesting person, who is working on really interesting stuff and has a really interesting blog I’m shamelessly going to palm off cards and envelopes I drew for other people on you. That’s what is happening.

Birthday card for my friend Jon. He loves Dr Who and has a unbearably stupid cat, so....
Birthday cards for 'Lesson in Scarlet' Ruth because she once wanted a tattoo of a mountain goat on a thimble and she likes unicorns.....hope she doesn't see this before wednesday because it will kinda ruin the surprise of her birthday card.

I once sent Ruth a letter clad unusually in a fairly plain envelope and her flatmate Beth totally called me on it so with the next envelope shit got real and I brought my A game.

My little brother got married this year. My sister in law was particularly found of the cat plates I had done previously. When it came to their wedding present, this happened:

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Duke's After Dark

I’m some what groggy most weekends these days; this is the direct responsibility of the Duke’s After Dark. The Duke’s After Dark is Brighton’s only regular late night cinematic event, screening cult hits and classic masterpieces (and The Note Book). I have a pathetic pride in my ability to stay awake during the actual films; my head didn’t so much nod once during a double feature of Kill Bill Volume 1 followed directly by Kill Bill Volume 2. Considering the celluloid didn’t start rolling until 11pm (the time I’d normally be climbing into bed) staying awake was an impressive life achievement. I’ve adjusted to the late night films at the Duke’s again, I first started attending their late night shows when I was about 19 and had no problem staying awake. As I started to reach my late twenties however I would find myself suddenly awaking with a startled gasp and a slug trail of drool from the corner of my mouth leading to a saliva pool neatly contained within my beard. I would then spend the next ten minutes trying to figure out how much of Shaft I had missed. So for a period of time I stopped attending and favoured sleep instead. However some years on and I have been brought out of retirement. For about the last year the Duke’s After Dark showings have become unmissable. A constant string of perfect films choices (Old Boy, Dirty Harry, Die Hard, Anchorman, Host, Goodfellas, Kill Bill, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas) has been flickering out of the Duke’s projectors of late.

As far as I can make out this current string of late night cinematic gold is largely the responsibility of one member of staff, Toby. He often appears before a film and makes a short but enthusiastic sweary announcement “I watched the first five minutes of Volume 1 earlier in here and it looks fucking amazing!” Toby is essentially a considerable taller version of me, so much so that when he is making these announcements I often feel like I am watching my own reflection elongated in a fun house mirror. Toby keeps a blog himself actually, all about film some what unsurprisingly.

People often demand of me with bemusement why I fight of sleep and go see showings of films I own at home. There are two reasons. Don’t worry I’m going to tell you both. Firstly it is a completely different experience seeing a film on the big screen. I don’t care how good your home cinema system is, it just won’t ever compare to the child like thrill I experience in the cinema. It does not matter if it is a film I’ve seen a hundred times or one I’ve never seen before I still get a swirling flutter of excitement rise in my chest as the house lights dim and discussion ebbs away. Then you just get to sit in the warm, dark womb substitute and escape into another world for a couple of hours. You just can’t achieve the same level of escapism watching a film at home. Home, where you are struggling to pay the mortgage and can see the washing you haven’t done and can be rung by cold callers. In the cinema you genuinely forget that you are not doing the job you want and that you struggle to talk to pretty girls and you get to do all this while eating treats! This experienced is only enhanced at these late night showings of classics and cults because you are in a room full of people who mostly know and love the film as much as you. I can’t tell you how heart-warming it is to be suddenly find a whole room of people yelling in unison “Get away from her, you bitch!” as the climax of Aliens unfolds.

The other reason I try to attend as many of the showings as possible is because I want to support the late night showing. Logically if you support something, the more chance there is it will keep going. The Duke of York’s was the first cinema I ever went to and my second earliest memory. My Dad took me to see Walt Disney’s Snow White when I was two or three, we sat in the balcony and ate wagon wheels (I know I was much smaller but I swear they were much bigger in the old days). I can still see Snow White’s giant face on the screen even now, my addiction was started early. It was a really big face.

The Duke of York’s is now one of the few places left that seems to be genuinely part of the ‘Brighton’ spirit. I am not confident I will express this well but these days Brighton has lost a lot of what makes it special. There seems to be a lot less organically unique and individual places and a lot more places spending vast amounts of money to try be very ‘Brighton’ (but they just seem more ‘twaty’). This is always brought home to me when I go to Austin, Texas to visit my beloved friends Lisa and Ian (check out their awesome metal band The Well why don’t you?) and they take me to Waterloo Records, I Love Video, Spider House, Draft House etc. It all just reminds me of the old Brighton, every business has a very genuine and real personality of its own…and of its staff. The Duke’s still has this spirit (and the Cineworld taking ownership of Picture House doesn’t seem to have changed this thankfully). 

The Duke of York’s has changed; it is not quite the same cinema it used to be. It’s less scrappy (a trait I always loved) but with good reason. With the development of the business and the opening of the sister cinema Duke’s at the Komedia the operation has got slicker, the cinemas are more polished. The new cinema at the Komedia is particularly lavish; the screens and sound systems are cutting edge, there are a large number of sofa seats (or what the French referred to as ‘love seats’) and the addition of a fantastic kitchen apparently on a mission to caterer to all of Brighton’s many dietary requirements (making all of Brighton’s vegans cream their pants at once). The old Duke’s has also had a make over….this largely seems to have consisted of replacing all the seating with Elmo skin covered luxury chairs. Essential the Duke’s has grown up with me, in my teens and twenties it was a scruffy little place where people smoked cannabis undisturbed during screenings of Mars Attacks, now we are both proper adults.

However the spirit remains, shall I do some examples? Yes? Okay. While the cinema was being refurbished they showed free films in Preston Park (with free popcorn). They organised showings of films with Q & A’s with cast, crew and experts (highlights for me have been The Raiders of the Lost Ark anniversary, Video Nasty discussion with a showing of Evil Dead, American Mary with the hilariously excitable Soska sisters.) They go to town on special screenings (the kids club showing of Ghostbusters saw the whole cinema coated in thick spider webbing, free foot massages before a screening of Pulp Fiction). The incredibly relaxed, informal and often funny posts on each of the cinemas facebook feeds. It all acts to give the business a personality, the personality of its staff (staff who seem to enjoy their jobs and love good cinema). It acts to make the business feel like part of the community….admittedly mostly the part of the community that buys artisan bread and reads the Guardian.

Don’t worry; I’m desperately aware this reads like an embarrassing sycophantic burst of art house gushery. Don’t worry, I AM embarrassed but you see I really do love The Duke’s and it is quite hopeless to pretend otherwise. It was either write this or declare my love by bellowing from the top of the icon stripy legs jutting out of Preston Circus. I’m embarrassed that I sometimes go there three times in one week and become self conscious when the same staff are working and I have to greet them with a sheepish grin. So I think if I just get it out in the open it will be better. Last week I went two nights in a row doing a sort of seedy Nicole Kidman double bill with Stoker followed by The Paperboy (both well worth a watch thought you might feel like you need a bath after The Paperboy) and still find myself toying with the idea of catching a third film.

Right I’ve got a little of track here, this was suppose to be about the Duke’s After Dark. If you haven’t been to a Duke’s After Dark give it a try. I’m sure you’ll stay awake, plus if you message The Duke’s After Dark facebook page you can make suggestions for late night movie showings…. We’ll see if my wish for some Lynch will come true. I am unconvinced my drawing of me watching Die Hard fully captures the experience; you’ll just have to live it for yourself. You can’t live vicariously through me forever, beside that drawing contains a number of inaccuracies:
  • I did not dress up as John McClane.
  • The cinema was busier than that.
  • I was with my friends Jon and Leanne.
  • I rarely eat popcorn, I just drew it because it is an iconic cinema snack, I normally have homemade cake and a cup of Earl Grey tea.

If you haven’t been to the Duke of York’s at all then I think we are done here.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Another taste of The Bee's Mouth

It has been a while. A very long while. I am sorry about that. If it has put you out and you are looking for someone to direct your anger at you may blame my brother. He got married and as he lives in Sydney I was required to leave the Captain's Lodge and travel to distant shores on the otherside of the world. I must say I found the Pacific ocean an awe inspiring beauty that meets with a most pleasing coast line. However a side effect of this travel, participation in happy events and beach life is that I have neglected to post anything on my beloved blog.

Just before I left for the colonies an unexpected event took place at the Bee's Mouth life drawing class. The model 'slept in'. As the class takes place at 7:30 in the PM I find this an impressive achievement. The little back room was the busiest I've ever witnessed but we lacked a model. In an unexpected and as it turns out inspired move the teacher decide not to cancel the class, electing instead to talk one of the artists to turn model for the evening. With palpable discomfort and unwillingness one brave chap stripped off to pose for the rest of the class. This was clearly not something he relished and was made worst by the fact he had a friend in the 'audience', a rather stricking young lady who spend as much time laughing at her friends discomfort as she did drawing.

For saving the class and for going ahead with modelling despite obviously hating every minute I dedicate this blog to the unexpected model. You are a bolder man than I and I thank you for stepping up.