Halloween:Three Personal, Family Ghost Storiese

All families have their stories, and these are three of ours. Happy Halloween.

City Jackdaw

Two components of Halloween/Samhain celebrations, from both a pagan and a non-pagan perspective, are ancestors, and ghosts. So I thought I would combine the two in this post with three stories from my own family, two of them passed down, one of them recounted to me personally.

For any serious paranormal investigators out there, you can file them under the headings of Death Bed Visitation, Ghost Sighting, and Near Death Experience respectively. I am not claiming them to be true, supernatural experiences beyond all rational explanation, but neither am I dismissing them as anecdotal events that are grounded in purely biological and physical laws as we know them. I’m just passing them onto you as I received them. Make up your own mind on the cause. And the effect.

Death Bed Visitation

My Gran had a sister named Margaret who, being eleven years old, was three years younger than my…

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An art exhibition in the place that I love. The sad fate of stillborn children. Irish folk tales.

Stromness dragon

Four years ago, I wrote this piece in response to the artwork Lullaby by Sheena Graham-George. Today I am going to see the follow-up piece Voices of the Cillin. 

Art, of course, is a subjective thing. We bring ourselves to it, and depending on our life experiences thus far, we might respond with anger, with joy, with amusement, with melancholy, or maybe with boredom or non-comprehension. I don’t think anybody could have responded with indifference to the art installation I saw today, because every single one of us was, or is, a child.
Lullaby, by Sheena Graham-George is at first glance a simple piece, comprising thousands of paper butterflies pinned to the wall of a first floor room in The Orkney Museum. They sweep around the room in a great swarm, high and low, crowded in some places, breaking away in others. The floor is bare, but the air is…

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The AWOL Post. Autumn Lament.

The best laid plans of mice and men.

I have just entered the nesting site of City Jackdaw once again to publish a post that I wrote a few days ago. My archives plucked bare, my drafts sifted through with growing frustration, the post is nowhere to be found.

I could have swore that I saved the post for this very day, but alas, it is gone. A post that contained such disparate objects as teabags and plastic bags, jelly fish and beleaguered wives. Well, wife singular. My wife. Maybe there is something symbolic there.

I shall have to attempt that post again, sometime. In the meanwhile, I have only this brief, apologetic post to offer you.  I leave now to venture out into a wet and windy autumn day. Layered and lamenting.

On the plus side, I have just finished writing a poem called November. 

Bet your bottom dollar I pressed ‘save’.

Hammer Chooseday #13: Brides Of Dracula

Brides Of Dracula (1960) 5/5

There is actually no Dracula in this, but the name sells, so the title is justified by the early explanation that, though Count Dracula is now dead, (this follows the film Dracula, 1958), his disciples live on to spread the cult of the undead around the world. Thank God that they didn’t have social media back then.


The most-evil, blood-lusting Dracula of all! Who isn’t Dracula. Pedantic, I know.

Paris schoolteacher Marianne Dannielle (Yvonne Monlaur) is on her way to take up a post at a Girl’s Academy, when she foolishly accepts an invitation by the Baroness Meinster to stay at her chateau.


Just what you need when the Undead abound: no 50p for the electricity meter.

Danielle discovers that her son, Baron Meinster, is kept in chains there, mental illness being the reason given. Danielle frees the Baron from his shackles, and unwittingly unleashes a vampire upon the local population, his first victim being his own mother. Psychiatrists would have a field day with that.

Blind to all this, Danielle escapes the chateau and is rescued fortuitously by Dr Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) who has been summoned by the local priest.

Soon the Baron is visiting the Girl’s Academy, to become engaged to the still unwitting Danielle, and also to feast upon the nubile pupils. Not necessarily in that order.

Student life- the morning after.

Student life.

As usual, it is up to Van Helsing to intervene.


A scene which caused great shock is when Van Helsing is bitten. The great Peter Cushing defeated? No worries-he awakens to heal himself with a hot brand and some holy water. I much prefer a coffee and an hour to come around.


Quick-pass the hip flask.

The Baron is eventually defeated in a novel (and unconvincing way), covered by the cruciform shadow of a windmill. I’m sure he could have just stepped out of the shadow. Ancient evil personified in the form of this blood-sucking nefarious creature of the night. Destroyed by a windmill.


The most evil Dracula of all! Except, well, you know the score by now.

Cushing is always convincing as Van Helsing, and David Peel does an okay job as the vampire Baron, but he’s no Christopher Lee. But then again-who is?


“I am Dracula.”


“See you in court!”

Ghosts Of The Falls

I have been reading Empire Falls by Richard Russo, the only Pulitzer Prize Winner that I’ve read apart from To Kill A Mockingbird.

Perhaps because we are almost on the threshold of Halloween, a certain passage caught my eye that referred to ghosts, but not to ghosts of the living, more the wraith-like relationship between a mother and daughter, as observed by a peripheral, recurring character named Grace:

Grace was glad not to have to share her thoughts about one of the sadder human relationships she’d ever encountered. It was as if mother and daughter had somehow managed to disappoint each other so thoroughly that neither one was at all vested in the other anymore. They were like ghosts, each inhabiting different dimensions of the same physical space, so different that Grace half expected to see one pass through the other when their paths crossed.

What a home this passage suggests. What a mausoleum.


Hammer Chooseday #12: Hell Is A City

Hell Is A City (1960) 5/5

Not a horror, Hell Is A City is a fast-paced thriller filmed on the grimy backstreets of my home city of Manchester. I spent half of the film trying to recognise landmarks in this long altered cityscape.


Stanley Baker plays Harry Martineau, a tough police inspector on the trail of a man that he put away for robbery fourteen years ago.


Billie Whitelaw marvels at the Inspector’s giant-sized head.

In escaping from jail, Don Starling (played by John Crawford), clubbed a warder who subsequently died, and so is now wanted for murder.


Don Starling, armed with a pistol and his Death Ray Eyes stare.

To further ensure that it is the gallows that await him, the escaped convict puts a gang together to rob bookmaker Gus Hawkins (Donald Pleasence) in an attempt to get enough money to get out of town, but a nineteen year old girl, to whom the bag of money is handcuffed, is killed. And the money is marked with a green ink, too, scuppering that particular plan of escape.


“You know you make me wanna shout, ooh, shout, ooh…”

Starling then desperately seeks places of refuge throughout the city while the Inspector tries to track him down. One implausible place is the bookie’s own attic, after threatening Hawkins’ cheating wife, played by the great Billie Whitelaw.


Hawkins suspects that there is a bird in his attic. Little does he know how right he is: he has a jailbird named Starling.

After the convict terrorises deaf-mute ( and greatly named) Silver Steele, Martineau’s pursuit of Starling ends in a roof-top chase, with both cop and robber injured in a shoot-out. Eventually he is overpowered by police officers where I normally only see pigeons, and heads for the hangman.


“I can see the pub from here.”

This is a good film with a great cast, and, being a lover of old black and white movies, I think it qualifies as a classic film noir.

Anyway, next time: back to horror.


Hell Is A City. You don’t have to tell me: I live here.

As I Walked Out One Evening

The evening in question was some weeks ago, when summer still reigned and the evenings were balmy. Through the twisted coils of a barbed wire fence, we looked on towards the local cricket ground, the grass barely stirring in the light, confidential breeze.


Within sight of hard-earned victories of edged fours and triumphant sixes, where better, when the light is fading, than a lonely cemetery? It is not often, in crepuscular twilight, that the eye is drawn to the ground, and rewarded by life in silent, still form.


The stillness was broken by the call of birds returning to roost in routine rounds: blackbirds and starlings and, yes, jackdaws, crossing the sky in large, raucous numbers. Black, canvas flags, loose and adrift.


The day passed the baton to night in faltering glory. The air sweet and temperate, prophets were not yet speaking of russets and absence, as the light died blissfully and unresisting. Our sleep was restful; our dreams fired.


The Romancing Of Lorenzo? Perhaps Not.

I have just finished this book about the blues musician Skip James:


Not afraid to look at the darker side of James’ character: that of gambler, bootlegger, pimp and (alleged) murderer, it sheds some light (at least the amount that James allowed himself to divulge to the author) on the life of this blues player, and on blues music in general.

Some readers have commented on the book’s descent into bitterness about James’ (and some of the other old bluesmen’s) declining powers over time, a decline which is understandable given the circumstances of their lives and breaks from performing and practising music which lasted for decades.

I do like Skip James the artist, though I’m not sure if I would have liked Skip James the man.


Towards the end of the book, there is a passage that made me laugh, about the time when James finished recording Lorenzo Blues in honour of his wife, Lorenzo. The producer Maynard Solomon beamed: “Mrs James, you’ve just been immortalized.” 

The passage read:

Lorenzo Blues, his most recent composition, was probably the poorest piece of doggerel James ever invented, and Lorenzo herself was far from flattered by her husband’s mock description of her: “She stumbles when she talks, she wobbles when she walks . . . She’s shaped like a Coca Cola bottle . . . “

How is that for a romantic ode?

In your face, Lord Byron.