Urban

World Book Night

I’m one of the book givers for this year’s World Book Night: I’ll be giving out copies of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let The Right One In, somewhere in Brighton.

I’ve got 24 copies, all neatly stacked up and ready to go. Each is labelled with a unique reference number, so if you get one (and this applies to any of the WBN books, anywhere in the UK) do go and register it on the website – it’s a bit like BookCrossing; the idea being to follow the books as they get passed on from one person to the next. I rather like the idea – and somehow, with vampire books, where themes are often contagion and transmission, it feels even more appropriate.

“Let The Right One In” is a vampire story, or it’s a coming-of-age story, or it’s a love story. Or it’s all three. It’s a story about abuse, and about friendship, and about fear and about freedom. It’s horrific and haunting and oddly sweet and beautiful. Whether you’ve seen one of the two recent adaptations of it, or whether you’ve never heard of it before… once you’ve read it, you’ll never forget it.

As an experiment, by the way, in one of the copies I’ve been given, I’ve hidden a quote from the classic Bela Lugosi version of “Dracula” on one of the pages. If you happen to find it, let me know what I’ve written (and which page it’s written on) either via the blog or Twitter. A quick tip: this is the book’s WBN insert page.

Look out for mini-Vlad in the corner, and you’ll know you’re in the right copy…

Happy feeding… sorry: *reading*!

The Only Plan is B

Lots of people have already picked this up & commented on it, but as a long-term Plan B fan, I had to jump on the bandwagon.

In case you’ve not seen it, here’s the astonishingly good video for his next single: Ill Manors (language NSFW, by the way).

It’s worth checking out this interview with him from October 2011 if you want to hear more of his opinion on British society and government, and what he thinks needs to change (from 4:30 onwards). He’s a very passionate voice, and he speaks with intelligence and eloquence – something his recent speech at the TEDx festival only served to underline.

Everyone knows one person out there they can help who’s less fortunate than them. And I’m not talking about help financially. I’m talking about knowledge. Plant that seed. Find out what these kids are good at, or what they care about or what they like, and try and draw it out of them because it will change their lives.

If you’re talking about inspiring people, it’s good to sound like you mean it – and he does.

And more to the point, he’s certainly inspired me… how about you?

Burning the Clocks

Yes, yes. I know. I give you a pretty picture to look at and then I disappear for a fortnight. Sorry. I have been a bit rubbish, haven’t I?

If it’s any consolation, I have spent most of the last two weeks running around like a cat with its tail on fire, stopping only to whimper quietly in a corner. I’m knackered. I’ve worked nowhere near as much as I’d have liked (although this morning’s attempt at research has landed me on a website with a very scary url beginning http://www.secretservice… so if I suddenly disappear, it’s probably best if you don’t come looking for me. But I do appreciate the thought.) and have eaten far more than I should have.

Christmas has apparently Been Done Properly.

Just before Christmas, though, I went to Burning the Clocks here in Brighton. Held every year around the midwinter solstice, it’s a lantern-lit parade through the centre of town, down to the beach. Once the parade reaches the shoreline, the lanterns (which are made of willow withies and paper) are thrown onto a huge bonfire and ceremonially burned.

Some of the “clocks” are built to look like… stuff, as opposed to being little lanterns. I was particularly taken with these two: a phoenix, and a griffin.

And there’s fireworks. Because Brighton is never knowingly subtle.

It was a fantastic way to start Christmas, and if you happen to be round this way for next year’s, I thoroughly recommend it.

There are, by the way, much better pictures on the Guardian’s site, here. See if you can spot the geek-tastic lantern in photo 3…

Dem Bones

Interesting news culled from The Londonist this morning (yes, I may well be a Brightonian now, but as I’ve long said, cut me & I’ll probably bleed London) – it appears that the London Dungeon have been harbouring a fake among their skeletons.

As in… a fake-fake.

As in… a real skeleton.

Alarmingly, it may even have been there since the dungeon opened 30-odd years ago, passing as an extremely good reproduction.

Hrrmpph. Shudder. Dislike. (Mostly, admittedly, because I dread to think what they’ve done to the poor thing during that time, blissfully unaware that it wasn’t a piece of plastic. Of course, you’d have thought the fact it was made of bone might have tipped them off a touch, wouldn’t you…?)

Also? I would love to see the offices of the Human Tissue Authority, as mentioned in that article. In my head, I picture them looking rather like this:

For preference, there should be some kind of ominous up-lighting, armed guards wearing goggles and possibly even the odd fluttering banner hanging down the front of the building.

Although they probably look rather more pedestrian.

Why yes, I do have an overactive imagination, thank you very much.

Also: on the subject of Bones, a – possibly even true! – piece of trivia. Ever considered the naming of the main character from “Bones“? She’s called Temperance, making a lovely little Tarot in-joke. In the major arcana, card XIII is (predictably) Death. And card XIV… is Temperance. So after Death, you see Temperance.

Unless, presumably, you’re the poor soul in the London Dungeon. In which case, you see tourists…

 

Fall of an Empire

Sign at the Empire petrol station

The blog Irregulars might remember I have a thing for ghost towns and derelict places, so it’ll be no surprise that I’m fascinated by the story of Empire in Nevada: America’s newest ghost-town.

One of the last company towns in the US, built around a gypsum mine & drywall factory in operation since the 1920s, it has two churches, a pool and its own airstrip. The one thing it no longer has is residents.

When United States Gypsum mothballed the plant at the end of 2010 due to the recession and downturn in building trade, they gave residents a few months to move out of their homes (although several employees remain to keep an eye on the factory and houses – and, interestingly, to mow the lawns – and the store, just outside the town, is still open: close enough to the Burning Man festival to hopefully supplement any passing trade from the area.)

Perhaps most striking of all, the town’s Zip code, 89405, has been retired: a stark reminder that even in the modern world – just like us, body and soul – towns can die.

The Impossible House & the Inexplicable Genie

Just in case you saw yesterday’s post about our… colourful local street decoration; here he is, for your very viewing pleasure!

(For reasons utterly unknown to me, WordPress has decided that this is best viewed sideways if you click on it… Who am I to question the wisdom of the blog-gods?)

And seeing as I had the camera out, here’s a quick shot of the not-house on our street. It looks just like all the other front doors, but there’s no street number, no doorstep and no letterbox. And that’s because there’s no house behind it.

Don’t even ask about the window next door. I think it might have fallen victim to the Great Pavement Hunger of ’82…

Brighton Rocks

I live in a strange town, I really do.

Yesterday, I discovered that one of the houses on our street is actually a fake: that the front door opens onto a passageway that runs between the houses either side and connecting to the old midden that runs behind the buildings. (It’s a Georgian street. They were big on middens).

And then, while I was on my way to collect Small Boy from his nursery, I spotted one of our street signs has been… decorated. Where there was once a sign telling drivers that no, they could not enter that particular road, there is now a large, fibreglass genie.

Seriously.

I think I’m going to have to go and get a photo of it before someone nicks it. Although quite what you’d do with a large fibreglass genie in your living room, I dread to think. Even in Brighton…

Welcome to Hell (ingly)

Last week, we bought a couple of new pictures for the house. One was something arty by way of a wooden staircase and a chandelier (Other Half’s choice), and mine was… well, it was this.

Hellingly Main Hall: photograph by Mike McLean

I wasn’t sure what it was, but I was very taken with it. A village hall, maybe? Some kind of theatre…?

Nope.

An asylum.

Welcome to Hellingly.

Opened in 1903, it was designed by GT Hine – consultant to the Commissioners in Lunacy and asylum specialist (seriously, is there anything about that sentence you can’t love?). It remained in use until 1994, when the main building was vacated and decommissioned. Hine designed the hall as the centrepiece of the asylum, its heart, and even in its derelict state, it’s still possible to see the status it was awarded.

Since its closure, several of the associated outbuildings have remained in use: some are now privately owned, and some are retained by mental health services to house the criminally insane–but the main building has long fallen into disrepair. Frequent attacks by vandals and arsonists haven’t helped, and all that’s left is a shell.

Albeit a bloody creepy one…

 

You can learn more about Hellingly here, and here, as well as take a photographic tour on the Abandoned Britain site and read the account of a site visit by a UE group.

Pleasant dreams….

Buried

You remember how I like my abandoned places, don’t you? Well, it’s been a while… so here’s a new one. An old one. Oh, you get the idea.

In the early years of the 20th Century, diamond fever hit Namibia.

The gem-rush led to the establishment of Kolmanskop: built to support the mining community, it even had a ballroom, theatre, casino and – apparently – the first tram system in Africa.

But after the First World War, diamond sales lost their sparkle and the town was gradually abandoned.

By the 1950s, it had become a ghost town; swallowed by the desert sands.

Judging by these photos, not even diamonds are forever….

Like most ghost towns, Kolmanskop is hugely interesting – because it’s empty. The thing about these places is that they show us our world in negative: by our absence, they show us the spaces we should be filling, the lives we should be inhabiting. They’re places that wouldn’t be there without our intervention… and without us, they’re fading away, just like their residents did.

One day, there’ll be nothing but sand, and dust, and the memories of houses lost to the desert; the ghosts of buildings with nothing to haunt them but air. In the meantime, it’s strikingly, sadly beautiful.

Defending the Dead

There’s a ghastly story in the news today: the story of two brothers in Pakistan who dug up the body of a young woman and turned some of the flesh into a curry.

Predictably, I heard about this from one of the horror posse–and equally predictably, everyone else (me included) jumped in with less-than-tasteful comments.

That’s not the nicest response to such an appalling piece of news, I know. The thing is, how else do you process something like that? Humour is our only real defence against the real horrors of the world–and for all their posturing, horror writers are generally more appalled by these sorts of stories than they let on. After all, they like to think that they can think up worse than you’d ever dream of; things that you couldn’t ever imagine actually happening… sadly, that’s not always the case.

It’s been a day for the dead one way and another, with the release of photos from the new archeological digs that have opened up along the route of the Crossrail construction through central London. There are currently 20 digs in progress, one of which is directly in the middle of the site of Bedlam – or St Bethlem hospital – and its burial ground.

Any major building project in London always uncovers history: the arrival of the railways at Kings Cross & St Pancras led to mass exhumations from the churchyards around the parish of St Pancras, and the Barbican’s foundations stand in the middle of a large plague-pit (part excavated, admittedly, by the Blitz). When work on One Poultry, close to the Royal Exchange in the heart of the City, began in the mid 1990s, the archaeology uncovered was so valuable to our understanding of Roman London that the dig lasted a full two years.

London is built on the bones of the dead: today’s Londoners literally stand on the shoulders of their forebears.

All of this reminded me of an article the New Scientist ran back in March about legislation governing the display & reburial of bodies discovered at archeological digs. It’s an entirely sensible piece: one which recognises the importance of treating the dead with dignity; of returning identified remains to their family (where possible) and the appropriate handling of bodies which have been requested for reburial on religious grounds. But it also argues that we can learn so much more from the long-dead: those whose names have been lost to history.

It is not in any obvious sense disrespectful to display a skeleton of someone long dead, if the display has a valid purpose. After all, in Catholic countries the display of relics, often said to be bones of the saints, is still commonplace.

In this context it is important to note that the issue of consent is largely irrelevant. The long dead cannot consent to be excavated, studied and displayed, but neither can they consent to be removed from their graves to make room for roads and houses. If we relied on their consent we would be living in a static society.

Their names may be lost, but their faces are not. Thanks to modern technology, we can get a good idea of how they looked, what they ate, how they lived and what killed them. Through archaeology, they get to live again – they get to tell their stories; they get to teach and to inspire.

We’re still standing on their shoulders, of course… but this way, we get to see where we come from–not just where we’re going.