Green Fingers

A week or two ago, I found myself visiting a garden centre. Like you do. Except… I’ve never been in a garden centre quite like this one before. And unless your name’s either Percy Jackson or you’re a Winchester, there’s a good chance you haven’t either.

I’ll grant you that the very tail end of January isn’t the best time to visit a garden centre with its own nurseries. There were obviously lots of green things hidden behind screens, gearing up for the spring – but that wasn’t really the focus.

No. The focus was…

P rocking horse

… all the scary rocking horses.

Oh, and a frankly terrifying table:

P bear table

Seriously. Look at that table.


And that just about set the tone.

Well, that and the tangled heap of wheelchairs and pushchairs just inside the entrance to that particular shed. Were they there for visitors, I wondered… or were they all that remained of unwitting victims who’d met a sticky end while on the hunt for some begonias and a slice of cake in the cafe?

Speaking of which…

P snack booth

Uh-huh. Honestly, that’s one of the tables for the cafe. In there.


While you eat, you can listen to the slightly sinister bird-song piped through the whole garden centre (don’t ask me how it manages to be sinister. It just does, somehow. It’s a bit like the mist in the middle of THE CABIN IN THE WOODS) and you can gaze out at what can only be referred to as “PyroRhino”: an almost life-size bronze of a rhino, complete with gas can accessory.

Pyro Rhino

Or perhaps you’d prefer to take a moment to venture into one of the smaller sheds, where you’ll find a giant eagle swooping down on an alien band. Because REASONS.

P eagle and aliens

There was also a miniature Romany caravan, and a selection of reclining women with… shall we say “inadequate” clothing, as well as more animals and several temples.

I can’t even. I just can’t.

And in the middle of it all was an enormous, vaguely Wild West cactus garden:

P Cactus

I say “vaguely” because I’m not sure the two eight-foot tall bronze lions flanking it, nor the several life-size concrete dogs were really part of the whole Gold Rush. Nor was the twisty old olive tree, which must have been ancient, stuffed into a giant pot just out of shot.

The photos really don’t come close to doing it justice. Between the fact it was almost deserted, the creepy birdsong and the general air of… unease to the whole place, I was decidedly freaked out. But in a good way. Once you take a few minutes to adjust, you sort of sink into the crazy and go with it.

At the very back of the largest shed, there’s a heaped-up corner of sand and some benches (and a rusty speedboat in a tree. An actual speedboat. I was too startled to take a photo. And don’t even get me started on the rickshaw…) which is obviously used as a sandpit for visitors’ children.

As I passed, two women sitting on the bench (the only other people I’d seen so far, I should add) stopped talking, looked up and said: “Welcome to paradise.”

I didn’t run… but only just.


The Answer is Always Dean.

Running in (and, sadly, out again) to wave and say hello, and yes, I’m a very bad person because I’ve still not updated the blog.


Hopefully this will put me in your good graces for a while. Especially if – like every right-minded person in the world – you know that Dean is by far the better of the Winchester brothers. And this is why.

Monsterwatch: Jefferson Starships

This is possibly a slightly esoteric one. God knows it took me long enough to get, and I really should be in on the joke.

Last night, the Other Half came trit-trotting into the hall, saying: “I bought you a monster!”

Believe it or not, this isn’t actually that unusual a topic of discussion in our household. Last Saturday, for instance, we spent a good portion of the evening arguing whether you could actually fit a whole human corpse inside a domestic tumble-dryer. He said yes. I said no, I could barely fit a double quilt cover into ours. (I’m not unreasonable: I did accept that you could probably fit a dismembered body in, although it’d play havoc with the motor. “My Bloody Valentine 3D” – which was the whole reason we were having this discussion in the first place – sided with him.)

Anyway. Where were we? Oh, yes. “I bought you a monster.” It sounds like the album My Chemical Romance never made. So, he holds out this… thing. It’s square. And vaguely psychedelic. And has a woman smoking something that turns into a dragon on the front (I’m going to go out on a limb and say… opium?).

It’s a Jefferson Starship vinyl.

I look at the cover.

I look at Other Half.

Other Half beams back, expectantly.

I look at the cover.

This goes on for some time.

Then… finally, it hits me.

Jefferson Starship.

Jefferson Starship.



Jefferson Starships.

Too bloody clever for his own good.

They Got the Mustard Out (or… It’s Not Just Us: why we love Buffy & Supernatural)

I’ve got a theory.

It could be bunnies


Couldn’t help it.

No, I really do have a theory. It’s that Supernatural and Buffy have a huge amount in common as TV shows – besides the obvious escapist ghosty-vampirey-paranormalish stuff. And that, actually, they say an awful lot about us: the generation (I’m using this in a fairly broad sense, but bear with me) who watches them.

Both know that their audience is familiar with horror; has grown up watching it, reading it… stealing our parents’ Stephen Kings to read in secret, sneaking viewings of Amityville Horror or the ExorcistNightmare on Elm Street and Halloween. We know all the lines. We know the twists, we know the tropes. It’s why Scream was so successful: it’s because we’ve spent our teenage years telling pretty girls not to go up the stairs, or screaming at the jock not to go and get that beer…

We were jaded before we hit 15. Christ, we were probably jaded before we hit 12.

Both Buffy and Supernatural grew out of this. They took our confidence that we knew it all and they played with it, and came back at us with added snark.

We know the rule about the blonde cheerleader in the horror movie: she’s always the first to get Monstered. Except, in Joss Whedon’s world, it’s the monsters who have something to fear.

We never believed in Ouija boards, but we sure as hell believed the story about theaxeman on the roof. Urban legends were our bedtime stories: “the call is coming from inside the house“, the serial killer on the doorstep… Supernatural (particularly the early seasons of the show) wraps this up in the small-town Americana that seemed so exotic when you’re from even smaller-town Wales.

And, had both shows stuck to this formula, they would have foundered. What they did was to become more. Look, you’re dealing with vampires, urban legends, ghosts, werewolves… you’ve got the audience suspending their disbelief even before the titles have rolled. Use it. Make the most of it. Talk about the Big Stuff: the life and death stuff, the relationship stuff, the what’s-it-all-about stuff, the free will and destiny stuff… all of it.

Both shows stepped up.

Both shows deal with death – which many of us are likely to have to face, really face, for the first time in our late teens or twenties. Major characters have to come to terms with the death of people they love. Major characters die.

They deal with growing up: emotionally, physically, practically. They deal with accepting responsibility. They deal with dreams denied and false hopes; with triumph and disaster.

They deal with relationships (has any show ever managed a more literal version of the two-sided boyfriend than Buffy, whose beau really did turn evil after she slept with him?) and with isolation–real or perceived: the real loneliness of the Winchester brothers against the institutionalised cliqueyness of Sunnydale High. Buffy dealt with doping,bullying and even that most shocking of subjects, a high-school shooting in Earshot, a Jane Espenson*-written episode. Supernatural, ever mindful of its older demographic, has covered (amongst other things) the spectre of unexpected parenthood and addiction & intervention.

They deal with family–family which we recognise as being flawed and imperfect and all the more real for it.

Take Buffy as a case in point: it was about friends as family. Sure, Buffy has actual blood-family (who were used to great effect several times throughout the run of the show: let’s not forget The Body, or the importance of Dawn…) but it’s her friends who become her real family, the ones she turns to.

Supernatural is about two brothers: two brothers who are barely on speaking terms in the pilot – but who are drawn closer through their shared experiences, their losses and gains. They are family, and family is all they have–and family is the burden they have to bear for good or ill.

Both versions resonate with us.

The characters become our avatars, our totems. They all have baggage, they all have strengths and weaknesses. Just like us. They talk like us. They dress like us (or, more usually, like the cooler versions of us).

We feel for Buffy and the Scooby Gang because we recognise them. We know them. We all know which of them we would be, which of them we empathise with. The same goes forSupernatural: you know which side of the Winchester line you stand on–and the writers are savvy enough to understand that, and will quite happily go meta on us, making us even slightly uncomfortable about how we see the characters.

It’s not the supernatural which keeps us watching these shows. It’s a great setting, one which keeps them from getting over-earnest (how can you, when you’ve got a demon turning everything into a musical number, particularly in such a thematically dark episode… or when your protagonists find themselves gatecrashing their own convention?) but for all the horror trappings, that’s not what they’re about.

These are two shows which use paranormal as a device to show us how we build our families, however fractured or unlikely they are; how we live our lives and align our moral compasses. They’re character shows, and these are relationships we understand and believe in.

All the ghosts and the ghouls and the things that go bump in the night are just window dressing, a facade of escapism. Ultimately, these are shows about us. We see that, and that’s why we fall for them as heavily and as deeply as we do.

You see? When we watch these shows, we realise it’s not just us.

* a perpetual blog-favourite, naturally.

Double Identities


Somewhere near Ludlow.

The roads are awash, partly due to all that melted snow, and partly due to a genuine god-almighty downpour. They’re awash with mud.

More to the point, there’s so much water knocking (or more accurately, sloshing) around that it’s pretty much knocked the bridge into one side of Ludlow down.

And we’re on the wrong side of the river.

To get to the right side requires a twenty-minute detour through woods, fields and quaint little villages; up steep hills, down twisty roads and–eventually–past a windmill.

I’m beginning to feel like I’m in Sleepy Hollow.

Other Half operates on much the same sort of frequency, so at one point he looks up from the steering wheel and says: “Don’t you feel like we’re in the middle of an episode of Supernatural?”

I shriek at him to watchtheroadwatchtheroaddeargodpleasewatchtheroad (which is my default response in a car with him) and then it occurs to me–just as Kansas shuffle their way onto my ipod–that he’s sort of got a point.

And this raises the immediate question: “So who’s Sam & who’s Dean?” (side note: these links are wiki bios & may be slightly spoilery).

All family relationships aside, this becomes a more heated debate than you’d imagine. I’m adamant that really, I have to be Dean because not only do I have much better taste in music, as evidenced by the ipod, but… well, there’s no easy way to put this: I’m just cooler. Plus he’s got that Sam-scowl thing down pat. His response is that he’s Dean, because Dean drives.

This continues for quite some time round the backroads of Worcestershire… and all the while, Castiel snores in his child-seat in the back, clutching his toy bunny.


This sort of thing happens to me a lot. I get into these conversations. They’re brilliant, aren’t they? You find yourself arguing in an utterly irrational manner about utterly, utterly trivial details–the same utterly, utterly trivial details which are absolutely fundamental to your case and establishing your General Rightness (plus your superior level of both pop culture and self-knowledge. And stuff).

Most recently, it’s been Hawaii Five-O based, and with the ever-lovely Judo ninja, Alasdair Stuart: he’s fairly confident he’s a Danno. Other Half is quite clearly a Mcgarrett (which seems to please him). I suspect I’m basically Chin Ho Kelly, but I freely admit that much of this is based on the fact that he rides around on a motorbike with a shotgun and just looks amazingly cool doing it. Which is me all over, right?

But in a wonderfully meta piece of writing, while we’re all obsessing over which TV characters we’d be, they’re doing it too…

Geektastic. And it makes me love the show that little bit more.

But the Dean thing? I’m totally right.

So, tell me: who would you be?


Darkness Visible

It was, unfortunately, inevitable that my current enjoyment of–or near obsession with–Supernatural (note: only on season 2, pleasedonotspoilerme, I’ve already had quite enough of that already and it’s getting harder to dodge the bullets) would surface here sooner or later.

Initially, I was a little skeptical about it: after all, two pretty boys chasing ghosts? Umm. But, credit to them, after a slightly wobbly start it won me over. Technically, it had me at “Let’s send that son of a bitch screaming back to Hell”. It appeals to the same bit of me that felt the urge to spend hours hunched over demonology texts in the Folklore section of my college library when I was an undergraduate. (Yes, before you ask. I did. A lot of hours. My book request & borrowing record was quite the document by the time I was through.)

Anyway, there I was, having the traditional girly “Which Winchester’s better?” argument online (bonus points to the opponents who said, “Why can’t I have both?” and, “Their dad.” Thinking outside the box: I like it) to which, by the way, the correct answer can only ever be “Dean“.

And it struck me that there’s a very good reason for this–thus far (again, season 2, no spoilers please) he’s the Damaged One. Sam’s all very well, but he’s too floppy-haired and goody-goody at this point to be of any interest whatsoever.

To paraphrase Meredith Grey, it’s all about being dark and twisty.

When it comes to fiction, I like dark & twisty, preferably when they come with paired with “damaged”. I’ve always admired actors who seem to throw themselves into the bad-guy roles, and I’m always a little jealous of someone who has both the talent and the opportunity to lose themselves so completely in a character like that. I’d make clear that in reality, I’ve had more than my share of dark, twisty and damaged, and simply can’t be doing with it–but in those instances of “let’s pretend”, it’s irresistible.

And then, all of a sudden, it occurred to me that it’s not all that different to what writers do–there’s that brilliant quote from Jonathan Nolan about needing a whole load of therapy to get the Joker out of his head. Writers, just like actors, bury themselves under people who can be the opposite of everything they stand for, who do and say things the writer could never stand to, and who–fundamentally–aren’t real. They’re the voices in the head made flesh, and it’s the job of a writer to pull them out of the void and give them shape.

Just for a while, it’s a chance to try out someone else’s thoughts, beliefs… their whole lives–and then, when the time’s right, to step away and return to your own.

And when you get right down to it, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.

Dark & twisty all the way.