It's also the first day I'd seen him since Friday! I do miss him when I'm away. I tend to dream about him when I'm somewhere else overnight, not so much when I'm at home. Tonight we collected him from mother_bones and as we walked home I noticed he was doing that weird thing again, sniffing not just at the ground or bins or where other dogs have peed but sniffing the air in what seems like a weird new way that doesn't have an obvious explanation.
I mentioned this to Andrew last week when I first noticed it, when I'd taken him on one of his evening walks. "Yeah," Andrew said, "he's been doing that lately."
"I hadn't noticed it in the mornings," I'd said (I usually walk him in the mornings, and Andrew in the evenings." That it's time-of-day specific made it seem even more remarkable.
"He's so earnest about everything all the time," I said. (He does. It's one of his most endearing traits.) "So he looks like he's a little CSI or something."
I thought for a second and then, thinking of it as a parallel to "checking his wee-mail" (a phrase I think I picked up from miss_s_b), I added "a WeeSI!"
And I've been thinking of it that way ever since.
So basically The Soulless Ones is the latest venture from the new(ish)ly revived Hammer company, and consists of a play about vampires which takes place across multiple rooms in a mid-Victorian music hall. Opening and closing scenes book-end the story, and are played out to the full audience in the main music-hall space, but for most of the evening different actors play out their own story-lines in an extensive series of parallel scenes, all happening simultaneously in different parts of the building, and moving around from one to the other. It is up to the audience to follow the actors according to personal preference, or simply wander around the building at will, meaning that each individual audience member will see and experience different things depending on where they went.
Given this expectation, of course, the story is deliberately constructed to ensure that no one scene (apart perhaps from the opening and closing ones) is utterly crucial to the production. So the experience is more about seeing the different characters unfold than about a plot in the traditional sense; and indeed about exploring the richly-dressed settings and soaking in the atmospheric sounds and smells. It's also important to understand the difference between immersive and interactive theatre in this context: this was the former, rather than the latter, meaning that the audience occupied the same spaces as the actors but were 'invisible' to them and instructed at the start to take it all in silently. No-one watching was going to find themselves a victim of the vampires, and nor were we to try to speak to them or join in on the story.
There is various documentation of the play around the web, of course. The official production page is here, and I also found useful reviews from Den of Geek, The Guardian and The Telegraph. I've used those, along with my own experience and what my friends reported having seen after we came out, to compile the following overview of the story, characters and settings as I experienced them. I'll also be sharing this with said friends, and would very much love them, and anyone else who has seen it, to comment with anything extra that I didn't catch (I know there were some characters I barely saw all evening), or correct anything I've misremembered or misunderstood (hey, there were cocktails...). Obviously, it will contain spoilers, so I have used cut-tags with a view to both that and length.
( The opening scene )
( The characters and scenarios which unfolded from there )
( The various settings )
( The closing scene )
What I actually thought of it all
In essence, I absolutely loved it. A huge amount of thought must have gone into constructing it all so that the different scenes fitted together effectively, with characters coming in and out of each other's storylines at the right times, even from completely different ends of the building, and all of the disparate parts adding up to a coherent whole no matter how the audience experienced it. The set-dressing was particularly wonderful. I wish I could have had the chance to walk around it all without the story unfolding at the same time, so that I could scrutinise every single detail at my leisure, but then again I certainly had more control over what I was looking at than is the case when watching a film or play, in that I could go into any room I chose, stand wherever I liked it in and look at whatever I liked while the action went on. I could sit on one divan while Mara was bewitching St Clair on another, feeling the tickly softness of the white animal fur draped over it between my fingers, or peer closely at the satyr-herm in the graveyard which made me think a lot of The Marble Faun. It was very exciting.
Layering the story on top of all of that really did feel immersive, as though I were standing inside the world of a Hammer film. I'm sure regular readers will realise how amazing that was for me! The story really did feel Hammer-ish, too - suitably gothic in content and atmosphere, and with nice little nods to their back-catalogue such as Carmilla being the last of the Karnsteins. The characters themselves seemed well-defined, with just the right amount of back-story and conflict between them for the audience to take in across the two hours of the show, and the acting solid throughout: sometimes (necessarily) a bit projecty and theatrical, especially in the larger scenes, but impressively naturalistic and intimate when the smaller scenes allowed the scope for it as well. I think a lot of credit also belongs to the behind-the-scenes team handling the music, lighting etc. in each room, and indeed quietly staffing the corridors to make sure people did not get too lost or confused or wander into places they weren't supposed to go.
It looks like the production has been a success: it's certainly garnered lots of media coverage, the performance we attended looked to be sold out, and the official production page is currently bearing a banner proclaiming that the initial run has been extended for an extra week. The fact that it is presented not just as a play called The Soulless Ones, but as an individual production by 'Hammer House Of Horror Live' also rather strongly suggests that they are hoping they will be in a position to do more. Certainly, I will be keeping my eye out for further productions, and strongly urge any fans of Hammer, gothic horror or immersive theatre experiences to catch this one while you still can.
Back in Oxford, I'm really missing it. I would go to church much more if it could be this simple - if I could just pop in between the farmer's market and the cafe as part of my weekend routine. In the week and a half I was in Russia, I went to more church services than I've been to in years. (Not to mention wore a headscarf more than I ever have... it was a good chance to use all the scarves I have lying around.)
Really I shouldn't complain. I know there are places, like in the American South, where you have to drive for hours to get to an Orthodox church. I grew up in a town with one, and I've just discovered that we have four here in Oxford, not two as I'd originally thought.
• the Greek Orthodox/Russian Orthodox one, the oldest Orthodox church in Oxford and the home of Kallistos Ware, which is unfortunately a long walk from my house
• the other Russian Orthodox church (Patriarchate of Moscow), which is also a bit of a hike
• a Romanian Orthodox church
• an Indian Orthodox church (Malenkara Orthodox Syrian)
Whether or not I manage to get off my couch within the next half an hour to go to church this morning, I must definitely plan to visit the latter two sometime - particularly the last, as I've never been to an Oriental Orthodox church before. We shall see...
ETA: I ended up going to the other Russian church, which I hadn't visited before in its new home, and turns out to be only 20 minutes walk. Not too bad.
I recently listened to the Doctor Who Book Club podcast on Relative Dementias. They quite liked it but thought it wasn't completely in control of its themes, there was too much incidental stuff to bring up the page count and its descriptions of action were confusing. All criticisms that could probably be aimed at many of the Doctor Who novels.
I'm fairly familiar with the publicity photos and posters, but even they are wonderful to have in high-quality printed form. Meanwhile, the really exciting content was the production documentation, including letters, set designs, pages from shooting scripts etc. From these I learnt several things which I had not known before, such as how the various sets for Dracula fitted together. I had long realised that Harker's bedroom and Dracula's crypt in this film must be essentially the same set re-dressed, because they share the same curved, pointed arches along one wall. However, I never realised before I saw the set drawings in this book that this is actally because they both make use of the area glimpsed between the very same curved, pointed arches in the dining room after they had been blocked off by book-cases to create the library set. (I.e. they are slotted into the shadowy space from which Valerie Gaunt's vampire woman first appears when Harker is in the dining room.) Nor did I know, as correspondence with the censor for Risen reveals, that the name of the Monsignor's niece in this film was originally to have been Gisela. The switch to Maria in the final film was of course a sound move, since it is more familiar to Anglophone audiences, as well as accentuating her virginal purity and connection with a Catholic clergyman. Meanwhile, Gisela did not go to waste: the name was repurposed for the unfortunate girl found in the bell at the beginning of the film, whose coffin Dracula goes on to steal once he has been reawakened from the icy stream.
Also very illuminating were Terence Fisher's hand-written notes on Jimmy Sangster's original script for Dracula 1958. They're written on plain pages, rather than on the script itself, so you can't see what Sangster actually wrote - only Fisher's reactions. But that is enough to make it very clear that Sangster's first draft must have included far more scenes from the original novel than ever made it into even the shooting script, never mind the film. Scenes or characters which Fisher is reacting to include for example Harker in an inn before he ever reaches the castle, the three vampire brides, the 'child in a sack' scene, Harker gashing Dracula in the head, the Demeter, Renfield and Quincy Morris. And what Fisher is saying about them includes things like "cut", "keep till later?", "new character unexplained and uninteresting", "make it a pre-title sequence?" etc. This is absolutely revelatory, because the standard line until now has always been about how the efficiency of the script reflects Sangster's instinct for what could be achieved on a small budget. But I now see that his original draft must actually have followed Stoker's novel fairly closely, while most of the credit for that ruthless efficiency really belongs to Fisher.
In between the images runs a concise and generally useful supporting text from Kinsey, but I was struck by the fact that he doesn't always seem to recognise the full value of the material he himself is presenting. So, in spite of having treated us to Fisher's observations on Sangster's first draft, he still reports the usual story about how Sangster "was given Bram Stoker's novel to adapt, which he achieved again within Hammer's modest budget" only a few pages later. I spotted a couple of mistakes, too. The double-page spread on Francis Matthews in Prince calls his character Alan (rather than Charles), while a similar spread about Patrick Troughton as Klove in Scars claims that he passed on the mantle of Doctor Who to Tom Baker (not directly!).
That is to quibble, though. On the whole this is an absolutely superb collection which huge amounts of work must have gone into, and which I am certain I will keep returning to over the years. Three thousand cheers that my favourite films in all the world have received this splendid tribute.
2. I love my Yuletide assignment and have a plot bunny gently growing. It's going to be pretty niche and I don't care, so long as it works for the recipient.
3. Thanks to the aforementioned cough, I missed morris practice last week - so frustrating given my fears about falling out of it - but I managed it again this week, and it is still very happy making. (I am so, so unfit compared to all these older women, but they are all so pleasant and welcoming.)
4. Charles was away this week with the school residential outdoor activity week with PGL. It was a bit of a challenge for him being away from home and his usual routine, but he seems to have mostly enjoyed it, and enthused at me about climbing and rifleshooting and archery and a few other things too ... It is good to have him back; and now it is half-term.
5. I had my flu jab this week, and the children had their flu sprays last week (I am a bit envious of them, but the nurse at my GP surgery is really very good about doing jabs quickly and with minimal pain). Flusurvey has started up again and are keen for more participants if any of my UK subscribers aren't already doing it and would like to.
6. It seems like half my reading list already posted about the #PullTheFootball campaign to require a congressional declaration of war before the US President can launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike. But in case you didn't see it, that link has actions, phone numbers and a script for US citizens (the rest of us can just help by sharing it with US citizens ...)
7. Clipping wrote the soundtrack for a new TV show, The Mayor, and tracks from it are being released weekly onto Spotify and iTunes. I couldn't find an official Spotify playlist so I made my own and am adding the new tracks each week as they get released - TWO this week for a Halloween-themed episode. The show's premise is that an up-and-coming rapper stands for mayoral election as a publicity stunt for his music career and accidentally wins. I love this idea, but can't find a way to legally watch the show from here; anyway I am really enjoying the musical output.
Some of it's hard going, but luckily some of it's also written by Geoff Pullum (a name anyone who reads Language Log might recognize and someone I learned I liked from there).
"A silly, infuriatingly unscholarly piece, designed to mislead" is what one irate but anonymous senior scholar called this chapter when it was first published in NLLT. But this is not correct; rather, what I have written here is a silly, misleadingly unscholarly piece, designed to infuriate. There is a huge difference.May more of my reading be silly and misleadingly unscholarly!
It's an absolutely delightful read. It's written in a pastiche of the style of the period, and as the author is a historian of gender and sexuality it's historically accurate although the subject-matter would never have seen the light of day then. Unsurprisingly, given Madame C-'s profession, it's unabashedly sex-positive, and features numerous LGBTQ+ characters, both male and female, as well as multiple characters of colour. The first volume features intrigue, scandal, matchmaking, female solidarity, epistolary mathematical flirtations and a wombatt, and it really is one of the most charming things I've ever read.
I wasn’t sure who he was at first, since I’m not interested in Game of Thrones. That is, I didn’t realize who he was until I checked IMDB and saw that he had played Roger Wyndam-Pryce in one episode (Lineage) of Angel. Now I remember him. Looking through the rest of his filmography, I have also seen him in Nightmare Classics: Carmilla (1989), Tales From The Crypt (1972), and two episodes of Faerie Tale Theatre. He was also Zeus in three episodes of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.
I might need to track down his episode of Tales From The Darkside, wherein he plays "Vampire Count Jeffrey Draco."
I missed a lecture because there were no fucking buses for 40 minutes. I know I could've turned up late but I was all wound up by then, and I can catch up because the lectures and slides are recorded.
We got the orange sun around lunchtime, it's clear and sunny here now (though still with particles of dust in the air hurting my eyes) but it's gone down south where a million more people are tweeting about it, and a million freaked-out status updates on Facebook and bad-joke tweets haven't helped somehow. That we feel such a sense of impending doom at such a minor change in the quality of the light makes it easy to see why humans had to invent religion.
I didn't feel doomy but I was also pretty sure it was something to do with the hurricane, and the hurricane is because of climate change and that make terrified and so miserable. My anxious brain told me "One day we'll look back on these as the good old days, weather-wise," because my anxious brain hates me.
I slept awfully last night. Went to bed early, woke up after midnight and didnt get back to sleep until five in the morning.
Andrew emailed while I was out saying the washing machine is broken, he thinks he can fix it but I'll need to help. But when I got back home he's out, so I'm sitting here writing this instead. I hope the washing machine's okay, we can't afford it not to be. Don't know where he is, but I think he was going to buy food. And I thought of something on my way home that I wanted but I forgot to tell him to get.
The people next door are having building work done on their house, and the loud whine of the drills makes it hard to concentrate or relax.
I need a hug or a cry or a sleep or a vacation. But none of those things seem like they'd be enough really.
* Despite the fact that I skipped it when I read the series through for the first time, because I thought it sounded rather like Pyramids, which I hadn't much enjoyed, and the next one was another book about the Witches (to be fair, that was Lords and Ladies which is probably also in my top five), and didn't come back to it until ten years later.
Firstly, this dark, atmospheric, wartime story with layers upon layers and stunningly good style:
J'attendrai (1479 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Original Work
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: 1940s Resistance Fighter/Glamorous Wartime Singer
Characters: 1940s Resistance Fighter, Glamorous Wartime Singer
Additional Tags: Love in a Dangerous Time
The sadness of having to wait, the sweetness of having someone to wait for...
And then this, which is just sheer fun:
The Pirate and the Mermaid (8628 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Original Work
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Original Female Character(s)
Additional Tags: Mermaids, Pirates, Supernatural Elements, Cultural Differences, Shipwrecks
"Of course," said Charlie pettishly. As if she was just a stupid kid, asking stupid questions. "How was I supposed to know? You're the first mermaid I've ever met."
"Well, you're the first woman-with-legs I've ever met!" snapped the mermaid.
Title: A Sunset Romance
Fandom: The Dark Is Rising Sequence
Relationship: Merriman Lyon & Miss Greythorne (or perhaps Merriman Lyon/Miss Greythorne)
Summary: At the end of the summer season in Trewissick, the Professor has returned to stay at the Grey House. This time, however, he has brought a lady with him...and from the look of things, their relationship goes beyond anything that might be interpreted as mere friendship.
Notes: An expanded version of a trope prompt ficlet, courtesy of the ever-delightful rymenhild, who requested fake dating, Merriman Lyon. Once I stopped giggling at the prompt, I started to see how it might actually work! So continuing my original response, here is a few thousand words of Merriman and Miss Greythorne fake dating, set in the autumn between the events of Over Sea, Under Stone and The Dark Is Rising. (Also on AO3.)
( A Sunset Romance )
The start feels very, very mid-'90s, in a way that I never realised while living through it at the time that that decade could. I don't think Holland actually says that Rebecca, his wordly and professional yet nervous red-headed heroine, is wearing a scrunchie, but, metaphorically, she is. By chapter 2, though, we have moved on to a vampire Lord Byron telling her the story of how he became what he is, and that is where things really take off. Holland had obviously researched Byron's real life history very thoroughly, and blends that together with the gothic motifs of his own literature, eastern Mediterranean history and vampire lore to create something absolutely magical. We have storms and bandits in the mountains, disturbing local superstitions, a beautiful young person of ambiguous gender… and then we meet the Pasha. Vakhel Pasha, whose huge castle in the mountains stands over an ancient temple to Hades, deep beneath Byzantine, Venetian and Islamic superstructures; who has read and mastered all the teachings humanity has to offer; who can walk among the stars and call to Byron in his dreams; and whose castle and its village are peopled with dead-eyed ghoulish disciples. He is essentially Dracula with a little more historical and cultural depth, and I absolutely loved him – so ancient, so powerful, so loathsome, so malignant!
Byron's time with the Pasha, (involuntary) transformation into a vampire by him and eventual escape take up almost half the novel, and had me absolutely captivated. I really felt like Holland had seen the full potential implications of the Romantic tradition and vampire lore, and brought them to their beautiful apogee. After that, though, I found the rest of the novel a little disappointing. The fundamental problem which Holland faces is, having transformed Byron into a vampire c. 1810, how does he then carry him through the remaining fourteen years of his well-documented human lifetime while maintaining that conceit?
Now, in fairness, if you are going to do this, Holland has approached it quite cleverly. His vampires can walk around in the sunshine, eat food and father children, so Byron can pass for human without difficulty: he just has some special powers, thirsts for blood, and will burn up in the sun if he doesn't get it. Holland also draws on Byron's own vision in The Giaour of a vampire fatefully driven to drink the blood of its own family to create a tragic secret for Byron and explain much of his real-life behaviour: that he particularly craves the blood of his own descendants, and now also needs it in the present day to restore his beloved yet shriveled and ancient vampire bride to youth and beauty. This is fine and makes for a pretty decent second half of the novel, but the obligation to chug through all the main known events of Byron's lifetime alongside it does lead to rather a lot of scenes which don't serve the vampire story-line very effectively, and certainly wouldn't be in there if Holland weren't constrained by his historical framework.
Still, as I say, I think Holland handled the basic conceit of Byron-as-a-vampire about as well as he possibly could have done, and the first half of the novel in particular very much justifies the whole. It's one I will almost certainly read again at some point in the future, and would highly recommend.
5. Terry Pratchett (2010), I Shall Wear Midnight
This is the book I was reading when Mum died. I mean, not at that literal moment (I believe I was actually scrolling through Facebook when the phonecall came), but I was gradually working my way through it at the time. It, and The Shepherd's Crown had been lent to me by a local friend who knew about the situation, and thought some nice Terry Pratchett would be just what I needed t take my head out of it, and he was right on the whole. I knew of course that The Shepherd's Crown contained Major Character Death, so remember consciously thinking that that one might be best avoided right while I was experiencing the death of a close loved one for myself. But of course I Shall Wear Midnight also covers the death of the elderly Baron, including scenes of Tiffany providing (magical) palliative care for him beforehand, and pre-empting the decay of his body by pulling all of the heat out of a stone slab so that acts like a refrigerator afterwards. So that was all a little surreal to read while my Mum lay in a hospice and then a funeral parlour, although overall the effect was more comforting than upsetting. Death is a major recurring character in the Discworld stories precisely because he is unavoidable and universal, and it was not the worst thing to be reminded that my experiences were far from unique at that time. As for the rest of the story, it was enjoyable and non-demanding, which is exactly what I wanted from it, and I particularly liked meeting Eskarina Smith again, and seeing how awesome and accomplished she had gone on to become since we last saw her in Equal Rites.
6. Terry Pratchett (2015), The Shepherd's Crown
So yeah, then I went straight on to read this, knowing of course about Granny Weatherwax. Being forewarned meant I didn't find it particularly upsetting, and indeed the way Pratchett has always set up the relationship between witches and death meant that it was very matter-of-fact and unsentimentalised. She knew it was coming, she accepted it, she planned for it, and so it went. I was slighly surprised that it came so early in the story, but again that fitted Pratchett's deliberately unsentimentalising approach – it was never meant to be a dramatic and terrible death which came in the midst of a fight against evil (like, say, Fred Weasley's death in Harry Potter), but an ordinary everyday death, of the kind which is just part of life. Meanwhile, I was pleased for Tiffany that she inherited Granny Weatherwax's patch, which seemed a fitting honour, and liked the storyline about her struggling to cover both that and the Chalk, as well as the eventual resolution where she decides that she needs to concentrate on the Chalk after all. And I loved having the elves back, who are just so beautifully evil – absolutely my kind of malignant magical creatures. Generally a very good read.
He didn't bother punching out and assembling the paper airplane, but I did!
"Maybe it's because she thinks of us as going to visit on a plane?" Andrew said when he'd opened the card and was telling me about the paper airplane in it.
It certainly makes me think of that, now.
I miss my grandma. It was nice to see her handwriting again. She doesn't do e-mail or cell phones or anything, but she used to write occasionally -- it's harder now, because of her eyesight -- and I wrote back, never often enough.
This time of year is often the worst for me missing people. One of the unexpected upsides of university is how much better I've handled the changing of the seasons because of it: I've been too busy to be wistful. But there are moments.
I'll write her a nice letter, thanking her for such a great card.
In selecting this picture I became completely distracted by trying to figure out what Daphne Ashbrook (the actress who played Grace in the Dr Who TV Movie) is standing in front of. I mean, the TARDIS obv., but what is that thing on top of it? It can't be an actual TARDIS prop (because of the thing, unless there's some Big Finish publicity which involved a thing on top of a Tardis) which makes me think it must be a genuine Police Box. But I'm fairly sure this photo was taken some time in 2004 and I'm also fairly sure there weren't any police boxes still around in 2004 (outside Glasgow, where they don't look like that anyway). So I'm guessing maybe this is a genuine police box that some Who fan managed to get hold of?
I had to laugh. Andrew still thinks my dad is so quiet he doesn't even say all the words in his sentences, and just expects the people around him to be used to him enough to fill them in.
(After he said this I paid extra attention the next time I was around my dad, and I'm sure he says all the words. But the fact that I found this plausible enough to have to check? Probably says a lot.)