A Dream of Mary


, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tonight he finds her in his living room, seated in her favorite home-202264_960_720chair, gazing out at the City view beyond their window. “Mary?”

“Who else?” She turns to greet him.

“It is you, Mary! It really is you! Why here, of all places?”

“Oh, Richard, come on, you’ve been here before – often. You are always dreaming of us together, in this room, but tonight I thought I would join you. I want to be part of your dream. Why should the geography matter?”

“No, but you are different somehow; as if you were really, really here! I mean – you seem so young! You look no older than the day we met, all those years ago. And isn’t that the dress…?”

“…I wore on our first day together? You remembered.”

“Dearest, I’ll always remember. Twenty-four years, and every detail of that day is as vivid now as then, but this – this is special: I want…I want so much to touch you, to hold you…” The regrets – the regrets come flooding in again, the sorrow for the wrongs, the penitence he may not serve. It is all too late – too late for that.

“Richard, you are sleeping – this is a dream. In your dream you can do many things. You can touch me, hold me, love me if you like.”

“Please, don’t torment me, Mary.”

“A little, maybe. Should I not? Don’t I have cause, Richard? Or reason to tease you, or fear you? I have been, you see, very afraid. I have many good reasons to curse my fate, because I have the misfortune to be a memory of yours. Yet this night is a special night, and I will make it your own. Tonight I am a ghost to do with as you will, I will not leave you until morning.”

“Is this forgiveness at last? Can you forgive me?”

“For pushing me from the balcony that lies behind those windows? For insisting I was suicidal? For telling the world that I leaped to my own destruction? My forgiveness is what your conscience craves?”

Mary’s ghost revives the memory again, and often as he has relived the betrayal, the jealousy, the fury of that night, it can still bring tears. “It was an accident. I didn’t mean for it to happen. You must know that.”

“No, of course you didn’t. Nobody means to kill. It just happens; anger takes over and you find strength you did not know you possessed. You can look for excuse, for justification; as you have upon so many nights – it is not the issue here: not the reason I have come to you – not my cause to hope this will be a special night for you. This morning is a very special morning, is it not? Christopher is twenty-one, Richard. Our son is twenty-one today. Or have you entirely forgotten that?”

“No. No, of course not! How would I forget my own son?”

“Well, let us see. You left him with your parents when he was five years old, sent him to boarding school when he was eight. You moved here, to the other side of the world, when he was ten. He lives in England, you in San Diego. How many chances have there been to refresh your memory since?”

“That isn’t fair! After…after us, I couldn’t bear to be near him. I tried, I did honestly, but his every look reminded me of you, my darling. So what I did was for him, as much as for myself.”

“His every look reminded you of your guilt, you mean, don’t you? Is that why you never even visited – sent a card at Christmas, a telephone call on his birthday, congratulated him at his graduation? Richard, he is your son – your son and mine!”

“He never knew what really happened. I’ve done my best. I left him a gift, a special coming-of- age gift.”

“Ah yes, the gift. Remind me…”

“But if you are Mary’s ghost you have been watching; you must know. Today – on his twenty-first birthday – Christopher will receive a key to a safety deposit box I placed with my bank sixteen years ago. When he opens it, he will find bonds and share certificates inside – enough to make him secure financially for the rest of his life. He will never have to work, or worry. That is my gift to him, Mary.”

“How good it must make you feel – to be able to trade all that for a childhood!”

Richard smiles because he has often congratulated himself for this rich gesture. Yes, his benevolence must do more than compensate for Christopher’s lack of a father. “It is generous, isn’t it? Few children could receive such a gift: and it is not that I don’t love him – in some measure. I said so on a tape I placed within the box – a tape I made the day after we saw you to your grave.”

Sony_Voice_Recorder_with_Micro_Cassettes“And the day before your parents took him away. What did you say on this tape of yours? How you adore him, how you repent? ‘Grow strong, my son, and learn from the failings of your father’. Does it say that?”

“You’re being unnecessarily judgmental.”

“Am I? Richard, my dear, you didn’t even play the tape back, when you prattled into that little recorder of yours. You just offered excuses, dismissed your love in a few sentences, then added it to the safe deposit box. You didn’t listen to your own cheap, facile expressions of affection afterwards – before you placed the tape into the box. Such a shame, Richard. Such a shame.”

He frowns, suspicious at last. “You’re keeping something from me….”

“I? No, I would keep nothing from you. Tonight I came to give you peace. Come close to me, Richard; come close and I will whisper to you – such sweet words. I will tell you – no, come closer – I will tell you of a woman in fear for her life, in this room, eighteen years ago. I will tell you how, after you had telephoned her in your betrayal and rage and she knew you were coming to her with murder on your mind, she took your little tape recorder from its drawer and switched it on. And I will tell you that tape was never erased, and how that woman’s every cry of terror and despair was etched upon it. And then I will tell you that is the tape our son will replay this morning, when he opens that safe deposit box.”

“No! That isn’t possible! I recorded on a clean tape!”

“You believed the tape was clear, because before I switched the recorder on, it was. But your fingers shook as you pressed the ‘on’ button. You didn’t record. You should have replayed the tape, Richard. You should at least have taken some of your precious time to do that.”

Panic overtakes him, a fear as debilitating as the moment when Mary, overbalanced, slipped from his grasp, all those years ago. Can he think back so far? Did he check the red recording light had responded to his finger on the button? “I can telephone him!” He cries. “I can tell him there’s a mistake, that I’ve sent him the wrong key. I can stop him opening the box.”

“Oh, my darling Richard, you have forgotten, haven’t you? It is early morning here in San Diego, but the sun is high over London. Our son has already opened the box; the tape is already played. It is time to wake up, beloved murderer, because your dream is over. Any second now the telephone will ring.”

© Frederick Anderson 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

The Small Town Trocadero


, , , , , , , , , , ,

coffee-965768_640We sat drinking coffee. We sat on cane chairs at a table overlooking the river – and the river ran by beneath, black and filled with stories. The bustle of ‘The Troc’, the little café where the young of our town would congregate on those Saturday mornings, flowed around us unnoticed. We were two at a single table, and the river made a third.

You and I, we talked, I guess, of many things; none of which I will remember now. Of work, maybe, or art, or song. Words were unimportant: matters that were vital to us then are faded like thread grown old in the tapestry of time. Our truths passed by us unremarked; but we smiled, and we laughed, and if there were turnings we should have taken, choices we should have made, we scarcely saw them. We were sitting by the river, drinking coffee in the sun.

I remember Turbot behind the counter, the irascible Saturday help whose flat, featureless countenance and flesh tinged with a hint of purple spawned his nickname: Turbot to whom Espresso was a mystery and a Still boiler a thing of great danger. Then there was the art student with long hair and hirsute beard we knew as ‘J.C.’; and a swarthy, well-rounded humorist called Bob, whose only true claim to notoriety was his oft-repeated offer ‘I can get you Purple Hearts’ ( relatively innocuous ‘uppers’ that were popular then).

There was Daffy, who arrived punctually each morning at eleven with Bella, her Hungarian boyfriend. Daffy always brought a bag of breadcrumbs for the waterfowl. The ducks in the river learned the hour from Daffy, because they crowded the wall below her table for at least ten minutes in anticipation of her arrival. Daffy drank her coffee and cast her bread upon the waters, while Bella looked on benignly from behind round spectacles, rarely speaking but always smiling as if he had a secret joke that was in Hungarian, maybe, and did not translate. When her bread ran out Daffy would often go to the counter to buy a scone from Turbot.

That close and intimate weave of Trocadero society passed from our town long since: the people we knew at tables to our right and left have scattered, no more to me now than chaff upon the wind. Those cane chairs and tables that were theirs by right were stacked for the last time almost half a century ago, forced into oblivion by expensive business rates and the grunting, desensitized leviathan of the corporation.

A furniture warehouse stands where The Trocadero once stood, hiding the river behind a wall lest its melodious waters should distract from the sofas of Chinese leather it has to sell. There is a coffee house still, but it is a High Street edifice of glaring light and shining steel: there is no room for Turbot in its dream of marketing efficiency – a well-scrubbed youth stands in his place, smartly aproned and plastic, with a bland smile to greet you:

“How can I help you today?”

There is coffee in three sizes and a catalogue of flavours, savours, strengths and toppings. There are stools, not cane, to sit on: a little too high for comfort, because they want you to buy; not to stay, and talk, and pass the time. Descendants of Daffy, ‘J.C.’ and Bob may be among the clientele who posture as the young have always done, but the vibration, the chill, the effervescence is missing: the soul has gone.

You and I? We lost touch, moved on, found different lives…would I know you now?
We drifted, each, into the weft.

Our colours will never be seen again.

Corvid Values


, , , , , , , ,

When I raise my office blind this morning the crow is there, perched atop his favorite Crow on a lamp poststreetlight, and the sight of him is welcome, because I have seen less of him this summer. I open my window so we can talk.

“Been missin’ me?” He asks.

“Not much, since you mention it.” I am untruthful, because I don’t like to admit I have formed too deep a friendship with a crow. “But you haven’t been by much, have you?”

He cocks an eye at me, archly. “What d’you expect? Cheap replacement lights, that’s the trouble.” He pounds the top of the lamppost with a disparaging foot. “LE – what’s-their-names?”

“LEDs, Light emitting diodes.” I tell him. Last year’s substitution of old metal-cased streetlights for newer plastic ones infuriated him, because they are slippery beneath his feet. As a remedy I invited him to perch on my windowsill instead, but that would place us less than six feet apart, and apparently he has intimacy issues.

“Disgustin’!” He says. “Still, things are what they are. You look worried, though. Marriage problems?”

“Oh, I got over those years ago!”

“Things are better now, then?”

“No, I stopped worrying about them. It’s nice to see you. How are the kids?”

“Kids? What kids? Left the nest, mate. Best thing for ‘em – once they get a decent set of pin-feathers I send ‘em on their way. Same with the Missus.”

“What, you send your wife away?”

“Well…” He shifts his feet awkwardly, trying to avoid an uncontrolled slide from the lamp-top. “We’re not exactly married, are we? And winter time – all the snow and stuff? So I just packs ‘em off to Whitby. Easiest answer. See…(he leans a confidential beak in my direction) they like to go for the Goth Festival, and I tells ‘em about all the fish pickin’s – from the trawlers, yeah? Nuffin’ like greed to motivate a crow, is there? Exceptin’ meself, of course. I got me eye on higher fings, me.”

“Oh, of course!” My mind can only try to encompass his poor wife battling gales over the little east coast seaside town in winter, with its storm surges from the North Sea and those high, bleak cliffs. “You do know there’s only about four fishing boats still operating out of Whitby?” I say.

“Oh, yeah. But they won’t find that out until they get there, will they? And as long as the westerly’s keep blowing they won’t want to knacker ‘emselves comin’ back. It takes weeks, I tell you. I’ve tried.”

“So you’ve a little time to yourself.”

He fidgets uneasily, preening a troublesome mite from his breast feathers. “S’pose. Yes and no. There’s the immigrants, see?”

He hasn’t lost his capacity to surprise: “Immigrants?”

“Yeah. You must have noticed – fousands of ‘em. Same every winter, innit? They comes flockin’ in just because they reckon there’s free food and everyfin’. They takes all the best bits and we don’t get a look in. Bleedin’ gulls!”

“Oh, the seagulls! The bad weather drives them in from the coast. The westerly’s don’t trouble them so much, then? They can fly into the wind, can they?”

“Well, they work harder, don’t they? They work all the bleedin’ time, them!” He fluffs furious feathers. “They don’t even go to roost, most nights. And…and!” He squawks his emphasis; “They eat almost anyfin’. Jus’ anyfin’!!”

“Surely there’s enough for all? I haven’t noticed you losing weight over the winter before.”

“Ah. Ah! But I don’t demean meself, me! You won’t catch me turnin’ over household rubbish like a – like a bleedin’ fox, for fox’ sake!”

“Oh really? I seem to recall…”

“Never mind what you ‘seems to recall’. Never mate, never! I’ve got my pride!”

I treat him to one of my penetrating inquisitorial looks. “They’ve been raiding the bins at the back of the Pizzeria, haven’t they? That’s one of your favorite haunts, isn’t it?”

The crow hunches his wings and dips his head. I cannot remember seeing him so annoyed. “That place is a place for crows, gettit? Crows! Respec’able birds, mate. I got a right to that place! But next few weeks, they’ll be comin’…”

“Don’t upset yourself!”

“…they’ll be comin’, an’ I’ll look down out of my nest, the nest I built special there, just so I could see down into that yard, an’ all I’ll see is bleedin’ gulls! Hundreds of ‘em! Fousands of ‘em! I want to go and eat I have to fight me way through ‘em, stand wing to wing wiv ‘em…”

“Enough!” I protest. “Not thousands! Ten or twenty maybe? Anyway, from my memory of the Pizzeria’s back yard there’s plenty for everyone. You lot leave a right mess there for the bin guys in the morning. I haven’t noticed much variation between winter and summer.”

“Well, you don’t have to rub shoulders wiv bleedin’ gulls, do yer? Takin’ Pizza off yer that was yours by right! If yer did, you’d know what yer talkin about.”

“I know exactly.” I tell him. “You just don’t like gulls, do you?”

“No! Bleedin’ right I don’t!”

“And why?”

The crow shovels his great beak into his luxuriant wing feathers, muttering something inaudible.

“Sorry, I didn’t hear that? Come on, why?”

He stops preening, turns one recalcitrant eye on his slipping feet. “Because…”

“Yes? Go on, say it!”

“Because they’re white.”

On Autumn’s Fall and Winter’s Rising


, , , , , , , , , ,


Let’s have a little game….

The evenings are drawing in, the temperature outside is ever lower, and soon the snows will come; but not yet.

Not yet.

I am hoping when you read this you are at home and maybe it is dark outside. I am hoping a first November gale is blowing, that leaves, brown, red, amber, are flying by your window. Perhaps it will be cold enough to tip the grass with frost by morning, perhaps not.

Are you comfortable now? Are you warm?

See outside – the street lights, cheerfully blinking? Can you picture how dark it would be if there were no lights – if there was no street?

Let’s take them away, then.

Now your central heating – let’s take that, too! Instead, you’re huddled by an open fire, but wait – the fire is in a clay hearth marked out by a circle of stones. The wood you burn is green. It spits and crackles. Can you picture that? Can you feel it?

There are no windows anymore! No double glazed transparency, no glass at all, no view of the outside dark: that is lost. Your ceiling, lost; your roof, too. Instead there is a thatch of straw or reed so badly bound it leaks steadily if it rains. Birds and the small creatures of the night live there, insects may drop in your hair from time to time – but even worse is the hole at the highest point of that roof, where the smoke of your chimneyless fire escapes. It doesn’t work when the wind is high. A choking haze fills your room, soot clings to the bare stone walls. The rain runs down them – drip – drip – drip….around the fireYou must ration carefully: save your food. Your supplies are mean and flavorless. Dried meat, maybe some root vegetables, whatever you can gather from the forest edge in the short hours of daylight – there will be nothing else until spring.

So you’ve had enough? You want to get out of this? Go to your door, it is a few nailed planks at best, at worst an animal skin that flaps like a whip in the cold wind. Outside it is so dark you can see nothing; not the fingers on your hand, nor the arm that supports them. You can only hear.

Yes, the night is full of sound. The trees of the forest reach to within a dozen yards of your room, and the wind howls through them like some soul demented. It is so easy to hallucinate when you are starved of proper food. What do you think you see, out there in the blackness? Stealthy shadows, unearthly figures? Dare you walk outside? The woods are full of wolves and bears – dare you walk outside?

Beneath your floor your ancestors lie curled as they were in the womb, long dead: bad men swing from gibbets atop every hill, the predators of the woods are hungry, and you do not have the superiority over them you once assumed was your due. On a night like this they will come close, very close. If they sense your weakness – if you are ill or old, they will not wait to be invited in. And still the wind blows, and the storm cracks: and when lightning cleaves the sky it terrifies because it is a thing too great for your understanding. No-one has heard of electricity yet.

So easy to envisage in your frightened mind witches flying in that night: so possible to imagine the touch of ghosts upon your flesh, the cries of your dead in the agony that waits them at the gates. So pardonable you should cower before the forces of the cruel season and call for those very ghosts, or to a god – to save you.

The envelope of time which embraces this world of the past and our cozy modern homes need be scarcely larger than two millennia; a mere speck of gravel on evolution’s road. Small wonder, then, that we have not really shed the cloak of superstition that wraps a winter’s night, when Loki’s laughter whistles through the rafters, when the flash of Wayland’s sword splits the sky – when the thunder of Thor’s hammer is heard to crash and echo in the hills. Though our minds have accepted the sophistications of the years, our instincts have not. It is easy still to recall that naked terror of winter and the long nights – just walk outside, just linger in the darker pools between the streetlights, listen – and imagine.

Odin’s cart is creaking along the ridge of that hill, gathering the bodies from the gibbets. The wild riders, Horsemen of the Apocalypse are galloping towards you on that wind, the snuffling whisper behind those trees might just be dogs, or wolves, or bear…..

Sleep well!

Season of Spirits


, , , , , , , , , , , ,

‘Tis the season when a young man’s thoughts lightly turn to pyromania.

Tonight parents everywhere are wearily steeling themselves; priming fuses, arranging GuidoFawkesGunpowderPlotspills, offering anxious fingers to the wind: in a few hours they will be standing in their urban back gardens eating half-cold, half-cooked barbecue food, handing out blunt advice on the appropriate use of sparklers and launching extremely expensive fireworks into dense, impenetrable fog. Their progeny’s cries of amazement will prove to be in inverse ratio to money spent, and after fifteen minutes of anticlimax most will retire indoors to drink themselves into a stupor. Only a hardened few will linger to savor cordite laden air, in darkness softened by the red glow from next door’s shed.

For many it will be the second party in less than a week. They will still be desperately sponging beer stains from their rented Hallowe’en costumes, or clasping their heads in a state of severe celebration fatigue.

But what are we really trying to celebrate?

When King James took the throne of England at the beginning of the seventeenth century he was unpopular. There were several reasons for this: he was James I of England but James VI of Scotland, which a lot of people found confusing; he was also averse to bathing, enough in itself to generate a certain atmosphere. The likely no-brainer, however, was his promise to ease the burdens of English Catholics – a promise he failed to fulfill.

So in 1605 a bunch of Catholic activists led by one Robert Catesby tried to assassinate King James I by blowing up the Houses of Parliament when he was inside – an exercise involving 36 barrels of gunpowder (about the equivalent of a 5000lb bomb) secreted underneath the House of Lords. Sadly, you might think, word of Catesby’s intention to turn his Liege into a crater leaked out, and poor old Guido Fawkes was caught holding the baby (metaphorically speaking: he was actually holding the end of a fuse).

For this we burn an effigy of him as a ‘Guy’ on top of our bonfires while we fire off rockets, and if this seems to you a bit of an over-reaction to something which failed in 1605 you’d be right. It is not the real origin of bonfire night; just an adaptation of a much older festival.

All Hallows is, you see, the beginning of winter. It is the night when the sun heads south for the Costas and we Northern Spirits stuff our windows and door jambs with putty to seal ourselves against the cold. It is the night when the witches have one helluva party, because the darkness will hide their wicked endeavors until next spring comes, and dear old Odin does his last collection for the year. Bonfire night was originally part of the same festival before Guy Fawkes borrowed it. A pagan binge heralded by All Hallows Eve – a banishing of spirits for the season to come.

For me, this week has special significance. It is the beginning of my winter – my peculiar darkness, when my thoughts turn to the stuff of nightmares, and evil at my window, stares in at my endeavors. As summer is the season of fertility upon the land, so winter is the nurture of the spirit. Persephone is in the Underworld, the River Styx runs black and cold, and men cower before their gods. I know my writing will catch the mood that flutters through the long night. It will be the darker, and speak of deeper things, until the dawn of Spring.


frederick anderson:

A great new adventure – may God bless all who sail in her! Which, now I come to think of it, includes ME!

Originally posted on gongle22:

Hi everyone

In order to publicise our new site: http://www.mineeye.co.uk/ we will be running a monthly competition and the prize will be a £20 Amazon voucher. All you have to do to enter is to join the site (free to join) and leave a comment on there telling us what you think of it. It’s as simple as that! The competition will be advertised on http://www.theprizefinder.com in order to let people know that the site has launched.We are very interested in hearing your comments and suggestions and each month our site administrators will choose one of the most interesting/helpful comments and the member who posted it will win the prize.

Please note: To enter you need to log in to: http://www.mineeye.co.uk From the home page scroll down to the post entitled ‘What is MineEye?’ Click ‘Read more’ and leave your comment at the end:-) Thank you


The prize will…

View original 65 more words



, , , , , , , , , , ,

If you have already read a recent post of mine, ‘The Autopsy’ it may help. This is a sort of sequel, really…

They sit side by side on a seat in the park, Harald Sims and Eladora, and anyone can tellcouple-walking-alley-night-lights-11773454 by the way they gaze into each other’s eyes they have found love. Around them, the town descends into night and amidst this green interruption to its star-spangled life is a space within which they might speak of the feeling in their hearts.

“A policeman.” Eladora sighs. “Who’d have thought?”

“You don’t mind?” He asks earnestly, squeezing her hand.

“Of course not!” The emerald lights in her eyes flash adoringly. “I feel so – protected!”
They laugh together at this.

“No, but I know it’s right! I just know it!” He insists. “The moment I saw you!”

“And so strange we should meet where we did! So – appropriate.”

“A chance in a million, my darling.” Harald enthuses. “A spark of attraction fanned to flame in a seedy flat in Bayswater – such good fortune! And in circumstances I would normally consider sad…”

“That poor old man!”

“Ah yes, that poor old man.”

A sombre moment, perhaps, yet Eladora cannot help the smile that comes to her lips – those full, tempting lips. “Speaking of flame….” She leaves her sentence unfinished: “Do I have to say it?”

“No, no. I will. Your place or mine?”

“Yours.” She says. “That’s my choice. I want to see yours.” Her hand passes gently across his shoulders, and she slips her fingers beneath the open neck of his shirt, stroking his shoulder, feeling the warmth of his neck. “Perfect!” She says.

He is about to rise. “What a strange thing to say! How is my neck perfect?”

“Such vibrant arteries.”

It has been an evening beyond any possible dream of success. Dinner at the finest restaurant Harald could afford was after sunset, in deference to Eladora’s habit: “I’m such a night person. You wouldn’t see the best of me in daylight…”

The cuisine was unparalleled.

“You don’t eat very much.” He accused her kindly.

“I have a spider’s appetite.” She wrapped her smile around him; “But I enjoy my wine. Besides, you have hardly touched your food either.”

“It’s you. I’m so besotted with you I can’t seem to eat.”

“Well, there you are then…”

The way was open for a sharing of fantasies. Each confessed to having thought about, brooded over, dreamt of the other in the impatient days between this and their first meeting.

“I couldn’t wait to be with you again. Really, I don’t know how I kept from going insane. Is it wicked to talk like this?”

And Eladora smiled, and said ‘no’. She was equally distracted, it seemed.

So, at the dreamlike conclusion of a very special evening the pair rise from their trysting place in the park and stroll, arm in arm, along the pathway that leads to Harald Sims’ Spartan little home, and it may be that they share a kiss now and then, and some murmured, if meaningless conversation. He makes her laugh, a laughter like a peal of bells. She entices him, teases him, caresses his neck.
At the gates to his home, though, she freezes, profoundly shocked. “No! But I live here, too!”

“Really? Which one?”

“The third on the right!”

“And I’m in the one with the marble frontage, over there!” He says. “I’m trying to get the angel statue removed.”

“So the policeman thing is just the day job.” She shudders. “I hate marble, don’t you? Granite is so much warmer.” Then, slowly: “We have more in common than I thought. Of course, you must be of the European family.”

“And you are from the South American. Yet I wonder how we have been such close neighbors and never met. Very strange.”

“Well…” Eladora says philosophically with a shrug; “Now we know we really are together for eternity, I can confide in you, my dearest. I am hungry.” She nods towards a young couple who are walking towards them, arm-in-arm along the path where the park borders the city cemetery. “Would you care for supper?”

Germaine Greer and Transphobia


, , , , , , , , , ,

On the 18th November Germaine Greer is booked to give a lecture at Cardiff University entitled ‘Women In Power’.

Someone called Payton Quinn is seeking to have Ms. Greer ‘no platformed’. In other words, put pressure upon the University authorities to cancel the engagement. To deny her the right to speak.


Ms. Greer is accused, as I understand it, of inciting violence against trans-gender people – an interpretation Ms. Quinn bases upon comments Ms. Greer has made in the past to the effect that M to F trans-genders, whether pre-op. or post op., are not real women: that they neither look nor think like women – that the operation is not always the success it is claimed to be.

Now I may or may not agree with Ms. Greer and I have no personal opinion on trans-gender issues, but I would aver that she is a distinguished advocate of gender equality, that she has propitiated the interests of women throughout her life, and I am sure that any opinions she voices are well researched even if I remain unconvinced by them. But I deeply and profoundly resent anyone who wishes to stifle those opinions. I am at least entitled to hear them for myself, to form my own judgment.

Payton Quinn herself claims to be gender neutral, despite the inescapable femininity that plagues her photographs. She is 24 years old, and has seized this very public stage for herself at the expense of everyone interested in Ms. Greer’s lecture and will, no doubt, capitalize in due course. The clichés ‘attention-seeking’ and ‘self-publicizing’ spring to mind.

Quinn claims she wants to gag Ms. Greer because her opinions constitute ‘Hate Speech’. She quotes Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (a clause intended to control people who willfully incite the populace to violence – pages 10 and 11 if you’re interested), thus somewhat aligning Ms. Greer with Abu Hamsa.

Now I am uneasy about anything which tries to quantify a fundamental right like freedom of speech, but I am certainly gravely concerned when it is used to stifle opinion; especially when anyone who wishes may freely challenge that opinion and – importantly – make their argument heard. In fact, through reading some of the vitriol on Ms. Quinn’s Twitter pages, I can only conclude that the ‘hate speech’ is from her side, directed at Ms. Greer.

I hope the wiser heads at Cardiff University will resist pressure to cancel this lecture, if only because I see it as the thin end of a very dangerous wedge. Can any activist minority group seek to stifle free speech in this way? Whatever happened to: ‘I may not like the things he says, but I will defend to the death his right to say them’?

Zealots always seek to quash opposition. They refuse to brook contrary opinion – they merely see it as dangerous. But when you come to think of it, freedom to express opinion is all we have – all that separates us from tyranny and the One-Party State. Universities are meant to be places of learning and reason, where the higher, more challenging matters of existence are debated; a department in which they may have fallen short in recent years.  Perhaps its time to redress the balance.

A Tale of Two Lizzies


, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Personally, I have always found the palette of medieval history somewhat dull – a succession of dates unilluminated by anything but stereotypical images. There are shafts of light, though, and certain characters hold a special – I won’t say ‘charm’ – fascination for me. Here is one of my favorites!

In 1560 Elizabeth I Was Queen in England, and the Treaty of Berwick paved the way for English troops to expel the French from Scotland in time for Mary Queen of Scots, French King Francis II’s widow, to return home.

In or around 1564 on Henley Street in a little town called Stratford, William Shakespeare was born. Late in 1582 he was to marry. Before 1595 he had established himself in London as a successful playwright, by which time the English fleet and the English weather between them had repelled a Spanish armada, Raleigh had brought the humble potato and much-prized tobacco back from the Indies, Drake had circumnavigated the globe.

The Elizabethan age was at its cultural zenith; driven by an English Court which often formed the backdrop for Shakespeare’s work. In short, the reformation of English art and society was in full swing.


Castle Cachtice

In 1560, in the ‘Land Beyond the Forest’ we know as Transylvania, another Elizabeth was born. She was Elizabeth Bathory Nadasdy, daughter to George and Anna Bathory, spawned into the cesspool of inbreeding customary to the nobility of that land, and probably not a natural child. She could count among her relatives a dipsomaniac brother, a Satan-worshipping uncle and a bi-sexual aunt with a penchant for torturing her servants. Elizabeth spent a lot of time with her aunt.

Elizabeth was raised as member of a noble line infamous for its immorality. She witnessed many of its excesses before she came of age. Still an infant, legend has it, she evaded her governesses to watch from a balcony as a gypsy miscreant was put to death. Only allowing his head to protrude, his executioners stitched him inside a disemboweled horse’s belly. The man, it was said, took three days to die.

Atypical of the female model for her time, Elizabeth was extremely intelligent: she was literate in and spoke three languages. She could write and spell at a stage in history when many of the nobility could not. So she had one advantage at least over Ferenc, her warrior husband (who was also a Bathory, by the way). She married him in 1575 at the age of fifteen, after a four year engagement. Ferenc rather enjoyed wars and promptly returned to them. While he pursued endless battles and feats of arms Elizabeth stayed at home and managed Cachtice, the family castle. History would seem to suggest she found domesticity difficult.

The kindest construction to place upon the conduct of the Cachtice household would be to say that Elizabeth was a strong disciplinarian. She punished misdemeanors on the part of her servants by clubbing them down with her Transylvanian baseball bat or sticking pins beneath their fingernails, or into their upper and lower lips. Serious offenders were taken outside in the snow and pegged out naked while Liz and her acolytes poured cold water over them until they froze to death.

In the eyes of Elizabeth Bathory’s dissolute class this behavior was almost condoned, because little worth was put on the lives of servants. She was very insistent her victims receive Christian burials, and this was enough for the time, but it depicts a character rather far removed from the ideal wife and mother. Yet as mother to her four children she was reputed to be loving and protective.

Bisexual Aunt Klara entertained her on frequent occasions. They became close, mainly because Klara always had an ample supply of girls available. When Ferenc was home, which was rarely, he was hardly a beneficial influence – in fact, though stopping short of murder, he shared his wife’s predilection for servant torture. He joined in. It was only after Ferenc’s death, however, that Elizabeth assembled her cabal of henchmen, Ficzko, her manservant, Helena Jo, her wet nurse, Dorothea Szentes (or Dorka), and Katarina Beneczki. Together they formed the catalyst that released Elizabeth’s most gruesome Bathory traits – including her apparent taste for human blood.

Her reputation began to grow.

There is a great deal of unproven legend around Elizabeth’s reputed belief that human blood would prevent ageing. She was obsessed by a fear of old age, and believed blood kept her skin youthful. Did she really take baths in blood? Certainly she was sometimes found to be so saturated in gore she had to completely disrobe and dress in fresh clothes. Certainly the servants were regularly employed spreading cinders over floors soaked with the stuff. And who was the enigmatic Anna Darvulia, whose imaginative tortures so engaged the Countess in her most sadistic years? History suggests Darvulia and the Countess were lovers, so maybe Darvulia’s eventual death caused Elizabeth to become completely unhinged?

Elizabeth became less careful, so nobody’s daughters, even those of the nobility, were safe. Cachtice Castle’s desirability as a place of employment waned and the supply of peasant servants dwindled for obvious reasons. Her victims would disappoint her if they died too quickly. An entry in her diary commented upon the over-rapid demise of one girl, stating cynically: ‘she was too small’.

One day when the Countess was ill and in bed she had a servant girl brought to her. Szentes held the girl as Elizabeth rose up from her pillows to bite chunks of flesh out of her shoulder with her bare teeth, before biting into the girl’s breast and holding on ‘like a bulldog’. Whether this had the desired medicinal effect is unknown, but, rather unfortunately, the Countess recovered.

Evidence of her excesses grew.  The land around the castle was strewn with shallow graves and un-buried bodies of her victims.  It was the tossing of four murdered girls from the castle ramparts as food for wolves, witnessed by local villagers, which finally laid the foundation for her undoing.

Complaints about the Blood Countess could no longer be ignored, and at last reached the ears of Count Thurzo, a cousin and fellow member of the Bathory clan. In fear of the damage her exploits were doing to his family name, he organized a raid on Cachtice Castle. Evidence was plentiful: the raiding party had to step over the body of a servant to get inside, and found further corpses within.

Elizabeth’s henchmen, those who had procured her victims, and those who had restrained them while she practiced her ‘arts’, were sentenced to death. Elizabeth was not. Already old and ill, she was sentenced to be walled up in her own castle, with just necessary sustenance until her life expired; which it did, in the August of 1614, at the age of fifty four. In England at that time, Elizabeth 1st was long dead, James 1st was arguing with his parliament about the right of Kings to rule, and Sir Walter Raleigh was preparing to embark upon his search for El Dorado. William Shakespeare had retired from public life and gone, so we would like to believe, home – to spend his last years with his beloved Anne.

There is little that is good to be said of Elizabeth Bathory. Estimates of the number of servants who fell prey to her blood lust vary from 850 to a mere 80!  Yet she is remembered because she was a descendant of Vlad the Impaler, and possibly more a source for inspiration than Vlad himself when Bram Stoker conjured up his definitive vampire. Was she, herself, a vampire? Probably not, but her fetish for biting and tearing flesh does qualify her for consideration as a werewolf.

In her time Elizabeth, Countess of Bathory was called many things – witch, satanist, wild animal, the Blood Countess. She was, certainly, one of the least charismatic characters that peopled the history of the Middle Ages, and possibly one of the least remembered. Perhaps because we would prefer to forget….

The Autopsy


, , , , , , , ,

Hugo Albricht paused over his work for a moment, arching then straightening his back; so forcing the young man who had been standing close behind him to step backward quickly, to avoid a collision of heads.

“You realize you are breathing on my neck?” Hugo tried to sound as mild and amenable as he could. “Do I take it you are interested in pathology, Detective …er..?”

“Sergeant, Doctor. Detective Sergeant Sims.” The young policeman wanted to apologize for inconveniencing the pathologist. “Sorry.” He said, lamely.

“Ah, truly? So young to be a Detective Sergeant. You must be very diligent, I think, to volunteer this task upon yourself so late in the day. Most of your colleagues would have chosen to leave by this time.” He motioned to the space opposite him, across the table. “You can watch from the other side, you know. Your view will be much better. ”

“Thank you. Yes, I’m interested, Doc.” Paul Sims moved around the table, past the bare white feet of the corpse and alongside the still white legs until he stood opposite Albricht. “Poor old bugger. He hasn’t an ounce of flesh on him, has he?”

“Age is very cruel, young man. Yet it comes to us all. How was he found, this poor old – bugger – as you call him? Do you have a proper name for him?”

“Not yet. He was in bed, or on it. A small bedsit up the road in Bayswater, but there was no information about him there, no letters, no credit cards, not even a bus pass. No relatives as far as we can find out, no-one else in the block knows him. Lucky, really, he could have laid there for months, had a young woman not made the discovery. She was doing a pamphlet round and she said she just felt something was wrong. Women, eh?”

“A very clever woman. Very intuitive.”

“Yes. Unusual name, too. Eladora – suppose it’s Mexican, or something.” Sims did not feel it appropriate to mention how the black hair and emerald eyes of Eladora had intoxicated him, or how flirtatious she seemed, once the shock of discovering the old man’s body had passed.

“The door was open – on the latch. I just pushed, and there he was.”

Sims had given her his phone number and he was certain they would be arranging a date before the week was out.

“You’ve opened the chest, Doctor. I thought this one was routine?”

Hugo smiled indulgently. “In pathology we avoid terms like ‘routine’, Detective Sergeant. We leave such words to middle ranking policemen with a high case load. This is an autopsy, certain rules must be observed. However, everything here would indicate a death by natural causes.

Paul Sims sighed: “Just that old age thing, then. How old must he be? Ninety?”

“Ah, who can say?” Hugo surveyed the parchment-thin, wrinkled flesh of the specimen lying before him. “I believe more. Yes, I believe a little more than ninety.

“Well, you may be the night-owl if you wish, but I have to leave this for tonight.” The Pathologist said. “Let me see, what is it you need to know – is it a suspicious death? I will run further tests, of course, but in my preliminary opinion what we see here is just the work age, or dementia, sometimes does. Starvation killed this man. With no-one to look after him, he did not eat. See? See how the stomach is shrunken, the heart muscle so weak and thin? His body has been eating itself, because he has taken no nutrition in weeks, even months maybe. But this is still a natural process, so heart failure is my most likely conclusion. We shall put our mystery friend back into his new one-bed apartment and I’ll finish off in the morning. The report will come through the usual channels, yes? It is not urgent, I take it?”

“Fine Doc. No rush.”

“By the way, young man: not ‘Doc’. I am a consultant pathologist, not a Doctor. I do not mind the error, but there are those who might.” Albricht smiled. “And may I say well done, Detective Sergeant Sims. You remained resolute when many an intern would have been flat on the floor by now. It was a privilege to meet you!”

The consultant pathologist shepherded Sims to the door and watched the young policeman’s retreating form as it departed along the corridor outside, smiling to himself as he contemplated the enthusiasm of youth. Then he shrouded the old man’s body and slid it into its shelf in the cold chamber, returning to his office to remove his scrubs and prepare for the evening. His phone was waiting on his desk, flashing and vibrating in spasmodic fury.

“Yes, dear?”

As his wife vented her impatience over a dispassionate ether, Albricht waited stoically. “Yes, my dear. I worked late, you see? No, no. Just an everyday thing, but tomorrow I would like to be free in time for the conference, so…

“Yes I am finished now. We have to be at the Ferguson’s by eight-thirty, remember?

“Remember, yes. Of course I remember…just a minute, my dear, there’s a knocking on my door. I’ll call you back. No, no, I will. I promise. I must deal with this now. I’ll come straight home.”

The man who stood in the mortuary doorway was tall with regular features and of Mediterranean extraction, as Albricht guessed. His darker skin glowed with the health of someone who clearly looked after himself.

“Mr. Albricht?” His voice had a soft, melodious lilt. “I’m so glad I caught you!”

Albricht frowned because he could not remember leaving the door open. “Yes, you caught me, indeed. I was just leaving, in fact. How can I help you?” Hugo Albricht felt he knew the face in front of him from somewhere, though where he could not quite recall.

“Yes, I appreciate it is late. I wouldn’t trouble you, but I’m on something of an urgent errand. Look, I’d better explain: I’m from the Coroner’s office – in Helmesford? I have some ID.” The man held his green Identification card up for Hugo to inspect.

“Mr. Pulman. You’ll forgive me, Mr. Pulman. My errand is also somewhat urgent. Could this not wait until morning?”

“I would really rather get this over with, if you don’t mind. It’s a simple matter of identification. The local police tell me they brought the body of an elderly male here this afternoon. We believe we can offer an identity. The man in question is the subject of one of our open files.”

“You want to see the body? I was just working on it, this last half-hour. I’m afraid it isn’t really prepared for an identification…”

“That’s all right, Mr. Albricht. I’m used to this sort of thing. As long as the face…”

“Yes. Yes,, of course. The face. Come, I’ll show you the gentleman.” Albricht led the way back into the mortuary. “I should inform you it is a quite straightforward case. Natural causes is my preliminary finding.”

Pulman nodded. His eyes were keen and bright with knowledge, a quality that aroused Albricht’s admiration. This was a very clever man, he decided. “This death may not be as straightforward as it appeared to you, Mr. Albricht.” Pulman said.

“Well, well. We gave him this room for the night, at least.” Albricht opened the door he had closed for the night, not twenty minutes earlier, and rolled out the shrouded form of his mystery cadaver. “You are sure you are ready for this?”

“Yes, Mr. Albricht.”

“He is very old of course.”

“Yes. About two thousand years.”

Albricht thought; this is the second man to stand too close and breathe on my neck tonight. Why? But he did not mention it again, merely pulled back the shroud. There was nothing beneath. Although its contours had been faithfully followed by the shroud, the space that should have been occupied by the body was empty.

“Two thousand years?” He said, slowly, as the shock abated and his understanding grew. “I have heard of you people, but never believed. Why here?”

“A novel game we play from time to time, Eladora and I. Once every century or so I have to rejuvenate, and I need younger blood. A mortuary – where is better? And when we have feasted on the dead, there is always one in attendance who is not dead – something warm to round off the evening.”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,406 other followers