Friday, 19 May 2017

HYPNOGORIA 56 - Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm Part I

In the first episode of a special two-part investigation, Mr Jim Moon ventures into the darkest part of the woods to investigate a most mysterious unsolved case. In 1943, some boys made a most macabre discovery in Hagley Woods, near Birmingham - the skeleton of a woman buried within a hollow tree... Who was she? Was this murder? Was witchcraft involved? And who was responsible for the cryptic graffiti that began to appear - "Who put Bella down the wych elm?" 

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Wednesday, 17 May 2017

THE 'ORRIBLE 'OUSE OF TERRIBLE OLD TAT #15 - It Came From Beyond the Chiller Cabinet

Hello dear fiends, and welcome once again to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Yes, I know it's a bit of state but I bet you're glad to be indoors! For outside, the skies are an angry slate grey, a chill wind cuts through you to the bone, and the windows are rattling from lashings of icy raindrops! And you know what that means, don't you? Yes, that's right, the British summer has begun! 

However things weren't always this way... I appreciate it is a massive cliche of Kong-size proportions, but I do remember a time when summers in this green and pleasant land were long, hot and filled with sunshine, rather than the several months of weather roulette we now get. Possibly we do need to consider burning our leaders in wicker men again to get Evil Yellow Face to put in a few solid weeks of work rather than the skiving off with outbreaks of token appearances we now get... But, I digress... 

However it is true that British summer used to be better, and to prove it, in a highly scientific and not at all trivial and flippant manner, I present the following facts. Back in the days when summers were long and hot, school holidays lasted forever, and all this used to be fields, there was a thriving industry producing cold snacks to give the Great British Public a tasty treat and a way to cool off. Now you may know them as ice pops, freezers pops, ice poles, freezies, ice blocks, popsicles, or Mr Freeze's bollocks, but over here they are called ICE LOLLIES. 

Now the arcane art of freezing some flavoured juice or ice cream onto a stick had been around (allegedly) since the 1920s, however it wasn't until the 1960s when lots of local stores and corner shops could afford to have a freezer cabinet to chill their wares, that the ice lolly really took off. And in the UK, in the '70s there was a huge explosion of frosty snacks, with an ever-escalating war for dominance in the ice lolly market being waged across the land. 

It's 1968 and we've ran out of flavours... Sod it, bang 'em all into one! 

Now obviously there are only actually a small number of flavours that are suitable for the ice lolly market. Basically, you are limited to sweetie favourites like chocolate or mint, and the more popular fruits, (orange, banana, lime, strawberry etc.). You can - and indeed over the years assorted lolly wizards did - try to cover more exotic fare such as mango, melon or starfruit but generally the public thought they just tasted like insipid versions of the big players in the fruit flavour world. However strangely no one ever attempted to break into new, uncharted lolly territory with savoury flavours such as beef gravy, pie and chips, or hedgehog... and probably for very good reason, come to think of it. 

So then, with only a small number of flavours to work with, how did you get ahead in the Great Lolly Wars of the '70s and '80s? Well, the simple answer is licensing! And here's how you did it... Take note of something very popular with the kids, say the Incredible Hulk, who at the end of the '70s was enjoying the heyday of the Bill Bixby TV show and had his own newly launched UK comic. Then take one of those fruity flavours you are already selling that's a purply red colour, coat the top half of the lolly with green candy sprinkles, and voila you now have "an Incredible Hulk.... trapped ice!". Or rather, you have a lolly that's half green and half purple, which if you squint and use near psychotic amounts of imagination resembles the Mightiest Mortal on Earth. And admittedly it's a Hulk with a stick up his arse, but you'd best not think about that too much as it'll put you off your lolly! 

So like Bill Bixby it's uncanny! 

Of course, such licenced lolly fare often had a short shelf life (or should that be freezer life?), and as soon as the film/TV show/character's popularity waned their lollies would vanish from the big colourful boards on the shop freezers that advertising the icy treats available within, and were often replaced by a suspiciously similar lolly in a new wrapper tied to some other property the following summer. Yes, it was a cheap and cynical way to flog lollies, and in some of the more egregious instances allowed unscrupulous icy-treat makers to sell the same damn flavour of lolly twice, one under a kid-attracting licensed wrapper, and another as a plain just-the flavour-title version. But cynical it may have been, but it work a treat! And it's a testament to the size of the ice lolly market back then when we had proper summers that there were so many tie-in lollies available. 

Eventually in the mid '80s, the Great Lolly Wars came to an end when the manufacturers realised there was more money to be made flogging expensive ice cream based confections to grown-ups, as after all, they had all the cash. Why bother attempting to harvest the loose change of pocket money when you can empty the entire wallet if you can convince adults that scoffing giant buckets of ice cream loaded with enough toffee, chocolate and cookie pieces to kill an army of diabetics is actually a very grown-up and sophisticated thing to do? But before those dark artery-clogging days dawned, there was a golden age of great wrapper art, inventive adverts, and some very fun gimmicks! And we'll be having a look at some of the more weird and wonderful products of the Great Ice Lolly Wars over the next few weeks... 

Sunday, 14 May 2017

MICROGORIA 44 - The Hand of Mandragora

We are continuing our investigations into the history of the grisly Hand of Glory, and in this episode uncover links to another mysterious item beloved of witches and sorcerers, the Mandrake root and learn more of the lore of the grimoires. 

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Sunday, 7 May 2017


As part of our mini-series on the legend of the Hand of Glory, in this episode we pay a visit to the fireside of the Great Library of Dreams to hear a classic horror tale inspired by these gruesome occult items, The Flayed Hand by Guy de Maupassant! 


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Wednesday, 3 May 2017


Welcome dear fiends once again to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! This week we are in the larder, and at the back of a dusty cupboard, I've found an ancient cobweb-festooned cardboard box. And in this dodgy looking container, that dates back to that eldritch dark age known as the 1980s, we have some rare relics of one of the strangest snacks ever to be unleashed upon the British public.  

Now one of the best-loved British animals is the humble hedgehog, who has long enjoyed a place in our popular culture, from medieval tales of the spiky rogues stealing apples to the stories of Beatrix Potter. And aside from numerous kids shows and books featuring the noble hedgepiggy, there's one little factoid that everyone knows about hedgehogs - that allegedly gypsies would eat them. This appears to have first become public knowledge in the late 1800s when scholars began to document the culture and traditions of the proper old school gypsies, the Roma. An early reference to this usual item in their menus comes in a tome published 1874 written by George Borrow with the exotic title of Romano Lavo-Lil, and a subtitle long enough to cause back problems for any attempting to say it  - Or Word-Book of The Romany or, English Gypsy Language, With Specimens of Gypsy Poetry, and An Account of Certain Gypsyries or Places Inhabited By Them, and of Various Things Relating to Gypsy Life In England. Anyhow, Borrows has this to say - 
After breakfast the men sit down to chin the cost, to mend chairs or make baskets; the women go forth to hok and dukker, and the children to beg, or to go with the donkeys to lanes and commons to watch them, whilst they try to fill their poor bellies with grass and thistles. These children sometimes bring home hotchiwitches, or hedgehogs, the flesh of which is very sweet and tender, and which their mothers are adepts at cooking.
Now later accounts would add the fascinating detail that the ideal way to cook a hedgehog was to wrap the whole hog in clay and bake it on a bed of hot ashes. And when the little fellow was deemed cooked through, the shell of now hardened clay would be broken open and all those troublesome spines would be left embedded in the clay. At least that what the stories we all heard as kids used to claim - although I have heard it said that this "recipe" is in fact what we scholars call "a load of bollocks" and that anyone who wanted to eat a hedgehog would just skin it like any other animal... they are, after all, just little prickles, not curare tipped adamantine spikes. 

Anywho, to get back on point as it were, back in the early '80s the British public were made aware that this well-loved little animal was in trouble. Hedgehog numbers were declining, and most definitely not may I add because gypsies were scoffing them all. No, the destruction of their traditional hedgerow habitats, coupled with large numbers being killed on Britain's increasingly busy roads was the real cause of their decline. Campaigns were launched to build little tunnels under busy roadways, people were encouraged to set up hedgehog boxes to provide places for the little chaps to hibernate in, and we were all told that actually the old folk tradition of leaving out bread and milk for hedgehogs was actually bad for them. 

Now naturally the public responded to this in the expected and traditional British way - by making lots of tasteless jokes about flat hedgehogs. Indeed if the custard pie was the symbol of traditional humour, a splatted hedgehog seemed to be the spirit animal of the newly born "alternative comedy". Well, with their famous spines, they reflected the punk sensibility of this new brand of comedy, and the trail-blazing Not the Nine O'Clock News got great mileage out of roadkill hedgehogs in their famous "I Like Trucking" number. They even named their second LP after them - 1981's Hedgehog Sandwich (BBC Records ‎– REB 421). 

However in the very same year, you suddenly could make a hedgehog sandwich of your own. Well, of sorts anyway. A pub owner in Wales, named Philip Lewis rather enjoyed all assorted hedgehog jokes that were doing the rounds at the time, and thought it would be highly amusing if you could get hedgehog flavour crisps (that means potato chips for readers outside the UK). Obviously such a snack item did not exist, and with admirable commitment to comedy, Lewis quickly set up his own company to make and market hedgehog crisps, with Hedgehog Food Ltd. opening its doors in 1981. 

Now by his own admission Lewis didn't really expect his product to have much more than novelty appeal, and was delighted to find his new flavour of crisps went down a storm, Of course, we all flocked to the local shops to try them at first - after all, we all wanted to know what hedgehog tasted like. However after the public's initial curiosity was sated, the new crisps still sold well, as people actually quite liked the new exotic flavour; indeed folks still moan to this very day that you can't get them anymore. And what did they taste like? Well surprisingly hedgehog breaks the universal food rule that any exotic meat tastes like chicken, and were kind of beefy if I remember rightly. 

However not everyone was happy, Wildlife enthusiasts complained that the crisps were encouraging people to hunt hedgehogs, although in fairness the packets did say - 
Savour all the flavour of traditional country fare cooked the old fashioned way without harming a single spike of a real hedgehog
But all the same however, the following year, Lewis and Hedgehog Food Ltd found themselves in court. Yes, in 1982, a case was brought against them by the Office of Fair Trading on the somewhat bizarre grounds that Lewis and co. were breaking the law as their crisps didn't actually contain any hedgehog at all. In fact, that unique hedgerow flavour was actually just your usual pork fat. However in the end, everything got settled without too much trouble. The crisps were (slightly) renamed from "hedgehog flavoured" to "hedgehog flavour", and apparently Lewis had interviewed actual gypsies who had eaten baked hedgehogs and got a flavouring firm to simulated the taste they reported. 

Eventually the fad for hedgehog crisps did die away, much to the sorrow of those who loved the flavour. But on the positive side, British hedgehog numbers did begin to recover, and Lewis donated some sizeable sums from his millions of profit to St. Tiggywinkles, a wildlife hospital in the Midlands that is still doing excellent work to this very day, and you can find them here -

Sunday, 30 April 2017

MICROGORIA 43 - The Legend of the Hand of Glory

In this episode Mr Jim Moon explores the sinister legend of the Hand of Glory, a rather gruesome talisman connected with crime, witchcraft and black magic! 

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - MICROGORIA 43 - The Legend of the Hand of Glory

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Friday, 28 April 2017


Angurs and understood relations have
(By magotpies, and choughs, and rooks) brought forth
The secret’st man of blood.
from Macbeth Act iii. sc4

The Magpie (Pica pica), with its striking black and white plumage, is one of the most distinctive British birds. And given that this bird's bold patterns of black and white feathers make it stand out wherever one alights, it is perhaps not surprising that sighting such a noticeable bird should be widely considered an omen of something or other. I say something or other, because the magpie enjoys something of a mixed reputation; it doesn't have the friendly, cosy reputation enjoyed by the blackbird, nor quite the sinister aura of its near relatives crows and ravens. Instead the magpie is somewhere in between, a cheery bird, a bit of a  cheeky chappie, but also something of a rogue - after all they are famed for their love of stealing bright, shiny objects. 

Now many birds have various folk meanings attached to them, indeed there are whole branches of divination relating to interpreting sightings of birds.  A common British superstition is that sighting a magpie is considered to be ill luck, and it is commonly held in many regions that saluting the bird will ward off the misfortune. However we should note that this applies only to spotting a lone magpie, for according to old folk rhymes the number of magpies you see signifies different things. 

It is often said that the first recorded instances of one of these magpie counting rhymes is found in an old book on folklore, indeed one of the early pioneering works in the field, Observations on Popular Antiquities by John Brand, published in 1777. However this is not true, for the original edition makes no mention of magpies. Actually the first recorded magpie rhyme appears in a later edition published in 1842, that was significantly enlarged and annotated by Sir Henry Ellis. Ellis added a wealth of new material and in his extensive notes quotes a different 18th century source on the subject of magpie lore -
In the Supplement to Johnson and Steeven's Shakespeare, 8 vols, Lond, 1780, vol. ii. p, 706, it is said that the Magpie is called, in the West, to this hour, a Magatipie, and the import of the augury is determined by the number of birds that are seen together:
One for sorrow,
Two for mirth,
Three for a funeral
And four for birth. 
A mere four years later, another 19th century folklorist Michael Aislabie Denham would gives us an enlarged variant version of this rhyme -
According to the number of magpies you see at one and the same time when going a journey, etc., you may calculate your luck as follows:- 
One for sorrow,
Two for luck (varia. mirth);
Three for a wedding,
Four for death (varia. birth);
Five for silver.
Six for gold;
Seven for a secret.
Not to be told;
Eight for heaven,
Nine for ____ ,
And ten for the Devil's own sell ! 
from Proverbs and Popular Saying of the Seasons (1846) by MA Denham

Some years later, a very similar Scottish version was noted by E. Cobham Brewer in his famous reference work, an almost compressed Cliffs' Notes version from north of the border -
One’s sorrow, two’s mirth,
Three’s a wedding, four’s a birth,
Five’s a christening, six a dearth,
Seven’s heaven, eight is hell,
And nine’s the, devil his ane sel’
from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1898)

Of course it is from these old rhymes that we get the traditional British version that became well known in the 19th and 20th centuries, and that I'm sure most of you are familiar with - 
One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told.
However where things get somewhat muddled is when we come to the matter of additional verses. What pray tell does seeing eight or nine magpies foretell? If you ask some one who grew up in the '70s, they may well give you these additional lines - 

Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss,
Ten for a bird,
You must not miss

Now as it happens, these extra verses are not from the annals of folklore, but from a popular childrens TV show. Launched in 1968, and running until 1980, ITV's Magpie was a long running magazine show for kids, whose mascot was a cartoon magpie called Murgatroyd. The show's theme tune was written and performed by the Murgatroyd Band, who were actually moonlighting members do the Spencer Davis Group, who adapted some regional variations to create the lyrics. 

The lyrics seems to mainly derived from a Lancashire variant version which features elements of the Scottish version recorded by Brewer and adds a few more numbers into the mix -

Eight for a wish
Nine for a kiss
Ten a surprise you should be careful not to miss
Eleven for health
Twelve for wealth
Thirteen beware it’s the devil himself.

Now it is sometimes claimed that the popularity of the Magpie TV show meant that traditional regional variants were wiped out by the nationally broadcast theme tune lyrics. However whenever the subject of the magpie counting rhyme is mentioned, plenty of folks are keen to share variations, in particular relating to numbers from eight and above. For example, a common one is - 
Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss,
Ten for a time of joyous bliss
Also still quite well-known is this version that covers you for seeing up to a dozen magpies - 
Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss,
Ten for a letter,
Eleven for worse
And twelve for better
In Warwickshire, they have something similar, and count magpies over seven like this - 

Eight bring wishing
Nine bring kissing
Ten, the love my own heart's missing!

While in the grand county of Yorkshire, apparently this version is still alive well (presumably in playgrounds judging from the last line) - 
Eight you live
Nine you die
Ten you eat a bogey pie!
Another somewhat rude version - and therefore no doubt popular with kids - goes like this -

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for rich,
Six for poor,
Seven for a bitch,
Eight for a whore,
Nine for a funeral,
Ten for a dance,
Eleven for England,
Twelve for France

Somewhat more family friendly versions of this variant are well-known too. One just goes up to seven, with the bitch becoming a witch, while folk singer Maddie Prior, singer with Steeleye Span, gave us this version in a song entitled Magpie on her solo LP Seven for Old England (2008) -

One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a wedding
Four for a boy
Five for a fiddler
Six for a dance
Seven for Old England
and Eight for France

And so, while few these days put any store in the alleged prophetic pronouncements concerning the number of magpies you may see, certainly the associated counting rhymes continue to live on. They have survived being turned into a TV theme and rock records, and no doubt will carry on spawning new variants for a good few years yet...