Wednesday, 21 June 2017

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Midsummer Magic

Midsummer Eve Bonfire on Skagen's Beach by P.S. Krøyer

Well once again Midsummer is upon us, and at long last I've got round to penning another little delve into the world of folklore. Now the summer solstice has had a special significance for many cultures over the centuries - being the longest day of the year it is obviously is an important, but easy to observe. marker in the calendar of the year. And I sure I need not go into realms of detail about the numerous monuments of the ancient world that were constructed to cast shadows or catch beams of sun on the summer solstice. However as an accurate reckoning of the time of the year is very important for the agricultural calendar, it is perhaps not surprising that marking Midsummer's Day was often an important social event as well as a spiritual one. In the British Isles there seems to have been a long tradition of making merry and lighting bonfires on this date. For example, John Stow in his book The Survey of London (1598) tells us - 
In the months of June and July, on the vigils of festival days, and on the same festival days in the evenings after the sun setting, there were usually made bonfires in the streets, every man bestowing wood or labour towards them; the wealthier sort also, before their doors near to the said bonfires, would set out tables on the vigils, furnished with sweet bread and good drink, and on the festival days with meats and drinks plentifully, whereunto they would invite their neighbours and passengers also to sit and be merry with them in great familiarity, praising God for his benefits bestowed on them. These were called bonfires as well of good amity amongst neighbours that being before at controversy, were there, by the labour of others, reconciled, and made of bitter enemies loving friends; and also for the virtue that a great fire hath to purge the infection of the air.
This national tradition of lighting bonfires began to die out in the 17th century, however it continued in continued in rural England until the 19th century, with local versions often involving processions of assorted officials, and parades with effigies. And of course a handful of such rustic celebrations still survive today. But while some many well be Victorian recreations of older folk traditions, it should noted that there is now a new tradition of Midsummer celebrations. in the shape of the Glastonbury Festival (and similar events), which is always held on the nearest weekend to the summer solstice. 

The Christian Church also marked Midsummer too. The Catholic Church assigned the date of 24th of June as the birthday of St John the Baptist, and consequently celebrating the nativity of this saint and midsummer celebrations began fused together in many places, with the longest day being erroneously celebrated a few days late on June 24th. However it probaby due to St. John, that Midsummer gained a long standing tradition as being a night of divination. For example, there is a very old English folk belief that concerning fern seeds. Now ferns actually reproduce by releasing spores, however our ancestors were somewhat baffled by the fact that this common, and often rapidly spreading, plant appeared not to produce seeds in the usual fashion.

Midsummer Eve by Edward Robert Hughes

Hence it was thought that the seeds therefore must be invisible. Furthermore a tradition emerged that stated that fern seeds could only be seen at Midsummer Eve, and that ferns only released their seeds upon this magical night, with some version of the old belief holding that the fern would put of a blue flower at sunset that would bloom and release the seeds at midnight. And the reason why fern seeds were only produced on this one night of the year was linked to the birth of St John - 
The Angell did foretell John Baptist should be borne at that very instant, in which the Fernseede, at other times invisible, did fall; intimating... that this Saint of God had some extraordinary vertue from the circumstances of his birth
from The Originall of Unbelief (1625) by Thomas Jackson

This fern folklore furthermore evolved to state that if one possessed a fern seed, it would grant its owner various magical powers, such the ability to find lost things (including treasure), to be able to see faeries, and to become invisible. This latter claim was even recorded by Shakespeare - 
We have the receipt of the Fernseede, we walk invisible
from Henry the Fourth Part I 

Hence traditions of assorted rituals and vigils to catch a fern seed on Midsummer Eve emerged. For example in Middlesex, it was said that the seed should be caught by placing  a plate near the plant and the would-be invisible man should hope a seed would land in it. However the seed must plant of its own accord on the plate, for any attempt to interfere would ruin the magical properties of the seed. 

However there were other rites and charms for Midsummer, and again there are links back to St. John. As John the Baptist was seen as the man who foretold the coming of Christ, therefore the date of his nativity was considered a good night for attempting to see the future yourself - a time when what is normally invisible can be seen if you will. And the link to this particular saint can be detected in another widespread bit of folk magic practiced on Midsummer Eve. In 18th century weekly London newspaper The Connoisseur we have one of the oldest recorded versions of the charm of the Midsummer Rose - 
If I go backwards without speaking a word into the garden upon a Midsummer Eve, and gather a Rose, and keep it in a clean sheet of paper, without looking at it, till Christmas Day, it will be as fresh as in June, and if I then stick it in my bosom, he that is my husband will come and take it out
from The Connoisseur, Volume 2 (1755) by "Mr Town"

Now there are many similar charms that allegedly will reveal your one true love, and somewhat surprisingly many of them are to be carried out on Hallowe'en night (see here for more details)! But this particular love rite is very closely linked to midsummer and John the Baptist. For Christian lore held that good St. John was born exactly six months before Jesus, and hence the church set his birthday at Midsummer. And so we have that exact, same half year as part of the magic in this love charm.

Of course if you are of a certain age, not doubt you too find each passing year seems to go faster. And hence hence this old folk charms seems to underline the fact that while once winter seemed far away from the heat of the longest day, for us older folks, midsummer is a reminder that Christmas will be here before we know it...

Midsummer Roses by Leonard Charles Nightingale 

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

THE 'ORRIBLE 'OUSE OF TERRIBLE OLD TAT #18 - It Came From Beyond the Chiller Cabinet... Or Possibly Skaro (Slight Return)


Welcome once again dear fiends to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Now then, on your past few visits, we been hanging around a vintage freezer and exploring the weird and wonderful world of ice lollies of yesteryear. last time we saw how the long-running Sky Ray lolly had a hugely successful tie-in with Doctor Who, and this week we are looking at a time when the lolly world once again caught a dose of Dalekmania... 

As we have previously documented, well at least in the slack arsed mixture of trivia and flippant remarks that passes for historical research around here, the 1960s were the beginning of the Great Lolly Wars, a groovy time when many corner shops gained a chiller cabinet, which in turn played host to a new wave of frozen confectionary and icy snacks. Now it didn't take long for the highly competitive new market to realise the power of the tie-in, and as well as the previously discussed Doctor Who promos, there were other tie-in campaigns with properties popular with the pocket money crowd. For example, the Orbit lolly had a tie-in with Captain Scarlet, the Sky Ray rival Zoom allied itself with another Gerry Anderson Show Joe 90, while the Fab lolly rather cleverly featured Lady Penelope and Parker from Thunderbirds on its wrappers for a time.


However in the 1970s, the lolly makers would change tack. Throughout the '60s numerous new species of lollies had been concocted, but few ever lasted more than a few years. So then instead of trying to breathe new life into an existing lolly, one that was already looking a little long in the tooth, with some tie-in promotion, they hit upon the idea of cutting out the middle-man and launching lollies directly branded to the tie-in property. And one of the earlier and finest examples of this approach hit the shelves, well the chiller cabinets in 1975. 

Now in the closing overs of 1974, a new Doctor had taken over the TARDIS, with Tom Baker beginning his long-running tenure of the role. And this newly minted Fourth Doctor would meet some old enemies in his first season, most notably with a six part adventure now regarded as one of the great classic of the original series - Genesis of the Daleks which aired in March and April 1975. This tale not only introduced the iconic villain Davros, the twisted genius who created the Skaroine terrors, but also kicked off a fresh wave of Dalekmania.
As we heard last time, lolly giant Walls had made a pretty penny in the first great wave of Dalekmania back in the mid '60s with their Sky Ray tie-in. However while Sky Rays were still rocketing out of chiller cabinets throughout the '70s (and indeed into the '80s too), rather than dust off the old market strategy, instead the boffins at Walls' secret labs created a brand new lolly just for the Daleks! Comprising of a tasty combination of mint and chocolate ice cream, in 1975 the Dalek's Death Ray hit the shops! 

Now many of these kind of novelty brand lollies never lasted long, however the Dalek's Death Ray terrorised the nation's freezers for three glorious years. However apart for having a great flavour - which is more than can be said for other tie-in lollies I could mention), Walls cunningly made the wrappers of this lollies collectible in themselves. The first wave of Death Rays in 1975 - retailing at 5p! -  came with three variants - 
  • Plain (no feature) 
  • Make A Dalek 
  • Win a Real Life-Size Dalek 

However the following year, in 1976, Walls started branding the lollies with the tag-line "From the World of the Daleks", and launched a series of wrappers to collect, that featured art and text all about the Daleks. Here a listing of the full series -
  • Transmol
  • The Grenium Invisibility System
  • Dalek Officer
  • The Cyclops Z-Ray
  • Daleks and the Ancient Britons
  • When the Daleks Flooded the Earth!
  • The Swamp Creatures of Terroth
  • A Dalek Deep Space Battle Cruiser

And in 1977, Walls repeated the same trick, with Dalek's Death Rays now featuring a series of wrappers detailing "The Incredible Daleks" -
  • A Dalek Raid against the primitive Megapods
  • How Daleks bend time
  • A Dalek ‘Buggy’
  • The great Dalek workshops on the planet Styros
  • Venusians attack a small Dalek base
  •  A fleet of Dalek Starships in a meteor storm
  • The Great Laser ‘Destructor’ used to conquer the planet Ur

Now on the face of it, it might seem that these collectible wrappers were something of a step down from the '60s Sky Ray tie-ins, which boasted individual, full colour cards to collect, plus send-offs for books and badges. However while it was undoubtedly a cheaper promotion, it did have some advantages. Firstly the smaller number of wrappers - 8 in the From the World of the Daleks range, and 7 in The Incredible Daleks - meant that it was far easier for kids to collect and complete their sets - by way of contrast the '60s Sky Ray lolly promo featured a whopping 36 cards. Secondly they were also easier to collect - the earlier cards that you had to buy sight unseen, whereas with these, you could just sort through the lollies in the shop and select the wrapper you didn't have.

And I have no doubt that if the Daleks had appeared again on TV in the late '70s, this rather tasty lolly would have lasted longer too. But as it was, the Doctor was not fated to met his oldest foes again until 1979 in Destiny of the Daleks, and hence with no new appearances to stoke the fires of Dalekmania, sadly the Dalek's Death Ray never returned for the summer of 1978. Of course, by then there was a  new kid on the scifi block and naturally that summer the chiller cabinet was visited by a lolly from a galaxy far far  away... But that's another story! 


Sunday, 18 June 2017

HYPNOGORIA 60 - The Natural History of the Batman Special - Holy Bat-Commentary


To mark the passing of the late great Adam West, Mr Jim Moon pays tribute with a special chapter of Bat-history - a complete commentary for Batman the Movie (1966)

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - The Natural History of the Batman Special - Bat-Commentary


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Wednesday, 14 June 2017

THE 'ORRIBLE 'OUSE OF TERRIBLE OLD TAT #17 - It Came From Beyond the Chiller Cabinet... Or Possibly Skaro


Welcome once again to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of the Terrible Old Tat! that's it, come in! Be careful not to trip over all the dropped 'H's mind... Anyhow, what can I get you? Cup of tea? Pack of hedgehog flavoured crisps perhaps? No? Well, at risk of sounding like the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, can I offer you a lolly?

Now then, last time we were taking at a look at some of the cunning promotions employed to hawk one of Britain's longest-lasting species of ice lolly, the space age Sky Ray from Walls. Now in the mid-60s, this rocket-shaped delight had offered assorted merchanise under the name of Moon Fleet, a kind of pretend NASA for the nation's kids. However later in the decade, in 1967, Walls changed tack and netted a very lucrative tie-in deal indeed. For there was a new figure in the world of SF, an eccentric fellow who travelled in a blue box...

The timing of this Sky Ray tie-in is very interesting, for it comes at the beginning of the Second Doctor era, just as Patrick Troughton was taking over the reins from William Hartnell. Now aside from the excitement this first regeneration brought, the show itself was changing direction too. Hartnell's Doctor had met many strange creatures and interplanetary folk, but he had also journeyed into the past, encountering famous figures, and providing some educational history in a dramatic guise. However in the Troughton era, this sort of story - dubbed  "historicals" by fans - was to disappear. And in its place came more monsters and alien invaders, and the show pioneered what we now refer to as "the base under siege" story line. Of course, the most famous of the show's monsters were the Daleks, and it's no coincidence that the first season of the Second Doctor's adventures featured not one but two Dalek stories, Power of the Daleks  at the beginning, and Evil of the Daleks at the end.

We should also note that in licensing terms the Daleks were very much their own brand. Their copyright belonged to their creator, Terry Nation, who had quickly spotted the market for merchandise. Hence by the time the Sky  Ray promotion came around there were already Dalek branded toys, badges and books, produced separate from any Doctor Who paraphernalia. Hence this Sky Ray promotion was effectively a double tie-in! 


But what of the promotion itself? Well as you can see from the full page, full colour advert reproduced above that appeared in comics such as in the legendary Eagle, this was a two part deal. Firstly each lolly came with a full colour painted card, and secondly by collecting wrappers you could send off for Doctor Who's Space Adventure Book. And in this tome, there were puzzles, Dalek facts, a board game, and of course, pages where you could stick in all the cards and read the story behind the pictures! All of which added up to a double bonus for Dalek fans and lots of repeat sales for Walls as kids collected the cards and wrappers. And thanks to the magic of the intewrwebs, you can see the full set of cards mounted in a book here

As you can see, the actually Sky Ray lollies themselves turned up in the tale as the vehicles of the Special Duty Space Commandos! A very nice touch! Yes, the Daleks apparently did once have to fight a bunch of interstellar ice lollies! And you thought the Movellans were were rubbish enemies!

However it has to be said, that the Doctor doesn't exactly closely resemble Patrick Troughton. Some have wondered whether the art was original done when Hartnell was still the Doctor and hastily (and not very convincingly) altered at the last minute. Of course also by this time, there had been two big screen Dalek movies, starring Peter Cushing as the Doctor, so possibly the somewhat odd looking Doctor is a three-way hedged bet - sort of like a Fly style transporter pod accident involving Hartnell, Troughton and the Cush! 

The campaign was also promoted heavily on the TV, and you can see the original ad here -



And yes, that's not dear old Pat Troughton either! The chap doing his best to hide from the camera is a fellow called Gerry Grant apparently - who surely must take the prize for the most obscure and briefest performance as the Doctor ever!

However this wasn't to be the only time that the Daleks invaded in the nation's chiller cabinets... Next time, we'll voyage into the 1970s, to a time when a trip to the corner shop could bring you face to face with a Dalek death ray!




Saturday, 10 June 2017

HYPNOGORIA 59 - Are Mummies Zombies?


In this episode, Mr Jim Moon tackles one of the most troubling questions of our times, a question that has perplexed the minds of man for... ohh.. ages now! Yes, in this episode we attempt to settle once and for all the age-old question of are mummies zombies? 

DIRECT DOWNLOAD -  HYPNOGORIA 59 - Are Mummies Zombies? 

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Sunday, 4 June 2017

HYPNOGORIA 58 - Live & Let Die


In a special episode, Mr Jim Moon pays tribute to the late great Sir Roger Moore with a commentary track for his debut outing as James Bond 007, the voodoo flavoured Live and Let Die (1973)

DIRECT DOWNLOAD -  HYPNOGORIA 58 - Live & Let Die 

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Wednesday, 31 May 2017

THE 'ORRIBLE 'OUSE OF TERRIBLE OLD TAT #16 - It Came From Beyond the Chiller Cabinet Again...


Hello again dear fiends! And welcome once again to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Now then, currently we are sweltering in the kind of freak heatwave, that was once a sure sign that a super villain or invading aliens were messing about with a weather machine! If this was 1970, I'd given you good odds on either Steed and Mrs Peel, or the Brigadier and the boys from U.N.I.T. turning up at any minute to sort it out. However the sad truth is that this is now what laughable constitutes the summer British summer... But on the upside, it is also one of those rare occasions when we are quite glad that the benighted halls of the 'Orrible 'Ouse are so draughty for once. However all the same, given the extreme temperatures, do you fancy something from the freezer

Last time we met we were discussing the Great Ice Lolly Wars, and as promised, today we are having a look some relics from those golden days when manufacturers of chilled goods attempted to prise the pennies out of kids' pockets with any gimmick they could think of. The first and most basic approach was to create a lolly that reflected the zeitgeist, or at least if not the spirit of the age, the spirit of the playground du jour. Now in the '60s, the world was buzzing with talk of the stars - satellites and space probes were being launched with great regularity, there was a serious race to reach the Moon, and pop culture was awash with scifi. Hence ice cream titan Walls was quick to capitalise on the fever for all things spacey, with a ice lolly called the Sky Ray. Now taste-wise this was very much the usual affair - a couple of fruity flavours in colourful bands, frozen in ice on a stick. However the Sky Ray's main attraction that this was a lolly for the space age, as it was shaped like a rocket ship. Well, sort of... 



Now this might sound a bit flimsy, but in the cut-throat world of the Lolly Wars where new brands frequently only lasted a summer or two, this interstellar gambit proved to be a winner. So much so that, arch rivals Lyons Maid even produced a lolly of almost identical flavors and shape called the Zoom. However this particular space race was to be won by the Sky Ray, which outlasted the groovy space-age fads of '60s, continued to flourish in the '70s, survived a brief rebrand as Starship 2000, and was still to be found in chiller cabinets in the late '80s. And make no mistake, the Sky Ray's success was nothing to do with its flavours. Originally it was composed of two "stages" of fruity ice, orange and strawberry, but later became more rocket-like with three tiers (at one point orange, strawberry, and lemon and later orange, strawberry and lemonade). 

Obviously Sky Rays had to taste at least a little bit nice, for after all, a lolly that put you in mind of licking dog widdle off thistles wouldn't last long. But it wasn't what the Sky Ray delivered to the tongue that made it such a long-lived success. And indeed, it's rarely the flavours that people remember about it. No, what was important was what the Sky Ray promised the imagination. This was a lolly that looked to the stars, the iced snack choice for a generation of kids who believed they'd be taking a rocket to work, living on the moon, and bossing robots about. Now the marketing boffins realised that very quickly indeed...

..And thus the Sky Ray Moon Fleet was born, a series of promotions designed to capitalize on the lolly's intergalactic image. By collecting wrappers and whatnot you could send off for a series of fun Moon Fleet merch, such as badges, books and even a space outfit! And very fine they were too - so much so that Moon Fleet items now bring in very handsome prices, which no doubt helps to cushion the retirement of aging Moon Fleet personnel everywhere who are still slightly annoyed not to be voyaging the dripping forests of Venus. 



Over the years, Sky Ray had other promotions - for example, feeling that prehpas the space thing was played out at the end of the 1960s, they did have a series of promotions tied into to stamp collecting. But despite inventing a not-so superhero to promote the joys of philately, this particular era of Sky Ray history is still over-shadowed by the campaign that followed on from the Moon Fleet promotions... For those canny folks at Walls, netting a tie-in to the biggest SF craze going. And we'll have a look at that next week! 





Friday, 26 May 2017

HYPNOGORIA 57 - Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm Part II


In the second part of this special investigation, Mr Jim Moon explores the various macabre and strange theories advanced for the Bella in the Wych Elm case. Was this an occult murder? Or part of some sinister espionage plot? In this episode we weigh up assorted allegations implicating spies and witches, attempt to unravel the myths surrounding this notorious unsolved case, and get as close to the truth as we can... 

DIRECT DOWNLOAD -  HYPNOGORIA 57 - Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm Part II 

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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?" 


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

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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. 

DIRECT DOWNLOAD -  MICROGORIA 44 - The Hand of Mandragora

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Sunday, 7 May 2017

GREAT LIBRARY OF DREAMS #34 - The Flayed Hand


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! 

DIRECT DOWNLOAD -  GREAT LIBRARY OF DREAMS #34 - The Flayed Hand

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Wednesday, 3 May 2017

THE 'ORRIBLE 'OUSE OF TERRIBLE OLD TAT #14 - Edgehogs


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 -  http://www.sttiggywinkles.org.uk/