Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hollywood Cemetery and the Richmond Vampire

My favorite atmospheric cemetery around these parts is Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond on a brooding hillside with its plunging valleys and somber trees.

Generally in terms of spooky atmosphere quota I find British cemeteries are superior to those in America, although there are some fantastic cemeteries in Charleston, South Carolina, that moulder away under southern skies, draped in Spanish moss. I would link here to an earlier blog if I could be bothered to find it. Scotland has some dank and brooding acropolises in which hulking granite tombs with large angel wings and yawning vaults hint at doom under cloudy skies.

Hollywood Cemetery is one of the most famous boneyards in the United States. Those buried here include President James Monroe and John Tyler and Jefferson Davies, the only President of the Confederacy.

There's a huge imposing pyramid here that's a monument to the thousands of Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. Hollywood Cemetery encapsulates all of the dashed dreams of the old Confederate capital.

The tale of the Richmond Vampire is one of the most eerie episodes associated with this massive cemetery. And it appears to be based in fact.

Back in 1925, Church Hill suffered a massive cave-in of a train tunnel. A train was trapped in the tunnel, and people died in the darkness.

There were tales of a strange and ghastly creature that clawed his way out of the collapsed tunnel. Reports say his mouth was covered with blood, his teeth were jagged, and there was decomposing skin hanging off his arms and legs.

The tale suggests instead of seeking medical attention, the creature headed to Hollywood Cemetery, where he hid himself in a crypt marked WW Poole.  There was no birth date on the grave, just a date of death in 1922, three years before the tunnel cave-in. There's another story which sounds more plausible if no less ghastly. Local historian Greg Maitland advances the tale of Benjamin F. Mosby, a fireman who was shovelling coal when the tunnel collapse occurred. He was burned beyond all recognition and his skin hung over his body and face in strips.

Mosby was rushed to Grace Hospital, where he died 24 hours later. "And did you know that at the time, the saying 'going to Hollywood' meant that you were dying?" Maitland explains. "Most urban legends have some basis in truth. And the same is true in this case." 

Happy Halloween.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Of Vampires, Ghouls and Frankenstorm

In my most fevered dreams I'm a kid again. I'm 10-years-old and I'm trick or treating even if it wasn't the done thing back in Britain when we never answered the door to such ruffians.

I climb the steep steps of a Georgian house. Neat pumpkins filled with candles line the way. Their faces smile at me. Even the ghosts are limp, neat and benign. There's an expensive SUV in the drive and the owner chairs the local PTA and is on the Civic League. She wears floral dresses.

"Sandy will give you lots of candy," says Mom. Sandy is a model citizen. Sure enough she opens the door with a wide smile on her face. "My don't you look cute in your vampire outfit."

She reaches down to give me a big generous mitt (Romney) full of candy and then a strange thing happens. Sandy punches me hard in the face and I lose consciousness.

When I come round I'm on a beach and a wind is howling and the lunatic white breakers are stampeding over each other to reach me. I am pinned to the beach, unable to move, the sand cutting into my fingers. Then I turn to the channels and the social networks and I realize this nightmare equates to reality. People are posting pictures of homes falling into the sea in Rodanthe and the hurricane hasn't even arrived yet.

By the minute my picture postcard is being ripped to shreds. The Gothic nature of the time is being mixed up outside in a ghastly witches' cauldron of rain. I see the storm now through the tatted remnants of the faux spiders webs I placed on the house; every so often a crazy voice from the bodiless plastic head in the window looks out at Frankenstorm and cackles a soliloquy about the ruination of her party dress.

I had been preoccupied with the Gothic nature of things of late. Classic novels are free on my Kindle leading me to start reading Bram Stoker's Dracula, something I have been meaning to do since being enthralled by the 1992 film, and not just because it starred Winona Rider and Sadie Frost as well as Sir Anthony and Gary Oldman in a single move (OK we can gloss over Keanu Reeves).

Dracula is strangely encapsulating because it made vampires dangerously sexy many years before Twilight came along. I'm probably late to the genre having only read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein a few years ago. Shelley is the superior writer but Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula is surely superior to Branagh's version of Frankenstein a couple of years later.

"I busied myself to think of a story, which would speak to the myserious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror. One to make the reader dread to look around, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart," wrote Shelley.

As I write this the full force of nature is stirring in darkness of the back garden. Trees are straining and Frankenstorm is booming across the roof tops. There are devilish things happening in far away places and the storm is already wrecking lives and shaking loose minds.

Still we are in denial that we can curb the powers of the supernatural. In Dracula the ship the Demeter, runs aground during a terrible tempest off Whitby. By the time she hits the storm her crew has been driven to madness, death and drowning by a dark presence. Only her captain is on board, dead and lashed to the wheel.

As Lucy Westerna wastes away and becomes pale and ill from loss of blood, they place garlic around her bed. But her mother removes the foul smelling flowers. We don't want to believe the worst; we rationalise the power of the supernatural. But it's out there in the howling night.

I hope all my east coast friends stay safe tonight.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Feeling BlackBerry shame

In the words of a wrinkly flasher I know I'm now embarassed to get it out in public.

Last week I was at a press conference and I looked around me at a sea of iPhones, tablets and Droids. Sheepishly I pulled out my BlackBerry and hid it under my notebook in the hope nobody would notice it.

It used to be so different back in the day. When my late father-in-law would jet in to London en route to Milan and then on to Rio his BlackBerry was his constant companion. It's somewhat poignant that it was with him on his death bed, pinging away notifications to the last.

My problem is I only acquired one recently. Even at the time I had evidence the days of the Crackberry when users were so addicted they were at risk from walking into utility poles were long gone. I oped for it because I rather liked the hard sticky up, pressy buttons as they are technically called as opposed to on screen buttons.

Although I upgraded recently to a slicker version, at a stupid cost, I still feel like I was Canute trying to hold back the tide; a bit like opting for a streamlined Brontosaurus as a pet at two-mintes-to-Meteor strike.

Now the news is not great from Planet BlackBerry. A recent report in MSN money stated even White House staffers have discarded the BackBerry in favor of the iPhone.

The decision was apparently influenced by the President himself who now prefers his iPad. for national security briefings.

A spokesman for the White House declined to comment (but promptly hurled his BlackBerry from an upper floor window).

Even my 2-year-old isn't interested in wrecking my BlackBerry or throwing it down the toilet and says he prefers to play Cut the Rope on an iPhone.

Over the last few weeks I have been starting to feel the onset of BlackBerry shame. It has manifested itself in an unwillingness to pull the infernal thing out of my jacket pocket in a public place in case people openly chortle, a pleasure I have not enjoyed since the days of small dog ownership.

It's all rather unfortunate given that I was once at the cutting edge of cellular phone techology. I owned a cell phone (read mobile phone in UK parlance) when few other people did. Admittedly it was the size of a compact water heater, cost about $10 per call to use and you could only get a signal if you climbed half way up the only cellphone tower in London. Still, it was a status symbol, even if I ended up going around with lacerated jacket pockets that the thing had gouged its way through en route to the molten heart at the center of the earth.

Now when I procude my BlackBerry and hit the big clunky buttons I feel as if I am hanging out in Starbucks asking if the WiFi will hook up to my typewriter.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Snogging's a no go but some British expressions are now spot on Stateside

Americans don’t like snogging much. The generic term for the genteel art of sticking your tongue down someone’s throat remains kissing.

But more and more British terms are now crossing the Atlantic and ending up in general usage in the same way as US expressions such as “OK” hit Blighty a few decades ago, according to a new survey.
Will redheads like Christina Hendricks from Mad Men soon be gingers?

The Britishisation of American English was recently described by a number of news channels while last year Yagoda set up a blog dedicated to spotting the use of British terms in American English.

This hasn’t come a moment too soon for me; although come to think of it, it’s probably come too late. As a British journalist working in America, I always thought I was sensitive to the linguistic differences – that is until I made the mistakes.

“At the weekend?” one copy editor asked me quizzically down the phone, another editor questioned my use of the phrase “taken to hospital.”

“So why did he kill her?” asked the crime editor.

“Because she packed him in.”

“She packed him into what exactly?”

I had more problems explaining to the same editor why a trainer belonging to the deceased lay at the scene.

“So they also killed his personal trainer?”

“No like footwear.”

The problems continued. “What’s wrong with this? Why do you describe it as a scheme?” asked one editor gravely.

“Because a scheme means a project in Britain.”

Most of them were caught before publication. Advert got into print.

And then there was the alarming night I was asked to cover an event at a “shag club.” Boy was I disappointed.

The good news is, according to the BBC, some Britishisms are sticking stateside. Phrases gathering momentum over here include “chat up” and “spot on” as well as the expression “ginger” for a red head.

It seems Harry Potter is responsible for some of the Britishisms. The expression “sell by date,” which means expiration date is also gaining ground.

Of course there are still many British expressions that are yet to arrive in the US. It’s not polite to talk about “smoking a fag,” or buying a “rubber.” (eraser).

But the slow importation of British expressions means it’s probably time to stop casually referring to people as “wankers” because they may stop scratching their heads and end up punching me in the chops.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Freaky weddings and why girl scouts are evil

I recall a conversation with a friend a couple of years back.

She had just joined an online dating site and had met a guy who seemed to be nice but turned out to be a paranoid freak and she had ditched him.

"Yeah. The guy sounds like a freak," I said.

I only recall this because I was absent-mindedly browsing through their wedding photos on Facebook today.    I don't think my friend talked to me much since. Maybe she was not a close friend. Which raises the question does one write.

A - congratulations

B - Isn't this the guy you said was a freak?

C - Not bother to comment.

Now most of us would opt for A or C and indeed I oped for C. But alarmingly I would have taken rather a lot of pleasure in B.

So my daughter was meant to take 10 tins of food into girl scouts.

I asked her why.

"So as I can get a badge."

"Oh so we give away most of the week's food so as you can get a badge."

I receive a terse text from my wife asking me why I wasn't emptying the whole of the larder. Do I answer.

A - Because I don't give a flying about a sew-on badge

B - Because the Girl Scouts is essentially an evil organization.

Well neither because I get another text saying the tins are for the homeless and I should have known that. So I compromised on six tins, mainly items like diced tomatoes, minced tripe etc. I have no problem with it going to the homeless but I really detest the Girl Scouts and not just because all of their cookies are sucky (apart from the chocolate mint ones).

Girl Scouts meet in a dingy church hall, most of the people there are trashy and it's run by two terminally grumpy and rude women who grunt at me when I ask them a question. The one time my daughter wore her uniform nobody else did.

I am throwing these random and mismatching factoids together because they sum up my mood of petulant defiance today. We are expected to do things a certain way and if we don't do them people frown at us.

It's like going to church. In many parts of America people look at you like you have a small aerial coming out of the back of your head and are receiving messages from the Planet Zob if you don't go to church.

Well I can tell you I have attended church in America and it's mostly the same old dull dialogue I used to snooze through in Britain, although you may actually see someone under 70 years of age.

A lot of people seem to be giving up their blogs lately I've noticed. I wonder if this is because they have become passe and no longer cutting edge and exciting. Maybe blogging has gone from being a bit daring to being another bloody chore like going to church.

I've certainly thought of giving it up. Or refocusing it. Or finding some kind of niche. Like restricting my blogs to a particular species of South American centipede.

Someone said to me "keep trucking" the other day. It seemed a curious thing to say to someone who doesn't have a truck but I suppose it's decent advice. What other choice do I have?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Mitt Romney ate my gerbil with Hollandaise sauce

The problem with this headline is he didn't to my knowledge. And it's rather unlikely that he would have done because:

  1. He doesn't seem the gerbil munching type
  2. It might be bad for votes
  3. I don't own a gerbil and if I did I may have already whipped it into a rodent souffle
  4. All of the above

Mitt Romney (Gage Skidmore)

I'm really just saying this to illustrate how dull I'm finding this whole election. I can't listen to the radio without a shock ad. coming on about 47 percent; I can't watch a YouTube clip without being subjected to a campaign ad. at the start of it.

It's true I have watched a couple of debates. I saw most of the one where Mitt Romney pretended to be the President and the President pretended to be some hapless dude who had walked into the wrong studio.

The TV went on the blink during the Biden/Ryan one so I saw some of it on my laptop (honestly what's the point of a $700 flat screen these days?). While people criticized Biden for rolling his eyes, smirking and being rude, I thought this was the high point of the debate as Joe took on some little weasel who had swallowed a load of facts and was regurgitating them like Oreos. OK I get annoyed at anyone who is younger than me who acts older than me (which is not hard to do).

In some ways my disaffection with the whole boring sleazy process is regrettable because I can finally vote in a Presidential election for the first time, although it seems I may be too late to opt for Lincoln.

I'm sorry to say it was much more fun last time around, watching Sarah Palin trying to get more than two brain cells to connect and babbling on about seeing Russia. Oddly enough I feel Palin represents America a lot more than these guys in suits.

Go to any high school soccer or football game and you will see psycho moms screaming on the touchline, threatening to kill any kid who tackles her own. You'll see her at the Civic League meeting bitching about the people who have let their grass grow too long. You'll see her in the office, spreading poison about fellow employees. It's not an argument for getting someone like that to run the country, but at least I wouldn't glaze over the way I do every time I see Mitt Romney recycling his cliches and showing absolutely no inclination to dine on gerbil.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Last flight to Lamesville

Today it was still dark when I woke up. I had slept fitfully and was hoping it was about 5 a.m. I was shocked to see it was almost 7 a.m. which was disturbing news as I had an appointment in Lamesville.

I'm beginning to get a feeling I willingly accept assignments that everyone else turns down and this may have been the case with the radio controlled World War One model aeroplane show.

A few days ago I recklessly told some organizer type I would cover it on Sunday. So I am spending Saturday night in my usual high living genre of party style living ie. in extreme sampling mode at Harris Teeter when the aforementioned organizer type calls me. He tells me it's going to rain on Sunday and all of the pilots (they are called pilots even though they control planes from the ground) are packing up and leaving on Saturday night or early Sunday.

It probably won't even be worth going along at all, unless I can get there by 8 a.m. to get a few of the last of the diehards putting their models in their SUVs.

This causes me a conundrum as I need the fairly paltry sum the job will pay to feed my extreme sampling habit. But it's 8 a.m. and when I look at the map it's so far on the far side of Virginia Beach that if you went any further east you'd be supping Guinness and getting all bleary eyed about the old country.

Even so I find myself leaving at half light and walking into a tone of greyness that I haven't seen for a long time. There's a chill in the air that's not altogether unpleasant and makes me think of London parks and the crunch of brown leaves on the days that close in around us.

After driving for about 45 minutes I reach a desultory airfield and there are a few people packing up their planes. I comfort myself by reminding myself it's just another lame chapter in an ongoing life of general lameness. Thirty minutes later and the story would have been packed away altogether and driven to Pittsburgh. Obliquely I start to wish I had missed them. It would have rounded off a bleak morning in a more appropriately forlorn fashion. The warning from the cop about the brake light almost succeeded in doing this but it would have required a fine equal to the freelance payment to have totally succeeded.

I digress but will say it's hard to get enthusiastic about the hobby that takes middle aged men to far flung airfields in all weathers. It's difficult to ask informed questions. For some strange reason I found myself thinking I would rather have been here.

And how it's been so long since I have last been to Positano, or Italy generally. And how I'll probably never get back there unless I request someone scatters my ashes on the seven hills or Rome and even then they'll probably not bother and shove me in a garbage skip at the back of McDonald's.

Still I asked the inane questions and went through the motions.And I didn't tell them that long ago, seemingly in another life I wanted to hover high above the trenches with the sun on my wings because a lonely impulse of delight, drove to this tumult in the clouds.

I didn't ask much about that. I just asked about names, ages and dimensions. The usual thing.

But at least they were pleased to see me.....

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Gangnam Style and other South East Asian Geekiness

I'm not exactly on the pace with youff culture having only recently developed an awareness of Gangnam Style which I originally thought was something to do with fashion. I can't say I've been horse dancing down the street ever since but I've checked the vid. out a couple of times.

So the idiot's guide (aimed at people like me) is that Gangnam Style is a dance song written and performed by Korean pop singer Park Jae Sung, better known as PSY.

It's topped the charts all over the world and the vid went seriously viral at the rate of 9 million views a day.  That's quite a lot. It's more than this blog, possibly.

So how come Korea has become cool all of a sudden? I guess that dictator died etc.

Or was that North Korea? Anyhow PSY isn't exactly a dude. He has the look of a pudgy computer programmer and dresses like a second rate Mariachi singer in a cheap Mexican hotel.

In fact his majestic uncoolness is the key to his success. There's cache in nerdiness these days. It seems the song was written as a satire on a blingy part of Seoul, which means little to me as I have no real conception of Seoul.

But I'm a fan of South East Asian nerdiness. I used to watch the crazy Japanese game shows as a kid and was rather partial to the British spoof comedy of Japanese game shows, Banzai.

Banzai featured a series of crazy characters like Mr. Shake Hands who would not let go of the hands of celebrities and my personal favorite Lady One Question, who would ask a celebrity one question in an interview and not follow up, leaving them dangling as in the case of a bemused Simon Cowell.

The show didn't get much exposure in the US. Asian American groups complained and it was pulled. It was big for a while in Canada. But then, so too was Celine Dion. The less said about that the better.

Place bets now.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sir Jimmy Savile - a child molester and pervert?

In a post last year called Losing Sir Jimmy I wrote about Sir Jimmy Savile in nostalgic, if not altogether glowing terms.

Certainly the guy was an ego maniac and at times unpleasant. And the paedo rumors were there swirling around him but not substantiated. Like idiots we gave him the benefit of the doubt.

It's, therefore, a real shock to me to read in The Sun about how a number of women have come forward to claim how the late flaboyant Top of the Pops presenter and DJ sexually abused them when they were teenagers.

This is a really horrible and shocking tale. It reveals what you can get away with just because you happen to be a celebrity and how the word of a victim means nothing if it's up against a TV star. And while we should pepper this account with a few "allegedlys," I really can't see why a number of grown women would come forward 38 years later to make allegations against a dead man that weren't true.

I was particularly taken aback by the line that when one of Savile's 14-year-old victims complained to her school staff did not believe her and put her in a padded cell for five days in solitary confinement until she withdrew her story.

On Wednesday ITV will air a documentary claiming Sir Jimmy abused under-age girls including at the BBC TV Center and in his Rolls Royce.

This is sickening on so many levels. When I was growing up Sir Jimmy was chosen to front the most famous children's TV show at the time Jim'll Fix It - a show in which he bounced kids happily on his knee and made their dreams come true. We all wrote in and expressed our disappointment when we weren't picked. It's a disconcerting feeling to know the real JS; it's a bit like discovering Santa was a kiddie fiddler.

There's another disturbing dimension to this. Last year BBC 2's Newsnight show was investigating an allegation of another of Sir Jimmy's alleged victims. Newsnight has a repuation for hard-hitting journalism (supposedly) but the report was axed.

According to the Sun bosses at the BBC were "incredibly uncomfortable" about the report because so much money had already been spent on a lavish tribute to Sir Jimmy last Christmas and it was pulled. So much for investigative journalism.

It seems nobody was brave enought to get the truth on Sir Jimmy when he was alive and they were even reticent to do so after his death.

I'm going to cut this rant short as I'm feeling queasy and it's gone midnight.

I Don't Queue : Does That Make Me Unpatriotic?

I'm bemused by the scenes from Westminster today. People are queuing for 24 hours to see a wooden box. OK, it's a fancy box surround...