Back to the 80s…

I really should get around to putting a few more of my terrible articles on here. Part II of the Metal Stone Age piece has been sat on my desktop, looking wan, near-finished, yet neglected for light years now. In my defence this time of year is always fearsomely busy for me, and this year was no exception. Top that with having to move onto a new PC, as my old one threatened messy suicide, with a new OS (Windows 8, I hate you) and I think a little chaos was to be expected. And the dog ate it…

Aberale Anyhow, can’t get too much done now as I’m off PDQ on my annual pilgrimage to the awesome Abertoir horror fest in Wales. They’re celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the infamous Video Nasties Act, so expect plenty of 80s-themed depravity. I’ll be there as usual, giving one of my infamous talks, on Wednesday afternoon. I’m hoping to give a little context – a history of media panics and censorship – in an address that will be bursting with wit and wisdom… or wrongness. Mostly wrongness. However, don’t let me put you off. After all, where else can you get a limited edition horror beer, distinguished by the image of Gizmo the gremlin watching Cannibal Holocaust?

If you come along and see me, say hello. I might even buy you a beer…

Metal’s Stone Age

Part One: Born to Be Wild

My recent annual pilgrimage to the Bloodstock Open Air heavy metal festival’s inspired me to meditate on matters metallic and heavy, particularly of the primordial variety. ‘Primordial’s one of the terms frequently associated with the genre. Indeed, as anyone who’s ever written much about metal at any length can confirm, one of the challenges is finding new adjectives to employ after the more obvious candidates have been done-to-death. I can’t be the only metal scribe who’s found themselves driven in desperation to the thesaurus looking for fresh ways of saying ‘ominous’, ‘brutal’, ‘thunderous’, and suchlike. And I’ve been in this game in one form or another far longer than I’d care to recall.

When I first started putting finger to keyboard on the topic, serious studies of the genre and its associated subculture were notably thin on the ground. In recent years, a substantial library of texts – many of them impenetrably (and I’d suggest often risibly) academic – has accumulated. Of course, the cultural landscape has shifted quite a bit. For example, many bands once regarded as mainstays of the metal genre – the likes of Nazareth or Uriah Heep – have since long been pensioned off into the general rock section. Muddying the waters, heavy metal only really established itself as common parlance gradually during the 70s, allowing for myriad interpretations as it evolved and reinvented itself throughout the decade.

Black_Sabbath_debut_albumMost, however, now agree that the first fully-fledged heavy metal album was Black Sabbath’s eponymous debut, giving the genre a date-of-birth of Friday the 13th of February, 1970. Identifying the genre’s prehistory, however, takes the metal scholar into more controversial territory. When I’ve been trying to excavate metal’s roots I frequently find myself at odds with the orthodox version of events. Bands and songs routinely referred to as the genre’s direct ancestors often feel instinctively wrong. So, if you’ll indulge me in a brace of little essays, I’d like to ponder the movement’s prehistory, before offering my own unorthodox candidate for the mantle of heavy metal’s forefathers. In the process I’ll be offering the odd personal perspective on what I – as a lifelong fan – think makes heavy metal, well, heavy metal…

The origins of the term itself are obscure. ‘Heavy’ is hippie slang for ominous, serious or grave – all adjectives appropriate to the genre. The ‘metal’ part is more difficult to pin down. Outside of the realms of pop culture, in chemical terms ‘heavy metal’ refers to metals with unusual density or toxicity, such as lead or cadmium. But there appears to be little more than coincidental connections between this scientific term and the musical subculture we’re putting under the microscope here. In our context, the term doesn’t really mean anything. Perhaps that’s part of the secret of the subculture’s longevity, as such ambiguity allows for an elasticity of definition. In other words, if ‘heavy metal’ as a phrase effectively meant nothing, it could potentially mean anything.

Other comparable subcultures have laboured under more explicit, hence limiting, inappropriate or unhelpful, monikers. Mod, for example, was an abbreviation of ‘Modernist’ when the movement emerged in the early 60s. Today, Mod’s one of the most backward-looking, nostalgia-bound subculture to be found on the streets. While I’d contend that the Gothic elements are the most interesting aspects of the Goth movement, many devotees think the emphasis on all things dark and gloomy is misleading and unnecessarily brands Goths as clichéd miserablists. By way of contrast, while the phrase ‘heavy metal’ implies ideas about power and strength, it remains abstract – open to reinterpretation and evolution.

steppenwolf-wildBut, for all that, the term must’ve come from somewhere. Theories about its genesis range from references in the work of the druggy beat author William Burroughs, to language used in live reviews of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. A more concrete source can be found in the 1968 Steppenwolf song ‘Born to be Wild’. The lyrics ‘I like smoke and lightning, Heavy metal thunder, Racing with the wind, And the feeling that I’m under’ not only likely represent the first use of the terminology in a song, but also capture something of the ethos that would come to epitomise the spirit of heavy metal – a tempestuous passion for Wagnerian melodrama, an evocation of nature red in tooth and claw.

Crucially, however, it was the song’s prominent inclusion in the soundtrack to the iconic biker flick ‘Easy Rider’ the following year that ensured the song’s immortality. Within that context, the previously ambiguous ‘heavy metal’ now clearly refers to the custom Harleys at the core of the film (revving bike engines introduce the song on the soundtrack album). Motorbikes – particularly big, American customised bikes – quickly became iconic in metal culture. Though the relationship between metal and the outlaw biker subculture was often initially akin to that between an overly eager youngster and his cooler older brother – metalheads liked bikes more than most bikers liked metal – there’s more than one band promo shot where the metal heroes are sat astride borrowed motorbikes.

Judas_Priest_early_1973The band that did more to establish heavy metal style than most was England’s Judas Priest. Founded in 1969, they evolved from a generic hippie hard rock outfit, via a brief psychedelic silken prog stage, to the stereotypical leatherclad metal outfit. ‘The whole association with motorcycles and Judas Priest goes back to [1978 release] ‘Hell Bent for Leather’,’ the band’s vocalist Rob Halford reflected. ‘When we were touring in England, we thought that it would be cool if we could bring the bike on stage when we did the song.’ Yet, despite the leather and chains, Halford was no biker, and in one of metal’s more unedifying episodes collided with a stage prop while astride the bike while performing in 1990. The singer suffered a broken nose and was knocked out, though as a true trooper concluded the show as soon as he came round.

halford bikeIn truth, powerful custom bikes have long been largely the stuff of fantasy for many young metal fans, alongside other iconic imagery, from battleaxes and expensive guitars, to demons and improbably chesty ladies-of-easy-virtue. Romantic escapism has always been at the core of the subculture’s allure. Few worldly fans were surprised when it became clear that the band’s wardrobe came, not from a Hell’s Angels chop shop, but an S/M boutique aimed at gay men who liked to play at being stereotypical butch bikers. Or indeed, surprised when Halford came out as homosexual himself in 1998. Titles like ‘Hell Bent for Leather’ didn’t take too much decoding in order to detect a possible gay subtext.

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This isn’t, incidentally to suggest heavy metal is an inherently homosexual subculture, rather that both cultures share a keen appreciation of the subtleties of high camp. There are gay metal aficionados, but one suspects no more or less in number than in any comparable demographic. And, contrary to the enduring negative stereotypes about metal fans as backward bigots, Rob Halford recalls that when he revealed his sexuality to fans, ‘the vast majority of them were completely accepting of me, and it was tremendously powerful.’ Metal’s long provided a home to outcasts and misfits – though typically those beyond the clichéd ‘minorities’ patronisingly put on pedestals by the liberal left.

WildangelsposterReturning back to ‘Easy Rider’, it’s worth making a few observations on the 1969 film’s subcultural significance. Its importance rests in part on the way the movie represented an axis between a series of underground trends and movements. It wasn’t, as many suppose, the first cult biker film. By the time ‘Easy Rider’ hit the screens, a subgenre had already been established for several years. Movies like ‘The Wild Angels’ (1966), ‘Hell’s Angels on Wheels’ (1967), ‘Angels from Hell’ (1968) were already pulling crowds and outraging critics with their depiction of high-octane, two-wheeled mayhem and sleazy, nihilistic thrill-seeking. The tag-lines for these films – such as ‘Their credo is violence… Their God is hate…’ for ‘The Wild Angels’ – could easily fit into a metal lyric of some kind.

By way of comparison, ‘Easy Rider’ is a gentle, even pacifistic ride, where the protagonists are the victims, not the perpetrators of brutality. Our heroes may have financed their journey of discovery with a sizeable drugs deal, and chosen to take it astride chopped Harleys, but their goal is the pursuit of old-fashioned freedom in the face of an oppressive world. While the Hells Angels themselves only came to prominence in the 60s – largely courtesy of demonisation in the media – the outlaw biker culture depicted in the Angel films had roots stretching at least as far back as the 40s. The 1953 film ‘The Wild One’, which both launched the career of a young Marlon Brando and a legion of leather-clad, rebel motorcyclists, was inspired by a 1947 bike rally in Hollister, California, that famously got out of hand.

wild-one‘The Wild One’ was a subcultural game-changer, and so was ‘Easy Rider’ sixteen years later. Interestingly, colourised stills from the B&W ‘Wild One’ depict the bikers’ jackets as brown, not black, while they ride Brit bikes rather than American Harleys (then often considered the cheap, unreliable option). Bikers had long been condemned by straights for their longhair, but such things are relative. In the early days, when crew cuts and buzz cuts signified male conformity, hair that approached the collar was regarded with suspicion, particularly if greased up into a quiff or pompadour. It was ‘Easy Rider’, with its international success, which was instrumental in introducing even longer hair into the metal scene, via the outlaw biker subculture.

‘Easy Rider’ represented a collision between the biker and hippie subcultures, already cross-pollinating in the heady atmosphere of America’s West Coast. Previously a world chiefly fuelled by beer, the introduction of illicit narcotics to the mix – at least according to their many critics – transformed the hardcore of the biker legions from lawless hellraisers to organised crime outfits. In fact, clubs like the Hell’s Angels had long been far more ordered, even disciplined, than many outsiders suspected, working under a rigidly enforced set of rules. This chimes ill with heavy metal’s instinctive rejection of rules, which is perhaps why ‘Easy Rider’ – with its underlying requiem for doomed freedom and individualism – is more a part of metal’s blueprint than the brutal Angel movies with their close-knit cabals of freewheeling thugs and hard-drinking ne’er-do-wells.

easy-rider-film-poster‘Easy Rider’ was in many respects a tombstone for the hippie era (the subculture’s forefathers had held a funeral for the movement in its San Francisco birthplace two years earlier). The film’s bleak ending expressed a general sense that the experiment in Flower Power idealism had failed, one of a series of grim omens in 1969 that promised a dark future ahead. Things were definitely getting heavy. Early heavy metal provided a funeral dirge for the lost innocence of the love generation. Black Sabbath often talked about the contrast between the beautiful things they’d heard were happening in sunny California, and the altogether grimmer realities they were experiencing, a sense of despair and betrayal that characterised their early music. Heavy metal was the epic hangover after the hedonistic celebrations of the Summer of Love.

While heavy metal finding its feet during the 70s, it drew on a few hippie influences, and rather more drawn from biker culture, such as black leather and cut off denim jackets. However other elements began to creep in. For example, one of the most influential heavy albums ever recorded, is surely Motörhead’s 1980 release ‘Ace of Spades’ (despite the band’s rejection of the metal label). Not just for its seminal musical content, but also the photo shoot on the cover, which depicts the band as desperados drawn straight from a Spaghetti Western. I’d contend that shoot would never have happened without the huge success of Sergio Leone’s ‘Dollars’ trilogy of films released some fifteen years earlier. Clint Eastwood’s snake-eyed, lone wolf Man With No Name made a perfect heavy metal icon, and cowboy boots and bullet belts duly made their way into metal wardrobes (though not many could pull off the poncho).

Ace_of_SpadesYou’ll have noticed by now that I’ve been emphasising general culture – cinema in particular in this case – in my survey of the roots of heavy metal. It’s more conventional to focus almost exclusively on music while attempting such a survey – something I’ve deliberately avoided here. It’s always been a feature of my work to try and understand the milieu in which subcultures avoid – they do not evolve in a vacuum, but react to events and other cultural output that is going on around them. Yet I can’t deny that the music is, of course, highly significant. In the second half of this essay, I’m going to address where heavy metal music came from in my opinion. My theories don’t agree with the orthodox version, and might just surprise a few of you…

What I Did in My Holidays…

BOAI’ve been neglecting this blog a little of late, but will be returning with a vengeance with a few of my dreaded essays presently. In the meantime, to give some idea of what I’ve been up to when I should have been updating this, here’s an account of my misadventures at the Bloodstock Open Air festival which I penned for those fine folk at Alchemy. Check it out here

A Mass of Contradictions

time-person-of-the-year-cover-pope-francisDuring his short primacy, the new pope, Francis has been enjoying something of a honeymoon with the world’s press. Even liberal commentators, largely previously hostile to the Vatican, have been lavishing praise on this new, Argentinian Bishop of Rome. In particular, his condemnation of predatory capitalism has played well with many previously sceptical observers, spiritual and secular alike. (Though a few US right-wingers have been dismissing the pontiff as a Marxist.) This Satanic cynic remains resolutely sceptical, however. Has it really taken the Vatican over 1500 years to reach that part of the Bible about camels and eyes of needles?…

In fairness, economics is hardly my strong suit, and I’d be willing to let this ride and see what Francis does next. But now he’s trespassed on my home territory, and I’m not happy about it…

Our story begins as, doubtless buoyed by his current widespread popularity, Pope Francis has decided to grasp the nastiest nettle currently facing the Catholic Church. I refer of course to its current status as the international HQ for institutionalised paedophilia. Not before time. Last February, the UN, no less, condemned the Vatican for sheltering paedophile clergymen. Yet, it’s difficult to disagree with anyone who’s proposing to take a tough line on child abuse, even if he heads an organisation with such a heinous record in that department, and the Pontiff has promised a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to the problem. “Sexual abuse is such an ugly crime… because a priest who does this betrays the body of the Lord,” he explained. “It is like a Satanic Mass…”

Whoa – hold on just a minute there Frank!

lavey massSexual abuse is an ugly crime for many reasons. Betraying the body of the Lord – whatever the fuck that means in modern English – is not one of them. And, priests raping children is ‘like a Satanic Mass’? This is bullshit, pure and simple, and it’s pretty toxic bullshit to boot. I know a fair bit about Satanic Masses in their various manifestations one way and another. While there isn’t the space to go into any detail here, suffice it to say, that in none of the variety of popular variants to be found in history, modern occultism or pop culture, does child abuse figure. Sexuality – for sure – but adult sexuality, celebrating the ‘wickedness’ of eroticism devoid of Christian guilt, reveling in sex for pleasure rather than procreation while parodying the tyranny of superstition.

The whole ritualised paedophilia scenario is your bag, Pop Francis, and you can’t just offload it onto imaginary Satanic cults or demonic forces at a whim. It won’t wash.

Check out the eroticised infants to be found in Catholic iconography – from the endless succession of naked young messiahs in religious art, to the flocks of nude cherubs nesting in church buildings – combine it with strange ideas about celibacy and carnal sin, and you clearly have the basic recipe for the endemic child abuse found in your faith. The Satanic Ritual Abuse myth concocted by Christians in the 1970s and 80s is surely one of the clearest examples of projection to be found in modern social history. Satanism has nothing to do with it, and the more you try to scapegoat an imaginary other for the iniquities of your own organisation, the clearer it becomes that you have no real interest in confronting the cancer at Catholicism’s core.

rops anthonyThe Pope has announced that he plans to meet victims of Catholic sexual abuse for a Mass at the Vatican next month. That sounds, erm, sort of crazy. A little like if the BBC suggested that the victims of the crimes being investigated by Operation Yew Tree convene to attend a relaunch of Top of the Pops. The things is, Your Holiness, that anyone raped by a priest is likely to harbour doubts about your organisation’s claims to represent divine virtue on earth. Particularly when said organisation compounded said crimes by responding to accusations by reflexively attempting to silence the victim and cradle the perpetrator.

Let’s get this one thing straight. Your job description – your sole raison d’être – is as direct human conduits for ultimate goodness. You need to be explaining how this fits with raping children. Yes, there are other paedophiles, but none of them draw a wage from an outfit whose only reason for existence is that they’re impossibly good people.

pope-francis-kisses babyPope Francis promises that his investigation will be thorough, and commentators are wondering whether it will extend beyond those clergy guilty of sex crimes to the bishops who helped cover them up. But why stop there? What about the cardinals who appointed such corrupt primates, aware one assumes, of their moral shortcomings? What, indeed, about the Vatican itself behind these cardinals? Just where does our root-and-branch reform end? How about the God that they insist is directly behind the elevation of the pontiffs who have presided over the suffering of so many young innocents?

Might Jehovah Himself have questions to answer? All those centuries back, did He ever ask the consent of Mary? How old was she when she was impregnated – sources suggest perhaps twelve or thirteen! Was Christ born of a divine sexual assault?
mary impregnated
Asking awkward questions like that is what Satanism’s about, Francis, not the kind of squalid horrors hidden in the Vatican…

Banger Present Extreme Metal ‘Lost’ Episode to Fans Free

I first became involved with Canadian anthropologist and metal fiend Sam Dunn when he interviewed me for the acclaimed landmark 2005 documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. Its success led to an eleven-part series by the same production company, Banger Films, entitled Metal Evolution, which finally aired 2011, and I was lucky enough to feature in a couple of episodes of this project, which dissected metal into subgenres. Despite being the best-informed, most comprehensive treatment of heavy metal ever attempted, the series still felt a little like an unfinished project.
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It was. The networks that funded the ambitious series weren’t interested in the final, twelfth episode, focusing on the extreme metal that represents the genre’s creative cutting-edge, feeling it was too potentially controversial. Yet Sam and Metal Evolution’s growing legion of fans felt this was a glaring omission, and set up a crowdsourcing campaign to fund what was now known as the ‘lost’ extreme episode. That campaign’s finally borne fruit, and the episode is now available – for further info and to check it out, click on this page here, where the show is available ABSOLUTELY FREE, as a thank you to the metal fans of the world.

I’m proud to say that I feature in this excellent production too, but don’t let that put you off as I’m in some highly distinguished company. In just under an hour, Sam crams in a comprehensive history of one of music’s most diverse and divisive realms with just enough personal perspective. It’ll undoubtedly trigger controversy and debate – as it should – this is the most turbulent and obsessive extreme of a passionate movement. Taken together with previous parts of Metal Evolution, most notably the thrash episode, the Lost episode presents the definitive look at music’s most disreputable subgenres.

Stupid Shit Singers Say…

I’ve been to my share of rock gigs over the years – enough to consider myself something of a grizzled old veteran – more than enough to get seriously sick of some of the clichéd old crap that too many vocalists bark, mutter and prattle into the microphone to fill the empty spots between songs. Sure, a talented frontman can make a concert with his magnetic charisma and witty repartee. But not every decent vocalist is an accomplished raconteur, and for every natural star whose gilded words transform a gig into a transcendent experience, there are numerous windy gobshites who really should just get on with it…

So, as something of a vainglorious gobshite myself, I’ll treat the world to a brief rundown of the most irritatingly predictable and inanely pointless banter that echoes with depressing regularity through the music venues of the world…
tap

Hello Worksop/Warsaw/Washington/Wherever we happen to be playing…

As a generous sort, I’ll let them have this one. It does at least prove that they’ve made the effort to find out where they are that evening, and that they’ve got the basic cognitive function and motor skills to recall and repeat the information, which bodes well for finishing the gig before sinking into an intoxicated heap. It can also be useful for the more inebriated members of the audience, who can occasionally use a few pointers as to where in Hell they are now.

I want you all to put your hands in the air…

Why? Seriously, what the fuck for? I have a horrible suspicion that it’s a preamble to trying to get the audience to clap along and ruin some fucking song I used to quite like. Clapping’s for the end of the song, recognition that at least you’ve made it to the finish of another number. Clapping halfway through betrays a lack of confidence. Plus, it makes everyone look sort of desperate and retarded.
crowd

I want to see if everyone on the left side of the audience can sing louder than everyone on the right side of the audience…

Again, why? Is this some sort of OCD thing? Are you so bored you made a bet on the matter with your drummer? Whatever the reason, you can satisfy your curiosity on your own fucking time. I paid to hear you sing, not the teeming mass of unwashed drunks in the audience, let alone be guilt-tripped into singing myself. I sing, I want a slice of the door take.
phantom-of-the-paradise

Are you having a good time?…

It’s sweet of you to ask… Actually, no. No it’s not. File this one under futile. Call me a cynic, but when I try to respond I don’t think you’re really listening. As it happens, I ate from the fast food van outside the venue, so my guts are churning like a burlesque dancer’s titty tassels. But you don’t seem to care. Don’t stop the gig to fetch me a bottle of Gaviscon. Callous bastard with your empty sentiment.
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Everybody drink!…

I’ve never understood the idea that people need advice on how to get drunk. They don’t have instructions on booze bottles directing the purchaser on how to achieve inebriation, and there are reasons for that. So why do so many singers feel the compulsion to continually urge the crowd to keep drinking as if otherwise they might forget? How about reminding folk to eat healthily or exercise regularly? Teach everyone some basic conversational Spanish or some shit maybe? You might even get some kind of EU grant.

Goodnight Wakefield/Wichita/Wellington/Wherever we were just playing…

This is fine if you mean it. If, however, you plan on returning after five minutes backstage, waiting expectantly for the boozy mob to chant your band name, then fuck off. That moment when the magic of a pitch perfect gig means everyone wills the musicians to return for just one more song is the stuff of legends. The inevitable, rehearsed obligatory encore, where the band troop out for a second bite of the cherry, is a waste of everybody’s time. Why not do everyone a favour, and sod off prompt and pronto leaving everyone wanting more?

bad news

Raising Hell in Bath

Félicien_Rops_-_Le_bibliothécaireThe good people of the Omphalos Group in Bath have invited me to give a talk at their monthly meeting this coming Sunday (March 9th). I shall be holding forth on my specialist subject, the Devil, focusing in particular on how Old Scratch has adapted and evolved to serve our collective needs, dreads and desires over the years. While I can’t guarantee anything quite as exciting or scandalous as the manifestation being enjoyed by the lucky librarian in the delicious illustration by the eminent Monsieur Rops above, I will be unveiling some of the original research behind my imminent new book, while suggesting that the modern witch needs the Devil more than ever!…

For further details, click here.

Summer is a Coming In (in a Manner of Speaking…)

the-wicker-man-poster

black swanAny fans of horror cinema who find themselves in the ancient city of York this coming weekend, may be interested to learn that there is to be a screening of the classic cult chiller The Wicker Man at the historic Black Swan inn. Screening at 8pm on Saturday 22nd of February as part of the BFI’s Gothic season, I’ll be delivering a short introduction to the film, opening this rare opportunity to see one of the greatest British films ever made in a peerlessly atmospheric environment washed down by some fine local ale.

Cupid’s Dart (Seriously Off Course in the Seventies…)

Okay, I know this is a little late for Valentine’s Day, but I got a bit distracted one way and another. It’s also another post to file under ‘Hell – it’s my blog – I write what I want’ I’m afraid. It’s mad rubbish – so sue me. So, on with our story…

The book I’m currently working on involves a lot of transcription. It also involves going through a lot of the 70s pulp occult paperbacks I collect (at least part of the justification for this post is an excuse to post the wonderful cover below). Anyhow, while trawling a junk shop a few years back I found The Magicians, one of the apparently limitless number of similar volumes edited by the indefatigable Peter Haining.
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It was only when I got it home that I noticed that the original owner had written on the inside cover of the book. Usually people who write anything in books inspire me to venomous rage, but on this occasion, the poignant – and evidently pissed – nature of the outpourings detailed therein appealed somehow. I thought they were kind of appropriate for Valentine’s, so decided, somewhat randomly, to share.

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As the pencil writing’s rather faded over the past forty-plus years, here’s a transcription…

I wrote this when sitting outside of the Crown waiting for Aileen to finish being a barmaid, I believe it’s hopeless but I will have drank at least four pints by 10.30, and I want her cause I guess I am in love, 3rd July 72. What a shit I am.

And, on the inside back cover our saga continues, though now the writing’s slightly wobblier…

Oh dear this is a dead loss she just [illegible] (10.45) its stupid me waiting around and think there is a bus in a minute. But I can’t go and I don’t know why. I’m [illegible] while listening to the glasses rattle, and a man collects the glasses and I fear she may have a lift home and leave me – but I don’t care – I have to stay and I can’t go _ God why do I hope for what I know is logically impossible. Why I don’t know. But it’s so and I can’t get rid of the idea of her, it’s obviously desperate and I know the man the more incidents happen that it’s more and more [illegible] but I just can’t help it. Please help me –

And there, our story ends. Whatever happened to our hero – he must now be of pensionable age – or indeed the lovely Aileen? Was his love forever in vain? Did his interest in occult paperbacks and habit of writing in them with a pencil up the pub put her off? Will I do anything to avoid doing actual work? Answers scribbled on the inside of a ratty old horror book and then donated to a junk shop please…