Hookland County Chronicle
We can map England in tunnels. No part of England is without tunnel rumour. Tunnels for smuggling. Wicked tunnels for monks making nunnery visits. Escape excavations from castles, secret passage to pub. Templar tunnels, impossible tunnels to St. Martin’s Land. For England is a hollow nation. A thin green lid atop apocalypse shelters, occulted routes from cove to inn and ways that might wind to Faerie or Hell itself. To chart its chthonic is to know not only where the blood of Albion pumps, but to know the secrets of the land. If we ever fully traced its fabled below we could extend the London Underground all the way to Whitby or the giant Gog hill figure outside of Coreham without once seeing sun. – C.L. Nolan, The Secret Land, (Richard & Horlick, 1912)
Hello. Welcome to Issue 11 of the Hookland County Chronicle – read by some 1966 souls in 44 countries and 47 US states. In the numerology of Hookland, 11 is often regarded as symbolising divine light or hidden wisdom. Unfortunately, I think it is unlikely that you’ll find much of either in this particular publication. However, as I have now turned on the Notes function on Substack, you are able to tell me where I’m going wrong on that front even more easily. – David
Of course, when we read the past, we find nonsense. Not the nonsense of sham séances, expelled ectoplasm from every orifice that our own age has surfeit of, no the nonsense of ranking ghosts according to ‘high and low degree’. These ridiculous class hierarchies that give more worth to the spectres of lords of the manor than maidservants and labourers are abhorrent piffle. Being able to trace a spirit’s lineage back to the time of Edward I or Henry VIII makes it no more impressive than that of a cook whose name was not recorded in the books of history. Those who pay attention to spurious spectral status are always a rum lot, but we read the past not for its drivelings, its absurd opinions, but for its reporting. I might think D.B. Hudson is a fool for doffing his cap to every shade of Sir, squire and holder of title he comes across, but it does not mean his recording of events in ‘A Spirited County’ is invalidated. If we had to discount every ghost book written by those with an unhealthy obsession with English aristocracy, our library shelves would be uncomfortably empty. – C. Josiffe, A Gathering of Ghosts, (Ward & Wolfpit, 1937)
You Beast You! Feorhunds
While the term bestiary is most usually applied to a book of beasts caged in ink, the term has also been more loosely applied to carved compendiums of critters often found in churches or cathedrals. Among these wood and stone bestiaries, mediaeval craftsmen seemed to have had their favourite beasts. We see animals not only repeated again and again, but depicted with such an obvious relish one is forced to wonder what they meant to them. Sir John Betjeman in his television series The English Alphabet suggested the English holy trinity of carved creatures in the High Mediaeval was: “Woodwose, Marsh Ape and Feorhund – the mighty winged-hound of the age, but sadly not a breed recognised by The Kennel Club.” There is no arguing against Betjeman’s claims that Feorhund is over-represented among the carved chimera guardians found in Hookland’s churches. Weychester cathedral alone contains no less than six of the winged or feathered dogs clinging to it arches. In rare unity, most bestiaries that feature Feorhunds class them as church grims – guardian spirits able to assume physical form to protect the place they are bound to from profanity or physical harm. Unity on the feorhunds is soon abandoned by bestiaries with the Woodville Psalter and the Bestiaire of Gilbert de Thaon depicting them as having feathered wings and backs, while the Weychester Book of Beasts and others show their wings as more bat-like, being formed primarily of leathery flesh. In the 13th century, William of Childerpool recorded them as being three to four at the shoulder, having a bearded countenance and nails longer than other hound that allow it to climb even the most smooth of stone pillars. He also recorded that like other Grims, the Feorhund was bound to a church by the sacrifice of a beloved hound placed under its cornerstone or threshold. While they begin to disappear from records at the end of the 14th century, the parish accounts of St. Faith’s at Fairfield show wages of 30 shillings per year were paid to the intriguingly titled ‘Keeper of the Feorhund’. Modern imaginations may view Feorhunds as wonderous, friendly flying-dogs due to their appearance in the children’s fantasy books of Daisy M. Winters, but previously they were seen as much more fearsome and bloodthirsty. In 1657 during the brutalities of the Interregnum, John Tollard ‘a Commissioner well-affected to the Cromwellian tyranny’, was found mauled to death in the churchyard of St. Blaise at Rugwood. His demise was blamed by many locally upon aggravating the church’s resident Feorhund. Interestingly, when restoration work was undertaken at St. Blaise’s in 1968, the skeleton of a large dog and what was interpret as the remains of swan wings were found under the building’s threshold.
Some ghosts it seems come only when we are asleep. They save their interactions with the physical plane for when there is no human awake to witness them. They move through our homes switching off lights, unplugging televisions which have passed into the realm of closedown while their owners snore before them. They wander between rooms observed only by cat or dog, sometimes picking up a child’s toy and putting it away, sometimes emptying an ashtray. We might be tempted to call them useful if it was not for that terrible feeling that the thing such phantoms seem to like to do most is to watch us sleeping. What feels like an act of love or intimacy when done by a parent or lover, becomes deeply disagreeable when it is a phantom watching for the subtle signs of our dreaming. – George Kindred, Haunted Hookland, Vestal, 1970
Is It Worth It? The Curse of the Blair Witch
Time dulls. Nostalgia lies. We disavow our former passions. Much advice is given urging you to realise the folly of return. I shall ignore this and set out to remind some of you of that short period in 1999 when you adored The Blair Witch Project.
Oh I know that there are those who don’t want to recall their dalliance with its fandom or the fact that its the most commercially successful folk horror film of the 20th century. I get it. No-one wants to acknowledge the ex that went on to become a sad sack of bitter disappointments. However, I am taking you back to moment of first spark, the mockumentary The Curse of the Blair Witch.
First aired on the Sci-fi Channel as part of the hype for first feature film in the franchise, The Curse of the Blair Witch is a note perfect exercise in exposition and the salt-line blurring of reality and fiction. Told in newsreels, 1970s witchploitation clips, candid photos and glimpses of meticulously crafted newspaper articles, most viewers in 1999 had no idea of its manipulation. If you check any of the online discussions surrounding it, you will find dozens of people who swear they saw it on National Geographic of the History Channel (as it either network offers some guarantee of factual accuracy*).
In the relatively early days of widespread Internet usage, long before the post-truth era, messing with people’s sense of the real was both easier and much more frowned upon. Most first time viewers of had no idea of its promotional purpose, nor of its mockumentary nature. This is among the reasons justifying a rewatch. Unwittingly, The Curse of the Blair Witch became a manual on how uncertainty could be easily weaponised – not just as marketing tool, but as susceptibility to terror.
The Curse of the Blair Witch is a consummate example of world-building through familiarity of formats. Talking heads, investigators shot with courthouse backgrounds as shortcut to gravitas. Blips of alleged fact delivered by suitably bland news presenters in pastel power suits and over-teased hair. It offers a gentle, perfectly paced acceleration towards implausibility, delivered by accretion of detail. Mundane minutiae building believability, hiding the stiletto blades of eerie until the perfect moment of attack.
The film plays on the acute credibility of small-town police incompetence, academic sniffiness. Every interviewee – except a griefing grandfather and a brother – are so wonderfully annoying that you don’t ever to pause to consider that it is down to poor acting. Importantly for a movie prequel that’s doing a lot of heavy exposition lifting, its invented folklore doesn’t just sound plausible, it echoes vague memories you’ve taken in by cultural osmosis. Witchcraft exclusion, generational curses, murderous othering are all there – as are just enough nudges to recall the Bell Witch and Salem’s trials. Amid its attempts to make reality a salt-line blur, it cannily provides enough of an interesting perspective on folkloric transmission and a sense of places becoming soured to keep your thinking misdirected.
Watching it nearly a quarter of a century on, The Curse of the Blair Witch seems an eerily prescient foreshadowing of reality television and the architecture of our current surfeit of shoddy paranormal documentaries. Its visual style was deliberately dated by 1999 standards, it was intended to be hackneyed and weary. Yet its presentation methods are still used by dozens of ghost bro shows – from night vision numptiness to unchecked spewing of occult twaddle. When so much TV of the 21st century resembles a mockumentary purposely made as badly constructed student film, you know it is time to demand an end to these hollow formats.
6/10 The fiction of The Curse of the Blair Witch is more honest than a thousand true paranormal shows and if you watch with deconstructive eyes, is worth it for a solid lesson in building believable folk fictions.
*Having appeared on both National Geographic and the History Channel documentaries, I can solemnly promise you that neither network is providing you with material you can trust with any degree of absolutism.
Post its dissolution at the hands of the Thatcher government, Hookland quickly became an unconsidered territory. For all intents and purposes it was extinct. As such it moved into a borderzone of dying memory, the collective echo of an ended bit of England. My mother told me I was the last child born before the county’s final legal implosion – my birth certificate sort of backs up her claim – and as such it became a place of wonder to me. A vanished Faeryland where all us children birthed in its final hours were Changelings. Exiles from an erased place on the map. Even as an adult, I still believe it to be the best place I could have come from. – Alice Reeves, author of The Wicker King trilogy, speaking at Dragon Con in 2010
Notes From the Wyrd Lab
J.G. Ballard’s Invisible Literature, Ephemera and Imaginary Places such as Torquay
In many ways it was a ride in a BBC cab with J.G. Ballard that led to the creation of Hookland. To be achingly specific it was only one sentence. His advice was: “Concentrate on place, nothing without a sense of it is ever any good.”
I replay that odd journey with him across the Westway towards Shepperton again and again. Not only because it was a personal nexus point, but because it was so surreal and unplanned that even during it, the internal DVD commentary many of us suffer from was constantly repeating: ‘This is not how I expected my morning to go.’ Although I’ve got a fairly reasonable imagination, I’d never considered the possibility that a routine interview on BBC Breakfast about the retail economy would lead to discussing which gangsters were buried in which bits of the Westway and being told off for having read The Atrocity Exhibition at too early an age* by one off my literary heroes.
Journalists often tend to reflect not on the questions they got answers to, but the ones they failed to ask. We especially obsess about the follow-up we didn’t go for. In all those Westway reruns, I scream at myself: ‘What type of idiot only asks one question about invisible literatures, what type of bloody numpty doesn’t ask a follow-up on it?’ This is largely because while I’ve always interested in Ballard’s ideas of invisible literature forming from ephemera, it has become a key part of how I approach Hookland.
Back in 2012, in a flat so trapped in its 1970s aesthetic that Tim Dedopulos and I had named it Life On Mars Towers, I was badly trying to explain the concept of Hookland for the first time. Tim was rather sensibly arguing that it could all just be a book, but I wasn’t listening to reason. It seemed to me that Twitter not only allowed for the sort of condensed paragraph novels Ballard employed in The Atrocity Exhibition, but was ripe for storytelling through the exploration of ephemera.
In the early years of my childhood, it seemed I was expected to take the existence of a lot of places on nothing more than an adult’s story and some flimsy ephemera as evidence. I sort of believed in Hong Kong due to so many toys holding the legend ‘Made In Hong Kong’. I was much less sure about other seemingly imaginary places such as Montreal, Torquay and Belgium. Places people went to and came back to try and tried to convince you existed through souvenirs. Places told in postcards, fudge and garish china thimbles.
If I hadn’t seen them on the news or read about them in a book, I was forced to construct whole invisible countries or continents from the few visible and physical fragments offered. When Aunt Betty** announced she was leaving to live in Australia, I was dubious. The only tangible thing I had to confirm Down Under’s reality at the age of five was a promotional sticker book full of impossible animals such as the platypus and echidna and alien-looking plants such as banksia and telopea that would have seemed over-the-top if the set dressers on Space: 1999 had tried using them.
It is not only Ballard’s literary collage techniques of using material from the margins – scientific reports, advertising leaflets, military films of weapon tests – to tell tales that have informed Hookland, but the remembrance of those childhood ephemera extrapolations. As I told Tim Dedopulos back in 2012, wouldn’t it be good to explore stories not only with words, but objects from the neglected edges of reality. Constructing alternate fictional realities from action figures for Hookland Associated Television shows that never existed, telling the truth of a now lost English county in postcards, fudge and tea towels bought in museum shops that ought to have existed***.
I have been bad at manifesting ephemera and bringing it across the Hookland borderzone. I intend to get better. Hopefully by the end of this year, there will be some artefacts of the imagination, exports from inner space to the postbox drop. A telling of place not just in marginal texts, but county curiosa. Because one of the questions I ought to have asked Ballard was: “Would I be mad to try and tell stories through through things don’t have be read or watched?”
** Not an actual aunt, but in the 1970s every adult my mother managed to delegate any unofficial parenting duties onto was known as ‘aunt’.
*** It was at this point I remember gesticulating wildly and mentioning the poncey phrase: “Stuff from the borderzone of possibility” before Tim gave a half-Paddington Bear stare and said: “Dude, just right a fucking book!”
In previous centuries it was common practice to give new mothers who had survived the trauma of labour a drink of caudle – a warm spiced ale. Given the county’s fondness for roasted ales at time of festival – from the dancing of the Bonehorse at Penstow to the Gifting of the Barrel to the King-Under-the-Sea at Maryworth – we should not be too surprised to discover that some caudles were brewed commercially. In the 1860s, Hicks began producing Old Mother Waldron’s Caudle, an imitative rival to Midwoods Witch’s Caudle that had been in production for more than 30 years. While the demand for caudle ale declined in the 20th century, both breweries were producing short runs to coincide with the counties main recourses to beer and bonefires up until the early 1960s. Witch’s Caudle proved so popular when brought back to aid the celebrations of the silver Jubiliee, that Midwood reinstated making it for special occasions. The caudle revival was further boosted by small independent brewer Pensstow Pales creating a seasonal Bone Caudle to celebrate the coming of the Grisgest and Withey at Midwinter and Midsummer. – Barry Car, History of Hookland Ales, Hopkins & Daughters, 1978
An Entry from The Encyclopaedia of Hookland
Edgar Pelling (February 16th, 1910 – October 13th 1986) was an oboist, bass oboist and heckelphonist best-known as a founding member and conductor of the Hookland Philharmonic Orchestra. Pelling was also a Professor of Music at Weychester University, a composer and member of several leading English jazz groups including The Mangle Lanterns and The Woodwose Six. Born into a music hall family, he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music where he funded living in London by playing in a number of swing and jazz bands. An early advocate of world music he was married to the Guyanese-born musician and singer Fiona Kissoon and fought to include the teaching of global folk music on syllabuses across the country. Returning from a wartime spent in RAF Intelligence, he was among those who insisted the Hookland Philharmonic Orchestra must be founded on: ‘Socialist and co-operative principles and practices’. In 1950, he was asked by BBC radio producer Freda Lingstrom to created an English symphony for children akin to Peter and The Wolf. Pelling wrote The Haunted Music Shop, in which various ghosts express themselves through possessing the instruments in the Playford & Daughters’ store. Lingstrom rejected the finished score, claiming it was ‘far too fear-inducing for those under the age of 12 … especially the ghastly duel between the poltergeist playing the drums and bassoon under the control of the spirit of Jack Greenleaf’. Pelling later explained the piece saying: “It was my attempt to offer a symphonic faery tale for children that was a little less Soviet Pioneer, a little less patronising and a lot less twee. Yes, it is much more menacing, but children like being menaced. When I was young I’d have wanted tales of werewolves decimating villages, not chasing ducks.” In 1956, Hookland Associated Television commissioned Faery Foundry to make film of The Haunted Music Shop which proved so popular Pelling was subsequently able to record the work as an album which was issued by EMI in 1958 to considerable commercial success. Pelling went on to compose music for several Faery Foundry shows such as Changeling Academy, Mercy of the Mire Folk, Wicker King Woods and Madeline on the Moon. Throughout the 1960s he was often a session musician and orchestrator for well-known pop musicians and rock bands including The Rolling Stones, The Move, The Dockers and Manfred Mann. In 1964 he finished The Hive, a symphony inspired by his love for beekeeping and socialism which received strong critical praise for its ‘muscular mysticism’ and ‘engagingly ambitious structure’; it remains a firm favourite the global classical repertory. A deep believer in free music tuition for all, his association with The Ashcourt School for Wayward Children brought him into contact with Dave Padbury. The two became unlikely friend and collaborators, with Padbury eventually producing Pelling’s Celestial Jazz album Amber Spacelines, described by the critic Andrew Male as akin to: ‘A psychedelic Coleman Hawkins backed by a Nigerian Hawkwind tribute band’. Pelling suffered a major stoke in July 1982, two days after finishing his choral symphony Séance – Holding Hands With the Dead dedicated to his late wife. Unfortunately, he did not sufficiently recover to attend its premiere performance which was given by the Hookland Philharmonic on the occasion of the county’s dissolution, but did attend a performance of it at London’s Royal Festival Hall a fortnight before his death.
We gift a fine barrel of caudle to the King-Under-the-Sea
We hope his drinking of it makes him happy as he can be
May the teeth of the tide take it far, far passed our sight
Down, down, drink it down, let it sink beyond sunlight
We gift a fine barrel of caudle to the King-Under-the-Sea
We hope his liking of its put him in mood to hear our plea
Oh perilous King, don’t make Drowned Dead out of me!
– Trad. Hookland rhyme sung at the annual Gifting of the Barrel to the King-Under-the-Sea at Maryworth.
Hookland Roll of Kindness
Lee Ann Day
K J Stark
In kindness there is connectivity, an impulse for good and a better world that is not denied. Kindness is a refusal of darkness. In its graceful light friendships have been found, lives saved and hope restored. – C.L. Nolan
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