Skeletons in the Booth

bird-skeleton“Entertainment in the Days Before Television” 

Dear Reader

We were recently intrigued by an interesting tidbit we found whilst researching Joy Mallum’s reading material. It was in the restricted section of the library, in a book which also had some information about a rare bit of magic. But our interest in this instance was drawn to something called, rather poetically, the Skeleton Army.

These vile hordes, were, it seems, the sworn enemies of their near namesake, the Salvation Army. Appalled at the notion of tee-totalism, they organised counter demonstrations where they subverted the Army’s songs, shouted foul slogans, and even engaged in violent opposition to the Army. After some unfortunate fatalities their activities petered out, but one can’t help thinking they should appear in some fictionalised form somewhere. Who could write such a thing…

The picture we have chosen to illustrate this little nugget is a skeleton of a bird from the marvellous Booth Museum in Hove. The most tenuous link is the skeleton of one army and the founder, Booth, of the other. We understand neither are related.

Should you ever find yourselves in the Brighton and Hove area (and many people do find themselves in this area) then we recommend a visit. The collection of preserved birds, insects, skeletons and more curios is enough to entertain adults and children with strong stomachs for a couple of hours. One may then find a local hostelry to repair to and, in defiance of the other Booth, restore one’s spirits with a stiff drink.




The Cornish Curse: Chapter 3

Sir John and Marie stood shivering on the moor a quarter of a mile south of Devil’s Peak and fifty feet north east of the Old Well and looked due south.

“Nothing,” said Sir John. “There’s nothing for miles.”

“Well, that’s the countryside, mon cher,” said Marie with a wry smile. “It’s not so easy to find things here.”

“We should have asked him how loud it was, or if it moved,” said Sir John. “Then maybe we could have estimated the distance.”

“I think we asked him enough,” said Marie. “He was quite cross-eyed at the end.”

“I’m not sure that was the questions,” said Sir John. “Well, let’s look at the map. I’ve marked the killings. This thing must sleep somewhere. Maybe we can draw a line south from here and see if there’s a pattern.”

He took the map out and tried to lay it on the ground, but the wind kept catching it. After a minute of fighting with the map he crumpled it up and put it back in his pocket.

“Perhaps we can do that later,” he said. “I hate to ask, Marie, is there some magical thing we, well you, can do? If we believe this is a magical creature, of course.”

“Which you don’t?” said Marie.

“Not entirely,” said Sir John. “The only spirits I’ve seen so far are the one’s in Old Jim’s glass.”

“Maybe I can try and look for a big dog,” said Marie. “I can use a pendulum.”

Sir John shrugged and Marie took off her necklace. She held it in her fingers and let it dangle.

Trouver,” said Maire and instantly the pendulum shot horizontal north toward the summit.

“My word!” said Sir John. “Good show!”

Just then a large dog appeared over the summit. It was nearly as tall as Marie and at the sight of them it bounded forward barking.

“Run!” shouted Sir John.

Marie just waved her hand and said, “calmer.” Instantly the dog sat down and Sir John stayed where he was.

“Was that for me or the dog,” asked Sir John.

“The dog,” said Marie, “mostly.”

du-bois-dog“Good Show”

A tall well-built and immaculately dressed man mounted the crest of the hill.

“Hoy, Arthur,” called the man. “Here, boy.”

The dog ran back to the man wagging his tail and the pair walked down to Sir John and Marie.

“Good morrow, good sir, good lady” said the man as he approached. “Please let me introduce myself, I am Lord Vulpine du Bois and this is my, rather enthusiastic Irish Wolfhound, Arthur. I hope he didn’t startle you.”

“Not at all,” said Sir John. “I’m Sir John Jennings, and this is my wife, Marie.”

“Oh, I’ve heard all about you two,” said Lord du Bois, “I get all the gossip. You’re staying with the Mallums, yes? Looking for the mystery beast.”

“For a moment we rather thought we found him,” said Sir John, looking at the dog. Lord du Bois roared with laughter.

“Oh, that’s a good one,” he said. “Old Arthur here is daft as a brush. The only danger is he’d lick you to death.”

As they talked the dog nudged his nose into Marie’s hand and made a whining noise. She stroked his head and he fell onto his back, sticking his legs into the air.

“Why don’t you come for tea one day?” said Lord du Bois. “I’ve not been long here myself, and I could use some news from the outside word. This little village is very pleasant but a little isolated.”

“We’d be delighted to,” said Marie. “Where do you live.”

“See that frightful old pile,” said du Bois, pointing to a mansion on the eastern edge of the village. “That’s Bennet House. Come see me anytime.”

The Cornish Curse: Chapter 4

Name This Automaton

name-this-automaton“No automatons were harmed in the making of this post.”

Whilst enjoying luncheon at one of our favourite haunts in our hometown, our eyes were drawn to the curious contraption above which was affixed to the wall. Speculation flowed imminently as to its origins and purpose. After a protracted debate over a delicious fish soup, the conclusion was that it must have been the head of a serving automaton. Debate One terminated, the next topic of conversation was on what might possibly be the automaton’s name. Sadly, the bill and complementary liquor arrived before we could conclude, and other matters took up the day. So we invite you, dear Reader, to consider this topic and comment if it pleases you.

The Cornish Curse: Chapter 2

“I were coming over the moor under the moonlight when I heard this unearthly sound…” started Old Jim, looking dramatically into middle distance.  He was a gentleman of advancing years with wild grey hair and bushy eyebrows. The wrinkled thick skin on his face came from a lifetime of work outdoors and the glassy look in his eyes from an afternoon spent drinking whisky.

“I see,” said Sir John. “Perhaps we can get a bit more specific.”

He produced a map of the area and laid it on the table of the public house, between Old Jim and himself and Marie.

“Could you indicate where you were exactly?” asked Sir John.

“I couldn’t be right sure,” said Jim. “It were dark and I had been … visiting friends.”

“Maybe you recall passing some landmark, or seeing one ahead?” asked Sir John.

Old Jim though for a minute.

“Reckon I’d just passed Devil’s Peak,” said Old Jim

“On the right? Left?” asked Sir John.

“On … the right I imagine,” said Old Jim. “I were heading back to the village.”

“So you were around here,” said Sir John, looking at the map. “There looks to be a well here, was that in front or behind of you.”

“That would be the Old Well, it were … in front,” said Jim, eyes screwed tight in remembrance.

“Was it far?” asked Sir John.

“Mebbe … fifty feet?” said Old Jim.

“So, that puts you quarter of a mile south of Devil’s Peak and fifty feet north-east of the Dry Well.”

“Yes,” said Old Jim, “I were walking over the moor a quart’ of a mile south of Devil’s Peak and fifty feet nor’east of the Dry Well, under the moonlight.”

“Where was the moon?” asked Marie.

“In the sky?” said Old Jim, confused.

“Where in the sky I mean?” asked Marie.

“It were … over the village, I suppose,” said Old Jim.

“So south-west?” said Sir John. He got out an almanac. “And this was a week ago, yes, so it must have been pretty full?”

“Yes,” said Old Jim, “I were walking over the moor a quart’ of a mile south of Devil’s Peak and fifty feet nor’east of the Old Well, lit by the nearly full moon from the south-west when…”

cc-ch-2“Unearthly Sound”

“You heard a sound, yes, could you describe it?” said SIr John.

“It were unlike nothing I heard before. It went ‘oow-ooo’,” said Old Jim, with some theatre.

Sir John produced a small set of panpipes from his bag.

“Could you do that again please?” he asked. Old Jim repeated the sound and Sir John blew in the pipes.

“A little higher, mon cher,” said Marie, and SIr John blew again. Marie nodded at the note produced.

“F sharp,” said Sir John. “Sorry Jim, would you mind doing that again?”

Looking sheepish, Old Jim made the sound again. Sir John tried a couple of notes until Marie nodded and wrote them down.

“So thats two notes, a quaver of F sharp and a dotted minim of A sharp,” said Sir John. He played them again.

“Which direction did it come from?” asked Marie.

Old Jim looked exasperated. He pointed to the left of him.

“Due south.” said Sir John, making notes. He showed Old Jim the paper. “Is this correct?”

Old Jim pulled himself up and looked into middle distance again.

“Yes,” he said, “I were walking over the moor a quart’ of a mile south of Devil’s Peak and fifty feet nor’east of the Old Well, lit by the nearly full moon from the south west when I heard a quaver of F sharp with a dotted minim of A sharp coming from the due south.”

“Thank you” said Marie, smiling. “‘Ave we missed anything?”

Old Jim leaned in at the pair, looking a little crestfallen.

“It were … unearthly,” he said.

“How interesting,” said Sir John.

The Cornish Curse: Chapter 3

The Cornish Curse: Chapter 1

The room was bright and decorated pleasantly, if a little old fashioned. Four girls and an older couple sat in the room, evidently the parents by virtue of appearance. The eldest was staring out of the window in a listless manner. Next to her, the second eldest girl was reading a book on the Temperance movement. Her sister sat next to her playing solitaire, and the final, youngest sat at a piano playing a light air. The father read a newspaper and the mother knitted. Apart from the fidgeting of the elder girl, the room seemed in calm repose.

card-game“Sisters, Please!”

Suddenly the eldest gasped, “They’re coming!” There was a sound of horse and cart and the man stood up and went to the door.

“Do you have to make such a fuss, Patience?” said the girl with the book.

“Just because you’d rather die of boredom, Joy,” pouted the eldest, “doesn’t mean we all should.”

“Sisters, please,” said the girl at the piano, “let’s not fight when we have guests.”

“Well said, Prudence,” said the girl with the cards as the other two sisters glared at each other.

The father came back in the room and everyone stood up.

“May I present, Sir John and, er, Mrs Jennings,” he said beaming. “Sir Jennings, Mrs Jennings, may I present Mrs Mallum.”

“Delighted,” said Sir John and Mrs Mallum made a small curtsey.

“My eldest, Patience,” continued Mr Mallum. Patience made a dramatic curtsey and then giggled.

“My daughter, Joy,” said Mr Mallum, and Joy nodded briefly.

“And the youngest two, Constance and Prudence,” finished Mr Mallum. The two girls smiled warmly.

“Delighted to meet you all,” said Sir John.

“So you’re going to save us from the dreaded ghost hound?” said Patience.

“Are you really French?” said Prudence to Marie.

“Girls, please!” said Mrs Mallum, “show some decorum. I am sorry Sir Jennings, Mrs Jennings, we get so few visitors, Especially … these days.”

“Please, think nothing of it,” said Sir John.

“And yes, I am French,” said Marie smiling, drawing gasps from three of the girls.

“Well, girls, perhaps you could entertain yourselves elsewhere, so I may talk with our guests,” said Mr Mallum. After some complaining from Patience, the quartet left.

“So, to business then,” said Sir John. “First, perhaps you can tell why you are so certain this is a supernatural phenomenon?”

“I’ve lived here all my life,” said Mr Mallum, graver now that the children had left, “and I have seen every form of wildlife that lives here. I’ve seen foxes and even the odd rabid dog in the countryside. But I’ve never seen anything make paw prints like that or cause such damage to livestock. I’m not alone in that assessment either, Sir John. I hear the gossip in the local village and the verdict is the same. Something ungodly is abroad.”

“You say ungodly,” started Sir John. “What makes you say that?”

“When a fox takes a chicken, he does so for food,” said Mr Mallum. “What this beast has done, it has done for sport. No creature leaves his prey behind, or leaves it rent apart, unconsumed.”

He looked at Marie then.

“I’m sorry, madam, if…” he started.

“Please don’t apologise,” said Marie. “We need the facts and we have seen … unpleasant things too.”

“Is there a witness we could perhaps talk to?” said Sir John. “Someone that has seen the beast?”

“Seen it, no,” said Mr Mallum. “But I can introduce to one that has heard it.”

The Cornish Curse: Chapter 2


mydarlingcephalopod“The newest member of the menagerie…”

Gentle reader,

We hope you are enjoying a pleasant Friday with the promise of a thrilling week-end to come: sipping schnapps, nibbling corn-based savoury snacks, and enjoying the first episode of our latest series. In the interim, we have found this most delightful blog post on a topic close to our hearts. We wish you the very best of weekends.

Yours, &c.

The Benthic Times

The Cornish Curse: Prologue

Dear Sir John,

I apologise for this unsolicited communication, but I am at my wit’s end. I hope you can forgive me and indeed find it in your heart to assist me in my most dire hour of need. I feel that only a gentlemen of your stature and talents can rescue me and my family from the pit of horror we find ourselves entangled in.

But I get ahead of myself; please, let me explain. My family is solvent with a modest sum in the bank and land sufficient to sustain us. My wife and I live on our estate with our four daughters, who are of, or are approaching, majority. Our land is in the fair county of Cornwall, so I daresay our way of life would seem old fashioned and rustic to you, but we are happy in our ways. Or at least, we have been until recently.

pawprint-copy“Giant Dogs”

You see, Sir John, a most terrible curse has descended upon my family. A fact so terrible I barely dare admit it, but I suspect I must to coax you to our aid. For it seems some manner of creature, some foul animal, some hound of hell, has taken residence on our farmlands. There are tales and rumours in the local village, such that none will venture to our house anymore. Tales of giant dogs, unearthly howls and the appalling scent of fantastic creatures. There have been killings, too; chickens at first, then sheep, now cattle. The farmhands have abandoned us for fear they are next. And I can do little to reassure them they are not.

All of this has had a devastating affect on our harvest, and our income this year has plummeted. But this is not my greatest fear. My four daughters are of marrying age. I want nothing more for them than to find suitable husbands, that they may wed and enjoy the many joys of matrimony, including the comfort and security that such a situation would supply for them. But, alas, with things as they are I feel they may be left unmatched. As our income plummets, the very land is seen as worthless and the family itself is seen as tainted and jinxed. For my own life, I care not one jot. I am an old man who has had his time. But the happiness of my daughters, and the contentment of my wife, is all that concerns me. I cannot sleep with fear for the future, for how they will live.

Sir John, I implore you to come to my estate and investigate this mysterious beast. I know you are an expert in the uncanny, and I can assure you, sir, from the reports I have seen and the animals slain, that the uncanny has come to rest in our house. I would be pleased to offer you a princely sum to come and send it back to its home.

I have enclosed our address and a photograph I had taken of a cast of the creature’s paw print. It will surprise you, sir, to learn that this was the size of man’s hand. Please send your response by telegram, and if, God willing, it is in the affirmative I will make space in our house for you to stay whilst you investigate this most disturbing and ungodly beast.

Yours faithfully,

Edward Mallum, Esq.

The Cornish Curse: Chapter 1

La racine des malapropismes de Miss Henderson

menu“Unfair of what?”

Dear Reader

Well we have all hopefully enjoyed the prologue of the Paris Awakening and our appetites are suitably whetted for the forthcoming novel. All being well it should be “available from all good bookshops” in Summertime as soon as Mr Michael has completed writing the words and Miss Pichette has put the commas in the rightful places. Mr Michael does so enjoy spreading them wily-nily across the page like salt on a under-seasoned soup.

As we have now completed the prologue, we shall return to our usual program of serialised stories. We are excited to reveal, as if on a silver salver, that our latest story, featuring canine capers, catastrophic coincidences and a cadence of caterwauling, will  be called The Cornish Cur*.

The observant of you will have noticed that this is a Tuesday and yet we are not publishing the first episode. And now, I’m afraid, we have to add a soupçon of disappointment to the melange of joy. For we have decided that to allow Mr Michael and Miss Pichette the full time to create great art and accurate punctuation, we shall return to our “one episode a week” regimen, starting this Saturday hence. We only hope that the crushing emotions this evokes will be tempered by the knowledge that the aforementioned novel will be all the sooner on your electronic reading device of choice.

We would also like to reaffirm our previous wishes, in that we hope this to be the very best of years for you.


Mr Michael and Miss Pichette

(*Since writing this post Mr Michael has changed the name to The Cornish Curse. He has also grown a beard. It’s the time of year for changes.)

How to Manufacture Perfect Sunshine

“When I was cleaning I found this in your brother’s cabinet,” said Miss Henderson, passing Sir John a piece of paper. “Is it some sort of New Year’s message?”

“What on earth is this now?” said Sir John, reading the sheet. “How to do what?”

The day was getting late and the sky was wrapping orange heat over the yard. The group sat around the large bubbling vat, which was emitting potent fumes.

“Matjo,” said an old man, “didn’t you get chased down this road once?”

He indicated the nearby path with a crooked finger.

“Ah, yes, Piotr!” said Matjo, same age and demeanour. “Many, many years ago. I was in the neighbouring village to see a girl. I had a ribbon to give her as a present. Well, there was a group of lads there who didn’t like that, see. They told me to go home, so I told them to go somewhere else. Heh. They came after me, and I ran like the wind down this hill. I could hear them right behind. One got a punch in, right on my head, and it just made me faster. They left me on the outside of the village.

“The joke was that the next week they had to come to our village, and the leader had to apologise to me. He was the girl’s brother of course.”

Matjo absently tossed the ribbon he had been twirling around his finger into the large vat.

“Did you get the girl?” said Leesa, a younger woman.

“No,” said Matjo, “all that running for nothing. She wanted to be with my friend instead. Took the ribbon though. Thing was, he didn’t really want her either, not that it stopped him. She married a pig farmer in the end. Her brother, the one who chased me died in the war. He was on a boat.”

“Were you pleased?” said Leesa.

“He’d become a friend,” said Matjo. “He’d read somewhere about making explosives with fertilizer. We tried to make some together. Lit it and it didn’t go off, so like idiots we looked to see why. Boom!”

Matjo gestured with his hands, then tossed some chemical into the vat.

“You were an idiot,” said Klarise.

“Thank you, wife,” said Matjo.

“It was me that found you both, hair charred, eyebrows gone. My god what a horror. And both laughing like lunatics.”

Klarise glanced at her husband, “I helped you up and bandaged your hand. You made me swear to tell no one. Now, I hear this story every month.”

She threw a scrap of material into the pot.

“How did you explain the burns?” asked Leesa.

“Ah, I said there had been a fire in the forest, that we had put it out. They cooked us a feast for our bravery. A whole lamb. I couldn’t eat a morsel of it. I fed most to the dog. Then the damn thing followed me around for 20 years waiting for more,” said Matjo, casually slipping some meat into the vat.

“He was smart,” said Klarise, absently turning the ring on her left finger. “I followed you for 40 years.”

“I think it’s done now,” said Piotr. He went to the vat and attached a long pipe with a tap on the end. The old man put an empty bottle under the tap and opened the valve. As the distilled sunshine poured into the bottle, he smiled.