Tardis Destinations – Part Three. A party, London, 1774

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Our destination today is a London party somewhere around 1774 hosted by the genius John Joseph Merlin. This extraordinary man was talented at creating clockwork devices from a very early age and was plucked from the Academie des Science in Paris aged twenty five by the Spanish Ambassador who decided that the young man’s gift […]

A magical gift

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November 25th is the start of Book Week Scotland, and the beginning of a week celebrating not only Scottish literature, but Scotland’s important position in the world literary scene. There are hundreds of events going on all over Scotland to celebrate books, reading and libraries, but one in particular caught my eye. Last year I […]

The Unexplained

I don’t have any particular faith, not what you’d call an organised one anyway. I write about ghosts, but I wouldn’t class myself as a true believer. I do, however, love to read about things that can’t be explained. These days that means a subscription to the always fascinating Fortean Times , but when I was thirteen it was The Unexplained.

First published by Orbis Publishing in 1980 it was an early part-work that carried the full title of The Unexplained: Mysteries of Mind, Space and Time.
What a tag line!

I was hooked from the very first tv advert. Hot on the heels of tv shows like Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World it covered all aspects of matters unexplained. The first issue dealt with UFOs and had the most wonderful photographs of sightings. In those pre-internet days it was nigh on impossible to find articles about things like this, they were reserved for crack-pots in obscure self-published niche magazines. Now I could just buy it from the newsagent and carry it around in my school bag. And I did, and read it aloud to my friends with dramatic emphasis on key points.

Issue one was thrilling – Man Beasts, Close Encounters and Kirilian Auras! This was a time long before Photoshop allowed everyone to dismiss things instantly. I sat with a magnifying glass squinting at blurry images trying to see strings.
And the issue about Spontaneous Human Combustion still haunts me! I remember lying in bed wondering if my feet were just hot, or if I was about to combust.
And ghosts! Oh the wonderful ghost stories and sightings that the magazine covered in great detail – just the perfect reading material.

They never tried to fully explain these stories, they simply told you the facts as they understood them to be, and let you make up your own mind. I’ve never really wanted to know if these were true or not. I’m no fool, but sometimes I think that life is more interesting if there are some things we don’t know. Does it matter? I know, for example, that magicians don’t really have magical powers, but that doesn’t stop me enjoying the show. I don’t want to know how it’s done, it’s enough to have the mystery and the momentary suspension of disbelief.

As for what I believe? Well I want to believe that there is a world that exists out of the corner of my eye, that there is something…magical? Maybe?
That’s the world of faery tales, fantasy and fiction – and it’s a wonderful place to hang out. I’ll see you there…..

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Tardis Destinations – Part Two

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Andre Beauchant – 1873-1958 – The Funerary Procession Of Alexander the Great. Tate Britain

In the second of my Tardis stops I’d like to take you to summer 321BC, but let’s not quibble over exact dates, she’ll find it. We are heading to Memphis to witness the funeral procession of Alexander the Great.

Alexander died, in failing breath and fever, in the ancient palace of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon sometime in the night between June 10th and 11th 323 BC. The Macedonians wept publicly en masse, and it is reported that the Achaemenid people shaved their heads in grief.

As is befitting when a God passes, plans were set in place to fulfil his desire to be carried to a resting place suited to his status. Alexander wanted to go home to Macedonia – but this required preparation.
First his body needed to be prepared for the long journey and Plutarch wrote that the finest Egyptian embalmers were brought in to preserve the physical form of the Godly figure. After this Chaldean embalmers were summoned to “make the body sweet-smelling and incorruptible.” The body was dressed in golden armour and draped in jewels before being placed in a sarcophagus.

To transport Alexander the 3000 km home to Macedonia a vast catafalque, or funeral cart, was constructed. It took almost two years to build and was covered in beaten gold, silver and jewels. The cart rested on axles made from huge tree trunks carrying massive wheels. The whole cart carried carvings of great beasts and around the sides were carvings representing the most heroic moments of Alexander’s short life. The cart was almost ten metres high and was topped with winged Victories. It was pulled by a team of sixty-four mules, each one bred to be the strongest of its kind and dressed in splendour with golden harnesses.

The funeral cortège travelled along the banks of the Euphrates and then headed east. All along the route the road was prepared, and thousands of people came to witness the passing of the golden carriage. Behind it trailed thousands more – Alexander’s most devoted warriors and followers.

The procession continued to a point near the coast at Alexandria ad Issum (now Iskenderun in Turkey) and here is where we meet it. At this point there is a hinge moment in the story. It is unclear why the decision was made to wait, to delay the journey whilst they decided to travel on by sea or take the longer route by land.

Waiting was fatal to the progress to Macedonia. Ptolemy arrived with a vast army and met the funeral procession and seized the cart. He may have believed that it was Alexander’s wish to be buried at Siwa, and so he took over the funeral procession steering it south – overland to Egypt. He wanted to create his own Alexandria, the final resting place of the God amongst the Gods of his own kingdom.

A glorious ceremony was given as the cart arrived in Memphis where it remained for some years. A worshipped golden monument to the warrior’s past. The tomb was visited by many kings, and became a place of pilgrimage and a solid representation of Ptolemaic power. Eventually the reverence faded with the passage of time and, with the rise of Christianity, the tomb became more of a curiosity than a place of devotion. With Alexandria becoming a key Christian city, the old pagan temples in the city were sacked, and the body of Alexander lost. The golden jewelled carriage, and the body of the warrior king of Macedonia were lost, and has never been found. The resting place of Alexander remains lost.

But the moment that we travel to is that fateful day on the coast. The see the brilliant blue of the sea and sky against the dazzling opulence of the glittering golden carriage as it slowly rolled into Alexandria ad Issum. Surrounded by crowds eager to catch a glimpse of the already fabled procession of the body of Alexander. To see the funeral procession at its most swollen and the cart hauled slowly by jewelled mules harnessed in gold and red. The noise and music of the crowd as the procession set up camp on the shore, resting to allow the people to witness the glory of Alexander’s travelling tomb. To be there to see the arrival of the armies of Ptolemy as they marched from the desert to surround the carriage and lead it on, south to the great cities of Egypt and to Memphis.

That’s our moment.

What’s in the Crazy Bay today?

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My friends on Facebook will be familiar with the joys of the Crazy Bay, but I’ll take a minute to explain. There is a certain large supermarket near my writing hideaway in Aberdeenshire which has a section of shelving that defies description. Some of the items are reduced, but most are still full price – […]

Tardis Destinations – Part One

This will be a recurring theme on my blog. I’d like to introduce you to some of the amazing sights that we have missed out on simply by being born too late.
If I had a Tardis, these would be the places I would visit….

To start us off – Cafe de L’Enfer, Paris

L’Enfer was an infernal hell-themed establishment, with a heavily sculpted demonic facade. It opened in the late 19th century in the fashionably seedy red light district of Paris and rivalled the Moulin Rouge in attracting the dangerously decadent young set of Paris. The scandalously rich and glamorous young Parisians who managed to secure admission to L’Enfer enjoyed devilish drinks and even more devilish company. The clientele spent evenings with many “attractions diabolique” but, as the evenings were deeply clandestine, little is known about what this entailed.

It is known that the waiters were dressed as devils, and the doorman (Satan, of course) welcomed members with a cheering “Enter and be damned!” The interior was elaborately constructed to resemble the pit of hell with demons and tortured souls reaching out from the ceiling to those seated below. Those who entered were warned (by capering imps dressed in scarlet) that the heat inside the inferno would make them thirsty, and so they should be prepared to drink well…and be wicked.

By the early 20th century the Cafe had vanished, the facade stripped and never found again. A few fragments remain from the interior and can be found at the Musee de la Magie in Paris, but the rest is confined to whispers and stories.

What happened at L’Enfer, stayed at L’Enfer….

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