MFT #12 Invasion Of The Body-Snatchers (1956)


Don Siegel’s 1956 science-fiction film, Invasion Of The Body-Snatchers is one of my favourite things. Here’s why.

I can’t recall when I first saw Invasion Of The Body-Snatchers – most likely on BBC2, opposite the six o clock news, when I was nine or ten, which was where, and when, they always scheduled science-fiction b-movies, as a welcome refuge for boys like me; from the Falklands War, the miners’ strike, the spectre of nuclear annihilation, and Margaret fucking Thatcher.  

I wonder if, to begin with, I was a bit underwhelmed by Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, in that it lacked the giant slugs of It Came From Outer Space, the big-brained mutant of This Island Earth, and the tentacled-head-in-a-fishbowl from Invaders From Mars.  I’m going to say it probably did. I can also say with confidence that, unlike those showier movies, Invasion of the Body-Snatchers changed my relationship to cinema forever.

But it wasn’t the experience of watching Invasion of the Body-Snatchers that catalysed my transformation from consumer of images to avid cryptographist. It was the experience of reading about it.  As my interest in horror and science fiction films intensified, I started to spend my pocket money on books about them, principally because I could seek out glimpses of the many and various films I was otherwise too young to actually watch.  And while Invasion of the Body-Snatchers certainly lacked the rubbery bug-eyed delights and flying saucers I thought sure were the canonical stuff of all the most entertaining science-fiction movies, it was a film the people in my books liked to write about a lot.

This was what I learned: in addition to Invasion of the Body-Snatchers being a low budget black and white film about hive-minded pod people from another planet and their sinister bid for world domination, it was also a commentary on the anxiety felt by Americans in the face of communist ideology. Okay, so, I didn’t know what communism was, even less so ideology, except that it had to something to with Russian spies and the colour red. 

Confusingly, as I read more about Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, I learned the film might also have something to say, not about communism, but about McCarthyism, which was another word I didn’t know, but learned about soon after. Further readings, in different books, suggested the threat against mankind in Invasion of the Body-Snatchers wasn’t coming from the furthest flung regions of space, but from within the magazine pages of Homes & Garden; that the awful sameness spreading from person-to-person wasn’t communism, or the chilling effect on expressions of difference produced by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s pernicious witchhunts, but the homogenising effect on the human condition of jolly, post-war consumerism.

I’m reminded of the old joke: when is a door not a door? When it is a jar.  When is a film not a series of images projected at twenty-four frames a second onto a flat surface? When it is an expansive, dimensional vessel encompassing competing strains of sociological meaning.

Though I didn’t really understand everything I was reading about in relationship to Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, a lesson was learned, and it was two-fold; not only could black and white movies about imperialistic alien vegetables tell us something truthful about the emotional realities of individuals living in the real world, but also that interpretation was not the intellectual project of fixing meaning in place, but the art of enjoying competing truths.

As improbable as it sounds pretentious, I really can trace my intellectual awakening to Invasion of the Body-Snatchers; from here, the early beginnings of my understanding of politics, the scaffolding of our lived realities, largely invisible to children, but very far from irrelevant to them; from here, the beginning of an understanding about the various different ways our freedoms might be imperilled – from within and from without; from here, the idea a person’s difference could be considered precious, a characteristic to be protected; from here, the tingle of unease for any large group of people laying definitive claims to a single mode of existence. 

Invasion of the Body-Snatchers also taught me films were unavoidably articles of social history, that however future-looking or historical or interplanetary, movies are marinaded in the times of their production; that the surface of a film is a mirror, in which we find the values of the people who made it.

In this way, Invasion of the Body-Snatchers gave me the confidence and conviction to spit in the eye of various teachers and later, academics, who would have me and others believe there was no value in something as popular as genre, no truth-telling power, no insight; that the only culture with the power to cast light on the matrices of human behaviour are those within the realm of finer things.  


A boy runs from his mother, who is ‘not’ his mother.

Wilma is convinced Uncle Ira is ‘not’ Uncle Ira.

A doppelgänger is discovered as it assumes the form of its victim.

A doppelgänger transforms in the darkness of the cellar.


Invasion of the Body-Snatchers begins at the end; with our hero, Dr Miles Bennell, in custody in the emergency room of a hospital; wild-eyed, Bennell is trying to convince a psychiatrist he is not a lunatic, and so recounts the events leading up to his arrest.

And events begin simply enough: a boy running in mortal fear of his own mother. Soon after, we meet Wilma, cousin of Dr Bennell’s love interest, Becky Driscoll, who is convinced her Uncle Ira is ‘not’ her Uncle Ira.  Meanwhile, the sun shines, and Uncle Ira cuts the grass on his neat front lawn, and the town of Santa Mira looks as pretty-as-picture, with its neat, white wooden houses, neat, white picket fences, and neat, white families. Oh, how these first small pangs of wrongness delight me, the chiming of these minor chords in an otherwise happy-clappy melody; the way they say, ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’, like watching the filter on someone’s #Livingmybestlife Instagram feed glitch-out for a second to reveal a stray dog turd.

Maybe cinema has conditioned me to regard small, pretty towns inhabited by smiling people as inherently dishonest and keepers of secrets? Maybe I only think this way because Invasion of the Body-Snatchers taught me to think this way, or maybe Invasion of the Body-Snatchers is the just outward expression of something I’ve always known to be true? We think of myths as stories, but I wonder if myths are the stories we recognise as truth? Santa Mira is but one of many small towns whose inhabitants are actually conspirators or monsters or both.  I’m thinking of the leafy streets of Stepford, and the painted streets of Summerisle. I’m thinking about Seahaven Island, and the Village from The Prisoner, the ice-cream-coloured neighbourhood of Edward Scissorhands, and every other dystopic conurbation.

Anyway, we soon learn the boy’s teacher and Uncle Ira have been hollowed out by extra-terrestrials, who are making a tremendous effort to keep up appearances. I suppose this is what I’m talking about when I think about all those towns and villages that so inspire distrust in me, or the way another person’s exquisite manners give me reason to be wary of them; I think to myself ‘so much effort’ and then, ‘for what?’ and then, ‘why?’, and then ‘I think they doth protest too much’. I do know of people who ‘just want everything to be nice’ and they’re always the bloody worst of us, because in my experience ‘by nice’ what they really mean is ‘repressed’ and ‘silent’ and ‘servile’.


Dr Bennell and Becky look out at the ‘normal’ streets of Santa Mira.


Whenever I re-watch the unfolding horror of Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, I’m reminded of a warm evening spent with old friends around a table on the scruffy candle-lit terrace of an old French house. We were playing a hypothetical game of Room 101, nominating our least favourite things to be cast into Orwell’s oubliette.  The conversation began lightly enough, and my suggestion for banishment was John Lennon’s Imagine. I loathe Imagine musically because it is a dirge, and also because, lyrically it is about as profound as a souvenir tea towel, as profound as The New Seeker’s I’d Like to Teach the World To Sing, only markedly less catchy.  My choice confused my companions, and as we wrestled with it, the tone darkened.  I railed against the glib utopianism Lennon offers, finding in it only the nascent trappings of fascism – and not Orwell’s dystopian hell hole of conspicuous boots brought down conspicuously on faces, but Huxley’s Brave New World of insensate, perfected bliss. Imagine is every pod person’s sing-a-long, a love-song to frontal lobotomies.


The discovery of the seed pods in the greenhouse.


I likewise relish Invasion of the Body-Snatchers for its hokier trappings, principally, its central premise that the human race might be victimised, then vanquished, by plants. Maybe like all small boys at one time or another, I had a venus-fly trap, having begged my mum to buy me one.  I was instantly disappointed by the diminutive size of my fly-trap, and also disappointed when I killed mine after feeding it a single strand of frozen mince. The idea of carnivorous plants fascinated me – still do, and while the alien pods in Invasion of the Body-Snatchers do not predate on the flesh of their victims, they feed on us nonetheless, absorbing the likenesses of their subjects while their subjects sleep. 

The film’s scenes in the greenhouse, in which our heroes witness the birthing of their dopplegangers from rubbery seed pods, remain gruesome all these years later, evoking a horrid fascination for prodigiousity familiar to any gardener.  Recently, I’ve been propogating spider plants by cutting off the scintillas of baby plants and poking them into water, where now there are white, worming roots, as these decapitated little off-shoots strive busily to survive; like the time, I was re-potting a large podophyllum, which, when at last liberated from its pot, trailed with it what looked like masses of white spaghetti.  Consider too the bamboo roots once growing under our garden path, resembling exactly the mad result of an experiment to splice a giant millipede with a human spine.  Let’s call this category of horticultural unease the ‘vegetal uncanny’. Anyone who has opened a kitchen cupboard, to find at the back of it a long-since forgotten potato, bristling with roots the translucent milky-yellow of an overly long toenail, knows what this is.  In Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, the bodies of the soon-to-be-replaced are found in darkness in the self-same way; down in cellars, secreted in the boots of cars, and inside them, the horribly busy pods.


The pods begin to hatch in the greenhouse.


From where I sit as I write this, I can see out of the window of our spare room and down into the narrow street below.  A few weeks ago, I was looking out and I saw a lone woman walking rather aimlessly in the street. I noticed her trainers and heavy brown coat.  She looked tired in an unremarkable way.   She’d just left one of the houses on the street and didn’t look like she knew what to do next.  I recognised the woman, having sat across from her in pubs on various occasions pre-pandemic, and then talking with her directly one day outside another pub in the summer of 2020, just after lock-down restrictions had been eased.  On this occasion, the woman wanted to talk about COVID. Specifically, she wanted myself and anyone else in earshot to join the ‘march against masks’ being organised in London.  Fascinated, I talked with the woman further, and it soon became clear the woman was ‘anti-mask’ because she was of the firm belief that COVID was an elaborate, precision-engineered Trojan horse, its insides crammed tightly with illustrious conspirators; Bill Gates, naturally, but also ‘the Rothchilds’, various media tycoons, including the chieftains of the BBC, and the World Health Organisation, and many more. I remained kind and curious during our exchange and continued to ask for clarifications on the specific goal of the beautiful conspiracy and what ‘success might look like’ for the sinister elite.  The woman couldn’t tell me. She just knew the end of the world was nigh, and like some Cassandra, all she could do was move from stranger to stranger, asking them to take a leaflet. 

Days later, another friend in the town told a story about meeting the same woman in the supermarket, their conversation largely mundane until she informed him the vaccine was part of plot to murder the human race. 

One of Invasion of the Body-Snatchers most chilling moments is when Dr Bennell returns to his hideout, after leaving Becky alone for a short time, to discover she too has succumbed to the alien conspiracy, and is now a replacement. The woman he once knew is gone, hollowed out by an alternate societal paradigm.


Dr Bennell’s moment of realisation, after kissing Becky Driscoll’s doppelgänger.

The seed pods are harvested and distributed.


This cuts to the knotty horror of Invasion of the Body-Snatchers.  There I was, looking out of my window, watching the woman in the heavy brown coat walking down the middle of the street, and thinking to myself, ‘The pod people have got her.’ I even started wondering what she’d been doing in this other person’s house just moments before. I had a very clear image of the woman stowing big green seed pods under beds, in the shed, in the greenhouse, just as, in the film, the alien menace is seen growing, harvesting and distributing more pods throughout the land. The problem is, the woman in the heavy brown coat thinks the same about me. 

Let’s compare dehumanisations for a moment. I pity this individual because, it seems crystal clear to me, she’s surrendered her autonomy of thought and action to some injurious hive-mind existent between the nodes of social media. The woman pities me because it seems as clear to her I have surrendered my autonomy of thought and action to some injurious hive-mind broadcast by ‘the establishment’ and its media. 

In the final moments of Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, just as it seems likely the psychiatrist is going to consign Dr Bennell to the nearest institution, another patient arrives at the hospital, who was involved in a collision with a truck – a truck carrying giant seed pods! Hurrah! In the nick of time, Bennell’s outlandish tale of alien conspiracy is authenticated by a third party and his sanity vouchsafed. Phew! This was not, however, the intended ending for the film, which instead concluded more grimly with the existing scene of Dr Bennell running into a road busy with traffic, screaming like a mad person, screaming, ‘They’re already here! You’re next! You’re next!’ The producers felt this ending was too dark, too depressing, too downbeat, not least because it first destabilises the world as we know it, and next withdraws the comfort of a happily definitive ending.

When I think about the woman in the old brown coat, I also see her running against the traffic, shrilling, ‘They’re already here!’ and everyone driving past, ignoring the crazy person.  But there have been many times this past year, when I’ve felt like running into the streets, gripped by fear and frustration, railing against the decadence of the COVID-is-a-Hoax brigade, against the baroque fantasy of the QAnoners and their tribes; against the likes of Trump and Johnson, against the maddening populism of the UK and elsewhere, against the hollowing out of facts over the primacy of people’s feelings‘The end of the world is nigh!’

And there it is, the creeping, perfect terror of Invasion of the Body-Snatchers – not alien invasions, not sentient vegetables from beyond the stars, but the more prosaic personal dread of being thought of as mad when you’re 100% certain you’re not.


‘They’re already here! You’re next! You’re next!’


Glorious (2021)


I properly disappeared into this, our 24th Kick-About prompt, another complete world building around it and absorbing me completely. I kept discovering all these pockets of rage and sadness as I wrote this short story, not least because I’ve been reading a lot about so-called “conversion therapies” and ‘cures for homosexuality’, and not least because a fair ratio of Glorious is based on the life and times of an individual I know well, a man who guards his freedoms fiercely, with no f**ks given. The setting of the story is also a real place, with its big bridge and creeping gentrification, though liberties have been taken everywhere. I wanted to get into the different ways behaviours can be tamed, so while I’m civil-partnered myself, I know a number of older gay men – and one in particular – who would, if pushed (and not very hard) express a certain wariness for the onwards march towards ‘normalcy’, preferring instead the distinctiveness of transgression and what is ‘uncivilised’ and ‘anti-social’ about some aspects of its subculture.


You’ll find an online PDF version here.


The Kick-About #24 ‘You Were Once Wild Here. Don’t Let Them Tame You’


Arguably, the wunderkammers gathered together by the likes of Ole Worm – our last prompt – represent pure expressions of human curiosity, untamed by such things as order, category, reason, or taxonomy, where the real and the imaginary are given equal footing. Now, with Isadora Duncan’s clarion call for free expression and non-conformity ringing in our hearts and minds, the kick-abouters this week are running wild and free…


Graeme Daly

“With this week’s prompt being “You were once wild here, don’t let them tame you” I instantly thought about being amongst the countryside of Ireland, and surrounded by flora and fauna. When I was younger, I was wild at heart; I climbed the highest trees, I made hideouts, I swam in rivers. The ground on top of hills surrounded by fairy trees was ground down by my cousins and myself, with our bikes fucked into the nearest ditch. We could be heard screaming with joy in this landscape playground that was all around us. We would cycle into town, put our money together and buy sweets and milkshakes, then cycle back – milkshake in hand and eat our feasts, supported by tree trunks and makeshift wooden slats.  I feel like I grew up on the precipice of this wild and free way of life, before it started to die out with the younger generation concentrating more on the protective shield of screens. I still feel like I have that sense of adventure within me, and when it is my birthday this year I am buying myself a bike to find some places that remind me of that time, I might not make hideouts like I used too, but I will be taking photos of places that bring me back to that untamed nature.

Pictured here are photos from the forest taken this past Christmas, where we ran amok often. I wanted the photos to feel nostalgic, with a rustic warmness to them and an influx of colour, but also show that we adventured to places like this in all seasons and all weather, where we were free and wild with not a care in the world. We never let anyone tame us and that’s how it should be.”


@graemedalyart / vimeo.com/graemedaly / linkedin.com/in/graeme-daly / twitter.com/Graeme_Daly / gentlegiant.blog


Judy Watson

Cats in Australia are a problem. They’re often mistreated, often dumped, and the feral population is gigantic, doing enormous damage to our wildlife. Click here to find out more. My lovely foster cat arrived painfully thin, with 4 bouncing babies. All of them have now been successfully adopted. Hooray! Go well little ones…”



Technically these guys once were wild, having been picked up as strays. But at the same time, they were affectionate and tame. So they are not really my response to this prompt. My response was, I think, a little influenced by a far superior cat painting, by William Kentridge that is on the wall of my studio. But really it was just a fun play about with ink. Fairly large scale on cartridge. I swished up a few garden plants for him to prowl in. Then combined the two in Photoshop. I altered his head and paws a bit to bring him into a more domestic cat proportion, and out of the original, more expressionist type. He represents the suburban animal who is both wild and tame at the same time. Every time he goes outside, he becomes his own heritage, a wild animal. Our gardens are his hunting ground. It is a fascinating thing, albeit devastating to our wildlife.”


www.judywatson.net / Instagram.com/judywatsonart / facebook.com/judywatsonart


Phil Cooper

“This was such a gift of a prompt! How all our lives have been tamed by this pandemic over the last year and how we yearn to escape it, the masks, the travel bans, the social distancing, the pub closures, etc. How do you sustain your ‘wildness’ when you have to stay indoors so much? I’ve spoken to lots of friends over the last year who used to spend their spare time climbing mountains, or skiing, or travelling to far flung places. Now they do jigsaw puzzles, or make sourdough. On paper it’s all rather tragic, but as long as we’re holding on to our wild selves inside it doesn’t matter I suppose. If we keep the wild candle burning somewhere in a little sacred space in our souls it can burn brightly once again when the restrictions are eased. And how we’ll appreciate it then!

I made a sort of ‘green man’ mask last year before the lock-down kicked in. It hangs on the wall of our living room and I think of it as a kind of talisman, reminding me of better days to come when I can travel more freely and get out into the wild places more. I hope it’s soon though!”


instagram.com/philcoops / hedgecrows.wordpress.com / phil-cooper.com


Kerfe Roig

“I had a totally different idea of what I wanted to do with this, involving collage, but the photos of Duncan dancing made me want to try to first capture the movement in drawings. I ended up pulling out pastels I hadn’t used in probably 40 years that happened to be in my watercolor bin. There’s a reason Degas used pastels for his dancers–but having no fixative, there’s also a reason I haven’t used them in awhile. Right now they are hanging on the wall where they won’t smear until I get something to spray them with. I still have the collage idea filed away for some future project…”


kblog.blog / methodtwomadness.wordpress.com


Marion Raper

“Here is Isadora in one of her famous dance poses around the year 1900. She must have been an amazing lady, with her love of free and natural movements, and seeking the divine expression of the human spirit. I suppose she was the original ‘wild child’ and was always deemed to be one of those stars to come to an inevitable tragic ending. There have been so many other women since who have passed away, never reaching their full potential – Janice Joplin, Sharon Tate, Grace Kelly, Amy Winehouse, Marilyn Monroe, Whitney Houston, Princess Diana, to name but a few. We shall never know what heights they would have reached and whether they would have ever been ‘tamed’, so to speak, but I doubt it. However, I bet Isadora would have loved Rock and Roll!”



Jan Blake

“What an extraordinary woman Isadora Duncan was at that time, and pre-dating Diaghalev! That surprised me. For me she fits in with the photographs of fairies, and the kind of dance to me that is very ethereal, rather than wild. Wild, however, for that time of restricted movements due to tight bound bodies in corsets. Wildness for me is in the actions of natural forces on our environment that leave their traces of upheaval and transformation in the landscape and seascapes that surround us. Nature cannot be tamed by man or woman.

The first image is a combination of two strips of photographs I took in France a long time ago: every September on that South West coast of France there is a strange storm that transforms the landscape over night. I did not know about it at the time. The storm was brewing and all day my partner and I had been sniping at one another. The sky changed to an inky mauve and I started running towards the beach about a mile away. The sea was jade green… still as a pond… the sky deep purple… the boats like paper cut-outs… so, so still and then the rumble, flash, and torrential rain. I screamed and screamed, and the beach was filling up with people who also screamed. It was the most remarkable storm I have ever witnessed. The sea was like a wild beast. Tsunamis must be the most terrifying though; this was just a flash in the pan in comparison. The next morning the beach was unrecognisable. All the dunes had changed shape. The pools of water held mysterious images. The fences were broken and disordered once again.

So this photo reminded me of that. I looked at it and saw a corset in place of the fencing, something that kept the wildness of the sea in check, but easily broken.”


janblake.co.uk


Charly Skilling

Once upon a time, there was a tribe called the Rondels. The Rondels believed in discipline and harmony and their dance was ballet and, for them, Ballet was Dance. For many, many years, the Rondels lived and worked and strived to perfect the Ballet, always correcting, and polishing, and correcting some more to ensure the Ballet met the rigorous standards of their forefathers who had laid down the Rules.

Then one day, out of nowhere it seemed, there was an Other amongst them. This Other was not a Rondel, the shape was very odd. This Other did not blend in or harmonise with the tribe, but was a vivid contrast, clashing and startling in her variety. This Other did not do Ballet, but moved in strange and unexpected ways, twisting, flowing, swirling in a Dance all her own.

Many of the Rondels were shocked by this Other. “That’s all wrong” they said. “That’s not Dance. She’s not abiding by the Rules. It’s immoral!”

Other Rondels said “It’s just Showing Off. Take no notice. It will soon get bored and go away.”

But a few said ” It may not be Ballet, but those colours are beautiful. Perhaps we could try something a little different with our colours?”

And a couple of Rondels whispered “That shape is so exciting – could we not incorporate it into the Dance in some way?”

And one little Rondel, braver than the rest, went right up to the Other and said “Please, what are you? What do we call you?”

And the Other replied “I am a Dancer, and my name is Isadora.”

Then the little Rondel summoned up all her courage and said “Please, Isadora, will you teach me to dance like you?”

“But aren’t you learning to be a Ballet Dancer?”

“Why can’t I do both?”

And Isadora thought for a moment and then laughed.

“No reason,” she said. “No reason at all.”

And although Isadora was not with the Rondels for long, they learnt much from her, and even after Isadora had gone, the Rondels adopted and adapted and tried out new things. It didn’t always work and some Rondels could never bring themselves to accept these innovations as being equal to the Ballet. But many did, and years and years later, little glimpses of Isadora can be seen again and again, anywhere where there is Dance.




James Randall

“Young Once: if only the ravages of time could be kept at bay! This is a pick of my my high school mate Mark in his daring red jumpsuit in front of his very yellow Holden Gemini at a very country pub early 80s. I came across the ultra-contrasty original pic while packing stuff away and instantly new Mark would be my wild subject!”



Vanessa Clegg

“My father kept budgerigars and tropical fish and, as children, we marvelled at their beauty and difference… but see these creatures in their natural habitat, and their captivity becomes a cramped, needless and extremely sad practice. In Rose Tremain’s book “ Restoration” Merivel is given an “Indian Nightingale” which has “travelled the seas”, and is thus seen as both strange and exotic. Later it is shown to be a common blackbird… He has been duped! But I wonder? Perhaps the strange and exotic is simply a state of mind transforming the everyday into something wondrous… how we “see” the world. We can create our own cages so, to me the “wild” is the imagination, and that’s the road to freedom!” Crayon on Fabriano. 22” X 22”


vanessaclegg.co.uk


Phil Gomm

“I properly disappeared into this prompt, another complete world building around it and absorbing me completely. I kept discovering all these pockets of rage and sadness as I wrote this, not least because I’ve been reading a lot about so-called “conversion therapies” and ‘cures for homosexuality’, and not least because a fair ratio of ‘Glorious’ is based on the life and times of an individual I know well, a man who guards his freedoms fiercely, with no f**ks given.”


You’ll find an online PDF version here.


Thanks to regular blogger, scribe and kick-abouter, Kerfe Roig, we have our new prompt… another great opportunity to let our ‘Hair’ down? In addition, a heads-up re. The Kick-About No.26. The 26th edition means we’ve been running around in each other’s company for 52 weeks – a year of creativity under strange constraints. I’d like to mark the occasion by making the 26th edition a celebration of all that’s gone before, so I’ll be asking kick-abouters to choose their own favourite submission so far, and offer up a few words as to why, and maybe something too about the importance of creating and making. I look forward to hearing from you in due course. Something to think about, but until then, ‘Let the sunshine in.’



‘Quite Normal’ @ The Ramsgate International Film & Television Festival 2021


Quite Normal was the short film I made back in July 2020 for the Kick-About #5, in response to Alice Neel’s 1932 painting, Symbols. The film was made very directly and simply, and without any actual video footage, the visuals in the film deriving from still photographs of poor reproductions of magazine advertisements from the 1950s.

As an experiment between me, myself and I, I decided to submit Quite Normal to a few film festivals. I was happy with the film – happy with the thematic world of it, with the tone, with its ad-hoc limitations, and very happy with the performance by Charly Skilling. I also had no expectations for the film, knowing it to be the product of straightened times and non-existent budgets.

Yesterday, I was contacted by the organisers of the Ramsgate International Film & TV Festival to notify me that Quite Normal has made the festival’s official selection and will be screened as part of their online event (COVID having put paid to its more usual location-based film screenings). What a lovely surprise, not least because it should encourage anyone else who might be reading this that you don’t need all the bells and whistles to make a short film that other people might be interested in supporting and watching.



Throwback Friday #47 The Old Wives Had It Wrong (2003)

I’ve featured a few songs on here, songs accompanied by handy box chord diagrams, having had the discipline to commit their melodies and chords to paper, as well as to memory. Not so with this one, or indeed the many others like it. This song sits in a folder on my desktop as lines denuded of music. I remember writing it though, and I remember about whom I wrote it. I also remember really liking this song, which makes its silence all the more frustrating.


the old wives had it wrong

1

one day I flew high with a magpie
only found come the ‘morrow
he’d stolen the shine from my heart
‘cause he’d just come to borrow
first he feathered his nest
then he let me go for a song
those old wives, they sure weren’t wrong
one magpie brought me sorrow

2

once cursed and coerced by a gypsy
I let him woo me with all the sights that he’d seen
envy encouraged me to dance to his tune
sang the songs my gypsy would sing
but i missed who I’d been
became this man inbetween
those old wives, the light had seen
there’s just grass and it’s never more green

3

made hay with a stray heard him purring
and in my arms his charms basking
he had a hungering only for cream
for the salt from my warm skin
and though from house he made home
he was as happy to roam
those old wives sure knew their thing
leopards cling to their markings

4

played the fool with a jewel his eyes shining
two diamonds mining the whole of my soul
I burnished him bright with my breath
but my clasp this stone wouldn’t hold
I thought inside I’d seen fire
but a diamond is cold
those old wives they had it told
it may spark but it sure ain’t gold

5

i’ve tried, cried and died over magpies
over gypsies, over strays, over jewels
and so I say madness is love
if love, from kings, makes an old fool
what use then my heart?
is my hope something cruel?
those old wives sure change the rules
I heard them say that love, in the end, conquers all
what use then my heart?
is my hope something cruel?
those old wives sure change the rules
I heard them say that love, in the end, conquers all

October 2003


The Kick-About #23 ‘Museum Wormianum’


Surely it was curiosity that drove Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez, the subject of our last Kick-About, to construct a submersible so he could paint what he found beneath the waves. Ole Worm, Danish physician, natural historian and collector, gathered the eclectic subjects of his curiosity into a remarkable museum, a wunderkammer, which is this week’s jumping-off point…


Phil Cooper

“What a mouthwatering prompt this week, such cabinets have always fascinated me. I think many of us curate our own little wunderkammers in our homes; on windowsills, mantelpieces and coffee tables; little collections of things we found on walks that sparked our interest and wanted to keep. The prompt brought up memories of early childhood for me, growing up in a rather dull South Yorkshire town where the local museum felt like a magical portal to a different world. It was a mysterious and beautiful world, but also a bit scary at times, because it brought me into contact with things that were strange and didn’t fit. I felt quite at home! I’ve written a little story about it, with a boy who lived in a dreary town, a boy who lit up every time he went to the local museum…”



instagram.com/philcoops / hedgecrows.wordpress.com / phil-cooper.com


Vanessa Clegg

“My whole flat feels like a Wormianum. so these are little glimpses! My take on this was to echo the idea of travel/ collation/collecting, as well as including my practice in the form of notebooks, some being records and thoughts from the trip and some being journeys of the imagination via reading the accounts and experiences of others. Unlike the seventeenth century, when so much of the earth was whited out as Terra Incognita, there is little left that has not had a human footstep, so that what were once strange and extraordinary objects, being revealed to an incredulous audience, are now widely accessible and available online. (On the other hand, the deep seas are akin to outer space, still relatively unexplored/wish it could remain so/and mind bogglingly full of bizarre and beautifully alien life forms). I suppose, in the end, it comes down to objects being touchstones/gateways back to the time and place or people that passed them on, so more of a personal diary than showcase. The National Geographics are a legacy from my father, who travelled far and wide through the images and articles, in a way he was unable to do in his life.”


vanessaclegg.co.uk


Marion Raper

“I can see how Mr Worm turned his house into a museum – my house is much the same! I have many collections of items acquired over the years. Starting from when I was a library assistant, I always loved books and anything historical. When I ran a Charity Shop I collected all manner of bric-a-brac, vintage clothes, jewellery etc. One of my hobbies before lockdown was to share my 1950s memorabilia and give reminiscence talks at local care homes. This was very rewarding, and I believe Mr Worm would have felt the same pleasure in showing off his treasures. Welcome to ‘Marionium’.”



Eleanor Spence-Welch

I am by no means a photographer, but I am someone who collects dead, strange and curious objects. In my own little “museum” that I’ve formed here, I have skulls, bones, vintage photographs, fossils, and the occasional human tooth. The idea of one day having an entire room dedicated to the curiosities I spend time collecting, much like the Museum Wormianum, is a thrilling prospect. What fascinating pieces will I have acquired in that time? In this image, there is a beloved pet, an ice age bone, creatures picked up from roadsides and woodlands, photos of people long gone, and so on. This collection, to me, is a commentary on death not being an ending, but rather an opportunity for something new.


instagram.com/espence96 / twitter.com/E1eanor_Spence / facebook.com/ESpence-Art


Phil Gomm

“When I went up to my attic to retrieve a heavy wooden box – not opened in years – from beneath a collection of other heavy boxes, I rummaged inside it for a parceled-up collection of ephemera from my past I knew I’d squirreled away for one reason or another. When I found the small paper parcel, tipping out its contents for closer inspection, I quickly found I couldn’t remember the import, value or significance of many of the objects I’d otherwise deigned important enough to save for posterity. Incertae sedis is Latin for ‘of uncertain placement’, and is used taxonomically to classify things that otherwise do not fit existing schemas or cannot be categorised straightforwardly or curated into bodies of knowledge more accurately. I present the contents of my own mini-museum, with some artefacts contextualised where possible, but most speaking to the fallibility of memory and the destiny of most of our sentimental keepsakes to fall into meaninglessness, and if not for ourselves, then inevitably for others.”



James Randall

“The museum topic instantly took me to repatriation of plundered pieces, but then I had to confront my love of museums and galleries where the stimulus from vast quantities of fabulous pieces nicked from all over is so heady it makes me swoon! I went through some pics of objects from the British Museum, and, I think, the Museum of Natural History in New York (and one stray marble angel from Bath) and threw them together. When I gouached them together it felt good to me – rather dark, but I haven’t had that creative groove from the act of image making for some years.”



Graeme Daly

“I was initially going to use many of the collectable bric a brac scattered around my dads house and superimpose those on makeshift shelves using roof timber slats that are littered with spiders, but I decided to go against that as I wanted to not mimic Ole Worm’s Museum Wormianum but to go on an adventure and create a story around the origins of all the collectibles and relics that Worm has in his possession. I imagined Old Ole as an adventurer, wearing tan colours and a careworn hat bleached from sweat from adventuring to mysterious places where the sun scorches and the animals and plant life are of the carnivorous sort. Old Ole has fought mutant monsters deep within the caverns of caves, sailed high seas, and fought his way through tortuous chambers. Old Ole has earned his stripes and his relics. Since Old Ole’s book of treasure dates back to 1655, I wanted to use a medium that is also ancient, but has stood the test of time, so I turned to collage. I used many of the bric-a-brac that is dust ridden around my Dad’s house to kitbash and collage them together, as well as pages from the Museum Wormianum to create the ocean – as well as some hieroglyphics scattered about. I have become a bit obsessed with house plants, so some of my plants are in there too – a fatsia, Monstera and Schefflera.”


@graemedalyart / vimeo.com/graemedaly / linkedin.com/in/graeme-daly / twitter.com/Graeme_Daly / gentlegiant.blog


Jordan Buckner

Grief and cardboard… Not sure if this is appropriate for this week’s Kick-About, but in my head, it fits with the idea of a cabinet of curiosities. A collection of artefacts concerned with investigation and understanding… 


instagram.com/jordan_buckner / twitter.com/jordan_buckner /linkedin.com/in/jordan-buckner jordanbuckner.co.uk


Charly Skilling

“I have long been fascinated by the strange things people collect and keep. These cabinets of curiosities are often associated with the Victorians; part educational, part souvenir, and frequently macabre, they suited the Victorian Brits’ devotion to exploration, discovery, and gothic, otherworldly tales. (It also helped to have big houses in which to display them, and plenty of maid servants to keep them dusted!) However, Victorians were not the first to exhibit this fascination with all that is strange and weird; alchemists and apothecaries were renowned throughout the centuries for the collections they kept in their shops: stuffed animals, dried plants and “Things” in jars, all of which purported to possess strange properties of healing or death. From this line of thought it was no great step to find myself reading about shrunken heads. (Did you know, the skill lies in removing the skull by slitting the back of the neck and parting flesh from bone, and then wrapping the skin around a wooden ball so it maintained its shape as it shrank? No, neither did I!). So I decided to make a ‘shrunken head’, and as I was working on it, I found myself thinking about the Victorian gothic tradition, and of Miss Havisham in Dickens’ Great Expectations – and it suggested a poem. So there you are – from shrunken heads to shrunken hearts in a single step.”




Kerfe Roig

“For various reasons, including a recent dream, the turtle shells jumped right out at me, so that’s what I focused on.  Given time, there is much more to mine from even one glimpse of Ole Worm’s collection, of course!”


kblog.blog / methodtwomadness.wordpress.com


Courtesy of regular kick-abouter (and head-shrinker), Charly Skilling, we have our new prompt, a stirring quotation from ‘The Mother of Modern Dance’


Chimera Book 1 / Chapter 17 – The Dismantlers


And we’re back! It’s time to rejoin Kyp Finnegan, Jamie Bean and Sir Regulus Ferric in the fantastical and perilous realm of Chimera, the world of lost things. It’s been a wee while I know, so listen again to Chapter 16 to remind yourself of all the most recent daring do! Many thanks as always to Dan Snelgrove, for finding the time to continue this adventure with me and all the other denizens of Chimera.


Last time in Chimera Book 1:

Sir Regulus confronted the first shovelisk, drawing his sword. The creature’s eyes blazed, snorts of exhaust gusting from its nostrils.  It lunged, butting Sir Regulus in the chest with its head, knocking him flat.  With a triumphant roar, the shovelisk dragged itself towards Jamie and Kyp, its rubbery foot splintering wood and smashing china.  With an awful crushing sound, it flattened the body of Czar Samovar and then rolled over Sir Regulus.  The shovelisk was above the two boys now, who coughed inside a cloud of its breath. It sniffed them, opened its jaws – and then froze.  The shovelisk spasmed, before toppling sideways with a loud crash.  His sword dripping sticky black fluid, Sir Regulus stood up and rested his foot on the dead shovelisk’s neck

‘The old ‘sword in the belly’ manoeuvre!  I got Firemingus, the self same way!’

His jubilation was short-lived. The second shovelisk reared up behind Sir Regulus, snatched him off his feet, tossed him in the air and caught him in his mouth.  Its sights now fixed on Kyp and Jamie, the shovelisk snorted hungrily and scooped them up too. 

Chapter 17 – The Dismantlers

Listen to all previous chapters at anchor.fm/chimerabook1


Coming Soon to Red’s Kingdom: Chapter 18 – The Other Carousel Horse


Throwback Friday #44 Short Story: Answering Machine (1998 rev. 2021)


Another short story from the floppy disc archive, prompted by some real world moment of strangeness with an answering machine I can now only just vaguely recall. I realise this effort is something of a period piece, what with its twentieth century trappings – a landline, how quaint! In common with cameras and photographs, I’ve always found answering machines and voice mails to have an unheimlich quality to them, the way they arrest time and suspend moments, installing ghosts in the machine, and there is something of that at work in this sleight vignette.


You’ll find a large print PDF version here.


The Kick-About #21 ‘The Five Canons Of Rhetoric’


The Kick-About comes of age today, with Edition No. 21. Let me begin by saying how restorative, ordering and genuinely exciting I find our collective runarounds. Through your emails, comments and conversations, I know you value the Kick-About too, seeing it as an opportunity to make some new stuff, finish some older stuff, get something done, take risks, recreate, and get your hands dirty. It gives me great pleasure to host your work on here. Red’s Kingdom is lucky to have you. Long may we play together.

Last time, we tied ourselves in knots; even so, I suspect this prompt proved knottier.


Vanessa Clegg

“The definition of rhetoric in the little Oxford dictionary is: art of persuasive speaking or writing; inflated or exaggerated language. Based on that (with a bit of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Not I’) I’ve spliced together the opening lines of Barack Obama’s inauguration speech with a selection of Donald Trumps tweets (sections of ). Calm authoritative argument versus shouted ignorance (in my opinion!).”


“Each time we gather to inaugurate a president
I WILL NOT BE ATTENDING THE INAUGURATION!
we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution,
THE ELECTION WAS STOLEN!
we affirm the promise of our democracy,
IT WAS A RIGGED ELECTION!
we recall that what binds this nation together,
SORRY LOSERS!
is not the colours of our skin, or the tenets of our faith or the origins
of our names,
WE’RE GOING TO BUILD A WALL!
what makes us exceptional, what makes us America
AMERICA FIRST! AMERICA FIRST!
is our allegiance to an ideal articulated in a declaration made more than
two centuries ago.
MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!
We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal;
FAKE NEWS!
that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights;
BULLSHIT!
that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”
STOP THE STEAL! STOP THE STEAL!


vanessaclegg.co.uk


James Randall

“Rhetoric – it is what it is.”



Phil Cooper

“The prompt this week made me think about the creative process, my creative process, something I don’t usually spend much time contemplating. What does my creative process actually involve? Which parts of the process am I good at, and which parts do I find uncomfortable and hurry past? What is my – and I recoil slightly from the earnestness of this word – practice? I’ve found stepping back and considering how I approach my work a useful exercise. For this Kick-About, I’ve tried to take a photo that includes some of the steps I might go through in making an image; there are sketches, with some of the quick drawings that are often the very start of the process for me, then painted papers I make to provide the raw materials for my collage work, a collaged blackbird taking shape, and also a finished image of a wintry landscape with a barn owl, plus reference books, poetry and other stuff I might find that sparks inspiration. Birds provide a good, if rather obvious, metaphor for this process; sometimes the idea flies, sometimes not….”


instagram.com/philcoops / hedgecrows.wordpress.com / phil-cooper.com


Tom Beg

“I thought the five words evoked something mysterious, something unseen and a bit psychological. Mostly I was inspired by the patterns and colours MRI and CT scans produce as a way of visualising how our brains react to a specific emotional response or biological function. In this case, the triggers being inventio, disposito, elecuitio, memoria and pronuntiatio, and a very abstract visualisation of those words. I have my own ideas about which of these images represents each of the words, but in the end I thought I would leave it up to the viewer to come up with their own interpretation of the order.”


twitter.com/earthlystranger / vimeo.com/tombeg


Charly Skilling

“Once I had got over my initial panic on reading the ‘5 Canons of Rhetoric’, I read a bit more on the subject and realised what was being described was a process – a process which could be applied to many creative endeavours. The stages may have different emphases for different types of creativity, but (it seems to me) the principles remain the same. I decided to test this hypothesis by applying it to a much humbler craft than oratory, but one that I know well. Below I have tried to show the 5 canons applied to the process of making a crochet blanket, from initial idea to finished piece.”



Kerfe Roig

“My mind glazed over as I read through these rigid and formal ways of organizing communication. Of course the word rhetoric has multiple meanings, the first of which, is “(in writing or speech) the undue use of exaggeration or display; bombast”. Something we all been over-subjected to of late. What is true of all the definitions is that rhetoric involves the use of language.

One synonym given particularly caught my eye: ” balderdash–senseless, stupid, or exaggerated talk or writing; nonsense”. The word nonsense immediately made me think of the surrealists. The surrealists felt that letting go of the need to control your creation would reveal deeper truths. This was true of both visual and written art. They rejected logic and reason. I often use surrealistic techniques for both my art and my writing. I’ve been doing Rorschach images for awhile: these little cards are done by dripping the leftover paint from my watercolors onto the card and folding it in half. Usually the layers are done in several sessions. I also compose comments for my images using words and phrases I’ve cut out of magazines and advertisements. I limit myself to what’s contained in one envelope for each card, and often spend quite a long time choosing and arranging them. I call it ‘the collage box oracle’, as it’s similar to using magnetic poetry. I was originally inspired by Claudia McGill, who is a master at this technique. I’m usually surprised by what appears. It always makes me think.

I first scanned in just the images, and then worked on the words. When I went to scan them, I realized I had changed the orientation of the image in half of them. Another unexpected surprise. Surrealistic Rhetoric has no pretense to being anything but a random arrangement of words, but somehow manages to incorporate at least 4 of the classical canons: invention, arrangement, style, and delivery. As to memory, well, canon #7 deals with that.”


The Eight Canons of Surrealist Rhetoric

Is there anything more archetypal than nothing?

Space is just energy deconstructing.

You expected evolving to be more complex.

Adventure awaits beyond the details of yourself.

Fools rush into the shadow of the projected image.

I was invented from the earth’s fertile surfaces–
otherwise my unlimited nakedness would be alarming.

My plans are to forget to remember.

There was a window from the start—simple and mysterious–
imagine looking through it to what is hidden between.


kblog.blog / methodtwomadness.wordpress.com


Marion Raper

“I was intrigued to learn about the new archaeology regarding Stone Henge, whereby they have discovered that an ancient stone circle at Waun Mawn in Wales was the original prototype. I decided there must have been one farsighted individual who used his power of rhetoric to persuade his Neolithic mates to help him with this great project over 3,000 years ago. So…”


‘We don’t need to hide ourselves away in this Peat Moor as a second rate team. We could be top of the league! Let’s show them what we can do. You know those huge blue stones lying around the pitch everywhere? Well,why don’t we move them to Salisbury Plain! It won’t be difficult to get them there – it’s only a stones throw, of about 150 miles. We’ll get some of the local lads together and roll them there on timber sledges. No sweat! Then we’ll have a Rave – a Pop Festival – around Midsummer say. I’ll see if I can get some class acts like The Amesbury Archer or The Boscombe Bowmen. Those blue rocks have great accoustics! We’ll have a game, a few jars, a bit of stargazing and then watch the sun come up! They’ll be gobsmacked for years to come! It’ll be epic! What d’ ya say?’



Jan Blake

“The Five Canons of Rhetoric. Well, that made me think about where I’m at! 1) INVENTIO – I have a passion for seed-pods. They are my inspiration. 2) DISPOSITIO – I selected 5 from my collection. Nigella Damascena, Physalis Peruviana, Wisteria Leguminosae, Magnolia Grandiflora, Entada Gigas. Five was overwhelming, and they all had a story to tell, and despite spending time drawing them, with real attention to their individual personalities, I kept being drawn to the shiny black pod in the middle that fitted so deliciously in the palm of my hand. When I looked it up, it was certainly of the pea Family. I found a clue online .. it could be a Sea-Heart, a pod that drifts across the world. It comes from a vine that scrambles through trees in tropical areas of vast size, the biggest and most extraordinary of the pea family, also known as the Monkey Ladder. I had to find out, so I rang the friend who had given it to me on a very special birthday a few years ago.

“Where did you find it?’
“On a beach in Donegal.”

Jackpot! 3) ELOCUTIO – I had discovered where it may have come from and where it landed: from the Gulf of Mexico, along the Gulf Stream’s warm currents, to land on the sandy, windswept dunes of Donegal on the West coast of Ireland. It’s an intriguing pod, beloved of sailors, who hung them round their necks when on a treacherous sea voyage to keep them safe, and also made into snuff boxes, and decorated in Africa with wonderful designs as a gift. So I took the story, took elements that suggested shapes suitable to travel from the other pods into its story 4) MEMORIA! The final piece is too sketchy for 5) PRONUNTIATO! but it satisfied my ever-growing wanderlust for returning to Mexico to see the Monkey Ladder growing!”


janblake.co.uk


Phil Gomm

“I wanted to engage with the prompt as it related to the idea of moving from an initial instinctive idea to something recognisably cogent and complete, and communicated successfully to others. I chose the pangram, ‘The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog’ because, in its use of every single letter in the alphabet, I thought I could argue it was a single sentence encompassing every other English language idea possible; every book, every song, every poem, every philosophical treatise, every argument, and so on. As the animation goes on, you see different ideas vying for representation and moments of indecision, flashes of inspiration – helpful and otherwise – and a final resolution of the phrase we can recognise collectively as ‘right’.”



(There is some pesky pixelation due to compression in this Vimeo version: with a bit of luck, you’ll find the original video to view hosted here).


Gary Thorne

The subject matter has been in the back of my mind for a while, yet I haven’t had reason enough to do it, until now, so thanks Kick-About. The subject is myself (James Randall is owed credit here), organisation spans 1957-2021, clarity of intent seems to arrive through the preceding years, as things add-up, and delivery is through my favoured medium – oil on prepared paper, 20x20cm each.


linkedin.com/in/gary-thorne


Courtesy of regular Kick-Abouter, Marion Raper, we have our all-new prompt, the art, life and times of the Austrian painter, Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez. Diving-bells at the ready please!



Short Story: Baba’s Important Work (2021)


The idea for this short story came quickly. Making it work on the page took longer. In large part, I was responding to the idea of ‘the nip’, the idea of friction, abrasion and tensions tying people together in impossible knots – and the idea too that the security of a bond in certain circumstances might require a lot of nip, and how unfair and confusing that might feel for the person on the receiving end. Quite where the image of the static caravan came from – or why – I don’t know, but as soon as it parked up in my imagination, as the setting for the story, I got thinking about the chicken-legged hut inhabited by Baba Yaga, the witch figure from Slavic folklore, and then more elements fell comfortably into place. I must say I found exploring the relationship between the boy character and the witch exhilarating and I enjoyed writing this story very much, despite its rather grim scenario. I’m finding that participating in the Kick-About has the effect of doing away with procrastination and driving me towards getting stuff done within certain constraints. I would never have written this story were it not for Jan Blake’s prompt, and I most certainly wouldn’t have finished it!


You can find a large-print PDF here