MFT #10 ‘Andante quasi lento e contabile’ – from A Carol Symphony by Victor Hely-Hutchinson (1927)


Andante quasi lento e contabile, the third movement from Victor Hely-Hutchinson’s A Carol Symphony, is one of my favourite things. Here’s why.

Admittedly, the lower 4th floor of a brick-built brutalist building is an unlikely fount of yuletide nostalgia. Even so, whenever I listen to Hely-Hutchinson’s A Carol Symphony, it is to this particular corner of this particular edifice my imagination travels first.

The corner in question is the base room for the undergraduate animation programme for which I was course leader, up until my resignation from the role in July 2019. Originally, there was very little ‘kerb appeal’ about this corner of the campus; the space in question had no natural daylight, and its ceiling dominated by a defunct network of ventilation tubes and vents. Over time, my staff and I transformed the unprepossessing bunker into a much envied cocoon of warm vibrant colour, modelled after a cinema foyer, complete with galleries of old movie posters, vintage folding cinema seats, and warm, pooling circles of light. I loved seeing the base room brimming with staff and students – as noisy together sometimes as a roost of parrots – deriving secret pleasure from the oft-repeated rituals of pushing chairs back under the tables after the students had left for their respective classes and restoring order to their scattering of film books, magazines and chocolate wrappers. On occasion, I feigned annoyance at their messiness, their apparent inability to eat a sausage roll without fountaining flakes of pastry over the base room’s rich red carpet, but in some heart-and-sinews way, I didn’t mind at all.

I likewise enjoyed the base room when it was empty and quiet, the orderliness and hush following the end of the autumn term, the majority of our students having upped sticks for Christmas. In direct conflict with edicts from campus managers and their kind, my colleagues and I would conspire to create further opportunities for our keenest students to continue working on campus in the days running up to the big holiday shut-down. In this one small way, I was trying to do as I’d been done by, recalling how supported I’d been made to feel by the teachers and tutors who’d populated my own educational experience; how it felt when my a-level art teacher trusted me to continue working in the classroom long after the school day was over; how it felt when he offered to make me a cup of instant coffee too, this simple erasure of hierarchy between master and the apprentice; how it felt during my Foundation Art degree, when the technician allowed me to work early, or late, in the workshop – because I was trusted; what it felt like to be a valued part of a community, where creativity was a shared act of support and time-giving, an existential thing more glorious than the precise letter of someone’s job description or the increments of a clock-face.

Thus, with a few industrious students scattered throughout the various studios and computer rooms, I myself would sit, not in my office, but rather at the large lozenge-shaped table in the middle of the base room, and finish off whatever remaining workload remained – usually writing heaps of feedback. The base room boasted a very large LED screen television and set of powerful speakers, and when the mood took me, I’d play Hely-Hutchinson’s A Carol Symphony at some considerable volume, it’s third slow movement filling the long empty corridor outside with its midnight-clear and swirling snow. I suppose I fancied myself as an Edward Scissorhands figure; while Edward produced wintery effects where once there was none by shaving blizzards from blocks of ice, I sent Hely-Hutchinson’s darkling dream of winter whirling out of the base room to meet the opening doors of the campus lift, always thrilling slightly at the idea that my foot-sore wearied colleagues might delight, as I did, at finding their workplace enhanced so unexpectedly.



This is what I tell myself, such is the chicanery of nostalgia. My colleagues more likely wondered why I appeared so intent on propelling Christmas before me when there was no one around to care or notice, spraying Hely-Hutchinson’s seasonal music about the place like one of those blowers of artificial snow. For some of them, I may have struck a rather tragic figure, sitting alone at a large communal table in a largely deserted brick fortress. Their ear-buds packed tightly into their ears, my students were, in most cases, entirely oblivious to the ice and nightscape of Hely-Hutchinson’s third movement blowing past their respective studios – and if they were listening, they were probably rolling their eyes.

I don’t really know what anyone else was thinking if and when they heard Hely-Hutchinson’s music moving through the quiet conduits of the empty building – spooky, magical, wonderful, like the advance of frost. I’ll more confidently tell you what I was thinking. I was thinking, ‘This is how you do it!’ This is how you see off the barbarism of the fluorescent lights and long walks of grey non-slip flooring! This is how you unfurl the dark-bright heart of a Narnian wood within the confines of a concrete silo. This is how you turn an ordinary corner on an otherwise ordinary day and find yourself somewhere magical.

The other thing I know is this: whenever I hear the Andante quasi lento e contabile, I miss my former colleagues, all of us always knackered, all of us true-believers in the job-at–hand, and I miss all those twenty-somethings with their explosive sausage rolls and unicorn-coloured hair. I miss them, as I miss their delight in acts as simple as my donning a ridiculous santa hat, or handing around a mass-produced tin of mass-produced chocolates, recognising that delight for what it was – the trust generated by the moments when tutors choose to make themselves back into people. And yes, I miss pushing in all their bloody chairs.

But rather like one of those mass-produced chocolates in those big mass-produced tins, this specific bonbon of Christmas nostalgia is wrapped around a softer centre, for baked inside this Proustian madeleine is another. That I cleave so affectionately to Hely-Hutchinson’s atmospheric conflation of The Coventry Carol and The First Noel has as much to do with the age I was when I first heard it, as it does with the particular merits – or otherwise – of the music itself.

First and foremost, Andante quasi lento e contabile reminds me of my father in ways both welcome and less so. Hely-Hutchinson’s music carries inside it a very pure memory of my family, and thanks to the internet, I can be super-exact about its temporal coordinates: Christmas Eve, 1984, a little after 5pm. Our Christmas tree is sitting on top of the triangle-shaped coffee-table, squidged between the armchair and the sofa and throwing up scintillas against the rice-pudding sheen of our chip paper wallpaper. Dad is home early from work, and we’re all waiting for the final episode of The Box Of Delights to begin, the BBC’s adaptation of John Masefield’s novel. For its signature tune, The Box Of Delights has taken the plucked harp from Hely-Hutchinson’s take on The First Noel. I don’t know the provenance of the music then, but I absolutely delight in the way it calls immediately for the hairs on my arms to rise in anticipation of what it to come. I’m fizzing with a curious brew of ‘Christmasness’ and dread, with pleasure and suspense – with pleasure in suspense. As the gas fire hisses, filling our living room with luxurious heat, I realise this is Christmas right here, right now; that it lives not in the brash adverts for children’s toys, or on Top of the Pops, but here, in this moment of exciting suspenseful darkness, here in this haunted music-box of a Christmas carol. For the record, it’s not just me, as someone wrote in the Radio Times back in 2015:

“The Box of Delights made a big impression on those who saw it when it originally aired more than three decades ago on BBC1. Mainly because it somehow managed to be the image of snowy Edwardian chocolate-box perfection, and pretty bloody creepy at the same time…”



That dad was home to watch this final episode with us is no small part of why this memory endures so powerfully. In common with my future self, who will later propel Hely-Hutchinson’s music out into the empty spaces of a near-deserted University campus in an effort to transform it for others, my pleasure at watching The Box of Delights was a pleasure doubled because it was pleasure shared. That my dad was there, taking this fantastical journey with me, seemed to be of special importance. Our family felt very close that Christmas Eve, drawing closer, Hely-Hutchinson’s music helping us towards each other with all its mystery, threat and promise of magic. This was the start of Christmas proper, the front door shut against the cold, work finished, school a distant memory, and the embargo on that year’s special purchases of Paynes Chocolate Brazils and Turkish Delight finally lifted.

In March of the following year, my father would leave us for another life with another family. Realistically speaking, this last Christmas spent as a family was surely a strained and miserable episode for my parents, and I think for my older brother too, who knew all of it before me. I wonder what they were thinking about as Hely-Hutchinson’s music began to play on our television? At least two of us were dreaming about journeying to another world entirely. It beggars belief I failed to intuit some of what was happening before it happened. Or maybe I did? Maybe the proof of what I knew is found in everything I’ve already written here, the import, clarity and preciousness of this perfect Christmas memory deriving from a child’s desperate act of magical thinking.

When, as sometimes happens, I find myself crying at the Andante quasi lento e contabile, I always try to figure out why. It is not a simple grief, because sometimes the tears feel like they are the physical expression of a surplus of hope. They squeeze out of me, silvered and involuntary. I suspect they are tears of frustration too, of disappointment with the synthetic sentimentality of the Christmas season and my struggle to go on feeling it – any of it. Hely-Hutchinson’s music surely makes me yearn for long walks at midnight on Christmas Eve, crumping across thick snow, and I think, if one day I do take a walk like that, I will come to understand how to ‘do’ Christmas again in some profound, legitimate way, and that it will fit with me again, as I think it once did.

And when I cry a bit, yes, I’m missing all those bloody students and the feeling being there for them gave me. I think, hand-on-heart, what I’m experiencing when I hear Hely-Hutchinson’s Andante quasi lento e contabile is loss – the loss of the child I once was and will never be again, and the loss of the children I don’t have and will never have, that pyjamaed tribe for whom I know I could get Christmas right; a sprinkle of ghosts and shadow, a perfect fragrance of clementine spritzed with my thumbnail, and all this imagination of mine poured into theirs, children I would never leave.


The Kick-About #17 ‘Andante quasi lento e contabile’ – Hely-Hutchinson


This week, the woods remain lovely, dark and deep, as dreams of snow and ice continue to characterise this suitably festive Kick-About, with new works inspired by the third slow movement from Hely-Hutchinson’s 1927 A Carol Symphony. The Kick-About has been running for thirty-four weeks and was started, in part, as a response to the first lock-down. Throughout this time, our fortnightly shindigs have been a constant source of anticipation, comfort and satisfaction and I just wanted to say a big thank you to all my fellow kick-abouters for your creativity, conversation and always, the surprises. A big thank you too to all those who comment, who participate, who browse, and who share. Now go have yourselves a very merry Christmas!


Marion Raper

“This painting isn’t what I had intended – but then again what is these days!  In my mind I had envisaged carol singers and a merry Christmas card type scene. Alas it all went rather pear-shaped, so this is one I did earlier. I suppose it has a rather snowy and bleak look about it, but if you just keep walking around the corner and over the hill, there is little village hidden away and yes, I can hear the sound of Christmas carols drifting across the fields.  Merry Yule tide and a peaceful New Year one and all.”



Phil Cooper

The wonderful piece of music for this week’s kick about prompt has been wafting through the flat today, reminding me that Christmas does have some very nice things about it, once I forget about all the things I’m supposed to associate it with these days. I used to love this time of year as a kid, less so as I’ve got older and feel pressured to have somebody else’s version of Christmas and not the one I want. 

I made this collage a few years ago, putting a few of my favourite wintry things together to create a version of Christmas I’d actually like; snow, the winter landscape, a cosy lit window, a jet black sky studded with hard bright stars. If you stepped inside that house there’d be a real tree with very beautiful decorations and real candles. Oh, and Christmas pudding and custard – now I’m living in Germany, I’m missing Christmas pudding soooo much, they don’t do it here!”


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


Jan Blake

“I have run out of time for this kick-about so  I am sending you my Christmas card. Wishing you all a  warm, safe and cosy Christmas and may 2021 brings us all a way out of such a strange time.”


janblake.co.uk


Graeme Daly

“The music of this prompt felt very christmassy and warm indeed. To me, nothing feels more christmassy than going for a walk in the countryside of Ireland, where the invigorating air hits you with pure refreshment and the frost glistens the shrubbery and flora. I spent a lot of my time, when I was a young lad, outside, building rickety hideouts and treehouses with my friends and cousins. Going for a walk near my family home always feels like I am dipping into my memory vault, where walking past a bparticular tree will spark a memory of us building and climbing away; walking through the grasses of the fields reminds me of being cut by barbed wire, and being so dumbfounded by having fun, I didn’t realise I was bleeding with barbed wire marks in my palms.

I remember the beehive camouflaged into the ground of one particular field; I can only imagine the sight of us all running and screaming our heads off as we ran for our lives from the angry hive – after we’d awakened it! Memories like that are scattered around the countryside of Ireland. They echo as I stroll past them, and now I am older I can really appreciate them. Although all the hideouts and treehouses are dismantled, and our worn-down trails filled by vegetation again, the clean air and bright stars haven’t changed.

Although isolation has, for now, stopped me from revisiting those actual areas of my past, I remember them as I walk through the bogland surrounding my Mam’s house, where I know I would have been in my element too. I am still drawn to those picturesque areas and the crisp, clean air – and I really appreciate the little bird houses built into the trees to shelter the birds in the bitter winter. I still walk past a particular tree and think – that would have been a good one to climb.”


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


Phil Gomm

“When I listen to this particular movement from Hely-Hutchinson’s A Carol Symphony, I almost feel the temperature drop. It’s like that moment from The Sixth Sense, when the kid’s breath is suddenly visible in the presence of ghosts. The plucking of the harp is the musical equivalent of frost moving its way across the landscape – hard, sharp, crystalline and magical in some ancient way.

The house I grew up in had no central heating, only the gas fire in the living room. There was no double-glazing either and it was quite normal to wake up and see your breath in the bedroom. It was also common to find ice on the inside of the windows – frost ferns of extraordinary beauty. In response to this music, I wanted to capture those patterns of ice, but the weather here is stubbornly mild and ordinary. Undeterred, I set about recreating the sorts of photographs I might have taken, but had to rely on some digital transformations, taking an image of an actual frosted fern taken in my garden several winters ago, and pressing it against a window of my own invention. When the first of these images coalesced, I gave a small cry of delight – for yes, here they were again, those delicate veneers of ice, just as I remembered them, and for a moment at least, I was my small pyjamaed self.”




“As an 11th hour coda to my efforts at faking frost, I sent my resulting images over to CGI-whizz, Deanna Crisbacher, and asked her to have a kick-about too…”



“… and this last image is where Dee and I met in the middle to produce one more.”



Kerfe Roig

The musical selection of seasonal carols made me think of the cosmos – not just the return of the light this season celebrates, but the vast circles of time and space to which we belong. But how to show this in a concrete way? I turned to sacred geometry – the Seed of Life and the Egg of Life, images based on seven circles as a framework for the whole of creation, forms that also echo the tones of the musical scale. For my collages I used images from 2 of my reference books–Majestic Universe and Space Odyssey. It was a learning process, fitting all the pieces together like a puzzle, but I eventually approached the images I had in my mind. And for the poem, a seven line form–appropriately named Pleiades. Its six-syllable lines also reflect the 7 + 6 circles of the Egg of Life mandala.”


in the beginning, dark–
isn’t it always?—then
inside the seed, the egg,
illumination—orbs
invoking each other,
imagined, conjoined, kin–
instruments of (re)birth


kblog.blog / methodtwomadness.wordpress.com


Charly Skilling

“Listening to Hely-Hutchinson’s A Carol Symphony, I found myself wondering about the meaning and roots of the word “Noel”; why the Coventry Carol, also featured in this piece, could sound so gentle and loving when it was about the mass slaugher of children; and generally, how tradition and custom allowed us to sing of the Christmas story, without really registering the words at all. So I have tried to restore some of the words most associated with our Christmas carols back into the context of the original event – a re-telling of the nativity, which is all mine, illustrated with some beautiful paintings, which aren’t.

I’d also like to wish each of my fellow Kickabouters a safe and peaceful Christmas, and a much happier New Year! Thank you for making this year so much better than it might have been. Love and virtual hugs to you all.”



Simon Holland

Chris Rea once sang “I’m driving home for Christmas” Over the years I have often found myself doing the contrary. Whether it was for work or escapism, I would often find myself in a red and white queue, wending my way up some motorway or other. Rea shares an empathy with his fellow travellers, as they sit in their cars waiting to continue their journey to meet loved ones. I often experienced it in a different way as I was driving on those dark evenings; I was leaving home going somewhere, not back to family or to the out-of-town shopping centres, or to the supermarket to get the turkey dinner and this congestion Rea sentimentalises was a hindrance. I craved the dark mornings, or the late-night finishes. I knew the people on the roads then were the same as me, their purpose not driven by consumerism or sentimentality but by necessity.

Come Christmas day I would often find the ceremony of the event claustrophobic and melancholic. As the darkness settled in, I would make my excuses and leave. The streetlights led me somewhere – and away from something – neither the ‘somewhere’ nor the ‘something’ were tangible or important – the act of travelling was the goal. I would simply travel without a whim or care, but inevitably the ley lines of the world would draw me to the coast, where I would park by the harbour and watch the dark waves for a while before reluctantly returning home. Whichever way I experienced my Christmas lights, there was a freedom on those sodium drenched roads, no top-to-toe tailbacks, no red lights all around.

Now, having had a family, my house has had its share of being festooned. Christmas day isn’t so much of a chore, even with in-laws and pets and the general hullabaloo. I can even survive the most banal Christmas hit (just), but occasionally there is still that yearning to travel and experience those quiet routes again.”


twitter.com/simonholland74 / corvusdesigns.blogspot.com / instagram.com/simonholland74


Vanessa Clegg

“A mini mystery with a touch of fairy tale. We will pretty much all be indoors this year (especially if the rain goes on) so I’ve brought the spooky woods into the house and paused the singing… With luck it’ll resume. Winter Solstice! Light is on its way. Meanwhile, I hope everybody has a cosy creative few days with positive thoughts for 2021.”


‘early morning’

‘that night’

‘?’

vanessaclegg.co.uk


James Randall

“Well there you go – 2020 is almost over. I am a humbug from way back, so this really was a challenge! I guess I sidestepped it by jumping to a new year’s message, hopefully as treacley as the music. Based on some pics of cockatoos in Centennial Park – such wonderful clowns – which were taken a few weeks ago with grevilleas and bush cherry flowers, which are out in the garden now.

To all the kick-abouters Season’s Greetings and best wishes for a bright shiny 2021. It’s been marvellous seeing all your beautiful works.” 



We have the lovely Gary Thorne to thank for our next Kick-About prompt, which will no doubt come as a very welcome distraction from all things titivated, gilded and ‘Christmassy’. Gary presents us with simpler fare this week – left-overs from the great feast, perhaps?



Chimera Book 1 / Chapter 13 – The Plummet Pit


I’m very excited to announce we’re back after our short season break – and before we pick up where we left off with Chapter 12’s cliffhanger, a short recap of the story so far…


Previously in Chimera Book 1

Kyp Finnegan’s parents are not who they appear to be. How can they be? They made Kyp leave his home for a new house, and his old school for a new one. Worse, they made him leave Sprat behind too – his best friend.

Kyp’s suspicions about his mum and dad are confirmed when the three of them visit an old junk shop, Open Sesames, where he overhears his dad plotting with the junk shop’s rather mysterious shopkeeper to replace him. Kyp runs away into the junk shop, where, quickly lost, he is pursued by some monstrous tentacled thing. Kyp has no choice but to go deeper into the strange labyrinth of the junk shop, where he encounters three mysterious figures. At first, Kyp mistakes them for his parents and the shopkeeper – they’re not! – and Kyp soon realises he is in terrible danger.

Fortunately, Kyp is rescued by Atticus Weft, a giant talking snake, who tells Kyp all about the strange world of Chimera. Chimera is the realm of lost things, but there is a way for lost properties to return home; first, they have to travel to the city of Thingopolis and join all the other lost properties at the Temple of Miscellany in the great Cavalcade of the Lost. Next, the cavalcade must travel together to the sanctuary of Saint Anthony, from where they can be returned to their previous homes and owners. In the strange and dangerous world of Chimera, there is only safety in numbers for lost properties trying to get back to their owners, and Atticus explains why.

The three figures Kyp encountered were the Oblivion Three; the Berserker, a giant marauding toddler that loves to smash things; the Tealeaf, a mosquito-like creature that feeds on a lost property’s elsewhere light, and Madame Chartreuse, who covets lost children because they shine most powerfully. Elsewhere light is the light being cherished imparts to an item of lost property. Atticus also reveals Kyp has been infected by the fugue, a forgetting infection the tealeaf carries on its long horrible fingers. Slowly but surely, the fugue will rob Kyp of his memories until he can’t remember who he is or where he came from. He’ll need to get home before that. He’ll need to get home and fast.

En route to Thingopolis, Kyp and Atticus encounter the broken remains of other lost properties that had been travelling to assemble at the Temple of Miscellany. Atticus explains the Berserker attacked them, their Elsewhere lights snuffed out. Lost properties without an Elsewhere Light are fated to remain in Chimera forever. Upset, Kyp runs away from Atticus and quickly gets lost in the fog. Kyp is upset because he has no Elsewhere light – and little wonder considering his mum and dad wanted to replace him! Kyp meets a shop-window mannequin, who is also lost in the fog. The mannequin warns Kyp about Atticus’s intentions, before revealing herself to be an agent of Madame Chartreuse sent to apprehend him. In the nick of time, Atticus rescues Kyp from the mannequin’s clutches, and together again, they arrive at the foot of Perdu Peak, a great mountain, where Atticus disappears suddenly. Alone again, Kyp is cornered by the Oblivion Three. Madame Chartreuse tells Kyp that Atticus is actually working for her; he is a ‘moppet-drover’, his job being to shepherd lost children into her clutches as soon as they arrive in Chimera. Madame Chartreuse, whose green eyes have mesmeric powers, is just seconds away from ensnaring Kyp, when he falls down a hole into the Bedrock Catacombs beneath Perdu Peak.

The Bedrock Catacombs teem with lots of nasty critters, including ankle-snatchers, which grab anything unfortunate enough to come their way. When Kyp discovers Atticus has been captured by the ankle-snatchers, he tries to save the sock-snake. Now imprisoned together in one of the ankle-snatchers’ hoarding cells, Kyp and Atticus are forced to confront the secrets they’ve been keeping from each other. Atticus did work for Madame Chartreuse as a moppet-drover, and Kyp is responsible for everything that happened with his mum and dad. It’s Kyp’s fault they had to move house because he took the old silver locket from his mum’s drawer – which he was forbidden to touch – and lost it. Kyp concludes the old silver locket must have been very valuable, because after he lost it, his mum and dad couldn’t pay the bills anymore. Kyp tells Atticus he has been wasting his time trying to get Kyp to Thingopolis to join the Cavalacade; after all, he doesn’t have an elsewhere light. Atticus is confused, informing Kyp he has one of the brightest Elsewhere Lights the sock-snake has ever seen. Everyone else can see it, including Madame Chartreuse, who is coming for Kyp and will not stop! Knowing his mum and dad don’t love him anymore, Kyp realises it must be Sprat who is missing him so badly.

Kyp and Atticus are finally able to escape the ankle-snatcher’s hoarding cell when another creature imprisoned with them cuts a hole in the cavern roof. When Kyp and Atticus make it out of the Bedrock Catacombs, they encounter another lost child – Timothy Bean. Atticus accuses the boy of working for Madame Chartruse, recalling how he saw Madame Chartreuse apprehend him. Kyp explains Timothy has an identical twin, Jamie, and that it must have been Timothy’s brother Atticus saw captured. Kyp tells Timothy he recognises him from the news, as back in the Elsewhere World, everyone is out looking for the missing twins. Kyp vows to find Timothy’s brother and return them both to the Elsewhere World. At first, Atticus refuses to help, but then they are attacked by the concrete menagerie, a horde of murderous garden ornaments, and Atticus orders the boys to make for safety while he holds off the menagerie. Kyp just has time to see Atticus being mauled by a vicious concrete lion, before he and Timothy are themselves attacked, the two boys rolling down a steep hillside and banging their heads together.

When the boys awaken, they find themselves being transported on walking sofas towards the great city of Thingopolis. The sofa carrying Kyp informs him that Atticus Weft is certainly dead. Moments later, Kyp and Timothy are arrested by a squad of armchair apes and escorted through the chaotic city. Kyp sees the Cavalcade of the Lost gathering in readiness at the Temple of Miscellany, but he and Timothy are under arrest and unable to join in it. Instead, they are brought before the Phawt-Gnoks Oligarchy, the three mayors of Thingopolis – Czar Samovar, Polly Honeydew, and the Bijou Cabal. While the Phawt-Gnoks Oligarchy bicker with each other over who among them is the most important, Kyp and Timothy await to be interrogated. When finally, they do get the chance to speak, the two boys are found guilty of spying for Madame Chartreuse in an effort to steal ‘the clavis’ – whatever that might be! – and they are sentenced at once, the floor opening up beneath their unsuspecting feet, the two boys falling away into darkness below…


Chapter 13 – The Plummet Pit

Listen to all previous chapters at anchor.fm/chimerabook1


Watch out for the next instalment – coming soon!

Chapter 14 – The Souvenir Society


Throwback Friday #33 Lilo (1997 rev. 2020)


Lilo is one of the short stories dug up from my floppy disc archive – recently restored to me. I’m presenting it here in a slightly revised form, which is short-hand for me having excised all the bits from the original 1997 edition that felt in some way clunky or surplus to requirements when I read it again all these years later. This already short story just got shorter.

Aged nineteen or thereabouts I went on holiday with my girlfriend, my best mate, and his girlfriend. It was one of those sun, sea and sex holidays – a rite of passage you might say. The core exchange in this story is exactly what happened to my friend and I as we were lying beside the pool minding our own business. Like the resulting story, the episode was over in a matter of minutes, but I can recall even now how disquieted I felt for days afterwards, how entirely unsafe.


You can find a large print PDF version here.


MFT #9 December Will Be Magic Again (1979)


Kate Bush’s December Will Be Magic Again is one of my favourite things. Here’s why.

In physics, the observer effect is the disturbance of an observed system by the act of observation. Put more simply, our own efforts to apprehend something can skew the outcome, rendering it invalid or void. Something similar happens when we try and apprehend Christmas, seeking to embody the season’s ambience through popular music or ‘Christmassy films’.

Most secular Christmas music is an appalling backfire, the way those pre-decorated straight-out-of-the-box plastic Christmas trees are appalling, in how so very wide of the mark they fall of the sensorial experience they’re straining to (re)produce.

Likely I’m just a po-faced old misery guts, but when I hear Slade or Wizzard or Band Aid or Wham or Mariah Carey, I envision a sort of festive rictus, the grinning tinseled skull of experience excarnated of hope. These ubiquitous songs tell me it must be Christmas again, but it’s never the Christmas I want.

Anyway, I find myself increasingly confused by Christmas, not least because I’m an atheist, but an atheist who went to a very nice Church of England school in a largely picturesque village. I find it near impossible to separate my intellectual position on the subject of the nativity from my nostalgia for all those Christmas assemblies, when my teachers did silly, unexpected things, or handed around chocolates in coloured foil, or we sang carols in the lovely old church up on the hill. The First Noel makes me ache. When it catches me unawares, Silent Night can even make me cry. Guilt soon follows, as I’m aggrieved by my own sentimentality, and for appropriating filmic moments of pathos from a culture I otherwise struggle to understand. Meanwhile, hearing I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day makes me die a bit inside, allergised by its artificiality and deficit of mystery, its unwillingness to admit to all the dark green shadows of winter.

Kate Bush’s ethereal December Will Be Magic Again rarely features on any of those well-worn compilations of ‘Christmas hits’ or Spotify playlists. I’ve never once heard it playing over supermarket speakers as an accompaniment to the sound of huge frozen turkeys clanging into trolleys. I’m certain no one sings along to it in pubs – how could they, given the swooping virtuosity of Kate’s vocal performance and the meltingly indistinct shapes of her lyrics?

Always with the music of Kate Bush, there is a final ‘unknowability’ at the heart of her song-writing. We understand her scheme of words well enough, but something remains abstruse and hidden from us lesser mortals, something intimate and surreal. I feel all of it anyway, as December Will Be Magic Again draws up the hairs on my arms in a quick silvery wave. Yes, there are sleigh-bells, that sonic shorthand for Christmas, but a cold, bright darkness is at work in the heart of this strange song, returning me at once to the chill of the old village church of my school days, with its cold stones and candle light. I feel it again, the thrill of seeing my breath, of the pooling of shadows under the pews, and that small dangerous electricity generated by a whole community of people coming together in some ancient rite of magical thinking, a beautiful seance.

I’ve always found the effect of December Will Be Magic Again to be like someone dialling down the thermostat, ferns of ice unfurling to etch the glass of my windows like elaborate William Morris wallpaper, Kate’s voice doing that, as clean and clear as starlight.

The snow, Kate sings, the snow is coming to cover the muck up, and so it does, this song drifting down from somewhere higher-up to efface the worst of those flashing plastic trees and quieten my misgivings.



Chimera Book 1 / Chapter 12 – The Phawt-Gnoks Oligarchy


Welcome to Chapter 12 of Chimera Book 1. Apologies, loyal listener, yes, we’re running late again, but I think when you listen to this chapter, which is a tour de force of voice talent, you may appreciate why a bit more time was needed in the recording studio!

We’re at the halfway point in Kyp Finnegan’s adventures in the realm of lost things, and so as to give Dan Snelgrove’s vocal chords a bit of a rest, we’re taking a short ‘mid-season’ break, with the next instalment going out on Sunday, December 13th. Put the date in your diary! Until then, settle back and enjoy!


Last time in Chimera Book 1:

‘Run,’ said Atticus, and the two boys did, sprinting towards the edge of the plateau.  Kyp looked back to see the lion pounce, pinning Atticus to the ground.  He saw white lint fly up into the air and blow away like snowflakes. 

‘No!’ Kyp screamed, looking around for a weapon.

A dark shape swooped suddenly from above, a concrete eagle, its beak lethal, and its talons out-stretched.  With a sudden sharp squeeze, it picked up Kyp by his shoulders and carried him into the air.  Kyp struggled furiously, the material of his jumper tearing, and then he was falling back towards the ground. He slammed into Jamie and both boys staggered backwards in a tangle of limbs. The eagle screeched, plunging towards them, but they were rolling down the embankment, their descent throwing up clouds of dust.  

On and on they tumbled, until finally, the boys’ descent came to an end, their bodies crashing into a gaudy sprout of feather dusters.  Jamie cried out as their heads banged together with a nasty crunch.  In the moments before passing out, Kyp was aware of an exciting murmur. 

‘Just look at their Elsewhere Lights!’ 

‘Are they dolls?’ 

‘No.  Look, they’re not even chipped.’

‘Puppets then? Are they puppets?’

‘No strings.’

‘Statues?’

No.’

‘What then?’

‘I don’t believe it.’ 

Something touched Kyp’s face.  There was a gasp of amazement. 

‘They’re children.’

Chapter 12 – The Phawt-Gnocks Oligarchy

Listen to all previous chapters at anchor.fm/chimerabook1


Tune in on Sunday, December 13th, when Chimera Book 1 resumes with…


Throwback Friday #30 The Hoover Bag In Tweed – Illustrations (1997)


Back in July, I rediscovered a collection of ancient 3 inch floppy discs and CDs dating from my years as an undergraduate, which makes this data storage technology (and the work it contains) 23 years old. I knew I couldn’t access the floppy discs anymore, but I also found none of two-decade old CDs would play ball either – on any computer.

Gripped by the sudden need to preserve whatever might be on these discs, I entrusted their crustiness to someone who retrieves landlocked data from obsolete tech for a living. That done, I then didn’t hear back from the said retriever for weeks on end. I worried their silence meant one of two things, the first being they couldn’t excavate the work at all and couldn’t bring themselves to tell me, and the second, that I’d somehow forgotten my Jurassic discs actually contained inflammatory government-destroying secrets and they’d been impounded by British Intelligence.

Yesterday, however, I got the email to say my formerly marooned files had been restored and were ready for collection. I’m only now beginning to sort my way through all the detritus, digging up old short stories and bits of imagery I haven’t thought about in years. I predict ‘Throwback Fridays’ may quickly become the obvious repository for some of these relics – and I’m beginning with these strange tableaux vivant-style illustrations I created back in 1997 to accompany a macabre short story I’d wrote in 1995 entitled The Hoover Bag In Tweed.



The story is about a woman who is obsessed with her vacuum-cleaner following the death of her baby, much to her husband’s escalating distress. The images themselves are digital collages of photography of real objects (a real hoover, for example), miniature stage sets (the table and chairs), and 35mm photographs taken in the rather forlorn environs of my student house.



“The vacuum-cleaner still stood in the middle of the room. It was the sort with an upright handle and a hoover-bag zipped up in tweed. Looking for all the world, she decided, like a chrysalis hanging from a stem.

The Hoover had been a gift, something modern and something new. She’d thanked him with a kiss, and he had laughed out loud when she refused to throw the box away. She said she liked the bold black writing on the box and taken time to memorise the serial number. She made a point of hoovering the entire house when they first moved in, the first of their many preparations. Now, several strands of the bathroom landing’s carpet were wrapped around the Hoover’s roller, trailing green against the grey of the living-room; caught up again, no doubt. Tied in difficult knots.”

The Hoover Bag In Tweed (1995)


Phil Cooper / Painting Chimera #7

Phil CooperConcrete Eagle, 40cm x 40cm, mixed media on paper

A dark shape swooped suddenly from above, a concrete eagle, its beak lethal, and its talons out-stretched.”

Chimera Book 1 / Chapter 11 – The Boy In The School Uniform


“I found Chapter 10 so touching, and Dan’s narration really brought out the emotion in the dialogue between Kyp and Atticus; I was quite teary by the end! Chapter 11 is very moving in parts too, but for the illustration I’ve focused on a scene that has a completely different emotional bandwidth – sheer terror!  There are plenty of scary moments in Chimera, and the scene towards the end of Chapter 11 where the concrete sculptures and garden ornaments come to life is definitely one of them for me.”

Phil Cooper, November, 2020


Phil Cooper’s Concrete Eagle painting on his art table in his Berlin studio, November 2020




Chimera Book 1 / Chapter 11 – The Boy In The School Uniform


Apologies! A little later than advertised… but certainly worth the wait!


Last time in Chimera Book 1:

‘Last one out is a toe-biter!’ announced Kyp.

Atticus hushed him.  He pointed with his tail to the body of the shear-shrike lying on the floor nearby.  The creature was covered in a crust of dirt, inches thick, its beak clogged with muck. 

‘We’re not alone,’ whispered Atticus.

Only now did Kyp see the cavern’s walls, floor and ceiling were crawling with large brown beetles.  There was a loud popping noise, as one launched its fat, drab body into the air, trailing grey powder from its backside. 

‘Dust-bugs,’ cautioned Atticus. ‘Try not to -.’  

His warning came too late; erupting like firecrackers, the beetles took off in unison, the air turning black and unbreathable with the dirt sprayed from their bottoms.  Kyp staggered towards what he hoped was the exit from the cave, dustbugs ricocheting off the walls all about him like artillery shells.  He managed to crawl his way out of the cave and stand up, a dust-cloud surrounding him.

Atticus?’ 

Over here!’  

Kyp froze.  

If Atticus was ‘over there’ then who, or what, had touched him on the shoulder?  

Chapter 11 – The Boy In The School Uniform

Listen to all previous chapters at anchor.fm/chimerabook1


Tune in next Sunday at 4pm for the next instalment

Chapter 12 – The Phawt-Gnoks Oligarchy


Chimera Book 1 / Chapter 10 – Caramels & Coconut Cracknell



It’s 4 o’clock, there’s a nip in the air, and with a little bit of luck there’s a slice of cake nearby. Time then to rejoin Kyp Finnegan and Atticus Weft in their continuing adventures in the fantastical realm of Chimera, the realm of lost things.


Last time in Chimera Book 1:

The freshly-hatched metamorph surveyed its surroundings, its feet scratching amongst the sediment. It ruffled its stubby plume of tail feathers and turned in a circle. It put its head between its legs and blinked. It began pecking at the remains of is cocoon, picking up the husks in its beak and arranging them about its body as if making a nest. The shear-shrike sought to nestle within in it, resting its head on its chest. Agitated suddenly, it kicked the remains of its cocoon. It cawed and flapped its wings, sending the dust of long-dead detritums whirling around it. The blades of its beak snapped open and closed. It made another sound, a scream that set Kyp’s teeth on edge.

‘What’s wrong with it?’ Kyp whispered.

The shear-shrike launched itself into the air. It struck the cave roof and fell back to the ground. Enraged, it took flight again. This time when it met with the ceiling, it emitted a shrill scream of frustration and began to half-fly, half-throw itself at the cave walls. The scissor-snap of its beak made Kyp queasy with dread. At any moment, he expected to be cut into bloody strips or find Atticus sliced into snake rings. The shear-strike began attacking the walls again, slashing at the mattresses. Kyp thought the creature would never tire of its tantrum.

When finally the beating of wings and tearing sounds subsided, Kyp peered up through the white whirl of wadding and saw the shear-shrike had managed what other metamorphs had not; using the formidable tool of its beak, it had cut a way out through the roof.

Kyp and Atticus were free.

Chapter 10 – Caramels & Coconut Cracknell

Listen to all previous chapters at anchor.fm/chimerabook1


Tune in next Sunday at 4pm for the next instalment:

Chapter 11 – The Boy In The School Uniform