06 August 2016


Enya Brennan (the anglicised version of Eithne Patricia Ní Bhraonáin) is a massively successful Irish singer, composer and instrumentalist, the second biggest Irish musical export after U2 and undoubtedly Ireland's best-selling solo artist. Although Enya herself dislikes the term, New Age describes her music best: heavily layered vocals (layered up to eighty times in some cases) and an almost wickedly excessive use of the Roland D-50's strings and pads. She's rather reclusive and has a habit of releasing music to massive sales and her own relaxed schedule, years apart.
Enya: The Group
The musical group Enya is actually a partnership. There's Enya, who composes and performs; the music is all hers, although guest musicians are occasionally roped in to perform specific parts. Roma Ryan creates lyrics, utilising a dizzying range of languages including her own invented language Loxian. English, Irish and Latin feature most prominently, but Welsh, French, Spanish, Japanese and one or two Tolkien languages have appeared. Nicky Ryan (yes, Roma's husband) produces.
Enya was born in 1961 to a musical family, and from a heavily musically-influenced childhood went on to form Clannad with various siblings and two twin uncles. A slightly acrimonious split led producer Nicky Ryan and Enya to the formation of the Aigle Studio and the kickstarting of Enya's solo career.
Two instrumental pieces appeared on the 2-track cassette album Touch Travel (Good luck finding that one; console yourself with the second track which re-appeared on Watermark.) and various tracks appeared on the soundtrack to The Frog Prince, a 1984 movie. The 1986 BBC documentary The Celts provided an opportunity for Enya's first real solo album, the self-titled Enya. It didn't attract much attention at the time, but in 1988 the album Watermark produced the hit single Orinoco Flow, familiar to many for its repeated chorus of 'Sail Away' and heavy use of the Roland D-50 pizzicato strings sound, 'Pizzagogo'. The Watermark album sold eight million copies.
From then onwards, Enya continued to enjoy massive success. Shepherd Moons sold ten million copies and earned a Grammy Award. The Celts was re-released, and followed some years later by The Memory Of Trees. Enya's work is used extensively in films of all kinds, sampled by bands as incongruous as The Fugees and P. Diddy, and is instantly recognisable as Enya. Enya currently has four Grammy awards under her belt, and (it probably goes without saying) is massively rich.
As with all things musical, Enya has her fair share of passionate loathers. At first listen, some may complain, the distinctive 'Enya sound' means that if you own one Enya album you own them all. In South Park. the soporific, stultifying air of Enya induces grandpa to insert a fork in a nearby electrical socket. You are, of course, free to make your own mind up, and throw Enya's music onto the still warm ashes of Chris de Burgh's massively successful Lady In Red. It'd be a sad world if we all liked the same things, now, wouldn't it?
Album Discography
Enya (later re-issued with slight modifications as The Celts)
Shepherd Moons
The Celts (a re-issue of the first album)
The Memory Of Trees
Paint The Sky With Stars (A best-of collection with two new songs)
A Day Without Rain
And Winter Came...

Dark Sky Island 

20 July 2016

Sinclair MK14

As with so many Sinclair projects, 1979's MK14 was a miniature computer with an equally diminutive price tag: £39.95. Notable for bringing cheap computing into our homes, those of us used to current technology may well be disappointed by the MK14's specification. Rest assured that while little more than a circuit board with a keypad and calculator-style nine-digit display, the MK14 was cheap and groundbreaking, simply by virtue of allowing anyone - not just those computer scientist boffins - to get their hands on a real, live computer. Selling over 50,000 in its time, the MK14 has since become incredibly rare, and a working MK14 is highly-prized amongst Sinclair collectors.

This single board computer didn't even have a case - there simply wasn't the option available. A tall, narrow circuit board held the various chips, which varied depending on the skill and enthusiasm of the owner: the MK14 came in kit form, so while every MK14 featured the SC/MP 2 processor, the amount of memory on there varied from 256 bytes all the way up to 640. How did this work? 256 bytes came as standard, but another 256 could be soldered onto the board, giving a grand total of half a kilobyte. And if 512 bytes just weren't enough, the optional 8154 I/O controller chip provided a further 128 bytes. In addition to this overwhelming bounty of RAM, the MK14 was also equipped with 512 bytes of ROM. The MK14 also had two edge connectors, one for attaching a better keyboard to the machine, the other simply allowing the user access to the processor's signals: an expansion port, in other words; the fore-runner to the similar feature of the ZX series.

Sir Clive was already into membrane keyboards at this point, and the 20-key membrane has much in common with the dodgy input methods that plagued early users of the ZX80, ZX81 and ZX Spectrum computers. Just to the left of the keypad was a red push button, which would reset the machine. The twenty keys were shared out into the sixteen characters necesssary for hexadecimal input, while the remaining four keys were assigned as 'Go', 'Mem', 'Abort' and 'Term'. 'Go' began program execution at the current address, 'Mem' moved on to the next address and allowed the user to assign it a hexadecimal value. 'Abort' moved to address entry mode, where the user could quickly change to a different address, rather than cycling through, and 'Term' provided a data entry mode, where memory contents could be quickly changed using the keypad.

At the heart of the MK14 was National Semiconductor's SC/MP 2 - the Simple Cost-effective Micro-Processor, running at 4.4MHz. Intended for use in control applications, the SC/MP chip was cheap, and perfect for learning about programming. Interaction with the user took place through a nine-digit display, although the machine required some hardware modification to actually use the ninth digit.

Veterans of the early ZX computers will remember how the processor would halt the display routines whilst calculating. Although the MK14 could be expanded to use a CRT, it also suffered from this peculiar but necessary design feature. Nevertheless, a 32x16 text mode and 64x64 graphics mode, although monochrome, was impressive for the time, and undoubtedly paved the way for the ZX80.

09 July 2016

Up Pompeii!

'A sort of Carry On Up The Forum' (Radio Times Magazine)

Up Pompeii combined saucy Carry On style comedy with elements of farce to produce a well-loved vehicle for Frankie Howerd, in the role of Lurcio, to 'tickle the fancy' of the entire British public.
Beginning with a 1969 pilot episode, running through 1970 and culminating in the 1971 film version, Up Pompeii was a runaway success. Fourteen BBC episodes were made, featuring a regular cast and guest stars such as Barbara Windsor, Pat Coombs, Geoffrey Hughes and Mollie Sugden. It is for Frankie Howerd's impeccably smutty delivery that the show is truly remembered, however, proving once again that there's always room on British television for plenty of sexual innuendo and camp capers.

The format of the show was simple but effective. Lurcio was the slave of government senator Ludicrus and his buxom wife, Ammonia. Every episode, despite its innocent beginnings, would expand into a complex, usually life (or at the very least job) threatening mess, from which Lurcio would escape only through the most ingenious wriggling. Howerd toyed with the role mercilessly, dropping in an out of character as he pleased, making mocking asides to the camera, playing along with the audience in his own distinctive way. Even the plot was subject to Howerd's good-natured mockery, as he'd call the viewer's attention to the implausibility of what was going on, questioning the standard of his fellow actors and the ability of the script-writers. Far from detracting from the comedy value, Howerd's presence made the show what it was, and was, in all probability, essential to the BBC being allowed to get away with the cheap polystyrene sets and dodgy-looking costumes. When they're pointed out to you by the star of the show and you're invited to laugh along, it's difficult to find anything to complain about.

The writers of the show, Talbot Rothwell and Sid Colin, were both writers for the Carry On series of films, which explains the smut and innuendo that found its way into Up Pompeii  Furthermore, the series itself owes much to the Sondheim musical A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To the Forum, in which Frankie Howerd had already taken two roles - that of Prologus and Pseudolus. Radio Times, in fact, accurately described Up Pompeii as 'a sort of Carry On Up The Forum'.

Following the success of Up Pompeii  the writers, along with Howerd, retained the format of the show but, in a move similar to that of the later Blackadder series, shifted to a different historical period. The film Up The Chastity Belt, 1971, featured the writing skills of comedy veterans Alan Simpson and Ray Galton in collaboration with Sid Colin, and repositioned Lurcio as Lurkalot, hapless serf in the Crusades. Up The Front, from 1972, pushed Howerd forwards as the under-footman Lurk. Back on the BBC, Whoops Baghdad attempted to set Up Pompeii in an Arabian Nights scenario, whilst a 1975 Up Pompeii special really signified the end of the franchise's success, though not the end of further cashing-in attempts.

There is no doubt, however, that Up Pompeii was, and indeed still is, a classic British comedy. With Howerd's larger than life stage presence, limitless supply of saucy catchphrases and an entire legion of risqué and witty names (Ambi Dextrus, Pussus Galoria, Scrophulus, Scrubba and Tittia are but five which spring to mind...), the show was pretty much bound for success, and well worth half an hour's hilarity out of anyone's busy schedule...

' As Cleopatra said to Marc Antony: if you liked it, tell your friends!' (Lurch)

Sources: BBC Website, IMDb, Beebfun

07 July 2016

Hot Water Pastry

Hot water pastry is a strangely-made but traditional pastry used for making raised pies. This includes the venerable pork pie, most popular in the UK (and one or two other places), but also extends to include veal or game pies. What distinguishes a raised pie from an everyday pie is the lack of pie dish. The pie itself is placed on a baking tray, and the sturdy walls of pastry are left to hold in the filling as best they can. Correctly made hot water pastry is easily up to the job, however, and constructing a hand-raised pork pie is an excellent excuse to melt a block of lard and stir in some flour.

Okay, there's a little more to it than that, but not much. Hot water pastry is simple, perhaps because it seems to break all the rules held most dear to the experienced pastry chef. Keeping it cool, refraining from overworking the mixture - all of that means nothing when it comes to hot water pastry. Something of a masochist, this pastry likes it hot and will thank you kindly for a good beating...

You'll need:
350g (12 oz) plain flour
A pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
4 tablespoons of milk
4 tablespoons of water
25g (1 oz) butter
75g (3 oz) lard

Begin by sifting the flour and salt into a bowl and making a well in the centre. Mix the egg yolk with one tablespoon of the milk and pour it into the well. Don't worry about it needing to be cold; warm milk and flour is perfectly acceptable for hot water pastry, mainly because in a moment you're going to heat the lard, butter and remaining milk and water in a saucepan.

Only heat it gently at first, just to allow the lard to melt, and then bring it to a brisk boil. Pour this into the well and mix until everything is completely blended. By this time your mixture should have cooled to the point where you can comfortably handle it, in which case it's time to tip it onto a floured work surface.

Knead it thoroughly until the pastry is smooth, at which point the pastry needs to rest for about half an hour. Keep it warm as it rests - the best way being to place in a bowl over a saucepan of hot water. Covering it with a clean cloth at this point is also beneficial.

Following this the pastry can be rolled out to a thickness of about 5 mm (quarter of an inch) and used as required. To create a pie case the pastry can be moulded around the bottom of a jar. Upon removing the jar it can be filled with whatever takes your fancy - rich pork and onion filling or a beef and gravy mixture - and topped off with a pastry lid before baking. Delicious!

Hot Water Pastry: Merely one of a series of adventures in the peculiar realms of British cuisine!

06 July 2016


'Sir Clive may seem an unlikely candidate for the Henry Ford of the 80s but if nobody ever took those risks, we would still be riding horses. There is a lot to praise in the C5, and many questions which only experience can answer in full. In the meantime, you have to admire his nerve.' Sinclair User review, Issue 36.

The tenth of January, 2005, saw the 20th birthday of the Sinclair C5, a revolutionary electric vehicle. Looking at the technology behind the C5, the vision that was the foundation for its creation, it's hard to believe the simple truth: The Sinclair C5 was a complete commercial disaster.

Let's go back to 1985. Sir Clive Sinclair was considered to be a genius. His entrepreneurial ventures into the world of electronics had quickly brought him to the attention of the world, and his products were, in a nutshell, intensely popular. Calculators, watches and miniature televisions were introduced, often in kit form, from Sinclair Research as early as 1975. By 1980 he had branched out into microcomputing, and 1982 saw him branch into home computing. The ZX Spectrum, hot on the heels of the ZX80 and 81, had already changed the world.

By 1985, Clive was into a new game. Recent changes to the British road laws included legislation concerning electrically-assisted cycles. Provided the vehicle was incapable of exceeding 15 miles per hour, anyone above the age of 14 was welcome to drive it on British roads. No insurance, no tax, no crash helmet and no driving licence required; a tempting prospect for some, that's if you didn't mind piloting a milk float. But, no - classed as a 'pedal-assisted tricycle', the Sinclair C5 was designed to fill that niche, whilst netting the newly-created Sinclair Vehicles as much money as possible in the process.

Advance speculation was rife. Woolworth's lent backing, as did the Electricity Council, for whom the idea of a rechargable electric vehicle was more than a little exciting. The occasional leak provided rumour-mills with enough information to speculate with admirable accuracy, and a much-publicised launch took place.

The result? Utter disaster. Held in the middle of winter, the C5's batteries performed badly in the near-freezing temperatures, and its wheels skated alarmingly in the snow. Safety and advertising standards bodies rose to the challenge, and the press were not slow to indulge in a frenzy of mocking. To this day, the C5 is ably villified at a moments notice, and even the enthusiastic user groups that still exist today are hard pressed to defend its many flaws. It was quickly noted that the manufacturers of the C5's motor also produced large volumes of washing-machine motors, and since nobody cared to mention that the company in question also produced the motors which power torpedoes the C5 was all too easy to mock.

Sales took a nosedive and production followed suit. After only a few months, with an impressive-sounding but ultimately disappointing 17,000 units sold mainly within the UK, the C5 project came to an end. Sir Clive took the 8.6 million pound loss squarely on the chin, shut down Sinclair Vehicles and moved his attention and enthusiasm to other projects. The intended follow-ups, the C10 and C15 were, sadly, never to see the light of day.

Technical Specifications

The Sinclair C5, at its simplest, was a 99lb, battery-powered, one-seater tricycle with a white, plastic body. Original specifications called for a radical new form of battery, since a heavy, traditional battery would be a considerable proportion of the vehicle's overall weight. In the end, the C5 shipped with a traditional 33lb lead-acid battery, doubling the weight of the vehicle instantly, and reducing battery life (and thus range) considerably. According to Sinclair Vehicles, twenty miles was the maximum range, though practically this did, of course, vary.

The sleek, futuristic design of the C5s body was the result of a collaboration with Lotus, providing room for one passenger and space for a handlebar steering system, situated beneath the passenger's thighs. The braking system provided had much in common with a standard cycle, and a button on one of the handlebars controlled acceleration, up to the maximum speed of fifteen miles per hour.

Measurement-wise, the C5 was 76cm (2'6") wide, 76cm (2'6") high and 2m (6'6") long. It featured a boot with a cubic capacity of one foot (approximately 28 litres); little more than a rucksack's-worth of space. A light at the front and rear of the vehicle completed the range of standard features, save for a liquid crystal display, described (at the time) as 'futuristic'. This basic package would set one back £399, and was only available via mail order. (Notably, the price dropped sharply to £199 as desperation set in.) Woolworth's did, initially, intend to stock the vehicle, but pulled out smartly when the road became too rocky for the C5 to comfortably travel...

Deluxe options, for those with the cash, included wing mirrors, a lengthy pole with a red flag attached, described by The Royal Society For The Prevention Of Accidents as 'essential': the low height of the C5 caused one reviewer to note that his '...head was on a level with the top of a juggernaut's tyres, the exhaust fumes blasted into my face.' Pressure from consumers and consumer groups alike forced Sinclair to include the high-visibility aerial as a standard option before long, though this did little to enhance the beleaguered tricycle's status.

C5s are now considered to be collector's items, selling for up to £900. Rumours of turbo-charged C5s are common, and one stuntman is said to have accelerated his to 70mph, at which point it is, apparently, suitable for racing through tunnels of fire.

Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of the War of the Worlds

The chances of anything coming from Mars
Are a million to one, he said.
Are a million to one, but still - they come...

A Brief History

On the 9th of June, 1978, accompanied by a glittering multimedia launch at the London Planetarium, Jeff Wayne's musical version of The War Of The Worlds was unleashed. Taken from a slightly modified version of H.G. Wells' 1898 science fiction book, the album could in no way hope to equal the success of Wells' seminal novel, considered by many to have begun the modern sci-fi genre. Nevertheless, the musical version immediately entered the UK Album Charts and stayed there for over six years, going multi-platinum in the process.

Its success is not limited merely to the UK, either. The standard release was available around the world, and in Australia it performed particularly well, achieving 12 times platinum status and managing a seven week stretch at number one. The American Billboard Charts featured War Of The Worlds for seven months, and produced sales in excess of 475,000 albums.

Add to this a variety of other versions, including a Latin American version featuring Anthony Quinn, a Spanish version and a German edition with Curt Jurgens, all of which were released three years after the original work, and all of which went on to promote the original album's success. In Spain, with the original language version of number seven and the new Spanish version at number one, the related single release of The Eve Of The War shot into the singles chart at number one.

The Eve Of The War was not the only single release: Forever Autumn also made an independent outing, and even enjoyed a slight revival as Ben Liebrand offered a remixed and revamped version for the 1989 dance scene. Indeed, since 1978, the album has offered considerable material for artists wishing to cover not only The Eve Of The War, but many other aspects of the album. Indeed, a recent release, ULLAdubULLA, offered a remix of the entire album, featuring contemporary DJs such as Hybrid and Todd Terry, presided over and compiled by none other than Jeff Wayne himself.

Between these two extremes, however, lies a success story that can be measured by the plethora of awards received by Wayne and the album itself, including Best Recording In Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy (awarded in 1979) and number 30 of the Best Selling 100 Albums Of The Past 25 Years from BBC Radio 1. Recent re-releases on the CD format have done unexpectedly well, and the album seems to have an enduring appeal despite its occasionally dated prog-rock sound.

The Performance And The Performers

The actual music of the War Of The Worlds was composed, orchestrated, conducted and produced entirely by Jeff Wayne. Assistance with the libretto was provided by Gary Osborne and Paul Vigrass, and the actual script was based, by Doreen Wayne upon H.G. Wells' original novel.

The album consists of long instrumental pieces, linked with short vignettes of spoken narrative and the occasional song. Richard Burton plays the part of the journalist, the witness to the events of the martian invasion of earth. Other roles in the story include an Artilleryman, played by David Essex and the parson, Nathaniel, who is played by Phil Lynott, familiar to many from his involvement with Thin Lizzy. Julie Covington played the brief but important role of Beth, and further vocals were provided by Chris Thompson and Justin Hayward, the latter of whom released a single version of Forever Autumn.

The story itself is remarkably faithful to Wells' original, though there is an unusual inclusion of Carrie, the journalist's sweetheart and reason for travelling to London. Similarly, there are minor differences with the scene involving the parson, though none of these differences are as great as those made in, for example, the 1953movie. As a whole, the album hangs together coherently, and Wells' vision remains intact.

Originally a two-LP set, the War Of The Worlds is split into two discs: The Coming Of The Martians and Earth Under The Martians. The first side tells of the cylinder arriving on Earth, unscrewing to reveal a terrible creature, glistening like wet leather, rising up to sweep the surrounding countryside with its terrible, deadly heat ray. The cylinder unscrews, slowly and ominously, pumped straight into our ears, and Wayne wastes no opportunity to link the music and events together perfectly.

Side two opens with The Artilleryman and the Fighting Machine, in which we learn of the terrible power of the Martian fighting machines, and the journalist meets the young artilleryman. It is here, too, that the danger to Carrie becomes apparent, and the journalist makes his way down to London where he witnesses her escape on a steamer, and the subsequent defeat of the war ship Thunderchild by Martian fighting machines. Thus at the end of this second side the earth is enslaved to the Martians.

Side three, the second LP, introduces the red weed with slow, New World Symphony-like themes, before spilling into the frenzied, desperate encounter with the parson and Beth. A reprise of the red weed theme ends the third side with a despondent, futile feel. On the final side we meet the artilleryman once more, who this time has grand plans for a underground society. Alas, his plans do not match his work ethic, and the piece Dead London leaves us with a chilled vision of the Earth under the rule of the Martians.

The ending of the book must be familiar to all. If the reader is unfamiliar with the final outcome of the tale then it would be unwise to read further. It is at this point that bacteria come to mankind's rescue, and the first epilogue rounds the album off with a triumphant return to everyday life.

At this point, the story itself is finished. And yet with a touch of genius, Wayne moves us on to 1999, and the second part of the epilogue takes place: an incredibly chilling radio broadcast from NASA as their mission to Mars goes terribly, terribly wrong, and green flares once more erupt from the surface of the planet. It's an ending with the potential for disaster - a classic bad sci-fi film ending, but in this case it works, and it works well.


1. The Eve of the War (9:06)
2. Horsell Common and the Heat Ray (11:36)

3. The Artilleryman and the Fighting Machine (10:28)
4. Forever Autumn (7:55)
5. Thunder Child (6:02)

6. The Red Weed (Part 1) (5:51)
7. The Spirit of Man (11:36)
8. The Red Weed (Part 2) (7:00)

9. Brave New World (12:08)
10. Dead London (8:37)
11. Epilogue (Parts 1 and 2) (4:35)

The tracklist as above, split into four sections, indicates the four original LPs. For the later CD releases, tracks 1 to 5 appeared on CD one, and the remaining tracks on CD two. Later, a further CD version with three extra remixes also appeared, further complicating the track arrangement. For good measure, a highlights CD is also available, edited down to a single compact disc. The recent remix album, ULLAdubULLA is also available as a double CD set, though original promo CDs featured an entirely different single compact disc.

The torment was ended. The people scattered over the country, desperate, leaderless, starved,
the thousands who had fled by sea including the one most dear to me;
all could return, the pulse of life growing stronger and stronger would beat again.

05 July 2016

Sitting Ducks

Sitting Ducks is a children's picture book by Michael Bedard, originally published in the United States in 1998 by the Puttnam And Grosset Group, and later given a UK publication in 2000 by Walker Books, a company well known for high-quality picture book publishing. Several computer animated spin-off films have been released or are in the production process, and a tasteful number of merchandise products aimed, uncharacteristically, at art collectors, are available.

The book concerns an accident at the Colossal Duck Factory, where every day newly-hatched ducks roll off the assembly line, the first step on their journey to the plates of hungry alligators via the food-filled streets of Ducktown. One day, an unhatched egg rolls gently off one of the conveyor belts, leading to a most unusual friendship. Rather than hand the duck in, the worker alligator who discovers the little duck, his head no doubt filled with visions of duck à l'orange and hoi sin sauce, slips him into his lunchbox and sneaks him home.

Left with an array of tasty snacks each day, the alligator's plan goes extremely well, until that fateful moment the alligator realises that their growing friendship precludes the possibility of a tasty, duck-based meal later on. Of course, later on in the book the little duck wanders merrily through town, encountering something nasty in the Decoy Café along the way, thus discovering the horrible truth about Ducktown, alligators and the cruel reality of the food chain.

One cunning plan later, and the liberation of Ducktown begins. Fly or die! is the message, and eventually, after plenty of hard work, that's just what happens, and the Southern decadence of the Flapping Arms Seaside Resort becomes the new home of several thousand ducks and one (just one!) alligator.

The story, though witty and fantastic, pales into insignificance beside Bedard's art work. With smooth, airbrushed photo-realistic look, each page adds immeasurably to the story. Take, for example, the vastness of the factory, in the midst of which is a small, curious duck, his two black dot eyes somehow conveying utter astonishment and completely guilelessness. And speaking of facial expression, don't forget to take in the other diners at the restaurant when, in an awkward moment, the two friends are offered today's special: duck soup.

The best images in the book, however, surely has to be those which pay tribute to other, well-known works of art. Poker-playing dogs are replaced by a table of anthropomorphised ducks, expressing utter disbelief at the Decoy Café menu, and the little duck with his small bowl of popcorn is only missing a duck hide in the corner to be a perfect tribute to Gary Larson's The Far Side cartoon.

Of course, such in-jokes tempt one to believe that the book is not aimed at children at all. The closer look at the theme which, though extremely amusing on the surface, is suspiciously well-crafted adds to the suspicion that that the whole story is some sort of samizdat manifesto for change. It has everything: oppressed minorities, a powerful worker caste controlling the means of production, segregated ghettos for the minority and, what's more, the duck and the alligator sleep in the same bed with their arms round each other. Like Mao Tse Duck said, change must come at the barrel of a gun...

But, no, it's just a children's book, surely? Just a children's book... but a damn good one at at that.

04 July 2016

The Tall Man

'I now understand that the Tall Man is even more enterprising than I could ever have imagined, as I have come to believe he wants nothing less than world domination and the annihilation of our species." - Don Coscarelli, creator of The Tall Man.

The Tall Man is the role for which actor Angus Scrimm was best known. Definite villain of the Phantasm series of films, while the Tall Man may not have achieved the worldwide fame that, say, Pinhead from Hellraiser has, the guy is still pretty popular amongst connoisseurs of horror.

The Tall Man, as featured in Phantasm I to III and Phantasm: Oblivion, is a complex character whose method of operation has increased in complexity throughout the films. Explanations for his behaviour, including his origin and purpose, has been covered, notably in Phantasm IV, though never truly explained. As quoted above, Don Coscarelli, writer and director of the Phantasm films, has evolved his own ideas of who (or what) the Tall Man is, eventually reaching the conclusion that he is, quite simply, the nemesis of humanity.

In Phantasm (1979), the Tall Man is introduced. Of reasonably impressive height, as you might expect, and with grey hair, Angus Scrimm goes to great lengths to screw up one side of his face, producing a surprisingly effective air of menace and dread. Mike, a young boy, recently bereaved, sees the Tall Man display inhuman strength as he removes a coffin from a grave and places it into the back of a hearse. Later in the film, the Tall Man's finger, though severed from his body, is clearly still alive, allowing Mike to convince his brother Jody and friend Reggie of the Tall Man's existence.

The Tall Man, upon further investigation, is not alone. It appears that he is stealing the bodies to create an army of evil dwarves, clad in strange blankets and with unpleasantly yellow blood. To add to this, the Tall Man is armed with shining steel spheres, which fly through the air and hook themselves into their victims. In this film, the spheres then swiftly drill into the individual's skull, pumping blood out behind them. Despite a severe crushing at the end of film one, the Tall Man returns for film two and is killed by Mike, Jody and Reggie, who inject him with his own supply of the mysterious fluids used to re-animate the corpses.

Despite even this, the Tall Man returns again, developing his trademark booming cry of 'Boy!', drawn out menacingly. By the third film, too, we understand a little more about the Tall Man's purposes. His army of spheres has increased in complexity, sporting a range of deadly gadgets to augment the Tall Man's array of dwarf-minions.

As the cycle of films progresses further, it becomes apparent to us that there is more than one Tall Man, as though his existence in our universe is merely as a representative of an entire race. Indeed, dimensional portals appear in the film, two silver poles, through which the characters are occasionally and, thankfully, briefly drawn. In the Tall Man's home dimension, barrels are stacked against a desolate, windswept desert. It is clear that the Tall Man's purpose, at this point, is to procure corpses, convert them into the dwarf people and return them to his home dimension. If, for some reason, the Tall Man dies, he is replaced immediately by another Tall Man, who appears through the same portal.

All is well by now. We have reached film three, and while we may not fully understand the Tall Man, we are happy with the explanation as given. Film four, unfortunately, titled Phantasm: Oblivion simply so that the IV can be capitalised in the sub-title, leads us a merry dance which simply confuses the issue. Mike's brother, killed long ago in the second film, appears once more, trapped inside a silver sphere. Jody somehow passes back in time, witnessing the true origins of the Tall Man: a meek, mild inventor involved in early experiments generating electricity, who somehow invents the dimensional gateway to the other dimension. It does not, it must be said, make sense, and even ardent fans of the film struggle to explain how the fourth film's mythology meshes with that of the first three.

Despite this, the Tall Man stands as a classic example of popular horror villain. Mysterious, unpleasant and quite deadly, we are somehow drawn to this depiction. Angus Scrimm may have gone on to other roles (now, alas those fabled roles in the sky…), but his continued appearances at conventions (concerning which Angus was renowned for his good humour and patience with fans, once they got over the eerie experience of meeting the Tall Man face-to-face) and other sci-fi or horror gatherings clearly showed that the Tall Man was his crowning achievement.

'I am continually amazed that the fans have so much affection for such a dark character whose trade is essentially death. Audiences enjoy laughing with the Tall Man as he does his appalling deeds." - Angus Scrimm, The Tall Man.

Sources: imdb, www.phantasm.com, Amazon, the films.

Curly Wurly

Delicious milk chocolate with a caramel centre, produced by one of the UK's leading manufacturers of confectionery - Cadbury Limited. The curly wurly is long and thin with a vaguely pretzel-like shape: imagine two long railway-lines of chewy caramel with a zig-zag crossing from one track to the other and you've pretty much got the basic idea. Furthermore, imagine a delicious coating of creamy milk chocolate and you're probably wanting one already.

The curly wurly, of course, has suffered slightly over the years, mainly due to nostalgia. The one I've just opened is around twenty centimetres long and three centimetres across. It might just be that my hands and mouth are bigger nowadays, but I'm sure that the average curly wurly was a good ten centimetres longer a couple of decades ago. And the shape - at one time they really were curly and, well... wurly, too. There was none of this zig-zag-railway-track business; there were shapes lurking in the caramel that were so weird and unearthly they would have grown men quaking with fear. There was, undoubtedly, something almost Lovecraftian about that innocent bar of sugary indulgence. Certainly the wrapper has changed; the public likes things fresh nowadays, and apparently wrapping everything in shiny plastic foil is the way to achieve this. The old waxy white paper has gone, and the curly wurly now comes resplendent in its own bubble-lettered wrapper with a rather pretty drop shadow and some swirly spirals in the background. Not that the wrapper matters; it's what's inside you really want...

But while we're discussing the wrapper, we must acknowledge the inevitable dilemma. Is it really curly wurly? There is no gap on the wrapper, thus one might assume it to be a curlywurly. However, Cadbury's own website uses the space, and anyway, you'd probably rather know more about the sweet itself than worry about a space. Speaking of Cadbury's website, a nice man called Charlie took the trouble to respond to my rather strange email ("Hey, Charlie - we've got another curly wurly obsessive here..."), and I can now share with authority that Curly Wurly has been made since at least the early 70s, has always been between twenty-five and thirty-grams, and the pattern is made in exactly the same way it's always been. This either hints at a dread conspiracy to delude the curly wurly enjoying public, or proves once and for all that the sweets you loved as a child really were exactly the same as they are now; you just remember them being three times as long and a lot more chewy.

Regardless, nowadays the Curly Wurly weighs precisely twenty-six grams, of which sixty-nine percent is soft, chewy caramel. That's glucose syrup, sweetened condensed skimmed milk, sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oil, dried whey, some emulsifiers, soya lecithin and E471, along with a bit of salt and some mysterious flavourings. Mmm! E471, by the way, is glyceryl monostearate and glyceryl distearate, but it's okay - they're just more emulsifiers and apparently a perfectly normal part of digestion anyway. (Note: If I told you height of the bar is approximately five millimetres you could even work out the density of the caramel. If you find yourself wanting to do that, seek professional help.)

The rest of it, of course, is chocolate. Lovely chocolate, with fourteen percent milk solids, and an unspecified quantity of cocoa solids. And, in the twenty seconds it takes you to bite and chew you'll be pleased to hear that the delightful sum of 115 calories will become yours. Frankly, it's worth it.