Saturday, 25 October 2014

Jack O'Lantern and the headmistress (part 1)

For today's countdown to Halloween post, the first part of a scary (or trying to be) story by yours truly. This story is one of many inspired by the legend of Jack O'Lantern.

From the narrow window of her bedroom, where she usually enjoyed spying on people walking by, Miss Charity Fairchild looked at the empty schoolyard with satisfaction. She loved to keep an eye on it, even in the middle of the night, like now. Her school. She could call it like that, whoever owned it, she was the headmistress. It was clean, tidy, orderly, disciplined like its staff and its pupils. Sure, the cold wind of the autumn night was bringing some dead leaves on the yard right now, but early in the morning tomorrow she would see to it that they'd get rid of them. Those trees, those bloody oaks and ash trees, not to mention the rowan ones she hated, especially in autumn, wildly stripping themselves down, baring themselves in a borderline obscene way, and messing up her school's yard. But she would not have it. Discipline, discipline and order, a rigid devotion to the place is all that was needed to keep it harmonious.

Miss Fairchild hated autumn and its wild, fiery colours. She hated also the way it induced people to excess: the children especially, far too excited the moment the leaves gathered in bundles on the ground, far too excited about the change of temperature. And that horrid, horrid celebration that was coming tomorrow. The Feast of the Devil, as she used to call it. A disgusting importation, American, Irish, or both, rather, which made it even worse. Disgustingly Pagan. It was slowly gathering in popularity in her beloved Christian England. Devil's faces in pumpkins, thinly disguised Satanic worship. Trick or treats, turning children to gluttonous, wild animals and pranksters. Beggars at best. As if it was not difficult enough to tame the vicious beast in them. Sweets, sugar, all the things she hated.

But Charity Fairchild would not have it. She would not have any of it. Hallowe'en was banned in her school and she had decided to make the 31st of October a day of fasting, prayers and repentance. Teach those little unworthy brats about the mercy and justice of Our Lord. Ban any display of the temptations of Satan that they would fall for. Toffee apples, chocolates, those ghastly pumpkin lanterns, things that belonged to a graveyard, not a school and certainly not a Christian school. No disguise, those deceiving items making a mockery of the creation of God, corrupting their already twisted little minds with vicious imagery. Oh no, she would not have it, she would not have any of it! In her own way, as a devout servant of God, she would make sure tomorrow was going to be His day too, she would make sure the pupils knew he reigned over them tomorrow like any other day, that they must follow the straight and narrow path, that they must obey Him and his servants on earth, first and foremost his most devout servant in this Buckinghamshire village, the head mistress of this Christian school. Of course, they all had parents, but parents nowadays were permissive, sometimes even faithless liberals.

As the clock stroke midnight, Miss Fairchild looked outside again, to see if the wind had blown more leaves on the ground, or scattered them away from the school yard. What she saw shocked her. She was not easily shocked. Angered yes, disgusted, certainly, but the wickedness of the world, while always disappointing to her, very rarely shocked her. She was used to see decadence. But not that. Pumpkins. Hollow pumpkins, grimacing faces, all laid out on the school yard, like a swarm of orange little monsters gathered there. Ugly, ugly, devilish pumpkins! In her school! Who was the wicked person who had done that? And so quickly? One nasty teenager or most likely or a group of them! But she was not afraid. Charity Fairchild was old, but she was strong as an ox and her wrath itself could scare any prankster who was stupid enough to do such a thing. So she would show them. Hurt them, punish them. But before, she would destroy these awful, awful lanterns. She took a shovel she used for gardening and her old rubbish bin, put a thick bathrobe on her nightgown, opened the door and walked across the street to her school in the autumn night.

Ah les vaches!

Cette photo a été prise lors de notre fin de semaine avec les amis de ma femme dans le Derbyshire. Ils ont juste à côté de chez eux un champ avec des vaches qui broutent. Et je ne sais pas si c'est parce que mon côté paysan s'est réveillé, mais je les ai beaucoup enviés d'avoir des vaches comme voisines. Moi qui suis si urbain d'habitude.

Friday, 24 October 2014

An new (but old) Danse Macabre

Tonight for my countdown to Halloween post, I am uploading again, as this is a seasonal tradition on this blog, the Danse Macabre. This time, it is a short, silent movie adaptation of the symphonic poem, dating back from 1922. This movie is more an allegory than a scary story, but it has many creepy, even tragic, moments. I enjoyed it a lot and I hope you do too.

Un moins pire bagel

Avertissement: ce billet est un billet de chauvinisme purement montréalais. J'ai pris cette photo dans le No Car Cafe dans le Derbyshire. Parce que j'avais envie de voir si l'endroit servait des bagels décents et de manière décente. Décent est le mot, mais c'est tout ce que je puisse dire. Le bagel était correct sans plus, pas le truc dégueulasse qu'on achète ailleurs d'habitude. Un assez honnête bagel anglais. Mais comme vous le voyez, c'est un bagel un peu tout nu: où sont les câpres, les oignons, les tomates? Comparez ça à un repas à St-Viateur, on n'est comme pas vraiment dans la même ligue. C'est un moins pire bagel que ce qu'on trouve hors de Montréal. Alors voilà, petit moment de fierté montréalaise. On fait les meilleurs bagels au monde et on sait les apprêter correctement.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

A cat and a Jack O'Lantern

I bought this Halloween decoration at the local sweet shop a few years ago, back in 2011 I think. I have very little to say about it, but thought I would upload it for my countdown to Halloween post tonight. I am preparing a few more exciting posts for the next few days (so watch this space, wink, wink). I do have a bit to say about it though: this black cat looks nasty. Not exactly my experience of black cats, as you know. I have many black cats themes decorations, some really lovely one, but sadly these are the only black cats that I will have this Halloween.

Les loups et la meute

Cette caricature a été publiée par Ygreck dans le Journal de Montréal, suite à l'attentat terroriste d'Ottawa. Il a illustré une question la foi fort pertinente de Richard Martineau (oui, oui, ça lui arrive) dans cette chronique:  "ça prend combien de loups solitaires pour qu’on puisse commencer à parler d’une meute?" Une répétition d'attaques, en si peu de temps, ce ne sont pas des cas isolés, encore moins une série de cas isolés. Ce sont les symptômes d'une idéologie obscurantiste. Je songe souvent à une certaine fable de La Fontaine lorsque l'on parle d'islamisme. Aujourd'hui, je trouve l'analogie plus exacte que jamais.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Haunted pub?

This is tonight's countdown to Halloween post. I took this picture of the pub by the train station when I was walking back home, straight off the train. I took it first because I thought it looked like a beautiful autumnal picture, then because I thought about yesterday's countdown to Halloween post. And I remembered, as I mentioned here, that I suspected that it was the setting of a ghost story of E. Nesbit. I have little evidence, almost none, that it served as the setting, but one clue in the text at least made me think it could have served as inspiration. The pub used to be the hotel station, back when trains were coming and going from and to everywhere here. Strange, as the first time I came here, I stopped at the pub and thought this would be such a great setting for a scary story. Anyway, enough teasing, as Halloween is round the corner, I would invite you to read Number 17. It is public domain in Canada, I don't know where else. Or buy this book. I have been plugging Edith Nesbit very often these days, but she is worth discovering. Anyway, is the pub haunted, like the hotel before? I don't think so. There is by the way an amusing twist about the nature of the ghost in Number 17 which makes it worth a read in itself. All the same, it is rather pleasant to imagine such a place haunted.

Humour littéraire

Une amie sur Facebook a publié ce dessin. Je ne sais pas qui est l'auteur, mais j'ai trouvé ça très drôle. Au cas où ça vous tenterait de vivre de votre plume...

In the meantime, in Ottawa...

I was at my desk this afternoon, working as usual, when a colleague told me to check the news. So this how I learned about the terrorist attack in Ottawa. Probably by Islamists. My brother PJ works in Ottawa. So I was worried. I tried to reach him, to reach my parents, failed to reach him, got my parents, gave them the news, we tried to reach him again, etc. My brother had an interview in Montreal yesterday and was coming back to work this morning by bus. His bus stops in front of the University of Ottawa. I was hoping that his bus had been stopped before crossing the bridge, so he could stay in Gatineau and go home. I then saw this from my bro on his Facebook page: "I should have stayed in Montreal an extra day..." I know it is a very serious moment, the situation is  dark, it is still going on as I am typing this, but I still this deserves to be a great unknown line.

Anyway, my brother is safe and sound, as I have now learned. In Ottawa, locked down at uni, but safe and sound and with his friends.

Question existentielle (242)

Une question existentielle qui m'est venue en tête ce matin:

-Quel est (ou était) le cours à l'école secondaire le plus stupide et le plus éloigné de la mission éducative de l'école?

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Eerie Autumn

I could have chosen a dozen topics for tonight's countdown to Halloween post. But it is the temperature that truly inspired me today. It was cold. Not in the morning, but the temperature dropped during the day. It was mostly sunny, but with bits of clouds and rain, and thunder was even heard once. In the evening, walking home, daylights were already dim past six o'clock. The wind was blowing, there were leaves on the ground, I just stood there a moment, enjoying the eeriness of this small English town, wondering what monster could come off from the shadows of the trees or the old buildings, or from the shrubberies. A thousand horror stories could be written with this town as a setting and this day or this evening as the time. An ideal time for Halloween and an inspiring one too. It was just one of these moments when I could feel both the season and Samhain. So this is it for tonight's countdown to Halloween post. No picture, no video. Just a bit of rambling about a beautiful, deliciously eerie day.

Macaroni au fromage (le meilleur)

C'est un macaroni (en fait on devrait dire des macaroni) au fromage que ma femme et moi avons fait il y a quelques semaines, quand il a commencé à faire plus frais. C'est de loin la meilleure recette de macaroni au fromage que je connaisse: béchamel avec Boursin et un fromage dur mature (un cheddar par exemple), des tomates et finalement des câpres, l'ingrédient qui fait la différence. Pour le gratin, le même fromage mature pour le couvrir. C'est bon pas rien qu'un peu. Lors d'une soirée froide et grise ou après une dure journée de travail, c'est le traitement prescrit pour le souper. Alors voilà: essayez-le et donnez-moi des nouvelles.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Dark and sinister London

For tonight's countdown to Halloween post, I have decided to muse about the biggest city in Europe. I was in London last Monday and it was a dreary, ugly day and London looked as it often does dreary and ugly. I would even say sinister. The day before, I had flickered through Terrors Out of Time, which I blogged about here. It may have been because of it, but I half expected to see the sinister figure of Baron Ausbach from the gamebook (the one you see on the cover), or even Dracula walking by. We often forget that, while Stoker's most famous work starts in a Transylvanian castle, a lot of it is set later on in Victorian England, including London. It is basically a hunting ground for Dracula. The same happens in the gamebook I am so fond of: the story kickstart with a theft in London that leads the hero/player character into the British Museum, on the pursuit of the burglar. The burglar being... Baron Ausbach, pictured left.

So, while I love a good eerie forest, an abandoned castle, a haunted house in a village or simply a dark road in the countryside, modern cities have some appeal in horror stories. All urban violence aside, a city like London allows modernity to clash with the ancient, whether it is from its own history or foreign. In Dracula, London has among its dwellers an Eastern European aristocrat who is of course a vampire. The lights of the modern world are threatened by the occult, civilization by animal savagery. Baron Ausbach is also an Eastern aristocrat whose monstrosity is not even thinly disguised: he is reptilian in appearance. Oh and he brings back to life mummies in the British Museum. The cover of Terrors Out of Time is a perfect illustration of this clash between modernity and primitive evil. So next time you walk in a big city, thing about what may be dwelling in its sewers, its undergrounds, its parks, its buildings, old or new. And if you don't get a chill, go to London.

La Tour Eiffel

J'ai pris cette photo mardi dernier, lors de mon très court séjour à Paris pour le travail. Certains diraient que c'était un court séjour, mais pour moi c'était bien assez long, je dois le confesser. Néanmoins, j'ai pu prendre cette photo à partir du lieu de la conférence. Ca aura servi à ça: prendre une photo de la Tour Eiffel. Une image de carte postale. Je l'ai téléchargée sur Facebook d'abord où elle a eu un succès assez important. Alors j'ai pensé la télécharger sur Vraie Fiction. Une observation bête: on ne dirait pas vraiment qu'on est en automne.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

A Halloween tea mug

Be warned: this is the third countdown to Halloween post I am writing in a row. I bought this mug at David's Tea, as my readership who were following me last year know or suspect, as I blogged about their Halloween collection. If you look at their collection this year, you can see they got even better in look and design. But I do not regret one bit my purchase. I fill this mug (one of their Perfect Tea Mugs) with pumpkin chai, which I am soon going to run out of. I will need to stock up in Montreal. The design of this mug is more simplistic than the new ones, but it is cool all the same with the spooky Jack O'Lanterns. And it has a good bit of Halloween magic: the colours change when you fill it with hot water. In any case, enjoying pumpkin chai in it is a new ritual I do in the weeks and days coming to Halloween.

C'est un vieux château du moyen âge....

Ma gardienne préférée dans mon enfance me chantait le refrain de cette chanson, j'ai découvert la version complète des années plus tard. J'ai appris avec elle ce qu'était le moyen âge et j'ai eu mes premiers délicieux frissons en imaginant les fantômes qui le hantaient. La chanson est en fait comique plutôt qu'effrayante. En voici une version chantée en duo par Georges Brassens et Georges Tabet. Un peu de musique pour nous mettre dans l'ambiance de l'Halloween qui arrive à grands pas...

More Halloween stories

For my countdown to Halloween post, I am plugging another book of Halloween stories. Like Halloween: Magic, Mystery and the Macabre, it is edited by Paula Guran. In fact, this one, simply called Halloween, is its older brother, or its prototype. It is also an anthology of many traditional horror stories set around Halloween, although there are also more modern authors. You will find among the classics Man-Size in Marble by Edith Nesbit, which I have recently blogged about. This is partially what convinced me to purchase it, even though I already have the short story in two different books. I just thought, if the rest is as good as Nesbit, it is worth a purchase. And I am making myself a nice little collection of horror stories. Its front cover, with the although spooky and beautiful Jack O'Lantern, is not as nice as the second book, but it still looks nice. And there are of course the stories. This is one of the books I am reading at the moment anyway. And I will finish this countdown to Halloween post by a teaser: I am writing a scary story myself for this blog, which I should post soon. So watch this space.

Bleuets et lavande

Petite découverte inusitée lors de la fin de semaine dans le Derbyshire chez les amis de ma femme: cette confiture de bleuets et lavande. C'est ce que j'ai eu pour le déjeuner le matin, un délice qui vient, comme vous le voyez, de Bracken Hill, une compagnie du Yorkshire. je ne sais pas si on peut trouver leurs produits dans le sud, mais je compte essayer d'en trouver, s'ils sont aussi bons que la confiture de bleuets et lavande. Je peux toujours en acheter sur leur site en ligne, j'imagine.

Bon, pas que je tienne à en beurrer épais (ha, ha, ha!) sur une simple confiture, mais c'était vraiment bon et je n'avais pas pensé que la lavande se marierait bien avec le bleuet. Pour moi, la lavande, c'est un parfum. J'ai choisi cette confiture pour mettre sur mes toasts par curiosité et parce que le bleuet est le fruit du Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean. Il fallait bien que je l'essaie, mais je ne savais pas que ce serait aussi bon. Le Yorkshire étant dans le Nord, je me demande s'il n'y a pas une certaine affinité avec mon propre coin de pays.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

A pub in autumn

This is a picture of a local pub I took back in 2012. I say it is local, but to say it is local is an understatement: it is very local, in an almost forgotten part of town. It is an old and old fashioned pub, with old customers, old furniture, old stuff all around. When I was unemployed, I used to go there very often, trying new beers, or just drinking something non alcoholic. Now I only go there on very rare occasions. When I remember it exists. But anyway, I went there for a beer tonight. And it reminded me of the picture I took back in 2012. I thought it looked quite nice.

Vendémiaire

J'écris rapidement un billet parce que je veux souligner que nous sommes encore en plein Vendémiaire selon le Calendrier républicain. Le mois des vendanges, donc des récoltes, enfin d'une partie des récoltes. Grosso modo, vendémiaire la plupart du mois d'octobre, jusqu'au 21, donc une bonne section de l'automne. Je le souligne parce que j'aime le nom. Aussi parce que je suis un républicain intempestif, alors même si je trouve le calendrier révolutionnaire bancal, j'y trouve parfois un certain charme. Alors voilà, nous sommes encore pour quelques jours en Vendémiaire.