Friday, 23 November 2012

Dead Man Talking # 8 - Rebecca Lang

Strachan McQuade (deceased) Interviews Rebecca Lang

Former journalist Rebecca Lang is an Australian writer with a specialist interest in strange phenomena, earth mysteries and cryptozoology. Along with her partner, Mike Williams, she has published the excellent book 'Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers'. Rebecca also writes Fortean themed horror stories and can sometimes be found trailblazing her way across strange terrain hunting for rare, exotic animals that might give the rest of us nightmares.

Rebecca Lang

Strachan McQuade R.I.P.

McQuade: This week I’m hanging around the Sydney Opera House, a magnificent structure named after Scotland’s No 1 opera singer and line-dancing icon, Sydney Devine, which is as flimsy a connection as any to introduce another divine vision in the shape of Australian writer, Rebecca Lang. (Editor – Stop it, McQuade. You’re just embarrassing yourself) Now, Ms Lang, correct me if I’m wrong, but your name does have very strong Scottish connotations. It even appears in a famous Scottish saying, ‘Lang May Your Lum Reek.’ For the benefit of non Scots I should point out that the English translation of this is literally, ‘Long May Your Chimney Smoke.’ No idea how this ties in with my preliminary rambling. I should probably have quit after my clever and complimentary Devine/Divine allusion. But tell us anyway, do you have Scottish blood in you? And if so, please do spill the beans if you have any notorious Celtic ancestors in your family tree such as cannibals, grave robbers, or erm….. witches. That’s a prompt you know.

Lang: Yes Strachan, I do! My Dad’s side of the family comes from Scotland – they emigrated in the 1800s during the gold rush, and liked it so much they stayed here.
We do seem to have a few characters in the family tree – c
olourful folklorist Andrew Lang, colonial novelist John Lang, newspaper editor, republican and Presbyterian Reverend John Dunmore Lang, and a wrongly tried, hung and burnt ‘witch’, Margaret Lang, whose only crime was being a midwife. Of course she is slightly notorious for admitting to a little tryst with the Devil as she stood on the scaffold with the noose about her neck, but she did maintain her (overall) innocence. Sadly she ran out of time and didn’t quite get to squeeze in a good curse before the hangman’s dance!

McQuade: Sounds like most women I’ve known. Blethering on for ages about all sorts of inconsequential rubbish and then run out of time when it comes to the important bit. You and Mike Willams published a book called ‘Australian
Big Cats’- a subject, which being honest, isn’t half as exotic as my book on the Fulvous Whistling Duck. Big cats are probably very common in Australia with well-meaning owners overfeeding their feline pets too many tins of Whiskas I expect. So what’s special about these Big Cats? Can they levitate? By Jove, that would a useful talent for an overweight cat. It would save all sorts of wear and tear on their overburdened joints. But, despite saying all that, I’ll suspend my judgement and let you explain what the book was about. Commence, while I nibble on this delicious Vegemite sandwich.

Lang: Don’t choke on that sandwich Strachan! In my neck of the woods we only use Vegemite for extra-strength curries and axle grease.

Now, to the cats. Well I guess you could say they’re special because they’re not supposed to be in Australia and yet they have been seen all over Australia for decades. Most intriguingly, people aren’t just seeing black leopards or jaguars (black cats generically referred to as ‘panthers’) they’re also seeing sandy-coloured North American cougars!

Mike and I published Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers in 2010, which was the first time anyone had seriously reviewed in-depth all of the cases on record. We even tracked down and investigated a few of our own, and in the process of writing the book over an eight-year period, amassed a huge library of photographs, video clips and witness testimonies, as well as 150 years’ worth of newspaper clippings!

Strachan, you can read an extract of Australian Big Cats here (leave your tenner at the door):

So, convinced yet?

McQuade: Nope. And please don’t ask me questions while I’m eating. It gives me terrible heartburn not to mention a burning anal itch.

Lang: Ironically, in the past 30 years there has been something like four government enquiries in different states in Australia into the existence of big cats, all with a similar outcome – and yet people keep reporting credible sightings, some highly reputable including vets, academics, zoologists, big game hunters, zoo workers, farmers, and Dept of Agriculture employees. Mind-boggling!

We have since re-published the 1970s classic Savage Shadow: The Search for the Australian Cougar by David O’Reilly in 2011, writing the foreword for the book. That story is eerily similar to our own experiences.

We’re now working on a couple of other cat-related projects, so clearly we are now completely obsessed with the whole thing!

McQuade: Well, I’d say you put your case forward most convincingly. Cougars, eh? Reminds me of when our church manse was over-run by very big rats. The Kirk beadle commented they were so enormous we’d need a mad-cap crazy cougar with a spectacularly large appetite to take care of them. Not realising he was speaking figuratively, I placed a small ad in my butcher’s shop window requesting the services of a mad-for-it, insatiable cougar. My late wife was furious when a mature lady with a very short skirt and a cleavage appeared at our front door demanding sex. Which brings me to my next question. Why, at a recent Fortean Times Conference in London, were you lecturing the audience about the disgusting adult pastime of having sex in an outdoor car-park with complete strangers. I have ears everywhere, you know. It’s because I keep leaving them on buses and trains.

A Cougar
Lang: That was an honest cultural misunderstanding!

There are two occupations in Australia that bear the name ‘dogger’ – people who hunt, shoot and poison feral/wild dogs on farms, and the ‘dogsbodies’ who clamber over dangerous scaffolding at great height on construction sites.

I was trying to recount the experiences of an Australian dogger in the bush who saw a giant pussy, which cause much hilarity among the British audience. (Editor – You don’t say?) I didn’t have the faintest idea what they were on about, and for their part they must have wondered what recreational sex had to do with big cat sightings! Well they bought some books anyway, so it wasn’t all a bust.
(Editor – Take note, Rebecca - Bust is another sexually provocative word in this country)

McQuade: I’m so glad it was all a misunderstanding. Saves me the trouble of making a citizen’s arrest and reporting you to the authorities. In this case, probably the Kennel Club. But staying with the Fortean connection, you do have a special interest in all things Fortean. In fact I hear that recently you got involved in hunting down that almost mythical beast, the Black-Widowed-Koala-Bear. Long suspected to be the progeny of an accidental mating between a black widow spider and a koala, resulting in a cute-looking bear with eight legs and a lethal bite. I imagine it would be a popular replacement for turkey on holiday occasions as everyone would get a leg. Did you manage to track one down, spinning its web in a eucalyptus tree?

Black Widowed Koala

Lang: Oh, er…do you mean the Orang Pendek? I don't do marsupial spiders.

McQuade: Orang Pendeck, Black-Widowed-Koala, all that stuff sounds alike to me. Carry on, it’s bound to be codswallop anyway.

Lang: I joined an expedition to Sumatra in late 2011 to go searching for evidence of the fabled ‘short man of the forest’, the Orang pendek, literally ‘short man’ in Indonesian, which prompted some amusing exchanges in a country which is full of rather short people.

McQuade: Amusing exchanges are what I do. Never come across a decent Indonesian stand-up comic in my life. Or death, come to that.

Lang: People have been seeing the shy primate since Dutch colonisation, and it’s one cryptozoological mystery that many believe has a good chance of turning out to be the real deal! The Orang Pendek is described as having dark grey to red fur, broad shoulders, a huge chest and powerful arms.

You can read all about the beastie and our expedition in The Guardian here:

Sadly we didn’t find one, but we did take home some interesting plaster casts – but nothing absolutely definitive. We also caught up with some farmers who had seen the Orang pendek on their land – along with some hungry-looking leopards, tigers and giant pigs roaming among the tobacco plants and cinnamon trees. It’s not an easy life earning a quid in Indonesia as a farmer!

McQuade: By Jove. That’s amazing. Little monkey people. Who’d have thought? Actually there was this one time when our church steeple got an infestation of monkeys. The Kirk beadle said it would take a crate full of big fat bananas to tempt them out. If that oaf thought he could fool me twice and have me rushing off to the greengrocers to buy bananas, he was sadly mistaken. I simply hired a gamekeeper and had them all shot. Anyway, time is getting short and I’ve a bus to catch home, so tell me, Ms Lang. What’s the next big project for you?

Lang: I’m actually hard at work on a couple of fiction and non-fiction projects – some more cryptozoology themed books, a few short horror stories and a women’s fiction novel.

At the encouragement of my good friend Richard Freeman I have written some Fortean-themed horror stories for inclusion in a forthcoming anthology he is editing for the CFZ Press. I also have another title coming out with Strange Nation Publishing in 2013 and a couple of other joint publishing projects. It’s all systems go!

McQuade: By Jingo! Or should that be, By Dingo! It’s a fair dinkum cobber and any other similarly strangulated expressions of enthusiastic approval you Australians like to use. Many thanks to you, Ms Lang for taking time out from hunting strange creatures to speak with me. In return I’d like to present you with this rubber bath plug to stop the water swirling the wrong way down your drain. Widdershins, that’s anti-clockwise to you, is a certain sign of the devil and I’m sure you wouldn’t want to end up sharing the same fate as your wicked Satan-fixated ancestor, Margaret Lang. If your bath tub does eventually require emptying, simply use a bucket to bail out the excess water and pour it out the window. Right, here’s my bus. G’day to you Madam.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Dead Man Talking # 7 - John Mason

Strachan McQuade Interviews John Mason

Readers of Phil Rickman’s ‘Merrily Watkins’ novels never fail to be blown away by the  disquietingly Gothic undertones of John Mason’s cover art. John’s trademark style of tinted infrared photography is now almost as instantly recognisable as the characters inside the books. Over the years he has built up an impressive portfolio of stunning work that includes his eerie Haunted Realm series of photographs, as well as working with Phil Rickman to produce ‘Merrily’s Borders’ – a beautifully illustrated guide to the locations and historical background against which the Merrily Watkins novels are placed. John has also recently published a new book of photographs ‘King Arthur’s Britain’ published by Mansion House Books. 
Fresh from a successful art exhibition in Glastonbury, the man normally found lurking behind the lens granted us an exclusive interview. As usual Strachan was off like a shot to meet him.

Strachan McQuade R.I.P.
John Mason

McQuade: Here I am at the top of Glastonbury Tor, the supposed site of the fabled Isle of Avalon, its misty glamour once perfectly captured in a dreary sonnet by folk rockers Roxy Music. This is the very spot where on the fourteenth of November 1539, Abbot Richard Whiting was dragged by a horse all the way up the hill. Why he couldn’t simply have walked, I’ve no idea. Poor old Whiting was then hung, drawn and quartered, with chunks of him displayed all over the town – I’ve been known for the same thing myself after a few too many drinks down the pub, it’s easily done you know. 
Glastonbury Tor is also home to Gwyn ap Nupp, King of the Fairies, rumoured to appear riding a big, black horse every second Wednesday, except in February when he visits his sister-in-law in Swansea. Why am I telling you all this? Because I’m still waiting for John Mason to arrive. I passed him ages ago on my scooter as he trudged up the hill. Ah, here he is now. By Jove, the poor bloke looks puffed out.
So tell me, Mason, this new book of yours, ‘King Arthur’s Britain’ published by Mansion House Books. What’s it all about? Is it a cutting-edge reworking of the traditional Arthurian legends? A stirring adventure story about Merlin and the gallant Knights of the Round Table? You know the ones, Lancelot, Gawain and the other fellow….what’s his name, Friar Tuck?

Mason: I’m only out of breath because I took the time to throw your excuse for a scooter over the hedge and into a rather large muddy pit! Maybe next time you won’t try to run me over on the damn thing you heathen lunatic!
Anyway, enough about you and on to the REAL reason why we’re here on top of Glastonbury Tor. Stop looking about for your scooter McQuade, you won’t find it because the damn thing sank! Right, where was I? The book, yes, I decided to do a book on most of the accessible locations in England, Scotland and Wales that are associated with King Arthur and because I couldn’t find anyone who would work for free I ended up writing the damn thing as well!
Needless to say, I did the whole book in my trademark Infrared black and white photography style and also because I had NO editorial interference, I was able to select the pictures myself AND didn’t end up having to argue about the cover shot either! Greg at Mansion House Books has a good eye for a cover shot and his first choice was the same as mine!

Ha ha. A skinny bloke like you lifting and tossing my scooter? Pull the other one. You’re probably best known for your striking, atmospheric book covers used for Phil Rickman’s ‘Merrily Watkins’ novels, but I hear you’re a dab hand with a paintbrush too, and have just held an exhibition of your work in Glastonbury town. Nothing like an art exhibition to bring out the weirdoes, that’s what I’ve always said. So how did that come about? And how did the exhibition go?


Mason: Well, the exhibition was at Glastonbury Galleries in the High Street and I decided to do a combination of both my infrared black and white photographic prints AND some of my oil and acrylic paintings as well!
The reason I paint is because I get bored easily and when I can’t go out and play with my camera, I tend to spend the day and the occasional night slapping paint on a canvas!
The exhibition went well and the local weirdoes and nutters were quite mild compared to a certain Scottish personage I’ve just met!

McQuade: You met another Scotsman on the way here? What a coincidence. Look, it’s getting a bit windy up here. Best if we nip inside this crumbling old tower so I can get my pipe going. You’d think they’d knock this old ruin down and build a proper bus shelter. Must be really crowded in the tower when they stage the music festival. And how they get that fat bloke, the Big Bopper, up here I can’t imagine. Now, another project I’m supposed to ask you about is the long awaited DVD of Merrily’s Borders, a supplementary cinematic version of the book of the same name you produced a few years ago with that Rickman fellow. I heard the rough footage even contained shots of the Hazey Jane II gig at Kentchurch Court – waste of film if you ask me. But why has the DVD taken so long to materialise? I expect half the time was spend photo-shopping out Watson’s bald patch, or was it delayed because Rickman continually kept fluffing his lines? Tell you what, you keep talking into this microphone while I nip out to the scooter to get my flask of oxtail soup. 

Mason: Good luck with finding the scooter! Anyway about the DVD. At the moment, all the filming has been done and Phil has written the script and done the voice-overs for it. The whole project is now in the post production phase and is being edited as we speak and the aim is to have in ready before Christmas. IF for whatever reason, we blow that deadline then it will be out in January. I’m also hoping to film a little bit of a teaser to include the next Merrily as an ‘extra’! 

McQuade: By Jove! My scooter really has gone. I was looking forward to that oxtail soup, you black-hearted pagan scunner. I knew we should have stuck to interviewing proper writers. You arty types are far too unpredictable. But tell me this, Mason. Wearing a bandanna on your head has become something of a trademark look. Is there some practical reason for this form of head-wear? Like adhering to a strict hygienic code of practise while working in McDonalds? Or is it out of consideration to faint-hearted members of the public? Perhaps to conceal ginger hair?

Mason: The bandana originally was to stop sweat getting in my eyes while I was filming and also to keep the sun off my head when I was on location abroad and after awhile, as you say, it became something of a trademark and then just an everyday item of clothing! I quit McDonalds because they wouldn’t let me wear it!

McQuade: Quite right too. I wouldn’t want a hippie artist doodling beside the deep fat fryer while my chips burned. Let’s get this finished off as I’m freezing.
Standing up here at this sacred spot overlooking the magnificent Glastonbury Zodiac embedded into the landscape around us lets me segue neatly into my last question, which is - what does the future hold for John Mason? No, I’m not interested in your horoscope or whether or not your lucky piece of kitchen cutlery is a dessert spoon. I wish to know what your next project will be? More books? Paintings? Films? Or do you plan on resting upon your laurels and go for a good piss-up with your mates?

Mason: Well, the future is still unclear at the moment. Sure I’m working on more books, this includes ‘Myths and Legends of England’, ‘Myths and Legends of Wales’ and ‘Myths and Legends of Scotland’, I may do an Ireland book, but that will depend on how I get on with these ones!
Also, the ‘Myths and Legends’ dvd  that I’ve been working on is in post production as well and could end up being several volumes!
I’ve also got video projects I’m working on with some Spanish pagan friends to shoot as well. These include such subjects as ‘Druidry’ and ‘Labyrinths’!
I’m still evolving with the painting and that will also lead to more exhibitions next year as well.
AND I’m also threatening to sort out a few web sites to showcase both my infrared work and my paintings. The sites I’ve already got are really out of date and need a complete revamp.
Oh, and there is not a chance in hell I’m helping you get that scooter out of the muddy pit even if you do find it, but I will point you in the direction of the bus stop if you like!

McQuade: No need for that, Mason. I’ve already arranged for Gwyn ap Nupp to give me a ride back to town on his big black horse. The scooter was to have been a gift to you. Feel free to drink the oxtail soup if you do manage to recover it from that muddy pit. Bet you’re wishing you’d left well alone now. (sound of approaching galloping hooves) Ah, here comes old Gwyn now. Now, now, Mason. No need to get so vexed, and I wouldn't kick that crumbling old tower so hard if I were you, it might.............. (thundering crash of tons of rock collapsing) erm, fall down. Ah, looks like they might have to build that bus stop after all. Over here, Gwyn, there's a good lad.

Buy John Mason's New Book 'King Arthur's Britain'

Visit John Mason's Haunted Realm

View John Mason's Artwork

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Dead Man Talking # 6 - Julie Adams

Strachan McQuade (deceased) Interviews Julie Adams

Not that I need an excuse to feature fellow Philosopher's Stone band member Julie Adams on 'Dead Man Talking' - but having the Presidential election this week seemed the ideal opportunity to introduce my favourite East Tennessee musician to Strachan McQuade. He's not exactly what you'd call a Ladies Man, so I hoped having this opportunity to work with a gal would keep him on his best behaviour and perhaps encourage him to wear his best aftershave (Eau de Formaldehyde).

Anyway - a quick word of introduction - Julie plays flute and has featured on albums such as 'Through A Whisky Glass Darkly', 'Abbey Tapes:The Exorcism' and the new Columbus Road album 'Red Kite'. She hails from East Tennessee and goes swimming with Elvis twice a week. Well, that's what I thought she said. That southern drawl is sure easy on the ears but sometimes I don't understand a word.

Strachan McQuade R.I.P
Julie Adams(Flatulist)

McQuade: Welcome to Dead Man Talking, Ms Adams. You’re the first American to appear on our showcase slot. Better late than never, I suppose. Which funnily enough is exactly what I said halfway through the Second World War. From my notes I see you are a flatulist. I imagine that guarantees you a dressing room all to yourself when performing at concerts and the like. Do you eat special foods to achieve that windy state of maximum abdominal combustion? Or do you suffer with gall stones?


 Adams: Why Strachie sweetie, please wipe the fog off those glasses and you will see the word is 'flutist', not 'flatulist'. -Sigh- we flutists put up with such teasing and jokes. I have decided everyone is just jealous of the fact that we play the most beautiful instrument on earth. 


McQuade: My late wife often said I had the most beautiful organ. I played it in church every Sunday. Anyway, as our (so far) token American guest, I’d like to personally thank you for certain enhancements your country has kindly bestowed upon  the world. Among these I would list – The Sextant, Rock and Roll, Electric Light Bulb, Toilet Paper, Bubble Gum and Moon Walking. On the down side you also gave us Government Funded Terrorism and Hydrogen Bombs. As a representative of your country which two items of Americana are you most proud of? Before answering, take my sound advice and don’t list George W Bush as one of your choices. Or TV – as that was a Scottish invention.

Adams: Ah you are very welcome, though I think we'd have to share billing with the Brits for rock n roll. But Americans can claim full responsibility for jazz and for the electric guitar, both proud accomplishments. If I can choose a third it would be blue jeans.

McQuade: It’s a big election week over there in the States where Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are going head-to-head to see who gets the executive wash-room key for the Oval office. Which candidate are you backing? Personally I like Romney for no other reason than he reminds me of Darrin the good-natured but rather dim-witted husband in the old television series, Bewitched.


Is that the Kremlin on the line?
Adams: I was going to steer clear of religion and politics, but if pressed I'll have to say that I favor President Barack Obama. He is the fourth greatest thing invented by America. He has made great strides in just 4 years and I hope we have him for 4 more. Plus, President Obama can sing like Al Green, so I am in love with him. Now my state, Tennessee, is a red state which means that it is mostly Republican. I keep meaning to write a song entitled "I'm a Blue Girl Living in a Red State". We are all more alike than different, I think, and just hope we can all work together in peace.

McQuade: Some cynics (of whom I most definitely am one) would say Watson had an ulterior motive in scheduling your appearance on this high quality showcase feature. The motive in question being to give a nepotistic plug to the audio book of December, Phil Rickman’s classic tale of spooky going-ons involving a psychic folk-rock band named Philosopher’s Stone. It appears you played flute on the  CD entitled Abbey Tapes:The Exorcism from which selected music is being incorporated into the Isis audio book. Would you like to go ahead and shamelessly plug this merchandise? I’ll give you two minutes, starting now.


Adams: I love any chance to spread the word about the Abbey Tapes: The Exorcism album which came out last December. Phil's novel, December, was published in 1996 and had gone out of print despite being a sort of cult favorite among mystery and ghost story readers. As you may know, the novel includes bits of lyrics and song titles written by the characters Tom, Dave, Moira and Simon who recorded the infamous 'Black Album' tapes, able to melt stereo equipment and drive a listener to ruin. But Mansion House was publishing a new edition and Allan Watson and Phil Rickman, after the success of their Lol Robinson and Hazey Jane albums (music from the Merrily Watkins novels), decided to complete the Philosopher's Stone songs. You can read my article and see the album art and liner notes on my blog:

The songs are just gorgeous and won't drive you crazy, I'm living proof. (Editor – Really? I’m not fooled for a moment) The album includes a sort of surprise ending, adding an uplifting last chapter to the novel. Allan recruited friends on many continents to contribute to the music, including musicians in the UK, Germany and the US. That's me on flute and Cheryl Reid singing on 'The Comb Song', Moira's tale of the discovery of her powers handed down to her from her Celtic and gypsy heritage. That song figures in Phil's books The Man in the Moss as well as in December.Phil’s page has a song clip and buying info.

So this December the audio book version is due from Isis Publishing, read by Sean Barrett! We're all excited about that because 6 tracks from the album will be included in the audio, possibly the first of its kind ever. There's a clip from the audio book here:

 McQuade: (listening to Moira Anderson on his Walkman) Finished yet? Good. Here in the west of Scotland, playing the flute is associated with dressing up in a stupid uniform, getting drunk and playing tunes that commemorate a dreary battle in Ireland where someone in a wig pranced around on a white horse. Probably far too hot in Tennessee for that sort of nonsense. So what other flutey projects are you involved in?


Adams: Allan used a flute track in his beautiful song, 'Through a Whisky Glass Darkly' and I've sent him some tracks for some upcoming Candy Seance and Columbus Road cds he's doing, so I'm excited about that. It is a new experience for me just making something up  because I'd always had the music to read. But I do play by ear so it is a lot of fun. Allan is great to encourage his friends in their creative endeavors (Editor - yes he is, isn't he). My dream is to play live at a Hazey Jane II event. 

I also play in the jazz band at Tennessee Wesleyan College where I'm a librarian. We have about 8 students and 4 faculty members and we practice once a week and perform occasionally on and off campus. And I practice on my own, playing some exercises and classical stuff. You've got to learn that Mozart, Telemann, Debussy, and Bolling....

The lovely Kenneth McKellar
McQuade: Now as a last question - In my seminary days I cut quite a figure as a guitarist playing in a light-jazz combo, but my abiding admiration goes to the more traditonal canon of Scottish musical artists. Therefore in picking a supergroup to play with I would of course have Moira Anderson on vocals, Kenneth Mckellar on keyboards, Andy Stewart on drums, Callum Kennedy on electric bass and Stanley Baxter on lead guitar. If you could form a supergroup, Ms Adams, name four musicians you'd recruit. 

Adams:Hmmm since my interviewer is already on "the other side", I assume some of my supergroup can be as well, so I'll pick Richard Thompson, Nick Drake, Sandy Denny and Dave Swarbrick. Maybe you've met them, Strachan?

McQuade: Met them? Never even heard of them. What a waste of time that question was. Well, thank you for your time and trouble, madam. Despite some of your lacklustre answers I'd like to present you with this lawn mower to take home with you. I think there's possibly something is wrong with the motor as it hasn't worked for quite some time and was taking up room in my coal bunker. Well, that's put the Presidential election to bed. May the best man win (yawn). 

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Dead Man Talking # 5 - Bill Booker

 Strachan McQuade (deceased) interviews Bill Booker

Having experimented with various mind altering substances in my youth (Aspirin & Coca-Cola, toasted banana skins, Ear drops, Evostick, and then straight to Heroin) Bill Booker's excellent cult novel Trippers seemed right up my street. Not only did it give me vivid flash-backs to my own dalliance with tie-dye shirts and platform shoes while looking at the world through dilated pupils, it also had me scurrying to the attic to dig out some long forgotten vinyl gems like The Groundhogs, King Crimson, Syd Barrett, and Lieutenant Pigeon. Only problem with reading a book dealing with drugs is that you soon need to read another one, then yet one more. Only after booking myself into a rehab centre for psychedelic literature addicts and suffering through two weeks of cold turkey did I finally get my life back on track. The thing is - I now crave fresh cold turkey and don't even bother thawing out the horrible stuff before eating it. I thought Bill Booker would be an intriguing guest to share a spliff with but Strachan was streets ahead of me, this time pulling on a cheesecloth shirt made from actual Cheddar cheese and stuffing his pipe full of mixed spice. Peace and love, brother.

Strachan McQuade R.I.P
Bill Booker RIPPED

McQuade: Must apologise, Booker. I was intending asking to you to sign my copy of your novel, Trippers, but it seems someone has dropped a fried egg on the cover and it's now stuck fast. I tried soaking the book in hot soapy water for an hour then placing it on a hot radiator to dry out. But now the book is twice the size and all the pages are stuck together. Have any other of your readers suffered a similar problem with regard to unwanted fried eggs on the cover? 

Booker: Yours is the first report I've heard. There was a rumour going around in the Trippers Marketing Department that some wag had the idea to glue actual fried eggs to the covers of a select few units for promotional purposes. Needless to say this plan was scotched – or was it? The reply to my memo states that all concerned were too stoned to remember if one such combination had prematurely slipped out. As compensation I've asked for a freshly fried egg to be signed (by the Trippers Signing Department) and popped in the post to you almost kind of immediately. But maybe it's a jape from closer to home? Of course, it's possible you simply mistook the printed smiley egg on the cover for the real thing, in which case perhaps you should check the batteries in your varifocals?

At this point I would remind you that the 'fried egg and chips' motif symbolises the greasy caff where we grounded ourselves and contemplated stuff, e.g.: 'We felt we were part of a wider community that must surely exist “out there”, that we had something special between ourselves. We were all brothers and sisters of a chosen generation, free in mind and body. We were The Semi-Secret Fellowship of Freaks.' And 'Benighted minds control the media, spreading those fucking negative thoughts. Forecasting apocalypse, disseminating self-fulfilling prophesies.'

McQuade: Who’d have thought fried eggs could attain such deep and mystical symbolic status? Not me, that’s for sure. Now, as a man of the cloth it goes without saying that I am opposed to any sort of mind-altering experiences, possibly with the exception of self induced religious rapture where sometimes I’ve been known to speak in tongues and handle large snakes. The Moderator of the Church of Scotland was rather irate at this experiment in charismatic chicanery and stormed into my church demanding an explanation and left just as quickly when a snake bit him on the foot. Poor fellow couldn’t play golf for weeks after that. Your novel, Trippers, however does seem to encourage people to lark around with dangerous psychedelic substances - as well as promoting food cooked in lard. Was this anarchistic credo of ‘Turn On/Get Fat & Spotty’ your motivation for writing this book? 

Booker: The first thing I'll say is that all religions have, at some time or another (usually at the inspirational stage), used psychoactive substances, commonly called entheogens these days (look it up in the back of Trippers), in order to experience altered consciousness and they have been the source of many religious visions and mystical philosophies (see Food Of The Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge: A Radical History of Plants, Drugs and Human Evolution by Terence McKenna and The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross by John M Allegro). 

McQuade: We don’t encourage long winded acknowledgements to source material here, Booker. Get on with it.

Booker: The second thing I'd like to point out is that in Trippers I make it very clear that psychoactive substances can be dangerous. Acid can give you a brain full of rats. Any chemical can give you mental dry rot: speed, booze, paint fumes... However, Trippers is mainly an account of the positive qualities of LSD; the popular press have always excelled at sensationalising the odd negative to the extent that ordinary god-fearing folk are so terrified they're afeared to even whisper its name, hence a balance is in order. Even so, this is by no means a tale of relentless drug taking, Trippers is also about friendship, self discovery and throwing up...

McQuade: I do hope there’s not a third part to this.

Booker: Thirdly, may I pick you up on your opposition to 'mind altering experiences'? The Christian concept of salvation is thought to be a state of altered consciousness, as is the stress-free state achieved in daily meditation... I refer you to the US-based Centre for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics which regards altering consciousness as a human right and is fighting any repression of this freedom on the Civil Liberties ticket.

A young Booker with disinterested woman
In view of what I perceive as your typically dogmatic attitude, may I suggest, Reverend McQuade, and I mean no disrespect to your innate selfhood or your eminent sanctity as an ordained cleric, that you indulge in a little introspective stocktaking, using the following statements as a springboard? (Editor – How I wish he would)

Automata are usually complex mechanisms operating on very simple principles. You are a simple mechanism operating on decidedly Cartesian Dualistic lines where the 'deus ex machina' in your case is a malevolent hypocrite presenting itself as a golem. Would you argue that you are more than a construction of coat hangers or old bones and parchment due to the 'living' spirit that indwells – or is it the draught blowing through your bent wires or osseous matter that gives you a semblance of life? (Editor – Got McQuade down to a tee there, Bill)

Incidentally, the old 'physical and non-physical' or 'matter and spirit' debate is irrelevant here, so don't take on about it, Rev, it's just for ease of communication. It all boils down to energy (or in your case, glue), whichever way you cut it, possibly infused with intelligence or possibly not.

So what if ‘Turn On/Get Fat & Spotty’ was my motivation for writing the book?

Lastly, I apologise for giving the impression that I was promoting food cooked in lard, that was completely unintended. Maybe I should've made it clear that we only consumed that greasy muck because it was cheap and we liked it.

McQuade: (Rustling of newspaper) Sorry, wasn't really listening. Too busy reading an interesting item about faith healing chiropodists in the Congo. Verrucas vanquished using Voodoo. So where were we? Ah, couldn’t help noticing on your website that the video trailer for Trippers includes a track called Trippers Blues provided by that rip-off merchant Watson. You do realise that he simply taped a song off ‘The Shadows 20 Golden Greats’ and then re-recorded the tape backwards before passing it off as his own work. Hopefully you can still stop the cheque. There does also seem to be a great deal of emphasis placed upon music in Trippers. Why did you feel it was so important to mention so many bands of the era in which the book is set. Was it a case of simply drying up and needing to pad out the book?

Booker: That's a relief! After 600ug of pure Sandoz it sounds exactly like the Shadows. A wonderful composition! Shame on Watson all the same... The cheque's in the bin.

Music was (and is) inseparable from all parts of life. In those days we only had vinyl to play and buying an album was always quite an occasion. I didn't own many albums as there was no need since I spent more time in other people's houses and flats than I did at home. If someone had Led Zep I and II but not III, I would buy that album. I would often leave a couple of LPs at someones place and borrow a couple of theirs – collections were more like lending libraries. There was so much listening enjoyment as well as studying the sleeves in minute detail... You have to remember also that apart from the music press, a patchy affair compared to today, and John Peel on the radio, there were few sources of information about bands and albums. Sometimes a record would have been released months before we heard about it. We would regularly go to Leicester Uni to see live music; it was cheap to get in and some great bands played there: just drop a tab and float away.

McQuade: Ahem…….. (looks pointedly at his watch)

Booker: There are many bands and songs featured in Trippers because the music infused that period with its own peculiar flavours and not to include them would be to leave out an important and essential aspect of the experience I wanted to communicate to the reader.

The mid-1960s to early 1970s was a time when some of the best music was made and recorded but back then we didn't know it, just took it for granted that those sublime standards of creativity and musicianship were eternal. Little did we know that the great fat arse of big business was about to sit on it...

McQuade: Just reading some of your promotional material and it says that you were highly influenced by Jacques Cousteau's ground breaking novel On the Road. Hmmm. Wouldn't have thought it comfortable walking for any distance wearing flippers and carrying a heavy tank full of oxygen. And if memory serves me right, I think both Bob Hope and Bing Crosby did that whole On the Road thing first. While you ponder this conundrum would you like a pickled walnut? 

Booker: Thank you, Reverend, I certainly would. If you could just toss it over... Got it! Oh, is this really a pickled walnut? It's furry...eight leg stumps...??? Erm, it may be those varifocals again. 

The novel you're alluding to was actually written by Jack Kerouac, one of the 'Beat Generation' and known for his 'stream of consciousness' prose. 'Highly influenced' is a bit strong, but I enjoyed the poetic aspects of his work. On the Road is about driving across America and, as the blurb says, Trippers is 'a very English Kerouac set to a 'Withnail & I' scale'. Really, apart from both novels featuring roads, there are few points of comparison. You're entirely correct, it might be said that Kerouac was influenced by the Road movies starring Bob and Bing: all but one were released several years before On the Road was published. Now I think about it, Trippers has as much in common with them as it does with Kerouac, that's to say again: very little.  

McQuade: I’m nipping out to the shops for some pipe tobacco, so why don’t you waffle on at great length about how much fun drugs can be for the intellectual classes. Back in a few minutes.

Booker, possibly on drugs
Booker: Briefly, an important element of psychedelic experience is the intensifying of sensual input and possibly a strong outreaching in order to grasp everything 'out there'; colours become ultra vivid, sounds acquire hitherto unheard clarity and fullness, the sense of smell expands and is able to analyse and appreciate previously unknown subtleties, touch is hyper-sensitised. Equally, this enhancement applies within the mind, super-psychic voyages are experienced in HD surround. One's cognitive faculty, the ability to 'connect the dots', can be so intensified that all thoughts run to infinity. The sum of this 'enlightening' cannot help do other than imbue the micro- and macrocosm with meaning, intrinsic meaning, the implication of special significance. An event, something spoken, a sight, a thought, the evening light, the sound of wind rustling leaves, a piece of music, all become snapshots of a greater whole, all encapsulated as moving scenes or tableaux or concepts inherent with meaning. If one is fortunate, there comes a ZAP! and all is known and understood - for a nanosecond – and after this has ebbed, its echoes remain forever. 

McQuade: That’s me back. Keep talking while I get my pipe lit.

Booker: In contrast with alcoholic beverages the differences are of scale and levels of consciousness, but not necessarily of quality – it depends on motivation and intention. What do you want to experience? 'In vino veritas'? The refreshing (or warming) glow of a pint or two of good ale? And George Bernard Shaw said, 'Whisky is liquid sunshine.' As for speed: 'Amphetamines: These are extremely dangerous drugs.' John Lilly, MD. It all hangs on what you want, but to really understand what you want you first need to know yourself.

Ah, er, Reverend, would you consider it ungentlemanly of me if I asked for another 'pickled walnut'? 

McQuade: Certainly. Here, have the whole jar. Much healthier for you than larking around with illegal substances and fried eggs. Thank you so much for your attendance. Please accept this tattered old Trilby hat I picked up in Cancer Research for 70p yesterday. I was going to keep it for myself but it seems to be infested with head lice. Now if you don't mind leaving, it's time for my nap. My man-servant Watson will see you out. And do be careful with the door handle. Sometimes due to magnetic induction it becomes linked to the... (loud zapping noise and painful scream)...... electricty mains. Erm... love the new hair style, Booker. 

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