I’ve added a new link to the Blogroll, which I’m also including here: if you click on http://neill.oaxweb.net/ it will take you to the first web-site to be devoted to the works of the popular historical fiction writer, Robert Neill, famous for the novel Mist over Pendle, available to this day, treating of the background to the famous Lancashire Witch Trial of 1612.

The site is the inspiration of my colleague Ron Catterall, and will in due course become home to a revised set of my essays on Neill’s sixteen novels, but we are working towards putting together as much information as can be determined about Neill’s works, his life, his approaches to writing and supplementary information which we hope will interest, entertain and maybe even enlighten those who already love Neill’s work, as well as attract the interest of those who have yet to discover Neill’s books.

We’re in the early stages, so the site as it stands is very much a work-in-progress, but you’re welcome to visit straight away, and to browse the beginnings of our investigations. What’s more, if you have any information, or opinion on Robert Neill, his life and/or writing, or even if you have something you would like to see examined or explained further, please do get in touch: all contributors will be welcomed and you can contact me direct via arduous.publications@gmail.com.

For all of you who, like us, regard Robert Neill as the truly excellent writer he was, and who wish to see him propery celebrated in this digital age, we hope we can provide a worthy tribute. Join us.

 

 

 

 


Sandman Mystery Theatre  33-36. Dramatis personae: Matt Wagner (plotter), Steven T. Seagle (scripter), Warren Pleece (artist).
The curtain rises, the stage lights glow into life, an expectant audience hushes, its chatter diminished to a mere mumble.
There’s an indefinable air of ‘back to business’ about the next production, or rather back to ‘business as usual’. The Python – a soubriquet put forward, for once, by Hubert Klein – is a serial-killer, whose spree starts with a major New York financial figure, the corrupt, greedy, immoral and deeply unpleasant Emmett Beedle, who dies from a badly-crushed windpipe.
That’s enough for the Police to be put on priority, with Tony Burke (absent from The Hourman) leading an investigation that gets incredibly complicated when the second victim turns out to be a black cleaning woman, and the third a seedy drunk in a bar.
Needless to say, the Sandman is also in hot pursuit of a Bible-spouting killer who turns out to be hiding in plain sight, and once again he turns up just in time to save Burke from the killer’s hands. Though this time he’s sensible enough to tie the wop cop up with his own handcuffs to listen to the confession.
The killer, and the investigation, are routine things, almost procedural for the Mystery Theatre, enlivened by the inimitable Burke, still displaying all the worst hard-boiled traits of the pulp Thirties/Forties cop: the cleaning lady’s son has to be the killer and Burke’s unfiltered racial epithets are unrestricted as he intends to send the kid to the rockpile, even if he’s as innocent as Jesus. Only by seeing Burke as a product of his times can we stand to have him around.
But the play’s the thing and again the Mystery is but a backcloth for what Wagner and Seagle are about, which is the ongoing relationship of Wesley Dodds and Dian Belmont, a dance that has been playing out before our eyes since the first performance, but which has been the very centre of our perception since The Scorpion.
Because those looks that Guy Davis put on her face in The Hourman were a true indication that Wesley is blindly wrong to think that his love has only the self-same concerns as does he.
It’s subtly foreshadowed in the opening scene, as Wes and Dian leave a cinema after watching a Cagney movie: Dian’s eager to talk and Wes starts praising the film, but she’s talking about the newsreel, about the increasing threat of the Nazis in Europe. Then up pops Carol from The Vamp, with her… friend Nancy, chatting enthusiastically with Dian about the commercial for physical fitness maven, Jake Bonoir, whilst Wes stands aside, silent. Dian’s interested in improving her health, but Wes is contrary: yoga for him, not P.E.
And it’s like that at every turn. Dian goes with Carol, anxious to improve her physique, especially around her full hips, which the bi-sexual Carol sees as being very alright as it is. As does Wesley, or so we assume, but it’s Carol who has to say this to Dian. Dian talks about her exercise sessions, about the effect their having, how exhausting they are, but Wesley is not listening. All he can see, all he can think about, is the Sandman’s investigation, and with every unconscious slight, Dian feels it more.
The PE sessions are all part of the Bonoir method, which Bonoir has established out on the West Coast and is trying to bring to the East. It’s a tip of the head to the times, for Physical Fitness was a fad in the pre-superhero days, an element in the culture that assisted in preparing the way for physically perfect specimens in tight costumes, and Bonoir’s name is a tip of the hat to the most successful exponent of such programmes, Bernarr McFadden, the man behind Charles Atlas, ‘The World’s Most Perfect Man’.
It’s not difficult to see that Bonoir will turn out to be the Python: after all, we are looking for someone with great physical strength, strong enough to crush necks, but Klein’s fanciful insistence on suggesting that the effect required the crushing ability of an actual python derails the investigation by turning it towards another late Thirties fad, that of the Big Game Hunter.
Jungle John Barrows has an animal act that used to have a python. He’s a fake, a fraud on every level, except for one amusing sequence when the Sandman tries to put him under but the drunk-to-hell Barrows is more than agile enough to avoid capture. But all he is is a poor red herring, local colour, a means to extend the investigation long enough to make the play run the statutory four Acts.
Because Bonoir may be the villain, but he’s never onstage for any length of time as himself: dropping in to end of sessions to promote his ‘Way’ to the paying customers, plugging his Weekend Camp, that Carol persuades an unconvinced Dian into attending without telling her it’s also nudist. Until the confrontation scene, we only see Bonoir when he’s killing, to an accompaniment of strident Bible-talk, and his anonymity isn’t enough to keep the action going long enough for Wesley’s self-absorption to finally get under Dian’s skin.
So the Barrows sequence keeps the wheels spinning. Wesley narrates to himself, it being his turn to guide the story, oblivious to Dian’s growing dissatisfaction. Even when he tries to do something for the woman he loves, he gets it wrong: having ‘gone out’ when Dian was expected round, he comes home late to find her in the Sandman’s lair, patiently waiting for him, but fast asleep. So he covers her, rather than disturb her, and goes upstairs, putting himself into a warm, comfortable bed and leaving her in a hard chair…
Things start to build up. The issue of the Nazis is becoming a subject of concern to many: Burke doesn’t care, but Klein is emotionally rocked by news that relatives have suffered at Kristallnacht. Etta is settled in and enjoying her father’s company (even as Humphries works around Master Dodds’ secret), but Larry Belmont is as deep in the Python case as Burke, and even he is not there for Dian.
Carol makes a pass, misreading signals, though the two woman are entirely level-headed and civilised about the mistake, and the discovery about Bonoir being taken in whilst she’s away is the final catalyst for an abrupt decision.
Late in Act 3, Dian receives a letter from her old college friend Anne, or Lady Annabel Forbes-Whitten, as she now is in England. Annabel’s life may be unimaginably different (and reading between the lines decidedly alien) but she is secure in her happiness with the man she loves, and it is very much the case that Dian is neither. She isn’t secure in that tiny, constricted life she has with the pre-occupied Wes, nor in her ignorance of the wider world beyond, a world under clouds dark and growing darker.
And abruptly she leaves. An extended visit to England, no return ticket. Only a letter to Wesley that he receives when he is ready to pay to her the genuine attention he should have done all along though Dian specifically absolves him of blame for her departure.
It’s a finale that only whets the audience’s desire to know more, but before we leave our review of this performance, a couple of things must be mentioned: that Etta is allowed a little more time in support, expressing her admiration for Master Dodds’ firmness of purpose and mentioning off-handedly friends she has made who have influenced her thinking: and that after losing his microphone in Burke’s office, Wesley dresses up as a foreign janitor to eavesdrop whilst ‘cleaning’ Burke’s office.
But we cannot leave without making proper mention of our guest set-designer, Warren Pleece, who provides our first significantly different vision of the Mystery Theatre since R. G. Taylor two years earlier. Like John Watkiss, Pleece is a British artist, one of a pair of brothers who started in fandom  when I was getting involved there (though I never knowingly met either).
Like Taylor, Pleece makes no attempt to duplicate Davis’ command of the Thirties milieu, preferring to use a rough, almost blocky style that is deliberately 2D, and which is heavy on atmosphere rather than detail. David Hornung uses a narrower colour palette, darkening most scenes and allowing the black-and-white film trailer that makes up page 1 to dictate the overall look of the play. I don’t wish to be unfair to him when most of the problem is that he simply isn’t Guy Davis, but I find his work drab and dull, with a deliberately heavy style that leadens the whole work.
As for the Python himself, whilst the links between his victims are eventually spelled out, and are entirely logical, if diverse, we are left to construct for ourselves his motives, or rather the madness of his motives, which are suggested as having a pyscho-sexual underpinning that reverses the incestuous Albert-Celia Goldman relationship in The Tarantula. The shape is delivered, the Bible-obsession is tied in, yet in his madness as in his exterior life, Jake Bonoir never exists as more that an outline.
It’s a sad assessment on which to end the third year of Sandman Mystery Theatre, though one failure in nine productions is still a good standard. But though this was not known at the time, we were halfway through the life of our dramatic entertainment. The end was nearer than the beginning, now.
The lights dim. The curtain falls. The actors retreat beyond the proscenium arch, to await their next call to performance, in a touring edition of Sandman Midnight Theatre.
Break a leg.


Blimey. No sooner do I publicly drop my season-long support for Beleagured David Moyes than the news breaks that the poor sod is going to get the push. If I’d known I had power like that…

Actually, it’s not happened yet, though the world and his little dog Toto is convinced that it’s only a matter of formalities. Everybody’s got the same story, suggesting either an ‘official’ Club leak, or one very busy source, but nobody, least of all Mr Moyes, is going around denying it.

But, unless it’s all some elaborate – and extremely satisfying – scam, set up to expose the footbll press for the scumbag vultures they’ve been all season (which would only work if Moyes were suddenly to do a phoenix-from-the-flames impersonation of Alex Ferguson circa 1999) it’s a done deal.

The word is Giggs as caretaker manager, so we know who’ll be first name on the teamsheet for the last threegames, or however many it takes to get him his record-preserving goal that cements him as the only player in the whole of human history to score in 22 consecutive Premiership seasons (actually, 21 is way more than anyone else is ever going to do, but it is a kind of bummer if you drop the ball at the last hurdle, as a comprehensively mixed metaphor would have it).

Sorry, Davey lad. It was a mistake, on everybody’s part. At least you’ve got a colossal pay-off coming your way. And if it was because of anything I said…


Oh my goodness, that was squeaky bum time for real! I was at Gigg Lane for what may yet be the last game FC United of Manchester plays there (until they return as the Visitors) and what an experience that was. A goal down inside sixty seconds, a second from an atrocious defensive mix-up, playing with the same disjointedness and ineptness as MUFC yesterday and looking as likely to make a comeback as David Moyes’ men.

But Karl Marginson’s team have got more to them.First, leading scorer, and Supporter’s Player of the Season, Tom Greaves rammed the ball home after 65 minutes, and ten minutes later, Mike Norton (he who scored that winner at Rochdale) punted the ball in to level it, and then would you believe it, virtually on the tick of half-time, sub Greg Daniels rose to head in a corner and 3,056 of us went bananas at the win.

But it’s all down to the last weekend, and the last round of games. Needless to say, Chorley (1st) and Fylde (3rd) also won, comfortably, 4-0 and 5-0 respectively, the latter giving Fylde a G-D advantage of two goals over FC.

So it’s Chorley 94 points, FC 93 and Fylde 90. FC go away to 14th place Barwell, Fylde entertain 10th place King’s Lynn Town and Chorley visit Buxton – the team that put a crimp in our late season run of wins – who are 13th. Well, they owe us, so now’s the time to deliver.

Whatever anyone else does next Saturday, FC have got to deliver a win. If that happens, the worst that can happen is 2nd place: a home Play-Off semi-final against Ashon United (again) on Tuesday 29 April and, hopefully, a home Final on Saturday week (when I’m off duty and can go again) against the winners of Fylde or Witton.

If we slip up at Barwell, a draw will still secure 2nd but a defat might let Fylde in to push us down to 3rd. That would mean a home semi-final against Witton, but the Play-Off final would only be at home if Ashton beat Fylde: otherwise its the seasiders who will enjoy home asvantage.

But if Chorley slip up, if they so much as only draw at Buxton, an FC win would take the title, would mean automatic promotion, would mean the Skrill Conference North next season. The dream is still on. I just hope that, next Saturday, I’m not on an inbound call when the results flash up…


Ok, I give in. I’ve been loyal all season, I’ve been patient. I’ve tolerated what has been happening at Manchester United, because I’ve long expected it, because I’ve been convinced that our success of the last three seasons has been based on the ability of Sir Alex Ferguson to conjure results out of a squad that, in so many areas, has just not been good enough.

I’ve backed David Moyes for many reasons. Because I trusted Ferguson’s judgement in choosing a manager to build upon what we had. Because I believed that, given proper time and the chance to build his own side, he could succeed. Because I wasn’t the kind of shallow fan who started screaming the moment we struggled for the first time. Because I didn’t believe we were entitled to be top of the pile forever. Because the mighty and blatant anti-Moyes, anti-United agenda of the press, decided upon before the season started and continued by blatant lies and fact-twisting, got right up my nose. Because United don’t turn on their managers like that, don’t tip them overboard at the first sign of trouble.

Like I said, I’ve been loyal. And now I’ve crossed over. NowI’m giving up and adding my voice to the chorus of Moyes out.

The catalyst was, naturally, this afternoon’s game away to Everton, which ended in a 2-0 victory for the Merseysiders, and which could have ended double that score without United having any grounds for complaint.

The biggest single factor was that this was Everton, the club David Moyes managed for 11 years, successfully so given their current status and their limited financial resources in comparison to the Premiership’s leading teams. It was Past vs Present, a team still solidly comprised of the players Moyes bought or brought through, vs a team still solidly the creation of Alex Ferguson, with only one Moyes-introduced player in the fourteen that featured.

Moyes’ team are now under the control of a manager whose track record in the League involved taking a Premiership club into relegation, albeit just after winning the FA Cup. Ferguson’s team are now under the control of David Moyes. Everton were, by far, the more committed, enthusiastic, disciplined, tactically aware, faster (mentally and physically) and determined team on the pitch. United dominated possession, but in safe areas, with no penetration into scoring positions, let alone actual shots. They played an intricate, sometimes elegant, short passing game that, no matter how quickly the ball was laid-off, made forward progress a slow motion affair, giving Everton ample time to build a defensive formation that offered no gaps through which passes might be made.

Not that it would have been any different had there been any gaps, since for the first hour United played without a striker. They were supposed to have Wayne Rooney in that role, but Rooney is having no truck with that kind of fucking nonsense. No matter how well Mata and Kagawa performed, building intricate little triangles, finding spaces close to the penalty area, they had no-one to pass the ball to, because Rooney lacked any sense of discipline, continually wandering all over the field, getting in their way but primarily leaving them with no-one to pass the ball to!

Only when Hernandez came on as a substitute did United finally have a striker looking for the ball in front of goal. Then, with twenty minutes left, two goals behind and in need of scoring soon if there were to be any prospect of saving something from the game, Moyes introduced a second striker, Danny Wellbeck, but insisted on himplaying on the right wing, and ot getting anywhere near goal.

Add to that such things as allowing Nani to remain on the field for an hour when he had long since proved that the only aspect of his once considerable skills that he still possesses is that which sees him tumble artistically to the ground and take himself out of play for minutes on end whilst he sulks that the referee hasn’t bought it.

Yet Rooney was allowed to remain on the pitch for all its overlong 90 minutes, despite the fact that he was never where he ought to be and in fact was everywhere else, that he lost the ball to an Everton player every single time he tried to take it past him, that he quandered United’s only two serious chances of scoring, the first by simply not trying to shoot but gyrating mindlesly in the hope he wou;d create space whenhe had miserably failed to do so to that point in the match, and the other, far too late in the game to matter, by simply not being smart enough to kick the ball past the keeper instead of against him.

I did not believe at any time that United had any chance of scoring, not if the game were continuing yet, the floodlights switched off, the Everton team blinded and united playing in infra-red night vision goggles. Moyes does not know what to do. He has never known what to do. And he has yoked our future to the over-inflated ego and the self-indulgent mindset of the World’s worst World Class Player I have ever known.

So make room for me, I’ve come across. Moyes out, preferably on the back of Rooney. We would have been far better off going for Roberto Martinez ourselves: hell, it’s looking like a bad idea not to have at least considered Tony Pulis.

And it’s now only a matter of time before Liverpool win the League. We went 26 years without, 1967 to 1993, and it has long been my insistence that Liverpool HAD to go at least 27. For it to have got to 24, to have got so close and slipped in under the wire, and for it to be in this season will be the ultimate dagger-through-the-heart pain, no matter how dulled I am to things now.


Yesssss!!!!!!!!  Get in there!!!!!!!

It’s been a good day for FC United of Manchester. Despite conceding a 3rd minute goal at Stamford, the Reds fought back to a 3-2 win, keeping them well in the hunt on 90 points with two to play. Better yet, leaders Chorley could only manage a 1-1 draw at Whitby Town, cutting the gap at the top to only one point, and third place AFC Fylde – same points, same goal-difference, fewer goals – were beaten 2-1 at home by Grantham Town, to keep them on 87 points. The only other top 4 winners were Worksop Town, who also pulled out a 3-2 win, at home to Blyth Spartans.

So, Chorley 91 points from 44, FC United 90 from 44, Fylde and Worksop 87 from 44, with Fylde the better goal difference (and FC having scored their 100th League goal of the season with the first goal today, and are now the second highest scorers after Witton).

I still can’t honestly see Chorley dropping points against Marine on Monday, whilst we’ll have a handful with Ashton United (although their win and Skelmersdale’s defeat have guaranteed their Play-Off place, unless Skem can turn around a 20 goal GD advantage in their last two games). But, provided we don’t blow that game, which, being at Gigg Lane, I plan to attend, that should guarantee 2nd place, and pole position for the Play-Offs.

And then it’s all down to what happens seven days from now…

Squeaky squeaky.

 


The disastrous season Manchester United have had has left me in the highly unusual situation of having nothing to care about at the end of the season. The last time this happened was the nearly-forgotten season of 1990/91, the penultimate season of the old Football League, when United, despite improving dramatically from the year before’s 13th place and the threat of relegation for most of the season – and you call 7th a disaster? – only finished 6th, a place behind the Bitter Blues for the first time in over a decade, and the last time until their last lick goal-difference miracle in 2012.

Of course, it wasn’t a truly bleak season, since the Reds were heading off to Rotterdam, and a rendezvous with Barcelona in the European Cup-Winners Cup Final, and Sparky’s two goals, and Sunbed’s goal-line clearance in the 89th minute.

This year though, there’s nowt to look forward to except my fervent prayer that anyone – and I even include the Bitters in this – win the Premiership except Liverpool.

But let’s leave that contentious, and potentially highly painful, topic and remind ourselves that football goes on in other realms than the artificial world of the Premiership.

Every now and then I’ve been bringing you bulletins about life at the bottom of the Evo Stik Northern Premier League Premier Division and the embarrassing/horrifying/amusing (delete to taste) experiences of Droylsden FC, long since condemned to relegation to First Division North (level 8 of the Pyramid, and the lowest level at which the club has played in its existence). It’s been car crash fascination with the Bloods, who are firmly in the Bust cycle of the Boom that peaked with their solitary year in the Conference Premier Division.

But most of the time my eyes have been directed much further up the table, of FC United of Manchester, the team formed by and for fans of Manchester United who found the 2005 takeover of the Old Trafford club one piece of commercialisation too far. FC was created as a Friendly Society, a members club that cannot be sold, and which exists to remind us of the old values of football, the joy of backing your own, and the true place of football at the heart of a community.

Needless to say, FC’s existence has always been controversial, but the comparatively massive level of its support enabled the club to get off to a flying start, with three years of unrelieved promotion getting them into the Northern Premier League Premier Division as early as 2008/9. The club has always been competitive at this level, and indeed has been the losing Play-Off Finalist in each of the last three seasons (the cruellest blow coming in 2012, when the Club lost 1-0 to Bradford Park Avenue, the goal coming in the last minute of extra-time).

This year, the club has spent virtually all its ime in the top half of the 24 tean Division, flirting with the fringe of the Play-Off places, until the beginning of February, when FC started a run of 12 consecutive League victories, that took them to the top of the table, in direct competition with Chorley for the League title, and automatic promotion.

Throughout this period, FC had the advantage both of games in hand on Chorley, and a superior goal-difference. And beating Chorley 1-0 away was a massive boost to FC’s ambitions. That is, until Droylsden took an unexpected hand in the destination of the title. Their 13-1 crash at Chorley reversed the goal-difference advantage, giving Chorkey a lead that, in practical terms, was unassailable. It was like their having an extra point: even if FC won their remaining game in hand, and drew level on points, Chorley’s goal difference would keep them ahead.

Unfortunately, FC’s streak ran out. The return game at Gigg Lane was almost a disaster, with Chorley taking a 2-0 lead, until a dramatic two goals in three minutes, very late on, brought FC back to claim a point. Then FC were beaten at home last Saturday by perennial bogies, Buxton, though they bounced back to win their game in hand, trouncing Grantham 3-0.

So: it’s Easter weekend. ThePemiership may have forgotten old traditions that favoured the fans, but they’re alive in the Evo-Stik League: there are full programmes on Easter Saturday and Easter Monday, and the final round of games is six days later, Saturday 16 April. It’ll all be known then: who goes up, who goes into the Play-Offs. It might well be over for FC United by theend of Monday.

Currently, Chorley top the table with 90 points and a G-D of 62. FC are second, on 87 points and a G-D of 51. AFCFylde are also still contenders, also on 87 points with a G-D of 51, but FC are placed above them having scored 9 goals to Fylde’s 90. Technically, the title is not beyond fourth place Witton Albion (84 points, G-D 34, and the League’s highest tally of goals, 116) but realistically, they should be looked on as a threat to second place.

Tomorrow, Chorley are away to 12th place Whitby Town, and on Monday at home to 20th place Marine, still in danger of filling the last relegation place. FC are at 15th place Stamford tomorrow, and entertain 5th place Ashton United on Monday. Fylde host 16th place Grantham Town on Saturday and visit 6th place Skelmersdale United on Monday, whilst Witton go to 14th place Barwell tomorrow and face 7th place Rushall Olympic at home on Monday.

To be honest, short of miracles, I can’t see Chorley dropping points in either of their games, especially not on Easter Monday, which puts the onus on FC to win both games. I mean, they know that anyway, it’s got to be three-out-of-three, whatever Chorley do, but if FC drop a point this weekend – and the Ashton game is going to be tough, since they’ll be desperate to maintain their Play-Off place – then the title is gone.

Fylde also have one ‘easy’ and one ‘hard’ game this weekend, but Skelmersdae are a different propisition to Ashton: they were contesting the title themselves until about six weeks ago, since when a results freefall has left them at risk of missing even the Play-Offs: anything less than matching Fylde’s record sees FC drop to third.

And the consequences of dropping out of second are serious. FC are guaranteed a Play-Off place already, but second is imperative as this will ensure home advantage in both semi-final and final, which FC have never had before, usually creeping in in 5th.

I haven’t minded FC’s years in the Evo-Stik Premier. The club needed to consolidate, to establish itself, rather than skyrocket too far too fast. But three years of PlayOff Final disappointment is at least one too many, and the time is ready to take that next step up in level, especially with FC United on course to start the 2014/15 season in their own grouns, the under-construction Broadhurst Park, in Moston, closer to Manchester United’s roots as Newton Heath.

It’s squeaky bum time, as a former Manchester United manager once put it. This may all seem remote to you, and of no imprtance whatsoever, but having had years of experience in Non-League football, I can assure you that the passions are the same, the stakes as important, and the disappointments as crushing. Manchester United have nothing left to play for, but FC United of Manchester have everything to play for, even if the reward is ‘only’ to move to within two levels of the Football League.

‘I don’t care about Rio/he don’t care about me/all we care about/is watching FC’.