Friday, 31 October 2014

Dr Walpurgis' Vault of Horror

I’ve made no secret of my enduring memory of Halloween 1992 the night Ghostwatch aired. But Halloween 1992 didn’t end there, far from it because another show debuted moments after. As the nation telephoned the BBC switchboard to complain and enquire about Sarah Green’s safety the rest of us were turning over to BBC 2 to watch an all-night Halloween marathon entitled Vault of Horror hosted by one* of Britain’s first TV horror hosts Dr Walpurgis. Created especially for the programme by novelist/ horror aficionado Kim Newman and portrayed by actor Guy Henry with makeup by Geoffrey Portass. In an article for the TV Times producer Nick Jones promised that Vault of Horror would, “Celebrate all aspects of the genre from films and TV to books and special effects ” and it was! It kicked off with the network TV premiere of George A. Romero’s Creepshow followed by an apparently newly restored cut of Curse of the Werewolf before ending with The Bride of Frankenstein! (They also showed Death Line and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein but my video recorder had run out of tape by that point). Vault of Horror must have been a hit because the Dr returned to our screens the following year (changing his name to Dr. Terror) continuing to introduce us to classic horror movies by means of introductions to camera or skits before fading from our screens in 1996.
I vowed to follow up my Ghostwatch painting (that features on both Rich Lawden’s Ghostwatch: Behind the Curtains documentary dvd and book(s)) with a bookend image devoted to the Vault of Horror, celebrating the wonderful Dr Walpurgis/ Terror and those wonderful movies that he introduced me to on that unforgettable Halloween. Many thanks to all involved with this show Happy Halloween!

Friday, 10 October 2014

New Comic! Slaughterhouse Farm #2

One of those ‘heads-up’ posts to say that Slaughterhouse Farm #2 is out now!
Just like the issue one, this issue was written by AJ Ballard and Matt Warner, lettered by Nikki Foxrobot and illustrated by yours truly. Pick up your issue at Hellbound Media’s stalls at Scardiff, Living DeadCon and Wales Comic Con! The first 50 issues come with an exclusive art print of the cover artwork. Already read it? Let them know what you thought either on their Facebook page or Twitter.

© Arfon Jones 2014. All images are copyrighted throughout the world.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Meet Darwin the Tortoise!

This post is long overdue, I have been so busy this past year that I haven’t had the opportunity officially introduce the ‘newest’ addition to our family. Ladies and gentlemen of the Internet I present to you, Darwin the Tortoise!
Having always wanted a pet tortoise the ambition was finally realised back in October 2013 when Mrs Jones treated me to an early Christmas present. Darwin (Other names considered were ‘Gamera’ and ‘Gustaf’ an obscurer reference for fellow Hammer Horror fans out there) is a Horsefields Tortoise (Agrionemys horsfieldii) and although Charles Darwin had nothing to do with this particular species of tortoise it is a name I have often associated with tortoises. The Horsefields Tortoise was actually named in honour of another naturalist, Dr Thomas Horsfield (1773-1859) founder of the Royal Entomological Society and the first assistant secretary of the Zoological Society of London in 1824. So our Darwin actually shares his name with TWO imminent naturalists! The Horsefields  (or Russian tortoise as they are more commonly known) originates from the Middle East, countries such as Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Iran, and some areas of North Western China favouring dry and arid regions of open landscapes. Being herbivores they feed by grazing and have a particular fondness for dandelion Horsefields are found further north than any other species of tortoise, owing to their ability to combat climatic extremes. What many books fail to mention however is that this species actually went a little further north than that…outer space! On September 18 1968 the Soviets sent Zond 5 on a lunar orbit. Making Zond-5 the first spacecraft to circle the Moon and return to land on Earth. Having spent a week in space the unmanned craft splashed down in the Indian Ocean, once retrieved the Russians revealed that the craft had contained wine flies, meal worms, plants, seeds, bacteria, and two Horsefields tortoises! The story goes that they lost around 10 percent of their body weight, remained active, maintained a healthy appetite and were reportedly able to breed afterwards. The tortoises would return to space in 1975, they spent a total of 90 days, 11 hours, 46 minutes onboard the unmanned spacecraft Soyuz 20 setting a duration record for animals in space! Bearing that factor in mind along with how tortoises are living fossils, having walked the earth for 200 million years, you will understand my fascination with these reptiles! Their association with humans keeping them as pets does not stretch so far back.

Although tortoises being kept as pets have been recorded as far back as the 17th century, its believed that they where more often used as food. The discovery of a 130-year-old tortoise leg bone at Stafford Castle in Staffordshire by Leicester University back in 2010 was cited as earliest archaeological evidence of a tortoise being kept as an actual pet in Britain. But its worth noting that the great "parson-naturalist" Gilbert White FRS (1720 –1793) was renowned for his devotion to his precious Timothy, the Greek Tortoise. White inherited Timothy from his Aunt Rebecca Snooke  who died in 1780 her husband, Henry Snooke purchased Timothy from a sailor in Chichester for half a crown, forty years before. Readers of White’s classic work The Natural History of Selborne (1789) will know that it documents the activities of the "old Sussex tortoise". White kept extensive accounts of his companion’s life and behaviour right up to his own death in 1793, Timothy outlived White by one year, having been kept in captivity for around sixty years, the shell was presented to the British museum of natural history, London in 1853. On the subject of naturalists with pet tortoises Charles Darwin’s name crops up once again as it was long been reported that he too had a pet tortoise, a single juvenile from James Island in the Galápagos in 1837. The fate of the tortoise had long been a mystery, with many believing that she had been transported to Australia. But when Harriet the tortoise (estimated to be 175 years of age) died in 2006 the Natural History Museum discovered that they in fact had Darwin’s “pet” all along having unknowingly had the tortoise in their collection all the time! Registration details previously undetected were located on the inner face of the lower shell informing researchers that the specimen had been registered to the British Museum collection in 1837 indicating that the tortoise had only lived for a few months. Thankfully not the case with another Timothy the Tortoise, former mascot on British naval ship HMS Queen. Not only was Timothy Britain's oldest resident but also the oldest Mediterranean Spur Thighed Tortoise in existence as it’s believed that he (later discovered to in fact be a ‘she’) was 160 years of age when he died in 2004! Discovered by Captain John Courtenay Everard of the Royal Navy, a relative of the 10th Earl of Devon. Timothy served as their mascot during the Crimean War and stayed aboard a succession of naval vessels before retiring to Powderham Castle in Devon, Southwest England in 1892. Cared for by the members of the Courtenay family, Timothy lived in the castle's Rose Garden wearing a tag that read, "My name is Timothy. I am very old - please do not pick me up" and was laid to rest in the grounds of the castle.
Someone recently asked if it was actually illegal to keep pet tortoises these days, its not. What is illegal is the trading of wild caught tortoises taken from their natural habitat. They are shipped in crates for several days without food and water causing an incredible amount of suffering.  Many are often infected with viruses or parasites so they not only die before reaching their destinations they also infect others. Darwin was purchased from reputable pet shop Timperley Aquatics, Altrincham who obtain their tortoises from Zoological International Ltd, the only U.K. distributor of 100% certified Ranched Horsfields. All tortoises sold by the company are captive bred by government approved breeders and all consignments comply with the regulations of livestock in transit. As previously mentioned Darwin has been with us almost a year and it certainly has been an fascinating one, he requires a lot of care and attention and what we loose in purring and stick fetching we gain in education (although he does wag his tail from time to time). Admittedly not the liveliest of pets, he certainly has a personality (stubbornness and inquisitiveness) and he is a delight to watch going about his day either eating his leafy greens or exploring the entire layout of the first floor of our home. Delighted with him, love him dearly. Thanks for reading!

© Arfon Jones 2014. All images are copyrighted throughout the world.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Ogwen River Festival 2014: Arm of the 'Swamp-Thing'

Saturday 4th I was invited by the Sculpture Circle to join their one-day exhibition at the Parc Meurig woods in Bethesda part of ‘Gwyl Ogwen’ an event promoting the natural environment and creative arts in the Bethesda area through working with the community and in partnership for local social and economic benefit. I couldn’t think of a better location to unveil the latest edition to be added to my collection of ‘Wonderment's and Atrocities’ the Arm of the Swamp-Thing! I love the 1982 Swamp Thing movie it appeals to me on many levels as its both a superhero AND monster movie. A wronged scientist turning into a mutant plant creature starring Louis Jourdan and Adrienne Barbeau written and directed/written by Wes Craven what’s there not to like? The scene that many remember is when Swamp Thing’s left arm is hacked by a machete, later on the down hearted Swamp Thing manages to use sunlight to grow a new arm and save the day. This piece, explains what became of the lost arm, it flourished! Made from Papier-mâché and clay on a frame made from twigs and string painted with acrylics.
Although I liked the colour of the first Swamp Thing in the movie I preferred Jim Wynorski ‘organic’ look in the equally enjoyable The Return of Swamp Thing and so tried to replicate it by applying roots, lichen, moss and flowers and real ivy (growing 2” during construction of the arm). A label was enclosed that read,
‘Arm of the Swamp-Thing’ Louisiana swamps, 1982
This arm is reported to have belonged to the legendary ‘Swamp Thing’ of the Louisiana swamps believed to have once been one, Dr. Alec Holland a developer of plant/animal hybrids at a top-secret bioengineering facility. It was reported that Dr. Holland actually ‘mutated’ into the legendary ‘Swamp Thing’ by his own formula during a scuffle at the facility when a terrorist group infiltrated it. A later encounter with the group resulted in the ‘Swamp Thing’ loosing his arm. Despite being severed the arm of the of the mysterious half man/ half plant creature continues to ‘live’ to this very day.

Thankfully the heavy rain we experienced the night before held off, and the arm was placed on a tree stump along the path. The woods lent themselves perfectly to the look and it was great seeing the public, made up of art lovers and families out for the day getting up close to the piece and examining the details before making their way along the walkway to seek out other works scattered along the pathway. During the day I was also able to catch up with my fellow collaborators from last year’s 'Hidden Worlds: Hidden Artists’ Exhibition Lisa Hudson, Harri Carmichael, and Lindsey Colbourne and meet many other creative folk and local talent. It was a nice tranquil setting and everyone seemed happy and impressed, as was I and I look forward to the next one and thank them for inviting me along.

© Arfon Jones 2014. All images are copyrighted throughout the world.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Monster Memories: The Alton Towers Haunted House: Return to Gloomy Wood

Around two years ago Mrs Jones and I were driving through Staffordshire when I noticed signs indicating the direction of Alton Towers theme park when by an amazing coincidence Classic FM started playing Grieg’s ‘In the hall of the mountain King’! (Unofficial theme of Alton Towers used for their advertisements) I noted the coincidence to Mrs Jones who was horrified that I associated Grieg’s finest with a theme park but presenter Nicholas Owen came to my defence when he enquired after the piece ended, “How many of you out there where thinking of Alton Towers during that?”  In truth, I actually associate ‘In the hall of the mountain King’ one particular Alton Towers ride, which opened back in 1992 The Haunted House! After an absence of 18 years I returned to Alton Towers last weekend and visited one of my old haunts.
I was a frequent patron of Alton Towers between 1991 and 1996 then I just stopped going. There was no particular reason for this I just never got round to a return visit. But as I stepped off the monorail I found that a great deal had changed over the past 18 years. Henry Hound was no longer there to greet guests, the Black Hole was gone (closed down in 2005). The Corkscrew Britain’s first giant corkscrew roller coaster (and the first roller coaster I ever rode on) was dismantled in 2008 (but I was pleased to see a section of it at least displayed outside the entrance plaza) and the Haunted House… still there! Or was it?

First time in the Haunted House
When the great John Wardley opened his new ride to the public in 1992 there was a massive amount of publicity surrounding it. Between various children’s television show segments and the aforementioned  ‘In the hall of the mountain King’ advertisement, with me being the monster fan that I was/am I yearned to experience the ride for myself! Then when it was announced that our school trip that year was to be Alton Towers I was ecstatic and insisted that the Haunted House be the first ride that my friends and I went on. As we joined the infamous queue line I took excessive amounts of photographs of the house and various humorous gravestones (but sadly not one of them came out). I have vivid memories of finally getting through the front door and standing in the Entrance Hall and Drawing Room before getting into the carriage. Various elements of the ride still reside, I recall the tunnel of doom making an impact on me and being over all impressed by the experience, and even being overwhelmed by the gift shop! I returned the following year, my brother in tow (alerting him as to where the ride photo was taken) and with each ride I would notice something different and although I hadn’t been on the ride since 1996 I still spoke fondly of it.

Apparently by 2002 the Haunted House's visitor numbers had slumped so Alton Towers decided on a re-theme the ride, adding laser guns to it and re-naming it Duel. I was so pleased to see the old house still standing, and now armed with a relatively good, digital camera with a zoom option I was finally able to take those detailed shots I was anxious to take 22 years earlier. As I walked in it was just like old times, many of the details that I had committed to memory were still in place (minus the portraits and I had completely forgotten about it having a slanted walkway!) Going in with a gun was strange (as strange as being able to simply walk in and not queue.) It was certainly the ride I remembered from my childhood only with little lights everywhere and zombies ‘jumping’ out. Apparently I ‘won’ scoring the most but we didn’t bother with an after ride photograph as a picture of myself zapping monsters with a big grin on my face with my wife and child sat next to me looking bored just looked silly. Admittedly, being the traditionalist that I am I didn’t care much for the ‘new’ features, but I understand that in order to survive the ride must adapt. I still love it though and hold it in high regard, why wouldn’t I? It’s classic! I hope these photos relive some pleasant memories for you.

Oh, by the way Mr Michael P Eley’s ‘Smoke and Mirrors: The Haunted House of Alton Towers’ book, an excellent read that I highly recommend!
© Arfon Jones 2014. All images are copyrighted throughout the world.


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