For the most part Holdstock carefully builds, then maintains, a creeping sense of edgy unease rather than venturing into full on horror, but there’s one point late on, where he creates an almost Lovecraftian vision of weirdness, to provide a genuine moment of skin-crawling alarm. This occurs when Stephen and Keeton reach an internal border within the wood, between one zone and another, a threshold marked by a peculiarly grotesque tree:
‘In the middle of the glade stood an imposing tree, its swell of foliage broad and dense, reaching close to the ground. On the far side, however…it was blighted and grotesquely parasitized. Its foliage was brown and rotting, and great ropes of creeper and sucking plant parasites like a net of tendrils…at times the tree quivered and great ripples of writing activity coursed down the sucker net, back to the tree line…The very ground itself was a mess of roots and bindweed, and strange sticky protusions that reached inches into the air and waved, as if searching for prey…’
To the left of the hostel, and contrasting with its lime-white walls, the soot darkened, red and yellow bricks of St Alban the Martyr, stretch up and up – in one direction forming the church’s hulking tower, in another eventually tapering into a gabled roof with turrets, topped with a crucifix – and just a little lower down, mammon’s TV aerial.
St Alban’s grand scale crammed into a tight spot, give this half-hidden Neo Gothic edifice an uncomfortably, squeezed appearance; like a fat parochial priest squashed into the corner of a Southern Train vestibule.
It doesn’t take much to make a familiar place unfamiliar. A change in the weather – rain, bright sunshine, or more dramatically, snowfall or fog can all do it. Smells too – who hasn’t found themselves aware of sniffing more consciously than normal when drains are blocked, or there’s a whiff of barbecue, bonfire or worse in the air?
And then of course there are a place’s distinctive sounds.
At the inaugural Balham Literary Festival, a gathering of Nature Writers, Landscape Writers and Writer writers came together to discuss the state of the natural world. Here’s my report on what I saw and heard.
Let’s say I was there.
In a hotel near three reservoirs for Wigan.
Let’s say I slipped out back on an unexpected walk,
on a circular path…
Norwood is yawning but awake: shopping, grabbing coffee, heading for breakfast, haircuts, workouts, dates. Watching Saturday unfold beyond the cemetery gates, it’s a little difficult to picture a time when almost none of this was there.
In 1837 London was growing rapidly and expanding at the edges. The city had an urgent need for space and not just for its living. Traditional city centre churchyards and dissenters’ burial grounds were full to bursting – the metropolitan dead also needed somewhere to go.
Brandon Hill aside, other hills in Bristol have their own distinctively languid charm and grace, such as Park Street, while a few are simply brutes.
One of these is the short and abrupt St Michael’s Hill, stretching from Upper Maudlin Street to Cotham. The lower slopes are dotted with attractive iron street furniture, step-work and historic buildings – including the pretty Colston Alms Houses – but don’t let these architectural gewgaws deceive you – it’s a bastard.