Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Theme Time : Alan Hawkshaw - Dave Allen At Large

Following last night's charming Dave Allen documentary on BBC2, here's the iconic theme tune to his shows. Composed by Alan Hawkshaw it's called Blarney Stoned.




Vicious and The Job Lot

For the past eight Mondays ITV (or ITV1 as it occasionally seems to want to call itself) has had the nation hooked on Broadchurch, a whodunnit that focused on the murder of a teenage boy in a small seaside community, it starred the National Treasure that is Olivia Colman and a surprisingly good David 'Hollywood aren't returning my calls' Tennant.

Even now, I will lay bets on it being one of, if not the, stand out drama of 2013.

It firmly put ITV back on the map in terms of contemporary drama. 

Now filling the Monday night at 9pm gap that Broadchurch has just vacated, ITV hope to put themselves on the map for sitcom (something they have never had a great track record with, except for maybe Rising Damp and Shelley - two sitcoms that have links with these new ones; Rising Damp sharing Frances De La Tour with Vicious and Shelley about a man who claims benefit, The Job Lot being about a benefit office) with two new half hour comedies; Vicious and The Job Lot.



Vicious stars Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Derek Jacobi as Freddie and Stuart, an old gay couple who have spent the past 48 years living together and bickering. Constantly. Written by Will and Grace's Gary Janetti and playwright Mark Ravenhill, it breaks new ground in that it is the first time a homosexual couple have been at the fore of an ITV sitcom. However, that's all that is new about it; as Vicious is wonderfully reassurringly old fashioned. Filmed before a studio audience that has been helped by laughter of the canned variety, it's very theatrical and stagey, perhaps reflecting the fact that McKellen's Freddie is a failed act-or dahling and helped by the leads actual theatrical credentials. In fact I can imagine this scoring much better as a stageplay than a weekly sitcom. In lesser hands this would be a groan inducing affair, it's set up so old to have no relevance. But with McKellen and Jacobi it actually works and the ball they're clearly having alongside a cast that includes Rising Damp's Frances De La Tour is positively infectious. I laughed. And that's more than I can say for Ben Elton's BBC1 Shitcom The Wright Way.

Perhaps inevitably there have been some complaints and very negative reviews. Christopher Biggins, the gay actor, has claimed that it is stereotypical and may cause offence; a criticism that to me sounds like sour grapes that he wasn't involved and seems to ignore the fact that it is placing gay characters in the lead for once. There have even been snipes at the old fashioned set up, including one petty comment that the characters have a land line phone rather than a mobile. Seriously, these people are old age pensioners, perpetually living in a bygone time of their own devising (they don't even open the curtains to the world beyond as we saw in one funny scene in which their new neighbour did just that, sending them scuttling off into the kitchen like vampires) why wouldn't they have a land line?!

Vicious  may be old fashioned, campy, hammy, OTT and a touch out of place on TV, working better on stage perhaps, but it put me in mind a little of Withnail and I, Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf and Staircase. Ignore the critics, I'll definitely be tuning in for more.

The Job Lot on the other hand put me in mind of things much closer to home, namely my past.


Let me explain; for six years of my life in my twenties, I worked in jobcentres. I could have wrote The Job Lot and actually, all modesty aside, I could have wrote it a damn sight better. In the first few minutes I received a handful of text messages all saying the same thing, as well as comments like 'is Russell Tovey's character based on you?'

If Vicious is a throwback to 1970s sitcom settings where the com is firmly of the sit variety, then The Job Lot is a throwback to The Office. Indeed it labours with some difficulty under the shadow of Gervais and Merchant's masterpiece because it's so similar. It's not The Job Lot's fault it cannot measure up to that genius, The Office has ruined any clerical based sitcom to come after it, but it is a fault that Tovey's character, a likeable everyman stuck in a dead end job watching his dreams get quashed by the second, is essentially Martin Freeman's Tim. So similar is he that I almost expected him to look straight to camera and sigh.

The Office came out in the early 00s when I actually worked in the jobcentre. At that time myself and the colleagues around the same age loved it. It spoke to us. It was just like working at the jobcentre. The Job Lot on the other hand isn't. That's not to say it isn't realistic, at times. I've had the misfortune to work alongside a few middle aged jobsworths like Angela, skivers who use the rulebook to excuse them from work or empathy, and I certainly know how Tovey's character feels, but in other respects it was just far fetched. Yes the stupid bureaucracy means that to make a claim you have to ring a number from the office you want to claim in (something that never made sense to me even when I worked there) but that number directs you to a regional office that handles new claims, not the very office you're stood in. Local jobcentres don't put on work based classes either. Would that they did.

Ultimately the downside to The Job Lot was that there simply wasn't enough laughs. From my experience I know how ridiculous working in such a place is, and I can recall many funny stories - as well as downright terrifying stressful ones. But then maybe the real downside is as I say I'm too close to the subject matter both in my past and also my present; currently being too sick to work and struggling with the red tape benefit claims inevitably throw up at you.

Out On Blue Six : Laura Marling

New one from the divine Laura. Album out at the end of next month. I like how this riffs on Dylan's It Ain't Me Babe


End Transmission


Save Bray Studios!





Please take the time to sign this petition to save the legendary Bray Studios of Hammer fame from redevelopment.

savebraystudiospetition

There's also a blog here

Monday, 29 April 2013

Taking The PIF : The Finishing Line


Another terrifying, sobering and darkly subversive PIF.

This one sees a child daydreaming about playing games on the railway lines becoming an inter school sports day event, with the inevitable tragic consequences played out before our eyes amidst the tannoy announcements of the headmaster, the crowd of spectators and the brass band seemingly immune to the horrific loss of infant life - they're just the losers, leaving the survivors to take the prizes.

It's funny seeing younger people's reactions to classic 70s PIFs today, as they're by and large disgusted. The Nanny State wouldn't allow our mollycoddled youth to see the facts so bluntly spelled out for them nowadays. Thankfully I was in this generation who knew to dick about led to severe consequences.

Excellent cinematography by Harry Waxman here too, capturing the sunny day surrealism beautifully, like a hazy waking dream/nightmare. The final scene in which the battered and broken small bodies of the losers who paid with their lives are laid out on the track by the adults whilst the band play 'The Last Post' really lingers in the memory.



Bumday


Taking The PIF : Apaches

Apaches (1977) was a half hour feature directed by John Mackenzie (later of The Long Good Friday fame) for the COI, the department that liked to terrify.

It's a sober and queasily shittifying doom watch of a PIF concerning a group of infants who, playing innocently games like Cowboys and Indians and Starsky and Hutch on farm land, ignore all safety precautions and ultimately succumb to a variety of gruesome deaths.

This PIF is quite iconic and rightly so, Sharon's screams will haunt me forever and I'm sure many feel the same


Sunday, 28 April 2013

Theme Time : Survivors - Anthony Isaac/Edmund Butt

Ominous and epic, Anthony Isaac's composition for the original Terry Nation series of Survivors perfectly set the scene for a show about a pandemic wiping out all but 1% of the population.



Like a lot of great theme tunes this was also accompanied by a great credit sequence, which you can see below. A cack handed Chinese scientist drop a test tube full of a lethal chemical. Said scientist then flies out to Russia, collapses and dies, and the virus has gone global, as depicted by the stamps in a montage of passports.


The remake of the show in 2008 also had quite a strong theme tune from Edmund Butt, but as good as it is, its somehow less iconic than the original


Isy Suttie's Love Letters

Ok, this is a recommendation for anyone comically inclined to tune into Radio 4 on Tuesday night at 6:30pm, and at that time every Tuesday for the next 4 weeks, and listen to the beautifully funny programme Isy Suttie's Love Letters



The show had originally aired on Radio 4 Extra this past month, and I've loved every one of them. Isy is a really funny storyteller with a knack for that most difficult of beasts; the comedy song, in a manner not too dissimilar to greats like Victoria Wood and John Shuttleworth.

Here's what Radio 4 has to say about the show

Isy Suttie (Dobby from Channel 4's Peep Show and double British Comedy Award nominee) returns to BBC Radio 4 with these unique tales, recounting a series of love stories affecting people she's known throughout her life, told partly through song.

Sometimes Isy has merely observed other people's love lives; quite often she's intervened, changing the action dramatically - for better or worse. Interwined within these stories are related real life anecdotes from Isy's own, often disastrous love life.

With her multi-character and vocal skills, plus her guitar, Isy creates a hilarious and deeply moving world, sharing with us her lessons in life and love.

And yes...


...Yes I am ;)


Saturday, 27 April 2013

Out On Blue Six : Annie Lennox


End Transmission



Protect and Survive



This week, how to take a dump in your bijou fall out shelter. Yes, they're talking even more shit than usual in this Protect and Survive


Now wash your hands, and don't have nightmares

Coriolanus (2011)






This is a largely enjoyable modernisation of one of Shakespeare's timeless tragedies (I would say it's a generally lesser known or appreciated work yet I believe TS Eliot rated it higher than Hamlet no less) helmed by first time director Ralph Fiennes who equally and impressively takes centre stage before the camera as Coriolanus.

The film preserves the setting of Rome in all but name; it is clear that Fiennes is really concerning himself with the Bosnian conflict of recent years. With his Coriolanus and Brian Cox's Menenius mirroring the relationship of Arkan and Milosevic. The atmosphere and setting is truly gripping, the crumbling granite of war zones beneath grey portentous skies bearing witness to Shakespeare's original dialogue between moments of Black Hawk Down style action.




Despite there being much to enjoy there is also some truly head scratching judgements too, largely in the casting. I had heard reservations about the casting of James Nesbitt, but since his character, Sicinius, is meant to be a smug self promoting weasel I didn't see that as too much of a problem. No, my main complaint was casting Gerard Butler as the leader of the Volscians Aufidius - essentially representing the Bosnian rebels of that conflict - a one note actor whose presence cannot hope to match the incendiary performance from Fiennes and so their circling of one another always seems somewhat ill matched. Worse, his ever 'reliable' mangled vocal delivery does much to destroy and make incoherent both the text's subtle nuances and most powerful statements.

Still, there is far more reliable and staunch support from the likes of Vanessa Redgrave who is utterly jaw dropping as Fiennes mother, the aforementioned Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, Paul Jesson, John Kani etc and even Channel 4's Jon Snow pops up - That was fun! I can well imagine this enlivening English lessons in schools up and down the country.



Theme Time : Ronnie Hazelhurst - Sorry!

If like me you were the kind of kid in the 80s who sat in front of the TV taking an interest not just in the programme itself but in its end credits too - reading and making a mental note of people who were responsible for roles like floor managers and vision mixers - then you'll have ingrained on your brain the name Ronnie Hazelhurst. Because Ronnie Hazelhurst seemed to be responsible for virtually every TV theme tune.



Sorry! was little more than a vehicle for little comic Ronnie Corbett. It ran from 1981 to 1982 and again from '85 to '88. Only mildly amusing, its content really needn't detain us too much here. No, what really matters is the theme tune. It was actually composed by Gaynor Colbourn and Hugh Wisdom but was arranged and conducted by the ubiquitous Hazelhurst. It was a thing of magic.




It's not just me who rates the late great Hazelhurst's theme for Sorry! Matt Berry also loves it, as these clips from Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe show...




Mr Hazelhurst will appear rather regularly here on Theme Time

Friday, 26 April 2013

Kes The Snake

I've always thought that my hometown was a funny old place and with good reason; for example, did you know that back in the 1980s St Helens had a 50 ft long wooden hollow interior snake in the Hardshaw Shopping Centre?




Ostensibly it was there for the children of the town, including myself, to crawl around and play in while mums trawled around the frozen food aisles in Marks and Spencers opposite. But with a slight sinister aspect I didn't comprehend at the time the snake was called Kes, because it was a 'Kid Eating Snake'

More, a David Icke forum claims that Kes was all part of conspiracy concerning the Freemasons on account of how the snake's head was symbolically placed to face the entrance of the Masonic Hall! Apparently one of Icke's belief is that the alien reptile uberlords who secretly rule our world in human disguise set up the Freemasons network and that one of their rituals involves the eating of children! 

Hmmm.

Well I've known one Freemason in my life and he was a right c*nt.

Seriously though...

Kes was dismantled some years ago now, gone the way of many shops in the Hardshaw Centre; TJ Hughes, Woolworths, Toy and Hobby, Ethel Austin etc. I'm not sure exactly when he went or indeed where he went. There was some talk that he ended up in nearby Newton le Willows in the garden of a women's refuge, but apparently if it was, it isn't anymore. Maybe he wasn't equipped for outdoors and the weather and he rotted? There's even a rumour he's residing in the grounds of some monastery now, which will no doubt give the Icke devotees more to consider! 

Wherever he is, he gave a lot of us kids some fun on our trips to town.  

Smoking Hot



'The thinking man's crumpet', Joan Bakewell

Theme Time : Denton and Cook

Richard Denton and Martin Cook were a duo responsible for some truly great TV theme tunes in the 70s and 80s. Last night whilst watching BBC4's weekly repeat of the 1978 series of Top Of The Pops I saw featured their theme for the documentary series Hong Kong Beat which had entered the charts. It's a great tune, full of atmosphere and so very 70s...



Hong Kong Beat, 1978

Spurred by this, I've decided to shed some light on the great and often under appreciated composers and theme tunes on this blog, in a similar fashion to how I do Out On Blue Six, the music feature. So to start us of, here's a couple more of Denton and Cook's....




Quiller, 1975



Tomorrow's World, 1980

Lennon's On Sale Again

Ian Hart has played John Lennon three times now




The Hours and Times, 1991


Backbeat, 1994
  

Snodgrass, 2013

The latter appeared on Sky Arts excellent Playhouse Presents last night, and what a gem it was. Written by David Quantick and based on a novella by Ian R Macleod it is set in an alternate 1991 in which a 50 year old John Lennon, who left The Beatles on the cusp of fame in 1962, is eking out a living sponging of his young landlady and working as the oldest office junior in town. His sardonic acid tongued quips, without the fame and the adoring audience, are just sad old Dad jokes met with derision and irritation. Indeed, he cuts a rather pathetic bitter figure wandering a grey looking Birmingham with the weight of what might have been upon his shoulders and a burning resentment towards Paul McCartney. Yet this is a reality where The Beatles never quite made it, they tour their wares on the nostalgia circuit having never made it as big as The Hollies. But Paul still wrote Mull Of Kintyre, unfortunately! It was a stunning half hour (that was my one criticism, it was too short and felt truncated; an hour would have been much better) and possibly Hart's best interpretation of the man, and less perhaps of the legend.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Wright Way; Getting It So Very Wrong

As I don't tweet, I completely missed the near unanimous scathing attack Ben Elton's latest sitcom The Wright Way garnered last night.

Well I've just settled down to watch it.

And I lasted about 10 minutes.


It really is that bad.




I should have realised from the off, when Elton presents us with a studio based, filmed before an audience/canned laughter show commencing in a traditional kitchen set, complete with an obviously painted street view backdrop beyond its 'window' in which our hero, health and safety officer Gerald Wright (geddit?) played by David Haig (who had previously starred in Elton's The Thin Blue Line) moans about not being able to use his bathroom in the morning because he shares his home with two women. Yes, that creaky old standby for domestic humour last seen in the 80s William Gaunt sitcom No Place Like Home. But Elton has given it a modern spin, natch, and one he no doubt thinks is daringly new; because the women are Wright's daughter and her girlfriend. Yes they are in fact lesbians. Little bit of gender politics there.

There then follows a rant from Wright about the dishwasher that Elton clearly hopes is up there with Victor Meldrew and Basil Fawlty (indeed, the show's fictional setting is appallingly named Baselricky in a blatant homage to Mr Fawlty and attack on Billericay. Convincing. Not. I mean, Baselricky? It doesn't even sound like a town. It sounds like the fiction it is) It's a rant that he hopes the silent majority of repressed middle aged frustrated everymen up and down the land will rejoice over. No they won't. You're on your own Elton.

Watching this horror continue, you could be forgiven for thinking you are actually watching 'When The Whistle Blows' the spot on spoof of obvious offensive cartoonish sitcoms from yesteryear that featured in Ricky Gervais' sublime Extras. Indeed there's an entire scene whose pay off is only missing Gervias' mugging and glasses waggling. It's the one where Wright finally gets the chance to have his ablutions in the work's toilets. Except he can't operate the touch taps effectively (admittedly, this gives Haig as Wright the chance to show off some pretty amusing physical comedy, but its not enough to save this turkey) and has to rely on his obviously effete young colleague (think James Dreyfuss' character in The Thin Blue Line, Elton never one to waste anything proves he's keen on recycling) to help him. Then with pink foamy soap all over his face - don't ask - a sassy British African cleaner arrives and gets the wrong end of the stick. Oh my aching sides. All that was missing was her kissing her teeth.

There was then a scene which saw Mina Anwar, another talented performer who had previously worked on The Thin Blue Line and has stumbled into yet another Elton project (which makes me suspect that Elton has some serious dirt on these people) but by that point I'd really had enough. It was setting up some 'hilarious' health and safety jokes about speed bumps and acronyms. I left them to it. 

Anyway, hadn't Channel 4 already taken on health and safety with their pilot The Fun Police starring Rhys Darby and Vic Reeves? That one may not have set the world alight, but it was a damn sight better than this. In fact anything is better than this.

The Wright Way sits in the schedules like a foul smelling, vocally offensive and visually displeasing squatter every Tuesday at 10:35pm on BBC1, until they see sense. I would say 'until they see sense and shove it in a graveyard slot' but 10:35 already is that slot. Oh well, until they pull it mid way with a half baked promise to air the remaining episodes at some date in the future then.

I only hope Haig and Anwar escape this horror with their health and safety intact. As for Ben Elton well I can't say I give a toss about him. I find myself agreeing with David Quantick's tweet, that he clearly must have been the third wheel on The Young Ones and the second wheel on Blackadder.

Out On Blue Six : Morrissey



This song has one of my favourite lyrics;

"I was driving my car, I crashed and broke my spine. So yes there are things worse in life than never being someone's sweetie" 

Oh yes

End Transmission





The Quatermass Reboot

I was watching the most recent Quatermass adaptation again this week, the BBC4 dramatisation that was broadcast live in 2005, and got to thinking about the potential future of Prof Bernard Quatermass.

Well it turns out the newly invigorated Hammer have also been thinking along these lines and have some plans to reboot Quatermass on film in the near future. This from Simon Oakes, the production companies president;

"We are developing Quatermass at the moment. Completely contemporary, but rooted in his character. If you look at the BBC's Sherlock it's got enough DNA there, so you could bring him forward and say this is what Bernard Quatermass would be like today. So he'd still be gruff, an outsider, contrary, fighting authority, but what would he be doing today? He wouldn't be doing the Rocket Group because the world has moved on since the 1950s. We're going to be announcing something about that soon."

To be honest as exciting as new Quatermass sounds I do think Hammer would be missing a trick to completely update him and excise the British Rocket Group. As the BBC4 adaptation showed there can be something anachronistically pleasing about setting it in a netherworld, a potential alt reality, where it is absolutely contemporary but with some 1950s touches still obvious. Indeed Mark Gatiss, a self confessed Nigel Kneale scholar who played  Paterson in the remake, favoured the alt reality notion, citing that he approached it as an England in which Mosley's fascists may have succeeded in power.

But all that aside, who could play Quatermass now? Whoever would be selected would certainly be in illustrious company...


Reginald Tate, the original; 
The Quatermass Experiment, BBC

John Robinson, who stepped in following Tate's fatal heart attack;
Quatermass 2, BBC

Brian Donlevy, the American whom Kneale despised, from the Hammer films; 
The Quatermass Xperiment and Quatermass 2

Andre Morell, whom many would claim the definitive;
Quatermass and the Pit, BBC 

Andrew Keir, Hammer finally getting it right;
Quatermass and the Pit

John Mills as an ageing Quatermass;
Quatermass, Thames TV

Jason Flemyng, the most recent;
The Quatermass Experiment, BBC4


I worry if they'll update him too much, perhaps aiming for - like Danny Boyle's Sunshine - a scientific hero inspired by Prof Brian Cox, in much the same way that Kneale named him Bernard in honour of the scientific man of his day, Sir Bernard Lovell. For me that would be a slight miss-step as Quatermass shouldn't be a hipster or indeed all that young. And certainly not American again! For my money there's one actor around who could really nail the part, tapping into all the characteristics the previous actors have brought to the role, including Keir's gruff bearded Scottish manner, and that's Iain Glen, pictured here in Game Of Thrones ...



Are you listening Hammer? ;)

Double Trouble


Out On Blue Six : Everything But The Girl


Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt met as student at the University of Hull in 1982 and formed the band Everything But The Girl. They took the title from a slogan that adorned  a shop on Hull's Beverley Road, Turner's Furniture, which read 'For your bedroom needs we sell everything but the girl' which I love!



I've always been very partial to this one of theirs, I think largely because the backing music sounds like the kind of thing that used to accompany Ceefax around 4 in the morning!



End Transmission





Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Crystal Tipps and Alistair



Despite the flower power era it was created in having long gone by the time I was a kid in the 1980s, this was nonetheless a favourite of mine. Perhaps because of the anachronism? Already my eyes were on the past!

I seem to recall its psychedelic charms appearing on early Saturday mornings BBC1, just before Going Live! Whereas my sister, eight years older than I, recalls it well, and with some amusement, from original transmissions.

The show ran originally between 1971 and 1974 for 50 five minute episodes, plus a twenty minute Christmas special. Created by Hilary Hayton and Graham McCallum the animation was provided by Richard Taylor Cartoons, the same team behind the infamous Charley Says and Protect and Survive PIFs, many of whom have appeared on this very blog and in our collective nightmares!

What happened to Crystal Tipps and Alistair? Well they married, changing their names to Ross Kemp and Rebekah Brooks of course, before the latter became the focus of scandal at the News Of The World. If ever the hippy dream was so blatantly over, it was here ;)

Nah seriously, let's wallow in some nostalgia






Story Time - Sapphire and Steel - Eisoptrophobia





Eisoptrophobia


The young girl brushed lovingly through her long sleek red hair. She was completely preoccupied with the task at hand, her head tilted to allow the hair to fall curtain like to her shoulder and beyond. Her eyes were unblinking as she stared deep into the antique handled compact mirror before her. Yet she was hardly noticing the features of her face she reflected; it was all about the hair.

It was mid evening and she was preparing for a night out of lager and black, dancing and a good laugh with her friends. The room that she lived in - a tiny square space at the top of a crumbling old Victorian house, long divided into student flats - was in some typical student disarray. A jumble of bra and pants lay over the portable and dusty radio that played Human League to prepare her for the night. She began to hum along to herself now, in keeping with the rhythmic rise and fall of her brush hand as it swept along her hair.

And then she blinked. A slow reflex action that required no thought. When her big blue eyes opened again she suddenly stopped humming, for she noticed something in the mirror reflection. An indistinct dark shape moving...
Moving across her own iris and pupil.
She blinked again. And when she reopened them, her eyes now grew fearful and wide. Her hand dropped the comb, sending it dropping onto the thick carper below in what felt like aching slow motion. She turned around rapidly. There must be someone in the room with her, reflecting deep in her eye from the mirror. 
An intruder!
But when she turned around there was no one there. She picked the mirror up and stared deeply, arching her neck as she clambered for a closer inspection. Her nose almost touching the cold surface, frosting from her heavy breaths and shadowing her jaw line and cheeks in a mist of her making. She raised a hand to her eye and yelped in panic and fear. There it was, inside her eye itself. And what was worse, she could now see that it had a face.

She gasped "Oh my God"
There circling across her blue eyes and shifting around in her inky pupil was a skeletal featured apparition wearing a look of abject horror and fascination and more, a look of knowing that it had been discovered. The girl could not help herself, she started to cry. Tears leaking from her eye, the eye that held his unknown creature in captivity. Her gusset began to grow damp too she noted with acute embarrassment. She had wet herself with fear, fear that chilled her to the very bone.

All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension.

Transuranic, heavy elements may not be used where there is life.

Medium atomic weights are available;

Gold, Lead

Copper, Jet

Diamond, Radium,

Sapphire, Silver and Steel.

Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.


Suddenly there was a knock on the door, and she knew she had to pull herself together. Panting heavily with eyes froze wide open she tried desperately to control the raging anxiety within herself. "Who is it please?" she managed to call out in a far from level voice.

"Just a routine inspection" a man's voice replied dully from behind the thick heavily painted wood panelled door.
"A-an-an inspection?" she stammered.
"We shan't keep you long" A different voice this time, a lady. The tone more reassuring, friendly. Positively honeyed.
"It-It's gone eight?" the girl called back, though she didn't know why.
"We won't keep you long" the man answered, a terseness tinged underneath the otherwise emotionless words. "We are here to help" he added, trying for a reassurance that came easily to his female companion.
"Help?" She needed help. Slowly she staggered up from the edge of her bed and walked, as if blind, to the door. When she opened it she was greeted by two well dressed Aryan looking people; male and female. The man in a well cut grey suit with a blue tie and the female in an expensive looking vivid blue dress. They could be brother and sister, was the girl's first thought. But they were too old for students and certainly too elegant for her contemporaries.
"Are you staff here?" she asked, blinking rapidly, the apparition in her eye on her mind. They did not answer. "Maintenance?" she hazarded a further guess. They did after all say something about an inspection? Though from their attire it seemed unlikely.

The blonde woman took a step inside immediately, hand outstretched to the girl's bare arm which hung at her side. Concern etched on the newcomer's pretty and open features "You've been crying. You're upset?" she said as she entered and led the girl back to the side of her bed.
"It-it's nothing. Just a bit of...a bit of grit in my eye, that's all"
"Something in your eye?" the blonde man said, stepping into the room and looking all around. Looking everywhere except at her.
"Show me" said the blonde woman picking up the mirror and taking a seat next to the girl on the bed.
The girl immediately began to back away, hand raised "No-no, it's ok. Honest. It's just-"
"Show her" The blonde man said turning to face her at last. Steel in his voice and manner.
The girl looked up from him and back to the blonde woman, who smiled a warm and comforting smile. It was a smile that put the girl in mid of a nurse she had when she was five and had her tonsils taken out. A smile she simply had to anything for. Slowly she took the mirror from her hand and raised it to her face. Her features were pale and fearful. A small damp trail ran down her upturned lightly freckled cheeks where the tears had fallen. She sniffed up from her nostrils and emitted a juddering, nervous breath.
"Can you see it?"
The blonde woman stared into the mirror alongside her. Her eyes narrow with intense concentration. Finally she nodded "Yes, yes I can see it"
The relief was tangible, the girl literally slumping inwardly. Then, catching her breath, she asked "Is it...is it in my eye?"
"No" the blonde man snapped curtly, towering over both her and his friend "No it's not in your eye. It's in the mirror"
She could not help herself. She laughed. It was a nervous and incredulous gasp of laughter, her eyes rolling as she tilted her head back from it "What? No...how can-what's going on? It's in my eye" she repeated "I can see it!"
She screwed her eyes tight shut, opened them and stared hard in the mirror. There it was again; scuttling around inside her. She shook her head "Y'see it's reflection...it's in the mirror, just like mt face is. And yours, your face" she said, turning to the calm blonde woman seated next to her. Sitting so close her features were also displayed in the compact.
"No" the blonde man said, snatching the mirror from her "You have to believe us. It's in the mirror. It is trapped in the mirror" He stared hard at it "I can see it too"
"How?" the girl wailed looking between the two strangers. Nothing made any sense.
"How?" the blonde woman repeated the query softly. She answered "We see it because we know to look for it"
"Because we put it there" the blonde man said.
The girl could not believe what she was hearing, what she was experiencing. She shook her head, indeed her whole body shook "No. No. What's going on? Who are you?"
"I am Sapphire and this is Steel" The blonde woman said, placing a comforting arm over her shoulder. The girl wanted to shrug it off, but the warmth and security from her was intense. Like a comforting blanket, it soothed her. "Let me try to explain," she continued in her tender tones "Inside that mirror, is a spirit. A spirit of time, of evil...evil since the dawn of time"
"It's our role to protect the here and now from such evil" the blonde man, Steel, added.
"Is it...is it like the devil?" the girl asked fearfully.
Sapphire smiled and squished her closer "Would it help you if you thought of it as such?"
The girl couldn't answer. She merely shook her head in a mixture of up and down for affirmative and side to side for negative simultaneously.
"Have you ever felt this house to be haunted?" she asked "A chill or sensation that you cannot explain...even on a sunny day, with people all around?"
The girl looked to the pair with surprise. Her expression said all they needed to know.
"It was in the very early stages of this Earth" the man began.
"This Earth?" she repeated, unsure of what he meant by such a phrase. But he chose to ignore her and continued, "Back then there weren't just such things as animal, vegetable and mineral alone. There were wanderers, others. Creatures that were neither one nor the other; creatures that could shape shift, who traversed the realms to suit their ends. Their ends being pure evil. That's essentially what they were - evil's essence in tangible form. With time as their transport"
Slowly the blonde man called Steel placed the antique mirror back on the bed "And this creature was one of the very worst of that kind. He played a game for souls of good people, should they lose they became his slaves, spreading evil across the world and out into eternity, millenia upon millenia"
The girl mouthed the words, silently repeating them after him, but still she could not fathom them. Another tear, fat and wet, fell from her eye. She barely noticed it.
"What year is this?" Steel asked.
Surprised by the query, she looked up to him "What?
He looked at her, frustrated at her slowness.
"It's later" the blonde woman called Sapphire answered for her, easing her partner's temper. She turned to her "The 21st century. 2010. That's right isn't it?" she asked with another sweet smile.
Content, or as content as he could be, the man nodded "Very well. This spirit, we first came into contact with him here in the early 1800s"
Her brain could not take in what she was hearing "What? Early 1800s, you mean..."
"Shush" Sapphire soothed. It was important that the blonde man continued.
"He'd been alone in this house a long time then. Spreading his evil across the world, like a spider from the centre of its web. Time was collapsing in on itself as a result of his actions. Cruelty and violence occurred all around him. The house developed an atmosphere, the atmosphere you sometimes still feel now" He stopped and looked around "He stayed in this very room, alone, undetected...until we were assigned. The mirror was the only other object in the house, so we trapped him inside it"
"You-you can't trap people in a mirror?"
"Who says we can't?" Sapphire, the blonde woman, replied with an air of mischief.
The man called Steel sighed, as if annoyed by the rational limits of the mind of the girl, or perhaps of all humans, before him. "We have trapped many such avatars, essences in mirrors across the centuries"
"B-but why?" the girl asked.
"They are the perfect prison" Sapphire replied "Where best to hide something, than in plain view?"
"Your people have a saying," the blonde man said, kneeling down to reach her eye level. He could see his own features now reflected in her big pale blue spheres "In fact you have tales relating to our work. Tales of one known as Narcissus? But anyway, the saying...seven years bad luck...?"
"...If you break a mirror" she completed with a nod. She so desperately wanted to understand now.
"A small essence of those spirits trapped within escape with each mirror broken. But they themselves never escape, they cannot escape. Rest assured of that"
"Never?"
"Never" the blonde woman, Sapphire, answered.
She looked to the mirror again. Instinctively and immediately she saw him scuttling around. She flinched inwardly.
"You're very special you know?" Sapphire comforted, turning to her partner "Isn't she?"
He rolled his eyes. He didn't have time for this pandering "Yes" he agreed finally, clearly bored now.
Sapphire made a face at him, before turning her attention back to the girl "It's not everyone who sees our captives. It takes a special kind of sensitive person"
"Sensitive?" she repeated softly.
"That's right. People who can see that there is more to life than what you see and hear everyday. We watch over people like you. See that you don't come to any harm"
"Like angels?" She immediately cursed herself. Angels, the devil? It wasn't even as if she were religious.
The blonde man sighed "We have to go" he said, tapping at his slim gold wristwatch. He paused as a thought occurred to him "There are others too. Eisoptrophobiacs, they're called. Eisoptrophobia. The fear of mirrors"
His partner laughed softly and asked the girl "Well, after seeing that thing trapped in their amid your own reflection, wouldn't you be scared?"
"I was" the girl said looking at her toes.
She hugged her closer "There's no need to be, not now"
Steel scooped the mirror up from the bed "We'll take this," he said "Place it somewhere else, somewhere out of harm's way"
"I found it behind the wardrobe" the girl explained "I thought it was pretty"
"Out of harm's way" he repeated sternly.
"Under landfill perhaps?" Sapphire said, eyes blazing happily, wickedly with the thought as she rose up from the bed.
Steel took a final look around the room "Progress" he said bitterly "We never thought this house would be renovated. The chill is left here for a reason. The tales and myths, haunted house, to ward you off. To stop development. When will you humans learn?" With that he stepped away, out of the room, thrusting the mirror into his jacket pocket.
Sapphire turned primly on her heel and smiled down at the girl "It will be alright now. Things will change here now the mirror has gone, you'll see. Good bye"
And then they disappeared, leaving her alone in a house that would settle, finally.

But she couldn't help but feel that from here on in, she'd never be able to look at a mirror, any mirror, properly again. Each time she would look for a prisoner in her reflection. A strange entity trapped by two other strange entities.

She had developed eisoptrophobia.

The End 

(c) Mark Cunliffe, 2011