Wednesday 1 November 2023

The Vanishing Gentleman - a Short Story

A few years ago I wrote this short story for a writing contest, but in my usual style I did not submit it on time. The theme was to be taking things for granted, and the sentence "what we took for granted" had to be included. I doubt it's contest-winning material but I thought I might as well share it nevertheless. 

I was taking a shower, as one does, staring blankly through the water-streaked glass door, when a man materialised in my bathroom. The door hadn’t opened, I hadn’t heard anyone come in, he seemed to just spring into existence. I couldn’t see him clearly through the daubs of water, but he looked at first glance to be wearing an historical costume with a wig. He turned around and saw me, completely naked and soapy.  

I screamed. So did he. After a few confusing seconds wherein we stared at each other, shouting, he vanished. Just evaporated as suddenly as he had appeared. I stood blinking through the water. 

A ghost? My house was a very old one, although one wouldn’t know given how many times it had been done up and modernised. I didn’t believe in ghosts and yet, what had I just seen? I hadn’t imagined it. Had I? If I had it had been a very vivid and noisy hallucination. 

Weeks later, I was at the bathroom basin, absentmindedly brushing my teeth, as one does. And there he was again. Materialising suddenly out of thin air and appearing at my left was a tall, middle-aged, seventeenth century gentleman. He had a lined but friendly face framed by a long, curly, grey periwig. He was dressed in an ornately embroidered frock coat of navy blue over a voluminous white shirt, matching waistcoat and breeches, a cascade of white lace at his throat, ruffles around his knees, and grey hose on his legs with neatly buckled shoes. I had only a moment to take all this in. My toothbrush clattered into the basin.  

He looked just as shocked to see me as I was him. 

“What are you doing in my bathroom!?” I cried through a mouthful of foam. 

“What are you doing in my-?!”  

And he disappeared. Sucked back into the aether or to wherever he had come from.  

I had definitely not imagined it this time. There had been a man in my bathroom. A man from another time. I had heard of “glitches in the matrix”, perhaps this was something like that? A little tear or ripple in the fabric of spacetime? The whole subject was beyond me.  

Weeks passed without event. I performed my ablutions every day sans mysterious apparitions. I hadn’t mentioned the mysterious bathroom gentleman to anyone lest they questioned my sanity, though I did read everything I could find online about apparitions and time anomalies. Until one morning, having finished dressing and primping for the day, I saw to my lavatorial needs and flushed the toilet. As the water rushed down and I shut the lid with a clank, a voice bellowed from behind me. 

“What pray tell is that!?” 

I spun around. There he was, in his frock coat and periwig, a look of pure astonishment on his face. This time I was taking no chances. Before he could vanish again, I leapt forward and seized him by the lace-frilled wrist. This was no ghost, for if it was, it was a very solid ghost. He was staring straight past me as the cistern noisily refilled itself. 

“The — the white water barrel— where doth the water go?" 

“It’s a toilet,” I said blandly. “It flushes away your um, wastes. Into pipes. You’ve never seen one before?” The man slowly shook his head. 

“Fascinating,” he said, captivated. 

“What do you use then?” I asked. It seemed a bit rude and personal but we were talking about toilets.  

“Why a chamber pot of course,” he said, “emptied into the cesspit by the maid.” 

“That must smell awful.” 

“It doth,” he agreed. I let go of his wrist as he leaned forward and bowed deeply. “Forgive me, I’ve no idea how I got here. I was one moment in my closet, and the next here in your wash room.” He introduced himself as Sir Willard de Belligny and explained that last he knew, it had been the year 1671. I explained that I was Zoe, that this was 2020, and asked if he’d like a cup of tea. As I guided him on the short walk between the bathroom and kitchen, I had never seen such a look of childlike wonder on the face of a middle-aged man. 

Sir Willard took a seat at the kitchen table and stared around the room, wide-eyed, as if seeing the world for the first time. He plucked a cherry from the fruit basket and examined it. 

“It is not the season for cherries,” he said, “how is it possible?” 

“Oh, they’re probably imported,” I said vaguely. 

I took the lid off the kettle and carried it to the sink to fill it. He leapt from his seat and bounded over to my side. I raised an eyebrow up at him as I turned the tap off after filling the kettle. He placed a hand on the tap and twisted it back on, then off again.  

“This spigot pumps water to your home?” He enquired. 

“Yeah,” I said thickly, placing the kettle on its base with a click, “why, how do you get water?” 

“My boy fetches it from the parish pump,” he said, “though recently we had to abandon our pump, for there was an outbreak of the cholera attributed to it. Transpired that the churchyard there was seeping putrescence into it, as the churchyard is overstuffed with corpses after the late plague.” 

I winced, getting cups and teabags down from the cupboard. 

“Is the water clean, then? Can you drink it?” 

“Drink it?” he snorted. “Heavens no, one drinks small beer or wine, far safer for the health.” He turned the hot tap on now, allowing the water to run over the palm of his hand, and drew a long, slow gasp. 

Hot water!” he exclaimed. “How is it hot?” He darted his eyes about the room, and apparently not seeing what he was looking for, shuffled into the living room. 

“Miss Zoe,” came Sir Willard’s voice, “where is the fire?”  

“There isn’t a fire,” I answered, “they’re banned around here.” 

“Banned,” he said incredulously, returning to the kitchen, “then how does one cook, heat one’s home? It must be awfully cold and dark by night.” 

“Not at all,” I said, handing him a teacup, “it’s all done with electricity.” 

This was clearly a word he had never heard before. He cautiously sipped the tea, expressing astonishment at how quickly I had produced a hot drink. Tea in hand, I decided to give Sir Willard a tour of my flat. Apparently the whole block of flats had once been his house, but it was unrecognisable now.  

He nearly spilt his tea when he saw a light go on. I hadn’t even thought about it. I walked into the dark laundry and switched the light on automatically. Sir Willard explained that all his work had to be done by day, for writing or working by candlelight at night strained his eyes. This artificial light was incredible, it must make life so much easier. When he asked me how the lightbulbs worked I had to admit I didn’t actually know, something to do with filaments and a vacuum. I showed him the washing machine, and demonstrated its use. He told me it takes three women a full day of hauling tubs and arduous scrubbing to wash his household’s clothes and linens. If he had been impressed by these things, it was nothing next to the television and computer screens. I asked what he did for entertainment, he said he frequented the playhouse. He marvelled at being able to see plays any time within one’s own home by means of a television, one would never tire of it. We spent some hours looking at the computer, him constantly asking questions while I googled the answers and provided them within seconds. He said if he wanted to learn something new, he would go to his booksellers, where there were at least 200 different printed books available.  I took out my smartphone and said it was a portable version of the computer, but allowed me to talk to anyone in the world. He said for him to send a message, it often took days or weeks to reach its recipient.  

The brightness of the screens gave him a headache after some time, and requested to lay in the dark til it abated. I popped a couple of paracetamol from a blister pack in my handbag for him to take, and he was in disbelief when half an hour later, the pain had completely ceased. Sir Willard told me the last time he “took physic for a fit of the ague", he’d had to mix the ashes of a burnt goose with a good white wine, bay laurel, and ambergris, and take it three times a day, along with regular bleedings to rebalance his humours. He also explained how it had pleased God for him to survive the late plague, while so many around him had perished from the distemper, including his brother, his brother’s wife, and a dear friend.  

“Wanna go get an ice cream?” 

Sir Willard wanted to see, do, and try everything possible. I wanted to lighten the mood after so much talk of death. He asked how one went about hiring a coach, or if I had horses of my own. We went outside to my car, and I opened the door for him. 

“A horseless carriage!” he exclaimed. “Is this what my eyes behold?” 

“A car, yeah. Most people have one. Mine’s a bit old and shit. No one uses horses anymore.” 

As we drove to the ice cream place, Sir Willard’s knuckles were white as he clasped the seat and door handle in terror. He could not believe how fast we were going; I was only driving 40kph. When he asked what powered the car, I confessed I did not know. Petrol and combustion or something. On the way back, he seemed fascinated by the coldness of the ice cream, testing it tentatively with the tip of his tongue, saying he had once before had an iced drink on a warm day but that was at a wealthy Duke’s house. I pulled up in my driveway and we walked up the path towards the front door.  

“Christ in Heaven!” cried Sir Willard, crossing himself and staring skyward.  

“Oh,” I said, stifling a laugh, “that’s a plane. An aeroplane.” I hadn’t even noticed the deep rumble of the plane as it whooshed overhead.  

“What is— what does—“  

“It carries passengers to other countries,” I explained.  

“So it is a flying ship,” said Sir Willard in utter bewilderment, “if I wish to travel a very great distance, I sail over the sea aboard a ship.” 

“Flights are really boring though, it takes a whole two days to reach the other side of the world, and the air is all dry and the food is bad.” 

“Two days?” he stammered. “Two days to reach the other side of… of the world? Miss Zoe, a ship takes months to travel such a distance, and it is not known what lies on the other side of the world. I went overseas once with my cousin. He died on the journey. I feared I might myself, much of the water was fouled and the weather was oft tempestuous. I have not travelled again. No one even knows what lieth on the other side of the world. Were it possible to see foreign lands with one’s own eyes in so short a time, I should be doing it all the time.”  

We sat down in my living room and after impressing him profoundly once more by taking his photo on my phone, we picked at the bowl of cherries. Sir Willard sighed wistfully. 

“Miss Zoe, thy world is one of wonders. One of great ease, comfort, and safety. Thou canst have anything, thou canst go anywhere, all with little more than a gesture.” 

I wanted to tell him that he had made me realise how lucky I was, that I now saw what we took for granted, but before I could do so, he had gone. 

Monday 16 October 2023

Temu - Shit or Legit?

In recent months it seems everyone has been talking about Temu. It kind of burst into existence. Suddenly I was seeing ads for it everywhere, every day. But I was also hearing mixed reviews. People online were saying the products were terrible, it was a scam, you'd get your card details stolen, etc., but more people were saying actually it's pretty good, I've had no problems and everything I've bought has been decent quality. So I had to see for myself. Is it good, is it dodgy? It made sense that Temu should be the next store to come under the 'shit or legit?' hammer. I bought a fair whack of different things, from homewares to beauty and jewellery. 

I immediately noticed a lot of obvious knockoffs of both large and small goth/alternative brands, which according to the pictures, were pretty weak copies. So I got a couple of knockoffs with the intention of showing how poor they were but... well some of them were surprisingly/disappointingly decent. I couldn't mention the brands in the video but I saw copies of items from Nemesis Now, Suck UK, Catacomb Culture, Dellamorte & Co, Ectogasm, Marladraw, Gary Fay, Kreepsville, Rogue and Wolf, Killstar, and Alchemy Gothic.

Watch the review video:

Monday 9 October 2023

Vintage Vamp-ire Looks: Halloween at Devilnight

I love Devilnight, they've never let me down. They have an enormous selection of mens and womens clothing from some of my favourite brands, and in a good range of sizes. Sometimes I am lucky enough to get to do a video for them. I picked a few items I thought could be styled into a variety of Halloween-appropriate looks, centring around a vintage vampire theme. Some fancy, some casual, all pretty.

Here are the links to each item I showed you:

And here is the video!

If you were wondering, my fangs were custom made by Father Sebastiaan. Thanks for watching!

Monday 11 September 2023

Black Friday's Realistic Blood Punch/Cocktail

Haven't you always wanted to feel more authentically like a vampire while getting drunk at the same time? I've always wondered why I could never find a recipe for an alcoholic drink, be it a punch or cocktail, that resembled blood beyond just being red. Why was there nothing out there with the consistency of blood, too? 

The goal for this recipe was to avoid food colouring, and get it the right colour just with the ingredients. Theoretically you could make just about any drink red by adding food colouring, but that feels like cheating. It also needed to taste good. What I really wanted to achieve, was an alcoholic drink that felt and moved like blood. This may not be perfect but it was the closest I could get whilst maintaining the flavour.
Be the coolest/weirdest host ever by providing your guests with a punch that not only looks, but feels like blood. Best of all, it tastes lovely and makes for easy drinking. Serve it cooled, or leave it slightly warm to make it feel creepier. You can add ice cubes (I recommend ice with red food colouring in it) but remember if you put ice into a pitcher or punch bowl, this will dilute the punch and thin its consistency as it melts. 

Best Halloween punch ever? I think so. The recipe can be scaled up or down to make a whole bowl or pitcher of punch, or just a couple of cocktails. The recipe below yields two or three servings. Simply multiply the recipe depending on how many people you're likely to be serving. For example, if you're serving 12 guests, multiply the ingredients by 6. For 20 guests, by 10, and so forth. The measurements don't have to be exact!

You will need:

  • 150ml/5oz Red wine (merlot or cabernet sauvignon)
  • 30ml/1oz Cherry brandy or cherry liqueur
  • 60ml/2oz Vodka
  • 30ml/1oz Raspberry syrup or cordial
  • 30ml/1oz Grenadine
  • 120ml/4oz Pomegranate juice
  • 3tsp. Arrowroot powder
  • In a small, separate dish, mix the arrowroot with 3 teaspoons cold water. Stir until you have a smooth white liquid with no lumps.
  • Put the other ingredients together into a pot on the stove.
  • Heat carefully over medium heat. It should get hot but not boil, about 80˚C/176˚F. Do not let it boil!
  • Gradually add the arrowroot liquid into the pot, stir consistently. 
  • You should start to feel the mixture thicken slightly as you stir, this only takes a minute or two.
  • Remove from the heat and put into a heat safe container. Put in the fridge to cool for 30 minutes or until cooled. Leaving it for too long will cause it to congeal a bit.
  • Pour into a punch bowl, pitcher, or cocktail glasses. Garnish and serve!

Watch the video:

If you make this yourself, please (if you can) take a photo and tag me on social media so I can see your creation! Enjoy and have a safe and happy Halloween xx

Friday 17 February 2023

Goth Festival SOBER Shopping Haul!

Hi! In contrast to my usual drunk shopping expeditions at goth music festivals, last year I had to be sober. Sad but a necessary evil for the sake of safe procreation. By the way, I filmed this a a wee while ago and have already had the baby! Just catching up on editing after many weeks of no internet/other chaos. I usually do a 'haul' video after each festival, and as I neglected to do so, here's a cumulative haul of everything I picked up from the two festivals we made it to in 2022. Some wonderful handmade things too.

Here are links to everything I mentioned that I could find online. The amazing wee witches' hat came from the kind lady at Forever in Black who has both an etsy page and a website. The coffin ring box was made from reclaimed wood by Rigore Morti. The shirts came from my beloved Gothicat, who are also the people behind the band Ash Code. The bat plushies came from FlezArt from whom I always try to get something batty. The leggings and soap (and Severine's first balloon) came from the most excellent Abaddon Mystic Store who have a physical presence in Dresden. The 'altar orbis' necklace I replaced was made by Alchemy Gothic, the brand that comprises most of my jewellery collection.

Hope you enjoy the video, and hopefully 2023 yields more festival going (somehow!)


Monday 14 November 2022

You Saved Us

I'm absolutely staggered. This morning I was hyperventilating in tears, stressed beyond belief, and at an absolute loss. I didn't know what to do. I hate asking for help but I was desperate. 

We (Mr Owl, Severine, and I) took a cab to Glasgow Airport at 3am, arriving before check-in opened to give us plenty of time before our 6am flight to New Zealand. I already wasn't looking forward to flying for 40 hours while 30 weeks pregnant, with a chest infection, with a 1 year old, and on no sleep that night. Our flight was to have a 1 hour layover in Frankfurt, then a 6 hour layover in Houston, flying with Lufthansa. I had booked through Expedia, with whom I've booked just about everything for years. 

At check-in, the operator asked if we had an ESTA visa for travel in the USA. I've had these before for visiting the country, it's a simple visa-waiver. Never in my life have I heard that one needs a visa to literally transit through an airport; generally they're only required for actually visiting a country. I've had layovers in the USA before and don't recall the need for the waiver. The operator then assured us that we did not need the ESTA visa due to our New Zealand passports. Then his colleague googled it and explained that we did need them. We were given until check-in closed, so about 35 minutes, to apply for the ESTA visas, and hope they got approved in that time. They said if that came through approved, that all was well and they could proceed with our check-in. 

That was bloody stressful itself. I sat down, got out my phone, filled out and paid for three applications. Freaking out, I wildly hit refresh on my email until the blessed moment of relief came - our ESTA visas were approved. Thank God. We returned to the check-in counter and showed staff the approved visas.

But. While checking us in on the computer, they said the computer system wouldn't process it and there was nothing they could do. The manager popped his head in and wouldn't assist with an override. The staff started giving me the feeling of disinterest, that they were more interested in finishing up their work, picking up their bags and heading off, than helping the desperate sobbing pregnant lady with the baby.  They just said sorry, the computer won't let me put it through, mutter mutter nothing I can do. You'll have to contact Expedia and re-book. I cried, saying that wasn't possible as the tickets had cost so much and couldn't just buy more. I literally begged them to help. I probably looked like a nutter at this point, crying so hard in public. It was like a nightmare, I couldn't believe it was happening, they actually weren't going to let us on the plane. Even though I had done everything they said and provided everything they asked for, in the time they gave. I begged to speak to someone else or if there was anything they could do. But they wouldn't even allow us on the first flight to Frankfurt. 

I'm sure they could have done something. I don't believe there was "nothing they could do". Mr Owl reckoned a friendlier airline or staff would have made an effort. I had the feeling they just wanted to finish up their work and head off. They said we weren't to have known about the ESTA requirement as Expedia wouldn't have mentioned it, so not our fault that we didn't know. But yeah, basically bye, nothing we can/will do, and no offer to find an alternative journey or anything.

I'm doubly annoyed because in the previous days, I had rung Lufthansa at Glasgow Airport 4 or 5 times and nobody ever answered the phone. I would hold for at least 30 minutes before the line would 'pick up' and go silent. I wanted to establish that the bassinet and wheelchair assistance I had requested in my booking was arranged. It looked like the bassinet at least hadn't been. So I'm left, I feel, with no other option than to go Full Karen™ and complain about Lufthansa at that airport, how they initially misinformed us, and their unwillingness to put in any effort or help. I will contact Expedia, though my hopes for a refund are not high. The price of refundable tickets was beyond our means, and even if you do get them and need a refund, you're lucky to get a percentage back. I speak from experience.

I can only assume that, due to the increased price of fuel, that airfares have also gone up. And by a fucking lot.  Flying between New Zealand and Europe isn't cheap to start with, but the price of tickets doubled. While searching for flights, I couldn't believe my eyes. I thought we had enough to get our tickets, with enough left over to comfortably sort our lives out after arriving (move house, etc.) and do a few nice things during our last weeks in the UK. But it ended up with us putting together everything we had just to get back to New Zealand, followed by a period of strict frugality. It was horrid paying that much just for airfares, but there was no choice.

So you can perhaps imagine my horror when being refused to board our flights, and losing the mega-expensive non-refundable non-transferrable tickets. I didn't know what to do, and again, I hate asking anyone for help. But we were utterly fucked, and I had no choice. I put a PayPal link online, explaining the situation, and that any help would be amazingly appreciated.

I knew our Belfry Bat family is kind. I see it every time I do a livestream, and it is often remarked upon what a friendly and supportive community we are. I always feel lucky to be surrounded online by so many genuinely good people, surely that's got to be pretty rare as far as internet communities go.

Within a few hours, thanks to the combined donations of so many wonderful people, there was enough to book new flights. I can't believe it, I'm fucking staggered at the outpouring of kindness and help. You have literally saved us. You came to our rescue when it was needed and I'm utterly blown away. I don't know what to say or how to aptly express my gratitude. Because of your swift kindness, Belfry Bat family, we were able to get new flights for the day after tomorrow. Because of you we are OK. I'm in tears again but this time it's from joy and relief. I can never thank you enough, whether you donated a little bit or a lot, you have my lifelong love and gratitude for your generosity. You saved us. Genuinely. 

The new flights are with Emirates, with no layover in the USA, so no need for the ESTA visa waiver anyway. I rang Emirates to ask about wheelchair assistance etc. They answered immediately and were extremely helpful. They set that up for me at each layover, confirmed a bassinet for Severine, and even a diabetic meal for my gestational diabetes. What a huge contrast from my dealings with Lufthansa. My head feels absolutely whammed, to have gone from such devastation, disappointment, and confusion in the morning, to relief, faith, and joy in the evening. My faith in humanity and kindness has been boosted. You are amazing. We were drowning at sea and you tossed us a line. We will be back in New Zealand now on the 18th. Just, thank you, so much.

Sunday 17 April 2022

Black Widow Spider Truffles

What's more appetising, I ask you, than biting into a huge fat venomous spider? And which deadly spider is more instantly familiar than our cannibalistic friend the black widow? God they're creepy aren't they. Even looking at this photo below gives me the creepy crawlies. Anyway, I long thought it would be a fun idea to make chocolate truffles decorated to look like spiders. They'd make a nice addition to a spooky afternoon tea, a Halloween party, a children's party, or just whenever you feel like baking spooky sweets.

Black Widow with hourglass marking.
Source: Albuquerque Journal

Now I'm aware they don't look precisely like the real thing, but if you have the skills to make the red abdominal pattern more accurate to nature then by all means go ahead, just please take a photo and tag me so I can see it and be impressed. Widow spiders come in many varieties, but I think the red 'hourglass' shape is pretty easily identifiable. On real spiders it's sometimes underneath, but you can't see the underside of these truffles so that'd be a bit daft wouldn't it.

This was fairly time consuming, but the hardest part was tracing around the spider stencils and cutting them out. If you're more artistically talented than I, you might want to draw spider shapes straight onto the black card instead of printing out an image. This recipe yielded enough for about 10 of my fairly large ones, but you can make them any size you like.

  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 1tsp cocoa
  • 1 cup icing sugar +
  • Cherries (morello, glacĂ©, etc.)
  • Rum, rum essence, or vanilla essence
  • Black fondant
  • Red fondant
For spider bases:
  • Black card stock (fairly stiff, not paper)
  • Cardboard
  • Glue
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
Bases Method:
  1. Print out the image at the bottom of this post.
  2. Glue image into cardboard.
  3. Cut around the image carefully to create a stencil.
  4. Hold the stencil onto the black card stock and (this part is particularly fiddly) trace around it with a pencil.
  5. Cut out your spiders! Arrange them on a plate or pretty tray.

Truffle Method:
  1. In a pot, melt together the butter and chocolate on the stove, slowly stirring til combined.
  2. Add half a cup of icing sugar, the cocoa, and the rum or vanilla essence. Stir, then add more icing sugar until the mixture is stiff and firm. 1 cup of icing sugar wasn't enough, so I added another half a cup, and a bit more cocoa for luck.
  3. Let cool til it's comfortable to handle.
  4. Using the spider stencil as a guide for how large the truffle should be, roll some mixture into a rough ball.
  5. Mush a cherry (or two) into it, then roll the mixture around in your hands until it's pleasingly round. Place on a plate, it doesn't matter if the bottom flattens.
  6. Repeat for as many truffles as you want, then put them in the fridge to chill for a couple of hours.
  7. Flatten out the black fondant as thinly as you can, you only want it a few millimetres thick.
  8. Lay the fondant over each truffle, and roll it in your hands until the whole truffle is covered. It doesn't matter if the underside is bare or untidy.
  9. Flatten out some red fondant, and using a sharp knife (xacto knife or non-serrated kitchen knife) carefully cut out hourglass shapes.
  10. Gently place the red hourglasses onto each truffle and pat to smoothen them down so they'll stay in place but not lose their shape.
  11. Put each truffle onto the black card spider base. Serve!

Watch the video:

Here is the image I used for my black card bases if you want to print it out and use the same:

Thank you for joining me, and if you do have a go at making these, please take a photo, share it and tag me so I can see it! Til next time! x