Judith and I just returned from a few days’ holiday in Wales. We had a grand time, visiting old friends and interesting places. Last Sunday morning we could be found walking across the cliffs at Ogmore, where during my teenage years back in the early Seventies I spent many happy weeks at the school camp there. I could find no trace of it and wonder if the site itself is no longer? A large amount of house-building has gone on there since I was a boy and although the coastline is unassailably spectacular it has lost something of its wildness due to this. Still beautiful though, and I was delighted to be introducing Judith to a section of coastline we’d somehow missed during our many dozens of return trips home.
The evening before, we’d visited Rest Bay in Porthcawl, just six or seven miles around the coast. We sat on the bench I always associate with my parents. It was their favourite spot and it's not hard to see why! Judith and I sat in silence and thought of them for a while, all the happy ‘jaunts’ we’d been on with them to that very spot. Very soon it will be three years since Mam passed away and inevitably, as with the death of any loved one, I find my mind at this time of year filled with memories, some happy, some melancholic.
Appropriately for Halloween:
I recall visiting my parents back in the eighties. I think on this occasion I had come alone, and I remember HTV, the Welsh commercial television network, was showing the TV movie of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot over two consecutive evenings, late night. Dad was a man who liked to get to his bed before midnight, but Mam was a night-owl like me and loved a good drama. Because Salem’s Lot was made for television and consequently (1979) wouldn’t have been able to rely on gore and violence to tell its story, it concentrated on the building-up of suspense and atmosphere to communicate the tale’s horror. The excellent vampire make-up design for Mr Barlow, based on Count Orlok from the great silent classic Nosferatu, and completely going against the more urbane vision of evil that King gives us in the novel, works marvellously. Tobe Hooper, who directed the TV mini-series, keeps ratcheting up the tension and allows us only the briefest glimpse of Mr Barlow in the first episode. A great deal of the work of chilling the audience is handled with great aplomb by the superbly cast James Mason in the role of Mr B’s acolyte, Straker. Mason presents us with a truly unsettling vision of evil, allowing us to get just a whiff of the man’s viciousness and depravity masked beneath a wafer-thin veneer of sophistication. He was a fabulous actor, and Salem’s Lot is worth watching for his subtle but very scary performance alone. Yes, the series probably looks a little dated today, but no CGI here, just a good script, excellent direction and a competent cast. A horror classic in my view, and I’m sorry to have to admit (apologies to any die-hard Stepen King fans reading) considerably scarier than the novel!
Anyway, Mam and I stayed up late and watched both episodes. I’m immune to horror movies (I believe that this may be because as a teenager I was scratched by a radioactive reel of Hammer Horror film!) but I remember my mother saying to me over breakfast the following morning after we’d watched the even more unsettling second part, “I had to give myself a good talking-to after watching that film with you last night ... that Mr Barlow was horrible, wasn’t he? When I got into bed, Dad was asleep, it was windy outside, the curtains were blowing around ... my imagination got going. I had to tell myself, ‘Don’t be so soft, Mair, it was only a film’ ... it was really good though, wasn’t it Mart?”