Saki and Sredni Vashtar

I first came across this story on television one evening when I was 10 or 11. I can’t remember exactly who was reading it – in the short clip below it’s Tom Baker. It’s an episode from a series called ‘Late Night Story’ which fits the era so this is likely to be the version I saw, although I’m not sure why it should have been screened early in the evening: the opening titles are among the more disturbing examples of introduction sequences to TV programmes I’ve seen, and Tom Baker adds to the whole gothic experience in no small measure.

I remember being riveted by the strangeness of the story – here was something very different, almost like Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected – at the time showing on TV and not for children unless glimpsed unknown.

In this story, the sickly Conradin lives with his guardian, Mrs de Ropp, a sour and forbidding creature who drains any spirit from life. To counter this, in an outbuilding Conradin keeps animals – secretly – including the god-like ferret of the title, Sredni Vashtar.

At the time it was unlike anything I had come across, with its macabre seething and a conclusion unheard of outside a book of fairy tales. This was all the more shocking because of the polite Edwardian domesticity in which it is set, with toast-making rituals and tea. (Some may notice the recent theme of stoats and buttered toast and wonder that my memory has been jogged, although I think a love of toast may be simply what made these stories appeal… nothing like a glowing fireside and toast…)

One of my brothers soon bought a book of Saki’s collected stories (including some from the collection ‘Beast and Superbeasts’) and there were many more twisting tales to be found, often featuring wild nature disturbing a civilisation of excessive order and pomposity.

Saki (real name H.H Munro) was killed in the First World War, but his coolly-delivered, carefully-measured stories could have come from any time. In 1981 the director Andrew Birkin won a Bafta award for his 30-minute film adaptation which is worth seeking out (I believe the director has his own website with a download link).


A stoat introduces the music of Memoryhouse

I’m an extremely small stoat. I can’t imagine who created me, or for what purpose…

…however, the first track of Memoryhouse’s album The Slideshow Effect is called ‘Little Expressionless Animals’, and as I am one, it seems only right that I’m here…

Memoryhouse are a duo from Canada. Vocalist Denise Nouvion creates the visuals too and is also a photographer – more of her work can found here (there are two pages – the second is in the ‘more’ link on the left and the images are viewed using the scroll bar at the bottom). I particularly like the fox from the inner sleeve (seen with stoat, above) but lots of her pictures catch a particular type of transient, half-dreaming, half-awake light, which transform often unremarkable moments into something special.