lady_lugosi1313 and I got there shortly before lunch on the Friday, but the official business didn't begin until that evening, so we spent the afternoon enjoying Gothic seaside fun in the sunshine. We pottered around the shops buying various treasures, and then headed down to the harbour front where she introduced me to Goth Blood milkshakes - basically ordinary milkshakes with bucket-loads of food colouring in them which turn your tongue blood-red after a single sip:
I also went through the Dracula Experience: a once-in-a-lifetime audio-visual presentation of the Dracula story. I say 'once-in-a-lifetime' because it is so rubbish that it is hard to imagine anyone voluntarily going twice (for all the reasons aptly articulated in these TripAdvisor reviews). They have a cloak at the beginning of the exhibition which they claim is one of Christopher Lee's Dracula capes, but I'm afraid it clearly isn't: it has a strong diagonal ridged texture which none of Lee's capes in any of the Hammer Dracula films ever did. Still, though, the whole thing only cost three quid, and I did chuckle most of the way through at how inept it was, so I guess it wasn't the worst thing I've ever spent money on. Afterwards, we spent one whole pound each on the tuppenny falls, where lady_lugosi1313, who is an experienced competitive player, completely wiped the floor with me, winning more than double the amount of tuppences I had managed to score every time we compared our takings.
The evening began with the traditional gathering around the bench which the Society donated in 1980 (I suppose we'll celebrate the 40th anniversary of that in three years too!), where lady_lugosi1313 encountered most of the Society's members for the first time, and was also introduced to tuica: Romanian plum brandy, and of course our preferred toast. The rest of the evening was informal, but Julia (the Society's very energetic chair) had laid on a wonderful programme of events for us at the Royal Hotel the following day.
We began with a screening of a new portmanteau film called Holy Terrors made up of six screen adaptations of short stories by Arthur Machen, all filmed in north Yorkshire (mainly Whitby itself) by local producer / directors Julian Butler and Mark Goodall: the latter of whom was there to introduce it and take questions afterwards. The stories covered were 'The Cosy Room', 'The White Powder', 'The Bowmen', 'The Ritual', 'The Happy Children' and 'Midsummer', and there are two trailers here which give a good sense of the style: basically black and white evocative images with the story read over them by a narrator, except in the case of 'The Cosy Room', where there was no narrator, and 'Midsummer', which was in colour. I will be honest and say I have never read any of Machen's stories, but I enjoyed the adaptations very much. They are strongly reminiscent of the famous BBC M.R. James adaptations, although from the ones we saw I got the impression that the dark and disturbing things in Machen's stories are more likely to come from a folk-horrorish tradition of ritual and witchcraft, rather than the unquiet ghosts of the past preferred by James.
I did find 'The Cosy Room' a difficult first hurdle to get over, because its soundtrack consisted solely of disharmonious music which was JUST TOO LOUD. I understood that it was intended to stir in us a sense of unease to match that of the main character, but for me it tipped over from engaging empathy into me just sitting there thinking "Ow, my ears! Is it going to be like this for the whole of the next hour and a half? Do I dare pipe up and ask for it to be turned down?", and therefore entirely failing to connect with the actual story. Thankfully, after that the rest of the stories were voice-led rather than music-led, and the sound balance and level was far better for that, so I could relax and enjoy the magic we were supposed to be experiencing. I found the balance of essentially silent visuals coupled with beautifully-voiced narration very effective, leaving lots of room for us to enjoy the very expressive faces of an excellent set of character actors and some lovely camera work making very good use indeed of fine locations by way of interesting angles, atmospheric lighting and slow, evocative action.
We also had two talks given by members of the Society: Gail-Nina Anderson on werewolves and Barry McCann on Jekyll and Hyde. Both traced the evolution of their creatures and their stories through time, looking at how and why they have been treated differently in different circumstances, and what aspects of the human experience they have been used to explore. And although this wasn't particularly planned, both actually informed the other very neatly, and indeed made me realise something I had never really noticed before: that Jekyll and Hyde is essentially a werewolf story. As Gail had already shown us, werewolf stories have never actually been that prescriptive about the matter of how a person becomes a werewolf: many just take it for granted that they exist, and those which do try to explain how it happens offer a much wider range of possibilities than the now common idea of being bitten by an existing werewolf. Nor is the moon particularly consistently required to prompt transformations. So a story about a man who brings out his inner beast voluntarily through a potion of his own making fits right into the canon.
After lunch (roast pork baps from the Greedy Pig GET IN MY FACE!), it was time for a quiz. Given that this consisted of a ten-point round on Stoker's Dracula (which I have read multiple times and am reading right now), a ten-point round on Whitby (where I was sat while taking the quiz), and a twenty-point round on film adaptations of Dracula (which are basically the heart of lady_lugosi1313's and my co-conspiratorial film watching), you would have thought I might manage to do quite well on this, but no! Somehow Julia managed to make it really hard. The winner, Kate, scored a fairly modest 26.5 points out of 40, while I scraped along with 14.5 and lady_lugosi1313 bagged a mere 11.5. It's almost like we've been wasting our lives!
Oh well, at least we had plenty of opportunity to buy up books and DVDs which might help us to do better next time in the society auction - not to mention all sorts of other goodies, from the utterly tat-tastic to the actually very tasteful. This was my personal haul, all for no more than a tenner combined: three big thick books (which I was able to get particularly cheap thanks to having driven there while most people had come on the train and did not want heavy bags to carry home), a comic-book adaptation of Stoker's Dracula, a CD of generic atmospheric horror music and my personal favourite, a notebook in the shape of Christopher Lee from Dracula AD 1972.
That evening was the Society's formal dinner, so I grabbed the rare opportunity to dress up in full Gothic finery with both hands. We had allowed plenty of time to walk down from our guest-house and ended up arriving ridiculously early, so, as it was still light and I don't look like this very often, lady_lugosi1313 indulged me with a little photo-shoot.
Much wine was drunk, merriment had and patrons on a ghost walk of Whitby outside the window trolled by means of a green Frankenstein torch shone at them through a white napkin (though irritatingly they didn't seem to notice). None of this, though, stopped a hardy band of us from getting up the next morning bright and early to do the six-and-a-half-mile cliff walk from Whitby to Robin Hood's Bay. This of course was all in honour of Mina and Lucy, who do just this walk in Stoker's novel straight after the funeral of the Demeter's captain: a plan concocted by Mina with a view to tiring Lucy out and stopping her from fretting about the funeral and sleep-walking that night. She records her plan in an entry on the morning of 10 August thus:
She will be dreaming of this tonight, I am sure. The whole agglomeration of things, the ship steered into port by a dead man, his attitude, tied to the wheel with a crucifix and beads, the touching funeral, the dog, now furious and now in terror, will all afford material for her dreams. I think it will be best for her to go to bed tired out physically, so I shall take her for a long walk by the cliffs to Robin Hood's Bay and back. She ought not to have much inclination for sleep-walking then.And you can read her post-factum report of the walk itself that evening here.
We grabbed a couple of group pictures before we set off, which I hope Michael won't mind too much that I have stolen from his FB page:
Then off we went, past an extremely picturesque caravan site and the remains of a concrete ship built during the Second World War, and then onwards along paths perilously close to the eroding edge, up and down gullies, over huge puddles of mud (or just sliding and splashing straight through them in Aaron's case), through fields of lazy cows and finally down through the steeply-sloping streets of Robin Hood's Bay itself to be cheered on our entry into the pub where the rest of the gang - who had caught the bus - were waiting for us.
The conversation as we walked unfolded much as you would expect in the circumstances. I can't remember exactly who said what now, but the gist of it all went more or less like this:
"Presumably Mina and Lucy can't actually have walked to Robins Hood's Bay. They must have taken a horse and cart or something."
"Oh no, it says quite clearly in the novel that they walked."
"Yes, that's right - they're obviously going across the fields because some cows come up and give them a fright."
"Can you imagine doing this in heels and a corset, though?"
"Well, Victorian women did have sensible walking boots and country clothing."
"Yes, absolutely - the Victorians were very much into their physical exercise and fresh air."
"They would still definitely have been wearing corsets, though."
"Oh yes. Mind you, the whalebone corsets had quite a lot of give in them. You would only wear the steel ones in the evening."
"Well, my respect for Mina and Lucy is increasing with every step."
"You've got to wonder if Bram ever actually thought about the implications of doing all this in a corset, though."
"Hmm, yes - good point. Well, unless he dressed up in the full regalia himself and did the whole walk that way. You know, just to really get into the heads of his characters."
"Well, given that he was 6'4", that would have been quite a sight!"
In the end, we were not as hardcore as Mina and Lucy ourselves, though. They walked both ways, and had to suffer an unwanted visit from a curate in the evening. We got the bus back, before enjoying another final dinner together ahead of our general dispersal on the Monday morning. Not that lady_lugosi1313 and I were in a rush to get home that morning, though - not least because she didn't have any house-keys, so couldn't get into the house until planet_andy got home with his set anyway, and furthermore because their boiler had broken so the house would be freezing. Instead we spent most of the day in Filey, which I have never visited before, but which proved to be a charming seaside town with a lovely museum, some great charity shops, some excellent cafes, and a fountain with a surround designed like a compass showing the directions of all the locations mentioned in the shipping forecast:
They also had a crazy golf course, where lady_lugosi1313 and I played a game so utterly inept that it more than once reduced us to tears of laughter; but I feel duty bound to note that she did beat me, with a score of 37 shots for 9 holes to my 40. Finally it was time to head home, playing games of "I Spy" and "I am a Hammer film: which one am I?" as we drove. All in all a very enjoyable and much-needed final summer jolly before term hits with a vengeance next week...