This issue of Orphan Scrivener reaches you a day or two into Parentalia, which the ancient Romans observed between the l3th and 2lst of February in honour of the Manes, or souls of the departed. Temples were closed during this period but families made simple offerings such as bread, wine or flowers at ancestral tombs, especially those of parents.

This quiet, reflective festival fits well into a time when the greyest month of the year is not yet over. However, fairly soon we'll be hearing the first returning geese honking as they pass overhead in those long v-shaped skeins that spearhead the changing season. And while there is no other mention of geese in this issue of Orphan Scrivener, we do refer to sheep, a whale, a lizard-like thing and a large black bird, so without further ado, we'll better get going before the menagerie gets any bigger.


Remember the days when you didn't go out to the mall to see a film at a multiplex -- and hear half of what was going on in the next screening while you were at it? Those days when -- if you lived in England, at least -- you'd sit on the edge of a shabby plush (but somehow prickly) fold-up seat in the local fleapit, craning your neck this way and that to see around the heads of the people sitting in front? When the interval between Pearl & Dean's string of crackly ads for local businesses and the main feature heralded the arrival of the lady with the discreetly lit tray of ice-cream and the subsequent dash along your row, falling over patrons' feet and knocking coats off the backs of seats in a mad rush to get the last orange-flavoured ice lolly? When you kept scrapbooks made from brown paper and filled them with three-colour studio portraits of the stars, snipped from weekly film fan magazines and glued in with flour and water paste?

The recent announcement that Gladiator has been nominated for twelve Oscars reminded me of those days, or actually nights, when we went to the pictures every Friday and/or Saturday, depending on how much pocket money we had left after buying licorice whips, gobstoppers and packets of Spangles. It was at one of those local cinemas, small but with suitably baroque architecture, that I first saw the retelling of The Fall of the Roman Empire. Alec Guinness played a grave Marcus Aurelius and Christopher Plummer a rather sinister but well-spoken Commodus and whereas Rome was proverbially not built in a day, the Empire managed to crumble around statuesque Sophia Loren in the space of a mere three hours. Not that we noticed its extraordinary length, for we sat enthralled, overlooking even the usual jumps and changes in depth of colour as the reels changed, not to mention that irritating occasional patch of light that spilled over the screen as patrons entered or exited through the main doors at the rear, behind the not-quite-tall-enough curtain hanging on a brass rail running along behind the back row of seating.

Every evening's presentation ended with the playing of the national anthem, during which the audience stood -- or at least those who had not rushed out as the credits began to roll so they could catch their last bus home or start the brisk walk back through cold, smoky night air or perhaps just to avoid having to stand there feeling like a lemon as most of the audience slunk off through the exit before the anthem was even half done.

We all went to the pictures at least once a week, no matter what the film happened to be. The fact that they arrived locally years after they premiered was neither here nor there. If they showed it, we would come. At least, if we could get in. Occasionally there was a problem when the film had been rated A by the Board of Censors, whose certificate prefaced all films. The sight of a hand-written title set within their florid printed declaration that the film in question had been judged suitable for a particular audience, as sometimes shows up when old films are presented on late night TV, must bring nostalgic tears to eyes that originally saw the same certificate in a cinematic setting.

There were three rating categories: U (Universal, considered suitable for all audiences), A (Adult, judged too mature for children) and X (reserved for horror films). However, younger persons were admitted to view an A film if they were accompanied by an adult and so we guttersnipes would hang about in the foyer asking "Will you take us in, missus?" should we arrive to find that the poster for the feature of the week displayed the dreaded, if not scarlet, A. Thus many a courting couple began a romantic evening by agreeing to escort three or four children -- unknown to them or for that matter to each other -- into the cinema. Needless to say, the ticket-seller in her glass-fronted mini-fortress turned the proverbial blind eye when the "offspring" peeled off into the lower floor and their temporary parents went upstairs to the balcony, a favourite haunt of amorous duos. Well, after all, it was a bit more private and certainly less expensive than that other popular destination for the working class weekend date, the Palais de Dance, recalled so nostalgically in the Kinks' Come Dancing.

However, the Saturday morning matinees for children were a different business entirely. With most of the audience stamping their feet, whistling, cheering and booing and (I regret to say) occasionally running up and down the aisles, these screenings were much more raucous and lively affairs. They were attended by very few adults -- and that was just as well considering that most of the boys perched in the balcony so they could lob small missiles of various sorts over its edge (scrunched up bits of paper were particularly popular) in the hopes of hitting one of the girls sitting far below. Not that they entirely got away with it, as there was a fair amount of hair-pulling when the matinee was over and it was a wise boy who got away quickly as soon as the house lights came up after our weekly ration of a newsreel, a cartoon or two and the next episode in the serial. It was fortunate indeed that a snack I hear was on sale in later years at the Bensham, another cinema we patronised, was not available in those days. One shudders to think what those wretched lads would have got up to with helpings of soup.

Our much-loved picture houses were not exactly from the Grand Electric Kinematic Palace mould. If you've seen The Smallest Show On Earth, you'll have a good idea of the sort of cinema we went to, although I will admit that I never encountered a ticket-seller quite as eccentric as Margaret Rutherford's character. Even so, imagine my surprised delight when I recently stumbled over a photograph of the Coatsworth, a particular favourite when we lived in Gateshead, displayed in the council's local history page.

Looking at that familiar soot-stained facade again after so long, I could almost hear the shouts of "See you at the flicks!" as we rushed down the back lane after school, anxious to gulp down our tea and get going. We could hardly wait. It was Friday and that meant a new film was showing! Even the Academy Awards just don't seem to generate the same sort of excitement and perhaps we're all the poorer for it.


We don't have much news to impart this time around, so we'll leap straight into it.


Speaking of awards, as Kaspar Gutman possibly remarked of the Maltese Falcon, "It would be an honor, sir, a fine honor indeed, to own a large black bird such as that." And so it would be, if he happened to be talking about the Raven Award. Thus it is with great delight that, just in case you missed it, we mention here that the Mystery Writers of America recently announced that it will be presenting a Raven Award to our editor Barbara Peters. The Raven is described on the MWA website as recognising "outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing". So congratulations to Barbara and all at Poisoned Pen Press!


And speaking of matters mysterious, how about a chat? No, not a cat but rather a chin-wag. Poe's Raven may have croaked "Nevermore", but Talk City is not so fortunate since we are returning to darken its virtual doorstep on March 7th when Stephanie Shea hosts a chat for, and with, us and whoever else decides to drop in.

If you'd like to visit, you'll get there by going to and then clicking on "author chatroom", which will take you to the EZtalk page. Type in your name and password and hit "go chat". (If you haven't registered, just click on the registration link and follow the onscreen instructions. When that's done, click "continue" and that'll take you to the chat room. It sounds more complicated than it actually is in practice, honestly!

Authors appearing on the Talk City for the rest of February are Bev Connors ("Airtight Case") on the 2lst and Karen Irving ("Jupiter's Daughter") on the 28th. After our chat on March 7th, S. J. Rozan ("Reflecting the Sky") is the guest on March l4th, so tune up your clickers and grab your chance to mercilessly grill a few authors -- hope we'll see you there!


We'd like to mention that, after a slight delay, the hardcover of Two For Joy is now on sale, decked out in a beautifully lush green and gold cover. Twofer received a rave review in Booklist whose ratings, we understand, are much relied upon by libraries, so perhaps you could ask your local librarian to look us up some time. Meantime, to catch up on John's earlier adventures, there's also One For Sorrow in hardcover or trade paperback edition. Three For A Letter Is Proceeding Along. More on that in due course.


Growing up in the United States when neighborhood theaters were already being squeezed out of existence by television, I wasn't the movie-goer Mary was. My friends and I spent hours watching old Tarzan and Three Stooges movies on TV while debating who were the "real" Tarzans and Curly's and who the fakes.

My earliest celluloid recollection is of the drive-in next door to the house where we spent the summer. Just before bed time I'd be allowed to walk to the wire mesh fence at the end of our big lawn to see the cartoon shown before the movie. There was something startling about watching gigantic, garishly colored shapes flashing around the enormous screen in the soft summer twilight. From where I stood no dialog could be heard except, if the breeze was right, an occasional tinny murmur from a car speaker set up high. Aside from that, the cinematic action was accompanied only by the usual summer noises of insects and frogs.

In fact, although local movie theatres were by then dying out around the country, one still remained open a couple of minutes' walk from my house. It was owned by, and named for, my best friend's grandfather. I don't remember much except admission was l4 cents so I'd still have allowance money left for penny candy. My friends and I went to see westerns and our favorite was Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which we re-fought hundreds of times in our back yards.

But there were some disappointments. The eagerly awaited Three Stooges In Orbit starred what appeared to us to be suddenly elderly geezers, not to mention an obviously fake Curly. Moby Dick was even more disappointing. To be blunt, the whale wasn't scary. What is a monster movie without a decent monster? The makers of Reptilicus must have learned something from it, though, because their production featured a reasonably destructive giant lizard and that severed foot floating to the bottom of the sea at the conclusion, at which point you immediately knew that...whoa...he's gonna regenerate! Now that's a really dramatic ending, compared to some silly looking peg-legged puppet flapping its arm about as it vanishes underwater on the back of a artificial whale.

We lived in constant hope that one day a movie would scare us to death but (as you see) it never happened. The special effects just weren't up to it. We'd start talking about this or that science fiction feature days in advance, conjuring up the most delicious terrors imaginable. By the time we went to the theater we'd worked ourselves into a fever pitch but the monster always, finally -- and usually after the film makers had titillated us for 80 minutes -- turned out to be manufactured from painted cardboard or a tarted up bag of jello, a bigger swiz than the snake woman at the County Fair.

We were particularly gung-ho to see William Castle's The Tingler, where your seat was supposed to administer the occasional shock and scary stuff came flying out on wires, or maybe they used 3-D projections or something like that or so we figured, and people actually had died of fright, but that never came to our little local cinema. I guess my friend didn't have that much pull with his grandfather.

But I'll bet The Tingler would've been really shocking.


Alas, the dark clouds of April l5th are already lurking stormily on the horizon and for US residents at least this annual day of fiscal reckoning looms ever closer. However, some light relief for those being fleeced by the tax man may be obtained by contemplating Parilia. Held on April 2lst, it was a bucolic festival for which sheep folds were decorated and their occupants purified. Offerings were made and prayers said for the health and safety of shepherds and their ovine charges. It seems that part of the Parilian jamboree involved the shepherds leaping through small fires and apparently their flocks were also herded between two bonfires as a further rite of protection.

Fortunately our subscribers don't have to go through fire in order to receive their next issue of Orphan Scrivener, since it'll automatically arrive on April l5th. If nothing else, we can guarantee that reading it will be less taxing than ploughing through the instruction booklet for IRS Form l040.

Best wishes

Mary and Eric

whose home page lurks about at:

Therein you'll find the usual suspects plus more personal essays, an interactive game and an on-line jigsaw puzzle (at least for those who have java-enabled browsers) featuring One For Sorrow's boldly scarlet cover. For those new to the subscription list there's also the Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned!

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