In Loving Memory of My Friend Tariq

Around six years ago, I had the spectacular good fortune of being introduced to Dr Tariq Idris, who was well-known at the time as a cosmetic dentist practising in London’s prestigious Harley Street. I met Tariq at a time when I’d been abandoned by the dental profession and I was in a very bad way, having been driven almost literally demented by the incessant pain I was suffering. As such, I had become extremely suspicious of and hostile to dentists, so I frankly doubted that our meeting would end well for either of us, despite the glowing recommendations I’d heard about Tariq , who had had a number of high-profile celebrities as his grateful clients over the years.

I immediately warmed to Tariq, but not just because of the supreme care he took in the course of his work. He was considerate and understanding to a fantastic degree with me, which is no small feat considering that I’ve got good reason to believe that I was quite possibly the most fearful and difficult patient he’d encountered. I was grateful beyond words to him for treating me like a human being, but we stayed in touch from the very first, not just because I was his patient, but because he was such a warm, likeable, amusing, considerate and well-informed man.

I am deliberately making this account brief, because I intend to write about Tariq at far greater length another time. For now, I was fascinated to learn that he applied the principles of the Golden Ratio and the Fibonacci Sequence to his cosmetic dentistry, so there were many times when Tariq and myself talked long into the night about these matters. We discussed other things as well, such as our shared love of Pink Floyd and black dogs, but I cannot hope to do justice to the full breadth of Tariq’s learning and interests here, nor will I try.

I’m 57 years old and for as far back as I can remember, I’ve had an extremely robust sense of humour, something that’s occasionally got me into deep trouble, but Tariq was responsible for playing the funniest practical joke on me that anyone has ever managed, which is an astonishing achievement and the memory of it still makes me explode with laughter and grin like an idiot. I could continue for hours yet and one day I will, but for now, I’ll simply say that for all his many wonderful qualities, not least his warmth and kindness, I loved Tariq like a brother.

I last spoke with him just a few weeks ago and as ever, he was brimming over with curiosity and happiness as he enthused about life in general and about a forthcoming project in particular. He was planning to leave the country for a little while, so I imagined that I’d be hearing from him shortly after his return, but instead, I was appalled to receive a phone call from a mutual friend last Monday to tell me that Tariq was critically ill in intensive care in a hospital in the north of England; on Wednesday, his life support was turned off and on the Thursday, the following day, Tariq was buried in keeping with the tenets of his devoutly-held Muslim faith.

At my age, I’ve known what I suspect is at least my share of tragedies and bereavements, but Tariq’s loss is absolutely brutal, not just to me, but to his young family and to all his many other friends, as well as to all those who profited from his professional skills. For most of the time, I think of this man that I loved like a brother and I smile, because of the countless reasons I have to be happy that I knew him, but every now and again, my eyes well up, the hot tears flow unchecked and I simply cannot bloody well believe that he’s gone, so I find myself cursing a malignant fate that stole him from us at such a young age.

This isn’t what Tariq would want, so I’ve applied myself to trying to write the briefest of eulogies that will do his memory some remote semblance of justice and hopefully please anyone else who knew him, who happens to pass by this site.

“Atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale”.
“And forever, Brother, hail and farewell”.

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The Fox’s Daylight Blessing

For several years, when I’ve sat outside my back door after dark, gazing up the length of my rambling garden into the long grass and the shadows around the distant outbuildings, I’ve often been visited by a fox, meetings I’ve recorded on this site at least once before. This creature has sometimes chosen to get to within three feet or so of where I’m resting in my chair, before sitting down in an unhurried fashion, wrapping its tail around its haunches and staring silently at me for a few blessed minutes, before eventually rising once again and slipping away into the “foothills of the night”.

After each magical visit, I’ve found myself slightly out of breath, possibly because I was subconsciously holding my breath for fear of making a noise, disturbing the creature and thereby breaking the spell. However, I’m more inclined to believe that being in the presence of one of Britain’s most iconic and demonised wild animals is akin to a religious experience, as far as I’m concerned, but I can only speak of how I feel after such encounters.

Earlier today, on May Day afternoon, I was preparing a meal in my kitchen when my son Jack softly called my attention to a previously unseen vision, that of a large fox quietly climbing the steps into my garden from just beneath the window where I was standing. This fantastic creature then stared through the window at us, seemingly without a care in the world, just three or four feet away.

I quietly urged Jack to get his mother and sister from the front room, so that they too could see and share this wonder for themselves. By the time everyone had crept back into the kitchen, our visitor had moved away and was leisurely inspecting some of the higher reaches of our garden, as you can see by the photos that my daughter Tanith took, at the top and bottom of this post.

It so happened that shortly before this creature appeared, in broad daylight, I had learned some dreadful news that brought me to tears, not about my own well-being, but concerning a terrible misfortune that has befallen one of my dearest friends; someone to whom I am furthermore indebted beyond description for their kindness to me, at a time when I needed it most.

The news was so shocking in its nature that I still find it hard to believe, so I was terribly upset earlier, shaking my head and trying to come to terms with the appalling details I’d just heard. Nothing could banish this sorrow, but the unexpected sight of this wonderful fox almost literally coming to visit me could not help but lighten my mood and prevent me from indulging my natural reaction, which was to bury my head in my hands and weep.

Now, I do not know if the fox I saw today is the same creature that’s sometimes visited me by night over the course of the past few years. Nor do I know if it was anything other than a cosmic coincidence that I should see a wild animal that was absolutely guaranteed to lift my spirits, at such close quarters, so shortly after I’d received the worst news I can remember in a long time. Short of letting himself in through the kitchen door, then jumping up on one of the kitchen surfaces, he or she couldn’t have been much closer to me, and I know that they could see me through the old glass from where they paused outside, by a rosemary bush that graces that corner of the garden.

All things considered, I think it’s stretching the bounds of coincidence beyond all credulity to consider that after nearly a decade of living here, a wild animal should appear no more than a few feet away from me in broad daylight, just after I’d been informed of some news that threatened to corrode the soul. I don’t pretend to know what exactly happened in those mystical few minutes earlier, but I choose to believe that some small part of creation was moved by my plight, and sent a beautiful creature as a sign, to console me. It’s possible – though some would say it’s certain – that I was fantastically lucky, nothing more, but either way you look at the matter, life can be indescribably beautiful.

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The Moonlandingz

A few nights ago, I drove down to Exmouth at midnight, a leisurely journey along deserted, switchback roads that took something like twenty-five minutes, although I must admit that’s a guess, as I wasn’t paying attention to the passing of time. For company, I had my daughter Tanith and we spent the entire journey bathed in the moon’s strange light, listening to Interplanetery Class Classics, the new album by the Moonlandingz.

I don’t believe I possess the skill to review albums, or any other form of musical output for that matter, so I won’t try. Two of my long-standing friends – Neil Jeffries and Morat – are very good at this kind of thing, to the extent that they’ve both made a deservedly handsome living from it for all the decades I’ve been lucky enough to know them. Tanith herself reviewed the Moonlandingz’ album for Delinquent Magazine and what she wrote was re-tweeted by the band, but I don’t propose to try to add to this sum total.

Instead, I’ll simply say that I greatly enjoyed listening to what I can only describe as the deranged but melodic psychedelia of this album. There was something about the lonely drive to the seashore at midnight, drenched all the while by the Moon’s “doubtful and malignant light”, that made it seem to me as if Time briefly stood still and if I were somehow part of an old X-Files episode whose name remains tantalisingly out of reach, like standing on the threshold of a long-forgotten dream.

Unusually, the music and the mood it generated stayed with me after I left my car and while I wandered the shore at Exmouth with Tanith for thirty minutes. At such a gloomy, liminal spot, I would have usually found myself quietly singing Moonlight Drive by the Doors, or watching the eternal waves lap at the darkened sand at my feet as I summoned to mind verses by Keats, Blake or Coleridge.

I remember reading how Michael Crichton disliked the Tarot on the grounds that he felt it was “someone else’s dream” and this was an observation that struck a profound chord in me, because I always like to create my own visions rather than have one created by someone else paraded before me like a video. This time around, however, the soundtrack to my wanderings on an empty shore was the subdued gurgle of the waves by moonlight and the demon tunes from “someone else’s dream”, and very pleasant it was, too.


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The Shallows’ Heartfelt Chime

I do not feel as if I have the weight of the world on my shoulders, but I try to take a regular interest in current affairs, so it follows that there should be occasions when the news is not of a nature to lift one’s spirits. On Sunday night, what I saw on the television seemed to be a weary, unforgiving procession of deaths and subsequent funerals, brought about by brutal means such as stabbings, nerve gas, bombs and mowing innocents down with a motor vehicle, so it was one of those occasions when it seemed as if the sorrow felt by thousands elsewhere in the world ebbed silently from the screen into my living room.

Yesterday afternoon, despite the bright and invigorating sunshine, I found my thoughts inadvertently returning to these gloomy matters, so I digested them all as best I could, then I made a point of pausing on a bridge across a stream or river just a hundred yards or so from my home, as I returned from wandering the meadows and woods further afield.

There are several good reasons why I chose to linger at this tranquil spot, one being that a body of water I’ve long thought of as Blueboy’s Pool lies a mere thirty feet downstream of where I was standing. I feel nothing but pleasure when I recall all the many times that I went to this place with my black dog, as I’d mostly just stand there basking in the sunlight and the marked serenity of this spot, sometimes watching dragonflies dance around me while Blueboy splashed in the crystal waters, drinking, cooling himself down, then leisurely exploring the overgrown banks on each side of the pool.

I do not have the pleasure of Blueboy’s corporeal company anymore, but his memory never fails to give me a warm glow, while I long ago discovered that there are all manner of benefits to lingering in this blessed place, regardless of the hour or the season. On this occasion, I immediately found myself captivated by the strange music generated by the waters beneath, and the most prominent notes came from a short distance upstream from me, in the photo at the top of this post, on the left.

This river lies in a flood plain, so most of the surrounding fields are cut with deep ditches to help the waters drain away on the frequent occasions when this landscape becomes a lake. One of these ditches emerges from the fields roughly twenty feet upstream from me, so although I could not see any ripples on the side of the river from what must have been a small waterfall disrupting the surface, it was clear to me that a small stream was dripping down from the bank and across some hidden obstacles to produce a never-ending ripple of high-pitched notes, the liquid equivalent of cheery birdsong.

Unless you have been fortunate enough to experience such a thing for yourself, it is almost impossible to convey just how uplifting such a bright melody can be, as these notes generated by the passing or falling of water possess the ability to calm the troubled breast and to make the soul glad. I do not know how long I stood here, breathing in slowly and deeply through my nostrils, enchanted by the river’s song, luxuriating in the sun’s warm rays and the gentle breeze on my skin, but there belatedly came a point when I realised that the music I could hear and which delighted me so much did not emanate from the single source I’ve described.

I gradually became aware of a single note that regularly appeared as a counterpoint to the melody from the hidden waterfall, but it was deeper in tone to the bright ripples and drops burnishing the air upstream. I soon located its source, which was the regularly-forming crest of a wave brought into being by the quickening current hurrying over a large stone, plunging down a few inches before encountering another stone that forced the water back upwards. Every few seconds, the unwieldy crest would tremble, then drop back into the trough upstream and while there was an accompanying merry gurgle from the tumbling waters on each side of the falling crest, the main body in the centre produced a sweet and echoing chime as it fell.

I do not care to analyze these things too much. The reasoning and rational part of me realises that many factors were at play here, such as the time of day, the temperature, the position of the sun, the volumes of water in the ditch and in the stream, the preceding weather that had brought these things about and numerous others. I do not suppose that any supernatural agency was at work here, but at the same time, I doubt that any human hand could reproduce the magical music produced by the elements, which had the direct effect of inducing a state of serenity and bliss in me, the fortunate observer and hearer of these unfettered, Arcadian things.

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The Stonehenge Tunnel – “This is the business we have chosen”.

Once this latest farce has run its full course, I would imagine that most observers would regard the saga of the Stonehenge Tunnel to be little more than another short-lived episode in the history of the ruins on the plain, one that’s undistinguished by any drama on a par with that which accompanied the Battle of the Beanfield or the more recent removal of the Ancestors, to name but two other notable events.

To present the story in its most Lacedaemonian form, the UK government proposed building a tunnel beneath the Stonehenge landscape, but this course of action looks unlikely to go ahead in light of the singular opposition that’s arisen to the apparently ill-conceived scheme. Most notably, the harsh wording of the criticism of such an enterprise from groups including archaeologists, ICOMOS and others is unprecedented and while Stonehenge has long been famous for arousing passions, the visceral opposition from so many quarters is unique and in my considered view, it means that the plans for the tunnel will soon be dropped.

I am inclined to agree with Tim Daw in his assessment, when he pretty much states that the plans for the tunnel being dropped in the face of ferocious and entirely predictable opposition is the outcome the government desired all along. If this is indeed the case, then it lays bare at best a horrendous miscalculation on the part of some of those who vocally supported the tunnel, and at worst some vested interests that I can only speculate upon.

The Stonehenge landscape is of incalculable valuable to us all, regardless of our individual views of its true nature and origin. It follows that all those who seek to preserve it, let alone to exalt it, will find their individual and collective rewards soon enough, whereas those who choose to despoil this wonderful place for their selfish, short-term ends will endure eternal and lasting scorn as the legacy of their ill-advised efforts to diminish one of the undisputed Wonders of the World.

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”
Omar Khayyam.

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Two Greek Hauntings


When I fell ill last March, the experience robbed me of my inclination and ability to write, but mercifully, this seems to have been a temporary state of affairs. There are many things I wish to write about, particularly concerning Stonehenge, but I have long planned to put together my experiences of the supernatural over the decades in a book entitled “Otherworld”. I was reminded of this a week or so ago when I came across the following account of two Greek hauntings that I wrote a few years ago, but there are scores like this and I really must commit them to writing before the details are lost in the mists of time:

Over twenty-one years ago, when my wife Gill was expecting our first child, we went on holiday to a small village in southern Greece. As had been the case with our previous visits to this wonderful country, the place was idyllic, so we divided our time during the day between visiting the archaeological ruins strewn across the countryside and lazing on the beach, with the waves of the Aegean gently lapping on our feet as we made our way along the winding, golden sands. After returning to our apartment for a meal, a rest and a change of clothes, we would then wander into the nearby village and we soon chose to spend our evenings at an open air coffee bar, situated just before the entrance to the main square, where we could relax and watch the world go by.

We soon came to know and to be on friendly terms with George, the young man running the bar, and the time inevitably came when I mentioned my life-long interest in ghosts. I knew that most Greeks take this kind of thing very seriously, so I didn’t make light of the matter, but I was nonetheless surprised when George confided in me that his village was infested by two truly terrifying hauntings.

He described the first as being a demonic voice, or a “dragon’s breath” that dwelt in a church and which terrified passers-by at night. I immediately supposed that this was some derelict building on a lonely hill, far beyond the confines of the village, so I was taken aback to learn that the church in question was in regular use by worshippers and was just 300 yards or so away from where we were sat, on a street just behind the lively main square. I was even more surprised when George told me that there was every chance I would hear the voice for myself, that very night, if I felt like spending a minute or two taking the trouble to walk there.

I could scarcely believe that I had encountered an active haunting that could be relied upon to make itself known to a casual enquirer virtually on request, while the fact that this church stood within 40 or 50 feet of a square packed with lively bars and tavernas made the whole scenario seem even more unlikely. All the same, I found it impossible to resist the idea of looking into this fearsome haunting, so Gill and I strolled through the main square down to the beach, then along the main road until we came to the bottom of the street where the church was located.

We were just about to walk up the gentle incline, when we noticed a young man in front of us taking the same route. As he passed by the church gates on his left, he leapt in fright, then hurried away through the gloom until he reached the top of the street, with its welcoming lights. Neither Gill nor myself had heard anything, so we slowly wandered up the hill until we came to the church gates. We had barely had time to take in the courtyard with flagstones and the small church just twenty feet or so away, when we heard a sound like a huge metal cylinder being unscrewed, containing pressurised air. This ‘voice’ seemed to come from one of the open windows in the church tower and it was extremely unnerving, so as Gill was expecting our baby, I immediately took her back to the bar and left her with George and his friends while I returned alone, to investigate further.

I felt mildly apprehensive as I strode through the dark shadows once more, but I felt no sense of foreboding, neither did I feel that my progress was being tracked in any way by any sentient being. I shivered as I stood waiting at the iron gates, but I couldn’t honestly tell if this was due to the cold night air, to fear of the unknown or to a combination of both. As I surveyed the church and courtyard once again, I had the distinct impression that I was being watched from one of the empty windows in the tower and this sensation was immediately reinforced by a loud, reptilian hiss that seemed to come  from the empty window I was looking at. It made me shudder, but I stood my ground and cast around for any possible further clues among the trees, gravestones and courtyard in front of me.

A few seconds later, I flinched as the ‘voice’ or hiss seemed to creep closer to me, appearing this time to emanate from some invisible mouth a few feet about the courtyard and a few yards closer to where I was standing. I had been in many supposedly haunted locations over the years, some of them possessing a highly malevolent atmosphere, but I had usually managed to remain in place and keep my fear in check. This was different to most of the others, though, because whatever the ‘voice’ was, it was moving closer to me, and the scenario was made even stranger by the fact that I wasn’t sitting in some deserted castle or by some lonely pool in a forest, because just a short distance away were lights, music, other human beings and all the trappings of normality.

Just a few yards in front of the iron gates, to the right, was a small wooden shed, with briars or roses creeping up its sides. It was the other side of the courtyard from the tower where the voice first made itself known, so I was disconcerted when another loud hiss came from somewhere on the roof of the shed. I was completely baffled by this, as I had never come across such an animated ‘haunting’ before, nor one that performed to order, nor one in the middle of such a populated area, either. The hissing noise had been so loud that I began to think that it must have been a large snake, which would of course have meant that it was nothing to do with the original voice from the tower.

So, I decided to open the gates to have a look for myself, but I found that I simply could not force myself to enter the courtyard that was the domain of this monstrous voice. I had encountered similar situations before (and a few since) where I simply had to accept the unpalatable fact that I was too frightened to remain or go forward, so I snapped the gates together once more and set off back to the nearby bar, hardly daring to look behind me as the sibilant voice echoed through the cool night air once again. As I strode away, it occurred to me that the noise was not unlike the sound made by seawater as it drained back through shingle after a wave had hit the beach, but the nearby sea met golden sand, not shingle, and in any case, the appearance of this voice was irregular, unlike the waves that I could see and hear just a short distance behind me.

A few nights later, Gill and I were having a meal at a tavern owned by a Dutch family – two sisters and a brother – who had decided to make this beautiful village their home. They were all fully aware of the haunting in the church and they told me that it had blighted the village for many years, although no one could remember when it started, still less offer an explanation for it. This unnatural voice and its source was beginning to take up most of my waking thoughts, so I asked my new friends if it would be possible for me to spend the night in the church or church tower alone, to see if I could cast any light on this unnerving matter. They promised to ask about it, but when I next spoke with them, a few days later, they told me that the priest had declined to give permission and seemed to be angry that such an ungodly matter was receiving so much attention. Nonetheless, this was apparently the first time that any outsider had tried to solve the mystery of the demonic voice, so it seemed I had the tacit backing of many of the villagers who had learned about my interest in the place, while they trusted me not to cause any harm or exploit the matter in any way.

And so it was that I found myself stood in the churchyard, next to the tower, waiting and worrying as I had done so many times before. I was worrying that the police would turn up, worrying that an irate priest would come along, worried that some passing locals might take offence, and I was worried about what lay in wait in the tower that I planned to enter and inspect. I was accompanied by a burly, Greek-speaking Dutchman and one of his sisters who held an Alsatian on a leash, but I noted that the dog didn’t seem remotely out of sorts. This was no cast iron guarantee that there was no supernatural presence in the church, but it just added to my sense of bafflement.

A few nervous Greeks had accompanied us and they had almost fled when the ghastly voice made itself heard as we hurried across the courtyard to the graves by the tower. I didn’t blame them, of course, and as I began to climb the tower, using the church wall and a rusting drainpipe to help my ascent, I felt the Fear of God at the thought of what awaited me when I peered into the empty window. The rushing, hissing call came again and for some reason, a nightmare vision of demonic claws flashed into my mind, but at the same moment, I knew exactly what had taken up residence in the tower. My thoughts were confirmed by the people beneath me staring up at me and shouting “Ah, boofa!” as they saw an owl with a small rodent in its beak, silently winging its way to an aperture in the church tower.

By a small miracle, everyone had been gazing up at the same time, following my nervous ascent, so they had managed to glimpse this bird as it glided across the small space between the encircling trees and the tower. I hastily clambered back down so as not to disturb these creatures, but none of us present could help laughing at the idea that we had been so terrified by the sound of hungry babies. I was never able to work out the exact details, but my guess was that the baby owls in the tower were periodically fighting among themselves or else calling out to their parents for food. This was certainly the cause of the demonic voice that had frightened everyone so badly for years, while I’m also guessing that this ‘voice’ had been somehow amplified by the bare confines of the empty tower. As for the way the ‘voice’ had seemed to cross the churchyard, I presume it was a mixture of my imagination and the way that the rapidly cooling air at nightfall had carried the sound across the flagstones.

Even at the time, the explanation for this ‘haunting’ seemed so obvious that everyone concerned was surprised it had not been discovered before, but I know of at least one other alleged haunting in south Devon that occurred on a regular basis and which initially terrified some BBC sound engineers who went along to investigate it, until they belatedly discovered the true cause. Be that as it may, everyone had cause to celebrate at George’s bar later that night and it was very pleasant being the hero of the hour, but I was never able to do anything about the other haunting that plagued the village.

The only solid details I was able to glean at the time concerned a former mayor of the village, who had lived roughly a century ago. It seems that the village had once stood in a slightly different location until it had been destroyed by an earthquake, and for some reason that no one was entirely clear about, the mayor had been held to blame, presumably because he had been responsible for some of the construction that had failed so disastrously. As a result, he had been buried in the northern section of the churchyard, a place reserved for suicides and others who had committed crimes against God and their fellow man, but this particular mayor refused to lie down.

From what I heard, he was frequently seen in the village, perhaps two or three times a month, and he appeared to everyone as a physical form, not as an ethereal ghost. Everyone unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity of this baleful spectre knew when he would be appearing, because he was always preceded by a sound described to me as a pocketful or purse of small coins chinking together in a regular, slow and highly ominous tempo. This spectre wasn’t regarded as a harbinger of any kind, because no particular ill-fortune was known to have befallen those who saw him, but his appearance as some kind of malevolent corpse was so sinister and so frightening that everyone was in dread of encountering him.

Perhaps the oddest aspect of this particular haunting was that the dead mayor did not prowl the village or the graveyard, but only ever appeared on first-floor balconies and nowhere else. No one could offer any explanation for this, but it fascinated me for a number of reasons. Although I’d heard of ghosts exclusively inhabiting specific locations, the only other example I could think of where a spectre confined itself to a first floor was the 19th century haunting in Berkeley Square, but as it could be said that many other ghosts confined their appearances to a single room, regardless of which floor this room happened to be on, this wasn’t much help.

To my regret, I never encountered this sinister spectral mayor myself, but on the night before I left the country, I was introduced to a man who owned a restaurant in the village and I was told he might be someone who could tell me more about this haunting. I was received politely enough and I learned that he possessed a degree in mathematics, but he flatly denied any and all knowledge of such a haunting. I’m not an expert on psychology or body language, but I could immediately tell that this man was under severe stress and making an enormous effort to be polite, so I quickly changed the subject. Later that night, I learned that his wife had encountered the phantom just the night before, on a balcony just above where I’d been sitting, and she had found it to be a shattering experience.

As far as these matters are concerned, I think of myself as a ghost finder, not a ghost hunter, so I’ll certainly look into this haunting again if I go back to the beautiful village by the Aegean Sea. Nightmarish though this phantom is said to be, the existence of a ‘ghost’ that makes regular appearances in a populated area and which confines itself to prowling highly specific places is a dream come true for those of us interested in such matters, so it may be that I’ll be able to provide a longer account of this monstrous apparition in the fullness of time. In the meantime, I’m fortunate enough to know of many others, much closer to hand, so I intend to resume writing about these and others for a planned volume I’ve mentioned before, “Otherworld”.


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Earlier today, I was delighted to receive a handsome membership card confirming that I am now a member of the UK branch of ICOMOS, so I look forward to gradually finding my place within this organisation and working to help it fulfill its noble aims. It seems to me that there is a great need for the services that ICOMOS is capable of providing, both at home here in the UK and also abroad, which means that I shall be doing my level best to find some way of using my limited powers for the benefit of Mankind.


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