Double Bill Six – The Premature Burial (1962)

THE PREMATURE BURIAL (1962)              August 6th 1977          23.55 – 01.10

‘I wasn’t running from what was inside that coffin. I was running from what I knew to be inside me.’

Guy Carrell (Ray Milland)

For me, Roger Corman’s wonderful The Premature Burial provides the most profoundly unsettling experience of all the films across the entire run of BBC2 horror double bills. Undeniably a masterpiece, it is a disturbing, uncomfortable and haunting experience which perfectly captures the essence of Poe’s peculiarly queasy tone while in its details not owing him much more than the title.

court corman titleIt’s an often-told story that Corman had a difficult time trying to persuade his bosses at AIP that for the same money it would take to make yet another double bill of low budget black and white quickies he could instead give them a single, colour, ‘proper’ horror film to rival the Hammer product sweeping so profitably across the States. In particular, they objected to his proposal of an adaptation of Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher (of which more later) on the grounds that he’d be making a monster movie with no monster in it. ‘The house is the monster’ Corman quickly and successfully improvised.

Well, the Usher strategy was an enormously profitable one, and The Premature Burial was the third of what was to be an eventual eight films in the Corman AIP ‘Poe Cycle’, though this time, uniquely, the starring role of Guy was taken by the accomplished Ray Milland when on every other occasion the lead was Vincent Price. And this time, the monsterless monster movie took on the biggest bogeyman of them all. In The Premature Burial, Corman might well have pointed out, Death is the monster.


The first and last shots in the film are of headstones. The most significant sequences in the film unfold in a graveyard or in the mouldering family crypt, over which broods the pervasive presence of Milland’s obsession that his father was buried alive. Succumbing ever deeper to the paranoid conviction that the same fate that befell his father now awaits him, Guy’s imaginative ‘mancave’ solution is to build himself a homemade tomb studded with an endless succession of escape methods in the event that he wakes up after his own funeral, culminating in a draught of poison should all else fail. The twitching dead frogs and galvanic batteries with which Guy and Miles experiment in the basement serve to position Milland as a surrogate Peter Cushing, but unlike Baron Frankenstein’s obsession with the creation of life, Guy is obsessed only with avoiding death. The honeymoon which Guy and Emily never manage to go on was to have been in Venice, an entire city which has been slowly dying for centuries.King

Even the dog dies.

Or, at least, poor old King appears to die, before recovering from the lightning strike which seemed to have killed him, only to deepen Guy’s fear of premature burial.

Death lurks in every corner of the narrative – just as you’d expect from a film called The Premature Burial – but even more startlingly it exerts a presence in almost every frame. The production design foregrounds it from the opening shot onwards, tracking across a mist-shrouded, consciously artificial and studio-bound graveyard, flecked with lifeless, twisted stick-trees and framed against a sickly painted night-sky backdrop. It’s in the eerily whistled version of ‘Molly Malone’ which continues to echo hauntingly throughout the film, and in the top-hatted mourning dress of the scene’s grave-robbing doctors. Most of all, perhaps, it’s in the livid red blood-smears on the bottom of the coffin lid and in the crash zoom onto the frozen, screaming face of the corpse, now revealed to have been buried alive.

It’s not only the magnificent first sequence however. As the opening credits roll we cut to the stately progress of a jet-black horse drawing what appears to be a black funeral carriage through the same fog blanketed landscape, and then move inside to focus on the black, mourning-clad Hazel Court as Milland’s fiancée Emily.

court start

There is, as we are soon to discover, no narrative reason why she should first appear in mourning dress when she is simply going to see in person why Guy has broken off their engagement by letter. Corman and designer Daniel Haller have made a production decision based purely on atmospheric, rather than narrative, logic, choosing to use the costume design to keep the idea of death before our eyes at every moment.

The only flicker of colour is provided by the striking scarlet feathers in Emily’s black bonnet, calculated to create, perhaps consciously, an association with the bright red flare of her lips, and vividly contrasting her black-clad and bustled respectability. Sex and death. Sex and death.

black and red 1The reds and blacks that continue to dominate the production design once we are inside Guy’s mansion have a clear symbolic function, which point towards Corman’s use of Hazel Court throughout the film. Her amoral sensuality is the flash of red on the black palette, the flicker of Eros in the face of Thanatos. Emily is Desire in the kingdom of the Dead.

It’s an opposition that runs throughout the film, but one that is never embodied more clearly than in the wedding night sequence. Having had a funny turn at the reception, Milland is laid out on the couple’s four-poster, black-suited and still as death, while Hazel Court, diaphanous nightgown floating softly around her, leans over her unmoving husband, gently caressing his forehead, his cheek, his chin, and lends a desperate, sensual urgency to the soft, deep, lingering kisses she offers her corpse-like groom.

Hazel Court occupies an exceptional place in the history of the horror film, working for Hammer on Curse of Frankenstein and The Man Who Could Cheat Death, before becoming Corman’s leading lady of choice, appearing for the director in The Premature Burial and equally powerfully in The Masque of the Red Death, and also showing a talent for comedy in The Raven. What unites her performances across these disparate films, and what develops increasingly powerfully from one to the next, is a much more full-blooded and potently sensual quality than was often to be found elsewhere in the films of the period.

Female sexuality in films is usually synonymous with youth, conveying a rather dubious connotation that sexual desire is the preserve of young girls barely out of high school and that, much past twenty five, a woman is sexless mother or nothing. What Hazel Court is able to do, much more unusually, is the unabashed sexuality of the grown woman. The contrast between the two ideas is one which is drawn very boldly in Masque of the Red Death – embodied in the casting of a wide-eyed and fresh-faced Jane Asher as the girl Vincent Price lusts after and aims to corrupt, which is perfectly balanced by the maturity of Court’s stellar performance as Price’s lover.

graveyard end guy and emilyThere is no ‘younger woman’ in Premature Burial, but Court’s performance here is, if anything, even more exceptional. Although she is revealed by the end as the film’s nominal villain, I can forgive Emily any amount of duplicity and manipulation – Court’s performance is such that she holds my complete sympathy throughout the film. I’d far rather side with her rich, earthy sensuality and hedonism than with Guy’s dreadful, self-absorbed and selfish fetishisation of death. If I had the misfortune to be married to Milland in the film I’d certainly be plotting his speedy demise too. The waste of Emily’s life as Guy takes his psychotic revenge for her betrayal seems to me a far worse crime than anything she does to him. At least Emily was alive in the first place, which is more than you can say for the death-fixated Milland.

graveyard end bodiesThe film’s final track across the graveyard, away from the dead bodies of both leading actors until the frame is filled with the words ‘Rest in Peace’ carved into a weathered stone seems to suggest the meaningless inevitability of death’s triumph over us all. Yet it was the sheer, unashamed sexiness of Hazel Court that was to be the film’s most lasting impression on me. The red feathers rather than the black dress. The red lips rather than the clammy tomb. In memory, at least, sex triumphs over death.

And, just to say, Court is spectacularly sexy in the film. Not just in her first appearance, nor only in the wedding night sequence. There’s also a fabulously telling little moment when the servant announces a call from Miles Archer (the doctor to whom she has taken emily mirrora fancy, despite her marriage to Guy) and Hazel Court looks down thoughtfully, stands, checks her reflection and adjusts her hair before receiving him. The moment speaks volumes about Emily’s instinctive worldview that desire is natural and should be embraced, not repressed. There’s no guilt or indecision, just a complete, unselfconscious acceptance of her own sexuality.

The moment is echoed even more strongly later, after Guy’s apparent death, when she reclines on the bed in front of a bizarrely oblivious Miles, the tight framing emphasising the bareness of her shoulders as though she were naked. But much more than the hint of flesh, it’s in her eyes. The knowing, poised and unashamed gaze Hazel Court gives the scene is extraordinarily erotic.

emily 5

Sometimes there’s a tendency to argue that these things are always relative. The ‘Yes, Lana Turner smouldered in the context of the 1940s but it’s hardly Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct is it?’ kind of idea, as though the modern attitude to censorship and permissiveness has a monopoly on the genuinely seductive, like each new generation of teenagers demanding the right to believe that they invented sex. Hazel Court in The Premature Burial gives the lie to the relativism as far as I’m concerned. The look in her eyes as she lies, bare-shouldered and eager, in front of her prospective new lover is more overt and explicit for me than any number of erotic thrillers filled with fleshy but soulless montages. The scene is sexy by the standards of any day or age because of the knowing desire and sexual confidence Court lends her performance.

It all combines to make Hazel Court’s Emily, for me, horror cinema’s most perfect femme fatale (I’d spare an honourable mention for Linda Hayden’s brilliant performance as Angel Blake in Blood on Satan’s Claw, but Hayden’s youth at the time makes it a very different kind of role) and a performance which was more than enough to make a startling and lasting impression on the twelve year old me watching more than a little breathlessly from his parent’s sofa in the summer of 1977.

Now, flash forward twenty years.

A late 90s January morning, stupidly early, struggling out of sleep under a steely, slate-grey sky. The phone rings, harsh and metallic in the early morning silence. The phone. A sudden, lurching, sick in the stomach moment. We’re all afraid of early morning phone calls, aren’t we? Afraid that they’ll be that phone call, the phone call we never even want to think about receiving. And this time, just this once, it is.

My mother’s voice, far away on the other end of the line, sounding oddly distant and emptied. ‘Michael?’ she says. She’s hesitant yet urgent at the same time. ‘There’s something wrong with your dad.’

‘What is it? What do you mean?’

‘He’s in his chair. He was eating his porridge, and then he started shaking. He stopped eating his porridge and he was shaking and then he just slumped and he made this awful noise…Michael? Michael? I think he’s dead.’

The porridge is the thing, isn’t it? I don’t know why, in that context, mum felt it important to specify the particular breakfast involved, but she did. We think about death coming in many forms, sudden or violent, brutal or tragic, dramatic or peaceful, but never quite so banal. We don’t picture the Reaper popping round over the Quaker Oats. We tend to leave those sort of details aside.

Shakespeare understood it though, as he did so many other things. For me, the most unbearably moving moment at the end of King Lear isn’t the hideous juxtaposition of ‘the gods defend her’ with the immediate entrance of Lear carrying Cordelia’s dead body, nor Lear’s desperate denial of the undeniable, nor his anguished ‘howl, howl, howl, howl.’ It is the moment Lear truly accepts the horror of his loss, and the profundity of his tragedy is punctuated by a spot of bother with his collar: ‘..thou wilt come no more/Never, never, never. – Pray you, undo/This button here..’ It’s that sudden interjection of the trivial and the mundane which renders everything else so human and so anguished and so desperately, unbearably true.

‘Oh God,’ I mumble helpfully into the phone, and then ‘Oh Christ.’ Ha! the God botherers cry triumphantly – proof that there are no atheists in foxholes! The argument rather neglects the fact, however, that had I been speaking to anyone other than my mum, I would almost certainly have said ‘Oh shit… Oh fuck’ instead, demonstrating as an alternative hypothesis that there are no constipation sufferers or celibates on that metaphorical front line.

crypt3I’ve always felt Hemingway’s phrase about the earth moving during sex to be a bit overblown (oo-er). But this phone call shows me that death can do what sex can’t. I have the distinct sense of a shift in the axis of existence at exactly this moment. The ceiling and the sky beyond it seem to move oppressively close while the rest of the world recedes into long shot, and I have a sickly falling sensation that I’m lost, and standing on some kind of conveyor belt carrying me further and further from home and that there’s no getting off, not ever.

I hold it together enough to mutter that I’m on my way. ‘Please hurry’ she says, beginning to cry properly.

Fortunately, at the time I was living only a handful of streets away from my parent’s home – a five minute drive at most – but, unfortunately, I couldn’t drive back then, having failed my test at 18, then left home and been without the money or the pressing need to take it again at any point since. At this moment however, the sensation of helplessness and inadequacy is overwhelming.

Not overwhelming enough for me to actually do anything about getting my licence in the immediate aftermath though; that doesn’t happen until, almost ten years later, I am faced with a similar sense of my own humiliating uselessness when my wife is allowed home from hospital only on the proviso that someone can drive her back at a moment’s notice if need be, and we have to ask her stepmother to come and stay for a few days as designated driver.

I ring a taxi. I speak numbly to my partner of the time. After some centuries the taxi arrives, and we head round more or less in silence. I don’t really remember that short journey at all, except for one specific moment, staring bleakly out of the window at the passing privet, mancavecoffinand clutching somehow at the presence of a robin in the hedge as a sign that this was all just a terrible mistake. That, as in all those cruel, cruel films, he wasn’t really dead at all, and would open his eyes to pass humorous comment on the tears of all those gathered around the body.

We arrive. We go in. I remember nothing of what is said. I’m in the living room, somehow, and there he is. He is sitting in his big brown leather armchair, his head lolling back and his mouth hanging open. His sightless eyes are wide. There’s no question of doing anything. He is so completely gone. It doesn’t even look like him. This is the dead body of my father. This is how Death looks.

My hand moves to my mouth. I look away because I have to and look back for the same reason. That bloody bowl of porridge is resting on a shelf between the chair and the fireplace.

My feelings come like this. First, there is shock. Not shock in quite the usual sense though. Not shock at the loss and what it means and what life will be like now and how mum will cope, though that’s all buried in there somewhere deep down.

No, it’s the shock of the visual that dominates the moment. It’s the sudden instant of horror that sears itself onto the retina and stays there like the shock reveal in so many, many of these horror films I cradle and clutch to my inadequate heart to try to explain and understand so much that is wonderful and frightening and terrifying in the world around me, and here they are again, these strange old movies, even here, even now, these strange old films I first encountered so long ago with my dad snoring peacefully upstairs.

poor wretchI react to him now just as if he’s Karloff framed in those trademark three tightening close ups, or Lon Chaney turning to Mary Philbin, finally unmasked in The Phantom of the Opera, or the crash–zoomed face of the ‘poor wretch’ buried alive in the opening sequence of The Premature Burial.

Hard on the heels of the shock is the tiny, shameful, guilty, giggling flicker of relief. ‘So close, so close, but it’s him not you’, whispers that still, small, and utterly self-centred voice from the back of the brain. ‘You’re still here. You’re still breathing and sucking up the present tense. Alive.’

And then, above and beyond it all, the sudden and absolute certainty of conviction that I’m looking at a vision of the future. One day, who knows how far away, this figure in the chair, cold and ugly and lifeless, will be me. I am but my father’s son, and to this same favour I must come. In that moment, I become Ray Milland’s Guy, absolute in his conviction that his father’s terrible fate is now his own. My death ceases to be hypothetical, ceases to be a projection, and is made concrete in those split seconds at ten past seven on January 22nd 1999.


Of course, that revelation has grown less raw and immediate with each passing year, but I carry it with me now, and have done through every second I’ve lived since that slate-grey January morning.

Finally, shockingly too late, it stops being about me, and becomes about mum and dad, and doing what I can to make this one iota less appalling and unbearable. I make a couple of phone calls, to medical people. I’m told I mustn’t move him. Something to do with the fact he’d had a hospital appointment recently means there’s likely to have to be an autopsy. A doctor will be along soon. I ask, and am given the concession that I can turn the chair around, so that at least my mum doesn’t have to be staring at the body for the next hour. I do that, and start phoning people to let them know.

Then I ring work, and, get this, I set cover lessons for my classes. It’s either a sign of the impossibly high standards expected of the modern era’s teaching machine, or of my continuing and debilitating fear of being told off or found out as the unprofessional faker I really am. Either way, it suggests that my head has stopped functioning properly. At the end of the phone call the school secretary tells me how sorry she is and for the first time I feel tears beginning to steal up on me.

A lot of the rest is a blur. A cold, numb, nagging empty. Moments and impressions remain. Mum insisting on starting to clear out his clothes, there and then, that day, and burying her face in a bundle of jumpers that held his scent. Aunts and sandwiches. A camply oleaginous registrar who seemed to take a bizarre shine to me.

I fell into something of a black pit in the days and weeks and months following dad’s death. funeral povNothing remarkable or unusual in that, I know, but no less oppressive for being commonplace. Ordinary, run of the mill actions – going to work, putting the kettle on, climbing the stairs – all seemed to carry with them a backwash of futility and inauthenticity. Life emptied itself of meaning. There was no point in anything.

Of course, in the larger, existential terror of the human condition, this is simply facing up to the inescapable reality of the universe. Our insignificance is a given; of course there is no meaning or purpose to anything we do, and if we fail to accept this then we never really emerge from the nursery. To assume or hope for anything else is simply a failure of courage, or of the imagination; childish and contemptible. Even so, to continue to function we need to be able to tell ourselves that what we are doing is somehow worth doing, and I found it impossible to do so for a time.

I was Ray Milland in The Premature Burial, frozen and terrified to the point of paralysis.


Strangely, however, in one of those curious moments of synchronicity which would annoy me intensely if a novelist tried to put them over on me and yet which do actually occur from time to time in life, the days which followed hard upon dad’s death contained within them the specific experience I needed to sow the seeds of recovery. Red feathers against a black dress.

Two days after the funeral, and now back at work, the office passed me a phone message from an Emma Brown who had rung and left a number asking me to ring back if I could.

This was quite out of the blue. I’d known Emma pretty well a few years earlier, and we had carried on a mildly flirtatious relationship which a combination of my own lack of courage and a range of tricky personal contexts – I was unmarried, but in a long term relationship at the time, amongst other things – prevented from ever developing into anything else.

audrey-cooperPerhaps, in truly clichéd vein, it was this perceived unattainability that fuelled the longing. At the time I had known her, I had also become fixated with the rich, playfully sexy qualities of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, which was casting its lush, mysterious spell over the world back then just as, extraordinarily, it is doing once again as I’m writing this, twenty five years later. Fanboy to the end, Emma became entangled in my head with coffee black as midnight on a moonless night, Angelo Badalamenti’s hauntingly sensual soundtrack, and Sherilyn Fenn’s hauntingly sensual Audrey Horne.

Since then, however, Emma had moved to Southampton, and worked for a while in a school somewhere in Guildford. During the early part of this time we’d exchanged letters, and met up a couple of times when she visited Norwich, but had inevitably lost touch after a while. Life moved on, as it should, and while I still spared the occasional wistful daydream for what might have been, I hadn’t given any serious thought to Emma for years. There’s an Elvis Costello song called Just About Glad on his 1994 album Brutal Youth which I remember had felt like my last shrug of goodbye to all that.

I’m just about glad that I knew you once

And it was more than just a passing acquaintance

I’m just about glad that it was a memory

That doesn’t need constant maintenance

There are a few things that I regret

But nothing that I need to forget

For all of the courage that we never had

I’m just about glad

This mysterious phone message was the first contact we’d had since the early 90s. When I returned her call we arranged to meet the following lunchtime in a pub at the end of the road – teacher pub lunchtimes seem to have sadly disappeared in today’s OFSTED-quaking education system, but those were different times.

My head was full of dad and death and depression, and perhaps surprisingly, I can say truthfully that I’d not really dwelled on the prospect of seeing her again and there wasn’t a particularly strong tingle of anticipation as I stepped into the darkened bar.

I saw her immediately, talking to two tall, much older men in suits at the bar, and there was something strikingly erotic about the tableau, something about her absolute power and control of these two figures towering above her, something about the way they leaned into and over her that suggested an almost magnetic allure. Quite unexpectedly, I felt my stomach lurch in that hardly-ever-experienced-as-an-adult first love adolescent way.

A few moments later, and she was sitting opposite me. Her hair was shorter than it used to be, but otherwise she was almost unchanged. The sun was slanting in from the window beside our table, catching the satin blouse she was wearing and making it sheer enough that I found it rather hard to concentrate. I didn’t have much to say, but she filled me in on some of the things that had happened to her since we’d last met. Sitting beside Cecil Parkinson – former Chairman of the Conservative Party and all-round randy old goat – at a young Tory dinner she’d organised and him telling her she was the sexiest girl in the room. Having to leave her last teaching job as a result of the brief affair she’d had with a PE teacher who was married to the Deputy Head – ‘The poor man had never had oral sex. I mean it was cruel.’ And then the laugh, dry and dirty.

And I saw it all clearly, quite suddenly. The socially ambitious tory. The unrepentant hedonist. Both of them aspects of an unquestioningly egocentric view of self and appetite as the only relevant things in the world which should have been deeply unattractive but in fact had me all but trembling like a schoolboy.

emily an miles

And as I looked into that open upturned face, its rounded cheeks, its bold eyes and its delicate, fine-boned nose, it came to me that I was sitting opposite Hazel Court in The Premature Burial, and that I was overwhelmed by the kind of yearning that I hadn’t really felt for a long, long time; perhaps not since I’d actually been a trembling schoolboy.

With something like the force of revelation, this moment of Joycean epiphany revealed to me quite suddenly that not only was this the first time I’d felt alive since my dad’s death, it was also the first time I’d felt alive in a lot longer than that.

At the time all this happened I’d been in a stable, ostensibly happy relationship for many years. My partner of the time was thoughtful and clever, our views on life, politics and people were in accord, and we had a long shared history. I admired and respected her, and liked her very much. But in that moment, sitting opposite a young woman I wasn’t sure I liked at all, but wanted with every atom of my being, emilyI realised that ‘happy’ was not the right word for my life, or for the state of our relationship. We were comfortable. Companionable. Content. Colourless. The overwhelming guilt I felt as Emma’s eyes gazed into mine with the same potency Hazel Court leant Emily’s bedroom scene with Miles in The Premature Burial was not only about how desperately I wanted to sleep with her, but about my sudden awareness of how pathetically little of myself I was able to offer to my partner, and how much more she – and everyone – deserved.

In other words, we’d both been guilty of settling, and it took the death of my dad, with it’s reminder that life is just the flare of a match in an eternal night, plus the electrical jolt of desire I felt sitting at that unremarkable pub table, to open my eyes to the fact. Sex and Death, Sex and Death. Red feathers and a black dress. Happiness was elsewhere. ‘Comfortable and content’, it was instantly clear to me, wasn’t giving either of us what we really needed.

Schopenhauer and the pessimist school may argue that the human condition is one of inevitable suffering, that to be comfortable and content is to be one man pick’d out of ten thousand and that happiness can only ever be defined negatively as the absence of pain, but they’d never watched Emma Brown turn eating a smoked salmon roll into an act of seductive temptation so erotic that it would have made even Hazel Court blush.

The riot that had quite suddenly erupted in my heart was not only the opposite of the despair and paralysis I’d fallen into while failing to deal with my grief, it was also an absolute prefiguring of the need for change.

Were life as straightforward as most stories, I might be able to tell you that Emma and I walked hand in hand into a rosy sunset. But it isn’t and we didn’t.

I went back to work for the afternoon, and I only ever saw Emma once more, later that night, by which time I was so helplessly drunk I could barely move. The other, slightly less Joycean epiphany I had that day was that it wasn’t a good idea to mumble paralytic, incoherent and squirmingly embarrassing confessions of  your depth of feeling to the object of your obsession while trying not to dribble on her chest. Then I went home, never saw her again, and spent the next few months attempting, ultimately unsuccessfully, to repress and ignore the lesson I felt I’d learned and to go on with life exactly as it was.

A bit more significantly, however, a year or so later I found myself outside a café in Venice drinking red wine alone at a table on the Piazzetta opposite the Doge’s Palace and listening to the house band play a smooth piano, bass and sax instrumental of La Vie en Rose punctuated by the relentless tourist buzz and the percussive slapping of water from the Lagoon. Drunk and more than a little maudlin, and contemplating the by now unavoidable breakdown of a fifteen year relationship that had turned out, for each of us, to be more of an evasion of life than an expression of it, I took a bleary-eyed look around me.

piano bar

Venice. A fantasy city built on stilts in the water, a Disneyland for grown ups. A city Emily and Guy never got to for their planned honeymoon, but a city simultaneously sexually extravagant and death-haunted enough for them each to have loved it, encompassing as it does both the Eros of Casanova’s exploits and the Thanatos of Thomas Mann’s mournful parable. And of course, horror film fans, also Don’t Look Now, which features both the most powerfully affecting sex scene and the most powerfully affecting death scene the genre has to offer. A city built on the very idea of transience, thrown into existence in defiance of time and tide and possibility.

From where I sat, surrounded by the fantastical folly of the Doge’s Palace and the Basilica, the whole absurdly beautiful edifice of St. Mark’s Square, and all of it, by infinitesimal but irrevocable degrees, all of it, slowly sinking into the water, I knew that everything was dying. Nothing could last. Nothing was forever. All things must pass. Simultaneously I knew that it didn’t matter. What might be gone in a year or a decade, a second or a century, was here now and that the experiencing of it, coffinguyof life and existence, here, now, in this single unique and irreducible instant was all that mattered.

I finished my wine and walked away – but I left the Ray Milland part of me at the table.

Life isn’t neat, and the journey that stretched back to watching Hazel Court flirt with Guy and Miles in The Premature Burial in the second half of a 1977 BBC2 horror double bill and forward to a bottle of wine on the Piazzetta, and back to a leather armchair in a living room with a bowl of porridge on a shelf and forward to a pub table, sunlight, a window, a satin shirt, and a smoked salmon roll, wasn’t over and done with. It would continue to twist and turn, the consequences of all this playing out even more uncomfortably and painfully over years because of my own lack of courage and indecisiveness.

Even so, it was a road that led me forwards. It meant movement, not paralysis. It was a road that led me to the place where I am today, which, with all the imperfections and frustrations and disappointments that every life contends with, is a life that has room in it for the riot in the heart, for love, for the brevity of human life and the urgency of the present tense.

For that, Emma, Hazel, and dad – amongst others – my thanks.




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