Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Dracula Society Bram Stoker Dinner.

The man himself .......

On Saturday 7 November Redlegs attended this dinner, held annually by the Dracula Society to celebrate the birthday of Bram Stoker, author of Dracula. Although a member of this society I have been unable to attend many of its events. This time the date was felicitous and we tidied ourselves up and headed into the West End, travelling on perhaps the only running tube line of the day. The bearded one was wearing his favourite Prince of Wales check suit, the devil winter coat munching moths of haringay having decided to eat the trousers from his dinner suit. The North London moth genus obviously has a taste for the high life: barathea and cashmere.

I was a member of the Dracula Society in the early 80's and briefly on the committee, however the late 80's saw my life descend into a bit of a tragi-comedy (yes a man was involved) and I felt I had let them down by having to leave. The intervening years saw no lessening of my interest in the Gothic but time abroad left me out of the loop so there are many books, programmes, plays and films I have missed. I have always, in any case, lacked the obsessive nature of the true fan being easily distracted. When I returned to London I picked up some gothic/supernatural connections notably giving lectures for Treadwells on demons and demon hunters and even dipping my toe into the water by presenting a short talk on vampires and modernity for the NSC. However the year before last I ran, quite by accident, into Katherine, Dracula Society member and someone I had always liked. She did a fine job of persuading me to rejoin, and I did so...finding the fact that most did not recall me to be possibly a good thing. Fortunately this is one of those societies, unlike some I could mention, where you are not required to know the name of Bram Stoker's Bootmaker or Conan Doyle's grandmother's favourite ice cream flavour to feel at home. It's more a case of being a 'fellow traveller', which is I feel a better basis on which to form an association. It also contributes to a wider diversity of membership. The society remains however stoutly vampirical, if such a thing is possible and this was made clear at the society dinner by the presence of a both a framed image of Mr Stoker and a chair draped with a cape, worn in a Hammer movie, and donated, at least I believe so, by Christopher Lee.

The Cape.

The event was held in Courtroom 1, a function room above Browns Restaurant in St Martins Lane. The building used to be a court and the restaurant company had wisely decided to retain the trappings including a gavel and judges wig. It was an elegant venue, and of course being in a theatrical area suited, Bram Stoker having spent much of his life working for the famous actor, Henry Irving. We don't actually know most of the members very well but I was pleased to see a few familiar faces and we were lucky enough to be sat at the 'Jonathan Harker' table with the charming Jenny and Colin who were down for the weekend. The bearded one was much taken with his place card which featured an image of Max Shreck as Nosferatu. Mine was some Hammer vampette writhing on a bed, which is not unlike me when I wake up without a cup of tea on a Sunday morning...
There were three guests who were receiving prizes from the Society. Mark Gatiss won the Hamilton Deane Award for his screenplay for 'Crooked House' which aired on the beeb last December. A series of three short stories all connected by one spooky house the short stories were an affectionate homage to the kind of classic spooky programming we saw at lot more of in the past. Mr Gatiss was a flirty charming man sporting splendid mutton chops and very pleasant company. Mr Gatiss is pictured below left .

The Children of the Night Award was won by Dublin based author Brian J Showers for his collection of short stories The Bleeding Horse, and other ghost stories which I have not read but will look out for. The special guest was Damien Thomas, an actor who had been an actual Hammer Count (Count Karnstein from Hammer's Twins of Evil). A softly spoken man he seemed somewhat bemused at being feted for a part he no doubt sees as distant in his past but gamely shared his own supernatural experience; a possible sighting of a UFO from an aeroplane window. Below is Mr Thomas playing with the cape on Saturday and as Karnstein in Twins of Evil.

The dinner included a quiz, which I didn't have high hopes for, and indeed did rather poorly at. The bearded one resorted to quips, but his handwriting was perhaps a bit of a challenge. We were not alone, Shirley Temple being the favoured answer to most of the questions. The evening finished with a toast to Bram Stoker and naturally, to his creation, the Count.

Dinners such as this, which was well organised by Julia Kruk and the Society Committee are a pleasure. From experience however, they are hard work to organise and it is reassuring that some still have the energy to do so. It is also worrying that literary societies are becoming increasingly 'grey'. I wonder if this is because the advent of the digital world has meant that subscribing to a user group, existing in second life, haunting the social networking sites and role playing games are so much cheaper and easier than actually getting dressed up, and going out to a meeting, pub or like this, a dinner. If so it is a shame as actually meeting a diverse group of people with shared interests, in the flesh as this event showed, is so much more rewarding.

Details of the Dracula Society:

Mark Gatiss at the Hampstead Theatre over Christmas in spooky play Darker Shores:

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