A Sense of the Uncanny

“I think horror, when done well, is one of the most direct and honest ways to get to the core of the human experience because terror reduces all of us to our most authentic forms.” – Alistair Cross

Happy New Year!

Did you all choose a suitable first foot to bring you good luck throughout 2015? I’m not sure if dogs count? If so Marvin my whippet is responsible for the luck of the Dixon household in the next twelve months.

For those of you that might not be familiar with this superstitious quirk, because as far as I’m aware first footing is a tradition recognised by Northern England and Scotland only (do correct me if I’m wrong though), a first foot is the first person to step over the threshold of your home any time after the strike of midnight that signifies the New Year.

Rationally I know it’s a silly custom, and yet still I prefer not to be my own or anyone else’s first foot (it makes me feel as illogically antsy as putting shoes on a table, walking underneath a set of ladders or popping open an umbrella indoors). That there might be the slightest possibility that my aura could somehow cosmically dictate as to whether everything in the household will bugger up after my foot touches the welcome mat, well, I don’t want or need that kind of responsibility slapping on me.

Being a first foot sort of lays you open to having all sorts of blame pinned on you and I’d rather someone else take the rap for a whole spate of bad shit happening throughout the year. The washer going on the blink just outside its warranty, the car breaking down on the way to an important hospital appointment, the bedroom roof not only leaking in but leaving pissy watermarks all over the expensive Laura Ashley feature wall – these are the kinds of things that could warrant unvoiced feelings of ill will directed at you by family members and friends if you so happened to be the first over their threshold after Big Ben’s final bong.

Yeah okay, so whoever the disgruntled family member or friend may be I know they’re not exactly going come after me with a pitchfork and make a spectacle of me on the village green for being such a jinxed, lousy, let-down of a first foot and for fucking up the harmony of their household, but still, I’d expect feelings of resentment channelled towards me nonetheless. Cold-eyed glares from Uncle George when Aunty Rita tells him she put his winning scratch card through the wash – because, on some subconscious level, that’s at least partly my fault (in his head anyway).

And on the flipside, when a household enjoys particularly good luck, that’s not necessarily a good thing for the first foot either. Being held accountable for attracting such prosperity might well lend you the guise of having a glowing ray of brilliance shining directly from your arse, but don’t get too smug about it because you will most definitely be sought out to act as first foot next time round. And to perform well a second time around, well then the pressure’s really on. In fact if you ever find yourself in that situation you want to hope that your aura’s emitting copious clouds of silvery-white fairy dust and aligns nicely with the good side of Fortuna else you’re going to be seen as being some sort of conniving fraudster when you fail to deliver.

So yeah, that’s why I hate being first foot. It’s like volunteering yourself to be a scapegoat. A sacrifice to superstition for which you don’t even get a piece of coal as compensation anymore because hardly anybody has coal fires these days. The most you can expect is a tipple of something that tastes like heartburn and a thin-lipped smile that silently admonishes ‘don’t you dare fuck this up’.

As I write all of this Marvin is looking at me with a cool air of confidence, like he’s thinking, “Yeah Mam, I’ve got this covered. 2015 is gonna be a good ‘un.”

I hope so, lad. I hope so.

Reading through my January issue of Writing Magazine I stumbled across an amusing article about Literary Review’s Bad Sex Award (an award awarded to the author who receives the highest amount of votes for having written the worst possible description of a sexual encounter – and, believe me, this is a walk of shame for any author whose work gets nominated in the first place). Subsequently this got me thinking about horror (no Bad Horror Award that I’m aware of), but more so it got me thinking about what it is that makes good horror.

A few years ago I remember partaking in a very interesting horror workshop organised by a friend of mine (thanks Chris), and we brushed over Freud’s ten examples of the uncanny; a sturdy checklist of things you’d do well to adhere to when writing horror fiction. Now I’m no psychologist but I thought it’d be fun to interpret each of Freud’s examples over the coming months, perhaps spark some debates and generate some ideas for the story bank. And since I’m convinced that Freud’s sidekick Carl Jung once contacted me from beyond the grave (a story for another time perhaps), it seemed like the logical thing to do. So yeah, until next month, here is Freud’s list of uncanny…

1. Repetition
2. Odd coincidences
3. Animism
4. Anthropomorphism
5. Automatism
6. Radical uncertainty about sexual identity
7. Fear of being buried alive
8. Silence
9. Telepathy
10. Death

Oh and in case you were interested, I’ll save you the bother of having to Google it yourself…you can read all of the 2014 Bad Sex Award nominations here 🙂

2 thoughts on “A Sense of the Uncanny

  1. Happy New Year Rachael!
    I’m sure Marvin will have done a canny job of first footing. Your luck should be better than mine, at least. I think I might have been the first footer in my own house and my luck is pretty bad. Probably because I walk under ladders, open umbrellas indoors and set new shoes on tables. On the other hand, I never miss the opportunity to wink at a magpie so it all evens itself out (superstitious fingers crossed).
    I’m not sure about elsewhere but in N.Ireland we never worried about the first person to cross the threshold. As long as they were carrying booze we let them in!


    1. Happy New Year to you too, Julie!
      Haha I’m pleased to hear I’m not the only one who winks at magpies (I think the correct thing to do here is salute them…but I always feel a bit silly doing that in public, so a wink must suffice) 😀
      And that sounds like a pretty sensible approach to the New Year in N. Ireland!


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