Monday, 26 January 2015

Time and Place - Restorations

As part of our National Lottery Awards for All funded project, Time and Place, we had the opportunity to work with one of our favourite bands British Sea Power, on creating a new soundtrack for a short film edited by Louie Pastore. Restorations features old photos of the area alongside recut footage from the Greenock Corporation film 'Greenock Plans Ahead'.

The ten minute film is being shown on Thursday 5th February at The Dutch Gable House, Greenock. There are three evening showings, at 7, 7.30 and 8, and while tickets are free, they must be booked in advance, as the nature of the display means we will only be able to show it to small groups.

Tickets can be booked either via email from or by calling 01475 649587.

The showing is also weather dependent, and so subject to slight changes to the programme on the night.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Old Greenock Characters - A Thrilling Adventure!

So aye, we told you what we did last year, and what we're doing this year, but y'know's been awhile since we've had an excerpt from John Donald's inspirational Old Greenock Characters - here is a tale from John Donald's own childhood memories...

I may here relate an unusual· and interesting experience I had along with some companions shortly after the West Burn had been filled in between Crawfurd and Dalrymple Streets.

A square hatchway was left behind Mr. Beaton's premises already mentioned, so as to give access to the stream for some purpose, and it was quite a common practice for boys to remove the cover and drop down into the bed of the burn in order to sail boats or otherwise amuse themselves.

We were engaged in the nautical pastime, under the direction of Jamie Docherty, whose father carried on a fruit business at the corner of West Burn and Crawfurd Streets. Jamie had made the traditional voyage to Quebec, and so was an acknowledged authority in navigation.

It was a strange conventicle. An odd professor discoursing to odder students in the oddest of all lecture-rooms. Seated on stones in an irregular ring in the centre of the murmuring stream, illuminated by a glare of daylight from above, which also weakly revealed the dull red brickwork of the side walls, but failed to pierce the darkness on either hand, we listened with deep attention to our "lecturer," when the order, "Come up out of that!" rang out from above, and smote us with awe.
"The skufter," someone whispered; and we backed hastily and noiselessly into the gloom.
"Come Up out of that!" again came the stentorian command.
There was no response.

It was Hughie Reid, and each of us knew very well what to expect if we should clamber up the hatchway while Hughie with his cane stood by, so we maintained a discreet silence, knowing that he would not dare to come down, and hoping that he would go away.
"Come up out of that, or it will be the worse for you."

Still no reply.

Docherty whispered: "It's all right, boys; let him shout; he can't stay there all day; he'll soon go away;" and we were comforted.

The bobby's repeated orders to ascend continued to be ignored, and at length, to our great relief, we saw him straighten himself up, and apparently pass from the aperture. Our gratification was short-lived; for suddenly the hatch cover was thrown on with a bang, and we were imprisoned in Cimmerian darkness. With sinking hearts we heard Hughie's retreating footsteps; yet we believed that we might be able to push up the cover from below. But even that hope was taken from us. Imagine our feelings when the constable returned, and we realised by the heavy thuds which followed that he was piling ponderous granite blocks on top of the hatch cover! These stones had been left over when the burn was built in.

We were in despair. What should we do? What could we do?
Somebody whimpered.
Docherty heard, and said, "Bubblin' won't help us. We've either to tramp down to Caird's yard or up to the cooperage at the heid o' the square. Which is it to be? "
Either alternative seemed dreadful, and no one spoke.
The silence was broken only by a partially stifled sob, and the lapping of the water.

 At length one of the boys faltered, "It's no sae faur to Caird's."
"Aye, but whit's yon?" exclaimed another.
 ''What!" we all cried, startled.
"Aweh up the burn-see!"
We looked, and lo ! a pin-point of light was visible.

It seemed a long, long way off; but, as Patrick McGill says: “Nothing looks so cheerful as a lamp seen through the darkness," and the tiny spark decided us. It should be our beacon, our guiding star! So we waded up the stream with lightened hearts, for that luminous atom gave us courage and awoke the spirit of adventure within our breasts. When a rat scuttled across the burn, followed by another, and another, we laughed.
"Splash, you wi' boots on, an' frighten the rats," said Docherty; and we splashed.
Some of the boys were barefooted, and the fear of broken bottles possessed them; but in the pitch darkness they had to take their chance.

 An exclamation and a splash, followed by an unearthly yell, brought us to a sudden stop. Our hearts were in our mouths. The yells continued, and I think Docherty said a bad word. Guided by the noise, he stepped over to investigate.
"Whit's the .matter?” we heard him ask; “Hev ye cut yer fit? "
"N-n-o-o," came a quivering reply from someone apparently in terror.
"Then, whit the duvvle's wrang wi' ye? " demanded Docherty angrily.
Then silence.
"Ugh! Hoo! Gurr-r-r! Hurry up oot o' this. That wis awfu'," and Docherty splashed ahead. We speedily followed, although quite unaware of what had happened.
"Whit wis it? " a lad asked, a few minutes later.
"A-a don't know," replied the wee chap who had stumbled. He was still trembling.
“It wis a deid dug," said Docherty.

Bigger and bigger grew the light as we plodded on under West Burn Square, until our guiding star assumed the prosaic dimensions of a tallow candle stuck 111 a bottle on the top of a cask.

There was no one about, and none of us was sorry when, having climbed over the wall opposite Rennie's spirit store, we stood again in West Burn Street.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Dig Where You Stand...

A hard time we had of it...sleeping in snatches, with the voices singing in our ears saying that this was all folly. But 2014 is behind us now...this is the all new, all action 2015. Totally different.

Over the last year, I had the chance to undertake a study into heritage  and social enterprise, interviewing lots of interesting and clever folks from places like New Lanark, Falkirk Community Trust and the Scottish Storytelling well as clever and interesting folk from local heritage projects. I was mostly looking at the ways in which heritage can be used to generate income, either with a social purpose, or with the profits reinvested in ways which directly benefit communities - from the refurbished 18th Century watermills and looms of New Lanark, the bricks and mortar of old buildings finding new uses, to the intangible cultural heritage of Scotland's songs, stories and traditions. Often when looking at ways of using heritage to generate income, the natural inclination is to think no further than tourism, which is itself, fraught with challenge, but I was lucky enough to discover and hear about many other examples of heritage being used to assist with social end objectives.

Anyway, one of my favourite things I discovered while blethering with folk, was the principle of Dig Where You Stand, the community driven approach to exploring heritage, which is separate from academic historical research, and critically, no less valid. The phrase originates with Swedish activist Sven Lindqvist, who was initially talking about ways in which workers could empower themselves within workplaces...

“The experts might each be experts in his or her own field but when they are talking about your job, you are the expert. That gives you a measure of self-confidence and a basis for amateurs and professional researchers to meet on equal footing.” [...] Until workers understand where they stand...and how to use the resources/tools available to dig with (local library, county museum/archives, local/state labor history society), they will be forever in the background of the “official” version of events...[E]very worker in every country has the power and potential to create a new image for labor, one “that puts workers and their work in the foreground.”
[Sven Lindqvist, “Dig Where You Stand,” Meddelande FrÃ¥n Arbetarrörelsens Arkiv Och Bibliotek (Stockholm: Vol. 16, September 1980), pp. 42-47]

This is no less true within communities, as beautifully demonstrated by the Kist o Riches project, which challenges you to find your own folklore first. The community is custodian of that heritage, it determines how it should be best used and celebrated. None of this was a new principle, I was just really pleased that something we had been involved in for so long had a proper name ;) As such, I'm going to blog about it a bit more in the coming have been warned.

All of which is a long way round to talk about how Magic Torch will be digging where we stand this year...

Our first project, Time and Place will be running at Dutch Gable House on 5, 6, 7 of February and features a short ten minute film and exhibition, Restorations, recut from Greenock Plans Ahead with an exclusively produced soundtrack from the band British Sea Power. Visitors will also have the opportunity to reflect on how place and time have affected our community. We won't be putting Restorations online, its a one off installation.

Our other major project this year, is focussed on the battle of Achi Baba during the First World War. A reportage style graphic novel telling the story of the battle and some of those involved will be produced and distributed for the centenary this July. You can keep up to date on other commemoration plans on the Inverclyde's Great War site.

We have a few other potential publications and projects on the horizon too, including two comics, Galoshans, a horror tale with a wee sprinkling of psychogeography and Tales from the Kist, another of our vintage horror comics, but this time featuring national myths and legends. We are also hoping to publish Battle of Largs with the text of John Galt's poem and some new commentary alongside the artwork from last year's exhibition. We are also looking very closely at Maps...

I'm sure, just like last year, lots of other projects will be digging where we stand as well - and we'll keep you up to speed on those too. Keep digging.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

2014 - Year in Review

The endless, trudging march of time sees us once again stare bleary eyed into the uncertain future of a "new year" and "fresh start", while cursing the yawning chasm of empty darkness which now lies behind us. But we had a laugh eh? As the end approaches, a quick look back at our most read posts for this year, in no particular order...

Our main project focus for this year was 13 Commonwealth Tales, which explored folktales from other parts of the world, and also continued to encourage local storytelling. The project was supported by Big Lottery Celebrate funding.We all pitched in with our favourite stories and Mhairi did a smashing job on the artwork to create a storybook which we released during Doors Open Day in September. The 64 page book is available for free from Dutch Gable House and 7 1/2 John Wood Street, but will also be free online in January.

13 Commonwealth Tales cover by Mhairi
As well as details on the project itself, one of the most popular stories we shared on the blog (but which did not appear in the book) was the tale of Maddy Glasker...

Battle of Largs by Andy Lee
Details of our Viking comic strip exhibition, featuring artwork specially created to accompany the gothic poem Battle of Largs by Greenock's very own John Galt was well received. Which is we will have some more news to share on this project next year...

One of our most viewed posts from way back in January, was actually not about heritage at all, but some well meant, hard learned advice from myself about finding funding for projects, and how the "community" bit isn't what you add in to get the project to look nice for funders, but instead, the fundamental building block for the whole process.

Tin Jimmy by Andy Lee
In March we shared a page from a comic strip featuring "the robot James Watt built", Tin Jimmy. And we will have more, slightly longer adventures for our Victorian Robot in 2015. Meantime you can read James Watt's own notes on the robots creation right here... In a similar vein, news of An Ancient UFO sighting in Greenock caused quite a stir...

And we haven't actually talked much about it yet, but it would be remiss not to mention how much fun Andy and I had working with the Gies Peace project and St Ninian's Primary Seven in Gourock all through November and December on a particularly wintery comic...Coldheart. Here's a wee sneaky peak...

So aye, 2014 has been a busy and rewarding year for us, but there have been a few other heritage projects delivering across Inverclyde over the year as well, so props to Rig Arts Are Ye Askin project,  the major event that was White Gold at the Sugar Sheds, Dutch Gable House's WWI drama project which you can watch here, the Absent Voices project, which explored the history of the Sugar Sheds and produced a whole archive of creative responses to that story and of course the start of Inverclyde's Great War project. Hats off all round.

We also turned Fifteen in 2014, which was nice, especially as we seem busier now than we have ever been. 2015 is shaping up nicely too, but there will be lots of time to talk about that next year. For now, here's another chance to see the trailer for our upcoming Time and Place project, featuring a new soundtrack from the band British Sea Power. The film and accompanying exhibition will be displayed in February...

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Midwinter Tales - A Very Merry Cthulhu

check out Cthulhu Countdown Calendar
It would surprise few to know that many of Magic Torch enjoy the eldritch horrors of H.P. Lovecraft, indeed our own Tales of the Oak comic features not one but two Lovecraftian tales, The Call of Clutha (see what we did there?) and The Belville Terror, and last years A Nip In The Air had a few sinister Mithraic cultists. The original HP Lovecraft tale below features some rather pagan midwinter celebrations. And obviously nightmarish horror from beyond the unknown stars...

I was far from home, and the spell of the eastern sea was upon me. In the twilight I heard it pounding on the rocks, and I knew it lay just over the hill where the twisting willows writhed against the clearing sky and the first stars of evening. And because my fathers had called me to the old town beyond, I pushed on through the shallow, new-fallen snow along the road that soared lonely up to where Aldebaran twinkled among the trees; on toward the very ancient town I had never seen but often dreamed of.

It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind. It was the Yuletide, and I had come at last to the ancient sea town where my people had dwelt and kept festival in the elder time when festival was forbidden; where also they had commanded their sons to keep festival once every century, that the memory of primal secrets might not be forgotten. Mine were an old people, and were old even when this land was settled three hundred years before. And they were strange, because they had come as dark furtive folk from opiate southern gardens of orchids, and spoken another tongue before they learnt the tongue of the blue-eyed fishers. And now they were scattered, and shared only the rituals of mysteries that none living could understand. I was the only one who came back that night to the old fishing town as legend bade, for only the poor and the lonely remember.
Then beyond the hill’s crest I saw Kingsport outspread frostily in the gloaming; snowy Kingsport with its ancient vanes and steeples, ridgepoles and chimney-pots, wharves and small bridges, willow-trees and graveyards; endless labyrinths of steep, narrow, crooked streets, and dizzy church-crowned central peak that time durst not touch; ceaseless mazes of colonial houses piled and scattered at all angles and levels like a child’s disordered blocks; antiquity hovering on grey wings over winter-whitened gables and gambrel roofs; fanlights and small-paned windows one by one gleaming out in the cold dusk to join Orion and the archaic stars. And against the rotting wharves the sea pounded; the secretive, immemorial sea out of which the people had come in the elder time.
Beside the road at its crest a still higher summit rose, bleak and windswept, and I saw that it was a burying-ground where black gravestones stuck ghoulishly through the snow like the decayed fingernails of a gigantic corpse. The printless road was very lonely, and sometimes I thought I heard a distant horrible creaking as of a gibbet in the wind. They had hanged four kinsmen of mine for witchcraft in 1692, but I did not know just where...

continue reading HP Lovecraft's The Festival...

In a similar vein, I cannot recommend The Daemoniacal Father of Christmas post from this polar cosmology blog highly enough...tip of the hat to Graeme Rose for drawing it to our attention.

And while you read, why not enjoy these terrifying Carols from the empty places between worlds...(though be warned, their questionable quality may itself drive lesser beings through the gates of madness)

Then to round off your evening, what could be better than the avuncular Mark E Smith reading another HP Lovecraft story for Christmas. Ho ho ho,

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Midwinter Tales - The Boarded WIndow

A short story from Ambrose Bierce. Many other short stories can be read for free on Underworld Tales... 

In 1830, only a few miles away from what is now the great city of Cincinnati, lay an immense and almost unbroken forest. The whole region was sparsely settled by people of the frontier--restless souls who no sooner had hewn fairly habitable homes out of the wilderness and attained to that degree of prosperity which today we should call indigence, than, impelled by some mysterious impulse of their nature, they abandoned all and pushed farther westward, to encounter new perils and privations in the effort to regain the meager comforts which they had voluntarily renounced. Many of them had already forsaken that region for the remoter settlements, but among those remaining was one who had been of those first arriving. He lived alone in a house of logs surrounded on all sides by the great forest, of whose gloom and silence he seemed a part, for no one had ever known him to smile nor speak a needless word. His simple wants were supplied by the sale or barter of skins of wild animals in the river town, for not a thing did he grow upon the land which, if needful, he might have claimed by right of undisturbed possession. There were evidences of "improvement"--a few acres of ground immediately about the house had once been cleared of its trees, the decayed stumps of which were half concealed by the new growth that had been suffered to repair the ravage wrought by the ax. Apparently the man's zeal for agriculture had burned with a failing flame, expiring in penitential ashes.

The little log house, with its chimney of sticks, its roof of warpingclapboards weighted with traversing poles and its "chinking" of clay, had asingle door and, directly opposite, a window. The latter, however, was boarded up--nobody could remember a time when it was not. And none knew why it was so closed; certainly not because of the occupant's dislike of light and air, for on those rare occasions when a hunter had passed that lonely spot the recluse had commonly been seen sunning himself on his doorstep if heaven had provided sunshine for his need. I fancy there are few persons living today who ever knew the secret of that window, but I am one, as you shall see.

The man's name was said to be Murlock. He was apparently seventy years old, actually about fifty. Something besides years had had a hand in his aging. His hair and long, full beard were white, his gray, lusterless eyes sunken, his face singularly seamed with wrinkles which appeared to belong to two intersecting systems. In figure he was tall and spare, with a stoop of the shoulders--a burden bearer. I never saw him; these particulars I learned from my grandfather, from whom also I got the man's story when I was a lad. He had known him when living near by in that early day.

One day Murlock was found in his cabin, dead. It was not a time and place for coroners and newspapers, and I suppose it was agreed that he had died from natural causes or I should have been told, and should remember. I know only that with what was probably a sense of the fitness of things the body was buried near the cabin, alongside the grave of his wife, who had preceded him by so many years that local tradition had retained hardly a hint of her existence. That closes the final chapter of this true story--excepting, indeed, the circumstance that many years afterward, in company with an equally intrepid spirit, I penetrated to the place and ventured near enough to the ruined cabin to throw a stone against it, and ran away to avoid the ghost which every well-informed boy thereabout knew haunted the spot. But there is an earlier chapter--that supplied by my grandfather.
When Murlock built his cabin and began laying sturdily about with his ax to hew out a farm--the rifle, meanwhile, his means of support--he was young, strong and full of hope. In that eastern country whence he came he had married, as was the fashion, a young woman in all ways worthy of his honest devotion, who shared the dangers and privations of his lot with a willing spirit and light heart.
There is no known record of her name; of her charms of mind and person tradition is silent and the doubter is at liberty to entertain his doubt; but God forbid that I should share it! Of their affection and happiness there is abundant assurance in every added day of the man's widowed life; for what but the
magnetism of a blessed memory could have chained that venturesome spirit to a lot like that?

One day Murlock returned from gunning in a distant part of the forest to find his wife prostrate with fever, and delirious. There was no physician within miles, no neighbor; nor was she in a condition to be left, to summon help. So he set about the task of nursing her back to health, but at the end of the third day she fell into unconsciousness arid so passed away, apparently, with never a gleam of returning reason. From what we know of a nature like his we may venture to sketch in some of
the details of the outline picture drawn by my grandfather. When convinced that she was dead, Murlock had sense enough to remember that the dead must be prepared for burial. In performance of this sacred duty he blundered now and again, did certain things incorrectly, and others which he did correctly were done over and over. His occasional failures to accomplish some simple and
ordinary act filled him with astonishment, like that of a drunken man who wonders at the suspension of familiar natural laws. He was surprised, too, that he did not weep--surprised and a little ashamed; surely it is unkind not to weep for the dead. "Tomorrow," he said aloud, "I shall have to make the coffin arid, dig the grave; and then I shall miss her, when she is no longer in sight; but now--she is dead, of course, but it is all right--it must be all right, somehow. Things cannot be so bad as they seem."

He stood over the body in the fading light, adjusting the hair and putting the finishing touches to the simple toilet, doing all mechanically, with soulless care. And still through his consciousness ran an undersense of conviction that all was right--that he should have her again as before, and everything explained. He had had no experience in grief; his capacity had not been enlarged by use. His heart could not contain it all, nor his imagination rightly conceive it. He did not know he was so hard struck; that knowledge would come later, and never go. Grief is an artist of powers as various as the
instruments upon which he plays his dirges for the dead, evoking from some the sharpest, shrillest notes, from others the low, grave chords that throb recurrent like the slow beating of a distant drum. Some natures it startles; some it stupefies. To one it comes like the stroke of an arrow, stinging all the
sensibilities to a keener life; to another as the blow of a bludgeon, which in crushing benumbs. We may conceive Murlock to have been that way affected, for (and here we are upon surer ground than that of conjecture) no sooner had he finished his pious work than, sinking into a chair by the side of the table upon which the body lay, and noting how white the profile showed in the deepening gloom, he laid his arms upon the table's edge, and dropped his face into them, tearless yet and unutterably weary. At that moment came in through the open window a long, wailing sound like the cry of a lost child in the far deeps of the darkening woods! But the man did not move. Again, and nearer than before, sounded that unearthly cry upon his failing sense. Perhaps it was a wild beast; perhaps it was a dream. For Murlock was asleep. Some hours later, as it afterward appeared, this unfaithful watcher awoke and lifting his head from his arms intently listened--he knew not why. There in the black darkness by the side of the dead, recalling all without a shock, he strained his eyes to see--he knew not what. His senses were all alert, his breath was suspended, his blood had stilled its tides as if to assist the silence. Who--what had waked him, and where was it?

Suddenly the table shook beneath his arms, and at the same moment he heard, or fancied that he heard, a light, soft step--another--sounds as of bare feet upon the floor! He was terrified beyond the power to cry out or move. Perforce he waited--waited there in the darkness through seeming centuries of such dread as one may know, yet live to tell. He tried vainly to speak the dead woman's name, vainly to stretch forth his hand across the table to learn if she were there. His throat was powerless, his arms and hands were like lead. Then occurred something most frightful. Some heavy body seemed hurled against the table with an impetus that pushed it against his breast so sharply as nearly to overthrow him, and at the same instant he heard and felt the fall of something upon the floor with so violent a thump that the whole house was shaken by the impact. A scuffling ensued, and a confusion of sounds impossible to describe. Murlock had risen to his feet. Fear had by excess forfeited control of his faculties. He flung his hands upon the table. Nothing was there!

There is a point at which terror may turn to madness; and madness incites to action. With no definite intent, from no motive but the wayward impulse of a madman, Murlock sprang to the wall, with a little groping seized his loaded rifle, and without aim discharged it. By the flash which lit up the room with a vivid illumination, he saw an enormous panther dragging the dead woman toward the window, its teeth fixed in her throat! Then there were darkness blacker than before, and silence; and when he returned to consciousness the sun was high and the wood vocal with songs of birds.

The body lay near the window, where the beast had left it when frightened away by the flash and report of the rifle. The clothing was deranged, the longhair in disorder, the limbs lay anyhow. From the throat, dreadfully lacerated,had issued a pool of blood not yet entirely coagulated. The ribbon with which he had bound the wrists was broken; the hands were tightly clenched. Between the teeth was a fragment of the animal's ear.