Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Childrens Book Art Preview

Auld Dunrod by Mhairi Robertson

As well as our Tales of the Oak comic, we're also working on a few childrens books this year. The first one, funded by Heritage Lottery, will be out in the Spring. It's being illustrated by Mhairi Robertson, who has very kindly allowed us to show you a couple of the nearly completed pieces. Although some of the same core characters appear in both the comic and the childrens book, they are interpreted and presented in different ways for the different audiences we're going for.

The Inverkip Witches and the Kempock Stone by Mhairi Robertson

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Old Greenock Characters - Tommy Matches

A favourite of many folk from John Donald's Old Greenock Characters....

Thomas Kincaid, called “Tommy Matches,” because those useful articles formed the principle item of the stock of small wares peddled by him in the streets of Greenock in 1890, and for a good number of years afterwards, was born in Co. Donegal, Ireland, in 1845. He was a pitiable creature whose woe-begone features were in perfect harmony with his shabby attire, which usually included a long dark overcoat buttoned up to the chin, and a dirty cloth cap. Such dignity as might have been imparted to his appearance by a full bushy dark beard was dissipated by a shambling gait and the watery eyes, mouth and nose which too clearly indicated mental weakness. Although quiet and inoffensive, he did not escape the rude attentions of street urchins. They occasionally pulled his coat and cried “Tommy Matches” but he never retailiated in any way, and, fortunately for his peace, the boys found little sport in teasing so tame a quarry.

For a time he sold newspapers and subsequently he appeared as a street musician with a concertina. When he blossomed out as a “general merchant” the late Mr W.C. Orr, grocer, in his kindly way, presented Tommy with a wooden box having the word “matches” legibly printed on the front, for the display of his stock-in-trade. No doubt Tommy was proud of his new box and grateful to the donor; but he was too dull to evince either pride or gratitude. One day a man, nodding to the box, said to him –
“Hallo, Tommy! I suppose we’ll need to call you a timber merchant now.”
“Naw, ye’ll naw; a’m a gen’ral merchant.”
This unusual display of wit rather bewildered the interlocutor, who passed on, pondering.

Now, Tommy used the box not only to show his goods but also (a corner of it) as a cash box, and it seems to have suggested wicked thoughts to wicked minds. Unscrupulous rascals, aware of Tommy’s ignorance and simplicity, would present a silver coin and ask him to “oblige” them with change for it. Tommy, being quite unable to count change, would tell them to take it themselves, when the knaves would abstract more than their due. That was done repeatedly, and the offence was sometimes aggravated by passing off on the unfortunate man counterfeit or foreign coin.

Much amusement was caused when Tommy varied his profession and appeared as a street musician, provided with a wheezy old melodeon. He had no idea of tune and pressed the keys in haphazard fashion while he pulled the bellows out and in. When facetiously requested to favour his audience with a particular melody, he would gravely nod his head in token of comprehension and compliance and continue as before.

Tommy was playing outside a bank while the solemn tolling of the Mid Kirk bell reminded citizens that the remains of Queen Victoria were being conveyed to their last resting place. The agent of the bank, who held high rank in the local volunteer corps and was a most loyal subject, happening to come out, was scandalised to hear Tommy’s jarring notes in shocking contrast to the funeral bell. It is questionable whether Tommy knew that the Queen was dead, and highly probable that he was quite indifferent; but he was certainly amazed when the incensed gentleman berated him for a performance to which no one had hitherto troubled to take exception. The bankers tirade was perhaps unduly prolonged, and Tommy’s amazement gave place to anger. It was great fun, and rather astonishing to the little crowd that had gathered when the worm turned and Tommy blurted out in his blubbery way all the opprobrious epithets he could muster against his assailant, who quickly realised that his dignity could be saved only by an abrupt retreat. Such a display of spirit by Tommy may seem incredible to many who knew him, but there is no doubt of its occurrence.

During a coal strike, Greenock was visited by a colliers’ band, out to raise funds. Displayed in various ways – on boards, musical instruments, caps and collecting boxes – were appeals for assistance such as “Help the Miners,” “Remember our Wives and Children” and the like. A wag obtained from a collier the inscription he carried on his cap, and knowing Tommy to be unmarried decorated him with it and set him off in a different direction grinding away at his melodeon and bearing the touching appeal – “Help my Starving Bairns.”

One of Tommy’s favourite pitches was in Bank Street and another in Regent Street, opposite Mr Gregor’s tutorial academy, where he often disturbed the serenity of the spot by unmelodious strains, Mr. Gregor’s daughters, taking pity on the poor man, and perhaps, for self protection) organised a cake and candy sale and with the proceeds purchased for him a nice portable hand-organ, whose notes were a desirable substitute for the monotonous braying of the old melodeon.

Illness in 1898 first brought him to the notice of the Parish Council authorities, and he was subsequently, at intervals, an inmate of Smithston Poorhouse, where he died in 1910.