Saturday, 30 October 2010

The Enchanted Cap

So, this guy turns up on the Greenock dock, and he's keen to get doon the road tae Largs fairly sharpish. And time's knockin' on, so he figures he'll jist nip up the hill and take a short cut across the moors. Only thing's Halloween.

He's up the backroad, and he jist passes Dunrod Hill when this big storm starts...and it's lashin' doon. Absolutely lashin'. Thunder. Lightning. It's murder. And he's struggling along, walkin' intae the storm, when he spies this wee hut.

So he goes inside, heads up to the corner, wraps himself up in his jacket, and nods off.
A few hours later, oor man gets woken up, by aw these voices...murmurin'. And there's a wee peat fire gaun in the hut. There's a pot on the fire and roon aboot it, there's three witches, muttering and incanting. Heedorum. Hodurum. Ye know the sort o thing.

And the first witch, the oldest wan, she brings oot this sorta pointy hat. She wrings it oot, as if she wis dryin' it, puts it on her head and says 'Ho! For Kintyre!' and whoosh! She goes fleein' oot the lum. And after she's gone, the cap jist falls back down the chimney. So the second witch, sorta middle aged like, she grabs the hat, wrings it oot and shouts 'Ho! For Kintyre!' and she's away as well. The hat falls back doon, and the third witch, young, naw bad lookin', she picks it up 'Ho! For Kintyre!' and there she goes, firin' oot the chimney."

Yer man looks oot the windae, an it's still lashin' doon. And the cap floats back doon intae the hut and he thinks tae himsel'...ah wouldnae mind a wee go oan that hat. So he picks it up, and he says 'Ho!For Kintyre!' and...he's hurled intae space, still holding the cap, and he is speedin' through the air and he gets to Kintyre. And here, when he gets there is there no a big room full a witches. And they're aw waitin' there for the Dread Master of All Evil. The Devil. And this year he's decided to have his big Halloween bash in the King of France's wine cellar. Fur reasons unknown, this happens to be in Kintyre.

Anyhow, the witches don't seem tae mind, and he's invited tae enjoy the party. But here, he mebbe has a few wee glesses too many o the auld elderberry brew. And he's dancin' aboot and swearin' like a loon, and the devil turns up and he has a wee dance wi him, and, well, he jist has a right good time. But, he sorta comes to in the mornin' a wee bit the worse for wear, and he's in a cell in Kintyre jail. Seems he was wanderin' about the streets swearin' and smashin' things. And when he tries tae explain that it wis really aw the fault o the witches and the devil...naebody believes him.

He's in a right pickle, cos he's caused so much bother wi aw his swearin' and carryin' on, that he's been sentenced to hang. Must have been a right rough night. So they're aboot tae hing him, which as you can imagine, he's no aw that keen on, and so he says 'Would it be awright, if ah wore ma favourite bunnet on the gallows'...So they march him up to the gallows, and the big chap there, he's aboot tae put the rope roon his neck, so oor man puts the enchanted cap on sharpish and says 'Ho! For Largs!' and he's away. Jist like that.

Historical Note - There are versions of this story all over Scotland, most famously, Burns used one as the basis for Tam O Shanter. Enchanted Cap most definetly Greenock's. Tell it to someone and keep it alive a wee while longer...

The Ballad of Auld Dunrod

Inverclyde was hoaching with witches and supernatural beasties in the 16th and 17th Century...but none were more feared, than the evil warlock Auld Dunrod whose evil deeds were detailed in a popular ballad...

This was a wee spoken word experiment from a few years by our old english teacher Gerry McGinty...a true gent,

Malkie And The Bogle

There once was a farmer lived up Kilmacolm way, and his name was Malcolm McPhee. He was neither a very good farmer, nor a very happy farmer. Malcolm had inherited his farm from his father and while he liked his land and his money well enough, he did not care so much for the hard work. But Malcolm was not a stupid man, and so he worked just hard enough to keep his wife and his farm and his land, and he dreamed that one day he’d find a way he’d never have to work at all.

It was a night in late November when Malcolm McPhee first heard about The Bogle, a cold night, but with no moon. There was a stranger telling stories that night in the Inn down Port Glasgow way, and all the usual folk had gathered round to listen and laugh. The stranger told them all about a mermaid who’d told his fortune at the Port Glasgow shore, about a witch he’d danced with up by Lochwinnoch, and about a ghost he met up on Duchal moor. He could spin a yarn and all were enjoying the company.

“And of course” he said “not half a mile’s walk from here lives the Bogle himself.”

A few drifted away, perhaps having heard this story before.

“Aye. He hides behind the stone at the top of the Clune Brae, and will jump out to chase folk all the way across the moor to Kilmacolm. It's said that if he catches you, he chews you up with his sharp white teeth. But I know a secret about this Bogle, told to me by an old fox who owed me a favour. The Bogle doesn’t want to catch you, he’s just trying to scare you away, for if you turn round and grab him…he’s got to give you three wishes.”

“Three wishes?” said Malcolm “Any three wishes?”

“Yes indeed.” Said the stranger. “Whatever you want.”

“With those three wishes I’d never have to work again” said Malcolm. “What does he look like this Bogle?”

“Oh you’d know him if you saw him.” Smiled the Stranger “For you’d never have seen his like before.”

“Then I shall know him soon.” Said Malcolm “For I’m going to catch that Bogle.”

So it was that the next night, Malcolm walked across the moors to the top of the Clune Brae and stood watching in case the Bogle should leap from behind the stone. He waited all night til it was light. And the Bogle didn’t come.

When he got home he was too tired to work his farm saying to his wife

“Don’t worry about the fields, for when I catch this Bogle, I’ll wish for a much biger farm and scores of labourers to work for us."

The next night, Malcolm again walked to the Bogle’s stone. And again the Bogle didn’t come. When he got home he was once again too tired to work his farm, and said to his wife

“Don’t worry, for on our new farm, I shall wish for our crop to be the best in the land."

Night after night, week after week, month after month, Malcolm stood by the stone, hoping to catch the Bogle. And the Bogle never came.

One morning he returned home, and found his home empty for his wife had gone. And he looked to his lands and he saw they were overgrown for he had not tended them. All too late Malcolm saw that his farm and his lands and his marriage were all in ruins, and he walked again to the Clune Brae and down to the Inn. He drank long and hard and when he had spent the little money he had left, he began the long wander home across the moorlands. But this night, as he passed the stone he heard a noise. A rustling, then a whistling. Malcolm turned, and there was the Bogle.

“Boo!” said The Bogle.

“Hah!” said Malcolm, who could not believe his luck.

“Aren’t you going to run?” asked the Bogle “People usually run when they see a Bogle.”

“Why would I run from you?" said Malcolm "I've been looking for you for months!"

“Go on.” Said the Bogle “I’ll give you a head start.”

At this, Malcolm grabbed the Bogle by the arm.

"Hah!" said Malcolm "I have caught the Bogle. And now you have to give me my three wishes."

But the Bogle just smiled and said

“And who told you this? A stranger? A stranger who dances with witches, talks to foxes and walks with ghosts?”

And Malcolm saw that the Bogle had tricked him all along.

“A Bogle can’t give you wishes and you must work for what you want." laughed the Bogle "You have wished your life away. And you should have run when you had the chance.”

The Bogle grinned a nasty grin with his sharp white teeth.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Terror of The Catman

A ragged vagrant terrifying the town's children while looking after dozens of stray cats...or a fictional bogeyman from our industrial past? Who is, what is, where is...The Catman?

Greenock's shipbuilding was already in decline in the seventies and fast heading towards complete collapse within the eighties. Sightings and mentions of The Catman stretch back to the nineteen seventies, all centred around a specific narrow lane which connects what was the industrial “East End” of the town, with the town centre - one of those interesting crossing points at a self imposed division line - very often the focus for folklore and fairy stories.

Throughout the boom years of shipbuilding, many local shipyards informally employed a “Catman”, someone who fed and kept cats around the yards in order to keep rats at bay. It is interesting to note that the first mention of the vagrant Catman in Greenock coincides with the decline of the shipbuilding industry.

From the seventies onward, he fulfilled both a basic “bogeyman” role and source of scary stories for local children. For example, there was an abandoned railway tunnel near his apparent den; dubbed “the double darkie”, children would dare one another to see how far in they could get into the tunnel, all the while assured that if they went too far, Catman would jump out of the darkness to grab them.

He was rarely seen throughout the eighties and nineties, but certainly still talked about - and there were more than enough sensible grown ups prepared to confirm that they had spoken to him, or passed him food or flasks of tea. Also, his den was in plain view and frequently showed signs of someone living there.

It was a few years ago that the most major Catman development took place, mobile phone footage of the man himself, crawling around under cars in a bus garage located next to his den, then apparently eating a dead rat. This footage beamed around every young person in Greenock’s mobile phone, before ending up on You Tube and eventually in the pages of The Sun. 

So convincing was this sighting, that Greenock Social Work department explained to the local paper that they had sent someone up to the site to see if Catman could be located in order to provide assistance. Since then....nothing more. Perhaps he has been quietly helped and moved into some form of residential care to maintain his dignity.

No one of course can agree on who he is really - stories range from a Russian sailor down on his luck to a former yard worker who never returned home. Another theory runs that his first appearance was not long after the TV debut of “Catweazle”, and that he is nothing more complicated than a childhood fantasy made flesh.

Even more intriguing is perhaps the fact that his appearance in the seventies also coincides with the beginning of a series of Big Cat sightings which continue to this day. Could this be some sort of Were-Cat? It is not for me to speculate...though clearly, that would be really cool.

I wrote a wee hometown horror story featuring The Catman in the Greenock Sugar Sheds, its called Candybones, you can listen to it here. 

You can also purchase our Tales of the Oak comic which features the 'Terror of the Catman' strip from our Magic Torch Comics shop.

He also stars in a deleted scene from our book Wee Nasties,

In 2015, a group of students from Edinburgh University created a short film which tried to uncover the truth about our local bogeyman...

Happily, a much more friendly version of the Catman story, appears in a children's book I've written, The Superpower Project...

With the help of a wisecracking, steampunk robot, two accidental superheroes discover that they have inherited some amazing, if unusual, abilities. Computer whiz Megan can fly (mostly sleep-flying, but she's working on it) while her best friend Cam can (in theory) transform into any animal, but mostly ends up as a were-hamster.

Together they must protect the source of their ancestral powers from a wannabe evil mastermind and his gang of industrial transformer robots who've disguised themselves as modern art installations on their Greenock estate.

It isn't easy to balance school and epic super-battles, not to mention finding time to search for other super-talents and train with their Mr Miyagi-esque were-tiger coach.Can Megan and Cam beat the bad guy, defeat his robot transformers and become the superheroes they were born to be?

The Superpower Project is available from Floris Books / Kelpies.