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.