Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Identity - Graphic Novel

The Archivist...bet he knows a few stories....
As part of the Heritage Lottery Funded Identity project, the project team have worked with local schools to produce a graphic novel charting the heritage of the area. The project is focussed on migration, but there are a few wee folk tales that have been handed down which have been included in the graphic. The 64 page book will be released later in the year, and so far, it looks fantastic. Follow the Identity facebook page or blog for regular project updates.

Magic Torch got to provide a few pages based on the story of Minnie Dean, but this preview page below is a retelling of a Mermaid story we've always enjoyed...

We really like The Archivist from the graphic novel, but he is of course a fictional character. This week however, Inverclyde Council's real life Archivist played a bit of a blinder and uncovered a secret cupboard full of centuries old books. Hats off to you sir.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Greenock Jungle

Written in 1907, John Maclean's take on Upton Sinclairs "The Jungle" explores council corruption, profiteering and exploitation of working class Greenock. With its vivid descriptions of diseased carcasses and rotten meat, it is not an easy read, or a pleasant one; but it is a window into a Greenock which has only recently passed out of living memory. Macleans pamphlet resulted in an enquiry being launched by the Local Government Board and a meat inspector being appointed to the slaughterhouse.

We republished this pamphlet in 2000, it was sold in very limited numbers with profits being donated to non-political organisations committed to improving social conditions for ordinary people around the world.

The Greenock Jungle - John Maclean

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Lot 27 - Booty Call

This week, it emerged that a number of items allegedly belonging to Captain Kidd were being sold at auction; a bible box, a bible (which presumably he didn't read very much) and a mirror which he hid his treasure map in (and fiendishly wrote on the back something like "here be treasure mappe" to really throw folk off the scent). There were obvious questions about the authenticity from some quarters...but to be honest...when you are dealing with pirates and treasure maps, the authenticity doesn't really bother me. I phoned the auctioneers and made enquiries...they could certainly confirm that the box and the mirror had timber from around the 16th / 17th century, but that the bible itself dated from after Kidd's death..though the assertion was that Kidd's family had owned it in later years. You can see loads of images and the full listing here.

My mission was clear...bid on the questionable Pirate memorabilia, bring it home to Greenock - a town many refute he is associated with - and get it on permanent display in The Dutch Gable House...a building he never visited on account of being dead. So it was I booked my auctioneers slot for the Saturday morning bid. I was one of those mysterious "phone bidders", represented by shadowy suited figures, that always swoop in at the last minute to clinch the item.

Magic Torch aren't a business, we're a charity run by volunteers, but we do make a few sheckles here and there selling books, doing work for other councils or doing talks / storytelling. So we had a close look at the Torch cashbook and agreed how far we were prepared to go. The item was listed from £800 - £1200. This was not for the faint hearted.

Ten fifteen Saturday morning - my representative called. Lot 27 was just coming up. Bidding opened higher than the list price and our agreed maximum bid. Damn. I had planned for this though, and had scraped together a few more pounds of investment. The next bid wiped that out too. Pfff. My representative asked "Will you be making a bid or do you just want to listen now?"..."Ehm...listen please?" I said. And listen I did as the price soared over the £3000 mark...way beyond what I could have pulled together even by raiding the childrens savings accounts...that ship had sailed. A different mysterious phone bidder swooped in at the last minute. It was probably well know Pirate enthusiast Vic Reeves, or worse, Dundee City Council, who frequently celebrate their connection with Kidd...

You can't win em all. Well done to whoever did win, I hope you find a bit of treasure map in the mirror and wind up on a Tintin style adventure that eventually goes horribly wrong...maybe something involving an octopus? To cheer myself up, I'm away to buy a Fiji Mermaid...

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Heritage Tourism

Here's a wee story about Sleepy Hollow in the Hudson valley USA, which is one of many towns in the US to host pirate festivals. As you would expect, the festival also involves and promotes local business, civic spaces etc. There's another one in Milford. Slightly closer to home, here's one in Brixham in Devon. Or Liverpool...
The grass is always greener on the other side, and maybe these one day Pirate festivals are very similar to our Comet Festival, or on the grand scale of last years Tall Ships...they just seem more interesting because they are elsewhere. And have more pirates in them.

Over summer especially, we frequently hear people bemoaning the fact that so many of the American touists who arrive in Greenock on cruise ships, leave the town to visit the rest of Scotland. Obviously, it would be nice to keep folk in the town and spending, not just for a one day festival, but by creating a regular draw for people from elsewhere. (ask yourself...if you were visiting..say...Italy for only one day on a cruise ship, would you stay in the port, or head off on a bus trip to Rome?)

Let's be honest, heritage tourism isn't the quick fix solution to Inverclyde's challenges; it won't necessarily create hundreds of jobs or bring thousands of visitors to the area, anymore than a TV show being filmed here will - but it could help generate more work, interest and investment in the town. And right now, with no massive reindustrialisation plan currently on the horizon...it can't hurt to try.

But what do you promote? And how? Along with the other folk in Magic Torch, I've worked and volunteered with heritage for over ten years now, and what I think I see, even from the interactions on this blog...is that old photos, our proud industrial past, books about our heritage...those are mostly popular with local audiences...and that's fair enough, it's a nice niche, and it's important for our young people to get a chance to explore and discover that history and shared heritage in engaging ways. But ghosts, pirates, mermaids, seamonsters...the unusual...those things have an international audience, as of course does migration and the story of Greenock as a passing place. And it's in those areas that we should target our efforts, if we target them at all. That's our "USP". (I've heard that on The Apprentice, I think it means "cool thing you have that no one else does")

In the linked story above, the town who hosts the annual Captain Kidd pirate festival have only the vaguest connection to piracy, a piece of local folklore, no historical evidence at all. What they did have though...was the self belief to walk the road less travelled by. Wise men know when to learn.

Right, that's me back aff the soapbox.

(In related Captain Kidd news, some of his famous booty was recently discovered in Peterborough, anyone wishing to chip in and bid for them at auction, gies a shout)