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 Från 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 in 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 attempts on Achi Baba during the First World War. A reportage style graphic novel telling the story of the battle through contemporary documents will be produced and distributed for free during 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.