One For Halloween.

31 10 2009

At this time of year, as the nights draw in and the end of October approaches, it is common for thought to turn to ‘All Hallows Eve’. This was traditionally the time of year when the witches of Tolsta were allowed into Stornoway to collect their pensions and buy new pointy hats from Murdo MacLean’s shop.

Scary stories also come to mind and it is a little known fact that some of the worlds best loved horror stories had their roots in Stornoway culture.

Mary Shelly’s ‘Frankenstein’, for instance,  was of course written by the young Mary based on her experiences of staying at Seaforth Lodge (where Lews Castle now stands) whilst visiting her auntie. Her mad uncle-in-law, Lord Seaforth, had set up a laboratory in the basement of Seaforth Lodge to try and develop a strain of ‘supercrofter’ to increase the yields of his vast estates. Seaforth was convinced that he could take the brain of a Stornoway cove and match it with the brawn of a maw to make a super-intelligent, yet super strong being.

Seaforth gave his manservant Ivor instructions to depart for the rural parts of Lewis to find a suitable candidate. However, it was raining and Ivor couldn’t be bothered going all the way into the wilds of Lewis. Instead, a midnight excursion to nearby Steinish** armed only with a heavy cosh and a large Hessian sack resulted in Ivor bringing home a suitably deceased maw* . The poor unfortunate maw had been busy at work at the sheepfank and had impressed the lurking Ivor with his ability to carry two sheep under each arm.

After removing the brain and preserving the rest of the body in a special solution (basically he paid three herring girls to gut the unfortunate maw and shove him in an old herring barrel), Seaforth had now to find a suitably smart brain from somewhere in the town.

A furtive expedition to peer in the back window of the local Doctors surgery revealed a recently deceased school teacher lying on a mortuary slab. Seaforth felt this would be the ideal brain to add to his brawny, recently deceased, ex-crofter. Ivor was once again dispatched under cover of darkness to fetch the brain. However, one of the town drunks had just passed away after a bottle of Four Crown too many and had replaced the dead teacher on the slab. Poor Ivor was not to know and went ahead and extracted the brain as neatly as possible with only a blunted tarasgeir at his disposal.

Needless to say, Seaforth’s creature did not come off the production line as imagined. The monster for a start did not like the heavy Arnish Boots the Earl had fitted him with, and kicked down the laboratory door and disappeared into the night, heading back to his fank in Steinish.

After the usual slaying of villagers, decimation of flocks and refusing to go to church on Sunday, the monster created by Seaforth started to get on the townsfolk’ s nerves. They marched en-masse to Seaforth Lodge armed with pitchforks and flaming brands and burnt the mansion to the ground putting an end to his experiments.

The young Mary Shelly, of course, watched all this with great interest and soon had her novel written. It was originally called ‘The Fank In Steinish Monster’, but a typo in the final draft saw it published as ‘Frankenstein’.

The poor monster himself went on to become Provost of Stornoway on two occasions.

*landowners could do this sort of thing in the early 1800’s. The legal right to kill tenants only ceased in 1987

** there is much debate whether Steinish is actually officially ‘beyond the cattle grid’ or nothing more than a ‘tame’ country village with too many posh notions to truly count as rural.

The Street Names Of Stornoway (Part 4 of many)

23 10 2009

Cannery Road

There is a much misguided view that Stornoway’s Cannery Road was named after the large factory built by Lord Leverhulme to process and ‘can’ the fish caught for his ‘MacFisheries’ empire.

The name of this street actually comes from much further back in time and was coined in honour of the old Burlesque theatre that used to stand there. Cannery Road was originally known as ‘Can-Can’ Road, after the popular dance featuring blones in frilly dresses doing high kicks and flashing their drarsh.

The theatre, known as ‘Maw-lin Ruadach’ was build in 1885 by a consortium of local businessmen keen on introducing the cultural elite of Stornoway to the latest dances and fashions from Paris. But because of the risqué nature of the acts who performed there, the businessmen had a great deal of trouble finding a suitable plot of ground in the town centre on which to build the theatre and had to resort instead to a barren strip of land in what was then the outskirts of Stornoway. Because of the vast amount of naked flesh on display in the theatre, this areas of town was nicknamed ‘The Butt-ery’ and was off-limits for all decent and upstanding citizens.

Many of Stornoway’s most famous artists (including “Two Ewes” Lautrec, well-known colourist and shepard with a very small flock) made the burlesque house their ‘local’ and could be seen there most nights drinking Absinthe, being poor and insulting each others ‘inferior’ work (much like any normal evening in present-day An Lanntair).

The Maw-lin Ruadhach survived until well in to the 1930’s, until an unfortunate incident involving the entire Church Session of a local FP Church on a ‘fact finding’ visit came to light in the Stornoway Gazette.

Newton Street

Originally named in honour of Sir Issac Newton the famous scientist, whose granny came from Stornoway. Young Newton used to come to Stornoway on his holidays and it was here that he first described his ‘three laws of motion sickness’, following an impressively bad bout of vomiting on the ferry. Newton also discovered his Law of Gravir-tation whilst visiting an auntie in South Lochs. Newton fell asleep under the only tree in the village and was awoken by a guga (which had been hung out to dry) falling on his head. And the rest was history, apart from an unfortunate Gazette sub-editors mistake of swapping ‘guga’ for ‘apple’, as he had run out of the letter ‘u’.

Dr Who

16 10 2009

Fans of the popular tv series Dr Who will be surprised to learn of the close connections that the Time Lord has with the Isle of Lewis. William Hartnell, the first Dr Who, was a keen fisherman and spent many years tramping the moors of Lewis in search of trout and salmon. He was also regularly up in front of the Sheriff for partaking in nocturnal poaching activities.

When the second series of Dr Who was in production, Hartnell demanded that some of the filming should take place on Lewis to allow him to partake in his favourite pastime. As most Dr Who episodes requiring outdoor shots were filmed in old sandpits and quarries, the producers, in an effort to keep their star happy, were willing to search Lewis for a suitable quarry. Consequently, many episodes of Dr Who were shot in the Marybank Quarry throughout the sixties and seventies. The village of Garyvard also doubled as an alien planet on several occasions as it didn’t require any special effects whatsoever to recreate a hostile environment.

A number of mid sixties episodes of Dr Who filmed on Lewis fell foul of the BBC ‘clear out the cupboards’ policy. Among those episodes lost were ‘Attack of the Gugamen’. This was filmed entirely on location on Sulasgeir. The storyline revolved around the second Dr and his companions landing by Tardis on a barren island and been attacked by a fierce tribe of savages who worship a strange seabird/rat deity. The BBC film crew and actors accompanied the Neisochs out to Sulasgeir and spent a fortnight plucking guga in between filming location shots. The actual Tardis used on location for these episodes is still on Sulasgeir, as the Neissochs refused to take it back on the fishing boat as it would limit the number of guga they could take back to Lewis. The Tardis is now used as a lighthouse run entirely on guga oil.

Another episode filmed on Lewis and now lost/destroyed was ‘Exodus of the Daleks’. This was from the Jon Pertwee era and was the first Dr Who episode to feature the prototype K-9, the Dr’s robotic dog. The storyline revolved around the Daleks being cleared from their crofts by an unscrupulous landlord and forced to emigrate to America. These episodes featured the Daleks draped in tartan and talking in a robotic form of Gaelic. ‘Tha mi exterminate’ as they said. The prototype K-9 was also a metallic sheep dog who came to an unfortunate end when he fell into a sheep-dip and rusted.

The Arnish Folk

1 10 2009

There used to be a little known religious sect which thrived on Lewis for several decades. The sect grew up around a small farm on the headland that embraces the southern side of Stornoway Harbour.

The sect was a Christian religious denomination known for its adherent’s simple living, plain dress and avoidance of modern technology. They were known as the Arnish People.

This small community grew up around the farm on Arnish Point (where the present day Lewis Offshore Oil Fabrication Yard now stands) and was made up of the farm labourers, fishermen and sheep rustlers that made a living from the Arnish Moor.

There are a number of schools of thought as to how the Arnish People came to be. One makes reference to a 1768 schism within the Free Presbyterian Church over the use of ‘modern’ Bibles in book form versus the traditional papyrus scrolls. Another line of argument points to the 1817 row over FP Ministers wearing new fangled cotton jackets, when the hardliners in the Church felt that scratchy tweed was more appropriate.

However, the most plausible reason is that the folk from Arnish couldn’t be bothered walking across the Arnish Moor to church on wet Sunday and so decided to set up their own Sect much closer to home. In fact, in the barn at Arnish Farm.

The Arnish Peoples did not mix very much with ‘outside’ folk and so were only occasionally spotted in Stornoway. On these occasions they could be seen driving along the Lochs Road in pony and traps, the men-folk in their black frugal clothing and the women-folk in their homespun dresses. They would only stop at Hughie Matheson’s bakery to buy rolls and Murdo Macleans to buy dreary coloured cloth for their ‘Sunday best’.

Occasionally a young person from the Sect would hanker after a taste of the ‘modern’ world and would leave the community. The young folk would move to a house on Springfield Rd and experience underage drinking of Trawler Rum, going to the Galaxy and fighting at ‘Johhny Oaks’ bridge. This was known to the Arnish People as ‘Rumspringfield Road’ which was by coincidence similar to the Amish Peoples (no relation) of America’s ‘rumspringa’ phenomena.

The Sect eventually dwindled away in 1910 when the good folk of Arnish Point discovered that electricity existed. It turned out that the whole town of Stornoway was involved in playing a massive practical joke on the Arnish People, by turning off all gas and electric lights whenever one of the Arnish folk went past, so that they were literally kept in the dark as to its existence for nearly 30 years.

The Arnish People had the last laugh however. It was them who discovered the scientific formula for ‘Arnish Boots’ and went on to become the founders of a multi national conglomerate of industrial footwear for the oil industry, as sold by Smiths Shoe Shop.