Forgotten (non)Leodhasach Explorers : Part 2 of Some – Marag-o Pollochar and the Silk-Cut Road to J&E’s.

25 04 2020

We don’t chust do celebrity obituaries at the Made Up History of Stornoway, although you could be forgiven for thinking that these days. So here’s some proper historical made-up history for a change – Number 2 in our series on Forgotten Leodhasach explorers.

This cove wasn’t actually a Leodhasach at all at all, but since Lewis was where he did most of his exploring (and seeing he wasn’t from very far away) we’ll count him in anyway.

Marag-o Pollochar was a merchant and explorer from South Uist, where his parents had a small inn. In the 13th century there was no decent bakery in the Uists, and so bread from Stornoway was highly prized and extremely rare, particularly the plain loaves produced by the legendary J&E Macleod on the corner of Church St and Kenneth St. The Uibhistich didn’t actually know how to get to J&E’s themselves; It was a long way away, back in them days, across the trackless wastes of Harris and Lochs. So they had to buy their bread via the Hearachs, who jealousy guarded the location of their source and charged a fleekeen huge markup.

Marag-o realised that if he could map out the mythical route to J&E’s himself, he’d be able to cut out the Hearachs and trade with the legendary Stornoway bakery directly.

After sailing across the Sound of Harris by night, Marag-o donned the garb of a Hearach tribesman (boiler suit, turned-down wellies, manky tweed chacket with a quarter bottle in the pocket, a bonaid chlò, and a rollup behind each ear). 

Confident in his ability to blend in, he set out on what was to be an epic series of peregrinations that took him to every corner of South Harris but, after 10 years, found him no nearer the fabled land of J&E. Eventually Marag-o decided it was time to stop trying to get to Stornoway by Mitchell’s bus, and set off from Rodel by foot instead.

After traversing the length of the Golden Road, hitching a ride on a camel train across the Govig Desert, and fighting off yetis on the high mountain passes of the Clisham, Marag-o finally crossed the border into Lewis. 

In the tale of his journey, dictated many years later to his cellmate in a Gerinish prison, Marag-o told of many wonders encountered along the route. These included giants, cyclopseses, and a race of strange half man/half sheep/half deer/half salmon creatures inhabiting the ruined city of Airidhbhruachstrakhan.

After leaving the fabled but lawless Silkcut Route city of Bukharalallan, Marag-o and his party were followed by a party of dastardly local brigands who ambushed them and stole all their supplies.

Nearly starved to death, the gallant adventurers staggered into the grand bazaar at Samarkameronterrace just in time to haggle for the last bridie on the shelf and get it heated up in the microwave. With this exotic sustenance onboard, Marag-o girded his loinchops and set out on the last few miles to the fabled East. 

Passing the city dump and navigating through a forest of early wind turbines (fenceposts with seagull feathers nailed onto a wooden circle), Marag-o at last came to the Great Cattle Grid. At first the fierce Easterner tribesmen looked upon Marag-o with suspicion, but when they found out he spoke Gaelic (albeit with a Uist accent) they relaxed their guard slightly and escorted him to Sandwick Road and the headquarters of the Great Kublai Khan-seo, the Emperor of J&E’s.   

Kublai Khan-seo was a grandson of Enghies Khan-seo, the fearsome leader of the Maw-ngol horde, a nomadic tribe from the Barvas steppes who invaded Stornoway in 1206 and established a yak-petrol station that opened on Sundays.  Kublai himself founded the Ewe-an Dynasty after seizing the throne of J&E from its previous owners, the GaelicSong Dynasty.

Kublai Khan-seo was also renowned for his Golden Bòrd. This should not be confused with his distant cousin Kublai Khan’s Golden Horde. Whereas the Golden Horde was an army of warriors fabled for distributing dread, the Golden Bòrd was a table for displaying bread.  The Golden Bòrd started out as a small trestle table, where Khan-seo used to display that day’s fresh, golden brown/not quite burnt baking. The original one was set up outside his bakery, but as his baking began to find fame (and become less burnt), he had to add more tables and eventually ended up having to open a shop at the junction of Church St and Kenneth St, the famed J&E’s.  

North Uist/Canadian prog rockers Rushigarry (consisting of Geddy Leacalee, Neal Puirt and Alec Dan Lifeboat)  later wrote a song in honour of Kublai Khan-seo’s Pleasure-Blackhouse, Xana-dubh, where his favourite bakers got to sleep in the beds that weren’t next to the cow.

Samuel Taylor Collbeacheridge, a famed Poet from Broadbay, also wrote a lengthy epic about Xana-dubh.

‘In Xanadubh did Kublai Khan-seo

A stately pleasure tigh dubh decree

Where Creed, the sacred river ran

Past poachers measureless to man.

(Our buns now are gluten free!!!’.

…so get yourself to J&E).

Tim Boke Sailor (and some other celebrities) RIP

16 04 2020

Hengoes. The recent rush of celebrities queuing up to get into the hereafter is keeping our obituary department here at the Made Up History of Stornoway busy as fleek.

No sooner had we done with Country and WestrenIsles star Kenny WrongChurch than news came of the passing of Soval soul singing sheep sensation Bill Wedders  (“Lìonal Me”, “Ain’t No Sunshine At All, Ever”, ”Lovely Daycon”). 

Then it was Honor Backman, famous for her role as kinky-Arnish-booted secret agent and licensed grocer Dr Cathy Ghall in BBC Alba’s classic swinging 60s series “The Àiridhvengers” (also starring Patrick MacNiseach as John Creed). To this day, fans of the series (well, Bodachs of a certain age) often debate the relative attractions of Backman versus her successor Diana Rigsroad, but the fact that Backman’s character had her own off-licence means she’s usually ahead in the polls. Backman was also famous for appearing opposite Sean Canneryroad’s Seamus Bonaid in “Gold(medal)singer”, as the legendary femme fatale Peatstack Gu-leòr. In later life she appeared in the inexplicably long-running ruppish RubhachTV sitcom “The Upper Bayble ” opposite woefully underutilised Sulasgeir thespian Steven McGannet.    

And chust the other day it was Sir Stirlingsquare Maws, champion tractor racing driver of the 50s. Maws was also a gifted Formula Vans driver and won many Ground Peats over the years. Sir Stirlingsquare’s name lives on, of course, in the famous Stornoway racing circuit at Mawssend.

But among the Grim Reaper’s latest crop, the celebrity who will probably be missed most is the late comic genius and lifelong seasickness sufferer Tim Boke-Sailor.

Born Murdo Angus Macaulay in 1941 in a blackhouse in Uig, near the site of the current petrol pump and community shop, Tim earned his stage name as a result of some spectacular projectile vomiting on his first ever boat trip. During a 5-minute row across to Great Bernera in the days before the bridge opened, one of his stunned shipmates christened Murdo Angus “The Timsgarry Boke Sailor”. and,  like the diced carrots on the paintwork, it stuck.

Having unwisely chosen to study Navigation at Lews Castle College, Boke-Sailor was a member of the college’s YM-bridge-based Footlights society, along with John Clisham et al (See Terry Jones obit) and of course the Rev Donny after whom the society was named.

Throughout the 60s Boke-Sailor refused to give in to seasickness, commuting across the Minch regularly to appear on Radio Raasay’s hilarious Gaelic poetry-based sketch show “I’m Sorley I’ll Read That Again” . “I’m Sorley…” also featured future Maw T Peatiron star John Clisham, diminutive musical genius and seagull watcher Bill Òrduighean, and Jo Kentangaval playing all the proper blones’ parts.

On Television, Boke-Sailor made his name on  “At Last the 19:48 Bus”, for which he wrote the “Four Eòropiemen” sketch later recycled more successfully on  “Maw T Peatiron”s Flying Cearc-house” (See our recent Terry Blones obit again). The sketch featured 4 Niseachs trying to outdo each other with reminiscences about the brutal poverty of their early years…..

”We’d have to swim back from Sulasgeir, dragging a wooden raft full of guga behind us, whilst having to light a fire on a wave in order to singe the feathers off…”

“That’s nothing! We had to jump across to Sulasgeir, carrying a fortnight’s supply of potatoes in a Woolies bag, whilst polishing the mirror on the Ness Lighthouse as we passed it…” 

With these connections, Boke-Sailor might well have ended up as a member of the Maw T Peatiron crew, but in true Leodhasach style he fell out with them in a theological dispute over whether Murdo Maclean’s or Nazir’s had the best communion hats. Resolving to assemble  his own breakaway comedy team, he formed The Coories after bumping into Graeme Gardenroad and former “I’m Sorley…” collaborator Bill Òrduighean at a Wednesday prayer meeting in Coulegrein. 

With its catchy theme song “The Coories! Coorie Coorie Psalm Psalm”, the show went on to massive success during the 70’s and early 80’s. The premise of the show was that The Coories would offer themselves as a congregation for hire to any Church short on members, with the tagline ‘We Do Any Pew, Anytime’. Usually the storyline involved The Coories finding themselves in bizarre situations, not least the famous Caora Kong episode, featuring a giant cheviot lamb climbing up a cardboard model of Martin’s Steeple.

Another well known episode featured The Coories becoming Masters of a marag-based martial art called “Heckaye Thump”, which parodied the popular Broadbay fighting discipline known as “Tong Fu”.

The Coories’ special three seater tractor also featured regularly, as they drove from church to church.

The Coories also achieved success in the pop charts, taking their moving tribute to a renowned school hostel,  “Manky GibsonHostel”, to Number 1 all over Stornoway and parts of South Lochs. 

“Poo, poo, poo the manky Gibson (manky Gibson)

We are here untilfleekingfourthyearatleast”

Right up till the present day, Boke-Sailor was a regular panellist on Radio Ranol’s “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Guth”, hosted by the late Humphreechurch Eagleton. Boke-Sailor was a skilled player of “Goathill Crescent”, the show’s mythical game of strategy based on the stations in Stornoway’s underground railway system. 

Deceased trad chazz chanter player Eagleton payed a warm tribute to Boke-Sailor yesterday on hearing the news of his demise.  “I’m not too worried”, ars esan, “because Tim is very well practiced at this sort of thing; like all our panellists, he’s died on a regular basis throughout his comedy career”.