Categories
Field Trip Found Art Happenstance I Remember Observation Psychogeography rag-pickings Signs and Signifiers Some Questions of the Drift

Two Hours in the Lang Toun

Two hours.

I have just dropped off a bunch of excited teenagers at Kirkcaldy Ice Rink (now rebadged as Fife Ice Arena) for the afternoon skating session. With too little time to return home and do anything meaningful, it seems like a good opportunity to start walking into the locality and see what draws the attention. I increasingly find that often the most interesting walks develop out of  the imposed time constraints of everyday life. Start from where you are and see where it leads.

Two hours.

But first, I’m standing in front of an ice palace from the late Art Deco era. Designed by Williamson and Hubbard in 1937, the softened edges, horizontal lines, ribbon windows and vertical, coloured detailing conjure up a period in time when form was equally important as function. Apparently, the original restaurant featured Parker-Knoll chairs, monogrammed cutlery and curtains designed by Dame Laura Knight. This afternoon, under a high sun, the contrast of vibrant colours and ice cream white offers an elegant counterpoint to what would no doubt be constructed today as a functional leisure shed.

I’m in Gallatown at the North end of the ‘Lang Toun’ of Kirkcaldy. Initially, thinking the name may have been derived from some form of recurring gala festivities, I subsequently find out that it is a derivation of Gallows Town. Apparently, due to it being the site of numerous public executions in medieval times.

Gala

Galla

Gallo

Gallow

Gallows

Originally a small village in its own right, Gallatown, along with its near neighbours Sinclairtown and Pathhead, were parts of Dysart before becoming annexed as part of Kirkcaldy in 1876.

Walking down the main, arterial road into Kirkcaldy, Rosslyn Street merges into St Clair street. A clue to the history of this area in the street names. A reminder of how all land is property and often concentrated in the hands of a few. Sinclairtown developed from the 1750s on the estate of the Earls of Rosslyn and derives from their family name St Clair. (Also owners of Rosslyn Chapel).

This whole area developed as the industrial end of Kirkcaldy. A place of nail manufacture in the seventeenth century and site of the ‘pin factory’ studied by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations. Coal mining and power-loom weaving emerged in the mid eighteenth century and pottery manufacture in the early 1800s.

I walk past the entrance to Pottery Street but after a short walk down into what is now light industrial and residential buildings there appears to be little evidence of what once existed here. It is only on returning and approaching Rosslyn Street again that I notice a plinth in the grounds of a vet’s surgery.

The original site of the world famous Wemyss Ware pottery of Robert Heron and Son. The Chief Designer of the pottery was Karel Nekola from Bohemia, recruited by Robert Heron in 1882. A skilled, imaginative artist, he continued to work until his death in 1915. His sons Joseph and Carl also worked in the pottery. The original pottery closed during the Great Depression in 1930 and the rights to Wemyss Ware passed through several hands until Griselda Hill acquired and revived the name in the 1990s.

It is perhaps heartening to know that the spirit of the original pottery and the curious Wemyss cats continue to be tended by a veterinary practice.

Wemyss Ware cats. Public Domain image.

Walking further down the road above what is now the Happy Days Chinese Restaurant is a magnificent example of a Co-op bee skep. Presumably a former Co-operative Society building. Not quite as impressive as the magnificent trio in Leven but a fine reminder of the co-operative ideals of those Rochdale Pioneers.

On the other side of the road, a narrow path into a residential area.

Sun drawn cubist angles.

“Stewart Lod”.

I’m not sure where the boundary lines of Gallatown, Sinclairtown and Pathhead merge, but for these purposes it is a delight to encounter the colourful Puffins of Pathhead.

Behind is a Ladbrokes shop. A window of lurid coloured interpellation: Grab a Grand!; Win Free Machine Play Cash BoostGoal! Price Boost; Best Odds Guaranteed; £30 Free Bets on Your Mobile; Sunday, Now Open Longer.

Ladbrokes

Lad   Broke

Never a more aptly named chain designed to part people from their money. I don’t remember that many pearls of wisdom from my dad but one that sticks is that: “you never meet a poor bookie”.

On another wall close to the puffins, a golden eagle takes flight ready to pounce on a small mouse. The disorienting sun perhaps allowing the mouse a respite today. Off it floats on the back of a golden orb.

You cannot walk down St Clair Street without noticing Rejects. A gargantuan store by any standards and a family owned Fife institution selling everything for the home in twelve departments. There is also something delightfully perverse about deciding to name your retail emporium Rejects. I’m not sure what the received wisdom on retail marketing is, but I suspect this breaks most of it. Rejects also houses a very fine cafe but with the clock ticking, I have to pass on that today.

This is the weekend before ‘The Beast from the East’ arrived in Scotland and I’m starting to feel the cold around my ears. However, the sun is strong, bright and warming as I take a moment to watch the swaying, skeletal trees. How they shift slightly out of phase with the moving shadow forest projected on the wall of the car park. A Steve Reich piece playing out in visual form.

 

On the corner of Commercial Street sits a curio from the days of the Kirkcaldy tram network. A Bundy Clock was used to monitor tram services to ensure that they ran on time and according to timetable. When the tram driver reached the designated terminus, they would insert a unique key into ‘the Bundy’ and the time would be recorded. The Bundy clock was patented in 1890 by Willard Le Grand Bundy and mass production of employee monitoring systems began. A practice that has had workers clocking in and out under surveillance ever since. Of course, technology advances and Bundy Time Systems still appear to be around.  Their wares now include ‘Fingertec Biometric Packages’, ‘Face ID’ and ‘Easy Clocking Time and Attendance Systems’.

Walking along Commercial Street reveals a mix of some very old buildings. largely, in various states of disrepair. However, the Spiritualist Church is looking bright and sprightly. Thursday Healing. All Welcome.

At the end of the road, The ‘A Listed’ Feuars Arms proclaims its Victorian lineage back to 1859. Impressive stained glass windows reflect a more modernist addition to the landscape in the fifteen story Ravens Craig flats built in 1964-65.

 

 

Sparkling in the sun like pink sponge fingers with frosted, glazed balconies. The image provides a jarring contrast to imagining why Flesh Wynd may have gotten its name.

Not too far away from the Ravens Craig complex is Ravenscraig Castle. Local folklore claims that John Buchan named his novel The Thirty-Nine Steps after the path that leads down by the side of the castle to Pathhead Sands. A similar claim relates to a set of steps in Broadstairs, where the final scenes of the novel take place. Both sets of stairs have more than thirty nine. However, Buchan’s father was a Free Church of Scotland minister and Buchan spent most of his formative years in Kirkcaldy. His novel Prester John opens with a scene on Pathhead Sands, with Kirkcaldy thinly disguised as Kirkcaple.

I’m becoming conscious of the time and need to start heading back towards the ice rink. I loop around and through what would once have been a colossal industrial area, dominated by the Nairn linoleum factory complex. Michael Nairn was initially involved in the weaving of ship’s sails but later entered into floor coverings. The original factory built at Pathhead, in 1847, was initially ridiculed and known locally as Nairn’s Folly. However, the venture proved a great success and by 1876, linoleum production had become a global industry centred on Kirkcaldy. The use of linseed oil in the production process was what gave the distinctive ‘queer-like smell’ highlighted in the poem The Boy in the Train written by Mary Campbell Smith in 1913:

I’ll sune be ringin ma Gran’ ma’s bell,

She’ll cry, “Come ben my laddie”

For I ken mysel’ by that queer-like smell

That the next stop’s Kirkcaddy!’

Most of the industrial complex has now gone but one operational factory unit remains, sitting in the vast empty space like some remnant from an imagined post-Packard Detroit.  The factory is clearly still productive as the distinctive, and not unpleasant, sweet smell is clearly discernible in the air. Perhaps a bit more localised these days rather than enveloping the entire town.

I meander through some of the side streets back towards the ice rink and whilst many buildings are in disarray, the sun is bringing out the best in them.  An old industrial fence morphs into beautiful, striped, colour field, minimalism.

A ‘found’ Gerhard Richter decays on an old wooden board.

An abstract landscape, framed in brick under a painted sky, sits in the alcove of a boarded up window. (Perhaps a found Howard Hodgkin, thanks to Hamer the Framer, added 07.04.2018):

Whilst a short history of building is revealed in an industrial assemblage of brick, stone, concrete and metal:

In dappled sunlight, a typographical erratic.

I am indebted to fellow travellers Laurence Mitchell and Alan Nance for the idea of the cultural erratic. This originally arose from a comment by Alan regarding Laurence’s piece  on re-purposed Kyrgyzstan railway wagons.  Alan’s comment is worth noting in full:

To use a landscape-related term, it strikes me that these wagons are like cultural (as opposed to glacial) erratics, whose presence, through interpretation, can tell us something about the forces and processes that shaped the place in which they are located).

It’s a great expression and in this particular instance, I like how EAST FIFE has somehow survived the weathering process, much like a glacial erratic left behind.

Another abandoned looking building draws the eye, due to the panel above the door:

Langtoun Aquarists Pondkeepers Group. Another cultural erratic? Is that a fish on the door blowing a bubble?

Sadly, I can’t spend any more time pottering around and hoof it back quickly to the ice rink. So quick that I’ve a few more minutes to spare before the skating finishes. I walk round by a mysterious, mausoleum looking structure. Some form of sub station? Or perhaps a sealed vault storing all the forgotten sounds, smells and memories of Gallows Town?

Behind the vault are some of what feel like the oldest buildings I’ve seen today. The narrow passage of School Lane. Just enough Sunlight leaking down the walls to outline a set of strange material interventions close to the ground. Portals of exit or entry?

And back to the car park just in time to catch the ice rink crowd spilling out into the sunshine. The tired teenage skaters, pile into the car and I listen to their stories of careering around the chilled interior of the ice palace.

Two hours.

Oh and almost forgot. Wasn’t particularly looking for it, but it’s always good to find it …

≈≈≈

This walk took place on Saturday 24th February, 2018.

Now playing: Steve Reich – Violin Phase

Categories
Collaborations Field Trip Folk-Lore Observation Poetry Psychogeography Quote

Embedded in the Landscape: Psychogeography, Folk Horror and the Everyday

I’ve had a few requests to share the talk I gave at The Unseelie Court event organised by Folk Horror Revival in October.

So here it is:

 

 We’ll come back to that guy on the slide later.

I’m guessing that most people in the audience will be familiar with Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump’s film A Field in England. So, to kick off this talk, I’d like to invite you on a journey and imagine if you will:

 A Field in Fife:

 SLIDE

The commuters scurrying down the stairs at Rosyth Halt railway station, are unlikely to give much thought, if any, to the field on their left as they descend to the platform below.  Some may notice subtle changes in colour throughout the year. The recent appearance of yellow broom blossom; the overhead sun creating a dappled patchwork of greens, sandy browns and heathery purple. In a few weeks, the hawthorn blossom will sit like scented snow on the ancient hedge.

Standing at a certain part of the station platform, it is possible to hear the gentle purr of the Whinny Burn tracing its route through the field on its way to the River Forth at Inverkeithing Bay. Magpies, rooks and collared doves appear to take a curious interest in the arrivals and departures of station commuters whilst overhead, the sun splinters around the extended wings of a buzzard soaring like Icarus ever higher into the blue.

The field is now bounded on all sides by a motorway spur, a dual carriageway and the railway line. An almost sealed off and severed island of abandoned agricultural land cast adrift with no easy public access.

At the top of the halt steps, there are no particularly distinguishing visual features as we look out over the land which we are going to walk through. As a train arrives on the platform below, a late flurry of commuters hurl themselves past us and down the stairs to squeeze into the carriages before the doors close.

Most are unlikely to be aware that there may be as many as 2,000 bodies buried somewhere in the vicinity.

July 1651

It was during the night or early morning of 16th /17th July 1651 that the troops of Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army landed on the north shore of the River Forth at Inverkeithing Bay. Whilst they had inflicted a heavy defeat on the Scottish army at Dunbar on 3rd September 1650, they had been thwarted by attempts to advance further into Scotland.

Cromwell had concluded that Fife was strategically key and by 20th July 4,500 of his troops were dug in on Ferry Hills, whilst a Scottish force of a similar size had grouped at Castland Hill. Both locations just outside present-day Rosyth. The threat of Scottish reinforcements coming from Stirling provoked Cromwell’s army to attack and force the Scottish infantry to retreat northwards. On land close to Pitreavie Castle, the Scottish infantry made a final stand but were soon overwhelmed by the more experienced Parliamentarian army who had the additional advantage of cavalry. The Scots suffered heavy losses. This became known as The Battle of Inverkeithing (sometimes The Battle of Pitreavie) and was the last major battle of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in Scotland. From 1652, Scotland was wholly under control of Cromwell’s Protectorate.

The casualties on the Scots side were certainly heavy. Most sources agree that around 2,000 people were killed and around 1,500 taken prisoner.

It is said that the burn in the field ran red with blood for three days.

SLIDE

 

Entering the field is not too difficult. Not far from the station steps there is a locked gate but a little further along we find a gap in the hedgerow. If you are prepared to navigate, or slide down a steep slope, this will deposit you amongst the heap of discarded plastic bottles and assorted rubbish tossed from the stairs above. At ground level, the topography of the field is much more apparent. Pronounced undulations ahead of us, sloping off to the right towards marshy ground around the Whinny Burn.  Ground cover is a mix of meadow type grasses, whin bushes, dandelions and what look like dock leaf plants gone to seed.

You only have to look towards the perimeter of the field to be aware that you are surrounded by human presence. The rooftops of Rosyth to the right and the hum of traffic a constant, low-level signal.  Yet on the actual land we are walking, it is rare to find an almost complete lack of evidence that humans have recently passed. No litter, no discarded cans or bottles. No burnt out barbecues.

There are hints of desire lines traversing the space, possibly made by committed dog walkers, who have found a hidden access point, or could they be made by something else? It is only as we move further and deeper into the field, that there is a clear sense that we are being watched.

SLIDE

At first, we wonder if it is a dog but it soon becomes apparent that it is the eyes of a tiny deer, a tiny roe deer fixed on our movements. We are both probably equally surprised by this encounter. This is not an area where you would typically expect to see deer. Where on earth has it come from? How has it accessed the sealed off field? We lock into that non-time state of reciprocal, motionless, staring.

Eventually the deer decides to break for it. Great elongated leaps for something so small – as if bouncing off the air itself, not really touching the ground. I manage to retrieve the camera and fire off some random shots in the hope that we obtain some record of this having happened.

SLIDE

We notice our presence is also alarming a number of skylarks which appear to have made the field their own. Their nervous, vertical flight and fluted song a mix of terror and beauty as we try to avoid what must be their nesting areas. It is us who have made this land strange. We are the other.

The field separates in two at a ridge of hawthorn bushes.

On the other side:

SLIDE

 

A field of time

history layered

on geography.

 

Transparent globes

of wind held tension

time scattered

yellow flowerings

of the eternal return

The field eventually tapers to a point where we can go no further, blocked off by the railway and the smooth, solid concrete structure carrying the A823 motorway spur.

We walk around the northern perimeter with only a thin hedgerow between us and the spur traffic. Such a slight threshold separating us from our field of time, skylarks and deer. On the other side, the surveillance cameras, crash barriers, lay-bys and signs – all the material apparatus of the modern motorway.

SLIDE

A footbridge takes us over this strangely empty vista, conjuring up something from Ballard, and into the relatively new ‘non-place’ of Carnegie Campus. As Marc Augé has said:

Place and non-place are rather like opposed polarities: the first is never completely erased, the second never totally completed . . .

SLIDE

We know from the old maps and records that this land was also once part of ‘the field’. Being a Sunday, the ‘campus’ is completely deserted as we wander amongst the new-build office blocks, many of which still look unoccupied. Roundabouts appear to have been built in hope of a time still to come as roads abruptly end.

Where the manicured non-place runs out, there is a sense of encroaching wildness, biding its time. An explosive wild bouquet of whin sits amongst a covering of red campion:

SLIDE

And yet amongst all the shiny new sheen of this place, older voices intrude. A hexagonal brick structure whose original purpose is unclear:

SLIDE

 

time stacked textures

brick and concrete

Nestled at the side of the main road into the campus we come across the cairn. As far as we are aware it is the only explicit acknowledgement of what happened on this land.

SLIDE

the Scots were driven back to the level ground between Hillfield and Pitreavie. Here, in one of the most famous episodes of the Battle of Inverkeithing, the Clan Maclean of Mull commanded by their chief, Sir Hector,  found themselves surrounded by superior enemy forces. The clansmen fought fiercely in defence of their chief, calling out, [“Fear eile airson Eachainn!” ] “Another for Hector!” as they sacrificed themselves.

This cairn was only erected in 2001 by the Clan MacLean Heritage Trust. It is thought that the McLean dead are likely to have been buried in a mass grave somewhere within the field.

Nearby, stands another material presence in the layered history of this land. Peering over a substantial stone wall allows us a view of the Doocot in the grounds of Pitreavie Castle.

SLIDE

Pitreavie Castle was originally built in the early 17th century by Henry Wardlaw of Balmule. We pass the doocot, turn left and walk past the front doors of the Castle where the initials of another Henry – Henry Beveridge are recorded. Beveridge purchased the Castle in 1883 and extensively re-modelled it in 1885.

SLIDE

Beveridge was a wealthy mill-owner, philanthropist and educator from Dunfermline. He was an associate of the Scottish polymath Patrick Geddes having attended Geddes’s summer meetings in Edinburgh. Geddes also introduced Beveridge to the artists John Duncan and Charles Mackie who painted murals in the castle illustrating the legends of Orpheus and, due to the local historical connection, the famous ballad of Sir Patrick Spens.

“The king sits in Dunfermline toune
drinking the blude reid wine,
“O whar will I get a guid sailor,
To sail this schip of mine?”

[It has been claimed that Elizabeth Wardlaw, the granddaughter-in-law of Henry Wardlaw was the author of  Sir Patrick Spensalthough the evidence appears to be somewhat tenuous].

It is believed that the Castle murals may now be at best over-painted and at worst destroyed but a good example of John Duncan’s Symbolist style can be seen in his famous work, The Riders of the Sidhe:

Walking past Pitreavie Castle today, now converted into flats and apartments, offers no clue as to another more recent past life. It was bought by the Ministry of Defence in 1938 and after the second world war, deep in a basement bunker, became the headquarters of NATO’s Northern Maritime Region. During the Cold War, all Soviet ships and submarines on exercise in the North Sea were monitored from here. The base only closed in 1996 and operations moved to RAF Kinloss. There is little or no outward trace of this today, although some photographs of its past life exist:

SLIDE

The first picture shows access to the underground bunker

And the second is the teleprinter room from 1944.

As we head along Castle Drive, we notice that a small housing estate also has a story embedded in the landscape, hidden amongst the street names:

SLIDE

Covenanters Rise: The Scottish army that fought against Cromwell was a Covenanter army, acting under allegiance to Charles II.

Then there is MacLean Walk: a reference to Sir Hector Maclean.

Sir John Brown Place is named after the commander of the Scottish lowland infantry and

Overton Crescent: refers to Colonel Robert Overton who led the assault party of New Model Army troops that landed in Fife on that night in July.

Our final part of the walk will take us along Castle Drive where we will loop around to return us to where we entered the field by the station.  Despite the changes over the centuries, we have walked the area of the field as it was in 1651. A shifting terrain of presence and absence only partly represented on the maps. As the great Polish poet Wisława Szymborska says:

 I like maps, because they lie.

Because they give no access to the vicious truth.

they spread before me a world

not of this world.

And we continue to ponder our mysterious encounter with the solitary roe deer. How did it access the field and why was it there? Perhaps, a glimpse of the eerie leaking into the everyday. We think of ghostly highlanders, adrift in their field with only the skylarks for company.

As we walk down Castle Drive we pass another new addition to the landscape on the left. A customer contact centre for Rupert Murdoch’s Sky empire.

On the other side of the road, a magpie picks at the carcass of a dead squirrel.

SLIDE

So, I hope that gave you a bit of a flavour of what could be described as a psychogeographic approach to landscape and how it can interact with the past, the present and the everyday. The key point is that this is not, let’s say, a destination landscape. It is literally embedded in the material fabric of the everyday. People traveling to work, actual places of human activity, arteries of transport infrastructure and housing. You don’t have to travel to London to do psychogeography. Why not Rosyth or Lochgelly? It can be on your doorstep or in very close proximity and is one way of becoming engaged in your local environment wherever that may be.

SLIDE

 

So What is Psychogeography?

Now the term psychogeography may be unfamiliar to some people in the audience but I would guess that most of you will have experienced it. To adapt Joseph Beuys – who incidentally stalks the corridors of this building – Everyone is a Psychogeographer.

Think back to when you were a child. You had little interest in moving through space in a linear fashion from place A to place B. Time was much more fluid. You would encounter playful distractions in the landscape – a tree to climb, or in my case, a concrete hippo or toadstool in the New Town of Glenrothes.  You may have unwittingly performed part of Yoko Ono’s City Piece

Step in all the Puddles in the City

You might find sticks to pick up; objects to poke with a stick. You might sit down to observe a line of ants crawling across the pavement. Following the sound of a distant ice-cream van may lead you through new routes in familiar streets.  You may have pondered questions such as why does that building have such a large fence around it? Why does that sign say ‘Keep Out’?

Fast forward to walking through an unfamiliar city. It is likely that you will encounter different zones of feeling as you move through the environment. You may end up in an area that for whatever reason makes you feel uncomfortable and you want to walk away quickly. Conversely, the particular ambiance of an area may make you feel relaxed or even carnivalesque. At other times a particular city environment may make you feel literally ‘out of place’.

Contemporary psychogeography has many different strands which makes it difficult to pin down precisely, but from the above we can pull out certain common characteristics:

  • It usually requires walking or moving through space;
  • there is some form of subjective engagement with the environment and
  • probably some form of implicit questioning as to why the environment is the way it is.

The follow-on question, may be, does the environment have to be like this and how could it be changed (or even preserved)?

SLIDE

In the history of ideas, most of the literature about psychogeography refers back to the Lettrists and the Situationists who defined and developed their psychogeographic activities, such as the dérive – or drift – in Paris during the 1950s. (Most of it within that triangle I’ve mapped out on the slide).

Guy Debord’s definition of psychogeography is commonly cited:

Psychogeography sets for itself the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, whether consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.

[Guy Debord, Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, (1955)]

 

(Mmm – I’ve always had a bit of a problem with the ‘precise laws aspect of that definition’. I very much doubt that psychogeography can ever be subject to precise laws. Another cognac required for Guy perhaps.

Our own research has uncovered that the term was used much earlier by an American anthropologist, J. Walter Fewkes in a non-urban context in the early 1900s:

 SLIDE

There it is … “psychogeography, deals with the influence of geographical environment on the human mind”.

Fewkes wrote this in 1905 and was using the term to examine the Native American Hopi people’s strong connection with their landscape. The arid conditions led them to develop a set of beliefs, practices and folk rituals, such as the rain dance, to appeal to the sky gods for water.

We have yet to see any mention of Fewkes in the psychogeographic literature but firmly embrace the idea of an expansive psychogeography: the influence of the geographical environment on the human mind in both urban and non-urban contexts. This also recognizes the presence of the non-human world in our landscapes. In this respect, we are probably more influenced by Patrick Geddes than anything else. Indeed, the name of our book From Hill to Sea is a nod towards Geddes’s concept of the Valley Section (basically – “it takes a whole region to make the city”) which was adapted from the ideas of the anarchist geographer Élisée Reclus.

I personally, like this comment on psychogeography from Alan Moore:

 SLIDE

So, all of the above definitions kind of pull at the same strings but what about doing it in practice? As a starting point, I think you could do worse than consider this piece Open Field from Pauline Oliveros, the pioneering, American composer and proponent of Deep Listening.  I like how this emphasises being present, engaged and attentive in the everyday. A succinct manifesto for being-in-the-world.

SLIDE

 SLIDE

 So, moving on to the final part of this talk, I want to try to link three elements together: psychogeography, folk horror and the everyday.  Here are some short extracts of walks undertaken which show how elements of the uncanny, folk tales, and horror are all there – embedded in the landscape of the everyday.

This image was taken up on the Fife Coast Near Largo Law (or Hill for anyone unfamiliar with the term).

We soon encounter the talisman lying in the dunes. It’s protective, synthetic membrane, perished long ago by wind and water.  Now crusted with sand and water-logged, it has transmuted into a living entity. Green tendrils sprout from the surface. It appears to be an auspicious omen, a process of alchemy worthy of the legendary Wizard of Balwearie, Michael Scot, (1175 – c.1232), reputed to have form in these parts.

Local legend has it that Scot summoned his three imp familiars, Prig, Prim and Pricker to Largo Law with a view to levelling it. A sort of job creation scheme for hyper-active familiars. As they began to dig, Scot had a change of plan and the imps were hurriedly dispatched to Kirkcaldy to make ropes out of sand. This was to assist Scot in his showdown with the devil on Kirkcaldy beach.  Scot appears to have triumphed in the encounter as evidenced by a local saying: “The devil’s dead and buried in Kirkcaldy”.  Due to the ‘Kirkcaldy interruption’, only a single shovelful of earth was thrown from Largo Law to create the cairn of Norrie’s Law at the wonderfully named farm of Baldastard.  There are also local folk tales about an abundant goldmine that supposedly exists underneath Largo Law and that sheep have returned from grazing on the foothills with golden fleeces.

Balwearie, Kirkcaldy

Moving down the coast to Kirkcaldy itself, you will find plenty more everyday references to our wizard Michael Scot. As a historical person, he most certainly existed although like many similar figures it is difficult to untangle history and myth.  He studied, maths, philosophy and theology at Oxford, translated Eastern and Arabic texts and developed a strong interest in alchemy, astrology and sorcery. He was appointed as personal astrologer to Frederick II, the holy Roman emperor and pops up in Dante’s The Divine Comedy, where he is consigned to the Eighth Circle of Hell reserved for astrologers and sorcerers.

Every school day, the young people of local Balwearie High School wear the school badge depicting Lions Heads, stars and crescent moons of the Scot family coat of arms. In local Beveridge Park you can find a wizard’s trail to follow which claims that Michael Scot lived in nearby Balwearie Castle and recounts the afore-mentioned story of him fighting Lucifer on Kirkcaldy beach and also managing to travel to France in one evening on a magical black steed. (Take that Harry Potter).

You can still walk to the ruins of Balwearie Castle today. It is fair to say that it manages to conjure up a certain atmosphere worthy of a practitioner of the dark arts.

SLIDE

Moving on to a short walk between Crombie Point and Torryburn

 SLIDE

 

 Ink etched blue silence.

Cold harbour spires, sketched over cubist sails.

Thorn pinned birds still tethered.

Wings opening, sensing the sky

 SLIDE

We pass the ruined pier at Crombie Point where Jules Verne arrived on 30th August 1859 following a three-day exploration of Edinburgh.

 SLIDE

Beyond the door-less door. An invitation to enter? What lies beyond the threshold, the scattering of leaves and crouched shadows?

On the ancient, whispering walls, the faces start to appear.

Language of the stones, silent tongues ….

And on this short stretch of coastal path, the receding tide and dying light coats Torry Bay in an emulsion of gun-metal grey. A vista of colour-bleached beauty with a tangible undertow of concealed violence bleeding over the mudflats.

SLIDE

In the middle of Torry Bay you will see witches rock. This rock was used to tie-up and restrain anyone suspected of witchcraft. Here the witches were judged and simultaneously sentenced as the tide rose. If they drowned, they were absolved of being a witch, but if they survived they were deemed to be a witch and burned at the stake.

(that is actually from one of the heritage interpretation boards located on Torry Bay)

More on the dark history of this short stretch of Fife coastline emerged from the Tales for Travellers Project which we participated in last year which included a social walk following a journey originally undertaken by Ben Jonson from Culross to Dunfermline in 1618.

On Torry Bay the sky appears to expand to a grey cloak as we experience a brief rain shower. It’s a suitable backdrop for Kate Walker to tell us of the dark history of witch hunting along this coast in the seventeenth century. Zealous, self-appointed witch-finders, usually being local clergymen searching for those who had ‘danced with the devil’. They used an armoury of pseudo-scientific techniques to prey on poor, elderly, and vulnerable women, with their use of witch pricking and searching for the devil’s mark. The familiar power structures embedded in organised religion and misogyny. Kate recounted the tragic story of local woman Lilias Adie, buried face down in the mud on the beach, between the high tide and low tide marks as it was outside consecrated ground. Buried neither on land or at sea, huge stone slabs were placed on top of her; a folk remedy for revenants who were suspected of returning from the grave to torment the living.

SLIDE

 

Up in the village of Menstrie in Clackmannanshire we find the silent contemplation of Fox Boy. A sculpture inspired by the now-extinct practice of children keeping foxes as pets”.

SLIDE

 

Devilla Forest, near Kincardine is an area with a long history of land use. Prehistoric coffins, stone circles and Roman urns have all been found here together with more recent structures such as the remains of a World War II explosives research establishment. There is a stone which local legend says is marked by the grooves from a witch’s apron string and there is a history of numerous big black cat sightings in the area. There is also the rather unsettling setting of the Plague Graves where trinkets and offerings are still left and hung on nearby trees.

SLIDE

 Windylaw

Just outside Pattiesmuir, you can find a quite inviting path leading up to a crest of trees.

SLIDE

I wonder if your perception may change if I tell you that this is Windylaw, an extremely old coffin track leading down to the long-abandoned churchyard of Rosyth. I would also add that from the crest of the hill you can look over to Rosyth dockyard where seven, decommissioned Polaris nuclear submarines, lie rusting in storage. A real example of horror embedded in the landscape.

At the very least, the psychogeographer can reverse the panoptical gaze of the modern political machine.  Standing here we can use landscape as a mirror to reflect back. We can see the war machines, the entropic processors of fossil fuels, how the local is connected to the global.  On this spot we can be the watchers. We can see what you are up to and imagine and enact alternative possibilities. (Such as going for a walk!).

Sometimes the everyday world can be made strange in an instant, when you alight on an unexpected object in the landscape, awaiting a story to be told.

SLIDE

 

The sun reflects from the elegant curve of bleached white bone amongst a bed of grey feathers. Ribs sparkle like some primitive xylophone and still attached to the leg, a small dark hoof.  The sweep of bones and sinew appear to retain some residue of movement –  of a life-force that has been so abruptly arrested. Who knows what happened to this (we guess) young deer?

Detached and slightly further away lies the white skull, stripped and pecked clean. The downy feather bed suggests that some of the birds who came to feast on the carcass ended up being part of someone else’s meal.

Fur, feather, rib, bone

Old Nature Writing

 And finally:

 SLIDE

He’s back!

I must admit that this extends the concept of the everyday somewhat as it happened last year whilst on holiday in Istria, Croatia.

A visit to a small hilltop town called Motovun which had only a handful of people walking around, to the extent that the labyrinth of tiny curving, cobbled streets were mostly deserted, creating its own sense of the eerie.

You can perhaps imagine how this was compounded upon turning a corner and being confronted with this straw giant staring us out with his silent gaze. I reckon he must have been over twenty feet tall and at his feet a band of acolytes engaged in some folk ritual or dance, arms thrown open to embrace the sun. There was a distinct feeling of something of the Wicker Man about it all.

As far as I could find out, his name is Veli Jože, a giant who lived (or lives?) in a nearby truffle-rich forest. Local stories suggest that he has been known to enter the town and physically shake the church tower to sound the bell.

Ending

 And so that brings me to the end of my talk. I hope it has given you some flavor of potential linkages between Psychogeography, Folk Horror and the Everyday.  I’ll be around for the rest of the day and this evening if you want a chat. There are also a couple of books available on the goodies table if you are at all interested. From Hill to Sea which I’ve mentioned before and Language of Objects which has just been released and is a collaboration between myself and the sound artist Brian Lavelle who is in the audience somewhere. (Book includes a CD of Brian’s sound piece).

And just to mention that when you do leave this evening, look up at the skies over the Old Town of Edinburgh. You may be surprised at what you see:

SLIDE

Witches over The Outlook Tower

[Endpiece from Dramatizations’ of History: The Masque of Ancient Learning and Its Many Meanings by Patrick Geddes, Edinburgh: Patrick Geddes and Colleagues, (1923)].

Thank you for listening.

and as you head for lunch – a final thought to leave you with:

≈≈≈

Many thanks to the Folk Horror Revival team for the invite to talk and for putting on such a great day and evening of words and music.  A special thanks also to Chris Lambert for stepping in to manage the slide show after the slide pointer appeared to give up the ghost. (May well have been operator error!).

 

Categories
Psychogeography

The Unseelie Court – Summerhall, Edinburgh

Murdo Eason will be taking part in ‘The Unseelie Court’ on Saturday 21st October at Summerhall in Edinburgh.  A day of discussion, film and a night of music, put together by the good people of Folk Horror Revival, who have previously brought their take on the folk horror phenomenon to Cambridge University and The British Museum.

More details on the full line up can be found on the Folk Horror Revival website and tickets can be purchased from Summerhall.

Murdo Eason will be delivering a talk, Embedded in the Landscape: Psychogeography, Folk Horror and the Everyday.

Categories
Field Trip Happenstance Observation Psychogeography

At the Heron House

It is a place within easy walking distance from the front door and yet it is unlikely that anyone would stumble across it. It is not on any well-trodden path. However, nor could it be described as a remote location as would be evident if you managed to locate the area on a map. It is almost as if it has slipped through a crack in time and topographic space.

There are certain landscapes where the walker quickly becomes self-conscious that they are an intruder. Where every footfall announces to the non-human world that there is a potential threat moving in the landscape. A cracked twig underfoot that  ricochets through the calm stillness, creating unseen rustlings of unease and the nervous flexing of wings. No matter how quiet you may whisper there is a strong feeling that you are being closely observed and monitored by unseen eyes. It is you who is perceived as the danger in this quiet world.

For convenience we will refer to this place as the Heron House on account of the siege of herons that appear to have colonised this world. It is not unusual to see upwards of ten of them roosting in the trees that surround this body of water or swirling silently overhead. As if each wing movement slows down time incrementally, evoking a sky filled gathering of ancient pterodactyl. Until we discovered this place, we had always associated herons as zen-like, solitary stalkers of the shoreline, so it was a surprise to see so many of them in the high branches of this wooded setting. Their presence transforming this place into something that feels forgotten and ancient. Almost a ‘Land that Time Forgot’.

This feeling of being steeped in accretions of time is heightened by diverse morphologies of lichen on many trees.

It is easy to lose yourself in the afternoon colours and textures of stillness.

Bizarrely, we come across a huddle of Giant Redwood trees, having no idea of how or why they are growing here in Fife. We stop to feel the aged textures of the deceptively soft bark which looks more like dripping lava

… and in contrast, ephemeral cascades of snowdrops flower close-by exotic looking fungi which resemble some imaginary, animated wood spirits from a Miyazaki film. Organic antenna, as if alert, listening, sensing …

This uncanny world is further transformed by the still body of water which creates a mirror world with only a thin liquid membrane appearing to prevent both of these worlds from collapsing into each other. Herons soar in the sky and amongst the watery depths.

The Heron House is not a place to outstay your welcome. We are the strangers and eavesdroppers here and can sense that our presence has disturbed some fragile equilibrium.

We return to pass through an opening in stone, sodden and marbled by weather and the colours of time.

Within minutes of walking we begin to hear familiar sounds start to puncture the stillness that we still carry.

The distant hum of traffic, a tractor turning over fresh clods of earth in a field. Tending the ground, ready for a new planting, a new cycle.

Coda:

As long as the earth keeps turning

≈≈≈

Now playing: Heitor Alvelos – ‘The Other’ from Faith

Thanks to @EdinDrift for joining us on this journey. February 2017.

Categories
Observation Poetry Psychogeography rag-pickings Signs and Signifiers

On the Other Side of the Castle

Youtz / twilight / twig / antenna

On the other side of the castle

Argyle House, Edinburgh

Oblique rain

fall     in the glitch

land   (e)scape(s)

Now playing: The Bug vs Earth – ‘Other Side of the World’ from Concrete Desert.

Categories
Field Trip Found Art Happenstance Observation Poetry Psychogeography rag-pickings Signs and Signifiers

Spectral Dreams of the City Stones

 A dream in masonry and living rock

Robert Louis Stevenson

the habit of dreaming and the ability to dream are primordial

Fernando Pessoa

dscn5420-001

.

adrift

casting a line

to pull down

the stars

.

dscn5448

.

at the threshold

of hearing, sounds

of the city, stored

in the stones

.

dscn5447

.

thought bubble

of the white dove

 

fractured figments

of translation – PA?

.

dscn5444-001

.

dazzle me

with dreams

of a kinder

kind of blue

.

dscn5441-001

.

even electrons

get lost

in the forest

    (scratch)    —–>

this way

 

≈≈≈

From a walk through the New Town of Edinburgh on 14th January 2017.

(Edinburgh’s) buildings are dominated by locally quarried sandstone so that the stone-built heritage literally grows out of the bedrock foundations of the city. (McMillan and Hyslop, The City of Edinburgh: Landscape and Stone, 2008).

Now playing: Morton Feldman – Triadic Memories (Steffen Schleiermacher).

Categories
Observation Poetry Psychogeography rag-pickings Uncategorized

No waiting / red rose / rust ladder

poet3

.

No Waiting Poet

.

Blue door

blue door2

.

The little red rose

on the blue door

has seen

better days

.

rust ladder4

.

Rust ladder to the half-moon

This is not the yellow brick road

.

Now playing: Chris Abrahams – Fluid to the Influence.

Categories
Uncategorized

Ask a Psychogeographer: Interview on Prehistories

ao-llyn-cerrig-bach-fragment

I recently tried to answer a few questions about psychogeography for the wonderful Prehistories website.  Here is an extract:

Ask a… psychogeographer

Interview with Murdo Eason, The Fife Psychogeographical Collective.

For any readers who haven’t encountered psychogeography before, could you give a brief explanation of the term?

The word may be unfamiliar to some people but I would guess that most people will have experienced it. To adapt Joseph Beuys: Everyone is a Psychogeographer.

Psychogeography has become a much used and abused label but a broad definition is the influence of the geographical environment on the human mind. Think back to when you were a child. You had little interest in moving through space in a linear fashion from place A to place B. Time was much more fluid. You would encounter playful distractions in the landscape – a tree to climb, or in my case, a concrete hippo or mushroom in the New Town of Glenrothes. You might find sticks to pick up; objects to poke with a stick. You might sit down to observe a line of ants crawling across the pavement. Following the sound of a distant ice-cream van may lead you through new routes in familiar streets.  You may have pondered questions such as why does that building have such a large fence around it? Why does that sign say ‘Keep Out’?

Keep out

Fast forward to walking through an unfamiliar city without a map. It is likely that you will encounter different zones of feeling as you move through the city. You may end up in an area that for whatever reason makes you feel uncomfortable and you want to walk away quickly. Conversely, the particular ambiance of an area make you feel relaxed or even carnivalesque. At other times a particular city environment may make you feel literally ‘out of place’.

Contemporary psychogeography has many different strands which makes it difficult to pin down precisely, but from the above we can pull out certain common characteristics:

  • It usually requires walking or moving through space;
  • there is some form of subjective engagement with the environment and
  • probably some form of implicit questioning as to why the environment is the way it is.

The follow on question, may be, does the environment have to be like this and how could it be changed (or preserved)?

In the history of ideas, most of the literature about psychogeography refers back to the Letterists and the Situationists who defined and developed their psychogeographic activities, such as the dérive – or drift – in an urban environment during the 1950s. However, we would argue that what is now often termed psychogeography is just a label applied to activities and practices that human beings, across all cultures, have undertaken as soon as they started to walk in the landscape.

Guy Debord’s definition of psychogeography is commonly cited:

Psychogeography sets for itself the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, whether consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.

Guy Debord, Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, (1955)

However, our own research has uncovered that the term was used much earlier by the American anthropologist, J.Walter Fewkes in a non-urban context in the early 1900s:

… psychogeography, deals with the influence of geographical environment on the human mind.

J. Walter Fewkes, Bureau of American Ethnology, (1905)

Fewkes was using the term to examine the Native American Hopi people’s strong connection with their landscape. The arid landscape led them to develop a set of beliefs, practices and rituals, such as the rain dance, to appeal to the sky gods to deliver rain.

We have yet to see any mention of Fewkes in the psychogeographic literature but firmly embrace the idea of an expansive psychogeography: the influence of the geographical environment on the human mind in both urban and non-urban contexts. This also recognizes the presence of the non-human world in our landscapes.

To perhaps bring back all of this to a concrete example, here is a photograph, taken in Dunfermline, of a fairly typical designed environment. There are two laid out, planned footpaths and what would have been a green space with two trees:

.
Street view

It is clear to see that the planned footpaths have been ignored and an alternative ‘desire path’ has formed over the green space between the trees. A good localised example of people, whether consciously or unconsciously, being influenced by the landscape to question and change their local environment through footfall democracy!

The full interview can be read here and highly recommend that you check out the Prehistories website and also @DrHComics on Twitter. Here is an example of  Hannah’s distinctive take on folklore:

chanctonbury-hill-01-coloured

chanctonbury-hill-02-coloured

Categories
Psychogeography Signs and Signifiers

Is this the first published use of the term ‘psychogeography’?

“The science of anthropogeography, or more properly speaking, psychogeography, deals with the influence of geographical environment on the human mind.”

J. Walter Fewkes, Bureau of American Ethnology, (1905)

.

≈≈≈

.

First definition?

Presented in  a paper ‘Climate and Cult’ published in the Report of the Eighth International Geographic Congress. 1904, pp.664-670, (Washington: Washington Government Printing Office, 1905).

.

reporteighthint00unkngoog_0006

Jesse Walter Fewkes (1850 – 1930) was born in Newton, Massachusetts and initially pursued a career as a marine zoologist at Harvard. From 1887, he turned his attention to anthropology and ethnological studies, particularly the culture and history of the Pueblo Native Americans. Fewkes made some of the first recordings of their music. In 1895 he embarked on various archaeological explorations of the American Southwest for the Smithsonian’s Bureau of American Ethnology. In 1918 he was appointed chief of the Bureau and retired in 1928, dying two years later.

The paper Fewkes presented to the Congress examines the relationship between climate, food supply and ritual ceremony, (what Fewkes calls ‘cult’). One example  given is the rain ceremonies of the Hopi people. Fewkes argues that the Hopi’s strong connection with their arid landscape led them to develop a set of beliefs, practices and rituals to appeal to the sky gods to deliver rain. In these ceremonies, the gods are represented through masks, idols and other symbols and in order to influence the “magic powers of these personages” the worshipper employs signs or gestures, songs, verbal incantations or rituals of imitation. For example, water is poured into a medicine bowl from its four sides to show that water is desired from all world quarters; a cloud of smoke represents a rain cloud. Sacred kivas (rooms used for rituals) are painted with symbols of falling rain and lightning to remind the gods of the Hopi people’s need for water.

As a conference paper, it is very much of its time but interesting in that it specifically mentions ‘psychogeography’ and clearly relates this to a linkage between the effect of the environment on the human mind. We have never seen it referenced before in any of the psychogeographic literature.

References to the origin of the term ‘psychogeography’ often refer to Guy Debord’s Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, (1955) and his definition:

Psychogeography sets for itself the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, whether consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.

Whilst the Letterists and Situationists clearly developed their psychogeographic activities, during the 1950s, in an urban environment, it is interesting to learn that the  relationship between the environment and the human mind was being considered as ‘psychogeography’ in a non-urban context at the turn of the century.

Now playing: Éliane Radigue – Elemental II.

Categories
Field Trip Observation Poetry Psychogeography Symbol

worlds within worlds

WWII

.

worlds within worlds

worlds within worlds

worlds within worlds

worlds within worlds

worlds within worlds

worlds within worlds

worlds within worlds

worlds within worlds

worlds within worlds

worlds within worlds

worlds within worlds

worlds within worlds

 

WWWI

 

from the ocean

land forms

islands

an archipelago

of weather

and time

 

WWWV

.

telescope, or

microscope?

thin world portal,

sea or sky?

.

WWWVI

 .

an autarky

of green

only open

to sun

and rain

.

WWWIV

.

the high lands

shape

invisible cities

littoral drift

lagoon

an oxbow lake

.

WWWVII

.

The Charlestown limeworks were one of the earliest industrial complexes in Scotland at the advent of the industrial revolution. Conceived in 1752, within ten years, they had become the largest lime producing facility in Europe.

The Charlestown limestone was quarried locally. Coral laid down 300 million years ago formed calcium carbonate (limestone) which was heated in the kilns with coal to 900°C. During this process the weight of stone reduced by 40%. More of a devils’ share than an angels’ share.

Working conditions have been described as a “hellish scene” with the hot air thick with sulphur and ammonia from the limeburning. The list of worker’s functions leach from the page into the ‘old words’:

Kilnheadman

Drawer

Trimmer

Slaker

Emptier

Sawyer

Mason

Wright

Labourer

Overseer

Today the kilns exist as another, largely, forgotten memory of an industrial past. The encroaching green fingers are tightening their grip.

.

CIMG3656

.

on the old railway track

traces of sleeping

sleepers

.

CIMG3676

.

above the surface

vertical calm

conceals

unseen networks

of rhizomatic agitation

.

CIMG3679

.

On Charlestown Brae

the old horse trough

a flowering

of water and air

.

CIMG3626

.

the need to create, islands for contemplation.

.

 

DSCN0046.

Heat formed

in black ocean

a coastline emerges.

Inlets, an isthmus

white tundra,

transmuted gold.

From a short walk in Charlestown, Fife.

Now playing: Steve Roden – Four Possible Landscapes.

Reference:

Norman Fotheringham, Charlestown, Built on Lime (Charlestown: Charlestown Lime Heritage Trust, 1997).