Friday, 20 January 2017

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - The Bulmer Stone


When you are doing the garden, you can never dig too far down without your spde hitting a stone, and funnily enough the same is true when you begin excavating the folklore of almost any region in Britain, For sooner or later you will find some legends or lore concerning a local megalith or similar prominent stoney features of the local landscape. Now often such folklore centres around ancient standing stones or barrows, those mysterious relics left by our ancestors, but there are other stones with equally intriguing tales to tell. And while most of the curious stones that are the focus for local folklore are often in fields outside towns and villages, there are other rocks that enjoy a more, shall we say, urban existence. 

One such stone can be found in the North-Eastern stone of Darlington. If you head up out of the modern town centre into Northgate, one of the first historic buildings you'll see is an impressive Victoria edifice that used to be Darlington Technical College. This glorious old building was built in 1897 and designed by by noted architect George Gordon Hoskins. However there is one very curious feature to the premises which has often baffled visitors down the years. For just inside the iron railings that surround the frontage, is a large rock, a huge roughly squarish boulder of granite. And a helpful plaque that informs you that this is in fact the Bulmer Stone.


The stone apparently is a piece of Westmoreland shap, and is thought to have been deposited in what would become Darlington's high street by a glacier at the end of the last ice age. Now before the Technical College was built, this portion of Northgate was filled with cottages owned by the railway pioneer Edward Pease, who had his mansion and gardens just a little further down the road. Back then, the Bulmer Stone stood unfenced in the street, and in centuries past, when the area was mainly inhabited by the town's weavers, this piece of granite was called "the Battling Stone" as the weavers would beat their flax upon it. However it got its current name in the early 19th century, thanks to a fellow called Willy Bulmer. This local character became the town's unofficial town crier, for he would get copies of the London newspapers from the stagecoaches travelling up the Great North Road and read the latest news aloud in the street for the benefit of the public. And to best reach an audience and make himself prominent while doing this street news broadcast, Willy would stand upon the boulder in Northgate and hence it became known as the Bulmer Stone. 

The stone holds more secrets from Darlington's history too. In the early 21st century, it was being discussed in the pages of the long running local paper, The Northern Echo -  for several bronze plaques had been discovered that showed George Stephenson's famous steam railway engine, Locomotion No. 1 alongside the Bulmer Stone. Originally it was thought that these plaques must have been produced to mark the opening, or an anniversary of the opening, of the very first public railroad, the Stockton and Darlington Railway in the world. However it was discovered these metallic mementoes actually only dated from 1909. They had been made by one Stephen Bell, who copyrighted this work as a "medal design" in 1911, and they had been sold through a local pawnbroker located at  58 - 61 Northgate named Arthur E Berry. However, what no one seemed to be able to work out was why the Bulmer Stone was pictured beside the famous locomotive.


The actual answer lies in what might be considered industrial folklore. Apparently according to local stories, the pioneering steam inventor George Stephenson walked from Stockton to Darlington to pay a visit to Edward Pease. Pease was at the heart of Darlington's industry and was already planning a rail system to transport coal and other materials, but with the carriages to be pulled by horses. Stephenson however though the new steam engines he was developing would be better suited to the job. The two men struck a deal, and not too long after, in 1825, what would become the world's first train system, the Stockton and Darlington Railway, was born. Now as we have noted, Mr Pease lived on Northgate with the Bulmer Stone more or less on his doorstep. And according to local legend, just before the historic meeting, Stephenson stopped to tie his bootlaces, resting his weary feet on the Bulmer Stone. Now whether the story is true or not we have no way of knowing, but certainly the tale must have still have been doing the rounds in the early 19th century when these bronze plaques were made. 


However there are even older and stranger tales of the Bulmer Stone. For it is mentioned in a seminal collection of folklore known as the Denham Tracts. This volume was put together by a Yorkshire tradesman named Michael Aislabie Denham between the years 1846 and 1859. Originally published in several parts, these miscellanies of lore were later collected together, reorganised and re-edited by James Hardy and published in two volumes by the Folklore Society in 1892 and 1895. Now in the Denham Tracts, there is a section entitled "Book Rhymes" which opens thus - 
In the library of the Dean and Chapter of Durham is an ancient Missale Eomanorum, once the property of the church of Hutton Rudby, Yorkshire, as we learn from the following quaint rhymes contained in the bowke itself : — 
Whoso owne me dothe loke,
I am ye Chourche of Rudby's bowke ;
Whoso dothe saye ye contrary,
I reporte me to awll ye parysshyngby. 
This book was given by Samuel Davidson, Esq., to the Rev. George Davenport, Rector of Houghton-le-Spring, and was by him, in 1662, given to the library left by Bishop Cosin to the clergy of the Diocese of Durham.
And it goes on to record that a notable rhyme found in this ancient book goes like this -

In Darnton towne ther is a stane,
And most strange is yt to tell,
That yt turnes nine times round aboute
When yt hears ye clock strike twell.

A curious legend to be sure! However whether the stone is supposed to revolve at midday or midnight, or indeed at both times the clock strikes twelve is unclear. And, perhaps needless to say, as far as I know, there are no actual accounts of anyone ever witnessing this megalithic miracle. However weirdly, this reported phenomena is not as outlandish as it first sounds, for while the concept of a huge stone moving all by itself sounds bizarre, this is not a isolated case. For many other standing stones in the United Kingdom has legends attached to them that claim at certain times of the day they move or revolve. Usually the stones that are reputed to wander or revolve also have other tales told about them that give them a magical nature, such as they were people or witches turned to stone, dropped there by giants or devils, or even simply that they were the work of  ancient pagan folks. And while we now know that the Bulmer Stone found its place thanks to a glacier and the town centre grew up around it, this old rhyme suggests that once upon a time there may have been other magical tales told about it. And this would explain why as the town formed no one thought to move the stone out of the high street, for in such old tales it is normally held to be very bad luck to attempt to move a mysterious megalith... 



Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat #02 - Trek And Relative Dimension in Shops


Hello folks! Welcome back the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Do take a seat... No, not there, that's still got the remains of dropped lolly on it! A Walls Sky-Ray I think. But I digress... Anyhow yes, this week we are still going through the big dusty box marked "Denys Fisher Dr Who" and taking a look at another item in that range of toys that helped kids create new adventures of the titular Time Lord in the comfort of their own bedrooms back in the late '70s. 

So then, in 1976, British toy company Denys Fisher, in conjunction with Mego in the US, released a range of nine and half inch Doctor Who figures. Obviously we had the Doctor himself, all teeth and curls and wearing Tom Baker's face (or was it... see our last trip here). There was a Leela doll, which despite having exceedingly bushy hair like those old Troll dolls, had a recently resemblance to Louise Jameson. And there was also a range of enemies which we'll have a gander at next week. But the centerpiece of the range was the TARDIS playset. 

Nicely scaled to the figures in the range (and for a good reason too), the Denys Fisher TARDIS was a sturdy beast and a rather nice replica of the current TV version. However while later toy TARDISes (and no, it shouldn't be TARDII - the name's an acronym remember) were just empty blue boxes, this first time capsule for action figures had a trick up its plastic sleeves. If you looked at the photos on this page, you'll notice that the only major inaccuracy in the design is the inclusion of what look like red and green lights on the top. But these were actually buttons to allow the toy TARDIS perform its main selling feature.

For when you opened the doors, you discovered a little chamber, just big enough to stand a Doctor or a Leela, or at a squeeze a Cyberman figure inside. Now for maximum effect, you then shut the doors, and pressed the green button. The TARDIS would make a strange noise - sadly not the famous wheezing and groaning dematerialisation sound effects - and then when you opened the doors, the Doctor (or whoever that been shoved in there) had disappeared! My giddy aunt! And then if you shut the doors and pressed the other button, they came back! Amazing! 

Of course, it was blinding obvious to most children how this all worked, for the chamber in which you placed your plastic pals was suspiciously curved and put one in mind of a revolving door. And indeed essentially that was the secret of this particular TARDIS - it worked just like those secret doors in movies and cartoons where you pull a concealed lever, usually a torch on a wall, a candlestick, or a book on a shelf. and a section of wall span around. It was, at least to a child of the time, very cool. Although I suspect I'm not alone in being slightly bothered by it, for the TARDIS is not some species of secret door, or a magician's vanishing cabinet. And so, while this feature was undoubtedly great fun, it didn't quite fit the lore of the parent TV show. Personally I rationalised this by choosing to see it as representing the Doctor wandering off into the sadly unseen control room for which, equally sadly, there was never a playset equivalent of. Of course I was aware that that was just an imaginative sticking plaster, what we might now call "head canon" but it evident worked well enough as I played with that until the mechanism eventually broke! 


But even back then, I kind of guessed why this toy TARDIS performed this vanishing trick, for I had seen another playset that did more or less the same stunt - the Star Trek Transporter Room from Palitoy. Now over in the US in 1974, legendary toy giant Mego (and that's a company not some fee-fie-fo-fumming titan made of playthings) began producing a line of Star Trek figures, eight inch high replicas of the crew and assorted aliens. The big item in that range was the USS Enterprise Action Playset, a construction of card and plastic that delivered a captain's chair for our Kirk to loaf about on, a Navigation Console, six different pictures to put on the bridge view screen, and some stools for the other crew. All very exciting, but the highlight of the set was the Transporter. Now although a transporter shouldn't have been on the bridge,  and in the show looked more like the stage of a late '60s nightclub, this was a little pod that looked like a futuristic wardrobe. But it did perform the same magic trick with a revolving panel as the TARDIS, to allow you to "beam down" figures to areas of carpet and hallway that had been pressed into service as alien planets. 

Sadly however, this set was never released in the UK, and indeed if I remember rightly the Star Trek figures were never widely available in British toy stores for long - certainly Palitoy versions of the second wave of figures released, the aliens in particular, were and are very hard to come by. However we did get a playset that was exclusive to the UK, with Palitoy creating the Transporter Room set. This was just the transporter unit from the US set, shipped as a stand-alone item and sporting a jazzier colour scheme. It was created from Mego parts shipped from the US and Hong Kong, as toy historians reckon that the execs at Palitoy decided it was cheaper to create this set from pre-existing bits than import the USS Enterprise Playset (for more on this saga, boldly go here). 

Now there was a fair bit of back and forth across the Atlantic between Mego and Palitoy, but the legendary American toy makers also had a good relationship with Denys Fisher too. And hence no one seemed to mind too much when Denys Fisher essentially borrowed the concept and mechanism. However as the Who figures were an inch and half taller than the Kirk and co figures, everything had to be scaled up with new bespoke parts to create their version of the TARDIS.

Of course for the kids of 1907s Britain the real upshot of the this difference in figure sizes meant that any bedroom team-ups or playground crossovers where the Doctor met the Enterprise crew often ended in farce, with the Baker Doctor giving Kirk the old Benny Hill head slapping treatment, the "get out of that" routine (as frequently demonstrated by Eric Morecambe on little Ern),  and of course the classic held-off-at-arms-length-you-can't-hit-me wind-up beloved of older siblings everywhere...   

NEXT TIME - We'll be round off our look at Doctor Who dolls, sorry I mean action figures, with a look at some of the curious things going on with the Doctor's enemies... 


Sunday, 15 January 2017

BROADCAST ANNOUNCEMENT!


Hello folks, just a quick parish notice - this week's show will be a tad late thanks to some software problems caused by a Wordpress update (and as Wordpress is very popular for running podcasts quite a few other shows are also be affected too). However the episode is done and will go out as soon as we can get it up (oo-er missus) - hopefully by Tuesday, or hopefully before is Wordpress fixes the bug  in the update!

However while we're all here, the show list from the next month or so looks like this -

HYPNOGORIA 48 - Horror Last Year Part I : rounding up assorted prequels and sequels of note from 2016.

HYPNOGORIA 49 - Horror Last Year Part II: venturing beyond Hollywood to look at a selection of international horror movies

HYPNOGORIA 50 - Horror Last Year Part III: sampling some of my favourite horror flicks of last year

FROM THE GREAT LIBRARY OF DREAMS - The Man With the Roller - we turn to the works of EG Swain who we meet in our ghost stories for Christmas and hear another eerie tale from the little parish of Stoneground


HYPNOGORIA 48 - Horror in 2016 Part I


Looking back, it seems that 2016 was quite a good year for horror cinema, and hence we begin a three part round-up of notable fright flicks from last year. In this first episode, Mr Jim Moon takes a look at some of the notable sequels and prequels that emerged - Insidious Chapter 3, The Conjuring 2, Blair Witch and Ouija: Origin of Evil. And as a bonus we also take a look at Mike Flanagan's creepy and dark cat-n-mouse thriller Hush

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - HYPNOGORIA 48 - Horror Last Year Part I 

http://hypnobobs.geekplanetonline.com/?podcast_episode=1197&ref=download

Find all the podcasts in the HYPNOBOBS family here -

HYPNOBOBS HOME DOMAIN - Full archive, RSS feed and other useful links

HYPNOBOBS on iTunes

HYPNOBOBS on STITCHER

CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS


HYPNOGORIA is hosted by GeekPlanetOnline and is part of the ROGUE TWO Podcasting network.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat #01 - Doctor Who and the Gambit Menace!


Welcome dear friends to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Now this creaking old edifice contains a good many items that were produced in thrall to the great God Spin-off, and a further good many of those are items produced with the aim of extracting money from small children. Or at least, their parents. These days any sort of property with a demographic that includes legions of ankle-biters will have a range of tie-in action figures leading the charge at the frontline of the merch. But it wasn't always this way. The trailblazer for this brave new world of spin-off toys was of course the original Star Wars, and after the massive success of the Kenner/Palitoy action figure range, any movie or TV enjoyed by a sizeable number of children would transform their characters into a line of plastic homunculi. And before you could say "by the Power of Ponyskull!", this approach was developed further in the 1980s with the emergence of franchises and properties that were created to just flog toys in the first place. 

However while Lucas and Star Wars are often hailed as the creators of this toytown trend, spin-off toys had already been around for a while already. However in the years before we had heard the phrase "may the Force be with you", action figures based around cinema or TV properties were something of a different proposition. In the post-Deathstar years, the Star Wars approach of pocket sized figures at pocket money prices became the industry standard, along with the canny approach to turn every possible character into a doll, even if they had only lurked about in the background - Death Star Droid I'm looking at you. But in the pre-Stars Wars toy stores, any figures you found based on your favourite TV shows or movies were likely to come in a wide variety of different scales and sizes, and often be limited to only a handful of characters. And a perfect example of this simpler era of tie-toys comes in the form of the Doctor Who figures released by Denys Fisher in the late '70s.


In 1976, the Time Lord had been travelling for over a decade on the telly, and his current incarnation, the Fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker, was proving to be the most popular yet. And so, the venerable British toy makers Denys Fisher released what would be the first proper action figure version of the Doctor. Now since the show's beginning, it had been popular with kids, and there had been many tie-in toys and much merchandise, such as books, comics, jigsaws and board games. However up until 1976, the only figures or dolls you could buy were various toy versions of the Doctor's arch enemies, the Daleks. However thanks to Denys Fisher (and Mego in the US) now you could buy a nine and half inch high Fourth Doctor, complete with hat, scarf and even a sonic screwdriver! But wait, there was more! You could also buy a Leela, complete with hunting knife, and an in-scale version of the Doctor's beloved robot hound K9. There was a range of enemies to pit your plastic heroes against in the form of Daleks, Cybermen and the K1 Robot (AKA the Giant Robot), and topping off the range was a replica TARDIS. 


Now don't get me wrong, these were a great range of figures and are now highly prized by collectors. Certainly I was delighted to get a Doctor, TARDIS and a Dalek one Christmas. But there were several features to this range that make them worthy of inclusion in the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat. The first is an odd little detail about the Doctor himself, or rather his miniature toyshop version. Now at first glance, it's rather nice to note that  the costume was very faithful to the Doctor's onscreen ensemble, and they did really try to have a figure that looked like Tom Baker. But I always found that my Fourth Doctor figure reminded me of another small screen hero - namely Gambit from Brian Clemens' The New Avengers, as played by Gareth "three types of the finest coffee beans" Hunt. 

And the funny thing is, many years later I discovered that there was a very good reason for this. For around the same time as the Denys Fisher Doctor Who range was being made, they were developing plans to do a range of New Avengers dolls. featuring plastic versions of Steed, Gambit and Purdie. The figures were to feature a karate chop action, and while some ads and promotional material did surface, the range of toys never really materialised, probably due to the New Avengers disappearing from our screens in 1977. And as far as toy historians know, only Joanna Lumley's character from the show, Purdy, turned up in action figure form in the shops. 


However, not wanting to waste a lot of development time and money, the sculpt of Gareth Hunt's bonce was cunningly recycled to give the Fourth Doctor doll a noggin. And it was, if you'll pardon an absolutely shameless pun, a gambit (boom! boom!) which worked rather well, as it certainly looked enough like Tom Baker to fool most kiddiewinks. However it would perhaps explain why the Doctor's plastic hat never quite fitted on his head well enough for my liking...


However the range holds further and stranger anomalies... Come back to the 'Orrible 'Ouse next time, to discover what wonders the Denys Fisher TARDIS had to offer! 



Sunday, 8 January 2017

HYPNOGORIA 47 - Lone Wolf


In the first episode for a new year, Mr Jim Moon pays tribute to the late Joe Dever, legendary writer and games designer, remembering the man, his life and works, and of course, his classic creations Lone Wolf and the world of Magnamund. We also preview what will be coming on the show this year too.


For more on Joe Dever and all things Lone Wolf, do visit https://www.projectaon.org/

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - HYPNOGORIA 47 - Lone Wolf

Find all the podcasts in the HYPNOBOBS family here -

HYPNOBOBS HOME DOMAIN - Full archive, RSS feed and other useful links

HYPNOBOBS on iTunes

HYPNOBOBS on STITCHER

CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS


HYPNOGORIA is hosted by GeekPlanetOnline and is part of the ROGUE TWO Podcasting network.

Friday, 6 January 2017

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Twelfth Night


Well dear friends, Christmas is over for another year and most of us now are picking up the threads of our usual routines. Now many complain that Christmas is far too overblown these days and seems to take up more and more time every year, but if one looks back at Christmas customs of years gone by, you find that up until relatively recently our forebears would have been still celebrating. Of course everyone has heard of the Twelve Days of Christmas, but rather than being a kind of stripped down version of advent as is often assumed, this festive dozen didn't come before what we consider to be Christmas, but turned up afterwards. 

For the Twelve Days of Christmas actually begin upon Christmas Day and run all the way through until January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany in the traditional church calendar. And while now we only really remember this older version of the Christmas season in the tradition that we must take our decorations down by Twelfth Night (January 5th or 6th depending on if you are counting nights as preceding days or not), in the not-too-distant past this day was marked by celebrations of fun and feasting that rivalled Christmas Day itself. And why was such a fuss made of this last day? Well simply because in the old agricultural calendar, it was back to work on the 7th of January, or rather often the nearest Monday after, and hence Twelfth Night was the culmination of the holiday season. However of course in the 19th century as society became more industrial and urbanised, the tradition began to fade, and with the corporatised working cultures of the 20th century not countenancing giving wage slaves twelve days plus off at Christmas time, the Twelfth Night festivities all but died.

Now as for the best known remaining Twelfth Night tradition that this is the day to take down the Christmas decorations, rather than being some ancient piece of folklore, it would appear to be a more recent invention. Indeed, its part in the Christmas calendar is already in jeopardy, with many folks taking down the decs on New Year's Day, and yet others boxing up the baubles on Boxing Day. However historically speaking in centuries past it was actually traditional to leave the decorations up until 2nd the February, and at some points in history our forebears left their halls decked with boughs of holly until Easter! So rather than Christmas expanding every year, all the signs are that it is in fact shrinking, with our holiday period actually becoming shorter in real  terms!

However while these old bumper-sized holidays may seem astounding to us now, and the old Twelve Days of Christmas are now only remembered as a song, there are plenty of remnants of the old tradition remaining in folklore and local customs, with many places having their own individual ways of marking Twelfth Night. As many of these festivities were marked with food and feasting, there is a widespread tradition of making a Twelfth Night cake, often with added surprises. We are all familiar with the traditional sixpence (or modern coin equivalent) being slipped into the Christmas pudding, and the Twelfth Night cake has similar attached customs. As Robert Chambers noted in his Book of Days (1869) -

In England, in later times, a large cake was formed, with a bean inserted, and this was called Twelfth-Cake. The family and friends being assembled, the cake was divided by lot, and who-ever got the piece containing the bean was accepted as king for the day, and called King of the Bean.
However there were variants to this custom too, with other items being adding into the mix. For example, in one version if you found a twig in your portion of cake, that meant you were a fool. Over time, these special additions were replaced with trinkets and charms, silver ones if you were well-off, and in the 18th and 19th centuries Twelfth Night cakes became huge elaborate affairs with towers of icing and mounds of toppings. Many scholars hold that as the Twelfth Night traditions began to die out the tradition of adding lucky items to the cake, was enfolded into the lore of the Christmas pud.



Another common piece of Twelfth Night folklore revolves around the Yule log. Traditionally the Yule log was not some chocolate confection, but a huge piece of wood that was placed in the fireplace on Christmas Day. The log would be kept burning throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas, with often being considered unlucky to let it go out during this time. The log of course was eventually formally extinguished at  Twelfth Night, with many regions' lore holding that a portion of it, or sometimes its ashes, was to be kept to light next year's Yule log.

However as we often note in these excursions, folklore is often very local, and hence up and down the British Isles many places have their own individual traditions associated with Twelfth Night. In many areas it is one of the dates in the calendar marked out for some wassailing. Again while this is a tradition we now associate more closely with Christmas, but in older times it was a common feature of Twelfth Night celebrations, most famously perhaps in the counties of England where cider is produced, with the wassail being performed in orchards to wake the trees for spring. In a similar vein, a tradition that also acknowledges the beginning of a new agricultural year and a return to work, are the various customs associated with Plough Monday, which marked the start of the first week after Epiphany.

Plough Monday, which was was celebrated in northern and eastern England, has a host of traditions with several common features. Firstly there is some kind of procession with the plough at the centre, in some cases this is part of a ceremony to bless the plough for the coming year, but in other areas it is more akin to wassailing, with the "Plough Boys" taking the implement from house to house and asking for contributions of food, drink or coin. However much like similar Halloween traditions, should a householder prove to be uncharitable or unwelcoming, the Plough Boys may well plough up their gardens or doorstep! It is perhaps not surprising that the celebrants in many Plough Monday festivities adopt some form of disguise, ranging from the simple blacking or reddening of faces with some rustic make-up, or donning elaborate costumes. However this dressing up, aside from perhaps preserving the anonymity of the mischievous Plough Boys, also crosses over with attendant customs. For many Plough Monday traditions including the performance of mumming plays or a version of morris dancing (often called "molly dancing" in this instance). For more on this fascinating set of traditons, do visit Mr Pete Millington's excellent and comprehensive study found here - http://petemillington.uk/ploughmonday.

Other places in England have even more unique Twelfth Night traditions, with one of the more famous being held in Haxey, Lincolnshire. On the 6th of January, the little village holds what is called the Haxey Hood - a rowdy contest which see the more game villagers join together into a huge scrum - called "the sway" to gain the titular hood - a leather tube - and attempt to transport it to one of four pubs in the village. The origins of this annual game are unknown but we do know it dates back to at least the 14th century, and it is still played with great gusto (and occasional minor injuries) to this very day.

And all of the above are just merely scratching the surface of Twelfth Night lore. For example, we have not even mentioned assorted traditions, mainly from Europe, where Christmas gifts are given on Twelfth Night, and I shall to return in subsequent years to examine some of these traditions in more detail. However I do hope that this introductory article has perhaps reawakened some interest in celebrating Twelfth Night once more. Personally I quite like the old concept of Christmas Day begin not "the big day" but just the beginning of the festivities, and marking the end of what used to be called Christmastide with another big knees-up before having to return to work!