c d e a d r r e s a m
c d e a d r s d r e a l c h e m y m
Now playing: Poltergeist- Your Mind is a Box (Let Us Fill It With Wonder).
Photographs taken in Digbeth, Birmingham.
c d e a d r r e s a m
c d e a d r s d r e a l c h e m y m
Now playing: Poltergeist- Your Mind is a Box (Let Us Fill It With Wonder).
Photographs taken in Digbeth, Birmingham.
Watch a street and you become it. You construct, if so inclined, a narrative: but you are also part of the witnessed event. You shape what you see.
Iain Sinclair, Edge of the Orison
In Glasgow. Uncharacteristic, sweltering heat and a half hour to spare before the gig. Just enough time for a quick wander, to stretch the legs without expectation. A phone camera will have to suffice if anything should reveal itself.
Out of the Arches, underneath Central Station, and into air larded with deep-fried food aromas and traffic fumes. I’m scanning for a sign to get started. Pastel shades shout out for attention and it seems that even the graffiti is responding to the sunshine:
Can’t help noticing the little green archipelago thriving around the base. The resilience of nature to establish existence, in the most barren of conditions, at a busy city centre intersection.
Head down towards the river and pick up the trail:
More dancing colour to puncture the grey. A Bernard Edwards bass line bounces around in the head.
Walk straight on for a bit and over to the right there is a figure, facing towards the river, which looks interesting. From the rear I’m assuming it’s some form of religious icon, arms stretched out to heaven? St Mungo perhaps? Cross the road and down a shallow incline of steps to view the figure face on.
A bunch of flowers. wilting in the heat is tucked into the base of the statue. Obviously, still an active site of memory and remembrance. The plaque directly underneath the figure reads:
The statue is of Dolores Ibárruri (1895-1989), “La Pasionaria” (“The Passion Flower”), a heroine and leader in the Spanish Republican and Communist movements. An inspiration to the volunteers of the International Brigade who fought in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939.
I subsequently find out the sculpture is by Liverpool artist Arthur Dooley, who created the famous Beatles statue, Four Lads Who Shook the World. I was even more shocked to learn that Dooley never saw La Pasionaria installed, unable to afford the bus fare to come to Glasgow.
Continuing along the riverside walkway, a few people are taking full advantage of the heat wave. “Taps aff”. Sitting, lying down, starfished, enjoying being out-of-doors, heads raised, eyes closed, embracing the setting sun. A sense of the more usual activities of the area are perhaps revealed as a young man is pulled up by two patrolling police officers and asked to empty his pockets.
Underneath another bridge to come face-to-face with a psychedelic tiger. A fiery flux of shifting colours, crouched and ready to pounce on the indolent walker:
Ascending from the river up a miniature Odessa Steps, I half expect a pram to come toppling over the top.
…and I’m facing Morrison’s Bar which looks like it may never have opened since Jim checked out:
…. Around the corner, The Riverside Club doesn’t look to be doing much business either. Perhaps these are ‘badger’ venues – they only come out in the dark?
I head into what I find is Fox Street. Looking back towards the east, the setting sun fracturing into shards hitting the ecclesiastical windows of a distant church:
Continuing west will take me back towards the City Centre:
Past the silent runners:
and the ghosts of Christmas Past:
Along with the heat and the sunshine, two cheerful lovehearts brighten up the street:
And a message a few feet away. No addressee. No object of affection. No initials. Just a statement addressed to whom?
I walk up towards Renfield Lane, thinking about how even the shortest of walks through a city can surprise, enchant and provoke reflection. I’m thinking about La Pasionaria, The International Brigades and psychedelic tigers as I descend into the Stygian depths of Stereo. Moving between worlds. From light into darkness and a prelude to shortly having all body molecules rearranged by the shamanic noise rituals of Nazoranai: Keiji Haino, Stephen O’Malley and Oren Ambarchi. Sound as alchemy, carried within, back through the city, as, after the show, I head for the train in the warm, dark night.
Now playing: Stephen O’Malley - Salt
The poppies are in the field
But don’t ask me what that means
- Julian Cope
There is no
long march of progress
in this field.
to strive for.
this eternal play
A cycle of flowering flame
in the rooted earth
underneath my feet.
That we find a crystal or a poppy beautiful means that we are less alone, that we are more deeply inserted into existence than the course of a single life would lead us to believe.
John Berger – The White Bird
Homer mentions poppies in the Iliad, comparing the head of a dying warrior to that of a hanging poppy flower.
The god Morpheus made crowns out of the poppy flowers and gave them to those he wanted to put to sleep. Poppy flowers were used to decorate the temple.
The Greeks have a legend that explains how the poppy came to be called the Corn Poppy. The poppy was created by the god of sleep, Somnus. Ceres, the goddess of grain, was having difficulty falling asleep. She was exhausted from searching for her lost daughter; still she couldn’t fall asleep and had no energy to help the corn grow. Somnus cooked up a concoction and got her to take it and soon she was sleeping. Rested and relaxed Ceres could then turn her attention to the corn which began to grow. Ever since that time the people believed that poppies growing around cornfields ensure a bountiful harvest. And so was born the Corn Rose, or as we call it today the Corn Poppy.
Adapted from The Modern Herbal
But the Poppy is painted glass; it never glows so brightly as when the sun shines through it. Wherever it is seen-against the light or with the light – always, it is a flame, and warms the wind like a blown ruby.
John Ruskin – Proserpina
Angel of History: Poppy and Memory by Anselm Kiefer.
A warplane fabricated of lead
wings laden with books of beaten lead sheets
stuffed with dried poppies.
Now Playing: Siouxsie and the Banshees - Poppy Day & The Teardrop Explodes - Poppies in the Field.
The book is so modern, it’s insane. Melville uses all these voices — historian, naturalist, botanist, lawyer, dreamer, obsessive librarian. His jump-cut style is truly contemporary.
Laurie Anderson on Moby Dick
The métro pulls in to Bobigny Pablo-Picasso in the North Eastern suburbs of Paris. Walking out on to Boulevard Maurice Thorez and up Boulevard Lénine, it is apparent that this is a world apart from the Haussmanised elegance left behind around forty minutes ago. Breaking free of the tourist flocks on the Champs-Élysées, I had descended into the subterranean belly of Charles de Gaulle Etoile to meet the familiar smell of the chthonic underworld and the squeals, clangs and clatters of the metallic worms burrowing through the entrails of the city. Doors explode open at each métro stop to displace and gorge on the huddles and tentacles of drifting humans in transit.
Up and down, to and from, the everyday life possibilities occurring directly overhead: Ternes > Courcelles > Monceau > Villiers > Rome > Place de Clichy > Blanche > Pigalle > Anvers > Barbès–Rochechouart > La Chapelle > Stalingrad >…
A change at Jaurès to pick up line 5 and soon it’s an ascent, emerging blinking into bright daylight and this different world. Here, the streets are named after artists and communist revolutionaries and the buildings remind me of the Scottish New Towns: stark, brutalist and functional. Consulting my notebook from the time I can see a handwritten scrawl:
The town where I grew up appears to have relocated to the Paris suburbs.
I was in Bobigny for the Festival d’Automne and heading to the MC93 Cultural Centre to see Laurie Anderson performing her ‘multi-media’ theatrical work Songs and Stories From Moby-Dick. Not a wholly accurate title as the piece is more of a meditation on Melville and what that book means to her. It was a fabulous experience to witness. The familiar Anderson performance tropes of expansive and existential themes, constructed instruments, minimal gestures and laconic storytelling were all brought to the fore. It certainly convinced me that there was more to this book than Ahab and his crew chasing a big fish. (ok mammal).
Then I read [Moby Dick] again. And it was a complete revelation. Encyclopedic in scope, the book moved through ideas about history, philosophy, science, religion, and the natural world toward’s Melville’s complex and dark conclusions about the meaning of life, fear, and obsession. Being a somewhat dark person myself, I fell in love with the idea that the mysterious thing you look for your whole life will eventually eat you alive… 
For Anderson, Americans of her century and Melville’s share certain unmistakable similarities: they are obsessive, technological, voluble and in search of the transcendental,” she writes in the show’s notes. It is this latter aspect — the meaning of life — which is the focus of “Songs and Stories,” as Anderson asks Americans today, as Melville did in his lifetime: “What do you do when you no longer believe in the things that have driven you? How do you go on?” 
Up until that day I had managed to avoid reading Moby Dick. Walking back to the metro, I decided to rectify that and subsequently did. A copy now resides in the ‘hallowed’ section of the FPC library and is never too far from reach. There was also the strange delight of discovering some references to Fife in the book and a recent encounter with a building in the West Fife village of Limekilns caused me to search these out once again.
Unlike a merchant vessel going from
point A > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > to point B,
a whaling ship is prowling,
z i g z
looking for prey.
The Kings Cellar, as it is known today sits in the village of Limekilns just west of Rosyth. A more appropriate name would be “The Monk’s Cellar” as the original building is believed to have been built by and for the monks of Dunfermline Abbey. The earliest official record of the building dates back to 1362, although the monks owned the surrounding Gellet lands as early as 1089 and it is believed that they used the “Vout” or “Vault” for storing wine and as a clearing house for monastic supplies brought in by sea. It is not clear when the building became known as the King’s Cellar but is likely to be following the dissolution of the monasteries when it was no doubt appropriated by the Crown.
Today it almost appears as if the building is being sucked into the ground with the bottom windows almost at ground level.
High up in the trees
to the rear of the cellar
a buzzard (?)
observing our every move
as has always been done
The stone above the door is misleading as it bears the arms of the Pitcairn family and the date, 1581. Pitcairn owned part of Limekilns and was the King’s private secretary and Commendator of Dunfermline. He lived in Limekilns and died in 1584, being buried in Dunfermline Abbey. The stone was transferred from his house.
Over the past 500 years the building has had parts of it rebuilt and adapted including the roof which was originally thatched. The building has been used as a wine cellar, storehouse, school, library, Episcopal Church in World War I, an air raid shelter in World War II. It is now used as a masonic lodge linked to the Bruce family of Robert the Bruce and the Elgin Marbles. A local belief exists that a secret underground tunnel connects the Cellar and the Palace at Dunfermline 4 miles away.
So what could be the connection of this building with Moby Dick?
Porpoises, indeed, are to this day considered fine eating. The meat is made into balls about the size of billiard balls, and being well seasoned and spiced might be taken for turtle-balls or veal balls. The old monks of Dunfermline were very fond of them. They had a great porpoise grant from the crown.
From Chapter 65 of Moby Dick – The Whale as a Dish.
Is it too fanciful to imagine that this is the building where the porpoises would be landed for the old monks of Dunfermline?
Melville also quotes from Sibbald’s Fife and Kinross in the first few pages of Moby Dick:
“Several whales have come in upon this coast (Fife). Anno 1652, one eighty feet in length of the whale-bone kind came in, which (as I was informed), besides a vast quantity of oil, did afford 500 weight of baleen. The jaws of it stand for a gate in the garden of Pitfirren.”
From Moby Dick EXTRACTS (Supplied by a Sub-Sub-Librarian)
The reference to Pitfirren certainly refers to this locality and is now known as Pitfirrane, located just North West of Limekilns. I decided to have a look at Sibbald’s original text which Melville used and discovered that the immediately preceding passage reads:
“There is a vast fond of small coal in the lands, which is carried to the port of Lyme Kills, belonging to Pitfirren [...] it is well provided with coal-yards and cellars. Several whales have come in upon this coast…”
Had Melville used the longer quote from Sibbald, Limekilns (as spelt today) would be mentioned in the book with a reference to cellars, albeit not the Kings Cellar specifically.
There are a couple of other whaling references in Sibbald:
“The monks of Dunfermline had a grant from Malcolm IV of all the heads of a species of whale that should be caught in the Firth of Forth, (Scottwattre) but his Majesty reserved the most dainty bit to himself, viz. the tongue. It is curious to remark the revolutions of fashion in the article of eatables.”
(Sibbald p. 116)
“There are several whales which haunt the Firth of Forth, which have fins or horny plates in the upper jaw, and most of them have spouts in their head; some of these are above seventy foot long, and some less: one of these with horny plates was stranded near to Bruntisland, (sic) which had no spout, but two nostrils like these of a horse. These whales with horny plates differ in the form of their snout, and in the number and form of their fins”.
(Sibbald p. 117)
Two small paragraphs that offer a glimpse of a time passed, or has it? The privileges of royalty and the landed gentry arguably continue largely unabated and the non human species of the globe decline to the point of extinction at the hands of the human actor.
There are many voices of Melville present in Moby Dick but one of them is clearly alerting humankind to pay attention and consider the consequences of potential ecological catastrophes arising from the lavish plunder of the natural world.
Whilst out research is not conclusive by any means, we place a small photograph of Melville under the stones in front of the Kings Cellar to secure the linkage in our own mind. When we pass this building in future, if nothing else, we will be reminded of Melville, Moby Dick and the King with a taste for cetacean tongues. And each time we see a copy of that encyclopedic text – Moby Dick – we will think of this small building in a West Fife village and of course Laurie Anderson who cast the line in our direction.
Now Playing: Laurie Anderson – Life on a String
Norman Fotheringham, The Story of Limekilns (Charlestown: Charlestown Lime Heritage Trust, 1997).
Molly Grogan, ‘Laurie Anderson’s Songs and Stories’, Paris Voice, November 1999.
Carter B. Horsley, ‘Songs and Stories from Moby Dick’, The City Review, 5th October 1999.
Herman Melville, Moby Dick or The Whale (New York: Penguin Classics Edition, 1992).
Sir Robert Sibbald M. D., The History Ancient and Modern of the Sherrifdoms of Fife and Kinross (Cupar, Fife: R. Tullis, 1803).
Mike Zwerin, ‘Laurie Anderson Grapples with Melville’s Ghost’ The New York Times 2nd December 1999.
Cures for Whooping Cough:
(1) Passing the child under the belly of a donkey;
(2) Carrying the child until you meet a rider on a white (or a piebald) horse, and asking his advice: what he advises has to be done;
(3) Taking the child to a lime-kiln;
(4) Taking the child to a gas-works. During an outbreak of whooping-cough in 1891, the children of the man in charge of, and living at, a gas works did not take the complaint. As a matter of fact, the air in and near a gas-works contains pyridin, which acts as an antiseptic and a germicide;
(5) Treating the child with roasted mouse-dust;
(6) Getting bread and milk from a woman whose married surname was the same as her maiden one;
(7) Giving the patient a sudden start.
Breathing the smell of freshly dug earth was held to be good for whooping-cough, and also for those who had been poisoned with bad air. A hole was dug in the ground and the patient
“breathed the air off it.” A “divot” of turf was sometimes, in the old days, cut and placed on the pillow.
How to get rid of Warts:
(1) Rubbing with a slug and impaling the slug on a thorn. As the slug decays the warts go;
(2) Rubbing with a piece of stolen meat, as the meat decays the warts go;
(3) Tying as many knots on a piece of string as there are warts, and burying the string. As the string decays the warts go;
(4) Take a piece of straw and cut it into as many pieces as there are warts, either bury them or strew them to the winds;
(5) Dip the warts into the water-tub where the smith cools the red-hot horse-shoes in the smithy;
(6) Dip the warts in pig’s blood when the pig is killed.
Piles are treated by:
(i) sitting over a pail containing smouldering burnt leather;
(2) the application of used axle-grease.
All of the above from County Folk-Lore Vol VII. Examples of Printed Folk-Lore concerning Fife with some notes on Clackmannan and Kinross-Shires collected by John Ewart Simpkins (London: Sidgwick & Jackson for the Folk-Lore Society, 1914).
Now Playing: The Owl Service and Alison O’Donnell - The Fabric of Folk
Our research unit hasn’t exactly excelled itself. A scribbled address on a torn piece of paper is all that we have:
Communist Literature Depot, 128 Perth Road, Cowdenbeath.
This is the only material link we have to Storione and even then we are not exactly sure of its provenance. Why does Goggle never come up with the really interesting stuff? It’s a good job we still have some real libraries but further research can wait until our walk is over. We want to be open to the signs and an address is enough to get started…
We are taking a walk today from Lochgelly, via Lumphinnans, to Cowdenbeath in search of Lawrence Storione, founder of the Anarchist Communist League in 1908. We also intend our drift to act as a ritual exorcism of an article that ‘British travel writer and humorist’ Tim Moore wrote for the Daily Telegraph last year. His piece on Lochgelly and Cowdenbeath subsequently appeared in his book You are Awful (but I Like You). What is curious about Moore’s article is an almost complete lack of engagement with the actual materiality of this specific place. His encounters in pubs, hotels and fast food shops could have happened almost anywhere. (Just change the accents and place names).
Like anyone, Moore is entitled to respond to a place as he sees fit and after all he had a book to flog with a specific agenda: to visit the towns of ’unloved Britain’. Alongside Lochgelly and Cowdenbeath, Moore turns his c-list, Bill Bryson wit on the likes of Hull, Middlesbrough, Merthyr Tydfil, Nottingham and Rhyl amongst others. The fact that this profound tome ended up in Richard Littlejohn’s ‘Best of 2012′ year end list is probably all you need to know. “A laugh out loud pilgrimage to the most hideous places in modern Britain” says Littlejohn.
So, with regard to Cowdenbeath and Lochgelly, we can understand why he bothered to come, or did he? (How can you not find the football ground in Cowdenbeath?). There is just a slight suspicion that his article may have been written before he even arrived, just looking for some local colour to flesh out his prejudices. Not surprisingly, he ‘found’ what he was looking for which revolves around the fact that Lochgelly is routinely trotted out as the town having the cheapest housing prices in the UK.
The roads were lined with cramped little semis and 1960s bungalows, Britain’s cheapest houses in their flimsy, pebbledashed glory.
All had the kind of scuffed and anonymous front door you could imagine a TV interviewer knocking upon at the end of a quest to track down some forgotten star of yesteryear.
“The Beirut of Fife”
Admittedly, Lochgelly, a mining town that has waxed and waned with the fortunes of the Fife coalfield may be quite a contrast to Mr Moore’s birth town of Chipping Norton. Situated in the parliametary constituency of Witney, it is represented by one Mr David Cameron MP. (This is the stuff you can find on Google). Lochgelly’s housing may also appear relatively cheap in comparison to the cost of Mr Moore’s public school education. At 2012 prices a mere £16,035 per year per student. However, let’s not be too harsh. A mildly humourous hack, hawking cheap laughs at the expense of a place ravaged by industrial decline is hardly worth fretting over. Oh and the word community is not mentioned once in Moore’s article so he must be correct. The value of a place must be correlated to its house prices.
So we are off to take a walk and find out what this area says to us. As with any place we know that there will be stories embedded into the materiality of the buildings, spaces and the ground we walk on. They are out there in the sensory field and we are hopeful some of them may reveal themselves. This is an area that once returned Willie Gallacher as a Communist MP in the House of Commons from 1935 – 1950 and we have already mentioned Storione. Are all of these radical traces gone? Perhaps the ghosts of Little Moscow will reveal themselves to us. Will they have anything relevant to say to us in our present predicament? What of the future? Any insights will be gratefully received.
We convene at The Lochgelly Centre car park and it is a radiant, sun washed morning to set out. On a day like this Mr Moore could have taken himself down the road to experience one of Fife’s outdoor gems: Lochore Meadows Country Park, or The Meedies as it is known locally. A fabulous public space and Outdoor Environmental Education Centre. Not being great respecters of chronological time our own despatch from the Meedies at an uncertain point in time can be found here.
The Lochgelly Centre, reopened last year after a major refurbishment. It’s a fantastic community resource hosting a cafe, art exhibitions, various workshops and classes and a small theatre which hosts travelling companies and facilitates community arts projects . It also programmes film screenings, author readings such as Ian Rankin and Iain Banks and regularly hosts the perennials of the music gigging circuit. We can recall a slightly surreal chat one evening with Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent discussing The Zombies Odyssey and Oracle. We also saw a snarling Hugh Cornwall delivering one of his best post-Stranglers appearances that we’ve seen. These events happen in Lochgelly.
Anyway, we have barely stumbled a few steps from the car park when the ghosts start to whisper in our ears. Also located in the Lochgelly Centre is the Jennie Lee Library, named after one of Lochgelly’s famous daughters. Jennie is keen to tell us two things: How a bursary helped a working class woman go to University and how open access was enshrined in her greatest achievement as Minister of the Arts, The Open University. At the time it was a genuinely radical idea that people could study for a university degree without having any initial qualifications at entry.
“The heroine of the whole story of the OU is Jennie Lee. The idea of it being called the Open University was very much hers”
Lord Asa Briggs.
Jennie Lee was elected as an MP in 1929, becoming the youngest member of the House of Commons. Her maiden speech attacked Churchill’s budget proposals which impressed him so much that he offered her his congratulations after their spirited exchange. Jennie maintained her independence of spirit and mind throughout her life clashing with her husband, Nye Bevan, on several policy issues, notably Bevan’s support of the UK acquiring a nuclear deterrent which Jennie was firmly against.
Our encounter with Jennie Lee and the material presence of a library has already raised our spirits and by word association we recall another notable Lochgelly daughter Jennie Erdal, author of the fascinating memoir Ghosting.
Ghosting combines an account of her early childhood in Lochgelly and of her time employed as the ghostwriter for ‘Tiger’ a charismatic London-based publisher. Her ghostwriting assignments begin with personal letters, business correspondence and newspaper columns but, over time, eventually expand into novels and non-fiction titles. Whilst never named in Erdal’s book, it is clear that ‘Tiger’ is Naim Attallah, owner of Quartet Books, and for many years owner of The Wire - a music magazine dear to the hearts of the FPC. Our library also contains many fine Quartet titles including Arthur Taylor’s Notes and Tones and Val Wilmer’s As Serious as Your Life a ground breaking work on the post-Coltrane, jazz avant-garde. Funny how a walk in Lochgelly (not really even started yet!) has already taken us on a journey from Jennie Lee to Albert Ayler, Sun Ra and The AACM.
So with the sounds of saxophones ringing in our ears we can also eavesdrop in on a young, 14-year-old, miners son picking up a sax for the first time. A birthday gift from an older brother, who played the trumpet.
Joe Temperley, places his fingers tentatively on the keys and blows to make his first sound. A sound that will initiate a journey that leads from Lochgelly to London, with Humphrey Lyttelton, and eventually over the Atlantic to New York and a stint with the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
With all this music ringing in our ears, we better be on our way and commence our drift up Bank Street. However, there must be something in the air today as we are soon distracted by a street sign. Could this be the definitive evidence that confirms Marc Bolan’s debt to Chuck Berry? Get it On was supposedly adapted from Berry’s Little Queenie and here is the evidence: Berry straight to Bolan square(d).
As an aside, we had previously posted this photo on Twitter and off it went into the virtual ether. It soon returned like a digital boomerang with a note from T.Rextasy – The World’s Only Official Tribute to Marc Bolan and T Rex. They have played Lochgelly Centre a number of times and had also noticed the sign but had never managed to take a photo.
Lochgelly’s Bank Street/Main Street is the sort of place which capital has forgotten. In some ways this makes a refreshing change from the identikit, cloned high streets of more ‘prosperous’ towns full of the same old chain stores. There is a range of independent shops and a Co-op supermarket, which, despite its ethical credentials has been the subject of some disgruntled comments in the local press about high prices and abuse of their monopoly position. The buildings of Bank Street are solid and redolent of more prosperous days. The Cinema De-Luxe building, now a shop/office, retains a faded art-deco charm and you can transport yourself back to its luminous glory, offering up enticing wares of cinema, wrestling and dancing.
Around the corner, in Main Street stands the recently restored and still magnificent Miners Institute.
Next door is the new Ore Valley Business Centre a state-of-the-art business centre aimed at helping start-up businesses in Fife to grow. The building has been designed to be highly energy-efficient, maximising solar gain and environmental management technology to keep the building’s energy requirements to a minimum.
In these two buildings alone is evidence of some of the good work going on to improve Lochgelly today and build towards the future. Like many of the towns and villages around this area, they prospered with the deep mining of the Fife coalfield but suffered disproportionately when the industry began to decline and was eventually delivered a terminal bullet from the Thatcher government. We are reminded of Patrick Geddes’s inter-linked triad of Place Work and Folk. Is it any wonder that when ‘work’ is withdrawn, almost wholesale from an area, that Place and Folk suffer?
At the side of the Miners Institute is a sculpture called The Prop by the celebrated artist David Annand. Annand’s other many notable works includes the statue of poet Robert Fergusson, outside the Canongate Church in Edinburgh, and Turfman, a collaboration with Seamus Heaney.
The Prop portrays a lone miner propping up, or holding on, to six stainless steel forms, representing pit props? A reminder of the town’s mining heritage but an addition to a new sense of place in its own right. This is not monumental art. It quietly invites you to spend time with it. Walk around the space to catch the light fracturing off of the shining stainless forms and it’s then you notice that each column has a line of poetry engraved in to it. We subsequently learn that the poem God is a Miner is by local poet William Hershaw.
The miner looks as if he has just emerged from a coal seam, rough-hewn from deep time. Absorbing light into solid form in contrast to the sleek, reflective stainless steel.
“The radicalism of Little Moscow developed out of a struggle to maintain and improve the basic conditions of life.”
We now heading down the long ribbon strip that connects Lochgelly with Cowdenbeath but is actually called Lumphinnans. There is housing down the north side of the road and an impressive cryptoforest to the south with a golf course beyond. Were you to pass through this area today it may not be immediately apparent that this was once the beating heart of Little Moscow. An area that elected Willie Gallagher, a Communist, as Member of Parliament for West Fife from the period 1935 – 1950.
Little Moscow was a term applied to a small number of towns and villages in the UK that appeared to hold extreme left-wing political values. In Scotland there was Lumphinnans and Vale of Leven, England had Chopwell and there was Maredy in Wales. The term was initially used as a term of disparagement by the popular press but then reclaimed as a ‘badge of honour’ by the local communities. Many of the areas that would later be dubbed ‘Little Moscows’ had earlier in the century attempted to find alternatives to the state sanctioned capitalist system.
In Lumphinnans, one of the key instigators was Lawrence Storione who arrived in the village in 1908. Storione was born in Italy in 1867 in the French-speaking area of Valle d’Aosta and later worked as a miner. It appears that he was introduced to anarchism by the noted French geographer and anarchist Élisée Reclus, who was lecturing at the University of Brussels. (Incidentally, Elisee and his brother Élie were friends of Patrick Geddes and attended Geddes’s International Summer Schools in Edinburgh, as did Peter Kropotkin). Due to his anarchist activities, Storione was forced to flee France disguised as a woman and he arrived in Scotland in 1897, working in the mines of Ayrshire and Lanarkshire. After an aborted trip to Canada he returned to Scotland in 1908 where he settled in Lumphinnans and took up employment at the No 1 pit. His arrival at Lumphinnans had consequences for revolutionary ideas among the miners in that area and he soon set up the Anarchist Communist League which, according to Stuart MacIntyre: “preached a heady mixture of De Leonist Marxism and the anarchist teachings of Kropotkin and Stirner.” Among those who appeared to have joined the League were the miners Abe and Jim Moffat and Robert (Bob) Selkirk. All three were to join the Communist Party in 1922, Abe Moffat having an important position within it and Selkirk serving as a Communist Party town councillor in Cowdenbeath for 24 years. The League set up a bookshop in 1916 in nearby Cowdenbeath at 128 Perth Road – which is where we are headed today. It sold titles such as Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid, Stirner’s The Ego and His Own, and De Leon’s Two Pages From Roman History and other anarchist literature.
Storione married Annie Cowan in 1900 and their children could only grow into their names: Armonie, Anarchie, Autonomie, Germinal and Libertie! The sole exception to these revolutionary appellations was his daughter Annie who was a leading light in a Proletarian Sunday School in Cowdenbeath. Sunday evening meetings were held at which notable activists such as Willie Gallagher, John McLean, and Jack Leckie came to speak.
It’s an enjoyable walk in the sunshine and it looks like a straight road towards Cowdenbeath, unbroken by housing when as if out of nowhere we are forced to drift from the main road by a sign:
A small road leads off to the right and in seconds, our landscape has completely changed. An open road stretches out ahead with spectacular vistas over to Benarty Hill and The Bishop. Old style telegraph poles whistling in the light wind appear to be humming a chorus of Wichita Lineman and we wonder whether we have stepped through a portal to the American mid-west.
We subsequently come across the story of Lumphinnans NoXI mine which we guess was North West from here and was called the Peeweep pit as the miners could always hear the sound of Lapwings as they walked to work.
We also add to our collection of single-item, lost footwear.
After our detour we are looking for any signs that remain of Little Moscow. The most obvious traces are to be found in the street signs: Gagarin Way and Gallacher Place.
Named after Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, the first human to journey into outer space and hero of the Soviet Union:
This street also gave the name to Gregory Burke’s debut play which is perhaps a useful corrective to avoid becoming too nostalgic and romantic about institutionalised, political rhetoric of any persuasion.
We invoke the ghosts to tell us anything that may be of use to us. Rather than deliver any political sloganeering Willie Gallagher tells us a story, or more like a scene from a play. It concerns the incident of a 12 year old girl brought before the Communist baillie, Jimmie Stewart for stealing a bag of coal:
Stewart: How auld are ye lassie?
Girl: Just twal sir
Stewart: How auld is yer wee brother?
Girl: He’s eight
Stewart: It was gey cauld last week?
Girl: Aye, it was gey cauld
Stewart: Did ye take the coal hen?
Girl: Just a bucketful
Stewart: Did ye take the coal to make a fire for your wee brother?
Stewart: What ye did was richt. Charge dismissed. (1)
A more postmodern take on street names can be found with Robert Smith Court. Anyone spending time in the towns an villages of West Fife will notice that there a large number of pubs called The Goth. (after The Gothenburg System). It therefore only appears fitting that there should exist a commemoration of the uber-goth himself in this street sign. We are surprised that it has not become more of a shrine. Perhaps a few stuffed, cuddly Love Cats would be appropriate although, there is the small beginnings of A Forest.*
We have almost reached Cowdenbeath, when another sign whispers to us:
The WEA (Workers’ Educational Association) was founded in 1903 and is the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of adult education. In many ways it was a forerunner of the Open University.
We are transported to last years summer holiday when we visited the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield. Showing alongside Richard Long’s artist room was Luke Fowler’s film: The Poor Stockinger, The Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Johanna Southcott.
Fowler’s film focuses on the work of historian E.P. Thompson, who was employed by the WEA to teach literature and social history to adults in the industrial towns of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Like the Open University this was an opportunity to provide classes to people who had historically been unable to access a university education.
The film uses archive and contemporary footage to portray a moment of optimism in which E.P Thompson’s ideas for progressive education came together with a West Riding tradition of political resistance and activism. In many ways you can feel the bonds of solidarity stretching from the Little Moscow of Fife to the West Riding of Yorkshire.
And so we reach Cowdenbeath and it’s not too difficult to locate Perth Road. 128 is what our scribbled piece of paper says. Will there be any sign from Storione?
It’s not looking too hopeful as it soon becomes clear that the buildings are residential terraced houses probably built in the 1960s/70s. We soon track down No 128 although there is no obvious trace of The Communist Literature Depot having existed.
The calendars does not measure time as clocks do. They are monuments of a historical consciousness of which not the slightest trace has been apparent in the past hundred years.
A historian [...] stops telling the sequence of events like the beads of a rosary. Instead he grasps the constellation which his own era has formed with a definite earlier one. Thus he establishes a conception of the present as the ‘time of now’ which is shot through with chips of Messianic time.
Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History
Perhaps it is enough to know that Storione’s bookshop may have once existed here and now resides within this little collective of numbers. A radiating form of energy that once rippled through the ether of Little Moscow and now lies awaiting its Messianic moment.
Now Playing: Dick Gaughan - A Handful of Earth
(1) This is an actual transcript recorded in Stuart MacIntyre’s book.
* The real Robert Smith was also a Communist councillor and appears to have suggested the proposal to name Gagarin Way.
Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, 1940, in Tasmin Spargo, (ed), Reading the Past (London: Palgrave, 2000).
Nick Heath, Lawrence Storione 1867 – 1922, on Libcom.org: http://libcom.org/history/storione-lawrence-1867-1922
William Kenefick, Red Scotland! The Rise and Fall of the Radical Left, c. 1872 to 1932 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007).
Stuart Macintyre, Little Moscows : Communism and working-class militancy in inter-war Britain (London: Croom Helm, 1980).
Tim Moore, You Are Awful (But I Like You): Travels Through Unloved Britain (London: Jonathan Cape, 2012).
Neil C. Rafeek, Communist Women in Scotland: Red Clydeside from the Russian Revolution to the End of the Soviet Union (London: I.B.Tauris, 2008).
taking a line for a walk ~ Paul Klee
taking a walk on a line ~ FPC
Walking Score No I (After Klee)
Take a map drawn to any scale
Draw a line that starts and ends at the same place
Attempt to walk the line as far as is practicable
Record your experience in some form and share if desired
Now Playing: Wire - Map Ref. 41°N 93°W