Monday, May 01, 2006

The Mayday post. It is time to keep your appointment with the Wicker man

This will be the last post of my three over the Wigtown Book fair and of course the Mayday holiday. Today is a Bank Holiday but there are still plenty of visitors in the booktown. Well now Winter is over and "Summer is a' cumin in," as the old song has it. The bookmaze today seems a little forlorn after last night's steady rain but that is not deterring dedicated bibliophiles. It really is Art in Action and only slightly less subversive than last year - when all the books were free. This year signs were added and Julie - one of our resident artists stationed her models of beltie cows - the Galloway breed - around the green. Donations on the Saturday when the charity box was emptied were very healthy.

The bookmaze on the Saturday and a better shot. Courtesy of Ian and Sue over at 451f bookshop.

Ok so what is the film the Wicker man about. What has ensured its continuing popularity? Yesterday I attended the talk, "inside the Wickerman". Like the diligent student that I am, I scribbled down some notes. Is not the central idea of Beltane itself, that of regeneration? In a practical sense the Wicker man allowed Christopher Lee to escape from permanently wearing a black cape etc. sucking the blood at the snowy white throat of innocent young maidens. The Gothic terror of his Count Dracula. Lee loved playing Lord Summerisle, thought it was his best role in fact. You can see that in the way that he plays the part. The Wickerman is a cat and mouse film with the ultimate of denouements. The hunter becomes the hunted. It is an island where Paganism has triumphed and overlayed Christianity. Although Sgt. Howie makes an effort in Anwoth churchyard to reclaim the church for Christ with his makeshift cross.

This in itself was odd. Yesterday in the audience sitting waiting for Festival Director Michael Mcreath to interview Allan Brown, I could not but help notice something. The usual selection of Scottish accordion type ceilidh or dance music that comes over the pa. at such events had a distinctly Christian flavour. It consisted of amongst others, "Onward Christian soldiers." Well maybe it was a Sunday? Of course I neglected rather foolishly in my previous piece to consider the famous festival of burning man in the Nevada desert and our own Wicker man music festival set to take place this year on 21st 22nd July. At both replicas of the Wicker man are burnt. At Bladnoch last night we kept our own appointments. The original site for the location of our Wickerman at Bladnoch had in fact to be shifted when the local landowner expressed Christian doubts about it's location on his land. Something about paganism and heathens?

What makes the Wicker man a deserved cult classic? The missing footage, the mysterious stills that never made it in any print to the released version. There is the tension between the actors on the set. The stunning beauty of the locations, Plockton in the West Highlands and our own Bonnie Gallowa' and that central ancient idea of the holy fool, the human sacrifice.

I may have been a little hasty in my dismissal of the current Hollywood project, The Wickerman - to be set on the Eastern Seaboard so I believe - was thought by Allan Brown to only augment and add to to this wonderful film. The Wickerman is regenerated and will rise again! I would finally add and not because we have them for sale that Anthony Shaffer's screen play makes for a cracking good read!

Bladnoch distillery.

And so to the Bladnoch distillery for the culmination of the book festival, I suppose and the showing of the director's cut, "the Wicker man" preceded by a short discussion with one of it's stars, Ingrid Pitt and the producer, Robin Hardy. To culminate in the burning of the Wicker man. So a packed evening at hand. A pleasant evening stroll down there too. Although the hawthorn is not yet in bloom. Arrival greeted by a piper treating us all to reels and jigs - say not skirl or drone - I always feel that the presence of a piper gives to an occasion gravitas and weight. File in, shuffle shuffle, sit down. Get up and buy two drams, sit down shuffle shuffle. OK?

According to Ingrid Pitt and Robin Hardy, Britt Ekland never said that Newton Stewart - a mere 6 miles away - was, "the most miserable place on Earth." Or that the Steam packet inn at the Isle of Whithorn was a "shit hole." Newton Stewart is really fine and The Isle is a lovely place on a summer's evening with all the boats in its neat and trig little haven. You know, the water gently lapping, the sun dancing on the waves. It was hereabouts of course that St. Ninian set up his Candida Casa (the white house) and perhaps Ninian was the first of the Celtic saints to come to Scotland and attempt conversion of the natives. Sometimes Manx registered boats too tie up from Ellan Vannin (the Isle of Man).

It's a packed bums on seats audience of pagans and locals and visitors here tonight. There is something to share. Robin Hardy recounted the following tale related to whisky. Aquae vitae, the water of life,uisge beatha.

I must relate this tale to you. From hazy memory. Well it seems that in one of their jaunts around Wigtownshire, Robin Hardy the dir. and Peter Snell the film's producer had ended up late one night at Bladnoch and somehow - that part of the story is a little unclear - arrived at the source where the essence flows gold. Now Peter (steaming sloshed after suitable refreshments?) decided that there and then he would buy yon distillery!

He was not to be dissuaded, either. He didn't want a dram, he wanted the whole process, start to finish. If that meant buying the place - so what? Well the stillman or potman or foreman mannie must have finally agreed and eventually the then owner of the distillery was located in the US. After a long transatlantic telephone call, the deed was done. Peter was now the proud possessor of his very own whisky factory. Little did it matter that the deal had been closed at £3,000,000. Pay the bearer on demand the sum of three million pounds. He had got it.

Well the birds they do sing most sweetly etc and in the morning with no doubt, a hangover - Robin brightly informed Peter that he was the new owner of the Bladnoch Distillery.

"Congratulations Peter."


"Don't you remember - you bought that distillery last night?"

"Oh my God."

It turns out to make a long story short, that Peter Snell was able to wriggle out of his expensive purchase but only after long lengthy negotiations and the efforts of a legion of lawyers and solicitors and no doubt attorneys. Now that was a great story and whether there is any ultimate truth to it or no is not for me to say - Say not that it wasn't a wonderful yarn.

Then the lights went down and we watched the film. After it was finished we filed out - some of us a little subdued and after all Pagans and Wiccans DO NOT practise blood sacrifice of animals, birds and humans and we walked down to the river where the Wickerman stood. The piper played and as we grew closer Willow's song from the soundtrack played too and then well, these things are a visual experience so here is the pic.

Keeping your appointment with the Wicker man. April 30th 2006 Bladnoch distillery. Courtesy of Ian and Sue of 451f another Wigtown bookshop!

And so homewards having been thoroughly entertained to muse with Ian over the film and smoke endless drunken cigarettes and drink several glasses of Calvados apple brandy. Boo hiss, it turns out that Lord Summerisle who we secretly want to be a good guy is as bad as all the rest but will he too next year have to keep his own appointment with the Wicker man? Would that Summerisle existed.

At about 4 or mebbe five, I staggered out of my bed into the dawn bleary with sleep to reach my hands out and scoop some of that precious dew into my hands and wash myself - despite the fact that a fine smirr of rain was falling. So that's me for another year. Tina the transcriber and Steve Jones the Pontiff of pop, the ace of myspace will be back very soon.


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