Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Blackenrock, bats, buxom berries and Brittany.



The season has arrived - 

'Dame Autumn has draped her mellow skirts about the forest. The time of mists and harvest approaches…' - Robin Hood, Robot of Sherwood, Doctor Who 2014



There are still a few bits and bobs to do, before Blackenrock (The Lost Crown's worthy sequel) will materialise. I've been testing the new game this last fortnight, and learnt that it is longer than TLC1. I've done my usual, of biting off more than I can chew, and just swallowing the wriggling beast anyway. It's a fab game, with lots of spooky bits, funny moments and character development. Most of the adventure is set in Saxton, so there's a 'soap opera' vibe to the town, as the harbour folk go about there everyday business, revealing much about themselves and how the place functions (and, in some cases, DOESN'T function). You'll feel like you know the place, and it's people, by the end of play. 

Of the bits and bobs, I thought I'd share yesterday's esoteric project. Corn dollies!

At the start of play, Halloween has just come and gone, with the town folk looking forward to Bonfire Night on the 5th of November (big bonfire on the beach and fireworks!). The Harvest Moon has waned, but there is an air of expectation. Someone is crafting dark effigies from the year's crop, to spoil the atmosphere. They come in the form of ' corn dollies', which I had great fun making.


As a child I was often involved in activities at this time of the year, with memories of harvest loaves and woven straw figures. It was all a bit pagan, even though the displays were held in the medieval churches of the Kentish countryside. There were baskets of apples, fruit pies and offerings to the 'spirit of the field'.



'Before Christianisation, in traditional pagan European culture it was believed that the spirit of the corn (in modern American English, "corn" would be "grain") lived amongst the crop, and that the harvest made it effectively homeless. 

Among the customs attached to the last sheaf of the harvest were hollow shapes fashioned from the last sheaf of wheat or other cereal crops. The corn spirit would then spend the winter in this home until the "corn dolly" was ploughed into the first furrow of the new season.'


For Blackenrock I wanted figures, effigies if you like, not unlike the creations seen in Chinese folk lore during Ghost Month. They are basic humanoid shapes, tied with ribbon or string, used to frighten the evil spirits who wander the earth on the Seventh Moon, when the gates of hell are opened. 

Gathering material for the dollies was interesting, in a timeless sort of fashion. There is a corn field at the top of West Looe Hill, next to the Port Looe stone cross. The field was recently harvested, with huge straw wheels dotting the field. A few dry stems could be found along the hedge line, so I gathered a small bundle, and then made my way home to create my effigies. It was a beautiful afternoon, so I took a small diversion via the farm at Hendersick. It was a very pleasant walk (see below).

I have crafted five figures, from my harvest. They form an eerie family (or according to Matt Clark, a Pagan Boy Band!) and have already been incorporated into the game.
 
Later, when clearing up, I entered my basement only to be spooked by a bat! In broad daylight! It appears Chapel Ground (where I live) is a haven for the little squeakers. It had a good flap about, before hiding amongst some old wood.



I've left the basement window ajar, just in case the creature became trapped, but I could not help feel it was some sort of 'sign'. This is a good/bad month to be superstitious, so I'll leave it to make up its mind whether to flee or roost.

A spare moment? A little Keats perhaps? I tried to remember as much of the verse as I wandered the hedgerows and lanes, on a beautiful bright Autumnal afternoon.


Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
      For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.



Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
   Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
   Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
   Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
      Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
   Steady thy laden head across a brook;
   Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
      Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
 


Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
   Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
   And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
   Among the river sallows, borne aloft
      Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
   Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
   The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
      And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.



It's been a funny year, so far. I wanted to get so much done in 2014; there are at least 2 games on the back burner, one in pre-prod and Blackenrock nearing completion. It's been good. But, I also feel rather knackered now and then. There's only so much midnight oil to burn before the inevitable slump. So, I took myself off to France for the day, with Matt Clark for company. Plymouth is a short bus ride away, and the port is a short walk from the town centre. Looking up prices and times I was very surprised to find that two persons could sail to and from Roscoff for £23! That's a return too! Looking closer I found you could sleep in a two berth cabin for £50! Job done! France for lunch seemed most appealing, if a little eccentric.



Boarding was simple, and fast, and the boat was glorious. The Pont-Avon is the largest ship in the Brittany Ferries fleet, and it's a beauty! Onboard it's all glass, elevators, restaurants and bars. Just being on the boat was a holiday in itself, with lively (and quite cheesy) entertainment until midnight. I indulged in a few glasses of red wine, and a port or two, and felt like I was a million miles from anywhere (I would regret the wine in the morning).



After midnight, most travellers had disappeared to their cabins (very sensible), but I wandered the deck for an hour or so, feeling like I was a character in the FMV game 'Titanic - Adventure Out Of Time'. It's an old fave, which I have very good memories. I last played it with my mother, who adored the cranky sprite-based characters, the voice acting and atmosphere. Good memories indeed. But, on my trip there was no sign of Vlad, or that beardy member of crew looking for his binoculars ("No moon!") Instead, it was rather eerie. The moon was at 90%, waning, reflecting on the water of the Channel, as nocturnal seagulls hunted herring, stirred up my the churning water below.
Come 1am I was tucked up in a surprisingly comfy bed, and fell asleep as the boat rocked gently on the Channel. Very peaceful… until…

Bing Bong! 

"Ladies and Gentlemen, we will shortly be arriving in Roscoff. Please prepare to disembark".



Roscoff has a proud history. When Mary Queen of Scots came to France in 1548 to marry Francois, son and heir of Henri II (age 6!), she landed in Roscoff. The slipway still exists, although much changed; it still has an air of intrigue and undeniable history.
Onions and artichokes: There is a story that Henri Olliveir took onions from Roscoff to England in 1828, which launched a classic French image and an onion trade that flourished until 1930s. The museum to 'Johnnie Onions' was closed until the Spring, which was a pity. There were more than enough tourists to warrant a late season opening time. But, small grumbles, as there was plenty to see in the hours that remained. 



Roscoff is a place for walkers and explorers. There is open countryside all around, with small, unfenced fields, full of artichokes. It could not feel more rustic, even with the hulking great ferry still looming over the harbour. 

If visiting, do take the short walk from the port to the Tropical/Exotic gardens. You are likely to arrive in Roscoff around 7am (6am British time), which is far too early for me. The gardens do not open until 10:30. But, there is a charming little beach near the gardens, with picnic benches allowing a little snooze time. It was deserted, so I napped to the sound of waking finches and lapping waves.



I've often stood on the coast in Cornwall, and wondered about the smugglers from France, shipping contraband rum and tobacco from the continent. Looe Island in particular is well known to have been smugglers haven, acting as a safe stopover and spotters point, a safe watery distance from the mainland and the customs men. So, it was quite delightful to read about the smuggling trade on the opposite side of the Channel. The little lanes and alleys of Roscoff are very different to Looe and Polperro, but the historical connection between the two is clear.



'Although many Cornish boats had been trading with their counterparts in Brittany during the subsequent thousand years, other smugglers from England traded with the Channel Islands.  Roscoff became a major smuggling port in the 18th century, when the English Government, decided to put their foot down with the authorities of the Channel Islands and established Custom-houses in the Islands.'


Thanks for reading.

Jonathan

P.s. In case you wondered, I had a vegetarian baguette for lunch in Roscoff. Quite simply, it was the nicest sandwich I've had in a long time. Vive la France!