Friday, 21 December 2018

OSS NIGHT : SHORT RISING / "Who knows what is going on in the past?"

1 Where are we?

December 19 2018. Publicised with surreptitious fliers and a last minute Short Notice, the Short Ritual and its participants muster in a light drizzle under the Christmas lights.
At 6.10 the oss raises its head and launches itself into the available space of the season.

Throughout the year whether suspended from the workshop beams and caught in the sunlight under the low cottage ceilings, the skull has aquired the look of something unearthed, awaiting notice of its 

12 feet plus of occupied hollow, A Tower of muslin, backpack, poles and modelling material, the oss soon attracts a crowd. Others are drawn out from the pubs by outriders. 

A harmonica, caught in the same wind that caused the  oss to sway, makes the pace and calls the Human Organs Pipe band to order at 6.30 with a tune that has made its own slow progress from Derbyshire, via Staffordshire, the East Coast and the West Riding to Ulverston.

2 Who knows what is going on in the past?

I mean, the oss. What is the oss? 
Those hollow eyesockets, full of animating shadows waiting to be read.
Stare them down, and you find familiar undirected energies and well- seasoned imaginations at work.

Rituals. Routines. Manners and amusements..stuff we do because we do it, and because we always have. But why do it at all? Why do it that first time, on a spring day or a winter evening? In a white shift or a mask?

Countless Demeters have loosed their cargo on the shores of our imaginations in recent years . Fears of the Other, traceable back to the Eisenhower years side with techno savvy folk devils of northern Europe and Japan.

Hallowe'en is infused with suburban dread; the glint of metal under streetlights,neighborhoods under lockdown, houses not quite big enough to hide in.

These are just the ripples on the surface of a deeper, shared vocabulary; a dark pool of imagery to draw from in order to confront and deflect fear. For all their current prominence, cinema, tv and netflix are newcomers.

What floats on the surface is only the most recent manifestation of what occupies the depths. The calendar cant contain this stuff; it shows up when it is ready. 

Tradition is habit and routine in costume. It grows in the cracks. Gangs, groups, working units all build their own mythology from the mundanities of their downtime; confirming and reinforcing their identity. Significance is visited on the inconsequential details of the journey between explosions of expression and activity.
When the time for such explosions is long gone they provide a link between the past and the present.

Anyway. The 'Oss.. Just last week, unannounced, while Storm Diana drew its breath after midnight, the 'Oss went walking.

Passing the library, it was accused of dogging, and drew an apology from a couple in a car.
Down New Market street the oss was met by a rising shield of iphone screens. Slowed down and shared east, it was seen in Poland before it swung into Market Cross.

The pubs were shaking off the last drinkers after the folk session; the songs and stories tailing off as the oss approached. It bowed and they patted its muzzle and wished it well.
The Stretton 'oss song isn't very old. Its blend of
 English Dance tunes and comic absurdity place it at mid 20th Century. Outside its native Derbyshire the song has showed up in North Yorkshire,South Yorkshire, and Staffordshire. In Cumbria it's ghoulish implications echo local legends of bestiaries, circus parades and elephant burials on Quaker land. 
In the 21st Century ,sans lyric and miles apart a Notts Folk fiddler doubles up on guitar and reinstates its charm...

The lyric – where it is used - is absurd. In other branches of its family the oss may be a memento mori, or a screaming street drunkard, or a vessel for a generalised rebirth clad in overtones of mischief. In the Stretton song it is malevolent; it is a killer.

This brutal version comes from an audience tape made in Scarborough in the 80's.


It's menace is belied by the cartoonish appearance of the Ostler and the players. In Derbyshire their heads – as distinct from masks - take on the primary school colours and dauby 
aesthetic of the mischievous oss, their fixed stare equally dumb or maniacal.

Where is St George?”
Not here.

There is none of the sunshine and fresh enamel that light up Mayday; no dazzle of crisp white shirts and no red ribbons dancing in and out of summer shadows. The oss cavorts in the bounceback of whitelight from the wet pavements. His bleached fabric billows like a ghost ship sail against a winter sky.

Where May Day rites call for the oss to parade and charge with energy and gusto , here his stage is contained. His progress is slow; his revels are the stamping feet and frosty breath of cold rnornings and colder nights. Rather than rebirth there is a sense of  a challenge ; if these sticks can stir, then why not yours? 

3. Where were we?

Tonight the roads are busy. Traffic passes around and behind the oss, supermarket staff on breaks watch from ginnels, works do's spill downhill from the railway station, the oss is a meander to be negotiated.

Children join in at the Ostler's invitation. Cymbals clash and roll true. He delivers his headmasterly final address and then the tune begins again.
Ritual is an act of affirmation: nether celebration or commemoration. Just a reminder that we are still here and that we know what it is that has kept us here.

Thanked by the Ostler – who has accompanied the Oss on his journey into town, and will see him home - the crowd inspect the oss, and festoon him. As he turns to leave, a hollowed, glowing onion bounces against his skirt.

Large Photos: Lindsay Ward Photography

"What benefit can historians derive from the study of invented tradition? First and foremost, it may be suggested that they are important
symptoms and therefore indicators of problems which might not
otherwise be recognized, and developments which are otherwise
difficult to identify and to date. They are evidence."
Eric Hobsbawm, "The Invention Of Tradition", Hobsbawm/Ranger

"It appears that the need to define one's community as valid -- by reference to an historic past -- is most acute when that community is only just established or is in decline."
Judy Koren, Amazon review of Hobsbawm/Ranger

  Alistair Anderson - attrib on reliable authority- "you've no traditions? Make some up"

Tuesday, 11 December 2018


More from the launch morning of "Tiny Voyages of Discovery" at Ulverston Library and the afternoon at the Cottage.

Photos by Lindsay Ward Photography 
After such a successful morning it was good to have more visitors at the Cottage to show them the book and also give then a whiff of the Oss's  clammy breath.  We set up a projector in the attic and showed the video from the thursday Oss Night and talked a little about its provenance and future appearances, and the roots of Ellies' book and Alex's Oss in Sir John Barrow's fascination with the Manners And Amusements of the people he encountered.
On the walls of the cottage are prints from Ellie's book, and Lex Blakeways' interpretation of Ann Marie Truter's work. We'll be opening the cottage again in the spring, and if you haven't yet you'll be able to see the work for yourself.
In the meantime, we are scattered around the town..Ellies book is available at Suttons Bookshop and The Tinners' Rabbit Framers,and at Ellie's Etsy site.
And the Oss will rise and walk  again soon. Watch the usual spaces. 

Sunday, 9 December 2018


A quickly assembled thank you to all who came to the launch of "Tiny Voyages Of Discovery"  and to Hannah and colleagues at Ulverston library for letting us in. Here are a couple of pics of early customers...frankly, copies flew off the table. Proper Black Friday stuff.

More (and better) pictures from Lindsay Ward to come, documenting the morning and our afternoon sesh at the cottage.

Meanwhile, the book is on sale at Suttons' Bookshop and the Tinners Rabbit in Ulverston,and will be soon available online at Ellie's Etsy page.

All proceeds will help to support the next project,which is currently in development with SJB school
and  a number of excellent artists..fingers crossed.

 Thanks from all concerned, and to Ellie for a marvellous piece of work.

Monday, 3 December 2018


The night was dark, and the moon was yellow and even Storm Diana had taken an hour off for Oss Night.

The Oss took to the streets at midnight,  testing its staggerlurch and sway under the Christmas lights.

The pubs were chucking out. A folk gig at the Coronation Hall had  nourished eyes and ears; the Oss was the port and stilton. Elsewhere, teenage Eurohoppers loitered in doorways and looked up to find themselves beneath the looming Oss: Clickclickclickpost.

The Oss toured the slumbering town, moving past upstairs windows, casting crisp shadows and measuring out its ground.

Its' time is coming.

Video here. Stills by Lindsay Ward.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018


Brilliant project and proud that Furness Traditions could be a small part of it.

Gordon Jones,Furness Traditions Festival.

The Supper Room at the Coronation Hall has held many great events...Laurel and Hardy waved from its balcony to the crowds below in the 1950's, it has hosted plays, concerts, lectures, arts workshops and the performers at Furness Tradition festival perform an afternoon show that is always special.

This year we were part of the festival, as Dominic Kelly and his Year 3 Storytellers took over the space an delivered their complex, detailed and funny stories to a full-house  that moved around the room, from alcove to alcove.The room was never still or silent, there was activity and interest everywhere.

 Dominic had taught the children the techniques of the Oral Tradition; nothing was written down, all was memorized and delivered with
energy and a degree of theatricality that surprised the audience and underscored the contribution
 of Dominic's methods to the
development of performance and public speaking skills,and the confidence that comes with a round of applause for a
story well delivered.

We captured the atmosphere and the stories with a roving mic..young
people often play up to a microphone..not here; they were engrossed in what they were doing.
It was rather like eavesdropping.

Our thanks to Dominic, his storytellers and the
school for a fine project and a
marvellous morning.

Friday, 23 November 2018


Many thanks to everyone who came along to take part in our Halloween video for Ulverston's Candlelit Walk...the theme at Ford Park was "Birds", and our SJB3 artist Ellie Chaney rose to the occasion with her performance in John's film, projected al fresco from a ramshackle screening booth on a muddy slope. Visually less Hitchcock than Bill Oddie, the film's soundtrack is from Ste Tyson, who DJ'd on the night with a mashup of classic suspense music and audio tropes.

The Candlelit Walk was ticketed for the first time this year, in order to avoid any crushes, and it seems to have worked; over a thousand people were in attendance, and as the rain kept off till the end it was a very good night of music, light, story, music and mashup, performance and installation...

The evening aims for homemade  atmosphere rather than Body Horror. More Carpentry than Carpenter. The digital elements evoke Lumiere and Magic Lanternry.  The  workshops involve a lot of artists and makers of all ages and produced an enormous amount of imaginative and highly individual work for the event. You can participate from the inside.
The Walk in many ways is a step into a new world for our youngest attendees and audiences; colour, lights, smoke, distant murmurings  and the smell of wet undergrowth are a potent mix. The liminal nature of these nighttime events affects the onlooker and participant alike and we often hear of examples of a decision having been made in the dark: "next time I'm going to involved." The maker of the magic rather than the subject of it.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018


 Ellie Chaney's work for SJB3 is coming to fruition with a book launch
on Dec 8th at Ulverston Library.

"Tiny Voyages Of Discovery" is the result of  9 months in which Ellie has  been researching both freshwater and marine wildlife in the area.  The book is an illustrated journey down Dragley Beck out to the sea, inspired by the story of Lady Barrow who was an accomplished botanical illustrator in her own right.

Ellie's book is available as a softback and limited edition hardback, 

Join us  to meet Ellie and see what she has produced, and to hear more about the project. There'll also be the opportunity to  make your own bookplates to take home.

Thursday, 11 October 2018


Felter Lex Blakeway was at the Cottage today. We were putting up
her  interpretation of a piece of work by Botanical Illustrator Ann Maria Truter, later Lady Barrow.

The drawing was sourced by Ellie Chaney as part of her SJB3 research, and Lex's piece will be  in permanent display at the Cottage, with occasional  visits to the Sir John Barrow Monument next summer.

Many thanks to Lex and to our Framer Diana Merrick.

Dan from Green Lane and me were talking earlier about developing the cottage in order to host small exhibitions, so hopefully Lex's piece will soon be part of a collection.

Those of you who were at Lex's SJB3 workshop at he Library during the summer will be interested in her upcoming programme of sessions at the Coronation Hall, where she will alternate with other artists including Artspace Green Room artist Fran Riley. More info from the Coro.

Thursday, 27 September 2018


Another sunday and more beautiful work from our visitors as Ellie Chaney led a drop-in  Block printing workshop.

Working on small blocks of soft lino our visitors made  highly detailed bookplate designs reflecting Ellie's interest in the flora and fauna in the land around the cottage.

There was a sense of effort and anticipation rewarded every time the small, high-contrast prints emerged fresh from between the blankets and plates of the in-house Bookpress.

"Had a wonderful couple of hours learning to use lino cutting tools & printing the results.
Ellie and John were so helpful, patient and made me feel that I could really achieve something. 
Such good fun and would definitely recommend coming down & experiencing their workshops. Looking forward to the next one."

We'll be following this session up in the autumn so look out for an announcement..