Nov 18 2012

Dabbling in Naval Terror whilst eating chips at the Golden Ball

I’m doing it again.
Delighting and positively revelling in misery, jumping into big muddy puddles of horror  with a splash and a grin and savouring each little drop of disenchantment and despair.

And eating chips.
This makes it even better.
It would have been cheesy chips but I’m on a diet.

It is not a very good diet to be fair.

Ironically enough, I hate all that stupid misery porn so popular with idiots nowadays. Books with titles like  ‘A Figure Over My Cot’ or ‘Please, Mummy, Stop’.
Why the hell would anyone wish to read stories of abuse and misery?
I sigh sadly  to myself before picking up a book about murdered prostitutes in Victorian London. That is different- it was foggy, long ago and there were gas lamps and corsets involved which makes it far less prurient and slightly more sexy. I’m sure you understand.

Anyway, I am eating breakfast chips at The Golden Ball in Lancaster, known for centuries as Snatchems for the delicious and  horrific fact that people who used to drink here were often press-ganged.

Imagine a really shit hangover.

There is no liquid left in your body. You are scooping with shaky hands, 9p economy curry flavoured noodles into your parched arid mouth. You cannot find a spoon.

The noodles are slightly underdone and have a slimily crunchy texture like a nest of tarantulas that have been both rotting and baking under an Arizona sun. The Hollyoaks omnibus is on the telly and it is on too loud but you can’t be arsed to look for the remote.

You need to be leave for work in ten minutes.

That is definitely a shit hangover.

Now imagine this.

You were having a night of much diversion in  The Golden Ball Public House-some fellows came and gave you strong ale and many songs were sang and much merriment was to be had. There were fiddles and raucousness and ale kept arriving in heavy foaming jars.  You had new friends, new jokes to definately not tell the Missus and a glorious feeling of well-being.


You wake up and you are still, yet moving – timbers creak, the air is freezing,  your head pounds and you try to find a place to urinate, stagger up and up to find that Lancaster lies behind you, disappearing mistily by the second, vanquished by grey angry waves.

There is nothing at all to be seen in front of you apart from more of the same.
And for seemingly eternally so.

Your wife and children will be waiting for you and not know what has happened. You have no phone because they do not exist  and you cannot even write. Your wife is broad with child.
You will probably never see her again. Disease  and death stalks these rotting planks.

A man appears across the deck. He does not smile and carries a whip. More figures start to merge through the freezing driving rain that drives sideways across the deck.
You have been press-ganged.

That is definitely a shitter hangover.

For the slaves that entered and left here, or just died unmourned and left in the quayside morgue that is now The George and Dragon across the river, I suspect Lancaster was never a place of beauty.

The Golden Ball Freehouse has featured on Most Haunted,  possibly has the cheapest house wine in Lancaster and also a loyalty card and a new conservatory.  These are  generally twisty old rooms though, you go down stairs from the carpark to enter the bar area and a big dog is shouting somewhere very nearby.

We are surrounded by estuary, claggy bleak estuary and this pub is sometimes cut off by the tides, seaweed hangs shrivelled and drying from barbed wire fences guarding nothing. Across the River Lune, Lancaster Castle soars and looks fantastic and I sit here and am happily horrified at the thought of old misery.

And the chips are very good and crispy and only £1.65.

Nov 7 2012

And now, a post Halloween story by Nunmoreblack-a loyal reader

This so beats spam about viagra…Thank you Nunmoreblack-you have made me very happy. And I will soon be seen wandering around in fields near Preston 🙂



The thing is, I’ve moved from west London and I live in this place called Lancaster. It’s way, way up north. It’s a city, only small. I work for Dave. Dave’s a builder. He hasn’t got no City and Guilds or nothing, but he’s got ladders so that’s alright.
A while ago we did this job for this old bloke. Jack. He’s the oldest person I’ve ever known. Dave says he’s about ninety five. I like him. Dave says Jack makes up stories. Tells fibs. Whoppers.
While we was working there Jack did tell us stuff. About when he was young and that.I used to listen to him. Once he told us about being in some war. I think he called it the Second World War. That or some other one. That was when he told us about the ammunition.
See, in Lancaster, there’s this little hill. And on it is a castle. Or a jail. It don’t matter ’cause soon it’s gonna be a Primark. At last. I need knew trainers. Anyway, during this war, they melted down the cannons from the castle to make ammunition. Jack told us that.
Also, he says he got something called Victoria’s Cross. I don’t know what that is. But I didn’t tell him. He says ho got it for something he did in Tunisia. Or somewhere like Tunisia.
Later, in the pub, I asked Scarface Ray what Victoria’s Croass is. He said it’s a medal of some sort. Made by some queen. I pulled my phone out and looked it up. I found Jacks regiment, the Duke of Lancaster, and they’ve got what they call an Honours List. Only Jack isn’t on it. Fibber. I don’t mind though.


One time Jack tells me and Dave about this crime that happened. It was in a place called Dalton Square. This fella goes nuts and kills his missis. Then he kills the maid. Then he chops them both up in the bath. It was 1935.
There was this song that everyone sang in the pubs about it. Jack says it was him that made it up and wrote it on the bog wall, in a pub called the Square. He sang it. I didn’t know it. Something about red stains on the carpet. Jack says the tune for it came from “Red Sails in the Sunset”. I don’t know that niether. But I think it might have been Coldplay.
Later, in the pub, I asked Scarface Ray about it. He says he thinks he heard about it at school. So I pulled out my phone and looked it up. The fellas name was Doctor Buck Ruxton. He was from India. Or somewhere like India. He gets jealous ’cause his missis might be playing away. She’s called Isabella. So he strangles her. Then he strangles the maid. She’s called Mary Jane Rogerson. Then he chops them up, wraps the bits of bodies in newspapers, and dumps them in Dumfriesshire. That’s in Scotland. Or Ireland. Same thing.
Antway, he screws up. One of the papers is a special edition of the Sunday Graphic. You could only get it in Lancaster. Plod traces it straight to him. It says on my phone that this started modern police forensics. I thought that was CSI.
In the bit I read, it says they took the bath out of Bucks house, took to somewhere called Preston, and put it in a field so police horses could use it. Northern horses must be very small. I’m only joking. I think they were really talking about his hot tub.

Another time Jack told us about this lady called Ella. She sang on the stage. Jack knew her. It was 1952 and she snuffs it during a show. Jack says he was there. He says it was in some theatre called the Grand. At the time Jack was a member of something called the Footlights. I don’t know what that is.
Later, in the pub, I asked Scarface Ray about it. He dosen’t know what I’m talking about. So we both pulled our phones out and looked it up. The Grand is the third oldest theatre ever. Some people formed the Footlights in the 1920′s to support it. They bought the whole place in 1951 to save it from getting knocked down. They’re still around. I might go and look at it. I’m not gonna see a show or nothing. Don’t be silly. I told Scarface Ray.

Scarface Ray said he might go too.
The ladys’ name was Ella Shields. She was from Baltimore. That’s in America. Or somewhere like America. Early on, she can’t make a living over there ’cause of something called the ‘Depression’. I think my brother had that once.
So what happened was, she came over here and got famous. She was bigger than Adelle and everything. She played the very first night at something called the London Palladium. I’ve never been there. I think it might be near McDonalds. Also, in the 1940′s, she did the Royal Command Performance. That’s a big show for the King. I think Ant and Dec presented it.
In her act, she dressed up as a fella and sang a song called “Burlington Bertie from Bow”. Bow’s in the shitty east. At the end of the song she collapsed, and died later. She was seventy two. The bit I read said a nice thing about her so I read it out to Scarface Ray. I said, Ella showed great courage in the face of adversity, and her fortitude was an inspiration to women everywhere. Scarface Ray said, was she a dyke.


This week, me and Dave have been working on this womans house. She’s alright but keeps talking about her son which is boring. He’s in the army. And Afghanistan. There’s a picture of him on the sideboard. He’s a right ugly sod. I didn’t say that to her though.

Next to his picture is stuff about his regiment. He’s in the Duke of Lancaster regiment. Same as Jack. Except here it says the regiment was formed in 1970. That can’t be right. So I pulled my phone out and looked it up.
Before it was the Duke of Lancaster regiment it was the Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire). They’ve got an Honours List too On it is Jack. I wrote this down ’cause I knew I wouldn’t remember the letters.


I told Dave I was gonna go and see Jack and tell him he wasn’t a fibber.Dave said I might not get a response ’cause Jack died a couple of weeks back. I felt bad about it.
Later, in the pub, I told Scarface Ray. Scarface Ray said I shouldn’t feel bad about it ’cause Jack was well old. Scarface Ray said the only fibber was Wiki. He’s quite clever sometimes. Anyway, I got myself another lager and sat on my own to think about it for a bit.

And here I am.

See, it’s about this. Since I met Jack I look at things differently. I see things around me more. Sometimes, if I’m bored, I just wander about. If I see something I like,like a big building, or a street or something, I pull my phone out and look it up. There’s nearly always a story about it. That’s ’cause Lancaster is a city full of stories. Jack told me that. I think I’ll stay in Lancaster.
Next week, me and Scarface Ray are going to the library. I’ve never been to one before. Scarface Ray went to one once. The internet was down so he left. Obviously. A library is the best place to look things up. Jack told me that too. He said I should go there. So I will.
So it don’t matter that I didn’t tell Jack that he wasn’t a fibber. Or that I didn’t tell him I found the stuff about Victoria’s Cross. All that matters is that I don’t forget all the stuff that Jack told me. So I wont.
I feel better now. I’m gonna get myself another lager and tell Scarface Ray about it. Tomorrow I’m gonna tell Dave.


For Ella.
Ella Shields (Ella Catherine Buscher)was touring the UK for the last time and her show in Lancaster was the last show of the tour. I am not certain that it took place at the Grand, but I cannot think where else it could have been, given that she was such a huge star. I stand to be corrected.
She opened with her trademark ‘Burlington Bertie from Bow’ but instead of singing “I’m Burlington….”, she sang “I WAS Burlington….”. She finished the song, collapsed, and died three days later in Lancaster without regaining consciousness. Her body was taken to Golders Green crematorium where there is a plaque dedicated to her. She remains relatively unknown in her native United States.
A popular myth at the time suggested that the line, “The Prince of Wales Brother, Along with some Other”, in Burlington Bertie, referred to Jack the Ripper……

For Buck Ruxton.
Red stains on the carpet, Red stains on the knife, Oh doctor Buck Ruxton, You murdered your wife.
Then Mary she saw you, You thought she would tell, So doctor Buck Ruxton, You killed her as well.
I believe the bath is still in a field near Preston where it is used as a trough for police horses.
Note. Horses to NOT bathe in hot tubs whilst sipping Martinis.

Nov 1 2012

Halloween, Samhain and murder by the state.

In a place where hundreds died in agony, superstition and fear, a nylon witch in a pound shop triangular hat is pretending to sweep away leaves in the gift shop.

In a place where hundreds and thousands saw their family members enter in chains and never saw them again, a cartoon cardboard skeleton represents fear and terror. The skeleton is giving a jolly rictus grin.

We are not allowed to take photographs here despite it not being a prison anymore.

I take photos of the gift shop. No one has ever been slung in jail for hovering a mobile phone over a £1.99 Celtic ring. Apart from possibly in America somewhere.

Tonight is Halloween.

I love Halloween. I love the sound of the words Samhain and Allhallows Eve, beautiful mysterious antiquated words that should not exist in a time of Argos, Amazon and Haribo.


To really portray the horror of this castle, where many innocent people died in terror in front of their family, the tour guide of this special Halloween night time tour pretends he is an undertaker.

Undertakers are scary.


He is a jocular undertaker and I think that no one anywhere has ever wanted a jocular undertaker. But I am a misery and on this darkened sudden winter eve, I wanted to hear in hushed tones about spectral icy fingers on prison wardens’ backs, not genial laughter at a girl in a sexy pussycat outfit.

‘Leave spookiness alone and stop making it sexy and silly and with cheap flattering accessories!’  I want to shout.

Because I want to close my eyes in a silent ancient terrible place and think of what has happened here at a time of year when worlds and spirits are meant to collide but instead a girl with suspenders and a ‘sexy’ bloodstained nurses uniform is giggling with the smirking cat.

The dead are quite justified in staying dead. Unless they are slightly lecherous.

The fake undertaker walks us through shadowed toppling history and sometimes someone with green hair jumps out and shouts ‘BOO!’ just as we were cheerily admiring real scolds bridles and ankle chains.

The fake undertaker does try to portray the horror of a not so recent past and we are to be fair here at an event where ‘prizes are awarded to the best costume. ’

I did not read the small print.

But I find it a queasy amalgamation of light laughter and miserable deaths.

We hear gut wrenching horrendous history about people, real people who were hung a mere step away and it is hard to then suddenly do a LOL at a light joke.

At a place where witches who probably weren’t witches died a hideous death.

And where people like us stood to watch.

Will Auschwitz have tour guides with jocular banter once enough time has past?

As it was Halloween and as Lancaster Castle is famous for it’s supposed supernatural activities, I was expecting the emphasis on the many many statements of people who have stated they have seen or felt ghosts here over the centuries.

But a sheet over the head is more terrifying than centuries of torture.

And legends mean nothing anymore.

But we will still stand to watch.