(picture): Blackhaveners enjoying the annual Vampire Night celebrations. The origin of the traditional "Fish Kites" shown here remains obscure. Here we see the villagers about to indulge in the ritual burning of the effigy of Van Helsing (the vampire slayer). In recent years the elders have had to install certain rules around the evening's activities, which had got a bit out of hand.. "Splat-The-Bat" has been banned because they are now a protected species. They still have the coffin races down Madasabat Hill, though. And the stake throwing contest. And the communal vat of tomato soup is still kept on all night for revellers. But the garlic-eating contest has been scrapped following Dr Leckie's complaints that it led to his surgery being filled with sufferers from chronic halitosis.
Stay indoors, is the best advice. But if you must venture out, here are some of the local “amenities.”
Food & Drink
There are a few places in Blackhaven where food and drink of a sort can be had. They have yet to receive favourable reviews of any kind, and you would be advised to take that as some indication of how delighted their customers generally are. Nevertheless, there are some options, if you find yourself to be really hungry, and absolutely no other nourishment is available.
The old Four Horsemen Inn on Quayside has a long and proud – well, has a long history in the village. Once the favourite haunt of professional smugglers and villains, it is now frequented by drunkards and villains. So, not really a moral improvement there. (And there is still plenty of smuggling too. Just ask the landlord Augustus Morte for some tax-free tobacco, or a knock-off smart phone). The beer is occasionally drinkable, and the whisky is at least potent, if not exactly smooth. It’s mostly locally sourced. Which is to say, illicitly concocted in someone’s shed, and probably no more than six weeks old. Fresh, you might say. Very fresh.
Apart from the fun of spectating at the usual bar-room brawls, there is what passes for special entertainment in the Inn on a Saturday night. It’s usually The Hootenany Teuchters folk band though. You’ll want to avoid that at all costs, for the sake of your ears and your sanity.
The Redundant Oyster is a newcomer to the dining scene in Blackhaven. This very small and exclusive restaurant is housed in what used to be an old fisherman’s cottage on Quayside. The proprietor, Josh Panzer, is on a mission to bring a more cultured, artisan dining experience to Blackhaven. What this seems to involve is a menu of unlikely and imaginative, if mostly inedible ingredients, described with lavish poetic licence, and presented on anything except normal crockery. A wilted fennel and rabbit risotto on a bed of gherkins in squid ink, served on an Alfa Romeo hubcap, for instance. Expect to pay a great deal for very little. But you can always blog smugly about it afterwards on instagram.
The Devil’s Tea Shoppe
The Devil’s Tea Shoppe, tucked away in Smugglers Wynd, is a quaint, old-fashioned sort of place, serving teas and coffees and traditional fare “with a twist”. By which is meant, the scones are only edible if you have the sort of dentition developed by the more robust species of dinosaur. Anne Danvers, the proprietrix, is always trying out new recipes. Her ham and peanut scone has yet to catch on though. The tea is notoriously strong. I mean, really strong. You won’t sleep for days afterwards.
Blackhaven Village Hall
Periodically, the locals decide to use the village Hall for some sort of event, such as a ceilidh, or a tea-dance, or a bingo evening. Usually, these events start out well enough, and a spirit of uneasy bonhomie can even begin to develop. But before the evening is over, there is nearly always some sort of falling-out. Old scores are revisited, and especially under the influence of alcohol, words are often said that are difficult to unsay afterwards.
During an unforgettable quizz night at Blackhaven Hall back in 1998 accusations of cheating led to a fracas, in the course of which so many injuries were incurred that the Blackhaven Allstars footballers (who had put forward a team for the quizz) were without a back four for the rest of the season. Not that it made much difference to their success-rate on the pitch, which remained consistently hopeless.
The local drama group, The Blackhaven Players, have from time time put on a show in the Hall. Their productions are often quite ambitious, given that they have so little talent to deploy. However, there is always a full house for such performances. Everyone wants to see just where and how they will screw it up. If you were there during their staging of King Lear in 1986, you will never forget Bartholomew Widget (as Lear) brawling violently with The Fool (Reginald Pringle). They had discovered just as they went onstage that they were both dating the same woman (Celia Batty, who played Cordelia). Troupers that they were, they continued to declaim their lines while hitting each other with props and items of stage scenery, until the curtain was brought down. They received more encores that night than ever before or since.
Business and Culture
Fergus Lamentable runs the local shop, Awthestuff, wherein a surprising range of goods is sold. Located on East Street, between Blackhaven Inks and Snippy’s (hairdressing) Salon, Awthestuff follows the “pile-em-high-and-sell-em-cheap” philosophy of salesmanship. Except that things are not as cheap as you might think, and bargains are few and far between. Something of the character of the shopkeeper may be gleaned from the fact that when customers open the door, a loud klaxon (rather than a sweet, tinkly bell) sounds. Within a second (he has been timed frequently) Fergus will appear, and within a minute, you will have been sold at least six items you had no idea you needed. Upon leaving the premises, an all-clear siren sounds to mark your departure. Some say this is Fergus’s little joke. Others say he is deadly serious. If you don’t buy – you don’t leave.
Interestingly, not many people know that there is a “back-shop” wherein few are ever admitted. It is rumoured that there are items on the shelves here whose origins are obscure, and whose very nature is – well, I hesitate to use the word “eldritch”, but – let’s just say, uncanny. When people say, “Let the buyer beware” – this is probably not what they had in mind. But you really should be very careful what you buy here, and that you understand exactly what price will be demanded in return. It’s bad enough being overcharged for a pint of milk and a packet of biccies. You don’t want to walk out with an enchanted alembic and pay an arm and a leg for it. Literally.
Blackhaven Haggis Factory
The Haggis Factory in Fume Street is one of the major employers in the village. Of the substantial (and very fluid) workforce, nearly all are migrant workers, who have somehow accepted the extremely rigorous terms offered by the Manager and CEO, Baxter MacVitie. One might conclude that these poor souls have reasons to keep their heads down and their noses clean, in case the appropriate Authorities were to investigate their status or their right to remain in the UK. Some might have ended up on the wrong side of the law for a variety of reasons. But whatever their story, rest assured Mr MacVitie will know of it, and will exploit it to the full. Pay is minimal, the work is relentless, and the environmental conditions would make a Victorian match-factory owner blanch. Industrial accidents are common, but Trade Union membership is very much frowned upon. Very much.
As for the products of this oppressive meat-grinding facility – the heavily spiced haggis comes in several “varieties”, largely depending on which species of roadkill or unfortunate household pet happens to have been scooped up, or left unattended this week. To be fair to Baxter, he does make efforts to introduce some innovative flavours to his product. The lemon and prune variant was quite well-received by the eclectic clentele at The Redundant Oyster restaurant. However, if Baxter were to spend half as much effort in amending the appalling lack of health and hygiene on his premises, he would not have to spend his resources defending himself against prosecutions for all the regulations he consistently ignores. He maintains it’s a matter of principles. He has none. And neither the workers nor the customers matter.
Some have wondered what exactly happens to all those transient haggis stuffers who are here today and gone tomorrow. Who can say? If only records were properly kept. If only his workers could speak English, and were not afraid to testify. If only there were not so many lethally sharp instruments lying about.
The Cabinet of Curiosities
Seymour Strangely runs this little Blackhaven oddity when he is not busy producing the local Gazette. He lives above the shop, at 47 Roswell Street, which is handy. Here you can buy science-fiction paraphenalia – anything to do with Star Trek, Doctor Who, UFOs, Marvel comics etc – as well as a huge variety of costumes and stage props. The latter are very popular with amateur drama group, the Blackhaven Players. There are also some practical jokes that sell well to the P6 kids. There is a section of “touristy” items too, to oil the wheels of commerce: stuffed tartan Loch Ness Monsters, Giant Assassin Midges etc. And there is quite a decent selection of books on weird stuff like alien abductions, Bigfoot, vampires, and so on. The proprietor is a keen researcher on cryptozoology etc, and has published articles in some of the magazines that cater for afficionados of that sort of thing.
Every nook in the Cabinet of Curiosities is crammed with stock, not to mention the overflow upstairs in his bedroom, and in the basement, where the rarer or more expensive items are kept. It’s hard to tell where the business ends and Seymour’s habitation begins. He is still single, by the way.
The Guggenheim Library
Originally founded by the eighteenth-century explorer and philanthropist, Sir Bodley Fortinbrass Guggenheim, this surprisingly large repository is one of the most unusual architectural and cultural features of Blackhaven. Sir Bodley was fascinated by folklore and arcana of all sorts, the odder the better, and he travelled the world in search of items for his collection. As a consequence, the library houses an astonishing array of material, much of it very rare and valuable, on such exotic subjects as alchemy, magic, the Kabbala, mysticism, legends and myth. Many of the books are in Latin, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Tibetan, or Persian.
The current librarian, Charlotte Goodfellow is utterly devoted to the upkeep of this treasure, and has even taught herself many of the languages necessary to explore its contents. Woe betide any Blackhavener who damages or loses any items they might borrow. The fines for late returns are onerous enough, but the sanctions for libricide are – very severe.
There is also a substantial section of more popular titles – especially crime fiction and true crime. And an adult section, open by appointment only.
Blackhaven Inks (tattoos)
The local tattoo parlour in East Street is run by Ismay Roberts. Her rather lurid designs are very popular with a certain section of the public: the section that likes images of Satanism and gothic horror, mostly. Ismay also does a nice line in kittens and ducklings. Most of her work consists of undoing those unfortunate inking decisions made by inebriates on stag-nights or hen-nights. You may notice that the place is decorated in a very festive fashion – regardless of the time of year. Ismay is a big fan of all things Christmassy. Some might say, to the point of obsession. Visitors are advised not to say “Bah, humbug” in her presence.
The local brewery in Fume Street does tours for visitors to the town, and is worth a visit. You will be shown a carefully selected part of the premises, with some nice clean equipment and some cheerful workers producing their hand-crafted wares. Interestingly the Public Relations arm of the brewery has more staff than the actual brewers. Don’t ask for free samples, as this only offends.
Next door to the tattoo parlour, the local hairdresser Ariadne Snippy will attend to your crowning glory. They cut hair too, always to a musical soundtrack. The proprietrix frequently sings along to the saddest of ballads. Bear in mind she has no sense of humour, and is holding some very sharp scissors.
The Old Sweetie Shop
Lovers of traditional old sweets will find a haven here. In her curious, very narrow but charming old shop, the redoutable proprietrix, Elsie Crabbage, sits behind the counter as she has done since time immemorial. The brass scales twinkle, and the jars of pear drops and gobstoppers offer reminders of happy childhood days. However her aniseed balls and liquorice allsorts are known to be at least forty years old, the sherbet is as tart as hydrochloric acid, and the mintcake is said to be OVER 100% sugar. And don’t even think about trying the hard toffee. Not if you value your remaining teeth.
Jim and Jeffrey Rogue are the local plumbers and odd-job men. The two brothers are seldom seen apart, and indeed the family resemblance is remarkable. They both look equally dim, shifty, and incompetent. Whether it’s laying concrete, replacing window frames, slating, joinery, or plumbing in a bathroom suite – the quality of their work is always the same: abominable. They also have a lucrative sideline in removals. Whatever you want – removed – no questions asked, they will remove it. And clean up afterwards.
Places of worship
Blackhaven Old Kirk is the only functioning church in Blackhaven, though there used to be several. It is not any more a religious place, if it ever was. The Old Kirk is the purview and lair of the Reverend Esau Leviticus. Not one of your happy-clappy ministers, Leviticus is very old-school. He will have no truck with new-fangled notions such as evolution, or science in general. He takes a very dim view of anything he regards as frivolous, which is to say, everything except prayer and auto-flagellation. Do not offer him a drink, unless you want a twenty minute lecture on the evils of intoxication. The congregation is small, consisting largely of octogenarians and drug addicts. The two categories are not mutually exclusive.
Historical buildings and ruins
Blackhaven Keep built in 1532, is also known as The Big House, for it is here that the latest in the long line of decaying and whimsical/deranged Lairds of Blackhaven have their dwelling. Most of the old place is still inhabitable, except for the North Wing, of course, where several species of nocturnal animals are best left to their own devices. The conservatory is a delight, if you like venus fly-traps. Henry and Emily Ffolkes-Wallaby do not encourage visitors, thought they do occasionally engage rather awkwardly with a select group of the locals out of a sense of noblesse-oblige. Droit-de-seigneur is no longer practiced. Not since that incident with the WRI meeting in the 1960s. Those non-disclosure agreements must have cost a fortune.
The Old Tolbooth as the name suggests, used to house the town jail, and over the centuries has contained a tremendous variety of miscreants, from the usual drunk-and-disorderlies to pirates, smugglers and murderers. On one notable Saturday night in 1872 it held twenty-six criminals at once, which must have been quite unpleasant considering the Tolbooth only has one modest-sized cell. It is no longer used for its original purpose, and after some remodelling and extensive fumigation, is now a regular if rather strange-looking town house. Its current occupant is Inspector Macyard. It is rumoured that he has kept the old jail cell untouched, though no-one has been allowed in to verify this.
The old asylum up on Madasabat Hill is now a ruin, following a mysterious fire in the 1920s. Some of the original building, dating from the early 18th century, and added to in the 1890s, still stands, but it is unsafe to enter. Some say that strange wailing noises can be heard at night emanating from the old dormitory, but this is probably nothing to worry about. You know how suggestible some people can be. Madasabat Hill, overlooking the village of Blackhaven, is now partly used as a donkey sanctuary.