Kinneil inspiration sparks Scots time-travelling short story

A dazzling new short story, inspired by Kinneil’s thousands of years of outstanding heritage, has been commended in the annual ‘Sangschaw’ competition of the Scots Language Society and published in this summer’s edition of their leading Scots language journal, ‘Lallans‘.

The story, ‘The Curse o the Sparkies‘, is by Tony Beekman, who is a Community Learning and Development Worker in Bo’ness for Falkirk Council, and with his kind permission we now also publish his new story in full below.

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Author Tony Beekman proudly celebrating, on receiving his copy of ‘Lallans’

Tony is a regular writer in Scots and since 2011 he has had 15 stories published across four outlets. “Of my 15 stories, this is the one I had most fun preparing for”, he explained. “Kinneil Estate was crying out to be the scene of a science fiction story crossing different time zones. It was irresistible to a dabbler in story writing – it would be an ideal location for a Doctor Who episode!”

His time-travelling tale ranges across 2,000 years of history at Kinneil, from a Roman legionary guarding the fortlet on the Antonine Wall (now part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site); to James Watt experimenting with his revolutionary steam engine in the 1760s in his workshop next to Kinneil House; to miners and the Kinneil Band rallying outside Kinneil Pit in late Victorian times; to the modern period and a community worker named Jacqueline visiting Kinneil Museum and reflecting on all the centuries past.

Originally from Airdrie where he still lives, Tony Beekman attended secondary school at a junior seminary in Coatbridge, then studied sociology and philosophy at the then Paisley College (now the University of the West of Scotland), where he gained a BA in Social Science. He then completed a PhD at the University of Glasgow with a thesis on Human Freedom in the Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre.

Tony initially worked in welfare benefits advice in Coatbridge and then in Shettleston, Glasgow, whilst also ‘moonlighting’ as a Workers’ Educational Association tutor. He then returned to Glasgow University to study in the evening for a post-graduate Diploma in Adult and Continuing Education, before joining Falkirk Council in 2005.

Now read on, and enjoy…

The Curse o the Sparkies

by © Tony Beekman (reproduced with kind permission of the author and of the editor of ‘Lallans’ magazine – the Journal of the Scots Language Society)

Time period: 150 CE. Location: the Antonine Wa fortlet, on lan near the Kinneil Estate, noo pairt o the toun o Bo’ness.

Servius glowered ower the parapet o the watchtour, leukin for ony barbarians, his a’ready boukit feegur eiked up wi armour an a helmet. He felt the cauld o the winter’s nicht but he ignored it; ye maun project naethin but strenth whan ye’re a sodger o the Roman Empire. The barbarians warnae tae ken that he felt the cauld, nor that he wis a Thracian, a memmer o a race lang syne conquered bi the Romans, an a conscript. Servius wis nanetheless a guid catch; he wis yin o the best fechters in the empire an he wis aye the champion at exercises an contests. Ye maun project naethin but strenth whan ye’re a sodger o the Roman Empire – especially tae the empire.

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Winter on the Roman Northern Frontier at Kinneil

Servius leuked up at the sky. He didnae ken why he did that but he felt compelled. The stars seemed extra bricht an Servius cudnae tak his een aff them. At the same time, he hid a vague sense o bein watched. He drifted intae a dwam. The dwam was interrupted bi a sudden piercin heidache. Then, juist as suddenly, Servius went intae a deep trance. Servius wisnae there but his body turned this wey an that an his een surveyed aathin within reenge.

Clang! Thud! A muckle clairtie stane hid clattered aff Servius’s helmet. Bluidy barbarians! Servius got up aff the flair. Whit sorcery wis aboot?

Time period: 13.7 billion years ago. Location: the Universe.

Sumhin juist happened tae pop intae existence. Suffused within the sumhin wis a dormant mental force. The mental force awoke an exploded at ane wi the sumhin explodin. The mental force split intae a netwark o innumerable mental energy entities, the emrites, entwined wi the fundamental forces o the sumhin. As the emrites burst aboot an interacted wi ilk ither through the fundamental forces, they fashioned the sumhin intae the universe. They thocht that it wis guid an kept on an on.

Time period: 1669. Location: the old Kinneil village that yaised tae lie on lan ahint the grand Kinneil Hoose.

Catherine an Bob were haudin hauns ootside thir wee cottage, leukin at it in the muinlicht. It wisnae much but it wis hame – for noo. A horse an cart were comin the morra tae remove them an thir belongins tae the up an comin toun o Bo’ness. The Duke o Hamilton thocht it wis vulgar haein ordinar fowk livin ahint the big hoose an getting in the wey o his development plans. E’en the kirk the couple were merriet in was bein offeecially abolished an turned intae a private chapel for the Hamilton faimly.

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Kinneil Kirk – until the late 17th Century, the spiritual heart of the lost mediaeval village of Kinneil [Picture credit: © Gordon Clark]

‘Oh, Bob,’ said Catherine, ‘it’s strynge tae think we’ll see this village nae mair an that oor bairn will no be baptized in the kirk here.’

‘A ken,’ said Bob, pattin Catherine’s bump, ‘but dinnae fash yersel,’ he continued. ‘We’ll get by,’ he said, daein his best tae ignore the knot in his stomach.

Catherine leuked up at the sky. She didnae ken why she did that but she felt compelled. The stars seemed extra bricht an Catherine cudnae tak her een aff them. At the same time, she hid a vague sense o bein watched. She drifted intae a dwam. The dwam was interrupted bi a sudden piercin heidache. Then, juist as suddenly, Catherine went intae a deep trance. Catherine wisnae there but her body turned this wey an that an her een surveyed aathin within reenge.

‘Catherine, ma lass,’ cried Bob. ‘Whit’s wrang wi ye?’ he speired, as he grabbed her bi the the shouders an shook her as much as he daured.

‘A’m fine, A’m fine,’ said Catherine as she switched back on an wriggled free. ‘A dinnae ken whit cam ower me. The Deil hissel is afit the nicht. Let’s get back inside.’

Time period: 2020. Location: Kinneil Estate, Bo’ness.

Jacqueline Clerk lived life tae the max. Whan she taen an interest in somethin, she didnae dae it bi haufs. She wis a Community Warker recently posted tae Bo’ness. She hid visited various community groups an she wis struck bi hoo prood the memmers were o Bo’ness’s distinctive place in history, wi the yin location o the Kinneil Estate in parteecular haein multiple strang connections wi different time periods. Jacqueline hid plenty o wark tae dae but she cudnae resist spendin her free time researchin the history o Bo’ness an visitin the Kinneil Estate.

Jacqueline had been intrigued bi the local fowk tale an eldren lady named Catriona had telt her aboot at an efternuin club. Accordin tae legend, the nicht sky wis inhabited bi ill-deedie spirits wha cam doon tae earth fae lightnin strikes or e’en rays o muinlicht or starlicht. These spirits were cried sparkies an whan they reached Earth, they taen possession o whasomever wis still aboot at an ungodly oor. The sparkies only taen possession o ye for a few meenits but that wis eneuch time for them tae mak ye dae somethin daft or e’en unchancy. There were several variations on a story aboot illicit young lovers arrangin tae meet on the bridge ower the Gil Burn an aither the loon or the quine, an sometimes baith, bein fund in the burn the next mornin, haein met an untimely en.

Jacqueline cud find no written record o the curse o the sparkies legend so she wis visitin the Kinneil Estate for a third time tae see if she had missed oniethin. Jacqueline admired the sicht o Kinneil Hoose fae the distance. She liked hoo twa sandstane pillars, designed for noo absent gates, framed the hoose in the distance.

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“She liked hoo twa sandstane pillars, designed for noo absent gates, framed the hoose in the distance”

Jacqueline strolled up the lang path tae tak a closer leuk at the front o the hoose. She wud hae tae buik a place on yin o the tours o the inside o the biggin that were occasionally arranged. Jacqueline turned tae the left an leuked at the plaque on an estate wa. The plaque commemorated the fact that pairt o the route o anither, mair famous wa, the Antonine Wa, had passed tae the left o Kinneil Hoose.

Jacqueline went through an openin in the estate wa an walked the short distance tae see a modest wee stane cottage. This cottage had been biggit in 1768 as a warkshop for James Watt durin the time a business partner leased Kinneil Hoose fae the Hamiltons. Jacqueline thocht it wis a nice touch that a ceelinder fae an auld steam ingine o the period wis staunin ootside the cottage.

Jacqueline noo heided for the bridge ower the Gil Burn a few paces awa. The bridge wis covered in thick, gooey glabber so Jacqueline walked sidieweys alang the tap o yin o the laich dykes on each lang side o the bridge, haudin on tae the railin on tap o the dyke tae mak sure she didnae jyne the ill-fated lovers o the fowk tales at the boddom o the burn.

On crossin the bridge, Jacqueline follaed a narrow path tae a clearin. There wis yin survivin gable en o the auld Kinneil village kirk an a stane ootline o pairt o the rest o the biggin, aa that wis left o the auld place. Near the tap o the gable en, twin bell-shaped empty cavities testified tae the ruinous state o the biggin.

Jacqueline turned fae the gaze o the bell cavities an started tae retrace her steps. On exitin past the gate pillars, Jacqueline turned left an heided for the big hoose’s auld wee stable biggin that noo served as Kinneil Museum.

Location an time period: aa o space an time.

The emrites are at ane wi the electromagnetic radiation o space. The universe is thir playgrun. They zap aboot aa ower the universe an mak mair o the universe while daein it. They can be in ony place in multiple time periods at aince. The waves o the emrites leave echoes o thirsels on the planets thir activities form, contributin tae the evolution o conscious life on Earth. Human life on Earth is a primitive form o emrite life but ane trapped an limited bi biological form. The emrites are baith repulsed an fascinated bi this bounded life an they cannae resist the occasional spot o brain wave surfin, tunin in tae the brain waves o individual humans tae inhabit their minds for a spell an observe. They dinnae ettle tae interfere in human affairs, juist observe, but the process temporarily puts the humans in a trance-lik state. The best laid plans o humans an emrites gang aft agley…

Time period: 1768. Location: James Watt cottage, Kinneil Estate.

James Watt hid been warkin aa mornin an aa efternuin in his warkshop but he wisnae yet saitisfeed wi his latest adjustment tae an a’ready gey ricklie model ingine. He kent fine his twa-ceelinder contraption warked in theory; if only he cud calibrate it exack an if only he cud find a foundry tae mak the scaled-up real version o the pairts richt. E’en tho it wis stertin tae get daurk, James cudnae resist yin mair shot. Preceese timin wis necessary but he wis tholemoodie eneuch tae wait, juist as he wis thrawn eneuch tae hae anither an anither go.

The mistak he made, tho, wis tae leuk oot a windae for a saicant an catch sicht o the muin. An emrite wis richt in there…

James cam oot the trance juist in time tae see his ingine goin tapsalteerie wi ceelinders rattlin an pistons goin aa roads. James kent there wis naethin for it but tae dive oot the apen door-cheek as a ceelinder burst. He landed face doon wi his gub in the gooey glabber that slittered its wey across the Gil Burn bridge richt tae the stanes o the cottage.

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Echoes of an Industrial Revolution… “his ingine goin tapsalteerie wi ceelinders rattlin an pistons goin aa roads”: the James Watt Cottage next to Kinneil House

James got up, spirped the glabber fae his gub and dichted the clairt fae his een. He grinned; that wud be the day’s efforts feenished then, fine, but back at it early the morra. An that hid been an unco trance he hid been in. It hid felt lik somebody hid tapped intae his heid an wis yaisin it lik James yaised a tuil. James cudnae explain it. But ye never forgot these things. Ye observed an noted them an ye wud be ready tae deal wi them if ye cud the next time.

Time period: 1894. Location: Kinneil Pit, Bo’ness.

Young Andrew wis only twinty but he cud fair blast oot a tune on the trombone. He wis the youngest musician o the men an he wondered hoo lang it wud tak afore he wis nae langer automatically referred tae as Young Andrew. Andrew, lik maist o the men in the Kinneil Baun, wis a coal miner in the Kinneil Pit. They were addin a splash o colour tae the march o the miners fae Bo’ness tae Falkirk tae jyne up wi strikers fae ither pits for a rally. The trig uniforms o the musicians were also a declaration tae the mine offeecials an the polis that the strikers were civilized men wi just demands.

The miners gaithered at the pit gates an got the baun tae gang tae the front. The polis were staunin at the pit gates wi a mine offeecial in his bowler hat. The marchers gied a chant aboot the miners united ne’er bein defeated. Unfortunately, they hid a’ready been defeated a wheen o times ower the years but ye unerstuid the sentiment. Ye hid tae try, an the antrin victory wis tae be savoured. The chantin subsided so the baun sterted up a cantie tune. Mr. Bowler wis rid in the face, gesticulatin wi baith hauns, leukin at the polis an pyntin at the baun. So animated wis Mr. Bowler that he didnae notice that his hat wis noo sittin asklent on his neep.

‘This is ootrageous, absolutely ootrageous,’ yowled Mr. Bowler. ‘Efter aa we’ve done for yeez,’ he emphasised, knockin his hat aff wi his bobbin up an doon. Young Andrew waited until Mr. Bowler hid bent richt doon tae pick up his hat, wi his hin en stickin oot, tae let oot a rasp o the trombone.

‘Ootrageous, ootrageous!’ cried Mr. Bowler, fumblin tae put his hat back on an knockin it aff again. Mr. Bowler paused an leuked at the baun. He quickly bent doon again, tryin tae get back up swith but a tuba player hid been primed for action. At the richt time, he lat oot fae his muckle horn a laich, rumblin win blast.

‘Ye daurnae think yeez’ll be practisin in oor ha ivver again,’ Mr. Bowler declared.

‘Shove yer ha,’ Mr. Tuba answered back. ‘We’ll big oor ain!’

The polis sterted tae edge furrit an the atmosphere wis shairp wi tension, contrastin wi the clear licht blue mornin sky wi the muin still shinin. Young Andrew caucht sicht o the muin as he moved aff. An emrite struck. The polis edged furrit some mair, haudin thir truncheons. The marchers sterted tae gang quicker an some o them bumped intae the trombonist, knockin him ower. People warnae sure if it wis hittin his heid aff the grun that did it or if it wis gettin trampled. But Young Andrew wis deid.

Time period: 2020. Location: Kinneil Museum, Bo’ness.

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Kinneil Museum

Jacqueline marvelled aince mair at the wappin bell on display in Kinneil Museum wi its Latin inscription in dedication tae Saint Catherine. O the sparkies, hooanivver, she cudnae find a mention. Jacqueline did lairn aboot the Kinneil Baun, a famous tradeetional brass baun founded bi miners an iron workers in 1858. Jacqueline thocht it wis brilliant that the baun was still in existence tae this day an blawin thir trumpet, an aa thir ither instruments, aboot recent achievements.

Jacqueline felt sad, tho, at a passage on the wa panel aboot the baun. In 1894, the baun hid led a march o strikin miners. The panel described hoo a young trombonist wis killed in a stampede whan the polis edged furrit tae the marchers wi truncheons drawn. The trombonist somewey got knocked ower an dee’d in the stampede.

Jacqueline wisnae juist sad, she hid a nigglin queerie feelin that sumhin wisnae quite richt aboot this incident. She minded aboot the passage on the panel fae her earlier visits but the feelin still telt her that this passage shouldnae be there. Jacqueline wis lost in these thochts for a few meenits until she cam tae and walked alang tae anither exhibit. As she did, she saw oot a windae that it wis stertin tae get daurk. She cud see the muin was gearin up for the nicht.

An emrite seized its chance. But before the uswal trance taen fu effeck, Jacqueline sensed whit wis happenin tae her an focht back. Jacqueline in her mind wis noo stuck in a fremmit kin o ante-chaumer tae a’where.

‘Wha’s here wanderin thro ma mind athoot as much as a by yer lave?’ speired Jacqueline, feelin waves o connections fae innumerable sources splashin at her. Jacqueline taen a deep braith, or imagined daein it, steadied her mind and focused on the stryngest waves.

‘Okay, emrite, dinnae hide. A ken ye’re there. Come an face me.’

‘Hoo can ye dae that?’ speired the emrite, appearin in Jacqueline’s mind as a tangled ba o circles o wee spinnin lichts. ‘Lat yer mind drift as if ye were goin tae sleep an A’ll dae ma business an this will aa bi ower wi in nae time.’

‘A cannae dae that,’ said Jacqueline. ‘In here, A ken whit you ken. An afore ye dae onythin, ye’re goin tae tak me wi ye back tae 1894 an mak yersel release Young Andrew afore the marchers stampede. A ken you’re stuck here the same as me an A’m no allooin ye tae leave unless ye dae whit ye’re telt.’

‘Huh! Nonsense!’ cried the emrite. ‘Yer knawledge is leemited wi yer puny biological form. Whit ye ken is pairtly the truth but ye’re cobblin bits an pieces thegither that ye cud nivver fully unnerstaun an crudely translatin it wi a human frame o reference. Namin me an ma kind “emrites” is an example. Ye’re drawin on some auld scientific tinkerer wha studied electromagnetic radiation. Ye’re ontae somethin, tho. No bad for a puny biologic. Oh an ye taen me bi surprise but A’m biggin up ma strenth again an will suin owerpower ye.’

‘That is whaur A come in,’ said James Watt. ‘A’ve been waitin for anither episode an this time A concentrated ma mind an follaed the connections. A think ye’ll find that ye cannae escape the strenth o twa e’en puny thrawn minds. Twa chaumers, ye maun e’en say,’ he chuckled.

‘A’m no as clever as him,’ said Servius, ‘but A wis pu’d alang wi his connection. A hae the disciplined mind o a sodger an A’ll help yeez control this wee nyaff tae.’

‘Why should the men hae aa the fun?’ Catherine joked. ‘A got dragged here in the wake tae but A hae a strang mind tae thole a lot, ken? So A’m in as weel.’

‘Honestly, this is madderam,’ appealed the emrite. ‘Interference is no alloo’d, only observation.’

‘But ye’ve a’ready interfered. Andrew didnae dee originally,’ said Jacqueline.

‘Och, aye, A didnae mean that,’ said the emrite. ‘This is heichly irregular but very weel.’

The quartet o human minds rode the waves wi the emrite tae 1894. The emrite caused extra sunspots tae appear as he met himsel and persuaded himsel tae leave afore the polis edged furrit.

Jacqueline cam tae. She walked back tae the panel aboot the baun. She smiled; there wis naethin aboot a death. She hoped that Andrew went on tae a lang an happy life.

‘Jacqueline,’ said the emrite poppin back intae her mind instantly, ‘you hae a strang connection wi us noo. Whan we need ye, we’ll be back.’

© Tony Beekman, 2020

Drone photo

Kinneil Estate… 2,000 years of Scotland’s history