Leith’s Citadel Arts Group have today launched Whaling Days, a book of recollections about this long lost Leith industry, with an event at the Trafalgar Lodge.
The group, who are regulars at Leith Festival with their local history plays, work with older residents to collect stories of times past. This new book is the culmination of over two years work on the topic. Originally, the intention had been to produce a single short play – Jim Brown’s Whit Aboot The Wimmen? – which featured at last year’s festival. But chats with the ex-whalers and their relatives, many of whom are here today, hauled in so many stories, the project expanded to also include this book and a second play.
For the book’s launch, it’s a full house at the Masonic lodge, a little-known building hidden in plain sight next to Lidl’s car park off Kirkgate.
The book’s contributors eagerly share some choice anecdotes with the audience; it’s sometimes hard to get them to stop. Many are now octogenarians, though you wouldn’t know it, and the youngest, John McLean, a mere 74 years old, blackly jokes about how they’ll soon disappear into oblivion.
The jesting masks a serious point – document this now or it’ll be lost to history. Social and economic histories of the industry have already been written, but the personal ones haven’t, until now. And what stories! There can be few more eye-opening experiences for a fifteen year old lad than a nine month trip to the Antarctic. The fact these last whalers talk with such clarity about it sixty years on is testament to its formative power.
Another ex-whaler, James Yorkston (not that one) addresses the elephant in the room – with a better understanding of ecology, we now protect the whale, not hunt it for bounty. He seems glad of that. But, he adds, those days after the war were tough, and the whaling was needed, for the men and for the economy.
Others talk of the parties that were had by the Christian Salvesen company staff back on shore. Some more isolated colleagues stayed in South Georgia year round, as there wasn’t anything for them to come home to.
Alongside the launch, Malky, the second of Brown’s whaling plays, was due its first outing. Sadly, the sudden illness of a cast member has forced its cancellation. Instead, we’re treated to a reprise screening of Whit About The Wimmen?, filmed at Leith Dockers last year. There’s also some sprightly, jocular musical interludes. Malky will get its debut at Leith Dockers sometime in the future.
In the meantime, anyone wanting to get a hold of this evocative new book, priced £6, can contact Citadel Arts’ Liz Hare on [email protected]