The Bluebottle Boys: Our Abandoned, Bombed Out Cinema

The Bluebottle Boys – Chapter 3, Part 3 – Edgbaston & Birmingham, Spring 1961: Our Abandoned, Bombed Out Cinema

Bombed Out CinemaNote: The featured pic is of the entrance to an abandoned, bombed out cinema, such as the one Reggie and Stan play in.

The connection with our favorite abandoned, bombed out cinema was rather more complex. It too had been damaged in the Blitz, probably beyond repair. It carried on the roles we’d assigned it as Frankenstein’s castle and the Phantom of the Opera’s subterranean lair. But now we’d assigned it a few additional roles. A dragon’s den, a haunted cathedral, or – in a nod to Stan’s recent interest in Southern Gothic – a sinister, shadowy, decaying plantation mansion. It was built and occupied in antebellum days, but now vacant and draped in Spanish moss, or an old showboat, stranded deep in a dense, ghostly bayou.

At times, though, we’d be no more than ourselves. Covering each square centimeter by using a technique I’d discovered in a book from the school library. The place remained no more than a bombed-out cinema. I’d told Stan about the technique, and we’d had successful test runs. Our minds taking in the school as though filming it, before using it at our cinema. Shambling about like some variant of the somnambulist in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, incessantly staring, our eyes open as continuously as we could. We’d try not to look at anything in particular, but to take in everything, in the way a camera might.

Later, at home, we’d rewind and replay all these impressions. Closing our eyes, viewing them as one might a motion picture.


Along with the copies of J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that I’d asked for, my birthday loot that year had included two LPs of what was then considered “experimental music,” much of it electronic. The first consisted of two works by Karlheinz Stockhausen: “Kontakte” and “Gesang der Jünglinge”. The other was Volume 1 of a set covering the works of Edgar Varèse, including” Integrales,” “Ionisation”. And finally, what became my two personal favorites, “Density 21.5” and “Poème Électronique.”

“Just what every nine-year-old needs,” many people might have said, rolling their eyes. Most of the time, they’d have been right. But, Stan and I’d fallen in love with this music in a matter of weeks. We found that it helped to focus, rather than diminish, our concentration and our memory. We successfully used it as we studied for our midterms. It made recollection of our mentally filmed observations manifest more clearly. So we’d “film” in our minds virtually every part of our favorite bombed-out cinema, from the ceiling to the floor, including the stairways, hallways, fire escapes, balconies and lobbies, then go home, listen to “Poème Électronique,” “Kontakte” or other piece, as the images ran in new, sharp detail, more lucid and vivid than they’d ever been before.

Sometimes other images, individually personal to Stan or me, would also appear.

Stan claimed to have come face to face with Ganesha. The elephant-headed remover of obstacles and instigator of new beginnings, up in the balcony. He’d gazed at Krishna and Arjuna from a landing on the fire escape, as they disappeared into the night, riding in a flying chariot.

Mine were more prosaic, albeit creepier: Nosferatu, from the silent film of the same name, lurking on the stairs, or a shrouded woman standing at the other end of the balcony, pointing at me. A procession of hooded monks from a long-forgotten film on knights in armor stood before remnants of the curtain. In the balcony lounge, where a snack bar should’ve been, I saw a different sort of empty bar, long, lonely and lavish, from 1880s Europe. From it, I’d wander down ever-darkening halls to a garret room, equally lonely and empty, but small, spartan and dimly lit, containing scarcely more than a tiny table, a small single bed, standing mirror and rickety easel, a half-completed painting upon it.

It was all very exciting (if just a bit chilling at times), but, in more reflective moments, I couldn’t help wondering what it all meant and from where these visions might actually be coming.

© 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.

It’s coming — coming soon. Volume One of The Bluebottle Boys. Stay tuned for details. The Third Edition of “Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall” (the version you saw serialised last year) is available now in paperback at Amazon.

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G. H. McCallum

G. H. McCallum is author of the Reggie Stone series, the first of which, Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall, was released on 12 December 2014; look for the second, The Bluebottle Boys, in late spring of 2016. He blogs principally on the 1960s, Victoriana and magic realism.