Battle, Battle Re-enactment, Battlefield, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Destiny, Drugs, Duke of Cumberland, Dwarf, Edinburgh, Highlanders, History, Humor, Jacobites, Nationalism, Peter Pininski, Psychoanalysis, Redcoats, Reincarnation, Satire, Scotland, Scottish Nationalism, The Battle of Culloden, The Young Pretender, Warfare, Warrior
I first met the Swedish dwarf Marco at a party in a Cowgate tenement. To my complete surprise, he waddled up to me and introduced himself, and he then related how James had told him practically everything about me, and before too long I found myself imprisoned helplessly inside one of his interminable conversations, like a bedraggled speck of an insect struggling to tear itself free of a spider’s web.
Talking to Marco is somewhat uncomfortable because I am six foot four, and, as I think I have already mentioned, he is a dwarf.
He is over fifty and he has a shiny red face – so shiny and daintily handsome that it looks as if it has been painted on his head by a German toymaker. There was some odd substance matted through his long grey hair which, with a slight turn of the stomach, I realised was vomit.
Looking back on that meeting, it was hatred at first sight.
“Biggy!” Marco was dancing on the spot with excitement, “James has also told me that you read lots of books!”
“Well, I am not an absolute philistine…”
“Excellent!” he paused to relish the moment. “It’s such a great privilege to talk with somebody who is educated… Such an opportunity…” It was as if I had returned a satisfactory Masonic handshake and I was now established as his conspirator. He became very chummy with me – perhaps we had been friends for years. He started to chatter away endlessly – rather as small children do – about his favourite subject of reincarnation.
“In my previous lives I was a high priest in the Egyptian pyramids, and then I was a duchess in eighteenth century England and the lover of Admiral Nelson, and then I was a lieutenant of Che Guevara, and then I was at Woodstock, and now, finally, I have reached the twelfth stage of the cosmic cycle – the great uber soul – and in my present body, I combine all of the qualities of my earlier personalities – the masculine and the feminine, the aristocratic and the working man, all the races and the sexualities – into a huge, complete cosmic personality!”
“But you’re a dwarf,” I pointed out.
He almost blinked, but in less than a moment this beached dolphin had been washed back to sea with an easy smile and a shrug. “It’s funny how the cycles work.” I would learn that Marco’s idiocy was apparently forged from titanium and that however much reason and logic it encountered, it would never sustain a scratch. If God and all his angels had descended and delivered a Power-Point presentation on “Why Marco Is Wrong,” Marco would just laugh merrily that everybody was entitled to an opinion and that nobody’s opinion was invalid.
“But you are a great soul, Biggy, I can tell… You must have been a warrior in all your previous lives… Maybe fighting at Agincourt or for Attila the Hun. You are Year of the Bear?”
“There is no Year of the Bear!”
“Ox. Year of the Ox. But one of the final stages in the cosmic cycle. You are a noble soul.”
James had sneaked up behind Marco and he now jumped forward and shook him by the shoulders. Marco wobbled, grinding his teeth insanely. “Biggy, you’ve met Marco! Isn’t he wonderful?” James hoisted Marco up and hugged him like a teddy bear, leaving his little legs dangling in the air. “Aren’t you gorgeous?”
After various declarations of affection had been exchanged between himself and James, Marco scampered away to get some beers. “During his life, he’s done an awful lot of drugs,” I told James.
“Really?” James looked startled.
“I can tell – I know about this subject. His eyes can never focus on the same thing. He’s constantly blinking and trembling. He’s perpetually trapped in a sort of minor epileptic fit, or a continual stroke. His brain is haywire, all scrambled up.”
But James looked impressed rather than discouraged. “Wow!”
Later in the week, I arrived at James’ apartment to discuss the fortunes of our website, and I was displeased to find my eyes falling to the dumpy little figure who was opening the door to me. Marco was apparently dressed as an Aztec priest and he was flourishing a ceremonial tambourine. All of the lamps in the apartment were switched off and James was lying half-buried in a sort of sandpit, whilst the chanting of monks floated from the hi-fi speakers.
“We should not disturb him,” Marco confided. “He has travelled back to the eighteenth century.” Wherever James had found himself, he sounded distressed – he was kicking and moaning horribly.
“Can you bring him back?” I asked tersely.
Marco beamed. “I shall perform the dance which calls him back through the centuries.” He began to stomp about, whooping and beating on his tambourine, and James gradually revived. He sat up in his sandpit.
“It was very vivid. There were bodies everywhere and this great smell of blood. I felt very sick.”
“We’re making fantastic progress!” Marco cried warmly, clapping James on the back. “Shall we tell Biggy?”
“Please!” James nodded. “There are no secrets between us.”
“James and I have an announcement to make!” Marco declared proudly. “We have made a great discovery!”
“Knock me out.”
“In his previous life, James was Bonnie Prince Charlie.”
“Oh brilliant!” I snapped. “Yes, very good…”
“Isn’t it wonderful? James has such a famous soul! A glamorous soul!”
“I feel complete!” James said simply.
“It’s inspired!” I growled. “But there is just one small error with your discovery…”
Marco’s eyes flickered slightly, as if a butterfly had sworn at him as it flew past.
“Yes, “ I continued savagely, “…you thought that James would be flattered to learn that he’s a reincarnation of Bonnie Prince Charlie, except that he’s not Scottish at all. He’s English you buffoon!”
Foreigners in Edinburgh can never tell the difference between these two nationalities.
Marco remained admirably undeterred. “But this is how the cosmic process works – the historical warfare between these two peoples can be overcome with James’ discovery that he was the Prince.”
“And there’s another thing! James is presently reading Peter Pininski’s new biography of Bonnie Prince Charlie and I imagine that he is merely unconsciously reciting passages of this book in your hypnotic sandpit sessions!”
This is how the cosmic process works. Hypnosis teaches us that the unconscious mind has the same boorish interest in soap operas and romantic novels as its conscious ambassador. I once read a case study of a woman who was put under hypnosis and duly revealed that in a previous life she had worked at a nuclear power plant in a small American town. The study had to be abandoned after the woman continued that the town was called Springfield, that she had a wife with yellow skin and blue hair, and that her boss was named Mr Burns.
“Biggy,” James scolded me. “Do you feel nothing? No wonder or awe…?” But James and Marco suddenly realised that the cat was beginning its little defecation ceremony in the sandpit and they were both on their feet yelling at it.
Things came to a head the next weekend. Tori had invited James and I to dine at her grandfather’s castle off the coast of Kiltoch. After I had hired the car and turned up at James’ apartment to collect him, I found Marco waiting – he had apparently invited himself. I was dismayed because I had wanted to have a serious conversation with James in the car, but it could hardly be conducted under the nose of this fruitcake.
“Do we need a child’s seat?” I fumed.
But James tottered towards me carrying a large pile of cushions. “He should be okay on these.”
Marco surveyed the car with satisfaction. “You know, I feel drawn to this car. Perhaps I drove it in a previous life.”
“Perhaps it was a carriage in its previous life, and you rode about in it with Admiral Nelson,” I suggested angrily. Marco agreed that this was a possibility.
Driving to Kiltoch, we learned that Marco was a fan of Elton John – he produced a CD of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” and he and James sang along ferociously. I warned that unless they stopped, I would drive the car through a brick wall. Yet as we were bickering, there was suddenly a disturbance in the road ahead.
Rows of cars were parked into a huge gleaming shield, but against the dark landscape these vehicles looked curiously insubstantial – like Airfix models which were so light that a puff of wind might blow them away. Perhaps the families which apparently drifted around them had been glued to the ground as decoration. For we were driving across a huge black plain, which the elements lashed with spite, the wind snarling and muttering to itself like a spinster in a supermarket. In the teeth of this hatred, trailer vans were selling fast food and beer in plastic glasses, and then one shuddered slightly at the reckless indiscretion of colourful costumes, the rattling of drums, and the jaunty trill of pipes.
We had accidentally come across a re-enactment of the Battle of Culloden.
A policeman flagged the car to a stop. “I’m afraid that there’s a twenty-eight mile detour… But if you’re interested, the battle is just about to begin.” A BBC helicopter was suddenly in the sky overhead and the policeman was drowned out.
The Redcoats were already on the field. At first, they appeared impressive, until one looked closer and realised that the army was so large because it was made up of tourists and history enthusiasts rather than realistic soldiers, and that many of the Redcoats were inappropriately aged, plump and bespectacled. Before long, one was picking out whole families. There were toddlers brandishing little bayonets, women with prams, and at one point I spotted a severely disabled Redcoat in a wheelchair with an attendant nurse and a drip feed.
I would later learn that most of the participants had flown over from the States for the battle, and this explained why there were eight times more Jacobites than Redcoats. A prominently displayed Bonnie Prince Charlie, on a shining white horse, commanded an army comprised mostly of family history researchers and college pipe bands; there were as many Maple Leafs and Stars and Stripes as Saltires; and there were so many brand new kilts that it was uncertain whether Charlie was leading an army or a gigantic wedding.
We had climbed out of our car to survey the battlefield, finding ourselves unpleasantly peppered with ice cold rain, but James was suddenly wheezing and snorting and before I could address this new situation, he was hurtling straight towards the Redcoats.
The Highlanders evidently believed that the charge had begun and a significant majority had soon swung in at James’ heels, belting out what sounded like fifty separate versions of “Flower of Scotland” and “Donald Where’s Yeh Troosers?” Marco and I were by now also chasing to recover James, and I could distinguish the tiny pathetic figure of the “official” Bonnie Prince Charlie gesticulating furiously in an effort to reassert his authority. It seemed that everybody had been provided with a printed programme of the battle, and that insufficient attention was now being paid to these guidelines.
A painted, pantomime Duke of Cumberland stood appalled, clasping his programme helplessly, as James and his Highlanders raced up to attack him. James seized a broadsword from the nearest hands, kicked the Duke to the ground, and then lopped off his head with a single stroke.
A great jet of blood hit James in the face, blinding him, and so he had to stop and paw frantically at his face whilst his army flowed past him. The Redcoats were now fleeing in disarray. A fat Texan with a huge walrus moustache and Bermuda shorts had picked up the decapitated head and he was waving it at his wife.
“Gee, they’ve put so much work into the special effects!” The wife snapped the head on her phone. The Texan patted the head’s cheeks and his own smile became slightly stuck.
An official in a fluorescent jacket was wading towards James with a loudspeaker, admonishing the Jacobites and bellowing at everybody to “stick to the programme!” James felled the official with the flat of his sword and he then snatched at the loudspeaker.
“People of Scotland! Today we are triumphant!” He paused to regard the Redcoats running for the safety of the car park. “We now march on England!”
There were wild cheers from the Jacobites and groans of dismay from the officials. The Jacobite army were now rolling on to meet their next challenge, which would probably involve mounted police and tear gas. Meanwhile, I had despaired of catching up with James and so I had returned to retrieve the hire car. I then drove straight into the heart of the battle, playing Elton John at full volume to warn the soldiers out of my way and ignoring those beating on the sides of the car and trying to push it over.
I parked in front of the Jacobite high command, knocking one hapless clansman to the ground and folding him under the car. Batting away the swords and carbines, I grabbed at James roughly. “Get in the car!”
There was no recognition – or even sense – in James’ eyes. “What is this “car” of which you speak?”
“Get in the fucking car!” I screamed, picking him up and tossing him inside like a suitcase. Marco tried to follow, his little hands grasping at the skirts of my coat, but I dug my palm into his forehead and pushed him back.
“You can stay here! In your precious eighteenth century,” I spat. I turned to the crowd – “This dwarf works for the English!” I doubt that they lynched him – there were no trees on the battlefield for a start – but that was the last that we ever saw of Marco.
Once we were back on the road to Kiltoch, James had collected a smattering of his wits, but he had no memory of the battle and he could not understand why he was caked in blood. I told him that the dwarf had simply exploded. Watching the television news later that evening, it was reported from the field that the actor playing the Duke of Cumberland had been tragically killed in a freak accident amidst all the pageantry. They interviewed somebody from T Mobile, who were sponsoring the Duke (their logo was displayed amongst his regimental colours), and the mobile phone executive paid a fulsome tribute to the actor from some conference centre which was officially annexed to the battlefield. It is a headache to fulfil all of the licensing requirements for these events and to comply with the various firearms regulations, and so the poor organisers had probably hushed up the Duke’s death just to get a bit of peace.
The television reporter was tastefully droll about the paradox of the Duke of Cumberland dying in the Battle of Culloden, but she did not register the full irony that only centuries after his death Bonnie Prince Charlie had, at least vicariously, had his day.