Aristocracy, Barack Obama, Bigot, Bigotry, Cosmopolitanism, Drugs, Drumnadrochit, Edinburgh, Edinburgh Tourism, Flamingos, Folklore, Hoax, Horror, Humor, Lenin, Lithuania, Loch Ness, Loch Ness Monster, Nationalism, Nessie, Scotland, Scottish Highlands, Scottish Nationalism, Tourism, Urquhart Castle, Walrus, Whisky
Last summer, our website was approached by a Lithuanian entrepreneur who wanted to borrow our brains for a couple of weeks. Several years ago, during that giddy, frantic period when nobody else had yet thought of the idea, Jurgis had launched a Lithuanian travel agency, which introduced well-to-do Lithuanian tourists to the charms of Edinburgh; put them up in hotels where Lithuanian-speaking waiters served them dumplings and beetroot, or whatever they eat for breakfast in Lithuania; and then sent them off in buses on a circuit of Scottish tourist attractions, all under the obliging supervision of Lithuanian-speaking tour guides.
The least profitable outlet in Jurgis’ travel empire was his Lithuanian Loch Ness visitor centre, a poky little hut which stood in the shadow of a thriving Tesco on the outskirts of Drumnadrochit. Lithuanian visitors were naturally attracted by the prospect of a “monster,” but the trouble with the Loch Ness specimen was that he was not nearly monstrous enough.
Once folklore had required a huge slimy fiend who could be relied upon to frighten small children away from the Loch’s dangerous waters, but now most visitors to the region wanted to glimpse the monster rather than to recoil from his ungodliness, and Nessie had been accordingly reimagined as a handsome darling, as cheerful and as family-friendly as a wee Scotty dog. Indeed, Nessie was now often envisaged as being rather like a Highland terrier and he was typically portrayed in a tartan bonnet and kilt. In modern tales, he would appear as rarely as the sunshine, but when he did so it was pure magic, his big friendly face looming happily to promise the perfect tourist moment.
There was no dread to this myth. Nessie did not attack and eat lonely strangers. Disembowelled cattle would never be his work. And the Lithuanians found all of this to be rather tiresome. They would yawn their way around the Loch, and remind each other that a whisky distillery was next on their itinerary. And in fairness to them, they were not children, so why was Scottish tourism turning such a majestic landscape and such dire, black water into a silly Disneyland fairytale?
Jurgis wanted to give Nessie a makeover, and to equip him with some lethal teeth and a shot of cold reptilian menace. James and I met him to brainstorm over some pints in The Greyfriars Bobby. Jurgis was a jovial, energetic man, who ran his business like a guerrilla campaign, sending his staff scampering from one calamity to the next in a transport of harebrained panic. But he would brood over Nessie in the dead of night, like a guy who has lost his girlfriend, with his offices abandoned and biting down his last drink of the day. Gazing at the ring at the bottom of his whisky glass, he would wonder how he could make history.
Luckily, James was full of ideas. I had imagined that I would have a miserable time wading about in the Loch in a fancy dress costume and hoping that those passing by would be game enough to post footage of my antics on Youtube. But James has a friend for every occasion and on this occasion he would acquaint us with Lord Cuddy’s walrus.
James and I drove down to the borders the next afternoon to view the animal, with Jurgis following in a white van. Cuddy Castle was, to put it bluntly, a ruin. In the 1920s, Lord Cuddy had resolved to engineer and finance a Communist revolution in Glasgow, but he had failed to achieve Soviet backing after, on a fact-finding mission to the Soviet Union, he had met Lenin at the British embassy and mistaken him for a waiter. Lord Cuddy had asked the great revolutionary to boil him an egg for breakfast and then cursed his “confounded impertinence” when it was slow in coming and too runny. James had previously bid to ghostwrite the Lord’s memoirs for our website.
Only Lord Cuddy and his butler now lived in the castle, and both of them were completely gone. The butler was deaf and blind, and devastated by arthritis, but he had performed the same daily routine for over sixty years and he could still serve a three course luncheon without spilling a drop of soup. Since the death of his last grandchild, Lord Cuddy had been labouring under the delusion that he was Barack Obama, and the Lord could be often observed striding around his farmyard, posing very dramatically before the henhouse, and stirring his collection of forlorn looking chickens with the news that “change is now” and “we should strive to endeavour.”
Most of his family’s personal menagerie had died from neglect, but he still possessed an ancient and very distinguished looking walrus, which I observed airing itself on the back lawn in the company of three strutting flamingos which looked almost like his daughters. James bought the walrus for less than three pounds, which delighted the Lord although, being Barack Obama, he wanted the payment in dollars. Fortunately, Jurgis had some Lithuanian litas to hand and we were able to persuade the President that they were the currency of his homeland.
After beating and kicking the walrus for about twenty minutes, we were able to force him into the back of the van, and Jurgis drove the animal off to his headquarters in Drumnadrochit. The flamingos were incandescent at the kidnapping of their patriarch, and James and I were treated to some vicious pecking before we reached the shelter of our car.
The greatest danger was that our walrus would be mistaken for a walrus, and so Jurgis would paint him green and drape some bunting around him to distract from his ivory tusks. I had assumed that obtaining the necessary drugs would be difficult, but our trip to the vitamins store beneath James’ apartment proved to be a surprisingly easy affair. We learned that high androgen steroids would boost the walrus’ aggression, and we purchased a regime of parabolen and some cheque drops. The animal would be sedated and then left beside the Loch to revive, with the steroids planted in a basket of herring beside his body. Doctored fish would have to be regularly deposited around the Loch to keep the walrus on a roll. We sent the drugs to Jurgis by motorbike courier and then awaited the results.
Nothing happened. Three days passed and our walrus had not even been sighted. Then, as I was preparing to drive up to Drumnadrochit, a story broke on BBC News that a strange looking creature had been observed swimming in furious, frantic circles in the middle of Loch Ness. The RSPB had dispatched a little boat to investigate, but it had somehow capsized and sunk without a trace. Those observing from the shore had agreed that there was now a bright red pool floating in the centre of the Loch. Two hours later, a seagull had alighted on a picnic table in Drumnadrochit with a gnawed human hand hanging from its beak.
“Looks promising,” James chirped as he waved off my car.
I met Jurgis in the grounds of Urquhart Castle and we gazed over the shining shield of water, with the anticipation of Romans surveying the arena before the arrival of the gladiators. Jurgis could not stop beaming and we chatted away excitedly about Nessie’s second coming, before being suddenly silenced by a snort of exasperation from a fisherman who was watching over the loch like a little gnome. This gnome was very grimly knobbly kneed under his kilt, his grandfather’s pipe was clamped between his teeth, and his wee tartan bonnet gleamed as brightly as the wisdom in his blue eyes.
“Fucking Polish cunts,” he snarled. “Why don’t ye fuck off back tae yeh own country?”
He was right, of course – one should always be quiet when somebody is fishing nearby – and I duly struggled to suppress my rising annoyance. But this gnome’s dander was up, he thought that taking on these two younger men by himself must naturally give his quarrel a righteous justice, and he advanced towards us looking very dangerous.
“Yeh a fucking pair of spivs. This isna yeh country. Fuck off back tae Poland.”
Jurgis looked deeply hurt and his eyes became as huge and as shiny as snooker balls. He turned to me. “What is his problem? What have we done to him?” He stepped within punching distance of the man and appealed to his sense of fairness. “I don’t want to upset you…”
“This is a quiet place,” the hoary old bigot muttered, his voice richly stony and full of thistles. “It is a peaceful, quiet place. We don’t need shouting here. We don’t need noise. We just want a bit of quiet…” Unfortunately, there was a bite on the gnome’s line, and he was both trying to advance towards us and being pulled back towards the shore at the same time. We lost the thread of his ranting as he was dragged helplessly away to battle with a trout.
“There is something to what he is saying,” I reflected. “The point of Loch Ness is that it is a vast, sublime emptiness. It contains more water than all of England’s lakes put together, but few fish and certainly no monster. The Loch exemplifies the scale and the oblivion of Nature, and this never-ending tomfoolery about a monster attempts to float a little toy which can safely represent all of its dark mystery.”
Jurgis agreed. It seemed like an act of desecration to put a monster in this Loch, to impose our childish caprice on to a power which should remain as pure and as certain as a gigantic heart. We stopped putting down steroids for the walrus, incurring the wrath of James who tyrannised us with a series of furious and increasingly desperate phone calls, until we finally discovered the walrus dozing under some trees, snoring gently and with his green paint peeling off as if he was a ship which had voyaged all around the tropics. We sedated the walrus, perched a duffle coat around his shoulders and plopped a crushed old hat on his head. He was dumped in the lobby of a Drumnadrochit nursing home. On sunny days, he slumbers in a deckchair on the terrace with a pint of stout. The matron despairs of ever scrubbing away his fishy aroma.
[There is some enjoyable material about Nessie here and here. Tychy previously submitted similar tall tales about the return of Bonnie Prince Charlie and a volcanic eruption in central Edinburgh. Ed.]