Saturday 30 November 2013

Empire of Austria-Hungary Advent Calendar

Mathematicians amongst you will probably now have finished your calculations and concluded that next year is 2014, a full one hundred years since 1914 and the beginning of The Great War. The Great War was something of a red letter day for my favourite of all the empires, Austria-Hungary. So much land, so much history, so much culture, so little coastline. Not for them, the weekly chore of chasing the seagulls off of the bins. Within just over four years of the commencement of hostilities in July 1914, this once great union had been shattered into its constituent parts and Franz Joseph had to get a job in McDonald's.

It's hard to be too sympathetic, mind you. Commiserating with the leadership of Austria-Hungary about the cataclysmic consequences of the Great War is akin to rushing to get a wet wipe for your next door neighbour who, upon finding that your cat had pooed on his finely-manicured lawn, attempted to throw it back over the hedge only to have it blow back into his eye. As strategic blunders go, it was a bit of a shocker.

But never mind, a century on and it's all still there. Better still, the vast majority of the peoples who would formerly have fallen under the aegis of the imperial system now find themselves living in smaller, thriving, modern democracies. It is arguable, therefore, that the assassins of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo all those years ago are somewhat heroic figures. The people who argue this are, of course, wrong-brained idiots. But I salute their freedom to argue it.

I also salute the Empire of Austria-Hungary. A great bunch of lads. In order to begin the remembrance of the hundredth anniversary of a monumental year in the history of humankind, I thought I would mark the build-up to Christmas with an AUSTRIA-HUNGARY ADVENT CALENDAR. You heard. Twenty-four notable people born in that imperial dynasty (1867-1918). Maybe you will learn something. Maybe it will just keep you together until the inevitable post-Christmas suicides begin. Either way, keep your eyes pointed in this blog's general direction for the next three and a half weeks. Literally a minute (total) of entertainment awaits!

Thursday 28 November 2013

Scottish independence, a cryptozoological perspective

The Slightly-Less United Kingdom: the shape of things to come?

I've not given the Scottish independence debate an awful lot of thought, really. Beside my standard response to any prospective ripple of change disturbing my own little pond - which is fear and panic, of course - I've largely been of the viewpoint that in the case of any referendum taking place over 400 miles from where I live and in which I don't get a vote probably isn't really anything of my concern. Aside from a few procedural queries - what would happen to the Union Flag? Will I need a passport to get into Scotland? What now for shortbread? - I remain admirably placid.

Until today, that is, when I realised that the United Kingdom would be losing its only cryptid of note to another sovereign nation. This is a complete disaster and it needs to be addressed in parliament as soon as possible. The Nessie question.

Loch Ness: goodbye to all that

The Loch Ness Monster is possibly the most famous cryptozoological creature in the world. Only our hairier cousin (or less hairy cousin, if you come from Dorset) the Bigfoot can hope to rival it. It is by far and away the most important possibly-exigent creature in the UK today. A Union without Scotland would have to completely revise what it believed in.

Because, to put it simply, the Loch Ness Monster exists whereas all of the middling British cryptids that skulk in her shadow are probably don't. There is every chance, indeed, that they are in fact merely the fevered imaginings of people who are quite deeply unbalanced in some way. The question of what would give a Scotland-less Union its air of magical mystery is a difficult one to answer. Britain is an ancient land and it relies on its essential cryptid economy for its very survival. It is, perhaps, going to prove the final irony that it was only in killing the last remaining dragon that St. George was able to found the first English settlements.

Nessie: voting YES on Scottish independence

It is certainly an issue important enough to begin to address now, rather than waiting on the results of next year's vote. Britain's most senior post-Nessie cryptid must be decided ahead of time. There cannot be any sort of cryptozoological interregnum in this sceptred isle; that would be a breeding ground for panic, dissension and claimed sightings of all manner of three-headed goats. I don't for a moment claim to be clued-up enough to be able to predict the likely outcome of the Scottish independence referendum. All I do know is, it's not something that those of us to the south of Hadrian's Wall can afford to make assumptions about or adapt to on the hoof. Nessie herself is probably pretty much in the "pro" camp. A lot like Sean Connery, with the additional benefit that she actually lives in Scotland.

To this end, I have been dredging up all the peculiar beings that England, Wales and Northern Ireland have to offer, in order to find a potential replacement for Nessie should one become required from 2014 onwards. Here are the front-running candidates.


Advantages: For a start, just look at the thing. The power of flight is also a significant bonus after a century of a rather more geographically-limited Top Cryptid. Also, the Owlman is a known sheep attacker, an always welcome Cryptozoological meme.

Disadvantages: The capacity for flight is a double-edged sword. Defections to Ireland or France remain a possibility, making the Owlman an unreliable choice. There's also the troublingly likely possibility that it's just a Cornish malcontent wearing feathery pyjamas, working through a series of highly ritualised but ultimately unsuccessful suicide attempts.


Advantages: In addition to a name which is guaranteed to capture the imagination, the Beast of Bodmin Moor is also much more fierce than the Loch Ness Monster ever was, and more proactive. Unless Nessie starts to pull sheep from the banks of the Loch, the beast offers a far more tantalising mortal threat.

Disadvantages: Let's not beat about the bush, it's probably just an escaped big cat. Or a nutter. Or nothing.


Advantages: Unlike the Owlman and the Beast of Bodmin, who are both of a more bucolic disposition, the Kentish Apeman brings a frisson of cryptozoological terror into the more densely populated English home counties. With fewer sheep to bother, this Bigfoot will surely have to start preying on dogs, cats or teenagers with paper rounds, a welcome trope in the study of mythological creatures.

Disadvantages: Very badly lacking in any real caché, an English bigfoot would only add to the already swollen tales of hominids from throughout world folklore. The only potential for originality would be in naming the beast, so that it might be distinct from its hairy brethren the Saquatch, Yeti, Hibagon or Almasti. Also, knowing Kent it's probably just a hairy bloke.


Advantages: From Abersoch, this Welsh condender could possibly give off enough of an air of inclusiveness that would prevent another country buggering off because they hate English people.

Disadvantages: At just a foot long, a skulky brown insect-eating lizard is hardly likely to set any pulses racing. However, this could be the ideal cryptid for home pest control use during the hot summer months.


Advantages: Fierce, massive, violent, psychopathic and terrifying. Also, its definite existence and ease of location are both a serious boon, after a century of pilgrimage to Loch Ness.

Disadvantages: Perhaps a little too commonplace to really be outstanding, Shiny the cat's key excluding criteria is in fact the high probability that he will fuck you up. Nevertheless, a leading candidate.


Now we're getting somewhere.


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