The History of Early Scotland
Abraham was the ancestor of the Scottish people. As the Bible records, he went from Ur of the Chaldees to Israel. A generation or so later, famine drove his descendents to Egypt. They lived there until taxes got so high they were replaced with actual slavery. God helped them get back to Israel.
You know the story. With God’s help, the Twelve Tribes prospered so much that when David became King, he was able to organize the Israelites and conquer surrounding areas. His religious, political, and economic systems were built on his great faith and obedience. God rewarded David by giving him a powerful country and, after his death, allowed his son, Solomon, to build an even bigger, wealthier Kingdom. It was the envy of all. The country was so rich that no one minded the taxing and spending that Solomon needed to establish lots of government programs.
After a huge round of building, marrying, and straying into the worship of false gods, Solomon died. His son, Rehoboam, was crowned King. On taking office, King Rehoboam promptly announced a very large tax increase.
A few minutes later, the ten northern tribes packed up and left. Rehoboam had gone from being king of twelve tribes to king of two. “Who do you think you are? A Pharaoh to enslave us?” the departing groups asked.
The Ten Tribes of the Northern Kingdom kicked out the Levite priests who’d kept them close to God since they left Egypt. They replaced them with a horde of spiritual do-it-yourselfers with the usual golden calves, temple prostitutes, sacrificed children, false gods, and all the other things to which people gravitate when they go wrong. So, He had the Ten Tribes captured by Assyrians. They deported the Tribes back to the area from which Abraham had come, a thousand years before.
This area, near the Caucasus Mountains, gave them the name “Caucasian”, which is why White People are called that. Over the coming generations, the Ten Tribes spread out while keeping some of their individual tribal identities. Some groups headed north-west from the Caucasus Mountains, and became Scandinavians. Other Caucasians went west and became Austrians. Some moved to Switzerland, Germany, France, England, Ireland, Scotland, and the Slavic countries. When America opened up, 2,500 years later, many of them moved there, and kept heading West, through California, all the way to Hawaii.
There are many names for the west-moving Ten Tribes. “Celts”, “Saxons”, “Angles”, “Goths”, “Danes” and “Teutons” among them. Others from the Ten Tribes, like the Kurds, Circassians, and Khazars stayed in and around the Caucasus region. Many went east, into China and India. The highest-ranking Brahmins in India still call themselves after the Abraham who begot them.
The progenitors of the Scottish people stayed in the regions of Scythia, not far from the Caucasus. They called themselves “Scotti”. They remained almost a thousand years after many of their fellow tribesmen had moved to other Promised Lands.
After Jesus rose from the dead, His apostles went out to the “lost” tribes, mostly the tribes of Semites who’d settled between Spain and India. St. Andrew and St. James spent some time with the Scotti in Scythia.
Those saints made the connection between their still-remembered Old Testament history and Jesus Christ so well that most of them became Roman Catholics. Between 100 and 200 A.D. a brave band of these Catholic Scots left Greater Scythia. They sailed across the Black Sea and into the Mediterranean. They then turned right, crossed the Tyrrhenian, Sea and went through the Straits of Gibraltar.
After reaching the Atlantic, they again turned right. The ships followed the Iberian Peninsula northwards, and settled in the Northwest corner of Spain. They brought Catholicism to the area so effectively that, half a millennium later, their old neighborhood was the only place South of the Pyrenees that did not fall to the Moslem invaders. After a few generations, some of them got back into their boats, and sailed to Ireland. There, they settled in its northwest corner, around Belfast.
Their timing, or God’s, was perfect. They got to Northern Ireland shortly before the Roman Legions left England. They were just short boatride away from what we know as modern Scotland. The Romans had built a wall across the lower part of Scotland to separate the ever-hostile Picts from the civilized world. When Roman troops finally left, the Picts released their pent-up rage on the Northumbrians to the south. From their vantage point across the Irish Sea, the Scots watched as the Picts and Northumbrians slaughtered each other.
Written records of the period are few, limited to some marginal notes on early auction brochures of the period. Sketchy information about the Pict-Northumbrian battles was left to us by a little-known Benedictine monk who gave his name to the clothing of the area. The Venerable Tweed tells us that the raging battles wiped out armies on both sides.
St. Tweed carefully described the chosen implements of battle. The Picts’ favorite weapons were fist-sized rocks, known as “brainers”, burlap-like bags of which were dragged by the Picts’ women and children to the battlefield. “Brainers” were much beloved by their owners. Most Pictish warriors spent whatever spare time they had polishing their “brainers”, making new “brainers”, admiring their personal collections of “brainers” and stealing “brainers” from other Picts.
The slightly more advanced Northumbrians preferred the famous Northumbrian short bow. Their deadly arrows were tipped with the long, sharp, tartan-piercing teeth of very old hedgehogs. Northumbrian short bows, often found in their hexagonal grave-pits, are calculated to have had an effective range of nearly twenty feet.
The two sides were, from the standpoint of weapon technology, evenly matched. The Picts, of course, were inspired by the chorus of bagpipes that played behind their battle lines. Well, they really weren’t well enough organized to have “lines” of battle. Howling mobs surged forward until either they, or their enemies, were all dead, wounded, or had run away singing the only song they know, “Auld Lang Syne”. Northumbrians, on the other hand, marched to war with tunes played on primitive harmonicas made of hedgehog femurs, still commonly found in large quantities among the ruins of their arrow factories.
Both the Picts and the Northumbrians had horses, but neither knew how to ride. Two primitive carvings on gravestones recently unearthed in Glasgow show the horses riding in carts pulled back and forth across the front lines by warriors wearing harnesses that would, in other countries, have been put on the horses, not the men. “That is how they did it.” St. Tweed informs us, adding, “Like many things they do, it makes no sense at all.”
King Fergus arrives.
The Scot’s great King, Fergus MacErc, watched with great interest as the land along Hadrian’s Wall was suddenly depopulated by the fierce battles between Picts and Northumbrians. When he thought the time was right, he gave the oldest and ugliest hag in his Kingdom a bag of gold, (St. Tweed had told him the kind of women and possessions the Picts would find particularly attractive.) and had her walk twenty miles inland and back, pulling the gold in a small wagon. When she returned safely, Fergus and his people knew that there were neither rapists nor robbers present. “The safe return of the hag means there isn’t a single Pict or Northumbrian anywhere near.” he correctly concluded.
Assured by the safe return of Annie Lorry, whose name was immortalized in later forms of transportation, King Fergus led the ancestors of the Lowland Scots from Ireland into the newly empty lowlands of Scotland. With very few Picts or Northumbrians alive to oppose them, they occupied the rich lands along Hadrian’s Wall and to the north-east, along the Atlantic, to Edinburgh. Their rapid progress was interrupted only by an occasional “brainer” thrown from a high hill or dropped from a tree. From the south side of the Wall, once in a great while a hedgehog tooth-tipped arrow was fired futilely from behind a far-off bush.
King Fergus named his new country after his people, the Scotti. The lowlands of Scotland began to flourish as never before. First, Churches were built to implore the protection of God. Then, castles provided places for defenders to be trained and arms to be stored. As the country was made safer, towns followed.
Skilled craftsmen came from all over Europe to the newest, and most Catholic, country in Christendom. Flemish weavers, escaped slaves, sailors, millers, dyers, miners, roofers, architects, teamsters, pastry chefs, typewriter manufacturers, glass-makers, pipers, plumbers, and farmers made the Scottish lowlands the intellectual and cultural center of the known world. The famed “Orchid Garden of Glasgow” dated from the later years of Fergus’s reign. It is now known to have been the first centrally-heated building in all Scotland. Until 1904, it was the only one.
The east side of Scotland is known as “The East Side of Scotland”. There, political institutions were centered in the city of Edinburgh. Just before King Fergus died, the beautiful, white, marble castle known as “Annie Lorry”, in memory of the famous, gold-toting hag, was built high atop the extinct volcano that the native Picts called “Buster Brown”.
The Pictish Counter-attack.
The Picts were bitter and upset about their losses. “First, we were nearly wiped out by the Northumbrians. Then, the accursed Scots took all our land.” Angry words followed every such daily speech at the hollow log to which the Pictish families crawled to lap their gruel. They taught their children to hate the “evil Lowlanders” with an effectiveness unknown to their other pursuits. The process is unchanged.
Soon, the depressed personalities of the Picts drove them to invent a new weapon. They used the propulsive power of exploding methane to launch bags of burning hay into the city from cannons made of hollow logs wrapped in lengths of barbed wire stolen, with some difficulty, from the Lowlanders’ pastures. When unexpected gusts of wind blew the flaming balls of fire back into their own hovels, the Picts developed the “Barnin’ Haggis”. They filled the stomach of a cow with dry hay and a “brainer”. The “brainer” gave the projectile enough momentum to carry the hay, which quickly burned through the outer covering, to set thatched roofs within the city aflame. To this day, the “Barnin’ Haggis”, minus the “brainer”, is an important part of the Pictish diet. Even the most sophisticated Lowlanders enjoy watching the way a skilled Pict can devour a flaming “Haggis ball” in less than an hour, extinguishing the flame by copious expectorations before, and while, digging in.
The cheerful clans of Good King Fergus were temporarily driven from the beautiful Edinburgh they built on the site of a Pictish fish-gutting center. According to one of the few Pictish customs, they carried fish from a hundred miles in any direction, that had to be taken there to be cleaned and gutted. The Picts never cared how many died of botulism and disease from fish obediently carried thence a hot summer week. “Fish may be gutted in only one place.” was one of the few known laws of the Picts, and, according to St. Tweed, “Certainly the most unfathomable.”
Triumphant Picts shortened the high towers of the gleaming, white, crenellated “Annie Lorry” and made the roofless huts they loved from the stones as fast as they’d removed them. Then, they covered the castle with a drab, brown, stone veneer that quite perfectly matched their personalities. During the Picts temporary victory, they also closed the schools and burned the churches. All the while, raucous bagpipes played the same unrecognizable tunes that continue to make every highland occasion painful.
Some of the Pictish hatred had, it is true, dissipated with the passage of time. St. Tweed tells us, “Going forth from the many monasteries, monks used to tell the Picts to be nicer to each other.” Few monks, it appears from the records, survived more than two or three such conversations. But, from those monasteries, the Catholic Faith slowly seeped into a few calloused souls of the Pictish people, though it rarely replaced the natural bitterness of their hearts.
“We could have owned the lowlands.” they complain to this day. “And, we would have, too, if the accursed Northumbrians hadn’t had those deadly, hedgehog-toothed arrows. No man could stand again’ them!” Their bitterness, over time, caused them to withdraw from the new towns, cities, pubs, Cathedrals, and great universities in whose activities their innate hostility made it impossible for them to participate. Giving up their newly acquired Lowland territories, they retreated to their isolated mountain fastness. There, they still prefer the crude, roofless, rock huts through which the cold, Highland winds endlessly whistle.
They are proud to maintain their ancient ways. “No roofs for us!” They repeat with the pride that only a freezing Pict can muster. “We’re nae goin’ soft!” The brogue in which they speak has become so indecipherable that few know what they are talking about. Sadly, even fewer care.
“Give ‘em a bagpipe, a cask of whiskey, and a couple of logs to toss about. Then, they leave us alone.” is the eternal advice among Lowlanders. St. Tweed tells us that the Picts were uncomfortable amidst the trappings of the Scots’ superior culture. Though the Picts had, for a few months, re-occupied Edinburgh, they found that the Scots’ new, three story buildings made them uneasy. “They’re ungodly high/They scrape the sky!” the Picts would sing over and over to themselves on those occasions that they drank enough whiskey to fall flat on their backs, from which vantage point they looked up at the sky, often for the first time in their lives.
Lowland Scots, Again Triumphant.
Lowlanders were able to recapture the city by the simple expedience of paying a whiskey tribute to whichever remaining Picts would leave. The Scots encouraged them to “go, be men, real men, among the mountains”. To this day, a few men pull a several wagons a week out of Edinburgh. According to the ancient custom, a horse rides in each wagon, and is accompanied by a huge barrel of the cheapest Scotch whiskey available. It’s carted up lonely roads to isolated valleys. The questioning tourist who observes this is told, “It keeps the Picts away.”
By the time King Fergus’s son, Fergtoo, died, Edinburgh had been re-occupied and re-built. Soon, every single child in the civilized portions of Scotland knew how to read, write, and play the pianoforte, one of which, by the last command of Fergus, himself, was in every lowland home. The Catholic School System extended from universities in the great monasteries to grammar schools in the smallest parishes. Each stout Scottish lad was expected to do basic geometry and surveying by the time he was nine, read and write Latin by eleven, Greek by thirteen, and have memorized any two of the Four Gospels of the New Testament a year after that.
Many of the students went into the various trades. Training was rigorous. Those within “a quarter-day’s walk of the sea” each had to build their own boat before graduating from high school. Students further inland were expected to built a working dog-cart. Honor students were expected to turn out a two-masted schooner or a coach-and-four, depending on their distance from the sea.
Each Scottish girl learned penmanship, and, inspired by the Book of Kells, could do beautiful illustration and embroidery. The nuns taught them to sing, play the pianoforte, and whistle a stirring rendition of the National Anthem of Scotland, “Thistle This Thistle”. Christmas was celebrated with the hanging of a thistle’s root, from which custom the English got the idea for mistletoe.
“It’s not mistletoe, it’s thistletoe!” countless Scotsmen have tried to explain, with little success, to a people as nearly as stubborn and sullen in their ingrained misery as the Picts, themselves. “Ye fools shouldn’t go to the top of an oak to get what you hang above the door. You need only go to go to the bottom of a thistle.” There is much headshaking as the parvenu English persist in their confused version of the far more ancient Scottish custom.
There were differences in teeth, as well, between the English and the Scots. Unlike their neighbors to the south, all Scottish people had perfect teeth. It was, of course, an 8th Century Scottish Dentist who first invented braces. “By yon bonnie bank and by yon bonnie bra(c)e”, is what their national poet said of Dr. Culodden of Carey when describing where he put and how he made the vast sums he accumulated.
There was little economic competition between the Picts and Scots. Whether agriculture, manufacturing, or trade, the Picts were simply too drunk too much of the time to provide meaningful competition. Even in the production of cloth, Picts did not do well. They were unable to master needles and threads, and looms were as far beyond them as moon rockets. Instead, they tried to compete commercially with the “manliness” of their rough, plaid fabrics, crude felts pounded together from hairs shed from their dogs, cats, children, and assorted farm animals. “Who needs a sheep, when you have a dog that gives us this much hair?”, Picts ask to this day. Their tartans never really caught on among the far more sophisticated sewers and weavers in the Lowlands. “It’s far too itchy.” the lowland weavers would complain. Besides, underpants really aren’t supposed to have a lot of scratchy thistles woven into the fabric.” “Unnnterpants, hmpphh!” the Pict would erupt. “These be ‘ahr only pants.”
The old habits die hard. Highlanders still think it a badge of honor to wear clothing whose warp and weft includes thistles, briars, brambles, and whatever bushes, shrubs,and follicles that are handy.
“Always pretend to like their tartans. Admire them whenever you can.” Lowland children were taught. “It’s nice that they’re sometimes sober enough to dress themselves at all, much less make something that, from a distance, resembles clothing. We can but be thankful to St. Tweed that they like their plaids!”
The Invention Of The Tartan.
Before King Fergus brought his brilliant, hard-working people to Scotland, the most smartest man among the Picts invented writing. “What we will do is make marks on things. We will all agree what the marks mean, and we can send messages to each other.”
“Now, that is the dumbest thing we’ve ever heard. Why, no two Picts must ever agree on anything!” insisted the Picts, who promptly disregarded that ancient truth by unanimously agreeing to brain the man who’d tried to introduce them to writing.
Once that pesky intellectual was out of the way, the Picts, at least most of them, agreed that it wasn’t necessary to communicate with each other, except in person. “I don’t mind talking to you,” explained one of the Pict Princes (Pict men were lined up once every seven years, and every third man was proclaimed “Prince”. If their language had a word to express a number larger than “three”, there would have been fewer royal personages among them, and taxes would have proportionately lower.), “but, since I can never remember what I’ve said, what’s the point?”
To that of course, there was no answer. Even now, communication in the Highlands is largely limited to various grunts. Most of them indicate that an important bodily function is about to take place, and are accompanied by pointing at the portion of the body where it is thought likely to happen. Other, deeper grunts are demands for larger portions of the kegs sent from Edinburgh.
But, the introduction of the tartan was a step forward. Many of the Picts tended to forget, or never to have know, their own names. “Let’s do colors!” said a genius who lived in a cave on Mt. Caithness. “I want to be green.” So, he used thorns from a hedge-apple tree to pin large patches of moss to his garment and was widely known as “Green”, except by those benighted souls who persisted in calling him “Mossy”. His sons grew confused. “We know that our father’s name was ‘Green’, or at least what color he picked. But, there are five sons. Are we all to be ‘Green’? I, for instance, prefer to be called ‘Blue’.”
Margaret of Scotland was their Queen for many years. She was a Saxon, far ahead of the Highlanders, but so idealistic that she was never entirely disabused of her odd notion that Picts could ever be taught more useful skills than grunting and pointing, solved the problem for them. After trying, unsuccessfully, to introduce napkins and handkerchiefs, she realized that they could weave, if pounding animal hairs into a rough felt could be called “weaving”, and suggested attaching different colored fruits, leaves, and vegetables to their smocks. The “Green” son who wanted to be “Blue”, for instance, speared dozens of grapes and plums onto the mossy patches their progenitor had originally pinned to his smock of rapidly decaying skins and plant material.
Such designs, over time, turned into simple plaids. “That Saxon bitch thinks she’s ever so smart, she does!” complained two or three generations of Picts until they finally realized what a good idea she’d had, after which they complained that for centuries, “Where is Queen Margaret, now that we need her?” Or, “If only Queen Margaret were here, she’d fix it.” they say when confronted with any problem from a crashed jetliner to a hangnail.
Today, there are so many Highland plaids, in so many colors, that no one can keep track of them. An old man, living in a rude, roofless stone hut on one of the southern Orkneys, decides who gets what colors and which plaids. For a small recompense, he will provide anyone with the exclusive rights to whatever color and plaid they want. When he dies, his son will take over, maintaining a custom in existence since the days of Queen Margaret.
The only problem with the system arose in the 1950s, when nearly a hundred of the Highland buildings were connected by telephone wires. “Aye, ’n how do we dial a plaid?” was the question of the day. It has never been answered. As a result, there are only four or five telephones in the entire highlands. They are used to announce the location and arrival times of the latest keg from Edinburgh.
Farming in Scotland
The earliest Highland farmers thought it was a sin to plow. “The evil spirits will squeeze through any scratch in the earth. They’ll swarm out of hell and eat us alive.” they told anyone who encouraged them to get involved in even the simplest agricultural pastimes. Mostly, they ate nuts, berries, roots, and when in season, fruit. Huge, molderinging piles of apples provided sustenance throughout the long winters.
Highlanders believed that farming consisted of finding people who raised or sold foodstuffs and stealing them. Many such enterprising people were in England, so that’s where most of the Highlanders “farmed”. The most skilled raiders would get lists “Two bushels of oats, six of wheat, a hundred eggs, and six firkins of milk.” from their wives and head south.
“They’re coomin’.” the medieval descendants of the Northumbrians would announce, resignedly, when the sounds of screeching bagpipes made themselves heard over hill and dale. Appointed “distributors” would race to the village supermarkets. All the food whose date-stamps showed it to be unsafe for human consumption would be piled up conveniently in front of the stores. There, Pictish Highlanders would paw through it until their lists had been filled or reasonable substitutes had been found.
Things went well for them, until one day in 1642, a store-owner inadvertently left a gleaming, cellophane package of Oreo cookies in the pile. A dozen Highland “farmers” poked at it interminably before opening it. “And, what do we do with these?” asked their leader.
“Give it to one of the dogs.” suggested one of the raiders.
“Here, ya filthy cur!” said the Chief. When he saw how quickly the dog wolfed down the cookie, he tried one himself.
Transfixed with joy, he began to roll about on the ground, stuffing Oreos into his mouth as fast as he could. “Where did ye get this?” he demanded to know of the shopkeeper, sticking the point of his pointed stick to his throat.
“One of the fairies must have left it.” the store owner answered with the quick thinking that saved his, and every other supermarket in England, from certain ransacking.
“If the fairies leave you any more, you better make sure you save ‘em for me!” ordered the head raider, and he took the remnants of the package, and the shiny package, itself, and raced back home. By the time he arrived, he’d eaten all but three. He ate one, gave one to his wife, and traded the last Oreo for a manor house (That is what rich Highlanders called the three room “One fer sleepin’, one fer wakin’, ‘n one fer livestock” stone huts in which the wealthiest of their race lived and lorded it over their envious neighbors.) and a hundred acres of impenetrable gorse.
By 1743, the legend of the Oreo (by that time, O’Reo, had spread throughout the mountains. “Them be so gud that a man kin trade jus’one fer a mansion ‘n a hunnerd acres of gorse.” became a, and often, the only, driving force in every Highlander’s mind. The first thing for which generations of future Highland raiders searched was a package of Oreo cookies. They had been described so often, and for so many centuries, in such confusing detail that no one knew what they actually looked like. The few who did didn’t want their neighbors to know exactly what it was for which they should have been looking, so descriptions ranged from “Black and white and round, they be.” to “They’re pink, green, and smellin’ like a dead fish.”.
When raiding parties found no O’reo’s, hey quickly bagged up the spoiled food to which they were accustomed and raced back to the mountains fastness, in hopes that there’d be something left in the last keg from Edinburgh.
In centuries to come, the mythical O’Reo became an important (and, for many, the only) legend in the Highlands. Whole families, septs, and clans would sit wide-eyed while the youth-and-wealth giving properties of this wondrous food were described. “N’ it’s true, ye’ll never die if ye eat even the crumb of one.” sages in the Highlands would proclaim.
The English store owners and shopkeepers kept Oreos hidden out of sight by the simple expedient of stocking them in the “Soap” sections of their stores. There was little fear of the Picts finding them, not only because they looked upon soap as a barbarous attack on their manhood, but also because they feared going through the glass doors of the supermarkets. “Ye’ll never cum ooot ag’in.” they told each other around the fires at night. “Your own reflection is just waitin’ for you to draw near enough to suck the life out of you ‘n make you spend eternity livin’ in the glass, frizzen fer all time!”
From “farming” to municipal services.
The Pict’s curious method of “farming” gradually evolved into the world’s first system of municipal trash removal. By 1650, the Lowland Scots had invented the earliest forms of polypropylene and polyethylene. From Glasgow to Edinburgh, early cottage industries produced blow-molded plastic bottles, bags, and shoes.
The English loved them. Cartloads of garbage bags were sold to English towns and stores. “Here’s what you do,” explained the Scottish salesmen. “You put all your garbage in these bags. Use the white bags for your spoiled food, the green bags for wastepaper, and the black bags for everything else. The Picts’ll come, take all the garbage bags home with ‘em, and be happy. You can’t believe how much they love pawing through garbage, especially if there’s something in it they can eat. Or, wear. Or, throttle a cat with. Just make sure you don’t give them any Oreos!”
Within a year or so, the once pristine trees of the Highlands were festooned with so many wind-blown streamers of what, unfortunately, the Lowland resin processors had not yet learned to make bio-degradable, that it looked as if a huge party had just been had but not yet cleaned up after. “Looks good to us!” said the Picts, happy to finally have a way to tell which way the wind was blowing no matter which direction they happened to be looking.
The noble nature of the English was gratified in endless self-congratulation. “It’s so much better to have our garbage up in the Highlands, where it can be enjoyed and appreciated. It’s quite nice of us, really.”
The arrangements persist today, the only changes being in the transport. Whereas ten thousand Pictish “farmers” used to pick up their allotted one or two bags of trash a week and carry them all the way to the Highlands on their backs, they found they had more time to drink themselves into insensibility if they rented a couple of lorries to make the garbage pick-ups for them. “Ten thousand of us can drink for a week, and two men can do all the work.” an organizational genius discovered.
An interesting note: The lowland Scot, Mr. Mack Lorry, distant descendant of Annie, was moved to invent the first truck when the prospect of getting the Picts to take away English garbage occurred to him. He had the happy idea of making the bed pivot vertically in such a way that its contents could be dropped behind the truck, and suggested that the Picts hire drivers and purchase this exciting new vehicle.
In trying to sell it to the Picts, he made the unfortunate mistake of mentioning that the “dump” truck, as he called it, would cost a little more. The Picts showed him how they got the contents out of their trucks. Before the truck was loaded with garbage (oops, “groceries”), the Picts would put a stolen farm gate in the front of the bed. A rope fastened to it ran past the tailgate. When it was tied to a sturdy tree, and the truck accelerated, the rope kept the gate in a stationary position, and the garbage ended up on the ground for easy paw-through.
After this marketing fiasco, Mr. Mack Lorry began to focus his efforts on other transportation markets, with which he had such success that he was able to realize his lifelong dream, “I want to make enough money that I’ll never have to talk to a Pict, again.”
Livestock in the Highlands.
The Picts were unable to discover where calves and piglets came from. Indeed, they did not know where they, themselves, came from. It was widely believed that all young animals were formed in masses of rotting leaves. Every Pictish farm was covered with smelly mounds of them, as were those sections of their huts devoted to sleeping.
Knowledge of butchering came late, with the Benedictines’ arrival. St. Tweed tell us that, “before the monasteries, the only animals eaten by the Picts were those that had died natural deaths.” Not uncoincidentally, Pictish life spans lengthened considerably when they were taught to butcher their farm animals at the proper times, rather than waiting for them to die of natural causes.
A few of the more trainable among them were able to learn basic sausage-making techniques. “It’s like ‘barnin’ haggis, only better.” this new social elite would marvel amongst themselves. Others did what the Picts did best, and complained. “This new-fangled sausage doesn’t have the full, ripe flavor of a pig that’s been layin’ ‘round since last Spring.”
Some, on the other hand, would admit, grudgingly, “But, this new sausage doesn’t make me as sick, either.” St. Tweed records that a few Picts were glad to learn new skills that extended many longevities into the mid-twenties.
There was no gratitude for having had this new technology imparted to them. “What took ye so long?” the Picts demanded to know, forgetting that they had murdered several generations of priests and monks who’d tried to teach them these very same skills.
Early Picts had no way of knowing what time, or what season, it was. Drinking had so addled their individual and collective memories that hours were as invisible to them as years gone by. They computed age by teeth. “He’s got no teeth.” translated, roughly, as a person over 18. A full compliment of choppers equated to the age of 8. Anyone living beyond 18 had little memory of how many years had passed nor of how many were to come. Each life was a short, fuzzy blur. St. Tweed calculated that, out of any ten thousand Picts, only three would have a living grandparent.
For unknown reasons, the Picts would periodically show up at old stones arranged to let the sun shine through a slot arranged in them by people who’d once tried to get the Picts to at least know that there were seasons of the year during which “planting” could be done.
Those notions were beyond fathoming. The Pict’s calendar had only two seasons. “Ducks” was the time of year in which ducks were observable. “No Ducks” was the other season. “It’s colder when there’s No Ducks.” was the standard rule. Once, in the days before King Fergus arrived with reading, writing, and arithmetic, an early Pict tried to forestall the onslaught of cold weather by capturing several ducks and tying them up in his topless hut. “It’ll be Ducks forever!” he bragged to those nearby.
This meteorological experiment came to a quick end. When the nameless genius who’d tried to control the weather had gone “farming” in England, his neighbors ate the ducks.
Early Catholic missionaries tried to tell the Picts about Easter, and how it should be celebrated on the first Sunday following the Vernal Equinox. This information was met with the blankest of blank-eyed stares. Those stares grew positively glassy when they were told that the counting of years began with the birth of Christ, Who was crucified in a sacrifice that would allow any man who repented of his sins to go to Heaven, just as He did when He rose from the dead.
Able to comprehend not more than one word in ten, the Picts utterly misinterpreted the entire lectures that missionaries would give on the subject. From the few words they understood, they concluded erroneously that their own deceased grandparents would rise from the dead sometime around the time that No Ducks turned to Ducks if they nailed a cat to a tree. When dead Picts did not come to life before the next Ducks, despite any number of their beloved cats dying an agonizing death, the missionaries were all killed, little understanding the reasons why.
To this day, their religion offers no hope of salvation, save for those few souls who have been “chosen” by some unimaginable force to capture, and then harness, flocks of ducks to a large kite. The ducks are then supposed to fly off, taking the adventurous Pict to a place “where it is always Ducks”. Each year, dozens of young Pictish men try to build such kites. Each year, hundreds of them die. Once, one of them did succeed in attaching a large, and unusually well-made box kite to several hundred ducks, which pulled him nearly as far as Liverpool before the primitive harness holding him aloft came apart, causing his sudden descent into Liverpool’s huge communal pudding vat, which descent was talked about for some years to follow. “Where did the poor man come from?” Liverpudlians still wonder.
The Picts also had great difficulties understanding, let alone measuring, the smaller units of time, like hours and minutes. They were, however, able to tell daylight from dark. When King Fergus invaded in the 500s, he had his grandfather’s clock carried along with the migration into Scotland. It was about twelve feet tall, and was carved to resemble his grandfather, Erc. Each time the migrating Scots stopped to rest, the giant clock was set up under an open-sided tent near the entrance to Fergus’s own pavilion.
The remaining Picts had never imagined that such a thing could exist. They used to sneak up to King Fergus’s tent, and watch the clock’s huge pendulum, a horse’s skull filled with concrete, swing back and forth. They would sit, mesmerized, usually crowding the entrance to the tent so completely that Fergus and the Scots had to kick their way through the oscillating heads of the seated throngs
When the clock was wound, every three days, whole families would descend from the remotest regions of the highlands, particularly during the balmy Duck season. The clock was wound up by Fergus, himself, and the disappearance of the horse head into the upper reaches of the clock during the cranking process was a main attraction to the Picts. “Look, it’s going up! His hand is going around and around, and the horse’s head is going up!” they would shout as they clutched their sides and staggered around, overwhelmed by the sheer wonder of it all.
Neither flogging nor kicking could make them go back to their wretched hovels. Soon, obsessed Picts filled nearly an acre in front of Fergus’s tent. “You’ve got to do something about the smell!” his Queen commanded. “They’re Picts. They will not bathe.” replied King Fergus as he threw up his hands in despair.
Finally, Fergus had an inspiration. He ordered a clock case to be made that was identical to his Grandfather’s clock. He had the imitation clock put into a wagon. The horses pulled it into the Highlands, followed by the vast horde of worshipful Picts. When it got to a high point, the driver whipped the horse, the clock fell off the wagon, plunged over a cliff, and was shattered to bits on the rocks, below.
The Picts raced down to the canyon floor, and tried to reassemble the pieces. So many came to help put the clock back together that its scattered components became the site of the first city ever built by Picts. It is still called Glasgow, which, roughly translated from the Pictish, is “We tried to put it together, but were driven to drink because it was so hard.” The transition from clock repair to alcoholism took less than a week. On the bright side, their attempt at fixing the clock did keep more Picts sober for a longer time than ever before. Or, since.
Their fascination for timepieces was undiminished by the passage of the time they could not measure. When their descendants saw Queen Margaret’s wristwatch, an early Saxon invention, they nearly went mad from the frustration of not knowing how it worked, but knowing even better that they could never make such a thing.
“All this inventing things that they do just makes us feel badly about ourselves. It is what drives us to drink as much we do.” they claimed, and the Liberal Party they eternally support has institutionalized that hatred of their own, personal inadequacy into their first, but unwritten, Party Platform. Now, no one in the Pictish territories is allowed to have a new idea. Neither do they allow children to read, write, or do even the simplest sums. “It’s the way we should be. Uncorrupted.” they announce to anyone who cares enough to listen.
The clans Chattan.
The brightest identifiable peoples in the Highlands worshipped cats. To this day, there are dimly remembered mottos that some clans retain from the ancient religion of the cat worshippers. “Touch not the cat without a glove.” is a typically indecipherable such proverb.
Much of the long, cold No Ducks was spent discussing this vital issue in the frigid, roofless huts. “We think it means you shouldn’t touch a cat unless you’re wearin’ a glove.” insisted one group, whose viewpoints crystallized into a political party from which the modern Tory party has its roots.
“Nay, it don’t mean that at all. It means you shouldn’t touch a cat unless it’s wearin’ a glove! People shouldn’t wear gloves because they aren’t natural.” claimed those whose religious beliefs would eventually become Liberals.
The same statements were flung back and forth between the two groups of Picts with little variation. Volume increased over hours, and the discussion usually ended with the “tossin’ of the caber”. In that contest, each group took turns trying to kill the other’s cat by dropping a section of telephone pole from a high cliff onto a loosely tethered feline two hundred feet below. The first to “squish the cat” won the contest. Since the cats were attached by thirty foot ropes to a stake, far more cats were strangled or starved to death than were squished.
Up to the present time, there has been absolutely no increase in the complexity of Highland political dialogue, though the “tossin’ of the caber” has been replaced with “Last man to pass out wins!”, followed by the tapping of a keg from Edinburgh.
Despite the ban on intellectual endeavors, an early member of the Clans Chattan did achieve international fame by inventing the first litter box. Filling an old orange crate brought back from a farming expedition with sand and sticking it in the corner of a freezing hut gave the cats a place to go to the bathroom. This process was endlessly examined and enjoyed by whole families.
“Look, it’s going to the bathroom!” the first to notice would shriek with joy, and the entire group would stop whatever it was doing and all would rush over to watch the cat complete its business, marveling endlessly.
“Did ye ever see sech a thing before?” each would marvel several times, none of them able to remember that all of them, including the cat, had done exactly the same thing, at exactly the same time, on every preceding day of their lives.
And it was, of course, that same Clan Chattan who’d battled successfully against the Saxon’s dreaded “Cat Tax”, the imposition of which caused uncontrolled rioting throughout the rocky, narrow valleys under the control of the Clans Chattan. “The only thing we love more than our cats is our money. So, the cats have to go.”
Within an hour of the “Cat Tax” decree, there was not a living cat to be found in the Highlands. Only the fetid litter boxes remained, and they were turned into shrines.
“Remember when . . . ?” is still repeated as the surviving Clansmen stand around staring at their rotting orange crates. None of them remembers exactly why they do so, but they are admired for still trying to observe some ancient Highland custom or another.
Another of the Clans Chattan battled endlessly with the Clan Manx, whose epigram, “Touch not the cat with a tail.” could not be squarely reconciled with the other.
“What if my cat has a tail? Are you filthy heathens tellin’ me I can’t touch it? My own cat!”
“Aaach, ye do not unnerstan’. It means you shouldn’t touch your cat with a tail! I’d like to beat some sense into your brain with a club.”
That, of course, was the usual result of any Pictish conversation, especially one about a subject as important as their beloved cats.
The Picts at sea.
When King Fergus brought his people into the Lowlands, they crossed the narrow channel in coracles. They were complicated boats, made out of wooden saplings over which the skins of animals were stretched. They brought the design from their homeland in Scythia. Scythian traders used them to carry goods downstream to Babylon, sold the saplings along with the merchandise, and carried the hides back to Scythia to re-use on their next trip down the Tigris or Euphrates.
When the Picts saw the thousands of coracles bringing the Scots to Scotland, they decided they could build their own small boats.
“They make those coracles out of dead horses. They gut ‘em, leave the ribs and skin, cut off the legs, and put ‘em in the water upside down.” decided one of many self-appointed maritime experts. With whips and clubs, he forced other Picts to kill several horses, gut them, turn them upside down, and try to paddle them across the Sea to Ireland.
Some tried to paddle the horse with the head facing forward. “Aft! Aft!” cried “Sinker” MacDougall from the shore as the small flotilla slowly sank beneath the waves. When the position of the horse was reversed, and the head used as a rudder, some small progress was made.
The disadvantage was clear. Each Horse-boat could only carry one man, or three or four small children. When a couple of hundred had been launched against the Irish coast, from whence the Scots were coming in ever-larger numbers, the occupants were picked off one by one, either to be killed or sold into slavery.
The Picts quickly found that their quality of life improved miraculously when they became slaves. Soon, every horse in the Highlands, and there were not many, had been killed so that more and more Picts could become slaves to the Scots still in Ireland. “There’s a lot to eat. And, the huts have tops on them. We stay dry. You’ve got to come over and be a Scottish slave!” each Pict told his friends during their weekends off.
The Scots, of course, soon had more lay-about Picts lolling about than they needed. “You are slaves, and you are supposed to work!” fell on deaf ears. Whips had no more influence. “Tickles!” said the Picts when flogged for sloth. “There isn’t a whip you can make that hurts us as much as working!” As the number of Pict slaves increased, the number of Scots fleeing what was rapidly becoming a welfare economy grew into a flood. Soon, Northern Ireland was filled with Pict slaves, and every last Scot was in Scotland.
The O’Neill clan ended up with all the Pictish slaves after the Scots left. They were equally unable to do anything with them. The O’Neills tried putting their new Pict slaves in manned galleys to attack England. No matter how hard the overseers whipped, the galleys sat, unmoving, until they rotted away.
Pict slaves multiplied so rapidly with their free food and housing that, soon, they outnumbered the O’Neills, who, like the Scots before them, were also forced to leave as quickly as possible. Their exodus was led by St. Brendan, The Industrious. “If you do not get away from these Picts, they will destroy you!” St. Brendan told the O’Neills, who preferred to sail into the trackless sea than waste any more time feeding the horde of useless Picts.
The O’Neills, incidentally, settled on a long island in the area that would be called New York in another thousand years. Occasionally, a Pict would make his way across the sea in a horse-boat. To keep them from recognizing their formers owners, and prompting a new plague of Picts upon his people, St. Brendan had the O’Neills dress in skins, wear feathers, beat drums, talk in sign language, and live in pointed tents as soon as they landed. When he saw this strange people, the Pict would shrug his shoulders, get back in his horse-boat, and look elsewhere for the free lunch he needed to survive. Eventually, of course, the Picts ran completely out of horses, and could no longer travel as far for in search of easy living.
In the thousand years that followed, the O’Neill’s migration throughout an empty North America took place. Customs and languages changed, but one phrase stayed the same from pre-Columbian New York to California; “Lord, protect us from the Picts!”
Electricity met justice in early Scotland.
Aside from the Welfare State, the only contribution to modern life that was originated by the Picts was electricity. Kilo MacWatt was one of the largest cat-owners in all the Clans Chattan. He had over a thousand snarling felines in his vast cattery, and was the richest, most admired man in all the Chattan Clans.
Once, while “farming” in England, he kicked in the door of a small jewelry shop in Durham. From that poor jeweler, he stole a full five hundred yards of copper wire. Returning home, he had the idea of attaching the wire to all his cats, and taking all of them for a walk. The first time he tried, he wrapped the wire around each cat’s neck, and strangled fully fifty of them before hitting on the idea of putting a silver collar on each cat and attaching the wire to each collar.
Soon, Kilo MacWatt and his long line of 950 cats became the most interesting thing in the Highlands. “Kilo’s coomin’! His cats is coomin’ too!” people would scream with joy as they lined the roads, cheering, and throwing small, dead rodents to the passing cats.
Now, it happened that one, dry, cold day, Kilo reached down to pet his Lead Cat, named, like nearly everything else for a hundred miles, Annie Lorry. At the same time, quite by accident, a several hundred admirers bent down from their viewing position along the road, and petted the cats in front of them.
A burst of static electricity passed down the long line of cats, killing the old woman who was petting the last cat.
“She must have been a witch!” cried Kilo MacWatt, to forestall any claim for damages against him that might involve the paying of a fine. “Truly, ‘tis the justice of the cats!”
From that day to this, the punishment for witchcraft in Scotland is to be wired to the end of a long, long line of copper-connected cats on a cold dry day while the 949 cats in front are petted.
Simple Scottish justice demanded fewer cats for lesser crimes. Drinking too much from an Edinburgh keg was a crime that required being shocked by the voltage produced by the generating capacity of petting seven cats. Stealing a cat was a “Fifty Cat Crime”. Stealing a horse was a “Hundred Cat Crime”. The Picts knew of few other malfeasances, and quickly regretted the complexity of the four laws they had. So, they made Kilo MacWatt the “Chief Justice of Cats and Laws”, and allowed him to punish whomever he wanted with whatever number of cats he thought appropriate.
Criminal justice in the Highlands was never simpler, never fairer, and never more enjoyed by all.