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  • That Was Genius Team

Episode 105 - Whoaa My Dove is on Fire (Scotland Week)

Tom's Notes:

Audience feedback

Message from Michael – cartoons wasn’t his idea but he enjoyed it. Wacky races again.

Cross-promo with the Sill History Boys – wonderfully wooden acting from me.

Topic for this week; Scotland!

Scotland, Scotland, together standing tall!

(That’s actually me being an English bastard and singing the anthem played before Irish rugby matches)

I almost went down the route this week of talking about the Battle of Waterloo where there were a number of Scottish regiments that played a key role. I decided however to discuss something a bit sillier and less well known, after all, the Battle of Waterloo is now very famous, largely as a result of the attention drawn to it by ABBA in, of course, their famous hit entitled, ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You,”

Knowing me, knowing you, Blucher,

There is nothing I can do

Knowing me, knowing you, Blucher,

If you don’t make it,

This time we’re through

Little known fact, most of ABBA’s greatest hits were actually written about the Battle of Waterloo apart from Waterloo, which was written about a flooded toilet in a campsite in Barnstaple.

The Winner Take It All was actually written to be sung by Napoleon after his defeat.

And this little number was sung by the Duke of Wellington;

Gimme Gimme Gimme a Prussian after midday

Won’t the Prussian army chase the Frenchies away

I think it’s a pity that a Napoleonic War version of Mamma Mia hasn’t been made. I think Pierce Brosnan would make a cracking Wellington and Julie Walters would be stupendous darling as Napoleon.

It would be like a cross between Les Miserable and Mamma Mia, which brings me back to why I thought of the Battle of Waterloo in the first place, because I’m reading Les Miserable by Victor Hugo and there are a few chapters devoted to describing the Battle. Anyway, very good book, very long book too.

In the end, I decided to go for something a bit easier and more readily silly, a book I found on Project Gutenberg from 1902 - Witchcraft & Second Sight in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland by John Gregorson Campbell. This chap actually died in 1891 and this book was published posthumously. There isn’t anything particularly interesting about Campbell’s life; he was a Scottish Minister and folklore enthusiast who enjoyed collecting stories from Scottish folklore. He collected stories that he heard from around Scotland and published them. They were frequently oral stories so without being written down, they could well have been forgotten, and some of them are crap, so this wouldn’t have been a bad thing.

“Aye! I’ve got a spooky story for you! I woke up one morning and it were raining! I went outside and there were lots of toothless, pale creatures with large bellies! They were eating strange things that had been deep fried! I’m never going to Glasgow again.”

Okay, here’s a bit of history for you to put this document into context before I delve into the silly parts of it.

The Romanticism movement took place in Europe somewhere between the late 1700s and the mid-1800s. I’m going to attempt to summarise it in a simple way without coming across as pretentious – it was a reaction to the Enlightenment, the influence of Classical learning since the Renaissance, the rapid scientific developments, the Industrial Revolution and rapid modernisation. People were learning more and more about the world and rational, logical and orderly thought were predominant. But some arty people were thinking that it was all a bit boring. Wasn’t it more fun in the Middle Ages when we didn’t know very much and there were knights, and dragons, and heroes, and maidens, and shit like that? And isn’t all this scientific, empirical shit boring? What about the soul? And human expression? And the beauty of nature? Imagination? Nationalism? Romanticists were basically big ponces who liked talking about books, painting stuff and wearing big frilly ruffs, “oh hello! I’m a Romanticists and I like avocados, quinoa and fair-trade chocolate. Oooo look at me and my single-speed bicycle and my big dandy beard that I moisturise with the butter of a virgin cow.”

One of the biggest influences on the Romanticism movement in the early days were the poems of Ossian, supposedly a collection of 3rd century Gaelic, Scottish epic poems discovered and translated by a Scot called James Macpherson. These epic poems were about Gaelic legend and Ossian was a legendary Irish warrior-poet. They were hugely popular throughout Europe but they were actually a bit of a scam. Macpherson has basically heard a number of Scottish stories and then added lots of content himself to make them more interesting. Despite their popularity, there were vocal critics at the time of their release. Namely Irish scholars who thought they were an attempt to appropriate their Ossianic Ballads, and subsequently their national history. These Ossianic Ballads were far less historically dubious and have the wonderfully named Finn McCool, the father of Ossian. On the subject of dubious history, in the 19th century it was discovered that James Macpherson’s 3rd century original texts of the stories were actually clumsy Gaelic translations of his English versions. Samuel Johnson, a famous English figure from the 18th century, wrote that Macpherson was "a mountebank, a liar, and a fraud, and that the poems were forgeries". When asked if he thought that anyone today could write such poetry, he responded, "Yes. Many men. Many women. And many children."

Against this backdrop of Romanticism and the works of Ossian, John Gregorson Campbell began to collect Scottish, oral stories. There you go, managed to dovetail in some history there. Right, to Witchcraft & Second Sight in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland.

Chapter 1, Black Witchcraft! I’ll focus most of my time here because I can’t talk about the whole book and this is a good chapter.

These Scottish witches got up to the usual bad behaviour, although Campbell points out that they were slightly better behaved than their Southern counterparts, namely no incubi (male night fuck demons) or succubi (female night fuck demons). And if you struggle to remember which is which, here’s a mnemonic – succubi suck, incubi go in. You know what I’m saying?

Witches often curse people’s cattle so that they would not produce milk. Or they would pinch the milk in weird and wonderful ways. Here’s a quote:

When a cow ceases unaccountably to give milk, and witchcraft is suspected, its owner is to take some of the animal’s urine (maistir), put it in a bottle, and cork it well. The witch who has taken the milk cannot make a drop of water till the milk is allowed to come back. It is a common story that the owner of bewitched cows, under the advice of ‘wise’ people of his neighbourhood, put a potful of the cows’ dung on the fire, and boiled it. He then put in half an ounce of pins and stirred the compost, till at last the witch appeared at the hole which formed the window, and entreated him to stop tormenting her,(because it fucking stank) and all would be well. He stopped, and next morning his cows had milk as usual.

Continuing with bodily functions, stale urine should be sprinkled on the door-posts to ward off witches. Quote “There was an old woman in Coll who was taken notice of by her neighbours for sprinkling cows and door-posts every night. Her intention no doubt was to make assurance doubly sure.” Campbell has a nice sense of humour throughout this book.

These Scottish witches commonly turned into animals, although reading some of the stories with a critical mind, I feel that the transformation into animal was probably in the head of the onlooker. I know, radical right? Anyway, they turned into sheep, hares, cats of course, sea gulls and whales. Here’s a good story. For a bit of background, some fishermen were struggling to catch herring:

“He… saw a young girl coming out of a house and tapping at a neighbour’s window. Another girl came out of that house, and wondering what the two could be about at that hour of the night, he followed them from the village. On reaching the green, the two girls began to disport themselves, then of a sudden became hares, and chased each other round and round. After this they made their way to the shore, and at the edge of the water, leapt into the sea and became whales.”

Here’s another quote that isn’t funny at all:

“The mother of a celebrated West Highland freebooter, ‘Allan of the Faggots’ (Ailein nan sop), was a servant maid who became pregnant by a married man. The man’s wife, when she heard of the scandal, got a[46] bone from a witch, which, she was assured, would, as long as it was kept, delay the birth of the child. Allan of the Faggots was thus kept in his mother’s womb for fifteen months beyond the usual time.”

Campbell also explains how witches used clay figurines, as, my words not his, voodoo dolls. And never doubt the power of the voodoo

The power of voodoo

(Who do?)

You do

Remind me of the babe

I saw my baby

Crying hard as babe could cry

Fascinating fact, Ross-shire witches could not destroy ‘Donald of the Ear’ because when they made a voodoo doll of him, they were unable to put on the ear. Donald had lost this ear in battle.

Oi! You just cut me up at the roundabout! Do you know who I am am? I’m a bloody witch I am, Dolly Pickering.


Dollie Fucking Pickering! A witch!

I can’t hear you?

I’m Dolly Pickering and I’m going to fuck you right up with a voodoo doll!

What? What are you saying?

A voodoo doll!

But I can’t hear you! You’re on the wrong side.


Now are you fed up of witches milking your cows from a distance? Are you fed up of witches sinking your boat and eating all your herring? Well have I got news for you! There is a simple way to detect if someone is a witch.

Quote: “Early in the morning, on the first Monday of each of the four quarters of the year, the smoke from a witch’s house goes against the wind. This may be seen by any one who takes the trouble of rising early and going to an eminence, whence the witch’s house can be seen.”

We now move onto a chapter about white witches, but it isn’t all that interesting, just a long list of silly charms. There is however the following for madness:

“On a Thursday (it should be no other day), a person was to take the lunatic behind him on a grey horse, and gallop at the horse’s utmost speed three times round a boundary mark (comharra criche), and then to an immovable stone. On making the madman speak to this stone the cure was complete.

A plan (of which there are traditions in the Hebrides) was to put a rope round the madman’s waist and drag him after a boat till he was nearly dead.”

Moving on to the next chapter briefly, not much fun here, just a story about Hugh of the Little Head.

Chapter 5, the last chapter I’ll mention was by far the most disappointing. It is entitled, quite simple, ‘Hob Goblins’. Now I was hoping for stories of mischievous, bickering little Scottish creatures (that looked like Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon) running around shitting in people’s coat pockets, drawing cocks on dewy windows, moving people’s bookmarks and dangling their nuts in people’s faces as they sleep. Mmmmm, Nicola Sturgeon’s ball bag (how do you like that huh? Do you like my balls? You like them in your face? Hmm?).

Campbell explains what he means by Hob-Goblin better that I:

“The word conveys as much the idea of fright in the observer as of anything hurtful or violent in the object itself… Any object, indistinctly seen, may prove a hobgoblin of this kind. It may be merely a neighbour playing pranks by going about in a white sheet, a stray dog, a bush waving and sighing in the night wind, or even a peat-stack looming large in the imperfect light. There is a story of a man on Loch Rannoch-side who fought a bush, in mistake for a ghost, in a hollow, which had an evil name for being haunted. The conflict continued till dawn, when he was found exhausted, scratched, and bleeding.”

So a hob goblin here is your standard ghoul really.

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