Hunting The (Other) Loch Monster In Morar, Scotland

December 13, 2009

Author’s hoax photo. Not convincing. Yes, that’s basil.


Morag is a loch monster with a terrible publicist. Although slightly famous in Scotland, tales of Morag have not spilled into coloring books or Hollywood films. A bit of a sensation in the late sixties, the beast’s home of Loch Morar has shied away from publicisizing sightings and remains quite disinterested in a tourist trade that involves humped aquatic creatures.

The case for a monster in Morar, though, is compelling and arguably stronger than discussion of what might be living in neighboring Loch Ness.

For starters, Loch Morar is the deepest freshwater body of water in Europe, reaching depths of over 1,000 feet. It is largely uninhabited, flanked by a road that only covers one quarter of its perimeter – this allows for hardly any traffic around the lake, which would explain the lack of tourist sightings. More importantly, it is the setting for sightings as sensational as any that have come out of Nessietown.

Tales of a monster have permeated the Morar area for centuries, first spun as tales during “silly season”, the terrible winters when Scottish highlanders hole up, tell tales and get a little juiced up. According to early tales, “Mhorag” was the spirit of the loch, only appearing in the form of a mermaid when a member of the Gilles clan was about to kick. Later, tales spun of a waterhorse (or “kelpie”) that would lure riders onto its back, then drown them and snack on their remains.

If you’re laughing, you probably weren’t born in the 1700’s, when it was completely reasonable to treat most of these tales as fact, rather than fiction.

The Golden Age

Monster hunting in the Harry Potter Age has got to be difficult. Nearly eighty years after the first reported sighting in Loch Ness, the creature has started to lose its sex appeal, out-imagined by Pixar and the like. The romance of a loch monster just might be dead and buried, even if the animal is still alive and swimming.

Still, I wanted to find out if what I’d been hearing was true; if another loch was a more likely candidate for some kind of beastie than the infamous one near Inverness. I went straight to Scotland’s loch monster expert, Adrienne Shine, in hopes of learning a bit more before I set off to Morar myself.

Nobody would know better than Shine, who began his own Morar investigation in 1974. He was sparked by the loch’s most famous account, which made papers around the world. Says Shine, “It was the encounter in 1969 that aroused my interest. I thought if Loch Ness wasn’t the only place where there were these traditions, perhaps there’s more chance of it being real.”

He hired a rowboat and drifted at night with a powerful light fixed to a camera, in hopes of repeating the encounter. After this turned up nothing but a false sighting in the form of a rock (“It taught me not to believe the evidence of my own eyes.”), Shine decided to head below water. By 1975 he was manning missions into the depths of a loch in a homemade submersible, during what he calls “the underwater phase of my work.”

Shine is difficult to pin when asked the ultimate question about what’s out there, mostly because he has no definitive evidence either way. He says,”I have no one theory because many animals and physical effects have contributed to sightings.” When asked about his favorite explanation, he offers “I am accused of the Shine Theory. The occasional migration of sturgeon into fresh water might have started the water horses tradition.” While many argue that such a fish couldn’t live in these lochs, it is quite arguable that no fish has ever looked like a horse more than a sturgeon.

Shine is honest about why he first started hunting the now-famous beast, seeing it first as “a soft option for fame and glory.” Thirty-five years later, it has become much more than this to him. He’s manned countless expeditions in Loch Ness, most famously with 1987’s Operation Deepscan, during which dozens of sonar-armed boats scanned and mapped the whole of Loch Ness. It proved inconclusive.

If a man like Shine couldn’t find a monster, how would I? There was one thing that Shine said that kept me going. “Wherever these traditions seem to come to the surface now, there’s always a perception that they’re copying Loch Ness.” It was his way of saying that Morar had been written off as a copycat.

Could Morar just be a place that had been overlooked? Digging a little deeper into the history the area, it seemed entirely possible.

Rocks make a deceptive wake.

Morar and The Monster

I’d been reading The Search For Morag, a history of all known accounts of the monster. Hardly a best seller, I’d had to order this discontinued title from a collector’s shop and paid dearly for it. Written by Elizabeth Montgomery Campbell in 1972, the hardback documents everything known about Morar, recalling over 100 years of sightings and probing that ultimate question.

The book doesn’t disappoint, recounting sightings that were, in the words of one subject, “beyond explanation or definition”. Reports generally describe a humped, “eel-like or snake-like” creature, with “black and shiny” skin. It is generally seen on sunny and calm days, when the waters are less choppy and Scotland’s rain isn’t pissing down.

The most famous sighting – the one that grabbed Shine’s attention in 1969 – involved two men, Duncan McDonell and William Simpson. In the account, they describe a creature that accidentally ran into their boat while breaching the surface. Their initial fear was that it might capsize the boat. After attempting to fend it off with an oar, Simpson fired his rifle in the animal’s direction. He claims, “I then watched it slowly sink away and that was the last I’ve seen of it.” The whole thing would have been easy to write off were there not scores of other sightings before and after.

Morar is exactly the same as Campbell described it in 1972. The town is comprised of a hotel, a train platform and about ten houses. The Morar Hotel is one of those terrifying old white houses, the kind with squeaky floors, a mysterious staff and wall-to-wall carpet. I was given an umbrella at check-in and warned that rain came when it pleased, and often.

I made my way down to the water under careful directions from the hotel (“Turn left at the house with the satellite that’s pointed towards God.”) and took a look. It was ominous, moody and unfathomably quiet. The skies had gone dark and threatened to spill buckets. Nothing living moved on or around the lake. The opposing shore was at least a mile away and not one boat could be seen on the water. The loch was desolate.


The water had a wake that day, mostly because of the coming and going weather. I could see quite easily why there were so many false sightings in these parts – every rock or wave looked like something. One of the most common monster mistakes has been the misinterpretation of a boat wake. I could see how easy it would be to misinterpret a wave on these waters – a number of them caught my eye, tricking me too.

The rain finally started to fall as I tried my best to walk the path around the loch. It would have been impossible to circle in one day, so my plan was to make it halfway around, about another hour out from where the road ended. In the course of six hours I saw three people, seven cars and about ten houses. There just wasn’t much life on the loch, other than the occasional lamb or sheep.

My eyes remained on the water. It wasn’t so much that I was hoping to spot a giant serpent but more that the loch had some kind of draw, a quiet power that demanded attention. There was no doubt in my mind that if there is ever to be something discovered, it could be found here, rather than in a populated place like Loch Ness.

Half a day later, I was back at the hotel, sans monster story and waterlogged.


But Is There Something?

Nobody would talk to me. I’d been warned about this from a few people but it was surprisingly true – the town has zero interest in kicking up a story and attracting tourists. It would seem that the fame of the 1969 sighting was enough of a taste for everyone.

I did speak with one woman who wished to remain anonymous. She said that the area was largely run by one of the older families and that they wanted nothing more than for the world to leave them (and their sheep) alone. The mandate was that if you spoke, there’d be hell to pay. She herself has seen something in the water but brushed it off as quick as it was out of her mouth. “It was probably nothing.”

The sightings in The Search For Morag are all that really remains of the hunt in this loch and may serve as the end of any formal investigation. But they’re still compelling to this day. There is the story of John MacVarish: “What I saw was a long neck five or six feet out of the water with a small head on it, coming quite slowly down the loch.” And Charles Fishburne: “It passed within thirty-fifty yards to port…three large, black hump-shaped objects moving quickly through the water.” Or Kate MacKinnon: “It was rather like a huge eel…the neck was about one foot in diameter and was black in color.”

All of these tales have to make you wonder if there is something out there and, if so, what it might be. There’s plenty of exploring left to be done in these waters and plenty of stories to be fished out.

If you’re interested in trying your hand then you couldn’t find a better place than Loch Morar. Just turn left at the satellite aimed towards God and keep walking.


Singapore and The Gum Thing

October 31, 2009

Anyone who knows me will tell you one thing about me: I hate when people chew gum. Specifically, I despise when mouths chaw, gnarl and mangle objects.  A combination of this with bubblesnapping is enough to push me to the boundaries of sanity. It's a problem.  

I decided to pitstop in Singapore because it is still the only place that gum is unlawful. This was my Holy Land. This was my Jesus Christ.

Gum 101: The horrors of gumchewing began with the Greeks and Aztecs, who chewed on tree resin as a way to pass the time between playing Stratego with civilization. But things really didn't get cooking until a formula was patented in 1869, finding its way into the first gumball machines two years later. William Wrigley souped up the recipe with mint extracts in 1914, if only to drive me insane ninety years later. Frank Fleer was the real gum guru, creating Blibber-Blabber in 1906 (the first bubble gum).  

Fortunately for me, there is Singapore. Gum was banned in 1992, after vandals began sticking it on the sensors of the prized Mass Rapid Transit. Here's the best part: Nobody missed it. No black market ever developed, even though offenders were only "named and shamed" if caught – which is not even a slap on the wrist by Singapore standards.  Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yen commented at the time, "If you can't think because you can't chew, try a banana."  Dude psyches me up when he talks all tough about gum law (but not much else).

The resurfacing of legal gum in Singapore is an excellent example of just how bizarre and corrupt America can be. In 1999, desperate to open bilateral trade with Bush's USA, the government agreed to two things. The first was public support for the war in Iraq. The second was repealing the gum ban. That's quite a dicksucking for trade negotiation.

How did they end up swallowing?  Only Americans will fully understand, for we are a special people. The year before, Wrigley's had hired a lobbyist and leaned on an Illinois congressman to put gum on the Bush Agenda. Only the devil knows what was traded in making this a sticky issue for Singapore, who picked up a 150 million dollar tax break per year on their end of the deal. 

The government in Singapore found a crafty way to save face. Some gum has medicinal purpose, even if is to help build enamel or fight cavities. Therefore, they made gum an item that must be handed out by pharmacists, only after taking down the names of customers for a national record. Any importing of gum is still illegal. There is something perversely exciting to me about this. I could buy a parrot at 4:30am in Manhattan but a person in Singapore must ask a pharmacist for a stick of Hubba Bubba.

For five days I have not seen a single person chew gum. No whorish women snapping their cud. No athletes mouthing the sticky substance like it was their junior prom date.   I have had beautiful, thoughtful moments without the presence of my nemesis. And nobody – not even the spoiled tourists – seems to miss it.

I propose a gumfree world. If I had a billion dollars I would buy lobbyists and make it a priority.  Until then, I will have Singapore.

Posted via email from waywardlife’s posterous

Star Trek In French, As Told By Somebody Who Doesn’t Speak French

October 27, 2009


I decided to re-run this one from May (originally on my Posterous), with the impending release of Star Trek on DVD. Enjoy (however you say that in French).

Tonight I watched Star Trek in Cahors, France. I was the only person in the theatre during the 18:30 showing. 18:30 means 6:30pm. The film was overdubbed. I do not speak French. Here is my summation of the plot of this fine film:

A big, squidlike clams ship tries to eat another ship that looks like the one at the beginning of the old TV episodes, except it’s groovier and more JJ Abrams-looking. A very mean man (with tribal face tattoos that look like they were designed at a shop called Damage Ink) seems to be behind the whole thing.

The Star Trek ship crashes into the mean ship, but not without the captain sending his pregnant wife off on a smaller ship. She gives birth within sixty seconds in that movie way and they name him via speakerphone. They call him Jeem.

We are introduced to a boy called Spuck. He is being schooled in logic and bunch of numbers that I can’t count to in French. Wynona Ryder, in her much ballyhoo’d return, gives him a talking to. She seems like she always seems in movies: like Wynona Ryder with a costume on.

We learn that Jeem is now a grown up playa with the ladies. He channels W Bush and rampages through some cocktails. His hair looks died orange-brown, possibly with L’Oreal (French!). He meets a girl and they discuss ducks or something, depending on if you trust my translation. A fight ensues during which Jeem decides to grow up. People begin calling him Keerk.

It should be mentioned that characters are yelling at each other in French a lot.

Jeem bangs some green lady. He’s on screen long enough for me to imagine his penis size and guess that he has sixty four chest hairs. There is some kind of mix-up between the green girl and her roommate, which was probably really funny if you saw it in English. I just kept trying to look for continuity issues in green girl’s makeup (none. Way to go JJ).

There is some mishagass in a room with a lot of people. Everyone is assigned to ships. Keerk is given to The Enterprise and boards the ship. I figure out who Sulu is based on his ethnicity, which makes me feel shitty. Bones is obviously Bones. Chekhov is by far the hottest and demands my attention.

Keerk and Spuck are cross with each other, in front of their captain. Spuck has razor burn. Somehow, suddenly, The Enterprise does battle with the clamship. Tattoo Man is up to something involving blood or DNA or big needles. It is Tattoo Man is something called a Voolcan.

The second reel clicks through and I am more confused than a circus clown performing an abortion. Everyone seems to be shouting numbers as Keerk parachutes into a Voolcan outpost, then fights with more Tattoo Men. Sulu shows up in a hot-shit silver number and does Kill Bill battle with the dudes, too.

They succeed in doing something but then something bad happens. Spuck acts logically and many people yell into their wrists. Hot Checkhov saves Keerk and Sulu, who then beam back onto the ship while spooning.

Tattoo Man has captured the old captain and tortures him with holograms of beautiful women, then feeds him a weird scorpion. It is at this point that I realize that no person remaining on the ship seems to be older than 20 years old. Spuck has kicked his razor burn and does the Voolcan pinch on Keerk. The audience claps.

Keerk ends up on a planet of ice with bad CGI monsters attacking him. An older Spuck saves him. A series of flashbacks confuses the English Speaking Audience. There might be something about a time portal. Nothing else makes sense and I start having rude thoughts about Checkhov until this sequence is over.

Keerk and Old Spuck enter some kind of weird warehouse with some character who wears a bomber jacket and appears to be somebody named Scutty. Everyone gets cross with each other. Old Spuck takes off and does the “Live Long and Prosper” thing, which I only understand because of the finger action.

Keerk and Scutty get beamed back to the present day Enterprise. Scotty gets pumped through a water Habitrail. Reel three kicks in as Keerk and Spuck become cross with each other again. Shit goes down, Spuck leaves the bridge in a huff and Keerk becomes captain. Spuck comes back to the bridge and makes up with Keerk. They come close to kissing.

Some kind of plan is devised.

Spuck and Keerk beam into Tattoo Man’s lair. He is not chuffed and everyone becomes cross with each other. Spuck ends up leaving on some ship but only by calling Keerk by his first name, Jeem. They almost kiss again.

Keerk fights Tattoo Man on a set that is about the tenth homage to Jedi. Spuck breaks some necklace-in-the-sky thing with his ship. This pisses off Tattoo Man, who seems to be everywhere at once. Keerk shoots Tattoo Man’s henchman in the nuts and sends him into space. Keerk rescues the old captain, who didn’t die from the scorpion-thing or the holograms. Spuck, Keerk and Captain are beamed safely back to The Enterprise.

A final battle with Tattoo Man and his Clamship ensues and the bad guys are sent into the portal from the other part that I didn’t understand.

The Enterprise almost gets pulled apart but it doesn’t. Everyone seems relieved. Back on land, Spuck meets his older self and gets a talking to. The word logic is bandied about. Spuck nearly tongue-kisses older Spuck.

Keerk gets a medal and looks smug. The crew gets a curtain call on the deck of The Enterprise, in a kind of a gay Broadway way. A sequel is assured. The End.

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My Tale Of Woe From London’s Heathrow (It Rhymed)

October 19, 2009

I just posted a piece today about my trip through immigration at Heathrow, which ended up with me in their jail and a flight back to the USA.  


Locked Down At Heathrow

Posted via web from waywardlife’s posterous

Are You Getting It? Really Getting It?

October 16, 2009


Traveling alone only begins to wear on me when The Thing happens. It is always brought upon by not having spoken to people in days, often in areas where I just simply can’t grasp the language (particularly countries where syllables like “yeoowowowowoweee” contribute greatly to an adverb). The Thing is simply this: One song gets in my head, loops and repeats for days.

You’re thinking, “That’s happened to me!” I’m thinking you’re very fucking wrong. You’re probably imagining “Beautiful” by James Blunt invading your mind for a few hours while cleaning, or whistling “Lady Marmalade” in the shower, eventually uttering “Geez, I wish that would stop.” The frequency with which you replay this song is 1/100th of how often I will hear it and 1/1,000,000th of the duration it will stay stuck in the front of my mind. It is not always just the ‘hook’ of a song that hangs upon me, either. It can be one line from a verse, a drum fill or even a throwaway grunt. There are moments, around day five, when I feel that there no cure possible, much like when any human enters hour two of the hiccups. Except there is BOO- ing it out of me.

Currently, The Thing is in high gear. The song in question is “Armageddon It”, the fifth single from Def Leppard’s multi platinum album Hysteria. The album purged seven singles and sold twenty million copies over the years 1987-1988. Two of the album’s tunes (“Armageddon It” and “Rocket”) were gigantic pieces of poo, only becoming hits based on the sheer momentum of the Leppard juggernaut and the audacity of singer Joe Eliott’s power-mullet. There is no reason why this song should have been filed into my memory banks – it is only mildly significant given the amount of trash that I have since consumed. Yet my brain has chosen to remember every lyric. This is the same brain that cannot hold onto the Spanish translation of “I think I am dying. I need a doctor.”

The song revolves around one main hook, in the form of a poignant question: “Are You Getting It?” Many, many times that question is answered, “Yes, Armageddon It”. Upon first listen, you could have no idea how doomsday figured into this whole catastrophe of a hit, because this reply is sounded out phonetically like “I’m-a-getting-it”. Then, around listen #2 one realizes that one is privy to some kind of sinister wordplay, a dialect that the band assuredly deemed “fucking brilliant” during the writing process.

“Armageddon It” is insipid, vulgar and trite. For this reason, I also believe it to be a shining example of America’s tone in 1987. It would never have occurred to a majority of the record-buying public that lyrics like these (“Pull it. Pull it. Trigger the gun.”) were any less important than books being delivered by Updike. This was the year during which the decade went off the rails, just before the populace entered rehab or began Pilates class (yoga’s older aunt). The country was deeply imbued in a collective conscious where anything went, where anything could be bought and where any problem could be dimmed by nineteen rails of blow.

Injecting Def Leppard into this particular decade was masterful work on the part of Whoever Is Up There. The band sensed no irony in their fame and their career is chock full of debaucherous stories. This bravado would have fallen flat in any year after 1992 but Def Leppard hit the sweet spot, dropping affable hits on a public that also accepted bands w ith names like Ratt, Cinderella and Poison. They’ve sold a jaw-dropping 65 million albums. To put that into perspective, the top three albums of 2008 sold a com bined seven million copies. These ka-ching sales were bolstered by lines like “You know you got it. So don’t rock it. You know you got it.” It really makes you wonder about the human race, and where it was headed before thermal replaced spandex.

When The Thing is in full gear, I will sometimes role play that I am the singer. Especially in this song, when Elliot suggests that the guitarist tear into an unusually horrific solo. I mouth along “C’mon Steve, get it”, just before he mauls the fretboard with ill-advised wizardry. Unfortunately, Steve is no longer Armageddon It because he died in 1991, after downing painkillers and allegedly consuming a triple vodka, a quadruple vodka and a double brandy within thirty minutes. He will serve as an example of those who never came back from the dark side of the 80’s, adjusting poorly to a life that didn’t involve excess.

It is very easy to point out the absurdity of “Armageddon It” now but in the interest of full disclosure, I owned the single on both twelve inch and cassingle (an equally absurd format, with fidelity that sounded like the vocals were being played through the other side of a mattress). By the time Hysteria was released, I had seen Def Leppard eight times over the course of two albums. I had served detention for carving their logo into my school desk, spooged myself when I learned the first chords to “Photograph” and did not have hair dissimilar to bassist Rick Savage (note: his real last name). It is not that I am judging anyone for writing this song, nor for pumping fists along with its melodies. It’s more that we were all that stupid for feeling emotion when we sang along.

“Armageddon It” became a Top 20 hit in the UK and reached #3 on the USA pop charts in 1988. Right now it is #1 with a bullet in my head, stuck in The Thing for at least a while longer. I’m just praying that Billy Squier isn’t waiting around the corner.

Woe Was Me

October 10, 2009