Referendum 2014: Undecided Independence

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The home stretch is upon us! 18/09/2014- a  date that shall live in infamy- the United Kingdom was suddenly and deliberately voted upon by YES and NO forces of Scotland. Yes, it’s now 2 days until the big decision. If we vote YES, come October negotiations start between the Scottish and UK governments, Scottish Independence Day will arrive on the 24th of March 2016, and on May 5th the Independent Scottish General Election will take place, cementing a place in the history books forever. If we vote NO, Cross party talks will commence on greater powers in Hollyrood, April 1st will see the Scotland Act 2012 come in, giving extra Tax raising powers to the Scottish Parliament and come May 7th, the General election occurs, with Scotland voting on it as part of the union.

So! A lot to take in huh? A lot of unknowns, a lot of promises and claims on both sides. Walking through the streets of most cities and towns there seems to be a strange air hanging over the country, with independence in every conversation, campaigners on every street, claims and promises printed on every leaflet, flier and poster. I can’t say with certainty if it’s an air of excitement or one of fear, but I somehow imagine it’s probably a 51/49% split depending on which you poll you look at. It’s very strange how quickly we’ve gone from a people who so often would joke about those getting too involved in politics, a certain grumpy pride in not getting overly passionate, serious or patriotic about such affairs, to a country bubbling like revolutionary Revolutionary Catalonia in the 1930s. It’s certainly great to see, certainly, in a time when voter turnout rates were plummeting across the board (and in true hipster style I do often wonder where half these people complaining about representation were in 2011, when the pathetic turnout for the Scottish Elections was barely 50% and the winning party only received 45% of that), people becoming interested and passionate about politics again is very encouraging. My hope at least is that this same passion sticks with us no matter which way we vote, but I can already feel the discontent and disillusionment with a vast majority of campaigners if their referendum horse happens to come in last. It with this in mind, and a horrible feeling I’m going to be bombarded with campaigning and articles to read, I have to admit I still haven’t decided what to vote.

Look, before you crack your knuckles and prepare to send me all your bookmarked pages arguing in either favour- hold up. I want to dispel one myth that’s been annoying me before I get labeled as some sort of ignorant head-in-the-sand student again. I’ve read it. I’ve read it all! I’ve been following and reading all these white papers, articles, independent journals, live debates and ‘impartial’ committee reports and point/counterpoint arguments since 2012. I’m a  history nerd obsessed with the wars of independence and the Darien Scheme. Hell, the reason I started my old blog was originally to publish a gigantic essay on the pros and cons of independence with some solid facts and predictions experts could agree on (oh naive old me! Guess what? Turns out there wasn’t any solid facts and predictions experts could agree on!). I’m not trying to sound holier-than-thou, honest! It’s just that the moment I mention I haven’t yet decided, people on both sides of the debate look at me with a mixture of pity and disgust before trying to coax me to try this short pamphlet that’s full of  the-facts-no-really-don’t-listen-to-those-lying-sc- Listen up, bub! I’ve read your reports, I’ve not been spending my time with my head buried necking bleach to numb the pain of not having a political stance, I’ve just not decided. Undecided doesn’t mean ignorant, it means undecided.

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“Shilly-Shallying”? Really?

But I’m not alone, and not just that apparently I’m the key to this entire debate! When you get down to the line like this, we enter swing vote territory. This is when things like polls and surveys get even more unreliable and useless (hey maybe we should just poll everyone! Say, this Thursday maybe?), and it means that us several thousand undecided voters are now the key to what happens to Scotland on Thursday, just like that film where Kevin Costner decided who got to win the US elections! (No seriously, that’s a real film). Well, that certainly doesn’t help relieve the pressure guys. Sometimes I do wish I had the conviction to fall into the YES or NO camp and just know that I was right. I have so much respect for these campaigners out on the street who can so passionately argue their points and who they honestly believe that they are 100% right that Scotland should stay or go,and well, damn! If they’re sure, it makes me certain in my reassurance that there are people out there that will fight to prove that whatever decision we take is the right one. But… that still doesn’t really help me very much.

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See when I was little right, I was terrified of plague. Yeah, like bubonic plague. Pretty much at 13 I  shared the same fears and worries of a 1300’s peasant farmer in Shropshire. I used to constantly stress about the idea of plagues and diseases that could wipe out humanity- hell the reason I’ve avoided taking pills or antibiotics most of my life is out of a fear that I’d build up some kind of immunity that would kill me off like those poor schmucks you see in the first wave of zombies outside the mall. Soon though, my parents taught me to “stop worrying about things that were out of my control” and I’ve pretty much followed that philosophy ever since. I tend to think that things don’t change overnight and my usual response to “What do you think it’ll be like living in an independent Scotland?” has usually been a shrug and “The Same? Maybe more rants on Facebook (although that’s looking pretty true regardless of the vote)?”. If I were to jump 30 years into the future, or wake from some three decade coma, I’d be taken aback by the changes to society- technology, events and disasters, wars, births and deaths that had happened instantly to me as I looked back over the decades I missed. But as we slowly trudge there, day by day, nothing seems very revolutionary. We don’t know any different, we have no idea what would have happened if say, that vote swung the other way, we can’t really tell when we’re living in a time that will be looked back on as revolutionary or important. We forget what we thought 30 years in the future would look like once we get there, we just arrive after a long series of inter-connecting narratives unsurprised. Time and the future is determined, it’s laid out in front of us like a track on the ground and although we can’t see it, it’s there in front of us and no matter how much we change it, the inability to see the other options or what would have happened had we picked a different path makes every outcome the same. I’m still not trying to sound holier than thou and above all this, really!

For real though Diogenes of Sinope is my hero

Me outside the polling station. “Your Votes mean nothing! The future is decided! FEAR THE PLAGUE! Oh hello officer wow cuffs really HARSH”

I’m getting way too philosophical here, so I’ll pull it back. What I’m trying to say I just don’t have a horse in this race. I love seeing all this change in front of me, I love watching the debates and experiencing this awesome spectacle, but I don’t feel I can make a decision on which outcome I want to see happen, much less which will benefit us years down the line. Furthermore the sheer razor closeness of this entire referendum doesn’t feel satisfying in any way either. Who am I to cast of vote that might drag just less than 50% of the country in one irreversible direction? My choices leave me condemning almost half the country to stay in this union they so desperately want out of, or dragging almost half of Scotland by the heels away from the union and into this new country. Not a great start to a new nation, and not a great way to put a debate to bed. I guess I just follow the crowd at the end of the day, because if I saw 70% or more of the country behind independence, I’d almost certainly forget my reservations and vote YES. It would be proof to me that the country was in favour of a new start. Similarly, if NO was clearly (and in uselessness of polls means all this would have to be very clear) polling at 70%, I would be certain that the YES vote hadn’t yet had its time, but I’d certainly hope for another one the moment public opinion for it started to really build.  When it comes down to it, I love being part of the UK. All these years I’ve never felt pressured or ignored by the big government in Westminster (If anything, I’ve more been annoyed at the crap turnouts to each election before hearing about a ‘lack of representation’- you can’t have both, non-voters!). If anything, I love this weird unbelievable union we have between a bunch countries that have for so long fought and even now, resent and love each other in equal parts like a bunch of weird competitive siblings. “What began as a hostile merger, would end in a full partnership in the most powerful going concern in the world … it was one of the most astonishing transformations in European history” one historian said. It is true the scale and power that Britain has risen to is, while maybe not something to be so proud of considering our… less than wonderful track record to human rights during that whole empire, is certainly something to be impressed and awed by. The United Kingdom as  a union has achieved so much, and the tradition lovin’, nostalgia geek in me would be heartbroken to see it go. But I’m not meant to be looking in the past, I’m meant to be looking in the future. Looking at questions like could we improve? The answer of course being, yes! And what would an improved, fairer society look like? What would a better, more representative Parliament look like, with a fairer voting system and closer ties to those it represents? Eh… actually it would look like the Scottish Parliament, of which it’s vastly better voting system and party representation I’m all in favour for, and of which we actually failed to improve in Westminster. Oh. Well in that case… damnit! I’m back to where I started!

Finally though, I can’t just not vote. That goes against everything I’ve ever argued for, and I’m sure my old Modern Studies teacher would probably track me down and beat me for taking part in the democratic process, but I do now see why some people simply… don’t vote. I don’t agree with people not voting just because they think it’ll make some kind of bullshit ‘statement’ when in fact guess what guys?! You’re the people that the guys you want out of power are hoping don’t vote, because they know you wouldn’t have voted for them and it makes their job easier, ya stupid gullible chumps. Like I said earlier, not knowing who you want to vote for doesn’t always make you ignorant, it just means you can’t decide, and it’s never something I’ve had to face before this vote. I guess I could always spoil my ballot, so it’s still counted but registered as nothing. I guess could always pick at random, or possibly ask someone to decide for me. But none of these feel right to me, in fact they feel decidedly wrong, and go against everything I’ve ever thought about democracy. I wish I had the fanatical confidence and resolve to know what was right, to know that Scotland needs to vote YES or NO, not out of a bank of ‘facts’ that both parties have built up like a pile of bricks to throw at each other, but the passion to believe in a cause and fight for in spite of there not being a logical ‘right answer’. Unfortunately, I’m both plagued with the feeling that either both choices don’t matter, or that they both matter so much that I don’t have the nerve to make the choice.

Anyway, I’ll see you at the polls come September 18th. I’ll be the one frantically rolling a dice on the ground and sobbing quietly.

Homer Votes

Henry H. Bliss & Mary Ward: The Unlucky Automotive Firsts

FATALLY HURT BY AUTOMOBILE

Vehicle Carrying the Son of ex-Mayor Edson Ran Over H. H. Bliss, Who Was Alighting from a Trolley Car

The New York Times, September 14th 1899
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Grand Theft Auto: 1899

So blazed the headlines of The New York Times 115 years ago today in their report that marked a grisly first in American automotive history. On September 14th 1899 68-year-old Henry Hale Bliss, a real estate dealer living in New York City (234 West Seventy Firth Street to be precise, but his original residence no longer exists) became the first man in the Americas to die from his injuries caused by being struck down by an automobile. By the end of the 19th century the automobile was becoming an increasingly common sight on the streets of Cities in the western world, and patents for steam, combustion and electric vehicles were being registered since the early to mid-1800s.  State of Wisconsin in 1875 had offered a $10,000 award to the first individual that could produce a practical substitute for the use of horses and other animals (incidentally leading in 1878 to the first automotive race in America, in which five of the seven entries failed to start and the winner completed the 200 mile course in a time of 33 hours after the only other completer also broke down. More successful than perhaps the first automotive race, in which only one vehicle competed.)

"Eat our collective dusts, no one in particular!"

“Eat our collective dusts, no one in particular!”

Passing vehicles were rare enough, however, for Bliss to not look both ways before crossing a road at Central Park West and Seventy-Forth as he jumped off an “electric trolley” (a tram, or streetcar) with a lady friend on the 13th of September. Turning back to assist his friend Miss Lee, he was knocked down by an electric taxi, the two front wheels rolling over his chest and head, crushing them. The passenger of the Taxi, “Ex-mayors son Dr David Orr Edson” as the paper identifies him as, aided him and called for ambulance. Taken to the Roosevelt Hospital, he was declared dead the following day. As an interesting aside “Ex-Mayors son Dr. David Orr Edson”, that The Times was so keen to point out was riding in the taxi, published a book in 1921 by the catchy title of Getting What We Want, How to Apply Psychoanalysis to Your Own Problems. The book (available for free in its entirety right here!), of what appears to assembled collections of stories and self-help advice, contains an interestingly large amount of references to automobile accidents, with at least five stories about people involving themselves in various automotive wrecks.

“She dreamed that while crossing the street she was knocked down by a large, red automobile which ran over her, crushing both her legs.”

-Getting What We Want, How to Apply Psychoanalysis to Your Own Problems (p121)

Dr. Dave making good use of his first-hand experience, it seems.

Now, pinning down what car exactly killed Henry H. Bliss is something harder to do. The New York Times article fails to mention a make or model, only the name of the driver Arthur Smith (who was arrested on manslaughter but was acquitted on the grounds that the accident was unintentional). A Wikipedia article on Bliss lists the taxi being “Automobile no. 43″, but I can’t find any source on this. However, if this is correct and the Taxi was No. 43 in a  series of electric taxis, we can possibly pin down what kind of vehicle this was. The first run of electric taxi cabs in new York was Samuel’s Electric Carriage and Wagon Company, which ran 12 “hansom cabs” starting summer 1897. In 1898, the company had reformed into the Electric Vehicle Company, and had begun building the Electrobat Electric Car, the first successful electric automobile. Running up to 100 of these cabs by 1899, It’s quite possible that one of these much larger four-wheeled taxicabs was the offending vehicle that struck down Henry Bliss 115 years ago today.

“The Electric Taxi Company Electrobat”. Large, heavy and with poor driver visibility, could these be the cabs that ran Henry Bliss down?

So folks as you cross the road, take a second to check both ways and not to become one of the thousands that followed poor Mr Henry Hale Bliss. As his plaque at the spot where he died reads:

“When Mr. Bliss, a New York real estate man, died the next morning from his injuries, he became the first recorded motor vehicle fatality in the Western Hemisphere. This sign was erected to remember Mr. Bliss on the centennial of his untimely death and to promote safety on our streets and highways”

-Historic Site Plaque, West 74th Street and Central Park West, 1999

Wait a minute Mr. New York City Plaque, the first recorded motor vehicle fatality in the Western Hemisphere?

APPALLING ACCIDENT.

SUDDEN DEATH OF THE HON. MRS. WARD.

 King’s County Chronicle, 1st of September 1869
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Uh oh.

Yes, unfortunately the first known automotive accident in the Western Hemisphere and history goes to the Honorable Mrs Mary Ward, who was thrown from the seat of an early steam carriage. A tragic death certainly, however fortunately Mrs. Ward will never go down in history as simply ‘the first known automotive fatality’, but as an inspiring trailblazer to women in the fields of science and study who led an incredible life as a renowned artists, naturalists, astronomer and microscopist in her homeland of Ireland.

Born Mary King in 1827, she did not attend school or university, but  was educated from home. She was a cousin and frequent visitor of William 3rd Earl of Rosse, a famous astronomer whose residence was the grand Birr Castle in County Offaly, Ireland. Both William and his castle are famous for “The Leviathan of Parsonstown“, a gigantic telescope built on the grounds of the estate in 1845 that was the largest telescope (in terms of aperture size) in the world, until the construction of the Hooker Telescope in 1917. Mary observed and chronicled the building of the incredible Leviathan, and met many eminent scientists through her famed cousin William.

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This seems more like the kind of superweapon a Victorian James Bond would have to deal with

However, despite being a renowned and capable scientist, Mary’s gender ultimately denied her any formal distinction or recognition from the scientific community at the time, it being impossible for women to become members of societies or institutions or obtain degrees or diplomas during their lifetime.  None of this stopped Mary however, who published several books in her lifetime, as well as illustrating all her own books and papers and those of others. I’ve actually found some of Mary’s illustrations and details of her microscopic research with Sir David Brewster in the book Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1864 (Vol XXIII part I), below.

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Also the concept designer for Cloverfield, it seems.

Having achieved more than most of us ever will at age 42, it seems Mary’s friendship with inventors and scientists was ultimately what led to her tragic accident. On the 31st of August 1869, Mary took a ride with her husband Henry (not Henry Bliss, that is, in what would be the most tragic coincidence in history), and the two sons of William Rosse in an early steam carriage invented by William himself. The steam carriage jolted, and Mary was thrown forwards and killed instantly  under the heavy front wheels. Her body was taken to Birr Castle to await a coroner, and the full inquest of her death, which it was ultimately ruled as accidental, can be read here. The article on her death in The King’s County Chronicle makes it clear of the high regard she was held in:

“The unfortunate lady was taken into the house of Dr. Woods which is nearly opposite the scene of the unhappy occurrence, and as that gentleman was on the spot everything that could be done was done, but it was impossible to save her life. The utmost gloom prevades the town, and on every hand sympathy is expressed with the husband and family of the accomplished and talented lady who has been so prematurely hurried into eternity [...] The Hon. Mrs. Ward was a lady of great talent, and accomplished in literary and scientific pursuits. A very interesting book of hers, “Sketches with the Microscope,” was published at this office [Shields of Parsonstown] some years ago. The work displays persevering research, and set forth in an attractive dress.”

 King’s County Chronicle, 1st of September 1869

Could the papers or the people reading about these awful accidents at the hands of this new technology ever guess how horribly prevalent these kinds of deaths and accidents get as the number of vehicles increased? It’s a sad fact that as deaths to road accidents account for around 1.2 million people per year worldwide, vehicles from their slow, trundling and earliest introduction proved deadly to not just those driving, but the pedestrians around them.

14 Nov

The traditional London automotive child hunt, carried out each year to sacrifice a child to the Old Road Gods.

11/09/1297- The Battle of Stirling Bridge and Wallace & Moray- The Dynamic Duo

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“You gotta pay the toll troll!”

“We come here with no peaceful intent, but ready for battle, determined to avenge our wrongs and set our country free. Let your masters come and attack us: we are ready to meet them beard to beard.”

These are the (apparent) words of William Wallace (Uilleam Uallas), the resistance leader, knight and Guardian of Scotland during the Scottish Wars of Independence. The quote is attributed to him on the eve of the Battle of Stirling Bridge, which happens to have happened 717 years ago today (11/09/1297), in which Scottish forces under Andrew de Moray and Wallace led an incredible victory over the English army on the waters of the River Forth. The Battle is one of the most incredible battles to take place in the history of the British Isles, and is one of the most famous examples of the Scottish “Underdog” victories over the English during the First War of Independence, a particular chapter of Scottish history I’m fascinated by. Unfortunately, horribly inaccurate and over-simplified depictions of Wallace and this battle in particular is all too pervasive, so I thought for the anniversary I’d look at both the men in charge and the battle, and maybe show you a  glimpse of why Scottish history is so much more incredible, bloody, brutal and strange than anything you’d ever find in Game of Thrones. First, let’s look at the big men in charge- William Wallace (obviously) and the under-regarded often forgotten partner in crime: Andrew de Moray.

Wallace: The Mountain That Flays

Now, Wallace’s speech on all things freedom and facial hair comes from the book History of Scotland written in 1841, and marks a familiar pattern of the dubious accuracy of quotes, facts and descriptions attributed to Wallace, especially considering the romanticism of Scottish figures by writers of such histories through the centuries and how little we actually know of the real William Wallace. Even his birth is hard to pin down, with dates ranging over a period of 18 years, from 1260 to 1278. His father is generally taken to be Sir Malcolm Wallace of Elderslie in Paisley, however Wallace’s seal on the “Lubeck Letter”, the letter Wallace and Andrew Murray (yes, this is the same Andrew de Moray, but it appears to be a different spelling) sent as Guardians of Scotland in 1297 says “William, son of Alan Wallace”. An Alan Wallace does exist on the Ragman’s Roll, a list of landowners who swore loyality to The King of England Edward I in 1296, meaning Wallace’s father, as well as his place of birth are all called into question. Even his marriage to Marion Braidfute, so famously touted as his reason for rebellion and killing of the Earl of Lannark in Braveheart, is hard to prove. We know that he had two brothers, Malcolm and John, and that John died in London though a similar fate to Wallace. Nonetheless, Wallace’s quote shows us two things- Wallace was clearly regarded a leader of the Scottish forces during the battle, and apparently lived in a time when beards were pretty darn fashionable.

This is a man that used beard oil. Probably made from the blood of Hugh de Cressingham
This is a man that used beard oil. Probably made from the blood of Hugh de Cressingham

He was a tall man with the body of a giant, cheerful in appearance with agreeable features, broad-shouldered and big-boned, with belly in proportion and lengthy flanks, pleasing in appearance but with a wild look, broad in the hips, with strong arms and legs, a most spirited fighting-man, with all his limbs very strong and firm.” – Passage of the Scotichronicon, 14th century

It becomes clear from descriptions of Wallace that he struck an imposing figure, with some accounts claiming Wallace to be as tall as 6 foot 7, a giant of a man by even today’s standards, even more so 700 years ago when the average height was about 5 foot 8.  Another source of evidence comes from his purported sword, “The Wallace Sword“, which hangs on display in the National Wallace Monument in Stirling. The sword is a Scottish Claymore (claidheamh-mòr), and at 5 feet 8 inches (ie. the height of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall!) and weighting over 6 pounds (that’s the weight of 6 labrador puppies!), it strikes as an imposing example of how big Wallace may have been. Now, like everything Wallace related, the authenticity of this sword is very dubious, with many parts having been replaced and gone missing since its “discovery”, such as the distinctive claymore hilt and the legendary belt (or baldric) and scabbard which were apparently made from the flayed skin of Hugh De Cressingham, the hated English Treasurer for Scotland that was killed at the Battle of Stirling Bridge (we’ll get to that later). Authentic or not however, it adds to the idea that Wallace struck an imposing figure, an obvious leader and not to mention metal as fuck.

"You know, you'd make a nice belt."

You know, you’d make a nice belt“. Cressingham depicted as the unmounted solider in white, his coat of arms being of three ducks. Yup, Wallace is a 7 foot tall giant making belts of men, Cressingham comes from a family of ducks. He didn’t stand a chance. (Moray can also be identified by the three starred crest on his shield)

 “You might know me by a different name…. MORAY.” “Who?!” “… Moray, man… come on…”

By 1297, the English were in a bad shape when it came to their grasp of Scotland. The country was in open revolt, and various leaders had risen up to challenge English rule. Most notable of these but so often overlooked when considered next to Wallace, was Andrew de Moray. The Morays were a prominent and affluent family who controlled lands of Moray on the North East of the country. The Morays had been a  thorn in the side of many royal families and had vigorously resisted Royal rule from the Kingdom of Scotland in the past. They commanded significant power, wealth and influence during the 13th century. Both Andrew and his father, Sir Andrew de Moray of Petty were both captured after the Battle of Dunbar between the Kingdom of Scotland and England in April 1296. Andrew the younger escaped captivity in Chester castle in winter 1296-97. He returned to his fathers castle in Avoch and gathered troops in support of John Balliol, who had been abdicated after the Battle of Dunbar. This act of defiance of English rule, as well as Wallace’s murder of the Sheriff of Lanark, marked to two important flash points in the Scottish revolt. As the rebellion in Scotland began to take hold, Moray became involved in several clashes and confrontations with Edward’s men, creating a firestorm of violence and rebellion spreading throughout Scotland. Castles under English rule were ceased, with Moray seizing control of the North of the country as Wallace rampaged through the Central Scotland in a  whirlwind of violent raids and confrontations. By late summer 1297 it was more than clear England’s rule over Scotland was in name only. Hugh de Cressingham (future belt of William Wallace), wrote in a letter to Edward in 1297:

by far the greater part of your counties of the realm of Scotland are still unprovided with keepers, as [they have been killed or imprisoned]; and some have given up their bailiwicks, and others neither will nor dare return; and in some counties the Scots have established and placed bailiffs and ministers, so that no county is in proper order, excepting Berwick and Roxburgh, and this only lately.”

Edward, currently at war in France was furious with both the Scottish revolt and raising of flags against his throne, as well as the failure of Scottish lords and English forces to put down the rebellion. Edward in a clever move appealed to Moray; proposing a release of Andrew’s father from imprisonment to serve in the ranks of the English army in Flanders, if his son was prepared to take his father’s place as a royal hostage. Whether Moray refused or simply did not get the message is not known, as his campaign against English rule continued unabated and Moray’s father was never released. Eventually The King’s Lieutenant, the Earl of Surrey, realising he had underestimated the Scottish forces gathered an army to deal with Moray and Wallace. Wallace and Moray upon hearing this, abandoned their siege of Dundee castle, the only remaining castle north of the Forth in English hands, mustered their forces and left to meet the English, leaving the siege in the hands of Dundee’s townsfolk.

AndrewDeMoray

Castle-Escapin’, Army-raisin’, Battle-Fightin’, Siege-Layin’ Andrew of Freaking Moray. Wallace’s secret Weapon

As you can see, Andrew de Moray is clearly not the man to be overlooked in this partnership. The fact that little is known of Moray in both appearance or quotes attributed to him goes to show that Wallace was the clearly the more romantic warrior of the two, who captivated the hearts and ideals of Scottish rebellion and tenacity for centuries to come. Wallace is portrayed storming Scotland on a bloodthirsty, revenge driven campaign to rid Scotland of English rule from a ‘grassroots working mans’ perspective. If we can drag this back to a Braveheart comparison (as much as I hate to), Moray fits more into Robert the Bruce’s character in the film, a man of a higher social class that leads through family status and traditional pitched battle experience in a quest for power and duty within the prominent Moray family (this is not to say Bruce wasn’t active at the time, he had in fact just turned against English rule to follow the Scottish cause just before The Battle of Stirling Bridge, contrary to what Braveheart portrayed). Moray’s goal was about seizure and control of Scottish lands, while Wallace’s path of destruction represented the more popular and obvious acts of rebellion in the name of the Scottish people. The two together thus make a perfect pairing, with Wallace being a face of the unstoppable force of common folk in revolt, and Moray representing the more organised rebellion to restore king John Balliol and the Kingdom of Scotland.

The Slaughter of Stirling Bridge.

There is a lot of misinformation and fiction surrounding the Battle of Stirling Bridge, and the facts of the battle are very, very hard to pin down. Blind Harry’s (whose poem on Wallace is the basis of much of the ‘Braveheart Legend’) account of the battle is one of the most cited and referenced accounts (despite being written over 170 years after Wallace’s death), and much of it is quite clearly fictionalised and exaggerated. We know that on the English side stood roughly 10,000 men (however numbers range from 8,000-13,000, or a pretty ridiculous 50,000 in Blind Harry’s account), under the command of John de Warenne, the 6th Earl of Surrey and our man of the moment, Hugh de Cressingham. Out of this impressive force, over a third were mounted cavalry, as well as a significant number of skilled English and Welsh archers. The army was well armed and confident, sure of their abilities and certain of a victory. The Scots army was feeble in comparison. Comprised of foot soldiers gathered from across the country, they numbered less than 3000 men, probably only a tenth of which were made up of cavalry and a handful of archers. Much of the army was comprised of “lesser” ranks of society- a result of many Scottish nobles and lords being held captive after successive defeats by the English. They were not however, the rabble of untrained soldiers of earlier conflicts that the English so surely believed them to be. Moray and Wallace had their forces drilled and under strict command, and confident in their abilities.

Something our award-winning drama Braveheart famously left out of their depiction of the Battle of Stirling Bridge was, well, the bridge. The English had few choices on where they could cross the deep and fast flowing River Forth, with no bridges or fords really suitable for crossing an entire army. Stirling Bridge was a small wooden crossing located near Stirling Castle (still in English hands) and was wide enough for only a couple of horses or men to cross side by side and shoulder to shoulder. It emptied onto a marshy and boggy Scottish side, with the river surrounding it and creating a natural bottleneck, something the Scottish intended to take full advantage of. Close to the Bridge was a ford that could allow sixty horse to cross at a time, however the plan to divert and cross at this ford was quashed by our resident mastermind and penny-pinching treasurer Cressingham, who was keen to avoid prolonging the battle at unnecessary expense.

sbridge

Cressingham = literally Joffrey?

The English delayed crossing by several days, attempting to negotiate under the impression that the Scots would surely surrender or make peace in face of the English force. surprised that they did not, the English began to cross the bridge. However, an initial force of Archers sent across were immediately recalled by a furious Warenne, who had overslept and not given the order himself. They were recalled, and a vanguard of over 5000 infantry and several hundred cavalry (including ol’ Hughy de) was then ordered over the bridge. This entire time the Scots, set up close by near Abbey Craig and hidden under the forests overlooking the river, bided their time.

It must have quite an eerie and unnerving sight for the English marching across the creaky bridge towards the Scottish side. They could probably see elements of the Scottish force on the hillside, but not the entire army who were obscured by the trees. The water beneath the river was fast flowing and deep, and the heavily laden knights and infantry didn’t dare think what might happen if they fell in. More likely, however, they were in high spirits- the Scottish force they faced was tiny, poorly armed and badly trained in comparison to them and past victories cemented a feeling of superiority over any Scottish force. On top off all this, many probably held onto the gentlemanly ideals of the Pitched Battle, the rules of war that medieval armies so often stuck to. An agreement in most battles was that both sides met before any conflict, exchanged negotiations and agreements in which some kind of truce could be brokered and a fight avoided. If none could be arranged, battle would take place. After hours of fighting, either victors were obvious and the defeated army was driven off, or a truce was made and both armies parted ways and limped home. It was a romantic image of ‘gentlemanly war’ of which there are numerous examples of parties breaking, however still represented a sort of unspoken ‘rule of engagement’ of a consensual, fair battle that both armies agreed to. The English were going into this fight no doubt expecting a similar arrangement, as such battles with the Scots had started and ended this way in the past. This however, was not Moray and Wallace’s plan and would set an example to the ineptitude of naive commanders and the advantage that would be taken over those who still held onto the idea of ‘gentlemanly war’. The Scots were waiting for “as many of the enemy had come over [the bridge] as they believed they could overcome”, and as the 5000 strong vanguard had all but crossed the Bridge, the Scots charged.

The true horror of the battle is very hard to picture, and the reality of thousands of deaths taking place over 700 years ago is also hard to take seriously, but the brutal slaughter the English were subjected to is pretty grim. The mounted cavalry, packed into the tight soft ground at the north side of the bridge were very vulnerable to the approaching Scottish front of long spears. Pushed further and further back, soon the bridgehead was cut off and the vanguard was surrounded, being packed closer and closer together and forced towards the water’s edge. Cavalrymen were dragged from their horses and hacked to death, while the packed infantry was slowly pushed back and cut down by the Scottish spears and archers. As it became clear that there was no way out, the English began to rout, with those that were able attempting to swim back across the river. Most drowned, either the currents or an inability to swim pulling them under, or the weight of armour and the crush of others behind stampeding them into the depths of the River Forth.  From the English side, they could only watch in horror as their comrades were cut down in plain sight, unable to cross the bridge now controlled by the Scottish on the other side. Blind Harry’s account makes claim that the bridge collapsed under the weight of men and horses stampeding back over the bridge, but this can’t be confirmed. Despite all this chaos however, William Wallace still stuck out as a giant among men-

“On foot, and bearing a great sharp spear, Wallace went amongst the thickest of the press. he aimed a stroke at Cressingham in his corslet, which was brightly polished. The sharp head of the spear pierced right through the plates and through his body, stabbing him beyond rescue; thus was that chieftain struck down to death. With the stroke Wallace bore down both man and horse”

Cressingham, trapped with the other soldiers in the vice, was brutally killed.  A chronicle at the time reported Wallace took “a broad strip [of Cressingham’s skin]…taken from the head to the heel, to make therewith a baldric for his sword.”. Pieces of Cressingham were cut up and taken as grizzly souvenirs by Scots:

“The Scots flayed him and divided his skin among themselves in moderate-sized pieces, certainly not as relics, but for hatred of him”

It’s unlikely any of the vanguard survived. Unable to run or even fight in such close quarters, over the course of a few hours the entire force was probably killed in the most horrible conditions imaginable. Warenne’s remaining army was still intact, however his nerves were shot. After the remaining knights had fled back across the bridge, he ordered it destroyed and abandoned Stirling Castle and it’s garrison, retreating for Berwick and leaving the Scottish Lowlands for the rebels.

"Damn guys! Lucky you still have thousands of troops left huh?... Guys? Guys where you going? Guys?"

“Damn guys! Lucky you still have thousands of troops left huh?… Guys? Guys where you going? Guys?”

The Dynamic Duo

The battle marked a turning point in the War of Independence, both in a shock to the English and a boost in confidence and support in Scotland. It’s unknown who planned the battle and who can take credit for the amazing ploy played by the Scottish, however the Battle of Stirling Bridge is interesting in its unconventional tactics displayed by the Scots. It was the genius of the Scots to take advantage of the arrogance and naivety of the English expecting a traditional pitched battle that led to such an amazing victory. Reading the events, it feels almost like the perfect melding of experience and tactics that the two leaders, Moray and Wallace, brought to the table. Moray’s knowledge and command of larger forces and experience with pitched battles against the English and Wallace’s notorious guerilla tactics and bold, brash and confident leadership all play a part in the battle and victory. Even more telling is the aftermath. It’s unknown how or when exactly Moray died, but it’s suggested that an injury sustained at the battle led to his death soon afterwards. This left Wallace in charge and, as we all know from Braveheart, his next meeting with the English was not nearly so successful. The Battle of Falkirk was a monumental defeat dealt by the English, and ultimately led to Wallace’s capture, trial and sentencing to death in London. Was his defeat because of a lack of knowledge of traditional pitched battles that Falkirk proved to be? Was it King Edwards clearly more knowledgeable command of the battle on the English side? Was Moray the key to the Scots victory at Stirling Bridge? We’ll never know, but one thing is for certain: Braveheart, Game of Thrones, you name it- none had the true genius, confidence, characters and unbelievable events of the Scottish Wars of Independence, and especially the events of the 11th of September 1297.

"Leave! No beardless ponce tells WALLACE what to do!"

“Three free tickets to Mamma Mia and a £50 voucher for Gregs? Bog off mate”

Short Story! A Boy in the Woods One Day

Hey folks! So, I’m working on a  secret(ish) project that involves a lot of script writing and story work, and I’m hoping I can talk a lot more about it at length very soon. However, I can show you this, which is a short story I’ve been working on that features the main character. I wrote this mainly as a kind of writing exercise and to see if I could create a kind of unhinged, crazy character and really make the reader feel  ‘inside’ his head. Writing it in first person did make me feel slightly disturbed however… Anyway! I didn’t want to push out the boat to far and let you guys kind of read between the lines at what really happened, but we’ll see how well that worked!

Now, as I’ve said before, my spelling and grammar suuuuuucks, so please excuse & call me about on it! But otherwise I hope you enjoy A Boy in the Woods One Day

PS. I also posted this on Reddit here!, so if you see it there, I didn’t rip it off!

When I was young, we would sometimes build sand castles on the beach. Scraped together and built with impatient hands, they were not fancy or beautiful, they sported no towers or fancy houses and gardens for little kings and members of the court. What they were were huge- ugly and industrial, with high walls and deep moats, built around clawed out patches of sand that we would sit inside, trying to resist the encroaching tide. As the water lapped against our walls of rock and sand and driftwood used to build these creations, we would plug up the gaps that formed through gushing streams of salt water, seeing how long we could sit within our dry patch of land before the ocean finally reclaimed it. Soon we’d be left sitting, shivering and sodden in the waters of our dirty flooding castle (now sporting a fashionably large swimming pool on the grounds), looking at the disaster around us, the fall of civilization in grainy, muddy miniature. Leaving the beach (our school clothes were dirty and dinner was at five, plus I had drum practice at 6), I looked over my shoulder, back over our ruins- we’d built a paddling pond full of mucky seawater and wasted time, a shattered lump of rock and sand that would slowly erode over the days like something Percy Bysshe Shelley would be proud of. It was certainly nothing to write at length about.

I thought of these simpler times as I finished burying the eviscerated corpse of Carrie Jamie in the woods near my house. Why did those sand castles stick so clearly in my mind? Maybe there was something pathetic, nostalgic or allegorical about those days that my mind hadn’t yet revealed to me, but was holding in wait for the day I became mature or enlightened enough to understand it. My heart suddenly lurched and my stomach turned over in reply, my balance lost. I leant (or more ungainly, fell) on the upright bloody shovel, doubled over and catching my breath like an old man reliant on a cane. I took some deep breaths, staring at the disturbed ground. I noticed my shoes. The soles were caked in blood.

Perhaps the castles represented something I yearned for in life? A return to a more innocent time perhaps? Certainly stress was becoming a problem in life, exams and money and all that kind of stuff. I felt the weight of the shovel on my shoulder and suddenly realised I was almost home. I threw it away with a twirl, hearing it spin through the air and land high in the rhododendron bushes. I never heard it hit the ground. I looked at the disturbed patch of leaves with some worry. I had always liked the shovel. It had reminded me of old days of moving gravel with my father and working in the garden. I felt a sudden, painful pang of regret for throwing away such a precious memory. As I approached the backdoor of my house, I stepped out of each of my shoes in one smooth motion, leaving them a stride apart, sitting on the unkempt grass behind the old boat engines. Walking barefeet now, I squelched off the grass, crunched across the gravel (carefully) and hopped up the concrete steps, leaving four wet sole patches on the dry concrete from my socks. I removed the wet, black socks and threw them in the bin. Maybe I need to go back to that beach. It’s only down the road, a short walk and hop across the burn. A sudden answer came my way, however: the tell tale spots of rain appearing on the concrete. It would hide the sock marks, at least, but I wouldn’t be going to the beach now.

My parents were sitting at the kitchen table, Mum drinking tea, Dad coffee. As I got closer I realised Mum was also drinking coffee. I looked over at the counter, where the milk still lay out. There were no tea bags left. They said their hellos and asked me something, anything, but I could not look them in the eyes or talk to them since it happened. That was something I think they might have started to notice. You don’t notice some big things like coming in barefoot from outside, but you notice wee things like that. It’s hard to talk normally, friendly or at length after you’ve killed someone and buried their dead body. I think that was the biggest shame because I was always a friendly, talkative guy. I walked through to the corridor and up the stairs towards my room. My feet were cold, but at least dry now. I sobbed for a bit then sat and read my book until I slept. It was the Mars Trilogy, and although I’m more of the type that enjoys sci-fi that focuses on the higher philosophical debates and technology behind the devices and ideas within the stories, I could appreciate the more human focus that the Mars trilogy takes. Certainly not a complaint, and I love the direction the story is taking (I’m on the second book). As I slept, I dreamt about Mars, the characters, that maybe one day I would get there, and then about Carrie, and her naked dead body sitting in the grave digging it’s way out and then finding me, her mouth still full of dirt and her skin still so grey and torn where the bones jutted out so unnaturally and she screamed and screamed but no one could hear her but me. I woke up wailing, sweating and crying and wanting to call for my mother like some newborn bairn but I couldn’t, and she could never help me and never would ever again. One day she had put me down and never picked me up, and one day I stopped being her son and that was that. I sat there, rocking back and forth, no one to blame but myself and praying for death. Fortunately enough though, it was soon 5AM, and I could get out of bed knowing I hadn’t wasted the day sleeping in.

I ran that morning as I had every morning for the past year. I was the fittest I’d ever been that year, full of energy. “A new Man” people had said to me, and I took that compliment, proudly. I was a new man. I had finally grown up, into someone I could respect. It was the best year of my life. It was meant to be. As I ran towards the old Sawmill, I thought I saw someone running up ahead of me, through the haze of rain and occasional overgrown bend of trees and bushes. His pace was very good, consistent but fast. I tried to catch him, to get closer just to see who it was. There was not usually anyone out at this time, especially with the bad weather as of late. Most people were also up north, helping police with the search. Upping my pace, I swerved off just before the mill, taking a different route parallel to the road that was once an access track for the logging yard. The path was overgrown and uneven, but it was shorter distance-wise, and meant I was slowly gaining on the mystery runner. His pace was consistent, but I swear he was slowly gaining speed, whether this was because he noticed me with a competitive regard, or thought I was some crazy murderer (haha!) I couldn’t tell. Willing myself forward, I put on a final burst, my heart pumping, my brain electrified as I jumped, dodged and hopped over potholes and branches, the intersection getting closer and closer. We were level now, and I could see his features flickering through the trees like a Victorian Zoetrope. Short hair, blue T-shirt, shorts and flashy yellow running shoes. His face was still hidden, but I already knew who it was. I was still running, getting ever closer to that intersection, but I could see and feel this person beside me as much as I ever would. It was me. I was watching myself run, sprinting down this road like some ghost car in Colin McRae Rally, watching with fascination as this copy of myself ran before my eyes. I didn’t know what to think, I had run this route a hundred times and never met myself out here. I suddenly realised I was almost at the intersection, the trees were running out and I was going to collide with my doppelganger if I kept this up. This was a bad idea, I had to leave, I had to get out of here and back home, back to my book, my bed. Back the way I came. I tried to turn but I was going too fast, the track too narrow now, there was no going back. I tried to slow, but so did he, trying he must, to keep level with me. My pace slowed but so did his, my steps became erratic but so did his, and as my head turned, tears forming on my face as the trees finally disappeared, so did his.

His face was his, but not my own. Twisted in a sick smile like the one I always wore, laughing and jovial like the kid I was. I was no longer heading for him, he was running to me, his course swerving towards where the two roads converged. Suddenly I saw his face for what it was, not a smile and two eyes but an ugly mess of sand and stone, and rocks and muck and seaweed and shit- it was my sandcastle, ugly curtain walls to keep out the sea, moats of rock and canals gouged into the sand with shells and sticks. Now it was grafted onto my face, moving and sloshing as I ran towards myself, water and muck pouring out of the gaps as the water came pouring in. I screamed and screamed because now I knew what was coming after me- me! The old me, the man and boy and person I killed that night I murdered her, and they were both coming to get me, the sick bloody couple that deserved each other. I felt his hands grab for me, soft and fleshy and matted with sand and blood and suddenly I was alone, weeping and crying and wishing that whoever the monster was inside me had killed me that day and not the lucky bastard who got to get away.

Sunday Night Sketchbook 29/6/14

I’m back!

Hey everyone, this guys on his computer again! These last two months have been bloody fantastic, not least for all the traveling, fun times, marathons, boating, fishing, working, hiking, drinking and general healthy buffoonery I’ve been getting done, but for the fact that it’s given me plenty of time away from the computer and internet to be doodling and drawing in the ol’ sketchbook. Now, this does come with some downsides- more noticeably the fact I have not updated you guys in stuff for weeks! But that changes today! Here’s my collection of drawings from the past few weeks, and rest assured, this is the start of my return! I’ve been planning some blog posts about my travels and what I’ve been up to all this time, as well as some long overdue Youtube series! Anyway, I’m planning a blog update with all my summer plans both so far and in the future but until then- drawings! Enjoy!

Sometimes the beauty of my creations astound me.

Sometimes the beauty of my creations astound me.

Seathbeard. The man, the myth, the beard.

Seathbeard. The man, the myth, the beard.

Where my essays go.

Where my essays go.

Journeys, not destinations! My artwork as part of Kurts Birthday Celebrations!

Journeys, not destinations! My artwork as part of Kurt’s Birthday Celebrations!

"Kurt's Journey, the second part of my journey series for Kurts birthday. You can buy it (and other stuff!) here

Kurt’s Journey, the second part of my journey series for Kurts birthday.  I wrote the quote myself. You can buy it (and other stuff!) here

The Mindcrack Mod Team! They know their stuff.

The Mindcrack Mod Team! They know their stuff.

 

 

Finally, the following Gallery is part of pretty cool thing going around where you pick a colour pallet for people to work with. People send me a mindcracker and a colour to work with. This is the one I was using. I’m super pleased with how the shark turned out. All available here!

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Night Sketchbook 01/06/14- May bumper edition!

Greeeeetings true believers! I know, what a long time to have gone without posting on my flashy wee blog, but a multitude of events including exams, a marathon and a move home have meant I’ve had little or no time at all for internet duties! Which, honestly is pretty awesome. There’s nothing better than spending time outdoors on my home island, and I had a blast running the marathon so I’m certainly going to make the drive to do more outdoorsy stuff (in fact, keep an eye out here for some updates and what not)! Anyway, let’s get to the artwork! Again, not exactly a months worth of work, but plenty to keep you entertained. Hopefully I’ll be getting back on the drawing horse ASAP (or once the weather gets worse!)

Anyway, enjoy!

gotem

The following 4 .gifs are some little silly adventurer YouTube Aureylian got up to as she joined the Mindcrack server. See the tumblr post here!

black-white-pig-gif

“If” an animated piece I did about our favourite Youtuber Zisteau. See the reddit thread & context here!

superhostile

A high quality, coloured version of my Zisteau “If” artwork.

millie

I both cannot, and do not want to explain this. I think it’s a mule.

logo21

/r/mindcrack summed up.

brits n butts

COMING SOON ;)

Sunday Night Sketchbook 04/05/14

HEY BABES welcome back to the Sunday Night Sketchbook! Another pretty big week of sketching and drawing, including the finished version of a piece I’ve been working on for some time! So we’ll cut to the chase and get into the drawings- enjoy!

The new minecraft snapshot introduces some amazing new features! And they require slimes. A lot.

The new minecraft snapshot introduces some amazing new features! And they require slimes. A lot.

bratz

I love the Videogamer Podcast, and I doodled some of their shenanigans.

Sexting before facebook

Sexting before facebook

"The Lucky Potato Food Truck has seen better days..." My new work required a hell of a lot of colouring but I was pretty pleased with it!

The Lucky Potato Food Truck has seen better days…” My new work required a hell of a lot of colouring but I was pretty pleased with it!

(and without colour!)

(and without colour!)

I don't have context. Just phones.

I don’t have context. Just phones.

 

A retouched version of a drawing I did for a livestream! Pretty pleased with it overall!

A retouched version of a drawing I did for a livestream weeks ago! Pretty pleased with it overall, I think i finally improved the shadows.