Sunday, 21 January 2007

Mainland Expedition - day two

A Few Difficulties; Indigenous People; and, a Sea Monster.

The best-laid plans of mice and men.

THE expedition was going along so swimmingly that it should have been no surprise that we began meeting with difficulties even before we set foot on the mainland. Before you suspect that my prior comments regarding the helpfulness of our sea captain and his vessel were overly rosy, I assure you that our mode of transport was nothing short of adequate.

Rather, it was more the disembarking. Attempting to transport* to shore with our equipment (and still no sherpas) was a dicey proposition at best. Multiple attempts were met with, well, not much. And by 'not much', I mean effects, or results, and not 'frustration' and 'hair-pulling dramatic fits' -- those we had in abundance.

Going ashore was often likened to wading through molasses in January**. We were repeatedly thrown back to our ship, only to try again.

It was enough to test the patience and mettle of anyone.

Yet, we persevered in the face of such adversity. We hope that the reader, snug in a leather chair, brandy in hand, safe in Caledon or wherever else, can appreciate the magnitude of fortitude required to succeed.

After much ado, wringing of hands, and gnashing of teeth, we landed on the western shores of the Mainland.

* You may read this as 'teleport', with no loss in meaning.
** The Great Boston Molasses Tragedy of 1919 notwithstanding. Ref:

A Meeting with the Natives.

We came ashore without further events. This point of land (we would later learn was called Campello) stood out of the sea on modest cliffs. The hoped-for beaches turned out to be fairly scant. On climbing the cliffs, and portaging our gear, we discovered a lone brick tower. Prof. Krogstad climbed up (as he was the only member of the party not in a skirt), and found no evidence of, really, anything. We were expecting, say, a lighthouse, beacon, or ceremonial site. There was a lovely woven mat at the base, however. Attempting to plant the Caledon Expeditionary Banner met with no success, unfortunately: the ground was unyielding, so we simply held the flag aloft for a moment, and hummed the National Anthem.* Mme. Bellambi thought a photograph would not be meet or right, so we packed up and moved on.

To the north-west, a small bay, and beyond, a hut, in the usual primitive appearance. But what piqued our interests were the, well, for lack of a better word, gaudy** advertisements to be found further inland. Ah, such a pretty sunrise, marred by gauche signs. Three out of the three of us decided not to consider buying land from anyone who displayed his wares thus. Even A.K., normally without much of a sense of style, had to agree.

We then sighted our first native: it was Mme. Bellambi who spotted him. Young, and not particularly dangerous-appearing, he presented a pastoral appearance. He was not dressed in the manner of other natives our readers have no doubt read of, or imagined, with loin-cloth, bead necklace, collection of shrunken heads. No, he wore a simple cloth shirt, and denim trousers. Seeing no others around, we walked up and introduced ourselves.

And what a reception! He introduced himself*** and welcomed us to his land. He was as curious about us as we were him, and stated that he had not only heard of Caledon, but had been there on occasion. His only negative recollection was a lack of gentlemen's clothing. We proceeded to explain that at least that defect has recently been corrected, much to his delight. Mme. Bellambi proselytised at some length regarding the social season, diverse events, amusements, and such. I attempted to keep some context to her evangelisation by mentioning our cultural and industrial efforts of late. Prof. Krogstad wandered off at this point; more about that later.

Our host was soon joined by a lady, who (also pleasant, welcoming, &c &c) was equally enthralled by descriptions of day-to-day life in Caledon. Imagine! While you, our esteemed reader, sits amused by our travels, here is someone who would take equal delight in your every-day existence!

After a time, we obtained photographs of our party with the natives, and provided contact information regarding Caledon and its commerce. Collecting ourselves, we discovered Prof. Krogstad nearby, with an amazing discovery.

* 'Oh Caledon', by Dr. John Henry Holliday: Oh Caledon, Oh Caledon your rolling hills so rolling. Your sea shores full of sea, your forests full of trees. Oh Caledon, Oh Caledon you are the land for me!
** I do not mean any conf
usion with the extraordinary talents of the architect Antoni Gaudí of Catalan, designer of the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família.
*** The natives will be kept anonymous, to protect them from any possible retribution from others on the Mainland who may be jealous of their achievements in manners and poise.

The 'Evil Seat'.

While we were busy chatting up the natives, singing Caledon's praises, Prof. Krogstad had wandered off, as he is wont to do; but on this occasion, he actually stumbled upon a remarkable find.

He found an array of wooden crates, each about half a metre on a side, laid out in a rough circle on the ground. It is unclear if the exact position of the crates was significant; the reader is undoubtedly familiar with the history of Stone Circles (including one in our own Tamrannoch), and their connection to the astronomy of the ancients. What was most amazing was the issue of light -- perhaps more accurately lightning -- from these boxes.

All but four were emitting showers of coloured lights, in the manner of fireworks, but without the loud reports or the scent of gunpowder. They seemed to be fully autonomous, and self-powered. Harnessing this phenomenon would provide for a number of useful applications for home and industry. Prof. Krogstad attempted to remove one of the boxes for further study, but was thwarted: they were firmly attached to terra firma.

The non-emitting four boxes were equally intriguing. Hovering over two of them were an ætherial description, 'Evil Seat'. This alone would be sufficient to amaze (how exactly does one put letters aflight?), but the prospect of what 'evil seat' meant was tantalising.

It would appear, by a vote of actions, that Mme. Bellambi was the bravest among us, since she dared sit. And without noise, or flash of light, or other warning, she was rudely shot up into the air, only to land (after several agonising seconds) among some bushes, upon her backside. Uninjured, she ran back over to examine the crate that launched her some thousand feet. After literally tens of minutes of study, we could find no mechanism or moving part to explain such an action.

The less-educated may regard this as magic, along with the lightning-fireworks. May I submit, though, that sufficiently-advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. I may conclude then that at least some persons on the Mainland possess technology far greater than we have devised.

After pondering the intersection of philosophy and science, we moved on.

A Deserted Temple.

We headed north-east. Mme. Bellambi had (briefly) spotted a river in that direction during her unexpected flight, and presuming water transport to be quicker than that over land, we decided to give it a go.

Coming down off a hill, we nearly literally fell into what appeared to be a temple in the Grecian style. The floor mosaic was reminiscent of that of Pompeii, and the columns were either Attic or Doric. The current inhabitants appeared to redecorate in an eclectic fashion, so I can not be certain of the dating of the site. I will also refrain to comment upon the taste in decor the owners seem to have.

One unusual feature was a small collection of pink spheres. Like the wooden crates before, these were laid out in some pattern, the meaning behind which remained opaque. A.K. caught Mme. Bellambi on film whilst she was down examining them. There was something ... unsavoury about the spheres; we will leave the investigation of such to later explorers.

Past the temple, again north-east, was a river. A dock provided a convenient place for converting our flat-bottomed boats from their over-land forms (on a chassis with wheels; see the prior missive). Now happily riding vice walking, we headed on.

Here There Be Monsters.

The river itself was wide, with some 10 feet of draught in places, and an imperceptible current, all of which made navigation a joy. Unfortunately, we were quickly lulled into a stupor of water-bourne convenience, and nearly floated headlong into a sea monster!

Well, a river monster, to be sure. With a length of some 10 to 15 metres, and wings nearly that in span, this lizard-like beast presented us with quite a shock. We were no doubt spared its ferocity due to its lack of consciences; otherwise, we'd have been done for, and our valued reader would be out of luck for entertainment.

Prof. Krogstad jumped out to survey the beast. Its wings were bat-like, but it was certainly no mammal. It had no perceptible limbs, placing it likely in the order Squamata, suborder Serpentes. While not a herpetologist (or a herpetophile, for that matter) Prof. Krogstad reckoned it to be a new species, and set about sketching it for posterity. In the mean time, I procured a snapshot.

Our curiosity sated, we made haste to put the snake behind us*. With sunset nearing, we took advantage of a small dock around the bend of the river. Disembarking, we surveyed the area, and saw a large variety of paintings on display, and various objects d'art -- enough to make for an enjoyable day at least.

Having made it thus far with us, the reader may ask if every day will be expected to hold such content as to keep one in rapt attention, on the edge of one's seat, in fervent imagination of the wild Mainland. In a word, yes. So await the next report with great anticipation -- you shan't be disappointed.**

* "Vade retro!" from: οπισω μου σατανα
** Given suitably ambiguous definitions of 'disappointed'.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Society Expansion

THOUGH your president has been preoccupied (occupied, acually) with the expedition of the Mainland, I should let you know that the Society has expanded its land holding in Tamrannoch, thanks in no small part to the efforts of our benefactrix the Duchess of Loch Avie, and the seemingly-tireless work of our Benevolent Monarch, Desmond Shang.

This expansion will allow for the construction of a larger Society office, with expanded museum and exhibition space, and for more goods for sale.

I shall be less of a procrastinator, or sloth, when it comes time to announce the grand opening of the new office, and the much-awaited Plush Toy Nellie.


Kate Nicholas, F.R.S.

Sunday, 14 January 2007

Mainland Expedition - day one

Day One: The Western Approaches.

With our benevolent leader announcing to the nation his interest in furthering the exploration of the mainland, the Society has decided to step up to this challenge. We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard. And for self-aggrandisement, naturally.

As many of our readers (and certainly our members) are well-aware, grant monies for such endeavours are rather a bit hard to come by. Supporters seem to be much more interested in projects that provide potential income, if not titillation.

I and two of our willing Fellows (E.B., A.K.) came to the conclusion that we could not really prove that such outcomes would be in store, and so these travels would be funded out of the petty cash fund of the Society. Any baubles, trinkets, or other artefacts brought back would help re-fill our coffers.

First, provisioning: no problems on that front. The Society's attic is brim-full of various items appropriate for supporting a proper expedition, including enough tea for the round trip. In fact, while scrounging around the attic, we came across a few things we frankly forgot were up there, which we will clean up and display when we return.

Second, transport: somewhat of a problem, what with our very limited budget, and all. Professor Krogstad, being an open-seas fisherman in his youth, used his network of contacts to find transit on a tramp steamer headed east, with the small additional inconvenience of deck-swabbing to help pay the fare. (I of course delegated such duties to Prof. Krogstad, while Mme. Bellambi and I pondered our route on the mainland.)

Third, additional help: the three of us, having quite a bit of field work under our belts so to speak, knew the key ingredient for a successful expedition:


Now, as our readers know, even Our Fair Isle has no lack of persons of varied occupations, lifestyles, and interests. Unfortunately, sherpas are at quite a premium, and we were unable to locate even one.

Not to be dismayed at this early stage, Prof. Krogstad managed to adapt his flat-bottomed river boats (last used for the Caledon Hydrographic Survey of 2006) to sit upon a wagon-frame of sorts, with the steam engine normally driving the propeller shaft now providing locomotive power on land. Such brilliance! We are indeed lucky to have this chap along, his tastes in accommodations notwithstanding.

After gathering up all the necessary equipment, reviewing our wills, and pre-paying Mr Shang for the next cycle of land fees, we sat off. A crowd of literally several bid us "adieu" and "pax vobiscum" from the Society's Office on the sea in Tamrannoch.

By my reckoning, the trip should be some 26,000 metres to the south-east. Starting out on Saturday, 13 January, we would expect landfall by dusk on Sunday.*

* The reader even the least-bit acquainted with mathematics will realise that taking 36-odd hours to travel 26 kilometres means that we would travel at roughly one-tenth a metre per second, quite similar to the brisk pace of the three-toed sloth (Bradypus spp.). People: suspend disbelief!

The Open Sea.

Putting to sea from Tamrannoch, we found the water to be quite calm, dark blue, and apparently devoid of fish. Prof. Krogstad was unable to sound the bottom, making the depth at least 20 fathoms (the length of our sounding cable). We made good time, headed variously east and south-east. There were a number of islands, many appearing inhabitable, that flanked our course; these will need to wait until the greater economic potential of the mainland has been tapped.

Of interest to the Caledonian reader living in the eastern portions of Our Fair Isle, there is a large island due east of the Duchy of Primverness, with diverse and unique features. However, we weren't close enough to capture any images.

The day and night passed without difficulty. Fare on board our steamer was fortifying, if basic. None of us developed that scourge of the open seas, sea-sickness, and we spent our night below-decks playing bridge by lamp-light.

Sunday dawned at sea, with increasing sights of clouds and haze to the east. We were still right on schedule, and as we plied eastward, we enjoyed tea and strolled about the less-soiled above-decks areas.

By late afternoon, we sighted land for the first time. An island, roughly a quarter of a kilometre east-to-west, and twice that in the opposite direction, appeared off our port bow. We passed within half a kilometre or so, enough for all three of us to survey the area with telescopes.

And what a sight! Like a vision from Dante's Hell, the island was strewn bric-a-brac with the most bizarre assortment of materials any of us had ever seen. We could make out some of the natives, in gross detail, who were evenly divided between building the unusual structures, and walking about, no doubt enjoying social intercourse.

The population density on this island was such that, being extremely outnumbered, we decided to continue on to the south-east, to a point of land just beyond.

The point (which Mme. Bellambi dubbed "Point Anarchy") was nearly identical in population and behaviour to the island just passed. Outnumbered (and non-sequitured), we turned south by south-east, giving these natives a wide berth. I offered the supposition that the two tribes had split themselves into an island clan, and a mainland clan, and that the gulf between them was likely a site of ongoing battles. We didn't tempt fate.

Soon we sighted an island, running east-west in it longest dimension, perhaps a kilometre. It was made up of three land masses, perhaps remnants of prior volcanic activity. As we approached, the beaches and cliffs appeared quiet, and bereft of life. After some 20 minutes surveying from the ship, we understood why: full-out warfare!

Consider the rowdiest Guy Fawkes, or Independence Day, or New Year's fireworks display you have ever seen. Now, picture it ten- and hundred-fold, in non-stop pyrotechnic action. Fortunately, we sighted no naval vessels, but before any sprang upon us, we reversed course for the north-east.

No sooner than the Island of Armageddon (my suggestion for a name, thank you) slipped behind, another small atoll appeared off the port bow. Even from our distance, we could hear the reports of cannon and artillery fire. Telescopic inspection revealed a number of persons (in various uniforms, or none at all, as best as we could tell) engaged in testing of arms. They directed no attention at us, which was all for the best, I feel. We continued on to the north-east.

By this time, we were starting to wonder: is the south-western coast of the mainland engaged in some civil war? What would be the conditions on land? Are the Bizarre Builder Clans that we initially saw involved in this conflict? Are the natives homovores?

The mood of the expedition lifted when we sighted our eventual landing spot: a lovely point extending out from a bay, surrounded by sandy beaches. No sign of Dali-esque construction, nor unrestricted warfare. With that, we dropped anchor, and planned to spend the night on board, and set out in the morning.

Our gracious sea-faring host has been most accommodating to this point, to my surprise, I am happy to report. Travel by tramp steamer is much under-rated, but I cannot recommend it for anyone of delicate constitution. Note, though, that Mme. Bellambi and myself did manage without much difficulty.

As the quote reads, "When he reached the New World, Cortés burned his ships. As a result his men were well motivated." We plan no arson, of course, but as the steamer will be leaving us after our going-ashore, we will find ourselves highly-motivated to overcome the obstacles on the mainland.

Next: On to the Mainland!

Friday, 12 January 2007

An expedition to the Mainland.

Your president has learned of a planned expedition (or rather, a series of expeditions) to the Mainland, spurred on by our benevolent ruler Mr Shang, and his interest in promoting the advancement of geography, anthropology, and the allied fields.

On behalf of the Society, I have offered its assistance with these plans for exploration, and am anxiously awaiting word from Mr Shang as to what we may bring to bear for the success of these travels.

No doubt, those members of the Society with an interest in cartography, scientific illustration, and comparative anthropology will wish to volunteer their services.

The Royal Society for the Advancement of Knowledge in the Natural Sciences looks forward to this opportunity to serve the greater good of exploration, and to promote our fair nation in the process.

I shall forward more information as it becomes available.


Kate Nicholas, F.R.S.

Monday, 1 January 2007

Happy new year. Also: a new issue of the Proceedings.

On behalf of the entire Society, I would like to wish all of our supporters a Happy New Year. And personally, I will extend thanks to our fellows (Mme. Bellambi, Mr. Krogstad) and our members, who have greatly advanced both scientific knowledge as a whole, and the Society in particular.

We have released the latest (actually the first, for those keeping count), issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society. One may obtain a copy at the offices of the Society in Tamrannoch, Caledon.

Of particular interest is Mme. Bellambi's work on documenting the history surrounding the newly-discovered aquatic animal that has taken up residence in Loch Avie. Thanks to Her Grace, Duchess Flasheart, the Society was given free rein to survey the Loch, with particular attention to the beast, who has been dubbed "Nellie."

One may expect a display of the results of the expedition at the Society offices in the forthcoming days.

I am looking forward to the new year, and towards an increase in the scholarly activity of the Society. Abstracts of scientific work may be submitted to me at any time, for publication in future issues of the Proceedings.

I wish you the best of luck with your upcoming endeavours, and I await the many outstanding achievements that are, no doubt, to come from the Society.


Kate Nicholas, F.R.S.