Doctor Henry Lancaster slowed and then drew his VW pop-top into the layby overlooking the loch. It was his first sight of Loch Ness so he was impressed by the beauty of the calm water framed by the mountains on the other shore. He caught himself scanning the water surface for any ripples or other sign of an unexpected presence. He grinned to himself. ‘If it was that easy, there would be uncountable accounts of sightings over the years,’ he told himself.
Starting the engine of his old, but reliable VW, he set off on the loch-shore road again until he saw a boat pulled up from the Loch with an old man sat on a stool beside it and a sleeping dog on the beach by his side.
‘Boat and boatman for hire, please ask.’ Said the sign propped up against the boat.
Henry stopped. ‘Are you free?’ he asked.
‘Aye, I’m free, I’ve been waiting for thee
Myself and the dog are all agog
To hear why you want a boat
We’ve been watching since you were a mote
In my eye to see
Why you want to float, in a boat, on the Loch?’
Henry was a little taken aback by this. He wondered if this old man with his sleeping dog was quite right in the head or was he just a very bad poet. The man and his boat was exactly what he wanted so he thought he would press on and risk getting trapped in a boat with a nutter – at least he would have the dog to talk to, he liked a bit of doggerel.
‘I would like to hire you and your boat for a week. I am a palaeontologist from Brecon University. I am carrying out some research into plesiosaurs. I am trying to prove once and for all that there is no monster in Loch Ness and, even if there was something unusual here, it is certainly not a plesiosaur. As you know, it is difficult to prove a negative, but I feel I have to try. Have you always been a boatman?’
‘I used to be a shepherd,
but I kept on losing me sheep.
So I taught my dog to count them.
Then all he did was sleep.’
After a long and somewhat difficult conversation because the boatman usually talked in verse, they agreed that he would take Henry wherever he wanted on the loch for a week. He introduced himself as Hamish McGonagall, one of the Skeltonic poets. He was proud that he was descended from the greatest Skeltonist of them all, William McGonagall.
‘The story of the Tay Bridge disaster
Was documented well by the master
It may be too long
And the language so strong.
But it just makes you read it all faster.’
They decided that they would leave the dog on the shore, having jointly agreed that they would leave a sleeping dog lie. Henry did wonder why a sleepy sheep dog would tell lies but he didn’t ask Hamish for fear of finding out what rhymes with ‘sheep dog.’
‘Do you believe in the Loch Ness Monster,’ asked Henry rather bravely after they had been on the water for a couple of hours.
‘Have you ever imagined a world with no hypothetical situations?’ Asked Hamish somewhat delphically.
‘Is that a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’?’ asked Henry, trying to get away from metaphysics – it was not his subject, he was a simple old bone man.
‘Maybe,’ said Hamish
Henry sat in silence for a while, his brain was starting to hurt.
‘Have you seen the monster?’ Henry tried again.
‘What does it depend on?’
‘I call the monster Beauty
And beauty is in the eye of the beholder
But when you have something in your eye,
ye cannae see anything
So I haven’t seen Beauty but I see beauty all the time.’
‘Right, that’s true’, agreed Henry, who was getting somewhat baffled and frustrated about not getting a straight answer to his questions.
‘Do you think there is a monster in the loch.?’ Henry wasn’t going to give up yet.
‘If I think, ‘yes’, does that create a monster or
If I think ‘no’ it blinks out of existence?
Does the life of the monster depend on me?
Am I responsible for its creation?
Doesn’t bear thinking about.
Too much responsibility.
Henry decided that he would give up for the day and change the question. ‘Do many of the monster hunters you have taken out on the Loch believe that the monster really exists?’
‘I’ve found there are three type of Monster hunters – those who believe in the monster and those who don’t.’
Henry waited for the next line, but none was forthcoming.
‘If there is a monster in the loch, do you think it might be a plesiosaur?’ asked Henry, trying a different tack, even though the wind was light and the boat didn’t have a sail. ( He wanted to have a try at this Skeltonic stuff ).
Somewhat surprisingly, Hamish answered with a logical argument.
‘The youngest plesiosaur has been found in Cretaceous strata that is about 65 million years old. That works out at 6.5 million generations if you say that the plesiosaur parents are about ten years old on average when their offspring are hatched. This is plenty of time for dinosaurs to have evolved into something else. As the youngest dino fossils have feathers on them, we think they evolved into birds and flew away from Loch Ness. But, if they stayed around here, you would have to look for birds.
Remember that there are two great rules of life:-
1 – Never tell everything at once.
Did you see that seagull fly past us just now?’
Richard Kefford joined the Royal Navy from school, followed this with an engineering career. He studied geology and creative writing with the Open University since 2008.
Richard lives in Somerset, where he enjoys wood turning, hill walking, practical geology and writing.
Photograph courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net