CANADIAN GAELIC

Adrianna, her feet up on the desk, read on. She thought of the young man from Toronto.

 

Canadian Gaelic

by Cerise Edwards

The hunters, speaking the language of their grandfather’s who fled Caledonia in the wake of the Highland clearances, once padded slowly along the coasts of Nova Scotia, Cape Breton and Newfoundland. The sea-mink was their goal, its furs valued highly by the traders who slowly moved the dead pelts across the North American continent, pelts twice the size of its cousins leading to its ultimate demise. What makes a thing desirable kills it. The Native Americans would hunt the animal also. Its pelts were found in the shell-heaps that litter the island coasts off Maine, but it is doubtful that they pushed it to extinction. The European fur trade killed them. We hunt for any remnant of the animal in the fashion-fur shops of East London, where a habit is made of consuming history and fauna in equal measure. Nothing, as yet.

These hunters were themselves once threatened with extinction. The fate of the Native Americans is well known, their hearts buried at Wounded Knee. The Gaelic speakers of Canada present a deeper, more troubling problem; in fact the ‘Highland Clearances’ is merely the sanitised, Anglicised version of a bitter truth. In that older language it is referred to as Fuadach nan Gàidheal. Literally, ‘the expulsion of the Gael’. Here was a people, a culture, told that it was no longer of any value by Imperial Britain. Fled, were pushed, across the Atlantic. Here, they would help hunt the sea-mink to extinction, allowing it to become one of the many forgotten fauna that form the supporting cast of history. A dwindling people aiding the extinction of another species. 

In the mid nineteenth century, behind those imperial languages of French and English, the Scottish Gaelic and its close relative, Irish, were the most widely spoken in Canada. Now it resides merely on Cape Breton island, home of Glen Breton Rare whiskey, and other isolated pockets. A few still speak it in cities such as Toronto, but the memory dwindles.

It is speculated that the diasporas took their myths with them, that now selkies can be sometimes seen off the coasts of Boston, their kelpie cousins in the waters off Cape Breton Island, arboreal spriggans in the Canadian forests now peers of the wendigo. But we have no proof. We know for certain that they still pad the half-forgotten realms of our own lands. This is not speculation, we have seen them. We have the maps to where they are. The oldest myth, the archetype identified by Holdstock, is said to be forming, becoming corporeal. The old boar god, the Urscumug. The pigman. It’s rising once more, as always defined by its times. It is weak and angrier than its previous incarnations. Think of it as an English golem. A dangerous protector in times of trouble.

Why am I speaking of the fate of the Scots-Canadians? Their history is inexplicably entwined with ours. We, Integrity, are unafraid of our history’s reality. We acknowledge that the British Empire formed us. It created us. How it threw our myths and histories into the air like dandelion spores for them to land on distant shores.

For us, the realignment will happen in London.

There is a path they call the wolf walk. It leads into the centre of the sickness, the swelling teratoma on the banks of the Thames where a mangled form of the city is growing in random spurts, its component parts jumbled and mashed, no past or future now, so you may see a limb-like tree from Tyburn bearing its infamous fruit, Newgate prison vomiting out like a sad approximation of Escher, Bedlam ejecting its howling inmates as they clamber over a wreckage of iPhones, laptops, penny farthings, lad’s mags, Roman coins and penny dreadfuls.

Some people, some of the city’s inhabitants, feel that something has gone awry. They have no place in this new reality. They can intuit that they have ended up in the wrong place yet they know they are stuck, that there is no way back to the world that they once knew, where things made sense to them, where there was some dignity and pride, where things were held together with internal logic. But they cannot get home. They face a choice. To remain here, or move on, to yet another new world.

The other people, the ones who belong to this world, who cannot see what is amiss, they walk the wolf-walk and they live in the teratoma. They peruse the shelves in the aisles of its supermarkets, and they buy, they consume, they eat, sleep, shit, fuck, and they watch the screens, they punch short missives into communications devices where they regurgitate platitudes and laugh at the fall of minor celebrities, at domesticated animals in humorous situations, they masturbate to painful pornography as their sex lives dwindle. They exist and they believe, by and large, that they are happy.

This will not last.


Adrianna lay the pamphlet down on the counter and frowned. She had no idea what an ‘Urscumug’ was. She rolled herself a cigarette, looked at the scrap of paper in her wallet. The Canadian’s phone number scrawled in green ink. After a moment’s thought, she pulled out her phone and slowly tapped the numbers into her contacts list. Just in case. She was clueless as to what he did for a living. 

She stepped outside the shop, empty as it was, to light her cigarette. She had not spoken to Sofia since the night of the party. Dragging on her rollup, she phoned her friend.

‘Soph, you alright?’

A slight crackle on the line before Sofia replied.

‘Oh hello, where the fuck did you get to the other night then?’

‘Met some fella, didn’t I?’ Adrianna laughed as she said this.

‘Haha. Nice. Me too, as it happens. Some guy who’d seen that ‘Forgotten Fauna’ deli. He said he knows your place, too, the shop that is. He liked films. A lot…’ She tailed off.

‘Ah, ok, cool. Listen, do you wanna come meet when I finish up here? I want to show you that deli. Maybe get a drink or a coffee after. It’s dead here and I’m bored.’

‘Ok mate, yeah, see you about six then.’

Adrianna hung up. The street was deserted, only a few diseased pigeons flapping about uselessly.

She returned to the shop, mulling over the two articles by Cerise Edwards. A coincidental dovetailing of themes, the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, reading this stuff in the ‘zine, meeting a man who spoke some Gaelic who’d travelled the same parts of Finland as her. He didn’t know anything about pigmen, though. She smiled wryly at the thought. 

She sat back down at her desk, and Googled the word ‘urscumug’. A flurry of hits about some Latvian black metal band. One hit directing her to Wikipedia, a novel entitled Mythago Wood, by deceased writer Robert Holdstock. Here she found a brief description of the urscumug mentioned in Cerise Edwards’ work, in a list of things called ‘mythagos’:

This man-boar male mythago is a representation of the first hero from earliest myth. The Urscumug was generated purposely by George Huxley. The Urscumug is twice the height of a human and is a malevolent and ancient variation on the woodwose.

She flicked through her copy of Magnesium Burns, finding the section of artworks by Sketch. She looked at the images of the boar-punks in the classic Clash pose, thinking. 

She scanned her emails, Twitter, Facebook, all her digital ties to the physical. An invite to an event in a warehouse near Manor House, poets and musicians, run by the Fox Collective. Someone known just as ‘The Poet’ was headlining. Pretentious title. She read his brief bio:

The Poet is an active member of the artist-collective Integrity, and contributor to such publications as Magnesium Burns, Integral and Sketched Life. We are delighted to have him down performing his politically charged, poetic social commentary. Not to be missed!

The walls felt like they were closing in. 

Perhaps The Canadian would be interested in this.

An email from a friend of hers, the depressive and obsessive punk/skin hybrid, giving a gushing account of his recent trip down to Margate, seeing something profound at what he would only call ‘The Exhibition’ and an artist friend of his called Helena who was making a name for himself. She did an image search and pulled up a piece called Salt Woman. Reading on, it was suggested that this Helena Williams had mixed in the same artistic circles as Cerise Edwards prior to her disappearance. Adrianna, now, had suspended all surprise.

The rest was spam, advertising Viagra pills and penis enlargement methods. 

Adrianna sighed and stretched out at her desk. She slid a new CD into the small stereo, some low key dub that she could ignore, and watched the clock. The afternoon passed slowly, only broken by a wide-eyed couple in their late teens stumbling into the shop, rifling through all the literature, the badges and assorted anarchist detritus. The boy had a tattoo running down his right forearm that spelled out the word INTEGRITY. He bought a book detailing the underground punk scene of the nineties The girl bought a few badges with an animal rights theme. Adrianna envied their enthusiasm. 

Finally Sofia arrived. 

Adrianna locked up, kicking away the pigeons gathered by the door.

They cut onto Brick Lane, young Bangladeshi men attempting to lure them into the multitude of curry houses, inventive offers of free wine and half-price dining. Old Muslims stood outside wholesale shops, smoking, locked in private conversations. 

Leaving Banglatown, lighting cigarettes, they pushed on up the street. The sunglassed women were seemingly unmoved from their preening spot. They clutched bottles of Kopparberg cider and smoked lipstick smeared Lucky Strikes. One of them, Sofia noticed, was wearing a Black Flag shirt, the iconic four-bar logo displayed proudly to passersby. She looked bored, encased in alabaster skin and painted with cherry lips.

‘Fucking posers’ hissed Sofia to her dreadlocked friend, ‘there’s not a fucking chance in hell that woman is a Black Flag fan.’

‘Well…she might be’ said Adrianna, not really believing what she was saying.

‘Shoreditch hardcore!’ Sofia shouted in exasperation, then spat onto the dirty pavement. ‘They’re like zombies, like the fucking Borg or something. They don’t just kill what you love, they bring it back from the dead and fuck it up.’

‘OK OK, I get what you’re saying. We’ll have a drink in minute. I just want to show you this shop first.’ She was now worried what Sofia’s reaction would be.

Nearing the shop, Adrianna saw a green-haired woman turn off by the Truman Brewery toward Rough Trade and the Big Chill. 

‘Here it is’ she murmured to Sofia.

Forgotten Fauna loomed over the pair of women. Late though the time was getting, it seemed to be doing brisk business, the same beige women and their child-familiars clamouring for the best cuts of auroch and Irish elk. Now, though, identikit cutouts of the preening women up the road also thronged the deli, with moustachioed boyfriends standing guard. They were enjoying the ambience. 

Working on the glass shopfront, one of the employees was attempting to remove a group of stickers that had been haphazardly stuck onto the glass, ruining the tasteful aesthetic of the store. Each sticker was emblazoned with either the legend ‘INTEGRITY’ or ‘URSCUMUG’.

Flashbacks to the tusked beings at Tonttukirkko. A desire to run.

‘Bloody hell…’ hissed Adrianna.

Sofia seemed to not notice any of this. Her gaze was fixated upon the deli, its patrons and its promotional literature. She entered the store, scowl painted on her face, pushing past a pastel mother and to the counter where leaflets explaining the rationale of the shop stood in a neat pile:

The idea for Forgotten Fauna came to entrepreneur-couple Susan Manning and George Fray in early 2010. Noticing a decrease in the popularity of factory farmed, ethically dubious and cheaply produced meat, they spotted a gap in the market. No longer consuming the harmful, unethical meats of mass capitalism, Britain’s modern consumers wanted something conscience-led, individual and authentic. Food with a bit of integrity.

What the public in twenty first century Britain desire is a slice of individuality, a dining experience that they can call their own – yet be a part of the centuries old traditions that make the British, well, British.  Something new, yet timeless, the past that we love presented in a fresh, funky, modern way.

We at Forgotten Fauna know that sense memory, ancestral longing, is a powerful desire. You may never have heard the word ‘auroch’ before or know what an Irish elk is, but your tastebuds will remember…

We source both classic and unusual meats from across history and mythology, focusing on the best of British. Why not treat yourself to a peppered mammoth steak, an Irish elk cutlet, or a shoulder of aurouch perfect for that Sunday Roast with the family. If you’re feeling really adventurous why not try our new line of mythical meats – centaur and faun from our farms in Kent, spriggan from Cornwall or wodewose from the Lake District.

All meat at Forgotten Fauna is seasonal, produced to the highest standards and in co-operation with local farmers.

‘You people make me fucking sick’ Sofia stated, loud enough for everyone in the deli to hear. A young child stared fearfully at her. The workers behind the counter gave her soft, placid smiles.

‘There’s no need for that kind of language, miss. This is a family store’.

‘Murder is murder. Whatever way you want to present it.’

A woman with bleached hair and sunglasses sniggered at this.

‘And fuck you, Borg!’ Sofia stormed out.

The bleached woman looked baffled. Her bearded boyfriend gave her a reassuring pinch on the shoulders, smiling. The excitement over, they resumed browsing the fleshy display. They cooed over some fresh grindylow, caught that morning in the River Lea. 

Adrianna was still standing outside the store when Sofia exited and thrust one of the promotional leaflets into her hands.

Look at this!’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘These people, they think…they think that they can buy their way to some sort of salvation.’

‘The Pigman’s Coming’.

‘What?’ 

‘Look…’

Charging up Brick Lane were a group of about twenty young men and women in battered and weathered pig masks. Absurdly, Sofia was reminded of Bebop from the ninja turtles cartoon she watched as a child. Their clothing was uniform black. They clutched hammers, baseball bats and other blunt instruments. Pedestrians parted for them as they swarmed up the street towards Forgotten Fauna. A terrier was barking furiously, straining at its owner’s leash. Adrianna saw one of the group push a rag into a dirty green glass bottle, the smell of paraffin stinging her eyes and nostrils. The boar-terrorist lit the fuel soaked rag, and his eyes seemed to meet hers before he hoarsely shouted ‘Integrity!’ and launched the crude explosive through the front door of the deli. A bang, a pause, then an eruption of flame. Customers and workers piled out in terror. One over-enthusiastic pig winded a bearded boyfriend with a baseball bat, before being held back by his colleagues, cuffed round the head and dragged away. His bleached girlfriend shrieked and held her partner as he lay gasping on the uneven ground. Adrianna and Sofia stood as mute witness to all this as the raiders set about the flaming shop, smashing in the windows with gusto, laughing and chanting ‘Integrity’, ‘Urscumug’. One of the boar-horde, a young woman by Sofia’s estimate, was scrawling the word ‘Duisg!’ across the pavement with foul smelling black spray paint. She met Sofia’s gaze as she watched, dumbstruck.

‘You’re right.’ The terrorist spoke in a soft, girlish voice.

Sofia imagined a winking smile behind the mask. The pig-girl fled.

Their work done, the group dispersed, fleeing down sidestreets, in the direction of Bethnal Green, Whitechapel, Cable Street. The police would be here soon. The pigs. The bearded boyfriend still lay gasping on the floor, a beached fish, his bleached girlfriend sobbing, mascara streaked over her alabaster cheeks. Sofia watched them with pity. The placid staff were looking less calm out on the pavement, as they hacked up smoke and nursed cuts and grazes.

‘Soph, we need to go. The police...’

Sophia nodded.

They walked, fast, in the direction of Liverpool Street Station. They boarded an overground train toward Clapton. 

Adrianna, standing on the busy train face-to-face with a wizened old crone, pulled out her mobile and phoned The Canadian.


The Canadian met them in the pub, his face unreadable. He wore a t-shirt with the slogan ‘Duisg!’ plastered across it. He nodded when he saw them and grabbed himself a pint of Murphys before coming to join the two women.

‘Some crazy shit went down on Brick Lane today’ Adrianna sputtered. Sofia said nothing. The Canadian smiled.

‘I know. It’s been on the news already. Twitter’s been going mad too. I’ve been following #boarwar.’

Despite her anxiety, Adrianna laughed at this. She took a gulp of her pint.

‘Like Spion Kop.’

‘Very funny, Adrianna’. Sofia’s voice was sharp. ‘Do you know anything about it?’ she asked The Canadian.

‘Nope. Why? His face a bleached map.

Sofia snapped. ‘Because you’re wearing a fucking t-shirt that says the exact same thing I saw one of the terrorists spraypaint on the pavement.’

‘Duisg. It means ‘rise up’, or ‘wake up’ roughly. That seems appropriate doesn’t it? And why are you calling them terrorists?’ His North American drawl betrayed a hint of annoyance.

‘They chucked a petrol bomb into a bloody shop!’

Adrianna pitched in. ‘But you hated that place, you were seething when you came out of there.’

‘If we’d been inside then imagine what could have happened.’

‘One man’s terrorist, another man’s freed…’

‘Shut up’. Sofia closed the exchange down.

Adrianna fell silent. The Canadian began rolling himself a cigarette and looking round the pub.

Overhearing their angry exchange, an afternoon drinker shuffled over to their table. He wore a battered multi-coloured harlequin jacket and his face was a mess of scars. He stank of stale tobacco, vodka and semen. He coughed a wet hacking cough spraying spittle everywhere and cackled. His age was indeterminate.

‘It’s rising. Doesn’t like them eating his family’.

‘What?’ sighed Sofia. She gulped alcohol.

‘What the hell happened to you face, man? asked The Canadian.

‘Magnesium burns. Back in the eighties.’ He coughed again.

‘Shit’ he said, finishing rolling his cigarette and nodding slowly. Seemingly knowing what the harlequin was going on about.

‘Magnesium Burns?’ Adrianna, shrill and incredulous.

‘You can’t go back’. More hacking and spittle. ‘But you can choose how you go forward.’

‘Erm, OK, right thanks mate.’ Sofia, dismissive, waving the harlequin away.

The harlequin bowed.

‘Ladies. Gents.’

He shuffled back to the bar.