Hess in Double
The Scottish Highlands are a place of desolate, breathtaking beauty. And here we came across a bizarre story of World War II. Now we all know from the history books that in 1941 Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, parachuted into Scotland to supposedly broker a peace deal with Britain. And we also know that he was arrested, convicted at Nuremberg and imprisoned for life. But here in the Highlands, they claim that Hess actually died in a mysterious air crash on a remote Scottish hillside in 1942, along with Prince George, the brother of the King of England, and a group of very senior British officials. What?! Hess and the King of England’s brother? Well, the story goes that by mid-1942, Churchill had become increasingly unpopular in Britain because of defeats on every front. And a powerful rival political group, led by the media baron Lord Beaverbrook, and backed by the royal family, had decided to negotiate for peace with Germany. So an RAF plane secretly took off from here with Hess and a senior British team on board, to prepare the groundwork for the peace deal in Sweden. However, the SOE, an intelligence agency loyal to Churchill, discovered the plot in time and sabotaged the plane, so that it crashed on a hillside, killing everyone on board. This was the turning point in Churchill’s power struggle against the powerful Beaverbrook camp. Having scuttled the peace plan, Churchill armtwisted his rivals into submission. And it was only after that that he was able to prosecute the war according to his own lights. (The “Hess” who was tried at Nuremberg was apparently someone else.)
Fact? Or lunatic fiction? We picked up a book titled Double Standards by Picknett, Prince and Prior, which presents a fairly persuasive body of evidence to support this conspiracy theory. If the peace deal had gone through, it claims, Hitler would have had to step down, Churchill would have been sacrificed, and the gentlemanly Hess would have taken over leadership of Germany. Britain would have then gone back to the lucrative business of running its colonies, leaving Germany to continue its war against Stalin’s Russia, unhindered. And all that was scuttled by a convenient air crash in these dark, lonely Scottish hills.
Potter with Elephants
Scotland’s second most famous export—after Scotch whisky—is probably the writer J.K. Rowling. I remember reading how, in her starving writer days, she’d leave her un-heated apartment with her baby, and go and write in the warmth of a humble Edinburgh cafe. That cafe is the Elephant House, which today bears a sign saying, ‘The birthplace of Harry Potter’. It’s a buzzing, quirky place, filled with young people and zillions of elephant curios from around the world. As we stepped inside, we noticed the delicious, cosy warmth that must have drawn the cold, impoverished Rowling here. But Elephant House wears its fame lightly. When we asked the waitress where Rowling used to sit—imagining some special, hallowed table—she giggled and gestured around the packed room. “Oh, wherever she could find a place,” she replied. Not far away is the glowering Fettes College, apparently the inspiration for Hogwarts, and Tony Blair’s alma mater. But to go there you’d probably need to pose as prospective parents.
Map Through The Smoke
Forget all that mumbo-jumbo about single malt whiskies. If you want to make sense of them, basically you need to know that they’re judged on two parameters: first, how ‘delicate’ or ‘smoky’ is the whisky? And second, how ‘light’ or ‘rich’ is it? Someone has developed a very useful flavour map for single malt aficionados. Imagine a simple grid with Delicate to Smoky moving up the vertical axis, and Light to Rich across the horizontal axis. All single malts can be plotted on the resultant four quadrants.
For example, Glenlivet and Glenfiddich fall in the bottom left quadrant (light and delicate). Talisker and Caol Ila are in the top left quadrant (light and smoky). Glenmorangie and Macallan are in the bottom right quadrant (light and rich). But it’s in the top right quadrant—smoky and rich—that you’ll find the most interesting of single malts, like Lagavulin, Cragganmore and the brooding, haunting Bowmore. Probably the best buy in Edinburgh is at Royal Mile Whiskies, where you can pick up little taster bottles of every major single malt. Then with the ingenious flavour map in front of you, you can leisurely plot their respective positions. All purely in the interests of science, of course!
One of history’s ironic twists of fate followed the infamous beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots, by her half-sister, Queen Elizabeth I. Thirty years later, Elizabeth I died, unmarried, and without an heir. And who should automatically succeed her on the throne but Mary’s son, James, who was crowned James I of England, unopposed. Mary’s revenge from beyond the grave?