Following is an excerpt from The Book of Scotlands by Momus, an outline of “one hundred and fifty-six Scotlands which currently do not exist anywhere. At a time when functional independence seems to be a real possibility for Scotland—and yet no one is quite sure what that means—a delirium of visions, realistic and absurd, is necessary.”
It is reprinted here with permission.
On October 14, 2035, Scotland was suddenly covered by a black swan.
The swan swanned down from space, where it had been flying largely unobserved (some astronomers, alerted to irregularities, had declared that certain stars were disappearing and reappearing).
The swan and Scotland were a very similar size and shape; an excellent match.
The swan draped itself over Scotland, covering part of the landmass with its black feathers and clinging to the coasts with its claws and beak.
Scotland became, of course, very dark and warm.
There was also a large quantity of swan dung falling in Ayrshire.
A state of emergency was initially declared, but soon people became calm.
Streetlights were left on night and day, but the extra electricity was more than made up for by the warmth of the swan's body. This reduced heating and insulation costs. And there was a very pleasant smell coming from the swan's body.
Satellite imagery showed Scots how the bird looked from space, and most agreed that the impression created was a good one. It was as if Scotland had draped itself in an expensive swan-feather coat.
Other nations were filled with admiration, and some jealousy.
Scotland's tourist industry boomed as visitors all over the world came to experience life under the swan and fill their lungs with the swan's pleasant perfume (lard, fir, salt).
Sometimes when you drove to the top of a mountainous road (like A93 to Braemar, or the Tornapress to Applecross Road) your car roof would scrape the swan's feathers and the bird would shuffle slightly to give you more room.
The swan was, on the whole, considerate. However, not all Scots were willing to respond in kind. Two days after its arrival, one small boy attempted to set the swan on fire by walking to the top of a mountain with a cigarette lighter. The swan's greased feathers failed to ignite, but the bird was irritated and pecked the boy fatally with its beak.
On Guy Fawkes Day the government imposed a strict fireworks ban, but some stray rockets tickled the swan's underbelly. Fortunately, it was asleep at the time.
The government asked the army to prepare a report on how to get rid of the swan, should the need arise. The army studied the problem and concluded that nothing should be done. All munitions fired at the swan would rebound on Scotland, with disastrous consequences.
The Americans also confirmed that their nuclear missiles would be useless against the black swan. CIA offers to destabilise the swan with dirty tricks were declined. Experiments with high and low frequency sound proved ineffective.
The swan mostly slept, or preened itself.
When everyone in Scotland was equipped with a decoy duck whistle and asked to blow it at a specific time, the swan cocked its head, but quickly lost interest.
Meanwhile, the black swan entered the mythology of Scotland. In films and songs and books it was portrayed as a luck charm, a saviour, a mascot.
The black swan became the official symbol of Scotland and appeared on the nation's flag. Everybody loved the black swan.
Then disaster struck. At 6:16 am on June 2, 2036, the swan suddenly departed.
Steadying itself with flapping wings, the black swan stood upright, craned its neck, stretched slightly, then—with a single cry—threw itself into the air, lifting off slowly, gradually gaining heigh, and disappearing into the sky. Soon it was lost in the blackness of space.
The sudden searing light was unbearable to Scots long accustomed to the comfort of darkness. Even though it was summer, Scotland felt icy cold. And the reassuring smell of the swan's soft black down had gone.
Scotland was in uproar, crestfallen.
At the Scottish parliament, the swan flag flew at half-mast, tugged by an unfamiliar wind. Only Ayrshire seemed happy.
Scots demanded the return of the swan or, failing that, suggested that a huge canopy of swan feathers be fitted over the nation like a trellis.
But the national budget wasn't enough, and with the imminent collapse of the swan tourism industry, things would only get worse.
Scotland entered a fifteen-year depression. Alcoholism grew rife as Scots struggled to cope with their loss. The national economy—not to mention the national ego—reached its lowest ebb.
And then the swan returned. Not to Scotland, but to New Zealand.
The black swan covered both the North and South islands. Its arrival was mostly welcomed by the locals.
In view of the Scottish experience, it was quickly decided that the swan should be physically secured. Its claws and beak were attached by reinforced cables to concrete blocks sunk deep into the soil and anchored, below, to the bedrock.
The plan seemed to work. The swan stayed put.
Many nostalgic Scots emigrated to New Zealand to be reunited with their beloved bird. The tourist industry boomed and New Zealand flourished.
Unfortunately, the captive black swan died, and its enormous corpse began to rot. The smell was awful. It lingered over New Zealand for months.
As far away as Tonga and Samoa, people are still wearing facemasks.
Forthcoming next month is The Book of Japans, which, like The Book of Scotlands, is part of the Solutions series published by Sternberg Press.
The other books in the series include: Solution 9: The Great Pyramid by Ingo Niermann and Jens Thiel (Eds.); Solution 1-10: Umbauland by Ingo Niermann; Solution 186–195: Dubai Democracy by Ingo Niermann; Solution 168–185: America by Tirdad Zolghadr; and Solution 196–213: United States of Palestine-Israel by Joshua Simon (Ed.), May 2011.