Sunday, October 12, 2014

To help you keep well-informed

History has corners of relative obscurity where the lesser-known relatives of famous historical figures carve their own nooks and crannies in the passageway that is our journey towards our destiny. Very often these characters had a more profound influence than that for which they are generally given credit. There follows a history of some of them.

Vlad the Improver

Vlad was a helpful child and as he matured his helpfulness blossomed. He saw it as his role to make things better despite the obstacles put in his way, often by those whom he was attempting to aid. His firm conviction that he possessed the gift of seeing things the way that they were meant to be ensured that he was always busy. He would roll up at someone or other’s dwelling – the dwelling could be anything from a rude hut to a carefully crafted castle, the someone (or other) could be a close friend, a casual acquaintance or just some chosen person whose home he happened to be passing. Without the awkward business of waiting to be asked he would set about rearranging the furniture, changing the d├ęcor, moving doors and windows, re-styling clothes and so on. The projects could last anything from a few hours to months at a time. “No rest for the gifted” he would quip, quite regularly, and no one was allowed to rest until perfection had been achieved. Strangely people were not always pleased to receive his help. Luckily for them the concept of psychoanalysis had not yet been discovered – had it been, then Vlad would have felt compelled to improve the character of people as well as their environment. As it was, however, increasing numbers of people were driven from their homes, often destroying them completely before leaving. They would travel as far away as possible, often so deranged by fear of a visit that they would volunteer to be impaled by Vlad’s hitherto easy-going cousin.

Attila the Hungry

In the dark ages, the folk of central and southern Europe had a pretty hard time of it. It was dark for one thing and central and southern Europe for another. Like most young people, Attila had an appetite that exceeded his corporeal needs. Sadly, he had no culinary skills and was too lethargic from overeating to find or buy food for himself. He therefore adopted the habit of fetching up at someone or other’s house (a different someone or other than those visited by Vlad; these people did not all live in the same age) at mealtime in the hope of being invited to join in. Such was his patience that in most cases the residents would ask him if he would care to share their food. Within minutes he would be outside about ninety percent of the comestibles in the house and be asleep in front of the fire, his corpulence often resulting in preventing the heat from reaching other parts of the house. It is reckoned that during his journeys across the steppes and Europe, as many as four in five people died of starvation combined with fatigue.

Ginseng Khan

“You want to rub a little bit of dianthus oil on that” was typical of the sort of advice disseminated by young Khan. We assume that until very recently the skills of doctors and apothecaries were primitive, bound up in myth, and ineffective. This view is not without some justification, but there have always been those with gifts of healing and folklore has quite regularly built up a valuable collection of remedies and treatments. Young Khan was blessed with the conviction that nature had a cure for everything. He had unguents for ulcers, balms for blisters, soups for syphilis all carefully prepared from flora and fungi that he had collected and distilled himself. Scholars estimate that upwards of three and three-quarter million people died from his cures. Many times that number were driven insane by mushroom-induced hallucinations. When Genghis Khan started to have itchy feet and felt like spending winter in Venice, he found that his march through civilisation went largely unchallenged because no bugger was well enough to stop him.

Alexander the Grout


“Yes – I’ll be there next Tuesday to finish it off” – householders from Skopje to Surat were told the same thing. You could scarcely visit a settlement on that route that had not been bodged by young Al. His most famous projects included the Tat Mahal, the Hanging baskets of Babylon (“OK – my guy says that the compost will be with you soon, problem with the supplier, mate – nothing I can do”), the statues of Zeus (“Only one Zeus? You better ask Monty Python about that”) and the Lighthouse of Alexandria (“Not my fault, pal, I didn’t do the wiring, have you tried finding a sparks in ante-Christian Egypt?”). When his nephew set off on his adventures he was greeted in delight by the inhabitants who only discovered too late that he was not head of the party of Eastern European craftsmen that they had sent for at very reasonable rates.