Monday, 24 November 2008

Mani doesn't use firearms.

Whisper it quietly, but I think my hair line is receding.

I know, I know. Time makes fools of us all. I thought that I'd be able to avoid the dreaded “solar panel” however. My hair has always been long and strong, kind of like Bungle from Rainbow. Sadly after a Saturday night spent checking my forehead in the mirror, I'm resigned to the fact that I'm now in the market for a new hat.

There are unfortunately only two known cures for baldness. And there's a problem with both of them. One of these is called Demoxinil, a chemical compound that when applied correctly can lead to a dramatic re-growth of hair on one's head. The problem is that, as far as I know, this compound is solely available in the cartoon world of The Simpsons.

The other cure is even less appealing. That is getting bitten by a Werewolf.

Now this latter option is problematic for any number of reasons. For a start you'd have to get bitten by a Werewolf, which I'm pretty sure is not as easy as all that. Firstly would have to make sure that the animal biting you is actually a Werewolf, as opposed to just a really big regular wolf. Now think about that for a moment because, if I'm honest, having never seen either one in the flesh before I'm not sure I could tell the difference. And the truth is, the idea of a bloody great big wolf gnawing away at one's arm is enough to put the heebie jeebies in to anybody.

Just ask the good folks of Gevaudan.

Gevaudan was one of many provinces in France to have problems with wolves from the middle ages all the way up until 1954. In fact wolf packs were responsible for a large culling of the human population in places like Benais and Vivarais, to name but two. The Beast of Gevaudan was different however. For a start it attacked as a single animal, rather than in a pack. And secondly wolves generally only attack humans if they feel threatened or if other food options are sparse. This critter however simply had a taste for human flesh.

To begin at the beginning. On the June 1st 1764 a young woman was tending to cattle near a forest when a large animal came charging from the trees and headed straight towards her. The dogs that she had been using to herd the cows quickly realised that they were overdue for their weekly cross stitch discussion group and promptly made their excuses and left. The cows on the other hand, displaying a level of cool headed thinking that James Bond would have been proud of, promptly stampeded (Gee Note: Finally the age old question of “Who is smarter: Cow or Dog?” has been answered. Congratulations to the dogs who had the sense to get the hell out of there as soon as a monster came bounding from the trees). The sight and sound of charging hooves was enough to put the beast off any ideas it had for a late afternoon snack and it headed back from whence it came.

It was 29 days later when the beast claimed it's first victim. The beast, described as large as a cow with a wolf's head and a reddish brown fur, attacked without provocation and warning, mauling a girl named Jeanne Boulet to her death.

Over the next year the attacks continued. Often times bodies were mutilated, limbs torn from their sockets, while half eaten mounds of human bones were left scattered across the countryside. The local townsfolk started to become a tad concerned and would regularly round up groups of hunters to search for the beast. These attempts were by and large fruitless until King Louis XV became involved.

Louis XV has the distinction of being one of the most unpopular Kings to ever rule France. Which is odd considering, when all's said and done, he ruled Her for a almost 59 years. He was crowned King at the tender age of, er, five (Gee Note: Think of all the things you were doing at the age of five. You know, like sticking your head in to a bowl of custard, or trundling around on that little red tractor of yours. Now imagine doing none of that, and instead being responsible for the well being of the world's second largest economy. Yeah, makes you think doesn't it?) until the time of his death at the age of 64.

And the sad thing is that, like so many rulers before and after him, his unpopularity had nothing to do with him as a leader of people. Instead an unavoidable war with Austria, a skirmish with the power hungry British, and enough extra marital affairs to make even Hugh Hefner blush were enough to turn his people sour on him. Which is a shame because unlike many of his predecessors Louis XV had a keen sense of where France's true passion lay, and under his guidance the arts flourished.

He also had a keen sense of knowing when everything was just about to go tits up. And so after hearing of a failed attack by the beast on a group of six people, Louis decided to award to bravest of the group, Jacques Portefaix, with 300 livres and an extra 300 livres to be shared amongst the rest. The King then ordered his best professional wolf hunter Jean-Charles-Marc-Antoine Vaumesle d'Enneval (Gee Note: The baptist must have loved him) and his son Jean-François to track down and exterminate the beast. They hunted the beast for several months but as the attacks continued and with no slavering wolf carcass in sight, the King lost patience and replaced the impossibly long named wolf hunter and his son with the King's personal gun bearer François Antoine.

Antoine spent the first couple of months charting the territory and interviewing locals. Word quickly spread throughout the villages that the gun bearer was too scared to head out in to the woods by himself and so wasted his time drawing maps and talking to folk. But Antoine was instead taking an amazingly methodical approach when it came to capturing the animal. Instead of, like the others before him, charging in to he forest guns blazing and bloodhounds baying, Antoine instead looked for patterns in the attacks and sightings. Effectively Antoine discovered what he believed was the beasts lair without ever stepping foot in the woods.

And so on September 21st 1765 Antoine took a few good and hardy souls with him and came back with the body of a 5'6'' long, 130 lb wolf. Pretty much everyone who saw it agreed that this was a monster of a specimen. Antoine, confident that this was the fabled beast, invited locals to inspect the carcass for themselves. Onlookers were amazed to find the body covered with scars that they themselves had inflicted in efforts to defend themselves from the Beast.

No one was in doubt that finally the Beast of Gévaudan had been defeated.

Well, that was until people starting dying again.

A full two years passed. And sadly many more deaths followed as the creature tore it's way through the province. People began to think that the Beast was unstoppable, an irresistable force that would destroy all in it's path. That was until the beast made it's way to Sarlat (Gee Note: By the way for anyone who hasn't been to Sarlat, go. Go now. If you love beautiful architecture, historical gravitas oozing from every pour, and enough street entertainment to make your head spin, Sarlat is like a gift from heaven). A local farmer and inn keeper by the name of Jean Chastel was wandering around Mont Mouchet one day, minding his own business. According to the legend Chastel just happened to be carrying around two silver bullets, fashioned from a medal representing the Virgin Mary, when the beast approached from the distance. The animal, despite having attacked everyone else on sight, stopped just long enough for Chastel to load his gun, open up a bible, say a prayer, and then shoot the beast in it's heart. It died instantly.

An unbelievable end to an unbelievable creature. When all was said and done, the Beast was responsble for at least 99 deaths over a three and a half year period.

As you can guess controversy surrounds the Beast like electrons surround a nucleus (Gee Note: A science analogy for you there. Who says “I Saw Elvis” can't be highbrow?). Many people believe that Chastel, for example, trained a wolf-dog hybrid to attack people before killing his own creation in the search for fame and fortune. Others believe that the beast was never killed in the first place, sighting discrepancies in the various descriptions of the beast and the wolves that were killed by both Chastel and Antoine. Some even believe that the Beast was a bona fide Werewolf, after a few fantastical historians claimed that villagers had reported meeting an “extremely hairy man” in the forest shortly before the beast attacked.

So, I guess with that in mind it is possible that if one was around on 18th century Southern Central France then you could have found that second cure for hair loss.

You'll forgive me though if I'd rather take my chances with Demoxinil.


Naveed said...

You know, despite the fact my dad claimed I'd be going bald by now, the only spot on my head missing hair is a scar I got from pretending to be Superman when I was 5. Although he still swears up and down that I will loose it. Although if I do so signs of hair loss, I do believe I'll track down that werewolf that supposedly resides in Wisconsin. I hate taking drugs, so Demoxinil is not for me.

Kait said...

Werewolf stories are my favorite.

& thank you.
Shy guys are better than the ones
who don't know when to quit.

Jae said...

Very interesting... I really don't pay enough attention to werewolf stories, maybe it's time I started reading up on them