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Josephus’ Armies in the Sky February 28, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
Josephus' Armies in the Sky

One of the most celebrated reports from antiquity of bizarre goings on in the sky appears in Josephus, History of the Wars relating to c. 65 AD. Besides these, a few days after that feast [of the unleavened bread], on the twenty first day of the month of Artemisius, a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon […]

Cat Music and Cat Organs February 27, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Cat Music and Cat Organs

**This post is dedicated to the Mad Monk who has supplied Beach with several references over the months and who put Beach onto the precious secret of the Cat Organ.** Beachcombing has complained before about the strange absence of bizarrism in music and he has never been satisfactorily contradicted. This absence is particularly painful in ‘classical’ […]

Toasting Poland February 26, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
Toasting Poland

  Beachcombing has always had a bit of a thing about the Poles: a nation of warriors and survivors. It is difficult not to get a little teary-eyed then when, in 1918, Poland officially becomes, after 120 years of dreaming, a nation again. Unlike Italy’s pretend risorgimento – to have a ‘resurrection’ you need to […]

Walter’s Ancient Book in the British Tongue February 25, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
Walter's Ancient Book in the British Tongue

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain was not only one of the most popular books of the Middle Ages. It was also one of the most mysterious and controversial. In c.1136 Geoffrey offered to the world and to his patron Robert of Gloucester this epic relating to the ancient and early medieval history of […]

Catching Mermaids on Man February 24, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Catching Mermaids on Man

Different peoples build their identity around different facts: the Italians around their food, the French around La France, the Poles (at least in times gone by) around their Catholicism. The Isle of Man, between Britain and Ireland, meanwhile, built its identity, at least in early-modern times, around a belief in the wonderful (phantom dogs, water […]

Review: Lost Worlds February 23, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
Review: Lost Worlds

  Beachcombing has, on several occasions, had the experience of justifying (or trying to justify) to a television or publishing company an idea. Essentially you the ‘artist’ are beholden to write on one side of A4, preferably in Times New Roman, a succinct pitch, explaining why the public will go into ecstasy on purchase or […]

Flat-earthing: the Destruction of Knowledge February 22, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
Flat-earthing: the Destruction of Knowledge

**Note that this has become a controversial post – read to the bottom for important riders and arguments** Beachcombing is at heart a whig, at least in historical terms: he sees the sunlit uplands off on the horizon and believes, perhaps stupidly, that humanity is gradually evolving and moving towards a happier, freer future. However, […]

Viking Decapitations and the Knife Experiment February 21, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
Viking Decapitations and the Knife Experiment

*Post dedicated to Mathias B who inspired it with his readings in Jómsvikinga saga* Beachcombing is down in the flu doldrums and so apologies for any emails to which he’s not yet replied. Several of you though (Ostrich, Swedish Anna, SY) pointed out that yesterday’s request about the letter from a Frederick to Ethiopia was a letter […]

Flexible Glass in Tiberius’ Rome February 20, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
Flexible Glass in Tiberius' Rome

Beachcombing has never understood the irrational pleasure of glass. Holding a wine glass in our hands – whatever the content – is surely one of the house’s hidden joys and conversely having a chipped glass or one with any line of imperfection is strangely irritating. It was while contemplating one such imperfect glass yesterday in Beachcombing’s favourite […]

Thirteenth-Century French Envoys in Mongolia February 19, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
Thirteenth-Century French Envoys in Mongolia

As Beachcombing plunges into his spring flu a short but sweet post on an extraordinary diplomatic mission that Louis IX (obit 1270) sent to the King of the Mongols in the thirteenth century. There is something necessarily surreal about any contacts between such distant realms, though this did not stop the two monarchs plotting. Indeed, there had already […]

Bierce’s Second Act February 18, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
Bierce's Second Act

Poor F. Scott Fitzgerald claimed, in a novel that he could not finish, that there are no second acts in American lives. However, Beachcombing has always wondered about a possible exception in Ambrose ‘Bitter’ Bierce ‘the Devil’s lexographer’, short-story writer, journalist, poet, sceptic and general stand-up guy. Bierce had, by any standards, an undeservedly crappy […]

Third-Century Indian Coins in Twentieth-Century Ethiopia February 17, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
Third-Century Indian Coins in Twentieth-Century Ethiopia

  In 1940 a thrilling discovery was made at the Ethiopian monastery of Dabra-Dammo in northern Ethiopia. In the remains of a gold encrusted box in the holy house 104 Indian coins were identified. The coins were extremely valuable: the possibility that a practical joker – perhaps an Italian squaddie – brought these across in […]

The Last Unicorn in Medicine February 16, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
The Last Unicorn in Medicine

One of the most important things about mythical animals is that they are ‘rare’. Being rare means that anything to do with them is valuable and in previous ages that meant that their body parts were (a) good for showing off and (b) dragged into the world of medicine. Unicorns were particularly appreciated in medicinal […]

Childhood, Memory and Lies February 15, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
Childhood, Memory and Lies

  Beachcombing usually limits autobiography in this blog to the absolute minimum: just enough to give a blurred soap opera of his life. However, today, in part to celebrate his ninth anniversary with Mrs B and in part because, as previous posts have shown, he is obsessed by the limits of memory, he has decided […]

Cabinet of Curiosities from Eighteenth-Century London February 14, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Cabinet of Curiosities from Eighteenth-Century London

  One of the sheer joys of bizzarism is collecting disparate lists and just enjoying the sound of them or the look of them on the page. In this spirit Beachcombing offers today a collection of curiosities brought together in an eighteenth-century London coffee house. He has included perhaps one in fifteen of the marvels gathered there. […]

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