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  • Beachcombed 42 December 1, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Beachcombed , trackback

    hedgehog beachcombed

    Dear Reader, November has been a blast, from an iron furnace.This is always the most difficult month of the year: a sort of cursed menses. The main issue is that Mrs B. has to organise an annual academic conference: not so much herding cats as herding blind, incontinent seagulls. Child rearing falls mainly to Beach then as do all the health issues as flu inevitably makes its rounds. Moon, the Beachcombing hedgehog, has come in from the garden: he is African and cannot hibernate. He should be spending the winter in a warm cage, but it was decided that he was too big and so he has been given the run of ‘Daddy’s study’. Beach’s bare foot accidentally connected with Moon yesterday, who was nesting in a shirt, and Beach has since been in agony. There have also been various financial reverses, a bust washing machine, a rude neighbour, the continued difficulties over father-in-law’s debts and associated visits to lawyers and architects. Lesson: it is much easier to deal something when it is squarely your fault. When it is someone else’s you start to get angry about 20 hours in… In the middle of all this Mrs B announced that she wanted to emigrate and leave Italy ‘for the children’: big explosion beneath everyone’s seats. Kids asking where Chile is and whether there will be winged fairies in Thailand. Beach is frail and uncertain (about emigration) but spent an hour this morning looking at coastal islands in British Columbia. ‘You can pick up oysters on the beach…’ November is now thankfully over and for once Christmas and snow sound like fun. Anything is better than packing a life into a couple of suitcases surely?

    Here on site there were a dozen attempts at the index biography for November but as yet no correct answer: we’ll keep it open for another week but a couple of clues, to help things along, the individual served in WW2 (hence Wrens) and was British (an occupational hazard on this blog). The most comments and the most emails came curiously for the post on whether Islam created the Italian Renaissance. Now some good links off site many sent in by readers, for which Beach is properly grateful: the fairy killing of Bridget Cleary (best contemporary account); I went to a sex club with my married coworker; musical tribute to the greatest Scot of all, Montrose; world depression rates; the funniest gifs of all time (actually some are rather good); incredibly beautiful but patronising Woody Guthrie feminist standard sung by Billy Bragg; the black rabbit from Watership Down; video games and cocaine; sushi and north korea (best article of month?); Barrett Brown in jail – the kid can write; Russia and AA; dropping out and then back in; twelves types of commentators (the reason if you are interested that this site does not have normal comments open to all); 20 things I should have known at 20; in the mind of conspiracy theorists; great fake fortean fairy story; just above our feet; various candidates for Kennedy’s killer (other than the obvious one); the science of sex abuse; fairy news feed; interesting history/thought site; the little bigfoot phenomenon; the Duel at Blood Creek (hilarious video); off with their heads (terrifying video); stand up please if Sir Winton saved your life (moving video). Now God bless you all and thanks to all those who sent in the news stories below and most importantly the comments for the various posts over the last month. Sorry if I took my time replying but November really is the cruellest month of all.

    Lavoisier Blinks: Ben Vokes sends in this extraordinary video. Compelling and creepy! Thanks Ben!

    Bread and Drowning: Karen sends in this that has to be relevant: Ecclesiastes: “Cast your bread upon the water, and you will find it after many days.” Our forbears were, in the main, deeply involved/instructed with Bible-based religion: church was mandatory for quite a while, and socially-mandated thereafter until at least the 1970’s. Whether or not folks fully understood the intended meaning (do we?) I think this verse very likely had something to do with the faith of country people, especially for finding persons/things lost in a river. Thanks Karen for the breakthrough!

    Dumb Duels 1: First up is the great Mike Dash with a couple of classics. Two encounters spring immediately to mind: one fatal, the other rather deliberately not so. To take the fatal example first: Lord Camelford was one of the great hell-raising aristocrats of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and the subject of Nikolai Tolstoy’s book The Half-Mad Lord. I have taken quite an interest in him over the years as he was the most direct precursor of the Marquis of Waterford, who was chief suspect in the Spring-heeled Jack scare of 1837-38, and the lurid anecdotes about his behaviour are legion. Crucial to understanding of the duel story, however, is that Camelford had a reputation for being not merely extremely fearsome, but absolutely fearless. There is for example a tale told of his behaviour when the celebrations that attended the Peace of Amiens (1802) occurred. The whole of London was ablaze with lights in honour of the affair, but Camelford’s Mayfair windows remained conspicuously unlit. A disgruntled mob assembled outside and began to remonstrate with Camelford’s servants, at which Camelford himself issued forth. He had armed himself with cudgels (apparently he habitually kept a selection of weaponry, from bullwhips to clubs and swords, handily available in brackets above the fire in his living room) and immediately charged into the assembled multitude, concussing several before he himself was inevitably brought down by a blow from behind. With this sort of reputation to defend, Camelford was highly sensitive to any slight upon his honour. As Tolstoy, and several contemporaries, tell it, a certain Mrs Simmonds – a lady with whom Camelford had lived with for a while – felt slighted when her escort for the evening, a Captain Best, refused to accompany her home. She responded by swearing to “set Lord Camelford on his back,” then went to Camelford and told him that Best had spoken disrespectfully of him. Camelford immediately issued a challenge to a duel and this went ahead despite Best’s earnest attempts to convince Camelford that he had said nothing of the sort. Camelford apparently believed him, but, as Best had the reputation of being the best shot in the entire kingdom, felt he would be thought a coward if he withdrew the challenge. The duel thus went ahead on a meadow in Kensington on 7 March 1804. Camelford fired first, and missed, but Best lived up to his reputation and put his ball into Camelford’s spine. Lord C lingered in great agony for three days before dying. He left a will insisting that he was to blame for the duel and asking that Best not be charged with his murder. More ridiculous is the story of Sir William Petty, the seventeenth century “father of economics” whom I believe I first encountered in Stephen Pile’s Book of Heroic Failures. The story here is told variously by those two great diarists, Aubrey and Evelyn, who have Petty involved in tackling challenges dating to 1645 from (probably) Sir Hierome Sankey and Sir Aleyn Brodrick respectively. The basic details, however, are the same: Sir William, like Lord Camelford, was not disposed to refuse the challenge in order to preserve his honour. However, he was shortsighted and also no match for his opponent in terms of strength or viciousness. A solution suggested itself: by the customs of duelling, it was Sir William’s right as the challenged to chose the venue for the encounter and the weapons to be used. He chose a pitch-black coal cellar and a pair of carpenter’s axes so huge that neither man could lift them. This, Aubrey reports, “turned the knight’s challenge to ridicule, and so it came to nought.” *** Judith of Zenobia fame writes: It’s not just the dumb Irish duels of yesteryear that tickle but the duels to come of Senator Aqua Buddha (as Charles Pierce jovially calls him) Rand Paul [R-Ky]: /”And like I say, if, you know, if dueling were legal in Kentucky, if they keep it up, you know, it would be a duel challenge. But I can’t do that, because I can’t hold office in Kentucky then.”/ Details of future dogfights. Oh to be Rachel Maddow’s second! *** Thanks Zenobia and Mike!

    Irish Africans, and British Racism: KMH writes in, although science has established that certain functions are located at specific places in the brain, there is no observed relationship between skull characteristics and human behavior or intelligence. I am reminded of the efforts of Lombroso to discover the distinctive anatomical indications of criminality – something relevant to the question here. Note that his theories were rejected because they depended too much on nature rather than nurture – not that there can’t logically  be some correlation between the defects (whatever the cause) and criminality. I personally believe that the human spirit can and will overwhelm any obstacles, inner or outer, placed in front of it.’ Thanks KMH!

    Romans and Fairies: Laura C writes: Hiya! A couple of quotes for you from here in Northumberland, it seems the fairies up here were rather fond of Roman sites too! “It is not alone at housesteads, by the Roman wall, on a meadow once occupied by a suburb of the military station of Borcovicus, that the fairies come from an adjacent cave for their moonlight dances.” – A Memoir on Northumberland, William Gibson (1860) “To the west of the station of Vindolana, or Chesterholm, are the ruins of an extensive building which has been furnished with hypocausts. “The pillars long retained the marks of fire and soot, which gave rise to the popular belief that a colony of fairies had there established themselves, and that this was their kitchen.”” – Denham Tracts Volume 2, quoting Bruce’s Wallet book of the Roman Wall (1863). *** Then Chris from Haunted Ohio Books: Archaeological Review, Volume 4, George Laurence Gomme There might be something here–search for “fairy traditions”–there is a leap from fairies to Picts with a possible misinterpretation of Roman treasure as something Pictish.  There’s also a bit on earth houses and their inhabitants–fairies or peoples of antiquity believed to be fairies. Croker mentions preachers gathering at a Roman causeway called Sarn Helen (Wales) to exorcise an evil spirit. Gold bars were dug up on the spot–the devil supposedly was tempting souls with the treasure. But fairies are mentioned  only peripherally. There is a lot of fairy lore in this book: On the ancient British, Roman, and Saxon antiquities of Worcestershire, Jabez Allies More “Pictish Kings” and fairies in this Interesting Roman antiquities recently discovered in Fife, Andrew Small. *** The Count has moved on from the Romans but is, as always, interesting: Regarding the belief that Roman leftovers were the work of fairies, might I draw your attention to the latest example of a similar belief I can think of? This is the legend that the 13th-century “Goblin Hall” near Gifford, East Lothian, was literally built by goblins! The myth seems to have arisen because a nobleman, wishing to have a state-of-the-art castle, brought in masons and other experts from Europe, resulting in sophisticated architecture the like of which the locals had never seen before. They thus came to believe that he must have whistled up a supernatural workforce to erect it, in particular the very impressive vaulted cellar – the Goblin Hall itself. Unlike the rest of the castle, it still exists in its entirety, though nowadays it’s deemed hazardous and permanently locked. Anyway, here’s a useful page:  By the way, despite the muddled claims made about the place by the usual neo-pagan bubbleheads, the only actual goblin to be found in the area is on the sign of the Goblin Ha’ (the only hotel in Gifford, and probably its only industry – it’s a very small place). I expect they’ve repainted it a few times over the years, but it’s been essentially unchanged for a very long time – I thought you might like to see it:  Thanks Chris, Count and Laura C.

    Monotheistic Moments: KMH is in fine feckle: You are now walking in a very swampy  area. The supposed monotheism of the Jews was technically only henotheism, the belief in and worship of a single God while accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities  that may also be worshipped. The other deities were those of the other religions the Jews encountered, none of which were criticized or refuted in the bible. Religion is considered to have begun with the clan or tribe issuing from the  original founder. So, progress has seen the amalgamation of these tribal beliefs  into larger and larger wholes until we arrive at the ‘universal religions’ beginning about 2500 years ago with Zoroastrianism and Buddhism on through to Islam. Along the way, one man’s god became another man’s angel or archangel (or even demon). Now we have within the so-called monotheistic religions extensive systems of angels in addition to the supreme and only deity. So, when it takes an angel to get things done, the monotheistic element can and will be secondary. Also, in the very first verse of the bible (Gen.1:1) the word for God is the plural Elohim. In defense of monotheism, it can be said that all religions may have initially recognized the unknowable, often nameless, single god of everything, but as time passed this revelation was forgotten and only the practical intercourse with the lower, namable gods was understood. We often encounter gods, demigods, the god of gods, etc, to express this notion. So you have a basic choice – one god and many angels, or plural gods of various ranks and functions. *** Next up is Nathaniel: For the Hebrew transition to monotheism, see Psalm 82: Psalm 82 New International Version (NIV) A psalm of Asaph. God presides in the great assembly;/ he renders judgment among the “gods”:/ “How long will you defend the unjust / and show partiality to the wicked? / Defend the weak and the fatherless; / uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. / Rescue the weak and the needy; / deliver them from the hand of the wicked. / “The ‘gods’ know nothing, they understand nothing. / They walk about in darkness;/ all the foundations of the earth are shaken./ “I said, ‘You are “gods”; / you are all sons of the Most High.’ / But you will die like mere mortals;/ you will fall like every other ruler.” / Rise up, O God, judge the earth, / for all the nations are your inheritance.’ While in the past “gods” was often translated as “judges”, recent scholarship suggests that “gods” is the correct translation. It’s argued that this psalm describes “God” demoting (i.e. making mortal) the other “gods” for failing to do their job of maintaining justice on Earth. From there (for better or worse) “God” basically takes all the “god” jobs for Himself.*** Michel writes ‘It is not obvious to everyone that monotheism came after polytheism. The Austrian linguist Wilhelm Schmidt proposed a theory of primordial monotheism, arguing that polytheism was a corruption of an earlier, more pristine stage of monotheistic belief. Also, how could you leave out good old Zoroaster? The Jews didn’t exactly pick up monotheism from the Zoroastrians during the Babylonian captivity, but a whole lot of the trappings, like a fully developed eschatology, suspiciously show up only after their return.’ Thanks KMH, Michel and Nathaniel!

    WW1 Jokes: The Count, who is back in town, writes: Lots and lots and LOTS to be found here! I don’t understand most of the text, but the imagery is tremendous fun!  *** This deserves a post in itself. Invisible sends in: The New War Game. Even the terrible war which is raging has its humors, and a story apropos of the starved condition of the German soldiers, which comes officially from Brussels, is much appreciated by the Allies. It concerns a soldier in the carbineers who has already made quite a lot of German prisoners. “I do not take my rifle with me now. I go out with a slice of bread  and butter, and they follow me.” Her Dainty Passport. A Swedish actress, says the Stockholm correspondent of “The Daily Telegraph,” narrates how she was taken for a German spy in Paris, and not knowing how to proclaim her identity, and being surrounded by a shouting mob, she felt quite alarmed. Suddenly a lucky idea occurred to her.  She slightly raised her skirt, and, showing a dainty little foot, exclaimed: “You look at this. Do you call this German?” She was saved and carried in triumph to her hotel. New York Tribune 27 December 1914: p. 3 Thanks Count and thanks Invisible!

    Changing Sex in Victorian England: not the same thing but some historical transvestites that we’ll visit sooner or later from Lucifer’s own:I would like to mention one overlooked historical transvestie…crossdresser edward hyde 1st govenor of new jersey 3rd earl of claredon and his antics which are 100% documented and hillarious as well  his potrait as well does its uttmost to dispel any attempts absolve him let alone a alibi  as well as kin to the 2nd earl of rodchester …possible relation to our libertine 3rd earl of rodchester? and his infamous shennaigans second to none even to the marquis de sade….shurely no one will let this infamous transvestite pass into history without a blog post! There’s one more i forgot to mention the chivalier d’eon the cross dressing spy who managed to out livethe french revolution … Thanks Lucifer!

    The First Pictured Sub-Saharan African: Judith W from the Zenobian blog writes in I would never think of Eritrea as ‘sub-Saharan’: though it is south of the desert, it is also very far away to the east.  No matter. For new information on the location of Punt and the image of  its queen Eti (or Ati), see my blog post  [I wish I’d seen Zenobia’s post before I’d written mine]More likely to be sub-Saharan — perhaps Libyan or at least Nubian, are the black warriors on the ‘Captain of the Blacks’ fresco fragment from Knossos.  While this could be a little later than Hatshepsut (perhaps first half 14th C BCE), the theme of dark-skinned warriors already appears at Knossos by the end of the Middle Bronze Age in the so-called ‘Town Mosaic’; sorry, I have no good picture: you’ll have to take my word for it.*** Michel writes: Steatopygia comes to mind: . See here for a well-known extreme example that could almost double for the Egyptian picture:  BUT: steatopygia is a genetic anomaly restricted to   people native to Southern and to some extent Central Africa (in South Africa, you can walk down any busy street to see examples, though not quite that extreme). It is unknown among the tall, skinny people of the Horn of Africa . Which makes one wonder, just how far south did that expedition go? *** Borky reflects, meanwhile: Beach allowing for cultural biases of artists’s eye remarkable resemblance to this lady’s physical type Definitely African quite possibly not diseased at all merely decades of easy livin’/boredom alleviated by hearty scoff*** Thanks Borky and Michel and Zenobia!

    Jokes from WW1: The Count, who is back in town, writes: Lots and lots and LOTS to be found here! I don’t understand most of the text, but the imagery is tremendous fun!  *** This deserves a post in itself. Invisible sends in: The New War Game. Even the terrible war which is raging has its humors, and a story apropos of the starved condition of the German soldiers, which comes officially from Brussels, is much appreciated by the Allies. It concerns a soldier in the carbineers who has already made quite a lot of German prisoners. “I do not take my rifle with me now. I go out with a slice of bread  and butter, and they follow me.” Her Dainty Passport. A Swedish actress, says the Stockholm correspondent of “The Daily Telegraph,” narrates how she was taken for a German spy in Paris, and not knowing how to proclaim her identity, and being surrounded by a shouting mob, she felt quite alarmed. Suddenly a lucky idea occurred to her.  She slightly raised her skirt, and, showing a dainty little foot, exclaimed: “You look at this. Do you call this German?” She was saved and carried in triumph to her hotel. New York Tribune 27 December 1914: p. 3 Bruce sends in this classic: British sentry: “Halt, who goes there?” Response: “Scots Guards.” Sentry: “Pass, Scots Guards.” Sentry: “Halt, who goes there?” Response: “The Buffs.” Sentry: “Pass, The Buffs.” Sentry: “Halt, who goes there?” Response: “Mind your own goddamn business!” Sentry: “Pass, Canadians.” And Stephen D. This subtler but beautiful effort: Q. If Bread is the Staff of Life, what is the Life of the Staff? A. One long loaf. Thanks, guys!Thanks Count, Bruce and Stephen and Invisible!

    Deadly Sweets: Brett from Airminded writes in: A couple of references on my blog to poisoned sweets being dropped from aircraft during the First World War (on Britain by Germany and on Romania by, presumably, Austria): (1) and (2). They sound very urban legend-like to me.’ I am sure that Brett is right and this is urban legend but a bigger study might turn up some interesting points of origin. Thanks, Brett!

    River Mermaids in Spain: Kenton writes: ‘re the spanish mermaids, the town of villanueva de la serena on the river Guadiana  supposedly was originally called villanueva de la sirena due to the presence of a local mermaid, represented on the town crest to this day,  The town is now remembered more as the birthplace of Pedro de Validivia, the conquistador who founded Chile.’ Thanks Kenton!

    Dreaming Murder in Parliament 8: Kenton writes: Re the latest entry on dreaming murder, I find it rather confusing that this dream is attributed to John Fox when the other sources (Carlyon 1836 and its repetitions) speak of Robert Fox being the accompanying party’ Kenton is correct that there are strange name repetitions. Fox is fairly common of course, but Rennie? Thanks Kenton!

    Dreaming Murder in Parliament 11: Bob sent in this information from Notes and Queries. In the interests of keeping all information together I post it here with huge thanks to him. ‘In Notes and Queries Series 7 Vol 11 p. 121-3 (an excellent source on this case) H Wedgwood quotes John Williams as follows in respect to Mr Rennie (senior, it would appear) and his involvement in getting Williams to retell the story: “The singularity of the case, when mentioned among my acquaintance, naturally made it the subject of conversation in London; and, in consequence, my friend, the late Mr. Rennie, was requested by some of the Commissioners of the Navy that they might be permitted to hear the circumstances from myself. Two of them accordingly met me at Mr. Rennie’s house ; and to them I detailed at the time the particulars, then fresh in my memory, which form the subject of the above. I forbear to make any further comment upon the above narration, further than to declare solemnly that it is a faithful account of facts as they actually occurred.” Wedgwood then goes on to comment on the mistakes appearing in the account of the case by Sir John Rennie in his in his autobiography: The meeting at Mr. Rennie’s mentioned by Williams, where he narrated his dream to the officials of the Admiralty, took place in the year 1815, and, by a singular chance, it is also recorded in the ‘Autobiography ‘ of Sir John Rennie, then a youth of twenty-one, who was himself present at the breakfast ” I heard him relate the dream,” he says, “and my father and all present believed him.”  But writing after an interval of sixty years, it is not surprising that he should fall into various errors, attributing the dream to Williams’s partner, R. W. Fox, and placing the occurrence on the night of the murder instead of eight days previous. Wedgwood more generally makes a good point regarding the date of the dream in saying: “It is certain that the circumstances accompanying a dream which made so deep an impression in the seer must have been indelibly fixed in his memory; and if the dream had really occurred on May 11, the evening of the murder- a fact that must have been notorious to all his family and connexions — he never afterwards could have attributed to it such a date as that assigned to it in the authentic narrative above cited, ” about the 2nd or 3rd of May.” Thanks Bob for this and all your heroic work in the series!

    Arty Monarchs: JH writes: Though Nero’s recitals were known to be somewhat long it is said they had quite an impact on his audience leading to rather unusual behaviour such as fake heart attacks, child births, and the leaping from windows.  One witness fell asleep during a performance and almost lost the chance to start the Flavian Dynasty. I realize art critics can be cruel and have political axes to grind, but having Madonna, Lady Ga Ga, etc to fall back on perhaps I am lucky indeed! *** Then JR writes: Can I suggest Queen Margrethe of Denmark? A very accomplished painer and illustrator, who drew illustrations for Folio Books edition of Lord of the Rings. From Wikipedia: Margrethe is an accomplished painter, and has held many art shows over the years.[8] Her illustrations—under the pseudonym Ingahild Grathmer—were used for the Danish edition of The Lord of the Rings, which she was encouraged to illustrate in the early 1970s. She sent them to J.R.R. Tolkien who was struck by the similarity of her drawings to his own style. Margrethe’s drawings were redrawn by the British artistEric Fraser in the translation published in 1977 and re-issued in 2002.[9] In 2000, she illustrated Henrik, the Prince Consort’s poetry collectionCantabile. She is also an accomplished translator and is said to have participated in the Danish translation of The Lord of the Rings.[8] Another skill she possesses is costume designing, having designed the costumes for the Royal Danish Ballet‘s production of A Folk Tale and for the 2009 Peter Flinth film, “De vilde svaner” (the Wild Swans).[10] She also designs her own clothes and is known for her colourful and sometimes eccentric clothing choices.*** Louis an old friend of the blog writes: Well, it is known that (former) queen Beatrix of the Netherlands is partial to the arts. She makes statues, both in stone and in clay. And, according to some art critics, she is definitely more than just a gifted amateur. This arty streak she probably inherited from her grandmother, queen Wilhelmina. That queen did paintings, and watercolours. She even had a caravan (horse drawn in those days) that she used when going somewhere incognito to paint. However, she would also reserve some rooms in a nearby hotel, as the countess of Buren, one of her lesser titles. That title is still occasionally used by our royals when they want to go somewhere incognito. And Louis XIV, le Roi Soleil, was known for his dancing. He wanted to be, and apparently became (at least for a short time), the best dancer in the kingdom. If this list is also about head of states, then the dreadful moustache from Linz (A.H.) was also a painter, although such a mediocre one that he did not get accepted at the Vienna Art school…. And isn’t there a Japanese princes that wrote the first Japanese novel, somewhere around 600 CA? [not found a reference] *** KMH writes in: Beach, (From Wikipedia:)  You probably knew and forgot that Frederick the Great was a gifted musician who played the transverse flute. He composed 100 sonatas for the flute as well as four symphonies. The Hohenfriedberger Marsch, a military march, was supposedly written by Frederick to commemorate his victory in the Battle of Hohenfriedberg during the Second Silesian War. His court musicians included C. P. E. Bach, Johann Joachim Quantz, Carl Heinrich Graun and Franz Benda. A meeting with Johann Sebastian Bach in 1747 in Potsdam led to Bach’s writing The Musical Offering. *** Invisible writes: On monarchs as artists. Under the Medieval/Renaissance-era system, artists were apprenticed at a young age to learn the trade by sweeping the master’s rooms, grinding his colors, and being clouted on the head for a naughty sketch. No monarch would have had the time, let alone the freedom, to spend his/her youth at the nitty gritty learning of what was, after all, a trade like blacksmithing or tailoring. Poetry and music were the expected polite accomplishments of the educated (with sketching and needlework added for the ladies). So it is no wonder that those are the artistic fields where monarchs, if they excel at all, may be found. *** Louis again ‘While reading my own post, and the one from Invisible, I suddenly remembered that all Turkish Sultans, by tradition, had to learn a trade. And that Suleiman the Lawgiver (better known as “the Magnificent” in europe) was an accomplished gold smith, of whom several pieces have suvived the ages.’ *** April (and Invisible in another email with the same content) writes: I believe — and this is not simply a way of expressing my female superiority —  that the 1st novel referred to in your blog was not written by some prince or other… the 1st Japanese novel — or, arguable and more properly, this humble writer thinks, 1st novel in, of, and otherwise the world — was written by Murasaki Shikibu — which, in case you are not up on your Asian studies is a woman’s name — and its title was, is and always will be (in english, at least) The Tale of Genji Just a tiny FYI *** Thanks Invisible (x2), Louis (x2) and April, KMH, and JR and JH!

    The Place of Stillborn Children: Here is Invisible: Your post on the burial-place of still-born children reminded me of a talk (remembered, alas, only in fragments) from a talk on “Paleopathology of Archaic Infants in Abdera, Greece,” by Anagnostis Agelarkis given at a 1999 Paleopathology Association conference in Columbus, Ohio. You’ll find a link to a broader article on the same site here. 71% of the burials in “Area K” were of infants, mostly very young infants. I don’t know if anything new has come to light since I heard the talk, but no specific epidemic or disease could be discovered from the remains. There was also a striking lack of Harris lines and LEH, which indicate stress/trauma to the growing child. I seem to remember that one of the theories given in the talk was that this was a burial ground set aside for babies and still-births, although I can’t recall that any reason for this was given. As I say, that was a long time ago and advances in analysing the remains may have solved the question of why such a high percentage of the burials were of babies. Thanks Invisible!

    Paranormal Smells: Karen writes: Some years ago, my husband and I moved to Memphis, TN, and bought a 1917 fixer-upper in a very nice historic district. (Yes, I know, overseas, 1917 is quite modern, not very historic: but this was Memphis TN, not Memphis, Egypt!) The house had “good bones” and was quite sound but was in sad shape insofar as decor. It had, unfortunately, been badly “remodeled” in the late 1960’s early 1970’s. (think avocado green coffeepot wallpaper and grungy harvest gold carpet. It was roach and rat infested. The elder owner-couple had gone to nursing home and their grandsons had used the old house as a marijuana greenhouse: I was told the entire attic had been wired with grow-lights! Anyhow, it stank, mostly of rats. Undaunted, I called exterminators who successfully rid the house of pests, whilst I rid it of stinking cabinets, rat poo, nasty carpet, and the accompanying nasty odours. An extraordinary amount of cleaning, sanding, priming, painting, refinishing, and cellar-cleaning resulted in a clean fresh house. THEN I restored and decorated. But on occasion, and only in the am, the smell of fresh cooked bacon wafted from the kitchen. I say fresh-cooked: rancid bacon grease does not smell the same at all.  My husband first commented, “Aren’t you cooking bacon?” My dog whimpered and begged for something I didn’t have.  My mother, on a visit, came into the kitchen saying “I smell bacon!” Other guests smelled morning bacon also, and had NOT been told of the bacon-smell mystery. Often, they were quite disappointed with breakfast because I hadn’t made bacon or ham. (MY DH had a heart condition: bacon was forbidden him so I wouldn’t cook it as a kindness to him.) Some people have suggested that the bacon smell had settled into old walls and crevices. Believe me when I say that old smells are not the same as fresh smells. Also the rat-stench had been completely removed, seams cleaned spackled, and “Kilzed” (which means heavy duty primer) so why would a bacon-smell remain when a more pungent smell didn’t? Even floors were sanded, stained and varnished. Old vents were professionally cleaned, a new range, range hood and vent pipe had been installed. If anything, the smells of paint fumes and varnish prevailed on every surface. My neighbors, whom I asked, denied cooking bacon on the days in question (although they did think me odd for asking) and in any case, the bacon couldn’t be smelled outside, only inside, and seemed to originate in the kitchen. Somehow I got the impression that the original lady of the house, whom I called “Mamie” (though I never knew why I did so) was either quite pleased with what I was doing to restore the house, or else just making breakfast in her own “time zone” and didn’t even know I was there. I believe the former. A pleasant haunting by a pleasant lady ghost. One day I shall tell you about the man in the antique chair, but he was seen, not smelled. Thanks Karen for this excellent low-grade ghost story!

    Crashing into yourself: Chris from Haunted Ohio Books and Chris L both suggest the brocken spectre: could it be? Thanks guys! Borky on this phenomena: Beach I’m not so sure about the icy mirror thing though this’s one o’ me own readily-reached-for-explanations for Asian newspaper accounts o’ Garuda cities hov’ring in the sky. Nor does Chris’s Brocken shadow thingy seem t’fit. For one there’s all them whirrin’ propellors churnin’ up the air then there’s the fact he mentions ‘Archie’ or anti aircraft fire which surely’d be less than conducive to the sort of still cool air required for anything icily reflective to form. But we’re also talkin’ ’bout a huge HUGE reflective area sufficiently huge in fact to incorporate twin nose dives twin turns twin crashes not t’mention all them clouds driftin’ all over the place. Our hero was also aware of cold perspiration suggesting a moderate ambient temp’rature [though with weather systems like sea/lakes y’can o’ course have icy horizontal regions stacked on top o’ warm horizontal regions]. Then there’s the fact he deliberately decided t’allow himself t’crash into somethin’ which afterall appeared identical to ‘is own sides’ planes. It reminds me in many ways o’ three stories a mate me brother an’ the old ITV kids show Magpie once told me. This friend for some reason found herself drawn to the window an’ lookin’ down saw her bloke removin’ his golf clubs fom the boot o’ his mate’s car which was weird ’cause he was an hour early an’ it was the wrong person givin’ the lift. When he didn’t come up she called him an’ o’ course he was still playin’ golf but with the guy she’d seen from the window. The Magpie thing was durin’ this episode I remember vividly where Mick Robertson [I always loved ‘im ’cause he pissed Jenny an’ Tommy off sayin’ my fireworks paintin’ should o’ won the Bon Fire Night Art Competition!] introduced this one feature [again t’the others’ chagrin] ’bout a man who’d been drivin’ along when he got the shock of his life when saw ‘imself in an identical car driving towards him from the opposite direction. M’brother’s story happened when he was flyin’ back after Buddhisting in Ireland. The plane’d only just taken off when ‘im an this Buddhisty girl’d he’d been travellin’ with got the shock o’ their lives as the stewardess now told ev’ryone to buckle up as the plane began to go down. Without saying a word convinced they plane was about to crash in the Irish Sea they looked at each other with ashen faces then held damp trembling hands an’ waited for what they hoped’d be a quick relatively painless death. Instead the plane touched down. They’d only just taken off an’ the plane was touchin’ down? Obviously somethin’d forced the plane back to Eire but no they were back in Britain. Me brother said they both agreed they were left with the peculiar abiding sense in some way they actu’ly HAD died but somehow Somethin’d decided the Dharma/the Work needed their lives t’continue. I’d love t’know what subsequently befell the pilot in your story. Thanks Borky!

    Islam and the Renaissance: I really enjoyed writing this post this morning: as a medievalist by training the renaissance gets on my nerves, particularly art historians talking about the symbolism of the Virgin’s right nipple and I may have enjoyed myself a bit too much. I had three interesting replies in the first hours all, to one extent or other critical and so I’m going to try and actually respond here and  keep juggling the Islamic thesis. First of all Patrick from  Military History: ‘Great article, if it were true.  Arab numerals are an Indian invention.  The West was introduced to them the crusades yes, but the Arabs did not invent them nor the concept of zero.  Banks and Insurance existed in Ancient Rome as well.  The Temple of Saturn on the Capitoline the forum was not just the state treasury, they also loaned money.  There was a thriving insurance business in Ostia, especially prior to Pompey cleaning the pirates out of the Med.  That the West would still be a bunch of backward barbarians is one of the greatest of modern myths, right up there with the Arabs have been upset about the crusades since they happened.  Neither are true.  Arab resentment of the Crusades is a product of the late 19th Century and more a reaction to Turkish decline and a search for blame,  Why would they be upset about the Crusades?  The Arabs won.’ I accept that Arab numerals were from India and that there was insurance among the Greeks and that banks were to be found in antiquity. However, none of these were the source for the innovations in Renaissance cities. Saying that Europe got an intelligent system of numerals from the Indians is ULTIMATELY true. But it is a bit like saying that England got Christianity from Jesus Christ: it actually got Christianity from Ireland, France, Italy and possibly the British Celtic fringe. Origins mean little, what matters is who gives you thing directly because that will be what colours what is given. Roman business innovations were lost at the end of the Empire and then forgotten: perspective and nude sculpture could be and were recovered from the remains of Roman civilization, the rest were not. They show that others had come up with the idea before and remind us that the Italians could have done it on their own. **** KMH makes a similar point about insurance, noting that it was around long before the Florentines decided to make money: note my language was particularly poor here and I did speak about ‘invention’. But by the Middle Ages the only place that had anything like insurance (within trading distance) seems to have been some of the Turkish territories. It is possible, I suppose, that a Genoan (the probable point of origin of European insurance and possibly modern book-keeping) had the idea from reading one of the Roman authors (and their fragmentary explanations), but it is surely far more likely to have been a Genoan sailor encountering insurance in the eastern Med.**** Nathaniel writes, meanwhile,  ‘AFAIK [this was new to me!] it was Jews rather than Muslims who pioneered lending with interest in Europe. Islam I believe still considers lending with interest a sin (as Christians used to) and even today there are Islamic banks that have a different system for financing. I don’t know anything about it but see here [Wikipedia reference]’. I could certainly have written this a bit better, but banks did exist in the Islamic world albeit they quickly evolved in Europe into something else (assuming that they really did come from the Arabs). **** In conclusion, I deliberately simplified and exaggerated in this piece and these annotations are all interesting and may change some readers’ minds. But I would continue to defend two points: (i) money not art mattered in the renaissance; and (ii) many of the major innovations in money were borrowed from Arabic world. LTM writes in, thinking of Islamic influence, Southern Italy did well, albeit earlier. Palermo was once the second largest city in Europe. http://www.amazon.com/History-Muslim-Sicily-Leonard-Chiarelli/dp/9993273538/ *** Bruce P writes: As hopefully others will have pointed out to you, a substantial catalyst in the generation of the Renaissance was the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, with a resultant flood of refugees from there carrying manuscripts. The claim that Islam enabled the Renaissance is true – but needs to be completed with the negative side as well as the positive.*** Michel writes along similar lines: It has been claimed since the 19th century that the fall of Constantinople caused the Renaissance. Scholars fled the city and ended up in Italy, taking long-lost Greek and Roman manuscripts with them. But in the light of the comments you have received, one wonders if some of the old Roman banking practices might have survived there and been transplanted  too. Of course, they would already have gone through a thousand years of change as Byzantines traded with their (Muslim) neighbours. The Muslim origin of the Renaissance might have been more complex than a straight transfer across the mediterranean. BTW, the term itself only dates to 1855, so those poor ancestors of ours had no idea they were living in the Renaissance! Makes you wonder what tag historians will come up with for our own time.*** James H writes more generally: This is another subject I like. I tend toward the “nothing new under the sun” school. Virtually everything has been imagined and forgotten probably countless times. How you decide a concept is really “new” seems to be a real toughie. Then you’ve got the problem of usage (who first, when first, and where first). But you’re on to something with the money angle. It’s hard to believe there was ever a time when something was gotten or done for nothing. As far as numbers go every person who has lived started with their own calculator that worked up to twenty (except for the six digit guys). Enough blathering, I just think it’s not only a hard subject in itself, but hard to even frame good questions about.*** Louis meanwhile comes out all guns blaring: Right, that was a post to get strong reactions! Which it did…. To add: By the end of the middle ages (after the crusades) it was the Turks that won, not the Arabs. But then, they also started it…. AFAIK the whole crusade thing started because the Turkish mamluks\slave soldiers, usurping their Arab lords, got a case of religion, and closed the holy land for the Christian pilgrims, and attacked the Byzantines. And it took about two centuries for them to get their act together, and crush those pesky roumi. Islamic revulsion against usury is fairly recent. It started in the 19th century, after the Osmans had to kill all, or most, indigenous (and that includes the – then far more numerous Jews -) economic activity, because of concessions which were demanded by the European powers, so that those powers could profit from the lands of the Osmans (which included lots of Arabs). After all Mohammed was a trader by trade….. (if the traditional story of the start of Islam is to be believed) and he was against usury, but not against normal loans and interest. Where and when the one becomes the other is a matter of debate…. About the Jews lending money: I was taught that the Jews, because they could not own land, or engage in “normal” trades, in most west-european lands, and because they were a sort of proto international network anyway, gravitated to money lending and banking, as one of the few trades that was free for them. And also because they were not in danger of loosing their immortal soul, as their god was not against usury (at least not to non-jews). And most of the rulers found them a perfect scape-goat when they had to pay interest, but did not have the funds. Just get rid of the bankers, and you get your money for free! The fact that the Italians, because of the rather peculiar economical, political, social and theological situation in northern and central Italy, were able, and willing, to put their eternal soul at risk, that is the revolution. Basically they said: We can do what the Jews do, and still go to heaven! However, part of the business practices that they copied (knowingly or unknowingly) from the Jews, were first developed in the (then far more culturally unified, and – at that time – more open to economic activities ) Muslim lands, by the Jews that lived there.*** Thanks Louis, James H, LTM and Michel, to KMH (an insurance professional), Patrick and Nathaniel for pointing to the flaws.

    Bird Whispering: Karen writes: This one makes me think of my dear Dad: gone now to the other side. He was an animal-whisperer, all kinds of animals. He used to “call-up” whip-poor-wills and/or bob-white by whistling their mating calls. Funny thing is, once they got close he would stop whistling and they would keep on coming to him, often to within a few feet. I can still see them cocking their heads to look at him, and not flying away in fear. I learned to recognize them by this method: I also learned to be very still and quiet! Wild abandoned young rabbits, motherless baby raccoons, and every sort of stray abandoned or feral pet would simply come to him, without any coaxing on his part. Sometimes he would not see them until they were at his feet. He would always care for them until they could manage on their own: never caged them, didn’t need to. His hunting dogs (yes, he was a hunter!) would never bother any animal Dad favored. Now I am nothing compared to Dad, but strangers who drop the leash of their dogs might find them running to me to be petted… Thanks Karen!

    Water Hippos: Kenton writes: On the subject of water bulls, you may be interested to know that this type of folklore also exists in patagonia.  I personally know a man who claims to have had an experience with them in the river Maullin in southern chile when he was a child (I would guess around 50-60 years ago).  I dont know what to make of his story, and to be honest am not terribly convinced by it, but it does demonstrate the survival of these beliefs until comparatively recently, and probably to the present day in some areas. If you are interested you can find a discussion of the patagonian water bulls at this patagonia site  *** JB writes [I thought this was brilliantly insightful]: The first excerpt that you shared is somewhat reminiscent of Pharaoh’s dream about seven cows in Genesis 41. From the King James Version: 1 And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed: and, behold, he stood by the river. 2 And, behold, there came up out of the river seven well favoured kine and fatfleshed; and they fed in a meadow. 3 And, behold, seven other kine came up after them out of the river, ill favoured and leanfleshed; and stood by the other kine upon the brink of the river. 4 And the ill favoured and leanfleshed kine did eat up the seven well favoured and fat kine. So Pharaoh awoke. *** April writes: it has been far too long since I shared with you a snippet of my prodigious, one might even say elephantine — or better still hippopotamine — knowledge. For that I am deeply and truly sorry. But perhaps the following, actually serious, impression may be of little or no value, but, yet, an intriguing assessment. While reading your quoting from Sir WS, “Some traits in his description seem to answer the hippopotamus” I could not stop myself from thinking how far off make this concept is (was, will be). I would like, humbly as ever, of course, to put forward the following sequence of events as a preferable explanation to Sir WS’s ill-examined, one might even say deluded, if one where inclined to be in such a mood, explanation for the mythos of the Scottish water bull. Imagine your self to be an imaginative highlander — lowlander, even part-way-up-the-hiller but certainly Scottisher — who, coincidently, but importantly to the explanation about to be set forth, keeps a small, but very well thought of, herd of Kyloe, or to the uninformed highland cattle, and who one day stumbles upon, actually trips over to be accurate, an enormous femur or vertibra, or what not in the way of fossilized bone from a who-knows-what really since when the archeopaliontologists were called in they found too few bone for them to… Oh dear, wrong imagining! Getting back to the crux of the extrapolation I am in the midst of postulatingly setting forth… This imaginative Scottish what-have-you — I can say this since I am, to a fair degree, of Scottish ancestry and so it is not an ethnic slur when I utilize the term — finds himself, while brushing off from his fall, gazing upon a bone of an inordinate length, girth and/or any other dimension this bone may have possessed, which seems to him to be of a rather familiar vestage, one might say, as I just have. Since all of this happens near a pond of a smallish demeanor, and since his cattle happen to be parched, and since, also, there just so happens to be, almost unbelievably, a rock of chair hight if not appearance, our Scotlander, or if you please and it makes you happier  Albalander, sits on said rock, and while sitting, staring off into the heathered distance our protagonist begins to ruminate, if you will, over his experiences of the day and, in fact, experiences in a rather general fashion. And while leafing through his memory he, quite rapidly really, recognizes the large bone sticking up from the ground, no, rather is certain that the large bone sticking up from the ground, belonged to some enormous animal of the cattle kind. He infers this fact by comparing his imaginative, let us not forget, conclusion with his known animal-husbandrish sorts of memory images. To fill the imaginer in on a few details of our imaginary imaginative memories having to do with cattle, his most particularly: Our imaginer raises cattle of a extreme size and build most especially his prize bull; so much so, in fact, that even his stout sturdy cows risk vertebral damage when the bull mou… Oops, another tangential thought. Suffice it to say our, now rather familiar, imaginative imaginary person raises burly, for the breed, cattle. As already stated, but worth repeating I should think, our principal in this scenario raises cattle and finds himself, at times, with more bullish calves than he can sell, trade or barter for breeding stock, and so finds it expedient, not to mention practical, to transform some of the above mentioned excess bovine young into steer in a most unpleasant manner which I prefer not to elaborate on. Having steer meandering about and looking quite pastoral, not to mention handsome in their own ungulate sort of way, is all fine and good but mostly the steer are destined to become steaks, roasts, short ribs and so on. There being no handy slaughter house, or even butcher shop, near by our brave, imagined personage, when he finds himself, and/or his family as a whole find themselves, in the mood for some fresh red meat, he is obliged to do the necessary knife wielding, blood letting, etc., on his own, or perhaps with some help from a family member or two. This being the case, he knows bovine anatomy rather intimately and is aware of what bone goes where, not to mention how some cattle, his own in particular, have overall larger, heavier bones than other breeds in and near our imaginative imaginary’s imagined homeland. Said knowledge of anatomy, grammer, and so on, leads our imaginary, imagining Scotlandish person (man in this case) to conclude the obvious after tripping over a familiar looking, albeit huge, bone sticking out of the earth at the very edge of the pond: His conclusion, and one he shared broadly? At some time, perhaps even then, enormous, perhaps invisible at times, water bulls spontaneously generate[d] from pond mud and live[d] their visible lives beneath the waters of this mentioned, and logically, one might argue, any and all ponds, lakes, etc. where any type of bones may be found near at hand since said water bulls are, clearly, shape shifters in order to fit below the waters… Oh dear again, I guess I cannot stay on track because I long to share my vast reservoir of information with others. I am certain you will understand. But, alas, time and arthritis do not permit at this time, so I will end with warm scholarly and all around genius loci. Thanks April, JB and Kenton!

    Roman Republic (Death of): Canadian Chris writes: I recently read Terry Jones’ (of Monty Python fame) book ‘Barbarians’, which was an exploration of the neighbouring cultures that bordered early Rome. The core point is that, as we learn more about them, a different picture emerges of the Romans: opportunistic in the extreme, amoral to a truly unholy degree, and somewhat doomed right from the start largely due to the corrosive corruption that can follow such unparalleled success. While clearly masters of the battlefield, they were also masters of propaganda, leading to a belief that has held right up to today that they were the pre-eminent civilization while everyone else were mere ‘butter greased’ savages. This largely hollow belief is finally being challenged by new discoveries, and as the book concludes, perhaps it was they who were the real ‘barbarians’. While their many accomplishments are well known, in the end their propaganda was so successful that it’s taken us nearly two thousand years to finally see through it.*** James H. agrees that the subject is a fascinating one: You’re right their history had it all, not even the Celestial Kingdom can compare. So much, rule of law vs might makes right, morals of society or lack of, who tells the stories of that time that we read today and what axe did they have to grind? *** MC looks bottom up: One wonders what the average Roman made of it all. I suspect it was a case of “here we go again.” As dramatic as the end of the republic was, it had all happened before in the civil war between Marius and Sulla. Sulla’s proscriptions had decimated the senatorial class (Caesar himself barely escaped alive), and the republican system, in hindsight, was on life-support already. Thanks James, MC and CC!

    Dropping Things from Planes: Tacitus from Detritus writes in: Chivalry was not quite dead in WWII.  When double amputee Douglas Bader was shot down the Germans negotiated with the RAF, allowing a plane to come in under truce and air drop a replacement for his damaged prosthetic leg.  On 14 August the German Authorities notified the British via the Red Cross that Bader was a prisoner. Group Captain Woodhall broadcast the welcome news over the Tangmere station tannoy. The Germans also offered free passage for an RAF aircraft to deliver a spare leg for Bader to Galland’s JG26 airfield at Audembert. The British did not take up this offer but dropped a spare leg by parachute from a Blenheim on 19 August during a Circus operation to Longuenesse. Admittedly, this sort of nicety was rare at that point in history. *** Nathaniel with a classic too: I  recall reading that some WW1 airplane engines were lubricated with castor oil, and that fumes blowing back to the pilot exerted their natural laxative effect. Supposedly one British pilot dealt with this by cutting holes in the bottom of his flight suit and cockpit, then flying over the German lines whenever he felt the need. Don’t have a source at hand for this, unfortunately. *** Then the great Mike Dash with an epic example: You can include reluctant Belgian pigeon-fanciers on your list, if the account I found when researching Lt.Colonel Alfred Osman and the part he played in organising bird-borne communications in the Great War is to be trusted: “The Voluntary Pigeon War Committee’s efforts culminated in a scheme that involved “brave Belgian volunteers” parachuting into enemy-held territory strapped to a large basket full of homing pigeons, which they were to use to send information about enemy troop movements back to one of Osman’s lofts. The scheme worked, the Colonel wrote, “except that at the outset great difficulty was experienced in getting the man to jump from the plane when the time came.” Such reluctance was understandable at a time when parachutes were still in the early stages of development, but the ingenious if stern-hearted Osman solved the problem in collaboration with the designers of the two-seater observation planes that had been adapted to carry out the missions: “A special aeroplane was designed in order that when the position was reached the seat upon which the man sat gave way automatically when the pilot let go a lever,” he wrote, sending the hapless Belgian spy plummeting earthward with no option but to open his ‘chute.”  [picture below, from a 1928 pamphlet on homing pigeons in the war  ]*** Thanks to Mike, Nathaniel and Tacitus!


    And so goodbye reader!