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  • Molotov, Poetic Justice and Outer Mongolia March 13, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    Molotov, Poetic Justice and Outer Mongolia

    There is always some fun seeing people placed in hells of their own making, hells that they amply deserve. Of course, there is the whole ‘live by the sword, die by the sword’ thing: Samuel K. Doe, president of Liberia being tortured to death on celluloid; Gaddafi meeting his end in a culvert (‘God forbids […]

    A Letter Between Enemies, 1915 March 11, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    A Letter Between Enemies, 1915

    This letter came in the spring of 1915 to the Michon family house in France. It arrived from a Naples address, but it had come ultimately from Berlin: direct letters from Berlin to France where, of course, out of the question by this date. The writer was one Charlotte von Dassel. Very dear Madame, In […]

    Fairies, Arson and Banknotes in Co. Donegal March 6, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    Fairies, Arson and Banknotes in Co. Donegal

    One of the great things about fairies in traditional communities is that they make for the perfect alibi. If someone pushes down the landlord’s fence then, of course, it was the fairies that did it. If a man is a beaten out walking along a midnight lane then the fairies did it. If a boy […]

    Jasper Maskelyne and Magic Machine Guns in WW2 March 5, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    Jasper Maskelyne and Magic Machine Guns in WW2

    ***Dedicated to Moon Man who put me onto Jasper Maskelyne*** Jasper Maskelyne is a fascinating character from the ranks of fighting WW2 Britons. A stage magician, he found himself in the Royal Engineers at the start of the War and gave himself over to camouflage work. His book, Magic Top Secret (1949), which I’m itching […]

    McConnel’s Passing: An At Death Encounter? March 2, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    McConnel's Passing: An At Death Encounter?

    11 December 1918 was a sad day in the McConnel family. Eighteen-year-old David McConnel (aka M’Connel in some publications) had perished four days before in a plane crash: just three months after the end of the worst war in history, at a time when his family might reasonably have hoped that he would be safe. Flying from […]

    Review: Walter Starkie, An Odyssey February 23, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    Review: Walter Starkie, An Odyssey

    Walter Starkie is an in between figure. Born to the last of the Anglo-Irish in 1894, he added to his initial liminal state by: marrying an Italian (one of his better decisions); living abroad in Spain, Italy and the US; dividing loyalties between some of the twentieth-centuries less attractive regimes (Fascist Italy and Franco’s Spain) […]

    The Most Exciting School Trip in History: 21 June 1919 February 19, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    The Most Exciting School Trip in History: 21 June 1919

    School trips are often fairly maudlin affairs: go to a local zoo, don’t pet the lions; walk through a city park, buddy up as you pass the homeless people; polish the sun-washed floors of the local museum with fifty infant feet… But one school trip that any of us would have wanted to be on […]

    Interview: Invasion Scares (Harry Wood) February 15, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    Interview: Invasion Scares (Harry Wood)

    I am very happy today to be able to invite Harry Wood of the University of Liverpool, historian and blogger, to talk about his speciality, British invasion scares, something we looked at last month. Harry, thanks so much for joining us for this brief discussion. You run a very enjoyable blog, Island Mentalities, and you […]

    Magic Bathing in the Far North February 9, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    Magic Bathing in the Far North

    This was a story that came up in the search for nineteenth-century superstitions relating to Loch Ness. We are c. 1870. The lake in question is apparently Loch mo Naire (which might be the Serpent’s Lake or the Lake of Shame) aka Lochmanur just on the northern tip of Scotland. Dipping in the loch for […]

    Starting the First World War Early: The Three Virgins February 8, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    Starting the First World War Early: The Three Virgins

    Two years ago Strange History ran a post on the German who accidentally started WW2 five days too early by invading Poland with something resembling a Third Reich version of the A-Team. However, I’ve recently come across a story about the German who accidentally started WW1 a day early. The German in question was one […]

    From the Grenadier to the Beer Shop (via Mickey Mouse and Pussy Cat) February 5, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    From the Grenadier to the Beer Shop (via Mickey Mouse and Pussy Cat)

    ***Thanks to Mike L for drawing my attention to this classic series*** In Henry Carey’s Namby Pamby published in 1726 there is the following verse Now he acts the Grenadier, Calling for a Pot of Beer: Where’s his Money? He’s forgot: Get him gone, a Drunken Sot. Now consider, instead, this rhyme collected two hundred […]

    Review: Good Italy Bad Italy February 4, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    Review: Good Italy Bad Italy

    Italy is a total maverick: a country of extremes that breaks all the rules of how a modern western democracy should work and yet that does work and, in many respects, works quite well. Observers from other countries, particularly from the English-speaking world have long  been fascinated by this anomaly. On the one hand, they […]

    Did You Hear the One About Nessie, the Sceptic and the Water Horse? February 2, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    Did You Hear the One About Nessie, the Sceptic and the Water Horse?

    Two of the most interesting Christmas books this year were Roland Watson’s The Water Horses of Loch Ness and Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero’s Abominable Science! Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids. As is evident from the titles these books take opposite sides of the crypto argument: in fact, the authors […]

    The Index Biography #3: Prize = A Good Book January 31, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    The Index Biography #3: Prize = A Good Book

    ***This prize was won by an old and dear friend of this blog Ray G at 8.08 GMT. Well done Ray! The answer is below the post so scroll down with care*** The Index Biography is a new form of biography pioneered by this blog and introduced in a previous post. The creator must find a […]

    The Royal Navy and Dogs of War January 29, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    The Royal Navy and Dogs of War

    Military services are closed societies with their own rules, sensible, silly and bizarre by turn. Few of these military cliques have, however, the traditions to rival the UK’s senior service, the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy, indeed, had everything from the banal (piping officers aboard), to the curious (the different toasts on different nights of […]

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