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  • Zombie Planes May 3, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite, Contemporary
    Zombie Planes

    ***Dedicated to Ricardo*** Beach is properly modest about his knowledge of aeronautics – apart from perhaps the prehistory of flight. But he is as moved as the next man to see the spitfire test in First of the Few or (1.37.40)  or, for that matter, Corky sweating in Tales of the Golden Monkey as a […]

    Witchcraft Murder in Modern London March 3, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite
    Witchcraft Murder in Modern London

    Beachcombing has spent rather more time than is good for him over the last year looking at cases of, what are in legal terms, child abuse. Nineteenth-century Irish families who (to use an inadequate word) ‘punished’ children because they believed that they were fairies or ‘changelings’: the real child had, the families believed, been spirited […]

    Anticipating the Telephone February 6, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Anticipating the Telephone

    Beachcombing rather cheekily talked about an anticipation of email the other day: an anticipation of the telegraph would have made more sense, sorry. But what about this anticipation of the telephone from the late seventeenth century? And as glasses have highly promoted our seeing, so ‘tis not improbable but that there may be found many […]

    Anticipating Email by Three Hundred Years February 3, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Anticipating Email by Three Hundred Years

    Beachcombing is in a technological mood and is looking for technologies that have been anticipated, against all odds, in previous ages. What about for example this late seventeenth-century anticipation of email: or perhaps we should be more modest and say the electric telegraph. But… to advance another instance. That men should confer at very distant […]

    Medieval and Ancient Rats January 18, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Medieval and Ancient Rats

    One of the mysteries of the Black Death in the Middle Ages is how the victims never – with one curious Scandinavian exception – cottoned on to the fact that rodents, particularly rats were disease bearers. In some cases there were infestations of rats before the disease struck and many rats also died, which should […]

    Vintages Past January 17, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Modern
    Vintages Past

    There is a beautiful scene in the junky teen fantasy Highlander (1986) where Connor (the decapitator) opens a bottle of eighteenth-century brandy in late twentieth century New York. ‘1783’  states our hero ‘was a very good year. Mozart wrote his Great Mass. The Montgolfier brothers went up in the first hot-air balloon. And England recognized […]

    Throne Room Tricks January 15, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Throne Room Tricks

    Beachcombing previously had some fun describing the tricks the ‘civilised’ use to frighten ‘savages’ in jungles and deserts far from the capital cities of Europe. But what about – today’s subject – the tricks that the civilised used when ‘savages’ came to visit them on home ground. Take, for example, the shenanigans found in the […]

    Flying to the Moon on Geese December 5, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Flying to the Moon on Geese

    Beach has heard rumours over the years of Domingo Gonsales’ strange voyage to the moon in the early seventeenth century [1620s], carried thither by a flock of enormous geese. But it was only this morning that he finally settled down to read DG’s adventures: perhaps inspired by the equally fantastic Zambian moon programme. For those […]

    Don’t Play with Fire (in Scotland)! November 29, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern, Prehistoric
    Don't Play with Fire (in Scotland)!

    In prehistoric times early humans – or, depending on which chronologies you follow, man’s ancestors – were not able to create fire but harvested it from natural conflagrations. Even in more recent times – ask any scout who has ever had to start a fire without matches on a camping trip – the creation of […]

    Secret Weapons September 22, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    Secret Weapons

    Ideas for books very often begin with nagging questions that compulsively irritate authors and that they then work through – think of it as therapy – by writing tens or even hundreds of thousands of words. Beach suspects that the nagging question that saw Brian Ford pen Secret Weapons: Technology, Science and the Race to […]

    Flight in Eleventh-Century England August 14, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Flight in Eleventh-Century England

    As regular readers will know Beachcombing is one of those irritating sceptics, who looks askance at most historical records of the ‘impossible’. But every so often even he has to shake his head and admit that the evidence for the ‘impossible’ is frighteningly good. Take this record from William of Malmesbury’s Deeds of the Kings […]

    Flight in Seventeenth-Century Warsaw? August 13, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Flight in Seventeenth-Century Warsaw?

    This is an interesting and largely overlooked reference (Frank) to flight from an English newspaper, c. 1650. The newspaper in question, The Moderate, was typically made up of a good many letters from amateur foreign correspondents and one of these came from Warsaw. It would be fascinating to see if there were any other accounts […]

    Late (Pregnant) Witch in Devon August 8, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Late (Pregnant) Witch in Devon

    Beachcombing has often tried in this column to date the death of traditional beliefs: be that the death of fairy belief in Ilkley or the death of the werewolf faith in Strasbourg. These things are almost impossible to measure of course. Sources are fragmentary and these kinds of beliefs are in the private world of […]

    Fifteenth-century European Knowledge of Australia? August 5, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    Fifteenth-century European Knowledge of Australia?

    Here is one of these sources that Beachcombing just doesn’t know that to do with. It seems to show knowledge of southern Australia/ Antarctica being shared with a European in Java at the end of the fifteenth century. Perhaps this is not so extraordinary as, after all, knowledge is not discovery: and ‘knowledge’ here could […]

    Last Human Sacrifice in Europe? August 2, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    Last Human Sacrifice in Europe?

    Beachcombing has often set a Guinness-Book-of-Records-style competition for the last cavalry charge, the last head hunters or the last execution by blade in the west. And recently an email from the Sword and the Beast got him thinking about the last human sacrifice. SandB who has travelled extensively in eastern parts writes: ‘I take the […]

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