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Dowsing for Machine Guns August 6, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
Dowsing for Machine Guns

          The desperate straits to which Britain was reduced in the first year of the Second World War and Churchill’s maverick character thereafter, meant that many ideas were considered in the British military establishment, c. 1940-43, that would not normally have been whispered at an old women’s séance. Beachcombing recalls the […]

Victorian Poacher Sparks Will o’ the Wisp Scare August 3, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Victorian Poacher Sparks Will o' the Wisp Scare

        About six weeks ago Beachcombing gave space to a Victorian gamekeeper’s description of a Will o’ the Wisp (or something similar) seen in a wood one night. Tonight Beachcombing gives, instead, an account from the other side of the tracks. A poacher whose tricks might explain several nineteenth-century accounts of floating lights […]

A Column of Burning Snakes August 2, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Modern
A Column of Burning Snakes

                Beachcombing has before him on his desk a volume from Frazer’s Golden Bough, perhaps the most famous work of comparative mythology ever written. In it Frazer quotes from Athenaeum (1869) concerning a difficult to forget and cruel bonfire. At Luchon in the Pyrenees on Midsummer Eve: a […]

Bat-men and New York, 1835 July 31, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Bat-men and New York, 1835

                Beachcombing alluded in a recent post to the danger of misinformation in a world that had less instantaneous communications than our own. After all, if Beachcombing flies from London to Washington DC today and asserts, on arrival, that the French island of Corsica has sunk beneath the […]

Russian Roulette Before the Pistol July 30, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
Russian Roulette Before the Pistol

              Beachcombing has never played Russian roulette. But he can think of plenty of people – mainly fictional – who have from some gentlemen in the Deer Hunter, to the hero of Royal Flash, to an all too factual bored teenage Graham Greene – though Greene’s experimentation with loaded […]

False Armistice: the Cable that Lied to a Nation July 28, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
False Armistice: the Cable that Lied to a Nation

          A story of misplaced joy with, Beachcombing promises, no elephants. In a world of instant communication it is all too easy to forget how long it once took to get a message from one side of the world to another. Think of the months needed for a seventeenth-century Spanish governor in […]

Elephants and Burning Pigs July 26, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
Elephants and Burning Pigs

                A challenge. Your army is spread across the plain when rumbling into sight come not only two hundred enemy cavalry and a thousand hoplites but, unexpectedly, thirty mounted elephants that seem very, very angry – they have been made drunk before battle according to custom. As your horse […]

Execution by Elephant July 21, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval, Modern
Execution by Elephant

                                            And so begins Elephant Week – for the next seven evenings an article will be given over to the freakish fringe history of the largest land mammal. First of all, this extraordinary passage from the […]

Purring – a Lancashire Martial Art? July 19, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Purring - a Lancashire Martial Art?

      Nineteenth-century clog-fighting: did it really exist? First some background. Clogs, of course, at least in their English incarnation, were wooden-soled shoes typically used in factories or in mines by the working classes in centuries gone by, because they kept their feet warm and because they were cheap Some claim that factory workers would tap […]

Adult Breast-Feeding in the Renaissance and Early Modern World July 12, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
Adult Breast-Feeding in the Renaissance and Early Modern World

                                      Beachcombing has been wasting his summer looking at Early Modern diet fads. Several have appealed to him, but certainly the one that clamoured most urgently for his attention was the belief that human breast milk was […]

Death by Celluloid July 10, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
Death by Celluloid

                    When Beachcombing thinks of dying for your art wannabe poets from the 1890s come to mind, starving or being tiresomely consumptive in garrets in Paris or Berlin or Rome. However, Beachcombing does have a couple of examples in his files of men and women dying […]

Medieval Sex: The Good Salvation Guide July 9, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
Medieval Sex: The Good Salvation Guide

                    The sex theme continues as Beachcombing can confirm the pregnancy of Mrs B. His wife is suffering from crippling morning (afternoon and night) sickness and little Miss B is proving more and more raucous, especially when her mother is at her worst. In celebration then of procreation and the ways in which it can […]

Cat Murder in Early Modern Ypres July 7, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Cat Murder in Early Modern Ypres

                Beachcombing has a great interest in the barbarous customs of our ancestors that, rather against the canons of good taste, have survived into modern times. A fine example of this is the Kattenstoet festival in Ypres or, as an English-speaker might have it, the cat-killing festival. Traditionally […]

Did Hitler and Lenin Play Chess Together in 1909? July 5, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
Did Hitler and Lenin Play Chess Together in 1909?

Chess is sometimes called the ‘Game of Kings’. In modern times, at least, it would be truer though to call it the ‘Game of Dictators’. Such unsavoury individuals as Lenin, Napoleon, Fidel Castro, Colonel Gadaffi and the appalling Che Guevara – coming soon to a dress or a tee-shirt near you – all enjoyed the […]

The return of Mayan-style human sacrifice June 25, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
The return of Mayan-style human sacrifice

                    Beachcombing loves the way that some of the best historical stories hide behind the most oblique academic titles. Take, for example, Vera Tiesler and Andrea Cucina, ‘Procedures in Human Heart Extraction and Ritual Meaning: A Taphonomic Assessment of Anthropogenic Marks in Classic Maya Skeletons’ (Latin […]

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