Category Archives: Personal

What would you do ? (5) The Puzzle

My 500th blog post……….enjoy !!!

“What would you do ?” used to appear on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for its front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation:

The yellow box sets the scene, and the task is for you to solve the situation. Perhaps you might like to write your idea in the “Comments” section.

Here’s the yellow box enlarged:

I hate snow. It always makes its way into your clothes and then melts. That, though, is the least of Trapper Jacques’s problems. He has been cut off by the wolves, at least six of them, and he only has a single bullet left. They are hunger crazed after the fish-and-chip van broke down and they stand firmly between Jacques and his lovely little cabin with his new Liberty curtains. If Jacques tries to run they will chase him and bite him and then tear him to pieces. The same fate will eventually befall him if he tries climbing that tree in the background.

What can  he do??

 

 

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The Fairies of Cornwall (4)

Let’s have a look at one of the old Cornish stories, and see what kind of things the human sized  fairies used to get up to. As soon as I had read a few of these stories, I was immediately struck by how they seemed to echo aspects of modern life. The people who disappear in the USA’s National Parks. The activities of those nasty aliens. And bear in mind that this is one of the first stories in Volume I, so I would think it was put there as a gentle introduction. Not that the fairies are at all gentle.

In this traditional droll-teller’s story, therefore, “Uter” is a commercial traveller who is led astray by the fairies, as he tries to go back to his hotel after visiting a big country festival in Penzance. Here is its modern equivalent:

“When Uter got into the field, a cloud of fog was rising from the moors, entirely surrounding him and so thick that he could scarcely see a yard before him. Yet, although he couldn’t see anything, he could hear distant singing plainer than ever. He steered his course for the eastern side of the field, as near as he could guess toward the place with an opening in the hedgerow where he intended to pass into the next field. He soon came to the fence, but he found no opening. He searched back and forth. He wandered round and round, without success. And then he tried to get over what appeared to be a low place in the hedge; but the more he climbed, the higher the hedge seem to rise above him.”

“He tried ever so many places, but could never quite reach the top of the fence, and every time he gave up, his ears rang with such mocking laughter as nothing but a Fairy ever made. He was very anxious to reach the hotel, and above all to get out of this field, as it had a bad reputation, and was shunned by most people after nightfall. The ugliest of sprites and fairies, with other stranger apparitions, such as unearthly lights, were often seen firstly hovering around the old Chapel which stood in this field, and then departing in all directions. These ruins were so overgrown with brambles and thorns that there was but little of the building to be seen.”

“Uter had turned round and round so often that he neither knew what course he was steering nor in which part of the field he stood, until he found himself among the thickets surrounding the ruins. Even here he heard the same teasing, tormenting laughter proceeding from inside the chapel. Then he took it into his head that someone in flesh and blood was following him about in the mist. He soon lost his temper and threatened to let whoever, or whatever, was dogging his footsteps, feel the weight of his boot as soon as he could lay hands on him.

He had no sooner hit the Fairy then than the cudgel was snatched from his hand, his heels tripped up, and he was laid flat on his back; then he was sent rolling down the hill faster and faster, until he went down like a stone bowled over a cliff, tossed over the hedge at the bottom of the field like a bundle of rags, then pushed through the brambles on the moor, or pitched over the bogs and stream on the Fairy’s horns. Then he was whirled away like dust before the wind. When he fell down, he was pitched up again, and not allowed a moment’s rest from rolling or running until he passed the high road and was driven on by the Fairy, smashing against a high rock at the foot of the hill, where he was found quite insensible the next day.”

Whoever or whatever was responsible for those events, it certainly doesn’t sound like it was Tinkerbell!

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Alice in Wonderland (2)

Last time I was looking at how ““The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass” by Martin Gardner added to our understanding of the two books.

One of the most famous characters of Carroll’s book is the Cheshire Cat. Here’s Tenniel’s illustration:

Ao, what does “Annotated Alice” have to say about the Cheshire cat? Well, did you know that “He grins like a Cheshire cat” was already a well known saying before Alice ever met this particular cat? Or that Cheshire cheese was once sold in the shape of a grinning cat? (Difficult to believe that one!) Here’s Mabel Lucie Atwell’s Cheshire Cat:

“Annotated Alice” reveals that Lewis Carroll’s father was once the rector of St Peter’s church at Croft-on-Tees near Darlington in northern England. There, Joel Birenbaum recently found a stone carving of a cat’s head on the east wall of the church’s chancel, just a few feet above floor level. When Joel went down on his knees and looked upward, just the cat’s mouth could be seen as a broad grin.

Alice’s conversation with the Cheshire Cat has even been compared to Jack Kerouac:

“Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

In “On the Beat” apparently, the conversation runs:

“Where we goin’, man?”

“I don’t know, but we betta go.”

I personally would even compare a subsequent piece of dialogue between Alice and the Cheshire Cat with the novel “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller. Carroll wrote:

“In that direction lives a Hatter and in that direction lives a March Hare. Visit either you like. They’re both mad”.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people.”

“Oh, you can’t help that, we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?”

“You must be, or you wouldn’t have come here.”

The absolute “Star of the Show”, of course, is the Mad Hatter.

Apparently, in the 1850s and 60s, the phrase “Mad as a Hatter” was as equally common as “Mad as a March Hare”. The expression may originally have been “mad as an adder” but it is thought to be much more probable that it comes from the fact that hatters did frequently go mad through using mercury to cure felt, from which hats may be made. Mercury is highly poisonous.

“Hatter’s shakes” were exactly that, and eyes, limbs and speech were frequently affected. After that came hallucinations and psychotic episodes. Apart from that, “hatter” was quite a good career.

There are a good few different versions of the Mad Hatter. There are two styles of Tenniel and also Mabel Lucie Atwell, Blanche MacManus and Charles Robinson:

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My own favourite is WH Walker in his “I want a clean cup”. Notice how the ears of the Mad March Hare are used as cowls on the chimneys of the Mad Hatter’s house. Or is that all part of the hallucination?:

“Annotated Alice” has very little to say about the Mad March Hare. This is from Wikipedia:

“A long-held view is that the hare will behave strangely and excitedly throughout its breeding season, which in Europe peaks in the month of March. This odd behaviour includes boxing at other hares, jumping vertically for seemingly no reason and generally displaying abnormal behaviour.”

On the other hand, “Annotated Alice” reveals that Victorian children used to keep dormice as pets and housed them in large old teapots with dry grass as bedding. Here the Mad Hatter and the March Hare try to stuff the sleeping dormouse into the teapot:

“Annotated Alice” seems to know something about virtually every event in the two books, no matter how trivial they seem. I have only scratched the surface of what subtleties are hidden away in the story. Does anybody realise nowadays, for example, that the Victorians thought a lot about falling down a hole that went straight through the centre of the earth?

And did we notice very much about the Pool of Tears in Chapter Two? Who was in it? Well, there was “A Duck and a Dodo, a Lory and an Eaglet and several other curious creatures.”

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Did they represent anything?

Well, they represented that select group of people, who took that short trip by boat on the River Thames on Friday, July 4th 1862.

As they progressed slowly down the river, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll recounted the story of Alice. He was the Dodo. His stammer made him give his name as “Do—Do—Dodgson”. The duck was his friend the Reverend Robinson Duckworth, a fellow of Trinity College, Oxford. The Lory is Lorina, the eldest of the Liddell sisters. Edith Liddell is the Eaglet.

“Annotated Alice” has these and a thousand other hidden details. What an excellent book!

Next time, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the man.

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The Fairies of Cornwall (3)

The ancient stories about the fairies were collected together in Cornwall by William Bottrell (1816–1881) when he realised that the county was changing so rapidly in the mid-nineteenth century, that the old tales would all soon be lost if he didn’t record them during his lifetime. Fairy tales had never previously been written down, but were declaimed to an audience by “droll tellers”, men who would spend one night here, two nights there, as they wandered from farm to farm, being fed and making money as the hat was passed around. This was all in exchange for entertaining the people with their traditional accounts of what mischief the fairies had got up to. They still exist nowadays to some extent:

In those days, the agricultural population would often live in groups either in, or around, a large farm, providing the farmer with his workforce and the droll teller with his audience. Presumably, the droll teller might well change the details of his tale slightly to fit the lives of the people in the particular farm where he was telling his tale. Many tales mention specific people and specific places, and the tale might be changed to take account of this. Even today, a droll teller can attract a large crowd:

 The three books by William Bottrell which I have are : “Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall-First Series (1870)”

“Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall-Second Series (1873)”

“Stories and Folk-Lore of West Cornwall-Third Series (1880)”

And here’s the cover:

Personally, I would say that the “droll tales” were already centuries old when Bottrell collected them. Some of them apparently include particular individuals from the 1600s and I would not be surprised if the tales had their origins as far back as the years before William the Conqueror. A few certainly mention the red hair of the vikings:

Fairies back then were beings who would interfere frequently in the lives of ordinary people. They had such powers that they could do whatever they wished. Physically, they were the size of humans and people were frequently  deceived by strangers that they did not realise were fairies. More about such evil-doing next time…….

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In the Steps of the Valiant (Volume One)

Three months or so have passed by since I first published “In the Footsteps of the Valiant”, which was the story of the lives and deaths of 23 of the 120 or so men who were educated at Nottingham High School and who subsequently sacrificed their lives for us all in the Second World War. Also included is one young man who was killed in the early 1950s in the RAF.

So far, I am afraid, sales have been really quite disappointing. I have no real idea why this should be the case. The book is of a length commensurate with the price. The number of words holds up well alongside, say, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, “The Two Towers”, “The Last of the Mohicans” and “Emma”.

The book is priced at £18 and is more or less entirely my original research. And what better things could you get for £18? Two cinema seats. A bottle of “Graham’s 10-Year-Old Tawny Port”. You could buy a Venus Fly Trap. Or a glasses case with your name on it. Or enough wildflower seeds to plant three square metres. You could buy some Miracle berry tablets. The tablets last for about an hour and alter your taste buds so that anything sour tastes sweet.

Perhaps the book is being perceived as being limited to only one town or city. I don’t know, but I had hoped that people would realise that Nottingham stands here for any British town of similar size.

What is much more important though, much more important than sales alone, is that my original research has now been completed and that we now have a much longer list of war casualties than was previously the case. In the immediate aftermath of the end of hostilities in 1945-1946, the High School thought that 82 of its former pupils had perished in the war. My researches have extended that number to 121 men whose lives and deaths have been investigated and will now never be forgotten. I have also found five deaths in the early 1950s. Once they have been unearthed and brought out into the light, they will never be lost again. And people will have a chance to read something about the lives of these brave men and to see what they did for us all.

In the First Volume, the men featured are Alfred Highfield Warren, Bruce Arthur Richardson, Sidney Moger Saxton, Edwin Thomas Banks, Francis Nairn Baird, Clifford Frank Shearn, John Edwin Armitage, Wilfrid Henry Vivian Richiardi, Ian Mactaggart MacKirdy, John Harold Gilbert Walker, Robert Renwick Jackson, Howard Rolleston Simmonds, Charles Davy Hudson, Alfred Tregear Chenhalls, Walter Raymond Julyan Hoyte, Paul Wilson Cherry, Warren Herbert Cheale, Philip Bonnington Smith, Anthony Bertram Lloyd, Philip Mackenzie Britton, Richard Christopher Sowerbutts, William Roy Llewellyn, Keith Henry Whitson and John Jeffrey Catlin.

Here are just a few of them. This is Tony Lloyd of the Parachute Regiment:

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This is Keith Whitson:

And  John Harold Gilbert Walker, Spitfire pilot:

And Alfred Chenhalls:

And Edwin Banks and his aircraft, a Gloster Gladiator:

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And Robert Renwick Jackson and his all-black Douglas Boston:

Their brave deaths spanned a whole world. Killed in a Dakota over the Bay of Biscay. Killed in a Bomber Command aircraft over Germany. Killed by the Blitz in Leicester. Killed in North Africa fighting on foot. Killed fighting to seize a bridge in Sicily. Killed fighting to seize a bridge too far in the Netherlands. Killed by exposure during the summer in an unenclosed RAF dinghy in the English Channel. Killed in the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Persia. Killed crashing a Gloster Gladiator in Greece. Lost for ever in the trackless snowy Canadian wastes. Killed crashing a Fleet Air Arm fighter into the warm waters off Trincomalee.

Here’s that link:

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, Criminology, France, History, Nottingham, Personal, The High School, Writing

Alice in Wonderland (1)

I have always loved Lewis Carroll’s two Wonderland books and I recently bought myself a copy of “The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass” by Martin Gardner:

Each page of the book has a very wide margin, so that, as you read the original text of the story from 1865, there are explanations and expansions of the most interesting points.

The text of the book begins, for example, with quite a famous poem:

“All in the golden afternoon,

Full leisurely we glide:

For both our oars, with little skill,

By little arms are plied.”

But “Annotated Alice” tells us that events took place on Friday, July 4th 1862, and that in the boat for the three mile trip were Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the Reverend Robinson Duckworth, Lorina Liddell, Alice Pleasance Liddell and Edith Liddell. The two other Liddell sisters, however, were not present. They were Rhoda Liddell and Violet Liddell, who are mentioned only once in all of Carroll’s works.

The stories told during that golden afternoon include a second poem, this time about the Jabberwocky:

“’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.”

But did you know that “brillig” means “the time of broiling dinner”, that “slithy” was an amalgam of “slimy” and “lithe”, that “toves” are a species of badger, that “gyre” means “to scratch like a dog” and that “gimble” is “to screw holes” in something (hence “gimblet”) ?

Are you aware that “mimsy” is “unhappy”, that “borogoves” are an extinct kind of parrot, that “mome” means “grave and serious”, that a “rath” is a species of land turtle and that “outgrabe” means “squeaked”? Or at least, that is what Lewis Carroll said about those four lines and 23 words. Thanks to “Annotated Alice”, it makes a lot more sense now, doesn’t it?

And what did Carroll write about the Red Queen?

Well, according to “Annotated Alice”, he said that:

“I pictured to myself the Queen of Hearts as a sort of embodiment of ungovernable passion — a blind and aimless fury.”

Only sixty or seventy years later in the Oz books would L. Frank Baum achieve such a frequency of decapitations. And the Queen of Hearts’ dress is exactly the same pattern as the Queen of Spades’ dress. Was the illustrator, Tenniel, trying to establish a link between her and Death?

Arthur Rackham produced an illustration called “The Queen Never Left off Quarrelling”:

The Queen is perhaps even fiercer in black and white:

But in colour, she is magnificent:

Another favourite poem of mine is:

“Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Agreed to have a battle;

For Tweedledum said Tweedledee

Had spoiled his nice new rattle”

Here they are:

But “Annotated Alice” tells us that there may be a connection between this conflict and a famous musical battle between George Frederick Handel and Giovanni Battista Bononcini which, at the time, had been described as:

“Strange all this difference should be

Twixt tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee.”

And did you know that apparently at the time, during the 1860s, the drawings of the two boys were thought to  resemble strongly John Bull in Punch magazine?

And are the two boys identical or are they a mirror image of each other? Perhaps they have their names on their collars, and that’s the difference:

More extra details about your favourite Alice in Wonderland characters next time!

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The Fairies of Cornwall (2)

Two very different geniuses (or perhaps genii), have both offered their opinion about our O-so-short existence on Planet Earth. One was the Venerable Bede (or the Venereal Bede as we used to call him at school). TVB lived from AD 672–735. He was a Saxon and he was the author of “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People” and “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People: The Heavy Metal Years”. And TVB’s views were not exactly overflowing with either certainty or optimism, despite his continuing promotions from one job to another in the hierarchy of the church, bringing him ever closer to The Big Man. Pope St Gregory III. Here is TVB, on his visit to Craggy Island:

Young Father Dougal McGuire is taking notes of the Great Man’s order for the Chinese takeaway while Fathers Ted and Jack debate whether, if priests were Chinese meals, Dougal would be Dim Sum. And TVB continues:

“The life of man upon the Earth seems to me like the flight of a sparrow through the Great Hall where the king sits at supper in winter, with his noblemen and knights. The fire blazes brightly and the hall is warm, even though the wintry storms of rain or snow are raging outside. The sparrow, flying in at one door, through the hall, and flying out at the other door, is safe from the wintry tempest whilst he is inside, but after a short interval of nice warm weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, passing from winter to winter again. So our life as men lasts for a little while, but of what went before our lives or what is to follow our lives, we know nothing at all.”

Shakspere, a man who couldn’t even spell his own name consistently, was ten times as pessimistic:

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more.

It is a tale
Told by an idiot,

Full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

Our understanding is not helped either by the fact that, because of the shortness of our lives, it almost always proves impossible for Man A in the twelfth century to tell another man, Man B, in the late eighteenth century, that, between them, they have discovered the two halves of one of the great truths of human existence. But without being able to compare notes, neither of the two will ever realise that, by putting the two halves together, one of our great questions may have been answered.

The two men in question both had an identical and absolutely extraordinary experience.

Man A in the twelfth century was an Iroquois hunter:

One day he gets tired from his hunting. He lies down in the forest and goes to sleep. When he awakens, a hundred years have passed. His great-grandchildren have grey hair and his children and his grandchildren are all dead.

Then there’s the Dutchman from the late eighteenth century. One day he is walking up a mountain path and accepts the offer of a drink of liquor from some elegantly dressed men. He soon falls asleep and when he awakens, twenty years have passed. His nagging wife is dead and so is his dog, Wolf, and his country no longer has a king but a president. The man’s name? Rip van Winkle:

Both men have found answers to at least one of the questions which, nowadays, we are all burning desperately to solve. But, in actual fact, the question may already have been solved centuries ago, and the answer has then been hidden away in the dust of our premature deaths, lost in the passage of time. If only 21st century Americans knew that they need to talk to a late 18th century Dutchman , or perhaps even a 12th century Iroquois to get an answer to one of our biggest questions.

And that particular question is:

Are there beings out there somewhere who have powers way beyond ours, such as the manipulation of time or even time travel itself? :

Other burning questions, near to the top of the list, are :

1         are there superior beings out there somewhere who like to spy on us?

2        do they ever intervene in human affairs?

3        do they ever abduct us and take us elsewhere for periods of time?

These “superior beings”, of course, extend upwards as far as gods and angels.

Here in Merry Olde Englande, we, of course, have the answers to all three of these questions. They are Yes, Yes and Yes/Perhaps. And these answers have all three been known to the country people of Cornwall for, possibly, ten centuries.

The Cornish country people have long been familiar with these superior beings. They may spy on us, they may take an interest in our affairs, they interfere with our lives and they occasionally abduct us and do what they want with us, for as long as they think fit. Today, in our technological society, these superior beings are now known as “extra-terrestrials” and they apparently possess technology light years ahead of our own:

In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, though, the Cornish people knew them not as “extra-terrestrials” but as “fairies”. They seem to have encountered them quite frequently and they accepted their existence without hesitation.  And those beliefs, while nowadays not quite as strong as in the past, still persist even nowadays.

All you need to know is that the Cornish fairies of centuries ago have never been quite the same as the poetic, upper class, literary fairies of JM Barrie and Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. Cornish fairies are usually just like human beings in size and appearance, and they all have very strong magical powers, rather like Samantha in “Bewitched” :

And one other thing….Cornish fairies are always nasty, and sometimes they can be very nasty indeed:

 

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