Category Archives: Writing

Eagle Comic (2)

Last time we looked at the appearance of a brand new comic called “Eagle”, which was an almost revolutionary step forward in the world of boys’ comics in England. The eponymous hero of the comic was space pilot Dan Dare, always combatting something or other, in this case Psycho-Rocket-Repair-Man :

Dan wasn’t the only person in the comic though. There was “Rob Conway” who seems to have been some kind of aviation detective:

Note the three aircraft, a Hawker Seahawk, an Avro Lancaster and possibly a Gloster Meteor.

There was PC 49, where ‘PC’ does not necessarily stand for “politically correct” :

And “Seth and Shorty – Cowboys”, wrangling away deep in the heart of Texas :

Seth’s grandson is probably better known to you as Dr Sheldon Cooper:

“The Great Adventurer” was a comic strip that predicted Middle East politics seventy years ahead of its time:

And there was even Captain Pugwash:

There were cutaway drawings of the latest technological marvels of the day:

And more science from Professor Brittain, now that radar wasn’t top secret any more:

“Discovering the Countryside” featured the hedgehog and an adder:

We learnt about aviation from reading “Heroes of the Clouds”:

There were the Ovaltineys, another paramilitary group I have previously written about:

They had their own little section, with a quiz about British town names:

And nobody gets out of here without a little sing-song. A song you cannot get out of your head. Go on, you know you want to:

Next time, safety, science fiction, serials, sport and Steel. And no, that last one isn’t a typo.

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“Eagle Comic” (1)

The first edition of ‘Eagle’ comic came out on April 14th 1950. It was the brainchild of Marcus Morris, a Lancashire vicar from Southport and it was illustrated by Frank Hampson who had previously worked on the vicar’s parish magazine. The Reverend Morris wanted a comic which told stories based on Christian ethics. Here’s the front cover, with the top half of the first ever Dan Dare story:

Dan Dare was the hero of this famous science fiction epic. It was perhaps a little like a cross between Flash Gordon and Star Trek. There was a villain as the equivalent of Ming the Merciless, and Dan belonged to the Interplanet Space Fleet who were a little like Captain Kirk’s United Federation of Planets. Here’s the second half of that historic first page:

I found it very difficult to create a clear illustration of the first edition where it is possible to read the text. The important thing, though, is the fact that a rocket is taking off, bound for outer space. In a 1930’s comic, it would have been a biplane, bound for Edinburgh.

The story continued in full colour on the back page. Here’s the bottom half of that very first second page, complete with jet propelled gyroscopic jeep:

What is important, though, is that the printing, both of the words and of the illustrations, would be unrecognisable by 1958. Mind you, the cost of the comic had gone up from the original threepence to four and a halfpence. Just look at the quality now:

Next time, we’ll look at some of the other characters to appear in that first edition of Eagle comic:

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Prices slashed on “History of the High School” !!!

Those of you who follow my blog will be familiar with the many stories I have told over the years about Nottingham High School…its Founders, its coat of arms, its war heroes, its caretakers, its heroes and its one or two villains. These stories all appeared in “Nottingham High School, the Anecdotal History of a British Public School” which was published some time ago now:

The reason I am reminding you now of this book is that the price on Amazon has now gone down to £23.48 with Free Postage if you are a member of Amazon Prime. This is fantastic value for money.

Most non-fiction books cost roughly £10 for every hundred pages, so £23.48 for a book of this length is an excellent price. The book has 394 pages (and my computer says around 130,000 words, which is roughly the length of either “The Two Towers” or “Return of the King”).

Above all, this is a hardback book with a nice dust jacket and to be honest, it surprised me with its quality in terms of its looks. It looks really professional for a book written by an amateur author.

The book is written in diary form and runs from Thursday, June 30th 1289 to Thursday, July 12th 2012. I have divided it into forty chapters whose titles range from “Lost in the Mists of Time”, “A Personal Friend of Guy Fawkes”, “The School is Closed Today because of Plague”,  “Old Boy Cuts Off King’s Head”, :

In the more modern era, the chapters run from “The DH Lawrence Years”, “Major General Mahin : A Yank at the High School”, “Albert Ball and the High School go to War” to “The Golden Age of Teachers”:

I have tried to keep the tone of the work an interesting and light one, but at the same time, as you know from my blog posts, I can show my more serious side when occasion demands. A very large number of former pupils from the High School died in the two World Wars and their sacrifice is reflected in my book:

What a price !

£23.48

And more than that, what a price for 394 pages of new, original and interesting ideas!

Incidentally, please don’t think that I’m being greedy and I’m trying to make loads-a-money from this. I am merely pointing out the existence of this new, lower price, because previously the two companies publishing the book have both asked for a higher price. In one case, a much higher price.

 

 

 

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The World of the Mysterious (8)

During my researches about the Wodewose and the Green Man, one thing which has struck me is that to some extent there is a split between the two in terms of location. Indeed, it would be interesting to carry out a little research and to try and  establish the validity of this theory. More interesting still would be to try and see if there is a reason for it:

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From what I have found on the Internet, therefore, I would posit that the Wodewose is linked more frequently to churches in areas with abundant water, areas where there are lots of rivers to follow. The places I have mentioned in my previous post are Boston in Lincolnshire and the counties of Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. All three of these regions in medieval times were full of marshes, and were areas subject to continual flooding. Indeed, much of the land area, in Lincolnshire and especially in Cambridgeshire, was permanently covered by shallow water and would be subject to extensive drainage schemes in later centuries.

Here are the marshes of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. They were called “fens” and on this old map, virtually all of the land inside the dotted, or perhaps dashed, line, would have been a good place to take your wellingtons. Indeed, after the Norman Conquest in 1066, the Saxon freedom fighter, Hereward the Wake, held out in the fens against the overwhelming forces of the Norman invaders from at least 1067-1071. He is known to have used all of the areas enclosed on this map, particularly the Cambridgeshire section around Ely :

Here are the rivers of Suffolk in the only map I could find. There is perhaps not as much marshland but the county is riven by estuaries which seem to penetrate deep into the dry land. The blue lines of the rivers are only those of reasonable size. The streams and brooks are not featured:

Given the modern Bigfoot’s predilection for rivers, lakes and swamps, I think the Wodewose would have enjoyed living here. Because of the landscape, he may actually have been seen more frequently as he paddled through shallow marshes, perhaps in pursuit of his prey. For this reason the locals considered him to be a living, breathing creature somewhat like themselves but different. He was not seen as supernatural or godlike:

The Green Man, however, is mainly linked to churches in areas which were drier and more heavily forested. In places such as these, the Wodewose would have been seen even less frequently than in the marshes. For this reason, his once-in-a-green-moon appearances began to take on something of the supernatural. He became the godlike “guardian of the forest”.

And at the time, this was a rôle which needed to be filled because it was around this period that people were beginning to clear the forest much more extensively for agriculture and for fuel. Between 1066 and 1230, around a third of the woodland in England had been cleared for growing crops and the grazing of domestic animals. And once you’ve cut down a thousand year old oak tree, you have a good wait on your hands for it to be replaced. Here’s Nottinghamshire’s “Major Oak” which “missed the cut”, literally:

With marshes, no special guardian was needed to look after them. England was not short of rain! Indeed, it would take the people of the Fens area until 1630 to get started on draining the land and making it more suitable for agriculture. Even then, it took a Dutchman, the famous Cornelius Vermuyden, to do it:

For that simple reason, the Wodewose would remain a physical entity, rather than a supernatural one. He was little different from the beavers, the ospreys, the cranes and the Large Copper butterflies that were soon forgotten only twenty years after they had disappeared.

 

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The World of the Mysterious (6)

England has its own figure which may well look back to the days when ordinary people were all aware that there was something big and hairy in the woods. After all, centuries ago, woodland was far more plentiful and farmers’ fields would often be next to the forest. So too, there were many more hunters then and they would all have known what you might encounter as you moved silently around among the trees.
In England he was called the “Wodewose” and he is usually depicted as a human like creature, somewhat bigger than a man, often carrying a club, and almost completely covered in thick hair:

Over the years, in heraldry, he was depicted in increasingly human form, still carrying a club, but with leaves wrapped around his haunches. I think that that is probably because people saw the Wodewose a lot less frequently as the human population increased and the Wodewoses became less numerous. Even so, judging by the heraldry of the medieval period and later, there may well have been wild men in, as a minimum, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Sweden:

The name ‘wodewose’ comes from two old English words, “wudu” meaning ‘wood’ and “wāsa” which itself comes from the verb “wesan” or “wosan” meaning ‘to be alive’ or simply ‘to exist’ or ‘to be’. So he’s somebody who is in the woods. He is also seen a lot in medieval churches, but as a statue or a carving. This one doesn’t have a club:

But this one does:

The Wodewose might be kneeling on the roof outside the church:

Or he might be on the roof inside. This Wodewose apparently has a touch of greenish mould, but then again, so do some Bigfoots:

This one has a bit more of a tan:

Here’s a German one from Cologne:And another from Suffolk:

This one has had to adopt a strange position just to get all of him in:

For me, the Wodewose can trace his lineage back to a Bigfoot type creature that may well have still been alive and well in the vast forests of Western Europe as late as the early Middle Ages. At this time, up to half of England was covered in forest. People used to say that you could travel from the Humber to the Thames without touching the ground because there were so many trees. And when the Wodewose had disappeared for ever, there were  still plenty of people who had heard all the tales about him and who could recreate him in their own world.

Next time……..the Wodewose’s brother.

One final point is that in these blog posts about Bigfoot, I have tried very hard to use only images which are available and there to be used. With some images that is not the case, but the problem was that there was nothing else available. I am 100% willing to take any images down if this causes a problem for anybody, although I suppose there is the flattering aspect that they were the best I could find on the whole Internet!

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The World of the Mysterious (5)

I said last time that I would take Cliff Barackman, James “Bobo” Fay, Ranae Holland and Matt Moneymaker back into history and legend, to see if I could find any creatures, perhaps based on Bigfoot, mentioned over the course of the last 5,000 years or so.  I spoke of Enkidu, and Moses’ Twelve Spies in the land of  Canaan. I also rejected Goliath, and I described Grendel who, although I thought he was possibly not as dangerous as he has been portrayed, I thought was not necessarily armless.

This time, I would like to touch upon the story of Jean Grin, a subject which I have explored before. It all took place in early 19th century France  in the wonderfully picturesque and unspoilt region of Lozère, which is here:

This time the situation is a little more complex in that Jean Grin was, supposedly, a historical figure who was active as recently as 1800. He lived in a mountain ravine, in a crude cottage of stone with what is now a collapsed roof, surrounded by pine trees and dry scrubland. Inside, against the very rock itself, there is the oven where he roasted children to eat. Outside are several piles of stones covered with soil, supposedly the burial places of his victims:

Jean Grin was living here because of his inability to get along with his neighbours. They called him an ogre, and considered him an ambiguous being, “mi-homme mi-bête”, half way between animal and man. Soon after his arrival in the ravine, he seemed increasingly to take on the attributes of a savage, brutal, wild person that no social norms could restrain:

Young shepherds and shepherdesses began to disappear in the surrounding region. At the time, in a neighbouring area, there had been severe problems with some kind of mystery animal, either a very large wolf or a canid of an unknown species. It had been termed the “Beast of Veyreau” or “La Bête de Veyreau” and I have already written about it:

Whatever the killer in Lozère was, it only attacked weak people or children. In just six months, from June-December 1799,  three victims were killed and eaten.

Physically, Jean Grin was by now dreadful to look at. He supposedly wore just animal skins and he could run extremely fast across the countryside and up and down slopes:In the dark, his eyes gleamed bright, shining red and you could see him coming from far away. Jean Grin too has been given the attributes of a Bigfoot. Memories from centuries ago have been added to his story. He had luminous red eyes.  He possessed prodigious speed both going up and coming down mountainsides. He had an appearance generally thought to be “mi-homme mi-bête”. In addition, photographs show that he lived in exactly the same kind of dry, rocky environment where Bigfoot lives nowadays in the Sierra Nevada of California:

It is my contention though, that the story of Jean Grin is obviously much, much older than a mere 200 years. Indeed, I think that quite a complex process has therefore come about here.

Firstly, the people had a dim memory from centuries previously of Bigfoot type creatures in the forest and in the mountains. Secondly, there was an eccentric and unpopular man called Jean Grin who lived in the area. He was big and ugly. Thirdly, an unknown animal,  the “Beast of Veyreau”, was attacking, killing and eating the young children who were left on their own to guard the flocks of sheep.

And what has happened is that these three elements, of Bigfoot, of gory deaths and of weird loners have all been melded together to give us the present legend. There are no Bigfoots in France nowadays, but in the centuries when the east of the country, in particular, was covered in extensive thick forest, I think there were, and recent enough for memories to linger on.

Next time, England’s Bigfoot.

 

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The World of the Mysterious (4)

I said last time that I would take my Syma X5C-1 2.4G HD Camera RC Quadcopter RTF RC Helicopter with 2.0MP Camera back into history and legend to see if I could find any hints of creatures similar to Bigfoot mentioned over the course of the last 5,000 years or so. I spoke of Enkidu and Moses’ Twelve Spies in the land of  Canaan. I also  rejected Goliath, an obvious candidate, but not a valid one. Here’s Enkidu’s pal, Gilgamesh again:

In my researches, however, I did find “Beowulf”. This is an Old English epic poem written between 975-1025 AD. It concerns Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, who has grave problems with the fact that his feasting hall is repeatedly being attacked by a monster known as Grendel:

Here’s an old illustration of the creature:

Wikipedia describes events from the point of view of Grendel:

“Grendel is “harrowed” by the sounds of singing that come every night from the hall. He is unable to bear it anymore, and attacks. Grendel continues to attack the Hall every night for twelve years, killing its inhabitants and making this magnificent hall unusable. Beowulf arrives to destroy Grendel. He is welcomed with a banquet. Beowulf and his warriors bed down in the hall to await the creature. Grendel stalks outside the building for a time, spying the warriors inside. He makes a sudden attack, bursting the door with his fists and continuing through the entry. The first warrior Grendel finds is asleep, so he seizes the man and devours him.”

There are so many similarities here with the behaviour of Bigfoot. Active at night, attracted by noise, stalking round the building, looking at the people inside, smashing in through the door, and, certainly according to some of the tales of the Native Americans, eating one of the humans.

Grendel’s exact appearance is never directly described by the original Beowulf poet, except that he is “man-like”. He is referred to as a “sceadugenga”, which means “a shadow walker, a night goer”. This latter phrase, “night goer”, is a good fit for Bigfoot.

I’ve already shown you an older illustration of the monster. More modern sources such as films seem to just do what they feel like on the day:

Mind you, Grendel is big. So big, in fact, that when his head is finally cut off, it takes four men to move it. This is Goliath’s head, but I’m sure you’ll get the idea and that you’ll forgive me, especially when you notice the stone shaped hole in the Big Man’s forehead :

Back to the story. Having seen what he was dealing with, Beowulf decides to fight Grendel without using any weapons because he thinks he can match him. As Grendel comes into the hall, Beowulf leaps up and grabs his hand. Beowulf’s retainers come to help but their swords are unable to pierce Grendel’s skin. Beowulf then rips off Grendel’s arm and Grendel flees to the marsh where he lives and, indeed, dies.

Some excellent similarities there. Grendel’s size, his home in a watery place such as a marsh and his impenetrable skin.

A translation of the poem by Seamus Heaney in 1999 describes Grendel’s arm which gets ripped off in the struggle:

“Every nail, claw-scale and spur, every spike
and welt on the hand of that heathen brute
was like barbed steel. Everybody said
there was no honed iron hard enough
to pierce him through, no time proofed blade
that could cut his brutal, blood-caked claw.”

The Iroquois, a Native American tribe of the eastern Great Lakes area, described a whole race of giants twice as big as men, with bodies covered in rock-hard scales that repelled all of their weapons. Here we are:

Modern man has also repeatedly been baffled by the apparent ability of Bigfoot to escape both rifle and shotgun fire.

I’ll finish with three quick references to literature and legend of roughly the same period. Firstly the “kelpie” of Celtic folklore which is often seen as a water horse, but which could change shape and become a “rough, shaggy man who leaps behind a solitary rider, gripping and crushing him… tearing apart and devouring humans”.

Secondly a tale comes from Norway (not that far from Beowulf territory) called “Konungs skuggsjá” or Speculum Regale or “the King’s Mirror”. It was written around 1250 and describes a “wild man”

“It once happened in that country (and this seems indeed strange) that a living creature was caught in the forest as to which no one could say definitely whether it was a man or some other animal; for no one could get a word from it or be sure that it understood human speech. It had the human shape, however, in every detail, both as to hands and face and feet; but the entire body was covered with hair as the beasts are, and down the back it had a long coarse mane like that of a horse, which fell to both sides and trailed along the ground when the creature stooped in walking.”

The mane on this unknown, hairy creature…is that the origin of the confusion about the shape-shifting Kelpie which was both a “rough, shaggy man” and a water horse?

Perhaps it looked a little bit like the fake documentary made recently:

The third detail involves the Long Man of Wilmington who adorns a hillside in East Sussex. He is 235 feet tall and he is cunningly designed to look perfectly in proportion when viewed from below. He dates from, apparently, the 1600s and he carries two large sticks, and, even allowing for the effects of perspective, he does have enormously long arms, just like Bigfoot:

And next time, “ce sera une visite en France”.

 

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