June 23, 1626: Another Fish Story

A codfish was brought to market in Cambridge, England, on this day in 1626. Codfish were probably brought to market every day in 1626 – and in 1627 and throughout the centuries, but this was a rather unusual fish. Upon being opened, it was found to have a book in its stomach.  There are plenty of  fish in books, but how many books in fish are there?

The book had seen better days, but it remained readable. It had been written by one John Frith and included several essays on religious subjects evidently written by Frith when in prison. Oddly enough, he had been confined in a fish cellar where many of his fellow prisoners died from smelling too much salt cod. Frith got past the salt cod but was eventually taken to the Tower, and in 1533 was burned at the stake for unacceptable religious beliefs.  How he got his essays – which were no doubt inflammatory – into that cod is still a mystery.

The folks at Cambridge reprinted the work, which had been totally forgotten for a hundred years until it turned up inside the fish.  The reprint was called Vox Piscis, which would translate to “voice of the fish.”  There’s definitely a morale booster for writers here:  When Random House says no, go find yourself a big fish.

I know the human being and fish can co-exist peacefully. ― George W. Bush

June 22, 1774: Run Silent, Run Deep

In 1774, John Day, an ignorant but ingenious English millwright, fancied that he had devised a plan by which he could remain completely

underwater at any depth for at least 24 hours. The contraption he had devised for this feat would afford him a degree of comfort until, at his leisure, he returned to the surface.  Day could think of no useful purpose for his invention other than making money by wagering on his feat. He therefore contacted a local gambler who agreed to furnish funds for the construction of Day’s diving machine for a lion’s share of all the bets gained by it.

If nothing else, Day’s plan had the virtue of simplicity. His machine was merely a watertight box attached to a weight by means of screws. After entering the box and sealing the entrance, the vessel would be sunk and would remain underwater until, at the designated time, Day would remove the screws and he and the box would rise to the surface.

The machine was finished, bets were taken, and everyone convened at a designated spot on Plymouth Sound where the water was 132 feet deep. Day entered the compartment with a comfortable chair, a watch, some biscuits, a bottle of water and a candle.  Perhaps had he taken a basic science book with him — it may have enlightened him (if he read fast enough) but at that point it wouldn’t have helped.   The box was tightly closed and sunk 132 feet to the bottom from where neither it nor the unfortunate John Day ever arose.

I must confess that my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and floundering at sea.H. G. Wells

June 12, 1349: If You Outlaw Bows and Arrows . . .

In a letter dated June 12, 1349, England’s King Edward III wrote how the people of his realm, archboth rich and poor, had in previous times exercised their skill at shooting arrows and how that practice had brought honor and profit to the kingdom. But, he continued, that skill had been laid aside in favor of other pursuits. Therefore he commanded sheriffs throughout the realm to proclaim that every able citizen in their leisure time use their bows and arrows, and learn and exercise the art of archery.   And furthermore, they should not in “any manner apply themselves to the throwing of stones, wood, or iron, handball, football, bandyball, cambuck, or cockfighting”  or any other such trivial pursuits (that includes golf).

A hundred years later, Edward IV continued the tradition, decreeing that all Englishmen, other than clergymen or judges, should own  bows their own height, keeping them always ready for use and providing practice for  sons age seven or older. Fines were levied for failing to shoot every Sunday.

Sir Wayne of LaPierre complained that the law did not go far enough, that it lacked a provision that citizens should carry concealed bows and arrows and quivers with more than a ten-arrow capacity.  And a ban on background checks for potential archers, of course.

– – –

I got to dress up in funny clothes and run around New Zealand with a bow and arrow for 18 months, how bad could that be? Orlando Bloom on Lord of the Rings

June 10, 2000: All Together Now, Step to the Right

An air of excitement certainly gripped London on June 10, 2000, as 90,000 people queued up to cross the first new bridge to span the Thames River in over a hundred years, a bridge for pedestrians only, stretching from the Globe Theatre to St. Paul’s Cathedral, aptly named the London Millennium Footbridge. It didn’t take long for the bridge to become more known by its nickname, the Wobbly Bridge.
     Seems the designers had not given enough attention to a phenomenon with the catchy title, synchronous lateral excitation. Even if you’ve never heard of it, it doesn’t sound like anything you’d want to be on a bridge with.
     People, according to engineers, sway when they walk. People walking and swaying cause sideways oscillations in lightweight bridges. These, in turn, cause the people (some two thousand on the bridge at any given time) to sway even more to keep from falling over. And they all sway at the same time. It’s as if two thousand Londoners were doing the tango above the Thames. Result? Wobbly.
     Access to the bridge was limited later in the day, and on June 12 the bridge closed for modifications It reopened in 2002 (with tango forbidden). It was again closed in 2007 because of strong winds and a worry that pedestrians foolish enough to cross might be blown off the bridge.
     The footbridge was not the only British millennial faux pas: a little number called the Millennium Dome elicited this derision from MP Bob Marshall-Andrews: “At worst it is a millennial metaphor for the twentieth century. An age in which all things, like the Dome itself, became disposable. A century in which forest and cities, marriages, animal species, races, religions and even the Earth itself, became ephemeral. What more cynical monument can there be for this totalitarian cocksure fragile age than a vast temporary plastic bowl, erected from the aggregate contribution of the poor through the National Lottery. Despite the spin, it remains a massive pantheon to the human ego . . .”

 

 

 

June 7, 1827: Bees in Their Bonnets

640239 Insect Bumble BeeLocal newspapers reported an amazing altercation in the village of Cargo in Cumberland, England, in 1827, a battle really (or a battle royal), between two opposing hordes – of bees. The home bees, it seems, were happily hived in the village, going about their bee business when, on June 7, a swarm from a neighboring village flew over the garden in which the first hive was situated. Without warning or so much as a by-your-leave, the interlopers darted down upon the hive and completely covered it, then began to enter the hive, pouring into it in such numbers that it soon became as crowded as happy hour at the local pub.

     Then the terrible struggle began. With ear-splitting humming, two armies of combatants rushed forth, besiegers and besieged alike spilling out of the beleaguered hive into the open air. The bee-on-bee battle raged with such fury that the ground below was soon strewn with corpses. Not until the visiting swarm was vanquished and driven away did the battle end. The victors resumed possession of the hive.

The local chronicle did not attempt to explain the motivations involved, but naturalists, adding a scientific perspective, suggested that sometimes bees fight.

 

I pressed down the mental accelerator. The old lemon throbbed fiercely. I got an idea. ― P.G. Wodehouse

May 23, 1701: Here’s Looking at You, Kidd

William “Captain” Kidd was a Scottish sailor who was tried and executed for piracy on May 23, 1701. Some modern historians consider his reputation unjust, suggesting that Kidd acted only as a privateer, not a pirate. A pirate plundered ships; a privateer, under government authorization,  plundered ships belonging to another government. (See the difference?) Pirate or privateer, Kidd was among the most famous of his lot and one of the handful that people today can name – unusual because he was not the most successful nor the most bloodthirsty. Perhaps it’s because he did bury treasure, an important undertaking for any pirate worth his sea salt.

Several English nobles engaged Kidd to attack pirates or French vessels, sharing his earnings for their investment. He had substantial real estate holdings in New York, a wife and children, a membership in an exclusive club.   In short, he was respectable. But, foolish man, he decided to engage in one more privateering mission. Kidd set sail for Madagascar and the Indian Ocean, then a hotbed of pirate activity, but found very few pirate or French vessels to take. About a third of his crew died of diseases, and the rest were getting out of sorts for the lack of plunder. In 1697, he attacked a convoy of Indian treasure ships, an act of piracy not in his charter. Also, about this time, Kidd killed a mutinous gunner named William Moore by hitting him in the head with a heavy wooden bucket, also a no-no.

In 1698, he and his men took an Armenian ship loaded with satins, muslins, gold, and silver. When this news reached England, it confirmed Kidd’s reputation as a pirate, and naval commanders were ordered to “pursue and seize the said Kidd and his accomplices” for acts of piracy.

Pursued, seized, and hanged he was.   After his death, the belief that Kidd had left a large buried treasure contributed considerably to the growth of his legend. This belief made its contributions to literature in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Gold-Bug”, Washington Irving’s The Devil and Tom Walker, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. It also gave rise to never-ending treasure hunts in Nova Scotia, Long Island in New York, and islands off Connecticut and in the Bay of Fundy.

No Kidding:  Terry and the Pirate, a novel of romance, adventure and plenty of gratuitous swashbuckling is available for armchair pirating everywhere. Check it out, please.

I never did very well in math – I could never seem to persuade the teacher that I hadn’t meant my answers literally. ~ Calvin Trillin

May 12, 1812: Poetry Without Naughty Words, Naughty Words Without Poetry

Edward Lear, born in England in 1812, was a true dabbler — artist, illustrator, musician, author, poet. Starting off his career as an illustrator, he was employed to illustrate birds and animals first for the Zoological Society and then for Edward Stanley, the Earl of Derby, who had a private menagerie. He also made drawings during his journeys that later illustrated his travel books. and illustrations for the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson. As a musician, Lear played the accordion, flute, guitar, and piano (not simultaneously). He also composed music for a number of Romantic and Victorian poems, most notably those of Tennyson.

Lear is remembered chiefly for his work as a writer of literary nonsense. He might easily have been given the title Father of the Limerick for bringing the much maligned form into popularity (without the raunchiness that later found its way into the form). LearIn 1846, he published A Book of Nonsense, a volume of limericks that went through three editions. In 1871 he published Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets, which included his most famous nonsense song, The Owl and the Pussycat, which he wrote for the children of the Earl of Derby.

Lear’s nonsense books were successful during his lifetime, but he found himself fighting rumors that he was just a pseudonym and that the books were actually written by the Earl of Derby. Conspiracy theorists cited as evidence the facts that both men were named Edward, and that Lear is an anagram of Earl. A few even suggested he was born in Kenya, not England.

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!’

Pussy said to the Owl, ‘You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?’
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

‘Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?’ Said the Piggy, ‘I will.’
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

May 12, 1937

Stand-up comedian, social critic, satirist, actor, writer/author George Carlin was born on May 12, 1937 (died 2008). Noted for his black humor as well as his thoughts on politics, the English language, psychology, religion, and various taboo subjects, he won five Grammy Awards for his comedy albums. Carlin and his classic “Seven Dirty Words” comedy routine were central to the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case in which the justices affirmed the government’s power to regulate indecent material on the public airwaves.

In his own words:

george

Swimming is not a sport. Swimming is a way to keep from drowning. That’s just common sense!

Honesty may be the best policy, but it’s important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy.

george-carlin2

The very existence of flamethrowers proves that sometime, somewhere, someone said to themselves, “You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done.”

Religion has convinced people that there’s an invisible man…living in the sky, who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten specific things he doesn’t want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer and burn and scream until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you and he needs money.

May 9, 1671: Stalking the Crown Jewels

In the movie The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Holmes’ nemesis Professor Moriarty is out to steal the crown jewels. His  battle of wits with Holmes over England’s great treasure lasts about an hour.  Earlier, an Irishman, Colonel Thomas Blood, attempted the same feat with a much more elaborate plan.

Colonel Blood set the plan in motion in April with a visit to the Tower of London. Dressed as a parson and accompanied by a woman pretending to be his wife, Blood made the acquaintance of Talbot Edwards, an aged but trustworthy keeper of the jewels. During this time, the jewels could be viewed by the payment of a fee. After viewing the regalia, Blood’s “wife” pretended to be taken ill, upon which they were conducted to Edward’s lodgings where he gave her a cordial and treated her with great kindness. Blood and his accomplice thanked the Edwardses and left.

Blood returned a few days later with a half dozen gloves as a present to Mrs. Edwards as a gesture of thanks. As Blood became ingratiated with the family, he made an offer for a fictitious nephew of his to marry the Edwardses’ daughter, whom he alleged would be eligible upon their marriage to an income of several hundred pounds. It was agreed that Blood would bring his nephew to meet the young lady on May 9, 1671.  At the appointed time, Blood arrived with his supposed nephew, and two of his friends, and while they waited for the young lady’s appearance, they requested to view the jewels. Edwards accommodated the men but as he was doing so, they threw a cloak over him and struck him with a mallet, knocking him to the floor and rendering him senseless.

Blood and his men went to work. Using the mallet, Blood flattened out the crown so that he could hide it beneath his clerical coat. Another filed the sceptre in two to fit in a bag, while the third stuffed the sovereign’s orb down his trousers.

The three ruffians would probably have succeeded in their theft but for the opportune arrival of Edwards’ son and a companion, Captain Beckman. The elder Edwards regained his senses and raised the alarm shouting, “Treason! Murder! The crown is stolen!” His son and Beckman gave pursuit.

As Blood and his gang fled to their horses waiting at St. Catherine’s Gate, they dropped the sceptre and fired on the guards who attempted to stop them. As they ran along the Tower wharf, they were chased down by Captain Beckman. Although Blood shot at him, he missed and was captured before reaching the Iron Gate.  The crown, having fallen from his cloak, was found while Blood struggled with his captors, declaring, “It was a gallant attempt, however unsuccessful, for it was for a crown!” — a rather eloquent comeuppance speech which today would be something more along the lines of “Oh fuck!”

It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers. – James Thurber

May 8, 1854: A Mile in Whose Shoes?

walkingCelebrated pedestrian Robert Barclay Allardice, 6th Laird of Ury, generally known simply as Captain Barclay, died on May 8, 1854. During his life he accomplished many feats in the world of walking, and is, in fact, considered the father of pedestrianism, a popular sport of the 19th century.

His first feat, at the age of fifteen, was to walk six miles in an hour ‘fair heel and toe.’ Heel and toe was a rather vague rule of pedestrianism, that the toe of one foot could not leave the ground before the heel of the other foot touched down. It was randomly enforced. In 1801, at the age of 22, Barclay walked from Ury to Boroughbridge, a distance of 300 miles in five oppressively hot days, and in that same year, he walked 90 miles in 21 and a half hours, winning 5000 guineas for his fancy footwork.

His most famous feat came in 1809 when he undertook the task of walking 1000 miles in 1000 successive hours, a mile within each hour, a challenge in which many had failed and none had succeeded. At stake was 100,000 pounds (roughly 8 million dollars today). This feat captured the imagination of the public, and 10,000 people came to watch over the course of the event, cheering him on or wishing him ill fortune depending on the direction of their own wagers. He began his course at midnight on June 1 and finished it at 3 p.m. on July 12.

Pedestrian races were popular with both the media and the public throughout the 19th century, drawing throngs of spectators, along with bookies, touts and other unsavory characters who frequent such competitions. With the coming of the automobile, however, pedestrianism became an endangered sport as pedestrians themselves became an endangered species, serving mostly as targets for mechanized sporting types.  It does remain in our popular culture, however, with such paeans to pedestrianism as “The Stroll,” “Walk on the Wild Side,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “Walk This Way.”

Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them you are a mile away… and you have their shoes. – Jack Handey

April 19, 1949: Send In the Clowns

russianWith the threat of nuclear annihilation hanging over the world, cold war adversaries were nonetheless able to find glimmers of humor. At the opening night of the Moscow Circus, noted Russian clown, Konsantin Berman, demonstrated who had the upper hand in the clown cold war, launching barb after barb in the direction of the United States.

Tossing a boomerang, he likened it to the U.S. Marshall Plan that was pumping economic recovery aid into Western Europe. “American aid to Europe,” he said, “Here is the dollar.” as the boomerang returned to his hand, delighting the audience. Producing a radio that bellowed out the sound of barking dogs, he announced: “That’s the Voice of America.”

Meanwhile American clowns were dumping buckets of water on each other and slipping on banana peels.

Speaking of Banana Peels

The Vagabond King a 1925 operetta by Rudolf Frimi was already an American success when it opened in London on April 19, 1927.  It’s success in England was probably assured given its theme of foibles of the French.  Its hero is a braggart, thief and rabble-rouser who attempts to steal an aristocratic lady from the king himself.  Not only that, he openly mocks the king, boasting about what he would do if he were king.  The angry king gives him royal powers for 24 hours — king for a day — during which he must solve all France’s problems or go to the gallows (the guillotine had not yet been invented).  He succeeds, wins the lady’s hand and lives happily ever after in exile — probably in England.  The operetta was the inspiration for a couple of movies and, of course, the popular radio and television program “Queen for a Day.”

 

Food is an important part of a balanced diet. ― Fran Lebowitz