Friday, 30 March 2012


At Tall Tales last night, I chatted about how the city is full of animals, and how adults easily forget that. I rhapsodised at least partly because, in the afternoon, I stood on the balcony and looked at the sparrows, and suddenly started hearing the birds, and once I started hearing them they were practically deafening.

This morning, as part of the continued eyes-wide-open exercise, I catalogued dog evidence on a hundred yard side road. There were thirteen widdle marks and three little plastic bags of poo. (I literally don't understand the urge to leave a plastic bag of poo in the street once you have gone to the hassle of picking up the poo, but evidence tells us that it is a very powerful urge.) I dare say side roads are attractive for widdling, but still. I hope I keep noticing the world around me. I hope I stop counting, though.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

terrahawks are go!

Blah, blah, children's programmes, blah, blah. Bo-ring. And yet, until Toby Davies reminded me yesterday, I had forgotten Terrahawks, which was about an elite task force that protects Earth from alien invasion (which basically means someone called Zelda). It was Gerry Anderson's last puppet show. From the Wikipedia page:

Terrahawks (technically, the Earth Defense Squadron) is
  • Doctor "Tiger" Ninestein (real first name unknown): The team's leader, so named as he is the ninth clone created by Dr. Gerhard Stein. Somewhat bloodthirsty, his first reaction to alien contact is often to blast it out of the sky. In between alien attacks, he's often seen trying (and failing) to beat the high score on his favourite video game. Ninestein's catchphrase is, "I have a theory...", and when frustrated he often cries, "Flaming thunderbolts!" If he is killed, he can be replaced within 24 hours by another of the nine clones; his nickname of "Tiger" comes from the myth of cats similarly having "nine lives". Tiger's voice was provided by Jeremy Hitchin which according to Hitchen is done in somewhat of an imitation of Jack Nicholson.
  • Zeroids: Spherical robots that perform ground operations and serve as the firepower for the Spacehawk. There are two leaders among the Zeroids who exhibit human-like capacity for thought and emotion (much to Ninestein's annoyance); Sergeant Major Zero (voiced by Windsor Davies), commands the Zeroids stationed on Earth, while Space Sergeant 101 (voiced by Ben Stevens) directs the Zeroids stationed aboard Spacehawk. Other Zeroids are given distinct personality traits of their own, such as Dix-huit (French for the number eighteen), who speaks French and has a handlebar moustache, and 55, who bobs up and down in rhyme. They can increase their mass (becoming as heavy as a black hole), which allows them to perform devastating body-crash manoeuvres. This is often accompanied by a cry of "St-roll on!"
I re-watched the first episode. Windsor Davies is chippy about robot rights. Space Sergeant 101 is the campest thing you've ever seen. This was a show with some things going on. Here are Zelda's henchmen:

  • Cy-star, pronounced "Si-ster." Zelda's "sister" is not very bright, but is endlessly bubbly and optimistic. Frequently she gets so excited her hair slides around her head, leading Zelda to shout, in one episode, "One of these days I'm going to nail that to your skull!" Her voice was provided by Anne Ridler.
  • Yung-Star. Zelda's "son," Yung-Star is, like his "aunt," not very intelligent—he mistakes the term "nincompoop" for a compliment. However, he is also cowardly, lazy and greedy, although he is occasionally sent to accompany a monster. His catchphrase, uttered slowly in a revolting guttural voice, was "Great Steaming Lava!" Strangely enough, despite being an android, Yung-Star is partial to bowls of "granite crunchies" - rocks in a slimy green goo; he consumes these frequently, leading Zelda to call him gluttonous since, as stated, the Guk androids need only to consume small amounts of silicate minerals to sustain their functions. He was voiced by Ben Stevens.
  • It-Star is also known as "Goybirl" or "Birlgoy," since Cy-Star never decided on what gender this construct would be. It-Star is a "baby" android mothered by Cy-Star near the end of the series. It-Star is a hermaphrodite with two minds and voices, a young girl's voice when "innocent," and a male voice with a German accent when plotting. The female voice was done by Anne Ridler while the male voice was by Jeremy Hitchen.
I have been told history documentary pitches for BBC with wildly less complexity than this are doomed because they 'too clever'.

Monday, 26 March 2012

royal borough of togetherness

This is not the only option available.

delivered by mermaid

You should already have seen these batty Belgian stamps from off of Emma's blog over on the right, but just in case...

I don't know which one I like most. The winged snake is called an amphiptere, and they're a thing from European heraldry. In spite of my expertise as a herald, I hadn't heard of it. I had heard of the sphinx, which did not, conventionally, have the body of a leopard.

Anyway, everyone should see these, so I am doing my bit.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Right, sorry, busy. First up, there's a Tall Tales next Thursday, the 29th, and John Finnemore will be helping Marie and me road-test the first episode of Warhorses of Letters (Series 2), among other excellent things. Details here, and if you want to come, please tell us in advance or nothing can be guaranteed - email talltalesnight at gmail.

Second up, what do you know about Mauritius? I know more than I used to, certainly. Mark Twain went there. He's really good. He cobbled together a long quote from an English citizen, whose pithy, Twain-esque phrasing makes it seem as if there has been some editing involved. He's talking about this former governor.*

Pope Hennessey was an Irishman, a Catholic, a Home Ruler, M.P., a hater of England and the English, a very troublesome person and a serious incumbrance at Westminster; so it was decided to send him out to govern unhealthy countries, in hope that something would happen to him. But nothing did.The first experiment was not merely a failure, it was more than a failure. He  proved to be more of a disease himself than any he was sent to encounter.  The next experiment was here.  The dark scheme failed again.  It was an off-season and there was nothing but measles here at the time.  Pope Hennessey's health was not affected.  He worked with the French and for the French and against the English, and he made the English very tired and the French very happy, and lived to have the joy of seeing the flag he served publicly hissed.  His memory is held in worshipful reverence and affection by the French.

* He was reputed to be the model for Trollope's eponymous Phineas Finn.

Monday, 19 March 2012

The legal advisor who told me about trials by combat also said that some systems of trial by combat were resolved by you fighting the judge. I said this would probably go badly if you were in Minnesota, because you'd have to fight the amazing Alan Page. (If you follow anything like as slavishly as you should, you already know about Alan Page.)

My legal adviser said that Alan Page might be sousaphone-playing, terrifying NFL player, marathon running quasi-saint, but he'd rather fight him than have had to take on the diminutive Tasker Watkins, one of Wales' scariest ever judges.

The miner's son rose to deputy Lord Chief Justice and Lord Justice of Appeal, and he spent eleven years as President of the Welsh Rugby Football Union (a role which had traditionally been held for one year). In 1944 he was awarded a VC, whose citation reads:

On 16 August 1944 at Barfour, Normandy, France, Lieutenant Watkins' company came under murderous machine-gun fire while advancing through corn fields set with booby traps. The only officer left, Lieutenant Watkins led a bayonet charge with his 30 remaining men against 50 enemy infantry, practically wiping them out. Finally, at dusk, separated from the rest of the battalion, he ordered his men to scatter and after he had personally charged and silenced an enemy machine-gun post, he brought them back to safety. His superb leadership not only saved his men, but decisively influenced the course of the battle.

In his own words, "I just got so totally bloody angry".

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

My most reliable legal counsel told me about Ashford vs Thornton the other day.

It was 1816. Thornton went for a walk with Ashford's sister after a dance. She was found raped and murdered. Thornton was arrested, tried, and quickly acquitted (public sentiment was against him, but that's a different thing).

Ashford launched an appeal, Thornton was rearrested and he claimed the right to Trial by Battle, which had never been removed from the statute books. Since, in the view of the judges, the evidence against Thornton was not overwhelming, the this right was granted. Ashford declined the offer of battle, which is an offer not many people offer me for whatever reason, and Thornton emigrated to America.

The offer of battle was a literal throwing down of a literal gauntlet, literally in Westminster Hall. One of the judges, Lord Ellenborough, explained that:

The general law of this land is in favour of the wager of battle, and it is our duty to pronounce the law as it is, and not as we may wish it to be. Whatever prejudices may exist therefore against this mode of trial, still as it is the law of the land, the Court must pronounce judgment for it.

Trial by Battle was repealed in 1819, in a great hurry with all three Lords readings being passed in a single night, because someone else (unnamed) was about to have a crack.

Two Scottish brothers accused of armed robbery tried to claim the right in 1985, saying the repeal didn't count for Scotland. The defendants, however, could offer no evidence to oust the statutory presumption that Parliamentary acts apply to the entire United Kingdom. I, for one, am not surprised

A minor driving offender tried it in 2002 saying that battle was still valid under European human rights legislation. He didn't realise that, on the whole, European human rights legislation is not as barmy as lazy comedians and newspaper columnists think.

Monday, 12 March 2012

llamas carry the rarest uk fish up a mountain

Hey, it's Classic Angling time again! I've not been neglectful, exactly, just stymied by the fact that the British Library has been rearranging its catalogue.

Anyway, the above headline barely registers on the list of 2011's top stories. I was alerted to the year's great scandal by the headline: Edwin Rist, the highly-rated young tyer, has escaped a jail sentence for stealing rare bird capes.

You'd have to have a heart of weird not to read on from that. In a nutshell, Edwin Rist is a fishing-fly-tying phenom from upstate New York (I think), and he was winning international medals when he was seventeen. Then he came to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music, and he set up home in Willesden (which is very near Kilburn, geography fans), and he started to think...

In what has been described as a James Bond-style delusion by people who I doubt realise that 'James Bond' was a name Ian Fleming plucked from a guide to West Indian birds, Rist passed himself off as a doctoral student from Oxford, and got access to the vaults at the Natural History Museum's brilliant, brilliant taxidermy and specimen outpost at Tring. He stole 299 extremely valuable - in some cases irreplaceable - bird skins, and started selling the feathers to fellow fly-tiers.

He was caught and, ultimately, fined £125,000. The Museum spoke very highly of the help it had received from the international fly-tying community, but many skins are still missing, or, and this is pretty much as bad given that these are ur-specimens, unlabelled.

Rist was selling feathers so he could buy a new flute. Tell me you don't want to know more about this.

Friday, 9 March 2012

another sleepless night on account of blood-sucking gnats

I am (finally) reading David Grann's The Lost City of Z, which is about the Royal Geographical Society ('Explorers are not, perhaps, the most promising people with whom to build a society') and crazy explorers in the Amazonian jungle in early 20th century. I am entirely unsurprisingly loving it.

Early titbits:

1. The diary of a naturalist who went on an expedition with Percy Fawcett, the book's protagonist:
21/10: Attacked in hammocks by tiny gnat not over 1/10 inch in length; mosquito nets no protection; gnats bite all night allowing no sleep.
21/10: Another sleepless night account of blood-sucking gnats.
22/10: My body mass of bumps from insect bites, wrists and hands swollen from bites of tiny gnats. 2 nights with almost no sleep--simply terrible ... Rain during noon, all afternoon and most of night. My shoes have been soaked since starting ... Worst ticks so far.
23/10: Horrible night with worst biting gnats so far; even smoke of no avail.
24/10: More than half ill from insects. Wrists and hands swollen. Paint limbs with iodine.
25/10: Arose to find termites covering everything left on the ground ... Blood-sucking gnats still with us.
30/10: Sweat bees, gnats and 'polverinha' (blood-sucking gnats) terrible.
2/11: My right eyes is sadly blurred by gnats.
3/11: Bees and gnats worse than ever; truly 'there is no rest for the weary.'
5/11: My first experience with flesh and carrion-eating bees. Biting gnats in clouds--very worst we have encountered--rendering ones food impalatable by filling it with their filthy bodies, their bellies red and disgustingly distended with one's own blood.

2. I already knew about the rubber barons and the incredible Manaus opera house, courtesy of Fordlandia* But re-reading about these things is a salutary reminder that the history of colonialism is utterly horrible. And, incidentally, that the British, while frequently horrible, were mostly much less horrible than the rest. The Peruvian Amazon Company, as publicly investigated and reviled by Roger Casement, beheaded, castrated, crucified, boiled, drowned and otherwise killed 30,000 of not a huge population as it attempted to pacify and enslave the indigenes, playing a large part in the later hostility of these tribes.

* I love the fact that these two books must sit next to each other on the few bookshop bookshelves which have the sense to stock them. They might sit next to each other on mine if I ever organise them. THAT would be an Inspiring Photo Essay.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

very short inspiring photo essay: home improvements

I was walking down Tottenham Ct Rd the other day, and I passed a shop called Dwell:

Annoyingly, you can't see from my bad photography that those balloon dog affairs cost £50. The horrible skulls are less. I'm not sure how much. That's a bit much for novelty crap. I walked on. The next window saw:

Those are silver pigs diving into the carpet. I'm not sure how much they cost, but no price is too high not to have these in your house unless you're a moron. Still, however, I had not thought: Inspiring Photo Essay.

But the next window saw this, and that was that for me:

You might be distracted by the skulls again, but don't be! Look under the skulls. This is an occasional table for an occasion which you want to express your massive hatred for in as creepy a way as you can find.

(Actually, on checking, this is a STOOL. You are supposed to sit on it, and it only costs £179.)

Next up:

These are probably the least nasty things in the shop. Think about that. I saw something in the distance and went into the shop. While I was taking a picture, an assistant asked if I was interested in anything. I did not give a hollow laugh, but you know what I mean.

(Life-size velvet whippet: £89.)

Best for last, as is the way of these things, and there is nothing my poor camera can do to get close to the violent awfulness of this item:

Also available in black or white, and a snip at £199.

Oh. A bonus feature is this poodle from the website, which I didn't see in-store, maybe because they sold out so far:

Friday, 2 March 2012

why oh why oh ming?

You know the guys who are always saying they are going to leave the country because of the horrible taxes? I think they should move to Wyoming. Why? Well, apart from the fact it is America's tenth biggest and least populous state, whose capital and biggest 'city' Cheyenne has a population of 60,000, the tax regime is:

- no state income tax, either for individuals or corporations, and no tax on post-retirement income coming in from another state.
- 4% sales tax
- no inheritance tax

Apparently, it has the most 'business friendly' tax system of any of the united states. Woo hoo.

One thing I have noticed: New York might have a crappy tax system for bankers (New York's taxes have to pay for loads of stuff) but all the bankers are still in New York.

oh super! how have i never noticed this before?

It's not just WILLQUGHBY RD. Hampstead clearly just ran out of Os at some point.