Posts from October 2005

31
Oct 05

In September And October 2005 Blog 7 was a blog about the strange

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In November it will be about minor irritations.

Such as Blogger not uploading your site, or eating your posts or – GAAAAHHHH!!!!

Before you go, A Little More Knights Templar Strangeness

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The mists that surround stories heard in childhood can lend them a mystic significance, and this is never more true than for those magical tales of socio-economics. Imagine the youngster, eyes open with wonder, hearing yarns of reckless, inflation-happy interwar governments, or pension fund raiders of the seventies. My favourite was even older though: it’s the story of the Knights Templar, and their accidental invention of monetarism.

In the twelfth century, as their power was consolidating and their wealth spiralling, the Knights Templar had literally more cash than they could count – the job of running a ledger of their riches in various strong holdings throughout Spain and France became fulltime and onerous, littered with errors, prone to abuse and eventually impossible to control. Individual Temples, run by members sworn to poverty and keenly benevolent to the devout, lent money to pilgrims, who would then return the donation to organisation, but not, necessarily, in the same place. The solution to this bureaucratic shambles was to arrange for a system of transferable obligations, allowing deposits to be drawn upon between temples – in as much as it matters, they had invented cheques and bond taking.

So far, so clerical. But then, according to this hazily documented story, something else happened: the Templar’s wealth grew vast – its possible they had the largest quantity of negotiable tender of any organisation in Europe, monarchies included – and cheques drawn on their reserves became as good as cash amongst merchants. Either through mismanagement or dishonesty, the number of issued obligations apparently grew larger than the total deposits of wealth that the Templars commanded. This might look like a disaster in the making, but rather than cause ruin, it seems that this became the first centrally underwritten increase in the money supply through negotiable instruments: the new notes matched and even assisted the swift growth of merchant trade, perhaps adding a dash of inflation on the way. Unintentionally, the Knights Templar had facilitated an economic expansion.

Or they may have done: in 1303, before the effects of their proto-economic management could take root, the Templars were unwise enough to refuse a loan to King Philip the Fair of France. This might have been good banking but it was certainly bad politics, and the Order was broken up, their wealth seized, and their novel banking system fell into disarray. Perhaps that’s as well for their reputation: with war looming a change in confidence was likely, and as the Templars’ obligations were called in, any empty promises could well have been uncovered. Money supply management may be another fine weapon in their mythological armoury; a run on their bank wouldn’t have looked nearly so good.

THE FT TOP 23 STRANGE PHENOMENA No 1. The Ghost In The Lord John Russell

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Last week, in the usual way of journals which are vaguely connected with Freaky Trigger, Time Out did a whole section on Haunted London. In itself this is as spooky as the Guardian Guide doing an article on a very similar topic to a Freaky Trigger one just after the FT one has been published. But I digress. Many a haunted pub was on this list, including the John Snow, a regular FT haunt (whoooo!!!). But why make room for Ben Elton’s rubbish Trocodero Druid, when there is a real actual genuine haunted pub on their doorstep? I give you the ghost of the Lord John Russell.

This phantom prankster was first spotted way back in 2002, as this post shows. Perhaps it seemed like a bit of fun or a way of masking Tim’s shame for spilling his pint. But anyone who was there would recognise the deathly chill that came over us at the time, and I defy anyone to drink in the Lord John Russell without getting the feeling that they are being watched at some time. Cats always cross the road outside of the pub, mystery doors bang, fuses short and toilets get backed up. The only thing this ghostie has not done is physically materialise.

So who is this a ghost of? Is it the titular Lord John Russell himself. Well, looking over him and his families profile he does not strike me as the beer spilling type. Leader of the Whig’s and ex-Prime Minister it seems out of character for him. Perhaps as a head of a self styled moral and religious government he objects to there being a pub in his name. But that seems exceedingly churlish for a man who achieved greatness sin other ways.

Perhaps it is the ghost of Lady Russell, who seems much more the type to spill your pint because you don’t agree with her. Or their adopted child/grandson Bertrand Russell, who definitely liked a pint himself. It does seem strange to name a pub after a moral crusader, but he was a libertatian in many other ways. No, this family don’t seem like beer spilling types though.

It is much more likely to be an old punter, or old landlord playing a bit of mischief. My theory, especially when you consider that the urinals are nearly always backed up with ectoplasm, is an old barmaid – possible killed in a bizarre toilet cleaning accident. Certainly it is the area closest to the loos when sightings (or more properly sensings) of the ghost have happened. And yet the ghost is not well known. I was in the LJR on Friday, supping ale (many of which were off due to unforseen spectral activity) and decided to ask the barmaid about the ghost. She expressed surprise, and said that there was no ghost that she knew of, but the was a strange man who had come in to do the plumbing that morning. He had turned up out of the blue with his long handled plunger, smiling despite having an eyepatch: and it was handy as he was needed, even though he had not been called.

And then at the end of the bar, a squinty old man snapped to attention.
“One eyed plumber y’say? And you didn’t call him?”
“Yes,” she said.
“There b’aint be no one eyed plumber round here for forty year.”

Of course there is a ghost in the Lord John Russell.

THE FT TOP 23 STRANGE PHENOMENA No 2. The Indian Rope Trick

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The Indian Rope Trick has become one of the most famous magical effects of all time, a doubly impressive feat since it was never actually performed. The recent book, The Rise Of The Indian Rope Trick, details the creation of the hoax by the journalist Fred S. Ellmore (a pseudonym – SELL MORE do you see), and elements of the act made their way into the repertoires of various ‘Indian conjurors’* subsequent to “Ellmore”‘s articles. Unfortunately I don’t know much more than that because my copy of the book suffered a mysterious disappearance of its own, as I left it in a restaurant.under the effects of a magic potion.

It seems to me that the Rope Trick, technically speaking, shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve with the right combinations of wires, mirrors, stagehands, etc etc. But what would be the point? For one thing the trick in its ‘pure’ form involves the magician being ‘offstage’ for quite a while, which can kill the tension. For another the point of the Trick is that it happens outdoors, in some dusty provincial square. For a third it’s probably just too famous: everybody knows what is meant to happen, so where’s the surprise and wonder when it does? Magic is about misdirection, and the Rope Trick is the ultimate misdirection – it’s much more useful to magicians as a thing of rumour and reputation than something more concrete.

*aka men in brown make-up who had mostly been pretending to be French the year before, rather than real Fakirs**.

**the clue is in the name.

FOOD SCIENCE HALLOWEEN SUPPLEMENT: An Actual Post About PUMPKINS

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Aim: Combining the aesthetic joys of Flying Fruit and the no-nonsense tuffness/springiness test of the Experiment We Did Not Do, we decided to find out what happens when you throw a pumpkin from a second floor balcony onto tarmac.

Apparatus: Some booze, a pumpkin, a second floor balcony, a car park.

Method: Under the influence of the booze, the pumpkin was heaved far enough away from the balcony to avoid any inconvenient cars below. A team of observers were on hand to note the results.

Results: All observers agreed the results were hugely disappointing. Rather than a satisfying splatter across the tarmac, the fruit bounced once and rolled to a halt, only losing a small section from the impacts.

Conclusion: Pumpkins are the BabyBels of the fruit world, in that they fail to fufil expectations when misused. It’s possible that our squash was a freakishly tuff example but further experiments could not be performed cos we decided to watch Ghostbusters instead.

THE FT TOP 23 STRANGE PHENOMENA No. 3 The Bermuda Triangle

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She says, “Hawaii’s too expensive.”
I say, “Barbados isn’t bad.”
She says, “I’d love to see Bermuda”
And I said, “Woman, are you mad!

Barry Manilow’s Bermuda Triangle got to number 15 in 1981 kept from the number one spot by, well, by quite a lot really. Wow, look at all that lovely pop. Anyway, the point is, this bluddy grate song illustrates that the Bermuda Triangle is, chiefly, a pop phenomenon. It hit the big time in the 70s, but was kept off the number one spot by Erik von Daniken, Bigfoot and those aliens that lived in a mountain base in The Six Million Dollar Man. (Stephanie Powers was their leader.)

BT pops up throughout the pop landscape of the 70s – yes in 6MDM, but it’s also where Wonder Woman came from, and in Close Encounters there is a cameo from the pilots of Flight 19… Basically any fantasy story from the time would get it in there as quickly as possible – see The Ultimate Future Shock. Look, there was even a Bermuda Triangle Board Game!

So a mighty pop-culture presence. Plus the whole phenomenon, like all good pop, was spun out of nothing and kept aloft by the imagination of people who simply wanted to believe a good story. The central “mystery” of the BT is Flight 19. They radioed that the ONE compass they had between them had conked out and then nothing more was seen of them. As the Skeptical Dictionary puts it this is clearly the effect of “the mysterious force of gravity on planes with no fuel.”

The first operational GPS satellite was launched in 1978 and actual disappearances haven’t really been much in evidence of late. So unfortunately the level headed 21st century ROCKIST internet has little bonkers to say on the subject. It’s all bad bacteria that may be to blame. Clearly they just have to pour a load of activia yoghurt in the “pacific”.

It’s all so deeply unmysterious apparently. OR SO I THOUGHT. Until I finally found unexplainable.net – a site not too scared to tell the truth.

Fact! One end of a piece of metal is magnetized, which is supposed to and does point toward the North Pole

Fact! The Bermuda Triangle is only ONE of TEN (TEN!!) similar triangles that have been drawn on this map

But here is the real killer which i can only quote in full:

“To make this easier to understand, think about your hair dryer, which runs off of electricity.  If you drop it on the floor, what happens?  Probably nothing, it continues to run, but nothing majors occurs.  Now, what if you drop it into a bathtub full of water?  It completely magnetizes the entire bathtub in a matter of seconds.  This effect is an explanation that would definitely make sense of the magnetization experiences described around the Bermuda Triangle.”

And the last word to Barry: “Oh Bermuda Triangle! Very bad.” (full lyrics)

THE FT TOP 23 STRANGE PHENOMENA No. 4 Male Phantom Pregnancies

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I know nothing about Male Phantom Pregnancies (or Mpreg as I believe the interweb likes to call ’em). Therefore this will be a somewhat disjointed thinkpiece based on what I have discovered doing a bit of research. First I asked an wimmin. This is what an wimmin said on the subject:

Men + children in the modern era

The involvement of men can pretty much be reduced these days to zero. You don’t need one to get pregnant in the first place (hello sperm banks) and you don’t need one to bring up the kid / teach it to play conkers / put up its shelves etc. Some men are clearly desperate to get in on the womancentric / wimmincentric act so when their other half is enduring genuine pregnancy related symptoms associated with carrying a 6lb person around inside you, they feign assorted symptoms in a last futile bid to assert their involvement and importance (not impotence of course – which they are clearly demonstrating by doing this).

Pathetic.

Whilst useful I felt it did not quite cover the bizarreness of the phenomena. I asked an nother wimmin and she told me to google Male Phantom Pregnancies + Harry Potter. I did, and if you feel lucky, this is what you get!

Still,I felt this was not enough. I considered going to the world of cinema to discover what it could teach me on the subject. First I considered Junior, the Arnold Schwarzenegger “comedy” of 1994. However I soon discarded this as this was not a phantom pregnancy: Arnie really does give birth to Danny DeVito (or something equally implausible). I then considered John Hurt in Alien: whilst his “baby” was a frightening creature it could not be described as a phantom.

So I considered it logically. A male phantom pregnancy usually takes place when the man’s partner is pregnant. He feels sympathetic pains as if he is carrying a child. Clearly this because he is. The wife carries the BODY of the child, whilst the man carries the SPIRIT. Usually the man has no side effects, as the spirit is quiet and takes up much less space than the body: however in rare cases, when the man is particularly “sensitive” he may feel the spirit being unsettled in him. It makes complete sense as a theory, with the added bonus of the spirit baby really being a phantom.

Alternatively Mpreg could just be trapped wind.

If Persephone Can Have One, Why Can’t I?

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Or more foods I was not allowed to eat as a child…

Much shock and the attendant ridicule which comes with shock was showered upon me the day I revealed that as a child I was not allowed to eat whelks. The idea that my jaw was not sufficiently developed to chew these most slimey of treats was used primarily as an excuse for my parents to scoff the lot.

Well, let me tell you that my banning from pomegranates was an equally greedy ploy by my mother. My mother loves pomegranates in the kind of way only someone who discovered a fruit after food rationing could. I however was not allowed these fruits, even to suck on the seeds when I take the odd trip into Hades. Why? Was it that the seeds were too bitty? Was it that as a fool I might bite into the barklike fruit as an apple?

No the real reason is that my mother had learnt to eat a pomegratate only with the help of a very sharp paring knife; a knife I was not allowed to use. Pre-preperation was not an option, as presented with the fruit my mother would just eat it all. So again another blind spot in the grand food spectrum.

I had one for breakfast this morning. There is nothing nicer than forbidden fruit.

(Picture of Persephone and her Pomegranate from this site.)

THE FT TOP 23 STRANGE PHENOMENA No. 5 The Mystery of Easter Island

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i. mystery no.1 where did its denizens heard about EASTER eh?

ii. mystery no.2 why does nobody ever discuss HALLOWEEN ISLAND eh? EH??

iii. how suspicious is it that ONE SINGLE ISLAND has become the default object-of-projection for all knock-the-cheezboard-over archeology evah viz
a. everything anywhere designed and built by ALIENS arriving in the SPACESHIPS OF THE GODS

b. everything anywhere designed and built by EGYPTIANS arriving in the BALSA WOOD SHIPS OF THE er EGYPTIANS (kon tiki? CON tiki more like)

c. easter islanders invented the self-generated human apocalypse (they CHOPPED DOWN ALL THE TREES to built PILES OF LOGS to help erect WAY COOL SCARY STATUES so as to PROPITIATE THE GODS who were PUNISHING THEM for the VANISHMENT OF ALL THE TREES) (over-busy fossil-fuels metaphor alert: oil = TREES, statues = IPODS, easter island = THIS ISLAND EARTH, aliens = egyptians = ALIENS — DO YOU SEE!!?)

THE FT TOP 23 STRANGE PHENOMENA No. 6: The Little People

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The little people – wee folk, fairies, faeries, gnomes, piskies et al – aren’t so much an unexplained phenom as an explanatory one, the attributed cause of much lucklessness and minor setbacks. Petty interventions whether positive or negative are the stock in trade of the fairy folk, who interfere in mortal lives according to their own sets of capricious rules. In a fairy encounter, you must be continually on your guard as a tiny breach of etiquette (walking widdershins; muching fairy lunch; etc.) could mean seven years hard labour in the Land of Youth.

The weird laws of Otherworld are a mythic constant – think Persephone and her pomegranate – but they chime exceptionally well with the fairy’s first flowering in the English tradition, as a metaphor for royal power. Spenser’s Faerie Queene, Gloriana, is the super-identity of Elizabeth I, and this skein runs through much 16th century lit – portrayals of fairy queens were naturally positive but the comical and arbitrary behaviours of the surrounding court were surely flirting – safely – with satire.

The little folk made a comeback in Victorian times – this time they were pitched at the nursery, an analogue of the fusses and flights of childhood, plus an excuse to dress huge numbers of small boys and girls up in gauzy and flimsy outfits on heaving 19th century stages. Parallel to this sentimentalised reading of fairyland is a more serious-minded attempt to give fairies a place in folklore – the “fairy tale” is where these strands meet, especially in Rudyard Kipling’s fantastic Puck Of Pook’s Hill.

The last hurrah for Victorian fairydom was surely the Cottingley Fairies – risible cut-outs of fairy pictures placed into photos, whose credibility basically rested on the idea that adolescent girls had neither the will nor skill to deceive in this way. Conan Doyle believed, many didn’t, the jig was pretty much up.

Like most quasi-supernatural entities, faeries (always spelt thus) have evoked some degree of enthusiasm among Goths and their ilk. Their continued popularity on commemorative plates and sideboard ornaments, though, means that no matter how much celtic gravitas their fans try and apply, the little people remain on the naff side of strangeness.