Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Daniel Boone on Religion

     Now that the festival of our Saviour's birth is coming up, it might be appropriate to hear a few words from that famous American theologian, Daniel Boone. It comes from a letter he once wrote to a sister-in-law, and which was quoted in chapter 19 of Daniel Boone, Master of the Wilderness by John Bakeless (1939).
     Relating to our family and how we Live in this World and what Chance we Shall have in the next we know Not for my part I am as ignurant as a Child all the Relegan I have to Love and feer god beleve in Jeses Christ Dow all the good to my Neighbour and my Self as I Can and Do as Little harm as I Can help and trust in gods marcy for the Rest and I Beleve god neve made a man of prisepel to be Lost and I flater my Self Deer Sister that you are well on your way in Cristianity.
    To which one can only say, "Amen".

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

The Texas Armadillo Dealers

[T]he orange armadillo, so called from its resemblance to that fruit when curled, ran stiffly like a mechanical toy between thickets. Sasha picked one up and was amazed at its construction. It had the face of a pig, the tail of a rattlesnake, the claws of a gryphon and the walk of a woodlouse. [Tiger-Man, by Julian Duguid, 1932]

Thursday, 22 October 2015

A Lion as Watchdog

    Every night, through the darkened halls and corridors of a stately old English home, there prowls a fully-grown African lion - on the lookout for burglars.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Bruce and the Fascists

     I cannot escape adventure. If I touch a bath-heater, it blows up. If I go swimming, I am carried away by the tide. If I go to a restaurant which has had a blameless reputation for 100 years, someone chooses that day to shoot himself at the tables. If I go on a yacht, it sinks. If there is a street fight, it is timed to suit my convenience. If there is a fire, I am never more than a hundred yards away. I am a sensational newspaper reporter who has missed his vocation.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Alimentary Quirks in Old South America

     Fritz Up de Graff was a New Yorker who went to South America in late 1894, and ended up spending seven adventurous years there. The result was a book, Head-Hunters of the Amazon, seven years of exploration and adventure, originally published in 1921, but now reprinted in paperback form. As one of the all time great travel books, it contains so many quirky vignettes that I shall have to reread it at some later date in order to allow them all to sink into my consciousness. But here are just a few.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

The Hobo Racket in Michigan

     It's amazing what you can find in a church jumble sale! My mother came back with an ancient publication entitled, The Autobiography of a Super Tramp by W. H. Davies, the first paperback reprint of what was claimed to be a classic. It certainly possessed a foreword by George Bernard Shaw in the original 1907 edition, and had been reprinted in both1920 and 1923 at least, so it had some claim to fame.
    The author was a Welshman who sailed to America and almost at once fell in with a crowd who introduced him to life on the bum. I regret to report that Mr Davies and his comrades were social parasites: work-shy loafers sponging off the misplaced kindness and generosity of Americans. They had all the soft touches down pat: first a free breakfast from Mrs Jones, then a free lunch from Mrs Brown, followed by a relaxing afternoon before hiking to Mrs White's for a free dinner. The genuine down-and-outers - the involuntary homeless and unemployed - didn't appear on his horizon. No doubt they were busy scrounging for work between meals.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The Room That Makes Men Mad

     Society's memory is short, I am sure, unless it is constantly refreshed. Etched in my personal memory, for instance, is the incredible suddenness with which the Soviet Union, with hardly a shot being fired, was swept into the dustbin of history. But that was a quarter of a century ago. I have to accept that an entire generation has grown up, finished their education, and started both a family and a career without ever being aware of such momentous events. So one would hardly expect them to remember those landmarks along the way which loomed so large to those of us who lived through them. Like the short-lived Hungarian Revolution of 1956. It was quickly put down by Soviet tanks, but not before hundreds of political prisoners were released. The most famous was Cardinal Mindszenty, who sought refuge in the United States' embassy until 1971. A much more minor character was Lajos Ruff, who managed to join 200,000 other refugees in the free West, where he described his experiences in a book first published in Paris in 1958, and then in English under the title, The Brain-Washing Machine. It is hard to believe I had it in my possession for 44 years before reading it.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Napoleon, His Girlfriend, and the Little Red Man

     Now that the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo is coming up, it might be time to ask: how much do we know about the real Napoleon? The French right now are ambivalent about him. The fact that he was a national hero who gave them a string of glorious victories does not hide the fact that he trampled underfoot what liberty they had and drove them into ultimately disastrous wars, which cost them at least a million dead, possibly two million - as well as an equal number from other nations. Yet a glamour surrounds him which eludes other despots and warmongers.
     I have already told the story of how he was forced to retreat from a horde of hungry rabbits. Now I am pleased to expose a serious of personal quirks which I found in Frank McLynn's excellent 1998 tome, Napoleon, a biography.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Never Have Sex With a Steamroller

     Don't worry, folks. This is not some prurient tale of perversion, of which - heaven only knows! - there is more than enough on the internet. It is an account of a man who did a very silly thing, and found himself in a very embarrassing situation, which he was probably never allowed to live down.
     It happened in New Guinea in 1955, and the story was related by Tom Cole, who had arrived in the territory a few years before and started up a thriving crocodile shooting business. Mr Cole used to keep a diary, and he has recorded the names, occupations, and actions of all the white people involved in the farce, so I am prepared to accept as true his account of "the man who [had sex with] a steamroller."

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Out of the Jaws of a Lion

     What would you do if you were a teenager, and your baby brother was taken by a lion? It happened to fourteen-year-old Tristram Kay just five days before Christmas, 1961. He had been living just outside of Bulawayo during the last golden years of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, with his parents, his younger brother, and two lions. Older sister Leslie had left home. As far as I can establish, his brother must have been about eight years old. Despite not being specific about when he was born, his mother she did record the circumstances of his conception.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Single Combat: Man vs Leopard

     In the novels, Tarzan was forever fighting lions, his modus operandi being to jump onto the back of the animal, hold on like grim death, and stab it with his father's hunting knife, all the time uttering snarls not easily distinguishable from that of the cat. Killing a leopard in a similar manner was much rarer, but there were at least two men who killed leopards in single combat - one in a manner not unlike Tarzan's, the other in an even more amazing fashion. Both characters were prominent enough to warrant a Wikipedia biography, but these particular exploits are worthy of being related in detail.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Adventures of Prince Philip

     A battered paperback version of a book published in 1960 once turned up in my parents' house. It was entitled, Prince Philip and what made it more interesting was that the author was his admiring cousin, H.M. Queen Alexandra of Yugoslavia. Thus, we find that everyone we know by a royal title appears under a family name. One has to remember that Uncle Georgie was the King of Greece, Uncle Bertie the King of England, Uncle Dickie Lord Louis Mountbatten and, of course, Lilibet was our future Queen Elizabeth.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Strange Story of Antechinus

 Or Why It Doesn't Always Pay to be Too Macho
    A few decades ago, when my mother was still alive, we both happened to take a short stroll through the rainforest at Mount Glorious, west of Brisbane, when suddenly we noticed an animal like a big mouse come scurrying up the trunk of a tree. Gazing at its pointed, foxy, most un-mouselike face, I suddenly exclaimed, "Good heavens! It's an antechinus! We are lucky to see such a thing during the daytime." A short time later, the penny dropped. We had been incredibly lucky, for we had arrived during the only two weeks of the year when it would have been active by day: the mating season. It had only been while I was at university that the remarkable life cycle of these mysterious creatures had begun to be unraveled - in fact, not far from where we had seen it.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Yes, Virginia, a Bible Really Did Stop a Bullet.

     I seem to be writing a lot about war these days. Of course, we have all heard the story about the soldier whose life was saved when the Bible in his breast pocket stopped a bullet. But it's just an urban legend, isn't it? Besides, it has been effectively debunked by the Mythbusters, hasn't it?
     Well, not quite. Yes, it is an urban legend, in that nobody can tell you when, where, or to whom it happened. But folklorists do recognize such a thing as "ostension", when real life accidentally mimics an urban legend. As for the Mythbusters, all they proved was that no book is strong enough to stop a bullet fired directly at it from the distance of a normal rifle range. It ignores what really happens on the battlefield, with bullets and shrapnel spraying and ricocheting left, right, and centre, losing momentum with each ricochet. In fact, military rounds are designed to ricochet. So you should not be surprised that the Australian Bible Society does possess a Bible - or, to be more precise, a New Testament with Psalms - which did stop a bullet.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Itching Powder for the U-Boats

     When American forces were busy liberating the south of France, imagine their surprise when, along a road, instead of German reinforcements, up marched a British officer in full Highland dress, including kilt. Major Havard Gunn had been parachuted in some weeks before dressed in his Seaforth uniform, with his kilt coming down with a subsidiary parachute. From there he joined the French Maquis, or irregular resistance fighters, and no hint of a British officer wearing a kilt behind enemy lines ever reached the ears of the Germans.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Love in the Ruins of Warsaw

     "Most of us had some sort of psychological problem at the time. I used to suffer blackouts. Both of my brothers were in the Resistance. I remember walking along a street in Warsaw when a van drove up with blood leaking from it. Some stranger hustled me away into a side street. I was only fifteen."
     That story was told to me just over forty years ago by a Polish lady whose daughter I was dating. You don't know how lucky you are. By the end of the war, 85% of the city had been destroyed. Bloody were those days, and unholy their secrets.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

The God Who Talks to Earthworms

     The Aetas [eye-tas] of the Philippine island of Luzon are negritos: one of those strange group of black pygmies, pockets of whose populations dot the fringes of southern Asia, remnants of a very early human migration from Africa, hunter-gatherers pushed into the rainforest by later, agricultural peoples. Psychologist Kilton Stewart visited them in the 1930s, accompanied by a half-Aeta interpreter. He discovered that, although not strictly speaking monotheists, they did worship a Supreme God, in this case with the name of Tolandian.