Suzy Dent - A Timeless Beauty

Whilst watching Countdown today, the author of these words was once again struck by the timeless beauty of Britain's best looking lexicographer, Suzy Dent.

Seated next to Des Lynam and Rick Wakeman, she looked like a rose between two thorns.

Not surprisingly, a quick search on Google reveals that many others may also have had impure thoughts about her.

Sadly for many, but happily for her, Suzy's Wikipedia page reveals that she is married.

It is the opinion of the author of these words that Suzy's pulchritude goes far beyond that of Carol Vorderman, who is starting to show her age.

The World's Greediest Karaoke Band

In his younger years the author of these words used to like to relax by listening to the music of The Dead Kennedys, their left wing, frenetic, vitriolic punk songs were a refreshing change to the mainstream mediocrity of the era.

Their lead singer, the great Jello Biafra, quit the band in 1986 going on to pursue solo projects. As is the case with many other bands who have split up, legal arguments arose as to how much royalties each band members should be receiving. The legal case was bitter and Biafra was cast against his three ex band mates, accused of underpaying them over a number of years. He lost the dispute and the end result of the case saw the rights to the albums turned over to the other band members. This is in spite of the fact that Biafra was credited as sole songwriter for most of their songs.

The remaining band members then acted less than honourably by selling the rights to other record labels. Biafra, fiercely anti capitalist and loyal to the band's original left leaning philosophies was horrified when he discovered that the rights to one song "Holiday In Cambodia" might have been sold to make a Levi jeans commercial.

If this wasn't enough, The Dead Kennedys then reformed, with Brandon Cruz replacing Jello Biafra on vocals. They then embarked on a tour, using some of the most fraudulent marketing ploys in musical history. From the Alternative Tentacles site:

"The booking agency which represents Biafra's former band mates is reportedly selling the band as Dead Kennedys, asking $10,000 guarantees, and "forgetting" to tell promoters that Biafra is not in the band, unless specifically questioned. The band photo that the agency has circulated features Jello Biafra instead of the...singer Brandon Cruz. Most of the tour dates have been sold to the public as "Dead Kennedys", with at least one advertisement featuring the photo which contains Biafra. Another tactic reported is that venues such as the Gothic Theater in Denver (and their sponsor, Twist & Shout) start out advertising the show as Dead Kennedys then downgrade the ads to "DK Kennedys", with members listed, two or more weeks after tickets have gone on sale.

Jello Biafra states, "In my opinion, this is the real great rock and roll swindle. They have a right to play cover versions of Dead Kennedys songs. Everyone does. But I feel really badly for all the people paying ticket prices, reported to be as high as $25, thinking it's the real Dead Kennedys, and wind up getting stuck with the world's greediest karaoke band."

On top of that, those who paid to see the band were far from impressed. Aside from the inept music and singing from a band who by their own admission had not rehearsed for 13 years, spectators were horrified to see the Cruz introduce "Holidays In Cambodia"by saying

"This song goes out to all the U.S. troops overseas in Afghanistan. We support President Bush's actions in Afghanistan."

For the song's vehemently anti war and anti Bush author, Jello Biafra, this must have felt like a stab in the heart.

The Dead Kennedys are still preforming and selling out each week. The author of these words is of the opinion that any Dead Kennedys release on a new label is unworthy of purchase and that money spent on attending one of their concerts would be better spent in assisting Jello Biafra's legal challenge.

Man Flu

The author of these words is suffering from a dangerous and highly virulent form of man flu.

His demise is unlikely, with strength and fortitude combined with sympathy and spoiling he might overcome this malady and recover for work on Thursday.

High Tides

Tonight is a full moon, some of the highest tides in recent years are expected over the next few days. The author of these words predicts widespread disruption. Fifty mile an hour winds are expected, these combined with the high tides could create a storm surge and cause terrible floods, the like of which we have not seen before.

Demise Of The Miracle Man

An old man who lives locally died today. He'd been ill for a very long time and had amazed doctors by surviving as long as he did. The author of these words was privileged enough to have many conversations with him over the last few months and was always struck by this individuals acceptance of his impending mortality.

He struggled on bravely, despite been diagnosed with lung cancer, an aneurysm on his brain, cirrhosis of the liver, crippling osteoporosis and suffering two severe stokes and three heart attacks. When he was diagnosed with cancer in 2002, he was given just nine months to live. Yet despite ignoring all medical advice and continuing to smoke and drink rather heavily, he refused to die. He used to sit in the local public house with a pint of ale and a roll up cigarette, joking about "the aneurysm in my brain - just waiting to explode"

Whilst he should have been dying in a hospice, he continued to tend his allotment, drive his car, and laugh in the face of anxious district nurses who warned him to slow down. He was known to everyone who met him as 'The Miracle Man' and some thought him to be virtually immortal.

The sword of time will always win and The Miracle Man passed away peacefully today, after a long struggle, bravely born.

Our community continues to shrink. He had lived here all his life and watched as farming gave way to tourism, his wife died years ago and his children left for pastures new. No doubt his picturesque cottage will now be snapped up by a rich Londoner looking for a holiday home in the country. For us though, the cottage will always be haunted by memories of The Miracle Man, his passing leaves the world a slightly emptier place.

Remixing George Bush

Many of George W Bush's speeches have been remixed and distorted. The results are often hilarious.

A very ironic version of John Lennon's imagine, as sung by George Bush can be found here. His 2006 State Of The Union address can be found here.

North Rona

North Rona, the most northerly isle in the Outer Hebrides is the remotest island in the British Isles to have ever been permanently inhabited. Due to the island's remote location and small area, it is omitted from many maps of the United Kingdom.

For many centuries a small isolated community clung on to life on a speck of land measuring little more than a mile across. In 1680 a boat was shipwrecked off the island, when the survivors struggled ashore, they were suprised that no one came to their aid. As they walked across the island to the only village, which comprised of a few thatched huts and a chapel, they were alarmed to see no smoke. Their calls for assistance were unanswered. One of the shipwrecked sailors, named MacLeod, later recounted the horror of arriving in the village only to find corpses.

There had been a calamity - "...A plague of rats had come ashore, but none knows how, and devoured the people's crop. No supply boat had reached the island that year. So those deceased persons ... died of want."

1000 years of civilization thus came to an end over one summer, not a single islander survived. It is likely that the rats, as well as eating the crops, harboured disease that the islanders had no immunity to. One can imagine the horrors of the summer of 1680 on North Rona.
The author of these words is minded of the previously recounted tale of Moho Tani. He dreams of living in a remote and inhospitable location like Rona, but is not sure about the idea of been so far away from help, should it be urgently required. An interesting paradox to mull over.

An Interesting Fact Or Two

The yolk in an unfertilised ostrich egg is the largest single cell found in nature.

In the UK alone, domestic cats kill more than 57 million mammals a year, 27 million birds and 5 million reptiles and amphibians.

The Life And Death Of Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) was a prolific writer in the early 1900's who focused on the "woman question." She believed men and women should share the responsibility of housework.

She influenced thousands of women through witty, provocative novels, studies, stories, poems and lectures. Her best known story, The Yellow Wallpaper, is about a woman who suffers a mental breakdown after the birth of her child.

When was in her early seventies, she was diagnosed with inoperable breast cancer. Before she was completely overwhelmed by the disease, she committed suicide by inhaling chloroform.

She left the following note:

"When all usefulness is over, when one is assured of an unavoidable and imminent death, it is the simplest of human rights to choose a quick and easy death in place of a slow and horrible one."

The author of these words signs of for the evening, he feels that he would probably make the same choice if faced with such a dilemma. But whilst many people say they would end their own suffering, few actually manage to commit the deed.

The Butcher's Boy

The lyrics to the folk song "The Butcher's Boy", as sung by the late Kirsty McColl, are unbearably poignant.

In More Street where I did dwell
A butcher boy I loved right well
He courted me my life away
And now with me he will not stay

I wish, I wish, I wish in vain
I wish I was a maid again
But a maid again I'll never be
Till cherries grow on an apple tree

I wish my baby it was born
And smiling on its daddy's knee
And me poor girl to be dead and gone
With the long green grass growing over me

He went upstairs and the door he broke
He found her hanging from a rope
He took his knife and he cut her down
And in her pocket these words he found

"Oh make my grave large, wide and deep
Put a marble stone at my head and feet
And in the middle a turtle dove
So the world may know I died of love"

The Sick Leader Of Slovenia

Running a country can ruin your health,. Recent reports in the media have alluded to prostate cancer for the President of Equatorial Guinea, "A gravely ill" President Of Guinea Bissau, diabetes and kindey problems for the President Of North Korea and "Chronic internal problems" for the Prime Minsiter of Japan

Yet another disease ridden leader is Janez Drnovsek is the President of Slovenia. He lives a rather unconventional lifestyle, not entirely befitting of a President:

"He lives alone with his dog and has no TV. A vegan, he eats only self-baked bread and organic fruits and vegetables"

This article raises interesting questions about his attitude to a cancer that he was first diagnosed with nearly 10 years ago. Drnovsek claims to have "cured himself" and he has not seen a doctor since January 2005:

""I have a feeling that the medical profession is worried because someone dared to treat himself without them"

Worryingly though -

"The doctors who treated him have not commented, but a retired surgeon, Tine Velikonja, recently claimed to have information about his diagnosis and said cancer would kill him within a year."

He's not in the least bit worried:

""I'll respond to his claims in 2008," Drnovsek retorted."

But will he though? The article alludes to cancer of the kidney, liver and lung, even with medical help the prognosis can be bleak for such a diagnosis.

As he lay dying, John Diamond, Nigella Lawson's cleverer half, wrote "Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations", which amounted to a scathing attack on "The protagonists of alternativism [who] are, at best, gullible and misguided, at worst, con-merchants and quacks."

It might be an idea for Janez Drnovsek to read a copy before too long.

The Devon Flag

The Devon Flag is seen flying from more and more buildings these days. Long may it continue.

The author of these words hopes that this new found pride in our county might one day lead to calls for devolved powers, or maybe even independence from the rest of the UK.

Your scribe feels Devon could do a much better job by cutting the ties that bind us to London. He tries not to prosthelytize too much about this political point of view as, deep down, he knows Devon isn't ready for a Great Struggle just yet.

Artimus Pyle's Bad Night

Lynyrd Skynyrd were an American Southern rock band who are best remembered for two things; their epic song Freebird and for the fact that three of their original band members were killed in a plane crash in 1977.

Flying between venues on an American tour, the band's chartered plane ran out of fuel and crashed in to a forest in Mississippi.

The band's drummer, Armitus Pyle, crawled out of the plane wreckage with several broken ribs, yet ran nearly a mile to a farmhouse to try to get help. The farmer Johnny Mote, on first seeing the wild-haired blood and mud encrusted drummer babbling incoherently, greeted him with a (fortunately non-fatal) shotgun blast to his shoulder. Only when Mote realized that this person was connected with the plane crash he had just heard did he call for help.

Artimus Pyle survived to join a reformed Lynryrd Skynyrd and continued to drum with them for many years. He now fronts the Artimus Pyle Band

From Fiji To Tiree And The Isles Of Ebony

For 18 years, the author of these words has listened to Orinoco Flow by Enya. Only today does he realise what she is actually singing. The words include this near perfect verse:

"From Bissau to Palau - in the shade of Avalon,

From Fiji to Tiree and the Isles of Ebony,

From Peru to Cebu hear the power of Babylon,

From Bali to Cali - far beneath the Coral Sea. "

Your scribe likes songs which namecheck places. "Rambling Man" by Lemon Jelly mentions more place names than any other song, unless any readers know differently:

"Paris Tibet Sydney Naxos

Rangoon Rotterdam Runcton The Cayman Islands

Malawi Mauritius Haight-Ashbury Patagonia

Kingston Kentish Town Codrington Koh Samui

Felixstowe Fingrinhoe Valmorel The North Pole

Brixton Antwerp Gujarat Prawle

Uganda Shennington Sudbury Sri Lanka

Ecuador Edinburgh Stockholm Abu Dhabi

Lexington Lindos Tokyo Harlem

Ipanema Nicosia Granada San Jose

Damascus Mandalay San Frandisco Atlantis

Adelaide Angmering Arumpo Amsterdam

New York Kabul Rwanda Kyoto

Manchester Prague Mendhurst Toronto

Madrid Melbourne Dublin Dakar

Boston Oslo Tooting Belfast

Botswana Tonga Rayburn, I'm a ramblin' man..."

All Is Silent. All Is Calm

The very noisy dog from next door has been mentioned before on this blog.

Since Sunday evening, not a hint of canine intranquility has been heard. Not a yap or a whine, a bark or a scream. What has happened to it? Words were had with an inconsiderate neighbour, strong words, but your scribe never expected his appeals for less selfish dog keeping to result in such instant and complete silence.

Has it been 'dealt with' or given away? Has it been dognapped? Or has it been taken to the vets and debarked? The author of these words, who admitted on this blog the temptation to kill the dog himself last week, wonders if an equally annoyed and distracted neighbour has gone and done just that.

It is wrong to take pleasure in death or cruelty to animals - that is undeniable. And yet the silence that has returned this week is so welcome, so relaxing, that your author cannot deny he wouldn't kill for it in the future, should a high pitched yapping return.

The Blackbirders

When slavery was abolished in the nineteenth century, many large scale mines and farms throughout the Americas suffered a recruitment crisis. Paying a wage for work cut profits and before long unscrupulous merchants set out to look for another source of free labour.

Ships from Peru and Chile sailed west across the Pacific to the uncharted and ungoverned islands of Polynesia and Melanesia.

In 1863 a ship, The arrived off the shore of Nukulaelae an island that forms part of Tuvalu. The naive islanders, who had only rarely received contact from the outside world, gathered on the beach. They were persuaded to go aboard the ship to "receive religious instruction". Once aboard, they were locked below deck and the ship set sail. 250 men, women and children were taken, this represented 79 per cent of the island's population. None of them were ever to return, all were condemned to spend the remainder of their lives in Chile as 'indentured labourers' although in reality they never received payment for their labour and lived and died in miserable poverty. They also had virtually no immunity to disease and succumbed in their droves to thyphoid and measles.

This story was repeated all over the Pacific. Easter Island, Kiribati, The Cook Islands, Samoa, Vanuatu and The Solomon Islands were all robbed of many of their fittest inhabitants. They were taken to the sugar cane fields in Queensland, phosphate mines on Peru, to kill seals on Juan Fernandez, to work in hotels in Chile and to dig guano from rocks off the coast of Peru and Chile. They endured awful living conditions and very few ever returned to their homelands.

The author of these words wonders at the scene on Nukulaelae when four out of five islanders had been kidnapped. Families destroyed at a stroke, probably only the elderly, infirm and the youngest children remained. Life on paradise must suddenly have become very hard.

Sunday Laws in America

Early American settlers were expected to observe Sundays by attending church and refraining from any activities that could be deemed as 'Un-Christian". This involved abstaining from all work and pleasure, the day was supposed to be set aside wholly for worship.

Laws were rigorously enforced:

"In November 1637, Anne Hutchinson held religious meetings in her home in Boston, Massachusetts, in which she showed by Scripture that Christian experience is based on faith and not merely mechanical works. As a result of these meetings, although a mother of fourteen children and expecting another, she was tried for heresy by the court of Boston in November of that year and evicted from the colony."

"Captain Kemble, of Boston, was, in 1656, set for two hours in the public stocks, for his 'lewd and unseemly behavior,' which consisted in kissing his wife 'publicquely' on Sunday morning on the doorstep of their home on his return from a three-year ocean voyage... "

"In Georgia, Day Conklin was found guilty of chopping wood on Sunday. The Friday before, much of his family's possessions had been soaked in a cloud burst while moving from one house to another. The weather turned bitterly cold and by Sunday morning his supply of wood being gone, he chopped wood as a last resort for the protection of his family. The fine and court cost amounted to $83-a year's salary back then"

Even in the twentieth century, long after the Sunday laws were supposed to have been repealed, certain states were not in favour of any fun on the Sabbath.

"In 1924 a New Jersey court invoked a 1798 blue law and found it illegal to play a phonograph or listen to the radio on Sunday because this was "music for the sake of merriment.""

"In Washington County, Virginia, in 1932, a deputy sheriff arrested two women--one a crippled mother who walked with crutches--for washing clothes in her home. In 1931 in a Philadelphia suburb it is recorded that a policeman arrested a boy for kicking a football on Sunday. When the father protested, the . . . policeman shot and killed the father."


Rachel Jackson - A Gentle and Virtuous Being

Rachel Donelson Jackson married future American President Andrew Jackson in 1791. Unusually for those times Rachel was a divorcee - her first husband suffered jealous fits and rages which made him impossible to live with.

Shortly after their marriage, Rachel's first husband, Captain Lewis Robarts announced that he and Rachel were not divorced at all and that he had only filed a suit for separation. He then filed to divorce her on the grounds of her adultery with Andrew Jackson.

The future president was forced to re marry Rachel in 1794. Throughout his political career he was dogged by rumours of adultery and bigamy. By all accounts they were a devoted couple, Andrew Jackson is known to have fought at least one duel to defend his wife's honour.

Sadly they were never able to have children, but numerous waifs and strays, as well as extended family members were welcomed in to their home, 'The Hermitage' , near Nashville, Tennessee. Rachel Jackson is described as having "unpretentious kindness [and] won the respect of all who knew her"

When Andrew Jackson was ran to become the seventh President of the United States in 1828, old rumors about his illegal first marriage to Rachel resurfaced. Rachel was accused of adultery and attacked without mercy. Despite the slur campaign, Andrew Jackson prevailed at the election and he was due to be inaugurated in March 1829, with Rachel as his first lady.

Only two weeks after his election victory, Rachel died suddenly of a heart attack, possibly as a direct consequence of the stress which resulted from attacks on her personal character. She was buried just before Christmas in 1828, wearing the dress she had just purchased for the inauguration ceremony. She never got to serve as First Lady.

Her epitah reads:

"A being so gentle and so virtuous slander might wound, but could not dishonor"

The Plight Of The African Boat People

Many African refugees are resorting to desperate measures to reach European soil. Hundreds have appeared in The Canary Islands this year alone, usually arriving in overcrowded boats totally unsuitable for long sea voyages.

Those that arrive safely are kept confined in barracks turned in to holding camps for refugees, they are usually deported.

Many people have died attempting to cross the sea to Europe. This article tells of the tragic end of a group of migrants from Senegal, their bodies were found in a boat that had drifted across the Atlantic and arrived off the coast of Barbados, 2800 miles away from home. A note found on one of the bodies reads thus:

"I am from Senegal but have been living in Cape Verde for a year. Things are bad. I don't think I will come out of this alive. I need whoever finds me to send this money to my family. Please telephone my friend Ibrahima Drame. Signed Diaw Sounkar Diemi."

It seems as if the boat had been cut adrift, months before, from a larger vessel and left to it's fate. Many are thought to have been washed overboard before the boat was discovered. One can only imagined the horrors they must have endured.

The author of these words signs off for now, wondering about the man who cut the boat adrift, abandoning it to the mercy of the Atlantic Ocean. Where is he today? And does his conscience torment him?

Congo - The Forgotten War

The news is full of talk about the impending crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan. The author of these words is pessimistic about the what The United Nations will do to stop all out genocide erupting. Tony Blair and George Bush bleat on about the need to supply troops to the troubled region, knowing full well that their own countries cannot oblige, as they are stretched to the limit in Iraq and Afghanistan. Soundbites abound that "another Rwanda or another Srebrenica cannot be allowed to happen"... It will be allowed to happen, just like another war, which killed more people than any other conflict since the Second World War.

The Second Congo War, which finished only two years ago in 2004, has already been forgotten - consigned to the dustbin of time. Or maybe western politicians don't mention it because to speak of the war only highlights the fact they did nothing to stop genocide on a massive scale. 3,800,000 Congoese were killed. 3,800,000. The number is so huge, yet the footmark this war has made in history is so small.

Everyone knows about the Vietnam war, but many would be amazed to know that more people were killed in just four years in Congo, than there were killed in twenty years of conflict in Vietnam. The majority of people asked would know about Pol Pot and the genocide in Cambodia. Most wouldn't know that twice as many were killed in Congo during four years of bloodshed. All Europeans with a television know about the horrors of the Bosnian War, do they know that forty times as many Congoese were killed during a largely unreported conflict? For every one man who died in The Falklands War, nearly four thousand were killed in Congo.

The author of these words cannot explain how the horrors of Congo have been so easily swept under the carpet by the international community. Sadly he believes that in the future, the holocaust to come in Darfur will be given similar treatment, forgotten by a world that doesn't care enough.

Republicans In Orange

The author of these words was rather taken with this image by Stephen Pitt.

The Enigma Of Shelagh McDonald

Shelagh McDonald was a very highly rated Scottish folk musician who released a couple of albums in the early 1970s to critical acclaim.

In 1972, Shelagh vanished from the music scene and nothing was heard from her for over 30 years. Not only did she stop making music, but she lost touch with her friends and even her parents, who went to their graves without knowing her fate. She didn't even collect the royalties from her record sales.

A newspaper article in The Scottish Daily Mail in December 2005 finally revealed her whereabouts. It seems that a bad LSD trip in 1972 was the root of her problems, she says that it lasted for days and weeks instead hours and she went back to her parents house to "hide from the demons." After she had partially recovered, she spent the rest of the 1970s working in a department store.

After meeting her partner in the 1980s, she rediscovered her hippy roots and adopted an itinerant lifestyle, travelling across Ireland and Scotland living in a tent.

The author of these words can highly recommend the two albums released by Shelagh McDonald. Whilst it is undeniably sad that her parents died without knowing what had happened to her, your scribe has a sneaking admiration for anyone who can turn their backs on success, money and society in pursuit of their own happiness.

(Three decades later, Shelagh pictured with her partner Gordon)

The Barking Dog Next Door

This news article refers to an 82 year old lady who was so angry at the continual noise coming from the dogs next door, that she tried to burn her neighbour's house down.

The author of these words, sometimes driven to distraction with the same problem, can only sympathize with her. Whilst he does not condone arson, he can fully understand her actions.

The dog next door is a Jack Russell , who emits a shrill, piercingly loud bark or yelp for hours on end when left alone, which happens on a daily basis. The illustration below shows a different breed of dog, but the image expresses perfectly exactly what he'd like to do to the dog who is slowly but surely destroying his sanity.

Your scribe signs off for now, despondently. He used to think of himself as an animal lover, but today he could quite happily murder one of God's creatures.

Twenty People Who Won't See October 2007?

A new dead pool competition is about to start. The morals and ethics of participating in such an event are dubious to say the least, but the author of the words ruefully confesses to regularly entering teams for dead pool competitions, usually with very little success.

The Canadian Paul Dead Pool kicks off later this month. The competition asks contestants to select two teams of ten: "...One regular to choose any 10 candidates that you'd like and one "Theme Team," where teams can take a more unique and personalized approach to Deadpooling.."

Your scribe has entered what he believes to be quite strong team, one year from now he will have his answer.

Team One -

1 - Luciano Pavarotti - Opera Singer stricken with pancreatic cancer
2 - Freddie Fender - Musician diagnosed with terminal lung cancer
3- Allen Carr - Quit smoking expert diagnosed with ... inoperable lung cancer
4 - Art Buchwald - Very sick and frail American humourist
5 - Charlton Heston - Actor in the final stages of Alzheimer's disease
6 - Sidney Sheldon - Author and Scriptwriter, reported to be very ill
7- Harold Pinter - Author with throat cancer
8 - Ariel Sharon - Former Israeli PM, has spent all of 2006 in a coma
9 - Art Linkletter - The rules state one of the entries must be Canadian
10 - Ross Davidson - Former Eastenders actor with brain cancer

Team Two - Theme Team "The Wrong Side Of The Law"

1 - Nick Du Toit - Failed coup leader languishing in jail in Equatorial Guinea
2 - Ratko Mladic - Wanted Serbian war criminal
3 - Amrozi bin Nurhasyim - Laughing Bali Bomber - awaiting death by firing squad
4 - Andrew Chan - Ringleader of Bali 9 Heroin Smuggling Ring - firing squad again
5 - John Straffen - Britain's longest serving prisoner - inside since 1952
6 - Ian Brady - Moors Murderer
7 - Karla Homolka - Much Hated Canadian Serial Killer. Now a free woman
8 - Saddam Hussain -Awaiting execution - but when?
9 - Ayman Al Zawqahiri -Bin Laden's No 2
10 - Barzan Al-Tikriti Saddam's half-brother also on trial for war crimes also has cancer.

The author of these words doesn't especially want any of the above unfortunate individuals to die, however their collective efforts over the next twelve months will determine his place on the final scoreboard. So it could be conceded that there is a certain amount of 'wishful thinking' involved. As with all things, time will tell.
It might be wrong and it might be sick, but there are plenty of far worse things to do on the internet. Could you select a better team?

The Genius Of David Lynch

David Lynch, the film director who created classics like Twin Peaks, Wild At Heart, Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man and Mulholland Drive, has been honoured with a lifetime achievement award at the Venice Film Festival.

The author of these words cannot think of a more deserving recipient of the prize and salutes his genius.

The Hard Life Of Ada Blackjack Johnson

Ada Blackjack Johnson, an Inuit American, was born in 1898 in Solomon, Nome County, Alaska.

By the time she was 21 she was already a single mother- her husband was drowned in a fishing accident. Two of her three children died in infancy, her surviving son suffered from tuberculosis and later spinal meningitis.

Desperate for money to get medical care for her son, in 1921 she signed up for a risky expedition to Wrangel Island, a barren island inhabited by Eskimos, lying between the northern coast of Russia and the North Pole. She was hired as a seamstress for a party of four men sent to claim the island as the property of Canada.

Life was very tough on Wrangel, the island was constantly surrounded by ice fields and often blanketed in dense fog. They had six month supply of food, and understood that this supply would be replenished by a supply ship in due course. The supply ship never showed, the weather worsened and food began to run low, the five standed expedition members began to think they had been abandoned to their fate.

Things eventually got so bad that three of the four men on Wrangel Island decided to take a sledge across the ice to try and raise help, leaving Ada and a man called E. Lorne Knight, who was too sick to attempt the journey. Ada never saw the three men again, to this day their fate is unknown.

After only a couple of months, E Lorne Wright died, despite Ada's best efforts to care for him. She was now completely alone. Ada had to learn to hunt seals to feed herself and was at the mercy of the many polar bears who wandered the island, on more than one occasion she had to run for her life.

Finally after months of total isolation, she was rescued in August 1923, the supply boat had eventually been able to break through the ice to get to the coast of Wrangel. Her return to civilisation was an unhappy one. She did not receive the promised payment for undertaking the expedition - it was deemed to be a failure as she was the only survivor.

She married again and gave birth to another son, her husband then abandoned her. She had so little money that she chose to place both her sons in a childrens home, where they remained for the next nine years. When she finally scraped together enough money, she took the two boys home where she worked herding reindeer and fed the children by hunting and trapping. After her younger son,Billy, left home, his mother continued to care for Bennett, her elder disabled son, until she died, still poor, in Palmer, Alaska on May 29, 1983.

The author of these words pauses to take stock of the hardships that Ada Blackjack Johnson must have endured. What must she have gone through when she was left as the only surviving member of the expedition? How did she cope with the mental torment of months of isolation? And why wasn't more done to assist this remarkable lady when she returned to her home?

Ada's son Billy Johnson has this to say about her "...Her story of survival in the Arctic will be a great chapter in the history of the Arctic and Alaska. Time is running out, and soon this chapter will fade away unless we care enough to make a record of it,” he said.

The author of these words is happy to assist in keeping the memory of Ada Blackjack Johnson alive

Death Of A Bag Thief ?

A man in Holland has been found dead - pinned to a tree by a car.

Confusion reigns, the dead man was alleged to have been a habitual bag snatcher and to have been murdered by a vigilante. Others believe he lived a crime free life balancing two jobs and was the victim of a tragic accident.

Even if he was a thief, he certainly didn't need to die, or get his 'just deserts' as this linked article suggests.

RIP Steve Irwin

The author of these words was terribly saddened to hear of the death today of Steve Irwin. May he rest in peace, and may his family eventually recover from their loss and continue Steve's valuable work protecting wild life.

He is also very disappointed with the comments of two British wildlife experts he had always admired before today; Chris Packham and Ray Mears. They both gave interviews in the press today making out Steve Irwin to be some sort of animal baiting maniac who tormented animals for the benefit of TV cameras. Not only was it a highly inaccurate portrayal, it was insensitive beyond belief to start proffering their ill informed opinions before his body had even got back to the morgue. Steve Irwin contributed far more than either of them ever will to wildlife conservation, his loss to Australia's environmental lobby is incalculable and these two men have belittled themselves in the eyes of your scribe.

Operation Cat Drop

Once DDT had established a reputation as 'the atomic bomb of the insect world', public health officials adopted the weapon with an unquestioning fervour. By the mid 1960s when the World Health Organisation's anti-malarial campaign peaked, 76 000 tons of DDT fell on 76 countries. Although the chemical intitially killed anopheles with clinical efficiency, it soon bred a stronger and more resistant adversary. At least 57 breeds of mosquitos can now swim in DDT and other pesticides without suffering any ill effects. Gallons of DDT sprayed randomly also produced a myriad of unforeseen health problems.

A typical case of good intentions gone awry occurred in Sarawak, part of Borneo. Here the spraying of homes with DDT not only killed mosquitos but cockroaches. Cats returned to the sprayed homes, ate the poisoned cockroaches and died. Free of predators, the Malaysian field rat, a carrier of plague and typhus, overran the mosquito free villages. Fearing an outbreak of the plague , the World Health Organisation eventually asked the Royal Air Force to drop cats by parachutes over the isolated villages. Fortunately for Sarawak's villagers, 'Operation Cat Drop' helped avert an epidemic of plague that DDT and malarial control had invited in to their villages.

The Curiosities Of Henderson Island

Henderson, is a remote uninhabited island, part of the Pitcairn Island group in the far east of Polynesia. Few people, apart from the Pitcairners have ever visited, human life is unsustainable due to a lack of fresh water.

In 1958 a boatload of Pitcairn Islanders landed to chop miro wood, which they used for their carvings. Whilst exploring a cave on the island, they chanced upon six skeletons lying side by side. The whole story can be found here, it took many years to ascertain their origin.

For such a remote isle, Henderson Island, holds a lot of mysteries. It was the site of a modern castaway story in 1957 - one of the marooned seamen was a chimpanzee.

The Devil's Visit To Devon

The comments on the post below suggest that the image of the footprint might belong to the devil, one can only wonder.

This leads conveniently to the following story.

"The mysterious footprints, which appeared overnight in heavy snowfall in Southern Devon in 1855, have never been adequately explained. According to contemporary reports, they stretched for over a hundred miles, and went through solid walls and haystacks, appearing on the other side as though there was no barrier. The extent of the footprints may have been exaggerated at the time, and they may have been the result of freak atmospheric conditions. But in truth the footprints - if that is what they were - still remain a complete mystery. "

"....At Woodbury the marks seemed to have been made by a hot iron outside the door of the church! Near Dawlish the tracks led into some dense undergrowth and bracken, but when the dogs were sent in to 'flush out' what was in the thicket, the dogs began howling and retreated, refusing to enter the area."

These mysteries, these puzzles that scatter human history, never cease to amaze. What was The Devil doing in Devon - and does he pass by unnoticed the majority of times, when there is
no snow on the ground?
The wind outside has eased and the moon has reappeared from behind a cloud, the author of these words is confident The Devil will not pass by here tonight.

The Mystery Of Animal Footprints

The author of these words invites suggestions as to which animal might make foot (or hoof?) prints like this.

No Peace To Be Found

The Bank Holiday - Everyone in the immediate vicinity seems to take this as a signal to make as much noise as humanly possible. Through the windows, your stressed author can currently hear: A sledgehammer demolishing a wall, an untended Jack Russell next door barking incessantly in a pitch so high it is akin to fingernails been scraped across a blackboard, a lawmower, a nearby youth revs up his low powered motorbike, and someone somewhere is playing loud techno music at a volume sufficient for the listener, but for no one else, to drown out the other sounds. The consumer has become consumed by the beast.

Your author is becoming increasingly fraught. He might withdraw to a local, quiet, public house, and take solace in alcohol, before he has one of those Falling Down moments.

Ancient Weather Chronicle

As the polar ice caps melt and we experience increasingly erratic weather, it is easy to feel that, in relation to our climate, we are heading in to the unknown.

However much of the weather we experience today pales in to insignificance, compared to the meteorological events that occurred in Britain between and . Some of Britain's earliest written history concerns the weather and it is easy to imagine ancient scribes, sheltering from the storm, and recording events on parchment for posterity.

In AD38, there was a massive tidal surge along the east coast of England and up the Thames estuary, 10 000 people are thought to have drowned, to this day it remains the worst natural disaster (apart from disease) to have occurred on British shores.

In AD50, Britain experienced possibly it's worst winter in recorded history all rivers & lakes froze from November to April.

In AD89 "blood rain" fell for 3 days. This suggests a major volcanic event somewhere, the next three winters were very harsh.

In AD139, there was a drought so severe, that even the River Thames dried completely for two days. There are no other recorded instances of this happening to The Thames. Conversely, in AD 214 the River Trent flooded for twenty miles on either side.

In AD341 in Britain snow lay up to 15 feet deep for over 6 weeks.

In AD353 there was a great flood in Cheshire, 5000 persons and an innumerable quantity of cattle perished.

In AD479, the Thames flooded again, floodwater was reported 10 miles from the riverbanks.

In AD 536, Britain, and the world experienced "a year without a summer", as a result of the eruption of Mount Rabaul in Papua New Guinea. Up to 25% of the populations of Africa, Europe and Asia were killed as a direct result, the effects were longstanding - Ireland suffered it's worst ever famine, far worse than the potato famine of the nineteenth century, up to half the population died. The effects of the eruption caused severe winters and wetter summers until at least AD 555.

The author of these words fears that the dates of September 9th and October 9th 2006, could be the days when Britain experiences weather that potentially could be worse than the floods of AD38. We are forecast our highest tides in 20 years, if bad weather combines with the full moon on these dates, 25 000 people living on flood plains could be washed away. Cardiff, Portsmouth and Hull are likely to be most severely affected, along with the lowlands of East Anglia. The author of these words signs off for the evening, once again with a fear of foreboding for the near future, if he lived on a flood plain and not a hill, he would soon pack his bags and head for higher ground

Goodbye Brave Bubba

This was found on CBS today:

Bubba the Grouper, the first fish in history known to have received chemotherapy and bounce back from cancer, has died, the Shedd Aquarium said.

Shedd officials estimate Bubba, who became an instant celebrity and an inspiration to cancer patients when news of the chemotherapy was first announced, was estimated to be 24 years old when he died this week.

The 69.3-kilogram "super grouper" was abandoned at the Chicago aquarium in 1987, left at the reception desk as a 10-inch fish in a bucket.

Shedd officials nursed the fish — then a she — to health and put her in a tank. Bubba changed gender in the mid-1990s, which is not uncommon for certain kinds of fish.

Bubba was diagnosed with cancer in 2001, and two years later, Shedd officials operated and took the unprecedented step of administering chemotherapy. But the cancer returned. The team operated again in spring 2003, applying medical-grade connective tissue implants — the same kind used in human medicine — to spur tissue growth. A special sling held Bubba in place in his operating tub, and veterinarians, for obvious reasons, couldn't keep his wounds dry and bandaged. Fortunately, Bubba's natural mucus covering contains powerful antibodies that protected him from infection, according to the Shedd Aquarium website.

Cancer survivors, particularly children, were inspired by Bubba's story of resilience, and he was a Shedd favourite, officials said.

"Bubba overcame some incredible odds over the years, and that's what made him so special to us," said George Parsons, director of the Shedd's Fish department. "Every once in a while for the last three years we have been getting phone calls from kids with cancer or from their parents, wondering how he is doing," Parsons said. "It's going to be tough now, if I have to tell them he's no longer with us."

- The author of these words signs of for now, his head filled with the images of a poor sickly fish in a sling, recovering from chemotherapy and surgery. Judging by the news interest that has been generated, it is comforting to know that Bubba's place in history is secured.

The Final Curtain?

Earlier in this blog your humble scribe questioned the optimism of press statements surrounding the health of Luciano Pavarotti.

Less than a month later, he has given a much more fatalistic press interview. He acknowledges that "I can feel the tumor inside me", if he really can "feel" the tumour - literally, rather than metaphorically, then it suggests that the tumour is spreading rather fast. Pancreatic cancer is supposed to be hard to detect because the pancreas is surrounded by other, larger organs. If the tumour has spread to the other organs, then the outlook is very bleak.

His press agent's statement, confirming Pavarotti will be touring again in 2007, now look increasingly hollow.

Examples Of Intellectual Infirmity In New York

In 1961, 116 000 of the cognoscenti of New York flocked to the Museum Of Modern Art, to wonder at Henri Matisse's Le Bateau:

The painting is considered a masterpiece of 'Fauve Art' . It was only when the painting had been hanging on the wall for 47 days that someone noticed what none of the experts had spotted: Le Bateau had been hung upside down.


In 1962 the NYPD arrested Domingo Osario for driving the getaway car after a contract killing. They had to release the accused when Osario's lawyer pointed out that his client had no arms.


The author of these words signs of for the evening, reassured that, despite the superiority complex all New Yorkers seem to exude, some really aren't as bright as they would have one believe.

The Child Of Lubeck

The young prodigy Christian Heinrich Heinecken, became famous throughout Germany as "The Child Of Lubeck". When he was 2 he was versed in the history of the Old and New Testament. He had learned French and Latin by the time he was 3.

In 1724, the King of Denmark had Christian to Copenhagen in order to see the German genius for himself. He was not disappointed. Heinecken, a veritable tourist attraction, enchanted his visitors with his knowledge of Biblical events, universal history, geography and languages.

Sadly he soon fell ill, predicted his own death, and died the following year - at the age of five. He had not yet mastered the art of handwriting.

Hanger 13 - A Lethal High

Hanger 13 was a hard core rave venue, situated in Ayr, near Glasgow in Scotland. The author of these words admits to frequenting this establishment on numerous occasions, whilst studying at a nearby university.

Iit was closed down some time ago, after adverse publicity following several drug deaths. Your scribe has predominately fond memories of the place, but was present the night someone died on the dance floor after consuming a cocktail of drugs.

He was also present at another rave, outdoors in another part of the country, only a few weeks later, when he witnessed another fatality. The circumstances are hard to relate, the author is minded of some lyrics by the Alabama 3, which almost perfectly describe the circumstances.

"There was this one particular girl, though, she was so beautiful, she used to knock my eyes out every damn time. One night she flipped this funny little heart-shaped pill and just died there right in front of me. Now she don’t dance to techno anymore."

Béziers - Where Everybody Was Murdered

Béziers is a peaceful town in southwest France, but it hides a frightening history.

On July 22nd, 1209 AD, the town was at the centre of one of the bloodiest battles of The Crusades . The town was put to the sack by the Christian French army,but the question arose as to how to tell which of the towns inhabitants were damned hereticss and which were good Christians. Simon V Du Montfort (or perhaps a legate of Pope Innocent III) said he had an easy solution. "Kill them all," he said "For the Lord will know his own". And so tens of thousands of men women and children were put to death.

Arnold, abbot of Citeaux describes the carnage, using words that do not befit a monk:

"Our forces spared neither rank nor sex nor age. About twenty thousand people lost their lives at the point of the sword. The destruction of the enemy was on an enormous scale. The entire city was plundered and put to the torch. Thus did divine vengeance vent its wondrous rage."

The author of these words signs off for the evening. The moon has just gone behind a cloud and a dog howls, somewhere in the distance.

Hardly Getting Over It

Hüsker Dü, were a little known, but influential, American alternative rock band who split up in 1988.

Most of their seven albums were packed full of very high speed, abrasive punk tunes. However they will forever by remembered by the author of these words for one song - Hardly Getting Over It. This is an acoustic effort, their only one, and lasts for over six minutes.
Written and sung by guitarist Bob Mould, the lyrics speak of death and despair. There is a sound like a tolling of a bell in the music. It's hard to envisage what went through the great man's mind when he wrote it:

Hardly Getting Over It

Twenty years ago, saw a friend was walking by
And I stopped him on the street to ask him
How it went, and all he did was cry
I looked him in the face, but I couldn't see past his eyes
Asked him what the problem was, he says
"Here is your disguise"

Now he's hardly getting over it
Hardly getting used to getting by
Old man lays down by the railroad tracks
Got no paper in his pocket, got no paper on his back
I asked him what the time was, he says "Hit the road now, Jack"

Went back to see him next week
He died of a heart attack and died away
Now he's hardly getting over it
Hardly getting used to getting by

Grandma, she got sick, she is going to die
And grandpa had a seizure, moved into a hotel cell and died away
My parents, they just wonder when they both are going to die
And what do I do when they die?

Now I'm hardly getting over it
Hardly getting used to getting by

Naples - Horrors Of The Past and Future

In his book, Naples '44, Norman Lewis described a city ravaged by war and suffering terrible poverty.

By 1944 the inhabitants of Naples were so destitute that all of the tropical fish in the city's aquarium had been devoured. Olive oil was sold for a price similar to that of gold, there were no farm animals left alive within 30 miles of the city. The Mafia thrived.

Lewis, who was in Naples as an Intelligence Officer attached to the American Army, observed that even respectable women in the city had been driven to prostitution to make ends meet. He saw a young Italian boy who had lost three fingers - they had been chopped of by a bayonet when he tried to pilfer some food from the back of an army lorry.

Bandits ran wild, Italian, German and American army deserters hid in the surrounding hills. During the first half of 1944, half of all food convoys entering the city were ambushed.

In 2006, Naples is a city unrecognizable from the horrors of 60 years ago, but which still seems very much poorer than the thriving cities in the north of Italy. Naples is also well known for having the worst standard of driving in the western world. It has, perhaps unkindly, been described as "dangerous, filthy, the armpit of Italy"

The author of these words, a fan of quirky, out of the way places, contemplates a visit to Naples. He reconsiders when he remembers that the scene which will one day face the city will make the events of 1944 pale in to insignificance. Naples is sitting on a 400-square-kilometre reservoir of magma, just waiting to explode. One day, no one knows when but it will happen, Naples will be buried underneath the ash, just like Pompeii. The author, apprehensive of been in the wrong place at the wrong time, opts to stay away.

Wholesale Slaughter At The Colosseum

During the hundred days of the opening games at The Colosseum in Rome in 80 AD, more than 5000 animals were killed. These included elephants, tigers, lions, elks, hyenas, hippopotamuses, and giraffes

The Cruel Shores Of The Scilly Isles

Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovel (1650-1707), Commander In Chief of The British Fleet, was a popular British hero, who celebrated a long and distinguished naval career .

He was killed, along with 1400 of his men, off The Scilly Isles, when their ships ran in to jagged rocks just offshore. It was believed that he drowned with the others.

Many years later another, more sinister, story came to light. An old lady on the Scillys, when on her deathbed confessed that she had murdered Admiral Shovel, who had managed to swim from his stricken ship and stagger ashore. She said that she had strangled him in the belief, current at the time among coastal inhabitants, that a body, alive or dead, washed up was a derelict, thus giving her legal possession of the emerald ring on the Admiral's finger. She produced the stolen ring as evidence.

The Last Of The Yahi Tribe

Ishi (1860-1916) was the name given to the last member of the Yahi tribe of California. Ishi is believed to be the last Native American to have lived the bulk of his life outside the influence of European American culture. He emerged from the wild in 1911 near Oroville, California after leaving behind his ancestral homeland, the hills and mountains above. His real name was never known, because in his society it was taboo to say one's own name. Since he was the last member of his tribe, his real name died with him. The photo to the left was taken shortly after he was found.

Prior to European contact, the Yana population numbered approximately 3,000. Ishi and his family were victims of the Three Knolls Massacre, from which approximately 30 Yahi survived. The remaining Yahi escaped but went into hiding for the next forty years after cattlemen killed about half of the survivors. Eventually Ishi's mother and other companions died, and he was discovered by a group of butchers in their corral in Oroville. August 29, 1911.

He only lived another five years, before succumbing in 1916 to tuberculosis in the alien surroundings of the University Of California Hospital. Eighty-four years after his death, Ishi was finally buried in his proper resting place.

Your humble scribe signs off for the evening. He wonders at what went through Ishi's mind the day his last kinsman died and he sighs, knowingly, at how desolation can drive a man out of the hills and forests he knows, in to the strange and unforgiving beyond

Godfrey's Cordial

In nineteenth century Britain, use of opium was widespread and unregulated. Medical officers were convinced that one of the major causes of infant mortality was the widespread practice of giving children narcotics, especially opium, to quieten them.

A substance known as Godfrey's Cordial , a mixture of molasses and opium was especially popular. Supposed to ease the irritation of colic in children , it also had the effect of knocking them out cold for several hours afterwards. It's use was said to be endemic in parts of Manchester. East Anglia was also a stronghold of opium abuse, opium in pills and penny sticks was widely sold. In Nottingham, one chemist sold 400 gallons of laudanum in a year.

It is thought that Godfrey's Cordial was also used for a darker purpose. An overdose could be fatal and countless parents found that it brought a quick, painless death to unwanted children for whom there was neither space nor food.

Horses Of The Great War

During the Great War, 256 000 horses, mules and donkeys were killed, or died of disease, whilst serving their country. The animals were used for for transporting food, water and ammunition to the front line and for carrying artillery beyond the line, in to the face of heavy fire.

The loss of life was so heavy that in 1916, the British Government introduced compulsury purchase orders for horses , many thousands of pet and farm horses were seized and taken to the foreign battlefields. Horses continued to die in huge numbers. Many drowned in the mud, were shot or hit by shells (they were bigger targets), others died of sheer fatigue.

A most heart-wrenching account of a draught animal's plight was recorded by Lieutenant R G Dixon, 14th Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery:

"Heaving about in the filthy mud of the road was an unfortunate mule with both of his forelegs shot away. The poor brute, suffering God knows what untold agonies and terrors, was trying desperately to get to its feet which weren't there. Writhing and heaving, tossing its head about in its wild attempts, not knowing that it no longer had any front legs.

I had my revolver with me, but couldn't get near the animal, which lashed out at us with its hind legs and tossed its head unceasingly. Jerry's shells were arriving pretty fast – we made some desperate attempts to get the mule so that I could put a bullet behind its ear into the brain, but to no avail...The shelling got more intense – perhaps one would hit the poor thing and put it out of its misery." (Source)

In March 1918, the British launched a cavalry charge at the Germans. Out of 150 horses used in the charge only 4 survived. The rest were cut down by German machine gun fire.

At the end of the war, the animals who remained were not treated with the dignity and gratitude they deserved. Many good qualiy horses remained with the army, the 'standard' and 'poor quality' animals were either auctioned off at rock-bottom prices or sold to French butchers, a terrible fate given the services these brave beasts had performed. Instead of an honourable retirement they were slaughtered for their meat or worked to death in farms, mills and factorys.

In 1934, 16 years after the war had ended Mrs Brooke - based in Cairo, Egypt, with her husband Brigadier Geoffrey Brooke - was horrified to discover that, at the end of the war, the once proud cavalry stock were abandoned. Old, decrepit and wounded from the battlefield they were handed over to gharry drivers into a daily grind of poverty and suffering. She founded the Hospital for Old War Horses, now known as the Brooke Foundation 60 years later, the London-based charity operates hospitals in Egypt, Pakistan, India and Jordan.

The author signs of for now, saddened at the scant regard humankind gave to the animals who served them so well.


Sinead O'Connor has one of the most beautiful and haunting singing voices of our era.

This song entranced the author of these words.

Death Of The Cornish Language

Dolly Pentreath was a resident of Mousehole who became famous as the person who spoke Cornish as her main language. She was brought up as a Cornish speaker and learnt only to speak English as an adult. Her famed was secured by a visitor to Cornwall called Daines Barrington who discovered Dolly and some other Cornish speakers in Mousehole at a time when it was believed the language had died. Her name now lives on in popular history as the last native Cornish speaker. To all speakers after her the language was learnt after English as a second language.

The last person to die who spoke ONLY Cornish was Chesten Marchant, who died in in 1676 in Gwithian, Cornwall.

The last person to die who had an inherited knowledge of the Cornish language was John Davey from Zennor who died in 1890 , he kept the language alive by speaking Cornish to his cat.

There has been a recent revival of the Cornish language, there are now about 300 speakers in Cornwall and 50 in London, but none of these speakers were taught the language by their parents, it was all picked up from reference books.

Pedro de Serrano -The Ultimate Castaway

Pedro de Serrano was a Spanish sailor who was marooned on a small Caribbean Island in the early part of the sixteenth century.

The recorded circumstances of his experience are rather vague and most certainly open to dispute. The basic details are that he was the only survivor of a ship wreck and was washed up on a deserted, barren strip of sand. He had only the clothes he stood up in. For years he endured the most primitive of living conditions. As there was no fresh water supply on the island, he survived the first days be drinking turtle blood. Soon he was able to use upturned turtle shells as rain water receptacles. The only other food he was able to find was sea weed and the occasional shell fish. He had no shelter from the sun and, during the hottest hours of the day, he buried himself in wet sand to keep cool. Soon his clothes had rotted and Serrano wandered his domain naked, but for a thick down of body hair. A flint, washed up from the ship wreck was his salvation, he was able to make fire and therefore retained the faint hope that a passing vessel might see his distress signal.

After some years, two other sailors were washed up on the beach. When they saw the furry image of Serrano, who also boasted a waist length beard by now, they were terrified and, at first, did not believe him to be human. Although there was still no imminent hope of rescue, Serrano was overjoyed to have the company of other humans again, his joy was short lived - Within a few days, one of the men began raving. Soon he began eating his own arms, and then he quickly died. A short time later the intense heat from the sun and the harsh living conditions on the island took the life of the other man. Serrano was alone again.

After seven or eight years marooned, Serrano was eventually rescued by a passing ship, many other vessels has passed, but none were able, or willing, to risk the dangerous coral that barricaded the island.

Understandably, Serrano never fully recovered from his years of isolation, he died a mad man in his native Spain.

Your humble scribe signs off for the evening, he wonders how he would have survived seven years of wild isolation and concludes his own mental health would have also been irreversibly altered.

Moho Tani - The Ghost Island

Moho Tani is a small, remote isle which forms part of the Marquesas Island group in Polynesia. Years ago, before the white man came, it was heavily forested and populated by natives who had lived there, co-existing with the fragile eco system, for many hundreds of years.

The tranquility of everyday life was shattered when, over 200 years ago, a European ship anchored down in the blue water surrounding the island. Men came ashore with their firearms blazing, they sought water, women and pigs. They didn't stay long, but left behind disease. The islanders, with zero immunity to the introduced viruses, succumbed in their droves. This is a common story of small isolated islands all over the world when they are 'discovered', but on Moho Tani the devastation was total. Not a single native survived. No history of their people is known, because there was no one left to tell it.

When the people were no more, their sheep ran wild. They bred out of control, with the extinction of man, they had no predators. In time, hordes of sheep had eaten all of the grass and shrubs on the island and then, when famine set in, they ate the leaves of the trees and then stripped the trees of bark, soon all the trees in the forests had had died as well.

Without trees to shelter the soil from the scorching rays of the sun and without roots to hold humidity near the surface, every drop of rain sank deep in to the arid ground and was lost long before it reached any watercourse. The gushing streams lost all their supplies and the last rivulets dissapeared from the surface of the land. Moho Tani now resembles a desert.

Thor Heyerdahl in his book Fatu Hiva - Back To Nature, wrote of a two hour visit to Moho Tani in 1938, by then the island was already depopulated. He wrote:

"...Never before had the sun, the very intensity of the sunlight, given me the same feeling as when a full moon shines on a cemetery. The ghostly white dead trees stood like tombstones over a pillaged graveyard. There were skulls and bones everywhere. It was like midnight at noon"

The author of these words signs off for now. He wonders what the Moho Tani islanders might have taught us, if they had only lived to tell the tale. He wonders how the human era finally ended. Perhaps the last surviving Polynesian died quietly in his or her hut, maybe a last desperate family took to their canoe looking for better prospects on another island, although no other lands are visible from Moho Tani. Or perhaps the last survivor was a child, left alone between the trees and the animals. We shall never know.

The Iolaire Disaster

During the dark small hours of New Year’s morning, 1919, the Admiralty yacht, HMY Iolaire, with nearly 300 men aboard, foundered on the ominously named rocks, The Beasts of Holm, just yards from shore and within a mile of the safety of Stornoway Harbour on Lewis in the Western Isles.

The men aboard were returning from the horrors of the Western Front at the conclusion of the Great War. Although within site of their homeland, almost within touching distance, rough seas prevented them from swimming ashore. Many who attempted were drowned, one man, John MacLeod bravely succeeded in getting ashore with a line, from which a further 30-40 men were able to drag themselves to safety. The last survivor was not found until daylight - one man, Donald Morrison, was found still hanging on to the rigging for dear life. Seven others had been with him, but had not been able to hang on throughout the night.

205 men were drowned that day. For such a close knit and remote island community, the tragedy must have come as unbearable blow. The loss cannot be imagined, not a family was unaffected.

(Iolaire survivors Donald Morrison and John Macleod)

The loss of over 200 men, together with the 1000 who had died in the trenches, effectively deprived Lewis of a generation of men. Emigration to America and the mainland UK escalated. Today the population of Lewis is half of what it was the night the Iolaire went down.

Your scribe signs of for the evening, disturbed at this savage twist of fate - To get so close to home, after been so far away for so long, only to drown within site of land. If there is a God, he works in cruel and mysterious ways.

The Blind Army

Between the years of 976 and 1018 AD, a state of war existed between Bulgaria and the Byzantine Empire, led by Basil II and nicknamed the "Bulgar-Slayer".

The culmination of one particular episode of the carnage, at the Battle of Kleidion in 1014, was especially grim. 14000 Bulgarian soldiers were ambushed in a valley and trapped, they had little choice but to surrender and were swiftly taken prisoner. King Basil divided the soldiers in to groups of 100, blinded 99 men in each group, and left one man in each with one eye so that he could lead the others home.

It is said that the King of Bulgaria, Samuil, died of a heart attack when he saw his newly blinded army march past him, other reports say he died three months later, either way the effect must have been devastating.

The author of these words shudders at the thought of those thousands of blind men struggling to find their way home, groping in to the darkness and pinning their hopes on just one man, somewhere in the group, with only one eye. He also wonders at he eventual fate of the blinded soldiers, what use did eleventh century Bulgaria have for 14000 blind men? One suspects their subsequent years were spent in poverty and misery.

The Last Of The Shakers

The Shakers were a religious sect, an offshoot of the Society Of Friends (Quakers), who originated from the UK in the late eighteenth century.

They followed the teachings of Mother Anne Lee and the name "Shaker" derives from their habit of trembling, shouting, dancing, shaking and singing during religious worship. Anne Lee was frequently harassed by the authorities in the UK and imprisoned on several occasions for blasphemy. During one stay in Manchester Prison, Anne Lee stated she had "directions from God" to take her band of followers to America. They founded a community in Watervliet, New York State in 1776.

Over the following decades their numbers swelled to a peak of perhaps 6000 members in the 1840s. As they practised celibacy, they were unable to 'breed' new members of the sect, they overcame this by adopting the children of local "fallen women". Many other Shaker communites were founded throughout America, the town of Shaker Heights in Ohio was originally one of these settlements.

As with many sects, the appeal of the religion eventually began to wane and by 1908 there were only around 1000 remaining Shakers. Their numbers have continued to decline since then.
In 1992 Ethel Hudson , the last surving member of the community at Canterbury, New Hampshire, died at the age of 96. This left just one remaining Shaker community, at Sabbathday in Maine.

It is unclear how many Shakers remain alive, certainly less than ten, possibly as few four. It is evident that there days are now seriously numbered and in a matter of years they will be gone forever. They will leave an impressive legacy, not only did they practise a unique religion, but they left their mark on subjects as diverse as furniture design and hymn writing.

The author of these words, an agnostic, will mourn the passing of the last Shaker. If anyone reading this knows the exact number of those who remain, he would be very interested to know the answer.

Ohio - The Great Slaughter Of 1822

Your humble scribe offers the following tale as todays melancholy fare...In an unnamed pioneer township in Ohio, wild animals, ravenous beasts of the night, were devouring the populations chickens, hogs and cows. So great were the losses that one of the bloodiest big game hunts in history was instigated.

The town's men armed themselves and posted themselves around the borders of their colony. At the cry of a horn, echoed from bugler to bugler, the men waded forward, driving game before them towards the centre of the township. When the ring had been tightened to some half mile in diameter, an order was given to fire and the men fired at will.

They shot everything that moved. After the thrashing had stopped they waded forward once again, shooting every beast they flushed from the thickets and swamps. At last the circle closed and the men faced each other over the carcasses of twenty two bears, seven wolves, one hundred and three deer, two mountain lions, one wildcat, plus turkeys and countless smaller game.

Within five decades of the first settlers arriving in the area the following animals were extinct: elk, panther, wolf, bear, wild cat, beaver, black and yellow rattlesnakes, bald eagle.

Turning Her Grief In To Glory

One of the competitors of the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games Women's Triathlon, was the Australian, Emma Snowsill.

Four years ago, her boyfriend and training partner Luke Harrop was killed when he was hit by a car on a training ride. Devastated, she stopped training and in the months that followed his death she seemed to withdraw from the triathlon world, for very understandable reasons.

Months later Luke's sister, Loretta Harrup, another triathlete visited Emma. After Loretta offered to be her practice partner, Emma was persuaded to start training again.

Another two years passed during which Emma swam, cycled and ran with renewed vigor and determination, no doubt inspired to train in memory of Luke. This, combined with the training and guidance of Loretta, herself an Olympic medalist, obviously worked wonders. At the Melbourne Games, Emma Snowsill won a magnificent gold medal, the winning margin was over 30 seconds, this despite her stopping before the finish-line to exchange long hugs and congratulations with friends and family.

Your humble scribe salutes the courage of Emma Snowsill and wishes her every success at the 2008 Olympics. He signs off for now, comforted by the thought of the happiness and hope that can sometimes spring from desolation.

The Plight Of The Albatross

Gough Island, lies far out in the Atlantic Ocean, it's nearest neighbor is Tristan da Cunha - itself the world's remotest inhabited island.

Gough is an important sea bird colony and hosts one of the world's largest albatross breeding grounds.

Conservationists have recently reported aggressive groups of unusually large and violent human-introduced house mice which have been posing a problem for the breeding grounds: The mice are eating alive defenseless albatross chicks sitting on their nests.

The chicks, described as "big spherical balls of fat covered in down", have no defense mechanism against the mice. The attacker weighs about 50 grams, the victim can weigh 10-12 kilos.

The albatross faces a perilous future. Not only are the chicks been devoured alive, but other factors such as line fishing and ingestion of plastic floatsam are also causing their wholesale destruction. Of the 21 species of albatross, 19 are threatened with extinction.

Many have admired these majestic birds. They can soar for miles, for days without flapping their wings, the wingspan of a wandering albatross can reach 11 feet, all species of albatross mate for life - and an albatross can live for 60 years. The author of these words grieves at their bloody slaughter and curses his fellow man for the terrible harm wrought upon a species that has never caused humans even the slightest danger.

The Catastrophe Of Los Alfaques

For years, locals who lived near the campsite at Los Alfaques, close to the to the town of Tortosa in southern Spain had been complaining to the authorities that tanker drivers were using the dangerous, twisting coast road rather than pay the toll on the nearby expressway. Residents were alarmed, for they new the tankers were full of pressurized liquid gas from the nearby refinery of Tarragona.

The authorities made a fatal mistake when they refused to listen. In July 1978 a tanker crashed in to the campsite and burst in to flames. Blazing gas spewed over a radius of 400 meters and a 60 meter ball of fire swept through the site setting caravans and tents ablaze. The force of the explosion was so strong that some tourists on the adjacent beach were blown in to the sea.

More than 170 people died , many bodies charred beyond recognition, all because a driver refused to pay to take the safe road.

One hopes that the protests against the transportation of nuclear waste on the British rail network, another costcutting measure, don't prove to be as ignored as the doomed protestors of Los Alfaques. Your fearful scribe prognosticates a fatal nuclear accident or attack in Britain during the next 10 years. There have been a couple of near misses this year already.