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.