©winnie caw 2003
...In 1974, a thousand pigs went berserk near Devizes, in Wiltshire. They ate the fabric of a light aeroplane, seven wooden gates, two and a half tons of hay, a straw rick, 10 cwt of cattle cake, 500 yards of electric wire, and 17 acres of cabbages.
... A Victorian poetess named Nancy Luce loved her chickens so much that they were the only things she ever wrote about. What's more, she inscribed her poems on the chickens' eggs, and it's thought that she wrote at least 100,000. Not surprisingly, none of the poems survived.
...An ostrich egg takes approximately forty minutes to soft-boil. And an hour and a half to hard-boil.
...Garden midges beat their wings approximately one thousand times a second.
...Only the female mosquito bites: the male of the species is not equipped for biting.
...The common silkworm has eleven brains. But it only uses five of them.
...The common garden wood-louse (which can roll itself up into a tight ball) used to be given by medieval doctors to patients suffering from gout or palsy.
...Earthworms more than 2 metres long are to be found in some parts of Western Australia.
...The three body segments of an insect do not depend on one another for survival. Thus an insect whose head has been cut off may live as long as a year in this condition.
...Alan Jay Lerner took two weeks to write the last line of the song 'Wouldn't It Be Loverly?' for the show 'My Fair Lady'. The words of the last line are: 'Loverly, loverly, loverly, loverly.'
...In Hollywood, some sets used as background in 'Westerns' were made to three-quarters scale, so as to make the heroes seem much larger than life.
...To illustrate a lecture on marine biology at St John's College, Minnesota, USA, Professor Daniel Kaiser swallowed 257 live minnows.
...The average man spends 3,500 hours of his life shaving. In this time, he removes about 30 ft of whiskers from his face.
...Holidaymakers by the sea often praise the healthy ozone in the air. They're mistaken - what they can smell is just decaying seaweed. Ozone isn't present below an altitude of seven thousand feet.
...Sealing wax contains no wax. It is made of shellac, turpentine, and cinnabar.
...Snow isn't white - it's transparent. It is composed of tiny crystals, each with six sides. The rays of light reflected by the various surfaces give snow its impression of glistening whiteness.
...the first recorded appearance of slot-machines was in the ancient temples of Alexandria. There were machines there, from which a supply of Holy Water could be obtained when a coin was inserted in them - this was back in 641 BC.
...the female starfish produces 2 million eggs a year. 99% of them are eaten by other fish.
...In Pas de Calais, France, there is a river named 'Aa'.
...King Louis XIV of France originated and was the first to wear high-heeled shoes.
...the longest sentence ever published appears in Victor Hugo's 'Les Miserables'. It is 823 words long and takes up over three pages. Hugo, among others, also wrote the shortest letter on record. While on holiday, he was anxious to find out how 'Les Miserables' was selling. To his Paris publishers he wrote: '?'. The reply was '!'.
...In the eight years between 1601 and 1609, two thousand French noblemen died whilst fighting duels.
...There is a small village in France named 'Y'.
...Circus tights were invented by an American bare-back rider, Nelson Hower in 1828, when he appeared in his underwear after his costume failed to arrive. The fashion caught on.
...When the first escalators at a tube station were installed at Earl's Court in 1911, the general public were too scared to use them. So London Transport employed a man with a wooden leg to ride up and down on the escalator all day long, to prove that they were quite safe. His wages were 15p per day.
...Mice can actually sing. Their songs, when magnified, resemble the twitterings of a canary, and are very musical.
...King Charles II, who ruled from 1660 to 1685, was in the habit of gathering up dust and powder from the mummies of Egyptian kings and rubbing it all over himself. 'I do this,' he said, 'to help me acquire ancient greatness.'
...Richard I ('The Lionheart') spent only four months of his life in England.
...George I, King of England from 1714 to 1727, was German and couldn't speak a word of English.
...Queen Anne bore a total of 17 children and outlived every one of them.
...Henry VIII's second wife, Anne Boleyn, always wore gloves to hide an odd physical deformity. She had six fingers on her left hand.
...King Charles was only 4 feet 7 inches (1.4m) tall.
...If your doctor tells you you're suffering from nasopharyngitis, don't worry. That's the scientific name for the common cold.
...In 1979, a 12-year-old girl from Liverpool caught a cold and continued sneezing for a further 194 days before she thankfully stopped.
...The initial wind velocity of a human sneeze is more than Gale Force 10.
...the common cold is estimated to cost the world's economy more than £10,000,000,000 per year in lost work time.
...Julius Caesar wasn't a Roman Emperor - in fact there was no Roman Empire until a long time after his death. He was Consul five times, and became a Dictator.
...'Aesop's Fables' weren't written by Aesop. Aesop was a deformed Phrygian slave of the 6th century BC. Many of the fables attributed to him have been discovered on Egyptian papyre dated at 1,000 years earlier.
...the word 'Eureka' (Greek for 'I've found it') became famous when used by the mathematician Archimedes on discovering the principle that bodies can be weighed according to their displacement in water. The tradition is that Archimedes made his dramatic discovery when he stepped into his bath one day and observed the water overflowing. He immediately bolted out into the street, crying, 'Eureka! Eureka!'. Thus Archimedes not only discovered that important principle - he also inadvertently invented streaking.
... the first organised 'strike' of workers dates back to 309 BC. Then Aristos, a Greek musician, called out his orchestra because they weren't allowed to have their meals in the temple.
...Cleopatra's Needle, on the Victoria Embankment in London, has nothing whatsoever to do with Cleopatra. Hieroglyphics carved on the obelisk tell that it was first erected in Egypt in 1475 BC - over 14 centuries before Cleopatra was born.
...the human body contains enough phosphorous to make two thousand matchheads, sufficient iron to make a 15cm nail, and enough fat to make eight bars of soap.
...Most people think the heart is on the left side of the body. It isn't. Nine-tenths of it is on the right side.
...there are twelve million cells in the human brain.
...only one in fifty Eskimos has ever seen an igloo, yet alone lived in one.
...most eskimos use refrigerators - to keep their food from freezing.
...an early set of false teeth was made of wood (elm) and was worn by George Washington.
...a chimpanzee called Congo, living at Regent's Park Zoo, London, painted hundreds of pictures. Some of them were sold to admiring tourists.
...lions used to be kept (as 'guard-dogs') in the Tower of London until 1781.
...the giraffe has the same number of bones in its neck as a human being has.
...the rhinoceros's horn isn't horn at all. It's made of hair so compact that it's as hard as bone.
...A herd of springboks containing an estimated 100 million animals was seen in South Africa in 1896.
...all golden hamsters are descendants of a single wild family found near Aleppo, in Syria, around the middle of the last century.
... gorillas can't swim.
...one ounce of oil can cover an area of 8 acres with a fine film - that's over 32,000 square metres.
...the Vinegar River (El Rio Vinaigre) in Colombia contains eleven parts of sulphuric acid and nine parts of hydrochloric acid in every thousand, and is so bitter that no fish can live in it.
...the reason why sardines are crammed so tightly into their tins is that the oil used to pack them is more expensive by volume than the fish themselves. Thus, the more sardines the manufacturer can squeeze into a tin, the greater his profit.
...an octopus has three hearts.
...the Chinese language contains no 'R' sounds; so the Chinese substitute the 'L' sound for English words. On the other hand, the Japanese language has no 'L' sound; they substitute an 'R' sound. Thus, in Chinese, 'Fry' is pronounced 'Fly' - and, in Japanese, the word 'Fly' is pronounced 'Fry'.
...In 1982, intrepid 90-year-old Thompson Hora of Gosforth, Newcastle, made fifteen flights on a hang-glider.
...Lord Nelson, Britain's greatest admiral, suffered from acute sea-sickness throughout his life.
...Anthony Ashill, a watch-repairer of Kidderminster in Worcestershire, ran an electric motor for over six months powered by a lemon.
...Leonardo da Vinci could write with one hand while drawing with the other. You try it.
...Ernest Digwood of Leeds, Yorkshire, who died during the hot summer of 1976, left £26,000 to Jesus Christ, provided that He claims it before the year 2056.
...Professor Rask of Copenhagen University could speak 235 languages fluently. He also compiled and published 28 different language dictionaries.
...by the time his career in films had ended, crazy Keystone Cop Snub Pollard had been hit in the face with more than 20,000 custard pies.
...Sultan Murad IV inherited 240 wives when he assumed the throne of Turkey in 1744. He decided to dispense with their services by the simple method of putting each wife in a sack and tossing them one by one into the Bosphorus.
...Diovanni Rossi, an Italian miniature carver, once carved a collection of saints - in which 70 heads can clearly be seen - on a cherry stone.
...Birmingham has 22 more miles of canal than Venice.
...It's impossible to fold a piece of paper - no matter how big it is - more than seven times.
...Human beings are the only animals to sleep on their backs.
...like many Victorians, the novelist Charles Dickens ensured himself a good night's sleep by keeping the head of his bed aligned precisely with the North Pole, so that the earth's magnetic force would pass longitudinally through his body. Using similar logic, Islamic worshippers point their beds towards Mecca.
...Benjamin Disraeli was an insomniac and a believer in the occult. He was never able to fall asleep at night unless the four legs of his bed were planted in dishes filled with salt, to keep devilish spirits from attacking him.
...Famous American soldier and president Dwight D Eisenhower had ten pairs of pyjamas with the five stars of a general on them.
...the average person changes position anywhere from 20 to 65 times in the course of a night's sleep.
...In 1869, a patent was filed in London for a lavatory seat that had tiny rollers on the top to prevent anyone from standing on it.
...a public lavatory in Derbyshire has been turned into an ice-cream kiosk.
...early Victorian tram-hauling steam engines were disguised as horses, so as not to frighten the real horses in the streets.
...statues of famous people on horseback can tell you a lot about the rider. If the horse has all hooves on the ground, it means the rider died a natural death. If the horse has one foot in the air and three on the ground, the rider died of wounds. Two hooves in the air and two hooves on the ground means he was killed in action.
...a racehorse can be a 'one-year-old' just a few minutes after its birth. This is because it becomes one year old on the first of January following its birth - so, if it is born just before midnight on New Year's eve, it gains a whole year.
...170, 141, 183, 460, 469, 229, 731, 687, 303, 715, 884, 105, 727 is the largest number that cannot be divided by another.
...142857 is something of a mystic number. All the figures of the sum appear when multiplied as follows:
142857 x 2 = 285714
142857 x 3 = 428571
142857 x 4 = 571428
142857 x 5 = 714285
142857 x 6 = 857142
..but, thereafter, a completely different result appears:
142857 x 7 = 999999
...the most persistent number, mathematically, is:
526,315,789,473,684,210. You may multiply this figure by any number you choose, but the original figures will always appear in the result.
...the Indian ruler Khanjahan enjoyed handshaking with his subjects so much that when he died he left orders to be buried in a conical tomb - with his hand stuck out through the wall. Every visitor to the tomb shook hands with the corpse. Eventually, 35 years later, the hand withered away.
...the famous spiritualist Amy Semple MacPherson was buried with a live telephone in her coffin.
...the famous Elizabethan poet Ben Johnson is buried in a sitting position in Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey. The plot provided for him wasn't large enough for the corpse to be placed horizontally.
...Mozart wrote the music of 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star' at the age of five.
...John Trundley, known as the 'Great Fat Lad of Peckham Rye' was born in 1899. At the age of eleven he weighed 178 kilograms (28 stone).
...Thomas Young, the 18th century physician, mathematician and scientist, could speak twelve languages fluently at the age of eight.
...a 55-year-old Polish man, Jan Dbworski, died in Stoke-on-Trent in 1966 from choking on a garlic clove he had left in his mouth overnight to ward off vampires.
...on 24 August 1918 in Hendon, near Sunderland, it rained eels for ten minutes. The fish covered about half an acre.
...a Russian woman, Eva Vassilet, gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, 7 sets of triplets, and 4 sets of quads - a grand total of 69 children.
...Denis Taverstock of Lancashire compiled a complete pack of playing cards by picking them up in the street. After collecting for ten years, he was only 15 cards short. But it took him another 21 years to complete the pack in 1890.
...a passenger train in Cordoba, Argentina, was derailed in 1971 when it struck and killed a cow that was lazing about on the track. Nobody was injured (apart from the cow), but the appetites of the seven hundred passengers were apparently whetted by the accident. While waiting for a repair crew to arrive and set the train on its way again, the passengers dug a barbecue pit, roasted the cow over a large fire, and devoured it with gusto.
...the science of cooking a hamburger is now officially known as Hamburgerology.
...black isn't the universal colour for mourning the dead. South Sea Islanders wear red; Ethiopians wear brown; Egyptians wear yellow; and the people of Turkey wear violet.
...wallpaper was first used as a decoration for Chinese tombs.
...some Tibetans have the custom of chopping up their dead relatives and feeding them to the birds.
...among the curious names listed in the New York telephone directory in the '80s were: Mona Lisa Gooseberry, Oscar Asparagus, Peculiar Smith, Sistine Madonna McClung, Virgin Mary Smith and Lizzie Izabitchie.
...the late Western Empress Dowager of China was named:Tzuh-hsi-tuan-yu-chuang-chen-shou-klung-chin-hsein-chung-hsi-huang-tai-hou.
...Lady Macbeth had a son called Lulach the Fatuous.
...perhaps the longest name given to a child was bestowed on the daughter of Arthur Pepper, a Liverpool laundryman, in 1924. The child's initials used up the whole alphabet, and her christening occupied half a day. They called her:
Anna Bertha Cecelia Diana Emily Fanny Gertrude Hypatia Inez Jane Kate Louise Maud Nora Ophelia Prudence Quince Rebecca Sarah Teresa Ulysis Venus Winifred Xenephon Yetty Zeno Pepper.
She was usually called Alpha Pepper, for short.
...the famous artist Picasso's full name was: Pablo Diego Jose Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Maria de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santissima Trinidad Ruiz Picasso.
...Zeke Zzzyot was once the last name in the Chicago (US) phone directory.
...the Japanese once invented an amazing kind of pop record. When you got bored with it, you could sprinkle it with milk and sugar and eat it. It was made of compressed rice.
...a snake at London Zoo was fitted with a glass eye.
...despite the expression 'crocodile tears', crocodiles never cry or shed tears.
...snakes hear through their jaws.
...the Mountain Devil, a lizard-like creature that lives in Australia, never drinks. It absorbs tiny drops of dew through its skin.
...it is against the law to eat snakes on a Sunday in Iraq.
...machoumaerobilengmonoolemongametsoarobilengmonoolemong means '99' in the language of the Basuto tribe of Africa.
...an advertisement for cough syrup in a French newspaper read:
'PARAMINOBENZOYLDIAETHYLAMINOAETHANALOMPHYDROCHLORICUM ought to be in everybody's medicine cabinet!'
...the world's longest swear word:
...in Connecticut USA there is a:
In the Red Indian language, this means: 'You fish on your side; I fish on my side. Nobody shall fish in the middle.'
...the longest-named railway station in the world is in North Wales. It is:
If you want to try saying this, go to
(the station's nameplate is 24 metres long)
...the longest word in the English language is not, as most people seem to think:
This is just a junior at 28 letters long. The record is in fact a word that's 48 letters long, describing a lung disease, namely:
[sic. - for all those laboratory technicians, out there]
...at the opening of the new city workhouse in Southampton in 1832, the lecture given to the assembled paupers was an hour and a half's talk on 'Thrift'. The dinner given for the VIP's attending the workhouse opening included the following: lobster, roast chicken, ham, veal patties, tongue, wine jellies, cherry tarts, Savoy cakes and eleven different kinds of wine.
For the inmates the fare was a little more restricted: bread and lard, bread and margarine, unsweetened cocoa.
...Lord Edward Russell gave a party in London in 1807 where 6,000 men got drunk. A large fountain was used as a punch bowl, into which 800 gallons of brandy were poured. Other ingredients included 70 gallons of rum, 20,000 lemons, 1,400 pounds of sugar and 50 nutmegs.
...20-year-old Sandy Allen, the world's tallest woman at 7 feet 5 inches (2.26m) had her first date when a 7 foot 2 inch man drove all the way from Illinois to Indiana to take her out. For dinner, Sandy had ten shrimp cocktails, six large steaks, a triple banana split and eight double portions of ice-cream cake.
...a war fought between England and Zanzibar, which began on 27 August 1896, lasted just 38 minutes.
...during the Battle of Rancagua in October 1814, the Chilean patriot Bernado O'Higgins commanded a badly outnumbered army. The revolutionaries were surrounded by Spanish troops and were running low on ammunition. O'Higgins himself was wounded. There seemed to be no hope of fighting their way out of a desperate situation.
Then O'Higgins ordered his men to gather up every animal in the village - dogs, horses, cows, sheep, even ducks and chickens. With their remaining ammunition, the troops scared the animals into a frantic stampede. Mooing, barking, braying, the motley menagerie charged towards enemy lines, scattering the terrified Spaniards in all directions. O'Higgins and his men took advantage of the confusion to ride through the breach and escape to freedom.
...(an odd cricket statistic that's unlikely to be repeated) In the 1980 English tour of Australia, the English player Willey bowled to a player named Lillie, who was promptly caught by a player named Dilley.
...in 1912, a woman golfer at Shawnee, Pennsylvania, misjudged her shot and sliced her ball into the Delaware River. Her husband rowed her after it while she took shot after shot, sending up great fountains of water, trying to reach it. Eventually, after struggling for an hour, she landed the ball one and a half miles away, and then had to play all the way back to the green. Her total for this hole (the sixteenth) was a record-breaking hundred and fifty-six strokes. Shortly after this, she gave up golf for horse-riding.
...at an open-air concert in Juarezeiro do Norte, Brazil, in the summer of 1973, a singer named Waldick Sorano was giving a performance of a humorous song called 'I Am Not A Dog'. Suddenly, halfway through the song, a dog trotted on stage, wearing a large sign that read 'I Am Not Waldick Sorano'. Infuriated by the practical joke, Sorano chased the dog offstage and started insulting the audience, who were in fits of laughter. The audience retaliated by slinging rotten peaches and tomatoes at him. A free-for-all fight ensued, and Sorano was forced offstage and chased all the way back to his hotel room.
...Upon being crowned Queen of England, Victoria's very first royal proclamation was a command that all her dogs be given a hot bath. Queen Victoria owned up to eighty dogs at a time, and knew them all by name.
...Edwin Wakeman of Manchester committed suicide in 1927, leaving behind him the following note:
'I married a widow with a grown daughter. My father fell in love with my step-daughter and married her - thus becoming my son-in-law. My step-daughter became my step-mother because she was my father's wife. My wife gave birth to a son, who was, of course, my father's brother-in-law, and also my uncle, for he was the brother of my step-mother. My father's wife became the mother of a son, who was, of course, my brother, and also my grandchild, for he was the son of my step-daughter. Accordingly, my wife was my grandmother, because she was my step-mother's mother. I was my wife's husband and grandchild at the same time. And, as the husband of a person's grandmother is his grandfather, I am my own grandfather.'
Small wonder the confused Mr Wakeman did himself in.
...Ah-Kwei of Kansu, China, was a great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. He lived to see his descendants down to the tenth generation. He was presented to the son of the son of the son of the son of the son of the son of the son of the son of the son of his son. Ah-Kwei lived in the Golden Age of Happiness. And when the Emperor of China was searching for the happiest man in his empire, the Kansu patriach was brought before him. In 1790, Ah-Kwei had a hundred and thirty-five living great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren. One shudders at the thought of his Christmas present bill!
...the energy released by the heat of a cow's belches in just one day would be sufficient to generate central heating in an average-sized house for over a week.
...bulls are colour-blind.
...the people of a village in Gloucestershire, England, petitioned the House of Commons to have their vicar excommunicated. The parson in question had the somewhat ill-fitting name of Benedict Grace: given that the villagers in their petition alleged that the Rev. Grace was: 'a most unholy type of man. He is much given to drunkenness, shouting and chasing young girls about the parish. Furthermore, the parson is uncivil, ignorant, uncharitable, lewd, cruel, and used filthy un-Christian language..' The petition was successful. The Rev. Benedict Grace disappeared shortly afterwards.
...baptising an infant in 1971, a Rev. in the West Riding of Yorkshire dipped his fingers into the water and scooped out six pork chops.
...five piranha fish could easily chew up a horse and rider in 7 minutes, leaving behind a skeleton horse with a skeleton rider.
...Edgar Allan Poe, the master horror writer, wrote his stories with his black cat 'Magic' sitting on his shoulder.
...in Japan, Santa Claus isn't a jolly old man - she's a jolly old woman.
...the 'Kyaik-Hto-Yo' pagoda in Burma is built on a huge boulder which stands on the brink of a 2,000 foot chasm. The local natives believe the boulder is balanced on a single hair from the head of Buddha.
...every summer evening on the German island of Sylt, the police go out to the beaches and flatten children's sandcastles. No, they're not really spoilsports. Sand is very scarce there, and has to be imported, and sandcastles are easily washed away by the incoming tide.
...when the city of St Pierre in Martinique was destroyed by an earthquake in 1908, only Augusta Ciparis, in jail for a minor offence, survived - out of a population of over 30,000 people.
...the religion of the Todas people of India forbids them to cross any kind of bridge.
...the Kirghiz tribe in Asia forbids a woman to utter her husband's name. The penalty for this is instant divorce.
...Honest Jack Fuller, a politician in the eighteenth century, was known by nearly everybody as The Hippopotamus, because of his vast size. Jack Fuller's appetite was prodigious: at a single sitting he could devour a whole hog's head, several pounds of beef, chicken etc. and still have room for a whole five-pound chocolate pudding, a gallon of ale and a pint of claret. Fuller is buried in a fifteen-foot high pyramid in Brightling churchyard in Sussex. He is reputed to be at rest inside it sitting at a table with a bottle of claret before him and an eleven-course meal.
...on a May morning in 1921, A V Bonham of Haywards Heath, Sussex, saw smoke. He was startled to learn that it was his own house on fire. Apparently, Bonham's eleven-year-old son had used paraffin to start a bonfire and the explosion that followed had set the house aflame. With the aid of the neighbours, Bonham removed most of his household goods, but forgot about his loaded revolver which lay in a bureau drawer. As Bonham stood sadly watching the hungry flames, a shot rang out. At the same instant, Bonham cried out, 'I am shot!' and, clutching his chest, he staggered a few steps and then fell dead. The heat had exploded Bonham's own gun, and the bullet had found his heart.
...your morning newspaper is chock-full of cellulose, which is rich in carbohydrates. While carbohydrates in excess are not very good food value, Dr Steinkraus of the Swiss Agricultural Experimental Station in Geneva once pointed out that 450 kilograms of these carbohydrates, if fermented properly, can be turned into 5,000 kilograms of body-building protein. Properly processed newsprint, he says, will be of great value as the world's food supplies dwindle over the centuries. Though somehow it sounds a little unappetising to draw your chair up to the table, put on your napkin and tuck into a big bundle of last week's 'Daily Mirror'.
Long and Short
The smallest and the tallest people in the world live in Africa. The men of the Batutsi tribe average 7 feet 4 inches (2.24m) in height - and the men of the Pygmy tribe grow to an average of 4 feet 1 inch (1.25m).
An 8-foot (2.45m) tall giant, Thomas Jenkins, a clerk at the Bank of England, who died in 1798, requested that to foil body-snatchers he be buried in the safest place he knew - on the Bank's premises. His wish was carried out, and Jenkins' corpse is still there today.
Attila the Hun, leader of the hordes of Barbarians who overran much of Europe, was a dwarf, just 3 feet 4 inches (1.02m) tall.
In April 1906 a head-on collision occurred in Redruth, Cornwall. So what? The accident was between the only two cars existing in the town at the time.
The first person caught in Oslo's computer-radar-speed-assessor-trap in 1982 was Police Chief Jxx Gxx.
A salesman who admitted a speeding offence wrote to Wigan magistrates, explaining that his speedometer had been steamed up by the hot black puddings he was carrying at the time. He was fined £10.
Motorist Pxx Cxx of Hove Sussex was caught reversing his car up a one-way street. A somewhat lenient magistrate fined him the sum of one penny for his crime.
Right and Wrong
In one of Elvis Presley's school reports, a teacher wrote, 'This boy is terrible: he can't sing a note, is tone-deaf, and couldn't carry a tune to save his life. It would be a merciful thing for everybody if Elvis Presley stopped having music lessons.'
The scientist Hegel published his proof that there could be no more than seven planets, just a week before the discovery of the eighth.
The American writer Mark Twain (real name Samuel Leghorn Clemens) was born in 1834, the time when Halley's Comet had just been sighted and was front-page news all over the world. Later, Twain commented in an article: 'I came in with the Comet, and I expect to go out with it.' Mark Twain died in 1910, just a few days before the reappearance of the Comet.
Jehovah's Witnesses predicted that the world would end during the summer of 1984. They were wrong; it didn't.
When a submarine was invented by Dutchman Cornelius van Drebel in 1624, the British Admiralty scoffed at the invention, and are on record as saying that it was 'a damn silly, trifling novelty that will never catch on.'
When the American Army Corps of Engineers took over construction of the Washington Monument in 1880, they were faced with a seemingly insoluble problem: since there had been no work done on the project in twenty-five years, the ropes and the scaffolding leading to the top of the monument had rotted with age. If additional bricks and mortar were to be hauled to the top, the ropes would have to be replaced, but nobody had any idea how to get the ropes to the top. The whole project seemed stymied before it had begun. Then some bright spark had a brainstorm. Inside the 48-metre-high hollow shaft, a wire was tied to the leg of a pigeon. A gun was fired, and the frightened bird flew skyward, where it was killed with a blast from a second gun. The poor pigeon fell to the ground, still tied to the wire, which the engineers then used to haul up heavier cables and, ultimately, the scaffolding needed to complete the job.
The elephant is the only animal that cannot jump.
An elephant's trunk can carry 2 gallons of water.
Drunken elephants are quite a big problem in South Africa's Kruger National Park. It seems that they are particularly fond of the sweet fruits of the marula tree. After a feast of marula fruit, an elephant becomes terribly thirsty and wanders off to the nearest stream to fill up on gallons of water. Intestinal fermentation then converts the fruit sugars to alcohol and leaves the giant animal thoroughly drunk. You can hear a drunken elephant from miles away; it trumpets wildly like a highly-magnified pop-group. Furthermore, a tipsy elephant loses all its inhibitions; it stampedes, squashing other animals, staggers about, and finally collapses in a stupor.
In 1973, a Manchester magistrate sentenced a pickpocket to three months in jail for stealing £5 from a woman's handbag. Noting the defendant's record of twenty-five previous convictions, the magistrate also ordered the man to wear enormous fur gloves whenever he appeared in public for the next two years. However, after serving his three months, the pickpocket disappeared.
On the island of Corsica in the summer of 1976, the mayor announced that anyone caught sunbathing in the nude on the beach there would be painted blue. Seven people were punished in this way.
In nearby Linguizetta, the town council, adopting the example of Lady Godiva, would punish minor offenders by making them ride naked through the streets on a donkey.
A lady from Mansfield kept a yellow tiddlywink up her nose for twenty years. When she had an operation for sinus trouble, the surgeon was amazed to discover that the reason for the discomfort was the tiddlywink. Then aged 25, she was reported to have said: 'I loved tiddlewinks when I was 5, but I don't remember losing a yellow one..'
While studying at the University of Rostock, the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe was insulted by a fellow student, and promptly challenged him to a duel. In the following contest, Brahe's nose was sliced off with a sword. Noseless, he commissioned a jeweller to make him a brilliant nose out of gold and silver, which he wore for the rest of his life. The man with the golden nose is best remembered for his precise observations of the heavens, which paved the way for the discoveries of Kepler and Newton. The largest crater on the moon is named in Tycho's honour.
Henry Lewis, a Liverpool billiard player, used to play using his nose as cue. In 1928, he made a break of 46 points in this way.
Crime and Punishment
In 1897, while serving a sentence in the Ohio State Penitentiary, a prisoner named Charles Justice helped design, build and install its first electric chair. Years later, he returned to the prison after being convicted of murder and, in 1911, was executed in that same electric chair.
Three men were hanged, for the murder of a magistrate, on Greenberry Hill, London, in 1641. Their names were Green, Berry and Hill.
In one park in Kent, England, you may not, according to a sign displaying ancient bye-laws, do any of the following: play a musical instrument, shake out your mats or carpets, practise gymnastics, drive a horse-drawn bus. Nor, if you happen to be 'infested with vermin', may you 'lie about by day' in the park.
Sir Charles Mompesson, found guilty in 1632 of blackmail, arson, cruelty and threatening tradesmen, was sentenced to the following: to lose his knighthood, pay a £10,000 fine, suffer a hundred strokes of the whip, forfeit his property and valuables, walk down the Strand with his face to a horse's tail, held forever to be an infamous rogue - and then be imprisoned for life. However, through an underground system of bribery and corruption, Sir Charles was pardonned.
When James Heatherington invented and wore the very first top hat in London, on 5 January 1797, women fainted and young children screamed with alarm. So great was the commotion brought about by Heatherington's revolutionary headgear that he found himself summoned to appear before the Lord Mayor. He was bound over to keep the peace for the sum of £50, having been adjudged guilty of 'appearing on a public highway wearing upon his head a tall structure having a shiny lustre and calculated to terrify people, frighten horses and disturb the balance of society'.
St Wilgefortis was one of nine sisters born to an infidel king of Portugal. At an early age, Wilgefortis was converted to Christianity and took a vow of chastity, in spite of which her father betrothed her to the King of Sicily. The young girl prayed fervently for deliverance from the clutches of the Sicilian. Miraculously, on the day of her wedding, she sprouted a full black beard and moustache. Her fiancé lost interest. Her father, in a mad rage, had her crucified. St Wilgefortis is traditionally invoked in the prayers of maidens who wish to be rid of unwanted boyfriends. In Britain, she is known as 'St Uncumber', prayed to by women who wish to unencumber themselves of husbands they do not love.
St Andrew, Scotland's patron saint, wasn't a Scot at all. He was a Pict, a race that was regarded as Scotland's greatest enemy.
In 1982, a man stole a woman's false leg and held it to ransom for £100. Police in Aberdeen, where the man lived, caught him.
A criminal was arrested and found guilty in Harlow, Essex, of stealing over 800 Bus-Stop signs.
In 1983, a Sydney police station (Australia) had all the brass fixtures and fittings stolen from their lavatories.
Every year the British Wildlife Recording Society holds a competition to select the finest natural soundtracks in a variety of categories. For example, in 1972, Ray Goodwin of Gloucestershire won the coveted award for 'Most Unusual Entry' with his tape of 'A Roman Snail Chewing a Lettuce Leaf'. This was highly amplified; sounding, as one reporter put it, 'like a series of booming, crunching, ear-shattering noises lasting about two minutes.' Among other Goodwin recordings that have won prizes are recordings of 'A Dung Beetle at Play' and 'A Pair of Butterflies Fighting'. The winner of the Mammal division in 1974 was Arthur Acland, a seventy-year-old retired underwear salesman from Kent, with his irresistible entry: 'A Humorous Recording of a Hedgehog Barking to Warn Off Other Spiny Members of his Tribe as He Sips a Bowl of Milk'.
George IV of England's cause of death was officially recorded as: rupture of the stomach blood vessels; alcoholic cirrhosis; gout; nephritis, and dropsy.
In February, 1685, King Charles II died of a stroke - or so say his official biographers. In truth, it was probably the treatment for the stroke that did him in. On the morning of the stroke, twelve physicians were summoned to the royal chambers, and they immediately started to purge all the poisons from the king's body. First they relieved him of a quart of blood, then shaved his scalp and singed it with redhot irons. Then they filled his nose with sneezing powder and blanketed him with hot plasters, which they then tore off. The treatment produced no results, and Charles sank quickly. Frantically, the doctors bombed the monarch with more bleedings, purgatives, and fed him with mysterious potions learnt from ancient books - powdered horse's skull, pearls dissolved in ammonia, the skin of frogs, rooks' feathers soaked in ass's milk...but nothing worked. On the fifth day, after quietly apologising for taking so long to die, Charles breathed his last - perhaps with some relief.
Love and Marriage
Brigham Young, American Mormon leader, once married four women in one day.
Sir Walter Raleigh's widow carried her husband's embalmed head wherever she travelled until she died, nearly 29 years after Sir Walter's execution.
In 1967, a Prague housewife, Vera Czemsk, jumped out of her sixth-storey bedroom window when she learned that her husband was planning to run away from her. She recovered in hospital after landing on top of the husband - who was killed outright.
Each of the six husbands of Frau Irmgard Bruns, who lived in Berlin in the 1800s, committed suicide.
In 1968, an Austrian anthropologist named Hans Weizl lived for some months among the natives of northern Siberia. Throughout his stay he was constantly pestered by giggling young teenage girls, who would appear at his door and pelt him with handfuls of lice and slugs, day and night. After a while, Weizl learned that among the northern Siberians lice and slug-throwing is the traditional manner for a woman to express her love for a man, and indicates that she is available for marriage (It makes you wonder what on earth they throw if they don't like you).
Fleas and Flies
Jumping beans have real live fleas inside them.
Egyptian slaves were ordered by their masters to smear themselves with the cream of camels' milk and honey, and then sit close to their masters to draw the flies from them.
A flea can jump 200 times its own height.
The eighteenth century Gloucester eccentric, Charles Hamilton, apparently considered it a mark of esteem to have a real live hermit living in his garden. He offered handsome wages for the service, including a salary of £700 a year and such valuable perks as a hair-shirt, an hour-glass, a rough sacking bed, and a Bible. In return, the hired hermit was expected to live in an artificial cave, not speak, and leave hair, nails and beard untrimmed. The one hermit Hamilton was able to lure into the position nearly went mad with boredom after six weeks and ran away. A fellow-countryman of Hamilton's in Gloucester had better luck, maintaining a hermit in a cave for nearly four years, but only on condition that the hermit be supplied with books, a bath-tub and a steam organ.
Feeling the temptation to neglect his scholarly duties, the Greek philosopher Demosthenes shaved one side of his head, so he'd feel humiliated to be seen in public.
In a crying contest in New York, Verne Sandusky cried for three and a half hours, producing nearly half a pint of tears.
Edward VII used to weigh his guests after weekends at Sandringham, to make sure they had eaten well and gained weight.
Major George Hanger, friend of the Prince Regent, once rode his horse up the stairs and into the attic of the house belonging to the fastidious Mrs Fitzherbert in Brighton. It needed eleven men, a crane and pulley and a blacksmith to get it down again. On another occasion, the madcap major harnessed a bull weighing four and a half tons and rode it up and down the Promenade at Brighton, much to the consternation of passers-by, many of whom fled into the sea.
Over the course of several weeks in 1971, about nine hundred people in the neighbouring villages of Mbale and Kigezi, Uganda, were seized by a mad compulsion to run wildly through the streets, clutching chickens and screaming until they collapsed from exhaustion. Local natives attributed the mania to the will of dead village chieftains. However, scientists and psychologists diagnosed it as a case of mass hysteria, comparable to a laughing epidemic which had overrun the town of Bukoba, Tanzania, the previous year. One of the earliest recorded cases of mass hysteria was that of the 'biting nuns'. At a convent in Germany in the fifteenth century, several nuns mysteriously began nipping at each other. Soon this 'nun-biting' spread to other convents in Germany, and ultimately to convents in Holland and Italy.
When Rowland Hill first had the idea of a 'piece of paper just large enough to bear the Crown's stamp, and covered at the back with a kind of glue, with which the bringer might, by applying a little moisture, attach it to the front of a letter', he met with a great deal of opposition. The then Postmaster General, Lord Lichfield, publicly expressed his disapproval of the idea thus: 'Why, of all the wild, crackpot and idiotic schemes I have ever heard of, this is the most foolish and extravagant! The man should be horse-whipped!'
A banana-shaped stamp was issued in Tonga in 1974.
The first pop star to appear on a postage stamp was Michael Jackson - on a British Virgin Islands set in 1985.
Well I Never!
Rabbits have been known to reach a speed of 47 mph.
The engineers of the M5 Motorway to Exeter built the smallest underpass in the world - a tunnel one foot wide to allow badgers to get safely to the other side.
One of the worst drinks in the world must be a wine called Moam, which is drunk in Indonesia. It is made from mashed-up snakes and sugar.
The Chinese emperor, Ch'eng Tung, ordered his chief minister, I Yin, to prepare an inventory of the most tasty foods available in all the world. I Yin's selections, compiled in the year 1500 BC, included the following:
lips of the orang-outan ape.
The tails of young swallows.
The knees of the elephant.
The tail of the yak.
The blue mushrooms from the Yang-hua valley.
Sardines from the Eastern sea.
Duckweed from rivers sheltered by yew trees.
Sauce made from sturgeon, leeks, cinnamon and lichen.
In 1983, art lovers at the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, London, were amazed to discover the Arts Council had paid £7,000 for an exhibit which included a tray of animal droppings.
The motto of the peace-loving Salvation Army is 'Blood and Fire!'.
Ju-jitsu, literally translated into English, means 'The gentle art'.
Birds of a Feather
At a 1984 Nottingham exhibition entitled 'Vanishing Wildlife', somebody stole a stuffed owl.
Woodpecker scalps were highly prized by North American Indian tribes - one was enough to buy a wife with.
The Australian bush-turkey collects about five tons of leaves and twigs to build its huge nest.
The owl is the only creature able to turn its head in a complete circle.
In Hawkshead, Lancashire, there is a well-known pub called 'The Drunken Duck'. Its unusual name derives from an incident that occurred there in 1788. One summer's day, beer seeped from the pub's cellar into the ducks' feed trough. The landlady found the ducks apparently dead, and she started plucking them and preparing them for the oven. Suddenly, the ducks started sobering up. The somewhat eccentric landlady made amends by knitting small garments for the naked ducks to wear.
You Don't Say!
Alfred Nobel initiated and sponsored the famous Nobel Peace Prize. Before that, he was best known as the inventor of dynamite.
On board the Russian spaceship, Salyut 6, launched in 1980, was a black-and-white teddy bear named Mishka.
In 1770, a Bill was introduced in Parliament, 'denouncing women who wrongly seduce men into marriage by the use of costly scents, paints, cosmetic washes, artificial limbs, false hair, false teeth, iron stays and corsets, hoops, high-heeled shoes, and bolstered bosoms and hips.' If a woman was convicted of capturing a husband by any of these means, the marriage would be declared null and void. The Bill never did become law - fortunately for the state of matrimony. For there cannot have been a single wife who did not resort to at least one of the crimes listed.
Queen Elizabeth I created an office called ' The Official Uncorker Of Sea-Bottles', after a fisherman in Cornwall found an important official secret in a bottle washed up on the beach. Any person not handing over such bottles to the Officer was liable to be hanged.
The most costly dress ever made was worn by Marie de Medici, Queen of France, in 1622. The dress was embroidered with 3,000 diamonds and 39,000 pearls - at today's values it would be worth £6,000,000. The Queen only wore the dress once, then discarded it.
During her life, Queen Victoria would never allow the royal train to exceed 30 mph. (Once, when travelling from London to Brighton, the train reached the speed of 40 mph. When she found out, the Queen had the driver whipped and sacked from his job). However when, in 1901, Queen Victoria's body was brought from the Isle of Wight to Windsor, the train from Southampton touched 95 mph, and rocked violently on some of the curves.
One morning in 1798, as Czar Paul I of Russia was inspecting his guards, he was infuriated by a soldier's cloak button, which hadn't been polished. In a rage the Czar ordered: 'About turn - march!'. When asked where to, he shouted: 'Siberia!' The 400 men dutifully set off on the 2,000 mile march - and were never heard of again.
When the Russian writer Tolstoy (author of 'War and Peace') was a boy, he formed an exclusive club with his brother. To be initiated, a member had to stand in a corner of the room for an hour and not think of a white bear.
In 1821, Maria Feodorewna, wife of Alexander I of Russia, accidentally caught sight of a note pinned to the bottom of a death-warrant. It was in the handwriting of her husband, and read: 'Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia.' Maria kindly transposed the comma so that it read: 'Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia.' Whereupon the lucky convict was released, a free man.
All the above are taken from 'Crazy - But True!' by Jonathan Clements, Armada by Fontana Paperbacks 1986
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