Friday, 18 June 2010


It is holiday time and all my friends are going a-travelling.Travelling? I needed Quells to cross the Menai Bridge. I travel instead through TV and books.

Sir John Mandeville wrote a travel book in 1322. Were he living today he could have walked onto a job on the Sun. He pinched most of his stories from other reporters and when he couldn't steal them he made them up. But he only stole the best. He was very big on dragons.

"In the Isle of Lango is yet the daughter of Hippocras in form and likeness of a great dragon. A young man who wist not of the dragon came into the cave and found a chamber. There he saw a damosel that combed her head and looked into a mirror; and she had much treasure about her. She turned her head and asked him what he would? He said he would be her paramour.

"She told him to come on the morrow and kiss her on the mouth. And have no dread for I will do thee no harm, albeit thou see me in the likeness of a dragon. This is an enchantment. If thou kiss me thou shalt have all this treasure and be my lord.

"And the man came on the morrow to kiss this damsel. And when he saw her come out of the cave in the shape of a dragon, so hideous and so horrible, he had so great dread, that he fled. When she saw that he turned not again, she began to cry, as a thing that had much sorrow. And anon the knight died."

Here he is on the Great Khan in Cathay:

"He always hath three wives with him wherever he may be and after his wives on the same side sit the ladies of the court. And all those that be married have a counterfeit made like a man’s foot upon their heads. All wrought with great pearls, fine and orient, and above made with peacocks feathers and of other shining feathers. That stands upon their heads like a crest in token that they be under a man’s foot and under subjection of man..."

In Rome, Adam of Usk witnessed a curious custom at a Papal Coronation which followed the scandal when a woman pope gave birth on the Vatican steps: "He is seated on a throne of porphyry which is pierced beneath and one of the younger cardinals makes proof of his sex...” The cardinal, on proving the Pope had privates, sang "Habet" (he has), whereupon the congregation sang "Deo Gratias" -or "Thank the Lord for that."

John Aubrey was a biographer, folklorist, antiquarian and mathematician. He helped found the Royal Society. Today he would be working for the News of the World. He loved a salacious story of High Life. He tells how Sir Philip Sydney’s sister had a peephole made so that she could watch the stallions serve the mares and then act the like sport herself with her stallions. Sir Jonas Moore, he relates, cured his sciatica by boiling his buttocks. And this is how that great traveller Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford, entered history:

"This Earle of Oxford, making his low obeisance to Queen Elizabeth, happened to let a fart, at which he was so abashed he went to travel seven years. At his returne the Queen welcomed him home and said, “My Lord, I have quite forgot the fart.'

In 1923 Lord Bangor recalled walking in the fields outside Shanghai:

“Colonel Hayley Bell had lagged behind to examine an old shrine. Suddenly the rest of us were charged by a water buffalo. They are very dangerous and hate foreigners. I suppose we smell different. I was up a tree and my two friends were in a shed. The buffalo was snorting and flicking his tail. The beast stamped its foot and lowered its head. Hayley Bell walked straight up to it and kicked it hard on the nose. The astonished animal turned tail and lumbered off. 'Shock tactics is what it is about,' said Hayley Bell as I climbed out of my tree. 'Just go up to an animal and show it who is master.'”

Francis Kilvert's journals are a joy:

“Miss Childs and her sister, stranded in London at night, went to London Bridge Hotel, having missed the last train. They had little money, no luggage, except for an owl in a basket. The owl hooted all night in spite of them putting her up the chimney, before the looking glass, under the bed clothes and in a circle of candles which they hoped it would mistake for the sun. The owl went on hooting, upset the basket, got out and flew about the room. The chambermaid almost frightened to death dared not come inside the room. Miss Childs asked the waiter to get some mice for the owl.
But none could be got."


Oh dear, I had such hopes for the Coalition. Sadly they are not above using dubious statistics to acheive their ends. It was ever thus. What is doubly annoying is that, like passive smoking (the WHO researched it for five years but had to admit it could find no proof it caused disease), and the unit measure of safe drinks (which the government has admitted was a guess), the drink drive problem is false. The present figure, and the future reduction of deaths if the limit is cut, is based on a theoretic calculation based on figures for accidents in Australia and Europe. Even the statistic of deaths is false. It is based on deaths in which drink plays a part. AND THAT MEANS DRUNKEN PEDESTRIANS which form the majority of deaths. It also includes collisions which were the fault of the sober driver involved and not the drunken ones.Why do they do it? Is it all part of a programme of controlling the population, like the new law every quarter of an hour the Labs brought in?