Surprise Of The Week

Video of everyday life in the Faroe Islands

Rest assured, the whale died of natural causes.


Game Bird Of The Week



If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, so they say and it seems that this is the policy that 21-year-old Brazilian model, Catarina Migliorini, is adopting.

Last year she auctioned her virginity via an internet auction and the winning bid of $780,000 sealed the deal for a Japanese millionaire. Unfortunately for Catarina, the winner didn’t come up with the goods – the moolah, you understand – and so the unfortunate lass still remains in a state of grace.

Undaunted, she has decided to try again and aspiring suitors can place their bids on her new website.

Here in some parts of Blighty, I’m told, a couple of glasses of lukewarm Blue Nun usually does the trick!


What A Way To Go – Part Fifteen


Continuing our occasional series of unusual (and amusing) deaths

Sir Arthur Aston (1590 – 1649)

Sir Arthur, a native of Cheshire and from a prominent Catholic family, was a career soldier who prior to getting entangled in the English Civil War saw considerable service as a mercenary in the Polish-Swedish wars, being taken prisoner by the Swedes near Danzig in 1627. As is the way with mercenaries, upon his release he joined the Swedes and was contracted to raise an English army which he did in 1631 and which fought in Germany.

Although he was doubtless an accomplished soldier, when the English Civil War broke out, Charles I was reluctant to use his services because of Aston’s Catholicism but Prince Rupert interceded on his behalf and he saw service on behalf of the king during the Edgehill campaign. Then when Charles captured Oxford, which he made his capital, Aston was sent to command an outpost at Reading. There he became deeply unpopular with the locals because of his authoritarian behaviour and demonstrated a degree of misfortune which was to dog him through the rest of his life when he was struck on the head by a falling tile whilst the garrison was being besieged. He was then captured by the Roundheads but gained his liberty as part of a prisoner exchange.

In late 1643 Aston became governor of Oxford, a post he held until the following September when he fell off his horse, lost a leg and had to have a false leg fitted – see picture. This led to his discharge from the army and the receipt of a large pension from his grateful king.

Aston next came into prominence during the Irish rebellion and he was appointed governor of the strategic port Drogheda in 1648. The following year Cromwell’s troops put the port under siege in what became the most vicious episode of the campaign. Eventually storming the town the Roundheads massacred many of the defending troops and citizens, forcing Aston to agree terms for surrender. Unfortunately, Cromwell’s troops reneged on the deal and proceeded to slay the rest of the unfortunate townsfolk.

Aston himself perished in what can only be described as unusual and amusing circumstances. The Roundheads took him prisoner and spotting his wooden leg surmised that he was using his prosthetic to conceal treasure. They ripped the wooden leg from Aston and in an attempt to break open the leg started beating him around the head with it. Unfortunately for the troops it contained no gold and, unfortunately for Aston, being made of solid wood inflicted injuries on him from which he expired. And so his long military career came to an ignoble end!

What Is The Origin Of (39)?…



Halcyon days

This phrase is a synonym for a calm and peaceful time.

Halcyon is the ancient Greek noun for what is now known as the European kingfisher, that small and beautiful sparrow-sized bird with blue plumage, orange underparts and a long bill which, if you are lucky, you might see by a river bank. It normally is seen as a blur of colour as it swoops to catch a fish.

The Roman poet, Ovid, tells a story of how the bird was able to calm the waves of the sea. Aeolus, the ruler of the winds, had a daughter called Alcyone who had married the king of Thessaly, Ceyx. The unfortunate Ceyx was drowned at sea and Alcyone , in despair, threw herself into the drink. However, instead of drowning she was transformed into a bird and was carried to her hubby by the wind.

The ancients believed that the Halcyon built its nest on the sea and needed a period of calm to hatch their eggs. A period of calm was anticipated when the Halcyon was nesting and the Halcyon days were a period of around fourteen days around the winter solstice commencing on 14th December.

The myth of the halcyon and its association with the calm weather needed by the bird to rear its young was well-known in mediaeval England and was recorded by John Trevisa in his translation of De proprietatibus rerum in 1398 thus, “In the cliffe of a ponde of occean, Alcion, a see foule, in wynter maketh her neste and layeth egges in vii days and sittyth on brood … seuen dayes.

By the time of Shakespeare halcyon had lost its specific association with the bird and had now come to represent calm as can be seen in Henry VI, Part 1, “Assign’d am I to be the English scourge/ This night the siege assuredly I’ll raise:/ Expect Saint Martin’s summer, halcyon days,/ Since I have entered into these wars”.

The kingfisher was ascribed other meteorological properties. It was popularly held in the mediaeval period that a carcass of a kingfisher which was hung out to dry would always point its beak in the direction of the wind – a sort of decomposing weather vane.

In modern times we associate halcyon days with times past and the phrase is generally used with some wistfulness as we reminisce upon warm summer days, probably when we were young, when life was carefree. In this context, the phrase has certainly lost association with the original period of halcyon days which were around the dead of winter.

So now we know!


My Aim Is True

bog (1)


One of the areas of dispute between us chaps and the fairer sex is in the use of the toilet. For some reason they have this unrealistic expectation that after doing our business we will remember to put the seat of the toilet down. I ask you! And then the next bone of contention is the accuracy of our aim – after all, we only have a small target to aim at we cannot be expected to be unerring in our aim every time.

Thaler and Sunstein in their influential book on how to alter behaviour, Nudge, report how the authorities at Schipol airport put pictures of spiders in the urinals to give chaps something to aim at. Apparently it had an amazing effect on the accuracy of the users’ aim. Doubtless, though, for some who had visited the Dutch city and got the wrong idea about being a tripper, the sight of arachnids in the urinal did nothing to restore the equilibrium of their addled brains.

In a reflection of the feminist dominated society in which we live, there is a movement afoot to require chaps to sit down at the toilet, irrespective of what they need to do. One such attempt was proposed by Viggo Hansen, a county councillor from Sormland in Sweden. He argued that forcing men to sit down was better for public health because it reduced the splatter around the toilets and the spread of disease. Stephen Shen, head of the environmental protection agency in Taiwan, has also tried to impose these draconian measures. All they have done is provoke a stream of outrage but at least the debate is out there now.

Is there anything in their arguments? The scientific view is that urine is actually sterile and doesn’t contain any bacteria. You can actually drink it and it will not cause you any after effects – handy to know if you find yourself marooned on a desert island. So whilst puddles of urine around the toilet basin may be unsightly and upset the finer sensibilities of other users, they do not pose any overt health risks.

So what about the argument that sitting down actually aids a full release of the contents of your bladder and reduces the strain on your prostate? Again, there is no obvious correlation between sitting down to relieve yourself and improved healthiness of your prostate. However you choose to urinate, the very act will relax your prostate muscles.

Whether you sit or stand still remains a question of choice – apparently half the Japanese male population choose to sit to pee – and long may that remain the case. As the French say, Vive la difference!


Virtual Patronage



Having a brain wave can often be the start of your problems, not least because you normally need access to moolah to bring your idea to fruition. But where do you get it from?

Throughout history artists and musicians were reliant upon patronage. Some, such as the Medicis, were not entirely altruistic, seeing the patronage of art as a good way of cleansing the money they had made from usury. Nonetheless, even until recently arts groups were able to find sponsorship fairly easily or banks willing to lend money to support a business idea. Alas, not any more as someone who is associated with a longstanding arts festival well knows. Sponsorship money is not as readily available as it once was.

Although the internet has a lot to answer for, it has provided the platform for many an innovative idea. One such is Kickstarter which enables people with ideas to access funding from individuals. It uses what is known as crowdfunding techniques, allowing people to pitch their ideas and for individuals to pledge money to help bring them to fruition.

Like many a good idea, the concept is pretty simple. Project creators choose a deadline and a minimum funding goal. Visitors to the site review the project specs and decide whether to invest or not. A bit like Dragon’s Den, if the project doesn’t raise its minimum funding goal by the deadline, the project creator gets nothing.

Projects eligible for investment are in the following major categories: Art, Comics, Dance, Design, Fashion, Film and Video, Food, Games, Music, Photography, Publishing, Technology and Theatre. Kickstarter takes 5% of the funds raised. The scheme operates on an investor beware basis because there is no guarantee that the people who use Kickstarter to raise funds will actually deliver the project or that the project will ultimately meet the backers’ expectations.

Notwithstanding that, Kickstarter, which launched in the UK on 31st October 2012, has announced that £22.5m has been pledged, of which £17.1m has gone to 1,550 projects which have met their capital requirement. Apparently, some 323,282 have pledged money via the website. 25% of the successful fundraisers were associated with film and video, 13% associated with publishing ventures, a further 13% with games and 11% with music. The scheme, which originated in the US (natch) is migrating to Canada and Australia in the near future.

Perhaps this is what Cameron’s Big Society (remember that?) is all about. It is good to know that the internet is not all bad and a new source of artistic patronage has opened up. I will watch its progress with interest.