There Ain’t ‘Alf Some Clever Bastards – Part Twenty One



Karl Drais (1785 – 1851)

Earlier this year I read (and reviewed) Geoffrey Parker’s magisterial Global Crisis which demonstrated, at great length, the impact of climate change on the political fortunes of the world during the 17th century. It seems that adverse climatic conditions has been the catalyst for ground-breaking inventions in other eras too. This is where the latest inductee to our Hall of Fame, Karl Drais, steps in.

The second decade of the 19th century was also a period of great climatic change – 1816 was dubbed the year without a summer after the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815 – the largest recorded volcanic eruption – thrust volcanic ash into the atmosphere, causing crops to fail as far west as Western Europe and animals to starve.

In those days, man had very few options available to him to travel around the place. Of course, he could rely on Shanks’s pony. Otherwise he was reliant upon the horse, with or without a cart. But the adverse climatic conditions meant that there was little grazing pasture for the horses and they starved in numbers. It was this problem – how  to develop an alternative means of transportation – that exercised our hero’s mind.

And as we would come to expect from an inductee, he cracked the problem, coming up with what he called the Laufmaschine or running machine. It was a two-wheeled vehicle with both wheels in a line propelled by the rider pushing their feet along the ground as if they were walking or running. The front bar and handlebar assembly was hinged to allow the machine to be steered. His first public outing on the contraption took place on June 12th 1817 when he set out from the centre of Mannheim to a coaching inn in Rheinau. His second trip was from Gernsbach to Baden Baden.

In 1818 Drais was awarded a grand-ducal privilege to exploit his invention but as Baden had no patent laws, others quickly saw the opportunity and exploited the results of his labours. The machine became popular in France, where it was known as the draisienne and in England where it was known as the dandy horse and several manufacturers sprang up there in 1819.

Of course, not everyone welcomed this new road to freedom which had opened up – at least for the well-to-do. Riders preferred to operate their machines on the pavements which offered a slightly smoother ride than the pot-holed roads but this meant that they became a menace to pedestrians and some authorities prohibited their use!

As is the way with inductees, misfortune dogged Drais. He was forced into exile in the 1820s because of political unrest and although he was eventually able to return he seemed to be cursed. Following the revolutionary uprising in Baden in early 1848 – in a fit of revolutionary fervour Drais renounced his title and styled himself Citizen Karl Drais – the Prussians stepped in and crushed it in 1849, taking Drais’ pension amongst others as reparation for the costs of suppressing the revolution.

Drais never recovered and so the father of cycling died penniless in Karlsruhe in 1851. Karl, you are truly a worthy inductee.


If you enjoyed this, why not try Fifty Clever Bastards by Martin Fone which is now available on Amazon in Kindle format and paperback. For details follow the link

What Have We Done?

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug


Hobbit 2 – The Desolation Of Smaug

TOWT and I went to the magic lantern house the other day to see the second of the Peter Jackson’s three part adaptation of JRR Tolkein’s Hobbit.

The problem with any second part of a trilogy is that it is always going to be a transitioning piece – picking up the themes of the first part and setting the scene for what one hopes will be a blockbuster of a final part. TDoS has these issues to grapple with and for the most part overcomes the structural restrictions. Yes, the ending is somewhat unsatisfactory and means that the film can never be judged in isolation, leaving the viewer with the realisation that they’ve got to wait another year and spend some more money to see the denouement, but the storyline is carried along with gusto and the film is entertaining enough.

The movie picks up from where we were left in the Unexpected Journey, travelling to the Lonely Mountain and the dwarf kingdom of Erebor which was destroyed and occupied by the dragon, Smaug. Our heroes, Bilbo Baggins and his group of dwarves, have a series of adventures along the way. I won’t spoil your enjoyment – too much – but there is a marvellous and fairly lengthy set piece where the comrades effect their escape from the prison of the Wood Elves by hiding in barrels which are washed down the river into, almost, the clutches of the Orcs. It is through finally making their escape from the Orcs that they meet Bard the Bowman and through his good offices (for an appropriate fist of silver) make their way to Laketown. It is in Laketown that they meet the Lord of the place, played wonderfully by the ubiquitous Stephen Fry. From there they travel to the Lonely Mountain and in their efforts to find the Arkenstone rouse the dragon, Smaug.

I was a bit disappointed in Smaug – a bit too prolix and gentlemanly for my taste, although, that said, I have never encountered a dragon – perhaps they are all like that – and the final scenes, whilst gripping, were overly long.

The film has a fine vein of humour running through it and a large element of parody – the elves in particular seem to be straight out of Hollywood’s Kung Fu tradition. Martin Freeman as Bilbo plays his part well and his delivery is refreshing when compared with the saga-ese claptrap that comes out of the mouths of most of the other characters.

The baddies are grotesque and the set pieces are spectacular. Even if the action leaves you cold, the magnificent New Zealand scenery is worth the admission money.

A charming film and worth seeing, if only to set you up for the third. Don’t go if you are an arachnophobe, though!

An Aspirin A Day Keeps The Rage Away



There are many things about this world which I don’t understand and sometimes there are things which just leave me hopping mad. This blog, in part, was designed to give me a release valve.

It seems I am not alone and the stresses and strains of modern life can often leave individuals close to boiling point. As civilization has evolved from one where all our time is spent just trying to survive we seem adept at inventing reasons and sources of frustration which cause us to go off the deep end. Watching someone go into an uncontrollable bout of rage can be quite amusing but why are some people more prone to these attacks than others?

According to research published in the ever-popular JAMA Psychiatry, it seems that the cause of these fits of rage is down to an inflammation in the body.

Inevitably, the propensity to these fits of rage has been given a fancy pseudo-scientific name, in this case Intermittent explosive disorder or anger syndrome. What seems to mark out sufferers of IED, according to the researchers from the University of Chicago, are higher markers of inflammation in the blood when compared with those of individuals with a more zen-like approach to life. There are two in particular which correlate consistently with aggressive and impulsive behaviour but not any other form of psychiatric problems.

The researchers have yet to establish whether the inflammation triggers the aggressive outbursts or whether the aggression triggers the inflammation. Either way, they claim that people prone to melt-downs should not be dismissed as simply exhibiting traits of bad behaviour but, rather, should be treated with sympathy as they are suffering from a serious mental health condition which has strong genetic and biomedical roots.

A study into IED conducted in 2006 revealed that as many as 5% of the population suffer from IED, the onset of which can begin as early as age thirteen for boys and nineteen for girls. Sufferers of IED also show a propensity for other forms of mental illness such as depression, anxiety or substance abuse. Other health issues can afflict them including heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, diabetes, arthritis, ulcers and headaches.

Previously sufferers of IED have been treated with antidepressants because it was thought that the trigger was temporal lobe epilepsy or a drop in the level of serotonin in the body. Now this new link has been established, it may be that the cure could be any drug used to treat inflammation.

So, next time you see someone succumb to a bout of uncontrollable rage, give them an aspirin. It might just work!

Isn’t science wonderful?!

It’s The Way I Tell ‘Em (13)


A change of emphasis this time – some low brow humour from the world of Christmas crackers, for your Yuletide delectation, courtesy of the Telegraph and Sunday Times:

  • What does Miley Cyrus have at Christmas? Twerky
  • What did the letter say to the stamp? Stick with me and we will go places.
  • Why did no one bid for Rudolph and Blitzen on eBay? Because they were two deer
  • What do you call a blind reindeer? No-eye deer
  • Mary and Joseph – now they had a stable relationship
  • Who hides in the bakery at Christmas? A mince spy
  • What does the Queen call her Christmas Broadcast? The One Show
  • Why did the hedgehog cross the road? To see a flat mate
  • What did Father Christmas do when he went speed dating? He pulled a cracker
  • Why is it getting harder to buy Advent calendars? Because their days are numbered
  • Why don’t you ever see Father Christmas in hospital? Because he has private elf care
  • What did the fish say when it swam into the wall? Dam
  • How did Mary and Joseph know that Jesus was 7lb 6oz when he was born? They had a weigh in a manger.
  • Why did Harry Styles fail at being Santa? Because he could only go down the chimney in One Direction
  • How do you know if Santa’s been in your garden shed? You’ve got three extra hoes
  • How does King Wenceslas like his pizzas? Deep pan, crisp and even
  • Why was the Brussels sprout sent to prison? Because it was a repeat offender
  • Why was the butcher worried? His job was at steak
  • What did one keyboard say to the other? Sorry, you are not my type
  • Why are chocolate buttons rude? Because they are Smarties in the nude
  • And finally (for now), what are the small rivers called that run into the Nile? Juveniles

It’s The Way I Tell ‘Em (12)


Raiding the high-brow Christmas crackers to celebrate the festive season

  • What is the difference between a micro-economist and a macro-economist? The micro-economist is wrong about specific things whereas the macro-economist is wrong about things in general.
  • Why did the Buddhist monk refuse Novocaine?. He wanted to transcend dental medication.
  •  There was a masochist who loved to take a cold shower at 4 in the morning .. so he didn’t
  •  Who led the Pedants’ Revolt? Which Tyler.
  •  I was able to teach my horse mathematics, astronomy and literature but there is one thing it just wouldn’t learn. “What was that?”. Philosophy – you just can’t put Descartes before a horse”.
  •  Two dyslexics are walking down the road and one says to the other, “Do you smell gas”. The other says, “You’re kidding. I can’t even spell my own name”.
  • Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson went on a camping trip. After a good meal and a bottle of wine, they lay down for the night and went to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his faithful friend. “Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.” Watson replied, “I see millions and millions of stars.” “What does that tell you?” inquired Holmes. Watson pondered for a minute. “Astronomically it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you?” Holmes was silent for a minute, then spoke. “Watson you idiot! Someone has stolen our tent!”
  • How many feminist academics does it take to screw in a light bulb? Two, one to screw in the light bulb, the other write a thesis on the passive role of the light socket.
  • A radio physicist walks into a bar. The barman asks, “What’s new?”. The radio physicist says C over lambda.
  • A chemist, an engineer and an economist are trapped on a deserted island. One day a box of canned food floats ashore. The chemist says, “We can leave the cans in the salt water until they rust open.” The economist disagrees, “That would take too long.” The engineer says, “Right, we should drop the cans onto those rocks and break them open nice and quick.” The economist disagrees again, “Then the contents will be splatter across the ground.” The other two look at the economist and ask, “Then how should we open the cans?” “Well, assuming we have a can opener…”
  • And finally (for now) how do you hide a £50 note from an orthopaedic surgeon? Put it in a text book.