Tag: England

Day 944: Nine Obsolete Jobs That Are Worse Than Yours

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More so than usual, lately I have been seriously reconsidering my vocation. Not this writing gig; despite the meagre pay and sparsity of days off (so far, zero), I adore absorbing airborne globs of trivia then regurgitating them here for you, like a mama-bird spewing sports facts into her babies’ hungry maws (“the biggest football blowout in history was Georgia Tech over Cumberland, 222-0! Eat up, kids!”).

No, it’s my monotonous day-job that’s presently slurping the syrup from my emotional pancakes. Six years, one university degree and over 944,000 hand-plucked words later and still I slog paper in and out of printers – a lackey for drones, with no seats open at the drones’ table. At least none I’ve been invited to fill. I won’t lie; some days my spirit lies limp like a flaccid balloon nine days after the last crumb of birthday cake has been crammed into a gullet and converted into poo.

But I suppose I should be thankful even to have employment. Far from a blunt and clunky segue into the state of today’s economy, I’m instead hip-checking my way onto the road of vocations past: a glimpse into the job-sheet for the career counsellors of yore. For those similarly disenfranchised with their present stagnancy, you are but one quick time-machine away from such lucrative and dynamic opportunities as the following:

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Do you like to meet new people? Are you confident in your ability to see at night? Perhaps you like playing with fire and you’re after a job that pays better than ‘arbitrary arsonist’. Back before London loaded up its curbs with street lighting, the link-boy (or Glym-jack) could be hired for a lowly farthing to escort you on your way, torch in hand.

This may be an obsolete profession today, but a number of houses in Bath, England still have link extinguishers (pictured above) fastened to their outsides, so I suppose an enterprising young entrepreneur could find a way to disable the electrical grid in Bath and resurrect this once-dead job. Read more…

Day 939: When Juries Get A Little Bad-Ass

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When I was asked to serve on a jury back in 2006, my innards were polarized in their response. On the one hand, it would mean experiencing the justice system from the inside out, hearing evidence, steering the waves of someone’s fate, and perhaps getting to reenact the dramatic speech made by Henry Fonda in Twelve Angry Men. On the flip-side, I’d heard too many stories of people desperately seeking an escape from jury duty not to be suspicious of the supposed visceral experience of it all. What the hell, I figured. I had a dull job (though my current job makes computer tech support look like Indiana Jones-level archaeology by comparison), why not serve the system?

It was a three-day trial, resulting in me being sequestered in a hotel for three days, cut off from family, phone, newspapers, internet and television, lest I stumble across an episode of Law & Order that might taint my objectivity. I remember almost nothing else about the trial, except that Henry Fonda’s words failed to fall from my lips, and I missed three nights of The Daily Show. But I did my duty.

Little did I know the potential power of a jury to scrote-kick the law and even change it. Jury nullification is a quirky little corner of legal lore that has quietly but profoundly been a factor in how the judicial system works. Or fails to work, as the case may be.

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The Magna Carta, one of those ancient leafs of yellowing paper that you’ll find behind glass so that generations of school kids can wander by and nod disinterestedly at it, established juries as a staple ingredient in the silty justice stew England was trying to put together in the 13th century. Back then, juries tended to side with the crown. This wasn’t a case of not wanting to piss off the king (though on occasion it might have been), but more a question of jury manipulation. Read more…

Day 932: Tornadoing It Right

MIAMI TORNADO

As the summer weeks amble past that first premature sploosh of sun, sweat and network television’s filler programming (the latest season of Fox’s 24 notwithstanding), we are reaching the time when the season becomes entrenched in whichever little cubbyhole we wish to place it. For some, it’s the season of swimming in a sun-soaked pool. For teachers and their flock, it’s the season of delectable freedom and a furlough from responsibility. For those of us who live with both a teacher and a student, it’s the season for drinking heavily to compensate for the globby paste of envy we feel at watching everyone else in the household sleep as we leave for work.

But for a number of geographically-encumbered folks, the sub-surface pillow-down of summer brings with it more grave and ungroovy consequences. Hurricanes and tropical storms are gearing up to spank the Gulf of Mexico with a debris-wreaking fist. Droughts will speckle farmland country, crapping its dusty fury upon a smattering of unlucky agriculturalists. And inevitably the funnel clouds will open up their peppery maws at the vengeful sky, bullying rural settlements and trailer parks alike on the ground.

Edmonton has seen but one tornado in our 100+ years as a city, and it left its mark on everyone who lived through it – even for those of us who saw nothing worse than the dog-spittle of rain against our windows. But in the interest of public safety – and as part of my court-ordered restitution for ‘liberating’ those pet store frogs into the IKEA ball-pit – here are some safety tips.

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Remember that viral video in which a Kansas TV crew near El Dorado fled from a nearby tornado and took refuge beneath an overpass? Yeah, don’t do this. If you happen to be caught on an empty two-lane highway with a tornado sneering at the hairs on the back of your neck, you might be tempted to tuck yourself under a concrete canopy, but you’ll really only be worsening your chances of survival. That TV crew happened to pick a rather odd overpass – there was a hollow crawlspace at the top of the embankment where they could grab hold of the exposed girders to stay stable. Read more…

Day 928: Step Right Up – Polymelia Like You’ve Never Seen It Before!

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In choosing to part with a precious dollar in order to venture beyond the chalky flap into the freak-show tent, one must be prepared for what one is about to experience. If you’re the type whose cup gurgleth over with empathy, you’ll likely succumb to the fangs of your own guilt, having paid a pittance to merely gawk at the afflicted (a similar guilt may also strike as one sits and gapes in a strip club, though the desire to see boobies often trumps the hand of conscience).

If you’re a skeptic, you’ll spend your time deducing the construct of the visual trickery before you. In today’s post-Mos-Eisley world of latex costuming and SFX rigging we’re all a little harder to fool than our grandparents were.

Or perhaps you’re a pragmatist, and your concern lies with those who don’t pony up a buck to help get these poor souls a decent meal.

The Spider-Legged Woman is probably a fake. The guy who’s only a head with no body is probably perched above a carefully-placed mirror that conceals his other parts. But step forward if you dare, for these folks I present to you today were anything but a myth. For the most part, they made their living along the outskirts of the big top because that was all they could think to do. Prepare to have your mind blown and your eyes boggled – I’m not making any of this up. Probably.

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A prop leg? That’s a pretty simplistic gag, even for the early 20th century. But Frank Lentini was no scam artist; due to a partially absorbed conjoined twin, Frank boasted a completely functional, full-size third leg on the right side of his body. Part of his shtick involved booting a soccer ball across the stage to demonstrate the leg’s impressive capability. All three of his legs were different lengths: 38 and 39 inches for his primary legs and 36 for the extra one. Read more…

Day 921: The Luddites Rage Against The Machines

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You don’t often hear the term ‘Luddite’ in conversation anymore. The word has come to represent one who is resistant to new technologies or despises them altogether. There simply aren’t as many of those people around anymore. While I was spending my youth hunched in front of a luminously green screen, fighting off orcs in Ultima IV or inputting some three-page BASIC program from a magazine, it made sense for my parents’ generation to scoff at such frivolity. Now we’re all getting soaked on the technological flume ride.

Being a Luddite today takes a lot of work. One would have to give up most modern means of communication, sacrifice access to history’s greatest research tool (this website, of course) and deny oneself the most extensive collection of free pornography ever known to humankind. Also, one may need to look up what the hell a Luddite actually is.

Fortunately, due to my commitment to making this site the nexus of all human knowledge (at least on 1000 various topics… well, 999 if you don’t count my final column, in which I’ll be ranting at length about all the people I know who piss me off), I’m here to help. The story of the Luddites combines my two favorite morsels of history: angry, violent people and a grotesque over-reaction by the government.

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The Luddites showed up in England in the early 19th century, right around the time Napoleon was collecting the chunks of Europe that his army hadn’t yet destroyed. But their origin story (which may or may not be a piece of fiction) dates back to 1779 when a weaver from Anstey (near Leicester) named Ned Ludd unleashed his rage on a pair of stocking frames, used for industrial knitting. The story goes that he was either being whipped for idleness – a common motivational technique prior to the advent of posters involving group parachuting formations – or else he was being taunted by local youths. Read more…

Day 918: The Historically Misplaced Colony Of Roanoke Island

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While I’m anything but the most amateur of amateur historians, I’ve got a feeling that people went missing all the time in the 16th century. You dig yourself into some serious debt, maybe sleep with a nobleman’s wife or abscond with the goodies from the church collection plate, making yourself scarce would be a pretty easy feat. Got yourself murdered? Bad news for you – forensics don’t exist and if your killer knows even a little about properly hiding a body, you’ll simply make the ranks of the missing.

But how do 115 people disappear? Ruling out a violent attack (since there would be some leftover evidence of such) or a sudden collective yen for new surroundings, a mass vanishing of this scale has to turn some heads. Some four centuries later, we still don’t know for certain what became of the residents of the Roanoke Colony.

There are theories, of course. And investigators are trying to use modern scientific gadgetry to uncover the mystery, but it’s not easy reconstructing an event when your only crime scene photos are a handful of 400-year-old etchings and there’s a good chance your archeological data may be presently sitting beneath a Walmart parking lot. But historians love a good challenge, so chances are this hunt will remain at the forefront of someone’s life’s work for the foreseeable future.

Sir Walter Raleigh: Quite a flowery collar for such a stupid git. (yes, that's a Beatles joke for you)

Sir Walter Raleigh: Quite a flowery collar for such a stupid git. (yes, that’s a Beatles joke for you)

In March of 1584, Queen Elizabeth I decided it was time to slap down some English tootsies into the North American mud and start earning a profit and staking out some land. England was at war with Spain, and she thought North America would be a good vantage point from which they could mess with the Spanish treasure fleets. She put Sir Walter Raleigh on the job, which he immediately subcontracted because hey, Walter was a busy Sir and he had other things to do. Read more…

Day 917: That Big Ol’ Salad Plate Known As Earth

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There are certain scientific truths which appear to be inarguable. Light travels faster than sound, an explosion is exponentially more bad-ass when someone is walking slowly away from it, and the consumption of alcohol makes me a scientifically better dancer. But we have come a long way since our ancestors cracked two rocks together and created a spark which they attributed to the Mistress of Dark Magic.

We no longer give props to the gods for changing the seasons, and rather than attribute those weird sores on our bodies to an infestation of demons, we get a shot of penicillin and stop sleeping with skeevy people we meet at the bus station. Also, we can hop aboard a boat and cruise into the sequined azure horizon without fearing that we’ll drop off the edge of the planet-disc and tumble into the intangible ether.

Well, most of us can. There still exists – and I have no idea just how deeply into their cheeks their tongues may be pressed – a Flat Earth Society. In theory, there are still dozens of dubious doubters who suspect that the so-called globe theory is little more than a ruse being perpetrated by the scientific community for the purposes of… well, I’m not sure why scientists would want us to believe the planet to be a sphere. Globe sales? Communism? Probably communism.

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In defense of the ancients, there was really no way for them to know the earth was round. Homer and Hesiod both depicted a flat disc, with the water surrounding the land and stretching to some mysterious edge. Anaximander, a pre-Socratic philosopher whom Carl Sagan has credited with having performed the first ever recorded scientific experiment, saw us as living on the round top of a short, stumpy cylinder. Anywhere you went: India, the Norse lands, China… the earth was flat as a crepe. In fact the Chinese held on to their belief that the earth was flat and square (though the heavens were spherical) until they caught wind of European astronomy in the 17th century. Read more…

Day 906: Lord Gordon-Gordon & The Case Of The Tycoon’s Million Bucks

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How does one judge the success of a swindle? To my hopelessly naïve and tragically honest mind, I believe one must be able to enjoy the bounty of one’s evil in order to truly rate it as a win. Others might disagree, claiming the mere act of absconding with a victim’s money is sufficient grounds for a toast of victory champagne. No matter how the cards tumble, a good scam makes for great human theatre.

When a British man adopted the curious name of Lord Gordon-Gordon and set out to pilfer a fortune from American railway interests, he was likely after the money and not the thrill of the swindle. To Jay Gould, the man who found himself a million dollars lighter courtesy of Lord Gordon-Gordon’s smooth and smarmy charm, it didn’t matter. He’d been taken. Humiliated. Kicked squarely in the fiscal nads. And he’d get his revenge, dammit.

The revenge itself is as weird a tale as whatever backstory Lord Gordon-Gordon might have used to explain his bizarre moniker. This is the story of how one schmoozy Brit almost singlehandedly instigated a war between the United States and Canada, all for the sake of a few bucks.

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Almost nothing is known about this man’s history. There’s a rumor that he may have been the illegitimate child of a North Country priest and his maid, but we don’t even know his real name so tracing his origin story is little more than an effort in fiction. He first appeared in London in 1868 under the name of ‘Glencairn’, insisting he was soon to become the heir to the title of Lord Glencairn, along with the immodest fortune that came with it. Read more…

Day 903: O Transatlantica, Our Home And Native Land

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What’s in a name? That which we call a prairie

By any other name would smell as grainy;

So Saskatchewan would, were it not Saskatchewan call’d,

Retain that weird insect surplus which it owes

Without that title.

 

So begins an unimpressively cutesy introduction to today’s discussion about the hallowed names that reach across my nation’s map. I’m aware, of course, that my American readers far outnumber my Canadian loyal, but in all fairness, covering the name origins to fifty states, a district, a country, and untold outlying territories would occupy much more real estate than my thousand words could afford.

And so I patriotically shmush my fingerprints against my keys and delve into the origin stories of my own origin story: Canada. Not her history itself – again, a thousand words only stretches so far across the table – but merely the names of the ten provinces and two territories I had to learn as a kid. There are three territories now, but I’ll happily include my Nunavutian brethren and sistren in today’s little missive.

That said, adhering to the proper essay format I spent the last eight years of my schooling attempting to shatter, we’ll open up big-picture-style: Why the fuck are we called Canada?

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We have been known as ‘Canada’ since right around when the first European boot-heels clomped into the east coast mud in the 16th century and began to establish communities. It originates from Kanata, the Saint-Lawrence Iroquois’ word for ‘village’. Or possibly ‘settlement’. Or maybe it was ‘land’. I’m guessing some Iroquois folks made a sweeping gesture as they said the word and the settlers made their own call regarding the translation. That’s the official legend – however there are other theories out there. Read more…

Day 899: Chanjing Our Speling So It Makes Mor Sens

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Ask anyone who has had to learn English as something other than their first language if it was difficult to soak in all the illogical rules and quirky exceptions in our spelling and they’ll probably look at you coldly while swearing under their breath in their native tongue. The English language is an uncompromisingly fucked cluster of clusterfucks. Our language is the bastard child of every conquering tribe and proto-nation that ever set its armed and faithful sword-wielders around the English countryside. Every silly rule and wonky spelling choice has a history, they just don’t all make a lot of sense as a whole.

There have been numerous highly-placed attempts at righting the wave-flopped ship of linguistic logic between the covers of our sacred dictionaries, but those brave soldiers of common sense have far too often ended up M.I.A., lost in the murk of traditionalism and phonetic disregard. This means we are probably stuck with all the inconsistencies and incongruities on our typo hit parade. And newcomers to the language will continue to question their decision to wade into this mess in the first place.

Just as headstrong, ambitious souls have offered up entire language replacements for English, based on logic, reason and ease of absorption among the masses, some have simply tried to fix our spelling. And just like those blazers of linguistic trails before and after them, they have mostly failed. We English-speakers are a stubborn bunch.

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Once the Norman leaders were scooted back to the continent after having planted three centuries’ worth of asses at the helm of England, our linguistic foreparents had to sort through a heap of French words that had filtered into the language. When the printing press showed up, things got even messier. A guy named William Tyndale translated the New Testament in 1525, and a few years later Henry VIII decided to defy the pope’s decree that the bible should never be mass-printed. The problem was, the people who did the actual printing of the bible in English didn’t speak a word of the language.

Tyndale outsourced the job. Read more…