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Archive for August, 2007

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The Appleseed “Saint”

Posted in Legend, Nature on Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Johnny Appleseed (illustration, picture, art: Richard Hook)

When American settlers found orchards growing in a wilderness, they knew that John Chapman had been there with his sack of apple seeds. Even today there are apple trees still growing in the rich soil to the north of the Ohio river, that are directly descended from trees that grew from the seeds once planted by the legendary Johnny Appleseed.

Johnny Appleseed was born in Massachusetts in 1774. His real name was John Chapman, but over the years, due to his habit of carrying a sack of apple seeds and planting them on his numerous and long travels, his real name disappeared and he became known to all as Johnny Appleseed.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Johnny arrived in what was then the virgin territory of Ohio. This area was a wilderness of incredible beauty, rich in rivers and forests but inhabited, as is most unexplored country, by many dangers. Wolves, bears, wild pig and snakes abounded in large numbers, but these did not deter Johnny Appleseed from making many incredible solitary journeys into the wilderness, unaware of the dangers awaiting a lone traveller. Sometimes he would make use of the rivers and journey by canoe. At other times he would journey on horseback; more often than not he would walk. But always he carried the leather sack that contained his precious apple seeds.

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The Lion Cut

Posted in Absurd on Tuesday, 14 August 2007

The Lion Cut (illustration, picture, art: Bert Felstead)

An amusing, if slightly disturbing, picture by Bert Felstead, one of our best nursery artists.

Storming of the Bastille

Posted in Adventure, History on Monday, 13 August 2007

Storming of the Bastille (picture, illustration, art: Sep E Scott)

Somewhere a door banged — a puff of odorous summer dust blew up from a gutter. There was an angry mutter, a shout, a clatter of wooden shoes. Suddenly the street was full of people, their faces distorted with hate, arms raised, knuckles white around thick staves and pitchforks. Someone threw a torn-up cobblestone. As if it were a signal, the crowd surged forward, yelling and screaming. Ahead the eight tall, blackened towers and forbidding walls of the prison loomed. “Aux armes, citoyens!” The great cry echoed back, and the crowd charged.

Ironically, when it fell the prison was almost empty. No political prisoners had been immured there for years. The horror-stories surrounding it were happily out-of-date Seven men, including two forgers and two lunatics, were the only ones rescued. The ammunition the furious crowd searched for did not exist. But the spark had been struck. The demolition of the prison was symbolic. An age of royal despotism was ended.

Sneak thief

Posted in Animals, Nature on Monday, 13 August 2007

The Jay (picture, art, illustration)

As a plunderer of other birds’ nests, the colourful jaunty jay has made many enemies, for its methods of stealing are sly and cunning.

A beam of light filters through the trees of a forest glade and lights up the magnificent colours of the jay as it flashes past in its flickering, faltering flight. Only rarely does anyone see this wonderful masterpiece of colour with its hues of cinnamon, vivid patches of blue, and stripes of black and white, because the jay is such a shrewd and cunning bird that it is more often heard than it is seen. Its harsh screech echoes through the woods all over Great Britain except in the breeding season when it is almost completely silent.

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Posted in Animals, Nature on Monday, 13 August 2007

Hedgehogs (illustration, picture, art)

Underneath dry leaves or curled up in a hole among tree roots, the prickly hedgehog sleeps away the day until dusk falls. Then it ventures forth for a meal, usually of insects, snails and worms, but it will not turn its nose up at the eggs of ground nesting birds, mice, frogs, lizards and even snakes. It is more than a match for the poisonous adder whose bite does not seem to affect the hedgehog, although the venom is strong enough to kill much bigger animals.

The young hedgehogs are born early in May. At first they are blind and deaf and their spines are soft and rubbery. But after a month they are able to leave the nest and fend for themselves. It has been found that an orphaned hedgehog is best comforted by giving it a stiff bristled brush for company. It will take this to a corner of its sleeping quarters and curl up next to it when it goes to sleep.

These creatures are easily attracted by putting out a saucer of milk but they should not be handled, not only because of the prickles but because they are usually infested with fleas. Hedgehogs hibernate in winter but their sleep is not nearly as deep as that of a dormouse.

First telephone call was a cry for help

Posted in History, Medicine, Science, Technology on Sunday, 12 August 2007

Alexander Bell Telephone (picture, illustration, art)

“Mr. Watson, come here; I want you.” It does not sound like one of the epic remarks of history, but it is. They were the first words spoken by the human voice to be heard over a wire. They signalized the birth of the telephone.

In these days of jet planes, television and communication satellites, it is not easy to recapture the wonder of that moment when the voice of Alexander Graham Bell was heard by his assistant at the other end of a wire on the night of 10 March 1876. The telegraph had been in use for about forty years, and though a marvel of its day, was easily explained. Intermittent currents sent along a wire were used to spell out the letters of the alphabet. Even when, in 1858, the “wire” — an undersea electric cable — spanned the Atlantic Ocean, enabling Queen Victoria and the American President to exchange messages of greeting before the flood of business telegrams began, it was only an extension of the same idea.

That the human voice could ever be sent by the same means was such a fantastic thought that few people ever regarded it as being within the bounds of possibility. And those who did had not the faintest idea how it could be achieved.

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Posted in History on Friday, 10 August 2007

Thanksgiving (illustration, picture, art: Angus McBride)

In New York the crisp bright day has faded into a crisp, starlit evening. In Alaska it is snowing, and has been for days. Los Angeles is smothered in smog. In the deep South summer still lingers. In New York it is five o’clock. Offices and shops are closing and the rush is on to the railroad stations, airports and freeways. In Alaska and Los Angeles it is still early afternoon, but already there is a steady trickle of traffic from the cities. Railroad stations are thronged. Harassed mothers clutch bulging suitcases, carrier-bags and small, excited children. Breathless dads join them with minutes to spare. It is the fourth Wednesday hin November and all America, it seems, is on the move. But not quite all. At the end of all those journeys is a house were people are “staying put”, where the loads that have been carried throughout the day have been not suitcases, but shopping baskets, loaded with autumn fruit and vegetables. Here the kitchens are humming with activity and warm with delicious smells, for the meal that is being prepared, and will be eaten tomorrow, is the great traditional American feast: Thanksgiving.

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Bringing in the Yule log

Posted in History, Legend on Thursday, 9 August 2007

Bringing in the Yule log (illustration, picture, art: Angus McBride)

Everyone knew that the Christmas festivities would truly begin when it was time to bring in the Yule log. The Elizabethan household had, for months, seen a bustling team of servants busily preparing for the forthcoming festivities. Huge quantities of food and drink had been brought into the house to be stored up for all the feasting that was to take place. Joints of beef and venison, peacocks, geese, swans and capons, cakes and sweetmeats had been carefully prepared and cooked by worried-looking cooks, anxious to make a perfect feast.

Giggling, excited housemaids had collected holly, ivy, rosemary, firs and laurels in bundlefuls and had decorated the main rooms of the house with them. Now, after the seemingly endless list of preparations, Christmas Eve had arrived, and all was ready to start the celebrations. As darkness fell, the housemaid kindled a fire in the open hearth, and the master, mistress, their children, and all the servants assembled in the main hall. It was time to go out into the forest and collect the huge tree trunk that had been cut the previous winter and left to season in the sun. They had selected the largest piece of wood that the huge hearth could accommodate. Suddenly, as the team of servants went out of the house, everyone felt that the excitement and rejoicing of Christmas time had truly begun.

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Lawrence of Arabia

Posted in Adventure, History on Saturday, 4 August 2007

Lawrence of Arabia (illustration, picture, art: James E McConnell)

The hard-riding, hard-fighting Arabs who rose up against their Turkish oppressors became the silent raiders of the desert. Their leader was an unknown Englishman, whose fearless courage and inspiration brought him fame as an intrepid desert leader who trained his men like true resistance fighters.

Amongst the fiercest warrior races of the world are the Bedouin Arabs, nomads of the great deserts of North Africa and the Near East. Their hard, wild life in the sunbaked sandy wastes of countries like Syria, Iraq and what is now known as Jordan, has formed the background of many stories by fiction adventure writers. But one of the most exciting tales of them all to come out of this often turbulent region is a true one.

It is the story of a man who became known simply as ” Lawrence of Arabia ” — a man whose personal courage and fortitude has earned him a place on history’s roll of honour. Unlike the majority of the great warriors of the past, Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, did not begin his adult life as a trained professional soldier. At 24, he was a student at Oxford University, where he was known as a good Arabic scholar, interested in archaeology.

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A King’s note book

Posted in History on Friday, 3 August 2007

King Henry VII (illustration, picture, art: Pat Nicolle)

As the King entered the throne room the courtiers rose and began to stir uneasily, nudging each other. The nudges were significant — they knew that the royal audience that was about to begin was going to be a hard and searching interview. Not that one flick of the King’s eyelids, nor one royal gesture, betrayed it. It was simply what the King carried in his hand that told the courtiers they were in for a verbal drubbing. And what was in the King’s hand? It was a notebook.

Few things were more feared at the court of King Henry the Seventh than the royal notebook. It was kept by the King in his own hand and in it King Henry was accustomed to write everything he was told that interested him, reminding people about their words and ideas long after time had erased them from their own memories. In it, too, the King wrote notes “especially touching persons, as whom to employ, whom to reward, keeping, as it were, a journal of his thoughts.”

No wonder the courtiers disliked the royal notebook, and trembled when the King flicked through its pages to remind one of some long forgotten statement. “There is to this day,” wrote Lord Bacon, “a merry tale that his (the King’s) monkey set on, as it was thought, by one of his chamber, tore his principal notebook all to pieces, when by chance he had left it about. Whereat the court, which liked not these pensive accounts, was much tickled with the sport.”

Writing such “pensive accounts” was totally in keeping with Henry’s character. He was a man of calm deliberation, a deeply reflective and philosophic monarch who left no decision to passion or accident. Yet perhaps it was just because he was such a man, free from the starts of irrational passions for which his Tudor descendants are famed, that has caused historians to neglect him.