Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Whales, Tuberculosis, Monarchs, etc.

This is also from the 1886 Goldsmith book, this time the outside back cover.
The text reads : Woodhouse's Balsam of Spermaceti or Pectoral Cough Drops for Consumptive or Other Coughs, also for Colds, Shortness of Breath, Asthma, Wheezing and other Afflictions of the Chest.

Spermaceti is produced by whales, you can read about it here. If swallowing bits of whale for the sake of your chest sounds silly, the discovery of streptomycin (the first antibiotic effective against tuberculosis) had to wait until 1944. If you'd like to read about the history of tuberculosis and its treatments, the Wikipedia article is interesting.

In former times, the touch of your King or Queen was thought to be efficacious:

"Persons of royal blood were thought to have the 'God given' power of healing by this condition by touch, and sovereigns of England and France practiced this power to cure sufferers of scrofula, a form of tuberculosis of the bones and lymph nodes, commonly known as the "King's or Queen's Evil" or "Morbus Regius". In France it was called the "Mal De Roi". Curiously William the Lion, King of Scotland is recorded in 1206 as curing a case of Scrofula by his touching and blessing a child who had the ailment. Charles I touched around 100 people shortly after his coronation at Holyrood in 1630. It was only rarely fatal and was naturally given to spontaneous cure and lengthy periods of remission. Many miraculous cures were recorded and failures were put down to a lack of faith in the sufferer. The original Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church contained this ceremony."
"The custom lasted from the time of Edward the Confessor to the reign of Queen Anne, although her predecessor, William III refused to believe in the tradition and did not carry out the ceremony."

"Queen Anne, amongst many others, touched the 2 year old infant Dr. Samuel Johnson in 1712 to no effect, for although he eventually recovered he was left badly scarred and blind in one eye. He wore the medal around his neck all of his life and it is now preserved in the British Museum. It was believed that if the touch piece was not worn then the condition would return. Queen Anne last performed the ceremony on 30 March 1712. George I put an end to the practice as being "too Catholic."'
"The monarch himself / herself hung these touch piece amulets around the necks of sufferers. In later years Charles II only touched the medalet as he unsurprisingly disliked touching diseased people directly. He 'touched' 92,107 people in the 21 years from 1661 to 1682, performing the function 8,500 times in 1682 alone." [Wikipedia]

So now you know. The whole bizarre Wikipedia article on "touch pieces" (=healing talismans) is here.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Piglet squid. No really.

Sometimes nature comes up with something so funny-looking you can't quite believe it. Funny-looking to us, anyway. I wonder what we look like to them?

Check out this item on piglet squid. And Google offers a range of other images almost as funny.

In other crazy nature news, jaguars are attracted to Calvin Klein's Obsession for Men fragrance. This is a boon for animal biologists trying to study the elusive big cats, but you might want to think twice before wearing it on your rainforest holiday.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Fascinating story on NZ Scrabble genius

Ever heard of Nigel Richards? Neither had I, but he's the reclusive Kiwi who's been world champion in Scrabble for the last 12 years.

'"Without a doubt he's the greatest player in our sport, ever," says national Scrabble representative Warner, who, like many serious exponents of the game, considers it a sport."

'"You go to international tournaments and everyone's sitting around at the end of the day telling Nigel-stories," says Warner. "Of course, he's never there, so the legend grows."'

"Richards' only two interests are obsessions: Scrabble, and cycling. He cycles 600km a week, including long rides before the 8am start of each day of tournament play. Everyone in Scrabble knows the story of Richards' first appearance at a New Zealand championship, when he knocked off his job in the Christchurch City Council's water department at 5pm, cycled for 14 hours to Dunedin in atrocious conditions overnight, played all his games over the weekend, then cycled home having won his division, spurning offers of a lift."

Read the whole Stuff article here.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Head Soap - now there's an idea

This is from the inside cover of an edition of Goldsmith's plays dated 1886.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010


Cult TV series Carnivale is movie-like in its complexity and attention to detail: you need to watch every episode in order to have any idea what's going on, and even then there are mysteries. But it's hugely rewarding if you pay attention.

Here is the Season 1 trailer (try and ignore the Spanish subtitles!):

And here are the award-winning opening credits:

Amazon has a good deal on box sets of the whole series. Click here to see them.