Weird

The Lightning Tree

So here’s what I’m reading about today: Lichtenberg figures.

I never realised that when they’re left on people, as scars resulting from lightning strikes, they’re also known as “lightning flowers”.

Seems pretty apt, really: utterly terrifying… but somehow incredibly beautiful.

Postcards from the Edge

My friend Will Hill went off on a big American road trip last year, and while this still leaves me gnawing my knuckles in envy, he’s written an amazing blog post on one part of his trip, over on his blog: his visit to (or as close to it as he could get!) Area 51.

So if you’ve ever wondered just what Dreamland really looks like, head over and have a read…

What’s up, Doc?

A friend linked this fantastic old blog post from James Gunn‘s site the other day, and I couldn’t just let it slide.

It’s genius. The anatomy of cartoon characters… including Pacman, Roadrunner & Wile E. Coyote, Tom & Jerry, and a slightly disturbing Care Bear.

Oh, and Bugs Bunny (in case you hadn’t worked it out from the teeth…)

Take a look at the original post – and the amazing art – here.

 

Death’s Head Cha-Cha-Cha

Winner of today’s “ZOMG, that’s the most terrifying thing I’ve seen since I looked in the mirror first thing” prize is this:

Yes, it looks a bit like a skull, which is quite scary enough.

However, it’s even scarier than you think: that’s a photo of a nuclear explosion, one millisecond after detonation.

I’m pretty convinced that this is as close to it as I ever want to get.

According to the Gizmodo article which brings us this horror, this fireball is 60-some feet high, and was taken in the Nevada desert in the 1950s.

On a slightly lighter (if no less morbid) note, I recently discovered a brilliant procrastination site: 350 Ways to Die. While none of them are particularly helpful for dealing with the asshat who threw up on my doorstep over the weekend (and, believe me, I’ve got special plans for them if ever I catch them…) the site contains lists of unusual ways that people have met their ends throughout history. Some of them are less than sensible, and some of them are simply sad. All claim to be true.

One of my favourites is this one:

Sigurd I of Orkney was a successful soldier who conquered most of northern Scotland in the 9th century. Following a fever-pitched victory in A.D. 892 against Maelbrigte of Moray and his army, Sigurd decapitated Maelbrigte and stuck his opponent’s head on his saddle as a trophy. As Sigurd rode with his trophy head, his leg kept rubbing against his foe’s choppers. The teeth opened a cut on Sigurd’s leg that became infected and led to blood poisoning. Sigurd died shortly thereafter.
Publications International, Ltd.

Just because.

There’s also cases of suicide by tree and death by bestiality.

The site’s clearly a work in progress, as it has space for more articles than are listed – but if you know of a story that should be on there, they also have a submission form so you can get in touch…

Dem Bones

Interesting news culled from The Londonist this morning (yes, I may well be a Brightonian now, but as I’ve long said, cut me & I’ll probably bleed London) – it appears that the London Dungeon have been harbouring a fake among their skeletons.

As in… a fake-fake.

As in… a real skeleton.

Alarmingly, it may even have been there since the dungeon opened 30-odd years ago, passing as an extremely good reproduction.

Hrrmpph. Shudder. Dislike. (Mostly, admittedly, because I dread to think what they’ve done to the poor thing during that time, blissfully unaware that it wasn’t a piece of plastic. Of course, you’d have thought the fact it was made of bone might have tipped them off a touch, wouldn’t you…?)

Also? I would love to see the offices of the Human Tissue Authority, as mentioned in that article. In my head, I picture them looking rather like this:

For preference, there should be some kind of ominous up-lighting, armed guards wearing goggles and possibly even the odd fluttering banner hanging down the front of the building.

Although they probably look rather more pedestrian.

Why yes, I do have an overactive imagination, thank you very much.

Also: on the subject of Bones, a – possibly even true! – piece of trivia. Ever considered the naming of the main character from “Bones“? She’s called Temperance, making a lovely little Tarot in-joke. In the major arcana, card XIII is (predictably) Death. And card XIV… is Temperance. So after Death, you see Temperance.

Unless, presumably, you’re the poor soul in the London Dungeon. In which case, you see tourists…

 

Bread of Heaven?

Here’s something new and exciting I learned about this week: funeral biscuits. Well, when I say new and exciting, I mean that it’s something I’d never come across before, and the concept is a fascinating one.

I stumbled across a mention of “arval bread” in relation to biscuits either eaten at, or after a funeral (it was all a little vague)–or in some cases, given out beforehand as a sort of invitation–and, because I’m a nosey old soul, I had a poke around the internet to see what it could tell me.

Arval bread is, in fact, quite often a kind of biscuit, particularly associated with Yorkshire funeral customs in the 18th & 19th Centuries. The biscuits were small, usually flavoured with caraway or molasses, and wrapped in paper (sometimes printed with lines from a hymn or Psalm) and sealed with black wax. The specific recipes used varied wildly, even from town to town, as did the time & method of distribution. In some cases, the biscuits were more like small cakes; in others they resemble shortbread or oatcakes, stamped with cherubs, hearts, crosses or death-heads, and were served with a type of sweetened spiced (and occasionally “burned”) wine.  All the combinations, however, connect to ancient funeral practices found on the Continent.

The term “arval” appears to stem from the Nordic tradition of providing  “averil”, or “heir-ale” at a funeral, toasting the eldest male and heir to the household or title as he took possession of his inheritance.

In the Germany of the Middle Ages, there was a slightly different tradition: that of the “corpse cake”. Here, mourners would gather at the home of the deceased for the laying out of the body, and the traditional wake (which, of course, was once a vigil lasting the night before the funeral). Once the corpse had been washed and arranged, a dough was prepared and then placed on the linen-covered corpse’s chest and left to rise. It was believed that the dough would absorb some of the deceased’s qualities, which would in turn be passed on to the mourners when they ate the bread, recalling both the superstition of sin-eating, and the ritual of ceremonial cannabalism.

The tradition spread to the US with settlers: recipes from Dutch communities in the Hudson River Valley (a place with a reputation for the gothic, thanks to Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow“) survive, and describe the preparation of “doot coekjes” or “death cookies”.

With the progression of the Victorian Age, funerals–like weddings–became a commercial enterprise, and just as wedding cakes were big business, so were funeral biscuits. However, unlike wedding cakes, the funeral biscuit began, appropriately, to die out, and “averils” became entire meals: funeral feasts and teas… which have, in turn, become the modern wakes we recognise today.

(The accompanying picture, by the way, is of funeral biscuits reproduced by Historic Faux Foods: a research project which aims to accurately reproduce historical foods & room settings for museums and other exhibitions). You can find bits on funeral biscuits here, here and here; as well as a fascinating blog post about funeral food, which goes on to talk about Southern funeral cooking, and which can be found here.

The Legend of Bleeding Heart Yard

One of my favourite London street names is “Bleeding Heart Yard”. It’s just off Hatton Garden, right at the edge of the City of London – and not far from the Barbican, where I used to live. Its unusual name stems from a particularly grim London legend.

The land was given to Sir Christopher Hatton by Elizabeth I. When he married, his wife’s dances became a high-point of the social season. One night, as a great ball was in progress, a black-robed man with a twisted hand threw open the doors to the ballroom and walked among the dancers until he found Lady Hatton; first, sweeping her into a dance, then leading her from the room.

Suddenly, there was a crack of thunder and a flash of lightning… and the assembled company heard a piercing scream from outside. Rushing to the aid of their hostess, the party were able to find no trace of her… except for her still-beating heart in the courtyard.

Lady Hatton, so the legend goes, chose to dance with the devil – and paid for it with her soul.

 

Heart Burials

Here’s an interesting thing: the last heir of the Habsburg Empire (who relinquished his claim in 1961) has been buried in Vienna.

At least, most of him has.

In line with Habsburg family tradition, his heart will be buried in an abbey just outside Budapest.

Burials in which the heart is interred separately from the body (or “heart burials”) aren’t all that unusual, historically-speaking. The Ancient Egyptians yanked all sorts of squishy bits out of bodies post-mortem and packed them into canopic jars–albeit for very different reasons. Medieval monarchs also received heart burials: supposedly, Richard and Henry I; Robert the Bruce and Eleanor I all rest in pieces.

From the 12th Century, the separate burial of a corpse’s heart and viscera (or intestines) was remarkably common for English & French aristocracy. As the medieval period progressed, heart burials increasingly ignored the intestines.

Often, hearts were buried at the place of death: a practical solution to the challenge of preserving a body, or were destined to be carried to a place of significance (as was often the case for Crusader Knights: some, who died in battle, asked for their hearts to return home. Others, dying at home many years later, might ask for their hearts to be buried in Jerusalem).

Special heart sepulchres would mark the burial place, while the hearts were buried inside visceral urns engraved with their own epitaphs, such as this play on Luke 12:34:

‘Ubi thesaurus meus, ibi cor meum’

Where my treasure is, there is my heart.

Aside from practical or sentimental reasons, medieval heart burials may be an expression of benefaction to a religious order – the case of a founder of an abbey or monastery, for example, may have donated their heart for burial. More than being a spiritual act, the creation of a bond between the order and the founder’s direct descendants helped to ensure their continued patronage.

But the best story about heart burials involves Thomas Hardy, whose body is interred as ashes in Westminster Abbey – but whose heart is buried in Dorset. Or possibly not. The story goes that following Hardy’s death, his doctor removed the heart and took it for safe-keeping until burial… but there is another version, in which the doctor puts the heart down for a moment… and it disappears. Suspicion falls (as it always does) on the cat. After a thorough search, the heart is nowhere to be found and instead, a pig’s heart is substituted for symbolic burial.

While it’s unlikely to be true, “The Cat Who Ate Hardy’s Heart” would make quite a story…

The Toy-Chest of Dr Carbonara

I love me a bootleg. I do. The more conspicuously rubbish, the more tenuous the link, the better.

Take any of The Asylum‘s output–or better still, take all of it (Transmorphers, anyone? Snakes on a Train?). Have I seen any of it? Christ, no. Whatever do you take me for? But do I love the idea? The sheer out-there-ness of it? Absolutely.

This has been doing the rounds for a day or two now, but how–how, I ask–could I not?

Welcome to the alternative childhood: a strange world where the bootleg toys are almost better than the real deal.

Step through the wormhole, wonder as the universes collapse and bring you the joys of…

Darth Vader: Star Knight!

or – Archer-Spiderman (and his sidekick, Angler Spiderman)!

Brilliant, brilliant things. And when I say “brilliant”, I mean “crap”.

But if this is your bag (and let’s face it, it is. Go on, admit it: it’s everyone’s bag) there’s an entire site dedicated to them.

I, for one, will be holding out for a Silverbat from Santa.

(Bonus points and virtual cookies, by the way, if you correctly spotted the poorly-bootlegged title…)