It’s that terrible time of term again when I come to realise that I am yet to write a blog post and can think of literally nothing to talk about.
Actually, that’s not strictly true. I could write about airshows again, but after a year and a half of doing nothing but that, I decided to force myself to find something else.
So, what theme should I deliberate today? I am fortunate to have innumerable exciting topics of conversation at my fingertips. I can wax lyrical about my favourite shorthand outlines, recite, in detail, the entire history of the M25 or launch a passionate defence of my preferred brand of filing tab (it’s Avery, obviously. Post-It’s packaging is just so naff).
But I’m reliably informed that I am probably the only person on earth who finds any of those subjects interesting, and definitely the only person who would ever read a 1044-word blog post about them. It is this sorry state of affairs which compels me to write about the only other thing that matters in this world: the so-called 'Weird Information'.
Anyone who has had the privilege of being in the same shorthand class as me will by now be familiar with the Weird Information. It is now a year, almost to the day, since it made its debut. For over half of the last academic year I presented a bizarre-but-true story at the start of every single shorthand class. I am still doing it once a week to this day.
Clearly, the only way to commemorate this momentous anniversary (and to meet the full requirements for my Convergent Journalism II module at the same time) is to take a look back at some of the best nuggets of weird information from the past year. And yes, in case you are wondering, I have kept a record. Clearly labelled with Avery filing tabs. The plain red ones, of course. Be honest: are you really surprised?
One of my go-to topics when researching this kind of thing is always weaponry. There’s no end of daft ideas from the Second World War and the Cold War, in particular. One year ago today, on the 6th December 2017, I told the story of the Blue Peacock, a brilliantly-conceived nuclear landmine designed here in Kent in 1954. The idea was to bury hundreds of the mines under various rural areas of West Germany, and detonate them should the Russians mount a land invasion.
The problem? Blue Peacock’s components didn’t work in cold weather. Never phased, its inventors decided to construct the bomb around a live chicken (there was a ten-day supply of food and water in the chicken’s capsule) and use the bird to incubate the electronics.
But this is nothing compared to the genius of the Bat Bomb. In 1943, the US military experimented with an utterly ill-conceived plan to drop a cannister of bats from an aeroplane. The idea was that the bats would be dropped over Japanese cities, before spreading out and roosting over a large area. Each bat carried a small explosive charge, which would then detonate, setting fire to all the nearby buildings.
On May 15th 1943, the US Army Air Force put this idea to the test, dropping 1040 armed bats from an aeroplane near Carlsbad Army Airfield base in New Mexico. What they failed to take into account was that bats are homing creatures, and a large number swiftly returned to their former home and nested under a fuel tank. Needless to say, both Carlsbad Army Airfield and the bat bomb project ceased to exist pretty quickly after that.
And while we’re on the subject of weaponised mammals, mention must go to Russia’s innovative dog bombs of World War Two. Dogs with bombs strapped to their bodies were trained to chase down and run underneath tanks ahead of the Soviet entry into the war, whereupon they would explode. Unfortunately, they were trained only on Russian tanks, and so these were the only ones they tried to blow up and caused an entire division to retreat. The plan was abandoned later that day.
My archives contain all manner of other wonderful stories. My attention is drawn to another story from last December, about Peter III of Russia. The Tsar was apparently so much in love with his army of model soldiers that, when he caught a rat nibbling on a wooden infantryman, he had the unfortunate rodent court-martialled and executed on miniature gallows.
I also remember reading a delightfully amusing tale in May about Bramber Parish Council, who, in 1974, decided to go three days without street lighting to save money. The imaginative scheme saved a whopping £11.59 – but came with an £18.48 bill for disconnecting the electricity and another £12.00 to turn it on again. In short, the council had spent £18.89 to spend three days in darkness.
Another episode from May this year presented similarly amusing irony. In 1976, the European Economic Community pointed out to the Irish government that it had failed to implement European sex equality legislation. The Irish government immediately advertised for an equal pay enforcement officer. The advert offered a different pay scale for men and women.
A third May 2018 classic was the tale of a group of 75 prisoners at the Saltillo Prison in northern Mexico. In 1976, the prisoners completed six months of work on their escape tunnel, which, unfortunately, surfaced inside the very same courtroom in which many of them had been sentenced.
This is not, of course, an exhaustive list, but I shall be going no further today. After all, what if I need to resort to a ‘Weird Information – Part II’ blog post next term? A smart Weird Informationist will always keep their options open. So, if you came here looking for the information about the Belgian cats that worked as de facto postmen, sorry, but you will have to wait. Or Google it. But don't do that, it's my job.
But, to end, one last little story, in the form of the final words of General John Sedgewick as he looked over the parapet at enemy lines during the Battle of Spotsylvania in 1864: “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist-”