Creepy Vintage: Gas Mask Replica*

A group of children wearing gas masks, accompanied by nursing staff (December 1917)

I found these images whilst rummaging through a huge number of official and public domain archive photos taken during both World Wars, and they immediately stood out in a flash of weirdness. There is something very creepy about old black and white photos of people wearing gas masks, and these examples are distinctly odd…

The picture above was taken in 1917 and shows a group of (probably) Dutch children during a gas mask drill. This is easily the creepiest of the photos I found, mainly because there’s something so alien about these kids in their protective gear.

Below, you’ll see a 1942 shot of a group of ATS women in the Middle East wearing their gas masks and respirators, posed and staring almost dead-eyed at the camera. I don’t know if it’s just me, but they look like they’re about to gatecrash a very tense scene in a vintage episode of Dr Who (or some other very British sci-fi show) and send me scuttling behind the sofa…

Women soldiers with gas masks - World War Two

*Apologies for the mangled Captain Beefheart reference in the title!

For more Halloween reading (and watching), click here…

Vintage Advertising: Halloween Monster Ghost (1973)

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Do you know someone who needs a seasonal scare? Want to terrify your friends and family? In that case, these may be the products for you. And at $1.75 for the two, they’re a bargain worth screaming, groaning and moaning about…

Make Halloween a night your friends, neighbors (and enemies) will never forget. Use the ghost and the record together for parties, psychedelic, & supernatural effects and horrifying Halloween stunts.

This ad is from the September 1973 issue of Co-Ed Magazine, which suggests that the target market was students – and this would further explain a lot (I was a student once…). I am, however, curious to know how they figured out what creatures from outer space sound like since even Hollywood b-movies, those truthful documentaries of multiple alien invasions, can’t agree on that!

For more Halloween reading (and watching), click here…

Playlisting: Sporting Animals

Usually, my Playlisting posts involve music, but this one is a little different. Today, we’ll be overrun by pine martens on the pitch, alligators and capybaras on the golf course (not at the same time, obviously), and sheep on the football field – plus a demonstration of the need for goat line technology, an invasion of plastic pigs, psychic octopi, the penguin cup final, various avian pitch invaders, cats with a fascination for ball games, and lots and lots and lots of dogs. Dogs love football. And we all love a dog on the pitch.

This playlist was originally compiled as a bit of fun for the members of an online football prediction league I play in, but it seemed a little unfair not to share the hilarity with a wider audience – so it’s time to meet a selection of sporting (and not so sporting) animals…

If you know of any sporty animal videos that can be added to the playlist, post a link in the comments or tweet me!

Lost Property: The Sequel

Shark shown for illustrative purposes only. Posed by a model.

I’ve long been fascinated by the forgetfulness of human beings. There seems to be a limit to the capacity of the human brain for retaining information before some of it starts falling out of your ears. Your memory card is full, please delete some files to free up space, as it were. But it’s not just forgetting important dates like your mum’s birthday or your wedding anniversary though. As the Wombles put it so succinctly, it’s “the things that the everyday folk leave behind” that offer us an intriguing glimpse into the ways our memories work – or don’t, as the case may be.

Our brains are fallible. Quite ridiculously so at times. Losing your house keys, forgetting your phone, misplacing your glasses, the disappearance of the remote control – these are all everyday things that happen to us all at some point in our lives (although I’d bet you’ve never managed to lock yourself in your flat due to sheer stupidity. I have. The locksmith was highly amused, and I went round singing Vic and Bob’s ‘Trapped In My Flat’ for the rest of the day).

But some people forget the oddest things. Over the years I’ve posted quite a lot on the subject of the weirder side of lost property – bizarre items left on various forms of public transport or in hotel rooms by forgetful customers – and it never ceases to surprise and amaze me what kind of things people actually leave behind in public places.

Everything from wedding dresses, live tortoises, a bag of haggis. a casket of human ashes, and an inflatable dinosaur (yay!), to a gas mask, a framed photo of Mary Berry, a pair of breast implants, a stuffed puffer fish, and a hamster have been turned into various lost property offices in recent years. It really makes me wonder how such oblivious souls got some of these things on the train/bus/tube/into a hotel room in the first place, let alone forgot them!

Indeed, I still worry sometimes about the life-size Dalek someone once left abandoned in a hotel room after checking out – is the poor thing alright? Did anyone ever come back to claim it? Where did it go? Were there stairs involved? And how the hell do you forget a life-size Dalek in the first place? Such weird items of lost property leave me with so many questions (which is probably why I keep returning to the subject!).

Continue reading “Lost Property: The Sequel”

Weird Reading: The Diagram Prize is back…

Yes, my annual excuse to giggle at silly book titles has returned. The Diagram Prize is my favourite literary award for that very reason – it’s not about the usual up-their-own-backsides critics pontificating over the actual writing; this is voted for by the public and it’s all about the book titles, the odder the better. 2016 marks the 38th year of the prize, which is run, as ever, by The Bookseller.

Here are this year’s decidedly odd nominees:

Behind the Binoculars: Interviews with Acclaimed Birdwatchers by Mark Avery and Keith Betton (Pelagic Publishing)

Paper Folding with Children by Alice Hornecke and translated by Anna Cardwell (Floris Books)

Reading from Behind: A Cultural History of the Anus by Jonathan Allan (Zed Books)

Reading the Liver: Papyrological Texts on Ancient Greek Extispicy by William Furley and Victor Gysembergh (Mohr Siebeck)

Soviet Bus Stops by Christopher Herwig (Fuel)

Too Naked for the Nazis by Alan Stafford (Fantom Films)

Transvestite Vampire Biker Nuns from Outer Space: A Consideration of Cult Film by Mark Kirwan-Hayhoe (MKH Imprint)

For more information on each title (I’m rather fascinated by the mere idea of a book on Soviet bus stops, although I bet the winner will be something about bottoms!) visit The Bookseller‘s website here – and you can vote for your favourite here.

You’ve got until 23.59 on 15th March 2016 to vote for your choice of the oddest book title of the year, and I’ll update this post as soon as the results are announced.

UPDATE 18/03/16: And the winner is…. Too Naked For The Nazis! More on the result here.

Even More Lost Property…

There’s nothing I like more on a hot and boring Tuesday morning than a good old-fashioned random ‘news’ story. And, in that context, my long-time readers will know that I particularly like hearing about weird lost property (like the full-size replica Dalek left behind in a hotel room a few years ago. One hopes it didn’t exterminate the cleaning staff). Honestly, this stuff is fascinating. Keep with me here, you’ll like this.

Train company First TransPennine Express has this week released a list of things that have been handed in to its lost property department. Alongside the usual phones, wallets, umbrellas, sets of keys and pairs of specs, there are some distinctly strange items that people have left on trains. Here are a few:

1 bag of haggis
1 6ft inflatable dinosaur
1 hamster
1 cat
1 lizard
1 framed photo of Mary Berry
1 Barry Manilow CD
1 bottle of champagne
1 wooden casket (of ashes)

Personally, I think these items speak volumes about the general oddness of the British psyche. I’m still puzzling over the picture of Mary Berry. She may be a baking legend, a national treasure and a bit of a fashion icon, but why would anyone want a framed photo of her (outside of her family, obviously)? And who loses a bottle of champagne? I’d be very careful to get that home in one piece so I could drink it. I mean, really. Then there’s the six foot inflatable dinosaur. Did it need its own ticket?

I have my suspicions about the Barry Manilow CD though. If that traveller was anything like me, they left that appalling object on the train deliberately….

The Return of the Diagram Prize…

It’s that time of the year again – the Diagram Prize is back. For readers unfamiliar with my slight obsession over this rather strange literary award, it is an annual prize given, rather wonderfully, to the book with the oddest title of the year. It began in 1978 when Trevor Bounford and Bruce Robertson of The Diagram Group were bored at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and has run ever since (apart from 1987 and 1991, when odd book titles were sadly thin on the ground).

Now administered by The Bookseller, previous seriously odd winners have included Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice (1978), Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop (2012) and the utterly fabulous Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories (2003) (I still want to know if that’s a big book of horse stories for lesbians, or a big book of stories about lesbian horses). Can this year’s shortlist better those?

Here are this year’s odd contenders:

Divorcing a Real Witch: For Pagans and the People That Used to Love Them by Diana Rajchel
Nature’s Nether Regions by Menno Schilthuizen
The Ugly Wife is Treasured at Home by Melissa Margaret Schneider
Strangers Have the Best Candy by Margaret Meps Schulte
Where do Camels Belong? by Ken Thompson
Advanced Pavement Research: Selected, Peer Reviewed Papers from the 3rd International Conference on Concrete Pavements Design, Construction, and Rehabilitation, December 2-3, 2013, Shanghai, China edited by Bo Tian
The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones by Sandra Tsing-Loh

To find out more about each of these very odd titles, visit We Love This Book.

If you’d like to take part and vote for your favourite, you can make your choice here.

You’ve got until 00:01 on Saturday 21st March to decide which of these titles is the oddest of them all – the winner will be announced on Friday 27th March. I’ll update you with details of the winning entry as soon as I can!

UPDATE 31/03/15: And the winner is… Strangers Have the Best Candy by Margaret Meps Schulte. Not the title I expected to win, but there you go! Lots more info here.

Lost property… again

I’ve written before about the incredibly strange and random things people have been known to leave behind on the London Underground, on planes and in hotel rooms (it still amazes me that someone once checked out of a hotel and drove away without remembering they’d left a full size replica Dalek in their room (no, really). And, incidentally, how do you get a full size replica Dalek in your car anyway?).

Since 1934, items left behind on London’s buses, the tube and in taxis have been taken to the Transport for London Lost Property Office on Baker Street, an Aladdin’s cave of everything from abandoned umbrellas to forgotten mobile phones and beyond. But alongside the everyday things we all occasionally misplace, there’s also some very weird and wonderful things that have been sitting in the TfL Lost Property Office, just waiting to be reunited with their owners…

  • A giant red-nosed reindeer stuffed toy
  • A pair of size 17 trainers, belonging to a basketball player
  • A stuffed puffer fish
  • A gas mask
  • A mannequin head used by trainee hairdressers to practice on
  • A school crossing guard’s ‘lollipop’
  • A gorilla costume, wearing an Hawaiian shirt
  • An assortment of African carvings
  • A life-sized stuffed Spiderman
  • A pair of breast implants
  • A wedding dress

Luckily, about a quarter of the lost property items found on the London transport network will be returned to their owners – but I suspect the giant red-nosed reindeer has metaphorically missed the boat (or possibly sleigh) this year…

Weird Words of the Day: Part Two

Back in May of last year, I posted on the subject of strange words for unusual concepts. That provoked a lot of interesting responses from you all, so I (perhaps a little belatedly!) decided it was time to dig out a few more weird and wonderful words to define for you. Some of these lexicographical oddities may be more familiar than others, but they all refer to strangely familiar ideas and experiences you might be surprised to know there is even a word for!

Grawlix:

Well, I’ll be @*&%ed, so that’s what a grawlix is! And indeed, that sentence contains an excellent example of exactly what a grawlix is – the use of a string of random punctuation marks to indicate swearing, more usually seen in comic book speech bubbles. Created as what was, quite frankly, a bit of a private joke by the American cartoonist Mort Walker in the 1960s, the use of the word grawlix to indicate such a concept has come to take on a validity and a life of its own. By the early 1980s, Walker had written The Lexicon of Comicana, which defined both grawlix and a number of other rather excellent words for common comic book concepts including squeans (the squiggles round a character’s head indicating drunkenness or dizziness), solrads (lines indicating the brightness of the sun or a light) and briffits (the cloud of dust left behind when a character dashes away at speed). Walker’s book is still in print and has become a key text for anyone studying the art of the cartoonist.

Continue reading “Weird Words of the Day: Part Two”

UPDATE: The 2014 Diagram Prize

At the end of last month, I wrote my annual post about the Diagram Prize – which is probably the oddest, and certainly my favourite, literary prize of the year. The winner of the 2014 Prize was announced yesterday after a public vote, with top spot going to the very weirdly-titled (and possibly a little pointless?) How To Poo On A Date: The Lovers’ Guide To Toilet Etiquette by Mats & Enzo.

In a statement, the publishers of How To Poo On A Date drily commented:

We are very happy and honoured that the public thought our book worthy of first place in this much sought-after prize; we’d have been disappointed to be number two.

Oh dear