Category Archives for "History"

Quirky, absurd, whimsical

The Guardian review got me thinking about these words. In a way I’m surprised they exist, since there is very little in Britain that isn’t quirky, absurd or whimsical.

I was in Derbyshire last weekend, where I visited Chatsworth House, the ancestral home of the dukes of Devonshire (the earls of Derby, of course, live in Knowsley House near Liverpool). Here I found that the Sixth Duke of Devonshire had caused the local village to be moved about a quarter of a mile away because he felt it spoiled his view.

I then went to nearby Haddon Hall, where I found that the 600-year-old great hall had a manacle attached to one wall. Apparently, if a man didn’t drink enough at dinner, his wrist would be put in the manacle and the wine he hadn’t drunk would be poured down his sleeve*.

And that’s just two stately homes in the Peak District.


*Has anyone done any research on the effectiveness of sleeve-based penalties? I instinctively feel that even the most hardened criminal would mend his ways rather than have something poured down his sleeve.

Surrendering – Japanese vs Cubans

There’s a particularly unlikely true story on Giles Milton’s blog today about a former US gang member who repeatedly went out alone and talked huge numbers of Japanese soldiers into surrendering in World War II. Its theme of a lone man convincing vastly superior enemies to surrender reminded me of this Telegraph obituary of John Pine-Coffin:

In 1963 he was in Nassau when he was ordered to investigate a party of Cuban exiles that had infiltrated Andros Island, part of the Bahamas. His seaplane landed in thick mud and Pine-Coffin decided that his only chance of reaching dry land was to strip off.

On coming ashore, plastered in mud and wearing only a red beret and a pair of flippers, he was confronted by a party of armed Cubans. Mustering as much authority as he could in the circumstances, he informed the group that they were trespassing on British sovereign territory and were surrounded.

The following morning, when the Royal Marines arrived to rescue him they were astonished to find him and his radio operator in a clearing standing guard over the Cubans and a pile of surrendered weapons. He was appointed OBE.

Cuban surrenders are naturally much less impressive than Japanese ones, but the extra elements of nudity and a silly name help to redress the balance.