Scales of Justice

Charles De Gaulle said, “I have come to the conclusion that politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.”

The town of High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire has found a practical solution: It weighs its mayors at the start and end of each term.

Any weight gain is deemed to have been made at taxpayers’ expense, and it’s met with jeers and the occasional tomato.

No one knows how the custom began, but it dates at least from the time of Edward I and apparently was once widespread. Wycombe is the only town in England where it survives.

Bon Appétit!
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Menu proposed by Vincent M. Holst in Why Not Eat Insects? (1885):

  • Slug soup
  • Boiled cod with snail sauce
  • Wasp grubs fried in the comb
  • Moths sauteed in butter
  • Braised beef with caterpillars
  • New carrots with wireworm sauce
  • Gooseberry cream with sawflies
  • Deviled chafer grubs
  • Stag beetle larvae on toast

“Why on earth should these creatures be called loathsome, which, as a matter of fact, are not loathsome in any way, and, indeed, are in every way more fitted for human food than many of the so-called delicacies now highly prized?”

He has a point — viewed as livestock, house crickets convert energy to protein about 20 times more efficiently than beef cattle.

The Saddest Thing You’ve Ever Seen

In 1985 Ralph Piro patented this “self-congratulatory apparatus … which is useful for providing a self-administered pat on the back or a congratulatory gesture.”

(Using one’s own hand for this “places one in a somewhat uncomfortable posture and additionally lacks the placement of a pat in the most desired middle portion of the back.”)


In 1914, Collier’s assigned writer Julian Street to write a feature about Denver. Street duly arrived in town, but he didn’t venture far from the red-light district on Myers Avenue, and he spent most of his time there interviewing a Madam Leo, who gave him a story “hot enough to burn the paper on which it is written.”

To get even for the bad press, the town council ordered a new name for the prostitutes’ lane: They called it Julian Street.

Enjoy Your Stay

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Phrases you are likely to need in Borneo, to judge from a phrasebook distributed in 1966 by the Borneo Literature Bureau:

  • Wait while I remove these leeches.
  • I have been bitten by sand flies.
  • There are too many rats.
  • There are a lot of mosquitoes here.
  • The cockroaches have eaten my shirt.
  • Is this poisonous?
  • What made that noise?
  • Is Sibu Laut in a swamp?
  • Is there a taboo on your house?
  • Is the burning finished?
  • Where can I defecate?
  • Is that fish dangerous?
  • This floor is not safe.
  • The roof is leaking.
  • There is no room in this boat.
  • We must keep dry.
  • I can’t come for a time because the monsoon will soon start.
  • She has a bad pain/snakebite/gunshot wound.
  • Tear some clean cloth into strips.
  • Keep him warm.
  • Go quickly for help.
  • This vomiting needs urgent treatment.
  • I do not know what is wrong. You must take her to the clinic.
  • Your eyes need treatment, or you will become blind.

Safety First

More valuable safety lessons for your children, from The Book of Accidents (1831):

“Little children who can just reach to the top of a table, often endeavor to drink from the spout of a tea-pot; and in consequence scald their mouths and throats, and die miserable deaths in a few hours.”

“Wicked and malicious boys often throw stones, by which they not only hurt and maim one another, but often knock out an eye and are disfigured for life.”

“Hundreds of children are killed every year by leaning out of windows. … In another moment [this little girl] may be dashed upon the rocky pavement below, to be picked up by her parents a mangled corpse.”

Bonus parable: “The writer knows of a little boy who was very fond of being in the kitchen, that he might see how Johnny-cakes and pies, and all such things were made, and from his talkativeness occasioned considerable trouble. In the absence of the cook for a short time, what should he do but go and sit himself down into a kettle of boiling hot water! His screams soon brought his mother, and with difficulty his life was saved.”


In 1860, Abraham Lincoln received this letter from a Pete Muggins in Fillmore, La.:

God damn your god damned old Hellfired god damned soul to hell god damn you and goddam your god damned family’s god dammed hellfired god damned soul to hell and god damnnation god damn them and god damn your god damn friends to hell god damn their god damned souls to damnation.

“Quarrel not at all,” Lincoln wrote on another occasion. “No man resolved to make the most of himself can spare time for personal contention.”


In 1958, Canada held a bullfight. The Lindsay, Ontario, chamber of commerce approved $12,500 to arrange the event, apparently to promote cultural enrichment, but the transplant was shaky from the start.

Four Mexican matadors showed up on July 21, but the six bulls were delayed at the Texas border and the fight was delayed for three weeks. It finally went ahead, with three matadors, on August 22 and 23, over the objections of the Ontario SPCA, though organizers promised it would be “bloodless.”

Apparently the event itself went well, but when it was over the bulls were retired anyway, and Ontario never tried bullfighting again. Matador Jorge Luis Bernal told the Peterborough Examiner, “If a bull lives, he will be too wise for anyone to fight again. He will know the ways of the bull ring.”

Bacon Testimony

Among trials of individual animals for special acts of turpitude, one of the most amusing was that of a sow and her six young ones, at Lavegny, in 1457, on a charge of their having murdered and partly eaten a child. … The sow was found guilty and condemned to death; but the pigs were acquitted on account of their youth, the bad example of their mother, and the absence of direct proof as to their having been concerned in the eating of the child.

— Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1864

Stress Rehearsal,M1

In 1983, Monya Scully invented a “sound muffling cup into which an enraged person can shout to release tension while avoiding disturbing other persons.”

We don’t know much about Scully, but the patent abstract seems to tell a story: “It is a fact of life that many people in a state of anger shout, often at children, a spouse, a dog, etc. with the motivation being not to communicate, but rather mere anger. … The use of the cup may result in avoidance of embarrassment as is experienced by many after having disturbed others by shouting in a fit of anger.”