“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Finding Frankenstein in Bournemouth

Having been to Bournemouth numerous times over the years I was surprised to find out recently that Mary Shelley (the famous author of Frankenstein) is buried in St. Peter's Churchyard near the centre of the town.

Most people will be familiar with the story behind how the idea for Frankenstein was conceived. The outline of Frankenstein was written during the Year Without Summer (1816), when Mary Shelley was part of a group visiting the poet Lord Byron at his villa near Lake Geneva. The visit was not the sun-drenched holiday that people might expect it to be. An ash cloud from a volcanic eruption in Indonesia had shrouded the northern hemisphere in darkness and led to 1816 having a very cold and wet summer. Because of this unusual weather Mary and her friends spent a lot of time indoors and amused themselves by developing ghosts stories. It was during this dark wet summer that Frankenstein was born.

What most people won't know about Mary Shelley however is how tragic and beset with hardship the majority of her life seemingly was.

Mary Shelley (née Godwin) was born in London in 1797 and just ten days after her birth her mother died from complications resulting from childbirth. In 1814 at the age of sixteen Mary fell in love with a married man, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the pair eloped to Europe. During this sojourn Mary became pregnant and when the couple's money eventually ran out they were forced to return to London with their tails between their legs. Because Percy was a married man with his own young family, upon her return to London Mary became a social outcast and was disowned by her father. The couple's financial situation was somewhat dire and Percy was forced to abandon Mary for a while to go into hiding to escape his numerous creditors. The couple's first child was born in 1815, but was sadly two-months premature and soon died. The couple's second and third children also died young with one dying in 1818 of dysentery and the other dying in 1819 from malaria at the age of three. 1816 was also a bad year for the couple, with Mary's half-sister (Fanny Godwin) committing suicide by an overdose of laudanum, and Percy's pregnant wife (Harriet Westbrook) committing suicide by throwing herself into London's Serpentine River.

The couple's relationship was also relatively short, with Percy drowning in 1822 whilst out sailing off the Italian coast. It seems that Percy and his two companions were caught out by a storm and the three never made it to their destination. Their bodies were eventually found on a beach 10 days after the storm and Percy's corpse was cremated near to where he was found.

Mary herself eventually died in 1851 at the age of 53 after a long illness, which was possibly caused by a brain tumour. After her death a silk parcel was found in Mary's possessions that was said to contain some of Percy's ashes along with the remains of his heart - which legend suggests refused to burn when he was cremated. Percy's incombustible heart was eventually interred with Mary's remains in St Peter's Churchyard in Bournemouth. Their tomb can be seen in the following pictures.

St. Peter's Church in Bournemouth.

Mary Shelley's grave.

The nearby pub - "The Mary Shelley" - a dead giveaway that there is some Mary Shelley related heritage nearby.  Pubs names often offer clues to nearby interesting history. The "Herbert George Wells" in Woking is another good example. 

Pictures: Dorset (May 2015).

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Sunday, 21 June 2015

Clocking the Earth as the Centre of the Universe

Here is another Church based oddity, this time from Wimborne Minster in Dorset.

Prior to Nicolaus Copernicus' 16th Century predictive mathematical model of the Solar System, that showed how the planets orbited the Sun, it was widely believed that the Earth was the centre of the Solar System and even the Universe. Wimborne Minster's astronomical clock, which is estimated to date from around 1320, is a relic from this pre-Copernican era.

On the face of the clock the Earth is show as a blue/green sphere which is positioned in the very centre of the clock face. The Sun, which is a gold emblem painted on a black disc, revolves around the perimeter of the clock's face and indicates the hour of the day as it orbits the Earth. Between the Earth and the Sun there is another sphere which has one hemisphere painted black, and one hemisphere painted gold. This black/gold sphere represents the Moon, and as it orbits the Earth it depicts the Moon's lunar phases. At full moon the sphere's golden hemisphere is on display, and at new moon the sphere shows its black side in its entirety. Intermediate phases of the Moon are shown by a display of varying proportions of the black/gold hemispheres.

Some say that as the clock dates from 1320 it is amongst some of the oldest working clocks in the world,  a group which includes clocks from Salisbury Cathedral and Beauvais Cathedral in France. It is also suggested that the clock was built by a Glastonbury Monk, Peter Lightfoot, who was also responsible for building a similar pre-Copernican clock for Wells Cathedral.

Wimborne Minster.

Looking towards the clock in the West Tower.

The clock.

Wimborne's pre-Copernican clock is not the only item of interest inside Wimborne Minster. The Minster is also home to a coffin which has a rather odd looking date inscribed on it. The coffin was commissioned by local eccentric Anthony Ettrick, who seemed to be convinced that he would die in 1693 and he had the coffin inscribed in anticipation. Unluckily for him however, he lived until 1703, and now the coffin bears a "half-arsed" attempt to amend the date of his death. This solution clearly being cheaper than the manufacture of a new stone coffin.

1693 or 1703?

Pictures: Dorset (May 2015).

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Sunday, 14 June 2015

The Home of the Daleks in Dorset

The unusual looking ruins and caves in the below pictures are all that remains of the old quarry site at Winspit, which nestles on the cliff side near Worth Matravers in Dorset. Winspit quarry was one of the numerous quarries on this section of coastline, which once provided highly prized stone for prestigious building projects in London. Winspit quarry was in use until around 1940, when the site was used as part of the south coast's naval and air defences during World War II. Today the quarry and the cliff side is open for curious people to explore and climb.

If Winspit quarry looks familiar to you it may be that you have seen it before in an episode of Dr Who.

The quarry was used in the Dr Who adventure The Underwater Menace in 1967, which saw the second Dr Who (Patrick Troughton) visit a deserted volcanic island and encounter a band of survivors from Atlantis who had a plan to raise the island from its watery grave.

The fourth Dr Who (Tom Baker) also visited Winspit quarry in 1979 in The Destiny of the Daleks. In this episode Winspit quarry portrayed the planet D-5-Gamma-Z-Alpha (also known as Skaro), which is the home world of Dr Who's arch enemy, the Daleks. The quarry's ruined buildings provided a suitable representation of what an abandoned Dalek city may look like and these three stills (one, two, three) show Tom Baker in action at Winspit quarry.

So if you ever wanted to visit the Dalek home world, just head to the Dorset Coast, it is a lot easier than trying to travel through space and time!
First look at Winspit quarry. 

The ruins of the quarry buildings.

The quarry.

Exploring the inside.

Pictures: Dorset (May 2015).

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Monday, 1 June 2015

Oiling a Folly

The tower shown below is Clavell Tower which sits on the Dorset coastline just to the east of Kimmeridge Bay. Clavell Tower was built in 1830 by the Reverend John Richards Clavell, who apparently built the folly for use as an observatory. The tower sits 100 metres above the sea on the top of Hen Cliff and is itself 11 metres tall, so as an observatory it could provide far reaching views over both the sea and the nearby countryside. Given the tower’s location it is not surprising that it was also used by local Coastguards as a look out post until the 1930s, when the tower was sadly gutted by a fire.

In 2006 an 18 month project commenced to move the tower 25 metres inland to save it from falling victim to the crumbling cliff edge. The project saw the tower’s 16,272 stones numbered and photographed so that they could be moved and carefully reconstructed at the new location. During this relocation the interior of the tower, which comprises of 4 internal floors and a shallow basement, was refurbished and is today available as a unique holiday home.  

To date the tower has been the inspiration for at least two famous authors. The Dorset novelist, Thomas Hardy, is said to have frequently taken his lover to visit the tower, which is probably why he included a sketch of the tower in his Wessex Poems. It is also said that the fire gutted tower was the inspiration for a murder scene in P. D. James's 1975 novel The Black Tower.

Clavell Tower seen across Kimmeridge Bay.

The Tower and the foundations of its original location.
Clavell Tower is not the only place of interest in Kimmeridge, just to the west of Kimmeridge Bay there is a “nodding donkey” extracting oil from this part of the Jurassic Coast. The Dorset coast is not the sort of place that you would expect to find oil being extracted, however oil operations have been ongoing here since 1935. Small seepages of oil were found in numerous locations around the Dorset coast and these led to people searching for their source.  Between 1958 and 1980 six wells were drilled in Kimmeridge Bay, and only one of these wells (known as K1) exposed worthwhile reserves of oil and gas seeping from the rocks around 500 meters below the coast. Following this discovery oil extraction was soon set up and the “nodding donkey” at the Kimmeridge K1 well site has been pumping non-stop since 1961 and has the honour of being the oldest working oil pump in the UK. The K1 well currently draws oil from 350 metres below the coast, and at its peak it was producing 350 barrels of oil per day. These days the well produces around 80 to 65 barrels per day.

The Kimmeridge K1 well is now part of the larger Wytch Farm oil field and processing facility that extracts and processes oil from a number of locations in the Purbeck Region. The Wytch Farm oil field is the largest onshore oil field in Western Europe, and yet most people who live in Dorset would not even know that black gold is being extracted from beneath their feet!

The Kimmeridge Oil Well seen from across Kimmeridge Bay.

The Kimmeridge Nodding Donkey. 
Pictures: Dorset (May 2015).

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Saturday, 23 May 2015

Being Buried The Old Way

Previously in this blog I have shared pictures of my visits to some of the prehistoric long barrows that can be found in the South of England. Two of the most famous examples of these ancient burial mounds being the West Kennet Long Barrow in Wiltshire (circa 3650 BC), and Wayland's Smithy in Oxfordshire (circa 3700 BC).

I had assumed that the practice of long barrow burials had died out many years ago, however it seems that the practice is alive and well in the Wiltshire village of All Cannings. In September 2014, the All Cannings Long Barrow opened for business, with some suggesting that this is the first Neolithic style long barrow to have been built in the UK for some 5,500 years.

Costing around £200,000 to construct, the long barrow contains four large chambers, each of which houses 55 niches, which in turn can house four or five urns of remains. This potentially gives the long barrow the capacity to house the remains of around 1000 people. Unlike ancient long barrows which were the preserve of high status members society, the All Cannings Long Barrow is open to anyone, subject to a modest fee.

So if you are planning on dying soon and would like to be laid to rest in an ancient manner, then it may be worth checking out the All Cannings Long Barrow.

The All Cannings Long Barrow.

The entrance to the long barrow.

Peeking through the gate.

The view from the top of the long barrow.

Looking towards the Alton Barnes White Horse and Adam's Grave.

You will need to zoom.... a flight of seven biplanes over the long barrow.

The biplanes.
Pictures: Wiltshire (May 2015).

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Friday, 15 May 2015

Hunting for Lego Simpsons Minifigures Series 2

In another departure from "random encounters with the unusual" here is some advice for Lego fans who are about to embark on their hunt for the newly released Lego Simpsons Minifigures Series 2 (Lego 71009).  To assist fellow hunters I will give you an overview of: the chances for finding a particular character in a box of 60 minifigures; and a guide for what to feel for when trying to identify each character in the blind bags.

Lego Simpsons Character Distribution in a box a 60

Similarly to Lego Simpsons Minifigures Series 1, the character distribution in a box of 60 minifigures is slightly geared in favour of finding the Simpsons family. In a box of 60 minifigures you will find the below distribution, meaning that a single box of 60 characters would yield three full sets of characters plus some spares.

Three of each in a full box:

  • Character #7: Comic Book Guy
  • Character #8: Martin Prince
  • Character #9: Professor Frink
  • Character #10: Hans Moleman
  • Character #11: Selma
  • Character #12: Patty
  • Character #14: Edna Krabappel

Four of each in a full box:

  • Character #2: Marge Simpson
  • Character #3: Lisa Simpson
  • Character #4: Maggie Simpson
  • Character #6: Milhouse Van Houten (Fallout Boy)
  • Character #15: Waylon Smithers
  • Character #16: Dr Hibbert

Five of each in a full box:

  • Character #1: Homer Simpson
  • Character #5: Bart Simpson (Bart Man)
  • Character #13: Groundskeeper Willie

A feeling guide for Lego Simpsons Minifigures

This series of minifigures has proven to be one of the most challenging sets to date to feel for, as a lot of the characters have similar accessories. For example, six of the characters have 2x2 tiles, which means that care and patience is required to ensure that you get the character that you want. Having said that, the “feeling method” remains the best method to confidently identify the character you want and to reduce the curse of getting unnecessary duplicates.

To start off, once you grab a blind bag, shake it. Shaking the packet well helps to ensure that all of the small loose components drop down to the bottom of the bag. The small components will be vital to distinguishing one character from another.  Once you have shaken the bag you need to feel the packet for the components that will help you to identify the character you want. Here is a quick look at what key components make specific characters easy to identify.

1) Homer Simpson

What to feel for – To find Homer you will have to try to feel for his head which can be very tricky to distinguish. If you think you have found Homer’s head, then look for his 2x2 tile.

But be careful – Homer is one of the hardest characters to feel for. This is because his head shape is very similar to that of Dr. Hibbert and they both have 2x2 tiles. The only sure way to feel them apart is to check their heads. Homer’s head is smooth, whilst Dr. Hibbert’s head is knobbly (his hair). Dr. Hibbert’s knobbly hair can be felt through the blind bag and running your fingernail over the head is a sure fire way of feeling the knobbles!

Homer Simpson
2) Marge Simpson

What to feel for – Marge is relatively easy to find because of her head, which is long and elongated. Marge also has a 1x2 tile (her purse) and the three-pronged stem of her bunch of flowers, both of which can easily be found at the bottom of a well shaken blind bag.

But be careful – Hans Moleman also has a 1x2 tile, so do not rely on just this to find Marge, be sure to check for her long cylindrical head.

Marge Simpson
3) Lisa Simpson

What to feel for – When looking for Lisa, you need to feel for Lisa’s cat, Snowball II, which can be distinguished from Maggie’s dog, Santa’s Little Helper, by feeling for its tail.  If you are unsure if you have Snowball II or Santa’s Little Helper you need to check for Lisa’s legs. Lisa has a standard childs leg-piece, whilst Maggie’s legs and torso are all one piece.

But be careful – Four other characters have child leg pieces like Lisa, so do not rely on this item alone.

Lisa Simpson
4) Maggie Simpson

What to feel for – Maggie’s body (legs and torso) are a single unique piece, which is unlike any other character in the series, so this is the item to look for. If you think you have found Maggie’s body, confirm your find by looking for Santa’s Little Helper.

But be careful – Maggie and Lisa are similar in a number of ways and can be easily confused if not felt for carefully.

Maggie Simpson
5) Bart Simpson (Bart Man)

What to feel for – Bart is very easy to identify if you feel for his Y-shaped sling shot, which will be found at the bottom of a well shaken blind bag. If you think you have found Bart’s sling shot, then confirm your find by feeling for the character’s head. Bart’s head is spiky on top, which is unique in this series.

But be careful – There is nothing much to worry about once you find Bart’s sling shot, but there is a small chance that it could be confused with the three-pronged stem of Marge’s bunch of flowers so make sure that the item you have is flat.

Bart Simpson (Bart Man)
6) Milhouse Van Houten (Fallout Boy)

What to feel for – To find Milhouse look for his can of Buzz Cola, which is a small cylinder with flat ends. Milhouse also has the biggest nose of any of the characters in this series, but you won’t really need to feel for this if you can find his can of cola.

But be careful – If you are in a rush, Milhouse’s can of Buzz Cola could be mistaken for  Edna’s cup (this has a handle on the side), Comic Book Guy’s Squishy (this is a tapered cylinder, with its distinctive straw at the top), or Professor Frink’s beaker (which is a cone with a lip at the top). However if the blind bag does not contain a 2x2 tile, you can immediately eliminate Comic Book Guy and Edna Krabappel from the equation.

Milhouse Van Houten (Fallout Boy)
 7) Comic Book Guy

What to feel for – Comic Book Guy’s squishy, which is a slightly tapered cylinder with a straw poking out of the top, is the key to finding him. Once you have found this, his comic (a 2x2 tile) can be used to make certain. Only Edna has similar accessories, a cup and a 2x2 tile, but Edna’s cup has a handle on the side making it easy to discount.

But be careful – Milhouse, Edna and Professor Frink all have accessories that could be mistaken for Comic Book Guy’s Squishy, so some care is required.

Comic Book Guy
8) Martin Prince

What to feel for – Martin is very easy to find as he has a large book. The book, once located in the blind bag, leaves no doubt that you have found Martin.

But be careful – There is not much to worry about with Martin!

Martin Prince
9) Professor Frink

What to feel for – Professor Frink’s beaker, a cone with a lip at the neck end, is relatively easy to find in a well shook packet and can be distinguished from Milhouse’s Buzz Cola, Edna’s Cup and Comic Book Guy’s Squishy. If you think that you have found the Professor’s beaker, check for his head, which is more elongated than the rest of the characters (except for Marge that is).

But be careful – It could be possible to confuse Professor Frink’s beaker with Milhouse’s Buzz Cola, Edna’s cup or Comic Book Guy’s Squishy. So running your fingernail along the item to check for the lip at the neck of the beaker is the best way to be sure.

Professor Frink
10) Hans Moleman

What to feel for – Hans has a 1x2 tile, his driving license, and this is the part to check for. Once you have found this piece you either have Hans or Marge. Given that Hans has a childs leg piece and Marge has a large elongated head, it is an easy task to determine if you have Hans or Marge.

But be careful – Once you have found the 1x2 tile the task is plain sailing, but finding the 1x2 tile can take a while. So be prepared to be patient.

Hans Moleman
11) Selma

What to feel for – Selma and her sister Patty are both easy to find as their large bulbous heads make the blind bags bulge. So if you find a bulging bag with one large item in it you have one of the sisters, but which one? It is now a case of feeling for Selma’s eye test chart (a 2x2 tile), which is easy to distinguish from Patty’s handbag which is a much larger, thicker piece.

But be careful – There is not much to worry about with the sisters.

12) Patty

What to feel for – Use the same process as looking for Selma. Find a huge head and then look for either Selma’s thin 2x2 tile or Patty’s larger and thicker handbag to work out which is which.

But be careful – There is not much to worry about with the sisters.

13) Groundskeeper Willie

What to feel for – Typing this seems wrong… but to find Willie you need to feel for the long shaft of Willie’s plunger, which has a soft rubberized red end. Willie’s plunger is unique in this series, there are no other long thin items, so once you can feel Willie’s shaft in your hand, you are guaranteed a happy end!

But be careful – The description of how to find Willie is somewhat disturbing!

Groundskeeper Willie
14) Edna Krabappel

What to feel for – Edna can be found by her cup which is a short cylinder with an L-shaped handle on the side. The handle on Edna’s cup makes it easy to distinguish from the other character’s drinking vessels. If you think you have found Edna’s cup, look for her 2x2 tile (her painting) which will confirm your find.

But be careful – Comic Book Guy also has a 2x2 tile (his comic) and in a hurry his Squishy could be mistaken for Edna’s cup, so check for the handle on Edna’s cup to be absolutely sure.

Edna Krabappel
15) Waylon Smithers

What to feel for – Smithers’ Malibu Stacey box is made up of a 2x2 tile and a 2x2 plate. As Smithers is the only character with a 2x2 plate this is the part to look for, so feel the packet until you can feel the four raised studs on the plate. If any confirmation is required check the character’s head. Smithers’ head is relatively flat in comparison to the rest of the characters.

But be careful –  Five other characters have a 2x2 tile, so do not rely on just this to find Smithers.

Waylon Smithers
16) Dr. Hibbert

What to feel for – Dr. Hibbert can be tricky to find as he is essentially the same as Homer, and has the same accessory (a 2x2 tile). To find Dr. Hibbet you really have to find his head and use your fingernail to feel for his knobbly hair, which is the only real way to tell him apart from Homer, who has a smooth head.

But be careful –  Do take time and care feeling for Dr. Hibbert’s hair, else you will end up with another Homer!

Dr. Hibbert
The Whole Gang

A note on Bump Codes / Dot Codes

It is now widely accepted that the Bump Codes / Dot Codes that appear on the back of the blind bags are not universal, but are specific to small regions/batches of product. So whilst I could list the codes for the minifigures that I have purchased, the information would be useless for the majority of readers.

I hope this guide will help some fellow Lego hunters find the characters they want with ease and help to remove the curse of getting duplicates of characters by buying the minifigures totally blind!

Happy hunting!

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