“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.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Mysterious Majolica Beasts

On my travels I have visited a number of places that have Majolica floor tiles on display. Majolica pottery is a distinctive Italian style of pottery which dates from the Renaissance period. Majolica pottery is typified by its bright colours that are set over a white background. The name Majolica is believed to have been derived from a medieval Italian word for the island of Majorca, the rational being that Spanish Moorish potters would have originally brought the pottery style from Majorca to Italy.

Majolica floor tiles are usually interesting as they often depict weird and wonderful creatures that are either creations of the artists mind or real beasts that are not known to man (well not known to me at least). Below is a selection of some of the Majolica floor tiles that I have come across, these are either 14th Century Majolica tiles from the Palais Des Papes in Avignon or 16th Century Flemish Majolica tiles from The Vyne near Basingstoke.

Please feel free to post in the comment section if you know what animals the tiles are supposed to represent.

A scaled beast.
Two freaky beasts getting it on?
An odd human-like skull.
A shelled creature.
A 16th century elf?
A weird fish ready for a kiss?
Some form of dog?
A bird?
A young Nessie?
Pictures, France (October 2012) & Hampshire (July 2013).

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Sunday, 21 July 2013

Alcatraz’s Weird Residents

The former prison on Alcatraz Island is well known for some of its famous residents, which included Al Capone, Robert “Birdman” Stroud and George “Machine Gun” Kelly (amongst others). The prison closed in 1963 and by the end of that decade the island had become home to a number of Native American activists who stayed for around two years. The island is also reported to be home to a number of ghosts of the former prison inmates.

The weirdest Alcatraz Island resident by far however, is far smaller and more inconspicuous than any of these.

Back in 2012 the island was suffering from a rat infestation, and in a bid to control this problem a dye that fluoresces under ultraviolet light was put into bait. The plan being that the rat’s droppings could then be tracked using UV lights and the rats could be found and eliminated. However, the pest controllers found more than just glowing rat droppings, they found glowing millipedes. It seems that by accident the pest controllers had found an unusual trait of the island’s known species of millipedes, that when illuminated by UV light, that they fluoresce. It is not entirely clear why a mostly nocturnal and blind animal would evolve to emit light, but one theory is that it could be a mechanism to warn predators not to eat them (as they are toxic).

Alcatraz Island in San Fransisco Bay.
Alcatraz Island up close.
The prison. 
The prison.
Graffiti from the Native American Occupation.
A cell block.
A cell.
An example "tunnel" from the Alactraz prison escape.
The "service tunnel" behind the cells into which the escapees fled.
Prison Medical Ward.
A cell block.
San Fransisco at night as seen from Alcatraz Island.
Pictures, California (2008).

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Friday, 12 July 2013

The Camberley Obelisk - Signalling Hellfire

Having lived and worked in the Camberley area for a number of years in my 20's I had often wondered why the town had a street called “Obelisk Way”. It was only after visiting the Hellfire Caves and the Dashwood Mausoleum in West Wycombe that it all became clear to me.

If you ever visit Camberley look out for Knoll Road and the Council Offices, behind which you will find the small Camberley Park. At the back of this park on top of a small hill there is an interesting structure, which is known as the Camberley Obelisk.

The Obelisk is the remains of a brick tower that today is about 30 ft high. Originally the tower would have been around 100 ft high, and would have consisted of a number of storeys with access provided by an internal staircase. The Obelisk was built by John Norris around 1765 to 1770 (before Camberley existed), and in that era the surrounding land would have been open heathland, allowing for good visibility from the top of the Obelisk for a number of miles.

It is not fully known why the Obelisk was built, but the most popular theory was that is was built on the top of the hill as a signalling tower. Some believe that this particular tower was a heliograph, a signalling tower that reflects sunlight to send messages. One of John Norris' known friends was Sir Frances Dashwood (founder of the Hellfire club), and in 1751 Dashwood built St Laurence's Church atop the Hellfire Caves in West Wycombe, around 20 miles away from Camberley. St Laurence's church is adorned with a large golden ball (for a picture see my previous blog post “The Home of Hellfire”) and one interesting, but unproven, theory is that the golden ball on St Laurence's church and the Obelisk at Camberley were used to relay messages between the two friends. One theory suggests that they used the heliographs to pass bets to each other and another suggests that they were involved in an espionage network and used the system to exchange secret messages.

What ever the truth, the history of this well hidden building is likely to be interesting.

Entering Camberley Park from the Council Offices car park.
The Obelisk at the back of the park, hiding behind trees.
First view of the Obelisk.
The Obelisk.
A peek around the back.
Inside, looking up.
View over Camberley, from the base of the Obelisk.
Some coincidental graffiti.
The information board in the park.

Pictures, Camberley - Surrey (July 2013).

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Sunday, 7 July 2013

Finding Sweethaven

If you have ever wondered where Popeye’s home of Sweethaven is located, then you need look no further than the Mediterranean Island of Malta. Sweethaven (or Popeye Village as it is known) is located on the north western coast of Malta in Anchor Bay. The village was originally built as the set for the 1980 Robin William’s film "Popeye", and the village now continues life as a tourist attraction. The village of Sweethaven consists of about 20 wooden buildings and presents a very striking sight when seen from a distance. Up close however, the appearance is somewhat different with most of the buildings being very rundown and in a poor state of repair, giving the village a much more sinister air.

Popeye as a character began life in a comic book way back in 1929 and, like any good comic book character, some of his adventures over the years have included Fortean themes. One of Popeye's cryptid encounters that caught my attention was his encounter with the "Desert Yeti". The Desert Yeti is a hairy orange beast with an appearance that is vaguely reminiscent of the "Honey Monster" of Sugar Puff cereal fame. The concept of a Desert Yeti is not one that I had come across before, and perhaps Popeye is the first person to have reported an encounter with such a beast?

Pictures, Malta (2010).

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