If I’ve learned one thing in my ten or so weeks writing this column it’s that hunting for worthwhile stories is a bit like deep-shaft mining. Each week I descend into the dark and gloomy pit of ‘current events’ journalism, metaphorical gas lamp strapped to figurative helmet, allegorical pick axe in hand. For hours I batter away at the proverbial coal face. Most of the time all I manage to do is chip away at an endless supply of boring old rock – stories fit only for the spoil heap of human experience – but every now and again I happen upon a solid seam of purest weird. It is then my job, dear reader, to drag my finds to the surface where I refine them into the gleaming written word you see before you now… here are the fruits of this week’s labour.
Weird Goings On
Anyone who was alive and breathing and had access to a television set will remember the kafuffle leading up to December 21st 2012, the day, according to the Mayan Long Count Calendar, when the universe would come to an end. An ancient prophecy descended from a long extinct culture, it caught the public imagination, even spontaneously birthing a schlocky John Cusack movie. People held their breath, watched the horizon and wondered whether the ancients truly knew something we didn’t. In the end, as it turned out, the whole thing was a damp squib and nothing much occurred at all… So it was probably no surprise that another ancient prophecy of doom passed us by last Saturday with very little comment. That’s right, last Saturday, the 22nd of February 2014, was according to certain scholars of Norse mythology, the supposed day of Ragnarok. Last Saturday the world was supposed to split open releasing a ravening army of monsters who would enter into mortal combat with Odin, Thor and co. Monsters would die, Gods would die and the human race would be wiped out in an ocean of volcanic fire… it was gonna be a special effects spectacular! Again though, in the event, it was all a bit of a disappointment… I think the lesson to be learned here is clear. If you’re going to pick a completely spurious date for the end of the world make sure you’re not around when it doesn’t kick off. That having been said, I confidently predict that on the 17th of May 2236 a giant space shark named Jorjax will consume our planet whole after mistaking it for a Tuna Fish… don’t say you weren’t warned.
Giant Calamari from the deep!!
The above image shows the 160ft long giant squid which washed up off the coast of Santa Monica, California, on the 10th of January 2014. According to reports the cause of the beast’s extreme size was ‘Radioactive Gigantism’ brought about by 2011’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power-plant disaster. The story, like the creature itself, caused quite a sensation when it appeared in at least one American national newspaper. Unfortunately, as it turns out, the whole thing was a hoax perpetrated by the satirical news site www.lightlybraisedturnip.com. Such a disappointment, but giant squid have been leaving some authentic tentacle prints in the press.
According to the Japan Times, fishermen in Japanese waters are living in fear of ‘omens’ after a recent increase in the numbers of giant squid dragged up in their nets. At least five of the normally elusive creatures have found their way into fishing nets since the turn of the year. Giant squid normally live 600 metres below sea level, but something is driving them closer to the surface… much closer. Shigenori Goto, an experienced fisherman, who dredged up a four meter monster off the coast of Sadogashima Island commented:
“I had seen no giant squid before in my 15-year fishing career. I wonder whether it may be some kind of omen.”
Of course, scientists have poured scorn on this ‘superstition’, arguing that the squids’ ocean habitats have been unusually cold this year, leading them to rise upwards in search of heat… Smoke screen, smoke screen I say… we know the truth. A few weeks back I commented on the mysterious island which recently surfaced off the coast of Japan and the similarities it bore to a certain nightmare corpse city in Lovecraftian lore. These recent happenings are clear evidence that tentacled Cthulhu and his evil hordes are preparing to burst forth from their green, slimy vaults… … … I think!!
Weird Medical Case-book
Okay, so this next story really stretches the bounds of credulity… meet Saadiya Saleh a 12 year old girl from rural Yemen. Saadiya has been the subject of significant media attention owing to her remarkable ability to weep tears of stone. Video images, shown on Yemeni state television, appear to depict tiny pebbles oozing from the child’s eyes. The video (see below), which was shot in a hospital, also shows a small box which Saadiya puportedly filled with her ‘tears’ within ‘only a few hours’. Doctors are apparently at a complete loss as to an explanation. People from the girl’s village though seem to have a very clear idea as to the cause:
“Some say the girl could be gripped by a magic spell while others say it might be the devil… Others fear it could be the start of a dangerous epidemic.”
Saadiya’s isn’t the first case of a child weeping stones. In 2004, 7 year old Kura Nitya, from a village near the Indian city of Hyderabad, wept stones from her right eye for fifteen days. The phenomenon was reportedly witnessed by her stunned ophthalmologist Dr Kalyan Chakaravarthy who stated that there was no logical cause for the condition. In June 2009 an unnamed girl form Omaruru, Namibia was admitted to hospital with a similar ailment. Although the above cases remain unsolved, other examples have been debunked. For example, in 1996 Hasnah Mohamed, a 12 year old Lebanese girl reportedly wept tears of crystal. It was later proven that she had been inserting small pieces of quartz beneath her eyelids… If you want to find out whether Saadiya is the real deal or not, you’ll need to keep an eye on this story!
The Original Energy Drink
In today’s super sensible and medically conscious world we know that radiation, as a rule, is a pretty bad thing. So harmful are the potential effects of radioactive exposure, that even radiotherapy, an effective treatment for some cancers, is employed only as a last resort. This, however, was not always the case. In the early 20th century, when radioactivity was first discovered, it was strongly believed that substances like uranium, plutonium and radium held almost limitless potential as cure-alls. Numerous brands of ‘radioactive water’ were manufactured, mass-produced and sold as patented medicines for everything from coughs to colds to head-aches and arthritis. Radioactive suppositories and skin creams were also marketed. Among the most popular of these medicines was Radithor, the brain-child of infamous huckster and quack doctor William Bailey; a man who once tried to sell strychnine as an aphrodisiac. Radithor’s popularity descended in part from its endorsement by semi-pro golfer and society man Eban Byers (pictured below).
Byres, who began taking Radithor after hurting his swing-arm, continued to take the ‘medicine’ long after his injury had healed, acting in the process as a one man advertising campaign. He would send crates of the liquid to friends and associates; he even had it fed to his stable of racing horses. Between 1927, when he first used the substance and the early 30s when it became clear that it was doing him more harm than good, it is estimated that Byres himself consumed more than 1500 bottles of the stuff. There was, of course, a tragic end to this tale. Eventually the true effects of the elixir Byres found so ‘invigorating’ came to the fore; his teeth fell out, his bones began to crack and disintegrate, eventually his jaw fell off and he died. Byres had become the first high-profile victim of what we now call radiation poisoning…
Weird Object of the Week
For your Eyes Only
This week’s weird object of the week is one of my personal favourites, the Ophthalmophantome. No, it’s not some hypnotic mask from a Venetian costume ball; it is in fact a medical device. The Opthalmophantome was a practice model for budding eye surgeons. Taking the form of a human face, the mask contains two eye sockets containing metal screws and clamps… can you guess what they were used to screw and clamp? That’s right, real eyes; pig or cadaver eyes to be precise. The Ophthalmophantome was designed to allow medical students the opportunity to practice their butchery on a patient who was less likely to complain at a casual slip of the scalpel. These helpful pieces of medical apparatus were in use up until the early 20th century and came in a variety of shapes and sizes. The model displayed above, with is creepy smile and blank expression, dates to around 1889 and was known as ‘Waldau’s face’; it being the invention of Dr Adolph Waldau of Berlin. The more lifelike model shown below dates to around 1870 and was the work of a Dr Josef Leiter.
So, did you like my collection of weird gems? I had to dig long and deep for them. Some might doubt their worth, but to me they are as priceless as a clutch of freshly cut diamond… Of course, I’m not the greedy type, I’m always eager to share my newly dug-up treasure with others… come back next week to see what I’ve managed to extract from the mines.
Over and Out