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April 20th

On this day in 1535 sun dogs appeared over Stockholm. Now, sun dogs (of which more in a mo) are not that unusual, but what is special about this particular appearance is that it led to the earliest ever depiction of sun dogs, by an artist called Urban Målare (olde worlde names are great, this one translates as Urban the painter).

Sun dogs at the south pole complete with a lovely halo

Now for the science bit. A sun dog is the common name for a parahelion or parahelia. It is an atmospheric phenomenon which creates bright spots of light, often on a halo, either side of the sun. Sometimes, they appear in pairs, sometimes there is only one. They are always at the same level as the sun (hence, para = bedside/alongside). So, that’s what they are, how do these magical little doppelgänger suns come about? They are made up of ice crystals, generally in high cirrus clouds, but if the weather is very cold they can be found drifting lower in the air. The crystals act as prisms. bending and refracting the sunlight that hits them. Depending on how the crystals are aligned you can get halo effects around the sun, but generally as they sink they line up and that’s when you get sun dogs. Because of this sun dogs are almost always seen when the sun is lowest in the sky, either near sunrise or sunset.

Now we know what they are, we’ll return to Urban the painter. There was  a reason for him painting the phenomenon in the sky and nice as it would be to think that he had merely been moved by the beauty of the three suns and the pretty halos, alas, it was far more prosaic than that. In 1523, Sweden had elected a new king by the name of Gustav Vasa. He wasn’t having an easy job of ruling his country of disparate provinces, many of whom weren’t keen on him. There was also the problem of potential invasion by Denmark and the influence of the Hanseatic League. This stuff all made him wary with a tendency to paranoia. Add into this mix his determination to bring Protestantism to Sweden and, well things were a little on the difficult side for Gustav.

However, Gustav found a mate in a clergyman called Olaus Petri, who was preaching about reformation at the time. He invited him to

Vädersolstavlan

Stockholm, they got on. Then Petri got married – the little tyke – got excommunicated by the pope and him and the king got closer. All was going well on the reform front until Gustav got a bit Henry VIII about it all, i.e. looting churches and monasteries and stuff, and Petri was all “Whoa! Slow down, King dude, what you’re doing is a bit off!” So, that’s where we are when on 20th April 1535 we get sun dogs over Stockholm.

Sun dogs were not unknown at the time, so the populace weren’t all “Oh no, the world’s gone mad, there are three suns, tomorrow we die!”, but Petri – apparently – was truly perplexed by what their appearance right then might mean.  He got hold of Urban the painter, told him to paint it, which he did, and then Petri plonked it up in his church and gave a sermon about it which was a little bit critical of the king. The painting was called Vädersolstavlan, it is the first painting to depict a sun dog and also the first painting to depict the city of Stockholm in colour. The original has now been lost, but a copy of it was made in 1636 by Jacob Elbfas (no, I do not know what his surname means) and that is still with us today.

The aftermath of Petri’s sermon? Well, the king was all “Shut up you damn fool!” in the short-term. In the long-term they argued a bit more over sun dogs and other things and Petri was sentenced to death, but finally reprieved. It was all a little silly and unnecessary, but the world got a nice painting out of the whole thing, so no foul no harm.

Today was the birthday of Edie Sedgwick. I thought for a while before including her in this illustrious almanac, because after all she’s just famous for being famous for being a bit of an anorexic drug addict who died young. But, despite the fact that she’s this vague and vapid personality, or maybe because of it, she’s a blank canvas that has been painted on over and over again. Perhaps it is her very nothingness that has made her so memorable.

Edie Sedgwick

So, the basics. Posh girl, shit family life, history of mental problems, narcissistic, possibly abusive father. Her method of control is anorexia, she slides into drug abuse, she meets Andy Warhol who falls in love with her look and her lack of self. She makes some films with him, they fall out, she has some sort of relationship with Bob Dylan, but he’s married and she doesn’t know. Then a relationship with his bass player Bob Neuwirth, drugs and her erratic behaviour killed that. The next five years of her life saw her in and out of psychiatric institutions, getting progressively weaker, more dependent on drugs and alcohol with some periods of near normality. In 1971 she married Michael Post, who she had met in an institution. For  few months she was drug free, but in November of that year she was back to a heavy reliance on barbiturates and alcohol. This is one of the worst mixtures in the world if you want to stay alive. It’s possible Edie didn’t. She died on November 16th 1971.

Not much of a life, but enough to inspire quite a few people. Just like a woman (Dylan), is about her. Femme Fatale (Velvet Underground ft Nico), is about her. She’s been name-checked or had songs written about her by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, The Cult, Edie Brickell. Her look has been used by Madonna, she’s been depicted on film several times and Patti Smith wrote a poem about her. Not bad for a skinny little girl who starved herself to disappear. She did, but if you look closely she’s still there.

Happy birthday, Edie.

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April 7th

This day in history is a most auspicious one, so it pained me to look through the annals and find events that bored me or stuff about fucktards (hello Savonarola) who we’d already covered and quite frankly had enough of.  Anyway, given that nothing can quite compare to an event that happened at 4am in the Royal Free Hospital in Liverpool Road in 1965, I did uncover something that appears to be completely fictitious, but is too wonderful to consign to the dustbin of made-up history.

And then she hit me right here on the nose!

All around the web, it is stated that on this day in 1926, Mussolini’s Irish wife broke his nose. There is no further detail, because, well Mussolini never had an Irish wife. The terrible bald fucker had two wives, both of them Italian, one discarded and all records of their marriage destroyed because he wanted to pretend he’d never been married to her. The second stuck with him until the end. Neither, as far as history shows us, broke his nose. Perhaps the history of WWII might have played out a bit differently if one or both of them had, preferably on a regular basis.

Of course, I am not advocating mindless violence, but given the circumstances I’m sure they could have found a way to break his nose mindfully. It’s a shame that this story is so clearly a fake, because I can picture it all in my head. Benito at the table complaining that his stupid Irish wife hasn’t cooked the spaghetti properly and all she knows her way around is potatoes and cabbage like a stupid bog-trotting peasant. And up she gets. Small in stature but a mighty

Cover your nose, Benny, the bitch is back!

warrior all the same. Her eyes are green and sending out sparks of anger. Benito is too self-satisfied and stupid to sense the danger. Her hair is loose and a symphony of red and gold and orange and copper and rich sweet-smelling ginger. It seems alive as she moves closer toward her target. He still goads her, he holds up his spaghetti in his fork and mocks her like the pompous wee shite he is. And then she is in front of him, finally he feels a little fear. She is still, but her hair still seems to be moving, her eyes still spark and her nostrils flare. He is silent as she stares him straight in the eye. He gulps. And then it comes. Her fist moves as if in slow-motion but he can’t move away from it. He is rooted to the spot as though his wife has become Medusa and he is turned to stone. And. And. And. BAM! Right in the fucking conk. “Shitehawk” she throws over her shoulder as she walks away. His blood mingles with the tomato sauce and he cries quietly with the pain.

Ah, Maureen McMussolini, where were you when we needed you!

Today is and was the birthday of many a great and grand person. And Russell Crowe. Russell Crowe is one year older than me and I am glad he exists because when I am feeling like a haggard old crone, I look at him and say “thank fuck I look better on it than he does.” The truth is, I look about a million times better than the big fighty git who gets all precious when people say “Oh Russell, why did you do an Irish accent for Robin Hood?” Well, Russell, I’ve seen some of that film and you did do an Irish accent, you great fat lummox. I’ve only seen some of it because I was on a plane and it was so shit I fell asleep. Here’s the thing, on the way out, I’d watched Sex and the City 2, which is one of the worst films ever and an abomination to womankind, but I did not fall asleep. That’s how shit Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood was. He stands as a reminder that however great a day April 7th is, some right shitters were born on this day too (see also David Frost).

Billie as a lovely wee girl

But, let’s move on to the sublime, the beautiful, the troubled, the big old skag head with a voice that could tickle your spine in a way that felt slightly obscene: Billie Holiday. She was born 50 years before I happened down onto the earth and had left it before  I  joined it.

Her life was never easy from the start. Born Eleanora Fagan, her thirteen year old mother was thrown out of her parents’ home for being pregnant. Young Billie was looked after by relatives while her mother worked on the trains. She was troubled, played truant and was in a Catholic reform school for this before the age of 10. She was then released into her mother’s custody to live and work in a restaurant she had bought. At the age of 11, Billie was raped and sent back to the reform school to be kept safe while they waited for the trail to come to court.

And then it all went  a bit more downhill. You all know that she and her mother then lived in brothels, that that’s where Billie started to sing and also to turn tricks as an under age prostitute at $5 a time.  And she learned to drink, to take drugs, to favour men who would beat her and hurt her over men who would love the beautiful soul she was. She went to prison, she came out, she took more drugs and she sang, oh how she sang. Even toward the end when she had all but destroyed her voice with drug and alcohol abuse she still sang and it was more beautiful in its ruin than most people can  hope for in their own version of perfection.

Lady sings the Blues

She died in 1959 and her death was described on sleeve notes by the NY Times journalist, Gilbert Millstein, who had been a narrator at her 1956 Carnegie Hall concerts:

Billie Holiday died in the Metropolitan Hospital, New York, on Friday, July 17, 1959, in the bed in which she had been arrested for illegal possession of narcotics a little more than a month before, as she lay mortally ill; in the room from which a police guard had been removed – by court order – only a few hours before her death, which, like her life, was disorderly and pitiful. She had been strikingly beautiful, but she was wasted physically to a small, grotesque caricature of herself. The worms of every kind of excess – drugs were only one – had eaten her … The likelihood exists that among the last thoughts of this cynical, sentimental, profane, generous and greatly talented woman of 44 was the belief that she was to be arraigned the following morning. She would have been, eventually, although possibly not that quickly. In any case, she removed herself finally from the jurisdiction of any court here below.

She was no lady, but she was Lady Day. Happy birthday my birthday twin. You know how much I’ve always loved you and thrilled to share your birthday, and I’d like you to know that I always will. We’ll both just forget about that cunt, Crowe. He ain’t our sort of peoples.

Oh and she loved dogs too!

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March 13th

On this day in 1969, in the midst of the Vietnam war, Disney released a film called The Love Bug. It was so popular that many sequels followed, all starring a little Volkswagen called Herbie.

Never one to miss a chance to bring our old nemesis Adolf into a story, it’s worth mentioning at this point, before we get down to the nitty-gritty, that it was the bastard Führer who came up with the idea of the Volkswagen (the people’s car) in the first place and a certain Mr Porsche who came up with the design. Many of us have seen Herbie with this delightful little 53 painted onto his bonnet

Herbie mows down any damn non-Aryan who gets in his way

and we probably all wanted a car just like him at the time. But think on.

Herbie was in fact a Nazi spy and even though it seemed like he was representing some sort of automotive American dream, he was not.  In the film we never find out where Herbie came from, but that is because the filmmakers did not want us to know the truth about his background. Herbie was put together by German scientists during the war to act as a spy car and to help them take over the world. At the end of the war, he was left alone in a little laboratory until he was found and sold to the American market, which as luck would have it is where the scientists wanted to send him in the first place.

In the films we see him being all sweet and helping Dean Jones win races and the girl, but we ignore the fact that in helping one man he is in fact trying to kill and maim others. Although the filmmakers knew he was a spy car it wasn’t until the 1980 film Herbie goes Bananas that they cottoned on to his killy tendencies. They immediately stopped making films with the car because they were frankly terrified of him. They only went with the Lindsay Lohan remake because they were hoping that Herbie might kill her. Unfortunately he saw that she was just the sort of person to make America look bad, so he spared her life.

So, there it is. We all loved Herbie for his cute little ways, but he was in fact a trained assassin, a spy and a dirty Nazi to boot. One should never judge a car by it’s paintjob.

Today was the birthday of a man called Daniel Lambert. He was born in Leicestershire in 1770 and gained fame for his huge bulk. By the time Daniel died he weighed 52st 11lb (739lb). Daniel had not been particularly large as a child and young man and was in fact very active, loving to swim, walk and hunt. It seems, however, that when he took over his father’s job as gaol-keeper in Leicester at the age of about 21, the pounds started to pile on.

Lambert always insisted that he drank  no alcohol and didn’t eat much. This is obviously a pile of old bollocks. One does not get to be the size of about 4 or 5 men without eating a little more than average at the very least. As for his insistence that he drank no alcohol, this is also unlikely. He was living in an era when water could still be a bit iffy and most people drank beer in the same way that we today would drink water. Lambert like many people who are extremely obese, underestimated the amount he ate in the same way that anorexics look in the mirror and see a fat person.

There was more to Daniel than his weight. He was, by all accounts an intelligent and interesting man and he once had a fight with a

Daniel did not see his penis for the last fifteen years of his life

bear who was trying to hurt his dog (and won). In 1805 when the Leicester Bridewell closed down, he was left without a job and although he had a £50 annuity it was not enough to keep him in food and clothes, so he made his way to London in order to exhibit himself – he was over 50st by this time – and earn a living. He was very popular and made a lot of money from visitors who were keen to see his bulk for themselves. Many commented on his wit and intelligence as most had been expecting a large slow-witted man. When he had earned a large amount, Lambert headed back to Leicester where he lived, with some small tours to make more money, until his death in 1809.

With the obesity we see nowadays, Daniel would not seem that out of the ordinary, but in his day he was seen, even if affectionately, as a freak. The affection did however live on after his death. His name became synonymous with “a fat man” and he was mentioned in Nicholas Nickleby and Vanity Fair. As the century wore on, his name was lent to anything large, so someone with huge intelligence would be said to be “a Daniel Lambert of learning”.

So, there you are. March 13th 1770 a man was born who grew up to be very fat and then he died. Not exactly earth-shattering, but in his own way far more worthy of considering than some of our recent birthday boys <cough> Murdoch and Doherty</cough>.

Happy birthday, Daniel Lambert, don’t stint on the cake!

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February 8th

On this day in 1750 there was a minor earthquake in London. In fact it was so minor it was almost micro. It measured 2.6 on the Richter scale, although at the time nobody knew that because Charles Richter had not yet invented his earthquake measuring system.

The Bishop of London was a secret transvestite

An earthquake of the magnitude (or microtude) is the sort that gets measured but not necessarily felt by that many people; in short as earthquakes go, it was a bit rubbish. However, some people must have felt it because exactly a month later on March 8th there was another one – a little stronger this time at 3.1, but still pretty shit – and then all of a sudden Londoners got all scared and “Ooh, bugger me sideways, what’s going to happen on April 8th!” The answer to this was: not a lot, but there was no telling the panicked populace that.

Of course, wherever there is panic you will find people who are happy to take advantage of it. In this instance, it was the Bishop of London who jumped into his pulpit at St Paul’s  and started getting all “God is angry with us! You’re all depraved and he is trying to smite you for your sin and reading that book what that Henry Fielding wrote what is called Tom Jones!” During these fulminations he spat a lot and got very red in the face, the better to show he was a bit cross. Many in the congregation were much in awe of his rhetoric, but there were some voices of dissent. It is reported that a learned fellow from Bishopsgate confronted the bishop with a question thus: “Your Grace, while I may accept some of thine imprecations on the general populace, I do find myself wondering why thou dost mention Tom Jones, when as any learned chap dost know, there were no earthquakes in 1722 when Moll Flanders was first read by the good people of London and the

Enlivened by his own sermon, the bishop wrote an imaginatively titled pamphlet

heroine of that story was a known short-heeled wench! Also, it doth also seem passing strange that our Lord and Father has sent upon us such piddling tremors if he is really as angry as all that. I do believe that the Gentleman’s Magazine hast got it right when they sayeth that yon tremors were more than likely the result of subterranean waters cutting new courses!”

The Bishop of London then thundered so hard, that the people in the front row of the congregation felt the earth move far more than they had during either of the two earthquakes. “Shut up!” he shouted, “What do you know about the ways of our Heavenly Father, young scamp!  For did not an angel visit a cobbler from Carnaby Market and tell him that the world would end on 8th April. You’ll be laughing on the other side of your face then. Ha!” It is thought that the learned young gentleman then protested that if the world did indeed end, he wouldn’t have a face to smile on the other side of, before being ejected from the cathedral by some burly rectors.

As it happened, a lot of people left London and went to Slough – thus turning it into the place that in later years John Betjeman wished friendly bombs on – and others slept out on hills on April 8th, though how they thought this would save them from the end of the world is not at all clear. Some of them were so stupid, that they did this for months to come on the 8th of each successive month, before going back to drinking shed-loads of gin and getting up to all sorts of jiggery-pokery in the streets and alleyways of London. The Bishop of London met his end eleven years later, in the manner of Elvis Presley.

Today is the birthday of tit grabber and alleged style guru Trinny Woodall, who found fame with Susannah Constantine (an ex-

Noted "style maven" and exuberant lip-pumper, Trinny Woodall

fiancée of a minor royal) by telling women “what not to wear”. Their fame continued for a number of years, despite the fact that they more or less put all the women in their show in the same clothes and spent far too long squeezing the tits and arses of their vapid victims. As their fame has waned, Trinny has had cosmetic surgery to give her lips that just punched in the face look and hung various hideous frocks on her increasingly skeletal frame. Still, one shouldn’t be overly mean to the poor woman. She’s hardly the only celebrity to do strange things to her face and wearing the wrong frock every now and then isn’t a crime – unless of course you’re one of the poor bitches she laid into on her show for not knowing that “sallow women should not wear that shade and why is it below your knee making your legs looks like tree trunks!”, so pax and all that. Happy birthday, Lippy Trinny! You don’t look a day over 58 48!

 

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