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In Britain, it is illegal for a political party in an election to call itself ‘None of the Above’. This is to prevent the words appearing on ballot papers; presumably, there is a fear that the NOTA party would win by a landslide.

Michael J Fox’s middle name is Andrew.

Karaoke means “empty orchestra” in Japanese.

In the Oxford English Dictionary, the first use of the word ‘sponge-cake’ is attributed to Jane Austen.

The first treaty Adolf Hitler ever made as a dictator was with the Vatican.

See other: Quite Interesting Facts

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How Lose Embarrassing Records


‘He handed me the file. Inside was a sheet of paper which read as follows:

‘This file contains the complete set of papers, except for:

(a) a number of secret documents
(b) a few others which are part of still active files
(c) some correspondence lost in the floods of 1967
(d) some records which went astray in the move to London
(e) other records which went astray when the War Office was incorporated into the Ministry of Defence
(f) the normal withdrawal of papers whose publication could give grounds for an action for libel or breach of confidence or cause embarrassment to friendly governments.’

[1967 was, in one sense, a very bad winter. From the Civil Service point of view it was a very good one. All sorts of embarrassing records were lost – Ed.]

– Lynn J., Jay A. 1981. The Complete Yes Minister London, Great Britain: BBC Books (1991) p. 513

Jackspeak


Ever been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea? Or maybe you have been told to show a leg, been taken aback or have been made to run the gauntlet?

If so, you have been using just a few of the thousands of slang words and phrases coined or adopted by the Royal Navy – the world’s oldest organised fighting service – over the course of more than 400 years.

Over the centuries, the jargon of the Royal Navy, known as Jackspeak, has contributed to the everyday English vocabulary.

Royal Navy personnel feel that part of its charm comes from its exclusivity, because the terminology used is only understood by fellow naval comrades.

Also, it is believed that the humour of nautical slang is an essential coping strategy for people dealing with the multiple uncertainties and dangers of war.

“The world is a navy in an empty ocean.” – Dejan Stojanovic

The range of slang used by the Grey Funnel Line (the navy) is both instructive and amusing. Whether you serve in the Green Death (3rd Commando Brigade, Royal Marines), or are a snotty (midshipman) or a pickle jar officer (a university graduate who can tell you the square root of a pickle-jar lid to three decimal places but cannot get the blooming thing off), there is a special name for everything that matters.

In addition, the whole spectrum of naval life is covered, from a horse’s neck (brandy and dry ginger) to buckets of sunshine (nuclear weapons), the rather charming putting the Queen to bed (affectionate term for the formal lowering of the White Ensign each evening, at sunset), and helioproctosis (a condition where a person, usually a toffee-nosed officer, believes the sun shines from his backside – from the Ancient Greek ἥλιος meaning ‘sun’, and πρωκτός meaning ‘anus’).

“The sea, the snotgreen sea, the scrotumtightening sea.” – James Joyce, Ulysses

And at the end of a Naval career, one receives the Order of the Golden Toecap (redundancy), and swallows the anchor (retired from a career at sea).

Finally, to get out at Fratton is Royal Navy jargon for coitus interruptus. (Fratton is the last railway station before Portsmouth – home of one of Britain’s largest Naval Bases.)

Chastity of Monks


‘Unlike other monks, Cistercians wore plain, undyed wool – for which reason they were known as the ‘White Monks’. The return to heroic monasticism meant that they ate only the coarsest wheat bread, and were ordered to avoid coloured glass in the chapel, and gold and silver on the altar.

And they were not allowed to wear underpants. St Benedict had not mentioned them in his list of permitted clothing for monks, so the Cistercians would have no truck with the evil things – much to the amusement of a number of their contemporaries. Some called it ‘bare-bottomed piety’ and Walter Map, the twelfth-century author, wit and foe of Cistercians, suggested they shunned underpants ‘to preserve coolness in that part of the body lest sudden heats provoke unchastity’.’

– Jones. T., Ereira. A. 2004. Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives London, Great Britain: BBC Books (2005) p. 99

Medieval Haggling


‘The borough courts, though, were busy with much more specific matters. Certainly, from the time of the Black Death between 1348 and 1349 and the Statute of Labourers in 1351, which attempted to control wages, local authorities regulated the price of all bread and ale that was sold. The courts used the law to enforce these regulations, and imposed their own systems of punishment (town courts could not outlaw criminals), which ranged from mutilation to forcing traders in bad goods to eat their produce in public, or have their bad drink poured over them. As with rural juries, maintaining the law was a matter of shame and reputation.

Haggling over basic commodities was illegal, and in most food markets bargaining was punishable by a fine and holding an auction was seen as a criminal act, held in secret. The ‘law of supply and demand’, that insists on higher prices when goods are in short supply, was regarded as anathema and therefore not allowed to operate in these medieval markets.

It can be argued that the true end of the Middle Ages came in the seventeenth century, when prices were allowed to rise in times of dearth, and the laws of supply and demand took over.’

– Jones. T., Ereira. A. 2004. Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives London, Great Britain: BBC Books (2005) p. 76

A Brief History of Colditz Castle‏


In its 1000 year historic past, the castle has witnessed a diverse range of use: from a medieval hunting lodge to a World War II POW camp, and a psychiatric hospital.

Colditz is mentioned for the first time in a historical document dating from 1046 when Emperor Heinrich III gave his wife the fort together with property and land which had previously belonged to Marquis Eckehard II.

The castle in 2011.

Colditz Caste

A bakers apprentice caused a fire destroying the castle and most parts of the town in 1504. The castle was reconstructed two years later. In 1697, during the heyday of the Baroque period, when August the Strong became King of Poland; he and his family increasingly neglected the castle and the town.

Colditz Castle was used by the Elector for the last time in 1753. From this period onwards the castle fell into a state of disrepair. In 1787, the remaining furniture and paintings were sold at a public auction.

In 1800, Colditz Castle was turned into a poorhouse for the area around Leipzig, three years later it became a workhouse.

One of the first psychiatric asylums in Germany was established at the castle in 1829. Ludwig Schumann, a son of the composer Robert Schumann, and Ernst Georg August Baumgarten (who is considered to be the true inventor of the airship) were admitted soon after. The hospital was eventually closed in 1924.

During the years of the rise of the Nazi party, 1933-1934, the Castle was used as a “protective custody“ camp to imprison approximately 600 opponents of the National Socialist Movement.

Between 1939-1945 Colditz Castle became a prisoner of war camp for Allied officers from Great Britain and the Commonwealth, France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Poland. The official name of the camp was “OFLAG IV C” and it was claimed that the castle is escape-proof. However, some prisoners succeeded in making their escape in over 30 occasions despite the rocky crags on which the castle stands, the barbed-wire fences, the numerous guards and the searchlights.

Colditz Castle circa World War II taken by a GI.

Colditz Castle at the end of World War II

The prisoners were generally treated according to the terms of the Geneva Convention. Every nation had its own escaping officer. However, POW life was not too bad at Colditz. When not busy planning their next escape attempts, the prisoners largely spent their days engaged in sports, playing music, reading, rehearsing and performing in plays and learning foreign languages. The castle and the local town were liberated by American forces on 16th April 1945.

Between 1946-1996 Colditz became part of the eastern region of Germany known as the German Democratic Republic under the Socialist rule until 1989. In the meantime, the castle was reverted back to a hospital.

After 1996, the castle was no longer used as a hospital or nursing home – an association was founded to establish Colditz Castle as a cultural centre. Nowadays it is used as a museum and hotel.

Editors’ Note


‘We believe that these diaries accurately reflect the mind of one of our outstanding national leaders; if the reflection seems clouded it may not be the fault of the mirror. Hacker himself processed events in a variety of ways, and the readers will have to make their own judgement as to whether any given statement represents

(a) what happened
(b) what he believed happened
(c) what he would like to have happened
(d) what he wanted others to believe happened
(e) what he wanted others to believe that he believed happened.’

– Lynn J., Jay A. 1981. The Complete Yes Minister London, Great Britain: BBC Books (1991) p. 9

Battle of Fishguard


The Battle of Fishguard was a military invasion of Great Britain by Revolutionary France during the War of the First Coalition – the first major effort of multiple European monarchies to contain Revolutionary France. The brief campaign, which took place between the 22nd of February and 24th of February 1797 near Fishguard, a coastal town in Pembrokeshire, south-west Wales. It was the most recent effort by a foreign force that was able to land on Britain, and thus is often referred to as the last invasion of Britain.

Général_LOUIS_LAZARE_HOCHE

General Lazare Hoche

The invasion was the plan of General Lazare Hoche. He proposed to land 15,000 French troops in Ireland to support Theobald Wolfe Tone and the Irish Republicans at Bantry Bay. As a diversionary attack to draw away British reinforcements, two smaller forces would land at Great Britain, one in northern England near Newcastle and another in Wales.

The overall aim was to start an uprising against the English using the deep-rooted patriotism and nationalist pride in the Celtic regions of Britain, and march onwards to Bristol, Chester, Liverpool and finally London.

General Lazare Hoche had devised a three-pronged attack on Britain in support of Irish Republicans under Wolfe Tone. Two forces would land in Britain as a diversionary effort, while the main body would land in Ireland. However, poor weather and indiscipline halted two of the forces, although the third, aimed at landing in Wales and marching on Bristol, went ahead.

The invasion force consisted of 1,400 troops from the La Legion Noire under the command of Irish American Colonel William Tate, 800 of whom were irregulars.

Colonel William Tate, an Irish-American from South Carolina, was the Commander-in-Chief of the Expeditionary Force. He had fought against the British during the American War of Independence, but after a failed coup d’etat in New Orleans, he fled to Paris in 1795. Under his command was La Seconde Legion des Francs, more commonly known as La Legion Noire due to their use of captured British uniforms dyed very dark brown/black. The force consisted of 600 regular troops that Napoleon Bonaparte had not required in his conquest of Italy, and another 800 irregular troops which consisted of republicans, deserters, convicts and Royalist prisoners. They were all well-armed, and some of their officers were Irish.

Transported on four French warships Tate’s forces landed at Carregwastad Head near Fishguard on the 22nd of February, after a failed attempt to enter Fishguard harbour itself. However, upon landing, discipline broke down amongst the irregulars, many of whom deserted to loot nearby settlements.

English: Carregwastad Head, near Fishguard, Pe...

Carrewagstad Head near Fishguard

The remaining troops were met by a quickly assembled group of around 500 British reservists, militia and sailors under the command of John Campbell, 1st Baron Cawdor. After brief clashes with the local civilian population and Lord Cawdor’s forces on the 23rd of February Tate was finally forced into an unconditional surrender after a day of fighting. Later, the British captured two of the expedition’s vessels, a frigate and a corvette.

Almost a century later in 1853, amidst fears of another invasion by the French, Lord Palmerston conferred upon the Pembroke Yeomanry the battle honour Fishguard. This regiment has the unique honour of being the only regiment in the British Army, regular or territorial, that bears a battle honour for an engagement on the British mainland. It was also the first battle honour awarded to a volunteer unit.

The wreck of a rowing boat believed to belong to the invasion fleet was found in 2003 and lies off Strumble Head. England has seen more invasions than we remember.