Touriſt of Death

One may consider the tourist of death meme modern, but the following eighteenth century book suggests it’s older than we think.

A seemingly innocent travelogue by one Samuel Ireland, insouciantly recording works of art and partaking of other highbrow activities in 1789, oblivious to the the French Revolution happening stage left as noises off.

Here’s the text of the title page in text (when you wrote down street names as hyphenated – it looks strange now, but it was the custom):

A PICTURESQUE TOUR THROUGH HOLLAND, BRABANT, AND PART of FRANCE, MADE IN THE AUTUMN OF 1789, BY SAMUEL IRELAND, AUTHOR OF THE HISTORIES AND PICTURESQUE SCENERY OF THE RIVERS THAMES, MEDWAY, AND AVON, AND GRAPHIC ILLUSTRATIONS OF HOGARTH. THE SECOND EDITION, WITH ADDITIONS; AND AN ENTIRE NEW SET OF COPPER-PLATES IN AQUA-TINTA, FROM DRAWINGS MADE ON THE SPOT. IPSE OCULIS PERLUSTRAVIT. LIV. VOL. I. LONDON: PRINTED FOR T. EGERTON, WHITEHALL; WHITES, FLEET-STREET ; ROBSON, HOOKHAM & CARPENTER, AND FAULDER, BOND-STREET ; LEIGH AND SOTHEBY, YORK-STREET, COVENT-GARDEN ; PAYNE, MEWSGATE ; SEWELL, CORNHILL ; AND G. SAEL, STRAND. 1796.

However, and perhaps disappointingly, Mr Ireland is not, as it turns out, quite so careless of what was going on around him at the time. A part of the preface (to the second edition) begins as follows:

Political discussions were not originally intended to form a part of this work, nor would they have been at all adverted to, but from the very peculiar and interesting circumstances that presented themselves at that moment. Those were of so extraordinary a nature as to command the attention of Europe, and more immediately that of our own country, whose existence in a great measure we have found deeply interested in the events then depending. …

He’s not going to remain silent about what was going on in France at the time. In fact the rest of that part of the preface says he’s left the revolutionary discussions, those that he put in the first edition, unaltered.

His travels started in Holland, and his writings are accompanied by anecdotes. Here’s the first one:

… The late King (George the Second) on his return from one of his excursions to Hanover, being detained some weeks by contrary winds, fixed his residence in one of them in preference to every other accommodation the town afforded. In one of his rambles, meeting a pretty Dutch girl on the quay, he accosted her with a Good morrow ! what have you in your basket, child ? Eyeren, Mynheer ; eggs, Sir. And what is the price, my dear ? A ducat a piece. What ! are eggs so scarce then in Holland ? No, Sir, replied the girl, but Kings are.

Tee, as they say, hee.

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Cars

I’ve been keeping an eye on Randall Munroe for years now. By which I mean – not to be all stalkery or anything – enjoying his stick-man comic strip. You have to (no, really, you do) applaud a guy who finds enough funny in the idea of context free grammars to make it today’s cartoon.

[audience looks around] ‘What just happened?’ ‘There must be some context we’re missing.’

It’s not so much that you had to be there. Although in this case you do as most of the humour is in the image’s title which you shall encounter only if you hover over it with your mouse (I add, possibly unnecessarily) on the actual website.

But he’s recently started up a new site. His drawings are no longer in strip form. Instead they illustrate answers to questions posed by fans. Here’s a bleeding chunk from his discussion of the robot apocalypse.

He talks about how probably the only large group of people who’d be hurt in such a scenario are those who’d be driving around when it happens:

While the cars might be able to control the throttle and disable the power steering, the driver would still control the steering wheel, which has direct mechanical linkage to the wheels. The driver could also pull the parking brake, although I know from experience how easily a car can drive with one of those on. Some cars might try to disable the drivers by deploying the air bags, then roll over or drive into things. In the end, our cars would probably take a heavy toll, but not a decisive one.

So probably the most at-risk-from-robots bunch of humans on the planet is the same as the most at-risk bunch of humans on the planet. Interesting. Yet, not. Hmmm.

Plus c’est la même chose

Away with physic and quack nostrums! Advertising copy from 1883 – shouty capitalised, complete with typo.

UNIVERSALLY APPROVED BY THE LEADING PHYSICIANS AS THE BEST, SAFEST, AND MOST EFFECTUAL REMEDY FOR SPINAL COMPLANTS, INCIPIENT CONSUMPTION, DIARRHŒA, PLEURISY, TUMOURS, ASTHMA, BRONCHITIS, EPILEPSY, LUMBAGO, DEBILITY, DROPSY, PARALYSIS, LOSS OF VOICE, HYSTERIA, CUTANEOUS DISEASES, NERVOUSNESS, INDIGESTION, PALPITATION &c., AND HAS CURED SOME OF THE MOST OBSTINATE AND DISTRESSING CASES, AFTER ALL OTHER REMEDIES (SO CALLED) HAVE FAILED.

1883electropathy1024

So. Cures everything – even spinal complants. A vital energy renewer to boot. And competitor’s products are rubbish.

Good Show That Man

Stanhope has one of the great voices of comedy. It’s so smoky and drinky and old. I don’t really know why they compare him to Hicks. There is a superficial similarity, which I get, (otherwise the comparison would be so out of the blue as to be absurdly arbitrary, which it doesn’t seem to be). There’s that nothing-sacred no-holds-barredness. But Hicks, fab though he was, had points to make and he made them.

Stanhope has points to make too, but he doesn’t deliver them the way Hicks did. You might even say he fails to deliver. He just talks. Like you’re both relaxing on a sofa with a drink. It doesn’t seem like a performance, just a conversation. With lulls in it. And the almost believable struggles for the next word, as if he’s caught in his own headlights.

But there’s more than one of you, and there is no sofa, and he must stand and talk instead of sit (which he got to do on Charlie Brooker’s show). Just occasionally he shuffles across the stage, like an old man in a dressing gown, as if to get as far away as possible from the dreadfully funny place, emphasis on the dreadful, he’s just been.

You know he’s not normal because – quite apart from talking about the sort of stuff you wouldn’t normally talk about even in private – he’s so good at describing what humans do. Yes there’s toilet humour. He does describe the horror of what he’s just done in the aircraft toilet. He reveals the concerted action of the people in the row ahead of the toilet he’s just left, all of them turning on the overhead airstreams at the same time. And he tells of the stewardess moving up the isle and stopping at the toilet door and looking at it as if it were a person. That, as they say, is funny shit.

The audience pretty much loved him, which I think he may have found a bit off-putting, But who am I to infer the mental states of others? It’s not like his discourse is veering towards the safer territory of fluffy bunnidom, so no worries there. There was a bit of an inner struggle (another inference of a mental state) about how to finish, and he decided to go for the thirteen year old story of Bobby Barnett. Now that could have been disappointing – I guess about a third of the audience would be fanny enough to know it – but there’s no hint of protest. It’s a great (though earthbound) story, and – although this bit must therefore be more of a piece of performance art – that mountain has not yet crumbled into the sea.