Interesting If True - Episode 36: Bits, Bobbles, & Beers!
Welcome to Interesting If True, the only podcast that made it through 2020.
I’m your host this week, Shea, and with me is the ever present Aaron!
I’m Aaron, and this week I learned that operating a pyramid scheme makes you a terrible business person… unless your business is ye-olde Egyption real estate development.
This week’s show is made up of mini-stories. We had a lot of bits and bobbles—and beers—laying around so we thought we’d paste them up into a variety show of sorts. Let us know what you think of the “new headlines” ;)
Today is going to be a bit different. I have been saving stories for the past year that are just too short for a full episIde, so to clear out my story folder here are some awesome quick interesting but Trues…
France in the 1500’s probably wasn’t the most fun place in the 16th century but if you were a king you could get some pretty good entertainment on Knave-flix. King Louis the 12th and Francis the first had good taste and employed the great jester, Nicolas Ferrial.
Nicolas Ferrial, also known as Le Févrial or Triboulet, was one of the most celebrated jesters in history. He had all of the qualities necessary in a good court jester, most importantly, the gift of quick wit. This wit not only made him successful but it also nearly resulted in his doom. Fortunately, that very same wit ultimately saved his life.
His ability to get himself in trouble was legendary. Once a nobleman was upset about being made the butt of Triboulet’s jokes and threatened to kill the jester. Triboulet ran to the king, telling him that the man was planning on hanging him. The king attempted to calm the jester, saying, “Don’t worry! If he hangs you I’ll have him beheaded fifteen minutes later.” Triboulet retorted, “Well, would it be possible to behead him 15 minutes before?”
This would not be the joke that made him most famous though, Triboulet’s sense of frivolity got out of control, and he slapped the king on the royal bum. The monarch lost his temper and threatened to execute Triboulet. A bit later, the monarch calmed down a little and promised to forgive Triboulet if he could think of an apology more insulting than the offending deed. A few seconds later, Triboulet responded:
“I’m so sorry, your majesty, that I didn’t recognize you! I mistook you for the Queen!”
Ultimately, Triboulet’s joking went too far. He offended Francis I to the degree that the king ordered the execution of the jester. Out of recognition of the jester’s years of faithful service, however, the king granted Triboulet the right to choose the way he would die.
Triboulet lost no time in responding. “Good sire, for Saint Nitouche’s and Saint Pansard’s sake, patrons of insanity, I choose to die from old age.” Francis I found his response so hilarious that he commuted the death sentence and, instead, banished the jester from the realm.
There are all sorts of literary friendships in history. J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg. The Algonquin Round Table. But they usually restricted themselves to literary pursuits. Not so with J.M. Barrie’s crew, which was packed with famous names and almost no athletic ability. Why does athleticism come into this? Well Barrie drafted his crew, specifically, to play cricket.
J.M. Barrie loved cricket. He loved it so much he formed a cricket club in 1887. But he didn’t pick his team based on athletic ability, no. That would be silly. Instead, he invited people based on a more eccentric set of criteria:
With regard to the married men, it was because I liked their wives, with the regard to the single men, it was for the oddity of their personal appearance.
He got what he asked for, naturalist Joseph Thomson wore pajamas as a substitute for cricket whites. Also joining the team were Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, P. G. Wodehouse, G. K. Chesterton, Jerome K. Jerome, and A. A. Milne.
The name of the club was the “Allahakbarries,” which is a culturally insensitive pun. And a mistake, since the two explorers who came up with it thought the name meant “Heaven help us,” which was something the team would need to say a lot. That’s not what “Allah Akbar” actually means, but, hey, they did manage to get Barrie’s name in there. “Allah Akbar” actually translates as “God is most great.”
Let me paint you a picture of what the other teams were up against:
- Right before the first game, Barrie discovered his teammates trying to decide which side of the bat to use to hit the ball.
- One French player thought that when the umpire called “over,” the game was literally finished.
- Barrie described a player as “Breaks everything except the ball.”
- Barrie had to write the team a book of advice which included asking them not practice before matches since it would only give their opponents confidence and
- “Should you hit the ball, run at once. Do not stop to cheer.”
Poor Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was the only one on the team who was actually a good player, and was described by Barrie as “A grand bowler. Knows a batsman’s weakness by the colour of the mud on his shoes.”
Barrie himself had just the right attitude about the game. He was relentlessly positive about the team and their opponents. He dedicated his book on the team with “To Our Dear Enemy Mary de Navarro,” an American actress who had bowled him out. He was also aware of his own shortcomings as a bowler, repeatedly writing about how slow he was. Eventually he fell back on an excuse that so many of us have used: the more accomplished a man was at writing, the worse he played.
Sadly, the end of the team was not as joyful as its inception or career: World War I finished the team. Barrie saw it coming, writing in his diary:
“The Last Cricket Match. One or two days before war declared – my anxiety and premonition – boys gaily playing cricket at Auch, seen from my window. I know they’re to suffer. I see them dropping out one by one, fewer and fewer”
In the information age, pranksters are a dime a dozen. With the medium of the internet and platforms like YouTube, it’s hard to go a week without hearing about or seeing a prank video. However, back in the pre-internet days, a prankster – let alone a good one – was hard to find. That is, unless you know Horace de Vere Cole. Horace de Vere Cole was an Irishman born in County Cork, Ireland in 1881. He came from a well-to-do family and attended the prestigious Eton College and eventually Cambridge, though he never graduated from the latter. He served in the army during the Second Boer war, during which he was wounded. Despite this respectable résumé, Cole had a penchant for pranks.
In early 1905, during his second year At Trinity College, Cole and his friend Adrian Stephen (Virginia Woolf’s brother) heard that Sayyid Ali bin Hamud Al-Busaid, eighth Sultan of Zanzibar, was visiting England.
Originally, the two lads wanted to arrange for a fake state visit of the Sultan to Cambridge, although they realized his picture had recently been printed in the press, so there was a risk their fake Sultan would get caught out. So they decided that Cole would impersonate the Sultan’s uncle, and sent a telegram to the Mayor of Cambridge asking him to arrange a suitable reception for the Sultan’s uncle and a tour of Cambridge and the Trinity College.
The two students borrowed some robes and turbans from the theatrical costume designer Willy Clarkson, applied some fake tan and took the train to Cambridge from London. When they stepped off the train they were greeted by a luxury carriage which took them to the guildhall where they met the Mayor and Town Clerk. They were then taken on a tour of the town by the two, including a tour of the college they were studying at, being seen by some of their friends who didn’t even recognize them! After an hour they demanded to be returned to the station, although they couldn’t travel back to London as that would mean breaking the College’s 10 PM campus curfew. So when they got to the station they ran out a side exit, took a cab home, and got back into their normal clothes!
The next day, Cole gave an interview to the Daily Mail detailing the prank which went viral. The Mayor was so livid he wanted the two students imprisoned, but the public had loved Cole’s prank and it would have badly damaged the Mayor’s rep so he decided not to.
Cole’s pranks were legendary and included many more great pranks.
Cole once bought eight strategically-placed tickets to a play he thought to be pretentious and gave the tickets to eight different bald men. Before they went in, Cole painted a big black letter on each of their heads so when the lights shone on the audience they spelled out the word “B-O-L-L-O-C-K-S!”
He also once hosted a dinner party where all the guests discovered during the party that they all had the word “bottom” in their surnames.
Another popular prank of Cole’s that he did repeatedly was to walk around with a cow’s udder poking out the fly of his trousers. Whenever he felt he’d caused enough uproar he would pull out a pair of scissors and chop the appendage off!
On April Fools’ Day, 1919, Cole was honeymooning in Venice with his first wife. He dropped loads of horse manure onto the historic San Marco Piazza. Venice has no horses in it and can only be reached by boat.
Though his most famous prank had to be The Dreadnought Hoax. In the early 1900s, Britain’s navy was one of the most powerful fighting forces on the planet and a key part of their Empire.
However, despite their stiff-upper-lip attitudes, the officers of the Navy did enjoy playing pranks on each other. The officers of the HMS Hawke and the HMS Dreadnought were locked in a prank war, and one of the Hawke’s officers came to his trusty friend Horace de Vere Cole for a little help taking their rivals down a notch or two.
This was to be Cole’s magnum opus.
Cole enlisted the help of five friends including two cousins of Navy Commander Willie Fisher; Adrian Stephen and his sister Virginia Woolf (then Virginia Stephen), as well as three other friends.
Cole started by getting a telegram sent to the “C-in-C, Home Fleet” stating that “Prince Makalen of Abyssinia and suite arrive 4:20 today at Weymouth. He wishes to see Dreadnought. Kindly arrange to meet them on arrival.”
The five of them put on robes and turbans supplied from his old friend Willy Clarkson, as well as fake beards and fake tan so that they resembled members of the Abyssinian royal family. Adrian Stephen took on the role of acting as the group’s “interpreter.” Cole and his entourage went to Paddington Station in London and Cole claimed he was “Herbert Cholmondeley” of the Foreign Office and demanded a special train to Weymouth.
As they stepped off the train in Weymouth, they saw that the navy had given them a full military honor guard, and played the national anthem of Zanzibar as well as waving the Zanzibari flag as they couldn’t find the Abyssinian flag. The group was given a tour and inspected the fleet, gibbering words of Latin and Greek which Adrian Stephen would then “interpret,” using Adrian to try and bestow fake military honors on the officers.
The officer giving the group the tour was none other than Commander Willie Fisher himself – Adrian and Virginia’s cousin, and not even he recognized the two! The group posed for a photo with Commanding Officers of the Royal Navy and the Dreadnought, which Cole sent to the Daily Mail the next day. Once again, the story went viral and the Navy became the butt of public ridicule. The Navy demanded the group be arrested, however they had broken no laws in their prank, so they all got away with it.
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When Shea said he was cleaning out the fun-but-too-small-for-a-real-show folder I knew exactly what Patrons were going to hear about: extreme sports, Florida, and missing limbs.
So first off, an extreme sport that I would absolutely crush if only I get them to do it in my laundry room instead of the top of a mountain, Extreme Ironing!
That’s right, because the 80’s I guess Tony Hiam, a Settle resident—that’s in Yorkshire Dales National Park in England—was inspired by his brother who, being a crazy person, apparently ironed his clothes in his tent while camping.
Or at least that’s the story the lame-stream wiki-media wants you to believe. If you want the real truth according to the people fighting about it, Extreme Ironing was created by Phil Shaw in his backyard in Leicester, England in 1997. The story goes he came home one day to a full load of chores to do but wanted to spend the evening rock climbing… so he packed his iron, board, and laundry and climbed a mountain then did his chores at its peak.
For their part the EIB, or Extreme Ironing Bureau, the sports governing body, supports Shaw’s claim. The EIB is also responsible for promoting the sport it describes as “the latest danger sport that combines the thrills of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt.”
In 1999 Shaw, who plays by the name “Steam” joined the international circuit competing in America, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. While in not-Stralia Zealand, Shaw met up with the German team to found the EIB as well as the GEIB because the Germans are super special and need their own thing.
For a short while there was a spin-off “speed round” of sorts wherein competitors would try to complete the most ironing of an item of clothing while bungee jumping but that was quickly ruled real, real stupid.
International attention was finally gained in 2003 when the BBC4 aired the documentary Extreme Ironing: Pressing for Victory — I see what they did there. The program followed the British as they won Bronze and Gold medals at the 1st Extreme Ironing World Championships in Germany.
Following the press a breakout group called Urban Housework tried to start an extreme vacuuming league but no one was interested.
The sport has seen sustained support since with events, media publications, and inclusion in things like EastEnders and Netlflix’s Dino Girl Gauko (S01E06).
Some brief highlights of the sport include: 2003 award to the South African team for ironing while suspended over Wolfberg Cracks—a massive gorge. 72 divers set a world record for underwater synchronous ironing in 2008. In 2009 128 divers and 6 free divers tried to break the record, which they did with 86 concurrent ironers, they also raised 15K for Lifeboats. And most recently in 2018 Roland Piccoli free-dive-ironed a T-shirt at 42m depth making him the world’s deepest free-diving Ironer.
Continuing our coverage of super important sports the Curling world was rocked in September when AI equipped Curly, the curling robot, beat Olympic players in three of four matches. Once he was acclimated for that rink’s ice, his throw precision was nearly 3 times that of a human.
“But I was promised Florida and severed limbs!” you might be saying. Ok, fine, let’s get to Florida.
Vernon, Florida to be specific.
Nestled in Washington county, Vernon has a population of 687 according to the 2010 census. 2018 estimates added… 3 people.
The town has no real draws, nothing is made here worth mentioning, and its historical landmarks are all based on proximity to something that matters or the deaths of native Americans. What it is known for is a documentary film called… Vernon.
The documentary dives into the only interesting thing about Vernon—how it came to be known as “nub city” in the 1950’s and 60’s.
The movie apparently angered the residents of Vernon and surrounding cities who felt that it painted them in a negative light… also it exposed their racket which made Errol Morris, the film maker, persona non grata in the city. He was eventually run out of town.
You can now find the real, nubby, truth as they see it in the Vernon Historical Society Museum’s section on insurance fraud.
See, the people of the Nub City had things figured out in a way only Florida man can. The cost of living was low, the people were… presumably… high, and everyone was related. Or at least that’s how it seems because somehow, the people of Vernon in the 50’s and 60’s, accounted for nearly ⅔’s of all missing-limb insurance claims. Remember that at the time the population was about 500.
The plan was, basically, go out into the swamp and shoot yourself in the knee or elbow such that your limb came off then apply for insurance benefits and share them with the city. Then, when that money ran out, someone else in Vernon would also “mysteriously” lose a limb restarting the cash influx into the town.
As of the 2000 census, there were the aforementioned ~700 people, made up by 206 families, with an average household income of 20k USD. At the time between 10 and 20% of the city had lost at least one, if not more, limbs.
For the documentary, it’s won a number of awards and is currently sitting at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. You can find it on Netflix.
I’m Shea, and this week I learned that keeping tropical fish at home can have a calming effect on the brain due to all the indoor fins.
Before we go, I’d like to thank all our listeners, supporters, and my co-host Aaron.
Find out more about the show, social links, and contact information at InterestingIfTrue.com.
Music for this episode was created by Wayne Jones and was used with permission.
The opinions, views, and nonsense expressed in this show are those of the hosts only and do not represent any other people, organizations, or lifeforms.
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