Drop everything …..

It is not very often after reading a book based on historical facts woven with fictional characters that I feel compelled to tell the world of what I have read. However the book “Among Kings” by Joey O’Connor prompts me to do just that.

Not only is this book a riveting read, even if a little gruesome at times, but the author’s note explaining how he came to write it is itself just as fascinating.

The book is an interesting read. At first one would be forgiven in thinking it was about American missionaries, and racial differences, but persevere as it becomes a consuming page turner.

Reading further one finds out about King Leopold III of Belgium and later his consuming thirst for bringing ivory then the more lucrative rubber to Europe. The atrocities that were inflicted on the various tribes in the Congo, all because of this greed, is described such that one does not need pictures. One is exposed to many images of emancipated human suffering at the various German concentration camps, but images of humans whose hands are severed in exchange for ammunition, because they failed to pay their dues?

I thoroughly recommend this book as it is well written and weaves facts into a believable account of missionaries exposing the atrocities of Congolese people at the hands of the Force Republique under King Leopold III.

There are various other publications that enhance the validity of this book and are themselves interesting reads.

Wicked Bleu

This is the second book of E. Denise Billups in the series about Simone Doucet, a successful travel writer.

The first ‘Tainted Harvest’ introduced Delphine, an ancestral ghost who appeared to haunt Simone.  In reality Delphine showed Simone her past and persuaded her to write and publish her story.  She opened Simone’s eyes to the afterlife and revealed she had a gift of second sight and could help other ancestral souls.

Some months after the encounter with Delphine, Simone is living in New York and is being troubled with noises, scents, flashes of vivid blue colour and blurry spectral images, prompting her to take her three flat mates to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. The authors description these paranormal events engages the readers full attention. A short lull in the reading follows and then the intrigue starts and develops to the point that you dare not put the book down. 

Mardi Gras is a vibrant time to visit New Orleans.  Outrageously costumed merrymakers with top hats decorated in purple, green and gold representing justice, faith and power, happily swarm the streets singing and dancing to the playing of brass bands. New Orleans has always been a place of mystery – a place of lively music, good food, with roots in Creole and French influences.

The vibrant red sweet fruity Hurricane drink seems innocuous but contains two types of rum and has a liberating and alcoholic effect.  This signature drink was invented during World War II at Pat O’Brien’s when distilleries were repurposed making whiskey scarce. One case of whiskey required the bar to buy 50 cases of rum.   A glass, shaped like a hurricane lamp was the perfect vessel and the Hurricane drink  was born.

The infamous Storyville area was a red light area of 38 blocks where prostitution was tolerated and not illegal. Blue books, known as the “guidebooks to sin,” were booklets that advertised the activity of Storyville and served as a directory for the prostitutes and “madames” of the district, many of whom were categorised by race. “W” for white, “C” for coloured, and “Oct.” for octoroon, meaning one-eighth Black. Many light-skinned, mixed race, and/or Creole women worked at Lulu White’s Mahogany Hall, a luxurious parlour occupied by rich, white men.  Many famous jazz players got their start in these brothels including Jelly Roll Morton, Joe “King” Oliver, Buddy Bolden. Even a young Louis Armstrong made money by bringing coal to the brothels within the district. 

Piece by piece little fragments are revealed to Simone as she and and her flat mates stroll through the famed French quarter, or Vieux Carré, whose name translates to “old square”.  The heart of the city was built in a sharp curve around the Mississippi River, and earned itself the name Crescent City. The ghost ‘Bleu’ reacts to certain buildings and streets and the loud whistles of the steam calliope, a steam pipe organ on the Steamboat Natchez. Bleu takes Simone through closed doors to reveal bits of her past.

The elegant Bourbon Orleans hotel where Simone stays has the reputation of being the most haunted hotel.  It is the home of many a scene in Bleu’s past. It was once home to the famous Quadroon Balls, where on the wooden balcony outside, it’s said that on quiet moonlit nights, the ghosts of a young woman and her suitor can be seen standing. At these balls, free women of colour, who were one quarter African-American, attended the balls chaperoned and were introduced to wealthy French suitors, who if agreeable to the mother, would buy the daughter a house and support her for life. This custom known as a ‘placate’ was unique to New Orleans.  The first born children considered themselves to be ‘Creoles of Colour’.  Later on the building became a convent and school (St Mary’s Academy), and the ballroom became their chapel.  There are said to be as many as 15 – 20 separate ghosts roaming the hotel and many of these are children running and playing in the rooms.

Mahogany Hall in Ms Lulu White’s mansion was quite elaborate.  She was known all around the district as Queen of the Demi-Monde because of her elegance and beauty.  Mahogany Hall was built of mostly marble and had about fifteen bedrooms.  It was the most beautiful house in Storyville. Ms. White was known for having the most beautiful and best women around, whose names were listed in a book called the Blue Book, which was given to the visitors so that they would know what services were offered as well as what women were available at each mansion.  Ms. White hosted parties in the parlours where we had men playing jazz music on the piano, one of whom was Louis Armstrong while some of the women danced naked for waiting clients. 

Back to the story. Bleu has opened up to Simone and recounts happy memories helping to make pomades and learning to use enfleurage, a perfume manufacturing technique. However there are scenes of much anger and sorrow, visions of rape, murder and remorse.  Just as Simone is starting to piece together these fragments there is a twist. Are there two ghosts? Images and stories of darker, angrier ghosts emerge, entangled with a love affair.

Will Simone be able to resolve these and put the troubled ghosts to rest?

The author has a talent to write descriptive and colourful text that evokes strong emotions in the reader.  For example “I reach out my hand, at once retracting it when something skims my arm, sending a shiver rolling through me. I step back, halted by a phantom grip. The laundry basket drops to my feet. The scented aura encroaches upon my face, icing my skin with a frigid blast as though it blew a forceful breath intentionally.”

I urge you to pick up a copy and start reading.

Dinosaurs and Sex ?

This year 2022 appears to be a record breaking one for dinosaur discoveries. 

A 10 metre skeleton found in Rutland, UK; a new species of dinosaur, with disproportionately short arms like those of Tyrannosaurus rex, discovered in Argentina; another similar one unearthed in Egypt and pregnant ichthyosaur fossils with intact embryos discovered from the Tyndall Glacier in Chile’s Patagonia region.

The cloacal kiss ©BBC.com

Sex – how?

This question has kept scientists puzzled for ages. The remains have been skeletal until a recent find was made of their soft tissue and genitalia. The news seems engrossed with dinosaurs having sex!  Imagine these heavyweights, often with huge muscular tails, razor sharp fins and teeth trying to have it off. They had to do it somehow.

The Messel Pit in Germany, is the richest site in the world, providing unique information about the early stages of the evolution of mammals.  It includes exceptionally well-preserved mammal fossils, ranging from fully articulated skeletons to the contents of stomachs of animals.

An amusing and factual article by Zaria Gorvett from BBC Future on discovering how the giants of yesteryear – aka the dinosaurs did it.  Jakob Vinther at the University of Bristol, UK, describes a remarkable find in the fossil record. A psittacosaurus, literally “parrot-lizard”. This sweet little beaked herbivore and close relative of the triceratops has revealed its bottom!  And the scientists rejoice.

The psittacosaurus potters over to the water’s edge on two feet – she stopped walking on all fours as she got older – but then tragedy strikes. Just as she’s leaning down for a sip with her parrot-like beak, she slips, falls in and drowns. As she plunges to the bottom of the lake, she ends up inelegantly splayed on her back  – accidentally preserving her genitals for future apes to wonder over.

BBC.com/future – Zaria Gorvett

Prefer to watch and listen? BBC also posted on Youtube a short video of how they may have done this – this way or that way, but definitely carefully. 

And not to be outdone, Sir David Attenborough’s new show Prehistoric Planet also delves into this unexplained mystery.  

Scientists have discovered plenty of other interesting facts about these prehistoric animals.  There was even one spiky, heavily armoured herbivore, Nodosaur, that was Ginger!


Dinosaurs were a diverse set of reptiles that existed some 245 million years ago.  Estimates vary, but in terms of extinct non-avian dinosaurs, about 300 valid genera and roughly 700 valid species have been discovered and named. The most iconic of all is the terrifying Tyrannosaurus Rex. However recent studies published in 2020 and 2021 show that these large dinosaurs shouldered out their carnivorous competition by changing dramatically as they aged. While young tyrannosaurs were lithe and only capable of hunting small prey, a teenage growth spurt turned the meat-eaters into huge, bone crushing predators.

Dinosaurs can be classified into various groups of which there are seven major ones.  The most basic subdivision of dinosaurs is based on their hips. This was proposed by Harry Sheely in 1888 but has subsequently been challenged. 

Non-avian dinosaurs (all dinosaurs besides birds), which are now extinct, varied greatly in shape and size. Some weighed as much as 80 tons and were more than 120 feet long. Others were the size of a chicken and weighed as little as 8 pounds. They all lived on land. Some may have gone into the swamps and lakes for food, but they did not live entirely in water. Meat-eaters walked on two legs and hunted alone or in groups. Plant-eaters walked on either two or four legs and grazed on plants.

During the Triassic, and for most of the Jurassic, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide were high and caused intense temperatures. There is no evidence of polar ice caps then, and excavations have shown that deciduous forests grew in polar regions. At the end of the Triassic, a geologically brief period of perhaps a million years saw the extinction of more than three quarters of all terrestrial and marine species on the planet, including shelled creatures, corals and all sizeable reptiles.

A new study turns the idea of heat-loving dinosaurs on its head.  Evidence has found that the minor group of Triassic dinosaur species were relegated to the polar regions.  Here they adapted to the cold, thereby surviving when the earth got cold. There is also evidence that most dinosaurs had primitive feathers, if not for flight or mating but as insulation.

In contrast to the conventional imagery of dinosaurs always living in lush tropical jungles, this new research shows that the higher latitudes would have been freezing and even covered in ice during parts of the year.  Dinosaurs living at high latitudes just so happened to already have winter coats [while] many of their Triassic competitors died out, according to Stephen Brusatte, professor of palaeontology and evolution at the University of Edinburgh.

What happens when you read?

As any book lover knows, diving into a great novel is an immersive experience that makes your brain come alive with imagery and emotions. 

But do you also know that the process of reading causes the structure of the brain to be physically changed? 

Brain Activity when you read

Reading involves a complex network of circuits and signals in the brain.  When you read the brain links each word to the spoken equivalent.  One part of your brain analyses the word’s meaning, while another part makes it possible to automatically recognise words.  Reading stimulates the left part of the brain where you use your imagination.  Some scientists show that reading is an empathy workout, putting the reader in the character’s shoes.  For example if a character plays a sport, areas of your brain are activated as if you were physically playing the sport.

Over the years, doctors, scientists, and researchers have confirmed that reading is a stress-reducing activity that can lower your heart rate and blood pressure. It’s been proven to improve people’s memories, increase brain power, and even enhance empathic skills. 

There are differences between reading paper books and digital readers.  With the paper version the reader takes more time to process the narrative  and increases the capacity for longer attention spans.  Which do you find more easily to remember the contents by, their title, their cover or whether they were in paper or electronic for?

Scientists say that reading e-books lack “spatial navigability”, physical clues like the number of pages which gives the reader a sense of location.  The brain can adapt to e-books quickly as little as 7 days. Some e-readers include spatial landmarks like page numbers, percentage read to help overcome the physical lack of the book. 

How did humans start this literary experience?

Today we take the inseparable twins, reading and writing for granted.  But what would life be like with nothing to read?  So when did people start to write?  By drawing pictures?  When did speech evolve into writings?

A quick troll on the internet showed these were not easy questions to answer.  But in general four independent writing systems have been identified.

  • Mesopotamia  between 3400-3300 BC.  Pictorial signs  were gradually substituted by a complex system of characters of the Sumerian language.  From 2900BC these characters started to be impressed into wet clay  with a reed stylus, known as cuneiform.
  • Egypt around 3200 BC.  Their writing was in the form of hieroglyphics, in ink on papyrus. Remember the Rosetta Stone?
  • Shang dynasty in China around 1300 BC, This style of writing is known as oracle bone script – etched pictures on bones.
  • Mesoamerica (lowland areas of Southern Mexico and Guatemala, between 900-600 BC.  The most widely known, is the classic Maya script.


Geoscientists have confirmed that the Australian land is the oldest mass on earth, and is about 4.4billion years old.  It took a long time before our ancestors appeared,  about six million years ago and the modern form of humans, homo sapiens only evolved about 200,000 years ago. 

Aboriginal Australian genomic sequence obtained from a 100-year-old lock of hair donated by an Aboriginal man, support the hypothesis that present-day Aboriginal Australians descend from the earliest humans to occupy Australia, likely representing one of the oldest continuous populations outside Africa, upwards of 65,000 years ago. The remains of Mungo man and woman who lived some 42,000 years, are perhaps the most important human remains found in Australia.

So why haven’t any Australian writings been found before the historic letter Woollarawarre Bennelong wrote to Governor Arthur Phillip in 1796, after his return from England?   He was an aboriginal man who learnt English and became the go-between and interpreter for the governor. 


The Aboriginal people have an oral history dating way back with stories being told and passed down from generation to generation.  Their rock art employs two main designs, one uses engraved geometric shapes – circles, arcs, dots or animal tracks and the other contains figurative forms.  The  oldest one, in the Kimberley region is a kangaroo and dates back 17,300 years. 

Other interesting facts

The origins of writing still interest anthropologists as shown in the rare African writing system – the Vai script of Liberia, first created from scratch in about 1834 by eight completely illiterate men who wrote in ink made from crushed berries.

The earliest known female author named in history, the Akkadian princess and High Priestess Enheduanna, who composed temple hymns around 2300 BCE and signed her name onto the clay tablets on which she inscribed her works. 

Early written texts were meant to be read out loud, as most people were illiterate.  The text was a continuous stream of words that had to be disentangled. Reading initially was only for the privileged, wealthy people, and the church. When education became more widespread, most women were still denied the pleasure of reading until well into the 19th century.

Punctuation was used for the first time only around 200 BCE, and was erratic well into the middle ages.  Has it reappeared in today’s writing?

Alexander the Great is thought to be the first person who read silently in 330BC. Silent reading made reading a private activity – making room for more options in the choice of a reading nook.

Chaucer recommended reading in bed in the 14th century, Omar Khyyam and Mary Shelley advocated outdoor reading, while Henry Miller and Marcel Proust preferred the absolute solitude of the bathroom. Even today it is not unusual to find a small stock of reading material in the privy.


The earliest printing technology originated in China, Japan, and Korea. The imperial state of China produced a large volume of printed material, printed by rubbing paper against inked woodblock, to sustain its extensive bureaucratic system. This system attained widespread popularity by the 15th century. In the 1430s, Johannes Gutenberg developed the first mechanical printing press at Strasbourg, Germany.  

Churches all over Europe embarked on a spree to educate the masses, and through the establishment of village schools, literacy grew. Periodicals started being published in the early 18th century, increasing further the population of dedicated readers. in 1849, Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers was serialised in a magazine, and attracted many readers with the affordability of magazines.

Earliest printing methods

Woodblock printing (also known as xylography) started in China in 593 AD. In the woodblock technique, ink is applied to letters carved upon a wooden board, which is then pressed onto paper.  The woodblock technique starts with the transcription of the manuscript nto thin slightly waxed sheets of paper by a professional calligrapher. The wax prevents the ink from being as readily absorbed into the paper, allowing more ink to be absorbed onto another surface. The paper is placed ink side down onto a wooden block on which a thin layer of rice paste has been thinly spread. The back of the paper is rubbed with a flat palm-fibre brush so that the wet rice paste absorbs some of the ink and an impression of the inked area is left on the block. The engraver uses a set of sharp-edged tools to cut away the uninked areas of the wood block in essence raising an inverse image of the original calligraphy above the background, just as you would with a linocut.

The other method was moveable type printing, where the printing  board is assembled using different letter types.  A precursor to lithography. In china Bi Sheng developed the first known movable-type system for printing around 1040 AD  using ceramic materials.  When he wished to print, he took an iron frame and set it on the iron plate. In this he placed the types, set close together. When the frame was full, the whole made one solid block of type. He then placed it near the fire to warm it. When the paste [at the back] was slightly melted, he took a smooth board and pressed it over the surface, so that the block of type became as even as a whetstone.

Sneg moveable type system


The Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal in the 7th century BCE, compiled a library of clay tablets in Nineveh (modern-day Iraq) and threatened anyone with terrible fates if they were misplaced. Centuries later Ptolemy, a successor of Alexander the Great founded the library of Alexandria with the short-term purpose of organising the vast reams of documents that had been stockpiled in the city, and all ships stopping at Alexandria had to surrender all books on board to be copied (or retained) at the library.  The history of cataloguing existed way back with the Sumerian record keepers.  The library of Alexandria was later catalogued by titles into lists according to categories and used an alphabetic order within the categories.

Writing started out on clay tablets, papyrus scrolls, folded works, parchment, velum, and paper and eventually books. In the Asian world, such as China, writing is based on characters Japanese and Korean, vertically in columns going from right to left.  In the Western world writing is based on an alphabet.   There is a science behind why a line is about 66 characters long – it is the in the art of saccading (the rapid movement of the eye).  Too long and we get lost, two short and we become distracted by the frequency of the movement. 

A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel, a delightfully well-written account of the evolution of the reader through the ages.  Some readers have mentioned this book is not as interesting as his others. He also wrote books on reading that children could enjoy such as  “How Pinocchio learned to read” and “Magic land of toys”.

The teaser for Tom Mole’s book “The Secret Life of Books” states  “We love books. We take them to bed with us. They weigh down our suitcases on holiday. We display them on our bookshelves, give them as gifts, write our names in them. We take them for granted. And all the time, our books are leading a double life. The Secret Life of Books is about everything that isn’t just the words. It’s about how books transform us as individuals, the stories they tell us about ourselves. It’s about how books – and readers – have evolved over time”the inseparable twins”

Viking Ships Unearthed

This Norwegian funerary warship was the grave of two women, one aged about 75 and the other 50. The women’s identities still present a mystery.  They died in A D 834 and had a magnificent burial, judging by the treasures they left behind.  Possibly Queen Åsa, the grandmother of Harald I (A.D. 860–940), the first king of united Norway, or maybe a sorceress.    

Reading this discovery of the Norwegian Oseberg oak longship in a farm near Tønsberg, Norway, reminded me of the historical novel “The Dig”  by John Preston and the subsequent film of the same name. 

On farmland in Sutton Hoo overlooking the river Debden in the UK,  the landowner Edith Petty wanted to discover what were the mysterious barrows on her land.  Ipswich museum introduced the landowner to Basil Brown, a Suffolk  labourer, insurance agent  and self taught astronomer and archeologist.  His finds did not sit nicely with men from the British Museum and Cambridge University who muscled in to take over. Brown’s discovery caused history books to be rewritten, but his name was only recently associated with the discovery.  But although his crucial contribution is now acknowledged, there is much that remains uncertain about the ship burial. Who was it honouring? The lead candidate is Raedwald, a powerful regional leader who died around 624, and who was part of a dynasty that claimed descent from the Norse god Woden. He was the first English king to convert to Christianity, while also being cannily careful not to upset the pagan gods.

The book, The Dig is a gripping and interesting read.

John Preston is also the author of A Very English Scandal, about the disgraced British politician Jeremy Thorpe.  After discovering that his aunt, Peggy Piggott, an archaeologist, prehistorian, and finds specialist, had been one of the key participants in the actual dig, Preston wrote the book The Dig, as a novelised account.

The film received five BAFTA awards. It is available on Netflix and in DVD form.


No not the quote from Hamlet “To sleep, perchance to dream” but how lack of sleep can impact on your health; sleep cycle explained and how sleep patterns have changed.

The Mayo clinic linked a lack of sleep to an increase in abdominal fat. An unhealthy find. During this study participants had free access to food, which coupled with the lack of sleep contributed to their increase in abdominal fat.

Findings from a randomized controlled crossover study led by Naima Covassin, Ph.D., a cardiovascular medicine researcher at Mayo Clinic, show that lack of sufficient sleep led to a 9% increase in total abdominal fat area and an 11% increase in abdominal visceral fat, compared to control sleep. Visceral fat is deposited deep inside the abdomen around internal organs and is strongly linked to cardiac and metabolic diseases.

Journal of the American College of Cardiology,

We all know how tired and grumpy we can become after a night or several nights poor sleep. Science has shown how poor sleep can effect your health from weight gain to a weakened immune system or with chronic deprivation it can cause high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure or stroke, obesity, depression, reduced immune system function and lower sex drive.

Your body needs sleep, just as it needs air and food to function at its best. During sleep, your body heals itself and restores its chemical balance. Your brain forges new thought connections and helps memory retention. Sleep deprivation leaves your brain exhausted, so it can’t perform its duties as well. During sleep your immune system produces infection fighting substances like antibodies and cytokines that combat bacteria and viruses.

When you don’t get enough sleep, your body releases more of the stress hormone cortisol. In excess amounts, cortisol can break down skin collagen, the protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic. Hence the aged appearance from lack of sleep.

The types of sleep

In addition to the number of hours slept it is important to get the right kind of sleep. During the night the total sleep is made up of several rounds of the sleep cycle. Not all sleep cycles are the same length, but on average they last about 90 minutes each and vary from person to person.

There are four sleep stages, one for rapid eye movement (REM) and the others for non-REM sleep. Stage 1 is essentially a “dozing off” stage. The body hasn’t fully relaxed, and there are light changes in brain activities. It is easy to awake during this stage.

In Stage 2, the body temperature drops, the muscles relax and there is a slowed breathing and heart rate. Eye movement stops and the brain activity slows but shows short bursts of activity. This sleep can last for 10-25 minutes at first and increase during the night. Collectively this makes up more than half the sleep time.

Stage 3 is known as deep sleep. It is harder to wake a person. The muscle tone, pulse and breathing rate decrease as the body relaxes. However the brain activity shows an identifiable pattern known as delta waves, which helps the brain create and store new memories and improves its ability to collect and recall information. Deep sleep usually occurs during the first half of the night, initially lasting for 20-40 minutes. These stages become shorter the longer you sleep and more time is spent in REM sleep.

Sleep Trackers

Wearable devices or under the pillow devices rely on sensors to detect physical signs like heart rate and body movement as opposed to lab based sleep tests that use sensors to measure brain activity. The sleep trackers upload the data to a device that analyse and display the results. Although not as accurate as a lab based sleep test, these devices and apps can help to raise awareness of your sleep patterns.

How many hours sleep?

It is generally thought that an adult body needs 7-8 hours sleep a night but there is a lot of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks. Historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a book “At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past” found more than 500 references to segmented sleeping patterns in diaries, court records, medical books and literature, from Homer’s Odyssey to an anthropological account of modern tribes in Nigeria.

He describes that a first sleep began about two hours after dusk, followed by waking period of one or two hours and then a second sleep. During this waking period people were quite active. They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps. And these hours weren’t entirely solitary – people often chatted to bed-fellows or had sex.

A doctor’s manual from 16th Century France even advised couples that the best time to conceive was not at the end of a long day’s labour but “after the first sleep”, when “they have more enjoyment” and “do it better”. Anyone care to confirm this?

Ekirch found that references to the first and second sleep started to disappear during the late 17th Century. This started among the urban upper classes in northern Europe and over the course of the next 200 years filtered down to the rest of Western society. By the 1920s the idea of a first and second sleep had receded entirely from our social consciousness. He attributes the initial shift to improvements in street lighting, domestic lighting and a surge in coffee houses. 

 So if you lie awake in the middle of the night, read on to discover the forgotten medieval habit of ‘two sleeps’.

The medieval habit of two sleeps

The ice breaking find in 2022

Wow, the remains of Shackleton’s ship “Endurance” located in the Weddell Sea in March 2022, was a fantastic find after being ‘lost’ for more than a century.

This successful attempt in 2022 found the wreck, located 6km from the position recorded by Worsley, and at a depth of 3,008 metres. The three-masted sailing ship was lost in November 1915 when it was crushed by Antarctic ice and sank to the ocean floor during Shackleton’s failed attempt to make the first land crossing of Antarctica. Submersible video, shot by Endurance22 using advanced underwater vehicles called Sabertooths showed the ship to be in remarkably good condition, with timbers very well preserved, due to the lack of wood consuming microbes. Even more remarkable is that the expedition was a few days away from having to be abandoned, as the ice was closing in and the blizzards and storms had started.

The video of this remarkable discovery can be viewed on Youtube, courtesy and copyright of the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust .

Shackleton and his crew remained with the ship for ten months until it was eventually crushed by the ice.  Shackleton and his 27 men undertook a perilous lifeboat journey to the uninhabited Elephant Island, with Shackleton and a smaller crew then making an open-boat journey of 800 miles to reach a whaling station in South Georgia, mounting a rescue mission back to Elephant Island from there. This harrowing account of the British explorer can be read in this book “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage” by Alfred Lansing. It is a remarkable story.

In 2019 Maritime archaeologist and shipwreck expert Mensun Bound,  after 2 years of planning and with a budget of $250m sailed south, onboard the Aqulhas II equipped with high tech exploration tools – Autonomous Underwater Vehicles. He was determined to find the ship’s resting place, but was defeated by the icy conditions. Just like Endurance before, Agulhas II became trapped in sea ice. Whereas Shackleton had his men race from one gunwale to the other to try and shake the ship loose, the captain of the Agulhas II achieved the same effect by swinging a 40-ton fuel pod on a crane from one side to the other, gradually shifting the ship out of the ice’s grasp. Technology!

The Hunt for Shackleton’s ice ship in 2019 is available on Youtube from Cambridge University and also describes why this search is important. The website Endurance22.org contains several articles of interest in this discovery.

The Weddell sea named after James Weddell, a Scottish explorer and seal hunter, was once difficult to access because of its abundant pack ice and harsh weather conditions. However modern icebreaker ships have begun to explore this area. The Weddell Sea is a site of special importance to the global climate and the circulation of the ocean waters. It is in the densest waters in the Atlantic. The Weddell Gyre, delimited by a clockwise-rotating ocean flow in the Southern Ocean, covers an area more than half the size of the USA. Its characteristics control the physical and chemical properties of large parts of the global deep ocean, and it has the capability of influencing global climate on multiple timescales. Studying this Gyre is challenging, as sea ice covers the ocean surface year around, restricting access by research ships and sensing of ocean surface from satellites. New technology is now available to avoid past limitations, autonomous underwater vehicles, instruments flown by planes, and floats instrumented with sea-ice detection. More information on its importance can be read in this article.

Interested in finding out more about the Arctic and Antartica? The ABC Australia have a television program on the two poles and can be seen on Iview.

Fancy visiting the Wendell sea? One cruise states “with 5 full days in Antarctica, experience the towering tabular icebergs and Adelie penguin rookeries of the remote Weddell Sea, alongside some of the Peninsula’s most popular landing sites further south. Departs once a year, at the height of the summer, aboard a 90-passenger expedition ship”. Another emphasises the Emperor penguins. Just do a search for ‘ cruise Antartica Wendell”

The Girl in the Barrel

This is a novel by Eileen Enwright Hodgetts featuring the fictitious Evangeline Murray as she challenges the majestic Niagara Falls in 1923. The romantic thriller is entwined with facts of the majestic Niagara Falls, the residents, the jumpers and perhaps answers why people wanted to brave the fall.

 The year is 1923 and the Jazz Age is in full swing. Evangeline Murray, a young widow from Ohio, is recruited by the Women’s Freedom Movement to represent the spirit of modern womanhood by going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Evangeline eagerly embraces her opportunity to achieve fame and fortune, until she sees the power of the river and begins to understand the risk she is taking. Joshua McClaren, an enigmatic battle-scarred veteran of World War I, and the best boatman of the Canadian shore of the Niagara, reluctantly agrees to launch the headstrong Evangeline. Before the barrel can be launched each of them will have to face their own demons, painful secrets will be revealed and the Niagara River will claim two more lives.

Eileen wrote in her promotion: ”  “From the very first time I saw the Falls and visited the Daredevil Museums, I have wondered why anyone would take such risks. However, I have to admit that the rushing water has a powerful pull as it cascades smoothly and endlessly over the edge and down into the churning rapids. I have visited the Falls many times in all seasons of the year and I have seen tourists from all over the world turn to each and ask the same question. “Why would anyone do that?” The Girl in the Barrel is my answer to that question.”

Niagara Falls – Canadian Horseshoe

Some historical facts

History records that the first person to plunge over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive was Annie Edson Taylor, an enigmatic school teacher from Michigan who turned up at Niagara Falls on October 24, 1901 with a barrel that she had constructed herself. She was forty-six years old.

She certainly does not endear herself to the animal lovers among us when it is revealed that she first tested the barrel on a stray cat that she named Iagara. It was only after the cat had survived the fall that she decided to take the risk herself.

She dressed for her adventure in a long skirt and a flowery hat and rested her head on a heart shaped pillow. She took the 200 foot plunge at 4:30 p.m. and fifteen minutes later she was retrieved at the base of the Falls. When she was released from the barrel she was heard to say that “no one ought ever do that again”. It is not recorded what the cat said, but it may have been something similar.

Annie Taylor survived the plunge in a barrel, but is it possible to survive without a barrel? It has happened although many would call it a miracle.

On July 9th 1960, seven year old Roger Woodward and his 17 year old sister Deanne, set out on a boat ride through the upper Niagara with family friend James Honeycutt. About a mile before the brink of Horseshoe Falls the motor malfunctioned and ceased running. Unable to restart the engine, Honeycutt began to frantically row in the direction of the shore but the strong current was carrying the boat swiftly towards the Falls. Honeycutt ordered the Woodward children to put on their life-preservers, although he was too busy rowing to put his on.

The boat capsized in the rapids above the Falls separating Deanne from both Roger and Honeycutt. Deanne held onto the side of the boat until a wave forced her under. When she surfaced she was spotted by John Hayes and John Quattrochi who were standing on the shore. Hayes grabbed Deanne by her fingers and called for help from Quattrochi. Together they pulled her from the water.

Roger Woodward was in Honeycutt’s arms until the raging water pulled them apart as they rode over the crest of the Falls. Roger was forced into the deep water at the base of the Falls but quickly floated to the surface, due to his life-preserver. The crew of the Maid of the Mist spotted his orange life-jacket and, after eight minutes and three approaches, they finally rescued him by using a life ring. He sustained only minor cuts and bruises and his sister was treated for shock. James Honeycutt did not survive.

Roger describes the moment he went over the brink. “I fell into a cloud,” he says. “There was no sensation like vertigo, no sensation in my stomach. There was a dense cloud of mist and I could not see anything and only hear the roar.”

The Canadian Horseshoe Falls has a brink of 792 metres and a height of almost 51 metre with 2,271 litres falling every second.

Since 1850, more than 5,000 people have gone over Niagara Falls, either intentionally (as stunts or suicide attempts) or accidentally. After a death in  1951 it is now illegal to go over Niagara Falls, whatever method is used and hefty fines are imposed.

Everything Else

Sometimes I am captivated by the title, or the cover or feel like a gentle dreamy read. Historical novels are of great interest, some are almost biographical, some are fictional with surprising elements of near truth. Take the “Miniaturist” by Jessie Burton, an historical novel set in the late 1600’s, mostly accurate description of life in this era with a few ‘artistic licences’ thrown in to add to the mysteries. “Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma” is a fascinating account of how this brilliant man was instrumental in unlocking the German cipher code and a sad one of how he was treated by the British government for his homosexuality.

The author Eileen Enwright-Hodgetts has for me a style that is so easy to read, entwining facts with a fictional story. There are several stories written in the world war two period such as ”Air Raid”, ”War Bride” and ”Imposter”. Her interests range outside of this period having travelled several countries. She manages to create a compelling read about jumping the Niagara Falls in ”The girl in the barrel”.

Eileen manages to weave a realistic story around facts, Her newest novel, soon to be released is “Girl in a Lifeboat” which is a fascinating story about the cover up over the tragic sinking of the Titanic. Mystery, intrigue, tragic horror, and a little romance are all present. Once started it is difficult to put down.

A series of books by Michael Beashel feature the early days of Sydney, under the title of the Sandstone Series. The immigrants arriving to make their fortunes, the Gold Rush, the wool trade and development of the city buildings. Jealousy, building, romance and historical facts are woven into the series.

Wow, the remains of Shackleton’s ship “Endurance” located in the Weddel Seas in March 2022, was a fantastic find after being ‘lost’ for more than a century. It was located 6km from the position recorded by Worsley, and at a depth of 3,008 metres. The three-masted sailing ship was lost in November 1915 when it was crushed by Antarctic ice and sank to the ocean floor during Shackleton’s failed attempt to make the first land crossing of Antarctica. Submersible video shot by Endurance22 using advanced underwater vehicles called Sabertooths showed the ship to be in remarkably good condition. The timbers are remarkably well preserved, due to the lack of wood consuming microbes. Even more remarkable is that the expedition was a day away from having to abandon the search, as the ice was closing in and the blizzards and storms started. Read more