“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Feeling for Lego Minifigure Series 13

Lego Minifigure Series 13 are due to hit the shops on the 1st January 2015, and to assist fellow hunters I have put together my third Lego Minifigure Feeling Guide, which gives an overview of:

1) the chances of finding a particular character in a box of 60 minifigures;
2) what to feel for when trying to identify each character in the blind bags.

As per my previous post on “Feeling for Lego Minifigure Series 12” I have not included a review of the bump/dot codes due to the regional variation in the codes. The best tactic to find the minifigure that you are after and to minimise the risk of getting duplicate minifigures is to stick to the tried and tested “feeling technique”.

Lego Minifigure Series 13 Character Distribution in a box of 60.

From a single box of 60 minifigures the character distribution seems to be:

Three of each in a full box:

Character #3: Unicorn Girl
Character #6: Paleontologist
Character #11: Fencer
Character #12: Samurai
Character #13: Disco Diva
Character #14: Hot Dog Man
Character #15: Lady Cyclops

Four of each in a full box:

Character #1: King
Character #2: Sheriff
Character #4: Snake Charmer
Character #7: Alien Trooper
Character #8: Egyptian Warrior
Character #10: Evil Wizard

Five of each in a full box:

Character #5: Goblin
Character #16: Galaxy Trooper
Character #9: Carpenter

A feeling guide for Lego Minifigure Series 13.

When hunting for Lego minifigures in blind bags, the best method for confidently identifying the character you want is by feeling the components in the packet and targeting the distinguishing components for that character.

To start off, once you grab a blind bag, shake it. Shake it well! Shaking the packet well helps to ensure that all of the small loose components drop down to the bottom of the bag. Once you have done this you need to feel the packet for the components that will help you to identify the character you want. Here is a quick look at what key components make specific characters easy to identify.

The Whole Gang.
Character #1 – King:

The King can be a tricky character to feel for. The best tactic is to look for the King's sword. You have to be careful however, as a number of minifigures have swords, but the pointy end of the King's broad sword and its hilt make it distinctive. If any doubt remains search for the King's beard, this piece has a hole in the middle through which the King's head attaches to his torso, so if you feel something like a Polo Mint in the bag, it may well be the King's beard.

The King.
Character #2 - Sheriff:

To find the Sheriff quickly look for his 2x2 tile. The Sheriff is the only character with a 2x2 tile and this distinctive piece is easy to find. Once you have found the 2x2 tile if any further confirmation is required look for the Sheriff's hat, which is unique in this series of minifigures.

The Sheriff.
Character #3 – Unicorn Girl:

The Unicorn Girl is easy to find if you look for her horn. The horn is a small tapering piece that will be found at the bottom of a well shook bag. The Unicorn's ears may also be felt for if required, but I found that the horn was so distinctive that feeling for the ears was not necessary.

Unicorn Girl. 
Character #4 – Snake Charmer:

The Snake Charmer has a 1x4 bar, which is easy to find and can be readily distinguished from the various swords in this series. Be careful however, as the Evil Wizard has the same piece. So if you find the 1x4 bar you now need to determine if you have the Snake Charmer or the Wizard. This is done by searching for the biggest item in the bag. This will either be the Snake Charmer's snake - a soft rubberised item - or the Wizard's Legs which is a 2x2x3 sloped brick.

The Snake Charmer. 
Character #5 – Goblin:

The Goblin can be tricky to find, start of by looking for his wide curved sword, which is similar to the Egyptian Warrior's sword. Once you find a large curved sword, you need to check for either the Goblin's roundish sack or the Warrior's shield to tell which character you have.

The Goblin.

Character #6 – Paleontologist:

The bone and the fossil are the key to finding the Paleontologist. The bone can be discerned by its bulges at each end, the fossil is a 1x1 round tile which is unique to this series.

The Paleontologist.
Character #7 – Alien Trooper:

The quickest way to find the Alien Trooper is to look for the 2x2 round "radar dish" that forms the end of his weapon. Failing this, look for his gun or his head. The Alien Trooper's distinctive head has Cthulhu style tentacles.

The Alien Trooper.

Character #8 – Egyptian Warrior:

The Egyptian Warrior can be found by his wide curved sword, which can be confused with the Goblin's sword. So once you have found a wide curved sword it is time to look for the Warrior's large shield, which is square at one end and pointy at the other. This will help you distinguish this character from the Goblin, whose other distinctive part is his sack.

The Egyptian Warrior. 
Character #9 – Carpenter:

The Carpenter can be found by his plank, which is a 1x4 flat tile and is unique to this series. His saw is also rather distinctive and has a similar profile to a 1x4 part, but has a textured handle and a tapering blade.

The Carpenter.
Character #10 – Evil Wizard:

The Evil Wizard's Legs are a 2x2x3 sloped brick and are very bulky in the blind bag making them easy to find. The wizard also has a 1x4 bar which is easy to distinguish from the other minifigure's swords, but be careful, as the Snake Charmer has the same piece. The Evil Wizard also has a "light saber hilt" as part of his staff and people familiar with the style of these components should easily be able to feel them.

The Evil Wizard.
Character #11 – Fencer:

To find the Fencer it is a case of looking for his sword. Unlike the other swords in this series, the Fencer's sword is long, thin and round in cross-section. It also has a round hilt and a small round ball at the tip of the blade, so it is relatively easy to distinguish from the other swords in the series.

The Fencer.
Character #12 – Samurai:

Like the Fencer, finding the Samurai is a story of swords. The Samurai has two long thin swords, which unlike the Fencer's sword have a curved profile with a flat blade. The Samurai also has an armour piece that can be searched for, but be careful not to confuse this with the Galaxy Trooper's armour piece.  

The Samurai.
Character #13 – Disco Diva:

I found the easiest way to find the Disco Diva was to focus on finding her microphone, which is a small component with one bulbous rounded end and a one tapered end. The Disco Diva's microphone is significantly different to the Unicorn Girl's horn that you won't get confused.

The Disco Diva.
Character #14 – Hot Dog Man:

What can be said about the Hot Dog Man? This great character has a humongous body piece, the hot dog and bun, which is a single piece and very easy to find.   

The Hot Dog Man.

Character #15 – Lady Cyclops:

To find Lady Cyclops you need to look for her club. The bulbous club, with its spikes and its handle is relatively easy to find.  

Lady Cyclops.

Character #16 – Galaxy Trooper:

The Galaxy Trooper has two blasters which can be distinguished by their twin barrels which are round in profile. Shaking a blind bag well will mean that these blasters fall to the bottom of the bag and are easy to find. The Galaxy Trooper also has an armour piece which can be looked for, but be careful as the Samurai has a similar armour piece.
Galaxy Trooper.
I hope this Lego Minifigure Series 13 feeling guide will help some fellow Lego hunters find the characters they want with ease and help to remove the curse of getting duplicates of characters by buying the minifigures totally blind!

Happy hunting!

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Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Wilsford's Unusual Lodge(r)

The gravestone in the below photographs can be found in St. Michael’s Churchyard in Wilsford (near Amesbury) in Wiltshire. The inscription on the gravestone reads:

To The Memory of Her Husband
Oliver Joseph Lodge
Born 12 June 1851
Died 22 August 1940
Thankful For The Lover Which Has
Surrounded Him Throughout His
Time On Earth Full of Certainty
About Continued Existence
And Hopeful That His Writings May
Be A Comfort To The Bereaved

The gravestone is in memorial to Sir Oliver Joseph Lodge who was born in Stoke-on-Trent on the 12th June 1851 and who died near Wilsford on the 22nd August 1940. Lodge was a successful British Physicist whose illustrious career included holding the posts of Professor of Physics and Mathematics at University College, Liverpool and becoming the first Principal of Birmingham University, when it received its Royal Charter in 1900. Lodge's achievements resulted in him being knighted by King Edward VII and made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1902. In 1928 Lodge was given the freedom of Stoke-on-Trent.

During his scientific career Lodge's work included investigating lightning and electrolysis. However, Lodge's chief area of interest was electromagnetics and he seems to have been taken by the in-vogue theory of the Ether (the wave-bearing medium that was postulated to fill all space), and worked on the generation and detection of electromagnetic waves. Lodge is credited with perfecting "the coherer", a type of radio-wave detector, and as being the first person to transmit a message by a wireless signal, which he did in 1894. Lodge also pioneered the use of inductors and capacitors to adjust the frequency of wireless transmitters and receivers, and he invented the electric spark plug for the internal combustion engine, which was known as the "Lodge Igniter".

Outside of Lodge's mainstream scientific studies he also studied psychical phenomena including telepathy, was a member of the Ghost Club and served as president of the Society for Psychical Research from 1901 to 1903.

Lodge's acceptance of the theory of the Ether and his Christian faith may have had a bearing on his belief in life after death, and that the Ether may be host to a spirit world.  Lodge pursued these beliefs in 1914, following a family tragedy. Lodge had six sons, and his youngest son, Raymond, was killed during action in Flanders on the 14th September 1915. Following Raymond's death Lodge visited mediums Gladys Osborne Leonard and Alfred Vout Peters and began to communicate with his dead son. Lodge's scientific background meant that he regularly tested the mediums and probed them for information that only his son would know, and it seems that he failed to find any reason not to believe that he was in communication with his dead son. As a result of these séances Lodge became convinced that there was an afterlife and in 1916 he published an account of his son's adventures in the spirit world called "Raymond or Life and Death".

The dawning of the theory of relativity in the 1920's put an end to the need for an Ether, and as such it passed out of scientific vogue. Lodge however did not accept the new theory of relativity and remained steadfast in his belief in the Ether and in the afterlife.

In a final attempt to prove the existence of an afterlife it is said that just before his death that Lodge deposited a sealed message with the Society for Psychical Research. His aim was to be able to communicate the contents of this sealed message from the afterlife via the use of a medium. It seems however that the results of Lodge's final scientific experiment where deemed inconclusive and the existence of an afterlife still remains to be confirmed.

St. Michael’s Church in Wilsford, Wiltshire.
A memorial to Lodge and his wife, on the corner of the church's wall
Lodge's gravestone.

Pictures: Wiltshire (October 2014).

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Friday, 12 December 2014

Wiltshire's Ancient Landscape

Wiltshire as a county is known for its mystical landscape and as I live in Wiltshire it was inevitable that I was eventually going to discuss it here! So here are some of my pictures from the Avebury area, which include the Avebury Henge, Silbury Hill, The West Kennet Long Barrow and The Sanctuary. These impressive monuments to our country's ancient past can all be found nearby the A4 trunk road as it winds its way from the town of Marlborough to the town of Calne.

The West Kennet Long Barrow

Pre-dating Stonehenge by about 400 years, the West Kennet Long Barrow was constructed around 3650 BC. The West Kennet Long Barrow is one of the largest Neolithic tombs in Britain, with maximum dimensions of  3.2 metres in height, 25 metres in width and 100 metres in length. The barrow sits atop a chalk ridge and commands a good view over the local landscape and overlooks the nearby Silbury Hill. In its original form, the barrow's sides would have been bare white chalk, making it a very prominent place for people to be buried.

It is estimated that the barrow was in use for over 1000 years until around 2500 - 2000 BC when it was closed. Closure of the barrow was achieved by its main passage being filled in with soil and rubble and its entrance being secured by the toppling of the sarsen stones that guarded it. When explored by archaeologists, the barrow was found to be home to at least forty-six burials with the remains ranging from those of infants to the elderly.

Today the barrow is covered in turf and the sarsens that once sealed the entrance have been re-erected to their original “open” position. The front part of the barrow is open for visitors to explore and the central passageway and five small chambers can be accessed.

The front entrance of the West Kennet Long Barrow.
The West Kennet Long Barrow with Silbury Hill in the distance.
Looking into the central passageway of the West Kennet Long Barrow.
The Sanctuary

The next oldest site is The Sanctuary on Overton Hill, which is located alongside the A4 and opposite a number of Bronze Age barrows. Construction is believed to have commenced around 3000 BC and the exact nature of the construction and its purpose remains a mystery. It is believed that the initial construction at the site was the erection of six concentric rings of timber posts. Some theories propose that The Sanctuary was possibly a henge type structure similar to Stonehenge or Avebury, whilst others propose that the erect timbers may have supported some form of roof. Excavations have uncovered large numbers of human bones along with evidence of food, so it is very possible that the site was linked to death rites and ceremonies.

It is believed that the site was improved over time with increasingly large timber structures being built, with progressive diameters of 4.5 metres, 11.2 metres  and 20 metres. Eventually these timber structures seem to have been superseded by two stone circles around 2100 BC. The outer stone circle is believed to have consisted of forty two stones and have a diameter of 40 metres.

Today all that remains of the site is a series of coloured concrete posts which mark the locations of where the stones and timbers once stood.

Markers showing where the timbers and stones of The Sanctuary would once have stood.
The blue markers indicate the position of stones, whilst the red markers indicate where timbers would have once stood.
Looking away from The Sanctuary towards Silbury Hill (hiding in the tree line to the left of the gate) and Avebury. The markers show how stones would have formed the entrance to The Sanctuary. 
From the entrance looking in towards the centre of The Sanctuary. 
Bronze Age barrows on the opposite side of the A4 from The Sanctuary. 

The Avebury Henge

Avebury Henge was constructed between 2850 BC and 2200 BC and is an impressively large monument comprising of a bank and ditch system with three stone circles, an outer circle and two inner circles.

The earthworks at Avebury consist of an outer bank with a ditch on the inside, which enclose an area of 28.5 acres. The site is divided by four entrances that cut through the earthworks. Today the bank is circa 4.2 to 5.4 metres high, whereas it was originally estimated as being 17 metres high with an accompanying 9 metre deep ditch. It is also believed that the banks and ditch would have consisted of exposed chalk, giving the earthworks a striking white appearance.

The outer stone circle is believed to have originally consisted of 98 to 105  sarsen stones, arranged around the perimeter of the site’s ditch. The sarsens would all have been different in their size and shape, with tallest stones being around 4.2 metres in height and the heaviest weighing over 40 tonnes. The outer circle of stones has a diameter of just under 332 metres which makes it Britain’s largest stone circle and also one of the biggest in Europe.

The centre of the Avebury site consists of two smaller separate stone circles. The northern circle measures in at 98 metres in diameter and is believed to have originally consisted of 27 standing stones, of which only 4 remain in situ today. The centre of this circle was once home to a “Cove” of three stones. These three sarsens were rectangular in shape and would have been arranged to form 3 sides of a square, with an open side facing north.

The southern circle was 108 metres in diameter and is believed to have originally consisted of 27 standing stones. At the centre of the southern circle resided “The Great Obelisk”, which was a large sarsen believed to be up to 6.4 metres tall. The southern circle was destroyed in the 18th century and today the location on which the “The Great Obelisk” stood is marked with a concrete post.

The other striking feature of Avebury is The West Kennet Avenue, which is a an avenue of paired stones, which leads from the southeastern entrance of the henge towards The Sanctuary on Overton Hill and the man-made Silbury Hill.

Nobody truly knows why the Avebury earthworks and stone circles were built, but it is commonly accepted that the site was used as a place of worship by the ancient people who created it, and that Avebury formed part of their mystical relationship with the landscape.

By the Iron Age, the Avebury site was effectively abandoned, and the coming of the Medieval period saw the site become home to the nascent Avebury Village.  As the population of England converted to Christianity the Avebury site gradually became shunned as being “pagan” and became associated in folk lore with the devil.

During the 14th Century, these changing religious tastes saw some of the Avebury stones purposefully pulled down, with some of the stones being buried in prepared pits, used to remove them from sight. During this period of destruction one man was unlucky enough to be crushed to death under a 13 ton stone that was being pulled down into a ready-made pit. The body of this poor soul was found by archaeologist Alexander Keiller in 1938, and it is believed that the body was left in situ because the villagers did not have the capability to remove the offending stone to recover the body. Following the death of this man, it seems the destruction of Avebury was halted, possibly due to concerns that vengeful spirits may have toppled the stone in revenge, or possibly due to the arrival of the Black death in Avebury in 1349.

The late 17th Century saw the rise of Puritanism and the “pagan” site of Avebury again came under attack. It seems that at this point the majority of the standing sarsens where smashed to pieces and were recycled for use in local building projects. By the mid 1800’s the majority of the standing stones at Avebury had disappeared forever, and with the population of the village booming more houses were beginning to be built inside the henge. In a bid to save the site, the wealthy politician and archaeologist Sir John Lubbock, purchased much of the available land in the monument, and actively worked to discourage further building within the boundaries of the henge.

The site was eventually purchased in its entirety by archaeologist Alexander Keiller who wanted to protect the site. It seems that Keiller was responsible for re-erecting some of the fallen stones and clearing parts of the site of old trees and buildings to make more of the site visible. Keiller eventually sold the 950 acres of land on to the National trust in 1943, who have maintained it ever since.

An Avebury Sarsen.

A section of the stone circle.

More of the sarsens. Does the one on the right look like a face in profile?

Silbury Hill

Silbury Hill sits on the side of the A4 and it looks strangely out of place in the landscape, which is understandable, as it is an artificial mound. Silbury Hill was constructed around 2,400 BC and was predominately made from half a million tonnes of chalk and clay which were sourced from the surrounding area. The hill stands at an impressive 40 metres tall, with a width of 30 metres at its summit and a width of 167 metres at its base, making it the largest prehistoric man-made mound in Europe. Estimates vary as to how long the hill took to build, with some suggesting  that the hill took approximately 4 million man-hours to build, whilst others offer an estimate of 18 million man-hours. Either way the construction of Silbury Hill was a significant undertaking and the hill must have been an important project to the people who built it.

The original purpose of this hill remains a mystery. Legend suggests that Silbury Hill may be the last resting place of a King Sil. Legend also proposes that the hill was created when the Devil was forced by priests, from Avebury, to drop a mass of soil that he was carrying with the intention of burying the nearby town of Marlborough. However, outside of legend, the intended purpose of the hill remains a mystery. 

There have been a number of archaeological excavations of the hill from the 17th century onwards, which have included a vertical shaft being sunk from the top of the hill down through to its base, and a horizontal tunnel being dug at the base to the hill’s centre. None of these excavations have found the burial of the legendary King Sil or have been able to resolve with any certainty the purpose of this mysterious man made structure.

Silbury Hill as seen from the West Kennet Long Barrow. 
Silbury Hill as seen from the A4. 

Pictures: Wiltshire (December 2014).

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