“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.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Being Buried The Old Way

Previously in this blog I have shared pictures of my visits to some of the prehistoric long barrows that can be found in the South of England. Two of the most famous examples of these ancient burial mounds being the West Kennet Long Barrow in Wiltshire (circa 3650 BC), and Wayland's Smithy in Oxfordshire (circa 3700 BC).

I had assumed that the practice of long barrow burials had died out many years ago, however it seems that the practice is alive and well in the Wiltshire village of All Cannings. In September 2014, the All Cannings Long Barrow opened for business, with some suggesting that this is the first Neolithic style long barrow to have been built in the UK for some 5,500 years.

Costing around £200,000 to construct, the long barrow contains four large chambers, each of which houses 55 niches, which in turn can house four or five urns of remains. This potentially gives the long barrow the capacity to house the remains of around 1000 people. Unlike ancient long barrows which were the preserve of high status members society, the All Cannings Long Barrow is open to anyone, subject to a modest fee.

So if you are planning on dying soon and would like to be laid to rest in an ancient manner, then it may be worth checking out the All Cannings Long Barrow.

The All Cannings Long Barrow.

The entrance to the long barrow.

Peeking through the gate.

The view from the top of the long barrow.

Looking towards the Alton Barnes White Horse and Adam's Grave.

You will need to zoom.... a flight of seven biplanes over the long barrow.

The biplanes.
Pictures: Wiltshire (May 2015).

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Friday, 15 May 2015

Hunting for Lego Simpsons Minifigures Series 2

In another departure from "random encounters with the unusual" here is some advice for Lego fans who are about to embark on their hunt for the newly released Lego Simpsons Minifigures Series 2 (Lego 71009).  To assist fellow hunters I will give you an overview of: the chances for finding a particular character in a box of 60 minifigures; and a guide for what to feel for when trying to identify each character in the blind bags.

Lego Simpsons Character Distribution in a box a 60

Similarly to Lego Simpsons Minifigures Series 1, the character distribution in a box of 60 minifigures is slightly geared in favour of finding the Simpsons family. In a box of 60 minifigures you will find the below distribution, meaning that a single box of 60 characters would yield three full sets of characters plus some spares.

Three of each in a full box:

  • Character #7: Comic Book Guy
  • Character #8: Martin Prince
  • Character #9: Professor Frink
  • Character #10: Hans Moleman
  • Character #11: Selma
  • Character #12: Patty
  • Character #14: Edna Krabappel

Four of each in a full box:

  • Character #2: Marge Simpson
  • Character #3: Lisa Simpson
  • Character #4: Maggie Simpson
  • Character #6: Milhouse Van Houten (Fallout Boy)
  • Character #15: Waylon Smithers
  • Character #16: Dr Hibbert

Five of each in a full box:

  • Character #1: Homer Simpson
  • Character #5: Bart Simpson (Bart Man)
  • Character #13: Groundskeeper Willie

A feeling guide for Lego Simpsons Minifigures

This series of minifigures has proven to be one of the most challenging sets to date to feel for, as a lot of the characters have similar accessories. For example, six of the characters have 2x2 tiles, which means that care and patience is required to ensure that you get the character that you want. Having said that, the “feeling method” remains the best method to confidently identify the character you want and to reduce the curse of getting unnecessary duplicates.

To start off, once you grab a blind bag, shake it. Shaking the packet well helps to ensure that all of the small loose components drop down to the bottom of the bag. The small components will be vital to distinguishing one character from another.  Once you have shaken the bag 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.

1) Homer Simpson

What to feel for – To find Homer you will have to try to feel for his head which can be very tricky to distinguish. If you think you have found Homer’s head, then look for his 2x2 tile.

But be careful – Homer is one of the hardest characters to feel for. This is because his head shape is very similar to that of Dr. Hibbert and they both have 2x2 tiles. The only sure way to feel them apart is to check their heads. Homer’s head is smooth, whilst Dr. Hibbert’s head is knobbly (his hair). Dr. Hibbert’s knobbly hair can be felt through the blind bag and running your fingernail over the head is a sure fire way of feeling the knobbles!

Homer Simpson
2) Marge Simpson

What to feel for – Marge is relatively easy to find because of her head, which is long and elongated. Marge also has a 1x2 tile (her purse) and the three-pronged stem of her bunch of flowers, both of which can easily be found at the bottom of a well shaken blind bag.

But be careful – Hans Moleman also has a 1x2 tile, so do not rely on just this to find Marge, be sure to check for her long cylindrical head.

Marge Simpson
3) Lisa Simpson

What to feel for – When looking for Lisa, you need to feel for Lisa’s cat, Snowball II, which can be distinguished from Maggie’s dog, Santa’s Little Helper, by feeling for its tail.  If you are unsure if you have Snowball II or Santa’s Little Helper you need to check for Lisa’s legs. Lisa has a standard childs leg-piece, whilst Maggie’s legs and torso are all one piece.

But be careful – Four other characters have child leg pieces like Lisa, so do not rely on this item alone.

Lisa Simpson
4) Maggie Simpson

What to feel for – Maggie’s body (legs and torso) are a single unique piece, which is unlike any other character in the series, so this is the item to look for. If you think you have found Maggie’s body, confirm your find by looking for Santa’s Little Helper.

But be careful – Maggie and Lisa are similar in a number of ways and can be easily confused if not felt for carefully.

Maggie Simpson
5) Bart Simpson (Bart Man)

What to feel for – Bart is very easy to identify if you feel for his Y-shaped sling shot, which will be found at the bottom of a well shaken blind bag. If you think you have found Bart’s sling shot, then confirm your find by feeling for the character’s head. Bart’s head is spiky on top, which is unique in this series.

But be careful – There is nothing much to worry about once you find Bart’s sling shot, but there is a small chance that it could be confused with the three-pronged stem of Marge’s bunch of flowers so make sure that the item you have is flat.

Bart Simpson (Bart Man)
6) Milhouse Van Houten (Fallout Boy)

What to feel for – To find Milhouse look for his can of Buzz Cola, which is a small cylinder with flat ends. Milhouse also has the biggest nose of any of the characters in this series, but you won’t really need to feel for this if you can find his can of cola.

But be careful – If you are in a rush, Milhouse’s can of Buzz Cola could be mistaken for  Edna’s cup (this has a handle on the side), Comic Book Guy’s Squishy (this is a tapered cylinder, with its distinctive straw at the top), or Professor Frink’s beaker (which is a cone with a lip at the top). However if the blind bag does not contain a 2x2 tile, you can immediately eliminate Comic Book Guy and Edna Krabappel from the equation.

Milhouse Van Houten (Fallout Boy)
 7) Comic Book Guy

What to feel for – Comic Book Guy’s squishy, which is a slightly tapered cylinder with a straw poking out of the top, is the key to finding him. Once you have found this, his comic (a 2x2 tile) can be used to make certain. Only Edna has similar accessories, a cup and a 2x2 tile, but Edna’s cup has a handle on the side making it easy to discount.

But be careful – Milhouse, Edna and Professor Frink all have accessories that could be mistaken for Comic Book Guy’s Squishy, so some care is required.

Comic Book Guy
8) Martin Prince

What to feel for – Martin is very easy to find as he has a large book. The book, once located in the blind bag, leaves no doubt that you have found Martin.

But be careful – There is not much to worry about with Martin!

Martin Prince
9) Professor Frink

What to feel for – Professor Frink’s beaker, a cone with a lip at the neck end, is relatively easy to find in a well shook packet and can be distinguished from Milhouse’s Buzz Cola, Edna’s Cup and Comic Book Guy’s Squishy. If you think that you have found the Professor’s beaker, check for his head, which is more elongated than the rest of the characters (except for Marge that is).

But be careful – It could be possible to confuse Professor Frink’s beaker with Milhouse’s Buzz Cola, Edna’s cup or Comic Book Guy’s Squishy. So running your fingernail along the item to check for the lip at the neck of the beaker is the best way to be sure.

Professor Frink
10) Hans Moleman

What to feel for – Hans has a 1x2 tile, his driving license, and this is the part to check for. Once you have found this piece you either have Hans or Marge. Given that Hans has a childs leg piece and Marge has a large elongated head, it is an easy task to determine if you have Hans or Marge.

But be careful – Once you have found the 1x2 tile the task is plain sailing, but finding the 1x2 tile can take a while. So be prepared to be patient.

Hans Moleman
11) Selma

What to feel for – Selma and her sister Patty are both easy to find as their large bulbous heads make the blind bags bulge. So if you find a bulging bag with one large item in it you have one of the sisters, but which one? It is now a case of feeling for Selma’s eye test chart (a 2x2 tile), which is easy to distinguish from Patty’s handbag which is a much larger, thicker piece.

But be careful – There is not much to worry about with the sisters.

12) Patty

What to feel for – Use the same process as looking for Selma. Find a huge head and then look for either Selma’s thin 2x2 tile or Patty’s larger and thicker handbag to work out which is which.

But be careful – There is not much to worry about with the sisters.

13) Groundskeeper Willie

What to feel for – Typing this seems wrong… but to find Willie you need to feel for the long shaft of Willie’s plunger, which has a soft rubberized red end. Willie’s plunger is unique in this series, there are no other long thin items, so once you can feel Willie’s shaft in your hand, you are guaranteed a happy end!

But be careful – The description of how to find Willie is somewhat disturbing!

Groundskeeper Willie
14) Edna Krabappel

What to feel for – Edna can be found by her cup which is a short cylinder with an L-shaped handle on the side. The handle on Edna’s cup makes it easy to distinguish from the other character’s drinking vessels. If you think you have found Edna’s cup, look for her 2x2 tile (her painting) which will confirm your find.

But be careful – Comic Book Guy also has a 2x2 tile (his comic) and in a hurry his Squishy could be mistaken for Edna’s cup, so check for the handle on Edna’s cup to be absolutely sure.

Edna Krabappel
15) Waylon Smithers

What to feel for – Smithers’ Malibu Stacey box is made up of a 2x2 tile and a 2x2 plate. As Smithers is the only character with a 2x2 plate this is the part to look for, so feel the packet until you can feel the four raised studs on the plate. If any confirmation is required check the character’s head. Smithers’ head is relatively flat in comparison to the rest of the characters.

But be careful –  Five other characters have a 2x2 tile, so do not rely on just this to find Smithers.

Waylon Smithers
16) Dr. Hibbert

What to feel for – Dr. Hibbert can be tricky to find as he is essentially the same as Homer, and has the same accessory (a 2x2 tile). To find Dr. Hibbet you really have to find his head and use your fingernail to feel for his knobbly hair, which is the only real way to tell him apart from Homer, who has a smooth head.

But be careful –  Do take time and care feeling for Dr. Hibbert’s hair, else you will end up with another Homer!

Dr. Hibbert
The Whole Gang

A note on Bump Codes / Dot Codes

It is now widely accepted that the Bump Codes / Dot Codes that appear on the back of the blind bags are not universal, but are specific to small regions/batches of product. So whilst I could list the codes for the minifigures that I have purchased, the information would be useless for the majority of readers.

I hope this 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, 13 May 2015

Sturt's Folly

In last week’s blog post I looked at an unusual legend surrounding an 800 year-old Oak tree near the village of Woodlands in Dorset. Two miles to the South-West of Woodlands is the village of Horton, which is home to another sight worthy of mention, the folly known as Horton Tower.

Horton Tower was built in 1750 by the Lord of Horton Manor, Humphrey Sturt, who was an architect and also an MP for Dorset (1745 – 1786). The exact reason why the tower was built is unclear. The practice of folly building was popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, and often they were built purely to be admired as eye-catching constructions as opposed to having any real practical purpose. Horton Tower may have served a purpose however, with some suggesting that it was built to be used as an observatory for star gazing, whilst others suggest it was used by Humphrey Sturt to watch nearby hunts.

The brick tower has a triangular foot-print with round turrets at each corner and rises up to a height of 140 feet (43 metres), which supposedly made it the tallest non-religious building in England at the time of its construction. The tower’s shape and style is similar to that of King Alfred’s Tower on the Stourhead estate in Somerset, which was built in the 1760s. King Alfred’s tower measures in at a height of 161 feet (49 metres), and it is possible that it was built taller than Horton Tower in a purposeful act of one-upmanship.

The other piece of history related to the village of Horton, that is worthy of mention, is that it is the location where James Scott the 1st Duke of Monmouth was captured after the failed Monmouth Rebellion. Following the Duke’s defeat at the battle of Sedgemoor on the 6th July 1685, he fled towards Dorset where he is said to have hid in a ditch under an ash tree in Horton disguised as a shepherd. Sadly for the Duke his hiding place was disclosed by a local and he was captured on the 8th July, and then beheaded at Tower Hill in London on the 15th July. His beheading was not swift nor merciful; it apparently took between five and eight blows to cleave his head from his body!

For those that want to know more, the story of the Monmouth Rebellion features in Andrew May's Bloody British History Somerset, which is available on Amazon.

Horton Tower.

Pictures: Dorset (May 2015).

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Thursday, 7 May 2015

Being Touched by a Boy King

Here is a local legend which comes from near Verwood in Dorset.  Just off of the B3081 Verwood Road, near the hamlet of Woodlands, an old hollowed-out oak tree can be found which is known locally as the Remedy Oak. This oak tree is estimated to be around 800 years old and a small metal plaque near its base bears the following cryptic inscription:

According to tradition King Edward VI sat beneath this tree and touched for King's evil.

The king in question, King Edward VI (12th October 1537 – 6th  July 1553),  is said to have stopped by this tree whilst out hunting one day in the summer of 1552. At that time most people believed that an anointed king such as Edward had special powers and could cure the sick. So a gaggle of locals appeared and asked the king to touch them to cure their ills. So touch them he did!

The phrase “King’s evil” on the plaque refers to a specific disease known as scrofula, which is a swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck caused by tuberculosis. The idea that the king could cure this evil began in England with Edward the Confessor (1003/4-1066) and subsequent kings were said to have inherited his “royal touch” and his ability to cure the disease. People who had been touched by the king were often given special gold coins known as 'touch pieces' as mementos of their healing. This idea that the “royal touch” could cure scrofula is said to have continued in England until the early 1700’s, with Queen Anne being the last monarch to undertake the practice of laying hands on the sick.

Interestingly Edward VI suffered from scrofula himself and no amount of touching himself, as adolescent boys are apt to do, seems to have cured him from this disease!

The Remedy Oak - looking towards the B3081 Verwood Road.

The other side of the tree.

The small plaque at the base of the tree.

Pictures: Dorset (May 2015).

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