Sunday, 22 July 2018


This is a story which involves Eratosthenes (an ancient Greek mathematician), the Vikings, Christopher Columbus and the humble potato.

All will become clear in due course...........


Back in the late 15th century, an Italian merchant adventurer called Christopher Columbus was hawking the idea that he could reach the Indies (that's China to you) by sailing West across the Atlantic rather than going what he thought was the long way round using the land route. 

He had just bought a map of the world. It was called The d'ailly's Imado Mundi and differed from many others of the period in that it showed the Asian continent stretching most of the way around the globe.

The inaccuracy in Columbus' map arose from a confusion between the Roman mile and the Arab one resulting in a map showing a world that was nearly a full third smaller than is actually the case.

It was well known at the time that the Vikings had established a short lived settlement in lands far to the West and people speculated that it was the fabled Indies, where all the silk and spices came from.

The d'ailly's Imado Mundi
Experienced sailors who knew exactly how big the world was knew any expedition heading West to reach the Indies would be bound to fail; it was simply too far for the technology at the time.
(The idea of a flat Earth is a nineteenth century invention by creationist loonies. The shape and size of the Earth was accurately calculated by the ancient Greek scientist Eratosthenes in the third century BC using a couple of sticks and some common sense).

Eventually though, Columbus was able to persuade enough backers to finance the expedition but before he could set off, some clever wag asked what he would do if he discovered some other large land mass in the way; after all, no-one had tried this before and anything could be out there.

Not to be put off by this setback, the greatest experts of the age were called in to settle the matter and they turned to the only authority they knew on such matters, namely, the Bible. After much scrutiny, it was decided that, as there was no reference in the Bible of any other continent on the Earth, it was safe to proceed. 

This view was difficult to shift and it was several years before anyone would admit the mistake that Columbus made who when deciding that the Island of Cuba that he had bumped into was indeed the Indies, called all the locals Indians; something we do to the present day.

The Church, needless to say, were not very pleased, they were very suspicious of it and of everything that came from it. Well, when I say everything, I don't mean the gold and the slaves and stuff like that. I'm talking about - well - the potato.

They didn't like the potato at all, no, not one little bit and a lot of folklaw arose around it.

As you might expect, many of these stories originated in Ireland and include, among other things, a number of cures for warts. It is also said that you should only plant them on Good Friday and even then, only after giving them a good dousing in Holy Water to counteract the evil spirits associated with them.

The following story I have lifted from an edition of the Irish Times and suspect some aspects of it may not be true.

The Talking Potato of Lisganagh
The Talking Potato of Lisganagh is still probably Ireland’s most famous talking vegetable apart perhaps from the Chatty Turnip of Tullystown.
The Lisganagh tuber became famous for predicting all sorts of things, such as rain, the winner of the 2022 Grand National and the start date of the first World War, although he didn’t do that until 1917.
Discredited in recent years after an affair with the Rather Attractive Carrot of Coolabeeny, the Talking Potato is now rarely seen in public.
He is currently believed to be working on his autobiography, which has the rather cheesy title of When the Chips Are Down.


A person who holds extreme or highly unconventional views on any subject, usually (although not necessarily) political, and expresses them with such vehemence that they becomes hot and flustered, resulting in the face becoming bright red; hence the term "gammon" which they now resemble.

In most cases, the expression is used to describe the archetypal right-wing extremist. These generally fit the description of being poorly educated, having a lower than average intelligence, a tendency to struggle with literacy skills and an innate inability to think beyond their own narrow prejudices. 

This doesn't necessarily apply to the leaders of extreme right wing organisations, some of whom can be pretty smart cookies indeed.

There are also left wing gammons, although in many cases you can't see the physical manifestation of the condition due to the presence of considerable amounts of facial hair.  Female gammons on both sides share a tendency towards excessive tattoos and facial piercings which can also disguise the effect.

Lefty gammons also differ from their extreme right wing counterparts in that they will often be well educated, articulate (except when they are expressing their political opinions), likely from a wealthy or at least well to do background and have little in common with the people whose cause they are championing.

The two types do share the common belief however that the chanting of mindless slogans is an effective substitute for reasoned debate.

Sanctimonious lifestyle fascists; wholefood, anti-vax, non GMO and vegans can also be gammons although calling a Vegan a gammon is surely adding insult to injury. Is there one made from Tofu I wonder?


I have my old pal Ted to thank for this one and features a hoax scientific paper being published by what is known in the trade as a "predatory journal". This is a supposedly reputable scientific journal that will publish just about anything for a fee.

This particular hoax, invented by Gary Lewis, Senior lecturer in psychology, Royal Holloway and published in the online magazine "The Conversation" describes how British politicians wipe their bums according to their political alliances. Right wing politicians use their left hand and left wing ones, their right. To find out why, go to the link.

Using made up names such as Boris Jonski, Teresa Maybe and the like, the author was able to persuade the publishers that he had interviewed these politicians about their bum wiping habits and managed to confirm his hypothesis that there was a correlation between that and their political views. He even managed to get his paper peer reviewed by himself, using another made up name.

This particular journal, going by the name of Crimson Publishers had originally asked for a $581 fee but the author was able to negotiate a fee of a big fat zero.

These fake publications are regularly used by non scientific organisations, conspiracy theorists and of course, the alternative medicine industry. If you want to prove that NASA faked the Moon landings, fluoride is added to water by the government to turn everybody gay, GMOs and vaccines are dangerous, etc., then just publish a paper using made up figures and research and wait for the Daily Express or other tabloid rag to pick it up.

Having said that, it was the supposedly highly reputable British Medical Journal that published the fake paper by Andrew Wakefield claiming that the MMR vaccine caused autism in children. The consequences of that are still being felt today with the increase in diseases such as Polio and Measles.

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