The Star-Spangled Banner

Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed, at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

This is the national anthem of the self-styled greatest nation on the planet and one of the better-known tunes in the world, the lyrics bursting with national pride and staunch heroism in the face of danger. Which is why it will please my Irish friends in Chicago no end when they find out that ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ started out as a drinking song in eighteenth-century London. That should warm up a few baseball games down at the Hidden Shamrock, now that they know that.

The Anacreontic Society was a gentlemen’s club formed in London during the mid 1700s, in honour of the Greek poet Anacreon (570–485 bc) by a group of amateur musicians attempting to promote their craft. The membership was known for its ‘wit, harmony and love of wine’. The president of the Anacreontic Society, Ralph Tomlinson (1744–78), wrote the words to a drinking song that he called ‘The Anacreontic Song’ and which was soon adopted as the society’s official anthem. The first verse goes like this:

To Anacreon in heaven where he sat in full glee,
A few sons of harmony sent in a petition,
That he their inspirer and patron would be;
When this answer arrived from the jolly old Grecian:,

‘Voice, fiddle and flute, no longer be mute,
I’ll lend you my name and inspire you to boot.
And besides, I’ll instruct you like me to entwine
The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’ wine.’

And so on it went for five more verses, each one encouraging the members to drink more heartily. The following year, a teenage composer and organist called John Stafford Smith (1750–1836) wrote the tune (now known as ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’) to fit Tomlinson’s words and the popular song was first published in 1778. The raucous lyrics and memorable tune were soon well known throughout both England and America, with various tweaks to the words, especially in America where the resulting composition was used as a patriotic song under the titles ‘Jefferson and Liberty’ or ‘Adam’s and Liberty’.

Over forty years later, on the night of 12 September 1814, an American attorney and poet, Francis Scott Key (1779–1843), was held prisoner on a British ship during the Battle of Baltimore. All night, British forces bombarded the town as one thousand committed Americans put up a stout defence despite their low numbers, and the following morning (by the dawn’s early light), Scott was inspired to see the American flag still fluttering over Fort McHenry. With that, he sat down and rewrote ‘The Anacreontic Song’ with the words now associated with ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’.

On 27 July 1889, the Secretary of the US Navy ordered that the song should be played every time the American flag was raised on any ship, and in 1916, as America entered the First World War, President Woodrow Wilson insisted the tune be heard at every military occasion. This soon extended to sporting occasions – within a few years, the baseball World Series was playing the song before every match.

Then, on 3 March 1931, President Herbert Hoover passed a law adopting ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ as the official national anthem of America. And, with that, what started out as a London drinking song had completed its journey from dockside pub to the White House.

Extract from Money for Old Rope Parts 1 & 2Albert Jack books available for download here

Musical Breasts

It has been reported that tiny computer chips used for storing and cataloguing music, like the ones used in many personal music systems, could soon be included in woman’s breast implants. Effectively one breast could hold an MP3 player or iPod and the other an entire music collection in what would appear to be some sort of mammary memory board. It is claimed that BT Futurology are currently developing the idea, which, they say, should be available within fifteen years. Silicone gel, used to make implants, is based on Silicon and can easily be developed for light computing tasks. BT Laboratories analyst Ian Pearson is quoted as explaining how a flexible plastic electronic panel could sit inside the breast relaying signals to a pair of headphones and controlled via blue tooth on a wristband. He was quoted in the Sun Newspapers as saying ‘It is now very hard for me to think of breast implants as just decorative. If a woman has to have something permanently implanted then it may as well do something useful.’

It remains to be seen how the idea will fully develop but already I can imagine young men excusing their misbehaviour by using the old ‘I am just scrolling down to find your Beatles album or favourite Rolling Stones track’ argument in their defence. Or how long will it be before divorce cases are being heard where the next-door neighbour claims he was only listening to the news headlines, in stereo.

Using such technology would also apparently make it possible to warn of heart murmurs, increases in blood pressure and of impending illness such as breast cancer or diabetes. Ian Pearson suggests all sorts of technology could be developed in this way including mobile telephones and PDA’s and that the future for breasts is indeed a bright one. Which is fantastic news, because I have always been a big fan.

Whilst on that subject I am reminded of a true story published in the eminent New England Journal of Medicine. Recent research has proved that prolonged staring at ladies breasts can increase the length of a man’s life. Personally I think it depends on which lady as I expect there will be some circumstances where it could instead reduce it, down to the next few minutes if you are not careful. After lengthy research the gerontologist Dr Karen Weatherby has announced that ‘Just ten minutes of staring at the charms of a well-endowed female is roughly equivalent to a thirty minute aerobic work out’.

This genius of a doctor and her fellow researchers at three hospitals in Frankfurt, Germany have reached their conclusions after considering the health of two-hundred male outpatients, half of whom were tasked with looking at busty ladies every day whilst the other half were told not to do so. Five long years of study revealed the lecherous legion to have lower blood pressure, slower resting pulse rates and there were fewer cases of coronary artery disease.

‘Sexual excitement gets the heart pumping’ explained Dr Weatherby in what must be an Olympic medal-winning example of stating the bleeding obvious. ‘That improves blood circulation’, she continued. ‘There is no question gazing at breasts makes men healthier. Our study indicates that engaging in this activity for a few minutes a day cuts the risk of stroke and heart attacks in half. We believe that by doing so consistently, the average man can extend his life by four to five years’. (Not being the average man – I have just calculated that by this reckoning I am to live until I am 345 years old and never need to go to the gym, which is more great news)

Extract from The President’s Brain is Missing (And Other Urban Legends)

Albert Jack books available for download here

Take it back, this just isn’t going to work out.

This is the transcript of a PC manufacturer’s new sales help line in conversation with a customer who was having a spot of bother with a new computer.

‘Good evening, this is Damon, how can we help you’.

‘Well I am having a little trouble with this new PC your company sold me.’

‘What appears to be the problem?’

‘I was working away quite happily in the Word programme, when the words I was writing suddenly disappeared’.

‘I see, had you backed the file up before this happened’.

‘Backed it up, you mean like reversing it?’

‘No, I mean like did you save them before you lost them’

‘No’

‘Oh dear, well lets see if we can try to find them for you. What can you see on your screen now?’

‘Nothing’

‘Nothing at all?’

‘No, it is completely blank’

‘Can you even see your desktop?’

‘Yes I can see that’

‘Well try clicking on the little symbol for the word file on the screen and open it again’

‘I told you it is completely blank, there’s nothing there.’

‘But you said you could see your desk top?’

‘I can’.

‘What can you see on it?.

‘My computer, the phone and a mug of tea?’

‘Ah I see, that desktop, ok let’s try this another way. Does your monitor have the power light on?’

‘What is the monitor?’

‘The screen in front of you that looks like a TV. Are there any small red or green lights on your computer anywhere?’

‘No’

‘Ok, is the power cable still plugged into the back of the PC?’

‘Hang on I’ll reach over the back – yes it is’

‘OK, is the other end plugged into the wall?’

‘Yes it is, look I’m not that stupid?’

‘Ok, ok I am just going through all the checks. Is the cable between the back of the screen and the rest of the computer plugged in securely?’

‘I don’t know I can’t reach round there’

‘OK, but if you kneel on the desk can you at least see if it is plugged in securely and not only half in or something like that?’

‘Can you hang on, I will have to get a torch’

‘A torch?’

‘Yes, the only light I have on is coming in through the window’.

‘Can’t you turn the room light on?’

‘No, we’ve just had a power cut’

‘A power…… a power cut? Ok, we have got this sorted out now, do you still have the boxes, manuals and a receipt?’

‘Yes, they are all here, I only bought it yesterday’.

‘Good, that’s good. You need to put everything back in the box, exactly as it came and take it all back to the shop with the receipt.’

‘Oh no, is it really that bad?’

‘Yes I am afraid it is that bad’

‘Ok, what shall I tell them when I get there?’

‘Well, ask for your money back. Just tell them that you really are too stupid to own a computer after all.’

Click.

Extract from The President’s Brain is Missing (And Other Urban Legends)

Albert Jack books available for download here

The Legendary Hitch Hiker

And now for one of the most famous and oft repeated Legends of them all, the one about the missing hitch hiker. A man was driving home alone from a late business meeting along an isolated country lane, miles from anywhere. As he rounded a sharp bend in the road he saw, in his headlights, the image of an attractive young girl standing alone attempting to attract his attention. As he drew nearer he noticed the girl was wearing an evening dress and had obviously been to a party. Naturally he stopped and the girl got into the back of the car.

He asked her how she had come to be in such an isolated place on her own so late at night but the girl told him it was too long a story to tell and all she was trying to do was get home. Assuming she had been abandoned by a heartless boyfriend the driver asked for her address and set about taking her home safely. No conversation took place during the journey but when the man arrived at the address she had given him he turned around to find the girl had vanished. The man was stunned, especially as he had not stopped the car at all and there is no way the girl could have jumped out without him noticing.

Still in shock he walked up the pathway to the rambling house and rang the bell. An old man answered and listened as the driver told him the story of the girl hitchhiker. The old man then described the girl in perfect detail to the driver and then told him, ‘she was my daughter Luanne. She died in a car accident on that bend some years ago and has been trying to get home ever since. So far she has not been able to make it.’

Other versions of this story have appeared over the years to include a man on a motorbike who picks up the girl only to find she had later vanished. He rode up and down the lane all night but could find no evidence at all that she had fallen off. There is also the version where the driver lends the shivering girl his overcoat and drops her safely home. The following morning he realises his coat is missing so calls round at the house only to be told the story of the girl’s death. Refusing to believe her father he is taken across the road to the cemetery and there, hanging over her gravestone, is the man’s overcoat.

Extract from The President’s Brain is Missing (And Other Urban Legends)

Albert Jack books available for download here

Accident Report

Here is a story that is supposed to come directly from an insurance claim form and has been doing the rounds for about 5 years. After a serious accident a man claimed on his insurance policy but the company asked for a detailed explanation of how his injuries had occurred. This was apparently his reply.

‘I am writing in response to your request for additional information. For section number 3 of the accident reporting form I put ‘poor planning’ as the cause of my accident and you said in your letter that I should explain this in more detail so I trust the following information will be sufficient.

I am an amateur radio operator and on the day of the accident, I was working alone on the top section of my new 80-foot aerial tower. When I had finished building the wall at the top I discovered that I had, over the course of several trips up the tower, taken up around 300 pounds of tools and bricks that I didn’t need. Rather than carry them back down by hand, I decided to lower the items in a wooden barrel by using the pulley attached to the Gin Pole at the top of the tower. Securing the rope at ground level, I went to the top and loaded everything into the barrel. Then I went back to the ground and untied the rope, holding it tightly to ensure a slow decent of the 300 pound load.

You will note in section number 11 of the accident reporting form that I weigh only 155 pounds. Due to my surprise of being jerked off the ground so suddenly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope. Needless to say, I proceeded at a rather rapid rate of speed up the side of the tower. In the vicinity of the 40-foot level, I met the barrel on its way down. This explains my fractured skull and broken collarbone. Slowed only slightly, I continued my rapid ascent, not stopping until the fingers of my right hand were two knuckles deep into the pulley, which accounts for the hand injuries. Fortunately, by this time, I had regained my presence of mind and was able to hold onto the rope in spite of the pain. At approximately the same time, however, the barrel hit the ground, the bottom smashed and everything fell out.

Without the weight of the tools and bricks, the barrel weighs approximately 20 pounds. I refer you again to my weight in section number 11. As you might imagine, I began a rapid descent back down the side of the tower. In the vicinity of the 40-foot level, I made contact with it again, which accounts for the two fractured ankles and the lacerations of my legs and lower body. The encounter with the barrel slowed me enough to lessen my injuries when I fell onto the pile of bricks and, fortunately, only three vertebrae were cracked. But I couldn’t move and, I am sorry to report, that as I lay there in abject pain and watching the empty barrel 80 feet above me, I once again lost my presence of mind and let go of the rope. I trust this is all the information you need to process my claim.

Extract from The President’s Brain is Missing (And Other Urban Legends)

Albert Jack books available for download here

The Revenge of the Ex-Wife

Revenge is a Cheap Jaguar

Early one morning a teenage garage mechanic in Godalming, Surrey was looking through his local paper for a cheap second hand car and feasted his eye upon one small advert that puzzled him. ‘Jaguar XK8 For Sale, two-years old, perfect condition, leather interior and Sat Nav – only, only £200’. Believing it to be a misprint that should have read at least  £20,000 he moved onto to other adverts but his attention kept drifting back to the Jaguar until he finally made up his mind to telephone the number included. An elegant sounding lady answered and confirmed he was the first caller and that the car was indeed only £200. Still puzzled he drove to the address she gave and found himself at a large country house with landscaped gardens, tennis courts and a pool.

Outside the garage was a shiny black Jaguar XK8 being polished by the gardener. The V8 engine purred and the car was in mint condition so on checking the price again the mechanic quickly handed over £200 and promptly received the keys and log book. He couldn’t believe his luck but had to ask, ‘why are you selling the car so cheaply, surely you must know it is worth much more?’ The lady hesitated and then decided no harm could be done if she explained the story. ‘A few years ago’, she told him, ‘I met the perfect man. He was tall, attractive and owned a very successful publishing business. We got married, moved into this house and everything was perfect for three years. Then, he employed a beautiful, young sexy PR executive and before I knew it they were having an affair. I found out about a month ago and when I confronted him he admitted everything, packed his bags and left, just like that.

Then, last week, I received a letter from his lawyer confirming I could keep the house and all the money and, as long as he could keep his business, he was happy to rebuild his personal life with his new partner but there was one condition. As he didn’t want to come back to the house and face me I was told I had to sell his Jaguar, keep half the money and forward the balance onto him to use as a deposit for a new car, so that is exactly what I am doing’.

Extract from The President’s Brain is Missing (And Other Urban Legends)

Albert Jack books available for download here

The Revenge of the Seafood

The Seafood Effect

June was not a happy lady. Just before Christmas in 1998 her husband Mike had left her to start a new life with her closest friend. June spent the whole winter alone in the house until the day she received a letter from a divorce lawyer, asking for possession so that Mike and her old friend could move back in. That was when she planned her revenge. She replied, offering vacant possession, on the condition the house was sold and the proceeds split between the two. The evening before she was due to move out June invited her real friends around for a lavish ‘Last Supper’.  The following morning she carefully unscrewed the ends of the metal curtain rails in all the rooms and filled the cavity with half-eaten prawns, shells and spoonfuls of caviar, after which she picked up the rest of her belongings and left the home she loved.

A few weeks later the new couple noticed a lingering smell. It became worse as the days passed. They paid to have the house  professionally cleaned from top to bottom, the air vents and floorboards checked for dead rats and air purifiers installed in every room, but still the smell grew worse. Before long  the workmen were refusing to enter the house and, as potential buyers were failing to make it past the front door before they fled, the estate agents suggested taking the property off the market until the smell had been removed.

Eventually the couple had to retreat to a hotel before taking on a huge loan and buying another house. Soon afterwards, as chance would have it, June phoned Mike to enquire how the house sale was progressing and listened as her cheating husband made up a story about the depressed housing market and how he had been unable to find a buyer. He was amazed when his former wife offered to buy his share, for a substantially reduced amount. Seizing the chance to burden his ex with the mysteriously smelling house, he accepted a nominal payment for his half share, but not without one last act of meanness. On the day of the transfer June pulled up with her removal men just in time to find Mike’s men stripping the house of the last fixtures and fittings to be taken and installed at his new home down to the light bulbs, carpets, curtains and …..curtain rails. June’s plan had worked to perfection.

Extract from The President’s Brain is Missing (And Other Urban Legends)

Albert Jack books available for download here