In what looks likely to go down as the slowest naval engagement of all time, rival punting companies in the historic English town of Cambridge are apparently engaging in a clandestine war for the city's annual passenger river-trade, worth an estimated £2.5m ($4m). The latest move in what the locals dub "the punt wars" has seen two of the flat, pole-propelled craft belonging to one local operator sawn through from end to end. Until now, some punt companies have stuck to using stink bombs or liquid soap to incapacitate their rivals' craft, or have severed mooring chains so that the boats must be found and recovered before they can start work, but this latest escalation of the conflict, which caused £10k of actual damage, is worrying many people. Some are now calling for a limit on the number of punts allowed to work on the river (Guardian).
Meanwhile, in Milan in Italy, the loan-collateral held in the vault at Credito Emiliano is not only protected by inches of steel and high-tech alarms systems, it's also maintained at the perfect temperature and humidity, and turned and cleaned by automated systems to ensure that it keeps its value. That's because Credito Emiliano is offering the local cheese-makers loans of up to 60% of the value of any parmesan cheese deposited with them. With each parmesan wheel worth 300 euros ($400), and local producers typically putting up 2000 wheels in a year in collateral, this has meant the bank has lent nearly 420 thousand euros ($600k) to each customer against the cheese in their vault. Which is gouda news for the local cheese industry (AP).
If there is one food that could be intimately linked with the German city of Berlin, it's the currywurst. A twisted cousin to the American chilli-dog, from a parallel universe so evil even the women have goatees, the Berlin currywurst is a sliced pork sausage served with plenty of powdered curry and cayenne and covered in a spicy, curry sauce and sold by street vendors to the passing trade. So popular is this snack in Berlin that the city has just opened the Currywurst Museum to show off the dish's history to tourists and locals alike. Partly this is to support Berlin's claims to be the birthplace of the currywurst, but it is also hoped the museum will promote the snack in the face of increasing competition from more conventional fast food. As one might expect from a museum dedicated to this singular foodstuff, the cafeteria includes an authentic currywurst stand (Times).
If you're ever in New England and wish to dispose of an unwanted rugrat, consider visiting the Biomes marine education facility here in Rhode Island, and participating in one of their "shark petting" programs.
In what can only be described as going beyond the spirit of friendly competition, undertaker David Wood stole the keys from a business rival's hearse, when the vehicle was - how you say - "occupied". The funeral of Patricia Thorburn was immediately disrupted as the car she had requested to be carried in, a 1968 Rolls Royce Phantom, was too heavy to push. Finally the car's owner, funeral director Joel Kerr, resorted to tearing out the walnut dashboard and hot-wiring the engine (BBC News).
Also in the UK, life-long bike fan Stuart McIntyre got his last wish in April, when friends built him a special "side-car hearse" so that he could take his final journey in the manner he had taken so many previous ones (Craven Herald).
Apparently, bike hearses are all the rage right now. Jay Howard of "Hometown Hearse" in Battle Creek has also recently added one to his line-up (WZZM13).
In fact, hearses seem to be so popular nowadays some people can't wait for the inevitable to take a ride in one. Certainly Sammy Townsley of Perthshire in Scotland was in a bit of a hurry, having stolen the hearse in the early morning hours, Townsley lost control of the car at high speed minutes later and crashed it into a telegraph pole (Perthshire Advertiser).
Finally, if you're up that way, the Montreal "Musée de Château Dufresne" is hosting an exhibition on the subject of death, funerals and their accoutrements; surely the perfect family day out. Called Celebrating the Dead: A Living Heritage, the exhibition is there till the end of August (Château Dufresne).
But surely one of the weirdest facts connected with the gem is that it was once sent through the US Mail!
Henry “Harry” Winston, a leading American jeweler and gem dealer, bought the diamond from Mrs. McLean’s estate in 1949. In November 1958 Winston donated the diamond to the Smithsonian Institution, intending it to be the foundation for a National Jewel Collection. With his years of experience in shipping jewelry all over the world, Winston chose to have the diamond delivered by registered mail. He told a reporter for the Washington Post that “ . . . [registered mail is] the safest way to ship gems. . . . I’ve sent gems all over the world that way.”
Just a thought about that curse: since 1958, the Hope Diamond has been owned, in a manner of speaking, by the whole nation. If one chooses to date America's hard times--the end of some mythical Golden Age--from roughly that period, could it be said that the curse is still operative?
Why not sell the Hope Diamond to a rich oil shiek, use the money to help relieve the deficit, and see what happens?
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.