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  • That Was Genius Team

Episode 110 - Prick It, Twist It, Feck It (Slippery Situations Week)

Tom's Notes:

Slippery situations

Audience feedback

Aaron our new Order of the Bathroom stoner friend came up with some good suggestions whilst he was hot boxing in one of the lockers: these have been noted down. Thank you!

Oliver from Australia, “howdy partner” Well he said hello and gave us some good suggestions. His message started with; “Hello my fucking funny pommy twat and sheep shagger,” I think I’m both on account of my dual citizenship and you’re the former Sam. We could also possibly insert some far less socially acceptable jingoistic insults regarding your German and India heritage, but we probably won’t. I’ve got some Danish heritage too; so I guess that makes me a bacon-eating horny helmet. Anyway, Oliver loves the show. Thank you Oliver, it was lovely for you to message us. He also suggested Ancient Gods which I could easily run with. It’s on the list.

We’ve had a few other conversations too but I think I’ve summarised most of it.

Rocketman film; gloriously extravagant, slightly odd, camp and colourful, but very enjoyable to watch; so very suitable really for a film about Elton John. Strangely, no reference to his foot fetish.

I had trouble this week with my research. Oh deary me was I struggling with the topic. I went in all sorts of directions. History of bubble bath, history jelly, history of jelly wrestling, history of mud wrestling, history of greased pig chasing, history of goose pulling… If you’ve never heard of goose-pulling – it’s where a live goose is strapped to a line between two high poles. The goose’s neck is greased and competitors ride underneath it on a horse and try to grab its neck and rip of its head. Not funny, just animal cruelty really. I came across it a few weeks ago.

Then I decided to get on the old Perseus website again and search heaps of Classical documents for the word ‘slippery’ and ‘slipping’. I didn’t get anything out of this that was close enough linked to the topic. It was often just a passing reference to a horse slipping on some mud or some Roman infantry having problems marching on a slightly wet road, all very boring stuff. Admittedly I don’t what I was expecting; Emperor Vespassian’s private waterslide, or an ice rink invented by Archimedes, or maybe the Parthian banana skin cavalry.

I also looked for people who died slipping over. Not really meaty enough although I came up with a great one that I’ll use in the future – just completely unrelated to the topic apart from he died slipping over.

Next I went for icey stuff. There have been a number of battles fought on ice; you’ve spoke about one before but I couldn’t find any others that were particularly funny. In the end I settled on exploration of the Northwest Passage and explorers getting stuck in ice. Even then I had a few false starts.

There’s Franklin’s Lost Expedition of 1845 which is a cracker with lots of very recent developments (discovery of ships at the bottom of the sea) but I thought it was too well known on account of a very recent BBC television series called the Terror that I will now be trying to watch. I didn’t realise it was about this expedition.

Then I found the expeditions of William Edward Parry in the 1820s. I also found some of Parry’s journals online. I thought this would be great, then I read the journals and realised how bloody boring they were on account of the fact that Parry seemed like a very capable leader who made sensible decisions. As a result, nobody died, nobody ate anyone else, nobody attacked any indigenous people, nobody got lost; all really rather tedious. They just got stuck in ice lots and wintered over in cold places where the crew of the ships kept themselves busy with theatrical productions and regular school classes and an observatory. No shit. Parry aced it.

In the end, after a full page of notes, I ended up settling for Sir Henry Hudson and the Mutiny of the Discovery.

Henry Hudson was an English explorer. In 1607, he set off to try to discover a way to Asia via the Arctic. He wasn’t heading northwest, he was heading northeast looking for the Northeast Passage. Unsurprisingly, he met the polar ice pack near Svalbard. This was something that a Dutch navigator, William Barents, had done over a decade before, hence the Barents Sea. Barents and his crew were the first Europeans to winter over in the Arctic circle and were completely unprepared to do so. They did well to get through the Winter but in the Spring they realised that their boat was fucked. They headed home in open boats and Barents died on the way back. Anyway, Hudson returned home from his first journey North having not achieved much. A year later he tried again slightly further east and also met the polar ice pack. It was on one of these voyages that Hudson and his men apparently spotted a mermaid:

“This morning one of our companie looking over boord saw a mermaid, and calling up some of the companie to see her, one more came up and by that time shee was come close to the ships side, looking earnestly on the men. A little after a sea came and overturned her. From the navill upward her backe and breasts were like a womans, as they say that saw her, but her body as big as one of us. Her skin very white, and long haire hanging downe behinde of colour blacke. In her going downe they saw her tayle, which was like the tayle of a porposse, and speckled like a macrell.”

A year later, the Dutch East India Company employed his services to try once again. At around this time, he became aware of rumours of a Northwest Passage through the Americas.

In 1609 he headed northeast as was his agreement with the Dutch East India Company. He immediately hit stormy seas and headwinds. Rather than return to Amsterdam as he had been instructed, he decided to take a sneaky peak at the Americas. The crew seemed happy with this as they had heard about what had happened to Barents over a decade before. They discovered Hudson River, which had been reported by a Florentine mariner almost 100 years before, sailed as far as Albany which is quite a way, concluded that it didn’t head to Asia and returned home, not before leaving an enormous post stick note saying ‘Hudson River’. This in itself is a fascinating voyage because of all the interactions with Native Americans.

It has to be said that Hudson didn’t seem to show particularly good judgement and leadership with these encounters. These interactions with the Native Americans were frequent and very varied; some natives came to trade, some came with friendly intentions and invited the crew to stay with them on land, some were just curious, some were undoubtedly more hostile. But these were situations that required good diplomacy skills, not pleasantly trading one moment and then kidnapping warriors to hold as hostages the next moment. Or inviting Native Americans on board to exchange gifts one moment and then getting them blind drunk for shits and giggles the next moment. Yes, he did these things.

When he returned home, King James I of England was very unhappy that he had discovered the land around the Hudson River for the Dutch, so he forbade Hudson from navigating again under a foreign flag. In 1602 another British navigator had the opening to Hudson Strait which leads to Hudson Bay (yep, Henry Hudson had lots of big post sticks). This navigator believed that it would have been a route to Asia so in 1610, back working with British backers, namely the British East India Company and the Muscovy Company, Hudson set off to discover it. Of note here, the Muscovy Company was called such because the British (and the Dutch, as mentioned), had originally tried to get to Asia via the Northeast Passage. The British had been moderately success sailing north of Norway into the White Sea and then across land down to Moscow and then to the Caspian Sea. This route was promising because it could connect up with the Silk Route/Road (back to basics, the reasons for all this exploration was to get better access to spices that traditionally had come to Europe along the Silk Route/Road). Anyway, on this second voyage west, Hudson headed up Hudson Strait, into Hudson Bay where they skirted along the Quebec coastline until they reached James Bay. If Hudson Bay were a boob, James Bay would be the nipple. I think this is the best way to describe it geographically.

It was at the nipply James Bay that things started to go wrong. Unlike William Edward Parry, Henry Hudson, as I have alluded too, seemed like your run of the mill semi-incompetent English prat. Yes I know, surprise, surprise. Rather than say ‘Winter is coming, let’s turn back and come again another time,’ Hudson wandered around aimlessly, got stuck in ice and had to overland for the winter.

Colonel Brainard, an arctic explorer of the late 19th century who had another disastrous expeditions in which 25 crewmen left port, and 8 returned (will they ever learn?) wrote: "Take any set of men, however carefully selected, and let them be thrown as intimately together as are the members of an exploring expedition—hearing the same voices, seeing the same faces, day after day—and they will soon become weary of one another's society and impatient of one another's faults."

Here’s another quote from the same expedition:

"It was now October, and the situation of the explorers was becoming desperate, but the bickerings seem to have increased with their peril. As the weary days of starvation and death wore on, nearly every member of the party developed a grievance. Israel was reprimanded by Greely for falsely accusing Brainard of unfairness in the distribution of articles. Bender annoyed the whole camp by his complaints regarding his bed-clothes; Pavy and Henry accused Fredericks, the cook, of not giving them their fair share of food; and Pavy and Kislingbury had a quarrel that barely stopped short of blows. Then Jewell was accused of selecting the heaviest dishes of those issued.... Bender and Schneider had a fist fight in their sleeping bag; and on one occasion Bender was so violent that a general mutiny was imminent.”

I read these quote because to summarise what happened to the Hudson expedition, they all went stir crazy possibly on account of having no real direction and being low on supplies in a very cold and hostile place where there were few birds to eat and it was difficult to fish on account of all the ice. They needed some theatre, possibly a nativity play, or maybe biology classes, or maybe to set up an observatory. Apparently, things all started when Hudson gave another crew mate a grey gown as a gift, then took it back again when he decided they weren’t best friends anymore because Hudson had a new bestie. This bestie was given the role of Angel Gabriel much to the annoyance of another crewman who had a drama degree. There accusations of food hoarding too; once again Hudson was apparently playing favourites and giving certain people more food than others, presumably for a quick wank off (it’ll be lonely this Christmas, without a girl to hold, but they’ll be men ooooh men, with shaved hands and nail varnish…) With this simmering resentment, the Discovery eventually turned to return home the following Spring when the ice melted. When this happened, a mutiny took place. Hudson and his teenage son were put in an open boat with seven others and pushed off into Hudson Bay. Most of the others were very sick or infirm – scurvy filled! Things weren’t totally dreadful; they were given some basic provisions. The rest headed home but the main mutineers didn’t make it after being killed in a fight with some Inuits in Hudson Bay. The ship eventually reached waters near Ireland and was picked up by a fishing boat with the remaining crew starving and barely able to crew the ship. One of those men had died of starvation.

As is usually the case with these horrible voyages, not many people survived; only 8 of the 13 men who mutinied and nobody has any idea what happened to Hudson, his son and the others who were left behind, or even if they were left behind or just murdered or just eaten. Despite this, Hudson’s name appears everywhere! As mentioned, there is Hudson Strait, Hudson River and Hudson Bay, but there’s also Hudson County, Hudson town, Henry Hudson Bridge and Henry Hudson Parkway.

Accounts of the mutiny are affected by the classic survivor’s bias. Those who lived to tell the tale were obviously interested in telling a tale that blamed dead people for the mutiny. These accounts are very questionable because those blamed had been loyal crewmen for Hudson on previous voyages. A chap called Pricket wrote an account of the voyage (this is the most complete surviving document but also the most questionable), there was the journal of Hudson which had been tampered with by the mutineers and there was also a note found written by another of the men sent adrift; a chap called Thomas Woodhouse. The latter is the only document that gives the Hudson perspective on the mutiny and although I struggled to comprehend the early 17th century English, it seems to indicate that there had been mutinous murmurings early on and Hudson may have been a clumsy diplomat; something that he demonstrated on his previous voyage up the Hudson River.

All eight who returned home were arrested and put on trial and there are documents from this trial that shed a little bit more light on what happened, but the survivors all stuck to the same story. They were actually on trial for murder not mutiny. They were not found guilty because it was argued that the land around Hudson Bay was habitable. It’s possible that the trial was all a bit of a sham; authorities saw the survivors as valuable assets because they had first had experience of unknown lands and waters.

The Northwest Passage was only finally discovered by Roald Amuldsen in 1903-5 although a chap called Robert McClure managed it by boat and sled half a century earlier; another very interesting story deserving of its own episode. As for the Northeast Passage, even the Soviets were struggling with this in the second half of the 20th century. Fingers cross with more global warming it will become easier.

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