28 July 2022

A Mixed Bag

First off, nursery rhymes and how they got that way.  Before the technological revolution and the industrial revolution, life was very, very quiet, and you had to make your own entertainment. Anything loud was very popular.  

I just found out that the "weasel" in "Pop Goes the Weasel" could well be a spinner's weasel.  Now a spinner's weasel is "a mechanical yarn-measuring device consisting of a spoked wheel with gears attached to a pointer on a marked face (which looks like a clock) and an internal mechanism which makes a "pop" sound after the desired length of yarn is measured" (usually a skein, or 80 yards). (Wikipedia)

On a sleepy rainy day, back in the 1700s, that could really the kids up, couldn't it?  Plus it gave them something to do…

And speaking of things to do, they weren't all as useful and harmless as a spinner's weasel.  Doolin 'Dalton sent me a link to the story of Whipping Tom:

"Whipping Tom and Skiping Ione", detail from the Yale Center 'Panorama'

Actually, there were three Toms:  1672 and 1681 in London and in 1712 in the village of Hackney.  Basically, each of them would attack women walking alone and beat them more or less savagely on their rear ends. We don't know much about the 1st Tom, except that he may have given the example to the 2nd Tom in London.  2nd Tom was known for yelling "Spanko!" as he beat them.  He also got into print:  

"His first Adventure, as near as we can learn, was on a Servant Maid in New-street, who being sent out to look for her Master, as she was turning a Corner, perceived a Tall black Man[n 2] standing up against the wall, as if he had been making water, but she had not passed far, but with great speed and violence seized her, and in a trice, laying her across his knee, took up her Linnen, and lay'd so hard up-on her Backside, as made her cry out most piteously for help, the which he no sooner perceiving to approach (as she declares) then he vanished."
- Whipping Tom Brought to Light and Exposed to View, 1681

Eventually a haberdasher and his apprentice (?) were arrested and tried for it.

The Hackney Tom was even more savage, attacking 70 women and using a "Great Rodd of Birch". Thomas Wallis was captured and confessed to the attacks. According to Wallis, he was "resolved to be Revenged on all the women he could come at after that manner, for the sake of one Perjur'd Female, who had been Barbarously False to him".  (Historian Andrew Martin, Citation from Ashton, John (1937), Social Life in the Reign of Queen Anne, vol. 2, London: Chatto & Windus.  HERE)   

Sadly, all documents of the trial and conviction of any of the Whipping Toms have been lost over time... And no one knows who Skipping Joan is.  I tried to find it, and just couldn't.  

Actually, what surprises me most about this case is that they actually investigated and punished the Whipping Toms, because the Middle Ages was not known for its high opinion of women and their rights.  BTW, if you want something frightening, there's a self-described Christo-fascist on social media spouting that what he and his fellows all want is to return to the Middle Ages! When life was sweet! Life was great!  Obviously the jackass didn't realize (1) that they'd all be serfs back then, with all the backbreaking labor that entailed and (2) medieval dentistry & medicine:  

Of course it wasn't all plagues, leeches and purges.  Some of the stuff that sounds the weirdest actually worked:
FOR BURNS:  “Take a live snail and rub its slime against the burn and it will heal”
A nice, simple DIY remedy – and yes, it would help reduce blistering and ease the pain! Recent research has shown that snail slime contains antioxidants, antiseptic, anesthetic, anti-irritant, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and antiviral properties, as well as collagen and elastin, vital for skin repair.  Modern science now utilizes snail slime, under the heading ‘Snail Gel’, as skin preparations and for treating minor injuries, such as cuts, burns and scalds. It seems that medieval medicine got this one right.  (History Extra)

So keep a snail around - you never know when you might need one.

And now for something completely different, my favorite new streaming channel is Retro Reels, which you can get through Roku for the reasonable price of $2.99 a month.  It has just about every movie you can imagine from the 30s and 40s, and we are having a great time.  The only down side is that it has no search engine, so you have to scroll until you find a title you want to watch. And there's everything - from Charlie Chan to Cary Grant - so you're bound to get distracted from your original search.  Happy accidents abound!

The other night we watched The Public Enemy (1931) with James Cagney, and while everybody knows about this scene:


imho, it's nowhere near the most shocking scene in the picture.  But we'll get to that in a minute.  

You can tell The Public Enemy was made pre-Hays Code.  You can also tell it was made in America, because all the good guys are so squeaky-clean they'd bore Billy Graham.  Even Ma... (Oh, Ma, get a new dress and quit pretending you don't know what your Tom does for a living.)  

(I've said it before, and I'll say it again, people really need to reread Victorian novels and find out how to make good people interesting. The stupidest line I ever heard was about 10 years ago on a show where the squeaky-clean hero's girlfriend said "It's easy to be good, but it's so hard to go bad." No, dimwit, it's the exact freaking opposite. The Victorians at least knew that temptation was actually tempting.)  

Speaking of pre-Hays, how about Jean Harlow?  She didn't have a lot of scenes, and she really wasn't that good at delivering her lines (I much prefer her in Red Dust - she and Gable had great chemistry, and they went on to make 6 movies together), but that white silk/satin lounge outfit made all of that irrelevant. 

(Triva: On the set one day, Cagney stared at Harlow's cleavage and asked, "How do you keep those things up?" "I ice them," Harlow said.  IMDB)

Meanwhile, there's Cagney, with charm, energy, one hell of a great grin, and a real gift for that 1930s fast dialog which he made sound like the smartest wisecracks you ever heard, which they often weren't.  The result is that (almost) no matter what he was doing, you root for him. Same as in Angels With Dirty Faces.  (Some people have that gift - watching The Public Enemy, I realized one of the inmates at the pen looks like Cagney's reincarnation, and that explains a lot about his career.)  

Anyway, that charm is what makes the last scene of the movie so shocking. Watch it and see.  All I'll say is, his eyes are open.  

Oh, and one final tidbit I found and am now passing around like cracker jacks at a ball game:  

The One Sentence Persuasion Course:

"People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, assuage their fears, justify their failures, confirm their suspicions, and throw rocks at their enemies."  - Blair Warren

It explains so much...  


  1. I would add, too, that it is easy to write bad characters- the snake really does have all the lines- but the real test is to write plausible good characters!

  2. Absolutely! And therein, I think, lies another blog post!

  3. Damn! Both Tom and Joan look all too pleased and smiling. Maybe it's because Joan practiced Skyping.

    I wonder if slug slime works the same as snails? Florida has flat slugs that leave such a trail, a car could lose control in it. I could pluck these from the walk and sell slug juice.

  4. I don't know, Leigh - but I'm not sure that I'd try that at home.


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