May 0005



Once upon a time there was an old woman who knew a little about healing people. A man came to her in the middle of the night and said:

“Something terrible has happened in my house. My wife is very ill. You must come and cure her.”

The old woman decided to go and see if she could help.

The man led her down the path to the village until they went down a fork she had never noticed before. Soon the path became wild and rugged. It went on for a very long time, and eventually started to go uphill very steeply. After a while, they came to a clearing, and the old woman saw a magnificent palace in front of her.

“Welcome to my home” said the man, and led her to a bedroom where his wife was lying. She was very ill, but the old woman had some special herbs with her, and was able to make the wife a lot better.

The man asked how much he had to pay, and the old woman said she didn’t need anything. When he heard this the man took a sieve, and put some pieces of charcoal in it. He gave it to the old woman, and said thank you to her.

As the old woman walked home some of the charcoal fell out, and there was only a little left when she arrived at her house.

The next morning she saw that the charcoal had turned to gold, and was very happy. However, she didn’t bother going to collect the pieces that had fallen out, and lived even more happily ever after.


Why the Velnias live in Hell. 

Isn’t it funny that the velnias are  so powerful, and yet they live in Hell, which is a horrible place where no-one wants to be? Here’s how it happened.

A long time ago, only the velnias knew how to be blacksmiths. People knew how to use tools like hammers and pliers, but only the velnias knew how to work iron, and of course the velnias kept this secret to themselves. They certainly had no intention of letting people know that secret.

Then a cunning man called John came along. He thought that if he became an apprentice to the velnias he could watch them and find out how to work iron. At first, it looked like the velnias would keep their secret. They were very careful to keep him fetching and carrying, and keeping the fire hot, and made sure he couldn’t see the tricks they used to do their job.

So John got fed up with this, and told the velnias that he wasn’t going to work for them any more:

“I’m fed up with slaving away for you, so I’m going to set up for myself”, he said, and the velnias asked him

“What about working iron? Will you be able to do that?” John answered that yes, of course he would be able to do that.

A while later John met the friendliest velnia when he went to the market, and the velnia asked him how business was. “It’s great” John answered him.

“Do you know how to work iron?”

“Now I’m even better than you” John answered.

“So you sprinkle sand on the iron then?”

“No, I can make do without it”.

John thought about the sand, and decided that this had to be the velnias secret, and went home and tried it. Sure enough, the sand pulled everything together, and made everything stick together. Soon he had a real business of his own, with apprentices and lots of customers. Of course, when this happened, the velnias had no work left. Who would want to do business with a velnia when they could deal with a person? And so, thanks to John, the velnias had to move to Hell.


Factoid: The World’s Least Numerous Christian Sect. 

The World Church of the Merciful Interpretation has only three surviving members. These people believe in the literal truth of the bible with a vengeance. When it says *Thou shalt not kill” they think it means you can’t kill anything, not just other people, but plants or animals as well, so they are only prepared to eat salt and a few other minerals. This means that as soon as you become a member, you start dying of starvation, and that is why they have only have three members at the moment. One of these is in intensive care, and the other two have been members for only a few weeks.  

John Halford, Bishop of Salford here in the UK, told Wonderful World: “I’ve heard of worse theologies.” 

Interested in joining them? Stan and Jenny Pilchester, of Otago, New Zealand  (Wonderful World, q.v.) have a contact number, but would like to stress they are not members, or even sympathisers, themselves.



A reader writes: 

I was fascinated to read your recent article on the Band of Menace. I wonder if you knew the Band of Menace also had a Ladies’ Auxiliary?  On a memorable occasion in 1894 they ambushed a group of Coldstream Guardsmen who were returning to their barracks from trooping the colour, stole their uniforms, and used them to disguise themselves. This crime was not reported immediately, as the Ladies’ Auxiliary dressed the Guardsmen in their own clothes, which were those of the lowest level of Victorian female society, and the Guardsmen were too embarrassed to report their predicament. Instead, they attempted to hide out in Clacton, where they were eventually detected by none other than that Inspector Lestrade who figures so largely in the Sherlock Holmes stories.  

Anyway, the ladies formed up, and marched to St. James’s Palace, where they explained that it was an ancient privilege of the Coldstream Guards that the Colonel could provide an impromptu concert at the palace, that this was the only circumstance in which the wives of the Guardsmen were allowed to wear their husband’s uniforms, and that since this privilege had not been exercised in over a century, he wished to do so now. Given the preposterous number of strange traditions that exist in the more fashionable regiments of the British army, and there were a lot more of these traditions at this time – many of the obscurer ones were forgotten in the two world wars, when the only people who knew them were killed in action – no–one found this at all odd. The Ladies’ Auxiliary was admitted at once, and the Duke of Kent ordered the kitchens to provide tea and crumpets for the Guardsmen. Of course, tea and crumpets were not the kind of fare that the Ladies’ Auxiliary had in mind, and a couple of winks and a few bad sixpences to the servants ensured a plentiful supply of gin and absinthe.  Using their well – practised feminine wiles, the Ladies’ Auxiliary ensured that the entire household rapidly became drunk out of its wits. The Duchess of Gloucester herself, who was visiting at the time, and normally a teetotaller, was reported to have consumed no less than three pints of absinthe, and only those who have replicated this feat can imagine the devastating effect this must have had on her.  

The Ladies’ Auxiliary evidently provided the debauch to end all debauches, and this may have gone some way to compensate for their depredations on the august household. Not only did they thoroughly pick the pockets of every individual in the palace, apart from themselves, not only did they arrange for the removal to Stepney of every object that caught their fancy, and this included no less than seven grand pianos and a stuffed giraffe, but they also outraged the Ducal collection of jewellery. They even bagged the Emperor of the Andes Emerald. This was the largest emerald known at the time, and had been a personal gift from the President of Colombia in connection with a railway concession. Smokey Bernstein, the Ladies’ Auxiliary’s favourite fence, arranged for it to be cut down and used to manufacture nearly eight thousand cheap engagement rings for sale in Southend within less than twenty four hours. Apparently people who needed cheap engagement rings in a hurry were often to be found in Southend in those days, and it is fortunate that during the late nineteenth century, it was still possible to speak of the “gentlemen” of the press without a smirk, as all the newspapers, with the exception of the Dundee Courier, agreed never to mention this jewel again, sparing the royal family much embarrassment, and preventing a moderately serious international incident. 

I also know a little bit about the individuals in the picture. The redoubtable – looking woman in the middle of the picture was called Five Stone Frankie, and was actually noted for her slender figure. The reason she looks so imposing here is that by this time she had stuffed her uniform full of the Duchess’s pearls. That figure on the far right was far less innocent than she looks. Born in the Far East, Innocent Angela used her accomplishments in the martial arts to specialize in assaulting and robbing sailors in the noisome opium dens of Limehouse. The cockade in her hat is a republican symbol, and, worn in the Palace, this would have been regarded as a particularly nasty case of lèse majesté.

The lady who looks as if she is playing the piano was actually steaming the ivory off the keys, and the line of figures in the background is standing guard over a pile of comatose aristocrats and flunkeys. These were the ones whose pockets and underwear had already been processed. The heap of those still to be inspected would have been on the opposite side of the room, a little behind the artist’s vantage point.  

This must have been an afternoon to remember for all concerned, and the official account of the Coldstream Guards says that this was the blackest day in the history of the regiment, blacker even than the first day of the Somme.  

Kieran O’Mara, County Sligo. 

Thank you so much Kieran. I didn’t know any of this. If anyone else has any information about the Band of Menace or the Ladies’ Auxiliary, I’d be really grateful if they wrote in.