English eccentrics

    Spotlight Audio 9/2016
    Redner mit einem Buch in Speaker's Corner (Hyde Park, London).
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    Transcript: English eccentrics

    Every nation produces its shareAnteilshare of eccentrics – people with such colourful personalities that their unusual lifestyles shock, amuse and fascinate in equal measure. Britain, however, has such a reputationRufreputation for producing these people that it’s often seen as the leading nation in eccentricity. This isn’t a new phenomenon. For hundreds of years, Brits to excelsich auszeichnenhave been excelling in strange behaviour.

    In the September issue of Spotlight, correspondent Elisabeth Ribbans writes about British eccentricity and lists some of the modern eccentrics that entertain and scandalize the UK today. The nation’s past eccentrics, however, also deserve a mention. So sit back and enjoy some historical highlights from Britain’s long history of kook (ifml.)Verrückte(r), Exzentriker(in)kooks, oddball (ifml.)Querkopf, komischer Vogeloddballs and nonconformists.

    Henry de la Poer Beresford, 3rd Marquis of Waterford (1811–1859) was known as the “Mad Marquis”. He once offered the London and Greenwich Railway Company £10,000 if they would cause a train crash so he could laugh at the victims. In 1837, he and his friends stole pots of red paint and to riotrandalieren, wütenrioted in a town in Leicestershire. Not only did they paint most of the town red, they also painted any policemen who tried to stop them. It’s believed this is the origin of the phrase “to paint the town red”, which means to go out and celebrate, often by drinking a lot of alcohol. Beresford is also to be suspectedunter Verdacht stehensuspected of being Spring-Heeled Jack, a Victorian criminal who to carry outverübencarried out a series of attacks on women during the 1830s.

    An eccentric of a different nature was William Buckland (1784–1856). Buckland was a theologian and geologist who was the first person to dig up and properly describe a dinosaur skeleton. He even had a large collection of dinosaur excrement. But it was his love of eating unusual things that’s kept his name famous. He ate everything from bluebottleSchmeißfliegebluebottles to crocodiles. While visiting the Archbishop of York, he was shown the heart of Louis XVI of France, kept in a silver casketKästchen, Schatullecasket. Before anyone could stop him, Buckland ate that, too, saying, “I’ve never eaten the heart of a king before!”

    William Cavendish, the 5th Duke of Portland (1800–1879), was no less strange. The Duke hated meeting people so much that he decided to live underground. Under his house, he built one of the biggest ballrooms in England, as well as a huge billiard room, both connected by miles of tunnels.

    Many of our great British eccentrics had a love of animals. John “Mad Jack” Mytton (1796–1834) once arrived at a dinner party riding a bear. Unfortunately, the bear threw him off and started eating his leg. Another animal lover was the 2nd Baron Rothschild (1868–1937). A zoologist with an enormous natural history collection, the Baron also had a carriageKutschecarriage drawn by four zebras. He once gave a dinner party for twelve guests and twelve well-dressed monkeys.

    Members of the British military have also been known to be eccentric. Jack Churchill (1906–1996) fought through the Second World War armed with a longbowLangbogenlongbow, bagpipesDudelsackbagpipes and a Scottish broadswordBreitschwert, Säbelbroadsword. His motto was, “Any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed.” Despite his unusual equipment, Churchill was a great success in the war and was known for playing his bagpipes during battle.

    Our last eccentric had a particularly ironic death. Lieutenant Commander Bill Boaks (1904–1986) was a British Royal Navy officer. After the Second World War, Boaks became a politician who campaigned to stop people driving cars. He would stop traffic by walking up and down zebra crossings with a pramKinderwagenpram full of brickZiegelsteinbricks. He also liked to sit on a deckchairLiegestuhldeckchair in the middle of the motorway reading a newspaper. Sadly, Boaks died when he fell off a bus and hit his head. Perhaps a car would have been safer, after all.

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