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Pecked by a Pesky Pelican

(an alliterative avian attack)

By ERIC SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia

Pelican up a pole  Pelican warning

While we were partaking of prandial prawns on the veranda of Ye Olde Woy Woy Hotel, my pal Peter,
a proud ex-Pom now living in Melbourne, perceived this predatory pelican, looking like a statue,
perched on a pole near the piscatorial palace where I was attacked.

In my time I've suffered absolute acute agony after an attack by an angry and aggressive ant, been bitten by a bellicose bull-ant, clawed by a cunning, calculating cat, savaged by a sneaky, snarling schnauzer, and received painful injuries from other members of the animal kingdom. But I'm still fond of most animals.

Oscar Brittle, of Killara, loves them, too... when they're cooked. He recently boasted to the Sydney Morning Herald (Column 8): "I believe that I have eaten more types of animal than anybody else on the planet. I have eaten (not necessarily in this order): cow, sheep, pig, shark, goat, camel, horse, kangaroo, wallaby, wallaroo, potoroo, bandicoot, duck, chicken, pigeon, whale, wild dog, wild cat, cat, fish, catfish, dormouse, python, toad, turtle, monkey, impala, sea urchin, slug, jellyfish, fox, grouse, alligator, llama, vulture, mole, lobster, mongoose, daddy-long-legs, salamander …"

Next day, Sid Walker, of Old Bar, told the columnist: "Oscar may have strange eating habits, but one professor at Oxford in the 1850s, William Buckland, tried to eat specimens of every living thing. He found mole to be the nastiest, followed by bluebottle."

But that's by the way. Revenons à nos moutons, as our high school French teacher was apt to say. Or, to quote my dearly beloved, Cut the cackle, Shackle. Let's get back on track.

There I was, seated at a table outside a waterfront fish and chips joint at Woy Woy, at peace with the world, devouring a choice piece of fried fresh fish held elegantly in my fingers, when suddenly, out of the blue, you might say, a 50cm. (20in.) beak appeared from behind my left shoulder, and clamped on my hand. In a flash, the fish had gone, and I was left with a bleeding wrist.

Maybe some of the summer staff going to school at the university could have some custom sorority t-shirts made up with some warning signs printed on them.

This unprovoked attack by a pernicious and possibly pestilential pelican momentarily surprised a friend sitting opposite me and other customers, who then burst into heartless laughter, but I, like Queen Victoria, was not amused.

I shambled into the shop, and a lovely lass behind the counter hustled me into a back room and applied a band aid. No big deal, I gathered from her attitude. Apparently she was quite accustomed to treating foolhardy fish lovers.

Walking outside, I noticed all too late a sign bearing this warning:



Ogden Nash did NOT compose this famous verse

A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His mouth can hold more than his belly can,
He can hold in his beak,
Enough food for a week.
I'm damned if I know how the hell he can!

Many people think Ogden Nash composed that famous limerick, but he didn't. It was written in 1910 by Dixon Lanier Merritt (1879-1972), a Southern US newspaper editor and president of the American Press Humorists Association.

Then there's this parody, by that prolific writer, Anon:

A wonderful bird is a Pelican,
Whose beak can hold more than his belly can.
Be it crabs, clams, or fish,
It will hold all you wish.
But I'm damned if I see how the hell he can.

Stomach Rules the World
This amusing story about the omnivous Dr. Buckland is copied here by kind permission of Richard Taylor of Edinburgh (Scotland), from his well-researched blog.

Dr William Buckland

A few months ago I talked about the delights of nutty academics, a subject I have fond memories of from my times at University. Recently I've been reading about the eminent Geologist Dr William Buckland - a man who on one hand was a marvellously intelligent scientist, but on the other a complete loon - yet in that kind of eccentric way only 19th Century Britons could manage. In his sadly brief life, he managed - amongst other things - to discover the first known dinosaur (before they were so called), champion theories like Glaciation, become the trusted friend of a Prime Minister - and also become fascinated with fossil poo, eat the heart of the King of France, and piss off Charles Darwin (who called him a 'vulgar and coarse buffoon').

Buckland was born in 1784 in Devon, and thanks to a spirited father became interested enough in the sciences to win a scholarship to Oxford in 1801. Studying the fledgling science of Geology (he was their first ever reader in the subject), he excelled, and was awarded an MA in 1808, the same year he was ordained as a priest. He moved on to lecturing, and delighted in unorthodox teaching methods that made him a firm favourite with his students - famously one described a typical lecture of his...

“He paced like a Franciscan preacher up and down behind a long showcase ... He had in his hand a huge hyaena’s skull. He suddenly dashed down the steps - rushed skull in hand at the first undergraduate on the front bench and shouted ‘What rules the world?’ The youth, terrified, answered not a word. He rushed then on to me, pointing the hyaena full in my face - ‘What rules the world?’ ‘Haven’t an idea’, I said. ‘The stomach, sir!’, he cried ‘rules the world. The great ones eat the less, the less the lesser still!’”

In 1824 Buckland became President of the Geological Society, and announced the discovery of the bones of a giant reptile, which he named Megalosaurus, or “great lizard”, on account of its vast size. He published a paper later that year, thus describing the first ever dinosaur - although that term had yet to be coined. This made his name, and he went on to lecture regularly at the British Association, Royal Society and the Geological Society.

However, despite his scientific merits, Buckland is infamous for one special wish - his resolution to eat one of every type of animal. Not surprisingly, his dinner parties were legendary - toasted mice were a favourite of his - which he happily chewed on whilst his guests made excuses about being full, I imagine. Hedgehog, guinea pig, alligator, sea slug, ostrich - the menu at his house was eclectic to say the least. He became a sort of Anti-Noah, living near London Zoo meant he could turn up when something died he had yet to sample. Apparently on holiday when the zoo's Leopard died, he returned to find it buried, but dug it up and tried it anyway.

Sadly I've yet to find an exact list of everything he tried - but I do know that his two least favourite snacks were Mole and the humble Bluebottle, which he thought was 'disgusting'. He obviously had an effect on his son, Frank, as he carried on his father's passion for unusual foodstuffs. However, although Frank managed to plough through a whole Porpoise, he never matched his father's greatest triumph -

"Talk of strange relics led to mention of the heart of a French King [Louis XVI] preserved at Nuneham in a silver casket. Dr. Buckland, whilst looking at it, exclaimed, 'I have eaten many strange things, but have never eaten the heart of a king before,' and, before anyone could hinder him, he had gobbled it up, and the precious relic was lost for ever."

I'm not entirely convinced by this, but other stories I've read about Buckland have referred to him buying the embalmed heart of a French king and eating it in front of shocked guests at one of his parties, so you never know. My favourite anecdote about this remarkable man sums him up well, showing his ability to use unusual methods to get to the bottom of a scientific mystery...

..."Visiting a cathedral at which spots of saints' blood were said to be always fresh on the floor, never evaporating or vanishing, Dr. Buckland, with the use of his tongue, determined that the "blood" was in fact bats' urine."

Dr William Buckland's Biography can be found here.

To see a photograph of Richard Taylor taken during a visit to Sydney last year, click on RICHARD.


Story first posted July 2006

Copyright © 2006

Eric Shackle

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