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For amateur historians and trivia collectors everywhere

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Location: Masterton, New Zealand

I survived school history despite the best efforts of the education system to bore me to death. Many years later, I discovered Treaties, dates, the movement of nations, are mere context. The fascination is in the details.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

From American Notes by Charles Dickens, that master of the half-page sentence -

"I shall never forget the one-fourth serious and three-fourths comical astonishment, with which, on the morning of the third of January eighteen-hundred-and-forty-two, I opened the door of, and put my head into, a "state-room" on board the Britannia steam-packet, twelve hundred tons burthen per register, bound for Halifax and Boston, and carrying Her Majesty's mails."

Dickens had just learned the meaning of 'misleading advertising'. The state-room that looked so spacious in the lithographed artist's impression "was no bigger than one of those hackney cabriolets which have the door behind, and shoot their fares out, like sacks of coals upon the pavement."

The saloon, drawn as "a chamber of almost interminable perspective" turned out to be "not unlike a gigantic hearse with windows in the sides; having at the upper end a melancholy stove, at which three or four chilly stewards were warming their hands; while on either side, extending down its whole dreary length, was a long, long table, over each of which a rack, fixed to the low roof, and stuck full of drinking-glasses and cruet-stands, hinted dismally at rolling seas and heavy weather."

And so they ventured out into the Atlantic in the middle of winter. Think about that next time you complain about flying 'Tourist'.

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