Here’s a real mystery;
Sir Bernard Lovell, the visionary scientist who became the founder of the Jodrell Bank observatory, did more than give us a brilliant bit of rhyming slang. He believed that during a trip to the Soviet Union in the early 1960s the Communist authorities tried to kill him with lethal radiation because they had discovered that Jodrell Bank was secretly being used as an early warning device against Soviet nuclear attack.

Now, it’s not such a strange claim as it sounds. The Russians had tried to get him to defect and he had rebuffed them, then fell deeply and mysteriously ill. Intelligence agents felt he might have been exposed to radiation from a very powerful transmitter. Sir Bernard was at the front line of defence at the height of the cold war with Russia. This was the time of the ‘seven minute warning’, when Jodrell Bank could track Soviet inter-continental ballistic missiles, so Sir Bernard would have been a legitimate target.

And Russia has a history of favouring irradiation as a weapon, as you may recall from the case of the London poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, after his sushi was injected with Polonium. Before that was the famous umbrella poisoning of Georgi Markov from a Ricin-filled pellet; this is the very stuff of Golden Age mysteries.

But the idea of interfering with the mind for spying purposes goes back further. In Mike Jay’s utterly riveting book ‘The Influencing Engine: James Tilly Matthews and the Air Loom’, we have the extraordinary story of a man confined in Bedlam as an incurable lunatic in 1797, who believed the French had controlled his wits by a machine that knitted the very gases of the air – yet much of his story was found to have its basis in truth. Check it out here, at Strange Attractor.

16 comments on “Brainwaves”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    Another book for the list, so already backlogged. I must apply for a 20-year lease on life and keep eating my carrots.
    Okay guys, this question is not from a stooge in the third row, but I must ask: What’s the skinny on The Invisible Ink which this press is going to publish?

  2. Rh says:

    Another intriguing read; there aren’t enough spare hours! Wasn’t there an idea it would have been easier to shoot mr Markova with an air pistol than muck about with umbrella points?

  3. snowy says:

    The theory shortly after Markov’s murder was that the umbrella was a disguised air gun. He was found to have a 1.7 mm round pellet in his thigh, which carried a small but lethal dose of poison.

    The pellet would have to penetrate both the clothing and the skin. A round pellet doesn’t fly very straight after it leaves the barrel. So to have the best chance of scoring a hit, you would preferably want to put the end of the barrel very close to or touching the target.

    The least clothed part of the body, is normally between the base of the crotch and the top of the socks. The anterior aspect is too bony to be sure the pellet will stick. So this suggests the back of the thigh or calf.

    If this is your target area, and you must fire at point blank range. then a walking stick seems obvious, but an umbrella gives you more space to cover and obscure the mechanism, gas cylinder etc. You could contrive to build it in a small suitcase but aiming is less certain.

  4. Roger says:

    As Joddrell Bank received and published photographs from a soviet rocket sent to the moon before the Soviets did, but in a distirted format, they had good cause to be annoyed with Lovell

  5. Alan G says:

    Can somebody tell me where Snowy hangs out?

    I want to avoid the place/country/hemisphere…

  6. Dan Terrell says:

    Alan G. – Good point! I’m just glad Amazon has delivered my Silence of the Lambs nose protector, without chin attachmment, as Snowy suggested he’d snap off my nose. (See prior post back a bit) I suggest we draw lots and the short straw – or is there an app. for this – invites him for a drink and slips a “store tag” on him, so he can be tracked by Sky Watch For Hire.
    PS: The Invisible Ink is admin’s book of long forgotten author pieces (see ref above). A guy in row four lened forward and whispered it to me.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    I’m staying well away from any strangers carrying umbrellas, canes, lacrosse or grass hockey sticks, or anything else that is longish and carried in the hand. Knowing where he lives isn’t enough because he can travel.

  8. snowy says:

    Sorry I’m late, bit of a flap. I don’t know what idiot thought an underwater lair wouldn’t be complete with out a sun deck, but despite the flooding, we did get the henchperson back, well most off them, the sharks sadly got the rest. Frightened the hell out of the cat, we eventually found it, but not before it had done it’s business all over the missle launch panel.

    Dan I’m glad the goods arrived safely, I shouldn’t really admit this, but they were a job lot left over from a production of ‘Phantom’, that I thought would never shift. Mind you don’t scratch yourself on the rivets, just in case….

  9. Dan Terrell says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful guidance, Snowy. Actually, I think the leather is real and tanned the old fashioned way, as when it warms up it smells a bit like a doggy tree.

  10. snowy says:

    Sorry that might have been the cat again, she’s getting a bit old.

  11. Alan G says:

    What the Devil is a doggy tree?

  12. Helen Martin says:

    ahmmm- Alan, it’s a tree that is “used” by a dog, if you get me. The mental image I have of the Snowy menage is really rather devastating and I feel very sorry for the poor cat. Keep it well away from those sharks, Snowy.

  13. jan says:

    Helen i only know that theres 2 oaks native to the UK. the common oak which has another more complicated name i can’t remember and the Sessile oak which is the tree that lines the river Dart. The locals actually nickname the banks of the Dart the “amazon rainforest” because the Sessile oak grows very thickly and it does indeed look like a wilderness forest growing very thick and lush.


  14. Helen Martin says:

    Thanks, Jan. That’s interesting because it gave me clues to look up and the sessile oak (quercus petraea) they give as the tree of Cornwall and of Wales, both of which make sense. The usual oak is quercus robus, but my daughter in law just came in and tells me that there are 600 varietals so what do I know? I have now read about Boscobel House where you can buy acorns from the Royal Oak (8 major naval ships have had this name and it is one of the most common pub names in England, something like 700 of them. I wonder if the King’s Head would be as numerous. Not going to look it up, since I got sidetracked from the house to the White Ladies and from there to rochets.)

  15. jan says:

    Helen theres loads of Royal Oaks because of King Charles supposedly hiding in the oak to avoid troops searching for him. Charles 1 or 2 can’t remember but theres a confusion in the publics mind with the king hiding in the tree and the legend of the Green Man which is much much older and may be part of the reason the oak is a sacred tree. The oak and Englands history very intertwined from the Druids to the oak naval ships …..

  16. jan says:

    Chris sorry to be a pain but could u please forward me Helen’s e mail address so i can forward this last msg onto her i think she might find it interesting if u don’t want to forward the e address and i wouldn’t blame u please could u fwd the msg jan

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