Enter the Odditorium: a crafty look inside our new book, part I

The Odditorium: The tricksters, eccentrics, deviants and inventors whose obsessions changed the world (Oct 2016) is a playful re-telling of history told not through the fish eye lens of its victors but through the fascinating stories of lesser-known creative mavericks, tricksters, subversives and pioneers who changed our world. 

Here are just five of our favourite stories from the book, which comes out today, including a man who tried to walk around the world in an iron mask, the world's worst vegetarian, a wild avant-garde artist who may have originated the most important work of art in the 20th century, a surreal poet who told tales of befriended sparrows and secondhand cups of tea and the subversive theatre director who pulled off one of the greatest pranks in British history, prompting an investigation from Scotland Yard…

The Odditorium is curated and written by Ernest editor Jo Keeling and regular contributor David Bramwell, along with guest contributions from a host of talented writers including John Higgs, Daniel Maier, Tim Smith, Sarah Angliss, Tim Lott, James Burt, Simon Ingram and Richard Turner. It is published by Hodder & Stoughton and comes out today (6 Oct, 2016)! 

Order your copy on Amazon today!

Harry Bensley: the other man in the iron mask

In the winter of 1908, a strange act appeared in the music halls of south-east England. Sandwiched between comedians and performing midgets, he gave his name only as ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’. Face covered by a knight’s helmet, he explained that, because of a bet, he was seeing whether it was possible to walk around the world without being identified. 

That simple wager had been complicated with a list of other conditions. He had to remain masked throughout the journey, to visit every county in England (getting a signature from a mayor or other dignitary), to keep himself alive only by selling postcards and souvenirs, and to never accept any gifts from strangers. According to the Brighton Herald ’s article in February of that year, ‘perhaps the most extraordinary condition of all is that he should find a wife on the road, who must be “between the ages of twenty-five and thirty, well-educated, of even temper, with some knowledge of music”.’The number of conditions on the bet was fiendish – this is the sort of thing that ruins people’s lives.

Ken Campbell: the seeker who sought to astound

‘There is a meaning to life that can be peripherally sensed by being astounded or astounding others. And it may be fully glimpsed by astounding yourself.’
– Ken Campbell’s Meaning of Life (2006) 

Ken Campbell was a performer, comic, theatre director and creative powerhouse. His life could be described as one ‘great caper’, a mission to seek out ‘the other’. What was the other? Anything that had the power to astound. And Campbell was a rare individual who possessed such power. 

Campbell first came into prominence in the late 1960s with an anarchic comedy ensemble, The Ken Campbell Roadshow, which included Sylvester McCoy, Bob Hoskins and dwarf actor,
David Rappaport – who Ken would introduce as ‘not the world’s smallest man, but fucking close!’ His ensemble mixed comedy with music-hall stunts – nails up the nose, ferrets down the trousers – with McCoy always as the fall guy. Side-stepping theatre’s elitism, dwindling audiences and funding bodies, Ken took his roadshow into working men’s clubs and pubs, often unannounced. ‘If the audience won’t come to us, we’ll go to them,’ became their motto. 

In 1979, Campbell entered the Guinness Book of Records by co-writing and directing the world’s longest play, The Warp a 22-hour autobiographical tale of one man’s journey of self- discovery through beat culture, jazz, scientology, New Age and psychedelia. That’s the equivalent to six Hamlets. Those who saw The Warp or starred in it were never the same again. In 1980, Campbell pulled off one of the greatest pranks in British history….

Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven: the woman who was the future

Baroness Elsa was wild. She wore cakes for hats, postage stamps for make-up and a bra made from two tomato cans and green string. Over a 100 years before Lady Gaga turned up at the MTV Awards wearing a meat dress, the Baroness was genuinely shocking. She lived in abject poverty and was repeatedly arrested for offences ranging from theft to public nudity. She is now recognised as the first American Dada artist, although it might be more accurate to think of her as the first New York punk – 60 years too early.


Ivor Cutler: the poet who never grew up

Somewhere in north London, a bus driver is having a bad day. His foul mood is picked up on by all of those boarding his bus. The passengers, in typical English fashion, ignore his tempestuous face and hurry along to find a seat. The last one on is a short man, sporting round spectacles, plus-fours, a tweed jacket splattered with badges and a hat decorated with a plastic sunflower. Noting the driver’s countenance, the man silently reaches into a bag, pulls out a sheet of stickers and attaches one to the driver’s lapel. The driver stares down at the three words on his jacket and breaks into a huge grin. The man takes his place on the bus and sits down. On the driver’s lapel are the words ‘You are beautiful’. 


Meet the man who dedicated his life to writing strange poetry and songs that captured a unique, parallel twist on the everyday, in which the minutiae of life – from socks to micro-organisms
– took on a gently surreal life of their own. It was a place where market stalls sold second-hand cups of tea, people had woollen eyes and Ivor’s toe bore a hole through which he could see Australia.

Frank Buckland: the world’s worst vegetarian

Ever wondered what a fly, earwig or rhinoceros might taste like? You haven’t? Well perhaps that’s no great surprise. Had you been alive in Victorian England during the mid-1800s, however, you just might have been caught up in a craze known as zoophagy: the practice of eating all animals, the more exotic the better. Zoophagy’s leading exponent was no experimental chef but a Victorian eccentric called Frank Buckland, who gave up a medical career in favour of natural history and fisheries. Not content with merely studying the animal kingdom, Buckland made it his life ambition to determine the palatability of every living creature. 

Buckland – a stout, bearded man with butcher’s arms – was often found with a creature in tow or about his person. He kept a matchbox filled with toads and a small tortoise in his pocket. When Buckland studied at Oxford, chameleons, marmots, snakes, an eagle, a jackal and a bear named Tiglath-Pileser shared his digs. Unsurprisingly, they often escaped. After moving to London, Buckland added to his menagerie a parrot, a troop of monkeys, tame mice and a jaguar. These often scarpered too – notably the monkeys, which, according to Buckland’s biographer, G. Burgess, once resulted in a ‘thrilling chase across the housetops of London’. 

Curious artefact: the orrery

We've teamed up with the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford to gain insights into scientific apparatus that revolutionised mankind's understanding of the world and the cosmos. Dr Sophie Waring is your guide to the orrery...

You can see fine working examples of orreries, such as this one, on display at the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford

You can see fine working examples of orreries, such as this one, on display at the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford

Mankind has always been curious about our place in the cosmos. For millennia we, rather smugly, believed that Earth was at the centre of the universe with celestial bodies orbiting around us. This was challenged by astronomers who made heliocentric (sun-centred) models of the universe after observing the movement of the planets. The first of these models was described by mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus in 1543. He justified his system with astronomical observations and a rich geometric description of his model. It is this sun-centred model of the universe that an orrery usually depicts.

The great patron of scientific thinking, the Earl of Orrery, was given one of the first models and bequeathed his name to the invention. English clock makers George Graham and Thomas Tompion built the first modern orrery around 1704 while Christiaan Huygens published details of his newly-built planetary machine in 1703 from Paris.

The clockwork nature of these contraptions reflected our new mechanistic explanations of the universe made possible by Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity. Orreries would reflect and inspire the sense of awe people had in the 18th century as they discovered their place within a ‘clockwork universe.’

You can see working orreries on display at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford.

Words: Dr Sophie Waring, Modern Collections Curator, Museum of the History of Science, mhs.ox.ac.uk

This originally featured in issue 5 of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

Order print issue 5
Add to Cart

Twin Peaks

Our friends at KEEN have launched a new hybrid hiking boot fit for outdoor play and urban exploration

KEEN Feldberg WP in anthracite grey suede; £140

KEEN Feldberg WP in anthracite grey suede; £140

When we heard that KEEN’s new hiking boot was being named after two famous mountains in Germany, we started to take notice. The two peaks – the highest mountain in the Black Forest and a popular urban climb on the outskirts of Frankfurt – give a clue as to what the Feldberg is all about: grappling rugged peaks in the wilds and treading asphalt on the high street. 

The Feldberg Mid WP (£140) is essentially a hybrid hiker – a versatile, European-made book that epitomises the duality of our outdoor lifestyles. Since their inception in Portland 2003, KEEN have focused on crafting innovative, hybrid outdoor footwear – boots, shoes and sandals that perform just well in the asphalt jungle as they do on hill treks. 

The Feldberg is positioned firmly in this compelling ‘hybrid’ space. It is for those of us who embrace curious and adventurous lifestyles – who invite exploration into our everyday lives, see just as much potential in an urban ramble on the streets of Manchester as an overnight camp in the Peak District, and who like to stay curious about the discoveries on our doorsteps.

The boot is available in two colours – a rather handsome earthy brown nubuck leather or an anthracite grey suede with dashing red laces. Both styles are made with a highly breathable KEEN.Dry® waterproof membrane, providing reliable protection against the elements, and are identical in terms of fit and comfort. A closer look reveals…

A waterproof, breathable membrane
Direct inject PU midsole for long-lasting comfort
Robust, strong metal eyelets and classic lacing
An integrated heel cushion to maximise step-in comfort and shock absorption
Optimum grip and durability in the rubber outsole

If you’re after a durable, versatile hiking boot, this is definitely one to look out for this autumn!

Follow KEEN's Feldberg adventures using hashtag #feldbergiswhereyoustand.

We’re partnering with KEEN in issue five and six of Ernest Journal. Meet Laura Kennington – everyday adventurer, kayaker, sea swimmer and circumnavigator of islands – and hear about her journeys with the UNEEK sandal in issue five (Aug 2016). Delve into the stories behind the Feldberg in issue six (Jan 2017), and keep an eye out for more stories and a chance to win hybrid kit on the Ernest blog throughout autumn and winter. 

Feldberg Mid WP, £140, keenfootwear.com. Read more about the KEEN story in the Ernest Journal directory.

Dutch oven pizza

Heating beans in a can while camping with chums can only go so far. Get yourself a Dutch oven, a heavy duty cast-iron cooking pot that steps campfire cooking up a few notches

Photo: Miscellaneous Adventures

Photo: Miscellaneous Adventures

The genius of the Dutch oven's design is the rimmed lid, which can hold hot coals and embers, allowing your food to be cooked evenly. With practise, anything you cook in a regular oven can be cooked in one of these. To maintain your pan for years of outdoor cooking, clean it with boiling water after use and wipe lightly with vegetable oil to keep it seasoned and to prevent rust. 

Try this easy recipe, provided by Miscellaneous Adventures, for quite possibly the best pizza you’ll ever eat. 


Pizza dough (made from 350g/12oz plain flour, 2 tbsps olive oil and 150-200ml tepid water)
Passata (tomato sauce)
Toppings – we used salami, jalapenos, prosciutto ham and olives
Olive oil 


1. Get a good campfire going. Rub oil all over the inside of the pot and lid – this will ensure the dough doesn’t stick to the oven. 

2. Pre-heat your seasoned oven on the fire. Once hot, take it off the heat and move some of the embers from the fire to one side. Now it’s time to prep your pizza.

3. Roll out the dough thinly (5mm/1⁄4in thick) and place directly in the bottom of the oven followed by tomato sauce, cheese and then the toppings of your choice. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Put the lid back on the oven and place it on the embers you set aside from the main fire. Next, add some more embers to the lid of the oven so it’s completely covered. Leave for five minutes.

4. Carefully lift off the lid using a hook or spoon handle and check that the base is cooked (it should easily lift from the bottom of the oven in one piece with a spatula). If it’s still soggy, leave it for a little longer and keep checking until it’s crisp. Once the base is done, move the oven off the heat but leave the embers on the lid. Let them sit there for another 10 minutes until the toppings are crisp and the cheese is fully melted. Remove the lid, slide the pizza out onto a plate or board and enjoy!

For more outdoor cooking recipes, bushcraft techniques and camping gear visit miscellaneousadventures.co.uk

For our more slow adventure and wild food inspiration, buy print issue 5 of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

Order print issue 5
Add to Cart

Kit review: the Onja Stove Duo from Primus

ITV's Coast and Country presenter and founder of Dryad Bushcraft Andrew Price puts his outdoor cooking know-how to the test on the new Onja Stove Duo from Primus while adventuring on the Gower Peninsula

Primus Onja Stove Duo, complete with oak board and utensil roll, RRP £105

Primus Onja Stove Duo, complete with oak board and utensil roll, RRP £105

Back in the 1980s, when I first showed an interest in camping, my friend’s father gave me an ancient brass camping stove in a rusty tin box to help get me started. The thing hadn’t been used in decades so I eagerly polished the tarnished fuel tank to a mirror shine with Brasso before marching up to my local ironmongers to buy some paraffin. In those days paraffin was sold by the gallon, and since I didn’t have a container my friendly ironmonger sold me a jam jar full of the stuff for 10p along with a new leather washer, and sent me on my way. 

When I got home I filled the fuel tank with paraffin, and with the help of my friend’s dad I changed the old and perished washer for the lovely new one, unscrewed the pressure release valve, primed the pre heater with methylated spirits and lit it with a match. Just before the meths had completely burned away I re-tightened the pressure release valve and apprehensively began to pump the stove. Within seconds it roared to life with a noise reminiscent of a Vulcan bomber ready for takeoff. Magic.

That was an old Primus no.23 stove, and it served my friends and I very well for years. It could boil a pot of water in a few minutes, and with its thunderous roar and bright blue flame it never failed to get the job done, whatever the weather.

Over 100 years of craftsmanship

Primus have been making camping stoves since 1892, and they’ve played a vital role in practically every significant expedition of the 20th Century, from Scott’s ill-fated South Pole expedition, to the first successful ascent of Everest.  

The Onja stove from Primus continues in that great Swedish tradition of quality and practicality, all packaged into a compact two burner design that offers a lot of versatility for the wilderness gourmet. One burner is fine if you’re making tea or thawing out some pemmican on the frozen wastes of Antarctica, but if you want to sauté asparagus while pan frying a couple of freshly caught seabass fillets, two burners is definitely the way to go.

The Onja Stove Duo is the most compact two burner stove in the Primus range, and with its neat folding design and handy shoulder strap you can take it anywhere, from a picnic in your local park to an extended canoe trip in Scotland. In its folded state it can easily be mistaken for a messenger bag, and it only weighs 3kg.

The stove uses Primus bottled gas in either 100g, 230g or 450g sizes, and each burner has a separate fuel source so you will need two bottles of gas to power both burners. The gas isn’t supplied with the stoves, but they are available in outdoor shops all over the country, so resupply shouldn’t be an issue unless you’re in the middle of nowhere. The gas bottles can be carried fitted to the stove so they are out of the way. 

A thing of beauty and practicality

Heat can be adjusted precisely with the neat folding steel switches, and I had no problems using it to boil water or gently simmer a pan of soup. The sturdy steel construction is very stable and the burners are at a very useful height for cooking while sitting cross legged on the ground, or on a table top.

The lid of the stove top is a beautifully polished oak board, which can be used as a chopping board or as a level surface for a couple of glasses of Chablis. The features in brass, leather and fabric are a nostalgic reminder of its Primus heritage, so typically Swedish.

Combined with the Primus campfire stainless steel cook set, utensil roll and a bit of imagination, this stove should give you many memorable outdoor dining experiences.

Andrew carries the Onja stove packed up neatly like a messenger bag

Andrew carries the Onja stove packed up neatly like a messenger bag

Primus Onja Stove Duo, £105. To locate a store near you, visit primus.eu/storelocater. For more about the story behind Primus, read our Q&A in the Ernest directory

Andrew has worked as an outdoor pursuits instructor for over 20 years, teaching rock climbing, abseiling, gorge walking, coasteering, kayaking and canoeing, before specialising in bushcraft and survival skills through his company Dryad Bushcraft. He's also presenter of ITV's Coast and Country.