Friday 21 January 2022

Body Of Evidence Series: The Psychology Of Man

Captain James Cook
Who knew both his seas and his men
Nathaniel Dance Holland, 1776

History is a marvellous wellspring for Your Correspondent, since I find much within its pages both enlightening and oftentimes amusing, and shall not apologise for the impulse that propels me to mine it to furnish the very pages of Flying With Hands. Such forms the Body of Evidence from which will inform topics both of the high- and low-brow, viz. last week's, ahem, well-informed Opinion Piece re the Shape of Man, and today, Dear Reader, the entirety of the Psychology of Man shall be boiled down to a single incident.*

Wiser men are credited with the aphorism that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. But, while it's all very well to know about the bare and bold facts, that's often not enough, and one must rootle down the back of history's metaphoric sofa for some lost and forgotten details to really appreciate the nuances of the episode that brings forth the Lesson. 

Hence, I bring you a choice nugget which illustrates how best to get Man to do your bidding: 

The History Lesson:

During the 1760s, the English Navy's overlords were rather fed up with the lethal and costly pestilence known as Scurvy that bedevilled their sailors and embarked upon a nice early example of the Clinical Trial. They sought to find an effective solution by enlisting four sea Captains to experiment by feeding their men with various long-storage foodstuffs on their long journeys. 

One Captain James Cook had amongst his experimental victuals for the three-year journey on HM Bark Endeavour around 7,800 pounds of sauerkraut. Unfortunately, for the keen Captain-cum-scientist, the common sailor merely turned up his nose at the offering. 

Our man Cook, who well understood the Psychology of Man, simply made it known that the sauerkraut was a delicacy only for the Officers' Table. Lo! a great stampede was made for the pickled cabbage and not a shredded leaf was left when the Endeavour came home nor a single case of scurvy in the Captain's log.

The Message:

It is simple. To persuade a Man to take his Medicine, whether it's experimental in nature or not, the example must first be set by those he considered his Betters. Add a bit of Forbidden Fruit notion into the mix and Bob's your uncle.

Marketing gurus understand this implicitly, and whether they enlist for a goodly sum of pesos some sporting hero to sell double-glazing to the masses, or a self-described social media Influencer flutters a patented brand of false eyelashes at their Followers (for only $49.95 if you click now!), it is with the knowledge that consumers are at heart aspirational

By all means, you can try to lure the punter by setting an example and eating the proverbial sauerkraut before their very eyes, but to really work the special magic to get the punter across the line, the luree must in some way wish to be in the shoes of the lurer. And that usually means the lurer is in someway enviably attractive or in a position of enviable power.

To sell something that might be also Good-for-You, earnestness alone is not enough, for the yokels standing about with their fingers in their noses would otherwise be gladly chomping down the mung beans extolled by the home-woven-&-tie-dyed-hemp-shift-wearing non-ironically-bearded hippy sitting cross-legged at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park, and not wandering off to listen to the glossy-maned tanned-and-muscular telegenic football star with a proprietary brand of protein powder that is the secret to his success with nubile ladies. Or such like. But let me illustrate this as a modern Fairy Tale.

And to do so, we must fast-forward two hundred and fifty years, when the subtle psychological detail behind Cook's Sauerkraut Experiment seemed to have fallen down the back of the sofa like an old button for one Grand Poobah of an island nation when a new and global pestilence swept across the land ...

The Fairy Tale:

Once Upon A Time ...

A Great Pestilence came upon the world. All the Grand Poobahs in all the Great Nations lowered their respective portcullises and wrung their hands wondering what to do next as their subjects clamoured for salvation. 

After a time, two Hausfraus in aprons in a faraway land said "Fear not, we have studied this kind of thing before and it could be a nasty kind of Scurvy. We are experts in the making of Sauerkraut, however, and we think it might prove useful, so we're going to make a tonne of it and send it out to the peoples of the world who have access to a fridge."

And there was a bit of rejoicing at the idea, for they were kindly Hausfraus with kerchiefs around their heads, to boot. And most people said that they had had cabbage before and it wasn't the worst thing in the world and it generally seems pretty good-for-you and luckily they had access to a fridge. 

"So, okay I'll have me some", some agreed. And some Grand Poobahs put in an order with the kindly Hausfraus.

At the same time there were some fancy TV-chefs with spiky hair and no aprons because it covered their muscles and tattoos and they said "Pshaw! Sauerkraut? That's old hat. Any old housewife can make that. We're working on our own Magic-Brassica™ which is made with Cavolo Nero and has secret umami ingredients like anchovies in it and whatnot** and is so fantastic that we're going to sell it to the peoples of the world who can afford it and the fancy cryogenic storage facilities they'll need."

And there was a bit of rejoicing at that idea, too, for they were terribly fancy TV-chefs who made loads of pesos all the time thinking up delicious-sounding recipes. And there were even more people who said they hadn't eaten Cavolo Nero before and didn't know what umami was but what the heck they'll give it a try and they really liked the idea of a fancy cryogenic storage facility to store their brains when they died. 

"Mmm-mmm, umami, I'll have me some", some agreed. And yet other Grand Poobahs put in an order with the fancy TV-chefs.

One Grand Poobah of a small island nation said to his clamouring people, "You ask when you're going to get some of this Scurvy repellent? Fear not! You are the people of a Great Nation and will be given first dibs on the Sauerkraut when the kindly Hausfraus bottle it up". 

And then he consulted widely across his viziers and decided the Magic-Brassica™ looked pretty delicious too and then went back to his people and said "Oh, p.s., the VIPs will be getting first dibs on the Magic-Brassica™ when my good friends of the TV-chefs give them our order". 

Meanwhile, there were more TV-chefs making their own proprietary batches of brassica mix and the Patents & Trademarks Offices got rather busy with so many interesting recipes that there was quite the choice for Scurvy repellent out there, whether with ™ attached to their name or not. 

So the Grand Poobah of the small island nation got in a muddle and became so rather indecisive about what kind of Scurvy repellent his goodly people might get that he forgot to put any of the orders in at all and, in the meanwhile, the Grand Poobahs of other Great Nations got on with it and the people of the small island nation saw this on the news.

The clamouring of the people subsequently got a bit louder and the Grand Poobah said to his people, "Oh, botheration! This is not a race, peeps! It doesn't matter when you get your Scurvy repellent, it'll come eventually. The portcullis is still down so you're not going anywhere, anyway".

And then the Grand Poobah thought he needed a holiday and might like to do some genealogical research into his Grand Family in a faraway land and organised for a camera crew to document him getting to try the Magic-Brassica™ that he somehow got his hands on, with what looked like a little bit of fear in his eyes for he wasn't sure about the anchovies since he didn't like them on his pizza, before climbing aboard a fancy unicorn to fly away over the still-down portcullis on his heartwarming mission.

When he came back he said to his people, "Thanks a bunch, that Magic-Brassica™really hit the spot. I really needed that little holiday. And you really have to see how terrible things are beyond our fortress. This is the lucky country! Oh, and by the way, some Sauerkraut has arrived so get in a line."

And the people went, "What?? Sauerkraut??! We are VIPs too! And we want to climb aboard budget unicorns ourselves and go and be culturally insensitive in some more tropically island nation than our own. We want me some Magic-Brassica™ and we want it now!"

Thus ensued some unseemly chaos within the fortress walls of the small island nation. And given the Grand Poobah was supposed to have had a background in Marketing before he rose to power, this was unfortunately handled. The pestilence continued to go round and round everywhere and many people in many Nations, Great and Small, are no longer around as a result and it was a sorry tale.

After a long time, some of the people of the small island nation got to try*** the Sauerkraut and said it tasted just like it did last time they had some; some people waited it out until they were reclassified as VIPs and got to try the Magic-Brassica™ and then couldn't decide if it really just tasted like fancy cabbage or if they had been imbued with some magical power and were micro-chipped for future greatness; others said their Great-Uncle Horace had had Scurvy in the Olden Days and said it was no big deal so they didn't need any repellent, thank you; others said their own divinations would be repellent enough; others that a wholesome diet and fresh air means they've never needed fermented cabbage and never will for it is just capitalist hype; and still others said that if they got a bit of scurvy and their teeth fell out it would be a good excuse to get the porcelain implants they've always dreamed of. 

The End.

* Let it not be said that Your Correspondent is afraid to embark upon such epic undertakings between household chores.

** And sounds so suspiciously like Pipistrello's own Covid-greens that I smell a rat. 

*** And are still waiting to be allowed a last spoonful of anything that may eventually come their way.

Image credits: 1: Wikimedia Commons; 2: Flying With Hands


  1. Sauerkraut (choucroute) is a Winter classic in France. We usually eat in once a week with a variety of charcuterie. I also love Kimchi, and other fermented cabbage, etc. All fermented vegs are very good for the gut, as well as being very tasty. We should all eat more; Cook taught a good lesson.

    1. In a couple of French recipe books on the bookshelf are delicious sounding recipes for choucroute but I've never attempted it, dear Cro. The porky bits and the choucroute have to be just right and properly French I suspect and thus it is a delight I shall look forward to one winter in France. The fermented world has taken a while to get a foothold in this country - for decades it was confined to tinned beetroot, gherkins and little pickled onions to sit atop your cheddar cheese cube on a Jatz biscuit.

  2. Hello Pipistrello, My great-grandmother used to make strudel with sauerkraut as one of the fillings. She made the dough from scratch and stretched it transparently thin entirely by hand--an amazing sight. I think we kids preferred the apple strudel, but now in Taiwan there are many pastries and cookies with preserved turnip fillings, and those are always my favorites.

    1. Home-made strudel must be a real labour of love, dear Jim! A savoury strudel filling is news to me and it sounds rather intriguing. Familiar foods puts together in interesting ways certainly adds to the delight of travel.

  3. A fine yarn you have spun, Lady Pipistrello: instructive, insightful and profound, and all this spiced with a few pinches of humour and irony. The corners of my mouth are not yet back from their expedition to the earlobes.

    As it happens, I was preparing an anti-scurvy menu today consisting of sauerkraut, potatoes and Nürnberger Rostbratwürste. As always, an apron protected my tattoo-free arms from potential grease splatters.

    1. Ah, dear Sean, I did wonder if straying into the forbidden territory of topicality would be noticed by my Dear Reader. Coming, as you do, from the Land of the Brothers Grimm, a Fairy Tale is read as much more than the sum of its parts. Thank you for your enjoying today's offering!

      Your repast reminds me that a German friend prepared the same for us once when when visited her in Zurich - not sure of the precise nature of the sausage - and it was divine! The sauerkraut was home-made, of course - which I hope yours is - and set the benchmark for comparison ever since.

  4. The psychology of man appears to revolve around the lures of forbidden fruit which clearly prove quite effective. Access to anything intended for only the upper crust seems to work as well. You make a very good case Pip.

    1. Ha, you express in two sentences so succinctly what took me two thousand words, dear Susan!

  5. Dear Pip, while I "rootle down the back of history's metaphoric sofa for some lost and forgotten details" - though in my case it is a number smaller: I am literally seeking there for a lost wooden fish, part of an line fishing play of the triplets - I think about your column of Enlightenment.

    "to get Man to do your bidding" - my mother gave me lots of tips to do that - "A man must be led from behind, thinking all is his own idea and will" - tips which I utterly despised and thus try to battle with open visor. Not always the easier way.

    Tom Sawyers shows us that things which are out of our reach interests us much more.

    Brand names on really ugly bags or dresses (I would cry if I had to wear some dresses of the Hermes-collection) lure people.

    As your modern fairy tale: yes, normal Sauerkraut served by a Hausfrau with an apron over her Hauskleid is seldom alluring.
    (I have to add one of Britta's Wsdoms about Men - aprons or better pinafores bring an interesting and interested glitter into the eyes of many men - and if you want to add a fresh colour to his fair complexion you could a) bend to pick up a tiny speck of Sauerkraut and/or mention the word "apron" and "men" in one sentence. Ha!
    As to the gist of the Fairy tale: might I suggest a subtitle such as "The government isn't sure whether the ordered doses of Novovac (or Biontec - though "dead vaccine" sounds inexplicably better in the ears of many) will be enough to serve anyone. We must prioritise, so sorry." People will try many, many ways to get it first and exclusively.
    Mae West wasn't always right with her aphorism: "Too much of a good thing is a good thing" - in Germany in the 19th century the servants complained that salmon appeared to often on their menu.
    And I think that a lot of people fear that the diamond mines might be fully opened - and their expensive stones they already have turn into Swarovski...

    A few days ago I looked up the Cavolo Nero - dear Hugh Whitsuntide had suggested it (if you do not find kale or Savoy Cabbage) - which illuminates the esoteric theory that an idea sparkles up in many parts of the world (here in your and mine brain) and one has to grab it quickly to "do" something with it - as with men, or sauerkraut.

    1. Dearest Britta, so many interesting things here to add to the soup, where does one start? And to think it all started with some Sauerkraut! There are curious synergies at play when shiny things flutter across our mind's eye, many of which just get parked in a (crowded) file for the proverbial rainy day, and others just have to be seized upon then and there. And at the same time as another. P'rhaps the world is like a set of grocer's scales and disorder and wobble in our rotation ensues if a thought put out in one side isn't balanced by the corresponding thought in the other?

  6. Sauerkraut doesn't feature heavily in our house ..... not sure why as I quite like it ! Slightly off-piste, when the Navy first started to have tinned goods on board around 1795, many sailors died of lead poisoning as the cans had been soldered together with lead. I know this as my husbands relative was aboard HMS Resolute who went in search of Franklin in 1852, who was lost in the Arctic, and it was recorded in his log. In the 1980's they found 4 bodies, perfectly preserved in the ice and, after investigating, found it was very likely they had died from lead poisoning .... scurvy might have been a better alternitive ! XXXX

    1. Dear Jackie, how fascinating! This is news to me. I'm listening to the Patrick O'Brian naval books as I go about the, ahem, domestics and so far lead poisoning hasn't yet featured but I rather expect it might at some point. It's also rather marvellous to have such interesting forebears whose swashbuckling lives you know about! xx


  7. I understand that Captain Cook also brewed a tea to help prevent scurvy using the leaves of the Australian Leptospermum (myrtle family - tea trees) for his crew too - apparently the leaves are rich in vitamin C. Today the nectar from their flowers, when harvested by bees, supplies us with Manuka honey.

    1. Dear Rosemary, I didn't know about the tea-tree tea and it does show that when the early explorers set out with rather the bare minimum for survival, they must have spent a lot of time sifting through all they encountered looking for solutions to problems along the way and not just in the pursuit of lofty ideals or fulfilling missions.

      Oh, you may be interested to know that Manuka honey is as costly here as it probably is where you are, despite being produced on our doorstep. It is rather delicious, nonetheless.

  8. What a fun and witty read!
    Captain Cook has lost a lot of favor; I hear tell down under his statues are regularly defaced and coming down as a nawful b.

    1. Dear Ur-spo, you see what happens when you tap impatiently on the table? Some thousands words spill out! I hadn't known Captain Cook's statues are regularly under siege, but saw some graffiti on one a couple of years ago. His shoulders were broad; he'll be fine. If he is ever struck from the history books, it's a given we'll be plunging toward hell in our hand-baskets.

  9. Men and honey - how sweet life can be, lol!

    In regard to sailors dying from tinned food -
    A fabulous, very scary, actually terrifying, series to watch - if you haven't. . . . .


    "Autumn, 1846. Two ships seeking the fabled Northwest Passage around Canada get caught in the Arctic ice"
    Stars wonderful actors Ciarán Hinds and Tobias Menzies, and a terrific entire cast.

    Britta, Jackie, Rosemary - love you gals and your comments - we must get together with Pip one of these crazy days. What do you say Pip? Is there a halfway point between England, Germany, Australia and America? Can anyone work that out for us - by air or by sea!!!!! (Rosemary and I have met in Bath, UK - it was wonderful!).

    Happy week ahead everyone.
    Mary -

    1. Oo, thank you for the tip, dear Mary! Mr. P was tasked with hunting it down this morning and he's flagged it to watch later. Fab'lous cast! It might prove rather frightening but a void was looming in the televisual agenda now that we're nearly done with "Vienna Blood" - set in Vienna around 1905ish with swoon-worthy costumes and settings.

      Now, a midpoint visitation spot?? What a lovely thought and I'm very flattered to be considered! I daresay the point on the map will be something rather off-piste like Japan ... or would it be the Bering Straight? Hopefully "The Terror" need not act as our Baedeker, haha!

      If this small island nation doesn't end up as the pariah of the globe, making us unwelcome everywhere, our cancelled European trip of 2020 will be back on and it will be England-ho! in Sep/Oct. That may be a more comfortable rendezvous point :)

    2. . . . . in 2013 I actually sailed on an expedition ship from Japan, through the Russian Kuril Islands to Kamchatka, landing in the Bering Islands. If interested you can see what it's like there in the links to my posts below. Very strange but wonderful places. Doubt we could meet up near the Bering Strait without being arrested!!!!!! Will have to put our thinking caps on for a perfect place.

      Oh I wish I knew you were heading to England this year - we hope to get there too but our reservations are in June. We've cancelled 3 times since COVID hit - all my family over there are older, like us, and we need to see them soon!
      Hope all works out for your trip this year dear.

    3. Well, Mary, I have just spent fascinating time in your company through your trip to Russia & Japan, and then got a bit distracted by Antarctica - you very nearly squeezed in two (near-enough) Poles in the one month!!

      Bering Island was NOT what I'd imagined, and I have to state the obvious right away: Russian girls and young women are incredibly beautiful, no matter where they live. But bears, snow-capped volcanic peaks, Zodiac adventures etc etc. It could be rather a serious undertaking and, anyways, you've been there :) Sounds like you didn't make it to Vladivostok, however ... hahah!

      Your photographs are brilliant and I understand now why your pics at home are so amazing; you've had LOTS of practice.

      June for your trip to England sounds just lovely, and it's not so far away now. Fingers crossed for you! There'll be future and possibly annual visits by us, too, to England to see family &, if the stars align, we may yet have an opportunity to meet up?

      Thank you for the virtual holiday!

  10. I thought SCURVY's cure was fruit!Vitamin C to be more specific?

    1. Indeed, yes, dear Contessa, Vitamin C is the answer to the scourge of survey - although they didn't know about vitamins back then, they knew about limes and whatnot. The problem for sailors on sea journeys of around 3 years is that the fresh fruit doesn't last very long so they were searching for a long-storage food solution, hence the likes of sauerkraut which will last for ever and a day without spoiling.

  11. May I be so bold as to suggest, possibly treasonably towards my version of the human, that "The Psychology of Man" should be a much shorter textbook than "The Psychology of Woman", and the former book would at least end in clear and simple conclusions; while the latter would not.

    1. Dear Andrew, yes you may. Treason counts for nought around these pages.


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