Eccentric England: The Headington Shark

Headington Shark
Henry Flower

Once again, I’m back in Oxford for my annual summer working holiday. I love this place. This quintessentially English city offers beautiful colleges, the world’s coolest museum, even the chance to bump into the Queen.

But all this pales in comparison to the sight of a giant shark crashing into a roof.

The Oxford suburb of Headington is a bit dull, so local resident Bill Heine at 2 New High Street decided to commission sculptor John Buckley to create a 25-foot shark to adorn his roof. It was put up on August 9, 1986, the 41st anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing. As Heine explained, “The shark was to express someone feeling totally impotent and ripping a hole in their roof out of a sense of impotence and anger and desperation … It is saying something about CND, nuclear power, Chernobyl and Nagasaki.”

The clipboard Nazis in the local council were not amused. They tried to have it removed as a pubic hazard. When their engineer said it was perfectly safe, they tried various other excuses. Much legal wrangling ensued.

Decades later, the naysayers are all gone and the shark is still there. It’s a much-loved local landmark, a modern folly. I see it every time I come in on the bus from London and enjoy pointing it out to newcomers. There’s even a Headington Shark Appreciation Society on Facebook with more than a thousand members. So if you’re coming to Oxford, pop on over and see the Headington Shark.

Retreating Italian Glacier Reveals Dead From World War I

World War OneTwo soldiers’ bodies from World War I have been discovered on an Italian mountain, the Telegraph reports.

Workers on the Presena glacier in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of the Dolomites in Italy found the bodies at an altitude of 9,850 feet. The glacier has been receding because of an unusually hot summer and the workers were covering it with a giant tarpaulin to keep it from thawing further.

The soldiers are believed to have been from an artillery unit of the Austro-Hungarian army and were killed in 1918. The skeletons were identified by remnants of uniform and insignia. No word yet on whether they can be named.

During World War I, Italy fought against Austro-Hungarian and German forces in the bitter cold of the mountaintops. One favorite tactic was to fire artillery shells above enemy positions to cause avalanches to bury them. In other cases soldiers died from wounds or exposure and were lost. Many of these bodies have been found in later years.

From more on the Italian Front, there is an excellent website and photo collection here.

The Presena glacier isn’t the only one melting. The entire Alps is seeing less ice cover, reducing the number of ski slopes and increasing the risk of avalanches for trekkers.

[Photo courtesy German Federal Archive]

Historic Battleship USS Texas Taking In Water, Leaking Oil


The USS Texas is America’s oldest battleship. Commissioned in 1914, it fought in both World War I and World War II. Since 1948 it’s been utilized as a museum at La Porte, Texas, on the outskirts of Houston.

Now the vessel is in peril. It’s sprung a leak and is taking on water. So much water entered the ship that it started noticeably listing to port. The old oil tanks got flooded. While the tanks had been emptied decades ago, they’d never been cleaned, so oily water spread out into the bay.

The oil is being cleaned and the water pumped out. While problems continue, the ship doesn’t appear to be in danger of sinking. The Houston Chronicle reports the ship is taking less water now, from a high of 850 gallons a minute down to 100. Repairs will hopefully start Monday and the ship will be closed for the foreseeable future.

Despite its current troubles, the future may be bright for this floating bit of history. In 2007 a state bond issue raised $25 million to dry berth the ship. This would help preserve it for future generations. Now it’s estimated the project may cost twice that. Getting the money will be difficult in this economic climate, but the project would create jobs and preserve a major tourist attraction.

Check out the video to learn more about this amazing vessel.