Turf & Rec

Features Profiles
Coincidental changes in history

June 15, 2015  By Ian Robinson

It’s funny how just one little coincidence can change the world.

I mean, it’s a staple of science fiction. You go back in time, accidentally step on a Jurassic bug and when you go back home, you find out you’re the only human being and the planet is being run by Nazi T-Rexes with machine guns.

I’m a guy whose brain collects those kinds of real-life coincidences.

I swear it's not my fault, but I am Weird Fact Guy.


My head is crammed full of things … that won’t earn me a nickel.

While I know a useful fact or two — like how to make a potato bazooka and use it to terrorize the neighbourhood squirrel population — my mind doesn’t seem to vacuum up the useful.


For some reason, it tends to absorb stuff that simply does not matter.

You pop the hood on my car, I would be hard-pressed to actually name the items that reveal themselves.

When speaking to my mechanic, I usually refer to them as “thingies.” Or “you know, the whatchamacalit that wire’s coming out of.”

And yet I can explain in great detail how the battle against malaria leads directly to NASCAR.

Don’t look at me like that. For real.

I learned it from an odd TV show in the ’70s called Connections and it stuck.

Malaria is Italian for “bad air.”

People didn’t know the disease was spread by mosquitos. It was before we figured out bacteria and viruses and stuff. So they thought: Hey, bad smells cause disease, particularly given that people got malaria more often in close proximity to stagnant swamps that smelled like wet farts … because that’s where the mosquitoes were.

Apparently, when he invaded North Africa, Napoleon wanted to keep his army healthy and ordered a map of bad smells to be drawn up so they could march around the bad smell areas.

I can just imagine that conversation.

“You want me to what?”

“Map all the places that smell bad.”

“You do realize this is Egypt, right? And it’s hotter than hell and it’s 1798 and air conditioning won’t be patented until 1906 by an American guy named Willis Carrier. And we’re all wearing heavy wool uniforms. My pits smell like a dead guy left out in the sun for a week. Plus there’s no indoor plumbing plus all the locals are herding goats. And the goats smell like dead guys left out in the sun for a week. And you want a map of where it smells bad? It all smells bad.”

“Who’s Emperor?”

“You’re Emperor.”

“Who’s a mean guy with hemorrhoids who likes to execute people by firing squad?”

“You are, my Emperor.”

“So what are you going to do?”

“I’m gonna make a smell map, my Emperor.”

“Why are you still here?”

“I’m trying to figure out what colour to use. I mean, what colour should a wet fart be?”

“Green. Kind of a nasty green.”

“Thank you, my Emperor.”

But I digress.

And I’m gonna digress again with another weird fact: About Napoleon’s hemorrhoids?

They were bad.  Real bad, and at the Battle of Waterloo — when France fought the British and the French — he couldn’t sit on his horse for very long.

That meant he couldn’t get a good look at what his troops were doing on the battlefield, and it’s considered a key factor in why he lost the battle.

If his butt hadn’t hurt so much and he’d won, Europe would have looked a whole lot different.

We might never have had a Hitler.

Or we might have had a T-Rex Hitler.

Who knows?

But history was shaped that day by a pain in the butt.

Anyway, back in the day, folks thought that bad smells made you sick. So they invented the perfume sprayer and walked around spraying perfume to make everything smell better, thus preventing disease.

It didn’t work but that didn’t stop them from trying — kinda like how we sometimes elect NDP governments.

Anyway, Wilhelm Maybach teamed up with Gottlieb Daimler to invent the automobile and to get the right mix of fuel and air in the cylinder to go bang and make the wheels go around, they needed to invent something.

And Maybach took one of those little spray thingies that mixed perfume and air and sent it out in a mist and went: That’ll work.

And the spray carburetor was born.

No malaria, no spray atomizer.

No spray atomizer, no carburetor.

No carburetor, no NASCAR and 50 million Americans would have to find something else to do on weekends other than watch a bunch of guys turn left, over and over and over and over again.

Print this page


Stories continue below