food & drink

Your Interesting Links

There’s a lot in this month’s edition so let’s get straight in …

Science & Medicine

Medics are now saying that arthroscopic surgery for degenerative knee problems (ie. essentially arthritis) does not actually do any much good.

[TRIGGER WARNING] Breaking the taboo of talking about miscarriage.

Another new study shows that, against expectation, women who source online and use abortion drugs do so with very little need for emergency medical help.

And yet another on reproductive medicine … It seems the folk contraceptive “Thunder God Vine” (Tripterygium wilfordii, above) really does prevent conception.

On the physics of having a shit.

More new research has found that daily small doses of cannabis can slow brain decline with ageing – at least in mice.

And here’s yet another instance where it seems we’ve had it all wrong … apparently eating cheese does not raise the risk of heart attack or stroke.

It has long been thought that the way we categorise colours is cultural, but surprisingly it appears to be genetic.


Porn is allegedly having a “terrifying impact” on men. Girl on the Net lifts the lid and finds the evidence rather thin and attitudes biased.

Is the “Dildo of Damocles” daunting? What does/will happen when sex toys connect to the internet?


It is estimated that the Fukushima accident gave everyone on the planet radiation exposure equivalent to a single X-ray – although unsurprisingly those in Fukushima received rather more it was unlikely to be more than two year’s worth of background radiation, so tiny in the overall scheme of things.

Hedges are as important for the environment as trees, at least in cities.

In another non-obvious finding, research is showing that beaver dams keep streams cool.

History, Archaeology & Anthropology

There are some amazing things happening in palaeoanthropology at the moment, not least that researchers have discovered how to extract DNA from the soil around archaeological sites.

Another of those amazing pieces of palaeoanthropology is the number and age of the Homo naledi finds in South Africa.

At the other end of Africa, a 4000-year-old funeral garden has been discovered in Egypt.

In a recent, and rather more modern, find a rare medieval text printed by William Caxton has been discovered lurking in University of Reading archives.

One of our favourite London bloggers, diamond geezer, visits the Parisian Catacombs.

Finally in this section, another of our favourite London bloggers, IanVists, explores an abandoned railway tunnel used by the BBC in WW2.


Which brings us nicely to London itself … Londonist suggests some of London’s more secret places to visit.

Meanwhile Time Out tells us nine things we mostly didn’t know about Euston Station.

Lifestyle & Personal Development

The Guardian magazine on Saturday 27 May featured Laura Dodsworth’s upcoming book Manhood: The Bare Reality in which 100 men talk about manhood through the lens of “me and my penis” as well as having their manhood photographed.
This a follow-on to Bare Reality: 100 Women, Their Breasts, Their Stories
Pre-order Manhood: The Bare Reality from the publishers Pinter & Martin or from Amazon.
[Full disclosure: I was interviewed for this book and there’s a little bit of me in the article, although unless you know you’ll never find it.]

Following which here’s Lee Kynaston in the Telegraph on male pubic hair grooming. My only question is “Why?”.

The key to happiness is not knowing oneself, but knowing how others see us.

But then scientists and philosophers also doubt the ancient claim that vigorous self-examination makes you a better person.

Food & Drink

WFT is alkaline water? Oh, I see, it’s no different to what comes out of the tap.

If you like sushi, you might no longer as its popularity has brought rise in parasitic infections.


I wasn’t quite sure where to put this next item, but it is one for the railway buffs amongst us … Geoff Marshall (no relation) and Vicki Pipe are doing All the Stations: They’re travelling to every train station in mainland UK, documenting and videoing as they go. Their videos are all on the All the Stations channel on YouTube; watch the introductory video first to see what they’re planning.
[Geoff Marshall has twice held the official record for travelling the whole London Underground in the fastest time, so he had to be up for another challenge!]

Shock, Horror, Humour

And very finally here are some stories of what happens when scientists take research specimens through airport security.

More in a month’s time.

Storm in a Coffee Cup

So the FSA think we should give up toast and roast potatoes because there is a cancer risk from the acrylamide they contain.

As so often this is, at best, misleading science and quite probably total bollocks. Moreover the FSA is going beyond it’s brief in warning us about something which is basically an assumption based on evidence that’s struggling even to be flimsy.

Yes, acrylamide can cause cancer. This has only been conclusively demonstrated in laboratory rats fed thousands of times the dose we would consume. There is no real evidence of normal doses causing any problem for humans. Like all these things the dose is important and the evidence has to be taken in a sensible context.

There is apparently more acrylamide in coffee than toast or roast potatoes, and most people consume far more coffee at breakfast than they do burnt toast. Yet we aren’t being told to stop drinking coffee because of the acrylamide.

And how many women crave burnt toast when they’re pregnant? Anecdotally quite a lot. Are we really going to add toast to the ever growing list of things pregnant women aren’t allowed to even see? If so, we have to ask how we all managed to get here in the first place.

No. I for one shall be treating this advice with the contempt it deserves. Yet again the FSA is bringing itself, and by association all dietary advice, into disrepute.

For more background see:
Is acrylamide in your toast really going to give you cancer?
Why you don’t need to worry about eating brown toast
‘Alternative facts’ are now threatening our roast potatoes. Enough!

And remember: Research causes cancer in rats.

Ten Things

I love the summer months for the variety of locally grown foods, and some from warmer climes, are available and at their best. And May is when one of my favourite foods — asparagus — is in season here in England. With summer fruits like strawberries hard on its heels.

As Noreen often observes, to our 19th century (and earlier) ancestors we must be living like the gentry because here are …

10 Foods I’ve Eaten in the Last Week
(some of them more than once!):

  1. Asparagus
  2. Avocado
  3. Smoked Salmon
  4. Duck Breast
  5. Brie
  6. Fruit Crumble
  7. Curried Steak Salad
  8. Sausages
  9. Olives
  10. Strawberries

Your Interesting Links

There’s a lot in this month’s edition, which is a few days late, so let’s get straight in.

Science & Medicine

Scientists have tried to work out the five most addictive substances on Earth and what they do to your brain.
No real surprises though.

Another set of scientists have discovered a mysterious boiling river in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. Well it’s almost boiling and certainly hot enough to lightly poach the unwary.

Talking of boiling water, what temperature does it actually boil? And why can’t you make tea at the top of Everest (even supposing you were stupid enough to want to)?

And to the other end of the scale … Yet more scientists have been and recorded the sounds at the bottom of the ocean. Not just any ocean but deepest part, the Mariana Trench. And they were in for quite a surprise.

From sound to … sound. It seems that parrots are a lot more than just pretty birds. They have their own parrot languages and are also known to make tools.

Back to water and a German scientist has worked out just how Archer Fish are so adept at shooting down insects with a jet of water.

And now to things medical … One in five of us believe we have a serious allergy, but most of it is just belief. Here’s a summary of some key things you should know about allergies and intolerances (which aren’t the same at all!).

“I’ve been told bacon smells lovely.” Just what is it like to live with no sense of smell?

There’s no reason why it should work, but it does. We’ve all experienced the placebo effect but here are five popular placebo myths explained.

[Trigger Warning] It is thought that anything up to a quarter of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, the vast majority in the first 12 weeks, and often there is no obvious reason. However miscarriage remains a taboo and is seldom talked about. But medics are now putting effort into trying to find underlying reasons and to help those women most badly affected and those most at risk. [Long read]

What happens when you have a hole in your ear? Specifically a hole in the canal(s) of your inner ear? It’s rare, but the effect is quite frightening. [Long read]

Seems that attacking people who are overweight (or worse) is counter-productive. You don’t say!

Are you a loner? And a nerd? Yes many of us who do a lot of thinking (it’s often called research, or work) are. So we need some peace and quiet — and a little sympathy.


It is important that we talk openly, frankly and honestly to our children about sex and pleasure. Peggy Orenstein has a new book out on “Girls & Sex”; here‘s a piece about it and a few myths exploded. But don’t forget the boys as well; they have to be taught about sex and pleasure, and often respect for the girls too.

At which point it seems appropriate to ask why the clitoris doesn’t get the attention it deserves? And why does this matter?

It seems there are engineering lessons to be learnt from the design of the penis and the mechanics of erection

Social Sciences & Business

The surprising chances of our lives can seem like they’re hinting at hidden truths. On coincidences and the meaning of life.


Apparently a 5000-year-old linen dress is the oldest know woven garment. and it’s on display in London.

There are many mysteries about the lives and deaths of the Egyptian Pharaohs. But it looks as if one may have been solved as CT scans have revealed brutal injuries to Pharaoh Ramesses III.

We’ve all come to know (and love?) the @ sign. But I remember being totally mystified by it as a kid using my father’s typewriter, which isn’t surprising as it appear to have a long and rather convoluted history.

Edward Johnston and the typeface that changed the face of London Underground, and much else besides. with a rather more than walk-on part by Eric Gill.

I love the Museum of London Docklands and they’re opening a new gallery which centres around the museum’s building itself. IanVisits got a sneak preview.

Food & Drink

Are you a devoted breakfast eater? Or are you like me and usually not want breakfast? Breakfast is supposed to be the most important meal of the day, but is it? Spoiler: probably not.

Apparently we don’t have a clue how to shop for vegetables. Dear God, Mr American, tell me something I’ve not known this last 60 years.

Professional chefs on mould, food waste and expiry dates.

The UK has sheep coming out of its ears, so why won’t UK supermarkets stock British lamb? Surely it has to be better than frozen New Zealand lamb that’s been shipped round the world; and because it’s on our doorsteps it really shouldn’t be more expensive. Sorry supermarkets (and butchers) if you aren’t going to sell me fresh British lamb, I’m not buying lamb. Simples.

Shock, Horror, Humour

Finally, for the avoidance of doubt — and the education of the masses — here’s the CPS guidance on nudity in public.

Sweet and Sour

As one might expect, Christopher Snowdon (he who has taken the new alcohol guidelines apart) writing over on City AM is not at all impressed by George Osborne’s new tax on sugar.

It’s a money spinner; no more, no less — at least according to Snowdon. For my money, if we really want a tax on sugar to reduce consumption as well as raise revenue, Osborne has missed several tricks:

  • tax all forms of sugar in all products
  • tax all sweeteners (natural and artificial) including honey and stevia (on the basis that they encourage a liking for extra sweetness)
  • make the tax a sliding scale, starting at something small for less than (say) 1g per litre or kilo, rising to something draconian (20%, 25%) for over 10g per litre or kilo
  • make it a consumer tax (like tobacco duty) rather than a levy on the producers

That would hopefully affect all consumers, relatively equitably. It would encourage people to buy less-sweetened products (without having to give up sweetness completely). And encourage producers to reduce sweetener content with substantial price advantages, and hence hopefully higher sales/greater market share.

Oddity of the Week: Seaside Rock

It has just been brought to my attention that Blackpool (and one suspects other places) are now offering seaside rock in a variety of flavours other than the hitherto ubiquitous peppermint and occasional fruit flavours.

According to the Blackpool Gazette local vendors are now offering flavours such as cappuccino, peanut butter, gin & tonic, chicken tikka, cheese & tomato pizza and, rather oddly, fish & chips.

Cappuccino and gin & tonic might just work. I’m not convinced about the others.

Your Interesting Links

So here we are again with another round of links to interesting items you might have missed the first time around. Again not too much heavy science but a lot of oddities …

Cats vs Dogs. Who wins? Well from an evolutionary perspective scientists have concluded that cats are better.

Since when has a Goth Chicken been a thing? Quite a while apparently as it is a recognised breed with black feathers, black meat and even a black heart. And they are highly prized.

We all know we eat too much animal protein, so it’s no surprise that the trend for replacing red meat with chicken isn’t actually helping.

George Monbiot considers evidence that obesity is an incurable disease and asks why then governments are intent on punishing sufferers.

So what is it like if you lose your sense of smell?

There are lots of medical screening tests available but which are really useful and what are the drawbacks?

Michael Ignatieff looks at the ongoing human impact of the Fukushima accident and subsequent clean-up.

So which shall be the master: the Meridian or GPS? It seems they don’t agree where the Greenwich Meridian is by a small matter of 102 metres. which is fine, apparently.

Galileo looked at a pendulum and thus begat GPS. Or how seemingly trivial observations and inventions can have long-lasting and profound effects centuries later.

And while we’re on inventions, a creative man has built a machine to feed his cat — but only when the cat hunts and finds a hidden ball and puts it in a slot machine!

Mention of Galileo makes us turn to history, but let’s start even further back in time … An English academic working in America has been looking hard at the walls of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber and thinks he’s spotted the bricked up entrance to Queen Nefertiti’s tomb.

Now here’s an equally puzzling conundrum. Was Shakespeare stoned when he wrote his plays? Well maybe, because pipe remains found in Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon garden have been analysed and found to contain not just tobacco but also cocaine and cannabis.

Struan Bates at takes a further look at London’s York House Water Gate, this time as represented by various artists.

Has anyone got a couple of million to spare? If so, Dungeness is up for sale — yes, that large expanse of shingle on the Kent coast. And as it’s a very environmentally sensitive area it needs a suitable owner. Now if I can just win the lottery …

After which it is all downhill (or do I mean down the beach?) …

Guys … Do you want to increase your fertility? If so, take a tip from the Scots and wear a kilt!

Don’t want to wear a kilt? OK, so nudism is another option. Here are two items where young ladies look at the experience of social nudity: the first talks of the challenges of being a lifelong nudist and the second tackles nudity in the interests of research.

Meanwhile Amnesty International has found some sense and now backs the worldwide decriminalisation of prostitution. Is it too much to hope the politicians might now listen? Yes, I thought so.

And finally some words from a working, legal (albeit American) prostitute on the misconceptions people have about the job she has chosen for herself.

That’s all. More anon.