history

Your Monthly Links

They’re off! … On the quest for this month’s links to items you really didn’t want to miss the first time.

Science & Medicine

Many statistics are lies compounded by misleading graphics. Here’s a quick guide to spotting lies in visuals.

Queueing is quite complex, both psychologically and mathematically, so no wonder there are old wives tales about how to queue. But many are wrong, and the right answers are non-intuitive. The Guardian gives us some clues.

We don’t normally think of Winston Churchill as a scientist, but he certainly had a passionate interest in, and knowledge of, the science of his day, even down to writing with great foresight about astrobiology and extra-terrestrial life.

Black chickens. Not just black feathers, but black all the way through: meat, bones and organs. No wonder they’re a special, and expensive, breed. It just seems wrong that so many are bred purely for divination.

Social Sciences & Business

In 1944 the CIA wrote a manual on how dissidents can surreptitiously sabotage an organisation’s productivity and gradually undermine it. Now it has been declassified and released.

Language

So who was Gordon Bennett? The BBC looks at a few of the people behind famous phrases.

Writers, improve your text. Here are a number of filler words and phrases which are superfluous and serve only to bulk out your word count.

Polari is a British slang dating back to at least the 19th century. Used by a number of tightly knit cultures it is perhaps best known for its use by sex workers and the gay subculture. As you might guess the Bible in Polari is quite a hoot; here’s my blog post about it.

Art & Literature

Book blogger Karen Langley has rediscovered Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy. Here’s her blog post about it.

History

Construction of London’s Crossrail has unearthed a vast amount of archaeology. Here are two very different reports on the same Clerkenwell site which includes a completely lost river and a curious pair of plague victims: the first report is from IanVisits and the second from the Guardian.

London

Apart from the above item on Crossrail archaeology there is only one snippet on London this month …

Canals are well known for carrying water not electricity, but IanVisits, again, brings the story of how the Regent’s Canal ended up safely carrying both.

Lifestyle

Life is stressful. Things are continually conspiring against us. We all know that if we get too stressed we get sick. So it’s useful to have a list of major life stressors, with their relative values, so you can work out your likelihood of a stress-related illness.

Unsurprisingly the second most highly-rated stress is divorce. Here are four behaviours which appear to be the most reliable predictors of divorce.

Finally in this section is our favourite zen master talking about immigration and tribalism. It’s a perspective worth reading.

Food & Drink

And finally, finally … Garlic. Whether you love it or hate it trying to supress the resulting odour is far from obvious.

Be good until next month!

Book Review: Map Stories

Francisca Mattéoli
Map Stories: The Art of Discovery
(Ilex, 2015)

bookThis is, in the words of the Preface, “a book that invites the reader on a journey from map to map, to let their imagination run free”. It is a curious collection of historical maps, around which the author tells the stories the places and voyages which gave birth to the maps.

Now I love maps, and I love stories of history and the discovery of new worlds. However I found this a very difficult book to engage with, for a number of reasons.

  1. While I love maps I do find old, multi-coloured, shaded maps with tiny print/calligraphy difficult and off-putting.
  2. The stories I dipped into didn’t engage me; I found them dull; which is in part down to the author’s style.
  3. The stories major heavily on the Americas and SE Asia. Europe hardly gets a look in.
  4. This is a large, oversize, atlas-sized book; and quite heavy. It needs to be to make the most of the maps. But this does make it almost impossible to read in bed.

As a consequence I did no more than leaf through the book and dip into it from time to time. I just found it was asking too much of me, especially when I was reading it late at night in bed. I’m sure I’m missing a lot, and I may well return to it in due course – it would be a shame not to.

Overall Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Book Review: London in Fragments

Ted Sandling
London in Fragments: A Mudlark’s Treasures
Frances Lincoln, 2016

I was given this book at Christmas – well what else do you give a Londoner who is interested in the history and eccentricity of the city? I’ve been reading it in small chunks, which is why I’ve only just finished it.

Sandling is a mudlark; someone who when the tide is low wanders the beaches and foreshores of the River Thames hunting for objects trouvés. Now you might think that such a mighty river would wash away any and every artefact dropped into it. But not a bit of it. There is a surprising amount to be found: everything from Roman tiles through remnants of ships and shipbuilding right up to a twentieth-century Sri Lankan talisman.

What Sandling does in this book is to put on display images of many of the artefacts he’s found over the years. Each is identified, as best one can. Along with many there are the stories; some about the artefacts themselves but many about the history surrounding how they might have gotten into the river.

The stories give us some surprising insights into London’s history. Like why are so many pins found? Apparently in Tudor times many clothes were pinned together; the pins fell off in the street and were washed down a sewer and into the river. It sounds unlikely, and I must say I have my doubts, but over the course of a couple of hundred years it could well be what happened.

And why is there so much cullet – glass which has been broken into small pieces for recycling? Well, apparently in medieval times there was a big market in cullet and it was shipped around between Europe and Asia. And it doesn’t take many shipwrecks to seed the whole of a coastline with cullet and sea glass. That’s something I would never have guessed.

The whole book is broken up into sections for things like “Adornment”, “Industry” and “Pleasure and Vice”. Each section has a short overview introduction before the artefacts themselves make their appearance. This, with the information about the artefacts, makes the book a fascinating read, and along the way there is some excellent photography, often of tiny things, to be admired.

It is a small format book of some 250 pages, printed on good paper to bring out the best in the photographs. I cannot fault the production.

Where I was less happy was that all too often the text with an artefact is very general and not nearly as specific as I would like: how big is the item, where was it found; how was it identified? Yes, we do get some of that; but for me, not enough. This is though a rather unfair criticism as many of the items are so fragmentary there isn’t much which can be divined about them.

But overall, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in London and its history. And I would say it is a must read for anyone who is thinking of having a go at mudlarking.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Monthly Links

Apologies that due to an incursion of lurgy this month’s collection of links is somewhat late. Anyway here goes …

Science & Medicine

Unlike most other animals, roughly 90% of humans are right-handed. But why?

Another peculiarity of humans is that we are one of only a handful of species which has an appendix. Again, why?

Evidence is emerging that women with severe PMS, called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), really do have an aberrant cellular response to their hormones.

How do doctors measure pain? Answer: inconsistently. And they’re trying to understand this better. [Long read]

I suspect most people don’t notice the pigeons around them, but there are three which are common in the UK: the feral pigeon (rock dove), wood pigeon, and collared dove. The first two are genuine natives, but the collard dove is a recent arrival from Asia which set out to conquer Europe.

Sexuality

Ten things you probably didn’t know about the clitoris.
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The here and there of (female) pubic hair through the ages.

On attitudes to masturbation in a relationship.

The BFI now has an archive of erotic films covering the late nineteenth century to around 1960s.

History

And bridging seamlessly into the really historical, it seems the Ancient Chinese were into sex toys, just as much as modern generations.

Researchers are getting really quite good at dating ancient objects and events. An ancient volcanic eruption has now been firmly dated using fossilised tree rings.

The myth of Medieval Small Beer — no, everyone didn’t drink beer, rather than water, in olden days.

Someone has found what is alleged to be the long-lost skirt from one of Queen Elizabeth I’s dresses being used as a church alter cloth.

A research student has been able to uncover the movements and exploits of a Renaissance spy, who successfully masqueraded as a garden designer to the rich and powerful.

London

Each year IanVisits provides a calendar of the gun salutes in London for the year.
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Crossrail have unearthed yet more archaeology in an unexpected place: jammed and pickled under the old Astoria nightclub.

There’s a section of tunnel under the Thames on the Northern line tube which was bombed and flooded in 1940. And it is still sealed shut.

To go with the previous item, here are a few vintage pictures of London tube stations.

And, just in time for your next pub quiz, here are a few things you may not know about London buses.

Lifestyle

Some thoughts on how to talk meaningfully with children. And not just children, I suggest.

Even the most macho bloke has his bit of feminine. Here are some on the feminine things men would do if they thought they wouldn’t be judged for it.

Unless you’re doing a really dirty job (like down a coal mine) it’s likely you’re showering much too often for the good of your skin.

And finally … Just what did those prudish Victorians have to hide?

More next month.

Your Monthly Links

Here’s this month’s instalment of links to items of interest, or amusement, you may have missed he first time round.

Science & Medicine

Who thought leprosy was only a biblical and medieval affliction? Well it ain’t, ‘cos it seems British red squirrels carry leprosy — only the third known species after humans and nine-banded armadillos.

Who’d be a scientist’s cat? Not content with abuse by Schrödinger, scientists continue to drop cats in aid properly understanding their self-righting mechanism.

Trees do it in secret. Communicate, that is. Ecologist Peter Wohlleben thinks he knows what trees feel and how they communicate. It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds.

The Guardian has a very interesting page which (goes some way) to showing you how visually impaired people see the world.

So why is it that French mothers don’t suffer from bladder incontinence? It sounds deeply dodgy, but it does appear to be a thing.

So there was this contemporary of Isaac Newton who produced the foundations of the current Information Age. Yes, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

Sexuality

So here’s yet another article suggesting that women don’t actually know what orgasm is. I had hoped we’d got past all this by now!

Environment

So here are ten things about our cutest invasive species: cats. If they weren’t so cute they’d not get away with half what they do.

There’s an interesting new theory about how the brown rat has conquered every city around the globe.

Language

Oxford University Press have recently published a massive new dictionary. It lists every surname found in the UK (including imported ones like Patel) which is held by 100 or more people. That’s almost 50,000. Not just that, but the OUP and academics have done deep research into all these names to determine their origins, often finding previously unknown documentary evidence. Want a copy? OK, well it’s four volumes and will set you back £400. But they reckon there will be an online accessible version.

Art & Literature

Prepare to be amazed. Artist Charles Young has created a complete animated metropolis from paper.

History

It seems the Romans really were ahead of the game. Researchers have discovered metallic ink used on some of the scrolls from Herculaneum (neighbour of Pompeii). That’s around 500 years earlier than previously thought.

Birth by C-section is rather (too?) common these days. But in days of yore, before modern medicine, C-sections were only performed in order to save a child by sacrificing the mother. It was rare for the mother to survive. But new evidence suggests that Beatrice of Bourbon survived a C-section as early as 1337. The previous record was of a Swiss case in 1500.

London

London blogger IanVisits walks the route London’s Roman Wall.

In which Diamond Geezer considers becoming a London cabbie.

Many pubs have dutiful dogs to look after them, but there are London pubs with characterful cats too.

Lifestyle

Just in case you hadn’t realised, there are actually good scientific reasons why you should always be naked. What’s more I can vouch for this from personal experience.

It seems we have it all wrong about addiction. We need to build “rat heaven” for humans rather than prison cells, as this video explains.

To quote poet Philip Larkin: They fuck you up, your mum and dad / They may not mean to, but they do / They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you. So yes, here are 30 ways in which your childhood can affect your success as an adult. Which explains a lot.

I have a dream that one day the medical profession will make up their minds about alcohol consumption. Now some new research suggests a beer a day helps prevent stroke and heart disease.

Not content with London, Diamond Geezer takes an away-day to Lowestoft, Mrs M’s home town.

Shock, Horror, Humour

And finally … it seems that in the Middle Ages witches stole penises and kept them as pets or even grew them on trees as fruit. [The mind boggles over whether the fruit would be sold by the butcher or the greengrocer!]

More next month …

Word: Ducat

Ducat

1. A gold coin of varying value, formerly in use in most European countries; said to be worth about 9s. 4d.

2. A money of account in the Venetian republic.

3. (loosely) A piece of money.

The etymological origin of the name is from Medieval Latin ducatus, 12th century Italian ducato, initially meaning “duke’s coin” or a “duchy’s coin”. According to the OED, the first recorded use in English was around 1384 by Chaucer.


Venetian ducat from the time of Doge Michele Steno, 1400-1413

Originally used as the name of a silver coin issued in 1140 by Roger II of Sicily the ducat became a trading coin largely due to its use by Venice. The first gold ducat, also called zecchino d’oro, was struck at Venice in 1284 under the Doge John Dandolo. Subsequently many European states issued their own ducats (and fractions of ducats) usually of gold, but sometimes of silver. As always there is a lot more information on Wikipedia.

Word: Sarcophagus

Sarcophagus

1. A kind of stone which the Greeks supposed had the property of consuming the flesh of dead bodies deposited in it, and which was consequently used for coffins.

2. A stone coffin, especially one embellished with sculptures or bearing inscriptions, etc.

3. A wine-cooler.

The word comes into English, via Latin, from the Greek σαρκοϕάγος (sarkophagos) = σαρκο- (sarko-), σάρξ (sarx) flesh + -ϕάγος (-phagos) eating.

The OED records the first use with meaning 1 in 1601 and with meaning 2 in 1705. Perhaps the most famous Sarcophagus is that of the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun, although the highly decorated coffin we think of is actually the second of a layer of three which were then placed in the stone sarcophagus.

Your Interesting Links

Science & Medicine

The medical profession has come to the conclusion that there are at least 40 common treatments which are not necessary (or don’t do any good).

In an interesting study, researchers conclude that there might be a relationship between migraines and gut bacterial species.

AIDS was brought to the USA by one promiscuous homosexual in 1980-81, right? Wrong; it had been there undetected for years!

So that’s how thy mummified the Egyptians.

Yes, cats obviously do get high on catnip, but not for long.

When is a monkey like a human? When it make stone tools. Yes, monkeys have been discovered making sharp stone tools, but do they know what they’re doing?

Lads, eat your heart out! This newly discovered millipede has four penises — but also 414 legs to get in the way.

OK, so from the animal to the mineral … Scientists have accidentally discovered how to turn CO2 into fuel.

As if we hadn’t guessed it, an ancient book confirms that the whole of the Himalayas is an earthquake zone.

Environment

The River Severn looks set to see Henry III’s favourite fish, the Shad, return after a project to install fish passes at a number of weirs gets funding.

History

A Stone Age dog’s tooth provides evidence of the UK’s earliest known journey.

The Museum of London has acquired a rare and unusual document: verbatim minutes of a report to Parliament on the Great Fire of 1666.

William Hogarth, entrepreneurial Londoner.
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It seems no-one knew there were some huge holes underneath the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

London

What Is London’s Oldest Church? Define “oldest”. Define “church” even.

It seems that procrastination and fudge are not the preserve of modern major civil engineering wroks. Here’s a brief history of the Regent’s Canal.

And the same again for the Underground’s Northern Line.

London has a new museum. It’s out at Pinner and celebrates the illustrator William Heath Robinson. Diamond Geezer when to investigate. [PS. The chiropractor mentioned is my osteopath.]


A Heath Robinson landscape painting

Westminster Bridge holds some secrets; here are 11 of them.

And another well kept secret is St Paul Cathedral’s triforium. Yet again, IanVisits went to see.

There are many facts about London, and indeed many about the Underground. Here are some Underground facts that aren’t.

Somewhere near Perivale there’s a fighter plane on a rooftop. except tat it isn’t always there.

Finally for this section, a happy 10th birthday to one of our favourite London blogs, IanVisits.

Lifestyle

How to confuse yourself about nothing and also about emptiness. Well that’s Zen for you!

Food & Drink

You mean you didn’t know that you shouldn’t put tomatoes in the fridge? Tut, tut!

Shock, Horror, Humour

Following on from our first item, here are 40 worthless everyday things you can stop doing right now.

More next month.

Book Review: Bomb Damage Maps

Laurence Ward
The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps, 1939-1945
Thames & Hudson, 2015

During WWII the Architects Department of the London County Council (the LCC; then the local authority for what are now the central London boroughs) set about documenting the cumulative bomb damage in the capital city. This was an area from Woolwich in the east to Hammersmith in the west, and from Crystal Palace in the south to Highgate in the north. Detailed maps were produced showing every property, from the smallest cottage to the large factories. Teams of surveyors soured the area to assess any bomb damage to properties. The damage was graded from “total destruction” down to “minor blast damage” and areas marked for clearance. The sites of V1 flying bomb and V2 rocket impacts were also marked.

The task required 110 maps at a scale of 1:2500 (that’s 25 inches to the mile), and each measuring roughly 75x106cm; these were based on the 1916 Ordnance Survey maps, updated to 1940. And they were hand-coloured according to the level of destruction found. Each of the maps is reproduced here at roughly 1/3 size. And boy do they give a vivid picture of the destruction wrought by the Luftwaffe. Every map contains something interesting — just look at the map for the area of the City around Farringdon and Holborn: it is one big swathe of purple, meaning “Damaged beyond Repair”, from the river to Hoxton and from Bank to the west of Blackfriars Bridge. Overall, getting on for 50% of the Square Mile must have been demolished!


This is just a part of the destruction in the City of London.
The map is centred on St Paul’s Cathedral.

The maps are part of the LCC archives, now held by the London Metropolitan Archives. They were first compiled into this book back in 2005 by the LMS in conjunction with the London Topographical Society. And now they’ve been published for everyone.

Given the number of maps, it is no great surprise that this is an enormous tome measuring 37x27x3cm and weighing in at only just under 3kg! Despite the size, it is definitely not a coffee table book; nor is it a book to read front to back, or even back to front. It is a reference for anyone interested in the history and topography of London, and that will include family historians who may wish to research where their ancestors lived. As I say, every map contains something of interest.

In addition there are 30 or more pages of introductory material, documenting the maps, the surveyors and rescue teams, and a detailed listing of all the Luftwaffe raids; and another almost 50 pages of photographs documenting the destruction.

All in all this is an absolutely stunning collection for those interested in London or WWII. Just don’t try reading it in bed!

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

Ten Things

This month’s Ten Things is for those, like me, who were children in the 50s and 60s. It is a little nostalgia about radio programmes, in the days before everyone had television and before there were hundreds of radio channels — ie. when there was BBC Radio or nothing; the days of the Home Service, the Light Programme and the Third Programme.

So here are Ten Radio Programmes I Remember from My Childhood:

  1. Listen with Mother
  2. Mrs Dale’s Diary
  3. The Archers (and OMG it’s still going! Why?)
  4. Round the Horne (Kenneth Horne, Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick)
  5. The Navy Lark (Leslie Phillips and Bill Pertwee
  6. Music While You Work
  7. Down Your Way (with Wilfred Pickles)
  8. Children’s Favourites (introduced by Uncle Mac, aka. Derek McCulloch)
  9. Does the Team Think?
  10. Palm Court Orchestra