Your Interesting Links

There’s a lot in this month’s “links”, so let’s get right in …

Science & Medicine

For those of you with youngsters interested in science – or even just for yourself – don’t forget the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition in London which runs 4-9 July.

Earthquakes are well known for making big cracks in the ground, but could an earthquake ever crack a planet apart?

So what is the oldest living thing on the Earth? And no, the mother-in-law doesn’t count!

Now this is really odd. It seems that all Cook pine trees lean towards the equator – and dramatically so! Scientists have only just noticed and they don’t understand why.

It seems that jumping spiders can see the moon, their vision is so good.

Well yes, butterflies have sex, but it is a lot more complicated than we imagine.

So just why are birds’ eggs egg-shaped? Researchers have finally worked out the real reason.

Want to smell like a dog? Well now you can. Psychologist Alexandra Horowitz is training herself to approach the world in the same olfactory way her dogs do.

From dogs to cats … there have been several articles recently on research which has worked out how cats conquered the world. Here are just two, from IFLscience! and the Smithsonian magazine.

And now to humans. Apparently foetuses turn to follow face-like shapes while still in the womb.

Be afraid, at least if you’re American. It seems the Lone Star Tick is causing people to become allergic to meat, and even causing death; scientists are still trying to work out why.

Finally in this section, one science journalist has weighed up the pros and cons of having a PSA test, and found it wanting.


Suzannah Weiss in Glamour wants to end the expectations of pubic hair grooming.

What happens when illness robs someone of their ability to orgasm.

We’ve known for some time, but now research has provided the evidence, that women are the stronger sex.

Men need to be talking about fertility – male fertility.

Apparently there’s an association between sex in old age and keeping your brain sharp.


Harry Mount laments the vanishing glory of the suburban front garden all in the worship of the automobile.

Social Sciences, Business, Law

Will Self looks at the need for a Britain to have a written constitution – and offers to write it!

Several years ago, lawyer David Allen Green looked at the effects of the political penchant for banning things.


Here are 35 words which many people use wrongly. Yes, even I fall into one or two of the traps.

History, Archaeology & Anthropology

Apparently there was a huge wooden structure at Avebury. It pre-dated Stonehenge by hundreds of years and was (deliberately?) destroyed by fire.

Something many aren’t aware of is that medieval castles were very cleverly designed, even down to the spiral staircases.

So what really did happen at Roswell in 1947.


IanVisits goes in search of London’s lost Civil War fortifications.

Also from IanVisits are two items on the London Underground. First a look at possible plans to make gardens in unused ticket offices; and secondly at some of the engineering challenges in taking the heat out of the Underground system.

Lifestyle & Personal Development

Are 16 and 17-year-olds really too young to vote? Dean Burnett, in the Guardian, looks at the evidence.

There are some amazing photos showing the work of Sutherland Macdonald, Victorian Britain’s first professional tattoo artist.

Ada Calhoun, in the Guardian again, looks at how to stay married. Spoiler: don’t get divorced.


And finally, Geoff Marshall (who has twice held the record for travelling the whole London Underground in the shortest time) and Vicki Pipe (of the London Transport Museum) are on a record-breaking mission to visit all 2,563 railway stations in mainland Britain this summer – documenting the state of our railways as they go. They started in early May and are already over halfway there. Follow their progress on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and at All the Stations.

Oxfordshire Photo

I don’t these days get round to posting a weekly photograph all that often, partly because I’ve not been doing so much photography recently.

But a few weeks ago we had a day out in Oxfordshire. I had a meeting in Oxford in the morning and we then meandered our way home via Islip and Brightwell Baldwin, both of which have ancestral connections for me.

This is a wonderful, clearly very old, thatched stone cottage which backs onto Islip churchyard – indeed it is the churchyard wall!

Islip Thatch

We shall be revisiting both Islip and Brightwell Baldwin.

Shoes and Ships, but no Sealing Wax

The last couple of evenings I’ve been reading a small volume produced in 1965 by the Sussex Record Society. It’s by Richard F Dell and titled Rye Port Books; it documents shipping in and out of Rye in East Sussex between 1566 and 1590, ie. a large part of the reign of Elizabeth I. Rye, at this date, had a large harbour which irrevocably silted up around 1600.

While this might sound somewhat dull, they were interesting times (to say the least) when there was essentially a “cold war” between Protestant England and Catholic Europe. Understandably no-one was permitted to leave (or enter) the country without government permission, although many did and not a few were either Catholics fleeing to France or Italy or they were spies for one side or the other (or indeed both).

Rye at that time was one of the major ports for both passengers and freight between England and France and the Low Countries. Regrettably there is little detail of people movements in these records, apart from the occasional note of a boat carrying “20 passengers”. This is a shame because even at this date there were immigration officers stationed at every port such as Rye. Their job, as today, was to interrogate and determine the bona fides of all travellers and naturally to detain any they thought might be Catholic insurgents or spies. From reading elsewhere about the spy rings of Elizabethan England (masterminded by Lord Burghley and Sir Francis Walsingham) it is clear there was also a large amount of mail travelling back and forth, mostly being hand-carried by couriers. [For more on this see Stephen Alford, The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I. Review when I’ve finished reading it.]

This book is more about the trade which was happening. Although there are several vessels logged which seem to do nothing but ply back and forth between Rye and Dieppe (the preferred route to France) carrying what today would be called “stuff”, there is also a large amount of goods travelling round the coast of the country, especially between Rye and London, but also as far afield as Newcastle, Spain and Portugal. Remember these are times when the roads were poor, if they existed at all, and a journey from Rye to London by cart carrying goods would take a week or more whereas in good weather a boat could sail between Rye and London in a couple of days. None of the ships involved are of any size; the largest I saw mentioned was 70 tons and they go down to tiny boats of 10 tons; the average is probably around 25-30 tons. These really are tiny boats; the Mary Rose by contrast was rated at 500 tons.

A large section of the book is a line by line summary of every ship which enters or departs Rye over this 35 year period (give or take a few gaps), all constructed from the surviving Elizabethan records in the Sussex County Archive, the National Archives and the Rye Town Records.

Most of the cargo was quite mundane, and perhaps what one might expect: grain of various sorts, wood (ship upon ship full of wood), coal, wool, cloth of various types, wine; and there were many loads which are just recorded as “mixed” so who knows what they contained. Iron appears fairly regularly, and in significant quantities too (the Sussex Downs were an iron smelting centre at this date) and there are several shipments of ordnance including the occasional iron cannon.

But there are some surprising (at least to me) things, such as: lupins, vinegar, apples (from France), oranges and lemons (yes even so; they come in from Spain and Portugal), hops (being traded in both directions), horses (strangely mostly out-bound), cony skins, wolf skins, bricks (being imported from the Low Countries; a single 40 ton ship can carry at least 10,000). And it goes on with nuts, spices, lead, paper, hosiery, cochineal, woad (presumably for use as a dyestuff), herrings (red and white), codfish, quails and scrap brass. Another ship brings in “6 asses”. All of this is, of course, taxed.

But there were several entries which really caught my eye. One cargo is documented as “Mixed inc. tennys bawles”; another contains “French playing cards”. Then there’s a mixed shipment which includes hawks (“6 Tassell hawks, 7 Falcon hawks, 3 Martin hawks, imported by Walter Libon, alien”). Lastlly, there are several shipments of old shoes to London! One can only guess that scrap leather had a value, but for what?

We think we live in interesting times, ship strange goods around in containers, using humongous amounts of oil. But all this was being done by the power of man, horse, tide and wind.

Who said history is dull!

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.


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.


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.
It seems no-one knew there were some huge holes underneath the Clifton Suspension Bridge.


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.


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.

Monthly Interesting Links

You just can’t get the staff these days. This month’s issue of interesting links to items you may have missed is late again. Apologies. And there is a lot in this month, so let’s get going.

Science & Medicine

Our first item is a bit technical, but interesting … It seems that neural networks (models for what makes our brains work) have a deep connection with the nature of the Universe.

And now to some much easier topics …

We all get paper cuts from time to time, but why are they so painful?

Something else we all get from time to time is bags under the eyes. But why?

And in another BBC magazine story here’s something slightly scary … just what does live under our fingernails?

There’s a very odd and rare condition where people’s internal organs are arranged the wrong way round, in mirror image — it’s called situs inversus. This piece is about what it means and what it’s like if you have it.

One of the most demanding, important, and mostly unseen, medical specialisms is being an anaesthetist. No surgery can happen without them and your life really is in their hands. This is what it means to be an anaesthetist.


The clitoris is so often not understood and doesn’t get the attention it should (from its owner as well as from men). This piece talks about why this is important.

After a change in the law, Italy’s Supreme Court has ruled that public masturbation is not a crime as long as it isn’t done in the presence of minors. This could <cough> get interesting.

So why do polyamorous people fear ‘coming out’? Spoiler: mostly misunderstandings.

Lest anyone doubt it, sex workers are ordinary people like the rest of us. This was realised by a New York Times reporter who was investigating whether prostitution should be a crime (in the USA).


OK, so now for a complete change of tone. Here’s a forester and environmentalist who ​thinks trees talk to each other.

Things have always come in standard sizes, haven’t they? Well no, the concept of standard sizes really only starts with a German architect in the 1920s.

Social Sciences & Business

In case you’ve not caught up with it yet, here’s a piece on the UK’s new £5 note.


Did you know that London’s Monument (to the Great Fire on 1666) contains a secret laboratory?

Here are ten secrets about the Thames which you probably didn’t know.

And equally fascinating, just how do London bus routes get their numbers?

OK, so more secrets: here are ten places in London you’ll probably never visit.


Not all of us see them as a necessity, so why do we bother with clothes? And no, it isn’t all about keeping warm.

Here’s another take on the health benefits of being a nudist.

Food & Drink

I bet we all do this, but here’s why you shouldn’t wrap food in aluminium foil before cooking it. Yes, its the appliance of science!

The Five Second Rule. Myth or not?

Here’s the latest finding: against all expectations it seems that hard-fat cheese is good for us.

Chris Leftwich is the one man in London who knows everything about fish and seafood. Londonist has the story.

Shock, Horror, Humour

And finally for this month, here are the winners of this year’s Ig Nobel prizes for research which makes you laugh and then think.

Toodle, pip!

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: ★★★★★

Book Review: Kent Smugglers’ Pubs

Terry Townsend
Kent Smugglers’ Pubs
PiXZ Books; 2014

This is not a book you would generally think to read from cover to cover — and I haven’t. It is a guide book which one dips into to find somewhere interesting to visit.

It is a well produced guide book which does what it implies: provides a couple of page of information on some of the most interesting and picturesque Kent pubs which have particular associations with smuggling. As the introduction says, pretty much every pub in the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries would have had some involvement in smuggling, even those which were far inland, as there had to be trade routes for contraband goods from the coast to London.

The book features just over 30 pubs, many (but not all) on the Kent coast, but all of which have well established connections with significant smuggling. Each pub gets 3 or 4 pages of history and description with copious amounts of illustration on good quality, heavy paper. This makes for lots of suggestions for days out, but the book would do this better if there was a map or two.

My only other real complaint is that (like so many books these days) the board covers have very sharp corners, which make reading in bed uncomfortable.

All in all a useful little book which includes a handful of pubs I know.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Lumley’s Folly

So, Joanna Lumley and Thomas Heatherwick’s pet vanity project, London’s so-called Garden Bridge, is coming under increasing scrutiny. And it seems to me rightly so as the whole thing appears to have been stitched up behind closed doors with a total lack of transparency, especially around the financing.

Finally London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has instigated a full review of the project. Khan had previously declined to commit further public money to what is basically a private, commercial, project. The review is to be undertaken by Margaret Hodge MP, the former chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.

While we don’t know the details of the review’s terms of reference, it has to be a good thing providing Margaret Hodge is, and can remain, independent and unbiased.

Meanwhile London blogger Diamond Geezer has taken a somewhat cynical (and sarcastic) look at the project.

In my view it is high time this appalling project was kicked irredeemably into touch.

PS. I decline to (re)post images of the bridge design etc. but if you want some pictures of the location then do look at Diamond Geezer’s post.

Word: Zanzibar


Zanzibar is now a semi-autonomous region of the East African country of Tanzania. Situated off the coast of the mainland just north of Dar es Salaam, it is an archipelago consisting of two large islands, Unguja (the main island, referred to informally as Zanzibar) and Pemba, and many smaller ones. Long ruled by Arabs (mostly from Oman) it was a Portuguese colony and latterly a British Protectorate, before merging with the then country of Tanganyika (now Tanzania) in the 1960s. Zanzibar’s main industries are spices (especially cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper), raffia and tourism.

The word Zanzibar comes from Arabic Zanjibār (زنجبار), which is in turn from Persian Zang-bār (زنگبار), a compound of Zang (زنگ, “Black”) + bār (بار, “coast”).

As so often there is a whole host more information on Wikipedia.

Your Interesting Links

Slightly later than planned, and hence slightly longer than usual, here is my monthly list of articles you might have missed before …

Science & Medicine

Kazakhstan is a treasure trove of naturally wild and flavourful apple varieties.

Welcome the tiny ingestible origami robot which can be used for repairing wounds.

Ocean scientists have been using message in a bottle techniques for over 100 years, and they still are.

One mouse, two mouse, three mouse … Can cats count mice?

And still on felines … can a cat have an existential crisis? Spoiler: yes. [Long read]

Ear wax is very strange and mysterious stuff. [Long read]


OK, girls, so does the ‘G-Spot’ actually exist?

Do humans actually send out airborne aphrodisiac pheromones to attract potential mates? Erm … dunno.

Social Sciences & Business

On the social and design engineering of high heels. [Long read]

How many friends do you have? Are they really your friends?

Alain de Botton on why you will marry the wrong person. And there’s not much you can do about it!


What’s it like learning to talk all over again? Learning Chinese as an adult.

Art & Literature

From mega-libraries down to nano-libraries … here’s the story of London’s smallest library.

Wow! The whole of Samuel Pepys’ Diary is now online.


It seems that Ice Age Europe wasn’t populated by who we thought.

The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge have discovered that one of their Ancient Egyptian coffins holds them youngest known mummified foetus.

Ancient toilets can tell us a lot about the lifestyle of their users, and it seems the flush toilet goes further back than we thought. [Long read]

The colour of monastic habits was much more fraught with controversy than one might suspect.

A plague on all your houses. New research suggests that the Black Death was even more devastating than we thought.

Ianvisits reviews the exhibition of the lost library of the Tudor magician John Dee.

Slowly coming more up to date, here’s a look at the background and organisation of the Gunpowder Plot.

An unsuspected mass grave in Durham is though to hold the remains of prisoners from the Battle of Dunbar.

Investigations into a 1661 document awarding £20 to Major Smith.

Lady Antonia Fraser on the sexy and scandalous truth about Versailles and the new BBC series about the same.

How old is that London house? Is it Georgian Or Victorian?

London was devastated during World War 2. The recently published LCC bomb damage maps reveal all. It’s a magnificent volume!

There have been lots of weird and wonderful proposals for building in London which have come to naught. Here are some, arranged by Underground station.

Food & Drink

How to tell real Parmigiano Reggiano from imposters. Science now has a way.


So here are two pieces about the forensic mysteries of identifying unknown bodies.

First the mystery of Saddleworth Moor: who was the man they’ve nicknamed Neil Dovestone?

And in the US, just as here in the UK, the identification of nameless bodies can take years before the mysteries are solved.

Shock, Horror, Humour

So here’s a little quiz to end with … What is London’s longest tunnel? It’s OK, I got it wrong too.

More next month.