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Did Napoleon Bonaparte invent street numbering?

21 Nov

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I attended a trivia quiz tonight, where quite a few of the questions focused on Napoleon Bonaparte, particularly his achievements.

Some of them I knew about, but one that caught my ear as a new fact came when the MC made a throwaway comment suggesting the Emperor was responsible for our system of street numbering. It sounded highly unlikely, so I decided to check it out for myself.

And here’s what the Napoleonic Society had to say.

It is also to the Emperor that we owe the system of plaques bearing street names and house numbers (even numbers on one side and odd on the other); a system that was copied throughout Europe. It was also Napoleon who decided the shape of the pavement, slightly convex with gutters along the edges of the sidewalks.

So the short answer is, yes, he’s responsible. No doubt a concept thought up on one of the nights he wasn’t in the mood for Josephine.

Who has won the most Ashes series?

20 Nov

ashes

I have had tomorrow’s date circled in my calendar for ages. And that’s because it’s the start of my favourite time of the sporting year – cricket season.

Now normally, I’ll squeeze in quite a few live games, ranging from one sayers to the domestic competition. But tomorrow is going to be extra sweet, as it’s the first Test of the Ashes, a long-standing series played between Australian and the Poms, aka England.

Now I’ll be the first to admit Australia hasn’t performed all that well during the past few years, so I fully expect to cop a sledging from the UK fans, affectionately called the Barmy Army.

But I didn’t want to go unprepared without some vestige of pride in the green and gold. So I decided I would see which nation had won the most Ashes series.

And thank heavens for small mercies – it was us. Just.

To be precise we’ve won them 31 times compared to 30 for the Brits, who I’m sincerely hoping don’t even the score this year.

To quote the classic song, C’mon Aussie c’mon c’mon.

PS: In an interesting footnote, I discovered the origin of the name ‘Ashes’ on the Marylebone Cricket’s Club website…

The term ‘Ashes’ was first used after England lost to Australia – for the first time on home soil – at The Oval on 29th August 1882. A day later, the Sporting Times carried a mock obituary to English cricket which concluded that: “The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”. The concept caught the imagination of the sporting public. A few weeks later, an English team, captained by the Hon Ivo Bligh [later Lord Darnley], set off to tour Australia, with Bligh vowing to return with “the ashes”; his Australian counterpart, WL Murdoch, similarly vowed to defend them.

How long did the Titanic take to sink?

19 Nov

titanic

I’m busy packing up to move at the moment, which unfortunately means shoving carefully placing everything I own into cartons and boxes. And as it turns out, a good proportion of everything I own are movies (and, of course, the books I can’t be parted from).

As I’ve packed and packed and packed, I’ve come across the good (Garden State), the bad (Mammoth, starring Tom Skeritt) and the ugly (Vanilla Sky, which I can’t discuss without gritted teeth).

Then there’s the blockbusters.

I am definitely a girl who likes big action on a big screen. So over the years I have picked up everything from Independence Day to 2012.

And in among such gems I found Titanic, which I loved – and still love – right up until the moment that daft old woman throws the necklace into the ocean.

Anyway, the discovery got me thinking about what it would have been like to be on the ship when it hit the iceberg and how long it would have taken to sink.

I turned to the official Titanic website for the answer. Here’s what they had to say…

Titanic collided with the iceberg about 11.40 on 14th April. She sank below the water at 2.20am the next morning. A ship which had taken three years to fully construct was sunk in less than three hours.

Within half an hour of the collision, Thomas Andrews, the chief naval architect, was dispatched to assess the extent of the damage and to work out how long the ship would take to sink. His calculation was “an hour and a half, possibly two, not much longer.” At this stage, Captain Smith gave the order to uncover the lifeboats.

So there you have it. Less than three hours all up, but still enough time to see the waters rising and feel the absolute terror of knowing you were going into the freezing Atlantic Ocean.

If only the lifeboats had taken their full load.

What was the last element discovered on the periodic table?

18 Nov

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My friends and I love anything and everything to do with trivia.

Naturally, we have a team, which competes at a weekly trivia night, and I’m not at all embarrassed to say competition within our group for the right answer can almost be as fierce as that with our actual rivals.

Plus, there’s our love of the Sunday quiz, which can be a battleground all on its own.

Now normally I am pretty good at this, with specialities including the collected episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer ancient Sumerian coinage and pottery.

But the last one I tackled stumped me on one particular question – the chemical name for silver. And I had no better luck remembering it than I did at high school.

The answer, of course was Au, but the footnote of the quiz explained the periodic table was, well, periodically updated.

So I decided to find out what the last element added was. And the ever-reliable National Geographic had the answer. Here’s an excerpt..

The new element doesn’t have an official name yet, so scientists are calling it ununpentium, based on the Latin and Greek words for its atomic number, 115.

In case you forgot your high school chemistry, here’s a quick refresher: An element’s atomic number is the number of protons it contains in its nucleus.

The heaviest element in nature is uranium, which has 92 protons. But heavier elements – which have more protons in their nucleus – can be created through nuclear fusion.

The man-made 115 was first created by Russian scientists in Dubna about 10 years ago. This year, chemists at Lund University in Sweden announced they had replicated the Russian study at the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research in Germany.

Now, element 115 will join its neighbors 114 and 116 – flerovium and livermorium respectively – on the periodic table just as soon as a committee from the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemisty decides on an official name (which, by the way, seems like a pretty political process).

Anyway, the full article has some pretty cool stuff on how scientists make an element and whether you can try it at home. The answer, to give you a hint, is no.

And yes we did look for any sign/mention of adamantium, but sadly came up empty handed.Wolverine would not be impressed.

Why isn’t Pluto a planet any more?

17 Nov

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When I was growing up, we learnt a catchy phrase to help us remember the order of planets in the solar system. And it went a little something like this: “My very easy method just speeds up naming planets”. Or to give them their full names, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.

Of course these days, you’d have to lose the word ‘planet’, since Pluto no longer qualifies as one. And why I knew this fact, I didn’t know why. So of course I turned to the arbiter of all things space – NASA.

And here’s what they had to say on the topic..

Why is Pluto not classified as a planet anymore?

In 2003, an astronomer saw a new object beyond Pluto. The astronomer thought he had found a new planet. The object he saw was larger than Pluto. He named the object Eris (EER-is).

Finding Eris caused other astronomers to talk about what makes a planet a “planet.” There is a group of astronomers that names objects in space. This group decided that Pluto was not really a planet because of its size and location in space. So Pluto and objects like it are now called dwarf planets.

Pluto is also called a plutoid. A plutoid is a dwarf planet that is farther out in space than the planet Neptune. The three known plutoids are Pluto, Eris and Makemake (MAH-kee-MAH-kee). Astronomers use telescopes to discover new objects like plutoids.

Scientists are learning more about the universe and Earth’s place in it. What they learn may cause them to think about how objects like planets are grouped. Scientists group objects that are like each other to better understand them. Learning more about faraway objects in the solar system is helping astronomers learn more about what it means to be a planet.

So there you have it. Size does matter. Wonder if Earth will ever come in for a category change?

Who was sport’s first streaker?

11 Jun

Pic by Ian Bradshaw

I love going to cricket games, especially at the Gabba in Brisbane, which is home to some of the world’s most impressive beer cup snakes.

Sadly, it’s also home to some of the world’s most humourless security guards, who take great delight in puncturing any errant beach ball that makes its way on to the ground. Honestly, would it kill them just to throw them back into the crowd? With such mean spirit I’d hate to see what they would do to a streaker! And believe it or not it’s a question I’ve actually been pondering today.

It all started over lunch with a fellow cricket tragic, where we re-lived some of our favourite Gabba games, mine being a New Zealand v South Africa one-day international where Chris Cairns went the tonk to claim victory in the last over.

We’ve both seen the greats in action, and some great action, but neither of us could lay claim to spotting a streaker. Which led me to wonder who the first big-name sporting streaker was. And in a piece of history that actually makes me pretty proud of the green and gold, that honour goes to a fellow Aussie.

His name was Michael O’Brien who, on April 20, 1974, decided to make his mark on sporting history by running on to the ground starkers during a union match between England and France at Twickenham.

Being only 25, I’m guessing alcohol and his mates played a big role in giving him the courage to make his leg bye. But one person wasn’t impressed – a policeman called Bruce Perry, who used his helmet to cover O’Brien’s genitals. It was such a seminal moment that helmet even went on display in Twickenham. And Perry shared his story with the Guardian back in 2006. Here’ an excerpt…

“The streaker had been drinking Fosters – it had only just come out here, and clearly he and some of his friends had an enjoyable time before the game drinking it. So he did it for a bet – he had to run across the pitch at half-time and touch the other side to win £10. I caught him just before he got there but when he explained the bet I let him touch the stand before I cautioned him. I was so embarrassed. I told him he didn’t have to say anything and all that but he just shouted at me: “Give us a kiss!” It was a cold day and he didn’t have anything to be proud of, but I didn’t think twice about using my helmet. We took him down to the nick but he was back for the second half.”

Decades later Perry had the chance to fly to Australia for a reunion with O’Brien courtesy of the Ch 7 program Where Are They Now, which finally convinced O’Brien to tell his story. Streakerama holds a transcript of the interview by Mel Doyle and David Koch. Here’s an excerpt..

Mel: Thank you for joining us. So… what were you thinking?
Michael: Obviously not much.
David: So there you are, out in the middle of the field, it’s a test match, rugby, not a stitch on…
Michael: Yes
David: How did you feel going through it all?
Michael: I was blank to it, to be quiet honest. From the minute I sent my clothes to the other side of the ground and I was sitting there stark naked on the opposite side of the ground, everything just went blank. All I was waiting for was the half time whistle so the players would leave the field. And I decided I wanted to run across the half way line. Fortunately where my seat was was near the quarter line. So I had to get over the fence, go along the side of the paddock to the half way line and take off which gave the cops all the time in the world to get ready and wait for me.
Mel: You were a young accountant – a fairly conservative kind of profession if I can say…
David: Come on! No!
Mel:… and your mates put you up to it for a bet.
Michael: It was an Englishman who put me up to it. My Australian mates said to him straight off “Don’t bet with O’Brien because he’ll do it.” He insisted so I said “Well, it’s going to happen.”
Mel: And did you win the cash?
Michael: I won the cash and I was fined the equivalent amount of cash from the Magistrate the following Monday, so all squared.

Like the classic song always said: C’mon Aussie..

Did Queen Elizabeth I have smallpox?

8 Jun

Anyone who’s studied history knows that when Hollywood comes calling it often takes ‘liberties’ in transferring personalities and stories from the archives to the big screen (see Braveheart et al).

Sometimes it’s for reasons of dramatic tension, other times through poor research and other times just because they wanted a different ending and felt emboldened to pursue it by simply adding a disclaimer ‘inspired by true events’.

So when I came across TV mini series The Virgin Queen and it showed Elizabeth I being struck down with smallpox, my first thought was to wonder if her life had been given an extra dash of drama.

I mean I’ve studied English history, I know all about the Tudors, about Henry VIII’s wives and about the monarch’s battles with Mary, Queen of Scots. But I had never heard she nearly died of this often-fatal disease.

However it turns out the storyline was real. She did suffer from smallpox, in 1562. In fact it’s said the resulting scars are what first prompted her to begin wearing her famous white make-up.

So there you have it. Another amazing chapter in the life of an extraordinary woman. Here’s five other tidbits I discovered . . .

* Elizabeth I attended the first performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
* Wars during her reign are estimated to have cost more than 5 million pounds (in the prices of the time).
* She thought to have died of blood poisoning.
* After Henry VIII’s death, she was taken in by his widow, Catherine Parr. However she was later sent away with rumours suggesting she had caught the eye of Catherine’s new husband, Thomas Seymour.
* Her motto was “Semper Eadem”, meaning “Always the Same”.

PS: While I was doing research on the website of the English monarchy I came across a section that noted Australia was a realm of the Commonwealth. Intrigued, I had to find out what constitutes a realm. And here is the answer…

“A Commonwealth Realm is a country which has The Queen as its Monarch. There are 15 Commonwealth Realms in addition to the UK: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Papua New Guinea, St Christopher and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tuvalu, Barbados, Grenada, Solomon Islands, St Lucia and The Bahamas.”

Who won Australia’s first Paralympic gold medal?

6 Jun

The Australian athletic team for the London 2012 Paralympics was announced today. And I was thrilled to see it make the news as it’s a sad reality these athletes are often (OK usually) overshadowed by their Olympic counterparts.

For some reason the event just doesn’t attract the same level of support and audience attention as its companion event, even though the dedication and athleticism of its competitors is more than equal.

So with my interest peaked, I decided to find out who won our first Paralympic gold medal. It turns out to have been New South Welshman Ross Sutton, who competed in archery. And in an extra honour, he didn’t just win our first gold, he also won the first gold on offer at the first games, held in Rome in 1960.

Since then we’ve won medals at every games – Winter and Summer – with our best gold-medal performance being Sydney 2000, when our swag totalled 63. History certainly bodes well for this year’s tally.

Read more about our results and Paralympic history here and start to meet the athletes headed to London here.

By the way the team’s uniforms are modelled (from left) by Jack Swift, Kelly Cartwright, Matt Cowdrey, Annabelle Williams, Kurt Fearnley, Jessica Gallagher, Grant Mizens, Kylie Gauci and Melissa Tapper.

Was Mark Wahlberg ever a member of New Kids on the Block?

24 May

Back in my uni days/early twenties, I was known to play the occasional drinking game. You know, the kind where you pick a topic – say a movie or TV show – work out its regular patterns of behaviour and then assign a certain number of shots everyone must do when they come up.

Take the move American Pie for example.

Here, ‘punishments’ were awarded for such acts as … Stiffler swears (1 shot), someone references Stiffler’s mum (1 shot), Jim’s dad tells an unwelcome and too-much-information anecdote (2 shots) or Jim embarrasses himself in a manner that involves his genitals (2 shots for an apple pie, 1 shot for a girl).

Anyway, those days are well and truly gone, but last night I decided the time had come to revisit them. And the inspiration was the New Kids on the Block/Backstreet Boys concert.

Now, somewhere along the line I have become one of ‘those’ people who help aging musicians continue on well past their prime by going to their concerts. In the last 12 months alone I have done (figuratively I should point out) Motley Crue, Heart, Def Leppard, the Choirboys, Duran Duran etc etc. But none had the sheer enjoyment/satirical possibilities of NKOTBSB.

To clarify, I was absolutely a fan of both bands in their time, although never to the level of obsession they enjoyed among so many girls. And I also have more than a few of their songs on my playlist. However I was more drawn to snap up a ticket by the tantalising promise of payouts.

And I was not disappointed. Which is where the drinking game came in.

Staring bemusedly at the stage while someone called Johnny Ruffo donned a Michael Jackson tribute jacket and grabbed his crotch repeatedly, I began thinking about all the ways boy bands used to entertain their fans – the synchronised dancing, the all-white suits, the falsettos. And suddenly I had all the elements for a great drinking game. Here’s just some of what I came up with…

Matching suits – 1 shot

Synchronised dancing – 1 shot

Synchronised twirls – 1 shot

Hat doffing – 2 shots

Serenading of audience members who’ve been dragged on stage – 3 shots

Matching white suits – 3 shots

Donnie Wahlberg shows off his abs – 4 shots

Backstreet Boys manage to keep a straight face while advising that ‘I want it that way’ – priceless

Tears of emotion – 1 shot

Needless to say I was spot on with my predictions, and would have ended up VERY drunk had my cup contained vodka rather than water. But even sober I thoroughly enjoyed the blast from the past, especially as regular updates kept me reassured Queensland was on top in the State of Origin.

Afterwards, as we wandered back to the car humming Step by Step, talk moved on from the show to brotherly love. Specifically, the question of whether Donnie’s little brother, Mark, was ever in the band. I’d heard someone in the row behind us make the suggestion and thought there was no chance. I mean, I just can’t picture Max Payne singing some of those syrupy lyrics.

But I was wrong. Turns out he WAS in the band. But only for a few months very early on before he apparently grew tired of the group’s squeaky clean reputation and said his goodbyes.

Paving the way, of course, for Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch.

Now let’s watch the video for my equal favourite NKOTB song…

Who invented knock-knock jokes?

13 Apr

As I’ve explained before, my brain works in very strange ways, so I draw inspiration for my daily knowledge hunt from all sorts of stimulants. Purely legal ones, though, I must point out – from TV shows and books to song lyrics and even gossip websites.

But even I can’t explain today’s train of thought. It seemed like one minute I was trying to find out who invented gnome gnapping and the next I was mired in the world of comedy. Or should I say ‘comedy’ (air quotes intended), since my attention was focused on knock knock jokes.

As anyone who’s been in a school playground would know, knock knock jokes offer one of our earliest introductions to the world of joke telling. Just take this gem I remember from my own youth…

Knock knock
Who’s there?
Ken
Ken who?
Ken I come in, it’s hot out here

Bet you’re clutching your sides now aren’t you?

Anyway, I decided to find out if the internets knew who invented the genre. And while there’s several theories, the strongest says it was William Shakespeare.

Apparently it all draws from that Scottish play. As Shakespeare examiner Khara House explains

“In Macbeth’s second act, Shakespeare uses a hung-over porter to satirically examine Elizabethan culture through a series of knock-knock jokes the porter states in a monologue. While the porter uses the common “Knock knock! Who’s there?” pattern, twice he uses the phrase as “Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there?”

So there you have it. The man who created such classic characters as Hamlet and Romeo and Juliette also planted the seeds that eventually grew into the inspiration for any C-grade stand-up comic coming to a stage near you.

Who would have thought?

Now let’s have one more to finish.

Knock knock
Who’s there?
Lettuce
Lettuce who?
Lettuce in