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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…

Did 50 Shades of Grey start out as Twilight fan fiction?

12 May

I’m a terrible one for impulse purchases. I go to the store for a bottle of milk and somehow arrive home with a magazine, strawberries and a packet of Menz Choccy Snakes (not a sponsored plug, I just love them!).

So it was no surprise today when a trip to the local shopping centre for shoes (red, suede, divine) extended into a book-buying frenzy.

Top of the list was 50 Shades of Grey.

I had held off on buying the novel simply because I had been ferociously busy (and was admittedly re-reading The Hunger Games trilogy for the billionth time). But when I saw it on special for less than $10 the decision was made; I love a book bargain and was also curious to investigate the hype, which has labeled the multimillion seller as ‘mommy porn’ for its explicit and risqué depiction of an S&M relationship between a billionaire businessman and a young female student.

As always, I read a chapter or two at the back first, and while the intimate scenes were quite graphic, I didn’t find them as boundary pushing as expected. Probably because I have the open mind/seen-it-all-before mentality of the typical journalist. But what I did find intriguing was the suggestion the novel had started out as a piece of Twilight fan fiction.

For those who don’t know, fan fiction is, like the name suggests, where fans take established characters from books, movies, TV shows etc and write their own stories around them.

This can serve several purposes, from simply the desire to be creative to a chance to bring together two characters a writer thought should have ended up together. Needless to say there’s been plenty of words devoted to Frodo and Sam from Lord of the Rings and Harry and Hermione from the Harry Potter series. There’s even one or two about Harry and Dobby, but frankly I’ve never been interested enough to go there.

Anyway, when I looked into it, I discovered author EL James – whose erotica series continues with Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed – did indeed first draw inspiration from Stephenie Meyer’s tale of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. As her agent, Valerie Hoskins, told Deadline Hollywood

This did start as Twilight fan fiction, inspired by Stephenie Meyer’s wonderful series of books. Originally it was written as fan fiction, then Erika decided to take it down after there were some comments about the racy nature of the material. She took it down and thought, ‘I’ve always wanted to write. I’ve got a couple of unpublished novels here. I will rewrite this thing, and create these iconic characters, Christian and Anna’. If you read the books, they are nothing like Twilight now.’

Thankfully she also lost the pen name Snowqueens Icedragon.

Read an excerpt from the book here.

PS: Yes, Hollywood has snapped up the movie rights. Will be very interesting to see who they cast…

Where did the term WAG come from?

10 May

As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, I’m in the middle of launching my own magazine called (insert brazen plug here) Regional Foodie Sunshine Coast.

As part of that I’ve been spending a lot of time in front of the computer, anything up to 21 hours in a row. And since I play TV for background music the way some people play actual music, I’ve been exposed to a LOT of crap TV.

Now, among the ‘gems’ (air quotes intended) I’ve stumbled across is WAG Nation, which seems to involve professional sporting girlfriends doing, well, I’m not quite sure what, other than having staged telephone calls and chats while wearing admittedly gorgeous frocks.

There’s one or two who seem to have real spunk and are down to earth with careers/achievements of their own, but a few seem to exist only as an addition to their partner and the perks such a status enjoys in a country where sportsmen are treated as living gods.

And it left me with one question to ponder. Well two actually.

The first, of course, being why the hell didn’t I turn it off?

The second being exactly where the term WAG – short for wives and girlfriends – originated from.

And it seems we have the British media to thank as the tabloid press originally coined the name to describe the wives and girlfriends of the English soccer team.

Or, as the Urban Dictionary puts it…

“A selection of overpublicised, vacuous anorexics found lurking at football matches, easily distinguished by their orange skin tone and high body plastic index, ostensibly present for the purpose of pleasuring the England football team, but in reality with the intention of being photographed obtaining fashion advice from chief WAG Mrs Beckham in the hope that this will lead to a future appearance on “celebrity love island”.

Wow, such lives of satisfaction. And to think some women concern themselves with doing apparently pointless stuff such as earning their own salary or having their own achievements to celebrate.

Perhaps we all just need to get ourselves to a football ground.

What is a Supermoon?

5 May

Apparently it’s going to be open season for werewolves tonight. Not because I’ve cracked open the Twilight DVD again, but because there’s something called a Supermoon on the way.

Now, I assumed this was one of those titles that had been drummed up just to add sizzle to the spectacle, but it seems to be a pretty common term in the scientific community as well.

But what exactly is it? I turned to NASA from the answer. Here’s what Dr James Garvin had to say….

Question: What is the definition of a supermoon and why is it called that?

Answer: ‘Supermoon’ is a situation when the moon is slightly closer to Earth in its orbit than on average, and this effect is most noticeable when it occurs at the same time as a full moon. So, the moon may seem bigger although the difference in its distance from Earth is only a few percent at such times.

In other words size does matter.

For the record when the moon is closest to Earth – at its perigee – it seems 14 per cent larger and 30 per cent brighter than when it’s furthest away, at its apogee.

Read more at the Christian Science Monitor which also reveals, among other things, that full moons come in different sizes because of its elliptical orbit.

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

Is the Vatican City really the world’s smallest country?

12 Apr

When I first visited Europe in my early twenties, I did so as part of an 18-35 consignment that crammed approximately 712 countries into two days.

Now I may be exaggerating slightly here, but it really was like a Cliffs Notes tour of the continent. Get in and out of each country fast, buy a tacky souvenir and don’t learn much about the culture, history and people. Of course this lack of insight could also have been because we were inhaling our own body weight in schnapps every day! But I digress.

On this tour – where our trip song was the Friends theme – we did get to visit a few places that had long been on my bucket list. And one of them was the Vatican. Not because I’m overly religious, but because I thought there would be something awe-inspiring about the heart of Catholicism. Even if the Sistine Chapel was smaller than I expected and the gypsies outside more sly.

Anyway, I got to thinking about that trip went I was sorting through travel memorabilia and found a bottle of holy water I’d bought from the Vatican, along with rosary beads. And it reminded me I’d always been curious about whether it actually is the world’s smallest country. The answer is – yes. All 0.2sqm of it!

As the Vatican City State’s official website explains …

“Vatican City State was founded following the signing of the Lateran Pacts between the Holy See and Italy on February 11, 1929. These were ratified on June 7th 1929. Its nature as a sovereign State distinct from the Holy See is universally recognized under international law.”

Here’s some other cool facts I discovered:

  • The population of Vatican City is about 800 people, more than 450 of whom have Vatican citizenship.
  • About half of the Vatican’s citizens do not live inside Vatican City. Because of their occupations (mostly as diplomatic personnel), they live in different countries around the world.
  • Vatican City has its own flag and anthem.
  • Its official hymn – chosen on October 16, 1949 by Pope Pius XII – is  Charles Gounod’s Pontifical March.
  • Cars registered in the Vatican Automobile Register have one of two sets of initials – SCV, for vehicles belonging to the Vatican City State and Departments of the Holy See; CV for vehicles that are the property of Vatican citizens and individuals. The international abbreviation is V.
  • Vatican City mints its own coins and issues its own stamps.
  • It has a full complement of services – from a pharmacy and television centre to a telephone service and philatelic and numismatic office.

You can read more about Vatican City here.

BTW, for the record, the top three list of the world’s smallest countries is rounded out by Monaco in Europe (0.7sqm) and Nauru in the Pacific (8.5sqm)

Where is Springfield on The Simpsons?

10 Apr

I have written about The Simpsons on this blog before. And there’s a good reason I’m doing it again today and will probably do it again before the year is out.

It’s simply that I love the show. Especially villains such as Sideshow Bob and Mr Burns, who has quite the flair for releasing the hounds.

Anyway, one of the biggest mysteries around the long-running series has always been the location of Springfield. Smart alecs will no doubt say ‘near Shelbyville’ but no one has ever known what real-life state it calls home.

However I had heard tell that creator Matt Groening had finally been pinned down, so I headed online to see if he had come clean. And indeed he had.

The tell-all was in this Q&A interview with Smithsonian magazine…

OK, why do the Simpsons live in a town called Springfield? Isn’t that a little generic? 

Springfield was named after Springfield, Oregon. The only reason is that when I was a kid, the TV show Father Knows Best took place in the town of Springfield, and I was thrilled because I imagined it was the town next to Portland, my hometown. When I grew up, I realised it was just a fictitious name. I also figured out Springfield was one of the most common names for a city in the US. In anticipation of the success of the show, I thought, “This will be cool; everyone will think it’s their Springfield.” And they do.

Or at least they did.

The interview also goes on to reveal such gems as how he came up with the name Bart, how his family feels about the Simpson family being named for them and what he really thinks of LA.

Deefinitely worth a read.

What is an albatross in golf?

9 Apr

There was big news in the golfing world this week when a player called Louis Oosthuizen pulled off something called an albatross in the US Masters.

Now this would have impressed me far more if 1) I knew what it was 2) I knew who he was and 3) I was even remotely interested in golf.

But since this blog project is all about expanding my knowledge base this year I decided to rectify at least the first question.

And the answer is – an albatross is a three under par score on an individual hole, with par being the number of shots a player is expected/allowed to sink the ball in the hole. Other golfing measures include birdie for one under par, eagle for two under par and bogey for one over par.

You can read more about the history and naming of golfing conventions at the USGA Museum, but here’s a starting point from the site’s FAQ

How did the terms birdie and eagle come into golf?
The term birdie originated in the United States in 1899. HB Martin’s Fifty Years of American Golf contains an account of a foursomes match played at the Atlantic City (N.J.) CC. One of the players, Ab Smith relates, “My ball… came to rest within six inches of the cup. I said ’That was a bird of a shot… I suggest that when one of us plays a hole in one under par he receives double compensation.’ The other two agreed and we began right away, just as soon as the next one came, to call it a birdie.” In 19th-century American slang, ’bird’ referred to anyone or anything excellent or wonderful. By analogy with birdie, the term eagle soon thereafter became common to refer to a score one better than a bird. Also by analogy, the term albatross stands for double eagle — an even bigger eagle!

So there you have it, apparently golf is all about the birds. Insert Tiger Woods joke here.