Monthly Archives: January 2012

Hyperekplexia, Latah and the Jumping Frenchmen of Maine

The startle response, the almost instantaneous protective action following a sudden loud noise or other stimulus, is present in many animals. It has evolutionary value in that it enables escape from unanticipated dangers such as the sudden appearance of a … Continue reading

Posted in Nature | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Lost in Translation

The story goes that when French naturalist Pierre Sonnerat was in Madagascar, he pointed to a large lemur and asked the Malagasy people what it was called. They replied ‘Indri!’ and Sonnerat duly recorded the word. The name stuck and … Continue reading

Posted in Etymology | Tagged , , ,

Richard Parkers and the Titanic

In 1884, the yacht Mignonette sank en route from Southampton to Sydney. The four-manĀ  crew escaped in a lifeboat with two tins of turnips but no freshwater. Two months later, when they were rescued by a German ship, only three … Continue reading

Posted in Art and Literature, History | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Queen Mary’s House

In 1924, work was completed on a new house for Queen Mary, the grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II. The four-storey Palladian villa was designed by one of Britain’s greatest architects, Sir Edwin Lutyens. He employed 200 craftsmen, 700 artists and … Continue reading

Posted in Art and Literature, History | Tagged

Exhumation and Obsession

Oliver Cromwell Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, died in 1658, most likely from septicaemia caused by a urinary infection. Two years later, the Commonwealth collapsed and the monarchy restored, King Charles II decided … Continue reading

Posted in History | Tagged , ,

The Devil in the Detail

In 1980, Japanese paleontologist Chonosuke Okamura published his ground-breaking treatise, Period of the Far-Eastern Minicreatures. While examining rocks under a microscope, he found the fossilised remains of a huge variety of animals and plants including gorillas, dogs and humans. The … Continue reading

Posted in Science | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Words Without Meaning, Meaning Without Words

In 1987, Chinese artist Xu Bing began hand-carving woodblocks which he used to print scrolls and books using traditional Chinese methods. The four thousand blocks took four years to make. The printed material formed an installation known as A Book … Continue reading

Posted in Art and Literature | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment