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Archive for November, 2011

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Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone

Posted in Communications, Historical articles, Inventions on Tuesday, 15 November 2011

This edited article about inventions originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 862 published on 22 July 1978.

Bell's telephone, picture, image, illustration

The first telephone call, invented by Alexander Graham Bell

“Mr. Watson, please come here. I want you.” The words were spoken by Alexander Graham Bell, a tall, slender young man of 29, with bushy black hair and black side-whiskers. He was in his dingy workshop above a cafe in a street in Boston, U.S.A. on the 10th March, 1876.

His assistant, Thomas Watson, was in Bell’s bedroom in another part of the building. He rushed round to Bell’s workshop and told him excitedly: “I heard you!”

These were the first words communicated by telephone. An electric current connected an instrument in Bell’s workshop to one in his bedroom. Now, for the first time, the wires had begun to speak.

Forty years later, a coast-to-coast telephone line was completed between New York and San Francisco, 5,500 kilometres apart. Bell was asked to open it formally in New York, and he asked for his old assistant to be at the other end. When the moment came to open it with the first call, Bell spoke into the mouthpiece: “Mr. Watson, please come here. I want you.”

The telephone was perhaps the last of the simple yet world shaking inventions which could be made by an amateur working on his own with very small resources. Alexander Graham Bell was no expert in science, nor was he an electrical engineer.

He was born in Edinburgh in 1847. His father and grandfather had both devoted themselves to matters of speech and hearing.

Alexander followed them, and his life-long vocation was teaching the deaf to speak.

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The warrior Queens in World War Two

Posted in Historical articles, Ships, Transport, World War 2 on Tuesday, 15 November 2011

This edited article about the Blue Riband originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 862 published on 22 July 1978.

Lancastria, picture, image, illustration

The sinking of the Lancastria by John S Smith

Of all the magnificent liners that steamed across the North Atlantic during the 1930s, Britain’s Queen Mary was the fastest.

However, there were many who argued that France’s Normandie was the better ship overall, despite the fact that the Queen Mary held the Blue Riband. The British ship, they said, was merely an updated version of the Mauretania, larger and faster, but not revolutionary. Normandie on the other hand, was in a class of her own. In her design she had completely broken with tradition, and she was almost as fast as the Cunarder, having held the Blue Riband on two occasions previously.

She was also the better ship in bad weather. On one occasion in 1936, Queen Mary was forced to slow down by very rough seas, and eventually arrived at her destination with some of her passengers injured and her bows stove in. Yet Normandie had kept to her usual speed, and arrived on time.

Like any ship in heavy seas, Normandie rolled, but she did not linger on the roll like the Queen Mary – indeed she possessed the opposite characteristic: when Normandie went over, she returned to the vertical quickly, rather like a smaller ship would. It is a measure of her seaworthiness that when all the other Atlantic liners were delayed by as much as 24 or 36 hours during bad weather, the Frenchman was never more than five hours late.

Meanwhile war was on the horizon. In August, 1939, Queen Mary left Southampton packed with passengers, many of whom were Americans who had decided to return home for safety reasons. Berths even had to be rigged in swimming pools.

Four days later, Chamberlain’s speech declaring war on Germany was relayed throughout the ship. After a warning by the British Admiralty that two German pocket battleships might be in the Atlantic, extra look-outs were posted. Then at noon the masts of two ships were sighted!

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Anson’s nightmare voyage turned to triumph and riches

Posted in Historical articles, History, Ships on Sunday, 13 November 2011

This edited article about the Royal navy originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 862 published on 22 July 1978.

Admiral Anson's voyages, picture, image, illustration

Admiral Anson survived immense challenges when harrying Spanish galleons, and finally claimed the Cabodonga and her treasure, by Severino Baraldi

When Admiral George Anson read the instructions he had received from the Admiralty for his impending voyage and then looked across to the men paraded before him who were to carry out those instructions, he was convinced there must have been some mistake.

The instructions were clear enough. He was to sail and “annoy” Spanish shipping on the Pacific coast of the American continent. Some land operations might be necessary, which was why he was to take these 259 soldiers with him.

It was at this point that Anson wondered if the Lords of the Admiralty quite understood what they were about. For the “soldiers” were all invalids from the pensioners at Chelsea Hospital. Many of them were over sixty; some were over seventy. One major was 82. Most of them were wounded and minus a limb, and the rest were generally infirm.

The reason for the recruitment of this incredible “Dad’s Army” was that there was a war on – and there was a shortage of fit men.

Bewildered, Anson took the invalids on board. He was certain that none of them would survive the rigours of a long ocean voyage – which in the mid-1700s was an ordeal even for fit men – and he was right. Not one of the unfortunate Chelsea Pensioners lived to see England again.

Nor, however, did many of the rest of the crews of the ships that took part in Anson’s voyage around the world. Of their total number, just short of 1,700, more than 1,300 died. And only four of these were killed in action.

Six ships, led by Anson in the Centurion, sailed out of Spit-head to make that historic voyage, and only one, the Centurion, came back nearly four years later. It was to prove a voyage of incredible hardship, jinxed from the start, and yet to prove a triumph for the indomitable spirit of the 18th-century sailors.

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Cambodia’s jungle yields up the ruins of Angkor Wat

Posted in Archaeology, Architecture, Conservation, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History on Sunday, 13 November 2011

This edited article about archaeology in Cambodia originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 862 published on 22 July 1978.

Angkor Wat, picture, image, illustration

Angkor Wat is it might have appeared at its zenith, by Harry Green

About the time that the Spanish Armada was preparing to sail against the England of Good Queen Bess, a Portuguese missionary stumbled upon an incredible deserted city, deep in almost impassable jungle. He reported the discovery to his superiors, telling of ruined palaces, halls and temples of staggering size and beauty. Nobody believed him. Few had even heard of Kambuja, the scene of the missionary’s discovery, the land known as Cambodia today. It was just one more traveller’s tale, they said.

In 1604 another Portuguese, Quiroga de San Antonio, discovered the lost city for the second time, only to meet with the same disbelief, and in 1672 a French missionary, Pere Chevreuil, fared no better. So the jungle hid the carved temples for another two hundred years, and finally they were discovered for a fourth time, on this occasion by a French naturalist named Henri Mouhot. He stared in wonder at the crumbling walls, the huge trees growing up through ornate roofs, at the stone lions that guarded the deserted entrances. Carved figures of extraordinary beauty seemed to watch him through the foliage, and five immense towers shaped like lotus buds soared up towards the sky.

Henri Mouhot realised that he had stumbled upon the fabled lost capital of Cambodia, and immediately set about making a detailed description of his find. This time there was no disbelief, no talk of traveller’s tales. France was politically interested in Indo-China, but in those days Cambodia was ruled by neighbouring Siam, now Thailand, and there seemed little chance that permission would be forthcoming for a French expedition.

But the wheels of politics turned, and by the end of the 19th century, Angkor, as the area of the ruins was called, had become French territory. The French government got together a formidable team of archaeologists, engineers, scholars and architects and sent it out to study and reclaim the lost city in the jungle. Not only to save it from further damage, but also to find out who built it, and why.

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Some aquatic insects and a diving spider

Posted in Insects, Nature on Sunday, 13 November 2011

This edited article about nature originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 862 published on 22 July 1978.

water spider, picture, image, illustration

The Water Spider

There was just the faintest ripple on the surface of the pond as the tiny silver body, little more than a centimetre long, swam to and fro. But the swimming streak of silver was not a fish; it was a spider – but a spider with a difference.

Most of us think of spiders as the busy eight-legged creatures that scurry about the garden or industriously weave their webs in bushes. But there is one spider in Britain that is as much at home in the water as its relatives are on land.

Thousands of years before men had invented diving suits, the water spider had learned how to breathe underwater by taking down its own air supply.

If you were to watch this spider diving under the surface, you would see its brownish coat change to one that seemed to be made of dazzling silver. This transformation is caused by the large quantities of tiny air bubbles which are entangled in the thick, soft hairs with which the body and all the eight legs of the spider are clothed. As it moves beneath the water, it is always surrounded by a silvery film of air.

It is in this way that the water spider obtains the air it has to breathe while it is on its journeys below.

Watching one of these spiders making its home is a fascinating sight. It begins by making a tiny bell-shaped web which it fastens with threads to a plant well below the surface of the pond.

At first, the spider’s work does not look at all like a home. It looks like nothing but a small, shadowy bundle in the water and is not in the least silvery. But now the spider runs up a thread which it has fixed to a floating leaf and pushes the tip of its hairy body above the water line.

With a quick movement, it catches a bubble of air and, holding the bubble of air between its hind legs and the back of its body, the spider goes down again and pops the air into its house, where it is trapped in the web.

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Tragedy struck the Manchester United football team in Munich

Posted in Disasters, Historical articles, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Sunday, 13 November 2011

This edited article about disaster originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 862 published on 22 July 1978.

Munich air disaster, picture, image, illustration

The Munich air disaster when a plane carrying the Manchester United football team crashed, by John Keay

“Zulu Uniform to Munich Tower – I am ready to taxi. Over.”

“Munich Tower to 609 Zulu Uniform. Wind two nine zero – eight knots – cleared to runway five. Over.”

Captain Kenneth Rayment, with a distinguished war record and over 3,000 flying hours behind him, pushed the throttles forward as he taxied to runway five.

It was a gloomy afternoon in February, 1958. Captain Rayment was on the flight deck of an Elizabethan aircraft with Captain James Thain, the commander of the aircraft.

On board was the Manchester United football team, nicknamed the Busby Babes after their manager, Matt Busby. They had already won the league championship two years running and were favourites to complete the hat trick. It was the European Cup that had brought them to Munich, where they were now aboard the Elizabethan waiting to return home. As well as the 17 players there were officials, journalists and other passengers on the plane, plus a radio officer, a steward and two stewardesses.

With his plane cleared for take-off at 15.02, Captain Rayment began building up its speed. Slowly, this increased until the plane refused to accelerate any further. They were past the point where the plane could stop, but going too slowly to lift off.

The plane crashed past the end of the runway, through the perimeter fence, ploughing its way through everything in its path. The port wing sliced into a building and was ripped off. The aircraft broke in two, the tail unit and rear part of the fuselage spinning off to one side, while the front portion screeched into a group of trees.

As flames began to envelop the plane, injured passengers were helped from it by the crew. Many had made miraculous escapes, but out of the 44 on board, 23 people – eight of them Manchester United players – were killed.

At the time, Manchester United were the most famous football team in the world. In time, they recovered their greatness, but this tragedy was never to be forgotten.

The vulture’s only friend is the ugliest of the Stork family

Posted in Birds, Nature, Wildlife on Saturday, 12 November 2011

This edited article about birds originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 861 published on 15 July 1978.

Odd-looking birds, picture, image, illustration

An odd-looking bird: the Marabou or Adjutant stork (bottom right)

A pair of long, ungainly legs, hanging down beneath enormous wings, touch down on the outskirts of an African village. A marauding lion killed by a villager’s spear lies dead upon the ground. Before the villagers could make use of its meat, vultures had swooped out of the sky and descended upon the carcase.

But now a newcomer has arrived to share in the feast – a Marabou stork. Marabous are often to be seen eating in the company of vultures, and this occasion is no exception. The Marabou stalks proudly towards the crowd, pecking its way with its long bill through the struggling vultures until it reaches the carcase which it devours eagerly and greedily.

A feast of lion in the company of vultures is not an uncommon event in the marabou’s life. But when there is no carrion to be enjoyed, it makes do with frogs, small birds and fish. It has an appetite which is not easily satisfied because it is one of the largest members of the stork family, and lives in flocks along the banks of rivers in Central Africa.

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The tragic nine-day ‘reign’ of Lady Jane Grey

Posted in Historical articles, Royalty on Saturday, 12 November 2011

This edited article about British royalty originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 861 published on 15 July 1978.

Lady Jane Grey, picture, image, illustration

Lady Jane Grey waves a sad farewell to her condemned  husband from her prison cell, by Peter Jackson

Poor Lady Jane Grey! Only 16 when she ascended the throne, she was Queen of England for nine days, her “reign” beginning on the 10th July, 1553.

An intelligent and studious girl, she could speak Latin and Greek, as well as Hebrew and Arabic. She had no wish to be queen, but she was the victim of the political intrigue of her father-in-law, the Duke of Northumberland.

The latter was hungry for power at Court, and he had managed to persuade the previous monarch, Edward VI, to pass the crown on to Jane instead of Edward’s half-sister, Mary. When Edward died, Northumberland proclaimed Jane queen on 10th July.

However, the people hated Northumberland and flocked to support Mary, who was proclaimed queen by the Lord Mayor of London on 19th July.

Lady Jane was committed to the Tower. Six months later, she was found guilty of high treason. She was executed on 12th February, 1554, after the shortest reign in British history.

Tireless Trollope – incomparable chronicler of Church and State

Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, Literature on Saturday, 12 November 2011

This edited article about English literature originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 861 published on 15 July 1978.

Phineas Finn, picture, image, illustration

Trollope’s eponymous hero, Phineas Finn, is winged in a duel

A disorganized and dismal failure for the first part of his life, Anthony Trollope was the most organized of men when it came to writing a novel. Before beginning, he would prepare a diary setting out the number of pages to be completed each week and the number of words he would write each day. In this manner he wrote 59 books in 34 years.

Apart from being engaged on this mammoth stint. Trollope was also leading the life of a busy country gentleman, as well as working for the Post Office, for which he had a roving commission to inspect how rural deliveries were being carried out.

It was a performance that was disapproved of by the literary critics of his time, who considered that writers should sit at their desks waiting for inspiration, rather than approach the craft of novel-writing in much the same manner as a down-to-earth artisan might set about a routine task. After a series of vicious attacks on him in the Press and in some of the monthly magazines, the sales of his books dropped sharply, a trend that was not reversed for many years.

Born in 1815, the son of a once-famous woman novelist whose books are not read today, Trollope was educated at Harrow and Winchester, two hallowed establishments of learning from the portals of which he departed, seemingly as ignorant as the day he had entered them.

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Isaac Newton and his Three Laws of Motion

Posted in Historical articles, Science on Saturday, 12 November 2011

This edited article about physics originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 861 published on 15 July 1978.

Isaac Newton, picture, image, illustration

Isaac Newton and the famous apples

Mention the name of Isaac Newton and most people picture a man in 17th-century costume sitting in a garden beside an apple tree. Suddenly an apple falls from the tree – and in a flash Newton “discovers gravity”.

Of course, it did not really happen like that. The fact of gravitation had been studied by many before Newton, especially by the Italian Galileo. Newton himself acknowledged his debt to such predecessors. Yet he is on record as relating the apple story, and telling how the incident set him wondering and prompted him to think out a theory of gravitation.

Born in 1642, Newton was the son of a Lincolnshire squire. His school career gave no hint of great things to come. At the age of 18, however, he went to Cambridge, and began to take an interest in mathematics and scientific subjects.

In 1665, the plague year, the University closed, and he returned to continue his studies at home. In the next few years these studies produced remarkable results, which were to establish him as a scientific genius.

The fog of ignorance and prejudice had been slow to lift from the scientific scene. Only about 30 years before, Galileo had been condemned by the Catholic Church for questioning the view that the Earth was the centre of the Universe. However, the German astronomer, Kepler, had already established that the solar system was a self-contained unit, and worked out the orbits of the planets around the Sun.

It was Newton’s achievement that he tied in the planetary movements with a universal law of gravitation, and with laws governing the movements of bodies in space. Newton advanced the new idea that all bodies have gravitational attraction for one another, and that it is this that keeps the planets in orbit around the Sun, and the Moon around the Earth.

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