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Archive for February, 2012

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William Booth refused to live in Disraeli’s ‘Two Nations’, a Britain of the rich and the poor

Posted in Bible, Historical articles, History, London, Philanthropy, Religion on Tuesday, 28 February 2012

This edited article about the Salvation Army originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 654 published on 27 July 1974.

William Booth, picture, image, illustration

William Booth saw the poor on the streets of London’s East End every day and it appalled and moved him, by Pat Nicolle

A hideous stench of muck and filth clung to the hot, stifling air. It hung, thick and threatening, among the huddle of hovels that housed half a million victims of poverty.

From grime-stained doorways appeared haggard, frightened faces, with hunger reflected in their eyes. Tiny, dirt-caked children walked barefoot through the streets, tottering and swaying from the effects of beer. Women, weary with work, staggered homeward, looking old beyond their years.

A nightmare of noises filled the dark alleys where East London’s poor continued their hourly struggle against starvation and disease.

Through this jungle of human misery on that fateful night in 1865, walked William Booth. It was a night he would never forget.

On and on he walked, a tall, black-coated, black-bearded figure, who was appalled at the sights which met his eyes everywhere he looked. What he saw were the pitiful remnants of human beings; men and women who had been so long subjected to degradation that nothing could shock or humiliate them any more. They were sick, they were dirty, they were hungry, and William Booth was determined to try to save them all.

The preacher who walked through the streets of London’s East End that night knew a lot about the suffering of the poor. He had been born in Nottingham in 1829, the son of an impecunious nail maker and builder and, as an apprentice to a pawnbroker in the city’s slums, young William Booth had seen, with painful clarity, what poverty did to people. He had seen men and women cling helplessly to the last vestiges of self-respect. He had seen how years of bad harvests, crippling taxes, and exorbitant bread prices brought peace-loving people to violent rioting.

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Dave Mackay fought back from injury to play for Spurs in a Cup Final

Posted in Historical articles, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Tuesday, 28 February 2012

This edited article about sport originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 654 published on 27 July 1974.

Many professional footballers have had their careers shattered by broken legs though, fortunately, tragic cases like that of Derek Dooley, who had to have a leg amputated after it had been broken in a match, are rare.

For others, although they escape amputation, the end to their playing days can be equally abrupt. Joe Mercer, the England, Everton and Arsenal international waved a brave farewell to a stunned crowd as he was carried from Highbury on a stretcher, a leg broken.

Many, younger and more fortunate players than Mercer, recover and, after months with a limb in plaster, face first the tentative testing of the knitted bones. Then comes the painfully slow return to full fitness and the searching training routines, and finally the big test – mental as well as physical – of regaining a team place and then making and facing tackles in a full match test.

A few have been able to win back their places after only one break. None of them would want to match the incredible feat of Scotland and Tottenham Hotspur international wing-half, Dave Mackay.

He broke the same leg twice in the space of nine months – yet five years later was still a great enough player to share the honour of being voted Footballer of the Year. He was then 33 – and he continued playing for another three years.

Not the least remarkable part of this amazing come-back was the fact that it was achieved by a man who was recognised as one of the toughest, hard-tackling ball-winners in British football.

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Television and its social and technical advances during the postwar years

Posted in Britain in the 60s, Communications, Historical articles, History, Royalty, Science, Technology on Tuesday, 28 February 2012

This edited article about television originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 654 published on 27 July 1974.

Queen's TV broadcast, picture, image, illustration

Another first for BBC television – the Queen’s first Christmas Day television broadcast, by John Keay

During the Second World War, British television was off the air. These would have been the lost years of an infant marvel, but for its fast-growing cousin, radar, whose secret advancement gave television a technological boost when peace returned

On September 1st, 1939, the day that Hitler marched into Poland, BBC Television came to an end for the duration of the Second World War, and did not start again until June, 1946. The day after the service was resumed BBC cameras televised the Victory Parade in London.

During the war years, great technical strides had been made, not only in America, where the television service had continued, but also in Britain. Here many scientists and electronics engineers had been secretly developing and operating radar, which worked on the same principle as television. In the First World War, radio advanced because of the necessity for instant communications between field commanders, and huge amounts of money were spent which would have been unthinkable in peacetime. Again, in the 1939-1945 war, radar became a number one priority. Many people believe that without the use of the “magic eye” during the Battle of Britain, Britain would have undoubtedly lost the war.

So, although the BBC Television Service was shut down for seven years, it did in fact emerge from the war stronger in technical resources. There was a vast number of skilled electronics engineers available from the armed services, and this, together with the “know-how” that the United States had acquired in running their television service, gave the BBC an encouraging start.

Immediately after the war, there was very little indication that within ten years there would be more people in Britain watching television than listening to the radio. Even in 1948 there were only 50,000 receivers, but the BBC were planning to extend the service to the rest of Britain, and a combined radio and television licence cost only £2.

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Korbit Sahib – the English tiger-hunter with the heart of a lion

Posted in Animals, Bravery, Historical articles, History, Nature, Weapons, Wildlife on Tuesday, 28 February 2012

This edited article about India originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 654 published on 27 July 1974.

Shooting a tiger, picture, image, illustration

Shooting a tiger

The three Englishmen who were making their way cautiously along the old watercourse had no means of seeing over the top of its steep banks. Behind them, a party of Indian policemen followed warily. Somewhere nearby in the jungle lay the hidden camp of the notorious bandit, Sultana, and his men. The slightest sound was liable to bring a hail of bullets in return.

The leading Englishman had been following a trail of footprints invisible to his companions, but eventually even he came to a baffled full stop. Perhaps his quarry had left the nullah for the shelter of the trees? The tracker started to clamber up the bank, hauling himself up by the roots of an old tree. The mud was soft and he fell down. He tried again, and the same thing happened.

Each time the white man’s head appeared over the edge of the gully, ten hidden rifles swung towards it, waiting for the moment when more of the body would appear. But it did not. The earth gave way each time, and eventually the climber gave up and padded along his original path. Only then did the hidden men relax and exchange worried glances.

“Korbit Sahib!” they muttered to each other. “That was Korbit Sahib!”

What chance had they of escaping if the legendary hunter of killer tigers was turning his attentions to men?

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Invoking blessings and making wishes accompany the unexpected sneeze

Posted in Customs, English Literature, Historical articles, Superstition on Tuesday, 28 February 2012

This edited article about superstition originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 653 published on 20 July 1974.

The Rape of the Lock, picture, image, illustration

In Alexander Pope’s satire The Rape of the Lock, Belinda peppers the Baron with snuff in order to retrieve her lock, by John Millar Watt

Primitive peoples all over the world believed a sneeze – a “little explosion in the head” – was a sign from the gods which could foretell either good or evil fortune.

Our own custom of wishing the sneezer good health or fortune – to forestall possible bad luck – dates back at least to the ancient Greeks. In 17th-century England it was very impolite to omit the wish, and it was customary to raise the hat and bow at the same time.

Sneezing to the right denoted good fortune, especially at the start of a journey; but to sneeze to the left, or near a grave, is very unlucky. Sneezing three times before breakfast is thought to predict a present before the end of the week. Yorkshire folk believe it is a sign of good health to sneeze after a meal; anyone who does so regularly after dinner is expected to live to a great age.

There are many “day” rhymes connected with sneezing. One runs:

Monday for danger, Tuesday kiss a stranger,
Wednesday for a letter, Thursday something better,
Friday for sorrow, Saturday – see your lover tomorrow.

In Cornwall they add two more lines:

Sneeze on Sunday morning fasting,
Enjoy your true love for everlasting.

Another rhyme – a “counting” one this time – is as follows:

One (sneeze) for a kiss, two for a wish,
Three for a letter, four for a better,
Five for silver, six for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told.

In Scotland it was once thought that fairies could not sneeze and that mentally-defective children were fairy changelings, substituted for human children by fairy mothers so that they might benefit from human care. So to Scots country folk the first sneeze was very important: it proved that the baby was normal – and human!

General Andrew Jackson defeated the suicidal British at New Orleans in 1815

Posted in America, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, War on Tuesday, 28 February 2012

This edited article about America originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 653 published on 20 July 1974.

Andrew Jackson, picture, image, illustration

General Andrew Jackson (inset) and the British defeat at New Orleans in 1815, by Graham Coton

It would never have done for the Duke of Wellington, but he was several thousand miles away in Europe at the time, unable to prevent a British army from being annihilated. That was the trouble in Wellington’s day. If he was present at a battle, the British invariably won, for the combination of his genius for war, his brilliant selection of subordinates, and the valour of his troops, forged a weapon that was able to topple even the mighty Napoleon Bonaparte from his throne.

The slaughter was not caused by the French, because this was January 8, 1815, and Europe was at peace, an uneasy peace before the final overthrow of Napoleon at Waterloo in July. The enemy which destroyed the British was an American army, commanded by a general so tough that his men called him “Old Hickory,” his real name being Andrew Jackson.

The U.S.A. had finally gained its independence from King George III when the American Revolution ended in 1783, but in 1812 another war, one that few on either side of the Atlantic wanted, broke out.

The reasons for it are simply told. Britain, fighting for her life against Napoleon’s France, took certain steps which infuriated many Americans. Their ports were blockaded, their ships were forbidden to trade with France, and their seamen were sometimes pressed into service with the Royal Navy. Meanwhile, “war hawks” in the States were casting greedy eyes on Canada. But by 1814, the war had become a stalemate. Canada had survived invasions, many stirring naval actions had been fought, and the British had burnt parts of Washington in retaliation for an American fire-raising raid on Toronto. Now peace was being made. People were fed up with the war. But there was still one final battle to come. The British, having taken Washington but not Baltimore, sailed away to Jamaica and plans were made to capture the great port of New Orleans in Louisiana. It was an appalling place to attack, for the Mississippi Delta on which it had been built, was a mass of swamps and inlets.

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The Roebling family built Brooklyn Bridge – and the first beach buggy

Posted in America, Cars, Engineering, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Leisure, Transport, Travel on Tuesday, 28 February 2012

This edited article about motor cars originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 653 published on 20 July 1974.

Brooklyn Bridge, picture, image, illustration

The Roebling family had built Brooklyn Bridge before strating a motor car manufacturing company

The company responsible for the first “beach buggy” was started in 1909 by members of the Roebling family and various helpers. The Roebling family were noted in the United States for building the famous Brooklyn Bridge in New York.

The engine did not exceed 2,000 revolutions per minute which meant that the driver did not get the feeling of travelling very fast. But the factory guaranteed that the Raceabout could “race about” over one mile in 51 seconds.

With its bright yellow or white colour, it certainly stood out in a crowd of other cars. To start the car, it was necessary to set the petrol inflow, spark levers and perhaps inject a few drops of fuel into the cylinder head, then crank-start the engine.

There was only one way to enter the car and that was from the left because the gear lever and brake handle blocked the right-hand side.

The driver braced his foot against a brass stirrup outside the chassis so that his toe could operate the accelerator pedal.

With the “monocle” windscreen the only protection against the elements, it was not surprising that people travelled in coats and scarves.

Only 5,000 of these Mercer models were built and although 100 exist today, less than half are Raceabouts, so you are looking at a scarce car!

Fig leaves are as famous in the Bible as the fresh and dried fruit itself

Posted in Ancient History, Bible, Historical articles, Plants on Tuesday, 28 February 2012

This edited article about fruits originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 653 published on 20 July 1974.

Odysseus, picture, image, illustration

Odysseus hanging on to a fig tree to escape the whirlpool, by Roger Payne

“Wrestlers and champions were in times past fed with figs.” This is what Pliny, the first century Roman naturalist, wrote about the fruit favoured by the Olympic competitors of ancient Greece.

Figs are one of the oldest and most useful fruits known to man. Throughout Arabia, where they originated, they were a staple food being particularly valuable because they are so easily dried and stored. Cakes made from them were always taken on long journeys through the desert, while fig juice was used to make wine and to dye cloth.

To the Egyptians, the fig tree represented the Tree of Life and in their mythology, one of their goddesses presented figs to those mortals thought worthy of eternal happiness.

The Jews regarded the fruit as a symbol of prosperity and there are numerous references to it in both the Old and the New Testaments. They also used figs as a tonic and poultice. In the second Book of Kings, the prophet Isaiah gave orders to apply a lump of figs to Hezekiah’s boil which was immediately cured.

It was the fig tree that overshadowed the cave where Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome, were cared for as babies by a wolf. So the Romans looked on the tree as an emblem of the future well-being of their race.

Today, there are hundreds of varieties of figs all derived from four main types, the Caprifig, Smyrna, White San Pedro, and the Common fig.

The Smyrna tree yields the sweetest fruit but only if grown alongside the wild Caprifig. The reason for this remained a mystery until Smyrna figs, planted in California at the end of the last century, failed to mature.

The Americans sent investigators to Turkey and, although they discovered that the Smyrna is fertilised by pollen from the Caprifig, they couldn’t understand how this was achieved. For, to the naked eye, the Smyrna fig which is merely a receptacle for the flowers, seemed completely sealed. Then a minute hole was noticed at one end. They kept a watch on the trees and found that tiny wasps, no bigger than an eighth of an inch long, leave their nests in the wild figs each spring in search of food. Deceived by the blossoms of the Smyrna tree, they squeeze through the hole in the figs and pollinate the flowers.

Paternal mouthbrooding fish must fast during the hatching of their eggs

Posted in Fish, Nature, Oddities, Wildlife on Tuesday, 28 February 2012

This edited article about fish originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 653 published on 20 July 1974.

Underwater creatures, picture, image, illustration

Several species of catfish (bottom right) are paternal mouthbrooders

The male Tilapia, known as the Mouthbreeder fish, takes over the responsibility of incubating the eggs as soon as they are laid by his mate. He scoops them up into his mouth and keeps them there until they hatch, usually after five days. After that, he stays with the young for a further week or so and if any danger threatens, the young fish dive back into his mouth for protection. All this time the father fish eats nothing and lives off his own store of body fat until the young are ready to look after themselves.

The architecture of decorous seduction – how bower-birds woo their mate

Posted in Birds, Nature, Wildlife on Tuesday, 28 February 2012

This edited article about birds originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 653 published on 20 July 1974.

bowerbirds, picture, image, illustration

Various bower-birds including the Orange Crested Gardener Bower-bird from New Guinea on the flower-strewn grass in front of its bower (bottom)

There are several species of bower-birds all found only in Australia and New Guinea. Only the males build bowers and each species builds a different kind of bower.

One of the largest and most elaborate bowers is made by the Crestless Gardener bower-bird. The male starts by building a pyramid of sticks around the base of a small tree and then constructs a tent-like roof over this. The area in front of this is enclosed by a fence made of twigs and small sticks. Finally, mosses are collected and planted in this space and a whole area is decorated with flower heads of many different colours. The object of this extraordinary and rather beautiful display is to attract a female and is part of the courtship display between the two birds.

Bower-birds nesting in the neighbourhood of villages or farms have taken to using buttons, matchboxes, milk bottle tops and similar objects to decorate their bowers. One kind of bower-bird uses the juices of coloured berries to “paint” the walls of its bower.

Although the hen bird takes no part in building the bower, it is she who builds the nest, incubates the one to three eggs she lays, and feeds the young without any help from her mate.