Archive for October, 2011

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The Otter: a beautiful underwater hunter

Posted in Animals, Fish, Nature, Rivers, Wildlife on Monday, 31 October 2011

This edited article about animals originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 852 published on 13 May 1978.

Otters, picture, image, illustration

Otters take their first lesson in fishing

Fishermen, who sit patiently by the side of a stream with their bait and rods, have an unseen rival. This is the otter, which paddles away out of sight below the surface of the water, helping itself to a lot of the fish the angler would love to catch.

Salmon, trout, eels and other fishes we use as food are liked by the otter, which kills more than it can eat. After tasting each fish by biting a piece out of its back, the otter leaves it on the bank of the stream and hurries off after another.

Otters belong to the weasel family. They differ from their relatives by being water creatures. With the exception of the mink, which loves to swim in lakes and rivers, the other animals of the weasel family are all land animals.

There are several kinds of otters living in warm and temperate countries. The European otter, found throughout Europe and Northern Asia, is still fairly common in many parts of Great Britain.

It is rather a large animal, measuring about a metre or so from its nose to the tip of its tail.

When swimming in the water, the otter might easily be mistaken for a seal, for it looks very much like one. But when it climbs out on the bank, we see that it has legs, not flippers. Its short feet have webs between the toes and are as good as fins.

The tail, which is broad and flat at the tip, makes an excellent rudder.

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Jules Verne: a traveller in the human imagination

Posted in Historical articles, Literature, Space, Travel on Monday, 31 October 2011

This edited article about literature originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 852 published on 13 May 1978.

Jules Verne's science fiction, picture, image, illustration

An illustration for Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon by Angus McBride

A number of writers have attempted to look into the future, sometimes with surprising success. H. G. Wells is a name that comes to mind immediately. The other is that of Jules Verne, a far more remarkable man in many respects, inasmuch as his imagination did not have access to the vast fund of scientific knowledge available to Wells.

Although Verne died in 1905, long before technology was fully on the march, he foresaw the airliner, the helicopter, the cinema, television, the Hydrogen Bomb and man’s first attempt to reach the moon, to mention only a few of his prophecies which have become a reality. In this, Jules Verne can truly be said to be the father of science fiction.

Jules Verne, who was born in the French town of Nantes in 1828, led a surprisingly quiet life for a man whose characters were always embarking on some bold and perilous enterprise. His one major adventure took place at the age of twelve, when he tried to run away to sea because a pretty young cousin told him that if he was really in love with her he would bring her back a coral necklace from the Pacific.

After a frantic search, his parents found that he had joined the crew of a three-masted schooner bound for India, as a cabin boy. Hauled off the ship, he was taken home, where he was given a sound beating and locked in his room, on bread and water. He emerged finally, to make the solemn promise, “From now on I will travel only in my imagination.” Although he did travel afterwards, it was all done in a fairly staid manner, as befitted the dignity of a major novelist.

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Ernest Rutherford unlocked the secret of atomic energy

Posted in Discoveries, Historical articles, Science on Monday, 31 October 2011

This edited article about physics originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 852 published on 13 May 1978.

Nuclear Power Station, picture, image, illustration

Oldbury nuclear power station by Angus McBride

What is the greatest discovery of the twentieth century?

It is the discovery of the interior of the atom, and of the immense resources of energy within it.

Ernest Rutherford was the first and greatest explorer inside the atom. He was born in New Zealand in 1871, the son of a farmer. In 1895, he obtained a scholarship which enabled him to go to England to do research at Cambridge University.

Rutherford began work at Cambridge by experimenting with the new “wireless waves”, and for a time he held the record for long-distance transmission. But he quickly turned his attention to other matters which he sensed offered far more scope for fundamental discovery.

Near the end of 1895. Rontgen discovered X-rays, and soon after Becquerel discovered the rays from uranium which led to Marie Curie starting her work on radium and radioactivity. Rutherford at once set about following up these developments.

By brilliant experiment and imagination, he discovered what radioactivity was. The atoms of radioactive substances turn into atoms of other elements, and in the process they emit three different kinds of radiation. Rutherford named them alpha, beta, and gamma rays after the first three letters of the Greek alphabet.

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The naming of England’s rolling acres

Posted in Farming, Historical articles, Interesting Words, Language on Monday, 31 October 2011

This edited article about place-names originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 852 published on 13 May 1978.

Reapers, picture, image, illustration

Reapers in a cornfield by Peter Jackson

Do You Live At Longacre?

Or at any other place ending in acre? If so, your home town or village could once have been the site of a cornfield.

It enters into many combinations, like Goodacre, Oldacre. Longacre and Whitacre.

Whitaker is a chalky field, or else one on which spar is turned up. Spar is a crystalline mineral.

Whitaker has also been adopted as a family name.

Vandalising the Parthenon and plundering its treasures

Posted in Ancient History, Archaeology, Architecture, Famous landmarks, War on Monday, 31 October 2011

This edited article about Ancient Greece originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 852 published on 13 May 1978.

The Parthenon, picture, image, illustration

The Parthenon as it might have looked in the age of Pericles by Harry Green

Cities and buildings have always been at risk in time of war. In the past, besieged castles tended to have their walls knocked down, and victorious troops took it for granted that they would be allowed to loot and wreck the most prized possessions of a defeated enemy.

Nevertheless a special place must be reserved in history for the Swedish Field Marshal, Count Konigsmarck, who cold-bloodedly bombarded the Parthenon, the most perfect building of the ancient world.

One may excuse Attila the Hun for much of the damage he caused on the grounds of ignorance. But Count Konigsmarck was a student of Greek culture when, in 1687, he allowed himself to be hired as a military expert by the Venetians, who were currently engaged in an attempt to free Athens from the occupying Turks.

On learning that the defenders were using the Parthenon as a powder magazine, Konigsmarck opened fire on it with mortars. One round dropped through the temple roof which, in those days, was still intact. It was not to remain so for much longer. There was an explosion which shattered 28 columns, brought down the beams, much of the sculpted decorations and spread the roof over the nearby countryside amid loud cheers from the warlike Venetians.

A terrible fire raged in the Parthenon for two days and the Turks finally surrendered.

Not satisfied with having committed one of the greatest acts of vandalism in history, Count Konigsmarck was also determined to steal the magnificent group of stone horses from the west pediment. He succeeded in pulling them loose with ropes, but the tackle slipped and the horses smashed to pieces.

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Richard Chancellor ‘discovers’ the land of the Tsars: Russia

Posted in Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Ships, Trade on Monday, 31 October 2011

This edited article about exploration and discovery originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 852 published on 13 May 1978.

Richard Chancellor, picture, image, illustration

Richard Chancellor’s ship finds a safe haven at Vardo by Severino Baraldi

How do you get to China? A question simple enough to answer today. But 400 years ago it was one of the most talked about problems among thinking Englishmen.

You could, of course, go south, then east or west, following routes already tracked by the Spanish and Portuguese. The English, however, believed that there were other ways – not along the bottom of the world, but over the top of it. They thought a way to China lay to the north.

The problem: was it north-west (the way that John Cabot had partly taken) or north-east?

It was the temperamental, aged Italian explorer, Sebastian Cabot, son of John, who finally persuaded Englishmen to look for a north-east passage. They liked Cabot. At 74 he was as alert and as crafty as ever, but he had mellowed. He had settled in England and he had a bank of nautical experience to draw upon that was second to none.

Cabot, now too old to explore, had to content himself with fitting out the expedition. The command of the three ships was given to Sir Hugh Willoughby. His second-in-command was Richard Chancellor, who was to play the principal role in the events that followed.

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Dame Millicent Fawcett and Women’s Suffrage

Posted in Historical articles, Politics on Monday, 31 October 2011

This edited article about Women’s Suffrage originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 852 published on 13 May 1978.

Suffragettes montage, picture, image, illustration

A montage of people and events in the history of the Suffragettes

“I, and I think the great majority of the men and women who are working for our cause, look upon the women’s movement as one of the very greatest things that has ever happened in the history of the world.”

Millicent Garrett Fawcett, who wrote these words, was born in 1847, the seventh of ten children of Newson and Louisa Garrett. Newson was a successful business man in Aldeburgh, Suffolk and was independent-minded enough to send his daughters away to school and later to back them in whatever they wanted to do.

In 1867, Millicent married Henry Fawcett, a member of Parliament and professor of political economy at Cambridge University. The marriage was happy, but Millicent knew how unequal she and her husband were in legal terms. One small incident emphasized the legal one-sidedness. Her purse was stolen and the thief was charged by the police with “stealing from the person of Millicent Fawcett a purse containing £1-18-6d (£1.92 and a half new pennies), the property of Henry Fawcett.”

Millicent knew about the struggle to enter the professions because her own sister, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, was working to become one of the first women doctors registered in Britain. She knew about the struggle for education because Elizabeth’s friend Emily Davies was setting up the first college where women could study at university level. Millicent decided to contribute to the movement by working to get women the vote.

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The weird and wonderful life on the seashore

Posted in Biology, Fish, Sea on Monday, 31 October 2011

This edited article about marine life originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 852 published on 13 May 1978.

Starfish, picture, image, illustration

There are many kinds of starfish

If you take a walk along the seashore, you will find a naturalist’s paradise – a place teeming with all kinds of plant and animal life.

You can watch and study creatures in their own habitat, discover how they survive in the harsh, rugged environment of the sea shore, and observe their behaviour.

The most beautiful animal to be found along the seashore is the sea anemone. A deceptive beauty, it looks like an exotic flower with petals. But these are tentacles armed with innumerable poisonous stinging cells.

You may be lucky enough to observe a sea anemone catching its food, but you will look on in disbelief as it grapples with a crab or a large fish the size of itself; and manages to swallow it.

What happens is that the anemone reaches out to grab its victim with its powerful tentacles, and then pushes the food into its mouth, which is at the top of its body immediately below the crown of tentacles.

The obvious question is: How does it accommodate such a huge victim?

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Conspiracy or loner – who shot the President?

Posted in America, Famous crimes, Historical articles, Politics on Monday, 31 October 2011

This edited article about assassination originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 852 published on 13 May 1978.

Assassination of JFK. picture, image, illustration

The assassination of President Kennedy by John Keay

Surrounded by a police escort, the presidential car turned into the crowd-lined streets in Dallas, Texas, USA. Travelling at a slow speed so that people could see its occupants, it made its way downhill towards a concrete overpass.

Somewhere, from a vantage point overlooking the route, an assassin took aim with a gun and fired. The bullet struck John Fitzgerald Kennedy, president of the USA.

At the age of 46, he was the most powerful man in the world. Abroad, he was regarded with caution and respect – especially by the Russians. At home, he was idolised by those who believed in the establishment of a free, democratic life.

On a sunny day in November, 1963, Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, were visiting Dallas. With them in the presidential car were the governor of Texas and his wife, John and Nellie Connally.

Crowds lining the route were cheering loudly when Mrs. Connally leaned across to Kennedy and said, “Well, Mr. President, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you.”

At that moment, a shot rang out. Kennedy put his hand to his neck and slumped forward.

The occupants of the presidential car were barely aware of what had happened before another shot hit Kennedy in the head.

Horror-stricken, Mrs. Kennedy cradled her husband in her lap.

Kennedy was rushed to a nearby hospital, but nothing could be done to save him.

An intensive police hunt began for the killer and an hour after the assassination, the police arrested their suspect – Lee Harvey Oswald. But was Oswald the killer? Was he a foreign agent or did he act alone? Even while the world was speculating, one man was quietly planning that Oswald should be silenced – forever! Who was this man and what was his plan?

King Cobra is deposed by the Indian Mongoose

Posted in Animals, Nature, Wildlife on Sunday, 30 October 2011

This edited article about animals originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 851 published on 6 May 1978.

King Cobra, picture, image, illustration

The King Cobra meets his match in the Indian Mongoose, by Susan Cartwright

Strange wailing music fills the air. It comes from a pipe played by an Indian in turban and robes, squatting before his circular baskets in a dusty market square.

Slowly, the lid of one of the baskets is raised and into sight comes a cobra, its large head swaying on its slender, sinuous body.

The spectators edge away for they know that the cobra is one of the most poisonous of snakes, capable of bringing death to its victim within a couple of hours of a bite being received.

Few creatures are more frightening then a two-metre cobra rearing upwards in this fashion.

One-third of its yellowish-brown body is raised on high. It sways gently to and fro, like the stem of a strange plant which carries at its head a deadly blossom. This is the head with its glaring eyes, darting tongue and hissing breath, framed by its hood – the great, spoon-shaped expansion of the neck.

That sinister figure spells death to any man or beast that dares to approach it too closely.

By day, the cobra sleeps in the long grass, although it swiftly attacks any man or animal that disturbs it.

In the evening, it becomes wide-awake, leaves its hiding place and goes hunting. It feeds on frogs, lizards, rats, birds or any other small creature that may cross its path, and sometimes it goes fishing in the forest streams.

A full-grown Indian cobra is about two metres long, but its cousin, the king cobra, often measures four metres from nose to tail. It can be a deadly and savage reptile.

Although it never eats anything but smaller snakes, it will strike at and kill any creature it comes upon.

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