Archive for February, 2013

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The Iris is one of nature’s exquisitely shaped flowers

Posted in Nature, Plants on Thursday, 28 February 2013

This edited article about the Iris originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 166 published on 20 March 1965.

Iris, picture, image, illustration


The Iris is one of the oldest flowers known to gardeners; indeed, it was named several thousand years ago after the Greek goddess of the rainbow.

When its name is mentioned as a garden flower most of us naturally think of the large flag or bearded Iris, seen flowering gaily in May, its flowers in many wonderful colours, held proudly on sturdy stems above its sword-like leaves.

But there are many other types of Iris that interest the gardener, including some which grow from bulbs, in the same way as daffodils and tulips, instead of from the thick fleshy creeping stems, which botanists call “rhizomes,” that belong to the bearded kind.

Among the loveliest and most useful of these bulbous types are the Dutch Irises, which the bulb growers of Holland have produced in many handsome varieties.
To produce these blooms the nurserymen plant the bulbs in their warm greenhouses in autumn, but they are quite as easy to grow in our gardens to flower at the beginning of June.

All they ask is a place in the sun, in any ordinary garden soil, their bulbs planted 3 or 4 in. deep and about 6 in. apart in autumn, and then to be left undisturbed for several years.

In beauty and value as garden flowers for cutting, however, the Dutch bulbous Irises have their rivals in the English Irises, which flower in early June, and the fragrant Spanish Irises which follow them into bloom.

An osprey’s nest is used by all and sundry

Posted in Animals, Birds, Fish, Nature, Wildlife on Thursday, 28 February 2013

This edited article about birds originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 166 published on 20 March 1965.

osprey, picture, image, illustration

Osprey with fish

High above the water circles the osprey, master fisherman of the birds of prey. Suddenly, as his next meal glints in the water far below, his wings close and he rockets down, striking the sea with a resounding splash which entirely conceals him as he sinks his sharp talons into the doomed fish.

Coming up again the handsome, two-foot long bird holds the fish head foremost. If it is not too big he eats it in flight; otherwise he takes it to his favourite perch.

Any fisherman’s life is a tough one, and the osprey is no exception. If he has wrongly judged the fish he has attacked and picked one that is too big he can be drawn under water and drowned. For his roughly scaled feet with their long, sharp, curved claws, are traps from which no fish can escape, and the osprey will not let go once he has sunk them into his prey.

Sometimes called the fishing-hawk, the majestic osprey is an eagle-sized, sharp-billed bird that makes its home in tropical and temperate regions of the world. Although it prefers coastal waters it is also found along the edges of rivers and lakes.

Like many other birds of prey ospreys seem to develop a real affection for one locality, to which they will return year after year.

The nest they build is indeed a wonder of nature. Both male and female take part in the building, and in America the chosen site is usually a tree, often a dead one, while in Europe a cliff edge, or even a ruined building, will suffice if necessary.

Because the birds return each year to the same site and add to the nest it becomes bigger and bigger until it is a huge, ramshackle bundle of sticks perhaps six feet deep and five to six feet wide.

During this time the “lodgers” have moved in.

Most frequent of these in the American-based osprey’s roomy “apartment” is a pair of black-crowned night herons, who move in and build their nest within the ospreys’, a foot or two under the main section.

The night herons know that this site gives them a double-edged benefit. Firstly, they have an extra roof over their heads without the labour of having to build it, and secondly the fierce ospreys, who have no natural enemies except for man, keep away other predatory birds by their presence on the “top floor.”

The night herons might be joined by a pair of purple grackles, wrens or sparrows. They burrow into the side of the pile of sticks virtually under the beaks of the ospreys, who pay no attention to their guests.

For them there is a third benefit in store. When the ospreys leave their “lodgers” forage in their nest for any tit-bits left over from the osprey’s meals.

The osprey lays two or three, or rarely, four, brown splotched eggs which are incubated mostly by the female. The nestlings are born after five weeks, and for the seven weeks after that the role of father osprey as fisherman to his family becomes an arduous one.

The male and the female birds have similar plumage, with the lower parts, neck and head chiefly white and the back and long pointed wings chiefly dark brown. The chest is marked with a pale brown band and the head is usually ornamented with a short crest. The female is slightly larger than the male – she being about two feet long and he being about twenty inches.

Ospreys are wonderfully graceful birds to watch in flight, with extensive soaring and wheeling on wings that are slightly crooked.

Unhappily, the chances of seeing them in Britain are extremely remote. In the last century they were frequent visitors to Scotland until hunters drove them away.

Gideon defeated the Midianites with trumpets and fire

Posted in Bible, Religion on Thursday, 28 February 2013

This edited article about the Bible originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 166 published on 20 March 1965.

Gideon, picture, image, illustration

Gideon defeats the Midianites

When you think of a great general what picture comes into your mind? Probably you would never think of a long-haired bearded man in a rough sheepskin cloak, threshing corn with a wooden flail on his father’s farm, or leading a small group of men dressed like himself and carrying only swords and earthenware pots.

There have been great generals like that. One of them lived in Palestine some 3,000 years ago; his name was Gideon.

Gideon was an Israelite and he lived at Ophrah in southern Palestine (modern Israel) at a time when his people had only recently entered the Promised Land and were not yet fully in control of it. From time to time raiders on swift camels, the Midianites, swept down on them, carrying off their cattle and crops.

One day the young Gideon was threshing corn beside his father’s winepress, and according to the Bible story (Book of Judges, Chapter 6) an Angel came to him and said “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.”

The Angel then told Gideon that he was to lead the Israelites against their enemies and destroy them.

Now what Gideon then did might sound crazy to anyone who does not appreciate what makes a good general. First, he did not go around amassing an enormous number of followers to try and equal the power of the Midianites. He called together a fair number and then said “Those of you who don’t want to fight the Midianites can go home.” And out of thirty-two thousand, twenty-two thousand turned away.

Then Gideon picked 300 of the 10,000 and sent the rest home.

Next he gave each of these 300 men a trumpet, a sword and a pitcher (a large earthenware pot) with a lighted torch hidden inside it. Then, at dead of night, he led his warriors to the edge of the Midianite camp, surrounded it, and then, at a signal, each man broke his pitcher, showed his lighted torch, blew on his trumpet, and shouted “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!”

What happened was this. The Midianites, most of whom were unarmed and sleeping, woke in alarm. They saw the glare of torches, heard the trumpets, and, thinking a huge army had surrounded them, panicked; as the Bible says “and the host ran, and cried, and fled . . . and the Lord set every man’s sword against his fellow.”

Only then, when the Midianites were in flight, did Gideon summon the rest of the Israelites to pursue the shattered enemy.

This then is what makes a great general; ability to see the whole problem and take steps to deal with it, a sharp mind, imagination, and above all an understanding of one’s fellowmen.

Some identifiable distant relatives of life on earth

Posted in Animals, Historical articles, History, Nature, Prehistory on Thursday, 28 February 2013

This edited article about prehistory originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 166 published on 20 March 1965.

Prehistory, picture, image, illustration

Eocene, Oligocene and Miocene periods saw the evolution of animal species which appear more familiar to us today

By the time of the Eocene period, which began about 70 million years ago, the reign of the giant reptiles called dinosaurs was over. They had roamed the earth for about 125 million years, and over that period they had seen the birth of the great mountain systems – Himalayas, Andes, and Rockies had all raised their crags above the surrounding land.

They had witnessed the development of broad-leafed trees; they had watched the first flowers bloom, and heard the thunder of the seas as they advanced and retreated over huge land areas.

Why did the great lizards die away? There is no one satisfactory answer to this. There was no great change of vegetation at the time of their disappearance, nor did the climate apparently alter.

One thing we do know. In relation to their vast bulk, the dinosaurs had tiny brains. Perhaps the giant reptiles’ nerve centres became unable to cope with their unwieldy bodies, causing whole species to die . . . but this is only a theory.

Curiously enough one of the larger Eocene land creatures was a bird, the dyatryma. This feathered monster stood seven feet high, and like today’s ostrich, it could not fly.

The term Eocene comes from the two Greek words: eos meaning “dawn” and kainos meaning “new.” It certainly was the dawn of a new period of animal life.

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Sarah Bernhardt – the most famous actress of her day

Posted in Actors, Historical articles, History, Theatre on Thursday, 28 February 2013

This edited article about Sarah Bernhardt originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 166 published on 20 March 1965.

Sarah Bernhardt, picture, image, illustration

‘La Tosca’ – Sarah Bernhardt as Tosca in the play by Sardou

Although it seemed to Sarah Bernhardt that her acting career had been full of exciting climaxes, surely nothing would ever surpass the glittering triumphs of the past few weeks. Sitting there in the railway carriage as it rattled over the bridge spanning the raging waters of the St. Louis Bay, she recalled some of the many wonderful highlights of her tour of America and Canada.

Montreal, perhaps, remained most vividly in her mind. She had stepped off the train in a temperature of 22 degrees below zero, to the sound of cheering mingling with the singing of the Marseillaise, which had immediately faded away as a hundred students holding lanterns surrounded her to hear an ode of welcome read.

It was the students, too, who had charmed her during the performance, by sending doves bearing poems fluttering down from the gallery. And it was the students, mostly, after her last performance, who had unharnessed the horses of her carriage, and pulled her back in triumph to her hotel.

Sarah’s thoughts were distracted by the violent rocking of the train as it gathered speed, and for the first time she realized that she was taking part in a piece of monumental folly, which she had engineered herself. Informed that the bridge was in danger of collapse, and therefore not usable, she had bribed the engine driver to take her and her company across.

Now, she began to wish she had taken the detour that had been suggested, or had at least waited until the waters had subsided. The train raced on, showering sparks from its funnel, and then, blessedly, they had reached the other bank. Almost in the same instant, a portion of the bridge collapsed!

Sarah Bernhardt, considered the greatest actress of her time, had literally missed death by inches.

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A marriage alliance sowed the seeds of the 100 Years’ War

Posted in Historical articles, History, Royalty, War on Thursday, 28 February 2013

This edited article about France originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 166 published on 20 March 1965.

King Philip and Isabella, picture, image, illustration

King Philip the Fair and Queen Isabella visited recently conquered Flanders, where the burghers’ wives turned out in their finery much to the queen’s amused irritation, by John Millar Watt

Spring had given her first touch to the green fields around Paris and the evening air was still warm when a group of people gathered on a small island in the River Seine and began to collect faggots for a bonfire.

The pile built, an extraordinary thing happened. Two of the men who had so enthusiastically collected the firewood calmly allowed themselves to be bound with ropes and set upon the bonfire pile.

Throughout the evening the two men had been protesting their innocence of any crime. “They had helped,” says a historian, “to prepare the faggots with so stout and resolute a heart, persisting to the end in their denials with so great steadfastness, that they left those that witnessed their torment filled with admiration and stupefaction.”

As the hungry flames licked around the two condemned men it is said that one of them, Jacques de Molay, cried out: “I summon thee, Pope Clement, to appear before the solemn tribunal of God in heaven within forty days, and thee, King Philip the Fourth of France, likewise within a year.”

Parisians who next morning saw the charred remains on the little island did not need to be told that by order of their King some more of the Knights Templars had been executed. Some, stopping to gaze at the embers, must have raised their eyes to heaven and demanded in sorrow as well as in anger, “Lord, is this a King you have sent us – or a monster?”

The execution of Jacques de Molay and Guy of Normandy, two leaders of the Knights Templars, that March evening in 1314 was one more sinister act in the hideous scenes that France was forced to witness in the reign of Philip the Fourth – called, ironically, Philip the Fair (i.e. handsome).

Philip was for ever seeking means to satisfy his greed for gold. What better way, then, than to destroy and plunder the military order of the Templars – an association which was begun by chivalric knights from the Crusades and which was now an order of proud warrior monks whose meetings were secret (and, it was said, impious and scandalous), and whose treasury was crammed with the useful sum of 150,000 gold florins, among other treasures.

In October 1307 Philip ordered his seneschals and bailiffs to swoop on the surprised Templars. Vicious tortures made sure that they “confessed” to everything put to them, and then the burnings began. In the Faubourg St. Antoine, in Paris, fifty-four Knights Templars were burned in a day. The Pope meanwhile pronounced the dissolution of the order throughout Christendom, and in England, Italy, Spain and Germany the papal instructions were obeyed. But only in the France of Philip the Fourth were there executions, for only in France was there a real tyrant for a King.

Philip was seventeen when he succeeded his father, Philip the Bold, and in a short time his greedy eyes had alighted on Flanders, the richest country in Europe, whose Count, Guy de Dampierre, was Philip’s vassal. At this time Count Guy was trying to cement his good relations with Edward the First of England by secretly marrying his daughter into the English royal family. When Philip heard about this he was furious and imprisoned Count Guy for negotiating without his knowledge.

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The battle for influence on the ‘Roof of the World’

Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 28 February 2013

This edited article about Tibet originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 166 published on 20 March 1965.

Younghusband in Gyangtse, picture, image, illustration

Lt-Col Younghusband encounters fierce resistance as he leads the final assault on Gyangtse in Tibet by Pat Nicolle

In war and peace, Tibet has always been a country with a strange, mystic air. Its very position on a high plateau in Central Asia has earned it the title “The Roof Of The World.”

Bordered by India and China, it has for centuries had covetous eyes on its territory, and during the eighteenth century many different influences were at work.

The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan chief, began trade negotiations with the British East India Company. But then a British general was discovered to be aiding invaders from Nepal, and relations were broken off.

In the nineteenth century Tibet and China were supposed to have come to terms over border disputes, but no real agreement was reached.

At the turn of the century it was discovered that the Lama was in direct touch with the Czar of Russia, and at the prospect of that great country coming into the picture the Indian Government despatched a mission with military support in order to reach an understanding with Tibet. It failed, and a full-scale military operation was the result.

The troops, under the command of Lt.-Col. (later Sir Francis) Younghusband surged forward, and one of the most striking of their battlegrounds was the great fort at Gyangtse. Tibetans on its craggy heights defied the attackers for two whole months.

It fell to the Ghurka troops to achieve the final victory. Shellfire had made a breach in the wall defences and the time came to climb up the steep rock face. This was done so swiftly that the Tibetans were unable to load their guns in time, and in the face of a storm of rifle and shell fire all they could do was to throw stones at the invaders.

Our illustration shows the final assault. The Tibetan on the right is putting up a last desperate resistance with a jingal, a weapon about eight feet long firing a ball weighing anything up to three pounds.

Peace was made on the understanding that Tibet was not to be ceded or leased to any foreign power.

Tibet’s chequered history still went on. China again invaded, was thrown out. But in 1950 the final invasion by Communist troops was effective.

Samuel Baker was knighted after discovering Lake Albert

Posted in Africa, Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 28 February 2013

This edited article about Samuel Baker originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 165 published on 13 March 1965.

Samuel Baker at Lake Albert, picture, image, illustration

Samuel Baker discovers Lake Albert by Severino Baraldi

Brandishing a rifle, the Arab leader of the porters who were carrying explorer Samuel White Baker’s equipment through the African jungle came up to Baker and pushed him violently backwards.

“We won’t follow you another step further!” shouted the Arab. “Find someone else to carry your goods!”

“Load up the animals!” commanded Baker tersely.

“We take no more orders from you!” retorted the Arab.

Without another thought Baker shot out his right fist. The chief porter slumped to the ground.

“Now load the animals,” Baker commanded his men. Wide-eyed, they obeyed without a murmur.

That incident in the steaming jungle was one of a whole list of difficulties that beset Baker in his quest to make new discoveries about the Upper Nile.

The British explorers John Speke and Captain J. A. Grant had penetrated Africa in 1863 to discover the source of the Nile – the Lake Victoria Nyanza. On their return journey Speke and Grant borrowed boats from their friend Baker, whom they chanced to meet at the town of Gondokoro.

It had been Baker’s plan, too, to discover the Nile’s source and when Speke and Grant told him what they had found he must have felt a sense of disappointment akin to that which Captain Scott experienced when he found that Amundsen had reached the South Pole before him.

Baker was a tenacious man. He asked his friends if there were any native rumours about other worthwhile discoveries to be made and then Speke told him that the natives had spoken of a lake supposedly to the west of Victoria Nyanza into which the Nile flowed.

If it existed this lake clearly provided the Nile with a considerable additional amount of water near its basin, and geographically it would be an important and valuable discovery.

Baker made up his mind in a trice. He would discover it!

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Charlotte, Empress of Mexico, was too proud to abdicate

Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics, Revolution, Royalty on Thursday, 28 February 2013

This edited article about Mexico originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 165 published on 13 March 1965.

French in Mexico, picture, image, illustration

Napoleon III’s troops landed on the shores of Mexico and eventually marched into Mexico City against Benito Juarez, by Angus McBride

Although it was dark, it was not late. Certainly not late enough to account for the streets being completely deserted.

To the couple sitting in the carriage that was rattling over the primitive roads of Veracruz, Mexico, it was another ominous sign to reinforce the misgivings that had assailed them on their arrival in Mexico. They had expected a royal welcome, with thousands of cheering people to greet them, but instead they had been kept waiting on the moored boat until General Almonte had finally arrived, five hours late, to escort them to Mexico City.

The General had been apologetic about his late arrival, and a little embarrassed by the lack of any demonstration, which naturally needed some explanation. Forced to give it, he had mumbled something about the people of Veracruz being strongly opposed to being ruled by a foreign monarch.

It was the night of May 26, 1864, and the couple in the carriage were Maximilian, brother of the Austrian Emperor, Francis Joseph, and his wife Charlotte (pronounced Car-lot-a). Whatever doubts this couple might have had about the future, neither of them could have imagined the nightmare that was to come – especially Charlotte, who was to be haunted by it through the long, long years until her death in 1927.

To find out why Charlotte and her husband were there in the first place, we have to go back to January 11, 1861, when a black carriage entered Mexico City, almost unnoticed.

Inside it sat a grim-faced Indian named Benito Juarez, who had just become the new President of Mexico. Juarez had good cause to be grim faced. He had fought and won a bloody revolution, and he was anxious now to bring peace and prosperity to his country. But unhappily the finances of the nation were in a deplorable condition, and what was worrying Juarez now was where he was going to get enough money to put the country back on its feet.

Juarez tried to solve the problem by suspending all payments on foreign debts. It was a reasonable enough action in the circumstances.

It was at this stage that a new character stepped on the scene – Napoleon the Third of France, a ruthless, vainglorious man, who yearned to be as great as his famous uncle, Napoleon the First. Forever looking for ways in which he could expand his colonies, he had already cast a greedy eye on the young republics of Latin America. Mexico, with her enormous pile of unpaid bills, would provide the excuse he was looking for to start building his empire.

Within three years Napoleon the Third had achieved his aim. He had crushed the Mexican army in the field, driven Juarez into hiding, and chosen a suitable monarchy, loyal to his crown. The royal couple were Maximilian and his wife, Charlotte, the daughter of King Leopold of Belgium.

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Armour-clad giants of the Mesozoic Era

Posted in Animals, Historical articles, History, Nature, Prehistory on Thursday, 28 February 2013

This edited article about the Mesozoic Era originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 165 published on 13 March 1965.

Cretaceous Period, picture, image, illustration

Dinosaurs of the Cretaceous Period

As the world moved slowly on through millions of years we come to what is called the Jurassic Period. It is so called because many of the rocks of the Jura Mountains in Switzerland were being formed at that time. It began about 180 million years ago and lasted for some 45 million years.

The reptiles of the Triassic Period were still the lords of the earth, but many of them had developed into much larger creatures than their earlier dinosaur ancestors. Animals were developing rapidly both in varieties and numbers, so that the struggle for existence had become fiercer.

Many of the reptiles were meat eaters and hunted and ate their weaker relatives. As a result, some of the vegetable eating dinosaurs developed thick skins of armour to protect themselves against their bloodthirsty hunters.

The fiercest and most relentless hunting dinosaur of the Jurassic Period was the ceratosaurus. This savage creature grew to a length of 24 feet and was not unlike a giant kangaroo with its long hind legs and short forelimbs.

Its enormous jaws were armed with terrible curved teeth ideal for tearing the flesh of its prey.

Like most flesh-eating dinosaurs, the ceratosaurus always moved on its hind legs in a succession of bouncing leaps. Then in one tremendous leap it hurled itself on its victim – usually considerably larger than itself.

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