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Which way does the Queen face?

Which way does the Queen face?
By Mark Mason on 10-06-13 11:45. Comments (0)
It was today in 1931 that Edward VIII (as he then wasn't) met Wallis Simpson, the woman he would one day marry, but only after abdicating. His short spell as king in 1936 gave rise to one of my favourite bits of trivia about British coins ...

Smithfield, centre of the universe

Smithfield, centre of the universe
By Mark Mason on 20-05-13 13:52. Comments (1)
This weekend I learned something new about Smithfield Market, that Victorian beauty situated between the Old Bailey and Farringdon Tube station. It's always been one of my London favourites, and not just because you can get a drink there at five in the morning (its pubs are allowed to open at that time because the market workers have been up all night). There are the traditional red phone boxes in its central section (including some K2s, the early versions made especially tall so that men in top hats could use them). And, of course, there are the first-rate fry-ups to be had in the neighbouring cafes. But above all, I love the way the market - which has taken place there for over 800 years - is linked to just about every part of London, and has left its stamp on the entire city.

Just how down-to-earth was Princess Margaret?

Just how down-to-earth was Princess Margaret?
By Mark Mason on 26-04-13 11:08. Comments (0)
Princess Margaret, according to papers released today, had very ‘simple' tastes, and didn't like a fuss being made about her. ‘Simple' here seems to be a relative term - five courses at dinner, for instance, were ‘quite sufficient'. But the detail that really caught my eye was Margaret's taste in literature: she would only accept gifts of books from authors who were ‘of reputable character'. Not sure whether Michael Caine falls into that category, but the Princess might have been interested in a story from the actor's 1992 autobiography. Because it's about her - and reveals that perhaps she did like a fuss being made about her after all ...

Baroness Thatcher and the Suffragette

Baroness Thatcher and the Suffragette
By Mark Mason on 12-04-13 11:47. Comments (0)
Much debate this week as to whether or not Baroness Thatcher helped the cause of feminism. What's certain is that her body is to spend its last night in the same Westminster chapel where the Suffragette Emily Davison once hid overnight.

The best Boat Race story ever

The best Boat Race story ever
By Mark Mason on 31-03-13 11:30. Comments (0)
So there's another change to London's sporting calendar - this year the Boat Race is on a Sunday rather than its traditional Saturday. Never mind: the history's still there to enjoy. Everything from the race originally being from Westminster Bridge to Putney Bridge, through Hugh Laurie being one of the Cambridge rowers in 1980, to the event's role in Cockney rhyming slang (‘go wash your German bands, your Boat Race too'*). But surely the best story is the one about John Snagge and the flagpoles ...

Bet you've never noticed this about the Tube map

Bet you've never noticed this about the Tube map
By Mark Mason on 25-03-13 13:10. Comments (0)
Much celebration today at the unveiling of a blue plaque to Harry Beck, inventor of the cultural icon and design classic that is the London Tube map. You don't need me to tell you about his genius insight that the map didn't have to be geographically accurate: that's in all today's news reports. (If you want to see a pre-Beck map, there's a fantastic original in a glass case outside Temple station.) Instead let me share my favourite little quirk about the map as it appears today.

Who put the Graham in Alexander Graham Bell?

Who put the Graham in Alexander Graham Bell?
By Mark Mason on 10-03-13 13:57. Comments (0)
This weekend saw the anniversary of the first ever telephone call, made by Alexander Graham Bell on March 10th 1876. Leaving aside the tricky issue of who actually invented the device (others claim the patent), I was fascinated to learn recently that until the age of 10 the appropriately-named Mr Bell was just plain ‘Alexander'. But he felt left out - his two brothers had middle names. So he asked his father if he could have one too. Told that he could, he chose ‘Graham', and received the name for his 11th birthday.

The original Mind the Gap returns ...

The original Mind the Gap returns ...
By Mark Mason on 08-03-13 09:13. Comments (10)
Wonderful news from the northbound platform of the Northern Line at Embankment Tube station. London Underground have reinstated the original Mind the Gap announcement - just so that the widow of the man who said it can go and hear his voice.

The Rubik's Cube and the meaning of life

The Rubik's Cube and the meaning of life
By Mark Mason on 08-02-13 17:29. Comments (0)
I have discovered the meaning of life. All right, the secret of a happy life, rather than the full-on ‘core truth of the universe'. But it's a valuable insight nevertheless. I learned it from a Rubik's Cube ...

Grand Central's whispering gallery

Grand Central's whispering gallery
By Mark Mason on 27-01-13 15:11. Comments (1)
Grand Central Terminal (yes, pedants, I know it's Terminal not Station) celebrates its 100th birthday this week. As with most great buildings, my favourite thing about it is one of its secret and quirky little details ...

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Walks

Inspired by my book Walk the Lines: the London Underground - Overground, each of these trivia-packed walks uncovers London’s history by following a section of a Tube line ... at street level.
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Tailor made quizzes
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Rubik's Cube

A Rubik’s cube has more combinations than light travels inches in a century. This is my favourite illustration of how a very small number of factors can produce an absurdly complicated situation. A silly little toy, with only three squares in each of its three dimensions. How can that get complicated? Well, as anyone who's ever tried to solve one just by guessing will tell you, it gets very complicated. The number of possible combinations is 43,252,003,274,489,856,000. Forget billions - that's 43 quintillion and change. (In fact the cube's manufacturers just said ‘billions' in their advertising, figuring that no one would know what a quintillion was. It's a billion billion.) The number of inches light travels in a century, meanwhile, is a mere 37,165,049,856,000,000,000. Or thereabouts.