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Boys wearing pink, the invention of the equals sign and why we all talk French

Boys wearing pink, the invention of the equals sign and why we all talk French
By Mark Mason on 23-07-13 12:30. Comments (0)
You always miss the stuff on your own doorstep. With dirt-cheap flights to far-off lands, we Brits have got used to exploring the rest of the world. But how much do we know about our own country? Not nearly as much as we should - in my case, at least. So I solved that by travelling from Land's End to John O'Groats in a deliberately slow fashion: by local bus. It took 46 journeys (Land's End to Penzance, Penzance to Truro, and so on) - and it taught me a hell of a lot along the way. Here are my 8 favourite discoveries about Britain:

How beer shaped the Eurostar

How beer shaped the Eurostar
By Mark Mason on 26-04-12 12:37. Comments (0)
The reason London continues to be such a great city, the reason it still captures people's imagination, is the way it marries the new and the old. A perfect example of this is the story of how the Eurostar boarding lounge at St Pancras station owes its layout to Victorian beer barrels ...

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Books


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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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Quizzes

Tailor made quizzes
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Podcasts

Aural delights from the world of trivia
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Content

Big Ben

On a visit to Big Ben, I was told that if you stand at the bottom of the tower with a portable radio and listen to the chimes on Radio 4 (they still transmit them live), you hear them on the radio before you hear them ‘for real’. I couldn’t believe it – but was intrigued enough to try it for myself. And you know what? It’s absolutely true. The bongs come out of the radio a fraction of a second before they reach your ears from the top of the tower. It’s something so silly, so counter-intuitive, that you have to tell people. (Well, I did.) Researching the explanation, I found that it’s because radio waves travel at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) rather than the 700 or so miles per hour at which sound waves travel. The signal travelling down the wire from the microphone to the BBC goes at the speed of light too. Hence the radio version overtaking the real one.

I realised that this would be the perfect way to teach the principle in school physics lessons. Instead of a boring teacher droning on that ‘radio waves travel at the speed of light’, illustrate it with this beautiful and quirky little fact. The kids will remember it then. I certainly would have done if my physics teacher had taken this approach. As it was I had to wait until I heard a piece of so-called ‘trivia’ in my thirties.