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Whistling at the Burlington Arcade

Whistling at the Burlington Arcade
By Mark Mason on 21-09-15 10:02. Comments (0)
A schoolboy has become only the second person in the world who's allowed to whistle in the Burlington Arcade. Chatting the other day to one of the beadles (the Piccadilly shopping arcade's beautifully-uniformed security force), I learned that Paul McCartney - until now the only person allowed to break the ban - has been joined by a young chap from East London.

Ringo at 75

Ringo at 75
By Mark Mason on 07-07-15 09:32. Comments (0)
Dear old Ringo Starr turns 75 today. Three-quarters of a century of peace signs, curious vowel sounds that sit halfway between Liverpool and LA, and an inescapable sense of naffness. Here are five facts about the man who was once accused (by Jasper Carrot, though you often see it credited to Paul McCartney or John Lennon) of not being ‘the best drummer in the world - in fact he wasn't even the best drummer in the Beatles' ...

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.

At sixes and sevens - where truth becomes cloudy

At sixes and sevens - where truth becomes cloudy
By Mark Mason on 30-05-12 15:31. Comments (0)
I recently wrote about the disappointment you feel when you discover that a favourite piece of London trivia isn't true. Peter Watts has mentioned this on his blog too (concerning the claim that Phyllis Pearsall walked every London street to compile the A to Z). And yes, it can be disappointing to see a much-loved ‘fact' come tumbling down. But perhaps help is at hand from our old friend coincidence ...

A Beatle at the Burlington

A Beatle at the Burlington
By Mark Mason on 17-05-12 11:53. Comments (0)
It's horrible when cherished bits of trivia turn out to be untrue. The web has recently been fizzing with pieces pointing out some famous London facts that aren't facts after all. The ever-excellent Londonist had this list of impostors, while Peter Berthoud has debunked the ‘cells under the Viaduct Tavern' story. Well, I'm afraid I've got another one for you - BUT the reason for the fact not being true is just as delightful as the fact itself. Actually you could say it's even more delightful. It concerns the old custom that you're not allowed to whistle in the Burlington Arcade.

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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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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.