Just how down-to-earth was Princess Margaret?

Why Michael Caine had to go up a tree because of the Queen's sister

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 ...

Just how down-to-earth was Princess Margaret?

The young Caine served part of his National Service at the barracks of the Queen's Royal Regiment near Guildford. One day he and his colleagues were told that Princess Margaret would be making a visit, and a huge pile of coal at the barracks was likely to offend her royal gaze. Therefore, came the order, the coal was to be painted white. The order was duly carried out.

What's more, as it was autumn, every leaf that had fallen from the trees had to swept up. Caine thought this was reasonable enough: you couldn't have the place looking a mess. But on the morning of the visit itself, he had to climb every tree and shake the branches, so that no loose leaf would fall while the Princess was there. ‘I often wonder,' he wrote, ‘if Princess Margaret thinks that coal is white and the winter comes earlier in Surrey than it does in London.'


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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.