Move Along Please

Land's End to John O'Groats by local bus

Discovering the history and trivia of my home country

Move Along Please

Land's End to John O'Groats by local bus

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The one country you never really know as well as you should is your home country. You take it for granted, don't you, as you rush around? So I decided to rectify that by travelling the length of Britain on the slowest means of transport possible: local bus. It took 11 days and 46 bus journeys - but boy did I learn some things.

That Britain invented bungee jumping, the pencil, karaoke and Homer Simpson's ‘doh'. That until about a hundred years ago boys wore pink and girls wore blue, not the other way round. That there are 2.5 million Mills and Boon novels buried in the M6 Toll motorway, and that the little girl in the ‘schoolchildren crossing' road sign is Margaret Calvert, the woman who designed the sign (it's a girl leading a boy rather than the other way round, because Margaret wanted to strike a blow for female emancipation). I also discovered that the pub name ‘Royal Oak' pays tribute to Charles II hiding from Oliver Cromwell's troops in a tree.

As well as throwing up several busloads' worth of trivia, the journey also gave me lots of time to contemplate Britain and its character. Our obsession with war, for instance (in our history we've invaded every country in the world except 22), but also our very distinctive humour (Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath moved back to the Midlands from Los Angeles because he ‘missed the sarcasm'). Plus I saw and overheard the Great British Public at its quirkiest. Two women in Burton discussed ‘Denis Beckham' and his skirt, while a bicycling couple in Cornwall parted with a snog of such intensity that their front wheels got locked together. As for the wedding party in Sheffield ...

 

‘A good source of factoids, I'm thinking.' Steve Wright, BBC Radio 2

Amazing' BBC Radio 5 Live

A charming as well as an oddly heartening meander' The Spectator 

‘This book should be on the National Curriculum.' Iain Lee, BBC London

‘Drab nation? Not a bit of it. The Great British public, Mason found, is as handy dandy as a bog brush and brilliant as brass stair rods.' The Times

‘The facts just spill out over the pages - so much you can learn.' BBC Radio 6 Music

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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.