They say you learn something every day. In 2010, I decided to put this to the test, and write down the one thing I learned each and every day of the year.
Some things you probably know already. Some may not be true (I read them in newspapers and on the internet, after all); others are more lessons learned than information acquired.
All of them, however, are things I didn’t know at the start of the day, but did by the end.
1. Parking spaces in underground Barcelona car parks are the smallest, tightest parking spaces in the world.
2. Wii Boxing makes my arms hurt.
3. There are three million Arabian camels, but only one million Bactrian camels.
4. Trained racing huskies can defecate while running.
5. Plunge not thy hands into the school lost-property bin; for they shall emerge contaminated with foul ichor.
6. After 12 years in the U.K., the loud guy at the table next to us in this restaurant is still very proud of his Canadian accent.
7. Ben Jonson was buried standing up.
8. Bundles of nerves inside the body are called fascicles.
9. Few things are worse for family harmony than a trip to the mall.
10. Locks, as used to move canal boats vertically, were invented by the Dutch in the 14th century.
11. The Icelandic mackerel catch in 2002 was 800,000 tons.
12. During the Second World War, the remains of Emperor Charlemagne were moved to a coal mine for safekeeping.
13. The fourth Doctor Who enjoyed fishing.
14. Carbon monoxide kills you by getting into your bloodstream and occupying the space inside red blood cells that would normally be filled with oxygen.
15. You can calculate altitude using a properly calibrated barometer, since air pressure drops as you go higher.
16. About 1.5 billion people (one fifth of the world’s population) have no access to electricity.
17. My neighbor’s cat eats mice head first.
18. No dishwasher will ever be big enough.
19. The game we know as polo was invented in ancient Persia, where it was called tsukan.
20. When Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded, her lapdog was sheltering in her skirt.
21. Cut not thy toenails above thy slippers; for thou shalt suffer spiky intrusions in thy undersole thereafter.
22. Amenhotep III was Tutankhamun’s grandfather.
23. The English town of Tewkesbury raised £453 to buy the local abbey of St. Mary the Virgin from King Henry VIII, thus saving it from destruction.
24. Starfish have a water vascular system that they use to move themselves around. They suck seawater into their bodies through a sieve-like organ on their upper surface, and push this water through a series of tiny tubes to their feet. By varying the water pressure, the feet move and the starfish “walk” over the sea floor. You may now shudder.
25. Hitchhiking is part of the culture in Cuba; there are official hitchhiking stops where men in mustard-colored uniforms organize the queue and match hitchers to drivers.
26. Early man made stone axes by sharpening stones, embedding them in the trunks of young trees, and waiting for the trees to grow around the stone, gripping it securely. Then the tree would be felled and the excess wood cut away, leaving behind a ready-made axe complete with fitted handle.
27. Ten years after the Great Fire of London in 1666, there was another fire in the southern borough of Southwark, which killed 20 people and destroyed 500 houses (in other words, most of the borough).
28. There’s a museum of art on the Moon.
29. My dentist enjoys his work. He cheerfully whistles as he scrapes away the tartar.
30. The correct pronunciation of “Baron Wriothesley” is “Baron Risley.”
31. The banana rat is a rodent in Cuba.
1. Weasels are excellent swimmers.
2. If I’d spent as much time learning the guitar as I have faffing about on the internet, I’d be a pretty good guitar player by now.
3. The illness formerly known as “dropsy” is now called “edema” or “oedema.” It is characterized by excess fluid buildup in body cavities.
4. Cheap shampoo is made of all sorts of chemical shit, and may do nothing to make your hair cleaner. Actually, the same goes for expensive shampoo.
5. You shouldn’t pronounce an uncombined “h” in the middle of a word, unless it begins a syllable.
6. Abbey Road was the first Beatles album recorded in stereo.
7. Some people go pylon spotting.
8. Skips—a British savory snack food—are made from tapioca.
9. A cyclide is a three-dimensional shape where all lines of curvature are circles.
10. The Suffolk village of Thorpeness was a private holiday playground built by wealthy owner Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie in the early 1900s. It retains an air of weirdness about it, rendering it suitable as a film location for The Prisoner.
11. A woman’s ovaries are not fixed in place like other organs; they float around inside the female belly, sometimes close together and sometimes much further apart.
12. Isaac Newton was born prematurely on Christmas Day. He spent nine years of his childhood separated from his mother, and never forgave his stepfather for arranging it.
These days, drinking more than a single pint of beer in one evening gives me horrible hangover headaches. This is middle age.
13. Maghrib was a word used to refer to all of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and a chunk of western Libya.
14. Wise words from a friend: “Never urinate next to your boss.”
15. Amazon doesn’t accept U.K. book tokens.
16. In another 50 million years or so, Saturn’s rings might have fallen back to the gas giant’s surface, or been dispersed into space. They are a temporary feature.
17. Jupiter is halfway between the Sun and Saturn. Only halfway.
18. The Vogons are not mentioned in the Bad Poetry Index.
19. Mission Impossible III is an appalling pile of shit.
20. Year-long writing projects are harder than I expected.
21. The Fall’s Mark E. Smith worked in a dockyard when he was a teenager. He’s been a full-time musician since he was 19.
22. When they say there’s sugar in nearly everything, they’re not kidding.
23. Our boiler wastes about 40 percent of the fuel we buy to run it.
24. These days, drinking more than a single pint of beer in one evening gives me horrible hangover headaches. This is middle age.
25. Spain is a monarchy. King Juan Carlos I has been on the throne since 1975.
26. I know at least six Matts.
27. Mike cooks the best honey-roasted parsnips this side of the Atlantic.
28. Few Roman Emperors were bearded.
1. I didn’t know it was possible for a bra to smell of leeks.
2. The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance takes place on Wakes Monday (the Monday after the first Sunday after Sept. 4). It is a bizarre pagan-style ritual involving antlers, wooden deer heads, and a melodeon; some say it is the oldest ceremony of its kind in England.
3. There are more than 1,400 photos in the Visual Encyclopedia of Super 8.
4. Benjamin Franklin was one of the first people to notice that weather systems tend to travel from west to east.
5. Many claim to have been the world’s first radio broadcaster, but the best claim is probably that of Reg Fessenden, who started broadcasting from Massachusetts on Christmas Eve, 1906.
6. Male otters are called meowters. Females are called queens.
7. Perthes Disease is a rare condition that affects the hip joint, most often in children aged between 4 and 8, and more often boys than girls. The joint becomes painful to move and symptoms include a pronounced limp. Within three years of diagnosis, though, the joint will usually regrow until completely healed.
8. I can use 10 teaspoons in a day if I’m not careful.
9. There’s a village in England called Crackpot. And another called Ventongimps.
10. Right whales are 40 percent blubber. They float when they die.
11. Average annual rainfall in Muscat, Oman, is 90.3 millimeters.
12. A rack bolt is a good way of securing a casement window; a dual screw is better for sash windows.
13. I get more satisfaction buying music on actual CDs than I do from buying music as digital files.
14. The distance from your elbow to your armpit is one eighth of your height.
15. The Red Kite is differentiated from other raptors by its long, forked tail, which it twists continuously whilst in flight.
16. Samarra was the capital city of the Abbasid caliphate from 836 to 883.
17. The first 35mm film camera was the Leitz camera—a name shortened to Leica. Oskar Barnack built the prototype in 1913; the camera went into production in 1925.
18. Keeping a basil plant in the house is said to be a good way of deterring flies.
19. Suzy doesn’t think much of her husband’s taste in shoes. But it could be worse: At least it’s just his shoes.
20. Stalin was quite fond of Eastern Europe-made Western movies known as “Osterns.“ In Osterns, the Indians are noble good guys, and the cowboys are cowardly double-crossing bad guys who deserve their inevitable comeuppance.
The recommended amount of elbow room around a washbasin is 3 feet 8 inches.
21. Some days, I learn more than one new thing.
22. George Brace founded his bakery company in 1902. Apparently, eating bread baked by a woman whose maiden name is the same as her married name is a cure for many illnesses.
23. David Bowie’s vocal on “Heroes” was recorded on three microphones, each one a bit further away from the singer than the last. And that thing that causes the different-colored eyes is called heterochromia.
24. Britain took possession of Ascension Island in 1815.
25. Today was Wednesday. I spent all day thinking it was Thursday.
26. The Fall only once had the no. 1 spot in John Peel’s Festive Fifty chart—in 1990, with the song “Bill Is Dead,” from the album Extricate.
27. Selling photographs is hard work.
28. One legend says that Albion was a giant, the son of Poseidon, and he ruled over England for 44 years. The giants were defeated by a Trojan called Brutus, hence the name Britain.
29. “High caves” are caves whose entrances are at very high altitudes. The highest in the world is an unnamed cave in Pakistan, with an entrance at 6,765 meters.
30. You can still visit the church where Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door in 1517. The original door was destroyed in a fire, and replaced with bronze doors into which the theses are inscribed.
31. The recommended amount of elbow room around a washbasin is 3 feet 8 inches.
1. Over 2,000 varieties of apple are grown in the U.K..
2. Roentgen discovered x-rays.
3. Tudor banquets included sculptures made of sugar.
4. The gentleman in front of me at the rail station ticket office has no idea he just trod on my toe.
5. Californium was discovered by scientists at the University of California in 1950. It is an artificial, man-made element, although it may exist naturally in very small quantities inside uranium ore deposits.
6. David got fed up with writing about architecture, and is much happier now that he’s teaching it instead.
7. The word “caret,” as used in the jewelry business, derives from an Arabic word referring to the seed of a certain tree.
8. Manx cats are a particularly intelligent breed of cat.
9. Four light years—the distance from Earth to our closest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri—is only about 25 trillion miles. Which makes it sound closer, somehow.
10. The Spartans were pioneers of chemical warfare, burning sulfur to try to suffocate their enemies.
11. A fish’s heart has only one auricle and one ventricle.
12. The British Meteorological Office was founded in 1854 as a service to seafarers. In 1991, it bought a Cray supercomputer, one of those curvy ones with the built-in sofa.
13. I get more than twice as much work done if I switch off Twitter and email. I enjoy cutting myself off for a while. I should do it much more.
14. Dozens of boats were deliberately sunk along the banks of the River Severn between Sharpness and Purton to protect the entrance to the Gloucester and Sharpness canal from erosion. The wrecks can still be seen poking out of the sandy soil, a bizarre nautical graveyard.
15. “Pelf” is a word you can use to describe ill-gotten wealth. It comes from the French pelfre, meaning “booty” or “stolen goods.”
16. A proper wide-angle lens is a joy to play with; it’s not about fitting a lot in, it’s about getting up close to the subject.
17. In the year 2000, there were 8 million pet cats in U.K. households, but only 1.3 million rabbits.
My rose-tinted perception of life on a canal boat appeals to me.
18. My single most frustrating personal flaw is a tendency to procrastinate. I know I’m not alone in this, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
19. My Star Wars name is Giltu Josit.
20. The trick to making a good omelet is not flipping it over in the pan. Cook the underside, then fold so that the upper side gets gently cooked by being folded into the middle.
21. Water, lemon juice, and vinegar are polar; oil, wax, and white spirit are non-polar.
22. My rose-tinted perception of life on a canal boat appeals to me.
23. At 610 miles, the South West Coast Path is the longest walk in Britain.
24. Iceland and the Faroe Islands have reciprocal health care agreements.
25. Gaudi intended the Sagrada Familia to have 18 spires, but only eight have been completed so far.
26. The Domesday Book, published in 1086, records that the town where I live, Bradford on Avon, was worth £60. There were nine slaves here at that time.
27. During the final third of Spirited Away we see a lamp bouncing through the night on one foot. Director Hayao Miyazaki intended this as a deliberate reference to Pixar’s jumping lamp, Luxo Jr.
28. Lisa loves musicals and doesn’t care what you think.
29. I could have put all these on Twitter, but they’d have been wasted as tweets.
30. Estonia lost two-thirds of its population during the 25 year-long Livonian War against the invader Ivan the Terrible. Estonians have a motto: “May your face be as ice.”
1. It’s not clear who started the Time War.
2. I learned how to pronounce “Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch” when I was a small child, but I still can’t spell it.
3. The Swedish word for “sponge” is “svamp.”
4. At low tide outside my mother’s beach hut, you can clamber through rock pools and pick out dozens of common green crabs. On a sunny afternoon, hours flash by here. It is peaceful.
5. Jung Chang has honorary degrees from several U.K. universities, and now lives in London.
6. Plato’s mother was called Perictione.
7. I know someone who knows someone who knows someone who has seven kids, and they watch no TV. Except Christian TV.
8. The Community Area Partnership gets funding for its own existence from the Community Area Board, which in turn is funded by the County Council. The Community Area Partnership can also apply to the Board for additional funding for specific projects. The Board’s job is to ensure that the Community Area Plan is adhered to. The Plan is put together by the Partnership, not the Board.
9. Terence Rattigan’s middle name was Mervyn.
10. Wooden furniture is best kept in the shadiest part of the room.
11. The SS Richard Montgomery sank off the north Kent coast in August 1944, with 1,400 tons of explosives still on board. To this day, Royal Navy divers regularly survey the wreck to ensure that it is still stable. Some people believe that if the wreck’s cargo was to explode, it could cause a tsunami.
12. London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children is famously the owner of the rights to the story Peter Pan; what I didn’t know was that Charles Dickens was also a great supporter of the hospital during his lifetime, and once gave a public reading of his works to raise money when the hospital was faced by a financial crisis.
13. Just over the road from the hospital is a park called Coram’s Fields. Adults are only permitted to enter if accompanied by children.
14. If you’re lucky, you should be able to pick the first of this year’s strawberries about now.
15. Lord’s Cricket Ground in London is named after Thomas Lord, the Yorkshireman who built it.
16. St. David’s in Pembrokeshire is Britain’s smallest city, where “city” means “town with a cathedral.” Its full name is St. David’s and the Cathedral Close.
17. Point Barrow, Alaska, is the northernmost place in the United States.
18. Baby squid will hatch from their eggs in as little as four weeks after the eggs were fertilized. Male squid use a modified arm to place a sac of sperm into the female’s mantle cavity, where she stores the eggs.
19. William the Conquerer’s coronation was a disaster. His guards mistook the crowd’s cheering for rioting, and set about solving the problem with their swords. They also set light to nearby buildings. William and his attendant priests only just managed to complete the coronation ceremony.
20. The first Stitch ‘n’ Bitch group met in New York in 1999.
21. I can’t imagine a time when I won’t want to sneak into my son’s room late at night and gaze at his sleeping face.
22. Persistence in photography pays off. I took 200 shots before I got the one I wanted.
One Christmas when we were kids, our mother was sick with tonsillitis. We had beans on toast for Christmas dinner. I have no memory of this.
23. A single-skin tent is about as much use as a chocolate teapot, and about as comfortable to sleep in.
24. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: I have all my best ideas in the shower. This morning my mind generated about seven great ideas as I washed, but by the time I’d dried off I’d forgotten all of them.
25. You need two certified copies of your National Identity card to claim your pension after retiring from the Kenyan police force.
26. The Greek philosopher Chrysippus is said to have died laughing while watching a donkey eating figs.
27. One Christmas when we were kids, our mother was sick with tonsillitis. We had beans on toast for Christmas dinner. I have no memory of this.
28. Rifles were invented in Germany.
29. Water really is blue, but only very, very slightly so. You need a lot of it in one place to see the blueness come out.
30. The two parts of a cetacean’s tail are called flukes.
31. The wood of the cherry tree is good for making pipes.
1. Withdrawing from commitments can be cathartic.
2. Thou shalt never forget to check the pockets of thy 7-year-old son’s trousers before putting them in the washing machine. Never.
3. Dean Gould holds a number of world records for beer-mat snatching, pancake tossing, and winkle picking.
4. According to David Bailey in David Bailey’s Book of Photography (published 1981), “The single biggest destroyer of lens quality is the photographer himself.”
5. I have forgotten most of what I read the first time I read Byzantium: The Early Centuries. Which is good, because it means I can read it all again.
6. My friend tests online banking systems, looking for security holes. The stories he tells send shivers down my spine.
7. Wells and Young’s make a beer called Banana Bread Beer.
8. Ancient Egyptians had three calendars: astronomical, lunar, and farming. The farming calendar was divided into three seasons, each four months long.
9. My expectations as a buyer of a £600 fridge differ from the manufacturer’s expectations as sellers of said fridge.
10. China is so named because of a guy called Chin.
11. Your eyeball is about two-and-a-half centimeters across.
12. Rome didn’t invent gladiators; the idea was imported from Campania, further south in Italy.
13. Die Hard With a Vengeance is an appalling pile of shit.
14. It’s harder to properly and mercifully kill a half-dead bird than you might expect.
15. During his circumnavigation of the globe in 1577, Francis Drake attacked and robbed Spanish ships. With Queen Elizabeth’s permission.
16. If an atom’s nucleus were the size of a pea, the entire atom—including orbiting electrons—would be the size of a football stadium.
17. A whistling swan has more than 25,000 feathers.
18. People who are known by a single name are “mononymous.” (People like Sting, Madonna, Pelé, and Bono.)
19. Wiki racing is a sport in which players nominate two articles on Wikipedia and race to become the first to navigate from one to the other using only links on the site.
20. You find great fossils on Lyme Regis beach just by digging into the sand with a small tool, or even just with your fingers. There’s no need to go hacking into the rocks with a geological hammer.
21. The Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo existed in northern China between 1932 and 1945. Fifty million people lived there. They still do, but it’s all China now.
Port is best consumed within three weeks of opening the bottle. This bottle, opened approximately four years ago, is probably past its best.
22. The LightCraft is a laser-powered aircraft concept. A laser beam is used to superheat the air immediately below the fuselage; the air explodes, generating thrust and pushing the aircraft upwards. I’m still not clear on how you steer and land the thing, though.
23. Carly Simon is five feet 10-and-a-half inches tall.
24. While working on a design for King’s College, architect Nicholas Hawksmoor drew up plans for a radical redesign of the streets and squares of central Cambridge. Had his plans ever been built, much of the city’s medieval labyrinth would have been destroyed in favor of huge grand streets and monumental obelisks.
25. Badgers nod their striped faces up and down so that they can better see one another in the dark.
26. Port is best consumed within three weeks of opening the bottle. This bottle, opened approximately four years ago, is probably past its best.
27. The modern toothbrush was invented by William Addis in England, around 1780. He came up with a handle carved from bone and a brush made of pig hair. Modern toothpastes usually include a sweetener ingredient.
28. Data privacy is a constitutional right in Mexico.
29. Stonehenge was a place for the dead: a very expensive gravestone.
30. Charlotte can’t believe the size of this place. Like, oh my God.
1. The modern British canal boat is usually six feet and ten inches wide.
2. The world’s longest stalactite is 59 meters tall.
3. On Jan. 23, 1960, two men boarded the bathyscaphe Trieste and went to the very bottom of the Marianas Trench, the deepest ocean trench in the world, deeper than Everest is tall. It took the two adventurers, Piccard and Walsh, five hours to go down more than 35,000 feet. They returned safely to the surface, despite the Trieste being damaged during the descent. Their feat has never been matched by another human being, only by robots.
4. The Pope has a personal photographer; the Vatican was built on the site where St. Peter was crucified upside down on the orders of Emperor Nero. The Vatican has an observatory, 18 miles south of Rome, where it employs a former N.A.S.A. scientist as official astronomer.
5. As tsunami waves approach land, they slow down but their height increases.
6. That set of encyclopedias we threw out after Dennis died? We should have kept them.
7. Pandas have a special protruding bone in their wrist, a bit like a thumb.
We are doing pretty well. Pretty well.
8. As well as the well-known h2N1 strain, other subtypes of the influenza virus include H2N2, H3N8, H7N2, and h20N7.
9. The largest audiences for the BBC’s World Service are in Nigeria and the United States.
10. The fantasy airports in children’s how-it-works books are models of efficiency, cleanliness, and architectural innovation. Nothing like the real thing, then.
11. Peter Sallis, the man who provides Wallace’s distinctive northern accent for the Wallace & Gromit films, is actually a Londoner.
12. Bruce Forsyth’s great-great-great-great grandfather gave us the plant genus forsythia.
13. We are doing pretty well. Pretty well.
14. The postcode for the city of Salisbury is SP. But why?
15. The largest oil spill in history, the Ixtoc 1 in 1979, makes Deepwater Horizon look like a, well, a drop in the ocean.
16. If humans continued to grow at the same rate they do during the first few weeks in the womb, adults would be as tall as mountains.
17. The dyne is a unit of force. One kilogram of force equals 980,665 dynes.
18. The smell of the children’s indoor play center assaults the senses like no other smell on Earth. The floor boasts a unique quality of sticky filthiness.
19. To remove the SIM card from your Nokia 6020, you need to press firmly on the SIM card release and slide the card itself towards the top of the phone. Do not attempt to hinge the SIM storage unit through 45 degrees, as this will cause unexpected breakage and embarrassment in front of your loved ones.
21. Reggae grew out of rocksteady in the late 1960s.
22. YouTube is an excellent source of instructional videos for fixing broken household appliances.
23. Gooseberry bushes have bastard-sharp thorns on them.
24. Every hour of every day, a billion tons of rain falls on the Earth. Much of it falls on Wales, the wettest place in Europe.
25. Dad thinks I look like a thug when I cut my hair short.
26. My privacy is important to the people who built the website for the Catholic Encyclopedia. I am ambivalent about this information.
27. Bones have blood vessels in them.
In the Republic of the Congo, Pygmy tribes continue to be kept as slaves by Bantus. You own your Pygmy, just as your grandfather owned his grandfather.
28. The French roads are quiet, clean, and a joy to drive on; except where the rule of priorité à droite applies. This gives right of way to traffic joining from the right—and while you’ll be warned when you’re entering a zone where it applies to some junctions, there’s nothing at those junctions to warn you that they’re different from the rest. Either you live locally and you just know, or you don’t, in which case you guess and go slowly.
29. Brachiosaurus was taller and heavier than Diplodocus. The tail of a T-Rex was half the length of the whole animal.
30. The U.K. construction industry sends more waste to landfill than U.K. households.
31. Watford Gap is so named because of a gap in the hills near the village of Watford; it has nothing to do with Watford in north London, some 60 miles to the south.
1. Deer are colorblind.
2. Just down the road from the village of Matching, there’s another village called Matching Tye.
3. In the Republic of the Congo, Pygmy tribes continue to be kept as slaves by Bantus. You own your Pygmy, just as your grandfather owned his grandfather.
4. Dave Pell is completely right about “that guy” with an iPhone. Lots of us are turning into that guy.
5. Nelson’s Column in central London was made with granite from Foggin Tor in Devon. The four bronze lions at the base of the monument were added 25 years after the column itself was erected.
6. Of autumn = autumnal; of winter = wintry; of summer = summery; but of spring? That’s vernal.
7. There’s a tiny island off the coast of Wales that’s like a miniature tectonic plate. Pillow lavas at one end of the beach, subduction zone metamorphics at the other.
8. The wind tower or barjeel is a simple architectural feature found on some buildings in the Arabic Gulf states. It cools air through convection, pulling in warm air at the top and channeling them downwards to create a cool breeze indoors.
9. Even my son thinks The Phantom Menace is an appalling pile of shit. He ignores the film and plays with his Lego while it burbles away to itself in the background.
10. The word “sycophant” is derived from the ancient Greek for “person who informs on those who deal illegally in figs.”
11. The thing I learned yesterday is my favorite of the year so far.
12. The Perseid meteors are tiny bits of debris left behind by a comet.
13. The quarterly journal for students of the artificial language Lojban is called “ju’i lobypli.”
14. You only ever need to cook half as much rice as you expect.
15. The character of Robinson Crusoe was based on real-life castaway Alexander Selkirk—only Selkirk asked to be put off his ship at the next island, and wasn’t actually a shipwreck castaway at all.
16. There are six different species of bumblebee commonly found in British gardens.
17. While it’s on, Glastonbury Festival covers an area much larger than the town I live in.
18. A whist or bridge hand with no cards above nine is called a “yarborough.”
Somali poetry is characterized by absurd amounts of alliteration.
19. The oldest national anthem is the Dutch one.
20. The Duffing map is a discrete-time dynamical system that exhibits chaotic behavior. It might look a bit like this.
21. Japanese wrestling was rocked by scandal in 2000. In June that year, 24 of the 26 wrestlers in the All Japan Pro Wrestling competition pulled out and set up their own alternative.
22. Kak ik is a ceremonial soup served in Guatemala. It is made with turkey meat and tomatoes.
23. OK Computer makes surprisingly good dishwasher-emptying music.
24. There are 11 poles, including the Ceremonial South Pole, which is a pole in name only.
25. Darwin had a cousin, Francis Galton, who pioneered genetics and statistics. He invented the word association game. Pastime. Hobby. Simon Quinlank. Comedy. Father Ted. Religion.
26. Next week is Panda Week on Channel 5.
27. Cytokines carry chemical signals between cells. They’re a bit like hormones, but not the same.
28. Prior to acting in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Gates McFadden did choreography for films like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.
29. Spiders have been evolving for between 300 and 400 million years. It took a good 50 million years for them to evolve the advanced spinnerets required for complex web building; it’s thought that silk was first used as a protective covering for eggs.
30. Somali poetry is characterized by absurd amounts of alliteration.
31. Loughborough Road is an excellent way of avoiding the traffic in Brixton when driving northwards toward central London.
1. Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) is a protein produced by white blood cells; it is capable of destroying cancer cells.
2. Email that isn’t spam, but that isn’t important, is known as bacn.
3. Mars is closer to Earth than it has been for 800 years.
4. The suffix “-hurst” is an Anglo-Saxon word ending meaning “clearing in the woods.”
5. After his success as keyboard player in The Communards, Richard Cole became a Church of England vicar.
6. The Cerne Abbas Giant originally had a navel, but it was eventually subsumed by an extension of his enormous phallus.
7. In 1381, the capital of England was Chelmsford, a town named after Julius Caesar.
My non-stick wok is now a stick wok.
8. More people died in one night of the British bombing of Hamburg than in the entire German blitz over London.
9. Failure to supply an effective broadband connection is nobody’s fault. Nobody in the whole world. Certainly not the broadband company.
10. You can use the word “alienate” to mean “turn into an alien”—if you’re 8.
11. My non-stick wok is now a stick wok.
12. Ratty in The Wind in the Willows was actually a water vole.
13. Malawi charges a 47.5 percent tax on LED lighting systems.
14. Even some teachers pronounce “h” as “haitch.”
15. There was a Muslim prayer room inside the Twin Towers.
16. At the beginning of the 20th century, Grimsby was the biggest fishing port in the world.
17. The U.K. National Health Service has its own fraud investigation service which in turn has its own team of specialists in dental fraud.
18. “Velcro” is just a brand name; that sticky stuff is generically known as “hook and loop.”
19. America produces 6 billion eggs each month.
20. Profits at Cambridge-based microchip design company ARM went up 102 percent in the first half of this year.
21. The Nabateans built their stone monuments from the top down, so they could use the lower unworked stone as a scaffold.
22. Perfect numbers always end in a 6 or an 8.
23. The constituency of Old Sarum used to send two MPs to parliament, elected by just a dozen or so voters. The Reform Act of 1832 put paid to this dodgy practice.
24. India is a confederation of 35 independent states and territories.
25. Anyone can apply for a job as a porter at Billingsgate fish market, but you have to get a license from the City of London, and it really helps if you already know some other porters.
26. Filk is folk music with a nerdy, sci-fi theme.
27. Jim Henson did the Swedish Chef’s mouth and voice; Frank Oz did the arms. Henson died of streptococcus pneumonia.
28. Felicity Kendal was voted “Rear of the Year” in 1981.
29. Attila the Hun was buried in three nested coffins—one of gold, one of silver, and one of iron. The location of his tomb has never been found.
30. A group of Russian scientists think that volcanic eruptions 40,000 years ago killed off the Neanderthals, leaving the evolutionary gap open for modern humans.
1. There is a one in a million chance of dying for every six minutes you spend in a canoe. Mathematicians measure “one in a million chances of death” using the unit micromorts.
2. Most of my favorite REM songs are the ones where there’s lots of Mike Mills backing vocals: “Maps and Legends,” “Fall on Me,” etc.
3. Spallation is one method used for drilling for geothermal power; it uses superheated steam to push tiny crystals deep underground, effectively melting the rock rather than drilling through it.
4. Venetians have renamed the Bridge of Sighs as the Bridge of Signs, since advertising hoardings started appearing on it.
5. American military bases occupy one fifth of the area of the island of Okinawa.
6. Descartes was also a mercenary.
7. ei x π = -1
8. The parliament of Iceland is known as the Althing, or Althingi. It was founded in the year 930.
9. A mole’s fur grows in two directions.
10. Adolf Hitler’s sister was called Paula.
11. Coal miners in the early 1900s were paid a piece rate, per ton of coal they dug out and per yard of timber supports they erected inside the mineshaft. Their colleagues at the pit head, who sorted the coal and separated out other chunks of rock, were paid a simple hourly rate.
12. I could get a loyalty card for my local cinema, but I have to pay for it. This isn’t being rewarded for loyalty, it’s being taken for a ride.
13. I want to find a balance between capturing moments for posterity, and experiencing everything through a screen. I need to take fewer pictures at family events, and learn when to put the camera away.
The circumference of the top rim of a standard British pint glass is longer than the glass is tall.
14. There’s an acronym for “today I learned”—TIL. There’s a whole sub-Reddit devoted to the things people are learning.
15. Tone-deafness has a medical name: congenital amusia. It is thought to be brought about by physical imperfections or damage to certain parts of the brain.
16. Magister is the Latin for “master.”
17. That thing where you pronounce every statement as if it’s a question? That’s called “high rising terminal”—to understand just how annoying it is, you should just put question marks at the end of every sentence you type? That really brings it home?
18. Vermeer painted maps in the backgrounds of many of his works of art.
19. Characters in Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven stories are fans of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories.
20. The circumference of the top rim of a standard British pint glass is longer than the glass is tall.
21. Tulsa, in Oklahoma, is the no. 1 U.S. city for hailstorms. About 3.5 million people live in Oklahoma.
22. The chapel of St. Mary Tory, just 20 minutes’ walk from my house, was once a stopping-place for pilgrims on their way to the holy town of Glastonbury.
23. My call is important to the insurance company, irrespective of how long they leave me on hold.
24. The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. lasted for more than 24 hours. No one really knows how many people died in the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Those who evacuated during the initial rain of ash had a good chance of survival; anyone who lingered was likely to be killed by the deadly pyroclastic flow that began late into the evening, many hours after the eruption had started.
25. Egyptian pyramids developed from smaller, simpler platform structures called mastabas. Mastabas became more ambitious and over time, turned into pyramids.
26. The Chrysler Building remains the world’s tallest brick building. It was paid for by Walter Chrysler out of his own pocket, so that it could be a family heirloom. The building now belongs to the Abu Dhabi Investment Council.
27. Your body gets more nutritional benefit from eating cooked carrots than raw carrots.
28. In New Zealand, Graeme Cairns has created a toothbrush fence where used toothbrushes can live out their retirement in the fresh air. To add your old toothbrushes to the fence, you can post them to the bucket that hangs on it: The Toothbrush Bucket, 294 Limeworks Loop Road, Te Pahu, RD5, Hamilton, New Zealand.
29. There hasn’t been a great bustard bred in the U.K. since 1832. They mainly feed on vegetables but will also eat insects and small animals such as frogs.
30. It’s not wise to clear a blocked drain wearing your favorite coat.
31. Spartak was a Soviet-era sports society. Many modern sports clubs in Russia and Eastern Europe still use the word Spartak in their club name.
1. They still sell Chumbys?
2. If it landed on Earth, the International Space Station would comfortably fill our street.
3. I should never have Freecycled that spare electric heater that I thought we no longer needed. We need it now.
4. I can buy an electric heater for as little as £28.
5. Clive Sinclair has developed yet another one-person vehicle, the X1 bicycle.
6. When your son asks “What is electricity?” it’s wise to stop and think for a moment—or consult an encyclopedia—before launching into an answer that may grind to an unfortunate and, for the questioner, unsatisfying halt.
7. People with body odor should not work in retail.
8. Brian Eno has a beautiful, fabulous, huge studio/office/workshop/living space where he does creative things with his time. I aspire to have something similar when I’m his age.
9. The name of the country just south of Narnia is pronounced Ark-en-land, not Arch-en-land, as I have been pronouncing it since I was a child.
10. Narnian history encompassed just over two-and-a-half thousand Narnian years, but only 49 Earth years.
11. “Jussulent” means “full of broth or soup”—“What’s that delicious smell? It’s coming from that jussulent bowl on the table.”
12. A verruca is actually a wart that grows inwards.
13. A three-way jacket is comprised of two garments.
14. Steve has told his client about this problem three times now, and they still keep their heads in the sand about it. He knows it’s going to blow up in their faces sooner or later. He fears that he will get the blame, unjustly.
15. Gabby and Alex’s new flat is just a couple of streets away from their old one.
16. There’s a subway on the Harrow Road, north west London, dedicated to the memory of Joe Strummer, who used to busk there. It’s called Joe Strummer Subway.
17. Princesses’ Court, in Kensington Palace, is traditionally the place where Royal princesses are given apartments. Diana lived there from 1981 until her death; Princess Margaret (the Queen’s sister) lived there from the birth of her first child (Viscount Linley) until her death in 2002.
This is not the 40th birthday I was expecting, or hoping for. I’m surprised that I’m bothered about it.
18. Slovenia is the third most forested country in Europe.
19. That set of encyclopedias? They didn’t get thrown out when Dennis died, they’re under the spare bed at my mum’s house. And she says we can have them.
21. Norwegian Sondre Norheim is considered the Father of Ski Jumping.
22. Roald Dahl was also a pretty good photographer.
23. Labradoodles were not an accident of canine crossbreeding; they were the result of an experiment to find a dog smart enough to be a guide dog for blind owners, but which wouldn’t molt dog hairs all over the place. Poodles don’t molt at all.
24. Fish cakes do not need a breadcrumb coating. Indeed, they taste much better without.
25. London’s Harley Street is such a desirable address for medical practitioners that property developers buy buildings there and refurbish them into ready-to-rent “practice units.” Demand is so great that medical offices spill outwards in all directions on to the surrounding streets of Marylebone.
26. British coroners can allow juries to deliver what’s called a “narrative verdict,” one that allows them to express views on the manner of death in their own words. The verdict at the inquest into the deaths of Dodi Al Fayed and Princess Diana was one such narrative.
27. This is not the 40th birthday I was expecting, or hoping for. I’m surprised that I’m bothered about it.
28. Being 40 feels weird. Like passing a milestone. No wonder people have mid-life crises.
29. Today is Amazon’s busiest day of the year.
30. Lisa Kudrow has a degree in biology.
1. These new long johns are itchier than the old pair.
2. The Howard de Walden estate owns about 90 acres of prime real estate in London’s fashionable Marylebone district, centred on Marylebone High Street and the (long since buried underground) Tyburn stream. A small one-bedroom apartment here will cost you about £500 per week.
3. Kindles really are cute little things, aren’t they?
4. Hairdressing can be a bitchy industry, according to my barber.
5. The deadline for full traceability of Uruguayan cattle has already been delayed once, due to difficulties in tagging and entering older cattle into the database.
6. David Shrigley’s cartoons are sometimes funny and sometimes unsettling. He’s about the same age as me.
7. The first part of me that gets cold after the heating switches off is my nose. Then my legs.
8. It’s hard to use the “jussulent” in everyday conversation, but everybody should try once in a while.
9. Three out of my four most-used software applications use little yellow stars to help me highlight items.
10. A spin-off version of Cluedo, called Cluedo: Discover the Secrets, replaces the lead piping with a baseball bat and the ballroom with a patio.
11. If you have the equipment and the know-how, you can chill atoms and put them in a bowl made of lasers.
12. The Michael Tippett School in south London educates 80 children with profound special needs, inside a beautiful modern building. The architects deliberately “cranked” the shape of the structure to create useful outdoor spaces on either side.
13. Not all spaghetti is round in cross-section. Ours is like this:
14. The name “Roger” means “famous for using a spear.”
15. “Joskin” is a word sometimes used to describe people from a rural or farming background.
16. The names of the 11 people who died on the Deepwater Horizon were Gordon Jones, Roy Wyatt Kemp, Karl Kleppinger Jr., Keith Blair Manuel, Shane Roshto, Adam Weise, Aaron Dale Burkeen, Jason Anderson, Donald Clark, Stephen Ray Curtis, and Dewey Revette.
17. It should be written “32 GB,” not “32GB.” The space matters.
18. The world’s largest wool-producing nation is Australia. New Zealand is second, then China.
19. -40 degrees C is the same as -40 degrees F.
20. Snickers salad exists.
21. The Chinese invented whisky. Also wheelbarrows. And pasta.
Seeing the canal boats locked in ice in recent weeks has altered my rose-tinted perception of living in one.
22. Yellowstone National Park is mostly in Wyoming, but parts of it stretch into Montana and Idaho. It experiences thousands of small earthquakes every year, sometimes hundreds in just one day. It’s a 17-mile drive from Yellowstone Lake to Old Faithful.
23. A car, parked on a snow-covered slope with the handbrake engaged, can still start to slide backwards downhill. The adrenalin that kicks in when you see said car sliding in said manner with your child still strapped inside it is considerable. (All was well, in the end, with no injuries and no damage, but it was a mighty scary moment.)
24. Ronnie Corbett’s middle name is Balfour.
25. Good King Wenceslas wasn’t a King, he was a Duke.
26. Pronghorn give birth to twins.
27. Seeing the canal boats locked in ice in recent weeks has altered my rose-tinted perception of living in one.
28. Today is Childermass, the day Herod ordered the killing of all male children in Bethlehem.
29. The Pontcysyllte Viaduct is 127 feet high and spans the River Dee with 19 arches. It holds 1.5 million liters of water and took 10 years to build.
30. The Darjeeling Himalayan Hill Railway was the first hill railway in India. “Darjeeling” is sometimes shortened to “Darling” by locals.
31. Years have themes, like movies or books. 2010 has been particularly difficult, riddled with medical disaster and emotional trauma. Commitments—to work, to friends, to the daily chores and tasks that provide the rhythm of life—have suffered. Our family has fought through these difficulties and emerged in one piece. Coping with a hard year has made me appreciate the easy years of the past. Even though there will surely be more hard times to come, this year has taught me to look forward to the easy times ahead, to embrace them and cherish every joyous moment. Joy is precious.