Miscellany

It’s Rambler5319 taking over for the Wednesday post again. Here goes….

 

Sometimes when you are reading you come across interesting bits of information;  and sometimes you just seem to hit a lot of it at once. That’s what happened to me so this week I’m just going to pick a few of those items which I’ve come across in my reading:

1. The word serendipity which means something which happens by accident or a nice surprise. It was first used by Horace Walpole (1717-97), son of Robert Walpole, Britain’s first prime minister. He built a house in Twickenham called Strawberry Hill which had its own printing press. Apparently, in a letter from 1754, he explained that he made up the word by using the last word in the name of a fairy tale: The Three Princes of Serendip. Now that’s not a fairy tale I’d even heard of so a bit more research revealed that it is an English translation of a story published by a Venetian writer in 1557; this was itself a translation of a story by a Persian writer in 1302. Serendip is apparently the Persian name for Sri Lanka.

2. In another book I read that in June of last there were still 21 people who had been born in the 19th century. They were all women!

3. In a history magazine I sometimes get they have a regular feature in which famous people pick someone they regard as a kind of hero in terms of their influence and someone they hold in high regard from a historical point of view. This time Princess Michael of Kent chose her history ‘hero’. The person she chose was Yolande of Aragon, (1384-1442). Now I’ve not heard of her (but I did remember the Aragon bit from Catherine of Aragon, 1485-1536, first wife of Henry VIII). She introduced Joan of Arc to Charles VII and let her use the army of Anjou. That army had been on the march south to Marseilles to board a ship to Naples; it was going to help her (Yolande’s) son. The army turned back north. And we all know what happened, in 1429, when they fought a certain battle at Orléans: the English army was defeated. 

4. I saw the film Long Walk To Freedom about Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) last week. He’d joined the ANC (African National Congress) in 1942 and always advocated a peaceful, non-violent opposition to the South African Government. In 1963 he and 10 others were given life sentences. He was released in 1990 after 27 years in prison.  Just over 50 years after joining the ANC he and President F.W. de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and one year later (1994) Mandela became South Africa’s first black president. I didn’t know he was a member of the royal elite of his tribe (The Tembu) and that he’d gained a law degree in 1942.

5. In a book about the life of William Lever, the man who produced among many other products, Sunlight Soap. He was a philanthropist of sorts. He built a village for his employees to live in – he called it Port Sunlight (on the Wirral, the opposite side of the River Mersey to Liverpool). Instead of streets of back to back housing which urban/industrial development introduced he built houses with gardens front and back set along wide roads. However those who rented them had to be very careful they did not disobey the rules – HIS rules. A worker could lose his house if he was found to have bad habits. These were noted as slothfulness, drinking, gambling, dishonesty or even to not fully enter into the other activities laid on in the village for time outside of work. Quite a tall order I reckon looking through the list but then he was providing a very nice place to live; and the people knew the alternative that city dwellers had to endure.

6. A number of newspapers carried an article about a man who had been spared jail even after having been found dealing in drugs. The reason – he was helping to care for his youngest son. Well that sounds sort of reasonable. But wait – there is a bit more to this story as the headlines showed. The man in question has claimed to have fathered 22 children by, wait for this, 11 different women! Police had found a stash of drugs at his house and messages from his customers. He has convictions dating back over 40 years. He says he loves kids but follows that with an admission that he doesn’t speak to them all AND that some of them don’t even know he’s their father. Is he in anyway bothered? His response – “I don’t regret anything….”

7. Another one from the press. You can hire a motorhome (portmanteau word again) for £8,000 ($13,143) per night! But not just any old motorhome – no this one USED to be owned by Jensen Button. Button is a Formula 1 racing driver with 15 wins to his credit (out of 247 races). In the package, the owners will bring the bus to wherever you want it. You will be welcomed on board by a team of waiters; they stay for as long as you have the thing along with a gourmet cook. Just remember that Button used to own it; he got rid of it in 2011. Just checked my wallet – I’m about £7,980 short – oh well never mind.

8. a) I’m reading a book about roads – a kind of history which of course includes the development of the car and in the UK the motorway system. Speed cameras are yellow boxes on poles at the side of the road; they’re called Gatso cameras. I didn’t know that the name comes from a Dutch racing driver – Maus Gatsonides – who wanted to know how fast he was going round corners. He reckoned it helped him win the 1953 Monte Carlo Rally. However it was almost 40 years later in 1992 that the first one of these cameras appeared on the A316 near Twickenham Bridge. It had a photo roll which could store 200 photos. It was used up within 30 minutes! Once warning signs were put up the number of offenders dropped from 8,000 to just 100 per week; but, bear in mind, this figure was for people exceeding 60mph in a 40mph limit!!

b) This book also tells me that the first person to be issued with a speeding ticket in the UK was Walter Arnold of East Peckham (Kent). In 1896 he was fined for speeding; he had been ‘judged’ to have done 8mph in a 2mph limit. (I’m not sure how they calculated the speed in those days.) He was fined 1 shilling (£0.05p/$0.037) plus costs.

The Canadian prime minister’s wife was given a speeding ticket in 1910 for exceeding a 10mph limit.

Amazing the trivia you pick up. 

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