Holkham Beach

July 7, 2017

The sandy tropical island shoreline at the end of the 1998 romantic comedy drama, Shakespeare in Love, was filmed on the sandy-but-not-so-tropical Holkham Beach in Norfolk.



June 10, 2017

We have scientists working in the Sandwich laboratories of U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer (that’s Sandwich the Kent town, not a sandwich laboratory), to thank for Sildenafil citrate, more commonly known by the brand name Viagra.

Popularly used to treat erectile dysfunction, research has shown that the drug can also extend the life of cut flowers for up to a week.

A not-so-giant-leap for humankind

April 1, 2017

In 1976, English astronomer Patrick Moore announced to BBC Radio 2 listeners that, due to the combined gravitational pull expected from Pluto passing behind Jupiter – known as the Jovian-Plutonian gravitational effect – if anyone were to jump up at exactly 9.47 a.m., they would feel a floating sensation. The phone lines soon lit up as hundreds of listeners reported that it had worked. The date was April 1: April Fool’s Day.


March 26, 2017

With 19 letters, the Northumbrian farmstead hamlet of Cottonshopeburnfoot would hold the record for the longest single-word place name in England, were it not for it appearing on the Ordinance Survey map as Cottonshopeburn Foot.


Barely a short tractor ride along the riverbank, the official record instead goes to Blakehopeburnhaugh, with 18 letters. Little more than a few farm buildings at the meeting of the Blakehope Burn and River Rede, the literal name means ‘black valley stream with flat riverside land’.

I went down to the Chelsea Drugstore

February 24, 2017

When Mick Jagger recounted a visit to the Chelsea Drugstore in the lyrics of You Can’t Always Get What You Want, the building – with its three floors of trendy clothes, record shops, restaurants and bar – was a focal point of swinging-Sixties London. The Drugstore also had a chemist, and the story goes that Jagger used to call in to collect girlfriend Marianne Faithfull’s prescription drugs when they lived together in nearby Cheyne Walk. Unlike the High Street chemists of today, the Chelsea Drugstore had a late-night motorcycle delivery service run by purple-catsuit-clad young girls.


On the corner of Royal Avenue and the King’s Road, the Chelsea Drugstore – where Stanley Kubrick shot the record shop scene in the film A Clockwork Orange – is now a McDonald’s restaurant.


Ancient English Laws: keeping a pigsty

February 19, 2017

Although, since 1965, a legal team charged with revising ancient English laws has removed over 2,000 from the statute books, the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 is still in force. Under the Act, carrying a penalty of up to 14 days in prison, it is illegal to keep a pigsty unless separated from the street by a sufficient wall or fence.


Millbank Bridge

February 5, 2017

With worries that Luftwaffe bombs might put the busy central London Vauxhall Bridge out of use during the Second World War, Millbank Bridge was built alongside as a backup.

Millbank Bridge JPEG copyright

Dismantled in 1948, Millbank Bridge was reassembled across a tributary of the Zambezi River, in what is now Zambia. As it was, Vauxhall Bridge survived the war intact.