Page 103. " The Wombats in particular "
Wombat, Maria Island National Park
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeWombat, Maria Island National Park - Credit: JJ Harrison

Wombats are Australian marsupials. The have four short legs, grow to approximately 1 metre long, weigh between 20 and 35kg, and have a short, stubby tail. They are found in forested, mountainous, and heathland areas of south-eastern Australia.  They’re mainly nocturnal.  Female wombats give birth to a single young in the spring. They have a backwards pouch for their young, which is important, because they spend a lot of time digging burrows. 

Rossetti's Wombat seated in his Master's Lap 1871
Public DomainRossetti's Wombat seated in his Master's Lap 1871 - Credit: William Bell Scott
English painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882), founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848, was fascinated with wombats. He frequently arranged for meetings to take place at the "Wombat's Lair" at the London Zoo, and inspired the 1974 book, ‘The Year of the Wombat: England, 1857.’  He acquired his own pet wombat in 1869. 

Page 104. " What's the melting point of beryllium? "

Beryllium is a steel-gray, strong, lightweight and brittle Alkaline earth metal.  It occurs naturally only in combination with other elements in minerals, and is a rare element.  It is used primarily as a hardening agent in alloys.  Its thermal stability and conductivity and low density make it an important aerospace material for high-speed aircraft, missiles, space vehicles and communication satellites.  It is however highly toxic. 

Its melting point is 1287°C.

Page 108. " My cousin Arnold had a great auk once called Beany "
Plate 341 of Birds of America by John James Audubon depicting Great Auk
Public DomainPlate 341 of Birds of America by John James Audubon depicting Great Auk - Credit: Jean-Jacques-Fougère Audubon

The Great Auk lived in the North Atlantic. They were sea birds that came ashore to breed, nesting on rocky shores in large colonies.  The birds mated for life. The female bird laid a single egg, and both parents would care for the offspring. Great Auks had no defences against their major predator, man, and  were killed in great numbers for food, feathers and as collectables. As they became more rare, they became more valuable, despite laws put in place to try to stop their extinction. The last Great Auk in Britain was shot in 1813. The last Great Auk sighting was recorded in Iceland in the middle of the 19th Century.

Great Auk monument: This cairn was built in 1988 by Junior Members of Orkney Field Club To promote care and conservation of our living world
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeGreat Auk monument: This cairn was built in 1988 by Junior Members of Orkney Field Club To promote care and conservation of our living world - Credit: Bruce McAdam
The extinction of the Great Auk is stark example of how species that are taken for granted can be lost forever. The monument in this picture was built in 1988 to promote awareness of conservation. In 2011, the author Margaret Atwood, knitted a Great Auk as her contribution to “The Ghosts of Birds Gone Exhibition,” which was designed to make people aware of birds that run the risk of extinction. 

Page 109. " two gentlemen waiting in the Cheshire cat for you "

The cheshire cat in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland drawn by John Tenniel 1866
Public DomainThe cheshire cat in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland drawn by John Tenniel 1866 - Credit: John Tenniel
The Cheshire Cat is a fictional cat, made famous by Lewis Carroll’s depiction of it in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  He is known for his enormous and mischievous grin (which he can leave lingering in the air after he’s disappeared). 

The term Cheshire cat predates Carroll’s use of it.  A classical dictionary of the vulgar tongue by Francis Grose (London 1788) contains the entry: "He grins like a Cheshire cat; said of any one who shows his teeth and gums in laughing."  In 1792, John Wolcot’s Pair of Lyric Epistles states "Lo, like a Cheshire cat our court will grin."

The phrase "Grinning like a Cheshire Cat" may have its origins in the large number of dairy farms in Chesire – cats would grin with pleasure owing to the abundance of milk and cream.

Page 110. " A half a Vorpal's special, please. "
Illustration to the poem Jabberwocky 1871
Public DomainIllustration to the poem Jabberwocky 1871 - Credit: Sir John Tenniel (1820-1914).

Vorpal sword is a phrase coined by Lewis Carroll in the nonsense poem Jabberwocky. The poem is contained in Through the Looking Glass (1871), which continues the adventures of Alice in Wonderland. 

The word "vorpal" appears twice in "Jabberwocky," a poem describing a young boy's quest to slay a monster called the Jabberwock.  The boy “took his vorpal sword in hand”“The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!

Readers and scholars have speculated about exactly what vorpal means.  It probably had very little meaning when Carroll composed the poem, which consists almost entirely of nonsense words.  Indeed, Carroll himself once wrote, "I am afraid I can't explain 'vorpal blade' for you—nor yet 'tulgey wood.'" 

However, the word has since entered the English language, and has thus been assigned various definitions.  In current usage, it is sometimes used to refer to an extremely effective weapon capable of severing a head or a limb with a single blow.

Page 111. " This is Operative Bowden Cable "

A Bowden cable is a type of flexible cable used to transmit mechanical force or energy, by the movement of an inner cable (usually made of steel) relative to a hollow casing. The casing usually comprises a helical steel wire, often lined with plastic, and a plastic outer sheath.  The movement of the inner cable creates a pulling force.  The cable tension can be adjusted, lengthening or shortening the casing relative to a fixed anchor point.

The Bowden mechanism was invented by Irishman Ernest Monnington Bowden, who patented it in 1896, primarily for use in bicycle brakes, although it had the potential for other applications. The Bowden Brake was publicly launched in the bicycling press in 1896.

Cut-away Bowden cable view. From left to right: Protective plastic coating, steel structure, inner sleeve to reduce friction, inner cable
GNU Free Documentation LicenseCut-away Bowden cable view. From left to right: Protective plastic coating, steel structure, inner sleeve to reduce friction, inner cable - Credit: Baran Ivo

Page 119. " Want to see Richard III? "
Richard III Poster 1884
Public DomainRichard III Poster 1884 - Credit: W.J. Morgan & Co. Lith. of Cleveland, Ohio

 Richard III is a play by William Shakespeare, dating from about 1591. It depicts the Machiavellian rise to power and short reign of Richard III of England.  Next to Hamlet, it is Shakespeare’s longest play.  It is rarely performed at full length – often certain peripheral characters are removed entirely, and linking lines added in to establish continuity.  The original play assumes that the audience is familiar with the Henry VI plays, and frequently references events in these. 

Richard is bitter, ambitious, hunchbacked, and jealous of his brother, King Edward.  So he plots the downfall of his rivals, lies, cheats and murders his way to the throne, and meets his doom in the final Act. 

Page 121. " This evening several hundred Raphaelites "
The Bride
Public DomainThe Bride - Credit: Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of English painters, poets and critics, founded in 1848. It had seven members - Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner. 

La Bella Mano
Public DomainLa Bella Mano - Credit: Rossetti (1828-1882)
The group set out to reform art, to reject mechanistic and conventional styles, and return to the abundant detail, intense colours, and complex compositions of Italian and Flemish art.  They had four core declarations: “to have genuine ideas to express; to study Nature attentively, so as to know how to express them; to sympathise with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parodying and learned by rote; and most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues.”

Page 121. " The neo-surrealists responded by charging the lines "

Surrealist work by Argentinian artist Ruben Cukier
Public DomainSurrealist work by Argentinian artist Ruben Cukier - Credit: Ruben Cukier
Surrealism is a cultural movement that began in the early 1920s, encompassing visual art and literature, music and film.  It was founded in Paris by Andre Breton, who explicitly positioned it as a revolutionary movement.  Surrealist works feature the element of surprise and unexpected juxtapositions. Salvador Dali is perhaps the most well-known of the Surrealists.

Surrealism evolved from Dadaism, which held that excessive rational thought and bourgeois values had contributed to the outbreak of the First World War.  It also drew inspiration from Freud's work with free association, dream analysis, and the unconscious.  Surrealism advocated for the importance of ordinary and depictive expressions, while allowing their arrangement to be open to the full range of imagination. 

Page 121. " Hand of God from the Sistine Chapel "
Portrait of Michelangelo
Public DomainPortrait of Michelangelo - Credit: Giulio Bonasone

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564) was an Italian Renaissance sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer, who exerted an enormous influence on the development of Western Art. 

In the early 1500s, he was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  He worked on the giant fresco for four years (1508–1512). The original commission was to paint the 12 Apostles against a starry sky, but Michelangelo preferred a more complex arrangement, representing creation, the Downfall of Man and the Promise of Salvation.  The composition eventually contained over 300 figures and had at its center nine episodes from Genesis.  Among the most famous paintings on the ceiling are The Creation of Adam, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and the Great Flood.


Hands of God and Adam, Sistine Chapel fresco
Public DomainHands of God and Adam, Sistine Chapel fresco - Credit: Michelangelo

Page 121. " n'est pas une pipe "
Pipe and Passport of René and Georgette Magritte-Berger
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikePipe and Passport of René and Georgette Magritte-Berger - Credit: Michiel Hendryckx

René François Ghislain Magritte (1898-1967) was a Belgian surrealist artist. He was famous for his witty and thought-provoking images. His work challenges preconditioned perceptions of reality.  His painting, The Treachery of Images, shows a pipe, with words painted below: "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" - "This is not a pipe."  He was making the point that it is in fact a painting of a pipe, not a pipe itself, and is therefore unable to "satisfy emotionally" as a pipe can.  When asked about the image, he said of course it is not a pipe -- just try to fill it with tobacco.

View The Treachery of Images

Page 124. " I went into The Wreck of Hesperus an hour ago "
Illustration for
Public DomainIllustration for "The Wreck of the Hesperus" 1885 - Credit: John Gilbert

"The Wreck of the Hesperus" is a narrative poem by American Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, first published in Ballads and Other Poems in 1842.  It tells the story of the tragic consequences of a sea captain's pride. The captain ignored the advice of one of his experienced men, who feared the approach of a hurricane.  The ship crashes onto the reef of Norman’s Woe, and all aboard are lost, included the Captain’s daughter.  Longfellow was inspired by the great Blizzard of 1839, which raged across America’s northeast coast for 12 hours, destroying 20 ships and killing 40 people.  A ship called Favourite was destroyed on the reef of Norman's Woe, in Massachusetts, and all were killed, including a woman.