Page 78. " The Uffington White Horse drifted below "
Uffington White Horse
Public DomainUffington White Horse - Credit: NASA

The Uffington White Horse is a highly stylized prehistoric hill figure, 110 m long, formed from deep trenches filled with crushed white chalk.  It lies on the upper slopes of White Horse Hill in Uffington, in Oxfordshire.  The figure dates back about 3,000 years, to the Bronze Age, somewhere between 1400 and 600 BC.  The Uffington is the oldest of the white horse figures in Britain, and is of an entirely different design from the others. 

Page 78. " the Light Armed Brigade had advanced into the Russian guns in error as they thought to repulse an attack on Balaclava "
Charge of the Light Brigade
Public DomainCharge of the Light Brigade - Credit: Richard Caton Woodville (1825-1855)

The Charge of the Light Brigade took place at Balaklava, on October 25, 1854, during the Crimean War. It was a resounding British defeat, resulting from miscommunication among the British military commanders.  Blame for the blunder has never been satisfactorily assigned. 

The Light Brigade of the British cavalry, led by Lord Cardigan, charged through a valley, and were mown down by the Russian forces clustered on the hilltops above.  The brigade consisted of up to 670 cavalry officers.  Of these, 118 were killed, 127 wounded and about 60 taken prisoner. Fewer than 200 returned to their lines with their horses.

This military folly was immortalised in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade, published in 1854.  Tennyson wrote the poem within minutes of reading an account of the battle in The Times. It was distributed among the troops in Crimea in pamphlet form. 


Charge of the Light Brigade: Our fighting services
Public DomainCharge of the Light Brigade: Our fighting services - Credit: Evelyn Wood
Page 80. " an off-white white elephant "

A white elephant is an idiom for a valuable but burdensome possession of which its owner cannot dispose and for which the cost of upkeep is greater than its usefulness or value.  The term derives from the story that the kings of Siam would present a sacred white elephant to courtiers who had rendered themselves obnoxious. The recipient would soon be financially ruined by the cost of maintaining the animal, which had to be treated with great respect.  In modern usage, a white elephant is usually an object or building considered to be without use or value.

Page 85. " but I'm immunised against lycanthropy "
Lithographie de la Légende rustique de George Sand, 1858
Public DomainLithographie de la Légende rustique de George Sand, 1858 - Credit: Paris, bibli.des Arts décoratifs

Lycanthropy is the professed ability of a human to transform into a werewolf, or gain wolf-like characteristics. It derives from the Greek words lykos (wolf) and ànthrōpos (human). 

In medical terms, clinical lycanthropy describes a medical condition in which a patient believes he or she is, or has transformed into, an animal and behaves accordingly

Page 88. " The 356 Speedster? "
Porsche 356 Speedster at rest
Creative Commons AttributionPorsche 356 Speedster at rest - Credit: FaceMePLS

The 356 was Porsche’s first production model - a tubular chassis prototype called “No. 1.”  It was lightweight and nimble, with a rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive and two doors, available in hardtop coupe and open configurations.

The 356 was created by Ferdinand ‘Ferry’ Porsche, son of Dr. Ing. Ferdinand Porsche, the company’s founder (Ferdinand Senior designed the Volkswagen Beetle). Its body was designed by Porsche employee Erwin Komenda, while its mechanicals were derived from the Volkswagen.

Production started in 1948 at Gmund, Austria, where approximately 50 cars were built. These were handcrafted in aluminum. In 1950 the factory relocated to Zuffenhausen, Germany. Models produced from then on were steel-bodied. 

Porsche 356 Speedster
GNU Free Documentation LicensePorsche 356 Speedster - Credit: Softeis

Increasing success with its racing and road cars brought Porsche orders for over 10,000 units in 1964.  General production of the 356 continued until April 1965, by which time approximately 76,000 had been produced.  About half of these remain in use or in collections. 

Page 94. " Emma Hamilton? "
Portrait of Emma, Lady Hamilton
Public DomainPortrait of Emma, Lady Hamilton - Credit: Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (1755–1842)

 Emma, Lady Hamilton (1765 - 1815) was born Amy Lyon near Neston, Cheshire, in England. Her father, a blacksmith, died when she was two months old. She was brought up by her mother, with no formal education. At the age of 15, she became the mistress of Charles Francis Greville, member of Parliament for Warwick, who persuaded her to change her name to Emma Hart.  Greville sent her to be painted by his friend George Romney. She became his muse – he painted many portraits of her in various poses, and she became well known in society circles as a result.  By 1783, Greville was engaged and needed to be rid of Emma.  He passed her on to his uncle, Sir William Hamilton, British envoy to Naples.  As Sir William's mistress, Emma developed what she called her "Attitudes" – a sort of mime act, presenting herself in classical costumes and poses, her identity to be guessed by the audience.  Her act became a sensation across Europe, and was subsequently copied by several other female artists.

Lady Hamilton as Circe
Public DomainLady Hamilton as Circe - Credit: George Romney

Sir William married her in 1791, making her Lady Hamilton. She was 26 and he 60. She and Nelson fell in love in Naples in 1798. He had returned from war with military accolades but missing an arm and most of his teeth. Emma nursed him in her husband's home.

Nelson, Emma and William returned to Britain in 1800, and lived together openly. Nelson went back to sea to fight the Napoleonic wars, where he was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.  Emma, devastated, soon fell into debt. She moved to France to try to escape her creditors, and died there in 1815.

Page 95. " He was an old boy who had been with Rutherford when he split the atom "
Ernest Rutherford 1908
Public DomainErnest Rutherford 1908 - Credit: US Library of Congress

Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson (1871 – 1937) was a British chemist and physicist who became known as the father of nuclear physics.  He was born in New Zealand, and gained a BA, MA and BSc from the University of New Zealand.  In 1895 he travelled to England for postgraduate study at Cambridge University.  In 1898 he became Professor of Physics at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.  In this role, he discovered the concept of radioactive half-life, proved that radioactivity involved the transmutation of one chemical element to another, and differentiated and named alpha and beta radiation. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908 "for his investigations into the disintegration of the elements, and the chemistry of radioactive substances."

Rutherford's atom model
GNU Free Documentation LicenseRutherford's atom model - Credit: Jean-Jacques MILAN

In 1907 he became chair of physics at the University of Manchester.  In 1911, he theorized that atoms have their positive charge concentrated in a very small nucleus, and pioneered the Rutherford model of the atom.  He is widely credited with first "splitting the atom" in 1917 in a nuclear reaction between nitrogen and alpha particles, in which he also discovered and named the proton.  This led to the first experiment to split the nucleus in a fully controlled manner, performed by two students working under his direction, in 1932. The chemical element rutherfordium was named after him in 1997.

Page 97. " I can't manage Esperanto at all "
The first Esperanto book
Public DomainThe first Esperanto book - Credit: L.L Zamenhof

 Esperanto is the most widely spoken constructed international language.  It was created by L.L Zamenhof, working under the pen name Doktoro Esperanto, as an easy-to-learn language that would be politically neutral and transcend nationality, in order to foster peace and international understanding between people with different languages.

There are estimated to be anywhere between 10,000 and 2 million active speakers worldwide, concentrated mainly in Europe, East Asia, and South America.  The first World Congress of Esperanto was organized in France in 1905, and has been held annually ever since, in various countries (except in the years of the two world wars).  Esperanto was recognised in 1954 by UNESCO.  There is some evidence that learning Esperanto may provide a superior foundation for learning other languages.

Page 99. " as a stickleback swam past "

GNU Free Documentation LicenseStickleback - Credit: Ron Offermans
Sticklebacks are fish of an unusual sort, in that they have no scales. They are distinguished by a strong and clearly isolated spine in the dorsal fin.  Some species have bony armour plates. Their maximum length is about 4 inches.  They’re most commonly found in the ocean, and are related to seahorses.  However, they do also occur in some freshwater lakes in Europe, Asia and North America, where they were trapped after the ice age. 

Their mating habits are also unusual.  The male constructs a nest, the female lays her eggs inside, the male fertilizes the eggs, and then guards them until they hatch.