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Sunday, 25 September 2011


Athletic competitions were held in Egypt as far back as 3800BC.

Most of the international competitions open to track and field athletes can be traced back to the Greek sporting festivals held as early as 1500 BC. The major festivals were the Olympic Games, held at Olympia; the Pythian Games, at Delphi; the Nemean Games, at Nemea; and the Isthmian Games, at Corinth. All were part of religious celebrations that honored the ancient Greek gods.

The term 'heats' referring to the preliminary contests to a sporting event, that eliminates competitors goes back to the horse track. Prior to a race a horse was exercised to heat it up. A record of 1577 suggests, "walke him to chafe him, and put him in a heate."

In 1864 the first collegiate track and field meet was held between Oxford and Cambridge universities in England.

In 1868 the newly formed New York Athletic Club held the first American amateur track-and-field meet.

The first photo-finish took place at the Plainfield Track in New Jersey in 1888.

The International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) is the supreme governing body which controls athletics worldwide. It was founded in Stockholm in July 1912 with 17 members.

On February 5, 1929, black American inventor George Bresnahan received a patent for the world’s first starting blocks for athletes. Bresnahan called his invention a ‘Foot Support.’ The earliest recorded use of the term ‘starting blocks’, also by Bresnahan, was in 1937.  Before starting blocks, sprinters dug holes in the track to give support for their feet at the start.

The mile was run in under four minutes for the first time on May 6, 1954, when the barrier was broken by Roger Bannister at the Iffley Road track in Oxford with a time of 3:59. The record today is 3:43, held by Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj.

The first Athletics World Championships took place in Helsinki in 1983.

The longest-standing modern Olympic athletics record is Bob Beamon's achievement in the men's long jump at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, which also stood as the world record for 23 years until Beamon's compatriot, Mike Powell, jumped farther at the 1991 World Championships in Athletics in Tokyo.

Sources Europress Family Encyclopedia, Daily Express


The Greek mythological Atalanta was the daughter of King Iasus, who had hoped for a son. Disappointed that instead she was a girl, he left her on a mountaintop to die. A she-bear suckled and cared for Atalanta until hunters found and raised her, and she became a strong huntress. Swift of foot, Atalanta refused to marry unless the suitors defeated her in a trace, and she killed those who lost.
Many young men died in the attempt to win her hand until Hippomenes outrun her. He won the race by dropping three irresistible golden apples, given to him by the goddess Aphrodite. Every time Atalanta got ahead of Hippomenes, he rolled an apple ahead of her, and she would stop to pick it up.

In 1888 Charles Sherill of Yale University’s track team became the first runner to use the crouching start for a fast getaway in a foot race.

In 1935, Jesse Owens set three track and field world records and tied a fourth in a single day in Ann Arbor, Michigan--all in less than an hour.

Roger Bannister became the first person to run a mile in under four minutes. He achieved this feat at Oxford, England, on May 6, 1954, in a time of 3 min 59.4 seconds. His world record lasted just 46 days before Australian John Landy, shaved 1.4 seconds off it.

Blue plaque recording the first sub-4-minute mile run by Roger Bannister on 6 May 1954 at Oxford University's Iffley Road Track.

Jim Hines of the United States of America became on October 14, 1968 the first man ever to break the ten-second barrier in the 100 meters in the 1968 Summer Olympic Games held in Mexico City. His time was 9.95 seconds.

Jim Hines -- 100 mètres -- Mexico 1968

Haile Gebrselassie, the Ethiopian distance runner, ran six miles to and from school each day. He still runs with a crook in his arm, as if he’s carrying his books.

A day after his 105th birthday in September 2015, Japanese centenarian Hidekichi Miyazaki set a new record as the world’s oldest competitive sprinter. Nicknamed the ‘Golden Bolt’, he ran a 100-metre sprint in the over-80s category in 42.22 seconds.

Research shows that top sprinters have long ring fingers compared with their index fingers.

70% of U.S. elite athletes have a key heart gene variant that makes a good sprinter, while 75% of all Jamaicans have it.

The Atalanta entry was originally written for


The site was first inhabited about 3000 BC and it was named Athens after its patron goddess Athena

Athena was the daughter of Zeus. She was born dressed in armor and is often depicted with a helmet and shield. She fought against Poseidon for the city of Athens, which takes her name.

Every year in Ancient Athens, citizens had the chance to vote their least favorite politician into exile.

On June 9, 411 BC, wealthy Athenians overthrew the democratic government of ancient Athens and replaced it with a short-lived oligarchy known as "The Four Hundred".

The Parthenon (below) in Athens was severely damaged on September 26, 1687. An ammunition dump inside the building was ignited by bombardment from Venetian forces led by Morosini who were besieging the Ottoman Turks stationed in Athens.

By Steve Swayne - File:O Partenon de Atenas.jpg, Wikipedia Commons

The first modern Olympiad was held in Athens. Because Ancient Greece was the birthplace of the Olympic Games, the Greek capital city was considered to be an appropriate choice to stage the inaugural modern Games. The games officially opened on April 6, 1896 and closed ten days later. 241 athletes from 14 nations participated in 43 events in nine disciplines.

Athens authorities spent four years demolishing rooftop billboards in an effort to beautify the city for the 2004 Summer Olympics.

Athens spent $16 billion on the 2004 Olympics. They only budgeted for $1.5 billion.

In Athens, Greece, a driver's license can be taken away by law if the driver is deemed either unbathed or poorly dressed.

It has less green space than any other European capital (4%).

Athens is the only capital city in Europe where the air is more polluted outside than inside.

Athens is an anagram of hasten as well as the less common words ‘sneath’ (the pole of a scythe) and ‘snathe’ (to prune or lop trees).

Source Daily Express


Western atheism has its roots in pre-Socratic Greek philosophy, but did not emerge as a distinct world-view until the late Enlightenment. Criticism of Christianity became increasingly frequent in the 17th and 18th centuries, especially in France and England.

The first known atheist who threw off the mantle of deism, bluntly denying the existence of gods, was Jean Meslier, a French priest who lived in the early 18th century.

The first ever openly atheistic book published in Britain was Liverpool physician Matthew Turner's 1785 Answer to Dr Priestley's Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever.

The French Revolution took atheism outside the salons and into the public sphere.

In 1810 two students at Oxford University, Percy Shelley and Thomas Jefferson Hogg sent a radical anti religion pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism, to the heads of the colleges. Both students refused to answer questions about the pamphlet and were expelled on March 25, 1811.


In 1841 the German philosopher, Ludwig Feuerbach, published The Essence of Christianity, which promoted humanistic atheism. The book argued that mankind had invented God as a spiritual answer to their needs, hopes and fears. His work proved to be a great influence on Karl Marx who at the time was a student at the University of Berlin.

The 20th century saw the political advancement of atheism, spurred on by interpretation of the works of Marx and Engels. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union and other communist states promoted state atheism and opposed religion, often by violent means.

In 2014 there were seven countries in which you could be executed for being an atheist (Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan).  

The highest rates of atheism occur in nations where citizens have high economic and political stability.

While projections show Islam and Christianity having population booms into 2050, atheism is expected to dwindle as time goes on. The main reason is atheists have extremely low fertility rates in comparison to Christians and Muslims.

Atheophobia is the fear or hatred of atheists or atheism.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

In 1893, Mustafa Atatürk (1881-1938) entered a military high school where his mathematics teacher gave him the second name Kemal (meaning perfection in Turkish) in recognition of young Mustafa's superior achievements.

In 1915, when the Dardanelles/Galipoli campaign was launched, Kemal, recently promoted to Colonel, became a national hero by winning successive victories against the landing British French and ANZAC armies, pinning them down at their beachheads, which finally forced the invaders to evacuate Galipoli in January 1916.

When Turkey became a republic on October 29, 1923 Kemal was the first president.

Kemal ruthlessly set out to Westernize the republic he had established. European dress was imposed, polygamy was abolished, women were enfranchised and the Latin script replaced the Arabic.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's stay at Atatürk Museum Mansion in Ankara between 1921 and 1932 was his longest at any place in his life.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

In 1934, when the surname law was adopted making all Turks assume surnames, the national parliament gave him the name "Atatürk" (Turkish for Father of the Turks).

A heavy drinker most of his life, developed liver and kidney problems during the last year of his life. He died on November 10, 1938, at age 57.

Atatürk's state funeral took place twice, once immediately after his death in 1938 and then again in 1953 when his remains were transferred to a mausoleum that overlooks Ankara.

Atatürk statues have been erected in all Turkish cities by Turkish Government, and most towns have their own memorial to him.

His portrait can be seen in all public buildings, in all schools and classrooms, on all school books and on all Turkish lira banknotes.

At the exact time of his death, on every November 10th, at 09:05 am, most vehicles and people in the country's streets pause for one minute in remembrance.


In 2134 BC, Chinese royal astronomers Hsi and Ho were beheaded as punishment for failing to predict an eclipse.

Italian cosmologist Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for heresy on February 17, 1600.  His crime was suggesting that the stars were distant suns possibly surrounded by their own planets — which is, in fact, the case.

The trial of Giordano Bruno by Roman Inquisition. Bronze relief by Ettore Ferrari

On March 4, 1675, John Flamsteed was appointed by Charles II as the first Astronomer Royal of England. The post gave Flamsteed a stipend of £100 a year. That amount has never changed.

John Flamsteed. By Sir Godfrey Kneller -

Arthur Storer (c. 1648 – 1686) was America's first colonial astronomer. He came to Calvert County, Maryland, from Lincolnshire, England. He was among the first observers to sight and record data Halley's Comet.

Astronomer Guillaume Le Gentil travelled from France to India in 1760 to measure the transit of Venus. He missed out on both chances to do so, contracted dysentery and nearly went insane. When he made it home he learned he had been declared dead, his wife remarried and his estate plundered.

In 1801, the astronomer William Herschel pointed out that there is a correlation between sunspot activity and the price of wheat.

Astronomer is an anagram of moon starer.

Source Daily Express



Yuri Gagarin was the first human in space aboard the spacecraft Vostok 1. Gagarin was born in the Smolensk region of the Soviet Union. He became a pilot in 1957 and on April 12, 1961 completed one orbit of the Earth, taking 108 minutes from launch to landing.

Yuri Gagarin

Yuri Gagarin sarcastically commented that upon reaching outer space he failed to see God. 

The word astronaut is derived from the Greek words ástron (star) and nautes (sailor). It was first used in 1929 and gained popular acceptance after the first manned space flight by Major Yuri Gagarin of the USSR on April 12, 1961.

Rear Admiral Alan Shepard was the first American to travel into outer space. On May 5, 1961, Shepard was launched, on a sub-orbital flight in Mercury-Redstone 3, reaching an altitude of 101.2 nautical miles (187.5 kilometers). Shepard's mission was a 15-minute suborbital flight with the primary objective of demonstrating his ability to withstand the high g forces of launch and atmospheric re-entry.

Screen grab of Alan Shepard from the NASA film "Freedom 7".

Astronaut John Glenn (July 18, 1921 – December 8, 2016) became the first American to orbit the earth, making three orbits in 4 hours, 55 minutes abroad Friendship 7 in 1962.

During the same trip, Glenn had the first meal in space when he ate pureed applesauce squeezed from a tube.

On June 16, 1963, Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space. Tereshkova , the daughter of a Soviet war hero, was a factory worker who was obsessed with skydiving. Her skills at this risky sport bought the youngster to the attention of the authorities, and she was inducted into the Soviet Air Force so that she could become a cosmonaut.

Valentina Tereshkova orbited the Earth 48 times aboard Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963. She is still the only woman ever to go on a solo space mission.

Valentina Tereshkova pictured as a Major of the Soviet Air Forces. By RIA Novosti archive, image #612748

Astronaut L. Gordon Cooper was so relaxed on the morning of his launch into space in May 1963 that he fell asleep in his space capsule while waiting for blastoff.

Alexei Leonov, a Russian cosmonaut, became the first person to walk in space on March 18, 1965. 
Leonov was tethered to the airlock with a 5m-long “umbilical cord” that prevented him from drifting into space. When Leonov got the instruction to come back inside the spacecraft, he had been outside for ten minutes. He said: "My feeling was that I was a grain of sand."

Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov was the first human to die during a spaceflight when the Soyuz 1 space capsule crashed after re-entry on April 24, 1967. The module's drogue and main braking parachute failed to deploy correctly.

Soviet Union-1964-stamp-Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov

The farthest distance from Earth an astronaut has traveled was 401,056 km (249,205 mi), when Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise went around the Moon during the Apollo 13 emergency.

The Apollo 15 astronauts left a 3 inch "fallen astronaut" statuette on the surface of the moon in 1971 to commemorate all the men and women who died in pursuit of space travel. 

Back from the Moon, Apollo astronauts had to go through customs and declare moon rock as cargo.

On December 14, 1972, astronaut Gene Cernan entered the Lunar Module just behind crewmate Harrison Schmidt for their return trip back to Earth on board Apollo 17. He was the last of 12 men ever to have stood on the Moon.

Gene Cernan at the beginning of EVA 3

Czech Vladimír Remek became the first non-Russian or non-American to go into space, when he was launched aboard Soyuz 28 on March 2, 1978.

Dr. Sally K. Ride (May 26, 1951 – July 23, 2012) became the first American woman to be sent into space when she was selected to serve on a six- day flight of the orbiter Challenger in 1983. At the time, she was the youngest American to enter outer space.

The first African American to travel in space was U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Guion S. Bluford. He participated in four Space Shuttle flights between 1983 and 1992, beginning on August 30, 1983.

Astronaut Kathryn D. Sullivan was the first American woman to walk in space when she took a stroll on October 11, 1984,

The first Muslim person in space was Royal Saudi Air Force pilot Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in 1985 aboard the United States shuttle Discovery

Roughly 40 per cent of astronauts get space sickness during their first few days in space. The condition is jokingly measured as a ‘Garn’, after Jake Garn, a U.S. senator who joined the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1985. He was so severely ill that a scale for sickness was created based on him, with ‘one Garn’ the highest possible level.

In 1986 the New Hampshire schoolteacher, Christa McAuliffe,became the first ordinary citizen in space. Sadly she died with six crew members when the space shuttle Challenger exploded.

Mae Jemison, the first female African-American astronaut, flew her only space mission from September 12 to 20, 1992, as a Mission Specialist on STS-47, a cooperative mission between the United States and Japan, as well as the 50th shuttle mission. 

Dr. Mae C. Jemison 

Jemison was inspired to apply to NASA by the Star Trek character, Lieutenant Uhura. She later went on to make a cameo appearance in Star Trek: The Next Generation, becoming the first real astronaut to appear in the series.

Cosmonaut Valeriy Polyakov returned to Earth on March 22, 1995 after setting a record of 438 days in space. He spent his days aboard the Mir space station conducting experiments and performing scientific research. It was revealed that Polyakov did not suffer from any prolonged performance impairments as a result of his long period in space. 

Polyakov looks out Mir's window during rendezvous operations with the Space Shuttle Discovery

When Space Shuttle Discovery blasted off on October 29, 1998 with 77-year old John Glenn on board, he became the oldest person to go into space.

John Glenn

Italian American engineer and multimillionaire Dennis Tito became the first space tourist when in mid-2001, he spent nearly eight days in orbit as a crew member of ISS EP-1, a visiting mission to the International Space Station.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield made history when he recorded "Jewel in the Night" whilst orbiting the Earth on the International Space Station - it was the first ever song to be recorded in outer space. Recording conditions evidently weren't perfect as when the folksy tune was uploaded onto YouTube on December 24, 2012. The crooning spaceman warned us we "might hear the slight buzz of the station's fans in the background."


Astronauts come from America – Space explorers from Russia are called "cosmonauts."

All NASA astronauts must learn how to speak Russian, and all cosmonauts must learn how to speak English.

When Hilary Clinton was young, she wrote to NASA to ask if she could become an astronaut. They wrote a very polite letter back saying they didn’t take girls.

Astronauts don't do laundry but rather eject their clothes into space to burn up in the atmosphere.

According to NASA, the top three items most missed by astronauts on space flights are ice-cream, pizza and fizzy drinks.

Astronauts are not allowed to eat beans before they go into space because passing wind in a spacesuit damages them.

Playtex, a company that is now known for women's undergarments and feminine products, created the Apollo spacesuits.

In space, astronauts cannot cry, because there is no gravity, so the tears can't flow.

Since weightlessness causes the spine to expand and straighten, astronauts may measure two or three inches taller in space than they do on Earth.

More than half of U.S. astronauts report back pain during their mission, since their back muscles weaken due to weightlessness.

NASA estimates that during his year on the International Space Station, Scott Kelly drank about 193 gallons of filtered bodily waste.

NASA paid volunteers $18,000 to lie in bed to study the effect on astronauts of being in space.

Astronauts have the highest job mortality rate at 7.5%.

The notion that NASA astronauts carry suicide pills for use in case they are marooned in outer space is untrue. Exposure to outer space results in a much faster and smoother demise compared to a suicide pill.

Want to apply to be a NASA astronaut? All you need are advanced degrees in biology, science, or mathematics and 1000 hours of jet piloting.

To become an astronaut in Japan you are tested in your ability to fold a thousand paper cranes.

Source GreatFacts


The word astronomy dates to the 13th century but originally meant what we now call astrology.

Pope Julius II set the time of his coronation in 1503 according to astrological calculations, despite the fact that the church during the Renaissance frowned on the occult as bordering on heresy.

Astrologer Girolamo Cardono predicted his death on September 21, 1576. When he felt fine for most of the day, he decided to make his prediction come true by killing himself.

Gerolamo Cardano

In Europe during the Middle Ages it had a powerful influence, as kings and other public figures had their own astrologers. Queen Elizabeth I was crowned Queen on a day chosen as propitious by her astrologer John Dee.

Benjamin Franklin, while feuding with Titan Leeds, used astrology to predict his death and published this in the Poor Richards Almanac. When Leeds didn't die on that date, referred to him as "the ghost of Titan Leeds" thereafter and encouraged him to pass on.

In 1981 an assassination attempt was made on United States President Ronald Reagan. For the next seven years his wife, Nancy, consulted a California Astrologer. On May 3, 1988, The White House acknowledged that First Lady Nancy Reagan used astrological advice.

Nancy Reagan

Seventy-five per cent of people who believe in astrology are women.


King William III suffered from an irritating asthmatic cough. The English monarch’s asthma was badly  affected by the dank London river air so he moved to Hampton Court not long after his accession.

Charles Dickens suffered from asthma. He found relief from his "chest troubles" only with opium, a popular asthma remedy of his day. Mr. Omer, one of the asthmatic characters in his autobiographical novel, David Copperfield, reflected Dickens's own suffering.

President Teddy Roosevelt was given strong coffee and puffs of cigar as a child to 'help' with his asthma.

President Coolidge suffered from asthma and because he mistrusted physicians, he treated himself with newly developed medicines and breathed chlorine released into the air of a closed room in vain attempts to ease his condition.

As a sickly infant, Leonard Bernstein the composer of West Side Story, sometimes turned blue from asthma. He became a prodigious pianist, conductor, composer, and lecturer, although he suffered from asthma throughout his life. Audiences often heard him wheezing above the orchestra.

The actor Martin Freeman, star of Sherlock and The Hobbit, had asthma as a child and would sometimes faint when singing and dancing for his family. They initially believed it was part of his act.

Paula Radcliffe, the current women's world record holder for fastest marathon, is an asthmatic.

A British woman with asthma coughed so violently that one of her lungs slipped out of her chest between two of her ribs.

World-wide 180,000 people die of asthma every year.

Asthma affects one in fifteen children under the age of eighteen.

Regular coffee drinkers have about one-third less asthma symptoms than those non-coffee drinkers.

In Imogiri, Indonesia, eating fruit bat meat is thought to cure asthma.

Sunday, 18 September 2011


About 100,000 asteroids may exist, but their total mass is only a few hundredths of the mass of the Moon. These rocky fragments range in size from 1 km/0.6 mi to 900 km/560 mi in diameter.

The first person to discover an asteroid was Italian priest and astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi in 1801. He discovered Ceres on January 1, 1807 naming it after the Roman goddess of agriculture. Ceres is 582 miles in diameter, the largest object in the asteroid belt that lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It is the only dwarf planet within the orbit of Neptune.

The word ‘asteroid’, meaning star-shaped, was coined by William Herschel in 1802.

German astronomer Heinrich Wilhelm Matthäus Olbers discovered 4 Vesta, the brightest asteroid and the second-most massive body in the asteroid belt in 1807.

Discovered on December 22, 1891, 323 Brucia was the first asteroid to be found by the use of astrophotography. It was also the first of over 200 asteroids discovered by Max Wolf, a pioneer in that method of finding astronomical objects.

In March 1989 an asteroid passed through the exact position where Earth was only six hours earlier.

On October 29, 1991 Galileo became the first spacecraft to visit an asteroid when it made a flyby of 951 Gaspra.

NASA image of 951 Gaspra; colors are exaggerated

NASA's robotic space probe NEAR Shoemaker touched down on Eros on February 12, 2001, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit and soft land on an asteroid. To the surprise of the controllers, the spacecraft was undamaged and operational after the landing at an estimated speed of 1.5 to 1.8 meters per second.

Between 2006 and 2007, an asteroid about five meters across was temporarily captured by Earth’s gravity, giving us a tiny second moon for about nine months.

The Japanese Hayabusa space mission was the first to return samples of an asteroid (25143 Itokawa) to Earth for analysis.

After arriving at Itokawa, in November 2005, Hayabusa landed on the asteroid and collected samples in the form of tiny grains of asteroidal material, which were returned to Earth aboard the spacecraft on June 13, 2010.

The Jupiter trojans are a large group of asteroids that share the orbit of the planet Jupiter around the Sun. The first one discovered, 588 Achilles, was spotted in 1906 by German astronomer Max Wolf. By convention they are named after mythological figures from the Trojan War. Around one million of them are larger than 1 km in diameter.

TK7 was the first Trojan asteroid discovered sharing the Earth's orbit around the Sun. It was discovered in October 2010 by astronomers from Athabasca University, UCLA, and University of Western Ontario.

On January 22, 2014, ESA scientists reported the detection, for the first definitive time, of water vapor on Ceres. The finding was unexpected because while comets are typically considered to sprout jets and plumes, asteroids do not generally exhibit such features.

Ceres Wikipedia commons

On Friday April 13, 2029, an asteroid more than 1,000ft wide will pass by Earth closer than the moon and will easily be observed with the naked eye.

An asteroid hits the ground about 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 times harder than a raindrop.

Any asteroid 82 feet (25 m) in diameter or less won't make it to Earth's surface—it will burn up in the planet's atmosphere.

In spite of the way they are portrayed in sci-fi films, a space vehicle can travel safely through the asteroid belt. The distance between two objects in the asteroid belt ranges in the hundreds of thousands of miles. Chances of hitting one of them are 1 in 1,000,000,000.

Ceres is the largest asteroid. It is 940 km/584 miles in diameter.

Vesta has a light-colored surface and is the brightest asteroid as seen from Earth.

A 100 mile-long asteroid in our solar system, 241 Germania, is believed to boast mineral wealth worth $95.8 trillion — nearly equivalent to the world’s total annual gross domestic product.

NASA believes the value of minerals on the asteroid belt exceeds $600,000,000,000,000,000,000.

The Kuiper belt is a circumstellar disc in the Solar System extending beyond the orbit of Neptune, at 30 to 50 astronomical units from the Sun. It is similar to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but far larger—20 times as wide and 20 to 200 times as massive. Like the asteroid belt, it consists mainly of small bodies that are remnants from the Solar System's formation.

The Kuiper belt is home to three officially recognized dwarf planets: Haumea, Makemake, and Pluto, the largest and most massive member.

Sources Daily Express, Hutchinson Encyclopedia © RM 2011

Fred Astaire

Fred Astaire was born in Omaha, Nebraska on May 10, 1899. Fred began dancing at the age of four.

Fred formed a child act with his sister, Adele, that became popular at the time.Their first act was called "Juvenile Artists Presenting an Electric Musical Toe-Dancing Novelty."  Adele eventually married, leaving Astaire to begin his solo career.

Fred and Adele Astaire in 1921

"Can't sing. Can't act. Slightly balding. Can dance a little." Fittingly, the studio toad who wrote that screen-test evaluation of a young Fred Astaire (1899-1987)  is long forgotten, but the greatest dancer in movie history is not.

Astaire famously wore a necktie around his waist instead of a belt, an affectation he picked up from his friendship with actor Douglas Fairbanks but often mistakenly attributed to Astaire alone.

Studio publicity portrait for film You'll Never Get Rich (1941).

Fred Astaire had his first big screen dance with Ginger Rogers on December 22, 1932 when Flying Down to Rio opened. The pair made nine films together at RKO, including Roberta (1935), in which Astaire also demonstrates his oft-overlooked piano skills with a spirited solo on "I Won't Dance".

Fred Astaire's 1935 song "Cheek To Cheek" spent 11 weeks at #1 in the US, a record for the 1930s.

For the 'drunk' dance in Holiday Inn in  1942, Fred Astaire had two drinks of bourbon before the first take and one before each succeeding take. The seventh and last take was used in the film. He really was drunk!

Astaire was a lifelong golf and Thoroughbred horse racing enthusiast. In 1946 his horse Triplicate won the prestigious Hollywood Gold Cup and San Juan Capistrano Handicap.

He remained physically active well into his eighties. At age seventy-eight, he broke his left wrist while riding his grandson's skateboard.

Fred Astaire died from pneumonia on June 22, 1987, at the age of 88. He is interred at Oakwood Memorial Park, Chatsworth, California, the same cemetery where long-time dancing partner, Ginger Rogers, is located.



At its greatest extent the Assyrian empire included Egypt and stretched from the eastern Mediterranean coast to the head of the Gulf.

The Assyrian army was the first to make effective use of the new technology by which iron can be hardened into steel suitable for weapons.

The Assyrians were expert horsemen and made good use of the animal in hunting. A stone carving from Nimrod's palace at Nineveh shows the king sitting secure on his galloping horse and, notwithstanding its tremendous speed, shooting an arrow at the prey.

The kilt was part of Assyrian soldiers' uniform.

It was the Assyrians who discovered the calming and sedative properties of the opium poppy, which they cultivated. They used it medicinally to relieve pain, induce sleep, and bring on feelings of serenity and well being for psychologically damaged patients.

The Assyrians excelled in making bricks and tiles with lustrous glazes, often decorated in several colors called polychrome decorations.


At Acre during the Ninth Crusade, England’s Prince Edward (later King Edward I) was struck with a poisoned dagger by an “Assassin”, a member of  a Muslim sect that murders leaders to further its political ends. His wife Eleanor of Castile, who was accompanying him devotedly, cared for the king and saved his life. The Arabic word "assassin" was introduced into the English language through this incident.

The first assassination of a head of a state with a handgun took place in 1584 when Prince William the Silent, the German-born leader of the Protestant states of Holland was murdered during their conflict with the Catholic Spain of the Habsburgs. Gerard Balthasar, a French devotee of the Spanish King Phillip II, killed him in his own home with a wheel-lock pistol.

Shakespeare invented the word “assassination.”

After the assassination of  Prince William the Silent security was tightened everywhere, and it was generally assumed that the next Spanish target must be Queen Elizabeth. Shooting of any kind was banned within two miles of the Queen’s residence, and it was recommended that at seaports every man entering the country should be searched for incriminating evidence, down to the soles of his shoes.

James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, regent for the infant King James VI of Scotland was assassinated in Linlithgow on January 23, 1570. He was killed by James Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh, a supporter of his legitimate half-sister, Mary, Queen of Scots. As Moray was passing in a cavalcade in the main street below, Hamilton fatally wounded him with a carbine shot from a window of his uncle Archbishop Hamilton's house. It was the first recorded assassination by a firearm.

Assassination of the Regent Moray. Victorian stained glass window in St. Giles Kirk, Edinburgh.. Photy by Kim Traynor

The first, and to date only, British Prime Minister to be assassinated was Spencer Perceval. On the evening of May 11, 1812, Perceval entered the lobby of the House of Commons, when a Liverpool merchant with a grievance against the government, John Bellingham, stepped forward, drew a pistol and shot him in the chest.

Bellingham was tried and convicted, and on 18th May was hanged at Newgate Prison. Despite initial fears that the assassination might be linked to a general uprising, Bellingham had in fact acted alone, as a protest against the government's failure to compensate him for his imprisonment in Russia for a trading debt.

A painting depicting the assassination of Perceval. 
In 1835, Andrew Jackson became the first president to experience an assassination attempt. He beat up his attacker with a walking cane.

The first sitting member of Congress to be assassinated was Arkansas Congressman James M. Hinds, who was shot to death by a Ku Klax Klansmann in 1868. Despite identifying his killer by name before his death the assassin was never arrested or charged with a crime.

Charles J. Guiteau, the assassin of former U.S. President James A. Garfield, specifically chose to use a revolver with an ivory handle because he wanted it to look good as a museum exhibit after the assassination.

In 1932 a group of Japanese assassins called “The League of Blood” targeted twenty high ranking politicians and businessmen but succeeded only in killing two.

"The Avengers" was also the name of a Jewish team of assassins that used to kill Nazi war criminals after WWII.

Bill Foley's photograph The Last Smile shows Anwar Sadat only moments before his assassination.

Before the assassination of President Kennedy, it was not a Federal offense to kill the President or Vice President of the United States.

Seven of the eight US Presidents who have died in office either through illness or assassination were elected at precisely 20-year intervals.

The spot where Julius Caesar was assassinated is now a cat sanctuary for 250 cats.

A father once hired a bunch of assassins to kill his son's online World of Warcraft character because he was spending too much time on it.

H. H. Asquith

Herbert Henry Asquith was born at Croft House in Morley, West Riding of Yorkshire, to woolen mill owner Joseph Dixon Asquith and his wife Emily Willans on September 12, 1852.

In his younger days Asquith (1852-1928) was called Herbert within the family, but his second wife called him Henry. However, in public, he was invariably referred to only as H. H. Asquith. "There have been few major national figures whose Christian names were less well known to the public," writes his biographer Roy Jenkins.

King Edward VII, was holidaying in Biarritz, when H. H. Asquith succeeded Henry Campbell-Bannerman as Prime Minister on April 5, 1908. His majesty refused to return to London, citing health grounds and Asquith was forced to travel to Biarritz for the official "kissing of hands" of the Monarch. This was the only time a British Prime Minister has formally taken office on foreign soil.

Asquith loved bridge and would often play long into the night even during the First World War.

It is was known that Asquith was at times the worse for drink when on the front bench. The leader of the opposition, Andrew Bonar Law, once remarked “Asquith, when drunk, can make a better speech than any of us when sober.”

His opponents gave him the nickname "Squiff" or "Squiffy", a derogatory reference to his fondness for drink.

Amid the First World War and following his loss of support in Parliament, Asquith resigned as British Prime Minister in late 1916..

Asquith served as the Liberal Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from April 5, 1908 to December 5, 1916. Until Margaret Thatcher overtook him on January 5, 1988, he was the longest continuously serving Prime Minister in the 20th century.

1919 portrait by André Cluysenaar

Asquith’s best-known descendant today is the actress Helena Bonham Carter, who is a great-granddaughter.


Hippocrates was the first to realize the healing power of bark of the willow tree. His ancient Greek treatment was a tea made from willow bark, and was effective against fevers and gout.

Eventually it was discovered that it was the compound salicylic acid, which occurs naturally in willow bark that caused the pain relief. Unfortunately it is bitter tasting and can cause vomiting.

By mixing acetylating salicylic acid with acetic acid, German Bayer AG chemist Felix Hoffman concocted a less acidic formula to ease his father’s arthritis on August 10, 1897. The new drug, formally acetylsalicylic acid, was named Aspirin by Bayer AG and trademarked on March 6, 1899.

The "A" in the name Aspirin was derived from derived from acetyl chloride - Acetylspirsäure in German. The "spir" comes from Spirsäure, an old German name for salicylic acid derived from the Latin Spiraea ulmaria. Bayer AG added "-in" as a typical drug name ending to make it easy to say.

Aspirin was the first drug sold in water-soluble tablets.

Within ten years Aspirin was ranked among the ten items most prescribed by American physicians. It came to symbolise modern medicine's feats in restoring a patient’s health.

Americans consume 42 tons of aspirin per day.

The weight of air in a milk glass is about the same as the weight of one aspirin tablet.


Sunday, 4 September 2011


The word asparagus comes from the Greek asparagos, meaning a shoot or sprout.

The ancient Egyptians were the first to record a love of asparagus. Pharaoh Ikhnaton and his queen Nefertiti called asparagus a food of the gods.

The ancient Greeks did not use asparagus as a food, instead it gained quite a reputation as a medicine for a wide range of ailments ranging from the prevention of bee stings to dropsy, heart trouble and toothache.

The Roman Emperor Augustus organized Asparagus Fleets and elite military units to procure the vegetable for him.

The asparagus has a strong acid element which in many people creates a pungent color in their urine. In olden times when chamber pots were in common use asparagus was referred to as 'chambermaids horror.'

Asparagus may be the most well-known urine changer, and even Benjamin Franklin acknowledged that just “a few stems of asparagus eaten, shall give our urine a disagreeable odor.”

In the 18th century, asparagus was popularly known by the name sparrow-grass.

Asparagus is an aphrodisiac and in the 19th century three courses of the vegetable were served to bridegrooms.

The odor of urine after eating asparagus, which was described by Benjamin Franklin as "disagreeable", was compared to "a flask of perfume" by Marcel Proust.

Asparagus As A Hobby For Amateurs was an influential guide to asparagus growing written by Edward Heron-Allen in 1934.

The ‘proper’ way to eat it is with your fingers according to etiquette guide Debrett’s - even the Queen eats it this way.

Asparagus is known throughout the world as the ‘queen of vegetables.’

It’s part of the lily family and was called ‘sparrow grass’ in the 17th century.

It can grow six inches in 24 hours on a warm day, sometimes more, and turns from white to green only when it hit’s the sunlight.

Asparagus has no fat, no cholesterol and is low in sodium.

The soil on Mars is perfect for growing asparagus.

More than 50,000 tons of asparagus are grown in California every year, which is about 70% of all the asparagus grown in the United States.

China is the world's largest producer: in 2012 (7,350,000 tonnes), at a large distance followed by Peru (376,645 tonnes), and Mexico (119,789 tonnes

Source Daily Express

Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov was born in Russia to a Jewish family on January 2, 1920. He was taken to the United States when he was three, and learnt English and Yiddish as his native languages.

He wrote or edited more than 500 books during his lifetime.

Asimov has the honor of being the only person who has authored a book in each of the Dewey Decimal System classifications.

He is best known for his science fiction novels, which have influenced sci-fi on television and movie.

Isaac Asimov’s story Runaround, in which he set out the three Laws of Robotics, is set in 2015.

He was also a biochemist with a PhD from Columbia University.

Asimov was a claustrophile, meaning that he had an abnormal desire to be in small, confined spaces. .

He generally preferred to write in small, windowless rooms.

Asimov hated flying so much that he let it limit the places to which he'd travel, preferring to see the world by car or cruise ship.

His skin was so sensitive to the sun that even ten minutes out in the open would cause it to burn.

Although ethnically a Jew, Asimov was an atheist and a humanist. He was extremely proud of his role as the honorary president of the American Humanist Association.

Rowena Morrill's portrait of Asimov enthroned with symbols of his life's work

When Isaac Asimov had heart surgery in 1983, he received blood infected with HIV. He died nine years later in New York City on April 6, 1992 from heart and kidney failure due to complications from HIV.



The origin of the name is unknown, though it seems probable that it was at first used with a restricted local application, gradually extended to the whole continent.

The original distinction between Europe and Asia was made by the ancient Greeks. They invented Asia and Europe to name the two sides of the Hellespont (now Dardanelles).

Within the continent of Asia, there are 48 different countries. 

Asia is the largest of the continents, occupying 30% of the total land surface of the world.

By Koyos + Ssolbergj (talk) - Map by,

Asia hosts 60% of the world's current human population. During the 20th century Asia's population nearly quadrupled.

Seven of the ten largest cities in the world are located on the Asian continent.

Asia contains both the world's highest mountain (Mount Everest 29,118 ft ) and the world's lowest point below sea level (The Dead Sea at -1,293 ft).

The Asian continent has been the birthplace and cradle of all the world’s most prominent religions, including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and many others.

Sources Wikipedia,  Hutchinson Encyclopedia © RM 2011. Helicon Publishing is division of RM.

Laura Ashley

Laura Ashley (1925-85) began her career as a secretary with the Women’s Institute.

She married Bernard Ashley in 1949, and they started a business manufacturing furnishing materials and wallpapers with patterns based upon document sources mainly from the 19th century.

When Laura Ashley gave up work to have a baby, she experimented with designing and making clothes, and this transformed the business into an international chain of boutiques selling clothes, furnishing fabrics, and wallpapers. Her work was characterized by a romantic style and the use of natural fabrics, especially cotton. The Welsh-born fashion designer was especially famed for her floral prints.

1970s printed cotton dresses by Laura Ashley at the Fashion Museum, Bath.By Mabalu 

Laura Ashley's first shop was opened in Machynlleth, Powys in Wales (35 Maengwyn Street) - it still trades as an interior design shop.

Laura Ashley died on September 17, 1985 after falling down the stairs at her daughter Jane’s home on her 60th birthday.

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in Western Christianity. It occurs 46 days before Easter, being the 40 fasting days of Lent plus six Sundays, which are seen as feast days.

The name of Ash Wednesday comes from the practice of placing ashes from palm branches on the heads of Christian worshipers,

Observers have ashes placed on their foreheads in the shape of the cross as the words from Genesis 3:19 are spoken: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The ashes are made by burning the blessed palms that were distributed the previous year on Palm Sunday.

Although there is no Biblical reference to Ash Wednesday or Lent, Christians date the tradition back to 325 AD.


Asbestos is actually a type of stone made up of six naturally-occurring silicate minerals, not a man-made material.

Asbestos was originally believed to be the wool of the salamander.

Asbestos (tremolite) silky fibres on muscovite from Bernera, Outer Hebrides.

In 1827 a Mr. Chaubert volunteered to test a new heat-resistant material called asbestos. He carried a raw steak into a large oven in Paris and emerged 12 minutes later very hot but unharmed. The steak was very well done.

The snow in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz was asbestos, the Wicked Witch’s broom was made of asbestos, as was the Scarecrow’s entire outfit. This was in spite of the fact that asbestos’ health risks were already known at the time.

Until the 1970s, asbestos was used extensively in fireproofing and insulating buildings in America, among other uses. However, growing evidence of respiratory ailments due to asbestos exposure led to limits.

There are two types of commercial asbestos. ‘White’ asbestos is made from sepentine and ‘blue’ asbestos from sodium iron silicate.

In the production of asbestos, fibers are woven together or bound, but over time they can work loose. Because the fibers are small enough to float freely in the air or be inhaled, asbestos usage is now strictly controlled as exposure to its dust can cause cancer.

Today laws in the US proscribe the use  of asbestos and its disposal and workers who get near it wear ventilators and protective clothes. The European Union and Japan have also banned the fibrous, silicate mineral.

Source New York Times


Apollodorus, the Athenian painter  (5th-c BC) is said to have introduced the technique of chiaroscuro (light and shade).

The Italian renaissance artist Sofinisba Anguissola (1532-1625) was the first woman artist to gain prominence as a painter.

Renaissance artist Caravaggio (1571 – 1610) had to flee Rome after killing his tennis opponent in a dispute over a four-handed game.

The Victorian landscape artist Joseph Turner charged £300 for a painting (about £20,000-today) – it was the sort of sum his father, a Covent Garden barber, earned in a year.

The French artist Edgar Degas (1834-1917) is regarded as one of the founders of impressionism, though he preferred to be called a realist. His parents were middle class but had higher aspirations, for several years spelling the family name ‘de Gas’ — suggesting an aristocratic background.

Georgia O'Keeffe (November 15, 1887 – March 6, 1986) was an American artist, who was best known for her giant paintings of flowers. O'Keefe holds the record for the most expensive painting by a female artist sold at auction. Her 1932 work Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, which once hung in George W. Bush’s dining room, made $44,405,000 at Sotheby’s in New York on November 20, 2014, more than three times the previous world auction record for any female artist.

Alfred Stieglitz photograph of O'Keeffe with sketchpad and watercolors, 1918

O'Keefe's favorite place to paint was in the back of her Model-A Ford.

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) was a Paris stockbroker for more than a decade when, aged 33, the Paris stock market crashed and he quit to become a full-time painter.

Paul Gauguin ca. 1891

The Norwegian painter Edvard Munch was most famous for his 1895 work The Scream. After Munch died in Nazi occupied Norway on January 23, 1944, his collection of 5,451 paintings and drawings were found hidden in a locked room.

Munch in 1933

Congo the chimp was a famous abstract painter in the 1950s who sold paintings to Picasso, Dalí and others for up to $26,000.

The American Abstract Expressionist painter Jackson Pollack (January 28, 1912 – August 11, 1956), was known for his "drip and splash" technique, in which he laid his canvas on the floor and poured paint from a can instead of using an easel. Critics, dubbed him "Jack the Dripper."

The art critic Harold Rosenberg introduced the term "action painting" in 1952 to describe the form of abstract art popularized by Jackson Pollock.

Photographer Hans Namuth extensively documented Pollock's unique painting techniques. Wikipedia

Pablo Picasso has sold more works of art individually costing over one million dollars than any other artist. His 211 is well ahead of the 168 for Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Rachel Whiteread was awarded the £20,000 Turner Prize for Best Young British Artist at the Tate Gallery on November 23, 1993 for her "House." She was the first woman to win a Turner Prize.

Outside the gallery just minutes later, the anti-Turner Prize K Foundation awarded her £40,000 for Worst Artist Of The Year. Whiteread accepted the money.

In 1995, pigeons were trained to tell the difference between works by Picasso and Monet.

Indian prodigy Arushi Bhatnagar became the youngest- ever professional artist when she held her first solo exhibition at the Kalidasa Akademi in Ujjain, India, on May 11, 2003. She was 344 days (or 11 months) old at the time. Her first painting — executed with her hands and feet —  was sold for 5,000 rupees ($75).was sold for 5000 Rupee (£65). By the age of four, she’d already notched up 12 solo exhibitions.

In September 2008, English artist Damien Hirst sold a complete show, Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, at Sotheby's by auction. He sold 223 of his works for £111 million, setting a record in 2008 for an auction dedicated to one artist. A foal in formaldehyde fetched £2.3 million, while a bull in formaldehyde was sold for £9.2 million. 


Artichokes were enjoyed by the Romans who prepared them in honey and vinegar, seasoned with cumin, so that the treat would be available year round.

The Roman scientist and historian Pliny wrote of the artichoke of being "one of the earth’s monstrosities."

In the mid 16th century, artichokes enjoyed a vogue in European courts and gained a reputation as an aphrodisiac.

At the wedding of Marquis de Lomenie and Mlle de Martigues, Catherine de Médici ate too many of her favorite cockerel kidneys and artichoke bottoms and for a time became so ill with diarrhoea she thought she would die.

The artichoke belongs to the sunflower family.

Jerusalem artichokes have nothing to do with the holy Middle East city. The French explorer Samuel de Champlain insisted they tasted like artichokes, hence the confusion.