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Sunday, 30 June 2013


Prince Gautama Siddhartha (563BC- 483BC) known to us as Buddha (meaning the enlightened one) was born in Lumbini, SW Nepal at the foot of the mountains. Buddhists celebrate his birth on April 8th each year.

A sacred garden and shrine was established in Lumbini by the Nepalese government in 1970.

In 1996 his exact birthplace was discovered. It is a stone buried on a platform of bricks under the Mayadevi temple.

Prince Guatama's father was chief of the Shakya clan, a wise and illustrious ruler of territory corresponding to Oudh and the adjoining district of South Nepal.

Legend has it that Guatama's mother, Matamaya, dreamed shortly before her son's birth of a beautiful white elephant, which entered her womb. She died soon after her son was born and Guatama wasa reared in the greatest luxury by his father and aunt.

During the birth celebrations, a seer announced that this baby would either become a great king or a great holy man. His father, wishing for Gautama to be a warrior and ruler rather than a religious philosopher, shielded his son from religious teachings or knowledge of human suffering. However, Gautama apparently showed an early inclination to meditation and reflection, displeasing his father. In his own discourses, the Buddha recalled that he meditated and entered his first trance while still a boy.

Gautama was reported to have excelled as a young prince at all sports, competent in martial arts such as chariot combat, wrestling, and archery, and later easily hiking miles each day and camping in the wilderness.

Once Gautama reached the age of 16, his father arranged a marriage to his beautiful cousin, Princess Yasodhora, who was the same age. She bore him a son, Rahula. Although his father ensured that Gautama was provided with everything he could want or need, Gautama was constantly troubled and internally dissatisfied.

The married Buddha hankered after more than the routine, domesticity and luxury he was enjoying. He was spiritually unsatisfied. At the age of 29, Gautama was escorted by his attendant Channa on four subsequent visits outside of the palace. There, he came across the "four sights": an old crippled man, a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and finally a monk with a begging bowl. This prompted the question "What is the cause of suffering?" and was the start of his journey towards enlightenment.

Guatama left his family, and spent six years living a life of austerity. Realising that he was now overindulging in asceticism he received his enlightenment as he sat in a lotus position under a Bo tree. Guatama entered the state of nirvana or nothingness and acquired four truths or eight ways that arrive at Nirvana.

The Bo tree was near Buddh Gaya. A descendant of the Bo tree is preserved today.

After his enlightenment Guatama travelled round North India preaching his message.

Guatama proceeded to preach a sermon at Benares to five fellow ascetics in a park. His sermon "turning of the Wheel of the Law" gave birth to Buddhism. by turning the wheel he meant preach Buddhism without ceasing. This sermon is held in similar reverence by Buddhists as the Sermon on the Mount is by Christians.

A wealthy admirer subsidised the building of a monastery at Savatthi (Sanskrit, Sravasti) which became the Buddha's main residence and the centre of his teaching efforts. Other monasteries sprang up in the major cities along the Ganges.

In 510 he returned home and converted his father and family.

His physical characteristics are described in one of the central texts of the traditional Pali canon, the Digha Nikaya. The Buddha, it says, had an elongated, lengthy body with long appendices (long arms with a span equal to body length, long fingers, long hands, elongated face, protruding and well-formed nose).
His closely curled hair was fine and dark.
His eyes were wide, and "very blue".
His body was light-colored and golden, with a pinkish color under the nails.

After his enlightenment Buddha decreed out of personal humility that no one would make an image of him or paint him. However one artist seeing him deep in contemplation on banks of Ganges at Benares got round it by painting his reflection in the Ganges. Hence many representations of the youthful Buddha have folds in the garments known as the ripple effect.

The Buddha's long career as teacher and leader was not entirely trouble-free. Rival religious groups, especially the followers of Jainism, reportedly attacked his teachings and even the Buddha himself. Devadatta, the Buddha's cousin and disciple, sought revenge after being thwarted in his ambition to inherit leadership of the sangha (monastic community), first engineering assassination attempts, then creating a short-lived schism in the sangha.

After six years fasting in the desert he was little more than skin and bone. After that he ate one fairly substantial meal a day of curry and rice and a few spoonsful of gruel for supper.

At the age of 80, he ate his last meal, which, according to different translations, was either tainted pork or a mushroom delicacy which he had received as an offering from a blacksmith.

Gautama Buddha realised that his end was fast approaching. He told his disciple Ananda to prepare a bed between two Sal trees in Kushinagar. Just before his passing, a 120 year-old mendicant monk named Subhadra, walked by, but was turned away by Ananda. Buddha overheard this and called the Brahmin to his side. He was admitted to the Sangha (Buddhist order) and immediately after, Gautama passed away.
The Buddha died in Kusinagara, Nepal, as a result of food poisoning. He declined to give any specific instructions regarding the future organization and propagation of his creed, insisting that he had already taught them what was necessary for salvation. His last words were “All things must pass away. Strive for your own salvation with diligence.".

Parts of Buddha's body were buried under mounds called "stopas" in various parts of India. The rest was cremated and ashes housed in eight urns so they could be divided among his disciples.

Despite many efforts, the dates of the Buddha's birth and death remain uncertain. The various Buddhist sources agree that the Buddha lived for 80 years, but they disagree on the precise dates. Modern Theravada countries place his birth in 623 BC, and his death in 543  BC, but these dates are rejected by most Western and Indian historians

His influence was confined to a small area of NE India for two centuries until King Asoka made it the Indian state religion.

Buddha left no written (or recorded) record of his philosophy. The only complete canon of the Buddhist scriptures is that of the Sinhalese (Sri Lanka) Buddhists in Pali

A fable about an event in Buddha's life explains the use of the 12 animals after which the Chinese years are named. Buddha had extended an invitation to all living creatures but only 12 of them answered his call. They were the dog, dragon, horse, monkey, ox, pig, rat, rabbit, rooster, sheep, snake and tiger. As a reward Buddha commemorated their visit by naming a year after each of them. The sequence of the years was determined by a cross-country race between these very animals and is the order in which they reached the finish.

In the temple of the Sacred Tooth in Sri Lanka is a piece of bone worshipped by Buddhists who believe it to be one of Buddhist's teeth.

Tumble dolls were first made by the Chinese in the image of Buddha with weighted buttons to illustrate that Buddha could not fall.

Spring Temple Buddha is the tallest statue in the world. It was completed in 2002 and stands 128 m (420 ft) tall.  The statue is located in the Zhaocun township of Lushan County, Henan, China. Beneath the statue is a Buddhist monastery.

Spring Temple Buddha, By Zgpdszz - Wikipedia

Richard Wagner attempted all his life to write "Die Sieger" (The Victors) based on the life of Buddha but never succeeded. 


The Ancient Egyptians used cloth ties and broaches or buckles to hold their clothes together.

In ancient Greece both men and women wore the chiton, a draped garment that was sewn up one side and fastened at the shoulder by a clasp or buckle. The woman's garment fell to the ankles; the man's usually reached only to the knees. The chiton was made of wool, cotton, linen, or silk.

In the 18th century, rich Europeans decorated their shoes with gold and silver buckles and real or imitation gemstones.

Colonial American women's dress shoes copied those in France and England and were made of brocade and had a French heel and usually a buckle; to protect the shoe, an overshoe, called a patten, often of the same material, was worn.

The shoestring (string and shoe holes) was first invented in England in 1790 . Before shoestrings, shoes were commonly fastened with buckles.

Thomas Jefferson dressed in shoes with bright buckles.

Buckingham Palace

Mulberry Garden was once the center of prostitution in London, England. Today, it is the site of Buckingham Palace.

The palace was built in 1705 as the town house of the Duke of Buckingham. It was originally known as Buckingham House.

Buckingham House, c. 1710

King George III brought Buckingham House as a gift for his newly wed wife, Queen Charlotte for £28,000 (about £2 million or $2.65 today). It became their private family residence, leaving St James Palace to be the official royal residence.

When Buckingham House was bought by George III for Queen Charlotte, it became known as “The Queen’s House.”

Queen Victoria was the first monarch to live at Buckingham Palace. She moved there on July 13, 1837.

The picture below depicts the Marble Arch, which served as the ceremonial entrance to the Palace precincts

The palace c. 1837, depicting the Marble Arch

Edward Jones, known as “the boy Jones”, broke into the palace three times between 1838 and 1841. After his first break-in, at the age of 14, he was captured by the police in nearby St James’s St with Queen Victoria’s underwear stuffed down his trousers.

The biggest room in Buckingham Palace is the ballroom (120ft long, 59ft wide, 44ft high) which was opened in 1856 with a ball to mark the end of the Crimean War.

When the ballroom was opened in 1856, it was the largest room in London.

Prince Albert added the balcony at the front of Buckingham Palace.

After meeting King George V at Buckingham Palace, Gandhi was asked if he felt under-dressed in his dhoti and shawl. Gandhi simply replied, “The King had on enough for both of us.”

Buckingham Palace opened to the public for the first time on August 7, 1993. 4,314 people paid the £8 entrance fee on its opening day.

Buckingham Palace has 775 rooms, including 19 state rooms, 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms.

Buckingham Palace. By Diliff - Wikipedia Commons

There are 1,514 doors and 760 windows in the palace. The windows are cleaned every six weeks.

Buckingham Palace has 40 acres of gardens, including a lake, tennis court and helicopter landing pad.

The postcode for the Palace is SW1A 1AA.

Source Daily Express


The Palace of Parliament, located in Bucharest, was originally a citadel built by Vlad the Impaler to stop the advance of the Ottoman invasion in the 14th century.

Bucharest was designated in 1659 the capital of the princes of Wallachia by Prince Gheorghe Ghica.

The population of Bucharest doubled between 1798 and 1831. The census of 1798 counted just over 30,000 inhabitants, while 33 years later to reach 60,587 people.

The first omnibus horses were opened in Bucharest in 1840, being among the first cities in Europe that had such means of transport.

When Wallachia and Moldavia united on January 24, 1862 to form the Principality of Romania, Bucharest became the new nation's capital city.

Bucharest Telephone Palace (see below) was built between 1929-1934. The architect was inspired by the American skyscrapers and it was the tallest building in Bucharest up till 1970.

As capital of an Axis country and a major transit point for Axis troops en route to the Eastern Front, Bucharest suffered heavy damage during World War II due to Allied bombings.

When a German officer was murdered on January 20, 1941 in Bucharest, it sparked a rebellion and pogrom by the Iron Guard, killing 125 Jews and 30 soldiers.

Calea Victoriei ("Victory Avenue") in 1940

After the Romanian Revolution in 1989 many orphanages were shut down forcing thousands of neglected orphans to live in the sewers of Bucharest. Many of those orphans still live in the sewers today, some have even raised their children there.

Bucharest’s surface transit network, run by Regia Autonoma de Transport Bucuresti, is the fourth-largest in Europe.

Bucharest is twinned with nine cities around the world. They include Atlanta, Beijing, Budapest and Hanover.

The Museum of the Romanian Peasant was declared the European Museum of the Year in 1996.

The Palace of Parliament is a multi-purpose building containing both chambers of the Romanian Parliament. It ranks as the biggest office building in Europe and second-largest in the world, after the U.S. Pentagon.

The Palace of the Parliament 

At the last census, the number of inhabitants of the city was 1,929,000.


James Buchanan

James Buchanan (1791-1868) was the only unmarried president of the United States. His orphaned niece, Harriet Lane, served as White House hostess.

Buchanan was engaged for a time to a certain Anne Colman. However, in 1819, after a fight between the pair, she called off the engagement. Anne Colman died later that year in what some have said was a suicide.

While his biographers argue that Buchanan was asexual or celibate, several writers have put forth arguments that he was homosexual or bisexual. A source of this interest has been the relationship Buchanan had with his close friend William Rufus King (who became Vice President under Franklin Pierce). Andrew Jackson nicknamed the two Miss Nancy and Aunt Fancy.

Both the largest and the smallest dogs to live in the White House were during the tenure of President James Buchanan. The dogs in question were a Newfoundland named Lara and a tiny toy terrier named Punch.

James Buchanan, owned some elephants presented to him by the King of Siam, and a pair of bald eagles.

President James Buchanan got the nickname "Ten-Cent Jimmy" after he claimed that 10¢ a day was a fair wage for manual laborers.

James Buchanan (1859) by George Healy as seen in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC

Buchanan was certainly a good host. When England's Prince of Wales came to visit in the fall of 1860, so many guests came with him, it's said the president slept in the hallway.

James Buchanan was morally opposed to slavery, but believed it was protected by the constitution, and so  he consistently bought slaves with his own money in Washington, D.C., and then set them free in Pennsylvania.

Buchanan caught a cold in May 1868, which quickly worsened due to his advanced age. He died on June 1, 1868, from respiratory failure at the age of 77 at his home at Wheatland and was interred in Woodward Hill Cemetery in Lancaster.


Bubble Gum

Blibber-Blubber, a failed attempt at bubble gum, was invented in 1906 but was deemed too sticky to sell.

American businessman Walter Diemer was working as an accountant for the Fleer Chewing Gum Co. when he accidentally invented bubble gum on August 15, 1928. He had been experimenting during his spare time with recipes for a chewing gum base.

Walter Diemer called his invention Double Bubble.

The reason the gum is pink is it is the only color that Diemer had to hand.

The largest bubblegum bubble ever blown was 23 inches in diameter. The record was set July 19, 1994 by Susan Montgomery Williams of Fresno, California on The Regis And Kathie Lee Show.

American Chad Fell holds the record for "Largest Hands-free Bubblegum Bubble" at 20.0 inches (50.8 cm) achieved on April 24, 2004. He blew the bubble at the Double Springs High School, Winston County, Alabama, USA.

Chad Fell

Bubble gum contains rubber.

In taste tests, children tend to prefer strawberry and blue raspberry flavors, rejecting more complex flavors as they say these make them want to swallow the gum rather than continue chewing.

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts get their name because they were grown around Brussels, Belgium as early as the 13th century.

The ancient Chinese recommended sprouts as a treatment for bowel problems.

The earliest recorded reference in English to Brussels sprouts dates back only to 1796.

Eliza Acton's Modern Cookery for Private Families, published in London in 1845 was the first basic cookbook written for the housewife. It included the first recipe for Brussels Sprouts.

The first recipe for Brussels sprouts advertised buttering them and serving them on toast.

The world record for the most sprouts eaten is 31 in one minute, which was set by Linus Urbanec from Sweden on November 26, 2008. He ate them one at a time using a cocktail stick.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge reportedly ate Brussels sprouts on their honeymoon in the Seychelles – the vegetable is supposedly an aid to fertility because it is so high in folic acid.

49-year-old Stuart Kettell rolled a Brussels sprout to the top of Mount Snowdon using only his nose, to raise money for Macmillan Cancer support. It took him four days, completing the feat on August 2, 2014.

They are a member of the same vegetable family as broccoli, kale, cauliflower and cabbage.

The total annual production of Brussels sprouts in the USA is almost 70 million pounds, and almost all of the production happens in California.

Broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts all contain a little bit of cyanide—eating them primes your liver to deal better with other poisons.



Brussels has been a location for settlement since prehistory but it became a noteworthy settlement after Saint Gery built a chapel on the banks of the Senne River in 695, now called Place Saint Gery.

The city of Brussels was officially founded in 979 by Charles, Duke of Low Lotharingia, who set down Brussels’ first city charter.

Since its days of tapestry-making in the 14th century, Brussels has always been renowned for its dexterity at creating textiles to wow the world. Like its tapestries, the quality of Brussels lace was only fit for aristocrats and royalty and commanded the highest prices on the market in the 16th century.

Brussels became a city in 1312, and was declared capital of the Spanish Netherlands in 1530 and of Belgium in 1830.

Brussel sprouts are called Brussels sprouts because they were discovered in Brussels.

The first railway in continental Europe opened between Brussels and Mechelen in 1835.

Work began on the covering of the Senne on February 13, 1867, burying the polluted main waterway in Brussels to allow urban renewal in the centre of the city. The series of boulevards created by the project – Hainaut Boulevard (now Maurice Lemonnier Boulevard), Central Boulevard (now Boulevard Anspach), North Boulevard (now Adolphe Max Boulevard), and Senne Boulevard (now Émile Jacqmain Boulevard) – were progressively opened to traffic from 1871 to 1873. The work is one of the defining events in the history of Brussels.

Construction of the covering and tunnels

Brussels was occupied by the Germans from May 17, 1940 until September 3, 1944 during World War II. The Germans, on the eve of their retreat, set fire to the Palais de Justice, and the cupola, which dominated the whole city, was completely burnt out.

German cavalry parade past the Royal Palace in Brussels shortly after the invasion, May 1940

The world’s deepest swimming hole is located in Brussels. Nemo 33 is a submerged structure with platforms at various levels that plummet down 108 feet. It holds 2,500,000 liters of non-chlorinated spring water that stays 86 degrees. Divers often use this facility to train, and there are even simulated underwater caves.

The world’s largest selling point of chocolate is the Brussels National Airport.

Brussels is one of the most international cities in the world. 27% of the population is made up of foreigners, not including those who have taken Belgian citizenship.

In following with its status as the Capital of Europe (the seat of the European Union), Brussels is the location for 40,000 EU employees, 4,000 NATO employees and hosts about 300 permanent representations: lobby groups, embassies and press corporations.



Brunette literally means "little brown-haired girl" or "young brown-haired woman", but, in modern English usage, it has lost the diminutive meaning and usually refers to any brown or black-haired girl or woman, or the associated hair color. It is the feminine form of brun, the word for dark-haired men.

During the Renaissance blonde hair became so much de rigueur in Venice that a brunette was not to be seen except among the working classes.

Venetian women spent hours dyeing and burnishing their hair until they achieved the harsh metallic glitter that was considered a necessity.

Anita Loos, the author of the novel and play Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, wrote a sequel entitled But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes.

In Western popular culture, a common stereotype is that brunettes are stable, serious, smart and sophisticated. Brunettes were described as independent and self-sufficient by 67 percent of the men, in a British study, and as intelligent by 81 percent.

Lady Gaga is a natural brunette; she reportedly bleached her hair blonde because she was once mistaken for Amy Winehouse.

Brunettes have fewer hairs on their head than their blonde and redheaded counterparts.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 -1859) was the only son of the French engineer and inventor Sir Marc Isambard Brunel  (1769-1849). His father settled in Britain and married Sophia Kingdom, an English woman whom he had known in France in earlier days.

He was born on April 9, 1806 in Britan Street, Portsea, Portsmouth, Hampshire, where his father was working on block-making machinery.

Brunel was sent to France at the age of 14 to study mathematics and science at the at the College of Caen in Normandy and the Lycée Henri-Quatre in Paris. Two years later he returned to England to work with his father.

At the age of 20 Brunel was appointed resident engineer under his father's direction when work on the Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe began. He held the post for over two years, when a sudden inundation almost drowned him and brought the work to a standstill. Work recommenced in 1835 and was finally finished in 1843.

The Wapping to Rotherhithe tunnel was the world’s first underwater walkway. By the end of its first year of operation, a million people had passed through.

He once staged a dinner party in the Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe for businessmen in 1827 wearing full evening dress.

During his recuperation, Brunel submitted designs for a competition to build a bridge across the Avon Gorge at Bristol. His graceful suspension design, with a record-breaking main span of 192 m (630 ft) eventually won the competition, and work began on the piers. Lack of money, however, meant that the Clifton Suspension Bridge was not finally completed until 1864, after Brunel's death.

Brunel was an innovative and hardworking engineer. He customarily worked an 18-hour day, sleeping at the office, rising at 4am.

He employed a huge number of subcontractors, and treated them all in a high-handed and sometimes brutal manner. People whom Brunel considered incompetent received abusive letters.

Brunel was only five foot tall. Because of his small size he always wore a reinforced top hat to make himself look taller.

Brunel married Mary Horsley in 1836. Their son, Henri Marc Brunel, also enjoyed some success as a civil engineer.

In the long slog to hack and blast the celebrated Box Tunnel through two miles of solid rock between Bath and Swindon, 100 men were killed.

Brunel had a conjuring trick where he made a half-sovereign coin vanish into his mouth and emerge from his ear. In 1843, while performing it for the amusement of his children, Brunel accidentally swallowed a coin which became lodged in his windpipe. A special pair of forceps failed to remove it as did a machine to shake it loose devised by Brunel himself. After several weeks of coughing himself sick, Brunel designed a hinged table to which he was strapped, face down, and upended until his head was pointing towards the floor. The press issued daily reports on the progress of the coin, and eventually it was jerked free. When the historian Thomas Babington Macaulay read the good news, he ran along the street yelling, “It’s out! It’s out!” and nobody asked him what he was talking about.

Brunel worked on the improvement of large guns and designed a floating armoured barge used for the attack on Kronshtadt in 1854 during the Crimean War.

He was responsible for building more than 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of railway in the West Country, the Midlands, South Wales, and Ireland. Brunel  constructed two railway lines in Italy and was an adviser on the construction of the Victorian lines in Australia and the Eastern Bengal Railway in India.

Brunel had one big failure — an atmospheric railway with trains running on a vacuum tube from Exeter, which closed after troubled trials.

Brunel’s 236 ft steamship Great Western left Bristol on her maiden voyage to New York on April 8, 1838, halving the journey time to 15 days.

Brunel made outstanding contributions to marine engineering with his three ships, the Great Western, Great Britain (1843), and Great Eastern (originally called Leviathan; 1858), each the largest in the world at its date of launching.

The Great Western, a wooden paddle vessel, was the first steamship to provide regular transatlantic service. It confounded critics who asserted that such a vessel would never be able to carry sufficient coal to make the crossing.

The Great Western's maiden departure from Bristol in 1838.

During the Great Western’s maiden voyage to America, Brunel issued instructions from his sickbed after falling off a ladder.

The SS Great Britain was launched on July 19, 1843. It was the first ocean-going craft with an iron hull and screw propeller.

Launch of Great Britain at Bristol, July 1843.

When launched, the Great Britain was by far the largest vessel afloat. She was the longest passenger ship in the world until 1854.

Great Britain was the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic, She did so for the first time in 1845, in the time of 14 days.

The Great Eastern was propelled by both paddles and screw and was the first ship to utilize a double iron hull.

The huge and costly effort of launching the Great Eastern sideways into the Thames in January 1858, and the preparation for its first sea trials the following September, caused Brunel to suffer a stroke. His habit of smoking over 40 cigars a day probably contributed to his stroke.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel by the launching chains of the SS Great Eastern

Brunel died ten days later on September 15, 1859 and is buried, like his father, at Kensal Green Cemetery in London.

He came second to Sir Winston Churchill in the BBC’s 1999 poll to find the Greatest ever Briton.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Beau Brummell

George Bryan "Beau" Brummell was born in London on June 7, 1778, the younger son of William Brummell, a politician.

Brummell was educated at Eton, where he first made his mark on fashion by not only modernizing the white stock, or cravat, that was the mark of the Eton boy, but adding a gold buckle to it

After inheriting a reasonably sized family fortune, fancy London resident George Bryan "Beau" Brummell dedicated his life to maintaining the lifestyle of a "gentleman of fashion."

His main claim to fame was that he got rid of the prevalent fashion for massive wigs, powder and face paint. Brummel wanted men to look manly again and one way he achieved this was to popularize the wearing of trousers, which sounded the death knell for breeches.

He formed ‘the body dandiacal’, a group of men who were trying to wipe out the foppish look.

Brummell was so petrified of soiling his shoes on the pavement or of having a hair blown out of place that he used to order his sedan chair to be brought inside his house so he could board there. He refused to raise his head to a lady because he was worried that he wouldn’t be able to replace it at precisely the same angle.

He only ever wore a maximum of three colors. During the day, he wore black, cream and buff-colored clothes. At night he only wore black and white, which gave rise, eventually, to the dinner jacket.

Shaving and proper grooming for men became a self-indulging and overly narcissistic pastime thanks to Brummell. Known for his impeccable grooming, manners and style of dress, Brummell  was said to have shaved his face several times a day and plucked out leftover hairs with tweezers.

Brummell, engraved from a miniature portrait

Glove wearing as a social requirement reached a height in the 19th century, illustrated by Beau Brummell's prejudice that a perfect gentleman must change his gloves at least six times a day.

Source Radio Times

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Robert Browning

Robert Browning (1812- 1889) was born on May 7, 1812 at Southampton Way, Camberwell, London, England.

Wikipedia Commons

Robert's father Robert Browning, a man of fine intellect and character, was a well-off clerk for the Bank of England, earning about £150 per year. Browning's father had been sent to the West Indies to work on a sugar plantation. Revolted by the slavery there, he returned to England and became an abolitionist.

Robert's mother, Sarah Anna Wiedemann, was a devout non conformist Scot. The daughter of a German shipowner who had settled in Dundee, she was a talented musician,to whom Robert was very close.

Robert was bought up with his younger sister Sarianna in Camberwell. Sarianna, also gifted, became her brother's companion in his later years.

Robert was an extremely bright child and voracious reader and his father encouraged his interest in literature and the arts. By the age of twelve, Browning had written a book of poetry which he later destroyed when no publisher could be found. His childhood hero was the poet, Shelley.

After being at one or two private schools, and showing an insuperable dislike to school life, Robert was educated at home by a tutor via the resources of his father's extensive library. He was a rapid learner and by the age of fourteen he was fluent in French, Greek, Italian and Latin.

Robert became a vegetarian aged 14 like his hero Shelley, which he gave up later.

When he was a teenager, Browning shocked his evangelical mother when he declared himself like his hero Shelley, an atheist. In later life he looked back on this as a passing phase and he became a knowledgeable Bible reader but always denied any Christian faith.

Robert's father was a literary collector, and he amassed a library of around 6,000 books, many of them rare. As a result, he was raised in a household of significant literary resources.

At the age of sixteen, Robert studied Greek at University College London but dropped out after his first year to pursue his own reading at his own pace. His mother’s staunch evangelical faith prevented his studying at either Oxford University or Cambridge University, both then open only to members of the Church of England. However, in later years he was awarded an honorary degree by Oxford University.

Robert inherited substantial musical ability through his mother, and composed arrangements of various songs.  In 1830 Robert met the actor William Macready and tried several times to write verse drama for the stage - not very successfully. His most successful play was the 1837 Strafford.

Robert refused a formal career and ignored his parents' remonstrations, dedicating himself to poetry. His earliest poem was Pauline (1833) . The piece, which disappeared without notice, would embarrass him for the rest of his life.

Some of Robert's early work was very heavy going. When members of the London Poetic Society asked Browning for an interpretation of a particularly obscure passage, he read it, twice shrugged his soldiers and said "When I wrote that, God and I knew what it meant, but now God alone knows."

Robert stayed at home until the age of 34, financially dependent on his family until his marriage. His father sponsored the publication of his son's poems

Browning travelled widely, joining a British diplomatic mission to St Petersburg, Russia in 1834, later journeying to Italy 1838 and 1844.

In 1846 Robert secretly married the invalid poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning in St Marylebone church after correspondence in praise of her poetry led to their meeting and courtship. He called Elizabeth "A soul offire in a shell of pearl."

Six years his elder and an invalid, Elizabeth could not believe that the vigorous and worldly Robert Browning really loved her as much as he professed to. Browning imitated his hero Shelley by spiriting his beloved off to Italy in September 1846, which became her home almost continuously until her death.

When the Brownings eloped from Wimpole Street, Robert was unable to work out the train and ferry timetables for their journey to Le Havre on their way to Italy. Elizabeth had to return to Wimpole Street for several days to take charge of organising the details of their elopement herself.

After he eloped to Italy with Elizabeth, they lived at Casa Guidi, Florence, which is now a home available to be rented.

As Elizabeth had some money of her own, the couple were reasonably comfortable in Italy, and their relationship together was harmonious. The Brownings were well respected in Italy, and even famous.

Elizabeth grew stronger and in 1849, at the age of 43, she gave birth to a son, Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning, whom they called Pen. He became an artist and critic, got married but had no legitimate children, so there are apparently no direct descendants of the two famous poets.

After the death of Elizabeth in 1861 Robert spent the "season" in London and rest of time in the country or abroad. Between 1861 and 1887, his London address was 19 Warwick Crescent in Little Venice, Maida Vale. It is thought it was Browning who coined the name 'Little Venice.'

After Elizabeth's death, Robert had many flirtatious relationships. He was fond of writing tender, nonsensical verses to his many lady friends.

In 1869 he proposed marriage to Lady Ashburton only to be rejected. This proposal, an example of his propensity towards social climbing, embarrassed Browning in society and shamed him over his infidelity over his dead wife.

Robert's wife was the better known poet during their lifetime, but he gradually acquired a considerable and enthusiastic public fan base. Published separately in four volumes from November 1868 through to February 1869, The Ring and the Book was a huge success both commercially and critically, and finally brought Browning the renown he had sought and deserved for nearly thirty years of work. This long blank-verse poem is considered by many to be Browning's greatest work. Based on a convoluted murder case from 1690s Rome, it tells the story of the murder in long dramatic monologues from 12 points of view.

Browning coined several words, including cheese-ball ( thought to be mozzarella), garnishry (adornment) and febricity (the state of being feverish).

When challenged to find rhymes for orange, Browning came up with "From the Ganges to the Blorenge comes the Rajah once a month. Sometimes chewing on an orange. Sometimes reading from his Grunth. " (Blorenge is a small mountain in Wales. Grunth is a Sikh Holy Book.)

Browning died of bronchitis on December 12, 1889 at his son's apartment in the Ca' Rezzonico, Venice. He was brought back to London for burial in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey; his grave now lies immediately adjacent to that of Alfred Tennyson.

Browning after death.

By the time of his death he was ranked as the leading poet of his era along with Tennyson.

At a dinner party on April 7, 1889, at the home of Browning's friend the artist Rudolf Lehmann, an Edison cylinder phonograph recording was made of Browning reciting part of How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix (and forgetting the words). When the recording was played on December 12, 1890 on the anniversary of his death, at a gathering of his admirers, it was said to be the first time anyone's voice "had been heard from beyond the grave."

John Lennon & Yoko Ono were inspired by the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Browning. They often joked they were the reincarnated spirits of "Bob and Liz". Two tracks, "Let Me Count The Ways" and "Grow Old with Me" on the Milk and Honey album were inspired by the poetry of Bob and Liz.

Clifford T Ward's "Home Thoughts From Abroad" is a tribute to Robert Browning. "You know, Home Thoughts From Abroad is such a beautiful poem And I know how Robert Browning must have felt. 'Cause I'm feeling the same way about you."

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was born on March 6, 1806, in Coxhoe Hall, between the villages of Coxhoe and Kelloe in County Durham, England.

Elizabeth's parents were Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett and Mary Graham Clarke, who married at St Nicholas Church, Gosforth (Tyne and Wear). His family, some of whom were part Creole, had lived for centuries in Jamaica, where they owned sugar plantations and relied on slave labor. Her mother came from a wealthy Newcastle family, also derived in part from slave labor.Elizabeth lost her mother when she was 22.

Elizabeth was the eldest of their 12 children (eight boys and four girls). All the children lived to adulthood except for one girl, who died at the age of four when Elizabeth was eight. In 1840 her oldest and favorite brother Edward was tragically drowned.

Elizabeth and her siblings all had nicknames - Elizabeth's was "Ba".

Elizabeth was baptized at the age of 3 at Kelloe Parish Church, though she had already been baptized by a family friend in the first week after she was born.

In 1809 Elizabeth's father bought Hope End, a 500-acre estate near the Malvern Hills in Ledbury, Herefordshire. Elizabeth had a large room to herself, with stained glass in the window, and she loved the garden where she tended white roses in a special arbour by the south wall. Elizabeth  lived a privileged childhood riding her pony round the grounds visiting other families in the neighbourhood and arranging family theatrical productions with her 11 brothers and sisters.

Elizabeth was educated at home and attended lessons with her brother's tutor. This gave her a good education for a girl of that time. She was an intensely studious, precocious child and had read passages from Paradise Lost and Shakespearean plays, and the histories of England, Greece and Rome before the age of ten.

Her first known poem was written at the age of six or eight, On the Cruelty of Forcement to Man. As a present for her fourteenth birthday Elizabeth's father underwrote the publication of her epic Homeric poem entitled The Battle of Marathon.

At the age of 15 Elizabeth fell from a pony and injured her spine. She was slow to recover so a Dr Coker prescribed opium for a nervous disorder and she carried on taking it for the next 25 years. However it only made her worse and for much of the time she was bedridden, especially after 1838 when a burst blood vessel made her seriously ill.

Elizabeth was pretty and personable. Mary Russell Mitford wrote of her about the time she'd turned 20, "A slight, delicate figure, with a shower of dark curls falling on each side of a most expressive face; large, tender eyes, richly fringed by dark eyelashes, and a smile like a sunbeam." Her Creole ancestry gave Liz a slightly exotic look. Anne Thackeray Ritchie described her as, "Very small and brown" with big, exotic eyes and an overgenerous mouth.

Portrait of Elizabeth Barrett in her youth

Elizabeth was bought up by a family that attended services at the nearest dissenting chapel and her father was active for years in Bible missionary societies. Liz herself went through an evangelical “phase” and it is not clear how much she retained her faith as she developed an interest in spiritualism.

The family moved three times between 1832-37 due to Mr Barrett's financial losses, first Sidmouth, then 99 Gloucester Place, London, then 50 Wimpole Street, London.

Elizabeth's health forced her to move to Torquay on Devonshire coast, where her brother Edward accompanied her. His death by drowning was a massive blow and she returned to Wimpole Street and became a permanent recluse seeing only a few people.

In 1844 her collection Poems was published An important collection in Victorian literature, so highly were they regarded that when Wordsworth died Elizabeth was tipped by many to be the next Poet Laureate.

Elizabeth's extraordinary poetry brought admirers (including Browning) to the room where she languished in her bed after her spinal injury.

By 1844, Elizabeth had been an invalid for many years, spending much of her time writing in her upstairs room. Her 1844 Poems made her one of the most popular writers in the land at the time and inspired well known poet Robert Browning to write to her, telling her how much he loved her poems. A family friend Kenyon arranged for Robert Browning to meet Elizabeth in May 1845, and so began one of the most famous courtships in literature.

Flush, a red cocker spaniel was the only companion allowed to the invalid Elizabeth by her tyrannical father. The first time Robert visited Elizabeth at Wimpole Street, Flush bit him.

During her time as an invalid, Elizabeth became addicted to opium due to the pain of her spinal condition. She knocked back laudanum, a cocktail of opium and alcohol to help her to sleep. Robert Browning used Chianti to wean and cure his Elizabeth of her addiction to laudanum.

In 1846, in preparation for her elopement with Robert, Elizabeth began to free herself of the habits acquired as an invalid practicing standing without help and then walking where she had previously been carried.

The courtship and marriage between Robert Browning and Elizabeth were carried out secretly. Six years his elder and an invalid, she could not believe that the vigorous and worldly Robert Browning really loved her as much as he professed to. After a private marriage at St. Marylebone Parish Church on September 12, 1846, Browning imitated his hero Shelley by spiriting his beloved off to Italy, which became her home almost continuously until her death. Elizabeth's loyal nurse, Wilson, who witnessed the marriage, accompanied the couple to Italy.

Portraits of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning.

Elizabeth took Flush with her to Italy with Robert and the mutt was immortalised by her the poem To Flush my Dog. Virginia Woolf later wrote his life story.

Her father disinherited Elizabeth, as he did each of his children who married. She repeatedly sought a reconciliation with her father but he returned her letters unopened.

As Elizabeth had some money of her own, the couple were reasonably comfortable in Italy, and their relationship together was harmonious. The Brownings were well respected in Italy, and even famous.

Elizabeth grew stronger and in 1849, at the age of 43, she gave birth to a son, Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning, whom they called Pen. Their son became an artist, got married but had no legitimate children, so there are apparently no direct descendants of the two famous poets.

Elizabeth's most famous work her 1850 Sonnets from the Portuguese was inspired by her love for her husband and titled after Robert Browning's pet name for her "The Portuguese".

In her day Elizabeth was more highly regarded poetry wise than Robert and was the most highly regarded female poet of her day. However her 1860 Political Poems Before Congress injured her popularity as many disapproved of the Browning version of Italian political matters.

An engraving of Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, published in Eclectic Magazine

After hearing of her father's death, Elizabeth's health faded again, centering around deteriorating lung function. Her faithful husband never left her bedside and she spent the last day of her life asleep in his arms. Elizabeth died on June 29, 1861 at Casa Guidi, and was buried in Florence's Protestant Cemetery.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono were inspired by the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Browning. They often joked they were the reincarnated spirits of "Bob and Liz". Two tracks, "Let Me Count The Ways" and "Grow Old with Me" on the Milk and Honey album were inspired by their poetry.

Sources (1) Rosalie Mader Mrs Browning: The Story of Elizabeth Barrett, (2) Wikipedia


James Brown

James Brown was born on May 3, 1933, in Barnwell, South Carolina, to 16-year-old Susie (née Behling, 1917–2003) and 22-year-old Joseph "Joe" Gardner Brown (1911–1993), in a small wooden shack.

He began singing in talent shows as a young child, first appearing at Augusta's Lenox Theater in 1944, winning the show after singing the ballad "So Long.".

As a young man James Brown wanted to play professional baseball or be a professional boxer.

He was imprisoned for petty theft in 1949 after breaking into a car, and paroled three years later.

His first group was The Flames, and he was the drummer. Brown sang some lead vocals with other members and quickly became their frontman.

James Brown’s original Flames band mates started off in Little Richard’s Band.

James Brown did not know how to read sheet music.

"Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag" was released by James Brown on July 17,1965.  It was the first Top 10 hit for the Godfather of Soul.

By ESCAPE-ISM, Fair use, Wikipedia Commons

The night after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Brown agreed to televise his performance in Boston, where he appealed for calm in the wake of riots across the country

James Brown performed in Zaire before the “Rumble in the Jungle” between Muhammad Ali and Foreman.

Brown’s song “Living in America” was featured in the movie Rocky IV.

James Brown performing live in Hamburg, Germany, February 1973.

Intoxicated on PCP, in 1988 Brown burst into an insurance seminar adjoining his own office in Augusta before leading police on a late-night, two state car pursuit. He was sentenced to a six-year jail term for and served 26 months.

James Brown requested a 1950s salon hairdryer for his dressing room when he played the Scottish T In The Park festival in 2005.

He died on December 25, 2006 at 73 in Atlanta of congestive heart failure after being hospitalized for pneumonia. According to his friend, James Brown's last words were "I'm going away tonight."

When James Brown died, his coffin was 24 karat gold.

Sources, Artistfacts

Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown's (1951-) father was a minister in the Church of Scotland and strongly shaped his views. He always goes to church when he is in his constituency.

Gordon Brown's first name is actually James and he should not be confused with the godfather of soul.

James Gordon Brown was one of several UK prime ministers that chose to be known by their middle names, along with Ramsay MacDonald, Neville Chamberlain, Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan and Gordon Brown.

Brown lost the sight in his left eye during a rugby match between Kirkcaldy High School First 11 and the Old Boys in 1967. He was playing wing forward. He was kicked in the head in a scrum and his retina was detached.

Brown had three operations and other treatments, including lying in a darkened room for some weeks. When all failed, he was left permanently blind in his left eye. Then a few months later, while playing tennis, he noticed the same symptoms in his right eye. Dr Hector Chawia saved his sight with surgery at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

He is not able to read newsprint easily and  has to rely on others to keep him informed about what's in the papers.

Brown is a devoted supporter of his local football team, Raith Rovers

A prodigious intellect, Gordon Brown went to university at 16.

After university, Brown worked briefly as a lecturer and a television journalist before entering parliament in 1983, the same year as Tony Blair. The two of them shared an office.

Brown was the longest-serving chancellor in 200 years. His first act as minister was to hand independence to the Bank of England, putting it in charge of interest rates, a move lauded by financial markets.

At the age of 49, Gordon Brown married Sarah Macaulay in a private ceremony at his home in North Queensferry, Fife, on August 3, 2000.

Brown's first child with his wife Sarah died 10 days after her premature birth in 2001. The couple have since had two children, the second of whom has been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.

Brown tried to get Andrew Lloyd Webber to join his government as a cultural ambassador.

Brown received a Christmas card from David Cameron saying "Merry Christmas from me and 'the props'" after Brown accused Cameron of using his children as props in his 2008 conference speech.

Sources The Guardian, Daily Mail,

Capability Brown

Lancelot "Capability" Brown (1715-83) was an architect and landscape gardener, who was noted for planning a naturalistic type of garden for the great houses of England with vistas of trees, lakes and flower-beds. He earned his nickname from his  saying, when called in to consult on the new laying out of a gentleman’s grounds, “I see great capability of improvement here.”

Brown introduced various changes to the design of gardens. The grass and trees of the park were brought up to the walls of the country houses. The fruit and vegetable garden was placed out of sight and the introduction of grass slopes and trees visible from the windows were a testimony to people’s growing delight in natural scenery.

He established a purely English style of garden lay-out, using simple artifices to produce natural effects, as in the laid-out gardens at Blenheim, Kew, Stowe, Warwick Castle, and others. 

He designed over 170 parks, many of which still endure.

Brown died on February 6, 1783, in Hertford Street, London, on the doorstep of his daughter Bridget, who had married the architect Henry Holland.

Brown's popularity declined rapidly after his death, because his work was seen as a feeble imitation of wild nature. During the nineteenth century he was widely criticized, but during the twentieth century his popularity returned as a result of a favorable account of his talent in Marie-Luise Gothein's History of Garden Art.

Source Wikipedia

Louise Brooks

Louise Brooks' most famous role was Lulu in the movie Pandora’s Box. The 1929 film was notable for its frank treatment of modern sexual mores, including one of the first screen portrayals of a lesbian.

Brooks was known mostly for her Buster Brown-Page Boy bobbed hair style, which she'd worn since childhood. Thousands of women were attracted to that style and adopted it as their own.

                                                 Publicity photo, c. 1930

She retired from the screen in 1938.

After retiring, Brooks begum writing about film, which became her second career. Her first major writing project was an autobiographical novel called Naked on My Goat. After working on the novel for a number of years, she destroyed the manuscript by throwing it into an incinerator.

Despite marrying twice, she never had children, referring to herself as "Barren Brooks".

She admitted to some lesbian dalliances, including a one-night stand with Greta Garbo. Despite all this, Brooks considered herself neither lesbian nor bisexual.

Brooks was found dead of a heart attack on August 8, 1985, after suffering from arthritis and emphysema for many years. She was buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester, New York.

In 1991 the British new wave group Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark released a single named "Pandora's Box" as a tribute to Brooks.

Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks was born on February 7, 1962. His actual first name is Troyal (Garth is his middle name), the same first name as his father's.

Garths' parents hosted weekly talent shows for their family, in which they required their six children to participate, fostering their son's early creativity.

Garth Brooks went to Oklahoma State University on a javelin throwing scholarship. Brooks earned a bachelor's degree in advertising in 1985,

Brooks earned his Master's in business administration from Oklahoma State in 2011. He attended the ceremony and donned a cap and gown.

Garth was working as a bouncer at the Tumbleweed Ballroom, in Stillwater, Oklahoma, when he met Sandy Mahl, who would eventually would become his first wife and mother to his three daughters. He was breaking up a fight that had erupted between Sandy and another woman in the ladies' room.

Garth and his first wife, Sandy, announced plans to divorce in 2000 and did so in 2001. Garth married fellow country star Trisha Yearwood on December 10, 2005, at their home in Owasso, Oklahoma.

Garth Brooks signed with Capitol Records on June 17, 1988 launching one of the most successful music careers of all time.

Garth's second album, No Fences, was released in 1990. It enjoyed 23 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Country music chart and eventually became his highest-selling album.

Brooks became the 65th member of the Grand Ole Opry on October 6, 1990, just 18 months after his debut album was released.

Garth's Ropin' the Wind was the first country album to ever debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

In 1994, when Garth played Dublin, Ireland, he drew the biggest crowds there since a 1979 visit from the pope.

Garth Brooks attracted the largest crowd ever at New York's Central Park —about 980,000— when he held a free concert with surprise guests Billy Joel and Don McLean on August 7, 1997.

Garth Brooks is a huge baseball fan and he participated in spring training for the San Diego Padres in both 1998 and 1999 plus the New York Mets in 2000, but he didn't make either team. The singer was released by the New York Mets from their roster on March 19, 2000 after having a zero-for-17 batting record during his spring training season with them.

Brooks returned to baseball, one last time, for an encore performance with the Kansas City Royals in 2004. Again he failed to get a place on the regular season roster, following his final spring training season, but Brooks was able to get a hit off Mike Myers.

In 1999, Garth introduced the fictional character of Chris Gaines (who was "born" August 1, 1967, in Brisbane, Australia.) Although The Lamb, the film featuring Garth as Chris Gaines, never materialized, a one-off album, Garth Brooks ... in the Life of Chris Gaines (also titled Greatest Hits) was released and scored a Top 5 pop hit, "Lost in You."

Garth Brooks was named the 1990s’ Artist of the Decade at the American Music Awards on January 17, 2000. At the time of his Artist of the Decade win, Brooks had sold more than any other American recording artist.

Garth "retired" from performing and touring on October 26, 2000. The same day Capitol threw a party celebrating his sales of 100 million albums.

In 2000, Garth attempted to donate part of his liver for a transplant for ailing Chris LeDoux but he was deemed incompatible. Chris died of complications from liver cancer in 2005.

"More Than a Memory," Garth's 51st single, was released in 2007. Written by Lee Brice, Kyle Jacobs and Billy Montana, the song became the first ever to debut at #1 on the country chart.

In January 2012, Garth Brooks was crowned the top-selling artist of the last two decades. Since 1991, he has sold 68,561,000 units, some five million more than the No. 2 act, the Beatles.

Brooks at the We Are One concert in 2009
In 2013 Brooks announced that he was returning to the spotlight with a world tour, which kicked off on September 4, 2014, in Chicago.

Garth Brooks is obsessed with brushing his teeth. He claims to have over 80 toothbrushes in his house.



Alloy is made of copper and tin and is yellow or brown in colour. It is harder than pure copper, more suitable for casting, and also resists corrosion. Bronze may contain as much as 25% tin, together with small amounts of other metals, mainly lead.

Bronze is one of the first metallic alloys known and was used widely by early peoples during the period of history known as the Bronze Age. Most Mediterranean civilizations were using Bronze for tools and weapons by 2500 B.C., replacing the previous 'copper only' period, which lasted approximately 1,000 years.

By 1500 BC bronze cutting implements were being used from the British Isles to China.

Charlemagne owned a water clock that marked hours by dropping bronze balls into a bowl as mechanical knights emerged from little doors.

Gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded for the first time at the 1904 Olympics.