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Thy choicest gifts in store  

The latest edition of the Vaguely Interesting Podcast. The story of how Britain rewarded four of its most illustrious battlefield commanders. This is the story of how Britain thanked four of the biggest names in her military history – Marlborough, Wellington, Haig and Montgomery.

British Airship R101

The British Hindenburg disaster

Scores of people died when the airship burst into flames. It crashed into the ground just over 50 miles away from one of the world’s most important cities. Its demise marked the end of a national programme of airship construction and the death of an imperial dream. But this is not about the Hindenburg disaster. Just under seven years earlier, the British faced a similar tragedy when His Majesty’s Airship R101 plunged […]


On this day in … 1066

On 6 January 1066, Harold Godwineson was crowned as Harold II, King of England. He would spend the next nine months defending his kingdom from attack. In the north, he had to fend off an invasion from King Harald III Hardraade of Norway. Then, in the south, he would have to fight William of Normandy. He couldn’t defeat this second invader. England would have a second coronation in 1066 – William was crowned on […]

Raining cats and dogs and buckets and barrels and knives and forks and frogs and old women and trolls and pipes and rope

Lost in translation

How close are we to the universal translators that pepper science fiction? Will Google Translate be the technological equivalent of Douglas Adams’s babel fish? For simple sentences, the service works well. Google Translate can even master complicated documents or, at least, provide enough to make sense of the text. One the biggest test is whether the service can make sense of idioms. Would it translate the English concept of ‘raining cats and […]

Trebuchet in Castelnaud, France by Luc Viatour /

Warwolf and the hammering of the Scots

Stirling Castle is a striking, man made addition to an already formidable natural fortress. Sheer cliffs thrust up from the rolling Scottish Lowlands. The thick castle walls extend these solid quartz-dolerite foundations towards the sky. It is imposing and seems impregnable. It probably was, at least until Warwolf came to visit. In 1304, Stirling Castle was the last Scottish holdout to the English invasion. Edward I of England had lived up to […]

Snippets square

Snippets – Which country shut down TV for July for summer holidays?

Until 1983, no television was broadcast in July in Iceland. It took until 1987 for broadcasts to be made on Thursdays on state broadcaster RÚV (European Journalism Centre); Drury Lane Theatre was destroyed six times by rioting in the turbulent 18th century (British Library); and Heroine was produced in the laboratories of Bayer. One story of how it got its name was that the head of Bayer’s research department based it on the German […]

Ballot used for Austrian referendum, 1938 See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Fixing the results

On Sunday, Greeks will go to the polls to vote in a crucial referendum. The politics are fraught, the media is frenzied and accusations and recriminations are already flying. The ballot paper has attracted plenty of attention, both inside and outside of Greece. The question is detailed and, to eyes that are unaccustomed to non-Roman alphabets, impenetrable. Some commentators have pointed out that the ‘no’ option is given first. It made me […]