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10 things we didn’t know last week

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Life of Brian

1. Ampersand was once an actual letter which followed the letter Z in the Latin alphabet.

Find out more (The Times)

2. Worldwide, 27% of people say that they paid a bribe to get public services last year.

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3. Finland hosts a world wife-carrying championship.

Find out more (Daily Telegraph)

4. The film Life of Brian remains banned in parts of Germany, but only on Good Friday.

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5. Thresher sharks hunt prey with their tails.

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6. Tabasco is on the Queen’s shopping list.

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7. Singing in a choir is good for your heart.

Find out more (New Scientist)

8. The Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams is the most frequently misquoted song in the UK.

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9. The EU funds a jellyfish monitoring programme.

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10. The manuscript of Samuel Beckett’s first novel, Murphy, was covered in doodles.

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Why are the British so obsessed with the Queen’s bowels?

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The media attention paid to the royal intestinal bug is a testimony to Britain’s innate conservatism

Members of the media outside the King Edward VII hospital in London, where the Queen was taken ‘as a precaution’. Photograph: Tal Cohen/EPA

Never has Britain felt more alien to continentals. I’m not talking about David Cameron’s endless pantomime over Europe. I’m talking about royal bowels.

Since Friday and the news that the Queen was suffering from “symptoms of gastroenteritis”, anyone watching television, listening to the radio or reading newspapers has been treated to excruciatingly long reports about Elizabeth II’s intestinal problems. Visitors to Britain have watched, open-mouthed, 10-minute reports on BBC News, with royal correspondents posted at the gates of Windsor Castle, painfully trying to elaborate on the subject. Yesterday, we even woke up to the sound of Radio 4’s Today programme giving the nation a lecture on the royal bug. A professor of gastroenterology at the University of Nottingham came on especially to enlighten us all on the nature of this very special stomach bug.

In all these reports, not a hint of irony. Au contraire. The word “diarrhoea” is uttered with po-faced seriousness, as if it is synonymous with crown jewels.

What we are witnessing is a clear reminder that Britain has two personas: it exists on two timescales, and in two parallel universes.

On one hand, Britain is a modern parliamentary democracy; on the other, it is an ancien régime shrouded in medieval mysticism. The monarch has two bodies, one mortal, one eternal, or as Ernst Kantorowicz wrote in his 1957 bestseller The King’s Two Bodies, a body natural and a body politic. And so here we are, in 2013 realising that the country that gave us punk is also the country whose head of state holds her position by some kind of divine right (not so strange, perhaps, when one considers that punk partly derives from the existence of monarchy).

When the Times featured the “event” of Elizabeth’s illness on its front page while carrying inside its pages a picture of the Duchess of Cambridge’s four-month pregnant bump, Hilary Mantel’s recent and strangely controversial essay, Royal Bodies, seemed more relevant and salient than ever. From pregnancy to gastroenteritis: here is the royal venter in all its shapes, suffering and glory.

Mantel wrote of Henry VIII and his cohort of women as royal vaginas. We could speak of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette who, on their wedding night, were ushered into bed, surrounded by the royal family and courtiers. Among the voyeurs, Louis XV, who was personally recorded to have honoured his Queen Marie seven times during their first night, and encouraged the young couple before curtains were drawn. Valets and royal housekeepers remained however in the royal chamber until dawn when they had to testify on the royal frolicking.

Or we could evoke the Sun King, whose body (and bodily functions) was in permanent public display at Versailles. Louis XIV was installed at 9am on his royal potty chair in front of two dozen courtiers while his barber would deftly dispose of royal hairs.

Body parts, if royal, carry potency. They are not what they seem to us, mere mortals; they are not just decaying flesh. Royal fluids are divine potions. The Queen’s excrement is like the teardrops of Christ: sacred relics.

When a monarch dies, they lie in state for days, so that the whole nation can pay their respects, but more importantly still, so that they acknowledge by their presence the continuity and permanence of the institution. In 2002, to many Europeans’ stupor, 200,000 British people waited for hours in the cold and rain to pay their respects to the Queen Mother, an aristocrat who never reigned. If anything, the attention paid to the Queen’s intestinal bug is a testimony to Britain’s innate conservatism and of the well-known adage plus ça change … The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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Bearskin Hats

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Have you ever wandered about bearskin hats?

Probably not.

But you will have seen them, they appear in most photos relating to Buckingham Place, the home of Queen Elizabeth II of England.

The traditional bearskin hats of the Grenadier Guards

So, why, what’s the story?

The bearskin cap was awarded to the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards for their participation at the Battle of Waterloo (1815), where they also attained name of the Grenadier Guards; to which they still hold it to this day.

Ever since then, the bearskin cap has been awarded to the subsequent Guards regiments of the Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh Guards as a mark of their elite status and as regiments of Her Majesty’s Foot Guards.

Bearskin caps have always been made from the pelt of a black or a brown bear, the latter being the case for an officer’s bearskin cap.

Because of the cost to produce a single bearskin, it is only awarded to the most elite of regiments.

It adds apparent height and stature to a soldier, with height being a desirable attribute in European armies of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The bearskin cap was also a functional piece of headgear. Since the fur came down past the eyes, it broke the silhouette of the soldier head and lancers who were trained to hit the head, would hit the bearskin cap instead.

The curb chain, or ‘chin strap’, which some may wonder why is worn on the chin instead of under it, is so that it can protect face against Sabre slashes.

Source: WikiAnswers

Cool, I didn’t know all that. Now, if you want to know the ‘real’ truth… check this link on Bullshit Corner.

Sprightly Old Girl

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I say, parachuting into the Olympics would be a hard one to beat. Sprightly old girl must have been taking lessons on the sly from her son the Duke of York…

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Way to go Liz!

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