jeanniejeanniejeannie.co.uk BLOG Sunday 28th November 2021


1              There was a type of Pterodactyl with a bigger wingspan than a fighter jet.

2              Scientists genetically modified goats to spin spider silk from their udders. Scientists genetically modified goats to spin spider silk from their udders. US Professor Randy Lewis transplanted a gene into the goats from a spider that allows the goats to produce milk containing an extra protein. This is then extracted from the goat milk and spun into spider silk thread.  (Why?)

3              The Burj Khalifa is so tall you can see two sunsets from it in one day.

4              There is a smoke alarm for the deaf. Invented by a team of Japanese scientists and engineers, this lifesaving device works by spraying vaporized wasabi into the air, which notifies deaf people of a fire – it will even wake them up if they’re sleeping! This invention won one of the IG Nobel Prizes in 2011, a spoof of the Nobel Prizes, for inventions that “first make people laugh, and then make them think”.

5              Peanuts, walnuts, almonds, cashews and pistachios aren’t nuts. They’re classed as seeds, because a nut is defined as “a hard-shelled dry fruit or seed with a separable rind or shell and interior kernel”.

6              Armadillos have shells so hard they can deflect a bullet. One poor Texan man learned this the hard way when he shot at an armadillo only to have the bullet ricochet off the indestructible beast, and back at him into his jaw! The man was airlifted to hospital.

7              Antarctica is the world’s largest desert. The Antarctic Polar Desert covers the Antarctica continent and covers roughly 5.5 million square miles. The Sahara Desert covers roughly 3.6 million square miles.

8              In 1960, a cow got hit by a chunk of falling U.S. satellite in Cuba. This was during a time where tensions between Havana and Washington were at their highest. So the Cubans decided to make the best out of a bad situation and had a good laugh at their American neighbours. They paraded a cow through the Cuban streets with a sign on it that said “Eisenhower, you murdered one of my sisters!”

9              Your nose and ears never stop growing. They are the only two parts of your body that keep growing when all your other features’ growth comes to an end.

10           Bees can fly higher than Mount Everest!

11           The smallest dinosaur ever discovered is only 16 inches long. Discovered in China, the Microraptor is one of the most recent dinosaur discoveries and is the smallest ever found. Most of the specimens that have been found have also been fully grown, so the baby Microraptors would have been even smaller!

12           In England, pigeon poop is the property of the Crown. This is because pigeon poop could be used to make gunpowder. Because of this, King George I declared all pigeon poop to be property of the Crown in the 18th Century.

13           The letter ‘E’ is the most common letter in the English language. It appears in roughly 11% of all words used in the English language, and is used 12 times in this very sentence alone!

14           In China, the police use geese as sentries. In many parts of rural China, police have opted to use geese as police animals as they are highly alert and capable of making lots of noise. Also “police geese” sounds cooler than “police dogs”.

15           There are sharks which can live for up to 500 years. Greenland Sharks have the longest known lifespan of all vertebrate animals. Bonus fact: They don’t even reach sexual maturity until they are roughly 150 years old!

16           A man survived being hit by a car and thrown 118 feet. Off-duty paramedic Matthew McKnight was hit by a car travelling 70 miles per hour and was catapulted 118 feet! He suffered some fairly serious injuries but amazingly managed to recover. He now holds the Guinness World Record for furthest distance thrown by a car!

17           All astronauts going to the International Space Station have to learn how to speak Russian. This is because astronauts traveling to the ISS must hitch a ride with Russian cosmonauts, and the controls of their Soyuz spacecraft are in Russian. The first British astronaut to go to the ISS, Commander Tim Peake said “Learning Russian has been the single most difficult aspect of my training”!

18           Sharks are older than trees. Sharks have been about on this planet for roughly 400 million years, which is about 50 million years longer than trees!

19           Soviet Cosmonauts took shotguns to space with them. This wasn’t to fight off any capitalist aliens they might encounter in space… It was for when they returned to Earth in case they landed in Siberia and had to fend off hungry bears.

20           25% of all mammal species on Earth are bats.

21           The pH scale was invented by the Carlsberg brewery. It was the brainchild of one Søren Sørensen who invented it in 1909 while researching the best proteins, amino acids and enzymes in the Carlsberg brewery laboratory.

22           In the Californian White Mountains, there are trees older than history. These wise old trees, known as Pinus longaeva, have been aged at up to 5,060+ years old! Written history is believed to have begun roughly 5,000 years ago – back then these magnificent trees would have just been starting out their long lives!

23           Most perfume is made from Sperm Whale puke. Known as Ambergris, this waxy secretion belched out by Sperm Whales is a core component to making any perfumes due to its pleasant smell and is often found floating in tropical seas.

24           Three types of Australian birds deliberately spread wildfires. Why would they do that? Well, it’s Australia, what did you expect?!Black kites, whistling kites and brown falcons all purposefully aid the spread of wildfires by picking up and dropping flaming sticks just so the fire will flush out their prey and make it easier for them to catch.

25           An Italian punk band once ate spaghetti on stage instead of playing any songs. In 1979, at the height of punk, Italian comedy punk band Skiantos wheeled a kitchen, a table, a TV and a fridge onto their set stage, boiled up some spaghetti and then sat there eating it. Unsurprisingly, the audience was less than pleased at the “gig”!

26           There is a gargoyle with Darth Vader’s head on it on the Washington Cathedral. It was placed there after a child’s “design a carving” competition was held in the 80s to decide what character should adorn the Cathedral.

27           NASA’s internet speed is 91 GB per second! This means on NASA’s internet you could download a high-quality 1080p movie in mere milliseconds! Normal household internet speeds are roughly 25 MB per second, which is dwarfed by NASA’s hugely superior internet speeds.

28           In 1783, a volcanic eruption killed 80% of the Earth’s sheep. The Laki volcanic fissure in the South of Iceland erupted over an eight-month period back in 1783, releasing some straight-up nasty hydrogen fluoride into the atmosphere to shower down on the Earth’s inhabitants. Because of this, roughly 25% of the world’s human population was wiped out. However, that pales compared to the 80% of the world’s sheep population that died as a result!

29           The US has more millionaires than Sweden has people. There are over 10 million millionaires in the US, whilst Sweden has a population of less than 10 million people.

30           For their first month of living, babies only see in black & white. They also only see silhouettes and are unable to focus on items just after their birth. This is because their retinal nerve cells aren’t fully established yet and they lack the capability to process visual information. (And I thought it was just because of the era  I was born into. Everything was in black and white in those days even people’s views.)


Top 10 magical short stories

From Oscar Wilde to Dorothy Parker and Sherman Alexie, these stories capture enchantments that are often camouflaged in ordinary life.

Patrycja Kujawska as The Girl and Robert Luckay as The Soldier in Kneehigh’t production of The Red Shoes.

‘Everything is thrilling’ … Kneehigh’s production of The Red Shoes. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

By Uschi Gatward

According to the blurb writer on my Penguin Classics copy, Hans Christian Andersen was the “first writer to create timeless universal fairytales from his own imagination”. (Islamic golden age: “Are you sure?”)

It’s actually harder to find magical stories beyond the 19th century, outside children’s literature and fantasy, or the deliberately circumscribed forms of fable, parable and fairytale.

English Magic by Uschi Gatward review – exquisitely eerie withholding

Read more

I think they still exist, in stories that don’t announce themselves as fantasy or even as magical realism, but they have become better at camouflaging themselves amid ordinary life, especially when the magic is the legacy of an older culture that has been suppressed but not quite extinguished.

So The Little Match Girl (the heartwarming story of an abused child-labourer hallucinating as she dies of hypothermia – Merry Christmas one and all!) might become, down the generations, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess.

Witches, healers and sorcerers feature in the stories I’ve chosen, but in a few of my Top 10 the enchantment comes from elsewhere – as it often does in my own stories – ineffable and mysterious. Magic is a resort of the dispossessed as much as of the powerful, a rival to the established orthodoxy, and some of these stories also show that precept in action.

  1. Arrival of the Snake-Woman by Olive Senior

“She was enchanted when I took an Atlas I had borrowed from Parson and showed her first the world where our tiny island and India were located so far apart and then a map of India itself, like our island colored red.”

This story is full of delicate irony and of all kinds of surprising magic. There’s much fun to be had in watching the islanders’ diplomatic handling of the missionaries, who are fine as far as education and healthcare and food parcels go, but “no use at all” when it comes to spiritual ills. And the help these incomers offer is very much conditional.

  1. The Fisherman and His Soul by Oscar Wilde

More pricing-up of the soul, albeit for different motives. This strange and metaphysical story, inspired by Andersen’s The Little Mermaid and The Shadow, was my favourite as a child (I owned the beautiful edition illustrated by Harold Jones). I couldn’t have understood it fully but I loved it for its language and imagery and for its genuine spookiness. The cutting-off of the immortal part – by moonlight, with a green-handled knife on wet sand – is particularly arresting, as is the shivery final paragraph. And then we have sentences such as this: “The other kept munching scented pastilles, which he took with an affected gesture out of an oval box of lilac enamel.” Delicious.

  1. What You Pawn I Will Redeem by Sherman Alexie

The narrator attempts to reclaim a source of power that has been stolen, while we enjoy a running gag about mental arithmetic. Probably my favourite contemporary short story. I love everything about it, from the affirmation of the title to the final image. Colonialism 101.

  1. Five Leaves and a Stranger by Jacob Ross

Ross is such a subtle writer, and I love the mordancy found in his work. With echoes of Senior, this story follows a stranger who arrives in the narrator’s close-knit community during a time of sickness, sets up house with one of the women and has a child with her. There ensues a quest in the wilderness, redemption and a cure.

  1. The Standard of Living by Dorothy Parker

Another shop-based redemption narrative featuring two modern-day Match Girls. Clever, simple, funny and charming. I love the magic trick it pulls off.

  1. Bind Your Hair by Robert Aickman

Poor old Clarinda has found herself engaged to Dudley, who has never missed a train in his life. She goes to spend a weekend with his family “in one of the remote parts of a county where the remote parts are surprisingly many and extensive”, and where a rather eccentric soiree guest seizes on her as a kindred spirit. And then – surely the most horrifying thing about going to stay with people: “Every Sunday evening, Clarinda understood, Mr Carstairs read aloud from about half past six until they had supper at eight.” Understandably, Clarinda has to escape. And then it all gets very odd indeed.

  1. The Magic Shop by HG Wells

Something anarchic and alarming – possibly evil – erupts into the delightfully ordered and middle-class world of this story, in which every street is known and money is ready for the granting of wishes, and birthdays are counted down to exactly and well in advance. Or does it? It’s so difficult to tell.

  1. The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Andersen

As with so many of Andersen’s tales, there’s almost nothing to this – a few pages, and even the telling is simple. How is it so powerful? It’s partly the psychological acuity – Karen’s obsession with red shoes is of manifold origin and convincingly drawn – and partly imagery: the shoe shop, the various shoes themselves, the coffins, the graveyard, the spiteful and perhaps jealous old soldier (spiteful and jealous old world, even). The inability to stop – the whirling faster and faster – is genuinely the stuff of nightmares and taps directly into our sympathies.

Even without its famous adaptation, the story has an especial glamour lent by the beauty, the repeated visual accent of red (which stands out in life more than any other colour, and I think in literature too), the dancing, the riches and expensive objects, and even by the possession/obsession – everything is thrilling for Karen (and us).

  1. This Blessed House by Jhumpa Lahiri

The tale of a modern arranged marriage between Sanjeev, who likes alphabetising his engineering manuals, and Twinkle (yes, Twinkle), who likes reading love poetry in the bath, this one earns a special category nomination for best use of a kaolin blue facepack in a short story.

  1. Al-Addin, or the Wonderful Lamp – attributed to Hanna Diyab

New lamps for old! Apparently there’s now evidence to suggest that “Al-Addin” is largely autobiographical, which would explain a lot. I love its sudden reversals and indelible central imagery, and the memorably lo-fi scamming of the unwitting spouse (by someone who presumably has all sorcery at his disposal).

The hundreds of adaptations in as many forms, genres and languages testify to its power and vast cultural reach (Andersen wrote his own excellent version, The Tinderbox, and used its motifs in other stories). A recent example, the 2019 Disney live-action remake is a lot of fun – the showstopping Prince Ali alone being worth the price of admission, and surprisingly true to the original text.

REMEMBER: The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.

– Nicolas Chamfort


I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” – Marilyn Munroe.


Happiness is…the fact that your ears and nose never stops growing. (#9 above.)


I bought my wife a fridge for her birthday. You should have seen her little face light up when she opened it.


Love is…when the winter wind cannot chill the warmth in your heart.


A time to read The Magic Shop by HG Wells…A time to read The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Andersen.



…And in the name of Red Shoes…

Album : The Red Shoes (2018 Remaster) by Kate Bush

1              Rubberband Girl (2018 Remaster)  

2              And So Is Love (2018 Remaster)                    

3              Eat The Music (2018 Remaster)      

4              Moments Of Pleasure (2018 Remaster)                         

5              The Song Of Solomon (2018 Remaster) [Explicit]       

6              Lily (2018 Remaster)        

7              The Red Shoes (2018 Remaster)     

8              Top Of The City (2018 Remaster)  

9              Constellation Of The Heart (2018 Remaster)

10           Big Stripey Lie (2018 Remaster)

©2021 Phil M Robinson