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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Quieten down there at the back

When I was a younger person I used to listen to the Royal Institution's series of Christmas lectures for children broadcast by the BBC. The only one I can remember is the set given by Carl Sagan about looking into space (as opposed to staring into it) and how we might find out what is going on within the solar system. Fortuitously, the subject came up in my mock "O" level exams the following spring and I did astonishingly well. Not so fortuitously, the subject did not come up in the genuine science "O"levels (there were two of them) and I did astonishingly badly.

As a diverting quiz question for this time of the year when you all have nothing better to do, perhaps you would like to solve this puzzle that Carl Sagan asked his science students - just for fun - WHAT DO THE FOLLOWING LETTERS REPRESENT?


I will supply the answer in my next post.

I mention the lectures because I was up in arms on Monday evening, having sat through the first of this year's lectures, now on Channel 5, given by Prof John Krebs on the subject of food. He gave an interesting talk to the children, but his audience was not well behaved. The rascals whooped and fidgeted their way through the 45 minutes - slowing down the lecturer's delivery and making the whole thing educationally very ineffficient. Every time the professor asked for a volunteer the lecture had to be put on hold for five minutes while the children jumped up and down in their seats screaming to be chosen. Reminded me horribly of badly taught classes of badly behaved school children that I have seen all too much of in the last few years. At the end of the lecture he chucked handfuls of Quality Street at them which made him for all the world like a zookeeper with a bucket of fish and crowd of penguins.

The good news is that yesterday's lecture was delivered to a very attentive audience of good boys and girls. We learnt that, along with the accepted tastes of sweet, sour, bitter and salt (I think), there is a fifth taste. (In fact I believe I read about this in the newspaper earlier in the year). The fifth taste has a Japanese name beginning with the letter u which translates as "tasting nice" and we would most likely think of it as referring to savoury things, or to protein - like cheese or mushrooms.

Incidentally - on the subject of happy memories from a golden age of television, I wonder if anybody else can remember a series of programmes called Shakespeare Masterclass in which some actors from the RSC discussed how they should act Shakespeare. It was so good I can still picture some of it now - Ian McKellan and Alan Howard were in it. Maybe 25 years ago or more.


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