From Muffin the mule to Iggle Piggle, children’s television in Britain has never been short of puppets. Whether cute (Bagpuss), scary (Zelda from Terrahawks) or confusing (George from Rainbow), each one has added to our country’s cultural history, even though the real talent remains hidden above, below or inside them.
There are many things that we, as a nation, are good at, for instance: making tea, apologising needlessly and… drinking tea. Learning other languages isn’isn’t one of them. We are the slow learners of Europe. And can you blame us? Not only do we have to get our heads around words very often being male or female (why does anyone need a lady-word?) or sentences being the wrong way around (I don’t have “eyes blue”, “hair blonde”!), there are words and phrases we don’t even translate into English!
Most plants are vegetarian, but for others a diet of mud and photosynthesis just isn’t enough. Whether because of a simple craving for meat or (more likely) because of a lack of nutrients in the soil, some plants have turned carnivorous and started devouring the surrounding wildlife. One such meat-eater is the cobra lily, a type of pitcher plant native to California and Oregon.
A series on dances from around the world would seem incomplete without Morris dancing, even if familiarity may have blinded us to just how odd it is. For those who don’t know, morris is a traditional English folk dance in which groups of heavily-bearded men tie bells to their legs and wave their handkerchiefs around. The first recorded mention of morris dancing dates from 1448, when a payment of seven shillings was made to a group of dancers (possibly in an attempt to make them go away).
Popularly known as cossack dancing, or “that sitting down, kicking legs dance”, hopak is the national dance of Ukraine. The name comes from the Ukrainian word for jump, as well as the exclamation “hop”, which is an expression of surprise or amazement – somehow it makes the dance seem even more fun to imagine that the dancers are all surprised by their movements.
Schuhplattler is a traditional German folk dance from Bavaria. Usually, schuhplattler displays feature groups of men slapping themselves (and sometimes each other) on the knees, the thighs and the soles of their shoes. Amazingly, the dance is probably over a thousand years old – it was first described in 1050AD. It’s nice to know that schuhplattler has such a long history (because it would seem even stranger if it had been invented in, say, 1995).
For most dancers, the closest they get to meditation is sitting quietly in the chillout room of a nightclub, while some wide-eyed raver explains to them how we’re, like, all the same, really. For the Mevlevi order of Sufi dervishes, however, dancing itself is considered to be a form of physical meditation.
As anyone who’s seen the video for Smooth Criminal knows, the line between dancing and fighting can occasionally become blurred – violent scenes in action movies are sometimes described as balletic, for example, and it’s impossible to “mosh” to heavy metal without someone getting a bloody nose. However, nowhere is the boundary between a boogie and a beating as unclear as it is in capoeira.
At temperatures of around 2,000°C, sand turns into glass. Sometimes, in the event of a lightning strike (or, even rarer, a meteor hit) the resulting heat can fuse the grains together and produce glass entirely naturally. This is not what happened at California’s Glass Beach.
Potatoes are the world’s most popular vegetable – everybody likes them. They’re the fourth largest food crop (after rice, wheat and corn) and are a staple food for billions of people; including us here in Britain.