" Life for most people compels the exercise of the lower gifts and wastes the precious ones, until it forces us to agree that there is little virtue, as well as little profit, in what once seemed to us the noblest part of our inheritance. "
Virginia Woolf

Back in the day


The Tangiwai Rail Disaster

On December 24, 1953, an overnight express train from Wellington to Auckland, New Zealand, was crossing a rail bridge over the Whangaehu River near Tangiwai when the bridge collapsed, sending the engine and first five carriages into the river. The sixth car teetered on the edge, giving a passersby and a guard time to save passengers before it plummeted into the river. Fortunately, the last five carriages remained on the tracks. What had weakened the bridge just minutes before the train arrived?



The Llibre Vermell de Montserrat

On a narrow terrace more than halfway up the precipitous cliffs of Montserrat in Spain is a Benedictine monastery that houses a library. Perhaps its most precious item is the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat, or Red Book of Montserrat, a manuscript containing devotional songs by unknown composers. Filled with songs for pilgrims, the manuscript was completed around 1399 and once contained 172 double pages, but more than 30 have been lost. Why does the manuscript have "red" in the title?

Born on a day like today


Georges-Marie Guynemer

A top French fighter ace during World War I and a national hero, Guynemer shot down 53 enemy planes and survived being shot down several times before he presumably died in a firefight on September 11, 1917. During an engagement that fateful day, Guynemer's plane disappeared, reportedly shot down by a German pilot who was himself killed in action weeks later. To ease the blow of the loss of their young hero, French schoolchildren were taught that what had happened to him?

Last updated on Tuesday, 24th December 2013

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