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Picture the scene. Two men are lurking at a London station, waiting for the Glasgow train. The train arrives and a third man disembarks, wheeling a suitcase. The three exchange some quick words of identification, the Londoners give the man from Glasgow an envelope of papers and he hands over the suitcase. The Londoners jump into a taxi with the suitcase … which contains a 23kg sapphire. No, it’s not a scene from the latest Bond movie. The man on […]

If, like me, you use the railways a lot to get around, you’ll know that the timetables changed last weekend. For those living in the south-east of England, it’s said to be the biggest timetable shake-up in 40 years. With so many services being altered, it’s more important than ever to know the right time. Our newly-refurbished ‘Measuring Time’ gallery is stuffed with clocks and watches from the Middle Ages to the present. It’s a great collection and well worth […]

Some time ago, I told you about Louis Brennan’s remarkable gyroscopic monorail car. His 1907 model is at the National Railway Museum in York. Brennan used it to convey somewhat reluctant family members across his garden on a stretched wire. He went on to make a full-sized version, capable of carrying ten tons… … which was displayed in 1910 at the Japan-British Exhibition at London’s White City. By then, his invention had become well-known. H. G. Wells, in his 1908 book […]

The wonderful caricature of a windswept midwife by Thomas Rowlandson in my last post got me browsing through other prints by this famous artist. They’re a great window into the past. The caption of this one states, ‘Lose their compass, their ship slips between the teeth of a fish unknown in this part of the world’. Not what you want to happen, really, when out for a sail. It was one of Rowlandson’s wonderful images to accompany the tall tales […]

It’s ten years this week since the XMM-Newton space observatory launched. The biggest scientific satellite ever built in Europe, it has studied black holes, tracked how chemical elements are scattered in supernova explosions, and revealed that Mars’s atmosphere is bigger than previously thought. XMM stands for X-ray Multi Mirror (the Newton bit is in honour of a certain Sir Isaac). X-rays can pass right through ordinary mirrors, so each of XMM’s three telescopes contains 58 cylindrical gold-plated mirrors nested together. […]