A Chemist Beheaded

Next year will be the 400th anniversary of the death of Sir Walter Raleigh (1654 – 29 October 1618). He was an English chemist, poet, soldier, politician, courtier, spy and explorer.

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As well as popularising the use of tobacco in England Raleigh was interested in chemistry.

220px-Execution_of_Sir_Walter_Raleigh.jpg   Walter_Raleigh_Statue.JPG statue in N Carolina

Raleigh was betrayed by Sir Lewis Stukley with evidence that he cheated the Spanish in war. For this, Raleigh was eventually executed. During a long imprisonment in the Tower of London he was allowed to study inorganic chemistry. This interest was stimulated by his experience as a miner in Cornwall and Devon where he owned large estates. Raleigh was also a popular poet. His friend, Thomas Tyndale, had a draft of verse composed to mark Raleigh’s grave in the Palace of Westminster:

On Sir Walter Raleigh /Here lieth, hidden in this pitt, / The wonder of the world for witt. / To small purpose did it serve; / His witt could not his life preserve. / His living was belov’d of  none, / Yet in his death all did him moane. / Heaven hath his soul, the world his fame, /The grave his corpse, Stukley his shame.


Vienna’s Modernism

Do scientists recognise and respect beauty? The question is considered at Vienna’s Leopold Museum. B. Reinhold writes that ‘the expressionist Egon Schiele (1890-1918) is one of the most important representatives of Viennese Modernism. He irritates and provokes, and still attracts the attention of the censors one hundred years after his death.’

Schiele attacks popular ideals of beauty, with the primary source of irritation being the starkly depicted nudity and sexuality. Everything baulks at the feeling of sensuality and eroticism. 

The pictures have an uneasy physical presence because they are neither voyeuristic nor pornographic.

Squatting Female Nude, 1910 © Leopold Museum, Vienna

Naked Woman Reclining, 1916 © Leopold Museum, Viennaarticle-5-3.jpg

This art visualizes the massive tensions of his time. Vienna was a center of innovation in science and technology, yet also the capital of the crisis-stricken Habsburg multi-ethnic state. This led to nationalism and ultimately Hitler’s racial fanaticism. The social structure and gender roles started to fluctuate. 

Transport de Ervas Aromaticas (TEA)

In 1662 Catherine of Braganza (daughter of Portugal’s King John IV) married King Charles II. Her dowry included money, spices, treasures and the lucrative ports of Tangiers and Bombay. From there, she began to drink the loose-leaf tea, known then as Transporte de Ervas Aromaticas, or T.E.A.

Upon marrying England’s King Charles II, Portugal’s Catherine of Braganza carried on sipping tea as part of her daily routine (Credit: Credit: DEA/G. DAGLI ORTI/Getty Images)

 (Credit: DEA/G. DAGLI ORTI/Getty Images)


When Catherine arrived in England, tea was being consumed there only as a medicine to invigorate the body and keep the spleen free of obstructions. But the young queen extended that habit and made it popular as a social beverage as well as a health tonic. The poet Edmund Waller wrote to her shortly after her arrival in London with a poem that linked the queen and Portugal with the fashionable status of tea in England.

“The best of Queens, and best of herbs, we owe
To that bold nation, which the way did show
To the fair region where the sun doth rise,
Whose rich productions we so justly prize.”

Ladies flocked to be part of Catherine’s circle, quickly copying her tea-drinking habit (Credit: Credit: Culture Club/Getty Images)

Tea was very expensive because it came from China and it was taxed very heavily,

Because England had no direct trade with China, tea was an expensive commodity (Credit: Credit: Blake Kent/Design Pics/Getty Images)


and only the most rich members of society could afford it. So tea became associated with elite women’s sociability around the royal court.

When the leaves of tea plants are dried, flavonoid-type polyphenols remain. It is these that produce the characteristic colour and taste.




The tea polyphenols have been reported in various research to exhibit antioxidant properties. Antioxidants have been touted as having a range of health benefits, but the scientific evidence for these is still a little vague in parts. Studies have shown that antioxidants can protect cells from damage as a result of free radicals – molecules with an unpaired electron – but the results of some longer term trials have been inconclusive as to their efficacy, particularly in cancer treatments.

Europe in tatters at Pompeii

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What’s the point of loving Pompeii if we let it fall?

The ancient Roman city preserved in ash by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79 has never been more popular. The Neoclassical imitations and fashion for “Pompeiian red” that its beautiful art inspired when Pompeii first captured imaginations in the 18th century were enjoyed by an elite.



Now, large areas of Pompeii are closed off to visitors, behind ugly wire fences put up by a Neapolitan construction company after a series of collapses due to heavy rains in 2013 and 2014 caused worldwide consternation.


An emergency restoration project, funded by the EU and Italy, got under way to put right seeming years of neglect. Now it looks like a project that is scarring Pompeii as much as saving it. The fences have been slapped up carelessly looking like an urban building site.


Chernobyl Zone (II) is empty of human life and marks an area without people. It is the deserted urban zone of Pripyat, just 4km (2.5m) from the reactor, and which was evacuated thirty years ago on 27 April 1986.


At the time of the accident, the Ukrainian town had a population of 49,000. One survivor  says: “Chernobyl is the name which stands for the catastrophe, but Pripyat is the truly unbearable place.”p03s8hvm.jpg

Russian photographer A Krementschouk has documented some of the penetrating scenes of what is left behind and some of the people who survive.




Uncertain World

A brand new piece of street art has appeared on Park Row in Bristol, thanks to a collaboration between local artist Alex Lucas and the University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute.


Lucas’ artwork is an artistic collision of a potential future world with that of the very deep past. It is hoped that the bespoke artwork will encourage the public to reflect on the topic of uncertainty and show how different life could be with high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and higher sea levels.


Speaking about why she got involved in the project, Alex Lucas said: “Due to the mysterious nature of what such creatures actually looked like, I felt I could ‘play’ with their personalities and provide them with certain characteristics. Their temperaments seemed to grow with their development on the page and they seem so charismatic!”

Too Much of a Good Thing

Today is William Shakespeare’s 400th birthday.

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Most days, we quote his words:

1. “With bated breath” – The Merchant Of Venice

2. “The be all and end all” – Macbeth

3. “Break the ice” – The Taming Of The Shrew

4. “Dead as a doornail” – Henry VI, Part II

5. “Faint-hearted” – Henry VI, Part I

6. “Wild-goose chase” – Romeo And Juliet

7. “Laugh yourself into stitches (in stitches)” – Twelfth Night

8. “Zany” – Love’s Labour’s Lost

9. “I will wear my heart upon my sleeve” – Othello

10. “What’s done, is done” – Macbeth

11. “At one fell swoop” – Macbeth

12. “Though this be madness, yet there is method in it (There’s method in my madness)” – Hamlet

13. “Spotless reputation” – Richard II

14. “Laughing-stock” – The Merry Wives Of Windsor

15. “Eaten out of house and home” – Henry IV, Part 2

16. “Fair play” – The Tempest/King John/Troilus And Cressida

17. “In a pickle” – The Tempest

18. “Send him packing” – Henry IV, Part 1

19. “Too much of a good thing” – As You Like It