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Tuesday, 23 May 2017



In the 16th and early 17th-centuries a pumpkin was called a 'pompon' or 'pompion'. The word 'pumpkin' was first used in 1647.

The name "pumpkin" originated from "pepon", the Greek word for "large melon."

Native Americans used pumpkin seeds for food and medicine.

When early settlers arrived in America, they discovered that Native Americans were growing and using pumpkins. They roasted strips of pumpkin over an open fire for food.

Pumpkins were once recommended for removing freckles and curing snake bites.

In early colonial times, pumpkins were used as an ingredient for the crust of pies, not the filling.

Halloween pumpkin carving stems from a Celtic tradition of turnip carving to ward off evil spirits. The "head" of turnips were used, with the belief that the head was the most powerful part of the body, containing the spirit and the knowledge. However, it wasn't until 1866 that the pumpkin became associated with Halloween - a tradition originating from North America, where pumpkins were readily available and much larger, making them easier to carve.


Illinois, California, Pennsylvania and New York are the four major pumpkin growing states, together producing 1.1 billion pounds of pumpkin in 2008.

A pumpkin patch in Winchester, Oregon

Morton, Illinois calls itself the 'Pumpkin Capital of the World' and holds an annual pumpkin festival in the second week of September.

Nestlé, operating under the brand name Libby's, produces 85% of the world's canned pumpkin at their plant in Morton, Illinois.


In the United States and Canada, pumpkin is a popular Halloween and Thanksgiving staple. Pumpkin pie was among the dishes at the first Thanksgiving.

Commercially canned pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie fillings are usually made from different kinds of winter squash than the pumpkins frequently carved as jack-o'-lanterns for decoration around Halloween.

Pumpkin flowers are edible. In the southwestern United States and Mexico they are used to garnish dishes, and they may be dredged in a batter then fried in oil.

Pumpkin leaves are a popular vegetable in the Western and central regions of Kenya; they are called seveve, and are an ingredient of mukimo respectively, whereas the pumpkin itself is usually boiled or steamed.

Raw pumpkin can be fed to poultry, as a supplement to regular feed, during the winter to help maintain egg production, which usually drops off during the cold months.

Canned pumpkin is often recommended by veterinarians as a dietary supplement for cats and dogs and cats that are experiencing certain digestive ailments such as constipation, diarrhea, or hairballs. The high fiber content helps to aid proper digestion.


Pumpkins are 90% water, which means they are a great low-calorie food.

Pumpkins contain potassium and Vitamin A.

Pumpkin seeds are a popular snack, which are a good source of protein, magnesium, copper and zinc.


According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest pumpkin pie ever baked weighed 1,678 kg (3,699 lb). It was made by New Bremen Giant Pumpkin Growers (USA) at New Bremen Pumpkinfest in New Bremen, Ohio (about an hour north of Dayton) on September 25, 2010. The diameter of the pie was 6 m (20 ft). The crust was made of 440 sheets of dough and the filling ingredients were canned pumpkin, evaporated milk, eggs, salt, sugar, cinnamon and pumpkin spice. It was baked in a custom pie pan before before being served up into approximately 5,000 slices for hungry community members.

The world record for pumpkin pie eating is 20lb 13oz in eight minutes, set by Matt Stonie in 2014 at the Elk Grove Giant Pumpkin Festival.

The Guinness Book of World Records states that the fastest time to carve a face into a pumpkin was achieved by David Finkle of the United Kingdom. Finkle accomplished the feat on October 7, 2010, while filming a Halloween show for the BBC in 20.1 seconds.

Mathias Willemijns of Belgium grew the heaviest ever pumpkin. It was weighed at the Giant Pumpkin European Championship was held in Ludwigsburg, located in southwestern Germany, at 1.190,5 Kg. (or around 2,623 pounds) on October 9, 2016, This huge pumpkin was then turned into thousands of pounds of delicious pumpkin pie.


Monday, 22 May 2017


A pulse (or heartbeat) is a throbbing of blood vessels as blood goes through them. You can feel someone's pulse in anybody's body where vessels are closer to the skin.

The pulse may be felt in any place that allows an artery to be compressed near the surface of the body, such as at the neck (carotid artery), on the inside of the elbow (brachial artery), at the wrist (radial artery), at the groin (femoral artery), behind the knee (popliteal artery), near the ankle joint (posterior tibial artery), and on the foot (dorsalis pedis artery).

By Pia von Lützau - Wikipedia

A normal pulse is below 100 beats per minute. Our pulse quickens when we exercise because the muscles being used need more oxygen.

Most mammals' hearts beat around one billion times in their lives. Species with shorter lifespans have faster pulse rates.

Humans and chickens are outliers in that homo sapiens get 2.21 billion and chicken gets 2.17 billion beats.

The ancient Chinese were among the first to diagnose illness by taking the pulse of an individual. By around 300 BC, Fifty-one different types of pulse beats had been developed at eleven different locations on the body. Each pulse was linked with a different health problem and the feeling of the pulse was emphasized as the most important aspect of diagnosis.

Herophilus (335–280 BC) was a Greek surgeon and anatomist who described the brain, liver and sexual organs and was the first western physician to measure the pulse, for which he used a water clock.

The Roman physician Galen had a rare understanding of psychosomatic illnesses. The wife of a Roman noble had been suffering from an organic complaint, for which her doctor had been unable to help her with. Galen was called for and while taking her pulse, he mentioned the name of an actor with whom her name was linked in the gossip of the town. Her pulse rate rapidly increased so he made an amusing comment, which made her laugh. That laugh began her cure and was an innovative example of a psychiatric treatment for a psychosomatic illness.

The first person to accurately measure the pulse rate was Santorio Santorii (March 29, 1561 – 22 February 22, 1636).  The Venetian physiologist, physician, and professor invented the pulsilogium, a form of pendulum, based on the work by Galileo Galilei.

Santorio Santorio.

The pulsilogium was probably the first machine of precision in medical history. Extensive experimentation with his new tool allowed Santorio to derive the circadian rhythm (24 hour cycle) of the cardiac frequency.

The dried leaves of the common foxglove plant, digitalis purpurea, has been used for thoudsands of years in heart medications. Digitalis slows the pulse and increases the force of heart contractions and the amount of blood pumped per heartbeat.

Sunday, 21 May 2017


The pug probably originated in China before 400 BC and was the mascot of many ancient Buddhist monasteries.

Ancient Chinese emperors kept pugs as lapdogs and treated them to all the luxuries of royal life. Sometimes they were even given their own mini palaces and guards.

The Pug is one of three ancient breeds that originated in China in the pre-Christian era. These breeds were the Lion Dog, the Pekingese, and the Lo-sze or Foo-dog. The Foo-dog was the ancient Pug.

Guardian Foo Dog China, 1622-1722 

Its name comes from the Latin word pugnus, meaning "fist," a reference to the shape of the dog's face.

The Pug breed was introduced into Holland by Dutch traders and then into England by the same route.

In 1572, the Dutch were in the midst of the Eighty Year War, a protracted struggle for independence against the political and religious hegemony of Spain. While The Prince of Orange, William the Silent, was sleeping in his tent one night, Spanish assassins were lurking just outside. Fortunately, William’s pug, Pompey, was there to warn his master by barking wildly and jumping on his face.

As a result of saving the life of the leader of the Dutch forces, the pug was made the official dog of the House of Orange. The pooches became the symbol of Orangists, people who supported the royal family.

When William III came to England to rule with his wife Mary II, he brought his pugs, who wore little orange ribbons to their master’s 1689 coronation.

King William III had a white pug called Kuntze. His pug's barking raised the alarm and saved William during a Spanish raid at Mons.

Painter and his Pug is a 1745 self-portrait created by William Hogarth. 

Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife Josephine had a pet pug named Fortuné that she loved so much that she refused to let the dog sleep anywhere but in her bed.

Before her marriage to Napoleon, Joséphine had Fortuné carry concealed messages to her family while she was confined at Les Carmes prison, as the pooch was the only one given visiting rights.

The breed was much larger then, and the English are credited with the refinement and reduction in size of the Lo-sze to the Pug we know today.

A male Pug 1802

The pug became very popular in the European courts, and reached a peak in popularity in royal circles in Victorian times when it was a popular pet for adults and children alike; indeed, it has only ever been bred as a companion.

Queen Victoria had many Pugs, which she bred herself, including Olga, Pedro, Minka, Fatima and Venus.

Queen Victoria's passion for Pugs was passed on to many other members of the Royal family, including her grandson King George V and his son King Edward VIII.

Because Pugs have short snouts, they are prone to breathing difficulties or unable to efficiently regulate their temperature through evaporation from the tongue by panting.

Their facial structure makes it difficult to take long and deep breaths, which is why you might hear a pug snuffling while running around.

Sources Europress Family Encyclopedia, Comptons Encyclopedia. Mental Floss

Saturday, 20 May 2017



The puffin's scientific name, fratercula, came from the Latin for ‘little brother’ because their plumage resembled monk’s robes.

The puffin stands only 12in tall but can dive 300ft for food and endure eight months a year out at sea.

Their short wings are adapted for swimming with a flying technique under water.

A puffin weighs about the same as a can of Coke.


Adult pairs appear to kiss, rubbing their beaks together in behaviour known as ‘billing’.

They nest in burrows in the ground. The males dig the burrow using their bill and feet to push the soil out behind them.

Puffins often use existing burrows made by rabbits.

The puffin pairs for life, returning to land in the spring and use the same burrows year after year.

Adults often dig out a separate tunnel in their burrow to use as a lavatory.

Although the puffins are vocal at their breeding colonies, they are silent at sea.


A baby Puffin is called a Puffling, and both parents take turns incubating the egg before it hatches.

The young never see their parents. They stay in the burrow for five days before leaving home in the night to avoid predators.

A young puffin spends its first three years at sea before setting foot on land.

The puffin usually lives for 25 to 30 years.


Puffin is regarded as a delicacy in Iceland. It has a rich, gamey taste similar to liver.

Puffins are known as ‘clowns of the sea’ and ‘sea parrots’.

There are at least eight islands worldwide named after the puffin.

Source Daily Mail

Friday, 19 May 2017

Puerto Rico

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico includes the largest, main island and a number of smaller islands, including Mona, Vieques, and Culebra. Of those three smaller islands, only Culebra and Vieques are populated all year.

The history of Puerto Rico began when the Ortoiroid people started living in the island between 3000 and 2000 BC.

The Igneri tribe migrated to Puerto Rico between 120 and 400 AD from the region of the Orinoco river in northern South America and lived there between the 4th and 10th centuries co-existing with the Saladoid and Arawak Indians and later the Taino people.

By approximately 1000 AD, the Taino people had become dominant. At the time of Columbus' arrival, an estimated 30,000 to 60,000 Taíno Amerindians, led by the cacique (chief) Agüeybaná, inhabited the island. They called it Borikén (Borinquen in Spanish transliteration).

A reconstructed Taíno Village at the Tibes Ceremonial Center

Christopher Columbus first sighted the island now known as Puerto Rico on November 18, 1493 and the following day (November 19) he went ashore named it San Juan Bautista (in honor of St John the Baptist).

Juan Ponce de León, a lieutenant under Columbus, founded the first Spanish settlement, Caparra, on August 8, 1508. Caparra was abandoned in 1521, but it represents the oldest known European settlement on United States territory.

De León later served as the first governor of the island.  Eventually, traders and other maritime visitors came to refer to the entire island as Puerto Rico (meaning "rich port" in Spanish) and San Juan became the name of ITS main trading/shipping port.

Catholicism was brought by Spanish colonists and gradually became the dominant religion in Puerto Rico. The first dioceses in the Americas, including that of Puerto Rico, were authorized by Pope Julius II in 1511.

The first educational establishment in Puerto Rico was the Escuela de Gramática (Grammar School). It was established by Bishop Alonso Manso in 1513, in the area where the Cathedral of San Juan was to be constructed. The school was free of charge and the courses taught were art, history, Latin, literature, philosophy, science and theology.

Puerto Rico formed an important part of the Spanish Empire from the early years of the exploration, conquest, and colonization of the New World.

The island was a major military post during many wars between Spain and other European countries for control of the region between the 16th and 18th centuries.

Puerto Ricon nationalist Ramón Emeterio Betances led the Grito de Lares, a revolt against Spanish rule on the island. The short-lived insurrection began on September 23, 1868, in the town of Lares, for which it is named, and spread rapidly to various revolutionary cells throughout Puerto Rico.

Dr Betances

Although the revolt failed to achieve its main objective, the Spanish government granted more political autonomy to the island.. Since the Grito galvanized a burgeoning nationalist movement among Puerto Ricans, Betances is considered "El Padre de la Patria" (Father of the [Puerto Rican] Nation).

The first Protestant church, Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad, was established in Ponce by the Anglican Diocese of Antigua in 1872. It was the first non-Roman Catholic Church in the entire Spanish Empire in the Americas.

In 1898, during the Spanish-American war, Puerto Rico was invaded by U.S. forces. The United States took possession of the island and on October 18, 1898 American troops raised their country's flag over the Caribbean nation.

General Nelson Miles and other soldiers on horseback Puerto Rico July 1898

The Spanish–American War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which was signed on December 10, 1898. Its clauses included Spain ceding Puerto Rico to the United States.

The Treaty of Paris came into effect on April 11, 1899, when the documents of ratification were exchanged. For the next 53 years, it became a felony to display the Puerto Rican Flag.

El Yunque National Forest, is located on the slopes of the Sierra de Luquillo mountains,  in northeastern Puerto Rico. Established on January 17, 1903, it is the only tropical rain forest in the United States National Forest System and is the largest block of public land in Puerto Rico.

Photo of El Yunque from the east, Puerto Rico. By Stan Shebs

President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones Act on March 2, 1917, granting Puerto Rican people United States citizenship.

Puerto Rico became a self-governing commonwealth of the United States on July 25, 1952. This means it is an organised, self-governing territory with locally elected governors and legislatures. Puerto Rico elects a Resident Commissioner to the U.S. House of Representatives.

On May 3, 2017, Puerto Rico filed for bankruptcy after a massive debt and weak economy. It is the largest local government bankruptcy case in American history.


According to the 2010 US Census, 99% of the population consider themselves of Puerto Rican descent (regardless of race or skin color), making Puerto Rico one of the most culturally unified societies in the world.

The population of Puerto Rico was 3,474,182 on July 1, 2015, a 6.75% decrease since the 2010 United States Census.

The most populous Puerto Rico city is its capital, San Juan, with approximately 371,400 people.

Reggaeton is a musical genre which originated in Puerto Rico during the late 1990s. It blends British West reggae and dancehall with Latin American genres, as well as hip hop. Popular Puerto Rican reggaeton stars include Daddy Yankee, Nicky Jam and Wisin and Yandel.

The island's most recognizable endemic species and a symbol of Puerto Rican pride is the coquí, a small frog easily identified by the sound of its call, from which it gets its name.

Common Coquí

The Piña Colada is the national drink of Puerto Rico and National Piña Colada Day is celebrated on the islands on July 10th every year.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Giacomo Puccini

After Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini is considered the greatest Italian opera composer. He is noted for such enduringly popular works as Madama Butterfly and La bohème

Giacomo Puccini


Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was born on December 22, 1858, in Lucca, Tuscany, one of nine children.

Puccini's birthplace, seen in 1984. By David Wright - Wikipedia

The heads of his family for four generations had been professional musicians and Giacomo was chosen to carry on the Puccini musical tradition.  However, when his father died in 1864, Giacomo was only six years old, and thus not capable of taking on the role.

As a child, Puccini participated in the musical life of the Cattedrale di San Martino, as a member of the boys' choir and later as a substitute organist.

Young Puccini studied at the Pacini Institute of Music in Lucca. At first he was an indifferent student. Then, encouraged by a sympathetic teacher, he began to blossom as a church organist.

Puccini smoked from an early age and when he needed money to buy cigarettes he stole and sold the organ pipes from a village church in which he accompanied the services. The mischievous teenager then changed the harmonies so no one noticed the missing notes.

Puccini liked to improvise on the organ, playing popular tunes from Verdi’s operas. At about 17, inspired by a performance of the great composer's Aida, Puccini determined to specialize in composing for the operatic stage.

Puccini persuaded his family to let him study at the Milan Conservatory. Aided by a bursary and a loan from a great uncle, he attended the establishment from 1880 to 1883.


Puccini's first opera, Le Villi, was produced in 1884; his second, Edgar, in 1889.

When Puccini was composing the music for La bohème (1896), he learned that a rival composer, Leoncavallo, was working on a similar project. Puccini declared: "Let him compose. I will compose. The audience will decide." Puccini them wrote with an urgent speed, completing his opera a year before Leoncavallo's now all but forgotten work.

Tosca is an Italian opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini based on Victorien Sardou's play La Tosca. By 1900, the premiere of a Puccini opera was a national event. Many Roman dignitaries were due to attend the premiere, including The Prime Minister of Italy, Luigi Pelloux and Queen Margherita.

Police received warnings of an anarchist bombing of the theater, and instructed the conductor Leopoldo Mugnone that in an emergency he was to strike up the royal march. The unrest caused the premiere to be postponed by one day, to January 14, 1900 when it was performed without disruption.

Front cover of the original 1899 libretto

Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly premiered at La Scala in Milan on February 17, 1904, generating negative reviews that forced him to rewrite the opera.

In 1907 Puccini visited New York City to attend the first Metropolitan Opera production of Madama Butterfly. There he conceived the idea of writing an opera with an American setting. The result was The Girl of the Golden West (1910).


Puccini's wife, Elvira was well aware of her husband's countless infidelities. She planted camphor in his trouser pockets and laced his coffee with bromide to lessen his sexual appetite when attractive women came to dinner.

In 1909 Elvira Puccini accused their maid Doria Manfredi of having an affair with her husband. Doria committed suicide by taking mercury sublimate (then used as a rat poison) and died in terrible agony. It turned out Puccini was having an affair, not with Doria but with her cousin Giulia, which lasted until his death. The maid was merely the go-between. An autopsy found Doria died a virgin and Elvira was sued for slander.

Puccini photographed in 1908


Puccini died following treatment for throat cancer on November 29, 1924, in Brussels, Belgium.

The whole of Italy went into mourning at Puccini's death and Mussolini spoke at his funeral.

When he died, Puccini was the most commercially successful opera composer of all time, worth the equivalent of of $175 million (£135 million) today.

In all Puccini composed 12 operas. The final one, Turandot, was unfinished and its last two scenes were completed posthumously by Franco Alfano after Puccini's death. Turandot was first performed at La Scala in Milan on April 26, 1926.

Turandot features Puccini's best known work "Nessun Dorma," which was sung by Luciano Pavarotti for the BBC’s television coverage of the Football World Cup that was held in Italy in 1990. It reached #2 in the UK singles chart, the highest position ever for a classical song.

Comptons Encyclopaedia, Classic FM magazine

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Public toilet

Wealthy Ancient Greeks sometimes sent their slaves to sit on the public toilets (made from slabs of marble) to warm it up "in anticipation of their arrival".

The Romans used communal lavatories, with 30 or so citizens of both genders sitting round in a half-circle chatting with no partition between them.

Public toilet remnants from Ancient Roman times in Ostia Antica

In Rome instead of toilet paper, all public toilets had a sponge attached to the end of a stick that was soaked in a bucket of brine. The rich used wool and rosewater.

Constantinople had 1400 public toilets around the city when it was capital of the Ottoman Empire, at a time when the rest of Europe had none.

Britain’s first flushing gentlemen's public lavatory, opened at 95 Fleet Street in London on February 2, 1852.

The washbasins of a 19th-century facility, still in use. By Smuconlaw. - Wikipedia

Britain's first flushing public toilet for women opened near the Strand in London on February 11, 1852, but only 82 females used it in the first twelve months.

The first British public toilets charged one penny for their use and the phrase "spend a penny" came into circulation.

In 1883, A. Ashwell of Herne Hill, London, patented the Vacant/Engaged sign for public lavatories.

The magician and escapologist John Nevil Maskelyne (1839–1917) invented the coin-operated lock for public lavatories in 1892.

With well over 5,000 public toilets, Beijing claims to have more than any other capital city.

Public toilet block in the Olympic Forest Park is located north of the city center of Beijing

After the World Toilet Organisation ranked China’s public toilets the worst in the world in 2012, Beijing introduced a new rule that no more than two flies were permitted in any toilet.

Public toilets are known by many names in different varieties of English. One of the more formal circumlocutions is "public convenience". In Britain, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and New Zealand, the terms in use are "public toilet" or "public lavatory. In American English, "restroom" usually denotes a toilet facility designed for use by the public. However, "bathroom" is also commonly used.  In Canadian English, public facilities are always called "washrooms".