QI: A selection #10

Here is another selection of trivia that I have picked from the QI column in the Telegraph:

Eija-Riitta Berliner-Mauer is a 57-year-old German woman who “married” the Berlin Wall in 1979 (her surname means Berlin Wall in German). She fell for “him” as a seven-year-old, and indulged her obsession by collecting pictures and visiting whenever she could. She plighted her troth before a small group of witnesses. Though technically a virgin, she claims she had a full relationship with the wall, finding “long, slim things with horizontal lines very sexy.” She was heartbroken when it came down in 1989: “They mutilated my husband,” she said. In recent years she has apparently transferred her affections to a garden fence.

Other than garlic, telling stories or sleeping the wrong way up in your bed is enough to deter many vampires. Also, vampires suffer from arithmomania – they love to count, and scattering a pile of seeds means they will immediately be obsessed with counting them, giving you plenty of time to run away. Don’t overdo it. In 1973, a Polish immigrant living in Stoke-on-Trent choked to death on the piece of garlic he had placed in his mouth before going to bed. Police found his body surrounded by bags of salt and even the keyholes had been blocked with garlic.

Queen Elizabeth’s reign in numbers: 3,500 Acts of Parliament; 12 prime ministers; 6 archbishops of Canterbury; 6 popes; 261 royal overseas visits; 3.5 million letters sent; 45,000 Christmas cards sent; 175,000 centenarian telegrams sent; 404,500 honours awarded; 58 Queen’s speeches; 129 portraits painted; 30 godchildren; 30 corgis.

According to Majesty magazine, it isn’t true that the Queen doesn’t carry money. She does once a week – for the collection in church. It’s “a folded note of unknown denomination”. Otherwise, her handbag contains a comb, a handkerchief, a small gold compact and lipstick.

The word “rubber” had a lively existence long before it became attached to the elastic substance we associate it with today. A “rubber” could be a hard brush (1664), a rough towel to stimulate the skin (1577), a horse towel (1598), a whetstone (1553), tooth powder (1558), a polished brick (1744), a person who takes brass rubbings (1840) and a masseur at a Turkish bath.

No10 Downing Street is one of the most heavily guarded buildings in Britain. The front door cannot be opened from the outside because it has no handle, and no one can enter the building without passing through a scanner and a set of security gates manned by armed guards. However, in the first five years after Tony Blair became prime minister, 37 computers, four mobile phones, two cameras, a mini-disc player, a video recorder, four printers, two projectors and a bicycle were stolen from the building.

The sense of an “apple” as a general term for fruit led to its adoption as the fruit of the tree of knowledge, which Adam and Eve consume in the Garden of Eden. Scholarly cases have been made for the Hebrew word tappuach as denoting quince, wheat or banana, rather than apple, as all three were cultivated before the apple came along.

Conventional wisdom says a shower saves more water than a bath but with more powerful, longer-lasting showers this is not always true. An average bath uses 80 litres of water; an eight-minute power shower 136 litres. According to RoSPA (the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) only one in 17 fatal drownings in the UK in 2005 took place in the bath. On the other hand, domestic baths accounted for four times as many deaths as garden ponds and 12 times as many as swimming pools. The nation with the most dangerous baths in the world is Japan, where in 2004, 3,429 people were reported as having died in the bathtub. Even when adjusted for population, this is still 68 times higher than in the UK.

Humans have been piercing their ears since prehistoric times. Ötzi, the 5,300-year-old iceman found mummified in an Alpine glacier in 1991, had both ears pierced. It is widespread in tribal cultures, and is used to show status and act as deterrent to evil spirits entering the body via the ears. In Philip Stubbs’s Anatomie of Abuses (1583) the custom is attacked as being more common among Elizabethan men than women. William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh and Charles I all had pierced ears.

Pig society is based around the harem: a dominant male surrounded by groups called “sounders”, each consisting of a sow and her litter, who stay together until the young come of age. Sounders continually communicate through grunts, squeaks and sniffs. Pigs are covered in glands – feet, wrists, genitals, anus, chin, mouth, eyes – all carrying messages to their defining organ: the snout, which is approximately 2,000 times more sensitive to smell than the human nose. Pigs are highly intelligent. Like dogs, they can be easily housebroken, taught to fetch and come to heel. Pigs can learn to dance, race, pull carts and sniff out landmines. They can even be taught to play video games, pushing the joystick with their snouts, something that even chimps struggle to master. In the 18th and 19th centuries, various “learned pigs”, dressed in natty waistcoats, travelled through Europe, amazing audiences by kneeling, bowing, spelling names with cards and “mind-reading”.

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