The Sunday Times Book of Answers part two

Tony Body of York wanted to know the origin of the political terms left wing and right wing ?

Some may have guessed that the terms had something to do with football, but Mr Ross Ferguson-Ford of Stirling University seemed certain that the two terms could ‘ clearly be traced back to Revolutionary France in the last decade of the eighteenth century’.

‘In the legislative assembly of the French Republic, the convention was dominated by two factions—the Montagnards and Girodins. As a result of their respective beliefs and the seating arrangements of the Assembly ( the former sat to the left of the chamber and the latter to the right ), the labelling of political beliefs  according to left/right polarity was instigated.

However, neither was a political party , despite the Montagnardas showing the first traits of socialism in  the form of the Jacobin splinter group, and the application to them of the terms ‘ left wing’ and ‘right wing’ in their modern sense is inappropriate’.

Most commentators agree that this was the origin of the terms.

Why do most countries drive on the right? The Sunday Times wanted to know this.

Richard Sotnik put the blame on Napoleon for thisBefore he became a dominant influence in Europe ‘it was customary to drive or ride on the left hand side. Historically this was to enable the great majority of persons to draw their sword against an oncoming opponent.’

‘ Napoleon modernised this thinking in marching his armies south to Italy. In order to gain time he took advantage of the cool of the shadows of the trees in the strong afternoon sun and therefore obtained extra kilometres. Naturally Britain declined to acknowledge this crude upset to tradition.

Most of the other correspondents to the Sunday Times agreed that Napoleon was the culprit, though no-one else felt that he chose the right handed side because he wanted to take advantage of the cool shadows of the roadside.

Why does the fair hair of so many children darken as they mature ?

Mr James Ellinthorpe of Wiltshire asked this very good question, which your Jotter, whose own golden auburn hair at twenty has now turned to a rather boring shade of dark brown.

Mr Patrick James, whose answer possesses the erudition of a trichologist, explains thus:

Hair and eye colour are interrelated. Colouring depends on two pairs of genes, each pair of the same chromosome but fairly far apart. ‘E’ would represent dominant dark eye; ‘e’ light eye ’H’ would be dark hair and ‘h’ light hair. Thus:

HHEE—dark hair, dark eyes

HhEE —  medium dark hair, dark eyes

HHee—  medium dark hair, hazel eyes


EEhh—–Fast cynope( brown eyes, blond hair)

Eehh——slow cynope

eeHH—–fast glaucope (blue eyes , dark hair)

eeHh——slow glaucope

eehh ——blond

In Britain most children start out as blond then darken at different rates. Red hair relies on genes on a different pair of chromosomes, connected possibly to pheromone production. If the first system shows blond then a pair of red genes produces a fine-filled red . With glaucope the hair might highlight auburn tints and anything in between would be ginger.

However, another correspondent, Robert Banks of Bristol, quotes The Housewife’s Reason Why of 1857, which claims that the phenomenon occurs because ‘Light and flaxen hair contains phosphate of magnesia, which, as life advances, separates from the other chemical properties residing in the hair and disappears ‘.

A source on the Net maintains that ‘ the amount of eumelanin in your hair increases as you mature ‘ according to some research ‘. ‘ Many blondes don’t have much eumelanin’.

Just how rare are the legendary four leaf clovers ?

M. Webb from Stratford on Avon maintained that they are indeed rare, though they can be found if you are observant enough:

  ‘Over many years I have been a seeker of four-leaved clovers and have found a great number over many miles of countryside in the UK. There are many species and cultivated varieties. Four- leaved clovers I have found in three species: red clover; crimson clover; and white clover. My conclusion from countryside walks is that four-leaved clovers are found on or near paths where they are exposed and suffer physical damage. This interferes with the normal assembly mechanism of the three-leaved stems…’  

 However, Nick Godfrey of Bristol, contends that they are not rare:

‘Over the last four years I have found more than thirty at random in a field at the back of my garden…’ 

According to a source in The Scientific American , ‘ only 1/10,000 clovers have 4 leaves. The gene responsible for 4 leaves is recessive, for the plant will only produce 4 leaves if it has the 4 leaf gene on all four chromosomes.

To be continued.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *