The tax-year calendar is not as arbitrary as it seems, with a history that dates back to the ancient Roman and is connected to major calendar reforms across Europe.

As with Oscar Wilde, many a sagacious or witty aphorism is wrongly attributed to Benjamin Franklin. In a letter to Jean-Baptiste Le Roy in 1789, he speculated on the longevity of the new American constitution, a concern that recent events may have shown was well-founded, by noting that ‘in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes’.

True as that may be, he was not the…

Martin Fone dives into the world of pongy fruits and discovers why durian could be at the charging end of your mobile’s battery.

Looking like a cross between a pineapple and a cantaloupe, with a prickly outer skin that demands careful handling, the durian is highly prized as a delicacy in its native Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

There are thirty recognised species of the genus Durio and the tall evergreen trees regularly top one hundred feet. Fruiting once or twice a year, they take three months after pollination to produce a ripe fruit. …

Martin Fone investigates the behaviour of dogs as they grow up and reminds prospective owners that a dog is a lifetime commitment.

A successful advertising slogan must be catchy, convey its message succinctly and insert itself into the public’s consciousness like an insidious earworm. Crack that and, rather like De Beer’s ‘A diamond is forever’, first coined as far back as 1948, it can stand the test of time. One that has firmly lodged itself into the British public’s psyche was created by Clarissa Baldwin in late 1978 in response to a very specific problem.

The National Canine Defence League…

As the UK prepares to compile this decade’s census, Martin Fone retraces its history.

On Sunday, March 21st, all residents in England and Wales will be legally obliged, under the amended Census Act of 1920, to complete a census form for the Office for National Statistics or face a fine of up to £1,000. Northern Ireland will hold its own census at the same time, but the Scots have deferred theirs until 2022. A decennial event, it provides an invaluable snapshot of the nation on that day and a treasure trove for future generations of social historians and genealogists.


Martin Fone investigates the scientists so intrigued by cloud formations that they decided to sort them out into different types.

As a child, I was fascinated by cloud formations and often spent my time gazing into the far distance, imagining that I could see the shape of an animal or a face in one of the clouds.

In later life, I regarded the habit as a harmless form of pareidolia, perhaps even a sign of some latent streak of creativity within me, as some neuroscientists seem to think.

I was gratified to find that I shared this quirk with Shakespeare’s…

If you thought it was Edward Jenner, think again: Martin Fone discovers that the practice of inoculating against the smallpox disease has much older origins than you’d have believed possible.

It was not the Valentine’s Day treat we really had in mind, but my wife and I were more than happy to visit the local vaccination centre — appropriately sited at the former venue of the BDO World Darts Championship — to receive the first of our two Covid-19 injections. The sense of hope it brought gave me a metaphorical shot in the arm.

When I listen to the debates…

Martin Fone examines the science behind snow and explores the history of snowfalls in the UK.

It is estimated that about a million billion snowflakes fall around the world every second, averaged over a typical year. My mind is boggled by such incredibly large numbers: to put it into context, that is enough snow for every person on planet Earth to make a snowman every ten minutes.

Some flakes have chosen to fall in my garden as I write this, but, alas, not in sufficient quantities to warrant me rummaging around for a carrot and two pieces of coal.


Samuel Clemens Leghorn — better known as Mark Twain — was a man of many trades besides writing, and one of his inventions is still with us today. Martin Fone explains more.

I have always preferred wearing a belt to a pair of braces — or suspenders, as the Americans rather prosaically call them, a perfect example of the opportunities that exist for embarrassing confusion between the versions of English spoken on either side of the Atlantic.

Belts, for me, are easier to use and fulfil the dual purpose of giving a little bit of shape to my ever-expanding waistline…

In the last few weeks, Martin Fone has been taking a look at how dogs were first domesticated and the tricks of canine evolution which have made human hearts melt. But what about cats?

It’s a curious quirk of statistics that cats outnumber dogs in the UK, with 10.9 million to 10.1 million, despite there being more dog owners: 23% of households have a dog, compared to 16% with a cat. The reason, of course, is that a cat owner is likely to own more than one moggy, an impression borne out by a 2018 census by PetPlan. In almost…

It’s no accident that your heart melts when dogs gaze into your eyes — it’s simply a fact of thousands of years of evolution and selection, as Martin Fone explains.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a look at the mystery of when the first dog was domesticated — and by whom. The answer is at least 14,000, and quite possibly as much as 35,000 years ago. As for who, the question is far harder to pin down — but it seems certain that dogs and humans teamed up long before we moved from hunter-gatherer to agrarian societies.


Martin Fone

Martin is a blogger and writer. His blog can be found at and his website at

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