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Welcome back to our Nerdist Week roundup of everything nerdy, and very probably British, that has happened over the last 12 months or so.
Today’s delights come from the British passion for invention and education. They’re either inventive ways to educate, or educative spurs to further invention. Either way, you’ll come out of watching these feeling a whole lot smarter, inspired to do great things, and probably yelling “oi!” whenever the mood takes you (see item 1).
1: Horrible Histories
Attempts to make boring school subjects less boring, by setting them to music, are as old as tectonic plates. However, the BBC’s children’s show Horrible Histories has succeeded where other, more studious attempts have failed, simply by being irreverent with their subject matter, obsessed with gory details and funny. This is their song listing all the British kings and queens since William the Conqueror, and the two important things to note are a) you won’t learn all of their names and b) you will learn a lot of peripheral detail, essential for the budding historian. Oh and c) where to shout “oi!” in a song. And before you quibble, this counts as inventive because teaching that list is normally drier than a triceratops scalp.
2: Adjustable Spectacles
This is quite an astonishing invention, and based around a really simple idea. Glasses with part fluid lenses, that can be adjusted to suit any eyes, within seconds. Not such a big deal in the industrialised world, perhaps, but in places where distribution and adjustment are impossibly hard a real life-saver.
3: The Symphony of Bang Goes The Theory
An evolution from Horrible Histories, which has songs in the show itself. The US has The Big Bang Theory, a comedy show about the nerdy kids who grew up to be scientists. We have Bang Goes The Theory, a show in which nerdy scientists pretend to be kids, by blowing things up, building jet-powered go-karts, and openly wondering what would happen if you could travel at the speed of light. Here, their greatest hits have been rendered into song, because it makes their childlike glee seem anthemic and important.
4: Shake Your Backbone
Another edutainment video, this time about the importance of the backbone in evolutionary terms. Apparently we’re all descended from a crumb-eating worm thing, in the primordial oceans. It comes from a touring show called Amoeba To Zebra, which sets the story of evolution to a series of power-pop/prog rock songs, and takes it from school to school.
5: Toast Sandwich
Ignore the snarky tone of the video, this news story, which as you can see made it around the world, came from a simple bit of scientific research. The task was to try and find the cheapest possible meal, that will fill you up, and isn’t actively poisonous or stolen. And the solution was discovered in a Victorian cookbook. Seasoned toasted bread, between two slices of bread. Cheap, filling, and in no way a subsititute for a varied diet.
See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic