Kings College

King’s steeples have long been a magnet for student night climbers and today images of the chapel adorn thousands of postcards, tea towels and choral CDs. But it was begun in 1446 as an act of piety by Henry VI and was only finished by Henry VIII around 1516.

The lofty stained-glass windows that flank the chapel’s sides ensure it’s remarkably light. The glass is original, rare survivors of the excesses of the Civil War in this region. It’s said that these windows were ordered to be spared by Cromwell himself, who knew of their beauty from his own studies in Cambridge.

The antechapel and the choirare divided by a superbly carved wooden screen , designed and executed by Peter Stockton for Henry VIII. The screen bears his master’s initials entwined with those of Anne Boleyn. Look closely and you may find an angry human face (possibly Stockton’s) amid the elaborate jungle of mythical beasts and symbolic flowers. Above is the magnificent bat-wing organ , originally constructed in 1686, though much altered since.

Beyond the thickly-carved, dark-wood choir stalls light suffuses the high altar , which is framed by Rubens’ masterpiece Adoration of the Magi (1634) and the magnificent east window. To the left of the altar in the side chapels, an exhibition charts the construction stages and methods.

Note the chapel itself (but not the grounds) are open during the exam period (April to June). Each Christmas Eve, King’s College Chapel stages the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols . It’s broadcast globally by the BBC, and to around 300 American radio stations. You can also queue – if you start early enough (before 9am), you could well get in.


Humans Getting Cleverer…

Are humans getting cleverer?

A very clever little girl

IQ is rising in many parts of the world. What’s behind the change and does it really mean people are cleverer than their grandparents?

It is not unusual for parents to comment that their children are brainier than they are. In doing so, they hide a boastful remark about their offspring behind a self-deprecating one about themselves. But a new study, published in the journal Intelligence, provides fresh evidence that in many cases this may actually be true.

The researchers – Peera Wongupparaj, Veena Kumari and Robin Morris at Kings College London – did not themselves ask anyone to sit an IQ test, but they analysed data from 405 previous studies. Altogether, they harvested IQ test data from more than 200,000 participants, captured over 64 years and from 48 countries.

Focusing on one part of the IQ test, the Raven’s Progressive Matrices, they found that on average intelligence has risen the equivalent of 20 IQ points since 1950. IQ tests are designed to ensure that the average result is always 100, so this is a significant jump.

A graph showing improved worldwide IQ test performance

The gains have not been evenly spread. IQ has generally increased more rapidly in developing countries, with the biggest leaps seen in China and India. Progress in the developed world has been chequered – the data seem to indicate steady increases in the US, for example, but a decline in the UK.

The new research is further confirmation of a trend that scientists have been aware of for some time. In 1982, James Flynn, a philosopher and psychologist based at the University of Otago in New Zealand, was looking through old American test manuals for IQ tests. He noticed that when tests were revised every 25 years or so, the test-setters would get a panel to sit both the old test and the new one.

“And I noticed in all the test manuals, in every instance, those who took the old test got a higher score than they did on the new test,” says Flynn. In other words, the tests were becoming harder.

This became known as the Flynn Effect, though Flynn stresses he was not the first to notice the pattern, and did not come up with the name.

But if the tests were getting harder, and the average score was steady at 100, people must have been getting better at them. It would seem they were getting more intelligent.

If Americans today took the tests from a century ago, Flynn says, they would have an extraordinarily high average IQ of 130. And if the Americans of 100 years ago took today’s tests, they would have an average IQ of 70 – the recognised cut-off for people with intellectual disabilities. To put it another way, IQ has been rising at roughly three points per decade.

A graph showing increase in US IQ

This is a puzzle not just for the US, but for all countries demonstrating the Flynn Effect. “Does it make sense,” Flynn wrote in one paper, “to assume that at one time almost 40% of Dutch men lacked the capacity to understand soccer, their most favoured national sport?”

So what is going on? “There are lots of theories, none of which is particularly proven,” says Robin Morris.

One possible explanation has to do with changes in education.

In most of the developed world, more people are now in school for longer, and teaching methods have evolved, moving away from the simple memorising of names, dates and facts. It seems like a reasonable assumption that education is training people to think better.

But in fact, the evidence is mixed. There has been no clear correlation between the rising IQ scores and US school performance – in SAT tests, for example.

But school prepares children for sitting IQ tests in other ways – what the psychologist Arthur Jensen has called “test wiseness”. Over time, students become used to the pressure of tests and they pick up examination-room tactics that improve their performance.

Tests are a chore children the world over have had to get wise to

A vivid demonstration of this emerges from a study of raw IQ data from Estonia. When psychologists Olev and Aasa Must laid examination papers from the Estonian National Intelligence Test from the 1930s alongside papers from 2006, they found an increase in correct answers – and also incorrect ones. The more recent students knew that they would not be penalised for guessing and getting something wrong.

James Flynn believes test wiseness may have been a factor in IQ gains in the US in the first half of the 20th Century. However, since then the amount of IQ testing taking place has waned – and IQ increases have remained steady.

Flynn puts this continued progress down to profound shifts in society as well as education over the last century, which have led people to think in a more abstract, scientific way – the kind of intelligence measured by IQ tests.

He cites the work of Russian neuroscientist Alexander Luria, who studied indigenous people in the Soviet Union. “He found that they were very pragmatic and concrete in their thinking,” says Flynn, “and they weren’t capable of using logical abstractions or taking hypotheticals seriously.” Luria put the following problem to the head man of one tribe in Siberia: Where there’s always snow, the bears are white; there’s always snow at the North Pole – what colour are the bears there?

The head man replied that he had never seen bears that were any colour other than brown, but if a wise or truthful man came from the North Pole and told him that bears there were white, he might believe him. The scientific methods of hypothesising, classifying and making logical deductions were alien to him.

“Now virtually all formal schooling, when you get past the sixth grade into high school and college, means that you take hypotheses seriously,” says Flynn. “This is what science is all about. And you’re using logic on abstract categories.”

And this kind of thinking doesn’t only occur in school.

As Flynn pointed out in his Ted Talk on the Flynn Effect, in 1900 only 3% of Americans performed “cognitively demanding” jobs – now the figure is 35%, and the work itself is far more intellectually demanding than it was a century ago. Families are also smaller, so children are exposed to more adult conversation at the dinner table than in the past. “Hothouse parenting” – pushing your kids to achieve goals from an early age – may also be a factor. And when it comes to older people, a lower disease burden may have an effect on their performance in tests.

Seven siblings queuing for dinner, around 1955Children in smaller families are exposed to a different kind of conversation

Such effects have diminishing returns after countries become fully industrialised, Flynn says, which may explain why in some North European countries, including France and Scandinavia, IQs have flatlined or diminished slightly. He admits that the pattern in Europe is a little baffling, but he has an idea why IQ scores continue to rise in the US. “I think America is a society where economic and environmental differences are much greater than they are in Scandinavia. And for example black Americans have terrible schools, and they have had terrible conditions to live under.”

A few other possible causes for the Flynn Effect have been put forward, some of them very intriguing.

One, proposed by Arthur Jensen but yet to be investigated, points to the spread of electric lighting. The thought is that light from bulbs, TV screens and the like may have contributed to cognitive development in a similar way that artificial light stimulates growth in chickens.

A girl in Morocco next to a newly-installed lightbulbCould the spread of artificial light be behind IQ gains?

Then there is the theory that today’s world is more visual than the world of 100 years ago. The Raven’s Progressive Matrices – the subject of the recent international study into the Flynn Effect by Wongupparaj, Kumari and Morris – requires people to pick out patterns from an array of stripes and squiggles. This particular test has seen the biggest IQ increases of all. Perhaps television, video games, advertisements and the proliferation of symbols in the workplace have made it easier for us to decode pictorial cues and identify patterns?

The Raven’s Test

An example Raven's question
  • Developed by John C Raven in 1936
  • Test takers have to spot patterns from an array of shapes
  • A non-verbal test, Raven’s is supposed to be relatively free of cultural baggage and a good measure of general intelligence
  • Raven’s Test results have been rising more rapidly than those of other components of the IQ test

There is also a debate surrounding nutrition. In a 2008 article in Intelligence, Richard Lynn notes that measures of infants’ mental development increased in the UK and US at rates correlated to the increasing IQs of slightly older children. It’s difficult to see how Flynn’s theories are enough to explain this. “Are infants thinking more scientifically today?” he asks rhetorically.

Lynn argues that pre-natal nutrition is a determinant of birth weight, which is in turn correlated to higher IQs. A shortage of one particular nutrient – iodine – is known to stunt intellectual development in growing children. A 2005 paper examining iodine deficiency in China found that children’s IQ scores were higher in areas where there was no iodine deficiency, and it increased after a programme of supplements started.

So explanations of the Flynn Effect abound – but what precisely does it signify? Do these steadily improving results indicate that the IQ test is not, after all, measuring intelligence? Or are people really cleverer than their forefathers?

“I don’t think smarter has anything to do with it,” says Flynn.

“Today we have a wider range of cognitive problems we can solve than people in 1900. That’s only because society asks us to solve a wider range of cognitive problems. People in 1900 had minds that were perfectly adequate for remembering first cousins once removed, they were perfectly adequate for ploughing a farm, they were perfectly adequate for making change in a store. No-one asked them to do tertiary education.

“It’s like a weightlifter and swimmer. They may have the same muscles when they were fertilised in the womb, but they would have different muscles at autopsy, wouldn’t they? So today at autopsy, certain portions of our brain, for example those which use logic and abstraction, would have been exercised more and look differently. Other portions of the brain would have shrivelled a bit.”

It may be, then, that certain abilities – problem-solving or reasoning ability, say – have improved but a general, underlying cognitive ability has not changed. This general ability is fundamental to the way many scientists view intelligence. Although little is actually known about it, there is supposed to be a general, hereditary quality that makes an individual who is good at giving fine speeches more likely to be good at Sudoku too. The problem is that this general cognitive ability is exactly what IQ tests are supposed to measure – in fact, of all the components of the IQ test, the Ravens test was supposed to be the truest measure of it. If people aren’t becoming fundamentally more intelligent, IQ tests aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do.

But Robin Morris is prepared to entertain the possibility that there may, over time, have been a real increase in general cognitive ability.

“It seems to me that it’s reasonable to think that intellectual functioning could increase over time in more developed societies,” says Robin Morris.

But do we actually notice in our midst a higher proportion of geniuses than there were in earlier generations?

“That’s the baffling aspect,” Morris admits. “How could it go up so much but there aren’t all these very very smart people floating around? And that is a bit of a puzzle. But then, people have started to say, ‘Maybe there are more bright people floating around and they’re kind of hidden away because of the way science has become very specialist. They’re working in their own particular field and they’re doing amazing things – they’re acting as geniuses – but they’re not necessarily identified as such.'”

It’s an odd thought. There are more and more geniuses out there, if this theory is correct – but many of them are unrecognised.

Robin Morris appeared on Health Check on the BBC World Service.Listen to the programme on iPlayer or get the Health Check podcast.

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Oxford, Cotswolds, Stratford-on-Avon and Warwick Castle Day Trip from London Read

Oxford, Cotswolds, Stratford-on-Avon and Warwick Castle Day Trip from London…

Oxford, Cotswolds, Stratford-on-Avon and Warwick Castle Day Trip from London information and booking

Tour description provided by Viator

Visit Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon and medieval Warwick Castle on this action-packed, full-day trip from London. From the comfort of a first-class, luxury coach, make your way out of the capital to three of England’s most-visited places. Enjoy a walking tour of Oxford, home to one of the world’s most prestigious universities. Pass through the idyllic Cotswolds, a region officially designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Visit Stratford-upon-Avon, the charming birthplace of William Shakespeare. Then, travel back to the Middle Ages with a trip to magnificent Warwick Castle.

Start your day with a pickup from your centrally located London hotel, or meet your professional guide at the prearranged meeting point in Victoria Coach Station to begin your tour. Hop aboard your first-class, luxury coach and relax as you travel northwest, away from the hustle and bustle of England’s capital.Your first stop of the tour is Oxford. Known as the ‘City of Dreaming Spires,’ Oxford is home to the oldest university in the English-speaking world. On arrival, step out of your coach and enjoy a walking tour of the city center with your guide.Plug into your state-of-the-art headset and listen to your guide talking clearly as you pass by the elegant, timeworn buildings and courtyard that have inspired generation of scholars, including Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea, Hugh Grant and Kate Beckinsale. See the Bodleian Library and Christ Church College, where Harry Potter scenes were filmed and where Albert Einstein studied.Next, enjoy a brief stop for refreshments (own expense) before hopping back inside your coach and traveling through the rolling hills of the Cotswolds, an area steeped in gentle English beauty, history and heritage. Look out the window to admire the thatched-roof cottages and charming inns. On arrival in Stratford-upon-Avon, birthplace of the famous playwright William Shakespeare, visit Shakespeare’s Tudor-era home, with its typical parlor, bedrooms, kitchen and buttery. After, enjoy some free time for lunch (own expense) at one of the many charming eateries.Then it’s a short journey to medieval Warwick Castle, whose magnificent towers and ramparts remain mostly intact. Travel back through 1,000 years of history as you cross the footbridge to a bygone world of banquets, battles and ceremony. Climb the winding staircase to the Princess Tower, or, if you’re feeling brave, visit the spine-chilling dungeons where prisoners were tortured. You might wish to take a stroll through the castle’s lovingly tended gardens, where archery, falconry and jousting take place in the summer months.Your day trip then concludes back at Victoria Coach Station in the evening.




Introducing Oxford

One of the world’s most famous university cities, Oxford is a privileged place. It is steeped in history and studded with august buildings, yet it maintains the feel of a young town, thanks to its large student population. The elegant honey-coloured buildings of the colleges that make up the university wrap around tranquil courtyards along narrow cobbled lanes, and inside their grounds, a studious calm reigns. Just as in Cambridge, the existence of ‘town’ beside ‘gown’ makes it more than simply a bookish place of learning.

Oxford is a wonderful place to ramble: the oldest colleges date back 750 years, and little has changed inside the hallowed walls since then. But along with the rich history, tradition and lively academic life, there is a world beyond the college walls. Oxford has a long industrial past and the working majority still outnumber the academic elite.

The university buildings are scattered throughout the city, with the most important and architecturally significant in the centre. Jericho, in the northwest, is the trendy, artsy end of town, with slick bars, restaurants and an art-house cinema, as well as the wonderfully tranquil Port Meadow. East Oxford is a gritty, ethnically diverse area packed with cheap places to eat and drink. Further out, in the salubrious northern suburb of Summertown, you’ll find upmarket restaurants and bars.


British Museum

British Museum….

The country’s largest museum and one of the oldest and finest in the world, this famous museum boasts vast Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek, Roman, European and Middle Eastern galleries, among many others. It is once again London’s most visited attraction, drawing an average of five and a half million punters each year.

Begun in 1753 with a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ sold to the nation by royal physician Sir Hans Sloane, the collection mushroomed over the ensuing years partly through acquisitions, bequests and plundering the empire. The grand Enlightenment Gallery was the first section of the redesigned museum to be built in the 1820s.

Among the must-sees are the Rosetta Stone, the key to deciphering Egyptian hiero­glyphics, discovered in 1799; the controversial Parthenon Sculptures, taken from the Parthenon in Athens by Lord Elgin (the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire); the large collection of Egyptian mummies; and the Anglo-Saxon Sutton Hoo burial relics.

The Great Court was restored and augmented by Norman Foster in 2000 and now has a spectacular glass-and-steel roof, making it one of the most impressive architectural spaces in the capital. In the centre is the Reading Room, with its stunning blue-and-gold domed ceiling made of papier-mache, where Karl Marx researched and wrote Capital.

You’ll need multiple visits to savour even the highlights here; happily there are 15 half-hour free ‘eyeOpener’ tours daily, focussing on different parts of the collection. Various multimedie iPad tours are also available (adult/child £5/3.50)


London’s Culture…..

20 facts about London’s culture


Here are 20 of the many reasons why London is one of the most culturally vibrant cities in the world.

  1. Three of the top ten museums and galleries in the world are in London and 857 art galleries in total.
  2. London has four UNESCO world heritage sites: Tower of London, Maritime Greenwich, Westminster Palace which includes Westminster Abbey andSaint Margaret’s Church as well as Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens.
  3. There are more than 300 languages spoken in London, more than in any other city in the world.
  4. There are more than 17,000 music performances a year across London’s 300+ venues including The O2 arena – the world’s most popular music venue for the last five years running.
  5. 84% of Londoners think that the city’s cultural scene is important in ensuring a high quality of life. (GLA/ICM research).
  6. London has over 170 museums with 11 national museums including theBritish Museum – home to thousands of years of culture including the Rosetta Stone (196 BC).
  7. Around 250 festivals take place in London every year including London’s largest free festival – The Mayor’s Thames Festival and Europe’s biggest street festival- The Notting Hill Carnival which attracts near one million people.
  8. The first performance of a Punch and Judy show at Covent Garden was recorded in Samuel Pepys’s diary entry for 9 May 1662, and it is believed a similar puppet show has been seen there every year since. (Oh yes there is!)
  9. London presents more live comedy than any other city in the world. From hosting new talent in the backrooms of pubs to the likes of Ricky Gervais, Chris Rock and Steve Coogan performing in major arenas.
  10. London dominates the UK visual arts sector, which accounts for 30% of the global art market.
  11. London has played a major role in countless films from A Clockwork Orange,Harry Potter to Notting Hill and is now the world’s third busiest film production centre with over 14,000 ‘shooting days’ in 2011 including the 23rd Bond filmSkyfall.
  12. Over a fifth of all the UK’s cinema screens are based in London. There are more cinema screens in the capital (796) than in any other part of the country.
  13. London Fashion Week 2012 generated over £100m of orders, saw the return of Philip Treacy and was the most socially savvy yet with over 2 million viewers tuning in from more than 100 countries to the live-streamed of Topshop’s latest collection.
  14. From the first performance of Shakespeare at The Globe in 1599 there are now at least 200 shows to choose from every day across West End including current hits Matilda and War Horse.
  15. Wilton’s Music Hall in the city is the world’s oldest surviving Music Hall, built in 1743 and still a living piece of London’s musical history.
  16. In the last 5 years, London based artists Adele, Coldplay and Amy Winehouse (RIP) have been the world’s best-selling recording artists and have amassed £1.9bn last year in worldwide sales, up from £1.83bn in 2010.
  17. London has more than 800 bookshops and over 380 public libraries including British Library which holds the Magna Carta.
  18. The London Design Festival is now the world’s leading event of its kind, which attracted over 350,000 people in 2012 to innovative projects including the groundbreaking audio-technology, the BE OPEN Sound Portal.
  19. A third of all the UK’s archives are in London including the National Archiveswhich dates back to the 11th century and preserves William the Conqueror’s Domesday survey.
  20. London boasts some of the oldest milliners in the world including Lock & Co(est. 1676) famous for creating Lord Nelson’s original bicorn hat, as well as a specially commissioned version for Hatwalk as part of the London 2012 Festival.

How to be a success?????

How to be a success? Get up before dawn

Woman waking up early

I have never understood the impulse that drives people to do things because they have seen someone famous doing them. If anything, you’d think it would be rather mortifying to buy a duplicate of the Duchess of Cambridge’s Seraphine maternity dress, only for everyone to say the first time you put it on: “Gosh, isn’t that the dress Kate wore to visit that pottery factory the other day?”

But it is hard to resist a twinge of unaccountable satisfaction when you discover that some quite ordinary bit of behaviour that you’ve been doing for years has now been adopted by a clutch of celebs. Suddenly, your dull little habit is transfigured into a Power Thing, and you feel briefly illuminated by its reflected glory.

At any rate, that’s how I felt on reading that Tim Cook, CEO of Apple,gets up at 3.45 each morning. The habit of rising super-early – what Army types call Oh-Christ-Hundred-Hours – is one that Cook shares with a formidable cohort including Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of American Vogue, and the former US Secretary of State and Ban Bossy campaign spokeswoman, Condoleezza Rice. These laggards cling to their duvets until 4.30am and 5.30am respectively, but all three are fond of violent physical exercise first thing. Wintour plays tennis at 5.45 before having her famous bob blow-dried at 6.45. Rice springs out of bed and into the gym, while Cook checks his emails on (naturally!) his Apple Watch before hitting the gym at a comparatively laggardly 5am.

Oddly enough, it isn’t a fondness for press-ups and baseline ralleys at the crack of dawn that I share with this august trio. But I’ve always loved the break of day. Since I was little girl, I have felt there is some secret complicity about starting the day at first light (or earlier in winter) that binds together a fraternity of early risers: farmers, street cleaners, stable lads, songbirds, the continuity announcer who reads the Shipping Forecast on Radio 4… and me.

I suppose the reason that I am not now the CEO of a global supercompany, the editor of the world’s most important fashion magazine or an international stateswoman is that I’ve never done anything useful with all the extra time that getting up early provides. I just drift about enjoying the delicious peace before everyone else get up and the daily racket begins.As eccentricities go, you’d think a fondness for a cup of tea while learning how our gallant mariners are surviving on the Dogger Bank is pretty mild. But my larkish habits have caused no end of trouble in my domestic life. My sweetheart is an owl of such resolutely nocturnal tendencies that we almost didn’t survive our first date. We met, had a drink and a chat and seemed to be getting on quite well until he suddenly suggested dinner. Now. That minute.

It was 10pm, an hour at which I’d usually be in my nightie, reading a good book. Some inner kind fairy restrained me from saying as much. I dutifully ate dinner at what, for me, felt like the middle of the night, and for the next few months found myself following a grim regime of trying to stay awake while he told me his life story over a single malt at 2am, only to snap briskly awake as usual just after 5am.

Eventually, dizzy with sleep deprivation, I broke down and confessed it all: the longing for a nice early night, the urgent desire to see the dawn, the terrible nostalgia for the 5.20am Shipping Forecast, the awful boredom of lying in bed listening him sleeping while outside the day was going on without me.

He listened quite sympathetically, but I could see he didn’t really believe I meant it. And it struck me that the undercurrent of our conversation was a polite version of class struggle. My ancestors were humble shepherds from the Isle of Sheppey: early to bed and early to rise is bred in the bone. His were merchant princes in the Far East accustomed, no doubt, to mollocking about in silken sheets until all hours before beginning their daily task of bossing about their underlings. We have inherited our Circadian rhythms from our forbears, along with our prehensile toes (me) and preternaturally youthful looks (him). And there is nothing much we can do about them.

For while I took a certain satisfaction in repeating to him a report published in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences, which purported to show that owls are prone to a “Dark Triad” of personality traits – narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathic tendencies. (Larks, by contrast, are conscientious, upstanding types who make admirable accountants. Apparently.)

But there is something even more satisfactory about the auroral enthusiasms of the great and the good. They flip the whole notion of early-rising peasants and late-carousing poshos on its head. It won’t last, of course. A year from now, fashion will have changed and getting up late will have become the new getting up early. In the meantime, I am relishing my own personal peasants’ revolt.

London gets its first all-electric bus route

London gets its first all-electric bus route…

The world

The world’s first diesel electric hybrid double decker bus launched in London in 2007. The new purely electric vehicles, which have yet to be ordered, will start running in south London in September (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

London’s first all-electric bus route will start running in south London in September.

The greener vehicles offer much lower noise and vibration levels compared to diesel counterparts and the bus operating company Arriva benefiting from lower maintenance and running costs.

Two single deckers have been trialled successfully on the 312 route in South Croydon to Norwood Junction to make sure they can cope with the demand of an “intense urban environment”.

Boris Johnson hopes to extend the fleet to central London in the future.

Mike Weston, TfL’s Director of Buses, said: “This is an exciting new milestone for our bus fleet, which is already one of the cleanest in Europe.

“We currently have eight electric buses in our fleet and as this number grows we are learning more about this new technology, which alongside other measures like retrofitting older vehicles with enhanced exhaust systems and continuing the expansion of our hybrid fleet, continues to contribute towards our strategy to further reduce harmful emissions from the capital’s bus fleet.”