Sideswipe: June 8: What Lego bricks do when we aren’t looking

Sheep in a panic

The first widely recorded sheep panic occurred one night in 1888, in Oxfordshire, UK. Around eight o’clock, tens of thousands of sheep across an area of about 200 square miles, around the town of Reading, impulsively and simultaneously went berserk. They broke through their pens and dwellings and bolted out into the open fields, destroying property and overrunning fences as they did so. The next morning they were found widely scattered, some miles from their fields. Some of them still panting with terror under hedges, and many crowded into corners of fields. The possibility of mischief was ruled out as the affected area was large, and it would have been impossible for any troublemakers to carry out a coordinated attack across several villages. The other explanation was some kind of atmospheric phenomenon that spooked the sheep. But no extraordinary meteorological event, such as a meteor shower, occurred that night, except that it was “a very dark night” with the possibility of a few lightning flashes. Naturalist Oliver Vernon Aplin explained that animals see perfectly well on ordinary dark nights, but on exceptionally dark nights when nothing can be seen animals can feel trapped and be overcome by a sense of helplessness. Sheep crowded in small pens would knock against one another or the feeding trough and be startled. The first one to get frightened would make a little rush causing several collisions and starting a domino effect. Before long the fear of the unknown would cause the entire herd to make a mad rush.

Fate is a twisty thing

Susan Baillie saw her mother quoted on the front page of the January 13, 1971, edition of The Guardian newspaper. “She was a witness to a bomb blast at the Barnet home of a government minister. By a twist of fate, I was portrayed on the front cover of Weekend magazine 34 years later, on December 31, 2005, emerging from the tunnel at King’s Cross tube station following the London bombings in July that year.”

Trolling the police

The good old days

“I grew up in northern England,” writes Brian Pickering. “When I was 14, I was doing the Duke of Edinburgh’s award. We had planned our four-day hike/tramp about 150km from home. Two teachers were going to drive us there but there wasn’t enough room in the cars for all of us. I offered to hitchhike the day before and stay in a hostel ready for the tramp. I was sent to see the headmaster who gave me the day off school to hitchhike.”

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