From the makers of Factopia! comes Return to Factopia! Be reunited with the quirkily connected world of Kate Hale and Andy Smith. Brought to you by Britannica Books, the people who know (nearly) everything. Now showing at a library or bookshop near you.

Giraffes… I wonder what colour their tongues* are…

Meanwhile, away from the grandiosity, I am delighted to have this chance to share some facts from Factopia with you. (As I write, I’m imagining a country called Factopia where librarians are – rightfully – in charge and those librarians with degrees in English Language are the elite! Well, I can dream…) I’ve said it before and it’s possible that I’ll say it again: I love books full of random information. It doesn’t matter where I start with them, I know I’ll end up meandering through them for hours. And Return to Factopia! is one of the best.

Kate Hale starts at the beginning but doesn’t go on to the end because in this wonderfully twisting and turning cornucopia of connected information there is no real ending. In the beginning Kate suggests different ways into the book but I chose to consult the index (every non-fiction book should have one!) and look up topics that appealed to me. You could just flick through the book stopping at any picture that catches your eye. Andy Smith has drawn hundreds to go along with the words.

Young men may have been encouraged to go west but I like to go north. So polar bears interest me. As we know, they’re white. Except they aren’t! It turns out that they’re black; only their fur is white which makes sense if you want to blend in in the Arctic. Some polar bears live in Svalbard and so do many many seeds. Inside a mountain in this northern outpost of Norway is the Global Seed Vault designed to survive global disasters and containing samples of more than ONE MILLION seeds. I got side-tracked at that point and discovered that some tulips once cost more than Dutch houses! Maybe I won’t complain about how much a bunch costs in future.

Not flowers but vegetables next. Have you heard Austria’s Vegetable Orchestra play? No, me neither but the Viennese group plays on instruments made entirely of fresh vegetables. I wonder if they ever won Olympic Gold. For about thirty years medals were awarded for such things as painting, literature and music. There’s some pretty unusual music out there. Did you know that a musician once composed songs specifically for cats? Presumably they’re what the cats’ choir sang. And, on the subject of cats, it turns out that if you’re allergic to household ones you’re probably also allergic to lions. Who’s getting close enough to find out if that’s true?

That’s not all. Some people can HEAR the Northern Lights. There are athletes who climb frozen waterfalls. The Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles has 357 mirrors. International Talk Like a Pirate Day is 19th September. (That’s my friend Mark’s birthday but you might not need to know that.)

*And giraffes have purple tongues.

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