Why do we have fingerprints, why do sprouts taste horrible - and can a crocodile spit? Those tricky questions that every parent should be able to answer!
By Simon Mayo
Published: 22:00 GMT, 13 October 2012 | Updated: 22:01 GMT, 13 October 2012
From homework teasers posed by the nation’s children to the questions and conundrums of everyday life, broadcaster Simon Mayo attempts to field them all in his daily drive-time show on Radio 2 – with the help of a few experts, naturally.
Here, in an extract from his new book, are the answers to the head-scratching posers that we all should know – but probably don’t.
One five-year-old wants to know: Can crocodiles spit? The answer is now, but there are plenty of other animals that can
Q: When you buy a house, you own the house and any gardens associated with it, but how much of the land below the house do you own? Lee in Pocklington, Yorkshire.
A: You own right down to the middle of the Earth and all the sky above it. The slight problem is that you don’t have mineral rights to anything beneath you, and you’d need planning permission to build down, which you probably wouldn’t get. David from Whitby, chartered surveyor.
Q: Simon, what it is about Brussels sprouts that makes them unpalatable to a large section of the population? Kay in Muir of Ord, Scotland.
A: It’s a chemical called sinigrin that gives the sprout its bitter taste. It’s found in cabbage and broccoli too. It helps protect the plant from pests. Zoe, spokesman for the Institute of Food Research in Norwich.
Bad taste: Why are Brussel sprouts so bitter?
Q: How was it decided on which side of the road we should drive? Molly in Kidderminster, Worcestershire.
A: Horse-riders and carriage-drivers had their swords on the right, which meant they could draw them more easily when approaching a foe. Therefore, they would want to drive/ride on the left. Napoleon was left-handed, so he changed it on the Continent in the countries he invaded. Brian in Harrogate.
Q: Why is it that cola, milk and sauces such as ketchup taste better from a glass bottle than from cans or plastic bottles? Josh in Walsall, West Midlands.
A: Glass is non-permeable, while aluminium and plastic are semi-permeable, which means there is some loss of gas and oxygen, hence the slight difference in taste. Tim from Hitchin, Herts, who used to work in the drinks industry.
Q: Where in the British Isles should I throw a ‘message in a bottle’ into the sea to have the best chance of the currents taking it the furthest, for discovery on a far-off beach? Paul in Stroud, Gloucestershire.
A: If you caught the ‘Alderney Race’ current between Alderney and Jersey, the bottle could end up in the Bay of Biscay and eventually the West Indies. Joanna in Bedford, sailor.
Friction ridges: Our fingerprints ensure slippery things don't fall through our fingers
Q: I’ve just eaten some mints and my mouth has gone cold and so has my breath. I’ve always wondered why does that happen? Emily, 14.
A: Your mouth has not actually gone cold – it is, in fact, a chemical trick performed by the chemical menthol on the chill receptors in your mouth and skin. Kenneth from Glasgow, a chemistry teacher.
Q: My 11-year-old daughter Leah has noticed that when you put the kettle on it gets quieter just before it comes to the boil. Why? Ian in Leicester.
A: When the water around the bubbles comes to the boil, they stop bursting – so the kettle becomes less noisy just before switching off. Barry in North Wales, former nuclear reactor engineer.
Q: Why do we have fingerprints? Simon in Pontefract, West Yorkshire.
A: They are also known as friction ridges. Without them, slippery things would fall through our fingers. Jim from Gourock, Scotland, crime scene examiner.
Q: My five-year-old is horrified at some of the spitting habits of her classmates. She asks: ‘Can crocodiles spit’? Polly in Kent.
A: No. But there are plenty of animals that can, including archer fish and llamas. Tony from Burgess Hill, RSPCA inspector.
Homework Sucks! by Simon Mayo is published by Bantam Press, priced £12.99. To order your copy at £10.99 with free p&p, call the Review Bookstore on 0843 382 1111 or visit mailshop.co.uk/books
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Simon Mayo Drivetime is the current incarnation of the drivetime show on BBC Radio 2, which airs on weekdays between 17:00 and 19:00 in the United Kingdom. It is presented by broadcaster Simon Mayo, who moved to drivetime from his weekday afternoon show on BBC Radio 5 Live after Chris Evans moved to take over the Radio 2 Breakfast Show.
On 10 January 2018, the BBC announced that the show would end on 11 May 2018 and be replaced on 14 May with a new show co-presented by Mayo and fellow DJ Jo Whiley.
Matt Williams is the sports reporter on the show, presenting Matt's World of Sport at 17:50 and 18:50 each day. On Fridays, in the second report he interviews somebody who is involved in a sport that is not regularly reported in the general media, known as the Friday Fixture. He also announces the weekly rock tune on Wednesdays as "Doctor Mosh", as well as participating in the daily confession as 'Brother Matt'.
Bobbie Pryor is the regular weekday afternoon travel reporter on Radio 2, and reads the travel news at 17:20, 17:55, 18:30 and 18:55 each day. Pryor was previously the Friday afternoon and weekend travel reporter but from 11 August 2014 became the regular weekday reporter, replacing Sally Boazman who moved to weekends. She participates in the daily confession as 'Bobbie from the Priory'.
Radio 2's resident chef, who cooks for the team every Thursday. He participates in Thursday's confession as 'Novice Nigel'.
Stand-in presenters on the show have included Patrick Kielty, Liza Tarbuck, Ryan Tubridy, Richard Allinson, Richard Bacon, Mark Goodier and Amol Rajan.
Sally Boazman was the regular travel reporter on the show, but in August 2014 made the move to weekends on Radio 2. Due to holidays, her final show with Mayo was on 24 July 2014, but her last report was on 7 August 2014.
Alan Dedicoat was the regular weekday newsreader on Radio 2, who read the 17:00 news coming into the show. He also occasionally participated in the daily confession as 'The Dean of Deadly' (a reference to his long-standing nickname, coined by Sir Terry Wogan). Dedicoat retired from regular newsreading duties on Radio 2 on Friday 27 March 2015, but briefly returned on Monday 30 March 2015 for one final confession.
Rebecca Pike presented the business news at 17:30 and 18:40 every day, and at the end of the 17:30 bulletin also reports on the FTSE market data and exchange rates. On Fridays she interviewed a guest with a new invention, known as the Innovation Slot. Pike was known as 'Sister Rebecca' when participating in the daily confession. She left the programme on 17 December 2015.
The show's opening and closing theme tune is a 2003 recording by Jools Holland and Prince Buster of the 1948 song "Enjoy Yourself (It's Later than You Think)" by Carl Sigman and Herb Magidson. Before the theme plays, a re-written, acapella version of "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" by Harry Belafonte plays, with "Day-O, me say Day-O" replaced with "Mayo, Simon Mayo". Previously, some editions of the show also used the 1950 hit version by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians, or occasionally the version by The Specials from their 1980 album More Specials.
Monday-Thursday Regular Features
- Three Word-ers: Listeners send in a summary of their day in no more than three words, which are read out sporadically throughout the show. There is also a "talking text service" where listeners read out their three word-er live on air.
- The Oldies: A selection of five or six songs all related to a particular topic relevant to that day's events are played throughout the show, chosen by readers of the show's blog and followers of the show's official Twitter and Facebook accounts.
- "Subject" Guest: At around 17:20, a guest is introduced and they discuss an issue raised in the previous day's show, or in the news on that day. The guest is generally an expert in the subject area under discussion. The music used in this section is usually an instrumental version of Ray LaMontagne's "Repo Man" from his 2010 album God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise, although occasionally the theme to children's sci-fi series Joe 90 is used.
- Homework Sucks: Listeners are invited to send in questions to see if other listeners can answer them. These can be any form of question, and two or three per day are selected to be answered (to varying degrees of success) by the general public. Previously, only one question was selected per show with a definitive answer provided by an academic or other expert in whatever subject area the question relates to. The original premise of the feature was that it was only open to children wanting help with their homework (hence the title) but was soon expanded to general questions from anyone. The music used in this section is Chicken Man by Alan Hawkshaw, best known in the UK as the theme tune to children's school-based drama Grange Hill.
- Confessions: Carried on from Mayo's previous radio shows on BBC Radio 1, listeners send in embarrassing or funny stories about them offending, injuring, or playing practical jokes on people, that they never owned up to at the time it happened. Mayo's co-presenters offer forgiveness (or not, as the case may be) before listeners being invited to text or email in their verdicts on the story, some of which are read out over the course of the rest of the show. The confessions from the week are compiled into a weekly podcast, released on Fridays.
- Celebrity Guests: On most days, the show invites a celebrity guest(s) on in the second hour of the show (when it is not taken up by Nigel Barden's food slot, or the Book Club), who are there to plug a newly released film, TV series or book.
- The Drivetime Live Sessions: Occasionally, an artist or band will perform a number of their tracks live in the studio. In between songs, they are interviewed by Mayo.
- The Radio 2 Book Club: (fortnightly, Mondays) An author is interviewed about a recently published book that they have written, and the team review and discuss the book. Listeners also send in their reviews, and a preview chapter is usually uploaded onto the show's webpage.
- Tunesday: (fortnightly, Tuesdays) In lieu of a guest, the half-hour between 18:00 and 18:30 is given over to songs over 5 minutes long that aren't usually played on the radio in their full length versions. Listeners send in suggestions for tracks and 3 or 4 are played.
- Foodie Thursday (weekly, Thursdays) The show's resident chef, Nigel Barden, cooks the team some (sometimes unusual) dishes.
- Matt's Middle-Aged Midweek Mosh: (weekly, Wednesdays) Sports reporter (and rock fan) Matt Williams announces a weekly classic rock record, played at around 18:45, and encourages everyone listening to act as if they are in a mosh pit, and "rock out".
- The Showstopper: Listeners are invited to email in their suggestions for the last song to be played on the show, which is in the same musical genre as the specialist music show following Drivetime on any particular day. Previously, a listener vote decided the choice but this was replaced in September 2012 with the current system. At present the different genres are:
- All-Request Rollover: Monday-Thursday the show features a listener who didn't manage to get on the Friday All-Request show with their chosen song as a 'rollover' from Friday's show.
- Secret Santana: Every year, in the run up to Christmas the team play a round of 'Secret Santana' in which Mayo gets one of the presenters or guests to pick a name out of the 'Secret Santana Fez' to randomly choose a track to play by Carlos Santana.
- Brucie Bonus: For the first three months of 2015, every show featured at least one track by Bruce Springsteen. The name is a reference to one of British TV host Bruce Forsyth's many catchphrases from Play Your Cards Right.
- Facts of the Day: After the news at 6 o'clock, humorous "facts of the day" were read relating to the specialist subject area of each of Mayo, Williams and Pike. Each fact had its own title relating to the content of the fact. This feature was dropped in spring 2015.
- The Quiz: At around 18:35 Mayo, Pike and Williams quizzed each other on their respective specialist subjects, and a score was kept throughout the week. The music used in this feature is a 1970 cha-cha-chá rendition of The Doors' "Light My Fire" by Edmundo Ros and his Orchestra. This feature was dropped during the summer of 2015.
To allow Mayo time to continue to present Kermode and Mayo's Film Review on 5Live and following on from Chris Evans' Drivetime show, on Fridays all records played are chosen by the listeners – hence the name. The regular features from Mondays-Thursdays do not appear. Regular background music used on Fridays includes "On the Rebound" by Floyd Cramer, "Tom Hark" by The Piranhas, "A Swingin' Safari" by Bert Kaempfert, "Giorgio by Moroder" by Daft Punk and "House of the King" by Focus, as well as other stock instrumentals in different musical styles.
- Mah Nà Mah Nà: A regular song on All Request Friday is the 1976 Muppets version of Piero Umiliani's Mah Nà Mah Nà (although the version played is the remastered version from the soundtrack to the 2011 film The Muppets). Introduced as "that song", it is usually the second track played on the show.
- Friday Fixture: In his 18:50 bulletin, sports reporter Matt Williams has the Friday Fixture where a participant in an "obscure" sport (i.e. one which is not widely reported in the media) is interviewed.
Occasionally there is a special edition of the show, covering special events in the UK. Such events have included pre-show coverage of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, a fortnight of special shows for the London 2012 Olympics and a special programme from the Science Museum in London to commemorate the BBC's 90th anniversary on 14 November 2012.
As with several other shows across BBC Radio, highlights from the show are released as a podcast, which can be downloaded from the BBC's website and from other sources (such as iTunes). Two weekly podcasts are produced, both released on Fridays. The Weekly Mayo features highlights of the interviews from the preceding week, whilst Simon Mayo's Confessions is a collection of the confessions.
Two books have been released by Bantam Press, both based on features from the show. The first, Confessions, was released on 13 October 2011 featuring a collection of the best confessions featured on the programme, and the second, entitled Homework Sucks!, was released a year later on 11 October 2012 featuring a selection of the "Homework Sucks" questions and answers.
An album featuring a selection of live tracks performed on the show, alongside other tracks picked by Mayo was released on 24 February 2014.
The show won the title of Best Music Programme in the 2011 Sony Radio Academy Awards.