I get the most amazing questions from the Nans. If I can’t answer – I usually make something up, but they’re getting wise to me now. The other day Jasper asked: “is that for real or is it one of those answers because we are kids and we believe what adults tell us.”
Whilst cruising Amazon for books to read on holiday – I came across “Does My Goldfish Know Who I Am”. A sweet little book that provides expert answers to real questions posed by real kids. Here are some that have cropped up in my life too:
Why does sweetcorn come out looking the same as when I ate it? Posed by Keane (7) and Jules (6). Answered by the author Mary Roach. This one’s for Carla, who asked me the same thing once, in Mexico. I had no words.
“A kernel of corn has a tough, fibrous “seed coat” that stands up to acids and digestive juices in your stomach much like the way a leather jacket protects a motorcycle rider. Corn is famous for its ability to pass through the body intact, or at least in recognizable pieces. For this reason, it can be used as a ‘marker food’ to measure how long it takes food to travel all the way through you.
The next time your family eats corn on the cob, you can do an experiment. Make a note of the date and time when you eat the corn, and then again when you next catch sight of it. The number of hours in between is the ‘transit time’ for your own intestines. (Some people might object to looking into the toilet, but based on your question, you won’t have a problem. You have a healthy curiosity, and that’s great!)”
There you have it Mrs P, one for the next dinner party.
When lightning strikes the sea, why don’t fish die? Asked by Gabrielle, 12/answered by Professor Jim Al-Khalili, scientist and broadcaster. For Riley who asked me the same thing – I told her they had magic anti-electricity jackets designed to look like scales:
“Because water conducts electricity so well, especially sea water. When lightning strikes the surface a huge amount of electric charge lands in the sea. But the sea is very big and the electricity can quickly spread out and get diluted. Imagine putting a drop of ink into a glass of water – the water will change colour. What if you put the same amount in a swimming pool? It would quickly spread out and you wouldn’t notice any difference.”
But don’t be trying that in our pool, Rupert, I know your drop of anything is not the same as mine.
Why do mosquitoes only bite some people? Asked by Charlotte 8 and Hannah nearly 11. I told my beloved niece, who gets massacred by the beasts, that they only bit people who had been naughty during the day. It was nature’s way of resetting the balance at night so people could start over being good again in the morning. Answered more truthfully by Dr Rob Hicks, GP:
“Mosquitoes have a really powerful sense of smell and are attracted to chemicals we release from our bodies. One of them is carbon dioxide, and both women and larger people tend to breathe out more of this gas. The more that’s breathed out, the easier it is for mosquitoes to find you.Also, mosquitoes like some chemicals more than others. So if you produce the kind of chemicals they don’t like, they can act as a shield to protect you.”
Do animals like cows and sheep have accents? Asked by Angelina 6 and by Jasper 9 when we watched Beverley Hills Chichuahua 3. I told him, absolutely – when I was in the Secret Service we worked with undercover dogs. And both human and canines had to master different accents. Otherwise the one would give the other away. Professor John Wells, phonetics expert, had another answer:
“Dogs bark, cats miaow and cows moo but these are not languages, even though they are forms of communication. So while we can teach dogs to understand spoken instructions, they can’t speak to us. Different breeds of dog have different kinds of bark but it doesn’t depend on where they grew up, who their friends are or where they went to school… the main things that determine your accent. Scientists have found that whales in different oceans make different vocalisations and the calls of some bird species vary from one place to another. So perhaps whales and birds have accents or dialects.
And lastly – because Goldfish have always had a bad reputation in the intelligence stakes and because I have always wondered: Does my goldfish know who I am? Asked by Shauna, 10/answered by Dr Mike Webber – biologist:
“People often talk about goldfish having three-second memories but they are much smarter than people give them credit for. They have evolved to find enough to eat and know when it’s safe to be out in the open. They recognise other fish from their shoal and even their own eggs. Although sight is important, smell and touch are more vital for them. So I’m not sure your fish would remember your face but I wouldn’t be surprised if it could recognise you in other ways, perhaps by the sound of your footsteps as you walk towards the tank.”
There are a myriad other questions (Honor, age 11, asks Noam Chomsky whether new technology is always good. Neuroscientist Tali Sharot tackles 8-year-old Maia’s question about why we don’t have memories from the time we were babies and toddlers). And there are fifty pages of quizzes with posers like: “What was Captain Hook’s name before he had his hand bitten off?” and “What is the longest song in the world?”
All in all … a most excellent book – for a great cause – the National Prevention of Cruelty to Children. The perfect festive giving double-dip.
(This post was not sponsored in any way. All images in the public domain.)