When You Say You’re Visiting Belgium

When you tell people that you’re visiting Belgium it seems most people reply with ‘Bruges is very nice’. When I replied that I was going to Antwerp and Ghent someone commented that the only thing they knew about Ghent was the poem “How They Brought The Good News From Ghent To Aix”. So, with profuse apologies to Robert Browning here is my tale of our adventure.

How We Took Ourselves To Ghent For Cake

Stoke MandevilleHarrow On The Hill

We woke up one morning and started our day,
On train bound for Harrow we rumbled away;
Then dragging our cases we hurried along
To underground platforms with commuting throng;
Our line Metropolitan, we got on board
A slow train to London, through tunnels we roared.

St PancrasEurostar

At King’s Cross St Pancras we next disembarked,
The statue was shrouded in black we remarked;
With passports in hand, now security bound,
The Eurostar terminal easily found;
The train sped away and to Brussels we flew,
It would carry us there in an hour or two.


Our first stop in Belgium excited went we
Toward the Atomium eager to see;
Then later that evening we boarded a train
To take us to Antwerp for panto again,
Admiring the buildings without traffic jams
We happ’ly spent afternoon playing on trams.

AntwerpAntwerp Tram

Two nights we stopped then returned to the station,
To journey this time to our last destination;
Arrived at Gent Dampoort and damp it was too
But here as before we found plenty to do;
Espying a café towards it we went
The sign it said ‘pi’ we had found cake in Ghent.

Gent Dampoort3.14


Needless to say we found plenty of things to do in Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent (not just eating cake) and I’m sure I will post something more sensible about them all soon.


How I Wish I Could Calculate Pi

So as part of Pi day (and I will restrain my frustration at the American style date format that is needed to make this appropriate) Oxford university decided it would be a good idea to have a huge experiment to calculate pi. They suggested four ways that this could be achieved the idea being that you have a go at one of them and then all the results would be collated to see what the average was. I decided to have a go at several of them.


Take a circular object and some string and measure the circumference and diameter. This is the most direct method and ought to be fairly accurate. I decided to use a Denby dinner plate and measured it with a handy piece of string.

Result: Circumference = 84.5cm, diameter = 26.5 cm, pi = 3.188


Use marbles to fill a circle and therefore measure the area. I used the aforementioned plate (cunning eh) and filled it with marbles. I tried to use marbles of approximately the same size but had to rely on eye (and hand) to judge the size.

Result: Total marbles 132, diameter 13 marbles, pi = 3.124


Drop a needle like thing onto a piece of paper – a lot and see if it crosses some lines. I dropped the needle 100 times and got the below result. I then tried a further 100 and got exactly the same outcome. I decided to quit while I was ahead.

Result: Distance between lines = 50mm, length of needle = 26 mm, dropped 100 times crossed lines 26 times, pi = 3.586


This asked us to measure the ratio of a river’s full length to ‘as the crow flies’ distance covered. This isn’t so much calculating pi as seeing whether the length of the river really has some relationship to it. While it is possible that over a long distance a river may tend to this ratio it is easy to see if you divide a river into two that the equation may not work equally well for each half (imagine that the river bends at around the dividing point and the geometry is obvious). Given that I’m not convinced that this would give a very satisfactory answer – and anyway I ran out of time.

Mind you I already know what pi should be, can you tell?