Weekendish: The best of the week's reads

The Queen Mary liner Image copyright ALAMY

A collection of some of the best reads from the BBC News website this week, with an injection of your comments.

It looked like a "great white cliff", but one with a fashionable nod to Art Deco. Eighty years ago the Queen Mary was launched, but what was its lure? Why does it give off such a whiff of nostalgia? Its four-day Atlantic crossings were the height of style, with black-tie dinners, tennis courts and even telephones. It was glamorous, entertaining the likes of Winston Churchill, Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor and more. But despite being a titan of its time, the Queen Mary eventually lost out to the transatlantic flight and now pales in comparison to modern cruise liners. Taller and almost three-times the tonnage, today's cruise liners may be monsters, but they lack the luxury of 1934.

Queen Mary: Liner that helped launch monster cruise ships

Almaz's story

Image copyright Other

Last year writer Benjamin Dix and cartoonist Lindsay Pollock introduced Magazine readers to Amiir and Family via this cartoon: Somali family living in Norway. This week, they were back with another. It tells the disturbing story of Almaz - a young Ethiopian girl living in poverty who travels to Saudi Arabia to work as a maid. She is tricked and her employers abuse her. As they complain about her cooking, speak condescendingly to her and talk of luxuries with wealthy friends, she is raped and refused her salary. Her passport has been taken and she is trapped. She is also cut off from her mother - unable to write or send money to her.

Abused and unpaid - the story of an African servant in Saudi Arabia

The first trainspotter

Image copyright National Railway Museum

He may not have been the first trainspotter, as we know them now. But Jonathan Blackhouse certainly has a good claim for being the first train enthusiast. In September 1825 he watched the inaugural journey of the Stockton to Darlington railway. The drawing he made, and his enthusiastic letter to his sisters are now on display at the National Railway Museum York until 1 March 2015 as part of their trainspotting season. Amy Banks, the exhibition manager, describes the drama of a steam train going past, its 1960s heyday and the controversial steam or diesel question. Locospotters are an enthusiastic bunch who yearn to tick train numbers off their list and will climb up signal lights to do it. The craze started with Blackhouse and continues with Nick Beeson on Facebook, who calls it the "best hobby ever!"

Who was the world's first trainspotter?

A Taste of history

Image copyright Getty Images

Beer and sausages? It's got to be Germany. Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, tells BBC News Magazine readers about the importance beer and sausages have in German culture and identity. The ornate tankards they drank from were statements of pride and the act of drinking itself was used as a pledge of good faith or an oath of allegiance. As well as beer, the great emblem of Germany's national diet is the sausage. From coronation specials to plain ones in a bun, sausages are Germany's history on a plate. With Oktoberfest being the largest popular festival in the world, German culture has a long future.

The country with one people and 1,200 sausages

Japan's deserted beaches

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Japan has nearly 30,000km of coastline but people only visit the beach in the summer

Japanese children have it drilled into them at school: "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down." They follow this so closely that on 1 September Japanese beaches are deserted, outdoor pools are locked up and swimwear put away for another year. A beach that had thousands basking in the sun will overnight be emptied despite no change in weather the next day. Michael Fitzpatrick explains the strong and strict social norms which cause this. Not going to the beach might be a form of "kata", which governs the behaviour in many situations from making tea to whether to wear short-sleeve shirts. It is a strong sense of what should be done and is diligently followed. Andrew Gould tweets: "I used to see the short sleeve to long sleeve seasonal change (and vice versa) on the train in Japan. It's so striking!"

Why Japan's beaches are deserted - despite the sunshine

Magazine monitor

Image copyright Lee Ben David

Magazine monitor, a collection of cultural artefacts, had some treats this week. There was the origin of the recently much-used phrase "boots on the ground", the reasons why so many drivers are still shunning seatbelts, whether yoga is actually about exercise and the strange world of super-specialist cutlery.

Here are some things we've enjoyed this week from elsewhere around the web:

The Gender Politics of Pockets - The Atlantic

To understand life in East Germany, all you need is this board game - PRI

Parenting as a Gen Xer: We're the first generation of parents in the age of iEverything - Washington Post

The Self-Made Man: The story of America's most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth - Slate

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