Friday, August 31, 2007

A cricket match played in the middle of the sea

The Brambles sandbank appears only once a year - and then only for about an hour - midway between Southampton and the Isle of Wight. When it does members of The Royal Southern Yacht Club at Hamble and the Island Sailing Club on the Isle of Wight race out to it... for a cricket match.

Dozens of boats containing participants and spectators wait around Bramble Bank for the sea to subside and reveal the bank once more. As soon as it does appear the stumps are put up and the match gets under way. Many of the competitors dress all in cricket whites and 'The Bramble Inn' is erected to serve drinks to spectators.

The Bramble Inn is probably worth a web page on its own as one of the most bizarre pubs in England: it is in the middle of the sea and exists only for about an hour each year! The event looks to any passing boats like some surreal mirage - cricketers standing on water in the middle of The Solent. And as can be seen from the pictures, to the spectators it often looks as if people are 'walking on water' as ferries and tankers sail past.

The game only lasts as long as the bank lasts (about an hour) and the the sea returns to swamp the pitch. The players retreat to their boats and head back to the Isle of Wight for a celebratory dinner. Who wins? Well, the teams seem to take it in turns - afterall winning the game or losing it just doesn't seem important. All that matters is having a good time.

£50m for a skull

A diamond-encrusted platinum skull by artist Damien Hirst has been sold to an investment group for the asking price of $100 million, a spokeswoman for Hirst's London gallery White Cube said on Thursday.

The skull, cast from a 35-year-old 18th century European man but retaining the original teeth, is coated with 8,601 diamonds, including a large pink diamond worth more than four million pounds in the centre of its forehead.

The spokeswoman said she could give no more details of the buyer.

Don't pay the ferryman

A man tried to save money on a seven-hour ferry ride by hiding his father and two children, aged eight and ten, in the trunk of his car.

The man was arrested Monday aboard a ship sailing from Palma on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca to Barcelona, and has been charged with reckless endangerment, the National Police in Barcelona, Spain, said.

According to the company that runs the ferries, Balearia, the man stood to save about 139 Euros or £94 by having his family ride in the trunk.

He was identified only as a 37-year-old native of Latvia.

The two boys and their grandfather, aged 66, spent several hours crammed into the trunk of the car, parked in the hold of the ferry in very high temperatures and with poor ventilation, until police detected their presence.

A police official said it was not clear if they called out for help or security guards saw the car rocking.

The detainee said he had acted to save money on the trip, the official said.

Sorry thief

A thief broke into a family home near Queenstown twice in the same day - once to steal and the second time to say sorry.

The unknown offender struck first while homeowner Graeme Glass was at work on Tuesday, smashing a window at his Arthurs Pt home to gain entry and stealing a $1200 laptop, a camera and a wallet containing his American Express credit card.

The second intrusion came later the same day, when the burglar - apparently racked by guilt - decided to return the goods, as well as a basketball and two pairs of gloves bought using Mr Glass' credit card in nearby Queenstown.

Mr Glass and wife Shirley realised their house had been robbed only when they returned home from work on Tuesday night to find the loot piled on the kitchen table.

To top it off, there was a full-page note from the offender saying sorry.

The apology, written on a page of Mr Glass' diary, expressed sorrow for "violating the safety and security of your home".

The offender said he did not want to go to jail but understood if Mr Glass wanted to seek "proper justice", in which case he should "ask around your neighbourhood. Someone will have seen me, and from there I'm certain you will find me".

In the meantime, the offender promised to leave cash in Mr Glass' letterbox to pay for the smashed window "when I have enough money".
Constable Julian Cahill of the Queenstown police said the burglar's change of heart would be taken into account by police.

"We consider everything but it would help a bit more if he came into us," Mr Cahill said.

He said he has never heard of a burglar breaking into a house, stealing property and then returning it in the same day.

Fantastic sausage sign

A butcher has been told to take down a sign showing five sausage rings in the shape of the Olympic logo. Olympic officials have told Dennis Spurr, from the Fantastic Sausage Factory in Weymouth, Dorset, the international logo is "protected".

Mr Spurr has been given two verbal warnings but refuses to comply. He put up the vinyl sign, which he said is just a "bit of fun", a year ago. The Olympic sailing events will be held in Weymouth and Portland in 2012.

"I have been told twice by someone from a local committee that it's been reported to London, and if I don't take it down soon I could get into a lot of trouble," he said.
"I can't see the need to take it down - it is just a bit of fun to make people smile. It is so inoffensive and it is promoting the sailing events here in Weymouth. Lots of local people don't even know it's happening here yet."

The shop on St Mary's Street is just a short walk from the shore where thousands of spectators will gather in five years' time to watch the events in Weymouth Bay. Mr Spurr is popular for his creative sausages such as the Tom Jones sausage - made of pork and leek and the Beckham - made of pork and "posh spices".

"If the Olympic committee wants to come down here to talk about it I will put on a barbeque for them," Mr Spurr added.

It is understood Olympic officials could use copyright laws to sue Mr Spurr unless he removes the sign.

Some of the Fantastic Sausage Factory's customers have offered to start a petition in protest.

Enormous web

An enormous spider web has been found at Lake Tawakoni State Park, Texas, US. It is not the work of one giant spider - rather, millions of small ones have been spinning away and now it is twice the size of a football field.

Park rangers are not sure why the spiders have joined forces - they describe it as a rare occurrence.

Texas A&M University entomologist Professor John Jackman told Associated Press that there were reports of similar webs every couple of years.

The web covers a 180m (650ft) stretch of trees and shrubs in the park.

Although it was initially described as "fairy-tale" white, it has turned brown from all the mosquitoes caught in its trap.

Experts say the web is either the work of social cobweb spiders that work together, or it has been created by spiders spreading out from a central point.

The park superintendent, Donna Garde, has invited arachnid and insect specialists to the park to study it first-hand.

Rangers said they expected the web to last until the autumn, when the spiders will start dying off.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Dog gets more than Grandkids

Leona Helmsley, the late United States hotel billionaire known as the 'Queen of Mean', has lived up to her reputation even in death, cutting two grandchildren out of her will and leaving $US12 million ($14.6 million) to her dog.

Trouble, a white Maltese, received the largest bequest from Ms Helmsley's will, which was read out in a New York court on Tuesday.

The will sets aside a trust to care for the pampered pooch, which once starred in advertisements for Ms Helmsley's hotel chain, and also stipulates that the dog be buried beside her and her late husband, Harry, who died in 1997.

The family's luxury mausoleum is to be maintained in perpetuity thanks to a further $US3 million ($3.7 million) trust.

Ms Helmsley, famed for observing that "only the little people pay taxes" and who spent time in jail for tax fraud, died earlier this month aged 87.

She earned herself the sobriquet "the Queen of Mean" for her hard-nosed work ethic, short temper and reputation for cruelty and penny-pinching.

Ms Helmsley was survived by her brother, who received $US10 million ($12 million) and will look after Trouble until the pooch dies, as well as four grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

The two grandsons who were included in the will received $US5 million each, but only on the proviso that they visit their late father's grave at least once a year.

Her two other grandchildren were cut out "for reasons which are known to them", according to the will.

Luge speed record

A man from West Sussex has claimed to have set a new world land-speed record for a jet-powered street luge. Joel King, 27, an IT worker from Bognor Regis, clocked an average speed of 112.7mph (181.4km/h) on a disused runway in Woodbridge, near Ipswich.

He described the luge as like a modified skateboard, on which he lies face up just 2in (5cm) off the ground. Mr King said his speed was recorded by an expert but still had to be verified by Guinness World Records officials.

A previous record of 98.5mph (158.5km/h) was set in America by Billy Copeland in 2001.

Mr King, nicknamed the Gravity King, had to abort his first attempt near Leicester last month because of engine problems.

Virtual operations

Imagine lying in an operating theatre whilst your surgeon removes your appendix - only he is in Belfast and you are in New York. This type of 'remote' surgery could become a reality as a result of new technology being developed at Queen's University.

It involves computer programmes which allow users to "touch" virtual objects on their screen. They use a mechanical arm which responds to electronic signals.

Professor Alan Marshall from the Belfast university said the three-year programme could herald a new era for the internet. Mr Marshall, professor of telecommunication networks, said the most likely use of the sensory tool - which would involve motions, vibrations and other pressures - would be in computer games consoles.

Gamers would feel pressure from the machine as they hit a serve in a computer game or throw a punch in a virtual brawl. However, he added, the medical world could also benefit.

"It could be used for keyhole surgery... training for remote surgery," he added. "It can also be used to design part of a car or a car's engine." He said the blind and visually impaired would also benefit.

The expert said computer gamers playing tennis could experience the full force of, for example, a Roger Federer serve.

"If we are to enter the second age of the internet then it must be able to support multimodal communication, including additional senses," he added. "Queen's University is a forerunner in the global race to introduce the necessary new architectures and networks capable of carrying such information."

The study's title is Network Architectures for Distributed Haptic Virtual Environments (HAPNet). The Queen's technology would allow users to share sensations with others from around the world. It is being developed alongside BT and north American companies Immersion and HandshakeVR.

The Belfast university has already facilitated an online handshake.

Jimmy Page secures conviction

A music pirate who was convicted after Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page gave evidence against him has been jailed for 20 months.

Robert Langley, 58, was arrested in 2005 after being caught with a massive haul of bootleg CDs and DVDs at a record fair in Glasgow.

The seizure by the British Phonographic Industry included £11,500 of counterfeit Led Zeppelin material.

Mr Page told Langley's trial that he did not sanction the items to be sold.

Langley, from Buckingham, had originally denied the charges against him.

However, after Mr Page gave evidence against him at the trial in Glasgow Sheriff Court last month he changed his plea to guilty by admitting three trademark and two copyright infringements.

Holy water ban

Pilgrims on the Vatican's new chartered airline have been told to leave holy water behind for security reasons.

Officials at Tarbes-Lourdes airport in southern France said that bottles of water from the shrine at Lourdes could present a potential terrorist threat. The pilgrims were told they could not carry holy water in bottles bigger than the maximum allowed: 100 ml.

Security staff at the airport said they were simply following international anti-terror regulations.

Measures limiting liquids allowed in carry-on baggage came in response to claims by British police in 2006 that there was a plot to bring down US-bound flights using liquid explosives.

Francesco Pizzo, Mistral Air's president, said the company had to respect international regulations on the matter.

The airline provided a small bottle of holy water, in the shape of the Virgin Mary, for each passenger, once they had boarded the plane for the flight home from Lourdes.

Mistral Air began flights from Rome to Lourdes on Monday and plans to extend its service to other Roman Catholic shrines.

Man refuses to be rescued

A man seen juggling before becoming cut off by the tide on Teesside jumped back into the sea after being rescued. The Royal National Lifeboat Institute(RNLI) Redcar lifeboat Leicester Challenge 2 was called after the man got into difficulty at the bottom of the cliffs at Saltburn near Huntcliff.

He tried to swim to safety, then when he was pulled into the boat he jumped out and had to be rescued again.

RNLI helmsman Tony Wild said the man got close to the boat's propellors and the rescue was a "struggle". He said: "We gave the man instructions to swim back to shore so that we could take charge of the situation. Despite the instructions, he continued to swim towards the lifeboat but then struggled with crew members as they tried to get him into the lifeboat. He broke free from their grasp and began to swim dangerously close to the lifeboat's propellers so the engines were immediately stopped."

The man was eventually pulled back into the boat, but as it got near to the beach he jumped out again and swam ashore.

He was stopped by a lifeguard and taken into the care of local police.

Dave Cocks, head of the rescue operation, said "This was certainly an unusual and difficult rescue for the crew. Usually the people we rescue are more than glad to remain in the lifeboat once they are rescued, but in this case the man had other ideas.

Aching joints eased with WD40

A former professional footballer reckons he's found an ununsual cure for arthritis - WD40.

Eric McKaig, 70, of Fane Close, Stamford, has ignored medical advice and joined a growing number of people who use the lubricant to ease their creaking, painful joints.

And he swears it has ended his days of pain and given him his quality of life back.

The retired sales manager, who used to play centre forward for Nottingham Forest in the 1950s, said: "It's been an absolute Godsend for me. A few weeks ago I was even running around the garden with my grandchildren and I haven't been able to do that for about three years."

But the manufacturers of WD-40 are urging people not to follow suit.

The company said: "The spray has thousands of uses, but treating stiff joints is definitely not one of them. The product has not been designed for use on the human body and has not been medically tested. If you are suffering from joint pain you should always seek advice from your GP."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Skullcap damages

A German court has awarded 3,000 euros ($4,100) in damages to a man who had to have the top of his skull replaced with plastic because of a faulty hospital fridge.

Doctors removed the top of the man's head and put it in cold storage while they operated on his brain, the court in the western city of Koblenz said Tuesday.

Because the refrigerator was defective, the section of skull was not kept cool enough and could not be reattached. Doctors replaced the bone with a plastic prosthesis.

The man sought compensation of at least 20,000 euros on the grounds that the prosthesis caused him headaches, affected his balance and made him unduly sensitivity to the weather.

Following consultations with experts, the court found that the operation had caused the man's discomfort, not the loss of the top of his skull.

Compensation of 3,000 euros was "appropriate and sufficient," it said.

"The experts consulted by the court concluded the new skull roof was better than the original," a court spokesman said.

Woman blows bank blunder

With just £6.59 sitting in her bank account, Sarah Jane Lee was somewhat surprised when she went to make a £10 withdrawal – and found she had £135,000 to spend.

So, not one to question her good fortune, Miss Lee, a jobless single mother, made hay - blowing almost all of the cash in less than three weeks by living the high life - buying luxury goods and booking a holiday to Disneyworld in Florida.

But, after it emerged that the Abbey had transferred the money to her by mistake, she is now facing jail for theft.

Her spree began last November after an error at the Abbey branch in Blackburn, Lancs.

Miss Lee, 19, said: “When I realised how much money was in my account I felt numb, sick. All it said on the statement was 'account adjustment’ and I didn’t touch it for a day.

“The day after I went in to the bank and asked them what it meant but they couldn’t tell me. They just asked me if I wanted to open a savings account.”

Unperturbed, she began to spend the cash. She booked a £10,000 holiday to Florida and spent almost £33,000, regularly visiting the sex shop chains Simply Pleasure and Ann Summers.

She filled her home in Blackburn with luxury goods. She is also said to have arranged banker's drafts for £40,000 for two people and written a cheque for £17,000 to a third.

And then the bank discovered its mistake.

Officials froze Miss Lee’s account before she could go to Florida with her nine-month-old daughter, Amy-Jane, and other relatives. She knew it was time to hand herself in.

“I walked into the bank and waited for the coppers,” she said. “I was searched in the middle of Abbey. I felt humiliated.”

She admitted retaining wrongful credit and 11 specimen charges of theft, however sentencing was adjourned today at Preston Crown Court.

She will be sentenced after four other people - Amanda Moorcroft, 24, her sister, David Moorcroft, 42, Winston Moorcroft, 38, and Mark Utley, 26 - have been dealt with by the courts. They all face charges of theft and handling stolen goods.

Heavy metal is a handicap

A Swedish heavy metal fan has had his musical preferences officially classified as a disability. The results of a psychological analysis enable the metal lover to supplement his income with state benefits.

Roger Tullgren, 42, from Hässleholm in southern Sweden has just started working part time as a dishwasher at a local restaurant.

Because heavy metal dominates so many aspects of his life, the Employment Service has agreed to pay part of Tullgren's salary. His new boss meanwhile has given him a special dispensation to play loud music at work.

"I have been trying for ten years to get this classified as a handicap, I spoke to three psychologists and they finally agreed that I needed this to avoid being discriminated against."

Roger Tullgren first developed an interest in heavy metal when his older brother came home with a Black Sabbath album in 1971. Since then little else has mattered for the 42-year-old, who has long black hair, a collection of tattoos and wears skull and crossbones jewelry.

The ageing rocker claims to have attended almost three hundred shows last year, often skipping work in the process. Eventually his last employer tired of his absences and Tullgren was left jobless and reliant on welfare handouts.

But his sessions with the occupational psychologists led to a solution of sorts: Tullgren signed a piece of paper on which his heavy metal lifestyle was classified as a disability, an assessment that entitles him to a wage supplement from the job centre.

"I signed a form saying: 'Roger feels compelled to show his heavy metal style. This puts him in a difficult situation on the labour market. Therefore he needs extra financial help'. So now I can turn up at a job interview dressed in my normal clothes and just hand the interviewers this piece of paper," he said.

The manager at his new workplace allows him to go to concerts as long as he makes up for lost time at a later point. He is also allowed to dress as he likes and listen to heavy metal while washing up.

"But not too loud when there are guests," he said.

An occupational psychologist in Stockolm admitted to being baffled by the decision.

"I think it's extremely strange. Unless there is an underlying diagnosis it is absolutely unbelievable that the job centre would pay pay out. If somebody has a gambling addiction, we don't send them down to the racetrack. We try to cure the addiction, not encourage it," he said.

Henrietta Stein, deputy employment director for the Skåne region, is also puzzled by the move; "an interest in music" is not usually sufficient to qualify for wage benefits.

"Certain cases are confidential but in general there is always a medical reason that is well-documented," she said.

Tullgren currently plays bass and guitar in two rock bands and says that he tends to get a lot of positive reactions for daring to be himself.

"Some might say that I should grow up and learn to listen to other types of music but I can't. Heavy metal is my lifestyle," he said.

Knife swallowing fraudster captured

Prosecutors say an Indian businessman spent years evading authorities around the world, fleeing accusations he'd run elaborate bank scams.

When he lost an appeal in Germany against extradition to India, he came up with a novel scheme: he swallowed a knife. For four years, Amarendra Nath Ghosh refused surgery to remove the knife, hampering India's attempts to bring him back to stand trial because medics said flying with the 10-centimetre metal object lodged in his stomach might prove fatal.

Finally, though, authorities appeared to gain the upper hand, bringing him back on a private plane staffed with doctors.

Ghosh appeared in a Calcutta court to face a host of criminal conspiracy charges - with the knife apparently still lodged in his stomach.

The Calcutta judge scheduled another hearing September 11.

Ghosh, 45, is accused of cheating five Calcutta banks out of the equivalent of $7 million in 1994 and 1995. He is believed to have worked with local bank employees in his plots, which included forged cheques, non-existent accounts, and falsified loans, authorities said.

The four dollar thief

GREENBURGH, New York - Police in upstate New York say a knife-wielding robber wanted only four dollars, so he refused to take a 10-dollar bill from his victim and waited while the man made change at a pizza parlour.

He took the four bucks and ran off, only to be captured a few blocks away. Suspect James Mitchell, 48, has been arraigned on robbery and weapon charges.

His lawyer, Arlene Popkin, refuses to comment.

Police Capt. Joseph DeCarlo says it really is an odd case but it is a robbery. He couldn't say why Mitchell wanted only $4. The confrontation began over an artificial rose the 18-year-old victim had just bought, police said.

"He came out of the store and was approached by the suspect, who said: 'Give me the rose,"' DeCarlo said. "The kid told him: 'Go in there and get one.' But the suspect says: 'I want that one and your money, too,' and pulls out a knife."

When the teen said all he had was $10, the suspect said he wanted only $4, DeCarlo said.

"He tells the kid to go into the pizza parlour and get change," DeCarlo said. "Then the kid comes out, he takes his $4 and he leaves."

The teenager and his mother, who was across the street, called police and led officers to Mitchell, DeCarlo said.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Giants' willy painted purple

Residents living close to the Cerne Abbas Giant are angry with campaigners after the famous landmark was vandalised.

A man from the Fathers 4 Justice group, which campaigns against family law favouring mothers, is thought to be behind the 40ft penis on the National Trust site being painted purple.

The landmark was targeted overnight between Friday and Saturday by someone describing himself as the Westcountry's 'Purple Phantom'.

Cerne Abbas Parish Council chairman Peter Smith said: "This is particularly irritating because it has happened inside the enclosure that protects the giant. The land there is sacrosanct because it is a special site. We don't want people damaging it for obvious reasons."

Written beside the giant were the words Read Family Court Hell' - a reference to a recently published book by Fathers 4 Justice campaigner Mark Harris.

The action follows a rash of purple doors being painted on to the offices of Cafcass, the court welfare service, in the Westcountry in recent weeks. And it is not the first time the Cerne Abbas Giant has been targeted in the name of publicity.

In July cartoon character Homer Simpson was painted next to the giant to promote the new Simpsons film.

Phantom Professor

A French tax official cheated the government out of 600,000 euros ($820,000) by creating a phantom identity as a university professor and claiming a salary for some 15 years, the government admitted.

Education Ministry officials uncovered the scam in June and began legal and disciplinary action immediately, Budget Minister Eric Woerth said in a statement.

He said he "desired action to be undertaken urgently to prevent a recurrence of an abuse of this kind."

Tunnel thieves foiled

An amazing plot to raid a Manchester cashpoint machine from underground has been foiled - after workmen stumbled on a 20-metre tunnel.

The elaborate plan by the crooks - dubbed the `Mole Gang' - was unearthed by workmen laying electric cables at a building site close to Fallowfield Retail Park.

They uncovered the complex tunnel, which had been dug out from a nearby railway embankment and was heading towards the ATM at a nearby Blockbuster Video store.

The `Great Escape'- type tunnel had been reinforced with scaffolding and electric lighting had been installed. Inside it were tools, shovels, a wheelbarrow and bags of soil.

Police believe the would-be-raiders must have been digging the tunnel for weeks. It is not known how they disposed of the soil.

The tunnel has now been filled in with cement.

World's biggest diamond ?

A small South African mining company has claimed to have discovered the world's biggest-ever diamond. A shareholder in the unnamed mine told the BBC the stone had been unearthed at their operation in the north-west province on Monday afternoon.

He said the giant gem was about 7,000 carats - which would be twice the size of the Cullinan Diamond, centre-piece of the British crown jewels. But industry experts are sceptical about the unconfirmed claim.

Brett Jolly, a shareholder at the mine, said the stone had been taken to a bank vault in Johannesburg. Mr Jolly said he hoped tests on Tuesday would prove its worth. In a photograph emailed to the BBC, the 'stone' (seen next to a mobile phone) appears to be about the size of a coconut, and has a greenish tinge.

But a spokesman for De Beers, the world's biggest diamond mining company, said the north-west province was not known for producing gems and greenish stones were even rarer.

Unsuitable for SatNav

In the village of St Hilary, a succession of trusting lorry drivers have followed their satnav down a narrow, bendy lane - only to find they are stuck.

But there's help on the way - and not in the form of a tow truck. Instead, the authorities have put up a sign warning drivers not to believe everything their satellite navigation tells them.

Traffic engineer Mark Simpson, who designed the sign, said: "We've had a series of problems with drivers getting into trouble by trusting their satnav - and we needed to do something about it. I hope my sign should do the trick.

"Satnav can be a wonderful tool for drivers but it does have dangers.Particularly aimed at foreign lorry drivers, who can't read warnings telling them the road is unsuitable for HGVs, his sign shows a satellite flying above a lorry, with a red warning bar through it.

Four have gone up near St Hilary, in the Vale of Glamorgan, South Wales. There, satnav has instructed drivers to use the narrow lane through the village as a short cut between the M4 and Cardiff airport, rather than sending them along the main road.

Mr Simpson, 36, said: "More than a dozen or so heavy trucks have got stuck in lane in the past few months. It has led to huge traffic jams as the lorry drivers try to manoeuvre themselves out of the lane - sometimes taking as long as two hours."

Brush is hedgehog mother

Four tiny orpahned hedgehogs are snuggling up to the bristles of a cleaning brush - because they think it's their mother. The four inch long creatures are being hand-reared by staff at the New Forest Otter, Owl and Wildlife Park in Ashurst, Hants.

Workers say Mary, Mungo, Midge and Slappy get comfort from playing with the centre's cleaning brush and enjoy rubbing against it. The smells on the brush, which is used to sweep a yard, remind the hedgehogs of their natural habitat while the texture reminds them of their mother.

Manager John Crooks, 41, said: "They are a bit like human babies - they need activities to keep them busy. Because they have very poor eyesight you have to appeal to their sense of smell and touch by giving them different scents and textures. They like natural scents and have enjoyed playing with our cleaning brushes, soil, leaves, flower pots and the like. They particularly seem to enjoy rubbing against the brush. It may sound odd but I imagine the bristles feel a bit like their mum."

Bubble beach

It was as if someone had poured tons of coffee and milk into the ocean, then switched on a giant blender. Suddenly the shoreline north of Sydney were transformed into the Cappuccino Coast.

Foam swallowed an entire beach and half the nearby buildings, including the local lifeguards' centre, in a freak display of nature at Yamba in New South Wales.

One minute a group of teenage surfers were waiting to catch a wave, the next they were swallowed up in a giant bubble bath. The foam was so light that they could puff it out of their hands and watch it float away.

It stretched for 30 miles out into the Pacific in a phenomenon not seen at the beach for more than three decades.

Scientists explain that the foam is created by impurities in the ocean, such as salts, chemicals, dead plants, decomposed fish and excretions from seaweed. All are churned up together by powerful currents which cause the water to form bubbles.

These bubbles stick to each other as they are carried below the surface by the current towards the shore. As a wave starts to form on the surface, the motion of the water causes the bubbles to swirl upwards and, massed together, they become foam. The foam "surfs" towards shore until the wave "crashes", tossing the foam into the air.

Recycled glass beach

Faced with the constant erosion of Florida's beaches, Broward County officials are exploring using recycled glass crushed into tiny grains and mixed with regular sand to help fill gaps.

It's only natural, backers of the idea say, since sand is the main ingredient in glass.

"Basically, what we're doing is taking the material and returning it back to its natural state," said Phil Bresee, Broward's recycling manager.

The county would become the first in the nation to combine disposal of recycled glass with bolstering beach sand reserves, Bresee said.

The county would create only 15,600 tons of the glass material each year, not enough to solve its sand shortage, but enough to create a reserve for filling eroded spots before they can worsen, Bresee said.

Rocket record

Amateur rocketeers who gathered for a special event in Scotland said they have successfully launched their biggest rocket yet. The Corpulent Stump was fired from a site near Largs in Ayrshire on Sunday afternoon reaching a height of 5,988ft.

The 12.5ft rocket was built by Richard Brown, from Canterbury, costing £4,000.

The launch was the highlight of the International Rocket Week event, which took place at Kelburn Castle and attracted dozens of rocket enthusiasts. It had been hoped that the Corpulent Stump would be fired on Saturday, but the launch was delayed by a day because of low cloud and strong winds.

John Bonsor, organiser of international rocket week, said "It was a complete success, everything worked as we had hoped. The parachute system worked well, it was a good test of the electronics and the vehicle proved very stable."

After coming back down to earth, the rocket, which had been loaded with an engine, fuel and about £1,000 worth of electronics, was retrieved having suffered little damage.

Mr Bonsor said it was hoped the reinforced cardboard, tubed rocket would make an appearance at next year's festival.

The enthusiasts who took part in the International Rocket Week event said amateur rocketeers had a long record of developing new technologies and techniques which have shaped space exploration from its beginnings.

Tarred & Feathered

A man was subjected to a so-called 'tarring and feathering' attack in south Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Sunday.

It is thought the attack was carried out by two men wearing balaclavas as a crowd including women and children looked on. The victim was made to wear a placard reading 'I'm a drug dealing scum bag'.

Northern Ireland's Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie said that this type of incident had "no place in a civilised society". "If the UDA is involved it is a stark demonstration of the thuggery and violence which I made clear has to end if the funding to the CTI (Conflict Transformation Initiative) project is to continue," she continued.

Ms Ritchie's direct rule predecessor initiated the £1.2m scheme which aimed to encourage redevelopment in loyalist communities through the UDA aligned UPRG. On 10 August, Ms Ritchie said she would withdraw support from the project unless there was clear evidence of decommissioning and reduced criminality.

Although the police was made aware of the incident by the time officers arrived in the loyalist estate, neither the victim or his attackers could be found.

Monday, August 27, 2007

zombies in London

Anyone waking up in London this morning would be forgiven for thinking they were in a terrifying horror movie.

Hundreds of fearsome 'zombies' descended on the capital as part a horror festival to mark the DVD release of the film, Zombie Diaries.

Their mission was to break the world record for having the highest number of the freaky characters in a 'zombie walk'.

The current record is 894 zombies in Pittsburgh last year.

The huge mass, who were recruited via a website, descended on Leicester Square this morning.

There's a brilliant video of it HERE

Lights out

Streetlights across the New Hampshire town of Bow, were shut off permanently Sunday night as a result of budget cuts, WMUR-TV in Manchester reported.

Selectmen said the move saves the town nearly $50,000 a year and was one way to ensure that police and firefighters would not lose their jobs.

In total, 222 lights were off. All major intersections and main roads will remain lit.
Some concerned citizens said the decision will make the town more susceptible to burglaries and endanger kids walking to school in the early morning.

Town officials said they always put safety first and did a lot of research before flipping the switch.

One resident planned to pass a petition around trying to stop the move.

Selectmen said the decision was made final back in May, and it will not change.

Flour scare

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut - Two people who sprinkled flour in a parking lot to mark a trail for their offbeat running club inadvertently caused a bioterrorism scare and now face a felony charge. The sprinkled powder forced hundreds to evacuate an IKEA furniture store Thursday.

New Haven ophthalmologist Daniel Salchow, 36, and his sister, Dorothee, 31, who is visiting from Hamburg, Germany, were both charged with first-degree breach of peace, a felony.

The siblings set off the scare while organizing a run for a local chapter of the Hash House Harriers, a worldwide group that bills itself as a "drinking club with a running problem."

"Hares" are given the task of marking a trail to direct runners, throwing in some dead ends and forks as challenges. On Thursday, the Salchows decided to route runners through the massive IKEA parking lot.

Police fielded a call just before 5 p.m. that someone was sprinkling powder on the ground. The store was evacuated and remained closed the rest of the night. The incident prompted a massive response from police in New Haven and surrounding towns.

Daniel Salchow biked back to IKEA when he heard there was a problem and told officers the powder was just harmless flour, which he said he and his sister have sprinkled everywhere from New York to California without incident.

"Not in my wildest dreams did I ever anticipate anything like that," he said.

Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships

A teenaged circus performer has won the freestyle gold medal at the Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships for juggling mobile phones. Taco Cohen of the Netherlands, who was celebrating his 19th birthday, used acrobatics and juggling in his performance, which was judged on aesthetics and artistic impression.

He says his performance reflected his training in a youth circus. "Juggling I have done for many years with balls," he said. "[But] these are irregular shapes and weights - it is difficult."

Finnish domination in the distance event continued when Tommi Huotari took gold with a throw of 89.62 metres, a few metres short of the world record.

"I have never thrown a phone before but have been participating in potato-throwing ... surprisingly, a potato flies further," the 38-year-old engineer said. I am sure everyone would like to throw their phone away every once in a while."

Event organiser Christine Lund says the contest reflects people's love-hate relationship with the mobile phone. "This contest speaks to people the world over as mobile phones are a blessing and a curse," she said. "Phones have become a part of the modern man, and sometimes many of us would like to remove that part."

Originally a local event in this small town close to the Russian border, the contest drew contestants from Canada, Europe and the United States.

Rest in peace Rhys


Everton Football Club paid tribute to Rhys Jones today as they visited the scene of the 11-year-old's murder. The squad, led by their captain, Phil Neville, stood with their heads bowed and in silence at the makeshift shrine outside the Fir Tree pub in Croxteth, Liverpool.

England striker Andy Johnson, along with international stars James McFadden, Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta, laid a signed number 8 shirt and a pair of boots. A wreath in the shape of a blue and white football bore the message: "With deepest sympathy to the family of Rhys from all at Everton Football Club."

This follows Everton's Premier League match against Blackburn, on Saturday, when they paid tribute to murdered 11-year-old Rhys Jones with a standing ovation, while players wore black armbands as a mark of respect.

Everton management had anticipated a minute of silence to commemorate Rhys, who was shot dead near the Merseyside club's Goodison Park ground, but the Jones family instead requested a minute of applause.

Rhys's parents, Melanie and Stephen, and his brother, Owen, stood with Everton manager David Moyes as cheers erupted from the nearly 40,000-strong crowd.

Film locations boost tourism

British tourism has enjoyed a huge boost from a rise in visits to film and TV show locations, says a report.

Film and tourism bodies identified increased visits to the settings of productions including The Da Vinci Code and Gosford Park and TV's Balamory.

The Harry Potter films led to a 120% rise in visitors to Northumberland's Alnwick Castle, and had brought about £9m worth of tourism to the region. The Harry Potter series is thought to have brought about £9m in tourist revenue to Northumberland.

The strongest pull on tourists is from locations set at stately homes, historic and religious sites, and rural or village landscapes.

John Woodward, chief executive of the UK Film Council, said: "British films and television programmes play a powerful role in showcasing the UK to the rest of the world and boosting tourism. There are countless examples of visitors flocking to locations they've seen in films or on TV and the effect can last for years."

A380 seat auction

Seats on the first commercial flight of the Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger plane, are being auctioned on eBay by Singapore Airlines (SIA).

Not long after opening, bids of up to $2,550 (£1,266) had been placed. The auction closes on 10 September.

Most of the seats on the superjumbo flight on 25 October from Singapore to Sydney will be put on sale, SIA said.

Starting prices range from $3.80 in economy to $380 for a luxury package. All proceeds will go to charity.

Profits from the sale will be divided equally between a Singapore charity, two children's' hospitals in Sydney and international relief agency Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Newspaper suspended over Jesus pic

Malaysia's government ordered a Tamil-language daily to immediately halt publication for a month Friday as punishment for printing an image of Jesus Christ holding a cigarette, an official with the newspaper said.

S.M. Periasamy, general manager of Makkal Osai, which caters to Malaysia's ethnic Indian minority, said his office received the directive by fax from the Internal Security Ministry.

"Of course we are shocked by this. My entire staff are all in tears. They will lose a month of income," Periasamy said, adding that the newspaper would abide by the order but plans to appeal the suspension.

Ministry officials in this Muslim-majority nation could not immediately be reached for comment.

The newspaper had said it published the photo by mistake Tuesday and carried a front-page apology Thursday.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Thursday that the picture was hurtful and an insult to Christians. Kuala Lumpur archbishop, Murphy Pakiam, criticized the picture as a "desecration," but later accepted the newspaper's apology.

Ethnic Indians comprise 10 percent of Malaysia's 26 million people, and are mostly Hindus with a sprinkling of Christians and Muslims. Chinese, who follow Christianity and Buddhism, make up 25 percent, while Malay Muslims comprise 60 percent.

Swimming feet

A SPANISH paralympic swimmer with no arms today swam across the Strait of Gibraltar between Spain and Morocco.

Nadi Vidal, 32, trained for the event for five months and traversed the 18km stretch in six hours and 20 minutes.

Vidal lost his left arm and half of his right arm at the age of six when he accidentally touched a high-voltage wire, the MAP domestic news agency said.

Kinder squirrel banned

Health authorities in Finland have banned a squirrel from visiting a SIWA supermarket in the central Finnish city of Jyväskylä.

The squirrel had previously been allowed in by the store's manager, Irene Lindroos, where it would enter daily via the open front door, and help itself to a Kinder Egg chocolate from the confectionary section. Once it had one, it would carry it back outside to eat it.

The apearance of the squirrel regularly amused customers, often with the effect of causing them to purchase Kinder Eggs themselves.

However, as of today, the squirrel has been barred from entering. "It's a decision of the health authorities. The door of the store has remained open all summer, but now it will be shut," said an employee of the supermarket.

The squirrel had received widespread press attention earlier in the year. "I named it the Kinder-squirrel, after the treats. It always goes after them, other sweets do not seem to interest it as much," Irene Lindroos had said at the time. The sweets contain a small plastic toy, and Lindroos had said "It removes the foil carefully, eats the chocolate and leaves the store with the toy".

The squirrel was banned by the authorities because they decided that the terms of the Food Act meant it could not remain there. Lindroos told reporters the squirrel had become very popular with customers, saying that almost everyone who entered the store had asked about it. She added that one customer had made a donation of 30 Euros (41 USD) to fund the squirrel's continuing chocolate-taking.

Bengal maze

LEBANON, Ohio -- An Ohio man has constructed a 12-acre corn maze dedicated to the Cincinnati Bengels, including the highly detailed tiger logo.

The maze also includes the outline of a Bengal tiger. The words “Go Bengals” and outlines of the football team’s players, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

"I was interested in art back when I was in school," said 39-year-old Bill Irons, who constructed the maze. "I joke around that it's my 12-acre canvas."

Irons, who owns Irons’ Fruit Farm in Lebanon, will invite visitors next month to try and tackle the maze. Irons, who has built several corn mazes in recent years on his farm, told the Enquirer this is his trickiest one yet.

Dragon boat records

Two crews have paddled their way to a world record for crossing the English Channel in a dragon boat. The male Brotherhood crew crossed from Dover to Calais in three hours 30 minutes, smashing the previous record of seven hours 45 minutes.

The female Sisterhood team was 12 minutes behind. But a third crew, who joined at the last minute, capsized. The Sisterhood crew became the first all-female team to cross the Channel in a dragon boat.

Ex-army officer Dicky Robinson, 31, from Wandsworth, south London, who was on the Brotherhood team, said: "It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience for all of us. Just getting across there in itself is a great achievement."

The coastguard said the third boat is believed to have capsized just a mile off France. There were not thought to be any serious injuries, although medics treated two people for hypothermia, said the Sisterhood crew's Emma Sayle.

The Beauty v Brawn cross-Channel challenge was raising money for the Babes in Arms charity, which sponsors research into abnormalities in newborn babies, and the children's hospice charity, Chase.

Blasphemous balls

A demonstration has been held in south- east Afghanistan accusing US troops of insulting Islam after they distributed footballs bearing the name of Allah. The balls showed the Saudi Arabian flag which features the Koranic declaration of faith.

The US military said the idea had been to give something for Afghan children to enjoy and they did not realise it would cause offence. The footballs were dropped from a helicopter in Khost province.

Some displayed flags from countries all over the world, including Saudi Arabia, which features the shahada, one of the five pillars of Islam - the declaration of faith.

The words, which include the name of Allah, are revered, and Muslims are very sensitive about where and how they can be used. Saudi Arabia has complained to the World Cup's ruling body in the past about the use of its flag on footballs.

Mullahs in Afghanistan criticised the US forces for their insensitivity, and around 100 people held a demonstration in Khost. Afghan MP Mirwais Yasini said: "To have a verse of the Koran on something you kick with your foot would be an insult in any Muslim country around the world."

A spokeswoman for the US forces in Afghanistan said they made "significant efforts to work with local leaders, mullahs and elders to respect their culture" and distributing the footballs was an effort to give a gift the Afghan children would enjoy. "Unfortunately," she added, "there was something on those footballs we didn't immediately understand to be offensive and we regret that as we do not want to offend."

Paper boat

Artist Frank Boelter set sails in his lifesize paper boat as he leaves a shipyard in Lauenburg, Germany.

He constructed the 9-metre vessel from 'Tetrapack' and fearlessly sailed it up the Elbe, despite the fact the light material is more commonly used for packaging milk.

The 37-year-old artist came up with the idea one breakfast time, while he was sitting at his kitchen table fiddling with an empty milk carton, which he cut up and made into a scaled-down model.

The £110 boat is 30 feet long, weighs 55 pounds, uses a 170-square-metre piece of Tetrapack paper, and took only two hours to construct.

Boelter said it will survive forty days before it disintegrates into a wet, sinking mass.

It is part of the artist's exhibition named 'Bis ans Ende der Welt' (Until the end of the world).

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Most expensive lederhosen

An Austrian company says it has sold the most expensive lederhosen ever made - a diamond-studded pair of Alpine leather trousers that cost 85,000 euros ($142,800).

According to Christian Wohlmuther, whose shop for traditional clothing made the special order, the trousers, fashioned from the leather of a wild red deer and adorned with 166 diamonds set in gold, were bought by a German who lives in Dubai.

Lederhosen - made for centuries from the hide of elk, goat, or pig - can last a lifetime.

Often knee-length, they are sometimes elaborately embroidered with monograms and hunting designs and remain popular in many Alpine regions.

Belgian police splurge

Traffic police in Belgium have taken so much money in fines that they are running out of ways to spend it. The money is supposed to be spent on road safety projects. If that is not done, the cash goes to the government.

One force spent some of the money on lottery tickets for drivers who obeyed traffic rules. This year the police have collected 100m euros (£67m) in fines, more than twice the amount raised six years ago.

Motorists in Belgium, smarting from parking tickets or speed camera fines, will have all their darkest suspicions confirmed.

If individual forces cannot come up with road safety project ideas then the money is forfeited to the government, a fate some forces will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid.

One station bought motorcycles, even though none of the officers there knew how to ride them. The motorcycles are now lying unused in a basement.

Police put their increased revenue down to better enforcement and more traffic cameras. They are now looking at spending their record income on other law enforcement projects.

Vibrator robber jailed

A robber who held up a bookmaker's shop in Leicester with his girlfriend's vibrator has been jailed. Nicki Jex, 27, of Braunstone, Leicester, hid the Rampant Rabbitt sex toy in a carrier bag pretending it was a gun, Leicester Crown Court heard.

The manager at Ladbrokes in Narborough Road handed over more than £600 in cash when he pointed it at her on 27 December 2006, the court heard.

On Monday, Jex, who pleaded guilty to robbery, was jailed for five years.

Sentencing him, Judge Philip Head said: "It's right to record that you did not have a firearm but you pretended you had and intended that those you confronted believed that you did, and it must have been truly terrifying for them at the time."

The robbery was captured by CCTV inside the shop. As Jex left with more than £613 in till contents and other money, he was followed outside by the shop's last remaining customer Wayne Vakani the court heard.

"The defendant pointed the vibrator in the bag at Mr Vakani and warned him to back off," said Tim Palmer, prosecuting. "Mr Vakani then kept a discreet distance but kept an eye on the defendant and watched where he went."

The court heard that it was thanks to this customer that the defendant's hat, worn during the robbery and containing his DNA, was discovered nearby. Initially Jex denied any involvement but later changed his plea.

He was a drug addict with a string of previous convictions dating back to February 2002, the court heard.

In mitigation, Phil Gibbs, defending, said Jex, a qualified chef and engineer, had a "fragile" state of mind. He told the court: "One can be thankful that the item he had wasn't a firearm. Frankly, he didn't care less what happened to him at that time. He was falling into the abyss and that's the root cause of drugs."

Mr Vakani was awarded £500 by Judge Head for his "very considerable courage".

Woman banned from smoking in her own garden

A Swedish woman has been banned from smoking in her own back garden because her neighbour is allergic to cigarette smoke.

The cigarette row has rocked the city of Akarpin in southern Sweden, where the Environment Court banned Ingela Olofsson from smoking in her yard after hearing that her neighbour - Michael Berggren, a lawyer - has to wear an oxygen mask when walking from the house to the car.

Surprised neighbours and friends have spotted Berggren walking with the oxygen mask in his own garden several times a day. "He is walking with the mask regardless if I smoke or not," Olofsson said.

"This is making me furious," she complained.

Dog de-husks coconuts

Vatakara: Jully, a female dog owned by a native of Vatakara near Kerala’s Calicut District, helps in dehusking coconuts.

K Sujit, a plumber by profession, bought Jully when she was just two-and-half years old. This cross between a German Shepherd and a Labrador has been trained to dehusk soft and tender coconuts.

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Jully dehusks two to three coconuts a day, and is a great help to the family.

“It has a passion for coconuts and gets excited when it sees a coconut. We have to chain it when labourers come to take a few coconuts from our trees,” said Surjit.

In Kerala, coconuts are used as a base in almost all dishes. A family of five needs one to two coconuts a day for use in meals.

Sujit's wife, Valsala a housewife, finds it a great helping hand.

After working on a single coconut, Jully carries it along for few minutes and does not allow anyone to touch it.

“If we put one coconut in front of Jully, she dehusks it clearly and neatly. I used to find this a difficult task. But now when I need one, I just put one in front of her, and she does the rest,” Valsala added.

Smallest waistline in the world

London: A 70-year-old grandmother has secured a place in the new edition of Guinness Book of Records for having the smallest waistline in the world – just 15 inches.

Cathie Jung’s astonishing midriff is not a result of malnutrition or disorder, rather, her 39-15-39 figure is a product of spending the last 25 years laced into tight corsets, which are removed, only when Cathie showers.

“The first time I ever wore a custom-made corset was on my wedding day in 1959, when I was 22. I always liked corsets. When I watched films like Gone With The Wind and Seven Brides For Seven Brothers I just loved the women’s figures,” The Sun quoted her, as saying.

“Later, my husband and I developed an interest in Victorian clothing. When I was 45 I decided to start doing ‘tight lacing’ and wearing a corset all the time. My three children were grown-up so I decided to go for it. I thought it would be a good way to feel elegant and sexy,” she added.

Cathie, from Manteo, North Carolina, feels that while her corsets confine her waist they don’t act as an obstruction in her daily chores.

“I do everything that I want to do. I eat fairly small meals but I prefer that at my age anyway. I find it tricky sitting in low chairs and sometimes in restaurants I have to sit on the high chairs at the bar,” she said. “I even have a special swimming costume with a corset sewn in it, so I can still go to the beach. And I am still able to do housework — unfortunately!” she added.

Cathie said that her husband Bob, who is an orthopaedic surgeon, believes that her unique look is not harmful at all.

“Bob has carried out X-rays on me and says the corset actually helps support my spine. Everything in the midriff is flexible,” she said.

Cathie revealed that she spends between 100-500 pounds on each handmade corset and owns more than 100.

“My husband made a cast of my body, so my favourite corset-makers in England and Amsterdam have patterns of my measurements,” she said.

Frisbee bomb

Two Swiss students on holiday played frisbee with an object they found on a beach unaware it was a live land mine.

Lukas Aider, 20, and Christoph Kurz, 19, took a plunge in the Danube river in Budapest when they found the mine and began their potentially lethal game.

A lifeguard watching stopped them and immediately called the police.

A bomb squad then arrived to make safe what turned out to be an old Soviet 6 kilogrammes anti-tank mine.

Cheeky Monkeys

A troop of vervet monkeys is giving Kenyan villagers long days and sleepless nights, destroying crops and causing a food crisis. Earlier this month, local MP Paul Muite urged the Kenyan Wildlife Service to help contain their aggressive behaviour.

But Mr Muite caused laughter when he told parliament that the monkeys had taken to harassing and mocking women in a village. But this is exactly what the women in the village of Nachu, just south-west of Kikuyu, are complaining about.

They estimate there are close to 300 monkeys invading the farms at dawn. They eat the village's maize, potatoes, beans and other crops. And because women are primarily responsible for the farms, they have borne the brunt of the problem, as they try to guard their crops.

They say the monkeys are more afraid of young men than women and children, and the bolder ones throw stones and chase the women from their farms. Nachu's women have tried wearing their husbands' clothes in an attempt to trick the monkeys into thinking they are men - but this has failed, they say.

"When we come to chase the monkeys away, we are dressed in trousers and hats, so that we look like men," resident Lucy Njeri told the BBC News website. "But the monkeys can tell the difference and they don't run away from us and point at our breasts. They just ignore us and continue to steal the crops."

In addition to stealing their crops, the monkeys also make sexually explicit gestures at the women, they claim. "The monkeys grab their breasts, and gesture at us while pointing at their private parts. We are afraid that they will sexually harass us," said Mrs Njeri.

The town has been warned by the Kenya Wildlife Service not to harm or kill any of the monkeys, as it is a criminal offence.

Running out of options, residents are harvesting their crops early in an attempt to salvage what they can of this year's crop. Unfortunately, this only invites the monkeys to break into their homes and steal the harvested crops out of their granaries.

Even the formation of a "monkey squad" to keep track of the monkeys' movements and keep them out has failed. The area is simply too large for the few volunteers to cover, they say.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Sorry we ate you

It has taken 132 years, but the descendants of a tribe of cannibals have finally apologised for eating four friends of a British missionary. The Reverend George Brown came close to being killed himself when he ventured into the jungle to find those who had had his four colleagues for dinner.

The Methodist minister discovered the victims' bones scattered around the cannibal village on the Pacific island of New Britain.

In a colourful ceremony this week, island chiefs said they were very sorry their forebears chopped up the missionaries for a grand feast.

The apology was made to the High Commissioner of Fiji, where the missionaries came from.

The commissioner, Ratu Isoa Delamisi Tikoca, who represents the Queen in Fiji, told the chiefs: "We are deeply touched and wish you the greatest joy of forgiveness as we finally end this record disagreement."

At the ceremony, Sir Paulias Matane, Governor-General of Papua New Guinea, which controls New Britain, recalled George Brown's good works.

Net gain

Kenya cut child deaths from malaria by more than 40 percent over five years by handing out insecticide-treated mosquito nets, UN and Kenyan officials said.

Experts hope to replicate the success throughout Africa. An estimated 700,000 to 2.7 million people die of malaria each year, 75 percent of them African children, and tens of millions of people suffer chronically from the debilitating disease, even though it is preventable and curable.

Over the past five years, Kenya gave out 13.5 million treated nets with the percentage of children sleeping under them rising to 52 percent last year, from 5 percent in 2003, the health ministry said on Thursday.

Kenya's program saved seven children for every 1,000 mosquito nets used, Health Minister Charity Ngilu said. "This is value for money," she said. "Definitely this is good investment."

The Kenyan program followed WHO guidelines that nets should be distributed free or heavily subsidized to everyone, as opposed to the earlier practice of giving children and pregnant mothers priority, the WHO said in a statement.

"We now have evidence that recent massive scaling up of malaria control interventions such as insecticide treated nets has dramatically reduced child deaths due to malaria by 44 percent in malaria risk areas," Ngilu said.

Ngilu said that her ministry's research report on Kenya's anti-malaria campaign will be published in peer reviewed journals, though she did not name them.

Sylvia Meek of the London-based Malaria Consortium said malaria among children is declining because of the nets, when in the 1990s when cases were rising.

£1,800 for a chicken leg

A woman from Cwmbran, Torfaen took out a bank loan and lived on beans on toast for a year to pay £1,800 in vet bills after her pet chicken injured its leg.

Vicky Mills, 24, was heartbroken when Lily, a Rhode Island Red, got her leg trapped in a barbed wire fence.

Despite the costs, Mrs Mills told her vet to try to save the limb rather than have her put down. When the treatment failed, she paid for an amputation.

Lily was also diagnosed with depression but has now recovered, said Mrs Mills.

The chicken's gloominess was thought to have been brought on by being in the house alone while Mrs Mills and her husband Sam were out at work.

So the couple now leave the television on all day to keep it company and it is a "happy hen again", they said.

Mrs Mills was given Lily, now three-years-old, when it was a two-day-old chick and she now lays up to six eggs a week for her and husband Sam.

How much for the bomber ?

A wealthy Russian tried to buy a U.S. B-52 bomber from a group of shocked American pilots at an airshow near Moscow, a Russian newspaper reported on Friday.

The unidentified Russian, wearing sunglasses and surrounded by bodyguards, approached the U.S. delegation and asked to buy the bomber, the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper said.

An astounded member of the U.S. delegation said the bomber was not for sale but that it would cost at least $500 million if it were to be sold on the spot.

"That is no problem. It is such a cool machine," the Russian was quoted as saying by the newspaper, which said its reporter overheard the conversation. The bomber was not sold.

Russia's new rich, who built fantastic fortunes trading commodities and contacts after the fall of the Soviet Union, have made a name for themselves as ostentatious purchasers of everything from British football clubs to Faberge eggs.

Britain's fastest idiot

Britain's fastest speeder in a car is facing jail after admitting clocking up 172mph while taking a new Porsche 911 for a spin. Timothy Brady, 33, was spotted driving more than 100mph over the limit on a dual carriageway in the £93,000 sports roadster.

He was on a 70mph section of the A420 in Oxfordshire, parts of which are notorious for accidents, in the 3.6-litre vehicle belonging to the courtesy car firm where he worked as a delivery driver.

He hit the hair-raising speed at 2pm on a Saturday in January and was seen by a policeman who was clocking cars from a bridge over the A420 at Kingston Bagpuize. Four miles further on he was pulled over when police blocked the road with a car.

One officer is said to have told him: "Any faster and you'd have taken off." A friend said later: "Tim is a total petrolhead who lives for TV programmes like Top Gear.

"Tim says he was doing 180mph at his fastest. His bosses were not very happy."

A Thames Valley Police source is also said to have commented: "One of the lads asked if Richard Hammond was at the wheel."

At Oxford Crown Court, Brady looked sheepish and spoke nervously to confirm only his name and admit the charge of dangerous driving. He was warned that his joyride is likely to result in a jail term.

The court heard how Brady, from Harrow, North-West London, had taken the Porsche from Helphire in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. However, he denied a charge of aggravated vehicle taking relating to taking the car from his workplace. The plea was accepted by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Bad taste pizza

A New Zealand ad campaign showing Adolf Hitler clutching a piece of pizza in a Nazi salute has been withdrawn after complaints from the public. The billboards, advertising the Hell Pizza chain, were part of a series showing famous people from history.

The image - along with a quote from the Nazi leader, "It is possible to make people believe that heaven is hell" -- was used on billboards in four of New Zealand's main cities. [We] thought that people would be able to see a funny side to a guy doing a 'sieg heil' salute with a piece of pizza in his hand," Kirk MacGibbon of the Auckland-based Cinderella advertising agency said.

"If you laugh at something, you take its power away. But there are certain things we are still unable to laugh about," Mr MacGibbon said, explaining the signs would be taken down. "We have had a handful of complaints from people of Jewish origin who were offended by the use of Hitler."

But the pizza chain appears sure to keep offending someone. One of the Hitler billboards in the southern city of Christchurch was replaced by another showing Pope Benedict XVI over the quote: "Hell is real and eternal".

Catholics and others were offended last year when Hell Pizza delivered condoms to letterboxes throughout New Zealand to advertise the "Lust" pizza, one of seven varieties named after the deadly sins.

Nice ATM

Some lucky backpackers in New Zealand have hit the jackpot thanks to an unusually generous ATM in the South Island ski resort of Queenstown.

Queenstown has earned a reputation as New Zealand's most expensive stopover for those on a tight budget.

So when word spread through the ski village that a particular ATM was on the blink, backpackers made a run on the bank.

A contractor mistakenly stacked $20 notes in the $10 box and vice versa and by the time authorities were alerted hours later, scores of visitors had cashed-in - some making dozens of withdrawals.

A bank spokesman says it is unlikely it will pursue them but it is arranging to reimburse the unlucky customers who got short-changed by the same mix-up.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A town called bull balls

A row has erupted in the South African port of Durban about the meaning of the Zulu word eThekwini, the name of the city's greater municipality area. The most common translation for this is a "bull's testicle" although others say its root comes from the word harbour.

It blew up because Durban Mayor Obed Mlaba has said he favours changing eThekwini's name to KwaKhangela, which is said to translate as "watch out". The mayor denies he is acting out of embarrassment over the word's meaning.

Correspondents say eThekwini has long been the name used to refer to Durban, but it has only officially applied to the municipality for five years. Earlier in the week, South Africa's Star newspaper implied that Mr Mlaba was embarrassed about eThekwini.

"A lot of people overseas have asked: 'What does eThekwini mean?' Then you start saying, 'Well you see, ummm, please pass me the milk for my tea', because you are not proud to say what it means," the paper quotes him as saying.

But Mr Mlaba told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme that this was not the case.

"The point I made was that each time people would ask, 'What does it [eThekwini] mean?' I will have difficulty because no-one knows how exactly it came about," Mr Mlaba.

"The issue about the testicles definitely did not come from me. The reason I had difficulty was that I just did not know where it came from."

His comments have sparked a debate in the media about eThekwini's linguistic roots.

Mr Mlaba said the name is being reviewed as part of process across the country to change names of towns, streets and health institutions. He said a committee would decide on the various proposals it had received.

Ticket from the past

QUECHEE, Vt. -- Janelle Dunklee had been driving without a driver's license for 27 years without even realizing it, reported WPTZ-TV in Plattsburgh.

Dunklee said she recently got a letter from the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles stating that she needed to pay a fine to have her license reinstated. Dunklee, not knowing why her license had been suspended in the first place, said she called the DMV.

She said the DMV told her they had been clearing out their records and found Dunklee owed money on a speeding ticket issued in 1980. Dunklee said that upon further research, she found out she supposedly had been pulled over for going 43 in a 30-mph zone in Hartford on Sept. 17, 1980, and had been issued a $26 ticket.

Dunklee said she had never been pulled over in her life, and decided to fight the charge.

On Tuesday, Dunklee went to court and said the prosecution and the judge were surprised by the delay. They were so surprised, in fact, that they dismissed the ticket.

State's Attorney Robert Sand said that in 1980, paperwork was done by hand, and it wasn't uncommon for things to get lost.

The officer who issued the ticket to Dunklee said it was so long ago that he couldn't remember ever giving it.

Messed up

A Maryland man has been sent to jail for having a dirty yard.

Officials said they tried for seven years to get George Hartsuff to clean up old boats, crab pots and other debris in his back yard.

Hartsuff was jailed earlier this month for not obeying a court order last month to clean debris from his yard.

When authorities returned after giving Hartsuff 30 days to clean his yard, they found junk including an Arizona Iced Tea vending machine in the yard.

A judge sentenced Hartsuff to 60 days in a county jail.

If his yard isn't cleaned up by then, he could face more jail time.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Will the real champagne please stand up

CHAMPAGNE, Switzerland - A group of winemakers from the Swiss village of Champagne, in the canton of Vaud, have lost a legal battle to attach the town's name to locally-produced wine, a local official said Wednesday.

France has fiercely resisted the labeling of any wine as champagne unless it is from the region of France that produces the famous bubbly.

Marc-Andre Cornu, mayor of the village on the shores of Lake Neuchatel, said the Swiss winemakers lost their case at the European Court of Justice on a technicality, confirming a report in the Neue Zuercher Zeitung.

Village authorities are vowing to continue their fight to use the champagne label.

The Swiss winemakers insist on continuing the ancient custom of naming their wine after their village, which they say has been called Champagne - with variations on the spelling - since the earliest documents available in 885 A.D.

The vintners took their cause to the Luxembourg court after a government deal in 1999 banned them from using the name because it is reserved for the variety made in the northeastern French region.

Albert Banderet, president of a group fighting to retain the name, told Swiss radio he believes international law allows for exceptions to the rule in the case of identical names.

Local wine producers point out that wine, which does not have the traditional French fizz, has been made in the village since the 10th century, while France did not start producing its champagne until the end of the 17th century.

Lucky spoon

SODUS, N.Y. - Dropping something may have saved Joy Horton's life. The 73-year-old woman was preparing some food in her western New York home on Monday morning when she dropped a spoon on the floor of her kitchen. When she bent down, her house exploded.

The explosion leveled her home in the Wayne County town of Sodus, on Lake Ontario about 25 miles east of Rochester.

Horton wasn't seriously injured. She crawled out from underneath the rubble and walked to her daughter's home nearby to get help.

Fire officials said that because Horton was bending down when the explosion occurred, the kitchen sink and counter top helped keep debris from hitting her.

The cause of the explosion remains under investigation.

Wanted: people to track the sex lives of echidnas.

A joint study by the University of Adelaide, the Adelaide Zoo and the South Australian Museum hopes to learn more about the mating behaviour of the shy monotremes.

Radio tracking devices will be put on echidnas at Monarto open range zoo, near Murray Bridge in SA.

Volunteers are being sought for a long-term project to track the echidnas day and night.

Geneticist Dr Frank Grutzner says the findings will be used to improve captive breeding programs and could also enhance information about human evolution.

"We are really focussing on trying to find out more about the sex life of the echidnas, but I think what people are appreciating much more generally is the importance of this whole group of mammals, these egg-laying mammals," he said.

"Studying these species will also help us to understand aspects of human evolution."

Chopstick re-cycling

Officials in Japan say the country will try to turn the millions of wooden chopsticks that go discarded each year into bio-fuel to ease the country's energy shortage.

Biofuels are seen as an alternative clean energy resource that can reduce dependence on Middle East oil and lessen the impact of global warming. Japan has virtually no natural energy resources of its own.

Restaurants and convenience stores generally hand out disposable, wooden chopsticks without asking. According to government data, each of Japan's 127 million people uses an average of 200 sets a year, meaning 90,000 tons of wood.

Ministry official Toyohisa Aoyama says Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries plans to set-up boxes to collect used chopsticks.

"We will look at the plusses and minuses, including to greenhouse gas emissions, of the process of collecting the chopsticks, carrying them to facilities and then producing the biofuel," he said.

Disposable chopsticks have historically been a cash cow for Japan's forestry industry, which says it uses timber from thinning that would have otherwise been dumped.

But today about 90 per cent of chopsticks used in Japan are imported from China, mostly using bamboo and aspen timber, Mr Aoyama said. The Ministry will seek a budget to study the recycling project. It is also hoping to study turning inedible products such as straw into biofuel to run cars.

US foil drug smuggling

US Customs and Border Protection said the semi-submersible vessel - which was only partially visible from the surface - was spotted by a surveillance plane 300 miles south-west of the Mexico-Guatemala border on Monday.

The plane then guided a US Navy ship to the scene as the four suspected drug smugglers scuttled the vessel along with the bulk of its cargo, believed to be around 11,000lbs of cocaine.

The suspects and 11 bales of cocaine weighing around 1,200lbs were eventually recovered from the scene.

US Customs and Border Protection spokesman Michael Friel said that cases of smugglers using semi-submersible craft were rare.

"There have been recorded cases involving these sorts of vessels but they are extremely rare," Mr Friel told said.

"It indicates the sophisticated methods smugglers use to try and avoid detection."

Sarkozy's love handles disparaître

The French magazine Paris Match touched up a photograph of President Nicolas Sarkozy on his US holiday, making his figure more svelte.

Leading news weekly L'Express printed before and after shots, showing a distinct tightening of the area it called poignees d'amour (love handles).

L'Express quotes Paris Match as saying the president's seating position made the bulge look more prominent.

Paris Match said it had tried adjusting the lighting on the picture.

"The correction was exaggerated during the printing process," the magazine told L'Express.

In the photograph the president is shown, bare to the waist, canoeing with his son.

L'Express said Paris Match had "removed with the wave of a magic wand the love handles that were slightly weighing down the figure of Nicolas Sarkozy".

When contacted by the BBC, Paris Match declined to make any further comment.

InstaKilt

The workforce at a south west Scotland souvenir firm is set for a cash windfall after the company's latest release proved a massive summer hit. Dalbeattie-based Thistle Products - which also produces See You Jimmy hats - launched the Instakilt a month ago.

Since then sales of the tartan beach towel, which doubles as a kilt, have almost outstripped supplies.

Managing Director Ernie Parkinson said staff could look forward to a bonus this year on the back of its success.

He said the Instakilt had been the most successful item his firm had ever produced.

"It has just absolutely taken the market by storm - we have never known a product like it, " said Mr Parkinson.

"We thought when we had the Jimmy hat all those years ago that that did well but this kilt has just been unbelievable. We have sold thousands upon thousands upon thousands."

He confirmed that his workers would enjoy a share of its amazing success.

"We have had reports from head office in Woolworths that they have never known a product like it in their stores," he said. "The employees do have a profit share - we are very conscious of keeping employees happy - but this year they are going to look forward to an additional bonus."

I was going to put in the links to "See you Jimmy Hat" & "instakilt" but Thistle Products website seems to be having problems.

Eau la la !

A 26-year-old plumber from Merseyside has been nominated as the best apprentice plumber in France. Oliver Watson, from Southport, will receive the prestigious Meilleur Apprenti de France award at the French Senate in Paris in September.

He said that the judges would be surprised to realise that he is English - a competitor's work is just given a number to avoid any bias. Mr Watson will accept his prize from French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Speaking about the presentation, Mr Watson said: "I'll speak to him with my broken French and let him know that I'm English. When you do the competition you don't give your name, you just have a number so it eliminates bias with the judges. I think they'll be a bit surprised."

Mr Watson said he had quit a college design course in Manchester three years ago and went to visit his parents who had moved to France. While there he was given an opportunity to train as a plumber, which led to him entering the competition.

The task was to use traditional plumbing methods to make a complicated pipe work to specific measurements.

"I was working on it after my day job and every weekend. It took about 150 hours to complete," he said. "I knew myself that it was very, very accurate and I was confident it would go far."

Mr Watson now works for a Manchester plumbing firm.

Countdown to Russia's sex day

A Russian region best known as the birthplace of Vladimir Lenin has found a novel way to fight the nation’s birthrate crisis: It has declared Sept. 12 the Day of Conception and for the third year running is giving couples time off from work to procreate.

The hope is for a brood of babies exactly nine months later on Russia’s national day. Couples who “give birth to a patriot” during the June 12 festivities win money, cars, refrigerators and other prizes.

Ulyanovsk, a region on the Volga River about 550 miles east of Moscow, has held similar contests since 2005. Since then, the number of competitors, and the number of babies born to them, has been on the rise.

Alexei Bezrukov and his wife, Yulia, won a 250,000 ruble prize — equivalent to $10,000 — in June after she gave birth to a baby boy, Andrei. Bezrukov said patriotism wasn’t their motive for having a child, their third, although the money was welcome.

“It was a patriotic atmosphere, you know when everyone around is celebrating, but I wasn’t thinking of anything but my son,” he said. “The whole thing is great, it’s great to get 250,000 rubles when you have a new baby to take care of.”

Russia, with one-seventh of the Earth’s land surface, has just 141.4 million citizens, making it one of the most sparsely settled countries in the world. With a low birthrate and very high death rate, the population has been shrinking since the early 1990s.

It is now falling by almost half a percent each year. Demographic experts expect the decline to accelerate, estimating that Russia’s population could fall below 100 million by 2050.

Geoff the Fossa

A Cornish zoo is celebrating after an endangered male fossa cub was born there for the first time. The tiny cub, Geoff, was born at Newquay Zoo six weeks ago and has just been microchipped and sexed.

There are only about 100 fossas in zoos worldwide and only six zoos in the UK have them.

They look like cats but are actually part of the mongoose family. He was named after a retired member of staff who recently died, Geoff Gerry. There are now three fossas at Newquay Zoo, Geoff and his mother and father - Mavis and Harry - who have been at Newquay Zoo for about two and half years.

Stewart Muir from Newquay Zoo said: "When we decided to microchip the baby on Monday everyone wanted to help. If you leave it too long before you microchip it can be all teeth and claws. Doing this at six weeks is perfect as the baby is not really aware of what is happening and so is not stressed, and it is safer for the keepers as teeth and claws are not a problem at this age."

Classified as endangered, the fossa grows to about the size of a Jack Russell terrier. There are fewer than 2,500 left in the wild where they feed on a wide variety of small mammals, birds and reptiles. In forest areas of Madagascar lemurs can make up more than 50% of their diet.

"He is expected to spend another month or so in the den before he starts to venture outside," said Mr Muir.