As 2008 draws to an end here
are stories that made
the headlines.

The bits I remember best are the death of
Heath Ledger, Boris Johnson becoming
the London Mayor and of course
Barack Obama winning the
US Presidential election.



Remember two years ago before Xmas
I had labyrinthitis (ear infection)?

Well, guess what? It's back! Bloody thing!
The bang on the head in October
was the trigger.

I felt dizzy for about a month, then I was
alright for a week and thought I'd turned
the corner only for it to come back with
a vengeance just before Xmas.

I finally went to the Doc yesterday and
I just have to suffer it until the
liquids in my ears heal.

And of course I've got the viral version
(the other is bacterial) which antibiotics
do not clear. My doctor said I'm really
unlucky to have it again
as it's not very common and to
have it twice in two years
is quite rare.

Oh well, it's a waiting game.. just
a bit bored of not being able
to do things normally.


Well, until next Monday at least.

A little black and white cat has been coming
to us for her breakfast and dinner for best
part of six months now, maybe even longer.

We named her Iddy Piddy because she is
so tiny. During the summer she started
getting a skin rash caused by flea allergy
and its has gotten worse and worse over
time, it's all over her body now.

Yesterday she appeared with big areas of raw
skin on her head as well as her neck and
I couldn't watch her suffer anymore.

I called the Wimbledon RSPCA and
a friendly chap there made an
appointment to take her to our
usual vet to get checked over and
start a course of treatment.

She's had jabs and antibiotics and we're
keeping her till next Monday until the vet
with the help of their "rehoming ladies"
(who work for the RSPCA) can place
her in a re-homing centre.

She is or has been someone's cat as she's
used to people and knows how to use a tray
but I'm not letting her go back to wherever
she's come from: they're obviously not
looking after her or might've
even moved away.

The vet checked her for a chip, she didn't have one.
That was no surprise as I doubt people who
let their cats get into this sort of state and
don't feed them would bother with a chip!

Main thing now is to get her well
and find her a new home.




Scientists in Austria say they
have found a basic form
of jealousy in dogs.

The Vienna-based researchers showed
that dogs will stop doing a simple task
when not rewarded if another dog, which
continues to be rewarded, is present.

Writing in the Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences journal, the scientists
say this shows a sensitivity in dogs
that was only previously
found in primates.

The researchers now plan to extend their
experiments to look at co-operative
behaviour in wolves.

The experiment consisted of taking pairs of
dogs and getting them to present a paw for
a reward. On giving this "handshake" the
dogs received a piece of food.

One of the dogs was then asked to shake
hands, but received no food. The other dog
continued to get the food when it
was asked to perform the task.

The dog without the reward quickly stopped
doing the task, and showed signs of annoyance
or stress when its partner was rewarded.

To make sure that the experiment was really
showing the interaction between the dogs
rather than just the frustration of not
being rewarded, a similar experiment
was conducted where the dogs performed
the task without the partner. Here
they continued to present the
paw for much longer.


Tinkerbell the sheep was born weak and
small. Chiara Magarotto, who rents a
field from the farm where was born, took
the tiny animal home and offered to
take her to the vet's the next day.

But daughter Scarlett Wise refused
to give up the lamb and after receiving
medical treatment she returned to the
family home near Torrington, Devon.

Although her sight was damaged and she
suffered brain damage, "Tinks" slowly
got stronger and now goes out for walks
with collie Jack, labrador Hamish,
lurcher Millie and Thomas the terrier.

Ms Magarotto believes her daughter bonded
with the sheep because she herself
was ill as a child and forced to
spend 10 weeks in hospital.

"It was horrible as the lamb reminded
me of Scarlett when she was poorly,"
said Ms Margarotto.

"She follows us everywhere and enjoys
going for walks with the dogs - she thinks
she is a dog - and having tea parties with
Scarlett. She even came to Scarlett's
pre-school and was perfectly behaved.
Tinks is now looking forward to
her first Christmas with us."


That little plastic thing in your
right (or left!) hand right
is 40 years old.

On 9 December 1968 hi-tech visionary
Douglas Engelbart used one to
demonstrate novel ways of working
with computers for the first time.

The mouse Dr Engelbart used at the
Fall Joint Computer Conference
(FJCC) was made of wood
and had one button.

Much of the technology shown in
the demo inspired the creation of the
hardware and software which widely
used in modern computing.


It's sad to see old Sir Terry leaving his post
as the Eurovision commentator but his
replacement Graham Norton will be
just as much fun I'm sure.

His razor sharp wit and ready quips
are legendary and no doubt we'll
get to hear him in full flow
come next May.

Norton, a long time Eurovision fan,
described it as "an amazing
job and a huge honour".

He said: "Sir Terry is nothing less than
legend and an impossible act to
follow, but somebody must and
I just couldn't say no."

"I can't wait to get to Moscow. With a
combination of cheap vodka and a
language barrier what could
possibly go wrong?"



Happy Independence Day!

Today is the 91st Independence
Day of Finland.

Happy Birthday




A fascinating new atlas, featuring cities
that are renamed to reflect their
etymological origins, is now on sale.

Etymologists and wordsmiths will take
particular interest in a new set of maps
going on sale in time for Christmas.

The traditional names for the world's cities,
countries, rivers and mountains have been
altered on an atlas to reflect their
origins and literal meaning.

Chicago, for example, is renamed Stink
Onion and Cameroon is called
the Land of Shrimps.

The logic behind each place name is explained
on the back of the maps. Cameroon comes
from the Portuguese word camaroes,
meaning shrimps or prawns – an allusion
to the abundance of these crustaceans
in the Sanaga River.

Chicago is derived from a Algonquian (a
subfamily of native American languages)
word: checagou, meaning wild onions or
skunk - a reference to the smell of
sodden marshland, which is what
Chicago was built on.

Other bizarre names include Dominate the
East! (Vladivostock), Realm of the God of the
Underworld (Madras) and Great Land of the
Tattooed, which, rather unhappily,
belongs to Great Britain.

"The maps are not definitive works on the
etymological roots of geographical names
but more of a stimulus, and a very amusing
one at that, to make us think about why
places are called as they are," explains
Sean Quigley of Outstanding Map
Distributors, the firm which has brought
the maps to Britain from Germany,
where they were originally published.

There are two maps currently available -
one world map and one of Europe -
each created by the German
company Kalimedia.

Copies of the Atlas of True Names can
be ordered for £4.99 each from here


Two teddy bears have been sent
on a space mission.

The toys, named MAT and KMS, were decked
out in custom-made space suits and floated
more than 18 miles (29 km) above the
Earth in the four-hour expedition.

The toys, bought from Mothercare specially
for the mission, endured temperatures of
minus 31F (-35C) as they were strapped to
seats attached to a weather balloon made
by Cambridge University's Space
Flight science club (below).

A laptop attached to a webcam captured
these stunning images of the bears looking
down on Earth from nearly 100,000ft (30 km).

The world's first ever teddy space flight
launched from Churchill College,
in Cambridge, on Monday.

Pupils from nearby Parkside and Coleridge
community colleges assisted scientists by
creating space suits to stop the
teddies from freezing solid.

After completing their mission the pair
parachuted back to earth and made a soft
landing near Ipswich just 50 miles
from their launch pad.

Henry Hallam, 21, an aerodynamics student
at Pembroke College at Cambridge, led
the successful experiment to monitor
weather conditions above the Earth.


They're cute, they're cuddly and, in
these times of financial woe, they make
an affordable festive gift that's also good
for the soul - adopt a rescued koala.

The "Adopt a Wild Koala Program"
has been in operation for 15 years and
is a major source of funding for
The Koala Hospital, the world's only
medical facility dedicated to the care
and preservation of the animals.

The annual cost of adopting a koala is
A$40 (£18) within Australia and A$50
(£22) from overseas, which the hospital
said goes toward the rescue and treatment
of sick and injured koalas, the release of
treated animals back into the wild,
as well as the preservation and
expansion of their habitat.

Adopters receive a certificate, a photograph
of the animal, the story of how it ended
up in the hospital as well as stickers and
booklets about koalas and the hospital.

"It's an ideal gift, and particularly these
days when kids have everything,"
Anne Walsh a volunteer at the
Port Macquarie-based hospital said.

"I had a phone call from a lady in Singapore
today who wanted to adopt five koalas
for her relatives for Christmas. I've been
delighted with the amount of people
wanting to adopt."

Walsh said the rescued koalas are usually
named after the area they were found in
and the person who helped rescue them.

"We've got Westhaven Barry, Kempsey
Carolina and Bonny Fire, she was
caught up in a bushfire,"
she added.

Once they have recovered from their injuries
or ailments, and are able to live in their
natural habitat, the koalas are
released back into the wild.

Koalas are native to Australia and are
found in coastal regions of the east
and south. Their staple diet is
eucalyptus leaves.




A feline believed to be the world'soldest
has celebrated its 27th birthday.

Mischief is still living up to his name despite
"slowing down a little", according to
owners Chris and Donna Thorne.

The Guinness World Records has confirmed
there is no record holder in the UK
at the moment. The previous
oldest cat was 29.

Mrs Thorne, 33, of St Austell, Cornwall,
said: "It's amazing - he just
keeps going on and on."

Mr Thorne, 51, got the black and white cat
from a friend in nearby Launceston as a
kitten in 1981.
He still has photographs
of Mischief at just a few months old
being cuddled at Christmas
the same year.

Despite Mischief's advanced years,
he still has a spring in his step.

"His name says it all,"
Mrs Thorne said.

"He still manages to jump over the
stair gate and he's round your ankles
constantly for food.
He's an indoor cat
now, and he's losing big clumps of
fur, but he's still going."

A spokesman from Guinness World Records
said a ginger cat called Spike was the last
feline to hold the title of UK's oldest cat
but since he died in 2001, there had been
no further record holder. He encouraged
Mr and Mrs Thorne to get in contact
with Guinness World Records.

The oldest cat ever is Creme Puff, who was
born on August 3, 1967 and lived until
August 6, 2005 - an amazing 38
years and three days.
Creme Puff
lived with her owner, Jake
Perry, in Austin, Texas.


This artist must have the smelliest
studio in the world, judging by
her pungent art materials.

But Anne-Catherine Becker-Ech­ivard
has certainly turned heads with her
unique scaled-down depictions
of everyday life.

Inspired by the silent movies of
Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, the
Frenchwoman uses fish heads on models
to address topics ranging from Aids to
repression. "Fish are a great method of
communicating my opinions on this
world," says the 37-year-old,
who lives in Berlin.

Since she fell in love with the humble
mackerel and sardine 11 years ago,
Ms Becker-Echivard has gone on to
create a school of art that has
left critics open-mouthed.

For each work, she starts fishing around
for a topical idea, often gleaned from the
radio or a newspaper. She then takes a
blank sheet of paper and starts to fillet
with ideas before visiting the vast
Rungis food market in Paris.

Ms Becker-Echivard's mother then joins
in to make the costumes during a
creative process that can
last up to three months.

"It is meticulous work which takes time,"
she explains. But, despite the serious topics,
she does not take herself too seriously.

"Using fish can be a very obvio­usly silly
way of expressing a var­iety
of emotions," she admits.


Remember Knut, the polarbear that
became a media sensation
when he was a cub?

Knut the polar bear, who drew huge
crowds to Berlin Zoo, is facing eviction
from his home as the zoo is hit by
the economic downturn.

When he was a cute, bright white cub,
Knut gained worldwide attention,
and made the zoo around €5million.

But things went downhill from there - the
newspaper Bild claimed that the crowds
Knut drew had contributed to the death
of a panda, he was branded a 'psychopath'
by one zoologist, and then his long-time
Thomas Dörflein died
in September this year.

Now approaching his second birthday on
December 5, Knut is now a grubby brown
colour, and no longer draws the crowds.
As he matures, he needs more space than
his current enclosure requires,
and will also need a mate.

Berlin Zoo estimates that it would cost
€9million to build Knut a new habitat
and find him a partner - funds
that aren't available.

"It's simply too much money. We cannot
afford a third group of polar bears in
such economically strained
times," a spokesman said.

In better news, other zoos around Europe
are now said to be eager to house Knut.
"The sooner he gets a new home, the
better," said senior bear
keeper Heiner Kloes.

EDIT 20.3.2011: Sad news from Germany:
Knut has passed away. He was only
4 years old. RIP on that big
ice sheet in heaven.




There's a bit of a nip in the air as winter
is trying to take hold in earnest. This is
the forecast for tomorrow morning...

-2 in London still at 9 am! I just wish
it snowed properly like
it has done
in some parts of the UK...

I don't mind winter if it looks and
feels like it should, I just can't
stand this drab greyness...


The world's most expensive Christmas
tree worth 150 million yen (£1 M) has just
gone on display in Japan. Despite the
recession, the makers have created
the dazzling 24k gold tree to create
a "gorgeous atmosphere".

The tree is decorated with more than
240 jewels including diamond baubles
and strings of pearls, weighs
more than 21 kkg.

The tree went on display this week
at the
Ginza Tanaka jewellery
shop in Shinsaibashi, Osaka.

"Economic sentiment is sluggish. But, at
least in this store, we want people to
feel a gorgeous atmosphere,"
a store official said.

The de luxe tree comes just after the
ultimate in lazy Christmas tree
decorations was revealed.

The internet sensation is an instant tree
(above) that goes from the box to twinkling
in the corner in two minutes flat.

And it is considerably cheaper -
with prices starting from £70.


Check out these amazing photos of
London at night by Jason Hawkes.


Cute alert!

The future of a colony of fruit bats has
been put at risk after hundreds of
pups were abandoned by their
mothers in heavy storms.

More than 300 infant grey-headed "flying
foxes" are being cared for at a bat
hospital since they were left to fend
for themselves in the last week.

Most are suffering from hypothermia
and deydration, and many have been
attacked by swarms of flies.

"Normally, female flying foxes will go to the
ends of the earth to save their babies, so it
goes to illustrate how bad the storms
were," said carer Trish Wimberley
of the Wildcare Australia
centre in Queensland.

"An ideal way to keep them warm is
to wrap them in yellow duster cloths.

They are very demanding though -
we make sure they are fed
every four hours."



One of nature's most amazing displays, the
starlings of Brighton Pier are threatened
with extinction due to climate change,
habitat loss and modern
farming practices.

The “aerial ballet”
performed (video) by
the birds as they come into roost every
night is one of the star attractions at
the city’s pier throughout the winter.

Up to 40,000 birds come into roost, darting
and swirling as the sun goes down. In
the spring the birds leave for their
breeding grounds in the
UK and Eastern Europe.

This year for the first time, RSPB volunteers
and Brighton and Hove Council rangers
are patrolling Brighton Pier at weekends
and loaning binoculars and telescopes
to give watchers a closer look.

But conservationists are concerned that
the performance could be over soon due
to climate change and a loss of habitat.

Dan Parkinson, from the RSPB, said
30 years ago there were 250,000 birds.

He said: “Nowadays we have not got
that many - probably 10 per cent of the
amount we used to have. We think it
is because of changes in farming
methods and loss of habitat.”

In the UK as a whole the population
has declined by two-thirds since the
1970s and the bird is now listed as a
species of conservation concern.