Christmas cards, shopping lists
and what else?

The occasions in which we write by hand
are fewer and fewer. So is the ancient
art form of handwriting dying out?

Interesting article on
BBC website.


Cute alert!

Starting out in the world with
no parents is a sad and
lonely prospect.

But fortunately life has just been
made a bit easier for Orbit
the baby barn owl.

The five-week-old bird was orphaned when
he was just one day old but now he
has a little owl pal he can cuddle
up to - albeit a stuffed one.

The owl toy was bought by Lynsey Wood
who is hand rearing Orbit at
Folly Farm
near Narberth in west Wales.

She said: "A friend suggested that I find
something like a toy owl to stop Orbit feeling
lonely, so I bought one from a local shop and
it's made the world of difference."

"I thought that he might try and eat it, but he
just cuddles up to it and goes to sleep.
the first owl chick that I've hand reared.
It's been an amazing experience
to see it grow so quickly."



My favourite winter garment has reached
a respectable age: the synthetic
fleece is 30 years old.

Polarfleece first went on sale in
1979, trademarked by New
Hampshire's Malden Mills.

Made from polyester microfibre, it drew moisture
away from the skin, freeing ramblers and
climbers from the prickly discomfort
of waterlogged woolly jumpers.

Today polar fleece is a generic term for the
fabric, rather than a brand, and is the nation's
outerwear of choice, whether for pottering in
the garden or out on a bracing walk.

It is practical. Cheap. Lightweight. It's dry
almost as soon as it emerges from the washing
machine, and is made from the plastic
bottles we toss into recycling bins. It adds
warmth, but is less bulky than a coat.

This BBC article asks: Can a
fleece ever be fashionable?


A company unveiled today the first
helter-skelter to be built inside
a UK office building.

Tenants taking up space in the new Electric
Works block in Sheffield are offering their
staff a quirky and quick shortcut from
the top of the four-storey building
to the ground floor.

The 85ft (26m) long spiral slide cuts
the journey from the third floor
down to just seven seconds.

Toby Hyam, managing director at
Space Management, which runs the building,
said: "The helter-skelter is mainly for the
use of those who work there. It will also be
available for business and conference
visitors, but not to the general public."

Mr Hyam went on: "People working here feel that
the helter-skelter reflects their approach to work,
where the division between work and play is
blurred and where the risk, imagination
and creativity that characterises
their work is going to be reflected
in their surroundings."

The helter-skelter was designed and built
Wiegandslide, the German company
which built the
slides on display
recently at the Tate Modern art
gallery in London.



Ever fancied being on top of a slab of rock
for 24 hours for all and sundry to
see? Well, here's your chance.

This summer, sculptor Antony Gormley
invites you to help create an
astonishing living monument.

He is asking the people of the UK to occupy
the empty Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square
in London, a space normally reserved for
statues of Kings and Generals. They will
become an image of themselves,
and a representation of the
whole of humanity.

Every hour, 24 hours a day, for 100 days
without a break, a different person will
make the Plinth their own. If you're
selected, you can use your time
on the plinth as you like.

You can play your part in making this idea
a reality - either by volunteering yourself, by
telling others about it, or by experiencing
it online or in the square itself.

You can register



I'm a huge Bill Bryson fan and was very
pleased to find one of his latest
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
in a charity shop yesterday for £1.49!

Although I have about half a dozen books
on the go at the moment as usual I couldn't
wait to get stuck into this one and I've
aready had many a laugh out loud
moment during the first 50 pages!

This vivid and nostalgic memoir of growing
up in the 1950s is typical Bryson: you can
put yourself in his shoes and travel back in
time to a "happy place" that was small
town America after the war.


Songs in my head today...

So What

Patty Smyth and Scandal
The Warrior


Some of the oldest words in use in have
been identified by scientists studying
the evolution of language.

English and Indo-European words including
'I', 'we', 'two' and 'thou' have changed so little
in tends of thousands of years that ancient
hunter-gatherers would have been
able to understand them.

Researchers have also identified several
words that could die out within 1,000 years
because they are likely to evolve into different
forms. They include "throw", "stick", "dirty",
"guts" and "squeeze" which could all
be out of use by the year 3000.

Mark Pagel, of the University of Reading,
who is leading the research, said that it was
becoming possible to create a rudimentary
'time traveller's phrasebook' of words
that could be understood by
Stone Age cavemen.

"If a time traveller wanted to go back in
time to a specific date, we could probably
draw up a little phrasebook of the modern
words that are likely to have sounded similar
back then. You wouldn't be able to discuss
anything very complicated, but it might be
enough to get you out of a tight spot."

Dr Pagel has tracked how words have changed
by comparing languages from the Indo-
European family, which includes most of
the past and present languages of
Europe, the Middle East and the
Indian sub-continent.

Staying on the subject The Cornish language
has been branded "extinct" by linguistic
experts, sparking protests
from speakers.

Thirty linguists worked on Atlas of the World's
Languages in Danger, (above) compiled by
United Nations group Unesco.

But the Cornish Language Partnership
says the number of speakers has risen in
the past 20 years and there should be a
section for revitalised languages.
There are thought to be about 300
fluent speakers of Cornish.



Check out this really interesting 4 minute
slideshow on the BBC website.

Have a look around Kew Gardens "area 51"
with team leader Nick Johnson, and see
the scientific collections that paying
visitors do not normally get to see.

This year is the 250th anniversary of
the this unique collection in
South West London.


A new dinosaur that walked the Earth
150 million years ago has been
found in Portugal.

Its partial skeleton includes the only known
skull remains from any European stegosaur
that had a row of bony plates along its
back and a spiked tail probably
used as a weapon.

The plant eating creature has been called
Miragaia longicollum after the village it
was uncovered in near Lourinha
and because of its long neck.

Stegosaurs are normally known for their
short forelimbs and short necks, and are
generally considered to be low browsers.

But this new dinosaur has a higher neck
vertebrae count than most of the sauropods
renowned for their small heads on very
long necks that were the largest and
heaviest dinosaurs that ever existed.

Dr Octavio Mateus, of the New University of
Lisbon, said: "This new discovery indicates
a previously unsuspected level of ecological
diversity among stegosaurs."


Again it's 20 weeks since I last made a
montage of all the Cats and Dogs
Of The Week so here they are:

(Please click on the images
to view a larger version.)

Part I
Part II


Whether a glass is viewed as half full or
half empty depends on your genes
according research.

Variations in a mood altering gene
influence whether or not people take a
pessimistic or optimistic view of the
world, scientists believe.

They found that different versions of the gene,
which is involved in the transportation of the
wellbeing chemical serotonin, affect whether
or not we are drawn to negative or
positive aspects of the world.

Those with a long version of the gene tended
to have a "sunny disposition", dwelling on
positive aspects of life and deliberately
downplayed the negatives. Those with
a shorter version did the opposite.

The psychologists behind the study from
the University of Essex believe the findings
could help develop new treatments
for anxiety and depression.

Professor Elaine Fox said: "People who carried
one form of the serotonin transporter
gene tended to look on the bright side
of life, and selectively avoided
negative material."

"Meanwhile, those who carried the
other version showed a complete
absence of this protective bias."


A woman's love of shopping is a throwback
to her days in the caves, according
to a new study.

Shoppers are using instincts they learnt
from their Neanderthal ancestors,
researchers have found.

Dr David Holmes , of Manchester Metropolitan
University, said skills that were learnt
as cavemen and women were
now being used in shops.

He said: "Gatherers sifted the useful from
things that offered them no sustenance,
warmth or comfort with a skill that
would eventually lead to comfortable
shopping malls and credit cards. In our
evolutionary past, we gathered in caves
with fires at the entrance.We repeat this
in warm shopping centres where we can
flit from store to store without
braving the icy winds."


Check out this amazing 3D
street art by Edgar Müller.

This dizzying work, called Ice Age, gives
the impression of a deep crevasse
on a flat pavement.

It was created last August in Dún Laoghaire,
near Dublin for the port town's Festival
of World Cultures.
Müller and his
team took five days to create
the optical illusion.


What do you call some of the most
unlucky people in Britain?

Justin Case, Barb Dwyer
and Stan Still.

It sounds like a bad joke, but a study
has revealed that there really are
unfortunate people with
those names in the UK.

Joining them on the list are Terry Bull,
Paige Turner, Mary Christmas
and Anna Sasin.

And just imagine having to introduce
yourself to a crowd as Doug
Hole or Hazel Nutt.

The names were uncovered by researchers
from a parenting group after trawling
through online telephone records.

Retired airman Stan Still, 76, from Cirencester,
Gloucestershire, said his name had been
"a blooming millstone around
my neck my entire life".

"When I was in the RAF my commanding
officer used to shout, 'Stan Still, get a move
on' and roll about laughing," he said.

"It got hugely boring after a while."

But 51-year-old Rose Bush, from Coventry,
West Midlands, said she loved her name.

"I always get comments about it but
they are always very positive," she said.

Researchers also scoured phone
records in the US and found some
unlikely names there too.

Spare a thought for Anna Prentice,
Annette Curtain and Bill Board the
next time you sign your name.

A string of Americans also have very
job-specific names, including Dr Leslie
Doctor, Dr Thoulton Surgeon and
Les Plack - a dentist in San Francisco.



As my regular readers know
I'm a huge fan of 80's music.

I've always been on the lookout for a good
80's netradio station that I can listen
to when I'm fiddling here at the PC.

Well, I think I've found it! For the last
couple of days I've been hooked on
an american station
Star 107.9 FM.

They play all the old favourites plus songs
even I have never heard! I thought I
was pretty clued up about eighties
sounds but apparently not.

Like just now they played "Fantasy"
Aldo Nova. Never heard
of them or it!



How cute?!

Also check out these cute photos of her 3 and half year
old pet rat Bug by 18-year-old amateur photographer
Jessica Florence from Portsmouth.

"I photograph Bug simply because I love her,"
says Jess. "But I really enjoy helping people to
see rats in a different way...they are
very misunderstood animals."

See the rest of her
photos in


Fashion - Turn to the left
Fashion - Turn to the right
We are the goon squad
And we're coming to town
Beep-beep - Beep-beep

David Bowie

It's official, 80's fashion is
making a comeback-
yet again!

This time around it's all about power
dressing with broad-shouldered
jackets, high-necked blouses and
careful pleats. Yikes!

Staying on the subject check out
thesartorialist.blogspot.com, Scott
Schumans's blog about real people
and real fashion on the streets
of NY, London, Paris etc.

indispensable guide if you're at
all instersted in fashion/trends.


Is your cat plotting to kill you?

Fats, the evil one... :-)


All in the name of charity....

A university professor is using whoopee
cushions to conduct an experiment to
find the world's funniest
flatulence noise.

Trevor Cox, 42, wants to discover which
sounds make us laugh the most and
has set up a website to help.

Visitors hear six noises and are asked to
grade them depending on how
much they make them laugh.

The acoustics professor, who works at
Salford University in Manchester, has a
long-running interest in the whoopee
cushion and up until recently held the
record for having the largest
one in the world.

Prof Cox, who designs concert halls, said:
"The whoopee cushion has much in common
with the human voice and how wind
instruments work, so it is a memorable way
of portraying some important science. This is
a great way to contribute to science
just by having a laugh."

"The idea is to get people thinking about
sounds. My theory - although it is unproven
at this stage - is that people will laugh
the most at something unexpected."

Organisers at Comic Relief asked Prof Cox
to come up with a sound experiment that
involved the whoopee cushion - the new
logo for comic relief along with
the standard red nose.



They may look slow and clumsy, but underwater
cameras have revealed that grizzly bears
can perform some fancy footwork
when a meal is on the cards.

A BBC team followed the bears (video)
as the annual salmon migration
got underway.

They filmed them using their huge feet to
deftly kick dead fish from deep pools
into shallower water.

This behaviour, caught on camera for the
first time, meant that the grizzlies could
grab the fish without the bother
of getting their ears wet.

Wildlife cameraman Jeff Turner said:
"They hate it. The more experienced bears
look down and see where the fish is, and
then they kick it along the bottom with
their feet until they get it into the
shallows. And then they just
reach down and pick it up."

I've seen this before from above the water, and
you have a sense of what they are doing, but it
is the first time that anyone has really seen
what they are doing underwater."

The footage forms part of the new BBC
Natural History Unit series
Nature's Great Events.


A fox who was taken in by a pet shop owner
when she was 10 days old has been so
domesticated (video) she now sleeps on
a sofa and goes for walks on a lead.

Steve Edgington, 56, took in the vixen when
she had been seemingly abandoned by her
family six years ago, but despite subsequent
attempts to send her back to the wild,
she has refused to go.

Miss Snooks, as she is now known, wanders in
and out of Mr Edgington's home in Ditchling,
East Sussex through a cat flap.
Mr Edginton
even takes her for midnight walks on a lead
where she can dig for mice.

He said: "When you fall in love with something
there is nothing you can do about it and she
has changed my life forever since.
She is a
beautiful animal who is incredibly loyal."

When she was first taken in, Miss Snooks
slept with the Edgingtons' cats. Mr Edginton
and his wife Nola, 55, would let her go for
walks on her own but she would always
return home within a few hours.

"I would not recommend it to anyone because
owning a fox literally takes over your life.

You cannot exactly ask a neighbour to look
after her if you want to go on holiday so
if you are not prepared to look after
them 24/7 do not bother."

However, the RSPCA still advises against
keeping foxes as domestic animals.

A spokesman said: "Even the most experienced fox
experts have failed to keep the animals successfully
in captivity - adult foxes tend to become very
destructive and difficult to keep.
Because they
have been in captivity the foxes are unable to
fend for themselves and cannot be
released back into the wild."


Youngsters perplexed by palavers and dumbstruck
with the doolally antics of their grandparents
can now consult
an online dictionary
to help bridge the language gap.

A dictionary of "gran slang" has been
created to help young people
understand their elders.

Words like telegram and tomfoolery
feature in the dictionary along with
hullabaloo and poppycock.

The authors have also produced a dictionary
of slang words popular with teenagers.
Some words, such as wag and
mint, feature in both lists.

Older people would consider a wag as a
mischievous character while youngsters
would see the partner of a footballer.

Nigel Hare-Scott, managing director of Home &
Capital advisers, said: "There is a vast array of
guides on youth street slang to assist older people
in bridging the generational gap, but nothing
on the market to aid teenagers understand
the language of pensioners."

"Many of the words used by teenagers today
are incomprehensible to older generations,
but it must be equally baffling for younger
people trying to get to grips with the lexicon
of their grandparents. Understanding is a
two-way street and that is where the
"gran slang" dictionary comes in."


Shortlist of six of the nation's strangest book
titles revealed but no one could argue
they suffer from overly
slick marketing.

In fact with names such as Curbside Consultation
of the Colon and Techniques for Corrosion
Monitoring, it is a wonder
they will sell at all.

But they have been picked by The Bookseller
Magazine for a shortlist of the strangest
book titles published this year.

Previous winners of the accolade include
Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality,
How to Avoid Huge Ships and Highlights
in the History of Concrete.

Horace Bent, from the magazine said: "In this,
the 31st year of the prestigious award, never have I
found it so problematic to pick a shortlist of just six.
At a time when the economic climate is forbidding
and cost-cutting companies are ten-a-penny,
I'm proud to report that the British publishing
industry has remained as stubborn
in the face of change as ever."

Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of
the Year was devised in 1978 by Bruce
Robertson from The Diagram Group, the
illustrators, when he was bored
at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

The winner of the 2008 award will be
chosen by an internet vote and will
be announced on March 27, 2009.

The shortlisted titles are:

* Baboon Metaphysics by Dorothy Dorothy
L Cheney and Robert M Seyfarth

* Curbside Consultation of the
Colon by Brooks D Cash

* The Large Sieve and its Applications
by Emmanuel Kowalski

* Strip and Knit with Style by
Mark Hordyszynski

* Techniques for Corrosion Monitoring
by Lietai Yang

* The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-milligram
Containers of Fromage Frais by
Professor Philip M Parker

Q & A

The '101 greatest questions of all
time' have been answered
in a BBC magazine.

Ever wanted to know what OK is short
for, do plants die of old age or can
humans be allergic to water?

Here are the answers
1 through to 20,



It's a amazing what a couple of warmer sunny
days do: the garden has sprung to life.

The black tulips and Tiger Lily's
already are pushing shoots.

Also remember the chili's I
planted way back in 2007...

Well, this is what they look like now.

They've grown incredibly slowly! I need
to switch them to bigger pots and take
them outside once it's warm enough.


Our friend Tero is over here on business for a
week so we met him for an afternoon drink
and a meal in Wimbledon yesterday.

He and KB sampled many a local ale whereas
I switched to ginger ale after one half of cider,
I'm woozy enough with this bloody
ear infection as it is!

It was nice to see him as always, he is one
of the very few people I always have time
for and let me tell you there isn't very
many of them! Same goes for his wife
Riitta. See you soon guys!




At £3 for adults and £1 for children, the
Monument must be one of London's
cheapest attractions. And there is a
certificate for all who make the climb.

The 17th-century stone tower built to
commemorate the Great Fire of London
has reopened to the public after
18 months of restoration
costing £4.5 million.

At 202 ft (61.5m), the exact distance from
its base to the site of the bakery in Pudding
Lane where the fire started September
2nd 1666, it is the tallest free-standing
stone column in the world.

More than 100 workers cleaned its weathered
stones, regilded the flaming gold-leaf
orb at its summit and installed new
electronics including a webcam.

The tower leans over and is about 12in
(30cm) off-centre. However, Cathedral
Works Organisation, which carried out the
restoration, said those who climbed the 311
steps to the top would be entirely safe.


Why waste money on haute couture when
you could have your very own designer
wardrobe growing merrily
in your vegetable patch?

Take inspiration from Nicole Dextras,
who has created a whole weedrobe
from leaves and flowers.

"I use mainly plentiful local plants. I
need many leaves and flowers, so I
look for plants where I can get at
least a hundred," the
52-year-old says.

Ms Dextras began her designs using offcuts
she found near her home in Vancouver,
Canada. Now she has a deal with a
garden centre which lets her leaf
through the cuttings at
the end of the day.

"The garments are made to wear but they
are for a special event where you would
wear them just for a day," she added.

The art tutor spends between two and three
weeks making the outfits, using willow
branches for frames and then making the
'fabric' from magnolia or laurel leaves.
She also uses hawthorn thorns
to pin the foliage together.

But, true to her green roots, Ms Dextras is not
looking to make cash from her creations.
"The concept is anti-commercialisation but
they have a future in making statements
for the environment," she said.


This is just...bizarre!

"Imagine: your dog, cat, or other
pet in
full military regalia."

"We make this fantasy a reality. Using the
latest digital techniques, we combine a
photo of your pet with the uniform and
background of your choice."

Yours for $20.


Water voles living close to a sewage
treatment plant in east London will be
rehoused while the plant undergoes
extensions, Thames Water has said.

Wildlife experts are using carrots and
apples to lure nearly 30 voles
discovered at Crossness Marshes.

They have been residing in three sludge
lagoons and a 26m (85.3ft) ditch.
The voles will be taken to
breeding centre in Herne Bay, Kent.

Martin Wagner, Thames Water's conservation
manager, said: "With work due to start soon
on the planned extension to the works, we
wanted to make sure these voles were not
disturbed or hurt in any way. They're likely
to stay at the centre for about two years
where we hope their numbers
will increase."

"They will then be brought back to
Crossness to enjoy new reed ditches
specially created for them."


Aah! Heartwarming
story of the day...

Remember Buffy
the battery
hen, who got a jumper
to keep her warm?

Well now a A Norfolk woman has had
(video) woolly jumpers knitted for
1,500 balding rescued hens.

Jo Eglen, 29, who runs the Little Hen Rescue
Centre in Norwich, has rescued and
re-homed a total of 5,750 battery hens.

But many had lost their plumage so
Mrs Eglen turned to her local community
asking for people to knit jumpers
for the bedraggled birds.

The teaching assistant began rescuing
battery hens after a visit to a local farm.
She said: "Some battery farms have up
to 10,000 hens of the same age. But when
the birds stop or start to slow laying they
are sent to the slaughterhouse - not to be
used as meat, but just to be culled."

"We know that once they're out of the
farms they start laying good eggs again.
They get quite thin because of the stress
and heat. About 60% of the hens
that come through are bald."

"We have patterns on our website that are
straight-forward and simple. We've had
1,500 jumpers come through in
just the past two months."

Mrs Eglen set up the Little Hen Rescue
Centre with another volunteer David
Doy, after being given free use of
land by a local farmer.




These Toyah (and other dolls) by
Bouffant Headbutt are just fantastic!

As well as the Toyah ones
I'm loving the Siouxsie
and the Abba ones!



This dog cracked me up! Penny
the Jack Russel likes to go for
walkies - up a tree! (video)

The three-year-old daredevil has a head
for heights and loves nothing more than
scampering up at East Park,
Wolverhampton, each morning.

Her owner, 68-year-old Gwen Lloyd, said
“It’s amazing what Penny does. People stop and
stare, they can’t believe she goes so high.”

Mrs Lloyd is used to seeing her pooch 30ft ( 9 m)
above the ground, as she’s been climbing
the trees for more than two years.

She added: “She was only about six months
old when she first started doing it. She’d go
about halfway and then come back
down because she was scared.
It’s only
recently that she has carried on going
until she’s almost at the very top."

Mrs Lloyd, a retired typist, has another Jack Russell -
Jessie, aged five.
But Jessie has never been tempted
to take a leaf out of Penny’s book and copy her
amazing antics.
She said: “She likes to keep
her paws firmly on the ground. She’ll
just stand there and watch Penny.”


Apparently we're not alone in the universe
albeit that our neighbours have not
evolved past the bacterial stage.

There could be one hundred billion
Earth-like planets in our galaxy,
a US conference has heard.

Dr Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution
of Science said many of these worlds
could be inhabited by simple lifeforms.

He was speaking at the annual meeting
of the American Association for the
Advancement of Science in Chicago.

So far, telescopes have been able to
detect just over 300 planets outside
our Solar System.

However very few of these would be capable
of supporting life. Most are gas giants like our
Jupiter, and many orbit so close to their
parent stars that any microbes would
have to survive roasting temperatures.

But, based on the limited numbers of planets
found so far, Dr Boss has estimated that
each Sun-like star has on average
one "Earth-like" planet.

"Not only are they probably habitable but
they probably are also going to be inhabited,"
Dr Boss said. "But I think that the nearby
'Earths' are going to be inhabited
with things which are perhaps more
common to what Earth was like three
or four billion years ago." That
means bacterial lifeforms.

Dr Boss estimates that Nasa's Kepler
mission, due for launch in March, should
begin finding some of these Earth-like
planets within the next few years.