Happy Halloween to all my readers! I took this spooky picture with my own fair hand. It was taken at a place called Pendle Hill, home of the Lancashire Witch Trials. This witch is a permanent fixture and popular tourist attraction at the Barley Mow Restaurant there.
Britain’s clocks were put back by 1 hour this morning to mark the official end of British Summer Time. I personally hate this time of year, especially the dark evenings. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents is campaigning for the clocks to be left alone as hundreds of serious injuries and deaths, particularly amongst cyclists could be prevented by having lighter evenings. Some people believe the darker nights lead to an increase in crime. Experts worry about the effect on changing sleep patterns, particularly for night shift workers. The only thing I look forward to is an extra hour’s sleep!
According to the results of two opinion polls taken this week, the majority of Britons would like to see troops withdrawn from Iraq sooner rather than later. Maybe it’s time Tony Blair listened to public opinion and brought our troops home before any more lives are lost.
A team of UK surgeons have been given permission to carry out the world’s first full face transplant. Charities and victims of facial disfigurements have welcomed the news, which will save them from long and painful reconstructive operations. The first partial face transplant was performed in France 11 months ago on Isabelle Dinoire, a dog attack victim who had lost her nose, lips and chin. There has always been some controversy surrounding the procedure, with many people being worried about seeing the face of a dead loved one on another person. However consultant Peter Butler, who will lead the team carrying out the transplant has reassured the public that once a face is transplanted, it settles across the bone structure and cartilage of the recipient, so that the characteristics become the recipients and you can’t recognise the donor’s face. The 12 hour £25,000 procedure involves taking skin, fatty tissues, veins and arteries from the donor and carefully attaching it onto the recipient.
However the surgery does carry certain risks, including tissue rejection, cancer from long term use of immuno-suppressant drugs and psychological problems. Also surgeons are still not sure how to make the eyelids work on a donor face, which is obviously important as the eyes need coverage and protection. In addition, experts warn that immuno-suppressant drugs can shorten life by up to 20 years. However as Peter Butler starts the search for a suitable candidate to undergo the first procedure, for many facial disfigurement victims, the gains of the surgery far outweigh the risks to enable them to live a normal life again.
Prince Charles came under fire from government MP’s this week for refusing their demands to show them his accounts records and books for his Duchy of Cornwall estate. Despite being one of the wealthiest men in the country, Prince Charles’ Duchy of Cornwall estate is exempt from corporation and capital gains tax, saving him a staggering £100million in tax every year. Surely paying this amount would hardly put a dent in the finances of somebody as wealthy as Charles. But the fact that he is standing firm and steadfastly refusing to pay means there is one rule for the heir to the throne and another for the rest of us (his subjects) who are expected to pay taxes. With the future of the monarchy in constant jeopardy in today’s changing times, Prince Charles would be well advised to pay his tax dues. If he continues to arrogantly refuse, his popularity and that of the monarchy in general will just sink to an all-time low with his future subjects, something I’m sure he won’t want to happen.
British banks have come under fire this week for compromising customers’ security. It has come to light that many banks have been dumping sensitive customer information, including bank statements and loan applications in bin bags, without putting it through the shredder first. A number of bank staff have apparently complained about the lax security measures being taken, especially at a time when identity theft is rife. In future, banks will have to keep a tighter rein on the disposal of sensitive customer information, or risk facing heavy fines.
According to the results of a survey published this week by Geographic Kids magazine, one in five British children are unable to pinpoint the UK on a map of the world. In addition, one in ten children cannot name a continent. Several children were unaware that London was the UK capital and many London kids were unaware that they lived in the capital! Most children didn’t know where the US was situated and couldn’t identify Iraq. The results of the survey were described by a professor as, “rather frightening” and “underlining the need for education to concentrate on the essentials."
It seems that despite all the cruel jibes he has made about the country, all is forgiven and Borat aka Sacha Baron Cohen has been invited to visit Kazakhstan by the country’s deputy foreign minister Rakhat Aliyev. In the character of Borat, Cohen jokes that in his country wooden carts are pulled by peasant women, they drink horse-urine and sing the folk song “Throw The Jew Down The Well”. Aliyev hopes that Sacha Baron Cohen’s visit, will help to change his views on the country and would like him to have a chance to see for himself that “women drive cars, wine is made of grapes, and Jews are free to go to synagogues". Deputy foreign minister Rakhat Aliyev told local news agency Kazakhstan Today, "I understand that the feelings of many people are hurt by Cohen's show. But we must have a sense of humour and respect the creative freedom of others."
Britain’s streets are becoming increasingly unsafe with a dramatic rise in muggings, violence and robberies. The main items being targeted by thieves appear to be Ipods and mobile phones. I was surprised to hear that in one area of the country Santa has to have a bodyguard! Apparently for the past two years, young thugs have been throwing rocks at a Santa parade in the West Midland which raises money for charity. Things have got so bad that a security firm has now been brought in to offer Santa and his team protection!
It seems that a broken mirror isn’t always a sign of bad luck. Superstitious British couple Ron and Irene Jones were worried when a mirror smashed in their home, minutes before they went out to buy a lottery ticket on Friday 13th. However it seems that despite the date, lady luck was shining down on them and they scooped a £9.3million jackpot. The couple who never walk under ladders or cross on the stairs for fear of bad luck hadn’t realised what date it was when they bought their lucky winning ticket. Congratulations and well done to them!
I’ve been following the story of “veil row” teacher, Aishah Azmi, who was suspended from her teaching job in Yorkshire for wearing her veil and refusing to remove it in front of a male teacher. Aishah took her case to tribunal and was awarded £1,000 for “injury to her feelings”. The tribunal ruled that Aishah had been victimised by school chiefs. However they rejected her claims that she had been harassed and discriminated against because of her religion. Former foreign minister Jack Straw added fuel to the fire by stating that Muslim women should “drop the veil”.
In a similar case, BA check-in worker Nadia Ewelda was suspended from her job for wearing a small gold cross (a symbol of Christianity) around her neck. BBC Newsreader Fiona Bruce was also banned from wearing a cross around her neck by BBC governors who stated that it could “cause offence to people of other religions”.
It all seems very petty and narrow-minded to me. Where will this all end? We talk about integration and equality in society and the workplace and then we have incidents like this happening. Everyone including Christians and Muslims should be entitled to their beliefs. As long as they can do their jobs, it shouldn’t matter what religious background they are from, or whether they wear a cross or veil or whatever. This is the 21st century and people shouldn’t be judged, labelled or victimised for their beliefs.
A British schoolboy is being hailed as the new Jamie Oliver. Sam Stern now 16 has always had a keen interest in cookery, texting simple recipes to his older brother when he started university. Publishing company Walker Books saw his potential and offered him a four book deal. Sam’s first book, “Cooking up a Storm” was published last December and was an immediate success, selling over 300,000 copies worldwide. Sam proved particularly popular in the US, appearing on tv networks and radio shows to promote his book and became an overnight celebrity. Not bad for a 16 year old! Sam’s new book, “Real Food, Real Fast”, has just been published over here. Sam is concerned that many youngsters come home from school and eat junk food rather than preparing something healthy to eat. He has written to the Prime Minister in a bid to enlist his help in getting other youngsters into the kitchen cooking.
A government health minister has recommended that Britain’s youngsters need to double the time they spend in school P.E. (Physical Education/Keep Fit) classes to avoid childhood obesity. It is estimated that one million children will be obese by 2010 if nothing is done to help them. It is hoped that the preparations for London to host the Olympic Games in 2012 will renew youngsters' interests in sports and encourage them to do more exercise. New research shows that children who play weekly sports have a better academic performance and achieve better grades in school.
Meanwhile the Disney chain have shown their commitment to children’s long-term health by banning junk food from their US and Paris theme parks. Burgers and fries are off the menu from next month and are being replaced with healthier fare such as fruit, organic pasta and carrot sticks! Disney has also terminated its association with fast food chain Mcdonalds which used to put Disney toys in its happy meals. Let’s hope that other companies will follow suit and ditch the junk food so we can have a nation of healthier kids once again.
I smiled as I heard about the story of a wild rabbit nicknamed "Bugsy" who spent a week hiding in a car engine! The car owner, Jon Llewlyn saw the wild rabbit hopping around near his car but assumed it had gone when he drove away, until he saw its little head poking out of the front grill of his car! He tried to coax the rabbit out and it disappeared so he assumed it had gone. However, it seems the rabbit liked its new home too much to leave and also liked travelling! A few days later after driving 60 miles, Jon found the rabbit again still under the bonnet before it was finally rescued! Jon admitted the rabbit who he nicknamed Bugsy had, "travelled a fair bit!"
According to figures released recently, over 1,000 violent crimes including killings, woundings and assaults have been committed in Britain by criminals released early from prisons wearing electronic tags. The system is obviously falling down badly. The theory behind electronic tagging is that releasing criminals early and tagging them is more cost effective than keeping them in custody, particularly with the present overcrowding crisis in many prisons. It may be ok to tag and put on curfew criminals who’ve committed minor offences but not serious and dangerous criminals.
Once again, as with everything, it comes down to money. It seems the government have a blatant disregard for public safety and they are more concerned about solving the prison overcrowding crisis. It’s time they got their act together. Spending money on creating more prisons is money well spent if it keeps murderers and violent offenders off our streets. Only then will the people of Britain be able to rest easy, safe in the knowledge that dangerous criminals are where they belong, behind bars and not in the heart of the community.
If you get a chance go over and have a look at her blog. Sheila is a nice Southern lady and a very talented writer and designer, who was asking me about Sacha Baron Cohen.
Sacha Baron Cohen aka Borat and Ali G was in Amsterdam last week promoting his latest film, “Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan”. Sacha in the guise of his alter ego Borat managed to embarrass the girls of Amsterdam’s red light district, leaving nothing to the imagination, as he posed with them wearing a skimpy g-string.
The controversial star has come under fire from the Kazakhstan government who claim he has made their country a laughing stock. The Kazakhstan government is so afraid of what people will think of their country after seeing the movie that they have produced television adverts showing scenes of picturesque countryside and modern cities in Kazakh. Sacha has also been banned from the White House and the Kazakh ambassador to Britain has branded him a "racist, chauvinistic pig".
I know many people in Britain find Sacha’s characters of Borat and Ali G offensive but I personally think you have to take what he says in the humour with which it’s intended. The thing that makes Sacha Baron Cohen even more amusing is the fact that he’s not “politically correct” and seems to get away with saying all sorts of things in the guises of both Ali G and Borat! I think that’s one of the secrets behind his popularity.
Sacha Baron Cohen’s career is going from strength to strength. He is popular in the U.S. and currently in negotiations to star opposite Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s big screen version of the musical “Sweeney Todd”. Love him or hate him, Sacha Baron Cohen is laughing all the way to the bank!
I was pleased to hear that the government is going to pay a tax free lump sum bonus payment to troops serving in war zones. British troops deserve every penny and more. At last the government is recognising the important role they play. This payment is long overdue. Unfortunately though it is no compensation to these men’s families if they are killed in action. There have been so many lives lost in Iraq, surely now is the time to bring our troops home.
I was interested to hear this week about the school headteacher who took a sunshine holiday two weeks into a new school term. Apparently the school governors allowed it because they felt she “needed a rest”. It’s alright for some. Parents at the school were outraged and quite rightly so. This is setting a dangerous precedent. If parents take children out of school to go on holidays during a school term it is now viewed as truancy with parents facing a £50 penalty if they go on holiday without getting permission from the school first. Permission is usually only granted in “exceptional circumstances”. Yet we have a headteacher openly flouting the rules and going off on holiday in term time. It seems there is one rule for headteachers and another rule for the parents and kids!
A recent government report has confirmed that Britain is a nation of unhealthy, overweight people with the worst diets in Europe. Obesity is now a major problem in this country amongst adults and children alike, with two thirds of men and 60% of women either overweight or obese. Lack of exercise and bad diet are the main causes. In addition it seems that where you live in this country is a major factor too. The life expectancy of men in the North is two years less than men living in the South of England. Obesity is linked to many health conditions including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The government is calling for advertising regulator Ofcom to ban tv advertisements for junk food before 9.00pm. I personally don’t think this will make any difference whatsoever. Junk food is like cigarettes, if people want to eat junk food or smoke, they will do it, no matter what the consequences to their health. Also it seems that most of us lead such busy lives in today’s fast-paced world that more and more people either eat their food on the go or in front of the tv. Sitting together at a dining table for family meals is now a rare occurrence for many British families. This new style of dining has also meant that table manners are a thing of the past too with many people admitting they use their fingers rather than a knife and fork to eat. As somebody who was brought up the old fashioned way with meals always being eaten at the table, I must admit I was surprised when I read this. Even now I always eat my meals at the table and wouldn’t dream of eating a meal sitting on the sofa. Old habits die hard!
Meanwhile Britain’s love affair with foreign food continues. According to a survey by the BBC’s Good Food Magazine many Britons have trouble pronouncing the names of some of the foreign foods and drink we love. Italian bruschetta was the main one that caused problems with over 60% of people saying they couldn’t pronounce it. I have always loved foreign food and love trying new things. I tried Japanese food for the first time last year. It was delicious. Even if I can’t pronounce some of the names it never stops me from eating the foods I love!
As children we were always told to eat our greens, the main reason being that they contain beneficial, health-giving properties. Health experts continually stress the importance of eating, “Five (vegetables) a day”, believing there is a link between diet and cancer. A leading Cambridge university doctor stated this week that food can be important in altering our susceptibility to cancer and possibly survival from it. So it’s no surprise to hear that a pill made from cabbage could soon be used in the fight against breast cancer. Apparently the vegetable contains molecules which kill cancer tumour cells. Good news for women everywhere and even better reason to eat your greens!
Former Abba bandmates Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus are rumoured to be appearing as guest judges on Simon Cowell’s X Factor talent show. They could certainly teach today’s wanabee pop stars a thing or too. Abba were Sweden’s best export and had a string of chart hits with the likes of Mamma Mia, SOS and Dancing Queen. They are one of the most enduring pop groups of all time and are as popular today as they’ve always been. I have always loved Abba. They were one of my favourite pop groups. I still have all my old Abba vinyl records in pristine condition!
With Halloween fast approaching, I was interested to hear of the American woman, Laura Mallory, who considers JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books, “evil” and wants to get them banned from Gwinnett County, Georgia. Laura has taken the case to court, claiming that JK Rowling’s books promote witchcraft, telling the judge that she didn’t want her children to be indoctrinated into a religion whose practices are evil. The school authorities are insistent that the books should stay on the school curriculum as they encourage children to read. The Education Board plans to make it’s decision in December after the judge’s ruling.
Britons are known to be a nation of curry lovers, with curry being one of the U.K.’s most popular dishes. New research reveals that eating curry could help in the fight against Alzheimers disease. Scientists have discovered that a chemical called Curcumin, found in curry and turmeric can help the body fight the disease. Curcumin helps the immune system to clear the brain of a waste product which is crucial in the development of Alzheimers. As a curry lover myself, it’s good to know that something you enjoy has health giving properties too.
Aspirin has been hailed a wonder drug for fighting cancer in the past. It is known to block enzymes linked to cancer. However scientists have now discovered that Aspirin can also prevent the development of blood vessels which “feed” tumours. Scientists believe that this new information could lead to the development of new cancer-fighting drugs. Good news for everyone!
With ageism and racism rife in the workplace, it’s good to hear that the Queen has set up a special prayer room facing Mecca at Windsor Castle, for the benefit of some Muslim members of staff. Windsor Castle is an equal opportunities employer and employs people from all different walks of life and religions. As head of the Church of England, the Queen is a shining example to other employers and indeed everyone else in Britain, showing that people of all faiths can live and work together in peace and harmony.
Briton’s are “bingoing” mad! Bingo has grown in popularity in recent years and Bingo Halls are no longer the haunt of pensioners, with the game now attracting a younger clientele as well. Even Prince William is getting in on the act. The heir to the throne was spotted at a local bingo hall near Sandhurst, the elite military academy where he is currently training. Apparently he played for an hour but failed to win any prizes.
I tried a bingo game myself a few years ago. I remember it as being very fast moving. My friend who I was with, couldn’t keep up at all with the numbers being called and gave it up as a bad job! I only managed it because I do shorthand and with that, the trick is to keep in mind the last words spoken. I remember finding it a bit stressful though! Maybe I’ll be lured back one day, if there’s the prospect of a large enough prize!
I was sorry to hear the story of the British man on honeymoon in Kenya. His shocked bride of one week, watched in horror as he was trampled by an elephant. The couple were on an escorted nature walk, just 300 yards from their lodge, when the animal charged towards them. Shocked rangers said elephants don't usually behave that way and it must have been a "rogue" animal that was surprised by the couple. That's no consolation to this poor man's wife and family. Unfortunately wild animals are unpredictable and you just never know what they are going to do. Something many people have found out to their cost.
I can’t believe how the weather is changing in England. It could be something to do with global warming or the fact the Britain has had the hottest summer on record for over 200 years. On Monday a tornado swept across the south coast and into Brighton. Shocked locals reported seeing the sky suddenly turn black and a howling wind start to pick up, as they noticed the twister about a mile out to sea. The vortex of the tornado could clearly be seen above Brighton pier, as seagulls flew away from it. Fortunately for the people of Brighton, the tornado blew itself out before it hit land. I’m sure they heaved a sigh of relief!
On a lighter note, a darts school of excellence is being set up. Aimed at 7 to 18 year olds, it will teach youngsters all about the game and where to stand at the “oche”. In the past, darts got a lot of bad press as an “unhealthy” sport, with players portrayed as having a beer gut, with a pint of beer in one hand and a cigarette hanging out of their mouths. The school organisers are eager that the sport should have a “healthier” image, stressing that there will be no smoking or drinking in their competitions. Darts is now recognised as an official sport in Britain and it is hoped that the school will discover future champions. The British Darts Organisation is campaigning for the game to be included in the 2012 London Olympics. As someone who played darts in my student days, I always liked the sport and I think it’s great that it’s finally getting some recognition.
It seems that more and more people in Britain are requesting that popular songs are played at loved one’s funerals rather than traditional hymns. According to an annual survey by the Bereavement Register, James Blunt’s “Goodbye my Lover” was at the number 1 spot as the most requested song to be played at funeral services last year. One of my personal favourites, the theme from Dirty Dancing, “I’ve had the Time of my Life” came in at number 3. What next!
According to a recent survey, the most annoying habit for British motorists is people who “tailgate”, driving too close behind them. The second most annoying habit on the list was motorists who fail to indicate. I must admit that both these things annoy me when I’m driving. Speaking of people driving too close, a recent sign in a car's rear window made me smile, “If you come any closer introduce yourself!” Quite appropriate really!