United Kingdom News

30 September 2014 Last updated at 19:17 ET

Is yoga really about exercise?

Yoga instructor in Miami, Florida

Yoga practitioners are fighting a new sales tax by insisting the activity isn’t primarily about fitness. Around the world, its definition can often be rather more flexible, writes Jon Kelly.

It might feel a lot like exercise to millions of gym-goers as their muscles strain and they struggle to hold that pose. But in the US, the yoga community is arguing vociferously that’s not really what their asanas are all about.

From 1 October, a sales tax of 5.75% in Washington, DC, will be extended to gyms, fitness centres and other premises “the purpose of which is physical exercise”. Locally, it’s been nicknamed the “yoga tax”, even though the city council’s legislation doesn’t actually mention the Y-word. And local yoga fans insist that the levy shouldn’t apply to them.

With yoga, exercise is “a by-product in the same way as it is with dance or Tai Chi”, says Richard Karpel, president of the Yoga Alliance, a US non-profit association. While the type of yoga practised in many gyms may have little to do with Buddhist or Hindu spirituality, he says, the primary purpose of specialist yoga studios “is to integrate the mind, the body and the spirit”. Getting fit is a happy side effect.

It’s true that for many centuries yoga was primarily practised as a form of meditation and as a path to spiritual enlightenment. Hare Krishna monks, for example, are adherents of bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion. The asanas or postures of hatha yoga only took off in popularity in the west during the 20th Century. For this reason, state authorities in New York – where the activity is hugely popular – ruled in 2012 that yoga was not “true exercise” and thus exempt from local sales taxes.

But advocates for yoga have often found themselves maintaining quite a different position – that it isn’t, in fact, a fundamentally spiritual activity. In Iran, to comply with Sharia law, teachers are careful to always refer to “the sport of yoga”. Prohibitions on spiritual yoga are upheld in Malaysia, where a 2008 fatwa led to a yoga ban in five states. In the capital Kuala Lumpur, chanting and meditation during yoga classes are forbidden. In 2013, San Diego County’s Superior Court ruled that although yoga’s roots are religious, teaching a modified form of the practice does not breach the separation of church and state.

In the District of Columbia, the local tax authorities are clear – yoga is exercise. “It’s an existential question,” says David Umansky, spokesman for the city’s chief financial officer, “but the city council passing the law made it very clear that yoga is included.” Elsewhere, it might not be. At a stretch.

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Why do so many drivers shun seatbelts?

A driver behind the wheel without a seatbelt on

It is more than 30 years since it became illegal to drive without a seatbelt, yet up to two million drivers in the UK are still risking it, with 47% not knowing it could incur a fine, according to a new survey. Why is that, asks Luke Jones.

Even before it became law in 1983, television screens were filled with hard-hitting and sometimes harrowing seatbelt safety ads.

In 1963, viewers were told “the difference between an ugly smash-up and just a nasty shake-up could simply be the seatbelt habit“.

“You know it makes sense,” the voiceover boomed. That habit was taken up by around 90% of drivers after it was put into law, according to the Department for Transport, and further campaigns, now collected on the government’s Think! website, have kept it high.

A 1960 demonstration of a crash without seatbelt. A dummy is propelled forward into the dashboardSeatbelt safety campaigns in the 1960s…
1964 Road safety campaign - a dummy falls out of a moving car because he is not wearing a seatbelt

So how is it that a poll by LV car insurance has found that 6% of drivers in the UK are still taking to the roads without a seatbelt? According to government figures, if you have a crash, you’re twice as likely to die if you are not wearing a belt. But two million of us are doing it anyway, the poll says.

The title of that first seatbelt awareness advert was “It can’t happen to me”. According to Graham Hope, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Sussex, that is exactly what many drivers believe today.

The answer

  • Some people simply see them as unnecessary
  • Relaxed attitude to risk
  • “Constellation of riskiness” leads to bad practice

“Many simply do not think they’ll ever need them,” says Hope. “There is a self-serving bias where people think they are more likely to survive than other people, and less likely to ever be involved in an accident in the first place.”

Just as with drink-driving, those who return unscathed begin to think they can do it. A “constellation of riskiness” forms, which fuels more bad driving practice.

Three friends in a car - part of a 2003 campaign by Department for TransportAnd a more graphic advertisement from 2003
A car crash - part of a 2003 campaign by Department for Transport

Some see it as a point of principle, while others offer a range of excuses. “One man told us he did not want to ruin his tan,” Sgt Rob Heard of Hampshire Police reported when the constabulary took part in a Europe-wide campaign to crack down on drivers not wearing seatbelts. “A couple of people stated they never wore a seatbelt and would still not wear one because they felt that was their right.”

But many, such as the television presenter and motoring expert Quentin Willson, think it is down to laziness and a relaxed attitude to risk. “We now have a generation who see cars as just another consumer item like a washing machine,” he says. He also points out that with modern vehicles, it is harder to avoid the seatbelt. There is a “cacophony of buzzers and beepers in cars reminding people now”.

As well as the safety risks of not belting up, there is considerable risk to the wallet – not wearing a seatbelt carries a fine of up to £500. According to the survey, £8.2m in fines have been issued so far this year to 80,000 drivers.

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Belt up

  • 80,000 drivers fined so far this year for not wearing a seatbelt
  • 32% of those who don’t wear them says it’s because they forget
  • 22% because they find them uncomfortable
  • 85% of over 65s find wearing them too restricting

Source: ICM online poll for LV car insurance

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Why ‘boots on the ground’?

New Jersey National Guard troops march as they pass in review during the New Jersey National Guard's annual Military Review

“Boots on the ground” is shorthand for combat troops deployed in a foreign country. Barack Obama and David Cameron have both used it – it’s a phrase that is constantly cropping up in the news. But where did it come from?

Infantry have been stomping in boots through mud and sand for centuries. Back in World War One “boot” was used as an alternative to “soldier”, and a soldier’s introduction to service was in “boot camp”. But the expression “boots on the ground” appears to be relatively new.

British military officer Sir Robert Grainger Ker Thompson came close to using it in a 1966 book on his experiences of counter-insurgency in Malaya and Vietnam – chapter 15 was entitled Feet on the Ground. But that is not quite the same. The earliest known use of the precise phrase we use today occurs 1980.

This was the conclusion reached by the late New York Times columnist, William Safire, who investigated the subject in 2008 with the help of an army historian. The historian rifled back through published sources until he found an instance of the expression in a Christian Science Monitor (CSM) story written during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. The reporter attributed the coinage to a US general, Volney Warner.

The answer

  • The use of “boot” as shorthand for “soldier” goes back a long way
  • The earliest use of “boots on the ground” so far found in print occurs in a US newspaper in 1980
  • It is attributed, in that article, to a US general

Grammarians would describe the use of “boot”, in the phrase “boots on the ground”, as a case of synecdoche – a figure of speech where the part represents the whole.

In English the expression is, by now, a bog-standard cliche (the military equivalent of “bums on seats”), but it can sound even worse in translation. “It’s not used in Arabic because we have a problem with boots. Footwear in general in Islamic culture has this negative connotation,” says Mohamed Yehia, of BBC Arabic. “Boots are something humiliating or unclean.”

In Chinese the nearest equivalent is the term “iron hooves”, which has negative connotations of a different kind, according to Howard Zhang of the BBC Chinese Service, conjuring up images of invading armies, with “all their cavalry and infantry trampling all over the place”.

The first time Zhang heard the phrase, it was used to refer to the British, who once had their iron hooves on Chinese soil. But it was also used of the Americans, when the Chinese media railed against the iron hooves of the US in Vietnam, during the Vietnam war.

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1,574,728: Could young voters swing an election?

Teenagers

The Labour Party has promised to give 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote. There were 1,574,728 people that age in the UK at the time of the last election – could they have swung the vote, asks Anthony Reuben.

It was a tight election in 2010, which led to the formation of a coalition government as the Conservative Party won 307 seats, 19 short of the 326 it would have needed to form a majority government alone.

The Conservatives won 49 more seats than Labour’s 258 seats while the Liberal Democrats won 57 seats.

It’s no good looking at whether the number of 16 and 17-year-olds would have swung the vote overall because the UK’s political system works on a constituency by constituency basis (although for the record, the Conservatives won 2.1 million more votes than Labour).

But the Office for National Statistics, General Register Office for Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency report population figures broken down by constituency and by age group.

I have taken figures for mid-2010, which is a close enough approximation to election day in May. It turns out that in 95 of the 650 constituencies in the UK, the winning candidate had a majority smaller than the number of 16 and 17-year-olds living there.

For the biggest two parties, 43 of those seats were Conservatives and 33 were Labour. Now, clearly this assumes that all 16 and 17-year-olds are eligible to vote, that they choose to vote and indeed that they vote for the candidate in second place in the ballot.

But it demonstrates that the new teenage voters could swing a tight election and that politicians might have to start wooing a younger electorate if change does eventually come.

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Weekendish: The best of the week’s reads

The Uncatchable

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

Yet another one of our immersive long-read stories. This is the tale of Vassilis Paleokostas, who has stolen millions from state-owned banks, kidnapped businessmen and broken out of prison twice by helicopter. He’s also handed out cash to the country’s poor and that in many people’s eyes makes him a kind of Greek Robin Hood. He scorned flashy cars, except for getaways. One of the few expensive possessions he treasured was a mysterious golden crucifix that swung from his neck. It would later become the key – it could be used to unlock handcuffs – to at least one successful escape. So how did this man who used to have a humdrum job in a cheese factory go on to become Greece’s most-wanted man, outfoxing the law at every turn? It really is like something from a film – which is why we commissioned illustrator Duncan Smith to come up with a film poster for the feature (top).

The Uncatchable

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Blast from the past

Victorian faces

Chris Wild is an author, archivist and founder of Retronaut.com, which describes itself as a photographic time machine. This week Wild takes BBC News Magazine readers on a photographic journey to the Edwardian and Victorian eras. Look at the composite of faces – it’s not quite what you would expect from those times. Here are our ancestors clowning around in a surprising way. There are many more – all of them fascinating – a family day out at the gallows (featuring a wooden head of a local criminal) and a man who pinches a woman’s floral hat, seemingly without her noticing. The photographs have been mined from the massive collection at the Woodhorn Museum and Northumberland Archives.

A reader writes, adding fascinating detail about a pair of pictures taken by a Northumbrian photographer:

“I recognize the place the two Dutch pictures are taken. The dresses of the girls are not exactly Dutch, since all regions had their own costume. These girls are from the island Walcheren in Zeeland. On the bottom picture (below) you can see from right to left three girls dressed in ‘adult’ dresses, then one in the children’s dress. In the background one can see a lady from the island Zuid-Beveland. The girls are to nicely dressed to be in Middelburg for a market day. It could be the first of may, as on that day young people looking for a new place to work and farmers looking for new personnel would meet in Middelburg. But that is only a guess.”

MattPotter ‏tweets: “When Victorian portraits go horribly/fantastically off-piste.”

Day out at the gallows and other bygone photographic oddities

Women in the Netherlands
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Brummie accents

Peaky Blinders publicity shot

Why are so few films and TV series based in Birmingham? Apparently because the accent is so difficult to mimic. Many of us like to pretend we can do a Brummie accent, but we’re more than likely getting it wrong because we’re not poking our lips forward enough. A second series of Birmingham-set drama Peaky Blinders (pictured) is in the pipeline, and the show’s creator Steven Knight has admitted the city’s accent is “very difficult to get right”. A common misconception is that Birmingham’s is a slow accent – dimwitted Benny from Crossroads did little to help that. Now you have to of a certain age to remember that one. Try saying “Miss Diane” in his accent – you’re sure to get it wrong.

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The Mitford six

Mitford sistersThe Mitford sisters (clockwise from top left): Unity; Jessica; Diana; Nancy; Deborah; Pamela

Another composite of faces – beautiful ones. These are the Mitford sisters. The last surviving one, Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, died this week. Lyndsy Spence explains why there has hardly ever been a dull moment with this lot. Take Diana, her affair with Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, brought her lifelong infamy. Unity moved to Germany at the age of 19 and became a pal of Hitler. Jessica became a communist and ran off to fight the fascists during the Spanish Civil War. She moved to the US, where she went on to become a late-blooming pop star, singing with her group Decca & The Dectones. Nancy was a socialist who escaped a dull marriage by slipping off the Paris and carrying on an affair with Charles de Gaulle’s right-hand man, Gaston Palewski. All of this while she was glamorously decked out in Dior. Deborah may seem the least exciting – she led a contented country life and described herself as apolitical. Susannah ‏@skittledog tweets: “Man, the Mitford sisters were an excellent study in how the social elite can go bonkers, weren’t they?” Lizzie Charlton adds: “With a communist, a socialist, & 2 fascists, family gatherings must’ve been fun.”

The six sisters who captured the maelstrom

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Driving in Mexico

Will Grant's driving licence

So, you want to get a driving licence, you’ve got to take your test, and pass it, right? Not necessarily in Mexico. Will Grant is the BBC correspondent in Mexico City and had been putting off getting his licence, fearing hours of queues, form-filling etc.

But how wrong he was. It seems a bit of cash and a utility bill will suffice. But the laws are about to change. An estimated 17,000 people are killed on the roads in Mexico every year and lobby groups have long called for tighter regulations.

Getting a driving licence without a test

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Scarlet women

Red outfit

Wearing red has long been fraught with difficulty. Henry VIII and his top aides cornered the market in wearing the colour – Cardinal Wolsey was particularly partial. Anyone below the rank of knight of the garter would be fined for daring to don red. Elizabeth I thought better of trying to assert her authority by swathing herself in scarlet. She went for the white-equals-purity look. The Book of Revelation had spoilt it a bit for women, with its “Whore of Babylon” symbolism. “And I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour.” But the catwalks are awash with it at the moment. Has the colour finally lost its regal/wanton association? Joanna Gaudoin(Ball) tweets: “At a law firm client event last week, I was asked about wearing red to work by several women.” Kitty DoLittle adds: “From Little Red Riding Hood looks and faux fur to sportswear styling, red has its confirmed place this season.”

The power of a red dress

Here are some things we’ve enjoyed this week from elsewhere around the web:The myth of religious violence – Guardian

The Evolution of the Nurse Stereotype via Postcards: From Drunk to Saint to Sexpot to Modern Medical Professional – Smithsonian Magazine

How The Simpsons Co-Creator Sam Simon Is Facing His Own Tragedy – Vanity Fair

To keep customers coming back, some Chinese restaurants are lacing noodles with opiates – Quartz

How cops control poor black neighbourhoods – The Atlantic

The Mother question – New Yorker

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10 things we didn’t know last week

Polar bear relaxing

1. Kelis doesn’t like milkshake. If she did, it would more than likely be better than yours.

Find out more

2. People with a conscientious spouse are 11% more likely to get a promotion at work.

Find out more (Quartz)

3. There is a vast difference between what Kung bushmen talk about in daylight hours and after dark.

Find out more (Times)

4. Polar bears have switched from eating to seals to eating snow geese.

Find out more (New York Times)

5. Typical ground level in Roman London is 7m below today’s city.

Find out more

6. Roasted nuts are more likely to spark an allergic reaction than raw.

Find out more

7. Dreams get weirder as the night wears on.

Find out more (Smithsonian)

8. The University of Phoenix is the world’s most Googled.

Find out more

9. It’s actually fairly easy to weigh an ant.

Find out more

10. Turmeric is good for rat brains.

Find out more

Seen a thing? Tell the Magazine on Twitter using the hashtag #thingIdidntknowlastweek

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Go Figure: The week in numbers

Look back at the week in numbers with our Go Figure images, which are posted daily on social media.

Mass of ants graphic

Monday: Are all the ants as heavy as all the humans?

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Norway aid graphic

Tuesday: Liberia signs ‘transformational’ deal to stem deforestation

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India Gravity graphic

Wednesday: Why India’s Mars mission is so cheap – and thrilling

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Insurance claims graphic

Thursday: Weather report: Forecasts improving as climate gets wilder

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Sierra Leone graphic

Friday: Sierra Leone widens Ebola quarantine to three more districts

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Find #BBCGoFigure on Twitter and on Facebook


Quiz of the week’s news

For past quizzes including our weekly news quiz, 7 days 7 questions, expand the grey drop-down below – also available on the Magazine page (and scroll down).

You can follow the Magazine on Twitter and on Facebook


Photoshopping Federer

Swiss tennis ace Roger Federer has run into a problem familiar to most people who travel on business – he’s going to India later this year but won’t have time to see the sights. So he has asked fans to help him.

“India, here I come! Looking forward to playing two matches in Delhi on December 7th & 8th. I’m beyond excited!” Federer tweeted.

But he added: “I need some help from my supporters in India. I’m only in Delhi for a few days, so can’t visit all amazing places that I’d like… Maybe you guys could help?”

Supporters got to work, editing images on their computers.

Aashish Bhargava tweeted Roger sporting an Indian “gamcha” (green cloth on head) in the holy city of Varanasi.

Federer

Pranav Agarwal tells Roger “You have to visit the Ganga river & take a holy dip!!”

Federer

Jaime said in a tweet that Federer’s one-handed backhand is gold but in India they use the double-handed backhand.

Federer

Akshay Makadiya tweeted an image of Federer washing clothes in a river.

Federer

Anoop Savkur tells Roger to “Please pay a visit to witness the thrills of Lifeline of Mumbai”.

Federer

#TeamBelinda suggests Roger should go to the Holi Festival.

Federer

@pemberencir jokes “You’re a very courageous person!”

Federer

Sagar Heerani tells Roger “here is tough competition for you”.

Federer

There were calls to bring Roger to Kerala to replace chenda (drum) player Peruvanam Kuttan Marar at the festival of Thrissur Pooram.

Federer

Christo Shajan tweeted “playing in India is finally inching closer to reality!”

Federer

And Vinod D’sa advises “if India seems manic, don’t panic. Have a good, strong chai instead”.

Federer

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Caption Challenge: Great big kiss

A sculpture based on the famous Times Square VJ Day kiss is installed in Caen, France.

Winning entries in the Caption Challenge.

The competition is now closed.

This week, a sculpture based on the famous Times Square VJ Day kiss is installed in Caen, France.

Thanks to all who entered. The prize of a small amount of kudos to the following:

6. Siv Angel:

Plinth charming

5: Ben Gardner:

It was love at first sight for Peter Crouch.

4. rogueslr:

Er, you do know that the latest advice is for hands-only CPR.

3. FifiFanshawe:

Grove’s original prototype for an offender ankle tag was dismissed as “unwieldy”.

2. CindyAccidentally:

Royal Academy rejects “The Purr” as a suitable monument to Anglo-Scottish unity.

1. David Elliot-Smith:

Only later would she discover he had bent her new iPhone.

PDF download Full rules can be seen here[16KB]

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The toilet seat stadium and other unfortunate designs

Golden State Warriors stadium

A basketball team’s proposed stadium has been lampooned for looking like a toilet. It’s not alone, writes Chris Stokel-Walker.

The Golden State Warriors are moving home. The “preliminary concept” for a new arena in San Francisco was released this week by design advisers Snøhetta. The plans have suffered some lampooning. Stuck on to the 135ft-tall circular arena is a squat, square terrace. Coloured a muddy cream in the architect’s renders, some have pointed out its similarity to a toilet with the seat down.

The toilet-shaped arena may not materialise. Though Manica Architecture, the lead architect on the project, would not comment, PJ Johnston, a spokesman for the Golden State Warriors team, explains that: “All images to the project to date are preliminary concepts, which are being vetted as part of the master planning for the site.”

The toilet-like arena is not the first architectural misstep in sport. The Al Wakrah stadium, designed by Zaha Hadid for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, was widely said to resemble female genitalia. It’s a claim Hadid strenuously denied. Her firm asserted that the Al Wakrah stadium was inspired by the design of the dhow, a traditional Arabian boat.

Zaha Hadid Qatar stadium designWhat this stadium looks like is really in the eye of the beholder

A small but committed section of fans – 75 in total – set up a Facebook group asserting that Ireland’s Aviva rugby stadium “looks like a bed pan”.

Sports stadiums pick up informal names from well-meaning fans based on their outward appearances. The low-slung circular sweep of the London Velopark, built for the London Olympics in 2012, is known locally as The Pringle because of its similarity to the potato snack. And while the Beijing National Stadium may not leap into most people’s minds, the Bird’s Nest, to give it its informal name, probably does.

London Velopark original artists' impressionThis original design of the London Velopark does look like a Pringle. Other potato snacks are available

Others are designed intentionally to look like something else. Taiwan’s 55,000-seat National Stadium, designed by Japanese architect Toyo Ito, is powered by 8,844 solar panels coiled around the stadium and looking like a dragon. And in 2010, Turkish architects Sozuneri designed a stadium for football club Bursaspor, whose nickname is the Green Crocodiles, topped with a giant crocodile, its mouth open.

Andy Simons, director of KSS, a sports architecture company, says that stadium designs can be difficult. “Stadia fall into two types, the ordinary and the iconic. Few are really memorable for their architectural styling,” he explains. “Essentially all club football stadia have the same bulk and so the individual style is dependent on the ‘wrap’.”

Responding to the mockery, the Golden State Warriors note: “We’re still gathering feedback from the public, and we’re still refining our ideas about the design.” This version could still be flushed.

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The struggle to claim the month of October

Beer and alcohol

Separate campaigns are urging people to give up alcohol and tobacco for October. Why is a month the standard unit of doing worthwhile things, asks Jon Kelly.

Next month you can Go Sober for October. Or you can quit smoking for Stoptober. Then grow a moustache for Movember and a beard for Decembeard. And then quit drinking all over again in the New Year with Dry January or Dryathalon. All in a good cause, of course.

Modern secular society has its own version of the religious fasting ritual. You abstain from something or do something silly for a month, usually in aid of a charity. Being sure to keep your social media followers updated throughout.

It’s proved a very effective strategy for many worthwhile organisations. People are more likely to agree to modify their behaviour or volunteer for charity for a time-limited period than on an open-ended basis, says Prof Ian Bruce of the Centre for Charity Effectiveness at Cass Business School, London. “People want to know what they are letting themselves in for.”

October is a particularly auspicious month for giving up vices. The summer is behind you. But it’s also “an opportunity to test willpower before the Christmas party season in November and December”, says Hannah Redmond, head of national events marketing at Macmillan Cancer Support, which organises Go Sober for October.

There’s another high-profile abstinence-based campaign under way, but Redmond says the two are very different. Stoptober, run by Public Health England, urges people to give up smoking for 28 days as a means of encouraging them to quit for good. This is based on evidence that those who give up for this duration are five times more likely to stop permanently. It doesn’t have a fundraising element. Go Sober, by contrast, encourages people to abandon alcohol for a month only and be sponsored by their friends and family. Last year it raised over £2m and 53,000 participants have already signed up for 2014.

Plus, it’s inevitable there will be concurrent crusades. There are lots of good causes but only 12 months in the year. This is no bad thing, says Bruce. In charity and health promotion, just as much as in business, “competition grows the market”. And if you give up one bad habit you’re more likely to quit another.

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How do you put London’s Roman shrine back together?

Two people holding up the newly discovered head of Mithras, 1954

Sixty years ago, a Roman God was uncovered at a London building site. The excavations for the Temple of Mithras moved around but are now going back to the original site – how do you reconstruct a Roman temple, asks Tom de Castella.

The muddy find in September 1954 provoked urgent debate. Winston Churchill’s cabinet discussed it three times. A huge new office block – for insurance firm Legal & General – was being built on the site of the Temple of Mithras, described as the Roman discovery of the century. Building work was stopped. People would be able to see it for two weeks before the remains were packed up and moved. A few hundred visitors were expected on day one. Instead about 35,000 queued round the block. Advertisers piled in: “In Londinium they believed in Mithras. In London they believe in Shell.” Roughly 400,000 people saw it in all. Then the ruins began a peripatetic existence, including a stay at a builders yard in New Malden, before ending up being exhibited in the City 100 metres from where it had been found.

Queues to see temple of Mithras, 1954An estimated 400,000 people visited the site in a two-week period

Now the ruins are going back whence they came. Media giant Bloomberg is building its European HQ on land that takes in the original site. The Temple of Mithras will be reconstructed underneath the office block at the exact spot it was built in AD240 – ground level in Roman London is seven metres below today’s city.

Inside the site

The last recreation of the temple – packed up in 2011 – had crazy paving. Not ideal for an all-male Roman cult inspired by Persian religion, says Sophie Jackson, archaeologist at the Museum of Archaeology London. But how do you put a Roman temple back together again?

Jackson and her colleagues have good records from 1954 and a team of stone masons to rebuild the temple using the original excavations. But they have no information about the colour of the temple, or the mortar that was used. They are calling on people who saw the 1954 dig to help out and send colour photos, cinefilm or oral memories.

Relief sculpture of MithrasA relief sculpture of the god Mithras

Classical scholar Mary Beard is excited, but keen to dispel a myth about Mithras. “Get ready for misinformation: Mithraism NOT secret cult,” she tweeted. There is nothing cultish in the modern sense, she explains. He was popular with soldiers – it was a “very blokey” religion – but they would not have hidden their allegiance. Unlike other Roman Gods, such as Jupiter, Mithraism was congregational in nature, Beard adds.

There’s one more thing. “When it was in the builders yard we know that a lot of items were pinched,” says Jackson. So if there’s a bit of Roman stone – better still mortar – in Gran’s rockery, the Temple of Mithras would like it back.

If you have images or ephemera relating to the temple, contact the Museum of London Archaeology on 020 7410 2266, oralhistory@mola.org.uk or visit www.mola.org.uk

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Do people lie in surveys?

Woman taking an opinion poll

I received a press release recently that made my head spin, writes Anthony Reuben.

The release said, completely without irony: “A third of people in the UK will not give truthful answers about themselves when asked questions by pollsters, according to a new survey.”

In paradoxical terms, that is well up there with the words of Psalm 116: “I said in my haste, ‘all men are liars’.”

But while people’s honesty when responding to polls or surveys may be a difficult issue to get to the bottom of through the use of polling, it is still an important factor.

The most often cited example of this in political circles is the polling ahead of the 1992 election, when people did not want to admit that they were voting for John Major.

And a note for the picky – while they are used interchangeably, strictly speaking a poll is only meant to have one, multiple choice question. If there are more questions or open answers it’s a survey.

Anyway, dishonest respondents are a serious problem for pollsters, especially in a situation such as an election, in which the quality of the sampling will be tested shortly afterwards by the actual result.

There is almost nothing that polling organisations can do about this. Online polling may give some weight to how people voted in previous elections, although they may also be lying or misremembering about that.

When you look at the full results of the ORB International survey it turns out that overall 80% of people say they always provide truthful answers to surveys.

The one-third figure is in answer to a question about whether you would answer questions truthfully about “your intimate life”, and is a result of adding up those who answered that they were not likely to answer truthfully together with those who said they didn’t know or didn’t answer.

The survey also found that only 9% of respondents said they were prepared to trust published polls.

Interestingly, the polling also suggested that respondents were most likely to be truthful about political questions, with 91% saying they were likely to tell the truth.

But there were no questions about whether they were likely to lie about lying.

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10 things we didn’t know last week

Woman on the phone in office

1. The most effective office regime is to work for 52 consecutive minutes and then have a 17-minute break.

Find out more (the Atlantic)

2. The modern European gene pool was formed when blue-eyed, swarthy hunters mingled with brown-eyed, pale-skinned farmers and a mysterious population with Siberian affinities.

Find out more

3. A rapid human can outrun London Underground’s Circle Line between Mansion House and Cannon Street.

Find out more (Independent)

4. A whale calf’s clicks can paralyse a human hand for several hours.

Find out more

5. Mis-readings of the autocue result in fines for Chinese newsreaders if the mistakes build up over a three-month period.

Find out more (the Times)

6. Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper took their family on a Sound of Music tour in Salzberg.

Find out more (Daily Telegraph)

7. Fifty years ago, “to host” was considered ugly journalese but it is actually a centuries-old verb.

Find out more (Economist)

8. Lithuania has a big problem with potholes.

Find out more

9. When Richard III was killed he suffered at least 11 injuries, although some of them might have been inflicted after death.

Find out more

10. Deer mothers respond to human baby cries.

Find out more (New Scientist)

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Go Figure: The week in numbers

Look back at the week in numbers with our Go Figure images, which are posted daily on social media.

Amazon observation tower

Monday: Brazil builds giant Amazon observation tower

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child mortality

Tuesday: Malawi’s tale of hope as it reduces child mortality

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scotland referendum

Wednesday: Mass rallies mark referendum campaign climax

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Alibaba sells more than Amazon and eBay combined

Thursday: Alibaba set to price shares as investors gear up for flotation

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Highest  turnout in UK

Friday: Scotland votes ‘No’ to independence

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Weekendish: The best of the week’s reads

Westgate attack, Nairobi, September 2013

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

It’s a year since gunmen believed to have been from the Somali Islamist group al-Shabab, allied to al-Qaeda, brought mayhem to an upmarket shopping centre in Nairobi, Kenya. On a sunny Saturday morning gunmen stormed the centre and proceeded to randomly shoot at men, women and children. In the ensuing chaos, shoppers and retail staff tried to escape, while others hid next to bodies of fellow shoppers, wondering who would get to them first – the police and Kenyan security forces, or the militants and their guns. At least 67 people died, and hundreds were wounded. Voices From The Mall focuses on the first terrifying hours of the Westgate siege, and in a series of interviews, survivors recall their desperate attempts to save their own lives, while a responder tells how he came face to face with a gunman.

Kenya’s Westgate attack a year on: Voices from the mall

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Sperm whale's eye

‘Face-to-face’A sperm whale could swallow a human within a matter of seconds without even having to chew. So a group of marine mammal scientists who free-dive with the bus-sized mammals with only masks and flippers might be regarded as foolhardy by some. But the research group insists this is the most effective way to observe sperm whales without scaring them, and makes the divers much more likely to be welcomed into pods for hours at a time. Marc Jacobs ‏tweets: “Learned an interesting fact. A sperm whale is the loudest animal on the planet & can vibrate your body to death. Hm.” Faye Wilde ‏@diver54321 adds: “Maybe on scuba, no way I could freedive would get distracted and breathe by accident!!”

The freedivers who swim with whales

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Hitler at the Garrison Church, Potsdam

Should ‘Hitler’s church’ be rebuilt?Plans to rebuild a baroque church in Potsdam have been met with deep consternation by many in Germany. It’s a building with a rich history, having once hosted JS Bach as its organist. So why are so many against its reconstruction? Because the church was also the site of Hitler’s famous meeting with President Hindenburg in 1933 – an event which many see as a turning point, when Hitler was legitimised in the eyes of Germany’s upper class. The building was bombed during World War Two and finally destroyed in 1968, and many in Germany believe that should have been the end of its story. But a group spearheading plans for reconstruction has different ideas.

The church described as a ‘symbol of evil’

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Hampstead Heath sign

Out in the openSir John Gielgud was arrested for it in 1953. And the singer George Michael, also famously apprehended after an incident in a Los Angeles public toilet, said he had no shame about it (and even wrote a song about it). Decades ago, the police in the UK did their utmost to stop gay men having sex in public toilets and outdoor “cruising grounds”. And for centuries heterosexual couples have had sex in secluded spots, often referred to as “Lovers’ Lanes”. A decade ago footballer Stan Collymore admitted to “dogging” – having sex in a public place watched by onlookers. Today much has changed and the police take advice on “sensitivity and fairness” in dealing with those who have sex in public places. A Freedom of Information request, submitted last year, revealed specific guidelines, published in 2009 by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) on the policing of sex in public. Julie Bindel assesses these guidelines and looks at the history of cruising. Cara Sutra ‏tweets: “The Sex in Public news: I believe that as long as you’re not upsetting anyone or visible to underage then why not?” Simon T ‏@nudeweatherman adds: “Parallels with public nudity here … although I loathe to connect sex and naturism. As always, common sense is key…” Paul Bradshaw ‏tweets: “Great example of #jargon and #foi: Public Sex Environments (PSE).”

The tricky business of policing sex in public

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How do blind people dream?

A blind person holding a cane about o cross a road

People who were born blind have no understanding of how to see in their waking lives, so they can’t see in their dreams. But most blind people have lost their sight later in life and can dream visually. Danish research in 2014 found that as time passes, a blind person is less likely to dream in pictures. There are a small number of questions that blind people seem to get asked regularly. But what about the lesser-known things about blindness?

Blindness, by those in the know

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Poirot and the case of the vanishing Belgians

Refugees arriving at Folkestone

The UK was home to 250,000 Belgian refugees during World War One – the largest single influx in the country’s history. In some purpose-built villages they had their own schools, newspapers, shops, hospitals, churches, prisons and police. These areas were considered Belgian territory and run by the Belgian government. They even used the Belgian currency. But despite their numbers the only Belgian from the time that people are most likely to know is the fictitious detective Hercule Poirot. So why did the Belgians more or less vanish?

How 250,000 Belgians didn’t leave a trace

Here are some things we’ve enjoyed this week from elsewhere around the web:Inside Japan’s love hotels – Vice

The caffeine-free guide to keeping sharp at work – Quartz

In Jordan, Ever Younger Syrian Brides – The New York Times

The Surprising Origin Story of Wonder Woman – Smithsonian Magazine

Remember #BringBackOurGirls? This Is What Has Happened In The 5 Months Since – Huffington Post

Road Safety Poetry, by the Delhi Traffic Police – The Atlantic

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The sugar company that is fighting back

A child eating a donut

A sugar company is fighting back against the perceived demonisation of sugar by the media, saying it’s been disproportionately blamed for causing obesity, writes Tom Heyden.

It’s not been a happy couple of years for anybody selling refined sugar. The American doctor Robert Lustig has garnered international attention by suggesting too much fructose sugar in the diet equates to “poison”. “Sugar is now enemy number one in the Western diet”, is a typical newspaper headline. Market researchers Mintel labelled “demonisation of sugar” as the reason for a rise in artificial sweeteners used in drinks. It’s been implanted in many people’s minds that added sugar is behind the obesity epidemic as well as other health problems.

Now producer AB Sugar is fed up with the media’s attack. It has launched a campaign called “Making Sense of Sugar”, aiming to improve understanding of its product. “Obesity is a complex issue that has no single cause,” writes chief executive Mark Carr in an article for The Grocer magazine. Sugar has been given “more than its fair share of the blame”, he says, considering other factors such as exercise levels and overall consumption of calories. Carr criticises the media’s “alarming headlines and confusing advice”.

More on sugar

Refined sugar

By sugar, health campaigners don’t mean the sugar found naturally in complex carbohydrates or fruits. They mean refined sugars, sometimes known as “free sugars”, that are added artificially. And there’s no doubt that there is serious and growing concern over consumption levels of this type of sugar. The World Health Organization’s new target is that added sugars – as well as some natural ones – should account for no more than 5% of energy intake – down from 10%. Some nutrition scientists say that isn’t far enough. They argue for less than 3%.

The 5% figure represents 25g of sugar a day. Bearing in mind that a can of Coca Cola contains 35g and that sugar is added to a host of cereals, breads, sauces and ready meals, such a target means big changes in Western diets.

Sugar is definitely misunderstood, agrees nutrition expert Dr Sarah Schenker. The word itself has so many definitions, she says, that it often requires a level of biochemistry understanding beyond most people. “I do see the need for more clarity,” she says, “but I’m not sure that something sponsored by a sugar provider is going to give the most unbiased slant”. And it’s not being unfairly singled out, she says. “We as a nation need to be aware that sugar is, in [its] various forms, almost ubiquitous throughout our food. I agree that we need to understand more but it doesn’t get away from the main message that most of us are eating too much sugar.”

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Caption Challenge: We come in peace

Actors dressed as aliens

Winning entries in the Caption Challenge.

The competition is now closed.

This week actors dressed as aliens tour London to launch the new season of science fiction television series Defiance.

Thanks to all who entered. The prize of a small amount of kudos to the following:

6. Geoffrey Scott-Baker:

“No mate, this is the 143 bus to Clapham – the 49 goes to our leader.”

5. Mike Monk:

Typical of London Transport. You wait ages for an alien and then two come along together.

4. Ian Stanley:

The new undercover ticket inspectors were quickly rumbled.

3. Russ:

“I think Mars is a request stop.”

2. Ocean Lynagh:

First Contactless.

1. Robert Barker:

Nasa space programme announces new bus replacement service.

PDF download Full rules can be seen here[16KB]

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Was there a time British people couldn’t buy olive oil?

Olive oil and olives

The UK could be facing higher olive oil prices after a summer of droughts in Spain. But a popular notion is that there was once a time when olive oil was only available to buy at a pharmacy. How true is it, asks Tom Heyden.

Cookery writer Elizabeth David is credited with introducing a culinary revolution in the UK, publishing A Book of Mediterranean Food in 1950. She famously told readers that olive oil – vital for many recipes – could be found in chemists where it was sold as a treatment for ear ailments, among other things.

Today, multiple varieties of olive oil are available in every supermarket, but was it really such an exotic ingredient 60 years ago? Judy Ridgway, now an olive oil expert, wasn’t aware of it during her middle-class Manchester upbringing. “We didn’t come across olive oil at all except from the chemist,” she says. And they never cooked with it. “My mother used to rub it into her hair before she had it permed.”

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Olive oil explained 19th Century-style

Mrs BeetonMrs Beeton (1836-1865) was famous for her cookery and house-keeping books

“The oil extracted from olives, called olive oil, or salad oil, is, with the continentals, in continual request, more dishes being prepared with than without it, we should imagine. With us, it is principally used in mixing a salad, and when thus employed, it tends to prevent fermentation, and is an antidote against flatulency.”

– from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, published in 1861

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But an updated and enlarged 1907 version of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management treats olive oil as a fairly standard ingredient. It is listed in onion pudding and Cambridge sauce. Almond fritters require a “hot frying-fat, clarified butter and olive oil”. This suggests familiarity with its usage. “Victorian England was one of those places where you could buy anything if you had the money to do it,” food historian Dr Annie Gray says, and it would have been sold at the grocers, often for salads. That’s not to dispel the myth completely. “[Usage] seemed to peter out – like an awful lot of things – in the interwar years,” Gray says.

It didn’t disappear entirely. A 1938 article in the Times about chanterelle mushrooms recommends cooking them with olive oil. And over a period of some decades a company called Sasso sold it in London.

The myth is that David is solely responsible for olive oil’s resurgence in the UK, says Gray, but people certainly struggled to get hold of it. “If you didn’t live in London or the South East then it was more difficult to find it,” says Ridgway. “You did have to seek it out.” Unavailability may explain its regular parody as a middle-class staple. Even by the late 1980s, says Ridgway, it was predominantly in upmarket grocers or delicatessens. The general public probably wouldn’t have been aware of it until much later, she adds.

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Why don’t children want to learn the violin?

Teenager with guitar

More children are playing instruments today than two decades ago, according to a recent study, with keyboards, guitars and drums outstripping the more traditional violin. Why are more youngsters not taking it up, asks Tammy Thueringer.

According to exam board Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, 76% of children between five and 17 years old now play an instrument. That’s compared with 45% of five-to-14-year-olds in 1993, when the recorder was the most popular instrument.

Today, the recorder ranks third after the keyboard and piano. The acoustic guitar, drums and electric guitar, come next and the violin is seventh on the list – despite a slight increase in popularity.

Howard Ionascu, director of Junior Academy, a youth programme at the Royal Academy of Music says the violin’s place on the list could be linked to what children are exposed to.

“Kids are so immersed in pop music, it’s what they see and hear, so I think there is a correlation between that and the growth of students playing instruments like guitars or drums,” says Ionascu.

Paulette Bayley, a professional violinist who works on music education projects, says it’s important to introduce the violin in a way that creates enthusiasm.

“Much like anything else, the emphasis has to be on how it’s presented. If you present them in an interesting way, kids will want to learn.”

Difficulty may deter some students. Ionascu says the violin can be one of the more challenging instruments to learn in the early stages doesn’t offer the same instant gratification other instruments may.

“With instruments like the piano or flute, you physically put your fingers on a note and you get that note,” says Ionascu. “But with the violin, it’s really about getting a feel for the strings and that takes time.”

Despite only being ahead of the flute, percussion and bass guitar on the list, Ionascu says the violin is still a very popular instrument and can help students succeed in other areas. He says that if violinists or other musicians don’t go on to become professional musicians, the skills that they have learnt, such as the rigour of practice and the ability grasp difficult concepts, helps prepare them for high-achieving professions such as law and medicine.


Why are people not going on as many trips?

feet walking

People in England made an average of 923 trips each last year, writes Anthony Reuben.

That sounds like a lot – about two-and-a-half per day each – but the National Travel Survey from the Department for Transport says it’s the lowest number since records began in the early 1970s.

Also, it includes anything from a walk round the block to flying across the country.

The activity that took up the most trips – shopping – was also one of the biggest fallers, down from 187 to 180 trips during the year.

The number of shopping trips has been falling since 2010, with growth in online grocery deliveries a possible contributor to that. ONS figures suggest that online sales by predominantly grocery stores (mainly supermarkets) rose 12.6% in 2013 compared with 2012, although it is still a relatively small proportion of their total sales.

Pedestrian sign by avenue of trees

Visiting friends’ homes was down from 101 to 94 trips a year on average.

Going by road was by far the most popular means of getting around, with 64% of trips being as either a driver or passenger in a car or van, accounting for 77% of the distance travelled. Walking accounted for 22% of trips but only 3% of the distance travelled.

The National Travel Survey involves interviewing 6,830 households and getting them to fill out weekly travel diaries. The number of trips taken has been falling gradually since 1995.

Mobile phones and tablets make it easier to communicate with friends and do our shopping without leaving our homes. But one reason for taking a trip that has remained pretty constant since 1995 was the “other” category, which includes just going for a walk.

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‘The polar bears made me do it’

Painting by Edwin Landseer "Man Proposes, God Disposes" (1864)

Sir John Franklin’s fabled Arctic ship that vanished more than 160 years ago was found this week. But a painting related to its mysterious demise hanging in one university has been haunting exam students for decades, writes Tom Heyden.

“The polar bears made me do it,” are the eeriest words to emerge from the urban legend of Edwin Landseer’s painting – a grisly depiction of two polar bears hanging at Royal Holloway, University of London. Since the first exams were taken there in the 1920s and 1930s, it’s been a painting associated with failure. “If you sit directly in front of it in an exam, you will fail – unless it’s covered up,” goes the myth, according to the college’s curator Dr Laura MacCulloch.

The painting of two polar bears devouring a ship’s remains – as well as those of the humans onboard – was inspired by the mysterious disappearance of Sir John Franklin, who led two ships and 129 men to their doom in 1845 trying to chart the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic. The macabre spectacle is probably enough to distract even the most conscientious student. But bad luck rumours started almost immediately. There’s an obvious connection to failure, says MacCulloch. I’m going to fail my exam just like they failed to find the Northwest Passage, one might conclude – and then I’ll get eaten by a polar bear.

The painting covered by a Union Jack flag in 1984

In the 1970s, fear of the curse reached fever pitch, says MacCulloch, when a student point blank refused to be seated near it. “The poor registrar, who just wanted to get this exam underway, ran off and tried to find the biggest thing that she could to cover the picture,” she says. It turned out to be a massive union jack flag. Ever since, the same flag has adorned the painting every year during exams.

But as that tradition verges on four decades, the urban myth itself has diverged. Recent graduate Michaela Jones was told that a student during an exam had stared directly into one of the polar bears’ eyes. Trance-like, the student had then gone “mad” and killed herself – although not before etching the words “The polar bears made me do it” onto her exam paper. Or his paper. “I’ve heard it was a girl, I’ve heard it was a boy, I’ve heard about three [different] ways that they killed themselves,” says MacCulloch. Of course, the incident didn’t happen. No evidence exists to the contrary in the university’s archives.

Nevertheless, “students are quite superstitious,” says Jones. “If you speak to anyone at the uni there is a consensus that it’s true.” And although Jones acknowledges it may be a myth, she definitely wouldn’t want to sit an exam without the comfort of the covering flag. “It does relieve people’s fears a bit,” she says. Luckily for students at Royal Holloway, that tradition is there to stay for now, says MacCulloch.

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How long is the average tongue?

Nick Stoeberl

Californian Nick Stoeberl has just taken over as holder of the world record for the longest tongue. His measures 10.1cm (about 4in) from the tip to the middle of the closed top lip. How does this compare with the average person’s tongue, asks Clare Spencer.

Guinness World Records, which will include Stoeberl in the 2015 edition of its famous book, says that the average tongue is 10cm long when measured from the oropharynx – the place in the back of the throat where the tongue begins – to the tip. In other words, the part of Stoeberl’s tongue that extends beyond the lips is longer than the average person’s tongue in its entirety.

Another way of measuring tongues is from the epiglottis to the tip. The epiglottis is a flap of cartilage found in the mouth behind the tongue. A 1967 study by GB Hopkin at the Orthodontic department of the University of Edinburgh’s dental school found and adult’s mean average tongue length, measured this way, is 8.5cm (3.3in) for men and 7.9cm (3.1in) for women. This makes Stoeberl’s tongue sound even more exceptional.

But measuring average tongue length is a tricky business, even for professional otorhinolaryngologists… or ear nose and throat specialists. A 1986 study of tongue length suggested that variations could depend on how far the measurer was able to persuade participants to protrude their tongue. If so, it’s as much about how hard you are trying to stick out your tongue as about how long your tongue is.

The longest tongue record is not a new category for Guinness World Records. Briton Umar Alvi held the record from 2001 to 2002, with a tongue of 5.7cm (2.2in) from the lips to the tip. The next two record holders, also British, measured 9cm (3.5in) and 9.8cm (3.9in).

But Stoeberl is the first to exceed 10cm.

Luckily, you don’t have to find your oropharynx or epiglottis to compare your tongue with his. You just stick out your tongue, put your lips together, and get out a ruler.

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10 things we didn’t know last week

Baby crawling

1. Babies born in the winter start crawling earlier than those born in summer.

Find out more (Newswise)

2. At least three Google employees have lived for months in their vehicles on the firm’s California campus, eating in the staff cafeteria and showering in gyms.

Find out more

3. People can answer word tests correctly while asleep.

Find out more

4. If everyone had only one soulmate, true love would be found only in one lifetime out of 10,000.

Find out more (The Guardian)

5. Pele – christened Edson Arantes do Nascimento – was named after Thomas Edison.

Find out more

6. Over the last 13 years of his life, Andy Warhol stored 300,000 everyday objects including a fan letters, a lump of concrete, used condoms and thousands of postage stamps in 610 cardboard boxes.

Find out more

7. The largest hunting dinosaur probably ate whole sharks.

Find out more (New Scientist)

8. According to instructions set out by a Babylonian scribe, Noah’s ark would have to be woven with a rope that would stretch from London to Edinburgh.

Find out more (The Times)

9. The first DNA fingerprint used in court prevented a young immigrant being sent back to Ghana.

Find out more (Science Museum blog)

10. The late Sir Donald Sinden was the last person alive who knew Oscar Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, and one of only two people to attend his funeral.

Find out more

Seen a thing? Tell the Magazine on Twitter using the hashtag #thingIdidntknowlastweek

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Weekendish: The best of the week’s reads

Thamesmead

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

The era of “radical concrete” that came to dominate Britain’s post-war landscape remains a viscerally emotive subject. Despite a mini-revival in recent years, public opinion seems to be as firmly set against these high-rise monoliths as the concrete holding them together. But a massive collection of images from the 1960s and 1970s offers a glimpse at a more optimistic period in this much-vilified period of town planning, a time when new towns proliferated and planning was seen as a force for good that could reinvent British society. Do these old slides make us reassess the planners’ legacy, asked Tom Heyden. @Camberwella tweeted: “Nope, still don’t get/want brutalism. Thank you so very much.” A more enthusiastic LucieMatthews-Jones ‏@luciejones83 tweeted: “I love concrete!” ‏@CEEQUALnews tweeted: “A great read for all of you closet Town Planners (you know who you are).”

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Wife on Mars

the couple in a bar

Sonia Van Meter wants to be one of the first people on Mars. She is one of 705 people in the running to form a 20- to 40-strong human colony on the Red Planet – a group whittled down from 200,000 who sent applications to Dutch not-for-profit organisation Mars One last year. The only problem is, her husband Jason doesn’t want to go – but he’s trying to be understanding about it. “Like any good red-blooded American male, at first I thought this was all about me. I thought: you’re leaving me,” he says. “The more she talked about it, the more I realised she was doing this for the right reasons – she was doing this to show humanity what we can all do if we work together,” he says. Her stepchildren think it’s cool, too. Readers had their own take. “Maybe she just needs some space,” says Dezley Scott Davidson on Facebook. Read the couple’s story.

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The island factory

New island

China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam all claim part or all of the South China Sea. Since the beginning of the year, China has moved to assert its claim on the area by dredging up millions of tonnes of rock and sand from the sea floor and pumping it into reefs to form substantial new islands. The Philippines, meanwhile, also has permanently occupied outposts in the area – including a heavily subsidised micro-colony on the island of Pagasa aimed at strengthening its legal claims. Another outpost is the Sierra Madre, a rusting, stranded ship that is home to a group of marines. Chinese ships have been blockading it for some time, preventing resupply ships, with food, water and building materials, from getting through. Essentials are, however, dropped from parachute once a month. The BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes is the first Western journalist to have seen China’s island construction with his own eyes. He also visits the marooned Filipinos. The result is an immersive story told through text, images and video.

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Box of tricks

Andy Warhol, Time Capsule 262Andy Warhol, Time Capsule 262, courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

The artist Andy Warhol consigned 300,000 of his everyday possessions to sealed cardboard boxes. These “Time Capsules” contained such treasures as junk mail, fan-letters, toenail clippings, gallery-invitation cards, unopened letters, gallery flyers, a lump of concrete, thousands of used postage, packets of sweets and – of course – unopened tins of Campbell’s soup. Now the 610 boxes, filled during the last 13 years of Warhol’s life, are being opened for the first time at a gallery dedicated to him in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While it may look like load of old rubbish, Warhol – whose film Trash is one of his most celebrated works – “selected these objects with care, chose to give them their own 15 minutes of fame”, says author Simon Elmes. Warhol fans seem to agree – one has paid $30,000 (£19,000) to open the final Time Capsule. @nicklaight says it goes to show “how great curation can create high perceived value from everyday ephemera”.

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Enduring mystery

A 777 - the same model as MH370 - flyingA Boeing 777 – the same type of plane as MH370

What is it about flight MH370 that makes it fertile ground for conspiracy theories? Six months after the Malaysian airliner vanished, a slew of theories has been doing the rounds. It was variously shot down by US and Thai fighters, downed by a Chinese submarine, cyber-hijacked by mobile phone, substituted for MH17, and landed in Pakistan. Or was it all to do with Freescale Semiconductor, a US technology firm whose employees were onboard? And just as the theories began to wane, MH17 was shot down in Ukraine, creating a new buzz around the missing airliner. The Times’ David Aaronovitch argues that conspiracy theories stem from a “fear of chaos”. It’s normal to speculate, Jovan Byford, a psychology lecturer at the Open University, says. “But speculating drawing on the established cult of conspiracy theorising is wrong. It’s misleading and it locates the problem in the wrong place.” Ben Kilbride‏ tweeted “I’m not surprised considering nobody has found a thing”.

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Here are some things we’ve enjoyed this week from elsewhere around the web:Living simply in a dumpster – The Atlantic

Inside the secret world of a British undercover drugs cop – Vice

Mosquitoes really do prefer some people to others – Time

What’s the Best Value at a Bar? Breaking down typical alcohol margins – Slate

How the global banana industry is killing the world’s favourite fruit – Quartz

How the films you’ve seen influence your choice of dog – The Conversation

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Go Figure: The week in numbers

Look back at the week in numbers with our Go Figure images, which are posted daily on social media.

MH370

Monday: Hunt for missing flight MH370 enters new phase

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China new island

Tuesday: China may have a new plan in its territorial dispute over the South China Sea

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oscar pistorius

Wednesday: Oscar Pistorius to learn his fate

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Mars

Thursday: There could be up to 20 people living on Mars by 2034

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cows

Friday: China’s demand for baby formula is one reason behind soaring US milk prices

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Find #BBCGoFigure on Twitter and on Facebook


Caption Challenge: Major spectacle

Man looks through a giant pair of glasses

Winning entries in the Caption Challenge.

This week a man looks through a giant pair of glasses.

Thanks to all who entered. The prize of a small amount of kudos to the following:

6. Joshua Brown:

“Does my face look big in this?”

5. Jon:

The glasses are always greener on the other side.

4. Bernard Harper:

“I told you the 3D printer settings were wrong!”

3. Samantha Pegg:

“Just crouch there and stay very still and the giant Gok Wan will walk peacefully by.”

2. Ian:

Google Glass: the early years.

1. Bramer:

Mr Gulliver is here to collect his prescription, sir.

PDF download Full rules can be seen here[16KB]

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The rebirth of canned beer

Selection of craft canned beers

Beer in a can. It has a decades-old image problem – bland, mass-produced and metallic-tasting. Now craft brewers are trying to do for canned beer what New World winemakers did for screwcaps more than a decade ago, writes Megan Lane.

Order a craft beer in one of the modish American-style eateries springing up around the UK, and chances are it will arrive in a can.

It’s a packaging choice big producers have made for decades. Cans are lighter and easier to transport. The seal is airtight and the metal casing lets in no light, extending the shelf-life of the brew within. Modern cans come with polymer linings, which act as an impermeable barrier between beer and aluminium.

A handful of small North American producers switched to cans in the early 2000s. Today 413 craft breweries in the US use cans, according to the Craft Cans database. A lavishly illustrated book on beer can artwork was published this year, and the 2013 indie movie Drinking Buddies – largely filmed in Chicago’s Revolution Brewing, which has its own canning line – revolved around characters swigging canned craft beer.

“The mainstream image of the can is that it’s a plebeian package for a poor quality product,” says Ben McFarland, of drinks writing duo Thinking Drinkers, co-founders of Hobo, one of the first canned craft beers sold in the UK.

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The pioneers of canned craft beer

Craft Beer cans

1991: Mid-Coast Brewing Company launched cans of Chief Oshkosh Red Lager – its ad copy emphasised the use of cans “to protect delicate flavours”

1992: Switched to bottles after consumer resistance

1994: Mid-Coast brewery folded

2001: Canada’s Yukon Gold craft brewery put its lager into cans as this was the container of choice in the province

2002: Colorado’s Oskar Blues began canning its beer, the first US craft brewer to re-embrace the can

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The cost of canning is starting to fall, due to changing technology and demand from microbrewers. Some have installed their own canning lines. “When we started looking for a canning supplier a couple of years ago, there weren’t many who could provide small batch runs as it was simply too costly,” says McFarland.

Avalanche beer

Two years ago, gourmet burger chain Byron – which has outlets in 10 cities around England – added two US canned craft beers to its menu, a conscious decision to try to change minds, says a spokesman. Today, nine of its 11 craft beers come in cans. “Our customers are drinking more beer in our restaurants now than when we served mostly bottles.”

McFarland counsels against swigging straight from the can – or bottle, for that matter. Pouring beer into a glass allows for a fuller olfactory experience, an important factor in our sense of taste. The metallic tang many associate with canned beers is actually thought to be the scent of aluminium as can approaches nose. No wonder the Australians call a can of beer a “tinny”.

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Would you live in a house clinging to a cliff?

Cliff House

A design for a home anchored to a sheer cliff face offers a striking vista. But what would it take to live in such a place, asks Jon Kelly.

For sale: distinctive seaside property with spectacular coastal views. Would suit high-value buyer untroubled by vertigo.

So far it only exists as a concept, but the design for the Cliff House by Modscape, an Australian firm that designs and builds prefabricated homes, is enough to give a lurch to the stomach of anyone uneasy with heights.

Here’s the pitch – it features three bedrooms (two doubles, the other en-suite), a stylish living space, a carport, separate bathroom and (tantalisingly or nausea-inducingly, depending on your tolerance of sheer drops) an open-air spa and barbecue area on the bottom floor. Artfully minimalist interior décor focuses visitors’ attention on “transcendent views of the ocean”.

According to the company’s website, the plans were drawn up after a couple approached the firm asking its designers to explore how to build a holiday home along “extreme parcels” of coast in Victoria.

Cliff House

Inspired by the way barnacles cling to a ship’s hull, the design envisages that the house would be made up of five modules connected by a lift and secured to the cliff face using engineered steel pins.

It might look precarious – and a hostage to coastal erosion – but there’s no reason why the design shouldn’t be structurally sound, says Maxwell Hutchinson, a former president of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Cantilever beams drilled into the rock could support the building just as crampons support a climber.

While people assume homes must be built upwards from foundations in the ground, it’s equally possibly in theory for them to be suspended or hung, says Hutchinson. There’s a tradition of unconventional properties around the world including floating homes, underwater homes and even ice hotels.

But, he warns, “all of these things are expensive because the construction industry hates anything unusual”. Any prospective owner of the Cliff House would need very deep pockets.

And that wouldn’t be the only thing required of them, Hutchinson says. “It would have to be someone with a very, very strong stomach.”

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The art of cashing in on the royal baby

Nissan

The announcement that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have a second baby on the way has been instantly greeted by a slew of advertising messages, writes Tom Heyden.

It didn’t take long. Just seven minutes separated Clarence House’s announcement of the duchess’s latest pregnancy and Nissan cashing in on it with an advert featuring a crown on each of the seven car seats.

Soon other companies followed, from Innocent and WKD to the Post Office. It’s brands trying ever so hard to be relevant.

There’s a trend towards being spontaneous within the “social news room”, says Marketing magazine’s Nicola Kemp. “They’re trying to ride on the tailcoats of any given piece of news.”

Post Office: Congratulations from Post Office to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who are expecting a special delivery
Pizza Express: May we humbly suggest naming the #Royalbaby 'pizza#

But however you rate Nissan’s marketing team, it’s unlikely to have been conceived, made, approved and signed off – all in 420 seconds. Not without a Photoshop wizard and a team so well-oiled they work quicker than it took for that pun to sink in. “Brands do pre-empt things a lot more now,” Kemp says. Maybe that’s why Nissan advertised their seven-seater, wary of a curveball quadruplets announcement. Baby-related brands probably had this on their calendar – even without an exact date, says Kemp. Burble Baby plugs some princess plaques. Sports Direct implores you to “treat tiny toes well” with its baby shoes. The Post Office’s “special delivery” pun is a bit of a stretch.

Sports Direct: Got your own little prince or princess on the way? Treat tiny toes well with our range of baby shoes
Innocent Royal Name Generator list

But many brands are just opportunistic. “For some sectors it is genuinely a really smart strategy but for others you just can’t help thinking that perhaps their social media manager is a bit bored,” says Kemp. There’s an art to social media humour, though. “Brands are much more comfortable [now] in pointing fun at themselves,” says Kemp. “It’s being self-aware that you’re capitalising on something but not taking yourself too seriously.”

Even the naff jokes might get well shared, she admits. “You really have to have a reason for doing it,” says Kemp, “whether that reason is having a joke, making people smile [or] being part of the conversation.”

Lexus: Someone's about to get a baby brother (a picture of two different Lexus cars)
Reed: Jobs for nannies available. Just saying...

But before we get too cynical – it’s not all about sales. Sometimes it’s about safety, as with the London Fire Brigade’s timely warning that they’ll only rescue pregnant ladies like the duchess from lifts.

London Fire Brigade: If you're pregnant like Kate and trapped we'll attend but a lot of lift rescues are not emergencies

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The two-year baby gap – is it ideal?

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George

The Duchess of Cambridge is expected to give birth in the spring of 2015. She gave birth to her first child, Prince George, on 22 July 2013, meaning there will be a gap of about 20 months between the two children, give or take a few weeks.

Now Magazine suggested last summer that Kate might want “back-to-back babies”. The idea being that you can have your children in a single batch lasting just a few years and then move on.

Women starting a family in their 30s might not have the luxury of spacing their children out. For the mother’s health, two to three years is “probably perfect” says Sarah Jarvis, a GP who regularly appears on the BBC’s Jeremy Vine Show. A woman goes through a lot giving birth, especially if they breastfeed afterwards. In nutrition terms, it takes a year to recover, says Jarvis. They will need to have time to rebuild their pelvic floor, she continues. Two years is good because it gives a bit of leeway. And anything over three years may be too long as it can cause sibling rivalry, Jarvis suggests.

Some parents talk of two years as being ideal. If you plan ahead, it means siblings will be approaching A-levels and GCSEs at the same time – allowing the family to have an intensive “exam” year, followed by a year off.

There are pros and cons with any gap, says Justine Roberts, who co-founded Mumsnet. She once read of research suggesting that the ideal age gap for developing a child’s intelligence is 11 years as the older child becomes like a third parent. But that’s not practical or desirable for many.

At the other extreme, having children one year or less apart is likely to be a huge strain. The advantage of having babies close together is that your children will play together and become close, developing shared interests, Roberts suggests. But having a new baby while you have a toddler is hard work. “It depends how your set up is, how drained you’ll be.”

Luckily for the Duchess of Cambridge, childcare should not be a problem.

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The tale of the parrot that started a fight

Scene of confusion with parrot at centre

The British newspaper archive is a treasure trove of outlandish stories. Author Jeremy Clay tells the singular tale of the parrot that provoked a pub dust-up.

A spilt pint. A misplaced glance. A loose tongue. The wrong look. The wrong accent. The wrong attitude. Too much booze. Too little common sense.

All these things and far more besides have provided the flimsy excuses for bar-room brawls down the years. But there can be few flare-ups with an odder spark than the ugly scene which broke out in one London boozer in the summer of 1898.

Arthur Crowe and his pal George Tibbett were having a drink in a Blackfriars pub with a German pal when an ice-cream man called Brambani sauntered in. The landlord kept a parrot behind the bar and Brambani enthusiastically returned to his on-going project, trying to teach it to speak Italian.

“With characteristic ineptitude,” reported the Falkirk Herald, the parrot replied in English. A potty-mouthed brand of English, at that. We don’t know what it actually said, as the diffident press printed it as “Oh, you old –” but it was enough to provoke Crowe and Tibbett, who thought the insult had come from Brambani. Not just that, but it was aimed at the German woman at their table.

The hapless Brambani tried to explain who the real culprit was, but reason rarely figures in the prelude to a dust-up. In increasingly aggressive tones, they demanded an apology. The parrot, meanwhile, thrilled by this unexpected turn of events, “kept up a running fire of abusive and scandalous remarks”.

Sensing matters were heading for a painful conclusion, Brambani turned and legged it, scarpering for the safety of his sweet shop.

Itching for a fight, the trio pursued him, and were soon joined, as if by magic, by a like-minded small mob. Brambani’s nephew John stepped forward to appeal to the best instincts of the crowd, and was promptly met with a hailstorm of missiles, including ginger beer bottles and, gallingly, his family’s own ice-cream glasses.

Victorian Strangeness

Illustration of a man carrying a pig

A series of bizarre episodes culled from 19th Century newspapers by Jeremy Clay.

“The German lady took an active part in the melee,” said the Herald, “but decamped upon the arrival of PCs Greenway and Hunt, who prevented further bloodshed and arrested the prisoners.”

Crowe and Tibbett were jailed for a month. There was no word on what became of the parrot. But two years earlier, a few miles up the road, another parrot was ruffling feathers in court.

Solicitor’s clerk Henry Lovegrove had bought a talking parrot in a pub as a gift for his sweetheart.

“Can it talk?” he asked ship’s steward William Foulger. It most certainly could. Spanish and English. Plus, it could sing. It did a rousing version of Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay, Foulger boasted. Thirty shillings seemed a fair price for such a richly-talented pet.

The wary Lovegrove had just one more question. The bird had been kept on a ship – was it fit to present to a lady? Oh, the bird chooses its words carefully, Foulger assured him: “Its language is that of a bishop.”

Imagine Lovegrove’s consternation, then, when Miss Nelson soon told him she couldn’t stand to be in the presence of the bird for a moment longer. Why? “The parrot swears more than the troops in Flanders,” Lovegrove told Shoreditch County Court, after being pursued by Foulger for the 30 shillings he’d never paid.

In themselves, that string of profanities might not have proved a problem. The bird, it seemed, specialised in swearing in Spanish. Alas, poor Miss Nelson had been a governess in Spain. She understood every single word. The parrot’s language, she told the court, was “simply sulphurous”.

At that point, the bird itself was brought into the courtroom. “Perhaps it would talk for the edification of your honour?” said Lovegrove’s solicitor. “I don’t want to hear it,” harrumphed the judge. “My knowledge of the Spanish tongue is not so profound as Miss Nelson’s, nor have I any wish to endure Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay again.”

And with that it was settled. Lovegrove kept his cash. Foulger reclaimed the parrot. Is it too fanciful to imagine he flogged it to a pub landlord in Blackfriars?

Discover more about what life was like in Victorian times and 10 truly bizarre Victorian deaths

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Weekendish: The best of the week’s reads

Illustration of Royal Coat of Arms

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

In less than a fortnight, the voters of Scotland will decide whether to become an independent country. Within Allan Little’s lifetime, the movement to leave the United Kingdom has gone from being a “fringe preoccupation” to occupying the centre ground of Scottish politics. In an account drawing on his own experience, Little describes how the break-up of the British Empire, deindustrialisation and increasingly divergent voting patterns north and south of the border brought the Scottish nation to the crossroads. “Whichever way the vote goes, there can be no going back to business as usual,” Little says. “The United Kingdom will have changed.”

How did Scotland change so much?

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Mum, mum and dad

Alana Saarinen at a piano

Alana Saarinen loves playing golf and the piano, listening to music and hanging out with friends. In those respects, she’s like many teenagers around the world. Except she’s not, because Alana Saarinen is one of only 30 to 50 people in the world who have some mitochondria, and therefore a bit of DNA, from a third person. She was conceived through a pioneering infertility treatment in the US which was later banned. The UK is now looking to legalise a new, similar technique which would use a donor’s mitochondria to try to eliminate debilitating genetic diseases. “I think this treatment is good. Not convinced it makes a biological parent,”tweets tentacle sixteen. Colin Mitchell ‏tweets: “The girl with three biological parents. Mitochondrial replacement – posing ethical & legal questions.”

The girl with three biological parents

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My family and other animals

June and chimp playing with doll

Imagine sharing your youth with a chimp – and other animals. This is what happened to June Williams. Her father George Mottershead was passionate about animals, and in 1930 came up with what seemed at the time to be a crazy idea – setting up a “zoo without bars”. Mottershead moved his family into a run-down estate and began populating it with exotic animals. A pair of goats and a gibbon were joined by two bears. A lion cub arrived them and was later swapped for a polar bear. A capybara was donated by the Duke of Westminster, who basically couldn’t keep tabs on it. The locals were dead set against the idea of a zoo on their doorstep but Mottershead prevailed and his vision gave way to Chester Zoo. As for June and her sister, they became used to having the animals for company – particularly Mary the chimp. “We more or less shared our youth,” June recalls in an interview this week. “We did things together. I used to try and teach her how to tie a knot, but I never succeeded. And we’d draw things in the sand together. She had a beautiful temperament. Chimps are just like humans… you get a close bond with some.” Of June’s upbringing, Laura Imregi ‏tweets: “This should totally have been me.”

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A flying elephant

Elephant in a plane

“I think I will have seen everything when I see an elephant fly” goes the song from Disney’s Dumbo. Indeed, you can see an elephant fly if you watch this video that accompanies Vibeke Venema’s feature on the rescue of an orphaned calf near the border between Chad and Cameroon. The nine-month-old was the only survivor of a massacre by poachers and was rescued by Gary Roberts and American nurse and missionary who also happens to have access to a Cessna aircraft. The only way to get the elephant to safety was to squeeze it into the Cessna. “He was quite interested in playing with my controls, he would put his trunk forward and feel my hand and touch the controls and of course feel my face,” says Roberts. “It was a bit of a distraction but at the same time a unique experience.” Roberts filmed it all on his mobile phone. Vicki Reeve ‏tweets: “A real-life flying elephant! Max had a horrific start to life, but was lucky to be found by such a kind person.” Sarah adds: “Sadly this is probably the happiest this wee darling ever was.” Save the Elephants tweets: “The story behind an amazing video of an pachyderm in a plane.”

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Honest scrappers

Steptoe and Son

It wasn’t only George Orwell whose reputation came under scrutiny this week. Sarah-Jane Hughes asked Magazine readers to reconsider their attitudes to scrap yards. These empires of rusting metal have long been portrayed in film, fiction and TV as a haunt of the wide boy, the tasty geezer, and many other variants of ne’er-do-well (although not always – Charles Dickens created a sympathetic scrap dealer, Nicodemus Boffin, in his last complete novel, Our Mutual Friend). Sarah herself hails from a family of scrap dealers who – she assures readers – have “never put anyone in the crusher”. The problem, though, lies in the lay-out – as one scriptwriter tells her, “They’re private kingdoms hidden from view and lend themselves very well to crime drama.” Expect plenty more recycling, then. daghosesupplies tweets: “Loved scrap yards as a youngster, hours spent looking for the odd car part.” la_crip: “‏Why are scrap dealers portrayed as criminals? I knew one honest (ish) one in Bristol. Think he may have even paid tax.”

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Here are some things we’ve enjoyed this week from elsewhere around the web:Nine Different Households, Surrounded by a Week’s Worth Garbage – Smithsonian

The complete guide to having a productive weekend – Quartz

The Origin of the “Freshman 15” myth – The Atlantic

As the seas rise, a slow-motion disaster gnaws at America’s shores – Reuters investigation

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10 things we didn’t know last week

Shark

1. You can make vegan cheese out of human DNA.

Find out more (Vice)

2. The most common surname for doctors in the UK is Khan.

Find out more (Daily Mail)

3. Lebanon has a craft beer industry.

Find out more (The Economist)

4. Man-eating sharks are nine times more likely to kill men than women.

Find out more (The Wire)

5. David Hockney’s dachshund once defecated on the floor of Dennis Hopper’s Frank Gehry-designed home, prompting a furious reaction.

Find out more (The Guardian)

6. Monkeys at the top and bottom of the social pecking order have physically different brains.

Find out more

7. Watching action films makes you eat more.

Find out more (Daily Telegraph)

8. There are £1,500 chickens that are entirely black.

Find out more

9. The men’s apparel market in India is worth nearly $2 billion (£1.2 billion) more than that of women.

Find out more (QZ)

10. Archer fish adjust for distance when they spit.

Find out more

Seen a thing? Tell the Magazine on Twitter using the hashtag #thingIdidntknowlastweek

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Go Figure: The week in numbers

Look back at the week in numbers with our Go Figure images, which are posted daily on social media.

chickens graphic level of greenhouse gases

Monday: Greenhouse gas fear over increased levels of meat eating?

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Ice Bucket Challenge figures raised for ALS

Tuesday: How much has the ice bucket challenge achieved?

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corruption and poverty

Wednesday: Corruption ‘impoverishes and kills millions’

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The biggest dinosaur, Dreadnoughtus Schrani

Thursday: ‘Dreadnought’ dinosaur yields big bone haul

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California blue whales

Friday: California blue whales bounce back to near historic numbers

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Find #BBCGoFigure on Twitter and on Facebook


Caption Challenge: Red alert

A woman has her photograph taken beside a sculpture in Ireland's National Botanic Gardens

Winning entries in the Caption Challenge.

The competition is now closed.

This week, a woman has her photograph taken beside a sculpture in Ireland’s National Botanic Gardens.

Thanks to all who entered. The prize of a small amount of kudos to the following:

6. Simon Curwood:

People travel from all around to visit the shrine of the pork scratching goddess.

5. Lynda:

“…And the prize for the best Quavers-based sculpture goes to…”

4. Rod:

“Don’t worry, I’ll take the stray hairs out with Photoshop.”

3. IABP:

Modern sundial gives the time in five different zones.

2. Matthew Leitch:

“Say ‘Red Leicester.'”

1. Matt Whitby:

Ginger snaps.

PDF download Full rules can be seen here[16KB]

Follow @BBCNewsMagazine on Twitter and on Facebook


Five tips for solving your own crimes

Police

Overburdened police are encouraging crime victims to investigate their own cases, an inspection in England and Wales has found. How might one safely go about this, asks Chris Stokel-Walker.

1. Keep your own CCTV as evidenceThere are nearly five million CCTV cameras in the UK, according to latest estimates from the British Security Industry Authority (BSIA), but some areas aren’t covered by a lens. Simple home security systems, including cameras, can be bought from sites like Amazon, and can capture crimes as they happen. The video produced by the most basic cameras is perfectly acceptable as evidence, says Keith Cottenden of CY4OR, a forensics firm, but be aware that privacy issues can apply. Filming your own property is fine – filming a neighbour’s is not.

2. Take statements from neighboursIain Stanton, a lecturer in policing and criminal justice studies at the University of Cumbria, says that though statements from witnesses to crimes could be admissible in a court, “a number of questions would potentially be raised in respect of comments or explanations given to people with no investigatory experience”. But asking simple factual questions like “tell me what happened”, “explain to me what you saw”, and “can you describe that in more detail?” are useful starting points.

3. Invoke the wisdom of the crowdThough it can backfire spectacularly – such as when users of Reddit, a popular message board, incorrectly identified bystanders as responsible for the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings by trawling through CCTV images – there is some wisdom in the crowd. Posting as much information as possible about the crime online can jog people’s memories, and spread awareness far and wide. And many goods taken in burglaries end up on websites such as Craigslist and Gumtree, so also keep an eye out online.

4. Use the technology available to youSmartphones remain attractive to thieves. A quarter of us have had our phones stolen from us, according to security company Lookout – but they can be tracked. Make sure you have Find my iPhone, or one of the many rival apps, installed and enabled on your phone. Following an e-trail of your phone’s whereabouts can help police locate it quicker.

5. Don’t pursue the criminals yourselfPerhaps the most important piece of advice is a simple one – by all means collect and collate evidence, but don’t try and confront the criminals responsible yourself. That much can still be left to the police.

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The perils of being called Isis

Isis

A US mobile payment company has changed its name from Isis to avoid confusion with the radical Islamist group. Should similarly titled brands feel obliged to follow suit, asks Jon Kelly.

US mobile payment service Isis has changed its name to Softcard to distinguish itself from Islamic State (IS), formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – commonly shortened to Isis. “However coincidental, we have no desire to share a name with this group,” chief executive Michael Abbott said in a statement.

It’s understandable, given that the other Isis is responsible for mass killings and abductions of members of religious and ethnic minorities, as well as beheading soldiers and journalists.

The defunct Boston “post-metal” group Isis received abusive messages on its Facebook page from posters who confused them with the Islamist organisation (the page is now titled “Isis the band”). The musicians said fans had emailed to say they were now reluctant to wear their T-shirts. Ann Summers apologised for any offence caused after, with “unfortunate timing”, it launched a range of “erotic lingerie” called The Isis Collection.

 HMP/YOI  ISIS in Thamesmead, London.HMP/ YOI Isis is sited next to Belmarsh prison in London

But other Isises persist. There is a pharmaceutical company (which has insisted it will be keeping its name), a Young Offenders Institution, a river modelling software package, an international development foundation, and the Oxford University student magazine. In 2013 there were 46 babies born in the UK called Isis, making it the 825th most popular girls’ name.

All, presumably, take inspiration from the Egyptian goddess, the Oxford river or the 1976 Bob Dylan song, rather than the Sunni militants. But each could be forgiven for considering a rebrand.

“It’s a difficult one and we’re monitoring it,” says David Brown, chief executive of ISIS Schools, which teaches English to overseas students. On the one hand, the name is now associated by many with extremism and violence. On the other, IS may catch on instead. “We’ll decide in the next month or two how to respond,” Brown adds.

Others say it’s the name of the militant fighters that should change. Isis Martinez, an alternative medicine practitioner based in Miami, launched an appeal titled Thousands of Women are Named Isis, Please Petition the Media to Use the Accurate Acronym ISIL – referring to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

And indeed IS has already given itself a new title – following the logic of Osama Bin Laden, who, according to documents recovered from his Pakistani compound, considered rebranding al-Qaeda.

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Is the UK unusually fond of lamb and potatoes?

Rack of lamb

The US ambassador to the UK says he is fed up with being served lamb and potatoes. Does this imply the British have an exceptional taste for the dish, asks Mario Cacciottolo.

If you’re playing host to Matthew Barzun, Washington’s man in London, don’t cook him lamb and potatoes. He claims to have been served the meal 180 times since his arrival to British shores last autumn and he’s had quite enough now, thank you very much.

“There are limits and I have reached them,” he told Tatler magazine.

The implication is that Britons have an exceptional taste for the dish.

In fact, on the international scale, the UK’s annual per capita lamb consumption of 4.7kg is decidedly mid-table at best, according to Eblex, the UK’s organisation for lamb (its figures also include a small helping of goat meat). That’s well behind Greece’s 12.8kg and the biggest consumer of them all – Mongolia, with 45.1kg.

But it’s way ahead of the US, which consumes a mere 0.4kg per capita each year of lamb. Writing in the Times, Philip Delves Broughton points out that almost half of Americans have never even tried it.

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Lamb recipes you’ll always be happy to eat

Lamb dhansak

There are many more at BBC Food

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It’s not so much that Britons eat a lot of lamb and potatoes. It’s that the meal has long been regarded as a sumptuous feast.

The Cheltenham Chronicle in August 1919 carried a report of how a woman appearing before magistrates – for reasons not disclosed – gave her husband regular helpings of “roast lamb peas and potatoes” as proof of how well she had treated him. He, by her account, was unappreciative of her efforts, which the magistrates referred to as luxurious.

ChocolatesNow that would be really spoiling the ambassador

As far back as 1896, the Lichfield Mercury was encouraging cooks with recipes that involved covering lamb and various vegetables with “a good many new potatoes – as many as required” with which to layer on top of the stew.

Perhaps this should have been explained to Barzun. He’s been getting served what the Brits think is a fine dish, one designed to impress such an illustrious visitor, unaware that they’ve actually been making him sick of the sight of it.

MasterChef presenter Gregg Wallace would happily swap places with the ambassador.

“Lamb is often used in North African dishes but I prefer the traditional method,” he says. “It’s a fatty meat, so I can understand why some people don’t like it, but for me that’s what makes it so delicious. I’d have it as my last meal.”

Still, things could be worse for Barzun. He must hope his diplomatic skills are never needed in Ulan Bator.

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Does limiting the power of appliances save energy?

Woman and hairdryer

The European Commission has banned the sale of powerful vacuum cleaners. Now it might do the same for other domestic appliances, but would this actually cut energy consumption?

It started with vacuum cleaners. Then there were howls of outrage when it emerged the European Commission has set up a working group to look at whether other common household appliances – kettles, toasters, bread makers and hairdryers among them – should also be regulated.

The working group is at an early stage and may rule out many of the products. But is the premise correct – does the power of an appliance determine energy consumption? Or by halving the wattage do you simply mean that someone uses it for twice as long?

Take hairdryers. You could use a 1,000-watt hairdryer for a minute or a 500-watt one for two minutes and it would in theory use the same energy. But, says Henry Lau, outreach officer at the Institute of Physics, it’s not that simple. You have to look at how efficient hairdryers actually are. “Part of the power is being used to power a heating element, you’ll get some energy wasted heating other parts of the hairdryer, not just the air.” Design matters – is it better to have faster-blown air, or hotter air?

The answer

  • No clear relationship between motor size and overall energy consumption
  • More efficient motors and better product design can be more important than power
  • Many products, such as hairdryers, use far more energy than is needed to do the job

For vacuum cleaners, better nozzle and filter design means that you can suck up more dust without increasing the power of the motor, says Chrissy McManus, technical manager at the Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Appliances. Which? Magazine has made the same point, while noting many of its Best Buys have motor sizes that exceed the new limit of 1,600 watts.

There’s no simple relationship between motor power and energy use, says Prof Will Stewart, fellow at the Institute of Engineering and Technology. And a big motor used at low power will use about the same energy as a smaller one doing the same job. But the EU is right to expect better efficiency. He estimates it should take about 2,000 watts of power applied for less than a minute to dry wet hair. Yet most hairdryers take far longer with similar or more powerful motors. The hope must be that manufacturers will do more with less power. But he wonders if regulation is necessary. “The hairdryer is a very small potato in terms of energy use.”

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Go Figure: The week in numbers

Look back at the week in numbers with our Go Figure images, which are posted daily on social media.

Macau graphic

Tuesday: Protests point to Macau awakening

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Kate Bush graphic

Wednesday: Kate Bush comeback greeted with huge cheers

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Venice padlock graphic

Thursday: Italy: Campaign to reduce ‘love locks’ on Venice bridges

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Iceland earthquake graphic

Friday: Iceland lowers alert for erupting volcano

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Find #BBCGoFigure on Twitter and on Facebook


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30 September 2014 Last updated at 19:17 ET

Is yoga really about exercise?

Yoga instructor in Miami, Florida

Yoga practitioners are fighting a new sales tax by insisting the activity isn’t primarily about fitness. Around the world, its definition can often be rather more flexible, writes Jon Kelly.

It might feel a lot like exercise to millions of gym-goers as their muscles strain and they struggle to hold that pose. But in the US, the yoga community is arguing vociferously that’s not really what their asanas are all about.

From 1 October, a sales tax of 5.75% in Washington, DC, will be extended to gyms, fitness centres and other premises “the purpose of which is physical exercise”. Locally, it’s been nicknamed the “yoga tax”, even though the city council’s legislation doesn’t actually mention the Y-word. And local yoga fans insist that the levy shouldn’t apply to them.

With yoga, exercise is “a by-product in the same way as it is with dance or Tai Chi”, says Richard Karpel, president of the Yoga Alliance, a US non-profit association. While the type of yoga practised in many gyms may have little to do with Buddhist or Hindu spirituality, he says, the primary purpose of specialist yoga studios “is to integrate the mind, the body and the spirit”. Getting fit is a happy side effect.

It’s true that for many centuries yoga was primarily practised as a form of meditation and as a path to spiritual enlightenment. Hare Krishna monks, for example, are adherents of bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion. The asanas or postures of hatha yoga only took off in popularity in the west during the 20th Century. For this reason, state authorities in New York – where the activity is hugely popular – ruled in 2012 that yoga was not “true exercise” and thus exempt from local sales taxes.

But advocates for yoga have often found themselves maintaining quite a different position – that it isn’t, in fact, a fundamentally spiritual activity. In Iran, to comply with Sharia law, teachers are careful to always refer to “the sport of yoga”. Prohibitions on spiritual yoga are upheld in Malaysia, where a 2008 fatwa led to a yoga ban in five states. In the capital Kuala Lumpur, chanting and meditation during yoga classes are forbidden. In 2013, San Diego County’s Superior Court ruled that although yoga’s roots are religious, teaching a modified form of the practice does not breach the separation of church and state.

In the District of Columbia, the local tax authorities are clear – yoga is exercise. “It’s an existential question,” says David Umansky, spokesman for the city’s chief financial officer, “but the city council passing the law made it very clear that yoga is included.” Elsewhere, it might not be. At a stretch.

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Why do so many drivers shun seatbelts?

A driver behind the wheel without a seatbelt on

It is more than 30 years since it became illegal to drive without a seatbelt, yet up to two million drivers in the UK are still risking it, with 47% not knowing it could incur a fine, according to a new survey. Why is that, asks Luke Jones.

Even before it became law in 1983, television screens were filled with hard-hitting and sometimes harrowing seatbelt safety ads.

In 1963, viewers were told “the difference between an ugly smash-up and just a nasty shake-up could simply be the seatbelt habit“.

“You know it makes sense,” the voiceover boomed. That habit was taken up by around 90% of drivers after it was put into law, according to the Department for Transport, and further campaigns, now collected on the government’s Think! website, have kept it high.

A 1960 demonstration of a crash without seatbelt. A dummy is propelled forward into the dashboardSeatbelt safety campaigns in the 1960s…
1964 Road safety campaign - a dummy falls out of a moving car because he is not wearing a seatbelt

So how is it that a poll by LV car insurance has found that 6% of drivers in the UK are still taking to the roads without a seatbelt? According to government figures, if you have a crash, you’re twice as likely to die if you are not wearing a belt. But two million of us are doing it anyway, the poll says.

The title of that first seatbelt awareness advert was “It can’t happen to me”. According to Graham Hope, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Sussex, that is exactly what many drivers believe today.

The answer

  • Some people simply see them as unnecessary
  • Relaxed attitude to risk
  • “Constellation of riskiness” leads to bad practice

“Many simply do not think they’ll ever need them,” says Hope. “There is a self-serving bias where people think they are more likely to survive than other people, and less likely to ever be involved in an accident in the first place.”

Just as with drink-driving, those who return unscathed begin to think they can do it. A “constellation of riskiness” forms, which fuels more bad driving practice.

Three friends in a car - part of a 2003 campaign by Department for TransportAnd a more graphic advertisement from 2003
A car crash - part of a 2003 campaign by Department for Transport

Some see it as a point of principle, while others offer a range of excuses. “One man told us he did not want to ruin his tan,” Sgt Rob Heard of Hampshire Police reported when the constabulary took part in a Europe-wide campaign to crack down on drivers not wearing seatbelts. “A couple of people stated they never wore a seatbelt and would still not wear one because they felt that was their right.”

But many, such as the television presenter and motoring expert Quentin Willson, think it is down to laziness and a relaxed attitude to risk. “We now have a generation who see cars as just another consumer item like a washing machine,” he says. He also points out that with modern vehicles, it is harder to avoid the seatbelt. There is a “cacophony of buzzers and beepers in cars reminding people now”.

As well as the safety risks of not belting up, there is considerable risk to the wallet – not wearing a seatbelt carries a fine of up to £500. According to the survey, £8.2m in fines have been issued so far this year to 80,000 drivers.

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Belt up

  • 80,000 drivers fined so far this year for not wearing a seatbelt
  • 32% of those who don’t wear them says it’s because they forget
  • 22% because they find them uncomfortable
  • 85% of over 65s find wearing them too restricting

Source: ICM online poll for LV car insurance

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Why ‘boots on the ground’?

New Jersey National Guard troops march as they pass in review during the New Jersey National Guard's annual Military Review

“Boots on the ground” is shorthand for combat troops deployed in a foreign country. Barack Obama and David Cameron have both used it – it’s a phrase that is constantly cropping up in the news. But where did it come from?

Infantry have been stomping in boots through mud and sand for centuries. Back in World War One “boot” was used as an alternative to “soldier”, and a soldier’s introduction to service was in “boot camp”. But the expression “boots on the ground” appears to be relatively new.

British military officer Sir Robert Grainger Ker Thompson came close to using it in a 1966 book on his experiences of counter-insurgency in Malaya and Vietnam – chapter 15 was entitled Feet on the Ground. But that is not quite the same. The earliest known use of the precise phrase we use today occurs 1980.

This was the conclusion reached by the late New York Times columnist, William Safire, who investigated the subject in 2008 with the help of an army historian. The historian rifled back through published sources until he found an instance of the expression in a Christian Science Monitor (CSM) story written during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. The reporter attributed the coinage to a US general, Volney Warner.

The answer

  • The use of “boot” as shorthand for “soldier” goes back a long way
  • The earliest use of “boots on the ground” so far found in print occurs in a US newspaper in 1980
  • It is attributed, in that article, to a US general

Grammarians would describe the use of “boot”, in the phrase “boots on the ground”, as a case of synecdoche – a figure of speech where the part represents the whole.

In English the expression is, by now, a bog-standard cliche (the military equivalent of “bums on seats”), but it can sound even worse in translation. “It’s not used in Arabic because we have a problem with boots. Footwear in general in Islamic culture has this negative connotation,” says Mohamed Yehia, of BBC Arabic. “Boots are something humiliating or unclean.”

In Chinese the nearest equivalent is the term “iron hooves”, which has negative connotations of a different kind, according to Howard Zhang of the BBC Chinese Service, conjuring up images of invading armies, with “all their cavalry and infantry trampling all over the place”.

The first time Zhang heard the phrase, it was used to refer to the British, who once had their iron hooves on Chinese soil. But it was also used of the Americans, when the Chinese media railed against the iron hooves of the US in Vietnam, during the Vietnam war.

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1,574,728: Could young voters swing an election?

Teenagers

The Labour Party has promised to give 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote. There were 1,574,728 people that age in the UK at the time of the last election – could they have swung the vote, asks Anthony Reuben.

It was a tight election in 2010, which led to the formation of a coalition government as the Conservative Party won 307 seats, 19 short of the 326 it would have needed to form a majority government alone.

The Conservatives won 49 more seats than Labour’s 258 seats while the Liberal Democrats won 57 seats.

It’s no good looking at whether the number of 16 and 17-year-olds would have swung the vote overall because the UK’s political system works on a constituency by constituency basis (although for the record, the Conservatives won 2.1 million more votes than Labour).

But the Office for National Statistics, General Register Office for Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency report population figures broken down by constituency and by age group.

I have taken figures for mid-2010, which is a close enough approximation to election day in May. It turns out that in 95 of the 650 constituencies in the UK, the winning candidate had a majority smaller than the number of 16 and 17-year-olds living there.

For the biggest two parties, 43 of those seats were Conservatives and 33 were Labour. Now, clearly this assumes that all 16 and 17-year-olds are eligible to vote, that they choose to vote and indeed that they vote for the candidate in second place in the ballot.

But it demonstrates that the new teenage voters could swing a tight election and that politicians might have to start wooing a younger electorate if change does eventually come.

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Weekendish: The best of the week’s reads

The Uncatchable

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

Yet another one of our immersive long-read stories. This is the tale of Vassilis Paleokostas, who has stolen millions from state-owned banks, kidnapped businessmen and broken out of prison twice by helicopter. He’s also handed out cash to the country’s poor and that in many people’s eyes makes him a kind of Greek Robin Hood. He scorned flashy cars, except for getaways. One of the few expensive possessions he treasured was a mysterious golden crucifix that swung from his neck. It would later become the key – it could be used to unlock handcuffs – to at least one successful escape. So how did this man who used to have a humdrum job in a cheese factory go on to become Greece’s most-wanted man, outfoxing the law at every turn? It really is like something from a film – which is why we commissioned illustrator Duncan Smith to come up with a film poster for the feature (top).

The Uncatchable

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Blast from the past

Victorian faces

Chris Wild is an author, archivist and founder of Retronaut.com, which describes itself as a photographic time machine. This week Wild takes BBC News Magazine readers on a photographic journey to the Edwardian and Victorian eras. Look at the composite of faces – it’s not quite what you would expect from those times. Here are our ancestors clowning around in a surprising way. There are many more – all of them fascinating – a family day out at the gallows (featuring a wooden head of a local criminal) and a man who pinches a woman’s floral hat, seemingly without her noticing. The photographs have been mined from the massive collection at the Woodhorn Museum and Northumberland Archives.

A reader writes, adding fascinating detail about a pair of pictures taken by a Northumbrian photographer:

“I recognize the place the two Dutch pictures are taken. The dresses of the girls are not exactly Dutch, since all regions had their own costume. These girls are from the island Walcheren in Zeeland. On the bottom picture (below) you can see from right to left three girls dressed in ‘adult’ dresses, then one in the children’s dress. In the background one can see a lady from the island Zuid-Beveland. The girls are to nicely dressed to be in Middelburg for a market day. It could be the first of may, as on that day young people looking for a new place to work and farmers looking for new personnel would meet in Middelburg. But that is only a guess.”

MattPotter ‏tweets: “When Victorian portraits go horribly/fantastically off-piste.”

Day out at the gallows and other bygone photographic oddities

Women in the Netherlands
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Brummie accents

Peaky Blinders publicity shot

Why are so few films and TV series based in Birmingham? Apparently because the accent is so difficult to mimic. Many of us like to pretend we can do a Brummie accent, but we’re more than likely getting it wrong because we’re not poking our lips forward enough. A second series of Birmingham-set drama Peaky Blinders (pictured) is in the pipeline, and the show’s creator Steven Knight has admitted the city’s accent is “very difficult to get right”. A common misconception is that Birmingham’s is a slow accent – dimwitted Benny from Crossroads did little to help that. Now you have to of a certain age to remember that one. Try saying “Miss Diane” in his accent – you’re sure to get it wrong.

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The Mitford six

Mitford sistersThe Mitford sisters (clockwise from top left): Unity; Jessica; Diana; Nancy; Deborah; Pamela

Another composite of faces – beautiful ones. These are the Mitford sisters. The last surviving one, Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, died this week. Lyndsy Spence explains why there has hardly ever been a dull moment with this lot. Take Diana, her affair with Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, brought her lifelong infamy. Unity moved to Germany at the age of 19 and became a pal of Hitler. Jessica became a communist and ran off to fight the fascists during the Spanish Civil War. She moved to the US, where she went on to become a late-blooming pop star, singing with her group Decca & The Dectones. Nancy was a socialist who escaped a dull marriage by slipping off the Paris and carrying on an affair with Charles de Gaulle’s right-hand man, Gaston Palewski. All of this while she was glamorously decked out in Dior. Deborah may seem the least exciting – she led a contented country life and described herself as apolitical. Susannah ‏@skittledog tweets: “Man, the Mitford sisters were an excellent study in how the social elite can go bonkers, weren’t they?” Lizzie Charlton adds: “With a communist, a socialist, & 2 fascists, family gatherings must’ve been fun.”

The six sisters who captured the maelstrom

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Driving in Mexico

Will Grant's driving licence

So, you want to get a driving licence, you’ve got to take your test, and pass it, right? Not necessarily in Mexico. Will Grant is the BBC correspondent in Mexico City and had been putting off getting his licence, fearing hours of queues, form-filling etc.

But how wrong he was. It seems a bit of cash and a utility bill will suffice. But the laws are about to change. An estimated 17,000 people are killed on the roads in Mexico every year and lobby groups have long called for tighter regulations.

Getting a driving licence without a test

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Scarlet women

Red outfit

Wearing red has long been fraught with difficulty. Henry VIII and his top aides cornered the market in wearing the colour – Cardinal Wolsey was particularly partial. Anyone below the rank of knight of the garter would be fined for daring to don red. Elizabeth I thought better of trying to assert her authority by swathing herself in scarlet. She went for the white-equals-purity look. The Book of Revelation had spoilt it a bit for women, with its “Whore of Babylon” symbolism. “And I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour.” But the catwalks are awash with it at the moment. Has the colour finally lost its regal/wanton association? Joanna Gaudoin(Ball) tweets: “At a law firm client event last week, I was asked about wearing red to work by several women.” Kitty DoLittle adds: “From Little Red Riding Hood looks and faux fur to sportswear styling, red has its confirmed place this season.”

The power of a red dress

Here are some things we’ve enjoyed this week from elsewhere around the web:The myth of religious violence – Guardian

The Evolution of the Nurse Stereotype via Postcards: From Drunk to Saint to Sexpot to Modern Medical Professional – Smithsonian Magazine

How The Simpsons Co-Creator Sam Simon Is Facing His Own Tragedy – Vanity Fair

To keep customers coming back, some Chinese restaurants are lacing noodles with opiates – Quartz

How cops control poor black neighbourhoods – The Atlantic

The Mother question – New Yorker

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10 things we didn’t know last week

Polar bear relaxing

1. Kelis doesn’t like milkshake. If she did, it would more than likely be better than yours.

Find out more

2. People with a conscientious spouse are 11% more likely to get a promotion at work.

Find out more (Quartz)

3. There is a vast difference between what Kung bushmen talk about in daylight hours and after dark.

Find out more (Times)

4. Polar bears have switched from eating to seals to eating snow geese.

Find out more (New York Times)

5. Typical ground level in Roman London is 7m below today’s city.

Find out more

6. Roasted nuts are more likely to spark an allergic reaction than raw.

Find out more

7. Dreams get weirder as the night wears on.

Find out more (Smithsonian)

8. The University of Phoenix is the world’s most Googled.

Find out more

9. It’s actually fairly easy to weigh an ant.

Find out more

10. Turmeric is good for rat brains.

Find out more

Seen a thing? Tell the Magazine on Twitter using the hashtag #thingIdidntknowlastweek

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Go Figure: The week in numbers

Look back at the week in numbers with our Go Figure images, which are posted daily on social media.

Mass of ants graphic

Monday: Are all the ants as heavy as all the humans?

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Norway aid graphic

Tuesday: Liberia signs ‘transformational’ deal to stem deforestation

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India Gravity graphic

Wednesday: Why India’s Mars mission is so cheap – and thrilling

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Insurance claims graphic

Thursday: Weather report: Forecasts improving as climate gets wilder

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Sierra Leone graphic

Friday: Sierra Leone widens Ebola quarantine to three more districts

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Find #BBCGoFigure on Twitter and on Facebook


Quiz of the week’s news

For past quizzes including our weekly news quiz, 7 days 7 questions, expand the grey drop-down below – also available on the Magazine page (and scroll down).

You can follow the Magazine on Twitter and on Facebook


Photoshopping Federer

Swiss tennis ace Roger Federer has run into a problem familiar to most people who travel on business – he’s going to India later this year but won’t have time to see the sights. So he has asked fans to help him.

“India, here I come! Looking forward to playing two matches in Delhi on December 7th & 8th. I’m beyond excited!” Federer tweeted.

But he added: “I need some help from my supporters in India. I’m only in Delhi for a few days, so can’t visit all amazing places that I’d like… Maybe you guys could help?”

Supporters got to work, editing images on their computers.

Aashish Bhargava tweeted Roger sporting an Indian “gamcha” (green cloth on head) in the holy city of Varanasi.

Federer

Pranav Agarwal tells Roger “You have to visit the Ganga river & take a holy dip!!”

Federer

Jaime said in a tweet that Federer’s one-handed backhand is gold but in India they use the double-handed backhand.

Federer

Akshay Makadiya tweeted an image of Federer washing clothes in a river.

Federer

Anoop Savkur tells Roger to “Please pay a visit to witness the thrills of Lifeline of Mumbai”.

Federer

#TeamBelinda suggests Roger should go to the Holi Festival.

Federer

@pemberencir jokes “You’re a very courageous person!”

Federer

Sagar Heerani tells Roger “here is tough competition for you”.

Federer

There were calls to bring Roger to Kerala to replace chenda (drum) player Peruvanam Kuttan Marar at the festival of Thrissur Pooram.

Federer

Christo Shajan tweeted “playing in India is finally inching closer to reality!”

Federer

And Vinod D’sa advises “if India seems manic, don’t panic. Have a good, strong chai instead”.

Federer

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Caption Challenge: Great big kiss

A sculpture based on the famous Times Square VJ Day kiss is installed in Caen, France.

Winning entries in the Caption Challenge.

The competition is now closed.

This week, a sculpture based on the famous Times Square VJ Day kiss is installed in Caen, France.

Thanks to all who entered. The prize of a small amount of kudos to the following:

6. Siv Angel:

Plinth charming

5: Ben Gardner:

It was love at first sight for Peter Crouch.

4. rogueslr:

Er, you do know that the latest advice is for hands-only CPR.

3. FifiFanshawe:

Grove’s original prototype for an offender ankle tag was dismissed as “unwieldy”.

2. CindyAccidentally:

Royal Academy rejects “The Purr” as a suitable monument to Anglo-Scottish unity.

1. David Elliot-Smith:

Only later would she discover he had bent her new iPhone.

PDF download Full rules can be seen here[16KB]

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The toilet seat stadium and other unfortunate designs

Golden State Warriors stadium

A basketball team’s proposed stadium has been lampooned for looking like a toilet. It’s not alone, writes Chris Stokel-Walker.

The Golden State Warriors are moving home. The “preliminary concept” for a new arena in San Francisco was released this week by design advisers Snøhetta. The plans have suffered some lampooning. Stuck on to the 135ft-tall circular arena is a squat, square terrace. Coloured a muddy cream in the architect’s renders, some have pointed out its similarity to a toilet with the seat down.

The toilet-shaped arena may not materialise. Though Manica Architecture, the lead architect on the project, would not comment, PJ Johnston, a spokesman for the Golden State Warriors team, explains that: “All images to the project to date are preliminary concepts, which are being vetted as part of the master planning for the site.”

The toilet-like arena is not the first architectural misstep in sport. The Al Wakrah stadium, designed by Zaha Hadid for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, was widely said to resemble female genitalia. It’s a claim Hadid strenuously denied. Her firm asserted that the Al Wakrah stadium was inspired by the design of the dhow, a traditional Arabian boat.

Zaha Hadid Qatar stadium designWhat this stadium looks like is really in the eye of the beholder

A small but committed section of fans – 75 in total – set up a Facebook group asserting that Ireland’s Aviva rugby stadium “looks like a bed pan”.

Sports stadiums pick up informal names from well-meaning fans based on their outward appearances. The low-slung circular sweep of the London Velopark, built for the London Olympics in 2012, is known locally as The Pringle because of its similarity to the potato snack. And while the Beijing National Stadium may not leap into most people’s minds, the Bird’s Nest, to give it its informal name, probably does.

London Velopark original artists' impressionThis original design of the London Velopark does look like a Pringle. Other potato snacks are available

Others are designed intentionally to look like something else. Taiwan’s 55,000-seat National Stadium, designed by Japanese architect Toyo Ito, is powered by 8,844 solar panels coiled around the stadium and looking like a dragon. And in 2010, Turkish architects Sozuneri designed a stadium for football club Bursaspor, whose nickname is the Green Crocodiles, topped with a giant crocodile, its mouth open.

Andy Simons, director of KSS, a sports architecture company, says that stadium designs can be difficult. “Stadia fall into two types, the ordinary and the iconic. Few are really memorable for their architectural styling,” he explains. “Essentially all club football stadia have the same bulk and so the individual style is dependent on the ‘wrap’.”

Responding to the mockery, the Golden State Warriors note: “We’re still gathering feedback from the public, and we’re still refining our ideas about the design.” This version could still be flushed.

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The struggle to claim the month of October

Beer and alcohol

Separate campaigns are urging people to give up alcohol and tobacco for October. Why is a month the standard unit of doing worthwhile things, asks Jon Kelly.

Next month you can Go Sober for October. Or you can quit smoking for Stoptober. Then grow a moustache for Movember and a beard for Decembeard. And then quit drinking all over again in the New Year with Dry January or Dryathalon. All in a good cause, of course.

Modern secular society has its own version of the religious fasting ritual. You abstain from something or do something silly for a month, usually in aid of a charity. Being sure to keep your social media followers updated throughout.

It’s proved a very effective strategy for many worthwhile organisations. People are more likely to agree to modify their behaviour or volunteer for charity for a time-limited period than on an open-ended basis, says Prof Ian Bruce of the Centre for Charity Effectiveness at Cass Business School, London. “People want to know what they are letting themselves in for.”

October is a particularly auspicious month for giving up vices. The summer is behind you. But it’s also “an opportunity to test willpower before the Christmas party season in November and December”, says Hannah Redmond, head of national events marketing at Macmillan Cancer Support, which organises Go Sober for October.

There’s another high-profile abstinence-based campaign under way, but Redmond says the two are very different. Stoptober, run by Public Health England, urges people to give up smoking for 28 days as a means of encouraging them to quit for good. This is based on evidence that those who give up for this duration are five times more likely to stop permanently. It doesn’t have a fundraising element. Go Sober, by contrast, encourages people to abandon alcohol for a month only and be sponsored by their friends and family. Last year it raised over £2m and 53,000 participants have already signed up for 2014.

Plus, it’s inevitable there will be concurrent crusades. There are lots of good causes but only 12 months in the year. This is no bad thing, says Bruce. In charity and health promotion, just as much as in business, “competition grows the market”. And if you give up one bad habit you’re more likely to quit another.

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How do you put London’s Roman shrine back together?

Two people holding up the newly discovered head of Mithras, 1954

Sixty years ago, a Roman God was uncovered at a London building site. The excavations for the Temple of Mithras moved around but are now going back to the original site – how do you reconstruct a Roman temple, asks Tom de Castella.

The muddy find in September 1954 provoked urgent debate. Winston Churchill’s cabinet discussed it three times. A huge new office block – for insurance firm Legal & General – was being built on the site of the Temple of Mithras, described as the Roman discovery of the century. Building work was stopped. People would be able to see it for two weeks before the remains were packed up and moved. A few hundred visitors were expected on day one. Instead about 35,000 queued round the block. Advertisers piled in: “In Londinium they believed in Mithras. In London they believe in Shell.” Roughly 400,000 people saw it in all. Then the ruins began a peripatetic existence, including a stay at a builders yard in New Malden, before ending up being exhibited in the City 100 metres from where it had been found.

Queues to see temple of Mithras, 1954An estimated 400,000 people visited the site in a two-week period

Now the ruins are going back whence they came. Media giant Bloomberg is building its European HQ on land that takes in the original site. The Temple of Mithras will be reconstructed underneath the office block at the exact spot it was built in AD240 – ground level in Roman London is seven metres below today’s city.

Inside the site

The last recreation of the temple – packed up in 2011 – had crazy paving. Not ideal for an all-male Roman cult inspired by Persian religion, says Sophie Jackson, archaeologist at the Museum of Archaeology London. But how do you put a Roman temple back together again?

Jackson and her colleagues have good records from 1954 and a team of stone masons to rebuild the temple using the original excavations. But they have no information about the colour of the temple, or the mortar that was used. They are calling on people who saw the 1954 dig to help out and send colour photos, cinefilm or oral memories.

Relief sculpture of MithrasA relief sculpture of the god Mithras

Classical scholar Mary Beard is excited, but keen to dispel a myth about Mithras. “Get ready for misinformation: Mithraism NOT secret cult,” she tweeted. There is nothing cultish in the modern sense, she explains. He was popular with soldiers – it was a “very blokey” religion – but they would not have hidden their allegiance. Unlike other Roman Gods, such as Jupiter, Mithraism was congregational in nature, Beard adds.

There’s one more thing. “When it was in the builders yard we know that a lot of items were pinched,” says Jackson. So if there’s a bit of Roman stone – better still mortar – in Gran’s rockery, the Temple of Mithras would like it back.

If you have images or ephemera relating to the temple, contact the Museum of London Archaeology on 020 7410 2266, oralhistory@mola.org.uk or visit www.mola.org.uk

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Do people lie in surveys?

Woman taking an opinion poll

I received a press release recently that made my head spin, writes Anthony Reuben.

The release said, completely without irony: “A third of people in the UK will not give truthful answers about themselves when asked questions by pollsters, according to a new survey.”

In paradoxical terms, that is well up there with the words of Psalm 116: “I said in my haste, ‘all men are liars’.”

But while people’s honesty when responding to polls or surveys may be a difficult issue to get to the bottom of through the use of polling, it is still an important factor.

The most often cited example of this in political circles is the polling ahead of the 1992 election, when people did not want to admit that they were voting for John Major.

And a note for the picky – while they are used interchangeably, strictly speaking a poll is only meant to have one, multiple choice question. If there are more questions or open answers it’s a survey.

Anyway, dishonest respondents are a serious problem for pollsters, especially in a situation such as an election, in which the quality of the sampling will be tested shortly afterwards by the actual result.

There is almost nothing that polling organisations can do about this. Online polling may give some weight to how people voted in previous elections, although they may also be lying or misremembering about that.

When you look at the full results of the ORB International survey it turns out that overall 80% of people say they always provide truthful answers to surveys.

The one-third figure is in answer to a question about whether you would answer questions truthfully about “your intimate life”, and is a result of adding up those who answered that they were not likely to answer truthfully together with those who said they didn’t know or didn’t answer.

The survey also found that only 9% of respondents said they were prepared to trust published polls.

Interestingly, the polling also suggested that respondents were most likely to be truthful about political questions, with 91% saying they were likely to tell the truth.

But there were no questions about whether they were likely to lie about lying.

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10 things we didn’t know last week

Woman on the phone in office

1. The most effective office regime is to work for 52 consecutive minutes and then have a 17-minute break.

Find out more (the Atlantic)

2. The modern European gene pool was formed when blue-eyed, swarthy hunters mingled with brown-eyed, pale-skinned farmers and a mysterious population with Siberian affinities.

Find out more

3. A rapid human can outrun London Underground’s Circle Line between Mansion House and Cannon Street.

Find out more (Independent)

4. A whale calf’s clicks can paralyse a human hand for several hours.

Find out more

5. Mis-readings of the autocue result in fines for Chinese newsreaders if the mistakes build up over a three-month period.

Find out more (the Times)

6. Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper took their family on a Sound of Music tour in Salzberg.

Find out more (Daily Telegraph)

7. Fifty years ago, “to host” was considered ugly journalese but it is actually a centuries-old verb.

Find out more (Economist)

8. Lithuania has a big problem with potholes.

Find out more

9. When Richard III was killed he suffered at least 11 injuries, although some of them might have been inflicted after death.

Find out more

10. Deer mothers respond to human baby cries.

Find out more (New Scientist)

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Go Figure: The week in numbers

Look back at the week in numbers with our Go Figure images, which are posted daily on social media.

Amazon observation tower

Monday: Brazil builds giant Amazon observation tower

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child mortality

Tuesday: Malawi’s tale of hope as it reduces child mortality

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scotland referendum

Wednesday: Mass rallies mark referendum campaign climax

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Alibaba sells more than Amazon and eBay combined

Thursday: Alibaba set to price shares as investors gear up for flotation

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Highest  turnout in UK

Friday: Scotland votes ‘No’ to independence

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Find #BBCGoFigure on Twitter and on Facebook


Weekendish: The best of the week’s reads

Westgate attack, Nairobi, September 2013

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

It’s a year since gunmen believed to have been from the Somali Islamist group al-Shabab, allied to al-Qaeda, brought mayhem to an upmarket shopping centre in Nairobi, Kenya. On a sunny Saturday morning gunmen stormed the centre and proceeded to randomly shoot at men, women and children. In the ensuing chaos, shoppers and retail staff tried to escape, while others hid next to bodies of fellow shoppers, wondering who would get to them first – the police and Kenyan security forces, or the militants and their guns. At least 67 people died, and hundreds were wounded. Voices From The Mall focuses on the first terrifying hours of the Westgate siege, and in a series of interviews, survivors recall their desperate attempts to save their own lives, while a responder tells how he came face to face with a gunman.

Kenya’s Westgate attack a year on: Voices from the mall

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Sperm whale's eye

‘Face-to-face’A sperm whale could swallow a human within a matter of seconds without even having to chew. So a group of marine mammal scientists who free-dive with the bus-sized mammals with only masks and flippers might be regarded as foolhardy by some. But the research group insists this is the most effective way to observe sperm whales without scaring them, and makes the divers much more likely to be welcomed into pods for hours at a time. Marc Jacobs ‏tweets: “Learned an interesting fact. A sperm whale is the loudest animal on the planet & can vibrate your body to death. Hm.” Faye Wilde ‏@diver54321 adds: “Maybe on scuba, no way I could freedive would get distracted and breathe by accident!!”

The freedivers who swim with whales

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Hitler at the Garrison Church, Potsdam

Should ‘Hitler’s church’ be rebuilt?Plans to rebuild a baroque church in Potsdam have been met with deep consternation by many in Germany. It’s a building with a rich history, having once hosted JS Bach as its organist. So why are so many against its reconstruction? Because the church was also the site of Hitler’s famous meeting with President Hindenburg in 1933 – an event which many see as a turning point, when Hitler was legitimised in the eyes of Germany’s upper class. The building was bombed during World War Two and finally destroyed in 1968, and many in Germany believe that should have been the end of its story. But a group spearheading plans for reconstruction has different ideas.

The church described as a ‘symbol of evil’

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Hampstead Heath sign

Out in the openSir John Gielgud was arrested for it in 1953. And the singer George Michael, also famously apprehended after an incident in a Los Angeles public toilet, said he had no shame about it (and even wrote a song about it). Decades ago, the police in the UK did their utmost to stop gay men having sex in public toilets and outdoor “cruising grounds”. And for centuries heterosexual couples have had sex in secluded spots, often referred to as “Lovers’ Lanes”. A decade ago footballer Stan Collymore admitted to “dogging” – having sex in a public place watched by onlookers. Today much has changed and the police take advice on “sensitivity and fairness” in dealing with those who have sex in public places. A Freedom of Information request, submitted last year, revealed specific guidelines, published in 2009 by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) on the policing of sex in public. Julie Bindel assesses these guidelines and looks at the history of cruising. Cara Sutra ‏tweets: “The Sex in Public news: I believe that as long as you’re not upsetting anyone or visible to underage then why not?” Simon T ‏@nudeweatherman adds: “Parallels with public nudity here … although I loathe to connect sex and naturism. As always, common sense is key…” Paul Bradshaw ‏tweets: “Great example of #jargon and #foi: Public Sex Environments (PSE).”

The tricky business of policing sex in public

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How do blind people dream?

A blind person holding a cane about o cross a road

People who were born blind have no understanding of how to see in their waking lives, so they can’t see in their dreams. But most blind people have lost their sight later in life and can dream visually. Danish research in 2014 found that as time passes, a blind person is less likely to dream in pictures. There are a small number of questions that blind people seem to get asked regularly. But what about the lesser-known things about blindness?

Blindness, by those in the know

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Poirot and the case of the vanishing Belgians

Refugees arriving at Folkestone

The UK was home to 250,000 Belgian refugees during World War One – the largest single influx in the country’s history. In some purpose-built villages they had their own schools, newspapers, shops, hospitals, churches, prisons and police. These areas were considered Belgian territory and run by the Belgian government. They even used the Belgian currency. But despite their numbers the only Belgian from the time that people are most likely to know is the fictitious detective Hercule Poirot. So why did the Belgians more or less vanish?

How 250,000 Belgians didn’t leave a trace

Here are some things we’ve enjoyed this week from elsewhere around the web:Inside Japan’s love hotels – Vice

The caffeine-free guide to keeping sharp at work – Quartz

In Jordan, Ever Younger Syrian Brides – The New York Times

The Surprising Origin Story of Wonder Woman – Smithsonian Magazine

Remember #BringBackOurGirls? This Is What Has Happened In The 5 Months Since – Huffington Post

Road Safety Poetry, by the Delhi Traffic Police – The Atlantic

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The sugar company that is fighting back

A child eating a donut

A sugar company is fighting back against the perceived demonisation of sugar by the media, saying it’s been disproportionately blamed for causing obesity, writes Tom Heyden.

It’s not been a happy couple of years for anybody selling refined sugar. The American doctor Robert Lustig has garnered international attention by suggesting too much fructose sugar in the diet equates to “poison”. “Sugar is now enemy number one in the Western diet”, is a typical newspaper headline. Market researchers Mintel labelled “demonisation of sugar” as the reason for a rise in artificial sweeteners used in drinks. It’s been implanted in many people’s minds that added sugar is behind the obesity epidemic as well as other health problems.

Now producer AB Sugar is fed up with the media’s attack. It has launched a campaign called “Making Sense of Sugar”, aiming to improve understanding of its product. “Obesity is a complex issue that has no single cause,” writes chief executive Mark Carr in an article for The Grocer magazine. Sugar has been given “more than its fair share of the blame”, he says, considering other factors such as exercise levels and overall consumption of calories. Carr criticises the media’s “alarming headlines and confusing advice”.

More on sugar

Refined sugar

By sugar, health campaigners don’t mean the sugar found naturally in complex carbohydrates or fruits. They mean refined sugars, sometimes known as “free sugars”, that are added artificially. And there’s no doubt that there is serious and growing concern over consumption levels of this type of sugar. The World Health Organization’s new target is that added sugars – as well as some natural ones – should account for no more than 5% of energy intake – down from 10%. Some nutrition scientists say that isn’t far enough. They argue for less than 3%.

The 5% figure represents 25g of sugar a day. Bearing in mind that a can of Coca Cola contains 35g and that sugar is added to a host of cereals, breads, sauces and ready meals, such a target means big changes in Western diets.

Sugar is definitely misunderstood, agrees nutrition expert Dr Sarah Schenker. The word itself has so many definitions, she says, that it often requires a level of biochemistry understanding beyond most people. “I do see the need for more clarity,” she says, “but I’m not sure that something sponsored by a sugar provider is going to give the most unbiased slant”. And it’s not being unfairly singled out, she says. “We as a nation need to be aware that sugar is, in [its] various forms, almost ubiquitous throughout our food. I agree that we need to understand more but it doesn’t get away from the main message that most of us are eating too much sugar.”

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Caption Challenge: We come in peace

Actors dressed as aliens

Winning entries in the Caption Challenge.

The competition is now closed.

This week actors dressed as aliens tour London to launch the new season of science fiction television series Defiance.

Thanks to all who entered. The prize of a small amount of kudos to the following:

6. Geoffrey Scott-Baker:

“No mate, this is the 143 bus to Clapham – the 49 goes to our leader.”

5. Mike Monk:

Typical of London Transport. You wait ages for an alien and then two come along together.

4. Ian Stanley:

The new undercover ticket inspectors were quickly rumbled.

3. Russ:

“I think Mars is a request stop.”

2. Ocean Lynagh:

First Contactless.

1. Robert Barker:

Nasa space programme announces new bus replacement service.

PDF download Full rules can be seen here[16KB]

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Was there a time British people couldn’t buy olive oil?

Olive oil and olives

The UK could be facing higher olive oil prices after a summer of droughts in Spain. But a popular notion is that there was once a time when olive oil was only available to buy at a pharmacy. How true is it, asks Tom Heyden.

Cookery writer Elizabeth David is credited with introducing a culinary revolution in the UK, publishing A Book of Mediterranean Food in 1950. She famously told readers that olive oil – vital for many recipes – could be found in chemists where it was sold as a treatment for ear ailments, among other things.

Today, multiple varieties of olive oil are available in every supermarket, but was it really such an exotic ingredient 60 years ago? Judy Ridgway, now an olive oil expert, wasn’t aware of it during her middle-class Manchester upbringing. “We didn’t come across olive oil at all except from the chemist,” she says. And they never cooked with it. “My mother used to rub it into her hair before she had it permed.”

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Olive oil explained 19th Century-style

Mrs BeetonMrs Beeton (1836-1865) was famous for her cookery and house-keeping books

“The oil extracted from olives, called olive oil, or salad oil, is, with the continentals, in continual request, more dishes being prepared with than without it, we should imagine. With us, it is principally used in mixing a salad, and when thus employed, it tends to prevent fermentation, and is an antidote against flatulency.”

– from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, published in 1861

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But an updated and enlarged 1907 version of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management treats olive oil as a fairly standard ingredient. It is listed in onion pudding and Cambridge sauce. Almond fritters require a “hot frying-fat, clarified butter and olive oil”. This suggests familiarity with its usage. “Victorian England was one of those places where you could buy anything if you had the money to do it,” food historian Dr Annie Gray says, and it would have been sold at the grocers, often for salads. That’s not to dispel the myth completely. “[Usage] seemed to peter out – like an awful lot of things – in the interwar years,” Gray says.

It didn’t disappear entirely. A 1938 article in the Times about chanterelle mushrooms recommends cooking them with olive oil. And over a period of some decades a company called Sasso sold it in London.

The myth is that David is solely responsible for olive oil’s resurgence in the UK, says Gray, but people certainly struggled to get hold of it. “If you didn’t live in London or the South East then it was more difficult to find it,” says Ridgway. “You did have to seek it out.” Unavailability may explain its regular parody as a middle-class staple. Even by the late 1980s, says Ridgway, it was predominantly in upmarket grocers or delicatessens. The general public probably wouldn’t have been aware of it until much later, she adds.

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Why don’t children want to learn the violin?

Teenager with guitar

More children are playing instruments today than two decades ago, according to a recent study, with keyboards, guitars and drums outstripping the more traditional violin. Why are more youngsters not taking it up, asks Tammy Thueringer.

According to exam board Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, 76% of children between five and 17 years old now play an instrument. That’s compared with 45% of five-to-14-year-olds in 1993, when the recorder was the most popular instrument.

Today, the recorder ranks third after the keyboard and piano. The acoustic guitar, drums and electric guitar, come next and the violin is seventh on the list – despite a slight increase in popularity.

Howard Ionascu, director of Junior Academy, a youth programme at the Royal Academy of Music says the violin’s place on the list could be linked to what children are exposed to.

“Kids are so immersed in pop music, it’s what they see and hear, so I think there is a correlation between that and the growth of students playing instruments like guitars or drums,” says Ionascu.

Paulette Bayley, a professional violinist who works on music education projects, says it’s important to introduce the violin in a way that creates enthusiasm.

“Much like anything else, the emphasis has to be on how it’s presented. If you present them in an interesting way, kids will want to learn.”

Difficulty may deter some students. Ionascu says the violin can be one of the more challenging instruments to learn in the early stages doesn’t offer the same instant gratification other instruments may.

“With instruments like the piano or flute, you physically put your fingers on a note and you get that note,” says Ionascu. “But with the violin, it’s really about getting a feel for the strings and that takes time.”

Despite only being ahead of the flute, percussion and bass guitar on the list, Ionascu says the violin is still a very popular instrument and can help students succeed in other areas. He says that if violinists or other musicians don’t go on to become professional musicians, the skills that they have learnt, such as the rigour of practice and the ability grasp difficult concepts, helps prepare them for high-achieving professions such as law and medicine.


Why are people not going on as many trips?

feet walking

People in England made an average of 923 trips each last year, writes Anthony Reuben.

That sounds like a lot – about two-and-a-half per day each – but the National Travel Survey from the Department for Transport says it’s the lowest number since records began in the early 1970s.

Also, it includes anything from a walk round the block to flying across the country.

The activity that took up the most trips – shopping – was also one of the biggest fallers, down from 187 to 180 trips during the year.

The number of shopping trips has been falling since 2010, with growth in online grocery deliveries a possible contributor to that. ONS figures suggest that online sales by predominantly grocery stores (mainly supermarkets) rose 12.6% in 2013 compared with 2012, although it is still a relatively small proportion of their total sales.

Pedestrian sign by avenue of trees

Visiting friends’ homes was down from 101 to 94 trips a year on average.

Going by road was by far the most popular means of getting around, with 64% of trips being as either a driver or passenger in a car or van, accounting for 77% of the distance travelled. Walking accounted for 22% of trips but only 3% of the distance travelled.

The National Travel Survey involves interviewing 6,830 households and getting them to fill out weekly travel diaries. The number of trips taken has been falling gradually since 1995.

Mobile phones and tablets make it easier to communicate with friends and do our shopping without leaving our homes. But one reason for taking a trip that has remained pretty constant since 1995 was the “other” category, which includes just going for a walk.

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‘The polar bears made me do it’

Painting by Edwin Landseer "Man Proposes, God Disposes" (1864)

Sir John Franklin’s fabled Arctic ship that vanished more than 160 years ago was found this week. But a painting related to its mysterious demise hanging in one university has been haunting exam students for decades, writes Tom Heyden.

“The polar bears made me do it,” are the eeriest words to emerge from the urban legend of Edwin Landseer’s painting – a grisly depiction of two polar bears hanging at Royal Holloway, University of London. Since the first exams were taken there in the 1920s and 1930s, it’s been a painting associated with failure. “If you sit directly in front of it in an exam, you will fail – unless it’s covered up,” goes the myth, according to the college’s curator Dr Laura MacCulloch.

The painting of two polar bears devouring a ship’s remains – as well as those of the humans onboard – was inspired by the mysterious disappearance of Sir John Franklin, who led two ships and 129 men to their doom in 1845 trying to chart the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic. The macabre spectacle is probably enough to distract even the most conscientious student. But bad luck rumours started almost immediately. There’s an obvious connection to failure, says MacCulloch. I’m going to fail my exam just like they failed to find the Northwest Passage, one might conclude – and then I’ll get eaten by a polar bear.

The painting covered by a Union Jack flag in 1984

In the 1970s, fear of the curse reached fever pitch, says MacCulloch, when a student point blank refused to be seated near it. “The poor registrar, who just wanted to get this exam underway, ran off and tried to find the biggest thing that she could to cover the picture,” she says. It turned out to be a massive union jack flag. Ever since, the same flag has adorned the painting every year during exams.

But as that tradition verges on four decades, the urban myth itself has diverged. Recent graduate Michaela Jones was told that a student during an exam had stared directly into one of the polar bears’ eyes. Trance-like, the student had then gone “mad” and killed herself – although not before etching the words “The polar bears made me do it” onto her exam paper. Or his paper. “I’ve heard it was a girl, I’ve heard it was a boy, I’ve heard about three [different] ways that they killed themselves,” says MacCulloch. Of course, the incident didn’t happen. No evidence exists to the contrary in the university’s archives.

Nevertheless, “students are quite superstitious,” says Jones. “If you speak to anyone at the uni there is a consensus that it’s true.” And although Jones acknowledges it may be a myth, she definitely wouldn’t want to sit an exam without the comfort of the covering flag. “It does relieve people’s fears a bit,” she says. Luckily for students at Royal Holloway, that tradition is there to stay for now, says MacCulloch.

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How long is the average tongue?

Nick Stoeberl

Californian Nick Stoeberl has just taken over as holder of the world record for the longest tongue. His measures 10.1cm (about 4in) from the tip to the middle of the closed top lip. How does this compare with the average person’s tongue, asks Clare Spencer.

Guinness World Records, which will include Stoeberl in the 2015 edition of its famous book, says that the average tongue is 10cm long when measured from the oropharynx – the place in the back of the throat where the tongue begins – to the tip. In other words, the part of Stoeberl’s tongue that extends beyond the lips is longer than the average person’s tongue in its entirety.

Another way of measuring tongues is from the epiglottis to the tip. The epiglottis is a flap of cartilage found in the mouth behind the tongue. A 1967 study by GB Hopkin at the Orthodontic department of the University of Edinburgh’s dental school found and adult’s mean average tongue length, measured this way, is 8.5cm (3.3in) for men and 7.9cm (3.1in) for women. This makes Stoeberl’s tongue sound even more exceptional.

But measuring average tongue length is a tricky business, even for professional otorhinolaryngologists… or ear nose and throat specialists. A 1986 study of tongue length suggested that variations could depend on how far the measurer was able to persuade participants to protrude their tongue. If so, it’s as much about how hard you are trying to stick out your tongue as about how long your tongue is.

The longest tongue record is not a new category for Guinness World Records. Briton Umar Alvi held the record from 2001 to 2002, with a tongue of 5.7cm (2.2in) from the lips to the tip. The next two record holders, also British, measured 9cm (3.5in) and 9.8cm (3.9in).

But Stoeberl is the first to exceed 10cm.

Luckily, you don’t have to find your oropharynx or epiglottis to compare your tongue with his. You just stick out your tongue, put your lips together, and get out a ruler.

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10 things we didn’t know last week

Baby crawling

1. Babies born in the winter start crawling earlier than those born in summer.

Find out more (Newswise)

2. At least three Google employees have lived for months in their vehicles on the firm’s California campus, eating in the staff cafeteria and showering in gyms.

Find out more

3. People can answer word tests correctly while asleep.

Find out more

4. If everyone had only one soulmate, true love would be found only in one lifetime out of 10,000.

Find out more (The Guardian)

5. Pele – christened Edson Arantes do Nascimento – was named after Thomas Edison.

Find out more

6. Over the last 13 years of his life, Andy Warhol stored 300,000 everyday objects including a fan letters, a lump of concrete, used condoms and thousands of postage stamps in 610 cardboard boxes.

Find out more

7. The largest hunting dinosaur probably ate whole sharks.

Find out more (New Scientist)

8. According to instructions set out by a Babylonian scribe, Noah’s ark would have to be woven with a rope that would stretch from London to Edinburgh.

Find out more (The Times)

9. The first DNA fingerprint used in court prevented a young immigrant being sent back to Ghana.

Find out more (Science Museum blog)

10. The late Sir Donald Sinden was the last person alive who knew Oscar Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, and one of only two people to attend his funeral.

Find out more

Seen a thing? Tell the Magazine on Twitter using the hashtag #thingIdidntknowlastweek

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Weekendish: The best of the week’s reads

Thamesmead

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

The era of “radical concrete” that came to dominate Britain’s post-war landscape remains a viscerally emotive subject. Despite a mini-revival in recent years, public opinion seems to be as firmly set against these high-rise monoliths as the concrete holding them together. But a massive collection of images from the 1960s and 1970s offers a glimpse at a more optimistic period in this much-vilified period of town planning, a time when new towns proliferated and planning was seen as a force for good that could reinvent British society. Do these old slides make us reassess the planners’ legacy, asked Tom Heyden. @Camberwella tweeted: “Nope, still don’t get/want brutalism. Thank you so very much.” A more enthusiastic LucieMatthews-Jones ‏@luciejones83 tweeted: “I love concrete!” ‏@CEEQUALnews tweeted: “A great read for all of you closet Town Planners (you know who you are).”

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Wife on Mars

the couple in a bar

Sonia Van Meter wants to be one of the first people on Mars. She is one of 705 people in the running to form a 20- to 40-strong human colony on the Red Planet – a group whittled down from 200,000 who sent applications to Dutch not-for-profit organisation Mars One last year. The only problem is, her husband Jason doesn’t want to go – but he’s trying to be understanding about it. “Like any good red-blooded American male, at first I thought this was all about me. I thought: you’re leaving me,” he says. “The more she talked about it, the more I realised she was doing this for the right reasons – she was doing this to show humanity what we can all do if we work together,” he says. Her stepchildren think it’s cool, too. Readers had their own take. “Maybe she just needs some space,” says Dezley Scott Davidson on Facebook. Read the couple’s story.

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The island factory

New island

China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam all claim part or all of the South China Sea. Since the beginning of the year, China has moved to assert its claim on the area by dredging up millions of tonnes of rock and sand from the sea floor and pumping it into reefs to form substantial new islands. The Philippines, meanwhile, also has permanently occupied outposts in the area – including a heavily subsidised micro-colony on the island of Pagasa aimed at strengthening its legal claims. Another outpost is the Sierra Madre, a rusting, stranded ship that is home to a group of marines. Chinese ships have been blockading it for some time, preventing resupply ships, with food, water and building materials, from getting through. Essentials are, however, dropped from parachute once a month. The BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes is the first Western journalist to have seen China’s island construction with his own eyes. He also visits the marooned Filipinos. The result is an immersive story told through text, images and video.

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Box of tricks

Andy Warhol, Time Capsule 262Andy Warhol, Time Capsule 262, courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

The artist Andy Warhol consigned 300,000 of his everyday possessions to sealed cardboard boxes. These “Time Capsules” contained such treasures as junk mail, fan-letters, toenail clippings, gallery-invitation cards, unopened letters, gallery flyers, a lump of concrete, thousands of used postage, packets of sweets and – of course – unopened tins of Campbell’s soup. Now the 610 boxes, filled during the last 13 years of Warhol’s life, are being opened for the first time at a gallery dedicated to him in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While it may look like load of old rubbish, Warhol – whose film Trash is one of his most celebrated works – “selected these objects with care, chose to give them their own 15 minutes of fame”, says author Simon Elmes. Warhol fans seem to agree – one has paid $30,000 (£19,000) to open the final Time Capsule. @nicklaight says it goes to show “how great curation can create high perceived value from everyday ephemera”.

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Enduring mystery

A 777 - the same model as MH370 - flyingA Boeing 777 – the same type of plane as MH370

What is it about flight MH370 that makes it fertile ground for conspiracy theories? Six months after the Malaysian airliner vanished, a slew of theories has been doing the rounds. It was variously shot down by US and Thai fighters, downed by a Chinese submarine, cyber-hijacked by mobile phone, substituted for MH17, and landed in Pakistan. Or was it all to do with Freescale Semiconductor, a US technology firm whose employees were onboard? And just as the theories began to wane, MH17 was shot down in Ukraine, creating a new buzz around the missing airliner. The Times’ David Aaronovitch argues that conspiracy theories stem from a “fear of chaos”. It’s normal to speculate, Jovan Byford, a psychology lecturer at the Open University, says. “But speculating drawing on the established cult of conspiracy theorising is wrong. It’s misleading and it locates the problem in the wrong place.” Ben Kilbride‏ tweeted “I’m not surprised considering nobody has found a thing”.

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Here are some things we’ve enjoyed this week from elsewhere around the web:Living simply in a dumpster – The Atlantic

Inside the secret world of a British undercover drugs cop – Vice

Mosquitoes really do prefer some people to others – Time

What’s the Best Value at a Bar? Breaking down typical alcohol margins – Slate

How the global banana industry is killing the world’s favourite fruit – Quartz

How the films you’ve seen influence your choice of dog – The Conversation

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Go Figure: The week in numbers

Look back at the week in numbers with our Go Figure images, which are posted daily on social media.

MH370

Monday: Hunt for missing flight MH370 enters new phase

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China new island

Tuesday: China may have a new plan in its territorial dispute over the South China Sea

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oscar pistorius

Wednesday: Oscar Pistorius to learn his fate

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Mars

Thursday: There could be up to 20 people living on Mars by 2034

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cows

Friday: China’s demand for baby formula is one reason behind soaring US milk prices

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Find #BBCGoFigure on Twitter and on Facebook


Caption Challenge: Major spectacle

Man looks through a giant pair of glasses

Winning entries in the Caption Challenge.

This week a man looks through a giant pair of glasses.

Thanks to all who entered. The prize of a small amount of kudos to the following:

6. Joshua Brown:

“Does my face look big in this?”

5. Jon:

The glasses are always greener on the other side.

4. Bernard Harper:

“I told you the 3D printer settings were wrong!”

3. Samantha Pegg:

“Just crouch there and stay very still and the giant Gok Wan will walk peacefully by.”

2. Ian:

Google Glass: the early years.

1. Bramer:

Mr Gulliver is here to collect his prescription, sir.

PDF download Full rules can be seen here[16KB]

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The rebirth of canned beer

Selection of craft canned beers

Beer in a can. It has a decades-old image problem – bland, mass-produced and metallic-tasting. Now craft brewers are trying to do for canned beer what New World winemakers did for screwcaps more than a decade ago, writes Megan Lane.

Order a craft beer in one of the modish American-style eateries springing up around the UK, and chances are it will arrive in a can.

It’s a packaging choice big producers have made for decades. Cans are lighter and easier to transport. The seal is airtight and the metal casing lets in no light, extending the shelf-life of the brew within. Modern cans come with polymer linings, which act as an impermeable barrier between beer and aluminium.

A handful of small North American producers switched to cans in the early 2000s. Today 413 craft breweries in the US use cans, according to the Craft Cans database. A lavishly illustrated book on beer can artwork was published this year, and the 2013 indie movie Drinking Buddies – largely filmed in Chicago’s Revolution Brewing, which has its own canning line – revolved around characters swigging canned craft beer.

“The mainstream image of the can is that it’s a plebeian package for a poor quality product,” says Ben McFarland, of drinks writing duo Thinking Drinkers, co-founders of Hobo, one of the first canned craft beers sold in the UK.

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The pioneers of canned craft beer

Craft Beer cans

1991: Mid-Coast Brewing Company launched cans of Chief Oshkosh Red Lager – its ad copy emphasised the use of cans “to protect delicate flavours”

1992: Switched to bottles after consumer resistance

1994: Mid-Coast brewery folded

2001: Canada’s Yukon Gold craft brewery put its lager into cans as this was the container of choice in the province

2002: Colorado’s Oskar Blues began canning its beer, the first US craft brewer to re-embrace the can

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The cost of canning is starting to fall, due to changing technology and demand from microbrewers. Some have installed their own canning lines. “When we started looking for a canning supplier a couple of years ago, there weren’t many who could provide small batch runs as it was simply too costly,” says McFarland.

_77927182_118737345Avalanche beer

Two years ago, gourmet burger chain Byron – which has outlets in 10 cities around England – added two US canned craft beers to its menu, a conscious decision to try to change minds, says a spokesman. Today, nine of its 11 craft beers come in cans. “Our customers are drinking more beer in our restaurants now than when we served mostly bottles.”

McFarland counsels against swigging straight from the can – or bottle, for that matter. Pouring beer into a glass allows for a fuller olfactory experience, an important factor in our sense of taste. The metallic tang many associate with canned beers is actually thought to be the scent of aluminium as can approaches nose. No wonder the Australians call a can of beer a “tinny”.

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Would you live in a house clinging to a cliff?

Cliff House

A design for a home anchored to a sheer cliff face offers a striking vista. But what would it take to live in such a place, asks Jon Kelly.

For sale: distinctive seaside property with spectacular coastal views. Would suit high-value buyer untroubled by vertigo.

So far it only exists as a concept, but the design for the Cliff House by Modscape, an Australian firm that designs and builds prefabricated homes, is enough to give a lurch to the stomach of anyone uneasy with heights.

Here’s the pitch – it features three bedrooms (two doubles, the other en-suite), a stylish living space, a carport, separate bathroom and (tantalisingly or nausea-inducingly, depending on your tolerance of sheer drops) an open-air spa and barbecue area on the bottom floor. Artfully minimalist interior décor focuses visitors’ attention on “transcendent views of the ocean”.

According to the company’s website, the plans were drawn up after a couple approached the firm asking its designers to explore how to build a holiday home along “extreme parcels” of coast in Victoria.

Cliff House

Inspired by the way barnacles cling to a ship’s hull, the design envisages that the house would be made up of five modules connected by a lift and secured to the cliff face using engineered steel pins.

It might look precarious – and a hostage to coastal erosion – but there’s no reason why the design shouldn’t be structurally sound, says Maxwell Hutchinson, a former president of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Cantilever beams drilled into the rock could support the building just as crampons support a climber.

While people assume homes must be built upwards from foundations in the ground, it’s equally possibly in theory for them to be suspended or hung, says Hutchinson. There’s a tradition of unconventional properties around the world including floating homes, underwater homes and even ice hotels.

But, he warns, “all of these things are expensive because the construction industry hates anything unusual”. Any prospective owner of the Cliff House would need very deep pockets.

And that wouldn’t be the only thing required of them, Hutchinson says. “It would have to be someone with a very, very strong stomach.”

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The art of cashing in on the royal baby

Nissan

The announcement that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have a second baby on the way has been instantly greeted by a slew of advertising messages, writes Tom Heyden.

It didn’t take long. Just seven minutes separated Clarence House’s announcement of the duchess’s latest pregnancy and Nissan cashing in on it with an advert featuring a crown on each of the seven car seats.

Soon other companies followed, from Innocent and WKD to the Post Office. It’s brands trying ever so hard to be relevant.

There’s a trend towards being spontaneous within the “social news room”, says Marketing magazine’s Nicola Kemp. “They’re trying to ride on the tailcoats of any given piece of news.”

Post Office: Congratulations from Post Office to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who are expecting a special delivery
Pizza Express: May we humbly suggest naming the #Royalbaby 'pizza#

But however you rate Nissan’s marketing team, it’s unlikely to have been conceived, made, approved and signed off – all in 420 seconds. Not without a Photoshop wizard and a team so well-oiled they work quicker than it took for that pun to sink in. “Brands do pre-empt things a lot more now,” Kemp says. Maybe that’s why Nissan advertised their seven-seater, wary of a curveball quadruplets announcement. Baby-related brands probably had this on their calendar – even without an exact date, says Kemp. Burble Baby plugs some princess plaques. Sports Direct implores you to “treat tiny toes well” with its baby shoes. The Post Office’s “special delivery” pun is a bit of a stretch.

Sports Direct: Got your own little prince or princess on the way? Treat tiny toes well with our range of baby shoes
Innocent Royal Name Generator list

But many brands are just opportunistic. “For some sectors it is genuinely a really smart strategy but for others you just can’t help thinking that perhaps their social media manager is a bit bored,” says Kemp. There’s an art to social media humour, though. “Brands are much more comfortable [now] in pointing fun at themselves,” says Kemp. “It’s being self-aware that you’re capitalising on something but not taking yourself too seriously.”

Even the naff jokes might get well shared, she admits. “You really have to have a reason for doing it,” says Kemp, “whether that reason is having a joke, making people smile [or] being part of the conversation.”

Lexus: Someone's about to get a baby brother (a picture of two different Lexus cars)
Reed: Jobs for nannies available. Just saying...

But before we get too cynical – it’s not all about sales. Sometimes it’s about safety, as with the London Fire Brigade’s timely warning that they’ll only rescue pregnant ladies like the duchess from lifts.

London Fire Brigade: If you're pregnant like Kate and trapped we'll attend but a lot of lift rescues are not emergencies

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The two-year baby gap – is it ideal?

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George

The Duchess of Cambridge is expected to give birth in the spring of 2015. She gave birth to her first child, Prince George, on 22 July 2013, meaning there will be a gap of about 20 months between the two children, give or take a few weeks.

Now Magazine suggested last summer that Kate might want “back-to-back babies”. The idea being that you can have your children in a single batch lasting just a few years and then move on.

Women starting a family in their 30s might not have the luxury of spacing their children out. For the mother’s health, two to three years is “probably perfect” says Sarah Jarvis, a GP who regularly appears on the BBC’s Jeremy Vine Show. A woman goes through a lot giving birth, especially if they breastfeed afterwards. In nutrition terms, it takes a year to recover, says Jarvis. They will need to have time to rebuild their pelvic floor, she continues. Two years is good because it gives a bit of leeway. And anything over three years may be too long as it can cause sibling rivalry, Jarvis suggests.

Some parents talk of two years as being ideal. If you plan ahead, it means siblings will be approaching A-levels and GCSEs at the same time – allowing the family to have an intensive “exam” year, followed by a year off.

There are pros and cons with any gap, says Justine Roberts, who co-founded Mumsnet. She once read of research suggesting that the ideal age gap for developing a child’s intelligence is 11 years as the older child becomes like a third parent. But that’s not practical or desirable for many.

At the other extreme, having children one year or less apart is likely to be a huge strain. The advantage of having babies close together is that your children will play together and become close, developing shared interests, Roberts suggests. But having a new baby while you have a toddler is hard work. “It depends how your set up is, how drained you’ll be.”

Luckily for the Duchess of Cambridge, childcare should not be a problem.

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The tale of the parrot that started a fight

Scene of confusion with parrot at centre

The British newspaper archive is a treasure trove of outlandish stories. Author Jeremy Clay tells the singular tale of the parrot that provoked a pub dust-up.

A spilt pint. A misplaced glance. A loose tongue. The wrong look. The wrong accent. The wrong attitude. Too much booze. Too little common sense.

All these things and far more besides have provided the flimsy excuses for bar-room brawls down the years. But there can be few flare-ups with an odder spark than the ugly scene which broke out in one London boozer in the summer of 1898.

Arthur Crowe and his pal George Tibbett were having a drink in a Blackfriars pub with a German pal when an ice-cream man called Brambani sauntered in. The landlord kept a parrot behind the bar and Brambani enthusiastically returned to his on-going project, trying to teach it to speak Italian.

“With characteristic ineptitude,” reported the Falkirk Herald, the parrot replied in English. A potty-mouthed brand of English, at that. We don’t know what it actually said, as the diffident press printed it as “Oh, you old –” but it was enough to provoke Crowe and Tibbett, who thought the insult had come from Brambani. Not just that, but it was aimed at the German woman at their table.

The hapless Brambani tried to explain who the real culprit was, but reason rarely figures in the prelude to a dust-up. In increasingly aggressive tones, they demanded an apology. The parrot, meanwhile, thrilled by this unexpected turn of events, “kept up a running fire of abusive and scandalous remarks”.

Sensing matters were heading for a painful conclusion, Brambani turned and legged it, scarpering for the safety of his sweet shop.

Itching for a fight, the trio pursued him, and were soon joined, as if by magic, by a like-minded small mob. Brambani’s nephew John stepped forward to appeal to the best instincts of the crowd, and was promptly met with a hailstorm of missiles, including ginger beer bottles and, gallingly, his family’s own ice-cream glasses.

Victorian Strangeness

Illustration of a man carrying a pig

A series of bizarre episodes culled from 19th Century newspapers by Jeremy Clay.

“The German lady took an active part in the melee,” said the Herald, “but decamped upon the arrival of PCs Greenway and Hunt, who prevented further bloodshed and arrested the prisoners.”

Crowe and Tibbett were jailed for a month. There was no word on what became of the parrot. But two years earlier, a few miles up the road, another parrot was ruffling feathers in court.

Solicitor’s clerk Henry Lovegrove had bought a talking parrot in a pub as a gift for his sweetheart.

“Can it talk?” he asked ship’s steward William Foulger. It most certainly could. Spanish and English. Plus, it could sing. It did a rousing version of Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay, Foulger boasted. Thirty shillings seemed a fair price for such a richly-talented pet.

The wary Lovegrove had just one more question. The bird had been kept on a ship – was it fit to present to a lady? Oh, the bird chooses its words carefully, Foulger assured him: “Its language is that of a bishop.”

Imagine Lovegrove’s consternation, then, when Miss Nelson soon told him she couldn’t stand to be in the presence of the bird for a moment longer. Why? “The parrot swears more than the troops in Flanders,” Lovegrove told Shoreditch County Court, after being pursued by Foulger for the 30 shillings he’d never paid.

In themselves, that string of profanities might not have proved a problem. The bird, it seemed, specialised in swearing in Spanish. Alas, poor Miss Nelson had been a governess in Spain. She understood every single word. The parrot’s language, she told the court, was “simply sulphurous”.

At that point, the bird itself was brought into the courtroom. “Perhaps it would talk for the edification of your honour?” said Lovegrove’s solicitor. “I don’t want to hear it,” harrumphed the judge. “My knowledge of the Spanish tongue is not so profound as Miss Nelson’s, nor have I any wish to endure Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay again.”

And with that it was settled. Lovegrove kept his cash. Foulger reclaimed the parrot. Is it too fanciful to imagine he flogged it to a pub landlord in Blackfriars?

Discover more about what life was like in Victorian times and 10 truly bizarre Victorian deaths

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Weekendish: The best of the week’s reads

Illustration of Royal Coat of Arms

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

In less than a fortnight, the voters of Scotland will decide whether to become an independent country. Within Allan Little’s lifetime, the movement to leave the United Kingdom has gone from being a “fringe preoccupation” to occupying the centre ground of Scottish politics. In an account drawing on his own experience, Little describes how the break-up of the British Empire, deindustrialisation and increasingly divergent voting patterns north and south of the border brought the Scottish nation to the crossroads. “Whichever way the vote goes, there can be no going back to business as usual,” Little says. “The United Kingdom will have changed.”

How did Scotland change so much?

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Mum, mum and dad

Alana Saarinen at a piano

Alana Saarinen loves playing golf and the piano, listening to music and hanging out with friends. In those respects, she’s like many teenagers around the world. Except she’s not, because Alana Saarinen is one of only 30 to 50 people in the world who have some mitochondria, and therefore a bit of DNA, from a third person. She was conceived through a pioneering infertility treatment in the US which was later banned. The UK is now looking to legalise a new, similar technique which would use a donor’s mitochondria to try to eliminate debilitating genetic diseases. “I think this treatment is good. Not convinced it makes a biological parent,”tweets tentacle sixteen. Colin Mitchell ‏tweets: “The girl with three biological parents. Mitochondrial replacement – posing ethical & legal questions.”

The girl with three biological parents

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My family and other animals

June and chimp playing with doll

Imagine sharing your youth with a chimp – and other animals. This is what happened to June Williams. Her father George Mottershead was passionate about animals, and in 1930 came up with what seemed at the time to be a crazy idea – setting up a “zoo without bars”. Mottershead moved his family into a run-down estate and began populating it with exotic animals. A pair of goats and a gibbon were joined by two bears. A lion cub arrived them and was later swapped for a polar bear. A capybara was donated by the Duke of Westminster, who basically couldn’t keep tabs on it. The locals were dead set against the idea of a zoo on their doorstep but Mottershead prevailed and his vision gave way to Chester Zoo. As for June and her sister, they became used to having the animals for company – particularly Mary the chimp. “We more or less shared our youth,” June recalls in an interview this week. “We did things together. I used to try and teach her how to tie a knot, but I never succeeded. And we’d draw things in the sand together. She had a beautiful temperament. Chimps are just like humans… you get a close bond with some.” Of June’s upbringing, Laura Imregi ‏tweets: “This should totally have been me.”

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A flying elephant

Elephant in a plane

“I think I will have seen everything when I see an elephant fly” goes the song from Disney’s Dumbo. Indeed, you can see an elephant fly if you watch this video that accompanies Vibeke Venema’s feature on the rescue of an orphaned calf near the border between Chad and Cameroon. The nine-month-old was the only survivor of a massacre by poachers and was rescued by Gary Roberts and American nurse and missionary who also happens to have access to a Cessna aircraft. The only way to get the elephant to safety was to squeeze it into the Cessna. “He was quite interested in playing with my controls, he would put his trunk forward and feel my hand and touch the controls and of course feel my face,” says Roberts. “It was a bit of a distraction but at the same time a unique experience.” Roberts filmed it all on his mobile phone. Vicki Reeve ‏tweets: “A real-life flying elephant! Max had a horrific start to life, but was lucky to be found by such a kind person.” Sarah adds: “Sadly this is probably the happiest this wee darling ever was.” Save the Elephants tweets: “The story behind an amazing video of an pachyderm in a plane.”

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Honest scrappers

Steptoe and Son

It wasn’t only George Orwell whose reputation came under scrutiny this week. Sarah-Jane Hughes asked Magazine readers to reconsider their attitudes to scrap yards. These empires of rusting metal have long been portrayed in film, fiction and TV as a haunt of the wide boy, the tasty geezer, and many other variants of ne’er-do-well (although not always – Charles Dickens created a sympathetic scrap dealer, Nicodemus Boffin, in his last complete novel, Our Mutual Friend). Sarah herself hails from a family of scrap dealers who – she assures readers – have “never put anyone in the crusher”. The problem, though, lies in the lay-out – as one scriptwriter tells her, “They’re private kingdoms hidden from view and lend themselves very well to crime drama.” Expect plenty more recycling, then. daghosesupplies tweets: “Loved scrap yards as a youngster, hours spent looking for the odd car part.” la_crip: “‏Why are scrap dealers portrayed as criminals? I knew one honest (ish) one in Bristol. Think he may have even paid tax.”

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Here are some things we’ve enjoyed this week from elsewhere around the web:Nine Different Households, Surrounded by a Week’s Worth Garbage – Smithsonian

The complete guide to having a productive weekend – Quartz

The Origin of the “Freshman 15” myth – The Atlantic

As the seas rise, a slow-motion disaster gnaws at America’s shores – Reuters investigation

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10 things we didn’t know last week

Shark

1. You can make vegan cheese out of human DNA.

Find out more (Vice)

2. The most common surname for doctors in the UK is Khan.

Find out more (Daily Mail)

3. Lebanon has a craft beer industry.

Find out more (The Economist)

4. Man-eating sharks are nine times more likely to kill men than women.

Find out more (The Wire)

5. David Hockney’s dachshund once defecated on the floor of Dennis Hopper’s Frank Gehry-designed home, prompting a furious reaction.

Find out more (The Guardian)

6. Monkeys at the top and bottom of the social pecking order have physically different brains.

Find out more

7. Watching action films makes you eat more.

Find out more (Daily Telegraph)

8. There are £1,500 chickens that are entirely black.

Find out more

9. The men’s apparel market in India is worth nearly $2 billion (£1.2 billion) more than that of women.

Find out more (QZ)

10. Archer fish adjust for distance when they spit.

Find out more

Seen a thing? Tell the Magazine on Twitter using the hashtag #thingIdidntknowlastweek

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Go Figure: The week in numbers

Look back at the week in numbers with our Go Figure images, which are posted daily on social media.

chickens graphic level of greenhouse gases

Monday: Greenhouse gas fear over increased levels of meat eating?

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Ice Bucket Challenge figures raised for ALS

Tuesday: How much has the ice bucket challenge achieved?

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corruption and poverty

Wednesday: Corruption ‘impoverishes and kills millions’

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The biggest dinosaur, Dreadnoughtus Schrani

Thursday: ‘Dreadnought’ dinosaur yields big bone haul

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California blue whales

Friday: California blue whales bounce back to near historic numbers

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Find #BBCGoFigure on Twitter and on Facebook


Caption Challenge: Red alert

A woman has her photograph taken beside a sculpture in Ireland's National Botanic Gardens

Winning entries in the Caption Challenge.

The competition is now closed.

This week, a woman has her photograph taken beside a sculpture in Ireland’s National Botanic Gardens.

Thanks to all who entered. The prize of a small amount of kudos to the following:

6. Simon Curwood:

People travel from all around to visit the shrine of the pork scratching goddess.

5. Lynda:

“…And the prize for the best Quavers-based sculpture goes to…”

4. Rod:

“Don’t worry, I’ll take the stray hairs out with Photoshop.”

3. IABP:

Modern sundial gives the time in five different zones.

2. Matthew Leitch:

“Say ‘Red Leicester.'”

1. Matt Whitby:

Ginger snaps.

PDF download Full rules can be seen here[16KB]

Follow @BBCNewsMagazine on Twitter and on Facebook


Five tips for solving your own crimes

Police

Overburdened police are encouraging crime victims to investigate their own cases, an inspection in England and Wales has found. How might one safely go about this, asks Chris Stokel-Walker.

1. Keep your own CCTV as evidenceThere are nearly five million CCTV cameras in the UK, according to latest estimates from the British Security Industry Authority (BSIA), but some areas aren’t covered by a lens. Simple home security systems, including cameras, can be bought from sites like Amazon, and can capture crimes as they happen. The video produced by the most basic cameras is perfectly acceptable as evidence, says Keith Cottenden of CY4OR, a forensics firm, but be aware that privacy issues can apply. Filming your own property is fine – filming a neighbour’s is not.

2. Take statements from neighboursIain Stanton, a lecturer in policing and criminal justice studies at the University of Cumbria, says that though statements from witnesses to crimes could be admissible in a court, “a number of questions would potentially be raised in respect of comments or explanations given to people with no investigatory experience”. But asking simple factual questions like “tell me what happened”, “explain to me what you saw”, and “can you describe that in more detail?” are useful starting points.

3. Invoke the wisdom of the crowdThough it can backfire spectacularly – such as when users of Reddit, a popular message board, incorrectly identified bystanders as responsible for the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings by trawling through CCTV images – there is some wisdom in the crowd. Posting as much information as possible about the crime online can jog people’s memories, and spread awareness far and wide. And many goods taken in burglaries end up on websites such as Craigslist and Gumtree, so also keep an eye out online.

4. Use the technology available to youSmartphones remain attractive to thieves. A quarter of us have had our phones stolen from us, according to security company Lookout – but they can be tracked. Make sure you have Find my iPhone, or one of the many rival apps, installed and enabled on your phone. Following an e-trail of your phone’s whereabouts can help police locate it quicker.

5. Don’t pursue the criminals yourselfPerhaps the most important piece of advice is a simple one – by all means collect and collate evidence, but don’t try and confront the criminals responsible yourself. That much can still be left to the police.

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The perils of being called Isis

Isis

A US mobile payment company has changed its name from Isis to avoid confusion with the radical Islamist group. Should similarly titled brands feel obliged to follow suit, asks Jon Kelly.

US mobile payment service Isis has changed its name to Softcard to distinguish itself from Islamic State (IS), formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – commonly shortened to Isis. “However coincidental, we have no desire to share a name with this group,” chief executive Michael Abbott said in a statement.

It’s understandable, given that the other Isis is responsible for mass killings and abductions of members of religious and ethnic minorities, as well as beheading soldiers and journalists.

The defunct Boston “post-metal” group Isis received abusive messages on its Facebook page from posters who confused them with the Islamist organisation (the page is now titled “Isis the band”). The musicians said fans had emailed to say they were now reluctant to wear their T-shirts. Ann Summers apologised for any offence caused after, with “unfortunate timing”, it launched a range of “erotic lingerie” called The Isis Collection.

 HMP/YOI  ISIS in Thamesmead, London.HMP/ YOI Isis is sited next to Belmarsh prison in London

But other Isises persist. There is a pharmaceutical company (which has insisted it will be keeping its name), a Young Offenders Institution, a river modelling software package, an international development foundation, and the Oxford University student magazine. In 2013 there were 46 babies born in the UK called Isis, making it the 825th most popular girls’ name.

All, presumably, take inspiration from the Egyptian goddess, the Oxford river or the 1976 Bob Dylan song, rather than the Sunni militants. But each could be forgiven for considering a rebrand.

“It’s a difficult one and we’re monitoring it,” says David Brown, chief executive of ISIS Schools, which teaches English to overseas students. On the one hand, the name is now associated by many with extremism and violence. On the other, IS may catch on instead. “We’ll decide in the next month or two how to respond,” Brown adds.

Others say it’s the name of the militant fighters that should change. Isis Martinez, an alternative medicine practitioner based in Miami, launched an appeal titled Thousands of Women are Named Isis, Please Petition the Media to Use the Accurate Acronym ISIL – referring to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

And indeed IS has already given itself a new title – following the logic of Osama Bin Laden, who, according to documents recovered from his Pakistani compound, considered rebranding al-Qaeda.

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Is the UK unusually fond of lamb and potatoes?

Rack of lamb

The US ambassador to the UK says he is fed up with being served lamb and potatoes. Does this imply the British have an exceptional taste for the dish, asks Mario Cacciottolo.

If you’re playing host to Matthew Barzun, Washington’s man in London, don’t cook him lamb and potatoes. He claims to have been served the meal 180 times since his arrival to British shores last autumn and he’s had quite enough now, thank you very much.

“There are limits and I have reached them,” he told Tatler magazine.

The implication is that Britons have an exceptional taste for the dish.

In fact, on the international scale, the UK’s annual per capita lamb consumption of 4.7kg is decidedly mid-table at best, according to Eblex, the UK’s organisation for lamb (its figures also include a small helping of goat meat). That’s well behind Greece’s 12.8kg and the biggest consumer of them all – Mongolia, with 45.1kg.

But it’s way ahead of the US, which consumes a mere 0.4kg per capita each year of lamb. Writing in the Times, Philip Delves Broughton points out that almost half of Americans have never even tried it.

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Lamb recipes you’ll always be happy to eat

Lamb dhansak

There are many more at BBC Food

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It’s not so much that Britons eat a lot of lamb and potatoes. It’s that the meal has long been regarded as a sumptuous feast.

The Cheltenham Chronicle in August 1919 carried a report of how a woman appearing before magistrates – for reasons not disclosed – gave her husband regular helpings of “roast lamb peas and potatoes” as proof of how well she had treated him. He, by her account, was unappreciative of her efforts, which the magistrates referred to as luxurious.

ChocolatesNow that would be really spoiling the ambassador

As far back as 1896, the Lichfield Mercury was encouraging cooks with recipes that involved covering lamb and various vegetables with “a good many new potatoes – as many as required” with which to layer on top of the stew.

Perhaps this should have been explained to Barzun. He’s been getting served what the Brits think is a fine dish, one designed to impress such an illustrious visitor, unaware that they’ve actually been making him sick of the sight of it.

MasterChef presenter Gregg Wallace would happily swap places with the ambassador.

“Lamb is often used in North African dishes but I prefer the traditional method,” he says. “It’s a fatty meat, so I can understand why some people don’t like it, but for me that’s what makes it so delicious. I’d have it as my last meal.”

Still, things could be worse for Barzun. He must hope his diplomatic skills are never needed in Ulan Bator.

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Does limiting the power of appliances save energy?

Woman and hairdryer

The European Commission has banned the sale of powerful vacuum cleaners. Now it might do the same for other domestic appliances, but would this actually cut energy consumption?

It started with vacuum cleaners. Then there were howls of outrage when it emerged the European Commission has set up a working group to look at whether other common household appliances – kettles, toasters, bread makers and hairdryers among them – should also be regulated.

The working group is at an early stage and may rule out many of the products. But is the premise correct – does the power of an appliance determine energy consumption? Or by halving the wattage do you simply mean that someone uses it for twice as long?

Take hairdryers. You could use a 1,000-watt hairdryer for a minute or a 500-watt one for two minutes and it would in theory use the same energy. But, says Henry Lau, outreach officer at the Institute of Physics, it’s not that simple. You have to look at how efficient hairdryers actually are. “Part of the power is being used to power a heating element, you’ll get some energy wasted heating other parts of the hairdryer, not just the air.” Design matters – is it better to have faster-blown air, or hotter air?

The answer

  • No clear relationship between motor size and overall energy consumption
  • More efficient motors and better product design can be more important than power
  • Many products, such as hairdryers, use far more energy than is needed to do the job

For vacuum cleaners, better nozzle and filter design means that you can suck up more dust without increasing the power of the motor, says Chrissy McManus, technical manager at the Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Appliances. Which? Magazine has made the same point, while noting many of its Best Buys have motor sizes that exceed the new limit of 1,600 watts.

There’s no simple relationship between motor power and energy use, says Prof Will Stewart, fellow at the Institute of Engineering and Technology. And a big motor used at low power will use about the same energy as a smaller one doing the same job. But the EU is right to expect better efficiency. He estimates it should take about 2,000 watts of power applied for less than a minute to dry wet hair. Yet most hairdryers take far longer with similar or more powerful motors. The hope must be that manufacturers will do more with less power. But he wonders if regulation is necessary. “The hairdryer is a very small potato in terms of energy use.”

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Go Figure: The week in numbers

Look back at the week in numbers with our Go Figure images, which are posted daily on social media.

Macau graphic

Tuesday: Protests point to Macau awakening

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Kate Bush graphic

Wednesday: Kate Bush comeback greeted with huge cheers

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Venice padlock graphic

Thursday: Italy: Campaign to reduce ‘love locks’ on Venice bridges

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Iceland earthquake graphic

Friday: Iceland lowers alert for erupting volcano

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Find #BBCGoFigure on Twitter and on Facebook


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