Sunday, 30 November 2008

A Thai Museum

Praserd Sriyonyong’s innocuous-looking house in Thailand holds everything from mammoth heads to dinosaur bones, a massive testimony to the man’s obsession with collection and natural history. There are around 400,000 natural history items, including an incredible mammoth head and dinosaur skeleton inside this very unusual house. Sriyonyong says he bought them from some “rich people” in Thailand’s rural hinterland that had them in their possession for generations.

"I have 300 heads of “kouprey” (Cambodian forest ox) alone; neither the British Museum nor the Louvre has even one specimen of this extinct animal. I also hold the world’s record for antlers”, says Praserd Sriyonyong with pride, a tall, striking-looking man in his early fifties. Sriyonyong is now looking for partners, financial and related specialists, to build and house his fabulous collection as a modern museum, to be centred around a tourist complex by the side of the main road near the ruins of Ayutthaya, Thailand’s historical city founded in 1350 A.D. and destroyed in 1767, now a UNESCO heritage site.

Conservation scientist Antony Lynam of the Asia programmes of the Wildlife Conservation Society said “All who have seen the collection agree that it represents a unique resource for scientific research and education.”

Another Strictly

Another good Strictly night – the first on which the competitors have had to do two dances. As usual I preferred the ballroom dances to the Latin but there were so many good dances it was a great evening.

Rachel and Vincent’s Waltz kicked off the evening in fine style and earned a suitably high score.

You know a dance is good when you don’t want it to end. And that was certainly the case with Austin and Erin’s Paso. Len may have thought it was all performance and no content but everyone else gave it a standing ovation. It was most unusual to see Craig give a ten and Len only an eight! Austin and Erin’s foxtrot was also brilliant.

Other tremendous dances were Christine and Matthew’s Salsa, Tom and Camilla’s Waltz, and Rachel & Vincent’s Paso Doble to It's The Final Countdown.

Tom and Camilla danced their waltz to Moon River – what better song could you get for a waltz?

Tom got told off for sticking his rear end out but I didn’t notice it – his lines looked perfect to me even though they obviously weren’t up to the judges’ standards.

I just can’t get worked up about Lisa and Brendan. The judges seem to think she is first class but I don’t get any good vibrations from them. Added to which I can’t get enthused about her personality. There is no way I would have had them at the top of the leader board at the end of the evening but that is where they ended up.

On the basis of tonight I should hate to choose the finalists but the next one to go looks like it’s going to be Christine. On the other hand if the public save her we could lose one of my favourites. Oh dear, better go and do some telephoning...

Thursday, 27 November 2008


The last A1 race of 2008 last weekend saw Switzerland take the win in a messy Sprint race which had a major crash at the start, saw GB pull out with a gearbox problem on lap 1 and South Africa damage the Malaysian car in a hopeless overtaking attempt. New Zealand was second out of the pits in front of France but had to give the place back because of an unsafe pit release. Mexico went off the track to add to the excitement. Switzerland’s pit stop was quick and clean as befits the team which won the series last year.

A rolling start is supposed to be two abreast not six!

Korea not on the grid for the feature race because of a technical problem gave the US their rear wing to replace the damaged one from the sprint race. The camaraderie between teams in A1 is a notable contrast to F1.

At the start of the Feature Race GB dropped straight from second place on the grid to fifth; India got taken out by the Netherlands who themselves had been hit. Switzerland, trying to make his way up from the back after a penalty, went off. Ireland, led Portugal, Lebanon, Malaysia and GB. Malaysia got past Lebanon but as GB tried it both cars went off and on getting back on the track GB got overtaken by a few cars and then lost his front wing as France hit him. Not a good day for GB. It got wortse and the car ended the race in the garage.

At this stage an unbelievable downpour occurred (on the Wirral not in Sepang) and the picture disappeared. By the time the rain / hail eased off the first round of pit stops had occurred. Close but fair racing between Ho Pin Tung of China and the US’s Marco Andretti showed that overtaking without hitting people is quite possible. Later, Malaysia and Italy also demonstrated skill, good judgement and fairness as they fought. Perhaps Adrian Zoug of South Africa could learn from these drivers.

Malaysia was in a comfortable third place when some miscommunication brought him into the pits unexpectedly losing him so much time he ended up well back, disappointing the home crowd. In the end Adam Carroll took first place for Ireland, chased by Portugal with USA a good deal behind in 3rd.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Newark & Sherwood Council is not just talk

A torc (an iron age gold collar) worth more than £350,000 that was found by an amateur metal detectorist in a muddy field in Nottinghamshire has been described as the best find of its kind in half a century, according to a Guardian article.

"I was only in the field because a customer kept me late," Maurice Richardson, a tree surgeon from Newark, said yesterday. "Normally I'd never want to go into this field because a plane crashed there in the last war, and the whole place is littered with bits of metal." The first beep from his detector was indeed a chunk of wartime scrap metal, but as he bent down to discard it, his machine gave a louder signal. Expecting to find a bigger chunk of fuselage, he instead discovered the 2,200-year-old collar.

The piece, a near twin of one already in the British Museum, was the most spectacular of 1,257 finds reported over the last three years. Treasure reports have increased every year since the Portable Antiquities scheme was set up to record finds by the public in England and Wales. The scheme itself came near to being lost in government cuts but, like the torc, has been rescued!

"It's a fabulous thing, the best Iron Age find in 50 years," said JD Hill, head of the British Museum's iron age department. "When I first saw a picture of it I thought somebody was pulling my leg because it is so like the Sedgeford torc in our collection that it must have been made by the same hand. What is fascinating about it is that it turned up where no torc should be - to put it mildly, the Newark region is not known for major high-status iron age finds. This wasn't in a grave, wasn't on a hilltop - it opens up a whole new chapter of the history of this area."

Unusually, the torc has been acquired by his local museum in Newark, after heroic fundraising efforts. Most such finds go to national museums. Sarah Dawes, head of leisure and culture at Newark and Sherwood district council, said: "I took one look and rang my chief executive to say, sit tight, don't leave the office, we've got something to tell you."

When it was originally reported back in 2005, the BBC ran a story on the torc, stating it was probably worth £100K. In the event the artefact was valued at £350K. It has therefore been a massive achievement for the Newark and Sherwood Museum Service to acquire it for display locally, as JD Hill of the BM has been quoted: "It’s a daunting prospect for the British Museum or the V&A to raise £350,000. "

The local council stated in their minutes, that they decided to seek funding to purchase the object because they wanted to: ..ensure that an exceptional artefact relating to the historical importance of the District is secured for local and national interest. Many congratulations to the officers and Members for a job well done.!

Monday, 24 November 2008

Prostitutes to go self-employed...

In a wonderful piece of new legislation the Government is to encourage prostitutes to go self-employed, according to an article in The Independent.

Ministers have proposed new legislation that would make it a criminal offence to pay to have sex with someone who is "controlled for another person's gain". Under the proposed law, the Home Office would create a "strict liability offence" meaning that prosecutors would not have to prove that a man knew that the prostitute they had hired was trafficked or pimped. Prosecutors would simply have to show that the prostitute was trafficked or coerced and that cash changed hands.

In fairness, the aim is to target men who use prostitutes who have been trafficked or who are being forced into prostitution by pimps or drug dealers. But I’m not sure how the aim and the legislation match. Where is the incentive to catch or prosecute or punish the trafficker or pimp? Whilst all my experience of this field comes from reading fiction my understanding is that the general police view is that most prostitutes are better off having someone to 'look after them' - i.e. a bodyguard. It would certainly seems safer in the light of the fact that they are so often the target for murderers and other nutters. (Oops, sorry, that wasn't very p.c., was it?)

And what about prostitutes who are forced into that life by poverty – is the government going to prosecute itself for failing to have a higher standard of living in the UK?

Ah well, I’m sure it’s a good idea really.

Strictly Out of It

Before I comment on Sunday’s Strictly can I just lay the John Sergeant thing to rest by quoting a couple of sentences from three paragraphs by a Cumbrian blogger who, like me, was upset at the whole ‘thing’. Her posting was the most sensible thing I’d read on the whole subject. “I’ve watched Strictly Come Dancing for about five series now and every time there is some unfortunate soul who lasts far, far longer in the competition than is truly wise because the chance for the average viewer to both witness humiliation and effect rescue is too good to pass up. It’s all the fun of watching your favourite Christian in the amphitheatre, knowing that with a press of a button you can send the lion down the trapdoor, if need be..... Seeing the tempers mount on the message boards has been a disconcerting experience for me, revealing the war-mongering heart of folk who were supposedly enjoying a gentle, old-fashioned Saturday teatime programme. I know some people find a big old row thrilling spectator sport, but I hate the conflict and the excess.”

A brilliant group dance. An intervioew with Felicity Kendall. And by far the best dance off yet. What more could one want?

I thought Jodie’s jive was the better dance but it was Lisa who survived.

So long, Jodie and Ian.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Mammoth genome

About 18,545 years ago, give or take a few decades, a woolly mammoth died. Succumbing to causes unknown, the creature was buried in Siberian snow. Many other mammoths must have met similar fates but this one, which we now know as M4, is special. Almost 20 millennia later, its beautifully preserved remains were unearthed by scientists who have revealed both its body and its genetic code. For the first time, the genome of an extinct species has been sequenced almost to completion.

To learn more visit one of my favourite blogs - It's not exactly rocket science.

Strictly special

After Rachel and Vincent’s perfectly scored Foxtrot, Tom and Camilla’s excellent Tango and Austin and Erin’s Cha cha cha the competition is really open. I wouldn’t like to forecast which of those three is likely to be the eventual winner. The others will fall by the wayside but still gave us our money’s worth on Saturday. I’m hoping that Christina will survive ‘tomorrow’ but suspect it will be her and Jodie in the dance off.

John and Kristina’s last dance was suitably emotional and will not be forgotten in a hurry.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Nobel Prize for Medicine

In October, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 2008 with one half to Harald zur Hausen for his discovery of “human papilloma viruses causing cervical cancer” and the other half jointly to Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier for their discovery of “human immunodeficiency virus” [HIV].

Gentleman John Sergeant

Just in case you've been under a rock all day.....

Ex-political journalist John Sergeant has pulled out of BBC One's "Strictly Come Dancing" because winning would have been "a joke too far", he has said. The 64-year-old has received strong support from the public since the show started, but the judges have been critical of his dancing.

I fully support John in his decision and his timing.

He told a press conference he was quitting but would return on Saturday's show for a "farewell dance".

Sergeant said dancing on the show was "a wonderfully enjoyable thing", particularly with his Russian partner, Kristina Rihanoff. "But if the joke wears thin, if in fact people begin to take it very seriously, and if people really are getting so wound up that it's very difficult to carry off the joke, then I think it is time to go. It's like when you decide when you leave a party, and the time to leave a party is before the fight starts, and I think that's really what's happened on this occasion," he added.

Rupert Adams, of bookmaker William Hill, told the BBC News website that Sergeant had gone from being a 66/1 outsider to win the series on Saturday morning, to a 10/1 shot by Wednesday morning.

The programme's co-host Bruce Forsyth said he felt "very sorry" for Sergeant. "He was put in the most awkward position, looking at the other dancers and knowing they were better than him. He must have felt guilty in a way. It's a bit sad - the whole team adore him," added the entertainer.

Cluadia introduced an hour long "Strictly - It Takes Two" on Wednesday night as the shock news travelled across the nation.

Sadly, the controversy continued.... Half the people are now saying that he shouldn't have left.... The very same people, like James Jordan, who were complaining last week that he was still in! I've really gone off James - I wonder what Ola seems in him!

Just so you get my point of view - Nobody else has the right to make John's decision for him. So the decision must, therefore, be the right one. And thank you to him and Kristina - a brilliant dancer and choreographer - and all the entertainment they gave us.

Bar-tailed Godwit creates new record

A Bar-tailed Godwit has achieved a new record for non-stop, muscle-powered flight, flying from Alaska to New Zealand in eight days. A study published in October reports that godwits can fly as many as 7,242 miles without stopping in their annual fall migration from Alaska to New Zealand. The previous record, set by an Eastern Curlew, was a 4,000-mile trip from eastern Australia to China.

The birds flew for five to nine days without rest, a few landing on South Pacific islands before resuming their trips, which were monitored by satellite in 2006 and 2007. As a feat of sustained exercise unrelieved by sleeping, eating or drinking, the Godwit's migration appears to be without precedent in the annals of vertebrate physiology.

As astounding as the feat is, it actually represents a highly evolved solution to a problem. The non-stop, over-water route is free of predators and substantially shorter than a hopscotching route down the eastern coast of Asia, which is the alternative. Landing and eating -- literally, refuelling -- would expose the birds to disease and parasites when they are probably somewhat immune-suppressed. Refuelling also would add weeks to the trip and itself take energy. All in all, flying non-stop across most of the north-south span of the Pacific Ocean is the safest thing to do. The death rate during the migration is unknown but presumably low, as the population of bar-tailed godwits, estimated at 100,000, has been stable and long-lasting.

"This system would not have perpetuated itself if mortality were a big problem," said Robert E. Gill Jr., a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, who headed the study, published in October by The Royal Society.

(Top marks to anyone who spotted my photo is of a Black-tailed Godwit; I haven’t got a picture of a Bar-tailed Godwit!)

Monday, 17 November 2008

Never Steal a Student's Laptop

A thief learned the mistake of trying to steal a law student's laptop last week. Armed with a baseball bat, the intruder, Gabriel Saucedo, allegedly climbed through an open window into Alex Botsios' apartment at Arizona State University, waking the student and threatening to smash his head in.

Botsios was willing to let Saucedo take his wallet and guitars. Then the robber made the mistake that ultimately landed him in the hospital -- he went for the laptop. According to Botsios, he said "Dude, no -- please, no! I have all my case notes...that's four months of work!" Saucedo, obviously underestimating the fury of an overstressed, overworked first-year, was unsympathetic. That's when Botsios could take no more. Wrestling Saucdeo to the floor, Botsios separated the bat from the thief and repeatedly punched him in the face.

When it was all over, police had to get Saucedo (above) stitched up before charging him with armed robbery and kidnapping, while Botsios only suffered some scrapes and a bruised knuckle. Most importantly, at least to the student, is that his laptop, which he called "his baby," escaped unharmed. Next time, Saucedo might want to try robbing a third-year student, as they're generally considered more docile.

Strictly Votes

Oh dear, the controversy continues. John was once more saved by the public. As a result the dance off was between Cherie and James and Lisa and Brendan.

Craig voted to keep Lisa, Arlene voted to keep Lisa, then Bruno voted to keep Cherie... That left the casting vote to a very grumpy Len who thought John should not have escaped his fate. Grumpy Len voted for Lisa so Cheri left the competition in week 9...

Can’t wait for next week.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Rare rhino birth

A rare eastern black rhino calf is the newest arrival at Chester Zoo. Keepers at Chester Zoo are celebrating the successful birth of a rare black rhino calf. The calf, an endangered Eastern Black Rhino, is the first to be born at Chester Zoo in the last 10 years. The calf and her mother Kitani are currently being kept inside the Tsavo rhino house at the zoo but are expected to be on show to visitors shortly.

The black rhino suffered a 96% decline in numbers between 1970 and 1992 and with only 700 eastern black rhino's left in the wild an international breeding programme is aiming to boost numbers, Kitani's calf will eventually become part of this and return to Africa.

It's Kitani's first calf and the zoo hopes it won't be the last calf born at the zoo, "For a first time mum, she is proving to be a natural and we are delighted with the progress Kitani and her calf are making in these first fragile few days," said Kevin Buley, Chester Zoo's Head of Zoo Programmes.


John and Katrina danced their best dance of the series – an American Smooth - further complicating the “Should he still be there” debate which has torn the country in half (almost literally).

Meanwhile Rachel and Vincent, in the dance off last week after the weird public voting, went to the top of the leader board, performing a super Rumba. Austin and Erin’s Tango, Christine and Matt’s Viennese Waltz and Tom and Camilla’s Salsa wer amongst the best dances of the series making it a very good evening’s dancing. The standard is improving.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Ice-Age rhinoceros remains found

The BBC have reported - The remains of an Ice Age rhinoceros have been unearthed by a five-year-old girl at a Gloucestershire water park. Emelia Fawbert found the fossilised carcass at the Cotswold Water Park near Cirencester during a fossil hunt. Emelia and her father James, 33, from Bussage, near Stroud, dug up the atlas vertebra of the woolly rhino which roamed the area about 50,000 years ago.

Emelia was among a group of fossil hunters searching a freshly-excavated gravel pit at the park on 26 October. The atlas vertebra, which once supported the head of the animal had been sticking up through the clay which was exposed by the gravel excavations. The pair used a trowel to dig the bone from the mud. It has now been sealed in a special protective covering before being donated to a museum.

The hunt, involving 75 people, also unearthed the leg bone and vertebra from an Ice Age deer and belemnites, the remains of squid-like creatures from the Jurassic period, some 150m years ago. Emelia, who wants to become a palaeontologist, had joined the fossil hunt for the first time. It was organised by the Cotswold Water Park Society and led by Swindon palaeontologist Dr Neville Hollingworth who also found the remains of a woolly rhinoceros in a gravel pit near Swindon in 2004.

Strictly Controversy

After being in the dance off for the fourth time Heather finally departed but not before she had given Rachel a shock. Or rather the viewers gave Rachel a shock.

John and Kristina were the first couple announced as being voted back next week... How much longer can it go on. The British public do so love a loser! Craig probably did them a favour when he gave them a 1.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

A new Gecko from an egg...

So where else would a Gecko come from but an egg? But this is sl;ighty unusual in that the egg travelled 12,000 miles before the Gecko hatched. French scientists say they have hatched a new gecko species from an egg plucked from its nest in a South Pacific island and carried to Paris in a box lined with Kleenex.

France’s National Museum of Natural History says the discovery marks the first time a new species of lizard has been catalogued based on an individual raised from an egg. The museum says it is baptised with the Latin name Lepidodactylus buleli and makes its home near the tops of the trees that line the west coast of Espiritu Santo, one of the larger islands of the Vanuatu archipelago, east of Australia. Just three inches long, the gecko lives in trees, feeding off ants and other insects and, possibly, the nectar it sips from treetop flowers. The species is not thought to be endangered.

Strictly Saturday

I decided on Saturday that the time had come to start voting in Strictly. I didn’t fancy one of the better ones going out by being in the dance off against another good couple. So I made a note of the number to call for Tom, Austin, Rachel and Christine. Unfortunately I forgot to vote until ten past nine by which time it was too late. I suspect this is one case where the thought doesn’t count! I wasn’t wowed by any of the dances and really feel that this has not been the best Strictly series despite the promise suggested by the group Mambo early on.

John was hilarious after being voted down by the judges (yet again) when he pointed out the judges didn’t appreciate the rules. “The rules are that the public has half the vote. We’re playing by the rules,” he said. His partner, Kristina Rihanoff, gets sexier by the week. I can only echo someone who commented on “Strictly – It takes Two” during the week that she must be kept in a cage during the week and released at weekends – purrr.... Nevertheless, despite John’s wonderful personality and Kristina’s It, I think it’s time for them to go.

Sunday, 2 November 2008


A dredger sank in the harbour at Heysham in Lancashire today. The newscaster commented that when the crew came back to the dredger they realised it was taking on water... Duh!!!! Wouldn’t take much intelligence to realise that!

Strictly Secret

I’ve swapped my Strictly blog postings over from Rambles from my Chair because I don’t want GB to see them before he receives his dvds from the UK.

I have come to the conclusion that in general I much prefer the traditional ballroom dances like waltz, quickstep, foxtrot and American smooth. One of the reasons is the men look so smart in tails and the women so beautiful in their gorgeous dresses. The exception is the jive which Jill Halfpenny did so brilliantly in an earlier series. Austin and Erin’s waltz was a definite ten for me. Len’s ten to them was the first ten of the series – it’s been a long time coming.

I think Cherie has peaked. As Bruno said the “Dress was red hot but the salsa was not.” As Len pointed out the salsa and Paso didn’t suit here but the good news was that as long as she got through that was two poor ones out of the way...

Despite my preference for the traditional dances the controversial paso of Tom and Camilla was excellent. I thought Rachel and Vincent’s jive was good – the jive is my favourite of the modern dances – but it wasn’t up to the Jill Halfpenny one.

As Arlene commented John Sargant’s Foxtrot got into a trot at the end but it lacked Fox. Len’s comment that it wasn’t “Help the Aged” was a bit cruel. He will need the public more than ever this weekend but think his time has come.

Jodie’s waltz with Ian was by far her best dance yet – I loved the Mr Darcy outfit and her dress.

I think Len is having hormone problems – he’s been really grumpy the last couple of weeks.