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21 August 2014 Last updated at 15:03

Caption Challenge: Bed of nails

A woman watches as another takes a selfie on a iron wire bed at Beijing Art Now Gallery.

It's the Caption Challenge.

You can submit captions for this week's picture using the "send us a letter" form on the right. You do not need to be registered to take part.

Entries are accepted until 12:30 BST on Friday. The winning six will be highlighted here at or about 13:00 BST on Friday.

There is still no prize, except a small quantity of kudos.

This week, a woman watches as another takes a selfie on a iron wire bed at Beijing Art Now Gallery.

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

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Could the cravat make a comeback?

Edward Fox, Michael Caine, Francie Matthews - all wearing cravats

Noted cravat-wearer Nicholas Parsons has lamented the neckwear's retreat from frontline fashion. Is it about to make a comeback, asks Jon Kelly.

Unfasten your top button and start polishing the brass buttons on your blazer. It's time for men to start wearing cravats again, insists Just A Minute presenter Nicholas Parsons, and who are the rest of us to argue?

"I have lots of lovely cravats," Parsons, 90, wistfully told an Edinburgh audience, adding that he'd "really rather like" other men to follow suit. "I've seen people with beautifully tailored jackets on, with an open shirt there with an awful Adam's apple," he shuddered.

For years the cravat was synonymous with a particular type of gin-quaffing, yacht-sailing, smooth-talking rake.

Peter O'Toole and Nicholas Parsons Old school - the late Peter O'Toole, and Nicholas Parsons...

David Niven. Michael Caine. Alan Whicker. Edward Fox in The Day of the Jackal. Cravat-wearers to a man. And of course there is the gentleman who exemplifies smart-casual neckwear more than any other - Sir Roger Moore, who memorably sports a striking burgundy number in A View to a Kill.

The cravat was first popularised in the 17th Century when it was worn by Croatian mercenaries who distinguished themselves fighting for Louis XIII of France (the name is derived from a la Croate - in the style of the Croats).

It was a status symbol in Restoration England, while Beau Brummel's stiffer, more formal version ensured its popularity in the Regency era. By the 19th Century, when the look was adopted by Oscar Wilde and other members of the Aesthetic Movement, "it had become associated with this idea of the peacock, this very dandy type of look", says fashion historian Amber Butchart.

It mutated into different forms - notably the Ascot tie, worn with morning dress. But it was the day cravat - a silk scarf worn under an open-necked shirt - that became widely recognisable in the 20th Century, adopted by Cary Grant and the Duke of Windsor alike.

Martin Freeman; Orlando Bloom ... and the new guard: Martin Freeman and Orlando Bloom

Thanks to Terry-Thomas and Leslie Phillips, however, the style became associated with a kind of parodic caddishness.

It became naff. Perhaps the most prominent cravat-wearer in 1970s Britain was Paul Eddington's put-upon suburbanite Jerry in the Good Life. Then there was Alan Partridge, who insisted a cravat was essential to looking like "the classic English gentleman abroad".

But the huge popularity of Alexander McQueen's 2004 skull scarf, and the modern dandy look popularised by Russell Brand, has made the cravat ripe for a comeback, Butchart believes. "It's very functional - in the sweltering heat, the silk helps keep you cool, and when it's cold outside it protects you from the elements," says fashion blogger and cravat enthusiast GM Norton.

The world's first Nicholas Parsons-driven fashion revolution is surely under way.

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How unhealthy is two years indoors?

Julian Assange in August 2014 and in February 2012 Julian Assange in August 2014 and in February 2012

Julian Assange says he will leave the Ecuadorean Embassy in London "soon". There's been speculation he is suffering from illness, so what is the potential health impact of two years indoors, asks Tom de Castella.

The Wikileaks founder took refuge in the embassy in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning over alleged sex assaults. He faces arrest if he leaves the building.

Assange told a press conference that he had no access to outside areas. Even healthy people would have difficulty living inside for so long, he said. Claiming he would be out "soon", he was vague on when or why.

The Answer

  • Vitamin D necessary for health and mood
  • Sunlight easiest way to get Vitamin D
  • Mental attitude to being confined is crucial

Media reports have suggested he needs treatment for a range of health problems - arrhythmia, high blood pressure and a chronic cough.

The biggest implication for physical health of being inside for so long is vitamin D deficiency, says Sarah Jarvis, doctor for the BBC's One Show. About 85-90% of people's vitamin D comes from sunshine. Dozens of conditions have been associated with low vitamin D levels, from depression and aches and pains to osteoporosis and heart disease.

Vitamin D tablets don't seem to have much effect, says Simon Griffin, professor of general practice at Cambridge University. A sunbed or UV lamp would work but over two years this would be inadvisable - they are linked with melanoma, a form of skin cancer. And Assange has already spoken of a "boiled lobster" moment from a sunlamp.

It's unlikely two years inside would damage the body greatly if someone took action to make sure they were getting some daylight, exercise and eating a healthy diet, says Griffin. Air conditioning is unlikely to harm Assange. The most likely harm would be a flattening of mood, Griffin says. Sunlight makes people feel happier. There is a balcony at the embassy - Assange has occasionally addressed supporters from it. Even just exposing face and forearms to the sun regularly would help avoid feeling down, Griffin says.

One thing that's impossible to gauge is Assange's mental state. Maintaining it is all about how you perceive your situation, says clinical psychologist Linda Blair. When he first arrived Assange had evaded capture. He might have felt euphoric. But two years on, he is still there. "It's about an attitude really. It makes us very aggressive when we are denied our freedom."

Some prisoners of war have managed to play games and celebrate the fact they are still alive in terrible conditions, Blair says. "You don't have to feel trapped. Feeling you have control is critical."

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The lawyer who shot himself proving his case

Colt pistol

Author Jeremy Clay tells the strange story of the 19th Century lawyer who accidentally shot himself while demonstrating the innocence of a defendant in a murder trial.

"I have foolishly shot myself," winced Clement Vallandigham, sinking into a chair in his hotel room in a mixture of pain and mortification.

The calamity which ended the former congressman's days happened in the town of Lebanon, Warren County, Ohio, in 1871, halfway through the case he thought would be the greatest of his life.

At stake was a man's life. The Christmas Eve before, a rough and ready character called Thomas Myers had been playing cards in a private room above a bar in nearby Hamilton when five thugs burst in and a huge brawl broke out.

Clement Vallandigham The unfortunate Clement Vallandigham

As Myers rose, scrabbling to draw his pistol from his pocket, a muffled shot was heard. He pulled out the gun, fired off a couple of wayward rounds, then slumped back down, dead.

In the wild confusion of the moment, as gamblers fled in all directions, it wasn't clear what was happening. But when the witnesses later recounted their tales, one name came up again and again - Myers' bete noire, Thomas McGehan. No-one could say for sure that he was armed that night, but he was certainly one of the gang of gatecrashers. Everyone knew there was bad blood between the two. The judge-juries who gathered at Hamilton's street corners, shop counters and saloon bars were satisfied they had their killer.

And so it came to trial. On the evening after the prosecution had closed their arguments, Mr Vallandigham took a piece of muslin from his hotel, headed out for open land, and conducted his own CSI Ohio experiment to establish the levels of residue left by a shot fired at point-blank range.

When he was done, three live rounds remained in the chamber of his pistol. This, as we shall see, was unfortunate.

Back at the Lebanon House hotel, he was handed a parcel. Inside was Myers's gun, unloaded, and ready to be examined. Vallandigham went to his room, and lay down both pistols, side by side. You can probably guess the rest.

Still flushed with the success of his tests, the lawyer began explaining to a visitor that Myers had actually shot himself, then had a sudden brainwave - he'd stage his own demonstration.

Victorian Strangeness

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

He grabbed a pistol, put it in his pocket, drew it slowly, turned the muzzle on himself and pulled the trigger.

Bang. "The unfortunate advocate had demonstrated the reasonableness of his theory," reported the Leeds Times, "but at the cost of his life."

But the dark farce was still not played out. "Hardly was he in his grave before another man killed himself while trying precisely in the same way to demonstrate how Mr Vallandigham had met his death," said the Fife Herald.

What became of McGehan? He was acquitted, only to be shot himself in Hamilton, a few years later.

"The Hamiltonians threatened to take his life if he attempted to make his home in that city," said Ohio's splendidly named Tiffin Tribune, "and they evidently don't like to be caught in a lie about a small matter of that kind."

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

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How much gold can we get from mobile phones?

A phone and a bar of gold

It's said that a bag of used mobile phones contains a gram of gold. There are a lot of mobile phones in the world, so how much of the gold we need can we get from them, asks William Kremer.

There be gold in them thar smartphones, said the European Commissioner for the Environment Janez Potocnik last month. He didn't use those exact words, but that was the general idea.

"The business case is clear," he said, as he launched revised waste and recycling targets for the EU. "There's gold in waste - literally. It takes a ton of ore to get 1g of gold. But you can get the same amount from recycling the materials in 41 mobile phones."

This seems to be largely correct, whether the commissioner was talking about an imperial ton, or a metric tonne (one is 1,016kg, the other 1,000kg).

The answer

  • There is 1g of gold in about 35-40 mobile phones
  • Some 7.4 tonnes of gold is mined per day - if we got it from phones we'd run out of them in 23 days
  • Recycling phones can only provide a fraction of the gold we need

In gold-rich ore deposits, there are concentrations of gold at one or two parts per million, says Dave Holwell, an economic geologist at the University of Leicester. That equates to 1g or 2g per tonne.

And the idea that 41 handsets contain 1g of gold stems from a UN report on electronic waste. Brussels-based technology company Umicore told the BBC you can actually get this amount of gold from just 35 phones.

How much gold is there in the world?

Austrian gold

Imagine if you were a super-villain who had taken control of all the world's gold, and had decided to melt it down to make a cube. How long would the sides be?

To look at it another way, Umicore says a tonne of old phones (weighed without their batteries) yields about 300g of gold.

But the business case may not be as clear as the commissioner claims. At current gold prices, the amount in your handset is worth less than £1 ($1.67). While Umicore says extracting gold from phones is commercially viable, another company, London's Genuine Solutions Group, told the BBC it makes little or no money this way.

The wider point of Potocnik's speech was to promote what he called "the circular economy". "In essence we propose to make Europe a society without waste. To take the 600 million tons of materials contained in our waste and pump them back into productive use in the economy," he said.

More or Less: Behind the stats

Listen to More or Less on BBC Radio 4 and the World Service, or download the free podcast

Of course, you can recycle gold from a range of different products, but how far could we satisfy our appetite for gold from phones alone? According to Dave Holwell, about 2,700 tonnes of gold are produced every year from mining - about 7.4 tonnes per day. To get that from mobile phones we'd need to recycle 300m of them. And if we did that every day, the world's estimated seven billion mobile phones in active use would run out in 23 days.

Additional reporting by Keith Moore and Faizal Farook.

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10 things we didn't know last week

Atlantic salmon

1. A salmon cannon fires 40 fish a minute.

Find out more (Wired)

2. After the US, South Korea is the nation that sends the most missionaries around the world.

Find out more (The Economist)

3. It's possible to charge a phone using sweat.

Find out more

4. Wine kept in a cupboard at home ages four times as quickly as that stored in a professional cellar.

Find out more (The Times)

5. The sound of a ticking clock can make women keener to have babies younger.

Find out more (New York magazine)

6. One in 10 people in the UK does not have a close friend.

Find out more (The Independent)

7. Up to 8.5% of active Twitter users are not human.

Find out more (QZ)

8. Emails sent to employees of German auto manufacturer Daimler while they are on holiday are automatically deleted.

Find out more

9. Whales and dolphins squeal with pleasure.

Find out more (Daily Telegraph)

10. Electric cars and power tools could be powered using hemp.

Find out more

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

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Weekendish: Best longer reads from the week

Broken love-heart sweet

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

Can you die from a broken heart? Apparently you can, and doctors have a name for it - takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Recently, it was reported that a husband and wife in California died four hours apart after more than 62 years together. The BBC's Stephen Evans read the reports with interest as last month he had attended the funeral of a couple who had died within a week of each other. Edmund Williams had selected a poem that he had written for Margaret, his beloved wife of 60 years, to be read at her funeral. But days after, Edmund himself, died. Her funeral became their funeral - two coffins beside each other, the couple united in death as they had been in life. The poem he had written for her was read for them both. Stephanie Taylor ‏@EmpireAnts tweets: "Want to cry into your lunch? Read this it makes my heart stop just reading it." Chris Tudor ‏@christudor adds: "In Classical literature, 'dying from a broken heart' = 'suicide'." Jem Roberts tweets: "There's something wonderful in the scientific approach to 'heartbreak'."

Can you die from a broken heart?

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Secretive cult
Video still from a movie produced by the Church of the Almighty God Website testimony from members includes pledges to stick by beliefs and resist the Communist Party

Members of the Church of the Almighty God in China are about to face trial for a savage murder carried out at a McDonald's restaurant earlier this year. In China this secretive cult is banned - but it claims to have a million members and it also claims that the Communist Party is allied with Satan. It's core belief is that God has returned to Earth as a Chinese woman to wreak the apocalypse. Here's what one of the accused said from his prison cell about the McDonald's killing: "I beat her with all my might and stamped on her too. She was a demon. We had to destroy her." The BBC's China editor Carrie Gracie has been looking into the cult and speaking to families who have lost relatives to it - including one man who went undercover to rescue his wife and father-in-law. "Interesting, but scary," says @DyfedWyn. It's "unbelievable that this happens and people actually believe it", tweets @aarondolman.

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Uncharted territory
Tree upon a peak in Darien

It's hard to imagine, but there are still some unexplored places left in the world. There's a reason why the Darien Gap, a break in the Pan-American Highway with a length of between 100km and 160km (60-100 miles), has defeated travellers for centuries. It's Panama's answer to the Bermuda Triangle - with wild tropical forest, mountains, a web of rivers, jaguars, armed drug runners and lethal pit vipers. There is no way around it except by sea. You can count on two hands the number of successful expeditions - the first being in 1960, when it was crossed by jeep. Another, more recent, was when a team of scientists went to study fish that use electrical signals for navigation and communication. Travel writer Carolyn McCarthy profiles the inhospitable territory. Veronica Baruffati ‏@vrroni tweets: "The gap in the world's longest road. Hitchhiking from Canada to Tierra del Fuego late 70s, Darien Gap was impassable." Jane ‏@JusJane53 adds: "Does there have to be roads everywhere???"

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Shots in the darkness
Carey McWilliams

Carey McWilliams came to international attention in 2001 when he became the first blind person to be given a licence to carry a concealed weapon. He is also a hunter. He says that when when ducks fly across the sky, they make a sound like bicycle tyres on a pavement, and he traces them with the barrels of his rifle. Since gaining his permit, McWilliams has mentored nearly 100 other blind Americans. William Kremer speaks to one who says he likes the fact that if you put the words "world's best target shooter" into Google, his name pops up.

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Changing times
Two people at Pride in the UK, one holding a "Trans & Proud" sign

In previous decades a boxing promoter coming out as transgender might have received a hostile response. But perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Kellie Maloney, formerly Frank, announcing her new identity was an almost uniformly positive reaction in the media and beyond. In times gone by, people who underwent gender reassignment surgery were described in the press with a mixture of ridicule and amazement. In the UK it took the 2010 Equality Act to grant equal access to employment as well as private and public services. Tom de Castella looks at how times have changed. "This is why visibility matters," says @CheshireKaz. There's a lesson from this story, tweets @DrKarenOughton: "Treat others with the courtesy you'd like to receive."

Here are some things we've enjoyed this week from elsewhere around the web:

Escape From Syria - Newsweek

Desert Silence - Aeon Magazine

How to Be Polite - Medium

Falling: Love and Marriage in a Conservative Indian Family - Longreads

In The Clearing Stands a Boxer - The Big Roundtable

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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.

Smartphones in China graphic

Monday: Samsung faces Chinese and Indian mobile challengers

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Robin Williams graphic

Tuesday: Robin Williams: His best on-screen roles

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Catholicism in South Korea graphic

Wednesday: Pope Francis faces greatest challenge yet in Asia

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Pan-American Highway graphic

Thursday: Silent Darien: The gap in the world's longest road

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Robot graphic

Friday: Thousand-strong robot swarm throws shapes, slowly

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Find #BBCGoFigure on Twitter and on Facebook

Caption Challenge: Westminster Shauns

Shaun the Sheep sculptures

Winning entries in the Caption Competition.

The Caption Challenge is now closed.

This week sculptures of Shaun the Sheep stand on display in Parliament Square, London.

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

6. Ian Carter:

"Shear, Shear!"

5. Phjil Harper:

House of Lords new woolsack down to last six contestants.

4. Adrian Wade:

The "Eat More Beef, Turkey and Pork Coalition" gets ready to lobby MPs.

3. Catherine O:

The neighs have it because we spent too long in the baa.

2. IABP:

"Could you all leap excitedly in the air holding your results."

1. John Ledbury:

"They may call it democracy, but make no mistake lads, it was definitely mint sauce."

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

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What can and can't you put on headstones?


A priest has allegedly asked a grieving family to remove a headstone from a churchyard because of an "inappropriate" inscription. But what is and isn't allowed, asks Chris Stokel-Walker.

The headstone commemorating warehouseman Mike Howsley's grave at St Mary's Church in Bamber Bridge, Lancashire, had an inscription featuring the names of his wife and daughter and ending "Sleep tight Dad", all adorned with an "x" to represent kisses. But his family say the local parish priest asked for it to be removed.

"It's a major can of worms," says Darryl Jones, a member of the National Federation of Funeral Directors. "There is no actual hard and fast set rule," Jones explains, which creates disputes. "Some vicars make up their own rules," he adds, noting that this is not the first case of which he has heard. Last year the family of a maths-loving grandfather was asked by their local parish council to alter engravings on a headstone which depicted a half-filled Sudoku square.

The answer

  • Churches leave issues to discretion of priest
  • Rules unclear for municipal graveyards

"There's a bit of snobbery around this," continues Jones. "Vicars don't want kisses - they seem to think it can make the yard look distasteful. But vicars have no right to deny people the right to say what they want."

There is no central Catholic church policy on what can and can't be put on headstones, a spokesperson for the church in England and Wales says. The issue hasn't arisen before, with the small number of Catholic cemeteries making disputes such as this one rare.

Though the Church of England doesn't have centralised rules on what can be put on a headstone, its 42 dioceses each has their own set of churchyard regulations, which include guidance on the type of text permitted. The Diocese of Oxford, for example, says that "inscriptions must be simple, reverent and theologically acceptable; they may include appropriate quotations from the scriptures or literary sources." Nicknames or pet names are allowed, but in inverted commas.

For municipal burial grounds, the Department for Constitutional Affairs has outline guidance for cemetery managers, which covers "informal memorialisation" (such as soft toys placed on graves) but not what can be inscribed on a headstone. And the Local Authorities' Cemeteries Order of 1977 allows Church of England bishops the right to object to an inscription on memorials, but doesn't say on what grounds. The order does not cover non-Church of England cemeteries.

More generally, it seems likely that headstones would come under Public Order Act of 1986, which prohibits hate speech - those which feature racial or ethnic slurs are likely to be removed.

But beyond that the rules remain hazy.

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What happens when airdrops land?

Aid is loaded on to an aircraft

The UK and US have started dropping aid into Mount Sinjar in Iraq. But how effective are airdrops, asks Lucy Townsend.

Parcels including food, water purification cans and solar lanterns have been dropped to thousands of Yazidis fleeing the advance of Islamic State (IS) forces. Packed into crates and parachuted in, airdrops are described as the "least favoured option" for delivering aid.

"Wastage is huge," says Andrew MacLeod, who has coordinated air drops for organisations including the Red Cross and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

"Airdrops have the highest visibility on TV and the lowest impact on the ground. They are the least favoured option, used only in absolutely extreme circumstances where it is the only option."

Aid is loaded on to an aircraft

Among the difficulties are high winds, which can blow packages off course, violence around the drop zone and damage to the crates as they hit the ground. Packages can also injure people on the ground. The RAF abandoned one planned drop into Mount Sinjar because too many people had gathered in the drop zone.

"After the Pakistan earthquake tents were dropped for people but they bounced down the hills, dropped into the rivers and got washed away," adds MacLeod.

The answer

  • There are no reliable figures on wastage
  • Airdrops are described as the "least effective" method of delivering aid

"In other cases there can be small scale rioting or violence around the site of the airdrop. You also have to ensure that you are not dropping into dangerous ground such as marshland where people may drown trying to collect it. Then there's also things like the high protein biscuits that are often dropped can cause constipation if too many are eaten.

"From a C130 aircraft the drop zone is probably multiple hundreds of metres long. The need for an airdrop has to be so urgent that it counters the high level of wastage."

Former RAF Hercules pilot John Gladston argues that military airdrops are usually much more effective. "Parachute airdrop is a much more reliable method than 'free-drop', where aid is simply pushed out the back of the aircraft. Modern parachute airdrop of secure, well-rigged loads is a safe, reliable and accurate way of delivering large quantities of supplies, particularly humanitarian aid."

Wheat, flour, rice and maize are the foods most commonly distributed by the World Food Programme (WFP). "They tend to be more robust things, but there is always wastage," says Gregory Barrow, from the WFP.

"It is the least effective way of delivering aid, but sometimes is the only option."

Boxes of aid on a lorry

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Would sinking ships hit GDP?

HMS Queen Elizabeth

There are big changes coming to the national accounts next month, writes Anthony Reuben.

I've already written about how illegal drugs and prostitution are going to be included in the calculation of gross domestic product (GDP), which is the measure of all the goods and services produced by an economy.

Another of the changes is to the treatment of "military weapons of destruction and the equipment needed to deliver them".

In the past, government spending on weapons was considered to be just consumption by governments - from next month some of it will count as an investment.

That increased government investment in things like ships, aircraft and tanks will add £3.5bn to GDP for 2009, which is the most recent year for which we have been given figures so far.

The thing is, some of these weapons are very expensive. The recently named HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier is expected to cost about £6.2bn.

Clearly, we hope this doesn't happen, but if, in some future conflict, it were to be sunk, would that knock 1.6% off that quarter's GDP?

Not necessarily, according to the specialists at the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Remember, counting weapons as government investments is new stuff to the statisticians - they released a report on how they planned to treat them.

If the ship were to be sold then they would take account of that straight away. But at the moment, the model does not take account of catastrophic losses, so the ship would continue to be written off gradually over its theoretical 20-year lifespan.

But they say that if the loss were really big (like the loss of an aircraft carrier) they might have to adjust the model to take that into account, which would mean there would be a big hit to GDP.

It's an excellent example of how the thinking about GDP is developing to embrace the changes.

And if anyone thinking back to their A-level economics remembers that GDP does not include depreciation, well done - you're right in most cases.

But measuring government output involves taking the sum of its costs, and one of those costs is depreciation. So, at the moment, military assets will be written off over 20 years, however long they actually last.

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How many people infected with ebola die?

An ebola sufferer arrives in Spain

The ebola virus that has killed almost 1,000 people in West Africa this year is fatal for "up to 90%" of those infected, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). But note the words "up to"... What is the normal fatality rate, asks James Fletcher?

The WHO describes ebola as "one of the world's most virulent diseases". It is, according to the organisation's website, "a severe, often fatal illness, with a case fatality rate of up to 90%".

A case fatality rate - or CFR - is a relatively simple measurement. It's the number of people who die from an illness divided by the number of people diagnosed with it. But in the current outbreak, the proportion of infected people dying is far lower than 90%.

"That 90% figure actually comes from one outbreak of ebola which took place in the Congo between 2002 and 2003. It's the highest rate we have ever seen," says Maimuna Majumder, a biostatistician and epidemiologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The answer

  • Between 60% and 65% of all people known to have been infected with ebola have died
  • Different strains of ebola appear to have different fatality rates
  • The number of deaths also depends on the quality of treatment
  • About 54% of those infected in the current outbreak have died

"The cumulative average considering all ebola cases and deaths from 1976 to the present is actually closer to 60-to-65% and the current outbreak has a CFR of about 54% - though it's subject to change as the outbreak goes on."

This figure of 54%, however, is an average taken from several countries. The fatality rate varies from one country to another - in Guinea it's about 73%, whereas in Liberia its 55%, and in Sierra Leone it's 41%.

Why the variation?

The main factors, according to Majumder, are the level of preparedness and the availability and quality of medical care.

Graph showing Ebola deaths since 1976

Another factor - when it comes to the varying CFR from one outbreak to the next - may be the different strains of the disease. Of the five known ebola strains, the "Zaire" and "Sudan" strains have been responsible for most deaths. The Zaire strain's average fatality rate is 79% and the Sudan strain's is 54% - research on the current outbreak, in Guinea, suggests that it is caused by the Zaire strain.

More or Less: Behind the stats

Listen to More or Less on BBC Radio 4 and the World Service, or download the free podcast

The CFR doesn't tell you how contagious a disease is. Ebola, transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, is much less contagious than airborne diseases such as influenza or measles. What it can do is indicate how serious the disease is, for those patients infected with it. But as we've seen, this varies.

"When you have large ranges of CFR like you do with ebola, it isn't really appropriate to give one extreme or the other," Majumder says. "I think if we were to use a CFR for ebola we really ought to give the case average since initial emergence of the disease in 1976 - and that is significantly less than the 90% estimate that we hear a lot of in the media."

And which we also hear about on the WHO website.

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The great balloon riot of 1864

Victorian balloon Just for historical accuracy, this is not a hot air balloon - hydrogen was initially used in balloons

Europe's largest balloon festival is staged this weekend in Bristol. We trust there'll be no repeat of the scenes in Leicester in 1864. Author Jeremy Clay tells the little-known tale of Britain's balloon riot.

The distinguished gentleman ran for his life - his clothes ripped, his hair dishevelled, a furious mob hot on his heels, baying for blood.

Behind him lay the ripped-up, burning remnants of his livelihood. What with one thing and another, his balloon display hadn't gone quite as well as he'd expected.

It had all started so promisingly, too. A crowd of about 50,000 people had gathered on the racecourse in Leicester that summer's day in 1864 to see the feted aeronaut take to the skies.

Henry Coxwell wasn't just an aviation pioneer, he was something of a celebrity too. Two years earlier, accompanied by the meteorological scientist Dr James Glaisher, he'd soared up to the stratosphere, curious as to what might happen next.

What actually happened next was Dr Glaisher went temporarily blind, then passed out. Coxwell, who had lost all sensation in his gloveless hands, could well have followed suit, had he not saved them both by opening the valve-cord with his teeth.

James Glaisher and English aviator Henry Tracey Coxwell in the basket of a hot air balloon James Glaisher and Henry Tracey Coxwell in the basket of a gas balloon in 1862

Such shivering dash and derring-do made him a hero, so when he agreed to appear with his fancy new balloon Britannia at the Order of Forester's fete in Leicester, admirers arrived from as far and wide to see him soar into the skies.

But as the punters gathered, and Coxwell made his pre-flight preparations, there was trouble afoot.

"Early in the afternoon, a gentleman, reported to be a professional man, gave it out that the balloon then present was not my largest and newest balloon but a small one," Coxwell would later write to the Times.

"This was a cruel libel," he added, but the rumour spread all the same. "This Coxwell," they muttered, darkly, "he's taking us for mugs."

As the mood soured, the masses pressed in. With barely any police on duty to control the huge throng, "a perfect sea of clamouring spectators" broke into his enclosure, "everybody demanding an instantaneous ascent".

If he expected better behaviour from the well-to-do Leicester folk who were to accompany him into the air, he was sorely disappointed.

Victorian Strangeness

Pigeons on racetrack

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

"Those who had paid their money and obtained tickets pounced into the basket in such a rude and unceremonious manner that all operations were stopped and the passengers themselves were preventing their own departure," wrote Coxwell.

"One person seated in my car was a disgrace to his town, as by his gestures and foul language he excited the mob and induced the belief that there existed on my part a disinclination to ascend.

"The pressure of the mob was now so great that my car was damaged, the network broken in several places owing to persons hanging on to the lower meshes, and a bottle was thrown into the balloon."

Enough was enough, thought Coxwell. He appealed to the nobler instincts of the crowd and warned that unless they eased back, he would be forced to let out the gas.

In return, they shouted abuse. "I forthwith executed my threat," he said.

"To the astonishment of everyone," reported the Leicester Chronicle, "the canvas which a few moments before appeared, every inch of it, to be well filled with gas, began to hang loose, and flapped in the wind so much it was soon apparent that the gas was fast escaping.

"All doubt on this point was soon dispelled, more especially in regard to those people immediately surrounding it (for the stench became intolerable) and every moment the size of the balloon became less and less; the wind filling its loose folds, and causing it to pitch and toss about considerably, and threatening every moment to fall on the heads of those who stood near it.

"Finally, the whole structure fell into a shapeless mass on the ground."

And that's when it really kicked off.

"The crowd who stood around immediately seized upon the net-work and material of the balloon and tore it into a hundred shreds," said the paper. "The car was next - set fire to and burnt to ashes."

Balloon riot

Insp Haynes and Sgt Chapman, stalwarts of the Leicester force, battled manfully with the rabble, but they were horribly outnumbered.

"It was brave but hard work," Coxwell wrote, "for nothing short of the destruction of my balloon, and indeed an attempt on my own life, appeared a sufficient sacrifice.

"While the work of demolition was proceeding, Sergeant Chapman led me away amid yelling and derision. My clothes were soon torn and then the cry was raised, 'Rip him up,' 'knock him on the head', 'finish him'."

Dashing for safety, Coxwell found sanctuary in the nearby home on the Town Clerk. Back on the racecourse, a man who had been taken for the aviator was attacked, and his coat pulled to bits. The more entrepreneurially-minded, meanwhile, began selling remaining pieces of the balloon as souvenirs.

"I never witnessed such barbarous ignorance, baseness and injustice in my life," a letter-writer complained to the Chronicle after returning from the ruckus. "I feared Mr Coxwell would be killed. I was knocked down thrice myself simply for endeavouring to defend him."

The correspondent added a PS: "They have burnt the balloon and are parading its remains through the town, having just passed my window."

Condemnation of the brouhaha swiftly followed. A report of The London Review of Politics, Society, Literature, Art and Science said: "No man who commits himself to the science of ballooning can tell where or amongst what people it will carry him, as Mr Coxwell has just discovered.

"It set him down on Monday amongst a horde of savages as fierce and untamed as South Sea Islanders and differing very little from them except in their habitat, which was at Leicester.

"It is humiliating to think that after all the civilising influences which have been exerted upon them, so much of the savage should still linger in the blood of our working classes."

In Leicester, the blame for the uproar was put on out-of-towners. Excursionists. From Nottingham, perhaps. But to no avail. The town was stigmatised.

And so, a short-lived nickname was born. People from Leicester are known as Leicestrians. For reasons that needn't trouble us here, you might also hear them called Chisits. But for a while in 1864, thanks to Punch magazine, they had a new title - Balloonatics.

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

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Penny Illustrated Paper image provided by The British Library Board.

Weekendish: Best longer reads from the week


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

Glenn Foster was an American engineer who worked in Afghanistan in the 1950s. He was also an amateur cameraman. Throughout his seven-year stay, his 16mm camera was a constant companion. Foster captured Afghan life and landscapes, engineering projects and members of the expat community enjoying themselves (above). In essence, he captured the country in a hopeful moment of its history. He all but gave up making films when he returned to the US, and it wasn't until he had died that his son discovered the extraordinary legacy - hours and hours of footage from a country's history that is all but forgotten. Monica Whitlock tells the story in this long-form essay that includes the original footage. James Hallwood tweets: "History isn't 'over' - things don't inevitably progress. Sad to see Helmand's golden age on BBC - who'd have guessed?" @jimactually adds: "A great piece of history, when technology was the answer to changing societies." Ahmed Sarfaraz ‏tweets: "Quite a bit of sadness in this. One likes to #hope the #Golden #days of #Helmand are yet to come." But Brian Mc thinks there was something missing: "How about reporting that the US dragged Afghanistan back into the stone age by supporting the Mujahadeen in the 80s at a time when Afghanistan was modernising and did nothing for the 6 years the Taliban were in power."

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Last gallows

Peter Allen and Gwynne Evans Peter Allen and Gwynne Evans, the last to be hanged

Fifty years ago, petty criminals Gwynne Evans and Peter Allen were sentenced to death for killing a man in a bungled burglary. They were the last people to be executed in the UK. It was a time in which the death penalty was delivered with astonishing speed, writes Marek Pruszewicz. The delay between conviction and execution a matter of weeks - the delay between the hangmen entering the cell and death a matter of seconds. Prof David Wilson ‏tweets: "BBC article… seems to imply speed of execution equals humanity. It doesn't. Capital punishment is always barbaric." Devon and Cornwall's Police's Learning & Development Dept adds: "Astonishing that UK still had the death penalty only 50 years ago; hanging people 2 years before World Cup victory!"

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Betrayed at high altitude
Amir Mehdi (in 1994) Amir Mehdi in later years, wearing medals awarded by the Italian government

Amir Mehdi wanted to be the first Pakistani to scale the country's highest peak, K2, and as one of the strongest climbers in the first team to conquer the summit, 60 years ago, he nearly did. Instead he was betrayed by his Italian companions, left to spend a night on the ice without shelter, and was lucky to survive. Shahzeb Jillani travels to the remote Hunza Valley to find out more about the pioneering high-altitude porter. Ross Boardman ‏tweets: "It is amazing that every time a lie is spun to save an ego, the truth still comes out." Paul B. Kennedy tweets: "Ah, nothing like the cutthroat world of high altitude climbing. Ayn Rand would be proud."

Amir Mehdi: Left out to freeze on K2 and forgotten

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Keeping it unreal
Sauce Money

It's an art that is meant to come from the heart. So what happens when a hip hop hit turns out not to have been written by the person who performed it, but by a ghostwriter? Sarah Thompson spoke to Grandmaster Caz and Sauce Money - two rappers who have reached huge audiences with their authentic story-telling, and made other men famous.

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We want you as a new recruit
Original cover and poster

For many, it's the defining image of World War One - the imperious, pointing finger of Lord Kitchener exhorting young men to join the armed forces and fight. But the poster which is so often associated with war recruitment was printed only 10,000 times during the war, making up only a small proportion of the 5.7 million official war posters. So why is it so famous now? Adam Eley looks at its legacy.

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Solomon hero
United States Navy identification card for John F. Kennedy. Kennedy's United States Navy identification card

One of the two Solomon Islanders who carried a distress message carved on a coconut to help save a young John F Kennedy during World War Two has died. Rob Brown tells the incredible story of how Eroni Kumana came across JFK and his men in his canoe after their patrol boat was sunk by a Japanese destroyer. The survivors had spent a few hours on or around the wreck of the wooden boat, then swam three-and-a-half miles to the nearest island. Accounts from the time say Kennedy towed one of his injured crewmates along, swimming with the strap of his lifejacket between his teeth.

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Here are some things we've enjoyed this week from elsewhere around the web:

The story of the world's smallest skyscraper - City Metric

The IBM supercomputer which could replace the loudmouth in your business meetings - Quartz

How a little bit of pessimism goes a long way - Wall Street Journal

The story of the Mormon who embraced her transgender daughter - Atlantic

Can you bribe people thin? - Telegraph expat

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10 things we didn't know last week


1. Tortoises can run as fast as 1mph (1.6km/h).

Find out more

2. Neanderthals ate barbecue-roasted pigeon.

Find out more (The Guardian)

3. Ant colonies have personalities.

Find out more

4. The Indian record for staff absenteeism is thought to have been set by a biology teacher who did not turn up for work for 23 years.

Find out more

5. In Oklahoma, the average marijuana joint costs the same as 2.41 bottles of Bud Light.

Find out more (Washington Post)

6. There is a mathematical formula for happiness.

Find out more (QZ)

7. Eels are adversely affected by noise pollution.

Find out more (Smithsonian)

8. Mesa, Arizona, is the most conservative large city in the United States.

Find out more (The Economist)

9. The average astronaut on orbiting space shuttles gets less than six hours sleep a night.

Find out more (Daily Telegraph)

10. Grizzly bears' bodies mimic the symptoms of type two diabetes during hibernation.

Find out more (New Scientist)

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.

Atheists graphic

Monday: The stigma of being an atheist in the US

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Panama graphic

Tuesday: Why so many ship-owners find Panama's flag convenient

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Rosetta and Earth graphic

Wednesday part one: Europe's Rosetta probe goes into orbit around comet 67P

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Rosetta spacecraft graphic

Wednesday part two: The past, the present, and the challenges ahead for Europe's comet chaser

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Islamic State graphic

Thursday: The rise of the Islamic State

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Yazidi graphic

Friday: The rise of the Islamic State

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Find #BBCGoFigure on Twitter and on Facebook

The return of the beer cocktail

Beer cocktail Do you want a flake with that?

Beer cocktails are increasing in popularity. Strange as it sounds, it's a drinking tradition that dates back to Victorian times, writes Tammy Thueringer.

Imagine a drink made of vodka, Aperol, sherry, watermelon and clover syrup, coriander, lemon and topped off with amber ale. Yes, as in beer.

If that concoction sounds appealing, you are in luck. Beer cocktails have been popping up at bars and restaurants on both sides of the Atlantic for the past few years.

There have always been beer mixtures. In the US, the Boilermaker is a shot glass of whiskey dropped into a beer. In the UK, Snakebite (with or without blackcurrant) is a mix of cider and lager and the stuff of teenage mythology. In France, beer with Picon is a classic drink. And Black Velvet - champagne and stout - has always been popular.

But the current trend is to use beer as an ingredient in an actual multiple-ingredient cocktail - typically floated on the top or as a base. Chris Hutchinson, manager of Underdog bar in London, has more than a dozen on the menu and uses ingredients like "libertine" syrup and blackberry foam. "Our drinks are classic cocktails with a craft beer twist and then we add in other ingredients that blend well," says Hutchinson. "London is saturated with speakeasies and places offering craft beer - we wanted to provide a different option."

The "new" trend actually has its roots in the 19th Century and beyond. "From at least the medieval era in Britain, drinkers were knocking back concoctions such as warm ale, brandy and egg," says Jane Peyton, an alcohol historian and Britain's Beer Sommelier of the Year. Popularity peaked during the Victorian era, when they had names like Huckle My Buff, Humpty Dumpty, and Six and Tips, and were commonly mixed beer with brandy or gin.

Their popularity waned during a period when many Victorians switched from beer to tea. "When the tax on tea was reduced, the amount of alcohol consumed went down dramatically," Peyton says. "Once people could afford tea, they started mixing that with water which at the time was dirty and often considered unsafe to drink." When beer recovered its popularity, for some reason mixtures didn't come back in the same way, says Peyton. But the craft beer craze has proved key.

And now, the hoppy cocktails are back with a twist.

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Caption Challenge: Bear grins

A cosplayer takes a rest during the Osu Cosplay Parade

Winning entries in the Caption Competition.

The Caption Challenge is now closed.

This week a cosplayer takes a rest during the Osu Cosplay Parade in Nagoya, Japan.

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

6. Michael Horn:

Even in his lowest moments, due to the construction of his face, Winnie couldn't help but smile.

5. Dry Boak:

"I completely misunderstood. Come bare they said. I didn't know it was a naturist convention."

4. IABP:

"You can take my picture but I own the copyright."

3. Comeinski:

"Hi! Honey? I'm homeless..."

2. Judith Wiseman:

Please look after this composite fancy dress wearer.

1. Paul Godley:

"...and they said I would be a necessity of life *sniff*"

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

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When adult actors play teenagers

The Inbetweeners

Following the release of their second movie, the Inbetweeners have said this will be their last outing as a group. With a combined age of 114, could they have continued playing teenagers any longer, asks Harry Low.

There are plenty of examples of actors portraying characters much younger than themselves.

Olivia Newton-John played teenager Sandy Olsson in Grease at the age of 29, while Stockard Channing played Rizzo despite being 33. Tobey Maguire, aka Peter Parker, was a mid-20s Spider-Man. Charisma Carpenter was 27 when she was Cordelia in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Blake Harrison, 29, who plays Neil in the Inbetweeners, has explained why it is no longer feasible for one of the most popular sitcoms of recent years to continue.

"The humour comes from their naivety and ignorance towards the world and as soon as you start placing that naivety and ignorance into people in their 20s and 30s, it becomes a bit more offensive and less funny."

Perhaps one of the most famous examples of "acting down" is Sally Thomsett, who played Phyllis in the Railway Children. She was 20 when her character was just 11. "That's a large age gap because a lot happens between 11 and 20, you've got all your teenage years," she says. "It was easy for me because I knew what it was like to be 11 and I'd always played younger than myself. With those period clothes we wore, it didn't show any shape at all so it was perfect."

Sally Thomsett (centre) Sally Thomsett (centre) was 20 but playing an 11-year-old

Thomsett says there were "pros and cons" but was sworn to secrecy on her true age for years. She was also prevented from drinking, smoking and driving during the period of filming.

Actor and screenwriter Alison Rose, says it is uncommon for directors to cast somebody in a younger role. "There is such a huge pool to choose from. Why would you choose somebody older? Sometimes you could change a character's age to suit the performer.

"You don't want the audience thinking they are not going to believe this. It's to do with credibility."

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The four-year spread of bubble tea

A cup of bubble tea

Four years ago bubble tea was relatively unknown in the UK, but the drinks are now ubiquitous on High Streets, from cities to small towns, writes Lucy Townsend.

It is often brightly coloured, sometimes served with milk, with a layer of jelly-like globules - tapioca balls - that settle at the bottom of the cup. Drunk through an extra thick straw with a spoon-shaped tip, it is a mouthful of tea and chewiness - both a drink and a snack,

Chorley in Lancashire got its first bubble tea bar in July. Huddersfield has Bubble n Shake, there is a mobile bubble tea van in Bristol, and it can be found in cities from Glasgow to Portsmouth.

"It's chewy and odd," says restaurant critic Marina O'Loughlin. "It's slippery and strange, but weirdly more-ish. I love the way it comes with a flat straw so I can scoop out the balls and they plop into my mouth."

Bubble tea hails from 1980s Taiwan. It was an evolution from the country's street tea vendors who began experimenting with fruity flavours and colour to entice customers. The "bubble" actually refers to the froth on top of the drink which comes after it is violently shaken - some cafes use a machine especially for shaking.

A bowl of tapioca balls

How the tapioca balls arrived in the drink is a matter of debate - though the most common story is that product development manager Lin Hsiu Hui was sitting in a staff meeting and poured the tapioca from her pudding into her Assam iced tea. The result was considered delicious.

Assad Khan, a former investment banker, opened the UK's first bubble tea shop in Soho, London, in 2011. He came across the drink in a "small hole-in-the-wall cafe in New York", and now has his own Bubbleology cafes across Europe and the Middle East.

"It's an absolute phenomenon," he says. "It is something that at first was a bit difficult to grasp, it's a different taste experience, but I never had any doubt that it would work. "My favourite flavour is taro milk, which is a root vegetable, lilac in colour."

While growing in the UK, it is even more popular in Germany, according to market research firm Mintel. Even McDonald's has started serving it.

A bubble tea drinking competition in Germany A bubble tea drinking competition in Germany

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Seven singular sports from the Victorian era

Pigeons on racetrack

As the Commonwealth Games draw to a close in Glasgow this weekend, author Jeremy Clay tells the tale of the race between birds and insects, plus other curious sporting stories from the Victorian era.

Bee v pigeon racing

It was a surprise victory, to say the least. All the smart money had been on the eventual losers. Only a reckless few backed the team that ultimately triumphed.

So there was consternation at the finishing line, that day in 1888. An eager crowd had craned their necks to see the first of the competitors head for home, but instead of the pigeon everyone expected to be out in front, the field was led by a bee.

The race with a strong claim to the title of the most outlandish match in the history of sport reportedly happened in the village of Hamme, in Westphalia, Germany.

A pigeon-fancier and a beekeeper had somehow talked themselves into staging a cross-species showdown to answer the question precisely no-one else was troubled by - which creature was the fastest.

The question they actually seem to have settled was which creature was the least likely to be distracted along the way. The first bee came in 25 seconds before the first bird and three other bees before the second. At that point, the race officials appear to have grown weary of their record-keeping, and the rest of the results went unlogged.

A resounding triumph for insectkind, then. And perhaps the bees would have done better still, if they hadn't been rolled in flour before the start of the three-and-a-half mile race.

"It was very difficult to identify them," explained the London Daily News, "and though rolling them in flour before they started on their course made them easily recognisable on their arrival, it must have somewhat retarded their flight."

Dog v human swimming
Man racing dog in water

Mr Smith was quietly confident. Time and time again the champion swimmer had proved his prowess in the water. There was no reason to think his latest contest would be anything other than a cakewalk, especially when he heard his rival's chosen stroke was the doggy paddle.

On a June day in 1880, Mr Smith plunged into the Thames at London Bridge for the start of the race. And so did his opponent, a six-year-old dog called Now Then.

Roared on by spectators who'd crammed on the steamer the Prince of Wales to follow the action, the pair set off towards North Woolwich Gardens, with a flotilla of small boats in their wake.

Initially, Mr Smith had the whip hand, but his lead lasted a matter of seconds. "Under the bridge, the bitch paddled to the front and quickly drew away from her human opponent," reported the Tamworth Herald.

At the Custom House, the retriever led by 40 yards. By the Tower, she'd extended that to 50 yards. At the Thames Tunnel she was fully four minutes and 24 seconds ahead of her challenger.

That's when she really started to draw away. A dispirited Mr Smith, more than half a mile behind, gave up by Limehouse, after 47-and-a-half minutes in the river. But Now Then powered on to Deptford Creek, when the disgruntled backers of the loser finally accepted defeat.

"She was dragged into the boat occupied by her owner, looking none the worse for her exertions," said the Herald.

Gelignite fishing

Victorian Strangeness

Sick woman

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

Guile. Patience. Judgement. Maybe a dash of luck too. These are the qualities needed to be a top angler. By uncanny coincidence, Arthur Watkins lacked all of them in abundance.

At the fag-end of 1900, the miner and two of his mates went off for a spot of fishing in the canal at Wednesfield.

To tip the scales in their own favour, and maybe cut down on all that tiresome waiting for a bite, the trio hit upon an innovative approach. They'd use gelignite.

It may have worked too, if Arthur hadn't detonated the cartridge while trying to fix the cap with his knife.

The result? Three horribly injured men. "The violence of the explosion was indicated by the fact there was a large pool of blood on the canal side," reported the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, "and a portion of Watkins' hand was also found there."


It was Dr Finch's idea. A game of cricket on a summer's day. What could be more agreeable?

So he gathered together a team of friends. And he personally selected the opposition. Which is how, in the gardens of his private asylum in Fisherton, Wiltshire, a match came to be held which was billed as the sane versus the insane.

Dr Finch's side, who included a former patient in their number, had a poor first innings, and a worse second.

After a few hours play, the inmates left the field the victors, winning by 61 runs

"Does this not say something on behalf of the patients, as respects mind and body," said The Salisbury and Winchester Journal, in June, 1849, tickled by the score.

Sack race

However he imagined his death, as we all do, from time to time, in fleeting moments of self-indulgence, it can't possibly have been like this.

John Roberts of the Hallamshire Volunteers didn't lose his life fighting overseas for Queen and Country, but back home in Yorkshire. In a sack race.

He was falling behind the other competitors, an inquest in Beverley heard in 1890. He took an extra leap. His feet twisted, and he fell. "A sudden change took place on Tuesday," said the Manchester Evening News, "and Roberts died that evening."

Matrimonial cycling
Two women and one man cycling in a park

At the Tour de France, they race for the famous yellow jersey. At the Giro d'Italia, the cyclists battle for pink. At the Vuelta a España the lead rider wears red. And at New Jersey at the end of the 19th century, the coveted garment was white. A wedding dress, to be exact.

According to a report in the Cheltenham Chronicle, two factory hands staged a bicycle race for a husband in 1899.

"The race was undertaken because they were rivals for the possession of the affections of a certain young man," said the paper, "and the prize was the young man himself."

Off they went, bombing it over the two-mile course, followed by whatever the collective noun is for a great gaggle of bonnet-sporting cyclists, including couples on tandems.

The honours went to a woman called Nellie, who finished in four and a half minutes.

"The prize young man was waiting at the end of the course," said the Chronicle, "and he and the victor made their way through the crowd to a minister, who was in waiting, his services having already been requisitioned and in the presence of hundreds of spectators they were made man and wife."

Brown bear

There were 10 shillings up for grabs. Quite a sum, back in 1890. So that Saturday night at the London music hall, John Picton took the challenge.

How hard could it be, he must have reasoned. All he needed to do was a) conquer his nerves b) get up on stage and c) wrestle a bear and throw it to the ground.

Parts a) and b) seemed to go without a hitch. But - and you'll be ahead of me here, no matter how quickly I type - c) proved troublesome.

The bear, needless to say, threw John. He died of his injuries at the London Hospital. Those 10 shillings went unclaimed.

Illustrated Police News image provided by The British Library Board.

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

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Weekendish: Lettuces, models and scissors

Beverly Johnson

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

American Vogue's first black cover girl

When Beverly Johnson (pictured) achieved her dream and made it to the front cover for American Vogue in 1974, she was astonished to find that she was the fashion magazine's first black cover girl. The industry had little experience of black models, says Johnson. Hairdressers didn't know how to style her hair, she says, and photographers couldn't light her. Speaking about what her triumph might have meant to African-American women at the time, Johnson recalls: "I don't think they understand the impact they had on a nation of women, that they could finally look at someone and say, 'She's me and she's in the magazine and she's beautiful and we're finally accepted in mainstream America.'" Angela Wanhalla tweets: "American Vogue's first black cover girl, but father is Native American which is largely ignored in this story." Fresh tweets: "Here is American Vogue's first black cover girl... Progressive or Regressive?"

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Marrying the in-laws
Yemeni couple holding child

In Yemen, the practice of "Shegar" - when a brother and sister from one family marry a brother and sister from another - is often used to avoid punitive dowry payments. But the agreement can come to terrible grief - if one couple decides to divorce, the other couple is often separated by the respective families, even if they are happy with the arrangement. BBC Arabic's Mai Noman returned to her native country to speak to those who had been affected by so-called "swap marriages".

Read the full story

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33,000 lettuces...
A detail from the Ruhleben Horticultural Society, July 1917 olvwork423203, Historical & Special Collections, Harvard Law School Library

... and 18,000 radishes - that's just a portion of the vegetables grown by British POWs in the internment camp Ruhleben, in Berlin. When inmates realised they were stuck there at the outbreak of WW1, they decided to roll up their sleeves and make the best of it. Affiliation with the Royal Horticultural Society brought them precious resources of seeds and bulbs and their agricultural efforts in the grounds of the camp went from strength to strength. At the end of the war, they were eating better than Berliners, as Stephen Evans reports. Graham @B_BluesMonkey tweets: "You've got to love British eccentricity." Kahoover ‏adds: "Odd little story chock full of British behaving well and badly."

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France 1, England 0
The Battle of Bouvines

It was the battle that paved the way for Magna Carta - a document which formed the basis for English democracy. But you've probably never heard of Bouvines. And the reason for that is probably because the British lost the battle against the French. But in France - as Hugh Schofield reports - it's still a big deal, with a major anniversary taking place to mark 800 years since the conflict. Sara Barker @DrSKBarker tweets: "Some interesting points about why particular battles are remembered in this piece on Bouvines. And some bonus Lavisse." J D Davies @quintonjournals adds: "The most important battle you've never heard of'…. So not Castillon 1453, then, which BBC list somehow ignores?"

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Being Usain
Usain Holt

Whether or not Usain Bolt did get caught out criticising these Commonwealth Games - the reporter insists, the athlete denies - the subsequent headlines were another indication that life for the Jamaican sprinter is not like that for any other athlete, writes the BBC's chief sports writer Tom Fordyce. So what exactly is life like for the Lightning Bolt? When being the fastest man in the world becomes a bit too much, Bolt returns to the rural north-west of Jamaica and the tiny town of Sherwood Content, where he grew up. Out come the dominoes, out comes the Guinness. It might be mundane, but it's understandable, writes Fordyce in his profile of the athlete.

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Biohazard prosthetics
Prosthetic leg on the beach

On becoming an amputee, do you get a leg straight away? Can amputees wear high heels? These are just two questions that are answered by the Ouch disability team in its feature Lesser-known things about prosthetic legs. Apparently many amputees collect a stockpile of prosthetics over the years and some don't know what to do with them. In the UK a used prosthetic leg is seen as a biohazard and cannot be used again in the EU. Joe Preston ‏@upthewoodenhill tweets: "Nice little article answering some interesting questions people have about prosthetic legs."

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The scissor-maker
Scissor makers Ernest Wright and Son Ltd and the dying art of scissor-making

"I'm Eric Stones and I've been making scissors for 58 years." So says one of the two "Master Puttertogetherers" at the last factory in Britain that still makes them by hand. Earlier this year, Ernest Wright and Son Ltd was in danger of closing but a video by photographer Shaun Bloodworth showing how the implements are made went viral, resulting in a surge in orders. A few decades ago Sheffield boasted some 150 scissor manufacturers - now there are only two. Watch Eric at work and listen to him describing the intricacies of scissor making in this beautiful video by Susannah Reid. Ernest Wright reports that thanks to Friday's film, it received 100 new orders in an hour. Tim Hodges tweets: "Lovely film, spare 4 minutes of your time to watch it if you can."

Here are some things we've enjoyed this week from elsewhere around the web:

What's in a profile picture? Just about everything, actually - Washington Post

Where Does Ebola Come From? - The Atlantic

Here's A Simple, Sneaky Way To Win Any Argument - Business Insider

The Great Third-Pound Burger Ripoff - Mother Jones

This Guy Simultaneously Raised a Chimp and a Baby in Exactly the Same Way To See What Would Happen - Smithsonian Magazine

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10 things we didn't know last week

Richard Nixon

1. Facebook's globe icon looks different depending where in the world you are.

Find out more (QZ)

2. Richard Nixon was interested in the mating habits of pandas.

Find out more (Time)

3. There is a church where ctrl+v and ctrl+c are sacred symbols.

Find out more (The Local)

4. Since 2001, the Fire Brigade has freed 16 children in the London Borough of Bromley who have got their heads stuck in banisters.

Find out more

5. People are paid to impersonate langur monkeys and make noises to frighten the smaller red-faced macaque monkeys away from India's parliament buildings.

Find out more

6. The Milky Way weighs about half as much as the Andromeda galaxy.

Find out more (National Geographic)

7. The coat of a dead dog called London Jack, whose stuffed remains were used to collect charity donations at railway stations, changed colour twice.

Find out more

8. An erotic self-help book was overdue from New York's public libraries for 54 years before it was eventually returned.

Find out more (Gothamist)

9. After three penalty kicks in the same direction, goalkeepers are more likely to dive the opposite way on the next shot.

Find out more

10. Theropod dinosaurs shrank 12 times from 163kg (25st 9lb) to 0.8kg (1.8lb), before becoming modern birds.

Find out more

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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.

Lightning strike kills man on Venice Beach, Los Angeles

Monday: Lightning strike kills man on Venice Beach, Los Angeles

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Liberia has suspended all football activities in an effort to control the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Tuesday: Ebola outbreak: Liberia suspends football

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Hummingbirds edge out helicopters in hover contest

Wednesday: Hummingbirds edge out helicopters in hover contest

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Tedium, tragedy and tar: The slowest drops in science

Thursday: Tedium, tragedy and tar: The slowest drops in science

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America's 'inexorably' botched executions

Friday: America's 'inexorably' botched executions

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Find #BBCGoFigure on Twitter and on Facebook

Caption Challenge: Hitch-hiking robot

Robot hitch-hiker in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Winning entries in the Caption Competition.

The Caption Challenge is now closed.

This week it's a robot hitch-hiker in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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

6. rogueslr:

Marvin had always been confused over the difference between AI and the A1.

5. Whatever Next:

I left my SCART in San Francisco.

4. Thomas Cope:

Cameron announces UK spaceport budget to be "scaled down".

3. IABP:

Councils introduce smart bins that make their own way to the tip.

2. Ian Stanley:

Next generation speed cameras more cunning than ever.

1. Adrian Wade:

R2 Detour.

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

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Who believes compatibility ratings on dating websites?

Couple on beach Love happens more often on beaches at sunset

The dating website OKCupid has pretended to users with "bad" levels of computer-assessed compatibility that they're well-suited. Can belief in algorithms make people like each other, asks Justin Parkinson.

Christian Rudder has publicly questioned whether the algorithms used by his dating website to recommend potential partners are "garbage". He experimented by telling users of OKCupid with a 30% "compatibility" rating that they were in fact much more likely to be suitable - either 60% or 90%.

Doing this caused a higher percentage to make contact by sending an initial message. But Rudder, a Harvard maths graduate, went further, looking at what proportion of each group got on so well that they sent four messages to each other. It almost doubled for those who had been deceived.

Rudder concluded that "the mere myth of compatibility works just as well as the truth". Does this mean faith in algorithms - a series of calculations based on data provided by users - is influencing whether people "like" someone?

"Priming" people in this way creates a "disinhibition effect", according to cyberpsychologist Berni Good. "It's interesting that people feel so comfortable with almost removing their sense of self, telling themselves they're compatible even when all the evidence - hobbies listed and that kind of thing - tells them they're not," she says. "It's probably going to end in tears when they actually meet."

Traditional notions of romance rely on indefinable spontaneity or "spark". Algorithms - series of calculations widely used by companies to predict consumer tastes - do not. OKCupid asks users about 350 questions to gauge their interests and personalities. But many are unconvinced.

"I strongly disagree with the need for algorithms," says TV presenter Sarah Beeny, founder of the dating website. "Only the people themselves can see whether the magic's there, not a computer."

Rudder admits that "OKCupid doesn't really know what it's doing", but adds: "Neither does any other website."

Beeny acknowledges that there is a power of "suggestion", as exposed by the experiment. "But it's pretty amazing that he's come out and said all this," she says. "It seems like a bit of a Gerald Ratner moment. How can anyone trust his algorithms after this?"

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What happens when lightning hits the sea?

Storm at sea, near site of Costa Concordia sinking

A man died and several other people were injured in a thunderstorm off the coast of California. What happens when lightning hits the sea, asks Justin Parkinson.

If you are in the sea and a thunderstorm looks likely in the area, there are two ways to cut the risk of getting hit - get out and find some shelter, or swim deeper.

A typical lightning flash measures about 300 million volts and 30,000 amps, according to the US National Weather Service - enough to kill.

Most of the electrical discharge spreads horizontally rather than vertically. This is bad news for people, who tend to float or swim on or near the surface.

The answer

  • Lightning largely spreads along the surface
  • Fish, swimming beneath the surface, are less likely to be hurt than humans

The lightning current is likely to radiate across the surface. Various different estimates have been given for the distance over which it would dissipate to the point where it would not be a harmful to a person.

"I wouldn't recommend betting your life on that kind of calculation," says Giles Sparrow, author of Physics in Minutes. "If you get out of the water and can't find shelter, it's best to crouch into a ball, rather than lay flat on the floor, as this also raises risks. If you stay in the water, you could try to go deep, but it's unlikely you can hold your breath for long enough to avoid the danger."

Fish, which usually move around at greater depths, are safer than human swimmers. Protruding heads or even entire bodies, such as those presented by surfers or paddle boarders, could put people in greater danger.

"If you are in the open sea, rather like standing in an open field, you might become a target during a storm," says Jon Shonk, a meteorologist at the University of Reading. "Lightning takes the path of least resistance."

Boats can be fitted with lightning conductors, which direct the charge into the sea, while avoiding their most vulnerable parts, such as passenger areas or equipment rooms. It is recommended that these are fitted.

Research by Nasa shows lightning is more likely to hit land than sea and that it is rare for strikes to occur in deep ocean areas. Waters just off coasts are more often affected.

Risks also vary according to seasons. "You expect more strikes nearer to land because that's where the most heat and updrafts and storms build up, especially in the summer," says Shonk. "That can change in winter, but that's obviously a time when there are fewer people in the sea."

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Getting stuck on things or in things

Boy with head stuck in railings

My favourite figure of last week came from the London Fire Brigade, writes Anthony Reuben.

It tweeted: "Since 2001 we have helped 16 kids in #Bromley with their heads stuck in banisters. Take care this summer."

And the message was accompanied by the picture above. Those look to me (and the fire brigade press officer) like railings not banisters, but that's just pedantry.

It was released to promote a fire brigade press release encouraging parents to keep an eye on their children during the summer holidays.

Apparently, in the last year the LFB has to rescue 1,508 young people who were stuck on things or in things.

Boy being released from milk churn

But what things are these children getting stuck on or in? Only a small proportion of them are banisters. Indeed, in the last five years it has received 165 calls that were classified as involving children being stuck in railings, banisters or gates.

What could the other things be? The LFB sent out this magnificent picture of a boy being released from a milk churn, but it's hard to imagine that that is a regular problem.

The LFB provides an extraordinary list of recent incidents, including a child with its head stuck in a potty, one with its arm stuck in a television speaker and one with its leg wedged in a statue in a Kensington car park.

A child in Brent got a toy train stuck on its finger, one got its foot stuck in a merry-go-round in a park in Dulwich and a 13-year-old had to be released from a baby swing in Havering.

Children display extraordinary creativity regarding the things they manage to get stuck in.

The press release links to lots of advice for the parents of young children, but it's all about fire safety and what to do if your child is "displaying firesetting tendencies". There's nothing about how to prevent your child getting stuck in stuff.

"Many of the incidents we get called out to could be avoided with a little bit of common sense," advises LFB Third Officer Dave Brown.

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The tragic coffin prank

Sick woman

Author Jeremy Clay tells the singular story of the girl who was frightened to death by a coffin.

At first it was just a shadow. An indistinct shape on the footpath by a chapel on a lonely Lancashire lane at dusk. But as the girls walking home from the factory got nearer, it began to form into something more tangible. Something more creepy.

A coffin, just lying there. It was a sight strange enough to stop them in their tracks. Unnerved, but intrigued, they took a few tentative steps closer. And that's when it happened. A low hollow sound from somewhere nearby broke their jittery hush. And then the coffin shuddered and began to move.

Springing back in alarm, the girls turned and dashed headlong down the road, shrieking and screaming as they ran.

Fifty yards on, they bumped into a lad walking along the lane, who persuaded them to show him what they'd seen. Fortified by back-up, Martha Spencer and Bridget Riley gathered the courage to return to the casket. And there they saw local lummoxes Richard Forshaw and Robert Mawdsley, guffawing as they lifted the coffin to their shoulders and carried it away.

These days, no doubt, this pair of fat-heads would have filmed their prank, uploaded it, and waited expectantly for it to go viral. Back in lo-fi 1858, they had to go down to the pub and brag.

Victorian Strangeness

Victorian ladies illustration

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

They'd done it for a lark, Forshaw told drinkers at the Rose and Crown in Much Hoole that night. They'd tied a length of string to one of the handles on the coffin. Mawdsley hid behind a hedge until the girls approached, then tugged at the string. Forshaw watched from a ditch, desperately struggling to suppress his rib-rattling sniggers. "You're a bonny fellow to frighten children so," one of the regulars admonished him as he finished the tale. And the castigation was about to get far, far worse.

As Forshaw showboated in the inn, Martha was still shaken. The following day, the 13-year-old was back at work, as usual. But then she complained she felt sick. Her condition deteriorated rapidly and a few hours later, she breathed her last. Let's not trouble ourselves with the grisly details, but the inquest found she had been frightened to death.

The press called the episode shameful, heartless and stupid. The jury called it manslaughter and Forshaw and Mawdsley were arrested and committed for trial.

Now it was their turn for dread, and after sweating on their future for a few months, they appeared at Lancaster Assizes the following February.

But if Forshaw was an ass, and Mawdsley too, the law wasn't - well, on this occasion, at least.

"His Lordship said the youths had been guilty of a very thoughtless act in frightening a girl to death," reported the Preston Guardian and Lancashire Advertiser, "and he hoped they would not on any occasion repeat the offence. It would not be right any longer to have them branded as felons."

The jury found them not guilty, and the prisoners were free to go and live their lives. If only the same could be said for poor, timid Martha.

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

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10 things we didn't know last week

Golden retriever

1. Moose spit has anti-fungal properties.

Find out more (CBC)

2. Only 10% of DNA is doing something important.

Find out more (The Guardian)

3. Dogs get jealous.

Find out more

4. It's possible to charge a Nokia Lumia 930 using 800 apples and potatoes connected with copper wire and nails.

Find out more (Daily Telegraph)

5. People are more likely to spend money when they feel nostalgic.

Find out more

6. Some 96% of adults engage in an internal dialogue.

Find out more (Forbes)

7. It's against the law in England and Wales to swallow and regurgitate goldfish, even if they survive, but it may be legal to do the same with an octopus.

Find out more

8. Electric guitarists use the same patterns of sound as the human voice.

Find out more (The Times)

9. Banded mongooses try less hard at motherhood after bringing up their first-born.

Find out more (Smithsonian)

10. All dinosaurs were either covered with feathers or had the potential to grow them.

Find out more

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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.

Caring for Kenya's HIV orphans

Monday: Caring for Kenya's HIV orphans

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Robert Downey Jr is top earning actor for second year

Tuesday: Robert Downey Jr is top earning actor for second year

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Glasgow 2014: Which is the strongest Commonwealth nation?

Wednesday: Glasgow 2014: Which is the strongest Commonwealth nation?

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India doctors remove 232 teeth from boy's mouth

Thursday: India doctors remove 232 teeth from boy's mouth

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The ship that totally failed to change the world

Friday: The ship that totally failed to change the world

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Find #BBCGoFigure on Twitter and on Facebook

Weekendish: Sex and sports hybrids

A couple hold hands

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

Let's talk about sex

God doesn't help gullible, foolish men. So says Dr Mahinder Watsa, 90, whose frank and often acerbic sex advice to Indian newspaper readers was celebrated this week. A typical question put to him: Should I follow the advice of my astrologer and pull my penis for 15 minutes each day while saying a prayer, in order to make the organ grow? Probably not. If the astrologer was right, Dr Watsa advises, "most men would have a penis hitting their knees". Danny tweets that some of the questions put to Dr Watsa "sound like they may have been asked by people I know..."

The 90-year-old sex guru

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New balls, please
Illustration of Vigoro from early 20th Century

If following Dr Watsa's advice doesn't appeal, one could always spend the afternoon inventing new sports. Take Vigoro, a cross between cricket and tennis, for example, which was dreamt up in the early 1900s. "Bowlers" would carry racquets, "batsmen" would stand in front of stumps, and "fielders" would use the racquet to collect the ball. It's the sort of thing one might make up in a back garden, but Vigoro never quite caught on around the world. "So I was not insane to attempt box-cricket on a tennis court?" tweets Saurabh Dave. Ed tweets: "Quick, #TeamEngland, before anyone else takes it up." Sorry, Ed - the game survives in Australia, so that's another shrimp they can throw on their sporting supremacy barbie.

Anyone for Vigoro?

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Burnt on the outside
close up of barbecue

Talking of which, the culture of barbecuing in public apparently divides the world. Some cities approve, others forbid cookery wafting. In parts of New York, smells from barbecues are considered as toxic fumes. But according to Richard Shweder, author of Why Do Men Barbecue? Recipes for Cultural Psychology (the best book title of the week) it could all have a deeper meaning.

"In Judeo-Christian tradition, sharing the meal is a very important part of family solidarity," he says. "It's celebratory - we are sharing food. To the extent that people resent barbecues in parks, it might be because they feel those around them are not part of their 'family'." Reader Dom Markham is uncompromising in his response: "I think being the scum of the Earth is anti-social, not having a barbecue."

Is it anti-social to use barbecues in parks?

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Myths about myths
Zeus and Hera

There wasn't a Trojan horse, Homer probably didn't exist, Pythagoras probably wasn't a mathematician and he didn't prove his theory. These are some of the legends about ancient Greece discussed by Dr Armand D'Angour this week. For some it might be the equivalent of saying Father Christmas doesn't exist. But Rasha Taus tweets that's it's clever of the BBC to publish Dr Angour's "Reithian endeavour... Blessed be the educators in 'dodgy subjects'," she adds.

How many Greek legends were really true?

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Time peace

Shinji Mikamo - boy and man

The only thing Shinji Mikamo had left after the Hiroshima bomb destroyed his home was his father's watch. The heat of the explosion had fused the shadows of the hands into the time piece, marking the exact time of the explosion. So when his daughter found out it had been stolen from a museum she was furious. But Shinji, like with everything else, was forgiving. He calmly told her "when you lose something, you gain something". This story got debate going on Facebook. While Hannah Nomin said it was a "really sad story of mankind", Ifeanyi Obi JP pondered that "humans seem to be destructive by nature". And Brad DeMoranville sighed: "Here comes the 20/20 hindsight from the people who have no idea what was going on."

When time stood still - A Hiroshima survivor's story

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Here are some things we've enjoyed this week from elsewhere around the web:

Who is dying in Afghanistan's 1000-plus drone strikes? - Bureau of Investigative Journalism

How to invent a person online The Atlantic

Why narcissistic CEOs get paid more, even though they don't perform better - Quartz

My Mother, Parkinson's, And Our Struggle To Understand Disease - Buzzfeed

Kim Philby and the Hazards of Mistrust - The New Yorker

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How Scottish are Scottie dogs?

Scottie dogs stars of Commonwealth Games opening show

Scottish terriers stole the show at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, leading every nation as competitors walked around the stadium. But how did Scottie dogs come to be a symbol of Scotland, asks Vanessa Barford.

If a dog's status is in its name, the Scottie is top dog.

Whereas other terriers that originated north of the border - the Skye, West Highland White, Cairn and Dandie Dinmont - have kept their regional roots (in name at least), the Scottie - which is sometimes referred to as the Aberdeen Terrier - has the whole nation on its shoulders.

But how Scottish are Scotties? The Scottie is a standard terrier in that the dog was originally bred as a "ratter" and used to hunt vermin, according to Liz Bradley, chairman of the Scottish Terrier Society. Terrier comes from the Latin word terra, meaning earth.

"People bred them for different work. The West Highland White is a lighter dog. The Scottie became more substantial - it's a heavier boned, deep-chested breed that worked in the heather up in the Highlands," she says.

Appearance wise, the Kennel Club describes the breed standard as "thick-set", "short-legged", "alert in carriage" and "suggestive of great power". "Head gives impression of being long for size of dog. Very agile and active in spite of short legs," it says.

Describing the dog more generally, the club says: "His public image is often that of a dour Scot, but to his family and friends he is affectionate and cheerful".

Bradley agrees with the suggestion Scotties share some character traits with the Scots. "They are a very fun breed, great thinkers, loyal, and rather stubborn. They can be seen as a little standoff-ish, but at the same time they are partygoers."

Scotties are "big dogs on little legs", she says. "They may be short, but they have the heart of a lion. They would strut up to the biggest dog in the world and still think they are bigger."

Lynn Allardyce, owner of Pet behaviour Scotland, agrees. "They are lovely wee dogs, but they can be a bit grumpy, which some might say is a Scottish trait," she says. "Terriers have a good temperament, but they can be a bit nippy [and] are very, very stubborn, which is often said to be a Scottish characteristic," she adds.

But Scotties aren't the most popular dogs in Scotland, according to Allardyce. "That title probably belongs to the Labrador," she says.

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Caption Challenge: Flying piano

German pianist Stefan Aaron plays an orange piano on a "flying carpet" platform suspended from a helicopter, over Munich airport

Winning entries in the Caption Competition.

The Caption Challenge is now closed.

This week, a pianist plays on a "flying carpet" suspended from a helicopter over Munich Airport.

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

6. David Gleeson:

"I misheard you when you said you wanted to hire the piano player."

5. Donna Bannister:

"I see Elton's bought a new rug!"

4. Tony Thresher:

"It's OK - you're not missing anything. I'm playing John Cage's Four Minutes 33 seconds."

3. GMK:

Drastic measures needed as Manilow refuses to leave stage.

2. Peter James:

"We recognise the earlier delivery drones struggled with larger items and also lacked the personal touch."

1. Becky Luxton:

"I think he's uploading a tune to the cloud."

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

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Is it normal to search envoys?

John Kerry with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi

US Secretary of State John Kerry was stopped by security staff at Egypt's presidential palace and checked for weapons. Is this normal procedure for the top diplomats and visiting ministers, asks Chris Stokel-Walker.

Most of us are used to waiting in long lines to pass through security checks at airports, but a rarefied coterie of politicians and top diplomats are granted freedom from the hands of security staff - or at least they're meant to be. John Kerry was stopped and waved over with a metal detector before meeting the Egyptian president in Cairo, an unusual occurrence.

Kerry is not the first envoy to be stopped by security staff. The United States strip-searched George Fernandes, India's former defence minister, twice on official visits in the aftermath of 9/11. In 2010 officials at an airport in Houston, Texas, stopped India's envoy to the UN and inspected his turban.

The answer

  • Either searching or scanning diplomats is seen as a breach of etiquette
  • Visiting foreign ministers are regarded the same way
  • But most governments reserve the right to do searches

"Diplomats and members of government usually enjoy certain immunities which prevent them from being frisked," says Paul Whiteway, a former UK Foreign Office diplomat and director at Independent Diplomat, an advisory group for diplomatic staff. For high-ranking politicians, even the most cursory security check, such as being passed over by a metal-detecting wand, is seen as as unnecessary an inconvenience as a full body pat-down.

The Vienna convention on diplomatic relations, signed in 1961, outlines procedures that prevent diplomats from being unduly molested. Sixty parties signed the agreement, and 190 nation states have since ratified it, including Egypt. Though foreign ministers are different to resident diplomats, explains Whiteway, the way they're meant to be treated is similar. And a 2002 case at the International Court of Justice set a precedent of inviolability for travelling foreign ministers.

The aim is to allow ministers to travel more quickly and easily, and to protect any secret documents they carry from being whisked away. "But being frisked does happen - it's just regarded as bad form," admits Whiteway.

Although it is frowned upon, and a theoretical breach of the Vienna convention, countries do reserve the right to stop and search politicians on security grounds. But they tend to do so only when they want to send a message to their guests. "It could be seen as a concerted effort at discourtesy; putting a foreign power in its place," notes Whiteway, who was once stopped at an airport in Chile by overzealous police officers and had his luggage X-rayed.

"If the authorities demand it, there's very little you can do about it except take a deep breath and comply."

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Five ways Aldi cracked the supermarket business


Karl Albrecht, the co-founder of German discount supermarket chain Aldi along with brother Theo, has died. But how has Aldi become a household name, asks Chris Stokel-Walker.

1. Basic store layout

Walking into an Aldi is a totally different experience to walking into a gargantuan superstore such as Tesco or Asda. Bright, spacious rooms decorated with huge gaudy hoardings are replaced with small, dimly-lit shops with narrow aisles and sparse shelves. The chain sells a fraction of the items bigger supermarkets do, focusing on a single own-brand variant of any given product. As German newspaper Der Spiegel wrote in 2010, talking about Aldi's first forays into retail in Germany, "this nation of sensible shoppers got the grocery market it deserved: as cheap as possible, practical and with absolutely no frills."

2. Sell bursts of unusual items

The supermarket is famous for its flash sales. Ski poles, cycling equipment and tablet computers have all made fleeting visits to Aldi's shelves - but only in limited numbers. These higher-price items, available for a short time only, are "a great way of getting people to come back to the store," says retail analyst Graham Soult. "It's random stuff but it taps into the quirkiness of Aldi, that they sell items the other supermarkets don't."

3. General penny pinching

The financial fastidiousness of the Albrecht brothers as they led Aldi to success in their native Germany was well-known. Checkout staff had to hand type product codes into their tills in Germany until the early 2000s because the firm didn't want to pay for swish scanning systems that had been standard in other supermarkets for decades. Staff at its headquarters were said to have been chastised for using brand new pencils, rather than wearing out the lead on older ones. And the site where both brothers are buried in Essen was spruced up after complaints with new rhododendrons - bought, on offer, from Aldi's own store.

4. Satisfying middle-class shoppers

Aldi's customer base has changed as savvy middle-class shoppers started using the store. Its proportion of shoppers in the UK classified in the AB social category has increased from around 13% in 2012 to 19% today. The supermarket has altered its stock to cater to them. Alongside continental cheeses and meats - already seen as exotic - it has branched out into more luxury items. Late last year it introduced cut-price fresh lobster tails and serrano ham in time for Christmas. Last month it began stocking trendy Wagyu beef steaks at a reduced price.

5. Be in the right place at the right time

Aldi's massive growth in the UK coincided with a time of tightened purse strings. Low price is still the key. "In the last few years everything seems to have aligned," says Soult. Reportedly the only public statement that co-founder Karl Albrecht said in the entire history of the company was made in 1953, but was as pertinent to British shoppers in the post-crash world of 2007 as it was to German shoppers in the wake of World War Two: "Our advertisement is the cheap price." It has also benefited from a change in what shoppers want supermarkets to be. "In the 1990s, supermarkets were getting bigger and bigger," explains Soult. "Now the trend has shifted, and smaller stores like Aldi are what people want."

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