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29 July 2014 Last updated at 14:11

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 mysinglefriend.com 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

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.

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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Quiz of the week's news

Info

It's the Magazine's 7 days, 7 questions quiz - an opportunity to prove to yourself and others that you are a news oracle. Failing that, you can always claim to have had better things to do during the past week than swot up on current affairs.

7 days

1.) Multiple Choice Question

What is this?

Top printed with tuxedo design
  1. Tour de France jersey worn by Nigel Mitchell, head of nutrition for Team Sky
  2. The new kit of Spanish second division football team Cultural Leonesa
  3. Waiters' uniforms for the forthcoming US Open

2.) Multiple Choice Question

In which city does a cup of coffee tend to be strongest, according to researchers?

Espresso
  1. Glasgow, Scotland
  2. Pamplona, Spain
  3. Parma, Italy

3.) Multiple Choice Question

The business community in the Irish village of Waterville condemned a cafe owner who banned which group from his premises?

Cafe sign
  1. "Loud Americans"
  2. "Drunk Brits"
  3. "Arrogant French people"
  4. "Germans who reserve tables with towels"

4.) Multiple Choice Question

Why have prisons in Michigan changed the colour of inmates' uniforms from orange to black and white?

Prison uniform
  1. Prisoners complained of orange-induced headaches
  2. Psychologists said it would result in fewer riots
  3. TV's Orange Is The New Black made orange cool

5.) Multiple Choice Question

A Chinese shopping mall was criticised for sexism after it introduced "women-only" car parking spaces. Which of the following did these NOT feature?

Driver
  1. Pink lines
  2. Wider by 30cm (14ins)
  3. High heel repair stations

6.) Multiple Choice Question

Four members of Sri Lanka's Commonwealth Games team were stopped by police when they were spotted cycling where?

Cyclists
  1. Grounds of Holyrood Palace
  2. The M74 motorway
  3. Near Faslane Naval Base

Info

They were seen on one of Scotland's busiest stretches of road at the exit for Motherwell and Hamilton before being told they were breaking the law. Olympic champion and England triathlete Alistair Brownlee photographed them and tweeted this picture.

Sri Lankan cyclists on the M74

7.) Missing Word Question

Indian boy has 232 * removed

  1. bunions
  2. teeth
  3. warts

Answers

  1. Cultural Leonesa were only planning on using the tuxedo-themed strip for pre-season but the public reaction was so overwhelming they decided to stick with it.
  2. It's Glasgow. Research published in the journal Food and Function found the amount of caffeine per serving of an espresso in the Scottish city ranged from 72mg to 212mg. In Parma it was 73-135mg and 97-127mg in Pamplona. It found coffee in Scotland usually used more heavily roasted beans and the serving sizes were larger.
  3. Peter Fitzgerald posted a sign in his County Kerry cafe banning coach tours and "loud Americans". After a furore on social media, business people and residents took to the streets waving US flags to show Americans were welcome.
  4. Saginaw County Sheriff William Federspiel said the new design "breaks away from that cultural coolness" associated with orange.
  5. The spaces were marked out in pink and 30cm wider than usual. Mall manager Yang Hongjun said this was for "practical reasons" but the move attracted widespread criticism on social media.
  6. It was the M74 motorway.
  7. It's teeth. Ashik Gavai, 17, had the teeth successfully extracted from his mouth during a seven-hour operation. Doctors described his condition as "very rare" and "a world record".

Your Score

0 - 3 : On your bike

4 - 6 : Peloton

7 - 7 : Yellow jersey

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

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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

Aldi

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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Is it worth lightning-proofing homes in the UK?

Lightning in Gloucester

Dramatic lightning strikes in the UK have acted as a reminder of the damage that can be done by electrical storms. When does it make sense to install lightning protection on homes?

Over the weekend homes in Essex, Gloucestershire, Kent and the West Midlands were damaged by lightning. Following a strike a major blaze in Rotherham, South Yorkshire was captured on video, as was the moment one house in Tunbridge Wells was hit. Householders might be forgiven for investigating whether installing lightning protection is worthwhile.

The answer

  • The UK has a low rate of lightning activity compared with other countries
  • "Rolling sphere" method used to assess whether buildings are at risk
  • Buildings which are tall relative to those around them are most likely to need lightning protection

Generally the UK experiences a very low level of lightning activity by international standards, according to Manu Haddad, professor of electrical engineering at Cardiff University. There are approximately 0.46 lightning strikes per square km each year. This is very low compared to tropical regions. In some parts of Brazil the figure might be as high as 300. "What we've had over the past three days is what they have on a daily basis," Haddad says. The south-east of England does have a slightly higher incidence of lightning than the rest of the UK due to its warmer climate.

Lightning specialists use the so-called "rolling sphere" technique, which is based on electro-geometric modelling, to carry out risk assessments on buildings. An imaginary sphere 50m in radius is visualised rolling above an area. "The first object the the sphere touches, that will be the first point of impact for lightning," says Haddad. So buildings which are taller than those around them are most at risk.

Tall buildings will typically be installed with lightning protection spikes on the roof attached to copper tape along which the electrical charge runs to the ground. The cost of installing such a system on a home can vary considerably, but it might come to between £1,500 and £3,000.

Every property will need its own risk assessment to judge whether this sort of equipment is cost-effective. Having been hit in the past is no guarantee that a home will be safe in the future. Contrary to received wisdom, it isn't true that lightning never strikes twice.

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The statistical issues around strike thresholds

Strike banners

David Cameron's plan to set thresholds for strike action ballots poses interesting statistical questions, writes Anthony Reuben.

The prime minister wants a ballot to have to secure a minimum proportion of the members polled, not just a minimum of those who voted.

The GMB union, for example, had a 73% majority in favour of taking strike action. But only 23% of those eligible to vote did so, which the government pointed out meant that only about 17% of the union's members supported the strike.

Indeed, on the day of the action some government spokespeople were even talking about what proportion of civil service employees (union members or not) supported the strike, which obviously made the support look even smaller.

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said the Tory manifesto would include the requirement for at least half of eligible union members to vote in order for a strike to be lawful.

Would such a threshold set a tricky precedent for UK democracy?

Take the 2010 General Election, for example. The Conservative Party received the votes of 23.5% of the electorate and formed a government in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who had received 15%.

They replaced a Labour government, which in 2005 had formed a majority with the votes of just 21.6% of those eligible to vote.

In this year's European elections, the low turnout makes looking at proportions of the electorate even worse.

Ukip won the election, creating a political storm.

But with only a shade over a third of the electorate bothering to vote, the proportion of the electorate that the eurosceptic party needed to achieve that was only 9.4%.

Now, supporters of strike ballot thresholds say elections which are open to all adult citizens are not comparable with those open only to union members - "commuters, parents and taxpayers are often powerless to stop disruption of public services on which they depend", wrote Tim Montgomerie in the Times.

But Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, was quick to make the point that it's not only union ballots that sometimes get a low turnout. "Not a single MP would have been elected under these rules," she said.

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The bizarre tale of the ladies who limped

Victorian ladies illustration - late 1850s

With the honourable exception of Lady Gaga's frock of meat, it was the most thunderingly daft episode in the entire history of fashion, says author Jeremy Clay.

In the well-heeled streets of London, something peculiar was afoot. In Edinburgh too, things were askew.

Before long, the phenomenon had worked its way across the land, passed from town to town like a contagion, leaving hobbling knots of sufferers wherever it went.

But in an age of ailments, from potter's rot to chimney sweep's scrotum, there were no physical grounds for the spreading infirmity. It preyed on the young, the capricious, the suggestible and the status-obsessed. Or, to put it another way, the fashionable.

They called it the Alexandra Limp and it was quite possibly the only fad to be born in a sick bed.

Victorian Strangeness

Victorian illustration of mother and son

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

Alexandra of Denmark was the bride of the Prince of Wales, and a 19th Century fashion icon. The clothes she wore were copied as well. The chokers she wore to conceal a scar on her neck were copied. And when a bout of rheumatic fever left her with a pronounced limp… Well, that was copied too.

In the well-do-do hotspots of Britain, toadying women began clumping about in a style that suggested they'd recently stood barefoot on discarded Lego.

At first, it was a DIY affair. Women would simply grab odd shoes to help them totter effectively. But canny shopkeepers soon realised there was a pretty penny to be made from what otherwise would be retail's most unshiftable line - wildly mismatched footwear, with one high heel, and one low.

What did ordinary people make of it all? Not a great deal, if this 1869 report from the North British Mail is anything to go by. "A monstrosity has made itself visible among the female promenaders in Princes Street," it seethed. "It is as painful as it is idiotic and ludicrous.

"Taking my customary walk the other day, observant of men, women and things, I met three ladies. They were all three young, all three good-looking, and all three lame! At least, such was my impression, seeing as they all carried handsome sticks and limped; but, on looking back, as everyone else did, I could discover no reason why they should do so.

"Indeed, one decent woman expressed her pity in an audible 'Puir things!' as she passed, but I was enlightened by hearing a pretty girl explain to her companion, 'Why that's the Alexandra limp! How ugly!'"

Princess Alexandra of Denmark Alexandra of Denmark was a trend-setter in the 1860s

The Dundee Courier and Argus was no less contemptuous. "Some remarkably foolish things have been done in imitation of royalty," the paper tutted, "but this is an act which involves a spice of wickedness as well as of folly.

"There must be a line at which even fashionable folly may be expected to stop short," it said, and this line ought to be drawn "at the caricaturing of human infirmity".

And then, as is the way of these things, fashion moved on. The game was probably already up by the time a race-horse was given the deeply unpromising name of Alexandra Limp.

"A fashion journal announces that the Alexandra limp is to be discontinued forthwith," reported the Western Daily Press. Cue great sighs of relief, which will have lasted right until the reader reached the following sentence: "The skirt of the season, we are informed, is to cling closely round the feet, in consequence whereof ladies will be obliged to walk as if their feet were tied together."

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

baby looking pensive

1. Age renders you less certain of whether a badger or a baboon would win in a fight.

Find out more (Independent)

2. Babies practise their first word in their heads for months before saying it out loud.

Find out more (the Times)

3. Until this week, the last bearded Conservative Cabinet minister was the 4th Earl of Onslow, president of the board of agriculture until March 1905.

Find out more

4. Baby turtles co-ordinate their hatching by talking to one another through their egg shells.

Find out more (Smithsonian)

5. Just 34 people are claiming Jobseekers Allowance in the Staffordshire town of Uttoxeter - population 12,000.

Find out more (Daily Mail)

6. Bubble wrap can be used for blood and bacteria tests - the bubbles are injected with a syringe and can be sealed with clear nail hardener.

Find out more (New Scientist)

7. In Seoul, it's common to use your lunch break for a snooze.

Find out more

8. Two millennia ago in Sudan people used to munch on the purple nutsedge weed - and it might be why so few of them appear to have dental cavities.

Find out more (Smithsonian)

9. People don't just walk more slowly when they're on smartphones, their field of vision is reduced to 5% of what it should be.

Find out more

10. When given a date far in the future, William Hague can tell you off the top of his head which day of the week it will be.

Find out more (the Times)

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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.

Costa Concordia

Monday:Costa Concordia floating again after huge salvage operation

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DNA graphic

Tuesday: US study suggests your genes may influence who you become friends with

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Fish graphic

Wednesday: Fish may be the next weapon in the fight against global warming

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Ipads on a shelf

Thursday: US entrepreneurs are chasing the "silver dollar"

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Child labourers making bricks

Friday: Bolivia lowers working age to 10, prompting child labour concerns

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Weekendish: Birdman and bound feet

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

Fait maison
Poster advertising the new logo

French cuisine was awarded world heritage status by Unesco a few years back, but it seems that all is not well in the restaurant kitchens across the country. The number that simply reheat pre-prepared food, rather than cooking it from scratch, has prompted a new law which came into effect this week. From now on, any restaurant that serves a home-made dish can indicate it on the menu with a new logo - a rather natty saucepan with a lid designed to look like the roof of a house. Next year it will be compulsory for all menus to carry the logo to indicate whether something is "fait maison". But there are some exceptions - raw products that have been frozen, refrigerated, chopped, ground, smoked, or peeled, not including oven chips - and food writers have been getting into a bit of a tizzy over them. Lauraine Jacobs says: "By next year all French restaurants will be forced to declare this. Let's do it here in NZ." Andy Hayler adds: "I wonder how the UK figures would compare to France on 'home made' restaurant food?". The logo itself seemed popular, as Jamie Ellul ‏tweets: "French restaurants to use new logo to communicate 'home made' - and it's not terrible."

The new sign on French menus

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The Tooting circle
Court sketch

Babar Ahmad, a British man from south London, has been sentenced to 12-and-a-half years in prison in the US after he admitted conspiracy and providing material support to the Taliban. BBC reporter Dominic Casciani tells the story of a young man who, in between studying at one of the best universities in the UK, fought with the Bosnian Muslims against the Serbs, before returning home to run an Islamic study group from a fast-food outlet in Tooting, south London, and then going on to set up the first English-language jihadist website. Ahmad became enormously influential and his audio tapes were discovered among the possessions of the 7/7 London suicide attackers. Read the story of how a young man from an upwardly mobile British-Pakistani home became to the voice of young Muslims with an identity crisis, and what it says about our understanding of jihad.

The godfather of internet jihad?

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The Birdman
Worthing Birdman competition

"I want everybody on the beach cheering and I want to cause a sensation." This was Tony Hughes ahead of the Worthing International Birdman competition. It's an annual event that has been running for more than three decades. The competitors make their own craft - Tony's took "hundreds of hours" to make for what he described as a flight that will last around 16 seconds. "I can't tell you how that 16 seconds makes you feel," Tony tells the BBC's Dan Curtis. The challenge is to glide for more 100 metres from a 10m high pier down a prescribed course. Tony is extremely competitive and there's a £10,000 cash prize. No one so far has been able to do it - can Tony? Watch the footage from his on-board camera. Caroline Tyler tweets: ‏"I love this silly and yet inspiring competition."

Worthing International Birdman: One man's quest to win

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Bound feet
Zhao Hua Hong

The painful practice of binding the feet of girls in China may have been outlawed in 1911, but for some girls the ancient tradition continued illegally until the 1949 Communist revolution. Photographer Jo Farrell has tracked down a small group of survivors, women in their 80s and 90s, and has been documenting this legacy of "old China". Farrell develops and prints the black and white film that passes through her Hasselblad camera. Take a look at a small selection of her work in picture editor Phil Coomes' blog.

Chinese foot binding

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The new revolutionaries?
Islaimist fighter on parade in the Syrian province of Raqqa, 30 June 2014

Is Isis (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) a revolutionary force or a reactionary one interested in reviving a traditional Islamic system of government? Philosopher and author John Gray argues that Isis is thoroughly modern, resembling a 20th Century totalitarian state. It's organised itself like efficient company, and has become the wealthiest jihadi organisation in the world, he says. "There's nothing mediaeval about [its] mix of ruthless business enterprise, well-publicised savagery and transnational organised crime." Gray argues that it is part of the revolutionary turmoil of modern times and that until the West grasps that uncomfortable fact, it won't be able to deal with the dangers Isis presents.

Isis: A thoroughly modern caliphate

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Chaotic British walkers
People walking on a bridge with Tower Bridge in the background

The British have little sense of pavement etiquette, writes Mark Easton. While many tourists have to quickly adjust to cars driving on the left, there doesn't seem to be much they can do to make sense of the mayhem on Britain's pavements. The British tend to prefer a slalom approach to weaving through throngs of determined shoppers, rushing office workers and ambling tourists, or else they take to jaywalking - legally - across the street. Telling people how to walk is simply not British, says Easton. But it's clearly a bugbear for some. Travel2much finds fault in the people "so engrossed in their phone, they walk with their head down in their own world expecting everyone else to dodge". Jesus is unapologetic: "I walk down the path looking at my phone, so what? I have important emails to check. You can see me coming so get out of my way! If you walk in to me, I will shout at you for being so ignorant."

Pedestrian etiquette in Britain

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

Visualizing Waste: Klaus Pichler's Gorgeous, Rotting Food National Geographic

Even the Gorillas and Bears in Our Zoos Are Hooked on Prozac Wired

One of a kind: What do you do if your child has a condition that is new to science? New Yorker

The Hunt for the Best Ballpark Hot Dog Smithsonian Magazine

What 19th-Century Germans Thought Life Would Be Like in 2000 Mental Floss

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Which conflict zones do planes fly over?

A man holds a gun as a plane passes overhead

The crash of Malaysian airliner MH17 in eastern Ukraine has raised questions about which conflict zones commercial jets will fly over. Who decides where is safe to fly, asks Tom de Castella.

Most of the decisions about a route are taken by airlines. But they must avoid no-fly zones. The area where the Malaysian airliner crashed had a no-fly zone in place up to 32,000ft (9,754m). The airliner was flying at 33,000ft (10,058m).

There are also national aviation bodies to consider. For example, the US's Federal Aviation Administration in April issued a Notam (notice to airmen) that prohibited US airliners from flying over the Crimean region of Ukraine and nearby areas of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. After the crash of MH17 it widened that to cover the whole of Ukraine.

The answer

  • No-fly zones must be avoided
  • A national aviation authority can ban its airlines from flying over part of a foreign country
  • Otherwise it is up to the airlines to decide

British Airways has been avoiding eastern Ukraine for some time, the BBC understands. But many airlines continued to fly over it. According to Flight radar24, which monitors live flight paths, the airlines that most frequently flew over Donetsk in eastern Ukraine in the last week were: Aeroflot 86 (flights), Singapore Airlines 75, Ukraine International Airlines 62, Lufthansa 56, and Malaysian 48. It was not necessarily a risky approach. The chance of a rocket reaching above 32,000 feet was considered remote, says Sylvia Spruck Wrigley, author of Why Planes Crash.

Map showing flight density over eastern Ukraine on 16-17 July

The UK's Civil Aviation Authority says airlines' decisions will be based on a range of factors - advice from the Foreign Office, warnings in the area, weather, navigation aids, strikes and which airports are out of action. They will generally fly the shortest route - a long detour around a warzone will cause delay and add extra fuel costs.

Selected flights over east Ukraine on the afternoon of 17 July
Selected flights over eastern Ukraine, 17 July

Airlines fly over most trouble spots, says Mikael Robertsson, co-founder of Flight radar24. They have to get from A to B in the most efficient manner possible. Syria is probably the only airspace that everyone avoids. Other trouble spots - North Korea and Somalia - airliners do fly over, he says, although it is hard to verify how common this is.

A pilot told the Guardian that "We would often avoid areas where there is air-to-air conflict, but we flew over Iraq and Afghanistan when the British and US armed forces were deployed there, because only one side was using military jets."

A map of Ukraine and surrounding countries tracking all active planes. Only a few planes cross Ukrainian air space After the attack: Airliners avoid eastern Ukraine

Airlines tend to be secretive about operational details, perhaps for security reasons. BA says that it will not give "further details" on its routes, adding: "Some parts of the world are closed to commercial airline operations and we would never fly in airspace unless we were satisfied that it was safe to do so." It still flies to Ukraine, although not over the east of the country.

Qantas would only say: "We don't fly over the Ukraine. For London to Dubai we fly 400 nautical miles south of the region."

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What's the best way to deal with being booed?

Man being booed

English athletes at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow have reportedly been briefed on how to cope with possible booing by Scots fans. What's the best way for public figures to react to such behaviour, asks Justin Parkinson.

Collective booing - or jeering - goes back at least to public festivals held in ancient Greece. Some just laugh it off. When Chancellor George Osborne was booed as he presented medals at the 2012 London Paralympic Games, he smiled. "Booing's all part of the pantomime nature of sport," says David Fletcher, a sports psychologist at Loughborough University. "People are looking for entertainment. I think Osborne realised that."

Quiet dignity is another way of surviving. During the 1998-9 season, David Beckham was constantly booed at Manchester United's away games after being sent off in a World Cup match against Argentina, which many said cost England the game. Through a series of sensational performances for his country over the next few years, he became a national hero. "Beckham demonstrated his inner toughness," says Fletcher. "It was admirable. You have to have that sort of focus to train yourself to cope with booing and vilification."

Psychologists practise visualisation techniques and advocate measures including meditation and personal calming routines to help them cope with the pressures of abuse by crowds. But sportspeople also have to demonstrate imperviousness. England cricketer Stuart Broad was booed by Australian supporters throughout the recent Ashes series, after he refused to walk when not given out for an obvious catch the previous summer. Rather than wilting, he had a good series. Fletcher describes Broad as having a "type A" behaviour pattern, meaning he is little affected by not being liked and able to focus is on getting the job done. Others have to work hard to block out criticism.

Booing - a disapproving sound designed to mimic the "lowing of oxen" - has been used in Britain since at least 1801, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, yet crowds have loved to rile performers for far longer. In Roman times crowd disapproval literally became a matter of life or death, as emperors listened to its verdict when deciding whether defeated gladiators should be killed. Perhaps Commonwealth Games athletes might remember that as they put their own suffering into perspective.

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Caption Challenge: Creature cosmetics

A man airbrushes the final touches to a 6.6 meter replica of the famous Godzilla at Tokyo

Winning entries in the Caption Competition.

The Caption Challenge is now closed.

This week, a man airbrushes the final touches to a replica of Godzilla in Tokyo.

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

6. Jeremy Green:

"Where is that Spielberg guy?"

5. Andrew Wilson:

"Are my scales to scale?"

4. Jen Lily Arthur :

"Hold still! It's just a splinter, you big baby."

3. Mickee Fabbro:

Vet's life at Jurassic Park: "Taking the pulse is the easy bit, tomorrow I have to give it an enema."

2. Mark Wilkins:

"Going anywhere nice on your holidays?"

"Destroying Tokyo again? Lovely."

1. Jon Boaden:

Local shop in trouble after failing to honour "Monster Discounts".

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

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Five ways to keep drivers off mobiles

Driver texts

Drivers caught using mobile phones at the wheel should have their penalties doubled to cut the number of road deaths, says the boss of the Metropolitan Police. But what else could be done, asks Justin Parkinson.

Wi-fi lay-bys

In a research paper, brothers Barry and Charles Press raise the idea of "convenient mobile phone pull-out areas with free wi-fi access" on major roads, like the facilities available for people who need a break for tiredness. "It's a bright idea," says Pete Thomas, director of Loughborough University's Transport Safety Research Centre. But the technology needs to to be tested thoroughly before it's possible to assert that it works, he adds.

Signal jamming

Some believe cars should be fitted with mobile signal-jamming devices as an industry standard. "It makes sense," says Alan Kennedy, operations manager at Road Safety GB. "They should have to stop the car before they want to use the phone. You can't rely on people's good intentions." But opponents say it would be difficult to distinguish between phones used by drivers and passengers.

Lying to learners

In 2012 Belgian road safety experts experimented by telling learner drivers on one course a lie - that the government had made it compulsory to prove they could avoid obstacles while texting at the wheel if they wanted to pass their test. The young people who took part in a "texting-and-driving" trial were shocked when they crashed. Instructors asked the learners how they would have felt had the obstacles been children. "They might have been on to something," says Prof Thomas. "It showed them how difficult and dangerous it is to text and drive."

Breaking the habit

Research suggests tightening up rules doesn't have much impact on the problem. Using mobiles in cars is a habit that's hard to break and the act of driving might actually use up the part of the brain - prefrontal cortex - that controls inhibitions, reducing the awareness of risk. Cutting the general reliance on phones the rest of the time is a way to overcome this effect of being at the wheel, it is argued. Or, failing that, prevention, such as designing phones which switch off automatically when they detect they are in a moving car. Or simply telling motorists to put their mobiles in the boot.

Talk to the doctor

Drivers who break the speed limit by small margins can choose to go on a speed-awareness course, teaching them of the dangers, rather than taking points on their licence. Campaigners argue for something stronger - a one-to-one with a doctor who has seen accidents caused by mobile use in cars. "Shocking people only usually changes behaviour for a short while, or a few miles," says Prof Thomas. "There needs to be a comprehensive approach. There's no silver bullet." Alan Kennedy is even more dubious. "This doesn't work," he says. "It could actually make the timid drivers more worried and even encourage the more toe-raggish elements to become more rebellious."

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What happens if you eat 112-year-old ham?

Ham

A ham in the US said to be the oldest in the world has celebrated its 112th birthday. Can it really be edible after all this time, asks Tom de Castella.

It was first cured by the Gwaltney meat company in 1902, forgotten about at the back of a storage room, and eventually donated to the Isle of Wight County Museum in Smithfield, Virginia. Today it looks like a piece of old leather. A special case protects it from bugs and mould, and it is billed the world's oldest edible cured ham. "It would be dry, dry tasting, but it's not molded," curator Tracey Neikirk told the Wall Street Journal.

The answer

  • It might not be dangerous, but the ham would not taste pleasant
  • It would be extremely dry and have a rancid flavour

Dry curing - salting the meat and draining the blood - allows ham to last and develop a richer flavour. But most hams are only aged for a year or two. Not 112. "After such a long time and without knowing how the ham was processed it's difficult to know whether it would be safe," a Food Standards Agency spokesman says. To most people "edible" means more than the ability to eat something without it killing you. "Jamon iberico of four to five years is amazing," says Jose Pizarro, owner of Pizarro, a Spanish restaurant in London." The oldest edible ham he's heard of is eight years old. After that the fat starts to oxidise and the flavour disappears from the meat. A rancid taste develops as the yellow fat diffuses, and as the decades pass it will become as hard as a stone and incredibly ugly, he says.

And then there's the question of whether the Virginia museum's really is the oldest. In 1993, Michael Feller, a butcher in Oxford, bought a ham at auction that was 101 years old. It looked "rather yukky" but was edible, although he wasn't going to cut into it. Today it hangs in the shop window, unnibbled at the ripe old age of 122. Food writer Jay Rayner is unmoved by the battle for the title of oldest ham. "I'd be suspicious of anyone getting excited about the former back end of a pig that's been hanging around for 112 years." Wine and spirits offer a better bet. He remembers drinking a "rather lovely" 1865 armagnac. It had aged well - "deep and toasty" - but the real attraction was not its flavour, he concedes. It was "that link with antiquity". Which perhaps explains the birthday party for a shrivelled up piece of pork.

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Are 4bn watching the Tour de France?

Tour de France competitors

The global sporting events just keep coming this summer, writes Anthony Reuben.

Even if British competitors aren't doing terribly well in them, plenty of folk still want to watch.

But there must be a limit, which is why I was surprised to see a spokesman from Le Coq Sportif, the company that makes the famous yellow jerseys for the Tour de France, claim on the BBC News website that the cycling event would be watched by a global television audience of four billion people.

That figure is a touch higher than the 3.5 billion figure for 2013 that features on the facts and figures page of the Yorkshire Grand Depart website. Does half of the world's population really watch le Tour?

In the number's favour, we're not talking about half the world's population watching at the same time - this is a three-week event.

The Tour's organisers have so far declined to give me the source of the 3.5 billion figure, but I do have KantarSport's report to Fifa on the global audience for the 2010 World Cup.

It looked at 17 countries and extrapolated from there. It found that 2.2 billion people had watched at least 20 consecutive minutes of coverage while 3.2 billion had watched at least one minute.

While more than three quarters of the population had watched the tournament in countries such as the UK, Spain, Japan and Brazil, fewer than a third had watched in China and India.

And this is the problem - if you can't get a decent proportion in India and China, you need a lot of the rest of the world to get to four billion.

My colleagues in BBC audience research tell me that in the UK, 8.8 million people watched the tour on ITV for at least 15 minutes in 2012, 6.5 million watched it in 2013, and that with the event starting in Yorkshire, 10.7 million have watched it so far this year.

So in 2013, which was the year that half of the world's population supposedly watched the tour, only 10% of the population of the UK, home of the race's eventual winner, watched it (although that does exclude viewers on Eurosport).

I admit I haven't managed to get to the source of the 3.5 billion figure, or indeed the 4 billion, but unless bicycle racing is remarkably popular in India, China, Russia and the USA, both seem unlikely.

Even the sponsors seem unclear, with this press release from Skoda saying that "only" 1.4 billion viewers watched the event in 2013.

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The Victorian women vigilantes

Illustration of altercation between man and townspeople

Author Jeremy Clay tells the tale of the Victorian women who dealt with a violent man.

Let's begin at the end, and go straight to the moral - don't mess with the women of the Forest of Dean.

Cowering by a village pond, braced to be ducked by an angry mob, the wretch at the heart of this story learned that lesson the hard way.

It was a summer's day in 1878 when life went awry for the Gloucestershire miller. He'd been summoned to appear before the magistrates in Coleford for neglecting to send his child to school.

By the time he got home, he was seething with rage, and took out his fury on his wife, vowing to do the same to his kid.

As the ugly commotion grew, a neighbour set off to alert the police, but help was closer at hand. News of the brutality had spread fast, and a makeshift army of women soon gathered at the wife-beater's door.

Victorian Strangeness

Victorian illustration of mother and son

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

When he spotted them, 40 strong and in no mood to knock, he bolted straight upstairs to hide. That might have been a better plan if he had a) a larger house or b) more in the way of furniture to lurk behind.

As it was, the villagers surged in and instantly found their quarry, ripping away half his clothes and dragging him outside.

"Then," said the Gloucester Citizen, "in a manner unmentionable to ears polite, these Amazonian women administered the punishment so familiar to English boys, and in no respect less severe or mortifying in its character."

A rabble's thirst for DIY justice is rarely so readily quenched, though. Once they'd finished flogging him with whatever stopgap weapons were to hand, they frogmarched him to the millpond, with the collective urge to turn an old convention on its head. This time round, a crowd of women would duck a man.

At the water's edge, the trembling miller fell to his knees and begged for mercy. He got it, too, after promising solemnly that he'd never raise a fist to his wife or child again.

But just to be on the safe side, he was drenched with a few buckets of water before being let free, shuffling off, in the words of the Cheltenham Chronicle, "a wetter and wiser man".

Jeremy Clay is the author of The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton and Other Singular Tales from the Victorian Press.

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

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Illustrated Police News image provided by The British Library Board.


10 things we didn't know last week

woman wearing headphones

1. The "perfect Aryan child" in Nazi propaganda posters was Jewish.

Find out more (Washington Post)

2. The best way to prevent your headphones from tangling in your bag is to join the ends together.

Find out more (The Times)

3. Chris Packham writes a letter every year to the makers of I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! to complain about the show's treatment of animals.

Find out more (Guardian)

4. Yorkshire and Humberside are as red-headed as Ireland.

Find out more (Daily Mail)

5. Eating an apple a day can boost sexual pleasure in healthy women.

Find out more (Daily Telegraph)

6. The Yo mobile app is used to alert Israelis about rocket attacks.

Find out more (Independent)

7. Historically, the perfect age to be a player in the World Cup is 27.5 - it's also the mean age of the 32 teams that played in the group matches at Brazil 2014.

Find out more

8. Smell receptors are found in the heart, liver and gut, and aid the healing process.

Find out more (New Scientist)

9. Guantanamo detainees smuggle food into the recreation yard to feed Princess, the camp's cat.

Find out more (The Times)

10. One in five US high school seniors has smoked hookah, and most of them are under the impression it is healthy.

Find out more (Washington Post)

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Weekendish: Indian cars, Teletext and bidets

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

Made in India
Defunct Ambassador car in Bangalore The Ambassador, which first went into production in 1957, was based on a 1954 redesign of the Morris Oxford

Henry Ford is said to have said of his Model T car: "You can have any colour, as long as it's black". For a long time, motorists in India had a similar, narrow choice - any car, as long as it's an Ambassador. Now production is halting on the car which once dominated the sub-continent. Is Indian auto-journalist Hormazd Sorabjee sad to see it go? Not a bit of it. "The Ambassador was a symbol of all that was wrong with India's controlled economy," he writes. Since 1957 it had barely been upgraded. Sorabjee's last trip in one was a couple of years ago: "The ride on those cart-like rear leaf springs felt rudimentary, the differential whined like a spoilt child and the legroom didn't feel great either." Sanya has fonder memories: ‏"Aw. RIP Ambassador," she tweets. "I drove this one for 10 days in 2009 from Goa - Kerala, through Tamil Nadu." Jodie tweets that she has "very fond memories of journeys through Kolkata in these iconic cars". Motoring TV presenter Paul Woodford ‏says: "Is it just me who now quite fancies having a go in one? Ambassador single make #rally series anyone?"

An epitaph for India's 'appalling' national car

I'll be your mirror
Woman looking in mirror

AL Kennedy argues that the British have much to gain from seeing themselves as other see them. "Possibly, if we behaved more like a healthy, outgoing individual as a nation and took account of others' opinions of us then we might get more help, feel more part of the world community and be more lucky, make those chance connections that can change our lives, move outside the rigid habits and assumptions that reassure but also trap us," she writes. She suggests that David Cameron might go down better Brussels he and George Osborne turned up together and "just hit each other with fish". Intriguing. Timo Peach tweets: "Thought provoking; can you give a nation a wake-up call?" "Nothing wrong with some healthy introspection," adds Larry Brangwyn.

To see yourself as others do

Bidet - or "small horse" in French
cat in bidet

This cat is dozing in a bidet. If you've never used one, you can't appreciate its sublime daily convenience, writes Dany Mitzman from Bologna. They were invented by the French - bidet originally meant "a small horse", "a nag" in French - but have become a symbol of Italian hygiene supremacy. Building laws ensure that every home has one. "I'm tickled by the horror [Italians] experience over improper use of the bidet by foreigners," writes Mitzman. We asked readers what they did when they stayed somewhere with a bidet. The results are shown below. But, even better, on Tuesday 15 July, we will publish a selection of readers' revelations regarding their bidet use. Hint: Christmas turkey.

Bidet vote

Roots Faversham tweets: "We have the modern version on display, it's called a shower toilet." ViewFromItaly ‏adds: "How the British can go without a bidet, I dont know!"

The joy of bidets

A dog's life
Dog getting washing out of the washing machine

This dog is emptying the washing machine. It's an assistance dog and helping out around the house means it gets to wear a purple bib. Red bibs are reserved for the medical detection dogs that can detect when diabetics' blood sugar levels are low wears a red one. Training for each role is long and complex, and it's not unusual for dogs to have a bib swap, or "career change". Which dogs get the white harness with fluorescent strips? Find out in Kathleen Hawkins' guide.

A guide to assistance dogs

Is there a statistician in the house?
A confused doctor

There are three types of people in the world, or so the joke goes. Those who understand maths and those who don't. Worryingly, the latter group contains a substantial number of doctors, according to statistician Gerd Gigerenzer. "It's not a problem of the medical mind," he told the Magazine this week. "It's a problem of training at the universities, in the medical departments where young doctors are trained in everything except statistical thinking." Gigerenzer worries that when medics misunderstand the statistical risks of treatment, they will revert to what he calls defensive medicine, "where they protect themselves against you as a patient". Rosie Campbell ‏tweets: "Statistics are weird. Probability is so unintuitive that even highly trained people often misinterpret results."

Do doctors understand test results?

A plus-size problem?

Graph showing rising obesity in selected countries

Warnings that children alive today will die younger than their parents are heard with increased frequency. The prediction has been popularised by Michelle Obama and Jamie Oliver and there is some scholarly research to back it up. There is another school of thought among researchers, however, that being fatter may actually lengthen rather than shorten life - but while obese people may live longer, their quality of life may be low.‏ Shyama Perera tweets: "Obesity is not good or bad but a matter of statistics." "Interesting data and perspectives on obesity trends," adds Nick Chiarelli.

Will today's children die earlier than their parents?

Screen savers

1914 The Teletext Engine by Dan Farrimond 1914 The Teletext Engine by Dan Farrimond

Teletext, a British invention from the 1970s phased out in the UK in 2012, remains popular in much of Europe. Berlin's International Teletext Art Festival showcases the work of artists who have repurposed the medium to create striking images. Some of the artworks include lucky fortune cats, Mozart and The A-Team's Mr-T. "There's an actual festival celebrating Teletext... a whole festival. Brilliant!" says Des Henderson. Meanwhile, Dave Stow tweets: "God I so miss BBC Micro mode 7."

Teletext art hits Berlin

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

Ghosts of Greenwood - ProPublica

Queen's Tragic Rhapsody - Rolling Stone

How a Mexican Cartel Demolished a Town, Incinerated Hundreds of Victims, and Got Away With It - Vice

Everest's Deadliest Season - Outside

Lance Armstrong in Purgatory: The After-Life - Esquire

The Mystery of the Vanishing Screwball - New York Times

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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.

Wimbledon in figures

Monday: Novak Djokovic's thrilling Wimbledon win over Roger Federer, by the numbers

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Giant bird turns goalkeeper

Tuesday: The fossilised remains of the largest flying bird are found by scientists

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Germany and Brazil

Wednesday: Brazil's seven-goal humbling saw tweeting records tumble too

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Image from the Matrix

Thursday: Record-breaking net speeds could let you download a 1080p HD movie in seconds

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Children with HIV

Friday: A US girl born with HIV but thought to be cured is found to still have the virus

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Find #BBCGoFigure on Twitter and on Facebook


Are coin-locks on trolleys a bad idea?

Putting a coin in supermarket trolley

The supermarket chain Morrisons says it will be removing the locks from 150,000 coin-activated shopping trolleys nationwide. Is this a good idea, and how does it affect businesses, asks Chris Stokel-Walker.

It's a moment many shoppers know well - arriving at a long row of tethered shopping trolleys to discover you're lacking a pound coin to release a cart from the chain.

Scrabbling around in cars and searching through wallets and purses for spare change is something few of us can afford in our time-pressed lives, says Morrisons' chief executive Dalton Philips. The retailer is to remove locks on trolleys at 279 of its shops. It points to its own research which shows that 43% of customers think the locks are inconvenient. A quarter of those the supermarket surveyed had a handful of coppers, or a £5 note, when what they needed was a £1 coin to borrow a trolley.

But locks will remain on trolleys used in shops on hillsides, for fear of runaway carts escaping at speed (if not necessarily in a straight line) and in city centre stores, where most trolley thefts take place. Supermarkets suffer a lot of thefts - 1.5 million are removed from shops every year, according to Trolleywise, a company that retrieves around a third of all misplaced trolleys.

"Losses can depend on the demographics of each area," says Stewart Turner of Trolleywise. Until its recent decision Morrisons had placed locks on all its trolleys, but other retailers pick and choose in which areas to install locks, focusing on city centres and areas of high crime. Trolleys can cost £80 each, so the financial cost of replacing those mislaid, "borrowed" or stolen can be high.

Coin locks are "a very good management tool, encouraging people to put trolleys in central bases rather than left in car parks, and a decent deterrent to thieves", says Turner.

As to whether removing the coin locks will have a negative effect on areas near supermarkets, he's less sure: "Some stores may experience a higher loss, but there's often no rhyme or reason to it."

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Caption Challenge: Bowled over

A child dances at a toilet exhibition in the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo.

Winning entries in the Caption Competition.

The competition is now closed.

This week, a child dances at a toilet exhibition in Tokyo's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.

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

6. Colin:

John, I'm only dancing.

5. Ashley B:

Flushdance.

4. Rory:

Henry the hoover, is that you? You're looking a little flushed.

3. B Jackson:

Look Dad, Pan's People.

2. Jim Nicol:

It's no use. I can't go when there's someone watching me.

1. Liam Higgins:

Trapped in the room after two litres of squash, Katie began to hallucinate.

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

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What's happening to train wi-fi?

Woman using mobile on train

The UK government is promising to improve wi-fi connectivity on trains, while making services up to 10 times faster. What will happen, asks Justin Parkinson.

Train passengers hate it when wi-fi cuts out. It stops them getting work done, denies them access to the latest news and prevents them keeping in touch with others via emails and social media.

Ministers are promising that a £90m upgrade across England and Wales will stop them being "constantly disrupted by poor signal". This will be part-funded by a £53.1m fine levied on Network Rail for failing to ensure enough trains run on time. It is expected that a universal service, offering broadband speeds up to 10 times the current level, free to all train users, will be in place within a few years.

The answer

  • Network Rail is setting up its own transmitters along lines in England and Wales to ensure blanket coverage
  • Operators are updating receivers and wi-fi hubs on board trains

Currently trains receive 3G signal from ordinary mobile phone masts, which is "forwarded" to passengers through an onboard wi-fi system. Provision can be patchy, particularly in rural areas or when passing through tunnels or by embankments. Operating companies often charge for connections while on board, while several do not offer any wi-fi at all.

Network Rail is installing its own transmitters along lines, which it says will get the whole network connected. The government's latest announcement is about upgrading the trains themselves to ensure they pick up the signals and distribute them quickly to carriages via the upgraded onboard wi-fi system.

There will be enough capacity to deal with all passengers' needs "and then some", a Network Rail source says. Users of routes into London, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield are expected to be among the first to benefit, within "three or four years". So, will it turn trains into a better working environment?

"These things are announced by the government, but the detail comes later," says Trevor Tupper, treasurer of the West Sussex Rail Users Association. "So we shall have to see."

Some other European countries, including Sweden, have updated their on-train wi-fi. "It used to be that we kept losing connectivity," says Henrik Torstensson, chief executive of Lifesum, a health app company. "But now you can do quite heavy-duty work on the train. It's not quite state-of-the-art but the coverage is very good. The only problem I've encountered is that too many people want to use it as it's so popular."

But not everyone will welcome more connectivity. "When I started commuting people liked to have a sleep after reading the paper, which was nice," says Tupper. "Now they are working from the start of their morning journey until they get home at night."

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What is 'raw' chocolate?

Chocolate

"Raw" chocolate is being sold as the latest "superfood", but what is it and why is it getting more popular, asks Justin Parkinson.

Making chocolate is complicated. Cacao beans have to be picked before being fermented, roasted, ground down, pressed, mixed with fat and sugar and turned into bars and other sweets.

Several companies in Europe, the US and Asia have decided to alter one of the processes and no longer roast the beans. They insist that growers in Africa and South America leave them outdoors to dry naturally instead. The resulting product is called "raw" chocolate.

Manufacturers claim that avoiding exposure to oven temperatures allows the preservation of nutrients such as iron, zinc, magnesium, copper and vitamin C, in a similar way to uncooked vegetables. It's also claimed that uncooked cacao contains higher levels of antioxidants than the roasted variety used in most chocolate.

The answer

  • Beans are not roasted before making raw chocolate
  • Advocates say this makes end product taste better and contain more antioxidants
  • But thorough research has not yet been done

Raw-chocolate makers say their beans never reach temperatures of more than 42C. The friction level of the machine used to grind them is checked to ensure it doesn't make them too hot.

"Over the last 10 years, consumers have become more involved in their food and drink and more discerning," says Kris McGowan, who runs the Raw Chocolate Company. "They care a lot more about its healthy qualities and chocolate is no exception. It's a win-win, as it combines better health benefits with luxuriance."

But Martin Schweizer, professor of biochemistry at Heriot-Watt University, urges caution on describing raw chocolate as a superfood until more research is carried out. "We have to look at this in more depth, including the level of components in each. The research is at a fairly early stage."

Raw chocolate, reportedly the variety eaten by most people in cacao-growing regions, is said to have a more natural taste than that using roasted beans.

There are concerns that not blasting them with heat of up to about 150C could mean an increase in bacteria such as salmonella. However, producers insist that, as no animal products are involved, there is no greater risk than when dealing with vegetables such as carrots or lettuces.

Raw chocolate still accounts for a very small proportion of the UK's sales, worth £2.5bn in the year to last September, although some of the major UK supermarkets have started stocking it.

Jennifer Earle, a writer on chocolate, is unconvinced by it on taste grounds. "You're better off having some ordinary high-cocoa chocolate. It's the quality of the cacao that makes a difference, not whether the chocolate's 'raw' or not," she says. "And if you're talking about health, I'd rather eat some top-quality ordinary chocolate and have a plate of vegetables afterwards instead."

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A big week of statistical rows

London skyline

Last week was a big one for arguments about numbers, says Anthony Reuben.

First of all we had the row about what proportion of new private sector jobs were created in London. It was an unusually big disagreement, with Labour saying 80% had been created in London in the last four years, while the Conservatives said 80% had been created outside London.

Labour was using figures from a report earlier this year by the Centre for Cities. The trouble is, those figures aren't for the last four years - they are for 2010 to 2012.

The Office for National Statistics' preferred figure for this is its Public Sector Employment (PSE) figures. They go up to the end of March 2014, and they suggest that 26% of net new private sector jobs were created in the capital in the last four years.

The Centre for Cities managed to get to 80% by using a different ONS data-set, the Business Register and Employment Survey (BRES) and then using a different definition of public and private sector to the official one. But the Centre for Cities defended its use of the BRES data.

"It is the most up-to-date, publicly available source of data at a city-level for workplace jobs - and we focus on cities, not regions, so it is therefore a better fit to understand the detail of city economies than other sources," says chief executive Alexandra Jones.

Taking your figures from different years makes a big difference - not a lot of private sector jobs were being created in 2010 and 2011.

One economist I spoke to summed it up by saying: "London did do substantially better over the period, but this is a bad way of looking at it."

Skills and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock was so upset he referred the matter to the UK Statistics Authority.

Then at Prime Ministers' Questions, the battleground moved to waiting times at Accident and Emergency units.

The argument started badly in statistical terms, with Labour leader Ed Miliband saying that in the last four years the number of people waiting more than four hours at A&E had gone up from 353,000 to 939,000. "That's an increase of 300%," he said. It's not, of course, it's an increase of 166%.

The House of Commons Library, which helps Members of Parliament with their sums, weighed into the debate with a blog on A&E waiting times, which was later taken down on the grounds that "it does not meet our expected standards of impartiality".

The blog examined the Prime Minister's claim that average waiting times in A&E had fallen from 77 minutes under the last government to 30 minutes today.

It identified this figure as being the mean (add up all the waiting time and divide by the number of patients), which it said was an unhelpful measure, preferring to use the median (the time that half of patients have waited for longer than and half shorter than) which is pretty much unchanged.

Also, it pointed out that this was the time waited until first assessment, whereas the more useful figure is the time until treatment, which is either unchanged or has risen slightly.

So a bunch of disagreements. Anyone would think we were getting close to a general election.

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Strange tale of the 4 July firework disaster

Victorian illustration of mother and son

Author Jeremy Clay recounts an extraordinary 19th Century effort at a complicated medical procedure.

He should have known better, even at such a tender age. Stuffing his pocket with firecrackers wasn't a smart idea. Wandering through giddy crowds who were setting off rockets willy-nilly made it worse. But pulling out those firecrackers with a hand holding a lit fuse… well, that was just asking for trouble.

He got it, too. On 4 July 1894, as Montclair in New Jersey celebrated Independence Day, those firecrackers ignited in a riot of red, white and blue flashes.

And at another time, in another place, that may have been where the story of Frederick Griffith came to an abrupt, untimely end, with a few cheerless lines in his local paper detailing his ghastly last moments.

But Freddie's doctor had other ideas.

When Dr Case rushed to the scene, he feared the boy was a goner. But Freddie was made of sterner stuff. And as he clung to life, an ambitious plan began to form in the medic's mind - a skin-grafting venture on an epic scale.

Victorian strangeness

Railway crash 1868

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

What followed, according to a report in the Gloucester Citizen, was possibly "the strangest contribution made by one set of human beings to another in the whole history of altruism".

Freddie's mum was the first to volunteer. Mrs Griffith - a "handsome, well developed woman," according to one report - offered 100 pinhead-sized pieces of skin from her quivering arm to be grafted on to her 12-year-old son. His dad - the paper neglected to tell its readers about his looks or comment on the wobbliness of his limbs - went next.

And as word spread, the townsfolk of Montclair arrived to make their own donations. Walter Gibson gave 175 pieces of skin; Milton Gibson, 250; John Drake and Frederick Ranney, 300 each. And still more came: Shellman Stewart, Langdon Howes, Murray Sanders, Robert Henning, Albert Wallace.

On and on and on it went, a burst of communal kind-heartedness so uplifting it makes the final frames of It's A Wonderful Life seem like they skimped on good cheer.

All the while, Dr Case kept tally, totting up the number of grafts on the wallpaper by the boy's bed, When reporters arrived at Freddie's house that November, the score had reached almost 1,800 and it was hard to tell precisely where the boy ended and the town began.

"By next February," added the Citizen, "the doctors hope to have entirely completed the upholstering of the little patient."

Until then, the kid they called the Patchwork Boy was confined to bed, immobile but in good spirits, passing away the days reading, drawing and painting, propped up in the window of his front room, gazing out on the town that stitched him back together.

But as to his long-term fate, the newspapers are sadly silent.

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

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Illustrated Police News image provided by The British Library Board.


10 things we didn't know last week

kangaroo hopping

1. Detainees at Guantanamo are allowed to watch the World Cup but don't see it live - it is made available a day later to ensure nothing subversive can be conveyed.

Find out more (FT)

2. Kangaroos use their tails as a third leg.

Find out more (Guardian)

3. When making a decision, former England and Derbyshire fast bowler Devon Malcolm asks himself: "What would Margaret Beckett do?"

Find out more (All Out Cricket)

4. Marinading meat in beer before a barbecue cuts the number of harmful particles that form on the meat.

Find out more (Economist)

5. Paul Weller's guilty pleasure is to watch a rom-com with a plate of After Eights.

Find out more (Guardian)

6. The gene that helps Tibetans live at altitude comes from an extinct human species, the Denisovans.

Find out more (New Scientist)

7. Wild chimps communicate 19 specific messages to one another with a "lexicon" of 66 gestures.

Find out more

8. Lord Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, spends up to 40 minutes a day squatting and repeating an Eastern Orthodox prayer.

Find out more (Daily Telegraph)

9. Hail nets - common in wine-growing areas - are banned in Burgundy.

Find out more (Dr. Vino)

10. Men would rather give themselves electric shocks than be left alone with their thoughts.

Find out more (Guardian)

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

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Weekendish: Hay fever discovered and Ganges swimming

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

Boy splashing in the Ganges

Sewage, industrial waste and the remains of partially cremated bodies - this is what you might encounter in the River Ganges if you swam in it. Why would anyone want to do that, you might ask. Well, around the ancient city of Varanasi, hundreds of children take the swimming lessons every summer, from April into the rainy season, in addition to the thousands who wash or bathe in the holy river at other times of day. The parents appear to assume that because the river is holy, nothing will happen to their children. "The water is unique," says swimming coach Pramod Sahni. "Once you drink you want to drink again." Sound advice? Find out in The river where swimming lessons can be a health hazard. Warning for the faint hearted, there is a picture of a rat. It is dead. Geography Dept ‏tweets: Effects of industrialisation and urbanisation on Mother Ganges

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Indian sigh: Spirtual Walk

Anyone who travels beyond Delhi and Mumbai to India's provincial cities will notice English words cropping up increasingly in Hindi conversation. It's Hindi, Hindi, Hindi, and then suddenly an English word or phrase is dropped in: "Job", "love story" or "adjust". Take the word "tension". This is used as a noun ("don't give me tension"), verb ("don't tension me"), and adjective ("that was a very tension exam"). Joshua Valin tweets: "So many clever #IndianEnglish usages, including timepass, Stepney, nighthold, miss call & back and jack. #linguistics", while Stephen Heard adds: "I have simply *got* to have some hands-free underpants." Find out about that underwear English explodes in India - and it's not just Hinglish.

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Portrait of John Bostock John Bostock was sneezy in June

Bleeding, cold baths, opium and self-induced vomiting - and still Liverpool-born London doctor John Bostock couldn't find relief from the catarrh and blockages of the sinus that plagued him every summer. This was the early 19th Century and hay fever wasn't known about. Bostock was sure that his ailments weren't exclusive to him and set about trying to find fellow sufferers. "This was thinking outside the box," says Maureen Jenkins, director of clinical services at Allergy UK. "It's marvellous, really, how determined he was to prove the point. He was convinced that it was caused by something that happened in the summer, even when no-one else was." Read about the man who 'discovered' hay fever. Nick Browning tweets: "2 months ago, I eliminated refined carbs. 1st ever summer without hay fever symptoms."

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Ben Sansum

Ben Sansum is 35, but he lives in 1946. He wears 1940s clothes, has a 1940s toilet (a bucket) and an original Victorian range cooker, which he polishes every day. His one concession is a fridge, which is carefully hidden behind some vintage fabric. "I used to hope that one day I'd have someone live with me and we'd be compatible," he says. "But I think my interests are so extreme that my partner has a modern house and I have a period house - we have a house each." Watch the short film of the man who lives in 1946. Victoria Stamps tweets: "This is a delicious combination of fabulous and bonkers." Finsbury Park adds: "Huge kudos to #BenSansum Blinkered minds will write him off as an eccentric, but huge credit for his commitment!"

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Tour de France riders on the Plympton bypass

Forty years ago the world's biggest bike race, the Tour de France crossed the channel for the first time. It had all been the idea of the artichoke growers of Brittany. However, the slightly strange Plymouth stage was such a disaster the Tour did not return to the UK for another 20 years. But was British ignorance to blame? SW Tour of Britain tweets: "Who knew @letour first visited the UK in 1974 with a SW stage? I'd like to think we've learnt a bit since then".

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test

As the Queen officially names the first of the UK's new-generation aircraft carriers, comparisons have been drawn to a 50-year-old plan for the super-carrier that never was. Like the new ship, the CVA-01 would have been called HMS Queen Elizabeth, but pretty much all that remains of her - apart from a few architect drawings and artist impressions - is a model in a storeroom at the Fleet Air Arm museum at Yeovilton. Meant to replace the navy's then ageing carrier fleet, she would have been a radical new design for her day, with a new 3D radar, a novel flight deck arrangement, and other innovations. Like the new carriers, she was also hugely controversial and the subject of bitter inter-service rivalry, with arguments over whether she was too large and too ambitious. But, unlike the new ships, she was cancelled in 1966 before an order was ever placed. The then-Labour government was facing economic pressure and a sterling crisis, and looking to cut defence spending as Britain's post-Imperial world role diminished. It was decided that the navy's carriers had to go. The aircraft carrier that had to go

Also: The Queen smashed a bottle of whisky on the hull of the new carrier, in a break from the traditional champagne. But how did champagne become the tradition? Who, what, why: Why is champagne traditional for smashing on ships?

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

The Company Where Everyone Knows Everyone Else's Salary - NPR

How Much The Kardashians Have Changed In Less Than A Decade - Buzzfeed

Why boredom is good for us - Slate

An entire island nation is preparing to evacuate to Fiji before they sink into the Pacific - Quartz

The periodic table of storytelling - designthroughstorytelling

The battle against comfort eating - The Guardian

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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.

How much rubbish do muddy music lovers generate

Monday: Clean up begins after the Glastonbury music festival in Somerset.

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Scientists say climate change likely to affect Antarctica's emperor penguins

Tuesday: Scientists say climate change is likely to affect Antarctica's emperor penguins.

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Chilean devil rays, huge warm-water fish, discovered plunging to ice-cold depths

Wednesday: Warm water Chilean devil rays are discovered plunging to ice-cold depths.

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Around 1.3bn tonnes of food is lost or wasted each year - enough to feed millions

Thursday: Around 1.3bn tonnes of food is lost or wasted each year - enough to feed millions .

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The minimum weight for bikes in the Tour de France is lighter than a whippet

Friday: The Tour de France bike race is due to start its first stage this year in Yorkshire.

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Find #BBCGoFigure on Twitter and on Facebook


Why is champagne traditional for smashing on ships?

A bottle of champagne smashing against a ship

The Queen will smash a bottle of whisky on the hull of the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in a break from the traditional champagne. But how did champagne become the tradition, asks Lucy Townsend.

When Queen Victoria launched HMS Royal Arthur in 1891 she smashed a bottle of champagne against it. It is believed to be one of the first instances of the drink being used in this way.

"It was a very prestigious warship with a royal name so champagne would have seemed fitting, it's a celebratory drink, but before that it had been the tradition to use [other] wine," says John Graves, curator of ship history at the National Maritime Museum.

Launching a ship has always been accompanied by ceremony. The Babylonians would sacrifice oxen, while the Vikings sacrificed a slave to propitiate their sea god.

Wine became customary in England in the 15th Century when a representative of the king would drink a goblet of wine, sprinkle wine on the deck and then throw the goblet overboard.

The answer

  • Champagne started being used in the late 19th Century
  • It was thought to be more celebratory than wine, which had been traditional previously

"It would have been much cheaper to smash a bottle," Graves adds.

"In the 18th Century the Royal Navy launched so many ships that throwing a silver goblet overboard each time would have become very expensive - so they started using bottles.

"It's quite a clear progression. The red of the wine would have looked a bit like the blood from earlier centuries, and the move to champagne would have been all about the celebration - champagne is the aristocrat of wines."

The Duchess of Cambridge watches a bottle of champagne smash against the Royal Princess ship The Duchess of Cambridge watches a bottle of champagne smash against the 'Royal Princess' ship
Mrs Leif Egeland, wife of the South African High Commissioner, smashes a bottle against the Intermediate Class liner MV 'Bloemfontein Castle' at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast Mrs Leif Egeland, wife of the South African High Commissioner, breaks a bottle against the Intermediate Class liner MV 'Bloemfontein Castle' at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast
A boy prepares to smash a bottle against his boat This is probably not champagne

In the US, whiskey has been used in the past - the USS Princeton and the USS Raritan were launched using whiskey in the 1845 and 43.

In 1797 the captain of the frigate USS Constitution broke a bottle of madeira wine to mark her launch, while in 1862, Commodore Charles Stewart christened the New Ironsides in Philadelphia by smashing a bottle of brandy over her bow.

"During prohibition water was used in the US to launch a ship," Graves adds. "It would be water from the sea the vessel was to be launched into."

But champagne is now the drink smashed against most ships - though Graves adds that there may be a better alternative.

"I have been told by many ship builders that cheap cava creates a more spectacular display - it's much bubblier that champagne."

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Why does the sum 7x8 catch people out?

Times tables on a blackboard

A group of children asked UK Chancellor George Osborne a "times table" question. He refused to answer. Why, asks Justin Parkinson.

It's one of those questions politicians dread. Along with knowing the price of a pint of milk or a loaf of bread, they hate being asked how to spell a word or to complete a basic sum, for fear of making an embarrassing mistake.

So Chancellor George Osborne had an instant response when a seven-year-old boy, one of a panel of youngsters interviewing him on Sky News, inquired: "What's seven times eight?" "I've made it a rule in life not to answer," the man in charge of the UK economy replied.

Osborne, who did A-level maths, was probably aware of the ridicule faced by Labour schools minister Stephen Byers in 1998 when he incorrectly worked out that the same sum - 7 x 8 - came to 54. The correct answer is 56. At the time, Downing Street called the minister's ordeal "one of those character-forming events".

Times table graphic The percentages of pupils at Caddington Village School who got various multiplication sums wrong. Flurrish questioned 232 children.

But Mike Ellicock, chief executive of the charity National Numeracy, is not happy. "This sort of thing wouldn't happen in other countries," he says. "It shows something about our attitude to maths. If you asked the same thing in France, it would be the equivalent to asking if a minister could read."

Children have learned their "times table" - going from "one times one is one" all the way up to "12 x 12 = 144" - for generations, but certain spot questions cause more problems than others.

Research by the educational technology firm Flurrish suggests the one pupils find most difficult is "six times eight" (answer: 48). Some 62.5% of the children questioned at Caddington Village School in Bedfordshire got it wrong. The sum demanded of Osborne and Byers was deemed the seventh toughest, flummoxing 47%.

"It's those numbers near the middle that kids find the hardest - the sixes, sevens, eights and nines," says Flurrish's director Mike Smith. "It gets even more difficult when they try to multiply them by each other. Dealing in small numbers, as well as fives, tens and elevens, is far easier."

Education Secretary Michael Gove wants all pupils in England to know all their times tables by the age of nine.

Ellicock agrees that this is important, but as part of a wider effort to teach the techniques and understanding of this and other aspects of maths.

"When you put people on the spot and ask quick questions, it creates a physiological response," he says. "Pupils dilate and the heart rate rises, as people are waiting for you to get it wrong. We need a different approach. I think George Osborne was probably right not to answer."

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More from the Magazine: In praise of the 12 times table
Dozen eggs

Want to multiply 11 by 23? Just take the two digits 2 and 3, add them together (makes 5) and put that number in the middle - 253. What about 36 x 11? Again, split the 3 and the 6 and put their sum (9) in the middle - 396. Lovely - though take care, if the two digits add to more than 9, this nifty trick doesn't work so neatly. 58 x 11... well 5+8 = 13, but the answer isn't 5138, that "1" actually represents a 100, and needs to be added to the 5 to give the answer 638.

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Caption Challenge: Dog's dinner

Dog

Winning entries in the Caption Challenge.

The competition is now closed.

This week a dog dines at a pop-up restaurant for canines in the Czech Republic.

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

6. Chris Folan

"Waiter - there's no fly in my soup."

5. Ben:

"The food's ok but I prefer the place where I get to eat spaghetti with that nice looking posh dog."

4. Catherine O:

"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more."

3. IABP:

"Can you put the left-overs in a humanity bag, please?"

2. John Dixon:

Whine list please.

1. Dave Regan:

"Excuse me waiter, can you tell me the way to the tree?"

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

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DWP leads the way on stats complaints

Writing lines of I must not misuse statistics

If government departments do questionable things with statistics you can send them to the headmaster, writes Anthony Reuben.

In this case, the headmaster is the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) and its chair Sir Andrew Dilnot.

Sometimes people complain about the use of a statistic and sometimes the UKSA undertakes its own investigations. It then writes letters with its conclusions, which are published on its website.

I've spent the last few days reading all the letters it has sent out since it was established in 2008, because that's the sort of thing I do.

I concentrated on letters that were critical or suggested changes were needed.

Since the last General Election in 2010 there have been 47 such letters, and 16 of those have been about the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

If you go back to 2008 it's 16 out of 59.

To put that into context, the department in second place was the Department of Health with five. The Office for National Statistics, which produces about one third of official statistics, had three.

There was a range of actions being criticised.

In April this year, for example, the UKSA criticised the DWP for saying in a press release that more than 50% of decisions on disability living allowance are made on the basis of the claim form alone without any additional corroborating medical evidence, when the figure should actually have been 10%.

In March it criticised employment minister Esther McVey for telling the House of Commons that unemployment had fallen 400,000 since the general election, when it had actually only fallen by 7,000.

So what's going on? The UKSA said in a statement: "The proportion of concerns raised with us about the DWP reflects a range of factors, including the salience of the policy initiatives undertaken by the department; the range of interests affected by the delivery of the department's policies; the complexity of the systems the department implements; and the department's statistical practices."

So in other words, people are more likely to complain about DWP errors because they are in controversial areas. But is that really enough to account for the gulf between the DWP and other departments that produce considerably more statistics?

The department itself said: "Since May 2010 the DWP has led the way in openness and transparency of statistical releases by publishing more than 770 releases and datasets.

"Great care is taken to get things right, and in this time the UKSA has only written direct to DWP Ministers on two occasions about issues raised with it on DWP statistics. DWP has responded to these points and taken on board UKSA's suggestions."

It's worth mentioning that the UKSA does not generally write to the minister - it writes to the person who has complained and sends a copy to the minister. Misusing statistics again? You decide.

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Could Tourette's syndrome make a goalkeeper better?

Tim Howard makes a save against Belgium

Tim Howard's World Cup goalkeeping has been universally acclaimed. Might his Tourette's syndrome explain some element of his superb reactions?

It was a remarkable display - 15 saves in a single World Cup match. Although it wasn't enough to prevent his team losing to Belgium, USA keeper Tim Howard's fine performance has been one of the highlights of the tournament.

Previously, the Everton player has suggested that the fact he lives with Tourette's syndrome - a condition characterised by multiple motor tics, and at least one vocal tic - has made him a better athlete. At the age of 18 or 19 "I realised I was faster than others when it came to certain movements, and that these reflexes were linked to my disorder", he told the German newspaper Spiegel in 2013. Is he correct?

The answer

  • People with Tourette's tend to be very good at controlling their voluntary movements
  • Activities that require concentration like sport and music can help reduce tics

He might be. Studies have shown that individuals with Tourette's are "super-good at controlling their voluntary movements", says Georgina Jackson, professor of cognitive neuropsychology at the University of Nottingham. A hypothesis is that people with the condition become highly conscious of their physical actions as they learn to control their tics.

People with Tourette's commonly say that activities requiring concentration - such as playing sport or a musical instrument - can help to alleviate their symptoms. A recent study in which Jackson participated suggested that physical exercise significantly reduced tic rates among people with Tourette's. "This control mechanism kicks in that allows them to perform," she says. "That has benefits for your voluntary movements, whether it's goalkeeping or at laboratory level." As Howard himself told Der Speigel: "As soon as things get serious in front of the goal, I don't have any twitches; my muscles obey me then."

Reducing tics at certain points in time should not be confused with a cure, says Jess Thom, co-founder of the website Touretteshero. Nonetheless, she hopes Howard's extraordinary performance in Brazil will have a positive impact beyond football. "Having role models is very important - especially with a condition like Tourette's that is subject to so much myth."

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What happened to Rolf Harris's portrait of the Queen?

Rolf Harris with his portrait

One of disgraced entertainer Rolf Harris's highest profile works of art was his portrait of the Queen, but where is the painting now?

Questions have been asked about the work amid speculation about Harris facing compensation claims after being convicted of a series of sex attacks.

Harris's oil painting was undertaken as part of a BBC television documentary to mark the Queen's 80th birthday. The monarch sat twice for Harris to paint her over the summer of 2005.

After it was unveiled in December that year, the portrait, which took Harris two months to complete, initially went on public display at the Queen's Gallery in Buckingham Palace.

But this was just a six-month display. A Royal Collection spokeswoman says: "It was only loaned to us briefly". She says she did not know where the painting, which is not part of the Royal Collection, ended up.

The answer

  • Last displayed in Liverpool in 2012, it is likely to have been returned to Harris
  • Both the BBC and the Royal Collection say they do not have it

The BBC, which originally approached Buckingham Palace asking whether the Queen would be willing to sit for the painting, said it was not in its possession.

"We've been asked about this before and the position hasn't changed. The BBC does not have this painting in its collection," a spokeswoman says. She would not address the issue of the painting's ownership.

Harris offered the painting to the National Portrait Gallery, but it was turned down.

The work appears to have been most recently displayed by Liverpool's Walker Gallery, which said it had been part of Harris's private collection. It was on show in 2012 as part of an exhibition of his work, all of which came from private owners.

A Walker Gallery spokeswoman says that after the exhibition finished in August 2012, the painting was returned to Whitewall Galleries, which is understood to have had a commercial relationship with Harris. Harris launched the gallery chain's Liverpool branch in 2011 and a Google search shows that his work was previously listed on the Whitewall Galleries website, although he has now been removed.

Whitewall Galleries has yet to respond to requests for a comment and it is not known whether the painting is in Whitewall's, or Harris's, possession.

Bell Pottinger, the PR firm hired to represent Harris during his trial, could not confirm whether the 84-year-old had the painting in his possession.

It is unclear how much the Queen portrait or any of Harris's other work is now worth. After being valued at £50,000 on the BBC's Antiques Roadshow, a Harris painting of singer Bonnie Tyler failed to meet its £25,000 reserve price with auctioneer John Taylors, in Louth, in 2012.

James Laverack, of John Taylors, said Harris was a "talented artist" but the value of his work would have "dropped considerably" since the abuse allegations first emerged.

"Prices started to rise when he did the Queen's portrait, and he became considered a serious artist rather than just a TV celebrity," says Laverack.

It will be hard to gauge the extent of the value drop until some of Harris's works next goes to auction, he added.

Do you have art by Rolf Harris? What do you intend to do with it? Get in touch using the following page.

Reporting by Tom Moseley

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Where is the hardest place in the UK to be a busker?

Busker

Police in London are using a 175-year-old law to arrest buskers, it has been reported. Which parts of the country have the most stringent restrictions on street performers?

Section 54 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, which also prohibits kite-flying, sleigh-riding and doorbell-ringing, was used to justify the arrest of four young musicians who had been performing in London's Leicester Square in May, the House of Lords was told.

Busking is not illegal in the UK but many council byelaws are more stringent than others when it comes to regulating the practice. In the City of London there is "no provision for licensing busking", according to the Corporation's website. It's "the last place you'd go to busk", says Jonny Walker of the Association of Street Artists and Performers.

However, under the London Local Authorities Act 2000, councils can give themselves the power to seize unlicensed buskers' equipment, sell their instruments and impose fines of £1000. The only two authorities to have adopted them are Camden and Hillingdon. Arguably these penalties "are even more draconian", says Walker. Campaigners against the legislation in Camden said they will now take the case to the Court of Appeal.

The answer

  • There is "no provision for licensing busking" in the City of London and Camden and Hillingdon have tough rules
  • But places like Cambridge, Canterbury, Norwich and Winchester do not require a licence

But across the country the picture is "incredibly mixed", says Walker. Places like Oxford and Hull require buskers to register with the council. Southampton permits busking only in designated areas. By contrast, Bournemouth and Portsmouth have recently relaxed their licensing rules. Cathedral cities like Canterbury, Norwich and Winchester, where "the ancient tradition of public performance is strong", do not require any kind licence to busk. Neither does Cambridge.

There are other factors buskers have to take account of. Busking that takes place on private land requires the consent of the landowner. The Highways Act 1980 forbids buskers to obstruct roads and pavements. The Environmental Protection Act allows for noise abatement notices to be issued against nuisance buskers. Children under 14 are not permitted to busk. A street collection licence will be required if busking for charity and street trading laws regulate buskers who sell CDs and other merchandise. Under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, any street performer who gives "any other person reasonable cause for annoyance" is guilty of an offence north of the border.

No local authority's regulations match that of Henry VIII, who in 1530 ordered that any buskers who did not obey his licensing system be whipped for two consecutive days.

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