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22 September 2014 Last updated at 03:07

Do people lie in surveys?

Woman taking an opinion poll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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10 things we didn't know last week

Woman on the phone in office

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

Find out more (the Atlantic)

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

Find out more

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

Find out more (Independent)

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

Find out more

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

Find out more (the Times)

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

Find out more (Daily Telegraph)

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

Find out more (Economist)

8. Lithuania has a big problem with potholes.

Find out more

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

Find out more

10. Deer mothers respond to human baby cries.

Find out more (New Scientist)

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Go Figure: The week in numbers

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

Amazon observation tower

Monday: Brazil builds giant Amazon observation tower

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child mortality

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

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scotland referendum

Wednesday: Mass rallies mark referendum campaign climax

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Alibaba sells more than Amazon and eBay combined

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

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Highest  turnout in UK

Friday: Scotland votes 'No' to independence

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Weekendish: The best of the week's reads

Westgate attack, Nairobi, September 2013

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

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

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

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Sperm whale's eye

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

The freedivers who swim with whales

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Hitler at the Garrison Church, Potsdam
Should 'Hitler's church' be rebuilt?

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

The church described as a 'symbol of evil'

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Hampstead Heath sign
Out in the open

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

The tricky business of policing sex in public

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How do blind people dream?
A blind person holding a cane about o cross a road

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

Blindness, by those in the know

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Poirot and the case of the vanishing Belgians
Refugees arriving at Folkestone

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

How 250,000 Belgians didn't leave a trace

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

Inside Japan's love hotels - Vice

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

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

The Surprising Origin Story of Wonder Woman - Smithsonian Magazine

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

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

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Quiz of the week's news


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

Special lanes for pedestrians were introduced in a Chinese city. How were they split up?

Pedestrian lane
  1. Mobile phone and non-mobile phone users
  2. Doers and dreamers
  3. Quick and slow walkers

2.) Missing Word Question

* 'comes naturally' to chimpanzees

  1. Murder
  2. Dancing
  3. Scrabble

3.) Multiple Choice Question

Madrid this week named a square after which Briton?

Madrid on map
  1. Margaret Thatcher
  2. Winston Churchill
  3. Graham Greene
  4. John Lennon

4.) Multiple Choice Question

The latest innovation in funeral homes has been reported this week. What was it?

  1. Social media ceremonies
  2. Integral karaoke
  3. Drive-through funeral home

5.) Multiple Choice Question

What kind of restaurant was supposedly about to open in London before an internet backlash?

Dinner plate
  1. Council estate dinners
  2. Death row dinners
  3. Endangered species dinners

6.) Multiple Choice Question

Scientists in Canada have developed a high-tech chin strap. What does it do?

  1. Advises on how to shave
  2. Generates electricity from chewing
  3. Says you've drunk too much

7.) Multiple Choice Question

A video of which animal getting stuck on a Los Angeles escalator went viral this week?

  1. Rat
  2. Chihuahua
  3. Armadillo


  1. It was the mobile phone addicts. Some road users were sceptical about the safety benefits of the move in Chongqing.
  2. It's murder. A major study suggests that killing among chimpanzees results from normal competition, not human interference. Chimps cannot play Scrabble.
  3. It was the Plaza Margaret Thatcher. Commentators noted that the surrounding area has a reputation as the Spanish capital's most conservative.
  4. It was the drive-through funeral home. A parlour in Michigan has a viewing window to allow people to see loved ones without getting out of their car.
  5. It was death row dinners. A website for a themed pop-up diner was set up with photos of real inmates, prompting a backlash.
  6. The device generates power from jaws and may one day be used to power hearing aids and other small devices.
  7. It was a rat which seemingly did not realise it was fighting a losing battle against the handrail.

Your Score

0 - 3 : Rat race

4 - 6 : Roland Rat

7 - 7 : King Rat

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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The sugar company that is fighting back

A child eating a donut

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

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

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

More on sugar

Refined sugar

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

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

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

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Caption Challenge: We come in peace

Actors dressed as aliens

Winning entries in the Caption Challenge.

The competition is now closed.

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

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

6. Geoffrey Scott-Baker:

"No mate, this is the 143 bus to Clapham - the 49 goes to our leader."

5. Mike Monk:

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

4. Ian Stanley:

The new undercover ticket inspectors were quickly rumbled.

3. Russ:

"I think Mars is a request stop."

2. Ocean Lynagh:

First Contactless.

1. Robert Barker:

Nasa space programme announces new bus replacement service.

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

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

Olive oil and olives

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

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

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

Olive oil explained 19th Century-style
Mrs Beeton Mrs Beeton (1836-1865) was famous for her cookery and house-keeping books

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

- from Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, published in 1861


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

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

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

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Why don't children want to learn the violin?

Teenager with guitar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why are people not going on as many trips?

feet walking

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

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

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

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

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

Pedestrian sign by avenue of trees

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

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

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

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

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'The polar bears made me do it'

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

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

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

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

The painting covered by a Union Jack flag in 1984

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

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

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

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How long is the average tongue?

Nick Stoeberl

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

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

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

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

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

But Stoeberl is the first to exceed 10cm.

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

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10 things we didn't know last week

Baby crawling

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

Find out more (Newswise)

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

Find out more

3. People can answer word tests correctly while asleep.

Find out more

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

Find out more (The Guardian)

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

Find out more

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

Find out more

7. The largest hunting dinosaur probably ate whole sharks.

Find out more (New Scientist)

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

Find out more (The Times)

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

Find out more (Science Museum blog)

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

Find out more

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Weekendish: The best of the week's reads


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

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

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Wife on Mars
the couple in a bar

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

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The island factory
New island

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

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

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

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Enduring mystery
A 777 - the same model as MH370 - flying A Boeing 777 - the same type of plane as MH370

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

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

Living simply in a dumpster - The Atlantic

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

Mosquitoes really do prefer some people to others - Time

What's the Best Value at a Bar? Breaking down typical alcohol margins - Slate

How the global banana industry is killing the world's favourite fruit - Quartz

How the films you've seen influence your choice of dog - The Conversation

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Go Figure: The week in numbers

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


Monday: Hunt for missing flight MH370 enters new phase

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China new island

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

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oscar pistorius

Wednesday: Oscar Pistorius to learn his fate

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

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

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Find #BBCGoFigure on Twitter and on Facebook

Caption Challenge: Major spectacle

Man looks through a giant pair of glasses

Winning entries in the Caption Challenge.

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

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

6. Joshua Brown:

"Does my face look big in this?"

5. Jon:

The glasses are always greener on the other side.

4. Bernard Harper:

"I told you the 3D printer settings were wrong!"

3. Samantha Pegg:

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

2. Ian:

Google Glass: the early years.

1. Bramer:

Mr Gulliver is here to collect his prescription, sir.

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

Follow @BBCNewsMagazine on Twitter and on Facebook

The rebirth of canned beer

Selection of craft canned beers

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

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

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

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

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

The pioneers of canned craft beer
Craft Beer cans

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

1992: Switched to bottles after consumer resistance

1994: Mid-Coast brewery folded

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

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


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

Avalanche beer

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

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

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Would you live in a house clinging to a cliff?

Cliff House

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

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

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

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

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

Cliff House

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

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

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

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

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

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The art of cashing in on the royal baby


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The two-year baby gap - is it ideal?

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The tale of the parrot that started a fight

Scene of confusion with parrot at centre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victorian Strangeness

Illustration of a man carrying a pig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Weekendish: The best of the week's reads

Illustration of Royal Coat of Arms

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

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

How did Scotland change so much?

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Mum, mum and dad
Alana Saarinen at a piano

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

The girl with three biological parents

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My family and other animals
June and chimp playing with doll

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

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A flying elephant
Elephant in a plane

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

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Honest scrappers
Steptoe and Son

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

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

Nine Different Households, Surrounded by a Week's Worth Garbage - Smithsonian

The complete guide to having a productive weekend - Quartz

The Origin of the "Freshman 15" myth - The Atlantic

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

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10 things we didn't know last week


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

Find out more (Vice)

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

Find out more (Daily Mail)

3. Lebanon has a craft beer industry.

Find out more (The Economist)

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

Find out more (The Wire)

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

Find out more (The Guardian)

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

Find out more

7. Watching action films makes you eat more.

Find out more (Daily Telegraph)

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

Find out more

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

Find out more (QZ)

10. Archer fish adjust for distance when they spit.

Find out more

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

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Go Figure: The week in numbers

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

chickens graphic level of greenhouse gases

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

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Ice Bucket Challenge figures raised for ALS

Tuesday: How much has the ice bucket challenge achieved?

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corruption and poverty

Wednesday: Corruption 'impoverishes and kills millions'

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The biggest dinosaur, Dreadnoughtus Schrani

Thursday: 'Dreadnought' dinosaur yields big bone haul

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California blue whales

Friday: California blue whales bounce back to near historic numbers

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Find #BBCGoFigure on Twitter and on Facebook

Caption Challenge: Red alert

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

Winning entries in the Caption Challenge.

The competition is now closed.

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

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

6. Simon Curwood:

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

5. Lynda:

"...And the prize for the best Quavers-based sculpture goes to..."

4. Rod:

"Don't worry, I'll take the stray hairs out with Photoshop."

3. IABP:

Modern sundial gives the time in five different zones.

2. Matthew Leitch:

"Say 'Red Leicester.'"

1. Matt Whitby:

Ginger snaps.

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

Follow @BBCNewsMagazine on Twitter and on Facebook

Five tips for solving your own crimes


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

1. Keep your own CCTV as evidence

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

2. Take statements from neighbours

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

3. Invoke the wisdom of the crowd

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

4. Use the technology available to you

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

5. Don't pursue the criminals yourself

Perhaps the most important piece of advice is a simple one - by all means collect and collate evidence, but don't try and confront the criminals responsible yourself. That much can still be left to the police.

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The perils of being called Isis


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is the UK unusually fond of lamb and potatoes?

Rack of lamb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lamb recipes you'll always be happy to eat

Lamb dhansak

There are many more at BBC Food

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

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

Chocolates Now that would be really spoiling the ambassador

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

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

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

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

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

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Does limiting the power of appliances save energy?

Woman and hairdryer

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

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

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

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

The answer

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

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

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

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Go Figure: The week in numbers

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

Macau graphic

Tuesday: Protests point to Macau awakening

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Kate Bush graphic

Wednesday: Kate Bush comeback greeted with huge cheers

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Venice padlock graphic

Thursday: Italy: Campaign to reduce 'love locks' on Venice bridges

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Iceland earthquake graphic

Friday: Iceland lowers alert for erupting volcano

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Find #BBCGoFigure on Twitter and on Facebook

The Victorian pig singing competition

Illustration of a man carrying a pig

Cheer/groan (delete according to mindset): The X Factor is back. Author Jeremy Clay tells the story of the show's Victorian forebear, where the hopefuls had to sing while carrying a pig.

There was no sobbing. None of the hopefuls told a weepy backstory. Not a single one boohoo-ed about the journey they'd been on since the contest began.

At the Victorian version of the X Factor, the talent show format was stripped right back to its bare bones. Just six contestants and a stage, each and every man singing his heart out to impress the judges. While carrying a pig.

This singular scene played out in London in 1896, the harebrained brainwave of an auctioneer called CF Rowley. He wanted to drum up a bumper crowd for his sales. Putting on a bit of a show to jolly things along seemed a perfectly sensible way of going about it, even if the requirement to hold a hog didn't.

Victorian Strangeness

"A Monkey's Diversion", Illustrated Police News

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

Still, it seemed to do the job. Up to 1,500 people crammed into the marquee in Willesden Green, and they weren't just there for the hammy performances. There was also a wheelbarrow race, a hot tea-drinking showdown and some non-specific whatnottery involving a chap dressed in a donkey's skin that the press alluded to but never got round to properly explaining.

But if his sale was punctuated by outbursts of buffoonery, Mr Rowley was no fool. The auction lots included pianos. What better way to show off the value of the instruments than to hear them in action?

And just as much then as now, people loved a sing-off - choir competitions and contests for comic or sentimental songs. When human vocal cords weren't being put to the test, skylarks, canaries and other birds were matched up in a battle of the tweets. In the Derbyshire village of New Tupton, a clash became so heated the owners of rival birds came to blows over the relative merits of their pets, with one hitting the other over the head with a bottle of stout. "Fortunately he was wearing a hat," noted the Derbyshire Times.

Back in Willesden, several nights of Rowley's sales had caught the zealous eye of the authorities. That gas-lit canvas tent with only one exit was a death trap, and he didn't have a licence. Soon he was hauled up before the bench, where he was convicted of keeping a disorderly house. And that, when it came to pig-toting song contests, was that.

The prize, by the way, had been the pig itself. Who won it? The newspapers didn't think it was worth mentioning. There'll be plenty of people who'd wish the same was true of the X Factor.

Illustrated Police News image provided by the British Library Board.

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

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Weekendish: The best of the week's reads

Cartoon Nemo with dad Marvin

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

Poor old Marvin the clownfish from Finding Nemo. So scared of the dangers of the wide open ocean, he tries to shelter his son Nemo from ever experiencing it. Then Nemo gets lost. Can parents learn anything from the movie? "I think the film shows this style of parenting is not great and still not a guarantee of accidents not happening," parenting expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith explains. How about tips that parents can glean from other films? On the 50th anniversary of Mary Poppins, Lucy Townsend looked into the lessons learned from flicks including Mrs Doubtfire, The Sound of Music and Home Alone. Readers were quick to chime in with their own lessons - most of them obviously very serious:

  • Carlos: "Never let kids play board games found in the attic" (Jumanji)
  • Wordluster: "never take your kids to a natural theme park" (Jurassic Park)
  • Paul Hamer: "if you make yr nephew sleep in a cupboard under the stairs it will end badly for you" (Harry Potter)
  • Karl Turner: "It's not safe to go back in the water" (Jaws)
  • Belinda Bauer: "ALWAYS hide the keys to the garage" (Ferris Bueller's Day Off)
  • Paula Deane Traynham: "I tried to follow the advice in Bringing Up Baby but the leopard kept eating the children"
  • Francesca Stephens: "Never experiment with shrink rays" (Honey I Shrunk the Kids)
  • Jupiterup: "don't let your kid bike around empty hotel hallways" (The Shining)
  • Shalini Lachmandas: "I always told my kids if u can't say something nice don't say nothing at all" (Bambi)
  • Michelle Lightwood-J: "The idea that being different is perfectly acceptable" (The Addams Family)
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Sheikhs and Sandhurst
Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa, King Abdullah, Sultan Qaboos Sandhurst alumni: King Hamad of Bahrain, King Abdullah of Jordan and Sultan Qaboos of Oman

Four reigning Arab monarchs are graduates of Sandhurst. There's King Abdullah of Jordan, King Hamad of Bahrain, Sheikh Tamim, Emir of Qatar, and Sultan Qaboos of Oman. But they're just a handful of the numerous foreign royals - particularly from the Middle East - who have learned how to be military leaders at the UK's famous officer training academy. But is it such a good idea? asked Matthew Teller. Some say that it gives future world leaders a strong connection to the UK, earning it more attention than similar-sized countries and facilitating trade relationships. But others say the UK is delivering militarily-trained officers to Middle Eastern monarchies where the onus is often on defending the ruling family, with little regard for democracy. Adeel Hassan ‏@adeelnyt tweeted: "This feels...icky." Naz Ahmed @Monty_786 merely said: "Shocking..." And Michael Theodoulou ‏@MichaelTheodoul tweeted: "Good BBC piece on Gulf royals at #Sandhurst One Brit says helps us 'punch above our weight'. I hate that phrase."

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Etiquette of reclining
Two men on a plane disagree about one reclining his seat

Heard of a Knee Defender? It costs $21.95 (£13) and it also cost recent passengers one uninterrupted plane journey. Their plane had to be diverted after one passenger used it to stop another from reclining her seat, which caused a bit of a stir. So when is it acceptable to lean back at 30,000ft, asked Jon Kelly. Ashley in Penang, Malaysia, emailed: "As someone with a reoccurring back issue, I need to recline seats on some airplanes at least an inch, otherwise it's too painful." Ivanhoe Trousers ‏@ivanhoetrousers was meanwhile undeterred by the consequences on the US flight: "Will have to buy a Seat Defender. Such a good idea!" Others viewed the issue in economic terms. Free2SaySo ‏@ikwan_01 overcame a dodgy caps lock key to tweet: "YOU PAY, yes PAY for Reclining Seat ..... so USE IT .... or get Refund from those who Whinge!" Parvez A. Khatri was more equivocal when he emailed: "Everyone have the right to do (what is allowed) but I am totally against reclining. I never recline and feel in trouble when other in front reclines in full."

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A Mormon apostate?
Kate Kelly shows a digital copy of the letter which informed her of her excommunication Kate Kelly shows a digital copy of the letter which informed her of her excommunication

"We're talking about an Inquisition," says Kate Kelly. "The men who punished me think they are kicking me out of heaven." Kelly thinks she's an obedient Mormon. But her church leadership clearly does not - she's been excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) for founding a campaign to ordain women to the priesthood. Jane Little spoke to human rights lawyer Kelly, who said: "Excommunication in our Church is for really grave sins like murder and child abuse. I was excommunicated for stating a fact, which is that men and women are not equal in our Church." A spokesman for the Mormon Church - which claims 15 million members worldwide - insisted that women already have a lot of responsibility in the Church. Currently any male from the age of 12 and "in good standing" can join the priesthood. No female can. i ‏@i4Media tweeted: "Why are men so fearful of women being powerful?"

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Addicts behind bars
Pablo Marroquin at his rehab centre

This is Pablo Marroquin. A former drug addict who's been clean for 22 years, the born-again Christian now operates a private faith-based rehabilitation centre in Guatemala City. But many of the internees there - as in many other similar centres in Guatemala - are locked up behind bars against their will. The Guatemalan state does not provide for drug addicts, and these private centres have proliferated to fill the void. Linda Pressly even heard claims that in some areas addicts have been swept off the street and into these centres by "hunting parties". Otherwise they may be turned in by worried friends and family with nowhere else to turn. The strong religious foundation offers salvation for some but the strict discipline and lack of freedom raises questions for others. Zach Kump ‏@vangoghslover tweeted: "Fighting addiction with punishment has not historically yielded many positive results." Angelique Rockas ‏@A_Rockas stated: "Probably Guatemala is too poor to offer social services care !!!! Have you in yr rich land thought of this????"

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

Did I get away with felony drug-dealing charges because I'm white? - Vice

Why It's So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos - Wired

How I explained porn to my 9-year-old son - Quartz

Why Chinese patients are turning against their doctors - New Yorker

10 Historic Canal Towns to Visit That Aren't Venice - Smithsonian

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10 things we didn't know last week

Wolf yawning sitting on a rock

1. Death Valley's mysterious wandering stones are moved by blocks of ice pushed by the wind.

Find out more (Scientific American)

2. Tall men get married earlier but short men stay married longer.

Find out more (Daily Telegraph)

3. Yawning is contagious for wolves, especially among their friends, probably because they are feeling empathy.

Find out more (Smithsonian)

4. Longhand notes are better for taking in conceptual information than inputting notes into laptop.

Find out more (Washington Post)

5. Hello Kitty is not a cat - she's a little girl.

Find out more (Jezebel)

6. At the current birth rate, there will be no South Koreans by 2750.

Find out more (Quartz)

7. David Cameron is a 13th cousin of Kim Kardashian.

Find out more (Daily Mail)

8. Walking in formation makes people feel stronger and leads them to take different decisions.

Find out more (Inside Science)

9. People's favourite tunes - regardless of genre - create strikingly similar brain activity.

Find out more (Smithsonian)

10. A bassett hound can be reclassified as a "very large cat" at Selwyn College Cambridge if the pet belongs to the master of the college - dogs are banned at Selwyn.

Find out more

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

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The odd objects looted from Washington DC in 1814

A painting of the White House on fire by Tom Freeman The Burning of Washington in 1814 by British troops, as depicted by Tom Freeman

It's been 200 years since the British burned Washington, but objects looted in 1814 will probably never be returned, writes Tammy Thueringer.

Other than an off-colour tweet and subsequent apology by the British Embassy, the bicentennial of the punitive mission of 1814 that left the US capital in flames has received little attention this week.

The burning was one of the final events of the often-forgotten War of 1812, a conflict which saw the US try and fail to grab bits of Canada and Britain try and fail to blockade the US. British troops torched the White House, Treasury and parts of the Capitol Building in a punitive mission near the end of the war. They also looted what they could, effectively collecting "souvenirs".

After the attack, the Royal Navy sailed to Bermuda with their spoils, included four paintings of King George III and Queen Charlotte, a grandfather clock and President James Madison's personal government receipt book.

Today, the artworks hang in two Bermuda government buildings and the clock is in private hands.

The Bermuda House of Assembly

The destruction of Washington was in retaliation for an earlier US attack on the Parliament of Lower Canada at York (now Toronto). The US also looted, taking a royal standard, the first Mace of Ontario, a golden staff used by Upper Canada's Parliament, and a lion statuette, carved out of wood and painted gold.

Today, the standard and lion are just two of the hundreds of "trophies of war" on display at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

A statue of a lion The wooden lion taken by the US in April 1813 from the Legislature of Upper Canada in York (now Toronto)

The "trophies" in Bermuda and Maryland will probably stay there, at least in part because of the American Civil War-era "Lieber Code". The US declared that items captured from an enemy in time of war can be kept. The laws only applied to American forces, but other states adopted similar regulations.

Since then, several international laws prohibiting wartime looting have been created, but the original code also remains in effect.

James Madison and the government receipts and expenditures book James Madison, president at the time, and the government receipt book looted in 1814

Despite that original code, some of the looted items have made it home.

In 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the return of the mace and Madison's receipt book was returned to the Library of Congress in 1940.

The scorch marks of the fire are still visible today on the White House as two areas have been left unpainted Scorch marks of the fire are still visible today on the White House as two areas have been left unpainted

But as for the paintings of the British royals, the Americans seem unlikely to press for their return.

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Caption Challenge: Mr Full Moon

Mr Full Moon cleaning

Winning entries in the Caption Challenge.

The competition is now closed.

This week an unidentified man, who calls himself Mangetsu-man (Mr Full Moon), cleans Nihonbashi bridge in Tokyo using a broom.

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

6. Graham Bell:

"I fell asleep listening to yellow by Coldplay and the next thing I knew..."

5. Bramer:

He was caught daylighting as a cleaner.

4. Lin Vegas:

"Drop any more litter and you'll soon see my dark side."

3. Gareth Collins:

Filming of the new low-budget movie "Frank Sidebottom versus Godzilla" begins in Tokyo.

2. Matt:

"I'm hoping to make waves when I go out in this outfit".

1. Waldo:

Life in 2014 was not good for Pac-Man.

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

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Zara's 'Holocaust uniform' and other clothing errors

Zara shirt

It was meant to be a Wild West-inspired T-shirt for children, but to some people a children's top by Zara looked like an eerie reminder of the prison clothing victims of the Holocaust wore. How do clothes brands get some things so wrong, asks Chris Stokel-Walker.

Zara's blue-and-white striped shirt was designed for toddlers up to three years old and featured raking buttons on the left shoulder - with a six-pointed gold badge.

Zoom into the photo and you see the badge says "sheriff". But at the standard resolution on an online catalogue, social media users spotted it looked like the kind of yellow stars Jews in Nazi-occupied territory were forced to wear. Combined with the stripes - reminiscent of prison camp garb - and the Holocaust link was clear.

Zara has apologised repeatedly to Twitter users. "The item in question has now been removed from sale. The garment was inspired by the classic Western films, but we now recognise that the design could be seen as insensitive and apologise sincerely for any offence caused to our customers," the company says.

Offence was surely not intended, but it's not the first time the fashion chain has sold questionable merchandise. In 2007 it withdrew a handbag featuring a green embroidered swastika inside a red sun.

Zara, owned by the Spanish clothing giant Inditex, is not the only fashion seller to get things wrong. Two years ago Urban Outfitters published a prototype version of a T-shirt for sale on its website. The yellow T-shirt with a similar six-pointed star also drew attention for its resemblance to a Star of David.

Footwear brands have offended on a number of occasions. Umbro apologised in 2002 for naming a shoe Zyklon, the gas used in concentration camps. Adidas said sorry for a trainer that featured shackles reminiscent of those used on slaves. And Nike admitted a mistake in naming a pair of trainers Black and Tans to commemorate St Patrick's Day. They had not appreciated the link with the British force of that name deployed to Ireland after World War One which had a reputation for brutality against civilians.

Mark Gardner of the Community Security Trust, a Jewish community group that records incidents of anti-Semitism, isn't enormously impressed by the latest gaffe. "Whatever Zara's intention, many people will be really shocked that this could ever have made it past the design stage," he says.

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The etiquette of reclining seats on flights

Man on plane

A US flight had to be diverted after one passenger prevented another from reclining her seat, according to reports. When is it acceptable to lean back at 30,000ft, asks Jon Kelly.

You can see the nervous glances on any flight when the seatbelt light is pinged off, as each passenger anxiously wonders: "Do I have a recliner in front of me? Are my precious seven inches of legroom safe?"

Incursions into personal space are a familiar source of aggravation at high altitudes. So it's not surprising that, according to reports, a United Airlines flight from Newark to Denver was diverted when a passenger prevented the woman in front of him from leaning back using a $21.95 (£13) lock called a Knee Defender. The plastic clips go on the metal arms of the tray table, physically preventing the seat in front from being reclined. The clips come with a card that can be given to affected passengers to explain the motivation of the user.

Knee Defender

After the passenger allegedly refused requests from cabin crew to remove the Knee Defender, the un-laid back fellow traveller in front allegedly hurled a glass of water at him.

The man's methods may be extreme, but some travellers - unable to work on their laptops, eat, or simply enjoy the meagre proportions of economy class to the full as a result of leaners-back - will sympathise. For some time now, a backlash against reclining has been under way.

Earlier this year, a frequent business traveller's call for a "revolt" against reclining seats went viral. A survey by Skyscanner in 2013 suggested nine out of 10 travellers wanted to see them banned. Another poll for indicated that more than 60% of international cabin crew had observed an argument between passengers as a result of them.

Woman asleep on plane

It's not just the manufacturers of the Knee Defender that have sought to capitalise. In May Monarch Airlines announced plans to scrap reclining seats, following the example set by Ryanair.

But recliners can offer reasonable excuses. They may be very tall or affected by other physical impairments. On a red-eye, different rules apply - everyone wants to maximise their chances of catching an hour or two of sleep.

So what to do? The advice offered by Debrett's is to "ease your chair gently into a reclining position, which will avoid a sudden invasion of the limited legroom of the passenger behind".

Etiquette expert Jean Broke-Smith takes a firmer line. On overnight flights there is a tacit understanding that everyone will lean back when the lights go off, she says. On long-haul journeys it is acceptable. Otherwise, she says, "I think it's very rude." She adds: "At the very least, you should turn around and say, 'Excuse me' first."

Asking passengers to talk politely to each other? Fasten your seatbelts now, please.

Send us your views on reclining using the form on the right.

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The drunken monkey that smashed up a bar

"A Monkey's Diversion", Illustrated Police News

The British Newspaper Archive is a treasure trove of outlandish tales from the Victorian press. Author Jeremy Clay tells the story of a monkey that went on a drunken rampage.

The place was a mess. Shards of broken glass were strewn across the counter and the floor. Bottles were broken. Mirrors were smashed. Chairs were scattered. Tables were upended.

If there was one small consolation for the newly-toothless owner of Reilly's Hotel, as he swept up the debris in the wrecked bar, it was this - the instigator of the brawl had been captured and led away. He was in a cell now. Or a cage. One of the two.

It all began, as these things so often do, with a drink. One drink, which led to another, then more besides. Each one, generously given by a genial customer. Each one eagerly slurped by the monkey chained to the bar.

But after four cocktails the Coney Island jackanapes started to mislay its manners. It demanded yet more booze. When its benefactor refused, it seized a whisky bottle and knocked him senseless to the floor.

Victorian Strangeness

Colt pistol

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

The horrified bartender lunged forward and tried to seize the brute but, even with that chain, it was too agile. Grabbing another bottle, it landed a blow on him too.

"The monkey then stood at the back of the bar and pelted everyone with bottles and glasses, several persons being wounded," reported the Manchester Evening News in September 1899.

"The proprietor tried to quiet the beast, but received a bottle of Vermouth in the face, and had some of his front teeth knocked out. The monkey smashed all the mirrors and every bottle of liquor it could reach."

At last, the police arrived. After taking a startled moment or two to size up the scene, they hit on a solution and lassoed the creature. Calm returned to Reilly's. Whether the cantankerous monkey ever did is another matter altogether.

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

Illustrated Police News image provided by the British Library Board.

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

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