Thursday 16 October 2008

Medal Heros parade through London

For those of you who live in London you might get a chance to spot all our glorious Medal winners from this summers Olympic and Paralympic Games. It is lead by the 'real McHoy' Chris Hoy who won 3 golds and dominated the mens cycling at the velodrome.

If you can't make it to London then you can check it out live on BBC on-line.

BBC live coverage
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Nutty News: Hope for the red squirrel

Scientists have found that some red squirrels have developed immunity to a disease that has ravaged their numbers.

The pox is transmitted by grey squirrels; but while greys suffer no ill effects from it, if a red catches the virus it will be dead within weeks.

As the grey squirrels increased their range, red squirrels have suffered huge population declines and now exist in just a few pockets around the British Isles.  But recent findings have shown 8 red squirrils to have the anti-virus and some immunity to the pox!  The findings, published in EcoHealth, suggest a vaccine could now help to save red squirrels from annihilation.

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Wednesday 15 October 2008

Cherry Flavoured Malaria Pills

A cherry-flavoured pill which is easy to swallow could help save the lives of children in malaria-affected areas, say researchers in Tanzania.

Malaria is one of mankind's oldest known killers, with descriptions of the disease dating back almost 5000 years. Each year, malaria causes 300-500 million infections, and up to 3 million deaths--about 5000 Africans die of the disease every day; one child succumbs every 30 seconds.

They say the tablet is not as bitter as other anti-malaria drugs and does not need to be crushed before eating.  This would make it easier for children to stick to the treatment, the team told the medical journal, The Lancet.  Malaria kills more than a million people every year, many of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa.  There is no vaccine for malaria but it is curable if treated promptly.  However, drugs currently used to treat it are very bitter and often need to be crushed before children can swallow them, which can weaken the medicine.

Salim Abdulla of the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania said the new cherry-flavoured pill was easy to administer and effective.  Health experts say the pill could help to promote better outcomes from treatment and delay the development of drug resistant strains of the disease.

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Tuesday 14 October 2008

Ivan Branckenbury

Last night Jon and I were supposed to go see Ivan Brackenbury with the Active Parity lads, however one cried off at the last minute, (you know who you are, I'm not angry just very disappointed!) at the Brighton Comedy Festival. It was fantastic, oh how we laughed, recommend it to everyone that isn't easily offended.

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Quest team supports Godchance in Tanzania

The Tanzania 2008 January GAP team have been getting together to sponsor one of the the builders from their project. Godchance (above far left) has worked with Quest Overseas for the last few years on our project based in Mshiri on the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro.  Godchance not only worked alongside all of the volunteers to finish the Accommodation block but became everyone’s close friend as well.  The new block will enable 100 people who live too far away from the Vocational Centre to learn important skills such as carpentry, masonry and craft making.

He works hard to support his family and the team are now sponsoring his first step to become a tour guide.  He has just started driving lessons and we wish him and his family all the best here at the office.  

It is always fantastic to see ex-volunteers who are keen to help after they have left the project, so well done to all!!

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Brighton Comedy Festival

Doom and gloom and grey skies have signalled the start of Autumn 2008.  So what better way to cheer up than pop down to Brighton, not only to see us but to see some top-class comedy too?

The BBC has even reported that Comedy clubs have avoided the squeeze of the credit crunch because having a good laugh is something people will always fork out for - even in an economic meltdown!

So if you fancy coming down to see us why not book a good comedy show to check out too?  This year we have the likes of Ed Byrne, Russel Howard, Jimmy Carr, Frankie Boyle, Mark Thomas and Bill Bailey to offer.  Staff outing to Reginald D Hunter this Thursday promises to be a good one!

What have Icelandic banks and an Icelandic streaker got in common?
They both have frozen assets

Quote of the day (from a trader): "This is worse than a divorce. I've lost half my net worth and I still have a wife."

Talked to my bank manager the other day and he said he was going to concentrate on the big issues from now on. He sold me one outside Boots yesterday!.

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Early African Exodus

Scientists have found a possible new route taken by early modern humans as they expanded out of Africa to colonise the rest of the world.

Researchers, from the universities of Bristol, Southampton, Oxford, Hull and Tripoli in Libya, have confirmed that there was a new possible route where rivers once flowed from the central Saharan watershed all the way to the Mediterranean.

Similarities in the style of stone tools being made in Chad and Sudan with those manufactured in Libya during this key period, lend the theory some support, say the scientists.

Researchers had previously focused on the Nile Valley as the principal route of dispersal into other continents by early representatives of our species.

Although it is unclear which routes they took to get there, Homo sapiens had reached the Levant by around 100,000 years ago, where their remains are known from Es Skhul and Qafzeh in Israel.

However, this appears to have been an early, failed foray outside Africa by modern humans. By 75,000 years ago, Neanderthals had replaced our species in the region.

Then, about 45,000 years ago, modern humans reoccupied the area.
Genetic evidence suggests that populations living outside Africa today are the descendents of a migration which originated in the east of the continent between 60-70,000 years ago.

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Monday 13 October 2008

X Factor or Spoof? Hard to tell!

That was the most worrying thing about Peter Kay's programme last night, it was hard to notice much difference between this spoof version and the real thing. I think we've got a few new routines for our stage shows at the kids' project in Villa Maria, Peru this coming year though, that's how I'm justifying having watched it at least...!

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Ray Mears

You're lost in the middle of nowhere.
Dusk is present, soon to be greeted by the imminent blanket of darkness.
You are hungry and wet, you notice a figure walking towards you in shorts and penknife in hand.

Struck by fear you can't move! That is until you notice it's Ray Mears, warmth fills from within - you are saved. Undoubtedly a fire will soon be raging made from nothing but trapped wind and an eye lash, followed by a succulent meal of worms and leaves. The man is incredible, an office Hero. Bellow is an article from the Guardian

Autumn is Ray Mears's favourite season "because the campfire seems important again". Stags are rutting near his home in East Sussex and the low sun struggles to wipe away the heavy morning dew. Lying on the damp, leaf-covered ground recently, Mears came within touching distance of two curious deer. He must have kept very still. "Your body doesn't have to be still," he explains. "As long as you are spiritually still, then things happen. That inner current is most important of all. It draws things to you." He quotes the Canadian conservationist Grey Owl - "Remember that we all belong to nature" - and then recalls what was once said about the man: "'When the average person walks into the woods and they tread on a stick and it snaps, the animals unite against the intruder in silence, and part of that silence was Grey Owl.' I've always tried to be a part of that silence."

Britain's favourite bushcraft expert detonated a minor explosion earlier this year when he dismissed his rival TV adventurer Bear Grylls as "a boy scout" and "a showman". In a recent Guardian interview, Grylls graciously accepted that Mears was "much tougher" than he was. A plush restaurant in central London is probably not the ideal place for a survival guru to launch round two and Mears wants none of it. "It's boring," he says dismissively as he orders cream of watercress soup and tuna loin. He does not consider himself a TV personality and also rejects the survival expert tag. "I don't want to be stereotyped with this word, 'survivor'. I can't stand that. It's a small part of what I do," he says. "I'm a simple woodsman."

Mears is part of the way through filming a new BBC series in northern Canada and has just published a book of photographs culled from 300,000 images he has taken during 20 years of travelling the world. Between rather lovely portraits of native people from southern Ireland to Africa's Skeleton Coast, he writes that he seeks out "quiet moments rather than loud". From this year's Ray Mears Goes Walkabout to earlier series of Ray Mears' Bushcraft, his TV series are more sensitive and reflective than rival outdoor adventure shows. "Because I'm a woodsman, I live in the woods and I notice the subtle things that aren't normally spotted," he says. "I did have one producer who kept writing lines like, 'If you don't do this, you'll die in minutes.' It's just not true so I won't say it. I want to show things as they are. There's an immature view of wilderness as being a threat to human beings, but for most of the people I work with it's home."

Mears grew up in Kenley, Surrey, where the suburbs of south London meet the North Downs. How did he develop his great love for woodland? "I didn't develop it - it developed me. It found me." Being an only child, he believes, "was an important part of shaping me". There is still something stolid and short-trousered about Mears, even though he is 44. It is easy to imagine him stomping off on his own into the countryside as a boy. He would trace the source of a spring on his OS map or follow animal tracks. "Times alone are when you have a chance to listen to your own mind. That's something we don't allow ourselves today," he says. "I was very lucky to grow up in that generation before mobile phones. It's fascinating how thought processes today are constantly interrupted. Although we can communicate faster, we are able to think less quickly and less clearly because of these interruptions."

Unable to join the Royal Marines because of poor eyesight, he found himself taking a job in the City at 18. He soon quit and founded Woodlore, his "bushcraft school" which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary. "I didn't know anything really," he says, but he had taught himself enough about lighting fires and edible wild foods to begin passing it on to ordinary people and professionals, including army units.

When he was 12, his father, a printer for the Times, gave him his first 35mm camera. Just as with his bushcraft, he went off on his own and taught himself photography, eventually winning commissions for magazines. "The best photographers are self-taught, I'm convinced of that - they are not full of pretensions," he says. Apart from David Bailey - "my goodness, he's fantastic" - his favourites are two National Geographic contributors, Sam Abell and Jim Brandenburg. Abell's photography "is very quiet", says Mears. "In the stillness of his images is genius." Mears, too, seeks out subtle images in quiet moments; photography is something he "absolutely" does for himself, squeezed around the hectic schedule of his TV trips.

Like many autodidacts, Mears expresses his hard-won knowledge in quite a fierce way. Occasionally this can sound like he's showing off. "I don't like showing off; I want to teach," he says. He is also keen to learn. "Sometimes people don't understand how I can have an expertise in so many different areas. But I do. For example, fungi. I went to Kew Gardens and studied with Dr Derek Reid, who was fantastic. I've always sought out the best sources, and if I become interested in a subject I am absolutely focused upon it and I will not leave it alone until I really understand it. I want to understand something to the point of innovation."

His latest obsession is deer management. Hunting is not always bad "and conservation isn't always good", he argues. "For example, nature safaris are not wholly good. There are some places where there are too many tourists observing the wildlife and wildlife has to alter its behaviour, in places where hunters make virtually no detrimental impact and bring money into the economy. Now that's counterintuitive." Mears enjoys stalking and killing deer and eating wild venison. Where does he stand on fox hunting? "We have spent a lot of money and effort to preserve an unendangered species at a time when common species of birds were becoming endangered." He would not hunt the fox but, "that doesn't mean to say I'm against somebody else hunting it".

People tend to "think emotionally" about conservation "rather than from a point of real knowledge," he says. "That's caring too much. You can love something to death." And yet there is an important emotional, spiritual dimension to his thinking. Setting aside woodland for preservation is not enough. "You also have to make it possible for people to access it, touch it, feel it, smell it, light a fire, sit around and enjoy it," he says. "Once you teach people the value of trees and plants around them, they see them as friends, they feel connected to them and they feel responsibility for them and conservation ceases to be a crusade, it becomes a way of life."

Mears is passionate about environmental education but has not yet been tempted by politics. I mention that David Cameron has been talking to people outside the normal political arena. "I think he's a good man. I'd like to meet him to gauge that better," he replies.

Beyond his enthusiastic, knowledgeable TV persona, Mears seems a very private, solitary man. He has no children of his own and two years ago his wife, Rachel, who was 50 and had two grown-up children, died of cancer. They had been together for more than a decade and had only recently married. Her ashes are scattered near a yew tree in Ashdown forest, a short drive from his home. Has he thought about a family of his own again? "My life goes where nature takes it. I'm happy at the moment and life has moved on. It must," he says. A slight redness appears around his eyes. "She was a tremendous loss but also the journey we made together was fantastic. That's what you have to remember. There's nothing else you can say really. I'm not one to cry over spilt milk. That sounds a bit callous ... I don't mean it like that, but you have to pick yourself up and carry on".

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Thanks Mum for the Meat!

What better to cheer you up on a grey Monday afternoon than a good piece of meat to chew on?  For some people it might be a big lump of chocolate but I love savory.  This week I have a tasty bit of lamb, the left over’s of the Deaville Sunday lunch.  While chewing on the baby animal carcass I hear from the other side of the office,

"I have never been more proud of you, you look like a real man." - Simon Tierney

Indeed I did feel like a 'real' man, but don't worry a little bit of Elton John stirred up my emotional side again.

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