Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Meet the mini Monet: Seven-year-old boy sells paintings for £900 each

He paints six pictures a week and his last exhibition sold out in 14 minutes...

Kieron Williamson kneels on the wooden bench in his small kitchen, takes a pastel from the box by his side and rubs it onto a piece of paper. 'Have you got a picture in your head of what you're going to do?' asks his mother, Michelle. 'Yep,' Kieron nods. 'A snow scene.'

I ask: because it is winter at the moment? 'Yep.' Do you know how you want it to come out? 'Yep.' And does it come out how you want it? 'Sometimes it does.'

Child Artist Kieron Williamson
Child Artist Kieron Williamson, aged 7, painting at home, Holt, Norfolk. This month, Kieron's second exhibition in a gallery in his home town sold out in 14 minutes.

Like many great artists, small boys are not often renowned for being talkative. While Kieron Williamson is a very normal seven-year-old who uses his words sparingly, what slowly emerges on the small rectangle of paper in his kitchen is extraordinarily eloquent.

This month, Kieron's second exhibition in a gallery in his home town of Holt, Norfolk, sold out in 14 minutes. The sale of 16 new paintings swelled his bank account by £18,200. There are now 680 people on a waiting list for a Kieron original. Art lovers have driven from London to buy his work. Agents buzz around the town. People offer to buy his school books. The starting price for a simple pastel picture such as the one Kieron is sketching? £900.

Kieron lives with his father, Keith, a former electrician, his mother, who is training to be a nutritionist, and his little sister, Billie-Jo, in a small flat overlooking a petrol station.

Picture perfect: A painting by Kieron, who took up painting at the age of five
Picture perfect: A painting by Kieron, who took up painting at the age of five

When I arrive, Kieron and Keith are out. When Kieron returns in football socks and shorts, I assume he has been playing football. But no, he has been replenishing his stock of pastels in Holt, a chichi little place where even the chip shop has grainy portraits for sale on its walls.

From Jan Lievens to Millais, there have been plenty of precocious geniuses in the art world. Excitable press coverage has compared Kieron to Picasso, who painted his first canvas, The Picador, aged eight.

'We don't know who Picasso is, really,' says Keith. 'I know who Picasso is,' interrupts Kieron. 'I don't want to become him.'

Who would he like to become? 'Monet or Edward Seago,' he replies. We are often suspicious of child prodigies. We wonder if it is all their own work, or whether their pushy parents have hot-housed them. People who don't know the Williamsons might think Kieron is being cleverly marketed, particularly when they hear that Keith is now an art dealer.

windmill painting
Stroke of genius: Kieron prefers landscapes, but plans to paint a portrait of his grandmother for her 100th birthday

The truth is far more innocent. Two years ago, a serious accident forced Keith to stop work and turn his hobby of collecting art into an occupation. The accident also stopped Keith racing around outside with his son. Confined to a flat with no garden, surrounded by paintings and, like any small boy, influenced by his father, Kieron decided to take up drawing. Now, father and son are learning about art together.

Kieron is rubbing yellows and greys together for his sky. 'There's some trees going straight across and then there's a lake through the centre,' he explains.

So, is this picture something you have seen, or is it in your imagination? 'I saw it on the computer and every time I do the picture it changes,' he says, handling his pastels expertly. Keith ducks into the kitchen and explains that Kieron finds pictures he likes on the internet. Rather than an exact copy, however, he creates his own version.

Figures at Holkham
Figures at Holkham by Kieron Williamson: There are now 680 people on a waiting list for a Kieron original. Art lovers have driven from London to buy his work.

This winter scene is imagined from an image of the Norfolk Broads in summer.

At first, Kieron's art was pretty much like any other five-year-old's. But he quickly progressed and was soon asking questions that his parents couldn't answer. 'Kieron wanted to know the technicalities of art and how to put a painting together,' says Michelle. Hearing of Kieron's promise, a local artist, Carol Ann Pennington, offered him some tips. Since then, he has had lessons with other Norfolk-based painters, including Brian Ryder and his favourite, Tony Garner. Garner, a professional artist, has taught more than 1,000 adults over the past few decades and Kieron, he says, is head and shoulders above everyone.

'He doesn't say very much, he doesn't ask very much, he just looks. He's a very visual learner. If I did a picture with most students, they'd copy it - but Kieron will copy it, and then he will Kieronise it,' he says. 'It might be a bit naive at the moment, but there's a lovely freshness about what he does. The confidence that this little chap has got - he just doesn't see any danger.'

Painting of a boat
Kieron has had lessons with Norfolk-based painters, including Brian Ryder and his favourite, Tony Garner

Garner says Kieron's parents have been brilliant at shielding their child from the business side and pressure this invariably brings. Keith and Michelle are extremely proud, protective and, perhaps, slightly in awe of their son. They insist that Kieron paints only when he wants to. 'We judge ourselves every day, wondering whether we are making the right choices,' says Michelle. 'Kieron is such a strong character you wouldn't get him to do anything he didn't want to do anyway. It's a hobby. Some could argue he's got such a talent, why aren't we doing more for him in terms of touring galleries every weekend. We are a family and we've got Billie-Jo to consider; you've got to strike a balance.'

With all the people wanting paintings, I ask Kieron if he feels he has to do them. He says no. So you only paint when you want to? 'Yep.' Do you have days when you feel you don't want to paint? 'Yep.' How many paintings or drawings do you do each week? One or two? 'About six.'

A painting by artist Kieron Williamson
Excitable press coverage has compared Kieron to Picasso, who painted his first canvas, The Picador, aged eight

Is he a perfectionist? 'You've got a bit of an artist's temperament, haven't you?' says Michelle, softly. 'You get frustrated if it doesn't work out. You punched a hole in the canvas once, didn't you?' But those incidents are rare. Sometimes, however, Kieron will produce 'what we classify as a bag of trosh', says Michelle. 'He's just got to go through the motions. It's almost as if it's a release. It's the process that he enjoys, because there are days when he is not really focused on his work, but he just enjoys doing it.'

The young master's tips

Sometimes, when they have taken Kieron out on painting trips in the countryside, the little boy has had other ideas: he has gone off and played in the mud or in a stream. He is still allowed to act seven years old.

What do his school friends think? Are they impressed? 'Yep.' A moment later, Kieron pauses. 'I am also top of the class in maths, English, geography and science,' he says, rubbing the sky in his picture.

Kieron explains he is sticking to landscapes for now, but plans to paint a portrait of his 98-year-old grandmother when she turns 100.

What does he think about people spending so much money on his paintings? 'Really good.' Would he like to be a professional painter? 'Yep.' He doesn't want to be a footballer when he is older? 'I want to be a footballer and a painter.'

Kieron enjoys playing football and, like his father, supports Leeds United. What other things does Kieron like doing? 'You played on the Xbox, but you got bored of it, didn't you?' says Keith. 'You said I could have it out at Christmas,' says Kieron. 'You can have it out in the holidays,' promises Michelle. 'He's a bit all-or-nothing with whatever he does, like the artwork. You have to pull the reins in a bit because otherwise he'd be up all night.'

What would his parents say if Kieron turned around and told them he was not going to paint any more? 'Leave him to it. As long as he's happy. At the end of the day, he's at his happiest painting,' says Keith.

Michelle adds: 'It's entirely his choice. We don't know what's around the corner. Kieron might decide to put his boxes away and football might take over, and that would be entirely his choice. 'We're feeling slightly under pressure because there is such a waiting list of people wanting Kieron's work, but I'm inclined to tell them to wait, really.'

I doubt many artists could paint or draw while answering questions and being photographed, but Kieron carries on. When he finishes, we lean over to look. 'Not bad. That's nice,' says Keith, who can't watch Kieron at work; I wonder if it is because he is worried about his son making a mistake, but Keith says he just prefers to see the finished article.

'Is it as good as the one I did this morning, or better?' asks Kieron. 'What do you think?' replies Keith. 'It's got a nice glow on it, hasn't it?' Kieron nods.

I would love one of his pictures but, I tell Kieron, he is already too expensive for me. 'I can price one down for you,' he says, as quick as a flash. No, no, I couldn't, I say, worried I would be exploiting a little boy.

I thank him for his time and hand him my business card. And Kieron trots into his bedroom, comes out with his own business card and says thank you, right back.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Try the minst pye (containing mutton and veal) from 1624

You're not going to find it in Delia's latest cookbook. And even if you could, tracking down a 'loyne of fatt Mutton' in the local supermarket could present a challenge. But for the families yearning for authenticity this Christmas, it might be just the treat.

Archivists have discovered one of the earliest recorded recipes for mince pies tucked away in the official papers of King Charles I.

In 1624, when the recipe is thought to have found its way into a file of state papers created by Charles's secretary of state Edward Conway, a mince pie contained ingredients only the very wealthy could afford.

Fine cuts of meat, foreign fruits and exotic spices were a luxury far removed from the largely meat-free diet of the poor.

In a spirit of seasonal fun, the Mail gave a two-Michelin-starred chef the task of recreating the 'minst pye' using the recipe from the National Archives.

Marcus Wareing was a little dubious when he first looked at the recipe 'For six Minst Pyes of an Indifferent Bigness' in the kitchens of his restaurant Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley in London.

Loin of mutton was indeed tricky to find, so neck of lamb was used instead. But in other respects the chef remained true to the original and the result was a success.

'I was surprised how good it tasted in the end,' Mr Wareing said. 'It reminded me of something my gran used to do.' He added: 'I think it's great that something that tastes as good as this is from the 17th century.'


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Was Shakespeare a Roman Catholic?

Pretty tenuous "evidence" but interesting

Three mysterious signatures on pages of parchment bound in leather and kept under lock and key may prove the theory that William Shakespeare was a secret Catholic who spent his “lost years” in Italy.

An exhibition at the Venerable English College, the seminary in Rome for English Catholic priests, has revealed cryptic names in its guest books for visiting pilgrims, suggesting that the playwright sought refuge there.

“Arthurus Stratfordus Wigomniensis” signed the book in 1585, while “Gulielmus Clerkue Stratfordiensis” arrived in 1589.

According to Father Andrew Headon, vice-rector of the college and organiser of the exhibition, the names can be deciphered as “[King] Arthur’s [compatriot] from Stratford [in the diocese] of Worcester” and “William the Clerk from Stratford”.

A third entry in 1587, “Shfordus Cestriensis”, may stand for “Sh[akespeare from Strat]ford [in the diocese] of Chester”, he said.

The entries fall within the playwright’s “missing years” between 1585, when he left Stratford abruptly, and 1592, when he began his career as playwright in London.

“There are several years which are unaccounted for in Shakespeare’s life,” Father Headon said, adding that it was very likely that the playwright had visited Rome and was a covert Catholic.

The “Shakespeare” entries are being kept in the college’s archive for security reasons but have been reproduced for the exhibition, which illustrates the history of the college from its origins as a medieval pilgrims’ hospice to a refuge for persecuted Catholics during the Reformation.

Set in the college’s extensive 14th-century crypt, the exhibition conveys the clandestine atmosphere of underground Catholicism, with its spies and priests’ bolt holes. It traces the secret journeys made by Catholics to Rome and by Jesuit priests from Rome to England “to defend their faith despite the risk of being caught, tortured and martyred”.

In a recent book, a German biographer of Shakespeare, Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel, said that she had “come to the conclusion that Shakespeare was a Catholic and that his religion is the key to understanding his life and work”.

Professor Hammerschmidt-Hummel said that Shakespeare’s parents, friends and teachers were Catholics, as were some of his patrons, including the Earl of Southampton, who concealed Catholic priests at his country seat, Titchfield Abbey, and his London residence.

Further proof was his purchase of the eastern gatehouse at Blackfriars — a secret meeting place for fugitive Catholics — in London in 1613, she said.

Backers of the theory say that plays such as Romeo and Juliet and Measure for Measure are “rich in Catholic thought and rituals”, with positive depictions of priests and monks and invocations of the Virgin Mary.

Five of his 37 plays are set in Italy, another five wholly or partly in Rome and three in Sicily.

The English College exhibition, Non Angli sed Angeli, runs until July 2010.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Adolf Hitler's hatred of Jews 'stemmed from First World War'

A new book published in Germany says the murder of six million Jews in the Second World War was due to Hitler's belief that they "stole" victory from the country in the First World War

"In his madness Hitler was convinced that the 'Jewish poison' had done the same thing to his beloved Germany in 1918 what the 'cancer poison' had done to his beloved mother in 1907," wrote historian and journalist Dr Joachim Riecker.

'November 9: How World War One Led to the Holocaust' examines the speeches both public and private of Hitler to try to solve the riddle of how a dictator could morph into the industrial-scale murderer of an entire people.

"The core of his hatred lies at the defeat of Germany in WW1," said Mr Riecker, "where Hitler blamed the Jews for defeat of the country, the collapse of the monarchy and the ruination of millions".

Dr Riecker discounts previously held theories that Hitler began hating the Jews because a Jewish doctor called Eduard Bloch unsuccessfully treated his mother Klara.

He added: "Adolf Hitler loved only two things in his life: his mother and the 'German Reich'.

His mother died in 1907 very painfully from breast cancer which was seen at that time as the result of blood poisoning.

"Hitler saw the state 'poisoned' from within. Hitler lived in Munich, where Jews played a leading role in the revolution against the monarchy on Nov. 9th 1918. So suddenly the delusion came to his mind, that the Jews where the reason for the 'inner poisoning' of Germany and that they had stolen the victory from Germany," Mr Riecker said.

"And since this delusion revived the traumatic experience of the death of his mother, he developed the fanatic will to annihilate the "Jewish poison" – and thought that killing the Jews was the way to lead Germany to world domination.

"His anti-Semitism had nothing to do with Dr Bloch."

"Mr Riecker has produced an important and informative work," said German news magazine Der Spiegel in a review.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Can I be complimentary, my dear Watson?

We celebrate flashy, insensitive Holmes, but it’s his sidekick’s common sense, bravery and friendship that we should admire

“You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive,” says Sherlock Holmes on first meeting John Watson in A Study in Scarlet.

Dr Watson, as Holmes correctly deduces, has indeed just returned from the Second Afghan War, after receiving a bullet from an Afghan musket at the disastrous battle of Maiwand, followed by a nasty bout of enteric fever.

Watson’s verdict on the war in Afghanistan is dour: “The campaign brought honours and promotion to many, but for me it had nothing but misfortune and disaster.”

It seems somehow appropriate that Watson should be a wounded veteran of Afghanistan, for his is a peculiarly British sort of heroism that spans the ages: loyal, phlegmatic, doughty and modest.

Dr Watson, MD, may be the most unfairly overshadowed character in English literature. Guy Ritchie’s latest remake of the tale — starring Robert Downey Jr as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson — has done something to redress the balance by giving Watson his own personality. But in the popular imagination, thanks largely to his representation on screen in the Thirties and Forties by goggle-eyed Nigel Bruce, Watson is a mere sidekick, a genial bumbler whose role is to ask the most obvious questions as foil to Holmes’s genius.

The real genius of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories lies not in Holmes, but in Watson, whose common sense, innate bravery and gentle friendship mark him out as the Victorian Everyman.

While an addict of the Sherlock Holmes tales, I have never had much time for Holmes himself — a cocaine-abusing, patronising, ascetic, asexual know-it-all with a taste for lofty pronouncements that sound impressive but which, when examined, mean nothing at all. “When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” This is nonsense. Rule out the impossible, and all you have is a vast array of possibilities, one of which might be the truth.

Holmes, so sensitive to physical clues, seems incapable of gauging the emotional reactions of others. Dr Lisa Sanders has made the intriguing case that Doyle, as a trained physician, described the symptoms of autism in Holmes some 70 years before the disorder was identified by the Austrian paediatrician Hans Asperger.

Holmes does not make conversation; he offers disquisitions. He knows a lot about very specific subjects (the differences between 140 varieties of tobacco ash), but nothing whatever about contemporary literature, philosophy and politics. “His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge,” observes Watson. Worse, Holmes is not interested in learning what he does not know. “What the deuce is it to me?” he demands, on being told that the earth travels around the sun.

In all these respects, Holmes is the polar opposite of Watson, who is gregarious, eager for knowledge and happy to converse on any subject with no pretensions to expertise. Where Holmes is drug-addict thin, Watson is an excellent trencherman, prompting Holmes to remark, with typical insensitivity, “You have put on seven and a half pounds since I saw you.”

Conan Doyle did not much like Holmes either, which may explain his decision to kill off the detective by pitching him over the Reichenbach Falls and his reluctance to resuscitate him despite the public clamour. “His character admits of no light and shade,” he grumbled.

Watson is, in some ways, disguised autobiography, for Doyle was himself the antithesis of Holmes. Holmes is bleakly rational; Doyle was romantic and superstitious. Holmes plays his violin, alone; Doyle hurled himself into team sports, and once took the wicket of W.G. Grace. Doyle doted on and depended on the various women in his life; Holmes thought that “women are never to be entirely trusted”.

In the contrast between the characters of Holmes and Watson, Doyle was not simply establishing the quintessential buddy partnership from which all others derive — Butch and Sundance, Batman and Robin and, most recently in the television series House, in which the deductive, medical-mystery-solving hero’s name is a play on Holmes (Home = House) and Dr Watson is Dr Wilson, his beleaguered ever-tolerant helpmate — Doyle was also making a point about character itself.

Holmes is flashy, brilliant and extraordinary, but it is Watson’s blunter, quieter virtues of simple decency that we are called on to admire, and it is his voice that we trust. Being right is all very well, Doyle seems to say through Watson, but being good is better. Watson is the man you would want to go into the jungle with or, for that matter, into the Afghan mountains.

Like many returning from Afghanistan today, Dr Watson dwells not on his own trials and injuries, but the bravery of his fellows. “I should have fallen into the hands of the murderous Ghazis had it not been for the devotion and courage shown by Murray, my orderly, who threw me across a pack horse, and succeeded in bringing me safely to the British lines.” One cannot imagine Holmes saying anything like this. All sinew and synapse, the great detective imagines war as a virtue.

In one of the last Holmes stories, His Last Bow, the greatest double-act in literature look out over the sea, having stymied a German spy plot in the run-up to the First World War.

“There’s an east wind coming, Watson.”

“I think not, Holmes. It is very warm.”

“Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age. There’s an east wind coming all the same . . . It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God’s own wind nonetheless, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.”

Holmes is both right about Watson — a fixed point of honour through the changing ages — and utterly wrong. One suspects that good old Watson, his shoulder shattered by an Afghan bullet, knows that Holmes does not understand what war is really like; but he is far too British to say so.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Banned Gouais blanc grape is the long-lost mother of Champagne

The Gouais blanc grape, disparaged for centuries as an inferior wine ingredient fit only for peasants, has been revealed as the mother of many of today’s finest and most sought-after varieties.

A genetic study has shown that Gouais blanc is the chief ancestor of modern grapes such as Chardonnay, the grape used to make Chablis and a component of Champagne, and Gamay noir, which is most famous as the mainstay of Beaujolais.

“This is a striking conclusion, as Gouais is generally considered a highly inferior variety, and its cultivation was banned for many years in parts of Europe,” said Christopher Howe, of the University of Cambridge, who led the study.

Both Gouais blanc and Pinot noir were grown extensively in Europe in the Middle Ages, particularly in northeastern France. Gouais blanc, however, was generally considered to make poor-quality wine, and several attempts were made to ban its cultivation between the late 16th and 18th centuries.

In 1732 an act of the Parlement of Besançon sought to outlaw the grape, which it described as rustic and inferior, though also as high-yielding. The Parlement of Metz took a similar initiative in the same year.

While attempts to ban the grape outright failed, it fell from popularity and largely disappeared from French vineyards in the 19th century. The original variety survives today in only a very few vineyards and reference collections.

John Haeger, of Stanford University in California, another author of the research, said: “Typically, varieties of this sort were grown on flat land by peasants. Good vineyards, on the other hand, growing better and lower-yielding varieties, were owned and farmed under the supervision of the Church or nobility.

“Many of the bans were designed either to favour aristocrats and monastic orders over peasants, or force more arable land into the production of cereals and legumes to eliminate food shortages.”

The latest research, which is published in the journal Biology Letters, has used genetic fingerprinting techniques similar to those used in forensic science to establish that Gouais blanc made a much more significant contribution to modern viticulture than had generally been thought.

While it was already known that several modern varieties owed their origins to cross-breeding of Gouais blanc and the more respectable Pinot noir, the findings have shown that Gouais was in many cases the senior partner.

When such crosses are made, the female grape strain that is used provides more DNA than the male strain to their offspring, and thus has more influence on their later characteristics.

The study led by Professor Howe has now shown that Gouais blanc was the maternal parent in crosses with Pinot noir that produced at least nine modern grape varieties.

As well as Chardonnay and Gamay, the lowly variety was the mother of Aligoté, Auxerrois, Bachet, Franc noir, Melon (used in Muscadet), Romorantin and Sacy. Pinot noir was the maternal parent of Aubin vert, Knipperlé and Roublot, with Gouais blanc the male partner.

Professor Howe said: “It is ironic that the despised grape Gouais blanc was not just a parent for several of the world’s best-known and most important varieties, such as Chardonnay and Gamay noir, it was the maternal parent, providing additional DNA and potentially determining important characteristics of the offspring.”


Has the theory of the Protestant work ethic just collapsed?

Has a young Harvard graduate student in economics dealt a deadly blow to Max Weber’s theory that Protestantism favours economic development? Davide Cantoni has just produced a brilliantly argued paper which takes economic data from Catholic and Protestant cities in Germany from 1300 to 1900, subjects them to meticulous multivariate analysis, and finds no evidence that Protestantism per se made people richer.

Cantoni, whose CV reveals that he is a 28-year-old doctoral student with joint German and Italian citizenship, knows that he is walking into a minefield. Weber’s reputation as perhaps the greatest of all sociologists does not rest solely on his famous thesis; but it has iconic status and both drew on and developed the widely held belief that, to put it crudely, Protestants get out of bed earlier in the morning than Catholics.

Weber’s thesis proposes that the specifically Calvinist belief in predestination persuaded its adherents to pursue capitalism as an end in itself: there was nothing you could do to contribute to your salvation, so you might as well make money as an end in itself (and, in any case, a healthy bank balance could be a sign that you were among the elect). But, in fact, lots of thinkers before Weber had concluded that America, England and northern Europe were rich because they had freed themselves from superstitious, hierarchical popery.

It’s this broader version of the “Protestant work ethic” that Cantoni exposes to scrutiny, since the German cities of the Holy Roman Empire that he analyses were mostly either Lutheran or Catholic. (There were Calvinist cities, but their joyless creed doesn’t seem to have made a difference.) The abstract of his paper, which can be read in pdf format, reads as follows:
The Economic Effects of the Protestant Reformation: Testing the Weber Hypothesis in the German Lands


Many theories, most famously Max Weber ’s essay on the “Protestant ethic,” have hypothesized that Protestantism should have favored economic development. With their considerable religious heterogeneity and stability of denominational affiliations until the 19th century, the German Lands of the Holy Roman Empire present an ideal testing ground for this hypothesis.

Using population figures in a dataset comprising 272 cities in the years 1300–1900, I find no effects of Protestantism on economic growth. The finding is robust to the inclusion of a variety of controls, and does not appear to depend on data selection or small sample size. In addition, Protestantism has no effect when interacted with other likely determinants of economic development. I also analyze the endogeneity of religious choice; instrumental variables estimates of the effects of Protestantism are similar to the OLS results.

A total of 272 cities over 600 years: that’s some sample. And controlling for various factors is no easy matter – as this sort of equation demonstrates:

ln(ui t ) = χi + χt + ∑ ατ · Proti · Iτ + ∑ βτ · controli · Iτ + ∑ γτ · controli · Proti · Iτ + ε i t

Still, it’s worth ploughing through as much of Cantoni’s paper as you can understand, because so many common preconceptions about thrifty Protestants and bone-idle Catholics bite the dust. He sets out to test the hypothesis that the ethos of Protestantism (whether purely doctrinal or based on distinctive commercial practices) gave an economic advantage to certain German cities. And the hypothesis flunks his test because, even when Protestant cities perform better than Catholic ones, there is a better “fit” with other variables. More important, on the whole Catholic cities developed just as successfully as their Protestant equivalents.

Catholic and Protestant cities, though different in many respects, both became economically dynamic over the centuries – thanks, mostly, to the benefits associated with the emergence of the modern nation state, something that post-Counter Reformation Catholic rulers nurtured alongside their Protestant opposite numbers. Here’s Cantoni’s conclusion:

While there are many reasons to expect Protestant cities and states to have been more economically dynamic during the past centuries—because of their work ethic, their attitude toward business, their encouragement of literacy—the present paper finds that there is no effect of religious denominations on a likely indicator of economic development, city size. Despite their differing views on religious matters, Protestants and Catholics might not have been so different in their economic behavior after all.

This research, incidentally, is described as a “Job Market Paper”. I can’t imagine that Cantoni will have any difficulty finding the right outlet for his own work ethic.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Some Vintage Humphries

My magic flute -- by Sir Les Patterson

From chamber orchestras to chasing skirt, a misspent life in music
and politics is remembered

ALTHOUGH I'm often described as a rough diamond, I'm also a discerning music lover. In point of fact, since I have represented Australian culture all over the planet, I am heavily into the finer things of life: Australian wines and spirits, fine old Tasmanian cheeses and approachable members of the opposite sex community.

Long before my old mates in the upper echelons of the Labor Party saw fit to make me Minister of Culture, I ran the entertainment division of one of south Sydney's biggest footy clubs. Back in the rock'n'rollin' '70s I coaxed a lot of crash-hot international talent to that club and although Ol' Blue Eyes, Sammy Davis jnr and Shirley Bassey regretfully couldn't make it, I showcased the late great Don Lane, Johnny Young with the Young Talent Time team and my personal favourite, Kamahl.

There was always music in my home in the dress circle suburb of Kogarah (an Aboriginal word meaning the meeting of the waters, although water is not the preferred beverage of we Kogarah-dwellers). My wife, Lady Gwen, was very proud of our Stromberg Carlson radiogram and she had a pretty eclectic collection of discs spanning a whole musical spectrum – from Mantovani, right through Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass to the Seekers, whom I almost lured to the club if they hadn't been overseas at the time.

Gwen would often sit up half the morning, God love her, in her candlewick dressing gown and pink fluffy mules sprinkled with toast crumbs, enjoying an Alpine and a pre-lunch Asti Spumante with Mario Lanza singing a Student Prince selection at full throttle. I was always proud of the fact that I was the only high-profile Australian politico with a high-brow wife who liked nothing better than a little musical soiree in the morning.

As my career blossomed and I copped the big posting in London as Australian Cultural Attache at the Court of St James with a commonwealth car in perpetuity, it was part of my briefing to go to operas, concerts and the occasional ballet. Even for me, some of the music was a bit too eclectic for my finely honed sensibility but I always liked the ballets, which I enjoyed from a comfy seat in the front row, affording me a ringside view up the ballerinas' plies and the occasional jetes.

I love nothing more than introducing young people to music and on these cultural excursions at the Australian taxpayers' expense, I often took as my companion a young, impressionable research assistant and the odd intern. My interns were rather aptly named, come to think of it, and they lapped up my wealth of artistic experience like thirsty kittens. God bless them.

If you are a red-blooded male, as I am, it is hard at first to work in an area that is largely the prerogative of the pillow-biting community, the Lord love them. Both the men and women affiliated with the Australian opera and ballet have all got proclivities of one kind or another and that's OK as far as I'm concerned, so long as the blokes don't try putting the hard word on me and the women-folk, in their black outfits and Sarah Palin glasses, don't make the move on my wife, whose medications and my long absences from the nest make her extremely vulnerable to the odd hand on her knee, be it male, female or indeterminate. Don't get me wrong, readers, I yield to none in my abhorrence of sexism in the workplace and homophobia. If you don't believe me, Google my lecture of a few years ago, "Meditations on Gender: The Recreations of a Diplomat".

The Australian Chamber Orchestra is an exciting group of young instrumentalists run by Richard Tognetti. I generally call him Dick because I can't get my tongue around his surname, though I can usually get my tongue around most other things. However, Dick is as Australian as Tim-Tams, Vegemite and intoxicated young women on Saturday nights. Like me he's an avid surfer and though it's a long time since I hung 10, my girl Friday will tell you that in the privacy of my taxpayer-funded government office, I manage to hang one pretty well every afternoon.

Dick and I have a lot in common apart from our love of eclectic music and I was delighted to discover that he and I are life members of the same lap-dancing club in Sydney. I am honoured to be joining the Australian Chamber Orchestra in a few pre-Christmas concerts where I will be singing some of my favourite and most eclectic Australian ditties. A couple of these, like The Road to Gundagai (Aboriginal word meaning meeting of the waters), were popular with my parents because it was the theme tune of Dad and Dave, a radio serial of yesteryear.

Young people and music lovers have probably never heard this classic before but my cover version of it will probably go platinum. I'll also be singing a song of my own composition dedicated to the love of my life. It will be the first time that this eclectic ballad has ever been accompanied by a chamber orchestra brave enough to play it. On other lips, the words of this song could offend but the way the ACO and I render it imparts a rare subtlety and resonance to the otherwise X-rated lyrics.

A final word about the rest of the concert, which represents the peak of my career. Barry Humphries, who is still alive and soon to be appearing on The Biggest Loser, will be in charge of the first half of the eclectic evening and good luck to him! The second half will kick off with me, and later on Dame Edna herself will grace the stage with a beautiful anthem she recently did at the Royal Albert Hall in the presence of King Constantine of Greece, a symphony orchestra, a choir of 150 and audience of 5000 music-lovers. It was a great moment for Australia, rivalled only by the concert we'll be giving you. A ticket to this will be the best Christmas present you'll ever give yourself and a moving expression of your trust and faith that in the hands of Leslie Colin Patterson AO KBE, Australian culture is safe for all time.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Out with the new... in with the old: Village is first to bring back old phone box after 25-year battle with BT

It is one of the defining symbols of 20th century Britain . . . one which, sadly, has been committed to history by the mobile phone. But in one small corner of England, the red telephone box is making a triumphant comeback. The utility was returned to its rightful place yesterday in Hampstead Norreys, Berkshire, after a battle by the 600 residents which went right to the top at BT.

Red telephone box in Hampstead Norreys
Landmark victory: BT today returned the traditional red telephone box it removed 25 years ago from Hampstead Norreys in Berkshire following a two-year campaign by residents

Red telephone box in Hampstead Norreys

It is the first time one of the boxes has been reinstated in a public place. The original was removed 30 years ago to be replaced by a grey plastic and glass kiosk that villagers described as ‘a monstrosity’. It was entirely out of keeping with the quaint grade II-listed well and riverside gardens it sat next to, they said.

But after a two-year fight with BT, an original red K6 ‘Jubilee’ box was returned yesterday – complete with working phone. The victory is expected to prompt hundreds of other villages to demand similar restorations.

Red telephone box in Hampstead Norreys
The refurbished traditional box is hoisted into place. BT agreed to equip it with a working phone line

‘It really is a red-letter day for small communities who are trying hard to retain their village identity as well as its history and heritage,’ said campaigner Sheila Craig. ‘We hope that this will enable other small communities to follow our lead and to look into reinstating their telephone boxes if they feel that it would improve the village ambience as well as its amenities.’

Classic red boxes remained a common feature of most towns and villages until BT began replacing them with grey glass designs in the Eighties. The campaign to reinstate one had been ‘littered with refusal
and disappointments’, Mrs Craig added. ‘Initially, the request was met with a firm “No” as it was not within BT’s policy to re-instate old red K6 telephone boxes,’ she said.

Red telephone box in Hampstead Norreys
A villager takes a peak inside. The campaigners said it was the first reinstatement of a public K6 kiosk with a working telephone

Red telephone box in Hampstead Norreys
Out with the old, in with the older: Villagers considered the old 1980s phone box an out-of-place 'monstrosity'

‘But after responding to all of BT’s reasons as to why the work could not be done, the residents’ request eventually reached the highest levels within the company and agreement to install a telephone was reached.’

The villagers have bought their own red phone box for £2,000 and BT has agreed to install a phone in it. The cost of maintaining it will be funded by the parish council, and it has been guaranteed for the next ten years.

The box was refurbished and suppliedby Lincolnshire-based company-British Bits.

The K6 boxes were designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V in 1935.

Mrs Craig said: ‘It is so good to put back not only a piece of heritage but a facility which can be used by the whole community and visitors alike, especially as mobile coverage is very poor in the village


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Labour of love that saved Sir Walter Scott from his editors

An epic feat of scholarship that set out to rescue the novels of Sir Walter Scott from a litany of 30,000 editorial gaffes and typesetting errors has finally been completed, 25 years after the project began.

The Talisman, re-published last month, is the last in a 28-book sequence that has seen a team of researchers finally eliminate errors scattered throughout the standard editions of the novels. The books are, at last, “as Scott would have wanted,” said Professor David Hewitt, editor-in-chief of the Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels.

In accomplishing his task, Professor Hewitt and a platoon of editors tracked down manuscripts and early 19th-century proof sheets in libraries in London, Edinburgh, New York and Moscow, comparing Scott’s originals with texts that had filled library shelves for generations. What they found shocked them: error after error strewn across every printed page.

Five or six mistakes a page is standard in the popular edition of each of the novels, with some pages containing ten or more. The final tally for each volume is enough to make a sub-editor blanch — 1,000 blemishes per book, the result of bad typesetting, accidental editorial errors and deliberate “improvements”.

Turning to a single page of Waverley, Scott’s first and most famous novel, Professor Hewitt itemised five mistakes, including paragraphing where none was intended, the word “accident” printed as “incident”, “which” printed as “whom”, and “lord” printed as “laird”.

The fifth example, yet another misprinted word, destroyed the vividness of a speech by the character Gilfillan, a Protestant Covenanting soldier, who deplores the ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church that he has witnessed in continental Europe.

“Scott has Gilfillan say: ‘O! it would grieve your honour’s soul to see the mumming, and the singing, and the massing that’s in the kirk . . .’” said Professor Hewitt. “‘Mumming’ makes complete sense there — there’s a notion of theatricality about it. But in print it turned out as ‘murmuring’, which completely loses the meaning that Scott intended.”

Some mistakes obscure vital elements of a book’s plot. In Kenilworth, editorial laxness had obscured the circumstances surrounding the death of Amy Robsart, the wife of Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, who is pursued by the evil Richard Varney.

“We went back to the manuscript, and saw it made sense,” said Professor Hewitt. “There was a variety of drawbridge and the villain takes away the supports so that when Amy Robsart stands on it, it collapses and she falls into the ditch below. That made sense. But it made no sense in the existing printed version. Words and meaning have gone: you simply cannot work out why the drawbridge lets her down, and how the murderer has done it. So we restored the manuscript.”

For Professor Hewitt, 67, the publication of The Talisman represents the culmination of a lifetime’s work. In the 1960s, he wrote his PhD thesis on Scott, and went on to lecture on the Romantics and Scottish Literature at The University of Aberdeen, before he was appointed editor-in-chief of The Waverley Novels by Edinburgh University Press in 1984.

Almost immediately, the evident poor quality of the existing printed editions of Scott’s work had shocked his team, said Professor Hewitt. “We really couldn’t believe it to start with. But the more we worked, the more we found out. We gradually got emboldened by our research to realise that the printed texts were so faulty. We got bolder as we grew more experienced.”

Changes had never been insisted upon by Scott himself, because he had never noticed the mistakes — by the time the novelist was sent finished proofs of his latest work, he had already moved on to his next project and he had little time for final corrections. In righting these mistakes, Professor Hewitt acknowledged that the sheer scale of his research had occasionally proved daunting, but nothing had persuaded him to throw in the towel.

“Of course there are nights when you think ‘Oh I’ve had enough of this’ and every now and then one wants some fun and games,” he said. “But it has been perpetually interesting, partly because it has been such an adventure. Partly because we got to a stage where we trusted Scott to have got something right, whatever the printed editions told us.”

Their trust was not misplaced. Scott’s mother was the daughter of a professor of medicine and his father was a Writer to the Signet, and he was steeped in the intellectual currents of the Scottish Enlightenment. By his late 20s he cut a considerable public figure: Sheriff of Selkirkshire from 1799 to his death in 1832, and principal clerk of the Court of Session from 1806.

In private, he was astonishingly fecund. He edited the works of Dryden and Swift, and wrote a succession of hugely popular narrative poems of his own, beginning with The Lay of the Last Minstrel in 1805. Then, when the young Lord Byron cornered the market for longer poems, Scott responded by developing the historical novel, beginning with Waverley in 1814.

His books made him the most famous author in the world, influencing Balzac, Stendhal and Tolstoy, but also endearing him to the popular imagination in 19th-century Britain. Some of that legacy, particularly his “invention” of Highland tradition made him less popular in the decades that followed. He was “the sham bard of a sham nation,” according to Edwin Muir.

Since the 1960s, says Professor Hewitt, Scott’s reputation has revived. “He is not going to be popular like Jane Austen is popular. He makes really big linguistic demands. All that Scots language is magnificent — but it is very hard to read. Intellectually it is demanding too — you have to pay attention. For all that, we have already sold 50-70,000 volumes in this edition alone. That is quite a lot of books.”


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Porpoise porridge, Sire? World's oldest recipe book reveals dishes English kings enjoyed 600 years ago

Dishes of chicken blancmange and porpoise porridge are unlikely to whet the appetite of most modern food lovers. But such recipes were apparently fit for a king 600 years ago. Written by chefs employed by Richard II, they are included in what is thought to be the world's oldest cookbook.


A meal fit for a king? Visitors to Manchester University's John Rylands library are tasting meals cooked from the world's first cookbook written in 1390


John Hodgson, who looks after manuscripts and archives at Manchester University, shows off the world's first cookbook, written 600 years ago

The unusual dishes rival modern creations by British TV chef Heston Blumenthal, who is famous for his snail porridge.

Experts from Manchester University's John Rylands Library, who discovered the manuscript, have translated a handful of its 150 recipes, which are written in Middle English and date back to 1390. They include frumenty, a porridge-type dish made of bulghar wheat, chicken stock and saffron, and payn puff, a dish of boiled fruits wrapped in pastry.

The unusual cookbook, called the Forme of Cury, is believed to have contained dishes to feed servants and the royal family alike. It gives a fascinating insight into the delicacies of the time, including dishes of swan and peacock. After translating the recipes, historians wanted to try the dishes themselves.

However, with no ingredient quantities or instructions, making the dishes proved tricky. John Hodgson, who looks after the library's manuscripts and archives, said: 'One of the difficulties was that a lot of the recipes were very vague. 'It wasn't like Delia Smith or Gordon Ramsay books at all. The book doesn't specify quantities of ingredients or cooking times, so it was a case of trial and error to get the recipes to suit modern tastes.'


(Larger version of the above graphic here)

Treats fit for a Medieval  king (above): Tart in Ymber Day (egg custard tart), and Payn Puff (boiled fruit in pastry)

Several meals are being added to the library's canteen menu for visitors to try. Debbie Fletcher, manager of the library's cafe, said: 'It was a real challenge to find some ingredients. Trying to find a porpoise - it's not something you can pop down to the supermarket for'

Student George Arnett, 20, said: 'I was surprised how nice the food was. It's hard to believe they were eaten 600 years ago.'


Sunday, November 29, 2009

William Shakespeare's plays were written by Earl of Oxford, claims German scholar

A German academic claims to have uncovered the most conclusive evidence to date that the works of William Shakespeare were in fact written by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

Kurt Kreiler’s 595-page book, The Man Who Invented Shakespeare, has been published in Germany to some critical acclaim and an English translation is planned for next year.

Over 22 chapters, Mr Kreiler, an established Shakespeare scholar, builds a mountain of circumstantial evidence in support of the idea that the world has been honouring the wrong man for centuries.

He claims de Vere's known works and letters show a strong Shakespearean style and also points to the earl's nickname at court, 'Spear-shaker'.

Mr Kreiler says the earl graduated from Cambridge aged just 14; mastered law and Italian; and would have had a wide-ranging knowledge of the upper classes – in contrast to the lowly-born William Shakespeare. All this, he concludes, means de Vere was well placed to write works such as The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar.

Mr Kreiler also believes Hamlet was almost an autobiographical play about the Earl’s life. De Vere’s father-in-law, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, is said to be have been parodied as the character Polonius.

“It is interesting to note that his nickname at court was Spear-shaker, due to his ability both at tournaments and because his coat of arms featured a lion brandishing spear,” he said.

“Edward De Vere also lived in the same area as Shakespeare and scrutiny of specific stanzas of poetry he wrote show their style was not copied anywhere else at the time, except in what we call Shakespearean poems.”

Walter Klier, another German Shakespeare scholar, suggested the new book should be taken seriously.

“An enormous amount of research has been invested in this fluent, well-written biography, offering a cornucopia of new facts and new insights,” he said.

However he added: “The debate will still go on forever about whether or not Shakespeare really was Shakespeare.”

Critics of the theory argue that de Vere’s death in 1604 means he cannot possibly have been the real Shakespeare as he would not have been aware of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 and the wreck of the Sea Venture in Bermuda in 1609, which are thought to be alluded to in Macbeth and The Tempest respectively.

Contemporaries such as playwright Ben Jonson also pay tribute to Shakespeare’s abilities as a writer.

And many consider de Vere’s known works to be markedly inferior to Shakespeare’s and question why the earl would have been happy to put his name to those, but not material of better quality.


The mayonnaise caper

The elderly German who opened the door of the "Hansel and Gretel" house in picturesque Heidelberg looked innocuous.

"A really tall guy with an abnormally sized head," recalls Australian documentary filmmaker Philippe Mora. "And a St Bernard dog, complete with that little rum barrel round its neck."

Yet this innocent-looking man was a Nazi war criminal - Adolf Hitler's architect and armaments minister Albert Speer, sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment at the Nuremberg war trials.

"I was taken aback when he opened the door himself," the acclaimed French-born Melbourne director and painter explains on the phone from his home in Los Angeles.

"He said, 'I understand you are Australian.' Then he launched into a speech about how the British had betrayed the Aussies in the war.

"The next thing he asked was, 'Are you Jewish?' When I said yes he let me in. Coming from Australia I had no fear. But things were put into perspective later when I phoned Melbourne to tell my dad [Georges Mora, born Gunter Morawski in Leipzig in 1913] I had just had lunch with Albert Speer.

"He said, 'Did you kill him?' He was only half joking."

Mora's 1973 documentary Swastika - featuring home-movie footage of Hitler's private life - has just been shown in Berlin for the first time since it was banned in Germany 36 years ago.

Because of the publicity, Mora learnt new information about his father's battle against the Nazis - first as a Jewish student in Berlin during the infamous "burning of the books" bonfire in 1933, then as a refugee smuggler with the French Resistance alongside his good friend Marcel Marceau, the internationally famous mime artist.

Mora, 60, praised the bravery of his father and Marceau. "Marceau told me this story about my dad being called Mr Mayonnaise in the French Resistance."

His father, who had escaped from Germany after the book-burning, noticed German soldiers would never search sandwiches containing mayonnaise in case drips stained their uniforms.

So the Resistance wrapped the identity papers of Jewish children being smuggled over borders in greaseproof paper, smeared them with mayonnaise and inserted them into sandwiches.

"Marceau started miming to keep children quiet as they were escaping. It had nothing to do with show business. He was miming for his life."

Mora said Speer had taken him to "the fanciest restaurant in Heidelberg". "All the waiters had duelling scars. [Note: Duelling and duelling scars have long been something of a student tradition in Germany and Austria. The custom long predates the Nazis -- JR] It was like something out of a Mel Brooks movie. I'd say, 'I'll have the schnitzel, please,' and they would click their heels.

"I asked him what he would do if Hitler walked into the room now. He said, 'I think I'd have to do what he asked. His personal power on me was so great.' It's amazing he said that in 1973."


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Benito Mussolini regarded Adolf Hitler as a 'sentimentalist'

Benito Mussolini regarded Adolf Hitler as a teary-eyed "sentimentalist" but was jealous of the Nazi dictator's power and fame, diaries written by the Italian leader's mistress reveal

Claretta Petacci's journals, which will be published this week, describe a meeting he had with the German leader in 1938 after British prime minister Neville Chamberlain agreed to Germany's annexation of the Sudetenland. "The Fuhrer was very kind. At heart, Hitler is an old sentimentalist. When he saw me he had tears in his eyes," Mussolini told his lover.

The diaries also show Mussolini was irritated by being regarded as a junior partner to Hitler, maintaining that his fascism and anti-Semitism dated back to the 1920s, before Hitler rose to prominence. "I've been racist since 1921," he proudly told his mistress on a boating trip on August 4, 1938, two years before Italy declared war on Britain. "I don't know how they can think that I'm imitating Hitler, he wasn't even born then (in a political sense)."

In another diary entry, Mussolini rails against Italians in Italy's African colonies having relationships with locals. "Every time I get a report from Africa, it makes me upset. Just today, another five arrested for living with blacks. Ah! These dirty Italians, they are destroying in less than seven years an empire. They have no consciousness of race."

The book, Secret Mussolini, contains extracts from Petacci's diaries written between 1932 and 1938. They say Mussolini was madly in love with Miss Petacci, once telling her he mentally undressed her at the theatre and that he had a "mad desire" for her.

She was just 20 when she met the fascist dictator, who was married with children and 29 years her senior.

In April 1945, with total defeat looming, the couple tried to escape to Switzerland but were caught by Italian partisans, executed and strung up from a petrol station near Milan.

The diaries make it plain that he was infatuated with her. "Do you know, my darling, that last night at the theatre I undressed you at least three times?" she recalls him telling her in January 1938.

"I was crazy with desire for you. Your small body, your flesh for which I'm crazy, tomorrow will be mine."


Friday, November 13, 2009

Japanese subs found off Hawaii could have changed World War II

The two Japanese submarines – which were commandeered and scuttled by the US after World War II – were much larger, faster, and stealthier than US subs of the day. One included a float-plane that could attack New York.

Marine researchers have found a pair of Imperial Japanese Navy submarines on the sea floor off Hawaii's Oahu Island – vessels so advanced for their day they would provide plenty of fodder for a fresh novel by Tom Clancy.

Known by their vessel numbers, the I-14 was a 375-foot submarine aircraft carrier – its crew capable of assembling and launching two float-plane bombers in roughly 20 minutes. The other craft, the I-201, was an attack submarine, twice as fast as any in the US fleet and faster than subs in any other Navy during World War II.

"This is one of the most significant marine-heritage findings in recent years," according to Hans Van Tilburg, a marine archaeologist who is the maritime-heritage coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Sanctuaries in the Pacific. The find was announced Thursday.

"These submarines are 60-year-old time capsules offering first-hand insight into a military technology that was far ahead of its time," he says. The subs were so advanced, Mr. Van Tilburg continues, that had they appeared earlier in the war and in larger numbers, "the submarines had the potential to turn the tide of war."

Among the approaches Japanese designers used: a rubbery coating on the outside of the hull and conning tower to absorb radar and reduce the likelihood that sonar aboard US destroyers or subs would pick up sounds from inside the Japanese vessels.

The aircraft-bearing subs were designed to bring the war to the US mainland and strategic choke points such as the Panama Canal by hiding offshore and releasing the single-engine bombers on what would be one-way missions. The tactic Japanese war planners envisioned provided a chilling foretaste of tactics the US and Russian navies would use with their ballistic-missile submarines during and after the cold war.

Indeed, the I-14's larger sibling, the I-400 class subs, could be considered the forerunners of today's ballistic-missile "boomers."

At 400 feet long, the I-400 subs were designed to travel 37,500 miles without refueling – enough range to cruise around the world 1-1/2 times between fill-ups and have enough fuel left for their three aircraft. Intended targets for the subs' bombers included Washington and New York. None of these long-range missions were carried out.

The expedition was conducted using manned submersibles operated by the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory, a cooperative venture between NOAA and the University of Hawaii. Partial funding for the effort came from the National Geographic Society's cable TV arm, the National Geographic Channel.

Today's announcement comes four and a half years after the same submersible team spotted the remains of one of the largest subs, the I-401 off the Hawaiian Islands.

The I-401, along with the I-14 and I-201, were captured at war's end and sailed to Hawaii, where US naval intelligence officers could plumb the ships' secrets. They are three of five advanced Japanese subs the US sailed to Pearl Harbor after the war. All were scuttled to avoid having to share the information with the Pacific war's late-comer and co-claimant to such prizes, the former Soviet Union.

For a US submarine officer of the day, the largest of these Japanese vessels were little short of awe inspiring.

"The giant submarine's proliferation of compartments was hard to get used to," wrote the late Thomas Paine, who at the time was a lieutenant in the US submarine service and was an officer on the I-400's prize crew as it sailed from occupied Japan to Pearl Harbor.

Along the way, the crew tweaked the galley to fit American taste buds and added other amenities.

Thus, Mr. Paine writes, his tale "may be historically significant when future underwater archaeologists diving on the I-400 in deep water off Hawaii wonder why her scuttlebutts [water fountains] were equipped with General Electric refrigerated fountains."

"Why did her galley feature gourmet cooking equipment (including an ice cream machine)?" he writes. "Why deluxe porcelain plumbing fixtures in the heads? Why crude military electronics topside, while bunks below were wired for music from a deluxe jukebox with flashing colored lights? You have the explanation."

Indeed, within the next week, the submersible team that discovered the I-401, I-14, and I-201 will be taking their craft for test dives ahead of a new undersea research season. The team plans to use those dives to look for the I-400, as well as the I-201's sister ship, the I-203.


BBC splurges the funds compulsorily extracted from the average Briton

After a long resistance, the BBC publishes top execs' pay and expenses -- and they are huge. 37 BBC staff earn more than the Prime Minister

DETAILS of the salaries and expenses of more than 100 of the British Broadcasting Corporation's top executives have been published online. The revelations, which the BBC has called a "step change in openness", follow a scandal earlier this year over parliamentary expenses. It fuelled pressure for disclosure of financial details of publicly-funded bodies.

According to the pay details of 107 BBC "decision-makers'', published online on Thursday, BBC director general Mark Thompson receives a salary of £664,000 and a total annual pay package of £834,000 ($US1.38 million, $A1.48 million).

The BBC, which is often attacked by rival British commercial media, published the salaries of its 50 best-paid managers in June, and said its executives claimed over £350,000 in expenses between 2004-2009.

But the newly-released figures give details of nearly 3,000 separate expense claims, which were immediately trawled over by British media for questionable details.

Jay Hunt, controller of the main BBC1 television channel who is £272,800 pounds per year, claimed nearly £30 for a bottle of spirits and almost £90 for flowers.
Despite his large salary, Thompson himself claimed 70p for parking on seven separate occasions, alongside claims for everything from business class air tickets, flowers, hotel refreshments and restaurant bills.

BBC creative director Alan Yentob claimed £3,211.70 for a return flight to New York in June, and incurred £674.19 in taxi fares in April alone, the figures showed.

Radio 1 controller Andy Parfitt, who is paid a total of £218,800 claimed nearly 550 pounds for equipment for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for Comic Relief, an annual charity event.

But there did not appear to be anything approaching the eye-popping revelations from the parliamentary expenses scandal before the summer, such as duck houses, moat cleaning and extensive second home expenses.

The BBC said it was simply being transparent. "Today's quarterly disclosure is a significant move for the BBC in our continued commitment to achieving ever greater openness and transparency to the public who pay for the BBC,'' said BBC chief operating officer Caroline Thomson.

She said the publication "is a direct response to the public, who have indicated that they would like more information about how the BBC is run in a way which marks a step change in openness, simplicity and accountability''. "We are meeting the spirit as well as the letter of the law.''

The BBC has also been rocked by a series of other scandals in recent years, including rigged competitions, a misrepresented row involving Queen Elizabeth II and, more seriously, with the government over the 2003 Iraq war.

SOURCE. See also here

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Secret Worcestershire Sauce recipe found

Historians believe they have found the original recipe for Lea and Perrins' Worcestershire sauce, which could be 150 years old. The original recipe was a closely guarded secret, but a former accountant at the company claimed that he found the notes dating from the mid 1800s in a skip by the firm's site.

Brian Keogh, who died in 2006, said that he discovered the original recipe in two leather-bound folios written in sepia ink. The recipe was written in two different styles of handwriting, which analysts believe was due to the fact that no one knew the entire recipe. His daughter Bonnie Clifford is now working with the museum to test the papers.

The classic condiment is thought to contain ingredients including cloves, vinegar, pickles and tamoraide.

Worcester City Museums collections officer David Nash said: "There has always been a lot of secrecy surrounding the recipes and pride that it is made locally.

"Not even the staff knew the whole recipe, only parts of it, which would account for the different handwriting, and some of the ingredients were written in code.

"Even with all the ingredients there is no guarantee you would be able to make the sauce as what makes it distinctive is the way it is made, which is still a secret."

"It would be significant to the people of Worcester and maybe even attract national interest if they are proved to be genuine."

SOURCE (Sauce?)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Memoirs of Hitler aide published

The memoirs of the last SS adjutant to Adolf Hitler are to be published in a move historians say could cast away the last shred of doubt over his personal involvement in the Holocaust.

Fritz Darges died at the weekend aged 96 with instructions for his manuscript about his time spent at the side of the Führer to be published once he was gone.

Darges was the last surviving member of Hitler's inner circle and was present for all major conferences, social engagements and policy announcements for four years of the war.

Experts say his account of his time as Hitler's direct link to the SS could discount the claims of revisionists who have tried to claim the German leader knew nothing of the extermination programme. Right-wing historians have claimed the planing for the murder of six million Jews was carried out by SS chief Heinrich Himmler.

Mainstream historians believe it inconceivable that Hitler did not issue verbal directives about the mass killings in Darges' presence. Other courtiers, such as armaments minister Albert Speer and propaganda chief Josef Goebbels, had their diaries published post war with no reference to hearing Hitler ordering the "Final Solution".

Darges died on Saturday still believing in the man who engineered the Jewish Holocaust as "the greatest who ever lived." His memoirs will be published now in accordance with his will.

Darges trained as an export clerk but joined the SS in April 1933. His zeal for National Socialism soon earmarked him for great things and by 1936 he was the senior adjutant to Martin Bormann, Hitler's all-powerful secretary.

"I first met the Führer at the Nuremberg party rally in 1934," he said in an interview given to a German newspaper shortly before his death at his home in Celle. "He had a sympathetic look, he was warm-hearted. I rated him from the off."

After serving in the SS panzer division Wiking in France and Russia he was promoted on to the Führer's personal staff in 1940. He rose to the rank of Lt. Col. and was awarded the Knights Cross, the highest gallantry award for bravery in the field.

Much of his time after 1942 was either spent at Hitler's eastern headquarters the 'Wolf's Lair' at Rastenburg, East Prussia, or at his holiday home, the Berghof, on a mountain in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria.

"It was a very familial atmosphere at the Berghof," he recalled. "One time we went off to Italy together with Eva Braun and her sister Gretel in an open-topped car.

"I had to organise all the finances. I had the feeling that Eva's sister was interested in me but I didn't think I should become the brother-in-law of the Fuehrer.

"As adjutant I was responsible for his day-to-day programme. I must, and was, always there for him, at every conference, at every inter-service liaison meeting, at all war conferences. "I must say I found him a genius."

But Darges misjudged the "warm-hearted" Führer deeply during one conference at Rastenburg on July 18 1944 – two days before a bomb plot nearly succeeded in killing him.

During a strategy conference a fly began buzzing around the room, landing on Hitler's shoulder and on the surface of a map several times. Irritated, Hitler ordered Darges to "dispatch the nuisance". Darges suggested whimsically that, as it was an "airborne pest" the job should go to the Luftwaffe adjutant, Nicolaus von Below.

Enraged, Hitler dismissed Darges on the spot. "You're for the eastern front!" he yelled. And so he was sent into combat.

But despite the dramatic end to his time with Hitler, he would still hear nothing against "the boss."

"We all dreamed of a greater German empire," he said. "That is why I served him and would do it all again now," said the man who had a career after the war selling cars.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Just relish the food of of life: pig in

I am not sure that I entirely agree with the lady writing below (and the apparent fact that she is a Chinese-Australian is rather surprising) but I think she has a point. Perhaps because of my contact with India, I use my hands fairly freely while eating and I definitely need a bib at times. Indians tell me that they would not enjoy their food as much if they could not feel it -- JR

By Donna Chang

Last week I ate a beautiful ginger and garlic crab at home with my family. We tore it apart with our hands, noisily sucked and chewed the flesh, stained our clothes with crab juice, and left a trail of dirty serviettes in our wake.

Food is enjoyed with reckless abandon at my house, and it makes me wonder why more of us don't eat our food this way.

We are trained from an early age not to chew with our mouths open, to sit up straight at the table, not to tear at food with our fingers - lest we offend fellow diners.

But what if everyone threw away their inhibitions about table etiquette? I'm sure many among us have the secret desire to put a plate up to their face and slurp the yolk from a sunny-side-up fried egg at a cafe.

How much more would we enjoy a bowl of spag bol at a restaurant without the constant interruption of wiping sauce away from our chins? Without glancing around anxiously to see if anyone saw you drop that noodle on to your lap?

I've found that people will admit to ''bad'' etiquette when eating alone at home, but would never take that kind of behaviour out into public. That they pick apart a cold chicken carcass with their hands is their dirty little secret.

I don't find that behaviour at all offensive - instead, I cannot bear watching someone painstakingly pick apart a pizza with a knife and fork. To me, it indicates a triumph of needless, priggish behaviour over good commonsense.

And think about this: it is cute when we see a toddler enraptured with his ice-cream as it dribbles down her chin. But when that toddler grows up, he becomes obsessed with stopping the drips, and keeping his hands and face clean.

To replicate that same joy we experienced as a toddler is to have our own behaviour labelled childish, uneducated - even savage.

We need not obsess over a little bit of mess, because hands, faces, clothes can be washed. Perhaps we need to rewrite the social handbook to focus on the joy of eating freely, rather than a detached dissection of food. Or invent a machine to remove ingrained soundbite memories of our parents' nagging voices about table manners. Nobel prize, anyone?

And one more thing. I'm going to Tetsuya's next week. I just hope they're tolerant of the three-second rule.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Stupid British Bureaucrats kill rare bird

Over wrong paperwork! Their approach was absolutely typical of the whole British bureaucracy. Demonstrating their own power and authority trumps everything else

A wild golden eagle rescued by a falconry expert has died after being seized by police and animal welfare officials.

Last November Roy Lupton, 34, a falconer from Hollingsbourne, Kent, was in Perthshire when a friend’s bird became locked in a fight with a wild golden eagle, one of Britain’s rarest birds of prey. There are 442 breeding pairs, mainly in Scotland.

Questions are being asked about the bird’s care at an RSPCA centre after it was confiscated from Roy Lupton, a falconer from Kent, who was nursing the eagle from injuries sustained in the wild.

The episode began in November last year when Mr Lupton, from Hollingsbourne, Kent, who keeps golden eagles and goshawks, set out with friends to take their birds to fly them in their natural habitat in Perthshire.

During the trip his friend’s female golden eagle became locked in a fight with a wild golden eagle. Mr Lupton, 34, a member of the Hawk Board, which represents 25,000 falconers, and an expert for Fieldsports TV, thought that the injuries to the wild bird were so serious that it would need veterinary treatment. It had suffered serious damage to the area of the chest where food is stored and near the eyes.

Mr Lupton sought permission from the Scottish Executive to remove the bird and nurse her at his specialist premises at Hollingsbourne. Without authority he would be liable to a £5,000 fine and up to six months in prison for removing a bird from the wild.

He planned to release the eagle in the spring. “I was concerned that the eagle, who I called Colin, was getting too used to humans,” he said. “It is important for these wild birds to be afraid of humans as it helps their protection in the wild. So I thought the best thing would be to fit a satellite monitor on the bird so conservationists could track her progress in the wild.”

Mr Lupton said that he told official from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) about his plans. In May 5 his home and aviaries were raided by three officers from Kent Police, a policeman on secondment to Defra’s animal heath section and a wildlife crimes investigator from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

“I explained everything to them but they were adamant they were going to remove the wild golden eagle and accused me of the illegal theft of the bird and keeping an unregistered bird,” he said.

“But what really appalled me is that they had no understanding of how to deal with such a bird. They brought the wrong box to carry the bird, I had to lend them one of my own.”

The bird was taken to the Mallydam wildlife centre in Sussex, run by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Mr Lupton was formally questioned by police, who passed the matter to the Crown Prosecution Service, but the case was dropped.

He was concerned about the eagle’s fate and was allowed to visit the premises with his vet. “I was horrified by what I saw,” he said. “The RSPCA was keeping the bird on a concrete floor, which is bad for its talons, and there was leaf mould on the roof of the room, which can cause lung infections in golden eagles.”

A month later he was allowed to take the bird home. Her condition had badly deteriorated and his local vet took blood tests. The bird was found to be suffering lead poisoning and Mr Lupton learnt that it had been fed on rabbits which had been shot with lead pellet.

On June 17 he took the bird to a centre in Swindon run by Neil Forbes, an avian veterinary surgeon. The eagle died 12 hours later.

In his autopsy report, Mr Forbes said that the bird was kept in inappropriate conditions while in the care of the RSPCA and was “not provided with good practice in terms of husbandry”.

He said: “Whilst I cannot be certain the bird’s death was a direct result of the Defra seizure and the period of RSPCA care, certainly the stress effect (suppressing the immune system), the persistent systemic infection from the time of leaving the RSPCA care, does indicate a very high likelihood of a causative link between the period of care and the bird’s subsequent death.”

The Hawk Board is demanding answers from Defra about the events.

Defra said that it could not comment on details as the case was subject to an internal investigation. “Animal health officers, with Kent Police, attended a falconry in Kent in the belief that the person in question did not have the correct paperwork for the eagle,” it said.

The RSPCA said: “Staff were extremely upset to hear about the death of this eagle and the society agrees this is a very sad and tragic event.” It said that it had had only two days’ notice to make preparations for the bird and during its stay staff raised concerns that it might have had underlying health problems.

The RSPB said that it was concerned about the eagle’s death and hoped that Defra would learn lessons from the incident.


Friday, October 23, 2009

A new Thesaurus

It was in 1969 that Professor Kay, now 69, arrived at the University of Glasgow to work as a research assistant on a project that had been started four years earlier by the Professor of English Language, Michael Samuels.

The result, which took its team of 230 editors, research assistants, postgraduate students, staff and volunteers the equivalent of 176 man-years to complete, is a two-volume, 3,952-page thesaurus, with 800,000 meanings and 236,000 categories and sub-categories — and a surprisingly large number of words for nose. (Nose: nib, proboscis, snot-gall, smeller, trunk, conk, sneezer, scent-box, snoot, horn, spectacles-seat, razzo, beezer, schnozzle ... ) It is not just noses, either. “It is amazing to see how many words there were in Anglo-Saxon times for diseases of the feet,” said Professor Kay, who took over the running of the project in 1989. “I assume in those days conditions of the hands and feet were very important and also, medical knowledge in those times only consisted of the outer body.”

Does anyone suffer from deawwyrm these days? Or fotgeswell? Perhaps it’s an Anglo-Saxon thing.

The area that shows human ingenuity at its most productive, however, is the insult. Ever since Homo sapiens moved beyond the basic grunt, people have been rude about each other and the thesaurus includes a rich compendium of the different ways that man has found to express his contempt for his fellow man.

In Anglo-Saxon times a person might be called an earming, wyrmlic or hinderling. By Shakespeare’s time that had broadened to include dogbolt, drivel, marmoset, skitbrains and shack-rag. Later insults included fitchcock, muckworm, whiffler, ramscallion, squinny and snool, not to mention such 20th-century additions as tripe-hound, shite-poke, roach and lug.

The historical thesaurus, the first of its kind, also highlights when words became common parlance. Shakespeare, for instance, would not have used the word “pink” to describe the colour because the word entered the language only in 1828. Instead he would have used “carnation”.

Chaucer would not have called that familiar root vegetable a “carrot”, because the word comes from the French carotte and is not recorded until 1533. He would have said “tank”.

“Our oldest words go back to about 700AD,” said Professor Kay. “This is when the English language came to Britain. It was not the origin of the language, though; it was already in existence in Germanic parts of Europe. The Angles and Saxons had been speaking it for centuries and brought it with them when they came here.”

She said that one of the main differences from Roget’s Thesaurus was that the new volumes go back to the origins of English. “In addition to getting the words arranged by their meanings, we provide the dates during which they were current in English.

“We include obsolete words which are no longer in use or are only found in very special contexts.

“Words have different survival rates so there are maybe 7,000 words which have been in English since the very early days and there are other words that maybe only lasted for a few years. For the first time ever the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary puts these in context.”

How did Professor Kay feel when she finally completed the work of a lifetime? Elated? Exultant? Jubilant? Cock-a-hoop? “I just felt triumphant,” she said. “I sometimes doubted that we would ever finish it. You are going round in circles the whole time. If you move this word or that word you might improve it. You could do it for ever. But you’ve got to pull the plug at some point.” In other words, it could have taken longer than 44 years.

Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary is published by Oxford University Press, £250 until January 31, 2010, then £275

Thursday, October 22, 2009

French without faux pas: rules for the office

So you thought Gallic style was effortless? Far from it, as a new guide to the complexities of office life reveals

Want to work in France? Then you will need to mind your language and the way you look. Your hair, clothes and make-up must be immaculate, even after a long, hard day. Your self-control should be total and your conversation will avoid all subjects likely to rile colleagues, such as love, money and your personal problems.

This advice on the Gallic ideal comes from the author Laurence Caracalla, who has written a guide to French office life that covers such subjects as clothes, manners, parties and romances. It makes daunting reading.

At 7pm, for instance, a self-respecting Frenchwoman must look and sound as fresh as if she had just showered in the morning, Caracalla says. Her appearance will be flawless, her conduct exemplary.

Smiling and fragrant, her ideal office worker will feign interest in the boss’s account of his marital woes but not bother him with his or her own — and will then text a lover and arrange to meet at a suitably tactful distance from the office.

The key, according to Caracalla, is a combination of discipline and education. For the French, in her view, are not effortlessly chic at all. On the contrary, the effort required of them is gruelling.

Caracalla, 47, is a former Paris press officer who apparently spent much of her early working life correcting les fautes de goût — errors of taste — made by those around her. An un-ironed shirt? An upturned collar? Cheap perfume? Whatever the error, it had to be corrected.

Two years ago she decided to condense into book form all the advice she had been offering to friends, family and colleagues.Le Carnet du Savoir-Vivre (The Notebook on Manners) was an instant success and Caracalla became a sort of national arbiter on social etiquette.

Should a male host greet female guests with a kiss? (Yes, if he knows them already). What should you talk about at a dinner party? (Films, art exhibitions but not your last holiday, your health or your children’s school results). How often should you have your feet done at the beauty parlour? (At least once a year).

These questions were obviously preying on the Gallic mind, as Caracalla is now asked to expand on them regularly for talk shows and is soon to start a blog on the subject for Le Figaro.

In her view, the unwritten rules of office life are a labyrinth in which even French employees can easily get lost — so this summer she followed up her first success with Le Carnet du Savoir-Vivre au Bureau (The Notebook on Office Manners).

Her bestseller runs to 248 pages of tips for anyone planning to work in France. Don’t eat roast snails the day before an important meeting, for example — your breath will smell of the garlic they are cooked in. Always remember to say “Bonjour” to others in the company lift — they will take offence if you look in silence at your shoes, which, by the way, must be polished daily. And never ever mention your salary, the cost of your watch or the size of the restaurant bill that you are offering to pay — money in 21st-century France is like sex in 19th-century Britain, the great taboo. It is better to phone the restaurant afterwards to complain that the waiter has overcharged you.

In person, Caracalla looks the part. Her make-up respects her own golden rule, that “it must light up your face without others really knowing where the brilliance comes from”. Her elegant black jacket and chiffon blouse are similarly immaculate and her smartly sandalled feet have obviously been taken for their regular visits to the beautician.

She assures me that she still does her best to preach what she practises — a point underlined when her press officer appears with a slightly upturned collar. “Your collar,” she says. He flattens it down swiftly.

Her protocols apply at least as much to behaviour as to appearance. Take, for example, the end-of-year party (which is, anyway, a far more sober affair in France than in Britain). Caracalla warns her readers sternly not to let their hair down or even to be seen with someone who has let his or her hair down.

“Be yourself, just smile a little bit more than usual and be a little bit more affable,” she counsels. “Flee the colleague who seems tipsy like the plague.”

You may have thought of the French as a nation dedicated to the good things in life. But in Caracalla’s view fun doesn’t really enter the equation, at least not in the workplace — not at the office party, not on your coffee break and certainly not during a business lunch.

Fancy wine with the meal? “Be careful. Alcohol makes you lose your inhibitions and you may disclose confidential things and regret it bitterly,” says Caracalla. If your guests want a bottle of red, allow yourself a glass. Otherwise, make sure you stick to water.

The same self-control is necessary if you spot an acquaintance on the other side of the restaurant. “Stop yourself from waving ... a simple smile or a small gesture with the hand will do.”

Want to break the ice with a joke? Bad idea. “You can’t tell if you’re going to be funny. The best thing is to abstain.”

Spontaneous office chatter is banned. “Turn your tongue seven times in your mouth before speaking” is an old French expression that sums up the Caracalla approach perfectly.

Dying to tell colleagues about your daughter’s appendicitis? About your nightmare journey home last night? About your visit to the dentist? Caracalla winces. “We are always convinced that our lives are enormously interesting,” she says, “but you have to get it into your head that you probably don’t interest other people that much at all.”

This advice applies particularly in open-plan offices, where extreme caution must be exercised. “Remember what you were always told as a child,” says Caracalla. “Don’t bother other people. Don’t speak too loudly.”

So no laughter, no whoops of delight, no barking into the telephone and no “bling” jewellery that may bang against your desk.And while we are on the subject of objectionable habits, avoid an overdose of perfume “which can purely and simply ruin the life of your colleagues”.

How much perfume is too much? “A few drops behind the ears and on the coat in winter are enough,” says Caracalla.

But what if you have fallen in love with an accountant on the third floor? Surely you can then cast aside the rules and splash on perfume in the name of l’amour ? This, after all, is supposed to be a nation with a romantic pulse.

Again, the answer is no. Strict as ever, Caracalla says that office affairs must be hidden: steer clear of contact at work, meet only outside the office, never reveal your feelings to third parties.

Best of all, she says, avoid office affairs altogether, as most of them end in tears. “Every day you will come across the object of your torment. It is depressing,” she says. “If an affair does happen, avoid making a scene in front of witnesses. That will embarrass everyone and you will be a laughing stock.”

So, is there any solution for the love-struck French office worker? Here’s a thought. Move to Britain. It may not be so chic. Your colleagues may be less well-dressed and they may not behave with such decorum — but at least you can drown your sorrows in the pub opposite when the accountant on the third floor dumps you in favour of his secretary.

Ida, the fossil hailed as ancestor of man, 'wasn't even a close relative'

IT WAS billed as one of the most important fossil finds in history, a "missing link" that would challenge everything we knew about human evolution.

Darwinius masillae, the primitive primate that was unveiled to the world with huge fanfare and a Sir David Attenborough documentary in May, seems now to have been less of a missing link than an evolutionary dead end. Far from being an ancestor to humans, the lemur-like creature from 47 million years ago belongs to an entirely different branch of the primate family tree that has left no known descendants, research has indicated.

When Jorn Hurum, of the University of Oslo Natural History Museum, announced the discovery of the astonishingly well-preserved fossil, he described it as "the first link to all humans". He nicknamed the animal "Ida" after his daughter, and a promotional website, a film and a book claimed that she could have been the common ancestor of all modern monkeys and apes, a relic of a critical branching moment in human evolution. Sir David, who narrated the documentary, said: "This little creature is going to show us our connection with the rest of all mammals. The link they would have said until now is missing, is no longer missing."

The discovery of fossils of another similar animal from 37 million years ago has now cast grave doubt on that idea. Both Darwinius masillae and the new primate, Afradapis longicristatus, appear to belong to a different lineage, closer to lemurs than monkeys and apes, that died out without modern descendants.

A major analysis of 117 living and extinct primates found that neither new fossil belongs on the evolutionary path that led to the anthropoids - higher primates such as monkeys, apes and humans.

Erik Seiffert, of Stony Brook University in New York state, who led the study, said: "Our analysis provides no support for the claim that Darwinius is a link in the origin of higher primates, and instead indicates that, if anything, Darwinius is more relevant for our understanding of the origin of lemurs and lorises - which are our most distant primate relatives."

The findings, published in the journal Nature, will reignite controversy over the Darwinius fossil. While it sheds important light on primate evolution, the bold claims about its position as an ancestor to humans surprised many palaeontologists, who felt that the PR hype was not justified by the evidence. Critics said that Darwinius appeared to be an adapid - an extinct group more closely related to modern lemurs than to anthropoids.

There was also widespread dismay at Dr Hurum's decision to sell film and book rights to the discovery before it had been published in a peer-reviewed journal. That meant that his controversial interpretation was presented to the public before it had been tested by the scientific community.

The new fossils, the first of which were found by Dr Seiffert's team in Egypt in 2001, indicate strongly that this interpretation was indeed wrong. While Afradapis longicristatus and Darwinius have some anatomical features similar to anthropoids, Dr Seiffert's research shows that these must have evolved independently.

"We compiled a large dataset of anatomical observations, made across 117 living and extinct primates, including all of the fossil primates that have been proposed as possible early members of the anthropoid group," Dr Seiffert said.

"We used a computer program to find the primate family tree that provides the simplest explanation for the distribution of these traits. In that tree, adapiform primates like Darwinius and Afradapis are not placed close to higher primates, but rather are situated as closer relatives of the living lemurs and lorises."

Dr Seiffert said: "The PR hype surrounding the Darwinius description was very confusing. The uninformed observer watching the associated documentary certainly must have come away with a very different view - specifically that Darwinius truly was a critically important link in the origin of higher primates, if not the origin of apes or even humans.

"Documentaries are extremely important for public understanding of science, so scientists and the media need to work together to make sure that they have their facts straight, and that they are portraying a balanced view of the evidence. I think that the most responsible approach would be to create documentaries well after publication of scientific results.",25197,26244567-2703,00.html