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Bushfires destroy Oz spaghetti trees
A plantation of 57 spaghetti trees imported from Britain as seedlings in 1957 has been destroyed by bushfires. "It's a heinous tragedy," said Australia's Prime Minister. "We will all have to eat baked beans this year." 0704

How slow are Australia's slowest cities?
Goolwa, in South Australia, and Katoomba, in the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains 110km. (68 miles) west of Sydney, are Australia's two slowest cities... and that's official! They're the first two towns outside Europe to have joined the fast-growing Cittaslow movement, an international network of cities and towns that promote their citizens' quality of life. 0704

Coming events cast shadows before

’T is the sunset of life gives me mystical lore,
And coming events cast their shadows before.

- Thomas Campbell, Scottish poet (1777-1844).

Here's a mind-blowing one-in-a-zillion coincidence, showing how coming events cast their shadows before, and that real life sometimes copies art. 0704

St. Patrick's Day lasted for a week
Where in the world is St. Patrick's Day (March 17) so important to people with Irish names that it has become not one day but a whole week of festivities? The surprising answer is: the tiny tropical Emerald Isle of Montserrat, in the Caribbean, where an annual festival to honor the saint who converted the people of Europe's Ireland to Christianity was held from March 12 to 19. 0704

Brisbane's new newspaper is online
The people of Brisbane, Australia's third largest city, now have a choice of newspapers for the first time since their afternoon daily, The Telegraph, ceased publication in 1985. The new "paper", the Brisbane Times, is an online-only publication launched last month by Queensland's Premier Peter Beattie. 0704

Olive Riley, 107, Australia's "Star of the Internet"
Olive Riley, a remarkable 107-year-old great-great-grandmother living in an aged care hostel 50 miles (80km) north of Sydney, has won instant fame as the oldest of the world's 68.9 million Internet bloggers. She is 12 years older than Spain's Señora Maria Amélia, the previous titleholder. Physically frail but mentally alert, she writes a highly entertaining blog. 0703

Cockatoos' love story
Julius Bergh, of Nerang, on Queensland's Gold Coast, wasn't surprised when he heard a BBC Wildlife report that "the finding of a parrot with an almost unparalleled power to communicate with people has brought scientists up short." Julius has written what may well be the world's most appealing picture-story, with dozens of amazing photographs, about a flock of intelligent sulphur-crested cockatoos living in his tropical garden. 0703

Frog Rock's Bessie falls for Lurgashall's Chudleigh
Bewitched by the magic of the Internet, Bessie, a happy-go-lucky blue heeler Australian cattle dog living at Frog Rock, in the Central West of New South Wales, has fallen hopelessly in love with Chudleigh, an aristocratic black dog who's the mascot of talented English artist Jacquie Lawson's multi-million-dollar e-card enterprise. 0703

3D artist to paint a 4V mural
Hard on the heels of Britain's famous 3D artist Julian Beever apparently digging a hole in New York's Union Square comes the news that the equally famous international artist Kurt Wenner has been commissioned to create a 4V mural entitled Vivi Vivace i Vizu e le Virtu (Live intensely your vices and virtues) for a Seattle coffeehouse. 0703

Pancake Day: it's a pagan feast (again)
Pancake Day, which this year fell on February 20, was originally a pagan festival. It later became a Christian feast day so that the public could use up all their eggs and butter before the 40 days of Lent preceding Easter. This year, millions overlooked the religious aspect, and celebrated Pancake Day simply as a pagan feast day. 0703

You pat my back, I'll pat yours
Last month, I wrote a story about Peter Hinchliffe, editor of the UK daily literary webzine Open Writing. Peter promptly reciprocated by interviewing me. Anyone interested can read the story in OhmyNewsInternational. 0703

Rain ruins Julian Beever's 3D pavement painting
Sadly, we have to report that Julian Beever's amazing 3D painting in New York's Union Square, which we raved about in our February edition, was washed away by rain, according to this blog, AliveFrom NewYork. 0703

China too plays sillyhuggers
Australia's highly infectious Free Hugs syndrome, which is sweeping through the western world, causing normally sane grown men and women to embrace strangers in public places, is also affecting young people in Asia. The latest outbreak has just been reported from mainland China, where traditionally impassive Chinese have started playing sillyhuggers. 0702

Maria Amélia, 95, is world's oldest blogger
Señora Maria Amélia , a 95-year-old Spanish grandmother, has dethroned Sweden's Allan Lööf (94) as the world's oldest blogger. A TV crew from Madrid travelled about 350km (210 miles) to Galicia to interview her, and Spanish newspapers hailed her victory with extensive stories and photos. 0702

Smoking Brits hooked by the lip
Retired international journalist Peter Hinchliffe, founder/editor of the UK's fascinating daily webzine Open Writing, has become one of OhmyNews's thousands of citizen reporters. "I've got another piece in OhmyNews this afternoon," he told me the other day. "I feel as I did when I was 19, getting my first reports printed in the weekly Batley News. I see stories on every hand. All I need is the time to write 'em." One of his recent stories impressed us so much that we asked him if we could republish it in this e-book. He agreed, so here it is. 0702

Brewers love dogs as well as lizards
What's the connection between dogs and beer? Queensland had a Thirsty Dog beer with an Australian cattle dog as its emblem. The United States has a Thirsty Dog beer of a different breed, as well as a Bulldog, Sea Dog, Flying Dog, Hair of the Dog, Goldings Retriever, and (ahem) Old Leghumper. Here's a story for doglovers and beerlovers. 0702

Mysterious Green Man Invades US
The Green Man, a mysterious pagan figure with leaves for hair and twigs sprouting from his ears, has crossed the Atlantic and is gaining fans in the US. Sculptures of his usually sinister but sometimes smiling face decorate many medieval Christian churches in Britain, where he has given his name to more than a few village pubs, and in Germany. Read more about The Green Man. 0702

No, they haven't dug up New York's Union Square
It takes something special to make hurrying New Yorkers stop in their tracks, but I'll bet guineas to gooseberries they'll halt goggle-eyed when they spot a three-dimensional chalk drawing by British pavement artist Julian Beever on the south side of Union Square. Makers of a new anti-aging product commissioned Beever, nicknamed the "Pavement Picasso," to create a modern-day Fountain of Youth in the core of the Big Apple. 0702

Will Punxsutawney Phil wake up too soon?
Will global warming cause Punxsutawney Phil to awaken from hibernation and crawl bleary-eyed from his burrow BEFORE America's annual Groundhog Day on February 2? Perhaps the Day will have to be held earlier in future. On February 2, of every year since 1887, Phil has emerged from his underground home on Gobbler's Knob, Pennsylvania (US) to predict the weather for the rest of winter and, according to his admirers, he's never got it wrong. 0702

Maryland's three-way newspaper war
In 1864, St. Mary's Church in Virginia, US, was the scene of a bloody cavalry battle fought between Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant's Union forces and Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, which resulted in 600 casualties. Today, in St. Mary's, in neighbouring Maryland, 50 miles from Washington DC, an old-time newspaper war has broken out. 0702

Will you still be blogging when you're 94?
Ninety-four-year-old Allan Lööf, of Norrköping, Sweden, is the world's oldest blogger. Most of the media reported last month that 92-year-old Donald Crowdis, of Toronto, Canada, was the world's oldest blogger. But they were wrong. They'd never heard of Allan Lööf. Allan's local daily, Norrköpings Tidningar, proudly displayed a photo and story about him on its front page. Read the true story about these two veteran bloggers. 0701

Tomato grower Ray White, 93, is America's oldest blogger
Tennessee tomato grower Ray White (93) is America's oldest blogger. He's three months older than that other veteran blogger, Donald Crowdis, of Toronto, Canada, who turned 93 on Christmas Eve. In the last three years Ray has posted more than a thousand blogs. He's only a year younger than the world's oldest blogger, Allan Lööf, of Norrköping, Sweden. You'll enjoy reading Ray's blog. 0701

For those who don't know about blogs
Laura ClaassenThree of every five internet users don't know what a blog is, we read the other day. Then we found a story that could well be called Blogs for Dummies, written by Laura Claassen (pictured), a 20-year-old media student in Amsterdam, Netherlands. "Age doesn’t matter" she says. "Anyone who thinks blogging is just for young people couldn’t be more wrong." If you are one of those three in five, you should read What the 'blog' are you talking about? and Golden oldies take to blogging. 0701

WEIRD! It's a very weird word
Weird is a very weird word indeed. It describes itself, just as stifle is an anagram of itself; it's an exception to the spelling rule "I before E except after C", and it's onomatopoeic, where the sound suggests the meaning. Here are some other weird facts. 0701

Thieves didn't stop the Devil's Knell
Although thieves stripped lead from the roof of an ancient church in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, UK last month, the bell ringers still managed to toll their traditional Devil's Knell shortly before midnight on Christmas Eve. Observing a 600-year-old custom, a team of sturdy bellringers sounds the bell once for every year since Christ's birth, supposedly to mark the Devil's departure from Earth. That means that on December 24, 2006, the bell chimed exactly 2006 times. 0701

Nanna Liz's precious photos
"Gather round, and I'll tell you a true story about those two photos sitting there on the cabinet," Liz Coulthard told her grandchildren in Christie Downs, South Australia, as she settled back into her comfortable armchair. This is her story. 0701

Where's the World's Walleye Capital?
Written before the event.
On the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, Captain Wylie, a 20-feet 600-pound. plastic replica of one of America's favorite fish, will be lowered from his usual "perch" on the roof of a building in the town center of Port Clinton, Ohio, to join cheering revellers at ground level. The small fishing and boating town's citizens and visitors have ushered in the New Year that way for the last 12 years. By the time you read this, Captain Wiley may be back on his lofty PERCH. 0701

Flat out like a lizard drinking... beer
Enjoying a foaming schooner of Bluetongue beer at a local club, I wondered what could be the connection between beer and lizards. I've often heard people say they're flat out like a lizard drinking, which seems to provide part of the answer. Is there some other reason why so many American and Australian beers have reptilian names? 0701

Earl Hamner still writing at 83
American writer Earl Hamner's first story was published by his local newspaper in Virginia (US) when he was six. He became a top-ranking novelist and writer of radio, TV and film scripts. In the 1970s he achieved world fame with The Waltons, a long-running TV family saga beloved by millions of viewers around the world. Now, at 83, he's still writing. Read a review of his latest book, Generous Women: An Appreciation, and this interview by Scott Holleran. 0701

Three-way Newspaper War
In 1864, St. Mary's Church in Virginia was the scene of a bloody cavalry battle fought between Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant's Union forces and Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, which resulted in 600 casualties. Today, in St. Mary's, southern Virginia, 50 miles from Washington, D.C., an old-time newspaper war has broken out. Three newspapers are engaged in what may be a fight to the death of one or even two of them. This story has just been published by OhmyNewsInternational. 0701

Three hares share three ears
Twenty years ago, one of our sons sent us a photo of a puzzling design he had seen on a stained glass window of an ancient cathedral in Paderborn, Germany. It shows three hares and three ears, but by clever draughtsmanship, each animal seems to have two ears. Three British investigators have discovered the same mysterious emblem in many other countries, going back 1500 years. You can read about this intriguing puzzle by clicking on THREE HARES. 0612

Real pirates did NOT speak corny English
"Talk Like a Pirate Day" was so popular this year that its effects still linger. Kids dressed and talked like pirates for Halloween last month, and some American women have begun dressing like pirates. Perhaps 2007 will be Like a Pirate Year. As for talking like pirates, very few real-life pirates spoke in those comical accents adopted by today's pseudo buccaneers. Read how pirates really spoke, by clicking on ROBERT NEWTON. 0612

The Gargs' Thanksgiving party
Although both Stuti Garg and her husband, Seattle Wordsmith Anu Garg, have lived in the US for most of their lives, they still enjoy sharing tasty Indian food with their friends. "The Gargs and their daughter, Ananya, have gathered each year for a vegetarian Thanksgiving potluck with 25 to 30 friends," reporter Karen Gaudette wrote in the Seattle Times. "Stuti enjoys trying foods from different cultures and noticing the similarities and differences. She likes sharing the cuisine of her home with others and takes great delight in seeing happy faces in response.." You can read more about the Gargs by clicking on the Seattle Times and the IndiaTimes. 0612

Hooters are like an owl's eyes
We now know that when Doug Sweet, Lifestyles editor of the Montreal Gazette, referred to this e-book as "a hoot," he was paying us a compliment... and that Hooters are so named because they resemble the large round eyes of an owl. Several readers have kindly informed us of the American meaning of those words, which, as we mentioned last month, had puzzled us. For more of this click on HOOTERS. 0612

Rivals race to be called the slowest
Two tortoise towns, Goolwa in South Australia and Matakana in New Zealand, seem to be racing neck-and-neck to be recognised as The Slowest Place in Australasia. This will be news to most of their residents, who probably have never heard of their rival town the other side of the Tasman Sea. Decide which place is really the slowest, after clicking on GOOLWA v. MATAKANA. 0612

Joneses Or Norbergs? Easy Success
More than 1200 people, all named Jones, (but not all related) crowded the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff on November 3. Joneses from all over the world congregated in a successful bid for a world record gathering of people with the same name. For this story, click on JONES. 0612

Beer Pong: another weird pastime
Possibly still suffering from the effects of seeing in the New Year, a group of dedicated suds lovers will compete for a $20,000 grand prize in The World's Beer Pong Championship in one of the four casinos in Mesquite, 80 miles north of Las Vegas, Nevada, from January 1 to 5. To learn how this strange game is played, click on PONG. 0612

High praise for OhmyNews
With 700,000 repeat visitors a day, OhmyNews is "a remarkable, world leading and profitable exponent of online journalism," David McNeill wrote in The Independent (London) on November 20. As the oldest of OhmyNews's 44,000 citizen reporters, I was particularly pleased to read that endorsement See McNeill's interesting article, Look east to see the future of the internet, by clicking on THE INDEPENDENT. 0612

Bees' brains for robot planes?
Bees use their brains, the size of sesame seeds, so cleverly that an Australian scientist believes humans may manage to adapt the tiny insects' methods when designing pilotless flying machines. It sounds like a fanciful dream - but NASA and the US military are backing his research with substantial grants. To read about this amazing development, click on BEES. 0611

Coleen from Iraq wins Golden Spurtle
Sergeant Coleen Hayward MacLeod, a British Army cook back home after service in Iraq, was the surprise (and surprised) winner of the much-prized Golden Spurtle at the 2006 World Porridge Making Championship in Carrbridge, Inverness-shire, Scotland. For stories and pictures, click on GOLDEN SPURTLE. 0611

Picayune: Punctilious Punctuation
It seems that some New Orleans citizens who survived the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina last year still feel strongly about punk punctuation. No doubt temporary construction notices and hastily-painted street signs give them ample grounds for complaint. To read an amusing story by a columnist in the New Orleans newspaper, The Times-Picayune, and about the newspaper itself, click on ANGUS LIND. 0611

Barry Jones: from quiz champ to national icon
I've known and greatly admired Barry Jones, now a 74-year-old Australian "National Treasure," for half a century. He rocketed to fame when, as a young Melbourne school teacher, he won the title of national quiz king in Bob Dyer's BP Pick-a-Box show on Sydney's Channel 7 in the days of black-and-white television. You can read about Barry and his autobiography by clicking on The Thinking Reed (and that's not a typo). 0611

Hoot? Hooter? I don't give two hoots!
Referring to an email I'd sent him, Doug Sweet, Lifestyles editor of the Montreal Gazette (Canada), wrote in his column, "I have to share. And it's best verbatim. Enjoy. And do go to the link. It's a hoot." Purring at the compliment, I was struck by the thought, "Hey! Not so fast! What does he mean by hoot?" That word has a more sinister meaning, as you'll discover if you click on HOOTS. 0611

Sandy the Conkeror wins conker contest
A second invasion of England, led not by William the Conqueror but by Sandy the Conkeror, succeeded at the World Conker Championship in Aston, Northamptonshire, last month. Sandy Gardner, 36, a British-born member of the French National Conker team, was crowned Conker Queen for 2006. Her Chestnut Majesty beat 63 other women contenders for the throne. To read about this historic event, click on CONKERS. 0611

Another kind of chestnut
A really funny story seems to live for ever, which is probably why old jokes are called chestnuts. Florida columnist Frank Kaiser's Suddenly Senior weekly newsletter has given new life to a particularly wizened chestnut, attributing it (to our surprise) to none other than the Sydney Morning Herald. Read the joke, and discover its age, by clicking on CHESTNUT. 0611

Is Wellington really a slow city?
Many Kiwis would have been astonished if they read a report on the internet last month that Wellington, like Perth, wants to be labelled a slow city. While they may regard the attractions of their capital city, Wellington (population, including outlying areas, nearly 400,000) as being unexciting, who would have thought that anyone living there would skite (boast) about it being slow? Of course, there's a simple explanation, just as there was with Perth. For this tongue-in-cheek story, click on WELLINGTON. 0611

The Bone People still popular
Keri Hulme's offbeat novel, The Bone People, is still New Zealand readers' favourite book, 20 years after it won the Booker Prize. It headed an online poll by the Weekend Herald and TimeOut bookshop to find the Kiwis' top 20 books of all time. In her spare time, the author reads our e-book, and recently entered a friendly message on the GuestMap. You can find out more about her unusual book by clicking on this Overview. 0611

All above articles copyright © 2006-7.  Eric Shackle

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