Wednesday, 29 February 2012

10 ways to save on electricity and heating

As boilers go into overdrive and gas demand is predicted to hit record levels this winter, many will be worried about soaring bills. Here's how to beat the winter freeze and get the most out of your boiler and electrical appliances.

Efficient TVs
TVs such as the Samsung UE46C6505 have sensors that adjust the screen's backlighting depending on the light level in the room, cutting power use by 30%-50%.

Up to half of the heat in your home disappears through the roof and walls. Installing 250mm of insulation in your loft is a relatively simple job, could cost as little as £250 and can cut your bills by £100 a year. Visit the Which? guide to buying loft insulation.

Best Buy bulbs
At £4.99, Philips Tornado Turbo Energy Saver 20W is the cheapest energy saving bulb, according to Which?. It gets started quickly, and comes in bayonet and screw fittings.

Switch now
You could save hundreds of pounds on your energy bills by switching your supplier. Compare deals on price comparison sites like, and Which? Switch.

Energy check
Want to save on heating but not sure where to start? Carry out a free home energy check on the Energy Saving Trust website. Its online tool claims it can save you as much as £250 a year.

If you're looking for a new gas combi boiler at a great price, you might want to consider the Potterton Gold C24HE. A Which? Best Buy Boiler at only £800 – a saving of £150 on a similar-performing Best Buy.

Energy monitors show you how much electricity you use in real time. They can help you cut energy wastage and save you money. The cheapest Which? Best Buy is the Efergy Elite (£35).

Lower bills
Reduce your bills by paying by direct debit, managing them online and getting a 'dual fuel tariff' (where your gas and electricity come from the same supplier). Sending your supplier accurate meter readings can also cut your bills.

Boiler servicing
You should get your boiler serviced regularly. The latest Which? survey of servicing contracts found that Worcester Bosch was best. But contracts can be dear. You may be better off paying for one-off repairs.

Don't leave your electricals on standby. If you turn off DVD players, set-top boxes and computers, you could save up to £40 a year.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Liverpool ladies think they're most natural-looking in UK

When it comes to putting the slap on, the ladies of Liverpool seem to rival those of Essex for loving their lashings of fake tan and elaborate eye makeup.

But a recent survey by Superdrug of almost 2,000 women has found that Liverpudlian ladies believe they're the most natural-looking in the UK.

The survey found that ladies in Liverpool leave home without their slap on 17 times a month, with 55 per cent saying they're happy to face the world without their makeup, reports the Daily Mail.

We're going to have to assume the stars of Desperate Scousewives weren't questioned.

In fact, 95% of Liverpudlian women prefer to look as natural as possible, with the average girl wearing a full face of makeup just a few days a week. The ladies of Liverpool are so confident with their low-key appearance that they'll even leave the house with rollers in their hair.

"We sell more false lashes than anywhere else in the country and this survey backs up these sales figures showing that Liverpool women are confident enough to step out without a scrap of make-up in the day, then transform themselves at night into a real glamour puss," says Superdrug beauty director, Sara Wolverson.

"This is a positive message for all women out there, the secret of looking beautiful all the time is having that inner confidence, and let's face facts, a really good moisturiser."

According to the survey, Norwich, Portsmouth, Cambridge and Edinburgh rounded out the top five places where women felt most confident stepping out au natural.

The survey also found that women look to natural-looking celebrities like the Duchess of Cambridge, Holly Willoughby, Emma Watston, Kate Winslet and Keira Knightley for beauty inspiration.

Why bankers behave badly

Why bankers behave badly

A new study from the University of California in Berkeley has found that people in privileged positions behave badly in a range of situations. Apparently they are more likely to lie, steal, cheat and endorse the behaviour of others who are crossing the line.

So why is this, and what does it say about those in highly privileged positions in the financial services industry?

The study

The Psychologists combined a couple of field studies with some laboratory experiments. First they watched the behaviour of people at a crossroads in San Francisco. They found that drivers in posher, better maintained cars were more likely to jump the queue rather than waiting their turn - in fact while 10% in dodgy cars pushed in, closer to a third in the classier cars did. They then moved to a pedestrian crossing where they discovered that drivers in the shoddiest cars were also more likely to stop for pedestrians.

Finally they ran a series of trials in the laboratory. In one they were asked to play a dice game on the computer and told to record their score. Although the game was designed to give everyone a high score, those from the upper classes were more likely to lie and record an even higher score.

In another test, participants were asked to read stories of people behaving badly, and then comment on whether they would do something similar and whether they approved of the behaviour of the characters in the stories. Those from the upper classes were more likely to condone the bad behaviour.

Posher behave worse

Time and again those in the upper classes displayed the worst behaviour. The researchers concluded not that being posh meant that you were fundamentally less likely to be ethical, but that because society has rewarded these people for their actions, they are more likely to be able to justify their poor behaviour.

In a society where bankers are elevated to such high status, and rewarded so handsomely, it would be easy for them to fall into this trap. It goes some way to explain the levels of risk-taking and the extreme positions certain individuals found themselves in - which has ultimately brought the country to its knees

Bankers need to be watched

It demonstrates just how essential it is for regulators and organisations themselves to be hands-on in examining the behaviour of individuals to ensure it isn't straying into the kind of territory the researchers observed.

A spokesman for the Financial Services Authority told AOL: "The FSA sets out a clear expectation that those working in financial services should act with integrity." The question is whether every individual is up to the task, and whether every organisation has a clear enough oversight of every high level employee to ensure they are not reverting to type.

Science shows that there will always be those bankers who think they can behave unethically and get away with it. History shows us that there have always been individuals who have slipped through the net. So are we doomed to face a continual stream of scandals? Will we be left bailing out bank after bank? Or is there a better solution?

Monday, 27 February 2012

Is this child abuse? 'Baby yoga guru' claims swinging screaming babies by their legs is good for them

Don't worry... it's good for them!

These images are truly nightmarish - frightened, crying babies being flung around the head of an impassive woman.

When Video first emerged of Lena Fokina's bizarre baby yoga routine, millions of YouTube viewers were left stunned. The 51-year-old Russian was filmed spinning and flipping babies above her head and behind her back in such an outlandish fashion that several websites, including YouTube, banned the footage for glorifying what many people would consider child abuse.

In fact, the moves were so shocking that most conceded they were being performed on a doll as no sane person would consider them acceptable on a real baby.

But Lena's moves turn out to be horribly real. We tracked her down to a seminar called "Parenting the Deliberate Way" held in Dahab, Egypt, where parents from across Europe were PAYING her to perform the same moves on their babies, some just a few months old.

Lena insists her bizarre techniques are totally safe - and she is hoping to introduce them to parents in the UK.

While most of the babies were left screaming in tears or vomited during or after their session of 'baby dynamics', Lena insists it is for their benefit.

Lena, a qualified PE teacher, said:

It's very good for babies and not dangerous at all. Some babies cry at first, but they begin to enjoy it.
"Most people think young babies can only lie on a bed, eat, and cry. But babies are born with natural reflexes, which we can use to help them develop physically and intellectually.

"I work with parents from across Europe. I hope soon I will be working with a family in England. I think there are a number of open-minded parents there whose babies could benefit from my work."

According to Lena, baby yoga was first practised by ancient African tribes – but the modern incarnation was developed by fellow Russian Dr Igor Charkovsky, who was also present at the seminar.

Lena, a mother-of-five and grandmother, does sessions that can last up to five minutes, during which babies are spun, swung and flipped by Lena, often by a single limb.

The actions are performed on babies from a few weeks old up to around age two.

Lena said: "The method was originally developed to cure and correct the health of children having muscular or skeletal problems but it is also suitable for healthy children. The movements are designed to improve their muscular abilities and development.

"And the children often turn out to be early readers, singers, talkers, swimmers. It also makes their hands stronger. We are humanists and we don't do anything wrong."

At the camp the parents, hailing mainly from Russia and the Ukraine, also seemed entirely satisfied as they stood by and watched Lena 'treat' their babies, usually above a gravel floor.

Each day at 8am, parents would bring their babies to the Mirage Village Hotel in Dahab. Around 12 parents had signed up for Lena's latest 12-day seminar, which costs £255 per family.

The mood was casual as Lena encouraged parents to study the moves before giving it a go themselves.

Parents smiled and chatted as the infants were left dangling for long periods by their arms or legs.
But in almost every case we watched as the babies began crying just seconds into the bizarre routine. And another vomited mid-air after undergoing several minutes of swinging. Yet Lena refused to acknowledge any dangers.
She said: "From the moment of its birth a child can grasp, step, support itself and swim.

"The Charkovsky method uses these natural reflexes for child training. The amount of time it takes to train an adult to do it on a child depends on the sensibility of the child's parent. Sometimes it only takes one training session."
Is she insane? 'Baby yoga guru' claims swinging screaming babies is good for themBarcroft
For years doctors around the world have warned that 'dramatic and unnatural movements' inflicted on a young baby can lead to brain bleeding, retinal hemorrhaging and brain swelling - commonly known as Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS).

And some researchers have suggested that SBS can occur at much lower levels of head movement than had been previously thought.

But Lena, who has been practicing baby yoga for more than 30 years, tells clients it is harmless even for newborn babies, as long as a child is eased into the movements gradually.

She is also not worried about any strain on the babies' joints and limbs.

She said: "Even a tiny baby's body can adapt to the process easily if you take it gradually.

"As long as the parent or instructor has practiced and studied the teachings of Dr Charkovsky the child will be fine.

"People tend to get upset when they see it because they are not aware of children's real abilities - but these abilities are much wider than it is traditionally thought."

The Dahab seminar offered participants the opportunity to "learn the method of Igor Charkovsky and techniques for working with pregnant women, newborns and children."

As well as morning seminars in 'baby dynamics' parents were also instructed in 'water rebirthing', which involves repeatedly dunking children's heads underwater. The practice is designed to address "repressed trauma from birth."

According to literature about the practice on Lena's website, rebirthing "allows the mind and body to gently restructure itself so as to increase the feeling of happiness, efficiency, be healthy and to feel the inner harmony of the individual."

However, there seemed to be little of this on display in the children being forced under the water by Dr Charkovsky, a Russian midwife whose research includes the effect dolphins can have on a mother's calm during childbirth.

Again, many ended up in tears.

Also on offer at the seminar were more traditional pursuits such as baby massage, swimming lessons and gymnastics.

Lena has also conducted workshops in Thailand and India where she has worked on children from all over the world.

She said: "Baby dynamics is quite well known in Russia but up to now all the literature about it has only been in Russian.

"However, it is becoming increasingly popular throughout the world and we want to teach parents by bringing our methods to where they live.

"Although I don't know anybody practicing in the UK yet I will be very proud when I see my methods applied there."

Lena studied physical education at the University of Physcial Culture in Moscow, achieving a Master's degree. She later went on to study under Dr Charkovsky.

Now divorced Lena has five children, Alexandra, 30, Tatyana, 27, Timur, 23, Maria, 16 and 13-year-old Pavel. She is also grandmother to Christian, three, and Petrik, four.

She said: "I first tried baby dynamics 30 years ago after my oldest daughter Alexandra was born.

"At first I was worried, but then I realised how my children enjoyed it and it inspired me.

"People criticise our methods out of ignorance - if only they tried to understand what we were doing, they would change their attitudes.

"If by doing it I give children an advantage, why wouldn't I? All my children have grown up according to the Charkovsky method and they have all gone on to achieve outstanding results in life - they are Russian champions in parachuting, freediving and horse riding.

"Now my children are practising those same methods on their own children. It's the best proof.

"It's something I am very proud of and have believed in for a very long time."

Sunday, 26 February 2012


日本首都不只有迴旋壽司和魷魚串燒 — 它還是世界上擁有最多米芝蓮星級餐廳的城市。

我有一個小挑戰給你。」我的編輯那不誠實的語調,就像大人哄八歲小孩說數學功課很有趣那般。 「我想你寫一個美食指南,要能反映當下2012年東京的飲食風貌。」 
我有點錯愕,納悶該從哪裡入手。 東京簡直是個美食愛好者的天堂,有數以千計的各式食肆供選擇,寫個精選餐廳名單,豈止「小挑戰」。
東京的飲食選擇多不勝數,讓人花多眼亂 — 由傳統的壽司和天婦羅,至難以分類的創意新潮膳食均有。

拉麵: Chabuya和Chabuya Zutto

對許多東京人來說,拉麵是廉價快餐的代表 -- 午飯時或暢飲一晚後,來一碗簡單的麵,數分鐘痛快地把它吃完。
拉麵巨擘Yasuji Morizumi說,其實一點也不簡單,而帶這道平庸菜式登上大雅之堂,就是他一生的使命。
43歲的師傅經營拉麵生意前,曾在法國餐廳工作10年,文京區Cabuya的經典拉麵,以及四谷Chabuya Zutto的現代拉麵菜式,均展示出他磨練多年的廚藝。
Chabuya Zutto的醬油拉麵,做得既新穎又平易近人。 拉麵並不伴湯,而是泡在混合豉油、肉汁和義大利Piedmont蠔油的旨味醬汁,再放上厚厚的烤豬腩肉片。
Morizumi講究質感,他的拉麵爽口彈牙,韌度平均。 製作麵糰時,師傅需因應每天的濕度和天氣,來量度麵粉的溫度和水的份量。
Chabuya, 文京區音羽町, +81 (0) 3 3945 3791.
Chabuya Zutto, 新宿區船町 7, +81 (0) 3 5919 0752.

創意國際: Aronia de Takazawa

咖哩,但不像我們認識的那樣 — 一片片香辣米紙灑在羊排上。
廚師Yoshiaki Takazawa以其製作食物的巧思與變化而贏得好名聲。
在他的餐廳Aronia de Takazawa裡,他發明了自己的國際高檔膳食品牌,並特別喜歡用巧妙的方式加以創作,詮釋多在中低檔食肆出現的日本菜。
他的最新演譯是「後現代咖哩飯」。 完美的烤羊排,伴薯蓉、蘿蔔和焦糖洋蔥,再灑上香脆咖哩味米紙。
Aronia de Takazawa, 港區赤坂3-5-2三洋赤坂大廈2樓, +81 (0) 3 3505

天婦羅: Tenko

「天婦羅不像壽司那樣,把材料原原本本展示出來。 天婦羅師傅的挑戰是,如何在不蓋過食材天然鮮香味的情況下,增加它的味道。」於神樂坂開設Tenko餐廳的店主兼師傅Hitoshi Arai說。
在Tenko,Arai製作不油膩的江戶式天婦羅 — 每日從築地市場運到的新鮮時令蔬菜和海鮮,裹上麵粉漿油炸,散發芝麻油的芳香。
甜蝦是Tenko的特別菜式之一,配上細長的甜蝦頭上碟。 比姆指第一節還要小的小蝦,經油炸後香脆可口,單是這一小口美食就值得前來一趟品嚐。
Tenko隱敝於橫街裡,位於一間舊藝妓院內。 餐廳內設榻榻米房間和障子趟門,其傳統氣氛讓這個東京用餐體驗份外獨特,而且Arai師傅好客極了。

Saturday, 25 February 2012

The balancing barn: the weirdest holiday home in the UK?

Holiday idea of the day: a house that defies the laws of gravity.

Half of this 'balancing barn' sits precariously over a descending slope - ie, there's no ground underneath - so this house actually shifts and balances.

Gently swaying in the countryside of Thorington, Suffolk, this boundary-pushing holiday let was created by Netherlands-based architectural firm MVRDV, apparently in an bid to allow guests the unusual experience of "floating over nature".

"The fact that the building moves a little bit is quite exciting and part of the experience of it. But how do you make sure it doesn't move too much? That was a big challenge," says the designer.

As well as shifting like a gentle see-saw, the house is reflective on the outside, so it bounces images of the sky and fields and trees back at you. There's a glass floor and even a swing under the house for a truly moving experience. For more images, see photographer

Friday, 24 February 2012

How to ease your back pain

Most of us either will experience or have already suffered from back pain at some point in our lives - and it usually manifests itself as an ache, a tension or a stiffness.
It most commonly occurs in the lower back area, but pain can manifest anywhere along the spine - from the neck to the hips.

The first advice most doctors now give to back pain sufferers is to keep active and continue with their daily tasks. While bedrest used to be recommended, it is now generally agreed that it can actually worsen back pain.

Painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen are recommended if necessary and hot and cold compression packs can be applied to the affected area to provide relief.

A positive mental attitude has also been shown to be a big factor in the speed of recovery, so while it's far easier said than done, try to take things easy as much as possible and avoid letting it get you down.

Usually the pain will clear up in a matter of weeks, but if it lasts beyond six weeks it is regarded as "chronic" and can be treated with a combination of painkillers, exercise classes, manual therapy and acupuncture.

Relaxation techniques can also be useful, because back pain can make us tense - which in turn can worsen the pain.

Preventing back pain
If your back pain has subsided then it can pay to take a few sensible measures to try to stop it returning.

How you stand, sit, lie down and lift things can all be contributing factors, so check out the NHS Choices website for some advice on the best way to do each of these.

Many back pain sufferers have realised that regular exercise can be an excellent way to keep it at bay, and activities such as yoga and Pilates can be particularly beneficial for strengthening back muscles and improving flexibility.

Being overweight can also be a factor in many incidents in back pain, so changing eating habits as well as increasing your exercise may be a good idea. Consult with a GP before you embark on any radical changes though.

If you have a history of putting your back out, it might be wise to avoid the sort of "twisting and extending at the same time" movements which can cause an episode, lift heavy loads with your knees bent and back straight and avoid overdoing it.

Wearing flat shoes with cushioned soles is advised, since heels have been linked to back pain in some instances.

If the pain is acute or reoccurring or you have a history of back issues, don't hesitate to see your GP.

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Thursday, 23 February 2012

Supermarket fuel price war: the catch

There has been a wave of optimism as Morrisons announced a new deal for motorists. If you spend £60 in store between February 23rd and March 4th, you get a voucher offering 15p off a litre of petrol or diesel at its petrol pumps between March 4th and 11th. The company says it's a better deal than any of its supermarket rivals - including Tesco which is offering 10p a litre off fuel when you spend £60 in store.

The press has been awash with talk of a price war. But the experts say it's not something we should be getting overly excited about.

The deal
The 'Fuel Britannia' deal will certainly be a boon for those who qualify. Given that diesel prices have hit a new average high and that oil prices are at their highest since June last year, there's a sense that we need all the help we can get. If you spend £50 filing up the tank, there's every chance you can save well over £5 at the pump with the voucher.

Richard Lancaster, Morrisons Marketing Director, said: "We know how tough it is for our customers. This deal will help them in these tough economic times. Nobody has ever knocked this much off a litre of fuel before. This will make a real difference for our customers."

The catch

However, a spokesman for the AA says this deal will only be applicable to particular customers. He highlighted that the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that only one group of shoppers spends more than £60 a week on a combination of food and alcohol - and that's families with two adults in the household.

Retired couples spend around £56 a week and those with two adults and no children spend £54.30. Although these are 2010 figures and inflation has taken effect, he highlights that only around 80% of this spend is typically with the supermarkets, so those without children are unlikely to qualify.

He says: "It's great for families, and the vouchers are very popular with them, but for a large section of the driving public unless they do a bulk-buy to last them two or three weeks, they are not going to see any benefit."

He also highlights that the underlying prices are continuing to rise, and that supermarkets are joining the rest of the industry in raising prices at the forecourt. It means that if you don't qualify for a voucher, life will continue to be punishingly expensive for the UK's drivers.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Mouth bacteria could kill, say scientists

A type of bacteria found in the mouth has the potential to cause serious illness - even death - if it enters the bloodstream through bleeding gums or mouth ulcers. 

The Daily Mail reports that scientists have recently identified the bacteria, called Streptococcus tigurinus, and are now trying to establish how common it is and how much of a risk it poses to public health. 

Researchers from the University of Zurich in Switzerland isolated the bacterium from the blood of patients suffering from serious conditions including inflammation of the heart (endocarditis), meningitis and inflammation of the spine (spondylodiscitis). 

They have found that it is similar to other strains of Streptococcus that are found in the mouth and they are now trying to discover how it spreads.

Dr Andrea Zbinden, who led the study, said that the discovery of the new bacterium is no cause for alarm, but it's important that doctors are aware of it and know how to treat and limit its spread. 

She said: "This bacterium seems to have a natural potential to cause severe disease and so it's important that clinicians and microbiologists are aware of it. 

"The next step is to work out exactly how common this bacterium is in the oral cavity and what risk it poses. 

"Immunosuppression, abnormal heart valves, dental surgeries or chronic diseases are common predisposing factors for blood infections by this group of bacteria. However, the specific risk factors for S. tigurinus remain to be determined."

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Gentle exercise can help protect brain in old age

You've heard it before - exercise is good for your mood, your waistline and your overall well-being. Well, it may also be beneficial - even in its mildest form - in protecting us from memory loss as we age and combat infections or injuries.

New research from the University of Colorado, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, studied the effects of running on a group of elderly rats who were recovering from an E. coli infection and found that despite being slower runners than their younger counterparts, they performed better in memory tests than rats who only ran on a locked wheel, reports the Daily Mail.

Exercise seemed to be responsible for stopping changes in the hippocampus (which deals with memory) and preventing memory loss that normally follows an infection like E. coli.

According to lead researcher Dr. Ruth Barrientos: "This is the first study to show that exercise reduces susceptibility to the cognitive impairments that follow infection in ageing animals, and the changes taking place in the brain thought to underlie these impairments."

Previous studies had shown that older rats had experienced memory loss following the E. coli infection, which the younger rats hadn't.

In the study, the old rats only ran an average of 0.43 miles per week, 50 times less distance than the young rats, but the positive effects on their memory meant they performed as well as rats that were not exposed to E. coli at all.

Monday, 20 February 2012

210,000 people face alcohol death risk, warn doctors

Failure to reform alcohol laws could lead to 210,000 preventable deaths in England and Wales in the next 20 years, doctors have warned.
They are putting pressure on the government ahead of its "alcohol strategy" for both countries, expected in the coming months.
Writing in The Lancet, doctors said the UK was at a "potential tipping point".
Prime Minister David Cameron has already vowed to tackle the "scandal" of drunkenness and alcohol abuse.
The projected mortality figures come from Prof Ian Gilmore, a former president of the Royal College of Physicians, Dr Nick Sheron, from the National Institute for Health Research and members of the British Society of Gastroenterology.
Their figure of 210,000 is a reduction from their previous estimate of 250,000 and represents their "worst-case scenario" of no change to alcohol policy.
"It remains entirely within the power of the UK government to prevent the worst-case scenario of preventable deaths," they wrote.
The figures for England and Wales suggest 70,000 of the deaths could be from liver disease and the rest from accidents, violence and chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, breast cancer and cancer of the gastrointestinal tract.
'Tipping point'
They were critical of the "responsibility deal" in England, which are voluntary agreements with the drinks industry on issues such as promotions and labelling.
This was compared to the Scottish government's approach such as a minimum price per unit of alcohol.
The group said: "We are at a potential tipping point in the UK in taking on the shameful, preventable loss of life caused by alcohol.
"The potential prize of reversing this tragic toll of alcohol-related deaths is there for the taking."
The Department of Health will publish its alcohol strategy for England later this year.
Selling alcohol below cost price is to be banned in England and Wales from 6 April. However, ministers are expected to go further in the forthcoming strategy, recommending a higher minimum price for drink.
The chief executive of Alcohol Concern, Eric Appleby, said: "What we have to accept is that doing nothing is no longer a responsible option for alcohol policy, and that trying to 'nudge' drinking culture through information and persuasion has proved to be little better than doing nothing.
"We can see from the example of other countries that drinking patterns really can change, the challenge is there for the government to start the process now through the alcohol strategy."
Henry Ashworth, chief executive of the Portman Group, which also represents UK drinks producers, said: "It is really important that we put this report in context.
"The vast majority of people drink responsibly. Painting doomsday scenarios won't help reduce alcohol misuse and calling for Soviet Union-style population controls cannot do anything but alienate the vast majority of people who already drink within government guidelines.
"We agree with the prime minister that strong partnerships are essential to tackle the minority who use alcohol recklessly and drinks producers are committed to supporting this approach."
The Public Health Minister, Anne Milton, said: "As the prime minister said earlier this week, we are determined to tackle the scandal of alcohol abuse. People that misuse alcohol endanger their own lives and those of others.
"It costs the NHS £2.7bn per year and in our forthcoming alcohol strategy we will set out our plans on how to deal with the wide range of problems and harms it causes."