News & Current Affairs

September 24, 2008

No time for a novice, says Brown

No time for a novice, says Brown

Browns kiss

The Browns appeared together before and after the speech

Other than soon-to-be parents there is nothing quite so expectant as a party conference waiting to hear from its leader.

If every delegate was not full of warm excitement while queuing to get in, they certainly were once in the hall.

Upbeat pop classics boomed from the loudspeakers; a film of Labour’s achievements flashed on the big screen.

A row of women behind me started clapping in time to the music, raucous as a hen party.

Surprise warm-up

In the front row two of Labour’s elder statesmen, Lord Kinnock and John Prescott, beamed and waved. Carnival had come to Manchester.

Things could get no better. But the surprise appearance of Sarah Brown as warm-up act sent the audience into a paroxysm of happiness.

I am all in favour of apprenticeships, but let me tell you this is no time for a novice
Gordon Brown

They rose as one and would not sit down as she stood bashfully on the stage, looking both delighted and terrified at the same time.

The hen party whooped – another uplifting film was shown – and all that was missing was dancing in the aisles. No-one would guess that this was a party 20 points behind in the polls.

It was a masterful paving the way for the big speech. As Sarah introduced “my husband, the leader of the Labour party, your prime minister” she almost forgot to say “Gordon Brown”.

But it mattered not, as the man himself did as near a shimmy onto the stage as he can muster, and gave his wife a full kiss on the lips. I can’t believe my luck – he seemed to be saying – what a wife! What a party!

The atmosphere of mutual love-in continued for several minutes. Gordon Brown’s “I’m a serious man for serious times” went down a storm.

And throughout he pushed all the right buttons – personal about how the NHS had saved his sight – political with some crowd-pleasing Tory-bashing.

‘Pro-market’

Serious about the economy – and substantial when talking about the Labour agenda.

Most ministers got a mention – including one D Miliband, although he was right at the end.

There was a small stumble over the trailed apology on the 10p tax affair – sorry clearly seems to be the hardest word – and more muted applause for his City-calming “we are a pro-market party.”

While he talked genuinely about his beliefs,Mr Brown will never be good at delivering a cheesy line – declaring that at all the polls and criticism were worth it if he made life better for just one child felt, well, unlikely.

But the end verdict was resoundingly positive. “The best he’s done,” declared a couple of people approvingly.

As the loudspeakers started to boom out a Jackie Wilson number, and Sarah joined him again onstage, the hen party started up a chant of “Gordon, Gordon” and it truly felt as if Their Love was Lifting Him Higher.

Has he done himself good? Most certainly.

Has he done enough? Who knows.

September 14, 2008

Pudding throwers battle for prize

Pudding throwers battle for prize

A contestant tries to knock Yorkshire puddings off a ledge by throwing a black pudding in Ramsbottom - (c) MEN Syndication

Black puddings are thrown at Yorkshire puddings on a ledge

Competitors from across the world have gathered at a pub in Greater Manchester for the World Black Pudding Throwing Championship.

Thousands are watching entrants from as far afield as Hong Kong, Africa and Sweden compete at the Royal Oak in the village of Ramsbottom, Bury.

The aim is to knock Yorkshire puddings off a 20ft ledge by throwing black puddings at them.

The contest is supposed to represent the Lancashire/Yorkshire rivalry.

Organizer Elaine Singleton says you need real ability to take part.

“It is skillful for a start. You can’t throw overarm – you’ve got to throw underarm and it’s got to be precise otherwise you won’t hit any puddings.

“You try lobbing a pudding underhand 20ft up – you’ve got to have some weight behind you to do that!”

Contestant

The crowd watches one of the younger competitors

She added that the unusual competition was attracting as many participants as ever.

“Plenty want to do it. I get phone calls from all over the world to come here.”

The popular competition was saved in 2003 after the previous venue closed.

Black pudding is traditionally made of cooked pig blood, fat and rusk, encased in a length of intestine.

The contest dates back to the 1850s and is believed to be a revival of the Lancashire-Yorkshire rivalry.

Historically Bury, now part of Greater Manchester, was in Lancashire.

September 13, 2008

Thousands stranded by XL collapse

Thousands stranded by XL collapse

The collapse of the UK’s third largest package holiday group has left tens of thousands of Britons stranded abroad.

The decision to place XL Leisure Group into administration has also left thousands of staff facing the axe.

Chairman Phil Wyatt said he was “totally devastated” by the failure which has grounded XL’s 21 planes. The company flies to about 50 destinations.

There are 67,000 stranded who booked directly with XL, and another 23,000 who booked via other companies.

The Civil Aviation Authority(CAA) also said the firm had 200,000 advance bookings.

‘Sad day’

CAA EMERGENCY HELPLINE
Customers abroad: +44 (0) 2891 856547
Customers in the UK with advance bookings: 0870 5900927

“We’ve made every effort, myself and my fellow directors, to find new funding for the business – and it’s a very sad day for me personally. I am totally devastated,” XL chairman Phil Wyatt said.David Clover, a spokesman for the CAA, said it was making arrangements to help customers of the four tour companies within the XL group.

“In respect of people who are currently abroad we’re making arrangements and working very closely with the travel industry to organize repatriation flights.

“Clearly though, with XL Airways no longer operating, we’re having to bring in substitute aircraft to bring people home.”

He said package deals are covered by the CAA’s Air Travel Organizers’ Licensing (Atol) scheme and those customers will be offered repatriation flights or their money back if they have an advance booking.

Struggling

However, those who booked directly with the airline or XL.com – who are in the minority according to the CAA – will face a fee.

Anyone yet to take their flights should check their insurance policies, and with their banks or credit card companies about refunds, he added.

XL – which carried 2.3 million passengers last year – is the latest travel business to face financial difficulties, as the industry struggles with high fuel costs and an economic downturn.

But an agreement has been reached whereby Straumur investment bank has acquired XL’s German and French subsidiaries, which Straumur considers to be financially viable and sustainable businesses.

They will continue operations as separate commercial entities.

Share prices in holiday firms TUI Travel and Thomas Cook were up 6% and 7% following the collapse of their rival.

Economic downturn

“As the travel industry matures in Europe, there was always going to be pressure on those operating in the mid-market,” said Lastminute.com chief executive Ian McCaig.

A statement on the XL group’s website said: “The companies entered into administration having suffered as a result of volatile fuel prices, the economic downturn, and were unable to obtain further funding.”

XL COMPANIES
XL Leisure Group
XL Airways UK
Excel Aviation
Explorer House
Aspire Holidays
Freedom Flights
Freedom Flights (Aviation)
The Really Great Holiday Company
Medlife Hotels
Travel City Flights
Kosmar Villa Holidays

BBC travel correspondent Tom Symonds added that the industry would be facing an “enormous challenge” as it deals with the fall out of XL’s collapse.

“XL wasn’t just an airline it was a fundamental link Britain’s package holiday industry,” he said.

“Getting these people to and from their holidays will be an enormous challenge not least because of the shortage of aircraft caused by so many airline collapses in recent weeks.

“XL can’t use its own airliners for among other reasons it has no insurance now.”

The CAA said it was working with the travel industry to bring stranded holidaymakers home, and denied it had been responsible for the grounding of XL’s planes.

Airlines BA, Easyjet, BMI, Flybe and Ryanair have offered to fly some of the stranded passengers home.

Easyjet chief executive Andy Harrison told that its fuel efficient planes had helped it cope with the high cost of aviation fuel although on Thursday it said it would cut up to 60 jobs to remain competitive.

Fuel pressures

Mr Wyatt added that spiralling oil prices had increased the firm’s costs “year-on-year by over $80m”.

“So where many people have been making hay with high oil prices, this is the repercussions of that hay – 1,700 people potentially out of work today in the UK,” he said.

Rival TUI warned that rising fuel costs meant that “airlines with less than robust business models” – such as XL and Futura – were now failing.

It added that the government should take steps to ensure all holiday companies must belong to the Atol scheme, which offers package holiday makers financial protection.

In the US, one flight from Orlando to Manchester managed to set off, while one bound for Gatwick was grounded. A source at the airport said accommodation was being found for the “distressed” passengers.

In the UK, air traffic control prevented three XL aircraft from taking off from Manchester Airport.

The XL group, which is based in Crawley, West Sussex, runs an airline and owns several travel companies, including Travel City Direct, Medlife Hotels Limited, The Really Great Holiday Company, Freedom Flights and Kosmar Holidays.

‘Going nowhere’

The company flies mainly from bases at Gatwick, Manchester and Glasgow airports.

Travel writer Simon Calder warned that many thousands of XL customers hoping to fly to the Caribbean, Mediterranean, North Africa and North America, from airports across the UK in coming weeks and days “simply won’t be going anywhere”.

Jim Duwaine, from Portsmouth, said he was given the news when he arrived at Gatwick where he had been due to catch an early morning flight to Menorca.

HELP OFFERED TO XL CUSTOMERS
Flybe – offering flights for 90 euros (£71.50)
BA– offering a one-way discount
Easyjet– flights offered for £75
BMI – provided aircraft to CAA for transport people home
Ryanair – has offered spare plane to CAA for transport

He said: “Absolutely devastated. Got up at midnight planning on going on holiday, but got let down, unfortunately. We’re here, just trying to get some other flights, but it’s not looking good. I think everyone else has got the same idea.”

Other holidaymakers have said they have been quoted vastly inflated prices for replacement flights.

Robert Spurgeon, of Norwich – an XL customer who had been due to fly to Tenerife from Gatwick – said: “We’ve not been told anything but my wife’s been quoted £2,000 for alternative flights.”

Also among those affected are a 130-strong choir on tour to Canada from Wales who were booked on Zoom and lost £50,000 when it folded last month, and then re-booked with XL.

XL is the current kit sponsor of West Ham United but football club said it would end the sponsorship deal and play on Saturday in an unbranded kit.


Are you struggling to make your way home from your holiday destination? Have you paid for a holiday that you may not be able to take? If you were an employee of XL what are your views? Send us your comments

September 7, 2008

Vein tubes ‘fitted needlessly’

Vein tubes ‘fitted needlessly’

Cannula being inserted in order to take blood

Cannulas are used to help take blood and to give drugs and fluids

A third of patients have unnecessary tubes inserted into veins when they are in hospital, pharmacists have warned.

Researchers from Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University said this needlessly exposed them to serious complications, such as infections and blood clots.

Just under 350 patients were studied over six weeks, the majority of whom had the tubes, called cannulas, fitted.

An A&E expert recognized cannulas should be used less frequently and for shorter periods.

It’s entirely reasonable to look at their use
Dr Martin Shalley, emergency medicine consultant

The study was presented to the British Pharmaceutical Conference in Manchester.

Cannulas – hollow plastic tubes with a needle at the tip which cost around £1.70 each – are used to give medication and fluids to people who cannot swallow because they are unconscious or being given nil by mouth, and it has been estimated that around 80% of hospital patients have them fitted.

Drugs may also be more easily absorbed if given this way.

But potential complications include problems with veins (phlebitis), drugs leaking into tissues around the site of the tube, serious infection and blood clots.

‘Common practice’

Of the patients studied – who were all treated in the acute medical assessment unit of Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, 91% of patients had a cannula inserted. But 28% of the tubes were never used.

The researchers also found that in 71% of patient records there was no documentation of a cannula being inserted, while in 57% there was no documentation of it being removed.

Four patients had developed blood poisoning, which infection control specialists said was likely to be linked to the cannula.

The researchers, led by Dr Yash Kumarasamy, said that in many UK hospitals, it has become common practice to insert an intravenous cannula when the patient is admitted, irrespective of need.

He said: “We would like to see the introduction of a formal procedure under which hospital pharmacists review patients and their medications and make recommendations to the treatment team about whether or not a cannula is needed.”

Dr Martin Shalley, a former president of the British Association of Emergency Medicine, agreed there had been an over-reliance on cannula use.

He said many trusts had policies saying cannulas had to be removed after 72 hours

“It used to be a knee-jerk response to insert a cannula – but we now recognise there’s a need to think if fitting one is a benefit for that patient.

“It’s entirely reasonable to look at their use. That’s the case in A&E medicine and across acute medicine too.”

And Dr Shalley said he thought the level of use of cannulas had increased the level of hospital-acquired infections such as MRSA.

September 1, 2008

Experts poised for rare frog hunt

Experts poised for rare frog hunt

Golden toads mating

The golden toad has vanished from Costa Rica’s rainforests

Scientists are set to begin a hunt for the some of the world’s rarest frogs in Costa Rica, including the iconic golden toad, last seen some 20 years ago.

A team from Manchester University and Chester Zoo are in Costa Rica to track down the highly endangered creatures.

News will follow their trek deep into the cloud forests of Monteverde.

Amphibians numbers around the world have crashed, in part because of a deadly fungus. Costa Rica has been particularly badly hit.

Expedition leader Andrew Gray, from the University of Manchester’s Manchester Museum, said: “Costa Rica’s highlands used to be major biodiversity hotspots – but in many areas amphibian populations have been completely decimated.”

Killer fungus

Yellow-eyed leaf frog

The killer fungus

In the late 1980s, herpetologists around the world found that amphibian populations were suffering unprecedented declines, but they struggled to understand exactly why.

A decade later, researchers isolated a previously unknown fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which was infecting amphibians, effectively suffocating them by making it impossible for them to breathe across their skin.

Recently, the scientists working on the Global Amphibian Assessment estimated that one-third of all amphibians were threatened by extinction and about 120 species had already become extinct since the 1980s.

Many believe the disease caused by the chytrid fungus is a key factor for this crash. Other causes are thought to include habitat destruction and changes in climate.

Frog rediscovery

Countries in Central America have been particularly badly affected by the deadly chytrid fungus, which is now widespread there. A great deal of effort is now being put into place to safeguard any remaining species.

Ithsmohyla rivularis
To find this species last year that was thought to be extinct at the same times as the golden toad was incredible
Andrew Gray

Andrew Gray said: “For the last 10 years, I’ve been working with others to ensure the future for frogs that have so far escaped extinction.

“One of the main things I have been doing is establishing breeding populations in Manchester Museum for a number of very, very rare species – including the splendid leaf frog (Cruziohyla calcarifer), the yellow-eyed leaf frog (Agalychnas annae) and the lemur leaf frog (Hylomantis lemur).

“I’ve also been working with the Costa Rican authorities and scientists to put conservation measures into place at the sites where any rare frogs are found.”

Last year, Mr Gray caught a glimpse of the Ithsmohyla rivularis in the cloud forests of Monteverde – a frog that was thought to have gone extinct about 20 years ago.

Splendid Leaf frog

Manchester Museum has a splendid leaf captive breeding population

He said: “To find this species last year that was thought to have become extinct at the same time as the golden toad was incredible – it is the rarest tree frog in the world.”

He has now been given special permission by the Costa Rican authorities to collect some of the frogs to take back to Manchester.

He told : “We are returning to thoroughly search the site in the hope of finding more specimens.

“It’s not going to be easy – they live deep in the Monteverde rainforest, they are only a couple of centimetres in size and they only come out in the dead of night – and while the males do call, the females don’t make a sound.”

‘Never say never’

The rediscovery of Ithsmohyla rivularis has spurred the team on to also try to seek out a golden toad (Bufo pereglines).

This colourful amphibian, which scientists only discovered in 1966, became the iconic symbol of amphibian decline. In 1987 there were approximately 1,500 of the toads, but just two years later it had vanished from the face of the rainforest.

Mr Gray said: “We are going to be trekking through an area where the golden toad used to thrive. It is very unlikely we will find one – but as last year’s discovery showed us, never say never.”

While in the rainforest, the team will also trying to track down the miniature red-eyed tree frog (Duellmanohyla uranochroa) – a species on the brink of extinction – to investigate how some frogs may be able to prevent the chytrid fungus from taking hold.

This is a unique opportunity to study the frogs in their natural habitat
Mark Dickinson

Previous research has shown that some species of tree frog have a special pigment in their skin that enables them to reflect light, allowing them to “sunbathe” without drying out.

Physicist Mark Dickinson, from Photon Science Institute at the University of Manchester, will be taking a spectrometer into the field to investigate how different frog species reflect light.

He said: “So far, I’ve only been able to investigate captive frogs in the lab. This is a unique opportunity to study the frogs in their natural habitat.”

The team believes that the ability to sit out in the Sun may allow the frogs’ skin to heat up just enough to kill off chytrid – preventing the disease from taking its grip.

Some of the team will also be heading to the last known breeding site of the green-eyed frog (Lithobates vibicarius) where Chester Zoo is helping to support a conservation programme.

August 28, 2008

Zoom heads towards administration

Zoom heads towards administration

The grounded plane at Glasgow Airport

The grounded plane was due to leave Glasgow Airport on Thursday morning

Transatlantic budget carrier Zoom Airlines has admitted it is applying to go into administration.

The announcement came after one of its planes was detained at Glasgow Airport on Thursday for non-payment of air traffic control charges.

UK-Canadian Zoom blamed its problems on the “horrendous” price of aviation fuel and the wider economic slowdown.

People due to travel on Zoom have been told to check their flight’s status.

‘Support and advice’

Zoom’s admission of financial difficulties came after BAA, the owner of Gatwick Airport, said it had been instructed by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority to detain a Zoom plane that was due to fly to the Canadian cities of Halifax and Ottawa.

BAA said another Zoom flight from Glasgow to Vancouver had also been delayed.

“BAA is working with Zoom Airlines to provide support and advice for passengers,” said the airport company.

Meanwhile, a Zoom plane was grounded overnight in Calgary, Canada, a move also said to be in connection to overdue charges.

“Zoom Airlines Ltd based at Gatwick and Zoom Airlines Inc based in Ottawa, Canada, have sought creditor protection by filing legal notices of intention to appoint an administrator in both the UK and Canada,” said Zoom executive chairman Hugh Boyle.

He added that while Zoom sincerely apologised for those passengers affected by the grounded aircraft, its “flights will continue to operate”.

Zoom operates services from Glasgow, Gatwick, Manchester, Cardiff and Belfast International airports a well as from European airports to a number of North American destinations.


Are you due to travel on Zoom? Have you been affected by any issues raised in this story?

Send your comments

August 5, 2008

Van Nistelrooy quits Dutch set-up

Real Madrid’s Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy has announced his retirement from international football.

“After studying the schedule of Madrid and the Dutch team I realised playing for both would mean too tough a load for me,” said the 32-year-old.

Van Nistelrooy won the first of his 64 caps in 1998 and is the team’s third highest all-time scorer with 33 goals.

He missed Euro 2000 through injury but played and scored at Euro 2004 and 2008 and also the 2006 World Cup.

His decision came as a surprise to new national team coach Bert van Marwijk, who succeeded Marco van Basten as national team coach on 1 July.

“I had a comprehensive conversation with Ruud and I can do nothing else but respect his decision,” said van Marwijk.

“I regret it that I can’t use his quality and experience when I compose my squad but I wish him all the best at Real Madrid.”

Van Nistelrooy made his name at PSV Eindhoven, where he suffered a serious knee injury, before moving to Manchester United for a then- British record fee of £19m in 2001.

He had five successful years at Old Trafford before moving to Madrid in July 2006 for £10.2m.

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