NEWS

2011-12-21

£1.99 Xmas dinner

A BARGAIN boozer is defying the economic crisis this festive season by offering the cheapest Christmas dinners in the country for just GBP1.99. 

The Four Crosses Inn, in Cannock, Staffordshire, is offering a full Turkey roast with all the trimmings for the same price as a Christmas selection box.   

And for just a pound extra, punters can enjoy a dessert of Christmas pudding and custard or a variety of starters, meaning a three course lunch will cost just under GBP4.  

Landlord Tony Rabbitts, 51, came up with the idea of making cut price home-made food  after other schemes failed to bring in the customers during the financial crisis. 

The pub was on the brink of closure, until the offer drew the punters back in and now Tony and his wife Kay,52, have extended the successful offer over the Christmas period.

"We thought we'd keep the prices low over Christmas time because it wouldn't be fair to raise them at this time of year especially with the way things are at the moment," said Tony. 

"We're looking to bring a bit of Christmas cheer to people who are struggling at the moment with job losses, and the such. 

"Now people who can't afford to go out at the moment can eat out this Christmas on the cheap.

"People can get the full Turkey roast with all the trimmings for GBP1.99 and the starters and desserts are only a pound as well."

Since introducing the cut price pub dinners back in October, the business has managed to stay open by attracting punters in and making most their money from drinks sales. 

"We've made enough to survive at the moment but not everybody has been so lucky," added Tony. 

"If we hadn't have dropped our food prices to a quid we'd be out of business by now - luckily the punters keep coming and we're doing 500-600 covers a night. 

"It had got to the the point where we almost had to close, we tried everything.

"We did two-for-one offers, tried posh food and buffets - nothing worked.

"With the smoking ban and then the credit crunch sales fell, so I came up with the idea to sell all food for a pound.

"People think that they are going to get small portions, but we give them good, home-made food, that are big portions.

"So we've extended this to out Christmas menu - we're not making an amazing profit on it but we're doing enough to get along."

With wife by his side, Tony also recruited his son Ben, 29, behind the bar and daughter Jessica 24, is a waitress.

Having the family as a family-run business means that the pub doesn't have any extra outgoings, says Tony.

He added: "Luckily I haven't had to hire anymore staff, because there's me, my wife and my two kids who all work together."

CHRISTMAS MENU:

Starters: 

Seafood cocktail

Home made vegetable soup, 

Brussels Pate 

Egg mayonnaise

Main:

Christmas dinner - turkey roast with all the trimmings - 3 types of veg, sausages/bacon, stuffing, mash and roast potatoes. 

Dessert: 

Christmas pudding 

Apple pie and custard

Ice cream 

Rice Pudding

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2011-12-20

Ultra-modern nativity

A CHURCH has broken two thousand years of tradition with an unusual nativity scene which shows baby Jesus lying in a SHOPPING TROLLEY.

Ultra-modern Grange Park Church, in Northampton, unveiled the scene, which also features Mary and Joseph lying in sleeping bags on the floor of a shed surrounded by tools, this week.

The church's bizarre 21st Century interpretation of the traditional story, called 'The Christmas Journey', starts in 15-year-old Mary's bedroom where she is visited by an angel.

It ends in the shed, where Baby Jesus sleeps in a shopping trolley filled with newspaper, next to a stack of paint pots and a lawnmower.

And while all the usual elements of the story are included - the shepherds, wise men and King Herod - the nativity also offers visitors the chance to try their hand at carpentry, touch and smell the gold, frankincense and myrrh, and advise Mary on her plight.

The display at The Kairos Centre, in Grange Park, Northampton, also includes a video diary by Mary as part of the reinvention of the Christmas tale.

The Rev Charlie Nobbs, minister of Grange Park Church, believes the modern day interpretation makes the characters more real and the story easier to relate to.

He said: “The aim is to engage everybody. Children enjoy it but because it’s pretty interactive, even for adults who know the story really well, it brings life and freshness to it, which sometimes you lose because hear it so many times.

“Because there’s a mixture of traditional and contemporary people get a feel for it.”

The minister added that the setting of the shed and shopping trolley corresponded to the stable and manger in the original story.

Rev Nobbs said: “If it was Grange Park today and nobody would let them in the house and the Holiday Inn was all booked up where would they end up? In a shed or a garage.”

Mr Nobbs said: “A lot of people have said they’ve been quite blown away because coming through the door you get that surprise factor. They said they found it quite emotional. Seeing the sleeping bags on the floor and the baby have brought it to life.”

Jayne Ellingham, 42, from Northampton, took three children around the nativity yesterday. She said: “I think it was really good because it put a modern twist on the story that children understand a lot more.

“You can’t imagine being born and put into a shopping trolley but that’s the equivalent.”

Mother of three Lisa Warriner, aged 34, from Northampton, agreed: “My son’s come back twice. He did it with school and he was so enthusiastic he gave us a tour.”

Volunteer Peter King, a history lecturer from Pitsford, has led a number of tours.

He said: “I think it works to give it a contemporary feel. Jesus wasn’t born in a hospital or a palace, he was born in a donkey shed.

“It comes home as a story where people made real, life-changing choices.”

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2011-12-19

Cardboard Cop

DETECTIVES are chasing a paper trail after a CARDBOARD CUT-OUT of one of their officers was stolen by cheeky thieves.

The cut-out of a uniformed officer was carted off by pranksters who have never been caught.

Warwickshire Police has suffered GBP12,250 worth of thefts from its vehicles, police stations and offices over the past four years.

The force valued the fake community support officer at GBP150.

New Freedom of Information figures also show a police flag was stolen from one station, while helmets, flat caps, and clothing have also been taken.

In total, there were 23 thefts from the force over the past four years.

Among the high-value items was an GBP8,000 patrol car, which was later recovered. Crooks also rode off on a police bike, valued at GBP800, which has never been found.

Camcorders, sat-nav systems and radios have also been taken from vehicles.

A spokeswoman for Warwickshire Police said: “The security of police property and vehicles is of primary importance and all officers and staff receive strict security guidelines.

“The majority of the stolen property was taken from police vehicles while police officers were engaged in dealing with incidents.

“Anyone suspected of stealing police property should be aware they will face prosecution if they are charged.

“We are pleased to say that more than 50 per cent of the stolen property was subsequently recovered.“

In another bizarre theft from officers, hungry thieves nicked a packet of detectives' digestives from a police station in Leicestershire, while other crooks lifted hair straighteners.

In total Leicestershire Police lost GBP4,384 of property to thefts, including an electronic breathalyser, lead roofing and police jackets and caps.

Staffordshire Police suffered the highest number of crimes, with 46 raids on their premises and vehicles in the past two years, costing them GBP5,567.

Stolen items included handbags, cash and 12 Sat Nav systems.

Car thieves took a particular shine to Staffordshire cop cars, taking wheel trims, lights and even a catalytic converter.

There were five break-ins at West Mercia Police stations over the past three years, with sites at Droitwich, Ellesmere, Stourport-on-Severn, Worcester and Wythall all targeted.

Burglars stole tools, electrical goods, metal, groceries, stationery, toiletries, batons, a radio, and clothing. Almost all of the items were later recovered.
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2011-12-18

Crocodile found

AT the time of year when many people dump unwanted cats and dogs, spare a thought for this shocked pet centre owner who found a CROCODILE lying outside his gates.

Jim Wick, owner of 'Wickid Pets', in Wolverhampton, discovered the exotic creature dumped in a plastic box when he arrived at work on Thursday.

The 5ft long croc, which is more at home in South America than the Midlands, has been taken in by the kind-hearted animal lover - who admits he was lucky not to have a chunk of his arm missing after he made the startling discovery.

"As I was driving towards the gates I saw a big, plastic container so I jumped out and walked over,” said exotic animal expert Jim.

“I thought it might have been kittens or turtles because we often have animals left outside by people who don’t want them anymore.

“I was taken aback when I lifted the lid and looked inside.

“I put my hand in straight away to test the warmth of the water. I’m lucky it wasn’t aggressive because it could have had my hand off.”

Although many people would have ran a mile from the deadly croc, fearless Jim snapped into action, scooped it into his arms and rushed it into one of his reptile vivariums.

Staff at the park have been looking after the female caiman croc, who they have affectionately christened Snappy the Christmas Crocodile, since yesterday's shock discovery - feeding it a diet of rats and mice.

And Jim says he is more than happy to keep caring for his latest visitor, which is capable of growing to an enormous 8ft, until animal experts come forward to take her on.

“We’ll have her here for a few days then if no-one comes forward, she’ll probably go to somewhere like West Midland Safari Park,” he said.

“She’s in good health so has clearly been looked after. She has a few broken teeth but that’s normal with her diet.”

The animal expert says he has contacted the police to find out whether there has been any reports of missing crocodiles but to no avail - although he does have his own suspicions about what has happened.

“Some people aren’t given the correct facts when they buy animals like this and they find them too much to cope with,” he added.

“They’re an exotic animal that need specialist care and you need a proper licence to have them. Too many people just don’t know this.

“She’s not given us any problems and is content as she is. She’s being well looked after and we will make sure she goes to the right kind of home.”
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2011-12-13

Carer theft

A CARER 'breached her position of trust' after she tried to break into the safe of the severely disabled man she looked after and steal his money.

Michelle Warburton, 36, was found guilty of two counts of attempted theft at Birmingham Crown Court on Friday.

She was caught on CCTV apparently tampering with the safe, which was in a wardrobe at Trevor Thomas' bungalow in Kings Heath, Birmingham, but failing to get access.

It contained Mr Thomas' medication and up to GBP400 in cash. He is wheelchair bound and suffers with Dystonia and Cerebral Palsy, which also affects his speech.

The jury had been shown footage on Wednesday of Warburton going into the spare room and crouching down in the dark beside the combination safe.

They took two hours to find Warburton guilty on both counts.

Rhydian James, prosecuting, opening the case on Wednesday: "The case is about a woman who was in a position of trust. The defendant was a carer.

"Over the weekend of the 12 and 13 March, CCTV showed the defendant going  to that spare room on a number of occasions.

"She goes into the room. She does not turn the lights on and she opens the wardrobe door.

"She crouches down, leans into the wardrobe and her hands are in touching distance of the keyboard."

He continued:"The prosecution case is that by doing that she is attempting to steal from Trevor Thomas. She wanted what was in that safe.

"The inference that can be properly drawn would be shown on the CCTV, is her bending over trying to get into the safe, trying to get into the safe by breaking the combination code. That members of the jury is a breach of trust.

"The only plausible reason why she was in that room crouched down... is that she was trying combinations to get into the safe."

The court heard single mum-of-two Warburton, of Druids Heath, Birmingham, had worked for Mr Thomas for 18-months and helped with his personal hygiene, taking him out and putting him to bed.

She was only permitted to go into the spare room to open and close the curtains.

However, she was caught on CCTV entering the room eight times over a 48-hour period.

The clips showed her going into the room three times on Sunday, March 13 and closing the door behind her. A further five clips showed her opening the wardrobe door and crouching down in close proximity to the safe's digital keypad.

In one clip, she is seen crawling on her hands and knees. 

"The prosecution say she knew of the possibility of the CCTV camera being there and because of this she tried to hide her actions, " Mr James added.

"There is sufficient time, enough for her to open the wardrobe, and try the safe."

Mr Thomas' mother Patricia told the jury Warburton was one of three carers who looked after her son.

She said GBP70 housekeeping money was kept in it for Trevor, with six to eight weeks worth inside amounting to between GBP300 and 400.

Only her, her partner and Trevor knew the four digit code, she told the jury.

Asked why he had a safe, Mrs Thomas said:" We had a number of things go missing and to safeguard Trevor we put a safe in. He has to feel he has some responsibility in his life.

"Nobody is given permission to go in the safe or in the wardrobe. Michelle only went in to open the curtains and close them."

Mrs Thomas' partner, Edward Leng, who is also one of Trevor's carers, said that there would have been "no need" for a carer to enter the spare room.

He said: "In the role as a carer there would be no need to go in that wardrobe at all."

The combination was changed in February, about three weeks before the alleged offences.

Warburton is charged with two counts of attempted theft.

Mrs Thomas told the court she installed three CCTV cameras at her son's home in March after noticing things had been going missing. One was located outside on the driveway, another was in the back garden and a third was in the hallway of the bungalow.

The camera was not hidden, however Warburton would not have known it had been installed when she arrived for work on March 13, jurors were told.

Mrs Thomas viewed the footage - which also showed the defendant on her hands and knees at one point -  a week later before going to the police.

She said: "I was horrified and upset. I found it very, very distressing. I was upset because I had invited someone in that I thought I could trust for my son."

She claimed there was no legitimate reason for the carer to be in the spare room.

"She was in the dark and she had the wardrobe door open. She was in there for a few minutes or so with the wardrobe door open with the whole visual of the safe," Mrs Thomas, from Kings Norton, Birmingham, added.

She broke down in tears under cross-examination while her son Trevor, 44, and Mr Leng sat in the public gallery.

The court also heard how Mrs Warburton said she could not remember going in to the spare room on March 12 or March 13 when quizzed by police. 

During two interviews under caution, Mrs Warburton initially told interviewing officers that she didn't remember going in to the spare room at all that weekend. 

She admitted to police that she was aware of the safe's existence, but that carers would only look inside it after Trevor had entered the code to open the safe while they waited outside the room. 

As she gave her evidence, Miss Warburton claimed that she had entered the room to look for a phone number.

Defending, Gurdeep Garcha said there were legitimate reasons for Warburton to enter the room, such as to get to the clothes horse, use the fax machine, access paperwork and get Mr Thomas' manual wheelchair.

Mr Garcha said: "In your mind you had no doubt about what Miss Warburton was trying to do. In your mind it is clear. She is trying to steal from your son. You had made your mind up immediately upon watching that footage because you wanted to get her into trouble."

Warburton was released on unconditional bail by Judge Elizabeth Fisher until she is sentenced in the new year. 

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2011-12-12

Christmas shop house

IT looks like every child's dream, a 1930s style toy shop packed with treats, warming up for the festive season.

But in fact this antique Santa's grotto is actually a modest pensioner's home, who says it's the only way he celebrates Christmas every year.

Great-grandfather Don Talbot, from Willenhall, West Midlands, spends all year finding unique little knick-knacks and trinkets to fill his home.

The house is adorned with tin plate cars, trains and vintage dolls lined up along a wall, while an ageing Christmas tree proudly displays its antique baubles.

And it doesn't stop there - as 600 fairy lights shine in the hallway alone, along with three Christmas trees - one of which dates back to 1933. 

Countless musical reindeer and Santa ornaments as well as expensive statues from all over the world also fill his house.

Don said he just likes the place "looking jolly" and spends three days decorating the place with the old trinkets.

"It is over the top - I fully admit that," said the 79-year-old, who still works as a mechanical design engineering consultant.

"But it's okay because it's Christmas. It's only a few weeks and it makes everything brighter. I like it looking so jolly."

The vintage tree which dates back to 1933 was bought as a present for his wife Sheila when she was one and sits in pride of place in the back sitting room.

Several of the decorations bought alongside the little tree have also survived the decades, including a painted cat, a red and gold painted bauble featuring a cherub's head and the 'fairy' on top - a 1920s celluloid doll who has been dressed in tinsel as her original clothes fell off through age.

His daughter Michelle, 50, lives nearby and said she always enjoys it when her parents start bringing down the decorations and putting them up - a lengthy, three-day process involving hours of delicate arrangements.

"I think it's lovely. I always offer to come round and help but usually they have it all done themselves," she said.

"I love the shop, of course, but I think my favourite thing has to be the tree. It brings back so many memories as we used to help decorate it when we were little."

The front room is now know as the Toy Shop throughout the holiday season after  someone commented on the style of the glass wall separating the room from the hallway.

The panels of glass, some with puckered centres, just looked like an old store window,   and inspiration struck, said the grandfather-of-two.

He set about building a shelving system which largely slots into place, held to the wall by just two screws, and started filling them with vintage knick-knacks from his daughters' childhood, plus toys his antiques collector sister Margaret had picked up over the years.

And he constantly adds to the collection throughout the year.

"Whenever I'm out, if I see a little shop selling things like this I pop in," he said.

"I usually pick up things which are colourful and small enough to fit on the shelves. Most of them are replicas of old toys as the originals can be quite battered and worn.

"I also like to buy things that remind me of when I was a boy - tipper trucks and old games, things like that.

"Our decorations were completely normal until I made the toy shop and it has just gone on from there."

Children from the neighbourhood, work colleagues and his great-granddaughter Ella-Louise, one, pop in regularly throughout the holiday period to enjoy the grotto-like home and play with some of the toys.

One of his prized decorations, which sits on the mantelpiece in his front lounge, is an expensive ceramic Santa riding a train full of presents.

He bought it while on his summer holidays in Spain four years ago after spotting it in a special Christmas shop, and had to struggle with it all the way home on the plane.

"I love steam trains so I have a lot of those," he said.

"It's all just good fun and the kids enjoy it. We love having the children around. What with the visitors and our musical ornaments there's never a quiet minute over Christmas."

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2011-12-11

Shabby Xmas Lights

A COUNCIL'S 'shambolic' Christmas lights display - which has cost the taxpayer GBP27,000 - have been branded the shabbiest in the UK.   

Faulty lights in Aylesbury town centre, Buckinghamshire, have been erected with several malfunctions, including reindeer with only one antler and one leg as well as Santa without a face. 

Once darkness falls, one sign describes the town as "a great lace to be" while another declares "seasns eets" from Aylesbury Vale District Council - who forked out for GBP26,744 on the display. 

Angry residents have described their local Christmas lights display as "embarrassing",  "shabby" and as 'surely the worst in the country'.  

Barbara Murphy, 64, from Aylesbury, said: "They are terrible," said the grandmother-of-two. "Half the lights don't work, which makes some of the characters more scary than festive. They're more likely to scare children than fill them with joy.

"My niece asked me 'why can't I see Father Christmas' face' and where's Rudolph's leg gone?

"They must be the worst in the country, I don't know what the council were thinking when they allowed these to be put up and left. It just makes the town look like a joke - it's embarrassing."

Neal Davies, 24, also from the town, is another of many to have slammed the decorations which he says he is ashamed to take his nieces to see.

“It seems the council has let it slide, there is not one feature of the lights that is actually working properly,” he said.

“It is now becoming a running joke amongst my friends and I as to just how shambolic the lights are and the glaring errors in how they’ve been put up.

“I want to see Christmas brought back for Aylesbury instead of neglecting what is one of the town’s only celebrations of a beautiful holiday tradition.”

UKIP member at the district council, Chris Adams, also condemned the authority’s spending on the faulty decorations and debated the issue at a council meeting on Wednesday.

“The lights in the town centre are a disgrace,” he said.

“They seem to be a mere afterthought and look as though they have been stuck up year on year, with little thought given to how they look.

“What is the district council doing? How can we be getting so little for our money? We’ve got hardly anything to show for it.

“With the way the times are right now we owe it to our shopkeepers to attract people into town at this time of year. It’s such a waste of money.”

Matthew Elliott. Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “Residents expect a bit of festive cheer in their town centre but councils have got to get value for money in everything they do, even when putting up the Christmas lights.

"GBP27,000 is a huge amount of money to spend on high street decorations, Aylesbury taxpayers would expect a lot more than this shoddy display for the amount of money they have been made to fork out."

Cabinet member for civic amenities at the council, Brian Roberts, said: “We are obviously very disappointed that some of the Christmas lights have not been working properly.

“We have been informed by our contractor that the majority of the faulty lights have now been repaired and we expect the remaining few to be repaired shortly.

“Our Christmas lights display shows Aylesbury town centre is open for business.

“The lights and other decorations cheer people up during a time when the evenings are really dark and they’re a treat for all ages.

“They also attract people into the town, which encourages a greater spend in our shops, restaurants and licensed premises.”

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2011-12-09

Argos 1976

IT'S a feature of almost every household, and one that rarely leaves children's hands at this time of year as they excitedly await the arrival of Christmas.

But as these pictures show, the humble Argos catalogue can provide a fascinating insight into changing tastes and trends that have swept our nation's high streets over the last 35 years.

They were uncovered by artist and vintage lava lamp collector Anthony Voz, who found the 1976 catalogue at a recent car boot sale. 

He scanned and uploaded every single page from one of the very first editions of the catalogue to the web and was overwhelmed by the response from people who had fond childhood memories of the products featured within.

Mr Voz said that he feels the booklet offers an opportunity to look back in time and shed light on the way we used to live.

Even a quick glance at the front covers of both editions reveals how quickly technology has progressed in just a generation.

Whereas the 70s version shows a happy family gathered around the catalogue, the cover of the 2011 edition shows a tablet PC displaying the Argos website and a range of online purchasing options.

And there are a number of items which would have been considered essential just 25 years ago missing from the pages of the modern catalogue.

Typewriters, adding machines, cassette players and ashtrays are just some of the things that either no longer appear or have a minimal amount of space now dedicated to them.

But it is not only gadgets which have changed, as the pictures also show how far the nation's obsession with body image and personal grooming has developed since the 1970s.

The contents pages of the old catalogue list just one page of 'Keep Fit equipment', whereas the 2011 version has a staggering 40 pages of various sports gear.

And while today's man looks for an electric razor which moisturises his skin as he shaves, a sideburn trimming feature was the USP which attracted the rugged 70s bloke.

Isabelle Szmigin, professor of marketing at The University of Birmingham, said that the range of products available today shows a change in attitudes and lifestyle.

She said: "We will always see products that reflect the concerns of the day both socially and economically – there is lots of money to be made out of keep fit as we are all struggling to keep our weight down. 

"The fact of the matter is that the amount of high fat and sugar foods were just much less in the 1970s so some products really do change to reflect the changed environment."

The toy pages of the catalogue could be seen to show how we have developed a more PC attitude towards our kids.

Modern-day kid's bikes are plastered with images of popular cartoon characters, and feature a 'parent handle', which worried mums and dads can use to prevent wayward toddlers from straying.

And the replica guns and Wild-West dress up sets missing from today's catalogue, suggest that a Saturday game of 'Cowboys and Indians' is a thing of the past.

Former household names, such as Matchbox and Tonka, are also conspicuous by their absence from the newer catalogue.

But there are also a number of similarities between the older catalogue and its brightly-coloured modern day counterpart.

Hairstyling products for women feature prominently in both catalogues, although hair straighteners rather than curling tongs dominate the modern-day version.

And a surprising number of household names make appearances in both catalogues. 

Kodak, Phillips and Lego are still as popular as they were 35 years ago, although today's suspension-equipped Lego sports cars make the humble train and ambulance sets of 1976 look more than a little outdated.

But Professor Szmigin said that there are echoes of the 1976 catalogue in the modern day version, particularly when it comes to their presentation.

She said: "In some ways I think it is surprising how similar the items and ways of presenting them are. 

"In marketing we talk about the product life cycle and it is fascinating to watch how toys go or don’t go through this cycle. 

"Barbie and Lego have stayed more or less the same for years. 

"Others, such as Action Man tend to come and go but toys remain largely the same." 

But one thing that is very different is the sheer amount of products on offer - the old catalogue was just 250 pages, while this year's contains over 1,000.

Professor Szmigin said: "Whatever we hear about Austerity Britain the fact of the matter is that we just have a lot more stuff now than ever before – in some ways many of us don’t know the meaning of the word austerity."

Mr Voz originally uploaded the images to act as a reference for himself and other collectors of vintage memorabilia, but soon found that he was receiving nostalgic messages from hundreds of web users.

He said: "The images act as a way to connect with people to discover their stories, their past and their memories. 

"For example, people see teddy bears that they owned, or games consoles that they longed to own as a teenager and the catalogues also shed light into how it was to live back then. 

"Looking at the catalogues makes people remember parts of their life that they had forgotten."

 

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2011-12-08

Pampered Rabbits

THESE two rabbits could be the most pampered pets in the world - living in a luxurious five star hutch worth more than GBP10,000.

For this is no ordinary rabbit hutch. This hi-tech habitat comes with integral LED lighting, a CCTV camera including an infrared facility for night-time observation, a fan to control temperature and a shutter to keep out bad weather – all of which can be operated by a mobile phone from anywhere in the world.

Hunnie, a male Continental Giant, and female Runnie, of a more indeterminate pedigree, have just moved into the brand new bespoke hutch that would cost more than GBP10,000 to buy.

The bunnies even have their own sleeping quarters in the hutch, which is likened to a log cabin and is fully equipped with mod cons like air conditioning.

They live in harmony alongside two South American iguanas, Zilla and Zubi, and three African Emperor scorpions, housed in separate vivariums in the garden of animal lovers Jason and Mairi Batterbee.    

The couple from Dersingham, near King's Lynn, Norfolk,  also have two cuddly but sharp-toothed South American chinchillas, Shelley and Roo, who live in a multi-story cage in the comfort of their lounge in their bungalow.

     

Electrical and mechanical engineer Jason had all the necessary skills to construct the hutch, which took nine months to build, as a replacement for another one that was falling to bits.

    

“I enjoy designing and constructing,” said Jason, who built the tailor-made homes that contain all their animals.

“They could be considered the most pampered pets in the world but they are worth it.” 

The hutch is approximately 7ft 6ins long (2 metres), 4 ft high (1.2 metres) and 3 feet deep (1 metre).  It is made from 8” x 2”pressure treated pine wood with all the fittings handmade out of stainless steel.   The total weight is approximately one tonne.

     

It is constructed in a similar manner to a log cabin with interlocking timbers through which run stainless steel expansion rods to prevent gaps appearing as the wood expands in winter and contracts in the summer.   

The front grill and handmade hinges are also of stainless steel as are the banisters of the stairs of this two-storey hutch which incorporates separate bedrooms for each of the two rabbits.  The roof is felted and covered in red cedar shingles.

    

“We switch on the fan in the roof if it should happen to get too hot in the summer,” explained Jason, adding that the weatherproof shutter was lowered at night and also when the wind was cold or it was raining.   

Everything is powered by a twelve volt battery, trickle-charged from the mains which sit alongside the hutch.   On a panel above the battery are press-button controls operating all the hutches facilities.

     

But what really sets this hutch apart from other rabbit hutches is Jason and Mairi’s ability to control its functions by mobile phone from anywhere in the world.   

It enables them to turn on the fan or lower the weatherproof shutter even if half a world away from Dersingham.

     

In the evenings the CCTV cameras, linked to their computer, enables them to keep an eye on their rabbits inside the hutch, a facility they can also be used anywhere in the world provided they have access to a computer.   

Only Jason or Mairi can gain access by remote control to the hutches’ various electronic functions.   In addition any instruction sent is acknowledged with a return text to confirm it has been successful.

Materials used in the construction cost more than GBP1,000 but Jason estimates that the hours spent making the one-off bespoke hutch would give it a value on the open market somewhere between GBP10 and GBP15,000.

    

The only facility that is not powered by cutting edge technology is feeding time.   “If we are away we have friends who do that,” said Jason.   

     

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2011-12-07

200 Xmas trees stolen

SCROOGE thieves have stolen a staggering 200 Christmas trees worth thousands of pounds from a farm shop.  

The callous crooks broke into a compound at Roberts Farm Shop near Kingswinford, Staffs, and dragged the trees across fields to a nearby road where they loaded them onto a vehicle and drove off.

Police said today/yesterday (TUE) the trees, which were of various sizes and varieties, had a sale value of more than GBP4,500.

Detectives believe the raiders would have needed a large van or lorry to take away the trees due to the large number that were taken.

They are now asking witnesses or anyone who saw any suspicious behaviour near the farm shop to get in touch. 

They are also appealing for people to be on their guard as they believe the thieves may try to sell the trees on.

Farm manager Matthew Roberts said security at the site has now been stepped up and a nightwatchman has been installed to deter thieves from coming back for more trees.

“It’s a lot of money to lose. It’s left us short and we’ve had to order more trees to make sure we have enough.

“It looks like they dragged the trees through one of our fields and loaded them onto a lorry or a large van,” he said.

It is believed the thieves broke into the site at around 1am on Sunday. 

Pc Ian Fortey, from Staffordshire Police, said: “Around 200 Christmas trees of various sizes and types were taken. 

"A lorry or other type of large vehicle would have been needed to transport the trees which would have taken some time to drag across the field and load.

Suspicious

“We want to speak to anyone who noticed any suspicious activity or vehicles on Saturday night. We’re also keen to speak to people who may have been offered the trees for sale.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact police.

Thefts of Christmas trees have been reported in other parts of the country. Last week a spate of thefts from garden centres in Hampshire was reported while trees have also been taken from sites in Maidenhead.

Last year thieves chopped down 12 Christmas trees, worth around GBP500, from a field at Harvington near Kidderminster.

Police said similar incidents are reported in rural areas around Wyre Forest every year and warned that chopping down or digging up trees is theft, and anyone caught doing so will be dealt with accordingly. 

It is also a crime to dig up or cut down Christmas trees from farms and other commercial sites where they are grown for sale.

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2011-12-06

Santa flash mob

BIRMINGHAM city centre was brought to a standstill today/yesterday (MON) as dancers dressed in Santa morph suits flooded the city centre for a festive flash-mob. 

Christmas shoppers in Birmingham’s High Street couldn’t believe their eyes when hordes of street dancing Santas emerged, dressed head to toe in red lycra morph suits. 

They quickly drew a large crowd - confusing many passers by as they followed them down the street - and finished their spectacular display by forming a snowflake lying on the ground. 

The dancers are from EQHO, an award winning street dance group from Warwick University. 

Dorine Mwesiga, who choreographed the dance said: “The opportunity of street dancing in order to raise money for charity really appealed to us. The reaction of passers-by to our strange festive characters was phenomenal, they even started joining in.” 

Jim Holdsworth, 36, from Birmingham, said the dancing made his Christmas shopping more exciting. 

"It was an interesting moment when these people dressed in Lycra started dancing," he said. 

"I was a bit taken aback to be honest, but then they started dancing and it was quite fun to watch, certainly a distraction from a dull day shopping."

Katherine Wooley, 54, from Walsall, West Midlands, said she wasn't sure of the purpose of the stunt.

"All I saw was a load of people dressed in red dancing," she said. "To be honest it didn't really seem to raise awareness to their cause for me. But perhaps the video will when I see that."

The video, in aid of Birmingham Children’s Hospital, which will be released on YouTube on Monday December 12, is fronted by television and radio presenter Richard Bacon.

Catherine Allen from Ember Television, the production company behind the mob, said: 

“We want the film to foster a sense of creativity, festive vibrance and community spirit. 

"It’ll show that despite the riots over the summer and all the economic doom and gloom, Birmingham is a warm, charitable city, determined to enjoy Christmas. 

"Raising money for a charity through sponsorship of a viral video has so far proved a huge success. 

"The whole experience was amazing, the audience reaction was unbelievable. People started high fiving and hugging the dancers. 

"It only took thirty of us in total, with 25 dancers, in order to bring get everyone on the street watching. 

"We see great future potential in online video playing this role. With all profits going to Birmingham Children's Hospital."

So far the fund has raised over GBP2,000.

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2011-12-05

Eco-home

ONE man has taken recycling to the next level - by building an entire HOUSE almost entirely from empty plastic bottles.

Everything in the ultimate eco-house is created from recycled material, with the vast majority of the walls, fixtures and even the furniture made from plastic bottles.

As well as the 1200 PET bottles in its walls, the 'The Ecological Bottle House' is also constructed from aluminium cans and re-used milk cartons.

Imaginative creator Alfredo Alberto Santa Cruz has utilised every single part of the discarded containers to build chairs, tables and beds.

The interior rooms are divided by curtains made from bottle caps threaded together, and the roof is constructed from hundreds of juice cartons flattened and made into shingles.

Mr Santa Cruz has cleverly reversed the cartons so that their aluminium lining reflects the sun and keeps the house cool.

In total, he used 1300 of the Tetra Pack containers in the roof of the house, 140 compact disk boxes for the doors and windows, 120 plastic bottles to make the chair and 200 to make the bed

Located in Puerto Iguazu, Misiones, Argentina, the house has become a tourist attraction for visitors to nearby Iguazu Falls National Park.

Even as visitors approach the ramshackle house, they are greeted by several planters made from old toilets situated at the front door, and an umbrella made from plastic bottles to provide shelter on rainy days.

The house, described as a 'prototype', only has a single bedroom at the moment, but its creator said that he wants it to demonstrate the possibilities of recycling.

Environmental campaigner Mr Santa Cruz got the idea of building a house from plastic bottles while he was building a playhouse for his daughter. 

After he finished it, he found that the plastic structure was sturdy and decided to work on a larger scale. 

Taking the concept one step further, Mr Santa Cruz built the one-bedroom cottage out of plastic bottles for himself and his family.

They sourced the materials for the house from their own household waste, as well as donations from their neighbours' rubbish bins.

It is hoped that the plastic bottle house may be adopted by those living in poverty-stricken areas as an alternative to current methods of building makeshift housing.

Whereas those dwellings are often made from highly-flammable materials, plastic bottles would minimise the risk of fires spreading throughout densely-populated slums.

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