The 5 Most Extraordinary Acts of Predation Ever Caught on Camera

Seagull Devours Rabbit

These ubiquitous denizens of the seaside are notorious for their incessant squawking and scavenging.

They can be pesky critters too as they prefer a fish-and-chips diet, so beachgoers must remain vigilant lest a gull swoops in to steal their food. Seagulls otherwise prey on a wide range of creatures on both land and from the sea, including rodents.

But a rabbit? That would surely be for Gulls with eyes bigger than their stomachs.

Not so.

In the clip below a Great Black-backed Gull is filmed devouring a live rabbit whole. It isn’t even a baby but is at least adolescent – a third of the bird’s size.

Cow Snacks on Snake

The endless, monotonous diet of grass got too much for one cow in Australia. With the deceptively cute name of Ginger, it seems she developed a bloodlust. Her confused owner caught her chomping on a small snake like a string of spaghetti, below.

This bizarre dietary perversion is explained as when a herbivore doesn’t get enough protein in their diet, they’ll seldom snack on a snake to compensate.

Tortoise Hunts Down Bird

This one is really freaky. On the Seychelles a conservationist recorded something unknown for a tortoise to do. Although small dead animals make up a tortoise’s diet, the clip below shows one of these lumbering homesteads on legs stalk a chick for seven minutes before killing it. The bird was too young and dumb to fly or hop away.

What is so unique about this is how the turtle hunts its prey. And a bird of all things!

Monkey Beats Seagull to Death

At Chester Zoo in England, a monkey acted out a parody of a famous film scene. In King Kong the great ape scales a Manhattan skyscraper to snatch at encircling biplane fighters, spectacularly destroying one in the process.

Visitors to the zoo captured evocative footage of a monkey clutching a hapless gull it had apparently plucked out of the sky then brutally smash it senseless. It was reported the crazed primate then gorged on the still living bird’s innards, licking the blood from its fingers as it went.

Spider Catches Bird

Brace yourselves, arachnophobes. Below are pictures of a giant Golder Orb Weaver scuttling over an entangled Chestnut-breasted Mannikin before it plunges its fangs into the hapless bird.

It is the stuff of nightmares for some. The pictures were taken Down Under.

Pin on 01. Creepy: Spiders

And in this clip below, the world’s largest web-making spider caught not one but two Finches and consumed them both before planting eggsacks in their chest cavities (shudder).

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10 Prehistoric Giants of The Animal Kingdom

From dragonflies the size of large birds to sharks the size of large whales, here are the 10 most awesome giants from prehistory.

Archelon 

Just the head of this two-tonne monster was 1 metre long. (youtube.com)

With the Greek roots of its name meaning ‘chief of the turtles’, the Archelon glided across the temperate oceans of the Campanian Period possessing the dimensions of a large, round garden pool.

The Leatherback Sea Turtle of today can measure in at 2.1m (7 ft) long and 650kg (1433 lb) heavy. The Archelon absolutely dwarfed it. The largest specimen found, ‘Brigitta’, measures 4.6m (15 ft) from head to tail, 4m (13 ft) from flipper to flipper and weighed around 2.2 tonnes (4,900 lb), with the head alone 1 metre long. 

Achelons could’ve been found on soft, muddy sea floors moving slowly to use their beaks to crush an abundance of large molluscs and crustaceans, some measuring up to 1.2m (4 ft) in diameter. Alternatively, these sea monster’s huge flippers could have made them excellent long-distance swimmers with sharp beaks handy for shearing flesh from larger fish and reptiles, as well as soft-bodied creatures like the squid, jellyfish, or even other Archelon.

Archelon eventually died out mainly due to a cooling of the oceans. An increase of predation from emerging mammalian species on its hatchlings contributed to its eventual demise as well, perhaps 70 millions years ago.

Deinosuchus

This giant croc hunted large dinosaurs (hakaimagazine.com)

Today, crocodiles and alligators are the kings of the reptile world, but in the Campanian Period the Alligator’s largest ever ancestor could grow to more than half the length of a tennis court.

The largest ‘gators come out at 4.2 m (14 ft) long and weigh 473 kg (1,043 lb). Scientists guess the largest Deinos, by contrast, grew to a whopping 10-12m (35-39ft) long and 8.5 tonnes heavy based on a skull alone measuring 1.5m (4.8ft). So, it’s no surprise Deinos were the largest crocodilians of all time.

Deinosuchus, which translates from Greek as ‘terrible crocodile’, would’ve resembled the Alligator closely. With massive incisors towards the front of its maw and blunter teeth towards the back for crushing. Deinosuchus was the apex predator of its age, capable of an amazingly powerful bite force of anything from 18,000 newtons (N) up to 102,803 N (compared to a Tyrannosaurus Rex’s bite of just 35,000 N). As such it probably preyed on large ornithopods like the Kritosaurus around brackish water bays where other large predators avoided. And they’d ambush prey similarly to alligators, even utilising the dreaded ‘barrel roll’ method of killing. It might have also hunted giant sea turtles and large fish in coastal waters. Make no mistake, Deinosuchus was king. 

It eventually died during the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event.

Titanoboa

The one-tonne snake (wired.com)

The giant of the snake world was the Titanoboa and it makes the modern Anaconda look like a grass snake by comparison.

Titanoboa lived in the first ever rainforests to exist in South America, specifically around coastal swampy areas on the proto Caribbean Sea. Its fossil remains were found in the northern coastal region of Colombia Existing during the Paleocene-Period.

Whereas our heaviest snake, the Green Anaconda, can be up to 5.21 m (17.1 ft) long and 70 kg (154 lb) heavy, the Titanoboa is estimated to have been around 12.8 m (42 ft) and weighed about 1.1 tonnes (2,500 lb). One full scale replica model measured a colossal 14.6m – over 1.5 London Buses long!

Although assumed to have been an apex predator, preying on crocodilians of the age, experts now believe its diet consisted more of aquatic creatures like 3m (10 ft) long lungfish, a dietary trait unique to Titanoboa among all boas. Because of its sheer weight, moving around on land would’ve been hard, and among the tree canopies out of the question, hence why it was mostly water bound.

Vorombe Titan

84 Prehistoric Madagascar ideas | prehistoric, prehistoric animals, extinct  animals
Vorombe Titan was the very largest of the massive Elephant Birds native to Madagascar.

The Vorombe Titan was the largest ever bird to exist and belonged to the ratite group of flightless birds with long, thin legs. It inhabited Madagascar just 1 millenia ago.

The largest bird to exist today, the Ostrich, grows up to 2.75 metres (about 9 feet) tall and weighs more than 150 kg (330 pounds). By comparison, the Vorombe may not have towered over the Ostrich at 3m, yet was much bulkier with a thicker neck, great hulking legs, and feet more akin to a T Rex than a big bird. And it was more than four times heavier at 650kg (1500 lbs). One specimen even reached 860 kg (1,900 lb) in weight. It was so enormous, its weight matched that of the smallest Sauropod dinosaurs. Its eggs were like large footballs.

Fortunately, with its giant talons and daggered beak, it was a herbivore and fed on fruit among the forests of Madagascar rather than early human settlers. As these people continued to spread and multiply across the large island, however, they preyed on these giant avians and destroyed their habitats from 600 AD until their eventual demise as late as 1200 AD. 

Griffinflies

One of nature’s largest ever bugs discovered (abc.net.au)

Greater levels of atmospheric oxygen in prehistory meant insects could also grow to ginormous dimensions. Meganeuropsis aka the Griffinfly is one of the largest insects ever discovered.

It resembled modern dragonflies/damselflies, with their two sets of wings and long thin bodies.

With the largest flying insects today, the Giant Dobsonfly boasting a 20cm (8 in) wingspan, the Griffinfly was more like the size of a large Sparrowhawk with one specimen measuring a 71cm (28 in) wingspan, and body length of 43 centimetres (17 in).

This huge bug flittered about in the Permian period 300-250 million years back at a time before dinosaurs truly ruled the world. It’s presumed to be carnivorous like its modern descendent.

Arctotherium

Giant jaguars, colossal bears done in by deadly combo of humans and heat |  Science | AAAS
Arctotherium won the arms race to dominate the food chain by simply outgrowing its competition (science.org)

The largest ever bear lived between 2.5-1 million years ago after its ancestors migrated down to South America after the formation of the Panamanian isthmus. Arctotherium, meaning ‘Bear Beast’ would’ve been able to sniff at the cranium of a tall man whilst on all fours before presumably devouring him.

The largest bear and land carnivore alive today, the Polar Bear, can be as big as 350–700 kg (770–1,540 lb), averaging 450kg (990lbs) and can stand on their hind legs to be almost 3 metres (10 foot). The Arctotherium would’ve stood even bigger, at 3.4–4.3 metres (11–14 ft) standing and 1.6 – 1.7 tonnes (3,501 to 3,856 lb) in weight. 

Arctotherium’s size is explained by an evolutionary drive to outgrow its competition in order to secure the largest carcasses against hunters like the Smilodon Sabercat.

Paraceratherium

Paraceratherium was as tall as a Giraffe and heavy as a fully loaded bus. (thoughtco.com)

Now to the largest land mammal ever; the Paraceratherium brings to mind more the Star Wars AT-AT walkers than the largest land mammal today, the African Elephant.

This giant hornless rhino lived during the Oligocene epoch 34–23 million years ago. Incomplete fossils make its size hard to exact but estimates put its shoulder height between 4.8 – 7.4 metres (15.7 – 24.3 feet). Its weight was probably 15 to 20 tonnes (33,000 to 44,000 lb). The long neck supported a skull alone that was 1.3 metres (4.3 ft) long. This compares to a Giraffe’s height of 6 metres (20ft) and a male African Elephant’s weight of 6,8 tonnes (15,000 lbs) 

They ranged across deserts and subtropical environments in small herds browsing on a variety of flora, safe in the knowledge there was barely a creature that could even gnaw on its legs. Although evidence suggests the 10 metre long Astorgosuchus tried, and their young were obviously more vulnerable.

Gigantopithecus Blacki   

A truly giant ancestor of ours (newscientist.com)

The largest ever known primate existed 2 to 0.3 million years ago during the Pleistocene period, and whilst it stood erect you might feel more like you were staring up at King Kong less an Orangutan that is its closest relative.

Size estimates are pretty speculative based on teeth and jaw remains only, yet Gigantopithecus Blacki could grow up to 3.5 metres (11.5ft) standing and could be over half a tonne (1200lb) in weight. This compares to the largest primate alive today, male Eastern Lowland Gorillas which grow to 140–205.5 kg (309–453 lb) and 1.7 m (5.6 ft) upright.

This hulking giant was a herbivore that lived on a diet of fruit and leaves amongst the dense, humid tropical forests of modern-day southern China. The males’ larger size was due to a fierce competition for mates. The species’ size meant the large sabre toothed tigers of the time posed little threat to fully grown Blacki.

They died out 300,000 years ago because their forests retreated southward. This abandoned them to a dwindling diet and possible predation by Homo Erectus.

Pelagornis sandersi

Gliding vast distances across the oceans at speeds up to 37 mph (60 kmh), the Pelagornis Sandersi is the largest ever bird capable of flight and lived approximately 25 million years back in the Oligocene period. This bird is most closely related to today’s Great Wandering Albatross, however compared to the Albatross with its wingspan of up to 3.7 m (12ft), the Sandersi’s wingspan was so broad it exceeded the height of the tallest giraffes at 6.1 – 7.4 m (17 – 24 ft). It also weighed at least 48 pounds (21.8 kilograms), the same as a Roe Deer, so was too bulky to get airborne by any other method than launching itself off sea-cliff edges.

The Sandersi lived similarly to the Albatross in that it likely preyed on fish and squid close to the surface. Unlike the Albatross, however, it likely couldn’t touch down on water, thus spending more time airborne.

Megalodon

The notorious Megalodon, the ‘whale hunter’. (thenews.com)

The Otodus Megalodon is perhaps the most terrifying giant of all in this list; a swift sailing behemoth, with the proportions similar to a Sperm Whale yet with a gaping mouth filled with razor-edged teeth like that of its descendent, the Great White Shark. And the Ancient Greek translation of its name, ‘Big Tooth’ was apt; Meg’s teeth could protrude up to 18 cm (7 in).

Estimations of the largest Megalodon sharks are anything between 10 to an awesome 25 metres (32 to 82 ft) in length and 27.4 to 59.4 metric tons in weight. This compares to Great White sharks that grow up to just 6.1 m long. Even the largest fish alive today, the Whale Shark, comes in at 15 m (49 ft).

Estimates suggest they could exert a bite force of up to 108,500 to 182,200 newtons – that’s 18 tonnes per square inch! Together with their size and strength, Megalodon is likely the most supreme predator to ever exist, and in the 23 – 4 million years ago it prowled the seas none of the giant whale ancestors would’ve been too much to take down.

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Birmingham, Gloucester, Plymouth, and their Trans-Atlantic Twins

Birmingham 

Birmingham, Alabama’s towering skyline (elements.envato.com)

The ‘Magic City’ was founded in 1871 and was planned from the very beginning to become the massive manufacturing hub it burgeoned into. Today, it is Alabama’s premier metropolis and is regarded as one of the US’s best places to earn a crust. Because the city was always planned to be a centre of industry, it was named in homage to Britain’s own hub of enterprise and industry.

Across the pond in England’s West Midlands, Birmingham city vies with nearby Manchester as Britain’s ‘2nd City’. Outside of the heady superlatives of London, Birmingham is the country’s powerhouse of economic diversity which is why it’s dubbed ‘The City of 1001 Trades’.

The name ‘Birmingham’ (pronounced ‘Birming’um’)  comes from the Old English ‘Beormingahām, meaning the home or settlement of the Beormingas – an Anglo-Saxon tribal name meaning literally ‘Beorma’s people’. Founded in 1154, its profile rose as Britain’s profile burgeoned throughout the world, being but a market town until the Industrial Revolution plugged it in to England’s vast canal and rail network and propelled it into a teeming metropolis.

Today (2021), Birmingham is a city of a million people known as ‘Brummies’. It hosts a royal ballet company, the Repertory Theatre and Hippodrome that are all nationally renowned. Its National Exhibition Centre (NEC) is 190,000 m2 (over two million square feet) large and its library is the UK’s largest. The city also hosts no less than four top football clubs. Birmingham gave the world music bands Electric Light Orchestra, Black Sabbath and UB40. Formula One World Championship and the CART Indy Car World Series winner Nigel Mansell; Prime Minister Nevil Chamberlain and Homeland actor David Harewood all hail from Birmingham too. 

Iconic canal boats moored up in the city’s 35 miles (56km) of waterways (birminghammail.co.uk)

Although Birmingham is not exactly festooned with Renaissance architecture, the city likes to boast that it has more miles of canal waterways than Venice in Italy. So, if you’re ever in the neighbourhood you should absolutely take a tour the city in a traditional canal boat. Birmingham also boasts five Michelin starred restaurants and numerous festivals, including one of the world’s largest St Patrick’s Day parades. A stay in the city should also include heading to Victoria Square, with the Council House, Symphony Hall and Town Hall, all built as triumphs of Victorian architecture. There are top museums and galleries throughout the city and visitors can also stroll through Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter or satisfy their sweet tooth at Cadbury World.

The grand Victoria Square, Birmingham, England (en.wikipedia.org)

Gloucester

This hardy Massachusetts city is synonymous with the North Atlantic deep sea fishing industry and it’s where Rudyard Kipling’s Captain Courageous and movie The Perfect Storm were set. Gloucester is one of the USA’s most historic settlements, founded way back in 1623. Today, it is still a working fishing port but also a popular tourist destination. 

Gloucester, Massachusetts’ bustling harbour (tripsavvy.com)

England’s namesake is similarly a smallish, historical port in an out-of-the-way corner of the country. Gloucester, England sits on the river Severn, close to the Welsh border. And it is the UK’s furthest inland port. Its docks are accessed by the Gloucester and Sharpness Ship Canal connecting it to the Severn Estuary then the seas beyond.

The City’s original Roman name was ‘Glevum’ but later took the Welsh name ‘Caer-loyw’ meaning ‘fort-bright/light/glowy’. ‘Loyw’ pronounced ‘gloyw’ by some had the Anglo-Saxon ‘cester’ (old fort) added later to become ‘Gloyw-cester’, then Gloucester. This ancient city was founded in 48 AD as an important fort and Roman colony. It remained strategically important during the Dark Ages, with St Peter’s Abbey being built in 680 AD and King Edward the Confessor holding court there in 1051. Later, it was in this strategic hub King Henry III was crowned and Gloucester’s significance in the Middle Ages is underlined by the fact that many monastic orders flocked to the city. Gloucester grew during the 16th-17th Centuries and construction of its canal began towards the end of the 18th Century, but was only completed in 1827. By that point, however, shipping of the industrial Age had largely outgrown Gloucester’s port facilities.
In the 20th Century, Gloster Aircraft Company would manufacture the UK’s first jet aircraft. In 2007 the city suffered biblical flooding that ironically disabled its water supply for 17 days.  

Famous residents of Gloucester include Methodist Church founder George Whitefield and the founder of Sunday Schools, Robert Raikes. The composer of America’s national anthem John Stafford Smith, Comedic actor Simon Pegg, not to mention the infamous serial murderer couple Fred and Rose West also called Gloucester home.

Gloucester Cathedral, opened in 1089 (gloucestershirelive.co.uk)

This city, within easy reach of the Forest of Dean to its west, and the quaint Cotswold Hills to the east, is a modest one of about 130,000 people but its rich history can be seen throughout its streets. The city centre street layout is the same one the Roman legionnaires laid down all those centuries back and visitors can view half-timbered Tudor shops, the tailor’s house from Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester, and the city’s very fine 11th Century cathedral where scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed. Gloucester’s best place is its Historic Docks where you can explore the bars, shops and eateries nestled among the renovated red-bricked warehouses around the harbourside. With so much history there is as much to discover within this ancient city’s borders as there is in the bucolic splendour beyond.

Gloucester Docks (aboutglos.co.uk)

Plymouth

Another Massachusetts city, dubbed ‘America’s Hometown’. Although a small city on the fringes of America’s economic development, Plymouth is at the root of its cultural development.

Downtown Plymouth Massachusetts (joesretirementblog.blogspot.com)

It was at Plymouth Rock the fabled Mayflower Pilgrims made landfall in 1620 and, after surviving that first brutal winter, celebrated Thanksgiving the following Fall after a successful harvest restored their vigour and durability. This signified the moment the newborn USA came off of life support to begin its own baby steps. 

Of course, it was England’s port of Plymouth that the Mayflower set sail from. This longtime home of the Royal Navy is all the way down in the south west of the country and now hosts the largest naval base in Europe aside one of the world’s most impressive natural harbours.

Plymouth’s etymology derives from its position at the mouth of the River Plym; ‘Plym’ meaning ‘plum tree’ in Old English (and ‘ploumenn’ in Cornish). Plymouth was an important trading port for tin from prehistoric times well into the Middle Ages. Meanwhile, it managed to retain its Cornish culture distinct from the rest of England. It wasn’t until England’s coming-of-age when the Spanish Armada swept up the Channel that the city came to be an important base of naval operations, and the Naval Dock was established in 1689. From then on, its long seafaring tradition flourished. It was from this Cornish bastion in the late 16th Century Sir Francis Drake made a name for himself on his many voyages and forays. The Plymouth Company was issued with a royal charter by James I of England to establish settlements on the coast of North America, and the Pilgrim Fathers aboard the Mayflower set sail for the New World in 1620 to found the 2nd permanent colony in N. America. The city became ever more economically dependent on the Royal Navy thereafter which certainly kept the city busy over the centuries. On 28 May 1967, another intrepid Francis – Sir Francis Chichester – returned to Plymouth after the first single handed Clipper Route circumnavigation of the world and was greeted by an estimated crowd of a million spectators.

Today Plymouth is a city of over 250,000 whose citizens are called ‘Jenners’. Famous residents includes the great globetrotter Francis Drake as well as actor Donald Moffat, known for his portrayals of US presidents real and imagined.

It is rapidly diversifying its economy from one servicing the ‘Fleet’ to one that services its ballooning numbers of visitors instead. Visitors who are fascinated by aquatic creatures really should spend a few hours at Plymouth’s National Marine Aquarium, the deepest in Europe. Just a short walk away is the historic Barbican area of town. There, explorers can visit Plymouth’s very own Gin distillery, grab a bite to eat at Jacka – the oldest bakery in the UK, or simply wander the cobbled streets and take in Barbican’s old-world charms.

The Old-World narrow streets around the Barbican district

The place where Admiral Drake finished his game of bowls as the Spanish Armada crested the skyline is a bracing and awe-inspiring park that offers panoramas of Plymouth’s vast natural harbour; gateway to the deep, blue sea beyond. Plymouth Hoe is the no.1 spot to crash out on the grass with a picnic. Perhaps even take a dip in the Tinside Lido – Plymouth’s landmark outdoor, art deco swimming pool.

Plymouth Hoe on which Admiral Sir Francis Drake infamously finished his game of bowls before sailing out to attack the Spanish Armada (historic-uk.com)
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5 Fabulous Towns for Foodies and Connoisseurs

Cheddar, UK

West Country Farmhouse Cheddar (coombecastle.com)

If you like any cheese at all it will likely be Cheddar cheese; it is the most widely eaten cheese in the world. With a mild taste, inoffensive to even the most trepid palate, it’s popular either sprinkled over a dish like your favourite pizza, stuffed into a ham and cheese sandwich or just eaten by itself.

Officially Cheddar cheese is described as ‘a relatively hard, off-white, sometimes sharp-tasting, natural cheese made from cow’s milk’.

Since the 12th Century the cheese’s popularity has grown and now Cheddar cheese has a place on millions of people’s dinner tables.

Cheddar is a town of 5000 residents and is nestled at the foot of a stunning gorge on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills in England.

Cheddar Gorge is the town’s centrepiece; with its dramatically steep, craggy walls, and a slaloming road running through, it’s breathtaking for drivers who cannot resist the urge to take their eyes off the road.

It is the caves of Cheddar Gorge that provided the ideal humidity and steady temperature for maturing the cheese in the past, and they still do. These caves, alongside the nearby Wookey Hole Caves, are now a popular family day out.

Cheddar, and its breath-taking gorge (countrylife.co.uk)

As a popular tourist destination Cheddar boasts plenty of bars and restaurants where you can sit outside and gawp at the rock walls around you. Can you still get the finest Cheddar cheese in the world there? Most definitely!

The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company is family-owned, independent, and has been making award-winning cheeses since 2003. Their Cheddar Cheese is still matured in the caves.

Then there is The Original Cheddar Cheese Company which opened its doors to business all the way back in 1870 and their shop and café are located at the same spot at the mouth of Cheddar Gorge. The shop is now world-famous and remains family-operated today.

Pilsen, Czech Republic

The world-famous Pilsner Urquell (theeverydayman.co.uk)

There are a gazillion types and sub-types of beer out there and none more popular than Pale Lager, otherwise called Pilsner. Described as a ‘very pale-to-golden-coloured with a well-attenuated body and a varying degree of noble hop bitterness’ …whatever that all means.

It does go down a treat on a hot Summer’s day, I know that much, and millions agree.

Pilsner came about in the early 19th Century as a result of a fermenting process imported into Bohemia from neighbouring Bavaria and that produced a beer with a longer shelf life. It’s popularity took off from there. It is no surprise that the people of the modern Czech Republic state, of which Pilsen is its fourth largest city, love the drink so much they only half-jokingly refer to it as a soft drink, or ‘liquid bread’.

Pilsen is a fine city of 175,000 residents, and it packs quite a punch to entice visitors with.

Its spacious town square is rimmed with townhouses showcasing grand Austro-Hungarian architecture and in its centre sits St Bartholomew’s Cathedral which offers a breathtaking vista from its church tower – the tallest in the country.

With its history, many parks, and landmarks like the iconic Prazdroj Brewery Gate it is no surprise that Pilsen was European Capital of Culture, 2015.

The Pilsner Fest in full swing (mistoprodeje.cz)

Its real draw is as the capital for beer lovers. One of the world’s biggest pilsner brands, Pilsner Urquell, still has its brewery in the City and is a mecca for lager lovers the world over. Visitors to the brewery can enjoy guided tours where they will learn about the history of Pilsner’s famous beer and, of course, enjoy a glass or three; nowhere does it get any fresher than straight from the company’s beer cellars.

And the highlight of the city calendar is the Pilsner Fest. Whilst in the neighbouring German city of Munich they have their world-renowned Octoberfest, also in October Pilsen hosts a two day festival of beer of its own which draws bigger and bigger crowds every year.

Cognac, France

The unique Cognac brandy (vinepair.com)

Cognac is a unique brandy produced by twice distilling white wines. So while it does indeed taste like brandy, it reflects the exclusive flavour sensations not found in other brandies.

Unlike Cheddar cheese, what makes it so sought after is that it must be made according to strictly defined regulations; namely, it must be made in or around the town for which it is named. As a result the Cognac commune, in the Charente department in southwestern France, is the centre of the universe for lovers of the iconic brandy.

So what of Cognac the town? It’s inhabited by 18,000 and is absolutely dripping with fine historical architecture. It has its own medieval quarter of unusual buildings, built between the 15th and 18th centuries, and situated on narrow cobbled streets and which contain sculptures of the salamander, the symbol of King François I, as well as gargoyles and richly decorated façades.

With its red banner, Hennessy’s Cognac Maison (blog.ruedesvignerons.com)

Over 200 producers of Cognac ply their trade and five of the biggest of them have their ‘Grande Marque’ Cognac houses in the town centre. They are Hennessy, Martell, Otard, Camus and Remy Martin, and each welcomes visitors with open arms.

Surely there is no more authentic place to enjoy a glass to sip on than in Bar Luciole on the banks of the Charente River. With more than 130 varieties of Cognac, whatever you order the team can provide a personal introduction to each and every one of them.

Every year in the last weekend of July the Cognac Festival is held, and is a very popular event. Fishermen’s huts are converted for the occasion and visitors can sit around tables and savour delicious cognac cocktails, and each night revellers can let their hair down dancing and foot-tapping at two concerts.

Camembert, France

Moist, soft, creamy camembert (countryliving.com)

Camembert is a moist, soft, creamy, surface-ripened cow’s milk cheese. It was first made in the late 18th century at Camembert, Normandy, in northern France. It’s a divisive cheese due to its strong taste. However, for those who enjoy stronger varieties of cheese Camembert is delicious and quite healthy too. So nutritious, in fact, the cheese was famously issued to French troops during World War I, becoming firmly fixed in French popular culture as a result.

It is now internationally known, and many local varieties are made around the world, yet the original Camembert, named Camembert de Normandie, can only be made from raw, unpasteurized milk from Normandes cows.

The quaint village of Camembert in Normandy, France (normandyfoodie.wordpress.com)

Meandering along quaint country lanes around Camembert, in Normandy, northern France you’ll be struck by the verdant hedgerows and the patchwork of pastures where cows sedately ruminate upon their lot under the glorious French sunshine.

It’s a lovely corner of the world, even if it sits off France’s radar as a top tourist hotspot. Yet, the village of Camembert is somewhat petite, but any fromage fan need not stray far from the village to find all the top sights (and smells) related to this much loved cheese.

At the Maison du Camembert you can learn all the history and secrets of camembert cheese production, then gorge on some gooey goodness inside the round, cream-coloured building next-door which resembles a round of camembert.

You can also visit the very home of the woman who invented Camembert, Madame Harel was inspired to create Camembert by a passing Brie cheese maker during the French Revolution in the beautiful, imposing 17th Century Beaumoncel Manor. Do check it out!

And there is no better place to stock up on Camembert than at the last remaining cheese farm located in the village – the Durand Cheesemonger at the Héronnière Farm.

The nearby Vimoutiers village is a great base to discover the area from.

Frankfurt, Germany

The much loved Frankfurter hotdog (washingtonpost.com)

Not to be confused with similar sticks of meat like the ‘Vienna Sausage’ the Frankfurter Wurchen aka ‘Frankfurter’ or ‘Hot Dog’ to most of us, is a cheap, tasty and versatile dish best eaten with little slices of gherkin or roasted onions, or even sauerkraut then topped with mustard or ketchup.

With protected geographical status since 1860, the authentic Frankfurter is a thin parboiled sausage made of pure pork in a casing of sheep’s intestine, and its taste is teased out by a special method of low-temperature smoking.

Yet, where did it get its name from? Frankfurt in southern Germany is the nation’s 5th largest metropolis and one of Europe’s major financial hubs. A city where the River Main flows past tree-lined embankments, and tourists and city workers relax on their lunch breaks to the backdrop of sleek skyscrapers clustering the city skyline.

Frankfurter fans should flock to the Kleinmarkthalle. A cultural melting pot; a culinary Aladdin’s Cave; this indoor market place has over 60 vendors and its Frankfurters are the best on the planet.

The Main Festival, to the backdrop of the Frankfurt skyline (frankfurt-tourismus.de)

Frankfurt is home to a number of other Teutonic, culinary delights than just frankfurters, this includes its own ‘Apfelwein’ apple wine and pastries. Visitors can delight in Frankfurt’s drinks, foods and vivacious vibes at its many festivals, such as the Main Festival and Fressgass Fest.

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7 Largest Coins in the World

The world’s No.1 is as heavy as a car. Presenting the biggest coins in the world.

When the Royal Mint minted a massive £10,000 coin in 2021, it got me wondering what the biggest coins in the world were. So, I reached into my bag of tricks and I came up with this; the seven most massive, very valuable coins in the world.

Note, I am only including circular metal coins with a denomination.

This may sound a little obvious yet there is a ‘massive coin’ from Sweden minted in 1644 which I would call a copper slab with hallmarks imprinted on it, and there are Rai Stones on the Micronesian Islands up to 3.6m (12ft) in diameter which served as a form of money, and therefore have been termed ‘coins’ by some, but not moi.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the seven biggest coins (by diameter), starting from seventh:

7: Queen’s Beasts Coin 

The Queen’s Beasts Coin was minted in 2021 by the UK’s Royal Mint (RM) and is an outstanding piece of craftsmanship.

This gold coin is 20cm (7.9in) in diameter and weighs 10kg (22lbs). Unsurprisingly, it is the largest coin minted in the RM’s 1,100-year history.

It is meant as the final piece of a larger collection on the theme of heraldic beasts.

When Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953, 10 stone statues lined the Queen’s route to Westminster, including; a lion, griffin, falcon, bull, yale, greyhound, dragon, unicorn and a horse.

The RM subsequently made these beasts the theme of said coin collection.

With one side showing the side profile of Her Majesty’s head, the other side of the coin has another side-head profile beautifully surrounded by engravings of the 10 beasts in stunning detail.

This whopper set a new standard in coin minting. It took 400 hours to craft. They spent four days alone polishing it.

It is a £10,000 denomination coin, yet its real value is somewhere not far below the million-pound mark, so don’t forget which pocket you left it in.

The newest coin in this list, minted in 2021 (theguardian.com)

6: 1000-Mohur Jahangir Coin

A number of historical records tell of giant coins being forged by ancient empires.

Coins said to weigh over four kilos were minted in the Abbasid Empire, for example, and a very hefty coin was gifted by a Mughal Emperor to his court jester, but one that he bore a hole through the middle for his jester to slip his head through and bear it on his shoulders.

It was heavy enough for this poor-not-poor jester to be quite helpless and the man even had the nerve to complain out loud. That’s gratitude! Pffft.

None of these coins survived history, except one.

The fourth Mughal Emperor Jahangir minted the 1000-mohur Jahangir gold coin in 1639 weighing in at just under 12kg (26.5lbs) and with a 20.3cm (8in) diameter.

The inscription on the coin is in Persian. In the centre is the emperor’s name and title and surrounding the circular core are two couplets meticulously set on the coin with all the rules of calligraphy faithfully observed.

Considering it was made without modern minting technology, it is a fantastic piece of craftsmanship.

It is owned by Mukarram Jah, the Nizam of Hyderabad and was valued at 10 million US dollars in 1987, so who knows what its value is now.

…to the oldest in the list, minted in 1639. A wonderful piece of craftsmanship without the state-of-the-art tools of modern mints (twitter.com)

5: Vienna Philharmonic Coin

The 15 Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra coins were made to mark the 15th anniversary of the Vienna Philharmonic bullion coin.

They were minted in 2004 by the Austrian Mint. They each have a diameter of 37cm (14.6in), 2cm (.8in) thickness, and are 31kg (68.3lbs) of 24-carat gold.

Dubbed ‘Big Phil’, these priceless discs are inscribed with the image of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s famous hall on one side and instruments on the other, plus the coins’ 100,000 Euro face-value. Their true value was put at 1.1 million Euros each in 2014.

This coin commemorates one of the world’s most famous orchestras (aguanews.com)

4: Big Maple Leaf Coin

The Big Maple Leaf Coin hails from Canada, and isn’t a unique piece — six were forged in all. Just 5 remain after one was whisked away in 2017, however.

A gang of thieves made off with one of the coins on loan to the Bode Museum in Berlin, Germany. Although the cops did track down the thieves eventually, not so the coin; it is believed to have been melted down for its gold.

Minted by the Royal Canadian Mint in 2007. These giant doubloons are 50cm (19.7in) in diameter, 2.8cm (1.1in) thick and weigh a back-breaking 100kg (220lbs). They are made from 99% pure gold.

As a member of the British Commonwealth, these Canadian giants have the customary side profile of Queen Elizabeth II’s head on one side and three elegantly stylised maple leaves on the other.

Like the 1 Tonne Gold Kangaroo Coin, (see below) it is a million-dollar denomination, yet it was valued at four million US dollars in 2007.

Don’t lift it alone; that is 100kg of gold coin (nbcnews.com)

3: ‘100 Years of The Koruna’ Coin

This gargantuan gold coin was commissioned to celebrate the Czech Republic’s currency reaching its 100 year anniversary.

The old Czechoslovak state was founded just after the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918. This fledgling state launched its shiny new currency called the Czech Crown (Koruna) a year later. 100 years on and a bumper era of economic success with this currency to show for it, the Czech Mint chose to splurge on a chunky, gold commemorative coin.

The ‘100 Years of The Koruna’ Coin is 53.5cm (21in) in diameter and 4.7cm (1.9in) thick. And with a weight of 130kg (287lbs) they should include a forklift in the price for any prospective buyer.

This mesmeric piece depicts the birth of the Czechoslovak Koruna among ears of wheat on one side and, in homage to the famed One-Crown coin that first went into circulation in 1922, the Czech lion is shown onto its reverse side.

With a 100 million-crown denomination, this equalled a $4.6 million valuation in 2019.

130 kilos and 100 million crowns (eprogram.cz)

2: Ivory Coast Silver Elephant Coin

In 2nd place is the one entry in this list not forged from gold, yet it’s still an impressive piece as the largest silver coin on Earth.

Issued by The Ivory Coast in Africa but manufactured by Geiger Edelmetalle, this set of 15 coins was minted in 2016 to champion the preservation of the continent’s iconic megafauna such as the African Elephant.

Although every coin measures 65cm (26in) and 54kg (120lb) in diameter and weight respectively, the 99% pure silver coins are handcrafted, meaning each is unique from the others in the set.

The front of each coin features the African Bush Elephant standing tall, along with the French phrase “Le Monde Animal En Peril,” translating to ‘The Animal World In Peril.’ The reverse side displays the Ivory Coast coat of arms and gives the nominal value of 1,000,000 Francs (although their true values are many times higher.)

A proportion of the profits from each coin were allocated to conservation projects that protect endangered species in the Ivory Coast republic.

The Largest silver coin in the world (cointelevision.com)

1: One Tonne Gold Kangaroo Coin

The Perth Mint in Australia produced this absolute monster of a paperweight, the One Tonne Gold Kangaroo Coin — The world’s largest coin!

Minted in 2012, it has a diameter of 80cm (31.5in), is 12cm (4.7in) deep and is 1000kg (2,200lbs) of pure gold.

With a face-value of a million dollars, this giant coin was actually valued at 53 million dollars when it was unveiled.

It was made to be the showpiece of the Perth Mint ‘Australian Kangaroo Gold Bullion Coin Series‘ and is a triumph of coin minting.

On one side is Queen Elizabeth II’s side profile with ‘ELIZABETH II’, ‘AUSTRALIA’ and ‘1 MILLION DOLLARS’ inscribed around the edge, and the other side features a bounding red kangaroo surrounded by stylised rays of sunlight and bordered by the inscription ‘AUSTRALIAN KANGAROO’, ‘1 TONNE’, ‘9999 GOLD’ and ‘2012’.

It is legal tender, but please don’t try taking it down to your local corner shop to buy a bottle of milk; they won’t thank you for the cash in change they’ll need. Besides… it weighs an absolute tonne! (grabs coat)

The largest coin on the planet (coinnews.net)
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6 Films Depicting Britain without the Hollywood Filter

A selection of UK movies that left their mark, that veered away from the Hollywood vibe and portray contemporary British culture before the Age of the Internet

These are films I enjoyed in my younger days, just out of school, forever raiding my absent brother’s legendary stack of VHS movies.

Each review includes the classic quotes and moments that make each film special.

Hard Men

Director: J. K. Amalou Year: 1997

Hard Men has been touted as inspiration to Guy Richie’s Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (bang2write.com)

Bear: “55,980 pounds.”

Speed: “That’s twenty quid short. What the fuck are you trying to do? Do you know who you’re fucking with?”

Mr Ross: “Hey, I made a little mistake. Relax.”

Speed: “Don’t tell me to fucking relax!”

Co-starring ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser, famed for once being a top gangland enforcer in the Kray-Twin era, and Vincent Regan a familiar face for fans of the Ancient Greece genre, Hard Men is a gangster movie portraying leery, swaggering cockney gangster geezers at their worst, or best, depending on your outlook.

The synopsis is of three underworld debt collectors ‘Tone’, ‘Speed’ and ‘Bear’ who are in the middle of a showdown when Tone discovers over the phone that he’s a new father. Tone quickly decides he wants to ditch the gangland lifestyle to make a better life for his new family yet their crime boss ‘Pops Den’ has other plans. Speed and Bear decide that Tone’s subsequent last night alive should go out with a bang, in every sense of the term.

Frankie Fraser’s part as ‘Pops Den’ gives the movie an authentic gangster feel while Lee Ross is well cast to play the part of Speed; an unpredictably violent, coked-up loose-cannon. The story centres around the three lads prowling the streets of London in a gold Rolls Royce, drinking, fighting and getting in everyone’s faces, along to a feisty rock soundtrack.

Memorable scenes include Tone singing a lullaby down the phone to his baby in a greasy spoon cafe while the other two look on, and Bear and Speed finding out the two ladies they picked up earlier are in fact drag queens.

Although much rougher around the edges than Guy Richie’s later gangster movies, it is in a similar mould and has plenty of fun twists and turns before its climax.

Nuns on the Run

Director: Jonathan Lynn Year: 1990

When you’re a gangster, and your make-up game is weak… but you’ve got to go under cover as a nun…(sorryneverheardofit.wordpress.com)

Abbott: “Kill her!”

Brian: “What with?”

Abbott: “With a gun!”

Brian: “I don’t have a gun, you homicidal pillock!”

Robert Coltraine aka ‘Dumbledore’ in the Harry Potter movies, and Monty Python’s Eric Idle make this gangster comedy the hilarious but cheesy hit it is.

Like in ‘Hard Men’, two gangsters, ‘Charlie’ and ‘Brian’, are faced with the dilemma of how to get out of the crime game with their lives intact.

They’re sent on a job that their boss ‘Casey’ intends to be their last; to rob a triad gang of their massive stash of drugs money. But the two turn the tables and steal the money for themselves, and in an ensuing chaotic hot pursuit Charlie and Brian realise their only sanctuary is a nunnery.

Of course, if the nuns find them skulking around, they’ll call the police …so there is only one thing for it; the two desperados go undercover as nuns.

Complete with squeaky voices, stuffed bras and extreme modesty, they keep the cops and crims off their backs long enough to escape on the soonest flight to Brasil.

All the while, Brian’s struggle to shoehorn his newfound romance into their plans almost meets disaster. Must he choose between freedom and love, or can he have both?

Coltraine’s performance as a man overcompensating for his strapping build with a dainty disposition is particularly hilarious and the film bounds along nicely from one awkward shenanigan to the next, despite a dialogue laden with much farce.

The scene where Charlie takes the opportunity to sit in with a class of gorgeous, young convent women students showering after a gym class gave me a wry guffaw.

Although it’s pretty PG, it’s not so PC. Nuns on the Run is a light-hearted movie that doesn’t take itself seriously.

Human Traffic

Director: Justin Kerrigan Year: 1999

A homage to Britain’s rave culture in the 90s (onlytechno.net)

Jip: “I think we’re all fucked up in our own way, you know? But we’re all doing it together. Freestyling on the broken wheel of life. Trapped in a world of internal dialogue. Like Bill Hicks said, ‘It’s an insane world, but I’m proud to be part of it.’”

Human Traffic focuses on the ecstasy rave culture of nineties Britain in Wales’ capital city; Cardiff.

It also examines themes around the emotional tumult in the most anxious but exciting period of adulthood; your 20s.

The idea was to make this comedy a realistic portrayal of the UK’s club scene in the final era before the numbing effects of social media entered our lives.

Although a lot of the movie’s cultural references haven’t aged well, it manages to candidly lay bare the ups and downs of a party animal lifestyle.

Every week of ‘Jip’, ‘Lulu’, ‘Koop’, ‘Moff’, and ‘Nina’s lives exist for the weekend when they can take their paltry earnings and experience the most euphoric time together, bouncing to psychedelic tunes with a cocktail of drugs and booze.

The drawback of partying hard; the paranoia and crushing comedowns, are played out in frequent sidesplitting imaginary cutscenes. Jip’s literal shafting by his shop-store boss with a £50 over his mouth and Lulu and Nina envisioning two stoner students talking out their arses, to name two, kept me and my friends laughing our heads off throughout.

Scenes such as when Jip audaciously dupes a nightclub owner into believing he is there to promote the nightclub for the ‘mixmag’ magazine so he can gain entry without a ticket helped give this movie a large cult following.

The soundtrack by DJs like Fatboy Slim, Underworld and Armand Van Helden is an absolute belter.

If you’ve ever been in the rave scene then this is definitely worth checking out.

Trainspotting

Director: Danny Boyle Year: 1996

Danny Boyle’s psychedelic cult classic (timeout.com)

Interviewer: “Mr. Murphy, do you mean that you lied on your application?”

Spud: “No! Uh. Yes. Only to get my foot in the door. Showing initiative and that like.”

Interviewer: “But you were referred here by the Department of Employment, there was no need for you to ‘get your foot in the door’, as you put it.”

Spud: “Ehhh… cool. Whatever you say, I’m sorry. You’re the man. The dude in the chair.”

The most successful movie in this list with its massive cult fanbase, it’s laden with iconic scenes and characters. It’s a ‘Generation X’ favourite.

This dark comedic drama follows the ups and downs of five dysfunctional friends wrestling with the banality of their young lives and various vices.

The characters are all so quirky; from the violent savagery of ‘Begbie’, (brilliantly played by Robert Carlyle) the spaced out ‘Spud’, (Ewen Bremner) to the straight-laced ‘Tommy’ (Kevin McKidd) and the main protagonist, wily ‘Rent Boy’ (Ewan McGregor) with his fluttering flame ‘Diane’ (played by Kelly Macdonald) to name a few.

With so many zany subplots along the way, the film follows the main protagonist Mark ‘Rent Boy’ Renton as he struggles to wrest himself off his heroin addiction. First, suffering the ordeal of ‘cold turkey’ then the grim clarity of sobriety before finally escaping to the bright lights of London.

His so-called friends don’t make that easy, however, yet a one-off drugs sale might give him the windfall he needs to escape Begbie’s insufferable companionship and make a better life.

Far too many memorable scenes to mention; Renton’s dream-like swim in ‘Scotland’s worst toilet’, Begby’s casual beer glass thrown onto the dance floor below just so he can have a brawl, and Spud’s dopey job interview are my favourites.

The film is famous for its often humorous cutscenes and the kind of soporific soundtrack that is a Danny Boyle trademark. It’s probably the coolest movie of the ’90s, even if it is mildly depressing.

Threads

Director: Mick Jackson Year made: 1984

Honestly one of the most bleak and bone-chilling movies you’ll ever watch (kqed.org)

Mrs. Beckett: “Ruth love, come on love, you’ll have to eat something. You’ll have to love, it’s not just you now you know, the baby needs food as well.”

Ruth Beckett: [crying] “I don’t care about this baby anymore, I wish it was dead.”

Mrs. Beckett: “Oh Ruth! Don’t say things like that.”

Ruth Beckett: “There’s no point! There’s no point with Jimmy dead.”

Threads is a 1980s docudrama depicting the likely outcome if the USSR were ever to attack the UK in a nuclear war.

With no thrills acting and special effects typical of low-budget UK movie productions bereft of CGI or Hollywood budgets, this staid production none-the-less hit me like a hammer when I watched it a few years ago, and that was largely because the plot was based on expert opinions of what would probably happen in such a nightmare.

Set in Sheffield, the producers wanted to depict the effects of nuclear war on one of the UK’s major urban centres and its citizens. It starts with introducing a senior municipal leader and a young couple named ‘Jimmy’ and ‘Ruth’ who are planning to marry after finding out Ruth is pregnant.

Yet, the global political situation is quickly unravelling as a skirmish in Iran puts the USA and USSR on course for total war.

There’s no need to warn about spoiling the plot here, folks, because the educated person can guess how it plays out.

The war triggers a full nuclear exchange and a warhead hits the city, largely obliterating it.

Millions die and the survivors are quickly forced to contend with the effects of radiation poisoning and a breakdown of food supplies then civilised society as the days, weeks and months pass.

A decade later and Britain has been reduced to a crude, barbaric society. Children born after the war are intellectually underdeveloped and speak a stunted form of English.

Poignant scenes include the senior municipal leader reassuring his wife everything will be ok with the stiff upper lip for which Brits are world-renowned before he heads down to a bunker in which he will be eventually entombed, and a soul-shattered Ruth gnawing on a dead rat as a man attempts conversation with her.

The no-thrills style of acting only adds weight to the film’s harrowing realism.

After I watched this movie it was lunchtime, and I have never been more grateful to have a plate of food in front of me than at that moment. If ever a film could be used to help define the word ‘bleak’, this is it.

Dead Man’s Shoes

Director: Shane Meadows Year: 2004

Powerful performances by Considine and Kebbell (pictured left and centre) make this small budget movie a compelling watch (ilikedthatmovie.wordpress.com)

Sonny: “You know the lads had this ridiculous idea tha…”

Richard: “Yeah, it was me.”

Sonny: “Oh, it was? Thought so.”

Considering this movie was produced with a budget of less than £750,000, Dead Man’s Shoes is a thoroughly watchable dark tale of a lone, lethal ex-soldier out for revenge against the lowlifes who bullied his brother.

Its success is borne upon the shoulders of Paddy Considine’s powerful portrayal of ‘Richard’ — a deeply troubled ex ‘Para’, and Toby Kebbell’s amazingly convincing performance as ‘Anthony’ — Richard’s mentally handicapped younger brother.

Set in England’s Peak District, the story follows Richard, with Anthony in tow, as he tracks, torments and terrorises a gang of small-time drug dealing bullies led by ‘Sonny’.

The film builds satisfyingly to its climax, as scenes alternate between Richard and Anthony’s touching moments together and Richard’s ever meaner trick attacks on the gang, leaving the worst of them to last, though not before a jarring, unexpected twist.

A sign of a good actor is when their character evokes feelings from the audience towards them, good or bad. Gary Stretch, the man who plays the sleazy, seedy Sonny, does that well as he succumbs to a most gratifying downfall.

This is a good watch although the film’s wooden script and cast means it might not keep you coming back to it again and again.

Highlights include scenic shots of the two brothers hiking across England’s hill-land and Richard brazenly screaming at drug dealer ‘Herbie’ in the middle of a social club.

(imdb.com)

From Riches to Rags – 3 British Aristocrats Who Lost Everything

Shed a tear for three British aristocrats, with their millions of pounds and stately homes, who suffered such misfortune, one might barely distinguish them from commoners

Privileged aristocrats are human and so suffer poor luck and judgement like the rest of us. But for us unwashed masses there is a certain guilty pleasure in seeing them fall from grace.

Here are three nobles who may have been born with silver spoons in their mouths, but ended up shopping for plastic cutlery at their local supermarket.

Sir John Stuart Knill, 3rd Baron Knill

The Knill Barony was founded relatively recently in 1893. Stuart Knill was head of the ‘John Knill and Co’ wharf company. (wharfingers, to use a technical term) He rose to become such a prominent citizen of the capital he served as Sheriff of London then Mayor of London — the first-ever Roman Catholic Mayor of London since the Reformation.

His son the 2nd Baron also served as city mayor from 1909–10.

It was the 3rd Baron, however, who lost it all.

Sir John Stuart Knill rose to the rank of Captain in the Machine Gun Corps during the First World War but later managed his family fortune so badly he lost the family home – Knill Court in Herefordshire.

Was he eccentric, a fool, adversely affected by the brutalities of that terrible war in the trenches? It’s hard to say. It’s possible he was a bit loopy, as we’ll see later.

Sir John running his bric-a-brac stall before WW2 (shutterstock.com)

Knill fell back on his expertise on antiques to open an antiques shop yet he couldn’t keep that in business either.

By the 1930s Knill was reduced to running a Bric-a-Brac stall in London but even that went under, and he swept streets on the weekends to make ends meet.

Knill continued his decline down an itinerant path as a postman then a DIY cat breeder. By the 1950s, Knill became the first-ever aristocrat to live in public housing, to the glee of sections of the London press.

Even his wife, Lady Ruth Evelyn Knill, worked as a mill girl and once quipped: “We’ve lived hard and now we are down to rock bottom. I’m living up to my name. Of money, we have Knill.

Knill continued to attract minor fame for all the wrong reasons, and, it seemed, he might’ve been a sandwich short of a picnic after all. Knill was reported to be trying to win the ‘Pools’ (a British lottery, of sorts) by hypnotizing his wife to stare at a blank screen and ‘see’ the winning number combinations.

(weirduniverse.net)

His son, the 4th Baron, regained some dignity for the Knill family line by championing the preservation of local canals. Yet, he is best remembered for his eccentricity around his hometown of Bath, whizzing about in a wheelchair with its astonishing system of levers, pulleys and cranks.

Today, all evidence suggests the living Knills are ‘regular joes’ who don’t hold any titles of peerage.

Angus Montagu, 12th Duke of Manchester

The 13th Duke of Manchester poses in his noble regalia, and in court for fraud charges in 2013. The family home, Kimbolton Castle, had to be sold off (dailymail.co.uk)

The Dukedom of Manchester was created in 1719 for the Montagu family. Charles Montagu had served his king as a diplomat over the years and was created the 1st Duke of Manchester upon being appointed to King George the 3rd’s Household.

His successors served in various esteemed positions through the centuries as the British Empire grew and prospered, and so did the family’s fortunes.

Yet the 7th, 8th and 9th dukes were lavish spendthrifts, the numerous properties, the land, the profligate business deals exhausted the once huge family fortune. William Montagu, the 9th Duke spent much of his life abroad ducking and diving and networking amongst his wealthy circle of friends for money.

By the 1950s the family’s financial mismanagement meant that the 10th Duke had had to sell the family home of Kimbolton Castle and most of his lands and properties, although he managed to keep up appearances, at least, with his 10,000-acre farm in Kenya.

Angus Montagu, 12th Duke of Manchester in front of the family home his father had to sell (commons.wikipedia.org)

Yet by 1985, Angus Montagu stepped up to inherit the 12th Duke of Manchester title and, of the millions his family once hoarded, he inherited just £70,000 at his father’s death.

In his early years, Angus had a patchy education growing up and didn’t last long in the Royal Marines because he stood out like a sore thumb with his silver-spoon upbringing.

So, he travelled around the Commonwealth working variously as a clothes salesman, a barman, and even a crocodile wrestler in his younger years.

It was to his ultimate detriment Angus was nice, but dim. He was a gullible man; Fraudsters fleeced him not once, but twice as a result. As he got ever more desperate to arrest his slide away from privilege, he got involved with all sorts of dodgy dealings; he even courted the Mafia.

In the same year the Duke exercised his right to sit in the House of Lords, in 1991, Angus was arrested for conspiracy to commit fraud against the National Westminster Bank for £38,000. But he dodged a guilty verdict. The trial judge didn’t credit him with the intelligence to organise such a high jinx crime; the judge figured the Duke had been duped by others to take the blame.

In the judge’s words, “…on a business scale of one to ten, the Duke is one or less, and even that flatters him”.

Unable to pay significant debts, it was in the USA the 12th Duke was convicted of fraud in 1996, and even at the trial his defence lawyer argued that he was the victim of a confidence trick by a business partner due to his gullibility, vanity, and foolishness. He was jailed for 28 months before being deported back to Britain.

His son Alexander Montagu, the 13th Duke of Manchester sank even lower. He is the current incumbent of the Dukedom, yet his life is one more like a degenerate celebrity’s than an aristocrat’s

This bigamist has been married just three times (to date) compared to his father’s four marriages.

The first of those to Marion Stoner, an Australian model who was 20 years older, lasted 2 months — she left him after Alexander shot at her with a speargun, which fortunately missed.

In the same year his dad inherited the Dukedom, his son was sentenced to three years in prison after being convicted of 22 charges of fraud, and in 1991, the same year the 12th Duke was acquitted of fraud charges the later 13th Duke was arrested again in Brisbane after he sold a car he had rented.

His other career highlights include bigamy charges and another run-in with the law for knowingly passing a $3,575 check without ‘funds, property or credit’ in 2011. For this, he was jailed from 2013 to 2017.

David Brudenell-Bruce, Earl of Cardigan

The convoluted and anarchic rules on inherited peerages means David Brudenell-Bruce is called the Earl of Cardigan, but officially he is 8th Marquess of Ailesbury in waiting.

David is also the 31st Hereditary Warden of Savernake Forest — the only privately owned forest in England, and an estate never sold in almost 1000 years.

David’s family history is largely free of the financial turbulence the other nobles here suffered. Aside from a degenerate gambler in the 19th Century, the financial affairs of the Brudenhall-Bruces were eerily stable.

The first of his ancestors honoured with the Marquess of Ailesbury is Charles Brudenell-Bruce; a career politician given the peerage in 1821 in no small part because his father had been Governor to King George IV.

Another ancestor of his was James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, who led the legendary Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854.

For the Earl of Cardigan, his family fortunes only plummeted after the 2008 Banking Crisis. His family estate, including the ancestral home of Tottenham House, are part of the Savernake Forest which places it in the care of a board of trustees.

Back in 2005 whilst the economy appeared evergreen, Earl Cardigan’s family trust granted a commercial lease to a US-based hotel corporation to turn his ancestral home, Tottenham House, into a 5-star luxury golf resort.

Once the economic bubble popped, however, the American company failed to pay its rent and ceased trading.

The Grade I listed Tottenham House was sold for £11.5 million, the contested sale completed in 2014 (en.wikipedia.org)

This plopped the estate into a financial morass and triggered a saga of bitter legal disputes between the Earl and members of the trusteeship over how they were managing and selling his family assets in their attempts to right the ship.

The legal costs mounted and by 2011, the estate was about to go under if something drastic wasn’t done. In the same year, the Earl married his 2nd wife in Arizona but, whilst abroad, the trust, with his son, Thomas Brudenell-Bruce, Viscount Savernake’s consent, sold Tottenham House.

One can only imagine how Brudenhall-Bruce Sr. felt upon returning to blighty with his new American wife to find out his family home was no longer his.

Then he hit rock bottom; the courts froze David from access to any of his family revenues, so by 2013, he was living on benefits of £10 per day and training to be a Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) Driver.

Later, the Earl was scandalously caught failing to stop when he hit a nurse’s parked car, and for that, he was fined even though he ‘failed’ to go to court for it.

Since 2017 his circumstances have improved; he is still warden of the Forest, and so lives on a lodge within the estate with access to some of his finances re-acquired.

RT report on the Earl of Cardigan’s sad story (youtube.com)
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Reflections on Life in Prague

My experience of the Czechs and Prague after five years as an expat.

(First published in Feb 2019)

I arrived in Prague in late 2013 to pursue a life as an ESL teacher and to escape a humdrum existence in the UK, and I’m sure glad I did. The city was so darn great I stayed for over five years.

Here, I reflect upon what I made of Prague society and its foibles I had to negotiate in order to survive then thrive.

The Czech Republic

First of all, it is not ‘Czechia’, let’s clear that up straight away.

A name concocted by the Western hemisphere, and used by Google Map last time I checked, yet rejected by most Czechs themselves.

The idea was to give brand Czech Republic a new name that rolls off the tongue, and, indeed, it does. If you have ‘Slovakia’ why not ‘Czechia’? It might also be nice to have a noun on the front of the Czech Football strips instead of ‘Czeska’ — the equivalent to having ‘English’ written on the front instead of ‘England’.

But, I believe, there was some controversy in giving the state a new name that, in Czech language terms, only actually refers to Bohemia (the equivalent of England) which the people of Moravia (Scotland) objected to.

Besides, ‘Czechia’ sounds dangerously close to ‘Chechnya’ and you can only imagine the damage to Czech pride and prestige if foreign dignitaries, English stag parties, et al left ‘Prague’ believing some piss like liquid to be Czech beer and that they still spoke Russian there (No offense, Chechens!).

I digress.

Prague. I arrived there on October the 14th, I think, in 2013 to complete a short, very intense teaching course before being let free on the city to preach from ‘the book’ (English File, 3rd Edition, usually) and keep the wolves at bay in the process.

Prague’s reputation as one of the World’s top city breaks is well established. A city of over a million souls, it sits in the heart of Bohemia with the grand Vltava coursing through its heart in turn.

The city is packed with Renaissance, Neoclassical and Art Nouveau-I-don’t-know-quite-what architecture. Much of it crumbling, though no less charming because of it. Particularly gorgeous examples of Austro Hungarian architecture are found in Mala Strana which sits at the foot of Prague Castle, the largest castle complex in the world.

I won’t add to the volumes of tourist literature that already exist except to say that places I always liked was Vinohrady, off the tourist center and Prague’s hipster central along with all the usual accoutrements one has come to expect from these parts of any popular city (nice park, cafes bars and farmers markets with good food and pretentious prices, etc).

Letna park and its Metronome from where one can get the best views of the city.

Zizkov Ridge, a good place to go for a run (123rf.com)

Zizkov Ridge with its giant statue of Jan Žižka on a steed (more great views) and Riegrovy Sady Hill where you can watch the sunset (although do put down your smartphone for all of 10 minutes and just take it in).

Further afield, travel is cheap and Kutna Hora with its human bone church, complete with a chandelier made out of bones, is worth a visit.

Cesky Krumlov is a jewel of the Czech tourist board’s, though glutted with throngs of camera wielding tourists who click away like sheep. (presumably prepping their friends and loved ones for mammoth 72 hour, 15,246 picture holiday photo presentations once they get home, those poor people!)

For me though, my favourite place out of Prague was Swiss Bohemia, a national park straddling the Czech/German border.

From Hřensko you really must follow the ‘red’ circular route that basically passes through Pravčická Brána, Europe’s largest sandstone archway, with an old pub built alongside from where you can enjoy a great panoramic view with a beer (and with possibly one of the greatest pub views in Europe?). It then comes back down to a halfway restaurant for a fine lunch and then the route takes you down into a steep gorge where you can catch a Viennese style boat along a section of its rocky rushing river, and then back to Hřensko.

Pravčická Arch, with the pub to the left (en.wikipedia.org)

The route is actually 9.5 miles but it doesn’t feel it, it’s such a comfortable route (I quoted my Dad 4 miles). You’re guaranteed not to regret it!

Its People

What about Czechs themselves? a much more interesting topic for me. A culturally homogeneous society of over 10 million. Their gene pool is basically 2/3rds Slavic and 1/3rd Germanic and its largest ‘immigrant’ peoples are Vietnamese, (sole proprietors of the country’s potravinys (cornershops)) Ukrainians as well as some Roma.

They are tall people. Their women particularly so, rising to 5 centimeters taller on average than British women. They are also big girls; not fat, just big framed… and gorgeous. I thought French women were pretty, being the stylish people they are but Czech girls are another level up altogether, being Slavic, they are often regarded as the most beautiful in the world. What is more, they’re modest about it too whereas all too often in the UK, where beauty has been sexualised by its consumer culture, with too much make-up, etc.

Before I arrived, the stereotypes of Czechs I knew of were that, firstly, their Slavic name tells you they are Eastern European, though they are actually Central European and they appreciate the distinction.

I also imagined what I had seen in Poles I had met, with their seeming lack of manners, and serious, Slavic mannerisms and expected the same from Pragians (or Pragites?) I think I also remember hearing that the service was pretty unfriendly and that they never smiled, oh, and that they would do stuff like offer you complimentary bread to your food order then add it to your bill, the sneaks.

The service was actually pretty friendly in my experience (I think it had improved quickly in the internet age) Yes, it could be pretty apathetic, and sometimes you felt they thought they were doing you a favour by letting you eat in their restaurants and this is a legacy from their communist era (ended in 1991 in the Velvet Revolution) where restaurants were state-owned and customers needed proprietors more than the other way around. But the stereotype is redundant; out of all the times I used various services, I can only remember 2 or 3 bad experiences in 5 years.

Some guy did try that trick with the complimentary bread, and got nowhere and I remember the time a waitress who brought me my food in a quiet pub, and when I asked for a little tartar sauce, she tutted and scorned like I had had a change of mind and now wanted a completely different dish altogether. She still got a tip for some reason.

And then there was that memorable day with the Unicredit Bank account manager…

Her name was Valeria. I had dealt with her a couple times before, her manner was a little unprofessional but I’d had no complaints. Then one day, long story short, I needed to get my online password changed at the bank. I didn’t have a smartphone but I was based just 10 minutes around the corner. So I went in and got her to type in the new number on their records, then returned to my computer to try logging in… no luck. I went back to her a second time to try again, came back… still not working.

I’d been perfectly polite up till now and, upon seeing her again, before I’d even opened my mouth… “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE???!” she shouted, palms turned up in exasperation. “I AM ON MY LUNCHBREAK!” This, coming from a bank employee. Taken aback, explained I still couldn’t login. ‘You forgot to do something-or-other!’ She was right on that point, so, with the wind taken out of my sails, I stormed off.

10 minutes later, she had realised she had overstepped the mark and called me to do some damage control, but it was too late and, for the first time ever, I made a formal complaint.

Are Czechs too serious? (blog.foreigners.cz)

I mean, coming from a bank clerk, for goodness sake! But overall, perfectly good service. It is true they don’t smile much however and I remember often seeing company fun day out photos in my students’ places of work where half the people in them looked like they’d been blackmailed into attending.

But this only reveals one of their most salient qualities — Sincerity. I mean, are they unsmiling or is it us Westerners oversmiling? Of course, there are plenty of times when we’re genuinely happy and we smile but there’s also a whole lot of other more banal interactions we’re indifferent about yet we also smile.

Why? because our consumerist culture has fed in customer service mannerisms into everyday life — I do it myself by greeting my students, or even distant relatives, like a salesman. But Czechs don’t have this legacy, so for them, if they feel regular about something, you know about it.

It is the same with when I used to greet them at the start of a lesson, ‘Hi, you alright?’ I expect the response ‘Yeah, fine’ — it’s effectively saying hello twice; yet for Czechs, it is a sincere question: ‘You, alright?’ ‘No, not really, I’m having some problems with bank right now and maybe wife will leave soon.’

This could also mean some innocuously sounding questions, that were part of an ESL lesson plan, could quickly cause an awkward moment: (manager in the same class as team members)

Q: ‘What are the qualities of a good boss?’

A: ‘…………….’

Of course, who wants fakeness? I personally liked knowing where I stood with them.

What else? For anyone who feels the Western, consumer-driven pop culture is a bit sickly these days, Czech lifestyles feel refreshingly wholesome by comparison. Whereas for us Brits and Yanks, shopping generally takes up a big part of our leisure time.

Czech cottage culture (pinterest.com)

It might surprise you to know that on the weekends, according to one of my more qualified students (a senior spokesman for the Ministry of Transport), over 30 percent of Pragians get into their cars and head to the quaint countryside or nearby mountains and spend their weekends in their own cottages; gardening, cycling around or even mushroom picking!

For me, this is strange; in Britain, people who live in the city generally stay in the city and weekend cottages are the preserve of our professional classes. But for Czechs, cottages are much more available for people of much more modest incomes and this is a legacy of the Communist era when foreign travel was much restricted and the landowning class had had their lands confiscated.

The positive side of this was that cottages became widely available for them and Czechs really do enjoy the simple pleasures of their weekend cottages, leaving city neighbourhoods quite deserted in places. I honestly loved the idea, I mean, It wouldn’t be my cup of tea but I thought it was very endearing.

On the other hand, they’re very liberal about drugs and turn a blind eye to smoking weed in public. I remember seeing a pot plant in plain view on someone’s window ledge one summer, bars were you could buy weed with a discreet request, and a pub I used to frequent where, before the smoking ban started, you’d go there in the evenings, sit down in a back room and latch onto a merry-go-round of joint toking. It was great at times for a while though it got too much. How many people on their death beds lament how they didn’t take enough drugs in their lives? Not many, I suspect.

And then there is the beer. They easily drink the most beer per head in the world. For them, it’s only half-jokingly called a soft drink or ‘liquid bread’ (and they love bread rolls). Now in Britain, if you saw a guy at 7 in the morning at a tram stop on a regular workday sipping a beer, you might guess he was an alcoholic; maybe his child had died that week, or something, and he was going off the rails, but not in Prague. This sight isn’t a rare one and it took me a while to get used to it.

You can get a half litre bottle for very cheap and plenty of people have a beer every night. You can see little old ladies having a chinwag over a beer or city workers having one for lunch, it is very casual for them. It was nice at times, especially in Summer but, again, got too much after five years. Plus you go to a bar and the waitresses are offering you another before you’ve even finished your current one. It’s like I don’t know, give me a chance to finish this then I’ll decide!

They have a lot of bureaucracy, but show a lot of disregard for it at the same time.

There was the time I was on the underground and I’d left my metro pass in another pair of trousers and was caught empty-handed by a ticket inspector. Ouch, I thought, this is going to hurt. It was Ok, they were just going to write me a ticket where I’d have to show my monthly pass at an office and pay a 50czk (£1.50) fine, but they needed to see my ID. I didn’t have one. (in Britain we don’t need them, and I’d never got into the habit of carrying one) So they said I had to go to a police station with them. This was getting serious now, I was breaking the law with no I.D. and no metro ticket on me. We got to the station and I was beginning to worry. I told them my details; they checked their database. Maybe they’ll put me in the cells for a while until they find out who I am? But after a few minutes of checking their files, it seems they couldn’t find anything so they just let me go.

Weird, but I wasn’t exactly up in arms about it. It happened other times as well where schools could’ve fined me for missing deadlines for stuff but just didn’t.

And yet, their country seems well run; they currently have the lowest unemployment levels in the EU, and although they actually rank pretty highly in the corruption index, it isn’t so bad that it affects its well-run infrastructure, with a good healthcare system and, in Prague, a public transport system regarded as one of the best in Europe. In my home town in Britain, if the bus is only 10 minutes late, it’s a good start to the day, yet in Prague the trams, trains, etc were never that late. In Britain I remember once, I caught a bus home to my village. The company had hired a Polish driver who barely spoke English. We were on the 309 bus but he took the 310 route, stopping 10 miles short of my village and I had to hitchhike the rest of the way. This is the standard First Bus company had set themselves.

But in Prague, I was on a tram where there was a malfunction on the tracks or something. We had only been waiting a couple of minutes but the driver was out of his chair, pacing around the tram trying to solve the problem; he cared about being late. Five minutes later a transport manager pulled up in a car and they quickly fixed it and we were away again.

Being culturally homogeneous, they are not very cosmopolitan and can sound downright racist at times, but this is merely due to an overall freedom from political correctness in their culture and also shows itself in their somewhat backward attitudes to gender roles where many still believe a woman’s place is in the kitchen.

On the other hand, this means they’ve retained the sort of social cohesion that many in the UK pine for. Citizenship levels are high there. You see it in their metro system where the station platforms don’t have electronic gates — people are trusted to be honest. Or you might get some chavy thug looking teenagers on a tram, but they’ll give up their seats for an old person without hesitating. I’m not saying British society is totally different but I was certainly impressed.

I used to live around the corner from Bohemians 1905, a Czech ‘Premier League’ football club with a humble stadium but one of the most raucous fan bases in the league.

The Bohemian fans at their Ďolíček Stadium are rumoured to be the most vociferous in the country (billsjohn.wordpress.com)

One night me and my Liverpool fan flatmate thought we’d go and watch them host the mighty Sparta Prague (Czech Rep’s Man U) and the Bohemians’ biggest game of the season, always a sell out. We didn’t have tickets but I thought we could still get in, however. We went to the front gate; no tickets. So we went round to a side gate, showed a security guard we had the money (£4.50 per ticket), he pointed to a guy waiting on the inside of the gate for just such a moment with two valid tickets and did not add a single crown to the price. Great! We got in, sat down and watched a pretty good 2–2 draw.

It’s little things like this I loved there; just not being so fixated with technocracy like we Brits are.

They seem to be at this optimum point where they are enjoying Capitalism and ‘Democracy’ and the freedoms which come with it yet they haven’t been saturated by the toxic amoral culture and values that we in Britain and, probably, America are used to.

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I moved to Prague to escape the soulless housing estate where my mum lived and job in either telesales or admin. Prague was good in so many ways; you take its beauty for granted and forget how lucky you are to live comfortably there.

The thing about being an expat who can’t or (mostly) won’t learn the local lingo, is that you easily get stuck in this social bubble where, yes, there are lots of English speakers but they come and go and unless you are an extrovert, it’s hard to enjoy deep friendships and relationships.

As the years went by, I felt ever lonelier and more bored. I increasingly turned to escapism in drink and weed until I realised that the highlight of my week was nothing more than watching football with my Spurs fan and good buddy, Drew.

I’ll remember fondly Bar 7 and Tommy, its connoisseur in hospitality, (Drop in and you won’t be a stranger.) together with the bar’s worldly, lovable rogue and a man so legendary, he has his own FB page of memorable quotes, ‘Aussie Chris’. (My favourite one, in reference to an ex of his: “…she had a Baywatch body and a Crimewatch face”) Plus a few other characters.

Many a good night was had at Bar 7, with pie eating competitions, pub quizzes scrabble and banter (tripadvisor.co.uk)

My time there was good and the memories I have are mostly good so, so long Ahoj Praha!

How Native English Speakers can Communicate Better with Non-Native English Speakers in Business

Here are five ways to help your international business contacts avoid misunderstandings that could cost you dearly.

Assuming you’re a Briton, American or another native English speaker (NES), imagine you are holding a video conference with half a dozen proficient non-native English speakers (NNES), say some departmental managers of a manufacturing firm in Spain.

Because the meeting is in English would you assume that you are the easiest to understand in the ‘room’? If so, you’d be wrong.

I’ll explain why and ways you can help your international business contacts avoid misunderstandings that could cost you dearly.

Particularly across the European Union (EU), there is a heck of a lot of business dealings and liaison. In an economic bloc that counts 24 official languages, a lingua franca is needed and invariably that is English.

Yet in a room full of reasonably proficient NNESs it is often the NES in the room who is hardest to understand. Why is that so?

The European Union average showed that 56% of people speak at least one foreign language. In contrast just 38% of Britons speak at least one foreign language. As a Brit myself I’m surprised it is even that high.

For Americans, it is just 20% who can converse in two or more languages.

The result? It is not just that we anglospherics are ignorant of foreign languages, we’re ignorant of how hard our language is to translate and learn, especially for those who lack the aptitude for languages to learn intuitively.

So, does your business do a lot of cross border trade? Ever been in a meeting where every NNES seems to nod and smile at what you are saying but looks blank, anxious or uncomfortable?

Ever been in a meeting where everyone seems to nod and smile at what you are saying but looks blank, anxious or uncomfortable? (forbes.com)

As an ex English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) teacher, let me highlight five mistakes NESs may be making and how you can rectify them.

Phrasal Verbs

They. Are. A. Nightmare. We use them so much yet they make little logical sense.

What’s a phrasal verb? A two word combination of a verb followed by an adverb or a preposition, e.g: keep off, lock up and turn down.

If you were a beginner English student, you could easily grasp what ‘look’ and ‘up’ mean. The minefield becomes apparent when you see the differences in meaning between:

Look upSearch someone’s name or a piece of information

Look up (at) — See something above

Look up (to) — Admire someone

That is why they’re so confusing. The solution is to find simple synonyms to replace the phrasal verbs, e.g:

Turn downReject

Lay offRemove staff from company

Bring upMention topic/issue

Back upSupport

Break downStop working

Idioms

Another nightmare. These are groups of words the meaning of which is completely unrelated to the meaning of the individual words. Examples being: ‘Caught red handed’, ‘Pull the wool over someone’s eyes’, and ‘move the goalposts’.

Again, used frequently.

So many NESs simply assume NNESs are familiar with the terms.

Again the solution is to replace them, e.g:

Move the goalpostsChange the rules

Catch red-handedSee someone doing something banned/illegal

Don’t touch with a bargepoleDon’t get involved with something

Vocabulary

This applies to the vocabulary you use. Of course many terms are industry-specific and, in technical fields, only long, fancy words will do. Still, if you are quite verbose, then be mindful of finding simpler synonyms without patronising the NNES who is on the receiving end.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been lost in the past due to vocabulary misunderstandings.

DelegateGive tasks to junior team members

MaintainKeep something working well

TurnoverMoney taken by a business; number of staff which have started and finished working for a company

GuidanceAdvice

Acronyms

OOO’, ‘FYI’, ‘RSVP’ ‘BTW

Do you know what all these mean? You can bet your bottom dollar some of your NNES email recipients certainly won’t. The simple solution is to be mindful of their use and stop using them.

Accents

A more well-known consideration yet one so often overlooked by NESs with no experience of learning foreign languages. Even on the small island of Great Britain there is a dizzying array of regional accents, and it is hard enough for a Brit from the north to understand a Brit from the south. So, imagine how bad it is for someone not even born in the UK!

(youtube.com)

Again be mindful of your audience and make the effort to enunciate, slow down and cut up the flow of sentences a bit. Again don’t go overboard so far that you patronise your audience.

Conclusion

If you’ve been struggling to get the results you’ve desired from your dealings with foreign English speakers, bear these points in mind and you may find they make a big difference!

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The 5 Most Famously Named Towns in Europe

There are quite a few towns behind the names of famous… ‘stuff’. (the now-renamed) Asbestos in Canada or Balaklava in Ukraine are two examples.

Some of these quirky towns really are the centre of the universe for fans of the ‘thing’ and, in this article, we find out about five of these towns, the connections they have and what makes them so worth discovering.

Rugby, UK

44.9 million fans enjoyed South Africa’s triumph over England in the 2019 World Cup Final (rugbyworld.com)

It was during a game of football being played at Rugby School in 1823 that a schoolboy named William Webb Ellis, being the cheeky scamp that he was, caught a lofted ball and decided to run with it instead of letting the ball hit the pitch as he should have. And so, Rugby Football was born.

This game, where fifteen players fight to force an oval ball across the line in the opponents’ half, is known for its combativeness which overspills into borderline violence, and it has the highest number of catastrophic injuries in any team sport. In its two most popular forms — Rugby Union and Rugby League — it is one of the most popular team sports in the world; 857 million people watched the World Cup in 2019.

The birthplace of rugby football as you’d expect boasts many attractions which stir the passions of sporting enthusiasts. A town of 70,000 people, Rugby offers a pilgrimage for those who want to immerse themselves in the history, culture and development of the game. First stop should be the World Rugby Hall of Fame. In this state of the art sporting temple visitors discover rugby’s greats and the moments that defined the sport.

Then there is the Webb Ellis Rugby Football Museum. Housed in the building in which a man named James Gilbert made the very first rugby football in 1842, this little museum is especially popular and they still manufacture hand made balls here which visitors can buy from its shop. You can also take a stroll along the Pathway of Fame to learn about some of the greats in the game and see William Webb Ellis immortalised in statue.

The world-famous Rugby School (brittanica.com)

Rugby School is where the game was born and is one of the most famous private schools in the country. It is close to the town centre and a walk around its perimeter gives an excellent view of its imposing Victorian architecture and, more importantly, the hallowed field the first ever game of rugby football was played.

Naturally Rugby has its own rugby club — the Rugby Lions. Although its team plays in just the 6th tier of the English rugby union system, it is a venerable club which was founded in 1873 and is just one of four clubs entitled to an all white team kit.

Pilsen, Czech Republic

The hugely popular Pilsner Beer (outdoortrip.com)

There are a gazillion types and sub-types of beer out there and none more popular than Pale Lager, otherwise called Pilsner. Described as a ‘very pale-to-golden-coloured with a well-attenuated body and a varying degree of noble hop bitterness’ …whatever that all means. It does go down a treat on a hot Summer’s day, I know that much, and millions agree.

Pilsner came about in the early 19th Century as a result of a fermenting process imported into Bohemia from neighbouring Bavaria and that produced a beer with a longer shelf life. It’s popularity took off from there. It is no surprise that the people of the modern Czech Republic state, of which Pilsen is its fourth largest city, love the drink so much they only half jokingly refer to it as a soft drink, or ‘liquid bread’.

Pilsen is a fine city of 175,000 residents, and it packs quite a punch to entice visitors with. Its spacious town square is rimmed with townhouses showcasing grand Austro-Hungarian architecture and in its centre sits St Bartholomew’s Cathedral which offers a breath-taking vista from its church tower — the tallest in the country. With its history, many parks, and landmarks like the iconic Prazdroj Brewery Gate it is no surprise that Pilsen was European Capital of Culture, 2015.

The Pilsenfest may be overshadowed by the Octoberfest, yet I had loads of fun at the 2016 event (festivaly.eu)

It’s real draw is as the capital for beer lovers. One of the world’s biggest pilsner brands, Pilsner Urquell, still has its brewery in the City and is a mecca for lager lovers the world over. Visitors to the brewery can enjoy guided tours where they will learn about the history of Pilsner’s famous beer and, of course, enjoy a glass or three; nowhere does it get any fresher than straight from the company’s beer cellars.

And the highlight of the city calendar is the Pilsner Fest. Whilst in the neighbouring German city of Munich they have their world renowned Octoberfest, also in October Pilsen hosts a two day festival of beer of its own which draws bigger and bigger crowds every year.

Cognac, France

Cognac is almost exclusively produced in the environs of Cognac, France (normandin-mercier.fr)

Cognac is a unique brandy produced by twice distilling white wines. So while it does indeed taste like brandy, it reflects the exclusive flavour sensations not found in other brandies. Unlike Cheddar cheese for example, what makes it so sought after is that it must be made according to strictly defined regulations; namely it must be made in or around the town for which it is named. As a result the Cognac commune, in the Charente department in southwestern France, is the centre of the universe for lovers of the iconic brandy.

So what of Cognac the town? It’s inhabited by 18,000 and is absolutely dripping with fine historical architecture. It has its own medieval quarter of unusual buildings, built between the 15th and 18th centuries, and situated on narrow cobbled streets and which contain sculptures of the salamander, the symbol of King François I, as well as gargoyles and richly decorated façades.

Over 200 producers of Cognac ply their trade and five of the biggest of them have their ‘Grande Marque’ Cognac houses in the town centre. They are Hennessy, Martell, Otard, Camus and Remy Martin, and each welcomes visitors with open arms.

Hennessy’s Grande Marque cognac house on the banks of the Charente River (blog.ruedesvignerons.com)

Surely there is no more authentic place to enjoy a glass to sip on than in Bar Luciole on the banks of the Charente River. With more than 130 varieties of Cognac, whatever you order the team can provide a personal introduction to each and every one of them.

Every year in the last weekend of July the Cognac Festival is held, and is a very popular event. Fishermen’s huts are converted for the occasion and visitors can sit around tables and savour delicious cognac cocktails, and each night revellers can let their hair down dancing and foot tapping at two concerts.

Marathon, Greece

The ‘genuine’ Marathon race from Marathon to Athens is still ran every year (tornosnews.gr)

You’ll be no doubt familiar with the origins of the popular Marathon race; in Ancient Greece in the year 490BC an Athenian army heroically defeated a Persian invasion force at the village of Marathon. Legend has it that a herald was sent to deliver news of the victory to Athens. He ran the whole way and arrived at Athens so utterly exhausted, he collapsed dead immediately after the good news passed his lips.

And so, the Marathon race came into being to commemorate this feat, measured out at 26.2 miles (42.2km) – the distance that messenger had run. It is now an Olympic event and seen as the ultimate physical challenge to attempt in a lifetime. Around 500 marathon events are held annually worldwide.

The town where the first ever Marathon set off from is an unassuming place but a tumulus (burial mound) still stands where the Greek casualties of that famous Battle of Marathon were laid to rest. Roughly 30,000 people call it home.

It is proud of its associations with the running event; unsurprisingly one of the biggest Marathons is the one which recreates the first one over 2,500 years before. The Athens Classic Marathon has been held annually since 1972. It sets off from Marathon town, faithfully following the original route to a grandstand finish at the Panathenaic Stadium in the capital.

The Tomb of the Athenians is in the environs of what is an otherwise unassuming town of Marathon, Greece (ancientgreeceexperience.com)

Taking from the tradition of the Olympic Torch the race features the Marathon Flame, which is lit at the Battle of Marathon Tumulus and carried to the stadium in Marathon before the beginning of each race. 16,500 runners took part in 2019 and the current record was set in 2014 by Felix Kandie with a time of 2:10:37.

Enthusiasts absolutely must visit the Marathon Run Museum if they visit the area; with more than 4000 exhibition pieces this is the no.1 place to discover the history of the modern Marathon Race.

Cheddar, UK

Ubiquitous around the world, nothing beats the original cheese, ‘cheddared’ in the caves of Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England (bbcgoodfood.com)

If you like any cheese at all it will likely be Cheddar cheese; it is the most widely eaten cheese in the world. With a mild taste, inoffensive to even the most trepid palate, it’s popular either sprinkled over a dish like your favourite pizza, stuffed into a ham and cheese sandwich or just eaten by itself.

Officially Cheddar cheese is described as ‘a relatively hard, off-white, sometimes sharp-tasting, natural cheese made from cow’s milk and to ‘cheddar’ is actually a technical term – referring to the process of cutting up the curds, stacking and then turning them by hand as they drain and firm up under their own weight. Since the 12th Century the cheese’s popularity has grown and now Cheddar cheese has a place on millions of people’s dinner tables.

The town of Cheddar is a modest one of 5000 residents and is nestled at the foot of a stunning gorge on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills in England.

Cheddar Gorge is the town’s centrepiece; with its dramatically steep, craggy walls, and a slaloming road running through, it’s breathtaking for drivers who cannot resist the urge to take their eyes off the road. It is the caves of Cheddar Gorge that provided the ideal humidity and steady temperature for maturing the cheese in the past, and they still do. These caves, alongside the nearby Wookey Hole Caves, are now a popular family day out.

As a popular tourist destination Cheddar boasts plenty of bars and restaurants where you can sit outside and gawp at the rock walls around you. Can you still get the finest Cheddar cheese in the world there? Most definitely!

Cheddar village is nestled in England’s most impressive gorge (cornersoftheworld.co.uk)

The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company is family owned, independent, and has been making award winning cheeses since 2003. Their Cheddar Cheese is still matured in the caves.

Then there is The Original Cheddar Cheese Company which opened its doors to business all the way back in 1870 and their shop and café are located at the same spot at the mouth of Cheddar Gorge. The shop is now world famous and remains family operated today.

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