The Doll Hospital in Sydney, Australia, has been repairing treasured toys and teddy bears for more than a century now. The family business survived two world wars and restored more than three million dolls, teddy bears and rocking horses for Australian and New Zealand children. It is one of the few doll hospitals left in the world as the age of mass-production has seen many close, but there are still a steady stream of customers wishing to have an old bear sewn back together in order to restore a childhood memory.
The Dutch royal family have come under fire after a report revealed that almost half a million euros of tax-payers’ money was spent on building a fence around the royals’ holiday home in southern Greece. At a time when people in the Netherlands are still struggling following the recession, the public have demanded an explanation. Indeed, this is the second controversy in as many months over lavish spending of public funds, as King Willem-Alexander faced heavy criticism after 900,000 euros was spent on renovating one of the family’s palaces in June.
Costumed characters who pose for tourist photographs for tips in New York’s Times Square have faced bad publicity recently after a spate of arrests – one involving Spiderman punching a police officer after a tipping dispute. Now, dozens of people dressed as Batman, Elmo, Mickey Mouse and other children’s favourites have formed a union – or Justice League – to try and turn around public perception, claiming a few bad apples have spoiled it for the rest.
In a ramshackle old building in Budapest, tourists pay to be locked up in a room and try to escape by solving a series of mysterious clues, opening locks and finding their way out. Some 100 or so of these “escape room” games have sprung up in the Hungarian capital in the last three years to become top tourist attractions. Hungary recently celebrated its first festival of escape games, making use of its cities’ many decrepit cellars and old ruined houses – already famous among holiday-makers as so-called “ruin bars”. The idea is now catching on in other countries with Romania and Austria looking to create their own attractions.
A company in Texas, USA, is offering a unique send off for beloved pets by placing a portion of their cremated remains in a capsule and blasting them off into space. Celestis Inc has been launching human remains by way of a memorial since 1997 and has now expanded to include pets. The space send-off options range from launching the remains into space, having them taken to space on a commercial flight and returned to the other owner, or, for $12,500, have them taken to the moon.
Following the economic collapse in Greece, the country’s bureaucratic system has been exposed as one of its major flaws – stifling creativity, encouraging corruption and choking the economy. Now, dairy farmers are attempting to sidestep it completely by selling their milk directly to customers through vending machines. Indeed, many have been able to sell milk much cheaper while making more profit, simply by cutting out the middlemen. In Larissa, local people have been queueing for up to half an hour at the new machines to save cash and support local farmers.
An EU-led inquiry has found that Kosovo Albanian guerrillas harvested organs from captive ethnic Serbs during the 1998-99 war in Kosovo. The investigation showed that in a small number of cases, Serb prisoners were murdered in order to remove their organs and sell them on the black market. Although there was not enough evidence of organ harvesting for a trial to take place, it is expected that other aspects of the EU investigation will lead to former leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) being prosecuted for war crimes against Roma and Serbs next year. Other crimes perpetrated by senior KLA members, such as unlawful killings and forced disappearances, amounted to the ethnic cleansing of large portions of the Serb and Roma populations, and there was enough evidence to prosecute, investigators said. Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci, himself a former KLA leader, has denied the accusations.
Tucked off a two-lane highway in a hilly, wooded section of central Massachusetts, USA, a group of Roman Catholic monks has embraced a centuries-old tradition in order to support their ageing clergy – brewing beer. St Joseph’s Abbey is now the first outside of Europe to produce certified “Trappist” Ale - named after their Catholic order. The move came to increase profits in order to pay for infirm older members who need 24-hour care. Trappist Ale is popular worldwide among beer aficionados and St Joseph’s is already expected to reach its ten-year target of completely supporting its monastery and charities as sales already far surpass expectations.
Tasmania's isolation and wilderness once made it a dumping ground for the British Empire's convicts. But these same qualities, and a small population of just over half a million people, make the island one of the cleanest places on earth. Indeed, Tasmania is the only Australian state to ban genetically modified (GM) food crops and animal feed making it a model of high-end, high-value agricultural production. However, even this pristine environment is under threat from technology. Tasmania’s powerful poppy industry – which is the largest supplier of pharmaceutical opiates in the world – is pressuring the government not to extend the GM ban when the moratorium expires later this year.
A German artist has turned a tiny surveillance booth used by the communist regime in the former East Germany to monitor citizens into an art exhibit to be installed in a museum near Los Angeles dedicated to the Cold War. Christof Zwiener rescued the booth from demolition which has so far been used by 10 artists to showcase their work in what must be one of the world’s smallest art galleries.
The authorities in China have been accused of trying to cover up factory pollution that has seen many children in the rural town of Dapu diagnosed with lead exposure. It was claimed that officials asked families to trade their child’s blood test results for milk which they said would flush lead from their bodies. Environmental pollution in agricultural towns is widespread and a side-effect of the country’s rapid economic growth. Cancer rates in some polluted villages are so high they are known as “cancer villages”.
A US billionaire is leading a campaign that would see the state of California separated into six smaller states. California is America’s most populous state and has the eighth largest economy in the world. Businessman Timothy Draper said his plan would create fairer, local governments, ease traffic congestion and solve the state’s ongoing water problems. He recently gathered enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot in 2016 but critics say his proposal would damage the economy.
Muslims in the restive region of Xinjiang in China have been told to ignore their religious customs during the holy month of Ramadan in what critics say is deliberate discrimination against the Uighur minority – a Turkic-speaking Muslim group that calls Xinjiang home. Chinese officials have stated that observing the religious holiday – which includes fasting during daylight hours – is a violation of Communist Party discipline. Xinjiang has seen sectarian violence erupt in the past between the Uighur and the Han Chinese majority.
Roma families in the Polish town of Andrychow have been staying in after dark and keeping their children home from school for fear of attack following a rise in anti-Roma tension in recent weeks. Radical nationalists – with help from the far-right leader, Robert Winnicki, of Ruch Narodowy, who has ties to Hungary’s Jobbik party (the biggest far-right movement in Europe who have used anti-Roma sentiment to gain votes and are often accused of racism) – staged a rally encouraging people to drive out the 100 or so Roma people living in the town of 20,000. Both Ruch Narodowy and Jobbik deny inciting racial hatred in Andrychow.
Residents in Berkeley, California, USA, will vote in November on whether to add tax to sugary drinks in the latest move to fight obesity. The college town, famous for its liberal activism, is to become the first city in America to impose such a measure if passed in an upcoming referendum. The penny-per-ounce tax has been lauded by residents and health advocates but some businesses have slammed the move as a “money-grab” amid fears that tax money will go into the city’s general fund.
An attempt to rename a street in front of the Chinese embassy in America after imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiabo has been called a “farce” by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. Liu, a veteran dissident involved in the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, was jailed in 2009 for 11 years for organising a petition to end one-party rule. The US and the European Union have repeatedly called for his release. If the vote goes through the street will be renamed “No. 1, Liu Xiabo Plaza”. Similar tactics were used in the past to pressure the South African government to release Nelson Mandela.
Thousands of kids are fleeing their impoverished homes in Honduras due to gang violence, heading for America in the hope of finding a better life. Many travel through Mexico on the roofs of freight trains and 52,000 children have been detained in the US after trying to cross the Mexican-American border in the last eight months alone. Much of the violence in Central America has been caused by gangs fighting for control over the illegal drug trade.
Three Al Jazeera journalists were jailed for seven years each in Egypt last week. Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and veteran correspondent Peter Greste (who formerly worked for the BBC) were found guilty of aiding a terrorist organisation after they interviewed members of the ousted Muslim Brotherhood. The US has condemned the verdict as “chilling” and “draconian”, calling for it to be reversed. The reporters’ imprisonment has widely been viewed by critics as an attack on the freedom of the press.
Legendary US folk singer Bob Dylan’s handwritten manuscript for “Like a Rolling Stone” sold for over $2 million at an auction recently. The annotated lyrics for the 1965 hit, considered one of the most influential songs in post-war music, is now the most expensive rock music manuscript ever sold at auction – shattering the record set in 2010 when John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics for “A Day in the Life” sold for $1.2 million. The lyrics were part of a Sotheby’s sale called A Rock & Roll History: Presley to Punk (which also included items from The Rolling Stones and Joni Micthell) and was the auction house’s first dedicated music history auction in over a decade, making more than $4 million in total.
The owner of a goldmine in Canada is selling his mine for $2 million in bitcoin – an online-only currency with no central or official control and often linked to illegal online black markets. The gold mine - located in Dawson City, the heart of the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush - has the potential to produce 4000 ounces of gold per year, worth $5.9 million at current prices. Prices for gold have slumped by a third in the past 2-1/2 years after a decade-long rally, leaving many mines struggling to stay profitable.