Offbeat: Ride to check-in

Micro-Luggage case has an in-built scooter so travelers can ride to check-in.

July 26, 2011

A magical place to live!

The childhood home which inspired Harry Potter author JK Rowling has gone on the market for almost £400,000 (Rs55.68 million) — complete with trap door, cupboard under the stairs and even a secret scrawl penned by the author as a teenager.

She lived in the Grade II-listed Church Cottage in the picturesque village of Tutshill, Gloucestershire — the name of a Quidditch team in the novels — with mother Anne, father Peter and sister Diane from the age of nine to 18. The detached stone cottage is thought to have provided much of the inspiration behind the best-selling Harry Potter series.

Parallels include a dusty, dingy cupboard under the stairs — where Harry is forced to live by his evil auntie Petunia and uncle Vernon Dursley in the books. There is also a trapdoor leading to an eerie cellar — like the one in which Harry searches for the Philosopher’s Stone in the first novel. The gothic architecture seen on the house is ‘straight out of Hogwarts’ and has a pretty cottage garden, including a herb patch like that seen in Professor Sprout’s Herbology lessons.

Current owner Julian Mercer, a BBC producer, bought the three-bedroom house near Chepstow, Gwent, from the Rowling family in 1995 and is now selling it for £399,950 (Rs55.67 million). He has preserved JK Rowling’s windowsill graffiti by painting around it whenever he has decorated the bedroom.

Mercer said, “When we first moved in, JK Rowling was not a known name and it was a couple of years later that the Philosopher’s Stone came out. It was then that we knew the significance of the name written on the windowsill. We have redecorated the house completely since moving in but we always painted round it.”


Shaving faces

Most people bin their pencil shavings without even thinking about it — but not British artist Kyle Bean, who saves them all up before turning the waste into stunning portraits.

Bean spends hours at a time holed up in a studio meticulously placing shavings onto white boards with a set of tiny tweezers. Each shaving has to be picked up and perfectly positioned onto the surface — with no guidelines for help. The only reference point is a photograph of the subject. Bean then painstakingly layers shavings creating the contours of the face — with the slightest gust of wind potentially destroying everything.

The 24-year-old self-employed artist and designer said, “I often use every day or waste materials in much of my work. My philosophy is that images can be made from anything and why throw away waste when it can be put to some good.” Each portrait uses up one and a half carved up pencils to make and takes over an hour to finish.

Despite being silhouettes, every intricate detail is mapped out using nothing but the sharpenings. Bean, who has previously made quirky art in the form of a chicken made from eggshells, added, “I have always enjoyed making models and experimenting with materials, I was always like that as a kid.”


Down and dirty

An annual Mud Festival event in South Korea was attended by nearly three million people to raise awareness of the region’s mud cosmetics industry. The 14th annual festival took place in Boryeong and, in particular, was praised for the ‘mud mob scene’ where mud was sprayed onto Daecheon beach and millions of revelers partied and danced in the sloppy conditions.

The mud, which is hailed for its high mineral content, was shipped onto the beach by truck. Other activities on offer were naturally mud related — including mud sliding, mud wrestling, and swimming in a giant ‘mud tub’. English teacher Nick Prado, who attended the mud festival, said, “The best thing about the festival is just acting like a little kid, getting covered in mud and not really caring and just going wild. It’s good.”

About 50,000 tourists also attended the festival, which is said to have generated $52m (Rs4.47 billion) for the region’s economy. Koo Moon-hoe, a Tourism Department Chief for the region said, “Foreigners seem to enjoy this festival because they can take part in many different activities, feel the mud and mingle with people from around the globe.”


Now that’s icing on the cake!

With their elaborate sugar-spun details, these sweet treats are certainly not a piece of cake to make. And clay-sculptor Karen Portaleo’s stunning cakes are guaranteed to satisfy any sweet tooth.

Despite Portaleo having no formal culinary training, the lead decorator and her team from the Highland Bakery in Atlanta, Georgia, always rise to the occasion. They whisk up jaw-dropping creations including life-like cakes shaped like animals, people and handbags for her guests — although they all come at a considerable price-tag.

But when your clients include Sir Elton John, Demi Moore and rapper L’il Wayne, they can afford to have their cake and eat it. Portaleo has been asked to create many intricate designs. She has turned her hand to octopuses, complete with their eight tentacles twisting around its body, to a poodle with ‘fluffy hair’ icing, to under the sea themed gingerbread houses, to a sumo wrestler. But the proof is in the pudding, and talented Portaleo’s team prides themselves on making sure the tasty treats are not only a feast for the eyes, but also one for the lips.

On her blog, the lead cake decorator reveals secrets of how she creates the designs.


A sole nipple

Lily Allen proudly showed hers off on television, Mark Wahlberg’s famous for his and just last week, Zac Efron was forced to deny he has two. But a 22-year-old woman has trumped them all — by growing a full-sized extra nipple on the sole of her foot.

Although one in 50 women and one in 100 men have extra nipples, according to the California-based Dermatology Journal it’s the first time one has ever been discovered so far down somebody’s body.

The woman told doctors she had had the unusual growth — which is almost two inches wide — all her life, and it had never caused her any pain. Between one and five per cent of the population have the condition, known as supernumerary breast tissue.

According to researchers in Brazil, “A 22-year-old woman sought medical care for a lesion in the plantar region of her left foot, a well-formed nipple surrounded by areola and hair. Microscopic examination of the dermis showed hair follicles, eccrine glands, and sebaceous glands.”

Third nipples have been mentioned throughout history and folklore, and were once known as ‘witch’s nipples’. Anne Boleyn, one of Henry VIII’s wives, was rumoured to have not only a third nipple but also a third breast — causing some to brand her a witch.


The four-eared dog

Meet Shun Shun – the four-eared dog that has been discovered in China. The owner, Peng Qiang, from Wulumuqi, Xinjiang province, said the dog was given to him by a friend a year ago. Qiang explained, “Originally we didn’t spot any difference until six months ago when he started to grow another pair of ears behind the original ears.”

Qiang’s family didn’t originally pay much attention, but as time went on the extra ears started to grow longer and longer and now have even outgrown the original pair, reaching 10cm in length. Qiang said Shun Shun loves to eat with his family and his favourite foods are tomatoes and watermelon.


No French? Fine!

A couple of French language hardliners have won £8,000 (Rs1.1 million) in damages after staff at an airline spoke to them in English. Michel and Lynda Thibodeau sued Air Canada for not respecting their right to be served in their mother tongue.

Despite speaking fluent English, Thibodeau claimed they were not greeted in French when checking in for their flight or at the boarding gate at the airport in Canadian capital Ottawa. He complained that when they ordered a 7UP drink aboard the plane an English-speaking steward brought a Sprite. Also an announcement at the baggage carousel was apparently not made in French.

Thibodeau had sued Air Canada for £350,000 (Rs48.7 million) for breach of the Official Languages Act, under which the national airline must provide services in both languages. Now a federal court has ordered it to pay the couple £7,850 (Rs1.09 million) in damages and apologise.

The ruling has re-ignited the debate over the country’s linguistic divide, fuelled by nationalists in French-speaking Quebec. Thibodeau said after the case, “This was a violation of my linguistic rights and you have to stand up for your rights or lose them.” He also filed a similar complaint against Ottawa’s bus company in 2002 after a driver greeted him with “hello” instead of “bonjour”.

Canadian constitutional expert Michael Behiels said: “We are a bilingual country and Air Canada is bound by the Official Languages Act. If it doesn’t respect the Act, that will aggravate the separatists in Quebec and we don’t want that.” An Air Canada spokesman said the firm is studying the ruling.


Jaws of death

Shark attack! Will no one save this hapless youngster from the marine monster bursting through the cracks in the ground? Worry not! The youngster is only posing for a family photograph on a piece of three-dimensional pavement artwork inside a shopping centre in Fuzhou, south-east China.

The massive three-dimensional pictures are popular in the Peoples’ Republic, with similar displays springing up across the vast south-east Asian superpower. Last year, a Nantong City shopping centre was decorated to look as though there were huge chasms in its walkways, prompting passers-by to pose for incredible looking group photos where they appeared to be hovering in the air.


Ride to check-in

Trying to run with a suitcase because you’re late for your flight is a nightmare that most of us have had to deal with. But now a firm has designed a case that could make the desperate dash across Heathrow a breeze — with a bizarre ‘commuter scooter’. The Micro-Luggage case has an in-built scooter so travelers can ride their case to the gate after dropping up to 20 kilos of luggage off at check-in. The new £250 (Rs34, 804.13) bag consists of a 26-litre case and a lean-and-steer scooter. It is being marketed at frequent business flyers and people making short commutes to work.

The case can be detached from the scooter and wheeled around in the same way as an ordinary suitcase. It is designed by Micro Scooters UK, who produced micro scooters which were popular in the early 2000s. A spokesman for the company said, “Micro Scooters UK has already changed the face of the school run with thousands of families having swapped their gas guzzling 4x4s for the Mini and Maxi Micros. Now the company is set to do the same for commuting with the Micro Luggage scooter. Not only is it a healthier option to a car, it’s a great way of reducing your carbon footprint.”


Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2011.

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