Welcome to garethmiles.com the website for ... er ... Gareth Miles

Welcome to garethmiles.com the website for ... er ... Gareth Miles

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Eau du Monkey

Capuchin monkeys have what at first glance appears to be an odd habit: they urinate onto their hands then rub their urine over their bodies into their fur.

Now scientists think they know why the monkeys "urine wash" in this way. A new study shows that the brains of female tufted capuchins become more active when they smell the urine of sexually mature adult males. That suggests males wash with their urine to signal their availability and attractiveness to females.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Lapland brothers guilty of misleading customers

Two brothers have been found guilty of misleading thousands of customers at a Lapland-themed park.

Victor Mears, 67, and Henry Mears, 60, operated Lapland New Forest at Matchams Park on the Hampshire-Dorset border in 2008 before it closed.

A jury at Bristol Crown Court found both men guilty on eight counts of misleading advertising.

The men, both from Brighton, had denied the charges. They will be sentenced at a later date.

The trial has heard Victor Mears, of Selsfield Drive, and Henry Mears, of Coombe Road, could have made more than £1m from up to 10,000 advanced ticket sales.

The brothers were earlier found guilty of five charges of engaging in a commercial practice which is a misleading action under the Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

The jury decided they had misled customers with adverts on the firm's website, in three local newspapers and in advertising flyers.

Henry Mears said, in his opinion, the park was everything the brothers promised it would be
Jurors continued to deliberate on three charges of engaging in a commercial practice which is a misleading omission and returned guilty verdicts during the afternoon.

These charges related to accusations the brothers failed to tell customers there was an extra charge for ice skating.

Visitors to Lapland New Forest were offered a "winter wonderland" with snow-covered log cabins, a nativity scene, husky dogs, polar bears and other animals, as well as a bustling Christmas market, the court was told.

Within days of opening, hundreds of disgruntled visitors complained to trading standards officials that they had been ripped off.

Less than a week later the attraction closed, with its owners blaming the media and sabotage by "New Forest villains" for the decision.

There have been a series of delays in the trial due to Victor Mears' health.

He has in the past undergone an operation for cancer, but doctors ruled he was fit enough to continue.

Victor Mears admitted to the court he took a "bit of a gamble" in setting up Lapland New Forest without investing any money but he said he believed the money would come in as people bought tickets.

He also claimed he had been bullied and harassed by staff and, because of illness, he had handed over the running of the theme park to his son and brother.

Henry Mears told jurors his role was to organise the advertising and co-ordinate the theme park's website but he said he later took on more of a managerial role.

Victor Mears said he took a 'bit of a gamble' setting up Lapland New Forest without investing any money
He was to receive 10% of ticket sales but said a £100,000 cheque given to him by his brother Victor bounced, the court heard.

"Victor's idea was to do the ultimate Christmas grotto, outside as opposed to inside," he told the court.

He admitted the photographs on the website were not of Lapland New Forest.

"It was showing the Christmas spirit to good-minded people," he said.

He said that, in his opinion, the attraction was everything they promised customers it would be.

Henry Mears added: "Whatever you do, you will find the public complain about something."

Sunday, February 13, 2011


A former RAF officer persuaded to give his home to a spiritual healing centre has spoken out for the first time.

Richard Curtis, 53, won his house back last month after bringing a court case for undue influence against the Self-Realization Meditation Healing Centre.

The Somerset-based centre, a registered charity, is appealing against the ruling.

Mr Curtis, from Brecon, told the BBC's Inside Out West programme he wants the law on charity donations to be changed.

He said: "I am fighting a battle not just for myself but for all the other people that have given all to god and guru and been left with nothing."
'Presumption of influence'

Mr Curtis had been a follower of the centre's guru, Rena Denton, who goes by the name Mata Yogananda Mahasaya Dharma.

A statement issued by the centre, which is run by a group of members called the Alpha-Omega family, said: "The court found only that the failure by Mr Curtis to seek independent legal advice meant that the presumption of influence could not be rebutted.

"This is a far cry from the allegations of brainwashing and cultism which Mr Curtis, and now the media, sought to portray.
Self-Realization Meditation Healing Centre A number of similar complaints about the centre have been uncovered

"Since (2004) the centre has introduced a requirement that anyone wishing to donate to the centre must first seek independent legal advice."

The centre, based in Queen Camel, near Yeovil, has lodged an appeal against the High Court judgement that its "undue influence" had been present when Mr Curtis signed a declaration of trust gifting the family home in Edwinsford near Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, in 2004.

"We didn't seek legal advice, because we were enraptured," said Mr Curtis.

"We had a guru working with us and for us who had a direct link to god. What she said was good enough at the time."

An investigation by Inside Out West has uncovered a number of similar complaints made against the centre by former members.

Lizzie Davies, from Bath, was given an out-of-court settlement for £690,000 by the centre in 1996 after she claimed she had handed over her savings to the centre while under undue influence.

It accepted no liability in agreeing the settlement.

She said of her decision to leave the centre in 1993: "I had nothing. I had absolutely nothing and I found the courage to leave."

Lizzie Davies was given an out-of-court settlement for £690,000 by the centre in 1996

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said: "(In 1995/6), we identified areas of significant concern with the apparent lack of management control by the entire trustee body over the charity's affairs.

"We advised that the trustees must ensure they have direct controls over all funds...and that the charity's book-keeping be improved."

The centre also has associated but independent organisations in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In 2003, Helen Williams left the centre in Christchurch with NZ$330 and a few personal belongings after agreeing to donate her property and savings to the centre.

She said: "I can only speak for the Christchurch centre but anyone throughout New Zealand who joined had to bring everything they owned."

Alistair Mclean, of the Fundraising Standards Board, said: "The use of undue influence in soliciting donations from beneficiaries is quite simply unacceptable."

Monday, February 7, 2011

Mutiny at the airport

Spanish police have removed more than 100 Belgian students from a plane that was due to fly from the Canary Islands to Belgium.

The Irish budget airline Ryanair says police were called after the university students became disruptive.

They refused to carry out instructions after some objected to being charged a fee for excess hand luggage, it said.

Most of the students are now stranded in Lanzarote because other flights are either full or too expensive.

Spanish newspaper La Provincia said airline staff had tried to charge one passenger extra for carry-on baggage and his friends on the plane "mutinied".

A spokesman for the Spanish interior ministry said the pilot was preparing for takeoff at Guacimeta airport bound for Charleroi, Belgium, when she radioed for police assistance.

The spokesman said that of the 168 passengers on board, fewer than 70 were allowed to re-board the flight.

Ryanair confirmed that passengers "became disruptive and refused to comply with crew instructions" over a fee for outsized luggage.

In a statement, it said police had required the entire aircraft be off-loaded and each passenger identified.

"Following further disruptive behaviour, the police required for security reasons that this entire group be refused travel," the statement said.

Some of the students - from the University of Brussels - were later able to find alternative flights, but about 70 were still stuck on Lanzarote on Sunday evening.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Malawi row over whether new law bans farting

Two of Malawi's most senior judicial officials are arguing over whether a new bill includes a provision that outlaws breaking wind in public.

Justice Minister George Chaponda says the new bill would criminalise flatulence to promote "public decency".

"Just go to the toilet when you feel like farting," he told local radio.

However, he was directly contradicted by Solicitor General Anthony Kamanga, who says the reference to "fouling the air" means pollution.

"How any reasonable or sensible person can construe the provision to criminalising farting in public is beyond me," he said, adding that the prohibition contained in the new law has been in place since 1929.

The Local Courts Bill, to be introduced next week reads: "Any person who vitiates the atmosphere in any place so as to make it noxious to the public to the health of persons in general dwelling or carrying on business in the neighbourhood or passing along a public way shall be guilty of a misdemeanour."

Mr Chaponda, a trained lawyer, insists that this includes farting.

"Would you be happy to see people farting anyhow?" he asked on the popular "Straight Talk" programme on Malawi's Capital Radio.

He said that local chiefs would deal with any offenders.

When asked whether it could be enforced, he said it would be similar to laws banning urinating in public.

The sport of geeks

Another brilliant story from the BBC...

I'm nervous. My palms are sweaty and my heart is racing. I've got 10 minutes to prepare for a race that, 30 minutes ago, I didn't even know I was taking part in.

I've found out so late that I've almost missed the pre-race briefing - a briefing that veterans of this race that I interviewed earlier told me was unmissable if you were taking part.

Add to that the fact that nature and upbringing have not conspired to make me any kind of athlete.

The only race I've ever won was the obstacle race at junior school when a catastrophic error at the beanbag toss by favourite Peter Reilly let me, thanks to my long legs, sneak first place.

I'm more the indoor-pursuits-with-no-heavy-lifting type of guy. Yet here I am, girding an apron around my flabby torso getting ready to compete.

At least it's all for a good cause.

The race in question is held every year in Las Vegas to find out who can build a PC the fastest. The complete PCs, 30 in total, will then be donated by organisers CA and Systemax to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Be prepared
Stephen Fung, BBC Stephen Fung celebrates being the first to finish building the PC

In the run-up to the event, I talked to old and new competitors to find out how they approach the event. The event brings together hardware experts, journalists and even celebrity geeks such as iJustine.

Some competitors like Thomas Lower have not built a PC since the 2010 competition. Others, like Frank Dimmick from the Overclockers Club, do it every day. Putting together a PC from scratch, he says, is a 25-minute process.

That bald statement fills me with trepidation now I know I'm taking part. I've upgraded every PC I've ever owned so I know my way around the innards of a computer. I've even built one from scratch. However, it took me substantially longer than 25 minutes.

I miss about half of the unmissable briefing. Arriving, I'm handed a sheaf of papers that explain the steps involved in turning the pile of parts on each table into a functioning machine.

I arrive in time to hear a warning about the right way to connect up a set of particularly tricky wires. Which wires? I missed that part. And then the briefing is done.

As we stand in front of our tables full of parts and my heart rate climbs, veterans of the competition indulge in trash talk and banter. Hiawatha Bray of the Boston Globe invokes Conan in declaiming what will be best about the competition.

"To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women!"
Screwing up
Hiawatha Bray, BBC Hiawatha Bray flips through the instructions for building the PC.

And we're off. First, I turn the PC on its side to make it more stable and easier to get at all the slots and screw holes. First in are the memory sticks. They snap into their slots with a satisfying click.

Next, the power cord for the motherboard. It can only go in one way and, after a glance at the connectors, I orient it correctly and it eases into place. No click but it is snug.

Now the connectors for the hard drives. Two of them, with two wires apiece. Get them wrong and it will not boot. This is the tricky part. The part I missed the briefing about.

I make a choice and go by colours. Dark blue for one and light blue for the other.

Now to screw the hard drive caddy into place. I get it in position and, in a miracle of dexterity, screw it in despite the small space, stumpy screws and chunky fingers. Then I realise. It's in back-to-front. There are penalties for parts being in the wrong way or loosely secured.

I'm unscrewing it when, suddenly, there's a commotion. Someone has finished. In a little over four minutes.

That throws me and I fumble a screw which tumbles into the PC's innards. A shake of the case and I've got it back.

Someone else has finished.

The hard drive is out, turned round and slotted back into place. More finishers. I drop the screw. Again and again I drop the screw. Seven times in all as cheers, back-slapping and congratulations break out all around.

I'm playing for pride now. Can I avoid being stone dead last?

Next is the CD-Rom drive, taking care to put power and data cables in first. Sound card, graphics card and wi-fi card pass in a blur. They go well. But I'm in a minority now. Far more have finished than not.

Final step - power cords, monitor, mouse and keyboard. Then I hit the power button and realise - I have no idea if it will work.

It does.

It boots, pings the competition server to get my time. 12 minutes, 47 seconds. I finished 21st out of 30. I even beat some veterans.

My joy is short-lived as I see that the winner, Steven Fung, finished in four minutes, nine seconds. Chatting to him afterwards, my self esteem sinks further.

"I could have gone faster," he said. "I made a few mistakes on the way."

So did I. And I know I can do better. I also know a few tricks now to shave seconds, maybe minutes, off that time.

Next year. Next year I will crush my enemies, trample them before me and hear the lamentation of their women. This year, though, I'll settle for 21st place, a small glow of pride and a celebratory cocktail. It is Las Vegas, after all.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Poisonous Nanny

A nanny has admitted trying to poison Ann Summers boss Jacqueline Gold by lacing her food with screen wash.

Allison Cox, 33, of East Grinstead, West Sussex pleaded guilty at Guildford Crown Court to administering poison with intent to annoy.

She was hired by multi-millionaire lingerie and sex toy tycoon Ms Gold, 50, to look after her child at her home in Whyteleafe, Surrey.

Cox was bailed on Thursday to await sentencing on 4 March.

She was originally charged with a further two counts of attempting to poison Ms Gold with sugar and salt, but the indictment against her was amended during the hearing.

Prosecutor Rachel Davies said Ms Gold, who she referred to as Ms Cunningham, was not harmed after eating the food laced with screen wash on 5 October last year.

"The harm wasn't physical. It was anxiety, really, that this was happening to her," she said.

"There was, it appears, some animosity from the defendant towards the cook which then caused the defendant to put certain articles including the screen wash and the salt and sugar into certain food items consumed by Jacqueline Cunningham.

"She put it into the food to cause the cook to be questioned about it."

Ms Gold, who is known as one of Britain's most successful businesswomen, did not attend the hearing.

Alistair Harper, for the defence, said Cox was of previous good character.

Adjourning sentencing for reports, Judge Christopher Critchlow said she would get credit for pleading guilty but all sentencing options remained open.