Bong! Big Ben’s back in Britain

Bong! Big Ben’s back in Britain
The Great Clock towering above Britain’s Houses of Parliament is resuming daily operations following the painstaking renovation of more than 1,000 moving parts. (AFP)
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Updated 11 November 2022

Bong! Big Ben’s back in Britain

Bong! Big Ben’s back in Britain
  • After a five-year restoration project, the world-famous ringer is back with a bong
  • When first built in the 1840s, it dominated the Westminster skyline

LONDON: Getting up close to Big Ben requires earplugs, and ear defenders over them to be safe. When the 13.7-ton bell sounds, the vibration hits you in the chest.
After a five-year restoration project, the world-famous ringer is back with a bong.
The Great Clock towering above Britain’s Houses of Parliament is resuming daily operations following the painstaking renovation of more than 1,000 moving parts.
When the clock’s five cast-iron bells including Big Ben fell silent in 2017, a mournful crowd of parliamentarians and staff gathered below. Some shed tears.
But after a week of testing, normal service will resume every 15 minutes from 11:00 a.m. (1100 GMT) on Sunday.
The time marks the moment on November 11, 1918 when the guns fell silent in World War I. In Britain, Remembrance Sunday immediately follows Armistice Day every November 11.
They are two of the few occasions that Big Ben and his partners have rung since 2017, along with New Year’s Eve, when Britain left the European Union in 2021, and the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in September.
Atop the 96-meter Elizabeth Tower is the belfry housing the bells — protected by exterior netting to keep out bats and pigeons.
Beyond lie some of London’s most spectacular vistas.
But parliament’s three in-house timekeepers don’t have time to enjoy the view.
Ian Westworth, 60, and his colleagues have been busy overseeing the tests to ensure everything is in order after the $90-million (£80-million) restoration.
“It’s the sound of London back again,” Westworth said on a dawn tour of the tower.
“The bell’s sounded through wars, and you try and imagine what this bell’s actually seen — 160 years of development.”
The Elizabeth Tower, previously called the Clock Tower, was renamed in 2012 to honor the late queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
When first built in the 1840s, it dominated the Westminster skyline. Today, newer and taller buildings lie nearby.
“You used to be able to hear this (Big Ben) on a quiet night up to 15 miles (24 kilometers) away,” Westworth said, as a chill wind whistled through the belfry.
“Now you’re lucky on a day like today if you can hear it the other side of Parliament Square.”
The five-year restoration involved cleaning and repainting each of the five bells’ hammers and arms. The bells themselves stayed in place.
Big Ben sounds the hour, and is so large that flooring in the tower beneath would have to be dismantled if it ever had to be removed.
The four smaller bells around it sound the quarter-hour.
The biggest job was taking apart the 11.5-ton clock mechanism dating from 1859 so that every cog and pinion could be cleaned, repaired and re-oiled by a specialist company in Cumbria, northwest England.
Other changes were cosmetic.
Twenty-eight round LED lights now illuminate the four clock faces, a balance of green and white offering the closest match to how they would have looked in gas-lit Victorian times.
Above the bells sits a taller LED light, which glows white when parliament is sitting.
State-of-the-art sprinklers have been installed throughout the tower, although the belfry is beyond reach of the system.
In past years before the renovation, parliament’s timekeepers would benchmark the Great Clock’s time against the telephone speaking clock.
Now, it is calibrated by GPS via Britain’s National Physical Laboratory.
But the method to adjust the clock’s timing mechanism remains old-fashioned: pre-decimal pennies are added or removed from weights attached to two giant coiled springs, to make or lose a second.
As the top of the hour approaches, it is time to don the ear defenders again for the continuing series of tests.
Big Ben bongs seven times, setting off a bass vibrato in the gantry around it.
While deafening, the unmistakable peal of the cracked bell is also a reassuring note of constancy after a year of political upheaval in Britain, and as the rest of the parliamentary estate frays.
Political bickering over the costs is holding up a bigger renovation of the aging complex.
But Westworth and his 35-year-old colleague Alex Jeffrey remain focused on the job in hand: tending to parliament’s 2,000 clocks, many of them irreplaceable antiques.
“Every day you’re keeping time in a very hands-on way, using technology, arts and crafts,” Jeffrey said.
“It’s very tactile, as is maintaining the Great Clock,” he added. “It’s the best job in the world.”


Housebound Jordanian football fan a social media star

Housebound Jordanian football fan a social media star
Updated 05 February 2023

Housebound Jordanian football fan a social media star

Housebound Jordanian football fan a social media star
  • Abu Nawas’ Facebook page offering analysis of European football leagues matches has cultivated 243,000 followers
  • The 27-year-old was born with brittle bone disease, that has meant he rarely leaves his home

ZARQA: Having spent most of his life housebound due to a medical condition, Jordanian Amer Abu Nawas’s love of football has propelled him to social media stardom.
Offering analysis of matches from the leading European football leagues to almost a quarter of a million followers, his Facebook page — “HouseAnalyzer” in Arabic — has grown into what he describes as a “big family.”
The 27-year-old was born with osteogenesis, or brittle bone disease, a genetic condition hindering normal bone growth that has meant he rarely leaves his home in Zarqa, 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Jordan’s capital Amman.
“It is true that I have never played football in my life, and have never attended any match, but for me football is everything,” Abu Nawas told AFP.
With no schools in the country catering to his needs, Abu Nawas grew up spending much of his time watching football matches, analizing the teams and playing football video games.
“This always made me feel like it is taking me from this world to a different one,” he said.
His relatives noticed his passion and encouraged him to publish his match analyzes online.
In 2017, he launched his Facebook account, which now counts more than 243,000 followers.


Filmed on a phone in his bedroom, Abu Nawas’s videos usually feature him wearing a football jersey, excitedly commenting on matches and news from the world of football.
Discussing leagues from England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, he sometimes uses a football pitch-shaped board to explain tactical nuances.
One of Abu Nawas’s latest videos reached more than 1.4 million viewers and he has started posting on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Twitter.
He said he was grateful for modern technology allowing him to connect with so many people.
“From this room, from this small place isolated from the world, I was able to cross these walls, reach people, communicate with them, create content, and become what I am today,” he said.
He expressed sadness at sometimes seeing people attack each other in comments to his posts, and said his relationship with his followers was “like a family.”
“This family is growing day by day, and I hope it will reach as many followers as possible,” he added.
Abu Nawas’s own family do their best to provide him with a comfortable life.
He is the youngest of three brothers and his father is a doctor and his mother a pharmacist.
Inside his room are shelves with a PlayStation, a computer and plastic baskets keeping items he might need.
On his bed are phones, remote controls, headphones and a long stick used to reach distant items.


“He has his own world, in a room with a temperature of 27 degrees to avoid cold and pneumonia. He can operate anything using the remote control,” his father Yussef told AFP.
He said his son has friends who occasionally visit.
“When he feels bad, they take him out for a tour in a minibus,” he said.
Abu Nawas lamented that in Jordan “nobody cares” about people with diseases like his, and said he wished he had had the opportunity to attend school.
“The conditions for people with special needs are catastrophic,” he said.
“I could not learn because there are no special schools for people like me.”
Last year, the organizers of the football World Cup invited him to attend the tournament in Qatar.
But due to travel difficulties linked to his condition, he arrived late and missed the matches he was scheduled to attend.
Even so, Abu Nawas said it was “the best 10 days of my life.”
“I know my condition, I learned to be content, and I will remain so,” he said.
“Disability need not be an obstacle to success.”


Michigan man says 6-year-old son ordered $1K in food from Grubhub

Michigan man says 6-year-old son ordered $1K in food from Grubhub
Updated 04 February 2023

Michigan man says 6-year-old son ordered $1K in food from Grubhub

Michigan man says 6-year-old son ordered $1K in food from Grubhub
  • Keith Stonehouse said his son ordered food from so many different places that Chase Bank sent him a fraud alert declining a $439 order from Happy’s Pizza

CHESTERFIELD TOWNSHIP, Michigan: A Michigan man says he was left with a $1,000 bill after his 6-year-old son ordered a virtual smorgasbord of food from several restaurants last weekend, leading to a string of unexpected deliveries — and maybe a starring role in an ad campaign.
Keith Stonehouse said the food piled up quickly at his Detroit-area home Saturday night after he let his son, Mason, use his cellphone to play a game before bed. He said the youngster instead used his father’s Grubhub account to order food from one restaurant after another.
The boy’s mother, Kristin Stonehouse, told The Associated Press on Thursday that Grubhub has reached out to the family and offered them a $1,000 gift card. The company also is considering using the family in an online promotional campaign, she said. Grubhub officials did not immediately respond to a message from the AP seeking comment.
Keith Stonehouse said he was alone with his son while his wife was at the movies when Mason ordered jumbo shrimp, salads, shawarma and chicken pita sandwiches, chili cheese fries and other foods that one Grubhub driver after another delivered to their Chesterfield Township home.
“This was like something out of a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit,” Keith Stonehouse told MLive.com.
He added: “I don’t really find it funny yet, but I can laugh with people a little bit. It’s a lot of money and it kind of came out of nowhere.”
Keith Stonehouse said his son ordered food from so many different places that Chase Bank sent him a fraud alert declining a $439 order from Happy’s Pizza. But Mason’s $183 order of jumbo shrimp from the same restaurant went through and arrived at the family’s house.
Stonehouse said it took the arrival of a few orders of food for him to realize what was going on. By that time, there was nothing he could do to stop the orders from coming.
Kristin Stonehouse told the AP that Mason is extremely intelligent and has been reading since he was 2 1/2 years old.
“He’s very smart,” she said. “He’s not your average 6-year-old.”
She said her husband had just used the Grubhub app on his phone to order dinner before she left and probably just left the app open. She said her son took the phone, hid in the basement and proceeded to order his feast.
She said she and her husband had a talk with Mason on Sunday morning and told him what he did was akin to stealing.
“I don’t think he grasped that concept at first,” she said.
To drive the point home, she and her husband opened up Mason’s piggy bank and pocketed the $115 he had gotten for his birthday in November, telling him the money would go to replenish their accounts. That didn’t seem to faze the boy.
“Then he found a penny on the floor and said he could start all over again,” she said.
Keith Stonehouse said most of the food went into the family’s refrigerators. He said he also invited some neighbors over to eat some of it.
He said he’s heard of things like this happening to other parents, but not at the level he experienced last weekend. He recommends making sure important apps are not readily available for children to click on when they’re using a parent’s phone. He said he’s changing his password.
“I knew this could happen, but you just don’t think your kid is going to do something like this. He’s definitely smart enough, I just didn’t expect it,” Keith Stonehouse said.

 


Sushi conveyor belt pranks spark outrage in Japan

This picture shows plates of sushi on a conveyor belt at a sushi chain restaurant in Tokyo on February 3, 2023. (AFP)
This picture shows plates of sushi on a conveyor belt at a sushi chain restaurant in Tokyo on February 3, 2023. (AFP)
Updated 04 February 2023

Sushi conveyor belt pranks spark outrage in Japan

This picture shows plates of sushi on a conveyor belt at a sushi chain restaurant in Tokyo on February 3, 2023. (AFP)

TOKYO: A handful of unhygienic pranks at sushi conveyor belt restaurants in Japan have sparked stock slumps, venue overhauls and legal action, along with furious social media commentary.
Several videos dubbed “sushi terrorism” have emerged on social media including Twitter and TikTok in recent days, some of them apparently weeks or even years old.
In one, viewed nearly 40 million times on Twitter, an apparently teenaged customer licks the top of a communal soy sauce bottle and the rim of a teacup he then places back on a shelf, before licking his finger and touching a piece of sushi as it goes past on the belt.
The video, filmed at a branch of the Sushiro chain in the central Japanese city of Gifu, prompted stocks in the restaurant’s parent company to plunge nearly five percent Tuesday.
Other videos emerged showing customers at different chains putting wasabi on passing pieces of sushi or licking the spoon in a communal green tea powder container.
Though the incidents appear to be confined to just a few videos, they have caused an uproar in Japan, a country with famously high standards of cleanliness.
“This is sickening,” one Japanese Twitter user wrote in response, with another adding: “I can’t go to conveyor belt sushi restaurants anymore.”
In a statement, Sushiro said the teen behind the viral video had apologized, along with his parents, but that the firm had filed a formal police complaint.
“As a company, we will continue to respond firmly with both criminal and civil cases,” it said.
It said all the soy sauce bottles at the affected store had been replaced and all the cups cleaned, and announced new restaurant policies.
At the Gifu branch and others nearby, customers will now take utensils and condiments to their tables from a serving point, and nationwide, diners will be able to request disinfected tableware.
Two other affected chains, Hama-sushi and Kura Sushi, have also said they plan to take legal action, with the latter planning to install cameras above conveyor belts to monitor customers, Jiji press agency reported.
In Tokyo, 20-year-old musician Luna Watanabe said she was appalled by the videos.
“Omotenashi (hospitality) is an important selling point in Japan, so I think it’s unforgivable,” she told AFP in Tokyo’s upscale Ginza district.
“It’s harmful to customers and employees.”
But others largely shrugged off the incident, including Tetsuya Haneda, a photographer.
“As far as I’m concerned, it only happened once, so that doesn’t mean it happens all the time,” he said.
“It’s not a problem — on the contrary, now there will be fewer people waiting in line, so I won’t need to make a reservation anymore to go and eat, even on the weekend.”
Online too, after the initial outcry, there was something of a wave of support for the affected companies, with some tweeting their backing under the hashtag #saveSushiro.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Sushiro but haven’t been able to because it’s always crowded,” Japanese singer Yuya Tegoshi tweeted.
“But the situation now is the absolute worst for them, so I’m definitely going to visit.”
Sushiro president Kohei Nii said on Twitter he had been overwhelmed by “an outpouring of support.”
“I’m so grateful I could cry.”

 


Daughter charged after mom’s body found in Chicago freezer

Daughter charged after mom’s body found in Chicago freezer
Updated 03 February 2023

Daughter charged after mom’s body found in Chicago freezer

Daughter charged after mom’s body found in Chicago freezer

CHICAGO: A Chicago woman has been accused of keeping her mother’s dead body in a freezer for nearly two years while living in a nearby apartment.
Eva Bratcher, 69, appeared in court Thursday on charges of concealing her 96-year-old mother’s death and possessing a fraudulent identification card.
Regina Michalski’s body was discovered this week in a freezer in the garage near the apartment they had shared, police said. Investigators believe she died in March 2021. The cause won’t be determined until the body is thawed.
The allegations are “very disturbing,” Judge David Kelly said in setting a $20,000 bond for Bratcher.
Kelly turned down a defense lawyer’s request for a lower bond to get Bratcher out of jail.
She has past convictions for forgery, and investigators said they were trying to determine if Bratcher was collecting her late mother’s Social Security benefits, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Bratcher’s daughter, who lives in Kentucky, asked police to check the home after losing contact with her grandmother.
“What could go wrong? Apparently, everything,” Sabrina Watson said.


Jordan’s Queen Rania, US First Lady Biden meet in Washington

Jordan’s Queen Rania and US First Lady Dr. Jill Biden are pictured at the White House. (Queen Rania)
Jordan’s Queen Rania and US First Lady Dr. Jill Biden are pictured at the White House. (Queen Rania)
Updated 03 February 2023

Jordan’s Queen Rania, US First Lady Biden meet in Washington

Jordan’s Queen Rania and US First Lady Dr. Jill Biden are pictured at the White House. (Queen Rania)
  • The two have now met twice since US President Joe Biden took office

AMMAN: Jordan’s Queen Rania met with US First Lady Dr. Jill Biden at the White House on Wednesday.

The queen is accompanying King Abdullah II and Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah on a working visit to Washington DC.

During their meeting, Queen Rania and the first lady discussed issues of mutual interest, Jordan News Agency reported.

Queen Rania donned a royal blue long-sleeve dress and pointed heels while Biden opted for a belted red short-sleeve dress with heels in the same colour.

The queen posted a picture of the two of them on Instagram, with the caption: “It was a pleasure catching with the US First Lady Dr. Jill Biden yesterday.”

The pair have now met twice since US President Joe Biden took office, Jordan News Agency reported.

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