News you may have missed...
December 1998

This week's column is in memory of Giant Haystacks.
Rest in peace, big man.

Giant Haystacks dies of cancer

LONDON, Dec 1 (AFP) - Giant Haystacks, one of Britain's most famous celebrity wrestlers, has died after a two-year battle against cancer, it was announced on Tuesday. The 50-year-old, real name Martin Ruane, made his reputation in the 1980s as the villain of the piece in a series of duels against arch rival Big Daddy. "It's very sad. He was one of the great stars of wrestling and I am sure he would have fought right up until the end," said former promoter Max Crabtree, the brother of Big Daddy. "He was a big star and always played the bad guy but he loved his wife Rita and his three children." The wrestler had undergone surgery and chemotherapy to remove a tumour in his abdomen at Christies cancer hospital in Manchester and his weight had plummeted from his trademark 49 stone (310-kg) to 24 stone during his long battle.

Interviewed in April of this year Haystacks said: "I don't want to thrash the world anymore or beat the living daylights out of my ring rivals. My greatest joy these days is just waking up, seeing the blue sky and hearing the birds sing. Cancer was my biggest opponent and the worst thing is you cannot see it...you never know where it is going to attack you from next. I was a big strong guy but I was still terrified of what was happening to me. In my career I've broken most of my bones. I've been covered in bruises and had gashes requiring 500 stitches. But nothing prepared me for my fear of dying on the operating table, powerless to fight back."

Haystacks was best remembered for his favoured technique of hurling his unfortunate opponent to the canvas before 'splashing' his considerable bulk on top of them. In his prime, the wrestler would attract a television audience of up to 16 million and would eat a box of Weetabix cereal, 3lb of bacon, a dozen eggs and a loaf of bread -- for breakfast.

Soccer: Sao Paulo bow out to cries of "shock absorbers"

RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 13 (Reuters) - Three times Brazilian champions Sao Paulo bowed out of this year's competition to the bizarre chant of "shock absorbers, shock absorbers" from fans. One of the weirdest soccer songs ever heard came in reply to comments made earlier in the week by club president Jose Augusto Bastos Neto about the reduced capacity of the club's Morumbi stadium. Sao Paulo city authorities lowered the capacity of the upper tier from 40,000 to 13,000 until shock absorbers are placed in the structure.

Authorities say they are needed to reduce the impact caused by fans jumping and down in unison, which causes the stadium to wobble alarmingly. But Bastos Neto said on Monday he was not prepared to spend the money. "Wherever I go people shout for players (jogador in Portuguesa)," he said. "You never hear the crowd chant shock absorber (amortecedor)." But during Thursday's 2-0 win over Atletico Paranaense he was made to eat his words as the cries of "amortecedor" echoed around the ground. Sao Paulo finished 15th in the qualifying stage of the Brazilian championship and were eliminated. The Morumbi, which once held 110,000, now holds just 53,000 after the new ruling.

Dead German found sitting at home, five years on

BONN, Nov 19 (Reuters) - A dead German sat in front of his television set for five years, the lights on his Christmas tree flashing beside him, and none of his neighbours noticed. "Someone said once that he had gone off to a home, I didn't ask any more," said Monika Majarres, who lived in the same Hamburg block of flats as Wolfgang Dircks, a divorced, disabled loner who died in 1993, aged 43.

The two neighbours on his floor only moved in four years ago and had never seen Dircks, a former toolsmith who had reportedly threatened to whip anyone who asked after him. Other tenants in the 18-flat block minded their own business. Bild newspaper said on Thursday the dead man's letter box, which might have raised the alarm when it overflowed, had been emptied every now and then, though no one knows by whom. The landlords came knocking only after the bank account from which Dirck's rent and bills were paid ran dry. Beside the broken television set and the still twinkling tree they found his skeleton -- his TV listings magazine still on his lap and open on the page for December 5, 1993.

Child reports mother for dead baby kept in freezer

STOCKHOLM, Nov 19 (Reuters) - A mother who had stored a dead baby in her freezer was reported to the authorities by one of her children, Swedish police said on Thursday. Police in Osmo, south of Stockholm, said they were notified of the dead baby following an argument between the mother and her son. Police dogs found the body in the woods, where the mother had hidden it when she knew police were on their way.

The woman has so far not been charged, although a crime could not be ruled out, police said. Social workers were taking care of the woman and her two children, both of them minors. Police would not give the children's exact ages, or confirm Swedish media reports that the body had been in the freezer for 10 years. "We must see what the examination of the body shows," Christer Holmer, a police inspector, told Reuters.

Oklahoma zookeeper loses arm in tapir attack

OKLAHOMA CITY, Nov 20 (Reuters) - A Malayan tapir on Friday bit off the arm of a woman keeper who was feeding it in its pen, Oklahoma City zoo director Steve Wylie said. The woman, whose name and age had not been released, was in critical condition at a local hospital, "She was severely injured, and dismembered her left arm. She received a lot of other lacerations and probably some broken bones," Wylie said. He said the female tapir had an infant, which may have been part of the reason it attacked. The Malayan tapir, a native of southeast Asia, resembles a black and white pig with an extended snout. It can weigh 800 pounds and on average grows to a height of three feet at the shoulder.

Elderly Florida man has scare with alligators

PALM HARBOR, Fla., Nov 24 (Reuters) - An elderly Florida man was shocked this week when he woke up in the pond behind his house staring into the faces of many alligators, police said on Tuesday. James Currens, 77, said he believed he had been sleepwalking before dawn on Monday when he stumbled down an embankment and into the water. Frail, and with a reconstructed knee, Currens was unable to pull himself out of the muck, so he shouted for help. A neighbor summoned help about 5 a.m.

At first police saw the crowd of alligators, but not Currens, a Pinellas County Sheriff's Department spokesmen said. But Currens yelled, "I'm where your light is," after they tried shining a flashlight. Police Cpl. James Cooper worked his way through the mud and brush, where he saw that 8-10 alligators were just a few feet from Currens. Currens extended his cane, and Cooper used it to pull him to safety. Currens was taken to a hospital for treatment of cuts on his legs.

Stating the bleedin' obvious, 1.0.1

JANESVILLE, Wis., Nov 30 (Reuters) - A 15-year-old girl whose lifeless, emaciated body weighed just 15 pounds (6.8 kg) when brought to a hospital last week died from starvation and dehydration, the coroner said on Monday. The girl, Kay Kuffer, was just 38 inches (97 cm) tall and weighed 12.2 pounds (5.5 kg) at autopsy, pathologist Robert Huntington III said. Preliminary results of the autopsy showed the cause of death was starvation and dehydration.

The girl's mother, Karen Kuffer, 50, has been charged with neglect and told police her daughter had suffered from cerebral palsy and other health problems since birth. Police said the girl had not received medical care for some time and appeared to have been bedridden. A lawyer for Kuffer, who was free on bond, said she was very poor and cared for her handicapped child as best she could.

Absinthe makes U.K. comeback after 80-year absence

LONDON, Dec 1 (Reuters) - Absinthe, the fiery green tipple with a high alcohol content, is making a comeback in Britain after an 80-year absence. The drink, renowned for its hallucinogenic properties, has been banned in France, Switzerland, Belgium and the United States since World War One, but was never formally outlawed in this country. Now the drink, which packs a serious kick with its content of up to 75 percent alcohol, is being marketed as the perfect way to see in the millennium.

Green Bohemia, a company set up by a literary magazine called Idler, said on Tuesday it had secured a contract with a small Czech distillery to distribute absinthe in Britain. It should be available from next week via the Internet, by mail order and in a small number of London bars for about 40 pounds ($66) a bottle. "We feel it is the perfect drink to celebrate the millennium with," a spokesman for Green Bohemia said. The aniseed-flavoured drink which turns milky when water is added became popular in western Europe at the turn of the century after blight wiped out grape harvests and the price of wine soared. It was banned in France after being linked with a series of violent crimes. Absinthe intoxication is popularly held responsible for artist Vincent Van Gogh's mutilation of his own ear.

Thief dies after eating chicken, feathers and all

YAOUNDE, Dec 2 (Reuters) - An enraged Cameroon mob forced a chicken thief to eat the bird: meat, feathers, bones and beak. Shortly afterwards the thief -- named only as Henri -- went to a local police station in the country's second city of Douala, "where he collapsed...and died", Le Messager newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Houston junks error-ridden youth education guide

HOUSTON, Dec 3 (Reuters) - A booklet advising young people about Houston's city programs and available education facilities was so riddled with spelling and grammatical errors it had to be thrown out, city officials said on Thursday. Words misspelled in the 14-page brochure for the Texas city included "library," "teaches" and "national." An aide to Houston Mayor Lee Brown said that of the 2,500 copies printed, only a small number had been distributed before the shoddy spelling was spotted. "That document is a poor document and I would not feel good about giving it to anyone," said Donald Hollingsworth, an executive assistant to Brown. He said the mayor's $67,000-a-year director for youth services who had written the booklet might be disciplined. Brown, formerly a police chief in both Houston, Atlanta and New York, was elected Mayor last year promising to improve Houston schools.

S.Africans take flamethrower aboard to fight crime

JOHANNESBURG, Dec 11 (Reuters) - Crime-obsessed South Africans have a new and potent weapon with which to deter potential criminals -- the in-car flamethrower. Casting a man-high fireball with no damage to the paintwork, the aptly named Blaster has been fitted to 25 South African vehicles since its launch last month. At 3,900 rand ($655), it offers a cheap and dramatic defence against would-be car hijackers. It has also yet to be deemed illegal.

South African courts sanction lethal action if they can be persuaded that someone acted in defence of his or her life -- not unheard-of in a country that suffered over 13,000 car hijackings last year. The Blaster fires liquified gas from a bottle in the vehicle boot through two nozzles, positioned under the front doors, which is then ignited by an electric spark, with ferocious consequences. Both sides fire simultaneously, regardless of whether the attack is coming from just one side of the vehicle -- or whether passersby are on the other side.

"My personal feeling is that it would definitely blind a person -- he will never see again," said Charl Fourie, the Blaster's 33-year-old inventor. But he dismissed fears that the flamethrower -- whose breadth and depth of blast can be adjusted to need and is supplied by gas cannisters in sizes from three to nine kgs (6.6 to 19.8 pounds) -- could ever be responsible for a death. "This is definitely non-lethal...A person won't just stand there and let you roast him," he said. Fourie has filed an international patent application and anticipates thousands of orders, nationally and from abroad. "The demand is huge," he told Reuters Television.

South Africa has an appalling reputation for violent crime and its first national survey, published on Thursday, found that 20 percent of households had experienced at least one incident in 1997. Car hijacking is one of the crimes South Africans most fear, with criminals often using weapons and showing little or no hesitation to kill for a car. Police Superintendent David Walkley of Johannesburg's crime intelligence unit was the Blaster's first customer and is satisfied it is all above board -- provided it is used corectly. "There is nothing that says this is illegal. It depends entirely on the circumstances and whether you can justify self-defence. "Yes, there are certain risks in using it, but there are also risks in not having anything at all," he said.

The ultimate Belgian Xmas present -- a grass skirt

OVERIJSE, Belgium, Dec 15 (Reuters) - Dior, Lagerfeld and Versace eat your heart out. A Belgian horticulturalist has come up with the ultimate ecological fashion statement to give your loved one this Christmas: a skirt made of live grass. The clothes -- skirts, tops and dresses -- are the idea of Luc Mertes, who lives in the Belgian town of Overijse. The grass is grown on jute matting, instead of earth, for about 25 days, and is then made into garments which continue to grow while you wear them. The end product is striking, if not comfortable: the clothes weigh several kilograms (pounds) and the water needed to keep the grass alive makes them quite damp. "It's a bit of a joke, really," said Mertes, who tells the friends for whom he makes the clothes: "Make sure you water your skirt once a day and mow it once a month."

Peruvians find someone who likes airline food

LIMA, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Pigs may not fly -- but in Peru they stuff their snouts with business class airline meals. Pigs in Lima are being fed left-overs smuggled illegally from planes landing at Jorge Chavez international airport, a local newspaper reported Wednesday. Police discovered that companies contracted to incinerate garbage from planes at the airport were diverting left-over meals to a clandestine pig farm, according to El Comercio. The law stipulates all airline garbage must be incinerated to avoid the spread of disease.

Chinese women to become designer footballers

BANGKOK, Dec 12 (AFP) - China's women footballers will wear specially designed body hugging outfits from next year aiming to give added attraction to their already admired skills. Zhang Jilong, vice chairman of the Chinese Football Association, said: "The new uniforms of the Chinese footballers will be of style, freshness and attraction." The red and white outfits are being specially made for the team by equipment-maker Adidas. Zhang, one of the supervisors of the Asian Games football, said the sleeves and shorts would be shortened and the uniforms would be tighter against the players' bodies.

Till now women have had to wear baggy male-style outfits, with the shorts often longer than their knees. Zhang said they had "none of the aesthetical taste of the beauty of the female body." The outfits are bound to become an established fashion item in women's soccer, and follow a similar campaign by volleyball to give competitors greater TV appeal. At the recent world volleyball world championships seven teams were fined for not using new skimpy shorts and shirts imposed by the International Volleyball Federation. They also offered cash prizes for the best dressed teams.

Man bites dog #1: Italian pensioner robs 10-year-old beggar

ROME, Dec 13 (Reuters) - A 66-year-old Italian pensioner was caught on Sunday after robbing a 10-year-old gypsy girl who had been begging in a busy Rome shopping street, police said. The girl shouted "thief, thief" after the man made off with her bag of small change. Police on duty nearby rushed to the scene, stopped the man and took him to a local police station to charge him with robbery. The girl was given back her money.

Man bites dog #2: Indonesian troops throw Molotovs at students

JAKARTA, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Clashes between Indonesian troops and students resumed after a brief halt for Moslem prayers on Thursday evening with some soldiers hurling Molotov cocktails at the protesters, witnesses said. Thousands of students had earlier tried to march on parliament in the centre of the capital, blocked by troops who fired volleys of rubber bullets and teargas at them.
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