Friday, April 29, 2011

Bells and Calls

One of my correspondents in Frank's APA was talking about being in Malta. Malta is apparently quite Catholicy, and at one point on his visit the churches started ringing their bells simultanaeously, creating a weird and spacey sound effect. This reminded me of sitting on the walls of the castle above Tripoli in Lebanon and hearing a load of mosques simultanaeously doing the Muslim call to prayer. There was one long sustained note on which they all seemed to be unintentionally harmonising, creating a strange and otherworldy sound that cast me into unintentional direct contact with the sublime. It was on of the strangest and most fascinating experiences of my life. I know a lot of people who think that the world would be a better place if it could be expunged of religious devotion; it is experiences like that that convince me they are wrong.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Contemporary Music Centre – an apology

It turns out that a lot of what I wrote previously about the Contemporary Music Centre was not entirely true. Yes, that's right – inaccuracy mars blog. Looking at their website again, I see a number of things. Firstly, they do not really seem to publish CDs themselves, but rather their shop sells CDs by artists they support. They might stump up some of the money to fund the issuing of the CD, but I can see how they might feel that it is up to the record labels to really push the recording out to the public. In any case, the shoppy bit on their website is also quite usefully arranged, allowing you to browse music by subgenre and suchlike. So I do not know what crack I was smoking when I went on my rant against these fine fellows, although I still believe that the attitude of the people on that radio programme you have all forgotten about (an episode of Nova on Lyric FM, featuring a load of whiny composers) was a bit self-defeating.

I am making this apology of my own free will and without having had any undue influence brought against me. I have furthermore drafted this apology myself and am not being held in a dungeon underneath the Contemporary Music Centre and am not being repeatedly tortured by irate members of the Irish contemporary music community.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

If you had a pint of Harp…

Here is a link to a compilation of Irish music and stuff from the 1970s and 1980s: Níl Sé Anseo* – a combination of commercially released music, TV themes and ads, snippets of dialogue from ads and TV programmes, and so on. If you are Irish and roughly my age, listen to it and feel the nostalgia. If you are young or foreign then this is a fascinating vision into a strangely different time and place.

I particularly recommend this to anyone thinking of going on holidays, as it features a priest talking about how important it is to bring the Ten Commandments with you on holiday.

And no, I did not compile this myself (and I am not just saying that to scare off the copyright facists), but I think it deserves a wider audience.

*I can advise non Galtee readers that this means "He is not here".

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Important Concert Features


At the relatively recent Bowlie 2 festival I was talking to someone who said that she greatly enjoyed the Belle & Sebastian set. She was particularly grateful that they played 'Lord Anthony', as it meant she could nip off for a piss without missing any good songs.

image source

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Dreams In The Witch House

I went on holidays to Lanzarote in January. Flying home, I found myself listening to the strange electronic music of Broadcast, a wonderful accompaniment to my sleepy flight. The next day I learned that Trish Keenan of Broadcast had died following swine flu complications. People die all the time, particularly people involved in the world of music, but her death affected me a bit more than most. She is roughly the same age as me and was struck down not by some crazy rock star ailment but by a very everyday disease that could strike anyone at any time and usually just makes them a bit poorly for a couple of days. If the dice roll badly for her, they could for me too.

Keenan's death came at a time when my interest in the music of Broadcast was on the up. I had gone off them a bit around the time of Haha Sound (I had found that album a bit tuneless, though now I think perhaps it was just a transition from the faux-60s sound of their earlier recordings). I found reading about the recent album they had done with the Focus Group fascinating. It seemed like Broadcast were moving decisively in an almost occult direction, trying to become modern hierophants fashioning a spectral music evoking imaginary cults of cyber magi. The pictures of Broadcast that appeared in The Wire at this time were rather striking, with Keenan having put her youthful good looks behind her in favour of an aspect more akin to that of a high priestess of secret wisdom.

And now she is no more. I am very sorry now that I did not get to any of the festivals Broadcast played last year and I think with sympathy of James Cargill, her musical and life partner. Listening to the album Broadcast made with the Focus Group, I am struck by how spectral the record sounds. Now with Keenan actually dead, yet still able to sing to us from when she was alive, it is like she has herself become a ghost of the electronic age.

This is of course my second piece on Trish Keenan. You can read its rather similar predecessor here.

image source

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

More Syria Action

Oh look, I have posted the third part of my background pieces on Syria on my other blog.

I have also fixed links here.

image source

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Elisabeth Sladen

When I was very small, I used to watch Doctor Who. Tom Baker played the Doctor, Ian Marter played Harry, and Elisabeth Sladen played Sarah Jane Smith, who was kind of like all your nice primary school teachers rolled into one. After a while Ms Sladen left Dr Who, but she went on to appear on a TV programme for small people called Stepping Stones. After a while she stopped appearing on that as well and largely disappeared from the television. Some years later she showed up in a not-very-good Dr Who spin-off called K9 and Company, before returning to make occasional appearances on non-canonical nu-Dr Who.

Ian Marter died some years ago. And today I read that Elisabeth Sladen too has died, aged 63. Here is her last appearance on Doctor Who.

Fierce Otter Goes On Rampage


The Co. Clare town of Tulla has been terrorised by a fierce otter. Not realising that the townsfolk were trying to help it back to the wetlands that make up the usual otter environment, the furry menace lashed and snapped at all comers, repeatedly escaping from human custody. So fierce was the little fellow that he had exhausted himself by the time he was brought to the water he had to be saved from drowning and held in custody for another fifteen minutes until he was ready to swim and bite again.

More

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Selda [Untitled Finders Keepers album]

This was a Christmas present. As you know, Selda is this Turkish protest singer from whom Finders Keepers have brought us this record as part of their Anatolian Invasion series. I will not lie to you, I already had this on vinyl, but it is great getting a copy of it on CD so that I can blast it onto Mr iPod. Just a reminder of how this record works – Selda herself sings and plays guitar (or maybe a Turkish guitar-like instrument more akin to a bouzouki or some such), but here she is joined by the cream of the 1976 Turkish musical scene. They play a variety of electric instruments and electronically treated versions of Turkish traditional instruments. The result should perhaps be an awkward mish-mash of styles, neither satisfyingly one thing nor the other, but it somehow all works creating a wonderful folk-psych hybrid all driven by Selda's powerful voice. My Turkish is non-existent, so I have no idea what she is protesting against, but I feel like I have been persuaded to join her in opposing it.

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more Selda image action

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Shakira "She Wolf"


Rarrr! Now here is someone who is not afraid of digitisation. As you know, I have a certain fondness for Ms Shakira, which leads me to occasional acts of foolishness. She Wolf is of course Shakira's most recent album, one perhaps taking a more electronic pop direction than previously trod by her. I think this maybe suffers a bit too much from the over-relentlessness associated with today's pop music, so although there are a lot of great tunes on here the album is not really something you could put on and listen all the way through. Plus it is very much not really the kind of thing my actual beloved likes, so I have had to keep the record hidden from her.

The title track (which was probably a big pop hit or something) is a stormer, but even better is 'Loba' – the same song sung in Spanish. Shakira has been singing away in English for ages now, but she is still a way better singer in her native language. I remember in Portugal noticing that the contestants in some local X-Munter programme were also far better at singing in Portuguese than in English, so I am guessing that in general it is easier to sing in a language you speak well. I wonder why this is the case? You would think that singing is really just about hitting the notes, making understanding the words unimportant. Yet it does seem like people cannot really throw themselves into it unless they are fully comfortable with the language. Who knows? Anyway, I am sad that there is only one Spanish-language song on Shakira's album. Maybe it is time I tracked down one of the Spanish language albums from the flower of Colombian womanhood.

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He Bear

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Old Joy


Supreme Vagabond Craftsman Just You, Me and the Baby
Aidan Smith Fancy Barrel

I have been reviewing records for a while, typically in the pages of Frank's APA with the reviews subsequently appearing here where a tiny handful of people look at them. Yet I have never received any free music to review – UNTIL NOW. Thanks to a fortuitous bit of Facebook friend-tarting I have found myself pals with the guy who does the web design stuff for the record label Analogue Catalogue, from whence these two records come. I must be honest and say that neither of these records has grabbed me that much, but they are interesting to listen to, basically because of how they were recorded. Analogue Catalogue are kind of a recording studio with a label attached, and their studio's thing is that all the studio equipment they use is analogue. Apparently it is the only completely analogue recording studio in the UK (which probably means it is also the only one in these islands). Depending on your mindset you will either dismiss this as unpleasantly Luddite, if not crypto-rockist, or maybe you will hail it as some kind of return to a truly authentic way of recording music. I do not have any strong opinions either way on the analogue-digital debate (a debate that digital has won by force of numbers, let's face it), but I do like that there is room for at least one all-analogue studio in the world.

Right now I am listening to songs from these two records that have been ripped to my computer from the compact discs that came my way. Even going through those two intermediate layers of digitisation, the records still have an "analogue" feel to them – a somewhat rawer sound and an almost acoustic quality even when the musicians are playing electric instruments. Of course, a lot of this could be down to the production rather than the recording equipment, and both records being produced and engineered by Julie McLarnon (or Ms Analogue Catalogue) would perhaps give them a more uniform sound. But still, there is an interesting quality to the sound that makes me think the world could stand to have more music recorded this way. I also think I could do with listening to these records a bit more, so that I could have something to say to you about the music on them rather than how they were recorded.

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analogue polar bear

Monday, April 11, 2011

Syria


Over on my other blog, I have posted two pieces on Syria, one of several Middle Eastern countries currently facing unrest:

Syria part 1: Before the Assads

Syria part 2: The Hafez al-Assad years

I have not posted the third part yet, as I am still finishing it.

If you are further interested in these things, I wrote a much shorter summary of things you hear over and over again about Syria back in 2007: I know all about Syria

image source

EDIT: Broken link fixed

Dogs Recognise Owner's Faces

Scientists have discovered that dogs recognise the faces of their owners. Furthermore, dogs prefer their owners to random strangers. However, dogs find it hard to recognise their owners if they have their faces covered.

More on this astonishing research

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tsunami dog reunited with owner

Japan's earthquake and tsunami has led to many sad stories of people dying or losing their homes and all their possessions. There have however also been stories of people being rescued and reunited with loved ones they feared lost. One story that touched the heart of many was the tale of a little dog who was found floating on the roof of a house that had been washed out to sea (see here). The latest news is that her owner saw the footage of the rescue and recognised her, leading to an emotional reunion. Apparently the dog jumped up and wagged her tail as soon as the owner arrived for her (more).

It is easy to scoff at heart-warming stories about animals in the context of a disaster that has claimed thousands of human lives. However, as was previously the case with Hurricane Katrina in the USA, for people who have lost everything in a natural disaster reunification with a pet can often be a great comfort.

In other Japan animal related news, here is a brave Yorkshire Terrier being checked for exposure to radiation:
(source)

And here is a dog looking at his owner being checked for radiation. Or the other way round:
(source)

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Saturday, April 09, 2011

How We Have Changed

An overheard conversation:

"Did you get anything special for lunch?"

"Ah no. Just sushi".



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Réaltaí Madra cliste I Drámaíocht Ceoil

Also from last October comes the story of Rosie, a Yorkshire Terrier who played the part of Toto in a stage version of The Wizard of Oz. As this was a production in Belfast being performed in the Irish language, Rosie had to learn how to respond to commands in that most difficult of languages. She had no problems doing this and apparently stole the show every night.

The picture shows Rosie with Ms Andrea Franklin, who played Dorothy.

More

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Friday, April 08, 2011

Dog Rescued From Tree

And now I present an old animal story. Last October, a border collie named Belle caused a sensation in Staffordshire when, perhaps thinking she was a cat, she climbed and got stuck in a tree. She eventually had to be rescued by firemen, while the seven other dogs her owner had been walking watched.

More (with film of the rescue)

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Ghostbox Attack

Roj 'You Are Here' / 'The Salt Path' (feat. Wolfram Wire)
The Focus Group & The Advisory Circle [Ghost Box Free 3 Track e.p.]
The Advisory Circle 'Energy In The Home'
The Focus Group 'We Are Coming To Dance With You'

So you know the way I have been asking people for recommendations of material from the Ghost Box label? I decided to take the bull by the horns and sign up for their mailing list, which entitles you to these free downloads. So what are they like? Well, the Roj tracks are unusual in that they are by neither of the two guys who do almost all other Ghost Box releases (under such names as Belbury Poly, the Focus Group, The Advisory Circle, Old Peculiar, Uncle Jeremy's Country Ramble etc.). Roj (a former keyboardist with Broadcast) still makes music conforming to the general Ghost Box aesthetic (i.e. old-school electronic with a spooky undercurrent). However, his tunes are maybe a bit different in that they do not really sound like they were knocked off in the mid-70s on a BBC Radiophonic Workshop lunchbreak. They are also maybe a good bit more spooky than the general Ghost Box oeuvre, particularly on the track where some German guy starts mumbling away in a cryptic manner (though perhaps less cryptic or spooky if you can actually understand German).

The tracks from the other two artists are similar to each other yet distinctive. The Advisory Circle goes more for blobbly wobbly synths combined occasionally with distorted vocal samples from old TV programmes. The Focus Group go more for what sounds like collages based on samples from funny old bits and bobs, all with an oddly high-tech retro feel to them. These tracks are all interesting and definitely worth the nothing I paid for them, and they serve to further pique my interest in the Ghost Box oeuvre.

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Ghost Bear

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Beny Moré "The Essential Beny Moré"

Already covered more impressively in the pages of Frank's APA by my beloved (for whom I bought this as a Christmas present), this is a recording of music by the Cuban sensation Beny Moré. I do not actually know that much about Cuban music, beyond knowing that I like it, so what I can tell you about Señor Moré is a tad limited. Basically, he came from the town of Cienfuegos and sang with Cuban big bands. I think people sometimes describe him as the Cuban Sinatra, only without all the rubbishness that implies. And he drank himself to death at an astonishingly early age. The music is not unlike what you would expect if you have ever heard a big Cuban jazz-influenced band. And this record is essential – suave uplifting music for sophisticated people like you and me.

Listening to this brings me back to actually being in Cienfuegos, where we stayed in a Casa Particular and enjoyed the classic Cuban experience – a friendly and loquacious host who babbles away to you in Spanish you can barely understand. There were these other visitors there, from Germany, who could of course chat away easily in Spanish. They kept asking the hosts to put on Beny Moré, which they would, much to all our delight. But the hosts would soon say something about how the other guests being from Germany must surely be only pretending to like Beny, so instead they would put on the only German record they had – Die schönsten Balladen von Richard Clayderman.

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Bear Moré

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

I've Still Got It


I am so edgy that after seeing a film in the recent Jameson Dublin International Film Festival I then went along to a drum and bass club! Man, those are really happening sounds. It was fascinating being back in a proper dance club, (venue: Twisted Pepper) for the first time in years. The dark basement bit was the best, as the lack of light hid how old I was and made me feel like less of an undercover Guard. The performers were great, being some kind of DJ collective over from the UK who had live MCs doing stuff over the records, something that added greatly to music's attack. It was all most splendid. I wish I could remember who the artists were. Maybe I will go again to one of these boom raves sometime soon.

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Drum and Bear

Monday, April 04, 2011

Dean Wareham Salutes The Magic of Galaxie 500

So you know Dean Wareham. Or maybe you do not. He played guitar and wrote (or co-wrote?) songs in Galaxie 500, back in the Beforetime. Then that band split up for mysterious reasons he formed another band that plodded away for a long time and then also split up. Now he makes music with his lovely wife, Britta Phillips. And for whatever reason he is now touring playing the songs of Galaxie 500, a band who in their short time attracted adulation from a small number of people. I saw the last few songs he played at Bowlie Deux before Christmas, and was blown away, so I was very excited when Wareham announced that he was playing a concert on the tour here in Dublin city in the Workman's Club, a new venue.

Wareham was playing with the wife and some bloke on drums whose name I did not catch*. If you know Galaxie 500 you will get the musical idea here – angsty strangulated vocals over soaring guitar lines and impressively non-plodding drums. One thing I noticed live bigtime was that although people might think of the 500 as some kind of effete indie band, they would basically pass the Irene's brothers test of rock – as it seems like every one of their songs features a monster guitar solo. These are obviously a lot more impressive live than on record, with the likes of 'When Will You Come Home' being transformed from second division plodders into crowd-pleasing anthems thanks to the increased prominence of live soloing.

We were also interested by the titbits about song-lyrics that Wareham gave us. One thing I had not really picked up on was the extent to which the 500 were a drøgs band, but it turns out that a significant number of their tunes were inspired by acid trips. That is maybe obvious in retrospect with something like 'Decomposing Trees' and its lyrics about having conversation with your toes. More revelatory was the discovery that 'Strange' (the one with the lyric 'Why does everybody look so strange? Why does everybody look so nasty?') is not about alienation but about a time Wareham went to a convenience store while tripping his nuts off. My concert companions were glad that they were not aware of this shocking truth when they first started obsessing over Galaxie 500 as impressionable teenagers.

And that's about it, really. The crowd were very reverential, to the extent of shushing people who were applauding too loudly after songs when Wareham was trying to tell anecdotes. It seemed like maybe the best songs were cover versions, with the most epic moment of the night being the break in 'Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste'.

However, I did acquire some product at this performance. I remember back at Bowlie Deux Wareham mentioned that they were going to be selling his most recent record with Britta Phillips afterwards, and I thought "srsly dude, after listening to loads of Galaxie 500 tunes, why would anyone want that?". It was only subsequently that I discovered that the affecting version of 'I'll Keep It With Mine' (as popularised by Nico) was never recorded by Galaxie 500 and is in fact from the Dean & Britta album 13 Most Beautiful Songs. So I decided to buy it. It is an interesting work, being songs composed or recorded to go with a screening of various screen tests filmed by Andy Warhol (with 'I'll Keep It With Mine' being the song for Nico's own screen test). They tried to trim their musical sails to the person whose screen test they were accompanying, covering an obscure Velvet Underground tracks for Lou Reed's screen test and writing appropriate tunes for the others.

The overall musical effect is not particularly reminiscent of any of the other bands Wareham has been in, reminding me of neither Luna nor Galaxie 500. Looking at the credits I was not surprised to see that Sonic Boom shows up on one or two of the tracks, as there is a narcotic sense to a lot of the tracks that calls to mind the more smacked out work by Spacemen 3 or the material Sonic has thrown onto his sublime Spacelines compilation. I suppose that goes well with the kind of chemical carry-on current in Warhol's circle.

I understand that Dean & Britta have also been touring the 13 Most Beautiful Songs show, playing with the screen tests being projected above them. That sounds rather appealing and could work as much as an entertaining art project as a straight concert. So maybe one day this show will come to Dublin.

*which was a shame, as his drumming was amazing.

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13 Saddest Bear Pictures

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Three Records of Strange Music

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Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age
Bo Hansson Lord of the Rings
The Flaming Lips Embryonic

I went music mad a while ago and brought these three records of weirdo music together on the one day (but not at the same tyme – last two were in Tower, but I could only find the first in HMV). The Broadcast and Focus Group album I of course acquired not long after hearing of Trish Keenan's death. It is an odd record, being in some respects a remixing of new Broadcast work by Mr Focus Group, while in other ways it seems like a record the Broadcasters made in direct collaboration with him. Some of it is song-based, in so far as the more recent music of Broadcast ever sounds like songs, while a lot of it seems like typical Focus Group sound-collage, albeit with a lot of the fragments seeming to have been culled from Broadcast's studio endeavours. It is meant to sound like the title suggests – calling to mind an occult investigation of the contemporary world.

I like it, but I must make certain warnings to the unwary who are thinking of approaching it. The record works best altogether, and not as separate tracks. One of the more song-based pieces is 'The Be Colony', featuring a delightfully narcotic vocal from Trish Keenan. I had previously heard it on the Rough Trade Counter Culture album for 2009, where it does not really make much impact. Listened to here, however, it seems like one of the best things ever.

Bo Hansson also died surprisingly recently. He was some old Swedish hippy who made records that maybe were not big sellers although they did have a considerable afterlife as cult artefacts. His Lord of the Rings album is, obviously, inspired by the Tolkien classic. Keyboard-heavy, it is more like a soundtrack to an imaginary film than a musical dramatisation of the book. Without any of the electronic trickery available to Broadcast (or the Focus Group) it manages to have a similarly occult feel to it. This is a record I have heard before, but the most striking part of it for me is the intro to 'The Black Riders (Flight to the Ford)'. And why? Well, this is used to soundtrack one of the pivotal scenes in Lukas Moodysson's film Together (the one about the Swedish hippies living in a commune in the 1970s, featuring loads of Swedish music from that era). The whole album is great and would work as a great soundtrack to sitting around in a relaxed frame of mind discussing important issues in the great book of the 20th century (like… what do people in Mordor eat? I mean, if the whole place is basically a volcanic slag heap, yet is full of the huge hosts of Sauron, what does he feed them on?)

And then to Embryonic. I had rather lost touch with The Flaming Lips. It seemed a bit like they had lost touch with their wayward art-nutter sides in favour of courting bland mainstream success with easily approached ballads like that one about someone called Yoshimi and her struggle against pink robots. But then I started hearing that they had gone all weird again. Doing a track-for-track cover of The Dark Side of the Moon suggested a certain return to odd form (or a certain desire to cover one of the most successful albums of all time, for cash), and then this album came out. You may have seen the cover – it's the one with Wayne Coyne looking like he is being born out of some lady's vagina. The music is from the more dense side of the Flaming Lips oeuvre, featuring not so much of the crooning ballads but a lot of funny noises and tracks that chug along in a distorted big rock kind of way. I am becoming quite fond of this record and so I am excited that the band are going to be playing in Dublin this summer, as the Flaming Lips have acquired the reputation as one of the great live bands of our times and I reckon these tracks would sound great live.

My favourite track on Embryonic of course is 'I Can Be A Frog', in which the lyrics go "She said* I can be a X", where X is the name of (usually) an animal, and they have Karen O on guest vocals doing noises over the phone for the appropriate animal. Rarrrr!

*I think it was Freaky Trigger's Tom Ewing who pointed out what a great idea it is to include the words "She said" in songs you write, as it suggests to your listeners that you might actually know some women.

Broadcast & Focus Group image source

Lord of the Rings image source

Embryonic image source

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Lazy Lions Slow Research

Lions are unusual animals. Male lions have the characteristic mane, something not seen in any other type of big cat. The most unusual thing about lions is their sociability. Other big cats (and, indeed, small cats) are naturally solitary, hunting and living on their own. Lions, however, live in groups, hunting and hanging out together. Quite why they do this has proved something of a mystery, with various theories being advanced over the years to explain this odd behaviour. The three most commonly advanced are that their social living is driven by communal hunting, collective suckling of young and protection of cubs from other predators.

Professor Craig Parker set himself and his team the task of solving the conundrum of lions' social behaviour. They hoped that observing lions in action in the Serengeti would generate data that would make clear what advantage the big cats derived from their sociability. The initial expectation was that the project would take three years. Unfortunately, it ended up taking 45 – because lions are so lazy that they engage in so little activity that it took ages and ages to observe enough actual actions from which to start drawing conclusions.

Parker eventually found enough evidence to rebut the existing theories and to back a new one. This is that lions live together so that they can better defend prime hunting territory from rival lions. The most sought after territories for lions turned out to be areas where rivers converged together, with prides of lions that could not gain access to these typically being doomed to eventual disappearance.

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Saturday, April 02, 2011

Friendly Ferret Takes The Train

Or does he? A male ferret temporarily named Mickey was found at Edinburgh's Haymarket station, shortly after the arrival of the train from London. Mickey has proved to be a friendly fellow, and is believed to be someone's pet. It is not clear whether he arrived on the train from London or if he just wandered into the station from nearby. It is hoped that his owner will come forward.

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Friday, April 01, 2011

Clever Cat Saves Owner

There are many famous cases of dogs intervening to save the lives of humans suffering a medical emergency. Not to be outdone, Lily the cat is believed to have saved the life of Nathan Cooper, after he suffered a severe epileptic fit. Mr Cooper temporarily stopped breathing, but Lily started licking his mouth and apparently started him breathing again. On other occasions, Lily has given advance notice that Mr Cooper is about to have a seizure, which allow his family to move furniture and reduce the risk of his injuring himself.

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