Sound asleep and serene, Siamese twins Faith and Hope are surviving despite the odds

Their arms are wrapped around each other as they sleep peacefully. But this picture of serenity is one Faith and Hope's parents might never have seen.

For when Laura Williams was told she was pregnant with Siamese twins, she and her husband Aled, 28, were advised to abort them. Although the survival rate for conjoined babies is very low, the couple, from Shrewsbury, refused on moral grounds.

On Wednesday their girls were delivered by Caesarean section, with a combined weight of 10lb 8oz. Mrs Williams, 18, the youngest woman to give birth to conjoined twins, told The Mail on Sunday: 'They wheeled me in to see them.

'They had tucked Hope's arm underneath and it was Faith's arm that I could see. I took her hand and she was grasping my hand.

'They were both blowing bubbles. They were so beautiful. After everything everyone said, I'm so glad to have proved them wrong.'

Conjoined twins are caused when the single egg from which identical twins develop fails to divide fully.

The survival rate is between 5 per cent and 25 per cent. Faith and Hope, joined from the breastbone to the navel, were delivered at University College Hospital, London.

The delivery involved a medical team of 30, with two sets of implements. Obstetric consultant Pat O'Brien said: 'The birth went as well as we could possibly have hoped for.'

They were then taken to Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Although the girls are stable, they have abnormal hearts, share important blood vessels and are joined at the liver and intestine, said paediatric surgeon Agostino Pierro. 'The current concern is that the two hearts and joined circulation raise a risk that the children might suddenly deteriorate and need emergency separation surgery.'

The babies would normally be separated when older and stronger but doctors will decide whether to operate this week.

Jetpack stuntman makes history by flying across 1,000ft deep canyon

A daredevil wearing a jet pack has flown across a 1,500-foot wide canyon in southern Colorado.

Eric Scott took 21 seconds to cross the Royal Gorge at 75 mph on Monday. It says he didn't use a parachute while flying across the 1,100-foot deep canyon.

He was wearing a jet pack powered by hydrogen peroxide and developed by Jet Pack International. The company developed it for stunts, promotions and other events for Go Fast.

'There is no parachute. There is no safety net. There is no air bag. But there is 800 horsepower on my back,' said the former TV stuntman.

It took just 21 seconds of deafening thrust to take the 45-year-old across the chasm, setting all kinds of world records.

Scott had never flown more than a couple of hundred yards and had never been that high.

The stuntman had just 33 seconds of fuel on his back, and some of those seconds were needed for starting and hovering to land.

'Fear either makes people suck it up and get it right or they lose it,' Scott told the Denver Post newspaper. 'I'm the Evel Knievel that makes it to the other side.'

'He knew if he didn't make it, he wasn't going to make it,' said Troy Widgery, founder and chief executive of Denver's Go Fast energy drink company, which sponsors Scott and Jetpack International.

'I've always, since I was a kid, wanted a jet pack,' Widgery said. 'Who hasn't?'

At 135lbs, Scott's pack is the most technologically advanced flying machine in existence, said Eric Strauss, the Boulder aerospace engineer who designed it.

The pack wobbles at around 60 mph — and Strauss knew Scott would need to reach at least 75 mph.

'I knew he would have to reach his highest speed ever - his highest and the pack's highest speed,' Strauss said. 'He is so amazing. He is the best jet-pack pilot in the world.'

In Search of the Mysterious Sea Serpent

Rocking gently on the waves, a small fishing boat watches the swell of the seas, waiting for the day’s catch to willingly swim into the waiting trap. A fog closes in and the day turns dark before it’s time. Suddenly, they feel a thud against the boat. The waters stir and a creature like nothing they’ve ever seen before emerges from the depths. Petrified, they look up, up a long neck to see bright flashing eyes, the head of a sea-turtle and the lithe, smooth body of a snake. And they forget about their catch of the day, for this is the dreaded sea serpent.

Sea serpents have been sighted for centuries, there are a number of records in Europe dating back to the mid 16th century, at least. The secretive creatures were known to ancient cultures in the Near East; Aristotle was aware of them, and they make an appearance in the Bible. Most sea serpents are reported as large and reptilian; many types have been seen in lakes (‘Nessie’ in Loch Ness, Scotland) and oceans.

Oar Fish

Assuming that most sightings are ‘real’ and not hoaxes created for publicity purposes, precise identification is a difficult and fascinating problem. We can set aside theories that rest upon improbable events such as the survival of a small breeding population of marine dinosaurs (plesiosaurs). A few sea serpent sightings may be mis-identifications of rare, very large, unusual fish such as the oar fish, that can only be accurately identified by a professional ichthyologist, but this still leaves the majority of sea serpents mysterious and without precise identification. To add to the challenge, excitement, fascination and fear will cause many observers to exaggerate the size of a sea serpent that is only seen for a few minutes.

If Not a Sea Serpent, What Then?

Many sea serpent sightings can be matched to sightings of either a giant octopus or giant squid by people unaware of these very rare creature’s complete body form and habits. It is impossible to obtain a view of the entire body of these giant cephalopods unless the observer is underwater or a dead animal washes up on a beach. The known giant octopus of temperate oceans reaches 23 ft in length and can weigh up to 157lbs. The largest octopus species is the seven armed octopus, which can reach 4 m in length and a weight of 75kg. A large octopus has tentacles that it might raise into the air when swimming just below the surface of the ocean. These tentacles might then look like the long neck of a large reptile with a small head. Although early prints of the Kraken, which have allegedly been seen off the coasts of Norway and Iceland, often depict the creature as a giant octopus, it is now believed to be the giant squid of the North Atlantic.

Giant Squid

Squid tentacles make up more than half the total body length, and, like the octopus, could easily be mistaken for something more ominous. The writhing limbs of a giant quid can reach up to 43 ft in length and weigh a whopping 610 lbs, and as with many species in the animal kingdom, the female is larger than the male.

Closely related is the largest squid species of all, the colossal squid. They can be found in Antarctic oceans and the deep Southern Pacific Ocean, and, as with the giant squid, is preyed upon by sperm whales. The largest known specimen weighed more than half a ton.

Fossilised skeleton of 114-foot long Hydrarchos, 1845

Nonetheless, there are sea serpent sightings that cannot be easily attributed to giant cephalopods. The next time you are walking on a beach, sailing or on a cruise ship, keep your camera ready. You might have a chance to contribute to the sea serpent legend that has fascinated the world for many centuries, and whose mystery has yet to be completely solved.

'Pregnant man' shows off five-month-old daughter on U.S. TV and says baby No.2 will complete our 'American dream'

The transgender man who gave birth to a baby has showed off his daughter on an American television show.

Thomas Beatie shocked the world earlier this year when he gave birth to daughter Susan, despite having had a sex change operation.

Now Beatie, from Bend, Oregon, has revealed he is 10-weeks pregnant with his second baby.

We are living the American dream right now and I couldn't be happier.

'I have my loving wife and this miracle of a baby, I couldn't be happier,' he told Good Morning America.

Beatie, 34, was a former lesbian who had chest reconstruction and testosterone therapy, but chose to keep his female reproductive organs.

Beatie, who was born Tracy Lagondino, gave birth to Susan in June amid a blitz of media scrutiny.

He had been inseminated at home by his wife Nancy, 46, with sperm from a donor.

'She (Susan) is such a happy baby, she loves to smile and laugh,' he said.

'I had a natural birth. People do recognise me now, I am really surprised, New York is a big city but people recognise us instantaneously now I think.

'They say "That's the pregnant man".

'It is absolutely positive, 99 per cent positive. People when they meet us they just see us as a regular family.

'It is easy for people to see us as a family, because that is what we are, a husband, wife and child.'

Asked if he can understood why some people did not see his situation as 'normal', Beatie said: 'I think everyone is trying to find their own definition of normal.
'With all the differences in the world, different is clearly normal.'

Asked if he is still happy to be a man, he replied: 'Oh absolutely. There is nothing wrong with a pregnant man.

'It is just normal for us, it was completely the best decision for me to carry our child and we did not even give it a second thought.'

Beatie was also asked if he felt he could have given birth to Susan more 'privately'.

'I don't think it could have happened that way (privately),' he said.

'When I wrote the article for the Advocate, we were experiencing medical discrimination and we had legal questions we needed answers for.

'So we were talking to a gay and lesbian audience hoping to find answers and we couldn't find any. In our pursuit for answers this ensued.'

Beatie admitted that he had not spoken to his father since the birth of his daughter, but hoped to eventually introduce them to each other.

Asked if his family's negative attitude towards the pregnancy had been hard, he replied: 'Yes it has been hard.

'But Nancy's family has been incredibly supportive, her father and her brothers and sisters and children.'

And Nancy said that she was 'excited' about the couple having a second baby, even with the publicity that would surround it.

'I am so excited. Hopefully things will calm down and we can get on with our lives,' she said.

'It is neat to be able to educate people about different families and that is really what we are.

'There are so many different families out there and we are just another one.

'I have done this before (she has two other children) and what is wonderful is that I got to be on the other side of this and could support him through the labour experience and right through the pregnancy.

'I got to breast feed the baby, we are so closely bonded with her. He was able to carry her and I was able to breast feed her.'

The robot that can pull faces just like a human being

Scientists have created the first 'humanoid' robot that can mimic the facial expressions and lip movements of a human being.

'Jules' - a disembodied androgynous robotic head - can automatically copy the movements, which are picked up by a video camera and mapped on to the tiny electronic motors in his skin.

It can grin and grimace, furrow its brow and 'speak' as his software translates real expressions observed through video camera 'eyes'.
Jules mimics the expressions by converting the video image into digital commands that make the robot's servos and motors produce mirrored movements.

And it all happens in real time as the robot can interpret the commands at 25 frames per second.

The project, called 'Human-Robot Interaction', was devised at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), run by the University of the West of England and the University of Bristol.

A team of robotics engineers - Chris Melhuish, Neill Campbell and Peter Jaeckel - spent three-and-a-half years developing the breakthrough software to create interaction between humans and artificial intelligence.

Jules has 34 internal motors covered with flexible rubber ('Frubber') skin, which was commissioned from roboticist David Hanson in the US for BRL.

It was originally programmed to act out a series of movements - as can be seen in the video - where 'Jules' talks about 'destroying Wales'.

The technology works using ten stock human emotions - such as happiness, sadness, concern etc - that the team 'taught' Jules via programming.

The software then maps what it sees to Jules's face to combine expressions instantly to mimic those being shown by a human subject.

'We have a repertoire of behaviours that somehow is dynamic', Chris Melhuish said.

'If you want people to be able to interact with machines, then you've got to be able to do it naturally.

'When it moves, it has to look natural in the same way that human expressions are, to make interaction useful.'

Peter Jaeckel, who works in artificial emotion, artificial empathy and humanoids at BRL, said: 'Realistic, life-like robot appearance is crucial for sophisticated face-to-face robot-human interaction.
'Researchers predict that one day, robotic companions will work, or assist humans in space, care and education.

'Robot appearance and behaviour need to be well matched to meet expectations formed by our social experience.

'Violation of these expectations due to subtle imperfections or imbalance between appearance and behaviour results in discomfort in humans that perceive or observe the robot.

'If people were put off, it would counteract all efforts to achieve trustworthiness, reliability and emotional intelligence.

'All these are requirements for robotic companions, assisting astronauts in space or care robots employed as social companions for the elderly.

'Unlike most research projects, the focus lies on dynamic, subtle, facial expressions, rather than static exaggerated facial displays.

'Copycat robot heads have been created before, but never with realistic human-looking faces.'

But not everyone is impressed by Jules's mastery of mimicry.

Kerstin Dautenhahn, a robotics researcher at the University of Herefordshire, believes that people may be disconcerted by humanoid automatons that simply look 'too human'.

'Research has shown that if you have a robot that has many human-like features, then people might actually react negatively towards it,' she said.

'If you expose vulnerable people, like children or elderly people, to something that they might mistake for human, then you would automatically encourage a social relationship.

'They might easily be fooled to think that this robot not only looks like a human and behaves like a human, but that it can also feel like a human. And that's not true.'

It is hoped that the technology developed in Jules will help create robots for use in space, to accompany astronauts on solo missions, and in healthcare settings and nursing homes.

Amazing feeding frenzy as sharks, dolphins and gannets gang up on a shoal of sardines

Swirling in panic thousands of silvery sardines flash past as they strive to escape a horde of predators.

While a pod of dolphins chivy the fish into a 'baitball' from beneath, black-tip and tiger sharks marshall them upwards and ganets dive bomb them from above.

As the sardines move in unison towards the surface a feeding frenzy breaks out, with the entire shoal obliterated in minutes.

The incredible spectacle occurs every year off the rugged east coast of South Africa.

Known as the Sardine Run, billions of fish migrate up the KwaZulu-Natal coast in search of tasty cold water zooplankton in June and July.

The fish instinctively group and move together to try and confuse predators but their hunters have honed an impressive technique in which they work together as an unlikely team to pick them off.

Such events once took place regularly in the seas of Europe and the oceans of the Americas but these areas have long since been fished out of sardines.

Surrogate mother, 56, becomes oldest woman to give birth to triplets - but they are actually her grandchildren

A 56-year-old woman has become the oldest woman to give birth to triplets – but they are actually her grandchildren.

Jaci Dalenberg acted as a surrogate mother for her daughter, Kim, who battled with infertility after a hysterectomy, and has given birth to three babies, each weighing less than 3lbs, a minute apart.
The three girls - Ellie, Gabriella and Carmina - were delivered by emergency Caesarean and rushed to intensive care but all three have pulled through.

Kim, 36, already had two children from a previous marriage, but desperately wanted more children with husband Joe, 30, who she married in 2005.

But the mother-of-two was unable to conceive after she had a hysterectomy to treat cysts and fibroids seven years before.

The desperate couple went through two failed adoptions and considered surrogacy and adopting from abroad before Jaci stepped in.

The hospital manager had been researching surrogacy and was confident she could carry a baby despite her age.

Kim underwent IVF at Cleveland Clinic, where eggs from her remaining ovary were fertilised by Joe’s sperm.

The doctors had only performed one other surrogacy procedure, on a woman in her 40s who was not related to the biological mother, but they said Jaci was in 'perfect shape for her age.'

It took three attempts before Kim’s fertilised eggs successfully implanted in her mother’s womb, on 5 April this year.

But the drama was far from over as an ultrasound 10 weeks into the pregnancy revealed three babies, rather than the expected one.

Then, on 11 October, two months before the due date, Jaci was forced to have an emergency Caesarean because one of the twins was starving in the womb.

Jaci told Closer magazine: ‘When the babies were born, I was ecstatic. The hardest part was leaving them in the hospital when I was released four days after the birth.

She added: ‘I don’t feel like I want to care for the babies myself.

'I have already raised four beautiful daughters.

'My time for being a mother is over. I’m their granny and I have no plans to ever be pregnant again!’

Kim said: ‘It’s the most amazing thing any mother could do for her daughter.

‘Of course, we’ll tell all the girls how they were born – I want them to know what an incredible thing their grandmother did for us.

'I want them to know how special they are and all about their unusual start in life.’

Flight of fancy: The starlings who turned the sky black with a dazzling sunset display

The Scottish border town of Gretna Green has an influx of visitors, and not just the human kind.

It seems locals and tourists alike just can't get enough of watching millions of starlings converge on the sky on sunset as the birds search for a safe place to roost.

Hundreds of spectators have been treated to the amazing sunset display, which has left them mesmerised by the huge flock's sweeping aerial acrobatics.

Drivers on the A74M, the main motorway between England and Scotland, have been stopping in their droves to witness the sight.

But the shear mass of birds is causing a distraction to commuters and truck drivers who are urged to take extra care when pulling over and parking to watch the display.

And while it may look like the birds are on a kamakazi mission, the logic behind their aerial acrobatics makes much more sense.

Every winter, the birds take to the skies after a long day spent feeding in nearby reed beds.

As they take flight during the last minutes of daylight, the starlings fly quick and fast in a bid to confuse waiting predators such as sparrowhawks and buzzards.

The tiny birds must converge, fly and sqwark, in an attempt to confuse their predators, reaching speeds of more than 20mph, with few if any crashes.

Scientists say the secret behind their amazing spatial awareness is that each starling tracks seven other birds enabling the group's cohesion.

The naturally occurring event is a spectacle which takes place only during the winter months.

Starling numbers have halved in the last 25 years and they are now red-listed as an endangered species.

Experts say the starlings are a mix of British and European birds and will leave for Russia in February and March.

Nature lover Jon Tait, 34, said: 'It's amazing to see the natural world like this. The shapes and movements they make are beautiful - Hollywood special effects couldn't make it more breathtaking.

'Whenever I get the train I have to dive undercover at the station when they come because they leave a bit of a mess, but it's worth it to see them in the sky.

Gus, the world's ugliest dog, dies of cancer aged nine

A one-eyed, three-legged dog that won the title of world's ugliest pooch this summer has died.

Gus, a Chinese crested dog, had cancer. He was nine years old.

The animal was rescued from a bad home and went on to win the annual World's Ugliest Dog contest at the Sonoma-Marin Fair in northern California.

Gus came from humble origins. According to the fair, his adopted family in Gulfport, Florida, rescued him after learning he was being kept in a crate inside someone's garage.

He had one leg amputated because of a skin tumor and lost an eye in a cat fight.

Gus' owner had said the prize money from the contest would be put toward the dog's radiation treatment.

Who loves ya, Baldy? Inside the surreal world of Sphynx cats - and the oddball owners who think they're the cat's whiskers

Walking into the Cockrells' small, snug bungalow, set back from the main road on the outskirts of Great Yarmouth, is startling.

Not because they've got the biggest TV I've ever seen. Or, as Jack is quick to point out, because they're halfway through a refurbishment and it's a bit dusty. Or even because it's so toasty warm.

No, it's because there are cats everywhere. Wooden cats, plastic cats, metal cats, what look suspiciously like papier-mache cats, and 11 real cats, lolling around, fiddling about in their fleecy beds, stalking across the dining room table, tip-toeing over the computer keyboard and running up and down the slatted stairs to the attic extension.

Oh yes, and none of them has any fur. At all. Which is rather unnerving, as they stare, pinky-grey and strangely unblinking, from all round the bungalow, every so often jumping down and playing with a toy mouse or a ball, or just generally pottering about, blissfully unaware of the drama that has been revolving around them in the Cat Fancy world.

Because this is the hairless Sphynx cat. After nearly 40 years in the cat show wilderness and an awful lot of campaigning by besotted owners, it has finally been recognised as a breed by the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy - the feline equivalent of the Kennel Club. With the result that, as the GCCF put it: 'Sphynx cats will now be acceptable on our show benches.'

'About b****y time, too,' snorts Jack Cockrell, 62, a retired oil field consultant. 'It's a disgrace it didn't happen sooner. Just look at Darcy Bussell here - she's only eight months, but she's already championship material. Isn't she the most beautiful thing?'

Not for nothing have Sphynx cats been described as the Marmite of cats - you either love them (very fiercely), as the Cockrells and all members of the Sphynx Cat Association do, or you give a shudder and stare rather rudely, as I do.

It's hard not to, because they look extraordinary. You can see every bump and bone, every pimple and blemish. Their ears are enormous, their necks are so slim they look ready to snap in two, their eyes are HUGE. The faces look like something a special effects department has laboured over, their tummies are soft and rounded after lunch and their tails are long and rat-like.

Even so, to Jack and Phyllis, 59, they're just perfect. 'They're so sociable and friendly - they'll sit on your lap and jump on your shoulder and ride around for ages like a parrot,' says Jack.

'Of course they're totally mollycoddled, but they're nothing like normal pets. They're wonderful, but they do sort of take over.'


This is not the sort of pet you can placate with a tin of cat food and bowl of water. Oh no. These cats need a small and highly dedicated staff to cater for their peculiarities - most of which stem from their unnervingly smooth skin. For starters, they have a bit of a personal hygiene problem - without fur to absorb it, their skin can get rather oily.

So there's the regular bath night, Phyllis's responsibility (Jack does the litter trays, and most of the chat), which involves a shampoo and scrub in the bath, a good clean of the ears, a nail trim and a rub dry with a warm, fluffy towel.

The lack of a fur coat also means they need more protein to maintain their body temperature. So this lot are fed on £40 worth of top-quality biscuits, a couple of nice fresh roast chickens and 'a bit of fish or meat for a treat' each week.

And there'll be no popping outside at night for a bit of mouse-catching and a miaow at the Moon, because they'd freeze to death in ten minutes on a cold November night. So they need to have plenty of toys and, ideally, a small indoor climbing frame and an owner with a lot of patience to keep them exercised and entertained.

'We do sometimes put them in a harness and long lead and let them out in the garden in the summer,' says Jack. But only after they've been applied liberally with special suncream, obviously.

The more you look at them, the more they look like some sort of weird prehistoric beast. But they're relative babies on an evolutionary scale.

Hairless cats have popped up every so often all over the world since 1830, but the modern Sphynx descends from hairless kittens born in Canada in the Sixties and Seventies, after which they were exported to Europe.

Twenty-five years on, the Sphynx finally have championship status and there's a whole Sphynxr-elated world out there. There are at least 25 certified breeders in the UK - operating under names such as No Coat On, Streakers, BuffNaked, Baldesque and Misfits - and dozens more further afield: America, Australia, Russia, Kazakhstan.

Kittens are shipped from country to country for breeding purposes.

There are also countless websites, chat forums and goodness knows how many proud photographs of the strange-looking creatures posted on the internet.

And while Jack and Phyllis might seem pretty obsessed - there are even four kittens mewling in a basket in their bedroom - they're nothing compared to some owner-breeders.

Such as Kelly Hampton, 24, who lives in Wiltshire with her window-fitter husband Toby, 34, children Jake, seven, Elle-May, four - and 17 Sphynx cats.

It all started for Kelly at a cat show four years ago.

'I was with my grandma - we went past a pen and they had five pink, wrinkly babies in there and it was just like falling in love. I had to have one.'

So she did, albeit after a wait - they cost £1,000-a-piece and talking round husband Toby took a while.

Today, she has eight adults and nine kittens and the top floor of their three-bedroom home has been turned over to cats.

'There are three different rooms because they can't all mix - so there's one for the girls, one for the stud boy, because he sprays a lot . . .' And a third for communal use, with a teeny brass four-poster bed with a leopard-print cover and cuddly toys.

'I won the bed at a cat show. But it's a shame, because they don't like sleeping in it. They usually end up snuggling in with us - they're like little hot water bottles.'

And while the Cockrells' cats are lucky to get a bath every couple of weeks, every Thursday is bath night chez Hampton.

'And every other day I give them a little strip wash with a warm flannel. If you don't wash them, they can really smell. And their bedding needs washing every day, particularly if you have kittens.'

Not forgetting all their outfits. Kelly's cats have quite a wardrobe - cat jumpers, teeny fleeces, pink hoodies. Once they're appropriately dressed, they go on the occasional outing.

'I'll take them out for a walk on a lead or in their cat buggy - they need the extra layers because they lose heat so quickly. And they love going out in the car and putting their heads out of the window.

'They are the most beautiful, amazingly loving cats I have ever known. They've changed my life for ever. And the odd thing is that I always thought I was more of a dog person.'

Back in Great Yarmouth, Jack and Phyllis aren't in favour of dressing up. 'We might pop them in a sleeve of an old fleece if they're cold, but to me, anything else is making the cat look a bit silly,' says Jack.
'It's not very dignified - a cat's a cat after all, not a designer toy.'

And with that, he gathers up Darcy - or is it Dixie, Roy Orbison or Willie Nelson? It's difficult to tell - and pops her, or him, in my arms.

'To me, their skin feels so warm and lovely, like a peach, or a deflated rubber balloon. What do you think?'

Well . . . Darcy/Dixie/Roy certainly feels soft and warm - a bit like a horse's muzzle, but it's all a bit odd, too. And the moment I loosen my grip, she/he's off in a flash, leaving me with a face full of hairless tail and musty odour.

So far, it's tricky to see the attraction. Or why are the owners - who are friendly and chatty and seem normal - so happy to act like the cats' slaves. Jack looks appalled at the thought.

'They just love to give back the love. I tell you, if I'd have known about them 30-odd years ago, I wouldn't have had my children.'

And then there are the shows. They may not have been recognised by GCCF until now, but other bodies, such as The International Cat Association, have been sponsoring Sphynx-friendly shows for a while.

'Phyllis and I love the shows. We go every month, all over - Newbury, Tyneside, Milton Keynes, you name it. If we can come away with eight or ten rosettes, then we're elated.'

There are no money prizes - 'just rosettes and points, and a lot of kudos - that's what it's all about'.

Which is why this week's decision is so important. While the American TICA has lots of competitions, it is the GCCF that runs the Supreme Cat Show - the feline equivalent of Crufts, this year on November 22 - the jewel in the crown of pedigree cat shows.

This lot could never be accused of not taking it seriously.

'I want to breed more and more, to progress with the Sphynx lines,' says Kelly.

With the Sphynx, the judges are looking for ear shape and set - ('large and open at the bottom and round at the top,' says Jack); the break between forehead and nose; the chin ('very important'); the number of wrinkles ('a wrinkly cat will do so much better'); and size ('they like a solid cat').

Pedigree cats are on the up generally and breeders take it all very seriously, so gene components can be mixed and matched to produce refinements.

Which leads to a darker note - according to one insider who'd rather not be named, the judges' tastes tend to push breeders towards extremes.

'The current favourite for the Sphynx seems to be a shorter face, which can result in breathing and sinus problems. At the moment, it's not dangerous, but if things keep going that way, it has the potential to be,' says Kelly.

There may be no cash prizes yet, but there's quite a bit of money involved. Mainly because of the huge demand.

So while kittens for pets fetch £1,000 a piece, a 'breeder' will go for up to £4,000.

Kelly has two litters under her belt already, a waiting list and will sell only to people she knows through her Sphynx contacts.

Many of the Cockrells' customers are from overseas.

'We've sent them to Portugal, America, Australia,' says Phyllis. 'The air fare to the U.S. for the cat was £500 - we both could have gone for that.'

'But we don't do holidays anymore,' says Jack.

And what do their families think of it all? 'My children tolerate them, just,' says Jack. 'The grandchildren love them.'

Meanwhile, I am trying hard to like the Sphynx cat, but I am failing miserably. It doesn't help that there are so many of them hovering about in one small, hot bungalow.

As I take one last look at their strange faces and huge eyes, I am quite sure that, unlike Kelly, I'm going to stick to dogs.

Pictured: Kiteboarder's close encounter with a huge whale

Now Australian school teacher David Sheridan knows how Jonah felt - or near enough.

As this amazing picture shows, a huge whale suddenly rose up close to the surface as the 42-year-old New South Wales man was riding his kiteboard - a small surfboard suspended beneath a large kite.

Seconds after this photo was snapped remotely by David's camera, mounted on the kite apparatus, the whale flicked up its tail and gave him an almighty blow on the back of his head.

Because the camera was programmed to take pictures every 10 seconds it missed the moment when the whale struck David - but this incredible shot of the massive creature swimming beneath him is reminder enough of his close encounter.

'It all happened so fast that all I could do was crouch down as the whale swam under me,' David said.

'I saw the huge shape and my reaction was to duck while remaining attached to the flying lines from the sail above me.

'The next thing I felt was its tail come up and hit me on the back of the head.

'I honestly thought I was gone - it was such a forceful blow - but then the whale eased off and I was able to sail away.

'But my legs were really shaking. I've never been through anything like that before and probably never will again.'

David told Sydney's Daily Telegraph he had gone to Valla Beach, on the north coast of New South Wales, for an afternoon of kiteboarding with two friends.

Because he wanted some unique photos of himself, he set up a camera on the sail that would haul him skywards so that he could then skim across the surface of the water - a dramatic sport that leaves beach-side spectators fascinated.

'The camera was set to start firing off shots every 10 seconds as soon as I hit the water. When the sail was at full height the camera was about 25m above the surface.

'It was a lucky shot to snap the whale as it came up underneath me.

'It would have been great to have got a picture a second later when the tail came up and hit me in the back of the head, but you take what you get.'

He said he believed the whale was content to scare him away, rather than lash out aggressively.

'It was more of a push than a punch. I expected more.'

Wildlife experts have identified the creature as a southern right whale, which gets its name from old-time hunters who believed the species were the 'right' whales to hunt because they were large, slow moving and floated when they were killed. They also provided large amounts of oil and bone.

'Southern right whales are more unpredictable than humpbacks,' said Mr Jeff Ross of the National parks and Wildlife Service.

'It's possible this one had a calf it was protecting, or was simply just reacting to the movement on the surface.'

The graveyard where 'credit crunched' budget airlines send unwanted passenger jets

They litter the airfield like so many discarded toys.

Many of these passenger jets are casualties of the credit crunch.

Some belonged to XL Airways, the low-cost airline which ceased operation in September, leaving 85,000 holidaymakers stranded across the world.

Others pictured here at Lasham airfield near Basingstoke, Hampshire, belonged to Futura International Airways, a small operator based in Majorca which was particularly prominent at major airports in Scotland.

It was declared bankrupt in September. Yet more used to fly for the transatlantic budget carrier Zoom, which in August suspended all its flights after failing to pay its bills.
In all, 11 of the aircraft in this picture are credit-crunch victims with the rest there for work by the ATC independent aircraft maintenance company.

ATC says all 11 are owned by leasing companies which are now seeking to home them with new operators.

House of horrors: Council workmen find 100 TONNES of rubbish in pensioner's home

There were no human bodies inside, but Merv Jones's home was truly a house of horrors.

Every room in the three-storey terraced house was filled from floor to ceiling with an assortment of bric-a-brac and rubbish.

The junk was even stacked in the hall close to the front door, making it almost impossible to get inside and both front and back gardens were a mess.

After years of complaints from neighbours in Grimsby, council officials finally moved in to tackle the job of emptying the building.

Incredibly they removed more than 100 tonnes of material, filling skip after skip after skip.

The extraordinary amount and array of bric-a-brac was collected over decades by the eccentric 73-year-old owner.

Old rifles, ammunition and swords were found inside, along with thousands of everyday items you would find at a car boot sale, such as dolls, electrical equipment, toys, pictures, books and ornaments.

When asked about the clear-up Mr Jones said:'It's not pleasant living here. I wanted to clear it myself. I was trying to get it done.'

The pensioner was put up in a hotel while his house was emptied and the North East Lincolnshire Council intends to reclaim the cost of the operation from him.

Local residents regarded the property as a blight on their neighbourhood.

Alyson Thomson, 58, a sales manager who lives next door, said:'It is hard to imagine how he did it, but I believe he was living in the house because I would hear his front door open and he would go inside and not come out until the next morning.

'Every room was crammed from floor to ceiling with rubbish, it has been complete hell living next door to him for five-and-a-half years. I am horrified that he had a dog living there with him.

There was a handgun, swords and nearly a dozen air rifles, they found propane gas and chemicals and they had to stop work whilst the fire brigade handles those chemicals.

'I have been living next door to a potential bomb, filth and rats. On the day they started clearing he challenged me in the street saying "what have you been saying about me?"

'I told him that he lived like a filthy pig and that was insulting to pigs and the police cautioned me saying they didn't want to provoke the situation.

'He does not wash and wears his clothes until they stand up on their own. He has been collecting this stuff for 40 years.

'No normal person would live like that so there must be something wrong with him. To me the house is unfit for human habitation.'

Mrs Thomson said council officials clearing the huge amounts of rubbish found six skeletons of dogs. Windows upstairs shattered years ago and pigeons moved into the loft.

Mr Jones originally ran a second hand shop in his street.

He bought and sold a variety of household items as well as model engineering equipment, plant machinery and tools.

The business has been closed for a decade, but the house nearby was crammed full of far more than simple 'left overs' from the business.

The three-storey terraced house is privately-owned and in good condition would be worth at least £100,000.

It took a team of council contractors and officials almost three weeks to clear the building.

Mr Jones would sit on a bench nearby and watch his house being emptied into a succession of skips.

Council officials are believed to be investigating two other addresses thought to be owned by Mr Jones and containing more bric-a-brac.

It is not known what he intends to do with the house that has just been cleared.

A warrant was granted at Grimsby Magistrates Court uner the 1936 Public Health Act which allows authorities to take control of 'filthy and verminous properties.'

John Waite, the council's environmental enforcement manager, said he believed the house had no running water or gas and was unsure about where the electrical supply had come from.

'Primarily this has been done for the welfare of the occupant, but also for residents.'

Pest controllers were called in to lay bait for huge rats 'the size of small cats' living in the house and contractors were praised by neighbours.

Tina Blanchard, 41, said:'It's awful, really horrible and they deserve a medal for the job they are doing.'


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