Women living near the Cerne Abbas Giant are more fertile

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Photo: ALAMY

The naked 180ft Cerne Abbas Giant – thought to be thousands of years old – is carved out in the chalk downs in North Dorset.

Women living near the carving have an average of three children in their lifetime – a national record.

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They are the highest birth-per female figures in Britain for more than 40 years.

Locals think the giant could be having an inspirational effect on couples in the area.

Nursery manager Katie Raine said the increasing number of children at the Archway Nursery in Pimperne – which is in sight of the Giant – were living proof of the findings.

“We can take 73 children in any one day and we’re absolutely chock-a-block,” she said.

“We have a baby unit for five infants, and that’s booked until next year, so there’s definitely a baby-boom on.”

The findings, from a survey of 10,000 North Dorset women aged between 15 and 44, placed the district at the top of the charts, leaving the London borough of Westminster at the bottom, with just 1.16 children per woman.

Samantha Beadman, deputy manager of Winterbournes Day Nursery in Winterbourne Kingston, said news of the area’s chart-topping fertility rate came as a surprise.

The new figures are based on research conducted last year. The findings showed a drop in the fertility rate for the first time since 2001.

Birth rates had been rising steadily since the millennium, reaching 1.97 per woman in 2008, from a base line of 1.65 in 2000.

North Dorset’s survey-topping fertility rate beats the highest recorded national average, when figures recorded in 1964 revealed women were likely to produce 2.93 children in a lifetime.

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Tom Cruise gets on two wheels racing car on Top Gear

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Photo: PA

The pair appeared in the show’s Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment, in which the guests drive around a track and complete for timed rankings on the celebrity leaderboard.

The BBC2 programme showed Diaz going first and swearing as she forced the car around the track at high speed.

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When the pair were interviewed by presenter Jeremy Clarkson afterwards in the studio, the actress went to the top of the list.

However, Cruise was then shown driving the Kia cee’d and, as he approached the final bends, he forces the car up onto two wheels for several seconds in a bid to get the best time.

Knight And Day is an action comedy which is the pair’s first collaboration since Vanilla Sky in 2001.

It will be released on Friday August 6.

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Letters frozen in time arrive after 60 years

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It took them three days, but their search proved in vain. There were no survivors from the 40 passengers and eight crew of the Malabar Princess, an Air India Lockheed Constellation bound for a stopover in Geneva on its way to London.

However, the story lived on. In the popular French film Amelie, Audrey Tautou’s character creates a fictional letter — from a lover who had died in the crash — for a lonely female concierge after hearing about mountaineers finding similar letters. Now a British student on a field trip to the Alps to examine global warming has added to the legend after stumbling upon a mailbag from the Malabar Princess.

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Remarkably, some of the letters it contained have survived sufficiently for Freya Cowan, a third-year geography student, to embark upon a project to reunite about 75 letters and birthday cards with the senders or intended recipients.

While walking away from her University of Dundee colleagues for a lavatory break Miss Cowan, 22, discovered the mailbag, which, due to rock falls and melting snow, had descended about 8,000ft over the years.

She found four bundles inside and the postmark on the letter at the top read: “Bombay, 1950”.

“I thought it was a joke, given that only moments before I had been talking about the crash,” she said.

A few letters from the Malabar Princess have been recovered previously but nothing on this scale. It would seem that none of the mail found by Miss Cowan was written by passengers on the plane, who were seamen bound for a new ship in Sunderland. The bag was destined for the US and the Dundee team has already succeeded in finding the owners of some correspondence.

Tim Reid, a glaciologist who was also on the trip, will be forwarding a letter to the daughter of Captain Hank Smith, a US pilot who died in 1999 but wrote a colourful account of his time working in India. “Hank’s letter tells a fantastic story about how he was working in Bombay and the Middle East,” said Mr Reid.

“He had a charter to Basra but had trouble with the aircraft and came down near a British Army encampment. They didn’t have much fresh water so he drank a lot of beer.

“He was there for three or four weeks while the plane was fixed, but needed the help of the Army to fend off Bedouin tribes looking to steal the plane’s equipment.”

It is not known to whom the letter was sent, but Mr Reid traced Mr Smith’s daughter in Texas. “She was absolutely astonished,” he said.

He aims to send her the letter after work to preserve it.

David Barratt, another student on the trip, traced the intended recipient of a letter sent by D Jones, a Salvation Army officer, to her brother, Harlan Cleveland and his wife, Ethel. He is understood to be in his 90s and living in a Salvation Army retirement home in St Petersburg, Florida.

Dated the night of Oct 30, 1950 — just five days before the crash — the letter describes her missionary work in India and asks her brother for money for a camera.

Miss Cowan is keen to deliver two typewritten letters and two handwritten ones, all in the same envelope from “Myra”, who also appears to be a missionary. They were sent to a Mrs Georgianna Roadaswel in Ohio, possibly the village of Haskins.

One, dated Oct 30, 1950, was intended for a Lady Moore. Ironically, considering the letter never arrived, it starts: “I do not often take the time to answer a letter in less than an hour after it arrives but there are some things in yours that I want to talk about with you.”

Later she discussed the problems of her work in India. “There is a growing anti-missionary feeling among some of the folks,” she wrote.

“I feel it is all from one source entirely and I have prayed so often that she might be led into the Light.”

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Vicar gives Holy Communion to dog

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Photo: ALAMY

The priest gave the Host – considered by Christians to represent the body of Jesus Christ – to an Alsatian cross called Trapper.

St Peter’s Anglican Church in Toronto has since been deluged complaints from Christians all over Canada.

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Donald Keith, the dog’s owner, said he had taken his pet to the church because he had been told animals were welcome.

He said that because he was newcomer the vicar invited him up in person to receive communion.

“The minister welcomed me and said come up and take communion, and Trapper came up with me and the minister gave him communion as well,” said Mr Keith.

“Then he bent his head and said a little prayer,” Mr Keith said.

“I thought it was a nice way to welcome me into the church,” he said. “I thought it was acceptable.” He added: “There was an old lady in the front just beaming when she saw this.

“Ninety nine-point-nine per cent of the people in the church love Trapper and the kids play with him.” He said one member of the congregation was unhappy about the vicar giving the dog communion and complained to the archbishop, Colin Johnson.

The dog has since been banned from receiving the sacrament.

“It was just one person who got his nose out of joint and went to the head of the Anglican Church,” said Mr Keith.

“Holy smokes. This is small stuff. I thought it was innocent and it made me think of the blessing of the animals.

“This has blown me away. The church is even getting emails from Catholics,” he said.

Peggy Needham, the deputy people’s warden at the church, said that no further action would be taken.

“The backlash is from just one person,” she said.

“Something happened that won’t happen again. Something our interim priest did spontaneously.

“This person went to the top and emailed our bishop to make a fuss and change things. But he misjudged our congregation.”

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French nuns seek chart run after record deal (Reuters)

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Sun Jul 25, 2:02 pm ET

PARIS (Reuters) – Benedictine nuns from a secluded convent in southern France have had their prayers answered after beating 70 other religious orders to a deal with Universal Music and aim to create a chart-topping album.

“We never sought this, it came looking for us,” said Reverend Mother Abbess at the Abbaye de Notre-Dame de l’Annonciation near Avignon. “At first we were worried it would affect our cloistered life, so we asked St. Joseph in prayer. Our prayers were answered.”

The nuns, whose album of Gregorian chants is set to be released in November, belong to an order that dates back to the sixth century.

The sisters are neither allowed to leave the convent or receive guests and only communicate with visitors through a grill. “I passed the contract through the grill, they signed it and passed it back,” said Dickon Stainer, chief of Decca Records, a unit of Universal, in a statement.

To keep their privacy the sisters will also film their own television advert and photograph the album cover.

The nuns, who beat convents from North America and Africa, join a label that includes the likes of Elton John, The Rolling Stones and convent-educated chart topper Lady Gaga.

The abbess said the nuns decided to record the album hoping it would touch people’s lives.

(Reporting by John Irish)

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Fake shark devours surfer in latest statue prank (AP)

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12 mins ago

CARDIFF-BY-THE-SEA, Calif. – A bronze surfer statue near San Diego has been the target of many gags, but never one this big and scary.

Unknown predawn pranksters on Saturday surrounded the roadside statue in Cardiff-by-the-Sea with a papier mache model of a great white shark that appeared to be swallowing it whole.

Crowds of gawkers and photographers gathered around the 16-foot creation after the sun rose.

San Diego County sheriff’s Lt. Tony Ray said no criminal report was filed because there was no damage to the statue.

The $120,000 sculpture called “Magic Carpet Ride” was commissioned by the Cardiff Botanical Society in 2007.

The statue has been bedecked with bras, skirts and witch hats so many times that locals have come to call it “The Cardiff Kook.”

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