Amateur gardener grows world’s biggest potato

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The prize potato, grown by Peter Glazebrook, tips the scales at a whopping 8lbs 4oz (3.76kg), smashing the previous world record by 9oz.

The vegetable, Peter’s Kondor variety, was put on show on Friday at the National Gardening Show in Shepton Mallet, Somerset.

It is not the first time Mr Glazebrook, 66, from Northampton, has hit the headlines.

The retired chartered surveyor has previously held the world record for the longest carrot, after producing a 17-foot long specimen.

He has also been the double Guinness World Record holder for the heaviest parsnip, at 13lb, and the longest beetroot at 21ft.

Speaking before his latest triumph, he said: ”The secret to success is starting with the right seed.

”It’s learning how to grow them and putting a lot of effort in and picking up tips from other growers and reading what you can about it.”

The potato was weighed at the show’s Giant Vegetable Competition and Mr Glazebrook is now awaiting verification from Guinness World Records.

World’s biggest clock begins ticking in Mecca (Reuters)

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JEDDAH (Reuters) – A giant clock on a skyscraper in Islam’s holiest city Mecca began ticking on Wednesday at the start of the fasting month of Ramadan, amid hopes by Saudi Arabia it will become the Muslim world’s official timekeeper.

The Mecca Clock, which Riyadh says is the world’s largest, has four faces measuring 43 metres in diameter.

It sits 400 metres up what will be the world’s second-tallest skyscraper and largest hotel, overlooking the city’s Holy Grand Mosque, which Muslims around the world turn to five times a day for prayer.

“The Holy Mecca Clock started with the order of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud … one minute after 12 a.m. this morning, the first day of the holy month of Ramadan,” Saudi state news agency SPA said.

Over 90 million pieces of coloured glass mosaic embellish the sides of the clock, which has four faces each bearing a large inscription of the name “Allah.” It is visible from all corners of the city, the state news agency said.

The clock tower is the landmark feature of the seven-tower King Abdulaziz Endowment hotel complex, being built by the private Saudi Binladen Group, which will have the largest floor area of any building in the world when it is complete. Local media have said the clock tower project cost $3 billion (1.9 billion).

The clock is positioned on a 601-metre tower, which will become the second tallest inhabited building in the world when it is completed in three months’ time.

“Because it based in front of the holy mosque the whole Islamic world will refer to Mecca time instead of Greenwich. The Mecca clock will become a symbol to all Muslims,” said Hashim Adnan, a resident of nearby Jeddah who frequently visits Mecca.

The project is part of efforts to modernise the old city and make it more capable of catering to pilgrims. Around 2 million Muslims visit the city each year for the annual Haj pilgrimage, a once-in-a-lifetime requirement for able-bodied Muslims, and 3.5 million pilgrims visit Mecca at other times of the year.

While many in Saudi Arabia are celebrating the clock tower’s launch, some Mecca visitors are critical of how it will affect the ambiance of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthplace. The complex is built on the land once occupied by an Ottoman fortress.

“I think they are trying to do a lot of luxurious development around the Grand Mosque which is taking away from the spiritual atmosphere of the place, making it more modern,” said Lina Edris, a frequent visitor to Mecca.

“The clock tower is higher than the minarets of the Grand Mosque, which will take attention away from the mosque even though it is obvious the mosque is more important,” she added.

(Reporting by Asma Alsharif; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

Asia overtakes Europe as biggest producer of beer

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Asian beer manufacturers produced 103 billion pints of beer in 2009, marking an increase of 5.5 per cent compared to the previous year.

At the same time, European beer companies experienced a production drop of 5.1 per cent to 97 billion pints during the same period, according to a study by the research department of Kirin Holdings Co, the Japanese beer giant.

Defying cultural stereotypes of beer-swilling Europeans, it is the first time that Asia has assumed the top spot in the world’s beer producing since annual records began in 1974 by the Kirin Institute of Food and Lifestyle.

Vietnam fuelled the surge in Asian beer production, with an increase of more than 24 per cent in beer manufacturing over 2009, according to the report.

India followed closely behind with an increase of 12 per cent, while China’s beer manufacturers also collectively increased seven per cent over the past year.

With the average Asian still consuming less beer than his or her European counterpart, there was still further scope for Asia to continue growing, according to Kyodo News.

”There is more room for further growth in Asia down the track because Asians’ per capita consumption is relatively small,” the report read.

Japan, however, did not contribute to the surge in beer production in Asia, instead experiencing a two per cent drop in production levels during the same period.

The figures reflect a long-running trend: the nation’s home beer market has shrunk by more than 15 per cent in volume terms over the past decade.

The continued decline in Japan’s beer industry has prompted breweries to increasingly invest outside the country.

Asahi Breweries, ranked the world’s 12th-largest beer maker, recently announced plans to keep 785 billion yen (£5.8billion) on tap for potential investments outside Japan over the next five years.

Vietnam, however, is enjoying a steady increase in the popularity of its beers, with its popular labels Hanoi Beer and Saigon Beer recently chosen to be the official beverages at this year’s Berlin International Beer Festival.