Giant ‘Fatberg’ of Grease and Baby Wipes Jams British Sewer

By Rafi Letzter

A 210-foot-long (64 meters) monster made from grease and used baby-wipes has clogged up a sewer in Sidmouth in southwestern England. British officials said in a statement they expect that removing the gooey blob, which will happen in “exceptionally challenging work conditions,” could take up to eight weeks.

“Fatbergs” like this one have become unpleasantly familiar in the United Kingdom. As Live Science reported back in 2017, workers used high-pressure water jets to slowly break down an 820-foot-long (250 m), 143-ton (130,000 kilograms) “rancid blob” that formed in a London sewer. Eventually, that mass was converted to biofuel, but it took workers months to fully restore function in the affected area.

Part of the problem seems to be the British public’s habit of flushing used baby wipes down the toilet, as these can clump together and form the scaffolding for fatbergs. The issue has become serious enough that the government has proposed banning the wipes altogether.

New York Jets pack their own toilet paper for Wembley trip

NFL players are tough. But they’re also sensitive souls – and they care deeply about toilet paper.

The New York Jets are at Wembley on Sunday, and they have gone to great – some may say outré – lengths to make sure the players are looked after properly. They have their own clothes washer. Their own private chef. And – get this – they’ve imported 350 rolls of their own toilet paper to, as the New York Times puts it, “replace the thinner version used in England”.

The Times spoke to Aaron Degerness, the Jets’ senior manager of team operations, about what was required for the team’s arduous trek to one of the world’s most inhospitable environments for a few days in one of the world’s most easygoing cities. And people say professional sports stars are pampered.

The details are mind-boggling. Five thousand items – from cereal and extension cords to gauze pads and wrist – have been loaded on to a ship containing supplies for all six NFL teams playing in London this season. (Jacksonville play Buffalo in week seven, and Kansas City take on Detroit the following week. The ship left New York in August) The Jets have spent 11 months planning for about 65 hours overseas, an undertaking that Degerness said involved about 10 times the work that preparing to play in, say, Miami would have required.

An industrial launderer will pick up the players’ dirty practice clothing at one location and deliver it clean to another. A chef at the Jets’ London hotel will be flown in to observe how food is cooked and served at team headquarters.

Vodafone warns mobile phone users in London to expect up to two months of slower networks because nesting peregrine falcons on masts cannot be moved

Mobile phone users have been warned they could face reception problems because it is the peregrine falcon nesting season.

Vodafone said three pairs of the world’s fastest bird have been found beside masts across London, including a church, hospital and office building, and could be slowing down networks.

Phone masts are a popular nesting site for the bird of prey and the company will be unable to remove the nests until the chicks are hatched and leave, which could take two months.

It is a criminal offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 to disturb the birds while they are nesting.

Vodafone spokesman Simon Gordon said: “We apologise to any customers who experience a dip in service, but we have to respect the environment and the law.

“This is the first time to my knowledge we have had this in London, so for us it is unprecedented. They can sometimes nest on the mast itself – which is like a big metal climbing frame – or use the box underneath, where the computer stuff sits.”

Mr Gordon, who is himself a wildlife enthusiast and bird watcher, added: “At the moment, we are a year into a £200million upgrade works and we are going to individual sites to upgrade the equipment.

“If there is a peregrine falcon nesting there, we have to abide by the law and not approach the nest and call the experts to go onto the site to assess where they are nesting.”

n April 2013, Vodafone customers complained about poor reception in Southampton. Engineers called out to repair a faulty transmitter found a peregrine falcon nesting next to it.

The company had to tell its frustrated customers they were unable to repair the faulty mast until the chicks had left the nest.

Peregrine falcons, which can travel at speeds of up to 240mph, have seen a revival in recent years.

The birds nearly became extinct in the 1960s after their existence was threatened by pesticides, but laws controlling use of pesticides meant their numbers slowly recovered.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has estimated there are 1,402 breeding pairs in the UK and there are currently thought to be 30 nesting pairs in the capital.

World’s oldest psychiatric hospital opens new museum

The world’s oldest psychiatric institution, the Bethlem Royal Hospital outside London, this week opened a new museum and art gallery charting the evolution in the treatment of mental disorders.

The original hospital was founded in 1247 in what is now central London and the name spawned the English word “bedlam” meaning chaos and madness.

In the 18th century visitors could pay to gawk at the hospital’s patients and, three centuries later, stereotypes about mental illness still abound.

“The museum is to do with challenging the stigma around mental health and one of the main ways you can do that is actually get people to walk onto the site and realise that this is not a frightening, threatening and dark place,” Victoria Northwood, head of the Archives and Museum, told AFP.

The bleak period in the history of mental treatment is addressed but not dwelled upon in the museum.

Iron and leather shackles used until the mid-19th century to restrain patients are displayed behind a wall of mirrors so they cannot be seen directly.

A padded cell is deconstructed and supplemented with audio of a patient describing what is was like to be locked inside.

The exhibition is full of interactive exhibits, including a video where the visitor is challenged to decide whether to commit a young woman, in denial about the dangers of her anorexia, to hospital against her will.

The decision is surprisingly difficult and it shows the complexity in diagnosing ailments linked to the brain, which we still know comparatively little.

“We are just getting across that this is not a black and white issue. It is not very easy. Human beings aren’t very easy,” Northwood said.

Art features strongly throughout the space, starting with the imposing 17th century statues “Raving Madness” and “Melancholy Madness” by Caius Gabriel Cibber, which used to stand at the entrance to the Bethlem hospital when it was in central London.

Also included are paintings by current or former patients, like Dan Duggan’s haunting charcoal “Cipher” series of a man’s elongated face—a testament to the 41-year-old’s inner turmoil.

Duggan, who made several suicide attempts and was detained three times under the mental health act including at Bethlem, said art was an instrumental tool in his recovery.

“A lot of the time you spend in hospital, particularly a psychiatric hospital, is very prescribed.

“When you’re engaged in a creative process, you’re able to be free of all of that for a while and the power is back in your hands to do whatever you want to do,” he said.

Visual artist and dancer Liz Atkin grew up in an alcoholic household. She developed dermatillomania or Compulsive Skin Picking from the age of eight as a way to manage the stress.

“I could have ended things in a very different way,” said Atkin, now aged 38.

Atkin received treatment and works with patients at the anxiety unit of Bethlem, which is now located in spacious grounds about one hour south of London.

She said the new museum and gallery is a unique space to encourage healing.

“Making artwork isn’t a complete cure and I personally don’t think that I’m cured, but I think it provides a very powerful outlet for some of those things that are hard to talk about.”

The future of virtual-reality travel

Glynis Freeman stands on a tower balcony in nighttime London, peering down at the dizzying lights hundreds of feet below.

The distant rumble of city traffic rises up from the streets. A gust of wind brushes her hair. Freeman smiles while swiveling her head in all directions to take in the view.

“That was cool,” she said a few minutes later. “I want to go back to London.”

That’s because Freeman was never physically in London. The Marietta, Georgia, woman was 4,000 miles away in an Atlanta hotel lobby, wearing a headset and trying out a demonstration of new technology that can place people in exotic virtual settings almost anywhere on the planet.

It’s all part of a new experiment by Marriott, the global hotel chain, to let guests sample virtual destinations with the Oculus Rift, a headset whose high-definition, 3-D display immerses wearers in a lifelike interactive world.

“We really want to appeal to the next generation of travelers,” said Karen Olivares, director of global brand marketing for Marriott.

Virtual travel is in its infancy and a long way from being mainstream. But the travel industry is intrigued by its potential, which goes far beyond Google Street View or online “virtual tours” of hotels and resorts.

The idea is not that virtual travel will replace real-world travel, because nobody in the industry would go for that. Instead, the travel industry hopes that people who sample virtual snippets of alluring vacations — say, rafting the Grand Canyon or hiking the Great Wall of China — will be persuaded to splurge on the real thing.

Behind the Oculus Rift

Driving this trend are next-generation systems such as the Oculus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus, which promise a leap forward in virtual-reality technology.

The much-hyped Oculus Rift headset looks like something a skier or scuba diver might wear and fits snugly over the wearer’s face, paired with headphones. Its crisp 3D display immerses you in an interactive world — a medieval village or a tropical jungle — which you sometimes can navigate with the help of a game controller.

The goggles come packed with a 100-degree field of view, extending beyond viewers’ peripheral vision. They have an accelerometer, gyroscope and compass to track the position of your head and sync the visuals to the direction where you are looking — allowing Oculus to improve on the sometimes jerky visuals of other virtual-reality systems.

The Oculus Rift was designed to enhance video gaming. But Facebook paid $2 billion for its maker, Oculus VR, in March, seeing the device as a potential future communication platform.

One developer for the Oculus Rift is excited about the technology’s long-term potential to tranform travel.

“I could go for a run in the morning in some exotic beach and in the evening stroll the streets of some city … I could be a virtual storm chaser close to a tornado and even travel deep in the ocean,” the developer wrote in an online forum.

“In fact these experiences will be so real, without risk, and of course cheap that I might actually have second thoughts about traveling … Antarctica without the cold … Jungles without the heat and bugs … And people who will provide (this) content will make millions.”

Virtual journeying

Consumer versions of the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus — which works in much the same way — aren’t expected on the market until 2015 at the earliest. But that hasn’t stopped the travel industry from tinkering with prototypes.

Thomas Cook, the international travel agency, announced a trial program in August that will allow customers at one of its stores in England to don Oculus Rifts and experience a flight on one of its airplanes or tour a Sentido resort.

And Marriott has been touring U.S. cities this fall with its “Teleporter,” a booth that invites visitors to climb inside, strap on an Oculus Rift and take a virtual tour of Wai’anapanapa Black Sand Beach in Maui and Tower 42 in London.

Viewers watch a 90-second video produced by Framestore, the British creative studio that has done visual effects for “Gravity” and other movies. To make the experiences feel more lifelike, fans in the booths blow soft breezes while misters recreate the feel of ocean spray.

Whether such virtual-reality glimpses inspire someone to take a real trip remains to be seen. But visitors to the booths on a recent weekday in Atlanta came away impressed.

“That was truly amazing. It reminded me of something from ‘Star Trek,’ ” said Lisa Lewis of Monroe, Louisiana. “London has always been a dream destination of mine. And just to get a feel for a place — it was much more than I imagined.”