Police have charged three people after an investigation into a doorstep attack that left a 19-year-old woman with serious burns.

West Midlands police said a man had been charged with wounding following the incident in Tividale, West Midlands, on Tuesday.

Matthew Wood, 27, of Smethwick, West Midlands, has been charged with causing grievous bodily harm and is due to appear at Wolverhampton magistrates court on Saturday morning.

A police spokesman said Debbie Wood, 46, and Lisa Wood, 25, also of Alexander Road, had been charged with committing an act to pervert the course of public justice.

Both women will also appear at Wolverhampton magistrates court. Meanwhile, a 23-year-old man and a 19-year-old man who were arrested on suspicion of assault as part of the investigation have been released on bail pending further inquiries.

An 18-year-old man arrested on suspicion of wounding has also been bailed while the investigation continues.

The victim suffered serious burns to her face and neck, thought to have been caused by a caustic substance, at about 3pm on Tuesday after answering the door at a property in Tividale near Oldbury.

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Chechhee Sherpa was cooking dinner when her husband called from Everest. Just 23, Abiral Rai was working for the first time on the mountain, carrying loads for his New Zealand client in preparation for an attempt on the summit in May. He told Chechhee that he would be up at 2am on Friday to climb from Base Camp through the notorious Icefall to Camp 2 in the Western Cwm, the last major staging post before a summit attempt.

When she woke next morning to clear blue skies in Kathmandu, her day suddenly darkened. A friend in the Sherpa village of Namche Bazaar called to say there had been an accident in the Icefall and many Sherpas were dead. Chechhee’s blood ran cold.

As news spread, it quickly became clear that this would be among the worst tragedies since climbing on the mountain began in 1921. According to Ishwori Paudel, owner of Himalayan Guides, 12 climbers were confirmed dead by Friday evening and four were still missing. At least four Sherpas were injured, one of them critically. According to a Sherpa at Base Camp, search and rescue efforts would resume at first light. Six of Paudel’s Sherpas were among the dead and missing.

Officials said on Saturday that they did not expect to find any survivors.
Nepal tourism ministry official Dipendra Paudel said search teams were trying to locate bodies buried under snow.

“There’s no chance of finding the four men still missing alive. They’ve been under the snow for over 24 hours,” Paudel told AFP.

“Our hope is to find the bodies now. But we cannot confirm a death toll of 16 until we do,” he said.

Chechhee knew that Abiral could be among the casualties. Newly pregnant, she suddenly faced the prospect of being a widow.

She immediately called the office of Himalayan Ecstasy, the agency in Kathmandu working with Abiral. He was safe, they said, but another in his team had not been so lucky. Later that morning Abiral, using the 3G network that covers the mountain, called home on his mobile phone to reassure Chechhee he was alive.

The details of what happened on Everest at around 6.45am are still unclear, and according to agents in Kathmandu, expedition organisers were busy with the ongoing rescue effort. But the account of the accident Abiral gives is harrowing. He says he left Base Camp at 3.30am, later than he told Chechhee, carrying a kitchen table on his back for the mess tent at Camp 2. “None of the clients had been on the mountain yet.”

Less than 200m from Camp 1, he and four other Sherpas he was climbing with discovered that three aluminium ladders that had been tied together to bridge an obstacle had been damaged. They stopped for an hour to reset the fixed ropes. “There was a traffic jam at the ladders. If we hadn’t been held up then maybe no one would have been killed.” Behind him, Abiral says, he could see up to 60 other Sherpas climbing towards him.

Out of the darkness, 400m above his head, Abiral heard an ominous crack and the sound of falling ice. A vast serac – or ice cliff – split from the mountainside and toppled towards them. Trapped in a bowl in the glacier they had nowhere to run to for safety.

There were five Sherpas on the rope with Abiral. Two of them were hit by the ice and swept away, including his friend Akash Tamang, one of the expedition’s cooks. “It all happened in front of my eyes. I just happened to be in a safe place. I didn’t even get hit by the wind of the avalanche.” Behind him, a large group of Sherpas weren’t so lucky. Twelve bodies were discovered in the same location attached to the same rope, in the same depression in the glacier.

Jiban Ghimire, owner of Shangri-La Nepal, lost four of his team with one still missing, some of them working for an NBC crew filming the attempt by wing-suit flier Joby Ogwyn to base jump from the top of the mountain.

Civilian rescue helicopters removed the bodies using lines to lift them from the glacier, although Abiral Rai says there were fears among the Sherpas that the operation might dislodge more ice. The dead were flown to Pheriche, where the Himalayan Rescue Association runs a health post, before the Nepalese army flew the bodies to Namche Bazaar and Lukla.

Base camp is currently crowded as the peak climbing season on Everest approaches. A weather window in May allows the greatest chance of success.

Dawa Tashi Sherpa, below, among survivors, is being treated in intensive care. Photograph: Prakash Mathema/AFP

Last year more than 500 climbers reached the summit of Everest. On 19 May about 150 climbed the last 915m to the peak within hours of each other, causing lengthy delays as mountaineers queued to descend or ascend harder sections.

Officials have cut mountaineering fees for many other peaks while requiring each climber scaling Everest to bring back 8kg of rubbish in an attempt to clean up the “roof of the world”.

Last year officials floated the idea of installing a ladder on the famous Hillary Step, a crucial stretch of technical climbing at nearly 8,840m (29,000ft) on Everest, named after its first climber, Sir Edmund Hillary.

Though such innovations are anathema to many purist climbers, some Sherpas welcome them. The impact Everest’s worst ever accident will have on the Sherpa community is audible in Jiban Ghimire’s cracked voice as he lists the villages in the Sherpa homeland that lost sons. “Two from Thamo, one from Phurte, one from Taksindu.”

Families were gathering last night in Namche and Kathmandu for the Buddhist funeral rites. Monks pray over the dead and choose an auspicious time for the bodies to be cremated. After 49 days, another ceremony is held for the souls of the dead to escape Bardo, or purgatory, and move on to their next life.

Those few weeks will be a testing time for the Sherpa community and for climbing on Everest. The death of so many Sherpas in one accident has dealt a huge blow to this tight-knit community. They now face a dilemma. While the mountains are sacred to Sherpas, Everest is also their workplace. Climbing and trekking has transformed Khumbu, the region closest to Everest. According to UN figures, levels of poverty in the district around Namche are the lowest in Nepal.

Yet the price being paid for this prosperity is much too high for some. Jemima Sherpa, daughter of the first Sherpa to get a PhD, tweeted: “There are the tragedies, and there are the tragic vanities that lead to them.” Ang Tsering, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association and a community leader, said no decision had yet been reached on whether the climbing season would continue. “This is such a sad day. I can’t really explain.”

Ang Tsering added that he had attended an emergency meeting at the home affairs ministry that included the deputy prime minister. “The government will be looking at ways to minimise this kind of accident in the future. They also immediately released funds for the families of the dead.” Officials, rescue workers and expedition organisers met at Base Camp on Friday afternoon to co-ordinate the rescue effort and discuss what will happen next. For Abiral Rai, his expedition is over. “I’m done with the mountains.”

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Don’t assume the bar sex pest is drunk

Posted by MereNews On April - 19 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

“Hey beautiful, where are you from?”. It was the third time the sleaze
had interrupted the bar-side conversation between my admittedly divine
female friend and me a couple of Fridays back. This time he slinked an
unwelcome arm around her waist.

A terse verbal altercation ensued in which she suggested he get lost,
he swore and called her frigid. With an all-too-familiar roll of our
eyes, we agreed: Let’s just ignore him, he’s drunk.

Wearily, that’s what I tend to assume when I see men harrassing women
in bars and clubs – that, well lubricated with beer or vodka, their
aggression is explained, although far from excused, by the fact
they’re wasted.

According to new research, however, the opposite could be true. An
academic study published last month reports that sexual aggressors’
invasiveness is not related to their own intoxication, but rather the
intoxication of their targets.

The researchers dispatched 140 trained observers into bars and clubs
in Toronto to note every incident of aggression they saw. The
observers witnessed more than 250 incidents involving sexual
aggression, in which a skin-crawling two-thirds of aggressors
physically touched women without consent.

Most striking was the recurring observation that sexually
aggressive men – 90% of the aggressors witnessed in the study were
male – overwhelmingly target women they perceive to
be drunk.

It’s a profoundly disturbing finding, suggesting that those ubiquitous
creeps who lurk in bars make a cold, clinical calculation about the
woman they will pester for sex, and the extent to which they will
pester, based precisely on that woman’s incapacity to resist.

Lest the study’s conclusions remain equivocal, its authors state in no
uncertain terms that sexual aggression frequently reflects
“intentional sexual invasiveness and unwanted persistence rather than
misperceptions in sexual advances.”

So no, that weird guy who keeps grabbing at you on the dance floor
isn’t misinterpreting your awesome Thriller-zombie moves as a come on,
he’s actively trying to invade your space and wear you down. While
probably hoping you’re intoxicated enough to be amenable to his
lecherous and aggressive advances.

Sadly I imagine that these findings will be seized upon by the
misogynistic camp that imply that the female victim who is raped while
drunk “had it coming to her”.

It’s a reductive, distorted argument that has found favour with a
growing number of women of late, not least Slate’s agony aunt Emily
Yoffe, who ignited a row
with her misplaced advice to college women to
“stop getting drunk” last autumn.

Personally I’m angered by the notion that one too many martinis makes
a victim to blame for assault (or worse), but the idea that
your common or garden jerk deliberately preys on tipsy women fills me
with cold disgust.


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Zero-hours contracts cause shopworkers’ misery

Posted by MereNews On April - 19 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

The super-flexible working conditions demanded by one of the UK’s largest supermarket chains are damaging the mental health of most of its employees, according to a new report from Cambridge University.

The report has been submitted to the government’s current review of zero-hours contracts being carried out at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). The authors say that in the light of their findings, the scope of the review should be widened to include all flexible working, arguing that employees should have the right to have a say in the scheduling of their hours.

The research, by Alex Wood and Brendan Burchell from the department of sociology at Cambridge, was based on a year of shop-floor observation, as well as interviews with supermarket workers and union officials. A parallel study at an American supermarket giant by the same team produced similar findings.

Burchell said they had chosen not to name the supermarket because similar practices are now widespread across all the major chains. “This work has really captured something going on at the sharp end and the findings are extreme and very stark. It’s clear that zero-hours contracts – which is the remit of the BIS review – are the tip of the iceberg, just one small manifestation of this much wider problem in our workplaces,” he explained.

Extreme part-time contracts, key-time contracts (which offer workers a very small number of guaranteed hours) and frequent labour matching – where managers are expected to arrange and rearrange shifts to meet predicted shopping demand at different times – are all described as a type of job insecurity and source of stress.

“Workplace flexibility is thought of as helping employees, but it has become completely subverted across much of the service sector to suit the employer – and huge numbers of workers are suffering as a consequence,” said Burchell.

“So-called ‘flexi-contracts’, whether that’s zero, eight or 10 hours – none of which can provide a living – allow low-level management unaccountable power to dictate workers’ hours and consequent income to a damaging extent that is open to incompetence and abuse.”

Managers are under such pressure that the welfare of their workers simply does not enter the equation, said Wood. “It is the invidious way that vulnerable people at the low end of the labour market are forced to live their lives that requires scrutiny,” he said. “People and their families are suffering enormous levels of anxiety, and even mental illness, because of what is fast becoming common practice. The business pressures on companies are such that with only the very weakest type of government legislation to protect workers, and with plenty of people out there to replace the existing workforce, there’s very little reason for them to do anything about it.

“High unemployment and tough economic times, combined with ever-increasing flexible working practices that favour big business, is creating a culture of servitude, trapping people in vicious cycles of instability, stress and a struggle to make ends meet. It’s affecting psychological well-being to an extent that no one is grasping.”

One British worker interviewed for the study said: “I’ve got two kids and a mortgage and I’m going to be out of a job because I can’t do these hours.” Another said: “They put a lot of stress on people … I used to be in tears.”

Even informal employee input into work schedules can help to significantly reduce the negative consequences of unpredictable working hours, Burchell said. “Much of the misery caused is probably through incompetent scheduling and management not realising the way they are controlling workers’ lives. If employees have a right to request more predictable hours enshrined in legislation that the management would have to justify refusing, it would at least help redress the balance slightly,” he said.

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Today is the 10th anniversary of the horrific death of 15-year-old Gareth Myatt at Rainsbrook secure training centre run by G4S. Gareth had refused to clean a sandwich toaster that other children had also used. Another child took on the task, but Gareth was ordered to his room and locked in. Two officers then entered and began removing Gareth’s possessions. When they tried to take a piece of paper holding his mother’s new mobile number, Gareth was said to have raised his fist. An officer “enveloped” this small child – he weighed just 6½ stone and stood less than five feet tall – and pushed him onto the bed. Three officers then forced Gareth into a sitting position, and bent his upper body towards his thighs and knees. They ignored Gareth’s cries that he couldn’t breathe and was going to defecate, which he did before vomiting. The terrifying ordeal lasted for six or seven minutes. This was Gareth’s first time in custody – he had been sentenced on a Friday afternoon and was dead by the following Monday evening.

The prison’s macho culture was exposed at Gareth’s inquest. Restraint trainers had nicknames like Clubber, Crusher, Mauler and Breaker. Children subject to the most physical restraint were dubbed “winners”. It was apparently a common belief among officers that children would lie about being breathless, even though there was a special codeword to immediately halt restraint during staff training exercises in the event of breathing difficulties. In the 12 months before Gareth died, children in Rainsbrook were subjected to exactly the same restraint – called the seated double embrace – on 369 occasions, and life-threatening harm occurred 10% of the time. The inquest jury found that Gareth’s death was an accident, but returned a damning verdict on the failures of the government and the youth justice board to review, monitor and act upon restraint concerns.

Like many children in custody, Gareth had been looked after in foster care and children’s homes, and was known to be extremely vulnerable. His mother, Pam Wilton, told me he was a very loving and quick-witted child who could “charm the birds from the trees”. An official report observes he was “academically very able”. His favourite game was chess, and he enjoyed being out on his bike and watching South Park and the Simpsons.

Pam feels she has failed her son because no one has been held accountable for his death. There have been no criminal prosecutions, and no independent inquiry. Gareth was a mixed-race child. The possibility of institutional racism could be one of the matters explored by a child-centred inquiry. Gareth’s first experience of prison restraint was when he refused to comply with a strip search on admission.

Last year, Rainsbrook was the first of four child prisons to start using a new system of restraint called minimising and managing physical restraint (MMPR). All penal institutions holding children are expected to operate MMPR by 2015; it may be extended to secure children’s homes. The manual depicting the system’s techniques has 182 redactions. Only government officials, custody officers, and a select group of experts know what ministers have authorised. The deliberate infliction of pain is among the hidden methods. Various bodies oppose the UK’s idiosyncratic reliance on pain as a form of restraint, including the UN torture committee, the European torture committee, the UK’s four children’s commissioners, the prisons inspectorate, and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.

The Ministry of Justice refused my freedom of information request for the MMPR manual because officials fear inmates will study the document in their cells and develop countermeasures. Many of the “new” techniques have similarities with those used in adult prisons, I’ve been told. It has taken me a while to decipher the doublespeak: it is the system – not the restraint techniques themselves – that has been specifically designed for children. Add this to the criminal justice and courts bill currently in parliament which aims to build bigger, cheaper child prisons, and empowers ministers to approve restraint to make children follow orders, and it would appear we have all failed Gareth Myatt.

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Not many pillars of literature who held the century past upon their shoulders lived this far into the 21st. Seamus Heaney, Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez were among the very few in their league to remain among us until recently, and now the last of that triad has departed — arguably the last epic novelist of his generation; the inspiration for the Latin American renaissance of the 1960s and “the greatest Colombian who ever lived”, according to the tribute from that country’s president, Juan Manuel Santos.

The critics and obituary writers will reach for the right genre to apply, probably converging on “magical realism” – that way in which the everyday, the vernacular, relates and expands through some drawn-back veil of consciousness to the extraordinary and the questions that propel, or sanction, human existence.

But among the many things that made “Gabo” great was that he defied genre. While One Hundred Years of Solitude, written during the mid-1960s, had an almost Zola-esque span and genealogical ambition to it, propelling history forward on an epic scale, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the story of a murder committed 30 years before its publication in 1981, narrows its focus into a forensic inquiry backwards in time to the point of claustrophobic intensity.

The whimsical Memories of My Melancholy Whores was a sufficiently strange account of a very old man’s romantic fixation with an adolescent girl to secure García Márquez condemnation from religious circles worldwide, while News of a Kidnapping remains the single most outstanding work of documentary Latin American non-fiction, charting a spate of connected kidnappings by the Medellín cartel of Pablo Escobar (the second most famous Colombian of all time), with attention to physical and psychological detail that plunges the narrative into the nightmare that it was.

Colombia‘s violencia of the 1950s and 60s– and subsequent narco, paramilitary and guerilla wars – infused almost all he wrote. After all, Márquez’s fame enabled him to act as a mediator between successive governments and its enemies. His productive decades spanned those in a country – a continent, indeed – of extreme political tumult.

Fidel Castro and Márquez became friends – some say he was the Cuban leader’s closest confidant at times – a bond which cost the Nobel laureate a fist in the face from the political nemesis who lived and worked forever in his shadow, Mario Vargas Llosa.

But in this maelstrom of a lifetime, and its reported twilight suffering dementia, it is words across pages that speak louder than, and endure beyond, the extraordinary deportment of the man. As he wrote: “What matters in life is not what happens to you, but what you remember, and how you remember it.”

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Peter Moores has been given a second opportunity to coach England after his appointment was confirmed this morning. The 51-year-old Lancashire coach previously held the job between 2007 and 2009 but was dismissed after disappointing on-field results and a damaging personality clash with then captain Kevin Pietersen, who was also deposed.

With Pietersen’s international career now over, however controversially, the way was clear for Moores to return.

He succeeds Andy Flower, who stepped down after a disastrous Ashes series last winter, and replaces Ashley Giles as the man responsible for leading England in limited-overs competitions after it was decided that the head coach must have oversight of all three formats.

Moores said in a statement released by the England and Wales Cricket Board: “I am very excited about the prospect of returning to a role I have done before and to building a strong relationship with [captain] Alastair Cook and the rest of the players and staff. In any time of change there comes opportunity and this is one I can’t wait to get stuck into.”

England and Wales Cricket Board managing director Paul Downton added: “Peter has a great reputation around the world as an outstanding coach and he will return to the role as England head coach with a great deal more experience and understanding of the challenges that the role presents. There is no doubt that he is the leading English coach of his generation and I believe that this is his time.

“His domestic credentials are beyond reproach having won the County Championship at Sussex and then repeating the feat at Lancashire, whose 2011 triumph was their first for 77 years. He was also the lead at the National Cricket Performance Centre at Loughborough between 2005 and his appointment as England coach in 2007.

“In his time with England he gave Test debuts to Stuart Broad, Matt Prior and Graeme Swann as well as helping to further the international careers of players like the current England captain Alastair Cook and James Anderson. He also brought Andy Flower into the England set-up as well as influential individuals like Mushtaq Ahmed as spin bowling coach.

“I was hugely impressed by his vision for the future of the England team and I am looking forward to working with him in the years to come.

“I would personally like to thank Ashley Giles for the job he did with the limited-overs squads in the last 18 months. It was a really difficult decision to make as we had an outstanding field but the panel were unanimous in the choice of Peter and I know that support will be echoed around the counties.”

Moores told a press conference at Lord’s: “It’s great to be back. I feel very excited, very proud to get this opportunity – it’s a great chance to work with Alastair, an outstanding player and person and try to build something. There’s an opportunity and to be part of that opportunity is very exciting. I’m very enthusiastic and want to get stuck into the challenge ahead.”

Moores also feels his spell as Lancashire coach since last holding the England job has helped him immeasurably, and he is now in a better position to take charge of the national team. “No one has a right to the job at all,” he said. “You have to earn that right. Since being England coach first time I’ve had five years at Lancashire. Coaches have to develop and I think I’ve done that, and I’m looking forward to bringing that back here.

“You learn from mistakes. You develop. I look back at last time and I’m proud of some of the things that happened. But you try and help players as a coach, you learn to help people in a better way. That’s something I’ve got better at over time and can hopefully bring that to the set-up.”

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The wide awake club: fighting insomnia

Posted by MereNews On April - 19 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Increased workloads and 24-hour access to the internet have created a world that rarely sleeps. The statistics are staggering. One 2011 survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that more than 30% of Britons suffer from insomnia or another serious sleep problem. You might think that not getting a good night’s sleep simply leaves you a bit grumpy; in reality, the effects can be far more damaging.

When you are sleep-deprived, you struggle to think straight. Research by University College London Medical School revealed that people who fail to get a full night’s sleep score significantly lower on tests of logic and vocabulary. Those who are sleep-deprived (which has been pegged at less than six hours a night) have slower reaction times, and experience blackouts known as “micro-sleeps”. At the wheel of a car, this can be dangerous: in the US, fatigue is believed to cause more than 1,500 deaths on the roads every year. Sleep deprivation can also affect your general health, by reducing levels of the hormone melatonin.

The good news is that researchers show a fair consensus about the best methods to combat sleeplessness. Here are eight of their top tips.

Avoid blue light

If you must use your smartphone, tablet or computer late in the evening, turn down the brightness. Photograph: Aaron Tilley for the Guardian

Although any type of light stops you feeling sleepy, light towards the blue end of the spectrum is especially potent. Computer screens, tablets, smartphones, flat-screen televisions and LED lighting all emit blue light. If you must use your smartphone, tablet or computer late in the evening, turn down the brightness and ensure the device is at least 30cm from your eyes. If you want to use a night light, choose one with a dim red bulb, because red light tends not to suppress the production of melatonin.

Eat smart

Don’t be tempted by a nightcap. Photograph: Aaron Tilley for the Guardian

Don’t be tempted by a nightcap. Although even a small amount of alcohol puts you to sleep more quickly, it also gives you a more disturbed night, makes you more likely to snore and disrupts dreaming. Instead, increase your chances of getting a good night’s sleep by eating a small portion of food rich in carbohydrates, such as a slice of toast or a banana.

Breathe lavender

In 2008, psychologist Chris Alford, from the University of the West of England in Bristol, sprinkled either lavender or odourless almond oil on the bedclothes of female insomniacs, and discovered that the lavender helped improve the quality of their sleep. Try a lavender diffuser or oil to ensure that your room smells of sleep.

Jump around

To maximise your chances of nodding off, you need to do at least two-and-a-half hours of moderate aerobic activity (fast walking, for example), or at least an hour-and-a-quarter of more vigorous exercise (such as running), each week. Research also shows that working out around six hours before your bedtime allows your body to calm down enough to be ready for rest. If you don’t enjoy pounding the pavement, recent research suggests yoga and tai chi will help you get a good night’s sleep.

Stay awake

People who fail to get a full night’s sleep score significantly lower on tests of logic and vocabulary. Photograph: Aaron Tilley for the Guardian

Medical researcher Niall Broomfield from the University of Glasgow investigated whether reverse psychology could be used to help people sleep. He assembled two groups of volunteers and monitored their sleep for two weeks. One group was asked to spend each night trying to stay awake for as long as possible, while the other group didn’t receive any special instructions. Those trying to stay awake felt less anxious at bedtime and reported falling asleep quicker. This may be due to a lifting of anxiety about getting off to sleep. If you try this, remember that you have to rely on the power of your mind. You may keep your eyes open, but no reading, watching television or moving about allowed.

Keep warm

Ensure your bedroom is not too hot or too cold: most sleep scientists recommend just over 18C (65F). With a normal amount of bedclothes, your body remains thermally neutral at this temperature, so you don’t have to create heat by shivering or cool down by sweating. But beware of cold feet. If you have bad circulation, your chilly extremities will keep you awake. If this is the case, wear a pair of socks to bed.

Tire your brain

Work by Stephen Haynes from Southern Illinois University suggests that making your brain tired will help you nod off. Haynes asked both insomniacs and good sleepers to carry out moderately difficult mental arithmetic tasks as they tried to fall asleep.

Those without any sleep-related problems took longer than usual to nod off, while the insomniacs did indeed get to sleep quicker. If you are not good with numbers, try a word game: think of a category (eg “countries” or “fruit and vegetables”) and come up with an example of that category for each letter of the alphabet.

Get up

If you wake for more than about 20 minutes during the night, most sleep scientists recommend getting out of bed. Photograph: Aaron Tilley for the Guardian

If you have suddenly woken up because you have remembered something that you need to do the next day, simply make a note of it and try to go back to sleep. However, if you wake for more than about 20 minutes during the night, most sleep scientists recommend getting out of bed and doing some form of non-stimulating activity. Whatever you decide to do, avoid bright lights and computer screens.

Richard Wiseman is the author of Night School (Macmillan).

And here are some products, gadgets, techniques that could help

Products: Bodyism Serenity This night-time milkshake is designed to send you straight off to sleep. About an hour before bed, whisk one scoop of this powdered blend of camomile, hops, oats, liquorice root and rosemary into a glass of milk and drink. The ingredients reduce the body’s anxiety levels and increase your sense of calm. £50 for 30 days’ supply, from uk.spacenk.com and bodyism.com

Aromatherapy Associates Deep Relax bath and shower oil Fragranced with vetivert, chamomile and sandalwood, this oil is often described as being “better than sleeping pills”. Simply add to your bath or apply to the skin in the shower. Or add a few drops to a hanky and place inside your pillowcase. £40, from aromatherapyassociates.com

Valerian No one wants to become dependent on pills, but valerian is a herbal sedative that has been shown to help you get to sleep faster and enjoy a better quality of sleep. Avoid alcohol when taking valerian, and don’t use it long-term. Ask your GP if you have any questions. Vitabiotics valerian root extract, £9.95 for 400mg (30 tablets), boots.com

Gadgets: Hypnosleep A downloadable podcast to play when you’re in bed and ready to sleep, Hypnosleep is the brainchild of hypnotherapist Tim Smale, who helped Alastair Campbell get into the right frame of mind to train for his long charity runs. £9.99, from mymindworks.co.uk

Sound Asleep pillow If you want to listen to your headphones but find them uncomfortable when you get your head down, this pillow contains a speaker that won’t disturb anyone around you. Listen to a meditation track, an audiobook or white noise. £13.99, from amazon.co.uk

FitBit Flex This wristband not only measures how much activity you’re doing over the day, but also tracks your sleep patterns at night by recording your movements and your pulse rate. It plugs into your computer’s USB port to enable you to see how much shut-eye you’re actually getting. The FitBit Flex also has a silent vibrate alarm, which means you can wake up without waking a dozing partner. From £69.99, amazon.co.uk

Techniques: Combination therapy A mixture of acupuncture, massage and hypnotherapy designed to help lower the body’s levels of cortisol – a hormone produced when the body is under stress. £100 for an hour-long treatment, twentytwotraining.com

Yoga There are at least 10 asanas (body positions) in yoga that tackle sleeplessness. Online tutorials show you everything from forward bends and gentle spinal twists to lying with your legs up the wall.

Meditation Many techniques for triumphing over sleeplessness revolve around quieting the mind and slowing the heart rate. Meditation is no different and asks us to bring our attention to our breath rather than obsessing about our lack of sleep.

• By Nicole Mowbray

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John Lewis in party mood as 150th anniversary nears

Posted by MereNews On April - 19 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

In many ways the two businesses are similar: both are household names in retail, selling everything from food to fridges to insurance; both have been in business since the 19th century and now have a turnover of more than £10bn a year – and neither answers to shareholders because they are owned by either their staff or members.

But that is where the similarities end. While the Co-op has just unveiled an annual loss of £2.5bn and is facing the biggest crisis in its 170 years, John Lewis last month announced a profit of £376m, paid out a bonus equal to eight weeks’ pay to every member of staff and is now gearing up to celebrate its 150th anniversary in some style.

“People say the co-owned model finds it difficult to move with the times but we have,” says Andy Street, chief executive of the John Lewis department store chain. “Just as one example of a mutual is finding life difficult, we are proving those naysayers wrong. We have learned and adapted over the years to new environments. We are able to adapt and surprise people and demonstrate our relevance.”

Street reckons there are two key differences between the two retailers that explain the contrasting fortunes of the Co-op and John Lewis – the way the boardrooms are run and the way each has chosen to expand. While the Co-op waded into the market to take over the Somerfield supermarket chain and the Britannia building society – deals that imported huge problems – John Lewis has pursued its own growth.

“We have elected directors, [independent] non-executive directors and [full-time] executives. That is similar to the model Lord Myners has suggested for the Co-op.

“The management of John Lewis has the ability to be decisive, quick and effective. We are accountable to our members, but it is the executives who take the decisions. We have also stuck to our core job. We haven’t gone for acquisitions. Our mission has always been not to be distracted.”

So while the debt-laden Co-op’s future remains far from certain, and its interim boss is warning that it needs wholesale change at the top to survive, John Lewis is planning a party and hoping to cash in on its anniversary celebrations.

The festivities range from turning the roof of its central London store into a public garden to a multi-media promotional effort that will attempt to build on the success of the store’s Christmas bear and hare advertising campaign. The cute cartoon characters were viewed 10m times on YouTube, created a buzz online and were high profile in-store. The retailer is aiming to put some of the same techniques into action to boost sales this spring and summer. “We will be deploying all those lessons,” says Street.

The planned events will kick off with a 90-second TV ad on May Day bank holiday, which will celebrate British history alongside that of John Lewis.

The historical theme will continue at the Oxford Street store in central London, which will host a re-creation of the single drapery shop on the same spot that launched the business in 1864.

Shops around the country will also celebrate historical periods and all will sell specially created products that revive some of the best designs from different eras.

John Lewis’s attempt to stir up a party mood is part of a wider trend among retailers try to make the most of shopping “occasions” amid evidence that shoppers are more willing to splash out around such events. While Christmas and Easter have long been red letter days, retailers have begun to make more of other dates on the calender such as Mother’s Day, and to develop their own events such as Black Friday, the US-born pre-Christmas bargain day which caused a stir in the UK for the first time last year.

Street says: “Of course we are trying to create an occasion. But it is much deeper than that. It’s about how our ownership structure has given us an advantage at a time when retail is changing. It’s about John Lewis’s contribution to the big national picture.”

He added: “This has been a very different business model for a long time. Just the longevity is a surprise and I think customers have some understanding of that, but not that deep. This is a great opportunity for us to draw attention to our history and to how we’ve been successful.”

Prosperous partners: how socialism made for high street success

John Lewis may have founded the company that bears his name, but it was his visionary son Spedan, who turned it into a staff-owned business.

The partnership started, Spedan Lewis said, “with an idea for a better way of managing business, so that instead of the many being exploited by the few, there will be genuine partnership for managers and the managed alike, all pulling together for their common advantage”.

It was John Lewis’s son Spedan, above, who turned the company into a staff-owned business. Photograph: John Lewis/PA

Influenced by the ideas of the Welsh social reformer Robert Owen and the artist and designer William Morris, who founded the Socialist League in 1884, Lewis began to set up democratic staff councils in 1919 and first experimented with sharing profits at the Peter Jones store in 1920.

In 1928 he published a constitution with missives on everything from how to treat shoppers in lifts to the “never knowingly undersold” principle, which remains a key part of John Lewis’s business today.

The firm finally converted to a partnership and began sharing profits in 1929 after a decade of slow evolution – much of which was carried out without the knowledge of Lewis’s father, who ultimately controlled the business until his death in 1928.

The partnership structure kept the company strong during the Great Depression of the 1930s and the difficult 1940s. It continued to invest, expanding into new areas, which even included a zoo at the Peter Jones branch in Sloane Square, London, at one point.

Lewis also bought up the grocery chain Waitrose in 1937 and a string of regional department stores from his rival retail entrepreneur Gordon Selfridge just after the second world war broke out. Those deals helped the business survive when the key store in Oxford Street was bombed in 1940, putting it almost completely out of operation for eight years.

Over the ensuing decades the partnership had its ups and downs and was widely viewed as being outdated and out of touch by the early years of the 21st century as profits shrank. But the company began to modernise, rebranding regional stores under the John Lewis name, accepting credit cards and opening on Sundays. Today the company is seen as one of the British high street’s biggest success stories.

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The former Belfast commander of the hardline anti-peace process paramilitary group, the Continuity IRA, has been shot dead in the city.

Tommy Crossan, 44, was killed near the Peter Pan light industrial complex on Springfield Road in Belfast at around 4.45pm on Friday.

The murdered man, who comes from the west of the city, served six years in Maghaberry top security prison a decade ago for a CIRA gun attack on a police station in Belfast.

Local nationalist SDLP councillor Colin Keenan, who lives near the scene of the shooting, condemned those behind the murder.

“I was on the scene shortly after this tragic event and I extend my heartfelt sympathy to the victim’s family. We have long hoped that the shadow of death had been lifted from west Belfast. Today’s event is a terrible, tragic reminder of the violent conflict of the past,” Keenan said.

Details about the murder are still sketchy but it comes at a time of rising tensions among dissident republicans who are embroiled in a violent internal power struggle.

Last week a former CIRA killer, Declan “Fat Deccy” Smith, was buried in his native Belfast after being assassinated outside a Dublin creche at the end of March.

Smith had been blamed for the double killing of two rival republican dissidents, Eddie Burns and Joseph Jones, who were murdered in 2007 in Belfast. Jones had been tortured and beaten to death with a spade over a dispute about the seizure of weapons and the control over the republican faction.

In a statement from the Continuity IRA’s leadership on Friday, the terror group singled out a number of former members whom they accused of “criminal activity perpetrated in the name of the republican movement”.

Referring to an attempted coup four years ago against the CIRA command, the organisation said: “The treachery of 2010 was a carefully planned attempt to arrest and destroy the republican movement as it exists today in the continuing defence of the Irish Republic proclaimed at the GPO Dublin in 1916. These people have failed and the criminal conspirators they have left in their wake shall dissipate.”

And in a warning to its rivals, the paramilitary organisation added: “There will be other attempts to raise issues of contention ranging across diverse matters, for example principles, structures, authority, democracy, discipline and many others into the future. That said nobody is going to put the republican movement in their pocket and walk away to self-serve, for in doing so they will be turning away from the principles which sustain this movement and which are the ultimate guarantee of our success.”

In 2000 Crossan was serving 10 years for conspiracy to murder RUC officers following a gun attack on a police station in west Belfast in 1998. He led a prison protest for political status in Maghaberry and at one stage spent 23 hours a day locked in his cell as punishment for refusing to do prison work.

In an interview Crossan was defiant about “armed struggle” continuing despite rising support for Sinn Féin and the peace process.

He said: “I am confident that the armed struggle will go on outside here and that, sadly, will mean more of my comrades being jailed and sent into this place. The bigger we get, the harder it will be for the authorities to treat us as criminals.”

The CIRA was formed after splits in Republican Sinn Féin (RSF) in 1986. However, it was mainstream Sinn Féin’s decision to sign up to non-violence principles during all-party talks in the run up to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that finally prompted Crossan to leave the Provisional IRA.

In a bitter attack on Sinn Féin, Crossan told the Observer: “Bobby Sands [the IRA hunger striker and MP] is one of my great heroes … I was 10 when he died, that’s when I became interested in republicanism but everything he fought for has been sold out. Prisoners like him died for political status, and now it’s being taken away from republicans at a time Sinn Féin are doing something they vowed they would never do – sit in a Stormont government.”

There are at least two factions within the CIRA: the mainstream organisation loyal to its Dublin leadership, whose main base remains around North Armagh, and a rival faction started by disgruntled republicans from Limerick with a few members in Belfast which has been in violent dispute with the main group.

The CIRA is the most hardline of the armed groups opposed to the Northern Ireland peace process. It was responsible for the 2009 murder of Constable Stephen Carroll in Craigavon. He was the first officer of the Police Service of Northern Ireland to be killed by republican paramilitaries.

Members of the security forces have been on high alert for attacks by various extremist factions who have also killed two soldiers and a prison officer.

In recent weeks they have stepped up efforts to kill police officers, with several attacks on the force in west Belfast.

After the murder of prison officer David Black on the M1 motorway in November 2012, police mounted an unprecedented surveillance operation against various factions as well making significant arrests.

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