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The Doctor's Consultation

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

Life in Chiang Mai

Let's Go To The Movies

Don’t Miss


Bridge in Paradise

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Cancer research - the never-ending story

“Cancer” is a word - not a sentence, which really is very correct. “Cancer” is also a word that everyone has heard, but is not a condition that everyone understands. And that includes the medical profession.
There are many reasons for this, including the fact that your reaction to ‘carcinogens’ (cancer producing substances) is not necessarily the same as the reaction of the person sitting next to you. Individual differences do exist, and may even be inherited (genetic) influences.
Cancer is caused by abnormalities in a cell’s DNA (its genetic blueprint). Abnormalities may be inherited from your parents, or they may be caused by outside exposures such as chemicals, radiation, or even infectious agents including viruses. Some of these conditions do not act on DNA directly, but cause cancer in other ways, such as causing cells to divide at a faster rate. All of these substances that can cause changes that can lead to cancer are called ‘carcinogens’.
The difficulties in studying them come from the fact that known carcinogens do not cause cancer in every case, every time. Substances classified as carcinogens may have different levels of cancer-causing potential. Some may cause cancer only after prolonged, high levels of exposure (remember the words of Paracelsus: “Dosage alone determines poisoning”). And for any particular person, the risk of developing cancer will depend on many factors, including the length and intensity of exposure to the carcinogen and the person’s genetic makeup.
So just how do we classify any compound as being a carcinogen? With difficulty, is the simple answer. The research chappies get much of their data about whether or not something might be carcinogenic from laboratory (cell culture and animal) studies. However, you have also to remember that Man is not a Large Rat (even though certain divorced ladies might attest differently). It is not possible, on animal studies alone, to pin the carcinogen rap on any particular compound. It does, however, give us an indication. Although it isn’t possible to predict with absolute certainty which substances will be carcinogenic to humans based on animal studies alone, virtually all known human carcinogens that have been adequately tested in lab animals produce cancer in these animals.
Another problem comes from the fact that most studies of potential carcinogens in lab animals expose the animals to doses that are far higher than common human exposures. For most carcinogens, it is assumed that those that cause cancer at larger doses in animals will also cause cancer in people. This produces the concept, in some quarters, that it is reasonable for public health purposes, to assume that lowering human exposure will reduce risk. Understandable logic, but far from absolute.
Another way to identify carcinogens is through epidemiologic studies, which look at the factors that might affect the occurrence of cancer in human populations. While these studies also provide useful information, they also have their limitations. Humans do not live in a controlled environment. People are exposed to numerous substances at any one time, including those they encounter at work, school, or home; in the food they eat; and the air they breathe (including secondhand cigarette smoke). It is usually many years (often decades) between exposure to a carcinogen and the development of a cancer. Therefore, it can be very difficult to single out any particular exposure as having a definite link to cancer.
The most widely used system for classifying carcinogens comes from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO). The IARC has evaluated the cancer-causing potential of about 900 likely candidates in the last 30 years, placing them into one of the following groups:
Group 1: Carcinogenic to humans
Group 2A: Probably carcinogenic to humans
Group 2B: Possibly carcinogenic to humans
Group 3: Unclassifiable as to carcinogenicity in humans
Group 4: Probably not carcinogenic to humans
There are around 90 carcinogens in Group 1, with most being referred to by long chemical names such as 1-(2-Chloroethyl)-3-(4-methylcyclohexyl)-1-nitrosourea (Methyl-CCNU; Semustine); however, there are ones you will recognize like solar radiation, alcoholic beverages, analgesic mixtures containing phenacetin, salted fish (Chinese-style) and tobacco smoke.
Yes, tobacco smoke - yours or the person next door! Stop now!


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
Against my better judgment, I have come over here on a holiday from the UK. What with all the problems with the airport and political rallies, there is something even more shocking. I can put up with the endless beer bars with young women trying to get people to sit down and drink. I can put up with the fact there are go-go bars with women displaying their bodies as some sort of tourist attraction, but I cannot put up with the way old foreign men walk around with young Thai girls hanging on to their hand. We call this getting a ‘trophy’ wife. “See how clever I am.” “See what I won on my holidays.” What is your take on all this, or do you consider it to be part of the norm in Thailand?
Disgusted from Dagenham
Dear Disgusted from Dagenham,
I think you should sit down and analyze just why you are disgusted by older foreigners consorting with younger Thai people, my Petal. You mention old men and young females, but you will also see old men and young males, and even (shock-horror) older women and young Thai people. The only danger that I can see in these types of relationships (and I am talking here of holiday arrangements, not long-term associations) comes when either partner forgets that it is a union of convenience. Where in Dagenham is an older man going to find a young person who is willing to be his guide, dinner partner and bed-mate for a two week holiday fling? However, the dangers that are just under the surface can be real. Dad from Dagenham gets back to his flat in the UK and his happy memories can make him do all kinds of silliness, such as sending money back to Thailand in large lumps, when he should be getting the large lumps from being hit on the head with a large stick to make him wake up to reality. So, in answer to your question, I do not find it “shocking” and in fact I hope that the people all benefit from the associations, without being ripped off afterwards.

Dear Hillary,
Can you help me please? I have found that Thai people all seem very direct and ask you personal questions all the time. Things like “How much money you make? You married yet? Why not? You got wife Thai? You want girlfriend? You want me to go with you? How much money you got?” Apart from the fact that this is considered a very rude way of starting a relationship in the US, I also find it very embarrassing when I am over here. How do I get these people to stop doing this? You seem to have the answers for everyone else, so I hope you have some for me too.
Dear Jim,
It is very easy to stop people asking you these direct, personal and embarrassing questions - stop frequenting the beer bars, Petal. These are stock bar stool questions that every new bar girl learns from a book, during her one week apprenticeship at Lucky Legs a Go-Go. (If there is a Lucky Legs somewhere, nothing personal, OK?) Yes, there is a book that they learn from, and the same book also shows the begging letters to be sent after the customer goes back home. “I lub you too mut, teerak.” I’m afraid that if you want the company and attention, you are going to have to learn to put up with the stock questions. Did this never occur to you when you found you were asked the same questions in every different venue?

Dear Hillary,
I am trying to avoid the well documented pitfalls that you highlight in this column - and thank you for some good advice over the years. I will be coming over again this year, but I read somewhere that all Thai girls want is to get their hands in your pockets, and once they have cleaned you out, that’s it. “No Money, No Honey” as the T shirt says, but is this really true? I have met a few nice girls every time I’ve come over, and although I pay for everything when we’re out together, I think that’s natural. I pay for everything here at home when I take out a woman, so what’s the difference?
Confused Charlie
Dear Confused Charlie (as opposed to Cheap Charlie),
There will always be some payment down the line, Charlie. In the hard light of day, after the commerce of the previous evening, you have to remember that your young woman has been working. That is her job, and that is how she pays for her room, buys food and sends money back to the village so that her mother can look after her baby. Now, would you continue to work for a company that doesn’t pay you? You might even wear a T shirt which says “No Salary, No Slavery” or something similar, would you not? In reply to your questioning whether all Thai girls want to get their hands in your pockets, the answer is an emphatic No! But that is when you are talking about all Thai girls, and not just the Thai ladies of the night. The answer would be somewhat different then. Enjoy your time here, you sound like a gentleman.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

10 Tips to start the New Year

There will be many new photographers out there, both young and old(er) ones, who have received a camera from Santa’s sack. This week’s column is for you, which will hopefully stop you acquiring the knowledge on this page the painful way, so take advantage of my (years of) experience!
Over the years, I have been asked many times to give out the “secrets” you learn in the professional photography arena. There are really no secrets; they are all here, just keep reading. I should add that all these tips come from real life experiences which have happened to myself and other pro shooters. None of it is made up.
Tip number 1. Read the manual. Read the manual again. In the case of digital cameras, read the manual again. You cannot do it too often. With digitals, you can see the effect immediately. Now read the manual again.
Tip number 2. Frequently check the exposure controls on your camera, that they really are set on Auto, or Shutter priority or what have you. It is very easy to knock the controls and settings when taking the camera in and out of the bag, or even when it has been hanging round your neck.
Tip number 3. When you get the book of prints back, and the envelope with the negatives from the photo shop, or the CD with the images, immediately write on them the subject material of the shots and the date. Do this with black texta pen so it doesn’t rub off and you will have saved yourself hours of work, flicking through books of prints and CDs, while looking for “Solomon Islands 1998”.
Tip number 4. When going on holidays with your camera, take spare batteries with you - always. No matter how new the batteries, if there is a failure while you are trekking in Nepal, or just lazing on the beaches in Koh Chang you will not be able to get the correct replacement. Remember that your camera may also use more than one type of battery, another trap for young players.
Tip number 5. Always carry one more memory stick or roll of film than you think you’ll need when on holidays. The shot of a lifetime will appear and you will have already used all your film. Likewise, when you are digital, you haven’t got the time to sit there going ‘review-delete-review-delete’ with your digital.
Tip number 6. Always check that the camera neck strap is indeed tight and secure on both ends. If one end lets go, the camera will hit the ground before you have time enough to react. Cameras do not bounce well, if at all.
Tip number 7. Never keep your camera in the glove box of your car. Temperatures that can be reached in the cubby hole reach as high as 50 plus degrees Celsius in our blazing summers. The newer “plastic” bodied cameras and camera backs can actually warp with the high temperature.
Tip number 8. When you decide that you want an enlargement made of one particular shot, arrange for it straight away, while you still have the negative or CD handy, and before it gets covered in dust and scratched, making it impossible to get a decent enlargement. And before it gets lost, even though you have written on it what the CD is about (see Tip number 3).
Tip number 9. Always put spare memory sticks or cards back in their plastic containers, and keep them in the camera bag. I even suggest you tie them in place, so they don’t get lost. When you need it in a hurry, it has to be accessible. It will happen, believe me.
Tip number 10. When shooting kids or animals for doting parents/owners, try and duck the job! However, if you have to, get down to their level. You’ll get a better shot! Kids or animals.

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

To cut or not to cut? Now that is a question - part 1

A big debate right now amongst certain financial circles is whether investors, who have seen equity holdings fall by 50% or more this year, should now act, cutting and running at a huge loss or whether they should sit tight and wait for recovery.
In December, we saw an email from an advisor quoting verbatim Warren Buffett’s New York Times article of October 17 “Buy American. I Am”. Anyone wanting to read the full article should follow this link - partner=rssuserland&emc= rss&pagewanted=all © Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company.
At the time, i.e. October, we wrote that anyone wanting to hear the latest financial thinking of one of the most successful US strategic equity investors should probably just ignore it … and wait for the next annual general meeting of Buffett’s listed investment company, Berkshire Hathaway. Because we really do not believe that the article is anything like an accurate state of Buffett’s current take on the market and find the article totally disingenuous other than the opening line, “The financial world is a mess, both in the United States and abroad. Its problems, moreover, have been leaking into the general economy, and the leaks are now turning into a gusher. In the near term, unemployment will rise, business activity will falter and headlines will continue to be scary.”
Buffett wrote the article to tell the world that he’s been buying American stocks but quickly adds: “This is my personal account I’m talking about, in which I previously owned nothing but United States government bonds. (This description leaves aside my Berkshire Hathaway holdings, which are all committed to philanthropy.) If prices keep looking attractive, my non-Berkshire net worth will soon be 100 percent in United States equities.”
Buffett then gives us a reason for this: “A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful. And most certainly, fear is now widespread, gripping even seasoned investors. To be sure, investors are right to be wary of highly leveraged entities or businesses in weak competitive positions. But fears regarding the long-term prosperity of the nation’s many sound companies make no sense. These businesses will indeed suffer earnings hiccups, as they always have. But most major companies will be setting new profit records 5, 10 and 20 years from now.”
Hmmm, so a man who just turned 78 years old on the eve of the September market meltdown is buying with a 20 year time horizon. I am sorry, but I just do not buy that.
Buffett likes to mythologize - Buffett rails against hedge funds and positions himself as a long term buy and holder whereas his investment management style owes more to the activism and trading activities of hedge and private equity funds than it does to mainstream long term value equity funds which is why none of the guys in that sector can get anything like his results - whereas the Private Equity and Hedge managers can. And why is Buffett buying on his private account when Berkshire is stuffed with cash?
Admittedly Berkshire is doing deals too but that’s not the drift of Buffett’s article and there is no mention that Berkshire is also selling financials. If Buffett were taking the best deals for his personal account and leaving Berkshire with the rest of the pickings, how would that look?
It just doesn’t make sense to us. What’s more, we think that the Sage of Omaha doth protest too much: “A little history here: During the Depression, the Dow hit its low, 41, on July 8, 1932. Economic conditions, though, kept deteriorating until Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in March 1933. By that time, the market had already advanced 30 percent. Or think back to the early days of World War II, when things were going badly for the United States in Europe and the Pacific. The market hit bottom in April 1942, well before Allied fortunes turned. Again, in the early 1980s, the time to buy stocks was when inflation raged and the economy was in the tank. In short, bad news is an investor’s best friend. It lets you buy a slice of America’s future at a marked-down price. Over the long term, the stock market news will be good. In the 20th century, the United States endured two world wars and other traumatic and expensive military conflicts; the Depression; a dozen or so recessions and financial panics; oil shocks; a flu epidemic; and the resignation of a disgraced president. Yet the Dow rose from 66 to 11,497. You might think it would have been impossible for an investor to lose money during a century marked by such an extraordinary gain. But some investors did. The hapless ones bought stocks only when they felt comfort in doing so and then proceeded to sell when the headlines made them queasy.”

Now that’s going too far - if an investment is a good investment, you don’t have to scare people into buying it. Typical Buffett that he wraps it all up in compelling, folksy wisdom to follow Wayne Gretzky’s advice to skate to where the puck is going as opposed to where it has been.
This is a high quality propaganda exercise. It just doesn’t make sense ... Re-read all the Berkshire Hathaway reports since the turn of the millennium - Buffett and Charlie Munger saw this crash coming ... and forecasted that it could be far more catastrophic than it has ... and that it will take many years to fix ... and that America has sold off the family silver and may never recover ... and that the kinds of derivatives embedded in the balance sheets of Goldman Sachs are impossible to quantify and Wall Street firms should be avoided at all costs.
Our conclusion is that Buffett believes the opposite of what he’s saying and doing right now. So why would he do it? There are 3 possible explanations:
• The market is likely to rally over the next few months - by buying now and talking it up, Buffett could exit with a nice trading profit. We don’t really buy that though. That’s what we did last in the last week of October buying US stocks for the first time in 9 years but we’ve already sold them again to realize a decent immediate profit on these.
• Buffett has simply changed his mind - we don’t buy that either; these aren’t simply one-time opinions that Buffett’s words and actions now contradict; they fly in the face of long held, maybe even lifelong beliefs.
• Maybe at 78 years of age, the world’s richest man wants to leave a legacy other than his reputation for building up Berkshire Hathaway and his subsequent philanthropic interests - maybe he wants to be the J. Pierpont Morgan of the 21st century. Perhaps he wants to save America from itself. This scenario is more believable. We think that Buffett is on a white charger trying to save America and its markets. What aging billionaire wouldn’t be prepared to throw away a few billion dollars over the remaining years of his life to buy a place in the history books; an enduring kudos long after he’s gone?
So when Buffett concludes his article with, “Today my money and my mouth both say equities” our response would be, with respect, we think both his mouth and his money are talking with forked tongues. We remain great fans of Berkshire Hathaway but not of Buffett’s personal investment strategy.
Sadly all the vested interest equity fund managers, so called private bankers and general Wall St equity-philes whose advice in all conditions amounts to a perpetual allocation to stocks have not changed their habitual tune. We are disappointed that the current situation hasn’t woken them up, even if we never really expected it to.
To be continued…

The above data and research was compiled from sources believed to be reliable. However, neither MBMG International Ltd nor its officers can accept any liability for any errors or omissions in the above article nor bear any responsibility for any losses achieved as a result of any actions taken or not taken as a consequence of reading the above article. For more information please contact Paul Gambles on [email protected]

Life in Chiang Mai: by Mark Whitman

Two important concerts

The music scene in Chiang Mai seemed to go from strength to strength during 2008 with excellent and innovative concerts throughout the year for every taste. We enjoyed Thai music and dance, plenty of jazz, musical theatre, and an abundance of popular music as well as classical and contemporary works.
This January looks like continuing the trend, with jazz nights being introduced on Saturdays at Payap, a recent all Beethoven recital, a melodious flute filled evening, and Romeo and Juliet the Thai musical from the 24th at the Kad Theatre. Plus two other intriguing-sounding events of international calibre.
The first of these will be on Saturday evening, January 17, at the AUA on Rachadamnaern Road, in the heart of the old city. This concert is by two acclaimed American performers – Peter H. Bloom on flute and Mary Jane Rupert on piano and harp. Their concert is an exciting blend of early and modern music from Bach to a Thai premiere of a work by the American composer Elizabeth Vercoe, entitled Kleemation (2003).
I don’t know whether the title refers to the artist Paul Klee, but it would not surprise me since his sometimes spiky and jaunty works have always suggested movement and often music to me. There’s also a duet for flute and piano by the great Aaron Copland and music by Schubert among other composers. Tickets are 300 baht (200 for students) and further information can be got from either the AUA on 053 211 377 or by phoning K. Mongkol on 081 682 8000.
A little later in the month, that bastion of the city’s musical life, Bennett Lerner, gives us the third of his celebrations of the music of Gabriel Fauré and his contemporaries, under the overall title, Nocturnes and Barcarolles. This event is scheduled for Saturday evening, January 31, also at 7.30 p.m. The venue is the Saisuree Chutikul Music Hall, Payap University, Mae Kao Campus. Tickets are 200 baht: further information on 081 804 3920.
As usual, Lerner will be in company with a ‘music friend’ – this time the mezzo-soprano Sheilagh Angpiroj. The judiciously programmed concert is centred on two famous love affairs of the period in Paris. The first, between the composer Fauré and a talented and wealthy singer who later married Debussy, resulted in a number of songs specially written for Emma Barduc. The most famous work which resulted from their liaison was La Bonne Chanson and this will be performed by Angpriroj, accompanied by Lerner.
He will take centre stage with the work Portrait of Painters, written by Reynaldo Hahn in 1894 when the Venezuelan composer was only 19 and had not long met the writer Marcel Proust, who was four years his senior. Hahn, who had been in Paris for nearly a decade, and the great novelist-to-be fell in love and remained friends until the writer’s death some 30 years later. I must admit to never hearing this work and look forward to this ‘personal premiere,’ which was apparently in part inspired by their relationship and by Proust’s early poems.
Both concerts sound fascinating and what a contrast they will be to the ‘torture’ that many of us have been forced to endure over the run up to both Christmas and new year at the local shopping malls, especially Central Kad Suan Kaew, where hideous versions of corny – and inappropriate – Christmas songs and carols have been piped out at full blast.
They can’t have helped intended sales surely, since one had to flee the building rather than endure the whine of kids’ choirs and ‘popular’ versions of Silent Night, Holy Night, amongst other travesties. I was reminded of a remark by Dilys Powell, the doyenne of British film critics, when writing about a movie version of a Chinese opera: “It was like being hit over the head, relentlessly, by a mis-strung banjo.” One more reason to be glad that the overlong period of ‘celebration’ (more Santa Claus than Christmas, as one friend remarked) has ended and we can settle down to the new year in the hope that it proves a peaceful and stable one – both socially and economically – for the Kingdom.

Let's Go To The Movies: : Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
Yes Man:
US Comedy – Jim Carrey as a man who signs up for a self-help program based on one simple principle: say “yes” to everything for an entire year.  At first, unleashing the power of “yes” transforms Carl’s life in amazing and unexpected ways, but he soon discovers that opening up his life to endless possibilities can have its drawbacks.  Mixed or average reviews.
US Horror/ Mystery/ Thriller – A television reporter and her cameraman are trapped inside a building quarantined by the US government after the outbreak of a mysterious virus which turns humans into bloodthirsty killers.  It has the single hand-held camera style of such recent movies as Cloverfield.  Some people find the “one actual camera” trick leads to heightened reality; others find that the constant jiggling of the picture and rough-shod editing gives them a terrible headache.  If you think you can put up with it, you will find this to be a quite frightening movie, as I did, once the introductory first 20 boring minutes are over.  Rated R in the US for bloody violent and disturbing content, terror, and language.  Mixed or average reviews.
The Happiness of Kati:
Thai Family/ Drama – Based on the best-selling novel by Ngarmpan Vejjajiva, winner of the 2006 S.E.A Write Award, and one of the most beloved and well-known contemporary children’s books in Thailand.  The mother of nine-year-old Kati is suffering from an incurable illness, and Kati must go through steps of happiness and sorrow to learn the lessons of life.  Not enough believable conflict in the script to make it a compelling drama, but it is well-acted, and beautifully and lovingly photographed.  Best described as a loving tone poem of a film to a certain Thai way of life and living.
Bedtime Stories:
US Comedy/ Fantasy – Starring Adam Sandler.  A surprisingly pleasant and amusing family-friendly movie about a hotel handyman whose life is changed forever when the bedtime stories he tells his niece and nephew start to mysteriously come true.  The director is Adam Shankman (Hairspray).
Australia Drama/ Adventure – Baz Luhrmann returns to the screen to direct his first feature film since 2001’s Moulin Rouge, and I think he does so in grand style.  Set against the backdrop of World War II, it’s the epic, sweeping tale of an English woman (Nicole Kidman) who inherits a sizable cattle ranch “down under.”  With the bombing of the city of Darwin on the horizon, she teams with a cattle driver (Hugh Jackman) to save the ranch.  Mixed or average reviews.  Vista is showing it in a Thai-dubbed version only.
4 Romances:
Thai Romance – Four love stories directed by four Thai filmmakers. Pretty unexciting.
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa:
US Animation/ Family – A delightful animated picture, with the animals of the original Madagascar in new adventures and breath-taking exploits.  I had a lot of fun with it, but then I like cartoons.  In the vast plains of Africa, the members of the Central Park Zoo-raised crew encounter species of their own kind for the very first time.  Generally favorable reviews.
 Super Hap: Thai Comedy/ Musical – An enjoyable Thai teen-oriented musical comedy, in which two guys try to break into the music industry by forming a Korean-style boy band.  But the one who looks cute and can dance can’t sing, and the other can sing but doesn’t look the part.  There are some quite entertaining bits and though it seemed to lose its way in sentimentality toward the end, it’s still one of the better Thai comedies.
Happy Birthday:
Thai Drama/ Romance – Ananda Everingham is a travel photographer who travels around Thailand with his guide/girlfriend, until she has a car accident and ends up in a hospital in a coma.  A weepy love story, and maddeningly tedious to most farangs, I’m afraid.  Beautiful location photography.
Scheduled for Jan 15
The Elephant King:
US/ Thai Drama/ Romance – Filmed for the most part in Chiang Mai.  Explores the twisted symbiosis between two American brothers - one domineering and nihilistic, the other guileless and introspective - as they binge on drink, drugs, and women in Chiang Mai, in our beloved Space Bubble Disco, among other local sights.  A domineering mother dispatches her young, introverted son Oliver off to Chiang Mai to do everything he can to lure his reckless, older brother back home to the U.S. to face pending fraud charges.  Oliver finds the intoxication of Chiang Mai hard to resist – as he falls deeply in love for the first time, Jake slips deeper into despair, and the seams of their relationship begin to come undone.  When the true extent of Jake’s decadence and self-destruction is revealed to Oliver, he is forced to decide whether he will save his brother’s life or his own.  Rated R in the US for sexual content, drug use, language and some violence.  Mixed or average reviews.

Don’t Misss : by Andy Archer

Artspace on 7 on Sirimongalajahn Soi 7 is kicking off the New Year with an amazing show entitled ‘Where is my Prize’ starring the talented Antoine Garth, being shown on 3 evenings, January 15, 16 and 17.
This show will feature the music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim (Sweeny Todd, Into the Woods, Company, Sunday in the Park with George and West Side Story). Antoine will be accompanied by pianist Remi Namtet.
This trio of events are by reservations only. Tickets are 600 baht which also includes one drink and a delicious decadent dessert. When making the reservation music lovers should stipulate which date they prefer and also which dessert they desire, whether it is Dark Chocolate Truffle Plate, Carrot Cake, Grasshopper Pie, or Double Chocolate Cake. For reservations or further info email [email protected] or call 085 622 6607


Cacti - you either love them or hate them

If you really do hate cacti - my advice is ‘Get over it!’ With months of dry weather and plenty of sunshine ahead of us, now is the perfect time to consider buying some cacti.
I know many of us believe that we really do not like these fascinating plants, but I do urge you to look at them more closely and learn to appreciate their qualities. They posses the most incredible geometry and symmetry, and their spines have adapted over millions of years in a multiplicity of ingenious designs in order to overcome the most hostile and inhospitable environments where few living organisms have found a way of surviving. You’ll find it won’t be long before you’re gasping in admiration and wonder at the powers of Darwin’s ‘natural selection’.
Of course, in a desert where food is scarce, cacti have to avoid being eaten, hence the spiny defence; however, some varieties do not actually have spines, resorting to camouflage and looking just like hard, stony pebbles. Others are completely ignored by hungry predators because they are not even seen amongst the real pebbles.
If you enjoy picking up pebbles on a beach, you will be intrigued and delighted to pick out different forms of these treasures at the plant market, as they have all the delightful natural stone colours and mottles that exist in their mineral counterparts.
The good news is that cacti need little watering and thrive on neglect - many people’s idea of the perfect house plant. However, they do need full sun, but will survive for many months inside in shade if you keep them completely dry. If you give them a ‘holiday’ every so often, you can then water them in moderation to revive them.
A clever technique is to have two identical plants - one in shade and the other in sunshine, and keep swapping them over every week - they will both then enjoy a long and healthy life. If left in situ, however, the plant in the shade will almost certainly die.
How does a cactus survive in a desert where rain only occurs once every 15 years? The answer is by storing water in the fat, swollen stem, which is topped up every morning by moisture from the air, which condenses on the plant after a long cool night.

Tip of the Week
Instead of watering the pot directly, which risks rotting the roots, try misting with a fine spray or water early every morning

Bridge in Paradise : by Neil Robinson

Sometimes three no trump is an easier game to make than four of a major, even when you do have an eight card fit. The hand this week, played recently in a match in Chiang Mai, is an example. It was the last deal of the match and North-South were behind and needed a game to pull ahead. This accounts for the somewhat optimistic bidding. Both sides were vulnerable and South dealt. This was the bidding: 

East        South        West          North
-              P                 P                 1H
2C           2H              P                 3H
P             3N              All pass    

North invited to game in hearts with a 3H bid. South accepted the invitation, but offered an alternative game, 3N. Since West has bid clubs, South’s bid does of course promise a stopper in this suit. Kit Salisbury, sitting North, spent some time considering the alternatives. With his good heart suit and good cards in spades and diamonds (see below), he wisely passed, thinking nine tricks might be easier to make than ten. The full deal is shown below:

                    S: AJ9
                      H: AQJ107
                      D: KJ5
                      C: 97         
S: 10632                           S: KQ84
H: 8654                             H: 2
D: A743                            D: 86
C: J                                  C: AK10842
                      S: 75
                      H: K93
                      D: Q1092
                      C: Q653    

West led the jack of clubs, which was ducked all round (it does not help the defence if East overtakes). Now, West needs to find the right switch. The only switch that defeats the contract is a spade, but West has little information to go on. Eventually, he led a low diamond, hoping to find his partner with the queen and fool declarer into playing the jack. However, the defence is now dead. Declarer forced out the ace of diamonds and then took three diamond tricks, five heart tricks and the ace of spades, to make the contract. Note that 4S goes down, losing one spade, one diamond and two club tricks – 3N is the only contract that has a chance.
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