Pregnant Duchess of Cambridge dazzles at Natural History Museum

The Duchess, who is just over 12 weeks pregnant with her second child, looked to be showing just the first tiny signs of a baby bump in her figure-hugging outfit.

Kate, who was wearing her hair down, looked elegant in the wrap over dress, as she chatted to finalists.

Among them was underwater photographer Alex Mustard,39, from Peterborough. “How did you find yourself under water?” she asked him.”Well, it’s just really because there’s so much to shoot,” he replied.

It was the sixth time in the past 10 years that he had been honoured at the awards ceremony, although he told Kate he missed last year’s ceremony because he was photographing a sea slug in Indonesia.

After pointing his picture out to her in the exhibition, he said:”It doesn’t sound too glamorous but it’s a very colourful picture.”

After meeting the finalists, Kate took her seat for the main ceremony between Sir David Attenborough and Sir Michael Dixon.

Sir David Attenborough, 88, recalled presenting the very first awards in 1965 and was keen to celebrate their 50th year. “It’s marvellous to see what it’s grown into,” he said. “It’s a great privilege to be here after 50 years if this wonderful competition.”

In the museum’s Hintze Hall, dominated by a giant Diplodocus skeleton, the Duchess took to the stage to present the awards in front of 400 guests.

American photographer Michael ‘Nick’ Nichols was named Wildlife Photographer of the Year for his serene black-and-white image oif lions resting with their cubs in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.

Eight-year-old Carlos Perez Naval won Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year for his picture of a scorpion basking on a stone in the sun near his home in Torralba de los Sisones in northeast Spain. The Duchess stood with her hand resting on the little lad’s back as he posed for pictures with his trophy.

After presenting the awards, Kate left the guests to begin their meals and headed home after a first busy day back on duty.


International Series 2014: Atlanta Falcons swoop down on London

This coming Sunday will see a little piece of NFL history made – the first ever game to kick off at 9 30am ET. What this new kickoff slot could mean to the league – a fourth nationally-televised game a week, a timeslot that allows the NFL to truly market live broadcasts in the Middle and Far East, a kickoff time that could one day host a London-based NFL franchise – may well one day be viewed as the turning point where American football truly became international.

What it means for the Falcons is an opportunity to salvage what has been, to say the least, a very difficult season.

What it means for Mike Smith, is the challenge of staving off what is quickly becoming something of a graveyard for NFL head coaches. Of the past six international series games, four of them saw at least one of the coaches involved fired either during, or immediately upon the conclusion, of that same season – or five out of nine games total. Already 2014′s International Series has claimed its first victim in Dennis Allen, and there’s plenty of speculation that Mike Smith may join Allen, Leslie Frazier, Raheem Morris, Josh McDaniels, Mike Singletary, and Cam Cameron as head coaches who have seen a trip to London be soon followed by a final trip to the owner’s office. Here’s a more worrying stat for Smith: Norv Turner, whose Chargers lost to the Saints in 2008, remains the only non-first year head coach to have lost a game at Wembley, and still be with the same team the following season.

Speaking with Smith at a Falcons ‘community day’ yesterday, under the NFL’s Play60 banner, he seemed remarkably laid back for a coach who must surely be aware that his position with the team is on unsure footing. Not that he’s unaware of the challenges the team faces:

“It’s very important for us to play good football this week,” Smith told us at the Bushey Meads school in north west London, “we didn’t get the outcome we wanted yesterday, we’ve got a good team in Detroit coming to play us, so we’re going to have to have a good week of practice.”

Before they can start that, they need to deal with the matter of adjusting to a timezone five hours ahead of the east coast. “You got to get on the time schedule so we can get some sleep,” Roddy White explained, “it’s going to be important to the game to get our body and minds right for this opportunity in London.” The best way of doing that is by keeping as busy as you would be otherwise. “When you’re away from home, you’ve got to make yourself as comfortable as possible as fast as possible. When we get back to the hotel, we’re going to start watching the game film on Detroit, and go to work”.

Smith confirmed that this morning’s Play60 event is part of that strategy: “we wanted to come right out of the plane and stay busy, so we can start get our bodies acclimated to this time zone. We’re going to get some activities done with these kids, and then we’re going to go to the hotel and work out, get a little walkthrough, and start our regular week on Wednesday.”

White sees another advantage of the Play60 programme, beyond giving back to the community. When asked about the Wembley crowd, White responded, “we’re going to do a lot of things throughout the week, talking to everybody to be on our side – especially me, I’m going to be doing a lot of things like this around the community… the crowd is so important, especially away from home, so the more guys we can get on our side the better it will be.”

While the schoolkids took their turns awkwardly attempting to wrap up a tackle bag, throw footballs like shotputs, or running backwards and forwards between various cones, the usual questions were answered by various Falcons. Mike Smith is hoping to get a chance to try fish and chips; Roddy White thinks it would be great if there were a London team, and he’d play for a London franchise if he got the opportunity; Matt Ryan thinks the opportunity to let US fans watch football over breakfast is a unique experience. Yet, they were also forthcoming on some of the challenges the team has faced this season.

The biggest of these challenges is the mutliple injuries to the team’s offensive line. “It’s just so unexpected to lose so many linemen in one season,” lamented White, “it’s hard to bounce back. Protecting the quarterback is one of the biggest issues, one of the biggest concerns of our team because the guys are just filling in spots right now.” Matt Ryan, talking about chemistry with the offensive line, agrees that “it can be tough, when you’ve got a bunch of guys who week to week are playing in different spots… you’ve got to find ways during the practice week to get on the same page as quickly as possible.”

The news keeps getting worse for the offensive line too. “We’ve had a number of injuries on the offensive line this year, and just had another one yesterday [to center Peter Konz] that is probably going to affect us as well,” said Smith. “We’re going to have to do some things schematically, put more people in protection and try to protect our quarterback.”

Smith talked about a ‘next man up’ mentality for the offensive line – and the next man up appears to be James Stone. “I thought James Stone did a great job filling for Peter,” said Ryan, “Stoney did a great job and if he’s got to play again this weekend I’m sure he’ll do a great job.”

For all that Matt Ryan appears to have confidence, at least publicly, in his makeshift offensive line, they have a huge task contending with the fearsome Lions front four. “We’ve got to account for what [Detroit] do defensively and how talented they are”, said Ryan, “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, that’s where have to get our strategy right so that we can go in with a good gameplan”. White even spilled the beans on how they’re going to try to compensate for the offensive line: “We just got to do a lot more of the quick game, try to get the ball out of Matt’s hand… we’ve got to find a way to push the tempo, go as fast as we can against those guys and try to wear them out”.

With a defense that ranks top five in sacks, interceptions and rushing defense, White’s strategy to wear them out better work – or the next thing that gets worn out may be Arthur Blank’s patience.

Other notes from Monday:

- Roddy White said that setting the new franchise record on Sunday for receiving touchdowns was “a good record to break, and the last record I wanted to break. Now we move forward.”

- White talked about what the loss of Harry Douglas has meant for the offense: “it’s affected our team because he’s such an important part with his knowledge of the game and what he does on the field. Hopefully we can get him back in the next couple of weeks, and we can roll from there. He adds an important package to our team, we can go for four wideout sets and things like that, so we’ll be happy to have him whenever he comes back.”

- Matt Ryan repeated the old traditional refrain of how you win football games – in the trenches. “We have to play well up front. Our O-line going against their D-line is going to be important for us, but we’ve got to play well in the front seven on defense as well. If we can do that, if we can win the line of scrimmage, that gives us a good chance.”

- I asked Mike Smith about the challenged of fixing an unproductive pass rush in the middle of the season. “It’s very difficult. The guys on our roster are the guys on our roster. They’ve been working hard and training hard and we got a little more pressure yesterday, we didn’t really show up in sack numbers but we moved the quarterback off his spot, and it’s going to be important for us to pressure the quarterback this week.”

- Smith said that he was treating this game, gameplanning-wise, like any other road game, before correcting himself. “We’re trying to make it like a home game, our schedule of the week will be the same. We want to have our regular Wednesday-Thursday-Friday-Saturday routine”.

- And what of the school kids? In their first real exposure to American football, a session that began with a short speech by Thomas Dimitroff and by Mike Smith, followed by being guided through drills by the entire 53-man roster of the Atlanta Falcons, the biggest topic of discussion after the Play60 event was, well, the cheerleaders. There are some aspects of football, it appears, that transcends all borders.


London Transport Museum Battle Bus heads through Belgium for First World …

The residents of Flanders and Somme may be accustomed to welcoming British and Commonwealth tourists interested in the First World War, but not since the conflict 100 years ago has someone driven a battle bus through their former battlegrounds.

Now London Transport Museum is doing just that as it commemorates one of the more curious episodes of the war by taking its recently restored and converted ‘Battle Bus’, the world’s only operational B-type bus, on a ten-day tour of battlefields across Belgium and Northern France.

The trip marks the First World War Centenary and is designed to highlight the contribution and sacrifices of bus drivers during the conflict.

In a war of vast technical innovation – much of it naturally focused on the business of killing – the job of ferrying troops to the front was undertaken by converted London buses; many of them driven by volunteer London transport workers.

The buses were of course camouflaged by removing advertisements and signage, boarding up the windows and painting the exterior khaki. Military markings were stenciled onto the body, War Department headlamps fitted and each was equipped with a pickaxe and shovel.

Now 100 years later, the museum’s vintage B-type has been similarly converted and is on the continent having arrived via the Eurotunnel and visited Poperinge, which as the gateway to the Ypres Salient saw thousands of troops bussed through its streets.

After welcoming inquisitive visitors on board at ‘Pops’ – as British troops dubbed the town – it has since made its way to the appropriately named Bus House Cemetery, which contains the bodies of 134 British and Commonwealth soldiers.

The cemetery was named after a nearby estaminet which took its name from a London bus which had broken down nearby in No Man’s Land in 1914.

It’s a fate that highlights the lot of the B-type bus drivers during the First World War. And as William Mahoney, who drove buses between 1916 and 1917 wrote, the conditions could be perilous.

“Bang! Crash!! Nearly on us. Nine men killed and 14 wounded only 50 yards away,” recalled the army driver. “My engine would not start so we had to stay and repair it, the shells pounding around us.”

But for the most part the buses were very reliable. The B-type was London’s first standardised bus and had interchangeable mechanical parts, which meant damaged vehicles could easily be salvaged for repairs.

Today the conditions are mercifully not so dangerous, but it is to be hoped the elderly example currently retracing the route of its forerunners will be just as robust. 

The remaining itinerary: September 19: Poperinge, Belgium; September 20: Ypres, Belgium; September 21: Zonnebeke, Belgium; September 23: Arras, France;  September 25: Peronne, France; September 26: Albert, France.

A mobile exhibition unit is on display in the Town Squares along the route and at the Memorial Museum Passchendaele in Zonnebeke.

Goodbye Piccadilly: From Home Front to Western Front is at London Transport Museum until March 8 2015. Free with general admission ticket.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.


Sebastian Pauli Writing His Own History in London: EPT Title and £499700 …

Not all EPTs are created equal. Every player who’s been on the tour for some time will tell you this. Some stops tend to attract more rich, recreational players looking to have good time. Others, like London, usually turn into shark-fested water where one must match their mind against the best in the world to stay on the surface.

London stop of the European Poker Tour certainly belongs to the latter category, as it traditionally attracts crème de la crème, as French would put it. And this is the field in which a relatively unknown German Sebastian Pauli claimed his first EPT title.

Generating a £2,619,000 prize-pool

Over the course of two starting days and the late registration reaching into the start of Day 2, EPT11 London attracted the total of 675 players, generating a prize-pool of £2,619,000. 95 players were set to make the money, and £499,700 was reserved for the winner. This meant that, apart from the prestigious title, players would have plenty more to battle for.

Hanging in there

There was a long way to go from surviving the first day to making the final table of eight. For anybody with such intentions, matters were further complicated that the same dreams were dreamt by the like of the first two-time EPT champion Victoria Coren, the likes of Jake Cody, Benny Spindler, Johnny Lodden, Ryan Spittles and countless more professionals with years of poker experience under their belts.

Pauli is by no means a poker slouch, but in a competition such as this, no one would really feel comfortable. Still, German remained calmed and unfazed until the last river was dealt. Only then would he let his emotions take over.

Final two tables

The penultimate day of EPT11 London started with the two tables of eight. In this field of sixteen, three players were, in fact looking for a double-title – Jake Cody, Kevin MacPhee and Benny Spindler. It was hard to root against any of these three, as having a final table with three double-pretenders would be a joy for everyone – poker fans and media alike!

Champs held well, proving once again their success did not come by luck or accident, but we would lose one just as final table was looming. Benny Spindler successfully battled his way out of the short stack he started the day with, only to be dispatched in 9th in an unavoidable cooler hand.

Denying the history

Still, two former EPT winners returned on the next day to play, and chances were not against it. However, quiet German Pauli was the one holding about 3:1 chip-lead over his nearest competitor and, as it would turn out, he would never give it up.

As for the champion, MacPhee and Cody actually got involved in a hand that would mark the destiny for one of them. Jake got it in good on the flop of jkk holding k10, but q on the turn actually filled up MacPhee’s qq and only one pretender for the double title was left.

Kevin MacPhee actually made it all the way to the heads-up, but the German was clearly determined to write his own history and not be influenced by the dreams of masses.

Pauli was helped by the great run of cards as well and things have in generally just fallen in place for him. When the two finally saw the last river, calm and composed Sebastian let go of his emotions, bursting into tears of joy. The German had won his first EPT title and £499,700 to take home. MacPhee, who was denied epic second title, will have to be satisfied with £308,500 this time – not quite the same as the double title, but will ease some of the pain!

Final Standings of the EPT11 London Main Event

  1. Sebastian Pauli, Germany, £499,700
  2. Kevin MacPhee, United States, £308,500
  3. Kevin Killeen, Ireland, £220,500
  4. Artur Koren, Germany, £168,900
  5. Jake Cody, UK, £133,800
  6.  Jakub Mroczek, Poland, £104,200
  7.  Jonathan Bensadoun, France, £75,900
  8. Pablo Gordillo, Spain, £51,900

A capsule of German cultural history in London

Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire

From the 15th century onward, the crown was housed in Nuremberg – until 1796, when the priceless relic was brought to Vienna to protect it from Napoleon. The crown remained in Vienna until 1938 when Hitler returned it to Nuremberg. In 1946, American soldiers brought the piece back to Vienna, where it has remained ever since. The British Museum is exhibiting one of several replicas.


Children learn history of school at 90th birthday celebration

Three-year-olds are not the usual guests at a 90th birthday party but this was no ordinary celebration – as it was their school marking the milestone anniversary.

St Helen’s College in Parkway, Hillingdon, is in its 90th school year and children as young as three helped to mark the occasion during an action packed day of events.

Youngsters learnt the story of the school’s namesake, took part in a quiz, created artwork and visited an exhibition on the history of the school to mark the anniversary.

Children in the lower school even paraded in the green and white colours of St Helen’s wearing hats they had designed specially for the celebration.

Headteacher Jill Crehan said: “The hats were amazing, portraying in very inventive ways the history of the school.

“It has been wonderful for children throughout the school to understand that they are part of the long heritage of St Helen’s College and to have been inspired by the story of St Helen herself.”

The lower and upper school joined forces to create a giant 90 in the school playground but a last minute cancellation from a photographer the school had hired for the day saw Mrs Crehan, who leads the school with her husband Dominic, climb onto the school roof in her heels to get a snap of the memorable moment.

Mr Crehan said: “We are very proud of our history and of the school St Helen’s is today, especially that the school has retained its family feel through the generations.

“My wife and I have been heads at the school for 27 years now and my wife’s mother Joan Evans was headmistress for 17 years before that.

“We were delighted that she was able to be our guest of honour at the celebration,” he said.

Former pupils and staff who were at the school with Mrs Evans returned to share their memories of days gone past, telling pupils about their uniforms and school dinners.

A new dining hall named The Evans Hall was unveiled on the day by the former headteacher.


Cutty Sark damaged after fire breaks out

“Crews carried out salvage work on the ship.”

Despite the relatively small size of the blaze, four fire crews and 21
firefighters were deployed to avoid a repeat of the fire that tore through
the Greenwich attraction in May 2007.

That fire is thought to have been caused by a vacuum cleaner left on while
conservation work was being carried out.

There were fears the ancient vessel was so badly damaged that it was beyond
repair and would have to be destroyed.

But painstaking restoration work costing £10m and lasting over five years
meant it was opened to the public again in April 2012.

A fire investigation team is currently at the Cutty Sark trying to determine
the cause of the fire.

However, the attraction was opened to visitors at 10.30am this morning as

The Cutty Sark Crew, who runs the ship, said on Twitter: “London Fire Brigade
dealt with a small fire on the ship this morning. Brought under control very
quickly. The ship will open at 10.30am today.”

It later added: “Thanks to all well wishers, the cause of the fire is under
investigation and we will let you know as soon as we know more.”

Sheryl Twigg, a spokesman for the National Maritime Museum which manages the
Cutty Sark, praised firefighters for their swift efforts.

“The damage is very limited, it was a very small fire and the ship opened
pretty much as normal’, she said.

“The fire crews responded really rapidly, they turned up really quickly and
sorted it.”

She said the impact was limited to smoke damage, and the fire would have been
picked up by on-board detectors.

The fire started on the Tween deck, which is below the upper deck on the ship.