News of the weird

Stories from Around the World that Failed to Make the Headlines, Selected by William Hartston

Hair: A man in St Paul, Minnesota, has been charged with robbery after trying to cut off a woman's ponytail. Police say that John Sexton, 43, said he had "urges about hair" and admitted trying to get others to trim women's ponytails for him. Lucille Benoit said that she and a friend had been waiting for a bus when a stranger asked whether they wanted to sell their hair. They said no and moved to another stop, but the stranger followed, grabbed Lucille's hair and hacked at it with scissors. Sexton had earlier been questioned about an incident in a restaurant in May in which a prankster had telephoned a restaurant and persuaded a worker to cut off a waitress's ponytail.

Ears: Dutch scientists have found that if you wear moulds that change the shape of your ears, it may disrupt your hearing ability in the short term, but within a few weeks your brain will become used to the new shape and your hearing will become as good as ever. Then if you take the moulds off, you will adjust immediately to the original shape and hear just as well as before.

Faces: According to research published in Nature this week, women are more attracted to men with feminine faces. A study by David Perret of the University of St Andrews used computer-generated images to show that men with feminine facial features are seen as trustworthy and loving as potential fathers; masculine features are seen as cold and dishonest.

Rats: The anti-rat campaign in Vietnam has proved more hazardous to humans than had been expected. In the northern province of Thai Binh, 17 people have been killed this year by electric rat-traps. One man who set such traps has been sentenced to three years' imprisonment after being convicted of indirect intentional manslaughter. Five others are awaiting trial. A police spokesman said that they would not be investigating cases where traps had killed the people who set them, or their relatives. More than 64 million rats have been killed in Vietnam so far this year.

Chickens: An army of 10,000 chickens has been trained in China to help combat a plague of locusts. Attacks by human beings and aircraft have failed to eradicate locust swarms that have infested offices and housing blocks as well as grasslands. A special 60-day training programme has been designed for chickens to help counter the locust threat, and nests have also been placed in affected areas to attract starlings which, it is hoped, will also be effective against locusts.

Dogs: Two women in Milwaukee have started a business called K-9 Potty Patrol to assist pet-owners in the battle against dog poo. Mea West and Katherine Schott have adopted as their motto "Your dog's `business' is our business". Ms Schott explained: "Some people simply don't have the time, and what little time they have off, they don't want to spend scooping up dog doo-doo." The company charges $10 for a typical, once-a-week visit to a residential client.

Clones: The cloning laboratory of Texas A&M University is reported to have accepted $5m from a local millionaire to produce a clone of his pet dog Missy. The laboratory has received some cells from the collie-Alsatian cross, and has been given two years to complete the task. The directory of the laboratory said he expected other rich pet-owners to do the same.

Romania: When Olimpiu Medar, an advertising executive, was killed in a car crash in Bucharest, colleagues in his agency's creative department wanted to pay tribute to his memory in an individualistic way. The result was an obituary in the daily newspaper Evenimentul Zilei that read: "Coffee, cellular telephone, cigarettes, clients, money, dreams, fast, fast, too fast. And Oli is no longer."

France: The town of Perpignan celebrated last Thursday the 33rd anniversary of the day when Salvador Dali declared its railway station to be the centre of the universe.

"We are happy and proud that the Perpignan railway station is the centre of the world," said Lluis Colet, a fan of Dali. M Colet marked the day with an attempt on the record for the world's longest speech. He was aiming to talk for more than 24 hours, with officials ensuring that he didn't stop even when going to the lavatory.

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