QUIRKY WORLD ... Grave efforts to be the best

Hungary: In a graveyard in Hungary, solemn contemplation gave way to frantic sportsmanship yesterday as dozens of grave diggers battled to prove they were the fastest and best in the business.

Taking their places at plots selected by pulling names out of a hard hat, 18 two-man teams waited for an official to shout “Start!” before shovelling at the ground to dig a precise, regulation-size grave as quickly as possible.

“I don’t think this is morbid,” the Hungarian Undertakers’ Association’s deputy chairman, Zoltan Juracsik, told Reuters at the national grave-digging contest at the wooded cemetery in Debrecen, Hungary’s biggest city after Budapest.

“This is a profession, and the colleagues who toil in competition today are proud and deserve our respect.”

In less than half an hour, the local team, perhaps enjoying the home advantage, finished their grave first. The stragglers took almost one hour.

The graves were judged on neatness and whether they complied with the regulation size: 200 cm long, 80 cm wide, and 160 cm deep. The winning team wins a place in an international tournament against Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.

Three’s a crowd

Romania: One town’s residents have a choice of three candidates for mayor in an election this weekend — but only one name.

Vasile Cepoi is running for a fourth term as mayor of Draguseni, a northeastern town of 2,500 people.

Both of his challengers in tomorrow’s election also are called Vasile Cepoi.

Town hall official Viorel Munteanu said yesterday the three contenders are not related. Cepoi is a common family name in the region and Vasile is a popular male name in Romania.

Local media suggested the name coincidence could be a ruse by other parties to get their candidates elected. Mr Munteanu would only say that that was “possible”.

Go the distance

USA: A Maine teen got some unexpected news when she received a handwritten letter from a fisherman saying that her message in a bottle had been found in Spain.

WCSH-TV reports Terra Gallo and her sister put messages into bottles and tossed them into the ocean while visiting their aunt on Monhegan Island three years ago. The girls had forgotten about the bottles until they were surprised by the fisherman’s letter last week.

Galo, now 14, studied maps of ocean currents and discovered her message travelled roughly 4,800km. Gallo’s message asked that whoever found her bottle put their own message inside with hers and send it back out to sea. The fisherman said he complied with her wishes.

Epic row

Britain: A team of four men aged between 25 and 28 have set off from London’s Tower Bridge on a 3,200km non-stop rowing race around Britain.

Totally unaided, the crew will face dangerous and fast turning tides and cross the world’s busiest sea lanes, avoiding collisions with car ferries and industrial fishing trawlers.

The route is known as the world’s toughest rowing challenge and more people have landed on the moon than completed it, organisers say.

Heart of the matter

USA: A Tasmanian devil named Nick is back in his exhibit area at the San Diego Zoo after receiving a pacemaker to make his heartbeat normal.

In January, zoo vets discovered that Nick suffered from an abnormally slow heartbeat and his cardiologist decided that surgery was in order.

Nick is only the second of his species on record ever to be implanted with a pacemaker, according to staff at the San Diego Zoo.

“His heartbeats were too slow and now the pacemaker is going to actually take over [pacing] his heart and is going to determine when to pace fast or slow depending on his activity,” said Joao Orvalho, a cardiologist at the University of California, Davis, Veterinary Medical Center in San Diego.

“Typically when a pacemaker is placed, it’s placed within the neck area,” said Fred Pike, the surgeon, during the procedure. “But because of the conformation area and the shape of the neck, that’s not possible.”

Instead, Dr Pike placed the device in the animal’s abdomen and sutured the electrode to the heart.

The surgery was performed on May 11 and Nick was released from the hospital later that day. He is now back to feeding and screeching in his enclosure at the zoo.


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