Celebrating the joy of craftsmanship

Mathijs Heyligers is one of Cremona’s numerous violin makers

In a world of robotics, where machines control machines, and people wait for the attention of an automated response system, it is wonderful to re-encounter a craftsman or woman.

With huge respect to the materials they use, they labour – their hands determining the utility, beauty or eatability of the things that slowly emerge from their work.

It is a real privilege to run into this craftsmanship in making business programmes, which are so often about companies and corporate behaviour.

Craftspeople you encounter in all sorts of circumstances, such as a New Zealand special effects movie workshop, or on farms and vineyards in many parts of the world.

Cremona became one of those now fashionable and desirable economic and geographic entities – a cluster of craft enterprise”

For example, in the fields of Uttar Pradesh, in India, cowpats saved for fuel are stored in huts built from the same material, and then imprinted with variously arranged handprints, for decoration.

There are craftsmen here in a fish and chip shop in central London, where I am writing this in longhand as the team fries up a wondrous plate of plaice and chips with the same skill they have been demonstrating for at least 40 years.

Craftspeople have much to teach the mass producers and the advertising agencies. They take what they do very seriously, and they take the individuals they are doing it for seriously as well – otherwise known as customers.

I was recently in the Italian city of Cremona, a world centre for the making of string instruments for the past 500 years or more, and still home to a cluster of top luthiers, as the Italians term them.

Here you see the potency of craftsmanship at work, and the power of the cluster of likeminded people to create a longstanding business entity.

It all started a long time ago. Cremona in the Middle Ages was one of a succession of wealthy Italian cities with courts, whose ruling families employed professional musicians.

There was a demand for music, and it was rewarded. Craftsmanship was respected, and from it emerged a great tradition.

In Cremona in the middle of the 16th Century, the instrument maker Andrea Amati is credited with producing an entirely new model of fiddle, with a much more evocative sound than its medieval predecessors.

Then, in the second half of the 17th Century, came Antonio Stradivari, another local instrument maker. His achievements became stellar.

In his long working life, Stradivari built more than 1,000 violins, violas and cellos. He achieved sound and musical expressiveness that many of the world’s best performers think can never be equalled.

The weather, or rather the climate, may have quite a lot to do with Stradivari’s mastery of his craft. Violins are best made from two different woods stripy grained spruce for the top, or soundboard, and maple for the back.

The century before Stradivari started making instruments may have produced the perfect growing climate for the trees in the high forests of Italy’s Dolomites mountain range, from where Cremona’s violin makers bought their wood.

A sequence of what appear to be abnormally long cold winters meant the trees grew slowly and steadily. When finally cut, their wood proved to be of exceptional resonance.

Stradivari died in 1737 at the age of 93, but the tradition lived on.

Cremona became one of those now fashionable and desirable economic and geographic entities – a cluster of craft enterprise. Luthiers, trained under master practitioners, won a reputation for their work for others, and then set up workshops on their own.

Buyers came to Cremona because they would have a choice of instruments – some wonderful, some average, at various prices.

You knocked on the door of a shop or a workshop, were overwhelmed by the craftsmanship employed behind the scenes, played a few instruments, chose one, came back the next day to reassure yourself, agreed payment terms, and eventually took it home.

In many respects, the experience cannot have changed very much over the centuries. Authenticity, tradition, skill, the sensuous smells of wood being shaved and shaped, and then the varnish.

This all went on for decade after decade – masters, apprentices, workshops doing everything by hand, and basking in the glow of the ultimate Cremonese master, Antonio Stradivari.

In the late 1930s, the city established a school to teach the basics of the craft. It is today thriving, with dozens of students on a five-year course who come from all over the world. Italian students are now in a minority.

They learn how to make or restore violins, and then complete their learning process in a master’s established workshop, often in the city.

Then, making their reputation instrument by instrument, they often then stay on in Cremona for the rest of their lives. At the very least, it’s a nice, quiet, small place to live.

Violin making (like so much craftsmanship) is a lonely job. But the city lives and breathes violins, from the sensuous forms of string instruments cases in the posh workshop windows, to the violin-shaped confectionery in old-fashioned sweetshops down ancient alleyways  originally Roman streets.

And the luthiers love showing off their instruments to would-be purchasers.

It is very moving when the man who has created the violin takes it down from its resting place, picks up the bow, and lovingly coaxes from it the harmonies he intended it to produce when he first took a chisel to the maple

Then there is the serendipity of the cluster. They meet in the street or the bar, these makers they gossip, they confer. In recent years they’ve been taking action to enhance the city’s international reputation.

The established luthiers have set up the Consorzio Liutai Antonio Stradivari Cremona.

In essence, this consortium is a revival of the mediaeval guild idea, enabling its members to issue certificates of authenticity for their individual instruments

Made in Cremona is not a guarantee of quality, but is policed by a group with a strong vested interest in not allowing anyone to let the side down.

You might think that the market for new violins costing 20,000 euros ($27,000; £16,000) or more would be a pretty steady one, but over the past 20 years it has been transformed by the rise of a new marketplace for Western music in Asian countries – particularly China and Japan.

There are now millions of new string instrument learners, and some of them want quite expensive new instruments with a heritage and a history. They come to Cremona, or Cremona goes to them. The luthiers have learnt how to find dealers far from home by going to trade fairs in faraway places

While I was in the workshop of a leading maker originally from Colombia, as it happened, but Cremonese by decades of adoption  into the shop came a Japanese mother and her little girl, looking for a 25,000 euro violin. The language of music is becoming universal.

Today Cremona may not be making the finest instruments in the world, as once it most certainly did. Experts tell me there are finer lone craftspeople in Germany, for example

But assessing an instrument is a very subjective thing

My brief stay in Cremona was a vivid reminder of the value of craft and the handmade in a world which now prizes superbly mass-produced goods, and instant networks of friends and communication.

Individuality is an important component of being human. Craftspeople have wonderfully individual stories to tell about the things they make, slowly and carefully. In an industrialised world, they still have a lot to tell us about being properly human

A British geography quiz you can do in the car

Edinburgh Castle and Clifton Suspension Bridge

How much do you actually know about Britain? Test your geography knowledge with these 20 quick questions.

1) Which is further west – Bristol or Edinburgh?

2) Coton in the Elms in Derbyshire is the furthest place from the coast – how far away is it?

1. 50 miles

2. 70 miles

3. 110 miles

4. 250 miles

3) How many deer live in the UK?

1. About 100,000

2. About 2m

3. About 9m

4. About 13m

4) How much of the UK is woodland?

1. 1.2%

2. 4.8%

3. 12.7%

4. 21.9%

5) Which has the largest population?

1. Newcastle upon Tyne

2. The London Borough of Croydon

3. The Borough of Reading

4. Milton Keynes

6) How many counties border Wales?

1. Two

2. Four

3. Eight

7) Which is the wettest city in the UK?

1. Glasgow

2. Liverpool

3. Manchester

4. Belfast

8) What percentage of people in the UK live in a town or city?

1. 50%

2. 80%

3. 99%

9) Which is the longest bridge?

1. The Humber Bridge

2. The Tamar Bridge

3. The Sec­ond Sev­ern Crossing

4. The Menai Bridge

10) Which is the longest motorway?

1. M6

2. M1

3. M5

11) How many acres does Spaghetti Junction cover?

1. 2 acres

2. 10 acres

3. 30 acres

4. 60 acres

12) Which is the UK’s longest river?

1. River Avon

2. River Severn

3. River Thames

4. River Clyde

13) Put Belfast, Cardiff, London and Edinburgh in descending order of population size.

14) Southend-on-Sea in Essex has the UK’s longest pier. How long is it?

1. 297 metres

2. 987 metres

3. 2,158 metres

4. 4,967 metres

15) What percentage of the UK is used for agriculture according to 2012 government figures?

1. 90%

2. 70%

3. 40%

4. 10%

16) How many islands are there on the river Thames?

1. About 20

2. About 110

3. About 190

4. About 420

17) Which is Britain’s most easterly town?

1. Lowestoft

2. Margate

3. Felixstowe

4. Whitby

18) What are Grey Friar and Cat Bells?

1. Fells

2. Farms

3. Waterfalls

4. Streams

19) Which is the UK’s smallest city by population?

1. Bangor

2. St David’s

3. St Albans

4. Truro

20) Name four Channel Islands.


1) Edinburgh – despite it being on the east coast of Scotland, it is more westerly than Bristol, in the south-west of England.

2) It’s 70 miles away.

3) About 2 million, according to the RSPCA.

4) It’s 12.7%.

5) The London Borough of Croydon is the largest – with a population of 364,800.

6) Four – Cheshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire.

7) Glasgow is the wettest city on average, according to the Met Office

8) It’s 80%.

9) The Sec­ond Sev­ern Crossing longest bridge. The Humber is the longest suspension bridge.

10) The M6, at 225 miles long.

11) It’s 30 acres.

12) River Severn is the longest – at 220 miles (354km). The River Thames slightly shorter at 215 miles (346km).

13) London is the largest at about 8.3m, Edinburgh is about 487,500, Cardiff has about 346,000, Belfast has about 280,962

14) It’s 2,158 metres.

15) It’s 70%.

16) About 190.

17) Lowestoft.

18) They are fells.

19) St David’s in Pembrokeshire, Wales, is the smallest city, with a population of just over 1,600.

20) You could have had Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney, Sark, Herm, Jethou or Brecqhou

Why not caring about anything is only for the young

Punk rockers

It is not the content of our beliefs that really matters, so much as the practice of believing itself, argues Will Self.

In Dostoevsky’s great metaphysical whodunit, The Brothers Karamazov, the main philosophical point of the novel – inasmuch as it has one – comes early on. Throughout a turbulent meeting in the cell of the venerable monk, Father Zosima, the driven, atheistic intellectual Ivan Karamazov has his heterodox opinions coaxed out of him. Ivan maintains that without belief in the possibility of an afterlife, one in which we will be judged for our sins, there can no longer be any moral stricture limiting our Earthly behaviour – we may fornicate, intoxicate and even murder as much as we want. If we were to paraphrase Ivan’s contention, it’s that in a godless world, “Do what thou wilt” constitutes the whole of the law.

I’m not interested in discussing the existence or otherwise of God or gods – and nor, I think, was Dostoevsky – but what this passage, and the novel overall, forces our attention on to is the question of our beliefs. Dostoevsky understood that what humans are, in terms of our moral being, is crucially tied up with what – if anything – we believe. In the contemporary secular era, one the lineaments of which Dostoevsky could perfectly well discern when he was writing in the 1870s, there are plenty of people keen to assert that they have no beliefs at all, if by this is meant a settled conviction about such big questions as why we are here, where we are going, and whether good and evil are ultimate realities or merely functions of a given social structure during a particular era. The Cubist painter, Francis Picabia, was the herald of this new scepticism when he proclaimed, “Beliefs are ideas going bald”.

But is it really true to say we have no beliefs? After all, if we truly believed nothing it would be difficult for us to operate in a world where everyone else behaves as if they did believe in something, that something being – by and large – the efficiency and reliability of the technologies we rely on for our daily life. When we push button A we very much expect B to happen, when we flick a light switch we anticipate the light going on. We may not understand the minutiae of wiring, but we know someone who does, so we’ve outsourced this particular belief – in domestic electricity – to someone qualified to hold it. It’s the same with whole swathes of our existence – they depend upon beliefs that we hold on trust, rather than because we’ve personally empirically verified them. In an earlier era it would’ve been said that we had faith in electric lights.

This reliance on essentially occult beliefs for the smooth running of the physical aspects of our lives has engendered a further strange belief in us, a belief about our beliefs concerning those big, metaphysical questions. We may not have read Wittgenstein ourselves, but we’re attuned enough to the philosophical zeitgeist to have absorbed the import of his ideas, which is that mulling over the nature of our existence, or that of God or gods, is symptomatic of a linguistic confusion – because there’s no real agreement about what these terms refer to, to ask questions about them is simply nonsensical. This abrupt curtailment of the Western metaphysical project has left us at the bottom of our metaphorical gardens, in our figurative garden sheds, and depending for our belief system on a series of makeshift structures we’ve knocked up ourselves.

So it is that the “beliefs” we depend upon are a species of DIY – we take a bit from Eastern mysticism, another piece from Freudianism, a spare part left over from Christianity and cobble them together into something workable in the short-term. If called to account on the gimcrack quality of our convictions, we relapse into a sort of stoicism light: “Well,” we say, “it’s true that these beliefs aren’t altogether credible, but that doesn’t matter because at root I don’t believe in anything – I’m just trying to get by like the rest of us.” But the problem with stoicism light is that it just can’t deal with the heavy stuff. A full-blown stoic unreservedly accepts the vicissitudes of fate and the privations of life – we, on the other hand, squeal like the Gadarene swine when we can’t get hold of an electrician. The true stoic – such as the discredited Roman Boethius, condemned to death in his prison cell – achieves a perspective from which he can view death with an unwavering gaze. But if we faced his predicament, we’d probably try to sue the Praetorian Guard for neglecting our health and safety.

It isn’t, I believe, the content of our beliefs that really matters, so much as the practice of believing itself. The problem with our contemporary secular beliefs is that they’re either makeshift, or entered into unconsciously, simply as a necessary operating system for our busy and digitised lives. The great believers in the wonder of the universe, as revealed to us by science, seem to have considerable difficulty in either galvanising us to social solidarity, or providing us with true solace. I’ve yet to hear of anyone going gently into that dark night on the basis that she or he is happily anticipating their dissolution into cosmic dust, nor do I witness multitudes assembling in order that they may sing the periodic table together, or recite prime numbers in plain chant. By contrast, religious beliefs continue to offer many people genuine succour, and they do this, I think, as Dostoevsky realised, not because of the specific concepts they appear to enshrine – such as an afterlife or eternal judgement – but because they place the human individual in a universal context, and thereby give her life meaning.

Nihilism is all very well when you’re young – existentialism can also seem a meaningful philosophy if all you have to worry about is being true to your own self. After all, you never saw Simone de Beauvoir – let alone Jean-Paul Sartre – pushing a baby buggy along the Rive Gauche. As we grow older, and perhaps take on the responsibility for other, putatively autonomous lives, we may find it hard to get them to tidy up their rooms if we’ve brought them up to believe that human existence is a series of fundamentally meaningless actes gratuits. With middle and then yet older age, the baggy and shapeless scepticism of our prime can begin to seem a very threadbare garment indeed, while our own state of dependency and the habits of a lifetime force turn us into positive zealots – if the electric kettle fuses, or the bus doesn’t arrive on time it’s as if the music of the spheres has become horribly discordant.

Ivan Karamazov’s rejection of any belief whatsoever has a paradoxical effect on him: he becomes so afflicted by an irrational sense of responsibility for the murder of his father that it drives him mad. I said at the outset that I wasn’t interested in discussing the existence or otherwise of God or gods, and nor did I think Dostoevsky was – but belief in God’s existence is far from being synonymous with belief in a transcendent source of moral authority, or even with belief in some form of posthumous judgement. Lewis Carroll’s callow but smart Alice asserts that ‘There’s no use trying… one can’t believe impossible things.’ But the Red Queen – who’s presumably had a lifetime of church attendance – is the very personification of wisdom when she asserts: ‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice  When I was younger I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast

A belief is thus not the same thing as a fact a fact need only be verified once, but a belief, being akin to a proposition, requires continuous reassertion. I’m happy to reassert the existence of electricity, kettles and hot water every morning before breakfast, but I very much doubt that my belief in the nice cup of tea to come makes the world a significantly better place

A Point of View is broadcast on Fridays on Radio 4 at 20:50 BST and repeated Sundays 08:50 BST or listen on BBC iPlayer

Will a Pakistani Indian kiss be censored?

YouTube screen grab from Kabhi Ruhani Kabhi Rumani, a song that features in new film Raja Natwarlal

She may be Pakistan’s sweetheart, but the country’s most highly paid actress, Humaima Malik, says she worries about how home audiences will respond to her latest on-screen romance – soon she’ll be seen locking lips with Indian co-star Emraan Hashmi in her first Bollywood starring role.

With this kiss, Malik joins the line-up of Pakistani female actors who have crossed the border to India, and – in the eyes of some – to infamy.

Another Pakistani star, Veena Malik, caused quite an uproar by posing daringly on the cover of an Indian men’s magazine cover wearing nothing but the initials ISI – an acronym for Pakistan’s notorious spy agency, the Inter-intelligences service – tattooed prominently across her arm.

Malik has since been seen in London, on the way to an interview with the BBC Urdu service, rather more modestly attired in a voluminous burka.

But the backlash against “our girls” going across the border to seek fame and fortune has always been extreme in conservative Pakistan. People feel that kissing the enemy and colluding with Indian men’s magazines is simply not on – not halal. In fact, until recently, kisses were invariably censored in all films shown in Pakistani cinemas.

Students at the British-style public school I attended in Karachi didn’t watch Pakistani movies.

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We fancied ourselves as somewhat Westernised, and Pakistani cinema seemed far too downmarket and rough in comparison to Hollywood’s glossiness. This opinion was clearly not shared by cinema audiences across the country, who devoured the sappy love stories and social dramas popular at the time with hearty appetite.

But whereas my friends’ fathers woke up every morning to pack their briefcases to work in banks, my father went to work to make movies. This is why I, as a child, was thrown headlong into the infinite twists and turns of high romance in Pakistani cinema, where heart-throb Waheed Murad serenaded comely ingenues in the tranquil climes of hill stations like Murree, the invariable pastoral setting for the hit musicals of the era.

By the 1980s the sudden rise and easy availability of VHS tapes brought Indian cinema home to the Pakistani audience. Waheed Murad was all but forgotten and families eagerly congregated in large drawing rooms and gardens around their TV sets to watch Amitabh Bachchan, the then reigning superstar in Mumbai, fight off a dozen men with open-shirted, hairy-chested vigour.

By the 1990s the steady slump in cinema-going was complete. The only films on release were either haphazardly censored and dated Hollywood blockbusters, or gory C-grade Punjabi thrillers with buxom heroines dancing around the Rambo-like hero of the time, Sultan Rahi, who played the lead in more than 700 films. These films were watched by the male working class in decrepit cinemas with rickety seats.

But the rise of Western-style multi-screen cinemas has changed all that. With the screening of the latest Bollywood and Western films on the same day they are released in the rest of the world, Pakistanis have now returned to watching films with enthusiasm

And not just foreign films. Alongside the large Bollywood blockbusters are small independent Pakistani films like Zinda Bhaag (Run for your Life) and moneyspinners like Waar (Strike) or Main Houn Shahid Afridi (I am Shahid Afride). Last year was the biggest for Pakistani cinema in a long while

The largest money spinner of the year, Waar  a slick propagandist tale of a covert Indian war in Pakistan  was reportedly financed almost entirely by the ISPR, the press office of the Pakistan Army, and the ISI

Humaima Malik’s kiss is unlikely to pass the Pakistan censors, who always seem to take patriotic umbrage at such close fraternising with the Indians. Bollywood may be bigger and brighter, but Lollywood (based in Lahore) and the Pakistani army are determined to bring our girls back to Pakistani cinema

The unstoppable march of the upward inflection?

Scene from the film Clueless

Whether it’s called the upward inflection, high-rising terminal or simply uptalk the habit of making statements sound like questions is a genuine linguistic mystery, writes Chris Stokel Walker.

A New Yorker, an Australian, a man from Northern Ireland, an Argentine and a Californian each display their own brand of uptalk

The short answer is no one knows, says Mark Liberman, a linguistics professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Until recently, recorded language corpora (bodies of words) didn’t exist Linguists often have to rely on written accounts

Liberman and other linguists hypothesise that uptalk could date as far back as the 9th Century. It has been suggested that this distribution of rising inflection in sentences in northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland probably had something to do with the Scandinavian influence there, he says, but that’s just a hypothesis, like everything else

Liberman cites Henry Sweet’s A Handbook of Phonetics, a language primer from the 1870s, in which the author writes that in Scotch the rising tone is often employed monotonously, not only in questions but also in answers and statements of facts

Then there’s the Northern Irish theory, that migration into England and Scotland could have sown the roots of uptalking. Supporters of this theory point to the occasionally sing-song tone of some Northern Irish accents.

Some Americans have a similar theory attributing the influx of Spanish speakers into California as a possible explanation.

But migration theory would also back Australia or New Zealand as the source of the UK’s uptalk. Either it was British expats travelling out to Australia and New Zealand and bringing back their manner of speaking. Or just the volume of antipodean immigration to London. The process could have been well under way before the first episode of Neighbours was even aired

The potential spread of vocal fry could be an interesting case study. The phenomenon sees the speaker use their larynx in such way that a lower creaking or rattling quality enters their voice. There has been a great deal of discussion about it in the last few years in the US, with Kim Kardashian and Lena Dunham  when acting in TV comedy Girls  cited as examples.

One of the problems about tracing the rise of any speech pattern is that the point at which people noticed it as a thing” does not necessarily reflect the period when it started

We don’t fully recognise it, but our manner of speech is constantly changing based on how those around us speak. And as Liberman points out, uptalk is something that’s always been in our manner of speech, just not necessarily as pronounced as today. in all variations of English he explains there are a set of circumstances in which rising patterns are used not in polar questions that is, yes or no questions. Uptalk has always been available, just below the surface, because there are circumstances in which speakers not thought to be uptalkers use uptalking characteristics

Sharyn Collins, a voice coach and elocution expert, has strong opinions on uptalk. It’s perfectly fine in Australia, New Zealand and America, she intones in a cut-glass accent. But not here [in the UK], I believe. We’ve adopted it in a different way

Some people believe the phenomenon is used by uncertain speakers hoping to win their audience over. It acts as a constant check that listeners follow  phrasing every sentence, no matter how declarative, is a subconscious begging by the speaker to be reassured. It’s a use Robin Lakoff first noticed 40 years ago. The effect she wrote, is as though one were seeking confirmation, though at the same time the speaker may be the only one who has the requisite information

if you hear it from younger women you suspect of being excessively insecure, though it’s not intended as such it can be interpreted as a form of conversational weakness, says Liberman. That’s something Collins agrees with.

It’s a bit meek a bit everyman, Collins says. To me it’s not the language of business and power. But a lot of people are using it now, including men

Liberman suggests that uptalk is a way to assert dominance. He points to a 2005 study by Winnie Cheng and Martin Warren, who highlighted that speakers in dominant positions (the chair of a meeting, or an academic supervisor) use uptalk between three and seven times as often as the people they’re talking to

One theory as to why simple declarative statements sound like questions is that in many cases, they actually are. English is a notoriously woolly language, full of ways to say one thing and mean another. The use of uptalk could be a way to subconsciously hint that a simple statement such as I think we should choose the left hand turn? has a hidden meaning. Implicit within the sentence is a question Do you also think we should choose the left hand turn?

Uptalk has also become more popular, Collins believes, because of our dwindling attention span. A staunch traditionalist, she believes that the rising tones we so often hear in snatches of conversation are in fact people striving to divert their companion’s attention away from their mobile phone. People are checking as they speak to make sure you’re paying attention, she says

Whenever a student comes to me for elocution I try to eliminate uptalk, she notes, but English is evolving and this is something I may just have to accept at some point

Do you have a theory for how the upward inflection spread? When and where was the first time you heard it

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Ukraine in $3bn military investment

Sunday’s celebrations mark the 23rd anniversary of Ukraine’s independence after the Soviet Union collapsed

Ukraine’s president says almost $3bn (£1.8bn) will be spent on re-equipping the army after an “exhausting” campaign against pro-Russian rebels.

Petro Poroshenko made the announcement ahead of a military parade to mark Independence Day in the capital Kiev.

Meanwhile, fighting continues in eastern Ukraine, where more than 2,000 people have died in recent months.

Pro-Russian fighters have marched dozens of captured Ukrainian soldiers through the city of Donetsk.

The city has been the scene of the heaviest fighting since the conflict erupted.

Crowds reportedly lined the streets chanting “fascists” at the prisoners.

Speaking in Kiev, Mr Poroshenko said that a “constant military threat will hang over Ukraine” for the foreseeable future.

He said the investment would be spread out over two years, from 2015-2017.

The events of the last months have for us turned into a real war, albeit an undeclared one, he said in a televised speech on Ukrainian independence day

Over the last six months, a new Ukrainian army has been born in heavy and exhausting fighting he said

The military parade featured hundreds of marching servicemen and military hardware. Critics said it was inappropriate when Ukraine was at war

A naval parade is also being held in the port of Odessa

These are the first military parades since 2009, when the previous pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, abolished them.

Prayers were said and wreaths laid for those who fought on the Ukrainian government side, including those killed during protests against Mr Yanukovych in Kiev last winter

Separately, security officials quoted by Ukrainian media said that five people accused of planning attacks on bases for pro-government volunteers in the Kiev area, timed to coincide with the celebrations, had been arrested.

More than 330,000 people have fled their homes because of fighting in eastern Ukraine.

On Saturday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged both sides in the conflict to strive for a new ceasefire, after talks with Mr Poroshenko in Kiev.

She cautioned that Russia – already subjected to heavy EU and US sanctions over its alleged interference in Ukraine – could face further punitive measures.

Her visit to Kiev took place as lorries from an unauthorised Russian aid convoy which had crossed into eastern Ukraine returned to Russia.

Western officials fear the trucks may have held military equipment to help the rebels, but Russia said they had delivered generators, food and drinks.

The violence in the east erupted when pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions declared independence from Kiev, after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March.

Key negotiations between President Poroshenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin and EU officials are due to take place in Minsk on Tuesday.

Are you in Ukraine? Have you been affected by the unrest? You can email your experiences to haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk.

Or send us your experiences using the form below.

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Chileans baffled by persistent bomb attacks

Chileans feel the problem of small-scale bomb attacks is worsening

Santiago is generally regarded as one of the safest capital cities in Latin America, so it comes as something of a shock to visitors to find out that it has been hit by around 200 bomb attacks over the past decade.

The latest devices exploded in the early hours of 12 August outside two police stations, shattering windows in nearby buildings.

No one was hurt but the attacks have added to the sense of unease that many Chileans feel about the safety of their capital city.

“In both cases these were home-made explosive devices made from gunpowder inside a fire extinguisher, just as we’ve seen in so many attacks in the past,” said Raul Guzman, a state prosecutor investigating the bombings.

In July, a similar bomb was planted on a metro train as it was standing in a station in a suburb of Santiago.

The driver of the train noticed the package and alerted the police, who evacuated the station before the device went off.

No one has been charged in connection with these latest incidents and prosecutors remain baffled as to who is carrying out the bombings, although anarchists appear to be to blame.

The bomb attacks started in 2005. Since then, around 200 devices have been planted across the capital.

Two-thirds have gone off while bomb disposal experts have defused the rest. A handful of bombs have also exploded in provincial Chilean cities.

About a third of the bombs have been placed outside banks but other targets have included police stations, army barracks, churches, embassies, the headquarters of political parties, company offices, courthouses and government buildings.

Most have been timed to go off at night when the streets are largely empty, and only a handful of passers-by have been injured, none seriously.

The only person killed in any of the blasts was a would-be bomber, Mauricio Morales, a young anarchist who died in May 2009 when the device he was carrying exploded prematurely.

Two years later, another anarchist, Luciano Pitronello, was severely injured when a bomb he was planting outside a bank exploded in his hands.

Around 80 different groups have claimed responsibility for the attacks and prosecutors say they do not know if they are dealing with one group that continually changes its name or many separate cells.

One group calls itself The friends of gunpowder Others are named after long dead anarchists from Europe and the United States.

A group named after Leon Czolgosz an anarchist who assassinated US President William McKinley in 1901, has claimed responsibility for at least five of the Santiago attacks.

Another group is named after Jean-Marc Rouillan, a jailed French left-wing militant.

Despite years of investigation, police and prosecutors have struggled to bring the bombers to justice.

In August 2010 police arrested 14 suspects, but during 2011 and 2012 the legal case against them collapsed.

Pitronello was brought to trial under anti-terrorism legislation but was convicted only of lesser offences and allowed to serve his term under house arrest.

The only person jailed so far is Hans Niemeyer, a Chilean sociologist and anarchist who is serving a five year term for planting a bomb in a bank in November 2011.

Meanwhile, public fear over the bombs is growing

An opinion poll published last month suggested 68% of Chileans are afraid of the attacks and 70% feel the problem is escalating.

President Michelle Bachelet has sought to calm those fears and to ease tensions between the police, state prosecutors and judges, who have been criticised for failing to stop the attacks.

It’s important that we don’t simply pass the blame from one body to another but instead we coordinate and work together and come up with the intelligence to respond accordingly Ms Bachelet told local radio station Radio Cooperativa in a recent interview.

Investigators are looking into links between anarchist groups in Chile and Europe

Two Chilean anarchists who were tried and acquitted in connection with the Santiago bombings were later arrested in Spain where they were charged with planting a bomb in a church in Zaragoza last year

That attack was claimed by a group named after Mateo Morral, a Spanish anarchist responsible for a deadly bomb attack against the Spanish royal family in 1906.

In December last year, the Chilean authorities barred a well-known Italian anarchist, Alfredo Maria Bonanno, from entering the country, while in 2010, Greek police defused a letter bomb addressed to the Chilean embassy in Athens

Until now, the bombs have been a nuisance for Chileans rather than a serious threat to public safety

But there have been nearly 30 attacks in Santiago this year, and prosecutors say they want to bring the long series of bombings to an end before someone is seriously hurt or even killed

Death simulator attraction to open in China

China made me rich, but it didn’t teach me how to live a rich life. I was lost, says Huang Wei pin, creator of a death-themed game in which participants can try out a coffin

(Bursa escort) — We’ve all wondered what it’s like to die.

Now there’s a game that claims it can fulfill our curiosity, without actually killing us.

Samadhi  4D Experience of Death, is a morbid escape room game that uses dramatic special effects to bring players close to what its creators imagine is an experience of death.

When it opens in Shanghai in September 2014, it will invite participants to compete in a series of challenges to avoid dying.

Losers get cremated  or are at least made to lie on a conveyor belt that transports them through a fake funeral home incinerator to simulate death rites.

The faux cremator will use hot air and light projections to create what the organizers call an authentic experience of burning.

After cremation, participants are transferred to a soft, round, womb-like capsule, signifying their “rebirth.”

And the winner?

He’ll also have to die of course, says the game’s fatalistic co founder Ding Rui.

As in life, he explains, everyone will die eventually, no matter what they’ve survived.

MORE: Basement breakout — Budapest’s escape games go global

Life and death

Ding and his partner Huang Wei-ping went to great lengths researching their game, investigating the cremation process that typically awaits 50% of Chinese people after death.

The pair visited a real crematorium and asked to be sent through the furnace with the flames turned off.

Ding went in the crematory first and it was stressful for me to observe from the outside, says Huang.

The controller of the crematory was also very nervous; he usually just focuses on sending bodies in, but not on bringing them back out.

When it came to Huang’s turn, he found it unbearable.

“It was getting really hot. I couldn’t breathe and I thought my life was over,” he said.

The pair say realism is essential to provoke participants into thinking about life and death.

They’ll operate the game while also running Hand in Hand, an organization that specializes in providing hospice support to dying patients in an oncology hospital.

MORE: Haunted Beijing — Chinese capital’s spookier side

Soul searching

Huang says his interest in death emerged during a period of soul searching after a lucrative but spiritually unrewarding career as a trader.

China made me rich, but it didn’t teach me how to live a rich life. I was lost, he says.

He went on to study psychology and volunteered to help in the aftermath of a 2008 earthquake in China’s western Sichuan province, launching Hand in Hand shortly after.

It opened a new door for me  I went there to help but I was also saved.

Ding, meanwhile, had undertaken his own search for a meaning to life by organizing seminars with experts on the subject.

I invited life masters from different religions and other fields to come and talk about what life is, he says.

I did that for two years before realizing that, instead of sitting here and listening passively, I could also do something.

That was when the two hooked up to create the “4D Experience of Death.

MORE: Richard III’s long-lost grave opens to the public

Morbid curiosity

The pair were initially unsure of the appetite for their morbid concept, even though similar ventures have already opened in South Korea and Taiwan.

Voluntary work in a hospice showed them that few people wanted to confront the idea of death, even when it was at hand.

The saddest part of the job wasn’t seeing the patients passing away but how the families refused to face death  the final days with their loved ones consisted of kind but shallow lies, says Ding.

We lack understanding of death and the fear can become so overwhelming.

To sound out the idea, Huang and Ding first started a fundraising campaign on jue.so, the Chinese version of Kickstarter.

We received more than RMB 410,000 ($67,000) in three months, surpassing our target, says Huang. It turns out many people in China are curious about death.

Ding says they hope the experience will promote life education — prompting people to ask questions about what they are doing with their lives and guiding them to face death in a personal way.

There aren’t any model answers in life and death education, unlike those courses that teach you to be rich and successful, says Huang. It is more important for people to experience it personally.

“I was in a car crash once and the only thought in my mind then was ‘why didn’t I buy insurance?'” says Huang. “It wasn’t what I had imagined for the final moments of my life. That romantic idea of having a flashback of one’s entire life in the last moments before death — that did not happen.”

Samadhi — 4D Experience of Death will be completed at the end of August and is scheduled to open in September. Sessions will be conducted in Chinese. Tickets RMB249 ($40). 101-104, Building 2, Gongyi Xintiandi, 105 West PuYu Road, Huangpu District, Shanghai

Anonymous email app uses creepy stunt

Farhad Manjoo, a tech writer for the New York Times, later tweeted, “Leak, that was terrible and mean. I won’t write about you.”

(bursa escort bayan) — The creators of an app that helps people send anonymous emails are coming under fire for a PR stunt that didn’t quite go as planned.

Over the last couple days, Leak, a new service that allows people to send anonymous emails, sent a number of reporters questionable emails as part of a push to promote the app.

An email sent via Leak to a Mashable reporter: “Dear neighbors, would you mind stop (sic) walking naked at home? We can see you every morning when having breakfast. From someone, anonymously. Sent from Leak.”

SEE ALSO: The Beginner’s Guide to Whisper

Emails sent to Mashable, as well as reporters from other publications, ranged from nonsensical to more than a little creepy.

Leak cofounder Laurent Desserrey confirmed to Mashable the emails were sent to reporters as part of a PR push. “We decided to send them to some journalists we liked thinking that it was funnier to live the Leak experience than receiving a regular press release,” Desserrey wrote in an email.

He did, however, acknowledge the company may have been a bit clumsy in its attempts.

The app launched last week. Desserrey, who is based in Paris, says it was created in a single weekend with the help of his friend and cofounder Sebastien Thiriet.

In a post on Medium Desserrey explains he was inspired by apps such as Secret which encourage anonymous sharing. “I heard about Secret and started to use it, he wrote. “I loved it and enjoyed the excitement of sharing for the first time my secret garden with everyone. But there is no Secret community in Paris yet, so the experience was a bit frustrating.

While some apps that encourage anonymous sharing have gotten flack for their potential to enable bullying and other negative interactions, Desserrey says he wants Leak to be used for good.

We wanted Leak to be a really positive and exciting tool, he says. It’s sure that people can send negative leaks, but that is really not what the product is about. It’s about saying the truth you’re ashamed to say. And if it’s getting negative you can block emails from Leak.”

No word on how those anonymous emails to journalists fit into that scheme.

Inside the wave Aquatic pics

Kenji Croman’s love of the ocean became the focus of his photography in 2008. Croman says he took this shot at Rocky Point on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. “The sunset was absolutely amazing.”

(CNN)Kenji Croman has broken bones, dislocated his shoulder and elbow, endured concussions and nearly drowned several times.

He’s also had three close encounters with sharks over the years.

A 10-foot wave landed directly on top of him five years ago, bending his body to the point that he actually kicked himself in the head.

“I literally heard every bone in my body crack,” he said.

29 beach photos that’ll make you drool

Croman has been photographing ocean waves since 2008, sometimes risking his life to get that perfect shot at the surf break.

Despite the risks and inevitable injuries that come with wave photography, the Hawaii resident, body surfer and former competitive swimmer wouldn’t do anything else. The 36-year-old photographer loves the thrill of meeting the barrel of a wave head on, shooting waves as his passion and shootingsurfers to pay the bills.

Some of his business involves creating Instagram promotions for Dos Equis, Maui Sunrise Shells and other companies. He has been able to shoot some of the most beautiful and untouched beaches in South America and Mexico through a Kickstarter fundraising campaign.

But most of his wave photos are taken close to home. His favorite moment? When the sun rises at Sandy Beach in Oahu, Hawaii, but the waves there are good at any hour. What Croman loves about waves is how each one is unpredictable and as unique as a fingerprint. And he captures waves from an angle that allows spectators to see them breaking in slow motion as he does.

The process of photographing waves requires more than just swimming out to where the surf breaks and waiting, he says.

The night before a photo shoot Croman checks Surfline.com, a website and streaming coastal HD camera network that provides live and predicted ocean weather information, to see what the winds, waves and tide will be like at certain times.

“If the winds are blowing offshore, this creates nice barrels and usually better conditions than if the winds are blowing onshore.”

Croman has both a primary camera and a backup for emergencies. He goes without a wetsuit but wears fins and uses heavy duty underwater housing to protect his camera.

There is no great way for him to protect himself.

He admits there is probably protective gear he should be wearing, but there is little he could have done to decrease the impact of the 10-foot wave that crashed on top of him. Croman was rushed to the hospital where his doctor initially thought he had broken his neck. His neck was fine, but he was hospitalized for a week and spinal fluid leaked out of his ear, he says.

The hardest part of Croman’s job is staying calm in the face of breaking waves when his initial instinct is to panic and swim away. He once risked his life to shoot a 25-foot wave but the resulting photo “looked like a three-foot wave,” he says. The 25-foot rock in the background “didn’t give it the right depth you need to show how big the wave was.”

Croman studies the swells, searching for patterns and trying to time when a wave will break. At most, Croman will take two to three shots of a single wave.

“I’ve shot waves for so many years now that I see the wave in slow motion,” he said.

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