WHAT IS STONEHENGE?




Before the arrival of the Romans in the First Century AD, Britain was home to an abundance of sophisticated and thriving cultures. And if proof were need, 3000 years before the Romans set foot on this soil, local tribes had the technology, language and organisational skills to create one of the worlds most iconic monuments - known today as Stonehenge

There's a lot that we believe we know about Stonehenge. We're almost certain, for example, that the great prehistoric monument was built in several phases spanning hundreds of years, from around 3000 BC to 1600 BC. We also know, that it was a construction project that tested ancient ingenuity and prehistoric technology to the limit.

Besides the question of how Stonehenge was built, understanding why Stonehenge was built is still one of the great mysteries of archaeology. However, modern technology has allowed us to discredit some early explanations of Stonehenge's purpose. We know that Stonehenge was not a Roman temple, and accurate dating has also shown that it was completed at least a thousand years before the Druids roamed the British Isles.

It required an army of workers to construct and perhaps even a garrison of soldiers to protect. These people were not farming or hunting, but relying on a surplus of food that only a settled and successful farming society could provide.

Two of Britain's leading archaeologists - Professor Timothy Darvill and Professor Geoff - are both world-renowned experts on Stonehenge. They believe that they have finally solved the riddle of these great standing stones.
"The whole purpose of Stonehenge is that it was a prehistoric Lourdes," says Wainwright. "People came here to be made well."
This is revolutionary stuff, and it comes from a reinterpretation of the stones of the henge and the bones buried nearby. Darvill and Wainwright believe the smaller bluestones in the centre of the circle, rather than the huge sarsen stones on the perimeter, hold the key to the purpose of Stonehenge.

The bluestones were dragged 250km from the mountains of southwest Wales using Stone Age technology. That's some journey, and there must have been a very good reason for attempting it. Darvill and Wainwright believe the reason was the magical, healing powers imbued in the stones by their proximity to traditional healing springs.

The bones that have been excavated from around Stonehenge appear to back the theory up. "There's an amazing and unnatural concentration of skeletal trauma in the bones that were dug up around Stonehenge," says Darvill. "This was a place of pilgrimage for people...coming to get healed."

They believe that the ill and injured travelled to Stonehenge because the healing stones offered a final hope of a miracle cure or relief from insufferable pain.

While Darvill and Wainwright think the idea of Stonehenge as a prehistoric Lourdes is the most convincing theory for its construction yet, it's fair to say that the archaeological community is not completely convinced.
When the theory was first proposed at a talk in London in 2006, it was met with considerable support, but also one or two dropped jaws. And that's not surprising.

Prior to this 'bombshell', the most widely agreed theory to explain the great stone circle is that it was used as a gigantic calendar. Put simply, the site's alignment allows for the observation of astronomical events such as the summer and winter solstice. With that information, our ancient ancestors could establish exactly where they were in the cycle of the seasons and when the site would be at its most potent.

But would they really have put so much time and effort into the construction of something that today we take for granted? Many archaeologists believed they would as Stonehenge offered a way to establish calendar dates when no other method existed. Accurate dating allowed for more efficient and successful agriculture, as well as the marking of important religious and social events.

The most popular theory about the purpose of Stonehenge is one that has survived since serious archaeological work first began on the site. Along with modern day druids, they believe that Stonehenge was a place of worship.

However, an even more remarkable origin has been suggested Stonehenge theorists. To some open-minded enthusiasts in the excitable 1970s, Stonehenge was believed to have been a landing pad for extraterrestrial visitors!

It's fair to say that any archaeological evidence relating to this has yet to be unearthed.

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Based on an article from http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/british_prehistory/healing_stones.shtml
Images care of http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/may/22/conservation.archaeology and http://www.comparestonehengetours.com/stonehenge-facts/ and http://www.lundyisleofavalon.co.uk/stonehenge/bluestones.htm and http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/5098706.stm and http://stonehenge-theories.wikispaces.com/Aliens

THE GARDEN OF EDEN




Throughout the pages of history the words ‘Paradise’ and ‘Eden’ have long been intertwined and often associated with each other. The origins of the word Eden is of no surprise forming part of the creation story within the Old Testament Genesis texts and the thoedicy of the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The word ‘Paradise’ however is Persian in origin meaning ‘walled enclosure’ or ‘hunting grounds’.

Although it's often used as a synonym for the Garden of Eden the word paradise also appears in the Old Testament but always in contexts other than a connection with this iconic place.

In the New Testament, the word 'paradise' refers to a heavenly kingdom restored on Earth - Matthew 5: 5 –‘the meek shall inherit the earth’, similar to what the Garden of Eden was meant to be.

Where is the Garden of Eden?

There have been a number of claims as to the actual geographic location of the Garden of Eden, though many of these have little or no connection to the text of Genesis. Most now put the Garden somewhere in the Middle East reinforcing the Persian connection.

Satellite photos have revealed two dry riverbeds flowing toward the Persian Gulf near where the Tigris and Euphrates also terminate. This would account for the four easterly flowing rivers as described in the Old Testaments location for the Garden in Genesis 2:10-14.
“A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold…The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.”
The exact identities of the Pishon and Havilah rivers are unknown, but the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are still with us today. In this theory, the Bible’s Gihon River would correspond with the Al-Qurnah in Iraq, and the Pishon River would correspond to the Wadi Al-Batin river system (also now called the Kuwait River). Now if we looked back to between 2,500 and 3000 years ago this dry and arid area would have once been the fertile central part of the Arabian Peninsula.

There is other evidence that points to this area being the place once known as the Garden of Eden and you will find it deep under ground. If, as most scientists believe, oil is primarily the result of decomposing vegetation and animal matter, then would it be reasonable to believe that the area above it would once have been awash with plants and wildlife. Since the Garden was the epitome of perfection, it's reasonable to suggest that the decomposition of its lush organic materials would produce these vast stores of some of the earth’s highest grade oil.
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Images care of http://www.indywatch
man.com/uncategorized/the-garden-of-eden-and-after/ and http://www.israel-a-history-of.com/biblical-garden-of-eden.html and http://flowersandweeds.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/weeds-in-garden-of-eden-part-2-types-of.html and http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Valued_image_set:_Cydonia_oblonga_(Quinces) and http://treesandshrubs.about.com/od/fruitsnuts/ig/Types-of-Nuts/Pistachio-Nut.htm and http://www.worldofstock.com/stock-photos/a-palm-tree-phoenix-dactylifera-plantation-with/NTR2436 and http://www.pbase.com/image/91215596 and http://tryonfarm.org/share/node/357

CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS




Although he is now credited with history’s ‘most recent’ discovery of the Americas (the 11th century Icelandic explorer Leif Ericsson is currently the earliest documented European to set foot in mainland America) the fruits of his travels have also made him the accidental father of modern glasshouse production. A strange association indeed, but a feat that would never have been impossible were it not for his mis-calculation of the size of the Earth (in particular the Eurasian continent) and poor grasp of maritime navigation.

Inspired from works by Ptolemy, Pierre d’Ailly and the ‘Travels of Marco Polo’ Columbus wrongly concluded that Asia could be reached easier and far quicker by using a western route across the Atlantic.

His conviction was soon to become an obsession and so he began to petition the various European Royal heads of state in order to finance his ’Enterprise of the Indies’. Beginning first with Portugal, then France and even England, he was refused time after time mainly on the grounds of the huge costs that an exhibition like this would encounter. Eventually, after already rejecting him once before, it was Queen Isabella of Spain who granted him the commission he required, making his dream of finding a western route to Asia a reality.

History was sealed on August 3rd 1492 when a small fleet comprising of the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Nina set sail for the first of four voyages of discovery exploring the New World. However it was during his second voyage to the South American mainland that he stumbled across the indigenous Tupi-Guarani Indians.

This was the encounter that was to change the course of history, triggering a chain of events which for centuries captured imaginations across continental Europe. By doing so he set in motion a desire for massive investment and innovation, the like of which may never be seen again.


The Tupi-Guarani Indians were the dominant civilisation in the areas that Columbus visited, inhabiting the Brazilian coast from the mouth of the river Amazon, down to Cananéia, and including large sections of the Amazon basin. They enjoyed an advanced culture that practiced what we still regard as modern agricultural and horticultural techniques including the selective breeding of plants to increase flavour and yields. Unfortunately their culture also included a taste for human flesh, the dish of choice being captured prisoners of war.

Their whole culture and government was based on the act of cannibalism, and following a successful raid on a neighbouring tribe, prisoners would be brought back to the village to be fattened up. A few weeks later an elaborate party/ritual would be arranged, after which the prisoner is summarily executed by a blow to the back of the head. He was then skinned and cooked with seasonal fruits and vegetables. A small piece of flesh was then served to each member of the tribe so that they could gain the spiritual strength of the unfortunate victim.

Despite these rather gruesome eating habits the Tupi-Guarani Indians are also the first humans to encounter and domesticate the pineapple. This highly specialised fruit also has a unique characteristic, which in one way is quite poetic when you consider its ancestry. It has the only known source of bromelein, an enzyme that can digest protein. In other words the pineapple has quite literally flesh-eating properties. In fact over the years there have been numerous reports where eating pineapples has caused an itchy or burning sensation to the mouth. In extreme cases this has caused the lips and internal parts of the mouth to bleed.

Their first encounter with a pineapple occurred in November 1493 during the second voyage to the Caribbean region. After securing anchor off the volcanic island of Guadeloupe,

Columbus led a small party ashore to study what appeared to be a deserted tribal village. Among wooden pillars spiralled with serpent carvings, his crew found large pots filled with human body parts, accompanied nearby by several piles of freshly foraged fruits and vegetables. Undaunted or perhaps just extremely hungry, the party helped themselves to the non-human aspect to the meal, enjoying in particular a curious new fruit which they had found. They described it as having ‘…an abrasive, segmented exterior like a pine cone and a firm interior pulp like an apple...’ Luckily they were able to return to their ship before the tribesmen returned.

During his fourth and final voyage to the West Indies in 1502 Columbus made his way down to the Isla de Pinos off of the coat of Honduras. Here that he met, along with his brother Bartolomeo, native traders travelling with a large canoe filled with merchandise. It was described at the time to be ‘… as long as a galley…’ It’s believed that this was the moment local tribesmen first traded fresh pineapples to Europeans eventually reaching mainland Europe for the first time in November of that year.

The Renaissance Europe to which Columbus returned to was a civilization largely bereft of common sweets. Sugar refined from cane was a rare commodity and at the time had to be imported at great cost from both the Middle East and the Orient. Without modern methods of refrigeration or transportation, fresh fruit was also scarce with orchard-grown produce only available in limited numbers during their harvest periods.

Once safely returned to Europe, Columbus’s succulently sweet pineapple became an instant hit. Overnight it had become an item of both celebrity and curiosity for royal gourmets and professional horticulturist alike.

Unfortunately combining its notoriously short shelf life with a 1-2 month sea journey made obtaining the fruit for Europe almost an impossibility.

Its extreme rarity meant that the pineapple quickly became a symbol of wealth and luxury, but despite the best efforts of European gardeners it was nearly two centuries before they were able to mimic the perfect environment in which to grow and then bring to fruition a pineapple plant.

It was during the 1600s, when the pineapple was still regarded as a rare and coveted commodity that King Charles II of England actually commissioned an official portrait by Hendrick Danckurts to immortalize him in an act of royal privilege.

 The theme naturally was to have the King receiving a pineapple as a gift from his head gardener John Rose.

Of course today pineapple growing is big business with over 15 million tons of produce being harvested by 80 countries every year.

Each one sells for less than a couple of pounds, bought by people without a single thought as to the fascinating history of its origins.

And why not, even on his death bed Columbus had no idea as to the value his pineapple brought to the world, but to be fair neither did he know what part of the world he had discovered it from.

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Images care of http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/1866 and http://www.sciencephoto.com/media/363425/enlarge and http://www.castle.ckrumlov.cz/docs/en/zamek_zahrada_ananas.xml and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Simmons-Edwards_House_-_Pineapple_Gates_(Charleston).jpg and http://www.library.uni.edu/collections/special-collections/building-histories/botanical-center and http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19350/19350-h/19350-h.htm

CHIMPANZEE




The chimpanzee’s diet consists mainly of fruits of all kinds. After an early morning feed, chimpanzees tend to spend the rest of the early part of the day relaxing. But they will continue to ‘graze’ by picking occasionally at any edible leaves, buds, berries or blossoms that they come across.

They tend to have a second – more intensive – feeding period later on in the day, usually around the end of the afternoon.

The chimpanzee will also eat insects as part of their diet, such as termites, ants and several species of insect larvae. If they find a nest of wild bees then they will often try to break it open to get at and eat the honey.

Chimpanzees get most of the moisture the need from the fruit they eat, but they are known to drink rain water from hollows in trees.

Biologists used to think that the chimpanzee only gathered its food and did not hunt other animals. It is now known that the chimpanzee does hunt a number of different mammals, especially other primates such as colobus, blue monkeys and baboons.

The chimpanzee will usually kill its victim by smashing its head on the ground. This is almost always done by one male who then eats his fill before sharing with the rest of the troop.

Special adaptation

The chimpanzee is skilled at stripping the leaves from a branch and then using it as a tool. Such sticks are used for digging out insects from their nests.

Alternatively, a chimpanzee will coat the stick with saliva and lay it in the path of soldier ants, which become stuck to the surface.

Chimpanzee habits

The chimpanzee lives in troops of between 25 and 80, each with a dominant male. Troop home ranges vary from 18 to 21 sq km in the forest, and 100 to 200sq km in more open country. The ranges of the different troops often overlap one another within these habitats.

Active by day, the chimpanzee spends its nights asleep in a nest it makes in a tree, safe from predators. It may use the same nest for several nights if the troop is not on the move. The chimpanzee keeps its nest clean and makes sure that its droppings fall clear of the edge.

During the wet season, the chimpanzee spends a lot of time in trees, but in drier weather it spends the majority of its time on the ground.

Breeding

Chimpanzees will breed all year round, whenever one of the females in a group comes into season. She may mate with several different males, who show no rivalry between themselves.

The female has a menstrual cycle similar to that of a human woman. However, unlike a woman, the female chimpanzee becomes sexually receptive every 36 days unless she is pregnant. She will give birth approximately every three years.

The mother will carry her offspring everywhere for the baby’s first five months. From there the young chimpanzee will remain dependent on its mother for at least two more years.

By the time the young chimpanzee is four years old, it will spend most of the time with others around its own age. From then until the age of eight or ten years old it will learn the locations of the best feeding places, and how to behave as a senior member of chimpanzee society.

Facts about Chimpanzees

1. There are actually two species of chimpanzee! The first is the common chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes whose native habitat is found in West and Central Africa. The second is the Bonobo, Pan paniscus whose native habitat is in forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

2. Chimpanzees are members of the Hominidae family, along with gorillas, humans, and orang-utans.

3. The two chimpanzee species are the closest living relatives to humans. So close that it is believed that Chimpanzees split from the human branch of the family only about 4 to 6 million years ago! Research by Mary-Claire King in 1973 found 99% identical DNA between human beings and chimpanzees, although research since has modified that finding to about 94% - that is still pretty close though.

4. Chimpanzees are often portrayed as small friendly monkeys, but a fully grown adult can be as tall as 1.7 metres (5.6 ft) high, incredibly strong and potentially murderous!

5. The chimpanzee can suffers from many of the diseases that humans carry including malaria. This is believed to be due to the closeness of our genetic make up.

6. One of the most significant discoveries regarding chimpanzees is their use of tools. Recent research indicates that chimpanzee stone tool use dates to at least 4,300 years ago. Chimpanzee tool usage includes digging into termite mounds with a large stick tool, and then using a small stick that has been altered to "fish" the termites out. Further studies have revealed the use of such advanced tools as spears, with which common chimpanzees in Senegal sharpen with their teeth and use to spear Senegal Bush babies out of small holes in trees. Before the discovery of tool use in chimps, it was believed that humans were the only species to make and use tools, but several other tool-using species are now known.

7. The chimpanzee is one of only a handful of animals that can recognise itself in a mirror.

8. Chimpanzees construct arboreal night nests by lacing together branches from one or more trees. This nest building forms an important part of chimpanzee behaviour, especially in the case of mothers who teach this skill to infants. Nests consist of a mattress, supported on a strong foundation, and lined above with soft leaves and twigs and may be located at a height of 10 to 150 ft.

9. Chimps communicate in a manner similar to human. They use non-verbal and verbal communication, hand gestures, and facial expressions. Research into the chimpanzee brain has revealed that chimp communication activates an area of the chimp brain that is in the same position as Broca's area, a language center in the human brain.

10. Adult chimpanzees, particularly males, can be very aggressive. They are highly territorial and are known to kill other chimps.

11. Chimpanzees also engage in targeted hunting of lower order primates such as the red colobus monkey and bush babies. They use the meat from these kills as a "social tool" within their community.

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WISLEY




It has probably been a good 15 years since I last walked round the gardens at Wisley, and as a young keen student of horticulture I remember being generally underwhelmed as well as bored with the number of the displays which proved to be lacking in imagination.

And so it was with a certain trepidation that I arrived in the car park after being invited along for a second visit. After an initial confusion as to where the conflicting toilet arrows were pointing to, I finally made my way through the ticket booth and – to my amazement – stepped into one of the greatest gardens I have ever seen!

Check out the photographic walk through I took as I made my way through the various gardens and glasshouses.




Wisley belongs to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) which was founded in 1804 in London, England. Originally called the Horticultural Society of London, it gained its present name in a Royal Charter granted by Prince Albert in 1861.

Wisley is undoubtedly one of the great gardens of the world, boasting a huge as well as diverse plant collection.

It was founded by Victorian businessman and RHS member George Ferguson Wilson, who purchased a 60 acre (243,000 m²) site in 1878. He established the ‘Oakwood Experimental Garden’ on part of the site, where he attempted to make difficult plants grow successfully.

Wilson died in 1902 and Oakwood was then purchased by Sir Thomas Hanbury, the creator of the celebrated garden ‘La Mortola’ on the Italian Riviera. He gifted both sites to the RHS the following year. Since then Wisley has developed steadily and it is now is a large and diverse garden covering 240 acres (971,000 m²). In addition to the numerous formal and informal decorative gardens, several glasshouses and an extensive arboretum, it also includes small scale model gardens, and a trials field where new cultivars are assessed.

The laboratory - which was built for both scientific research and training - was originally opened in 1907 but proved inadequate. It was expanded and its exterior was rebuilt during World War I. It was made a Grade II Listed building in 1985.

In April 2005 Alan Titchmarsh cut the turf to mark the start of construction of the Bicentenary Glasshouse This major new feature covers three quarters of an acre (3,000 m²) and overlooks a new lake built at the same time. It is divided into three main planting zones representing desert, tropical and temperate climates. It was budgeted at £7.7 million and opened June 26, 2007.

Where is Wisley?

Wisley gardens lies between Cobham and Ripley in Surrey, off the main London to Portsmouth road (A3) south of Junction 10 of the M25. It is easy to find, just follow the brown tourist flower signs on the A3 and M25 to RHS Garden.

RHS Garden Wisley
Woking
Surrey
GU23 6QB


If you want to go by rail, the closest stations are West Byfleet (3 miles) or Woking (4 miles). Be aware that there are no taxis on standby at West Byfleet.

If you want to get there by bus, 515 Kingston to Guildford via Surbiton and Wisley. There is no service on Sundays or Bank Holidays. For details call National Traveline on 0871 200 22 33.

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Images from http://www.rhhonline.co.uk/venues/glasshouse/find-us/ and me and http://www.ebghelicopters.co.uk/surrey-royal-tour.html

LONDON: The London Eye





If you are unfortunate enough to have not been born in the green and pleasant land that is known to all as England, then your first thoughts of Her Royal Highnesses' kingdom is likely to be the City of London. More specifically, Buckingham Palace, St Paul's Cathedral, and the London Eye!

Situated on the banks of the River Thames, the London Eye is the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe,  visited by over 3.5 million people annually . Although a newcomer to the historic London Skyline, the London eye is the most popular paid tourist attraction in Great Britain.

When erected in 1999, it was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world at a height of 443ft, until surpassed first by the 520 ft Star of Nanchang in 2006, and then the 541 ft Singapore Flyer in 2008. However, it is now described  as 'the world's tallest cantilevered observation wheel, as the London eye is supported by an A-frame on one side only, unlike the Nanchang and Singapore wheels!.

London Eye Facts

1. The wheel has 32 sealed and air-conditioned ovoidal passenger capsules, designed and supplied by Leitner-Poma, are attached to the external circumference of the wheel and rotated by electric motors.

2. Each capsule represents one of the London Boroughs, weighs 10 tonnes and holds 25 people who are free to walk around inside the capsule, though seating is provided.

3. The wheel rotates at 26 cm (10 in) per second (about 0.9 km/h or 0.6 mph) so that one revolution takes about 30 minutes. It does not usually stop to take on passengers; the rotation rate is slow enough to allow passengers to walk on and off the moving capsules at ground level. It is, however, stopped to allow disabled or elderly passengers time to embark and disembark safely.

4. The rim of the Eye is supported by tie rods and resembles a huge spoked bicycle wheel. The lighting for the London Eye was redone with LED lighting from Color Kinetics in December 2006 to allow digital control of the lights as opposed to the manual replacement of gels over fluorescent tubes.

5. The wheel was designed by architects Frank Anatole, Nic Bailey, Steven Chilton, Malcolm Cook, Mark Sparrowhawk, and the husband-and-wife team of Julia Barfield and David Marks.

6. Mace were responsible for construction management, with Hollandia as the main steelwork contractor and Tilbury Douglas (now known as Interserve) as the civil contractor. Consulting engineers Tony Gee & Partners designed the foundation works while Beckett Rankine designed the marine works.

7. The wheel was constructed in sections which were floated up the Thames on barges and assembled lying flat on piled platforms in the river. Once the wheel was complete it was lifted into an upright position by a strand jack system made by Enerpac. It was first raised at 2 degrees per hour until it reached 65 degrees, then left in that position for a week while engineers prepared for the second phase of the lift.

8. The total weight of steel in the Eye is 1,700 tonnes (1,870 short tons).

9. The project was European with major components coming from six countries: the steel was supplied from the UK and fabricated in The Netherlands by the Dutch company Hollandia, the cables came from Italy, the bearings came from Germany (FAG/Schaeffler Group), the spindle and hub were cast in the Czech Republic, the capsules were made by Poma in France (and the glass for these came from Italy), and the electrical components from the UK.

10. The London Eye was formally opened by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on 31 December 1999, although it was not opened to the public until 9 March 2000 due to technical problems. Since its opening, the Eye has become a major landmark and tourist attraction.

11. Since 1 January 2005, the Eye has been the focal point of London's New Year celebrations, with 10-minute displays taking place involving fireworks fired from the wheel itself.

12. On 5 June 2008 it was announced that 30 million people had ridden the London Eye since its opening in March 2000.

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Based on an article from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Eye and http://www.londoneye.com/VisitorInformation/GettingHere/Default.aspx
Photos care of http://blog.britishcouncil.org/2010/11/scholarships-forge-ties-between-palestinian-and-british-universities-2/ and http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Europe/United_Kingdom/England/London/London_Eye/photo1068685.htm and http://www.wheretravelwhen.com/2012/03/london-city-seen-from-london-eye.html and http://www.londoneye.com/VisitorInformation/Map/Default.aspx and http://www.art247.com/Tshirt/12493 and http://www.travelstay.com/attractions/London_EyeattractionsHotelList2.htm