How to make a zombie...

by James Russell

ZOMBIES ARE EVERYWHERE. ‘The Walking Dead’, ‘Zombies’, ‘Pride, Prejudice and Zombies’, ‘Left 4 Dead’, etc. It would appear we cannot get enough of zombies and similarly to previous cultural love affairs with monsters and horrors this could represent a shared fear.
Like the popularity of alien invasion flms during American Macarthyism and the rise of slasher films in times of the Zodiac Killer and other violent criminals, zombies represent something. Whether it is our fear of disease and decay or our over whelming primal need to consume and reproduce we don’t know. What we do know is that zombies are real.
To understand the biology of the zombie you must first understand its origin and history.
The first medically verifiable case of a zombie was presented by Dr.LamarqueDouyon and pertained to a man called ClairviusNarcisse who returned home to his family eighteen years after they buried him. His medical records showed he was pronounced dead by two western trained medics. Narcisse had fallen victim to a group known as the Bizangos, a secret society of vodou sorcerers, or Bokour.
The Bizangos found their origin in the 1790s when Haiti was still under rule by the white slave masters. Fearing Vodou the masters banned any practice of the faith. Which caused the first slaves to rebel and escape to the mountains where they set up their own communities; people know as the Maroons. It was the Maroons who were the first to organize slave uprisings, blessing those who vowed to murder the white slavers with the blood of a sacrificed animal in a ceremony known as the Bois Caiman. This in part would lead to the Haitian revolution and the establishment of Haiti as the first independent black state who were free to practice their faith. The Maroons would later form the Bizangos, acting as a spiritual force patrolling the Haitian populous through the powers of Vodou.
Depending whom you ask in the Vodou faith, the zombie has different definitions and properties. In most folklore it is the living dead who have been brought back through sorcery, but to Max Beauvoir; the Supreme Vodou Chief and Head of the Bizangos, it is a spiritual matter in which the Bokour removes the desire to do bad things from those who have been deemded criminal. In Vodou it is sacrosanct to take a life so zombification is a method of punishment that doesn’t offend the gods. Narcisse had been brought before one of these tribunals and deemed quilty on of an unforgivable crime and transformed into a zombie to punish him and protect the people he may have victimised.
Stories of a potion that possesses this ability to convert one into a zombie were reported as early as 1938 by Zora Neale Hurston, but she believed no person would dare divulge the ingredients and this remained true until Wade Davis, a Harvard ethno-botanist, infiltrated the Vodou community with assistance from Beauvoir. He uncovered and collected a sample of the zombie preparation, and was involved in the first biochemical and anthropological analysis of the powder.
Its ingredients included puffer fish, tarantula, cashew leaves, bearded fire worm, velvet bean, cane toad, jimson weed, hispaniolan boa and the bones of an infant. Each ingredient holds its own meaning in folklore but from a biochemical standpoint there are two ingredients that stand out. Puffer fish and jimson weed.
Puffer fish produces a powerful neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin that stops nerve cells from firing action potentials by binding to the cells membrane and blocking the passage of sodium ions. This stops nerves from communicating, temporarily rendering victims in completely paralyzed in a death like state so severe that most physicians cannot differentiate between. This is where the stories of undead zombie find its origin. In reality zombies are not people brought back from the dead but under the effects of powerful toxins that stimulate death.
The slow shuffling movements and impaired neurocognitive functions often associated with zombies can be put down to the effects of the DaturaStramonium plant, also known as Jimson Weed or the ‘Zombie Cucumber’. This plant is a member of the infamous nightshade family and contains a range of tropane alkaloids, many of which are used in medicine as analgesics and anticholinergenics. The effects of the plant leave the victim in a delirious and suggestible state. The result of prolonged exposure would be akin to a chemical lobotomy, robbing a person of their facilities and free will. This is why the Bokour use it to punish criminals.
The zombie is an idea that lies between the world of physical science and the metaphysics of vodou, though bastardised into our modern interpretation the zombie is real and nature holds the ingredients to create it.



Who is Melania Trump?

Melania Trump (née Knauss), the third wife of business tycoon and walking controversy Donald Trump, has mostly kept out of the spotlight during the Republican primary season. But in a CNN town hall featuring the Trump family last month, the Slovenian former-model was introduced formally to the American public, and to the world.


It is 2016, and analysing candidates’ wives for potential First Lady qualities might be thought horribly dated, especially as Hillary Rodham Clinton is leading the Democratic race, but let’s do it anyway. It goes without saying that Melania does not fit the standard profile for the partner of a potential president. In a recent spat between Trump and his closest rival Ted Cruz, a nude image of Melania from a 2000 GQ glamour photoshoot was blasted across the web.
Trump may have acted apoplectic that his wife was being treated in this way, but he certainly did not seem embarrassed, and nor did Melania herself. Why should they be? The Trumps are a completely different breed of political family to the Clintons, Bushes, and Pauls. They have more in common with the Kardashians than the Kennedys.

The story of how the couple met, at a fashion industry party in New York, which Donald Trump attended with another date, is well-known. So are titillating details about their lavish lifestyle, including how their apartment is styled to resemble the palace of Louis XVI, and how they gave their newborn son an entire floor in the Trump Building, registered to his name. But it may surprise scorners of the celebrity culture to know that Melania is a highly educated and accomplished woman in her own right, and may not be as out of place on the campaign trail as one might imagine.

She was not born to the life of opulence that we now associate with the Trump family. Growing up under Communism in a tower block in former Yugoslavia, her early life was as removed as possible from that of her husband, who was born into a New York real-estate empire. That the candidate who has framed himself as the living embodiment of American capitalism should have at his side a woman raised under the influence of the Soviet Union is one of lesser-noted paradoxes surrounding Trump’s candidacy. Instead, Melania has mostly been ignored by the broadsheets, while the tabloids have focussed more on her hairstyle than her history.
Melania’s journey from Sevnica to the upper echelons of Manhattan began when she was young, she says she did her first catwalk show when she was just five years old claims to have always loved fashion. As a teenager, she was talent-spotted by photographer Stane Jerko in a modelling contest, but the young Melania seems to have been refreshingly down-to-earth, studying design and architecture at the University of Ljubljana at the same time as being signed by an agency in Milan. This was hardly a fast-track from reality to celebrity, she shot magazine ads and fashion spreads, but was not exactly a runway superstar. It would be nearly a decade before would accept an invitation to join a New York agency, a calculated career-oriented move that would launch her into the circles of Donald Trump.
This intelligent and professional side to Melania has been eclipsed during her years in the celebrity spotlight since the couple’s marriage, her first, his third. It does not help that she is inevitably grouped with the two previous Mrs Trumps, Czechoslovakian model Ivana Zelnickova and American actress Marla Maples, who have provided the tabloid press with fodder for sensationalist stories for decades. It is sometimes difficult to remember that this is an accomplished woman who speaks five languages and made it to the US on the merit her own skills, especially when past interviews revolve around how often she and her husband have sex.
Recently, for the most part, Melania has been happy to wait in the wings, letting Trump’s eldest daughter Ivanka play the role of ‘campaign spouse’. She has defended her absence by reminding the press that the couple have a ten-year-old son who needs a full-time parent, but with the contest getting closer as Cruz hoovers up delegates, that may be about to change.
Could Melania boost the Donald’s chances of making it beyond the convention? His advisors certainly hope so, thinking perhaps this alluring but calming influence could “soften his image”, as well as countering the numerous charges of sexism against him. Melania Trump herself said last month that she has urged her husband to “be more presidential” and “hold his fire”, but also said she understands why he behaves the way he does in debates and thinks it speaks to his passion.
This was not exactly a satisfactory answer, and observers of Donald Trump will remain dubious that the man can be calmed down once he feels attacked, even by his wife. Nothing she or either of his previous wives have said has done anything to reassure most voters about this man who would happily destroy America’s world standing, with his violent rhetoric, laughable interpretation of diplomacy, and complete misunderstanding of basic economics. Trump is, without a doubt, the most unqualified candidate for president America has seen in a long time, and a few soft-spoken words of support from his attractive partner will do nothing to change that.
Nonetheless, Melania Trump’s presence in Donald’s campaign is a welcome change of tone from his vitriolic comments about banning Muslims, deporting Mexicans, and punishing women for having abortions. If Trump is successful on July 18th, we’ll be seeing much more of this glamourous model-turned-celebrity-socialite. Expect to be surprised by how well she handles the role. What is already apparent is that she is a far more interesting character than her husband.


Seeing the world on a budget

as a House Sitter


by Charlotte K. Arrowsmith

‘Trust; to believe that someone is good and honest, or that something is safe and reliable’. I have a question for you... Would you give a complete stranger the keys to your house and let them stay in your place while you’re away? Would you trust them to look after your home and not run away with your best china? While you’re reading this article, my daughter and I are house and dog sitting in Northern Italy and have been given keys to a beautiful apartment by two people that we have never met before. While they are away on their annual, three week holiday, we will walk their dog, water their plants and keep burglars away by simply being in their place. In exchange for free accommodation, the homeowners have handed over their keys to us and trust that we won’t go through their drawers and walk off with their granny’s antique jewellery. For the next few weeks, we will temporarily step into their shoes and care for their home and pet in the same manner they do. My daughter and I are official House Sitters. 

Anyone can be a House Sitter (well, not anyone. If you have a string of petty thefts behind you or a reputation that can knock the socks of a mafia boss, then perhaps not) and more and more people are choosing to be a ‘sitter’ in exchange for free accommodation in countries that they wish to explore or holiday in. It allows people to have a taste of living somewhere without the expense or the sterile environment of a hotel. And with homeowners knowing that their property is safe while they are away and that their animals are not having to be uprooted and put into kennels, it is a ‘win-win’ situation. It is statistically much safer to leave your home occupied while you away rather than empty and many homes that are left empty for over thirty days are not insured. Traditionally, homeowners would have paid a company to supply them with a suitable sitter and it would have been the company’s responsibility to vet the sitter and ask for references, employment history etc. But with house sitting becoming a fast growing, popular alternative to the standard package holiday, house owner and house sitters are finding each other through House Sitting websites on the internet. Trustedhousesitters.com is one of the largest sites and claims it connects its 500,000 ‘pet loving members’ in 138 countries and has 1,500 house sitting listings each month. There are many other websites now being set up to match a house sitter and a home owner e.g. mindmyhouse.com, houseandhomesitters.co.uk, housesitmatch.com etc., and therefore, there is now the opportunity for people to find the ideal sitter through Skype chats and emails. Likewise, the sitter has a wonderful choice of locations. From a long weekend in Amsterdam looking after an apartment to a month in a remote country home in Costa Rica looking after some chickens and sheep. The locations and responsibilities are endless and exciting. As a house sitter you may be asked to do a little DIY around the house, gardening or even tending to a swimming pool in the back garden but it really is up to you. As a house sitter, the world really does become your oyster and it means that you can head off the beaten track and experience life in an exciting new location with the locals. And all on a shoestring.
‘Silver Surfers; retirees who are regular, enthusiastic users of the internet’ are leading the pack of house sitters. A recent US survey found that 59% of the over 50s look forward to exploring new places when they reach the age of semi or full retirement. With many blogs, forums and magazine articles either written by or for this new ‘over 50s lifestyles’, it’s not surprising that there is a wave of silver haired backpackers seizing opportunities and fulfilling dreams to travel the globe.
This new ‘lifestyle’ has also become popular with a new wave of ‘Techno nomads’. A term used for people who just need a laptop and a fast internet connection to do their work and can therefore be anywhere in the world. Why not swap your pokey office or study in your damp flat with a 6 month house-sit in the north island of New Zealand looking after an apartment and a couple of cats or a month on Australia’s Gold Coast looking after a house and a garden ? All you need is wifi, a sarong and a good sense of adventure.
I am Home Schooling my teenage daughter for the academic year while taking a break from lecturing and as long as we have access to my daughter’s school material on-line and I have my paints so that I can continue to sell my artwork though my own on-line business, we have the freedom and flexibility to be anywhere in the world. Our next house sitting adventure after Italy is in Athens where we will be looking after an apartment and 8 cats. We have already had a Skype chat with the home owners and they have viewed our character references and we all feel that we are a good match and both parties are happy with the situation. It means that they can go away for their annual vacation knowing that their cats are being fed and looked after and that their property will be safe. And for us, well it means that we can explore one of the oldest cities in the world from the comfort of a home and not a hotel.

So, while my daughter is reading up on Renaissance artists ready for our trip to Florence, I’ll just continue to eat my way through the secret supply of expensive, Swiss chocolates I’ve just found behind the home owners’ TV cabinet and try on all the family jewels I’ve just found in a box under the settee.

The perks of housesitting...


Home Education

by Charlotte K. Arrowsmith

My mental image of families that decide to home educate their children was all very bohemian and a bit hippy and I wondered if my daughter and I would have to start making our own clothes and eating quinoa. Would we have to start growing our own fennel in the window box and clapping incessantly while strumming away on a homemade guitar?  I feared I would always have to have one eye on the front door all day waiting for someone in authority from the local council to say I was keeping my child hostage and depriving her of friends, a social life and parties by not sending her to school.  I asked myself night after night if my daughter might become one of those children that twitches and chews her hair while avoiding eye contact with other humans and then finds comfort in talking to the nighbour’s guinea pig.  Was I going to ruin my daughter’s life by not sending her to a traditional school and teaching her at home?


Home Education, also known as HomeSchooling is on the increase.  It is estimated that around 30,000 children in the UK and more than 2.5 million children in America are being educated at home which shows how more and more parents are becoming increasingly frustrated with the state education system and are taking the responsibility of the child’s education into their own hands.   The current legal situation in the UK regarding home education is that ‘Education is compulsory, schooling is not’ which therefore means that education isn’t about attendance and ‘bums on seats’ in a school but more to do with ‘learning through living’ and allowing children to find their own rhythm and pace in any environment.  Research suggests that children who have been Home Educated are more mature, more independent and more socially skilled.

Taking your child out of traditional education is a big decision though and one surely, not to be taken lightly.  I mean, there are so many brilliant reasons why we send our children to school (just bear with me while I think about it…) and we’ve been doing it since 1880 when freeelementary education was made compulsory in the UK.  When I look back over my own school years (an age where shoes had to be polished the night before and children had to stand when a teacher entered the classroom) school was a solid foundation that formed the wonderful people we have become today.

So why is it today that parents feel they have to look beyond the school system to get a good and right education for their child?  Is it that as parents we have different and higher expectations of the education system than our parents did?  Are we more hands-on parents nowadays who take a more active role in our child’s education?  Maybe we are more critical and feel we have the right to question?  I’m not sure but maybe it’s a combination of so many factors and of how our society and communication is changing.  In an age of social media and reality TV, the younger generation is absorbing different and sometimes disturbing messages.  Nowadays, it seems to be OK for young girls to wear make-up for school, phones to be used in class, inappropriate language to be voiced to a teacher and bullying to be left unnoticed.  Many children struggle with the pressure of constant testing and exams in a traditional schooling environment and due to overcrowded classrooms, many children are left to slip under the radar and without teacher guidance and encouragement, they simply give up. 

My young daughter and I have come to home Schooling unexpectedly after a grammar school in England didn’t do what it said on the tin and with a huge amount of apprehension and an uncomfortable quantity of soul searching, I decided to follow my heart and lead the two of us down an unknown path of learning.  We are seizing this opportunity with more gusto and hearty enthusiasm than an Italian at a pizza party and with our new found flexibility we are seeing the world while looking up with joy rather than down at our boots with disappointment.

Although I am relishing my time with my daughter, I do however, think about all the things from school that she’ll miss out on:  a history teacher with food in his beard, a biology teacher with breath that would strip the paint off the front of a house, a painfully dull geography teacher who looks as if he hasn’t slept for a fortnight and of course, we can’t forget school meals with lumpy custard and cold, mushy peas (not together).  Yes, I am depriving my daughter of all the pleasures of a traditional schooling and I have taken on the responsibility of teaching trigonometric ratios and electromagnetic forces but I followed my heart and not my head and broke all the rules by not conforming to the traditional.  So I say in words of Albert Einstein, ‘The one who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd.  The one who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been before’.  And on that note, we’re just off to explore Copenhagen…




Waltzing with Wolves


The coach left el Puente de Don Manuel at 9:30 a.m. on a bright morning in October as we set off for the Wolf Sanctuary (Lobo Parque) near Antequera.  We arrived early, in plenty of time to sample the offerings of the snack shop, and for those who can read Spanish and know how to work machines, enjoy very hot coffee in a paper cup.


The wolf park was founded by a German couple, Daniel Weigend and Alexandra Stieber in 2002 as a refuge for wolves who were unable to live in the wild.  It is a private company that serves as a centre for the scientific study of wolves.  As our guide pointed out, it is almost impossible to observe wolves in the wild because they are wary of people.  A scientist may track an animal for days, only to see it disappearing into the woods.  If an odd assortment of wolves (i.e. those who did not naturally live together in a pack) were put into a cage and observed, their behaviour would be aggressive and far from natural.  The wolf park provides shelter for animals so that they can live in conditions as close to their natural habitat as possible.  It is true that there is a wire fence separating visitors from the wolves, but this serves to keep people out rather than to enclose the animals.  Altogether there are 400,000 square metres of land through which they can roam.


To begin with, our guide took us to see an Alaskan Tundra Wolf, which had a beautiful white furry coat.  A second wolf (Hudson on the right) had been brought from a zoo in Amsterdam in the hope that the pair would mate and produce offspring, but like all courting couples they needed time to get to know each other, and were kept separately until they felt more comfortable together. 


Many myths have surrounded wolves in the past, depicting them as predators, which is why they have been hunted almost to extinction, but in fact man is the wolf’s biggest predator, not the other way around.   In reality they see us as a threat rather than as prey, so they have no reason to come to the wire netting to pose for photographs.  The guide carries a bucket of snacks, which she throws over the fence to attract the wild animals.  They have surprisingly good table manners, each waiting patiently to receive his or her piece of meat.  There was no fighting amongst them.  However, they do literally ‘wolf’ it down, often to regurgitate it for the youngsters.  Normally the wolves are fed a large amount of meat twice a week.


Our guide explained that all dogs are descendants of wolves, but it took 20,000 years of evolution to produce a domestic version.   Wolves cannot be tamed.  Sometimes cubs are reared by hand, but at a certain point they will revert to their natural behaviour.

We moved on to view the European and Iberian wolves, who lived in packs.  Contrary to popular belief there is no dominant male, only a couple that produces cubs.  No other wolves are allowed to mate within the pack.  The Iberian wolves consisted of the two parents, ten young wolves and two uncles.  In the wild, a wolf who wanted to start his or her own family would have to leave the pack in the hope of finding a mate elsewhere and starting their own pack.  But being a lone wolf is a risky business.  They would no longer have the protection of the pack and would have to hunt for their own food without the benefit of a team.  For this reason many adults choose to endure single status in order to stay within the comfort and safety of the pack

We didn’t visit the Timber Wolf (a native of Canada) because there is only one left and the guide said she liked to leave him on his own. He is 14 years old, which is well beyond the average lifespan of 7 years for a wolf living in the wild.  The wolves at the park are never released into the wild because they are used to people and have not developed a natural fear of them.  They would not be able to survive long before someone shot them.

The Wolf Park also shelters other animals in need of a home.  We were introduced to two pot-bellied pigs, one of which was very friendly and allowed us to scratch his bristly head.  He had been kept as a pet by a family that lived in a flat.  A dwelling without a garden is not a suitable habitat for pigs because they need to root around and to roll about in mud.  As he grew bigger he started to destroy furniture, and as a result was kept on the balcony night and day.  A neighbour alerted the authorities, and Daniel and his team were able to rescue him.  He now lives happily in the Wolf Park in more natural surroundings.  The refuge also houses a family of foxes, one of which was happy to let the guide make a fuss of him.  Next to them was an area for geese, hens and ducks.  They were free to fly in and out, but the enclosure was surrounded by an electric fence to keep out wild foxes.

The company offers other programmes, such as training for dogs with severe behavioural problems.  Our guide pointed out that it was more a case of training the owners!

For people wishing to take close-up photos of the wolves without the barrier of wire netting, a two-hour visit can be arranged with a member of staff accompanying them inside the fence.

There are also night-time sessions for those who would like to howl with the wolves.


By Janet Patterson - Author of ‘Al Gore goes to Heaven’



The End of an Era ...for White Males

by David Rothkopf

As demographics change, so does

the definition of privilege.

White men have had a great run. From the rise of the Greeks to the birth of Western-based global empires, they have controlled much of the world or sought to: So much of history is a consequence of decisions made by, and at the behest of, the white guys in charge.

Several factors are contributing to making this historic moment a watershed in global history. First, there is the rise of the emerging world, notably the economies and societies of Asia. While the planet has always been home to great non-white civilizations, such societies have ebbed and flowed in relative importance. Today, it is clear that these emerging societies, namely China and India, are on the rise. So too, thanks to economic and political reforms, technological and scientific progress, and the advent of the connected world, are other great and rich cultures from the Middle East to Africa.


In addition, millennia of repression of women’s rights are coming to an end. Not fast enough. And not everywhere. But in much of the Western world, once male-dominated domains are now populated by more women than ever before, and this trend shows no signs of reversing, thankfully. Not only that, but around the world women are empowering other females, including girls, to lead in technological fields in the Digital Age. Quite simply: It now seems to be common sense that no society can thrive if it fails to tap the intellectual, economic, creative, and spiritual resources of its entire population.

Finally, thanks to the mobility revolution of the past century, flows of refugees and migrants of all kinds have shifted the demographics of societies and, protests and unease aside, they have proved essential to fighting the demographic trends, such as ageing, that have put many advanced societies at risk.

Inequality, injustice, and, frankly, fatigue have led populations to seek other choices. Further, the societies that have given the white man his greatest influence in the world, those of Europe and the United States, are struggling in key respects to maintain their global influence. Economic pressures weigh on them. Political divisions are a drag on their growth and ability to act.

As history has

illustrated, it’s

hard to stay

on top for an

indefinite period.

The result is that the status quo of the past several millennia is going to undergo a profound change. In Europe alone, the influx of migrants and refugees is already producing irreversible demographic shifts, a great blending of cultures.

But by mid-century in the United States, the former majority population will be a minority: The majority, according to demographers, will be non-white. By that time, Europe will include massive populations from Africa and the Middle East, as well as Asia. This is to say that by 2050 white men will be the ones checking the “other” box on census forms.

In fact, it is this idea of “otherness” that is going to undergo the greatest change. A current subject of hot debate, such othering has been used by some as a tool for fear-mongering against migrants, immigrants, and refugees, an approach linked, of course, to nothing but ignorance and intolerance. (Attacks on America’s first black president had similar origins and took on a similarly ugly tone.) Whether the threat is one associated with Islam or extremism or simply economic competition within a country, the reality is that the expressed fears are way out of proportion with the actual, manifested threats.

A shrink I knew once said that if a reaction is out of proportion with its alleged cause, then there’s a piece of the story that has been omitted. In this case, the politicians in America and Europe who spew nationalist bile and fan the flames of anti-immigrant furor are tapping into a growing if unconscious cultural recognition that time is running out on what has been the world’s most privileged ethnic class.

Of course, human mobility is not something to be fought, but rather something to be embraced. While belonging to a community is wired into our DNA for reasons linked to the survival-based social units of our most ancient ancestors, the story of civilization and progress has been one about the blending and reblending of those units.

There are two key lessons here. The first is that, given the fact that civilization is a safer, happier, healthier, richer, wiser place today than it has ever been, the sharing of ideas and values and cultures, it seems, has actually been for the better. For the United States, this is illustrated in its history: Since the early 19th century, new groups have entered the country and have been resented and resisted, the Irish, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Jews, you name it. Yet over time each group has made huge contributions to the United States, a country that only grew stronger with each wave of new blood and new ideas.

The second key lesson is that there is an alternative to “other” and that is “all.” Rather than focusing on our differences as the smallest and most dangerous of our political leaders have done, the real leaders for this new era will distinguish themselves by focusing not just on the social diversity that makes great nations, but on the truth and wondrous benefits of the diversity that actually lives within us all.

As the nationalists, white supremacists, and idiot hordes who follow them have sown seeds of division in the wake of new human flows across borders, the tragic irony has been that they, in fact, have ended up embracing precisely the same kind of intolerance that is the stock in trade of their avowed enemies.

What we need instead are those who will stand up and say, “No. You have it wrong. Diversity is not the threat. It is the answer.” That is, in fact, what has made modern and every diverse society great. To be sure, we should not, not for one minute, lament the passing of the white-male era, for there is at least a glimmer of hope that soon to come is the era of “all.”

Illustration: Matthew Hollister