The Weasel: Can scarecrows pass the acid test?

Eh-up! Strange doings are afoot in Muston, a village just over the hill from our Yorkshire retreat. The whole community appears to be under some mysterious spell. In a cottage rockery, a gardener lies with his head in the nasturtiums. Seated on the pavement nearby, a cricketer stares into space, his bat clutched in gloved hand. On the village green, a beekeeper is equally immobile, except for the breeze which stirs his veil. Nearby, an agricultural worker soaks in his bath, a can of beer in one hand and a copy of Farmer's Weekly in the other. An old lady, who peers at her knitting through half-moon specs, sits alongside Clint Eastwood, a half-smoked cheroot protruding from his grim visage.

We might have been in a particularly cranky episode of The Avengers, but the straw which emerges from the wrists of Muston's immobile populace gives the game away. For two weeks, the village has been occupied by 60- odd scarecrows. The figures provide a self-portrait of English rural life. One creosotes a fence. Another pops his head over the wall of a cow-shed, his herd lowing behind him. A genial minister welcomes you into the Primitive Methodist Chapel. The finest rendition is a poacher, with ferret on his shoulder and cartridges in his pocket. His dog cocks an irreverent leg over a (real) sign: "This tree was planted to commemorate the coronation of King George VI."

Though rain was falling, a host of human visitors were examining the taxidermal residents (most had a brolly wedged into their straw mitts). "The idea for the scarecrows came from our millennium committee," a villager told me. "Most people joined in, except for the new landlord of the village pub who complained that he'd moved to Muston for a bit of peace." When I told my interviewee that "The Old Crows of Muston" would appear in the Weasel column, he was not exactly overwhelmed. "We've had quite a lot of TV coverage already, on both sides of the Atlantic."

"Your scarecrows were on American TV?"

"Yeah. Muston's scarecrows were shown coast to coast."

Thirty years after he conceived the idea, McLuhan's "Global Village" has arrived.

The good folk of Cornwall were vouchsafed an unearthly spectacle last week in the form of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, once notorious for their Kool-Aid Acid Tests. Now grey and grizzled, this bunch of antique acidheads drove a new version of their celebrated Magic Bus (destination sign: "Further") to the West Country in order to impart a touch of colour to the momentary celestial monochrome. Going by a Channel 4 documentary last Saturday, the Pranksters are, for all their hoary locks, pretty much unreformed in attitude. It is to be hoped that they do not fall foul of the Cornwall Constabulary, who are possibly less liberal in outlook than their counterparts in Oregon.

Fortunately, Mr Kesey and his colleagues can make use of a temptingly- titled reference work, The Encyclopaedia of Psychoactive Substances by Richard Rudgley (Abacus, pounds 8.99). This reveals that any number of mind- blowing compounds are still perfectly legal in Britain. Admittedly, some may be a trifle difficult to obtain in the Penzance area, such as the hallucinogenic potion called umm nyolokh concocted from the liver and bone marrow of the giraffe by the Humr Arabs of the Sudan. Similarly, examples of ayahuasca, a psychoactive Amazonian vine which induces visions of being eaten by jaguars or crushed by anacondas, are probably something of a rarity in the garden centres of Polperro.

However, I recently spotted examples of guarana seeds, a South American stimulant three times as rich in caffeine as coffee, in Kew Garden's Museum of Economic Botany. The museum also displays the device traditionally used as a grater - the dried tongue of the piraruca fish - but it is doubtful whether Kew would be willing be spare Mr Kesey a few buzz-packed seeds for pharmacological research.

Qat, the non-addictive drogue de choix in the Yemen, is also legal in the UK, but Mr Rudgley is probably understating the effect of chewing the leaves when he describes it as "akin to tea or coffee". Kevin Rushby, whose book Eating the Flowers of Paradise is largely a paean to qat, says that it "stirs the mind and stills the body until the moorings have slipped and the one has sailed free from the other", which doesn't sound much like PG Tips. The author managed to procure some of this privet-like stimulant in the East End of London. Sadly, it was too dry and elderly to retain much potency.

Perhaps the easiest course for Mr Kesey's troupe would be to lay in a stash of Cornwall's best-known gastronomic specialities. The Electric Cornish Pasty Test might not get the Pranksters very high, but at least these savoury behemoths, recently excoriated in The New York Times as "leaden, potato-stuffed footballs", should induce the most sincere expression of hippie approbation: "Heavy, man, heavy."

Earlier this week, the novelist Cressida Connolly treated readers of The Daily Telegraph to the revelation that she lost her virginity "in the attic of a vicarage in Eastbourne". Insisting that "all that sea air tickles the appetite", Ms Connolly provided a check-list of seductive venues: "Even the place names - Margate, Broadstairs, Weston-super-Mare, Studland Bay - evoke sensual memories." It is notable that this lascivious litany excludes the resorts of the Yorkshire coast. Going by my observations, Filey is not transformed into a modern Gomorrah in the summer. The appetites of visitors to Scarborough and Whitby tend more towards fish and chips than carnality.

This restraint could be something to do with a local phenomenon known as the "sea fret", a thick mist which often envelopes this area when the rest of the country is basking in the sun. Mrs W and I have sometimes driven from south London with every car window open, only to find ourselves donning pullovers and turning on the highlights within three miles of the Yorkshire coast. Last week, the holidaymakers on Scarborough's beach were barely visible as an opaque mist eddied round their deck chairs.

Possibly Ms Connolly is telling her readers more than they want to know when she recalls: "Me and my friends used to instruct boys to give us love bites in as prominent a place as possible." Up here, such amorous gnawings would have stiff competition in the form of tattoos. On a warm day, we "blanks" (as the unadorned are termed by the tattooed) are outnumbered. Eagles, oriental calligraphy, Celtic squiggles and Pamela Anderson-style "barb wire" are among the most frequent motifs for the younger generation, though more traditional etchings can also be seen. I'm sure the youth who went home with the words "MAM" and "DAD" forming a cross in the middle of his back received a warm welcome from his parents.

After giving it much thought, I've decided that, in the unlikely event of my going in for one of these epidermal engravings, I would plump for a recipe. Rick Stein's "Hot Shellfish with Garlic and Lemon Juice" should inflame a few female appetites. But which way up should it go?

So many thousands of words expended on two minutes of gloom - I wasn't thinking of adding an extra one, until I heard the asinine comments of Peter York on Radio 4. "Oh, what a predictable bore," declared the twerpy marketing guru. One admirable aspect of the eclipse - there, I've gone and said it - was that it wasn't marketable. It was simply there, on tap for all. In fact, the more effort you invested in the experience, the less you got. The eclipse was itself eclipsed in Cornwall, while the poor souls who paid pounds 1,550 for an excursion in Concorde came away grumbling.

My excellent illustrator Lucinder Rogers trekked to Primrose Hill for a gander at the partial eclipse in London, only to find a Primrose Hill- sized cloud hovering over her. Much the same happened to my pal Dave, who sailed the 24 miles from Guernsey to Alderney in order to experience totality. Along with a small armada of visiting craft, he anchored a short distance offshore in an area which, unlike Alderney itself, remained cloudy. Perversely, the period of totality was marked by a sudden brilliance as thousands of flashlights blazed on the island. Contrary to the predicted silence, a whiffy colony of gannets kicked up a tremendous racket. The reappearance of the Sun was marked by a fusillade of champagne corks as the Channel Island's zillionaires celebrated on their yachts.

Up on the Yorkshire coast, conditions were perfect. Bearing any number of Blue Peter-style viewing devices, we went no further than our back garden. But the best results, better even than Mrs W's partially-masked make-up mirror, came from the leaves of our apple tree, which magically produced a multitude of crescent-shaped patches of light as the partial eclipse approached. At its peak, the sun's 150-watt dazzle was swopped for a cheerless 20-watt twinkle. Of course, scientists assured us that the sudden chill and watery light would only be of brief duration - but I, for one, was relieved when normal service resumed.

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little