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
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
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.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'