Flat earth

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Gone to ground

ALAS, poor Willy! The albino groundhog dug out each year in Wiarton, near Toronto, for Groundhog Day, had no chance of seeing his shadow this year. According to folklore, if the sun is out when the groundhog peeps out it means six more weeks of cold weather. If it's a grey day, and he can't see his shadow, it means an early spring. But this year visitors who had witnessed his appearance every 2 February for 15 years were distressed to find their beloved Willy flat on his back in a miniature coffin, paws delicately crossed on his chest, coins on his closed eyes, and a carrot to accompany him to groundhog paradise. The good people of Wiarton bade him a sorrowful farewell.

Or so they thought. Within 24 hours, organisers of the Groundhog Day last rites admitted that the furry creature in the coffin was not Wiarton Willy at all, but a stuffed groundhog, long deceased, brought in to deputise. Willy was indeed dead, but, as organiser Bill Walker delicately put it, "his remains were not presentable for public viewing". Rather than shock the assembled well-wishers, he had staged the faux funeral "to allow the public to reach closure".

Wiarton is now in the market for a new Willy - to be called Willy jnr. But they will have to wait until spring, when the live ones emerge from hibernation.

Mobile home

HERE'S an offer you can't refuse: one of Los Angeles' few historic homes, a turn-of-the-century mansion in Pasadena, on sale for the princely sum of one dollar.

The phone has been ringing all week at the local real estate agent's and Pasadena City Hall - mostly because people can't believe the offer is serious. Pasadena is home to some of LA's most prized domestic architecture, and the house in question, at 210 S. Madison Avenue, is the work of the area's most famous architects, Charles and Henry Greene.

There's a catch, of course. You do get the house for a dollar, but part of the deal is you have to move it lock, stock and barrel to another site. At your own expense. The two-storey house's current owner is a property speculator called Greg Yerevanian who wants to get it out of the way so he can build condominiums. He would just as soon knock it down, but Greene and Greene houses are among the few listed buildings in LA. So if you've got some very large heavy moving equipment, a few piledrivers and - of course - a dollar, give him a call.

Idle de-buggers

WANT TO AVOID computer problems at work in the year 2000? The man in charge of millennium affairs in the laid-back city of Amsterdam has a simple solution: take a vacation.

If most workers stay away from the office, computer experts will have time to fix any problems caused by the millennium bug, Amsterdam alderman Jikkie van der Giesen believes. Dutch companies planning to close twice over Christmas and the New Year would be better off coordinating a 14- day break starting in the last week of 1999.

Sounds like what happens anyway in the UK.