FLAT EARTH

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The Independent Online
G'day and g'bye

Australians love to think of themselves as a pioneering society, all pulling together to overcome would-be exploiters and a hostile environment. This idea is embodied in the concept of "mateship": none of your Old Country class-consciousness here, chum.

Alas, "mateship" is a myth, according to an Australian polling company, Anop, which says Aussies are just as self-centred as the rest of us.

"We are looking after Number One. Never before has individualism been so prominent. In this context mateship is just breaking down," said Anop's Rod Cameron. "We are living in a much more competitive society. We have been downsized, outsourced, globalised, deregulated, contracted-out and multi-skilled, and the poor old worker just sees competition all around." To which the rest of us might say: welcome to the real world, mate.

Love in a cold climate

Never mind millennium babies, the Arctic town of Pitea in Sweden would welcome a few new inhabitants at any time. The birth rate in recent years has been almost as low as the sub-zero temperatures.

So desperate are the townsfolk to add to the population that they are offering couples a cheap champagne dinner and a night in a hotel to encourage the conception of the next century's firstborn. For a small charge, couples aged between 20 and 40 can spend a romantic night next Saturday at a local resort. As an added incentive, all electricity in the area will be shut off at 10.05pm precisely.

A local doctor has calculated, oddly, that 10 April is the most likely day for conception of a child to be born on 1 January. The parents of the first child born in the new millennium will receive 50,000 crowns (pounds 3,700) and a supply of nappies.

Woof sleepers

Britons have long been horrified - or envious - at the way North Americans pack off their kids to camp all summer. What are they to make of the news that there are now summer camps for dogs?

A company called Dog Day Adventures is offering to take canines on a trip through the Canadian wilderness. On offer are swimming, hiking, canoe rides, picnics and even massages, for only C$150 (pounds 62.50) for a three- night trip in the company of three other mutts.

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