Cows with local accents (and other Silly Season stories)

Never mind Lebanon or Iraq. Britain needs to know about pickles, firemen's poles and some wild weather in Penzance. Cahal MIlmo selects ten of the best offerings from a time-honoured ritual


Twisters across the nation

The toll amounted to a few dozen displaced roof tiles, some airborne metal sheets and four bruised archaeology students. But when summer sunshine gives way to a spate of distinctly un-British "twisters", the nation must be told. The most dramatic tornado of the summer so far struck at a quarry in Lincolnshire where a group of trainee archaeologists suffered minor injuries after the steel cargo container in which they were sheltering was overturned. A vicious low pressure system accounted for another tornado near Penzance, above. Turbulent clouds had a silver lining, however, for the mallards and other water fowl whose desiccated pond in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, had been featured by Fleet Street as the epitome of the drought. Rain has now filled the pond.

Silliness rating: **

Ban on Geordie endearments

The Northumbrian Language Society was "horrified". The Durham & Tyneside Dialect Group said it was "rather sad". Such was the response to the news that staff at Newcastle City Council have been instructed to think carefully before using Geordie terms of endearment such as "pet" and "hinny". An equality and diversity training course offered to workers suggested that women should be referred to by their full names for fear that "pet", "hinny", "love" or "darling" might be interpreted as sexist.

Silliness rating: ****

Andy Murray and the pickle jar

Early professional cyclists put steaks down their shorts to ward off saddle sores and Chinese athletes once swore by turtle blood. But it fell to Scottish tennis prodigy Andy Murray to unveil the latest folk remedy for professional sportsmen and women - pickling vinegar. Plagued by recurring blisters on his racquet hand, the 19-year-old was advised by his coach, Brad Gilbert, to soak his fingers in a pickle jar to harden his youthful epidermis. Unable to lay his sore digits on a bottle of distilled vinegar while training in Toronto, the required medication was sourced from a nearby Jewish delicatessen. Murray had started developing the blisters as a result of switching to tougher, drier racquet grips. The unorthodox treatment seems to have done the trick. He beat former British number one Tim Henman twice in a fortnight and world number one Roger Federer in straight sets.

Silliness rating: ***

The dog that ate Elvis's teddy

Eyewitnesses described the scene as "carnage"; a mass of severed limbs and ripped fur. This was the aftermath of an encounter between a Doberman Pinscher called Barney and the £500,000 collection of teddy bears he had been assigned to guard, ironically at the insistence of an insurance company. The display, at the Wookey Hole Caves in Somerset, included Mabel, a 1909 bear made by German toymaker, Steiff, who once belonged to none other than Elvis Presley. Once Barney had finished with Mabel, (valued at £40,000), she had a two-inch gouge to her stomach and a virtually severed head. Experts said Barney might have gone berserk after catching a rogue scent from one of the bears. Apologists pointed out he was nothing but a hound dog.

Silliness rating: *****

'Binmen binned my baggage'

Amid the chaos of mislaid luggage caused by new security checks at airports, one holidaymaker lost his baggage somewhat closer to home. On the driveway, to be precise. Phil Newbon, 37, paid little attention to the approaching dustcart as he unloaded his bags after returning home to Spalding, Lincolnshire from a holiday in Cyprus. It was only after the refuse workers had passed that he realised his suitcases had been scooped up and comprehensively crushed. Contents with a total value of £1,600 were destroyed. Mr Newbon, left, said: "The council told me people often leave suitcases out for collection and I'm sure that's true. But I doubt they have 25kg of luggage inside, tags attached, and hand luggage and duty-free next to them." South Holland Council said it was investigating.

Silliness rating: ***

Fireman's pole is forbidden

"Blazing mad" spluttered one critic. "Pole axed" grumbled another. In the era of repetitive strain injuries and fears of a compensation culture, architects have been called in to reduce the risk to firefighters in Plymouth by building a fire station without a pole to speed them to their vehicles. In a move plainly designed to get traditionalists choking over their breakfast cereal, officers at the Devon Fire and Rescue Authority decided that the poles pose too high a risk of injury to firefighters. They cited an unspecified number of incidents where rescuers have slipped on the poles and damaged ankles or knees when they hit the floor. Supporters of the pole-free £2.4m station said the requirement to take the stairs would have no discernible effect on 999 response times. But one firefighter said: "It's crazy - they pay you to plunge into burning buildings but won't risk you on a pole."

Silliness rating: **

Animals with regional accents

August always brings the nation's animals under close scrutiny. This year it is the vexed issue of bovine dialects that has come to the fore, with the revelation that cows have regional accents. Research suggests that dairy herds vary their moos according to the accents of those who tend them. One farmer said: "I spend a lot of time with my [cows] and they definitely moo with a Somerset drawl." The finding was backed by academics who suggested similar changes of inflection are to be found in birds. Researchers at the RSPB have ascertained that the Scottish crossbill is the UK's only endemic bird on the basis of its unique accent.

Silliness rating: *****

High heels that don't hurt

Where once Manolo Blahniks dominated, very soon Tivona Air Slings will rule. Or at least that is what sports shoe giant Nike would like the world believe. They chose the dog days of summer to gain publicity for a pair of stilettoes claimed to be as comfortable as trainers. The three-and-a-half-inch high heels, developed with American designers Cole Haan, have an air-filled sole which allegedly averts the traditional disadvantages of tottering footwear - aching calves, burning feet and blisters. All this for a mere £147 in America and a similar price when they hit the British shops within a year. The secret, apparently, lies in air cushions positioned under the ball of the foot and in the heel. Or you could just buy some trainers.

Silliness rating: ****

'Jesus appeared on my baby's ultrasound scan'

The image of Jesus has been found in a crumpet, a vapour trail and an asparagus tip, to name but three. To this list of heavenly oddities can now be added ultrasound scans. Erica Brazier, of Toledo, Ohio, found her baby's scan appeared to show the face of the Messiah. Twenty-year-old nursery nurse Laura Turner from Studley in Worcestershire also spotted a likeness of Christ in her baby's scan. So moved was Ms Turner that she has given her unborn son the Biblical name Joshua. She said: "I was thrilled with the scan that showed Joshua sucking his thumb. Then someone pointed out the face - and I nearly fainted. It's kind of spooky but beautiful and we will always treasure it." The mysterious ways of the Lord moved the Daily Mail to entertain its Irish readers with two pages of items bearing an impression of Jesus, including a Polish dumpling, a Texan frying pan and a frozen fish fillet.

Silliness rating: *****

Return of the mammoth

Not so much a shaggy dog story as a hairy elephantine tale. Scientists researching the viability of sperm frozen over long periods of time have mooted the possibility of resurrecting the woolly mammoth. Researchers in Japan said it was "theoretically possible" that long-extinct species such as the mammoth could be recreated by extracting sperm from the gonads of animals which have been encased in ice for millennia. The sperm could be used to impregnate the mammoth closest living relative, the Indian elephant. The scientists base their theory on work to fertilise mouse eggs with sperm that had been frozen for 15 years. Whether sperm from an animal which last walked the British Isles 8,000 years ago would be viable remains to be seen.

Silliness rating: **

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