Read all about it: Tales from the bright side of life

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Recession needn't mean depression – in fact, the first weeks of 2009 brimmed with heart-warming, gloom-busting stories. John Walsh unearths accounts of serendipity, misfortune overcome and downright silliness that you may have missed

Where honesty is store policy

2 January

Honesty is not dead. When Tom Algie , the owner of the Practically Everything hardware shop in Settle, North Yorkshire, decided to give his staff and himself the day off on Boxing Day, he left the shop open, inviting any customers to help themselves, and put the money in an honesty box. When he checked later, he found takings of £187.66 in the box, and nothing had been stolen (although a couple of euros had found their way into the cash.) "I put my faith in my customers, and I wasn't disappointed," said a relieved Mr Algie.

The luckiest legacy

6 January

Charlotte Peters , 78, from Connecticut was broken-hearted when her husband, Donald, a factory worker, suffered a heart attack and died. Just hours before his demise, he had visited a shop in Danbury, Connecticut. Charlotte went through his purchases and found two lottery tickets from the shop. She took them back, explaining that they were no use to him now – and learnt that he'd just won the $10m (£6.9m) jackpot. "I'm numb," she said, as she picked up the cash at the lottery HQ.

Doorway to dream job

1 January

Raymond Emanuel ran out of money while caring for his dying mother. He became homeless seven months ago, and took to sleeping in the doorway of a shop in central Manchester. Sometimes he makes a few bob walking around inside a sandwich board. The other day, as he left a cinema where he'd been sheltering from the cold, he was spotted by talent scouts working for the new Sherlock Holmes film directed by Guy Ritchie. Mr Emanuel's noble brow and Victorian whiskers give him a natural authority, and he was instantly cast to appear in the film as an MP, sitting on the front bench of the House of Commons. He was paid £20 for enduring a costume fitting, and £75 for a day's acting. Since the shoot, he's found a flat to live in.

Move over, Lassie

7 January

Angelina, a Labrador, was nearing the home she shares with Maria Rivodi in the Italian city of Rivoli, when she started playing up. She jumped up at her mistress, pushed her aggressively and finally knocked her to the ground. Ms Rivodi picked herself up and was about to smack her pet, when the roof of her house came crashing down. "If it had not been for my dog, it would have come crashing down on me," she said. Dog experts think Angelina's sharp ears picked up earth tremors too minute to register in human eardrums.

They say we're too young

5 January

Romance came early to Mika and Anna-Lena, from Langenhagen, a suburb of Hanover. They were in love. They wanted to get married. But they knew their parents would never approve. They are, after all, only six and seven. But love spurred them on and, after seeing a wildlife documentary, they decided to elope to Africa, get married and live under the hot sun. During a New Year's Eve party attended by their respective parents, they hatched a plot and, next day, packed swimming things, a lilo, sunglasses, tanning oil and some cheese-and-chicken-paste sandwiches, and headed for the airport, accompanied by the bride's younger sister, Anna-Bell, five, who was to act as witness. They caught a tram to the main station, and waited for the airport train – but a guard, seeing the tiny trio on the platform, called the police. They explained to the children that they couldn't get to Africa without money or plane tickets. They were, predictably, disappointed, but cheered up when given breakfast, a hot drink and a tour of the police station. The course of true love etc, etc.

Big Brother reveals all

5 January

Celebrity Big Brother has had some amusing moments (especially the transparent expressions of glee, astonishment and lechery that flit periodically across the face of Verne Troyer) but none as amusing as the news that La Toya Jackson tried to insist on a clause in her contract forbidding the show from filming her without make-up in the mornings. La Toya, sweetie, it's a total-surveillance environment. That's the whole point.

Kate, Sally, Eddie, Dev – and Oscar?

6 January

The British Are Coming (again). Kate Winslet is tipped to win the Oscar for her performance in both The Reader and Revolutionary Road, but is in danger of being pipped by Sally Hawkins, star of Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky. She was the unexpected choice for Best Actress by the New York Film Critics' Circle last month. The NYFCC also gave Mike Leigh gongs for Best Director and Best Screenplay (what screenplay?) and made Eddie Marsan Best Supporting Actor. And there's an outside chance that Dev Patel , British star of Slumdog Millionaire, will be nominated for Best Actor. The film's been nominated for four Golden Globes...

Thanks a million (£6m)

2 January

When Harold Carr, an eccentric retired Army doctor, died at 89 without a wife or children, his nephew and niece were pleased, if hardly ecstatic, to find he had left them a garage – and a pretty ropey, run-of-the-mill garage at that – in his will. They went to inspect it, and found inside a classic Aston Martin, an E-type Jaguar – and a 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante. The Bugatti is one of only 17 ever made, which makes it the most valuable car in the world, worth up to £6m. He bought it for £895 in 1955. It's been parked in the garage since 1960.

The return of the native

3 January

Hurrah, the Nymphalis polychloros is likely to breed again in Britain this spring, according to the National Trust. Better known as the large tortoiseshell butterfly, it departed these shores 60 years ago and wasn't spotted again until last year, flitting about in Branscombe, Devon. "The butterfly fizzled out in the UK," says Matthew Oates of the National Trust, "but now it's trying to come home."

Selling like hot cakes (and soup)

9 January

Britain's cold snap has done wonders for sales of wintry accessories. John Lewis reports that it sold three times as many electric blankets in the first week of January as it did last year, and twice as many gloves, hats and scarves. Man-tights have also become popular. Sellers of hot soup and Cornish pasties have been doing a roaring trade, and the Federation of Petroleum Suppliers reports a hike in sales of heating oil and domestic gas heaters.

Saturday night at Stonehenge

5 January

The first crackpot scientific finding of 2009: Stonehenge was not created for human sacrifice or Druidic rites. According to Dr Richard Till of Huddersfield University, a sound technician and part-time DJ, the pre-historic standing stones might have been built as a music and dance establishment. The stones reflect sound perfectly, and were evidently shaped to produce certain notes. How pleasing to think that rave culture was alive and grooving, 5,000 years ago.

Prison's too good for him

6 January

There's at least one happy convict in the world, in a prison in Sicily. Guido Beneventi, 30, was banged up for theft, but released early on condition that he wore an electronic tag and lived with his parents in Palermo. It was, by his account, a nightmare. His mamma and papa made him do housework and ticked him off about his thieving ways. Unable to stand it, he went to the police station, demanding to be sent back to prison. "I just couldn't take another day," he told officers. "You are my saviours."

Why darts is good for your brain

7 January

Adults who struggle with basic maths are being urged by the Government to take up darts. Because darts players need to process mental sums at high speed in order to finish a game on a double score, ministers see the sport as a way of encouraging numeracy. Darts-themed scratchcards are being distributed to adult education colleges. "You can't play darts without maths," Sion Simon, the Minister for Further Education, informed the startled press.

New Year, new Britney

8 January

America's damaged sweetheart Britney Spears , after appearing naked and supine in the video of her last hit single, "Womanizer", appeared bright-eyed and demure in a little black number at her brother's wedding in New Orleans on New Year's Eve. Pictures taken of her posing before the family nuptials with her sweet sons, Sean Preston and Jayden James, were posted on her website,, as a shining example of motherhood in 2009....

We need more white stuff

8 January

Enterprising Alpine farmers are making a small fortune selling snow to ski resorts. Amazingly, given weather conditions across Europe, ski resorts at lower altitudes are reporting low snowfall levels; they can stay open for business only if they get extra snow from the higher slopes. "We have received calls from as far away as Thüringen in Germany, which is hundreds of miles away, to order snow," said one of the lucky snow harvesters.

He's the Osmond they want

7 January

Little Jimmy Osmond is to make his debut on the London stage, playing Teen Angel in the long-running production of Grease. Let joy be unconfined.

Just the tonic for Amy

6 January

Amy Winehouse , for so long the walking embodiment of unhealthy living, stunned the nation by looking happy, fit, well and musically on form during a Caribbean holiday. It might be the weather in St Lucia, but onlookers suspect it may be hunky, impossibly handsome, Wellington-educated Josh Bowman, 21, who was holidaying on the island with his mother and was photographed with his arms around the horse-faced chanteuse. She took to serenading him on the hotel lounge piano. He says they're just good friends. His mother must be delighted.

A pair of posh birds

7 January

Bill and Ben, the pink flamingos who have adorned the Roof Gardens above Kensington High Street for 24 years have been joined by a much younger pair, christened Splosh and Pecks.

For the love of gourds

7 January

Motorists in the city of Kano, northern Nigeria, have been surprised recently by the sight of motorcyclists puttering along with calabashes – dried pumpkin shells – on their heads. It's because of a law that was passed on New Year's Day, insisting that all bikers wear helmets; the law hasn't gone down well. From poverty, perversity or plain rambunctiousness, many bikers have chosen to improvise by wearing the shells, which are more normally used for carrying water. Safety officials have arrested 50 motorists for the wearing of calabashes, but the charming automotive protest goes on, without a thought to safety.

Obama makes geeks proud

9 January

It was a big day when Tony Blair was invited to guest star in The Simpsons, but President-elect Barak Obama is to go one better. He is to be immortalised in Marvel Comics. The Prez will feature in a Spider-Man adventure, set at the swearing-in ceremony on Inauguration Day: the arachnoid hero has to save Obama from an interloping baddie. It seems that Obama was a childhood fan of Spider-Man and used to collect the comics. "It was really cool to see that we had a geek in the White House," said Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada, "We're all thrilled with that."

Mme Dati doesn't do fuss

8 January

There's something very appealing about Rachida Dati , France's glamorous, Moroccan-born justice minister, who gave birth to a daughter, Zorha, on 2 January. When asked to name the father, she refused but confessed to a "complicated private life" – a form of words which could imply a visit to a sperm bank, a married boyfriend or an army of lovers working on a roster. It's hard to imagine Jacqui Smith or Hazel Blears behaving (and talking) like this. Also amusing were the high-profile men (François Sarkozy, the president's brother, Dominique Desseigne the millionaire hotel-owner, and Spanish ex-prime minister Jose Maria Aznar) who noisily denied being the father, cleverly implying that they'd had sex with the delicious Ms Dati without being so foolish as to impregnate her.

The power of healing

1 January

Liverpool businessman Simon Lannon , 29, announced his intention of running the length of Great Britain, from Land's End to John O'Groats, in April, to raise £60,000 for the Walton Centre for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Liverpool. Nothing sensational about that – except that the hospital is where Mr Lannon was a patient six months out of every 12 between the ages of five and 20. He's had 29 brain operations there for hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. He's able to take on the gruelling run because his body is now super-fit after recovering from so many physical traumas.

Virgin on the miraculous

6 January

It may not have the religious clout of the Rocking Virgin of Ballinspittal, but a female ghost has been pulling in crowds in a godforsaken spot in Northern Ireland. She's known as "the white lady," described as elderly, sad-looking and clad in a long white dress and a long white cape. She has been seen by several people on the Mullaghmoyle Road, near Coalisland in County Tyrone, and has prompted a stampede of ghost-hunters, paranormal groups and the merely curious. Hundreds arrive in cars every day at dusk and stay until 1am, waiting for the apparition. Sceptics say it's merely a reflection of the moon on the river. Either that or it's Madonna.

Finally, an interesting ad

8 January

Theological controversy and advertising ethics met with a resounding bang when a Christian pressure group went to the Advertising Standards Authority with a complaint. Christian Voice objected to the atheistic campaign that saw buses moving (in a mysterious way) through the streets carrying the message: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." In their complaint, Christian Voice challenges the "truthfulness" of the advertisement, arguing that there is "plenty of evidence for God" but little to suggest that God doesn't exist. The ASA has to come up with a ruling on an issue that has demanded the ingenuity of philosophers and divines for centuries.

Another fine mess

6 January

The Newcastle FC striker Shola Ameobi looked at the shocking mess all over his £500,000 flat in the city's suburb of Jesmond. Rubbish and clothing was strewn everywhere. He'd been burgled! He looked for his cheque book, but too late – that had clearly been stolen as well. So he rang the police to report a break-in and gave a list of missing items. The he put the phone down, found his cheque book, found the other "missing" bits – and realised the place was a tip because he'd left it that way the day before. How we'd love to hear what was said when he rang the police back.

Chinese creature comforts

7 January

Heart- and bone-warming news from China, where Chongqing Wild Zoo has been taking pains to keep its inmates warm. In the freezing wastes (the zoo stands on 150 acres), the giraffes spend all day hunched, like road-menders, around blazing log fires. An unusually warm-blooded giant boa constrictor has been kitted out with his own blanket and a storage heater, to keep his circulation going.

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