John Walsh: btw

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The Independent Online

Local politics doesn't inspire terribly strong emotions, does it? Last week's mayoral elections in the tiny farming village of Pilsbury, North Dakota (population: 11) were considered a bit of a fiasco when no one at all turned up to vote, not even the candidates. "Everybody has a job and they are busy," explained the current mayor, Darrel Brudevold, "It just worked out that nobody seemed to go to the polls." Meanwhile, in the Romanian town of Voinesti, residents re-elected the popular Neculai Ivascu, 57, as their mayor, despite the fact he died of liver failure just after voting began. So unpopular was his opponent that Neculai still won by a margin of 23 votes. "I know he died but I don't want change," one supporter told Romanian television. Now that's what I call conservatism.

* What would we do without Tunbridge Wells? Home of the Disgusted, the Appalled and the Extremely Suspicious, it has been a byword in middle-class alarmism for half a century. You fear it might change its nature one day and become a hotbed of libertarianism, but then you read this week's news that the borough council has banned the word "brainstorming" from use in meetings, in case it causes offence to epileptics and the mentally unstable. "We take diversity awareness very seriously," said a council person, earnestly. "Staff have been asked to use the term 'thought showers' instead." The National Society for Epilepsy was unimpressed. "Brainstorming is a clear and descriptive phrase," it said. "Any implication that [it] is offensive to epileptics takes political correctness too far." Indeed. But who came up with "thought showers"? Doesn't it sound like a light precipitation of ideas rather than a torrent of brilliance?

* More sheep! An unprecedented lack of sheep is apparently the reason behind the disappearance of the Cerne Abbas giant from a field near Dorchester. The 180ft priapic fertility symbol, etched into the hillside some time in pre-history, recently disappeared because the grass on his hill has grown. Normally, a flock of sheep is brought in every year to crop the grass, but the National Trust was unable to borrow any this spring. Constant rain has made the grass grow very fast, and they can't mow the greensward because (duh) it's too hilly. So if you have 40 or 50 woolly ruminants with hearty appetites to spare, you know where to send them.

* Poor Gordon Brown has been under attack in the right-wing press for making a balls of his handshake with President Bush. He approached with hand outstretched, but Bush decided to go for one of those thumb-encircling, good buddy hand embraces. Brown failed to understand his gesture, with the result that three of his fingers disappeared up the presidential sleeve, as if surreptitiously trying to steal his watch. But what is a prime minister to do when heads of state adopt unorthodox greetings? Should he abandon the offer of a handshake and instead raise both hands to signal a high-five?

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