Charles Nevin: News from Elsewhere

It's National Melon Day in Turkmenistan, and the sparrows of Norway are flying high
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The Independent Online

And we start today in Novosibirsk, and it's not often you can say that, unless you live there, of course. Anyway, Xiai Li Bei does, and he's just been given permission to carry on storing a friend's dead body in his freezer. Mr Bei told police that his friend had died of natural causes two years ago. "I just thought it would be easier to store the body myself. There's so much bureaucracy I knew the paperwork would be endless. And I have a large industrial freezer in my warehouse."

Splendid. Next, Mrs Inger Livold, a Norwegian granny, has inadvertently been using bird feed containing cannabis seeds. No reports of very slow-wing-flapping magpies stealing Rice Krispies (£1.94, large, Asda) just yet, but in Serbia astonished residents Ljubovija residents have described seeing the figure of a man flying over their houses, which I suspect is not unconnected.

Further east, I bring you news of President Niyazov of Turkmenistan, who has instituted a National Melon Day. Did you know that 500 varieties of melon grow in Turkmenistan, including the Czar, named after the President, who has also erected a golden statue of himself which rotates to catch the sun? Cheaper to go to Barbados, I should have said. Seminal research by Tesco, I should also mention, has shown that male shoppers select melons which are the same size as the breasts of their partners.

Nautical twang

Very pleasing, by the way, to see that Mr Blair has taken up the ukulele. I hope it won't be too long before the concert: and if I could get some special requests in early, anything by the great G Formby, obviously, but, in particular, "I Was Waggling My Magic Wand", "Thirty Thirsty Sailors" and "Bunty's Such A Big Girl Now". Thank you.

Elsewhere on holidays, there's been a report about the number of people on cruise ships who simply disappear. Remarkable when you consider the standard of entertainment and the guest lecturers you're likely to encounter, including Paul Burrell, Sir Clement Freud, Terry Waite, John Sergeant and Tina Brown. I shouldn't try anything on the Queen Mary 2's 8 September crossing to New York, though, as I see that both P D James and Dick Francis will be on board.

Over in Thailand, meanwhile, suspicion grows that Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is a reader of this column (fresh ready-mixed concrete available at selected Jewson outlets) as there were a couple of shameless bids for attention last week. Not only did he ask if anyone in his cabinet has had a penis extension (allegedly carried out by a controversial clinic), but he also conducted a press conference with a buzzer which he activated whenever he considered a question "not constructive". Not a bad idea; it would certainly liven up the Today programme, and give James Naughtie the chance to get a word in edgeways at last. Only joking, Jim!

Let's stay in Britain for the moment, as I wish to pay tribute to some typically ingenious island thinking. Colin Lovekin of Exeter is turning old supermarket shopping trolleys into sofas (not available at DFS or World of Leather yet). The problem is, they will insist on choosing which wall they want to go against. Only joking, Colin!

Congratulations, too, to the driver on the Paddington to Exeter express who plugged a fuel leak with a wine cork from the buffet. This follows the driver on the St Pancras to Nottingham service last month who asked passengers over the public address system if anyone had any sticky tape so he could carry out engine repairs. And wouldn't you know it: no one had any. It's the same with scissors, I find. Anyway, I'd stick to lager on the Paddington-Exeter service, if I were you.

Rodent power

And then there's Peter Ash, 16, of Somerset, who is charging his mobile phone with a generator powered by a wheel operated by his pet hamster, Elvis. Well, well. It would be an even better story, I feel, if Elvis were a rabbit. Over to you, Peter. US research, by the way, has discovered that male hamsters are much keener on wheels (Wodent Wheel, £12.99, Pet Planet UK) than female ones, which is interesting. Castration made no difference, apparently. Great fun, being a hamster, I always think.

Which reminds me: holidays can bring their own stresses, as we certainly don't want a repeat of what happened in West Hartford, Connecticut, last Sunday, when a resident, frustrated by the jingle of an ice cream van, was arrested after threatening to castrate the driver with a pair of hedge clippers (Black & Decker (R) GT545, Homebase, £79.99). Enjoy!