Charles Nevin: News from Elsewhere

From Basingstoke to Milton Keynes, those weird pagan forces are casting their spells
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The Independent Online

Happy Midsummer! Yes, indeed, tonight is the night when Puck and Peaseblossom and their funny friends begin to gambol and girdle, when fires are lit to bless the crop, giant wicker men are pulled through villages by previously friendly villagers now looking rather threateningly in your direction, and Andy Williams moves on to the Birmingham Symphony Hall after last night's triumph at the Southend Pavilion.

Happy Midsummer! Yes, indeed, tonight is the night when Puck and Peaseblossom and their funny friends begin to gambol and girdle, when fires are lit to bless the crop, giant wicker men are pulled through villages by previously friendly villagers now looking rather threateningly in your direction, and Andy Williams moves on to the Birmingham Symphony Hall after last night's triumph at the Southend Pavilion.

Magical. I had no idea the old boy was still on the road. Oh, the guys watch the girls who watch the guys, etc, marvellous. But what else can you do if you can't get there (and it was looking like returns only when I checked yesterday)? Well, there doesn't seem to bet a great deal about, once you given due and diligent consideration to a talk on business ethics organised by the Institute of Internal Auditors at the Chartered Accountants' Hall, London, six pm. Did you know chartered accountants had a hall?

There's always Stonehenge, but that hasn't really been the same since it was trashed after Bardaid for Africa ran into trouble over the choice of acts in 69 BC. Glastonbury Tor is OK, but a bit flash: you probably saw that a Dalek missing from an exhibit at nearby Wookey Hole turned up there. I know they can climb stairs now, but that was just showing off. The BBC ought to bring back Doctor Who, you know, it was a terrific programme.

No, for a change this year, why not try Milton Keynes? Most of you will know that MK's main street is called Midsummer Boulevard; but how many were aware it is aligned so that the first rays of the solstice race down it and strike the great city's foundation stone? The year I went was great fun, with rival camps of pagans and christians chanting at each other; this year, Mark Lancaster, new MP for North-East MK, is promised, and Mr Lancaster, let me tell you, is fireworks. He is: the first firework manufacturer ever to be elected, and most apt, this year being the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot.

Splendid. What else? Should you wish to see Oberon and his retinue pass by, you should, according to my copy of the Dictionary of Superstitions, by Mr and Mrs E Radford (Rider, 1948), sleep under an elder. No, that's the tree, sadly. Crikey. I've just looked across the page from Midsummer and discovered that minced mouse is a cure for measles. Don't mention it.

Travel news

Slightly worrying, too, is the revelation that Monday is an unlucky day for travelling, although I can see how this one could have come about, under the animal skin, on the palliasse, at around seven am one winter's day near Basingstoke.

I should also mention that Monday is not a good day for burying. Did you know, too, that an English outfit, Vic Fearn & Co, of Nottingham, leads the world in bespoke coffin construction? They're exhibiting in Germany at the moment; particular interest has been aroused by the one shaped like a skip.

There is some good news on the travel front, though: Ken and Pat Hatway, of Derby, have finally finished a 15-year trip round Britain's coastal resorts in a caravan. I myself have been stuck behind them at least twice. Now we just need someone to have a word with Margaret Beckett.

What else? Let's see. Ah, yes, this Wednesday is National Chocolate Eclair Day and Saturday is National Chocolate Pudding Day. In America, admittedly, but I don't think that should deter us, particularly when I also see that next Monday is Columnists' Day. What a splendid idea! You'll find the address on the Leader Page.

Chocolate chip

I haven't got anything much to tell you about the Pope this week, although I am assured by a Pole that he speaks excellent Polish, but there is this new book revealing that the Dalai Lama has a secret weakness for chocolate chip cookies and meditates with the BBC World Service in the background. Today, your holiness, I recommend reggae master Seani B uncovering the origins of remixing (8.30 am, repeated at 12.30 pm), and, of course, live Wimbledon. Serving with three balls in the hand is very unlucky, by the way, according to Mr and Mrs Radford. I've never thought Tim's hands were that big, but there you go.

Another national hero, Chris Martin, is also a big chocolate fan, I read, and while we're doing celebrities, I'm afraid I'm going to have to be just a little critical of Mariah Carey, who claims that she has slept with less than five men. Really, Mariah: that should be "fewer than".

Stick 'em up!

Just time for a pets and robbers round-up. And first, it's congratulations to Sandy the hamster, of Castleford, Yorks, happily still with us after his fall from a bedroom window was broken by a pot of petunias.

And commiseration to the man who tried to rob Gordon's Mini Market in Cranberry, Pennsylvania, wearing a Pluto dog mask as disguise, and fled empty-handed when Gordon couldn't stop laughing. Good, but the category leader is still the man who tried to rob a bank in Florida, running in and shouting, "Okay, mother stickers, this is a xxxx-up!"

Excellent. Remember, though, if a bittern flies over your head, make your will. No, you can't miss it, quite big, member of the heron family. Happy solsticing!

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