Charles Nevin: News from Elsewhere

'It's like serving poodle burgers at a dog show,' said the lady from Fish Empathy

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There's no need to be embarrassed, it happens to all of us. The sudden silence that can arise in any conversation, whether it's an old friend, someone you've just met, or counsel for the prosecution. How many times have you shifted your feet, pursed your lips, smiled and then resorted to, "Going anywhere nice this summer?", or, "You don't hear much about Africa these days, do you?"

Well, worry no more, because this is the column that, by diligent trawling of all manner of interesting sources, aims to keep you supplied with an unceasing stream of fascinating information which will plug those gaps in the gab and produce, without fail, a look on the face of your interlocutor which might be described as one of awe.

Ready? Try this: there are 25,000 bouncy castles for hire in Britain. No? All right, then, this: a dolphin's eyes remain open for 99.6 per cent of the first two months of motherhood, researchers have found. Quick related follow-up: the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, near Los Angeles, has been asked by animal rights campaigners to take fish off the cafeteria lunch menu.

It's a fair point, isn't it? A spokesman for the Fish Empathy division of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said that studies show fish are surprisingly "intelligent, sensitive and interesting animals" and that the aquarium was contradicting that message by cooking them for lunch. It was, she added, "like serving poodle burgers at a dog show."

Quite. And while we're on poodles, it's time they got a break, too, isn't it? All those sneers about curls and ribbons: such a stereotype. So prance, sorry, step forward, Mack, a miniature poodle of Wigton, Cumbria, who has pulled his 71-year-old owner, Edna Hind, out of the way of a runaway wagon. Well done, Mack! And I'm sure your nails will be fine.

Squawk!

Good news for chickens, too, after the Belgian government announced that it was going to ban Belgian Boy Scouts from strangling them as part of their lessons in wilderness survival. Surprising place, Belgium: I had no idea they even had a wilderness there, let alone one infested by dangerous chickens. CAP reform now, please! The sprout, by the way, came a very respectable fifth in a poll of Britain's top vegetables, quite a long way behind the onion, but trouncing the courgette.

Not quite so good news from Denmark, though, where it's reported that keepers at Copenhagen Zoo have been eating some of the stock, which, frankly, in my view, takes a bit of pressure off the Aquarium of the Pacific. More than 50 muskrats, apparently. (Braised muskrat, with, naturally, onions, is said to be very good; but don't forget to soak overnight.)

Roll over

Sausage rolls: they must be less controversial, unless they're Danish. Anyway, it's the sausage roll's centenary; well, at least I think it is, although the report mentioning it also said that the latest Star Wars film had inspired plans for a light-sabre sausage roll which had eventually been abandoned on safety grounds. Hmm.

It also claimed that one in six Britons think the SR is a German creation, and that the Swiss don't make Swiss rolls. Can this be true?

Staying alpside, Swiss efforts to defeat typecasting, boosted by the recent failure of the country's entire rail network, have received a setback with the banning of a giant leather-masked dominatrix teddy bear from a Zurich display. Sorry? No, not gnomes. Really? I've always thought those were fishing rods. In Leipzig, meanwhile, high winds have foiled an attempt to barbecue the world's largest sausage. Sausage, note, not sausage roll.

Who ate ...?

Pies now. In Romania last week, a man who robbed a pie shop and ate quite a few in the process got stuck in a window as he was trying to get out.

"I saw all the pie wrappers on the floor," said the owner, "and then I looked up and saw a pair of stubby fat legs hanging out the window. Then I went outside and saw the other half of the thief poking out at the front." Altogether now: why didn't he use one to measure his circumference?

Still, at least an anxious 14 months is over with the news that the five-foot Mexican black king snake which escaped from a house in Torrington, Devon, has been found. In the next-door garden, as it happens. Not much of the £392m spent annually on British lawns splashed out there, I fancy.

If you have tiers...

But don't relax too much, as a daddy longlegs explosion is about to coincide with the day ants take to the air, and a bat with rabies has been discovered in Lancashire, where, by coincidence, reflecting my great county's renowned gourmet traditions, David Heron and Georgina Sheron are going to have a tiered sausage roll for their wedding cake after meeting over a more conventional one at the local filling station.

Marvellous. Do you remember the George Formby film where the head waiter at the Ritz asks him if he would like some salmon? "All right," says George, "if you're opening a tin." And we like a pie, too.

So, there you are, that should keep you going till next Monday. Oh, all right, one more surefire sticky conversational moment filler: drivers born under the sign of Cancer are the most likely to make car insurance claims. Remarkable.

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