Charles Nevin: News from Elsewhere

The glamour of Swindon: Billie Piper, Melinda Messenger ... and Ena Sharples' hairnet

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Happy Monday! Welcome to another top selection of the news you might, conceivably, have missed, what with all the other things you have to do, such as practising the didgeridoo, cleaning out the parrot's cage, watching television, or reading, although there doesn't seem to be much around at the moment, particularly for children, does there?

Speaking of television, I was very excited to see that a hairnet worn by the late Violet Carson in her signature role of Ena Sharples is coming up shortly for auction in Swindon. Not that the venue surprised me: Swindon, in its own quiet way, is a bit of a celebrity magnet, as well as being home to a ground-breaking roundabout which is actually five linked mini-roundabouts. (What we roundabout buffs like best is that it permits both outer clockwise and inner anticlockwise navigation.)

Diana Dors, Melinda Messenger, Billie Piper: all Swindonians. You're probably discerning a pattern there (and, possibly, wondering idly why Billie didn't plump for, say, Billie Bugler). But Swindon's more than that: Mark Lamarr, for example; and Julian Clary's parents moved there, you know.

The clincher, though, for me, is that Noel Gallagher chose the name for the band after visiting the Oasis Leisure Centre while working as a roadie for the Inspiral Carpets, presumably after taking, eventually, the County Road exit from the roundabout. How different music history might have been if the Carpets had been appearing at another top Swindon venue like The Queen's Tap or Lydiard Country Park!

Still, plenty of Manchester connections there, and now Ena's hairnet. If you want a guide price, I am able to tell you that, at a previous auction, in Laddock, near Truro, in April 2003, one went for £50. At the same auction, though, another one failed to attract any offers, so it's clearly a tricky market, which seems apt, for Ena, who was a bit that way herself (younger readers should imagine a less effeminate John Prescott).

I worked with Ena/Violet, as it happens, in that short but crucial period of my media career which involved getting the stars of Coronation Street on set on time, and which never really recovered from that disastrous afternoon when, as I ushered them in, Ena's chum Minnie, played by Margot Bryant, tripped over a camera cable and Ena fell on top of her. Thankfully, neither was hurt, and they carried on like the hardened pros they were (if not without the odd baleful look in my direction). Happy days!

So I'm especially delighted to be able to report a similarly happy outcome in Shanghai, where two elderly ladies have also been involved in an accident. The first, a 78-year-old known as Granny Zheng, accidentally toppled out of an open window in her fourth-floor flat. Fortunately for her, she landed on top of the building's awning before reaching the pavement. She then bounced up and off of it, before landing on Granny Sun, 85, who had been having a stroll on the path below. Both survived with only minor injuries. Marvellous.

Avian snitch

Have I mentioned parrots? No news so far, sadly, on the one I told you about last week which speaks only Hungarian and is missing in Vermont. I'm sad to report, also, that Angelina Jolie's parrot is missing her, although it's not clear in which language, particularly as Angelina, away working, is of Czech, French-Canadian and Iroquois descent.

A happier state of affairs south of the border where, in El Salvador, a parrot stolen in a burglary started crying, "Robo! Robo!" during a routine police check on the burglars' car. Personally, I would have thought he was just shouting his name in that way parrots do; the police, being rather more astute, and speaking better Spanish, recognised it to be "Robbery! Robbery!" You can imagine the recriminations afterwards: "I told you the parrot would talk." And isn't the expression "sing like a canary"?

Galloping gourmet

Now, then: New Zealand. Do you remember my small near-exclusive a couple of weeks back revealing that they were brewing Black Forest Gateau flavoured beer down there? It certainly gave me raised if misplaced expectations of the recent sporting contest. Whatever, I see that a restaurant in Hamilton now has a chargrilled horsemeat dish called "Mr Ed is Dead" on the menu as part of a food festival in the city offering other such delicacies for the adventurous gourmet as Bambi's Demise, Little Bird Gets Stuffed, Haggis Profiterole, and my favourite, for its combination of lip-smacking promise and Antipodean insouciance, Too Good for Catfood. Nigella?

Horsing about

Mr Ed? He was a talking horse, on television about the same time as Ena. And this may well be my only opportunity to quash the fowl canard that he was, in fact, a zebra. Allow me to quote the official line: "A zebra was briefly used in several scenes in the series when Ed was unable to do some difficult stunts, but there's no truth to the myth that a zebra was used the whole time. Ed was definitely a horse!" Remarkable.

Did you hear, by the way, about the horse who went into the bar? The barman said, "Why the long face?" All right, all right, I'm off. But if you want to play a didgeridoo really well, you've got to learn to reduce the opening of your glottis.

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