Ah, there you are. Yes, I know, sorry, but I've been away. A two-centre holiday, Rome and Lancashire. No, plenty of links, actually. Rochdale has a Roman eagle as part of its crest, and, in a wider all-Italian context, there's a Garibaldi Street in Manchester, and a mill chimney in Darwen that's a dead spit of St Mark's Campanile. You will probably be thinking of cobbles, too, although I discovered that the Romans want to get rid of theirs, on account of the upkeep.
Did you know, by the way, that Trafalgar Square is paved with stone quarried at Bacup? It is. I also learnt that Garibaldi is pronounced in the Lancastrian way, with two hard "a"s. I could go on, but I know you're desperate to get started with this column's acclaimed and ostensible purpose, which is to provide a highly instructive digest of recent news you might possibly have missed.
And staying in Italy, almost, I see that a brown bear has strayed across the border into Switzerland. This is the first time a brown bear has been spotted there in more than 100 years, and the Swiss are taking no chances. A startled bear is an angry bear: To prevent sudden and ugly scenes, hikers are being told to advertise their presence by singing loudly, and there is even sound advice on the choice of music.
Swiss bear expert Johann Wartl (who must have been having it fairly cushy up to now) said: "I have been suggesting tunes from The Sound of Music because everyone knows them, and they somehow seem right for the area." Anyway, the bear hasn't been seen since the hikers began singing, which doesn't surprise me, as he's probably south of Milan by now, and still going.
All the same, it's useful to come across a new way of dealing with bears, as, until now, I've been troubled by conflicting counsel as to whether you should play dead or leg it. Playing dead was favourite until I read that the bear is then likely to take you off for its "food store". Charming. The scarper option became even more attractive when further researches revealed that, because their front legs are shorter than their back ones, bears are highly likely to fall over when running downhill. Excellent news for the Swiss, too, I should have said, what with the Alps.
Which brings me to another worry. You might recall our musings upon the disbandment of the famous Swiss Bicycle Regiment with specific reference to its effectiveness at least half the time, given the terrain. Now, undeterred, Swiss police, have launched a roller skate unit in Zurich. A spokesman said skaters were more versatile than mounted police as they could negotiate rough terrain like flights of steps and quickly remove their skates if necessary. He did, concede, though, that his officers have to be aware that people can push them over more easily when they're on skates. Marvellous. Switzerland? Dull?
Over in Austria, meanwhile, Vienna's Leopold Museum is offering free admission to naked visitors. Apart from being reminded of the famous marketing technique of Jimmy Carter's bar-owning brother, Billy, ("Topless women drink free"), you're probably beginning to suspect some sort of sustained image-alteration campaign over in that part of Europe; I have to say, though, that there does seem to have been a pan-global outbreak of attirement disorder recently. In Spencer, Iowa, for example, a naked man entered a sandwich shop wearing nothing but a ski mask (possible Austrian connection?) and then left without ordering, while in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, police are hunting another one who breaks into the rooms of women over 60 and tickles their feet. Indeed.
All this and Naperville, Illinois, too, where the Blackjack Strip Club has just had its annual golf outing at the local course, involving "stripper-caddies" and some remarkable action in both bunker and rough. Incidentally, while we're here, I should tell you that there's more mashie and niblick news from North Korea, where it has been revealed that, in addition to his amazing ability to memorise telephone directories and pilot jet fighters, Kim Jong-il, the Dear Leader, shot 11 holes-in-one on the first round he ever played. No details on whether he was in the nude, or playing left-handed backwards in a blindfold on the other seven.
I can confirm, however, that two South Korean punk musicians have caused outrage by stripping off on a live television show, presumably after misinterpreting the programme's title, Music Camp. South Korea, of course, is where scenes of wild jubilation in the catering industry have greeted the cloning of an Afghan hound.
And it is a tremendous breakthrough, as I myself have often noticed the extreme reluctance of dogs to indulge in traditional reproduction methods at the slightest opportunity with a chair leg if necessary. Unlike the badger, which, in common with 20 per cent of British women, prefers to conduct such activities in the dark, research has revealed.
Elsewhere, Ben, a normally placid sort of collie from County Durham, has been in trouble for attacking a community policeman because the officer's bright yellow jacket brought back unhappy puppyhood memories of being almost run over by a council dustcart operated by similarly attired operatives. If I were Ben's owner, I'd be very careful when tackling trifle. Right, that's it. Have a good week. And do try to keep your clothes on.Reuse content