Leading article: The not-so-silly season

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Sauregurkenzeit is as British as the British summer. "Pickle time", or the silly season, brings us today the story of Yvonne the runaway cow of Bavaria (which we report on today). She has evaded helicopters with thermal-imaging cameras and marks- persons armed with tranquilliser darts for nearly three months – a bid for freedom celebrated by the Universal Society of Hinduism, a German band called Gnadenkapelle, and an animal sanctuary, which has bought her and promised her a pastured retirement.

The notion of the silly season has been with us since 1874, when The Saturday Review so named the month in which "the newspapers are open to the discussion of silly subjects". Then, it was "overcharges at hotels, the advantages and disadvantages of travelling on the Continent as compared with travelling in Great Britain and Ireland, the treatment of domestic servants, the price of claret".

Nowadays, it is usually animals. Last year, it was Anapka, the flying Russian donkey – rented out, so her owner thought, for rides on Black Sea beaches, but captured on camera hanging beneath a large multicoloured parachute 50 metres above the Sea of Azov. In fine red-top tradition, The Sun raced to her rescue, proclaimed with the headline "We've Saved Her Ass".

That was also World Cup year, in the June and July of which Paul the Octopus, who lived in a German aquarium (but who hatched in Britain), allegedly predicted the results of all Germany's matches, and of the Netherlands-Spain final.

Two years ago, it was Benson the 25-year-old, 64lb carp of uncertain sex that had ceased to be.

Sadly, the silly season has always been something of a myth. Much as we endorse the good sense of politicians taking holidays (although there may be a case for Kenneth Clarke to return again from his to try to bring some liberal sense to sentencing policy), it is notable how often they are interrupted, as David Cameron's was the week before last.

The edited highlights of August news stories from the past quarter-century gives us Hurricane Katrina, 2005; flash floods in Cornwall, 2004; UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello killed by Baghdad bomb, 2003; Omagh bomb, 1998; death of Princess Diana, 1997; Boris Yeltsin defeating the coup against Gorbachev, 1991; Iraq invading Kuwait, 1990; the Hungerford massacre, 1987.

This August has likewise been a serious month. The famine in Somalia, to which The Independent on Sunday first drew attention, is deepening, and we renew our plea to you to join our Give A Day's Pay campaign.

While Muammar Gaddafi's imminent departure may be welcome, it is not going to be easy or comfortable for the Libyan people. Meanwhile, the Arab spring is stalled in Syria, as the United Nations seems unable to prevent Bashar Assad oppressing and killing his people. As Lord Owen writes today, forcing out dictators is a difficult business.

The killings in Norway were so terrible that there was little to say about them by way of sensible analysis. But then came the riots and looting on British streets, on which there was no shortage of commentary. In our view, the disorder exposed the fragility of the compact between the possessed and the dispossessed after 13 years of Labour government devoted to ending social exclusion.

The other multi-sided news story of the summer has been the state of the world economy, about which the tidings of gloom continue. There was the stand-off over the US budget between the President and the Republicans in Congress. This would have had elements of silly-season comedy, had the effects on market confidence, and America's creditworthiness, not been so serious.

Meanwhile, the equally worrying but differently-shaped crisis of the eurozone economies has rippled on throughout the summer. With neither the American political system nor the European Central Bank able to give a lead, the two great economic areas on which Britain's export-led recovery must depend seem to be in danger of stagnation.

Sir John Banham argues today that the Government needs a policy for growth, and this newspaper has long argued that the danger of cutting public spending too deeply and too quickly is that this may stifle the prospects of recovery. That risk was theoretical but is now upon us, and George Osborne, the Chancellor, needs urgently to reconsider. To those who talk casually about the August silly season, we would say: If only.

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