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BARGAINS: Esau's birthright (bowl of soup); Alaska (Russia sold it to US before oil was discovered); Paris (Henri IV thought it 'worth a mass' when he converted to Catholicism to gain the French crown); Aladdin's new lamps for old (unless you had the one with the genie); Manhattan (Peter Minuit bought it from the Indians in 1626 with 60 guilders worth of trinkets); the nail for want of which Richard III lost a kingdom would have been a bargain; Hoover's US holiday offers; Westminster cemeteries under Lady Porter's leadership; Jack's five magic beans (despite mother's wrath at loss of the cow); three broadsheets for 80p last Wednesday.

BAD BUYS: Tickets on the Titanic; 'haunted' house bought by Canadian professor (no ghosts, no tourist income); Wimbledon strawberries; CDs (pace MMC report); Telegraph shares before the price reduction.

TODAY used to be the feast day of Saints John and Paul, Christian martyrs of Rome in the 4th century who served the Emperor Constantine, once using a legion of angels to secure him a military victory. The feast was preceded by a vigil and fast, but it came too close to the fasts of St John the Baptist (24 June) and of the Apostles Peter and Paul (29 June), so the church indulgently removed the day from its calendar.

26 June, 1730: Birth of Charles-Joseph Messier (above), the astronomer nicknamed the 'comet ferret' by King Louis XV. In 1760, while working at the Marine Observatory in Paris, Messier started to list the nebulae so that they could be readily distinguished from stars and comets. His Messier Catalogue of 103 nebulae (13 of them his own discovery), and the numbers he gave them, are still in use. M1, for example, is the Crab Nebula, and M31 the giant nebula, Andromeda. Messier achieved fame in his lifetime becoming a member of the Royal Society of London and had a constellation named after him (though the name is no longer used). He died in Paris in 1817, aged 86.

1830: William IV ascended the British throne.

1945: United Nations Charter signed by 50 nations.

BIRTHDAYS: Laurie Lee, the writer, is 80 today . . . he thinks. 'My mother was very chaotic,' he says.