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Society, Politics & Law

The silly season is upon us

Updated Tuesday, 26th August 2014

Dick Skellington invites readers to pick a winner from this summer's improbable array of silly season stories.

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A cartoon of David Cameron basking in the sun with Mount Snowdon in the background; a man pushes a Brussels sprout uphill with his nose. Creative commons image Icon Gary Edwards under Creative-Commons license

August is not always the source of silly stories. In recent history, August has often been a month of dramatic news. 2014 may be best remembered for the unfolding human tragedy in Gaza, the dilemma of the Ukrainian conflict, the threat of the Ebola virus, and the rise of ISIS as the West gets more involved militarily in events in Iraq and Syria. You can always bank on August for world stability to crumble while leaders bask in the sun.

Tanks rolled into Prague in August 1968 and into Kuwait in August 1990. Forty years ago this month Richard Nixon resigned as US president. There was an attempted coup in Russia in August 1991. In August 2007, the global financial crisis began. And lest us not forget the world went to war in August 1914 with calamitous results.

But despite the darkness all around, August traditionally sees an intriguing array of improbable silly season stories. During the family holiday period when schools are closed the media is awash with exaggerated news stories. Maybe we need the frivolous accounts of absurd human folly simply to keep our spirits up given the doom laden gravitas of world events. 

The term silly season was created in an 1861 Saturday Review article. The fifteenth edition of Brewer's defines the silly season as 'the part of the year when Parliament and the Law Courts are not sitting (about August and September)'. Hence we got the wonderful Sun headline of August 2005, which revealed that actor Richard Wilson had achieved inter-galactic fame. The Sun barked: “Victor Meldrew found in space”. In the same month in the same year the Daily Mail front page headline asked: "Where is our Prime MInister?". Last seen our's was in a wet suit in Cornwall.

It seems as if nothing changes in the silly season. In recent years, prime ministers' breaks are usually interrupted by crises, such as the Syria conflict, the London riots or an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in cattle, that force them to return to London. 

Around the 10th of the month it was revealed that both The Prime Minister and his Deputy were on holiday, though not together! Worse the stand-in Prime Minister, William Hague, who as the first secretary of state, has nominal seniority over other ministers, was also sunbathing on some Mediterranean island leaving the cats at Downing Street in charge of the nation. Come to think on it, they might do a better job. Still at least they weren't joining the ranks of naked Swiss politicians taking erotic selfies in Parliament

Here are our pick of the silly season candidates so far: Can you pick a winner?

Nose pushes Brussels sprout up Snowdon

A man has pushed a Brussels sprout up Mount Snowdon using just his nose. Stuart Kettell, from the West Midlands, took nearly five days to climb the 3,560ft summit, and raised thousands of pounds for Macmillan Cancer Support. Stuart, aged 49, needed 22 sprouts to complete the climb, as some of the sprouts simply wobbled off the mountain. When he reached the summit he had no skin left on his knees, and of course, a very sore nose. Stuart, who raised £3,500, practised for his climb by pushing sprouts around his garden with his nose.''People definitely think I'm mad, and I'm beginning to think it myself,'' he said. Stuart has previous in lunatic achievements. Before the climb he had raised money for charities by spending a week in a box, walking along every street in Coventry on stilts, and running in a giant hamster wheel.

Man sets house on fire trying to kill ants

A man accidentally set his home on fire when he decided to pour petrol over an ants nest. The fire, in Rotherham, followed a similar incident in Bridgend, when a man set fire to his house after trying to kill a spider with an aerosol spray.

The penis-shaped map of Berkhamstead

A personal favourite this summer was the revelation about a map: a perfectly innocent example of the cartographer's art. The map of the historic market town of Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire went viral on social media because the map was 'penis-shaped'. You only have to see the map itself to see where the furore came from. Facebook users rightly pointed out that the map looked for all the world like an enormous phallus. The map, depicting a beautiful; canal side area of the town, has proved a huge hit and stimulated more interest in the area, so much so that a spokesman from the Canal River Trust exclaimed: 'It’s been overwhelming positive, everyone has seen it as a bit of fun. If people see the map and want to find out a bit more canals and Berkhamsted, or pay them a visit then that’s great."

Monkey and zebra make arrest

Two off-duty police officers were on their way to a fancy dress party dressed as a monkey and a zebra when they arrested a man threatening abuse in a Coventry supermarket. In commending the female officers for their bravery their actions were described as being 'in accordance with the highest traditions of British policing'.

A cartoon of two off-duty police officers on their way to a fancy dress party dressed as a monkey and a zebra when they arrested a man threatening abuse in a Coventry supermarket. Creative commons image Icon Catherine Pain under Creative-Commons license

The Footpath not taken

Essex County Council proved that gobbledygook is alive and well in the bureaucratic enclaves of besieged local government. They issued a bewildering footpath closure notice this summer near Harlow. The notice in the Harlow Star read: 'Essex County Council intends, not less than seven days from the date of this notice, to temporarily close the length of Footpath 162 in the district of Harlow, from its junction with Footpath 163 to the junction with Footpath 161. An alternative route will be available via Footpath 163 and Footpath 161. The order will come into effect on 20th June 2014 and will be in force for six months'.

Bog standard

More than 400 women were reported by The Times to be terrified of using a robot public convenience in Woking Town centre. The reason? The door is likely to swing open before they are finished. Desperate loo-users have signed a petition calling on the local authority to replace the button-operated WC in Woking, with something ‘less frightening’. One woman came out of the lavatory drenched after a robotic arm knocked her off the seat and started the cleaning cycle prematurely.

When in Rome?

A university professor from Sapienza University in Rome faces disciplinary action after inviting the captain of the shipwrecked cruise liner Costa Concordia to lecture students, yes you guessed it, on emergency evacuation procedures.

Hotel fines residents who post bad reviews

A New York Hotel, the Union Street Guest House, introduced fines for residents who post bad reviews on travel websites. Guest are fined $500 for every bad review posted online. “Please know that despite the fact that wedding couples love Hudson and our inn, your friends and families may not,” reads an online policy. “If you have booked the inn for a wedding or other type of event . . . and given us a deposit of any kind . . . there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review . . . placed on any internet site by anyone in your party. If you take down the nasty review, you’ll get your money back".

I do hope you didn't have it on your holiday itinerary! And if you are in Iceland, I do hope you can get back!

This blog post is part of Society Matters. The blog seeks to inform, stimulate and challenge our understanding of this changing world and of our humbling role within it. Find out more about the blog and the team.
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Please note: The opinions expressed in Society Matters posts are those of the individual authors, and do not represent the views of The Open University.





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