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A brutal menace is threatening our peaceful havens

Hardly a day passes in this office without the arrival of yet another anguished press statement, announcing that an action group has been set up to fight some new outrage of modern life. All the same, it was a bit of a surprise to hear from an organisation called Charm which aims to "protect the rural tranquillity of the countryside for the sake of our families, kids and dogs". Curious, I rang their spokesman Rory Pitt-Farquahar and asked first of all what the name Charm stood for. "Combine Harvesters Are a Rural Menace," he said, his voice crisp with outrage. "Not many people realise that these things are blighting the life of country folk all over Britain and no one is doing a thing about it." I must have seemed a touch surprised, because Pitt-Farquahar went on to explain his position. "Let me give you a personal example," he said....

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The things that matter in life – and other holiday delusions

It is that dangerous time of the year when people go on holiday, relax, lower their guards and, at the very moment when their brains are hardly functioning at all, make plans for the future. They talk about the need to take a step back, to look at the big picture. Disastrously, they might even start considering what really matters in life. Holidays fantasies, in their place, are harmless, but that place is on holiday. It is when they are brought home and acted on that they cause problems. Sit by the pool. Dream of another life. Then have another drink and forget it. Do not, above all, introduce your fantasies into the world of reality. "Next time I'll leave my Black-Berry behind." You pretend to others, and even to yourself, that it is the bane of your life, that little box which you need to have within reach at...

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Easy Suzie’s tales of hard living with Dylan

My old friend Easy Suzie, a veteran from the Sixties, has been in touch. She is, as she puts, it "freaking out big-time, man". Suzie was a legend 40 years ago, she tells me. In her prime, she was known as "the Magic Roundabout" because more or less everyone in the rock community got a ride, and since about 1982 she has been trying to sell her memoirs Lay Lady Lay - Getting It On with Bob, Jimi and Mama Cass. Now, to her rage, Pattie Boyd has beaten her to it. Having been married to George Harrison and Eric Clapton, Boyd is telling her story in a memoir to be published later this month. "Pattie was no one!" Suzie screams down the telephone. "Where was she when The Troggs played Andover? Does she even know the names of Freddie's Dreamers? Has she been out with Dozy of the 1966...

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What hope now for three-in-a-bed, pigging and drooging

During the grim, dull days of summer when the only football played is in parks and on beaches, the sport's governing body, Fifa, tries to keep interest in the game alive by changing its rules. Nobody quite understands the reason for this desire to meddle with regulations beyond the need for the men on its governing body, representing shades of grey from around the world, to remind fans that they exist. When the season starts again in August, there are always some new Fifa rules. One season, a goalkeeper might be allowed to run around with the ball in a way that had hitherto been illegal, the next it is ruled that a player can be booked for looking at a referee in a really unfriendly way. With this season's revisions, Fifa has recognised that, for many people, football is not so much a game as a way of life...

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The green welly wallies have won

The late Phil Drabble seems to have been a crusty old cove whose off-air views were often at odds with his gentle, murmuring tones as presenter of One Man and His Dog. He had little time for feminists, Whitehall officials, ramblers or what he called "green welly wallies", and talked nostalgically of the days when homosexuals were socially ostracised. But now that he has finally been ushered into his own celestial pen by the Great Shepherd, there has been a spasm of public nostalgia for the man and his series. "You created an island of peace in a time full of turmoil and strife," wrote one emotional fan, bidding farewell to Drabble on-line and recalling the programme in which the greatest excitement was a group of unco-operative sheep and the loudest noise a shepherd's whistle. "Oh noo, they're startin' ter graze," Drabble would say at a moment of rare drama....

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Where have all the great hoaxers gone?

Now that reality is never quite as real as it seems, when even footage of the Queen walking out of a room turns out to be have been faked, the great hoaxes of the past have acquired a weird sort of glamour. Steven Spielberg took the story of a 1960s fraudster, Frank Abagnale, and turned him into a dashing anti-hero, played by Leonard di Caprio, for the film Catch Me If You Can. Lasse Hallström's forthcoming film The Hoax has Richard Gere playing the part of Clifford Irving, the writer who, in the early 1970s, earned himself £750,000 for the autobiography, lovingly faked, of the reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes. It is a rather inspiring story. Irving pitted his wits and nerve against the might of the media and the law, and almost got away with it. It was only just before his alleged autobiography was due to be published that...

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If this is nimbyism, there should be a medal for it

The new Prime Minister, still in a blissed-out state of honeymoon-period euphoria, must have thought his brave support for "Britain's ordinary heroes" was a smart vote-winner. Community is good. Everybody loves local. In a big and brutal world, we hanker increasingly for what Mr Brown calls "the good society". Recognising that an ordinary hero deserves as much social approbation as, say, a Whitehall jobsworth, Brown has floated the idea of gongs for little folk. There will be a Good Neighbour MBE campaign, seeking nominations for everyday heroes. As a sound-bite, it is as shiny and cynic-proof as anything the great marketing team of Blair and Campbell ever produced, but ideas of what makes a good society can be complicated. If, the day after the Prime Minister had announced that 24 July would be the day when we would remember the round-the-clock work of ordinary heroes (24/7, geddit?), he had paid...

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Keep on truckin’ to the end of the road

Where have the Zimmers gone? Not so long ago, the group of pensioners who had recorded a reedy-voiced version of the Who's rock anthem "My Generation" were everywhere. Their single rode high in the charts. They flew to Hollywood and met George Clooney. Since then, it has all gone a bit quiet. Could they have been corrupted by Tinseltown? Perhaps old Herbert has been out clubbing with Paris Hilton while Doris and Frieda have been up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire with their fellow pensioner Warren Beatty. But even if the Zimmers' "My Generation" goes the way of "The Birdy Song", "Y Viva Espana" and other mercifully forgotten novelty hits, their moment of celebrity this year has pointed up a new attitude towards old age. There was a time when a rare public appearance by some old dear - George Burns, maybe, or the Queen Mother - would reduce audiences...

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Town or country? Vive la différence

It is difficult to know what Stuart Burgess, chairman of the Commission for Rural Communities, would make of the events of Wednesday afternoon in my local village. A young man wearing a balaclava drew up in a silver car outside the village shop, which is also the local post office. He jumped out and, wielding a handgun, demanded the post office takings. Unfortunately, Wednesday is the post office's half-day closing. The robber retreated with a few notes from the confectionery till and drove off. On the one hand, this little tableau of village life might offer some reassurance to Mr Burgess, whose The State of the Countryside 2007 has just been published. Young people are leaving our villages because of lack of professional opportunities, he concluded - and yet here was one, working as a freelance, in the heart of the countryside. On the other hand, the robber's lack of...

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J K Rowling, a good author in a bad industry

So, with the perfect symmetry of a well-told fairy tale, the great Harry Potter saga reaches its final chapter. Even for the few of us who are not fully up to speed on what has happened at Hogwarts, the story behind the stories - how they were written, were discovered, published and became a mighty international industry - is magical. The J K Rowling fairy tale has it all: rags to riches, temptations for our heroine, endless and various assaults from the forces of darkness and a satisfying conclusion. Many stories start briskly and fizzle out; this one has gone from strength to strength. Its moral is rather more complicated, combining as it does personal triumph with corporate idiocy. J K Rowling's extraordinary personal achievement has been to follow her imagination over the years, to keep faith, as the world went mad around her, with the idea which had emerged...

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