Floods and disease, then "silly season" hits

LONDON Fri Aug 17, 2007 11:56am EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - When Jasmine the piglet hit the headlines, it was clear the season had arrived.

August is traditionally a month for light-weight, off-beat or just plain stupid stories in the British press as everyone heads off on holiday and forgets about the heavy duty news.

But this year, with the country deluged by mass flooding at the end of July and then struck with an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in early August, the so-called "silly season" was a little hesitant in arriving.

There were early signs it was on its way when the tabloid newspapers got their teeth into a tall tale about a Great White shark threatening swimmers off the southwest coast of England, but it turned out to be a hoax.

The man who supplied the picture to the press admitted he had taken it while on a fishing trip to South Africa.

Then there was another bid for silly season glory when an evening newspaper ran a story alleging it had tracked down Lord Lucan, an elusive English earl who disappeared in 1974 after his children's nanny was found dead.

The newspaper claimed to have tracked Lucan -- who is virtually guaranteed to pop up in the British press at least once a year on a quiet day -- to a field in New Zealand where he was living in a Land Rover with a cat, a goat and a pet possum.

Unfortunately the owner of the possum, eccentric expatriate Roger Woodgate, is 10 years younger than Lord Lucan would be, five inches shorter and doesn't really look like him.

And so it came down to the piglet.

Jasmine, a tiny Tamworth pig, hit the headlines after she apparently fell off the back of a farmer's truck moments after her mother had given birth.

No one is quite sure who owns the days-old porker as she had not been tagged or tattooed. But that hasn't stopped 25 people calling the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to claim her as their own and offer her a home.

The plight of Jasmine -- echoing the tale of two Tamworth pigs who escaped slaughter nine years ago and went on the run for days, gaining the nicknames Butch and Sundance -- appeared to open the floodgates to silliness.

The Telegraph, the country's remaining national broadsheet which describes itself as a "quality newspaper," had articles about solving the Rubik's Cube, a get-together of pirate families and an apology from South Seas cannibals Friday.

The Times had full page articles about mosquito breeds in Britain, the scandal behind a petition to stop a television actress opening a teashop in a remote corner of Scotland and a guide to how women kept their weight down in the 17th century.

It was left to The Sun, the titillating red-top tabloid, to deliver the hard news, with a front page declaring "Black Thursday" after stock market turmoil wiped $140 billion off the value of British shares.

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