Each week, a visitor from a distant galaxy – where the weird is not yet normal – visits the office of the Scottish Review and challenges the editor to explain the mystifying events of the last seven days on planet Earth
This term, 'the silly season’, which I hear so much this month. Could you explain what it is and why it’s so silly?
There is no definite starting date or end point for the silly season, but it’s generally reckoned that it begins when parliament rises at the end of July.
Oh, the Westminster one. Few know when the Scottish equivalent is sitting or not sitting. It’s hard to tell the difference.
So what happens when parliament rises?
The rich desert London and go to Scotland, where they spend the month of August killing things on sporting estates. The intelligentsia desert London and go to Scotland, where they pontificate innocuously at the Edinburgh Book Festival. The politicians desert London for somewhere called 'the beach’, where they’re phoned up by desperate space-filling journalists and asked which books they’re reading. The essential rule of the silly season is that, since nothing of importance is said and nothing of importance happens, the newspapers are full of silly stories. Like which books politicians are reading.
So is Moggmania a silly season story?
A classic of its kind. It was only possible because no-one could imagine Jacob Rees-Mogg on a beach. As the only person left in London, he was obviously going to be tipped as next leader of the party.
What about your Brucie? All those souvenir pull-out and keep supplements?
They prove nothing. No-one has ever been known to pull-out and keep a souvenir supplement.
But was Brucie a figure of immense national significance – or was he simply lucky to die during the silly season?
Brucie invented the saying, 'Nice to see you, to see you nice.’ Nothing silly about that. Quite profound in its way. But the silencing of Big Ben – the vigil in Westminster to hear the last bong, grown men crying, the outrage of the Daily Mail. It had silly season written all over it.
So what would...
Please don’t start sentences with the word 'so’. Everybody’s at it, and it’s deeply annoying. Just as everybody seems to be 'struggling’ these days.
I was going to ask you about the great silly season stories of recent years. Apart from Moggmania and Big Ben.
Very well. In August 2005, the Sun reported that squirrels in Brixton were becoming crack addicts because of the stashes buried in gardens.
Was it true?
You’re missing the point. Silly season stories don’t have to be true. They just have to appear after parliament rises. For example, in August 2000, the Daily Mail published a story about a giant crop circle in a wheat field in Wiltshire and claimed that it was a message from aliens. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?
Not from our galaxy, I assure you. We wouldn’t dream of sending you lot a message.
Can’t say I blame you.
Your all-time favourite silly season story?
Possibly the one on Sky News only last August, when Kay Burley reported that dogs in the south of England have waggier tails than dogs in the north. Evidently researchers at Edinburgh University discovered this interesting fact from a comparative study of waggy tails.
Did they find out why?
It seems that dogs in the north of England wag less because it’s colder up there. The temperature causes them to lose their wag.
I thought Edinburgh University was a distinguished academic institution.
Good heavens, whatever gave you that idea?
And was the story popular?
On the contrary it proved too much even for the viewers of Sky TV. You may well prefer the story from August 1998 of the Tynemouth policeman who complained that dive-bombing gulls were making his life a misery and that the family were virtually imprisoned in their own home.
No more, please! I beg you to tell me when the silly season ends.
Gratifyingly soon. The Edinburgh Festival finishes on Bank Holiday Monday, followed by the climax of the Diana tribute fest on the 31st. After that, we are looking at blessed September, the start of the conference season, plots against the Maybot, the nights drawing in, Christmas trees in the shops, and a surfeit of really bad news on every front.
That’s a relief.
48% of Scottish families rely on relatives to provide some element of childcare, while only 1 in 10 families employ childcare workers. Source: Bank of Scotland. A third of girls and young women between the ages of 11 and 21 feel under pressure to portray the ‘perfect life’ online, worry about feeling the need to check their phones constantly, and are concerned about how they look in photos. Source: Girlguiding UK. A drop of 3.4% in the number of Facebook users between the ages of 12 and 17 is expected to be recorded this year. Source: eMarketer.
The number of primary school classes in Scotland with 30 or more pupils rose by 36% between 2012 and 2016, from 1,287 to 1,687, and the number of children taught in them from 52,000 to 71,000. Source: Scottish Liberal Democrats. Almost a quarter of UK parents have moved house to be within their preferred school catchment area. Source: Santander Mortgages. The percentage of university students who graduated in 2016 and are currently unemployed is 5%. In 2012 it was 7%. Source: Higher Education Statistics Authority.
Business and economy
Single mothers are just as likely to be in employment as women without children. 67.8% of single mothers have jobs – up from 43.8% 20 years ago. Source: Office for National Statistics. Workers called Ed earn an average of £61,400 a year, while workers called William earn only £36,100. Workers called Liz earn an average of £38,800, while workers called Paige earn only £20,200. Source: Adzuna. The turnover of UK nightclubs has fallen by 5% in the last year, as clubbing becomes increasingly unfashionable. Source: Ortus Secured Finance. The number of breweries in Scotland has doubled since 2010. There are now 115, employing 950 people. Source: Scottish Parliament. A third of adult Nigerians pay public officials bribes – around £860m in 2015-16. Source: Nigerian statistics office.
Science and environment
Last month was the warmest July on Earth in the 137 years since records of this kind began. Source: Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Ozone is estimated to lead to around 16,000 premature deaths across Europe each year. Source: European Environment Agency. Lighting used in Swedish churches to show off the architecture at night has led to a 38% reduction in bat colonies residing in them over the past 30 years. The bats have used the churches as warm refuges for 1,000 years. Source: Popular Science.
Taking regular brisk walks each day reduces the risk of an early death by 15% for middle-aged people. Source: Public Health England. The NHS is the best and most affordable healthcare system out of 11 countries analysed. Second was Australia and last place went to the United States. Source: Commonwealth Fund. The number of children under the age in 13 in Scotland being prescribed anti-depressants has increased from 57 in 2010 to 252 in 2016. Source: NHS Scotland. Men who took excessive vitamin supplements (including high doses of vitamin B) over a period of 10 years have a significantly higher chance of developing lung cancer. Source: Journal of Clinical Oncology. Vegetarians are more than twice as likely to become depressed than meat eaters. Source: Bristol University.
Recreation and sport
Brits are happiest when they're eating a bar lunch in the Cotswolds. The most popular UK holiday destination is Cornwall, closely followed by the Lake District, the Scottish Highlands and Devon. Source: SACO. Pop music has slowed down by 20% since 2012 from an average of 113.5 bpm to 90.5 bpm. Source: Ohio State University.
More than 10 people a year are killed by a vending machine. Source: Consumer Product Safety Commission. Women are least attracted to men who wear cargo shorts. Source: Hater dating app. 99% of Brits prefer to eat their food off a plate rather than off jars, slates, shoes or wood. Source: YouGov Omnibus. People in Scotland are most likely to let pets into their beds, with 37.4% allowing it. Source: Dreams UK sleep survey.
A charity that had £1,000 worth of toys stolen from a garage in Peterborough has been overwhelmed with donations from the public. Six inflatable Darth Vaders, an interactive DeLorean time machine car and new sensory touch table equipment were among the items that had been collected by 1st Sensory Legion for the group’s Feel the Force Day, an annual sci-fi convention for people with disabilities, additional needs and sensory impairments. Since the burglary, the charity has received more than 500 replacement toys and raised more than £1,600 from online donations. The event’s organisers have expressed their thanks to everyone who has donated or helped fundraise so far, stating that they've 'really restored our faith in humanity.'
In the Gulf of Mexico, a 10-year-old boy has been hailed as a hero for saving the lives of his mother and newborn baby brother. Ashley Moreau was only 34 weeks pregnant when her water broke in her Louisiana home. Her son Jayden ran next door to alert his grandmother, but she had recently undergone back surgery and was unable to walk. By the time Jayden returned, Ashley was bleeding out on the bathroom floor. Following his mother's instructions, Jayden gently pulled out his baby brother by his legs and then used a nasal aspirator to clear the baby's nose after realising that he wasn't breathing. Mother and baby have been recovering in hospital but are expected to return home in the next week.
The Chilean government has turned down a $2.5 billion mining project that would have risked the lives of thousands of endangered penguins. Had it accepted the proposal, a developer would have had the authority to extract millions of tons of metal from the earth and build a seaport dangerously close to the national humboldt penguin reserve. The country’s environment minister, Marcelo Mena, stated that while he appreciates that some projects are necessary for the country’s development, ‘they must offer adequate solutions for the impact they will have.’ On this occasion, the developer failed to meet this condition, so the penguins can go on swimming freely.
In Greece, where thousands of refugees have no option but to sit and wait while someone else decides their future, weekly visits from one brightly coloured minivan is helping to fill in the long hours. The Echo refugee library rolls into an Athens food market every week carrying over 1,000 books in English, Greek, French, Arabic, Kurdish and Farsi with the goal, in the words of the project’s coordinator Esther Ten Zijthoff, 'of making culture accessible to all.' In another part of the city, a similar initiative draws Syrian and Afghan refugees to We Need Books, a volunteer group which offers language lessons in Arabic and French, and whose office holds the largest collection of Farsi books in Athens.