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BACKCHAT - TOULMIN SMITH

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His worship, Melanie's dad...
His worship, Melanie's dad

Southampton City held a ceremony recently to welcome its 784th mayor. Trouble is, the city is wondering whether people will see much of him this summer. Given that John Slade is the father of England footballer Theo Walcott's girlfriend, Melanie, it is quite likely he'll find himself otherwise engaged in Germany.

When fellow councillor Alec Samuels proposed Mr Slade's year-long mayorship, he had to quickly change the tone of his speech. Initially he intended on saying Mr Slade was a modest family man who has done a lot of enterprising work for the city.

But he actually said: 'He is about the most famous mayor this city has had in 790 years. I am afraid we may not see much of him.'

Then he went on to praise the new mayor for having 'a delightful and pretty' young daughter. 'It's with great expectation and pride, and a tinge of envy we present to you with wholehearted support Melanie's dad,' he said.

Sausages!

Have councillors in Peterborough gone barking mad? After receiving complaints about the annoyance of noisy dogs, they are seeking the help of experts to inform owners why dogs bark. Now pet owners can benefit from a one-day crash course in the language of barking, and it's absolutely free. Fifteen percent of all noise complaints in Peterborough are caused by barking dogs, according to a council spokesman.

The council has hired a dog behaviourist and a vet to offer advice to pet owners to explain what their furry friends are saying, whether it's a cry for attention or through boredom, and how to stop the problem.

Apparently, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs has identified 10 different ways dogs bark and nine reasons why they do this. If they find they've been barking up the wrong tree they could resort to the more conventional methods: give the dog a bone!

Vote Cilla

Recent referendums have shown the electorate to be at best lukewarm towards elected mayors.

However, advocates could see their popularity boosted among male voters by citing the example of the town of Villafrechos in northern Spain.

Its mayor, Miguel Angel Gomez, played Cilla Black by holding a blind date event to help the town's single men find love and prevent depopulation.

No fewer than 90 women from neighbouring towns turned up meet 50 local men who wooed them with a dance festival, a tour of the local cheese factory and a football game.

Muddled maths

I am puzzled by housing and planning minister Yvette Cooper's speech to the Green Alliance in which she called for action by cities to curb emissions.

'The 56 largest cities in England have nearly two-thirds of the jobs and population, but produce half the emissions,'

she said. 'Cities need to be at the forefront of more resource-efficient forms of development.'

Isn't that where they are? If they have two-thirds of the people but half the emissions aren't they doing better than the rest of the country? Or have I missed something?

Virtual workers

Aberdeen City Council seemsto be on track for making Gershon efficiency savings. It has recruited its first virtual employee. Meet Kirsty (left). She is tasked with making residents' lives easier by helping them pay their bills and fines online. And she's even the person to go to for information about tourism and entertainment. Her talents don't stop there. She also speaks Polish to accommodate the large number of immigrant workers in the area. Not only that, but she won't need a pension

It's mystic Ruth

Ruth Kelly launched the new Department of Communities & Local Government with a flourish at Tate Modern, just to show how contemporary the new department is. One mystery surrounded the event - Tate Modern had taken the booking several weeks earlier. Long before the Cabinet reshuffle, in fact. Perhaps someone has mystic powers to look into the future.

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