Woman make fire

Stacia BriggsA farmer is calling for a boycott of the latest craze for releasing Chinese lanterns into the sky after one of his pedigree cattle died from eating the wire frame.Stacia Briggs

Woman make fire

A farmer is calling for a boycott of the latest craze for releasing Chinese lanterns into the sky after one of his pedigree cattle died from eating the wire frame.

Huw Rowlands, from Cheshire, lost one of his Red Poll cows worth �1,000 after it ate a decidedly dodgy - and wiry - Chinese. Now his boycott call is being backed by the National Farmers' Union, which says the lanterns are a fire hazard to crops and barns and a danger to livestock.

The RSPCA hates them, the Fire Service condemns them and the Coastguard and Mountain Rescue point out that they can be confused with distress flares (although presumably only if they're let off near a mountain or the coast).

I feel a bit guilty about buying a couple, now, although not half as guilty as I felt when I lit my first lantern, watched it glide magically into the sky and then - a few minutes later - watched it plummet floor-wards, burning oil dripping from the sky, into a neighbouring street.

As we ran away, I speculated as to whether the wish I had written on the lantern would eventually become my downfall as Norfolk Police's equivalent to Cracker used my handwriting to build up an offender profile that led the boys in blue to my door.

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I figured, however, that it was unlikely my wish had survived the inferno (I could probably say the same about any living creature that was within its flight path) and that Norfolk Police have spent far too much on their new website to employ Robbie Coltrane.

For the uninitiated, Chinese lanterns are large paper structures which contain a candle-like wick. Once lit, the lanterns soar into the sky and can drift for several miles before the flame extinguishes and the wire carcass falls to the ground.

In my case, this process happened somewhat earlier than I had anticipated and the lantern didn't so much as soar, rather it hovered perilously close to the top of people's fences as we willed it to fly.

The last time I've attempted to harness mind power in a similar way was when I was on a double decker bus going up Grape's Hill: as a child, I thought that if you stopped concentrating, the bus would roll down the hill. I'm not altogether convinced I was wrong.

Like all proper human beings, I am somewhat obsessed with fire.

I grew up with an open fire in the house (in a grate. We may have lived in Old Costessey, but we weren't heathens), we had regular bonfires in our garden, I was unnaturally obsessed with fireworks and I've always hoarded enough candles to keep me illuminated throughout a 10-year blackout.

Fast forward to adulthood, and I am the chief fire-starter in the household.

I can hold forth on logs and their various merits for longer than is strictly decent, my poker work is a sight to behold and I can fashion a newspaper into kindling faster than Katie Price can get remarried.

I blame it all on my formative years - those fires at home, a stint as a shop assistant at Head in the Clouds where I could vent my obsession with candles and incense and Bonfire Night in my village.

Fireworks night in Costessey was a rite of passage. The flaming remains of cheap fireworks would regularly plummet into the audience, Catherine wheels would inevitably fall off their posts and career towards the crowd like a messenger from hell and there would be always cause to reach for the fire extinguisher.

To be hit by a flaming firework was a badge of honour. You didn't feel like you'd been to an amateur display hosted by kindly buffoons with torches unless your fringe was singed off or you'd melted your hands into claws with a sparkler.

In fact in those days, we lit sparklers from the bonfire - you'd be looking at a 10-stretch for that kind of behaviour these days.

By far the most dangerous thing about bonfire night, however, were the burgers.

Bearing only a passing resemblance to meat, or indeed any organic matter whatsoever, they single-handedly justified my decision to turn vegetarian.

Time has taught me that there's not too much you can do to ruin a baked potato, although to give the Costessey catering team credit, they really tried.

Way back then, November nights were colder than the ready meals section at Sainsbury's (what is it with that aisle? It's like wandering into Narnia in a bikini) and if it hadn't been for the bonfire, entire Costessey dynasties would have been lost to hypothermia.

So, in a way, my love of fire is evolutionary. I know it's no consolation to the farmyard animals that are perishing because middle class Trixibelles want to send flaming wishes into the sky, but it's the only excuse I've got.

I won't buy them again. Promise. Just don't take my sparklers away from me, or you'll get to see that brilliant poker work at uncomfortably close quarters.

A see-through maze - it's enough to make a cat laugh

I'm excited to hear that one of the highlights of this year's Norwich and Norfolk Festival will be a see-through maze in Chapelfield Gardens.

A transparent maze: just fancy. It may already be in Chapelfield and we just haven't noticed it: perhaps I stepped through it the other day when I was on my way to work.

As far as I'm concerned, mazes are like gigantic board games with the added inconvenience that you can't storm off from the table when you're losing and go and make yourself a cup of tea in the kitchen.

I once got stuck in the maze at Longleat Safari Park which, if you're choosing mazes to get lost in, is one of the worst by virtue of the fact that it's the world's longest hedge maze.

My friends abandoned me virtually straight away, keen to be the first to make it to the observation tower in the centre from which you could point and laugh at hapless fools like me who were holding a sit-down protest next to one of the maze's 16,000 yew trees.

At one point, it started to rain.

I considered the very real possibility of rotting to death under a hedge and cursed my stupidity at not having bought more fudge from the gift shop to sweeten my demise.

My friends pointed and laughed at me from their tower, although they were considerably less amused when they had to navigate their way back to where I'd come to a petulant halt in order to lead me to freedom.

This transparent maze sounds equally perilous - like something a Shaman would suggest you might encounter after eating a psychedelic vine and puking like Bruce Parry in the Amazon or a game show involving Richard O'Brien, an industrial fan and some gold tokens.

On this note, I hear that ITV1 is commissioning a remake of The Crystal Maze with a new host far more virulent than Swine Flu - Amanda Holden.

If she's in Chapelfield's transparent maze, the nightmare really will be complete.

A second sacrifice in the Marcus the lamb saga

A headteacher who sparked controversy over a decision to send a lamb hand-reared by primary school children to slaughter has resigned.

Andrea Charman told friends she felt victimised and bullied over her refusal to back down and stop Marcus the lamb being raffled off as chops to raise funds for the school.

Personally, I have no sympathy whatsoever with Ms Charman.

Allowing young children to pet and get attached to a lamb and then announcing you're going to have his throat slit and his meat sold off in a raffle is a bit like me telling my kids that their dearly loved kitten is about to be incorporated into a casserole they'll be eating later.

If Ms Charman really wanted to educate her pupils about the food cycle, she should have arranged a trip to a local farm, not allowed them to pet a lamb, bring it into assembly and draw it pictures before waving it off to the abattoir.

Children are simple creatures: explain to them where their food comes from and they're perfectly capable of making a decision as to whether or not they want Marcus the lamb gambolling in his paddock or on a plate with mint sauce, roast potatoes and vegetables.

Bring Marcus the lamb into school, however, and the dynamics change. Ms Charman may feel victimised and bullied, but I bet she doesn't feel half as bad as Marcus did when he realised his big day out wasn't quite what he was expecting.