9 Stories We Loved This Year That Had Absolutely Nothing To Do With Covid

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Did you hear about the dinosaurs taking over Plymouth this year? Or how about the Brighton landlady who launched the world’s smallest pub? 

Coronavirus has undoubtably been the dominant story of 2021, but there’s been plenty of fun tales to lift the spirits from across the UK, too. 

In the name of balance, we’ve tried to bring you these slices of escapism alongside the Covid news you can trust. Because let’s face it, we’ve all needed some light relief.

If you missed out on the fun, you can read these feel-good features and more in our Covid-Free Zone section, or scroll down to see a snippet of our nine favourites from the year. Rona, you’re not welcome here. 

1. The monster sourdough starter

The Monster has a daily meal of flour and water. 

The Herbert family have been baking bread for 100 years and have shops in the Cotswolds and Bristol. The secret behind their success? A decades-old sourdough starter, nicknamed The Monster. 

The family diligently care for the yeasty concoction, like a much-loved family pet, and this year, they even threw it a party to mark its 65th birthday.

We asked the master bakers the key to keeping the legend alive. You can read more about it here. 

2. A legendary Teletubby shared some secrets 

This year marked 20 years since the original run of the Teletubbies ended. Reboots may have followed, but the OG cast will always have a place in our hearts, so we sat down with Dipsy legend John Simmit to hear some behind the scenes gossip. 

Simmit has since enjoyed a career as a successful stand-up comedian, actor and DJ, but he told us he’ll never forget wearing the three-stone suit, which left the cast “so sweaty you could wring us out”. He also revealed the true taste of Tubby custard, which was apparently “not fit for human consumption”. 

But his favourite memory was how he subtly reflected his heritage on screen.  “I’d slip in Jamaican dance moves, a Bogle there and a Tatty here,” he said. People spotted my little wink to my culture and I’m proud of that.”

Read the full interview here

3. Dinosaurs took over Plymouth

Did you spot a dinosaur this year? 

On any given day in Plymouth, you may have spotted a pterodactyl hovering at the bus stop, a couple of T-rexes in the tinned goods aisle or a stegosaurus at the school gates. 

That’s because the dinosaur dress up trend took over the port city this year, with more than 6,700 fans joining the Dinosaurs of Plymouth Facebook group.

The idea was simple: wear an inflatable dinosaur suit and spread a little cheer. And why not? Truly a sight for ’saur eyes. Read more here

4. The wedding photo detective 

Charlotte Sibtain (left) and the first vintage wedding photo in her 400+ collection. 

Have you ever spotted a wedding photo at a car boot sale or in a charity shop? They often get mistakingly thrown out during a house clear, but Charlotte Sibtain loves to collect them.

The 33-year-old has a collection of more than 400 vintage wedding photos displayed in the home she shares with her husband, but her real passion is reuniting photos with long lost ancestors

She talked us through her detective process, and explained the emotional reunion she was able to co-ordinate with a daughter, a granddaughter, and a long-lost wedding album. 

“It was amazing. The daughter was absolutely stunned, I think they both were,” she said. “They both thought that it was lost forever and had no thoughts of it ever coming back.”

Read the full story here

5. A tiny home that made us see double

Some of Scarlett Stephens-Smith's creations. 

Scarlett Stephens-Smith owns two of everything. From her extensive book collection to identical house plants and twin sofas, her home will have you seeing double.

That’s because the 29-year-old has been busy turning a childhood doll’s house into an exact replica of her actual home. 

Each detail is meticulously studied and copied – from the external pebble dash and brickwork to the miniature TV remote and novelty watering can. People on TikTok couldn’t get enough of it this year. She gained more than 770,000 followers and 14 million likes. 

See more of the incredible craft project here. 

6. The world’s smallest pub

Jennifer Left outside the Hand in Hand. 

Speaking of tiny replicas, Jennifer Left impressed us this year by creating the world’s smallest pub. 

The 36-year-old is the proud landlady of Hand in Hand, an (actual) pub located just off the seafront in Brighton. 

The mini pub is an exact replica of the original and Left strapped it to her bike, donned a costume and delivered beers – and cheers! – to people unable to attend their usual local this year. They say not all heroes wear capes, but this one does. Read the full story here

7. The Brits who’ve never tried a cup of tea

No tea for this lot. 

Yes, they really do exist. How do you go a lifetime without even trying this great British pastime? We interviewed a bunch of people to find out.

Turns out, the smell puts a lot of people off (who knew?) while some shared disturbing childhood memories. Mary Cushen, 42, from Telford, recalled how her grandparents used to make a large pot on the stove, which they’d reheat “for around a week” until it had gone. It made her heave. “It looked stale and didn’t smell much better,” she said. Yikes! 

Hear more tea tales here

8. A drag race star shared his huge clock collection 

Gothy Kendoll with one of his beloved clocks. 

Gothy Kendoll (real name Samuel Handley) may have found fame on Drag Race UK, but his first love is clocks. Yes, really. 

By the time he was five he had around 40 clocks on his bedroom wall and his passion has only grown since. He now adores rescuing old broken clocks and restoring them to former glory. 

We asked him all about the obsession, and how he deals with all that ticking!?

Read the full interview here.

9. The photographer-turned-squirrel-whisperer 

Amateur photographer Niki Colemont has dedicated the last five years of his life to photographing squirrels. He loves the creatures so much, he’s even known as ‘Squirrelman’ on social media. 

“They are my little outdoor children,” he told us. “Squirrels are ridiculously cute. If you see one you want to hug it...but I don’t advise you to do that!”

Colemont doesn’t use any Photoshop but encourages the squirrels to play with his props. He said the key to capturing a great squirrel photo is patience. “You need to put a lot of effort and time in it,” he said. 

See more of his amazing photos here