AS a child I was convinced a witch lived in the tree at the bottom of the garden. I would forget all about it during the summer months, when a thick canopy hid large swathes of the trunk.

Then, as autumn arrived and the towering ash shed its leaves, the gnarled face in the bark would again become visible. Always right in time for Hallowe'en.

Back then I didn't know it was simply pareidolia, a psychological phenomenon that causes people to see patterns in a random stimulus and assign human characteristics to objects, such as shapes floating in the clouds – or the face of Osama bin Laden peering back from a mollusc.

Debra Oliver was out for an anniversary stroll with her husband Martin on Winchelsea Beach, East Sussex, when she picked up an oyster shell with an uncanny resemblance to the al-Qaeda leader.

According to Debra, it immediately struck her as a familiar face. "When I looked at it properly up close, I thought it looked like Jesus," she said. But then the penny dropped. Talk about shell-shocked.

Pareidolia is not without its perils. I have a friend who refused to buy a sofa that she reckoned looked grumpy. Another threw out a pair of scales and swore blind they were smirking up at her.

Years ago, when working as a kitchen porter, I had a colleague who gave peppers a wide berth insisting that when chopped in half – the fleshy membrane and seeds exposed – they bore a chilling likeness to the mask in the horror movie Scream and gave him night terrors.

Mind you, the same colleague also came up with an elaborate alien abduction tale when he slept in for the morning shift. The aliens appeared to have force fed him vodka and smeared kebab sauce on his neatly folded uniform, almost as if it had been used as a napkin. But that's for another day.

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As for the face at the bottom of the garden? The ash was brought down in a bad January storm seven years ago. Ding dong! The witch is dead.


ALAN Titchmarsh is the face of Adidas gardening. I'll let that statement sit there for a moment. Ready? Good. There's a lot to unpack.

To mark the launch of the Adidas Originals' Gardening Club range last week, the brand released promo shots showing our horticultural hero alongside two trendy types posing with various gardening paraphernalia, such a leaf blowers and watering cans.

Poor Alan looked as if he had been shoe-horned into his grandson's trainers, wearing the expression of someone who would much rather be elsewhere. Like standing on real grass as opposed to the artificial stuff they used in the photo shoot.

The footwear is apparently "inspired by lawn-based activities". I'm reluctant to mention the elephant in the room here but aren't quite a lot of activities other than gardening done on lawns? Say, bowls or croquet. A football pitch is theoretically a very large lawn.

We'll park that thought for a moment. Adidas promises its "specially created Response Hoverturf is a shoe ready for almost any terrain and available in two iterations".

Iterations? Someone swallowed a thesaurus for breakfast. But we're not done yet. "A more understated grey version for everyday gardening tasks and a sleekly blacked-out version with lace cover panel for more covert, night-time pruning operations."

Just as all cats are grey in the dark, every pair of shoes – no matter how fancy – look the same in the mud. Get a grip of yourself Adidas and stop this madness.

Dram slam

SPARE a thought for whoever came up with the idea for The Glenlivet's whisky pods. One minute you are coining a kooky gimmick for a trade event, the next you have the internet pitchfork-and-torches brigade shrieking "abomination!" while hysterically cradling their crystal decanters.

There was much handwringing among those who reckoned the edible capsules – made from a seaweed-extract casing and unveiled for London Cocktail Week – resembled laundry detergent pods.

It was a furore the like has not been seen since, well, also last week when Coleen Rooney unmasked Rebekah Vardy's account [sic] as the Hooded Claw of Instagram.

The millionaire-footballers-wife-on-millionaire-footballers-wife spat – what the tabloids like to call "WAG Wars!!!" – began when Rooney alleged that someone had been leaking private information.

One couldn't help but be impressed as Rooney – now nicknamed "Wagatha Christie" – used a shrewd And Then There Were None-style technique to whittle down the number of people who could see her Instagram stories.

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Our amateur detective then filled said posts with fake tales about baby gender selection plans and flooded basements – all of which ended up being leaked to a red-top newspaper.

Vardy denies the allegations and compared trying to reason with Rooney to "arguing with a pigeon". A nation is gripped.