PARISH councils have traditionally been seen as the dullest form of local government, where local windbags spout interminably about dog fouling, grass cutting and who has been stealing the contents of the county council grit bin for their own personal use.

That image was blown right out of the water a couple of months ago by that infamous meeting of Handforth Parish Council, just a few miles away from where I began my journalistic career in Macclesfield.

The ranting and raving of councillors, and the cool actions of acting parish clerk Jackie Weaver became an internet sensation, which was almost as popular as the lunatic antics of the deranged parish councillors of Dawn French’s Dibley.

But to those of us who have made a career out of following the minutiae of life in the slow lane of village life, Handforth and Dibley are nothing out of the ordinary in the arcane world of parish councils.

Parish councils are an absolute treasure chest of offbeat stories for the alert journalist. I have spent many hundreds of hours sitting in such meetings, quietly chortling away at the matters under discussion.

At one of my first meetings in Macclesfield, a furious householder demanded the support of a parish council in having a bus stop removed from outside his property. He said people gathered there after closing time at the village pub, and emptied their bladders in his garden while waiting for the bus.

He said: “The wee is taking all the paint off my garden gnome!”

There was real animosity at some meetings, so much so that one council meeting in Tynedale had to be adjourned for a while so two members could step outside for a bout of fisticuffs.

At another meeting in the district, a wealthy and non-too-popular local landowner was a member of the parish council, but failed to attend a meeting for six months

When he turned up for the next meeting, he was told in no uncertain terms not to bother taking his coat off by the grinning chairman as he had forfeited his seat through non-attendance.

A policeman was in attendance to escort the furious former councillor off the premises.

Parish council clerks were a breed apart, notably the clerk to Bellingham Parish Council for many years whose extraordinary minutes were littered with fanciful references comparing county council officers to obscure figures from European history, such as Charles-Maurice Talleyrand-Perigord, Otto von Bismarck and Clemens von Metternich.

At that time, parish council meetings at Bellingham would start at 6-30pm, break for coffee at 9pm, and still be going strong at 11pm.

Parish council elections were big business in those days, with virtually every seat on all of Tynedale’s 51 parishes contested, unlike the all encompassing apathy of today.

I remember going to one count at Bellingham Town Hall, and being invited to celebrate the victory of one councillor in the Rose and Crown. I only had one pint, but on leaving the pub to drive the few hundred yards home, I became aware of a police car on my rear bumper.

The polis followed me home, and slewed across the back of my car before leaping out, and instructing me to wind down my window.

I was reasonably – but not quite – sure I would have passed the breath test, but the officer just said with a knowing leer: “Who won the election?” before driving off again!

When I retired five years ago, I started going to parish council meetings as a member of the public, and still found it so interesting that I stood at the last parish elections, and was duly elected.

I might have had second thoughts if I had known that since lockdown, meetings would be held remotely via Zoom.

Despite detailed instructions and helpful hints, I frequently find myself cut off completely from fellow councillors, or see them on screen holding up pieces of paper on which is written “Turn your microphone on, Hextol” or “Are you still with us?”

Things did improve when I managed to find an ancient webcam in a box in the garage with some portable barbecues.

Parish council elections take place in May – why not put your name forward and join in the fun?