YORK-BORN Dame Judi Dench has been reflecting on her "Swallows and Amazons" childhood in the city - including the moment her fiery mother threw parts of a new vacuum cleaner down the stairs.

The Oscar-winning actress told a national newspaper how she and her brother, Jeffery, had grown up in York, and how she had caught acting off him - "like catching measles." She said: "I'd never have thought of being an actress if it wasn't for Jeff.

"That's why I hate it when someone says to him: Are you anything to do with Judi?' Because acting was his idea in the first place, I think that kind of comment is very unkind."

She went on to tell about an idyllic time as a child in the York of the 1940s and 1950s: "We had a very Swallows and Amazons childhood. We rode bikes and rollerskated, and I was always dressing up. We'd play in other people's gardens and rig up phones with soup tins. And Mummy would play the piano and we would sing."

She said the family did not have a TV until the Queen's Coronation, and she now thought how lucky they had been.

She told how her mother had been "quite fiery," and how one day after her father had bought an Electrolux vacuum cleaner, a man had come to see if it was working. "She stood at the top of the stairs and threw the pieces at him, saying: "I'll tell you what I think of your Electrolux. Give me back my Hoover!"

Dame Judi tells how, while her brothers went to St Peter's School, she went to The Mount, a Quaker boarding school for girls.

She says her first taste of acting was when the family became involved in the York Mystery Plays.

"The first couple of years we played angels and citizens; Mummy was the wardrobe mistress. And then Daddy was Joseph the year I played Mary. We had huge fun."

Meanwhile, Jeffery is quoted as saying that said Judi had always had a "very special spark" even when she played Mary, but she was also "somebody you wouldn't cross."

ONE Diary correspondent found himself giving geography lessons to a council worker.

The reader had called Selby District Council's planning department to complain about fly posting in the town centre.

The incident had taken place on Gowthorpe - Selby's main street.

So you can imagine our reader's surprise when he was asked where Gowthorpe was.

He said: "The woman asked if I could tell her the details of the incident and where it happened.

"I told her it had been on Gowthorpe and she asked me where that was. She said she didn't live in Selby, she lived in York and she didn't know where Gowthorpe was."

Well, always interested in getting to the bottom of things, your dear Diary contacted the council to find out if their staff had received any follow-up geography training since the incident. Unfortunately, we'll never know, because they declined to comment.