Tales you may have missed:
Catching up on the ongoing saga of the Vatican’s love of money and their determination to squeeze every last drop through the eye of a needle, I noted their reluctant freezing of priest Nunzio Scarano’s bank account. (Great name, incidentally: Scarano. Straight out of Central Casting.) Scarano is currently accused of trying to smuggle 17 million quid via private jet, and had long been nicknamed “Monsignor 500” by fellow priests because he carried a wallet stuffed full of 500-euro notes. If that was his nickname, how come no one thought to ask how the humble Christian servant of the Lord came to be so well off?
Oh, of course, it’s the Vatican. No questions asked.
THAT’S A RUBBISH SERVICE
For two months the unlucky residents of Blackhorse Avenue, Bolton, missed having their recycling bins emptied because the recycling team, who relied on ‘sophisticated mapping technology’, couldn’t find the street. “It was difficult to locate from the crew’s maps,” a spokesman said, omitting to add that Blackhorse Avenue (clearly shown on Google Maps) turns directly off the main road (Church Street) opposite St Katharine’s Church and is the road leading to the local library.
WRONG TO RULE OVER US
Every week the news gives us new examples to challenge our choice of leaders and rule-setters. This week, among others, I’ve selected just three stories. The Minerva, oldest pub in Plymouth, established 1540, has a striking ceiling made from timbers stripped from Spanish galleons – or make that ‘had’, not ‘has’. What made the ceiling particularly striking was that over the centuries it had been scrawled on by customers and sailors until it was almost entirely written over. “Oh, no,” tutted a jobsworth from the local fire service: “That ceiling may be 500 years old but is an obvious fire hazard and its historic graffiti must be painted over” – with, as it turned out, seven coats of black fireproof below further coats of fire-retardant magnolia. (Presumably the landlady got to choose the colour.)
Meanwhile, across the world in India (to show this is not a uniquely British problem) we read of the Indian army denying compensation to the widow of a soldier who, although on patrol on that country’s disputed border, was at the moment he died taking a loo break and therefore not technically on duty.
Back home, and in the area of statistics rather than management, the press solemnly reported a survey of 2,000 people (carried out, perhaps significantly, by a legal firm) showing that the average Briton experiences 134 incidents of ill-health every year – more than three a week. Are you ill more than three times a week? I’m not, nor is anyone I know. Either my family and I are astonishingly healthy or this company’s clients are a curiously vulnerable lot.
Or the statistics could be rubbish.
Now: Women Will Not Be Surprised To Learn . . .
NEVER LET ME GO:
Women will not be surprised to learn that almost half of British men (47%) own vinyl records they can no longer play because they no longer have the relevant equipment (for playing records, that is). Practically as many (45%) hold onto cassettes they can’t play either. No figures are available for how many women retain old cosmetics they will never use.
An Australian, perhaps not one of their more legendary drunks, found himself so blotto at three o’clock one morning recently that he got his son to drive him home. Unfortunately his son was seven years old. The talented lad managed to drive some way towards their destination before the police stopped them, not least because the car was proceeding without showing any lights. (You can’t expect the kid to remember everything.) Among several questions that spring to mind are (1) was this the first time the boy had driven (three in the morning, a drunk beside him), and (2) does he normally accompany his father on all-night benders?
TWO TALES FROM LONDON LIFE:
1. CONAN DOYLE GOT THERE FIRST:
It’s more than a century since Sherlock Holmes solved the case of The Man With The Twisted Lip in which an arrested beggar turns out to be a successful middle-class businessman. Begging was his business, and a profitable one too. This June in London the real-life Mr Simon Wright was arrested and banned from begging. Why? Because, though he described himself as homeless, he was said to earn £50,000 a year (untaxed presumably) from begging and to live in a £300,000 flat in Fulham. (He should have lived in Kensington & Chelsea, where incomes are not questioned.)
2. WHAT YOU CANNOT DO IN PARKS:
Police are clamping down on professional Personal Trainers plying their trade in London parks without having a license which, in Royal Parks, may cost between £280 and £350 a year. One such trainer, who presumably had paid her license, told her local paper that her competitors were ‘constantly on the lookout for police and running away from them’. Did their clients run too? It would be good training. Trainers have complained about being harassed in this way, unaware presumably that other businesses (such as gyms, fitness clubs and salons) pay business rates some twenty times higher than the paltry sums requested of the trainers in the park.
And then . . .
Having found an unexploded bomb in her back garden, 66-year-old Mrs Carol Longhorn did the obvious thing (obvious perhaps for the generation upon whom Second World War bombs fell): she washed in the kitchen sink. “She took a few precautions,” Mr Longhorn said later. “She put a plastic seat on the top in case it went off.”
But it didn’t go off, so she placed it on the coffee table and called her husband to have a look. He called 999 (and seems to have called his wife a few things as well). A few hours later (!) officers from the bomb squad arrived to take the bomb away. They detonated it at a local quarry – to Mr Longhorn’s evident delight: “It was brilliant,” he said. “The ground shook – you could feel the shockwaves come across and bump into you.” To which an officer from the bomb squad advised: “Tell the wife if she finds any more, put them in a nice neat heap and we’ll deal with them all at once.”
YOU’RE NOT LEAVING THE TABLE TILL YOU’VE EATEN THAT UP
I’m always wary of reported survey results but the British Nutrition Foundation did ask 27,500 kids about their eating habits and attitudes this May. Unsurprising results include:
- 1 in 5 kids don’t know where potatoes come from, with 1 in 10 thinking they grow on trees.
- 1 in 3 5-to-8-year-olds think pasta and bread is made of meat (really?)
- 1 in 3 primary students think cheese is made from plants
- 1 in 4 of them think fish fingers are made from chicken or pork.
It’s enough to give Michael Gove indigestion.
NO STOPPING (Though let’s hope he can)
New Zealand’s Bob Edwards, at a mere 105 years of age, is believed to be the world’s oldest driver (certainly the oldest with an accredited age); the Guinness Book of Records awards the ‘lifetime’ plaudit to one Fred Hale senior, who drove until his 108th birthday. Today, Bob Edwards can drive more efficiently than he can walk, driving his four-wheel-drive Mitsubishi four days a week to fetch the shopping. How does he feel, driving at such an age? He doesn’t know: “I don’t feel old,” he says. Sadly, this story has to be date-lined, but the story, like Bob, is alive and kicking in June 2013.
MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE
On a sunny afternoon at the beginning of June, Brighton police noticed a van being driven ‘erratically’. That word could be an understatement, as they called for reinforcements (and how) and gave pursuit. By the time the van had been forced to stop (puncture sticks were strewn in front of it) four police cars and a number of other vehicles had been damaged. The 35-year-old driver was arrested on suspicion of dangerous driving.
A SHOCKING MISDEMEANOUR
If you thought you could turn a few quid by stealing some copper cable, would you choose to take it by cutting through the main 11,000-volt power line from an electricity substation? That’s what cretinous thief Richard Howells (known to his friends as Dickhead?) did recently in a suburb of Swansea, thus cutting off the supply to 1,000 homes, stranding his own grandmother on her stairlift for four hours and, of course, inflicting himself with severe burns which, sadly, were not fatal. Having alerted the electricity board and the residents of 1,000 homes to his misdemeanour, he then dragged himself to hospital for treatment to his burns before, eventually, the police arrived to arrest him. For the attempted theft, the inconvenience to some thousands of Swansea residents (including his unfortunate grandma) and for having his hide saved by the local hospital, he was sentenced to four months in jail, suspended for a year.
FEELING THE HEAT?
Fearing that her house was on fire, a pensioner in Crawley called out the fire brigade, only to be told that the reason her house felt so warm was that she’d left the central heating on full blast. Fire & Rescue Officers turned the heating down.
On consecutive pages of my newspaper recently I had to shake my head over these three contrasting stories. A lawyer in Middlesbrough wrongly arrested for perverting the course of justice (he’d successfully defended a client charged with kidnap) was held in a cell for thirty hours and had his house searched. For this indignity (an indignity you imagine a number of his clients may have suffered on other occasions) he sued the police for wrongful arrest. He was awarded damages of over half a million pounds! Even at the extortionate rates charged by members of the legal profession, this seems a trifle much. He was held for just over a day which, as I say, is a fate endured by a great many people against whom charges are eventually dropped and who receive no recompense – probably not even an apology. Yet he, a lawyer represented in court by another lawyer and tried in front of a judge who had presumably once been a lawyer, came out richer by half a million pounds.
On the same page was the case of a woman whose friend repeatedly asked her to help end her life. Together they sat on a railway bridge, had a final chat, then counted to three – at which point, as agreed, she pushed the suicidal one off as a train approached. But fast-acting passers-by grabbed the would-be suicide and pulled her off the tracks, thus saving her life, though she spent the next month in a coma. The helpful friend was jailed for three years and four months. How is this strangely precise jail term supposed to help or reform the unwise friend? Are we to believe that, without it, she would go on to kill again?
Finally, over the page and of a very different hue, is the tale of a man (36) who murdered, dismembered and burnt the body of the woman (44) he’d married eight days before, almost certainly for her money. She’d inherited £150,000, a modest sum, you might think, to warrant a nine-month courtship, a cynical eight-day marriage, and a ghastly doom. Nothing wrong with his 30-year sentence, but would any crime-writer expect a reader to believe it?
Running beside this story was one headlined: ‘Aristocrat in court to deny beating wife over 25 years’. But perhaps it’s time to move on to the crossword.