...particularly for those who failed to remember that the best laid sch emes of mice and men gang aft a-gley. Paul Sieveking chronicles the slaps in th e face dealt out by 1994. Illustration by Patrick Regout
JANUARY The hospital attached to the Weifang Medical Institute in the Chinese city of Shangdong invited a television crew to film its first attempt at open-heart surgery. Unfortunately, nurses mixed up the medical records of two young boys, Liu Dalong and Xu Tong; so the one who had been admitted for a tonsillectomy had open-heart surgery while the critically ill boy had his tonsils removed by a trainee surgeon.

* * * Ornithologists were excited by the arrival in Gosport, Hampshire, of a hoopoe, a foot-long bird which normally leaves its Mediterranean quarters to winter in Africa. Several twitchers actually managed to see the bird, but hundreds more had their hopes dashed when the rare visitor was killed by a local tomcat.

* * * A spate of collapsing Victorian lavatories struck Scotland, Aberdeen experiencing the fourth incident in six months. Mike Rymill, a spokesman for the British Bathroom Council, suspected that frost had made the porcelain brittle - but maybe the old cludgies had passed their use-by date. Dr Jonathan Wyatt, writing in the Scottish Medical Journal, suggested the Continental hovering stance. The European Union, meanwhile, produced a draft standard for loo safety: 63 stone applied for an hour.

* * * Bill Smith, Lenny Lowther and Frank Higgins of Liverpool comprised a pools syndicate which had used the same numbers every week for 16 years. The week their numbers came up and they stood to win £600,000, their pools collector went to a funeral andhis stand-in failed to pick up the coupon. The trio asked Vernons to pay up, on the grounds that their collector was to blame. Vernons rejected the claim.

* * * Four hundred and fifty top seismologists were attending a conference on earthquakes in Wellington, New Zealand, when a quake measuring 4.4 on the Richter scale took place. About half of them failed to notice: "Apparently, one or two delegates thought it was just the cleaners," commented an organiser.

* * * A carefully planned police raid on a flat in New Cross, south London, ground to a halt when six officers got stuck between floors in a lift designed to carry 9,000lb. They started shouting and banging on the doors, but had to wait to be rescued by firemen - by which time there was nothing to be found in the targeted apartment.

FEBRUARY Bill Kale of Hibbing, Minnesota, was wandering home after having downed four cans of medium-strength lager when he started to feel "pretty snoozy". He broke into the nearest available house, climbed the stairs and leapt

on to a bed. This turned out to be a folding bed which immediately snapped shut, trapping Mr Kale within. "The thing was like a shark,"

he said later. "I couldn't move. I tried to cry out, but my face was wedged into the mattress so nobody could hear." Five days later, the householders returned from a holiday to discover Mr Kale, trapped, dehydrated and delirious.

* * * On 5 February, Khmer Rouge defenders fled a base at Anglong Veng in northern Cambodia in such haste that their commander, Ta Mok, left his artificial leg behind. Government sources said they hoped to catch him on the hop.

* * * Animal rights activists picketed a shop in Sydney, Australia, after its owner, Gerome Norman, killed a mosquito in front of customers.

* * * After finding a family of mice, Xu Guihuai, a farmer from Jiangsu province, China, set traps and poison around his house. Three young rodents were soon killed, but the mother vanished - only to mount a guerrilla campaign against Xu. "The 300-grammedevil attacked Xu in his sleep," according to the China Daily. "One day, Xu awoke to find his hand had been gnawed on. Xu's ear became a target another night, sending the farmer to a local clinic for help. The mouse continues to wreak havoc in Xu's small household."

* * * Mrs Jennifer Gregg, 43, a long-term sufferer of the debilitating illness ME, put in a claim for a mobility allowance backdated for three years because her original claim papers had been lost. She usually used a wheelchair, but she managed to walk from a friend's car across a car park to the tribunal hearing her case in Elvet House, Durham. She was supported by her friend and had to stop six times to regain her strength. The tribunal turned down her claim because she had walked the 100 yards from the car.

MARCH Tony Blair, then shadow Home Secretary, was late for a conference on petty crime in Spennymoor, County Durham, because vandals had slashed his car tyres.

* * * Six masked raiders ambushed an armoured security van carrying a million pounds at Crawley near Winchester, forced it off the road and burned a two-foot hole in its side with blow torches. Alas for them, thousands of banknotes were burnt to ashes while further bundles were left unusable, damaged by the smoke and heat. The robbers fled empty-handed.

* * * In Cornwall, a designer by the name of George Thain found himself hoist by his own petrify- ing petard. Thain had been hired to produce Moghar, a Lovecraftian beast equipped with hydraulic tentacles to terrify tourists at Peter de Savary's Land's End attraction. Instead, the mechanical sea monster turned on the man who built it and grabbed Thain in its three-foot-high, long-toothed jaws for nearly a minute before he could be freed and treated for severe bruising. Visitors were assured that they would have nothing to fear from the monster.

* * * Puzzled police in the Dutch town of Alphen aan den Rijn had to cope with a distressing outbreak of denture theft after they received two reports of stolen false teeth and seven complaints of attempted denture-seizure. In each case, a mystery callertelephoned local residents and enquired about denture discomfort. He then persuaded his victims that their teeth needed expert examination, for which purpose they were to be hung outside in a plastic bag, collected by courier and returned the following day. The teeth were never seen again. Rumour had it that the dentures were sold in Romania, where they are regarded as a great luxury.

APRIL Ian Lewis, 43, of Standish, Lancashire, spent 30 years tracing his family tree back to the 17th century. He travelled all over Britain, talked to 2,000 relatives, and planned to write a book about how his great-grandfather had gone to seek his fortune in Russia and how his grand-father had been expelled after the 1917 Revolution. Then he found out that he had been adopted when he was a month old and that his real name was David Thornton. He resolved to start his family research all over again.

* * * Citroen advertised the popular Xantia car under the slogan even standing still it's moving - an allusion to the car's aerodynamic styling. Shortly afterwards, there were several complaints that Xantias had run away down hills after being parked. Citroen denied any handbrake fault, but none the less posted an insert into the Xantia handbook to its 26,000 British owners recommending that the car should be left in gear when parked on a slope.

* * * A man suffering from amnesia walked into a police station in Hanau, Germany, and asked officers to find out who he was. Minutes later he was behind bars after detectives identified him as Manfred Bissinger, wanted on fraud charges.

* * * A man in the Red House area of Sunderland was arrested for assaulting his neighbour after accusing him of teasing his black tomcat. As PC Hansom drove off with the cat's owner, he ran over and killed the cat.

* * * Christos Bertos, intent on cooling his house on the island of Corfu, installed a 12ft fan blade to an old aircraft engine, and blew his roof off.

* * * Paul Rose, 16, from Romsey, Hampshire, who had been given crutches after spraining his ankle in a football match, was reaching for the doorhandle in the doctor's surgery when another patient opened the door and sent him flying, breaking his ankle. He had to spend six weeks in plaster.

* * * After a television debate on violence, David Mellor MP was knocked to the floor by a member of the audience as he left the studio in Manchester. Mr Mellor, who lost his glasses in the fracas, had opposed censorship of the press.

* * * A balmy April evening proved unlucky for a five-day-old lamb, whose corpse was not only found fried in a field beneath 11,000 volt electricity cables but also provided the only possible clue as to why 9,000 homes were blacked out in Newbridge, Gwent, one evening. Ornithologists suggested that an escaped eagle had swooped on the lamb at dusk, but had dropped its supper over the power lines.

MAY In Manila, Rogelio Aparacio, drunk and bent on suicide after the break-up of his marriage, shot himself twice in the head, but only grazed himself. Alerted by Rogelio's neighbours, police arrested him for possession of an unlicensed firearm. Two weeks later, Australian farmer Peter Johnson saved his own life by shooting away poisoned flesh with a rifle after a snake bit him. He was fined for possessing a firearm.

* * * Chinese acrobat Ke Wang walked 27 miles on his hands in a romantic bid to propose to his girlfriend. The latter was reportedly "impressed" when she heard about the walk, but got tired of waiting and married a local suitor instead. "It took me 37 days. I guess that was too long," mused Ke Wang. The girl's parents were said to be delighted with her decision, as they believed Ke Wang to be "too unstable".

* * * A Brazilian artist tried a similar ruse in July. He tried to win back his girlfriend by walking nine miles on his knees, cushioning his kneecaps with pieces of car tyre. After 14 hours, Marcio da Silva, 21, arrived at the home of his beloved, Katiade Nascimento, 19. She had left the house to avoid seeing him.

* * * Three security guards at a cigarette warehouse in Malacca, Malaysia, were robbed and tied up with wire by six men. The men managed to free themselves and ran to a nearby road for help. They flagged down the first car that came by; inside were four of the robbers, who promptly tied the guards up again and drove away.

* * * Nigel McNaughton, 30, hit a "socket shot" as he attempted to reach the 12th green at the High Peak Golf Club in Buxton, Derbyshire. The ball whizzed on to the A6, where it whacked motorcyclist Tony Evans and knocked him off his £15,000 Ducati. Bouncing off Evans's crash helmet, the ball shattered the windscreen of a BMW behind him while the bike smashed into a caravan being towed by a Range Rover behind the BMW. Moments later, Tony hit the caravan. No one, fortunately, was badly hurt, but the damage was expected to cost thousands.

JUNE Stabrula Oratarus appeared live on Greek national television to promote her new book, Life Without Sleep. Projected sales plummeted when she fell asleep during the interview.

* * * After 226 days underground, a 73-year-old miner emerged from a pit in Colorado, think-ing that he had achieved a new best for the Guinness Book of Records, only to be told that the record was, in fact, 463 days.

* * * Romantic Yorkshire pharmaceuticals tycoon Wensley Haydon-Baillie had 2,000 marigolds and lobelias planted along the driveway of his 360-room mansion, Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham, to celebrate his wedding to secretary Samantha Acland. Unfortunately, the rabbits got to them first.

* * * Britvic released a controversial advertisement for Still Tango in which it was announced that the new soft drink was being produced by pirates; the public was urged to report any sightings of the rogue tipple via a freephone number. A staggering 300,000 people phoned in, only to hear a recorded message saying: "You've been Tango-ed. It was a stunt." A week later, on 17 June, Britvic had to recall more than a million bottles of Still Tango after complaints that the drink tasted "musty" and caused stomach upsets. This time Britvic were forced to run real public warning ads "in no way linked to the advertising campaign" and a real help-line, with callers being reassured that there was no health risk and that the bad taste was caused by a fermentation problem.

* * * Seventy-two-year-old Sven Harkus set out with his 16-year-old grandson from the town of Sundsvall on central Sweden's rolling plains on a 60-mile trip to the Jamtland lakes for a day's fishing. On the way home, they went north instead of south and,despite regularly asking directions, ended up three days later 900 miles away in the Norwegian town of Kirkenes, near the Russian border. The journey came to an abrupt end when Harkus fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a ditch.

Despite northern Norway's dramatic fjords and mountains, both were convinced that they were near Sundsvall. When the police told them where they were, they collapsed and had to be treated for shock. A relative was expected in Norway to drive the pair home. Police said they hoped he was a better map-reader.

* * * Margaret Roythorne's matutinal stroll through her local park in Hastings turned to nightmare when her tiny Cairn terrier Flynn dashed out from some bushes and was sucked up and killed by a mobile ``pooper-scooper''.

JULY Gavin Whitsett is the author of Guerrilla Kindness, which urges people to "commit random acts of kindness". While riding his bike in Indiana, he was robbed and beaten up by a gang of muggers.

* * * The 1994 Disastrous Wedding of the Year award goes to Kirk Wilson and Sara Manners. During Sara's hen night, her mother's camera developed a fault and none of the pictures came out. On the morning of the wedding in Brundall, Norfolk, Jonathan Manners, the bride's brother and chief usher, fainted in the heat and had to be supported throughout the ceremony by his mother. At the reception, the icing on the wedding cake melted and the top tier collapsed, falling upside down on the floor. When the bride arrived at the honeymoon suite of their Norwich hotel, the roses in her bouquet triggered an asthma attack and she discovered she had not packed her inhaler. At 3am she

was rushed to hospital with her husband hold-ing an oxygen bottle, but she was able to return to the hotel for breakfast. Later that morning, the groom's brother, James Wilson, drove the newlyweds to Stansted airport for their flight to the Canary Islands. His car caught fire as he pulled into the airport car park and they had to douse the engine with cans of cold drink. Meanwhile, the wedding video, still inside the camcorder, had been stolen in a burglary at a friend's house in Blofield. They are, however, still married.

* * * An undertaker had driven his hearse 560 miles on his journey from the western German town of Bottrop to a funeral in Zagreb, Croatia, when a colleague telephoned him at the Austro-German border and pointed out that he had forgotten the body.

* * * Pop star Lena Fiagbe turned up in Bangor, Gwynedd, for the Radio 1 Roadshow. Feeling confused and unwanted, she wandered haplessly around the North Wales town while the live radio party was in full swing in Bangor, Co Down, Northern Ireland. What really peeved her was that she had come from Ireland the day before. She also lost the chance to play her hit - a song entitled ``Got To Get It Right''.

AUGUST Frank Balun, 69, used a neighbour's squirrel trap in late July to catch a rat that was eating tomato plants in his Hillside, New Jersey, garden. Then he made the mistake of calling the American Humane Society office in Newark to take it away. While he waited, he saw the rodent trying to escape, so he hit it with a broom handle. When the humane society agent arrived, the critter was dead. Lee Bernstein, a captain in the law enforcement squad of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty toAnimals (ASPCA), promptly charged Balun with "needlessly abusing a rodent". He was ordered to appear in court, where he faced six months in jail and a $1,250 fine.

* * * Assistant county librarian Clive Joynson was demonstrating safety procedures to staff in the newly refurbished Stafford library when he opened the doors of a lift with a special key and fell 15 feet down a lift shaft. He was not detained long in hospital.

* * * Robert Ventham, 22, took his golf clubs with him on a cannabis-buying trip to Gibraltar, with the idea of fooling customs as to the purpose of his visit. Trouble is, there are no golf courses on the Rock. Ventham was arrested on his return for possession of two kilos of dope.

* * * Novice lorry driver Dennis Wadsworth ran out of petrol in Whitehall at 6.30am on 17 August, abandoned his 7.5-ton lorry on double yellow lines opposite the gates to Downing Street and set off with a travelling companion in search

of a garage. When the pair returned 90 min- utes later, the vehicle had been reduced to scrap metal by two controlled explosions. Mr Wadsworth, who had never been to London before, asked a nearby policeman what had happened. "He said to me: `Better safe than sorry.' I couldn't believe it."

* * * Malcolm and Sue Burt decided to have a pleasant day out at Longleat Safari Park. All was going swimmingly until they drove into the tiger enclosure. Suddenly, their Renault 25 caught fire because of an electrical fault, which also prevented the doors from being unlocked. As eight-foot flames shot out from the bonnet and the wheel arches of the car, three tigers prowled nearby. A park ranger temporarily drove the animals away, and Mr Burt, a 39- year-old martial arts instructor, gave the steering lock an almighty thump, which caused the doors to unlock. Mr and Mrs Burt made their escape, but the Renault was a write-off.

SEPTEMBER David Johnson escaped from a low-security jail in September. At first, things went well and he managed to get a lift in a police patrol car; it was during the second ride he picked up that his world fell apart. "I hope you don't mind, but I'm an escaped prisoner," he told the driver, one Steve Wynder. "Not if you don't mind that I'm a prison officer," replied Mr Wynder. Mr Johnson was soon back behind bars.

* * * On 21 September, Russia's central command of the Strategic Rocket Forces at Odintsovo, outside Moscow, had its electricity supply cut off for 90 minutes because it hadn't paid its bills, amounting to £4.5 million.

* * * Forgeries of 50,000-rouble notes (worth about £22 each) turned up in Vologda, 240 miles north of Moscow, this month. They were crisp and convincing - save for one mistake. The word "Russia", appearing prominently on the top of the bill, had a letter missing.

* * * A man walking through Barcelona with a placard proclaiming that the end of the world was nigh was spot on as far as he was concerned. He was killed while crossing a road.

* * * Rita Quam was collecting rocks for her garden in Grand Junction, Colorado, when a man wearing dark glasses, a black wig and a false moustache walked up to her. He fired several shots from a silenced semi-automatic pistol, but they all missed. Then his gun jammed, and he tried to beat Quam on the head with several large rocks. At this point, a policeman arrived and ordered the man to lie down. Whereupon the man collapsed, his disguise fell off and he had

a fatal heart attack. Quam recognised him as Arthur R Smith, a retired Chicago police officer and an old friend of her ex-husband, Howard.

OCTOBER A thief who stole a wallet containing £40 from a restaurant in Rio de Janeiro left his coat behind as he ran off. It contained his own wallet - with £50 in it.

* * * Three hundred tons of sand put down to make a new bathing beach at Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex, disappeared when the tide went out.

* * * A paternity suit backfired for a hitch-hiker in Israel who got pregnant after having sex with the driver who picked her up. She spent three years tracing the man and, having found him, applied for child support; this was the first time the man had heard that their brief encounter had made him a father. As it happened, he and his wife were childless after 20 years of marriage. He counter-sued for custody of the child, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that he was better qualified than the mother to raise the child and he was, indeed, awarded custody.

* * * Recycled Paper Greetings of Chicago got more than they bargained for when they produced a get-well card featuring a woman in a veil and the message: "So you're feeling like Shiite. Don't Mecca big deal of it." The company apologised to Muslims, said no offence was intended and promised to stop printing the card.

NOVEMBER A team of experts from International Rescue using thermal imaging equipment and mini-cameras virtually demolished David and Brenda Powell's three-bedroom house in Lydney, Gloucestershire, in an effort to find a cat thought to be trapped behind askirting board. The first noises had been heard five weeks earlier and were thought to be coming from behind the bathroom wall. The couple contacted the RSPCA, the fire brigade and the Cat Protection League, all of which failed to find the source. When the sounds began to drift through plugholes and echo down the pipework, Carla Lane, the TV scriptwriter and animal rights supporter, called in International Rescue, who are more usually summoned to major natural disasters. They dismantled the lavatory, removed the bath, knocked holes in the hall and bathroom walls, and lifted floorboards. When nothing had been found after 14 hours, it was thought either that the cat had its own access to the wall cavity or that it was frightened to death by the noise ofthe collapsing walls. Whereupon the Powells were forced to flee to Belgium to escape abuse from animal lovers who accused them of causing unnecessary suffering.

* * * Michael Kerr, aged 63, paid £9,000 for a brand new Peugeot 106 and drove off with his wife Sheila from the garage where he'd bought it in Weston-Super-Mare. They had planned to go for a coffee, but 400 yards down the road Mrs Kerr changed her mind,and asked her husband to turn round and go in the other direction for a spin down the coast. Mr Kerr obliged, swung the car into a U-turn, and went straight into a lorry. The Peugeot was a write-off; Mr Kerr had driven it for all of 16 seconds.

* * * John Cook returned home to Nelson, New Zealand, from a holiday in America to find that his wooden five-bedroom house had been stolen; not a trace of it anywhere.

* * * George Rowe, 41, returned home from the bookmakers to be told that he had been found dead in Haadyai, Thailand. A passport in the name of George Rowe had been found by the side of a corpse in a hotel room. Merseyside police went to his home in Quernmore Road, Kirkby, to break the news to his mother, who expressed surprise, as he had just left. It was unclear how a bogus passport came to be issued, although Mr Rowe recalled that he had once lost his driving licence and birth certificate.

* * * On 6 November, the day before his 57th birthday, Michael Robinson of Berkhamstead took his dog Sam for a walk across Castle Hill Farm. A cow came up to him, he patted it on the head and it knocked him over and sat on him. He suffered broken and cracked ribs and had to spend four nights in hospital.

* * * A disabled woman was stranded in a car for four days in California's San Fernando Valley when her husband forgot where he had left it.

DECEMBER Mrs Moira Poor parked her car in Auckland City Council car park on Friday 9 December, got in the lift and found herself trapped between floors for 67 hours. There was no telephone in the lift and the emergency alarm did not work because the batteries were flat. The 69-year-old slept on the floor and spent the rest the time standing, occasionally shouting for help. After nearly three days, the lift suddenly started working. In a state of shock, she went to her car and made to drive out; unfortunately, her parking ticket had expired, the booth operator refused to believe her story and she was made to pay an excess charge. In future, Mrs Poor said, she would take the stairs.

* * * Raiders stole 200 training shoes from a sports shop in Alfreton, Derbyshire. They may be hard pressed to find a ready market: the shoes were all left-footed.

* * * Rex Sheppard, a shopkeeper from Felixstowe in Suffolk, had just woken up after major surgery when the telephone rang beside his bed in a private room in an Ipswich hospital. Groggily, he picked up the receiver - to be met by a forceful blast from asalesman eager to sell him double glazing and insistent on making an appointment. Mr Sheppard's blood pressure soared.

* * * In order to use his car phone, Tore Hagebakken, mayor of Gjovik in Norway, had had to start his rental car which, as local regulations demanded, was parked on the pavement outside a hotel at which he was attending a social function. "The car rolledbackwards a little bit," he said. "I put it in gear and turned off the engine to stop it, but it jumped forward and stalled." The car's wheels rolled off the pavement, so the mayor phoned up a tow truck, left the keys in the car and went back into the hotel for the evening. A passer-by reported the car to the police, who impounded it. When Mr Hagebakken realised that the car was missing, he too went to the police - who insisted on a blood test. They found his blood-alcohol level to be 0.07 per cent, while Norway's legal limit for intoxication is 0.05 per cent. He was promptly charged with drunk driving, after a trip of just 19 inches.

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