Column Eight: A light in the West

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The Independent Online
TONIGHT is Twelfth Night so all Christmas trees should be dismantled. Sets of delicately twinkling fairy lights will be carefully cocooned in cotton wool in the hope they will work next year (which of course they won't).

We recommend the solution discovered by the trust that runs the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, which used to be illuminated (if intermittently) every December with 4,200 standard 25W bulbs. Not any more, because the trust has bought Essex-based Existalite's 'Guidelite' system, mounted on a 2.7km printed circuit board, which was developed after Piper Alpha, Zeebrugge and aircraft disasters to show people the exit from a smoke-filled space.

The old lights were always going wrong but the new ones have a life of 20 years and should use only a sixth of the power. Off you all go.

TWO TELLING facts leap out from a worthy but turgid survey on the importance of companies exchanging VAT numbers when trading within EC countries now the barriers are down (if they don't, goods are subject to VAT as domestic sales are).

Arthur Andersen surveyed 175 international companies in six EC countries. Only half of the Italian companies (displaying unusual modesty) thought they were ready on the VAT number front, when in fact 95 per cent of them had organised themselves into exchanging at least half the numbers necessary.

Turn to French companies, however, and a super-confident 99.9 per cent of them claim to be ready. But those who were even half-way ready numbered fewer than a quarter - the worst of any EC country. A case of all talk and no action.

ANOTHER public service announcement, this time for City types who have grown corpulent and congested over Christmas and New Year. Whizz-kidz, the charity that provides powered wheelchairs for children, has at least 20 places in the London Marathon up for grabs by runners- turned-fundraisers.

And if you get round the marathon course, and raise pounds 1,500 or more, you'll get the additional treat of a guaranteed place (and return flight) in the 1993 New York Marathon. Last year the 120 runners who went to New York with Whizz-kidz raised about pounds 250,000. Contact the charity on 071-938 4600.

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