Column Eight: Travels amid travails

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The Independent Online
The latest edition of Birnbaum's travel guide for South America would make Marie Antoinette blush with its revelations on Venezuela, a country where the yawning gap between rich and poor led to riots and general social unrest in 1992, not to mention two attempted coups.

Birnbaum's, edited by Stephen Birnbaum (who styles himself America's leading travel authority), recommends that visitors to the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, should dine at the expensive and swanky restaurant La Cota 880, on the top floor of the Hilton hotel.

'The city is an impressive sight from there, especially at night when the shanty houses appear as thousands of glittering lights on the hillsides,' the travel writer gushes, apparently feeling poetic at the end of another good dinner.

Bet the view from the shanty town isn't quite so magical.

We like the seasonal melody the Corporation of London has organised for telephone callers who get put on hold: Ding Dong Merrily on High, but (suitably for an ancient organisation) arranged for obscure medieval instruments such as sackbuts and cornets . . .

The Coopers & Lybrand 1993 calendar bears a curious cartoon. A bespectacled man holding a hammer stands on a pile of letters hewn from stone that read: 'The customer is always rihgt (sic).' We have interpreted Coopers' message to mean: 'The customer is not always right, even though he may think he is, and it is our job as auditors to put him right.' Which would indicate that Coopers has taken to heart the lessons learned from auditing the late Robert Maxwell's affairs.

A personal plea. Does anyone with the Nintendo computer game, Hunt for Red October, know how to get past the enormous 'mine' that spews out depth charges on stage 2?