It's a lot more bother with a chopper

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The Independent Online
AS THE chief scientist of ICL, Bill O'Riordan is used to mixing with the rich and powerful. But in October, he will his find his sang froid tested. He is a speaker at the Gerhard Berger Summeracademy (sic) in Austria: others invited include Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cindy Crawford and Dagobert Duck. This last is none other than Donald's Uncle Scrooge, the richest duck in the world, who has been invited to give young Austrians a lecture on the delights of being mean.

Professor O'Riordan is slightly unsure why he has been invited to chew the fat with this august crowd, but he has always been attracted to things that are slightly unusual. There are those who might indeed claim that his hobby - building helicopters - fits into that category.

He is on his third chopper now: the first two took four years each. As you will see from the picture, they are unlikely to sweep GEC or British Aerospace aside in the race to supply the next generation of Eurocopter. But that is not the point for the professor. Helicopters, which are notoriously complex beasts, are not for him a way of travelling but "a mathematical challenge".

When he has finished one machine, he "scares himself shitless flying it around," puts it into storage and starts the next one. "As soon as I start making one, I have already decided it's wrong or not good enough - it's a disease," he says. This strikes me as the basis for a new souped- up version of Total Quality - I'm sure Cindy and Dagobert will be fascinated to hear all about it.

NOW seems an appropriate time to talk about Christmas. AGB Taylor Nelson Publications, part of the market research company, has produced the first- ever in-depth study of Christmas shopping. For your pounds 695 you will learn: that Sundays are the least busy shopping days. That the London region is the most important in the country. That butchers have suffered at the hands of supermarkets. Slightly more interesting (or at least less blindingly obvious) is the list of products that that seen a well above average rise - including sour pickles, table jellies and home perms - and the big fallers. These include yoghurt, ice cream and "wrapped bread complete dry meals". What are they, I wonder?

Not a broad church

MAMMON, aka the cellular phone company Orange, has got itself into trouble with God, or at least the godly people of Wales. It has discovered that church towers are ideal places to to put its transmitting aerials and has already has six in England and Scotland (Helensburgh, Dunbar, Halifax, Sherburn in Elmet, Knutsford and Ormskirk, if you're interested).

But the Welsh are made of sterner stuff. Orange thought it had identified an ideal site at St Illtyd's Church, Bridgend, which has a 150-foot tower. It had approvals from the vicar and church wardens, whose tower restoration fund would have benefited from several thousand pounds a year.

But in a Clochemerle-style uprising, the parishioners of Bridgend rose up and lobbied the local council to reject the scheme - which it did earlier this month. The vicar had also failed to ask the Church of Wales, which says it would have refused permission. But the poor boy will only discover what an unpleasant bowl of cawl he has got himself into when he gets back from his hols.

Shame Ian Paisley doesn't have towers on his churches - that would be a sponsorship deal made in heaven (or somewhere).

NO WONDER British Rail's former subsidiary Red Star has been sold for pounds 1. Not only does it make the most appalling cock-ups, it admits to them! A colleague sent a parcel from Cardiff Central to London - it got there, three times. It went to Paddington, was not unloaded, and set off to Bristol. It was sent back to London, was missed again, and whizzed back to Bristol again. Finally, at the third attempt, Red Star managed to get it off the train at Paddington.

So far, so unsurprising. But the letter Ian C Bebbington, contracts assistant, sent, is an eye opener. "What happened was a travesty," he wrote, saying that there would be no charge and that if there was anything at all he could do to make amends, he would. Whatever happened to the "leaves on the line" philosophy? Mr Bebbington will either become chairman or be fired for gross and irresponsible honesty. It will be interesting to see which.

Legless eleven

OH DEAR, the England football squad has come to a sticky end. Hamley's, the toy shop, has announced "with great regret" that the press launch of its 95 England Squad Football Figurines has been postponed. The boxes full of little men were on their way from the Far East by plane, when they apparently found themselves in an in-collision situation with something heavier than themselves. I am told there are limbs everywhere, and it is not a pretty sight.

PRESSWATCH clearly has the fevered imagination needed to dream up a concept such as "reputational analysis", and publishes lists comparing favourable and unfavourable articles in the national press. Its effort for the second quarter of this year shows that Marks and Sparks wins, followed by Tesco. At the bottom, surprise, surprise, is British Gas. What I want to know is how they judge what is favourable or not. How, for example, would this item score?