Flat Earth: Downing stools

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The Independent Online
THIS IS a tale worthy of the playwright Eugene Ionesco, one of the principal exponents of the Theatre of the Absurd.

The government of his native Romania is desperately short of money, not least because nobody pays tax if they can possibly avoid it. More than a third of the economy is underground, and among the worst tax-dodgers are those who work in state-owned restaurants. Waiters can earn in a few shifts what the average Romanian makes in a month - 1.2 million lei (pounds 70). Chefs sell meat out of the back door and managements pocket most of the cash while declaring minimal profits.

The solution? A chair tax. The authorities are proposing to tax each establishment on the number of seats it has, and to prevent restaurateurs stacking up their chairs out of sight, surprise chair-counting inspections are planned.

You might be tempted to declare that even Ionesco couldn't have made it up, but one of his most famous plays is The Chairs.

Hoarse whispers

GIVEN the ghastliness of most of the books on best-seller lists, it takes a moment or two to realise that the following are not genuine.

Top is The Quiet, Compassionate Country Man with a Windburned but Handsome Face who was Kind to the Widow and her Daughter and always Spoke Respectfully to the Symbolic Livestock. Second and third respectively are The Seven Habits of Highly Reprehensible People and How I Grew Up Covered in Me Da's Vomit in Ireland.

Among some of the other printable entries, Management Secrets of The Dread Cthulhu: Creating New Markets While You Dream Unspeakable Visions in Your Sunken Crypt Outside Time is at number seven; Mental Retardation for Dummies at eight and Men are from the US, Women are from Canada at 13. My favourite, though, is number 16: The Tiny Little Impulse Buy Near the Cash Register Book.

I am indebted to www.the onion.com for this and much other irreverent material ("14-year-old collapses under weight of corporate logos"; "Collectible-plate industry calls for tragic death of Streisand"), and to the correspondent who directed me there.

To him, and to all of you, Happy New Year.