NEWS MONKEY

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The Independent Online
MAN U OVERBOARD. While many fans may have hoped that Manchester United would go out of the 2000 FA Cup early, nobody meant this bloody early. United have always tested the average fan's capacity for cynicism. With their decision to forsake next year's FA Cup in favour of Fifa's flashy new world club championship, United have outdone themselves in terms of naked commercialism. The only surprise is that Nostradamus didn't see this one coming.

NORTHERN IRELAND. All the parties have finally realised that the best solution for peace is continual postponement with an eye to permanent stalemate. Unfortunately the Northern Irish marching season has cropped up in the schedule. Sadly, this heartwarming tradition has never made it on to the backpacker's calendar in the way that, say, running with the bulls in Pamplona has. All it would take is a few choice paragraphs in the Lonely Planet Guide to Ulster and everybody would be too busy selling bottles of San Miguel to hippies to bother about who licked whom back in 16-something or other.

PASSPORT CHAOS. Let's face it: most British holidaymakers spend two weeks of their summer standing in a queue anyway, and the current passport crisis simply saves them the trouble of flying all the way to Disneyworld first. By traumatising the sort of people who would rather die than spend their holidays on British soil, New Labour has alienated its natural constituency, but the crisis may yet have an unexpected political benefit: a shot in the arm for the ailing marching season tourism industry. Two weeks in Drumcree, anyone?

TIME, PLEASE. The long-term weather forecast for today predicts hazy sunshine with a chance of thundery showers, followed by the end of the world. At least that's what Nostradamus predicted, depending on your interpretation of his cryptic Old French ravings. Here's a test: if you can read this, the world is probably still here, but if there is a firm peace deal in place in Northern Ireland, or if there's a Briton in the Wimbledon men's final, you can expect it to start raining fire any time.

TIME, PHASE 2. Rival prognosticators have suggested that Nostradamus was actually predicting the end of duty-free sales in Europe, in which case he was off by a couple of days, but it's still eerie. After years of trying to persuade us that civilisation would founder without cheap booze and fags for travellers, the airlines, ferry operators and travel companies have accepted duty-free's demise with a conspicuous absence of wailing and/or gnashing of teeth. Perhaps they've realised the potential of the new growth market for expensive booze and fags. While the change could ultimately harm sales of scale-model 747s and teddy bears in pilot suits, there is no doubt that stewardesses will still find some reason to keep waking you up.

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