Genius moments 2008: An uplifting celebration of the year's silliest stories - People - News - The Independent

Genius moments 2008: An uplifting celebration of the year's silliest stories

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It's been a tough old year, but do you remember the fun times? Like when Jay-Z turned Glastonbury's hippies on to hip hop. Or Prince Philip asked actress Cate Blanchett to fix his DVD player. Or even the moment Heather Mills chucked a glass of water over Paul McCartney's lawyer's head. These are just a few of our favourite stories from the past 12 months – not the biggest or most important events, but the kind that made us laugh, share with friends and scurry to the web to check out the video clips. So, to end 2008 on a high, we decided to put together a celebration of such fleeting, genius moments for your reading pleasure. An alternative calendar, in which deep-frozen Bigfoots, foul-mouthed French Presidents and, er, Rick Astley, loom large. Enjoy...

January 2008

That's a diabolical decision!

He was a famously stingy defender for Liverpool in the 1980s, but you'd think Alan Hansen might relax a bit now he's a gazillionaire pundit on Match of the Day. Apparently not, says The Sun: the former Scottish international is so tight-fisted that, after recording a piece at home for a show, he billed the production company for the cost of the gas fire he'd had on during filming. Sensational penny-pinching, Gary!

Author unstuck by glue factory

Joan Brady was not the first literary author to turn to the pot-boiler, but was surely the first to blame it on sniffing glue. Sort of. Brady won the Whitbread prize for her 1993 novel The Theory of War, but when she churned out Bleedout, a thriller about a convicted killer suspected of beating a blind lawyer to death in a library, as her most recent novel, Brady blamed her transition from heavyweight bestsellers to crime stories on living next door to the Conker shoe factory in Totnes, Devon. Apparently, fumes from the factory made it impossible to concentrate to the degree that her literary work required, and nudged her towards the less rigorous territory of blood and guts. After a long legal battle she finally got an out-of-court settlement worth £115,000 – not a bad result, really, given Bleedout also sold a very healthy 50,000 copies.

Sarah Silverman's bedroom farce

More than six million people have seen Sarah Silverman's "I'm fucking Matt Damon" video on YouTube, but like many viewers outside the US, we British really didn't have a clue why the US comedienne and actor were singing about shagging "on the bed, on the floor, on a towel by the door..." Still, he's easy on the eye, she's not bad herself, and the vid was funny enough for us to figure out the back-story: that the video was an in-joke involving Silverman's on-off boyfriend Jimmy Kimmel, which was itself part of a longer-running in-joke about Damon storming off Kimmel's chat show, and that Kimmel responded to Silverman's song and video with his own, "I'm fucking Ben Affleck". Do keep up.

Who needs Mary Poppins?

With her actor partner David Thewlis in tow, good northern lass Anna Friel arrived in Hollywood to begin a six-year contract on the TV show Pushing Daisies and announced that the couple didn't want their three-year-old daughter Gracie coming over all Californian Valley Girl – so they were hiring a nanny from Lancashire. "I'm northern and I always will be," she told the Daily Mirror. "Now Gracie's talking with northern mannerisms. She's like, 'Eh up, Mummy likes things neat in't trailer.' She's adorable." You can take the girl out of Rochdale...

Hooray for Henry Conway

Do Tories get involved in sleaze? Does the Pope have a balcony? Derek Conway's payments to his two sons totalling £80,000 were just another parliamentary scandal until the press got a load of number-one son, Henry. Who cared how little he'd been doing for his money, Henry was, so he said, "blond, bouncy and one for the boys". As his father ate humble pie and younger brother Freddie kept a low profile, Henry partied the worries away. The highlight of his flamboyant 15 minutes was his arrival at Mahiki in a horse-drawn carriage dressed as a Regency dandy, complete with riding boots, jodhpurs and cravat...

Tell me, what do you do?

Prince Philip took his tendency towards gaffe-making up a notch when he mistook Hollywood star Cate Blanchett for a film technician at a party. The Oscar winner introduced herself as "working in the film industry", which the Prince took at face value. "The Prince began discussing his DVD player, which he said was broken," revealed a courtier. "He said, 'There's a cord sticking out the back. Might you tell me where it goes?'" The palace responded without apologising: "We do not comment on private conversations. The Duke of Edinburgh meets so many people on engagements. These are often film stars."

February 2008

A struggle against all the odds

In 2006, Graham Calvert bet £347,000 on the American team to win that year's Ryder Cup golf tournament – he lost. And that was just a portion of his losses. So Calvert took the extraordinary step of suing William Hill for £2m for failing in its duty of care to him. Weird as it may sound, he had a point: despite the fact that he had previously asked that the bookmaker bar him from gambling again and close his first account, William Hill was quite amenable to him opening a second one. However, the bookmaker won the court case after arguing that Calvert's addiction would have led to his financial ruin anyway, which only goes to show that the old adage is true: whatever the bet, the house always wins.

Culture secretary eaten for breakfast

When the culture secretary Andy Burnham proposed on the Today programme that every schoolchild would soon be experiencing five hours of "high-quality culture" a week, in terms of visits to the opera, or art galleries, the presenter John Humphrys smelt blood. A few, ugly minutes later, Burnham's proposed policy lay half-dead on the studio floor. Humphrys declared the scheme a "sham", forcing Burnham to admit that the "high-quality culture" in question was to be funded by just 29p per pupil. It was car-crash radio of the highest order. The "Find Your Talent" scheme staggers on, however, and is being piloted in five locations.

Don't get Sarko with me, sunshine

The Cuban-heeled premier was being filmed glad-handing farmers at a Paris agricultural show when one bystander told him not to touch him. "Casse toi alors, pauvre con, va," came the angry response. The words did three things: offend a people already falling out of love with the president; make the video a web hit (now well over six million views); and challenge Paris correspondents' translation skills. Sarkozy's insult meant, variously, "Go away, you bloody idiot," "Get lost, you sad git," "Get away, you stupid jerk," and, from The Independent's John Lichfield, "Sod off, you arsehole, get lost."

Chavez: let's not beat about the Bush

You can always count on Hugo Chavez to spice up international politics, and the Venezuelan president's response to the decision of US and British courts to freeze his country's assets after he nationalised oil fields was typically robust. "Hello, president," he spat at George Bush in a radio address. "If you freeze Venezuelan assets and it harms us, we're going to harm you. Do you know how? We aren't going to send oil to the US. Take care, Mr Bush, Mr Danger." Then he cackled maniacally and stroked the fluffy white cat on his lap.

Backpacker backtracks

"Freeconomist" Mark Boyle's attempts to travel from Britain to India without a penny on him came a cropper at Calais: "Not only did no one speak the language [so we couldn't explain what we're doing], they also see us as a bunch of freeloading backpackers," Boyle wrote on his blog after hightailing it back to Eastbourne. "Given we now were pretty much out of food, hadn't slept in days and were really cold, we had to reassess the situation."

March 2008

The cruellest cut

When the Royal Opera House dug up an old photo to promote a production of Verdi's Rigoletto in which Juan Pablo di Pace had long ago appeared, there was something amiss – namely, di Pace's penis. Di Pace's lawyers demanded the ROH withdraw the offending image, which features di Pace, naked, centre-stage in a chorus scene, because his manhood had been airbrushed to within an inch of its life. The ROH acquiesced and cleaned up the poster.

Good hair day for McCartney's lawyer

It was billed as the divorce battle of the decade – a multimillionaire Beatle separating from his money-grabbing wife. But when Heather Mills discovered that she had not obtained the divorce settlement she had hoped for (a "mere" £24.3m), she decided to take her revenge – on Paul McCartney's barrister, Fiona Shackleton. Observers witnessed Mills pouring a bottle of High Court water over the unfortunate lawyer. The former glamour model later said she had "baptised" Shackleton. As it happened, McCartney's legal team still had the last laugh. Shackleton had gone into the final day's proceedings looking a little bouffant and emerged, thanks to Mucca, immeasurably sexier.

Blues and twos

Joshua Brookes was just two years old when he found his mother on the floor of his Wigan home. Terrified but undaunted, Joshua phoned 999, crying "Mummy won't wake up." An enterprising operator asked him what name Santa put on his presents; Joshua then stood on a box to open the front door to the paramedics. The boy's mother, who suffers from a heart condition, made a full recovery.

The mother of all fathers

When pictures of a pregnant Thomas Beatie circulated the internet, most of us cried "hoax". But Beatie was for real. Born Tracy Lagondino, the bearded Oregon screenprinter kept her reproductive organs when she had surgery to become a man. His wife, Nancy, had had a hysterectomy, so Beatie agreed to "mother" her child after a trip to the sperm bank. Susan was born on 29 June. Beatie is now expecting a second child.

...and now over to the giggling Ms Green

A Charlotte Green fit of the giggles on the Today programme, and a vintage one. Following the broadcast of a snatch of the earliest known sound recording, a murky blast of someone "singing" Au Clair de la Lune from 1860, Green lost her composure. The problem was that she corpsed in the middle of an item commemorating the death of screenwriter Abby Mann. James Naughtie did the gallant thing and stepped in to rescue her. The BBC switchboard registered, it was reported, 33 appreciations of Green's breakdown.

April 2008

I'm Naomi, fly me

Naomi Campbell, consumer-rights champion? Hmmm. The model had thrown a wobbly aboard a jet from the chaotic newly-launched British Airways terminal after a row over a missing bag; when the police were called on to the plane and she allegedly walloped one of them, she was arrested for assault. Campbell claimed that her not-entirely-uncharacteristic fit of rage was born of solidarity with the long-suffering passengers who had to endure the early days at the new terminal; BA wasn't having any of it, and barred the supermodel for life.

William's £30,000 house call

When Prince William landed his RAF helicopter in the garden of Kate Middleton's family home, the pressure was on the Ministry of Defence to defend the prince's "ridiculous" use of the chopper (running costs: £15,000-an-hour). The MOD insisted the "two-hour training" mission was fully authorised.

What planet was he on?

It was a scandal that threatened to bring shame on the travel-writing profession – Thomas Kohnstamm from San Francisco caused red faces at Lonely Planet HQ when he claimed not to have visited a country he was writing about. "They didn't pay me enough to go to Colombia," he told Australia's Herald Sun. "I got the information from a chick I was dating who was an intern in the Colombian Consulate." Lonely Planet said the writer had only contributed the history section to the book and was reviewing Kohnstamm's work.

To baldly go

James Campbell, a retired art teacher from Stirlingshire, claimed he was a victim of disability discrimination. His disability? Baldness. He told a Glasgow tribunal he had suffered from harassment at the hands of pupils who saw his lack of hair as a weakness. Campbell, who retired as an art teacher in 2007, said he steered clear of corridors in the school where he would meet pupils to avoid them shouting "baldy". The judge decided against the claim, fearing it would set a dangerous precedent. "If baldness was to be regarded as an impairment then perhaps a physical feature such as a big nose, big ears or being smaller than average height might of themselves be regarded as an impairment."

Clean sweep for little Sam

The UK Intellectual Property Office's patent No 2438091 comprises only two brooms tied together with rubber bands. But the crude contraption was enough

to make Samuel Houghton, five, the youngest inventor in Britain. The Derbyshire schoolboy was three when he came up with the idea to combine a thick-bristled brush with a thinner one. "The small one gets the first bits and the one at the back gets the bits that are left behind," he told The Guardian. "We are doing this to help Samuel learn," said his father Mark, a patents lawyer. "No," corrected Samuel, "I did it to help Daddy."

See you by the DJ booth, Liz

She suffers from diabetes and congestive heart failure, survived viral pneumonia and had a benign brain tumour removed. Clubbing, you would think, is not high on the list of Liz Taylor's priorities. Yet the wheelchair-bound Queen of Hollywood was spotted holding court in the Abbey, her favourite LA gay bar, knocking back watermelon martinis and tequila shots. And, after a summer of rumours about her ill health, the 76-year-old returned to the Abbey in September.

Gordon and Shakira get it on

The highlight of a spring in which Gordon Brown appeared on American Idol to promote the cause of eradicating malaria and discussed the Darfur crisis with George Clooney came with an evening telephone summit with Shakira. Brown and the Colombian pop star talked about boosting Third World education; Brown would at least have been reassured about the integrity of the 31-year-old's hips, which, according to her duet with Wyclef Jean, "don't lie".

May 2008

No strings attached

Manners are not dead, certainly in the world of classical music. A Grammy-nominated violinist, Philippe Quint, left a 285-year-old Stradivarius valued at £2m in the back of a New York cab. The next day, the driver, Mohamed Khalil, tracked him down and returned the instrument in question. The musician gave Khalil a $100 tip, but feeling it wasn't enough he went back to Newark Liberty Airport to perform a 30-minute concert for a crowd of around 200 cabbies in the taxi waiting area.

Survival of the cattiest

Oof, it's a tough one – who would you want by your side if you were dumped in the Gobi desert with no food, no water and 50 miles between you and the nearest film crew? Chubby Ray Mears, the BBC survivalist who could whip you up a roast lunch from a cow pat, or rugged, young Channel 4 macho man Bear Grylls? This "debate" was started by Mears himself in the Radio Times. Mears called Grylls a "boy scout" and other nasty names, implying that he would never "break the rules" that Grylls had in filming his Channel 4 series Born Survivor: the ex-SAS man, according to one of his film crew, had stayed in hotels and tamed a not-at-all-wild horse, among other faux pas. Grylls himself later admitted that Mears is indeed harder than he is. The big jessie.

Karma comedian

Well-known theologian Sharon Stone offered up her thoughts at the Cannes Film Festival on the Chinese earthquake, wondering whether the cataclysm was in some way linked to China's policy towards Tibet: "I thought, is that karma? When you are not nice, bad things happen to you." For some reason, this profound observation was taken as offensive by, well, just about everyone. It was reported that Chinese distributors threatened to stop showing Stone's films, and Chinese stores removed Christian Dior posters featuring the occasional actress. Stone then proved she was not only wise but sensitive by apologising.

Nobbled by the Nobel

Ambushed by a TV crew to be told she'd won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007, Doris Lessing said she was "delighted". By May 2008, however, the novelty was wearing off. Declaring the Laureateship "a bloody disaster", she told Radio 4: "All I do is give interviews and spend time being photographed." She added that the constant media requests sapped what little energy she has left to write: "This is why I keep telling anyone younger than me – don't imagine you'll have it for ever. Use it while you've got it because it'll go, it's sliding away like water down a plughole."

The pluck of the Irish

Well, no one can accuse the Irish of lacking a sense of humour. In February, this year the nation voted a puppet bird to represent them at the Eurovision Song Contest to be held in May. Dustin the Turkey's version of "Irelande Douze Pointe", a parody of the Eurovision voting system, secured him a place at the top of the pecking order, beating off a host of other, live acts. The song was performed at the competition's May semi-final in Belgrade, but Dustin was well and truly plucked: he placed 15th out of a field of 19 and therefore failed to take his place at the final.

June 2008

The real dragons' den

The British divers who went missing off the coast of Indonesia must have thought they had got through the worst. They negotiated 10 hours in shark-infested waters and finally made it to a deserted island – only to be confronted by a gang of carnivorous 10ft Komodo dragons. The next two days mainly consisted of beating the grisly lizards off with their hefty diving belts, until the coastguard finally found them, ensuring a happy ending for all. Except the Komodos, of course, presumably still in search of a square meal.

Lovers' leap

It was one of the stories of the summer: the news that Hans Rausing, an heir to the Tetra Pak fortune, had exited through his bedroom window when the police arrived to question him at home in London. Unfortunately, any enjoyment of this slapstick image waned as the facts emerged: Hans and Eva Rausing, longtime strugglers against addiction, had earlier in the year decided it might be a good idea to liven up an American Embassy party with a couple of lines of cocaine. That incident led to a caution and a promise to get treatment; two months later, when Hans was involved in a hit and run, which led to the police visit to their home, it became clear that the couple's wealth had done nothing to insulate them from the torments of addiction.

Hippies embrace hip hop

Beforehand, there was nothing but trepidation and acrimony. Noel Gallagher said it was wrong; disgruntled fans flooded the NME messageboards; and a week earlier some moron threw a banana skin at Lethal Bizzle at the Download festival, in what seemed like a worrying precursor of things to come. But as soon as Jay-Z stepped on stage at Glastonbury and struck up a rendition of the Oasis hit "Wonderwall", the audience went mental. And then he launched into "99 Problems" – and absolutely smashed it.

Sail of the 18th century

HMS Ontario was considered the holy grail of shipwreck hunters, and 228 years after she foundered in a storm on the Great Lakes of the American-Canadian border, news broke of her rediscovery. There are over 4,000 shipwrecks in the lakes, but none as well preserved as this British warship, which sank in a storm. The Ontario was a 22-gun, 80ft vessel and was discovered after three years of searching by two deep-sea divers; eerily, she's sitting upright, her main masts are still erect, in 500ft of water – but her exact location remains a secret.

Death shall have dominion

Poor Gheorghe Dobrescu. The election hopeful in the village of Voinesti, Romania, could not even beat a dead man to the office of mayor. His rival, Neculai Ivascu, who had led the village for more than 10 years, died from a liver disease shortly after the polls opened – too late for voting to be halted. And the dead man duly beat Dobrescu by 23 votes. "I know he died, but I don't want change," one arguably delusional villager told Romanian TV. Dobrescu was later handed victory but can hardly claim to have a strong mandate.

Sarko strikes again

A second entry for Gaul's most explosive statesman! Asked who was to blame for Ireland rejecting the EU treaty in June's referendum, Sarko replied: "Mandelson." The treaty must be ratified by all 27 member states to take effect, and Mr Sarkozy said that the European Commission's trade policies, as advanced by Commissioner Mandelson, had alarmed Irish farmers. But the row didn't stop there: a French newspaper reported Sarkozy calling Irish voters "bloody fools", adding that "they have been stuffing their faces at Europe's expense for years and now they dump us in the shit."

Spurred into auction

When Ian Usher said he was going to sell his life on eBay, he wasn't kidding. Usher, a 44-year-old Brit living in Australia and looking to move on from a difficult divorce, invited bids for his house, his car, his motorbike, his skydiving gear, his job – even his friends. In the end, Usher got £180,000 for the package, and struck out anew with nothing but his passport and wallet. How the winning bidder disposed of their own life is not recorded...

July 2008

My, what a Dame!

At the beginning of the summer, no one would have thought that this year's most memorable bikini body would belong to a 63-year-old. But so it did, after a paparazzi photograph of the actor Helen Mirren peering out from the Italian shoreline in a red two-piece had men and women of all ages staring in frank admiration and not a little envy.

Holy family feuds!

Superheroes shouldn't have family bust-ups, surely – but the morning after the British première of the latest Batman movie, a sensational story hit the wires: Christian Bale, the Dark Knight himself (pictured below with his mother and wife), had been taken into custody over claims he hit his mum and sister (the family had reportedly argued over money in his suite at the Dorchester hotel the night before). The two lodged a complaint, but in the end the charges were dropped, and Bale consistently denied laying a finger on anyone. Christmas in the Bale household should be interesting this year.

Trevor's champagne moment

When the sainted Sir Trevor McDonald returned to front the ITN News at Ten this year, some dismissed the move as a mere publicity stunt. If that was the case, its best moment surely came when the apparently conservative veteran newsreader confessed to a pretty racy taste in booze. Sir Trevor admitted to a magazine that he has a weakness for champagne breakfasts, adding, brilliantly, that it was fine to start getting sozzled on Sunday morning at 11am because "it's already midday in Paris".

Here's one that one prepared earlier

As the credit crunch bit, an unlikely "recessionista" emerged: Princess Anne. Rather than fork out for a new outfit to wear to the wedding of Lady Rose, the daughter of the Duke of Gloucester, the ever-practical heir to the throne recycled the Maureen Baker floral-print wrap dress she wore to the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. She even sported the same floral hat. At least she had the good sense not to give the dress an outing when her brother Charles wed Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005.

Off yer bike, Dave

Poor old David Cameron popped into Tesco for some groceries and stepped out to find a bare lamppost where his bicycle had been. Time for another crime lament, perhaps. But his speechwriters reckoned without the good connections of one Ernest Theophile, a "local community elder" who asked a few questions, twisted a few (metaphorical) arms, and emerged triumphant with the bicycle intact. Cameron offered his thanks and pedalled off, the eulogy for Broken Britain was deferred another day. "You never want to see anyone have their bike nicked," Mr Theophile explained. "Not even a Tory."

August 2008

For shure, that'sh Shteve McClaren, no?

One of this year's classic YouTube clips: former England coach Steve McClaren attempts to speak his own form of "Dutch" during a local, Dutch TV interview ahead of the Champions League draw in which his new club, FC Twente, were to play. "Liverpool or Arshenal, I thought maybe one of them we would draw, and it is Arshenal, I think," he is believed to be saying. "I shay I think we are not just – what you call? – underdogsh, but masheev underdogsh. There is no expectashun."

Lloyds called to account

When a disgruntled Lloyds TSB customer changed his password to "Lloyds is pants", a bank employee responded by altering it to "no we are not". The customer, Steve Jetley, was unhappy when the bank refused his proposed alternative – "Barclays is better" – and was not allowed to use his next suggestion, "censorship", as it had too many letters. He eventually compromised with "faeces", but was again refused. After this edifying exchange of views, the bank did the decent thing and apologised for tampering with Mr Jetley's password.

Two sugars, no cocaine, please

Michael Fabricant, the member for Lichfield, was trekking in the Santa Marta region of northern Colombia when he and his travelling companion were approached by heavily armed soldiers on the hunt for drug smugglers; they rifled through Fabricant's backpack and came across a suspicious-looking white powder. "I was saying 'Coffee-Mate' over and over and they were holding the jar up and shouting 'Cocaine, cocaine'," said the politician. "It was extremely frightening." Fabricant was then forced to swallow several spoonfuls of the milk-substitute before his captors were satisfied and sent him on his way.

There's a sasquatch in my freezer

Taking photographs of footprints or posting grainy videos of supposed sightings on the internet is one thing, but American hunters Matthew Whitton and Rick Dyer claimed actually to have captured Bigfoot and stuffed the hitherto legendary ape-like beast into their chest freezer. The men from Georgia said they had found the 7ft 7in, 226kg corpse of the creature while trekking in woods in June. But when researchers got their hands on the find and thawed it, it turned out to be a rubber suit. Whitton and Dyer went AWOL, but not before updating the voicemail recording for their Bigfoot Tip Line, which announced they were also looking for "big cats and dinosaurs".

McCain brings the house down

When a journalist asked John McCain how many houses he owned, the Republican presidential candidate hesitated. "I think – I'll have my staff get back to you," he responded on the campaign trail in New Mexico. "It's condominiums where – I'll have them get to you." The Obama campaign, which had tried to caricature McCain as out of touch due to his and his wife's vast wealth, couldn't believe their luck. They responded with an ad called "Seven", claiming that was the number of houses McCain owned. The ad closed with an image of the White House, with the voiceover intoning: "Here's ONE house America can't afford to let John McCain move into."

Diddy joins the Jetless Set

Poor P Diddy. This year soaring fuel prices forced the hip-hopper to abandon his private jet and make do with first-class airliner travel. "Gas prices are too high," he wrote on his blog. "As you know, I do own my own jet. But I've been having to fly back and forth to LA pursuing my acting career. Now, if I'm flying, like, twice in a month, that's a $200,000 or $250,000 round trip... So I'm back on American Airlines right now." The singer added a "shout out to all my Saudi Arabian brothers and sisters and all my brothers and sisters from all the countries that have oil: if you could all please send me some oil for my jet, I would truly appreciate it."

September 2008

The not so Big Bang

The statistics were thrilling – when it was switched on, the Large Hadron Collider at Cern, the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva, would fire two beams of protons in opposite directions around the 27km underground tunnel before making them collide at 99.9999991 per cent of the speed of light in an attempt to simulate the Big Bang. Andrew Marr did his best to sex up the countdown on Radio 4's "Big Bang Day", but the flick of the switch came and went without a flash or a bang. Nine days later a magnet broke and the LHC was shut down. The LHC: not unlike your boiler then.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

Swiss daredevil Yves Rossy fulfilled the dreams of a million schoolboys by sprouting wings to fly from France to England. The 49-year-old former fighter pilot jumped out of a plane above Calais with a jet-propelled carbon-fibre wing strapped to his back. He rocketed across the Channel at 186mph before landing in a field near Dover. "I showed it is possible to fly a little bit like a bird," he said.

The tiger in Putin's tank

My name is Vlad! Feel my power! Last year, the Russian prime minister went topless fishing in Siberia; this summer, he returned to the same area but upped the stakes, shooting a tiger. Not properly, with a tranquiliser – but still, hard as nails. Ostensibly, he was aiding researchers in their monitoring of the big cats. But, ah, the subtext... could Vlad's macho display have anything to do with the fact that Russia had just piled into Georgia? And wasn't about to leave?

McCain gets his chips

You've got to love Sarah Palin. Or maybe not. Perhaps most compelling was the Katie Couric interview on CBS, in which Palin seemed so clueless that in a later Saturday Night Live sketch, Palin impressionist Tina Fey didn't need to write a script. Other YouTube nails in the McCain campaign coffin included the equally cringe-making interview with Charlie Gibson and, more recently, the post-election "Turkey" interview, in which birds were slaughtered behind an unflinching Palin, who had just pardoned a Turkey for Thanksgiving.

The apes of wrath

Tory MP Andrew Rosindell got a little too close to the natives when, on a trip to Gibraltar, the MP for Romford came under attack from one of the island's resident primates. "I popped up the Rock just to see how [the Barbary macaques] were getting on when one came along and took a bite out of my left shoulder," he says. Mr Rosindell is, of course, the Conservatives' animal welfare spokesman...

October 2008

Schlep of honour

Where did Al Gore snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the 2000 US presidential election? Florida. Fast forward to this year's presidential election, and "The Great Schlep", in which the comic Sarah Silverman and chums started an internet campaign (www.thegreatschlep.com) exhorting Barack Obama supporters to "schlep" down to Florida over one weekend to explain a few basic facts to the state's famously Jewish and elderly voters: that, despite his name, Barack Hussein Obama is not a Muslim, and how much the black and Jewish communities have in common in America. Except, this being Silverman, her video took a pretty good swipe at each demographic. Did it work? Well, Florida polled Democrat. Just.

Now you see him...

A studio interview with South African MP Nhlanhla Nene, a loud crack, the longest 12 seconds of Nene's life... before he disappears from sight behind his desk. Students of slapstick, all you need to know of your noble pursuit is here in this YouTube hit.

The history boy

Many writers understandably regard the ability to flog their archives as their last big pay day. But not Alan Bennett. In a characteristic gesture, our greatest living writer chose to donate his papers, books, scripts, drafts, scribbles and doodles to Oxford University's Bodleian Library for nothing. Bennett stated that the gift "is a kind of small recompense for what I was given. And not merely given by Oxford, I also feel I was given it by the state." "We keep pinching ourselves, we still can't really believe it," said Richard Ovenden, associate director of the library.

A bull in a bear market

Hundreds of hedge funds have gone out of business this year, but none of their managers signed off in quite the style of the American Andrew Lahde. He wagered that the sub-prime disaster would come to pass, and then cashed in his winnings and resigned from his $80m fund with a letter that tore apart the Harvard and Yale "idiots" who he said blight the worlds of Wall Street and government: "All of this behaviour supporting the aristocracy only ended up making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take the other side of my trades. God bless America." The 37-year-old signed off his missive advocating the legalisation of marijuana and calling upon his former colleagues to "throw away the BlackBerry and enjoy life".

Peaches in the Big Apple

Peaches Geldof hits New York! And New York socks her right back... The 19-year-old announced her arrival in Gotham with a column in style magazine Nylon ("Bunny and I buy pizza from street vendors and run through Times Square marvelling at its energy"). A skinny-jeaned hipster cat-fight ensued – was young Peaches the reincarnation of Kerouac? Or a Brit brat cluttering up the sidewalks? You decide: www.nylonmag.com

Room to swing a cat

The Leopard Man of Skye has finally changed his spot. Tom Leppard famously spent £5,500 covering his body with tattoos and lived in a remote and derelict bothy. For decades he canoed to the nearest town once a week to do his shopping. Faced with one more winter, however, the 73-year-old decided to move into a one-bed house in Broadford, Skye: "It's certainly very strange being surrounded by four walls and a roof but I'll get used to it." Talk about selling out. Mr Leppard added: "I'm getting too old for that kind of life."

Pauline shows her class

Never mind John Prescott having a dig at Cherie Blair – the real star of Prescott: The Class System and Me was John's wife Pauline. While John picked at the class scab, the far more relaxed 68-year-old ex-hairdresser quietly stole the show. High point: "How do you tell a lord his zip is down?" she wondered, having spotted that the Earl of Onslow was flying low. "You can't, can you? Shall I curtsey first and then tell him?" Superstardom beckons.

November 2008

Some mothers do hate 'em

Not strictly a moment from this year – the outburst in question took place in the early-1990s – but nonetheless one too piquant to pass over. On the publication last month of his book It's a PC World, the Today programme presenter Ed Stourton recalled a conversation with the Queen Mother about the European Union: "'It will never work, you know... It will never work with all those Huns, wops and dagos...' The words were delivered with the eyes on maximum tiara-strength twinkle, but I am afraid I froze. The nation's favourite grandmother was, I thought, in fact a ghastly old bigot."

To Mandy, with love

You can't accuse The Spectator of lacking a sense of humour: it played host to a meeting between Tory front-bencher George Osborne and Peter Mandelson, the Government business secretary – the first meeting since a spat between the pair that was prompted by a summer holiday they shared in Corfu. Osborne had leaked details of Mandelson being not-too-positive about Gordon Brown to the press. In response, a friend of Mandelson's dropped Osborne in the soup by claiming the Tory had used the trip as a chance to court party donations from a Russian billionaire. Osborne was presenting Mandelson with the Political Newcomer of the Year prize at the magazine's annual awards. "You know how it is, the only other English guy at the resort – you swap stories about work, how it is back home and you think you are never going to see them again," Osborne quipped as he handed over the gong.

Till Second Life do us part

They met in an internet chatroom in 2003 and celebrated their marriage in 2005 by throwing a "wedding" in the online world Second Life – so it made some sort of sense that the marriage of Amy Taylor and David Pollard should fall apart in cyberspace. Earlier this year, Amy caught David "cuddling a woman on a sofa in [Second Life]... I demanded to look at his chat history."(She had previously found her husband dozing at his keyboard while his online avatar Dave Barmy was having sex with an online call girl.) Dave had no answer, and their divorce was finalised a few weeks later. Still, Amy no doubt took a crumb of comfort from the fact that the Second Life courts had managed to process their online divorce months earlier, in May.

Rick Astley: bigger than the Beatles

The geeky internet joke that is "rickrolling", whereby recordings of the 1987 number one hit "Never Gonna Give You Up" by Rick Astley are played at public events or via internet links as a prank, reached a climax at the MTV Europe Music Awards. "Rickrollers" hijacked a popular vote at the awards to name Astley "Best Act Ever" ahead of acts including U2, Britney Spears and the Beatles. The retired singer, who is 42, was not at the ceremony to collect his award. "I'm really happy with the life I've got. I'll just leave it at that," he told The Independent on Sunday.

Get the picture?

Credit crunch-beating gesture to warm the cockles of your aching heart! The street artist Adam Neate and a team spent a Friday leaving 1,000 of his screenprints on the streets of London, to be taken by anyone who found them. Within hours several of the prints were on eBay. "It has always been a dream of mine to do a show around the whole of London," the 30-year-old said. "I want everybody to be able to see it, but once the pieces are out there I don't mind what happens to them."

December 2008

Where there's muck, there's brass

Binman Graham Hill was quids in when he found £10,000 on his rounds in Lincoln. But he would have to work for his money: the £10 and £20 notes, which had been dumped in a bin, were torn up into several pieces, not one intact. After a six-month investigation by police turned up no leads, the money was returned to Hill. But to exchange the find for new notes, he would have to match the pieces and tape up the notes, of which there were almost 1,000. "I was gutted when I looked in there and saw it all cut up," Hill told the Lincolnshire Echo. It is not yet known how many notes Hill has restored.

So this is Christmas...

Oh what fun it is, to punch Santa in the face... This and other scenes of festive truculence were witnessed at New Forest Lapland after punters paid £30 a head for the privilege of inspecting two huskies tied to kennels, a billboard showing the nativity across a dirty field and a Christmas market comprising cardboard boxes shoved on the floor. The "attraction" soon closed down. Staffordshire County Council then decided Lapland West Midlands was "a field with some tents" and brought its curtain down before the mob turned up baying for blood.

U saved his life! Nice 1!!! :)

The wonders of modern technology... a doctor volunteering in war-torn Congo performed a complex amputation to save a boy's life by following instructions sent via text message by a colleague in London. David Nott, 52, a vascular surgeon, was working for a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in the eastern town of Rutshuru, an area ravaged by bloody battles between Congolese and rebel troops.

Obama's ringing endorsement

When some wise guy called Miami congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's office posing as Barack Obama to congratulate her on her re-election, she was ready: "You're a better impersonator than that guy who does Obama on Saturday Night Live," she said, hanging up. The schmuck then got a friend to ring her posing as Obama's Chief of Staff! Ros-Lehtinen was on to him, too. It took a word to the wise from a colleague, to alert Ros-Lehtinen to the fact that she had just given the brush-off to the most important man in the world. The President-elect was typically good-humoured. "Whenever [my staff] think my ego is too big," he told Ros-Lehtinen, "they'll remind me that even a lowly congresswoman hangs up on him not once but twice."

Shoe fly, don't bother me

It was 37 days before George W Bush would leave office, so what better time to visit Iraq and inspect the... erm, situation he'd left his successor. Joining the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for a press conference, however, Dubya was cruelly interrupted by a flying shoe, thrown by an unimpressed local journalist. Bravely ducking the footwear, as his Iraqi counterpart barely flinched, Bush shrugged off the incident, saying: "I'm OK." Thank goodness. The journalist, meanwhile, was dragged screaming from the room by secret-service agents.

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