Hit & Run: Going for a bong

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The Independent Online

What is it about bongs all of a sudden? Once upon a time, it was only students and hippies who owned the water-cooled smoking devices. But nowadays, the world of mainstream celebrity has embraced the bong: in the past week, both the American swimmer Michael Phelps and Chloe Madeley, the 21-year-old daughter of Britain's king and queen of daytime telly, Richard and Judy, have been photographed taking "hits" from bongs.

Olympic multimedallist Phelps, 23, it seems, is something of an aficionado. The pipe he was pictured using in now-infamous snaps published in the News of the World has been identified on specialist messageboards as a top-of-the-range bong by Roor, a German brand. Considered the Rolls-Royce (or perhaps Audi) of bongs by the toking community, Roor make handcrafted models that cost about £100. Made from easy-clean glass, according to the company's website, Phelps's choice also has "state-of-the-art rubber seals" to prevent leaks and can be dismantled with ease (careful bong owners clean theirs monthly). No wonder one onlooker said that Phelps "looked just as natural with a bong in his hands as he does swimming in the pool". Not that Phelps will be doing much swimming: following the bong incident he's been banned for three months.

Now, let's look at the common-or-garden glass pipe seen in the grip of young Chloe Madeley, also caught out by the News of the World. We can't say for sure who owned the bong, of course, but the low-grade equipment suggests that she's something of an amateur. Such basic bongs can be acquired from any number of websites (or the odd walk-in pipe shop in Camden) for as little as £15. Were she a more adept smoker, she might have been more experimental with her choice of glassware. Dinosaur-shaped bongs, boob bongs, Yoda bongs and even penis bongs provide hours of hilarity for smokers.

The origins of the bong – a pipe that uses water to cool and filtrate smoke – are a source of dispute among potheads (or would be if they could be bothered to argue), with some saying it evolved from pipes used in Africa, the Far East and India. And its name? The popular theory is that "bong" is an adaptation of the Thai "baung", which refers to a cylindrical wooden tube cut from bamboo and used in Thailand for centuries. American soldiers based in Thailand during the Vietnam War are believed to have taken baungs back to the US, getting their names slightly wrong in the process.

One of the earliest uses of the word "bong" is believed to be in the January 1971 issue of the publication Marijuana Review, which says: "Many thanks to Scott Bennett... for the beautiful special bong he made for my pipe collection."

At this point, Hit & Run would like to point out that this newspaper in no way advocates the use of illegal drugs; although it's not unlawful to own a bong, it could be used as evidence to convict you of a drugs offence. And you'd be very foolish to be photographed using one. Rob Sharp

A lesson in getting cheaper holidays

What a difference a week makes. Every parent knows that holiday prices rocket during the summer break, when tour operators make a mint (and make up for all the cash they lose during the rest of the year). But the next autumn term is looking like a moveable feast for schools in England and Wales. Some pupils return on Tuesday 1 September, but others go back the following Monday. This means a Thomas Cook package from Gatwick to Majorca, for a family of four staying in a three-star self-catering apartment, travelling on Saturday 22 August, will cost £1,458; a week later, the total falls by £300. Simon Calder

Not grounded in reality

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has dismissed complaints (all 29 of them) that Virgin Atlantic's glossy new TV ad, set in the Eighties and featuring gorgeous flight attendants being ogled in an airport, isn't sexist. I was at Heathrow recently when a Noughties Virgin crew passed through Terminal 3. Unlike the oglers in the ad, I managed not to drop my mobile or squirt the contents of my sandwich over my shirt, and kept my tongue firmly in my mouth. Never mind the ASA – get me the number for Trading Standards. Simon Usborne

Can a banker manage on $500,000 per year?

Surely all this bonus-bashing has gone far enough. Gordon Brown is talking about "sweeping away" the culture of pay-for-failure in the City. At least Barack Obama is allowing America's most disastrous bank bosses to be paid $500,000 (£335,000) a year. But here in New York, this cap on chief-executive compensation has already caused some squeals. It turns out it is simply impossible for the bankers to live on that sum.

Expect second, third and fourth homes in the Hamptons and Palm Beach, and on the slopes of Colorado, to flood the market. Expect fire sales of modern art collections. The half-mil' CEO will even have trouble retrenching to his Upper East Side apartment without putting his antique furniture up for sale on the sidewalk.

Here are the sums, helpfully set out this week by The New York Times: for starters, state and federal taxes will cut take-home pay to $269,000; subtract $96,000 for the mortgage, plus a similar sum for building fees (you'll need to keep a doorman in case public mobs start storming bankers' homes); school fees and a nanny will set you back $77,000, even if you don't pay private tutors to drag your spawn up from remedial class. And, er, here we are at zero.

So what about the yacht club membership, the golf club subs and the members' club? It's all got to go, and there will be nothing for charitable causes or the arts, which means fewer nights out on the cocktail circuit. It's a life of Presbyterian austerity of which even Gordon Brown would be proud. Stephen Foley