All the (strange) news that's fit to print

"If the Tories get back in," said someone the other day, "it will prove that truth is stranger than fiction."

But truth is stranger than fiction.

There are baffling news items that I read 30 years ago which still stick in my mind, more clearly than any fiction I read at the time.

One was a report in Time magazine that the Republic of Andorra had just realised it was at war with Germany. They had declared war on Germany in the Second World War, like many countries. Unlike all the others, they had forgotten to repeal the declaration at the end of the war. Hastily, 25 years later, they did so before Germany could march in again.

Another unlikely item I read at that time concerned television in Ireland. One night, as Telefis Eirenn closed down, hundreds of Irish viewers reported that transmission actually continued for some while after, of some broadcast by an American station with an identifiable call sign. Investigation showed that there was indeed such a station in the USA but that it had closed two years previously.

And these odd things are still cropping up in the papers, to torture someone like me who is trying to invent stranger things. For instance, I used to think that what happened in Louis Malle's Lift to the Scaffold could not happen in real life. This is a film about a man who commits the perfect murder and is just leaving the building in the lift when the caretaker (thinking the building is empty) switches off the main power. Result: the lift stays where it is, half-way down, and the man is condemned to spend the whole weekend in the lift, not 100 yards from his victim, when he is meant to be getting away from it all.

When I first saw the man's desperate attempts to escape from the lift, I remember comforting myself with the thought that such nightmarish things never happen. But last week there was a story in the Bristol Evening Post about two cleaning ladies who were finishing their shift in a Bristol office block at 8am on the previous Saturday when their lift jammed. There was nobody else in the building. They were trapped all Saturday and were still there Sunday morning. If it had not been for someone who had come back by chance to get some extra work on Sunday morning and heard their cries for help, they might have been there for two days, might even have died.

There was another impossible story in our local paper last week. The Bath Chronicle reported that a train at Bradford-on-Avon hit a car on a level crossing because the car's wheels were stuck in the track. Now, this is clearly impossible, because for a car to get stuck in the track, it would have to be facing along the track, ie travelling in the same direction as the train. How could that happen?

Easily, explained the Chronicle. The driver was trying to do a three- point turn on the level crossing when he got stuck. The road leads to a cul-de-sac, and maybe the driver was trying to turn and retreat. He just chose a damned stupid place to do it.

Another impossible incident was reported last week, though I only saw the headline and not the story. It was on Friday, I think, when I was leaving Paddington in the direction of home that I saw an Evening Standard headline: "WOMAN SETS FIRE TO LONDON MUGGER". I wish I had learnt more of this bit of stylish retaliation. But I learnt all I wished to know in The Guardian recently of a tale of sexual revenge in Thailand. (Sensitive readers may wish to skip this next bit.)

It seemed that a woman in provincial Thailand was fed up with her husband's infidelity, so she cut off his penis as he slept. Apparently this is not so uncommon in Thailand, and there was indeed a hospital near the man's home which specialised in reattaching male genitalia. But mindful of this and in order to prevent it happening, the woman had attached the guilty penis to a helium-filled balloon while he still slept and launched it into the sky.

Now, once you start thinking about these stories, you start wondering. You start wondering why neither of the cleaning ladies' families bothered to worry when they didn't come home. You wonder how a man can go on sleeping after his penis has been cut off. But however odd and untrustworthy a story seems, it does stick in your mind, and I shall always remember the image of this balloon with its grisly cargo, and the man frantically revving the engine on the railway line at Bradford-on-Avon, and the image of Andorra beng tempted to try a surprise invasion of Germany, and the long-dead American TV station beaming in on Ireland from outer space...

What I wouldn't do is dare to make any of them up.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning: The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Sport
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier leaguePlus updates from Everton vs Palace
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Sport
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
News
peopleActress tells men: 'It's your issue too'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam