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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Howard Marks has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, he has announced
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
Rowan Atkinson at the wheel of his McLaren F1 GTR sports car
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us