Diary

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The Independent Online
So, what's new, poltergeist?

Should you ever be so unlucky as to fall prey to a poltergeist, rest assured on one score. Even in the shady world of the paranormal good taste still prevails.

The Phantom of the Opera on Ice, the glitzy musical production currently touring the country on skates, has, I hear, been plagued by a mysterious curse - the phantom of The Phantom. Just before the opening night last November, the generator broke down and musical equipment was stolen. The curse struck again in Southsea, when the refrigeration inexplicably packed up - no minor snag for a production staged entirely on ice. Most recently, the poor, beleaguered production manager's new bicycle was stolen.

When the show reached the capital last weekend, staff steeled themselves for the ghoul's next move. Sure enough, the night before the show was due to open, two huge trucks of equipment were broken into - and the special nuts and bolts needed to build the rink spirited away. Catastrophe! Emergency replacements flown from Glasgow saved the day - but one mystery remained.

Why were all the cassettes of the musical's music, also stashed in the truck, not taken? There can be only one answer. Phantom's composer is one Roberto Danova - a man responsible for writing hits for, among others, Engelbert Humperdinck and Tom Jones (above). Evidently, even poltergeists have some musical standards.

Life is sweet and sour for Mike Leigh

Even eminent film makers can be too authentic for their own good, I am afraid. So the director Mike Leigh has discovered, to his cost, while making his latest movie. The film, a student saga set in the 1980s, is currently being shot in Camden, north London. Most of the action takes place in a flat above a Chinese restaurant. All well and good, so far, but it seems that Leigh, a stickler for realism, had taken it a step too far.

The Chinese restaurant set, with its impeccably researched Eighties prices on display, has proved irresistible to the good folk of Camden. Passers- by, spotting the uncommonly cheap eatery, could scarcely believe their eyes - or their luck. Word quickly spread, and enraged rival local Chinese restaurateurs soon complained about unfair competition - and reported the illegal business to the council. In turn, Camden fired off a letter berating the owner of the premises for not having a licence. Stand by for Leigh's next supremely well researched movie - about warring inner- city Triad gangs and uppity council officials.

Inspirational India

The late entries of Mohamed al-Fayed (below) and Sir James Goldsmith into Britain's party political race have set all kinds of alarm bells ringing in high places. Are eccentric billionaire businessmen going to hijack our great democracy, in another sorry step down the road to US- style elections?

Nonsense! We should, Eagle Eye believes, take heart from such goings on - and hope, one day, that they will bring us the kind of electoral choice enjoyed by the lucky citizens of India. The sub-continent's current polls feature, among others, a eunuch promising better living conditions for India's third sex, a low-caste sweeper standing on a platform for bringing back opium cultivation, and a Hare Krishna holy man who will, if successful, throw out all politicians over the age of 45. If we had choices like that in Britain, the polling booths for the local elections would, for once, be really busy.

Either way, they win

The Office of Fair Trading, the department charged with ensuring fair play for the consumer, clearly takes its role very seriously. Indeed, in a drive to maintain the highest standards of balance, it has recalled one Mark Kram to the press office after his two-year sojourn in another department. What better spokesperson for fairness than a man whose very name can be read both ways? Could it even be that his palindromic qualities were the key to his reappointment? True to form, Mr Kram declined to respond until he'd checked the proper direction, so to speak, of his reply. Then came a splendidly balanced pronouncement: "My appointment shows the even- handedness of the office."

Eagle Eye

A little Highland bull for the digestion

Loyal readers of Farming News will doubtless have spotted a subtle change in the weekly's ad campaign. The picture may be the same old snap - but the old slogan has been hoofed out. "When the BSE scare broke," explains the publisher, Alan Whibley, "our first thought was to drop our long running advertising campaign, for fear it would offend readers." It is not terribly hard to see why - for across the shot of the Highland bull ran the unfortunate slogan: "No bull". A less sensitive suggestion in such troubled times would be hard to imagine.

But how much worse it would have been if Farming News had scrapped the bull! No self-respecting farmers' rag could possibly be seen to cull its own cattle - let alone a Highland bull which is typically reared on grass, with a low exposure to BSE. The Highland bull is "a safe animal, from a safe breed, destined for premature slaughter and destruction", stresses Mr Whibley, cooing with renewed confidence. "No wonder he's livid. So is his owner. So are countless thousands of other owners. So," Mr Whibley winds up with a well timed flourish, "am I."

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