A MIDDLE-AGED couple were planning a three-week holiday in South Africa. Their friends were full of alarming stories about the appalling crime levels in parts of the country so, being cautious people, they took out comprehensive travel insurance.

The first part of their tour was as memorable as they hoped: a week in the Kruger National Park. Next they caught an internal flight down to Cape Town to sample the city's legendary night life. They settled into their hotel and spent a pleasant couple of days sightseeing around town.

Then, disaster. The husband, while popping out for a newspaper, was hit by a taxi and rushed to the city's main hospital. Thanks to his belt-and- braces insurance, the authorities placed him in a plush semi-private ward in intensive care.

The doctors told his wife he would pull through but was likely to be unconscious for a few days. She prepared herself for the wait until he returned to the land of the living. There was one other bed in the room but no occupant, although the hospital was clearly short of space. Out of sheer curiosity, the wife asked one of the nurses why.

The nurse looked scared and then whispered: "That bed is cursed. Every occupant dies before leaving it."

A couple of days later there was a fire in a local cinema, and every intensive care bed was needed. The occupant of the cursed bed was an elderly man who had suffered a heart attack in the commotion and was hovering on the brink. On the second morning after his arrival, the wife was sitting with her husband when the cleaner arrived in the room. She watched aghast as, with the easy familiarity of routine, the cleaner went over to the other man's bed, leaned down and unplugged his life-support machine so she could plug in her vacuum cleaner.

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