John Walsh: btw

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The Independent Online

* Former schoolboy tormentors of inept teachers will remember the annoyance that could be inflicted by making a simple paper dart sail past the master's eyes as he chalked on the blackboard. Cheap raw material, simple construction, satisfying flight – it was the best DIY toy around. The humble dart will reach its apotheosis in November, when an astronaut launches one from the International Space Station. Made from paper sprayed with protective chemicals to give it a glass-like coating, its progress will be tracked by aeronautical engineers at Tokyo University as it hurtles to earth 240 miles below at speeds of up to 15,000mph. But of course it's bound to land, as tradition always seemed to dictate, in the hair of the short-tempered geography beak...

* When does a bus passenger become reclassified as a pet? Answer: when she's a girl with a lead around her neck. Tasha Maltby of Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, is a Goth who is taken for regular "walkies", with a lead and a dog-collar, by her boyfriend, Dani. The pair tried to board a bus but were barred by the driver, who said, "We don't let freaks or dogs like you on." His disapproval so incensed Tasha that she and Dani have made a formal complaint. "I am a pet," she said proudly, "I lead a really easy life. I don't cook or clean and I don't go anywhere without Dani. It might seem strange but it makes us both happy. It's my culture and my choice. It isn't hurting anyone." A ringing defence of the Goth-dog lifestyle. I suspect this is the start of a new trend.

* Quantum of Solace has been revealed as the not-very-thrilling title of the 22nd James Bond movie, to be released in the autumn. A far cry from the cool portmanteau titles – Moonraker, Goldfinger, Thunderball – that caused fans' hearts to race in the 60s and 70s, it's the title of a short story from For Your Eyes Only, published by Ian Fleming in 1960. What does it mean? The quantum of solace is the smallest, most infinitesimal particle of human compassion that one person can feel for another. It's precisely what Gordon Brown is feeling for Peter Hain.

* Naturally one sympathises with the writer Joan Brady, a former winner of the Whitbread Prize, in her battle with a shoe company which set up beside her home in Totnes, Devon. She suffered "nerve damage" from solvent fumes drifting from the factory, also numbness in her hands and legs, and noise pollution. This week she was awarded £115,000 damages for the effect on her writing career – she was forced to abandon a literary novel called Cool Wind from the Future, and had to write a less elevated work, a crime novel called Bleedout, instead. But any publisher could tell Brady that literary fiction is in the doldrums these days (sales of the 2007 Booker shortlist barely scraped into four figures before the prize was announced) while crime fiction is booming; she's sold 10,000 copies of Bleedout so far. It's an ill wind – from next door, if not the future – that blows no one any good.