Most people think they follow the news pretty well, until you come to question them. Well, I come to question you today, and I come to find out how shallow your knowledge of the news actually is. It's a very simple test, really. All you have to do is study the following five news stories dating from the last seven days, and decide which one of them has been made up by me. Ready? Let's go, then!
1. Last week a man was shot dead in California by police as he came out of a restaurant, because they thought he was smoking.
"We were passing by on main street, where it's forbidden to smoke in public," said Patrolman Davidoff, "and this guy came out wielding a cigarette lighter, one of those big antique type of cigarette lighters, so we thought he was about to light up and we yelled at him for to stop and throw it down. He ignored our warning, so I fired a warning shot which unfortunately killed him."
It turned out that the dead man, Lincoln Daniels, was hard of hearing and didn't hear the warning. What was worse was that it wasn't a cigarette lighter he was holding. It was a handgun, disguised as an antique cigarette lighter, which he had just bought from a man in the restaurant prior to doing an armed robbery at an antique shop.
"Hell, if I had known it was only a gun he had,"said Davidoff later, "I wouldn't have bothered to stop and warn him."
2. After persistent rumours that Tom Winsor, the rail regulator, is actually a member of the Royal Family, and his name is really Prince Thomas, his office has gone to the extraordinary lengths of circulating his family tree to all newspapers and media sources to prove that he has no royal connections. Buckingham Palace is privately thought to be very upset that people should want to deny all connections with royalty, as if it were somehow dishonourable.
3. The referee in the last Rugby Union match between Australia and the British and Irish Lions may be sued by some of the players in the match for breach of privacy.
"He was constantly taking us aside for a private tête-à-tête to warn us against various misdemeanours, supposed and otherwise," said one player. "However, these little supposedly private chats were being broadcast throughout the world via his clip-on microphone. That's breach of privacy in anyone's language. My lawyer thinks we can take him for thousands."
4. A pub in Lincolnshire has been renamed following a visit from a psychic researcher. Mr and Mrs Grosmont took over "The Ten Jolly Cricketers" two years ago and changed it, logically, to "The Eleven Jolly Cricketers". Ever since then the pub, which over 200 years old, has been plagued by hauntings in an upstairs room. The psychic expert who was called in said that the room was haunted by a Victorian cricketer who had played for the local team and, although an excellent batsman, been of a thoroughly disagreeable disposition. Hence presumably the name "Ten Jolly Cricketers". The pub has now gone back to its old name and the visitations have ceased.
5. Two girls in Brazil claim to have seen the Virgin Mary in a vision. She came to them and said that she was worried that they were not going to school and not getting any education, and then introduced them to St Mercatorius, the patron saint of geography, who gave them a geography lesson and then vanished.
When questioned about this unlikely event, the girls claim to have remembered that he gave them a lesson on local history in England, and they clearly remembered being told that Swindon is the county town of Wiltshire. This seemed to clinch the matter, as neither of them had even heard of Wiltshire before. However, it has now turned out that they got it wrong and that Trowbridge, not Swindon, is the county town of Wiltshire. So what was the truth? Was it a fake vision which was badly researched? Or was it a genuine vision and a stupid mistake on the part of St Mercatorius?
Well? Did you spot that Number 5 was a load of pilchards? Well done! Of course all the other stories were false as well. But that's modern journalism for you. Honestly, I despair sometimes.