Andrew Martin: Tall tales brought back by Marco Polo

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The Independent Online

New research suggests that Marco Polo, supposedly the first western chronicler of the Far East, actually never went there. That dramatic first-person story of how he became an envoy of the Mongolian Emperor Kublai Khan, roving on dangerous missions through Burma, Cochin-China and southern India? All cobblers, according to Professor Daniele Petrella of the University of Naples, who suggests that Polo never went further than the Black Sea, in whose ports he met people who'd been out east. No doubt underthe guise of the innocent inquiry, "Been anywhere nice on your holidays, then?" he appropriated their accounts, but made mistakes. For example, Polo's description of the Mongol fleet mentions ships with five masts, but Professor Petrella's excavations in Japan show they had only three. I suppose someacademic will soon be telling us that Marco Polo never even invented Polo Mints.

* According to Selfridges, many of the record number of foreign visitors to London this summer have their minds set on Christmas – which could be why they keep stepping in front of my bike on Oxford Street. Accordingly, the store has just opened its Christmas shop, several weeks earlier than usual. (They usually wait until the more traditional "Christmassy" time of late August.) "Christmas comes earlier every year," says Geraldine James, the store'sbuying manager, but surely there is a limit to this trend. I mean if you began preparing for the one after next on 24 December this year, you might look suspiciously like someone starting late for Christmas 2011 rather than early for 2012. To confront this problem, Selfridges are thinking of offering "a capsule Christmas collection" throughout the year. Would that include cyanide capsules, I wonder, for those of us less keen on the festivities?

* Mr Gary Wetson was told he couldn't carry a four-by-four-foot abstract painting he had just bought at a village outside Stroud on to a bus. "The driver looked at it and told me it was a health and safety hazard." A spokesman for the bus operator, Stagecoach, has admitted the driver was wrong. Indeed how many people have been killed by an abstract painting? Or even slightly injured? But a painting of a broken bottle or a pair of scissors... Now that's a different matter.