Charles Nevin: Consolation from the great stage of fools


This being a day when even the sober and responsible employees of financial institutions close their bound ledgers with a sigh and surrender briefly to levity, I thought I, too, would take leave from the usual dense and closely reasoned argument which characterises this space and instead move more slightly among the news and comment agenda.

Besides, the sun is shining and there is much to distract the reader's eye - the promise of spring, the flicker of dappled light, the song of the birds - in this all-too-brief moment snatched from the many competing demands of the modern bank holiday, whether it be the Hug An Easter Bunny and Celebrity Bunny Hunt at Easton Farm Park, Woodbridge, Suffolk, some of the excellent sofa bargains widely available, or a trip to that even more apt attraction, the North West Museum of Road Transport in St Helens.

Actually, on the bewildering variety and remarkable availability of new furniture acquisition opportunities, I thought I might share with you this view, expressed by Mr John Wilkinson, of Leyland, Lancashire, in a letter to one of our so-called rivals: "As a contribution to the war on obesity, could I suggest the banning of settee advertisements on television?"

Challenging and pertinent, you will agree; but on this day I should like to move away from the more negative, pessimistic attitudes understandably much prevalent - one is reminded of the Bard's "When we are born, we cry, that we are come to this great stage of fools" - and look for some cheery consolation.

So, let us ignore the sad case of Dragos Radovic, whose belief that the 175 chameleons he was smuggling through Zagreb Airport would be invisible proved to be unfounded, and turn to the uplifting tale of Debbie Parkhurst, of Maryland, whose life was threatened by a piece of apple lodged in her throat until her golden labrador, Toby, jumped up and down on her chest, causing the apple to be ejected with some velocity.

Remarkable, and no wonder that, again in the United States, "Doggie Yoga" classes, in which the dogs all lie on mats in what is termed "an upward facing belly pose", are becoming popular.

Mr Radovic's sorry exploit also reminds me that scientists say they are now only two, possibly three, years away from developing an invisibility cloak similar to that employed by Harry Potter. This, together with the world's first commercially available personal rocket pack, priced at £130,000 and capable of propelling the wearer at speeds of up to 80mph, will clearly pose something of a challenge for our increasingly sophisticated public surveillance systems, but I'm confident the authorities here are up to it.

Indeed, after the exciting news that talking CCTV cameras are to be "rolled out" across at least 20 of our cities, I was further much taken by this plan of Mr Hutton, the Work and Pensions Secretary, to use lie detectors on benefit claimants: just imagine the potential, litter-control-wise, of talking CCTV cameras with an inbuilt lie detector and phaser set to stun!

Finally, if it's getting too hot for you out there, your expeditions are over, and you are commendably determined to avoid the settee, I merely mention that Mr John Ashton, 52, has used cereal packets, foil and other household bits and pieces to recreate the 1969 moon landing in his attic in Openshaw, Manchester.

Ray, the inspiration for all men

Slightly worrying, during this debate over Britishness and the correct etiquette and rewards for heroic behaviour, that Gordon Ramsay should have been voted the most admired man in Britain. The choice is topical - although I was surprised that his Gordon Ramsay Easter Eggs were not Gordon Ramsay's Easter F****** Eggs - but this is the man who wept when his pigs were slaughtered. Not the right message. However, at number three is British maledom's finest asset, Mr Ray Mears, the television survivalist. Ray, left, is tough; yet he is also sensitive, and an adventurous cook (I've never seen him eat a grub he didn't like). And extremely game, whether witnessing Aborigines performing The Dance of the Cheeky Yam, or accompanying our own Deborah Ross on an expedition to Brent Cross. Chaps: more like Ray, please!

Even above re-birth, resurrection and re-tooling the lawnmower, this is a time for surveys, a psephological gamut commissioned by disinterested organisations, often unnamed by commentators even though the results provide a fascinating, if occasionally confusing, snapshot of where we're up to.

It's remarkable, for example, that we can be a nation of bores, with people spending less than an hour a week enjoying themselves, when caravanning has emerged as "cool", more than 50 per cent of us don't trust our partners, 95 per cent of motorway drivers indicate regularly, and you're most likely to have an accident in a car park in Wales.

* Meanwhile, "Infamy, Infamy, they've all got it in for me", from Carry On Cleo, has been voted the funniest film one-liner, prompting my own poll of television one-liners which has selected one showing the pitfalls with a "name, rank and number" rule for captured service personnel. It comes when a German officer demands a prisoner's name, provoking this warning: "Don't tell him, Pike!".

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