Charles Nevin: News from Elsewhere

Next time you buy a paper, you'd be advised to show the newsagent some respect
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The Independent Online

Good day. And welcome to another fascinating installment of the column that operates outside the regular news agendas, current affairs platforms, and discussion forums in an attempt to capture that slack-jawed sense of awe about this wonderful world which can so often and easily be lost under the pressures, challenges and demands of everyday life, especially on a Monday when you're late, you know you put it somewhere, you've no change, is that the queue, that was definitely a spot of rain, and the Eurovision Song Contest is over for another year.

Good day. And welcome to another fascinating installment of the column that operates outside the regular news agendas, current affairs platforms, and discussion forums in an attempt to capture that slack-jawed sense of awe about this wonderful world which can so often and easily be lost under the pressures, challenges and demands of everyday life, especially on a Monday when you're late, you know you put it somewhere, you've no change, is that the queue, that was definitely a spot of rain, and the Eurovision Song Contest is over for another year.

That sense of awe, I have to tell you, is available for rediscovery in the most unremarkable places. For instance, how much do you know about the person who sold you this newspaper? Unless he or she is your regular newsagent, probably not very much; and even then, probably not that much more beyond the usual pleasantries about the weather and how nice it must be to read newspapers all day and how much longer are you going to have to wait for a decent lottery ticket.

Exactly. Imagine then, my feelings, as I read in this very newspaper last week that the chap I'd occasionally bought mine from at Vauxhall Station was none other than Francesco Tonicello, a top man with the Mafia, on the run, wanted for murder, drug running and extortion. Crikey. Supposing I'd queried my change? Or forgotten to say thank you? It is, when you think about it, alarmingly easy not to show a newsagent enough respect. Hang on, respect: tell me, has Tony thought of a fact-finding mission to Palermo?

Francesco doesn't appear to have a nickname, which is a bit of a disappointment, as I thought it was a qualification for membership. Some particularly fine ones emerged from Chicago only the other week: Joey "the Clown" Lombardo and Frank "the German" Schweihs, responsible for the rubbing out of one Anthony "the Ant" Spilotro. Perhaps we could give Francesco one: how about Francesco "Independent? That'll Be 65 pence to you, Squire" Tonicello?

But I wouldn't relax quite yet. The German and the Clown are still on the run, and could, clearly, turn up anywhere. I'd make sure, for example, that you always give buskers a decent tip, especially if they have a spare instrument case and are singing "Lili Marlene", I Pagliacci or Smokey Robinson anywhere near a railway station.

Unsettling, though. Do you remember that Father Brown story where it was the postman who did it but nobody suspected him because nobody notices the postman? Exactly (2). Flat on the floor behind the sofa when you hear that merry whistle tomorrow morning, I should have said.

Something else. I mentioned Father Brown. And I've just seen that a Mafia supergrass has told a court in Italy that when she met Bernardo Provenzano, the capo di capi, the godfather of godfathers, he was dressed as a bishop; that's the way he escapes notice. Crikey (2). But no problem with a nickname there, at least.

It doesn't stop at that, either. I know a Thai restaurant, also in south London, where they are, in fact, Chinese, but think Thai is classier. I know an Italian restaurant in west London where the waiters are Spanish, except for the Brazilian, and a Greek takeaway in Liverpool which is run by an Afghan. And then, of course, there's the Labour Party.

Lost in translation

Did you know, by the way, that the Russian for railway station is voksil, taken from Vauxhall? A similar error, probably, to the one with Captain Cook and the kangaroo, you must have heard it, he asked an aborigine what it was and the aborigine replied, "kangaroo", which is aborigine for "I haven't got a clue what you're on about, mate."

I'm also working on the conquistador and the llama, which is very close to "como se llama?", "what's its name?", but we haven't got time for that now, as we must move on to the Dalmatian in dark glasses which is riding a motorcycle around Nanjing. No, a dog, not a former Yugoslavian. His owner sits in the sidecar. Pretty good, but his top speed is only a measly 5 mph. Tell that to a British traffic cop!

At least it gets him out, though. Did you see the survey showing that pets really enjoy watching the snooker on television? They prefer it to Animal Hospital, apparently, which doesn't surprise me, but then I don't watch Casualty. Interesting, too, given the news from a golfcourse in Holstein, where a pair of storks, obviously confusing games, have built a second nest on the 15th green and filled it with golf balls.

Lend me your socks

Footwear is achieving good coverage at the moment, too. You will remember Britain's oldest shoe, discovered, serendipitously, near Wellington. Then came proof on a Roman razor handle found near Darlington that the legionaries wore socks with their sandals. Time, obviously, for an urgent bust examination to see if those laurel-leaf wreath thingies on the heads of the Caesars are, in fact, knotted handkerchiefs.

And now, haunted shoes. Yes. Deck ones, in a shoe shop in Padstow, keep moving by themselves. So do my son's trainers, but the Padstow pair are brand new. Father Chris Malkinson, a local clergyman, says: "Sometimes there is evidence of a sole trapped between this world and the next. I am sure it will disappear over time." Sorry, that should be soul. Respect!

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