Charles Nevin: News from Elsewhere

And at No 2 in the annual NFE awards, it's goodbye to the world's oldest goldfish
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The Independent Online

Happy Boxing Day! I think I've already asked you how you're feeling, so let's crack on, sorry, let's proceed gently, with the column that puts a gentle, soothing hand to your brow while placing the other one consolingly round your shoulder. Don't worry, I got musical socks as well.

Now I know you'll want all the in-depth data on Boxing Day, but the delightful thing about this very important day is that no one really has the slightest clue why it's called Boxing Day. Oh, they may bang on about Christmas boxes for servants and that sort of stuff, but, believe me, they don't know.

You might find this a little irritating, but, then, today, after yesterday, you'd probably find anything irritating. It's the pudding, you know. In-laws still there? Right. Anyway, I rather like this survivor of unknowingness amid all the research and certainty and progress and mapping and classification.

I see today as the day when we should marvel at our ignorance, and celebrate the things we don't know, like whether this is the only universe, what it's made of, how flowers evolve, what exactly electricity is, why we sleep, whether mathematically interesting zero-value solutions of the Riemann zeta function all have the form a + bi, why on earth they came, when on earth they're going, and how Tony Blair does it.

A day, too, for contemplating with equal wonder the rich mysteries of human behaviour, which is why, traditionally, I present, yes, The News From Elsewhere Annual Awards 2005!

And we start with the NFE Pulling Things Award, in, naturally, reverse order: 3. Mrs Wang Xiaobei, 71, of Jinan, in China's Shandong province, for pulling a car 65 feet with her teeth. 2. Mr Zhang Xingquan, 38, of Dehui, in Jinlu province, for pulling a car 67 feet with his ears while walking on eggs. 1. Mr Tu Jin-Sheng, Qigong Iron Crotch Grandmaster, who pulled a furniture van only a few feet, but with his penis.

NFE Achievement Award: 3. Mr Gilberto Cruz, 42, of Brazil, who can manage a full hour without blinking. 2. Paul Hunn, of London, world's loudest burp (118.1 decibels). 1. The driver on the Paddington to Exeter express who plugged a fuel leak with a wine cork from the buffet bar.

NFE Innovation of the Year: The plan to power the Blackpool lights with donkey dung collected from the beach. Take that, Silicon Valley!

NFE Fascinating Fact of the Year: In Mr Ed, the TV series featuring a talking horse, a zebra was briefly used in several scenes when Ed was unable to do some difficult stunts. However, there is no truth to the rumour that a zebra was used the whole time.

NFE Fascinating Fact of the Year Reserve. The Rat Surveillance Department in New Delhi, which employs 97 rat catchers, it emerged, hasn't caught a rat since 1994.

NFE Spooky Story of the Year: The haunted deck shoes in the shoe shop in Padstow. Father Chris Malkinson, a local clergyman, said: "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.

NFE Transport Story of the Year: 3. The traffic warden in Melbourne who put a parking ticket on a car which had its dead driver slumped at the wheel. 2. The train driver in Neuwied, Germany, who mistook a giant toy penguin on the line for a dead man in a dinner jacket. 1. Did you know that you can double the range of your remote car opening fob thingie by pressing it against the side of your head?

NFE Balzac Award (named after the great novelist's view that "irony is the essential character of Providence"): Lucky the Chicken. Lucky, so christened because it had helped its owner pick out winning lottery numbers, was eaten by a fox.

NFE Don't Relax Because No Matter How Unlikely It Could Still Happen Award: The woman in her 50s who had an attack of vertigo while sitting in a deckchair on North Fistral beach in Newquay.

NFE Farewells to the Year: 2. Goldie, the world's oldest goldfish, won at a fair in 1960, died aged 45 in Bradninch, Devon. Goldie's owner, Mr Tom Evans, said: "He'd not been well." 1. At the Samuel E Coston Funeral Home in Pittsburgh, Mr James Smith, dedicated Pittsburgh Steelers home-viewer fan, was laid out on his recliner, with his feet crossed and remote in hand in front of a TV playing Steelers highlights. A pack of cigarettes and a can of beer were at his side. "I couldn't stop crying after looking at the Steeler blanket in his lap," said his sister, Mary Ann Nails, 58.

NFE Happy Ending of the Year: In Shanghai, Granny Zheng, 78, accidentally toppled out of an open window in her fourth-floor flat. She landed on top of the building's awning before reaching the pavement. She then bounced up and off of it, before landing on Granny Sun, 85, who had been having a stroll on the path below. Both survived with only minor injuries. Marvellous.

And finally, the NFE It's Never Too Late Award goes to Norma "Duffy" Lyon, 75, who, after 50 years of carving pigs out of butter for display at the Iowa State Fair, this year broke with tradition and carved a life-sized butter statue of Tiger Woods. Happy New Year!

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