Charles Nevin: The search for ways to profit from a loss

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The Independent Online

I know that humanity is surrounded, and greatly defined, by loss, but there still seems a lot of it about at the moment. One thinks of the 20,000 pieces of baggage lost at Heathrow in the recent unpleasantness; and, of course, of the tapes of the moon landing, somehow misplaced by Nasa. Some of us, despite last week's encouraging result, are not yet over the World Cup, either.

Further evidence of a peculiar period for deprivation comes with the case of Mr Phil Newbon, of Spalding, Lincs. Mr Newbon, returning from holiday, airport horror over, put said case down on the pavement, moved away momentarily and then watched in horror as binmen hurled it, along with his duty-free, into the back of their wagon, to be crushed.

But it's the Nasa fiasco which seems an almost perfect précis of the human condition involving, as it does, the very symbol of our boundless ambition and ingenuity being sadly brought to earth by our classic frailties.

Many, though, contend that this is persuasive proof the whole event was invented. But I cannot believe that any government would try to persuade us that something existed when it, in fact, didn't. Alternatively, you tell me anything that has persuaded you any government could achieve its desired goal so efficiently. It does follow, though, in a line of significant losses, including the Ark of the Covenant and The Holy Grail. But, again, tell me which you think more likely: a centuries-old order of secrecy-obeying guardians, or Joseph of Arimathea saying, "Now, where did I put that cup?"

I was also struck by the discovery that, while the original Domesday Book, foundation or our bureaucracy, is very well preserved, the original of Magna Carta, foundation of our liberty, is lost. So, clearly, it is wrong to contend that the more trivial and replaceable, the more likely lost. Consider this list of objects that have found their way to London Transport's Lost Property Office: a stuffed eagle, breast implants, an urn containing ashes, a boat, and a lawnmower.

But it's not all gloom. You will have read that the 2,500-piece model of Sydney Opera House, lost for more than 30 years, has been found and reconstructed, without benefit of instructions.

Abhishek Bachchan, the Bollywood star, has just got his umbrella back after a fan flew with it to Bombay from Durban, where he'd left it. In northern New York, a three-month old goat, Billy, has been reunited with its owners after they spotted its photo in a newspaper. And the bags are mostly back.

Remember, as well, the special joy of finding that which was lost. And never give up hope. I still have the occasional hunt for a rather fine penknife I lost in Epping Forest in 1964. More selflessly, I harbour a dream that, rather like those letters that turn up after 100 years or so, one day, at Heathrow, there will be found, going round and round the carousel, the suitcase containing all Ernest Hemingway's early work lost in 1922, accompanied by the nine poles belonging to the Swedish polevaulter, Hanna-Mia Persson, which, I read, went missing on a flight to Stuttgart in 2003.

Lastly, a few search tips. Stay calm and try to retrace your steps exactly. Well done and not, here, to the man arrested at Gatwick trying to break into the wrong plane looking for his wallet. I also find that whatever you've lost turns up without fail the moment you've gone to great lengths to replace it. Over to you, Nasa. Or you could try St Anthony.

You need a thick skin, Maestro

Well: even higher spirits than usual at The Proms, apparently. Scuffles during Shostakovich, and heckling of Pierre-Laurent Aimard's listless way with Brahms. More of it, I say. Classical musicians get too much deference, particularly with applause before and routine returns after. Inexperienced performers should trythese useful responses. Steve Martin's: "Yeah, I remember my first beer too," always works well, as does Eric Morecambe's: "I'm playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order." Barry Cryer is a fan of Jeremy Hardy's sympathetic but firm response to a persistent interrupter: "Simon, it's over". I myself would recommend Pierre-Laurent, left, tries the approach I saw adopted by Brian Sharpe, an underrated Rochdale comic, at Blackpool's Number One club: "This isn't a double act. Shut it."

* My thoughts yesterday, aptly for the time of week, were with the mocked and unloved. The singer Madonna's reported offer of a magical Kabbalah fluid that can neutralise radioactive waste, for instance, produced derision, not thanks: a pity.

Tom Cruise, too, has just been voted the celebrity least wanted for best friend. You might not like him, either. But did you know he turned down Russell Crowe's part in A Beautiful Mind? So there's some consolation.

And I can offer more, elsewhere. John Reid becomes Prime Minister? Roy Hattersley has said he'll shoot himself. Roy Hattersley? I've met him: absolutely charming.

John Prescott: crap. The Grey Squirrel: not bad, actually, fried. Gunter Grass: made you feel better about yourself. Chelsea Tractors: in Chelsea, mostly.

Obesity: the food. President Ahmadinejad: lovely smile. The Post Office: come on, you were in a bit of rut, size-weight-wise, weren't you? See? More rain, by the way.

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