Gandalf's sinking of the Spanish Armada, and other shocking stories

When feeding their pets, schoolchildren are obliged by health and safety regulations to wear gloves
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The Independent Online

I'm collecting a book. It's easier and altogether more enjoyable than writing one. Maybe you'd like to help? It consists of 500 blood-boiling stories which illustrate the way we live now. How do we live now? Well, if you were born within coo-ee of the Second World War ... unrecognisably.

I'm collecting a book. It's easier and altogether more enjoyable than writing one. Maybe you'd like to help? It consists of 500 blood-boiling stories which illustrate the way we live now. How do we live now? Well, if you were born within coo-ee of the Second World War ... unrecognisably.

* A marshal supervising a canoe race in the west of England stood at a hazardous river bend and was warning competitors not to overtake. A pair of teenagers ignored the warning, overtook, came to grief, sued the marshal for negligence and won. The judge ruled that he should have taken into account the fact that young people would ignore him.

* When feeding their pets, schoolchildren are obliged by health and safety regulations to wear gloves.

* A nursery school teacher defended her class against a machete-wielding assailant; she received very severe injuries and compensation of £80,000. A woman police constable was held back from promotion on account of her gender and was compensated in the sum of £500,000. A female merchant banker who was told she had "nice waps" by her employer received £1.2m.

* Having served 37 years for a crime they did not commit, two prisoners in England were released and awarded £350,000 compensation each. But £65,000 was held back to pay for their board and lodging while they were in prison.

* A woman in Henley called the police after an intruder stabbed her and fled. The police officer in charge of the operation refused to allow the paramedics or his own police officers into the house in case the assailant was still inside. He reasoned that the assailant might be forcing the injured woman to lure police officers into the building. Health and safety regulations prevented him from putting his officers at risk. The woman bled to death.

* Success in literacy tests for 11-year-olds has improved substantially over the past decade. Where 50 per cent used to pass the test, now 75 per cent do. Over the same period, the pass mark for the test has fallen from 55 per cent to 41 per cent.

* A survey of vice-chancellors shows that 48 per cent of universities provide special lessons in literacy and numeracy for first-year students. "This comes despite record A-level results," researchers note.

* Fifteen per cent of 16-24-year-olds thought that when Orangemen march on 12 July they are celebrating the victory at Helm's Deep. The battle actually occurs at the end of The Two Towers, the second book of Tolkien's trilogy The Lord of the Rings.

* Five per cent of the same age group questioned in a BBC poll thought the defeat of the Spanish Armada was masterminded by Gandalf.

* Nearly half of patients eventually diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma are not classed as "urgent". Consequently they are placed on routine dermatology out-patient waiting lists of up to nine months.

* Platform announcement: "We apologise for the lateness of the train approaching Platform One. This is due to delays."

* To improve train punctuality services are being cancelled. Punctuality is improving, but the definition of "punctual" has been changed to include trains that don't arrive on time.

* The Women's Institute has been barred from giving home-made cakes to Essex hospital patients because health and safety inspectors were unable to check the hygiene standards in their kitchens. Last year, the hospital superbug MRSA caused by defective hygiene killed between 5,000 and 20,000 people in hospitals which were inspected by health and safety officials.

* New criminal offences: among the 600 criminal offences created since 1997, Schedule 26, Paragraph 18 (4) of the School Standards Framework Act 1998 makes it a criminal offence to "wilfully obstruct an inspector conducting an inspection of a nursery". The power to detain suspected terrorists indefinitely was passed by Jack Straw. He said at the time the power would be used only against people against whom there was a reasonable suspicion of terrorist activity. Subsequently it has been used against anti-war protesters including an 11-year-old girl riding her bike, who objected to US bombers based in Britain being used in Iraq.

* In 1970, directors of US companies received 26 times the remuneration of an average worker. In 1980, it was 42 times. In 1990, it was 85 times. In 2000, it was 531 times.

* In 2004 the directors of Network Rail were given bonuses of £400,000 to share, even though punctuality had declined.

* Jewish slave labourers who survived Nazi death camps have been awarded £4,500 each in compensation. Reduced for inflation over 50 years, this represents a payment of £1 a week for 72 hours work. That is something under 1.5p per hour.

* "As he headed for his presidential limo, he stopped, shook me by the hand and said, 'Thanks for everything.' I said, sincerely, that it had been a pleasure and an honour to work with the greatest all-round communicator of the late 20th century. He ... replied that it had been a pleasure working with the best communications adviser in the world." Alastair Campbell.

* "I sit on the toilet, pushing it all into my hand, and then I paint the walls brown. Brown to wash out the white of my anger. Brown to make them hate me. Oh, how they hate me." From Georgie, by Malachy Doyle (a new book for 10-year-olds).

Howard Jacobson is away

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