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New clue surfaces about the Titanic

IT'S A bit late now - 82 years this week, to be exact - but information has come to light that might have helped to avert the sinking of the Titanic. According to the historian John Eaton, a British passenger had a premonition about the ship's fate more than 10 years before it sank, and recorded his fears in two fictional articles that bear more than a passing resemblance to the events of 15 April 1912.

The prescient passenger was William Stead, a campaigning editor of the Pall Mall Gazette and a well-known spiritualist, who wrote in one article about a family travelling from England to Chicago. Stead's fictional liner, commanded by Captain Smith (the Titanic's captain was also called Smith), stops in mid-Atlantic - where the Titanic foundered - to rescue sailors from a ship sunk by an iceberg.

Another tale, written in 1886, tells of a collision at sea between two ships, with great loss of life. The reason? Not enough lifeboats - the principle cause of the Titanic's huge death toll. Stead, who perished on the way to the World Peace Conference, was not the only person to foresee the disaster. Morgan Robertson, an American author, published a story in 1898 in which he described an unsinkable liner that struck an iceberg in the mid-Atlantic and went down with most of the passengers.

TYPE the word 'Eurotunnel' on a computer with WordPerfect software, order a spell check, and the baffled machine replies that it doesn't recognise the word. Wishing to be helpful, however, it comes up with the following three possible meanings for this mysterious expression: erosional, eruptional or irrational.

Easy rider

SOME mirth, I gather, among the more liberal-minded of our philosophers at the expense of the hard right-winger Professor Roger Scruton, currently on sabbatical from his post as professor of aesthetics at Birkbeck College, London. It seems the author of Modern Philosophy, a melancholic perspective on the state of modern man, is suffering from a common failing among his subjects - vanity. Not only does he remove his steel- rimmed spectacles - by now his hallmark - for the photograph on his new book's cover, but, according to his publishers, Sinclair-Stevenson, he is thinking of replacing it with a more up-to-date snapshot. Keen, perhaps, to banish his image as a reactionary fox-hunter out of touch with modern youth, the 49-year-old academic will be seen astride not one of his horses, but a motorbike.

THE forthcoming Euro-elections will probably not be the merriest campaign ever fought on the hustings, but at least one candidate, the Liberal Democrat Jeanie Matthew, is aiming to inject some light relief. She has appealed to comic writers to send her jokes, which, if used in her speeches, would earn them pounds 15 per gag. As yet, the comedians have not exactly been hammering on her door.

Wicket wit

WHERE would John Major be, I wonder, without the lifeline of cricket to hang on to when things get tough? His party conference speeches as leader have so far leant rather heavily on cricketing jokes to warm up his audience, and he was at it again, I gather, during his recent visit to Bosnia. After sitting down to dinner in the coastal town of Split, the PM received a missive, and read the contents with a furrowed brow. The gathering fell silent. At last the PM cleared his throat. A pause: 'West Indies, 224 for three wickets.'

IN THE United States, the publication of a book called The Origins of Depression, Current Concepts and Approaches - edited by one J Angst.

A DAY LIKE THIS

13 April 1835 Stendhal, then French consul at Civitavecchia, writes to his friend Di Fiore: 'I live here on the very fringe of barbarism, I have gout and gravel, and am very fat, excessively nervous and fifty-two years of age] Ah] had I known in 1814 that my father was ruined, I would have become a tooth-puller, lawyer, judge, etc. I am so stupefied by boredom that I have no desires; I am in black gloom. You will understand how excessive is my stagnation when I confess to you that I read the advertisements in the daily newspaper. In this bewitched sojourn I have no knowledge of anything. Here I become stupider every day. Do see if there is some way of earning 2,000 francs in Paris: a room facing south, on a fifth storey. Such a little room, with an income of five francs and five francs earned by a novel would be supreme happiness. It is my natural bent to live with two candles and a writing table.'

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