SO THAT'S it then. Or is it? Quarter page advertisements in the national press in the past couple of days predict that a year this Sunday - 25 July 1994 - a gigantic comet will collide with Jupiter and destroy mankind.
In a warning from Almighty God to world leaders, Sister Marie Gabriel, a 52-year-old Polish nun and self-appointed divine messenger, says we can expect 'the biggest cosmic explosion in the history of mankind' unless nations comply with eight commandments.
Among other things, the crime rate must be drastically reduced by copying Saudi Arabia's 'successful' system of law and order, women must obey strict modesty laws in public, alcohol must be banned, NHS hospitals should 'stop killing old people with morphine overdoses and starvation' and wars in Africa, former Yugoslavia and other nations must stop immediately.
Sister Marie also predicts that there will be a royal revolution in England in which the next sovereign will ask the armed forces to support him in order to gain control of the country.
Zoe Richmond, secretary of the Scientific Forecasts Society, which placed the advertisements at a cost of pounds 7,000 on Sister Marie's behalf, said yesterday she was certain the predictions were going to come true. 'It's just something that's given directly by the Holy Spirit,' she says. 'I mean, Russell Grant can predict quite a lot of things.'
IN ANOTHER national newspaper advertisement yesterday, the BBC announced that it is seeking 13 regional health correspondents, 12 regional education correspondents and nine regional environment correspondents. Not so much a mission to explain, then, as to bore the nation to death.
PC gets the needle
WHILE guarding a suspected thief at Trafford Hospital, Constable Gaffney, of Greater Manchester police, found the sight of a doctor probing his charge's hand with a hypodermic needle too much to bear.
PC Gaffney fainted and in falling sustained a cut to his head that required attention in the hospital's casualty department. His squeamishness - according to the current issue of Police magazine - came as something of a surprise to his colleagues. They expected the former British power-lifting champion and the proud holder of the 'Mr Wigan' body-building title to be made of sterner stuff.
AND NOW - in the worst possible taste - sources in London's gay community hear that the current nickname in police circles for London's homosexual serial killer is: the fairy liquidiser.
It's that man again
JOKES are usually few and far between in that solemn journal of economic and political analysis, the Economist. It has, however, had its moments. For several years in the late Eighties, it now emerges, the bearded face of the then business affairs editor, Bill Emmott, was regularly slipped into the David Simmonds cartoon illustrating the financial pages.
Emmott tells us the in-house joke began after he won an essay prize. 'Thereafter, the former finance editor, Vince McCullough, decided it would be a good idea to stick my face, distinguishable by my little beard, somewhere on the drawing most weeks.
'At times it was quite hard for the staff to find it. Occasionally it was imprinted on another human face; sometimes it was upside down; one time it was put on the rear end of a cow.' The representations have stopped now. Just as well, perhaps. Emmott is now the magazine's editor and such levity might not be considered quite the thing in this the journal's 150th anniversary year.
BLACK residents of South Africa's Vaal township have been complaining bitterly about police inaction in the wake of a spate of random killings in the area. Major Piet van de Venter, of the local police, denies the allegations. There are problems, he says, in overcoming trenches and barricades. And besides: 'We cannot see house numbers in the dark.'
A DAY LIKE THIS
20 July 1836 Thomas Arnold writes to the newly appointed governor of Van Diemen's Land in Australia: 'A convict colony seems to me to be shocking and monstrous. I do not know to what extent Van Diemen's Land is so; but I am sure that no such evil can be done to mankind as by thus sowing with rotten seed, and raising up a nation morally tainted in its very origin. Compared with this, the bloodiest exterminations ever effected by conquest were useful and good actions. If they will colonise with convicts, I am satisfied that the stain should last, not only for one whole life, but for more than one generation; that no convict or convict's child should ever be a free citizen; and that, even in the third generation, the offspring should be excluded from all offices of honour or authority in the colony. This would be complained of as unjust or invidious, but I am sure that distinctions of moral breed are as natural and as just as those of skin or of arbitrary caste are wrong and mischievous.'