Not that it was the only thing around to trip up the South Africans. Now we are at last exposed to the country's sportsmen, it is alarming to discover the preponderence of the Mullet haircut among its cricketers. This long-at-the-back-short-at-the-sides abomination popular in 1983 was thus named by Q magazine last month (though why the Mullet, no one, even at Q, can explain; sounds better than the bloater, presumably). The Mullethas long since been abandoned even by recalcitrant stylists like Ian Botham. But, a bit like marsupials evolving away from the influences of the rest of the world, it is still the rage in so recently isolated Johannesburg. Perhaps that was what was meant by separate development.
The King of the Mullet, Michael Bolton, narrowly escaped a hair crisis when he appeared on Top of the Pops recently. Renowned in pop as uniquely capable of wearing three hairstyles simultaneously, Bolton was obliged just before his performance to walk from his dressing room to the studio via an open-air walkway. As he readied himself to follow Mark Lamarr, the presenter, across this divide, it became clear that a thin film of rain was falling.
Before the singer could set foot outside, the air was rent by a huge cry of "Michael! No!". One of his entourage, following behind, had realised the potentially cataclysmic consequences of mist meeting Mullet and roared his demand that Bolton wait in safety until an umbrella could be found. Michael Bolton: the only man in pop to travel with his own hair traffic controller.
It came as no surprise to a consumer called Bill Rich that in South Wales electricity has become big business. The week that worker-shareholders in SWALEC are trousering up to pounds 21,000 in realised options as the company is absorbed by Welsh Water, the inappropriately named Mr Rich is entering his third year of dispute over his electricity bill. The problem is that Mr Rich and his family, in their escapist farmhouse in the middle of Powys, are reckoned by SWALEC to be running up the kind of charges more generally associated with market gardeners growing industrial quantities of cannabis under arc lamps.
"The average bill in Wales is pounds 273 per year, yet ours is up to pounds 2,000," says Mr Rich, who has seen demands for more than pounds 900 a quarter pop through his letter box. "And SWALEC" - which he pronounces to rhyme with bollock - "seem clueless as to why it happens."
Mr Rich has been assiduous in his efforts to find out why a household that does not even possess a tumble-drier has been racheting up such extraordinary electricity use. Over the past couple of years his home has become a magnet for researchers: the electricity expert who reckoned it was a short circuit in the fridge (Mr Rich changed the fridge and the bills still came); the clammy-handed spiritualist who said it was the ghost of someone Bill had murdered in a past life popping round for a recharge (he had an exorcism and the bills still came); the conspiracy theorist who was convinced the meter was being affected by secret MoD experiments conducted locally into electronic warfare (call in the X-Files). The latest expert to befriend them is a retired electrical engineer called, I kid you not, DC Smith.
Late one afternoon last week Mr Rich had the regulators from Offer, the electricity watchdog, round. "They needed to switch off the supply in order to replace the meter," he recalled. "Naturally, it went dark, so they had to fetch a torch from their car. The batteries were flat." The wheel of the newly fitted meter, however, has been spinning as fast as ever the old one did, for which no explanation is yet forthcoming.
"We've agreed to pay SWALEC pounds 1 a day until it's sorted out," Mr Rich said. "In the end I fear they'll make us pay the arrears. The only way I'll be able to afford that is to become a SWALEC shareholder."
Those unable at present to find a suitable role for themselves, or who feel that their true worth is neglected by their employers, could do worse than pop over to Chicago. In the airport there, a local company is advertising that it can supply you with a "Video resume": a TV-CV, as it were. The copy gushes that a film crew "goes to your place of work and films you there. This gives the employer a sense of your work ethic." Even better: "if you are not currently employed, Career Videos will simulate a working environment in your area of expertise."
Sherrill Watson, the company's sales person, was momentarily nonplussed when I rang with my request to simulate the working environment of a roving ambassador of goodwill, a secret night visitor to the sick and dying, and a Queen of Hearts. Not to be defeated by a minor problem, however, Ms Watson asked if the offices of a local public relations company would suffice as a back-drop. Sounds perfect.
If Gillian Shephard, the Education Secretary, hoped her proposal to encourage schoolchildren to talk proper like what she does would be a vote winner, she should have consulted some of her constituents first. A colleague was in a pub in her South Norfolk constituency over the weekend, where she was harangued by the landlord for not speaking in an East Anglian dialect.
"I had that Gillian Shephard in here the other day," he growled. "An' I told 'er an' all. You get up at that Tory conference, I tellzer, tellin' folks to talk like zomeone from the bleedin' BBC. Call yourself an East Anglian? I zezz. Destroying our 'eritage, that's what yurr doin'." God knows what he would have said to Virginia Bottomley.Reuse content