You could feel the silence spreading across the supermarket, like a great engine winding down

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The Independent Online
Until last weekend, I'd always associated the sound of silence with crap scansion and rhythmical word-throttling ("Because a vision soft- lee-ee cree-ping/ Left its seeds while I woh-hos slee-ping") and nothing more. How wrong I was.

The scene was Sainsbury's at 10.55 on Sunday morning. I was halfway down the Cereals aisle, trying to persuade my small son (whose requirements in the breakfast department are as rigorous as a Muslim on Death Row) that he couldn't have the Nesquik Wheaties packet with the free Krazy Straw inside, when the Tannoy went bing-bong. "Has it is Rebebbrance Sudday," announced an unseen but adenoidal shelf-stacker, "We hobe our custobers will join us in observig two binutes of silence at heleven o'clog". Oh right, we thought, silence - and continued arguing with the children and consuming away, amid the Cheerios and Strawberry Jammies. Four minutes later, the adenoidal youth was back, inglorious and phlegm-drenched but insistent, calling for silence. And miles from the Cenotaph, and the party leaders looking grimly earnest and what Larkin called "soppy-stern", miles from the royal wreath-laying, miles from the veterans' medals and marching crowds, miles from the rain along Whitehall and the grey skies under which melancholy knots of Britons awkwardly grouped around war memorials from Orkney to Over Wallop, miles from processions and churches and barracks, there, in the most brightly-lit, egregiously modern, flagrantly unpoetic environment you could find on a Sunday morning, there among the rows of dog food and pasta sauces, an amazing thing happened. You could feel the silence spreading across the supermarket, like a great engine winding down. Shoppers who kept on walking were glared into immobility. Querulous children ("But why should I...?") were shushed. The rattle of baskets subsided. The check-out girls, on the point of asking those baffling questions about "Cashback", froze in mid-enquiry. Shoppers proffering credit cards became statues. Right across 24 aisles, from red bananas to white Bordeaux, everything stopped. It wasn't silence exactly, more a kind of enchantment that settled on us like the magic dust in The Sleeping Beauty. I found myself staring dementedly at a packet of Nestle's Cinnamon Toast Crunch, as though meditating on a rainbow. MacNeice's poem came into my head: "God, or whatever means the good/ Be praised that time can stop like this..." It wasn't about remembering the war; it was about locating the peace.

In 1975 there was a shocking, gratuitously violent and controversial movie called Jaws, about a Long Island beach resort being terrorised by a man-eating shark. The film's notoriety wholly eclipsed a fine but less sensational production that came out in the same month called Jews, about a Long Island beach resort being terrorised by a man-eating gefilte fish. Much nicer, but, tragically, nobody wanted to go see it. Later there was Reservoir Dogs, a shocking, gratuitously violent and controversial film about some American hoodlums in black suits coming to blows in a deserted warehouse. Yeah, it was good, but not a patch on Reservoir Doges, a little- seen movie about some Venetian grandees in midnight-blue tunics arguing about which of them should get free passes to the Lido. It was refreshingly free of swearing and dismemberment, but was sadly ignored. Now, I notice, there's a fuss about Crash, a shocking, gratuitously etc film based on JG Ballard's novel about ghastly people who get a sexual thrill out of imagining themselves deliberately crashing into a car driven by Jayne Mansfield. Everyone's calling for it to be banned. It would be a shame if all the attendant celebrity were to overshadow an earlier work of Mr Ballard's called Creche, about some ghastly people who get a perverse thrill out of abandoning their children in a supermarket play area, so they can whizz unencumbered around the aisles, hoping to collide trolleys with their local MP, and tell them about the need to ban movies they haven't seen because they know - they really know - what people want to watch in the cinema...

Great encounters of our time. Two giants of the interview circuit ran into each other, apparently for the first time, on Saturday at the launch party of Redmond O'Hanlon's Congo Journey, the twinkly-spectacled zoologist's crazed foray into the heart of Nowheresville in search of the Lost Dinosaur of Lake Tele. The party was at Pelican House, O'Hanlon's Oxfordshire mansion, and featured a Redmondian slew of literati (Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes, Will Self, Craig Raine) and scientists (Richard Dawkins, Jonathan Kingdon). Martin Amis couldn't come because he and Isabel Fonseca had just had a baby (Fernanda) but Ian McEwan managed to jet over from the swamps of Louisiana, where they're currently filming his story First Love Last Rites (it's set, as far as I remember, in Clapham). Galen Strawson, the Oxford philosopher, had a brief conversation with his old student Will Self, the saurian gourmet, and suffered a crippling anxiety attack immediately afterwards. The scientists looked on with faint distaste as the arty tendency flew around kissing each other unhygienically. Wondering what exactly scientists talk about when off duty, a friend eavesdropped on Professor Tim Halliday, an expert on the sex life of the newt, and discovered him talking about - just that ("It's all a matter of whip, fan, flash and sniff. Then the male drops a sperm package, which the female...") And in the midst of it all, Terry Wogan ran into Jeremy Paxman for the first time. Instant mutual admiration, apparently.

The London animal world has been behaving rather oddly of late. Next week, my old chum Roy Hattersley appears before Bow Street magistrates, accused of letting his bull terrier, Buster, off the leash in St James's Park, whereupon he (Buster, obviously) savaged a greylag goose in a blizzard of feathers and entrails. "I know he chased it," admits the ashen-faced former Labour deputy, in defence of his murderous pet, "but I don't understand why it didn't fly away. That's what birds are supposed to do." And all week the papers have been full of menacing, street-wise foxes in south London, where one has been spotted climbing into an infant's buggy and allegedly biting its face. Indeed, if you believe the tabloids, their new urban identity had emboldened foxes to the point where they're likely to mug you for the price of a kebab, steal your car and drive around in back-to-front headgear looking for trouble. This is not what they're supposed to do. My road in Dulwich is regularly patrolled by a brace of foxes, but they never show signs of wanting to climb on anything except a bin and eachother.

What intrigues me about the bitten-baby story is the insistence of a chap called Trevor Williams, of the Fox Project, that the child's injuries "are totally inconsistent with a fox-bite... They sound much more like a cat's scratch." So, let me get this straight, Inspector. When the Norbury fox was found sitting on the scratched baby, it didn't mean the fox was responsible for the scratches; it meant a cat had done the evil deed, then scarpered leaving the fox holding, as it were, the smoking gun... Bloody hell. Non-operational greylag geese, innocent fall-guy foxes and infanticidal pussies. Time to call in Redmond O'Hanlon...

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