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Yours disappointedly

A long time ago, when I was in Berlin, I noticed a street called Filanda Street. I was really taken by that name; it sounded uncommonly elegant for a German street name, and since most German streets are named after specific people or things, I wondered who or what Filanda could possibly be.

Various possibilities sprang to mind. Perhaps it was the pseudonym of some interesting poetess who eventually committed suicide. Or a fabled city somewhere in sub-saharan Africa. It certainly had a romantic ring to it.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when, after several months, I discovered that “filanda’ is, in fact, the Italian word for a machine used in the manufacture of silk. I suppose at least silk is still slightly exotic, but nothing else in that definition is.

I mention this because something similar happened to me today. I was waiting for my train, and browsing in the little newsagent-and-bookstore. As I glanced at the children’s book section, one of the titles caught my eye. It translated roughly as: “When are train drivers allowed to go to the toilet?”

That’s an intriguing question, although it wasn’t one I’d ever thought to ask. But having asked it — or rather, having seen the question displayed on a book cover — I was seized with a burning desire to find out. After all, modern trains only have one driver each, and they have dead-man switches so they won’t move an inch without a live person sitting in the driver’s seat.

I picked up the book, which turned out to be a slim volume packed with all the questions ten-year-old boys are apt to ask their parents. How are rails made? Why do trains hiss when they start up? Why does the overhead cable zig-zag?

I leafed through and found the answer to this intriguing question which had never intrigued me until this afternoon. When are train drivers allowed to go to the toilet?

The answer, I can now reveal to the world, is: Train drivers are allowed to go to the toilet when the train is stopped at a station.

Well, that was an anti-climax. I don’t know what kind of answer I was expecting, but I think I was expecting something a lot less obvious than that, seeing as that question was the one chosen as the title of the book.

I went home, safe in the knowledge that the driver wouldn’t nip out between stations for a quick pee.

How to make cricket ridiculous

I admit, it’s not easy to make the game of cricket even more ridiculous than it already is. Even though I’m British, I have never really warmed to the idea of cricket as the sort of pastime I would choose over, say, breeding slugs, and tend to agree with Bill Bryson’s assessment that cricket is the only sport where a single game can last three days without anything happening.

So, frankly, I couldn’t normally care less that Indian cricket has started featuring Bollywood cheerleaders, not to mention laser shows and full-blown concerts to bring in the crowds. The story does, however, have a ring of pointless idiocy about it that I find irresistable.

In my view, cricket isn’t, and was never meant to be, a spectator sport. The reason cricket is such a tediously boring game is that it was really just an excuse for the menfolk to meet, do business and pretend it’s all good exercise; the women, in charge of the sandwiches and tea-urns, networked like mad. No wonder the game doesn’t lend itself to filling huge stadiums even in India, where cricket is more or less the national religion (with Hinduism coming a poor second).

So not only do we have to deal with watching men swatting at the occasional ball while radio commentators chat about the really rather super spongecake made by Mrs Wilkins of Leamington Spa (or whatever the Indian equivalent might be), but we now have to contend with crowds of over-excited louts falling over themselves to ogle at some movie star’s curves. Cricket isn’t my sport, and it will never become my sport even if it features Shilpa Shetty.

Conspiracy theories

An inquest has just decided that Diana, Princess of Wales, and her companion Dodi al-Fayed, were “unlawfully killed” ten years ago. Dodi’s father, Mohammed al-Fayed, owner of Harrod’s, has managed the clever trick of both expressing the sentiment that the verdict will come as a blow to all those who, like him, believe they were murdered, and also claiming the verdict proved him right.

This, of course, comes after that other bizarre court case, the one in which Heather Mills said that she was a victim of rough justice while maintaining that she’d won her case.

I don’t know what it is about the rich and famous these days, but those two seem completely off their chumps. Al-Fayed’s, er, strange conspiracy theory has the United Kingdom run by Prince Philip and the secret services, who employ stuntmen so skilled that they can reliably cause a Mercedes 280S to ram a pillar at exactly the right angle to fatally injure most of its occupants. This is a big car equipped with all the safety systems you can imagine; had it hit at a slightly different angle, the occupants would almost certainly still be alive today.

Possibly al-Fayed was still smarting from Prince Philip’s decision in 2001 to remove his warrant from Harrod’s (you know: those fancy coats of arms with the words “By Appointment to H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh”). Or maybe he just failed to get his Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. Then again, this is just as likely to be exactly the kind of muddled thinking you’d expect from a man who would commission a sculpture symbolising the Holy Spirit as an albatross.

The verdict, of course, was “unlawful killing”. This was an inquest, so it wasn’t not up to the jury to say whether it was murder, manslaughter or what. The verdict simply means that the victims died as a result of laws being broken: specifically, in this case, their driver was drunk and the other cars on the road were driving recklessly. Whether this was deliberate or not would be for a criminal trial to decide, but as this happened in France, the British authorities have no powers to prosecute anyone.

In al-Fayed’s mind, of course, those other cars were driven by members of the British secret services. In everybody else’s mind — and very possibly in the real world most of us inhabit at least some of the time — those other cars were full of paparazzi.

In any case, it was both disturbing and amusing to hear Mr al-Fayed, speaking through his lawyer, simultaneously accepting and rejecting the jury’s verdict. Almost as disturbing and amusing as seeing Heather Mills rant incoherently about the British justice system.

I think the two of them are a match made in heaven. Britain’s least popular immigrant and Britain’s least popular charity worker. They ought to get married. That, at least, would tempt me to read the gossip columns.

Yet another conspiracy theory

Now that Macca has forked out over £24 million for the privilege of divorcing Heather Mills, the Daily Telegraph reports that fans have discovered hidden references in his latest album. Chief among them is the title of one of the tracks, Mister Bellamy, which is an anagram of “Mills betray me”. Aha, say the conspiracy theorists, that must have been deliberate.

This works, of course, if you write the title like that, but in fact everywhere else (meaning, everywhere except the fevered imaginings of people who don’t believe in coincidences) it’s written “Mr Bellamy”.

The Telegraph does point out that there are 18000 other English phrase “Mister Bellamy” is an anagram of, which sort of puts the conspiracy theories into perspective.

A couple of questions come to mind:

  1. Who first decided to sit down and make anagrams of all the titles of McCartney’s latest album tracks? And why?
  2. How does the Telegraph know there are 18000 other anagrams of the same phrase? Do they have staff employed to do this kind of research?

The big yawn

It hasn’t escaped even the attention of the Daily Telegraph that Nicole Kidman was seen yawning at a Keith Urban concert. For some reason, this is either of earth-shattering importance, or richly comic.

The story achieves a certain piquancy, of course, because Urban and Kidman are man and wife. I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean. Is Kidman duty-bound to pay rapt attention to everything he does?

At least the Telegraph website relegated this story to its “And Also&hellip” section, dedicated to amusing or bizarre stories. Not that there’s anything amusing or bizarre about it. The photos are unflattering; and yes, Kidman was clearly either bored, or very tired, or both.

And so what? One would hope that she married Keith Urban because she thinks he’d make a great husband for her, and not because she thinks he’s a great musician. So what if she doesn’t really like his music?

And if she’s tired, that wouldn’t be surprising either. She actually has something called a “career”. I don’t know — and, to be honest, I don’t much care — if she’s in the middle of making some blockbuster movie or even just doing some miscellaneous bits and pieces in between making blockbuster movies, but acting is not exactly an easy job. Apart from anything else, the hours suck.

So basically, this whole story is about an actress caught in the act of yawning. Well, big flippin’ deal.

And now, next week’s headlines:

  • Johnny Depp gets the hiccups.
  • Tony Blair seen trying to swat annoying fly.
  • Andrea Corr rolls eyes in exasperation.
  • Lucy Liu scratches head while trying to remember location of car keys.
  • George Bush clears throat before starting speech.

Well, I’m yawning now. Anyone want to make a headline out of that?