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March 9, 2006

Ripley wouldn't touch any of this...

As Britain becomes more and more politically correct and its citizens more and more dumbfounded by it all, it's encouraging to find that we are not alone. Tom Tickell looks back on a year full of pomposity, idiosyncrasy and plain old-fashioned nonsense, here and abroad.

• A market trader in Derby was banned from selling candles - unless they carried a notice warning that they can burn.

• A constable who saved the life of a man who was high on drugs by stopping him jumping from a window was reprimanded. PC Amerjit Singh, who had been summoned to a house in Cambridgeshire to prevent the potential suicide, had used "undue force" in holding the man back from killing himself. The man's father complained.

• Labour's election slogan - Forwards Not Backwards - sounded ironic to most Germans. The words were the East German government's standard election cliché and slogan, just before the Berlin wall came down and Communism collapsed in 1989. Germans still use the term as a bad joke.

• Staff at a Norwich school had to fill in risk assessment forms before they could take children out to play in the snow last winter. Children throwing snowballs could do so only if they were 65ft apart. "Risk assessments can keep children safe in snowy weather," claimed a spokesman for the council.

• A teenage thug was ordered not to wear anything obscuring his face as part of the terms of the Asbo slapped on him for terrorising local residents in Portsea, Hampshire. But the ban was lifted after his lawyers claimed it "interfered with his right to his personal development".

• A man whose leg was amputated three years ago was told to report for a new medical examination before his disabled parking permit could be renewed. Bradford council had details on Ron Craig's problems, but a spokesman insisted that everyone wanting their disabled permit renewed had to be treated in the same way.

• An education chief ordered his staff not to use the words "gifted" or "talented" about school students because "it suggests exclusivity". Instead, Howard Cooper, educational director of Wirral council, suggested they use the words "very able with specific gifts or talents".

• A team of image consultants was paid £15,000 by Basildon council to recommend a new name for the town. They suggested changing it to Boethalls Hill, because it had "a more up-market feel than Basildon". The town has been the butt of jokes about Essex girls and white van men.

• Hospital visitors to the maternity wing of Calderdale Royal Infirmary in Halifax were told not to coo over newborn babies because to do so infringes their human rights. The hospital also asked visitors not to ask mothers about their babies "to protect their privacy and dignity".

• The local council in Test Valley, Hampshire told residents not to light bonfires on Guy Fawkes' night because the smoke might annoy neighbours and cause air pollution. The council recommended making compost from garden waste instead.

• Academics at Glasgow university spent £140,000 on a study of "the cappuccino culture" which concluded that people went to coffee shops so that they could enjoy meeting their friends. Women with young children preferred coffee shops to pubs, claimed the report, which also revealed that when customers did not like the coffee a particular chain served, they would stop going there.

- A woman was fined £60 for driving while holding a small apple. Police evidence included video footage and aerial photography, and they successfully argued that the driver was not in full control of her car.

• Norfolk's education chiefs told people teaching religious instruction in the county's schools to avoid mentioning the Holy Ghost, because children might find the thought of ghosts spooky. Giving information about Holy Communion was out because talk of eating Christ's body and blood could make children assume Christians were cannibals. Finally, teachers should not mention the Wailing Wall because it could imply that Jews were moaners.

• A study of the power consumed by electrical equipment showed that turning them off was cheaper than keeping them on all the time.

• A doctor in New Hampshire was ordered to apologise to a massively obese woman after he told her that she would face serious health problems unless she lost weight.

• The arm-bands for the Make Poverty History campaign turned out to have been made in Chinese sweatshops. An audit showed that some staff were being paid only 9p an hour - 60 per cent of their government's minimum wage.

• Miss Universe was banned from opening a food festival in Toronto because local officials claimed that her beauty queen regalia might be offensive to women. They used a by-law forbidding "degradation of women through sexual stereotyping". The mayor later apologised.

• University staff discussed the "meaning" of David Beckham at a conference at Paisley University. They received a mass of academic papers including one entitled Father Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me? Post-modernism, Desire and Dissatisfaction: A Case Study in David Beckham's Meaning.

• Relate - formerly the Marriage Guidance Council - announced that children should be discouraged from making Mother's and Father's Day cards this year. It claimed that it was unfair to children in single-parent families, or with step-parents.

• Cycling paramedics on emergency calls in Norwich must now dismount as they cross the Chipperfield shopping centre. The owners were worried that they might hit shoppers, who could sue the centre for compensation. The cyclists have gone to more than 6,000 emergencies in the past five years.

• A 10-year-old boy received a police warning for playing cowboys and Indians with his little brother. Carl Astley had a tiny cap gun, but a passing police car unit screeched to a halt as he was firing it. The men inside - from an armed response unit - told Carl he could be arrested for wielding a toy gun.

• An American cartoon character, SpongeBob Squarepants, has come under fire from born-again Christian groups for promoting homosexuality. The cartoon featured him holding hands with Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy - apparently a coded message that implied gay sexuality was acceptable.

- Belgian politicians went to congratulate the country's oldest woman on reaching the age of 109. But a bureaucratic error had ensured that no one had recorded her departure for Paris in 1939, or her death there in 1954.

• Feng Shui underpants designed to bring spiritual balance by having something lucky next to the skin were launched in time for Chinese new year. The Life Enhancer company of Hong Kong claims that they will also help ward off evil spirits and bring harmony.

• Bob Geldof called for a "new Dunkirk" - where boats would flood across the Channel to pick up French protesters. The demonstrators could then join thousands of other protesters demanding fairer international trade outside the G8 summit in Edinburgh. Alas, only five boats went over - and no protesters were there to pick up.

• North Korean men must get their hair cut regularly. The country's main radio station claims that long hair uses up the energy that could otherwise go to the brain. Broadcasters and North Korea's Communist government have launched an official campaign entitled "Let Us Trim Our Hair in Accordance with Socialist Principles".

• A Californian woman was so moved by the devastation caused to New Orleans poultry farms by hurricane Katrina that she led a group of people to Mississippi to rescue more than 1,000 chickens, which have now gone to animal sanctuaries.

• Orthodox Jews should not sing in Hebrew while having a shower, according to a former chief rabbi in Israel. Mordechai Eliahu announced that Hebrew was too sacred to be used in the bathroom. But it is acceptable to hum - provided no word of Hebrew crosses your mind as you do so.

• Truck drivers caught speeding in Bihar in India now face a new punishment. They have to hop like frogs for half a kilometre, reciting their favourite politician's name. Police claim that public humiliation is far more effective than financial penalties.

• A Turkish prisoner held in solitary confinement managed to get the convicted woman bomber in the next-door cell pregnant - through a 3in hole drilled in the wall. Both prisoners have been punished for making the hole.

• A 22-year-old German mugger targeted a victim of 88 - and got knocked out. Grandfather Gerhard Brinkmann was Germany's lightweight boxing champion in 1936.

• A single kiss can contain 40,000 parasites, 250 types of bacteria and up to 0.45 grams of fat, according to a study.

• A strip club in Boise, Idaho, started advertising itself as a life-drawing class and gives pencils and papers to all its clients before they come in. Boise bans public nudity "unless it has serious artistic merit". The Erotic City's Art Night has been a dramatic success.

• Police called to investigate damage to a medieval church refused to climb a gently sloping 12ft ladder to see what had happened to the roof - because they had no specialist ladder training. Only specialist units can climb ladders of that kind, and none could be summoned because the vandalism was not an emergency.

• A teenager who forced open an industrial container at the port of Ashburton in New Zealand was trapped by an avalanche of frozen peas. They covered him up to his chest, and police had to bring in a fork-lift truck to rescue him. He was then arrested.

• Britain's oldest election candidate, 91-year-old Bob Leaskey, stood for the Virtue, Currency and Cognitive Appraisal Party, which he founded. Its programme included abolishing money, and the removal of all politicians. Civil servants would draft all laws, though voters would have to vote on how much they backed each one (on a scale of one to 10) to decide whether they came into force.

• Three elderly criminals admitted carrying out a string of armed robberies in Germany. The trio - aged 74, 73 and 64, had seized 1.3 million euros in 14 raids. But their age let them down: "Rudi could not get up the stairs any more and he constantly had to stop to go to the toilet," said one raider. Police realised the suspects were likely to be elderly after a witness reported all three had been wheezing.

• A specialist range of clothes for chickens was shown off by 20 hens on a Japanese catwalk. The designer claims that many local farmers have ordered the suits which come in five sizes - small, medium, large, extra large and turkey. The chicken farm's name will come on all suits, which, says the manufacturer, will make them the perfect way to advertise.

• Police raided the home of a man who received long-term disability benefits because he could not walk - only to find holiday pictures of him wrestling with an alligator, riding a camel and receiving an award as a jujitsu black belt.

• The Mexican government published a 32-page comic book, giving advice to people thinking of crossing into the United States illegally. It gives tips on what to wear to remain inconspicuous, how to avoid dehydration in the Nevada desert and sets out their legal and medical rights if detained. Officials claim that 300 Mexicans died in trying to reach the US illegally, and that the state must protects its citizens.

• A Californian teacher turned model took a coffee company to court for using his face on its coffee jars without his permission and received $15 million in damages. He had featured on the jars for almost 20 years, but no one had recognised him before.

• A burglar in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, avoided a three-year jail sentence by having a sex-change operation while on bail. Bulgarian law does not recognise trans-gender operations, so technically the former man and present woman are different people.

• Officials in the Czech Republic started a campaign to cut down government bureaucracy and waste by closing down the country's General Directorate of the Civil Service. The directorate had itself been set up to find ways of cutting back on waste and red tape.

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