Here is the news: now pick and choose what you want to believe
Sometimes news items appear in the media that seem to have no connection with reality. Indeed, so unprepared are we for the way they drastically cut across conventional wisdom that we have to leave them alone, in the hope that they will go away as mysteriously as they arrived.
Probably the most dramatic example of this in recent weeks was the claim that farm animals in the fenced off fields surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear power station had not died of radiation sickness like the Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims of the Second World War, but were still getting along famously 16 years later.
'Most people think the zone surrounding the reactor is an apocalyptic wilderness occupied by two-headed monsters, ' confessed a recent visitor to Chernobyl to the Sunday Times , 'whereas it appears to be exactly the opposite.' The newspaper quoted a UN official who insisted that Chernobyl 'represents an extraordinary environmental opportunity for tourism'.
Saying that we can learn to live with radiation after all seems amazing, but the story was virtually ignored. Perhaps it was deemed too confrontational for a country busy decommissioning its nuclear power stations.
Well, let's try another one. A recent criminal case reported in France Soir seems equally amazing - it too cuts across the conventional wisdom that says priceless pictures in art galleries are closely guarded by elaborate security systems.
This time the case is a mother-and-son drama in which the son is arrested so the mother chops up and throws into a canal the estimated £1 billionworth of old masters that he had stolen from provincial art galleries all over Europe in an eightyear spree of art thefts. The son had never tried to sell his haul of 60 paintings and 112 art objects but, in a fit of rage at his foolishness in getting caught, the mother had mutilated and tossed into the Rhine-Rhône canal paintings by (among others) Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Watteau and Francois Boucher.When apprehended by the police after trying to steal a bugle from a museum in Lucerne, the son confessed to more than 100 thefts, but insisted that they had all taken place in broad daylight, without break-ins, during hours when the galleries and museums were open.
A spokesman for the specialist division of the Surete dealing with art crimes was quoted as saying that this was possible because most provincial galleries could not afford to insure or guard their collections. This in turn was confirmed by the Art Loss Register, which admitted that security problems in Europe have led to nearly £6 billionworth of art being stolen from galleries and museums every year.Did you know that?
Perhaps there is room for just one more paradox. In England, 100 years after it was first proposed, the first experiments in milk delivery by postmen have been started. Unfortunately for the prospects of this bold initiative, over the same 100 years milk rounds have declined in number by nearly 80 per cent and refrigerators have leaped from being in none to being in 98.9 per cent of British homes.
More recently, sales of large containers of milk (one litre or more) from supermarkets - which have themselves introduced competing home deliveries - already vastly exceed milk float deliveries. So are these experiments worth pursuing?
Better still, is it worth Consignia, which handles 250 million items of domestic mail a month, continuing to compete with electronic mail, which averages 550 million items a month? Clearly the milkman and Postman Pat are leftovers from another age, as is the unguarded exhibition of original works of art instead of digitised copies - and yes, Chernobyl really is where it's at this summer.