Oddly, one thing just led to another

One of the most compelling inventions in that wonderful and extremely useful book, The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, is the improbability drive. It powers a spaceship and is too complicated to explain here, but to give you a flavour, I will tell you what happened to my son, his family, my wife and me in between Legoland and Reading.

One of the most compelling inventions in that wonderful and extremely useful book, The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, is the improbability drive.

It powers a spaceship and is too complicated to explain here, but to give you a flavour, I will tell you what happened to my son, his family, my wife and me in between Legoland and Reading. We were in two cars: I was following my son who had the directions to the hotel.

Well over 90pc of the journey had been completed when my son made an unexpected right turn. I attempted to follow, but another car cut in, and I had to abandon the manoeuvre. By the time I had turned round, he had disappeared.

We followed in what we thought were his footsteps - or tyre tracks, if you want to be pedantic about it. After quite a long time, we more or less gave up. We were lost. We didn't know the name of the hotel or where it was.

So far, so unlikely. In these days of mobile phones, a simple solution was available. My wife had a mobile phone, and so did I. So did my son.

My wife attempted to ring him, only to be told she could not use her phone because we hadn't paid the bill - a small matter of £9, which in any case is paid automatically by credit card. Only something had gone wrong, and the company had chosen this precise moment to block the phone. I did not attempt to ring my son on my phone, because when I was in Ireland someone had rung

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me and used up all its outstanding top-up credit - coincidentally, also about £9.

An iniquitous system, in my view, and because I had had no time to rectify the situation, my phone was as useless as a lump of coal.

So why did my son not ring us? This is where it gets really improbable. When he turned right, the hotel was on our left, and he did a full circle to enter its car park. He thought we had seen this, or had at least noticed the hotel which, to be fair, was big.

He dropped his wife and two children outside reception and went round the back to park the car. In the course of unloading, he dropped his car keys down the side of the seat and spent some time looking for them.

He assumed we had made contact with his wife. She in turn assumed we had made contact with him. So no phone call - until they eventually met up and found that no-one knew where we were, least of all us.

We had been driving round the galaxy for a while when we received his call, and found we could see the hotel from where we were.

Fortunately, like Planet Earth in the essential Guide, we are mostly harmless.

NICE MOVERS, BUT A BIT WOOLLY IN DEFENCE...

Now that there's scarcely a break between football seasons, it was no surprise to see a team of sheep practising on a pitch outside our Irish hotel during a recent holiday.

However I was a bit doubtful about some of the tactics, especially the positional play. At first they appeared to be going for a diamond formation, then for a moment it was 4-2-4, with a black sheep in the hole.

But this disintegrated quite quickly, and some alarming gaps developed in midfield. There was a lot of bunching and what might easily have been interpreted as ball-following, if there had been a ball.

All in all they seemed strong in defence, but with the best will in the world you couldn't describe them as quick on the break.

It was also a little disturbing how their heads went down.

Still, the pitch was looking surprisingly good.

BEWARE THE LAWS OF LENTONDOM

Lenton's First Law: where two people, one male and one female, arrange to meet in a few minutes' time, this arrangement will not work, however simple it is.

This applies to groups as well as individuals, and is closely connected to Lenton's Second Law: every woman has the innate ability to disappear completely in a supermarket, however small the supermarket.

An example: my wife and a friend were going to do a little food shopping while the friend's husband and I walked down the road - a matter of 50 yards - to see a small photographic exhibition involving railway stations and snow. Whoever finished first would walk to meet the other two.

We finished looking at the exhibition and walked back to the supermarket.

No sign of the other two. Aware of the Second Law, we examined the supermarket thoroughly, but to no avail. (I should mention that it was not in Hingham.)

In this situation, as in so many others - despite what politicians say - doing nothing is not only an option: it is essential. The women would eventually materialise, and they did. They had gone somewhere else instead.

Lenton's Third Law: there is always a really good reason for this.

LET'S BLAME IT ON WEBSTER

The American pronunciation of Norwich as Nor-witch is usually ascribed to the rather literal approach to life characteristic of our transatlantic cousins.

Visitors to Connecticut will know New England's Norwich is pronoun-ced Nor-witch, just as their river Thames is pronounced Thayms.

But a writer to the National Post, a newspaper that was picked up by an alert EDP reader in Vancouver, suggests that the man to blame is lexicographer Noah Webster.

His dictionary and other work emphasised the value of phonetics in teaching children to read - an approach not unknown to our own dear government, not to mention thousands of teachers.

The Canadian letter-writer suggests it was this method, applied pedantically, that caused Americans to change their pronunciation of places like Norwich and Warwick and rivers like the Thames.

While it is nice to have someone to blame, I am not so sure. It may just be a question of imagination - pronounced Ingoldisthorpe. After all, if California were in Norfolk, it would be pronounced Scratby.

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