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Paul Dallison writesÂ Declassified, a weekly column looking at the lighter side of politics.
Obviously thereâ€™s one big weird story of the year: Cher visiting the â€œworldâ€™s loneliest elephant.â€
No, wait, it was a global pandemic that meant you couldnâ€™t go out, see grandma or cough in public without people looking at you as if you were a terrorist; reduced people to fighting over toilet paper; and if you did sneak out to go and buy a baguette, you had to be dressed like Hannibal Lecter or Daft Punk.
The coronavirus led to most, but not all, of Declassifiedâ€™s weirdest stories of the year. The way the world is going, the list for 2021 will be carved on a rock while I hide from zombie tigers (or something).
1. Bass, how low can you go?
Had this story emerged during the depths of the pandemic, the reaction may well have been â€œOh, and that happened.â€ But back in January 2020, news that the boss of one of the worldâ€™s biggest companies fled from the authorities by hiding in a musical instrument case was pretty shocking. When Nissanâ€™s Carlos Ghosn fled house arrest in Japan in late 2019, he did so in a large box.
Lebanese news channelÂ MTVÂ reported that a â€œparamilitary groupâ€ entered Ghosnâ€™s home under the guise of a band playing at a â€œGregorian dinnerâ€ and later left with Ghosn hiding in a double bass case. The case was reportedly so large that airport staff at Osakaâ€™s Kansai International Airport were unable to scan it, allowing Ghosn to sneak himself out of the country and into Lebanon through Turkey. The story makes the 2020 list because the details didnâ€™t emerge until January and also because thatâ€™s when Yamaha tweeted the following: â€œWe wonâ€™t mention the reason, but there have been many tweets about climbing inside large musical instrument cases â€¦ A warning after any unfortunate accident would be too late, so we ask everyone not to try it.â€
2. Madonna saves Europe
In May, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen did the political version of standing on the high street shaking a tin â€”Â she hosted a telethon to raise money to tackle the coronavirus. She got â‚¬7.4 billion in pledges, with some countries promising a lot and others not getting out their wallets at all. Pop superstar Madonna, however, pledged a not-insubstantial $1 million to the cause.
When Declassified suggested that this meant she got to join the European Union (not at the expense of Estonia and Lithuania, who didnâ€™t stump up any fresh cash, but in place of the already out-the-door U.K.), some British media thought it was serious (which says a lot about how people view the EU). The story was then reposted on social media by â€¦ Madonna.
3. Ice cream makes you gay
Meanwhile in Russia, it was 1959! According to a former member of the Russian parliament and current head of the Union of Women, an ice cream called RainbowÂ should be bannedÂ because it promotes homosexuality. Ekaterina Lakhova told President Vladimir Putin that advertisements for the multicolored ice cream could lead to children becoming â€œaccustomed toâ€ the LGBTQ communityâ€™s rainbow-colored flag.
â€œTheyâ€™re quietly promoting these nice rainbow colors, using nice words, theyâ€™re advertising an ice cream called Rainbow,â€ Lakhova told Putin, seemingly undermining her own argument by pointing out that itâ€™s only ice cream with nice colors and children like nice colors and rainbows. â€œI have the same negative feelings about the rainbow as I do about the swastika,â€ Lakhova said, clearly keeping everything in perspective.
4. Demon sperm
We have the, er, esteemed Dr. Stella Immanuel to thank for this one. She stood on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court and loudly proclaimed that â€œnobody needs to get sick. This virus has a cure â€” it is called hydroxychloroquine; I have treated over 350 patients and not had one death.â€ If she was in charge of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, itâ€™d be 90 percent hydroxychloroquine and 10 percent dreams.
Such bold boasting got people to look into the background of a doctor who had been praised by noted medical expert Donald Trump as being â€œvery impressive.â€ Turns out she holds some rather unconventional views. She claims that medical issues such as cysts, infertility and impotence are caused by people having sex with â€œspirit husbandsâ€ or â€œspirit wivesâ€ â€” so shagging witches and demons in a dream world. Or, as theÂ Daily Beastâ€™s Will SommerÂ put it: â€œReal-life ailments â€¦ stem from the demonic sperm after demon dream sex.â€
5. Iâ€™m just taking the crab for a walk!
Lockdown rules have been â€” and still are â€”Â rather confusing. And none more so than in Spain in the early days of the pandemic when it was forbidden to go out, even for a walk. That is, unless you were walking a dog. It led to people hiring out their dogs to exercise-deprived neighbors and, when all else failed, to people taking other animals for a stroll. Turns out the rules only applied to dogs, and police fined or warned people for walking aÂ goat, aÂ chickenÂ and, er, aÂ crab. Just to be clear, Catalan police said the ban extends to canaries and Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs.
Spaniards werenâ€™t deterred. You can fine a human, so the thinking went, but surely you canâ€™t fine a dinosaur! Sightings of dinosaurs (or, just maybe, people in dinosaur costumes) were reported across the countryÂ throwing out the rubbish,Â roaming freeÂ â€¦Â and being stopped by the police.
6. Ghent is shit
Coronavirus had such an impact that people in Ghent were (literally) shitting themselves. The Belgian city became slightly less appealing because of wildkakkers. In the summer, with public toilets closed down because of the pandemic, many people who were caught short simply relieved themselves in the great outdoors. Locals kicked up a stink. The cityâ€™s ombudsman, Helena Nachtergaele, toldÂ Het NieuwsbladÂ that during the lockdown â€œthere appeared to be a great shortage of classic toilets. This resulted in the phenomenon of â€˜wild poop.â€™â€
7. The greatest mis-booking of all time
This entire list could have been full of Donald Trump and yet the strangest U.S. election story didnâ€™t feature the soon-to-be-ex-president directly at all. The Trump teamâ€™s booking of Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia for a press conference instead of the cityâ€™s Four Seasons hotel could only have been improved if it had featured Rudy Giuliani spouting baselessÂ claimsÂ of voter fraud in the parking lot of a groundskeeping company situated between a sex shop and a crematorium. Oh wait, it did have those things!
OneÂ Twitter userÂ was quick to suggest that the premises be purchased by the U.S. government and turned into â€œThe Donald J Trump Presidential Library, Museum and Total Landscaping Warehouse.â€ And the owners of the landscaping company were soon offeringÂ â€œMake America Rake Againâ€ and â€œLawn and Orderâ€ T-shirts for sale.
8. Driving blind
In November, the end came for Dominic Cummings, the most powerful man in British politics who merely put Boris Johnson in an ill-fitting suit and pushed him out in front of the TV cameras.
The defining image of Cummings was him sitting behind a trestle table in the Downing Street rose garden explaining why he broke the U.K.â€™s coronavirus lockdown rules in April. He insisted he had no regrets about making a 260-mile trip during lockdown, nor about a 30-mile detour he took before making the trip home.
Cummings told the press conference his wife became ill and the pair took the view it would be better to be near young family members who could help look after their four-year-old son. He said he drove from London to Durham in the northeast of England without stopping on the way and spent two weeks there while he and his wife recovered. Still feeling weak, Cummings drove the family 30 miles to the town of Barnard Castle to check whether a â€œweirdâ€ feeling in his eyes might prevent him from making the much longer journey back to London â€” because the obvious thing to do if your eyes are feeling â€œweirdâ€ is to go for a drive with your loved ones.
9. The orgy we all craved
We all needed cheering up after a tough year, so thanks to Hungarian MEPÂ JÃ³zsef SzÃ¡jerÂ who, along with more than 20 acquaintances, was caught pants-down at a lockdown-busting sex party in the center of Brussels in December. Breaking the lockdown is bad enough but when youâ€™re a far-right politician with a history of cracking down on LGBTQI rights and are caught at a gay orgy, the irony-meter goes through the roof.
Clearly realizing what the consequences were going to be when the police came knocking, SzÃ¡jer climbed out of the window and shimmied down a drainpipe. In his backpack were, according to Belgian prosecutors, â€œnarcotics.â€ He was dropped by his party, Viktor OrbÃ¡nâ€™s Fidesz, faster than you can say â€œrule-of-law violation.â€