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 Monday, 16 December, 2002, 18:39 GMT
A sideways look at 2002
A dog translating gadget was one of 2002's high points
Lurking on the sidelines - and sometimes hijacking the front pages - ephemeral, trivial, and downright silly stories were never far away in 2002.

The year had barely begun when the world's most powerful man was brought crashing down to earth by a tiny savoury snack.

President George W Bush was relaxing in front of the White House television with his two dogs, Barney and Spot, when a pretzel - a popular accompaniment to beer and televised sport - became trapped in his windpipe, causing him to faint.

President George W Bush
The president bears the scars of his bruising encounter

Recalling the moment his life flashed before his eyes, Mr Bush said: "I hit the deck and woke up and there were Barney and Spot showing a lot of concern."

Unsurprisingly the US media seized on the incident.

Chat show host David Letterman made a typically ribald quip about how a military tribunal was "convicting a pretzel", while in a mock-sombre headline the Boston Herald newspaper warned the president to "beware the deadly pretzel".

Tomato tribute

Another world leader having trouble with food was Russian President Vladimir Putin, who this summer received an unusual "tribute" in the form of his very own type of tomato.

A pensioner in the city of Chelyabinsk proposed naming a new variety of the fruit "putin" - because it was tough and hardy.

Putin bar in Russia
Last orders at the "Putin" bar

Russian officials squashed the idea however, saying that calling fruit or vegetables after the president was taking adulation a little too far.

The order came barely a month after a pair of well-intentioned Russian entrepreneurs were ordered to close their Putin-themed mountain cafe.

But surely the ultimate "tribute" came in November, when thousands of Christian pilgrims flocked to Bangalore in India to bear witness to a chapati clearly bearing the image of Jesus Christ.

Leonine foster mother

Right on cue, certain creatures also took affection to unprecedented levels in 2002.

In Kenya, a lioness "adopted" a succession of oryx calfs - animals usually considered a tasty meal for lions.

Lioness with baby Onyx
Mother and surrogate daughter... before nature intervened

Unfortunately there was not to be a happy end to this unusual fostering arrangement.

A male lion - unable to resist the call of nature - devoured at least one foundling oryx, prompting roars of anger from the bereaved "mother".

Other animals found themselves in the news for more highbrow achievements.

Barking up the right tree

In September scientists hailed a computerised dog translator as a breakthrough in human-canine relations.

Manufacturers Takara claim the "Bowlingual" device, which costs $120, can interpret different barks or woofs into about 200 human phrases and words.

"You can never tell what dogs are thinking without becoming a dog yourself," observed company spokeswoman Yoko Watanabe.

"We hope dog lovers will use Bowlingual as an additional tool for them to play with their pets."

Which Sydney?

Clarification was something Londoners Raoul Christian and girlfriend Emma Nunn were in urgent need of this year when an internet travel company mistakenly booked them on a holiday flight to Sydney.

Emma Nunn and Raoul Christian
Lost couple Emma Nunn and Raoul Christian savour the scenery in Nova Scotia

Sydney, Nova Scotia, that is.

Mr Christian described the experience as "really, really confusing".

"We thought 'OK, we are going to wait here and a big plane is going to turn up and take us to Australia'.

"But it did not quite happen that way."

Musical mayhem

Among 2002's more notable musical achievements was a symphony for possibly the most irritating instrument in the world - the mobile phone.

Mobile phone orchestra
The mobile SIM-phone-ya prepares to let rip

An audience at the Cheltenham International Music Festival in the UK was treated to the world premiere of Simon Turner's The New Ring Cycle, performed by the 30-piece Cheltenham SIM-phone-ya.

In Vienna another unusual orchestra was bringing new meaning to the phrase "playing with your food".

The Vienna Vegetable Orchestra plays everything from the classical to jazz on carved-out carrots, aubergines and pumpkins.

Sensibly, the lead horn player uses a freshly hollowed-out cucumber, a green pepper and a carrot reed.

There's also a leek violin. Nothing is wasted after the performance; a cook makes a big pot of soup or stew for the musicians and audience to eat.

'Let the eagle soar'

Also hitting the high notes was US Attorney General John Ashcroft.

US Attorney General John Ashcroft
Mr Ashcroft's entreaty for patriotic support fell on deaf ears

In March, the department of justice supremo circulated a memo among his staff urging them to join him in early morning renditions of his own gutsy patriotic song, Let the eagle soar.

However, the prospect of lines such as: "Oh she's far to young to die/ You can see it in her eye/ She's not yet begun to fly" clearly left many employees less than enthralled.

"Have you heard the song?" one unnamed Justice Department lawyer asked the BBC.

"It really sucks."

Around the world

In the UK




See also:

14 Jan 02 | Americas
06 Aug 02 | Europe
11 Jul 02 | Europe
16 Nov 02 | South Asia
01 Apr 02 | Africa
27 Sep 02 | Business
18 Jul 02 | England
04 Mar 02 | Americas

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