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By Devin D. O'Leary

SEPTEMBER 7, 1999: 

Dateline: South Africa -- Athletic activist Roger Russell succeeded beyond his wildest dreams last Tuesday when he kicked off a 4,000-mile walk across South Africa to raise awareness of a crime -- and was mugged after just 20 kilometers. Russell set out Monday on a proposed six-month walk from Cape Town to Johannesburg and back to highlight the tough task police have combating South Africa's growing crime wave. Shortly outside Cape Town's airport, Russell was held up at gunpoint by two robbers. A carload of plainclothes police eventually scared off the muggers, but not before they had relieved Russell of all his belongings.

Dateline: London -- Following a particularly pleasant train trip, passenger Stevan Walton wrote a letter to the railway company expressing his appreciation for the good journey. British entrepreneur Richard Branson's Virgin Trains VA.CN immediately fired off an apology and promised to refund his money. Shortly thereafter, a second letter arrived apologizing that Walton's "complaint" had not been dealt with quickly enough. Virgin representatives told London's Daily Telegraph that the unnecessary apologies were due to "an administrative mistake." Apparently, an overly apologetic temp agency had been hired when the company's customer relations department became extra busy. No word on whether or not the temp agency has apologized for its mistake. The satisfied customer, meanwhile, admitted: "It did make me laugh."

Dateline: South Africa -- Speaking of virgins ... South African oldster Nicklaas Amsterdam celebrated his 112th birthday last Monday. Amsterdam's key to longevity? A life of complete and total abstinence from sex. "I have never had a woman to give me a headache," Amsterdam told South African newspapers on the occasion of his 112th sex-free birthday. "That's how I got to live so long."

Dateline: British Virgin Islands -- The BVI Beacon last week reran a three-year-old editorial, again stirring up debate over the British Virgin Islands' controversial law barring dreadlocked Rastafarians and people appearing to be hippies from entering the territory. The Beacon called the long-standing policy "ridiculous" and argued for its repeal. The 20,000-resident island chain enacted the "no dreadlocks -- no hippies" policy in the 1980s when residents felt that they had been invaded by hippies and blamed a rising crime rate on Rastafarians. "The territory was being plagued by hippies. They would come in from abroad, and they had no place of abode, so you would find them knocking about, sleeping, drinking and sexing on the beach," British Virgin Islands' Chief Minister Ralph O'Neal told the Beacon in a recent article. Opponents of the law known officially as the Immigration and Passport (prohibited class of persons) Order, feel the policy is racist and virtually impossible to enforce.

Dateline: North Carolina -- Police in Charlotte, N.C., recently nabbed 720 pounds of marijuana and now find themselves up to their ears in the green stuff -- okra, that is. Officers intercepted a truck smuggling some $1.8 million worth of marijuana through their state. As it turns out, the truck was also loaded with 43,000 pounds of frozen okra. "We've got a lot of okra right now," said investigator T.R. Hazelton of the Charlotte Police Department. Apparently, the company the okra was intended for no longer wants the tainted vegetable. Police in Charlotte have found a temporary refrigerated home for the okra and are trying to find someone to take the produce off their hands.

Dateline: Tennessee -- Whatever you do, don't swear at Hendersonville High. According to student handbooks passed out earlier this month at the Tennessee school, "Profane language will not be tolerated. Stern discipline will be death to any student guilty of this conduct." The school's principal, Mr. Decker, advised students last Wednesday that the word "dealt" was inadvertently replaced with the word "death." "Most folks know that it's a misprint," assured Decker.

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