So, the World Cup is almost over, and freelance writers who work from home are going to have to find another excuse for downing tools in the middle of the afternoon. It is time to take stock - to work out who the winners and losers were, the stars and the villains. For me, there is one who has stood out above all others: Paul the Psychic Octopus.
Have you heard of Paul? If not, where have you been? In an undersea garden in the shade? Paul has delighted newspaper and media outlets the world over by predicting, successfully I might add, the winners of certain matches. Until now, those matches have involved Germany, because Paul is German (although, trying to grab a vain piece of reflected glory, it has emerged that Paul was born in an aquarium in Weymouth, UK, before moving to Sea Life in Oberhausen). But this is no patriot. He predicted Spain would beat Germany in the semi-final. Correctly, as it turned out. Now, in the final, he's predicting a Spain win, which means he has little solidarity with fellow cephalods. Had he been shifted to Spain not Germany he might have wound up on a tapas menu being eaten on sticks with a cold glass of San Miguel. He should have learned his lesson. When Germany, to the surprise of most of us with two legs and not eight, beat Argentina, the losers threatened to kidnap him, then kill and grill him, before serving him on a bed of fried potatoes.
Paul predicts the game winners by choosing to eat mussels from boxes emblazoned with the flags of the team playing the match. The chances of him correctly predicting the winner of six games so far is 216-1. Experts are scratching their heads - I do fear the flaky scalps of experts - but believe he makes his choices based on the shape of flags. Octopi are attracted to bold horizontal shapes and can discern hue, the brighter the better, which might explain his predilection for the Spanish and German flags. (Remember this for the next time you're on a capsized, water-flooded ocean liner and a giant octopus works its way in. First, always, always try and hide behind Ernest Borgnine. If he's not around find a flag with stripes.)
Paul is now an international celebrity. His last few predictions have been shown live on television (and were a damn sight entertaining then anything England's footballers threw up). Because of the death threats, and suggested recipes he could be used in, he has also been given bodyguards. They needn't bother. He's already passed the usual life expectancy for an octopus of his type.
It just goes to prove the media loves a quirky animal story. When I was a young journalist, I broke the story of a budgerigar who could speak five languages, quote Shakespeare and say 'bastard' in Afrikaans. I went round to visit the budgie, only to be told by its female owner it had gout and so couldn't perform. She had some tapes she played me which sounded like, well, a budgie twittering. Still, we wrote the story. It went round the world. The only hairy moment came when I mentioned the tapes and an English tabloid wanted to put them on a phone line so people could phone in and hear the bird swear in Afrikaans. Thankfully, the idea was dropped and my career was saved.