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Thursday December 30 9:40 AM ET

Ban Punch, Save Judy: the Year's Oddest Odds

By Arthur Spiegelman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It was a bad year for couples. Punch and Judy were banned in an English town for promoting domestic violence and a California woman was jailed for stabbing her husband after he gave her flowers. The cad.

As time runs out on 1999, it is time to look back at some of the year's odder stories in hope of finding a theme or at least a lesson.

For example, in Petaluma, he said it with flowers and she answered with a knife in the back. Jenny Yoell was sentenced to six months in jail for stabbing her husband with a 13-inch (32 cm) knife after he brought home two bunches of flowers for her.

``She didn't think he should have spent that kind of money on flowers,'' prosecutor Robert LaForge said. The husband needed four stitches. The woman's lawyer said the couple wanted to stay together and would take anger awareness classes.

In southern England, the Colchester Borough council was outraged at the way Punch and Judy behave and banned the puppets because they promote domestic violence. Punch and Judy shows have occupied a place in Britain since the 17th century, with children gleefully hollering at the hump-backed Mr. Punch as he relentlessly wields a stick on his put-upon wife Judy.

But the council said wife-beating was not funny in an era of broken homes and domestic violence. ``Young children are very impressionable. Seeds are sown at a very young age,'' councilwoman Jenny Stephens said.

``Mr. Punch's weapon is, of course, the slapstick,'' said Glynn Edwards, coordinator of the Punch and Judy College of Professors. ``We're not actually talking about real violence here. We're talking about knockabout comedy. The same comedy that Tom and Jerry engage in.'' Maybe they had better avoid Colchester, too.

Couples were not the only people who had trouble in 1999. In Joliet, Ill., a 66-year-old Franciscan nun was charged with defacing property after she scrawled racist graffiti on the bathroom walls of the hospital where she was a chaplain.

Sister Dorothy Toman confessed when confronted about the graffiti found in five bathrooms at Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center. ``She said she did it to see how the hospital would react,'' Joliet Police Sgt. Terry Mazur said. ``She admitted to writing the words 'white supremacy','' Mazur said.

In London, a group of British paramedics had the fright of their lives on Halloween when they mistook a child's toy found on a subway station platform for a human fetus and rushed it to the hospital. Officials closed down Buckhurst Hill station in Essex, fearing a woman had had a miscarriage, a London Underground spokeswoman said. They had found an alien egg toy, containing what looked like a tiny unborn child curled in a fetal position and suspended in a gooey placenta-like substance.

London was also the scene of the freak accident of the year. Two women were killed by a bolt of lightning in the city's Hyde Park when their underwired bras acted as conductors, a coroner said. ``I think this was a tragic case, a pure act of God,'' coroner Paul Knapman told an inquest. He recorded a verdict of death by misadventure.

``This is only the second time in my experience of 50,000 deaths where lightning has struck the metal in a bra causing death, but I do not wish to over emphasize any significance,'' the coroner said.

The two women, Anuban Bell, 24, and Sunee Whitworth, 39, both of Thailand. had been sheltering under a tree in the park during a thunderstorm on Sept. 22.

Officials at a shopping center in Australia discovered a foolproof method to deter teenage loiterers -- play loud Bing Crosby music.

The late crooner hit a sour note with youths with his 1938 hit ``My Heart is Taking Lessons,'' which was being played repeatedly at the entrance to the Warrawong shopping center in southern New South Wales.

That was one of the year's lessons. Here's another: Teach a man to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life. Give Nicholas Vitalich, of San Diego, Calif., a fish and he will hit his girlfriend with it. Vitalich, 24, was arrested on charges of assault with a deadly weapon after he allegedly beat his 21-year-old girlfriend with a large tuna after an argument in a supermarket, San Diego police spokesman Bill Robinson said.

And now for the year's last lesson: Don't let your work take over your life.

In Florida, a Fort Lauderdale phone sex operator won a ''minimal'' workers' compensation settlement after claiming she was injured after regularly ``pleasuring herself'' at work, Her lawyer said she developed carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands from masturbating up to seven times a day while speaking with callers. ``She was told to do whatever it takes to keep the person on the phone as long as possible,'' he said.

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