Sunday marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, the document that founded what we now call the European Union. Among all the reports and stories being published and broadcast to mark the event - yes, I've been a busy boy - there is one that is priceless!
One of my colleagues discovered a little-known fact about the event during an interview: an eager team of cleaners accidently threw out the hundreds of pages of the treaty just days before the signing ceremony! A little bit of astonishing trickery, which I will come to later, ended up saving the day.
The cleaners are said to have come in after weeks of marathon typing to tidy up the venue before the arrival of the heads of state. (Six nations agreed on the treaty, which established the European Economic Community.) Pages and pages of the text, translated into numerous languages, were left out on tables. Stencils and Roneo duplicators, which apparently produced a mess of ink and imperfect copies, were everywhere. The cleaners apparently thought the "mess" was no longer needed and so tossed the whole lot - treaty included - in the rubbish. It was taken to the Rome dump, never to be seen again.
You can imagine the horror the next morning! One of the men who was overseeing the ceremony describes how there was absolute panic, with an SOS to Brussels: quickly send a team of typists, we have no treaty! It was just three days before the official signing, however, and the diplomats knew there was no time. Some students were employed to come in and make an attempt at fixing things. It was hopeless, however. Things couldn't be rectified so quickly.
So, what did they do? It's been revealed that officials actually typed up just the first and last few pages of the treaty and put them in a nice leather folder - and then a big pile of BLANK pages were inserted in the middle! The day had been saved! No one had any way of knowing that the treaty passed around the important signatories was actually completely blank in the middle! Assistants just smiled nervously as they passed around the big pile of paper, which was opened up at the page the leaders had to sign!
In some ways, this is a lesson for us writers. Never let anyone else - not even a computer cleaning programme - go near your files to tidy things up! Never leave your rough handwritten copies of prose lying around the place! All of those precious, important pages - your very own Treaty of Rome - could disappear in a flash. And I'm not sure you would get away with using just the first and last few pages of your book at the signing ceremonies!