Cries & Whispers

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LAST SUNDAY I revealed Ezra Pound's starring role in the new Habitat catalogue, and added, 'next week: T S Eliot - the greetings card'. Some readers thought I was joking. But here it is (inset): the Four Quartets birthday card, found in Designers Guild, the smart interiors shop. The orange blob is an alarm clock, showing 7:53. The words say 't s eliot four quartets burnt norton' and below 'tiMe pResEnt and Time paST are peRHaps preseNt in time fuTuRE and FuturE containED in timE pasT'. Inside, it says 'happy birthday', with no mucking about.

The back says the card is made by Koco, a New York company 'committed to ending hunger by the year 2000'. All this induces

mixed feelings. I feel for old T S, whose dignity is bruised enough after years of Cats. However, it's good for the greetings industry. The lines have a je ne sais quoi that the poetry of, say, Purple Ronnie lacks. Thoughts of time do go with a birthday, and the use of 'present' is a sly touch. But questions remain. Why are some letters in bold? And why stands the clock at seven to eight? A small prize to anyone who can help.

THE Radio 1 life of Bryan Ferry, just ended, was an average script with some great music attached. Best of all was a snatch of a demo for his current album, Mamouna. The song was 'The Only Face', a meditation on isolation prompted by the death of Garbo. Ferry just sang and played the piano. It was lovely, with a tingling rawness seldom found on his records. It reminded me how good Ferry was on BBC2's Later last year, singing 'Will You Love Me Tomorrow' with just Jools Holland on piano and a guitarist. Ferry has had his troubles lately, both artistic and financial, because he spends ages in the studio, tinkering. The answer is clear: his next album should be an Unplugged, just him and the piano. I'll settle for a modest royalty.

FOR a while Melvyn Bragg has seemed a new person. Like Samson in reverse, he had a haircut and a new strength. On Start the Week, he stopped being genial and became a Rottweiler. At 54, he has the air, as well as the hair, of a man of 44. Even his adenoids sound as if they've been working out.

On Clive Anderson Talks Back last weekend, Clive Anderson hardly talked back at all. Melv did something few of Anderson's guests have managed in six years of the show: he said what he wanted to say - sensible stuff about how tiresome it is that creative people are branded as luvvies - and saw off Anderson's jibes ('Nice one] But what I'm saying is . . .'), without looking humourless.

Various theories have been advanced as to the cause of Melv's renaissance - his LWT windfall, a new admirer, Royal Jelly, etc. But I can now disclose the true reason. He slipped out of the limelight two years ago and went back to the Lake District. The role of Melv, man about town, was taken over by Jeff Bridges, the rumpled film actor, now 45.

Thiswas a neat move on the part of the real Melv, worthy of the acclaimed novels he used to write - just as he vanished, Bridges was starring in The Vanishing. It explains everything: how his hair changed direction against all odds; the fearless way he dealt with Anderson; the jagged edge of his tongue on Start the Week. I rest my case.

(Photograph omitted)