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A BOOK recently arrived in the post, entitled The Oracle of Madame Marie: Your Book of Fate. It looks tremendously exciting: you simply choose any one of 96 questions about life and love, roll a pair of dice, and then look up the answer, accordin g to the numbers on the dice, in the Oracle's Mystical Tables.

Madame Marie, who is a professional clairvoyant, says in her introduction to the book: "The powers of the Oracle are always greater by evening and night than daylight hours, and it is especially fortunate to consult on a Tuesday." Following this expert advice, I therefore waited until the first Tuesday in January - a particularly significant Tuesday, I felt - and then rolled the dice with my husband. I started with question number 65, "Shall I live long?" The answer was a bit alarming: "It is as you decree: premature death is brought on by dissipation and excess. Take heed!" I have, indeed, been eating to excess since Christmas, and on that very afternoon had consumed an enormous bread-and- butter pudding single-handed. Could large quantit ies of bread-and-butter pudding bring on premature death? Quite possibly.

My next question was: "Will my health be good?" and once again, the Oracle came up with some wise words: "Not as good as it could be if you took better care of yourself." So, no more pudding for me.

We then proceeded to question 84, "Which are my best years?" The Oracle told me that it was "without doubt, late middle-age", which sounds fine to me. But my husband was informed that it was "late youth to early middle-age", and he got into a terrible flap. "That's now!" he said. "So is this it? Is that the best there is? Is it all over?!"

I found this response rather hurtful, which was perhaps why my next question was: "How many husbands shall I have?" The Oracle replied, "Only one, your heart's darling." This was nice to know, but I still needed some more reassurance, and therefore asked, "Does he love me as much as he used to?" "From time to time he does," said the Oracle. I looked at my husband meaningfully; he said nothing; and if there had been any bread and butter pudding left in the dish, I might well have thrown it at him.

My final question was: "Am I thought beautiful?" "You may not be a beauty, but you certainly give every beast a buzz!" replied the Oracle, somewhat mystifyingly. Neill then asked if he was thought handsome, to which the Oracle declared: "A million swooning creatures would say `Yes!' " He sat there looking rather smug, and I felt even more irritated, so I went to bed.

I am now getting obsessed with the Oracle. It is sitting next to my computer as I write this piece, and I keep wanting to stop and ask it some more questions. Unfortunately, the Oracle doesn't list some of my more pressing queries, things like: "When wi l l my baby sleep through the night?" "How can I stop the conservatory roof leaking?" "Why have I developed a crop of blackheads on my chin?" I can guess what Madame Marie might say to the last question, though: "Too much pudding makes you spotty." Take h e ed.

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