UP & DOWN CANARY WHARF

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The Independent Culture
Even in Moscow, where sane behaviour went out with Rasputin, it's hard to know exactly what to make of Boris Yeltsin's new adviser, a mystic healer called Dzhuna. This lady, an eldritch harpie in dyed black hair and Mystic Meg mascara, wears a skin-tight general's uniform as she goes about her duties, which are (though I can't believe they're written down anywhere) channelling bio-energy, conducting psychic seances and operating her "internationally patented" Dzhuna-1 machine. This device, sadly unavailable at Comet warehouses, apparently enables her to cure all known diseases by means of "contactless massage", which sounds roughly as much fun as drinking alcohol-free lager or playing ping-pong without the ball.

When not operating seances or hands-off machinery, she regularly discusses with Yeltsin the meaning of life, in an idiolect apparently drawn from some forgotten work by Yoko Ono: "As an internationally recognised scientist," she informed the president before an audience of advisers, "I want to say that there is one God, and man is man. I want to live, and I don't see why chickens shouldn't too."

Her message may be a little obscure to un-reconstructed non-visionaries, but at least it's different. If you have to spend most of your days listening to depressing news from Chechnya, having someone talk to you about chickens and their prospects is bound to be a step forward. The only wonder is that John Major has not yet seen fit to install his own psychic adviser and contactless masseuse in the Cabinet - unless that is the reason for the continuing presence of Mrs Bottomley.

But how can Mr Yeltsin be sure Dzhuna is the real thing? He would be well advised to send a postal order to Hertfordshire University asking for a copy of Guidelines for Testing Psychic Claimants by Richard Wiseman and Robert Morris. This learned study is intended not, as the title might suggest, for staff in social security offices ("Have you worked in a mysterious way since the last time you signed on?") but for those who may have cause to question the bona fides of whichever clairvoyants and seers they may meet in their professional lives.

For most of this interesting tome, Wiseman and Morris discuss their dealings with the police, who are, it seems, increasingly approached with offers of psychic help. But they offer more general recommendations. "Simply having the book", Wiseman told the Times Higher Education Supplement, "may be a protection against frauds." How? Wiseman recommends merely placing the thing on a prominent shelf, where any bogus oracle would see it and flee. Putting it in the place formerly reserved for the bust of Lenin would, presumably, be just as effective.

H H H

Modern patterns of social behaviour get harder and harder to fathom, don't you find? What, for instance, do you do, as an apparently hap-pily married couple, when a Sunday newspaper threatens to reveal that one of you has been engaging in some extra-marital dalliance? This was the dilemma that faced Bob Geldof and Paula Yates last weekend.

Despite being trailed around London for days by a team of reporters and photographers from the News of the World, during which "Sexy Paula" spent some time in the Halkin Hotel, Knightsbridge, with the rock star Michael Hutchence, the pair only got wind of what was going on when the newspaper told them.

Their response was to fax the newspaper a note, written by Geldof, announcing that they'd be taking "a break from each other for a while". But this heartfelt communication came wrapped in layers of post-modern irony. "This is a break from `being in each other's faces all the time'," wrote Bob. "Or, to put it in what Bob calls `the repulsive parlance' of the day, they are `giving each other some space'." Let me clarify: this is a note in which Bob quotes himself quoting something that other people might say but which he himself finds repulsive.

It wasn't the oddest part of the proceedings. That came later. "Having lived in the eye of the tabloid storm for 18 years, both fully understand what a fantastic story this News of the World scoop is..."

Congratulating the authors of your downfall is surely a first, rather like awarding a prize to the people who just burgled your house; but the paper took it in its stride. "Good on you, Bob," it smirked. "Bob Geldof and Paula Yates today show how it should be done... Who could have blamed them if they had reacted with fury on discovery by the News of the World? But they chose a different route - sending us a good-humoured letter admitting their difficulties and jetting off with their kids to protect them from the inevitable furore that will follow."

Just to add to the atmosphere of mutual understanding, the newspaper wished them well in their efforts to "repair their broken marriage". Excuse me while I vomit.

H H H

I've been, naturellement, an avid watcher of David Attenborough's new television series about the life of plants - naturally because my relationship with the things is more, shall we say, intestinally direct than that experienced by most of Sir David's viewers. But among the floribundant phenomena laid before his audience, the occasional potent metaphor can be glimpsed.

Take the trees in Windsor Great Park, and see if you can pursue an analogy through the thickets of facts 'n' info. Here we go. In this royal park, we learned, are a number of ancient oak trees, symbols of British tradition, unshakeability and grandeur, begetters of the great tables of Holyrood, the noble doors of Parliament, the sturdy arrows of Agincourt etc, etc. The trees have, however, been so eaten away by internal fungi and parasites over the years that they've become completely hollow, mere shells of their former selves. In fact, they're so comprehensively destroyed as trees, that they should by rights have fallen down and died long ago.

But get this: being hollow, they have been colonised by umpteen species of bats, which flock inside them at dawn after a night of bat-on-the-tiles carousing, and hang upside down, casually excreting without manners or protocol - and in doing so, nourish the roots and build up such a ballast of bat-poo within the dying shell that it goes on flourishing, in defiance of all logic.

If this isn't the finest metaphor I know for the monarchy - for, respectively, the royal family, its courtiers, mistresses, dodgy valets and garrulous parlourmaids, ill-advised TV appearances and royal divorces, Koo Stark, the Duchess of York, Anthony Holden, Andrew Morton, James Hewitt and sundry other fungi and bats too exhausting to enumerate - then my name's not Sir Walter of Weaselford.

H H H

One of the more amusing moments in Donald Spoto's biography of Elizabeth Taylor, serialised in the Guardian this week, has been his remark that Richard Burton "had aspirations as a writer, as attested by his published account of meeting Elizabeth Taylor". He then quotes some of it.

"She was, I decided, the most astonish- ingly self-contained, pulchritudinous, remote, removed, inaccessible woman I had ever seen," Burton wrote, proving that he had at least grasped the essentials of getting paid by the word. But he didn't stop there: "Her breasts were apocalyptic, they would topple empires down before they withered. Indeed, her body was a miracle of construction and the work of an engineer of genius."

As history records, Burton did not give up the day-job. But he showed signs of learning discipline. Five years after this first attempt, while trembling on the brink of falling in love with Taylor, he produced another account, this time with apparently no thought of publication.

"All this stuff about Elizabeth being the most beautiful woman in the world is absolute nonsense. She's a pretty girl and she has wonderful eyes. But she has a double chin and an overdeveloped chest and she's rather short in the leg."

Sadly, this admirably sceptical note didn't last. The affair, and 22 years of intermittent lunacy, started almost immediately.

A worrying trend is developing among the Weasel's humble fellow-columnists. They're being burgled. The other day, Auberon Waugh's Somerset mansion, Combe Florey House, was turned over; and given the gallons of prussic scorn that have flowed from Waugh's pen over the years, the number of suspects runs into thousands. Last week, a fortnight into his new column in the Independent on Sunday, Harry Enfield, the humorous scourge of foolish aristocrats and dull-witted Greeks, had his house invaded and his word processor pinched.

I could have warned them. Between the two events, I talked to a chap from my bank about reinsuring the contents of my house. He took down some personal details and asked, "This mag of yours. Do you write for it?" Indeed, I replied, I am quite the star. He looked thoughtful. "Under your own name?" Certainly, I said. He turned pale. "There isn't a...a picture of you too, is there?" Mmm-hmm, I said modestly. But why? "Because", he said faintly, "it'll push the premiums sky-high. Don't you know modern insurance companies are scared stiff of their clients having any public exposure in the media - because of the risk that they'll be stalked? The last thing you want is a picture byline."

Stalked? Moi? After a lifetime sneaking through the shallows of a hundred ponds and lakes, I'm going to be stalked? Well good luck to them, mate, if they can find anything worth pinching in the old den. If they can't, they're welcome to all the old News of the Worlds they can carry away with them. The Weasel

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