Within the hollow crown, a frequently echoing sound

`Occasionally, from time to time, sometimes... Or every half hour in the last two years!'
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TIME FOR another helping of the long-lost Shakespearean play The History of King Tony or New Labour's Lost, Love. We last saw King Tony facing the loss of his court favourite, Sir Peter Mandelson. Worse is to come before it gets better...

The scene is a beach in the Isles of the Seychelles. Enter King Tony, Queen Cherie and sundry bodyguards, all attired in swimming costumes, some of them bulging with pistols and mobile phones.

King Tony: Alone at last, my Queen! Here on this


Let's put off state affairs and take our ease!

I have not dressed so scantily before

In December's late and festively frosty days!

Queen: You must not overdo it, good my lord.

The Tuscan tan that you acquired last summer

Has faded with the months, and left you pale.

I will not have you looking pink and peeled,

Like cloves of garlic from the dear old River Cafe!

Have you put on your cream and general sun


Guard: He has, my queen. I rubbed it on just now.

Queen: Did you indeed? Then ne'er do that again!

Oh, never must you touch the body of the king!

Tony: Come, my dear - art jealous of a bodyguard?

Thinkst his touch more lovely than thine own?

Queen: I know not, neither do I care a jot.

One thing alone I know: the undergrowth is full

Of men with cameras seeking candid shots.

If they should spy your royal majesty

Being touched by anyone on earth 'cept me,

I see the caption now: "King Tony's boyfriend,

Seen rubbing his brown torso in the sun!"

Tony: I cannot credit what my ears do hear!

How canst thou say that I might be a gay!

Thou hast been in the royal bed with me,

Thou hast given birth to sons of ours!

Queen: I know it all, but this as well I know,

That if the public sees thee in a doubtful pose,

They'll never hesitate to pull thee down.

A tiny breath of scandal grows and grows.

Once open wide, the door is hard to close.

Tony: Come, come, dear wife, 'tis no way to behave.

We have before us sun and sand and wave,

And a pre-chilled bottle of fine chardonnay.

Is this not a very perfect Christmas Day?

Queen: If Duke Prescott were but with us now,

He'd blame this sunny day on global warming,

And cast a general blight on all our party.

Tony: You do him wrong. Old John is good at heart

But at his happiest when he is complaining.

I love to see old Prescott's eyebrows quaking

To presage some new storm that threatens


Not for him the joys of quiet home-making,

But those of railing, roaring and fist-shaking!

There comes a strange ringing sound.

Guard: My lord, you're wanted on the mobile phone. Tony: Ask who it is. I am off duty now.

Guard: Earl Dobson, sire.

Tony: My chief of hospitals?

What can my Lord of Dobson want on Christmas


Guard: A bed, it seems.

Tony: A bed! He wants a bed?

Guard: 'Tis not for him, but for the poor and sick.

A bug there is abroad in England nowadays,

Known as the Sydney flu, come from down under,

Which knocks out everyone who catches it

And puts them straight to bed. But Dobson says

There are not beds enow. Or doctors either.

And all the nurses are ill paid as well.

Tony: Oh, what a bearded misery is he!

God save me from such wailing willies!

Let me have men about me who are tough!

Queen: You had them once, like Mandelson

And Robinson, but not quite tough enough.

Tony: Is there no other way than these two ways,

Between the weeping way of bleeding hearts

And the hard-hearted path of real life?

Queen: You say there is. The Third Way, is it not? I seem to recall that this has passed your lips

Occasionally, from time to time, sometimes...

Or every half hour in the last two years!

The third way has grown rancid in my ears!

Come on! Own up! There's really no such thing!

The Third Way is the fancy of a king!

Morosely, the King and Queen and bodyguards head back for the hotel. Seconds later, Iraqi jets strafe the beach, just too late. When peace returns, Duke Ken of Livingstone steps from behind a palm.

Livingstone: This life of Riley is all right for some, But till I am Mayor of London, I'll keep dumb.

Meanwhile, remember this: the pest is yet to come!