IT IS always sad when friends fall out. My view is that Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, is a man of wit, impish charm and tolerance who has been been sadly misrepresented in the British media. Nevertheless, I do not take kindly to threats and boycotts. If the good doctor is going to boycott us, then I suggest we, the British people, reciprocate. And if you are not prepared to follow my lead, well, I shall just have to mount a one Captain boycott.
I therefore embarked upon a rigorous quest to determine what exactly I should not be buying. It was not easy. My inquiry to the Malaysian High Commission about Malaysian products on sale in Britain was referred to the Malaysian Trade Commission, which, for some reason, was not entirely helpful. They furnished me with categories of goods imported - electrical machinery, vegetable oils, rubber, sawn timber, that sort of thing - but were unable to go into specifics.
True, we all know about the Proton car, but as I don't know anyone who owns one - do you? - I can't urge them to get rid of it. Beyond that, my enquiries struggled. The Malaysians make masses of microchips and semiconductors and related electronic equipment, but, cunningly, they tend to find their way into Japanese and American products. The NHS apparently imports large numbers of latex gloves but, happily, I am not in a position to refuse contact with them; nor would I feel it right to urge you to do so. Ditto, I have to say, Jiffi condoms.
My boycott, then, has two main prongs. A call to the Malayan Pineapple Industry Board revealed that we imported pounds 2.8m of canned pineapples from Malaysia in 1992. And although there is no Malaysian brand, I can assure my grocers that I will be examining the label on my chunks very closely indeed from now on. It has also come to my attention that Proton cars will be continuing their sponsorship of Come Dancing when it returns to our screens in June. I have therefore to warn you, Doctor, that unless you withdraw your boycott immediately, I shall not be watching, Rosemarie Ford and rumba or no Rosemarie Ford and rumba.
The cab clocks up 300 years
THOSE who think the art of conversation dead have clearly never experienced that uplifting moment when the dividing window is slammed open with a thump and the eyes meet yours in the rear-view mirror. That is how I am able to tell you that this is the Year of the London Taxi, celebrating 300 years of licensed hackney carriages in the capital. Imagine, if you will, the volume and content of conversation flung over the left shoulder in that time, the wisdom imparted. I don't know about you but I have lost count of the number of times I have got out of a cab shaking my head in wonder at the things I have heard within. Proper recognition of this unique combination of geographical knowledge and general punditry is long overdue, but is about to be remedied: the Fellowship of Hackney Carriage Drivers, I am told, loudly, is confident of becoming a City of London livery company quite soon. I was entranced by the thought of glittering guests, white tie, prime ministerial speeches and tea in one of those green wooden huts, but, unfortunately for my romantic soul, they already have the use of some swanky offices, in Love Lane, just near the Guildhall, can't miss it, not that a mini-cab driver could find it, can't find their own mothers most of them, I'll tell you what I would do . . .
SO HERE it is again, Captain Moonlight's Catch-Up Service, the news digest which monitors the week's other news . . . A north London man was convicted of causing actual bodily harm to his girlfriend because she cheated at Monopoly . . . the Meat and Livestock Commission is allowing Northern Ireland butchers to compete in its sausage competition in Birmingham later in the month . . . A mongrel dog strayed on to the Jamaican parade ground where the Queen was reviewing Trooping the Colour . . . A vicar was lifted through his church roof by firemen after getting trapped on a spiral staircase in Spelsbury, Oxford . . . A thief fell into a cesspit after stealing a strimmer from Jimmy Hill's home in Sussex . . . The humpback whale, it was revealed, has a 10ft penis . . . Ten per cent of Britons would rather have a plate of chips than sex, drink or a cigarette . . . and robbers burnt their way into a security van with welding torches and set fire to more than a million pounds inside. A Hampshire police spokesman said: 'The raid was meticulously planned, apart from the fact they burnt the money.'
Annie's charm attack
ANNIE Leibovitz, the renowned Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone photographer, has an exhibition of her work on display at the National Portrait Gallery. To promote it, Ms Leibovitz has been in London granting interviews. And charming she has been. This is a new side of Ms Leibovitz to many of her colleagues. A call to the offices of Vanity Fair from Ms Leibovitz generally prompts scenes of widespread dispersal similar to when a fire alarm goes off. 'Difficult', I am told, is a richly inadequate stab at conveying how it is to work with Ms Leibovitz. One has only to recall the remarkable coup when Vanity Fair, with extreme exertion and pulling of all known strings, managed to persuade, almost overnight, Israel's Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, to drop everything to pose for her. Ms Leibovitz responded by refusing to go and take the photographs. Still, when was genius ever nice?
Top on, but no trousers
LUSCIOUS Linda Lusardi sits in the pub Friday lunchtime. Luscious Linda used to be a Page Three Girl, the ones with the chests, causes of great debate about feminine debasement, key reference points of contemporary culture, and inspiration of a thousand brazenly bad puns usually involving references to fresh fruit. But that was a few years ago. Now Rupert Murdoch is talking about a cover-up and Luscious Linda is rehearsing round the corner for her role in the forthcoming tour of When Did You Last See Your Trousers?, opening in Croydon tomorrow night and ending in Crawley in June by way, inter alia, of Hull, Hayes and Harlow.
LL will not lament the Page Three Girl. Once she sprang to the defence of her kind, debating with Ken Livingstone the call for a ban by Clare Short, asking anybody in the audience who had felt like rape after looking at Page Three to put his hand up. 'Nobody did.' She says they were a product of their time, when girls were always draped over car bonnets and cigar adverts: 'Now people are more aware of image, the way things like that affect men's attitudes to women.' But she has nothing to be ashamed of, she never felt degraded.
Page Three was different then. 'I find I can't tell one girl from another now. We were all shapes and sizes.' Now they were all blonde, a bit bimbo-ish, big-breasted, not 34-24-34, like she had been. And the men hadn't written in about her 'bosom', they had written in about her nice eyes 'or whatever'. Mothers had written in to ask for signed photos for sons' 21st birthdays. One wife had asked for two photos to be buried with her husband, in the coffin, a very understanding woman.
An innocent time, the far away late Seventies, early Eighties. Linda, the daughter of an Italian immigrant from Lombardy, lived in Palmers Green and left school at 16 to work in a tax office in Holborn. One night the wife of a photographer stopped her at the bus stop and asked her which model agency she was with. Linda wasn't; but soon was. She wasn't the right size or shape to be a fashion model, but got a job doing swimwear in Corfu. She sunbathed topless in Corfu and the other girls told her she had 'the right equipment' for Page Three. And so was born the career of Luscious (or sometimes Lovely) Linda Lusardi.
No one takes much notice of her in the pub, even if she does have the most striking pair of green-brown eyes. Men never did, she says. She was never bothered, not even at the peaks of her exposure. 'They're frightened,' she says. 'They don't know what to say.' She has been married for five years to Terry, and went out with him for 10 years before that.
The rest of the farce's cast are lunching nearby. Linda got into acting through little spots on the telly, and panto. She was eager because a Page Three lifespan is equivalent to that of a professional footballer. She has played Eliza in Pygmalion at the Malvern Festival. But LL is no luvvie. She doesn't find it too hard, after she's worked the part out. How good is she? 'Well, I'm better than I was when I started,' she says, remembering, tactfully, a certain thespian scepticism. 'But I still have an awful lot to learn.'
She would love to play in the West End, especially giving her Eliza, but is content with a life which sees her doing promotions and still doing little spots on the telly. She has a house in Hoddesdon, Herts, footballer belt. She and Terry, a builder, buy plots and build and rent. They are moving soon. She has a summer season booked, and a panto, Snow White. She can carry a tune and a dance, she says, but she wouldn't make great claims beyond that. She is, she says, an 'actress stroke personality'. 'I used to feel embarrassed saying 'actress' - oh gawd, another model who thinks she's an actress - but having made my living at it for six years, I think I'm allowed to say that now.'
She is 34. She retired from topless modelling at the approach of her thirtieth birthday party, just after she had been declared 'Page Three Girl Of All Time'. So what had happened to all the other former pouting, luscious, lovely Page Threes who had adorned so many walls and silently witnessed so many tea breaks? Well, there was Samantha Fox, of course, who was still around, singing, exercise video, but she didn't see her. And there was Linda, and that was about it. A lot had married wealthy husbands, though. Linda went back to rehearsals.
DOUGLAS HURD is a brave man. When the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs asked him, he did not hesitate or falter, he just went straight ahead and put Lord Younger firmly in the poo over the Pergau dam affair. Younger, then defence secretary, said the fearless Douglas, had done this deal linking aid and arms without breathing a word of it to the FO or the Prime Minister. If only they had known, whole mess would never have happened; that sort of thing. It must have been extremely painful to have to do this to an old cabinet colleague, but you don't get to the top in politics without taking hard choices and sacrificing personal feelings. No more than you would expect from an Etonian, I hear you say. Quite. Lord Younger, away when it all broke, has now nobly taken the rap and the heat off the Government. But I hope Douglas fully explored all ramifications of his bold action. Lord Younger, you see, is now chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland, the bank which includes among its clients the Conservative Party, current overdraft put at nearly pounds 20m. Would you treat your bank manager like that? I'd call him in for one of those little chats if I were you, George: no cigars.
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