Time, I'm sure all will agree, to put the outbreak of unseemliness at the Catholic Herald behind us, so that decorum can be repaired after the frightful fuss and the abject apologies over Alice Thomas Ellis's attack on the late Archbishop Worlock. But, just before that, I thought you might be interested to know what clinched the apology. Well, there was this lunch organised by the Herald, to be attended, inter alia (a bit of apt Latin there), by Cardinal Hume and Herald directors Conrad Black, the newspaper baron, and Sir Rocco Forte, the catering count. It was all laid on for the YMCA next to the Herald offices. And then the Cardinal, incensed (forgive me) by the Ellis attack, said he wasn't coming. Collapse of Herald. Blimey. I didn't know old Basil was so tough.
Lot of fuss, this past week, about the late Duchess of Windsor. Chap's written a book claiming she was a man. Old story. My picture shows the Duchess when she was known as Wally "The Wallop" Warfield, at the Baltimore & District All Comers, 1923. She would have won, too, but for a lucky shot in the semis. Mind you, there always was a certain amount of doubt about her ability to take a punch. A little less of a glass jaw and the history of the British monarchy could have been an entirely different kettle of fish.
Now then: this apology of an advert from the Tory party. Frankly, I think any of my suggestions last week, particularly "John Major. He's Responsible", were far superior; but now I hear of more bad news. The advert is very big round London, but scarcely visible anywhere else in the country. This is because the Tories were beaten to all available poster sites by, wait for it, the Euro 96 football championships. So it's an apology to the rest of the country for not letting it have the apology, if you follow me.
Life with those wacky quantum mechanics (4). Last Sunday, as an experiment, I asked you to vote on whether you would like a little poem written by that droll genius Paul Dirac, the British Nobeler, or a story about Fritz Houtermans, the theory of thermonuclear reaction, the stars, and a pretty girl. And the result was: an absolute dead heat! I therefore have no choice but to give you both. First, Houtermans, after cracking said theory: "That evening, I went for a walk with a pretty girl. The stars came out. 'Don't they sparkle beautifully?' cried my companion. But I simply stuck out my chest and said proudly: 'I've known since yesterday why it is they sparkle.' She didn't seem in the least moved by this statement." Poor old Fritz! And now for Dirac's jolly little ditty: "Age is of course a fever chill/ That every physicist must fear/ He's better dead than living still/ When once he's past his thirtieth year!" Thank you. By the way, while we're on voting, I still have this story that shows John Major in a really good light. But I am still waiting for just one letter asking to hear it.
Sit down. Tony Blair made a joke last week. He did. No, think about it: have you ever heard of, or read about, a Tony Blair joke? So what does it mean: is he cracking, or is he relaxing? Well, no, it wasn't a very good joke. It was at the press conference last week on youth employment. Tony took in the assembled, lined political hacks and remarked that the only bit of youth employment present was the fresh-faced chap from the Sun, Pascoe Watson. I told you it wasn't a very good joke. But Watson, who seeks gravitas, wasn't best pleased. And there was a crack about too many BBC people there, as well. Risky, Tony. Talk to Peter. Gordon never makes jokes. Captain's note: Pascoe used to be George Pascoe Watson until his late editor and my present colleague and inspiration, L!ve TV chief Kelvin MacKenzie told him his name was too long and ordered him to shorten it. Perhaps he had a word with A L Blair, too.
Interactivity Time! And as Mr Pink's sponsorship moves peacefully to its close, let's get rid of some more of those vouchers! Last week I set you the task of submitting the most overworked lines in film and television drama. And so: "You'll never get away with this, you know" and "I think I've heard just about enough" from Mr Clifton-Crick of Wick, near Pershore; "Cover me and I'll circle around behind them" from Mr Semple of Lutterworth; "Listen", "No, you listen", from Mr Brace of Exeter; "You're nicked, chummy", from Mr Hutchinson of Westbourne, Hants; "Guards!", from Ms Malone of Mansfield; "Now try and get some rest", from Mr Lamper of Wareham; "Any closer and the kid gets it", from Ms Carse of Lindfield; "It seems we had old Jim figured wrong all along", from Mr Scholes of Hammersmith; "Hello! Hello!" (when the phone line goes dead) from Ms Brooks of Holloway; and, from Dr Nicholls of Lichfield: "Are you serious?" "I've never been more serious in my whole life", plus the bit where the comic/eccentric cockney landlady screams on seeing unspeakable, unseen horror in room, followed by the immediate cut to screeching train whistle. pounds 25 vouchers a shot, everyone! Finally, a big thank you to Mr Rockett of Bridport, who sent me a report of the world's first International Folding Bike Conference, held in Weymouth last weekend.
Many of you must have felt, as I did, a rush of nostalgia at the television footage of the last patrol by a Polaris submarine. Ah, for the old certainties, the comforting feeling that the destruction of millions of Russians was only a push of a button away! Still, there's always Trident. But then, as I watched the sailors hunched over their controls, I noticed one that gave me a bit of pause, and led me to wonder if I had been right to feel so secure for so many years. For this button was clearly labelled "Dither". Well. Losing no time, I got on to the War House, as we used to call it, where a senior service source explained, soothingly, that pushing the Dither button simply increased the sensitivity of a depth gauge. I'm not sure I'm convinced. By the way, did you know that Fort Halstead, the place where they seem to sprinkle everything with Semtex, has some marvellous rare orchids in its grounds?
Journalism is quite a lot like social work, you know. I often take calls from worried members of the public; I listen, I share, and they seem to feel better. Last week, I received a call for help from a teacher in Kent who had just been told that the food at her school was going to be provided by Rentokil. I managed to calm her down with a little jest about cheese at least being better than beef (humour is a very useful tool). And then I telephoned Rentokil, where the corporate affairs chap, Charles Grimaldi (no relation), confirmed that Rentokil was indeed in the catering business, even more so since its recent takeover of rival outfit BET. Charles told me that Rentokil operated in 40 countries, and that it was the biggest provider of tropical plants for offices in the world. He also said that it was planning to put catering under the old BET brand name, Initial. Such sensitivity, he said, explained why, despite the profit potential, Rentokil had decided against moving into the undertaking and old people's homes businesses.
They tolerate me, the great bunch of kids who put together this exciting Real Life section, but I sometimes fancy I detect a note of, well, pity. But have I got news for them! I've been reading this Los Angeles magazine, and listen, old men are now very hip. It's called Old-Guy Chic. Tony Bennett, Don Rickles, Rodney Dangerfield, Edward Heath (oh, all right, I put him in): you name an old geezer and he's hot. Which is why I've hurriedly updated my logo. Just write in, Bobby Soxers!
Yes, yes, I'm a bit bored with beef, too, but it is a marvellous poster, a Lautrec, you know, and Chirac was here last week, so I thought: why not? Ruth Julian of Plymouth sent it in, and quotes from the rubric: "Lautrec's poster was a visual pun: although it shows an actual vache enragee, a mad cow, 'manger de la vache enragee' (literally, 'to eat a mad cow') was a colloquial expression meaning 'roughing it'. It was chosen as the title of a monthly magazine founded in 1896 and edited by cartoonist Adolphe Roedel. In the same year Roedel began organising an annual 'Vachalcade', an artists' procession held in Montmartre to satirise their customary impoverished state."
Ms Julian thinks it is undoubtedly my pater; I must tell you, though, that there is nothing even remotely French about the Moonlights.
The Catch-up Service
COME now for a wander down my very own information super byway ... Arthur Davies, one of the country's top vegetable growers, has lost the prize onions he was to exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show. He left them in cold storage at his local pub in Powys and they were served up in a lasagne. "It's very unfortunate," said the manager, Peter Lawson. "But I can assure you that they tasted very good" ... An unnamed American woman has threatened to sue British Airways after one of her twin pet guinea-pigs was squashed to death by a suitcase in the cargo hold during a flight from Cologne to Chicago. When staff told her the bad news she handed them a photo of the pair so they could tell her which one had passed over ... If all the money in the world were shared equally, everyone would have pounds 273, the science magazine Focus has estimated ... Scientists at the Sergei Virshov University in Moscow have confirmed that psychic Yuri Tashrinko can suspend 15 rolls of lavatory paper in the air. But the 59- year-old fish merchant cannot explain why he can only do it with loo paper... Go-Go, the world's only waterskiing elephant, has died near Hamburg, aged 63...