Proof that Sir Norman Fowler will leave his post of party Chairman a desperate man. Earlier this month he dispatched what can only be described as a begging letter to expats of all political bents, seeking their votes in the next general election.

'If you want to vote Conservative and do not have a relative or friend on whom you can completely rely to follow your wishes. . .the Conservative Party will then suggest to you a reliable Conservative who will agree to be your proxy,' he wrote.

Unfortunately his plea was not met with universal sympathy. Lines such as 'Britain under the Conservatives has been transformed' took on a different meaning in the hands of recipient Jerold Gordon, a composer living in Germany. 'I left Britain because the Conservatives created a society in which I could not, as an artist and academic, find work.' A pause. 'And now they send me this billious piffle. I think I'm going to be sick.'

Following the wide celebration of the tale of author Jeanette Winterson and lover knocking on the door of a journalist who criticised her work, an appalling joke is circulating in literary circles: 'Knock knock.' 'Who's there?' 'Jeanette.' 'Jeanette Who?' 'Jeanette thinks I'm the greatest living English writer.' . . .groans to William Boot, c/o The Bookseller. . .

The 'old boy network is alive and well at Friars Prep school, Kent, who have just offered ex-England and Kent cricketer Richard Ellison the post of Geography master. Not renowned for his academic abilities - eight years ago he was employed by the school as a gardener - Ellison, 34, says he is determined to give it his 'best shot'.

Headmaster John Stevens says that the school has a fine sporting tradition - but not, he insists at the expense of academia. But it is felt that Ellison will go some way to rectifying the abysmal show Friars first XI put on last season. . .and some hope that charts, atlases et al will be put away in favour of the winter nets.

A surprising announcement: Designer of this year's official Common's Christmas Card is. . .Michael Heseltine. Not, before you get over-excited, the President of the Board of Trade, but a 33-year-old artist who happens to share his name.

Heseltine's oil painting is a view of Westminster Palace from across the river and currently hangs in the Commons. 'It was bought by an MP from a London gallery, he explains. 'People do think it's by the other Michael, he says, adding mournfully: 'When I had an exhibition in Oxford recently, all the MPs I invited sent their replies to the Board of Trade.'

Breaking out from the current mould of female British film acting, is Kristin Scott Thomas. . .recognised by most as the girl they really wanted Hugh Grant to end up with in Four Weddings and a Funeral. She is to expose her more cerebral talents, directing a short film. Details, however, are unclear: 'It will be very French,' she tells me. 'Six minutes of complication.'

If, as expected, Tony Blair makes it to Labour leader and possibly beyond, he will still have to answer to James Fenton, Oxford professor of poetry, formerly Blair's head boy at the Chorister School, Durham. According to this week's New Yorker, Fenton is happy to reassert his authority, should Blair enter No 10. 'I'm still his head boy,' he warns.

'I'll be able to stand outside and say 'Blair]' in a very loud voice and he'll come quivering to the door and obey whatever I tell him to do.

(Photographs omitted)