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In the light of his unfortunate utterances over the past few days not everyone is buying Tory party chairman Jeremy Hanley's excuse for suddenly cancelling his appearance at Mensa's quarterly debate scheduled for 8 November. The official line is, of course, 'pressure of committments as chairman', but rumours of a damage limitation exercise, unsurprisingly, are rife.

Hanley, a member of Mensa, had agreed to sit at what might even prove to be the club's last-ever question-time style debate should audience attendance at the Royal College of Pathologists be deemed too feeble. Other panellists are to include Alan Sked, the bouffant-haired leader of the Euro-sceptic UK Independence Party, Admiral Sir Julian Oswald, Admiral of the Fleet, and Brian J Ford, a microbiologist.

Hanley's withdrawal has left Mensa not best pleased. It has only seven weeks to find a replacement to give Sked a run for his money. 'Sked was quite keen to tackle Hanley direct,' said one of the Mensa intelligensia. 'Now we are going to try to find one of the pro-Euro Tory MPs.' Not such a hard task, surely.

Generosity turned sour for actor Nigel Privaron, better known as Coronation Street's Terry Duckworth, when he attended a party in Streatham on Sunday. Finding the mood somewhat sobered after a careless thespian accidentally broke the sole corkscrew, Privaron kindly volunteered to donate his, which fortuitously hangs on the end of his keyring. Carried away, no doubt, by the party spirit, Privaron did not think to remove his keys from the ring before lending it - and the inevitable occurred. Any partygoers who have the keys please contact me here. Mr Privaron needs his car keys to get to Eastbourne where he is due on stage imminently . . .

Operatic diehards are up in arms about the Royal Opera House's sudden decision to alter its box office telephone number which for four decades has been 240 1066. (Those of a certain age can even fondly recall it being installed in 1946 as COV 1066). Now it has been changed to 304 4000 and, having hung on for more than 15 minutes yesterday, I can safely vouchsafe it is harder to get a response than at the American Embassy, where they also employ the infuriating

time-wasting tape mechanism: 'If you want x, press one; if you want y, press two, etc.' I always miss the one I need and have to redial, losing time, money . . . and, what is much worse for my colleagues, my temper.

Professional cooks, by dint of their profession, are rarely skin-and-bone types - after all, for best results it is essential to keep tasting which, no matter how enjoyable, is not always the best way to achieve an 18in waist. One forced to be extra wary, however, is Sophie Grey, 24, busy juggling a modelling career with her own new north London food company, Model Catering. 'I am careful,' she admits, 'I deliberately make light food, but of course I taste everything.' If you are the type to give glitzy soirees, Model Catering's main bonus appears to be that Ms Grey ropes in fellow models of both sexes to act as waiters. 'Models are so reliable,' insists Ms Grey, adding, perhaps unnecessarily: 'And I do find people like looking at attractive people at a party.'

Women offended by BA's new advertising campaign for Club Europe - 'It's one giant leap for businessmankind' - are supposed, according to the press office, to take solace in the wordplay on 'mankind', which is juxtaposed with a photograph of an astronaut. Hmmn. Scarcely Shakespearean. Personally I prefer the style of Cyprus Airways; three weeks ago the pilot on my flight from Gatwick to Larnaca told the passengers, happily enjoying their lunch, that the temperature on the Cyprus coast would be in the 90s . . . 'And if that's not hot enough for you,' he continued over the loudspeaker, 'you can always go inland and fry your little brains.'

(Photographs omitted)

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