"The Irish are a very fair people," wrote Doctor Johnson. "They never speak well of each other." It's a truism that's lost on Birmingham City Council, which is objecting to the proposed new name of a city pub: Scruffy Murphy's. It is, the council says, "insulting to the city's Irish community". I feel this is being a little oversensitive. Anyone with a passing knowledge of the Hibernian soul will know how cheerily the Irish embrace the concept of grot. Holidaymakers in the west of Ireland will know that the classiest lounge bar in Shannon is, or was, a place called Durty Nellie's. The capital has for years been called "Dear ould dirty Dublin" in the tourist brochures. The trendiest Irish pub in London is called Filthy McNasty's. I spoke to its manager, Gerry O'Boyle, who shared my suspicion that, should Scruffy Murphy's become a reality, the streets of Birmingham would probably not be filled with outraged Kerrymen protesting about their intrinsic and natural cleanliness. "The Irish have a great capacity to laugh at themselves," he explained. "It's not in our nature to take offence." Did he like the name? "I think it's a great name, provided the pub isn't one of them crap theme pubs with terrible amplified music and lousy beer." Indeed. Like that pale apology for Guinness some places serve. What's it called again? Ah, yes. Murphy's.

Call me smug, but I've never shared the American obsession with self-betterment. All those pop psychologists and seminar therapists, those corporate gurus and one-minute managers seem to tell you little that you didn't know when you were, say, nine and a half. But the other day I discovered a management programme that's hard to ignore, partly because it's festooned with high-octane praise ("One of the three books every worker should read to dramatically boost the nation's productivity" - Bill Clinton) and partly because it's got such a silly title. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is a five-million-seller in the States, where its propounder, Dr Stephen R Covey, runs a thing called the Covey Leadership Center. It's out on audio tape, so I bunged one in the car hi-fi and waited, like Buddha under the bo tree, for enlightenment.

That title really got to me. I have as many habits - good, bad and revolting - as the next man, and can always acquire a few more if That's What It Takes To Succeed In Today's Boardroom. I couldn't think which habits Dr Covey would be urging his students to adopt, but I assumed they must be like this: brush your shoes before retiring, play Sousa brass band music when depressed, try not to pick one's nose while stuck in traffic, learn to say "Yeah, right" when talking to anybody under 30, always carry a lighter in case you should run into Princess Margaret at a party, pass the port to the left when dining at All Souls, and never bid higher than £20 when playing poker with somebody called Doc. That's my seven. (And would you have to relinquish seven other habits in taking on the fresh batch? - biting one's nails, listening to Leonard Cohen records at 2am, eating doner kebabs on Friday nights ...)

Dr Covey has no truck with such matters. The tape featured him, with a breathy girl interpreter, grinding through a folksy but impenetrable screed about "the character ethic" and "psychic determinism" and making your family produce "mission statements". His "habits" were things like "proactivity" and "begin with the end in mind", which was not what I was expecting at all.

I see the good doctor is lecturing to a gaggle of impressionable business types at Grosvenor House on 9 May. Seven habits indeed. Be warned boys - there's not a single word about smoking or pulling your earlobe or leaving the cap off the toothpaste tube.

Marlon Brando is suffering enough, surely, without having the world's attention drawn to the fact that he can no longer remember his lines; but the cat is out of the bag. It seems that the world's greatest actor, once famed for his reliance on gigantic prompts on the sets of his movies (it accounts, they say, for his weird head-swivelling technique in On the Waterfront) is now reduced to having his lines read to him through a tiny radio receiver located in his ear. Faye Dunaway, his co-star in the new film Don Juan DeMarco, rationalises it thus: "There comes a point when we probably get tired of tearing up our hearts and guts and souls to act. After all, who says we gotta learn all those lines?"

Good question, Faye. Artists can abandon oil paints, musicians may depart from musical notation, ballet dancers long ago jettisoned any adherence to First, Second or Third Position, but actors are still expected to recite lines from memory. Talk about vieux chapeau. In the future I expect to see Mr Brando's and Ms Dunaway's successors doing away with their earpieces and taking the stage wearing virtual-reality helmets, inside which their lines will pass across a screen before their eyes. Now that'll be acting.

The sale of Macmillan Ltd to the fiendish Krauts has prompted the customary hand-wringing about how the flower of British publishing has been taken over by transglobal conglomerates and garlic-scented Continentals. A more optimistic note is sounded by the news that Carol Shields has won the Pulitzer prize for literature, for her wonderful novel The Stone Diaries, which was shortlisted for the Booker last year. Shields is published by Fourth Estate, the independent publishing house started 11 years ago by Victoria Barnsley. I wouldn't be making a fuss about this, had not the company also won last year's Pulitzer prize with E Annie Proulx's The Shipping News. Here is a publisher that contrives to get the right books again and again, without the benefit of massive resources, international clout, German management, Australian paymasters or lunch with Andrew "The Jackal" Wylie. Down the hatch, Estaters.

Tonight's the night for champagne, romance and Kate Moss, who celebrates the launch of Kate, an album of photographs, with a party at the Blue Note in Islington. After it she will retire to her new home off Shepherd's Bush Green, barely a sequin's throw from the police station and within easy reach of Queen's Park Rangers' football ground.

Since Ms Moss moved into her new home with her inamorata, the actor-turned- rocker-manqu Johnny Depp, locals have been preening themselves that the Green (and especially the corner of Uxbridge Road) has now become the coolest address in London. Cries of horror from Notting Hillbillies greet this bizarre suggestion, but it's a view that's steadily prevailing. "Quite simply," says Will Self, another Bush-dweller, "W12 is what W11 wishes it were."

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