"Money programmes are so boring," says Bernice Cohen, as we sit on her patio drinking tea and eating biscuits in Pinner, north-west London. Mrs Cohen is a 60-year-old former dentist and the presenter of Mrs Cohen's Money, the new money programme on Channel 4 which most certainly isn't boring. It's a programme about personal finance in which the redoubtable Mrs Cohen in her Paddington Bear hat takes up her cudgels on behalf of members of the public.

Last week she could be seen berating Sir Mark Weinberg, former chairman of the Committee on Private Share Ownership, as he attempted to defend the City's negative attitude towards private investors. Tomorrow night, John Bridgeman, the Director General of Fair Trading, wears a particularly tight-lipped, long-suffering expression as Mrs Cohen takes him to task on the subject of the exorbitant interest rates charged by finance companies.

"The people I spoke to in authority were extremely patronising," she tells me. "They treated me like dirt on the trousers and I'm afraid it made me a bit cross."

Mrs Cohen is the latest in a line of slightly eccentric female TV presenters. Fanny Craddock comes to mind, although possibly this has something to do with the largely non-speaking Johnny Craddock role that her husband Alan, a retired GP, occasionally plays in the series. Perhaps Barbara Woodhouse is a better reference point. Mrs Cohen wants us all to buck up and learn how to make our money go walkies.

"In this country nobody is taught how to manage money," she says. "You don't learn at school, you don't learn at university, you don't learn when you go to your first job. Nobody is ever taught the basics of managing money. You must be taught how to budget - it's one of the facts of life."

It was certainly a painful lesson for Mrs Cohen. In 1984, having retired from dentistry, she began researching a book about cultural behaviour. Over a period of three years, one book turned into three and when her publisher was taken over and she found herself without a contract, she decided to publish them herself. Big mistake! She lost thousands and found herself up to her ears in debt.

Mrs Cohen ended up with pounds 65,000 when all the debts were paid off and it was then that she recalled the Friday afternoons she'd spent with her father, who used to play the stockmarket from the comfort of his armchair. (And this is as good a time as any to mention that Mrs Cohen is very anxious for me to point out that she is the author of a book called The Armchair Investor, which was published in January.)

"I thought: 'This is an easy way of making money,' so I remembered what he'd talked to me about and I thought: 'Well, I've done all this research for these books and making money in the markets needs a bit of research, so why not?'."

Initially she got her fingers burnt investing in Polly Peck, but Mrs Cohen wasn't to be deterred. "I thought: 'Gosh, I'll just have to work harder.' It took a long time." But since then her pounds 65,000 has become pounds 300,000. "I'm a sort of role model," says Mrs Cohen. "I'm an ordinary married woman and I've done it. And you can do it, too." Indeed she comes over all evangelical when she gets on to the subject of how all of us should take charge of our financial affairs and plan for the future. "The welfare state is not going to be there in the 21st century to provide for the things that we want to make life good and wholesome for us and therefore we must look to ourselves."

Mrs Cohen is very keen on the idea of a share-owning democracy. So should I get straight on the phone to my broker? (Not that I have one.) "I'm advocating that you should go home and take a good hard look at your finances," Mrs Cohen tells me. "Can you tell me off the top of your head how much money comes in each month and how much goes out and how much money is in the pot that you could save if you wanted to? Could you do that?"

Too frightened to admit that I can't, I pretend that I can.

"Well I take my hat off to you," she says.

And speaking of hats...

"I like wearing hats. Actually the Paddington Bear hat should be a Paddington Bull hat, because I'm not a bear," she laughs.

And there you have it - a financial joke! Who said money had to be boring?

Mariella hits the bull's-eye

"WHERE did you get your husky voice? Do you hang out with Patsy and Liam? Do you ever wish your hair was a different colour so you'd be taken more seriously? Seen any good movies recently? What's your favourite voiceover of the ones you've done?"

Mariella Frostrup is running through the questions she usually gets asked in interviews. "What's really difficult is you stop being a person and you start being the sum of your press clippings," she says. "And since the majority of your press clippings have absolutely nothing to do with who you are, you spend your whole life answering questions about a complete stranger."

The complete stranger in question is a blonde bim who spends her life at celebrity parties. "But I haven't been out since five days ago when I went out to play darts!" she says (huskily). In fact she's hard at work on her new show, Brunch, an arts show on Channel 5 every Sunday morning. However, she did do a photo shoot recently in a swimming-pool wearing a wetsuit for Loaded magazine. "I mean, I couldn't have sprawled about in a neglige or anything," she adds before launching into a tirade about the fact that women are expected to take their clothes off all the time for men's magazines.

"Why should we all get our kit off? You men don't have to do it!" I tell her that's probably a blessing in disguise, but she won't be side-tracked. "Angus Deayton in a string bikini! I think it would be great. And I'd quite like to see David Baddiel in a thong."

Round and round in circles

ON FRIDAY Nick Sanders will set off from London on his Triumph Daytona motorbike with the aim of driving it round the world in 27 days and setting a new world record in something called the Mobil World Challenge. "I think it's the most dangerous journey I've ever done, without a doubt," says Nick, a modest and very likeable Mancunian.

In previous adventures Nick has pedalled around the world on a bicycle a couple of times as well as cycling across the Sahara and the length of the Andes. He's also motorcycled around the world before, as well as biking the length of the Americas from Tierra del Fuego to Alaska. Last year just for a change he sailed two narrow boats from London to the Black Sea and back again.

In the course of all this he's been held up in Uganda by men with machine guns, he's been lost in the Nubian Desert and one of his narrow boats sank in a Force 7 gale. But whatever happens to him, Nick never calls on the emergency services. "If I get into a mess, I've got to blinking well get out of it." He ekes out a living from sponsorship, books and videos.

Nick was a racing cyclist living in France before he began his adventuring life in 1981, but the physical toll of his impending trip is one thing that he doesn't take lightly. "When I got back from the Americas trip I was very disorientated and unable to make decisions for two or three weeks afterwards and I'm a very fit person," he says.

However, Nick's not the least bit concerned about what many of us would consider the greatest danger of all - the local food. "Oh, I'm a Northern man, I just eat anything and drink anything and I never get ill," he says. "That's one good thing - a solid constitution is very useful."

So why does he keep doing these things? "It's a funny thing," says Nick. "I can't easily explain it. It's something I've just become good at and why stop doing the things that you're good at?"

(Nick will be sending daily updates to an IBM web site during his trip. You can follow his progress at http://www.mobilchallenge.ihost.com.)

In the shadow of a great man

IF THERE was a prize for the year's funniest book then Geoff Dyer's Out Of Sheer Rage: In The Shadow Of D H Lawrence would win it hands down. Don't be misled by the title - ostensibly about Lawrence, it's in fact much more to do with Dyer and his largely fruitless attempts to write a book on Lawrence. As he revisits Lawrence's old haunts we learn about his tendency to boredom, his inability to make decisions, his fussiness about food, his predisposition towards idleness and his quite magnificent grumpiness about almost everything.

I was a contemporary of Geoff's at Oxford in the late 1970s and remember only too well how much he used to moan about the college food all the time until he was eventually forced into drastic action. Having come to the conclusion that the sole purpose of eating was to provide the body with vitamins (I should point out that he was reading English), he decided that he might as well just live on vitamin tablets. Sadly, after a couple of days he was forced to retire to bed, a shadow of his former self, and gave up this daring experiment shortly afterwards. "What I hadn't taken account of was the roughage thing," he says.

Geoff's literary output has been varied to an almost eccentric degree: a couple of novels, a book about jazz that won the Somerset Maugham award, a biography of John Berger, a book on the First World War. "The thing is, I go through all these phases. I was in my jazz phase, but now I can't bear listening to jazz. Then there was my First World War phase and of course I've got no interest in the First World War now. There's a tendency for people to keep writing the same sort of books, but I just record these little enthusiasms and then pass on."

Tim Hulse

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