"Gotta be Thursday evening," says one.
"Why's that?" says his mate.
"Stands to reason," he replies. "That's when they're switching on the Christmas lights. Just think of the crowds. While they're watching the ceremony, we go through the skylight, grab the gems, then have it away across the rooftops and nobody's any the wiser. Sweet as a nut. It's the perfect diversion."
"I dunno," says his mate. "I reckon Wednesday's better, before the place is all lit up. Anyway, who's switching the lights on this year?"
"It's that Caprice," says the first blagger. "You know, the international supermodel. And according to the Daily Mail, the police have been warned to expect an exceptional turnout. "
"They're 'avin' a larf," his mate scoffs. "Who's gonna turn out for 'er? She's a post-modern media construct whose career has consisted almost entirely of going to parties and openings in dresses made from the minimum of material. I mean, what does she actually do? Exceptional turnout, my arse."
The first blagger is pensive for a moment. "Yeah, I see what you mean," he says eventually. "But Christopher Biggins is doing the warm-up ... "
And so it was that on Wednesday night two armed robbers scampered with a sackload of gems under cover of darkness and on Thursday evening I reached the junction of Bond Street and Clifford Street 45 minutes before the scheduled arrival of Caprice, to find that the assembled press photographers, together with the children of the Sevenoaks School Choir, outnumbered members of the general public by about two to one.
A platform had been erected, with a catwalk along which Caprice would walk at the appointed time. This was no doubt intended to emphasise Caprice's status as an "international supermodel", although it's fair to say that Cindy, Naomi, Kate and their friends might be hard-pressed to put a name to her face should they ever meet her.
Christopher Biggins was doing his best to stir up interest, giving regular updates between the choir's Christmas carols on the estimated time of arrival of the "gorgeous international supermodel". With exactly seven minutes to go, it became clear that Biggins had been spouting some bad medicine, since rain was starting to fall. By the time Caprice stepped from her car, we were in the middle of a torrential downpour. The crowd, which had by now swelled to roughly two hundred people, took shelter under umbrellas as she made her way along the catwalk in the glare of the photographers' flashes. She was wearing a fuchsia-pink trouser suit and a black shirt open to reveal the kind of cleavage which could take your finger off if you weren't careful.
She was greeted by the large and amiable figure of Alan Lethbridge, national area manager of Russell & Bromley and chairman of the Bond Street Association. He announced to the assembled throng that Caprice was the ideal person to turn on the lights because she represented "style, beauty, exquisite taste and international renown". It was now time for her to press the switch.
"OK, here we go," she said. "Ready? One, two ... " The lights came on and everyone applauded.
And that was the limit of Caprice's public pronouncements, other than to observe to nobody in particular: "It's really, really raining now." Mr Lethbridge gallantly kept close and held an umbrella over her to protect her from the elements as the photographers formed a scrum in front of her. Then it was time for her to get back into her Mercedes for the 100- yard journey to Tiffany's, where a private party was to be held. "I can't believe it," said one of the photographers as he made his way off. "That fat guy just wouldn't get out of the way."
At Tiffany's, I ran into Richard Young, photographer of the stars, king of the snapperazzi. I asked him how Caprice scored in the celebrity league table and he said he rated her highly as a friend because she's a very nice person, but as far as her celebrity status goes, he couldn't really say. "She's very nice, but what does she do?" he said.
After having her picture taken a few more times and signing autographs for the boys in the choir, it was time for Caprice to leave. She had the Barnardo's Ball to attend. Me, I just grabbed a load of jewellery and legged it. Strangely, the rain outside had suddenly stopped.
Chemistry comes to commuting
HERE'S a little teaser. If you're standing on your bathroom scales and you lift one foot up, does the weight recorded by the machine (a) increase, (b) decrease, or (c) remain the same? The answer is (c), but if you thought that was easy and are feeling smug, perhaps we should try another. After you've taken the top off a bottle of lemonade and the bubbles have fizzed up, will the lemonade be (a) lighter, (b) heavier, or (c) the same? The answer is (a). From March next year, commuters in London will be able to ponder questions such as these as they undertake their daily Tube journeys. All of London Underground's 4,000 Tube carriages will carry a poster with a cartoon containing a scientific teaser in a project titled Science on the Underground.
The idea is the brainchild of Brenda Keogh and Stuart Naylor, who are both lecturers in science education at Manchester Metropolitan University. "I think a lot of people have got experience of science in their education," says Linda, "but what we've found is that to some extent it hasn't actually answered the questions that they have about the world around them." I know what she means. I've got O-levels in chemistry and physics and I still can't work out what a Mandelson is for.
Cricketers drive each other batty
ON WEDNESDAY the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award (known to wags as the Bookie Prize) was awarded to Simon Hughes, a former cricketer for Middlesex and Durham who now writes for the Daily Telegraph. His book, A Lot of Hard Yakka, which details the life of a journeyman cricketer on the county circuit, is generally considered to be as hilarious as it is insightful about the ills of the modern game. Yet many of Hughes's cricketing colleagues may well have greeted the news of his victory with somewhat mixed feelings. Since turning his hand from playing to writing a few years ago, Hughes has shown himself remarkably adept at irritating his fellow writers. When the Guardian's Mike Selvey reviewed Hughes's book for Wisden Cricket Monthly, he praised the work but described the author as a "pillock". This is bad enough, but I'm told that Selvey originally used the word "twat", which was then toned down by the magazine's editor.
Hughes was also involved in a feud with the Times's Michael Henderson for a while. Two years ago, Henderson was critical of Hughes's writing style on a radio discussion programme. "I said that he was a lamentable writer or something like that," Henderson told me from his hotel in Peshawar, where he was covering the first Test between Pakistan and the West Indies. "I gave him a few strokes and he didn't like it, so he let one of my car tyres down when I was at Trent Bridge, which I thought was pathetic. And then two months later, at a cricket writers' dinner, he came up to me and presented me with a pump."
However, Henderson says he gets on quite well with Hughes nowadays and they even have dinner together occasionally. "I think he's improved, to be honest," he says. "When he first went into journalism he rubbed people up the wrong way because he was brash. He made no secret of the fact that he didn't particularly like the company of other cricket journalists." I wondered what Henderson thought of Hughes's book. "It's a very good book," he said. "He must have a bloody good editor, I tell you."
Architecture? It's like poetry
"I KNEW from the age of 13 that I wanted to be an architect," says Michael Wilford. "It just somehow became a passion. My father was an engineer and thought that architecture was a very effete activity and so he did his best to prevent me from taking it up as a career."
Fortunately Mr Wilford Sr was unsuccessful, since last week Michael Wilford and Partners picked up the prestigious Stirling Prize for architecture. The award, administered by the Royal Institute of British Architects, was for Wilford's work on the Music School in Stutt-gart. The judges described the building as "a classically inspired work of great power and subtlety that can be directly compared to the work of the inter-war Scandinavian master Gunnar Asplund". As someone who knows nothing about architecture and has only seen the building in photographs, I would describe it as "a very nice building indeed, especially the round bit".
The awards ceremony on Thursday evening kicked off Architecture Week, a joint Arts Council and Riba initiative which aims to demystify architecture. Sadly, like me, most people don't know much about it. "I think there is a general lack of education about the built environment," says Wilford. "It seems extraordinary that people are taught literature and music and painting, all those kinds of things, but are very rarely taught about the built environment in which we all live and work."Reuse content