So what attracted you to the Monster Raving Loony Party? 'Finbar- winbar, brother'

"So," I ask Mr Roly Foley, the official Monster Raving Loony candidate for Swindon. "What first attracted you to the party?"

Mr Foley is wearing the customary Monster Raving Loony costume - a bow- tie that lights up, comical teddy-bear slippers, a spangly jacket and a top-hat with a revolving Christmas cake on the top - but when you look into his face, and ignore the regalia, he looks like the well-to-do manager of a chain of cash-and-carry shops. This is a welcome change from the other 32 candidates here tonight for the official launch - at the Jubilee Hall in Covent Garden - all the other candidates, including Screaming Lord Sutch himself, look remarkably like grizzled roadies.

"Do you want the sane or the daft answer?" asks Mr Foley. "Both," I say.

"Well, the sane answer is that a friend of mine - one of the staunchest Tories I know, wonderful man, and a respected local publican - turned to me totally out of the blue and said he's going to stand for the Labour Party. I said: 'If you've turned into a bloody socialist, then I'm a Monster Raving Loony.' And he said: 'Well, why don't you stand, too?' "

"And what's the daft answer?" I ask.

"Well," says Mr Foley. "Finbar- winbar, brother. If you can spell, then put your tick in my box. Ha ha! We're all nutters. Ha ha! But we're saner than the mad buggers down the road on the Embankment! What you may not know is that there are loads of nutters in Swindon, Wiltshire, too. Brother! Brother!"

Our conversation is interrupted by the arrival of two grizzled roadie- types dressed, respectively, as Death and a viking.

"How are you?" asks Mr Foley.

"Parched," says Death. "Is this a free bar? Have they any real ale?"

In the corner, Andy, the PR man from the Jubilee Hall shakes his head and whistles with ill-disguised admiration.

"What a lot of effort they've gone to," he says. "They really are mad. I mean, look at the man with the Christmas cake on his head! Incredible! You know what he said to me?"

"What?" I ask.

"He said the cake was connected to his pacemaker! That's how it revolves! They're crazy. So much manpower has gone into the costumes."

"Don't you think that all that effort could have been redirected to more sensible, positive ends?" I say, with po-faced churlishness. I have been struck down with food poisoning - for the past few days - and I'm in a bad mood.

"You're absolutely right," says Andy - a man whose opinions seem remarkably easy to mould. "You're right," he says. "What a waste of time."

Andy introduces me to the manager of the venue, and I tell him about my recent brush with food poisoning.

"You know," he says, "you may think you can identify which restaurant you got it from, but you can't. People say - 'Oh! I got it from this restaurant or that restaurant' - but it can't be proven."

"OK," I say. "It's fine. Calm down. I got it in Islington."

"Or so you think," he says.

At that moment, Screaming Lord Sutch approaches. We are introduced.

"Where's my dressing room?" he asks.

"I don't know," I say. "Probably over there by the stage."

"The world's gone absolutely crazy," says Lord Sutch, chuckling at the inherent absurdity of it all.

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