Who do they think is going to risk good money for these third- rate relics? We're reduced to bidding for some Swan Vestas as used by John Thaw on the television

While I was filming my Great Railway Journeys of the World trip for the BBC in Syria, one of the items was about the legendary Baron Hotel in Aleppo. The hotel is now run by Sally Malzoumian, an English nurse who married its Armenian owner in 1949. Though the hotel is now a faded shell, she is very proud of the guest book, which contains the names of a legion of former residents from the time when Aleppo was a stop-off for that most Thirties of phenomena - air races. TE Lawrence, Agatha Christie and the Lindberghs are in there, plus a whole load of people you've never heard of but who were real big shots in their day. "That's Count Ostrowsky, the famous canoeing balloonist," Sally would say, or "That's Tommy Shinbone - nobody's heard of him now, but he was terribly famous as radio's first comedy gynaecologist. He arrived with Ted Ray and Max Ernst in his airship from Beirut and such a crowd gathered that he had to be carried to the hotel in a bucket."

It's the phrase "nobody's heard of him now" that gives me the heebie- jeebies about guest books, conjuring up a vision of Ozymandias's legs standing all alone in the desert with nothing left of all his mighty works, human vanities and vast accomplishments but sand. People like Tommy Shinbone, hugely celebrated in their era, are now dead and forgotten, all their achievements and pride reduced to a scratchy signature in a tattered old book. It's enough to give a less stable person than me a panic attack - aagh, I can't breathe, I can't breathe, is that the floor coming up to meet me, Sooty? Silence. (Act II: Alexei's office later that same morning. He climbs off floor and continues writing.) I didn't tell Sally Malzoumian any of this, of course - she'd have thought I was nuts.

It's because of people like Tommy Shinbone that I never sign my proper name in guest books, so people can't say in later years, "Alexei Sayle, oh yeah, he used to be really famous." That's why I signed into the Esplanade Hotel in Bournemouth as Mr Vikram Patel of Solihull and why the young lady was registered as my daughter, which concludes the case for the defence, your honour.

But when I dwell on the faded glories of past celebrities, what I'm really wondering about is what is the point of trying to do anything when it will all be forgotten? What, in truth, is the meaning of life? I've been giving this matter a great deal of thought recently because like any even mildly famous person, I get bombarded with charity requests for personal items that people can raffle or auction - your old tie, used pipes, that sort of thing. It always puzzles me - who do they think is going to risk good money for these third-rate relics? I could perhaps understand if they were asking for used Rolexes, or slightly creased banknotes. Instead of a scrap of the true cross, we're reduced to bidding for some Swan Vestas as used by John Thaw on the television; Paul Daniels' old school blazer now seems to occupy the place once held by the pickled heart of St Theresa.

Among these requests was one from a man compiling a charity book containing celebrities' thoughts on what life means. Given that this was a weighty topic and a change from the usual requests for worn-out slippers, I brought my mighty celebrity mind to bear on the question "What does life mean?" After some thought, I wrote:

Dear Sir, I don't know what life means, but I do know what "Eichhornchen" means - it's German for squirrel. I hope this helps.

Yours, Alexei Sayle

As I get older, I wonder more about the meaning of life. The rest of my time I spend thinking up smartarse answers for charity books while multi-million pound projects I'm supposed to be writing slide past their delivery dates, to the despair of my agent.

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