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.

Suggested Topics
News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Business Analyst/ Project Manager - Financial Services

    £60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client in the Financial...

    Science Teacher

    £85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

    Year 6 Teacher - Flintshire

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Key Stage 2 Teachers needed in Flintsh...

    Year 6 Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Year 6 Teachers urgently needed for su...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits