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
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
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

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

    £26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions