And what, inquired M'Lud, is Linford's lunch box?

THE SPLENDIDLY gothic Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand have been the venue for tense corporate battles, acrimonious marriage breakdowns, celebrity libel actions. All human life, as they say, is here.

It is a safe bet that yesterday was the first time the court had heard the term "lunch box" used in open court when it did not refer to something that you kept your sandwiches in.

It came during the celebrity libel action brought by Linford Christie, the former World and Olympic sprint champion, and it certainly had the trial judge confused.

Interjecting in an angry tirade from Christie on the subject, a bemused Mr Justice Popplewell asked: "What is Linford's lunch box?"

Amid laughter in the court, Christie replied: "It's a reference to my genitals, my lord."

Jokes on the subject of Christie's generous endowment emerged during his career when he took to wearing all-in-one figure-hugging running suits on the track.

The exchanges came in an altogether remarkable second day of the action against John McVicar, the former armed robber turned journalist, who decided to dispense with the services of his barrister and conduct his own defence.

Mr McVicar repeatedly asserted that Christie's antagonism towards journalists was because they suspected him of taking performance-enhancing drugs. Christie eventually admitted that this was one of his grievances but not the main one. He gave the example of stories about "Linford's lunch-box'' as another.

Mr McVicar followed up by saying that Christie had himself made many jokes on the subject. He quoted one occasion on which Christie had been asked about the size of his `lunch-box' and allegedly replied: "If your girlfriend saw how big it is, she would leave you."

Christie agreed that he had joked about the matter but only in the hope that it would go away. "I have tried to laugh it off and see it as a joke, but it's not a joke,'' he said. The one-time fastest man in the world added: "I do not like it. Nobody ever mentions Sally Gunnell's tits or anything like that. It's sexual discrimination. It's totally disgusting."

The judge brought the exchange to an end by asking Mr McVicar: "Where is this going?''

Christie is suing over an article written in the defunct satirical magazine Spiked in 1995 titled: "How did Linford get this good."

Earlier, Mr McVicar quoted statistics showing that between 1985 and 1986 Christie improved in world sprint rankings from 156 to fourth, with personal best times going from 10.42 seconds for 100 metres to 10.04.

Wasn't this he asked "quite remarkable''.

"It is quite remarkable,'' said Christie, "but then I am a remarkable athlete.''

He repeatedly denied ever using banned substances and emphasised his willingness to be tested anywhere, anytime.

"I've also said that when I die, they can open me up and give what they want to science - they won't find anything tainted inside me."

He added: "I will give a sample but I don't like the process of how they take them. I do not like stripping my clothes off and having another person ogling my privates."

Earlier, Christie told the court of his anger at being given the "benefit of the doubt" by drug testers at the Seoul Olympics in 1988.

Mr Christie said that the discovery of a tiny quantity of the stimulant pseudo-ephedrine in his urine after the 200-metre final, in which he came third, was the only time in his career that he tested positive.

"At the time, I went hysterical. I knew I didn't take any steroids. You are wondering where did it come from.

"I told the team manager about the ginseng I had taken and that I was one of the great supporters of no drugs in the sport."

He said there was "no truth at all" in Mr McVicar's suggestion that he deliberately sought out prohibited drugs to help a hamstring injury, sustained in the 100-metre final at the August 1995 World Championships at Gothenburg.

Mr McVicar questioned the athlete's "uncanny quick recovery" from the injury which enabled him to win a lucrative competition at Zurich two weeks later.

Referring to an incident on Wednesday when Christie broke down in tears in the witness box asking, "Why am I here", Mr McVicar pointed out that it was Christie who had initiated the case.

Christie replied that the action was Mr McVicar's responsibility because of what he had written.

"I sit in my house minding my own business, and it is people like you who bother me that make me have to do all this," said Christie.

The case is due to continue today.