Everything they do is driven to distraction by you

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I WAS sitting comfortably in the passenger seat of my Ford Galaxy when I looked round and saw something quite alarming: a dog with only half a head. Then I looked at my driver: he had been a chauffeur; now he was a crash dummy. Suddenly we were arriving in the south of France. The driver, by now clad in beach gear, said goodbye and grinned horribly. Then everything went blank

A nightmare? Quite the opposite: I was experiencing the latest way of selling a motor car, by virtual reality. IBM and Virtuality, the Leicester- based leader in VR games machines, have built eight computer systems for Ford. It will be lugging them around exhibitions, and hopes dealers will eventually decide to splash out on their own systems.

The Galaxy, which Ford claims is a "completely new type of large passenger car" (but which seems remarkably like a Renault Espace to me), is being launched with what is undoubtedly a completely new type of sales gimmick. You put on an oversized pair of sunglasses, headphones and a "data glove", and you find yourself sitting in the passenger seat. The commentary tells you to look around and how to use your glove: as you move your hand a disembodied "electronic hand" tracks your movement. With a bit of skill (more than I possessed) you can operate the radio, the electric windows and the sunroof.

You can look round and see the seats behind you. You can also see your driver and other passengers changing alarmingly; then there's that dog (I think they forgot to finish making him). Amazing technology, very clever, but would it make me buy a Galaxy? Afraid not.

NO-ONE was very alarmed when Club 18-30 ran advertisements telling you to come on their holidays and be licentious. But if BT Payphones told you to do the same sort of thing in their phone boxes, you would be shocked, wouldn't you?

Well, it is thinking of doing just that. It sponsored one of the categories in the More O'Ferrall Adshel Student Design Awards, and asked aspiring creative directors to come up with bus shelter posters that would persuade young people to make more and longer phone calls. The students were told to highlight "privacy, romance, freedom, spontaneity and emotional sanctuary", so it is not surprising they came up with a load of smut. Quite good smut, though: Alfredo Marcantonio, a director of the agency Abbott Mead Vickers, said he would have been happy if he had created some of them himself, and BT Payphones is thinking of running them for real.

The entry pictured on the right is a runner-up produced by Richard Robinson and Emer Stamp of Brunel University. "Our tutor told us the ad was too seedy," they said.

The other runner-up, by Caroline Jaggard of Brunel, is so rude that even she thought it would be binned, which shows how broad-minded dear old BT has become. It is a picture of a steamed-up phone box with "aural sex" written in the condensation on the window, and the line "Giving you the privacy your parents won't" underneath.

The winner is simply a big slogan saying "CONFIDE IN ME", with the "I" replaced by a phone box. But if this seems a little too clean, be comforted that it was motivated by gently smutty thoughts. Confide In Me is apparently the title of a song by Miss Kylie Minogue and, says Paul Prickett of Ravensbourne College in Kent, "I'm in love with Kylie so this is a bit of dedication to her really."

Steamy letters ONE OF the first bits of British Rail to make its way into the private sector is, I'm told, Rail Express Systems. Sounds dull? It's not. Not only is it the company that looks after - but does not own - the Royal Train, it also runs what are now called TPOs (travelling post offices) but what used to be called, more romantically, the Night Mail.

A bloke called Auden wrote about it in 1935 to accompany one of the most powerful publicity films ever made. You know the one - "This is the Night Mail crossing the border/bringing the cheque and the postal order..." Images of steam swirling round the great express, mail bags being snatched and dropped automatically, postmen sorting through the night ... how far, I asked the man from the Post Office, do the images hold good?

Well, he said, the last bag was picked up automatically by the Upline Special at Penrith on 3 October 1971. The steam has gone, too, but there are still 17 TPOs whizzing up and down the country every night. But he became really enthused when telling me about the new fleet of trains the Post Office is building. These will have their own station in north London, and because they do not have to bother about passengers, they can travel to their own timetables.

But will they be romantic? Sadly, no: they will be small, they will not sort on-board, and their speed will be more Thomas the Tank Engine than Flying Scotsman. Oh well, at least the letters will be the same: "the chatty, the catty, the boring, the adoring/the cold and official and the heart's outpouring..."

A COLLEAGUE was at the abortive Gulls Eggs charity lunch in the City last week (the eggs were off so they had to rustle up some quails eggs quick) when he bumped into one of the organisers, Richard Hambro.

Mr Hambro reminded him that the family is used to the catering business, as it owns the Wiltons fish restaurant in Jermyn Street near Piccadilly Circus. The story is that a past Hambro was dining in the restaurant during the War when the elderly owner approached him. "Oh Mr Hambro," she said, "I'm fed up with all this bombing - will you sell the restaurant for me?" The banker, barely pausing, replied: "Oh, put it on the bill, will you?"

Family members like Richard, who work for the breakaway bank JO Hambro, will now be able to keep a closer eye on the fish knives. The bank is moving to St James's, just round the corner from Jermyn St.

Young and in charge IT'S NICE to see someone still understands the need to encourage entrepreneurs. The someone in this case is Shell UK. It sponsors LiveWIRE , which runs a competition to find a Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

Last year it was won by a former lawyer, Ira Grant, who started making clothes for "the larger woman". This year the fashion theme continues: three of the 11 finalists are in the business. Michelle Blenkinsopp from Nottingham has a particularly youthful line, making clubbing clothes complete with condom pocket. I wonder how the young Marcus Samuel would have done when he was setting up this funny little company called Shell.