Diary

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The Independent Online
If you read the story in the News of the World about those illicit pictures of ball tampering taken during Imran Khan's honeymoon, and were disappointed not to see them, let me assure you they are the real thing. The snaps of Imran, his paramour and his Panama in action on their balcony in the Goldsmith private estate are presently gaining widespread circulation. Colour photocopies are doing the rounds of City dealing rooms, fax wires are running hot across the nation, and in the Isle of Wight last week, photographers waiting outside court for judgment on that couple jailed for lying were demonstrating their fancy new mobile picture-editing kit by selling each other peeks at the candid snaps.

Indeed, the speed with which the pictures have achieved circulation shows that in the era of the Internet and instant communications, we don't need the Sun, or indeed Paris Match, to show us what the servants saw.

And there is nothing that even someone with the money and influence of Sir James Goldsmith can do about it.

We are feeling bereft in our house. Saturday mornings now look bleak and empty, conversations have no meaning, we have lost our principal point of contact across the generations. Yes, on Tuesday my son completed his Merlin Premier League football sticker collection. For four months the accumulation of pen portraits of the country's leading footballers has dominated our lives. We have spent pounds buying the things from newsagents; we have conducted our daily routine to the rhythm of the simple mantra: "Got, got, not got, got"; we have stockpiled Kellogg's Corn Flakes like nuclear war was imminent because they were giving six stickers free with every carton; we have grown expert in the facial characteristics of players (Peacock of Newcastle United: bad hair; Butt of Manchester United: bad skin; Scholes of Manchester United: bad hair and bad skin). Now it is over.

And I'm to blame. On Tuesday I took him and his mate along to the John Orwell Sports Centre in Wapping - under the shadow of Fortress Murdoch - to Merlin's swap fair. At this, collectors are entitled to exchange 25 surplus stickers for 25 stickers they desperately need. A simple enough proposition, and enough to turn the streets of Wapping into a snarling grind of Renault Espaces and Toyota Previas containing families who had driven in from the suburbs (one came from York) in the fond belief they could find a parking space in Docklands.

The queue outside the centre was astonishing, like those you get for the big rides in theme parks, but without the benefit of signposts telling you how long you had to wait. It was made up of fathers, grandfathers and mothers with offspring dressed in a fashion parade of new football strips. Plus a suspicious number of grown men on their own looking sheepish and wearing anoraks (this was one of the few places where men looked odd not being accompanied by small boys).

Everywhere within the queue, impromptu swapping had broken out, markets were being made ("I'll give you five players for that Man City team sticker"), instant friendships forged ("wow, well wicked, you've got the Aston Villa badge"). But then, once inside the hall - where Merlin had set up its stalls, where there was a glittering display of all the stickers we had ever dreamt of - we got the swaps we needed and it was over.

As we were leaving, drained, exhausted, anti-climactic, we were handed a small packet. Rather in the manner dealers drop little envelopes of dope in playgrounds to recruit new addicts, this was a present, free of charge, gratis. It contained samples of Merlin's new product: footballer Pogs, little cardboard tiddly-winks with mug-shots pasted to one side. My son's packet, to his unconfined joy, featured Eric Cantona - a man, incidentally, with plenty of free time to pose for pictures now his community service has ended. I could feel, as we walked away, a new obsession coming on.

As we received our glittering new stickers at the fair, I wondered what Merlin planned to do with the battered old swaps we exchanged for them. "Give them to Great Ormond Street Hospital," said one of the staff. "They hand them out to the children there." This was an act of charity whose significance was not quite grasped by one of our party. "Any chance of stopping off at that Great Ormond Street place," he said as we drove home. "They're giving stickers out for free there."

Round our way - Islington - the local youth prefers collecting something more useful than football stickers: other people's consumer durables, for instance. Having exhausted the local seams of in-car electronics, the lads have turned their attention to stripping the exteriors of motors left out, provocatively, in the street overnight. They seem particularly fond of the hubcaps from Volvos - perhaps it is, then, an aesthetic judgement.

Tony, my neighbour, has lost three of his over the last month. The disappearance of the fourth - his rear off-side - over the weekend was followed, a day later, by a photo-copied flier under the windscreen wiper. "Missing hubcaps are not illegal," it read. "But they are unsightly and can decrease the re-sale value of your vehicle. ABC Hubcaps can provide all your requirements. Phone ..." In the Blairite uplands, enterprise is king.

The final word on the overflowing-embonpoint-and-clever-shoes spat between Germaine Greer and Suzanne Moore belongs to Lucy O'Brien. In her new book She-Bop: The definitive history of women in rock, pop and soul, Ms O'Brien describes women journalists thus: "Unlike men caught up in the ego rush of being a 'personality' journalist, women tend to foreground themselves less."

So that explains Julie Burchill's new column in the Sunday Times: background material.

If none of that makes any sense to you, perhaps we should follow the line of a new gossip magazine called Insider which publishes footnotes to explain who exactly the gossiped-about are. This would be a useful exercise, were Insider's bizarre notes not more obscure than the third- rate gossip they illuminate. Thus we learn: "Anne Robinson is the former Mrs Charles Wilson", "Peter Stothard is the present Mr Sally Emerson", and "Julie Burchill is the former Mrs Tony Parson (sic) and the present Mrs Cosmo Landesman". Happy to be of service ...

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