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Fictional anorexia

The new women-only Orange Prize For Fiction will, I trust, be reported to the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds of sex discrimination and go the way of the Labour Party's all-female shortlists. However, there does seem to be one biological difference between male and female novelists.

The novelist Nina Bawden has suggested that the shortlisted authors for the all-women prize be told who has won the prize before the celebration dinner. The chaps who dominate the Booker and Whitbread prizes may be able to eat in suspense, but stress prevents women from breaking bread. Ms Bawden says: "I don't know how those poor Booker-shortlisted authors can eat their dinner, so great is the pressure on them. I suggest that if you are not going to tell the authors in advance, they should receive pounds 1,000 compensation for having to sit through the dinner."

Syndicate of sin?

A high-level delegation of Christians went to see Virginia Bottomley yesterday, to protest about the iniquities of the National Lottery. Not, you understand, that they thought of it entirely as a work of the devil. One of them, Nick Coote, secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, is himself the member of a lottery syndicate that bets every week. "It's not like keeping a brothel or anything," he told me in mitigation.

Hunting for an excuse

As Eagle Eye divulged some weeks ago, James Barrington, ex-director of the League Against Cruel Sports (forced to quit the post after being rather too generous about hunters in The Field magazine) was likely to find debating the subject at the Oxford Union tonight a somewhat delicate task.

Yesterday, he suddenly made a last-minute withdrawal. An Oxford Union spokeswoman speculated that the withdrawal might be due to adverse weather conditions. Resourceful if unconvincing.

Brief pelican

It is not just self-styled "chief shop steward" Teresa Gorman MP who is becoming exercised about the change of a zebra crossing to a pelican crossing outside the House of Commons, as I reported yesterday. I now gather that the parliamentary branch of the TGWU is setting up a new campaign, Footrage.

Its members, all of whom work for MPs, also have to cross the road between Commons and MPs' offices. A union spokesperson says: "We have to wait for ages until the lights turn in our favour, while selfish car drivers ignore lights and block crossings. We've had enough."

He adds that the TGWU branch is planning to video offending drivers, and hand the results to the police. Give it a few more days and MPs will be citing the risks of such perilous parliamentary perambulation as further cause for a pay rise.

Late payment of old debts

The Treasury has, I understand, taken revenge on the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine. It is an arcane, coded revenge, but vengeance it is nevertheless.

Last summer, Mr Heseltine used his pounds 120,000 electronic desk diary to wire himself in to every government department, and see copies of forthcoming press releases, officially to co-ordinate publicity, unofficially to snaffle the stories himself. In one instance he stole the Treasury's thunder on an OECD report saying how wonderful the British economy was. Treasury ministers were unamused.

Yesterday came the moment to strike back. Last week, Mr Heseltine championed the late payment of debt to small firms, a method that kept his publishing business afloat and thus made his considerable fortune. In a speech in Birmingham yesterday to the Small Firms Conference, Angela Knight, economic secretary to the Treasury, and one-time head of an engineering firm, reassured the small business people: "I have experienced many of the difficulties that some of you face today. In particular, I remember the problems caused by late payment of debt." Ouch.

Hoary question

Archbishop Chrysostomos, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Cyprus, revealed himself yesterday as a bit of a wit. The archbishop has rejected a candidate for a bishopric post, accusing him of being "morally incompetent" to fill it, though not elaborating on the charge. The candidate's supporters visited the Archbishop, arguing that Christ had forgiven a whore her sins, so why not forgive their errant candidate? Archbishop Chrysostomos considered, then replied: "Yes, Christ forgave the harlot after she had repented, but he did not appoint her as a bishop."

Eagle Eye

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