John Walsh

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The Independent Online
I am with Jarvis Cocker on this one. The singing beanpole with the Pulp rock band succumbed to a wholly understandable fit of irritation at the Brit Awards on Monday evening and took to the stage to spoil Michael Jackson's pounds 250,000 performance of "Earth Song". In doing so he may or may not have trodden on some children (he is famously gangling and uncoordinated), but his heart was clearly in the right place. If there is one thing worse than Mr Jackson's drivellingly bien-pensant lyrics ("What've we done to the world? Look what we've done ...") it is his compulsion to indulge his creepy Messiah complex in public. To watch him fill the stage with the Poor and Needy so that he could "heal" them with his sovereign touch was to be poleaxed with tastelessness. Watching him removing his black silk trousers to reveal the shiny-white saint's breeches beneath, one experienced a powerful desire to swat him with a rolled-up newspaper. And hearing him falteringly haranguing the audience with statistics ("Did you know 3 million children die every hour ... er, three hundred children die every day, from hunger. Did you know that?") made you feel only a clip round the ear would do.

But then, I was Michael Jackson once. I used to play a game called The New Maid. I impersonated a dismal and put-upon puppy while my older sister played, successively, the old maid who abused the little dog and locked him out in the snow, and the new maid who was kind and rescued the pathetic animal and made him nice and warm again. I stopped playing it when I was four years old, shamed by its sentimentality. Mr Jackson is still playing both the puppy and the new maid for all he is worth.

Among a slew of tragic post-Valentine's Day stories, I heard the sad tale of Robert and Lucy, a fashionable young couple in east London. Lucy loved Robert with a huge and sincere passion, and planned a special surprise for him on 14 February. She was going to have a cage built inside their lovely home to house a pair of love-birds called Giles and Henrietta. From their coign of vantage on the kitchen wall beside the paper-towel roll (Lucy reasoned), the birds would bill and coo all the live-long day as a reminder - and embodiment - of their owners' mutual lurve. But to build a suitably fancy cage would take 48 hours. Rather than risk Robert's stumbling upon a half-finished surprise, she ordered him out of the house, faux-crossly, for three days, which he spent shambling through the snowy wastes looking for somewhere to stay. On Valentine's Day, Lucy revealed her surprise and things got very lovey-dovey indeed until lunchtime, when Robert professed himself fed up with the birds' incessant and unmusical cries of kark! kark! Well, if that's all the thanks I get, said Lucy, you can go to hell. Giles and Henrietta, possibly picking up on the atmosphere, began snapping at each other. Robert left, cursing. Lucy rang her mother in tears.

Two days later, one of the lovebirds pecked the other to death. And exactly one week after Valentine's, Robert and Lucy are no longer an item. The last I heard, they were trying to decide whether to agree to have Giles on alternate weeks, or just to pull him in half ...

Apart from being the owner of the most beautifully unlikely name outside the pages of a Ronald Firbank novel, Ms Jonquil Panting is an employee of BBC Radio Drama who conducts workshops in Her Majesty's prisons and goes over the working scripts of modern radio plays with her charges. Last Saturday she was scheduled to go to Wandsworth nick and chat with the inmates about Mel Calman's radio play, Heartache, which was broadcast on Friday night. Then Ms Panting learnt that the dozen prisoners she was scheduled to meet were from the prison's "secure unit": they were all sex offenders, molesters, nonces. A sensitive woman, she thought she should check there was nothing in the script that would alarm or upset them.

There was. Heartache is a play about a heart-attack victim who lies in a hospital bed while his heart, stomach, brain and penis chat about whose fault it is that they are in this mess. When Ms Panting found the scene where the other organs gang up on the penis and accuse it of turning their owner into "a sex-crazed monster", she realised drastic action was needed. A rapid editing job removed the scenes of the talkative willy, and she headed for Wandsworth with confidence.

How galling it must have been to discover that her students - Radio 4 fans to a man - were already horribly familiar with the play, having all listened to it the night before. They had enjoyed it greatly. The scene where the conversational penis starts shouting "I want a nurse!" went down particularly well, I believe.

We have had the builders in for the past couple of weeks, knocking down walls, plastering bathrooms and discoursing shrewdly on the iniquities of Sir Richard Scott. Gone, it seems, are the days when builders acted like builders: when their ragged trousers revealed acres of slabby bottom, their lunch-hours were silent affairs of ham sandwiches and cherryade, their tool-kits were always laughably short of a crucial monkey-wrench, and they whistled all the time. Now you get Alan and Ray with their Heckler & Koch equipment facilities and mobile phones. (Their conversations are constantly interrupted by frantic bleeping noises from the tool bags in the corner. "I think that's yours," Alan will say. "Nah," says Ray, "Mine's 'alf a semitone lower

I reported my findings to my friend Paul, who is having his roof done. He was in the garden with his builders the other day when he saw a small green bird. "Gosh," he said, "look at that parrot."

"S'not a parrot," said one man. "S'a ring-necked parakeet. Psittacula krameri, as such."

"Lots of 'em round here," volunteered the other man. "Woman nearby used to feed 'em every day." He paused. "Monet's grand-daugh'er she was, funnily enough ..." Stand by for their appearance on University Challenge.

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