Matthew Norman's Media Diary

So that's what a PC's helmet is for

As I've already said, Mrs Buckridge, I've no idea, other than that Simon has been inspired by Alan Bennett's similar memoir. And so to today's latest instalment, in which the Heffers take their first foreign trip.

"July 24, 1974, El Dorado Hotel, Torremolinos. Oooh, a right to-do this evening, when Dad would insist on ordering the daily special. 'Dad, are you quite sure?' asked Mam. 'It might have garlic.' 'Nay lass, stop your maithering,' said Dad, 'it's just a pie. Pie Ella, that nice waitress, Conchita, said. Ella must be the cook. Now really, Mam, what mayhem and carnage can there be in a pie?' Well, we soon found out! Two mouthfuls in, he turned green. 'Mam, I think I'm going to be uncle Dick,' he whimpered. "Ooh you daft hap'worth, I did warn you!' said Mam. 'I'd ask them for a paper bag, only you're wearing your helmet and might as well use that.' I busied myself in the Ladybird Guide to Adam Smith, and tried to pretend it wasn't happening. But I'll never forget the embarrassment - that family from Luton, common as muck, staring at us - and I'll have nowt to do with so-called 'Europe' ever again."

Next week, Simon makes his debut as a beater at the Chingford grouse shoot, where he meets Charles Moore.

UNTIE THE YELLOW ribbon from the old oak tree ... Petronella Wyatt is back in the Spectator after a prolonged absence dictated by personal matters involving a colleague that remain none of our business. And what form she's on, treating readers of her diary to memories of snogging the pubescent David Cameron, of being forced by Peregrine Worsthorne to write a poisonous profile of an enemy, and much else.

The item that catches my eye is more mundane, and concerns the recent trip to Waitrose during which an elderly gent with "a large trolley" (you don't get bespoke trollies at Budgen, but there we are), told her: "Shut up, you bitch" during a row over queue jumping. "I was forced to tell him to mind his linguistic output," she relates.

There's something hugely credible about this. Indeed, it could be the most convincing anecdote the mag's published since Paul Johnson recounted how, on a bus ride between Bayswater and Paddington (a journey of some two minutes) he engaged the entire top deck in a Socratic dialogue about metaphysics, existentialism, and the Dardanelles fiasco in the First World War.

INCIDENTALLY, IF ANYONE has information about Petsy's brother, Pericles (it is pronounced to rhyme with testicles; honestly), please get in touch. Pericles was last heard of running a water-themed amusement park in the American south. Good money, albeit very little of it, will be paid for any confirmed sighting.

AS FOR PETSY'S colleague Mark Steyn, he is now quoted by Coral as even-money favourite to be the last columnist insisting that occupying Iraq was a spiffing idea, and that it's all going too rippingly for words. A week ago, Mark and David Aaronovitch were bracketed at 7-4 joint favourites, but the odds have been changed in response to Mark's latest piece, about the scandal of White House personnel leaking the name of a CIA agent.

These are people far away of which we know nothing, seems to be Mark's argument, and let's not bother our pretty little heads with trivia such as President Bush's senior staff endangering a woman's life to punish her husband for dismissing the confection about Saddam buying uranium in Niger for the laughable cobblers it was.

It is now accepted that, whereas David might wobble slightly if the Pentagon deployed tactical nuclear weapons in the suburbs of Baghdad, Mark would not buckle in his support for Mr Bush if he took out Des Moines, Iowa with a 100 megaton warhead. A worthy favourite, and still good value if and when he goes odds-on.

REASSURING NEWS, meanwhile, of the only man alive with claims to know more about musical theatre than Mark Steyn. Fears had grown that despondency following his retirement as chairman of the media select committee was making Gerald Kaufman ill. However, our source in his St John's Wood block of flats reports that the old munchkin is looking much better than he has for months, and for this we give thanks.

A READER IS in touch regarding Alan Green, the Radio Five Live Alan Green correspondent (his primary contractual duty is to keep listeners apprised of changing levels in his own sense of boredom) who moonlights as a football commentator for the same station. This reader reports being driven to TalkSport by the self-obsessed whining, and being plagued there by one Alan Green plugging a computer football game during commercials.

Even if staff are permitted to advertise on rival stations while broadcasting on the BBC, it seems needlessly vindictive to drive away listeners and then chase them across the medium waveband. We ask the Five Live controller, Bob Shennan, to have a word.

m.norman@independent.co.uk

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