ON MONDAY: Can I have third-party cover for my body?

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A HIDEOUSLY ugly being can be seen in the pages of Time magazine. It turns out to be the most expensive body in the world, a collage of body parts belonging to various celebrities, alive and dead, and insured by their owners for gravity-defying sums. The latest egomaniac to rush to an insurance broker is, apparently, the singer/actress Jennifer Lopez, who has insured her rear end for $300m and her entire body for $1 billion. Other celebs who have made their brokers happy include Dolly Parton ($600,000 for her breasts), Jimmy Durante ($140,000 for that bulbous nose); the baseball pitcher Kevin Brown ($67.5m for his right arm); Bruce Springsteen ($6m for his voice), and, all too inevitably, the Irish-style dancer Michael Flatley with a characteristically modest $40m for his legs.

Even the British stripper Frankie Jakeman managed to get a $1.6m policy for his penis (what did he think might happen to it?)

I wonder how these prices are arrived at? Do insurance company boffins listen to The Boss singing "Born in the USA", scribbling figures on a pad, crossing out $7m and writing $6m as they discern a slight croak in the chorus? Do insurance companies have bottom-valuation departments, and how come they never appear at school and university careers fairs? I also wonder why it is only physical attributes that can be insured when it comes to safeguarding one's career. Comedians ought to be able to take out policies for the day they run out of jokes, Jeremy Paxman for the night he is overcome with courtesy, Charlie Dimmock for the day she walks into M&S and sees a bra she just can't resist.

But the name in the Time list that I found most depressing was the Rolling Stone Keith Richards, who has insured his right index finger for $1.6m.

This is dispiriting. Keef is not meant to know about mundane things such as insurance companies, nor is he meant to worry about the financial consequences of injury. Next we'll be hearing that he is unhappy about the rate of growth of his pension fund. The old boy is supposed, like his own blues idols, to enjoy playing the guitar for its own sake and follow each gig with a life-threatening party.

But we may be doing him an injustice. The insurance policy may not mention the word guitar. Perhaps he is worried about the implications of the loss of his right index finger for less worthy activities; perhaps it is this digit that is essential for partaking of after-show substances. Let's hope so. One can't have all life's rebels measuring their talent in policy yields.


JUST BEFORE Christmas I was persuaded by a young daughter who has a thing about horses to go to Olympia for the International Show Jumping Championships. I now realise that within that building is Planet Olympia, where once a year a spacecraft deposits nice, horse mad, zealously patriotic middle Englanders, kidnapped by aliens in the mid-1950s.

These people are all of one colour; they all speak in perfect received pronunciation, they never appear in sociological surveys; they are never on television. They embody none of the characteristics of urban life, by which we seem to measure the state of the nation. As the Household Cavalry rode through the arena, the commentator declared: "Doesn't it make you feel proud to be British?" The audience, as one, jumped to their feet and applauded wildly. There's a whole other country out there; on horseback probably.


SIBLING RIVALRIES and sibling arguments are curiously fascinating when played out in the public print. The novelist Hanif Kureishi can never fully recover from his sister disputing the autobiographical half in his semi-autobiographical novels. An even more intriguing sibling fall-out came in a non-festive interview over the Christmas period when Annabel Kanabus, the sister of the Labour science minister Lord Sainsbury of Turville, who gave away much of her fortune and runs a charity, came out with memorably devastating asides such as: "There are better things to do than run a food store." One for the book of quotations surely.

Her attack seemed a little unfair, to say the least, as the whole Sainsbury family has done much for charity. But one sensed there was more than altruism behind her complaints. She said of her brother: "When was David elected by anybody? I think it's sad for David that if he got his ministerial job on merit it's perceived by everybody that he got it in return for money. He has an interest in science but a lot of people have an interest in science."

What really rankled though, and seemingly with some justice, was that money and position in the family company are "passed down the male line". The womenfolk should have been encouraged into the family business, she added: "We might have made better managers." There are clearly years of bitterness behind that interview. But if what his sister says is correct, it would do no harm for Lord Sainsbury to announce publicly that he has changed the family system of by-passing the women. It would send out the right signal from New Labour; it would send out the right signal from government to monarchy. It might even shut his sister up.


LAST WEEK'S exhilarating concert by the Who showed not only that the masters of the live show had not lost their touch in middle age, it also revealed a piece of audience behaviour I had not witnessed before. I noticed that the guy standing next to me turned on his mobile phone whenever the band played a fondly remembered number, and phoned a friend.

"Listen to this," he screamed down the line as the familiar chords of "Pinball Wizard" or "My Generation" commenced. And, glancing across the floor, I saw that the same action was taking place dozens of times, with dozens of mobile phones relaying the concert to friends or maybe the most cheapskate bootleggers.

It's been the tradition at rock concerts for years for fans to hold aloft flickering candles or lighters to heighten the dramatic effect of the encore. How long before they are replaced by a sea of swaying cell phones?


I THINK I can claim one small journalistic record in being the first person to pledge he would go to bed early on Millennium Eve, having written that in this newspaper back in 1994. Now that the actual night is upon us I'm beginning to have second thoughts.

Is there a danger of missing some communal, even spiritual frisson, that one should relate to the grandchildren? What if the heavens really do erupt with meteors, flashing lights and crashes of thunder and you're snoozing? It could be seen as bad form.

One thing about the new millennium that intrigues me much more than New Year's Eve is that even as we enter it no one has come up with an accepted name for the new decade. The 2000s, the Thousands, the Zeros, the Noughts, or my favourite - the Naughties - have all been mentioned. But the world seems no closer to agreeing on one.

A lexicographer at the Encarta dictionary tells me that the first decade of this century was simply referred to at the time as The Edwardian Era, but such phrases are out of fashion, the Elizabethan era is too closely associated with Tudor England, and the phrase is far too cumbersome for headline writers.

Indeed, the lack of a term for the next decade will cause horrendous problems for headline writers, sociologists, list compilers, maybe even everyday conversation. Think of the number of times we read about "the best designer of the Nineties", "Nineties man", "the caring Nineties", "a Nineties phenomenon". What on earth do we say next week? It's going to be hard to make conversation in the Naughties.