While others around you lose their heads, what's the answer to 12 across? That was the question bugging fun-loving environment minister Phil Woolas, when a Pandora mole walked in to his office last week.
Oblivious to the French fishermen protesting outside, Defra's No 2, a genial 48-year-old with the gravitas of a football mascot, was found sitting calmly at his desk with an open world atlas, assisted by two senior public servants, searching the Balkans page for a capital city, five letters long, to help him complete a newspaper crossword. (Sofia.)
Caught in the act, Woolas commented: "It's easy when you have the civil service to help."
Cherie chooses Gielgud mansion over Waugh's
Madame Blair's recent indiscretions helped fund the Blairs' acquisition of Sir John Gielgud's old country stack in Buckinghamshire, 20 miles from Chequers.
Her prurient revelations and remarkable greed remain confusing and will be judged by history. Perhaps some context will help. A source close to the Gielgud house deal – the Blairs' sixth property – tells me that the figure of £4m put around is wrong, and that a sum of £5.75m is near the mark.
Another home viewed by Cherie, I hear, was Evelyn Waugh's secluded Gloucestershire pile, Piers Court, in Stinchcombe, Dursley. Set in 23 acres of gardens, the £3.5m grade II-listed eight-bedroom Georgian house – known to the writer as "Stinkers" – has a tennis court, croquet lawn, mews with two flats (good for the staff), coach house and humungous wine cellar. The grounds contain a bothy (spartan dwelling for farm servants, or Tony).
Waugh bought Piers Court for £3,600 in 1937 and stayed for 19 years, tapping out Scoop, Brideshead Revisited, Men at Arms and Officers and Gentlemen there. The estate was a Royalist safehouse during the Civil War, and rented by nuns in the early 1940s.
The agent, Anthony Coaker of Savills in Cirencester, was unavailable to comment.
A visitor to the mansion tells me that one former owner became irked by the coachloads of travelsick Americans, who turned up to ogle Waugh's former home and upon alighting commonly vomited in the lavender beds.
Princess Profanity puts Pandora pal back in his box
Princess Beatrice is in a crabby mood. Understandable. After daring (!) to wear a bikini on holiday, the voluptuous 19-year-old progeny of Fergie was assaulted by Fleet Street's haggard, green-eyed harpies, who appeared eager to provoke an eating disorder with their risible remarks about biscuit tins. (Please down your foundation and trowels and take a bow, Allison Pearson, Janice Turner and Fiona McIntosh.)
Bea should not let it get to her so. On Thursday night, Pandora's very fat friend Ramin – who readers may recall was recently bitten by Graham Norton's terrier, Madge – found himself in the Cuckoo Club liquor emporium. Walking past the flush-faced princess, who since becoming the first royal in space has found employment at Selfridges and the Financial Times, Ramin greeted her: "Hello. What are you doing out this late, haven't you got work tomorrow?"
Which was met with a rather curt and distinctly unregal "Fuck off". Not sure what Granny thinks, but Mummy will be proud.
Superwomen to the rescue
Pandora exclusive: crime in Britain will soon, Gotham-style, be erased. Two separate initiatives arrive. "Danielle Lloyd to tackle gun and knife crime," declares an exciting press release. Having met Lord Mackenzie in the Palace of Westminster, the former Miss Great Britain and Big Brother participant, right, will become a spokesperson "to alleviate violence among young people which has led to recent deaths". Gangstas beware!
One shouldn't be cynical. Next Tuesday, David "shoot the prisoners" Blunkett and his television presenter friend Natasha Kaplinsky host a drinks reception, to mark his participation in a forthcoming reality telly series in which he heads the "parole board" of a pretend jail that mixes reformed criminals with "juveniles on the cusp of a life of crime". The ack-ack of machine guns cannot be far away.
Rory Keegan, co-owner of Chinawhite – beloved of Wills, Harry and the Chelsea set – is to open a branch in Delhi. How will the locals take to the ravin' lifestyle?
Stephen Twigg, famed for crushing Michael Portillo, is the figurehead for Ed Balls' plot to upset "Magnificent" Bob Wareing in Liverpool West Derby. Protocol obliges ministers to warn MPs of visits to their constituencies. Yet education wallah Lord Adonis and his boss Balls dropped in unannounced. "I was not made aware," grumbles ancient rebel Bob. "I understand they were there on the encouragement of Mr Stephen Twigg, who wishes to unseat me at the next election."
The men in white smocks gather by the door, glancing this way, muttering. One clutches a sleeveless jacket. After two years, I'm off, to news. Thank you for the emails, and for reading. A bientôt.