Reid's solution for the Home Office: witchcraft

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The Independent Online

Having promised to "work 18 hours a day" to sort out the Home Office, John Reid promptly disappeared to France for a Bank Holiday mini-break.

Back on the front line, his foot-soldiers haven't exactly been working their fingers to the bone, either. For all Home Office employees have just been offered time off to participate in an intriguing event called "adult learners' week".

Throughout the exercise, which ended on Friday, Reid's civil servants were encouraged to take a break from their day jobs in order to attend "educational seminars". A hundred different 90-minute events were scheduled throughout the working week, with titles that ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.

One of the options offered to Home Office workers in Sheffield was billed "Wicca - a guide to modern witchcraft".

Meanwhile, in Liverpool, classes included "Learning to Waltz", "Painting" and a starter course in "Learning Japanese."

It's enough to get Reid's right-wing critics - who reckon Home Office staff ought to be tracking criminals and looking for illegal immigrants - spluttering words to the effect that you couldn't make it up.

However, the Home Office defended the project yesterday. "The idea is to encourage adults to participate in various activities," said a spokesman.

"There were over a hundred events which staff could attend. Each one lasted about an hour and a half, and most were done over lunchtime, to avoid as much disruption as possible."

Freddy Flintoff in 'stalking' shocker

In a move that can only improve his standing in the league of Greatest Living Englishmen, Andrew Flintoff is about to wind up the animal rights brigade.

Once the summer cricket season is finished, England's stand-in captain is off to Cumbria to take up deer-stalking.

His host will be Ian Botham, a keen shot, who has just given a Q&A interview to Shooting and Conservation magazine. Asked which cricketers enjoy country pursuits, "Beefy" comments: "David Gower is into it, and Lammy (Alan Lamb) too."

"There are quite a few of the boys who enjoy shooting. In fact we're taking Freddy (Flintoff) out with us soon. He wants to come stalking, so I said we'd show him the ropes."

Before embarking on the trip, Flintoff will be required to remove his trademark diamond earring. Apparently, it might "spook" his quarry.

The jury's out for Bryn

Roly-poly opera singer Bryn Terfel recently received a letter summoning him for jury duty, at the end of next month.

Cue a major panic in Henley, where he was supposed to be headlining the town's summer music festival at exactly the same time.

Hoping for a reprieve, Henley's artistic director, Stewart Collins, sent the Jury Central Summoning Bureau a begging letter.

"I explained that tickets had been on sale since November, and that any cancellation of the event would be catastrophic," he says. "Thankfully, they accepted the argument and let him off."

I do hope critics of the JCSB won't decide that its one rule for celebrities, another for the rest of us.

Marital aid

Tessa Jowell could soon be entitled to trade her nickname, "nanny", for a less derogatory alternative. The Culture Minister is about to become an aid worker, and will spend a portion of her summer holiday toiling on a charity project in India.

It has all the makings of a PR coup, but for reasons best known to themselves, Jowell's office refused to discuss the trip when Pandora called.

"She'll be making a visit to India shortly, and yes, she will be going to an aid project," said a spokesman. "But it is a private visit, so there's nothing more to be said."

All of which is a shame: I had hoped to ask about rumours that Jowell's travelling party will include her (supposedly) estranged husband, David Mills.

Asne's night on the tiles ends in the cells

When literary London comes to town, the mean streets of Hay-on-Wye resemble a scene from Police, Camera, Action.

On Sunday morning, Asne Seirstad - the Swedish author of The Bookseller of Kabul - woke up in a cell at the local police station.

"Asne had stayed rather late at a party, and when she returned to her hotel found herself locked out," I'm told. "The only place still open at that hour was the cop shop, so she went in, fluttered her eyelashes, and asked if there was a spare bed. Amazingly, they gave her one."

Other stars of the Hay Festival will have slept more soundly: Al Gore arrived in town yesterday, for a one-night speaking engagement that earned him a fee of close to £130,000.