A substitute in search of a column

Dressed up for a semi-formal lunch, I called on my newsagent on my daily mission to locate some entertaining filth in his tabloids. Kuku looked at me strangely as I offered an opening pleasantry. "Ruth," he enquired gently, "why are you wearing four kinds of glasses?" Upon examination it emerged that over my eyes were sunglasses; on my head were my TV-watching glasses, for just before leaving I had looked at the first few minutes of the news; around my neck were suspended my reading glasses and further down - dangling from a long posh chain - the lorgnette which the tenant of my affections gave me so I could look smart in society and still be able to read menus and notes.

There are some insubordinate rumblings that need to be dealt with firmly. Chris Sladen is the chief offender, with

The chief delectation of summer?

Why - the `Indy' grows rum-

mer and rummer!

When Miles goes away,

Young Ruth nicks his pay,

But we do the work - what a


That's him out of the running for the pink champagne. Ivan Shakespeare had the brass neck to send an invoice for supplying the column with: "She was only a sausage-maker's daughter, but when she was young she was offal/but we knew she could be a mad cow."

He demands champagne, "such payment being According to Custom and Tradition, not to mention the Principle of the Thing, notwithstanding Parsimonious Endeavours on the Part of Recipient (The Opportunist) to Solicit same without Recompense."

Tough: the opportunist makes the rules around here. I refer dissidents to today's ICA postcard, which shows Adam addressing Eve.

"Right then - you water the garden, count the animals, get on with the dinner and tidy yourself up ... while I eat this apple. And don't forget to feed the snake." That gives you the general idea of how I like to conduct relations with elves.

Now I've been giving some thought as to what should happen after Friday. I considered simply refusing to let Miles Kington back into this space; even with an injunction, it takes ages to remove squatters. However, I admit to being daunted by the notion of continuing to appear five times a week. It's OK for Kington: he takes the easy route of writing his own column, but I'd have to take on more staff, and I doubt if I'd have the time to cope with the paperwork. As it is, I'm knee-deep in faxes.

Then I toyed with the possibility of arming a few of you with cutlasses and storming someone else's space. Polly Toynbee is an obvious target: you can usually rely on liberals to do a bit of appeasing when confronted by force rather than reason. However, bearing in mind that I'm pretty vocal in my opposition to the IRA, I suppose I might be vulnerable to the charge of hypocrisy.

Inspiration came from childhood memories. My mother was a Dublin schoolteacher who occasionally, if she wasn't well or wanted to go on a course, would avail herself of the practice of "Putting in a substitute". The principle behind this was that you owned your job, and if you couldn't or wouldn't do it for a time you simply sub-contracted the work as cheaply as possible.

These days teachers avail themselves of newfangled rights like maternity or sick leave, but the principle has not been completely abandoned. There are TDs (Irish MPs) who after many years still have the right to return to their old teaching jobs if politics turns sour.

So that's the path we will follow, my hearties, and one, what's more, that's legit and in keeping with our new editor's enthusiasm for free trade and market forces. I'll offer us as substitutes to jaded Indy columnists regardless of their expertise. I have no objection even to the odd visit to the business pages or the sports section: elfpower can tackle anything successfully.

The financial arrangements will be simple: I'll get the cheques from the column owner, and from time to time I'll throw you a bottle of something to fight over. Got that, Shakespeare?

Through diligence and a humble acceptance that virtue is its own reward, Leading Elf William Hazell earns a third mention this week for:

To go ahead

and get Lebed,

Yeltsin had to scratch off


Miles Kington is back next week.

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