Diary

The silly season is now officially under way, with Parliament closed for the summer and newspapers desperate to find new events to cover, from the Lithuanian festival of folk dancing and farm machinery to the Andalusian vole-bothering championships. Meanwhile, the House of Commons takes on a striking resemblance to an assembly of the present Cabinet: the lights are on, but no one's home. As silence descends on the corridors of power (or, as they've become under Major, the corridors of uncertainty), Dennis Skinner may well make his traditional plea that the empty building be used as a place for down-and-outs and social misfits to sleep and find shelter. This is usually rejected, on the grounds that nine months of the year is considered a sufficiency.

There is, however, one piece of unfinished business: tomorrow's contest in Littleborough and Saddleworth. This is the latest in the British tradition of by-elections, so-called because the voters take one look at the Conservative candidate and say: "Byeee!"

With the summer comes the usual run of repeats: crisis in Bosnia, strikes on the railways and English cricket echoing to the sound of leather on stump. I should add that I now feel fully qualified to play for England, having had my hand broken by a sharp delivery from New Zealand's Chris Cairns that cut back off the seam and rearranged my knuckle. After two weeks I've at last remembered the technical term used in bowling to describe one that comes back suddenly and unexpectedly: an Emburey.

It's already been a good summer for social events, notably Sir David Frost's annual starfest, which is like running into a coach party from Spitting Image. The man's range of top contacts is phenomenal, and you never know who you are going to run into next ("Have you met the Pinochets? Charming couple ..."). He also has a knack of pairing people you'd never dream of seeing together in public: Bob Geldof and Norman Lamont, Esther Rantzen and Michael Winner, Prince Andrew and his missus.

At a newspaper do recently I ran into Sir Robin Day, who remains as frisky as a fox cub and spends much of his time mentally lobbing housebricks at the television a la Victor Meldrew. He introduced me to Judge Stephen Tumim, who so loves his job as chief inspector of prisons that he immediately set about examining conditions inside my waistcoast, finding them cramped and inadequate. Thanks to him conditions in jail have improved considerably since the dark days of Strangeways, where prisoners were forced to sleep three to a roof.

Channel tunnel revenue will no doubt be boosted by the news that three- quarters of the ferries plying our shores have dangerous design faults. This demands further investigation, possibly by Steven Norris, the roll- on, roll-off transport minister. Ship operators would do well to remember the words of that old music-hall favourite: "Nobody Loves a Ferry When She's Faulty."

After VE Day, the England rugby team, Greg Rusedski and Damon Hill, yet another attempt to give the British something to cheer about - a feel- good factor, indeed - came unstuck as Nick Faldo was blown away at St Andrews. But yet again a sporting triumph is reduced to tabloid terms: not "victory for top American golfer" but "reformed alcoholic wins pounds 125,000". How ironic then that his trophy should take the form of a claret jug.

Doing a show in Liverpool last week, my thoughts naturally turned to those four lads whose songs changed the history of popular music. Were they the greatest? How did they do it? And, most pressingly, however will they manage without Robbie Williams? The ubiquitous pictures of the former Take That star, with his improbably peroxide hair and dark eyebrows reminds me of the story of the famous conductor Pierre Monteux. For the last few years of his life he was principal conductor with the London Symphony Orchestra and continued to dye his hair a dramatic black; dramatic because his moustache remained defiantly white. Asked the reason for this tonsorial discrepancy, he replied that "eet eez because ze 'air on my 'ead 'as not 'ad ze same experiences ..."

Coinciding with the new vacancy in Britain's top band we learn of yet another Conservative who has decided to throw in the towel and retire from serious politics, though they will, of course, remain Conservative. This brings the total to 38. Do they know something we don't? It is, I suppose, perfectly possible that MPs are even now looking to wow a newer, younger audience as the fifth member of Take That. Latest betting:

Evens: Douglas Hurd: right haircut, shame about the glasses. Ideal replacement for Robbie, having spent five years at Foreign Office trying not to get involved in anything.

5-1 Kenneth Baker: supported Blondie for 12 years. Currently involved in former ministers' Serious Moonlighting tour.

10-1 Cranley Onslow: crazy name, crazy guy.

12-1 John Biffen: semi-detached, in need of some refurbishment.

15-1 George Walden: Geoffrey Palmer lookalike. The Ringo Starr of politics.

The re-emergence of the Grobbelaar case brings back the rash of comic suggestions as to what he should do if he's found guilty: join the investment company Don't Save and Prosper, seek a Christmas job at Toys R Us (giving the games away), or throw himself under a bus, though there's always the possibility that the bus will go under him.

Either way, I'm prepared to bet that even now the streets of Southampton are crawling with members of a Malaysian syndicate offering the Hampshire constabulary large amounts to fix the result. Though in this weather it might be best to let everyone go off on holiday and leave it to that ruthless and resourceful group of people who have for years managed to fix match results while remaining undetected and above suspicion: the pools panel.

Due to a production failure, the name of yesterday's diarist was omitted. It was Sara Maitland. We apologise.

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