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Watch your back, get your eyes tested

I spy a notice in the House of Commons advertising an open day at the Westminster Gymnasium, the MPs' private work-out facility. It is snappily entitled "Work At Health, Health At Work Day". The gym is offering the usual things that gyms offer; yet in the context of politics 1996 they all seem to take on sinister overtones.

It is not so much the offer of free eye tests to those who have made the rest of us pay for eye tests. Nor is it the full "stress analysis", which I take to be aimed at the Prime Minister as his majority dissolves. It is not even the "body fat analysis" for the overweight recipients of subsidised meals courtesy of the taxpayer.

What I find particularly poignant is a class called "Back Watchers". This I take to be a psychological advice session for William Waldegrave (above) and Sir Nicholas Lyell. They might have trouble pushing past the rest of the Cabinet to get into the session.

Meanwhile, I see that one backbencher has chosen a way to relieve stress and watch his back without letting loose a drop of sweat. David Shore, the Tory MP, has taken it upon himself to put the Government's case on the Scott inquiry - courtesy of a Central Office briefing guide - on to the Internet. He has been provoked into so doing after reading a Net debate conducted by students of a leftward disposition. Good to see MPs embracing computer technology, even if just to use it as an outlet for paranoia.

Scoffing, and sex, too

It's official, in case you couldn't already tell from Joan Collins's tears in the witness box and Delia Smith's name all over the bestseller lists: sex and shopping novels have been replaced by sex and scoff novels. According to this week's Bookseller, publishers are already sending out "tasters" of all the food mentioned in books to be promoted - which creates budgetary problems for titles containing words such as "feast", "dinner" and "gourmet".

Heinemann has gone a step further in promoting Freya North's new steamy romance, Sally, sending out a hamper including a box of chocolates, truffle and mushroom sauce and a packet of Earl Grey tea, with a message: "If you are wondering about the enclosed goodies, just turn to page 40 to find one of the most seductive meals ever."

Alas, I wish I could concur. On page 40 begins a chapter in which Richard, the hero of the book, cooks an exotic supper for Sally, which is supposed to whet her sexual appetite. The couple guzzle Bardolino and scoff down stuffed baby artichokes, prosciutto S Daniele, rolled around grissini, a warm salad of rocket and baby spinach with roasted red peppers and individual goat's cheeses, papperdelle "woven throughout with porcini and chicken and suffused with garlic, basil, sage and the ubiquitous olive oil", followed by "just two'' cheeses, and two large portions of tiramisu each. Greedy old Sally and Richard follow this with a beakerful of Beaumes de Venises, then adjourn to the bedroom for the obligatory sex scene ("You are between her breasts now. Find her left breast, cup it, press it, squeeze it ...")

Now, I ask you, could anyone have sex after all that food? And what must Sally and Richard weigh?

Political drive?

Ratings must be a worry again for folk at the BBC. I see they are planning a documentary series called Mistresses, which purports to explore adultery in the Nineties. The only surprise is that it is not coming under the aegis of Panorama.

I am intrigued, however, by a quote from Lady Healey in the forthcoming series. I hasten to add that she is not claiming any peccadilloes in the Healey family, merely commenting on why powerful politicians are often at risk.

She says: "The people who get to the top do so because they have an excessive amount of energy and therefore the people who get to the top are often those with a lot of extra sexual energy."

I'm not sure what to make of this, except to note that Lord Healey (above) did not actually get all the way to the top. Presumably, as a deputy leader of the Labour Party, he had more sexual energy than most of us, but got tired at the final hurdle.

Slippery business

A fitting name for the chairman of the water consumers' group, the National Campaign for Water Justice. He is Mr Neil Fishpool.

Eagle Eye

A word in your shell-like: Blair hears from Annie Lennox at the Brits

Tony finds not all's Hunky Dory with Dave

Ground control to Tony Blair. Do not presume too much upon the friendship of David Bowie. The superstar quite rightly does not like being taken advantage of. The Labour leader's office, in the shape of the press spokesman, Alastair Campbell, put it about that Bowie had personally requested that Blair present him with his "outstanding contribution to British music" award at Monday's Brits ceremony. The Bowie "request" was widely reported in the press. But the singer tells me he made no such request. Indeed, it would have been a little pompous for an award winner to start making requests as to who presents the award.

He also assures me that he will be "unavailable" to perform at any pre- election political rallies Labour might be envisaging. And it's only a few weeks since he was signing Cherie Blair's collection of Bowie albums, when the happy couple went backstage at his Wembley concert. But then a few weeks is a long time in rock 'n' roll.

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