Diary

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Academics are expert at restating the obvious. So you will not be surprised that psychologists studying television interviewers have concluded that politicians get an easier run from David Frost than from Brian Walden.

The interesting question is, why? Dr Peter Bull of York University yesterday told the British Psychological Society that questions come in two varieties: No Win (in which every possible response leaves the interviewee with egg on face) and No Necessary Threat (out of which they can wriggle). Walden asks 49 per cent No Wins, Robin Day and Jeremy Paxman 43 per cent, David Dimbleby 34 per cent and Softy Frosty 29 per cent.

Jonathan Dimbleby could not be marked because he does not ask questions, he just argues. Ah. But who gets the most interesting revelations from their victims? "That's a bit more tricky," says Dr Bull. We could have told him that.

My spies tell me that the Imperial War Museum in London is sending out stealthy intelligencers to find a replacement site for its planned northern outpost. This is bad news for the residents of Hartlepool, and its MP, Peter Mandelson. Plans for the pounds 16m development were scuppered earlier this summer when the Government refused to back the agreement between the museum and the Teesside Development Corporation. But locals were hoping that a new deal could be done.

Yesterday Robert Crawford, the museum's deputy director, confirmed that his scouts were out elsewhere with a pretty broad brief. And they were now looking at sites away from naval ports. They would have to be. Nowhere else could cap the maritime expertise of this isolated little northern port where, in Napoleonic times, the locals, so folklore has it, hanged a shipwrecked monkey in the artless belief that it was a Frenchman.

Mr Mandelson clearly agrees; yesterday he vowed to pursue the matter when Parliament returns.

Have you heard the one about the lorry driver who felt ill while travelling in Germany? He went to the local hospital, in Kerpen near Cologne, and was told he needed a hernia operation. Would you like it done now, they asked. He decided to return home. Alas, when Trevor Hawes got back, his GP told him he would have to wait eight months to get into Bedford Hospital. He then suggested that he went back to Germany with an E110 form and have the op on the NHS under an EU reciprocation scheme. This Mr Hawes did, only to find his enterprise had provoked a storm in his local paper, in which his MP, Sir Trevor Skeet, was quoted as saying: "He should have come to me.... If local people are in pain I can always get them advanced up the waiting list." Parliamentary biographies do not disclose the nature of Sir Trevor's medical qualifications. But it is good to know that the NHS is safe in someone's hands.

Looking for a job? I forayed north last week to Iona to spend a week in the abbey as a guest of the Iona Community. Not that many of them actually live in the abbey. Most live and work among the poor in some of Britain's most run-down inner-city areas. As well as the abbey, they have another centre at Camas, on the nearby island of Mull. There they offer adventure holidays for young people from deprived areas, often coming direct from social services care or drug treatment centres.

The centre is currently looking for a manager. Qualifications: the candidate must hold a kayak instructor's senior certificate and be a qualified mountain leader, a capable manager of the centre and its staff, and have the ability to fund-raise during the off-season. S/he must be able to bond swiftly with a wide range of people, including some characters who can be initially hostile, and must be in sympathy with the spiritual ethos of the community. Remuneration: about pounds 50 a week, according to the outgoing leader, Ross Morton; but you get, he says with gentle understatement, "a little more out of it than that".

While in Scotland I was told about a memo which appeared recently on the noticeboard in a Highland police station. "Will the person who removed the cake from Supt MacPherson's office please return it as it is needed for testing in a poisoning case."

Is this cake an urban myth or, as they say in Dundee, a meringue?

Just be careful if you get a message to ring James Callun. That's what happened to Tom Weldon, an editor at Heinemann, which published Stephen Fry's first novel. He had received an anonymous manuscript - a spoof thriller about a hapless arms dealer - from the aforesaid Callun. When he rang to say he liked it and would put it between hard covers Callun revealed, some way into the conversation, that he was in fact Fry's comedy partner, Hugh Laurie. It turns out that the actor, comic and cocktail bar pianist had wanted a critical appraisal unbiased by his celebrity.

Such refreshing modesty. It seems the mores of Bertie Wooster are contagious.

Sex, it seems, is as interesting to high-brow readers as it is to the servile classes. Letters are still arriving to explain the meaning of argumentum ad baculum, which I illiterately translated as "argument from the penis-bone". Andrea Granville refers me to a primer called Ecce Romani (no jokes about these Romans being from Bradford, thank you). She quotes redeunt igitur ad agros servi quod baculum vilici timent and construes "So the slaves return to the fields, because they were afraid of the overseer's baculum". Hitherto she had rendered this as "stick" but is now wondering whether the book really is suitable for her 12-year-old pupils.

The argumentum phrase, she now realises, would most appropriately be employed by a discomfitted young man whose mother has entered his room at an inopportune moment: "It's all right mother, I'm arguing with it". (Ad, she politely insists, is "to", not "from", which is ab). For which she wins my remaining copy of Honderich's Oxford Companion to Philosophy, which started all this in the first place.

I can stand no more correction on this point. So from next week I am handing this column back to Wilkes who is back in the political swim with the Lib Dem conference. Do not write to him on the subject. He will only be curmudgeonly.

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