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Future's Orange with black spots

'Tis an irony of which Jane Austen herself would approve. Orange happily boasts in its adverts that its mobile phone network covers up to 90 per cent of the UK, but this 90 per cent, it emerges, does not cover its own main headquarters in Darlington.

It seems that Hutchison Telecom, the network's co-ordinators, which has been experiencing trouble getting permission to erect masts in the north of England, is unable to receive and transmit signals within a mile radius of its own premises.

Such an embarrassment was not made public until last week, when one unfortunate Darlington citizen, Tony Hepper, who lives a mile from the plant (which employs the largest Darlington workforce) succumbed to the advertising blurb "the future is Orange" and tried to purchase a phone.

When he was told he lived in a cellular "black spot", and therefore could not have one, he thought it must be a joke. "I thought they were winding me up," he said yesterday. "I live right on their doorstep!"

A spokeswoman at Hutchison Telecom was yesterday forced to corroborate the sad situation. Company executives apparently "experience trouble" using their phones once inside their offices. But what of Hepper's assertion that the phones also do not work inside the nearby Darlington football club stadium?

"Our mobiles work fine," a Darlington FC spokesman tells me, adding helpfully: "We're sponsored by Orange, you know."

Nabbed! We name the guilty cyclist

My heart bleeds for London's cyclists. One of their heroes - nay, idols - is sadly fallen. Jon Snow, Channel 4's newscaster and prince of two- wheeled travellers, was caught red-handed going through a red light at the top of Camden's Judd Street on Tuesday morning. I know this for certain, because 'twas I who witnessed him do it. But now that I have apprised him of his illegal actions and my knowledge of them, he is suitably filled with remorse. "This is unforgivable," he moaned from his office yesterday. "What an aberration! I plead totally guilty."All those concerned for Mr Snow's welfare should know that his tears of self- castigation did not last overlong and that after a few minutes he recovered sufficiently to remark: "Of course, were there sufficient provision for cyclists then one would not have to resort to these drastic measures ... "

Orchestral overtures to young music-lovers

Bournemouth Orchestra should be accused of ageism. Last week its administrators conducted a novel method of market research - it invited an audience comprised exclusively of schoolchildren to come to a classical concert and give their reactions both to the music and to their setting: the town's Winter Gardens.

"We felt," explains a spokesman, "that older patrons might by nature be too fussy to be objective." I doubt, somehow, that their method has paid off. In response to the question: "What would have made the concert more enjoyable for you?" one overriding answer, worthy of the fussiest grandma, came back from the 12- to 18-year-olds. It was "WD40 - the chairs squeak."

Peaceniks outshoot the warriors

A parable of war and peace in modern times was enacted last weekend when Bradford University's peace studies department played King's College war studies department in a "friendly" soccer match last Friday. The peaceniks won 15-0, although the team swears it did not use the expected tactics of persuading the opposition to just give them the ball and the goalkeeper to perform an act of Gandhi-style civil disobedience and lay down his gloves. "At the end of the day it was just a regular game of football," says a member of the peace team, adding in surprisingly pugilistic tones: "I don't expect we'll have such a great victory over them for a very long time."

Eagle Eye

`Lookalike' MPs in cream teaser

Apparently Tory MPs Douglas French (pictured left) and Harry Greenway - both 5ft 8in and greying - look as convincingly alike as Jill Dando and Sophie Rhys-Jones. At least so it appeared to a married couple from North Ealing (Greenway's constituency) who arrived at the Commons on Monday to listen to Kenneth Clarke for an hour and then have cream tea with their MP. All went well; after Clarke's speech they found their MP in the lobby and greeted him with hands outstretched and beaming faces. And as previously agreed he bought them a cream tea at pounds 3.95 a head.

The conversation centred on Clarke and the economics debate and for 20 minutes all was well. However when the husband of the couple addressed the MP as "Mr Greenway" the addressee looked a trifle puzzled. It was in fact Mr French, who had been expecting to buy a cream tea for a couple from his Gloucester constituency who had won a prize of a cream tea at Westminster with him in a local charity raffle.

Once apprised of the mistaken identity French ran out to the lobby to find both his own constituents and Greenway. The story, I am glad to say, has a happy ending - at least from Greenway's point of view.

"When it was all sorted out, new cream teas were ordered for those who hadn't had them and we both paid our separate bills," says French, adding with just a hint of chagrin, "but Greenway came off marginally better since he ate the remaining half of mine."